The power of irrelevant criteria

Photo of a silver business-card holder with cards in it; the top card reads "CRITERIA What it takes to do the job."Obvious statement alert: good hiring practices are important.

All too often, though, companies just sort of seat-of-the-pants their way through the hiring process. Different hiring managers have different criteria that may have nothing to do with any candidate’s actual potential. I’ll acknowledge that my dislike of people who wear shoes without socks may have impacted a decision or two in my corporate career!

I saw a LinkedIn post last week that’s had me thinking about this. The person who posted is well-respected, successful, has a ton of followers, and usually posts interesting things that are thought-provoking in a good way. This one, though, had me and other commenters reacting in a less-than-happy way.

She was describing her no-exceptions criteria for hiring. One of them was that the candidate must make good eye contact during the interview.

I was happy to see that a number of people immediately jumped into the comments to point out that eye contact can be difficult for people who might otherwise be excellent employees. Most commenters named people with ADHD or Autism, as you might also be thinking, and that’s entirely true and worth remembering.

But there are many cultures, mostly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (and others, too, of course), where too much or overly prolonged eye contact is considered disrespectful and, in some situations, overtly sexual and flirtatious.

My guess is that the LinkedIn poster was seeking a sense of connection with the people she was interviewing, perhaps viewing eye contact as a sign of honesty, engagement, attentiveness, and so on.

But when we use criteria that aren’t relevant to someone’s actual job role, whether we’re hiring, evaluating, or considering a promotion, we run a very real risk of eliminating an individual who might be a truly excellent employee.

And we also create an environment – a company culture – that holds people to standards of behavior that they may have to “put on” – masking or code-switching in order to fit in, pretzeling themselves into what they believe their leadership wants.

This is not a culture that’s conducive to open communication, creativity, employee engagement, or, of course, successful change.

The power of irrelevant criteria is real, and it’s not a power for good.

Do you have irrelevant criteria lurking in your employee life-cycle processes that could be impacting your company culture? A solid, inclusive culture is a prerequisite for successful change initiatives. Contact me and we’ll set a time to talk about it.