A man woke up in the morning deeply remorseful after a bitter fight with his wife the previous night. He noticed with dismay the crate of beer bottles that had caused the fight. He took it outside and started smashing the empty bottles one by one onto the wall.
He smashed the first bottle swearing, "you are the reason I fight with my wife".
He smashed the second bottle, "you are the reason I don't love my children".
He smashed the third bottle, "you are the reason I don't have a decent job".
When he took the fourth bottle, he realized that the bottle was still sealed and was full. He hesitated for a moment and said, "you stand aside, I know you were not involved".
Technology, like this man, can’t rid us of a problem we do not wish to address. There is an eternity between knowledge and action and often; and it is the action that results in new knowledge. There is plenty of advice in the public domain on what technology can or must do for HR.
From machine learning algorithms that intelligently match applicants to jobs, to predictive analytics that improve retention, from sensors that detect your mood to floor map technology that guides you to the nearest printer — if you can imagine it, someone has probably built it.
Regardless of the specific problem(s) and associated solution(s), HR Managers will be better served to enable a new mind-set of being comfortable with the unknown, accepting of failure and not expecting leaders to lead every single time.
Being comfortable with the unknown
The human mind is conditioned to seek certainty and many of us, self-included, are born with clearing-disorder. It is no surprise then, for example, we seek client references when selecting new partners, hoping to rely on the certainty of their experiences (among others). And yet, given the pace of change, be it new technology or old, we must now get comfortable with not having all the answers. Sample this, according to Innosight’s research, in 1965, the average tenure of companies on the S&P 500 was 33 years. By 1990, it was 20 years. It's forecast to shrink to 14 years by 2026. I believe this will shrink even faster in the coming years and one will have to take decisions and act on them without the luxury of knowing everything upfront. Often-times, even the information we believe to be true is not (for example how much is the candidate expecting, or engagement levels of high potentials etc.) Getting individuals and teams to accept and embrace this reality is a big burden on our shoulders for the fate of many, including that of the company depends on it.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”, attributable to Albert Einstein, remains valid today than ever before. While on one hand, rapid advancements in technology are democratizing access to knowledge, on the other, even the experts get it wrong (and often). Many of today’s problems do not have ready answers and one, therefore, starts with a hypothesis in the discovery of the solution. And therein lies the nub – hypotheses are nothing but proposed explanation made with limited evidence, as a starting point for further investigation. This may (or may not) turn out to be accurate and warrant an additional set of hypotheses. In fact, nearly all eureka moments are preceded by numerous unsuccessful attempts and to expect one without accepting other, is like wishing to decide your Boss’s pay! Failing, therefore, is not something to despise, for it presents a learning opportunity on what not to do. As HR Managers, we must create an environment wherein the emphasis shifts from attributing blame to discerning learning. By all means, fail, but fail fast and more importantly, learn from other’s failures’ not just those of your own.
Not being in the lead
As leaders and managers, many among us carry the burden to provide all the answers and set agenda. I remember a former work colleague who used to disrupt conversations if she was not involved in shaping agenda of every meeting. With rapid advancements in technology, mushrooming of business models and short product cycles, no single individual can claim to be an expert in everything, and it is incumbent upon us to defer to the most qualified and not to the most tenured or senior. We stop being a leader not because we don’t have the answer but because we refuse to step aside for someone who did. As leaders, we must clear the path for our teams, and it may mean having someone else take the lead.
Technology is not the silver bullet that will magically rid us of all the problems. We run the risk of not harnessing its true potential if, like the man above, we keep blaming the empty beer bottles for our shortcomings.
Technology for technology sake cannot solve any problem unless we change the underlying mind sets.
As Sydney Harris, former American journalist once commented, “The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.”