This year is turning out to be the year of quiet hiring. If you’re not familiar with the concept, quiet hiring happens when companies find ways to fill in the gaps in their organization without necessarily adding extra headcount.

One way they can do this is by contracting out the skillsets they need short term. Another way that companies can do this is by investing in and developing the breadth and depth of their current team members which gives them the ability to take on additional responsibility. *

Quiet hiring can be very effective for growing and developing team members, as long as you are being fully transparent with them. This does not mean more responsibility on top of their already busy schedules. It might mean shifting a team member to a different area of the organization or cross-training them with a new skill set. Whatever it may be, help them know the “why” behind it and give them an accurate timeline of what they can expect.

Any time there is a change, it can create feelings of instability. By being transparent and explaining the purpose behind it, you can get their buy-in. If a team member is willing to step into a new area, make sure you give them proper recognition, whether it’s a pay increase, a bonus, or some type of incentive to thank them for what they are doing.

How do you go about finding the right team members for different gaps within your organization? One effective way to accomplish quiet hiring is by growing team members from I-shaped employees into Comb-shaped employees.

By expanding the skillsets and knowledge of your employees, your team members will learn and grow as individuals and your company will have greater flexibility to respond to skill needs and market demands.

What are skill shapes?

When we talk about a person’s skills, we can categorize them into four primary shapes by measuring them by depth and breadth of knowledge.

There are seven basic shapes that are helpful to understand during a period of quiet hiring.


I-shapes are employees with deep knowledge and skills in one area. When I say deep expertise, I mean with hard skills (i.e., programming, using a specific design tool like CATIA, etc.). They may not have a lot of knowledge in other disciplines.


T-shapes are team members who have broad knowledge across multiple areas of discipline with one area of deep specialization. The horizontal line of the T represents a breadth of knowledge in other areas, while the vertical line represents deep expertise in one area. These team members can generate new ideas or find different solutions to problems when working cross-functionally.


Pi-shaped team members are ones that may have previously been T-shaped but they’ve learned a new skill. Now they offer two or areas of deep expertise across multiple areas of discipline. This type of team member works well having a variety of work and potentially filling in gaps that your organization may have.


Comb-shaped team members have learned three or more skills. They are like two T-shaped people combined. They are highly knowledgeable in several areas of specialization. They can be more versatile than their Pi or T-shaped counterparts because they have more skills and knowledge. They thrive on more responsibility and complex problem-solving.

Key, E, & X-Shaped

A key-shaped employee is one who is transitioning from a T-shape to a Comb-shape. These employees have multiple areas of expertise with a variety of depth in each area. This makes them creative, well-rounded problem solvers.

An E-shaped person demonstrates four characteristics: experience, expertise, exploration, and execution. This person’s skills are like a T-shaped employee but with more emphasis on execution. These team members can turn ideas into reality. They are always looking to innovate and find new ways of doing things.

X-shaped team members have leadership qualities in addition to expertise. They typically have developed their strategy, management, and motivational skills. Their emotional IQ, people skills, and leadership abilities have become of greater importance than their original area(s) of expertise.

Electronics Engineers working together at a table

Both generalists and specialists are important to have on teams for a variety of reasons. When it comes to quiet hiring, developing internal team members by having them learn new skills and areas of expertise is a win-win. Your employees are often ready for the next level of challenge and responsibility while companies often need to fill skills gaps quickly. Moving employees from a T to a Pi to a Comb-shape could significantly impact your performance.

Another way to help with quiet hiring is to contract the expertise you need whenever you need it. DISHER can help augment your team with proven engineering, electronics, machine design, automation, and project management experts to keep your company moving forward – and they come in a variety of shapes! Reach out if you’re interested in hearing how DISHER can keep you moving forward.

*Thank you to Trina Postan and her informative talk with Inforum ManufacturingNEXT for the inspiration behind this article.