The Five Disciplines
An Holistic Approach to Changing Recruitment
Systems thinking is the ability to integrate the critical elements of a function and understand how each impacts the other. A good example of a smoothly operating system is an automobile. All of its parts work together, and if any critical parts are removed, it ceases to function. A system, therefore, is the result of the interaction of parts, not just the sum of its parts
In 1990 Peter Senge published The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. This book summed up his thinking about how organizations (and functions such as recruiting) can more effectively function based on his systems thinking background at MIT. He believed that there were five core disciplines or elements that, when understood and practiced, ensured that an organization would be able to learn, adapt to change, and thrive continuously. He defined a learning organization as one that has a culture and the appropriate processes to shape the future it wants.
These five disciplines are highly relevant to recruiting functions. The lack of innovation, the difficulty in finding talent, and the difficulty recruiting functions have in automating and streamlining their services may be the lack of systems thinking.
The pandemic has challenged how we think and challenges assumptions. Attitudes about work have changed significantly, workers are seeking flexibility and control over how they work and over what they do. We now need to operate globally, overcome cultural and economic barriers, find ways to use talent wherever it is located, and build a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
Most recruiting functions have not achieved the integration of the technology, people, and processes needed to perform well. Various parts operate independently, and communication between parts is inadequate. For example, human resource functions routinely split recruitment from training and development and both those from performance management. This leads to an organization that hires people it may not need or who may not fit the culture while, on the other hand, losing people who feel they are not learning or are not being challenged or promoted. Behavioral issues and competency deficiencies are not fed back into the hiring or development process, and it is hard to make progress toward achieving a highly trained and engaged workforce.
If we integrated these often-separate functions, there would be fewer performance issues and a higher competency level.
When CEOs complain about not being able to find the right talent, it may be at least partly a case of not having an integrated talent management function to anticipate and prepare for whatever talent needs are and will be needed.
Thousands of organizations have developed mission or vision statements, but these statements are rarely part of the organization's fabric, nor are they echoed by every employee. They serve primarily as aspirations that few expect will be met.
Inspiring and effective organizations strongly embrace the idea of everyone working toward a common and widely shared vision that is often broad and general enough to survive changes in tactical direction and product focus. These visions focus on the firm's true strengths and leverage those strengths to produce exceptional products and services. Toyota’s vision is about producing defect-free automobiles, and they have come further toward this than any other company in history. Their quality system is embraced by thousands and has become the standard.
Recruitment functions also need a vision and a set of broad goals. How do you want recruiting to perform in two years or five years? What is your overall objective? Is it presenting qualified people in one day? Is it developing a better way to measure and hire for quality?
Apple, for example, has deeply embraced Senge’s discipline of team learning. They have integrated functions as disparate as human resources, engineering, design, sales, and software development into a single team where leadership is shared and communication is open. By doing this they have created products that not only beat the competition but are clearly superior in design, construction, and function.
Teams, especially with diverse people, are far more effective in coming up with solutions to complex problems and bringing forth innovative ideas than individuals. The term crowd-sourcing is coming into vogue as an innovative twist on team learning. Crowd-sourcing makes the proposition that by soliciting ideas from a wide variety of diverse people, new and better solutions and ideas emerge.
Is your recruiting function an integrated team or a group of individuals with individual goals and no common ones?
We all come to work with assumptions that are so embedded in our behaviors and thinking that we do not question them. We assume that most things will be the same today as yesterday and that the ways we have responded to issues will remain relevant in the future. Mostly, this is a healthy way to respond to the world.
But in today's fast-paced world, with new challenges and new global competitors, it is essential to understand our assumptions, articulate them, and decide which are still relevant and which are not. Pete Senge called these assumptions our mental models -- those operating models about business, organizations, our function, candidates, and employees that need to be examined.
Some of the common assumptions we hold are that employees need titles, that everyone needs to be physically present, that working from 8 am to 5 pm is a good norm, that budgets and deadlines are important, that software needs to be developed by our in-house team, and that only certain people need certain information within the firm.
Information and transparency are also central to successful systems thinking and practice. Silence and secrets are the greatest enemies of creativity and employee engagement. Many excellent and highly valued employees have left their employers because of business uncertainty, lack of open communication, and a sense that management was keeping secrets from them. What employees strive for is an understanding of trends and issues that affect them and their work.
By challenging assumptions, trying new ways, and being open to change, organizations will better weather doing business in this complex world.
Know thyself is a concept as old as the Greeks, but few of us take the time to find what our core beliefs, passions, and strengths are. Few organizations realize how important it is for employees to find meaning and passion in their work. By letting employees control what they do and how they do it, organizations build commitment and more readily take it upon themselves to build up their competencies and gain new skills.
Dave Ulrich, a well-known human resources expert, wrote The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations that Win. In this book, he discusses why helping employees identify their personal strengths and providing them opportunities to use and improve those strengths is one way to build a more successful organization.
We have known for a long time that those who are in harmony with their work, have passion and are excited by what they are doing, and who have a greater purpose in their work than making money are the happiest and most productive. Yet, organizations have shied away from helping employees take more responsibility for their work and providing the means to improve their skills. This has been partly due to a mental model that personal reflection and development are not appropriate corporate activities and partly to fear that once people truly know themselves, they might want to leave. Some organizations also fear losing what they perceive as control over the employee's activities if they allow someone to make their own decisions and do what they think is best.
Of all of Senge’s disciplines, this is the one that is probably the least acted upon and the least visible but has the potential within it for vast improvements in innovation, productivity, and engagement.
The emerging 21st-century organizations will be smaller than the typical organization of today. Employees will be working in constantly changing,
often virtual, self-organizing work teams that are integrated at all levels. The complexity and ambiguity we face as we move into a highly connected and fast-paced world will force these changes on us. We are slowly moving closer to the ideal learning organization outlined by Peter Senge 20 years ago, and the five disciplines are more relevant than ever.
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