The Elephant Powder Test and HR

A guy is walking down the road and he comes across an old man sprinkling white powder on the road. He walks up to the old man and the conversation goes something like this

What are you doing?
I’m sprinkling elephant dust
What does that do?
It keeps away elephants
But there aren’t any elephants around here…
I know, it’s really good stuff isn’t it?

At the CIPD Northern Area Partnership Conference last week David Clutterbuck talked about HR bling: the activity we cling to that that is appealing but doesn’t add value. It put me in mind of the old man sprinkling elephant dust, confident in the results, but in reality making no difference. Just expending energy, repeating the same activity and assuming success.

In particular Clutterbuck was scathing of current Talent Management processes, giving an overview of the weakness in correlation between key tools and approaches and actual demonstrable business benefit.

I guess the Elephant Powder Test is about how you can validate that what you are doing is making a difference.

There are probably 3 ways to check whether you are passing the test:

  • Stop doing what you are doing and see if anything really changes. For example remove a policy and see if hell really breaks loose…
  • Understand the initial state so clearly so that you can rapidly understand if a pilot of your work is making a difference
  • Look to external sources to validate your approach (just to be clear, this isn’t doing it because everyone else is doing it, this is doing it because there is evidence it is the right thing to do)

So keep your powder dry and have a think about how you can make sure your activity isn’t just chasing off imaginary elephants.

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