29 July 2016

Most employers would prepare a job description for a vacant post and then look for the person who best fits those requirements and specifications but research from the UCL School of Management suggests that this might be the wrong approach.

For successful innovation, Assistant Professor Vaughn Tan argues, they should hire high-performing people with minimal job descriptions and let them adapt their own roles.

His research (published in Administrative Science Quarterly) found that teams were more successful when employees were able to find and claim components of their roles that were useful, and drop components that were neither useful nor desirable.

However Professor Tan conceded that this is a hiring approach that works for companies in innovative and rapidly-changing industries, such as technology start-ups, advertising and film production, as well as “cutting-edge food”.

“Because we can’t predict the future,” he explained, “companies that need to innovate often have only a partial idea of who they need to hire and what those people need to do. Under these circumstances, it makes no sense to hire people as if we know exactly how their roles should be defined.”

Advising managers to be frank about the level of certainty in the role they are hiring for, and explicit with potential employees about both the defined and the undefined parts of a role, Professor Tan argues that some current hiring practices are poorly suited to the rapid changes confronting many businesses.