by Brad Wolff, managing partner

Imagine coming to work on Monday to discover that the company’s meticulous, rule-following accountant and creative, eccentric marketing person have switched positions. How’s this likely to work out? In truth, some variation of this misalignment is common in most organizations. An employee alignment process puts the right people in the right seats.

Understanding the alignment problem

Most business leaders say that 80% of the work is done by only 20% of the workforce. The 20% are the top performers – and they usually produce three to four times more than the others. The main reason can be attributed to correct job alignment, rather than attitude or drive.

Here’s evidence: It’s common for top performers to be moved or promoted … and then they become poor performers. Likewise, many poor performers become top performers when moved to appropriate roles.

Bottom line: Everyone can be a top performer or a poor
performer, depending on how well the work aligns with their innate characteristics.

Putting employees in the right seats

How can an organization be deliberately created to align an employees’ work with their innate characteristics (abilities)?

1. Shift the mindset away from focusing on skills, experience and education.

It’s common for people who are “great on paper” to get hired and become poor performers. In that same vein, many top performers started off lacking in the “required” skills experience and education. When people’s work aligns with their innate characteristics, they can utilize their natural abilities and unleash their passion for their work. Also, the best training system and management team will not turn poorly aligned employees into top performers.

2. Select the right assessment tool.

Many organizations use personality assessments in the hope of gaining more objective information about people to set them up for success. However, the results can be disappointing due to the following inherent pitfalls:

  • The traits typically thought of as “personality” are mostly surface-level, observable behaviors – not what’s underneath. The drivers of behavior are more accurate, predictive and stable.
  • Assessment-takers may provide different answers based on which of the following they consider: how they actually see themselves, how they believe others see them and how they want to see themselves.
  • Assessment-takers use a specific context or situation to answer the questions. For example, answers to questions related to “extroversion” (sociability and talkativeness) may vary depending on context differences (small vs. large groups, familiar vs. unfamiliar people, level of interest in the topic of conversation, etc.).
  • If an assessment is used for a job application, the applicant may have an opinion on what traits the employer is looking for and skew the answers accordingly.

What’s a better option? Select an assessment that delves beneath the personality into what is more core or innate with people. This eliminates the biases of personality assessments and provides more valid and reliable data.

3. Establish trust with the employees.

Inform the employees about the company’s commitment to align their work with their natural gifts. Don’t hide things or surprise people. People want to do work they’re good at and enjoy.

4. Develop an understanding of the innate characteristics being measured.

Before people’s innate characteristics can be aligned with their work, it’s essential to understand what these characteristics mean. In other words, how does each one impact the way people think and behave. This provides the basis to identify which characteristics are needed for different types of positions within each organization.

5. Develop clarity on the job duty breakdown.

It’s important to know what people will do on a day-to-day basis in each job. The hiring team (direct manager and others with a major stake in each position’s success) meets to gain clarity on the percentage of time spent performing each job responsibility. Duties that are very similar in nature (family of duties) should be grouped together. Estimate the percentage of time spent working on each job duty family.

6. Determine which innate characteristics are critical.

The hiring team determines which innate characteristic is critical for each job duty family. The team also should agree on the desired range for each characteristic. For example, on a 1 to 10 scale, the range for creative thinking should be between 7 and 9 for certain positions. An optimal range should be developed for each critical characteristic.

7. Administer assessments and align employees with job functions.

Assess both current employees and potential new hires and then compare the results to the desired ranges. Take the appropriate action based on the strength of the level of alignment. Top performers almost always fit into desired ranges for each critical innate characteristic. If this is not the case, adjust the desired ranges based on the data.

Other factors should be considered, including the following:

  • When current employees don’t align with their jobs, evaluate other positions within the company that do align well.
  • Openly discuss available options with employees who are misaligned. Develop a plan to shift roles or tweak job descriptions when this is feasible. Frequently, there are other employees who’d be thrilled to trade positions – or even some duties – that better match their own innate characteristics.
  • For applicants applying to open positions, only interview the people who align well with the desired innate characteristics. When people are interviewed who don’t align, there may be a temptation to discount the assessment results. This rarely ends well.

In the end, the most important job of management is to maximize the return on investment of its workforce. Peter Drucker said, “The task of a manager is to make people’s strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.”

The most important thing a leader can do is to put people in a position to excel rather than get by or fail. How are you doing in your most important task?

Brad Wolff specializes in workforce and personal optimization. He’s a speaker and author of People Problems? How to Create People Solutions for a Competitive Advantage. As the managing partner for Atlanta-based PeopleMax, Wolff specializes in
helping companies maximize the potential and results of their people to make more money with less stress. His passion is empowering people to create the business success they desire, in a deep and lasting way. For more information, visit