Considering Cutbacks? First, Get the Right People in the Right Jobs


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In tough times such as these, businesses must often cut costs to stay healthy. Business leaders frequently cut back overhead functions such as customer care, without first considering how cuts will impact their relationships with customers, or how cuts will affect their ability to grow once the economy recovers.

However, companies can view a recession as an opportunity to improve both operational efficiency and their relationships with customers. By carefully examining their customer strategy and eliminating only those functions that do not add value to the customer relationship; then viewing all remaining staff as new hires, companies can amass the optimal staff and operations to create a brand identity of service excellence and poise themselves to be the first to grow in the next economic growth cycle.

Place the Best People in the Right Jobs…For Crucial Activities

When optimizing your staff size, first review your customer relations strategy to determine which activities and by extension, staff positions are crucial to your company’s success. A strong strategy states your goals and objectives. Your goals and objectives, in turn, dictate the most important activities. The staff positions responsible for these activities are, therefore, the positions that are crucial for the success of your customer strategy.

When making staff cuts, the first impulse is often to preserve jobs based on employee potential or seniority.

For example, a health insurance company targeting small businesses might determine that handling customers over the telephone is the most important part of their customer relations. This would mean a strong team of insurance benefits experts skilled in handling inbound telephone questions is a priority.

Here’s the challenge—getting the right person in each position. When making staff cuts, the first impulse is often to preserve jobs based on employee potential or seniority. But, if you the place the wrong person in the wrong job, you waste money and jeopardize customer relationships.

While it is always painful to enact layoffs, reorganization is also an opportunity to amass a staff with the best skills to serve your customers. Look at each employee as if they were a new hire. Catalog each person’s characteristics, traits and skills, then place people in jobs based on their fundamental strengths and natural abilities. Remember, Writing a job description is different than defining the characteristics required to excel at a job. One identifies the tasks to be performed, the other the personal attributes necessary to excel.

A personal attribute is an inherent quality that one brings to an endeavor as part of who they are. A person can be trained to acquire a skill; attributes are a constant in one’s character.

In the 1960s, H. Ross Perot created EDS, and I applied for a programming job there early in its history. Interviewers did not care to discuss programming skills with me or other applicants that I knew. Rather, they focused on our personal attributes; our drive for success, willingness to do whatever it took to satisfy a customer, personal pride and discipline. We can train you to program; we cannot teach you personal attributes, they explained. This was the staffing model that made EDS grow rapidly and succeed.

To further illustrate, good sales people have a natural drive to network, to achieve quick success and think well in unstructured situations. On the other hand, good account managers have a strong desire to address problems, have a longer-term view of success and like to be in command of a situation. Good sales people do not make good account managers, and vice versa.

There are several proven evaluation tools available to help you identify which people have the right attributes. These tools are based on years of research by organizational psychologists and built upon large knowledge bases of the qualities most often seen in successful people in specific jobs. Some vendors offer sophisticated software built on these knowledge bases while others, such as EASI Consult, are consortiums of practicing organizational psychologists who personally interact with your staff and then help managers to identify which individuals are likely to succeed in a given role.

Preparing The Right People

Once you have people with the right attributes, you can more easily provide job specific skills. Here are three key ways to ensure the right job skills are targeted to those activities that fit your strategy.

  • Training
    Training comes in many different forms; formal classes, e-learning and on the job training all have a place. The right combination of formal workshops, e-learning, brown bag training, on the job training and knowledge based systems can be a cost effective way to train.

    For example, one of our clients used workshops, brown bag and on the job training to implement a framework that gave every person that interacted with a customer a common approach to gathering information and positioning their company for more business. They manage their business using this framework.

    This ensured people were using best practices, and simplified communication across organizations. It also greatly simplified mentoring and reinforcement. Everyone understood the importance of their routine customer interactions to protecting and growing the company’s accounts.

  • Mentoring or Coaching

    Training is a good first step, but having someone to help after training to keep it alive is important. Experienced partners and coaches create a culture of continuous improvement. Having senior, experienced people available to help newer people can ensure people don’t forget training, and learn to adapt to changes in your environment.

    The client had a senior person periodically reach out to newer people to discuss their work and coach them. This same person would host information brown bag lunches to go over critical concepts in an interactive, casual environment. This gave people a place to exchange ideas, concerns and information that could improve their skills.

  • Reinforcement

    Using the right metrics and managing to reinforce the right behavior will show your staff that they need to follow the practices you consider important. The client previously mentioned held formal reviews using the language and practices taught. This ensured people stayed on course with what they had been taught. They were not allowed to backslide into old habits.

Use People Wisely

Place people in those jobs that they are best suited to perform, and give them very focused training to help them succeed. Don’t force-fit someone in a customer-facing job they don’t have the aptitude for, just to keep them. Customer relations are too important.

You can’t avoid cost cutting in a severe economic downturn, but you can ensure that you keep your eye on your customer. But cut costs intelligently; with customer relations in mind. Identify activities most important to customer relations; staff them with the right people.

Jerry Sparger
Global Business Solutions, LLC
Jerry Sparger, founder of management consultancy Global Business Solutions, brings 4 years of senior management and consulting experience to helping clients focus their business on acquiring and retaining loyal customers. GBS provides customer-centric organizational assessment, strategy and process development workshops and skills development.


  1. Considering Cutbacks? First, Get the Right People in the Right Jobs
    I agree to your idea. We panic and start the staff reduction haphazardly. What we forget is few people look at the advertisement in the papers these days as the net is doing a good work in this field. Second, the shear volumes of the trade deficits that may not be relevant to us blind our sight. Let me quote one example. I order the goods from India. I see Indian Rupees going low against the dollar. I forget that there are other avenues and that there are other sellers in other places. Why do I overlook the other providers? I have some sellers from that area that keep on harping me morning, noon and evening trying to sell. Moreover, I guess I am sold to them. This is nostalgic. It keeps me shut out from the others. I think we have come to one step of having the lean and clean market after all these economy news settle down and we are on the real rout to proper trading and no panic. My idea. No. it is a fact. I have the employees working from India and that is the first pruning I ought to do. Get the Right People in the Right Jobs. Not to lean on the salary I pay, as I pay less to these employees only to tilt towards India all the time. Other place I look around is the women. I think they are better employees at times then men. Take the secretary. A male secretary is better then a women as he will follow you like a pup. Honest I have tries this and I tell you form my experience. Women gossip a lot. Where I am at least. This time I put my foot down and keep the staff “the way they perform and not what my manual tells me.”
    I thank you
    Firozali A Mulla MBA PhD
    P.O.Box 6044
    East Africa


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