I’m still thinking about HREvolution (which must indicate it was a good conference or “unconference” if one is still thinking about it several days later). On the flight to Louisville, I read a portion of Cass Sunstein’s latest tome “On Rumors,” which focuses on how rumors spread and why certain ideas gain traction with a group, and the old organizational behavior term, “group polarization” came to mind.
What is it?
Group polarization is the tendency for individuals to become more extreme after speaking with like-minded others. For example, a group of individuals who are pro-gun control, are likely to be more adamant in their beliefs if they speak with others who share their same opinion.
Why does it happen?
Different theories abound as to why group polarization occurs. One approach posits that persuasive arguments prompts those who already are leaning toward a particular perspective to go further in that direction as they hear further reasons to hold that belief. A second approach involves social comparison as people want to be perceived favorably by their peers and will shift their position to be accepted by those holding the dominant view.
Does it apply to HREvolution? If so, why?
As Sunstein writes “Group polarization is a human regularity, but social context can decrease, increase, or even eliminate it. For present purposes, the most important point is that group polarization will significantly increase if people think of themselves, antecedently or otherwise, as part of a group having a shared identity and a degree of solidarity.” For the most part, the attendees at HREvolution were a group of united, passionate HR professionals (save the IT guy and awkward professor in attendance) forged by Twitter and dedicated to advancing the HR profession.
What are the implications?
Research has found that well-founded groups suffer less from polarization, as well as those groups who are discussing issues that are familiar to them. As the last session on “The Future of HR” by Mark Stelzner illustrated, there was some heated discussion, but was it a lot of proselytizing to the choir? An echo chamber? Should the discussion have been directed, not at those in the room, but to those who do not harness the power of social media, or still do not see value in what HR delivers? Should we be inviting our bosses to the next unconference?