Why do we hire like people are parts of a machine? Isn’t it time to update the system?

Imagine for a moment your boss came to you and said, “There’s a problem with our product. We keep buying what we think are the right parts, and they don’t quite deliver on the promise. We can’t seem to figure out why. Can you start a project to figure out why?”

How would you start?

I’d start by doing an investigation. How are the parts used? What are the evaluation criteria? Where haven’t they delivered on their promise? Who’s making the decisions? Where are they sourcing their parts? My guess is you could come up with a couple more. A thorough analysis would result in a specification sheet with exacting criteria.

Simple right?

Now I’m going to ask you the same question but with a twist. I still want you to solve the problem, but I’m going to add a couple of additional issues that I want you to consider.

1. We need the part to be able to evolve as the needs of the business evolve, but we don’t want to replace it or return it. We want the part to change with the needs of the company.

2. We can’t provide you with exact evaluation criteria because we don’t know. I mean, we’ll know it when we see it. When we look at parts like this, we tend to have a hunch that they’re the right fit.

3. The part needs to work with all the other components in the company. Oh, and you know they’re not consistent over time either.

4. I want the part to come with some additional features we didn’t know we needed and, in doing so, will impact our future success.

5. Here’s a list of 1000 examples of the right parts. But we’ll only need one. Pick the right one the first time.

I hope by now you’ve figured out that I’m not talking about a part for a machine. I’m talking about a person. And yet, when you look at the current recruiting and hiring funnel, the process seems a lot like someone buying parts for a machine. Job descriptions, resumes, applicant tracking systems, evaluation criteria – they ALL work when a human is a “part” that will work in the “machine”. I’m baffled that we’re still using the hiring practices created in the industrial economy. People are not parts.

So how do we start solving it? The disappointing answer is, “It’s complicated.” Peter Laughter, Val Kirilova, and I talk about it regularly. Spend any time with Peter, and he’ll share that the whole process starts to fall apart in the initial meeting. I’m paraphrasing him here – the process begins with the need – why do we need to hire someone (future growth, opportunity, competitive threat, scaling needs, etc.)? The next step is not writing a job description but the “Who do we know?” question. Basically, the people in the room establishing the need, run a rapid scan of their current network (both internally and externally) to see if they have someone who fits the bill. If a name comes up in the process, they get first dibs.

“Every decision made about you and your opportunities is made in a room you’re not in.”

You’ve heard me say this before. What Peter is talking about is EXACTLY this phenomenon in action. And if you’ve spent some time with me, I’ll also share that just because you’re reporting to someone does NOT mean you’re automatically part of the consideration set. Making this particular assumption is a fast path to professional disappointment. If you’ve just had a “Hold up! Hang on! What?” type reaction to what I just wrote, then I encourage you to either join me on one of my LIVE! Shows every Friday at noon PST. Or, if you can’t make it in person, check out my YouTube Channel where I post every week. On March 5th, 2021, I’ll be explicitly covering the “every decision made about you…” issue at the “Who is the Future You and why do you need an answer in the modern working world.” show.

But like Peter, I think that while we should own our part in a broken system by helping others recognize and remember the Future You, there’s a bigger problem that starts before you raise your hand for an opportunity.

We need to update the data set to start to create a recruiting – hiring – onboarding – promotion – team evolution system we currently use today. The brilliant, evolving, thinking YOU is hired based on your POTENTIAL and your PAST. And yet, the process only focuses on your past. Any innovator, product developer, engineer, researcher, investor will tell you that you’ll end up with a sub par product if you start with a limited data set.

We live in a post-industrial world. A world where the multidimensionality and evolution of your talent are what makes them extraordinary. The talent you have, AND the talent you need for the problems you’re going to solve tomorrow.

Create a data set that includes past, present, and future criteria, and we start to build a foundation for a better product. Start being transparent about the skills, behaviors, AND capabilities in your job descriptions and evaluation processes, and you’ll find the right person for your team.

Potentialism – it’s the missing part of the talent conversation. I think it’s time to add it to the data set.


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