Recruitment dilemma: current demands vs. future risks

As an HR professional, you may be placed in the difficult position of mediating the demands of a line manager versus the demands of your recruitment strategy. There may be a situation in which there are vacancies that need to be filled urgently, yet the qualities of your candidates do not meet your strategic requirements. As another example, a manager may put pressure on you to hire someone NOW, even though they don’t perform well on the psychometric tests. We’ve offered some advice on how to approach situations like these, from an internal recruitment perspective.

Weigh current needs against future risks

How do current selection choices affect the future of your organisation?

It’s very important to remember that the priorities of a line manager or specific department do not always speak to the interests of the organisation as a whole. Different needs to be weighed according to the overall big picture, and prioritised accordingly.

This extends to a strategic need to employ people that can grow with your organisation, and not only people to fill an immediate gap. Top-level management ultimately want to have staff on board that possess the potential, talent and skills to continue to strengthen the company’s future market position. This links back to a need for a clear recruitment strategy, and a dilemma in cases where you need to make quick decisions.

A practical example

At Organisation A, a clear recruitment strategy has been implemented that requires all job applicants to complete online assessments. Candidates are required to score above a minimum cut-off point in order to move on to the next round of interviews.

However, Manager B has an immediate need for more staff to assist with delivery on a key project. He has found a candidate that he puts forward with a note about how urgently he requires this individual to come on board. However, the applicant performs very poorly on the online assessments, and the results show a behavioural mismatch to the requirements of the job role.

Logically, the proposed candidate should not be hired, as he/she does not comply with the policy requirements of the recruitment strategy. However, the line manager is an internal customer of HR, and a short-term solution is necessary for the project to remain profitable. How can you reconcile these two apparently contradictory situations?

Option 1) Policy is policy and the rules can’t be broken. However, this does not take into account pragmatic business needs in the short-term and could lead to nonperformance or even profit losses, if the actual delivery of work is affected.

Option 2) Let’s appoint the candidate temporarily. This option could work for the occasional situation, but an entire team or organisation made up of temporary/contract workers leads to a shakier strategic position, as institutional knowledge is not growing and succession planning is stalled.

Option 3) Hire the candidate on a permanent basis and make Manager B happy. The danger here is that focusing on a short term solution could have a negative effect on the long term competitive need to recruit and retain top talent. Does the new employee perform in the current role adequately? How about in 2-3 years time? Will you be able to grow this individual effectively?

Option 4) Another possible approach is to assess the Learning Agility of the new employee.

What is Learning Agility?

It is the ability to rapidly develop new effective behaviour, based on new experiences, and then to successfully adopt this behaviour in practice. People with a high score on Learning Agility are more open to learning from new situations than people with a low score on Learning Agility. High scorers are constantly looking for new challenges, seek feedback in order to learn, recognise patterns in unfamiliar situations and effectively involve others, in order to give meaning and understanding to experiences.

Whereas many assessments measure job applicants in comparison to the current role (current potential), Learning Agility looks at how they will be able to grow with the organisation (future potential). Today’s performance is certainly no guarantee for future performance in modern, competitive organisations. Those who are more open to learning, experiment more and are able to quickly make complex connections, will make the difference for those organisations with rapidly changing landscapes.

An illustration of Learning Agility in practice

Manager B communicates the required competencies for an existing role. Two candidates are tested for this job (see Candidate 1 and Candidate 2 in figure 1).


Candidate 1 has higher scores on the competencies required to perform the job now (current potential), and has a slightly lower Learning Agility score of 4.0 (future potential). Candidate 2 scores slightly lower on the competencies expected now (current potential) and has a high Learning Agility score of 7.0 (future potential).

At first glance it seems obvious. Candidate 1 scores better than Candidate 2, so Candidate 1 is the best choice for the role. But take note: current performance does not guarantee performance in the future, because organisation A is changing quickly. There are likely to be different job requirements, as well as different jobs and roles in the near future. With this in mind, the manager’s job requirements will not remain constant (see dotted line in figure 1), but will change over time.




Figure 2 shows how the manager’s expectations are likely to increase over time. Because Candidate 1 has a lower Learning Agility score, it will cost him more effort to meet these new requirements. Of course he will learn, but more slowly than Candidate 2, who has a higher Learning Agility score. In figure 2, there is a point in time where Candidate 2’s development surpasses Candidate 1, and the former becomes the better candidate for the future of the organisation.

Using Learning Agility to solve recruitment dilemmas

The above figures clearly illustrate (albeit in an exaggerated fashion) the effect of current potential vs. future potential. These are both crucial to consider when hiring new employees. In this example, HR should explain to Manager B why he would be better off hiring Candidate 2.
While Candidate 1 may be more effective in the short-term, in the long term Candidate 2 will be much more useful, even in subsequent projects that might require different qualities and skills from the candidate.

Why? Because of the higher Learning Agility score – showing that Candidate 2 is more able to be a flexible employee within a flexible, constantly changing organisation.