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Don't Blame Recruiters, HR or 5,000 Bad Apples. Blame the System.

Don't Blame Recruiters, HR or 5,000 Bad Apples. Blame the System.

This is a follow-up post to Psychology Gone Wild | A New Organisational Tyranny?, examining how we need to stop blaming individuals for organisational messes and instead examine the systemic issues that cause bad or anxious behaviours.

Thanks to Chris Ngo, Futurist Thinker for Humanity Preservation, for posting the question that instigated this response.

NB: For any recruiters reading this, I will get to recruitment in the 2nd half of the post.

The Return of Systems Theory

There's an increasingly significant re-emergence of ideas around systems theory (a school of thought about organisations that briefly sparked into life in the 1950s). When you hear people talking about systems leadership, systems thinking, design thinking, complexity theory et al (listed in no order of preference or importance), you are seeing evidence of this re-emergence. 

The social similarities are clear. In the 1950s, the computer was beginning to make its mark on society. Management thought examined how organisations could be designed as if they were computer systems. Ideas like cybernetics, the learning organisation and hologrammatic design followed. 

Now it's the internet, social media, digital and AI. This rise of new technologies has kickstarted systems theory back into life. The key difference between now and the 1950s is that now we have the technology and research practices to better comprehend how systems impact behaviours. Then we were reliant on the educated ethnographical observations of creatively-and-critically-minded sociologists like Goffman and Parsons.

Today we can test and see exactly how behaviours get shaped by the system in close to real time. It's potentially revolutionary. But we need organisations to take ownership. And stop blaming recruiters, HR and bad apples.

Why We Blame Recruiters, HR and Bad Apples

People like the Heath brothers have made this obvious. They clearly illustrate how and why systems produce certain behavioural results. How it's never "bad apples" but always "behaviours forced into being by systemic pressures". How in one environment somebody can produce debilitating behaviours (taking drugs, cheating, not completing taks), whilst, when placed in another, can become productive, healthy and fully-functioning.

The problem is that this conclusion forces leaders and executives into taking responsibility for the actions of their subordinates. As we saw with Wells Fargo, this isn't something that goes down well. It's far easier to fire five thousand "bad apples" that own up to your leadership shortcomings, trained incapacities and cognitive biases producing the systemic bad behaviours that undermine your social license to operate. 

It's far easier for corporate bigwigs to buy-in to the idea that organisational failure is down to the behaviour of individual people. That it can be corrected by the hiring of "better talent". People who possess the "right attitude". And who are the "right fit" for the culture. 

Talent, attitude and culture fit. The cliches of today's organisational world.

Not only is this a complete abdication of responsibility, but it forces organisations into a reliance on pseudoscientific personality and culture-fit tests. Which can (a) be gamed and (b) often fail to predict future performance with any accuracy at all (hardly surprising when the system enforces behaviours). 

That's why a star performer in one company can be an abject failure in the next. Not because of a loss of innate talent. But because the system subjugates their abilities. 

Ultimately, the blame all falls on HR and the recruitment industry. It's their fault the wrong people are at the company. It's their duty to get better people in.

Which is why the recruitment industry has turned into the Wild West, full of cowboys shooting each other in the back to make an extra dime. And why HR has become paralysed by even the first hint of employee negativity (hence the tyranny of employee engagement practices).

Blaming them for what they've become is not fair on them. And what they've become is not fair on us.

Both are failures of the system. Recruiters are not necessarily cowboys. HR people are not necessarily frightened rabbits bolting down the black hole of compliance at the first hint of trouble. The systems enforces the behaviours! 


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Saturday, 04 July 2020

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