Within human resources, truth is the first victim of industrial warfare. Does your working day involve manipulation of facts and truth? I bet it does.
Parties to negotiations proffer bargaining positions that are a precise distance from where things are really going. You support the management rights of managers who are clearly wrong. You conduct investigations into discipline cases where the facts are unclear or contradictory. You guard secrets on the tip of your tongue when people blather on at cocktail parties. As you empathize with diverse perspectives, there are multiple truths, things that may be true to one person but not the other.
The game of human resources brings an impish delight that you are at the crossroads between diplomacy, politics, espionage, and psychiatric nursing. If you can suspend your disbelief and stay in the adventure then truth be damned.
Workforce Analytics and the Re-Definition of Truth
But wait… here comes the human resource metrics team. We’re going to screw it up for you.
In order to love spending long hours getting the numbers right, analysts must develop a hatred for incorrect statements of fact. I feel a special kind of disgust when I discover that I have accidentally made a wrong statement. With large amounts of data, there are always errors inside the data I have received. And the more elaborate my calculations, the greater the risk that I have made a mistake, even when I apply good skills.
Between analysts there is a lot of blunt talk about whether formulas, numbers, and facts are correct. If something is wrong, the not-so-secret language of quants includes phrases like “that is false” and “I made a mistake” and “fix that now.” Analysts know how to talk with each other. Then we step into a meeting with non-quantitative colleagues who use very little math and lots of words. Dirty, filthy words, making statements that are incorrect. You know where this is going. Things must be corrected.
These two crowds – the generalists and the analysts – need a common language, an ability to translate words between two cultures. You might have experienced strange conversations involving phrases such as: How important is this fact? Is this really a fact? Is it true or false? Is it important if this fact is incorrect? Oh, look, someone made a mistake! Shall we discuss it with them? How can we talk about this mistake without embarrassing them? Oh goodness, the person who is wrong has the most power; who will talk with them about it? I’ll do it! No, not you. Wait, yes… you can tell them, you’re not a threat.
This dynamic give the human resource generalist an opportunity for an extremely complex skill set. Who in your office is the data translator between truth and context? As a generalist, how good are you at maintaining two mental states, one in which the facts are crystal clear in your mind, and another in which story and posture prevail? Can you pull together a discreet meeting to correct-course on a disputed fact? Can you prevent ill-informed decisions from being advanced, and also keep it quiet about it afterward?
It’s tough work to grapple with poker-faced stares between analysts, subordinates, and superiors while you navigate the rich world of debated facts. If the spreadsheet tells you only one thing that is certain, it is that this time you must do what feels right in your gut. You have been nourished with facts, and now your gut feels right. So put on your game face, and go! Now that’s employee engagement.