One of the common complaints you’ll see today is executives saying how there isn’t enough talent out there, not enough people with the right skills or even the willingness to learn. They say that people -- almost always “young people” -- are too eager to jump ship.
What are companies to do when there’s not enough talent and what talent there is will just leave?
I can sympathize with this, to an extent. It’s a tight labor market (though maybe not as tight as claimed), and certain jobs are harder to hire for than others. Less glamorous jobs that require computer or technical skills can be especially vexing to manufacturers and other employers. Trucking companies can struggle to find candidates who can pass federal drug-testing guidelines. Rural areas can face obstacles that cities don’t in attracting people.
But another side of this is that employers often expect fully trained, expert employees to show up at their doors. It’s one thing to have an uneducated workforce; it’s another to look at job candidates with potential who need on-the-job training and say, “They aren’t skilled in what we need.”
(Let’s put it another way: If your company’s work requires only skills that people should already have, those skills aren’t unique and differentiated, and it’s unlikely your company is, either. If those people have the right skills, they probably have a job already, so why leave that for you?)
Similar to this is the twin problem many organizations have: They churn through employees in certain positions, as no one seems to be able to do the job. Yet, it’s an open secret that some people, possibly executives, are untouchable even though they seem to lack in talent, results and improvement.
At the risk of oversimplifying, these problems have the same root cause: The organization is not taking responsibility for training people, placing them in a position to succeed and following up by holding everyone to account.
Training is personal
How your organization goes about training is a personal (and personnel) decision. Every company, every industry has its own methods. Onboarding, ongoing development or career pathing can also differ depending on whether we’re talking full-time employees, part-timers, freelancers or contractors.
So, I can't solve the specifics for you. What I do want to talk about is the mindset you’re starting with. Let’s assume we all want a few basic things out of the people we hire:
- They are able to learn and retain.
- They are productive and efficient.
- They understand how to do their jobs (maybe even innovate).
- They understand their expectations and incentives.
That’s just one way the worker’s obligations could be phrased. Now, let’s look at some of the employer’s obligations:
- Be clear about the job.
- Be clear about how the job is done and what is required to do the job well.
- Be clear about what the worker must do to meet expectations.
- Provide the support, tools and resources necessary.
I’m leaving out things about safety, culture and making sure incentives line up with desired behaviors. Those are not unimportant! But let’s pretend, for now, that those can be folded into the above bullet points.
There’s one bullet point missing:
- Be clear the worker understands all of the above and is actually properly trained and informed.
If you have a worker who is not doing the job, that’s bad for that person. It’s also bad for the boss, the leader, the employer. If you find yourself with an employee who’s not performing, ask yourself:
- Have you trained this person?
- Have you explained what needs to be done, and why?
- Do you have confirmation that the worker understands?
- Do they have the resources they need?
- Maybe reskilling is what's needed?
Being thorough from the hiring process through this reflection and remediation is a lot of work. But there are benefits: You gain a skilled employee, who might be more loyal because of the investment of attention, time and resources. And, if there is no progress, you know that for sure rather than through a hunch or from bias.
Let’s say you’ve gone through this process, maybe more than once, and there remains a disconnect, an unwillingness or inability of the worker to do the job, and no further accomodations can be made. Well, then you know (barring legal hurdles, of course) that you can and should move on.
Indeed, you must move on, or you’ll create a two-tiered culture: people who do their jobs yet are side by side with people who don’t but aren’t held to account.
Don’t blame people for doing bad work when you haven’t done your part to prepare them. But, also, don’t keep people who just won’t do what is needed. Either way, assume that it’s on you, the employer or the manager, to make sure the worker has the best possible chance to succeed.
James daSilva is the longtime editor of SmartBrief's leadership newsletter and blog content, as well as newsletters for distributors, manufacturers and other professions. Before SmartBrief, he was a copy desk chief at a small daily New York newspaper. Contact him @SBLeaders, @James_daSilva or by email.