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Put the right people in the right job

Does this situation sound familiar?

A client told me about someone that he employed in a technical role. The employee was extremely competent technically but over time the job changed and became less technical and more focused on interacting with people every day.

The employee didn’t handle this change well. He was critical and grumpy and hard to deal with. Customers started to complain and there was conflict with other staff.

This isn’t an unusual occurrence. My client, like many other employers, wanted to give his employee an opportunity to grow within the company so although there were clear signs that this person did not enjoy the people side of his job, my client retained the employee in the role, a decision that ultimately backfired despite his good intentions.

The question is: what could he have done to get a better result for the employee and the company?  The answer is to get the selection model right.

Focus on the job, not the person

Clarification of the role is the first step in a successful selection model.

In the case of my client, he liked his employee and wanted him to succeed. He told him that the new role would be good for his career but he did not clearly define the outcomes that he expected from the job. He ignored the model.

So we have a situation where the role called for someone who could communicate well. The employee may have interpreted this to mean using his intelligence and technical skills to tell people what they need to know and he was confident that he could do that. However, this same person had tendencies to play things very close to the chest, was often reluctant to share information for fear of getting things wrong and had tendencies to be short with others who did not see things as he did.

His boss expected happy customers and he also expected to be informed of any issues. He didn’t expect to hear problems from his clients and complaints from his staff. The boss’s expectations of communication were far different from the employee’s and the result was frustration, unhappy clients and staff and a person not enjoying his job.

Outcome-driven job design

My client and his employee had a choice: if they had talked more about the new role and what it needed rather than about “promotion” they would have seen the potential risks. To do this they needed an outcome-driven job design, a design that focuses on the purpose of the role, the thinking required, the stimulus the job generates, the environment and the actions required for a successful outcome. Most job descriptions focus on systemic key performance indicators that lack meaning or subjective unachievable measures and results.

For my client, interaction with others was a key area of focus in the new role but the employee had a history of not enjoying interactions with people. That should have set alarm bells ringing because if someone has a history of a certain type of behaviour they are likely to display the same behaviour in different roles. In fact, if the behaviour is not what the job needs, the difficulties are likely to be amplified in a new role. Remember, you can teach skills and train technical knowledge but it is very difficult to teach great interpersonal abilities.

Use assessment tools to get it right

You can use tools to assess both the job design and the person being considered for the job even if you know them well and when used correctly you can unravel many mysteries in an objective, helpful manner. Most importantly you can remove bias (which all of us have).
A few words of caution when using assessments. They are not a silver bullet. You must get the selection model right first. Thinking has an effect on behaviour; stimulation and interest drive behaviour; environment and interactions with others influence behaviour so assessment tools that only focus on a person’s behaviour or “personality” won’t tell you what you need to know. 

The real observable results happen when an individual’s thinking, interest and actions combine with environment and interactions with others. Your job design needs to begin with a focus on each of these.


If you’re looking to put someone into a new role, get the selection model right.

  1. Get the job right first. Develop a clear, concise job design based on outcomes (not systemic KPIs).
  2. Use assessment tools for both the job design and the person being considered for the role, even if you know them well.

The next steps in the model are Process and People which we will talk about in future articles.

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