Thomas Brooke

Hiring Is Like… Coatings Technology?

Recruiting in the coatings industry, I am always looking for analogies and metaphors about the hiring process that clients and candidates can relate to. One that always seems to intrigue people is the idea of hiring and organizational dynamics as a similar concept to the formulation and application of coatings. Maybe it’s my chemistry background combined with twenty plus years in search, but I find it an irresistible comparison.

One reason I think the metaphor helps is that coatings are complex but at the same time their properties are fairly well understood and measurable. Hiring people into an existing organization is also complex, but both the process and the outcomes are often less well understood – and definitely less accurately measured in practice. There are just so many great parallels in coatings that provide insight into the hiring process, I thought it would be fun to start with an overview and then do a series of subsequent posts on individual applications.

At a high level, a formulated coating consists of the resin, which determines many of the fundamental characteristics of the final product, as well as potentially a solvent, pigments, fillers, additives and so forth that impart specific other characteristics, both aesthetic and functional. And in the case of additives, some of them have opposing effects that have to be balanced. You could say that the formulated coating represents the candidate as a whole, with a combination of experience, education, skills and personality facets that combine to make a unique individual. The same concept can also be a great illustration of an organization that has to balance sometimes conflicting requirements and personalities to meet its objectives for profitable growth.

A fundamental concept that translates well is that of intended use. Formulating a successful paint or coating requires that you understand the application and performance requirements in order to choose the right raw materials and additives to create the desired characteristics. For example, a coating for specific chemical resistance inside a tank is obviously very different from a coating for interior architectural use. Without a clear view of the intended use it’s impossible to formulate successfully. That would be crazy and make no business sense, right? In fact, no coatings manufacturer would think of formulating a product without knowing where and under what conditions it would be used, and working backwards from that to determine the RM’s. And yet jobs are described all the time without a clear definition of what the person needs to actually accomplish, what “success” really looks like, what the expected lifespan in the job will be, and what combination of background requirements is really necessary to attain the desired results. Anyone who’s ever read one of those “incumbent is responsible for…” documents knows what I ‘m talking about.

More often than you might think, job requirements are generated based on some level of tribal knowledge within the organization derived from assumptions about the background of past people in the job, an approach that went out in most (admittedly not all!) coatings labs a long time ago in favor of an objective, scientific approach. Is there some benefit to using the past in describing requirements for a current job? Sure. Just as past coatings formulations that were successful (or not) can be a good starting point for future formulations for similar uses. But just as you need to update your understanding of a coatings application continually to ensure the formulation meets changing requirements, so you need to think about how the organizational structure, resources available, market forces and so forth may affect the real requirements for a person to succeed in a position. Thinking pro-actively about how every position contributes to the higher business purpose is a great way to make major improvements in organizational effectiveness. It sounds obvious but is really worth continual assessment to ensure focus stays on point. This is true when looking at the skills and competencies of existing employees as well as when hiring new team members.

Here’s another great analogy. One of the most important characteristics for any coating is adhesion. Without the right formulation – and equally important, the right surface preparation – the coating won’t stick. And that is a pretty basic level of failure. On the other hand, when correctly formulated and applied to a well prepared surface, a coating will adhere.

Adhesion failure can be a problem with the coating, with the surface, or both. The analogy here is whether a person “sticks” in a job after hiring. The surface they “adhere” to is the company.

A good match of skills, experience and culture yields a strong bond that endures even when things are not easy at work. On the other hand, a poor cultural fit will likely result in a short stay even if the technical requirements are a match; and poor onboarding is like poor surface prep – completely avoidable, frequently occurring, and generally contributing to poor outcomes. The moral of this particular story is that if you want to ensure a successful hire you need to examine and pay attention to all facets of the process. A great candidate will be put off by a poor impression on the part of the hiring company (for example, you fail to see the need to sell the candidate on the job). And from the other side, poor presentation, lack of attention to detail in an application, or poor preparation for an interview are like ignoring the application instructions for a coating. Just don’t do it and expect to succeed.

To sum up, knowing what you want someone to accomplish in a job can really provide insight on the true requirements for the position. Being mindful of the impression created in the hiring process, and the level of the resources you provide to the individual during onboarding and once they are in place, will go a long way to ensuring you can both attract and retain the best talent. As a candidate, an objective assessment of yourself – your primary motivation, your greatest strengths, your core competencies and also your weaknesses – is an essential key to finding satisfaction at work. If you are looking for a new position, consciously trying to identify the real expectations for the role will greatly clarify whether or not a given opportunity is really a good fit for you.

Applying these simple yet profound concepts, you can improve the chances of excellent adhesion and successful long-term performance!

"Great partner on several international searches."David Wolf, Former VP International Sales, Carboline

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