By Yvonne Manzi
Social Media Officer, Profiles Asia Pacific

Sooner or later, every executive faces a similar people problem: as part of a large corporation, you may oversee, say, ten regional vice presidents, store managers, or unit heads and must assign them effectively. You know that the management of small variations in their preferences and skills can make a marked difference in their productivity—and in your company’s earnings. Sorting out the possibilities for those ten managers confronts you with 3.6 million permutations.

Faced with so many possibilities, most companies abandon the attempt to make rational choices and instead merely guess how best to assign employees to jobs. By treating people with diverse skills as an undifferentiated resource, these companies forfeit the chance to make substantial gains in productivity, profitability, and personnel development.

But deploying employees more effectively is only the start. A manager who wants the best people to do their best work must anticipate the company’s workforce requirements, provide training tailored to individual goals, and reward employees for hard-to-measure contributions such as coaching. It is thus no surprise that a systematic and continuous approach to fitting the right person to the right job at the right time has long been the Holy Grail of workforce organization. But most managers, search as they might, come up empty-handed. Few companies understand which employees are essential or how best to structure their workforce. As a result, human capital—the skills and knowledge of employees—too often remains an untapped performance lever.

Identify your superstars. The crucial first step is to identify your pivotal workers. In most businesses, not all employees are created equal—a subset, which can vary across business units and may change as a company evolves, always plays a disproportionate role in creating value.

Our experience suggests that workforces fall into six segments: top executives, knowledge workers, middle management, skilled workers, less-skilled workers, and bureaucrats. Depending on the industry, any of these groups can emerge as the most pivotal.

Continually improve productivity. Once a company has identified its pivotal workers, it can start to think about improving their productivity. The trick is to map the biggest productivity challenges that occur as workers move through the stages of their life cycle at the company, but few businesses bother to do so.

Systematically scanning the employee life cycle is the only way to uncover the most intense productivity pressure points that a company and its employees face. The process starts well before people are taken on. To know what kind of prospects to hire, how many, and when, for instance, managers should turn to workforce planning, which is essential to reduce labor shortages or surpluses and to boost utilization (something that can be complicated if demand varies by season or attrition rates fluctuate).

A company should then break down skill levels and retention rates by candidate to find out where to hire people with the necessary skills and how to develop them via training and on-the-job experience. Deployment, the next stage, can be a vexing problem, particularly for professional-services firms that require employees to work on several projects at once. Finally, if high attrition rates threaten overall productivity, companies can reduce them by offering workers varied incentives and continual development opportunities.

The above article is an edited extract from the following source:
Agrawal, V. et al. (2003) “Matching People and Jobs”, The McKinsey Quarterly, issue n. 2

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