Physics and HR – Turning Up The Heat

John Whitaker John Whitaker

Are we having fun yet? Or, have I exhausted your imagination with my metaphorical marathon? If you’re late to the party, here’s a brief recap:

  • Newton’s Laws of Motion directly align with our responsibilities to “Move People
    • An object (employee) at rest will stay at rest. An object (employee) in motion will stay in motion in the same direction and speed unless impacted by an external (manager, incentive, threat, etc.) force; or, in much simpler terms, nothing will change without a change.
    • Using the s-ame force on objects of different size will create different outputs; think Situational Leadership where you must diversify your tactics if you hope to motivate employees of different skill level, competency, tenure, etc.
    • For every action (“Hey everyone, we’ve been purchased!“), there is an equal and opposite reaction (“Hey everybody, why are these offices empty?“). Occasionally, HR will go along with the soft-sell method of sharing disruptive news, only to make themselves look worse in retrospect, or (and this is more frequently the case) we over-emphasize a trivial initiative that makes us look overly litigious. How many “dress-code” policies do we really need at this point?
  • The Laws of Attraction offers a cogent explanation of the science involved when sending out your corporate vibe to the candidate population. “Attraction statements” and employer branding are all about this law. Ironically, most companies leave this projection to chance—instead of managing the message, organizations leave social reputation in the hands of current and former employees who choose to share their views on social media. If you wonder about the quality of candidates you are attracting, it’s time to take a good look in the mirror, Bubba.

That’s a pretty good extended metaphor, right?

But wait, there’s more!

Let’s add Thermodynamics to the discussion! That’s right, friends, it’s time to (literally) light this candle and get some actual work done.

When confirming my obsessive thoughts about governing HR within a framework of Physics, I distinctly remember a 100-watt incandescent light bulb flashing above my head (which I quickly replaced with a more efficient LED version) when reading through the field of thermodynamics. It explains so much in our professional attempts to “move,” motivate, or otherwise stimulate humans into action.

Allow me to expound, if I may.

Thermodynamics deals with systems that are able to transfer thermal energy into at least one other form of energy, the output of which (conveniently) is defined as “work.” Why is that important? Because the “output” (work) doesn’t happen unless the heat is turned up.

There’s a term in physics called thermal equilibrium. For our purposes, let’s use the term “happy camper” in its stead. The gist is this: When at the state of thermal equilibrium, a system is perfectly content to remain exactly as it is… if you consider the great majority of your employee population sits in the middle, “meeting expectations” and the like, imagine the additional output you could produce by turning up the heat, even if only a little bit, to make that object uncomfortable.

“Physics and HR – Turning Up The Heat” is the sixth in a 10-part series outlining the concepts included in “The Physics of HR; Mastering the Laws of Motion,” the Whitaker joint set to publish in mid-2016.

John Whitaker

John Whitaker (“Whit”) is Vice President of Talent Acquisition for DentalOne Partners and the founder of (2008). He specializes in building and developing strong recruiting teams who are unafraid of “kicking the ant pile.” Like most Texans, he loves to tell a story (especially those that include an armadillo or a poker game) and cutting through the chaff…don’t take it personal.