The BBC ran a story yesterday about three street cleaners in Edinburgh who have been temporarily reinstated after they were chosen for redundancy by drawing names out of a cereal bowl.
Edinburgh Council needed to get rid of seven of their 13 agency staff. They managed to select four based on their performance, but couldn’t separate the remaining nine, so a manager decided that drawing lots was the fairest solution.
This decision was made in consultation with the staff concerned, but of course this wouldn’t do for the trade unions and the dreaded Human Resources bods, so they’re having to start again. But seven people will still lose their jobs in the long run.
However, it did remind me of a couple of apocryphal stories from the past when bosses found simple and practical solutions to recruitment and selection that they wouldn’t dream of applying today.
The first concerns the fire brigade which was, and is, a very popular profession for fit young men to consider. You get to do exciting things, you’re often paid to sleep on the job and play sports to keep fit, and the girls love the uniform.
As a result, the brigade is inundated with applications whenever they are recruiting which these days involves all sorts of pre-selection physical and mental aptitude tests before getting the numbers down for the interview stage.
There was a time though when a simpler method was applied to the problem of being over subscribed by applicants.
As each application was opened in the Personnel Department, it was marked with one of those numbering stamps and then the pile of forms was handed to the boss. Depending on how many applicants there were, he would then select those whose number ended in five or five and zero for interview.
This solved a practical problem in a simple and entirely random fashion without having to resort to an unwieldy employment practices handbook.
The other story is the boss who took this idea one step further. When faced with a stack of job applications, he would simply randomly select half a dozen or so from the pile for interview and throw the rest in the bin.
When challenged about the practice, he would say that those who ended up in the waste were simply unlucky. ‘And I don’t want to work with unlucky people.’