Eamon Doyle | Palladium - May 15 2019
"Doing Development Differently" Starts with Recruitment

Much of the development community agrees that to achieve the best possible outcomes, aid programs need to be more flexible and adaptive; we all need to “do development differently”. Palladium’s Eamon Doyle argues that our recruitment practices are holding us back.

Innovation requires diversity of thought and perspectives – different people thinking about problems in new and creative ways. This holds true in the aid sector, but our ability to “do development differently” is limited by outdated recruitment requirements that narrow our candidate pools.

Palladium’s Chief Diversity Officer Rosanna Duncan has spoken before of the irony, saying, “It’s strange that in development we create opportunities to work on poverty, inequality and inclusion, but actually the processes we use to attract staff are not inclusive.” Our CEO Christopher Hirst has laid out ways to diversify our talent pools by introducing blind recruitment, cognitive evaluations, and competency-based assessments.

The reality is that our clients are held to the highest levels of accountability, and task us with finding those “unicorn” candidates: the ones who are technically prodigious, strong leaders, cordial, and – crucially – within budget. Rigid requirements for higher education and a decade of experience narrow the candidate pool to only a select few who are neither diverse nor new to the field.

If the best candidates fail to pass our first recruitment hurdle, how can we operationalise improvements and deliver the most innovative and adaptive solutions? Here are three ways to do recruitment differently:

1. Consider Recruitment at Project Design

Recruitment processes should be considered from the point of proposal development all the way into project delivery. First, establish the impact goals of the project and use these – instead of arbitrary, lofty requirements – to identify the skills and levels of effort needed. Doing so helps better target the advertisement and the selection process, and makes recruitment easier to conduct locally for projects.

Recruiting for impact means it’s more likely that the best people get through the process, and aren’t hindered by traditional requirements that may have no bearing on what’s really needed.

2. Be a Trusted Advisor

As program managers and implementers, our responsibility is not just to deliver on agreed targets, but also to act as trusted advisors to our clients. We must provide continuous feedback and best practice advice to improve delivery and the value for money of our service. We need to keep working closely with donors, communities, candidates, and local teams to push for practices that can recruit the best people for a job; not just those who meet a tick-box exercise.

When funds for a program come from tax-payer coffers, it’s reasonable to expect a level of technical maturity and expertise across the team. However, we should push to ensure that the need for a “safe pair of hands” does not limit our ability to deliver the most suitable talent.

Communication is key here. When the “Terms of Reference” are made available, this is an opportunity to open the discussion, prompting clients to reconsider their proposed structures and requirements to bring change in the market.

3. Engage Local Talent

The influx of international aid funding to emerging markets has a significant impact on the economies of the communities in which we work. This is most evident in job markets where salaries of international employees working on donor-funded programs significantly outweighs that of local employees in the public or private sectors.

This skews local job markets. To deliver truly diverse and high-talent teams, we must reduce the reliance on international expertise and instead look at local expertise. We can help grow local talent by focusing more on a capacity-building approach, instead of flying in international expertise that will soon fly out.

If we look to develop local talent, then our teams can better deliver solutions that are adaptive to change and local context, and that benefit the communities we serve.

Risk and Initiative

Changing our recruitment practices and those of our industry will require risk and initiative to test new approaches, collaborate with clients, and apply lessons learned. When proposing a team to deliver a solution, it’s not a list of years and alumni that should be provided, but rather the right balance of skills and diversity of abilities, backgrounds, and approaches needed to create true impact.

Simply, we need to stop hunting for those unicorn candidates that meet a near-impossible list of requirements, and remind our stakeholders that they don’t actually exist. What does exist is the potential to do development differently through diversity of thought and perspectives.

Palladium implemented the State Accountability and Voice Initiative (SAVI) project in Nigeria, where values-based recruitment has proven successful.