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Recruiting or Cloning? – Building The Perfect Beast


I have a number of fears. I suffer from Agoraphobia – fear of open spaces. (Not to be confused with Angoraphobia – irrational fear of expensive goats-wool sweaters.) I suffer from axiquixotyltlatamsgpixzaphobia – the fear of mispronouncing words. Most recently, I have been gripped by the debate on cloning and genetic engineering and the fears raised by that debate.

I have recently conducted an extensive and elaborate exercise with an awful lot of job descriptions (as opposed to a lot of awful job descriptions.) I sat with my colleagues and wistfully compared our practice of pulling bits of roles from here and there to build a composite role to the practice of Doctor Frankenstein. How often when looking at an almost equal group of candidates have you said something akin to “If only we had a candidate with the experience of person A and the communication skills of person B?” Hmmmm.

Is genetic engineering a good metaphor for the recruitment profession? If scientists can grow a human ear on the back of a rat, then the technology can’t be far off. A call centre operator with extra ears can only be positive for service levels. Parking wardens with thicker skin. Used (sorry pre-loved) car salesmen with a conscience.

Genetic engineering is a big worry for me. Peanut plants are very sturdy and resistant to bugs and diseases so it is very tempting to use peanut genes in other crops. I’m very allergic to nuts. If I eat them I could die. If I go out to eat, the subject of my nut allergy always comes up. If I mention it to the waiter they always look at you funny (well, funnier than waiters normally look at customers.) If I don’t mention it, I might eat nuts then die all over the table. Either way, it gets drawn to the attention of people and becomes part of the conversation. “Excuse me, I like the look of the Thai style prawn. Does it have nuts in it?” The waiter or waitress generally gives me a look at this point that says “Fussy.” Anticipating this from experience, I then respond “The reason I ask is not that I’m being fussy. It’s just that I’m allergic and I could die or at least make a scene which could make the restaurant look bad in the eyes of the other diners and will adversely affect your tip.”

The point of that story started out being about genetic engineers messing with nature and the potential for unexpected and unpleasant consequences. By the time I finished the paragraph, I got side-tracked onto waiting staff. That’s an occupation with which we are all familiar and probably one where we’ve experienced the complete spectrum of service. Why is that? It is supposed to be an entry-level role isn’t it, with basic easily learnt skills? Yet service varies wildly. Exceptionally skilled people with wonderful attitudes can be recruited until the cows come home but if they are not working in an environment that supports them, they are constrained and likely to move on. In my experience, organisations of whatever size or nature have a “way of doing things round here.” Bring in a star-clone by whatever magical recruitment methods and they encounter that “way of doing things round here.” In a restaurant they way things are done round there is the way the boss done things round there. I recently worked in a large organisation with five divisions. It was almost as if it was five different organisations who just happened to share the same corporate wardrobe. You know how sometimes owners start to look like their pets? It was like that with these divisions and their general managers. This organisation was investing time, money and commitment in a corporate-wide approach to recruitment with no parallel effort in ensuring a corporately consistent “way things are done around here.” Maybe I’m stretching the cloning metaphor but I went to a website containing the most frequently asked cloning questions. One question was about how feasible it would be to clone Russell Crowe. The scientist’s answer avoided the ethics but apparently even if they could get close enough to grab some DNA, the development of the clone is just as affected by its developmental environment as it is be the genetic factors. So the metaphor holds true, even for our recruitment clone it is the environmental factors that can mess with our star-clone recruit. Might be an idea not to look at recruitment in isolation, but as part of an ongoing process including job design, orientation, performance management etc. (Actually, I can’t imagine it being a problem getting Russell’s DNA. More of a problem avoiding it.)

Even if it were possible, ethical and desirable, I’m still not keen on being cloned personally. German mythology has the doppelganger. They reckon everyone has someone who is their exact duplicate and when you meet them, you die. How could you avoid your doppelganger? If you weren’t of Chinese descent and went to live in China, you could safely socialise with a billion and a half people. Of course there was that Seven Years In Tibet movie where Brad Pitt played a German living in Tibet which is now under Chinese rule, so I suppose there is a small risk, if you are the exact likeness of Brad Pitt. In this case, my advice is to take your chances and place a call to Jennifer Aniston this very minute.

Genetic engineering seems like a great idea at first. Like my idea for a combination coffee thermos and cellphone. It seems like a great idea until the first solicitor’s letter arrives…


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