REV Question mark

In a previous post I asked a question

  Can we “select” for high levels of Engagement?

The  Answer

 Most definitely and it should be “baked into” the hiring process!

But the trend of the last few years,  

– hiring the square peg that fits the square hole –

would seem to run counter to

circumstances that create a highly engaged employee and this trend is producing unintended consequences.


“Training” seems to have become a dirty word and is driving the square peg mentality.   Read on.  This is a  wakeup call!  

Any savings from reducing or eliminating the need for training, by going to the “square-peg” hiring mentality, is insignificant when compared to the loses from deteriorating and nonexistent employee engagement – the link between, the “square-peg, learning, training and engagement is explored later in this post.  

The savings from training might be easier to calculate and more visible in the short term.  The loses from dis-engagement are far more sinister in the way they present themselves often masquerading as customer service issues, quality issues, understaffing, lack of resources, errors, equipment failure and the like.    

Often a great deal of time, energy, and money is expended to correct these issues before someone starts to realize that disengaged employees are at the root of problems.   Typically, at that point assistance from outside the organization or costly staffing changes are required. 


What happens to the


when companies hire the “square peg to fit the square hole?”

Employee Engagement is too important to leave the question unasked.



A recently released study stated “over 80% of the global workforce is actively disengaged.”

The “square peg” approach is ill conceived and potentially backfires when the new employee’s engagement begins to dwindle after 6 months on the job – doing the same “stuff” – and in the same way they did it in their previous job — and we are asking, why are so many employees disengaged?   

The square peg approach negatively impacts engagement by short-stopping the motivation that arises when a new employee is faced with challenges & the need to learn that should come with taking on a new job.

“The Life Cycle of Employee Engagement” diagram clearly shows the problem with the square peg approach to hiring.

The term of a typical employee’s engagement with their work is related to the challenge of having to increase or improve knowledge and skills, perhaps learn new software, OR learn to apply what they know to new situations in new ways.

Your “square peg” is probably at Stage 3 within a few weeks on the job and at Stage 4 by 3 – 6 months.

Lifecycle diagram detailed

Most of us are driven to achieve (motivated/engage) when we are placed in circumstances that challenge us.


Companies benefit from this because while we are learning, we are also more likely to see the potential for innovation, evaluating processes and systems through new eyes and identifying alternatives that spell improvement.   The square peg in the square hole typically does not see these alternative approaches and has already gotten the message during the interview process that they are being hired to get the job done the way it has always been done.



The takeaway:  significant

and far reaching losses in innovation & productivity.


A Success Strategy

The takeaway:  Pro Active Work Behaviors & Going that extra mile,

Creativity, Innovation = Retention = Improved Productivity



Is Industry experience really a factor in being successful in the job you need to fill?

Some jobs groups transfer very well from one industry to another and this inter-industry hiring provides benefits, see below.

There is an advantage to bringing in outside the industry experience for cross-pollination of best practices – many functions and tasks have similarities that cut across industries.

Some industries, some companies are more progressive and innovative than others.   There is the potential to improve functional operations in a company through cross-pollination of best practices from companies that are progressive into those that are not (assuming astute management in the less progressive and initiatives to push for improvement).

Use the interview to identify candidates, from progressive industries and organization, that can bring in new and better ways of approaching tasks and functions common to many companies – your company.  We often see this kind of hiring for this very purpose at the highest management levels to turnaround under performing companies and not very long ago this type of hiring across all levels was the stuff of best practice seminars.  When did we forget this?

The ability of HR and hiring managers to identify candidates with the talents, skills, experience and temperament to bring in fresh thinking is critical.  Of course this approach requires astute management, openness and a perceptive eye toward what could be versus what is.

Train managers in good hiring techniques such as Behavioral Interviewing,

So that they know how to ask questions and the questions to ask to learn what they need to know about the candidate’s approach to learning, time management, innovation, change, job challenges, and some specific relevant job challenges.

Use candidate assessment tools that make sense for your organization, BUT do not totally rely on these in decision making.   They should be part of the mix in making hiring decisions…….. Just because a candidate is identified, by your hiring tool, as having the ability to execute a certain way, if they have never actually “done it,” there is little guarantee they will while employed at their next job at your company (especially given the term of employment at a job today).  However, if the “tool” tells you they have the ability and they tell you about how they have done something similar to what you need and want, chances are they will execute again, and with proper training, likely make a direct connection with what the department needs.

Most important, learn to hire the appropriate TALENT for jobs you are filling. 

Talents or Abilities are distinct from skills.  Skills are function-driven capabilities we acquire over time through education and work experience. Abilities/Talents are innate we are born with them.

An individual may develop the skills to work in a profession or job but if they don’t have the inborn talents, which make the practice of that profession easy and satisfying, the person will struggle to excel regardless of their efforts – this is hard on individuals and really hard on managers.

People who are doing the “wrong” work will find their work unrewarding even frustrating and will be unlikely to “engage” with the work**.  When we are able to apply our abilities (innate talents) to our work, we perform better and are more satisfied.

In interviewing for “engagement,”

**I strive to identify past accomplishments and other activities that generate enthusiasm from a candidate to help me understand where their talents lie and determine if those activities link with the responsibilities of the job and the competencies required.

Of course, I look to identify any specific job knowledge required, also the appropriate temperament including adaptability and drive.

I also evaluate past relevant successes in job responsibilities to suggest success in the new job and expect to plan for targeted training to fill gaps in the selected candidate’s skills.

I prefer to hire for the next step in a person’s career, based on job content, rather than hiring the square peg to fit the square hole.

Lateral moves can also provide challenges. experiences and tasks new enough to generate as much enthusiasm as a step up and will also lead to engagement that benefits the company and the employee.


We were in a search for a Research Associate.   We needed someone at low to mid-level capability to work on a project at inception with the potential to grow as complexity increased.   One of the candidates we brought in seemed very promising for meet the requirement.

She had a undergraduate and graduate degree in Biology from an Ivy league school and 7 years of relevant experience.  She had been a stay at home mom for 4 years and was now seeking to re-enter the workforce using her Science background.  During her time at home she had been working part time as a coach for the swim team at the local “YMCA.”

I typically interview last.  The interviewers from R&D expressed satisfaction to me with the candidate’s knowledge and experience.  My job is to get a read on the candidate’s “fit” for the organization and department, determine interest level, and ensure understanding of the job’s deliverables and departmental expectations.

As I proceeded through my interview, I saw no enthusiasms (not a smile of any kind), no excitement or expression of anticipation for the components and outcomes of the job for which she was interviewing and no enthusiasm, pride, or satisfaction with the candidate’s previous work and accomplishments in Biology.

I put my pen and note paper to the side and asked the candidate, “tell me about your ideal work environment and your ideal job.”   She looked down at the table and back up at me and simply said, “Swim Team Coach for the “Y”.

This person would never have become an “Engaged” member of the R&D Department.

As a service to both this candidate and the organization – we did not hire her.


Conduct excellent onboarding and focused training

Once you’ve made those good hires what you do next, and how well you do it, in the areas of on-boarding and training, will determine the trajectory of new employees’ success in your organization and also positively or negatively impact the productivity of those working with them and around them.


Please see:  ON-BOARDING IS NOT ORIENTATION  AND   TRAINING & ON-BOARDING SHOULD NEVER BE OPTIONAL , also  Develop Training That Clearly Communicates, “Excellence & Productivity Are Our Goals