COLLAPSING ethics are a very worrying social and business trend that is threatening our hard-won reputation as a nation that produces highly-skilled and hardworking people.
Report by Brett Chulu
Our talent pipelines are now turning out not only poorly-trained personnel but unethical as well.
That’s a huge problem. Add to that a dwindling pool of high-quality talent owing to the brain drain and you have organisations chasing after the same pool of highly compromised candidates, who may be skilled but are corrupt. This calls for human resources (HR) risk management practices such as psychometric testing, behavioural profiling and background or reference checks.
However, it seems these are not carried out or are being rendered inadequate.
Psychometric testing can tell you the candidate has the minimum IQ to handle the demands of the job. But it can’t tell you the candidate is a serial ethics violator.
Behavioural profiling can tell you the candidate’s personality is a good fit into the team they are expected to join. It can tell you the “good fit” will be a good chief financial officer, but it can’t tell the candidate is likely to be a “thief financial officer”.
Background and reference checks were HR risk management practices invented to at least check a candidate’s past ethical violations. In a social environment where poor ethics have, like cancer, metastasised to almost every level of society, smart candidates are able to hide their past record of ethical violations.
Checking the veracity of academic and professional qualifications may indeed establish certificates are bona fide. All the same, that verification exercise will not tell you that the “impressively educated” candidate was paying others to do assignments for him/her. It can’t tell you the candidate paid trainers to shore up his/her marks.
In short, we are now in an environment where what worked well in the past to minimise the risk of employing poor candidates cannot cope with the systemic challenges brought about by the general collapse of ethics.
To cope with these seismic changes, HR must embrace an outside-in approach.
To understand the outside-in HR approach and it’s huge potential to tackle real business challenges we need to understand the evolution of HR as a profession through four waves.
The four waves of HR
We are now in the fourth wave of HR evolution called outside-in HR.
The Results Based Leadership Institute, the world’s most respected think-tank on HR issues has identified four waves of HR evolution, namely: administrative wave, HR practices wave, HR strategy wave and now outside-in HR wave. In the first two waves, HR work was focused inwards—it had no connection to business strategy and key external stakeholders such as external customers and shareholders.
The transition from HR practices focus to HR strategy focus came about due to the realisation that HR, to its credit, had been coming up with innovative practices which however did not add value to business imperatives.
In the HR strategy phase of HR evolution, the concept of the HR business partner gained traction as high-performing HR professionals tried to connect HR strategies to overall business strategy. In this phase of HR evolution two major shifts occurred.
First, there was a marked shift from HR’s signature focus on talent. It was realised that for HR to effectively play a strategic role it had to widen its focus to leadership and culture issues. Thus in this phase, HR began to simultaneously focus on both people and organisation. HR had to pay attention to both the individuals and what individuals should deliver together.
Second, HR began to focus on the external customer. To put this into perspective, during the administrative and HR practices phases of HR evolution, if you asked an HR professional who their customer was, they would most probably point to the employee or the employer as their customer.
To consider that the real customer of HR was the external customer who bought the company’s products and services was very uncommon. In the third wave of HR, external customers, shareholders, regulators and the social community became important constituents for which HR had to deliver value.
In the fourth wave, outside-in HR, the HR professional is being urged to start his/her interventions from the external environment (social, technology, economics, politics, environment and demography).
Having understood the external environmental trends, HR is then expected to translate these trends into innovative but integrated talent, leadership and culture interventions that address the particular concerns of external customers, shareholders, employees, line managers, regulators and the social community.
Poor ethics in training institutions
What prompted me to write this article are my personal encounters with students from several institutions who bared their souls on the state of corruption in the institutions of higher learning they were attending. We will sample two cases.
One student asked me to advise on an ethical dilemma they were facing. One of their trainers approached the student, reminding them that their coursework marks for a particular subject were poor. They were told point blank no matter how hard they performed in their sit-down examination they would fail. The trainer boldly asked for a bribe from students to guarantee passing.
In the second case, another student narrated how they were failed by one trainer because they refused to pay a bribe. The student said a number of fellow students who succumbed to the soft pressure passed, some with flying colours.
Two questions arise. For how long has this been going on in our institutions of learning? How many of our educational and training institutions are nursing such a culture of corruption?
Perhaps, the more relevant question is: How many companies are employing candidates from these institutions? Are these organisations’ talent acquisition, risk management techniques and practices up-to-date?
These situations call for an outside-in HR approach.
An organisation with either an HR professional or a chief executive who understands the principles of outside-in HR will begin to make innovative interventions in the external environment instead of being a victim of the external environment.
HR professionals and business leaders in Zimbabwe must begin to influence our external social environment characterised by poor ethics. Consider the following scenario.
A senior executive in an organisation is given a budget to source machinery for the company and then decide to buy defective machinery. That’s not likely to happen as that executive will be fired. In our current environment, business leaders are buying “defective human capital” because they are using purchasing criteria and due diligence tools that have been outpaced by an increasingly unethical environment.
You can’t do textbook stuff to address our current human capital acquisition risks. You can’t even rely on best practices. You have to think hard and create innovative practices.
That is what outside-in strategic HR in Zimbabwe is beginning to do.
Chulu is a strategic HR consultant who has consulted to both listed and unlisted companies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org