photo of knot with text double bind in HRExaminer.com article by John Sumser December 15, 2015

HR and Recruiting leaders are routinely subjected to the requirement to maintain the status quo while imagining some sort of future. The very existence of the function depends on succeeding at both. Sadly, it’s a double bind.

The way that we work is changing. It won’t happen all at once. It won’t apply to everyone. But, we’re in the transition from industrial age ideas to the next thing (whatever you want to call it.)

The change is coming towards us at an astonishing, geometric rate. Human beings have the demonstrated capacity to change with a culture that is growing at 10% or 20%. There is little evidence to suggest that we know how to handle change that comes this fast.

Essentially, we are in a time when the next new thing emerges before you’ve had time to learn the last one. In some cultures, like tech and biotech startups, people develop the skills to surf from one wave of change to the next. There are some bits of geography (LA, San Francisco, Austin, Seattle, New York) where the indigenous culture supports high rates of change.

Most of us live and work in places that prefer stability and slow change. The fast stuff is hard and mistake laden. The slow stuff is comfortable.

The question is what do you do as an individual, a company or an industry to grapple with the change.

HR is a conservative function. It focuses its work on the maintenance and incremental improvement of the status quo. That means that great HR leaders and professionals have a very difficult time thinking about the future. There is little effort expended on five or ten year planning anywhere in HR.

Unfortunately, we’re in the middle of a time that rewards agility and punishes the status quo.`

Gregory Bateson, the fabled systems thinker, psychologist and anthropologist first articulated the idea of the double bind in the 1950s. A double bind is a situation in which a person receives two conflicting messages. Succeeding at one negates the possibility of success at the other. A double bind produces crushing levels of stress when the individual is not allowed to make the decision to favor one over the other.

HR and Recruiting leaders are routinely subjected to the requirement to maintain the status quo while imagining some sort of future. The very existence of the function depends on succeeding at both. Sadly, it’s a double bind.

Sustained immersion in a double bind produces psychosis. Since getting the fires put out is a sure way to not get fired today, that’s where the energy gets channeled. The future (or the long term viability of the HR Function) remains untended.

Failing to imagine and plan for the inevitably rapid changes means that HR will become reactive to the point of extinction.

Meanwhile, the technology industry, which has precious few actual HR practitioners and execs in it, continues to produce new tools and objects that seem to do something. The hype accelerates while the functionality contains less and less innovation. Without a clear view of the actual value that HR can and should produce, new offering involve the deep automation of smaller and smaller things.

Both sides favor transactions in their technology because transactions can be measured and checked off. The deeper harder work involves thinking, reflection and an implicit condemnation of the status quo.



 
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This week John Sumser talks with Maia Josebachvili, the Vice President of Strategy and People at Greenhouse.io.

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