It strikes me that HR has had a long history of low self-esteem. How else do you explain the plethora of articles and blog posts calling for the end of HR, or the Re-imagining of HR, or the Re-purposing of HR, or the Re-HR-ing of HR? Blogger reputations have been made, and lost, making fun of HR. (I was going to say something about throwing shade but that sounds so forced and dated now… #Iamnotan18yearolddebutante.)
I also think that anyone who has had to deal with that kind of “professional psychological” abuse will find a way to survive. I don’t think it is too big a stretch to believe that after hearing how bad you were professionally, you would try to feel better about yourself by belittling and putting down others. It’s only natural. It’s a survival mechanism. I’m not pointing my finger at you, dear reader. I’m pointing my finger at all those “other” HR people who refer to employees as idiots, jerks, imbeciles, and jagoffs. You all know who I’m talking about. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Heck, elevating oneself by devaluing others is the American way. (And this election has done nothing to prove me wrong on that.)
But I wonder if the self-imposed low self-esteem of HR is the cause for employee disengagement and low employee performance in many companies. I wonder that because research shows the opinions we have of others affects how they perform. If we think someone is good – they end up being good. If we believe them to be bad – they end up being bad.
You didn’t know you had that kind of mind control power did you? You just might.
I Think Therefore You Are
The reason I think HR might have some impact on employee performance came from reading a study conducted by Rosenthal and Jacobson in 1964 were they tested whether teachers’ opinions of students affected student performance. The researchers gave IQ tests to students but told the teachers the test actually predicted high-IQ growth. Then they assigned those students to teachers who thought they were working with high-performing students (reality – totally random assignments.)
They followed the performance of those students over the next two years and found that when teachers had expected certain students to do well, they positively influenced those students’ development and the students did in fact perform better.
Why, you ask, would the teachers’ opinion of their students, impact performance?
Well… they really didn’t. What their opinion actually affected was their own behavior.
When the teachers thought they were working with high-potential students it affected their moment-to-moment interactions with the children. They found multiple, yet almost invisible, ways the teachers improved the students’ performance. The teachers gave the students they expected to succeed more time to answer questions, more specific feedback, and more approval. They consistently touched, nodded and smiled at those kids more. They treated them better.
Now ask yourself this. If teachers working with children are affected by their own opinion of their students, wouldn’t HR and managers in your own organization fall victim to these same problems? And in my mind – teachers who are trained to teach and are working with children –probably are less, how should I say this, hard on the kids versus some manager with a hangover who has to deal with Bob in accounting who always seems to say that one thing that gets on her nerves. I’m sure most managers exercise very little restraint when dealing with employees they “think” are losers.
If HR feels like they suck and in order to feel better treat employees and other managers poorly then I’m sure the performance of the entire company is going to be affected.
You get what you expect.
Shameless Plug: Steve Browne and I started a group in LinkedIn called HRPositive dedicated to sharing positive news about HR and the how other HR pros are doing HR in a positive way. The goal was to counteract the river of negative HR news. Check it out and start feeling good about HR.
Feel good about HR = Feel good about yourself = Feel good about your employees = Increase Performance!
Paul Hebert is Vice President of Individual Performance Strategy at Creative Group Inc, writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. He is dedicated to creating true emotional connections often overlooked in our automated, tech-enabled world. Using proven motivational theory, behavioral economics and social psychology he has driven extraordinary company performance for his clients. Paul is widely considered an expert on motivation, incentives, and engagement.