July 23, 2014

Perseverance, intelligence and flexibility – 3 things that will never get you past HR

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The Processor

The Processor by monkehranch on deviantart.com

A great, and yet depressing, article appeared on wsj.com last week.  Authored by David Wessel and entitled “Software Screening Rejects Job Seekers” the article references a forthcoming book from  Peter Capelli, “Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs.”

The focus of the article is “the now-ubiquitous use of software to screen applicants” in hiring practices and a downward spiral stemming from the use of software applications in order to handle the volume of resumes companies received.  Software made it both less necessary to employ a large number of recruiters and HR pros, as well as possible to receive a larger number of resumes, and those resumes came in droves.  The volume became impossible to handle, so more software support was needed, and the filtering of resumes has become so exact that a whole new skill – tricking the filtering software – has emerged.

All of which, in my humble opinion, is just another example of how the workplace culture inside of most companies has completely gone astray.  Although individuals are touted as “the greatest asset” by many companies, the emphasis placed on truly dealing with those individuals is becoming less and less.  Hiring is based on nothing more than technical skills, and even within that, the keywords describing those skills must match exactly to what the person who wrote the req thought of when they were writing it.

Since we all know that establishing supportive, long-term relationships are the key to enjoying work, getting the most out of people, fostering creativity and innovation – what sense does it make to put such a heavy over-emphasis on skill sets and key words?  If culture is the king that eats strategy for breakfast, shouldn’t the effort be expended on identifying people who fit within the company?  Personality, after all, is something that is innate – and doesn’t change.  Skills, however, can be learned.

The keyword – based paradigm is born from a belief that managers don’t really ever have to engage their employees.  The belief, instead, is that by finding someone who already knows how to do that job, that the person can be plugged into a role and left alone, forever.  Like buying a new gear for a machine – simply insert the right part correctly and it will run all by itself.

Unfortunately, humans don’t operate that way, and the “soft skills” that are fundamental to personality – things like perseverance, intelligence, flexibility, and other intangibles are what makes a person enjoyable to work with….or not.  Those are also things that need to be fed and cared for in order to grow – unlike skills, which can be learned through a training class, a book, a PowerPoint presentation or CBT module.

In spite of the teaching of many management thinkers from gurus such as Deming and Scholtes, to more recent works from Pink and Sinek, to the innovative discussions of “Maangement 2.0″ taking place at the Mix, over the past 30 years the fundamental mindset of management has not changed.  What is needed, instead of “Managers” –  is a caste of teachers and mentors who aggressively look for raw material they can shape and inspire into becoming the workers and leaders that companies need.

Unfortunately, we may never get it, because anyone who had ever wished to rise through the ranks learned to do so not by developing and inspiring others, but by figuring out the keywords to make it look like they did.

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