Unnatural Selection – Part I

Many organizations describe themselves as having evolutionary, as opposed to revolutionary, cultures. They say this with something approaching pride, like they’ve somehow achieved a higher level of reality which is not prone to the trials and tribulations of the worker ants in other colonies. “Oh dear, how sad… Have you been forced to change by some pesky external impact?” they say. “S’funny, we don’t suffer from those, we evolve through them.”

All of which would be fine if it were true.

By now, we hope you’ve caught BadConsultant‘s drift: delusion is rife throughout the modern organization.

Delusion.

Evolution takes place over hundreds, thousands and millions of years. It’s a long, extraordinarily slow process.

[statement of work for 6-sigma assessment of evolution, anyone? Anyone?]

What that means for us, despite ill-informed media claims that humanity has evolved in response to mobile phones, is that we won’t see evolutionary change in our lifetime. Or several lifetimes. So, when an organization claims to have an evolutionary culture, what it really means to say is:

WE DON’T CHANGE.

Simple as that.

Let’s look at how an organism changes:

  1. Mutate the existing genetic code
  2. Trim off unsuccessful genetic mutants
  3. Replicate successful genetic mutants
  4. Introduce new genetic code

Translated for a true evolutionary organization:

  1. Adapt organization structure and capabilities to meet new environmental or strategic challenges
  2. Identify the strengths that will bring success in the future, then hire, develop and reward for them
  3. Close businesses and terminate employment of those who can’t, or won’t, move forward
  4. Hire different people and drive innovation

Let’s spend some time with number 4.

There are two reasons to hire a new employee: To increase capacity, or to increase capability. Of course, you can also hire to replace someone who has left, but that’s really just a subset of the first two, so we won’t include it as a reason in it’s own right.

[unless you request that we write that as a sub-clause in our statement of work, in which case we’d be happy to calculate a day rate for the scope expansion]

Now, think of the average hiring process in your organization. Very likely, there’s a half-baked job-specification, which is only loosely used to interview potential candidates. By LOTS of interviewers, maybe even a series of six or seven 30-minute back-to-back interviews. Almost definitely, those interviews consist of the interviewer asking leading questions, based upon an impression they’ve gained from a resume

[er… that would be CV where this BadConsultant hails from]

not probing any deeper than the first answer. Very possibly, the interviewer may do more talking than the candidate. Once the interviews are complete, the interview team may huddle to discuss the candidates. And they’ll focus nearly completely on the odd things, the things that didn’t make sense, the things that were different, whether the candidate would fit in or not. If they do talk of capabilities, it will be to compare the candidate with ‘Joe down the corridor’. Possibly, the hiring manager will pick up the phone to former employers to take a reference, get the inside scoop on some of those weird behavioral tics that emerged in the interviews. The candidate who is ultimately successful will be the one who won’t rock the boat too much.

Of course, this will all be in line with hiring policies and the hiring team will congratulate themselves on a thorough, data-driven process that has successfully placed a round peg in a round hole.

Good job. Well done. Have a performance related bonus on us.

Because you’ve just participated in Unnatural Selection.

Evolution demands change. Unnatural Selection is the first myth of the evolutionary organization: “we evolve by bringing in new blood”. New? Yes. Different? No.

Round pegs won’t change the shape of a round hole.

Unnatural Selection emerges from hiring and employment practices rooted in philosophies of capacity rather than capability. We are hiring more of what we already employ. We are extending the status quo. We are not putting grit in this oyster.

So, some questions:

  1. If I’m hiring for different capabilities than I know (or have myself), how can I interview you?
  2. If I’m hiring for capabilities that will shock the status quo, how can I hire for fit?
  3. If I’m hiring for what’s going to happen tomorrow, how can I use a resume to assess a candidate?

And of course, the answer to all three questions is that you can’t. Selection for differential capability demands a leap into risk. Risk that we’ll step into in the next installment of Unnatural Selection.

Adios,

BC

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