Monday, March 6, 2017

How HR Can Re-Shape a Culture Filled With Interruptions

While the Human Resource Management profession missed the boat on the biggest culture change in the past fifty (50) years, i.e. the advent of email, the game is far from over. In fact, technology-driven interruptions represent an immediate opportunity for HR Professionals to have a positive impact.

In our first conversation, the HR Director of a major company in Jamaica complained to me: "In every executive meeting, half the people aren't paying attention. They are lost somewhere in their smartphones!"

Unfortunately, she was alone. While her colleagues would individually admit that their behavior was unproductive, it never changed. The collective anxiety that drove each of them to achieve so much also led them to develop the terrible habit of checking messages every few minutes.

As a result, meetings dragged on with no end in sight, taking too long a time to bring about consensus.

She was the exception because she believed that something could be done to address the problem. From her point of view, they had the collective power to put in new rules and enforce them. Unfortunately, no-one else saw the problem this way. Even the CEO thought himself a victim of a Chairman who demanded his attention at all hours of the day or night.

The psychologists call this distracted behavior "Continuous Partial Attention." In many companies, it's become a habit that destroys productivity at all levels, leading employees to display symptoms associated with ADHD. Furthermore, Dr. Glen Wilson's research shows that constant interruptions from phone calls, emails, and text messages cause an IQ drop of 10 points.

The truly bad news comes from the opposite direction. Researchers like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ("Flow") and Cal Newport ("Deep Work") have shown that one's best comes forth during periods of total, uninterrupted concentration. Their findings explain why many professionals come in early, leave late and work on weekends and holidays. It's their only opportunity to do high-quality work.

As an HR professional, you need not stand by and watch this disaster take place if you follow these three steps.
1. Build HR into a Model Unit of Productivity
Given its unique role, human resources should become the most effective department in the company, the best users of mobile internet tools. It's the only way to gain the respect needed to be influential.

2. Challenge Executives
In most companies, managers demonstrate the worst behaviors. They must be challenged at the top.

3. Advocate Modern Policies
Most companies have no policies about the productive use of technology, resulting in a widely disparaged free-for-all. HR must lead the way in implementing practical policies drawn from international best practices in this area.

Some may see this as a burden, asking "Isn't this the job of IT?"

It will never be. Instead, it's an opportunity to provide leadership in a vacuum that affects every employee's productivity. HR must become the experts, getting over whatever technophobia might be lingering. It's the only way to make a difference.

Francis Wade is the founder of CaribHRForum, an author and management consultant.

This article is a monthly contribution from a member of CaribHRForum. With over 500 practitioners in its discussion list, it is the largest online network of HR professionals in the Caribbean enjoying CaribHR.Radio and CaribHRNet. Tune into our latest episode, an interview with Vincent McHugh at

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