HR’s Biggest Irony: We think we’re Contrarian

When you get a group of HR Pros together there is one thing I can count on – the majority believe they somehow think differently than everyone else.  Then you look at their words and actions, and you discover they’re just like everyone else.  HR isn’t the only ones who believe this, in fact it’s rampant throughout our organizations.  The reality is, when we get around others, it’s really difficult for us to act and think differently. Hello ‘Group-think’!   The Motely Fool had a great piece on this in regards to investing, but it works for organizations as well:

“In the 1950s, Solomon Asch brought a group of students together and asked them to solve a set of problems, such as whether two lines were the same length. These were simple problems with obvious answers. But several of the students weren’t trying to pick the right answers. They were actors working for Asch, purposely giving the wrong answers in front of their peers. 

Asch repeated the study with varying numbers of actor-students blurting out the wrong answers. His conclusion: Three-quarters of the test subjects went along with the actors’ wrong answers at least once. In any given experiment, at least one-third of test subjects ignored the obvious answer and followed the actors. Just one in four consistently gave the right answer even when their acting peers disagreed with them.

Even when everyone around you is giving an obviously wrong answer, your tendency to second-guess yourself, not want to embarrass yourself, and your natural desire to fit in can trump every bit of rationality you think you have.”

Sound familiar?

The contrarian in most organizations is either the CEO, or the first one fired!  Contrarianism is not valued in the majority of our organizations.  CEO, and many senior executives, will tell you it is, and it’s what they want, but the facts don’t lie.  Most people who go against the grain don’t fit in well in corporate structures.  Which makes it even more funny when I hear HR Pros tell how they are the contrarian voice in their organizations.  No you’re not.  Plus, I would question is that what you really want to be?

I believe HR doesn’t need to be contrarian, HR needs to be conformist.  HR needs someone who is going to take that executive vision and completely conform to it.  Full buy-in, drink the kool-aid, get the tattoo on your ass, conformity.   In away that is contrarian, if you are lead by a visionary leader, either way it’s what our organizations need out of HR.  HR thinks the opposite.  They think our leaders need someone to tell them their full of it.  They don’t. Your leaders don’t want to hear they’re full of it. In fact most, really, just want to hear you think they’re right.  Those who are very self aware still only want to hear how you can help them make their ideas reality, not that their ideas are crap.

That isn’t what you expected was it? HR needs to conform, there, I said it.  Conform to the vision. Conform to the mission. Leading through conformity.


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