Beyond Warm Bodies: The Unintended Consequences of Hiring
Goal: When managers recruit and select employees, they do more than put warm bodies in place. Throughout their hiring processes, managers engage in designing jobs, organizations, and employment systems, and building networks. They are creating and altering formal and informal organizational structure. Yet theories related to hiring focus heavily on explaining the hiring outcomes closely related to who is brought into organizations: which methods are effective in attracting and selecting productive employees, and, on occasion, on how hiring produces inequality and cultural shifts. This is not surprising as these are the most direct consequences of hiring. However, exploring the less direct consequences of hiring processes would contribute significantly to literatures on the design of jobs, employment practices and organizations, and the development of networks, as well as to that on hiring. Hiring people and creating and altering organizations' formal and informal structures are fundamental organizational processes. Together these determine how the very work of organizations is coordinated and executed and thus how effectively it is done. These are also processes that determine the allocation of opportunities in organizations and in society. In this project, I have conducted over 200 interviews with entrepreneurs and their employees, individuals looking for jobs in startups, and subject matter experts on entrepreneurship to understand the broader effects of hiring. This includes individuals across over 50 startups and an ongoing (nearly two years) in-depth case study in a single organization.
There are several related papers in various stages of development. The first of these (The uncertain and the unexpected: Pathways to the evolution of job structures in the throes of hiring, with Sara Mahabadi) is currently under review. In this paper, we examine the evolution of job structures in the throes of the hiring process – how jobs change in the time between making a decision to bring in someone to do a body of work and officially hiring someone. We find that during hiring tasks are added and removed from jobs, jobs are abandoned, replaced, and moved, and hiring processes are re-launched. There are three pathways for this evolution, each shaped by a form of the uncertain or the unexpected: not knowing about what the job should be; lacking understanding of labor markets; and unexpected events. Not surprisingly, most of the jobs on these pathways are new to their organizations but contrary to common conceptions, these processes are not the product of managers who lack experience or who use lax hiring practices. Further, while the three pathways share some causal conditions and immediate consequences, there are differences along the pathways and in the longer-term consequences. We discuss the relationship between job evolution in the throes of hiring and other known job-evolution processes such as idiosyncratic jobs, job crafting, and assembly, and opportunistic hiring.
We (myself, Sara Mahabadi, and Marc-David Seidel) are coding data for a second paper, Bringing the outside in and the inside out: How hiring bridges startups and the ecosystem. In this paper, we argue that startup hiring creates connective tissue bridging across the boundaries between the organization and the ecosystem in unique ways different than hiring in more established organizations. We answer three questions related to this process: who is involved; what gets them involved; and what are the effects of these interactions both on the focal organization and the broader ecosystem? Based on preliminary analyses, we see a broad range of actors connected on both sides of the boundaries. The connections are the result of bi-directional actions: actors reaching out beyond organizational boundaries and external actors reaching into the organization from outside. The boundary crossing activities extend beyond actual employee hiring and occur even when no one is hired. Actors are brought across boundaries as they attempt to source candidates and find jobs, seek and dispense advice, interview candidates or be interviewed as candidates; and seek or provide referrals and references. The hiring-related boundary crossing also happens in situations that are not directly related to hiring: for instance, at startup fairs and events and at unrelated social events. These cross-boundary interactions bring about a range of outcomes for both startups and those in the broader ecosystem.
Two other papers are in earlier stages of development. In one of these, I will examine the movement of a single set of tasks, data collection and entry, across a set of jobs in one organization and the responses of the individuals in those jobs to that task. My graduate student, Sara Mahabadi, is examining the consequences of job boundary work in this organization, in particular how boundary work in one job affects work in other jobs.
Methods: Qualitative Interview