Feb 18, 2008

Waiting for crisis

The Evil HR Lady looks at how some people and most organizations don't do anything unless their is a crisis that forces them act, and it's a sad fact of life. The medical metaphor has been used by David Maister in his book "Strategy and the Fat Smoker" (review here)

If we analyse why this takes place (and this is something that Maister mentions in his book), I am reminded of the time Anu posted about the "Marketplace of Perceptions", which explains why we procrastinate:
“There’s a fundamental tension, in humans and other animals, between seizing available rewards in the present, and being patient for rewards in the future,” he says. “It’s radically important. People very robustly want instant gratification right now, and want to be patient in the future. If you ask people, ‘Which do you want right now, fruit or chocolate?’ they say, ‘Chocolate!’ But if you ask, ‘Which one a week from now?’ they will say, ‘Fruit.’

Can we say that in HR terminology, that would translate as – Recruitment? Now!...Retention – Tomorrow? So recruitment remains a “current hot topic,” while retention becomes a “future hot topic”.

Why so?

Laibson offers a mathematical explanation -

Consider a project like starting an exercise program, which entails, say, an immediate cost of six units of value, but will produce a delayed benefit of eight units. That’s a net gain of two units, “but it ignores the human tendency to devalue the future,” Laibson says. If future events have perhaps half the value of present ones, then the eight units become only four, and starting an exercise program today means a net loss of two units (six minus four). So we don’t want to start exercising today. On the other hand, starting tomorrow devalues both the cost and the benefit by half (to three and four units, respectively), resulting in a net gain of one unit from exercising. Hence, everyone is enthusiastic about going to the gym tomorrow."

So there is a gain in procrastination because what we start tomorrow will always have more value than what we start today, given our tendency to discount the future. And this especially seems to apply to acts which have an outcome in the "future" as opposed to "now"

So what can do, in the face of seemingly human perception issues? Well, one approach is that we could choose to reward the behavior now that will lead to future rewards. However, that may not be possible all the time.

In that case, the "to be done" has to be listed as a higher cause than the individual and the organization itself.

In a world where billion dollar CEO terminations are the norm, getting people to keep their cynicism aside and working at a larger cause is not always easy.

That's why we have the short-sightedness in personal and professional lives.