Lucy Standing is a chartered business psychologist and vice chair of the Association for Business Psychology. She is the founder of ViewVo, a shadowing service that connects those who want to learn what it's like to do a job with experts in that field.
Agnes Uhereczky: What is it that gets you up in the morning? What is your passion?
Lucy Standing: I have always been fascinated by people. I also love working with people. That’s definitely what gets me up in the day. Employers can get away with a lot with me. If I have got a great team around me. I do a lot of my work with The Association for Business Psychology (ABP) which I do voluntarily simply because I am very passionate about the journey of making psychology more available for everybody. I am also really passionate about good practice because I see a lot of bad practice in the HR world. Therefore, for me, it is important that if ever I am involved with sharing content people understand what it is that they can do more effectively in their organisations. The things that work are actually based on science, research and evidence, as opposed to bad practices that are often only trying to sell content using extraordinary claims. So, I have always been passionate about this world.
Agnes Uhereczky: Why do you think there are so many people in jobs that are not for them?
Lucy Standing: It is a combination of a range of different things. But, if we start at the beginning at no point in any of our education are we ever really that informed about how the skills we learn at school actually translate to the world of work. If I think about my education I studied a range of subjects that I have literally never ever used or applied in any way, shape or form in the real world. When you leave school and university you are remarkably ill-equipped to understand how anything that we learned really translates to the world of work. So the reality for most people is then to start to go down their career journey without having any real idea about the world of work. You probably go for something that is convenient, that might be quite local. A large number of time it is probably something that your parents have strongly influenced you to do.
Then, you have the other combination in terms of which other organisation the ones who actually even going to say ‘yes’ to your application. So, you start going down a road without really questioning it, without necessarily thinking about it.
Another influencing element is our behaviour which is very much dictated by the social norms around us. If I live in an area amongst a social group of people and the norm is that everyone hates their job, everyone just goes along that this is something that they have to go get through, then to a degree, it becomes my expectation as well. A lot of the time I think expectations are not necessarily something that we really enjoy.
Agnes Uhereczky: You mentioned something in your presentation, which I heard in London at the Work 2.0 conference, where we actually came across each other, about ownership over one's career. What is your take? Have we given up so much from our ownership to our employers to whoever going to have us?
Lucy Standing: Yes, you are right, and I think a lot of that is partly we give that ownership up. But it is also because that is perpetuated a lot of the time by the employer. So if you think about, if we start from the position of recruitment you, as the employee, are ultimately the person who decides whether or not that job is right for you. However, the recruitment approach is very much one where the employer considers that they are the best person to make that decision. So, they will be the one to offer you a job, yes or no. Now, if you get offered that job you very much the person who has the power because you may be not as engaged in the job because it will be not entirely right for you. Maybe you leave three months later or one year later. Maybe you take plenty of sick leave. The reality is that the employee actually has a lot more power in terms of recruitment interaction but it is very much the case that the employer doesn’t give that employee the opportunity to make a better and more informed decision. Half the time an employee doesn’t even know what an employer is asking for. It is quite condescending, it is secretive they don’t really tell you what questions are they asking in advance. They are not necessarily telling you exactly what is it that they are looking for. You’ll be lucky if any of the time you got feedback on why you haven’t got that job.
It very much felt as though the hands are played from one angle and not from the other. And, it is perpetuated. So, when somebody actually joins an organisation the employee usually takes the angle of ‘this is the training and development you need’ and ‘these are the things you are allowed to learn’. If you were to come and say and propose individual learning paths, half the time the employer would not accept that. A lot of the time this sense of ownership is very much perpetuated by the employer, giving the impression that you don’t have ownership of any of it. For example, they invest in a pension for you, indicate when and how you can have a holiday, how you need to be in the office, how much time you need to be there, how present you need to be. It is very often the things that are measured not necessarily the things that generate higher performance.
Agnes Uhereczky: What are then the consequences for organisations and for the individuals if they are in such mismatched situations?
Lucy Standing: The reality is that these things are really hard to quantify in the same way like if I was to say ‘I really love my children’. It is hard for me to put on a scale how much I do love them. To a degree, a lot of what we are talking about in this field is very difficult to measure. However, if we were to look at it from the point of view of what is the absolute worst case scenario, like someone being in a job he or she absolutely hates, which could result, for example, complete breaches, having no integrity in the job, trading pension funds or bankrupting businesses. But, the reality is most of the time the mismatch is probably just a case of an opportunity cost. Very often is not what’s necessarily bad, it is what better that has been missed, that you have gone someone who seemed like an okay fit in the interview, but actually isn’t really the right person for that job at all.
Agnes Uhereczky: You wrote a White Paper about interviews and CVs which I think is a really fascinating subject. It is a common fact that 99% of recruitment is still done based on job descriptions, qualifications, CVs, and interviews. You are very adamant about saying that this doesn’t work, also employers are not measuring whether this works or not. Tell us a little bit about this?
Lucy Standing: Just in the UK alone, 76% of employers go down the route of asking for a CV or application form. Then they do an interview based on that CV or application form. If you are going to evaluate of how many of these people are actually doing any kind of real evaluation to whether or not that works, the only evaluation they will do typically is one of how quick is that process. So, how fast is the time to hire, and how much is that costing them? Looking at whether or not the people who may score higher on an interview actually score higher in the job or producing more in the job several years down the line is such a basic thing to be able to do but it is not something that anyone is typically doing. It is done in the academic world and the results of these are shared publicly, this is no secret. But if you do analyze that kind of research and look at the pre then the post-interview scores, so their performance several years down the line, an interview does an incredibly poor job of producing who is going to do well in the future.
This becomes a very kind of self-fulfilling prophecy where people believe they know what they are looking for and they tend to hire in their own image. It is an incredibly bad process.
When I used to work for investment banking, for example, I used to face the constant, I guess, ego of managing directors about their ability to spot an investment banker the minute they walked in through the door. And, the reality is they couldn’t. What they could spot was someone probably a white male, confident and well dressed. Because this becomes a very kind of self-fulfilling prophecy where people believe they know what they are looking for and they tend to hire in their own image. It is an incredibly bad process.
Agnes Uhereczky: You have founded a start-up, ViewVo, which is about job shadowing for recruitment purposes for people wanting to change careers, for women who are returning from a career break etc. How did this come about? How does this work?
Lucy Standing: If we look at how recruitment decisions are made, too often the power position is with the employer where is by giving the employee an opportunity to experience something first you are giving them a much better opportunity to self-select themselves into the job, which is really the element that completely missing at the moment from many recruitment processes. If I think about how I integrate this into the platform it is simply a case of I go out and I contact people who are brilliant in their job. People who got an incredible reputation for the areas they work in. Anything from being an architect, from being a book author, through to being a coffee shop owner. The key is that these are the people who understand that they need to be supportive towards people. Let’s say someone is considering to become an architect he or she can go and spend three half days with a firm of architects, doing everything from working on site to working in the office. By the time you experience these sorts of key elements of the job, you can start to make more informed choices whether or not that’s right for you. What I am finding is about 35% of the time somebody does that job for a day leaves thinking ‘thank God I don’t do that job’.
Agnes Uhereczky: If I could ask you an advice that would be for you the top priority leaders and CEOs need to focus on, or change right now, what would be your message?
Lucy Standing: I would definitely ask them to consider what skills they are hiring for in their HR department because I do think that how a company performs is very essentially tied up with the people that work in that business. I do believe that at the moment the HR skills base is lacking the huge amount of the evidence-based approach that I would like to see more people using. I am often disheartened when I go to conferences or when I am speaking to people about the questions that get asked. Very often what drives someone in an HR function is based on the consideration of what other companies are using this or that services or what are the potential costs.