• Monday, April 15, 2024
businessday logo


How to set standards

how to set standards

Clarity = productivity

Let’s say, you’ve entered the dating world and decided to find a boyfriend/girlfriend. Unlike Tolu, our example in the last article, you’ve done the work and know why you need a romantic partner. You have a clear idea about the holes in your life that need filling. You want someone who will be your ‘plus one’ at all your social events; someone who will listen to your problems; cheers you up when you’re sad; snuggles with you while you watch Premier League matches and National Geographic documentaries, and go to Burna Boy concerts with you. That is the job description (JD).

READ ALSOMaking a Match

In order to find someone who can do those things for you what’s your first step?  You must decide which specific traits this love interest must possess in order to fulfil these mandates as your boyfriend/girlfriend. You must set your standards and be clear on what they are. The person must be presentable so you aren’t embarrassed to introduce them to friends or family. They must like to go out to places with you and be in your company. They must be attentive and caring, so they can listen. They must be funny or lighthearted, so they can cheer you up. They must enjoy intimate physical contact, like football, and find documentaries interesting. They must be an Afrobeat fan and not mind being in loud, sometimes crowded places. They must like Burna Boy. Not just Wizkid, Davido or Mr Eazi: Burna Boy.

It works the same way in recruitment. You design your JD so you can look at your list of tasks that need to be completed and match each one to the skill required to get it accomplished. You’ve done the work to prioritize ‘needs’ over ‘wants’ over ‘might-as-well-get-done-while-we’re-at-it’s, so you work from the most important to the least and list your required competencies for each duty that must be fulfilled. Your employees are disorganized? You need someone who can organize and motivate them. Your social media outreach is abysmal though you are in an industry that requires rapid and frequent engagement? You need someone who is adept at navigating and utilising Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp etc, is good at search engine optimization and is on top of the latest online communication trends. The whole point of going to the trouble to create a JD is so you have a crystal-clear framework you then use to deduce and decide your competencies.

Credentials are not competencies

Competencies could be technical (“hard”) skills such as the ability to analyse large data sets or the ability to develop financial statements. However, they could also be “soft skills” like the ability to communicate effectively or work well with others. They could be personality traits such as assertiveness (showing confidence) or flexibility (being easily adaptable). In your case, they will be whatever combination of these things are tailored to your organisation’s requirements.

Defining required competencies is integral in Nigeria because of the fundamental flaw in our education-to-employment pipeline. Our education system teaches students academic theory and neglects practical instruction and the development of industry­-relevant skills. Everyone believes, we, as employers, focus on a university degree as the most relevant qualification for employment. Therefore, young people zone in on this milestone believing it will equip them for the world of work. When we, in turn, do not use competency-based hiring practices which elevate executable talent over academic theory, we perpetuate this misunderstanding. There is no pressure on educational institutions to adapt their curricula for job-preparedness, or partner with our industries in order to create work experience opportunities which will enable graduates to become an optimizable pool of talent for us. Prioritising competencies in the hiring process instead of using academic qualifications as a proxy for skills is the only way to recruit candidates who can perform the real-life tasks that we require of them in order to meet our business goals.

 Are your needs met by their skillset?

Why are defining the competencies so important? Because they keep you from getting distracted and wasting your time. Let’s say in your search for the boyfriend/girlfriend we just talked about, you meet someone who is very kind to beggars, has a PhD in engineering, loves gospel music and saves up money to take a trip abroad every year because they want to broaden their horizons. Though these are all positive attributes, they do not match your mandate. Without your list of competencies (presentable, attentive, caring,  funny, lighthearted, a fan of Afrobeats, concertgoer, lover of Burna Boy) you could very well fall for this generous, well-educated, God-fearing, world traveller. You might be enamoured with them in the beginning. However, it will very soon become clear, when they drift off while you are talking about your day, or tell you Afrobeat is demonic, that they are unsuitable for the JTBD.

Without deducing and deciding on desired competencies, we disempower ourselves in the recruitment process. With just a JD (what we need to get done) the only question becomes whether the potential talent is willing to do the things we require. We are asking and they are answering. What equally matters is whether they are able to do the things we require. They are seeking and we are choosing. Deciding what we need makes the first step of the recruitment process(creating that JD) worthwhile. It makes the next step (figuring out who we are and our journey to demanding these things) meaningful.


Misan Rewane is co-founder and CEO of WAVE, an organization focused on rewiring the education-to-employment system to create a level playing field for every African youth to access the skills and opportunity to become what they imagine.