One of the many aspects of human behaviour that I have never been able to fathom is the ‘polar shift’ – moving from one extreme position to another without any rational explanation. Anyone who has children will have witnessed it. You are just about to go out and you say to your child ‘put your other shoes on’ and it ends up with them moodily selecting the most inappropriate shoes or simply refusing to go out. There is no halfway house, no moderation. The worst cases are now classed as ‘oppositional defiance disorder’ (ODD).
When such behaviour continues into adolescence we put it down to teenage petulance – ‘be back by midnight’ turns into either sulking in their room or arriving back at four in the morning. Being told to do something makes us want to demonstrate that we are not a slave to authority and what better way to demonstrate our independence than to do exactly the opposite of what the authority wants? But I think there’s more to it than that and, when it persists into adulthood, the behaviour becomes even more extreme and, frankly, bizarre.
Tell someone in HR or learning that they have no evidence to support their favourite activity and they immediately move from a position of zero evidence to demanding the highest, most sophisticated level of evidence possible. Trainers, who do no evaluation at all, suddenly want to use control groups, randomised control trials or double blind experiments when a simple chat with a trainee would suffice (‘have you used what we taught you – were there any problems?’)
HR departments who never want to measure anything suddenly start producing masses of ‘HR metrics’ and because this mountain of data fails to answer the most obvious question (what value do you add?) they go and change the name to ‘human capital analytics’ – the child’s equivalent of choosing their flip flops to walk in the snow.
Of course the other polar response to the simple question – ‘how do you know your methods work?’ – is the asinine challenge – ‘well you prove to me that they don’t’. It is a pity but these ‘managers’ are a little too old now to be sent to their room. No evidence-based manager is going to waste their organisation’s precious time and money looking to prove anything. They know only too well that you cannot prove a negative (e.g. you cannot prove a god does not exist). All the EB professional hopes for is a positive and constructive response, not the recalcitrant attitude of the teenager who simply refuses to do what is in their own, best interests.