Victoria Tifft: How to optimize staffing for top employee performance Featured

7:28pm EDT November 30, 2011
Victoria Tifft: How to optimize staffing for top employee performance

Many executives have asked me what our firm’s secret is to maintaining a long-term, high-performing staff. My response is this: the combination of finding the right cultural fit and supporting new employees through an integrated orientation process. This has proven to be an effective means for my firm to optimize our resources.

Often when we look to fill roles, we look for the outside experts, the stars that will come in with their worldly experience and solve all of our challenges. After watching a series of experts struggle, I determined that two things were major contributors to their demise, a mismatch between the employee and the corporate culture and an inability to quickly absorb corporate “tribal knowledge.”

The most common obstacle is an indifference to or a lack of understanding of the real corporate culture. Like dating, companies often present a different face during the interview process and the honeymoon, and it is several months into employment before your newcomer gets a real look at the way your company works.

The other obstacle is a lack of tribal knowledge. Whatever your company’s challenges, you have assets, practices and knowledge that have made you the success that you are. These are sometimes downplayed or entirely disregarded in the quest to bring in new competencies. New experts that are brought into your organization generally get started making changes right away, and therefore, they often completely miss cultural and knowledge content. As a result, they frequently make impractical recommendations with disastrous consequences. Alternatively, the people that are more conscious of the barriers may hang back and appear ineffective.

One takeaway from all of this is that carefully structuring the entry of new experts into the company can improve success. My firm has found that implementing a few basic methods helps management find employees that fit the corporate culture and assist them in gaining tribal knowledge quickly.

When we interview candidates, we provide ample opportunities for them to learn about our corporate culture. We spend time discussing our mission, values and corporate objectives with each candidate in an effort to ensure that they understand the culture of the firm. During each interview we explain the importance we place on growing and fostering our culture so candidates understand how critical our culture is to our business. Then, it’s important to ask several questions during the interview process to ascertain whether or not each candidate shares a similar corporate cultural mindset.

Once a candidate is hired, we address the challenge of passing on tribal knowledge. Tribal knowledge, or the learning curve, happens quickly in our firm. Employees that understand the processes, procedures and internal workings of the firm tend to be more successful than those that do not. We created an employee orientation program to help new employees acclimate to our firm. Our orientation program connects new employees with other staff while simultaneously integrating technical, cultural and management objectives. One unique aspect of the program is that all levels of new employees meet with someone in senior management during their first month of hire. The job of senior management is to reiterate our corporate vision, values and objectives as well as to check in on the employees overall orientation process. We’ve found that our orientation process helps employees immediately feel connected with the company, which helps to yield a long-term, satisfied staff.

I’ve always worked with growing companies, so effective staffing is a challenge that has always been a regular part of my management repertoire. As companies right size, I’ve found that optimizing your current staff can add enormous value to your firm.

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at vtifft@clinicalrm.com.