Great People Grow On Trees: “Human” Recruitment, HR And Management

Before I dive into this, a caveat is perhaps required. I’m not an expert on these matters and I haven’t read a load of books about the topics. What I have done is experienced these things in a variety of organisations for almost a decade and a half — a qualification itself — read a range of stuff and spoke to quite a few people before writing this article.

What strikes me about the way we approach recruitment, HR and management is that it’s built based upon volume and industrial processes which are at odds with the knowledge world we now live in. It’s driven by process rather than humanity.

It’s a well known — but rarely implemented — knowledge that, after a point, monetary remuneration itself is not an adequate or motivational reward for complex tasks. If you’ve not seen Dan Pink’s fantastic RSA animated talk you should give it a watch. Does it resonate?

People need an ecosystem of support to grow, find their interest areas and prosper. To be treated humanely and feel valued to retain motivation. With a 21st Century framework for 21st Century work, great people should grow on trees, enabled and emboldened by a supportive system.

Beyond ping-pong tables, focused around getting the job done, some companies have begun to address this by offering supportive or more open frameworks. However, are we all doing enough to support and enable great people to grow in our organisations, whatever the size or industry?

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Knowing the market is not about people.

I’ve heard stories abounding about recruiters and the recruitment industry, in the UK in particular. It would be a very long post if I went through them all.

Just out of interest, for a while, I gave the same brief to every one that solicited me on LinkedIn. Not a single one of them actually listened.

As soon as I’d told my story and what I was going to do next, they universally pitched a job identical to the one I was already doing. Obviously this is because they’re incentivised to put appropriate candidates forward to increase the frequency and velocity of their commission cheques; although this knowledge only exacerbates many finding it frustrating.

It could be suggested that this is a significant point where the support structure for creating great people who are engaged, developing and motivated falls down. Who wants an employee who has been doing the same job for many years without a progression story or a drive to develop?


Some people may suggest that HR only seems to exist to process employees and benefits in a mechanical way. There, of course, is a lot of talk about employees are our most valued asset. However, how often does this convert into consistent and co-ordinated action?

Whether it’s a phone number that always goes to voicemail, a wait for a call back which doesn’t ever materialise, or a conception that the primary purpose of HR is to support managers when managing people out. Whatever the scenario it’s not a stretch to say that the image of HR in many businesses isn’t rosy.

It doesn’t make sense to focus HR activity on the bad eggs rather than the good, and potentially, great ones.

If your company needs to constantly manage people out, you’re terrible at managing and developing talent. If HR is to matter it has to come from the top and be led by a team that really believe in people and their potential.

I have no doubt there are some great companies out there, with impressive HR functions that own the lifecycle of employees; nurture, support, collaborate and inspire to provide a structure for talent to blossom.

For those that aren’t sure if this applies to them, all you need to do is talk to employees at all levels (not via Survey Monkey) and begin by offering a little help when you uncover some honest feedback.

People are individual and need to be treated as such, anything less is likely to be so broad that it will fail to deliver great employees, loyalty or motivation.


In researching this post the phrase “own your own career” came up repeatedly. It comes to mind that the only possible response to this is: “I am, that’s why we’re having this conversation.”

Often management seem to celebrate employees doing what they’re told, not creatively thinking the most effective way to approach a task. This is counter to the type of work people want to do in a knowledge economy and tramples the spirits of potentially great employees.

Managers owe a duty of care to their teams, which can be often overlooked or forgotten when the pressure to deliver is on. From experience and a range of discussions I’ve never heard the JFDI approach create environments where people consistently deliver their best.

Likewise, a lack of meaning and value in the work they do also drives down effectiveness: so obvious it hurts.

Great people are not identically engineered battery chickens, to treat them as such is negligent.

Undoubtedly it is easier said than done, which is probably why it isn’t done very often. Then again, anything worth doing should be worth doing well.

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Great People Should Grow On Trees

There are no doubt companies out there that do a great job at this. It takes a large and combined effort to improve the systems of work — to design it for people. To make it habitable and flexible enough for humans.

New and innovative companies have opportunities to avoid and overturn the mistakes of the past. There’s a huge potential benefit and competitive advantage in terms of developing people and driving motivation for any organisation.

However, it could reasonably be argued that this is not the norm. This is not only tragic but also dangerous.


Every time this pops up on LinkedIn or Twitter it makes me smile. Toxic thinking needs to be challenged & changed…

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy not to build human-centric support structures. It’s always a good investment in a person’s development, even if it’s not directly related to a current role. Support people; you’ll be surprised how many of them will step up and deliver something that surpasses expectation. Yeah, sure, they may move on for a greater challenge, but by that point you’ve likely already benefitted from the loyalty your investment inspired.

The message is consistent, and corroborated by people who feel they have the right level of support. They don’t just want to repeat the same experience or draw on the same knowledge, relentlessly, forever. People want to be trusted, valued, developed and supported. These reflect emotional human desires unsuited to grinding mechanical processes.

When it is done well, in a human way, the motivation to deliver great results and grow whilst they’re doing it is exponentially increased.

One parting recommendation — if you find yourself stuck in a broken system, do something to change it or yourself. You’ll know when it’s time when feels like everything’s fuelled by Guatemalan Insanity Peppers.

Having said all this larger forces are in play —check out Should You Start Being A Skill Hacker Today? which discusses the future of work and the role humans will play in an increasingly digitised and software driven world.


Do you agree?


PS – My Twitter profile and Medium Blog has interesting stuff that I discover and write about on a range of topics. Drop by to say hello!

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