Saturday, May 17, 2008

First Do No Harm

First do no harm. It's a statement you hear most often associated with the medical community. However, what if this same caution should be applied to HR? Let me explain. In several studies that I have done over the last 20 years I have found an interaction effect in analyzing employee survey data that leads to the following conclusion: Increasing employee engagement or satisfaction survey scores for "low energy" employees has a negative effect on their performance. Basically, the action plans that we give managers can do more harm than good for a specific subset of the employee population. I was presenting this research last week to a group of senior HR executives, and they all had examples of this phenomenon in their own firms. One executive asked me if I thought the 'best place to work' surveys were bad, because she was convinced that their firm's actions to become a best place to work backfired in just the way that my research shows. Comments?


Anonymous said...

I heard the statement as: Above All Do No Harm. How often do we harm the very efforts we strive for because of ignorance even our own benign ignorace. Good point.

James Hayton said...

This is entirely consistent with the idea that it is common for HR depts to be unwilling or unable to evaluate the impact of interventions.

The only way we could know if we are doing more good than harm is to 'go and see'.

Is it stretching the medical metaphor if we say this is like performing surgery with our eyes tightly shut? (maybe for fear of seeing blood!)

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