Two unrelated trends will soon collide at work, triggering a perfect storm of workplace discontent and employee disengagement.
First, many education and training professionals are confusing the delivery of information with the way knowledge must be transferred to drive behavioral change. In their view, all of us — from rising millennials to seasoned baby boomers — have attention spans akin to distracted gnats. We can absorb information only by receiving it in short bursts of communication no longer than a music video or an infomercial.
Yet, there’s a difference between delivering information and having it absorbed and applied by managers and employees. Think of all the teachers and professors you’ve had whose lessons you forgot as soon as you left class. Now, think of the teachers whose lessons have stayed with you.
The teachers who had a lasting impact on you probably didn’t know more than the other group. Instead, they could convey what they knew in a more engaging way that made you want to absorb what they taught. These educators’ method and intensity made these memorable learning experiences.
Yet, in the workplace, many increasingly assume that behavioral change can magically occur by delivering information electronically, via short videos, or monotonous classes.
However, to persuade people to act in line with values such as inclusion, respect, integrity and professionalism requires workplace ethics and compliance training that engages both the emotions and the intellect of the manager or employee; snappy and accessible sound bites are not enough. Quick, think of all the commercials you’ve seen online or on television in the last 24 hours: How many do you remember? How many have influenced your actions?
Second, many large organizations are shrinking the number of field human resource professionals they employ as part of cost-cutting measures, and converting remaining HR personnel to online customer service representatives and periodic crisis response teams.
Managers in the field can access phone or web-based help via centralized HR call centers. Then, whenever a departmental issue emerges that could bear the seeds of an organizing campaign or a wage claim threatens to turn into a collective action, the HR crisis professionals swoop in and avert a catastrophe.
This approach underestimates the complexity of daily workplace interactions that, if ignored and not carefully considered, can slowly build or suddenly explode into serious events.
You simply can’t figure out what is really going on in a workplace without being able to meet people, walk around and literally understand the complexity of what may appear to be minor or routine issues. A dispute involving a manager and an employee over a workplace assignment could be the start of an employment discrimination claim or a complex interpersonal conflict. In my view, it’s an inefficient, short-sighted and risky strategy to turn HR into just another call center operation.
At the same time, we’re giving managers fewer meaningful learning experiences, we’re depriving them of local help that can help bridge their skills gaps. If your goal is to minimize conflict, boost productivity and prevent problems before they become costly crises, the wiser course is to invest in more localized human resource help or give your leaders effective and ongoing learning experiences that enable them to apply their knowledge and the skills they have learned.