Do we have the right people?

Do we have the right people?

No, and you never will so better learn
to make the people right!

‘Do we have the right people?’ the director asked the newly appointed head of a department. From a political point of view, the best thing to answer this question would probably be ‘no, I am afraid that some people do not have the skills, attitude or competencies that we need’. This kind of answer will give the manager two options going forward. If something is not working according to plan, it becomes easier for the manager to blame the people that do not qualify; if somebody in the team is ‘difficult’ then the manager can refer to the conversation on ‘having the right people’ and ask for a replacement.

In my view, however, as a newly appointed manager, you will never ‘get’ the right kind of people but you rather have to make the people ‘right’ for the job. That does not imply that you have to deal for always with the employees that you will find in your new managerial job, regardless of their performance. What it means is that the key duty of a manager is to see how to get the best out of employees in the jobs they have or find tasks/responsibilities where they fit best. If this still does not work out, you have to separate ways. The question remains how to make people ‘right’ for the job and why put in so much effort?

The belief that opens doors

First of all, let’s have a look at the question on why to put in so much effort. The common belief is that some people just seem to be ‘difficult’, they do not seem to ‘fit in the team’, or they are ‘just sitting in a corner until the day passes by’. This could all be true but there are two questions here that need to be answered first before jumping to the conclusion that these are ‘not the right people’:

Always like this?
The first question is whether these people have always been like this? The performance of employees is influenced by the leadership style of the manager and the level of care and interest they have perceived so far. If there was no appreciation for the employee’s ideas and contribution in the past, people tend to switch off and stop showing their best. If there have been too many different managers with too many different expectations, people also tend to be confused and wait for direct orders to be on the safe side of doing the right thing.

Other capabilities?
The second question is how different these people are when they explore their hobbies or other activities beyond work? By engaging more with these people, the manager may be surprised by what kind of activities these people have and the responsibilities they carry during their free time. This could be a managerial role at a club or a hobby that requires extreme discipline and endurance. I have seen many cases is however obvious that the same skills and attitude are not explored in the working environment

In summary, the question is whether you do not have ‘the right people’ or whether these people gave up in their working life and found different places where they could grow and be appreciated? It is the duty of a manager to find the answers to these two questions and if there is a history (why people started behaving as they do) and capability (whereas they add much more value in their private lives) then my personal belief is that the manager can ‘make’ these people right for the job.

How to make people ‘right’ for their jobs

After proper engagement with the employee finding out some historic root-causes for switching off, and understanding their current capabilities, a mutual agreement should be reached on changing behaviour. Changing behaviour may sound difficult but has in essence only four very practical options.

  1. More: You can do more of what you have been doing; for example increase the frequency from once a week to every day.
  2. Better: You can do better then what you have done so far; for example, better preparation of engagement or better capturing what has been agreed.
  3. Different: Changing approach can be very refreshing. So try something different; for example, inviting employees to chair a meeting or meet in a completely different location.
  4. Less: You will never find time for new behaviour so you have to create time by doing something less (or stop); for example spend less time on presenting papers that could have been read.

If the manager has a clear understanding what historic management behaviour made the employee ‘switch off’, some change of behaviour by the current management can be agreed to show the employee that things are not the same any longer as what happened in the past. What could the manager do more, better, different or less to bring back trust and confidence? In return, the manager can challenge the employee to also change behaviour and bring some of those capabilities that are still explored in their private lives, back to work. What can the employee do more, better, different or less to add value to the organization?


Having the ‘right people’ is difficult these days because there is a war for talent and because the requirements for jobs are changing rapidly in the digital world. It is therefore increasingly important that managers master the skill of ‘making’ people right for the job. The kind of employee engagement that is required, will not only pay off by improving the job-fit but employees will also feel more encouraged and stimulated to show their best if they experience the support and interest from their manager to get the best out of them.

Understanding the history and capabilities of existing employees will probably require less effort then various rounds of interviews with external candidates. You may not always get the right people, not even after going through the exercise as described above. You will however still get more value from these employees and if they may still not qualify in the end, then at least they will be more willing to accept alternative solutions based on a proper attempt to get the best out of them. It is worth the try so what can YOU do more, better, different or less starting tomorrow?

Do you want to learn how to make the people ‘right’?

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