Fearless Truths: Common Sense, but Not Common Practice

April 10, 2017

Fearless Truths: Common Sense, but Not Common Practice

A common frustration is that the HR function seems to be reactive and frequently left behind. But as HR becomes more closely aligned to the business and coheres around the common purpose of driving business results, there are opportunities to change this behavior. Two previous HRPS blogs have directly addressed how HR can get out in front of the curve. No Waiting Required describes how HR can prepare the workforce for the meta-business issues of our time. You don’t need to do a study to know that automation and technology shifts will greatly impact the next decade. There is no need to wait for the future to arrive, because, by then, it will be too late. Fearless Thinking  argues that HR professionals need to look beyond the ordinary and recognize the advantage of unconventional thought to mitigate organizational risk. Answers may be hiding in plain sight, if we ask the right questions and seek to challenge convention.

Just because a quality like the value of developmental opportunities makes common sense, it does not mean it is common practice.

This blog continues the string on how HR can be a “lead-time ahead.” We can save time and be more proactive by leveraging more than 30 years of research that has provided remarkably consistent findings about the characteristics of the workplace that lead to productive, engaged and energized employees. While it is always useful to add more to this body of knowledge, there is much that can be done right now to take positive, forward-looking actions. Consider what we know:

  • In Drive (2014), Dan Pink identifies the primary intrinsic motivators: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.


  • The top three reasons people leave companies are 1) poor relationship with direct manager, 2) little opportunity to grow and develop and 3) lack of meaningful work together with not being recognized for contributions.


  • The Gallup 12 questions remain relevant and meaningful twenty years after their first unveiling.


  • Doshi and McGregor (2015) identify three characteristics of high-performing cultures: play, purpose, and potential.


  • Josh Bersin (2014) characterizes the Simply Irresistible Organization as: irresistible work, great management, fantastic environment, growth opportunities and trust in leadership.


  • HCI (2017) highlights the importance of purpose, growth opportunities, flexibility, personal balance and collegial networks in improving engagement and performance.


  • Paul Zak (2017) has identified eight management behaviors that generate trust and lead to high performance: recognize excellence, provide challenging assignments, enable people to have discretion in how they do work, encourage job crafting, share information broadly, intentionally build relationships, facilitate whole-person growth and show vulnerability.


  • Goffee and Jones (2013) have described the qualities of the best workplaces: let me be myself, tell me what is really going on, magnify my strengths, make me proud I work here, make my work meaningful and don’t hinder me with stupid rules.

There are many other sources that could be cited. Fearless HR, for example, synthesizes more than 100 research studies and best practices alone. It is important to observe that these studies, unlike popular coverages of best places to work, do not focus on perks such as having a dry cleaner at work or the highest pay package. They all address intrinsic motivators that enable people to work more productively. If these qualities are genuinely embedded in the workplace, the data suggest that the impacts on people will be significant. Context certainly matters, as it always does, so one organization’s short list will be different than others.  But the data are clear that these qualities are the ones that count.

The other observation about this list is that the same qualities are mentioned time and time again. And most of the characteristics are not particularly surprising. It is, however, important to note that just because a quality like the value of developmental opportunities makes common sense, it does not mean it is common practice. There is a huge difference. In fact, it is easy to take for granted findings that are seemingly apparent. We think they exist but they don’t. The key is to make the familiar seem strange or different; then, there is a higher likelihood of fostering change.

So, if these findings are clear and widely known, why wait? Most everyone knows what the not-so-secret ingredients are. Why aren’t more organizations doing something now to improve the workplace so that people can flourish and perform better? Let’s be more intentional and proactive in applying evidence-based, common practices and reverse engineering them into the workplace. There is no advantage to waiting; in fact, quite the opposite. Be a “lead-time ahead.” That’s what leaders do. The stakes are not insignificant.   

“Organizations that apply real discipline in their management of Human Capital are on the average 40% more productive than the rest. These companies lose far less to organizational drag. They attract, deploy and lead talent more effectively—taking full advantage of the unique skills and capabilities their people bring to the workplace.” —Michael Mankins, Karen Harris, and David Harding, HBR, 2017

The Authors: 

David Forman is president of Sage Learning Systems and former chief learning officer at the Human Capital Institute. The courses he has developed and taught for HCI have been taken by thousands of HR professionals around the world. Dave has spent more than 25 years in the training industry, working with large global organizations to improve the knowledge, skills, and performance of their people. Major clients include FedEx, IBM, DuPont, Microsoft, SAP, American Express, PwC, Ford, Prudential, Apple, Scripps Healthcare, and Allstate. He has written more than 40 articles on talent management, analytics, strategic human resources, learning systems, high-performance cultures, and leadership. He has also spoken at a variety of national and global tale and leadership conferences. David is the author of Fearless HR: Driving Business Results. He can be reached at dforman1@cox.net.