The negative power of change

I’ve written before about my loathing for the disproportionate use of the term “disrupt”. It is a lazy, attention seeking way of trying to be heard in a world where innovative, creative thinking is at a minimum and noise and kerfuffle cloud the air of rationality. In many ways, disrupt is the bastard offspring of “change” – another overly used terms that was bandied around liberally with the hope of appearing clean and fresh and new.

Most genuine disruption and change which involves humans is potentially painful. That’s why placing it in the hands of people who fail to understand these consequences is both dangerous and naive. It is also why I have fundamental reservations about anyone who professes to “love change”. Maybe some change, but all change?

The are organisations that have become dependent on change as a means of defining their purpose. They move from restructure, to initiative, to strategic review without stopping to take a breath. These are not the agile or adaptable organisation that they would hope to be, but instead lost and rudderless placing bet after bet hoping that one of them will come home without realising the quantum of their losses.

That is not to say that organisations shouldn’t seek to change, progress and develop. It is not to say that they shouldn’t seek to innovate, create and (maybe) have some disruptive force. But the overriding question has to be, “for what purpose?” What is the reason that we are doing this, what are the imperatives that we need to take in to account, what will be the difference that we will see at the end and how will we know whether we’ve achieved it?

The practices that we use to achieve this, the way in which we work to solve the problems, the means by which we measure and assess will all change, but the overriding context should not. The most agile and adaptable of organisations hardly need to talk about change or disruption, they’re making a million small and seemingly indiscernible improvements every year to be better.

Ultimately, when we’re talking about human lives, when we’re talking about human existence and experience, we need to be respectful, mindful and thoughtful about the implications on everyone within an ecosystem of the actions that we take. Loving change is one thing when you’re doing it, another when it is being done to you.

Culture and responsibility

Many years ago when I read “Fish“, one of the elements that resonated most was “choose your attitude”.  The concept that whilst you can’t control the external environment, you can control your reactions and responses to it. How often do we see people who have been through some adversity, talk positively about their life and future, much against our preconceived ideas of how they “should” feel?

In organisations we often believe that someone else is responsible for the culture. “The boss”, “Management”, “Them”. There’s no doubt that power exerts influence on an organisational culture, but so do the collective actions and behaviours of everyone within. Failing to recognise our influence over those we work with and the opportunity to influence the world around us is effectively self- disempowerment.

Nobody talks to anyone here becomes I’m going to make the effort to talk to people I don’t know.

Everybody is so downbeat becomes I’m going to smile at people and wish them a good day.

Nobody knows what’s going on, everything is kept secret becomes I’m going to make sure the people who need to know understand what I’m working on and what I need.

You can see this when a commuter starts a conversation up in the tube, or opens a door for someone else, when a customer smiles and jokes with a waiter or waitress. People around observe the behaviour and often replicate or join in. The social element of our genetic make up leads us to seek to conform to group rules in the environment around us.

So if there is something you dislike about your organisation’s culture, instead of focusing on what’s not happening, focus on how you can behave in a way that shows the things you want to see. I’m not saying you’ll see full scale conversion overnight, but I’ll guarantee you see change.

And at the same time, you’ll probably feel a whole lot better about yourself, your work and your life. That’s got to be reward enough, no?

The value of critical thinking

Human beings are beautifully imperfect creatures – that’s what makes us interesting and frustrating in equal measure. We have the ability to process the most complex information and draw sense and understanding from it. And at the same time, we have the ability to lose total sight of the information and arguments in a decision, because of the lens through which we personally see the world.

Sometimes that’s ok. You ask a room full of football supporters who the best team is and you’ll have numerous impassioned arguments. Most of them are probably factually incorrect, but it doesn’t really matter – the opinion, the belief, the fundamental and overwhelming support is the characteristic that we treasure. We could probably, factually, work out which is the best team – but what’s the fun in that?

Other times, it prevents us from running our businesses and our lives successfully. We eschew the opportunity to explore multiple perspectives, to recognise our own assumptions and we choose to make decisions based on a limited set of information – often because not doing so would directly challenge our status, our beliefs or our previous decisions.

It’s a curious one.

One of the nicest, simplest models I’ve seen for this is Pearson’s RED:

Recognise assumptions

  • How can you help separate opinion from fact?
  • What assumptions are you bringing in to the decision-making process?
  • What are the different view points that exist?
  • What data exists to help explore the question at hand?

Evaluate arguments

  • What are the pros and cons of different viewpoints?
  • Can you make the opposite argument to your natural positions?
  • How does the data stack up against the various perspectives?
  • What will be the impact and how do you know?

Draw conclusions

  • Given all the information and arguments, what’s the best way forward?
  • How do you know?
  • What data/information supports your decision?
  • Is there something that you don’t know that would be helpful?

There is and will always be room for impassioned arguments and beliefs in business as there is in life. Critical thinking is about curiosity, it is about wanting to explore difference, wanting to understand views, wanting to learn and inform – not beating everyone around the head with demands for rationality and data – that’s another type of closed mindedness.

Seeking first to understand and explore, checking ourselves for out own assumptions and weighing up possibilities can only help us to be both more confident of our views and more rational in our arguments and better in our conclusions. We should, after all, be interested in making the best decisions that we can.

The HR Tech bubble is ready to burst

I’ve just come back from the HR Technology Conference and Expo in Chicago. It was a brilliantly organised and put together conference, pulling a range of suppliers and practitioners from all over the globe, the big, the small and the start-up. I was particularly keen to go as a long-standing champion of good HR technology. We’ve been lucky to partner with people like HireVue, Crowdoscope and Thompsons to deliver exciting solutions and I wanted to figure out what was next.

Everywhere I went there was talking of the disruptive influence of technology in HR, with people writing and commenting on the power that this is having on the profession. I was curious to understand exactly what this might be. Sadly, after spending three days looking for it, I came away empty-handed.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of good technology platforms out there (I particularly like CareerBuilder, HROnboard & CultureAmp amongst others), but I struggled to find anything I’d call disruptive. The vast majority are in the talent acquisition space where, as far as I can see, the aim has always been to find, select and hire a person. They help, support, systemise and facilitate this process, but I’m not entirely sure that falls into disruption.

Then there are the HRIS suppliers and we know disrupting paying people is only going to end in a world of pain. A group of platforms which term themselves “engagement” – which means anything from recognition, through communication to wellbeing. And finally analytics solutions – the new holy grail.

That’s all well and good. But disruptive? No.

The biggest disconnect I saw was between the problems practitioners need help with and the solutions being offered by the tech providers. One offering particularly stuck out for me, a service called InvestiPro, helping standardise and systemise the HR investigation process – something that would have been amazing during my time in retail, but also answered a real challenge that practitioners face.

Far too often, however, I was being told about a problem I needed to solve that I never realised I had. Maybe I’m just dumb and haven’t realised the multiple challenges yet to face me – or maybe they just don’t exist. In the same way we are constantly told we need to be fitter, healthier and more beautiful, the HR tech industry is trying to tell us that buying their own special serum will help solve all our HR woes.

There seems to be a huge amount of money and investment washing around the HR tech market, probably too much. The result is an over-supply of similar products, relying on brand to differentiate and a dearth of creative, innovative solutions that genuinely add value to employees, line managers or practitioners. Investors aren’t stupid, or known for their patience or sentimentality. On that basis, it can only be a matter of time before this particular bubble bursts.

And THAT will probably be the most disruptive thing to happen in HR Tech.