7 Obstacles Management Must Address to Achieve a Top 20 Workforce

Empower, motivate, clarify, involve, passion, tough-mindedness — you have heard it all.

Some people make a good living promoting these ideas. However, they all are based on the same premise: if your employees have a good attitude, they will be more productive and life will become a bowl of cherries.

As one who has been there, done that, and lived to tell about it, I can say without hesitation most people know this is nonsense!

Each week over the next seven weeks, I’ll describe how and why organizational performance is rooted in the ability of each employee to actually do specific tasks. It helps to think of human resources this way: you can buy 100 machines of which 20 percent are high-quality, 20 percent low-quality, and 60 percent so-so; or, buy 100 machines, of which 90 percent are high quality.

The first option is the employment norm. It’s what you get when employees are selected based on traditional interviews. The second option is the employment exception. It’s what you get when you follow best practices and accurately measure the whole person for every critical job skill.

Show or Tell

Organizations tend to hire people who pass interviews. There are no tryouts, no simulations, and no hard-to-fake exercises. Some organizations even borrow tests from the training arena — mistakenly assuming they can predict job performance.

On the other hand, people who make a living in athletics or the performance arts know they don’t get a job without tryouts. Interviews are nice, but every performer must also show they can perform. Can you imagine what games and performances would be like if HR made all the selection decisions?

The casual interview has been studied to death. We don’t know much about people who fail the interview because they don’t get hired; but, we do know people who pass these interviews have just as much chance of being a low performer as high — 50/50. Managers are much worse. Current research shows only 20-30 percent of people holding management positions are skilled managers.

If half the employees are generally low producers and more than 70 percent of the managers cannot manage, is it any wonder why motivation and empowerment programs seldom work? You can send your unskilled employees to every Tony Robbins or Steven Covey motivational seminar that comes to town; the best you can hope for is unskilled people who had a good time.

The secret to high performance organizations is so clear it’s taken for granted: hire and promote fully-qualified employees, give them clear direction and the resources necessary to get the job done, and get out of their way! So why isn’t it done? Primitive instincts get in the way.

Human nature

Humans come with built-in judgment flaws about people. They mistake getting to know someone with learning whether they have job skills.

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Blame evolution. A long time ago our ancestors roamed the savanna in small bands. When they met strangers, survival depended on deciding quickly whether they were friend or foe. Those who chose correctly lived long enough to have offspring. Those who didn’t, well, you know.

We are all children of survivors. This means we arrive on this planet with built-in instincts to “get to know” job applicants personally and quickly. You will even see books about two-minute first impressions. Think about it: Unless you are considering Hannibal Lecter as your personal chef, safe-people and job-skilled people are NOT same thing.

The instinct for basing decisions on inadequate pieces of information leads to hiring and promoting people based on insufficient or inaccurate information.

Two views

I often ask people to list all the reasons why employees or managers fail. Line managers usually say some people cannot learn, cannot plan, are unmotivated, not team players, have poor interpersonal skills, and so forth. Line managers generally cite a lack of specific job skills.

When HR is asked the same question, they tend to blame training, think no one helped them, blame leaders, and so forth. Do you see the difference? Line managers know performance problems are skills-based. HR thinks they are victimized. Now, which group gets more respect? Which group has more power and influence? Which group stays employed while others are outsourced?

We have to lay the blame for performance problems squarely at the feet of the gatekeeper to the organization. Anyone claiming expertise managing the organization’s human resource function should actually be an expert. They should keep-up with current testing and selection technology and continually educate management about best practices. They have a responsibility to quantify the financial cost of poor employee performance and should work to reduce organizational exposure to unnecessary legal challenges.

In this series of articles that will be published each Tuesday here on TLNT, I’ll outline in more detail the seven different obstacles that need to be addressed by management before any organization can achieve a Top 20 workforce.