We tend to underestimate the role of fear in business
decisions, including those on recruitment and selection.
Fear is a powerful driver of human behaviour:
fear of making the wrong decision, fear of losing
face, fear of losing a job and fear of not being liked.
Every business owner, executive and manager will agree that
having the right people in the right places is crucial for an organization’s
success. However, as soon as you pry a bit below the
surface of “corporate speak” and good intentions, you’ll find that
values stated are not always values lived. We often see people miscast
in roles and given up on, left to marinate in their misery.
When companies operate under a culture of fear, the right people
don’t get hired or promoted. Instead, those who come in and
come up are buddies, teammates and allies of those already there
– people executives don’t need to be afraid of. They’ve all known
each other for years and trust has been established. They pass the
puck around, in the secure knowledge that the puck will come
back to them. The result is that people who have no business being
in the business get hired. Such flawed decisions, of course, need to
Some organizations have an HR department and/or a communications
department where paid representatives spin fantastic
tales. For internal consumption, they explain why candidate X
was chosen over candidate Y, listing everything except the real
reason. Of course, we know why: coming clean would embarrass
people and hurt the company brand. You can’t very well put out
an announcement that candidate X was chosen because he is the
nephew of the goalie of the CEO’s recreational hockey team.
An HR consultant recently mentioned an example from her
practice. Several candidates were being considered for a management
role, and she had diligently looked for the required skills
and probed for the right behaviours. Towards the end of the process,
one of the candidates mentioned that she was a fundraiser for
a charity that the CEO supported, and that was it. He decided,
based on that common ground, that she would be a perfect fit for
the role. Once onboarded, the candidate failed to connect with her
team and did substantial damage before being invited to leave.
We all know examples of the business owner’s cousin having
been brought in to process invoices and run the payroll, and then
“doing HR” on the side. It is not very likely that the owner, when
the business grows to 40 people, will suggest bringing in a trained,
“real” HR professional, for fear that the cousin would get upset.
Despite all the talk about being guided by strong values, striving
for diversity and hiring and promoting based on ability, hiring
decisions are often influenced by the fact that someone on the
inside knows one of the candidates, turning the candidate into a
known quantity, which makes that candidate a safer bet. Making
the connection takes away our fear of the unknown. We switch
from fear to recognition. We are on familiar territory, and we stop
carefully testing the ice ahead of us. It’s human nature to impute all
kinds of positive associations when we like people.
Changing human nature will not be possible, but HR has a definite
role in emphasizing the importance of proper process and
pushing back when bias enters the arena. Our role as HR practitioners
is to acknowledge the fear and remind those in positions
of authority that every decision around hiring, promoting and firing
sends a signal, internally and externally, about the types of
people that define the organization and, ultimately, determine
its success. n
Evert Akkerman is an award-winning HR professional and founder
of XNL HR.
FACING THE FEAR IN THE HIRING PROCESS
By Evert Akkerman
leremy / 123RF Stock Photo
HRPROFESSIONALNOW.CA ❚ JULY 2018 ❚ 29