HR and FOT’s Law

Paul Hebert Good HR, HR, HR & Marketing, HR (& Life!) Advice, Paul Hebert, Seat at the Table, The HR Profession, Uncategorized

Huh, you say. FOT’s Law. What is that? Hold on for a minute and I’ll clue you in.

I don’t work in HR. I’ve never played one on TV and I didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn last night (actually it was a Marriott) but I do know that HR gets a bad rap. I read the blogs and articles bemoaning the impact HR has on the business – or more accurately the lack of understanding the impact HR has on the business. It’s why the ______ at the table conversation comes up so often. I feel your pain. I know you see Finance and their fancy business formulas and Marketing with their click-thru numbers, politely (or not politely) staring down their noses at you as you riff on Pulse survey results.

“So cute,” says the VP of Marketing, “but your puny metrics are no match for my market share calculations this quarter.”

“You really don’t expect me to care about the ‘culture days’ planning event when I have a quarterly shareholder meeting coming up, do you?” snorts the CFO.

And you catch the side-eye from the CEO and feel just a whole lot smaller than when you arrived at the meeting.

Take it no more!

Next time you feel the pressure on the HR function in your company, simply look them all in the eye and say…

“Do you know FOT’s Law?”

Of course, they will say no. And that is when you glance down and subtly, slowly shake your head while you stare at the table. You will then look up deliberately and, as you methodically look from face to face around the table, say…

“FOT’s Law states each of you all will overestimate the effect HR has in the short run and underestimate its effect in the long run. Go ahead… continue to worry about how HR is going to make something happen next quarter and worry about this year’s numbers, but don’t ignore the collective and accretive (that word is for the Finance snobs) effects of all the culture work being done day-to-day. You may not thank me today. But you WILL thank me in 5 years, 10 years, maybe even 20 years. Trust me. You will thank me.”

Then get up, spin quickly on your heels and walk out.

Boom! FOT’s Law landed!

HR and Technology

That quote – is a remix of what is called Amara’s Law:

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

The idea behind the quote is to help get your mind right when thinking about technology and understand that it may not have the impact you expect today, but may have a more profound effect in the future. How many times have you heard that a technology will “change the world” only to have it fizzle out and lose steam? At least until about 5 years later when that same technology is everywhere and in everything. Bluetooth was horribly overhyped when it was first released, then it died out (at least in the PR cycle.) Now my watch has it to measure my steps and connect to time zones on my phone and set itself. Bluetooth is in TVs, speakers, games and toys. It’s everywhere.

If something is being hyped now – overhyped even – consider that it probably won’t live up to your expectations in the short run but you’ll be seeing a lot more if it in the future – smaller applications maybe, but ubiquitous.

The impact of HR and culture is the same. Many of things HR does to enhance and drive culture and business outcomes are small today but over time become important.

You CAN Make a Difference

Your impact on culture is huge. It’s just not flashy. It’s not bombastic. It’s rarely press release worthy.

Your impact is humble but critical if your company is to thrive (or not!)

Some of the things great HR people do include:

  • Reprimand that one person who cheated just a little on their expense report.
  • Making sure even top executives are admonished for breaches of protocol (did someone say sexual harassment?)
  • Recognizing small moments that perfectly represent the culture you want.
  • Supporting management training on how to treat people like human beings.
  • Modeling the behaviors you want – at every level in the company.

I know. When your business is being run by quarterly numbers it is hard to believe in FOT’s Law. It is hard to focus over the horizon when everyone around you is staring at their shoes.

But HR isn’t about quarterly dividends. HR is almost always about the future.

Sure – Administrivia is about today. But truly great HR is about FOT’s Law. It’s about spending time on the things you KNOW will have long-term impact.

Some jobs require faith. HR tops that list.