Two recent presenters at Strategic Capability Network spoke about an up-and-coming idea in the HR strategy realm that has potential merit, but dangers as well. The Director of People Operations (Staffing) from Google and Steve Prentice who specializes in social media both noted the value of hiring staff who have wide-ranging, outside interests.
Google seeks to find out and select for a candidate’s broader interests in the hiring process to ensure diversity of ideas that will lead to innovation in products and services. Steve suggested using an internal Facebook-like system that allows staff to share interests other than simply work as a way of finding people in-house with unique qualities for particular projects. One example both cited, coincidentally, was that knowing someone was a skydiver might indicate their willingness to take risks and that, in turn, might be what you need on a particular project. Another instance – Steve is proud of his sideline – playing in a jazz band.
Both are certainly aware that something like skydiving is only one indicator of risk-taking and one not every boss might relish. I like to think I took risks throughout my career by taking on risky assignments like leading the organization’s union (and incidentally doing it well). Oops, that might not be something I’d want to make widely known to a new company since quite a few bosses would likely have the sort of reaction that wouldn’t have a positive effect on my career.
So how would I show my risk-taking ability or outside interests, many of which aren’t typical big-sellers in the old-fashioned leadership climate still found widely today? My affinity for philosophy and particularly Zen might be tolerated as odd, but harmless. or too weird for a senior VP.
On the other hand I had a CEO who referred to some people he didn’t like as Icabods. (That’s the timid, bookish school teacher character from childhood fiction – an image of ridicule.) I was a bit taken aback the first time he mentioned this to me, given my own early background as a school teacher. He apparently didn’t make the connection, but subsequent CEOs were often quick to tell me I ‘sounded like a school teacher’ – something they didn’t mean nicely on the occasions they were moved to point it out. In fact, I think it’s safe to say my bookish, school-teacher-like interests in philosophy and my understanding of left-wing issues made me valuable in environments where few others could relate and someone was needed who could. That’s diversity, but we have to realize not everyone sees the value.
Just as some unwitting students may be ruining their future job prospects by posting online photos and comments about drinking bouts and worse, we might be inviting employees to do the same without clearly being able to delineate what’s ‘acceptable’ or ‘laudable’ versus what’s ‘not wanted here.’ Can we ever promise all managers will be as open-minded as we’d hope?
I definitely don’t have the answers for this one. Skydiving may sound great to some managers and horrendously foolish to others. Anyone got a handy list of ‘great hobbies or interests to ensure promotions?’ I’m not sure we’re going to develop a specific idea of what those are. That’s the essence of diversity. Who will push the envelope? Soon as well as having the right job experience and training, you may need to cite ‘the right hobbies.’ That’s counter to the intent, but sadly seems almost inevitable.
The same challenges apply to other personal attributes as noted with disabilities and other diversity issues (check the post “Really? Do Tell”). Knowing how or when and how much to disclose personal information is a puzzle.