HR and The Red Queen’s Race

On March 6, 2017, in HRExaminer, Paul Hebert, by Paul Hebert


“We are obsessed with speed. And I think it is killing our ability to get things done. Don’t get me wrong. We do get things done. But I think we get things done ‘less well.'” – Paul Hebert

We live in a world of speed.

First movers are lauded. Faster internet is better. Faster computers, faster phones, faster updates. Faster. Faster. Faster. We are obsessed with speed. And I think it is killing our ability to get things done. Don’t get me wrong. We do get things done. But I think we get things done “less well.” We get 10 things done well. But we don’t ever solve the real problem those 10 things were part of.

I think it is partly because we have become addicted to action – any action – at the expense of true success.

Design Sprints

“But Paul – speed is King. Speed is what makes me better than others. Speed is faster, better, prettier than you.”

I hear you. The interwebs are all about speed. Agile is the new 6-Sigma. But allow me to suggest a different spin on the speed issue. Especially as it might ultimately relate to HR.

First, let me back up and fill in some blanks for you all. I’ve been in the middle of some rather important technology design activity of late. And part of that process includes five different “design sprints.” If you’re not familiar with design sprints they are basically a structured process of ideation, curation, selection and prototyping a “low-fidelity” solution for a specific technology objective. Low-fidelity means you don’t build out all the pretty bells and whistles of the final design – but create enough to get a test audience to understand the goals/objective/process and get a feel for whether you’re solution is on the right track. Design sprints were initially created at Google Ventures so they have to be the right thing to do, right? (Ahem, wave, buzz, google +, cubes, etc., wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)

At the end of the day a design sprint has two main positive outcomes (at least for me – some might argue they have more.) One – it helps identify a specific solution to a problem and two – it allows you to test that solution quickly before a bunch of money is spent, only to find out your target audience really didn’t have that problem or find your solution engaging. It’s a test marketing process on steroids.

Paul Hebert, 2015

Paul Hebert | Founding Member, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

And it is fun. It requires a team to be together for three, four, five days straight – eight hours a day. And within a week you can brainstorm, create and test an important part of your solution. You feel energized. You created something. You have input on that thing. You now can say – “go forth and do that” without that nagging voice saying “are you sure?”

Design sprints are a balm for your design performance anxiety itch.

And maybe it is Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, but it seems I’m seeing an uptick in the areas where design sprints are being adopted to solve a myriad of different, non-technology issues. I’m seeing it attached to general business processes, marketing problems, and in some cases, even people problems.

But as I went through my own various sprints I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing. Something bigger, more important, more lasting. Sure we were able to put something into a small box and get input on it. But was the bigger picture, the REAL issue, the overall solution; was that being serviced? In other words, did we just find a great solution to a very small thing – yet do it without the context of the big, final, solution? I now wonder if all these little sprints, to solve little problems, create an end result that is less successful. Are we creating Rube Goldberg type outputs?> I can’t help but think using design sprints, we can create amazing, well-designed pieces of a technology, that when assembled into the whole solution won’t solve the overall problem the little solution was supposed to help solve.

HR vs. Technology

I promised a connection to HR and here it is. So much of what I read and see in HR today is tech-colored. It seems you can’t have a discussion around a problem in an organization related to people that won’t come with a bespoke built tech solution (or that someone won’t ASK for a tech solution as if that were the only way to go). pulse survey tech, recognition “platforms,” engagement survey systems, talent management tools, benefit management tools, training tools. Each and every one of them starts with technology and ends with an HR problem.

With all the focus on technology in HR today I can’t help but feel we’re trying to adopt processes and ideas that work great for developing software to issues that are fundamentally human and not process, not efficiency, not quantitative. When we look at HR through the same lens we look at technology do we start to see all the little problems that could be fixed with better technology and miss the big picture that can only be fixed with better people?

I ask again. Are we addicted to doing something regardless if it solves the big problem? Are we focused on being busy? Do we think it is better to be constantly moving instead of taking time to sit still and let things happen for a bit? Are we loathe to let a process run with no intervention?

When I see what is going on in HR today all I hear is this dialogue between the Red Queen and Alice in the book “Through the Looking-Glass:”

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Is HR running the Red Queen’s Race? Are we getting caught up in the minutia where change and progress is easy to see, yet with all our “progress” we’re still in the same place when we pull back the camera and see the big picture?

I don’t have an answer to the question.

What I do have is about 12 years of study around HR problems and HR solutions that seem very, very familiar year to year. The little pieces have changed; but the micro-interventions are different. We are solving the pieces but not the whole.

We are working very, very hard to move forward and yet it seems we are still in the same place.

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