Why Your Employees Have the Wrong Jobs

“Peering taps into voluntary motivations in a way that helps assign the right person to the right task more effectively than traditional firms. The reason is self-selection. When people voluntarily self-select for creative, knowledge-intensive tasks they are more likely than managers to choose tasks for which they are uniquely qualified.”  Wikinomics p.69

As a fresh hire out of college working in consulting, my company announced that I would be put on a rotation for the first two years in order to gain experience with multiple clients and various areas of operation. It sounded like an excellent idea and I was excited to get that breadth of exposure.

Rotations sound great in theory but are difficult to execute in practice. I was assigned to a client just outside of Boston on a project that lasted over two years. One company, one industry.

I did well. The client loved me, my team was happy, and my work got completed well and on schedule. However, the work I was doing didn’t interest me. Some days I drove home exhausted, not from long hours but from mental detachment. Had I been more engaged, my productivity would have increased by a large multiple.

My employer did ask me what I wanted to do on one or two occasions. Their failure was in execution – nothing resulted from our conversations. I was told that once my project finished I could try and network myself onto another project that interested me, pending business need.

The scenario sounds familiar enough. So where exactly is the problem?

It is a fundamentally flawed process to place the burden of employee assignment squarely on the shoulders of the employee. That should be a management decision. Professional services firms in particular should spend significant time ensuring that they have the right people in the right places. How do you do that? Allow employees to self-select.

That sounds contradictory. It isn’t.

The current model is that employees should scramble, claw, and network themselves into a position that makes them happy. Management ensures that people aren’t unassigned for prolonged periods of time. Their focus is to staff projects with warm bodies.

The model of successful companies is to make note of employee talent, ask for employee input, and put forth significant energy to ensure that the employee is in the right position. Let employees self-select. An employee who enjoys their job will produce higher-quality work than one who doesn’t.

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  • Brooke June 28, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Self selection sounds nice but it actually would work well for a lot of companies. A lot of large companies already have hired a lot of talented people but because it’s so large, it’s hard to match the talent in the right place. Sucess is definitely tied to happiness and employees will work harder and longer on something they care about and want to do. Millenials today genearlly work hard and have more options and opportunities in front of them. People do things they don’t get paid for online, and there are more unique jobs to get paid well for various talents and skills. It’s extremely common to see lots of employees leaving to other companies where they might not be getting paid as much but they are doing something they enjoy.

  • Brad Romney June 30, 2010 at 10:49 am

    I’m frustrated in the same way – consulting is a fantastic field, but I find myself frequently intellectually under-stimulated. I could per-chance be much more brilliant in my work were I in a role I actually cared more about.