Hitting reinstall on human recruitment: the senior technology leader fix

robot recruitment senior tech leader

It is an uncomfortable truth that the recruitment of senior digital business and technology leadership – those CIOs, IT directors, enterprise architects and program leaders – the ones that control the ebb and flow of the $731bn market of digital transformation, IT operations, and IT change (such as M&A transitions and integration) is a process no longer fit for purpose.

This is despite the best efforts of a LOT of people. As an industry, enterprise software and the associated areas have had wave after wave of new talent come through, and even more impetus added by the latest solutions, models and technology buzzwords.

There have been huge STEM recruitment drives. Universities have adjusted courses and added new topics.  These have – to be fair – begun to address the need for foundational capabilities. But the truth remains that actual skills and practical experience remain in short supply.

And yet, time has passed – as a discipline, digital transformation is over a decade old. This far exceeds the five years that one survey found was needed for technology talent to develop the skills and experience to put them in a position to become a CTO.

But it is still taking eons to find the right people to lead projects, whether that is someone capable of leading IT and strategy, refining and improving existing operations or overseeing radical, transformative projects.

For this problem to persist, something is systemically wrong.


Of roles and recruiters

Firstly, there needs to be a frank and honest re-assessment of how these roles are defined – and subsequently how the right people are found. There is no easy way to say this – the recruitment industry has hit the limits of its abilities for these roles. Even worse, the processes themselves, as used by recruiters, damaging the chances of finding the right person.

I don’t want to just bash recruiters – it is important to recognize a deeper level of context here. There is a history of recruitment being approached as sales-based opportunism and a market that has been focused on start-ups as opposed to enterprise organizations.

But throughout all of this, recruiters have come to depend on the technology aimed at managing high volumes of templated and entry-level roles. This technology centers on specific keywords, and role titles that are not necessarily applicable.

In short, the field has become conditioned on CV harvesting, keywords and AI filters. This has led to a commoditization of the recruitment of senior technology leaders.

This creates two challenges: firstly, the technology does not enable foresight of how a business, especially an enterprise, can develop a long-term, complex, yet agile and effective digital business operation.

Secondly, there has been a loss of the human thinking that can make intuitive links and even the occasional leap of faith that can drastically improve – or shorten – a recruitment process.

It has shifted to quantity over quality and now needs to correct. It is time for a rethink of who, and how, these people are found: or they won’t be. It is time to make humans fashionable again.


The value of instinct

To make the business of technology better, we need less technology in this situation.

We need to re-install that most human of traits – pragmatic intuition: the unique intersection of instinct and intelligence, based on expertise.  An ability to assess aptitude based on relevant, salient experience.

Of course, this must be carried out by a diverse range of people already in related roles to ensure that any successful new candidate is not chosen purely because they fit a narrow template.

So much of the success of senior technology leadership depends on not just the outcomes a leader is expected to deliver but, also, on aligning the personality of that candidate to organizational culture, the ‘fit’ of a team, and the ability to develop strong relationships. But it must also value the individuality and experience of a given person, and that takes an experienced, human brain.

Businesses need to overcome the idea that this more personal approach does not work at scale or for large organizations. It is wrong to think that human assessments of a personality and personal history (taking into account nuanced experience) can only work ‘one-to-one’ or is solely the final stage of a recruitment process.

In fact, the ‘more human’ the recruitment style for these roles, typically the less time is spent on the process, the better the quality of candidates and the more diverse the company becomes.


Redeeming recruitment consultancy

This begins with reclaiming the ‘consultancy’ in recruitment consultancy. The only way to do that is to deploy the experience of those business leaders who have actually been there and done it, when it comes to leading technology strategy and IT functions, which in turn, deliver digital transformations.

The Special Forces of the military have a great model here – at the end of all selection courses is a ‘catch all’ phase where candidates are assessed on if they fit with the existing members of the unit. It is one-part chemistry match, one-part final check.

When applied to senior management, this model de-risks recruitment. The best way to ensure the organization does not hire the wrong person – which in turn impacts effective IT management or may delay massive digital transformation plans – is to set the bar with instinct born of the experience of those who have successfully done what the candidate is being hired to do.

Hundreds of CVs whittled down to single figures because of inflexible, uninformed keywords does not do the same thing. At this level, de-risking is a qualitative exercise because a business is looking for an idiosyncratic blend of expertise and experience in one person to match one opening. And keywords are the opposite of this kind of individuality.

Unfortunately, many organizations don’t have this insight and experience internally to define this. Of course, this necessitates, almost immediately, going outside of an organization to find the people that can assess candidates in this way. We have been pulled in to source an entire team of senior, experienced architects and program managers for one client and have found a head of analytics in a week, for another client that had been searching for two months.

Elsewhere, it has become clear that enterprise architects might be a great fit for CIO and CTO roles in specific companies, or even that even bigger horizontally transferable skills could mean operational leads could transition to digital leadership.

When it comes to digital business, it is time to reclaim recruitment from the technology that has been let loose upon the desperate need for senior leadership. A grounding in profoundly human approaches that forgoes the commodity approach is now what is needed. If we – as an industry – are going to finish what we started, it is time to make humans fashionable again.