Radio 4’s ever interesting Thinking Allowed programme recently featured a report of a study into weather forecasters- and specifically what it referred to a “science rooted in unpredictability”. The research was based on a long-term study and its key findings were:
- The core of the profession was based on evidence and data – whether this was an analysis of historic trends, mapping variable data in to the future, or using latest research to inform and update their modelling and prediction techniques
- At the same time results needed to be interpreted and presented in a meaningful way to the recipient. While it might be scientifically accurate to say that there is a 65% chance of rain, what the end user wants to know is “do I need to take my umbrella out with me?”. So a key skill is clear and effective communication
- Personal experience and “intuition” are still a vital part of managing the unpredictability – the research revealed that forecasters might spend significant time observing the sky and sharing stories and anecdotes as well as poring over computer models and satellite images. Being able on occasions to use this accumulated knowledge is essential to develop appropriate solutions. In fact the report gave an excellent example of this. The computer model predicted that Kansas City would not receive its first snowfall of the winter one night. Experienced forecasters believed it would. The decision was to go with the computer model, and the result was chaos as the city ground to a halt, unprepared for heavy snow.
Very interesting you may be thinking, but why are you writing an HR blog about it? It seems to me that this research also describes HR management pretty well. We’re dealing with unpredictable elements all the time (we call them “human resources”, though I prefer “people”). We should be using evidence and data wherever possible to support our activities (sadly, we don’t on too many occasions) but we also need to rely on our own experience to inform the judgments and decisions we make. And we need to communicate our advice and decisions in a way that is understandable and useful to managers and employees.
You can listen to the full Thinking Allowed report here