The deaf flea and itching ears

By Jerome Kalan
I write about what we sometimes take for granted and a few other things that is worth pondering over...

Fri, 21 Feb 2020
(Reading time: Approximately 9 minutes)

Part 2

If you really bothered to stop and think about it, what are you believing that is not true or badly flawed. What messages are you told that you accept as right without really thinking about it. There are boundaries that we are moving in our contemporary culture that have been around for centuries. We happily move these boundaries without much question because we “want to be free to do whatever we want” and to do things, in the words of the old Sinatra song, “our way”.

We scarcely ask ourselves what those boundaries were placed there for in the first instance. Not all boundaries are safe to move. Yes, some need moving and some need throwing down. But, we have to be careful that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Wrong correlations can be dangerous.

Even Amazon talks of anecdotes and data needing to match up sufficiently before being believed. Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying things like, “The thing I have noticed is when the anecdotes and the data disagree, the anecdotes are usually right. There’s something wrong with the way you are measuring it.”

And while I tend not to give too much credence to the likes of the tech gurus and moguls who are so much revered and hero worshipped in our society, I think this statement about anecdotal evidence and data is important.

In our current marketplace, there is an ever growing obsession with data and metrics. And I understand how valuable and useful well-processed, analysed and interpreted data and information can be, but somewhere in the back of my mind, alarm bells are going off.

Why? I hear people talk about data with a tone of idol-worship. Like it is the ultimate answer to understanding everything and is the panacea to deal with all the challenges we face.

But, a little common sense can go a long way in helping us properly question everything that is thrown at us. We now turn to the internet to answer almost any question, and hardly look at who is behind what is said. Or whether what they are saying is worth believing. We fail to consider the consequences of what is being putting forward. We forget that correlation does not imply causality.

What has happened to absolute truth and understanding the merits of ancient wisdom. We glibbly bin long held beliefs that may now be seen as old fashioned and out of date in our pursuit for success in all things new and technological. But, much of what we now discard are the very things can help us properly consider whether we are embarking on the right path for our lives and businesses.

If someone told you that there is a correlation between the size of t-shirts and the size of your shoes, you would probably not read too much into it. Common sense will tell you that the likely reason is that taller people will like wear larger t-shirts and have larger feet. Of course, this statement itself is a generalisation, but hopefully you get what I am saying.

We too easily confuse our progress in terms of technology as having moved us on to some higher plane of existence. But, it actually doesn’t take much for us to see that the human condition is one of brokenness.

Let me use a very simple example. Conventional wisdom tells us that people who are referred into a business as employees are generally more likely to be successful than an external hire who nobody knows. And this would usually be true because you expect that someone who is making the referral is doing so because they know the person and they are prepared to step out and put their reputation on the line to endorse the person being referred.

But, what happens if the data shows otherwise. I did an exercise at one of the places where I headed up the people and HR team. The result was a 50/50 split between the success and longevity rates of people who were referred vs external hires who were largely not known to the business before they were taken on.

If I believed the data and the somewhat neutral correlation, I could easily have drawn the conclusion that referrals would still be acceptable, but that it made absolutely no difference whether people received a recommendation from someone we knew and trusted from within or whether we hired an external candidate with no track record with us.

But, when we looked at the anecdotal evidence, we discovered that managers were actually flouting the definition of a referral. On paper, a referral was simply someone that the referrer was prepared to vouch for and recommend, staking their own credibility and reputation on the line by putting the person forward to be considered for a position in the company. In fact, when you really think about it, most people would probably genuinely refer someone good without any problem if they felt they were really good, competent, reliable, etc.

But, like many employers, in our eagerness to attract and secure good talent in a competitive market, we offered a decent enough referral fee as an incentive, without realising the downside – abuse for personal gain. People were meeting someone at the pub on a Friday night, liked the person over an excessive amount of alcohol, taking a business card or number and then confidently “having a go” at referring them in the hope of getting a referral fee.

Common sense would probably have told us that, on the whole, a genuine referral is more likely to work out, perform well and be retained. However, we failed to test whether our own people were sticking to the definition and spirit of what we were trying to achieve with referrals. The data could easily allow us to draw a quick conclusion without checking the anecdotal evidence and so help us dig for answers that need to be mined from deeper down the mine shaft or silo.
And until we understand that, many will blindly accept any old thing or the first thing that is shoved in front of them.

Many of us join businesses and organisations that pay close attention to a vision and mission statement that blows our minds, but after a while we are confused when the culture is nowhere near what we expected. We hire people in businesses who say all the right things that sound good, who pass our psychometric tests, our multiple interview processes and who present model answers to competency-based questions, but wonder why the person we encounter on-the-job is nowhere near as “together” as the person we engaged with during the recruitment process.

Not only do the people not work always out as anticipated, even if they are good at what they do, self ambition and an impatience to stay and make a real difference too easily surfaces. They come in with grand plans and schemes, implement and drive forward with process, systems and innovations, and then leave for their next exciting career opportunity while others are left to pick up the pieces of what goes wrong and the costs associate with it.

And then there’s the workplaces who spout all the good stuff, but have no culture of honour.
We talk about how neutral and advanced our belief systems are, how much we value equality and fairness, but get angry and agitated when someone holds a different view or disagrees with us. And we’re just too afraid or blind to stop and ask if we are as tolerant as we claim to be – employer and employee alike. And all of this has a real impact on our workplaces and businesses.

And no, I am not some pessimistic kill-joy who can’t help but wallow in the mire of negativity. I’m not even trying to be cynical, either. I’m just asking the questions that people don’t because they’re too worried they will offend someone or be labelled as lacking a good, positive attitude.
What is your “flea”? (See part 1 if you haven’t yet read it). What do you indiscriminately believe because it looks or sounds logical or plausible? What correlations do you believe without testing it. You don’t have to look far to find things.

It would be great if we start having conversations with one another to test these.

The great news is that when we learn to cut out the clutter and get to the bottom of the truth, we find that there is more sustainable success, progress and happiness than we thought was possible.

Trying googling to find examples of bizarre correlations and it might surprise you what is out there.

But, better still, ask yourselves and your colleagues what correlations you may be making based on the data without giving much thought to whether it is actually accurate. Then, think about what impact it could have (or is having) on your business. It might surprise you...

As for me, I might go off and take a break now and get a good cuppa as I’m sure there is a correlation out there somewhere between how much tea I drink and my ability to write blogs...

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