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Just one in nine employees say their skills and talents are used to the full potential

A recent extract from one of Insync Surveys’ staff survey databases with 70,000 responses shows that just one in nine employees strongly agree that their skills and talent are being used to their full potential. More than half of the respondents (55%) are either neutral or disagree that their skills and capabilities are fully utilised. This feeling of underutilisation is staggering considering we’re in an era where new recruits need to sell their skills, knowledge and experience more than ever before.

It’s also worth noting that this database extract covers all industries and is common to the majority of organisations. It’s quite possible that this issue could exist in your organisation.

Our recent Dream Employers 2011 study, in partnership with RedBalloon and based on over 7,100 responses, also shows that some 45% of respondents plan to look for another job in the next 12 months. Limited job enrichment factors and limited career progression opportunities are key drivers of staff turnover. Not surprisingly, many of the senior business leaders we work with plan to keep a close eye on engagement related issues in 2012.

Typical symptoms

Organisations with this “skills and talent hole” can suffer low employee morale, low job satisfaction, poor productivity, low levels of engagement, counterproductive behaviours and soaring recruitment costs.

Unfortunately, when a workforce reports that their skills and talent aren’t being used to their full potential our clients discover that their employees feel “stuck”. We often find this relates to their organisation having a flat structure where there isn’t room for career progression.

The road to improvement

The good news is that there are ways for organisations to manage this issue without undertaking a large-scale restructuring exercise. Many of our clients address it by focusing on four key areas:

1.  Job enrichment

In organisations with flat structures, there may not be opportunities for employees to progress vertically but there are often areas for development and up skilling that can offered. Cross departmental training or mentoring can provide employees with the opportunity to boost skills and become better connected. Leaders can also consider providing more opportunities to suit the skills of their employees. For example, people can be deployed on projects that capitalise on unutilised skills and talents.

2.  Leadership conversations

As our clients improve organisational performance, many become aware of their own leaders being less attuned to their employees’ skills and talents. Such leaders may be less inclined to provide job roles that are both challenging and rewarding, hence the poor score.

Communicate, communicate, communicate – we encourage many of our clients to help their leaders explain expectations for job roles to employees and also listen to what employees can offer. Clear job descriptions can also make sure skills are used to their full potential. In development conversations between leaders and employees, expectations need to be at the forefront to ensure alignment in the long run.

3.  Systems and processes

Looking again at our Dream Employers 2011 findings, respondents identified poor systems/processes as a key attrition driver (at 41%). This emphasises the importance of helping employees perform at their optimum level with appropriate resources. This may help people overcome feelings of frustration and in turn affect their perception of their skills being fully utilised.

We find that improvement in systems and processes has a big impact on how employees feel about their jobs. High performing organisations provide employees with effective systems and processes to enable them to do their day-to-day job well. This includes IT, payroll and other broader procedures and methods.

4.  Performance feedback

Effective employee performance reviews with their leader is another consideration. The leader must be able to have a candid conversation with the employee about what realistic job specifications are and identify what the organisation can offer to help the employee feel engaged in their role. If this performance feedback doesn’t take place, employees can have unrealistic expectations about what career path the organisation can offer in the long run. The combination of unrealistic expectations and poor performance reviews can contribute to low satisfaction, poor productivity and ultimately, disengagement from their organisation.

In summary, better utilising employees’ skills and capabilities is an opportunity many of our clients are taking seriously as a step towards addressing staff turnover issues. Faced with employees’ skills and talent not being used to their full potential, as a starting point, we encourage you to look into the areas of job enrichment, leadership conversations, systems and processes and performance feedback. All this is a step towards improving productivity which links to bottom line results.

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