The first possible answer

Do you think there is one single truth? How about one single answer? A definitive version of right?

Our explanation of our existence and the decisions that we make is defined by our retrospective analysis. Our psychology such that we create a narrative that supports our past conclusions. Only sometimes do we reflect and say, “what if?” and then when we feel external factors have left us short-changed.

Ironically at the same time we base our current thinking and decisions on our past. The past that we have rewritten to justify the decisions that we’ve made, becomes the foundation for our future direction. It’s a perfect circle of deception.

The product of this is that we tend to stop at the first possible answer. Our organisations are run by people that rely on this, which is why we struggle with genuine diversity of ideas and look for consensus. When we tend to have shared history, shared retro-perspective, we form more of the same conclusions. It makes things…..quicker.

But what is the probability that the first possible answer, is always the right one? Or even the best one?

Learning to ask the “what if” before rather than after, learning to listen to different views, learning to understand that our perspective is based on our rewriting of the past and that the more that we surround ourselves with people with similar pasts, the more we are likely to reinforce our single perspective. Could any of this help us make better decisions?

In science we talk about the null hypothesis. When we reject it without disproving its basis, we invalidate our research. Yet in business, we call it being commercial and agile, strong leadership.

Trying asking “what if” now and not after and see whether that moves you past your first possible answer. You might be surprised by the results.

What HR say (and what we really mean)

“Let me throw the question back to you” – I have absolute no idea what you just said, as far as I’m concerned you could be talking Hebrew. So do me a favour and talk some more until I work it out?

“It would set a precedent” – I am lazy. You’re asking for something that I don’t want to think about. It might mean being creative and then other people might ask me to be creative too. And frankly, none of us have got time for that.

“I think we need to take some time to reflect on this” – I’ve got a whole bunch of forms that need filling out before payroll cut off and you’re asking me to get in to a meaningless discussion about something that we will never do anyway.

“You need to speak to payroll” – I missed a deadline because I was cornered in a meaningless discussion. Nobody gets off a call to payroll without thinking it is their fault, so time to blame the cellar dwellers.

“The business wouldn’t like it” – I can’t be bothered to go and find out whether this is a good idea or not, so I’m going to refer to a generic homogenous mass as a means of trying to dissuade you from making me do some work.

“Why don’t we workshop it?” – You’re stupid, I’m busy, let’s get some other people to talk about this and then get caught in circular debates until recommending that someone else should look at it and report back.

“Can you drop me an email?” – Because that’s the stupidest request I’ve ever heard and I a) need to see it in writing and b) want to circulate it to everyone I know to show how desperate my life is.

“We need a talent strategy” – I know that you don’t understand this. You don’t know that I don’t either. But you can say that we’re working on it and therefore sound intelligent, and I can say that we’re working on it and sound strategic. It’s a win win.

Size doesn’t matter

Statistically speaking, you’ll not always be right.

The amount of money involved in the decision has absolutely no mathematical bearing of the probability of you being correct.

Yet, it will have a direct and absolute correlation with your ability to accept your mistake.

And that, in three sentences we unveil perhaps the greatest folly of business and in turn, HR.

I’ve observed this over the years that I’ve been in corporate life, the larger the stakes, the lower the propensity to accept the reality of failure.

Like a punch drunk gambler at the casino table of life we pour good money after bad to assuage the egos of those that set us upon this path.

I wrote last year about the changes in technology that allow us to approach investment discussions in a different way. Since then I’ve seen a number of conversations with the likes of Undercurrent and Josh Bersin about the need to approach business cases like a start-up.

Low barriers to entry. Short cycles. Fast failure.

Yet the argument, whilst unassailable in its logic, still falls on deaf ears. Because of the simple fact that corporate life is predominantly male.

And men value size, not satisfaction.

Where are the bragging rights in showing off a small, low-cost, pilot project, when we can talk about multi million pound investments with gargantuan Powerpoint presentations that suggest the future value of something but with no empirical evidence, whatsoever, to support.

It isn’t the efficiency of your car, it’s the size of the engine. It isn’t the quality of the meal, but the price of the bill.

In business, we still determine value and importance by volume. We pride ourselves on the investment more readily than the return.

Until we can change our perspective of success from that of the old corporate norms, until we can challenge the way in which we judge efficacy and performance within our (predominantly traditional) businesses, we will not be able to face up to the new economic realities and we will show ourselves as wanting, as vulnerable to the faster more agile, less egotistical organisations entering in to our markets.

We need to redefine success criteria within our businesses in order to survive. But that starts with redefining the value that we put on our own corporate careers.

Let’s build a legacy that ensures future recognition, rather than build a monument to ourselves.

7 deadly workplace sins

1)  You put up posters – I’m not talking about that dodgy Christmas present that you’re trying to sell. Or the fact that you run a Pilates class. I’m talking about the mysterious posters that arrive over night when everyone else is sleeping. They’re always written in the tone that either replicates a cyclist talking to car drivers, or your mum after she found you having a crafty fag out of the window. “Please make sure you only print what you need, trees died to bring you this paper”. Yeah, and you just wasted a complete sheet on a pointless message I’m now going to ignore. Get a life.

2)  You smell – Ok. Now I know BO is a serious issue. I work in HR, I’ve dealt with smelly people all my life. I mean, instead, the people who have a Chinese or an Indian meal (other cuisines are equally culpable, this is a non-discriminating rant) the night before and think, “I know, I’ll take this in to work tomorrow and really improve the environment for all my co-workers by heating it up and eating it at my desk. They will really appreciate the way that the smell lingers all afternoon like some sort of weird olfactory fog.

3)  You organise “fun” – No-one comes to work to have organised fun. There is no such thing as organised fun. Fun happens or it doesn’t. That’s just the way that it is. It’s like love. It can’t be created by a cheerleading fool with invisible pom poms. Let people have their fun at home, in the park, behind the bike sheds. Wherever they choose. They can even have it at work if they really want, but please for the love of Buddha never start a sentence with, “Why don’t we all dress up as xxxxxx this Friday”.

4)  You leave your s**t around – Not literally. Although buy me a drink and I’ll tell you a darker story about this one. This is work, this is the workplace. It is not your very own personal Big Yellow. All that c**p you’ve got under your desk, on your desk and by your desk. Find it a place to live or burn it. Nobody needs to see the pair of trainers that you thought you’d run in, languishing under your desk 8 months later. Including you, lard arse.

5)  You diet – I’m not against diets – I’d personally rather you did that than eat yourself in to oblivion, God knows, square footage is tight enough as it is. But frankly, I don’t need to know about it. Or how it differs from the one that you were doing the month before, but failed to stick to, or the one just before Christmas that was fine until it played havoc with your bowel habits. I really don’t care if you want to eat lightly fried angel’s buttocks for the rest of your life. That’s your choice, keep it to yourself.

6)  You have pets. Or children – Ok. I realise that this “may” appear to push me slightly towards the fascist demographic. I don’t actually have an issue with you having pets or kids. I just don’t want to know every detail about your parrot Ernie who was named after your late Uncle who once nearly played for Manchester United Reserves. Nor do I want to see a million badly taken pictures of them displayed throughout the office. I’m glad you see Ernie every evening and get to share precious moments. Let’s keep it between the two of you, m’kay?*

7)  You steal stuff – Wait. I’m not talking about bullion or the Crown Jewels. I’m talking about the important stuff in life, like calculators and rulers and the only pens that write properly. These are organisational gold dust and you are undermining the very balance of workplace karma when you move one from its rightful home. Take a moment and reflect on your actions. I’m not cross, I’m just disappointed.

* This also applies to weird crushes. Like the ginger kid out of Harry Potter. Which is just strange.