Challenging times require innovative solutions, and the current work climate qualifies as challenging. It is also complex. In the book Reset, author Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, makes the point, "We have seen during recent reset moments that HR is the true home of innovation within the modern organization…and the innovative employee experience."
How do we encourage HR innovation and the innovative employee experience? That is the question.
Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Chief Innovation Officer for ManpowerGroup, author, professor, former CEO and thought leader, is an expert on the topic of workplace innovations. In a recent interview, I asked him as we emerge from the pandemic which innovations he considers crucial. He offers these key concepts:
- Lead with competence, not personality.
- Measure what matters.
- Test the technology.
- Entertain the unusual.
- Find the fit.
- Weigh the want.
1. Lead with competence, not personality.
In his thought-provoking TedX Talk, Chamorro-Premuzic introduces a unique and compelling alternative to the culturally acceptable leader as a bombastic, egotistical and charismatic personality. Charismatic leaders may captivate us—we may even yearn to be like them—but research proves that often charismatic leaders do not produce results.
When identifying leaders, follow the science rather than intuition. This can be done by deemphasizing the importance of the job interview in business, moving from style to substance and appointing leaders less on the basis of their past experience and technical expertise and more on the basis of their psychological capital. "Without a minimum of intelligence, curiosity, Emotional Quotient (EQ), humility, integrity and coachability, [individuals] should not be considered for leadership roles," said Chamorro-Premuzic.
We cannot settle for superficial characteristics; we must strive for competence in ourselves and the leaders we develop. In a complex environment, organizations need a leader who is responsive, asks questions, listens, cares and applies common sense. In short, we need competent leaders, not charismatic leaders. What are the innovations here? Chamorro-Premuzic says it simply: Quantify leadership in terms of behaviors rather than reputations and personality.
2. Measure what matters.
Innovation in how we assess performance occurs when, according to Chamorro-Premuzic, we measure the "right things." Tomas observed that our approach during the pandemic was similar to performance metrics in call centers in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, we measured performance by monitoring employee behavior using cameras. When we found an underperforming call center, we outsourced the function. According to Chamorro-Premuzic, we should have been measuring client calls that were: 1) satisfactorily completed, 2) positively rated by the client and 3) concluded according to protocol.
Fast forward to during the pandemic when people worked from home, we also measured the wrong things. We tracked input rather than output. It was all about how well workers "managed impressions." Ask yourself the question, do you want workers back in office because that is where people are more easily managed, where we can keep an eye on them? If so, we are measuring the wrong things.
We need to measure output, and not just at the individual level. Chamorro-Premuzic suggests linking sources of data in unique ways to combine levels of analysis. For example, we should merge the individual 360-degree reviews with team engagement and team evaluation data. Assessing team engagement can be accomplished using natural language processing to measure team language. Additionally, using open-source software managers can identify words as well as tone, both positive and negative. Visualization tools provides insight into team engagement. By using these combined data points, we gain multi-faceted, well-rounded performance data that reflects the work process as a whole.
We must change our mindset to be more data driven and evaluate performance at more than the individual level. When we redefine the focus of and the criteria for evaluation to be multifaceted, we get data that is rich and prescriptive.
3. Test the technology.
In order to "decontaminate hiring and performance measures," use technology. AI and gamification, rather than personality tests and interviews, can increase objectivity in hiring. However, the caveat is to ensure that the technology vets for the actual, desired skills and competencies. Evaluate the technology to ensure that it performs in the manner you intended. This is innovative because we tend to accept AI as designed and not question its algorithms. Instead, train algorithms to score outcomes and not performance. This again goes back to measuring things that matter.
When invoking technology, you are also judging for ethical usage. Be sure that you tell people what is going on and how the technology is being used. When necessary, obtain informed consent. Be ready to justify the benefits while preserving the anonymity of the data source logically and ethically, according to legal standards and best practices.
4. Entertain the unusual.
We have the tendency to identify as fringe those who have unique ideas. Further, there is a temptation as leaders to hear what we want to hear. Instead, we must hear what we need to hear. Rather than relegating innovators to a place where they are neither seen nor heard, bring them into the mainstream. In fact, bring them into your inner circle. Give them positions of power and status. This requires a different mindset, one where you allow, listen to and consider divergent opinions. This approach could be leveraged within the HR function, by structuring it like a laboratory for research and development. Entertain unusual ideas, take some risk and reconsider the very function of HR development.
5. Find the fit.
We have real opportunities and big possibilities for optimizing worker potential to the benefit of organizations. Use data to understand humans at work. With that data we can help people to enjoy work and their careers by putting them in positions where we maximize their skills and competencies. Once we know workers' skills, the concepts of fit and mobility emerge. Workers can apply their skills in positions (fit) —new or adjacent—anywhere in the workplace (mobility). We should provide opportunities for growth through placing employees in other business units of the organization and then reward those willing to be mobile. In so doing, we also address organizational skill shortages by leveraging internal human assets rather than hiring external candidates.
6. Weigh the want.
Famously, Chamorro-Premuzic states that you do not need to make your employees happy or ask what they need to stay engaged. Instead set them up for success with clear goals and a work environment conducive to achieving goals. Give less weight to surveys gauging employee happiness and focus more on boosting engagement. Ask what they want and need in order to do their jobs. Then check in often, set meaningful goals and provide adequate tools/training to create the conditions for their success.
Understand what people are best at and what they want to accomplish in their careers. Then work toward helping employees actualize those career goals. According to Chamorro-Premuzic, "Although the context of work and careers change, the qualities that enable leaders to create higher levels of engagement and performance in a team do not, e.g., expertise, good judgment, competence, good people-skills, self-awareness and humility." Get to know yourself and your employees better. Look for employees with potential, talent and actual performance outcomes, rather than impression-management experts with connections.
Deborah Waddill, Ed.D., is President of Restek Consulting LLC and author of Digital HR and The e-HR Advantage.