Flickr via Jorg Weingrill
This article originally appeared in OpenForum.Jeff Kaye recently faced a problem. The Co-CEO of Kaye/Bassman International, an 80-employee, Dallas-based executive search firm, had embarked on a new strategy aimed at expanding the company’s marketing and communications division. At the same time, he’d reduced his accounting and finance staff. What to do, he wondered, about a long-time, valued finance employee whose accounting skills weren’t needed anymore.
The answer: Kaye realised the woman had some competence in graphic design. So, he transferred her over to the marketing division, where she received training in video editing. “Now, much of her time is spent in a completely new capacity—and one that fits our new strategy,” he says.
Most small businesses change strategies somewhere along the line. Trouble is, some employees simply might not have the skills needed for the new regime. For small firms without many resources, that’s a big problem: You need all hands on deck to be up to the job. “Small businesses can’t afford to make mistakes with their employees,” says Maria Varriano, a business coach who heads Marivar, a management consultancy in Staten Island, New York. At the same time, it’s generally cheaper to keep and retrain an existing employee than to hire a new one.
Not sure what to do? Consider these four steps.
Focus on the soft skills. You first have to figure out whether an employee has the basic ingredients you need at any time, the type of qualities that can’t be learned. “Trustworthiness, loyalty, good follow-through—they’re all things that transcend the specific duties of a job,” says Kaye.
That also means making sure the individual wants to be retrained—and can accept whatever the new strategy is. It’s a particularly important matter for companies recently out of the startup stage. “Sometimes the individuals who help an organisation get to a certain level of success are the very people who prevent the organisation from getting to the next level,” says Kaye. The risk-taker who eschews rules, for example, might not be able to adapt to a more mature company.
Look at the full picture. Just because employees have been doing a specific job doesn’t mean they don’t also have other talents and skills that could be transferred to other roles. Take Nick Blitterswyk, CEO of Urban Energy, a New York-based seller of wind turbines. As the company has grown, he’s moved a number of employees into new roles that took advantage of strengths not necessarily used in their previous jobs. One sales administrator with a background in environmental science, for example, recently was reassigned a major project to sell a new type of energy technology into parts of Southeast Asia.
Use personality assessments to pinpoint suitable new assignments. By using such assessments as DISC, you can figure out what makes individuals tick and the type of role to move them to. “Find the spot to fit the person, don’t make the person fit the spot,” says Edward Carrick, a management expert with Performance Analysis in Covington, Louisiana.
He points to a small manufacturing firm that recently had all 28 employees take an assessment after it was acquired by a larger company. The results revealed that one CAD operator was ill-suited to taking on a fast-paced job involving moving from one task to another quickly—just what the role in the new company required. But the assessment also showed the man to have good people skills. The result: He was moved to a job as purchasing manager that required him to work closely with mechanics at the plant. “His empathetic nature helped him understand the plight of employees whose frustrations spiked as parts ran low or came in late,” says Carrick. “And the relatively uniform work load fit his need for sameness and stability.”
Hire with long-term goals in mind. “If you understand your objectives, then you can look for people who can be groomed into specific positions as the company changes,” says Varriano. The owner of, say, a spa who is opening a new location would have an immediate need for a front desk coordinator and masseuse, according to Varriano. But, down the line, that location also likely would need someone to do community outreach, forming marketing alliances with fitness centres and other enterprises in the area. The upshot: “I’d keep my eyes open for people I could eventually groom into that position,” she says.
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