The New Skills Leaders Need to Hire For

Jobs are coming back as organizations see the pandemic abating. But the new normal means new skills to ask candidates about—and new questions leaders should be ready for.

Organizations are starting to take steps toward hybrid workplaces or full-time in-person work, and evidence is emerging that the U.S. economy is picking up steam.  While the economic comeback will likely be uneven—according to data released Friday, although more jobs were added in April, it seems the experts had vastly overestimated how many—a lot of leaders will have to start thinking about something they haven’t in a while: hiring.

Associations aren’t abandoning the job roles they had before the pandemic—they still need experts in meetings, membership, and education, for example. But the necessary personal skills underlying those roles have changed dramatically, according to Omar L. Harris, a former longtime pharmaceutical executive turned team expert and performance coach. Leaders should be better prepared to explore that when vetting job candidates, he says.

A lot of companies are not going back to the way things were.

“The skill set people have really leaned into because of the pandemic is the ability to get things done virtually. So there’s more of an emphasis on self-starters, people who can demonstrate that you’re self-motivated, reliable, and consistently trustworthy,” he says. “It’s time for a everybody to punch up their resumes around that virtual working experience, because a lot of companies are not going back to the way things were.”

To that end, leaders who are hiring shouldn’t read too much into a candidate from a resume alone. There are, of course, plenty of red flags to look out for (and even those are being reconsidered). But Harris, who’s written a book on teams called Leader Board: The DNA of High Performance Teams, says the interview should explore group fit and flexibility.

“Rather than looking at pedigree and previous experience, which are not as predictive of future performance, I recommend asking questions related to work ethic, passion, solution orientation, and overall maturity,” he says. “Work is done through teams today. There are fewer individual contributors and far more collaborative working experiences. If you’re not an authentic collaborator, then you’re not going to be successful.”

There’s plenty of research showing that successful teams are happier and help make their organizations more profitable. One Gallup study found that highly engaged teams experienced a 41 percent reduction in absenteeism and 59 percent less turnover. Managing the teams that are emerging after the pandemic, however, will be different, Harris says. Leaders need to be prepared to be more personalized, with less “bossing.” That can be more time-consuming, he says, but “if you want to be aloof and just focus on the process of the work, you’re going to get that same level of commitment and performance from your employees.”

Just as leaders need to ask for a lot of out their potential hires, Harris notes that those same leaders need to be prepared to be held accountable during the interview, particularly on DEI issues. Studies have shown that many workers, especially those in Gen Z, expect employers to make commitments to racial justice, and they want to see more than just lip service to those ideals.

“Organizations that are not leaning into the space of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion are losing,” he says. “You should expect to be asked what you have in place. What are the top three priorities in the organization related to DEI right now? What are you working on, who’s involved in those projects, and how can [the employee] get involved? Those kinds of questions will tell a candidate the seriousness of your organization.”

(AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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