In all companies regardless of industry or company size turnover is inevitable. People will leave on their own to pursue a better job, to retire, to care for a loved one or for a myriad of other reasons within their control. Additionally, companies have become enamored with the concept of topgrading. Replacing an underperforming employee with a potentially higher performer. Conceptually the idea of topgrading makes lots of sense. It is in the execution where things often fall short.
A business president, Ben recently dropped in on a human resources and communications staff meeting to reflect on the past year and provide some insights to the team. Ben’s biggest frustration in the organization was the slow pace of change. He strongly believed that his company did not have the right talent for the current and future needs of the business. During the meeting one of the HR leaders mentioned backfilling a key position. Ben took offense to the term backfill. Having never given it much thought, I began to reflect on the term backfill.
Merriam-Webster defines backfill as “to refill usually with excavated material”. Under this definition an organization would look to find someone with the same skill set and capabilities. This is the exact reason that Ben, took issue with the term. Ben wanted his team to focus on moving the position forward. Filling all openings with better talent with enhanced capability. What Ben really wanted was for his organization to Forwardfill their positions.
I have since shared the concept of forwardfilling roles with a number of business colleagues in various companies and industries. Everyone tends to agree that forwardfilling makes sense. While it might just be semantics, often times using new words can drive desired actions.
With the concept of forwardfilling in mind, the approach to filling an open job changes. Rather than looking at the existing job description, HR should challenge the hiring manager to start with a blank job description and answer the following questions:
What work needs to get done? What are the success metrics for the role? What traits or characteristics would be showcased in a stellar performer? What knowledge skills and abilities would be needed for success? What were the incumbent’s shortcomings? Where do we typically look for candidates for this type of role and what if those sources were off limits? Where would you look outside of our industry?
We these questions in mind, you can build a new job description, not to backfill the role but to forwardfill it. Forwardfilling takes a different mindset and a different skill set for both the hiring manger and the HR business partner. It is a skill that can be developed through practice. Start with your next opening by removing the term backfill from your company’s jargon and replacing it with forwardfill. The results will surprise you as you begin to move your organization forward through talent rather than stagnating or moving backwards.
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