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Building a Talent Pool: The Right Person, In the Right Role

Posted by Deborah Bigelow Crawford

Deborah Bigelow Crawford has more than 20 years of experience in business management and handles the operational and administrative functions of PM Solutions. Ms. Bigelow Crawford also serves as President of the PM College®, PM Solutions' training division, where she is responsible for the fiscal management and quality assurance of all training and professional development programs. Prior to joining PM Solutions, she served as the Executive Director of the Project Management Institute (PMI), and was instrumental in providing the foundation and infrastructure for the exponential growth that the Institute has maintained over the last 10 years. In addition, she served as the Executive Director of the PMI Educational Foundation. Over the last decade, she has authored numerous articles in PM Network, Chief Project Officer, and Optimize magazines. Ms. Bigelow Crawford is also co-author of the book Project Management Essentials. She has presented a variety of papers as a speaker at international symposia and conferences, and is a member of the National Association of Female Executives and the Project Management Institute.

So, you are hiring. How closely have you looked at your Project Manager job description? It may be that your next person in that role will succeed or fail based on how well you have defined their role.

Some reflection is required. What do you really want your new Project Manager to be?  The role can be defined in so many different ways, depending upon your organizations  My daughter works at a large pharmaceutical firm and has the title of “Functional Planning Manager.“  When I looked at her job description, she would be more like a PMO Director in our company!  Another daughter was a Meeting Planner for a midsize marketing agency but, from my experience, her role was one of a full-fledged project manager. 

PM Solutions set out to document standards for specific project management roles in our book Roles and Responsibilities.  Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, our researcher, Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin, found this exercise to be much harder than anticipated.  Job descriptions were all over the place and many were lacking.  Clearly, the definition of these roles is not standardized. This may be one reason why we often hire or promote the wrong person. 

It’s easy to blame the individual, but often organizational systems are the real culprit. We must ask ourselves, “are we hiring/promoting the wrong person … or are putting them in the wrong role?”   Employees who are poorly suited to their roles generally take up a large portion of a supervisor’s time.  They might be smart and experienced; but find themselves struggling with unexpected tasks, norms, or processes.   

The situation seems to evolve in a predictable manner.  At first, we are patient, waiting for them to show results.  When it takes longer than anticipated, we try to provide constructive coaching.  When that doesn’t work, we begin to escalate to management that we may have a performance issue.  This results in months of wasted time and effort.

There’s so much frustration for all in this scenario. Why does this happen?  We chose someone who was educated, had the credentials and work history, and came to us with great references!  This employee was excited and eager when they started but are getting frustrated and losing enthusiasm. 

I believe that the answer is that you put them in the wrong role. We’ve tried to combat this at PM Solutions by assessing our recruits with an assessment instrument that has been thoroughly researched, tested, and refined over decades. We so respected the developer of it that we partnered with them for project management profiles.  The three components of the assessment tool we now use before any new person is hired reveal an individual’s strengths, motivations, and limitations relative to the role and responsibilities that we expect him/her to perform.  Aligning their knowledge, personality attributes, and their behaviors to the role we expect them to fulfil is key.  We take a more holistic approach to what they know, how they work with others, and how they actually perform.

If hiring or promoting the wrong person is something that has happened to you more than once, you might want to change the way you go about hiring or promoting new talent in your organization.  Even if you have chosen the right person on the first try, this tool can still be used to pave his or her career path.  With a little investment of time and money, you could save yourself a lot of frustration, inefficiency, and a whole lot of money (just take a look at this article on the cost of a bad hire to determine how much).

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