Here is the full transcript of researcher Patrick Vermeren’s TEDx Talk: The Uncomfortable Truth of HR and Leadership Development at TEDxKMA conference.
Patrick Vermeren – Researcher
I both love and hate the business of human resources and you will soon understand why.
This vivacious young girl was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 21. Like so many patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, she did not want to accept her disease and she often refused to take her medication. She became so desperate that she decided to put her fate into the hands of a charlatan.
Very soon he had convinced her that it was the medication that made her feel ill. So he urged her to abandon that medication, and he convinced her to take his Bach flower remedies instead. Now, her condition soon deteriorated.
And one late afternoon in 1996, I received a phone call from her boyfriend because she was standing on the escape ladder of the apartment building where they lived. And she was threatening to throw herself off. So I rushed over, and we somehow managed to save her by recklessly storming down the ladder and grabbing her tightly. And with the help of her family and a lawyer, she was rid of the charlatan. But the damage had already been done.
She tried to commit suicide on several occasions. And this was, of course, a turning point in my life and my career because I realized, because I personally witnessed how dangerous pseudoscience and quackery could be, so I realized how dangerous it could be.
And what has this got to do with human resources? Well, at the start of my career, I had to attend training in Transactional Analysis, and this theory states that during the first three years of our lives we make our life script, including the diseases we will have and try to conquer. And this sounded so very strange to me that I decided to challenge the trainer.
And I asked her, “Is schizophrenia a choice too?” And she confirmed that it was! Now, in fact, the woman I’ve been talking about was my sister-in-law. And we had been well informed by the doctors and specialized patients organizations that this was total nonsense.
She finally killed herself at the age of only 36. And yes, I realized how dangerous it could be, but I also – with a shock – realized that HR could be dangerous too. And I have experienced many examples. Take for example the case of Pete who had been a successful manager for many years until the point where he had to take a test based on an entirely crazy theory called “Spiral Dynamics”. It offers an alternative explanation for human evolution.
And he lost his position as a manager and even got fired after a few months. And still today, five years later, he hasn’t been able to find a new job mainly because he often felt too depressed. And he and his wife had to sell their house and they now live in a small apartment. This made me very angry and still makes me very angry if I see that desperate or vulnerable people are lured in.
So I decided to join the skeptic community and like a Don Quixote, I set out on a mission to reveal the truth about the many HR models and questionnaires.
I consulted the scientific literature to see whether these models were theoretically sound and what was the available evidence, be it positive or negative. So of course. I started looking at the practices we used at the bank first, where I worked. There was the practice of employee performance scores, giving people a score every year, and we even applied a forced ranking on that.