Follow-up to Organizational Culture

I just read an article on Steve Roesler’s blog “All Things Workplace” titled “More Smart People, Change, and Willingness to Learn” that had an interesting twist on a topic that I have blogged about before (namely in Organizational Culture and The Problem(s) with Linear Thinking). In this post, Steve talks relays a story:

Joe Kowalski was one of the finest clients I’ve ever worked with. He was VP of Engineering at PECO Energy in Philadelphia during a time of huge change. He was willing to do what was right to improve processes, give people the time and activities needed to learn, and counsel people out of the department and into something more productive if it was no longer a good match.

One day he received an invitation to speak to the College of Engineering at the University of Maryland. The Dean expected that he would do the “rah-rah, work hard, get good grades” speech. Here’s what he actually told the students:

“If you have a 4.0 average, hang out with nothing but other engineering types, and are enamored of the discipline, get a job in research.

If you have a B or C average, get along well with lots of different people, and want to learn how to do engineering at a public utility, give me a call. I’ll give you an interview.”

Joe told me afterward that he didn’t think he’d be invited back but would probably get some really good engineers.

The engineering field needs more people like Joe Kowalski. One of my former bosses is like Joe. Rick McCloskey, who has hired many engineers during his career in the defense and telecom industries, shared his hiring strategy for engineers with me (I have paraphrased):

I looked for the students that didn’t have a 4.0. I looked for a person who had to struggle and work their way through school and had a life outside of school. I looked for those students with 3.0’s who had lots of friends and interests.

According to Rick’s record and the record of the companies he was involved with, it seems like he hired some excellent engineers during his career.

In an earlier post titled Organizational Culture, which described the hiring process (and ultimately the culture of an organization), I discussed a similar topic. In this post, I said:

By limiting the selection pool, aren’t you ultimately predetermining the type of person you hire?

By hiring only those people with certain pedigrees, an organization is predetermining their future by hiring only those people with the same backgrounds and outlook on business.

If an organization uses specific binary selection criteria (such as GPA must be 3.9+, or MBA from Stanford, Harvard, Chicago, etc), that organization has predetermined their future because they are using a very linear process to sort and select potential candidates. Organizations have taken a non-human approach to selecting and hiring humans. I’ve blogged about this before in a post titled “The Problem(s) with Linear Thinking.”

Steve Roesler seems to agree when he writes in the aforementioned blog post:

While organizations cry about “The War for Talent” and “Engagement”, they are conducting the war from the comfort of a software program and disengaged from active involvement in discerning the whole person seeking a job. At the risk of ticking off some of my own clients, I’d say that this is a case of internal convenience vs. a focus on the (job-seeking) customer and what will prove best for the company.

An organization does need a way to source and screen candidates, but I don’t believe the current approach works well. Some of the best organizations use a very manual search and screening process to find people that have the ‘right background’ but also have the right outlook on business & life to be able to fit into the organizations’ culture.

[tags] Hiring, Human Resources, organization, culture, Linear Thinking, Hiring Challenges [/tags]

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Eric BrownMichael SchaffnerJim StroupSteve Roesler Recent comment authors
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Steve Roesler
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Hello, Eric,

Thanks for the mention and the affirmation.

Sometimes I feel like a salmon swimming upstream. Yet the more I watch the cost of “bad” hires take its toll, the more I am convinced that more sensible “up front” time with candidates is needed.

I’m not a Luddite by any stretch of the imagination. But sometimes it’s just not a good idea to send a microchip to do a person’s job.

Keep writing…

Eric Brown
Guest

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the comment.

I agree 100% with you on this matter…as you can probably tell from my blog, I am a huge fan of using technology to reach strategic objectives. However, there are “right” places for technology and “wrong” places for technology and the act of screening, recruiting and hiring is the wrong place for technology.

These areas require a hands-on approach. Technology can help, but don’t let technology do the work.

Jim Stroup
Guest

Eric,

This is an excellent presentation of an important topic – very nicely done! Unfortunately, as Steve says, it can often seem to be a futile effort. But, let’s keep going!

Also, congratulations on your doctoral studies! It seems like you’ve found a terrific program.

One more thing: you’ve been tagged!

Eric Brown
Guest

Thanks Jim.

FYI – I have written a post with my 8 random items…look for it tomorrow.

Michael Schaffner
Guest

Eric,

I like Kowalski’s approach. To me the key elements are: the ability to think and just as important the ability to interact and communicate with others. As much as we like we can not do it all ourselves so I want some one who can work with others. The “research” types leave a lot to be desired in that area.

Mike

Eric Brown
Guest

I agree Mike.

When hiring people, the first thing I look for is their attitude and their communication ability. I then start looking for special skills such as technical ability. I can teach technical skills…but in most cases, I can’t teach personality.

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