Darwinian Devolution

Admit it, you know Charles Darwin would have liked resumes. I also think he would have had strong opinions on HR technology and innovation, had he engaged that discipline with the patient, empirical observations that led to his other ground-breaking insights.

So let’s talk evolution adaptation, survival or, in modern kitschy business parlance, “innovation.” In May we held our HRO Today Forum, which featured considerable content on demographic issues in the workplace. Day One keynote speaker—John Murabito, executive vice president and chief HR officer of Cigna Corporation—addressed this issue of communicating with different generations in the workforce. The following morning Professor Peter Capelli of the Wharton School addressed the deep demographic issues affecting how hiring has evolved and is continuing to evolve.
The concept of hiring itself is changing. It is predicted that the millennial generation will hold between 10 and 14 jobs . . . by the age of 38. The line between permanent and contingent labor in the workforce is blurring.
We also talked about the resume. I have heard about the “death of the resume” for more than 15 years. The modern resume format is only about 40 years old anyway, but it is an adaptation that has survived because it is quick to review and fairly explanatory. The most pressing threat is brevity, as covering 14 jobs in a page or two is difficult, hence the prediction that all career-based information is going to be on LinkedIn or Facebook.
I am not sure. The reason I think Charles Darwin would have liked resumes is that they successfully have winnowed out, and continue to winnow out, unworthy people from jobs. (Sounds negative, doesn’t it?) They have a bit more detail than online profiles, and they are also an excellent reflection of judgment. They insure the strong get hired and the weak, well, don’t.
To tell the truth, everyone reading this column can remember a time when someone showed them a resume and said something like, “Can you believe they put this on their resume?” The accompanying tone would have been one of shock, amusement, or befuddled incredulity (more than occasionally followed by an outburst of uncontrollable laughter).
Every career coach has a file of bad resumes that they use as examples of “what not to do on a resume.”
Resumes have served a Darwinian purpose that I am not yet sure an online profile will provide. I concede that the format of resumes will change and that they might evolve, but I do not believe they are on the verge of vanishing. In fact, I would argue that online profiles are only a technological evolution of the format.
Technological evolution was also at the forefront of the HRO Today Forum and the HR Demo Show. In this issue (see page 34), we unveil our first HRO Today Innovation Gap Survey, showing the disparate views of HR software innovations held by providers of HR software, on the one hand, and the HR leaders and executives who use HR software, on the other.
Now, going back to evolution, we need to remember that the species Tyrannosaurus rex was the peak of evolutionary achievement—for the raptors of its day. None, however, attended the HR Demo Show, due to that nasty extinction problem.
We all know the theories: an asteroid, climate change, volcanic eruptions, disease. It does not matter how it happened, things changed, the Cretaceous Period ended, and T. rex did not change fast enough. Darwin would tell you in The Origin of Species that whatever might have made the beasts great originally could well have become a liability later.
Evolution is not only about forward; it is also about nimble. When the world changes, you must adapt, or the world (in this case, the business world), becomes a hard place to survive.
So here’s some adaptation ammunition. The findings of our HRO Today Innovation Gap Survey were clear. Much of what software providers felt was “innovative” was deemed by users to be “gadgets.” And not by a few. In fact, of HRMS users, 48 percent felt the innovations were gadgetry. Half.
That does not represent provider response and adaptation to the market. This kind of survey result is headed down the path of an evolutionary “faux pas.” Providers might plausibly argue that practitioners don’t understand how evolved the tech solutions at issue are. Well, the dodo bird was the most highly evolved version of its species as well. Seen one lately?
Back to resumes. What users want is simplicity and ease of use. That is why resumes will not vanish into the archaeological document archive. They are simple, easy to use, and serve their purpose.
So, what do HR leaders want from HR technology products? They want to push a button and have something happen—and for it to complete a task or provide ready access to information. The quality of the graphical user interface is only part of the user experience, but that is a lot of what is touted today as “innovation.”
Customizable avatars? Really? Does that improve the quality of HR services? Not if you listen to the market.
The data from the HRO Today Innovation Gap Survey was so powerful it even changed the way that we approached the HRO Today Tektonic Awards for Innovation (see page 42 for winners). We focused on applications that received positive feedback for innovation in usability, mobile platform availability (in Asia, 50 percent of the population that accesses the web does so mainly from a mobile device), and innovation in the approach to the practice of HR itself.
Back to Darwin. His insight taught science that change is constant, that mutation occurs constantly and in every generation. And, some mutations go on to be incredibly successful in species. The analog in business technology can be seen in a variety of different examples, but the same positive force has the opposing truth—which is that some mutations are incredible failures that lead to extinction. The annual Neanderthal reunion had a problem getting attendees, even though they promised dodo bird flambé as the main course and a dancing T. rex as entertainment.
My concern, given the sweeping nature of the response and seeming dissatisfaction with HR technology as seen in the HRO Today Innovation Gap Survey, is that many of the evolutions are not being perceived as advances. To get technology and the practice of HR to better align, we need more “real HR” practitioners in the loop. In fact, 74 percent of HR practitioners felt that they were not consulted on the development path of their providers, in spite of what, I am sure, were multiple invitations to user councils and lavish conferences. The communication strategies are not working and, perhaps, the software providers need more hands-on, former HR executives hired into their development teams to help shape vision.
As we look to the future, remember that it is always already here—and, no matter what we do, more of it is coming before we are ready.
We need to be thinking actively about which hiring practices, demographic realities, regulatory environments, and social forces are shaping our workforces and our lives. Against that backdrop, we need the HR tools and technologies to stay on pace with the change and adapt as fast—or, at least, nearly as fast—as the need does.
Do you believe that they are? We want to hear your answer, whether it is yes, no, or “you’re asking the wrong question.”
Send an email to, and use “Evolution of HR” in the subject line. We are interested in your thoughts on vision of the workforce, technology, and the practice of HR. We will start reporting on the responses next month.

Tags: Consultants & Advisors, HRO Today Global, Professional Contribution

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