There’s something of a crisis occurring in American recruitment at the moment. With unemployment figures in recent years as high as they ever were in the whole 20th century, employer’s are still claiming a lack of appropriately skilled and experienced workers. Blame is being thrown in all directions, at the government, at the education system, at the economic crisis, at China and other rising economies, and even at the unemployed themselves. Some of the mud-slinging is justified – but for a solution we should be looking closer to home.
Companies have fallen way behind when it comes to training, resulting in a stagnant business structure that leaves employees spending many working years neither gaining new skills nor experiencing a variety of work. Couple this with our illogical tendency to hire externally over promoting internally – despite greater costs and lower success rates – and the reasons for the current state of American industry become a lot clearer.
So what can we do to?
It is impossible to treat a team of employees in exactly the same way and expect to get the best out of each of them. One of the greatest changes that needs to occur in business is the recognition of employees as individuals, with personal goals, preferred methods of working, and differing areas of potential.
It’s easy to forget this; a recent office I worked with had management so determined to turn themselves into a paperless office they ditched the printer and handed everyone an iPad. It took only four months of drastically erratic performance and many missed deadlines before they succumbed and brought the printer back (albeit with some changes). Some, of course, loved the gadgets, but there was a substantial portion of the office that simply preferred and worked better with paper reports, note-taking, and memos. A basic understanding of employee wishes could have saved a costly mistake in that case.
Constantly be training. Even if you feel that your employees have all the skills they require to perform their tasks, look at ways they can improve – not in terms of efficiency or productivity, but in terms of skills and experience. Ask them if there are areas they would like to move into, and work with them towards to those goals.
Encouraging an employee who wishes to be creative towards those positions, or enabling an employee who wishes to gain skills to do so, always results in a happier, more rounded, loyal, and capable worker. Yes it costs money up front, but this is the cheapest, most effective, and most valuable way to create prime candidates for management and leadership roles. There is no excuse for us to be as ignorant to this basic fact as much as we are currently.
In my years of reading research, visiting various companies, and analysing data, the one truth that keeps cropping up is that freedom, and the ability to use initiative, results in good work. If working at the Google complex is at one end of the spectrum, and a low-grade Chinese sweatshop is at the other, where would your business be in terms of allowing employees to use their own brains? Often it’s closer to the latter than we’d like to admit.
In most cases, it may seem like there isn’t much call for initiative in the typical office tasks that we allow employees to perform, but even in the most banal and straightforward tasks employees can come up with creative solutions on their own. After all, who knows their job better than they? Even allowing such freedoms as the ability to work from home occasionally, or to perform tasks in any order, can result in a feeling of responsibility and ownership that will spur employees on to reach deadlines quicker. Never underestimate the value of feeling valued.
90% of what I do as a business consultant is simple offer a different perspective, and the ideas that come from that. This is something every employee in your company can also do, and one of the great, criminally-untapped resources that companies rarely use. As I said before, employees know their jobs better than anyone, and often have a viewpoint that management simply cannot comprehend.
Many companies incorrectly believe they already offer solid avenues for feedback. This is, again, because employees work in different ways. They can often feel what they say will not be appreciated, or even a risk to their position. Some employees prefer to discuss and proffer their ideas in different ways; be they in communal meetings, suggestion boxes, face-to-face, or in reports which allow for flexible, day-to-day reactions.