Skip to main content

Staffing Mismatches: The Six Deadly Sins

The road to operational problems is paved with good intentions.

Debbie Millin

One of the greatest operational issues is “staffing mismatches.” Having people in the wrong roles can create a dysfunctional organization and keep your company from growing. Operations teams need to run like a well-oiled machine, and in order for that to happen it is crucial to have the right people in the right jobs.

New Employees

The best way to avoid mismatches is to get the right person from the start. However, there are three primary mistakes companies make when it comes to hiring new employees:

  • Not enough experience. Too often budget constraints weigh more heavily in the hiring process than the actual needs of the team. Don’t try to save money in the short term by getting someone too junior for the role. You’ll cause yourself long-term problems. Invest in the right people and you will save money in the long run.
  • Blinded by the overly impressive resume. Beware of the seemingly perfect pedigree and those with high-level titles at large corporations. Do not hire someone because you want to say you’ve got someone on your management team that used to work at NASDAQ or Coca-Cola if they can’t do the job you need. A division president from a Fortune 100 company may or may not be a good fit for a small entrepreneurial company. This gets to the ever-important culture fit — be sure you get the right person.
  • Only looking within your industry. Skills translate across many industries. Opening your search beyond your industry dramatically increases the number and quality of your candidates. In some cases — particularly in management roles — it is actually better to get a candidate from another industry to bring a fresh perspective and to apply best practices in your company.

Existing Employees

In most companies there are a handful of existing employees who are not in the right role, generally in three categories:

  • Promoted outside their abilities. A fantastic individual contributor does not automatically translate to a good manager — it’s a different skill set. In this situation, always look for ways to help the employee grow their management skills through mentoring and/or external training. Better yet, anticipate the problem and offer training before the move. If it’s truly not a fit, don’t be afraid to move them to another role if that is the best thing for them and the company.

To avoid a scenario where the only way “up” is to become a manager, create a track for individual contributors to progress to senior levels of the company — in title, compensation and reporting structure. They advance in their career, the company keeps a valuable employee, and you avoid a mismatch.

  • Top prospects not using their abilities. Watch your rising stars and make sure you are investing in them. Give them “stretch assignments,” send them to professional development courses and seminars — round out their skills so they are ready to move up when the opportunity arises. Succession planning is key at all levels of an organization, so identify the next generation of leaders and give them more responsibility as soon as possible. If they can’t rise in your company, they will go somewhere else.
  • Not a fit with the culture. While co-workers do not need to be friends, it is critical that the people in any given department or project team get along and are a cohesive unit. It impacts the overall productivity of the team and your bottom line. This is a difficult issue with existing employees. Though you can correct this with a transfer to a team better suited to the individual, it’s far better to make “culture fit” a major focus of your hiring process.

Success in operations comes from a good match between employee and job, and between team members. Use a combination of logic and “listening to your gut” when making staffing decisions and you will increase your chances of success.

Debbie Millin ‘92 has more than 20 years of experience running operations in a variety of industries, and is the founder and president of UpperLevel Solutions, offering part-time and interim executive operational support. She is active in the Bentley Executive Club, The Boston Club, The Harvard Club of Boston, and serves on the Board of Directors for Special Olympics of Massachusetts.