The Hiring Challenge – Or is it a Mirage?

A discussion I had with a client. The plant manager of a large manufacturing plant in Mexico: 

mirage-city“Lonnie, we want to grow the Continuous Improvement (CI) Support Group and we also just lost Raul, (a CI Engineer). Could you help us interview some candidates? We have 5 or 6 with excellent experience.”  And I reply, “Rene, forget about the experience – hire talent. The experience very likely is overstated, it may not translate into your business needs and if these engineers are so talented, just why are they looking for jobs?” To which Rene responds, “I understand your misgivings on experience but what do you mean by talented?” I go on, “The very best way to grow and strengthen your organization is to hire largely at the entry level, train, develop and promote from within. And the talent you are looking for is not just people who can do the job today, but people who will be your future supervisors, managers and subject matter experts. They are more likely to stay because you have invested in them and if you do it properly you will be able to show them a career path that meets their needs as well. Hire hard-working, smart people who show high initiative; who work well with people, and are intently curious.”

One year later…..

“Lonnie, I just wanted to let you know that we took your advice. We hired three CI engineers, all recent graduates from the Tec de Monterrey, and I could not be happier. We used the personnel development tools you taught us and these three have grown like weeds. Our sister plant in Monterrey hired four experienced CI engineers and two did not work out and another one has already moved on. Hiring and cultivating talent has paid huge dividends.”

I am a consultant who teaches Lean, following the Toyota Production System (TPS-Lean), which is based on two cultural pillars: Continuous Improvement and Respect for People. We specialize in the latter. Hence when I get a call like the one I received from Rene, I feel great. A call like that will not only make my day but make my week. I know I have made a difference to the business, its stockholders, its customers and especially the employees. It is a win-win-win-win scenario. Unfortunately – this example is the minority report.

Is there a “hiring challenge”?

Robert Velasquez wrote a blog article based on research from the Brandon Hall Group*. In it he had this rather disturbing statement:

55% of organizations told us they were struggling with a talent shortage, and 64% indicated their greatest talent challenge was attracting talent.

Disturbing, but not surprising. We see these issues every day as we work with firms to improve their management systems.

What about the “talent shortage”?

Our firm has a policy statement entitled, “What we believe, What we do, and How we do it” which we share with all our clients. It is our roadmap. Among our 15 Beliefs there are three of major relevance to our discussion here. They are:

  • The vast majority of the talent needed to vault your enterprise into becoming a lean enterprise are already inherent within your organization.
  • The key to success is largely an issue of unleashing these abilities.
  • The major and very critical tool needed to unleash these abilities, and hence to become a Lean Enterprise, is to learn and employ the skills of Lean Leadership at all levels of the organization.

When clients tell us they have a talent shortage we always cultivate a discussion.
It ends with “Do you – or do you not – have strong lean leadership?” One of the key qualities lean leaders must have is that they must exhibit the skills to be “leaders as teachers.”

So, what’s the problem?

The problem “seems to be” that these firms are having trouble finding and retaining talent. The real problem is that this is a problem of its own making. There is no shortage of talent. And the second issue, of attracting talent, is simply a mirage. Most firms would like to cast the problem as something out there. As if somehow the “industrial world,” or the structured educational systems, owes these firms a constant supply of talented workers. Well when it comes to the specific talent needed to run your specific business, wake up and smell the roses – you will reap only that which you sow.

OK, so what’s the fix?

The solution comes in five parts.

First, managers need to make a paradigm shift. Managers at all levels, from the C-suite to the first line supervisor must rid themselves of the idea that the marketplace is somehow responsible for supplying them with experienced talent. This is an entitlement that no supervisor or manager has any right to expect.

Second, we must make it abundantly clear, at all levels, that the key responsibility of the supervisor is to make his subordinates successful. This means he must train them so they can assist the firm today.

Third, we must make it abundantly clear that all supervisors are responsible to make sure that their team has an adequate skill inventory for now and the future. It is her responsibility to make sure her people are being developed.

Fourth, it is the responsibility of senior leadership to train and support all supervisors to become “leaders as teachers”.

Finally, and most importantly, it is the responsibility of all senior leadership to model the correct behaviors and be “leaders as teachers” themselves.

What does all of this look like?

  • First, senior leadership needs to create, and execute, a Five-Year Growth and Staffing Plan for the facility
  • Second, every supervisor, starting with the CEO, needs to create, and execute, a Succession Plan for each job in the facility
  • Third, starting with the CEO, every supervisor needs to develop, and execute, a Personal Development Plan so each person can be as competent as possible in their present job
  • Fourth, each supervisor should prepare, and execute, a Five-Year Growth and Development Plan for each of his/her subordinates
  • Fifth, every supervisor, starting with the CEO, should provide frequent (daily, weekly) feedback to each subordinate on a routine basis.
  • Sixth, if you are using the annual appraisal system, throw it away, it’s worse than nothing.

The end game….

For those who profess to have a talent shortage, it is a euphemism for some other management shortcoming.  The tools and techniques to correct this shortcoming do not constitute rocket science. What they do require is an organization that is willing to accept the responsibility to hire, train and develop the skills they need to survive and prosper. If you are not yet doing this – and wish to survive and prosper – then get ready to put on your coveralls and go to work.  The stark reality is that the changes which need to occur are in the thoughts, beliefs and actions of the management team; everything else will follow.

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Lonnie Wilson

Lonnie Wilson

Lonnie Wilson is the author of Sustaining Workforce Engagement: How To Ensure Your Employees Are Healthy, Happy, And Productive and founder of Quality Consultants where clients include firms in manufacturing as well as the fields of education, healthcare and other service sectors. Quality Consultants serves small firms as well as Fortune 500 firms in North, South, Central America, and China.

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