Hiring in the current pandemic scenario: Looking beyond technical skillsets and cultural fit
Hiring for cultural fit has been the focus of all HR managers for many years. This became more prominent during the last decade particularly because of the increasing competition. The pressure on organizations to deliver better results quarter on quarter, increased substantially, leaving very minimal time for the organization to allow appropriate time for the new joiners to settle and acclimatise to the new place so as to start delivering. That led the organizations, apart from focusing on an individual’s functional and leadership competencies, to also look for cultural fit so that the new recruit becomes productive at the earliest.
Let's look at some of the key things that seem to have changed due to the current pandemic in this regard:
- First, a pandemic of global scale, often termed as a once in a century event, has disrupted business operations across industries at least in the short term and the effects of this could last for another one and a half to two years. It is imperative that people and organizations reconcile themselves to uncertainty and ambiguity.
- Second, it has created significant cost pressures for every business compelling them to resort to all possible measures of fixed cost reduction. Most organizations across industries except e-commerce, pharmaceuticals and the like are opting for a hiring freeze.
- Third, it has broken the myth and forced all organizations to allow their employees to Work from Home (WFH), something that every employee across hierarchies was probably longing for earlier, for reasons of flexibility and convenience.
The current debate is whether everything will change post COVID-19 when things normalise! I, personally, believe that this is an unlikely scenario. However, the way we work could undergo a paradigm shift. WFH, at least partially, if not fully could be the ‘new normal’. This new normal would demand that employees inculcate new qualities to be productive and successful in the changed context. For e.g. when you have to manage team members remotely vis-a-vis managing them in the office across the floor, trust is an important underlying factor. It plays a very vital role when collaborating with colleagues virtually. People will need to be more process-oriented to collaborate and also demonstrate empathy when working remotely.
So, with the Future of Work, workplace and workforce changing due to COVID-19, does it mean that an organizational culture cultivated over the years (sometimes decades) will undergo changes big enough to raise a question about hiring for cultural fit during this changed context?
The reality is that currently most organizations have by and large opted for a hiring freeze with the only talent for niche skills like information security getting recruited. And COVID or no COVID, whenever you hire a subject matter expert, there is a tendency to pay less attention to cultural fit with functional skill getting an overriding priority. It is also true, that current business challenges are not going to last forever. Things will improve in the next few quarters. Rural India is already showing positive signs. And no one hires only for a few quarters. Those who are being recruited and particularly on-boarded at present may take a longer time to experience the true organizational culture of the new place due to the current WFH practice.
The way employees are interacting currently is very different from the way they would interact during normal times. Informal meetings, coffee conversations are missing. Culture, which often is very evident through the way people interact, meet and collaborate is difficult to understand when working remotely. This makes it imperative for organizations to look at innovative ways of helping the new recruits to imbibe organizational culture virtually, while the employees themselves will have to be extra vigilant and sharp at picking signals during their virtual interactions, to understand what works and what does not. It is thus needless to say that they must be extremely adaptable.
To conclude, hiring for cultural fit will continue to be the focus in the times to come. However, what is likely to get more prominence are qualities such as the ability to live with ambiguity, adaptability, learnability, agility, collaboration, building relationships, trust and empathy, and a new set of competencies which are critical to succeed in this ‘new normal’.