May 24, 2011 - No Comments!

Seeking H.R. Linchpins

I follow Seth Godin. I read his books. I pay a lot of money to go hear him speak. I apply to every opportunity he presents to work with him in his offices (although he hasn’t chosen me for one yet.) And I agree with him 95% of the time. But he’s missing something; two things actually.

In his recently released book, Linchpin (Penguin Group Publishers, New York, 2010), Seth talks about how to become invaluable to your organization. When you are a Linchpin, you are not merely an employee, rather you are an artist. You:

  • Provide a unique interface between members of the organization
  • Deliver unique creativity
  • Manage a situation or organization of great complexity
  • Lead customers
  • Inspire staff
  • Provide deep domain knowledge
  • Possess a unique talent

You are indispensable.

I strive to be a Linchpin with every client, and on every project. And I have proudly surrounded myself with Linchpins on my team. Each one of them creates art, speaks out, and is indispensable to me. We do great work—bold, progressive, thought-provoking, and effective.

I’ve also gotten fired from jobs for being a Linchpin. Leaders of organizations need us in their companies if they want to move forward and create amazing products and services. But very few appreciate the Linchpin traits once faced with them. Trust me, I know from experience! In an article from the Harvard Business Review (written quite a few years ago, but still oh so relevant) entitled “The Subordinate’s Predicaments,” by Eric H. Neilsen and Jan Gypen, the authors talk about differentiation vs. identification, with the dilemma being to come across as being very different from the superior in terms of skills, aspirations, values, and professional concerns, or to identify with the superior as someone to emulate. Linchpins typically come across as being very different. Which is okay (as the article states) as long as this is identified early in the relationship. The authors also imply that superiors many times embrace the difference. This might be so, but many subordinates, especially in these trying economic times, are so protective of their jobs that they would rather not risk it and fly under the radar. Our economy has stifled many would-be Linchpins. That’s the first thing that Seth misses.

The second, and more critical thing missing from his inspirational teachings has to do with Human Resources—H.R., you know, the ones that do the hiring. Becoming a Linchpin is way easier once you are secure in your position within a company. But it is virtually impossible to get hired in as a Linchpin with the radically broken recruiting and hiring system that has evolved in this country. Because, you see, unless the H.R. “manager” or “coordinator” is a Linchpin herself, and/or has been given direction from the leaders of the organization to seek and find the most innovative, interesting, forward-thinking, problem-solving, inventive employees, us Linchpins are doomed! We have to start our own businesses (which is what I did). Sadly, the recruiting process has been reduced to pulling only those applications from an online, standardized, electronic format that have the greatest number of keyword matches. Really? That’s who corporate leaders want? Imagine this conversation:
Boss: “We’re losing market share. Our products are not keeping up with what our customers want. Employee Number 85, what can we do to reenergize this brand?"
Employee 85: "Brand reenergizing wasn’t a key word on the job description. I don’t have that word on the key word section of my resume.”
Boss: “But you must be listening to what our customers are saying! What are the trends?”
Employee 85: Sorry, boss, listening to customers isn’t a key word match for me. But customer service is! Maybe we need better customer service?
Boss: "No, our customer service is fine, it’s our brand image that needs help. Our competitors are releasing new products, or being innovative about how they’re marketing the same products, or finding new customers. Maybe we should add an organic food line. Organic is big. We’re getting killed by Whole Foods."
Employee: "My experience is in highly-processed packaged foods. You wanted an exact key word match for experience. I don’t know anything about organics."
Boss: "Well, can you learn?"
Employee: "I had the required educational level based on the employment application. The employment application didn’t ask if I’d be willing to do continuing education."

In his book, Seth recognizes this broken system and recommends that companies hire according to interesting projects that the candidate has done, or innovative solutions to problems or challenges. The problem is, that doesn't fit within the current system; there's no way to capture any of that in an online form, and H.R. needs to come up with a different way to screen candidates.  Instead of a multiple choice questionnaire, for example, how about a freestyle box that accepts media files, like a PDF, video, or photo portfolio?

Several months ago I received a phone call from a recruiter in the wood flooring industry who had my name come up in her search for a Director of Sales for her client’s division in Seattle. I was happy to talk with her. After I did, it didn’t appear that the company was as progressive as I would hope, but they convinced me to talk with the Vice President that I would report to. After a series of rather mundane questions, and those that had already been covered several times in previous conversations, I noticed that the VP wasn’t really saying anything. He wasn’t asking any questions. Since we were on Skype, I could see him, so I knew he was present. Finally, as we were wrapping up, he asked, “Do you have experience with P & L statements?” I was pretty paralyzed, caught off guard by not only the irrelevance of the question, but that it was the only one he could come up with. Had I been thinking clearly I would have responded with, “Wouldn’t you rather know how I would go about motivating my sales team in such a difficult time for the building industry?” or “Can I tell you my ideas for incorporating sustainability initiatives into your company so that you can compete for LEED projects?” or "Here are some suggestions for innovative and engaging customer retention strategies we could try." As soon as he asked me the question, I knew that a Linchpin would not be appreciated in his company.

So, to Seth Godin I make the plea, for your next book, inspire H.R. managers and recruiters to be Linchpins themselves, so they can then pick them out of a crowd and hire them!

Published by: Connie Glover in Blog

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