Mini-Me Recruiting: Always Funny, Always Uncomfortable

Mini Me and Me (a.k.a. Verne Troyer) by Bit Boy
Mini Me and Me (a.k.a. Verne Troyer).  Photo courtesy of Bit Boy.

Who hasn’t wanted to clone themselves, especially when deep into a project that leaves a weekend in tatters. Dr. Evil of Austin Powers fame hilariously and awkwardly created Mini-Me as this right-hand man. While Mini-Me failed to carry out Dr. Evil’s plans for world domination, he succeeded in illustrating a major problem in human resources that needs more scrutiny than ever.  The actor Verne Troyer – who played Mini-Me – immortalized an uncomfortable concept.

The hiring of mini-me in organizations is a problem-behaviour caused by two cognitive fallacies.  One is the affinity bias, the liking of people similar to ourselves. The other is the exposure effect, where we like things that we have been merely exposed to. In the readings of cognitive fallacies it becomes clear that the majority of such fallacies are a variant of the “availability heuristic,” when we over-value thoughts that come to mind easily.  If we choose what’s comfortable, we reproduce our own status quo.

However, it’s usually the case that an employer needs a diverse team.  Even the most excellent leaders need people who have different strengths.  In an article at entrepreneur.com, George Deeb asserts;

“Maybe you don’t need a ‘glass half full’ optimist like yourself… Maybe you need a ‘glass half empty’ realist, who will bring a sense of caution to your investment decisions. Or, you may need a similar ‘A-Type Personality’ to lead your sales team efforts… But, maybe a ‘B-Type Personality’ may be a better fit to manage your more introverted team of technology developers. …Maybe what you really need is the opposite of yourself. You need your Anti-Me to help keep yourself organized, on plan and in check. It really comes down to what you see as your personal strengths and weaknesses, and filling in any voids in your skill-sets.” (Emphasis added)

Equity and Inclusion in Hiring Decisions

The most visible consequence of unconscious bias is that organizations hire and promote people in the same demographic category as the hiring manager, increasing the momentum behind historic privilege.  In an article in the Guardian in 2016, Matthew Jenkin notes that the context of a selection interview will have an outsized impact on who is chosen.  If the context is white and middle-class, candidates who are white and middle class will be favoured.

Bias goes beyond blockbuster items like race and social class. Hobbies, personal experiences, and how we dress can be factors too. If the leadership of an organization is “all of one type” it is a reliable sign that the leadership has lost all curiosity, has no self-doubt, and does not take evidence seriously.  The leadership is not reading the news, and if they are, they are only reading it in print.

This is not the mindset of leaders who will make an organization successful in the near future.  Yes, we must achieve indicators of diversity, but we must also foster receptiveness to new information, a curiosity about diverse ideas, and ways in which an individual can be excellent in a manner that might be considered weird.

Why Structured Interviews Matter

The professional association in the UK, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), released a paper in 2015 entitled A Head for Hiring: The Behavioural Science of Recruitment and Selection. It looked at, amongst other things, the role of unstructured interviews.  The authors found a study that fed research participants a combination of good evidential information, plus random irrelevant information from an unstructured interview.  The research subjects upgraded the importance of the random irrelevant information and discounted the good information.  “This can be seen as evidence of sense-making – our tendency to identify patterns or detect trends even when they are non-existent.”

It’s not just the interviewers who are at risk of making bad judgment calls. The CIPD paper identified cognitive fallacies in the mind of the interviewee that caused them to self-select away from promising job matches.  And walking into an unfamiliar environment, where they feel like an outsider, can cause job candidates to underperform because of the additional stress.  When people are using their brains, they are vulnerable to issues of cognitive load in which a complex environment exhausts their brain prior to facing decisions.  Those coming from a different context face disadvantage in an environment that might seem “normal” to the host.

Solutions in Diversity Hiring

What is the remedy for these problems?  For one, structured interviews are key, as they narrow the range of evidence to information that is relevant.  Also, we must actively seek contrary evidence; not taking things at face-value, and seeking information that is outside of what is familiar and comfortable.  There is also diversity representation.  Charles Hipps, CEO of e-recruitment company WCN, was quoted in the Guardian article and  “…suggests having team members from the particular group you are trying to attract present during the recruitment process – whether that’s meeting and greeting candidates or on the interview panel.”  Structure a diverse context and it will set a balanced comfort-level with reduced cognitive load.

Employers are also starting to get hard-core, using new tools to improve the selection process.  The Guardian article spoke with one company, Elevate, that “uses algorithms to score every candidate’s CV, previous work experience, skills and education, and assesses their suitability for a role. It then ranks candidates much like Google’s search results…”   Another company, Joinkoru, conducts validated pre-hire assessments which provide candidate scores that are less sensitive to the candidate’s similarity to current employees.  It is also feasible to do blind selection in the process of creating a shortlist, in a manner that obscures the name and sex of the candidate.

Not all of these tools are perfect, and indeed there are emerging risks that algorithms can carry-forward the historic bias of past human behaviours.  The rise of the racist robots is a concern.  We might not be creating cloned versions of ourselves (yet), but we are at serious risk of creating artificial intelligence which has flaws identical to our broader society.

And the technology can be expensive.  Doctor Evil is the only one selling it, and he’s going to charge you (pinky to mouth) one million dollars.

Spaghetti Principle Best Way to Change Minds

IMG_0580 by Brent (2)
IMG_0580.  Photo courtesy of Brent.

Does everything change when you touch it?  Yes for spaghetti: spaghetti changes when you touch it.  But what about people?  Do people change when you try to move them?  Sometimes.  Only sometimes.

One of my sub-skills is my ability to give one-on-one tutorials to colleagues to bring them to a higher level proficiency in Microsoft Excel.  Results vary, not because of talent, but more because of the person’s interest-level and their opportunity to apply the learning. I have done these tutorials enough times to know that there is a major concept that everyone needs to “get.”  So I offer the spaghetti metaphor.

When you move cooked spaghetti from the colander to the dining table, there are two ways that it gets there.  First, you move spaghetti out of the colander and onto the plate, changing the layout of the noodles in the process.  Then, after putting on the sauce, you move the entire plate to the dining table.  Transporting the plate does not change the layout of the noodles.  You can move the noodles or move the entire plate.  The distinction is that in some cases you change the configuration of the contents and in other cases you change their location but with the configuration left intact.

For those struggling with Excel, the issue is that if a rectangular cell has formulas in it, you must cut-and-paste the cell, drag-and-move the entire cell, or copy the formula inside the formula prompt to move a formula without altering it.  By contrast, if you copy-and-paste a cell or you use the autofill feature, your formula will automatically change so that all the cell references move accordingly.  You don’t have to worry about this if you’re not manipulating Excel right now.  As I mentioned, your ability to grasp this depends on your opportunity to apply the learning.

Enough math, let’s extend the concept to people’s opinions.  Are there cases where we attempt to move the logic in the minds of others?  Yes indeed.  Sometimes when you attempt to compel others to think of things differently, you get to change the configuration of their spaghetti-scramble of ideas.  But other times, you simply move the plate.  You get a person with the exact same opinions as before, they’re just in a different place, possibly more entrenched.

On Ozan Varol’s website, the rocket-scientist-turned-contrarian-author has some advice on how to change people’s minds.  Varol explains that people’s beliefs have an outsized impact on their grasp of the facts.  This role of beliefs drives a cognitive fallacy known as confirmation bias, the tendency for us to select facts that strengthen our beliefs and gloss-over those facts that are disruptive and uncomfortable.  The challenge is that we cannot use facts to drive changes-of-opinion, because it’s almost impossible to get into peoples’ grasp of “the facts” without attacking their intelligence.  So their defenses go up and they tell you where to go.  You know how this goes.

Varol recommends re-framing either-or debates around an alternate frame of reference.  His best example is when Columbians in the 1950s were grappling with the collapse of the Rojas dictatorship.  An entrenched mindset would blame the military for complicity in the Rojas regime, but that’s not what happened.  Instead, citizens offered an alternative narrative that “…it was the ‘presidential family’ and a few corrupt civilians close to Rojas – not military officers – who were responsible for the regime’s success.”  This narrative significantly reduced the risk of Columbia slipping into a military dictatorship.

As an academic, Varol presents papers at conferences with a subtle verbal shift.  He presents opinions somewhat detached from himself (“This paper argues…”) so that his ideas are lobbed into the public sphere to be thrashed about until others come to a more meaningful conclusion.  When he made this shift his ideas “took a life of their own” allowing him to view his own arguments with some objectivity.

You can do this too.  Varol encourages you to befriend those who disagree with you, expose yourself to environments where your opinions can be challenged, and presume that you will experience some discomfort.

Personally, I think the big deal is to get over yourself.  Or to be precise, that I need to get over myself. (See what I did there?)  If everyone other than me has opinions that are a random configuration of noodles, what are the odds that my own ideas are configured perfectly?

When it’s my turn to make spaghetti, I get the noodles into the plate, even them up, pour the sauce, and just get it all onto the table.  I have one kid that hates parmesan, and another that hates pepper.  Neither of them uses a spoon.  They handle the noodles as they see fit.  I let everyone enjoy what’s in front of them, while we talk about our day and our lives.  Hands off the noodles, because now’s the time to enjoy people.

Dig Deeper and Discover Employees Are Human

010-hard-work, by jdxyw [edits]
010-hard-work.  Photo courtesy of jdxyw.
In an earlier post I summarized Josh Bersin’s 2018 forecast of disruptive technologies in HR, which I followed-up with an overview of the leadership styles implied by the technology.  My experience with the technology and analytics is that many of the logical elements of human resources can now be figured out with increased ease.  Or rather, it’s easy if you figured them out last year.  But once we have figured out the numbers, it is the social and qualitative factors that become important.

When describing the analytics Bersin names four different types of data:

  • HRMS data
  • Relationship data
  • Wellbeing data
  • Sentiment data

The relationship data described above is a reference to Organizational Network Analytics (ONA), which uses social network theory to look at the way people interact.  ONA collects data from email traffic, meeting attendance, phone calls, and geographic proximity.  It takes a lot of work to get the data to sing, but we already know some of the implications from pre-existing research on social networks.

Information and opportunities flow through the social networks with partial disregard for rank, department, or a person’s commitment to the institution itself.  Sometimes powerful and important people have good connections… but sometimes they do not, and sometimes there are lesser-known influencers who are the key.

Your new status in a network will be influenced by your ability to consider contradictory opinions, your curiosity about new perspectives, and your connections to people in diverse cliques.  Keeping the channels open will be key to your success.  But the best opportunities are to coordinate the entire network for organizational gain, rather than to rig it to favour one individual (be it yourself or someone else).  Think of this as being like pay equity on steroids; once you measure and publicize how things have been organized, there will be an immediate impetus to re-orient everything towards fairness and performance.

Beyond social networks, sentiment data opens a major opportunity.  Your opportunities for analysis jump dramatically once you ask people their story, their context, their emotions, and how this experience relates to their home life and how they describe themselves as people.  Qualitative data has turned out to the missing puzzle piece that everyone was looking for.  It’s difficult to get to because analysts need the humility to talk to people who aren’t always great at math.  Some of the best insights about the subjective experience comes from journalists, novelists, philosophers, and people in the arts.  You really need to show up at those kinds of dinner parties because when it’s time to design your model or your AI to mimic human behaviour, you need to know what it means to be human in the first place.

Increasingly, people analytics is a velvet-roped line up to board a greyhound bus that takes you to destinations unknown.  When you get off that bus, you will find you are not being led to a four-star hotel or the hip new club.  Rather, you are unloaded at a diner where a long-lost cousin shares old photos, your best friend calls you on your bull, and you re-discover that one small thing that’s truly important to you.  The truth doesn’t feel good because it’s cool, the truth makes you feel right because it helps you become authentic.

The deeper you go into the data, the more you realize that people are vulnerable, complex, and hiding great potential.  They want to talk, and it’s your job to listen.

HR Technology – Get Ready For the Big Shake!

Day 119 - Shake it all about. By JLK_254
Day 119 – Shake it all about. Photo courtesy of JLK_254.

Looking back, it feels like 2017 was a big crazy dog that we watched playing in the water.  That dog has now come out of the water, it’s coming right at you and… get ready for the shake.  There’s never a dull moment in the world of technological disruptions in human resources and workforce analytics.

It’s becoming clear that the disruptions of the near-future will rely increasingly on human resources departments.  Items such as workplace learning, change management, and leadership development are being increasingly flagged by leaders outside of HR as critical to success in their own fields.  Meanwhile, and the ground level looking upward, employees are getting blunt about their expectations for career growth, workforce diversity, and a sense of organizational purpose.  Organizations trying to get on top of these issues without saying “human resources” are running out of euphemisms.

With a new year ahead of us, Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte has published his forecasts for 2018.  In this case Bersin’s forecast is a list of emerging trends in human resources technology, a narrower focus than in the past.  Nonetheless, as everyone grips for emerging technological disruption in a variety of fields, it makes sense for us to consider how technology will disrupt human resources itself.

In my two subsequent posts I will describe how these innovations imply a different workplace culture and  leadership style, and increase the importance of qualitative information and our interpretations of the employee context.  For now, just consider that all work can change, and the people helping workplaces adapt to change are also changing themselves.  HR is just getting a double dose.

At-a-glance, Bersin’s top ten trends are as follows:

  1. A Massive Shift from “Automation” to “Productivity”
  2. Acceleration of HRMS and HCM Cloud Solutions, But Not the Center of Everything
  3. Continuous Performance Management is Here: And You Should Get With It
  4. Feedback, Engagement, and Analytics Tools Reign
  5. Reinvention of Corporate Learning is Here
  6. The Recruiting Market is Thriving With Innovation
  7. The Wellbeing Market is Exploding
  8. People Analytics Matures and Grows
  9. Intelligent Self-Service Tools
  10. Innovation Within HR Itself

For the uninitiated, Human Capital Management (HCM) cloud solutions (#2) is the technology that delivers databases known as human resources management systems (HRMS) on a fee-for-service basis through off-site cloud-based servers.  It’s disruptive because previous systems involved the purchase of an application which was stored on in-house servers alongside the data itself, with everything being owned and modified by the buyer.  Switching to cloud solutions means that you must steward and cultivate data carefully to allow it to dovetail with the rented solution, like a millwright, but with data.  These solutinos allow employers to take full advantage of all configurations in the latest version of the software.  There is far more functionality.  But the increased functionality won’t work unless your data is good and you figure out how to use the new modules.  This change has large implications for human resources, information technology, and daily users of the database.

Prior to now, most People Analytics (#8) was a combination of advanced analytics interpreting data that comes off the core database, plus a bunch of emerging data coming out of engagement analytics (#4).  But now, those two items are just the major platforms.  There are systems that used to be fringe players in HR but are now increasingly critical… and they need their own enabling technology.  Some of the technology hinges on the HRMS, but some of it does not.  For example, workplace learning (#5) and wellbeing initiatives (#7) used to be something that you could operate off an Office suite using a research-based model that followed the best literature in pedagogy or public health.  The best content would be distributed face-to-face, with limited need for software to make the difference.  Now the technology can help out so much more, and tools are becoming available to empower the traditional delivery methods to be more effective, more targeted, and better connected to analytics.

To some extent, everything is being disrupted in a manner that obliges us to think less about the technology itself and more about general productivity (#1).  Those delivering generalist human resources services are also seeing innovations in their own area.  Recruiting (#6) and performance management (#3) are being improved by technology, and a variety of self-service tools (#9) are automating operational tasks such as case management, document management and employee communications.  First we must obsess about the technology to get it to work for us, then we can clear that obstacle and get into new challenges.  Breaking new ground every day will give people in HR a lot of mojo, but only if we keep moving forward.

Bersin brings it all together by noting that it’s not just the purchased solutions that are transforming human resources teams.  In-house HR departments are disrupting themselves (#10), regardless of help from vendors.  Then they ask for help and the vendors themselves are struggling to keep up with clients.  When dealing with complicated case-work and finicky databases, in-house staff sometimes have a home team advantage.

Today’s Awkward is Tomorrow’s Cool

Prom 1983. By Andrew Kitzmiller
Prom 1983. Photo courtesy of Andrew Kitzmiller.

Basically, 2017 was the year in which all of the adults became anxious and depressed teenagers at a high-school dance, after we just got 51% on a big exam, and our crush sent mixed signals just before they moved away.  The moment of clarity from 2017 was that adults are just as susceptible to adolescent anxiety as the teenagers are.

And workforce analytics is right in there, disrupting the pecking order.

Analytics is a major threat to those who presume their authority and excellence should be based on wins from years gone by.  Therefore, all office politics are up for grabs.  Every job in every sector is under intense change, and at the very least we’ll each have to pick up some new tools and apply them to our current job just to break even.  But it’s far more likely that your job is the subject of a double-or-nothing bet.

Can people change?  Yes, but they have to work at it.  This is an interesting article about malleable personalities.  The idea of a malleable personality is that we can change who we are based on the circumstances, or in a chosen direction of who we want to be.  This idea is newer than most people think.

There has been a shift in psychiatry away from the decades-long theory that our brains are fixed after a certain age.  Instead, our brains are subject to neuroplasticity, in which we are always growing and adapting.  I was first exposed to the concept a decade ago by Dr. Norman Doidge in his 2007 book The Brain That Changes Itself.

Doidge was one of the earliest researchers in the psychiatry of neuroplasticity.  He had a really hard time convincing fixed-mindset people in his own field that people can change.  Major shifts in scientific thinking can take decades within the academic discipline.  Then the researchers need to convince the general public, which takes longer.

So, let’s see how quickly we can pick up a new concept and apply it to our lives, starting now.

The newer research about malleable personalities was about helping teenagers cope with anxiety and depression.  The researchers created a 30-minute video for teens to watch, explaining some new concepts:

“They heard from older youths saying they believe people can change, and from others saying how they’d used belief in our capacity for change (a “growth mindset”) to cope with problems like embarrassment or rejection. The teenagers learned strategies for applying these principles…” (Emphasis added)

The study showed noticeable improvements, relative to a control group, in depression and – lesser so – with anxiety over a nine-month period.  The study looked at both the self-reporting by the teens and the opinions of those teens’ parents.  The researchers were particularly enthusiastic that this brief video is scale-able, can be offered to all teens universally, and can set up kids for a more successful intervention later in their lives.

Adopting a Growth Mindset in a Changing Workplace and Changing World

Although the study is limited to teens in a clinical sample, the findings may be relevant to the general population’s adaptability to change.  Workplaces are in upheaval because of technology and globalization.  Every region is gripped by either unemployment or unaffordable housing.  Inequality and social media are making people increasingly anxious they haven’t made it.  Democracies are vulnerable to demagogues who offer temptations to turn back the clock.

In the workplace, what should we do?

Adopt a growth mindset, change our personalities as we see fit, and give ourselves permission to become two or more different types of people.  Scheme to have a backup plan or a side-hustle.  Put down the smartphone and start reading.  Regard societal upheaval as a topic of exceptional cocktail banter.

Then talk about your feelings, eat a sandwich, and have a nap.

You’ll need the rest.  Because tomorrow is another person.

Handle Office Politics Like Fitted Sheets

Women honoured at Herat hospital
Women honored at Herat Hospital, Afghanistan, IWD 2011.  ResoluteSupport Media.

Office politics and fitted sheets are basically the same thing.

Before you truly understand fitted sheets, they entangle you, waste your time, and you can’t fold and put them away properly.  Sure, there are people who have a proper folding method, but who has the time to learn this kind of skill?  Yet if your fitted sheets are a bundled mass at the back of the closet, you’ll never feel like you’re great at everything.  But if you ask those who have mastered fitted sheets, you will notice that they have no stress about this topic.  It’s all very simple and easy, just something that needs extra attention.

Office politics is the same thing.  It entangles your day-job with something you think shouldn’t be such a big deal.  There are “proper” ways of dealing with office politics, but are there a gazillion methods and it’s bewildering.

Are office politics even a real skill?  Or is it just some nuisance that sits at the back of your career history, making your best efforts seem unfinished.  The funny thing about office politics is that it’s always messy when you don’t do anything about it.  But there are people who just apply the correct efforts using a couple of simple rules, and they seem strangely calm.  How do they do that?

Here are your instructions for handling fitted sheets.

You need two sets of bedding so don’t have to wait all day for everything to dry.  Wash all bedding in one load, but place the single fitted sheet in the drier on its own.  It will dry quickly.  The rest of the bedding goes into the drier as another load, and will dry faster unentangled.

When folding a fitted sheet, just fold it in half like a towel, bringing two fitted ends together.  Match the corner of elastic bands together, and the sticky-out parts are nested inside one another.  Do this with all four corners in pairs.  Then fold it in half so you have three corners and a semi-circle hanging on the bottom.  Fold it again until most of it looks like a proper rectangle and the semi-circle is not visible.  It will look pretty good but not perfect.  Store it with the rest of the folded bedding, and leave it there until you need it.

Then stop complaining about fitted sheets.

Here are your instructions for handling office politics.  Perceive more than one set of overlords; the one you report to currently, plus their boss, plus the person you’re probably going to work for in three years.  Do all of your normal work as one effort, applying intelligence and exertion plus your own special thing.

Like putting a fitted single sheet in the drier, treat each office-politics-item as a single-purpose puzzle, and apply your best judgment with partial disregard for other concerns.  Who is going to backfill the senior vacancy?  We’ll have to rely on the selection process.  Why do those two people dislike each other?  If one of them trusts you, ask politely about their history.  Was that story I heard personal, and should I not pass it on?  When in doubt say nothing.  These items are confusing when bundled together and entangled with your normal efforts.  So keep it simple.

Now, bring it all together into a clear understanding of what the general dynamic is.  Store all of the agendas together in one place in your mind, simple and organized.

Leave it there until you need it.

And don’t complain about office politics.