The Human Maintenance Manual

Paul Hebert Change, Communication, Employee Communications, Employee Engagement, Good HR, HR, Influence, Paul Hebert

Every piece of equipment in your office comes with a document that explains what it does, how it does it and how to trouble shoot it when it doesn’t do what it should when it should. In some cases you get a warranty that allows you to get your money back should it not live up to the promises made by the producer/provider.

Every piece of equipment in your office except the one thing that really adds value to your company and is wholly responsible for making your company money and making your company successful.

You’re guessed it—I’m talking about the coffee maker.

Seriously, I’m talking about employees. The humans that show up, do the work, complain about the ambient temperature and talk about Suzy in the steno pool. (I’m not dating myself, just channeling some Mad Men references.)

Employees are our company’s lifeblood. While we still rely on machines to enable our success, it is predominately driven by the innovation and thinking of our human machines.

And we are woefully undereducated when it comes to the care and maintenance of those machines. If you google around you’ll see that a big part of today’s thinking about how to maintain and manage our human machines is to keep giving them incentives and perks to get them to work harder and harder. Unfortunately, that is akin to trying to win a drag race by adding more gas, plus nitrous oxide, plus rocket fuel to a damaged engine in the hopes you can get to the finish line before the car blows up.

Without properly maintaining your human equipment you lose. When you don’t know how a machine works—which buttons and levers get you which results—you can’t hope to get the most out of it nor can you hope to keep in top working condition for very long.

That is why I am constantly suggesting that HR spend a huge portion of its time learning about human psychology. HR isn’t about process and procedure. It’s about Paul and Pam. It’s how they feel, how they interact, how they make decisions and how they interpret the world.

That is what you need to tap into.

What Does HR Need To Know?

We need to understand that the human mind works in predictable and yet irrational ways, and we need to leverage that knowledge to guide behavior and influence opinion. Just for starters, here are 5 examples:

1.  We think people act a certain way because of personality not circumstance.

Called “attribution error” by the brainiacs, it simply means that regardless of the cause, we blame people (and companies) for their behavior. If the economy is hurting and your company must do layoffs to stay afloat (even if you did nothing wrong) your employees will blame you. Know this. You can’t win by saying “It’s not our fault.” You can win by saying, “We should have planned better and we’re making adjustments.” That’s right—you will seem more trustworthy if you take the hit even when it’s not your fault. You can’t convince people you didn’t have something to do with it; it’s why they call it the “fundamental” attribution error.

2.  People look for evidence to confirm their point of view rather than look for evidence to disprove what they believe.

Can you say “I’m right because I found all this other evidence that says I’m right… ?” Even when there is just as much that says you’re wrong? Yeah, we don’t look for conflicting evidence much. So, the next time you’re high on an idea, don’t just look for ways to prove you’re right. Look for ways to prove you’re wrong. You’ll end up with a better solution in the end. Also, for your employees—they will tend to go with the “first” bit of information they get and reinforce that. So be careful what information you lead with.

3.  We don’t take criticism well. Duh… that one is a gimme.

Don’t position change in your organization as a result of the employees not doing something right. Find another reason. Don’t say “We’re changing the procedure because no one could do it right.” Say something about how the procedure is changing due to suggestions and recommendations from the employees. Never hurts to stroke the ego versus slap it.

4.  We ignore evidence that sounds unbelievable even when true.

We’ve been told since birth that when something is too good to be true it usually is. Unfortunately, we suspend logic and critical thinking when we hear something that is unbelievable. Even if it is true. Logically trying to convince people is tough if the result is pretty audacious. Hook them in emotionally with your argument—then produce the evidence.

5.  We are more risky when we think we will lose something than if we are told we can win something of equal value.

For employees to follow you or adopt a new idea/process/direction—don’t frame things as what they will gain—frame them as things they will lose if they don’t jump on board. Our brains add more value to things we already have than to things we “might” have in the future.

For those of you who have read this far, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you’re interested in many more ways the human brain fools us, leads us astray and lets us down on a regular basis check out this list of biases on Wikipedia.

Begin reading the human maintenance manual. You will thank me.