HR epiphanies: Marshmallows and maths sets

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(Watch only the first 60 seconds… then it’s a flog.)

LONDON — It is the job of all business executives to look for ideas and inspiration wherever they may find them. HR and internal communicators are no different.

I’ve been reading and article this weekend about “delayed gratification”. The essence of which is found in a social experiment where very young kids are put in front if a marshmallow. They are given one and then told to wait for another while the instructor leaves the room. There’s a bell to ring if they need to instructor.

No prizes for guessing there are a few reaction:

1) Eat it immediately
2) Ring the bell like mad, then eat it
3) Wait for the instructor to return.

The follow-up research then shows that the kids who sat patiently did significantly better in later life.

And I wonder if we don’t interview for this already? We put a lot of stock in the elusive idea of “emotional intelligence”. Many companies (including ours) will tell you they interview for it. But is it maybe just another way of seeing if people can hold back their own agenda long enough to ask about yours?

The second epiphany of the day also comes from an unlikely source. Having been educated in part in the English system, I have long been critical of it. Particularly the later years.

So when my eldest child entered the system this year I just withheld judgment.

One of the least appealing ideas to me was that of “sets”. Do you know what these are? They are streaming groups in key subjects where children are grouped according to their ability.

Or so I thought.

My excited daughter explained it to me this morning as being more like football leagues (my analogy). You stay up or go down based on your performance that season.

And I quite like the sounds of that. As she does.

The closest I have ever seen to that is a “high potential” programme at Shell, and I have certainly seen many more attempts at “future leaders” plans. But that misses the basic premise (I think I now see) of sets. That is to get the kids to try to perform better each season.

We’re going away on one of our company days this week. We call them “Mabel Days”, after our founder Mabel Able. Maybe we can have some of our own epiphanies and learn a few things.


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