Real Values in Hiring


Earlier this month, Jason Kerney–a team member at Hunter Industries and practitioner of mob programming–wrote an article detailing the interview process his team uses for bringing new people into “the Mob”.

This post dives into Jason’s narrative covering the principles that challenge the convention of hiring and seemingly radical tactics that answer a simple question: what is the difference between hiring a person and filling a position?

As an Agile practitioner, nearly all of the learning and discovery in my career have come as a result of amplified feedback loops covering the entire system of work (from teams, to programs, to customers, to the organization at large). It is these opportunities that enable beneficial adaptation to occur for all parties involved. Yet, our convention of hiring leaves candidates with minimal feedback, if at all, typically relegated to automated denial messages or condolences conveyed through HR staff (preventing people from asking for direct feedback). What benefit does such a system have for our organizations, given the very pool of people they must hire from are withheld from the information necessary to cultivate them further? Additionally, what opportunity exists for the organization to inspect and adapt its own hiring practices?

These failings can be attributed to the singular nature of conventional hiring. Whether we’re hiring a mechanical/manual worker or knowledge worker, nearly all companies aim to satisfy a single objective: determine if the individual is the best fit for the role/team/company.

As pioneers of next-generation Agile ideas, the team at Hunter addresses these failings by taking a systems-thinking approach to hiring by expanding interview objectives to three goals:

  1. The candidate leaves feeling fairly assessed.
  2. We know if the candidate will be a good fit for the team and company.
  3. The candidate knows if the team and company is a good fit for them.

Sandwiched between the common, singular goal for the company alone exist two new goals centered entirely around the person interviewing. Supported by a healthy dose of transparency, collaboration, and feedback, Hunter has the gall to have more objectives in service of the individual, as opposed to service of the organization/team.

Perhaps nothing is more evident in service to cultivating people than Jason’s team’s use of a lean coffee session to conclude the interview. An agenda-free conversation with democratically selected content could be, well, anything. While a lean coffee session could be highly valuable to the organization’s hiring staff, it doesn’t provide a singular focus on the position, emphasizing instead the collective ability of people to create something together.

This is what happens when people share their true values (antonym: stated values) with unwavering cheer and conviction. The evolution of mob programming at Hunter is built upon three core values: kindness, consideration, and respect. Therefore, perhaps it’s unsurprising to see the transformation of hiring culture adapt to this foundation. In such a highly collaborative environment, Jason and team have learned that skills can be taught, gaining knowledge is a daily event, and knowledge work goes far beyond execution… thus an understanding of the person trumps conventional job specifications.

To close, I’ll re-link Jason’s article at the bottom of this post and share two stories. Put on your thinking caps and consider the risks/opportunities inherent in both cases:

  • A hiring manager I recently spoke with, as part of the casual chit-chat to close an interview, described my performance in answering a few questions. As comparison, he revealed a prior applicant had answered the same questions “so poorly”, that by the final question “he had become so awkward” that “we had to ask him to leave immediately”. The verdict relayed by the hiring manager: “we’re searching for real talent, not average resources!”
  • Prior to the posting of Jason’s article, in speaking with him and learning about his interview culture, Jason described an applicant that had a similar experience. After receiving an explanation of the interview process and seated at the keyboard, the individual froze (perhaps with fear?). He was unable to continue and abruptly scurried out of the building. The verdict relayed by Jason: “I couldn’t stop thinking about him and feeling dismay at how he must have felt. We can’t have another applicant feel that way.” (Note: additional team members at Hunter have since mentioned this incident as a source of distress)

Link: “A Better Interview” by Jason Kerney at Software, Etc.

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