05 June 2012

How - Not Who - Do You Hire?

Like most people whose digiSelf has a presence on LinkedIn, I receive the periodic “Jobs You May Be Interested In” email. Not that I’m actively looking to relocate at the moment (fans of the proposed M.LODC program can breathe again!), but there’s the whole “make me an offer that I can’t refuse thing,” too. In this week’s edition, there was a notice for a “Senior Manager, Leadership Development Strategy” position at Scotiabank. Reading through the description, I came to the conclusion that I would be eminently qualified, and completely unhireable for that position.

Let me explain: First, I lack the number one desired qualification, namely, “at least 5+ years experience within the financial services industry.” Reframing this qualification suggests that leadership within the financial services industry is somehow uniquely different than leadership within any other industry segment. In other words, according to Scotiabank’s standpoint, leadership is fundamentally instrumental in nature as opposed to transcending the instrumental to become – as I argue – environmental. Moreover, this Scotiabank position is intended to, “oversee the Bank´s approach to Executive Recruitment.” (As an aside, I think their choice use of capitalizations is interesting in the way it transforms certain abstractions into proper nouns; but I digress.) It is clear that the “Bank” considers hiring somewhat more traditionally, as an instrumental exercise to find the right candidate who best meets the job description and requirements. Or, expressed another way, an exercise to find the machine component whose specifications most closely match those preconceived by the industrial machine itself.

Clearly, I would be a disaster in that role. For me – and for UCaPP organizations – recruitment and hiring is far less about the candidate directly, and much more about the aspirational intentions of the organization itself.

Say what?

Let’s unpack that last idea: According to Valence Theory, organizations are fundamentally emergent entities that arise from the relationships (of which there are five) among the people (or more generally, the member constituencies). Change the people and you necessarily change the nature and quality of the relationships. Therefore, each new hire irrevocably changes the organization. Although it seems relatively obvious that if you change, say, a major persona at a relatively higher hierarchical level in the organization – the CEO or a senior director, for instance – you’ll create a change in the organization, it is also true that introducing any personnel change effects emergent, transformational change – most often subtle change – in the organization. The so-called ripple effects of changing even a hierarchically low-level position introduces the potential for large systemic transformation throughout the complex system that is the organization.

Here’s a somewhat, but not entirely, contrived example that illustrates the point: An organization hires someone for an entry-level position who happens to be really enthusiastic about softball, or cycling, or possibly even salsa dancing. That person takes the initiative to organize social events that feature their interest which, in turn, brings people together in a social environment who previously may never have directly interacted. That recreational interaction in turn recreates the nature and quality of their workplace interactions and stuff happens that enables new, and unexpected, business-related effects. As I said, the so-called ripple effects of changing even a hierarchically low-level position introduces the potential for large systemic transformation throughout the complex system that is the organization.

Thus, the question of hiring becomes (among other things) a question about what we, as an organization, want to become. Into what do we aspire to transform and evolve? What effects to we intend to create and enable among our member constituencies and how will that new person contribute that creation and enablement? Or, more succinctly, what is our tactility? Hiring decisions are, in effect, organizational evolution and tactility decisions—how will we touch the person we are inviting into organization, and how will that person will touch us? The hiring process is about enculturation—how will that individual assimilate and embody our organizational culture, and how will our organizational culture embody the effects introduced by that individual?

So, hiring me, for example, into an organization means that the organization has some pretty inspired, far-thinking, and unconventional aspirations for the future of its leadership. Just the sorts of things we’re playing with here in the Faculty of Leadership and Organization at Adler Graduate Professional School.

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