Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Meritocracy vs. personality

One thing I'll give Businessweek, they're at least being honest.  There's a very popular trope that you need the skills and the resume and the ability to get good jobs.  But that's naive. You also need to "fit in," and to be "our sort," whoever that may be.

To a certain extent I understand this.  You want to be able to get along with the person who will work for you, you want them to get along with the people they will be working with.  That is important, and there are some folks who may not be a very good fit at all personality wise.

However, there are things that I find very unappealing about this.  First, the "good fit" tends to look like everyone else and have a similar background to everyone else in the office.  So if you're a different race, ethnic group, or maybe if you're a little too blue collar or a little too foreign or a little too country or a little too urban, you're simply out of luck.

“A lot of times, cultural fit is used as an excuse” for feelings interviewers aren’t comfortable expressing, says Eric Peterson, manager of diversity and inclusion at the Society for Human Resources and Management. “Maybe a hiring manager can’t picture himself having a beer with someone who has an accent. Sometimes, diversity candidates are shown the door for no other reason than that they made the interviewer a little less at ease.

I also think that this also can encourage some really terrible behavior.  One person in the article said she hired someone as a manager, and that "it created a lot of tension because he didn’t fit in. People tried to alienate him because they weren’t interested in him as a friend." You know, I get not gelling with the boss, I get not really cottoning on to a coworker or a supervisor or an employee.  But if people aren't going to show a supervisor the respect that is due their position, and if they are going to engage in mobbing behavior, they're the ones that need to be fired.  If a supervisor is going to be nasty to someone they don't like, or cut them out because they don't see them as a friend, they are unprofessional and a liability.

Here's the thing: I want to know that a new hire will act appropriately in the office, be professional, be courteous and respectful, and do their work.  I don't have to like them.  I've worked with and for people I didn't particularly like (and who didn't like me) but we were there to work, not hang out over beer.   I've also worked for people I liked but who were terrible managers.  That was just as awkward.

I am not against being friends with coworkers, or hanging out with them after work, or anything like that.  I am not against having a close-knit workplace (though when people start leaving, it's a morale killer).  But I think it's dangerous to expect that everyone should be down with that or that everyone has to be the same.  The first priority when you go to work is to, well, work.   Don't hire my new bestie forever, hire someone who can do the job and who is respectful and courteous.

What do you think?


  1. I am of two minds on this.

    I work in a small office- there are 6 of us and we have had people here who didn't click and the outcome was a nightmare. Of course, the person I am speaking of didn't really do any work and she created a bunch of chaos anywhere that she went.

    At the same time, I think that a person should be hired on their merit more than anything else.

  2. I agree, people should be hired because they have the best skills for the job. I do think that good communication is an important skill in a lot of jobs though. For example in Science, you often collaborate with other people in your group. If one person's a pain in the arse, it's not so easy! :)

  3. Honestly, can't people just grow up and do the job they were hired to do, without getting embroiled in these high school-like cliques, who's in and who's not.

    I've seen it happen too many times, an incredibly talented employee ostracized my a small group in the office, simply because they're "different". Who's to say which "different" is better, the "me" different or the "you" different.

    What usually happens is when this one person who doesn't fit the mold feels on the outside, the performance of the group suffers. And nobody wins.

    Don't you just wish you could knock a couple of heads together?!

  4. Pamela, I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment that people should act professionally and be considerate and respectful. I don't know about you, but sometimes the people who I haven't immediately "clicked" with end up being the ones who I respect the most and like the best in the long run. Sometimes (gasp!) I have learned things from them which I otherwise might not have learned if I hadn't been forced to consider another perspective.