Recruitment in a risk managed culture

Organisations attempting to transform to a more innovative and diverse risk managed culture often struggle with recruitment. Failure culture almost exclusively hire people to fill a role whereas risk managed cultures hire good people.

Photo by Ryan Quintal on Unsplash

Job adverts in failure cultures will advertise for “Senior Web Developer with 5 years experience with React”, “Project manager with 10 years experience in Investment Banking or a big 5 consultancy”, or “Business Analyst with 2 years experience of equity derivatives”. These job adverts all contain strong biases that make it less likely that individuals from diverse backgrounds will apply or even have the appropriate skills. Failure cultures tend to have roles that focus on the delivery of things whereas risk managed Cultures have new roles and new skills that enable the delivery of customer and business value.

Traditional roles in a failure culture are off putting to people that are used to working in a risk managed culture focused on customer and business value.

“Senior Web Developer” indicates that you are entering into a silo’ed world where there are front end developers, back end developers and devOps engineers. Delivering anything of value is ALWAYS going to involve working with others and you will never get the chance to deliver a small slice of end to end value. A more enticing role might be “Full Stack Developers with a desire to continually learn and master new technologies and practices”. If you spend any time with top developers you will know that they don’t know a single language but know several and are constantly learning and mastering new ones, often by working on pet open source projects.

“Project manager with 10 years experience in Investment Banking or a big 5 consultancy” indicates you are going to be working in an environment where someone else is going to be telling you what to do, and you are going to be expected to micro-manage people with little or no experience. All of that collaboration and facilitation you have enjoyed in previous roles will be replaced by coercion, control, and micro-management, and aggressiveness or passive aggressiveness replacing focus and harmony.

“Business Analyst with 2 years experience of equity derivatives” is the ultimate “old boys” club role. The only way to get the role is to already have the role. It is unlikely that the role is about the excellent analysis, learning and discovery skills of business analysis and more about knowing the “insider language” of equity derivatives. Knowing what delta is rather than being able to look it up in a financial dictionary. These roles often go to former business people who worked as brokers, traders, and often friends of some senior person that they will be working for. Rarely does the analysis part of the role matter, as faulty subject matter expertise based on how things were done is more important than customer needs and how things should be done. Nothing says “only insiders need apply” more effectively.

The specificity of the roles themselves are a problem. I worked on two of the eleven customer journeys at Lloyds. An impressive and bold initiative guided by Jon Webster to shift from a failure culture to risk managed culture. Key product discussions would include many roles each representing a point of view with the aim to create an excellent customer experience. It was typical for product discussions to include a product owner, business analyst, service designer, UX researcher, UX Designer, UI Designer, system thinker, model office (mini call centre), business process experts, risk (a lawyer) and an agile coach. There was no filter at the door and anyone who felt like it would join the conversation. The executive responsible for the journey changed, replaced by a long standing employee of Lloyds. Shortly after joining, the new executive shared a story of how different things were. Lloyds had an annual employee survey and our journey had scored the lowest in the company in two questions. The first question was “I know what my job is.”. Worried that no one knew their job, the executive asked the apprentice what he thought. The answer shocked him “YES! Isn’t it brilliant. We can work on whatever is most valuable rather than be restricted by our role”. The executive said that was the moment they realised everything was very different, but different in a good way. The second question was “We are doing enough for our customers.” When the executive shared the result with the journey, he realised that a team of people dissatisfied with the customer experience is exactly what you want for the people improving that experience.

In a traditional failure culture the roles reflect the internal silo based attitude of self interest. Silo’ed developer, tester, project manager, business analyst. Customer and Business Value focus introduces a whole new landscape of roles requiring a focus on continual development of T-Shaped individuals, T-Shaped individuals with an expertise in one thing like web development but have broad capability in others like testing, UX research, UX design. When people from diverse backgrounds joined risk managed cultures they were often drawn to capabilities that do not exist in the traditional failure culture organisations. They develop expertise in User Experience Research, User Experience Design, User Interface Design, Television Editing, Data Science, System Thinking (Call centre design), Service Design, Product Management, Product Ownership, Facitilitation, Sense Making. These new roles that represent diversity either do not exist at all in failure cultures or are small and marginalised.

Of course, one of the worst mistakes that failure cultures make is to assume that people in risk managed cultures have the same values as they do. They assume that these new people will be happy to be given a traditional job title. They assume that scrum masters will be happy to be called “project managers” in the HR system, or that product owners, UX professionals, and system thinkers will be happy to be called “business analysts” in the HR system. A classic case of cultural imperialism that make it easier for the dominant power to classify people according to their values.

Hiring in a risk managed culture

Many moons ago I applied for a job at ThoughtWorks. I was a business analyst and ThoughtWorks was a software engineering consultancy. I was talking about wild ideas like Agile Business Analysis, Agile Business Coach and Agile Project Management. I did not fit in a neat box that ThoughtWorks was familiar with, and the normal recruitment process did not apply as I could not code. As a result I had interviews with about nine people. It was a long drawn out process, mainly because I was enjoying gardening leave, and eventually I joined ThoughtWorks. A while later I interviewed a candidate who was well beyond my comfort zone… someone with a PhD in psychology with an interest in user interaction and a background in Accenture. I had none of the experience they described but I was dazzled and I wanted them in ThoughtWorks so that I could work with them. They also had a LOT of interviews. They joined ThoughtWorks and did very well indeed. I got to work with them and LEARNED A LOT. The lessons I learnt at ThoughtWorks about hiring are:

  • Do not only hire people who fit in one of your boxes.
  • When you find someone who is out of your box, get them to meet lots of your good people.
  • Finally and most importantly, HIRE GOOD PEOPLE, do not just fill a role.

Failure cultures who lament that they cannot hire diversely struggle to do so BECAUSE THEY DO NOT WANT TO. They just say that they want to because they know they are meant to say that.

Diverse hiring

Here is an experiment for any large (greater than 1000 employees) organisation to try:

  1. DO NOT HIRE FOR ROLES. This will automatically filter out any diverse candidates or people with different skills to the ones you are already overrun with.
  2. Set aside a few percentage of your headcount as diversity hires (e.g 3% of 1000 people is 30 people). These are people from backgrounds that are different to your current employees. It may be race, gender, sexuality, etc. or different skills.
  3. HIRE GOOD PEOPLE. Forget hiring for traditional skills and hire good people instead.
  4. Provide each diversity hire with a senior mentor. Make sure the senior mentor is competent and cares about the organisation and their mentee. Do not pick mentors who will minimise their effort but rather pick ones that will invest time to maximise the mentees future.
  5. Sack any senior manager who is not mentoring junior people effectively <— I decided against this one because I did not want to be responsible for a golden age of work and profitability.
  6. Let the diverse hire find the place where they think they can add the most value.
  7. DO NOT let a manager with no experience of a person’s skill set and the value they can deliver make decisions for that person.
  8. When one of the diversity hires finds a role they want to do, support them in finding their place, and free up the space in the diversity hires headcount. i.e. You have a new slot so go to step 3.
  9. Stop giving internships to privileged individuals such as people who went to private school or whose daddy is a friend of a member of the board of directors. Give ALL internships to people from diverse or under privileged backgrounds.
  10. Graduate schemes…. see internships.
  11. Ensure all interns and graduates get a mentor until they are hired and settled into a role… even if they decide to work for another company!
  12. Understand that if the diversity hires fail, IT IS YOUR FAULT, NOT THEIRS! Anyone who engages in behaviour that is rascist, sexist, islamaphobic, anti-semitic, transphobic, homophobic, bullying or any form of ass-hole-ry should be immediately removed from the situation whilst an investigation takes place and then sacked if found guilty. Under no circumstances should such individuals ever be promoted.

The problem with diversity hiring in terms of new people and new skills is that organisations with failure cultures continue to hire people who fit into their existing roles. To break this cycle, HIRE GOOD PEOPLE instead.

About theitriskmanager

Currently an “engineering performance coach” because “transformation” and “Agile” are now toxic. In the past, “Transformation lead”, “Agile Coach”, “Programme Manager”, “Project Manager”, “Business Analyst”, and “Developer”. Did some stuff with the Agile Community. Put the “Given” into “Given-When-Then”. Discovered “Real Options” View all posts by theitriskmanager

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