It’s been said that a goldfish will grow to suit the size of the tank it’s in – the bigger the tank, the bigger the fish. It’s a quality that can also be seen in the workplace, with some employees able to take on as much responsibility that’s given to them. However, not all staff are ‘goldfish’ personalities, so unless the business has a good understanding of its people, it can end up giving employees more responsibility than they can handle.
Avoiding the ‘sink or swim’ approach
Businesses that don’t recognise their employees’ limits often end up creating a sink or swim culture. For every employee that relishes the opportunity for autonomy, there are those that require more support, training or just some extra time to get used to their new priorities.
Research from the University of Exeter shows that employees who are given more responsibility don’t all respond the same way. When taking on more responsibility, some individuals felt more empowered, performed better and showed increased trust. But there were also those that felt overburdened and showed signs of stress. In short, how staff respond to new responsibilities entirely depends on the individual.
The reality is that everyone is different, and managers should not give more responsibility to staff unless they know they will flourish. This can be a challenge, though, as it’s not always obvious which employees can take on more work and still stay productive. Even if an employee is handling their current role successfully, this can change dramatically once new responsibilities are added.
Reel in employee insight
This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to determine who is best-suited to take on more responsibility. Senior management need to spend time understanding what traits those ‘goldfish’ personalities have in common. Then, through reviewing the wider organisation, the business can identify these attributes in other employees and give these individuals more to do.
No single person can be expected to manage this level of employee insight though – it’s just too much data to process. Instead, businesses need to use technology to understand the full spectrum of skills in the business. By using these data-driven insights to determine who will thrive with more autonomy, as well as those who may need additional support, organisations will get a much better picture of the ‘goldfish’ in the team.
In addition, armed with these insights, companies can ensure that training and development opportunities are tailored to the individual. While not every employee will be a ‘goldfish’ in the workplace, many may still have the potential for increased autonomy. Understanding the attributes and skills of these employees will not only help to identify their key areas of development but will also highlight the style of training that will get the best results.
Fishing for the best talent
This level of employee understanding cannot work in isolation though. Instead, companies should look to incorporate these insights throughout the whole business – even at the recruitment stage. This will provide a much clearer picture of what candidates can offer the employer and their potential for success in the role.
While showcasing responsibilities and experience is vital to hiring the right employee, there are softer elements of a role that are more difficult to see during an interview. For some positions, the business needs a person that can hit the ground running. Other roles have a slower learning curve, which means that people can stay consistent and reliable over a longer period of time. Taking a data-driven approach will help the business to find the best candidates for both types of positions – not only someone that has the right experience, but also the right attitude as well.
Understanding the breadth and depth of employee talent is vital to ensuring that everything from new hires to workloads suit the needs of the team. While there are individuals that can continually grow to suit the pressures of the job, businesses also need employees that are consistently reliable, willing to develop at a slower pace and able to manage the day-to-day tasks effectively. Regardless of whether the business is looking for a ‘goldfish’ or not, having a deeper understanding of staff will ultimately help HR leaders to create the best teams and the strongest business.
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