HR: Seeing employees as building blocks

This reflection came to me recently as I have been considering contract work and regular jobs and doing some interviews in the process.

There has been clearly changes in the last decade or two in terms of how you look for talent, how you recruit them and how they fit in the organization. In many respects, Human Resources (HR) have become a more professional, a field with more processes and rules.

Thirty years ago, it was more heuristic I think. At the time, organizations would receive printed (or typed) resumes and look through it briefly and pickup the ones that look more promising and pass it to the hiring manager.

Today, companies will often use specialized software that accept applications and automatically match keywords; most often, when you apply somewhere, no human will even have a glance at your resume. Only those that fits the right keywords and criteria will be looked at by an HR specialist.

It is true that for job seekers, it has become also easier to apply. While you used to look at the “Career” section of your newspaper, write an introduction letter, join your resume and send it by postal services, now you can apply to dozens of jobs in an hour. The result is more applications and more applicants. This can easily be overwhelming and so it is more about weeding out applications then finding the hidden gem.

But past that, once a candidate is consider, most organizations will try to find an easy to understand pattern. This is why HR is relying increasingly on “certifications”; a simple way to know that the candidate has a define sets of skills. This is in part due to the fact that HR specialist (not to mention some managers) lacks the skills to evaluate the knowledge of the candidate.

Also, my feeling is that organizations wants to see employees more or less as building blocks and find “pieces” that have the same profiles and can be interchange. It is certainly appealing to think that you can shuffle ressources around and that it won’t have an impact on the productivity.

There is one important drawback with that: While you may have perfectly interchangeable employee, they will be within an average for that job. Outstanding people are the outliers, those that have weird profiles and non standard background. People that are recruited through the mills of HR are not those who creates inflection points, changes in how things are done.

Even organizations such as Apple and Google don’t create major disruption in technologies from within their ranks; They find inovators in startups and acquire them. Startups are typically created by outliers, people who don’t fit standard profile (well not all, but those who create major innovations).

So is it a good thing that it is done this way? I don’t know, I am just observing that it is. Any thoughts?

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