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The most important question recruiters could ask in 2021 might be “what if?”

By Callum McKirdy

If any year has afforded the opportunity to question why we do things the way we do, surely it’s 2020.

With that in mind, what if we’ve been missing a huge opportunity to fast-track performance of individuals, teams and entire workforces in recent decades?

What if the criteria we use to describe the ‘right’ people inadvertently ignores and, in some cases, actively excludes a more suited candidate group?

What if, even in recent times as organisations move to valuing the ‘whole person’ we’ve continued to shut the door on a subset of humankind that may just hold the answers to the #1 question of these COVID times: what the hell do we do now?

We can trace core recruitment principles as far back as the Industrial Revolution and the process of standardisation – using the concept of the Bell Curve to determine where most bang for our buck lies.

The ‘beer belly’ in the middle of the bell curve is where the majority sits, and it is from this position that most workplace initiatives are targeted and indeed, decisions are made. The pale, stale, male analogy of those who make and continue to reinforce the rules is very real in many organisations and this also applies to the lens through which recruitment is often viewed.

One such process is the Employee Lifecycle that people management practices hang from. This approach assumes staff will follow one of a few typical paths into and through the organisation. At the beginning of that lifecycle is how we attract and select new hires, which is based on the concept of merit.

Merit is crucial, yet it seems we’ve based our idea of what merit constitutes on a somewhat self-serving ideal i.e. we seek the most appropriately experienced person yet filter applicants through a lens of relatability – can I relate to or be comfortable working with and managing this person? It’s at this point where we might be excluding potential superstars.

Often those who miss out are those who society deems to be a bit too different, odd or just plain weird. Many of these people can be classified as Neurodiverse.

Neurodiversity can be defined as the range of differences in individual brain function regarded as part of normal variation in the human population characterised by differences in sociability, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions. These are often characteristics of conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD and Dyslexia (to name the ‘big’ three).

What’s important in this context is that those variations span differences in gender, ethnicity or any other category by which we tend to categorise other humans. In other words, neurodiversity exists everywhere yet is often unseen, and because it concerns functions of the brain, means we’re talking about a small number of people with some extraordinary gifts and talents. Unfortunately, society judges these positive differences as negatives through stigma and fear of those very differences; differences that often mean the neurodiverse do not set foot in the door.

Often recruitment is targeted to a set of skills and where people with those skills are likely to be found. That’s sensible. Then, we require those people to complete a set of steps as a matter of course in order to first, become known, and then to stand out from the rest.

What if the ideal candidate for a collaborative team role has higher-then-average empathy yet struggles to complete application forms like many Dyslexics do?

What if the most appropriate person for a role requiring deep data analysis struggles with interviews not because they’re socially awkward, but because they’re hypersensitive to the flickering light in the room, as can occur with ASD?

What if you use psychometric testing as a matter of course in the final stages of recruitment for a role that requires high levels of creativity yet those often highest in that very skill, such as some people with ADHD, struggle with sequencing and thus bomb-out on a test with no relevance to the role.

You could say “tough. It’s about getting the best person for the role and they need to be able to deal with the process”, and I agree. But what if the process is more a test of how well they can complete forms, deal with annoying flickering lights or an assessment of their ability to perform a task they will never require on the job? We may well be excluding superstars by our expectations of people to cope. And look at how well the ‘average’ and ‘normal’ person has struggled to cope with the year that has been 2020.

You see, behind the mask of our face, we all have a brain – some are wired differently. It’s that difference that brings about extraordinary talents AND also means some of these people show-up a little differently. It’s time we looked at recruitment differently too and ask ourselves, “what if there was a better way?”

Callum McKirdy specialises in unlocking team and leadership potential in service-led organisations across the Asia-Pacific region. Proudly dyslexic and ADHD-positive, Callum champions organisations to think differently about different thinking and make use of the hidden talents that sit unutilised across within teams. Callum speaks at industry conferences, facilitates high-impact workshops, trains teams, and mentors professionals looking to reconnect people with purpose.

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