Stop pressing people into forms!

If you chose a role-centered approach, don’t come and complain about people not being self-driven, creative, entrepreneurial and excellent. You will stick with what you hired for: conformist people whose main talent is to fit themselves into forms.

Lately, I visited the exhibition of the treasure of the Habsburgs. I gazed at the two different crowns on display: one from the 19th century and one from the 15th century. I was amazed how different they were and in what ways. Have a look at them, do you see the difference?

The older one (on the right) looked more lively and a little wild, full of beauty. The 19th century one was an amazing peace of art, very impressive, very perfect, but with little charisma.

The older crown had gemstones of different forms, colors and sizes. It looked like they had just cut them a little bit to bring out the sparkle and then put them into frames made to fit for each stone. They were arranged in an order, but respecting the natural shape and beauty of each stone.

The “younger” crown was just the opposite. Stones were cut down to fit the preform and the standard shape of all other stones. The stones must have been cut to fit, losing their natural appearance and characteristics.

I am unfortunately obsessed with seeing patterns wherever I go, and that somehow relates to my profession. I immediately saw people and roles instead of stones and forms, two different approaches in organizations:

  • The very rare human-centered approach – create roles/forms for people/gems
  • The very common role-centered approach – press gems/people into forms/roles

The implication is huge:

Approach 1: Facebook, for example, explicitly hires people for their culture and qualifications. They look for talents in a certain domain! The specific role is formed after people join, based on their strengths and talents. Totally new roles are often formed around specific talents, because the goal is to make best use of what people have to offer. And you don’t always know in advance what can be offered by people. So, they leave it open, and roles can also change over time.

The impact: People love to work there. They can bring in and use all they have to offer; they are used based on their strengths and can develop new skills out of that safe space.

Approach 2: Companies define roles, skills, qualifications, soft-skills in detail and look for the best fit. Once people are there, they are challenged to fill and fit into the role. That means cutting off what you are maybe great in – or leaving it unused – and learning what you are not great in yet. It is an approach not focused on strengthening strengths but on fitting into a preform. People try to press themselves into roles, often leaving some of their innate liveliness and authenticity behind. And the worst part is that these organizations miss all of the other great talents – they are not even taken into consideration!

The impact: Hiring people who are not the greatest and best talented but rather the best fitting. It results in an organization of conformists who function based on roles.

If you chose that approach, don’t come and complain about people not being self-driven, creative, entrepreneurial and excellent. You get what you asked for.