Today we’re going somewhere scary. It’s scary because I only have thoughts and ideas about what we’re talking about, and scary because they really are only theories.

If organizational leadership is the brain – responsible for processing, evaluating and executing data in real-time, disseminating information throughout the body with blazing speed and accuracy – then what part of the organization is the stomach, responsible for turning raw materials of our organization into energy and the other essential nutrients we need to survive? Is it human resources? Is HR responsible for making sure that the organization gets the most out of its people? I think that’s what most of us would say. Today the vast majority of people-related systems are handed to human resources to manage. And I would argue that HR is incredibly inefficient at doing so. It’s not their fault, any single system within an organization would be inefficient at processing people for an entire organization. It would be like your body after a trip to the golden corral.

Centralized people processing has created an environment where HR as a business unit is driven by policy as their only way to cope with the task at hand. And policies, when applied too broadly, are by definition inefficient because they are targeted at the mean. The end result is a small median deviation from the status quo. Everyone ends up just a few degrees from “normal”. And nothing puts a culture and a group of dedicated individuals to sleep faster than the status quo.

What if instead of a single business unit responsible for processing humans’ true potential, every business unit has a human resource function? What if every department in your company had someone on the team who was responsible for the HR function?

What if that person was a trained coach?

What if every department in the company had a trained coach whose job it is to mentor each person on how to be a better employee, a better spouse, a better parent, a better person? What if instead of one centralized business unit responsible for everything, you have a decentralized collective of coaches spread out throughout your organization who metabolize people where they are instead of having everyone go through the same system? What if…?

One of the technical challenges we’ve been facing with Hölmetrics over this past year is around the idea of asking questions of client’s employees – never asking questions creates skepticism because our analysis is simply coming from data. But when you ask an employee a question you immediately create a feedback loop, you immediately create the expectation of a response. And of course, you should. If we were sitting at a coffee shop and you asked me a question and I answered it and you immediately got up and walked out the door, that would be a highly memorable, deeply puzzling occurrence. I’d trust you less. I probably wouldn’t accept your next invite out for coffee, and I might call your significant other to make sure you’re taking the right dosage of your medication. A question and an answer are not a complete set. A complete set requires a question, an answer, and a response. That’s how we know we’re listening. In our research and dialogue with our customers, it’s abundantly clear,

the most dangerous aspect is not in asking the question, but in not giving a response to the answer.

This gives employees the assurance that you’re listening. And the hard part about that is there’s only one way to do that, by taking action on what you heard. I think one of the reasons people have enjoyed working from home more during the pandemic is because digital workplace interactions provide a better framework for being heard and validating the employee that they were heard. It also creates an environment where an employee could feel isolated as soon as the feedback loop is not completed.

Centralized human resources make it incredibly difficult for an organization to consistently complete feedback loops. Incomplete feedback loops drive disengagement and a breakdown of social capital in the workplace. Completed feedback loops are an essential part of metabolizing people in the workplace.

Ask, Listen, Act.