“Who” Does Not Matter if “Why” is Wrong

RJ Morris Candidate Pool, Leadership, Organizational Development, RJ Morris

Third party recruiters might be familiar with the phrase “get a req; fill a req.” Get an opening to work on, fill it and repeat as necessary. Wash, rise, repeat. Shortsighted, perhaps, but I don’t think it’s a mindset limited to external recruiters—we all get locked into doing what we know. It’s safe to keep things the same, but it takes guts to blow stuff up. And let’s be honest – given tight hiring lately, recruiters, both internal and external, are just happy to have a new position come across the desk. No need to rock the boat by asking if it’s the right opening.

Two things recently got me thinking about this. First, from Thinking HR in Good Times, about companies in India:

A number of leaders are especially concerned about the challenges of structures and levels in their organisations. There is consequently focus on role clarification and position evaluation. Indeed, due to the overheated years before the recession, companies had created bloated structures with multiple layers that added little value. The demand to level these structures and to consequently build stronger, USTorgchart more robust career paths is a trend that is likely to continue.

Good article, and not just because it uses the British spelling of “organisation,” which always makes me feel smarter when I read it. The point is that some firms are tied to an organizational design that now makes no sense for their current market position.

What made this even more real for me recently was observing a succession planning simulation in a leadership development class. It was a typical hypothetical exercise, with an executive assessing her candidate options to replace a departing divisional leader. Some of the attendees worked through a narrow lens: “I had a senior exec leave, no ready successor, so how can I get that box filled?” Others took a more holistic view, and saw the senior exec’s departure as an opportunity to blow up some stuff. Top performers went big picture on a few key areas.

  • Strategy and Structure—Before looking at who would fill the open box, they asked if the boxes even made sense. As the article mentions, organizations have been so thoroughly “reset” that some leaders have available capacity, out of whack cost structures, misaligned support systems, etc.  Insightful leaders saw that “who” filled the role does not matter if “why” the box exists is wrong.
  • People—I then saw participants work the whole talent pool, not just possible successors to the open position. They moved high potentials deeper into the organization, got average leaders more development or into more appropriate roles, and teed up high impact groups with capacity to grow quickly. It was cool to watch them use one change as a catalyst for others.

What does all this teach HR pros out there? Be a consultant, not an order taker, and offer creative options to the same old, same old. The lame play is to keep filling job orders, just thankful to have the business. If you want to differentiate, though, help your leaders impact “organisational” design and change as a competitive advantage, not an MBA exercise. Oh, and use the British spelling… it will make you feel smarter.