January 6, 2013

We Don't Accept You Here

A number of years ago I had received an interesting job offer--not actually for a job I had applied to, but for "something else", and apparently the job was supposed to come without any questions asked. 

Because when I asked about the typical things that you like to agree on before you start a job, I found that it wasn't going to work out then for this executive because of "cultural fit."

At the time, it was quite clear that cultural fit was just another term used to discriminate not those that could do the job well from those that couldn't, but rather those who would be too thoughtful, innovative, or even challenging to the (failing) status quo. 

In this particular case, the leadership was highly corrupt (in more ways than one) and it came out in front-page investigations and findings not long after, with the actual sacking of many of the head honcho bunch.

When it comes to hiring, it is challenging for many leaders to not just punch the checklist for diversity, but too really embrace it, and this stems from many reasons including fear, bias and hatred of cultures that are different than our own, but also the need for highly insecure leaders to singularly "rule the roost" without any challenge of opinion. 

These leaders think that if everyone fits their mold and subordinates themselves to them alone, then they are by default always right--regardless of the actual consequences of their decision-making.

The problem is that there is no one to vet issues with, play devil's advocate or give an alternate viewpoint--and the insecure leadership with their minion of look-alike, think-alike followers will often drive the train over the cliff--without anyone so much as saying a boo. 

This last week, when a record number of women Senators (20) and congresswomen (82)--were sworn in to the 113th Congress, there was hope of their bringing to the old political mix a new sense and style of collaboration that could help the nation resolve the many issues that we are embroiled in heated negotiation and impasse (e.g. the debt ceiling, the national deficit, the budget, immigration, and more).

Similarly, Bloomberg BusinessWeek (3 January 2013) published an article called "Only BFFs Need Apply"--about how job applicant's cultural fit often trumps their actual qualifications.

BusinessWeek sums up the dilemma with hiring based on cultural fit: While it "may summon up obnoxious images of old boys clubs and social connections...a cooperative, creative atmosphere can make workdays more tolerable and head off problems before they begin." Put another way: the "American ideals about team diversity collide with the reality of building a cohesive, practical staff."

However, the problem with relying on cultural fit is not only that you don't often get the best candidates, but that it is used not just to describe common values and work ethics, but rather inappropriately "as an excuse for feelings interviewers aren't comfortable expressing" such as not being able to accept a person's accent or that they cover they head for religious reasons. 

While hiring lackeys may have a short-term benefit of cohesion, in the long-term, the lack of diversity may result in groupthink and even that "the one person who has a different thought could have saved a business."

Of course, there is also legal prohibitions against discrimination in hiring and personnel management, as well as the ethical issue of hiring unfairly and what that does to the moral fiber of the organization and its people--it's corrosive to their values and capabilities and will lead to the revulsion and loss of good employees, customers, stockholders, and others over time.

Here's the enterprise architecture slant on this topic: "you have to decide if you're hiring for the culture you have or the culture you want." ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Tobucil and Klabs)


No comments: