Organizational Staffing

Organizational StaffingOrganizational staffing is concerned with having the right people at the right place and time to achieve organizational outcomes. Staffing is a complex, multifaceted process that affects all areas of the organization but is particularly important with regard to organizational effectiveness. As such, the organization strives to attract, motivate, and retain a workforce with the appropriate characteristics to achieve the organization’s mission, strategy, goals, and objectives. Viewing staffing as a continuous process rather than a discrete event (e.g., hiring a particular individual) is an essential component of virtually all contemporary staffing models and conceptualizations. Staffing includes recruitment, selection, employment, and retention and is strongly affected by numerous laws and external conditions that bear directly on organizational employment processes.

Staffing strategy flows from the organization’s mission, strategic plan, goals, and objectives that, in turn, influence human resource planning efforts. Human resource plans are developed for the organization as a whole and, in larger organizations, for each business unit. From the staffing perspective, the human resource plan examines an organization’s demand for labor and the current labor supply to determine whether any gaps exist. Plans are devised to address the gaps and achieve the desired staffing levels. At the department level, such action plans identify the number of hires and the positions that will be filled within a specific timeframe. Plans must also address economic conditions, the labor market, and skill and technology changes as part of ongoing environmental scanning. Finally, the plan should address issues of diversity and affirmative action.

Human Resource Planning and Job Analysis

Human resource planning helps to identify gaps in supply and demand, but what specifically needs to be known in order to recruit, select, and employ new personnel? All staffing systems are essentially matching processes that evaluate the fit between individual and organizational characteristics. Traditionally, the fit between the individual and a particular position was examined, but increasingly the overall fit with the organization is most important. The individual factors of most concern are knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAO). In light of organizational matching just noted, personality characteristics are an important consideration as well. The way in which organizations assess individuals to determine the suitability of the fit will be examined below in connection with recruitment and selection processes.

Organizations assess jobs and job families through systematic study called job analysis, a process that describes and records job behaviors and activities. Job analysis is generally considered the backbone of an effective human resource management system, and it is particularly important in staffing functions of recruitment and selection, as well as assessing the level of job performance. Job analysis involves the collection of information about jobs in the organization (not the persons holding the jobs). As such, the analysis focuses on duties, responsibilities, knowledge, skills, and other characteristics required to perform the job. Information can be collected via observation, interviews with job incumbents and supervisors, questionnaires, professional and trade associations, other employers, and published works such as O*NET commissioned by the Department of Labor.

Job analysis information is used as a basis for job descriptions and job specifications. These written documents summarize the information collected during the analysis phase. Job descriptions include the job title, duties, responsibilities, task activities with relative importance of each, job context and working conditions, and the date of the analysis. The date is important, since jobs evolve and shift over time as organizational conditions and technologies change and as new jobs are developed. Job specifications also include the job title, employee qualifications (experience, education, specialized certificates or licenses, etc.), job summary, KSAOs, and date of the analysis. Up-to-date job analysis information (including job descriptions and job specifications) is essential for human resource planning and the range of organizational staffing processes.


When human resource planning indicates that additional employees need to be hired, the organization engages in recruitment activities. The initial goal of recruitment efforts is attracting a pool of potentially qualified applicants to the organization. This pool is then screened until an appropriate number of candidates are offered employment. Recruitment activities include assessment of immediate and long-term employment needs, monitoring the labor market conditions, designing recruitment materials and methods, generating pools of qualified candidates, monitoring the effectiveness of different sources and methods of recruiting, follow-up with candidates regarding hiring decisions, and evaluation of the overall recruitment efforts. Legal issues like the definition of an applicant, company disclaimers, the nature of job advertisements, and misrepresentation of employment opportunities also come into play.

There are a number of strategic choices that organizations make regarding the recruitment process. Does the company want to develop employees by promoting from within, or are needed employees brought in from outside of the company (i.e., internal vs. external recruiting)? Does the human resources department handle recruitment activities, or is an outside recruitment agency retained for this purpose? What role does technology play? How much discretion do business units and managers have in recruiting employees? How is the recruitment budget developed? Is the recruitment budget administered in a centralized or decentralized fashion? How does the company incorporate diversity issues in the recruitment process? Who is responsible for the success of recruitment activities?

Organizations also make strategic decisions about the appropriate methods for recruiting. Available technology has a significant influence on this process. Web-based recruiting is currently enjoying widespread use, and in fact prospective employees may be encouraged or dissuaded from applying based on a review of the company’s Web site.

Once the organization sorts out its recruitment strategy and plan, recruitment is generally conceptualized as sources of recruits and methods utilized to attract recruits. Recruits can be found inside and outside of the organization. Internal candidates, who are already employed by the organization, might be considered for promotion, transfer to another unit or location, job rotation, or other assignment. Often internal job openings reflect a career or mobility path where the open position is the typical next step for the employee. Internal methods include job postings, skill inventories, nominations, and succession plans. Consider job postings. A position can be posted on a bulletin board, in the company newsletter, on the Internet, or on the organization’s intranet. Hiring managers need to follow company policy on where to post, the duration of the posting, and the closing date for applications to ensure that interested candidates are aware of the opening. Postings have several benefits such as improved morale, retaining valued employees who may be seeking additional challenges and rewards, and reduced costs when compared with external methods. However, issues can arise when multiple, equally qualified internal candidates apply for a posted job and only one can be selected or when the “heir apparent” is passed over for another candidate. Plans should be made for dealing with such situations.

The organization may need to augment the pool of qualified applicants by looking outside the company. Recruits from the outside may bring new ideas and increase diversity. External sources of employees include referral programs, walk-ins, employment agencies, temporary help agencies, trade associations and unions, schools (high schools, colleges, and universities), and foreign nationals. External methods include advertisements in the media (print, TV, radio, Web), employment agencies, open houses/job fairs, executive search firms, direct mail, and so on. The mix of methods will depend on the recruitment budget and previous success with each method.

The way that an organization portrays itself (e.g., company Web site and newspaper advertisements) and the jobs for which it is hiring (e.g., full time, part time, permanent, temporary) are critical aspects of the recruitment process. Providing “realistic job previews” that give recruits an accurate and balanced perspective (including negative information) regarding the job and the company is widely recognized as an effective practice in retaining employees once hired. Research supports the notion that realistic previews can reduce employee turnover and, in addition, can increase employee job satisfaction and organizational commitment. There are several possible explanations for the effectiveness of realistic previews: realistic information may inoculate the recruit against unrealistically high expectations when newly hired, the match between the individual and the job may be enhanced by giving realistic information, and the organizational commitment of the new hire is increased because of lack of external coercion or pressure.

Whether or not a recruit is eventually offered employment, the quality of the experience is an important determinant of the feelings and perceptions that recruits have of the process and attributions (positive or negative) they make about the organization. Managing this process so that the majority of individuals have a positive experience is essential, since they will convey such opinions to others and possibly be a consumer of the company’s goods and services. Organizations should strive to convey a positive image of the recruitment process.


Selecting employees from a recruitment pool requires information about how well the prospects will perform the job and fit with the organization’s culture. All selection systems are probabilistic, meaning that selection mistakes will occur despite the best efforts to minimize such hires. As such, the complexity and sophistication of selection systems vary greatly. Having explicit policies and procedures along with accurate record-keeping are required in case selection processes face legal challenges. Most organizations use multiple selection devices or procedures to evaluate applicants in a thorough fashion. The employment interview is widely used often in conjunction with application blanks and resumes, references, tests, work samples, and, increasingly, physical ability and drug tests.

The employment interview, a conversation with the purpose of gathering information about an applicant’s suitability for hire, does suffer from a number of shortcomings. Research has criticized interviews as unreliable, subject to a number of judgmental errors. The first impression that is formed of an applicant by an interviewer, almost instantaneously, whether positive or negative, is resistant to change even when disconfirming evidence is available. Another error, among many others, is the contrast effect, comparing interviewees with one another. An average applicant may appear very strong when compared to a weak candidate interviewed previously. Training interviewers and using structured interviews (asking the same questions in the same order for all applicants) can help to reduce some of the problems noted in the research.

In addition to the interview, tests are widely used in organizational selection systems. Tests can be thought of as behavioral samples that predict other things, like expected performance levels if hired for the job. The use of tests has increased the focus on important variables in the selection system, such as consistency of measurement (reliability) and whether a selection device measures what it is supposed to measure (validity). Validation of selection devices, showing that such measures are related to job performance, has become an important legal issue when an individual or group claims that the test was not an accurate measure of job performance.

Information gathered during the selection process is evaluated with reference to fit and expected job performance. Two major strategies for combining the results of multiple selection procedures are compensatory and multiple hurdles. In the compensatory approach, a low score on one measure can be offset by a high score on another, yielding an overall score for the candidate. By contrast, in the multiple hurdle approach, the candidate must achieve a minimum or cut-off score on each device (or hurdle) or be eliminated from the candidate pool. Selection models have become quantitative and sophisticated, requiring a thorough grounding in statistical models for construction and interpretation.

How useful is a selection system? A major aspect of usefulness is the proportion of applicants who perform successfully after being hired. To the extent that success in hiring can be tied to the use of specific selection procedures, there is a gain in the success rate that can be attributed to the use of the procedure(s). Other variables also come into play. The so-called utility of a selection system is influenced by several factors: the number of people hired divided by the total number of applicants (selection ratio), the rate of success of applicants without using the selection device (base rate of success), and how well the test is related to job performance (validity of selection devices). The utility of the system increases when there are many applicants for a few positions, when the base rate is moderate (i.e., 50%), and when the validity of the selection procedure is high. The cost of the selection system is also an issue; adding a new selection procedure must be judged by time, expense, and contribution to predicting success on the job.

Retention Management

Retention management is often conceptualized as a process that begins with organizational entry of newcomers through organizational exits, including such events as retirement and reductions in force (downsizing). The focus thus far has been on acquiring employees to enhance organizational effectiveness. New employees have been recruited and selected. The new hires are on the payroll, they have been though the employee orientation program, some have been given training while others will be trained subsequently, and employees will go though a performance appraisal process to see how well they are doing. How long will our new hires remain with the organization? The answer is that we do not know. Organizations are focusing considerable attention on retention management because of the replacement costs and the overall investment in human resources.

The term turnover is used when an employee leaves the organization. Perhaps the employee has found a more attractive job at another organization (voluntary turnover), or on the other hand, the employee was performing poorly and was terminated (involuntary turnover). Notice that the former action was initiated by the employee, while the latter was initiated by the organization. Sometimes an organization will attempt to dissuade an employee from leaving by matching or exceeding the terms of employment offered elsewhere. Similarly, the organization might attempt to provide assistance when the employee is not performing commensurate with expectations. It should be noted, however, that not all turnover is undesirable from the organization’s perspective. The classification of turnover has become very complicated as retention has increased in importance. Understanding the causes of turnover (using exit interviews and research) as part of a retention management system is critically important.

There are also situations where large numbers of employees may be at risk. Many organizations have and continue to restructure to increase efficiency, deal with global competitiveness, and achieve profitability. Such reductions in force or downsizing efforts lead to job losses and layoffs. The employees who remain, the “survivors,” are also affected by the layoffs. Having a plan with a fair process for implementation has been shown to be very important in downsizing.

Legal Issues

As noted previously, there are legal requirements that affect every aspect of organizational staffing. Organizations need to be aware of legal obligations and requirements or face the possibility of expensive litigation. Staffing, in a legal sense, deals with the employment relationship. There are laws regulating virtually every aspect of the relationship. Central to this are laws on equal employment opportunity and affirmative action (EEO/AA). These laws include, among others, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964, 1991), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (1967), Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), the Rehabilitation Act (1973), and Executive Order 11246 (1965). Enforcement of the Civil Rights Act, Age Discrimination in Employment, and Americans with Disabilities falls under the jurisdiction of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures have been adopted by the EEOC, the Civil Service Commission, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Justice. The Guidelines provide structure in determining nondiscriminatory testing and selection procedures for employers, labor organizations, employment agencies, and licensing and certification boards. In addition to compliance with the laws noted above, organizations need to develop and implement equal employment opportunity programs indicative of the organizational commitment to EEO.

Volumes would be needed to review and summarize all of the legal issues in organizational staffing. Those responsible for staffing systems need to be fully conversant with the legal requirements to ensure compliance.

See also:


  1. Arvey, R. D. and Faley, R. H. 1988. Fairness in SelectingEmployees. 2d ed. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  2. Bowen, D. E., Ledford, G. E. and Nathan, B. R. 1991. “Hiring for the Organization, Not the Job.” Academy of Management Executive 5(4):35-51.
  3. Heneman, H. G., III and Judge, T. A. 2003. Staffing Organizations. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.
  4. Wanous, J. P. 1992. Organizational Entry: Recruitment, Selection, Orientation, and Socialization of Newcomers.Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.