Thursday, September 27, 2007

Basis for Selection

Years ago, I saw this sentence at the bottom of an employment ad:

We discriminate solely on the basis of merit.

I've always liked that line. It encapsulates what the employment process should be all about and yet I wonder if any employer can honestly say it. This is in no way meant to excuse the "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" old boy (and old girl) selections that you see in many firms, but is merit always the key factor?

Consider this scenario: There are two top candidates for a position. One is a person you know; an employee who is not a brilliant performer but who is far above average, dependable, and well-liked. The other is an outsider who outscores the internal candidate on all objective criteria. The outsider seems nice enough and the references say nice things.

Barring some crisis that may favor selecting new blood, which one do you select?

My guess is that in most cases you'd pick the internal candidate. Is your pick based on merit or is it because:
  • You want a known commodity;

  • The outsider poses some risk;

  • There is little danger of criticism if you select the internal candidate; and/or

  • You can cite upward mobility as an added benefit?

Perhaps rather than claiming selections are based on merit, we should state that "The criterion for all selections is the good of the organization."

That may be vague but at least it is far more honest.


Anonymous said...

I'm sure I would pick the internal candidate, especially if that candidate is "far above average." It's an attempt to avoid the "grass-is-always-greener" error. My internal candidate is a know quantity in terms of fit with colleagues and with the culture. The outsider is not. The insider already knows the important stuff. The outsider will have a learning curve to climb.

Culture-fit, organizational knowledge, and relationships are qualifications. There is no "absolute" merit, only merit for a specific situation at a specific time. That's why the final criterion you suggest is right on target. Make the best choice for the organization.

Michael Wade said...


Interesting comment. There is a point at which added merit/quality has less and less impact. At what point is a pretty good car better than a luxury car?