"We only employ technical people..."

I heard a strange throw-away comment on a visit to a hi-tech company in Cambridge, UK. We were all discussing the attributes necessary to succeed in such companies and one of the managers said this:

We only employ technical people so issues such as personality and behaviour are irrelevant in our recruitment processes.

So what is a ‘technical person’ - is it a person at all? I guess ‘technical people’ conform to the basic laws of physics and so require no motivation, leadership, stimulation or understanding?

Perhaps they are all bloodless zombies, (working only nightshift, of course), devoid of feeling, pleasure, pain or complaints and with no aspiration other than servitude and the odd drop of blood to keep them going?

And so what sort of recruitment process would we choose to recruit ‘technical people?’ A quick sift through the CVs: qualifications, (check), experience, (check), background, (check), and then, …hmm….maybe use some sort of test, perhaps hold a mirror up to their mouths to see if there is life, and if it steams up, well they must be right for the job - they are ‘technically qualified.’

And it's great that they have no families, friends, social life, no interests outside work and certainly no humour. Anyway it's only the technical bit in which we're interested!

Why is it I get a whole person when all I want is a pair of hands?
— Henry Ford

That is the issue. When we recruit we get the whole person, with all their little foibles, idiosyncrasies and quirkiness - the things that make them human. That’s why recruiting and managing people, all kinds of people, is so difficult, there is no universal law, or test-book answer. It is a ‘human’ process.

And the strange thing is, even in so called ‘hi-tech companies,' recruitment mismatches are rarely due to lack of experience, expertise, qualifications or background - but down to plain old personality and behaviour. Scary, isn't it? We get real people, passionate, blood pumping through their veins and they interact with other real people. And they need to be managed. Yet we seek to de-humanise a very human process by reducing people to what is on the CV, (not the most accurate nor truthful document if we are to be honest), and ignoring what makes them the person they are and, more importantly, the person they are capable of becoming.

And what happens when we promote ‘technical people’ into management? I guess they become ‘technical managers!’ We take the most highly talented engineers and transform them into poor managers and in one fell swoop we lose a great engineer and gain a poor manager. This is because at school they applied a certain set of principles to succeed, applied that same set of principles harder at University and, once they start work apply with fervour exactly that same set of principles which has carried them thus far. Then, they get promoted, to manage that most complex of systems - people, and they try and apply the same set of principles but apply them to death. The key is, of course, to apply a different set of principles!

People don’t conform to universal laws and even psychologists, (and I am a psychologist), are better ‘after the event’ explaining why something happened rather than trying to predict that it will happen! Past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour and it is through behaviour that we will be ‘known.’ So when recruiting we shouldn’t ignore the human element, the person ‘behind’ the CV. And when someone applies for a job and writes, ‘I am an MBA,’ try to visualise a person who looks like a one-dimensional, flat, cold sheet of paper - because that’s probably what you’ll get!