I admit to being confused yesterday reading an article in the Financial Post where lawyer Howard Levitt cautions employers against hiring smart, creative, and passionate employees, the doers of our up and coming generation. Surely applicants who have demonstrated their creativity by using limited resources to action their vision of a better world have much to offer employers. On reflection, I don’t think this is exactly how Levitt put it. In fact, I think he called them the “coddled” class engaged in “self-indulgent behaviour.”
Levitt is concerned that some university students on campuses across the United States and in Canada are standing up for safer campuses and greater access to higher education. Again, I must apologize for misrepresenting his words. They’re not “standing up” against these perceived injustices. Rather, he’s says that they’re “acting out,” engaging in occasional “violent and distasteful” acts resembling “mob scenes.”
That last dig was in response to the overwhelming peaceful nature of the Printemps Erable protests in Quebec, initially over tuition fee hikes and subsequently over the draconian Bill 78 banning lawful assembly. Protesters marched the streets banging pots and pans using a tactic known as “casseroles.” This tactic has historical roots in Latin America and is used around the world because it promotes inclusivity, allowing anyone to participate from their own homes near protest sites without fear of repercussion. In other words: how self-indulgent!
Supporters across Quebec, Canada, and around world wore red squares on their lapels in solidarity. I can’t imagine how a marketing firm might benefit from hiring an employee with experience in creating and promoting a viral symbol.
As a reaction to this piece, I would offer my own advice to employers.
Conduct a careful vetting: Know whether potential employees have a strong moral ethic, have experience in trying to make their communities better places, can demonstrate an ability to think critically, and can creatively and effectively use the tools available to them to meet their goals. If your vetting indicates any of the above, hire the candidate. It is not prudent to hire drones without vision or the ability to problem solve independently. Vetting should also screen out candidates who may contribute to a toxic workplace with a history of posting sexist, racist, and homophobic comments online.
Put in place expectations of outcomes: Running a business means getting results. Clearly communicate to your employees their tasks and desired outcomes. This is good business practice and prevents employers from dwelling on the minutia of the past.
Encourage outside the box thinking: This cliché is really about creativity. Make a space for your employees to excel at meeting the organization’s goals. Problem solving is about creativity and experimentation much more than robotic behaviour.
Don’t hesitate to reward creative thinking: Motivate your staff by rewarding their successes.
When I first read the FP’s article, I was on a bus heading home after teaching a fourth year seminar on activism at Carleton University. I had just left a group of the most creative, energetic, and civic minded individuals engaged in smart, critical, and problem solving conversations over a three-hour class. This is the third term where I’ve had the privilege of teaching this course and every time I am astounded by the positive correlation I see between civic-mindedness and marketable skills development. I can’t imagine anyone suggesting that an employer not hire them.
Reading the article in this context, my confusion led to laughing out loud and I admit to receiving a few (a lot of) bizarre stares as I chuckled at my iPhone on the bus at 9PM.
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