The “Shoe” Needs to Fit

Thoughts on the importance on finding the right job and employee


Sitting in my office the other day perusing LinkedIn I got a message from Chad Bogen, a CMS industry veteran with Novisign. He was asking me for recommendations for a position he needed to fill. I seem to be getting an ever-increasing number of these requests for recommendations so I provided what has become my generic response that today it is tough to find good people and promising I would give it some thought. After responding, for some reason the topic of this request just “hit” me. This opened up my thinking to not only see if I knew someone but the responsibility to provide a person that I think would truly “fit” both an employer’s and employee’s needs and not just provide a contact of someone I might know. Upon further reflection this became a much more expansive topic and one I want to share.

The core of my thinking resides under the umbrella of the constantly changing landscape of jobs and employees. This includes the effects of tenure including both employee time on a job and the length/relevance of a position inside a company. The concepts of tenure and “fit” become a two-way street involving the employer and the employee. What does the company say they need and what does an employee say they want? Do they fit and how long will they stay together?

For some time (several years in fact) I have been concerned about what some might call job hopping. It seems that every couple of years way too many hop from one company to another. Go on LinkedIn and you will notice people announcing a new position and then what seems like a few months later announcing another new position. The industries tend to stay the same as do most of the job titles, but the companies are different.

I have written previously about the cost to employers of finding, onboarding, training, and developing new employees only to lose them (voluntarily or involuntarily) way to soon. Suffice it to say the costs are staggering especially if there are multiple employees and positions to be filled. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics nearly 24% of blue collar and white-collar employees stay with a company a year or less! This is certainly mirrored in our industry. Yes there are examples of long-term employees, and they are to be celebrated but what might be called transient employees and employment positions is growing by leaps and bounds. This begs the question as to whether it is the “fault” of the employee, the employer, or the industry. The answer at least to a certain extent is all of the above. Of course, I will explain but the dominant “fault” lies in the failure to explore, find, and engage a “good fit” from both an employer and employee perspective.

I will get the industry side of this out of the way immediately since there is a requisite “condition” common to most industries. This falls under the need/drive for sales growth and profitability.  This is in the DNA of capitalism and a free market economy. Unless there is a “sugar daddy” who funds a company and does not require profit or a return on investment (I must me dreaming)  then profitability and growth is a requirement. What a company does to achieve this are the variables. This is where jobs and employees come into the picture. These are the core elements that literally make it happen or not.

From a company perspective, moving pieces (departments, job descriptions, employees, etc.) around the company “chess board” is a common business practice. This may be adding something new or filling a void and solving a problem. Other times it is to shake things up to see if further improvements can be made. None the less, data shows that the less frequently the company bits and pieces are moved the better the results. Think chaotic reactionism versus a metered approach. So…strategic planning and good job descriptions and finding employees that fit is paramount.  It is an oversimplification, but it does boil down to analysis, planning, and a company and employees finding a mutually good fit toward common goals. To work effectively and meet objectives (the holy grail) it must be win/win.

The job market for both employers and employees is in a state of flux more so than in recent memory. The overall economy (GDP) continues to grow at consistently good rates. One result is that we have had record low unemployment for several years and the demand for employees exceeds the supply. In the AV and digital signage industries, the growth is nearly double the national GDP average and this (for a variety of reasons) has resulted in more job opportunities and even higher demand for “qualified” employees.

The high job demand and low supply of employees explains in part the reason for so much turnover but in fact the turnover is a two-way street. Companies are divesting themselves of those they feel are poor performers and employees are leaving companies (voluntarily or involuntarily) seeking other opportunities. There is a disconnect between job opportunity and an employee solution. It is no longer formulaic where a company posts a job then an employee is hired, and they lived happily ever after. Yeah, not so much. Think back on the 24% who change jobs after one year or less. I think much of it can be traced back to “proper fit”. Does the employees fit the company and vice versa. It goes back to the question as to what a company says they want/need and what does an employee claim they want/need?

As companies post job opportunities, subject matter experts in human resources tell us that the following is a typical list of desirable traits in a “perfect” employee:

  • Career related work education and/or experience
  • Computer/technical literacy
  • Problem-Solving, analytical with critical thinking & reasoning
  • Teamwork oriented
  • Communication and interpersonal skills 
  • Flexibility, adaptability, & multi-tasking
  • Multicultural sensitivity
  • Planning and organizing
  • Honesty, integrity & morality
  • Dedication, work-ethic & tenacity
  • Dependability, reliability & responsibility
  • Positive attitude, motivation & energy
  • Professionalism
  • Self-confidence
  • Willingness to learn

As employees seek job opportunities, subject matter experts in human resources tell us that this is a typical list of wants in a “perfect” employer.   

  • Company leadership
  • Clear expectations and goals
  • Competitive income
  • Growth
  • Pride and meaningful
  • Respectful treatment of all employees
  • Good co-workers and relationships with colleagues
  • Recognition and praise
  • Communication
  • Trust
  • Responsibility
  • Learning and ojt
  • Success (individual and team)

I want to pause here for a moment and go back to the top of the list, company leadership. What employees actually want is multifaceted. Of course there are things like working conditions, work/life balance, etc. but today research tells us the number one element is company leadership over everything else — even pay. This goes to a feeling of trust, opportunities, longevity, etc. The following are what employees say are the desired (and exhibited) leadership style points:

  • Strategic planning
  • Clearly tying the work to your company’s mission
  • Leading by example
  • Employee engagement
  • Providing constructive feedback
  • Encouraging collaboration
  • Knowing when to delegate

So, to find a “good fit” you simply take one list and compare it to another and then go with the employee or job where there are the most matches. Not a bad place to start but it does not stop there. Look at the lists and try not to be too cynical but it is difficult not to think of platitudes. What does each item on the list actually mean, how is it applied and measured, and how important is each one to the company or the perspective employee. All things do not and cannot carry the same weight. If there are 4 or 5 things that are really important then focus on those. Ancillary attributes are certainly nice but in themselves rarely deal breakers.

Companies and potential employees need to think from the perspective of an honest appraisal. This is where things begin to fall apart. Companies tend to claim they believe in all parts on the list and employees tend to claim they possess all the characteristics on this list. But do they? If they did we could all song kumbaya around the proverbial campfire. The factual answer is no, at least to the fullest extent on every point. What is overtly said and what is done are two different things. A company may claim to be team oriented and then in practice is not. Employees may claim to be team players but in practice are not. This is but one example of the disconnect that I have been talking about. Upon a company hiring and an applicant accepting a job, reality takes place, and this predicates future decisions.

The fact is that what companies advertise in a job description and how applicants respond is a best-case scenario. Chad Bogen noted that “Employers and employees tend to drink the corporate Kool-Aid. A company sees someone who has worked at a known company and assume they must be good. On the reverse side an employee sees a known company and assumes it is a good company to join.” We all know how to spell assume. Once acted upon the relationship often takes on a new meaning.

I rarely tell or share jokes, but this one is so meaningful to this point in the discussion. 

When a young salesman met his untimely end, he was informed that he had a choice about where he would spend his eternity: Heaven or Hell. He was allowed to visit both places, and then make his decision afterwards.

“I’ll see Heaven first,” said the salesman, and an angel led through the gates on a private tour. Inside it was very peaceful and serene, and all the people there were playing harps and eating grapes. It looked very nice, but the salesman was not about to make a decision that could very well condemn him to a life of musical produce.

“Can I see Hell now?” he asked. The angel pointed him to the elevator, and he went down to the Basement where he was greeted by one of Satan’s loyal followers. For the next half hour, the salesman was led through a tour of what appeared to be the best night clubs he’d ever seen. People were partying loudly, and having a, if you’ll pardon the expression, Hell of a time.
When the tour ended, he was sent back up where the angel asked him if he had reached a final decision.

“Yes, I have,” he replied. “As great as Heaven looks and all, I have to admit that Hell was more of my kind of place. I’ve decided to spend my eternity down there.”

The salesman was sent to hell, where he was immediately thrown into a cave and was chained to a wall, and he was subjected to various tortures. “When I came down here for the tour,” he yelled with anger and pain, “I was shown a whole bunch of bars and parties and other great stuff! What happened?!”

The devil replied, “Oh, that! That was just the Sales Demo.”

For our purposes the “demo” is what the company and employment applicant claim. The facts reside in the reality of who and what the company and employe are, not just said but done.  Too often a company finds the employee is not what they thought they were getting in the “applicant demo” and does not contribute what is wanted/needed for the company. From the employee’s perspective they may find the company does not live up to their claims in the “company demo”. In both cases the “fit” is just not there. The lack of finding the “fit” is the major reason we are seeing the high turnover. This begs the question of what can be done to stem the tide.

The first and best advice is to not succumb to the “demo”! Think of the iceberg effect where 60% is underneath the surface. Look deeper with a clear understanding of your particular objectives. At first glance eliminate the “deal breakers”. These are things that are not likely to change. Then do the following:

  1. Research the company or employee and their industry/ work reputation and history. Employee turnover as well as that of the applicant is a good barometer to begin.
  2. Match “want” lists and weigh elements evaluating the preponderance of each toward a “fit”.
  3. Reveal the “real” need/desire (company or applicant).
  4. Be honest in the appraisals and no Kool-Aid drinking.
  5. Make an enlightened, educated, and fore armed decision
  6. Review in a timely manner.

To be honest, it is still a bit of a crapshoot no matter what you do. A company nor an applicant will experience the reality of a “fit” until they live together. One last anecdote from my own experience.  I was recently asked by one of my clients to help hire a new sales director in the display industry. We ended up hiring somebody with no display experience but checked all of the other boxes and more. I told my client I could teach the display side of things but could never teach things like desire, work ethic, and caring. Yes the new person is doing quite well…. So perhaps consider thinking outside of the box.