7 Ways to Build a Strong Team–Without Hiring New Employees

Paying close attention to your employees' skills, and tailoring jobs for them, can put your business ahead of the game.
July 06, 2012

While U.S. unemployment rates hang above 8 percent, employers nationwide are complaining they can’t find qualified employees to fill open positions. If there are open jobs, and people searching, why is our unemployment rate stuck?

I recently saw a report theorizing that the problem doesn't lie with the job candidates, but with the way big employers are looking to fill open positions. Corporations don’t want to spend time or money on training employees; they want workers who can hit the ground running. So they look for job candidates who already have the exact skills and experience needed for a particular (and sometimes very esoteric) job. In addition, most big companies use software to weed through resumes, quickly eliminating candidates who don’t use the magical combination of keywords to fill the position.

Seeking employees to fit the job—not tailoring jobs to fit employees—is the wrong approach for building a strong, flexible team. As someone who’s managed employees for more than 30 years, I’ve always found it’s far more effective to tailor a job to an employee’s skills, interests and aptitudes.

Big companies may not have the time or manpower for this approach, but small companies should, because creating jobs to fit your employees can give you an incredible edge. Here are my suggestions for how to make it work.

Hire for attitude, not just aptitude. Say you’re considering two candidates for a sales associate job. One has lots of sales experience and knows your POS system, but she’s remote and a little stand-offish. The other candidate has less sales experience, but she’s warm and enthusiastic, as well as eager to learn. Which would you rather hire? It’s easier to teach a friendly person the job than to teach an unfriendly person how to get along with others. Consider what attitude your employee will need to work effectively with teammates and customers, and factor that into your hiring decision.

Be patient. It takes a while for new workers to learn the ropes. People aren’t robots, and as much as you might like to, you can’t flick a switch and have a new hire immediately fit into your company. Give new employees the training they need; then give them time to grow into their roles. Regular, detailed feedback—both positive and negative—helps to speed up the learning curve.

Get feedback. In addition to giving feedback, get input from your employees on how the other staffers they work with are doing at their jobs. Learning the good, the bad and the ugly about each person will help you determine whether their current roles are the best use of their abilities.

Talk to employees. Not just during their annual review process, but, ideally, throughout the year, talk to your staff honestly to get insights about how you could better tailor jobs for them. What do they like most and least about their jobs? What would they like to do that’s not part of their current job description? What would they like to be doing this time next year? We often ask these kinds of questions when hiring someone, but don’t bother to do so after they’re on staff.

Think outside the box. Every move doesn’t have to be a promotion. Sometimes employees are happiest moving laterally within your business or even going back to a job they previously held.

Envision a perfect fit. How do your employees’ interests, goals and aptitudes mesh with your big-picture vision for your company? Maybe you’ve thought about starting a new product line or expanding into new markets. Is there an employee in-house who would be perfect for the role?

Be patient, part 2. I can’t tell you how many employees I had who struggled in one role, only to blossom in another that was better suited to their talents. But it doesn’t always happen overnight—so be patient and willing to adjust jobs as needed.

Tailoring jobs to fit your employees gives your small business an edge, because when workers are truly challenged and get to do something they love, they will reward you with loyalty, energy and innovative ideas. Imagine having a team of workers who look forward to coming to work every morning. That can be reality if you craft jobs to fit your team.

How do you tailor jobs to your employees?

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