Recruitment is big business for small business, whatever the means by which you go about it - outsourcing or in-house, behavioural assessments or gut-feel, five long-winded interviews or just one snappy half hour with a top pick.
A candid chat we had with a senior executive from a national government department recently revealed much to us about his employer’s priorities. ‘I tick the box of the mature aged worker,’ said the sprightly 45-year old. ‘My manager ticks the box of Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander, and my co-worker ticks the box of graduate.’ It stood out as an unusual paradigm and had me wondering: are they really recruiting on merit, or just by numbers?
As business leaders we should be aiming for the right mix - a strong crew of capable and engaged people who like each other and love the brand. Some might say this is a tough call. We agree. That’s why recruiting well is tricky business.
Fortunately, the country’s smartest corporate minds are working together on this very subject. The collective board of Australian Chief Executive Women and the members of Male Champions of Change are a highly regarded coalition of decent, powerful men and women pooling their ideas and challenging the way we think about recruitment and diversity in the workplace. The individuals making up this coalition hold the top CEO jobs in the country.
Their latest dispatch to fire the synapses of our business world is a 15-page report packed full of ideas. In the Eye of the Beholder – Avoiding The Merit Trap is gaining traction everywhere – and rightly so.
Perceived wisdom, it says, is that we recruit similar, like-minded people in the belief that this creates workplace engagement and naturally cohesive teams. Not so. In fact what we get is a bias of sameness - in gender, ethnicity, taste, thinking - and everything else.
This doesn’t lead to creativity, great dynamics and good business. It leads to stagnation.
Characteristics and qualities tend to cluster within organisations. When recruiting, we often pick up on this pattern subconsciously and replicate it - without thinking. We might tweak our processes and try hard to recruit smarter, but our un-interrogated thinking limits the talent search, and the same problems manifest within our organisation. This is the Merit Trap.
President of Chief Executive Women Diane Smith-Gander explains. ‘Too often, decision-makers think they're selecting the best person for the job on the basis of merit, but in fact they're favouring people who look like them or think like them, and ignoring the organisation's future needs,’ she says. ‘When this happens, they've fallen into the merit trap.’
At the other end of the spectrum, a brand which has side-stepped the Merit Trap and recruited smartly, exhibits a culture of diverse minds and inventive thinking. Employees engage with each other not because they’re able to cluster together comfortably with people who think similarly, but because they see their business being stimulated and enhanced by others who think differently.
Hard-wiring this new thinking into our strategic planning is a big and brave step – but an essential one. It takes collective acknowledgement at the uppermost level that future challenges might not be answered in the same way as past ones – by relying on the same minds, and the same answers.
‘Roles are changing quickly.’ Says Shayne Elliott, CEO of ANZ, ‘I need people for the roles of the future. This means hiring for core capabilities – not technical capability which can be taught or bought. I need agility, broad- mindedness, ability to operate in an unknown environment.’
When our top CEOs voice misgivings about standard recruitment processes, we should surely listen. And if their thinking is different from our own – there’s a red flag worth noticing! With collected wisdom from the uppermost echelons of the corporate world, this is a source worth watching.
And if what they’re saying is that different viewpoints, life experiences and professional knowledge within the workplace brings enhancement which is not just a benefit but a core player in our business’s survival and success, that’s a rationale worth adopting. The beauty is that it’s not hard. The thinking has been done for us. It’s the smartest there is, and gives us the best platform to leverage from. All we have to do is follow suit and recruit. Diversely, creatively, daringly.