In the past 20 years, increasing global economic competition, changes in technology, and the availability of information have dramatically changed the nature of work and the workplace. In order to be competitive organizations must develop new and innovative products and services and bring them to market more quickly than ever before. Moreover, in order to adapt to changing market demands organizations must be willing to change the very nature of the products and services that they offer. An organization’s response to changing market conditions often means major and frequent changes to their workers’ roles and responsibilities. Indeed, organizations that hold rigid specifications for what their employees’ jobs entails may find it difficult to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Accordingly, many organizations have shifted from the strategy of hiring people with a clearly defined set of skills that match the requirements of a specific job to hiring people who have a more general set of competencies (e.g., intelligence, critical thinking, the ability to work well with others, the willingness to adapt to change) that will allow them be valued contributors even when the nature of the job changes. In other words, many organizations have shifted from a “present-focused” to a “future-focused” hiring strategy.
However, future-focused hiring often presents challenges and is not always possible. For example, new hires may be a response to unexpected vacancies in key contributor roles, the acquisition of new clients and increased business, or issues with the quality and timeliness of work from current employees. In these situations, hiring managers may feel pressured to fill the position with someone who can immediately step in and perform the work proficiently. An ideal hire would be someone who has the specific skill set to perform proficiently in the current role, as well as a set of general competencies that would allow him/her to perform well in the future if the nature of the role changes. However, as any manager will likely tell you, finding this employee represents a real challenge, especially when the work begins to pile-up. Therefore, in these situations managers may adopt a present-focused rather than future-focused strategy and opt for someone who can immediately contribute, even if that individual lacks some of the desirable, general competencies that the organization has identified as critical for future success in a changing environment.
Even when there is not a not need for immediate contributions from new hires there are still challenges with future-focused hiring. Employees who are hired on the basis of desirable, but general competencies, rather than specific job skills will likely need to receive some form of training before they are able to competently perform the job. This inevitably means an initial investment of time and money in the employee before the organization realizes any productivity gains. Unfortunately, there is never a guarantee that this investment will result in the employee being able to perform the job well or even remain with the organization. Clearly, there are risks involved.
So how should organizations cope with the challenges inherent in future-focused hiring? I have some thoughts on that, but you’ll have to stay tuned for my next post to find out.