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The FIT FACTOR

May 2011

By: Jim Beqaj

Like a sports team, your organization is only as good as the weakest link: Sport focuses on talent that fits because winning depends on it.

fit factor

Organizations need to connect what success looks like from the point of view of the CEO and board, on the one hand, to what success looks like at every level, in every job, of the organization, on the other. They need to thoroughly assess what each job must do for the company to succeed and ask whether the person in the job can deliver.

If this isn’t done at every level and for every position, then the level of success defaults to the weakest fit in the structure. And like a sports team, your business will be left behind the competition.

I often ask CEOs if they’re prepared to get rid of the people who don’t fit and don’t buy into the requirements for success. Interestingly, they often say they’re afraid if they do they won’t be able to find enough of the right people. That is unfounded. From my experience as an executive recruiter, there is no lack of talent out there. The problem stems from not properly defining fit and from not knowing what to look for.

A Bigger Mess Than I Thought

A couple of years ago, I met with a senior executive who had recently become head of a business unit in a large company. Stephen was concerned about major changes he needed to make in his unit. During the recent market downturn, it had become clear that the unit wasn’t contributing to the company’s bottom line.

As his recruitment advisor, I asked for more details and he filled me in on how he was planning to get his employees behind him to support and execute a major change in strategy. How’s the depth of talent in your organization?” I asked. “Do you have the people you need to successfully execute your strategy?”

fit factor

We went through his company’s organizational structure. I asked more questions about the people in each position. By the time we were finished, Stephen let out a sigh.

“Wow. I’ve got a bigger mess than I thought,” he said. “I’ve been looking at the business and the people, but I’ve never looked closely at what is needed in each job to succeed. Obviously I’m going to have to review many positions and change some people if I expect to achieve real change.”

Stephen’s problem is all too common in organizations today ‒ Stephen had been ignoring fit. He had not defined success, position by position. He had not determined whether the person in each position fit his unit’s requirements for success.

Some companies get it right ‒ General Electric under Jack Welch’s fit factorleadership, for example, as well as Isadore Sharp’s Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, where employee retention ‒ an average of 15 years for employees and 22 years for management ‒ tells the tale.
But the majority of organizations have much work to do. Most are filled with capable people with plenty of talent but who are in the wrong jobs within the organization. Sustained success is not possible for a company with too many wrong fits.

Putting people in the right positions is an ongoing process in business. Companies aren’t ever going to reach perfection, but it’s important for them to try.

CEOs need to understand that getting the right fit ‒ the right people in the right positions in the right parts of the company ‒ is good for everyone.

Who Is Needed?

The first question for management relates to the job, not the person. Before you ask questions about any particular person in any particular job ‒ or a new person being recruited ‒ you have to decide what success looks like in the position, given the goals of the CEO, board, and senior leadership.

I’m not talking about a standard job description here; I’m talking about a description of success. It’s not, primarily, about what a person will do (‘lead,’ ‘head up,’ ‘be responsible for’) but what the outcomes must be (‘one million in sales,’ ’10 per cent growth,’ ’10 per cent increase in throughput).

I always ask, “What are the skills and personality type of the person that is needed to generate the outcomes in this particular job?” This is part of a broader examination of growth strategy and human capital and how they mesh in a corporation.

After management has defined what success looks like in different positions, it should examine the profiles of the people in those positions, evaluating them on the basis of the skills, characteristics, and experience required.  

These profiles must be done independently of the people who currently fill them. Knowledge of and feelings for an incumbent will create an inherent bias. Jobs too often get defined according to the incumbent’s skills and personality rather than as a result of objective analysis.

Who Is Ideal?

Step back and ask the next critical question: “What does the ideal person look like in this job? What would they need to be good at? What skills would they have? What specific traits would they have? What type of people would they need to work well with?”
You won’t always find the ideal fit, but knowing what’s needed for success will help you determine what the organization can do to supplement and support the person who is the best available fit.

More often than not you’ll see that people have been ‘moved up’ to fill positions with little or no evaluation of their fit. They may have been good in the previous job. However, as we all know, success in one position doesn’t automatically mean success in the next position. And yet, this type of move is made over and over. Why? Because it’s easier.

As a manager, you have to be prepared to put fit before almost anything else. If you don’t, you’ll get yourself leveraged into a boatload of dysfunction, negativity, and underperformance.

fit factor

Start with a clear description of success for the position and then create the ideal description of the person who can meet the requirements for success. That defines the best fit.  

Go out and find the right person.

Jim Beqaj is the founder of Beqaj International, Inc, a recruiting, coaching, and business consulting services, and author of ‘How to Hire the Perfect Employer’ (http://www.beqajinternational.com).

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