Get the Right People on Your Bus

As a leader, how do you get the right people on your bus?

While the U.S. unemployment rate declined to 3.9% in December 2021, many managers and leaders feel an increasing urgency to fill open positions. And it’s understandable: short-staffed teams are at greater risk for disengagement, errors, and burnout. So, it’s not uncommon to see new-hire incentives including signing bonuses, flex work schedules, and childcare grants.

Unfortunately, filling open positions with the wrong person can make matters worse. When this topic comes up with leaders and managers, I hear about the impact to efficiency and productivity, client trust, and the triple-bottom line.

Instead of hiring the wrong person, great leaders improve their recruitment efforts, discernment in talent selection, and development (and support) of their existing talent pool.

The Pressure to Hire

Even in the best of times, getting the right people on the bus is a persistent challenge for leaders and managers. After all, talent is a critical driver of corporate performance. Consider the factors that greatly influenced the past two decades:

  • The irreversible shift from the Industrial Age to the Information Age: an average of 1.9 million new knowledge workers was needed every year.
  • Intensifying demand for top-performing managers
  • Drop in the number of workers ages 20-54: in the U.S., this was 10 million fewer than anticipated from 2000 – 2020.
  • Ability to search for and find other positions (switching from company to company)
  • Ongoing earnings inequality

As a result, managers often feel pressured to hire, even if it is not the right fit. This contributes to hiring mistakes, attrition, and increased expenses. It also impacts the organization’s potential managerial and leadership talent pool.

Avoid These Hiring Mistakes

Even in the best of times, managers report that the hiring process is time consuming and often frustrating. This leads to a negative bias, and an increased risk of impulsive hiring. Eager, energetic, and articulate candidates become more attractive when hiring decisions rely too heavily on interview impressions and intuition.

Consider the 85 years of data collected and analyzed by Frank L. Schmidt and John E. Hunter. Their research reveals that employment interviews are only 57% accurate when it comes to getting the right people on the bus. This is only slightly better than a coin toss.

Instead, great leaders develop a process tailored for their organization and culture. They commonly assess candidates on intelligence, work sample (results portfolio or work sample test), integrity test (conscientiousness), and structured interviews.

However, before testing and interviewing can take place, it is critical to understand the real performance requirements. This is the time to review, and if necessary, update job descriptions. It’s important to know what you are looking for.

The Best Job Descriptions

The best job descriptions reflect what needs to get done today, and in the near future. Savvy leaders and managers also focus on the behavior and traits necessary to achieve desired results. They consider how the role:

  1. Solves current and future anticipated business challenges/needs.
  2. Impacts (affects/interacts/collaborates) other teams, departments, lines of business.
  3. Benefits from specific competencies and traits.

For example, a combination of four key traits has the greatest impact on workplace teams, according to a recent article in Harvard Business Review. These include:

  1. Reliability: Flexibility only goes so far if an employee is unreliable.
  2. Readiness: A growth mindset may be more important than training and experience.
  3. Attitude: Positivity is contagious.
  4. Communication: Look for clarity, coherence, and comprehension.

Performance & Outcome Job Descriptions

If the past two years has taught us anything, it’s the importance of flexibility and adaptability. However, what got us here may not get us there. Sure, experience and skills are important. But an outcome-oriented job description is a better predictor of future performance. For example, “reduce operating expenses by 9% within the first six months” emphasizes performance and potential and provides measurable objectives.

Talent Attraction and Management

Talented, high performers may expect top-pay and perks, but they need to believe in and feel passionate about what they are doing. Over the past two decades, creative freedom was a priority for many; today it is the balance of freedom and safety. Attracting top talent requires the right messaging.

One way to evaluate this is to review your Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Does it truly reflect the real employee experience: culture, values, work satisfaction, leadership, compensation, and more? How do you know this?

Employee Survey

Ask your employees what they value. You can offer options and/or write in answers, and ask them to rank in importance. For example, top performing managers often report that they value:

  • Exciting work
  • A value-drive culture
  • Great leaders in a great company
  • Incentives and rewards
  • Opportunities for growth, development, and advancement
  • The ability (and support) to meet personal and family commitments.

Ask what they would change. How could their work experience improve? What about the organization?

Keep your survey as short and simple as possible, and start with why: how you will use the information to improve their work experience. Follow-up with the results of your survey and any action (next steps) you will take.

Retain Top Talent

Providing optimal working conditions is even more crucial for leaders and managers. Monitor tasks, conditions, and outcomes and their relationship to roles, responsibilities, and strengths:

  • Communicate: Provide status updates and opportunities for real-time dialog.
  • Consider support strategies: Help people “play” at work, develop strengths to achieve mastery of their work, and ways to reward their efforts and results.
  • Re-examine roles and responsibilities: Consider if/how to create new/different/temp/AI positions), or hire for a different position.

While we may learn from our mistakes, we grow even more when our successes are noticed and praised. Recognize achievements, efforts, and attitudes.

Many factors cause disengagement, but the most prevalent is feeling overwhelmed—physically, mentally, or emotionally.  Acknowledge this in your employees. Our level of engagement depends on how we feel: optimistic, grateful, autonomous, able, hopeful, supported. We need to feel true appreciation.

Renew Yourself: The Power of Awe

When was the last time you experienced an overwhelming sense of awe? How did it transcend your understanding of the world?

Even if you can’t answer these questions, chances are the experience lifted your spirits and increased your joy. Maybe that’s why some holiday traditions begin and continue over centuries: they are a way to renew yourself.

Consider the first time you recall seeing the lighting of a Christmas tree. Were you warm, or cold? Was it daytime, or nighttime? Who was there? Chances are your caregivers were focused on your reaction and able to view the spectacle through your eyes, turning a task into something extraordinarily awesome.

Unfortunately, responsibility and daily pressures can rob us of awesome experiences as we focus more and more on organized, goal-directed, and competitive activities. (Yes, it is possible to turn tree-trimming into a competitive sport.) Add to that the strain of uncertainty and ongoing changes experienced with a pandemic, and our worlds seem to shrink and shrivel. We lose our ability to experience awe.  Fortunately, we can cultivate awe.

The Benefits of Awe

To be sure, stress can be tiring. Even the holiday season can leave us feeling a bit frazzled and worn down. But before you dismiss cultivating awe as another task for your to-do list, consider the benefits of awe. Experiencing awe allows us to:

  • Enhance our connection to and with others. We become more aware of how we are connected.
  • Be more comfortable with uncertainty. Our need or desire for cognitive control decreases.
  • Take risks. Experiencing awe increases our need to take risk, and we become better able to do so.
  • Gain greater understanding of our sense of self, our history, and our place in the world.
  • Reduce inflammation. Experiencing awe improves our physical health as it positively impacts our cytokine response.
  • Be curious, courageous, and move forward.

Defining Awe

Awe can be difficult to precisely define. Many people describe awe as a human response to a spiritual presence; a complex emotion that can be positive or negative. According to scientific research conducted by behavioral neuroscientists, “Awe differs from common positive emotions, triggered by vast stimuli, and characterized by a need for accommodation (NFA).”  Based on studies of people in 30+ countries, researchers have identified certain properties of awe. These include:

  • Vastness: anything perceived as being immense in physical size, social status, scope, or complexity as compared to the self. In addition, awe comes from a vast variety of sources, including physical, epistemological, temporal (i.e. how music can stretch time)
  • Transcendence: awe transcends our understanding of the world and requires a new mental schema reorganization to accommodate the experience(s).
  • An embodied response (universal patterns of behavior), including emotions, the nervous system, and a brain state:
    • Down regulation n of the pre-frontal cortex, responsible for executive function/intentional control
    • Up regulation of the DMN (the default mode network, which is the interaction between multiple areas of the brain that are active during ideation: imagination, divergent thinking, creativity, innovation, etc.)
    • Increase of activity in the right side of the brain (and decrease in the left), which is correlated to the brain state when people engage in society or culture

Awe has a widespread effect on our sense of self. Studies also find that awe affects our sense of time, humility, prosocial behavior, and life satisfaction, all great reasons to cultivate awe.

How to Cultivate Awe

While many of us have had fewer opportunities (or the ability) to travel, socialize, or even work face-to-face with others, it is possible to renew yourself with small daily doses of awe. Keep in mind that by its very definition, awe comes in a vast variety of sources: what works for one person, may not work for another. So, start with a little inventory of your own awesome experiences.

  • Awesome writing! Block ten minutes early in your day to cultivate awe. Scan your memories for awesome experiences. It might be something you witnessed, read about, or an event in which you took an active role. Consider the ways in which you experienced the vastness: was it physical, psychological, or both? Describe your experience in writing with as much detail as possible. What did you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel? How did you respond? What did you learn; how did you change?
  • Awesome reading! Again, block ten minutes early in your day to find and read an awe inspiring story. It might be a biography, a scientific discovery, a blog post, or a news story. (Avoid negative or clickbait headlines.) As you find stories that trigger awe, curate go-to sources (websites, journals, blogs, etc.) Look for stories that illustrate a sense of vastness (physically or psychologically) and alter your understanding of the world (and your place in it.)
  • Awesome tripping! This may take a bit more time than ten minutes, but depending on where you live (or work), it may require as little as 30 minutes daily. You see, awesome tripping is about being in nature; it’s noticing the natural state of things around you, including the landscape and weather. Go for a walk, sit in a park, visit a museum, or simply stand outside. Even viewing nature virtually—through photos, paintings, videos, etc.—can create awe. (Here’s the research.) So, if you can’t get outside and experience nature “in person,” experience nature virtually.

Remember, awe comes from a vast variety of sources. Explore your own personal, historical sources of awesomeness, and be open to future opportunities. Consider spending time with younger and older individuals. Children can help you see the world as novel and wondrous. Older, more experienced individuals might just be a hero in disguise.