Who You Hired Yesterday May Not be a Fit for Tomorrow

by Tom Oliver, Associate

The current downturn in the energy industry highlights the accelerating pace of change for many Alberta-based jobs, and the need for organizations to pay particular attention to how they define and measure talent. Without understanding what it now takes to be successful, employers are at particular risk of making poor talent management decisions than was the case in a healthy, stable economy.

As examples:

  • More people are working within newly restructured teams where it remains unclear what work should be done, who should be doing the work, and how the work needs to be accomplished. 
  • More complex decisions are being made that draw on information from a broader and more detailed understanding of interconnected processes and outcomes. 
  • Employees and leaders are required to do more with less, lacking the time, resources and support that had been critical to their success before the recent economic decline.

This is especially apparent when it comes to hiring new employees. As job demands change, so do the skills required for the role. This means that the competencies you previously selected for may not be what you need for today, let alone tomorrow.  Without fully understanding the new demands within your workplace, there is a risk you will select people who are not a fit with the role, team, and organizations - resulting not only in poor performance but also greater instances of stress, burnout, and disengagement. 

The risk of poor fit is a particular issue within the energy industry, according to DDI’s recently released study of over 15,000 leaders across 300 organization, 20 industries, and 18 countries. Among the results published in the study was a comparison of gaps between leaders’ skills and the job demands needed to meet industry-unique business challenges.  Not surprisingly, it was found that organizations within the energy industry had the largest gaps, indicating that poor fit between competencies and work demands is most prevalent and impactful for those in mining, oil, and natural gas. 

At the heart of these gaps seem to be selection decisions that over-emphasize technical expertise. For example, the same study compared leaders by educational background and found that leaders with engineering degrees were the most likely group to have weaknesses on critical leadership skills. Yet in my experience, less emphasis is being placed on these competencies when hiring and promoting. This is not to say education and technical experience should be ignored - rather there needs to be more balance in the selection process when weighing hard and soft skills. 

Now is the time to adjust your hiring practices. Within Alberta the external pool of highly skill talent has never been richer. In addition, within your organization, workforce reductions have likely left vacancies for critical roles where internal candidates could have the opportunity to step-up and make more significant contributions.  

Four actions that business and HR leaders can take to revamp their selection practices and improve employee fit within tomorrow’s roles are: 

  1. Identify critical roles: Understand the future roles where poor selection decisions will have the biggest impact to your organizations bottom line. This includes taking into account which positions have the greatest impact to the business, which are hardest to fill and onboard, and which are experiencing the most turnover.  

  2. Conduct job assessment interviews with key stakeholders: For critical roles, identify the biggest challenges to performing within the role, in order to identify the hard and soft skills needed given the demands of the role. Don’t solely rely on the skill profiles of previously high performers that may not apply within the new business context.

  3. Add more objectivity to selection decision-making: It is particularly challenging to assess soft skills, and traditional resume reviews, traditional interviews, and reference checks are poor methods for uncovering competency and potential. Better alternatives include having trained assessors conduct more structured interviews, adding work-related tests and psychometrics, and supplementing interviews with work samples and reference check surveys to gather more objective information. 

  4. Support onboarding with information gathered from a robust selection process: Consider sharing information about candidates’ strengths and weaknesses with them, their leaders, and others who will play a critical role in their success once hired. This information will allow them to establish more realistic expectations for performance, build more meaningful development plans to support their transition, and help them reach their performance potential more quickly.

The recent downturn has been difficult on many organizations, and introduces a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to how best to manage our most important resource - people. At the same time, as with any significant change and challenge, it presents opportunity for more progressive employers to adapt and prosper, particularly when it comes to better defining talent and what it takes for employees to be successful in the new economy.