“Do not talk about what makes people do the things they do. No one really wants to dig into that ancient programming. I think we shy away from digging into the mess of code because it’s unpredictable.” - Paul Hebert

“From the moment the oracle speaks, your future becomes identical to your past. How you would wail in your boredom.” ~ Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse Dune

We are all humans. And as humans, our brains are coded to do one thing – help us survive. Unfortunately, they still operate on 400,000-year-old software designed to address being eaten by saber tooth tigers, not sabotage from conniving coworkers.

And if you’re in HR, this is your problem.

It is HR’s problem because you are primarily focused on humans as “machines of production” to help your C-Suite overlords drive stock price, options and the amount of mahogany in the 12th floor boardroom. I kid, but humans, more so today than ever before, are truly your company’s competitive differentiator. But let me ask this simple question. Do you know the ins and outs of the machines you’re in charge of? How familiar are you with the Human User Manual? Knowing how to maintain and manage your machine should be your #1 skill set. You wouldn’t hire a fork-lift operator that couldn’t drive a forklift or a programmer that doesn’t know how to code. Yet, for many in the HR field, the #1 skill set for HR is hiring consultants that will talk to you about anything but human operating systems.

We can talk to HR about ATS’s, we can talk SaaS recognition platforms, we can talk about AI and MI or big data. But do NOT talk about the human OS. Do not talk about what makes people do the things they do. No one really wants to dig into that ancient programming.

I think we shy away from digging into the mess of code because it’s unpredictable. The outputs from that code is to say the least, buggy. No matter the input, we are never quite sure what the output will be. With normal software, if the code doesn’t do what you predict you assume it has a bug and you go and change it. If a human doesn’t do what you expect it is either a problem you fire, or a quirk that endears them to you (depending of course on your level of affection for the person.)

The bottom line is the human OS doesn’t perform the way you want in any sort of predictable fashion. And that’s a problem.

It’s a problem because business is addicted to certainty.

Certainty. Our Drug of Choice.

Stock markets love certainty. It’s why the market goes down when we’re not sure which way the election is going to go. It’s why it goes up went a specific company releases good earnings. It’s what your boss is looking for as well. Tell her what WILL happen. Not what might happen. But it’s not their fault. We’re human and our OS requires it to make us feel good.

We’ve been inundated lately with neuroscience information. That’s a good thing. HR needs to know more about how our brains work. Knowing how the brain works helps us do a better job of creating environments our employees like and thrive in. It provides us with more information on our human OS (our #1 required skill set.)

One of the things you’ve likely heard about is dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter released when we feel rewarded. And our brains love it! When we “predict” something will happen, and it does, our brains give us a little shot of dopamine – making us feel better. The more we predict correctly the more dopamine, the better we feel. Our brains are rewarding us for being right (is there a saber tooth tiger behind that rock? Yes! Bing – dopamine!) It’s a good thing. It makes us better predictors. And it makes us less likely to die.

However, when you can’t predict things, an alert goes to your brain telling you that something is amiss – to pay more attention. Your brain creates a threat response. And we don’t like that. It’s the opposite of dopamine. We want that feeling to go away. To make it go away we look for more dopamine. And we get dopamine from information.

Information = Certainty (Even if it doesn’t)

More information makes us less uneasy. Just like when we correctly predict the outcome of an event, each new piece of information gives us the same dopamine rush. But the sad part is we feel better getting more information even if the information doesn’t change anything. We just want to make that feeling of uncertainty go away. Information does that. It makes things “feel” more certain.

We always move toward certainty. Or “perceived” certainty.

How much do we pay consultants to give us their opinion – to make us feel a bit more secure in our approach? A lot. Certainty is a big selling point right? Think of your own history. Whenever there is uncertainty in the business the best thing you can do it over communicate. Even if the content has no impact on the outcome. The information will help ease the mental pain.

I see this all the time. Not just in HR. In other areas of business as well.

New “systems” will solve your problem.

New ideas will solve your problem.

New consultants will solve your problem.

New technology will solve your problem.

The next “silver bullet” for HR is (insert new initials, or portmanteau here.)

These are the siren calls for businesses in uncertain waters. It’s why consultants make bank and why there are so many of them. They prey on our need for certainty. They are dopamine pushers.

But here’s my list of the real certainties of HR:

  • Humans will do things you don’t expect.
  • Emotion will always win out over logic even when you don’t think so
  • Certainty is a vapor.
  • Uncertainty is truth
  • Because your job focuses on humans you control nothing in their brains.
  • Because your job focuses on humans you control everything in the business.

Certainty is the opiate of business and a trap for all. Don’t fall into it. Understand your role in business is to manage through uncertainty – not make things certain. You can’t do that. You cannot know the future or create it. Just manage it. Get used to it.

I started with a quote from one of Frank Herbert’s books. If you knew everything that will happen to you in the future – total certainty – you’d die of boredom.

I suggest you look at HR as the ultimate thrill ride.

You will never be certain. Embrace it. Live it. Enjoy it.

Success in the future, as things continue to change, will lie in being able to manage ambiguity not create certainty.
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