(Cover Photo by Erica Leong on Unsplash)

This is PART 2 in a series exploring employee retention and turnover, based on Leigh Branham’s book “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave”. (Check out PART 1!)

Reason #2: The Mismatch Between Job and Person

Research has shown that 80% of workers feel they are not using their strengths on a daily basis[1] (qtd. in Branham 47).

Not using our strengths is a problem because it means that one of our fundamental needs, competence, isn’t being met. Basically, we want to be good at what we do and when we can’t, we start to disengage.

A lot of this has to do with bad talent management; management fails to get the right people for the right jobs.

It is a well-known principle that talent management is extremely important for business success. If so, why do so many businesses fail to take this seriously?

According to Branham, it stems from a lack of understanding about the nature of human talent.

Misconception #1: “Employees are interchangeable parts to be moved into whatever slots most need to be filled” (50)

Truth: People naturally perform certain activities better than others, and prefer using these ‘talents’ over others. This is what is known as “motivated abilities”, abilities that are self-motivating for the people who perform them. If a job does not include the opportunity for employees to use their motivated abilities, they will find somewhere else to use them (hopefully, not on the job).

Misconception #2: “Skills and knowledge are more important than talents” (50-51)

Truth: Whether or not a candidate meets all the basic requirements of a job is NOT the main determining factors of their long-term success on the job; rather, it is the use of their natural abilities. Managers often fail to make the distinction between the two. The problem is that natural abilities are much harder to identify than the basic skills and knowledge.

Misconception #3: “With the right training and coaching and the proper attitude, people can learn to do well in almost any job.” (51-52)

Truth: While it is true that people can learn new skills, “unless they are in the roles that match their motivated abilities (natural talents), they will not excel or enjoy the work” (51), Branham explains.

Often managers will attempt to ‘stretch’ their employees into areas which they are not quite fit for, or even promote them into management positions where they are forced to delegate work instead of doing what they enjoy most (i.e. doing the work).

[Note: Employees can also fall prey to this practice by having not properly identified their natural abilities.]


Actionable tips for employers/managers (Branham 54-67)

To Match the Person to the Job:

Make a strong commitment to the continuous upgrading of talent.

Begin with the belief that your organization’s future depends on getting and keeping the right people for the right jobs.

See that all hiring managers perform talent forecasting and success-factor analysis.

Talent forecasting: Before you start the recruiting process, identify what your business objectives are; these objectives will help you determine which sets of talent and specific jobs will bring the most value to your organization.

Success-factor analysis: Get to know what makes your top performers successful. Make them take personality and talent assessments, then look for commonalities in the answers. This will help you more accurately identify which traits contribute to the success of your top performers, and gives you something to look out for when interviewing new candidates. In fact, you can give the same tests to applicants, and more easily identify job fit.

Other ideas: focus group interviews with top performers, 1-on-1 behavioral events interviews (top performers are asked to give detailed accounts of how they dealt with a situation successfully in the past)

“Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding islimited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience  is blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to use by people with all the other qualities.”

—Dee Hock[2] (qtd. in Branham 57)

Cast a wide recruiting net to expand the universe of best-fit candidates.

The more candidates you have, the higher the chance of finding the right fit. Here are 3 ways to expand your candidate pool:

1) Loosening Job Restrictions

Reduce the number of base job requirements needed for the position you wish to fill

2) Changing the Job Itself

Make sure that the job description (i.e. the theoretical side) matches the job needs (i.e. the practical side). If it doesn’t, change the job description.

3) Creatively Considering New Sources of Talent

There are many creative ways to widen your talent pool. Examples include:

  • Hosting open houses by asking your current employees to invite friends they think would be a good fit
  • Build and develop employee referral programs
  • Offer a space on your company website where potential applicants can list their ideal job criteria, which will then be matched to current openings.

Follow a purposeful and rigorous interview process.

Make sure your interviewing process is up-to-date and effective. Here are 3 tips that may help:

1) Train all hiring managers in ‘behavioral interviewing’

Use behavioral questions such as “Can you tell me about a time when you dealt with situation ‘x’? How did you react?”. This method is based on the assumption that past behavior is predictive of future behavior.

2) Use multiple interviewers

The more opinions you have, the more accurate your decisions will be.

3) Check references

You can get a lot of information out of references. Actually check them!

Track measures of hiring success.

Many managers track cost per hire, but forget the most important measure: quality of hire. Here are some tips to do this:

1) Set quarterly and annual quantifiable performance objectives

(Results may be based on customer satisfaction surveys, achievement of on-schedule results, cost/quality targets, absenteeism rates, and achievement of targeted quantitative objectives)

2) Track first-year retention rates of all new hires

3) Track employee engagement survey scores of first-year employees as a group

To Match the Task to the Person:

Conduct ‘‘entrance interviews’’ with all new hires.

Once your candidates are hired, spend time getting to know their greatest strengths and talents. Since they will already have the job, they will have a greater incentive to be completely honest with you, especially if you communicate to them that your intent is for them to succeed at the job and that you are committed to their success.

This will also allow you both to identify in what way(s) their talents can be used to maximize their value to the company, while maximizing his/her engagement level.

Work to enrich the jobs of all employees.

Researchers Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham identified five factors[3] that contribute to job enrichment (qtd. in Branham 65):

#1 Skill Variety
A variety of skills are needed to complete the work

#2 Task Completion
The employee’s work is progress-oriented; it has a beginning and an end point with an identifiable outcome.

#3 Task Significance
The job has a recognizable impact on the overall mission or on other people inside or outside the organization

#4 Autonomy
There is substantial freedom granted to the employee in terms of when, where and how the work is done.

#5 Feedback
Feedback is regular, and comes from different sources.

Delegate tasks to challenge employees and enrich jobs

Many Millennials and Gen-Xers are against the traditional model of waiting years to ‘climb the corporate ladder’; they want to be challenged and show what they’re capable of, and they want it right away.

Although there is some risk in delegating tasks or promoting your employees too early, the greater risk lies in waiting too long to do so, by which time your employees will have left to go work for competitors willing to match their demands.

Actionable tips for employees (Branham 67-68)

  • “Ask questions during the interview to make sure the job is one that will make good use of your talents.”
  • “Know your values well enough to resist being recruited into a work culture that would not be a good fit.”
  • “If talent assessment workshops or inventories are not offered at the organization, seek assistance with identifying your talents through a private career coach, psychologist, community college, or university career center.”


Branham, Leigh. The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act before Its Too Late. AMACOM, 2012.

[1] Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Now, Discover Your Strengths (New York: The Free Press, 2001)

[2] M. Mitchell Waldrop, ‘‘Dee Hock on Management,’’ Fast Company, October/November 1996

[3] Richard Hackman and Greg R. Oldham, Work Redesign (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1980).

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