Hiring is almost always reactive, transactional and shortsighted. Even the best hiring environments rarely consider the aggregate impact of an individual hire. Relatively few organizations provide guidance beyond platitudes about the strategic meaning of any given position.
Before automation and the various management technologies of the 80s and 90s, service functions within the firm were all like this. Priorities were set by the relative political importance of the customer rather than the strategic importance to the operation. The heaviest weight always won the argument.
A large part of the problem has been the lack of real strategic direction for the recruiting and staffing functions. "We hire the best." is only a little worse than "We hire at the 75% percentile of equivalent salaries." There is simply no current method for articulating the refined choices and impacts of the hiring process on the overall workforce.
As a result, inefficiency is the norm and layoffs (the shedding of unnecessarily accumulated fat) are seen as natural occurrences. When layoffs do come, there is precious little in the way of real guidance. Targets in next years payroll budget or an across the board sweep of 10% simply misunderstand the impact of the decision.
The big complication is the way that demographics are changing. We no longer live in a world where job seekers are an infinite resource. Even in this difficult economic time, no one will be able to make more babies fast enough.
The "aging of the workforce" is the dawning of a new and permanent situation. In fact, some industries and cities are rapidly dying because they are starved for young people. Consider the steel industry (and plenty of old school manufacturing operations). With a median age in the 50s, high levels of tenure, great camaraderie amongst lifetime friends, it’s virtually impossible to attract and retain 25 to 35 year olds.
These organizations face eroding profits and declining adaptability because they have hired and retained to measures that were always too simplistic. Most will go out of business over the course of the next ten years because they can not attract the right talent for sustained organizational renewal.
And that is never in a job description.