The Future of HR in Just One Question

The first function to elevate was finance. The move from bookkeeping to financial analysis and financial engineering put the CFO at the right hand of most CEOs. The quality movement (Six Sigma) coupled with re-engineering of the corporation revolutionized the way organizations operate and secured the COO position significance in the C-suite and, in many cases, positioned them as the heirs to the top job. I recall my own function, marketing, moving from “just advertise this” to real strategic growth drivers armed with rigorous market and customer data analysis. And, of course, technology and the CIO has evolved similarly with our technologically driven transformations.

However, there is one last and deep reservoir of untapped shareholder value waiting to emerge, led by a new breed of leader within the last function to elevate: HR. It has come time for Human Capital Engineering to mean something significant to corporate transformation and prove that measurable and purposeful improvements can be initiated and tracked. It’s the ticket to HR’s impending elevation.

At Ferrazzi Greenlight our research and engagements have shown that strategy, process and technology innovations aren’t realized, and value isn’t created, until human behaviors and practices change. We call this Behavioral Engineering and “cracking the code of human behavior in the workplace.” In the years that we have been researching and coaching Behavioral Engineering we have documented a set of repeatable and proven practices designed to positively alter organizational behaviors to achieve desired strategies.

Unleashing the potential of human capital within organizations begins with asking one critical question: “Which fewest people, changing what narrowest behaviors would accelerate and deliver the greatest accretive value toward your strategy?” At its core, it is about determining what the highest-return behavior changes are and coaching (in a relationally-forward style) these necessary changes to advance the strategy and transformational agenda.

Our current blog series focuses on executives leading their teams through transformation and, subsequently, we’ll explore how leaders can cascade movements of behavior change throughout the enterprise with greater facility. But for starters, this piece is intended to open up a leader and her team to their own part in behavioral engineering and offer a tool for HR (or any executive) to begin that journey.

Why Your Own Team Needs to Implement “Behavioral Engineering” First

Behavioral engineering is a critical component of every leadership team’s arsenal that they need to embrace. Many transformation efforts attempt to deploy organization-wide “culture change” with a broad-brush approach; looking to others first and spreading communications and training across the organization. Which is the opposite of what works best. Through our research and coaching significant organizational transformation, we have found that a more surgical approach on key behaviors yields the greatest advancement to the organizations, starting at the leaders own doorstep.

Our applied research reinforces Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg’s work on “the ripple effect” that says effective behavior change occurs when we begin with a narrow focus and build on that. We have found that there are four highest-return areas where the answers to my earlier question ultimately fall—the first of which is the changes within the interdependencies and behaviors of the executive team itself, which, too often, is a set of co-existing, siloed professionals, leaving the collaborative value creation on the table.

Behavioral Engineering Defined: The pursuit of the highest return behavior changes; changing the narrowest behaviors among the fewest individuals to accelerate business results.

Not that it stops at the executive team, but with success we earn the permission to ask others to change along with us and continue this pursuit indefinitely as we would with continuous process improvement or technology innovations.

The First Step to Implementing “Behavioral Engineering” Within Your Own Team

A good way to introduce this principle to your team, and a practice that we coach to with our clients, is one we call Dial Up / Dial Down.

Before pointing the finger broadly at the organization’s customer service or sales or product innovation, let’s ask ourselves what fewest changes in observable behavior would we, on the executive team, need to achieve to contribute to our transformation journey?

Dial Up/Dial Down is an exercise in aligning self-reflection with strategy and is one of the foundational elements of behavior change required to achieve breakthrough sea change. Simply put, it is the practice of examining what is limiting your current level of performance and committing to take action to either do more (Dial Up) or do less (Dial Down) of a specific behavior or behaviors in order to achieve the strategic plan at hand and grow professionally as individuals and as a team. This practice requires an executive team to take responsibility and accountability for the outcomes and for each other to achieve them. It is also about making a humble promise to our own personal growth as leaders before we point fingers at others; declaring to your team the actions you will take and inviting them to hold everyone accountable to going higher together. Embedded in this is a level of commitment and candor that is not often found in teams.

Putting It into Practice: Dial Up-Dial Down

A Dial Up/Dial Down can be easily implemented in your staff meeting and it can be as comprehensive as you would like, but an added benefit is that the head of HR can take a more active weekly role in the team’s transformation. Here’s how it works:

  • Define Dial Up and Dial Down: A Dial Up is a behavior you need to do more of to be successful and achieve the team’s stated strategic goals. A Dial Down is a behavior you need to do less of or eliminate altogether.
  • There is one version of this which is done focused on the individual and one that is done with attention to the behaviors, interdependencies and relationships within the team and there is a version done for each individual on the team. It’s often best to do the team focused version first then the individual version.

TEAM BEHAVIOR DIAL UP / DIAL DOWN

  •  Invite participants in advance of the meeting to personally reflect on the team’s Dial Up and/or Dial Down. Ideally each team member will solicit the opinion of their own team about the executive’s observed behaviors that they would like to see Dialed Up/Dialed Down.
  • Invite participants to volunteer and share their perspectives of the team’s Dial Up/Dial Down with their peers one by one. If the team has strong psychological safety, group discussion can be had after this exercise. Someone logs what people have said and this is shared afterward.
  • The team’s progress should be a topic of group discussion and the formal process repeated in a few months, based on strategic and individual progress, until the team has created a habit or practice of such self reflection and transparency of peer-to-peer accountability.

INDIVIDUAL DIAL UP / DIAL DOWN

  •  Invite participants in advance of the meeting to personally reflect on their personal Dial Up and/or Dial Down and their contribution to the team’s performance and the organization’s transformation: This should account for feedback that’s been received formally and informally in the past in both personal and professional life. If an authentic Open 360 has already been facilitated then this reflection will go much better.
  • Invite participants to volunteer and share their Dial Up/Dial Down with the team one by one. If the team has strong psychological safety, group discussion can be had after this exercise. Someone logs what people have said and this is shared afterward.
  • After the session each team member shares the written answers of the Dial Up/Dial Down with their own teams with an intent to find gaps that may exist. If gaps arise from these conversations, the team members are encouraged to bring that feedback to their teammates one-on-one before the next meeting.
  • At the next team meeting the participants are again invited to update their thinking and ideally, if psychological safety exists, a group dialog occurs, solidifying the commitments.
  • The progress should be a topic of group discussion and the formal process repeated in a few months, based on strategic and individual progress, until the team has created a habit or practice of such self reflection and transparency of peer-to-peer accountability.

Behavioral Engineering (ideally led by HR) is the final “engineering” opportunity that executives and their teams need to focus on. By implementing practices such as Dial Up/Dial Down, and many others which you can explore on our website, organizations can harness the power of the ripple effect and focus on changing the narrowest set of behaviors possible that will help them achieve their transformational outcomes.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn. For more from Keith you can follow along on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

Keith Ferrazzi

Keith Ferrazzi

Chairman

New York Times best-selling author, speaker

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