dinsdag 23 februari 2016

Recruitment: are we doing it wrong?

Could it be that one of the pivotal concepts of recruitment and evaluating - or ranking people in general - is scientifically wrong?  Might it be that the idea of 'the average', or worse still: the normative thinking it leads too, is responsible for neglecting or missing talent in huge numbers? Could the idea that learned skills with the associated diploma's or CV's simple do not crossover to a new working environment? Todd Rose builds a pretty good case for it in his book: 'The end of Average'. 

Occasionally an idea comes along that makes you rethink some of the foundations your knowledge and experience is build upon. According to Todd Rose, we live in a world that places too much value on 'sameness' and normative thinking. It is not so much a philosophical point of view (although it could also be that) as it it a psychological investigation into the roots of a concept - 'the Average' - and the false thinking it has engendered in society, professional life and the educational sytem.

The main idea is that there is no such think as an 'average' person. The average of any characteristic or qualitative measurement is an abstraction. The average simple does not exist in real life as numerous studies indicate. What is does, is create an illusion of knowledge on which we base the organisation of our life, our studies and careers.

The concept originated in the nineteenth century with Quetelet and Galton when the birth of social sciences gave rise to the idea of the average as being something of a platonic ideal and used as a means of ranking people and basically sorting them according to type. The idea quickly jumped to the industrial sphere when Taylor appropriated it to organise companies and work according to averages. The 'system' was in the lead now and it used the core concept of averages to  introduce rigorous standardisation of tasks. From there it was a small step to make sure that education was based on the same concepts to make sure it delivered the ideal workers for these standardised jobs. Enter tests, grade point averages and companies that recruit and evaluate (the dreaded performance appraisals) along the same conceptual lines of normative thinking.

But it turns out that thinking based on individuality can yield results that the traditional approach cannot achieve. It turns out that when analysing data, the longer you work on individual data before you aggregate into statistical averages, the more chance you have of discovering valid explanations.

The reason for this is that traditional thinking is based on a number of assumptions: like one-dimensional thinking. We think of personal qualities as being one-dimensional, but it turns out that nearly all qualities fracture into multiple sub-qualities, and these in turn can be divided even further. Rose explains this with the principle of 'jaggedness'. A quality always consists of many components (e.g. Intelligence), it is jagged and averaging them up smooths out the differences between individuals.

Another mental barrier is the idea of 'essentialisme'. And this is particularly valid when recruiting. We tend to think that qualities are an essential part of an individual, qualities that will always actualise in any given situation. But it turns out that qualities are context driven. They actualise according to specific environmental triggers. Skills are simply not as transposable as we think they are. A skill is always linked to a specific context. So, hiring someone based on previous skills might not always be the best approach. Skills are 'if-then' defined. For instance: I'm an introvert but only in that particular situation. Thinking that being introvert is 'essential' to a person holds no sway.
This can apply to a wealth of characteristics. We must make sure that contexts match if we want to hire successfully. Personally I think this could be a very fruitful approach but I also believe that some kind of knowledge or competency is still retained in the new situation. It remains difficult to say what is actually happening when we say that a skill or some bit of knowledge has been 'integrated' in a person, as a lot of these concepts are not really psychologically clearly defined: like 'talent' for example.

A third mental hiccup is the idea of normative thinking, that there is an ideal or 'set' path to achieving some goal. We believe that in order to perform some job or task you need that particular kind of schooling and that kind of career path to get there. But people are multi-dimensional systems that change over time so that the principle of 'multiple' pathways applies. There are always a number of different ways to get to a particular kind of goal. This too, motivates us to consider a broader group of candidates for a promotion or a job.

In short this is a very interesting read that will lead you to question some assumptions that you have used throughout your career. More research needs to be done but analysing problems from the individual standpoint - in essence we now have the digital tools to actually do this on a large scale - may yield more results and lead to better adapted learning and career paths.

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