SO YOU THINK YOU KNOW HOW TO RUN A COMPANY
The latest issue of Canadian Business claims that "more and more companies are turning to organizational psychologists to warn them if they're about to put a time bomb in the C-suite."
I read the article with the same annoyed cynicism with which I once greeted a phone call from the Toronto Sun's human relations department when I hired someone without even thinking to call them.
After all, I had survived decades in Toronto journalism and had hired arrogant columnists, swashbuckling photographers, faithful secretaries, humble copy boys and all the other cogs of a newspaper without ever calling HR.
Since there were 1,200 employees at the old Tely, I suppose someone must have used HR, but no one editing and producing for the paper would confess to such a weakness.
Then, as the legend goes, the Tely was sold out from under us and 62 survivors started the Sun which first appeared Nov. 1, 1971. All of us did several jobs. A second pen was considered a luxury. Heck, Paul Rimstead and I were the first two columnists in the paper and we had to share a desk and typewriter.
There certainly wasn't an HR department. For many years. Then we got a clutch of these twits and managed to limp through various corporate metamorphoses into the country's largest news chain.
So there you have my militant skepticism. When it comes to hiring people for unorthodox jobs like news photography, feature writing and editing, the best people to do the hiring don't reside in any HR department with a psychologist on retainer but are veterans who can do the job themselves.
I'm a fan of Malcolm Gladwell's second book, Blink, which stresses how rapidly we make up our mind on whether we like a person. Of course I would examine the applicant's clippings or photographs, and give a tough scrutiny to the curriculum vitae and recitation of job history, but I know whether I really wanted to hire the person within a minute.
But let's forget about intuition and a sixth sense and gut feeling and return to the November issue of this magazine and the article written by Joanna Pachner. It concerns not the hiring of the foot soldiers who run every company but picking someone to get the limo and the executive secretaries and the big bucks at the top for maybe five years.
I submit, however, that the best people to hire a boss are those who have been bosses. That's the value of a real board of directors that isn't just composed of chums, rich farts and a few directors who look good in the annual report.
I took several years of psychology courses at university and was left with the gut feeling that some stranger mouthing the gobbledegook of psychiatry can be as insightful as the drunk on the next bar stool.
The good angle adopted by Pachner was to see if she herself had what it takes to become a Chief Executive Officer. And so we entered the twilight world of leadership evaluation where CEO candidates are interviewed and take psychometric tests conducted by industrial-organizational psychologists "to gauge candidates' behavioural, cognitive and personality traits."
The writer introduces us to some assured individuals, such as Pamela Ennis who volunteers that on the "one-on-one stuff, I'm considered to be hands-down the best in the business."
It helps to be as confident and even brassy as anyone who applies to run a sprawling conglomerate. After reading a few paragraphs about her, I was reminded of a friend who once wrote a column for me who was the most arrogant man I have ever met. Oh yes, he was a psychiatrist who was condescending about psychologist since they hadn't made it to doctor.
I'm sure Ennis is a polished performer who provides a wide range of services for, as she says, "many of Canada's largest private and public organizations." Bits of her biog are given before she ended up in her own practice "because I like to be in control of my outcomes."
Early in her career, she worked at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto where we're told "she helped develop Ontario's Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere" program before she was drawn to the application of psychology in management.
Now that certainly stands out. RIDE affects everyone, even if the figures now show that very few drivers are "caught" considering all the tens of thousands of vehicles that are stopped. Road deaths are down, especially in Ontario which has one of the best such records in North America.
That's why in 1977 I moved the original motion for the Metro Citizens' Safety Council to pay several hundred dollars for special roof signs for two cruisers for a pilot project called Reduce Impaired Driving in Etobicoke.
Obviously the Toronto police with its giant budget could have paid for the signs, but the chief, through the two constables who worked with the volunteer safety council funded mainly by Metro council, wanted support from a citizens' body because stopping cars randomly not only would be controversial, it would be challenged legally.
The cops and council considered the test to be a success, so we did it again just in Etobicoke. And then it spread to all of Toronto and Ontario and became Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere.
When the legal challenge went all the way to our top court, it was decided in 1985 that RIDE didn't violate the Charter providing police didn't use the spot check as an excuse for a fishing expedition. I had made that argument in 1977, arguing the only justification was to catch drunks who could be deadly. It's the reason there was general support in the media although there were a few tough critics.
John Legge, a lawyer from the Legge family, famous in legal, military and safety circles, called me the godfather of RIDE in a speech. I even think one of my dozen writing awards from the police and the Ontario Safety League was for my RIDE sponsorship at a difficult time.
Now I'm told that the addiction centre and a woman I've never heard of did it all. I guess the moral of the story is that no matter how supposedly sophisticated you get in grilling job applicants, it's really not a bad idea to double-check the claims in the CV first.