Last week I spent two inspiring days at the CIPD annual conference. There was a whole range of content throughout in the neuroscience and behavioural science space. How the brain works stuff.
I blogged from some of the sessions myself; you can find them here and here. Some of my fellow blog squaders also wrote about the sessions they attended. Try these from Phil Wilcox, Helen Amery and Julie Drybrough.
The content that I saw for myself, and that which I caught online from blogs and tweets was fascinating. But I have a concern or two, all the same.
Firstly, let me say that I have a genuine interest in these topics. I am curious about everything to do with the brain and how it works. Some of this interest springs from a professional place, and some from a more personal one. Learning more about these subjects has helped me understand more about myself; decisions that I made in the past, why I did some of the things that I did and how I ended up in the space that I did.
I recognise how improving understanding of behaviour and neuroscience within HR, applying it to that people stuff that we do, could influence and change our thinking and our approach. And its not just about us HR folk, it has the power to help all leaders in the roles that they hold. It has the potential to challenge much of that stuff that we accept as best practice, the way we have always done things both in organisations in general and in HR specifically. It can help us break through the perceived wisdoms. Take Drive by Daniel Pink. An evidence based book that told us many of the ways that most organisations traditionally do reward focuses on entirely the wrong things. These are fundamental challenges.
But there’s the thing. I’ve blogged before about the HR profession’s propensity for jumping on a bandwagon and I don’t want this to be the next one. That thing that we think is the answer, that thing that will change how the profession is seen, that thing that will the next big thing.
When reflecting on the conference, the thought that occurred was this. Is neuroscience the new employee engagement? I’ve blogged before, in the employee engagement rant series, about how I feel we jumped on the engagement bandwagon as we were desperate for some sort of proof. And the so-called proof (noting the lack of actual, you know, evidence) that engagement would lead to improved financial performance gave us something that we could use to prove that the people stuff had a ROI. That it was our ticket to the often fabled seat at the table. I don’t want behavioural science to go the same way. I don’t want it to be the next employee engagement. Embraced and then tired of.
I think that we should be developing behavioural science as a key part of HR and leadership practice. But I don’t want to see someone trying to explain cognitive dissonance in an infographic. I don’t want to read ’10 ways you can get employees to use more than 10% of their brain’ on LinkedIn Pulse. Behavioural science is not the place for platitudes or fragmented clichés. It is a serious subject and we must treat it as such, rather than devalue it. I’d like to see formal qualifications. I’d like to see it be taught as part of HR education.
And here’s the next thing. We need to think carefully about how we bring this stuff into our organisations. I’ve been there and talked to leaders. About mindfulness, positive psychology, emotional intelligence, resilience. I’ve been on the receiving end of the ‘what is this fluffy stuff is she on about now?’ look. And this is anything but.
To take this forward in a constructive way, avoid the bandwagon and aid understanding, we need some common language. We need to help HR professionals understand this stuff and then how to apply it, how to start the conversation, at their place. Going back to the Daniel Pink example for a moment. I reckon there are plenty of HR folk who have read his book. But how many have actually gone back to their place, and changed how they do their reward stuff? Started to challenge the way its always been done? It isn’t easy to know where to start. Conference sessions that raise awareness give us a great start. Now we need to decide what comes next.
But whatever we do, no infographics. Pretty please.
Image from @IIPTweets