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Trust your intuition


Jan Hills of HR consultancy HR With Guts explains why intuition is a key skill in people management.

As HR people we’re on a continual search for high performance, whether we’re examining our own performance, or helping businesses achieve their goals. But there’s increasing evidence we’re ignoring a skill that could radically propel ourselves and our businesses to achieve their best – our intuition. Listening to our intuition can be an effective decision-making tool.

The ability to recognise and act on one’s intuition is typically one of the differences that make a difference. It is this skill that can distinguish the very best performers. Our Success Profiles of HR Business Partners show that the most successful ones use intuition to meet business goals, far more than their less successful colleagues.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of ‘Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking’, highlighted how the phenomenon of intuition can be more effective than our traditional, data-based, ‘rational’ decision-making.

Gladwell tells us intuition enables us to make better judgements, to call on a wider range of internal resources and carry out impressive work in difficult circumstances. I’m amazed how little we see companies training their leaders to use this skill. Some HR people believe intuition by its nature is not trainable. Gladwell argues this isn’t true. Police officers and fire-fighters are trained to maintain contact with their intuition under stressful conditions. So why don’t all Leadership Development Programmes include training to recognise the value of intuition and learn how and when to use it? And why aren’t managers trained to maintain contact with their intuition in stressful situations?

Intuition is relevant to our everyday working experiences. When you’re advising a client, for example, perhaps you can’t put your finger on why something they’re proposing doesn’t feel right? It is here where you need intuition, to have the confidence to say you aren’t sure this is the right solution. Even if you then need more time to work out why your gut was telling you to hold back.

Intuition is especially called upon when the situation involves uncertainty, limited or unclear facts and where analytical data is unavailable or contradictory. What better description than the situation we find when working with clients?

A person with good intuition has the ability to get an understanding about how another person is feeling and to understand the dynamics between their relationships. Because of this they can adjust their behaviour to match the mood of that person. Our research found that successful sales and HR people tried not to make judgements on appearance or initial impressions. They avoided letting their first impression cloud out other data their unconscious was collecting.

There are two stages to using your intuition; first you need to learn to recognise it, then you need to act on it and turn it into practical HR. An HR person I know had a gut feeling something was wrong when she was looking at data about employee absence. There was nothing in the data that suggested absence was going up year on year or quarter on quarter, but she followed her intuition and cut the numbers down more precisely. She noticed a pattern of absence going up immediately before key holidays and advised the HR team to talk to the line managers about how they managed absence before Christmas and Easter.

We’ve helped HR people tap into their intuition to make better business decisions. Once these skills are learnt they can help HR people perform to higher levels and to be more confident about their judgements and decisions.

Put simply; intuition is a tool HR can’t afford to ignore.

One Response

  1. Intuition

    Interesting thoughts Jan!

    Shades of whether management is an art of a science! {Of course it's both?)

    If you would like to develop your thoughts further with an Action Learning Set we run for a mixed group of senior execs from a wide range of different sectors who might all be fascinated by this (and related topics), do let me know? They are always interested in new knowledge and participative learning and they are a stimulating group to work with.

    Kind regards


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