Developing the Employee You Want Into the Employee You Need

Chris Latham

With unemployment near record lows and technology creating jobs that no one had even imagined a few years ago, employers are being more flexible in their hiring. Increasingly, they’re willing to train and develop employees instead of looking for the “perfect fit.”

And while recruitment practices do frequently strive for that goal, successful small and midsize companies of the modern economy — characterized by technological disruption and Millennial workers who came of age during the financial crisis — can benefit from a more versatile hiring strategy.

Developing the employee you want into the employee you need sometimes requires that firms hire more for aptitude than cold hard skill set, recognizing that required skills are changing rapidly. Therefore, consider hiring for potential and promise and not necessarily just the proven track record. In fact, many global organizations already have adopted this approach.


A World Economic Forum report found in 2016 that employers believed most jobs would see changes to a third of their targeted skill sets by 2020. Procter & Gamble, the global leader for consumer packaged goods, has stated on its hiring portal for experienced recruits that it seeks “extraordinary people with different career backgrounds.”

Jeremy Wrench, CEO of Capstone Hill Search, says, “Many of the roles we’re asked to fill didn’t exist even 12 months ago, so securing talent with proven experience in a similar role is neither practical nor, in many cases, possible. The challenge we and our clients face is to identify talent that can adapt into these roles and then continue to evolve with the market.

“A demonstrable background of adaptability is a valuable pointer. However it is an employee’s future suitability that matters, and the single most valuable characteristic in determining future impact is attitude,” continues Wrench, whose firm specializes in executive-level placements in the marketing and corporate communications, digital and public relations industries.


Of course you still need as much to go on as possible when hiring candidates, so what else should you look for as signs of strong potential in recruits? The precise answer will depend on the role, company, and team, but a few traits have become very desirable at top-performing businesses.

High on the list is the ability to learn quickly and use different software to analyze data that improves decision-making regarding sales, marketing, or operational efficiency. Another highly coveted trait is comfort working with people from diverse walks of life, and leveraging that diversity to gain new insights that can enhance the company. It’s also good to have a strategic mind for how the business can develop or expand its competitive advantage.

At the end of the day, you can only develop the employee you want into the employee you need by conducting effective training programs. Although this, too, will vary based on the specifics of your firm, there are certain best practices to follow.

First, know what the employee wants out of his or her career. Next, align that employee’s training with the strategic priorities of the business. Finally, be prepared to consult with an objective third-party about the type of skills and training that can maximize your company’s performance.


PwC, one of the Big Four professional services networks, emphasizes the need for “upskilling” and “reskilling” for firms aiming to adapt to the needs of the evolving workforce. One field where this has become especially important is healthcare, according to Benjamin Isgur, who leads PwC’s Health Research Institute.

Executives at insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies want their workforce to acquire new skills in order to meet the demands of the future, he says. Likewise, both employees and those seeking jobs want employers to offer better training. Upskilling in artificial intelligence, robotics, data analytics, value-based care, and social determinants of health are all in focus for these organizations.

Isgur says good training programs incentivize targeted workers to participate fully, use performance metrics that capture their progress, and accommodate for more remote or virtual office employees. Organizations also must determine which employees are the top priority to receive this training. “Identify the employees you want to train first, to be your evangelists who bring that education back into the organization, and then cascade that information down depending on what capabilities people need.”

According to Joni Duncan, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, “It is essential that we hire employees that are not only adaptive to technology, but with all of the change that comes with it.”

That’s why at Lurie Children’s Hospital, administrative assistants’ roles have evolved to doing much more than answering phones and scheduling meetings. They also are expected to be able to take on small projects, help with editing journal articles, and even manage a budget. “In some cases you may want to look outside of healthcare to find the best talent,” says Duncan.


Kevin Scanlon, Director of the Private Client Group at Stephens Inc., has hired people from other parts of the financial services industry to become wealth managers and has recruited as far outside the box as teachers and even a medical doctor.

His team also runs a Second Career Program to transition and train such hires. These candidates must pass a series of personality assessments and interviews with several decision-makers at Stephens before receiving an offer, but Scanlon encourages his Stephens colleagues to remain open to the value untraditional hires can bring.

“I myself did not always plan on entering wealth management,” Scanlon says. “Back in 1980, the Los Angeles Rams drafted me into the NFL. My degree is in Liberal Arts. Then in 1981, a manager at Merrill Lynch approached me about a career in this business. Turns out, I loved it and am good at it.”

Keeping an open mind about what makes for the best new hires while staying disciplined about how to train them can be a great asset in your firm’s path to growth. As the economy, technology, and workplaces all continue to evolve, so must the employees who support your business.