Imagine that you have hired somebody for a filing job. Fortunately, you have found a person who loves to file, a person who gets a visceral thrill whenever everything is in its place. The person is neat, fastidious, prompt, and proactive.
However, you keep finding folders in the wrong drawers. Or, you keep looking for folders and you can’t find them without asking your new employee where they are. Surprise! You have a problem employee because your filing goals are not being met.
So you start through the process. First, you check to see what goals aren’t being met and you see that the goal, “All files must be stored properly” is consistently being violated. So you look to talents and you know that this person is a great filer and loves to file.
The next step is to check for skills: Have you trained the person to succeed? In this example, did you teach your new employee the filing system? If you haven’t, then it would be unfair to replace the person.
Checking an Employee’s Skills
Employees cannot succeed if they haven’t been trained to do the job. However, in today’s flexible companies, and especially after the tumult of a layoff, it’s easy for an employee to wind up with the job before the training. The problems that result are skill problems. There are several ways you can check an employee’s skills:
- Observation—Simply watch the employee. If the employee consistently does the job the wrong way, then there is a skills problem. Or, if the employee has no idea where to start on a task, you have a skills problem.
- Testing—I once led a team of sales engineers who needed a specific set of technical skills. I used a technical training course with testing to learn who could develop the skills and who needed to find new work. This was a stressful class, to say the least, but it was the fairest way to determine who knew how to do the job.
- Feedback from others—You will not be the only person who notices the problem. Ask other employees for generic feedback regarding the employee with descriptions of specific incidents. You can use these to determine if the person simply doesn’t know how to do the job.
It’s important to differentiate between employees who don’t have the talent for the job and employees who don’t have the skills for the job. When in doubt, ask yourself if you think it would be possible to train the person to succeed. If you think training will help, then you probably have a skills problem.
When I had the sales job I discussed in Step 2, I simply didn’t like to make cold calls. No amount of training would help.
Lack of skills is the happiest problem-employee scenario. You just train the person. We love training people because we can see immediate improvement.
Of course, there may be cases where this isn’t so easy. Highly skilled jobs in engineering or pharmaceuticals may require more training than you can afford. In these cases, the person usually got moved into the job after being hired for a different job. This is because resumes are designed to describe skills, and we rarely hire someone who doesn’t have the skills to succeed.
If someone has been moved into a job without the skills we have to either find a way to train the person, move them back to a job that can use their existing skills, or let them go and replace them with a more skillful person.