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Are You Stupider Than You Think?

By Diane Bock

Diane Bock I think your answer is no. Of course you aren’t stupid at all! And by “You”, I don’t mean you personally. I mean the business where you work.

Ah. Does that change your answer?

History holds many examples of businesses making bone-headed moves. Like in 1975 when Eastman Kodak put their perfectly good designs for a digital camera on ice…so as not to cannibalize or remove focus from their photographic film business. A now defunct business. Could a business be stupider?

I’m not suggesting that your organization is on the verge of such an epic failure. What I am suggesting is that your company does some really idiotic things—things that waste time and money. Things operating (or not) in plain sight that might go undetected while you’re eyeball deep in the tyranny of the urgent.

HR/talent management processes: Killer apps or killing performance?

Stupider Than You ThinkTake the Human Resources function. I believe HR can be an organization’s Killer App. But there is a lot of evidence that much of your HR and Talent budget is spent in ways that harm business performance.

Studies continue to report that processes for hiring, developing people, and conducting performance management are seriously flawed. Consider just a few data points:

  • A November 2015 report by Brandon Hall calls the state of talent acquisition “A Crisis of Missed Opportunities.”
  • According to Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends report, only 13 percent of leaders feel they’re doing a good job, saying they’re “not adequately prepared for their positions”.
  • Despite more than $50 billion dollars a year spent worldwide on leadership development, DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast study found that only 37 percent of leaders rated the quality of their organization’s leadership development programs as high or very high.
  • In a meta-analysis of 607 studies of performance evaluations, psychologists Kluger and Denisi concluded that at least 30 percent of performance reviews decrease employee performance.

These findings indicate a considerable disconnect between the objectives organizations set for talent management and the processes they have in place to achieve them. Meanwhile, those bad hires, unsound promotion decisions, poorly prepared leaders, and disheartened employees negatively impact your revenue, profit, customer loyalty, employee engagement, ability to innovate, and more.

Buying programs that don’t work

One of the many complex challenges in implementing high quality talent processes for hiring, leading, and developing people is the puniness of the talent budget. It’s perpetually insufficient. I’ve been there. I feel your pain. But I have an idea.

I venture to say that some of the programs you invest in are NOT yielding measurable positive impact on key business metrics. So, how about if you stop buying programs that don’t work? Just stop. Stop the insanity! Use that money for something that works.

Based on the studies cited above, you might safely go ahead and assume half of your programs are not worth the investment. Or some measurement might be in order to determine where you are and are not getting a payoff for your investment. Meanwhile, I’d like to share examples of a few widely used products that are little more than snake oil—according to many experts. Warning: The products noted below enjoy more than a modicum of popularity. Some of you may be about to deal with cognitive dissonance or possibly the true believer syndrome.

The top three programs you should stop using

  1. Learning Style Assessments – Learning Styles are a myth. This article explains it all. Or if you are a visual or auditory style learner, watch this Ted Talk by Dr. Tesia Marshik. (I’m being ironic…couldn’t resist!)
  2. Right Brain/Left Brain Dominance Assessment – Sorry, the theories about brain dominance have been disproven by neuroscience.
  3. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Personality Instrument – Cleopatra wasn’t Egyptian. Searing meat doesn’t seal in moisture. And the MBTI instrument is not reliable or valid. Articles in the Smithsonian Magazine and on Business shed light. My favorite is Adam Grant, Wharton Professor (in Psychology Today).

Do you see a pattern here? In a seasonally appropriate, Scrooge-like manner, I’ve chosen to call out the one category of spending that makes users happy. It’s true that these tools are very enjoyable. And we know why that is, thanks to neuroscience. Remember the research about how the brains of Facebook users react? Getting “liked”, talking about one’s self to other people…these activities light up the pleasure center of the brain. Many personality/style instruments provide a similar blissful social affirmation. Who doesn’t want to have nice warm fuzzy feelings?

Sadly, the glow of affirmation doesn’t translate into changed behaviors that drive your organization to greater success. In fact, I’ve seen these and other similar instruments create problems as people (wrongly) use the results to make hiring decisions, pigeon-hole employees, excuse their own ineffective behavior, or smugly feel superior to others. For an investment in invalid instruments like these, your business gets bupkis.

There are good reasons to use valid instruments to assess personality, style, motivations, and/or potential derailers, especially if you are making high stakes hiring, promotion, or succession planning decisions. So if you need to assess personality, make sure the instrument has been scientifically proven to be reliable and valid. An indicator of this would be a provider who is willing to support you in a court of law to defend the results of the assessment. At no cost to you.

Assessing styles and personalities for lesser reasons, such as for team building or for fun, isn’t the most strategic use of your budget. Productive teams are better built with clear goals, proper tools and resources, role clarity, fair and effective work and communication processes, and an expectation for helpfulness and collaboration. Plus, team incentives must be aligned with organization objectives and any disincentives (such as forced ranking performance management) must be eliminated.

First, do no harm

Other common products have been called into question by serious research…such as 360 feedback assessments, engagement surveys, and diversity training. There are loads of low quality products in these categories. However, a very common issue with these tools is improper implementation. Unless handled very carefully, they are fraught with dangers that cause more harm than good.

A talent executive client of mine recently determined that her organization’s engagement survey and performance management processes yielded no positive outcomes. What did she do? She ended them. Her replacement investment focuses on upskilling leaders for everyday coaching and people development, much to the ringing endorsement of the company executives and all employees.

So, has anything stupid escaped your attention? Are any HR programs wasting precious resources and actively undermining your organization’s goals? If so, a good place to start might be…to stop.

Diane Bock is a senior consultant for DDI’s Leadership Solutions Group and is passionate about helping organizations drive business results through people.

Posted: 18 Dec, 2015,
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