Reinventing The Employee

Rarely do employees and even employers seem to appreciate modern staffing solutions. The world has changed but recruitment and employment has not. Several trends can be improved upon in a relative easy manner to reach a genuinely seemingly radical approach which can benefit both businesses and individuals and make the whole arrangement future proof. Ten trends are described below, reflecting what we know about how people behave, not how we think we want them to behave:
1. Goal: Human Resources Management was never meant to address modern workers. Its origins lie with a 1930’s psychological study of factory workers at a large electrical engineering plant which showed their productivity increased with heightened levels of attention and engagement, not just working conditions such as the number of light bulbs, number of breaks or distance to the toilet.
2. Localization: The local population is aging, putting more stress on funding the costs of secondary labor agreements, such as health insurance and pensions. Not only has the retirement of babyboom generation started, people are getting older because of increased safety levels and especially advances in medical science.
3. Commodification: Economies of scope push forward with increased globalization and interchangeability, and ongoing competition due to reduced local exclusivity. Supplier reuse benefits and vendor-independence for the buyer will drive processes for rapid standardization and a move towards general purpose production means.
4. Classification: Although tasks, roles and responsibilities are usually well defined, job descriptions are often just a listing of these mixed with a fairly generic picture of a colleague or the person that used to do that job.
5. Diversification: Requirements need to cover ever more exotic skills while more indistinguishable in other areas.
6. Qualification: To select suitable candidates a high reliance is put on certain formalized trust rituals and rites of passages, such as employeeship, duration of experience, education, certifications or organizational membership.
7. Psychometric Normalization: Most popular personality frameworks use outdated models from early psychology missing the needed scientific rigor or are supported by tests which are just a statistical significant number of self-reflective yes/no questions. Over 800 different models exist with an often shared practical purpose in providing a handle for the interpersonal part of a job interview, hopefully to support a well-developed gut feeling.
8. Digitization: ICT-based workflow automation has started to show a significant effect in 1995 productivity figures. It is expected to equal the ‘physical economy’ around 2030, and then surpass it in size. Workforce estimates for 2030 indicate the need for 2 billion jobs less, as most manual labor and simple mental tasks are digitized. By 2020 a PDA will have the processing power equal to a human brain; by 2055 it will match the whole of humanity.
9. Artificial Intelligence: Although the term AI originates in 1956 it is more appropriate to consider ICT as only a limited subset of it, and more adaptable variants have gradually grown up and entered the office. Amplified by advances in knowledge, biotech, nanotech, robotics and “cognotech” most structured tasks will be automated. By 2020 the average cellphone will have as much raw power as the human brain.
10. First Selection: Besides the job specification, the very first step in the selection process involves filtering out the profiles to continue the selection process with. Nowadays this involves printing out some two hundred resumes, stacking them on a big pile, and some office assistant racing through the pile to spend ten seconds on average to scan every resume looking for picture, name, age, gender, ethnicity, residence, education, hobbies, experiences, accomplishments, highlighted achievements, and the general style, tone, and look and feel of the resume. Based on this matching process the aim is to reduce the pile to five or ten potential candidates. The likelihood that after half an hour the top five best candidates do not end up in the resulting selection is probably 100%…
In between the ‘one size fits all’ markets of undifferentiated commoditized skills and the small niche of high-end executive search firms it seems we have been fooling ourselves in making use of facilities with an efficiency worse than random chance. Informal networking, such as familialism or ol’ boys, offers better results than formal ‘meritocratic’ procedures. “Workforce management solutions” may have become such a dominating phenomenon in addressing labor requirements not because their service is about adding value, but the focus lies with minimizing the costs of failure. The reason that things work out is mostly despite of the methods used, as the article that is being exchanged is people, people adapt, and can and will amaze you if you give them the chance.
This becomes exceedingly obvious when express the ‘difficulty level’ of a task as an IQ. While most expert jobs require an IQ of about 115, for most managerial and administrative tasks 105 suffices. Assembly line work, simple
agricultural and cleaning tasks require an IQ of just about 50, greatly underutilizing human potential. The probability
someone will do well on such simple tasks is essentially 100%, even on managerial tasks the division is 60-40, and 80-
20 for expertise. The caveat is that many tasks have a maximum difficulty level and don’t require any additional
effort, and ongoing automation is increasingly able to encompass all this complexity to such a degree that even
addressing any worthwhile variations of the standardized default task would not need additional work. These tasks
have simple become part of the ‘digitized background’, and if it needs some improvement it may involve a business
analyst and a programmer, but not a fulltime job position. Human intervention may be needed for exception
management but in many cases automation is lowering the required skillset and many jobs have been converging
towards a fairly similar skill set. Besides the domain-specifics the “just-noticeable difference” between one skillset
and another has become so small in an absolute sense that it often does not matter that someone may be better
qualified in a relative sense. If that is so, is the competitive advantageous rarity of an actual job really so valuable
that it justifies the often high costs of intermediate agencies, while on-the-job training can fill in the blanks? That
doesn’t mean the candidate’s market rate should be negotiated downwards, but surely an agent’s mediation
services is based on a degree of illusionary exclusivity. In general recruitment firms can’t make a valid case in favor of
seniority, which is shameful, and with the body-shopping based enumeration of recruitment firms, it simply doesn’t
pay enough to provide the extra effort. If recruiting isn’t much more than keyword matching and peer pressure,
there are better ways to do it, less damaging.
Yet, on the other hand, “you can’t put nine women together and expect them make a baby in one month”. Even if
one breaks down a task in simpler elements, the collective whole cannot be simplified without losing meaning and
value. For any company on the receiving end, the whole of HRM should be taken much more seriously and not
regarded as a variation on a purchasing process. In a future where permanent employment is almost certainly a
thing of the past it is obvious a different sort of relationship is to be maintained.
When placing HRM in a different light it becomes possible to change the values and priorities that lead to implicit
assumptions, allowing a choice among value sets at will and embrace a different mindset and related goals. While its
origins lie with early 20th century manufacturing processes, the industry itself has learned many lessons from
Japanese management culture, and while our culture may only lend itself to it to some degree in copying certain
practices a fundamental aspect is overseen; the concept of ningensei, Mentschlekhkeyt, Humanitas or “human
beingness”. Accepting this, the challenge ahead is to find a optimal balance addressing the more streamlined future
ahead with supportive smart technology while avoiding any sort of negative group dynamics; de-individuation,
dehumanization, diffusion of personal responsibility, uncritical conformity, blind obedience and indifference. There
is more than intellectual property alone, and although “heart and soul” aren’t quantifiable it definitely serves to give
it proper recognition, while the same technological currents that are making many jobs redundant offer the keys for
a much smarter and humane choice of solutions.

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