A recent announcement from the EEOC describing their draft strategic enforcement plan for the upcoming months listed the following discriminatory practices as examples of what they’re targeting:

  • The channeling/steering of individuals into specific jobs due to their status in a particular group. Yes, this still happens. I don’t see too many male executive assistants or female construction workers, to say nothing of the continuing shortage of female and minority executives.
  • Restrictive application processes. A broad term that could mean anything. I wish they’d do something about tedious application processes, legal or not.
  • The use of screening tools that adversely impact protected groups. This parallels their recent reminder to employers about job-specific background checks, but could also eliminate the practice of many prominent employers that make year of high school graduation a required field on their online applications. Any idiot can calculate a person’s age from that statistic.

This is a classic enforcement agency list that misses the impact of common hiring practices that truly result in discrimination. Here’s what they missed:

  • Not having a hiring process at all. Too many jobs, particularly at the executive level, are filled by someone the hiring manager knows and has worked with before. An equally despicable practice at the higher levels is hiring someone who has valuable connections or a pedigree while ignoring the competencies required to do the job. Unethical HR people then cover the unethical executive’s tracks by completing the tracking logs as if the winning candidate was selected in a competitive hiring process. Hiring someone they know may relieve hiring managers of the desperation anxiety that arises whenever there’s an open job, but it is a biased, unfair and exclusionary practice.
  • Not focusing hard enough on age discrimination. This one is such an obvious candidate for enforcement that you have to be stoned out of your mind (or working in Washington, D. C.) to miss it. What does every outplacement agency tell older candidates? “Don’t go back more than 15 years on your resume.” Why? Because of likely age discrimination. Many people over 40 have learned to exclude certain companies (particularly tech and Internet companies) from their job searches because they know they’ll be stereotyped as yesterday’s news. People have learned to accept age discrimination as a fact of life, and given the huge number of Baby Boomers in the job market today, I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more of an outcry. Then again, given their early indoctrination into the philosophy of “Hope I die before I get old” and market for youth-restoring plastic surgery, it’s likely that most Baby Boomers are too ashamed to admit they’re entering the golden years.
  • Not questioning candidate evaluation methods and records. Pretty much all you have to do in your recruiting logs is say “did not pass interview” or “failed phone screen” and that’s that. This is why managers can get away with telling the recruiter, “I just think Louise is a better fit.” Recruiters rarely push for specifics because they’re just happy to close another req. Hiring managers are seldom held accountable for justifying their decisions or for documenting specific examples of a how a candidate did nor did not meet the competencies the job requires.

In a legal sense, the tagline “equal opportunity employer” means that race, gender, age and all the other protected classes are irrelevant to a hiring decision. However, the spirit behind that phrase is far more important from an ethical and professional standpoint. The goal of anyone involved in the hiring process is to find the best person qualified for the job, and you can’t achieve that if the real hiring process is limited to buddies, people who attended certain universities or someone who has a “name company” on their resume. All of those considerations are not only irrelevant, but contradict a company’s claim that they are an “equal opportunity employer.” What those practices do communicate is that the hiring company is a narrow-minded closed network of like individuals who arbitrarily exclude people for no valid reason at all.

HR people (especially recruiters) need to have the courage to stand up to hiring managers, declare war on mediocrity and insist on an open, fair and competitive hiring process. Just filling the req isn’t good enough. A great company hires the best people through a professional hiring process where everyone feels they had a fair shot and even those who lose out develop a healthy respect for the company’s sense of fair play.

The EEOC won’t tell you to do that, but do you really need them to?

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Our previous post dealt with various ways you can lessen the impersonal nature of an engagement survey and gather critical information about what’s really going on in your organization that engagement surveys often miss.

Even with our recommended enhancements to the engagement survey process, there will still be something missing. In the first post of this series, we made the argument that unless you are serious about engaging each individual employees, you are not serious about engagement. Unless every individual matters, no one matters. If you diminish one, you diminish all. To have a truly engaged organization, every individual needs to matter and everyone needs to feel that the work they do, the talents and energy they bring and the things that make them a unique human being also matter. Even when you have to fire someone, that person deserves respect and preservation of dignity.

Given the sheer size and complexity of organizations today, this seems like a daunting task. This is why selecting and training leaders who are oriented more towards lifting people up instead of dragging them down is critical to engagement.

If you hire and develop leaders who truly believe that each individual matters and that they have responsibility to every person on their team—and, most importantly, back up their beliefs in words and deeds—you will astronomically improve your odds of achieving an engaged workforce. They will engage with employees because they want to, not because they have to. They will do it because for them, it’s the natural thing to do—it falls into the “of course” category. These leaders will make time for each person on the team, because they know in their hearts that every individual makes a meaningful contribution to the team’s performance. They will help people survive the rough patches in organizational life because they care what people think and how people feel. They’ll listen, give honest feedback and provide helpful suggestions because they know that doing those simple things keeps the team strong and healthy.

So, what can you do to ensure you have great leaders in your organization? Even though we sell leadership training services, we have to be honest and tell you that training alone will not get you there. Here are the key things you must do to create a great team of leaders in your organization:

  1. Make your hiring and succession processes for leaders challenging and educational. You have to hold leadership candidates to a higher standard because their decisions have greater potential for good or harm. Identify the real competencies you need, develop specific behavioral questions and don’t let the candidate get away with a non-answer. Use multiple sources to assess candidates: assessments, simulators, tiered and cross-functional interviews. Focus heavily on decision-making, communication and collaboration skills while probing hard for compatible values. Avoid the tendency to use soft interview techniques (all too common at the executive level, of all places!) and feel free to challenge the candidate’s thinking and engage the candidate in debate. Your stance has to be, “If you want us to give you the responsibility to lead in this organization, you’re going to have to show us that you’re the best—because we want to be the best.” Don’t settle for less. When the process is over, give all the final candidates honest feedback about what they did well and what they could have done better, and don’t let any employment attorney frighten you out of that obligation. Remember, every individual matters—and that includes people who want to work for you.
  2. Provide forums for discussion, debate and education. Organize monthly sessions for leaders to talk about leadership and its challenges. Select participants for each session at random so that you mix leaders across functions and levels to expand their perspectives and forge bonds between leaders across the organization. With advances in video conferencing technology, even global organizations can hold these forums regularly. On the education side, use a competency-based blended learning approach and combine assignmentology, online courses, professional memberships, knowledge sharing portals and classroom training to keep leaders engaged. On the classroom side, leaders should have at least one classroom course per year, because face-to-face communication is still the most powerful and effective form of communication . . . and leaders need to be especially competent in interpersonal skills.
  3. Never compromise, but make sure you have a back-up plan. There are always strong forces in an organization that will drive you towards making sub-optimal decisions based on convenience or compromise. Don’t let this happen in your leadership selection process and don’t let this happen in your leadership correction process. Bad leaders have a toxic effect on an organization and the higher they are, the more poisonous they can be. If a leader is in trouble, act quickly to get them help or move them on. This problem can be almost entirely avoided through an effective succession planning process because knowing you have a good back-up candidate will allow you to take the time to work with the non-performing leader.

We do not have to live in organizations filled with people who don’t want to be there. With competent, honest and responsible leadership, with multiple opportunities for engagement and with a culture that lives by the belief that every single individual matters, you can avoid having an organization of the unwilling and get closer to the ultimate state: a place where people gladly choose to come to work each and every day.

Photo Credit: © Bellemedia | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

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