Is hiring done in a way that’s discouraging learning behavior?

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I was reflecting on the way we approach hiring people in to a role. In the spirit of role fitness and appropriateness, we focus so much energy and time on validating performance readiness such that the applicants’ approach to securing the role is to demonstrate as convincingly as possible that “They are ready and can do the job”. This means – “I can deliver results right away, i can perform if given the job”.

The consequence of this process is that if given the job, the new hire will find it extremely difficult to have a ‘development conversation’ with the same manager with whom the conditionality of job offer was “I can do deliver results, i can perform”.

How then do we navigate this challenge so that it reflects the reality of the situation?

First, we need a framing of what the reality of the situation might actually be. From my perspective, the reality of the situation is this: we are not hiring someone because we know they will deliver but because we know they have the ‘potential’ to deliver. This potential comes from what we are able to find out about who they are, their experiences and successes in the past and their current motivations. Now, the thing with potential is that it requires other ingredients to materialise. Potential is not a given, it requires support to truly manifest. One of the critical variables impacting the manifestation of potential is context. Someone who demonstrated exceptional capabilities and delivered exceptional results in one context might and most likely will require different support systems to achieve similar or even greater outcomes in a new context especially if that context is significantly different.

So, to navigate this reality, we need to realise a few things

  1. That we are hiring ‘potential to perform’ not guaranteed performance – the applicant should know this and the hiring manager should know this
  2. That for the potential to manifest, we need to understand and appreciate the differences in context between the prior experience of the individual and the experience expected in current context. These differences include role differences (e.g. job grade, job family / job activities, business function), organisational culture (whole and immediate team) and industry or market changes
  3. That we need to identify and be willing to provide the necessary support to the individual to ensure their potential manifests. This support typically comes as a form of scaffolding to manage the differences in context in relation to individual’s potential (capacity and capabilities). These scaffolds are basically learning and development in nature (note i said learning not training).

There are some instances where the reality is so evident and therefore we are more likely to see roles pitched and approached with the right balance of performance and potential however the scaffolding and support requirements often still fail to be consciously addressed. Some of these instances are listed below:

  1. Fresh graduate or intern – often the hiring is clearly based on a balance of performance readiness and potential. The level of scaffolding and support (not just training) and effectiveness still needs more work
  2. Experienced hire moving across domains like a senior manager or C-Suite executive moving from hospitality to oil and gas. One would assume the impact of contextual differences on performance and thus a conscious evaluation of potential was part of the decision process however again the nature and effectiveness of the scaffolding and support to ensure the potential is realised probably still needs more work.

In both cases the hiring manager / organisation and the candidate surely are going in with greater expectation for scaffolding and support and thus these provide good opportunities to design, deploy and test various scaffolding and support approaches for people coming into roles.

role as a development proposition
The development value of a role

In the above, the length of each section is determined by an assessment of the individual’s capabilities in relation to the role realities.

For example, if fresh graduate, the green section will be very short and the amber and blue sections will be longer. If experienced hire with very little difference between roles, then the green section will be very long and the amber and blue sections will be short. Etc.

Overall I think we need to frame every role in the context of it’s potential to develop specific knowledge, skills and wisdom. If we adopt this developmental view of roles, then maybe we should make every employee ‘re-interview’ for their role every year as a way to encourage everyone to reflect on and restate the development value of continued experience in the role!

The framework below is a summary I refer to as the anatomy of a role. It shows some of the various aspects of the role that can change in a way that then informs the nature and level of learning and development support.

anatomy of a role
Anatomy of a role

Using this anatomy, the development impact of a change in role can be viewed from the perspective of changes to any of these aspects of the role as shown below. All or some combination of these might change, the important consideration is how much the individual and the hiring manager are aware and understand the level of change and the  resulting implication for learning and development support to enable growth and performance for the individual taking the role.

development perspective of the anatomy of a role
Development perspective of the anatomy of a role

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