More than half of our work comes from people we let go…


Didier Marlier

June 10, 2016

From Disruption to Engagement

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A few days ago, I saw a Brazilian head hunter writing on her LinkedIn page: “I don’t really mind to receive so many CV’s every day… I don’t mind the time it will take to reply them all, because, in the end, behind this mountain of paper and mails in my In-Box, there are more than messages, requests and introductions. Behind these are Human Beings…”

One of the worse periods of my life took place when, one year after graduating from the prestigious IMD, I had left my job, convinced, with the arrogance of a freshly graduated MBA, that the world would kneel down to offer me a job… And I went through 6 months of doubt, questioning, washed down hopes and false promises, disappointment, despair, isolation and depression. In a world where most social gatherings rapidly drive to “And in which domain are you active?”, admitting “I am unemployed” seemed like an impossible admission to make, worse than confessing a crime…

In Brazil, when a large multinational advertises 12 internships opportunities, 60’000 hopeful are sending their resumes which are dealt with by a subcontracted IT firm that will send automated, computerized replies.

Gerd Leonhard, the famous Business Futurist with whom we work, predicts that it wouldn’t be surprising if our Western Societies know levels of 50% unemployment given the accelerating evolution of technology and the job destruction linked to it.

But, in the middle of all this, isn’t the way we deal with people looking to us for a future, for a job, also a huge statement of our values, a Moment of Truth of what our company and we stand for? We can’t hire all CV’s coming to us. But can’t we, as socially responsible people and organizations, try to add value to their journey even when our response is negative? When I see, like in Brazil, large organizations subcontracting their hiring (and turning down) process to automated systems… I wonder if people feel respected, dealt with as an individual human being by such multinationals…

I can feel the joys and disappointment of such people. A friend of mine is just going through that roller coaster. She has a very atypical background and life story. She has gone through Hell in war torn zones and in some of Europe’s slums. But she never gave up. She recently got her MBA but, because her background doesn’t fit the model that HR has on their request lists, she goes from rejection to rejection and… keeps on going.

Very different, of course, is the context of this famous worldwide consultancy who seriously applies the concept of “coach up or coach out”. A friend of mine working there told me that, for shocking as it seems: “50 to 70% of our business comes from people we fired!” How can that be? Rather than firing people, that firm truly believes in “coaching up or coaching out”. That means clear expectations are set, objectives are agreed upon, support is provided. When people are recommended to leave, it doesn’t come as a shock and is often their own decision. They leave with their head up, proud to have been part of an amazing, highly demanding adventure, but they are not humiliated, they are not feeling rejected. They usually find a new job rapidly (they are given time and support for that). Consequently, when they find themselves in a position to hire consultants, they will have a strong emotional tendency to support their previous partners who respected them and made them feel valued, even upon leaving.

Switzerland just rejected a new law that would install base revenue for each citizen, regardless of their employment, age, health condition. It was to be expected, the proposal wasn’t packaged at best and throwing this in a Calvinistic/Lutherian country where work is highly valued, was mission impossible. But an interesting and thought provoking dialogue has been engaged.

It is our responsibility, as Business Leaders to go beyond the “Hiring & Firing game” and realize the impact our rejection process has on its victims. The members of the select “Cercle Chapel” in Belgium have understood that. Each year, a hundred Business Leaders amongst them gather and invite job seekers for a “Work Dating” day where they do not necessarily offer them a contract but where the purpose is to give them back a feeling of existing, being recognized as human being and respected as such.

Isabella Biney is only 19. She has made the shortest (3 minutes!) and most moving TED speech I have seen! She talks about education here. But the same can be said about us when we chose to reject people who do not fit the mould or ask automated systems to do this for us!

Villars and a speech on Campbell’s Hero’s Journey in Brussels are on the menu this week. Enjoy your week!


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“Engaging Leadership” has been written for leaders who are about to engage their organisations in change."

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