On Creating (not Predicting) the Future

The future can be found all around us…just, as they say, not very well distributed.

“Wait one!”, you say (or 10) and, “it will be here!”

The trick, always, is to point to an anecdote, story, data point, or just a glimmer of an unintended consequence as the beginning of an unstoppable trend. Guess right and you’ll have forever a Bellwether of things to come that you spied before others. Guess wrong and well…you’ll likely never mention it again.

Predictions are easy and entertaining and this is certainly the time of year for it.

The paradox is there are futures we wish would come about but would never ‘predict’ publicly for fear of being ‘pshawed’ to death.

The obvious difficulty with boldly declaring an alternative future you prefer i.e. end of hunger, eradication of a disease, etc. is it sets you up to actually have to do something about it and unless you are Gates or Elon Musk that’s usually the death of it. After all, there are plenty other daily priorities to making a living before you can attack your own particular windmill.

Still, life isn’t always about solving a problem with an easy solution. Sometimes it’s a predicament we just know has no easy solution but since we cope with it so poorly, we just know we could do it better if only... (Many thanks to John Sumser for sharing a book I’ve been looking for all my adult life and never knew existed- Management of the Absurd by Richard Farson. I was inspired to write this post after reading Chapter 6.)

Here is one TA predicament we could manage better:

A special case of diversity recruiting: disability

First, a quick story. I know/knew next to nothing about recruiting people with disabilities and about 15 years ago, while still doing consulting gigs, my first business partner, Mark Mehler, and I had an interesting opportunity to go and study a ‘problem’ presented by Rochester Institute’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). Young men and women from throughout the US, 2000 strong, profoundly deaf, getting their AA and BS degrees (about 500 a year) in technical areas including engineering and science. Strangely (or not) few (very few) firms bothered to target, interview and hire at RIT’s NTID and so, IBM gave NTID some money to figure out why. They picked us and we spent some serious time interviewing students, teachers, employers etc.

Yes, it was a cool report (another story) but I want to make a different point. It wasn’t a problem. Problems have solutions. It was a predicament that NTID faced which required (still requires) a deeper change- mostly in how our society behaves around people with disabilities interested in working for us and, to a smaller degree how people with disability behave in that process. More to the point it centered around Hiring Managers and Recruiters too embarrassed or stressed to even include someone who was disabled among their ‘qualified’ prospects and Candidates who, in this case, had spent so little time with people-who-hear that their communication skills were not fully developed.

We wrote an article that was published in the Wall Street Journal that year and received many emails. One email was from a recent graduate that went something like this (paraphrased): “

“Hi. Saw your article. Have a question. I graduated 2nd in my class last year from NTID with a BS in Computer Science. I’ve applied for dozens and dozens of entry-level positions over the last 9 months since I graduated and received a lot of interest. The interest typically dries up at the point where they want to chat on the phone and I need to ask them to use a TTY device. Three weeks ago however, a window popped up while I was reading a developer job ad on a Chicago software firm's career site. It was a recruiter noting my online behavior and wondering if I wanted to chat or, had any questions about the job. We chatted. After half an hour, he said I was a perfect candidate but, I needed to take some tests. He supplied a link. I took the tests. We chatted via text several more times and I just got an offer. I start next Monday. My question is, ‘When should I tell them I’m deaf?’ ”

We know deep down that the solution isn’t more accommodation nor training (at least not initially) or even compliance (as in legislation passed two years ago requiring many firms to hire people with disabilities). This goes beyond compliance. I once predicted that candidates with disabilities would themselves become more assertive as a group e.g. like the focus on gender parity lately. Pretty naive on my part.

We also know there have been some extraordinary examples cited of companies taking on disability recruiting proactively in the last decade. Northrup Grumman’s program assessing wounded warriors and SAP’s focus on Autism are iconic and inspirational case studies. Several firms have begun similar programs as a result. Just not many. Not that fast. Company participation in the Special Olympics would be another example (particularly if it leads to permanent hires although I’m not aware of any specific firms’ results).

For me what is missing are enough ‘models’ that expand the range of conditions, place value on the results and stimulate broad distribution- case studies of employers proactively reaching out to people with disabilities and the skills, knowledge and experience to fill positions. Firms who take on adjusting their culture to fit their values. Firms who then show rising engagement scores, positive performance metrics and other business results to support their contention that doing good produces an environment that encourages a positive performance cycle at all levels. If we arm enough TA Leaders with ideas that stimulate action who knows.

Over the last decade I’ve shared the notion that if we could identify just 20 different proactive examples of employers with TA practices that specifically focus on reaching out to  a diverse population of people with disabilities and the skills (or willingness to train) to fill professional/apprentice openings we can move the needle forward.

Beyond employers committed to wounded warriors and autism, I can name only 5.

Who can you add to get us to 20?

The plan then is to find a venue, bring them all together, video their recruiting ‘practices’ and their results and make it available to inspire others to develop their own. That is the easy part. The hard part is finding the folks still cutting the trees down in the forest.

Predicting that 2018 will be the year that recruiting people with disability is more than a bit over the top. But, I do know the only way to solve a 'predicament' is to take a step to change the future not predict it.

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Gerry Crispin
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Gerry co-authored eight books on the evolution of staffing and has written 100s of articles and whitepapers on similar topics during a career in Human Resources that spans more than 40 years from HR leadership positions at Johnson and Johnson; to boutique Executive Search firms; a Career Services Director at the University where he received his Engineering and 2 advanced degrees in Organizational/Industrial Behavior; and, GM of a major recruitment advertising firm even as he launched CareerXroads 20 years ago.

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On Creating (not Predicting) the Future

by Gerry Crispin time to read: 5 min