We live in an age of conspiracies
The questions surrounding the JFK assassination, the moon landing and supposed government secrecy about harboring captured space aliens have long dogged us. But the Internet and social media have put all this on booster rockets.
But in the business world, there’s a conspiracy that’s actually real but very seldom talked about. I like to call it the conspiracy of average.
Like many conspiracies, this one is mostly hidden in the shadows. And yet it exercises a deeply malign influence on those organizations that practice it. I’m talking about a conspiracy to maintain a standard of status-quo mediocrity across an organization, across all elements. This specter of mediocrity eventually creeps its way into the culture, infecting an organization’s processes, people, goals and entire infrastructure.
Naturally, hiring policies are key to maintaining such a culture. In far too many companies the default is still to hire people with whom hiring managers and top management are most comfortable. These successful candidates have similar backgrounds, or are from “safe” companies and/or schools and make people comfortable with their decision. But of course that doesn’t mean they’re the best fits for the job, nor the most talented possible hires. For the most part these hires don’t rock the boat. They’re just the safest and easiest choice.
The major players in this conspiracy represent a kind of three-legged stool: top leadership, human resources and staffing, either through internal or external resources.
But these main players are supported by an entire ecosystem of enablers below them. This includes business schools (that rarely distinguish human resources as a strategic let alone transformational function in their curriculum), industrial psychologists and organizational development consultants (who pay more attention to psychometric testing to a norm than looking at how people “fit” with and challenge each other), and of course, a company’s internal interviewing team that reviews and assesses various candidates.
Together, these players go along with this conspiracy of average and help create organizations that continue to turn out average leaders who manage average employees within average environments. Is it any wonder that they produce average, or worse, outcomes for their stakeholders?
Of course, there are exceptions.
I had the privilege of interviewing several top chief human resource officers across multiple industry sectors for a search I was conducting several years ago. One of my candidates had been the CHRO for Starbucks as the company grew by leaps and bounds, went international and became the global brand it is today. At the heart of this growth was a deep partnership between business leadership, human resources and recruiting, each of whom was looked at as a critical function to strategically grow the company.
I still recall my candidate describing the various meetings between country leaders, HR business partners and their recruiters. At the heart of Starbuck’s strategy was a concerted plan driven by a commitment to provide a qualitative experience for customers and create the culture within every store that would deliver this experience, country by country.
This commitment was instilled from the very top with the CEO and the CHRO, and in turn cascaded down to their direct reports, the business leaders, HR business partners and recruiters.
In successful companies that deliver more than mediocrity, there is always a deep strategic partnership between the CEO and the CHRO. HR is not treated merely as a functional role to manage the basic blocking and tackling around hiring, retaining and compensating employees. Instead, they’re embraced as key architects and drivers of business success, invited into the strategic conversation of how best to shape the company and its operational initiatives. How to best leverage the talent through the organization. And staffing, whether as a key component of HR or as an outsourced service, is looked at as an essential function to bring this strategic vision into reality.
In distinguishing these three legs of the stool of the conspiracy of average, we are just scratching the surface. Unfortunately, business leadership, human resources and staffing, all too often work in an unwitting partnership with the other to ensure that the perpetuation of the average persists. While this is a complex set of intertwining issues spanning strategic planning, operations, recruiting and interviewing, breaking the grips of this conspiracy starts with acknowledging its existence and impact.
This blog is the first in a series that will continue to explore the conditions at the heart of this conspiracy that keep it in place, and to offer up potential actions that allow for a different outcome than the perpetuation of the average.
I invite your participation in this dialogue and ongoing exploration.
- Posted by Stuart Glassman
- On February 28, 2019
- 1 Comments