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What Would an HR Capitalist Do? She'd Cut Through the BS by Asking For Forecasts and Probability...

Who are the HR Capitalists? They're a group of HR Pros who like free markets, pop culture, high performing talent and a business plan with upside. They look for the big win in every organization they serve, and if a big win isn't available or tolerated, they'll be gone in the next 180 days - even in a crappy economy.  They represent 9.2% of the entire HR population, and this series is designed to answer the question every HR Pro should ask when faced with a scenario that sucks and might threaten their career - what would an HR Capitalist do?


"Trust But Verify". Ronald Reagan

"I don't want you to be the guy in the PG-13 movie everyone's *really* hoping makes it happen.  I want you to be like the guy in the rated R movie, you know, the guy you're not sure whether or not you like yet. You're not sure where he's coming from.".  Vince Vaughn in "Swingers"


If quality conversations are the currency of any organization, than a lot of HR pros get IOUs instead of cash.  That sucks. You can't buy a new Camry or Madden 2011 with IOUs.  The morality play that occurs in any organization related to your role as a HR lead is as follows:

1. You're viewed as responsible for making sure "stuff related to people" goes Forecast_510 OK. (that's what's known as a trap where I'm from)

2. Even though you're responsible, you're usually not the one having the conversations with the aforementioned "people".  You provide oversight and counsel.  They have the direct reports and manage. It's kinda awkward for you to be in the room when conversations happen holding the equivalent of cue cards. The employee just ends up looking at you while the manager talks, even when you point to help them understand who to watch.  Bad mojo.

3. Since you can't be in the room, you coach your managers and your team on the situation at hand and tell them what you'd do/say. They take notes. Some write it down word for (freaking) word. Confidence on how it's going to go in your mind drops.

4. They go have the necessary conversation.  The office gets eerily quiet for a day.  Kind of like right before a big thunderstorm hits.

5. You follow up with your customer, the manager.  "How did it go?", you ask.  "It went great", the manager replies, adding, "She didn't even have any questions or talk any, so it was easy".

6. You take the response for what it is, saying, "OK - let me know if anything seems like it's changed".  Then you go back to your office and vomit and curse your lack of leverage in the situation.

What? You don't curse your lack of leverage in that situation? You should. You're not a player in the game if you don't care enough to do that.

The problem is you're expected to provide counsel, but have no authority to hold anyone truly accountable until it all goes to hell. So you need to create some authority where none exists.

That's why the next time you get to step #6 above, I don't want you to be the person in the PG-13 movie everyone's "really hoping makes it happen".  Like Vince Vaughn, I want you to be like the person in the rated R movie, you know, the one you're not sure whether or not you like yet. It's necessary.

You can be that person when you most need to by asking for a forecast or probability, which forces the person you're helping to take a position on how well the conversation really went.

Probability forecasts have been used for decades by sales executives to cut through the BS of fluffy sales estimates. Here's how it works for you:

-Go through steps 1-5 as outlined above.

-When you're having the follow-up conversation with the manager in question, ask for a probability estimate.  Something like, "what's the probability Cheryl's going to resign as a result of what you told her?".  On the recruiting front (especially if you're dealing with a too-frugal manager) you might use, "what's the probability Brad's going to accept the offer you have in mind?".  Then make the manager in question give you a percentage probability.

I know, I know. You're saying "Big deal, KD, so I made them give me a percentage.  So what?  They can still do whatever they want". 

Glad to see the cynic in you come out.  Well played, but you're not done with the concept of probability forecasts yet.  The final step is to share the probability with stakeholders who matter in your organization. Stakeholders like the department head to whom the manager in question reports.  You don't even have to be mean, just be factual.  Try sending that department head a complementary note along the lines of, "Seems like John did a nice job in that conversation with Cheryl.  Tough situation and he estimates that there's only a 10% chance Cheryl's going to leave as a result of the message he had to give her."

Make sure John knows you're sharing the probability.  Watch the focus and attention to detail sharpen in the future.  Watch the forecasted probability become more realistic over time.

Advantage: You.



I totally agree. Transparent communication is the lifeblood of any organization that has more than one person working there. Many people are terrible communicators (hello, manager!) but holding them accountable and making their conversations as transparent possible should decrease the number of "unpleasant surprises."


This is a great post!

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