Don't Use a Hand Grenade To Kill a Housefly

“Killing a Housefly with a Hand Grenade” is the fifth in a 10-part series outlining the concepts included in “The Physics of HR; Mastering the Laws of Motion,” the Whitaker joint set to publish in mid-2016.

As discussed in the preceding series of posts, the essence of our job in Human Resources is “movement.” As such, we are subject to the laws of physics, and to a larger effect, Newton’s Laws of Motion.

Of the three (the first two are discussed here and here), the law we routinely struggle with is Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion – “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In our scope of influence, it translates as an appropriate response given any situation. Sounds simple enough, but experience tells me otherwise.

As a matter of fact, we seem to be genetically pre-disposed to inverting the scale, underestimating the impact of change, over-reacting to matters that call for a more subtle response.

Let’s use the ever-growing possibility of Integration as a prime example of how we violate Newton’s 3rd Law, and the mess created as a result.

For an employee, there may be no situation that matches the angst and anxiety experienced during a merger. The amount of uncertainty that exists throughout the process can be paralyzing to the individual, causing significant drops in overall productivity. It’s a serious, significant “action” that packs a hell of a punch. The collective reaction of HR, however, is to under-sell, under-inform, and minimize the action in hopes of controlling the reaction. That MO consistently fails for a few fundamental reasons:

  1. The universe will not tolerate a vacuum. If we (HR) fail to provide information, someone else will. Rumors, gossip, grapevine, water-cooler conversations will be the information dispatch.
  2. People are wired to expect the negative outcome. That mindset impacts productivity by as much as 2-3 lost hours per day. The hidden cost to the company is massive.
  3. It contradicts the Laws of Motion, remember?

Now, flip the coin. What are your thoughts on dress code at the workplace?

Yep, dress code. How many hours of your HR life have you wasted discussing things like "dress code," "Jeans Day," the appropriate number of plants per office, and the like? A colossal waste of time and energy, yet HR teams will pursue this legislation as if securing a hill on the battlefield. I have a few theories as to why we seem to be attracted to such trivial initiatives:

  1. Black and white suits us. "Do this, don't do that" could be an HR bumper sticker.
  2. We can implement and complete an initiative. Maybe to show we've got purpose? Misguided.
  3. Like other employees, we've been conditioned to think these matters really are important.

You can see these disconnects between action/reaction throughout the organization, not just Human Resources. We are simply following the model we've seen throughout our careers. It's time to re-examine our priorities and align our response levels to be more appropriate, more strategic, and, well....more scientific.

Next up: Recruiting, where Physics was forgotten…

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