Bright, Shiny Objects and the Future of HR

Harvard Business Review – Many of us have had the experience of listening to a talk and suddenly making a connection between the speaker’s big idea and a challenge we face at work. To listen to David Rock, of the NeuroLeadership Institute, for example, is to have one’s eyes opened to recent neuroscience research. One discovery Rock shares is that when people realize they are being compared with others, a “threat response” in their brains sends cortisol levels skyrocketing and makes it hard for them to take in other information. If you oversee your company’s annual performance review process and it centers on the delivery of a single number derived from a stack-ranking exercise, this insight could be a lightbulb going on.

Maybe you’re listening to Rob Cross, of the University of Virginia, revealing that your company runs according to a hidden structure that looks nothing like its official org chart. Informal networks matter much more than hierarchies. Whatever the source, you find yourself doing what so many HR leaders have done before. You grab that bright, shiny object and take it home, in the form of pages of excitedly scrawled notes and an intense resolve to get your team working on it.

Is this a bad thing? We’re inclined to say that the opposite reaction—sitting with arms crossed, impervious to any provocative ideas—would be far worse. But such enthusiasm does present challenges. Applying any big new idea will change how some aspect of HR is managed, and that aspect is connected to all the others in a larger system.

In this article we will describe how Juniper Networks, a Silicon Valley–based innovator of high-performance networking technology, tackles those challenges. Over the past six years the company’s HR team has adopted an approach whereby it can tap into the latest research and thinking and apply it in unexpected contexts. It’s a loose, four-part process, which we’ll outline below. But first we want to share a valuable lesson we’ve learned about cultivating such constant evolution and innovation. Before Juniper could figure out which solutions were right—much less how to apply them—it had to adopt a certain mindset.

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