Decision making and traditional HR

Anyone who has read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell knows that what we think we know about how good decisions are made is mostly wrong. For most of the past sixty or so years the 'scientific' method has been in vogue with accountants, CFO's, purchasing departments and strategic planners (and, you guessed it, HR). Want to make a good decsion? Reach for the slide rulers (my age is showing) and the spreadsheets. List the relevant criteria, find the option that meets the greatest numbers and pull the trigger. Result - great decisions, everytime, all the time. Yeah, right.

Not so fast, according to Mr. Gladwell, and people like Gerd Gigerenzer at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, There are mechanisms in the human brain, especially as they relate to complex decision making, that work better than all the box checking and cost/benefit analysis. It seems, from the important research that has been going on over the last twenty or so years, we make very good decisions using our gut instinct. More effective and less resource intensive.

So, let's look at how this research illuminates the basic flaws in how HR has long carried out its decision making. For example, the results of the research clearly indicate that, when forced to choose among many options and required to describe in detail why we made the choice we did out of those many options, our level of dis-satisfaction with that choice goes up, signficantly, and as quickly as six to eight weeks after having made the choice.

If you want to test how this works think of your significant other and yourself sitting on your deck enjoying a glass of your favourite libation. Partner unit says, gee, we need antipasto and crackers to go along with this. Insanely, you volunteer to go the the store where you are presented with fifty different types of antipasto. After much delay and confusion you pick one reluctantly (you know where this is going) and return home to offer your selection to your partner. "Why did you pick the jar with the tuna in it, you know I don't like how they're harvested". You are already dis-satisfied with your choice of antipasto and the drink isn't looking so good either.

So think of a different version of this scene. Same deck, same partner. The antipasto comment - and just then the doorbell rings. It's your favourite neighbour, whom your partner thinks is the best cook on the planet, who knows your palates and who just happens to have a jar of antipasto she wants you to try. You say thanks, grab the jar out of her hand, and triumphantly head back to the hot tub. Smiles and cracker dipping all around.

The same thing is happening every time we look at 250 resumes trying to winnow them down to 15 candidates whom we will confront with a battery of behavioural descriptive questions, pour over their education, experience, test scores and chicken entrails trying to divine the perfect choice. Then we make the hiring manager explain in detail why they chose that antipasto, I mean candidate, over all the other candidates. Presto, bingo, a predictable recipe for dis-satisfaction with the new hire six to eight weeks later. I coulda had a V8! we hear from the frustrated manager. and then we complete the exit interview eighteen months later. Yucch!

What to do? What to do? Get your current good employees to recommend people they know who they think would make good employees. Develop a couple of absolutely fundamental personal attributes that you look for in new people and when you find them, have fierce conversatons with them and hire them. Fast. Then let your current team help them be successful. Organic HR!

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