People — Our Most Vital Resource
The Australian or New Zealand business executive is constantly being reminded that we have a critical shortage of skilled, professional and managerial manpower which may throttle our economic growth.
It follows that the successful executive is likely to be he who attracts, appoints and retains the highest proportion of skilled, professional and managerial manpower relevant to his needs.
Most of our chief executives will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and man-hours in research, feasibility studies, task-forces and consultants' fees before taking a major decision to invest in capital equipment, facilities or machinery. Yet they baulk at spending a fraction of such money and effort in finding excellent people.
Then they wonder why they can't keep employees and blame their high staff turnover on the pernicious attitudes of the modern generation - as their forebears did before them.
The recruitment, selection and placement of high-salary staff is a lengthy process. Many colleagues have reacted with irritable disbelief when I have told them: it takes, on average, six months to recruit a top manager; four months to recruit a middle manager; and two months for non-managerial staff. Of course, there are many exceptions to this rough rule of thumb, but over two decades I have been amazed at its consistency.
The first essential criterion if a company is to attract excellent staff is that its top management must be very clear on what business it is in; where it is going; what its long-term objectives are; and what strategies it is adopting to achieve those objectives.
Without a clear understanding of these matters, it is unlikely that the company can be structured effectively so that every employee clearly understands his job, its critical success factors, the limits of his responsibility and authority, correct communication channels and so on.
I never cease to be amazed at the number of very senior executives, in what seem to be highly-paid, attractive positions, who are currently seeking alternative employment because "the job isn't what I was told it would be", or, "I get conflicting instructions from different bosses".
Once the company has been properly structured to pursue its chosen strategies in the smartest way, we can accurately describe the jobs that need to be done, within the structure, to attain its objectives.
By "job description" I don't mean those multi-page catechisms lying unheeded in managers' drawers all over the world. I mean the identification of two or three critical activities demanded by the job which will determine the success or failure of the incumbent of that job.
For example, consider the ailing company, on the verge of bankruptcy, whose board has decided to recruit a new chief executive. His critical success criterion then would be the survival of the company. All other activities would be subordinate to this. Once the firm had been pulled out of the red, other critical success criteria might be demanded by the job, e.g. to increase market share, improve the financial gearing, or introduce new products. Often the MD who saved the company in a crisis is the wrong man to steer it through more tranquil times.
The identification of the critical activities required by the job will naturally determine the type of person needed to perform those activities successfully, i.e. the "employee specification". The format of any written specification will vary with individual taste, the nature and level of the job. I believe it should include only but all the essential qualities demanded by the job in terms of, for example, physical qualities and health, academic or professional qualifications, relevant experience, motivation, maturity and specific personal dimensions (analytical ability, judgment, communication, skills and so on).
This is a critical step in the recruitment and selection process and it is vital that the employee specification should have the agreement and commitment of the superior to whom the recruited employee will report. It forms the basis of the recruitment effort which may, of course, take several forms. Perhaps the ideal incumbent is already in the company awaiting development and promotion. Perhaps we need to "poach" from a competitor. Or advertise. Or use a consultant.