Opinion: Leverage Brainpower to Avoid Extinction

A picture of Wendy Sheaffer

“Jeopardy” music swelled as the vehicles swiveled. On the screen in the oversized room appeared the words, “This is the one source of energy that will never run out.”

We were at Disney’s Epcot Center, at the end of the “Universe of Energy” attraction. Alex Trebek was hosting the dream sequence showdown between Ellen DeGeneres and Jamie Lee Curtis on the big screen. Most people came to see the animatronic dinosaurs, with the “history of energy” lesson sprinkled in. The opening scene, where you round the corner and see a dinosaur, was pretty spectacular no matter how many times you saw the show.

The ride no longer exists. The space is being renovated to house a new attraction, aimed at a new generation.

I still have fond ride memories, even when the attraction was almost empty toward the end. In true Disney fashion, our hero, Ellen, was the only one to answer correctly, beating her old rival and being crowned Jeopardy champion.

The correct response was, “What is brainpower?”

As presented in the attraction, the idea was that pros and cons lie behind every potential energy source, but humanity’s imagination and intellectual curiosity would continue to drive improvements.

I found myself thinking about that message a lot lately.

Over the past year, various shortages have grabbed headlines and caused personal stress—lack of toilet paper and gas and other scarcities comprising individual supply chain components that shut down entire operations. An ingredient shortage at Starbucks might seem annoying when you are in line to get coffee, but for the supply chain managers, the shortage can cause sleepless nights as they attempt to keep higher traffic locations stocked. Starbucks managers having oat milk is every bit as crucial as RV manufacturers having bearings.

The most controversial shortage various industries are facing is lack of workers. Everyone on social media has an opinion, which almost always features sound bites ranging from “People are lazy” to “You should pay them more.” The contrasting opinions do little to elevate the conversation or solve the problem.

As with most things in life, there is no one-size-fits-all situation or an easy solution to fix the problem overnight. The pandemic might have brought things to a head, but underlying issues have been present a long time.

The restaurant industry has been warning that declining culinary student enrollment to work in fine dining, coupled with a rapid dining concept expansion, was a pending disaster. Restaurants also have said low wages and uneven tip-splitting policies were contributing to fewer server and front-of-the-house worker applications. Although not a new conversation, the industry closing and/or severely reducing capacities during the pandemic put many workers in a position to leave and not return. The restaurants must find replacements during a time when everyone else is trying to add staff.

You can throw a dart at a board listing different industries experiencing staffing shortages. Odds are great that whatever you hit had experts and insiders long warning about the situation.

Staffing is a seller’s market when discussing recruitment, much like the housing market in growing areas nationwide. Staffing challenges are not new and will continue to be repeated, in cycles, over the years.

Determining how to recruit the best job candidates has been tied to employee retention issues since businesses started hiring people. The number of different conclusions reached are as many as the challenges to resolve.

The most long-term successful solutions’ common denominator is someone thinking creatively. The trick is to consider not only the challenge immediately in front of you but also changing the dynamic that led to the brink in the first place.

Out-of-the-box solutions can be complex, such as reimagining your supply chain or restructuring departments to maximize work/life flexibility. You could get deep into the weeds to find ways to work smarter, rather than work harder. Perhaps you will choose something more straightforward, such as recruiting top candidates and learning how to tap into their full work/life potential.

Before seeking an outside candidate to fill a vacant position, sometimes looking internally first is best. Most assume I mean “look to fill the job with someone already in your organization,” which is true. Growing your internal talent into leadership roles is everyone’s best-case scenario. However, in this instance, I am specifically referring to people in your organization who could serve as a template for how to be successful.

If Kevin is among your best sales consultants, looking at the traits that help him excel at his job makes sense. This is where behavioral assessment tools can be a game-changer. Assessments identify personality types and help identify the best ways to continuously develop potential. When you can use Kevin as a future benchmark to gauge applicants’ attributes side by side, you have a tremendous advantage when onboarding your next sales consultant.

Every single position within your organization can follow the template. Kevin in sales, Kelly in parts, Ron your prep technician, Gabe in IT…whoever helps make your work life a little easier can be a benchmark. When you know the personality traits that lead employees to work so well in their job, and how to identify someone similar, you unlock your next potential superstar employee.

You can identify other people’s challenge areas and develop best practices to help everyone achieve their potential. Some might say if you are not naturally drawn to a certain activity, you should not do it. When putting together a work team, occasionally you will need to fit a square peg into a round hole. Employees not innately drawn to multitasking may just need a little more structure around prioritizing tasks. Similarly, someone might avoid small talk but can have purposeful conversations informing customers on topics where they are a subject-matter expert. Sometimes, the most reserved personality types make the best customer-care specialists.

Understanding the talent within your company provides a better picture of candidates to seek when filling a new position. More important, you have a roadmap detailing how to support employees and maximize their growth. Employees who feel valued and supported tend to remain long term and invest back to help the company prosper, even in difficult times. Valued workers put more time and imagination into their job every day.

Success is not guaranteed. Today’s business titans can become as extinct as the dinosaurs, and their shrines renovated into the next generation’s big attraction.

Experts predicted supply issues and worker shortages, using the available data, years before they happened. Businesses that stayed ahead of those trends were best equipped to weather the storm, even during an unprecedented pandemic. Having a behavioral assessment tool gives you data to put the right people in place to make the right decisions when you need them most.

One thing is clear, though. As long as people are willing to apply “brainpower” to hiring and retention decisions, no shortage cannot be overcome.

Wendy Sheaffer is the chief product officer at The Omnia Group, an employee assessment firm providing behavioral insight to help organizations make successful hires and develop exceptional employees. Sheaffer is an expert on using Omnia’s eight columns as a tool to make informed hiring/employee development decisions and effectively engage staff. She works directly with clients and Omnia staff to provide a deeper understanding of how to use personality data to meet business goals. For more information, visit www.OmniaGroup.com, or call 800-525-7117.

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