All this behavioural stuff #cipd14

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.

PC quote

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

6 thoughts on “All this behavioural stuff #cipd14

  1. Nice post Gem. Unfortunately LinkedIn pulse has lost its bandwagon virginity in this case, as it always does. I hate it too. But it’s not an HR thing in my view. We can educate all we like, and hand craft the delivery of the messages, advantages and general great things that, particularly recent, research into brain function can bring, but a) we won’t stop some folk from proclaiming themselves experts within a fortnight and b) we won’t convince the stale pale and make majority that rule in leadership.

    The soft stuff is the hard stuff. I don’t need “evidence” to know that. I don’t need more “proof” as there is plenty out there already to show “engaged” (or whatever you want to call it) workforces deliver better financial results. unlike the engage for success group who seem to have single handedly ignored every link ever made!

    I do think that the “rising chorus” as Anne Marie McKewan called it of collective voices of the lowly surfs among us will force through change – we’ve never been so connected and it’s getting harder and harder for the stale pale and male crew to hide from. Transparency is being forced. In the meantime, I agree, HR should stop looking for reasons to sit at the top table. If the seat isn’t there, sod off somewhere else and leave the assholes to suffocate in their own corporate dogma that will eventually deliver nothing but organisational heart failure.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Gemma, I think this is a wise call. Neuroscience seems to me to explain the why of what we already know. We know much of it already through our old and forgotten wisdoms. Our world is soaked in the need for a particular type of proof that we stopped listening to what we already knew. You wrote we have 34k emotions; neuroscience is also telling us we have more than five senses. We know things in many different ways.

    My fear in relation neuroscience is that it will be married to gamification and someone somewhere will think they have the answer; another way to manipulate the masses for satisfaction of greed.

    I wonder if somehow HR has lost its identity/become a helper and less of a player – and resultingly – been dumped on. Perhaps these bandwagons being jumped on are a sign of a lack of confidence.

  3. Great post Gem (as ever)!

    My concern is that neuromyths spin out from real neuroscientific studies and then become as prevalent in the workplace as “Extroverts are super-confident and introverts are shy wallflower-types.” It’s already happening in the education system according to this article:

    Equally – no matter how well-designed, any kind of research is inherently flawed, as no sample size is ever truly representative of whoever’s being studied. We need to be extremely mindful of phrases that start with “Research has shown that…” and making strategic decisions based on what follows. Exhibit A:

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  5. “A little learning is a dangerous thing;
    Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.”

    Behavioural Sciences are a relatively new and complex area – and to fully understand them you probably need to be studying or researching in the subject. We’re in danger of repeating the problems we have with personality questionnaires – taking a complex area of psychology and turning it into a 50 question quiz that allegedly will predict someone’s behaviour in work. Like you, I’m really interested in neuroscience and want to learn more – but to inform my way of doing “HR” rather than as a magic bullet for every employee problem.

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