How to Survive VUCA in Talent Acquisition: The Power of Antifragility

Antifragile, a word coined by Nassim Taleb in his book “Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder,” is the opposite of fragile, but much more powerful than resilience or robustness. Resilient things and systems reject change and survive. Fragile systems break when stressed. Glass, for example, is fragile because it breaks when dropped. Trees break when a strong wind blows.
Systems and processes such as bureaucracies are also fragile and tend to fail catastrophically when stressed too much. They lack the ability to learn and grow from their stresses.
All our recruiting processes are fragile and increasingly when we ask them to do something outside the traditional, they fail to deliver. We call hard to find candidates Purple Squirrels, not because they are necessarily hard to find, but because they don’t fit our traditional patterns: We have no idea who to look for, where they might be, or how to find them.
[bctt tweet=”Our recruiting processes are fragile and increasingly unreliable, according to Kevin Wheeler”]
On the other hard, if we reengineered our recruiting systems to be antifragile systems, this might change. Antifragile systems embrace change and grow stronger when there is ambiguity and uncertainty. Technology tends to be antifragile as it is built by risk takers who often make numerous attempts to solve a problem and often end up solving a completely different one, but one that matters. Trial and error and experimentation are ways to build antifragile systems.
What is Vuca-Talent acquisition needs new ideas, new methods and needs to be far more agile than it is today. Our old assumptions about talent, hiring, employment and even the meaning of work are
uncertain and changing.
As more people enter the gig economy, recruiters are challenged with vagueness and uncertainty. Can/should recruiters recruit contingent workers? What defines a regular employee versus a contingent worker? Should corporate recruiters focus only on regular employees who are willing to sign up for the normal employee package? Who negotiates the deal? Who makes these decisions?
The future of talent acquisition will be determined by how we respond to these volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) times. If we respond by resisting the changes, we will fail. The only way to thrive is to become antifragile and learn, adapt, grow and become something new.
So what is this new talent acquisition function? What will it look like?
This is for us to figure out over the next few years, but let me throw out a few wild and perhaps frightening ideas….

1. We need to challenge all our basic assumptions. Here are a few that might be outmoded or just wrong:


  • Education and experience are good predictors of success;
  • Every job requires basic competency in the work area. For example anyone working in finance should have some sort of financial education/experience;
  • Job interviews are necessary and are a good way to see if candidates are qualified for a particular position;
  • Corporate culture fit is critical to success.


2. We should embrace randomness and disorder

While big data and analytics are all the rage, maybe we focus too much on trying to predict and understand people who are inherently non-rational. Can we really predict success using formulas and algorithms? What would happen if we just picked someone from a random search to interview? What if we randomly choose a candidate from the ones we had initially screened and then offered them the job?

3. We must build and leverage technology

Technology is inherently antifragile when and if it’s code writers learn from failures and continuously adapt and improve it. We need to embrace and leverage relevant technology to replace as much of the routine as possible. We need to use tools for sourcing, screening, assessing, tracking, engaging with, and onboarding talent.

4. And we must be critical of our profession

Recruiting is really just a bunch of practices that have worked reasonably well for decades, but are now showing signs of failure. We are slow to find and hire candidates.
Recent surveys show time to fill has significantly increased. This is partly because our systems don’t work. Our assessments are weak to useless. Turnover is high. Closing takes longer because we don’t have good methods or systems for dealing with top talent. We jump on trends such as culture fit or referrals because they seem to have some short-term success, but no one knows if they really matter. We are trying to apply analytics to what we do, but we are dealing with irrational and unpredictable people and perhaps analytics will prove to be useless.
[bctt tweet=”Kevin Wheeler – The only way to thrive in the talent management space is to become antifragile”]
The next few years – perhaps five at the most – will sort out the antifragile recruiters and recruiting systems. Those in that group will be the one who are not afraid to fail.
They will be the trailblazers who suffer lots of stress but also who learn and grow.
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