Wednesday, 10 February 2010

It starts with selection

I'm a bit of a fan of the nineteen-sixties. For starters there was the music; in the popular context this period saw the arrival of the Beatles, Hendrix and the whole Californian hippy thing. It's easy to forget that the dance music of the time was also awesome, with Motown, Atlantic and even groovy jazz purveyed by the likes of Jimmy Smith still moving feet today. Politically the young were challenging the accepted wisdoms of the day. The French university sit-ins, uprising in the communist bloc and the civil rights and womens liberation movements all demonstrated the mood of change.

Bottom up change you might say.

My interest in this period inevitably led me (partly through a reading of George Harrison's biography) to  the philosophies that underpinned the whole hippy thing. I read some ancient eastern texts - the equivalent to Aristotle or Plato for us in the west - and was suitably inspired. In one of these volumes I encountered the line "the wise man should strive not to discriminate between likes and dislikes" and I thought that sums up selection perfectly.

I'm sure many of you reading this have worked in organisations where people have been hired or assigned to positions of influence based not on merit or ability, but on friendships, connections and networks. The old adage "it's not what you know, it's who you know" is often evoked at times such as these. And while the tendency to hire or promote those you like or who are similar to you is quite understandable, sometimes such a strategy is the invisible rope that restrains the progress of your organisation. 

Selection is an art, but there are techniques and strategies that can make it easier to use your recruitment to help move the business forward. A large part of it is to be open minded and do everything possible to reduce the influence of your own bias. For example (extreme and fictional this) if you are a young black woman recruiting for a position it may be the easiest thing in the world to hire someone who shares your world view and interests (which may be opera and knitting to head off any stereotyping). So when a middle-aged softly spoken white male whose interests are football and real ales applies for the job, it may be the easiest thing to write him off as unsuitable, and to ask him difficult questions at the interview to confirm your own biases.

However that Accrington Stanley-supporting gentleman may have a superb service mentality, and may be incredibly creative. If employed he may use his experience and his gentle persuasiveness to help generate a service culture within your team. He may also be a great source of service innovation as well. Confounding all of this is the fact that you might not have even known that you were looking for this in the first place. Our fictional recruiter may have just wanted a new support analyst to replace someone that had left.

If  an organisation really cares about performance and about striving to be the best at what they do then they will take selection extremely seriously. The tools they will employ will include:

  • Job Analysis and Person Specification - to understand what the job is for. It's here that you should identify that service and innovation will be two of the key attributes. You'll also be looking at the sort of person who will be able to deliver and for whom the role has significance. Research has shown the myriad benefits of this
    • Use Repertory Grid, Position Analysis or Critical Incident techniques
  • Selection Techniques - You know this stuff: assessment centres, semi-structured interviews, work samples. 
    • Understand the pros & cons of each, and know the methods that mot accurately assess on-the-job performance.
Google. They take recruitment seriously. They seek the best (and remember you need to carefully define what 'best' is) and hire people for whom the work has significance and who identify with the work. Once you've done this you can - like Google - offer the autonomy that research shows erodes resistance to change, helps innovation and drives a service orientation.

It starts with selection. And ends with success.

1 comment:

  1. Your readers might be interested in articles at my repertory grid web site which cover the use of grid for preparation of job specifications in three different situations:

    1. For a particular job category, in which you expect to be doing a significant amount of recruitment.

    2. For a new team member, where the accent is on how the newcomer will relate to the members of the existing team.

    3. For a completely new position, where the receiving manager needs to consider the critical incidents that are likely to arise in the new position, and the skills which will be needed to manage them.

    The information can be reached at

    I hope you find this useful.