The Internal Appointment
I often have conversations with management about staff performance. These discussions often end up with managers bemoaning the poor performance of an individual subordinate and the numerous areas where they fall short.
One of my favourite questions has to do with how the employee ended up in the role that they are in. Frequently I am told that the person was ‘moved up’ or ‘moved across’ from another role in the company. This most generally being because a vacancy has come up for one reason or another and there was a need to fill the spot quickly.
Although I have no problem with internal transfers, in fact I am a strong advocate for them in many situations. The part of this that troubles me is how many times it is management’s lack of a clear understanding of the needs of the role mean that a person is appointed who does not have the right skillset.
The Awkward Truth
Now comes the hard part, this is where I see that management have culpability in this situation. I ask management about how a person without the skills got the job in the first place. I’m assuming the worker didn’t appoint his or herself to the role. So, we are left with two trains of thought.
Firstly, if the person being transferred did not have the skills for the job then this should have been discovered at or before appointment to the role. In this situation the conversation would go something along the lines of “Well Steve, we’d like to give you the opportunity in the role but we know there are some gaps in your skills that need to be developed. I’d like to work with you to set a development plan to assist you to build the skills you need for be successful in the role.” This development plan would need to be determined and supported with coaching, mentoring and/or additional training.
Sadly, I feel the conversation is more like this, “Congratulations Steve on your promotion, I’m sure you’ll do a fine job for us.” At this point the employee is feeling great, though possibly a little anxious, and left to work it out. Without the right support from their line manager they start to flounder and then get the feeling that it’s too late into the role to start asking questions about the things they are not clear on. The honeymoon period is over and their manager starts to think that the person can’t do the role. Or alternatively, if they do pluck up the courage to ask questions the manager says to oneself, “They should know this stuff instead of wasting my time”.
Secondly, if the new appointment does have the skills and is not performing to the level needed then it probably comes down to how they are managed or more accurately, not managed. The greatest challenge I see here is for sites that have remote offices or are so large that the span of control makes it almost impossible for a manager to spend the necessary amount of time on coaching for performance.
Imagine a scenario where and organisation appoints an existing worker to a new role in a different area of the business, knowing that they don’t have experience in the role and then leave them to work in a vacuum without the support or guidance needed to perform effectively. Or worse still the only feedback they get is that their Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) are not being met. Who is the one who is most at fault here? Is it the worker who is trying to do their best in a role they are ill-equipped for, or is it the manager who appointed them in the first place and did not provide the support they knew they needed?
When I hear these types of stories I ask, “Would you have appointed this person to this role if they were an external applicant and you know what you know about them already?” You would be surprised at how many times I hear the answer “Well, no!”. Then I ask, well why did you appoint them and not support them if you knew that they did not have all the skills for the job?
I mean, really, if this were the Olympics would you take the best marathon runner you have and put them in the 100m sprint because there was an opening?
At the heart of the matter, these types of problems come about because there is a lack of understanding of the job role, no clear skills matrix and the lack of a robust recruitment process. Yes, a recruitment process, even for an internal transfer which may have only the one candidate. Of course, you may want to dispense with the advertisement part of the process but you really must compare the candidate’s skills to the skills of the role and identify if there are gaps that need to be supported.
Potentially you would also include a probation period and regular performance and mentoring discussions. I know, you are thinking, all this sounds like hard work and time consuming. Well let me assure you, that this requires much less effort that trying to fix the situation that can develop if you do not have a clear internal recruitment process. One strategy rather than a promotion or transfer is to consider a secondment where the workers substantive position if filled in such a way that there is a graceful return if they don’t work out in the newly appointed role.
I appreciate that organisations will often see internal recruitment as a quick solution, saves money by avoiding advertising and agency fees and provides an internal career development opportunity which makes people feel ‘warm and fuzzy’. This can work, if it is handled the right way and you understand the gap between what you need and what you get when it comes to the appointment of the person.
Job Description versus Person Specification
A job description is a very useful document that details the job tasks, responsibilities, authority, objectives and other requirements. On the other hand, it is the person specification that details the profile of the ideal candidate for the role regarding skills and abilities, experience, and personal traits.
It has been my experience that organisations often overlook the person specification part of the process when they think they already have someone ‘in the system’ who seems like a good solution. Consequently, as I have seen in many situations, the results have been less than stellar and management have been left wondering what to do. Do we demote them? Do we terminate their employment? Do we give them a warning? Each of these possible solutions are negative outcomes which could have been avoided if the internal recruitment had been effective.
Many problems can be avoided if you consider these three key points.
Understand what you need, understand what you have, have a plan for the gap.
Where to from here?
If your organisation needs help in creating the person specification for roles within your business then the team at Yiramiilan Services can assist. Our experienced team have a wealth of experience in helping with talent development and have the expertise to analyse a job to get to the key qualities that contribute to success.
John Yealland is a management consultant and process improvement expert who has worked with business leaders in a wide range of industries to help them improve the performance of their organisation.