|“It was ok that we’d started to make progress on connecting job design to CERA’s goal to be an innovative organisation, as well as being known for its commitment to high-contact service. The project with Rachel Amaro was at least partially successful because we were able to identify some good reasons why job design could be leveraged better, and we worked out specific features of job design that would promote innovative behaviour. I think Rachel was starting to mellow a bit, and even to take HR more seriously.
We’d also started to think more systemically, I think, as a senior management team – that HR was not disconnected from the rest of the business, but it was a key piece in achieving the strategy. This was on the right track for sure. But something wasn’t right. I kept feeling like there was something we were missing. Like most HR teams, my small team and I catch up weekly to talk over how various projects are going, and how the culture of CERA is developing. This is also a chance for me to feedback to the team on our senior management team meetings, and for my team to feedforward things that are on their minds.
One of the projects that we have been working on is to review the recruitment and selection practices used in CERA. Since I joined the organisation I felt that we were just doing what everyone else was doing in this area and not really getting the most from these two HR practices. (Maybe you can relate to this.) True, no one was screaming out for change, but I’d heard a few rumblings from staff about poor cultural fit and misdirected selections to know that all wasn’t perfect in the garden. Mind you, these kinds of complaints are not at all unusual in organisations; in fact, they’re probably commonplace. It’s just that they brought to my attention the importance of getting the most from our investment in HR practices, specifically recruitment and selection practices, if we wanted to keep achieving our stated point of difference in terms of service quality and being innovative.
In places I’d worked at before, we’d talked about the value add of HR practices to the goals of the organisation, whether it was training or recruitment, or whatever; but nothing much was ever done. We all knew that there were many options in recruitment and in selection, but, remarkably, we ended up using the same methods as always, and as everyone else in our industry used. Perhaps we might have tinkered with behavioural interviews, but that was pretty much about it – application, interview, second interview, reference check, offer. Wham bam, etc.
To be honest, and without being overly critical of my peers, I wondered whether our success in attracting and keeping good people at CERA was more a matter of good luck than good management. (I daresay there would be many organisations where managers might feel the same way.) After all, the transition matrices for the Engineering and Planning divisions didn’t look too bad in regard to retention, so why was I uncomfortable?
I think it was Susumu Takada, our Manager, Finance, Legal and Administration, who led me to take all of this more seriously. Susumu is a quietly-spoken guy; considered, not in a rush to make judgments, and a smart operator. Even though he doesn’t seem to be all that knowledgeable about HR, what has struck me most about him is that he takes time to think through efficient and effective solutions to things, not just the obvious, or the path that most people would take.
Take the time when we were looking at our strategy for the next five years. I’m pretty certain it was Susumu who raised the possibility of extending our footprint into regional NSW, because there were strong signs of strengthening demand for infrastructure which could be sustainable. At first, the others were sceptical. Plans for infrastructure investment in regional Australia had come and gone over the years: the rhetoric often outweighed the reality. Sure, in places like Queensland and Western Australia, the mining boom had stimulated pretty rapid infrastructure development, but that wasn’t typical and it was waning in recent years. Anyhow, Susumu was quietly confident and he seemed to know what he was talking about.
I’d invited him to attend one of my weekly HR team meetings. We were talking over the project on reviewing our processes in recruitment and selection. Sipping his tea Susumu listened intently, head slightly turned, as Miriam and I spoke about the need to avoid a cookie-cutter approach that squeezed every candidate into the same mould. Yes, it’s true, I said, we want person-organisation fit, but we know that there’s a wealth of talent out there and it comes in different packages so to speak. So, there is a risk that using a fairly standard set of instruments in predictable ways has a decent probability of filtering out otherwise qualified, suitable people. We need to be smarter about reaching a wide pool of suitable people and then in how we select the right people.”
|“You mean there isn’t enough of a focus on diversity management?”, Susumu reflected.|
|We both looked at him, silent for several seconds before I intervened. “No, I don’t see it as a diversity issue; it’s more just about better or smarter practice in recruitment and selection. I mean, we have a fairly diverse group, given our size and the type of business we run. We select on merit, so we get the best possible candidate, no matter who they are. I’m talking about using recruitment and selection practice smarter to support CERA’s goals. I’m not sure it’s the same thing as what you’re talking about, Susumu.”|
|“Yes, I see”, he replied. “I’m no expert in these things, but what I’m hearing you say is that you need to have recruitment and selection processes that are more sensitive to individual differences, rather than processes that reinforce homogeneity, right.”|
|“Well… er..” (I wasn’t sure).|
|It was Miriam who now joined in. “You know, I hadn’t thought of it that way. I think you’re both kind of on the same or similar wavelength. We want our recruitment and selection processes to embrace diversity, and we want our recruitment and selection processes to best support our goals – or, to give us the best available candidates for our business goals. By the way, Israel, I’d say best available candidate, not best possible candidate. What if the best possible candidate is otherwise occupied or quite happy where she is, or doesn’t know about us?”|
|“When I worked at Hetherington’s [a shipping agency] we regarded diversity as being about employing people of different races, gender, disability, and eliminating discrimination. It wasn’t till later, maybe after attending a conference on diversity and inclusion put on by the Australian Human Rresources Institute (you know, AHRI), that I understood that diversity was much broader and it was different to equal employment opportunity.”|
|“I think what you’ve both been talking about is tied up, or should be tied up, with how you’re seeing diversity management as part of your HR toolkit,” Susumu replied as he pushed his chair back. “Anyway, I have to go to a meeting, but think about this. It may be a useful principle to apply in your review of recruitment and selection practices.”|
|“I felt that Susumu was on to something, but how to connect diversity management and recruitment and selection practice? Surely, diversity was one thing and recruitment and selection was much broader? Or, was diversity a cultural element and recruitment and selection one of the tools to foster it? I needed to think about this and maybe do some reading and talking with others. Besides, I still hadn’t really thought through how to take a more tactical approach to our recruitment and selection so that we could attract wide pools of suitable applicants….”|