Unfurling the Freak Flypaper

Earlier this year, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser launched a recruitment campaign ‘seeking weirdos and misfits’. He’s patently never worked in the recruitment sector, because that is indeed longhand for ‘launched a recruitment campaign’. Every campaign attracts weirdos and misfits – it’s one of the rules. The modus operandi of the switched-on is that such weirdness is suppressed as the candidate cohort endeavour to shoehorn their wackadoodle and damaged personas into the ideated sketch of the ‘perfect candidate’.

It’s why recruitment processes are tedious and almost always fail. Yes, they return prodigious statistics in relation to hitting the hiring target, time to hire, cost-per hire, application: hire ratios and every other stat that the tan-brogue-but no-sock-wearing simpleton can breathlessly fan to a comatose audience , but even come up short on the primary goal.

Even a blind (sorry, visually impaired) man could swing his guide dog around to have a good look across any office to apprise the evidence: a) the majority of one’s colleagues are hardly ideal, let alone good and b) after the probationary periods have elapsed, a process of psycho-osmosis sets in and all the badness starts to permeate through the mask of respectability.

It’s the candour of the advertisement that bowled me over, unless of course the intention was as much about making a statement as unfurling the freak flypaper. With arguably augmented efficacy, he might have advertised the role but specified an open process. No competency or strengths psychobabble, just an invitation for a chat. A different flavour of psychobabble, but at least one that was directly relevant to the candidate.

I’ve been spellbound by the infiltration of freaks into organisations and by what then unfolds. This reflects the first time they have been strategically and concertedly embraced. Unless of course you include the recruitment of gimps and the like into specialist clubs for the relaxation of gentlemen. It has been quite the golden moment for the inquisitor of all matter freak. But I digress.

Yes, it will be criticised by all those occupational psychologists as ‘unscientific’ and ‘inconsistent’. But they can hardly lay claim to unbridled success, can they? From my own experience, a clear review of a CV by a sifter who is a subject matter expert, in tandem with an interview with the same, yields the best results. There is always the risk of unwarranted subjectivity, but isn’t that better than an objective process that nearly always gets it wrong?

Now, with this open process, the same nutters as usual would apply but would not have the camouflaged structures of competencies and strengths behind which they perpetuate their personal myths. The recruiters should then have an increased probability of perceiving the truer person.

There is more. With this level of openness and fluidity you arguably increase the probability of bringing a wider range of skills into the organisation as opposed to the narrower processes that test only the skills that the writer of the Job Description and Analysis defined in the first instance. In these cases, you are pinning your hopes on the skills and judgement of your HR teams (oh no) to bottom out – in skills terms – what you need now and what you will need in the future.

That might be a toughie even for a subject matter expert. Indeed, some salient subject matter may not even have yet come to the fore, given the pace at which organisational contexts now change.

Therefore, with (now) conventional processes, the truly astounding elements of your candidates’ skillset may never even see the light of day at assessment, even though they may be indispensable for you in six months’ time. That’s not simply unfortunate. That’s a shortfall in planning and forecasting.

Think about it for a moment. How many jobs have you applied for only to find that the day-to-day is remarkably deeper and wider in terms of skills and scope? You might have felt that you’d been mis-sold or screwed, but the likelihood is that by the time you were appointed, the needs of the business had accelerated way beyond what anybody had imagined at the static point when the JD had been put to paper. And even at that juncture, the resident HR buffoon charged with its composition would likely have been several steps removed from role reality. Let’s face it, your average HR dingleberry can’t make their way to the water cooler without written instructions and a risk assessment.

So, in these situations it’s not you who has been screwed, but the company who hired you – if you are unable subsequently to pull out the white rabbits that they now need. In fact, they have simply screwed themselves, but there is no telling them.

In adopting this approach – keeping it fast and loose – the recruitment process devolves into a post-hire status. You bring in contractors and then assess them on the job before deciding whether to consolidate their status or elbow them out. Amazing how the temp-to-perm process of the old-world call centres could get it so right 25 years ago. It wasn’t only about getting bums on seats but exploring the talent pool that was evolving and morphing faster than Ben Johnson’s medal status.

But organisations bulk at the agency fees. They’d rather pay less for crap, and there’s the pity. Never underestimate the lack of vision of senior leaders. So, enter Boris’s new team, who are clearly seeking to up the forecasting game and harness some untapped potential.

Whatever your political leanings, this shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Our political landscape is so utterly devoid of meaningful opposition that the Government is challenging itself from within. Boris is simultaneously leading Government and the Opposition.

It’s unique but mind-bendingly perturbing to the establishment. Their self-serving machinery for mediocrity is about to be exposed. Even if the PMs grander plans fail to take off as he foresees, some of it will stick, and more than just a few worms will be wriggling out of the can.

There is though, a hitch in explicitly stating and valuing weirdness and misfittery. It incentivises the weirdo collective to live up to their monikers and to do so in dramatic style. We may start to see a more intense and concentrated self-fulfilling prophecy, where the weirdness itself starts to dominate the stage at the expense of its welcome fruits.

With talk of eugenics and the faint but discernible evocation of master races, it’s started to surpass all expectations. Now, I’m not saying that this particular notion should be lauded, but when you remove the shackles of convention, a handful of brown nuggets will not always be sifted by the pan when you’re prospecting for the gold.

In most conventional offices though, the polarity between weird at one end and normal at the other is what we call a false dichotomy. You see, even the ‘norm’ does not equate to what a person of reasonable firmness and sanity would class as ‘normal’. In many corporate settings, this equates to the normalisation of machiavellian sociopathy.

So, when you do recruit weirdos into a mainstream business, the enter onto a weirdo continuum and then ultimately slide along it to settle at their most comfortable notch of bonkers. You might even term it the opposite poles of ‘good bonkers’ and ‘bad bonkers’, but normal it is not. And the most psychotic of psychos are aptly rewarded. These are the asshats who can hold together the semblance of probity while eviscerating the hopes and dreams of their colleagues under the radar. It’s the gold medal of Olympic psychopathy. They’ll be the MDs, the CFOs, the CEOs. Look at the ones in your business. Are they ‘normal’?

But it raises a key question. If the freaks are now the norm, who are the new freaks? Maybe the goal is to shift the paradigm by removing boundaries, including the boundaries to progress, so that the new freaks are the ones who value process over results. Personal prestige over collective progress. Perhaps they will be the ones to be ostracised in the future.

And I think it’s starting to hit home. This is not just some sort of wacko project that be laughed off as a bungle. These are the first steps in a cultural revolution.

How far will it go?

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