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Divergent movie raises interesting HR questions

6702068Insurgent, the second film in the Divergent series, opened last April and hoped to make a big splash at the box office. Based on the books by Veronica Roth, the series depicts a dystopian future where young people are forced to survive crazy situations created by adults.

What makes the Divergent series interesting for HR professionals and business owners, especially when compared to similar teen-friendly fare like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner, is the fact that its story-lines echo a number of issues relevant to today’s workplaces.

Characters undergo extensive personality testing and are then forced to join a “faction” that best suits their temperament and skill sets. The faction that you join will determine your role within society and who you will be spending the rest of your life with (you cannot change your mind later). Each teen must choose to join:

  • Abnegation: for the selfless (who administer public services due to their incorruptibility)
  • Amity: for the peaceful (grow crops for the city)
  • Candor: for the honest (often become lawyers due to their belief in unabashed honesty)
  • Dauntless: for the brave (train to fight and use weapons, serve as soldiers and protection)
  • Erudite: for the intelligent (produces most of the city’s librarians, doctors, scientists, and teachers)

Of course, things get complicated when a character tests as “divergent,” meaning they show strength in more than one area. Rather than being celebrated as multi-talented or cross-functional, “divergent” individuals are considered a threat to the established social order and are constantly in danger of being discovered and killed.

Interesting HR questions

The Divergent series brings up a number of interesting issues for HR managers and business owners, including:

1) The films treat “divergents” as a threat to order and harmony. Should a business be working to develop “divergents” or is it better to develop subject-matter-experts?

  • Some employees can demonstrate skills in a wide variety of areas in your company. Those individuals may have the opportunity for career development across a number of functional areas and may ultimately make the most knowledgeable managers.
  • Many large companies make cross-training across all functional areas a standard part of their new employee orientation, hoping to develop a deeper understanding of all the departments.
  • But one must appreciate the value of someone who has a deep knowledge of a specific skill. There is not necessarily a benefit in having a bunch of “Jack (or Jill) of all Trades” but a “master of none.” It may not be realistic to expect someone skilled in graphic design (for example) to also be excellent in sales, accounting, and production. There is also a difference between understanding the importance of various functional areas in your organization and being talented in each of those areas.

2) Is it better to have teams of similar-minded individuals or a wide variety of personality types?

  • Savvy business owners know that having teams filled with people with diverse personalities, backgrounds, and approaches can lead to creative outcomes and innovation.
  • However, they also know that dramatically different styles and beliefs between team members may also bring a high level of conflict that could decrease productivity and lead some individuals to leave.
  • Sophisticated managers can use the results of personality testing (along with other management techniques) to mitigate conflicts and help team members to understand each other.
  • You may also determine that certain types are not a good “fit” to work together.

3) An increasing number of businesses are get team members to participate in personality tests (including DiSC, HBDI, Myers-Briggs, and Strengths-finder). What is the value?

  • People-related costs are so substantial that anything that might improve the likelihood of hiring the right person and ensuring teams are optimally designed for productivity, is attractive.
  • Company-wide use of these tests can give people a common language to better understand themselves and adapt their behaviour with others — ultimately making the company more productive.
  • Participating in these tests can be a morale-boosting activity for team members, demonstrating that the employer is interested in the person as an individual.

4) Are there concerns with requiring applicants to take personality tests during the hiring process?

  • Clear Path’s Anna Aceto-Guerin warns that although it is not illegal to ask someone to take a personality test before receiving a job offer, the company may open themselves up to a Human Rights complaint, particularly if a test they use asks anything that could be deemed a “protected ground.”
  • Whitney Martin recently wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review titled “The Problem with Using Personality Tests for Hiring.” She is critical of the wide-spread use of 4 quadrant tests as a screening process, which can be manipulated by applicants. Clear Path’s Michelle Strassburger agrees and suggests that interviewers ask specific questions during the interview process to assess the accuracy of the applicant’s responses.
  • Susan J. Stabile, an American professor of law, published a report critical of the use of personality testing during the hiring process. She points out that companies may lose some excellent candidates since these tests give those with “mainstream” personality types a more positive reading, while “creative, think-outside-the-box candidates who may do extraordinary things for an employer may be weeded out.”

So did you check out the Insurgent movie? Did you cheer for the “divergents” like Tris (played by Shailene Woodley), or did you secretly support the single-focused faction system? Does the series raise any other HR questions for you? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section.

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Clear Path Employer Services

Certified HR consultants and medical professionals at Clear Path Employer Services
Clear Path Employer Services is a team of certified HR consultants and medical professionals dedicated to resolving the human resources and claims management challenges facing businesses across Ontario. The company was founded in 2003 by Anna Aceto-Guerin, a Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) specializing in WSIB claims management and NEER cost containment, with a focus on return-to-work programs and acquiring SIEF cost relief for employers. Read more
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