Recruiting the Superheroes

Hollywood is awash with superheroes, and the catalogues of Marvel and DC are being mined at every release date. Even television has caught the bug, with shows such as Arrow, Smallville, Gotham and Agents of SHIELD popping up season after season. They’re popular right now because we like the sense of (albeit fictional) promise offered by superheroes when times are tough.

They first came into their own in the Depression and war years, dropped into obscurity in the good times of the fifties and sixties and then resurged in the recessions of the seventies and the late nineties. And now, capitalising on the woes of the Great Recession (no one call it a Depression!), they’re back, and this time they’re all over our screens. Superheroes make everything seem possible; there’s no problem they can’t solve, whether it be with a mutant power, wonder gadget or just a killer right hook. And in our hour of need, it’s that aspirational, go get ‘em sense of fervour that we look for from our heroes.

So what? Why is this relevant to HR and recruitment? Well, in an interesting moment of life imitating art, we are seeing similar demands and behaviours in hiring organisations. It’s no longer enough that someone is willing and able to do the job; they now have to have more, the elusive X-factor. They need to be the best, the superlative individual in their field. And what if an X-person can’t be found, but instead in their place just a regular person who can do the job, and do it well? All too often, organisations won’t take the risk. And this is a shame indeed, as many talented individuals with a great amount of potential are overlooked in the quest for the absolute best.

Companies are currently balancing fascinating and contrary motives. With the economy undoubtedly improving, there is an obvious need to invest - most prominently in people who, given the chance, will exploit the opportunities arising alongside the more favourable financial climate. However, six plus years of adversity have sapped coffers and courage, and few decision makers are now willing to take a chance. The result is that lots of organisations are saying that they are looking to hire, and that they have big plans, but are only hiring like-for-like replacements when the need arises. They shy away from the transformational hires they claim to want, the people who could drive them to the next level during the current window of opportunity, unless they find the certainty, the man or woman who cannot fail - the superhero.

However, the reality is that there are no superheroes, or at least so few that the employers who have them keep a very tight hold on them. Of course, you can pay a head-hunter to find them, but that doesn’t mean you can hire them; their current employer knows their value and will fight tooth and nail to keep them. And that leaves the leaders of those companies looking to expand with a dilemma: hire a good person who can do the job, but has some small risk attached, or do nothing in a stubborn vein and wait to need rescuing. All too many are taking the latter option, reasoning that minimising risk is always the right answer, and in this they are making a fundamental error; they are using the defensive rationale of the recession, the mind-set of fear. Instead, they should stop waiting for a superhero to come along and be a hero themselves by taking hiring risks and appointing people who, in time, will no doubt prove that they too have the will and capability to help save the day.


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