Taking a different approach to hiring

Our people are our biggest asset. Let’s enable a more diverse approach to finding them and supporting them to be at their best in their roles.

Umbrella started 2021 with a number of vacancies, including some of our most key roles. After a traditional recruitment and interview process resulted in only one successful hire, and many months of lost time, I decided to take a different approach.

Using our networks and professional social media channels, we put out an “Umbrella is hiring” message. I also called people we respected to let them know we were hiring, checking if they were at all interested, or knew of others who might be. 

Most importantly, I ditched the specific role descriptions we had previously used, and I started every conversation with a question, “What would your ideal role look like?”, and an invitation, “How would you like to work at Umbrella?”.

Although we are going against conventional practice with this approach, Umbrella is in good company. WL Gore and Associates (the US$3.8 billion maker of GoreTex and over 2000 other products) makes it possible for new hires to find the jobs and teams they want to work with. Everyone joins the company equally as an associate and, in their first few months, associates circulate through a variety of teams and projects. Then, with their sponsor, they decide which team would provide the best fit for their skills and aspirations. They then make a commitment to a particular project and to a team that needs their strengths in order to perform better.

With our new team members, I spent time talking about where the needs of our business and our team overlapped with their strengths, purpose and preferences. I also facilitated these conversations with existing team members who weren’t happy in their current roles. This process has seen people taking on parts of other roles that others don’t want, and leaving some tasks to be picked up by others who do like to do them. 

Job crafting by redefining jobs to incorporate motives, strengths, and passions can be incredibly energising and revitalising. Over the last decade, I have grown Umbrella around the strengths and interests of the people who want to join and continuing this approach seemed sensible to me. I want to enable increased enjoyment, commitment and, I hope, more joy at work. 

But being evidence-based, we searched the research and found strong support for this approach. Literature in the organisational psychology field shows that underutilising an individual’s capabilities at work can be almost as stressful as overwork or not being skilled enough to do the job. And a long line of research (1, 2, or 3) has shown that allowing room for people to improve the fit between their motives, values, skills and work-roles fosters more engaged employees who show higher levels of wellbeing. And higher levels of wellbeing for our people are an absolute priority.  

The traditional approach to hiring and managing people has an inherent bias: it is mechanistic, viewing people as more akin to cogs or levers that exist to do specific tasks. Using this logic, the hiring task is to first pin down the specific skills and competencies required of the role and then try and find people who fit. It taps the awful mentality of Henry Ford, who said, “Why is it when I want a pair of hands they come with a head attached?”

If you want to join us experimenting with our different approach, where might you start? To adopt a job-crafting approach with your own people:

  • Ask them to track all the tasks/activities they do in a day/week/month.
  • Reflect on the activities that they find energising/satisfying and enjoyable – where do they feel both competent and fulfilled?
  • Reflect on the activities they experience as depleting or unrewarding.
  • Review together and generate a range of options for crafting a revised role that has more of the energising and less of the depleting.
  • Foster more conversations across your organisation about alternative approaches and encourage experimentation.

Our people are our biggest asset. Let’s enable a more diverse approach to finding the people you want – who want you – and supporting them to be at their best in their roles.

We are looking for great people to join our team. To find out more about some of the areas we are hiring for, please check out our careers page.