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Put it to the tummy test


I was working on an employee engagement project a few years ago, looking to introduce a new measurement tool.  The plan was for a twice yearly survey to gauge employee views on the business and more importantly their reported levels of motivation and satisfaction.

I was the project lead which involved persuading the respective boards of the companies within the group covering 52,000 employees with a turnover of c.£5bn.  One of the MDs was renowned as being tough, to the point, analytical and generally twice as bright as anyone else on the planet.  Before going to see her I prepared my shit.  I knew the facts, the figures, the data, the correlations, the business case was as tight as a gnat’s chuff. I was an HR ninja ready to pounce.

I sat through the presentation delivering seamlessly despite her flicking back and forth through the pages of the presentation, scribbling, frowning, huffing and puffing.  I got to the end and concluded my reasons for needing to introduce this model and the importance of measuring engagement.  I asked if she had any questions.

“I’ve looked at the data” she said, “and quite frankly I’m not convinced.  It’s all well and good putting this together but you can’t prove causal link”.  My heart sank.  “In fact” she went on, “most of this seems to be pulled together to try and justify some sort of nebulous argument for something that you know can’t be proved”. My heart popped. “When actually, instinctively we know this is the right thing to do anyway, regardless of the data.  So let’s stop talking and make this happen”.

I have often asked HR people throughout my career, “What does your gut tell you?” to the point of being mocked at times (yes I know who you are and where you live).  And I had forgotten the importance of relying on instinct, on a sense of what feels right because I was so tied up in trying to prove something.  It was a salutary lesson, that regardless of level, regardless of profession….some things just feel right.

This came back to me in a discussion with a range of HR professionals and consultants whilst I was being preached to about the importance of building a strong business case and being able to justify HR to business leaders in terms that they understood.  “What about instinct….about gut feel?” I asked “I call it the tummy test” came a voice from the back.  “I ask myself does it pass the tummy test and if so, I do it”.

And that, dear friends, is as good as any other reason out there……

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Lena M. permalink
    12/02/2009 01:00

    The tummy test always works for me HRD, when it comes to work… should I sing this or not?… should I invest in that? I always play it by ear…
    Only when it comes to real life I find it difficult to trust my instincts… imagine that…

  2. Karen (Sayya26) permalink
    12/02/2009 14:25

    Trusting my gut comes in handy on the job- especially when recruiting.

  3. 12/02/2009 20:23

    Very practical – trusting the gut on what motivates people makes such sense. Daniel Pink’s new book Drive is about motivation…reading the galleys and will be doing a review on it. Great reminder, thanks for this ‘post from hell.’

  4. 12/02/2009 20:25

    The problem with faith in ‘the tummy test’ is that, at the end of the day, it is your personal intuition. The word ‘intuition’ can be interchangeable with any of the following: hunch, bias, prejudice, insane dogmatism, etc.

    Once this becomes part of your guiding judgement, you will probably end up saying things like ‘I have done what I believed to be right, and what I believe the British people believe to be right’.

  5. 12/07/2009 09:09

    @Lena – Maybe that says more about your levels of confidence professionally and personally than it does the accuracy of your insticts?

    @Karen – I have to say I’m a big believer in trusting your instinct in recruitment. Certainly more accurate than psychometric tests!

    @mkeeffer – It’s not out here in this sceptered isle until January, but I’ll be taking a look at it when it comes out.

    @Fernandomando – You make a wise and worthy point, but if we didn’t follow up on our hunches, this world would not be half the place it is, for better or for worse.


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