[Coaching Corner] Pay Attention to these 4 Gaps to Overcome Prolonged Organizational Ineffectiveness

Sitting at your desk, couch, table, or preferred reading spot, you probably find yourself like many others wondering when the economy will fully turn around. In fact, you, like many others in similar situations, might actually have just been thinking about the difference between where your organization exists now and where you know it could be in the future. The good news is, you recognize there is a gap between what is and what could be. What if the beginning of the end of this organizational turmoil began with examining how you recruit and retain individuals and how you plan for the future, today!

In the present extended economic downturn, all organizations are facing tremendous challenges, internally and externally. One primary area of discomfort resides in your human resource capabilities. Right now, you are facing stiffer competition for every job posting due to a flood of un- and under-employed workers. This has allowed you and your competition to the opportunity to overly specialize openings, as with a bevy of individuals, you can easily weed out the masses to fit your needs. In part due to these changes, as well as the greater availability of continuing higher education, more individuals are taking advantage of their lull in employment and accessibility of higher education to engage in programs of learning and development.

Sounds like a golden opportunity for organizational growth, right? Well if you don’t adapt your organizational practices, it may simply be fool’s gold! While on one hand this might seem to be the perfect storm (think – greater pools of candidates with increasingly better capabilities), the other hand might be hiding a great potential for continued organizational despair.

If you, and your organization, fail to enact new strategies to adapt to the new economic realities, better candidates certainly will not be the magic wand to cure your ailments. The pace of change in the present economy, make necessary that you conduct thorough and forward-thinking gap analyses, or else the hiring of new individuals could actually exacerbate your organization’s downturn by costing you more money to onboard, people that in the end will become discontented with stagnant or outdated strategies.

Think about it, presently you (if you are responsible for recruiting or retaining employees) probably faced with stacks of resumes and pages of emails with resumes and cover letters. Your job is to cull through the carnage to find the person that best duplicates what you lost when the previous employee left the organization. Yet, is that really the best tactic? Does filling a present need (or even a previous need, in some situations) really help your organization turn into an industry leader?

Noted scholars on organization diagnostics, Harrison and Shirom (1999) note, that when decisions are made regarding closing current gaps, such framework can be tremendously short-sighted and miss the future needs in the environment. Which really begs the question, do you want to go where you already have been, or do you want to lead the future?

If you want to lead, it is imperative that you engage your organization in preparation for diagnosis and dialogue. Examine your present and anticipated future. Ask members of your organization, including executives, what they see as a long-term destination of the organization and do this prior to enacting hiring practices.

So where do you start? HRD experts, Gilley, Eggland, and Gilley (2002) note that organizations should examine potential gaps in four places to best prepare for the future: need gaps, performance gaps, management gaps, and organizational gaps.

Need Gaps – In the present economy, many organizations easily fall prey to simply trying to ‘replace’ outgoing workers with those that duplicate lost skillsets. However, when organizations examine need gaps in their personnel, it will better allow for adapting to the present and future climate. In many organizations, this means a greater emphasis must be placed on training for new skills, knowledge bases and abilities for current and future organizational needs. It is expected when these needs gaps are analyzed and endeavors are created to close these gaps the organization will have organizational members who have expertise in areas of greatest importance to the success of the organization.

Performance Gaps – Your organization probably has experienced one of the realities of the open systems framework – loss of energy within the confines of a system. In most organizations, this loss occurs simply due to poorly developed or maintained performance systems. Such gaps in performance may result from poor job designs, salary and reward structures that don’t meet the needs of high performing organizational members, and even poor realization of barriers to performance (both internal and external) in a work environment.

Management/Leadership Gaps – While bookstore shelves are covered with books on improving management and leadership ‘techniques’ many organizations still suffer from gaps between expectations (or expectations for the future) and current management and leadership behaviors. It is no longer acceptable for managers and organizational leaders to lack the important ‘soft skills’ in this knowledge economy. Organizations must prepare for the future by hiring and developing individuals throughout the organization that communicate well, listen effectively, dialogue with individuals at all levels of the organization, and facilitate the development of others. This means that organizations must examine their investment in training and development of organizational members, as well as the examples set by those at the executive level.

Organizational Gaps – This may be the largest and most overlooked area of need in gap analysis. Many organizations suffer from misfit between personnel and technology, personnel and organizational structure, technology and environment, environment and strategy, etc. While obviously a potential strain on resources, particularly in the present economic slowdown, conducting a full organizational gap analysis can actually save time, money, key organizational members and stress and strain in the long run. Too often, organizations continue to function with low levels of adaptability and reflection even as the environment, personnel, product/service, etc. changes. It is imperative that organizations not only enact, but encourage a continual analysis of organization-wide gaps in order to stay prepared for the future.

Your organization cannot afford to simply duplicate past performances, nor can you simply replace outgoing employees in filling present and future job openings. If expectations exist for increases in future performance throughout the organization, a greater level of inquiry into the present and intended outcomes related to the needs, performance, management and organization must be conducted. Strategic preparation and design cannot be wishful thinking if growth and increased performance are desired. Begin to think big, be creative, and ask the tough questions of yourself and your organization.

I owe my soul to the company store

“You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store”

Most famously, these words were sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford, but for a generation or more of workers, this song was the reality of life. You didn’t have a choice, the company store owned you. For the generation that followed things started to change. People didn’t owe their soul, so to speak, to the company store but they still worked their entire career at a single employer. And when they retired they received a golden watch and a pat on the back. The generation that followed that has found themselves in a shifting workplace, mergers and acquisitions, plant closings, businesses going bankrupt, but largely a single (or few) career path(s) in their career. And then it all changed.

Recently I came across an estimate that Millennials would change careers on average approximately 7 times – CAREER change, not job change! How do you prepare for a career, when the likelihood is that path won’t even last very long? Further, with estimates that of the jobs present in the marketplace in about 10 years, only half currently exist, how do you plan?

This was part of the conversation I had with a group of 8th graders at a local middle school during a recent “Career Fair”. If we want to prepare for the future, we can’t afford to think like the past. Rather than preparing for a particular job, the workers of the future, have to work to better understand themselves.

The framework I approach is pretty simple and is represented in the following Venn diagram:

venn diagram

Tomorrow, more on the model.