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“un”ravelling culture and the position description

By November 6, 20144 Comments

Again, Jonathan Rice is indulging his penchant for exotic travel, leaving me in charge of the whiteboard…

Conference season has landed and rival codes appear to be refreshingly combative. Last night we saw the kindly mother-in-law of professional bodies HRINZ, up against the “as much use as a pork pie at a Jewish wedding” RCSA. This is followed by Phillip Tusing’s RHUB battling it out against Martin Warren’s STI S.S.T, both on the 17th of this month. Choices aplenty for the recruiter with an unlimited training budget…

Last night I opted for the HRINZ UnSig. For those who don’t follow the conference scene as actively as I do, “un” is the new black. To understand the “un” phenomenon, take a traditional and proven conference format, remove the vast majority of preparation and planning, wear t-shirts, casually mention US tech start-ups like you play hacky sack with the founder, and you have yourself an “un” event. I’m being slightly facetious; I actually prefer the format, which is essentially a series of group discussions devoid of PowerPoint slides and fixed outcomes.

Last night we covered innovating and “disrupting” the CV, Interview, and Job Description. Oohh…disruption! I feel like a tech entrepreneur already. Someone pass me a sugar free skinny vanilla chai no foam and a pair of Vans sneakers.

Although innovating the CV and Interview seemed easy enough for the assembled genii, job descriptions were a different kettle of fish. It seems that it’s hard to come up with a new way of explaining the requirements of a job, and the culture and values of an organisation.

Now culture and values statements have made me feel uneasy ever since my High School appointed Dr Gerry, one of the new breed of “right-on” educators as Principal. Gone were the black and white rules of Mr West; no running in the hallway, no boys with long hair, no punching people. In came a set of self-evident and mildly vacuous “values” such as; “We value and respect everyone’s opinion” and “We respect everyone’s right to learn in a safe environment”. Unfortunately for me, the values mentioned nothing about the legitimacy of selling home grown weed to Amir Mahavi and I soon found out that Dr Gerry wasn’t nearly as liberal as I thought. My first and only foray into drug dealing aside, I felt then, as I do now 20 plus years later, that most culture statements say nothing about the reality of an organisation, and give very little guidance on the behaviours expected from its members.

This morning, going through past vacancies, the Position Descriptions I’ve received from corporates range from two pages of A4 to nine. Five of these nine pages are solely devoted to values; no doubt the product of a lengthy project lead by an HR function tasked with distilling the essence of a well-known Kiwi employer’s culture.

Five fucking pages.

And as recruiters, we’re supposed to persuade the A-Grade candidate with multiple job offers that Messrs 9 Page JD & Co. are the most dynamic, forward thinking employer on the market? And someone in said client has the time and/or inclination to write this stuff only to tell us in agency land that they’re too busy to return our calls? In the words of Ron Burgundy, hell I’m not angry, I’m impressed. I understand that a candidate may need to know the basic requirements, metrics, and KPIs of the job, but who seriously reads five pages of self-congratulatory culture and values bullshit? Dig out your current position descriptions or values statement. Does it tell you both the good and bad of your current employer? Does it feel like a candid, honest, and humble description?

Mark Sumner, who always impresses me as a public speaker, highlighted a culture and values statement coming out of a…you guessed it…US tech business that I believe everyone in the HR and recruitment industry should read.

Now I’ll warn you now…it’s 135 slides long, however, it’s 135 slides of inspiring, honest, and humble content. Hubspot are clearly a business with a mission. They appear to know what they are, and more importantly, what they’re not. Culture is more than an HR project for them. It’s how they recruit, and it defines how they treat each other and their customers.


Hubspot also see the value of their business intrinsically linked to the value and capability of its people. Obvious right? That’s why they run an unlimited free books program, whereby whatever you order on Amazon comes to you free of charge. Open to abuse right? They have a policy for that also:

culture 2

 They also tell us that working at Hubspot can be chaotic, that they have tensions between long term goals and quick wins, and that it’s not a democracy. However, in their own words, “better imperfect than perfectly average”.

So maybe we can rethink the positon description. The job requirements, expectations, and prerequisite skills of any role can surely fit on one piece of paper. That’s the easy bit. And as for a values statement, couldn’t 5 pages of HR twaddle be replaced with 135 slides of beautiful honesty?

Or am I being “un”realistic?





Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • Sorry, I posted this Q on twitter but it’s prob not the best place to put it.

    I’m curious how your clients feel about being ridiculed for their expansive job descriptions and cultural statements?

    • I’d be keen to hear their thoughts also. So far only one has responded via twitter:

      Blog post of the week 2! Great stuff from @SeanWaltersNZ about job descriptions … #nzlead #nzrec #hrblogs

      • Did Richard send you five pages of bull-shit?

        It’s a great blog, don’t get me wrong, and I’m certainly not a fan of long winded HR stuff either. But I also know what it’s like to put together all that HR stuff without knowing any better.

        I’m curious where the line is between ridiculing people for it and helping them realise it? Something that, I’ll admit, I’m not that great at knowing where the line is. So I’m interested in your thoughts.

  • Jonathan Rice says:

    This is the real Jon Rice. The above comment is from Sean blundering his way around the whiteboards wordpress dashboard. Very fair comment though Sean, and thanks for taking care of blogging business this week.

    The only criticism I can make is that you’ve been overly kind to those companies using Job Descriptions. They should be put into receivership on the basis of future crimes against authentic culture.

    In terms of exotic travel, that’s a generous description of Australia’s Central Coast but I’m sure there will be bogan chests swelling with Aussie Pride across the country parts of NSW.