hr technique

Ask Your Team Why You Suck – The Next Great HR Technique

Paul Hebert Bad HR, Change, HR, Paul Hebert

Sometimes the universe has a way of conspiring to bring you what you need when you need it.

I know some of you are thinking the universe did exactly the opposite in the past few months. Except Tom Brady. The universe loves Tom Brady. Rich, sports hero, attractive, attractive wife, 800 thread count sheets (I’m guessing.) I pray his feet smell because otherwise there is no reason for the rest of us to keep living.

But regardless of Tom’s “Brady-ness” – the universe conspired this week to help me when I needed it to put this post together. I know – FOT problems – but I am always fighting to come up with new and different ways to say – employee engagement is personal, managers are important, HR is the core of the business, recognition is good, give people space to do and be who they are, technology doesn’t drive strategy and HR doesn’t need a seat at the table. Heck – in my experience HR decides who gets what kind of furniture! The net-net is that it is always a struggle to find something interesting and fresh to throw on the FOT fire. This week, when I sat down to put together this post I was waist deep in back-to-back-to-back weeks of design sprints on new technology supporting incentive and reward programs. And if you’ve ever done design sprints you know a ton of time is spent “brainstorming.” And not just the normal – “No idea is a bad idea and I’ll write them down on this flip chart sheet.” We’re talking full-contact brainstorming – post-it notes everywhere, yelling, crying , screaming and sometimes blood (paper cuts are painful!)

What if it sucked?

One of the brainstorming techniques I found interesting is called “reverse brainstorming.” Reverse brainstorming is like regular brainstorming but… wait for it… in reverse. Instead of kicking around ideas that help SOLVE your problem you create lists of ways you can make the problem WORSE. It is a rather fun exercise because it frees you up to be ridiculous. Since you’ll never have to actually implement any of the ideas you suggest you end up with more ideas – and more outrageous ideas.

An example could be like this. In a normal brainstorm you’d focus on a question like – “How do we make our customer’s retail experience better?” In reverse brainstorming you’d look for ways to make the customer experience worse! Instead of things like “Make the prices obvious” you’d say “Make it hard to figure out how much something costs.” Or you might say – “Make the check out as long as possible.” Or “Don’t take credit cards.” I think you can see where this is going. For every way you can make something worse it is easy to flip around to make it a positive experience. It surfaces potential ways to actually help solve the problem that you might never have considered because you’ve change the angle you vector in from. It’s counter-intuitive and that is what makes it fun – and the outcomes interesting.

I said the universe conspires sometimes (in a good way) and that is what happened when I saw this quote the other day on one of my many non-politically-charged Facebook feeds (like that exists anymore!)…

“We are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.”

Richard Feynman

That quote is the essence of reverse brainstorming process. And something I’d love to see HR try…

Prove yourself wrong…

Find ways to be wrong… find ways to do it worse. Do a little reverse brainstorming.

I love this approach because it also removes the idea of “confirmation bias.” (Side bar… If you don’t know what that is I’m guessing you haven’t been on Facebook for this past election cycle.)

But for those of you in Rio Linda… Confirmation bias is a human condition we all fall victim to where we have the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our own preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. What this means to me is that in pursuit of new ideas to make something better or solve a problem – we’re really not looking for new ideas as much as we’re looking for new ideas that reinforce and support our view of what those new ideas “should be.”

Feynman suggested that progress comes not from finding new ways to reinforce what we already believe but finding reasons what we already believe and have is wrong.

And that is the essence of reverse brainstorming. Find the wrong – in order to find the right.

From an HR point of view what if you spent 30 minutes with your team asking – “How would we make HR worse?” Would you get an entirely different list of options than if you followed the old way and asked – “How do we make HR better?” I think you will. Heck – I know you will.

So now I have to hit publish and think… “How could I make this post worse.”

Try reverse brainstorming around HR in the comments. Add (family-friendly please) ways to make HR worse… then see if any of the posts spark ideas on how you actually can make HR better. I think you’ll find some inspiration!