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December 2017
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Hire versatile employees

There is a seismic shift going on in successful companies today. Speed has taken on a new meaning.  The expectations of our clients and prospects have accelerated at a dizzying pace.  Some of our competitors have come out of nowhere. Others have disappeared. Our companies have become flatter. We are working harder. Hopefully smarter. And managers are finding that one of the smartest things they can do is hire employees who are willing and capable of changing to meet new challenges. Those who aren’t, quickly become detriments.

Far too often, there are situations where new employees start out and they are doing very well. But then, as our company changes, these employees become uncertain and insecure about what is going on. They become concerned with change and hold on to what made them successful in the first place. And it keeps them and us from growing. Now, every time we hire someone, it is with the full expectation that they will grow with the company. If they are limited by definition, they will limit themselves and the company in achieving our continued growth. 

Companies are looking for people who can switch gears and not stay enmeshed in one mode. It might sound a bit ironic, but new employees are of limited value to our company if they cannot grow out of the role for which they were initially hired. As we continue to grow, we are trying to hire people who want to grow with us. If you are open and flexible, you’ll sense the opportunities and rise to the challenges. But if you are resistant to doing anything outside of the box, that will be one of the biggest stumbling blocks to succeeding with our firm.

What is a versatile employee? To stay profitable in today’s competitive marketplace takes a new kind of employee. Employers are seeking to hire and develop the talents of versatile employees. But what is a versatile employee? We know that it is not someone who likes routine, who is stubborn, status-driven or bound by preconceived notions. There are really four core attributes shared by versatile employees: they are bright, flexible, competent and confident.

Let’s take a minute to explore those four individual attributes and how they, together, add up to the key quality that employers are seeking today.

First off, we have indicated bright, rather than intelligent. What is the distinction? We have seen very intelligent people who use all of their energy to construct walls and defend firmly-held beliefs. When we say bright, what we are really referring to is someone’s abstract reasoning ability. Are they able to look at complex problems and see patterns that can lead to solutions? Are they genuinely interested in learning? In finding out new things?

In a recent survey we conducted of more than 1,000 clients in virtually every industry, the ability to solve problems was overwhelmingly defined as the number one quality employers were looking for in new employees and the most difficult to find. This certainly underscores the premise that narrowly specialized and fragmented jobs, once the hallmark of the moving assembly line, have very little value in today’s marketplace. Companies need employees who can think on their feet, as well as in the shower, on the ride to work and in their sleep. Whether consciously or subconsciously, the most valued employees are always thinking of new and better ways to solve problems, improve methods and achieve goals.

An employee’s abstract reasoning ability is magnified manifold if he or she is flexible. By that, we are referring to individuals who are willing to modify their approach as changing conditions and circumstances require. They can easily shift gears to respond to the input and feedback of others.

Being flexible enables individuals to work effectively with others, to share knowledge and keep focused on what is really important.

The third quality, competency, refers to the skill set that an individual brings to a particular job. An individual’s competency is cumulative and, hopefully, still accumulating. These assets are readily assessed by evaluating an individual’s educational background, work history, certifications attained, and how they demonstrate and share their skills. Competencies, particularly in today’s marketplace, need to be a moving talent. They are not just something that an individual has or attains. Particularly in emerging technical fields, yesterday’s competency is today’s history lesson.

The fourth, overriding quality that adds to an employee’s versatility is confidence. Confidence is the courage, self-worth and comfort one brings to social, problem-solving and leadership situations. Individuals with a healthy self-concept and esteem project confidence. It is the underlying sureness which propels employees to explore new options, share ideas and not worry about whether or not they are right. They are willing and truly enjoy the interchange of new ideas, leading to possible solutions. Confident employees are willing to step forward, make decisions, take responsibility and, most importantly, act. On the other hand, individuals who are lacking in confidence spend too much time caught in their own inner dialogue, preoccupied with feelings of inferiority which sap their energy. Unfortunately, by the time someone is old enough to apply for a job, confidence is one of those qualities that is already built-in or is not. As much as you might like, confidence is not something you can wrap up and give to somebody.

In the survey we referred to earlier, confidence was identified as the third most important quality employers look for in new employees. As one employer said, someone who knows where they stand, is not afraid to move.

It takes the combination of all four of these attributes being bright, flexible, competent and confident to contribute to an individual’s versatility.

That combination is very winning in today’s marketplace. Such individuals can transfer from industry to industry and job to job and bring value wherever they go. They are able to see the big picture, come up with new ideas and opinions, be able to recognize the value that others can make, and are constantly looking for ways to help increase their own knowledge and expertise. They make excellent team members because they are flexible and confident in working with others and sharing knowledge. And they thoroughly enjoy tackling new and challenging assignments. The last thing you’ll hear from someone who is versatile is “it’s not my job.”

You have it or you don’t.

While versatility might seem like an elusive, hard-to-put-your-finger-on quality, it is obvious when it is lacking. Individuals who are not versatile never seem to grow out of the task-oriented position for which they were initially hired. If you look around your company, such individuals are usually easy to spot. They may have been hired a long time ago, so there is a loyalty factor. But, the truth of the matter is that if you were hiring today, they would not even be on your short list.

Companies are looking for employees who are versatile enough to move from one task to another, and who are eager to accept new responsibilities when the need arises.

Being versatile adds enormous value to any employee.

For companies and individuals alike, succeeding in the future means that you may suddenly get called into a whole new project, and saddled with a whole new set of goals and objectives.

That’s the good news.

Demands are not reducing. Resources are being stretched.

The future belongs to the well-rounded jugglers, who can stay focused on emerging needs. Employees will no longer be able to get by on one specialty, particularly in small to medium sized companies. Marketing managers will need to know manufacturing. Financial managers will need to understand sales. Production managers will need to know technology. And generalists will need to be skilled, flexible, strategic thinkers.      

In truth, the shift has already taken place. Companies are streamlining their organizational structures in order to respond to clients with more speed and flexibility.

And, in the final analysis, there is really only one way for companies to become more versatile: by hiring and developing the talents of more versatile employees.

About Caliper - For nearly half a century, Caliper has been helping companies achieve peak performance by advising them on hiring the right people, managing individuals most effectively and developing productive teams. The accuracy, objectivity and depth of our consulting approach enable us to provide solutions that work for over 25,000 companies. To find out more about how Caliper can help you identify and develop people who can lead your organization to peak performance, please visit us at  or call us at 609-524-1200. Email to contact Herb.