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“The ‘H’ in HR stands for ‘human.'” -Alex Draper, DX Learning Solutions

On Tuesday, May 7, HRMAC members gathered at Allstate Insurance Company (Northbrook, Ill.) to hear from Alex Draper, president of DX Learning Solutions, in a CHRO Roundtable event on “Developing Talent in a Tight Labor Market.” It’s no secret that the war for talent is more prevalent in our organizations than ever before. In his session, Draper shared how HR leaders can create a development culture that enables the hiring and retaining of top talent, while also building talent from within. We caught up with Draper to bring some of that insight to our readers.

HR Leader: With more job openings than people to fill them, power is back in the hands of the employee. And, HR professionals are looking to invest in leaders at all levels. What do you think are the most important steps for HR to take to make this happen?

Alex Draper (AD): I’d say that one of the biggest challenges in the HR community within organizations is the cultural debt piece. Cultural debt means, for example, I, as an employee of your company, am hired believing one thing about how people will behave and their values that turns out to be untrue. You sold me on the prospect that you have high integrity, or high transparency, and I join and see that my first ever leader is not transparent, has no integrity and is totally the opposite of what your values stated. There’s only so much interest that I can accumulate before I might check out.

Reducing cultural debt is achieved by creating values where it’s not just “we write it on a wall,” but it’s actually “we live and breathe it.” Because that’s what the employees expect in the modern workplace. The 1980s led to the first ever pink slip, where we moved from being people-first and having a job for life, to results and shareholder value creation, which is not cool. But, there’s a renaissance happening right now thanks to the latest generation who were born into a place where there’s now an expectation around workforce values that are not based on shareholder value creation, and that if we in HR don’t meet their values-based expectations, then that’s a big challenge. Building human workplaces and people-first thinking: You can’t take your eye off that.

As you noted, the power is in the hands of the employee. If we continue to ignore the demands of the modern workplace, and leaders don’t put people first, companies will lose their top people and executives will start calling HR every day, asking why so many people are leaving. You need to set your company up for success, and that means changing the way leaders think and act, and how they treat their teams.

HR Leader: You’ve been working in experiential learning and design since 2002. What motivated you to pursue this as a career?

AD: I was trained to be a teacher. I had asked a lot of people I went to high school with and my teachers and coaches, “What should I be when I grow up?” They all said, “You’re great with people, and you’re great with kids. You should be a teacher.”

So, I went down that path and then realized that teaching wasn’t for me. The kids couldn’t take me seriously, they called me “Mr. Funny Man.” [Laughs] But, I still had a passion for teaching so the next logical thing to do was adult education. Through luck and timing, I managed to fall into my first ever career path in adult education, and it’s been upwards ever since. Though I will say teaching adults is way worse than teaching kids… because they talk back.

HR Leader: At your CHRO Roundtable, you spoke about how brain-based learning techniques can motivate positive behaviors. Can you share a bit more about these techniques?

AD: The first part is just going back to how the brain works. Thanks to the Neuro Leadership Institute (NLI), David [and Lisa] Rock’s group, there is a whole body of research about how the brain learns. [I focus on what is called the] AGES Model: Attention, Generation, Emotion and Spacing. It’s actually quite logical. We need to make learning so their brain doesn’t wonder and start thinking about the Chicago Bears or Cubs. The more attention to the learning, the more they learn. The more brain creep, the less they learn. We need to make learning so they generate synaptic connections to the real world. If it’s too far-fetched from their reality, they won’t learn as effectively. The more emotional the content, the more likely I am to remember it. So, you need to make the learning emotional for it to be a deep connection and to create recall. And, spacing relates to the brain’s need for time. The more it sleeps on it, the deeper the connection. Thanks to neuroscience, we have a great understanding of the most effective way for brains to learn.

And then the second piece is: We can’t change what we don’t know needs to change. The problem that all of us have is we all think that we’re amazing, especially as leaders. We’re blinded by what we don’t know. In fact, most of us walk around blissfully ignorant. With behavior change, it’s all about determining how you create that desire to change in the first place. And you can’t tell a leader that they need to change. They’ve got to figure it out for themselves. All of our experiences embody experiential learning where it’s not me telling you, it’s you learning it for yourself. We have a six-step process for how to do that. [See graphic below.] The second part of that process is self-awareness. If you don’t have the self-awareness, then you’re never going to be able to change.

Image courtesy DX Learning Solutions © 2019

HR Leader: At a recent talk, you mentioned that North America spends $14 billion on leadership and development annually. How have you seen that trend across companies in the Chicago area?

AD: What’s interesting with this is that Chicago companies are spending a phenomenal amount of money on leadership and development, and have for a long time. That’s really why we set up our headquarters here. The but, or and, here is that, yes, Chicago is spending a lot of money, yet only three Chicago-based companies are in the top “100 Best Companies to Work For” list in Fortune. So, it begs the question, is the money that we’re spending on developing our people and creating engaging workplaces actually working?

Where are we spending that money? Is it in the right place? I think there’s a huge emphasis on IQ versus EQ learning. We need to, in Chicago, have more emphasis on the fact that the world has changed. What was great 10 years ago is no longer great. The demands of the modern workplace mean that we need to have a more value-centric, people-first, human workplace. Therefore, we need to start investing money, time and effort on how we can up the emotional intelligence of our leaders, so that they can live and breathe and model the values of your business. Our duty, in HR, is to motivate our leaders to change the way they think and behave. And, the problem that we’ve got is that we assume that our leaders already know all of this stuff. They don’t. So, hey, let’s start transferring some of the money that we spend on the IQ side to the EQ side, and get our Chicago companies in the top 100.

HR Leader: You’ve spoken about humans’ inherent “self-awareness epidemic” in today’s society? Can you share more about what this means and why it’s important for HR professionals to understand?

AD: Here’s a scary fact – and this is in Tasha Eurich’s latest book, Insight, which is phenomenal – 95% of us think that we’re self-aware, yet only 10-15% really are. So you can apply that to two sides: the leaders that we serve but also as HR professionals. That lack of self-awareness, for the company, means that we’re providing solutions to our companies without really knowing whether they need it or not. That self-awareness, sort of, blinds us as practitioners in HR or talent development to what our leaders need. If we’re not self-aware, and they’re not self-aware, then how do we know what they want? How do we improve both the self-awareness of ourselves as professionals, and awareness of what our leaders are lacking, and go beyond without making assumptions? Our duty is to challenge the status quo and challenge what leaders think that they need, not what they are asking for or think they want. Then, to actually provide what they really need, which might not be the popular vote. That is just a huge fundamental shift that’s needed to be an effective HR professional.

HR Leader: In your opinion, what does it mean to “survive and thrive” in HR?

AD: “Survive and thrive” means to be there as the voice of the humans in your business and to work on the things we know they need versus what we think that they need.

HR Leader: What are some resources you would like to recommend to senior HR leaders?

AD: Beyond reading Tasha Eurich’s book, Insight, and researching the AGES Model, I would recommend The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni to hit at the values piece and the business side of things.

CHRO Roundtables are presented quarterly in Chicago and suburban locations, and are designed to encourage peer-to-peer conversation surrounding challenges and opportunities facing the most senior HR leader in an organization. The next roundtable will take place on June 18 and will feature AON’s Tom Friedrich. Learn more about how Alex and DX Learning Solutions help leaders “C.A.R.E.”