The Process of Meritocracy

One of the things that has driven me crazy over the years and working in diversity and inclusion is when people say, “I’m just trying to hire the best person for the job,” as an excuse for not being really focused on fostering a diverse and inclusive environment in the hiring process.

There are all sorts of problems with the statement in this context.

First, and most important, is the implication that the consideration of diversity and inclusion and the process to get the best candidates are somehow mutually exclusive. The idea that there are “no diverse candidates” or that it’s reasonable to expect a scenario where this tradeoff has to occur is a fundamental problem in this industry right now.

Holistic has done a ton of work on this. In fact, we've built a tool that will tell our clients exactly how probable (or improbable) any particular outcome is. If you have no people of color in a forty person company, we can tell you, based on the data, exactly how unlikely that is to happen (which percentile you are on). If you have half of your staff as women, but no women on your leadership team, we can tell you the statistics based on the environment you’ve created. Basically, no longer do you have to guess -- we’ll tell you exactly how good or bad you are doing. This is actually pretty valuable because it allows for some level-setting -- is this situation random chance? Or are there biases or misshapen processes or other issues? You need to have a strong process to ensure meritocracy, and in many cases, it just isn’t there.

This is a really important concept in diversity and inclusion work. Meritocracy doesn’t just happen on its own. Meritocracy is a carefully cultivated outcome that comes at the tail end of painstakingly crafted processes and environments that allow the team to pursue meritocracy fully.

Here’s how you can create such an environment for your company:

1. Training.

First off, everybody on your team needs to be trained. They need to have a thorough understanding of your policies, your procedures, and your goals. They need to understand bias and be trained in unconscious bias awareness. They can’t pursue meritocracy if they don’t understand that they likely have biases that are creeping in the process – everybody does – and that is part of the responsibility to eliminate those biases wherever possible.

2. Policies, procedures, and goals.

The organization has some responsibilities. It needs to make a clear statement about hiring for meritocracy and ensuring meritocracy throughout the organization. Second, the organization's goals around diversity, inclusion, fairness, and consistency of treatment also need to be recognized. This will level the playing field for everybody and give everybody a clear understanding of how things will work.

3. Investing in the resources necessary to create an environment of meritocracy.

In the hiring process, you need to ensure that you have available pipeline candidates. This is not the responsibility of the individual hiring manager. The quickest way to have somebody explain to you, “I just hire the best person available,” is it they don’t have a viable and reflective pool of candidates to choose from. The quickest way to breed resentment within your organization is to not have a clear path process in place for performance evaluations or review or advancement within the organization. In the absence of clear efforts to facilitate an environment of meritocracy, individual employees will start to freelance. There is absolutely no way that an individual employee is going to do as good or as thorough of a job as the organization can do; they simply don’t have the information that they need.

If you do those three things, then you will have flipped the script. Now the process of meritocracy is not an aspiration, but an expectation. It goes from being something that is nebulous and unattainable to something that is absolutely attainable and very clear as to how each individual employee can implement it. The two best places to start are in the hiring process and in the performance review/advancement process, as these are two areas within the organization where meritocracy is frequently discussed but rarely implemented properly. Get to it!


Tom Alexander