It’s official, to the extent these things become official: The new magic buzzword for the old magic “people” third of the PROCESS / Technology / people magic triangle is “hybrid workforce.”

Arguing by analogy has its limits, primary among them being that it has no virtues. But still, it’s worth remembering that the archetypal hybrid, the mule, is sterile.

Unlike arguing by analogy, a mule does have virtues, combining as one does the toughness, health, and higher intelligence of the donkey with the horse’s superior speed and endurance.

Something like that.

Hybrid workforce proponents hope this staffing strategy will also combine the best of two beasts – in this case, the best qualities of on-premise and remote employees. (And I’m beggin’ you – please! don’t look for parallels to the mule’s inability to reproduce. KJR is, after all, a family blog.)

Anyway, analogy or no analogy, I’m not convinced the hybrid workforce is going to combine more of the on-premises and remote employee strengths than it will incorporate their disadvantages.

Which brings us to this week’s topic. We’re going to home in on one dimension of the hybrid workforce that has, I think, received far too little attention: emotional support.

I’m not talking about employee assistance programs, or how to create a supportive culture, or how to identify employees who are struggling. Google the subject and you’ll find lots of material covering this ground.

No, I’m talking about something so commonplace that in an on-premises workforce it’s less signal than background noise. That’s the emotional support available to employees who are being driven nuts by a: bad manager; distractingly unproductive co-worker; business stratagem that’s too dopey for words; project they’re assigned to whose schedule was established by “right-to-left” planning  … all the crazy-making day-to-day sturm und drang that happens in a typical organization.

On-premises organizations have a well-established pressure relief valve for helping employees maintain their sanity. It’s a buddy’s empathetic ear, complemented, when the situation calls for it, by “C’mon, I’ll buy you a beer.”

A typical hybrid organization, to the extent there is such a thing, might set Tuesdays and Thursdays as mandated on-premises days, leaving Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to employee discretion.

To the mathematically minded it might appear that the hybrid model provides 40% of a traditional workforce’s empathy provisioning. Poor as that metric might look, the true value is worse. With only two days a week in which employees are even in reliable proximity, “buddy” overstates the level of trust they can actually form with such limited contact with colleagues.

On top of which, what we might call “empathy encounters” aren’t planned, schedulable events. So if the need arises on a Wednesday, it will have to wait until Thursday to be satisfied.

Which means it won’t be satisfied at all. By then the situation will have come and gone, leaving behind another increment of un-dealt-with stress to accumulate onto the already existing pile.

What can you do to mitigate this issue? Good question, which is ManagementSpeak for “I don’t have a terrific answer.” The best I have to offer: Set up assignments and other situations in which collaboration among two or three employees is required for success, without the set-up seeming overly contrived.

It’s two or three employees and not more because a small number allows for less-structured interactions, which in turn encourages relationship-building without forcing it. That, in turn, makes it more natural for a stressed-out employee to reach out for a sympathetic ear.

One more thought: often the best connections – and of special value to you – are between employees in your organization and those in others. So work with other managers to extend the connection-building.

You might even find this extends your own support network. You aren’t, after all, immune from the same kinds of day-to-day stresses you’re trying to help the employees in your organization cope with.

Bob’s last word: The workforce transformation from on-premises employees to some permutation of remote, is no less implacable than the tide King Canute ordered to stay out.

That doesn’t make you, as a manager, a helpless victim of the onslaught, but neither does it mean you should uncritically embrace the trend and just let it happen.

This week’s gotcha is just one of the details effective leaders need to recognize and deal with.

If you have a better solution, or if you have other thoughts to offer, please take the time to post it (them) in the Comments.

Bob’s sales pitch: The newest in my CIO Survival Guide series is now available for your reading pleasure on CIO.com. It’s titled 3 consultant mistakes CIOs can’t help making.

Which I hope isn’t accurate: Read the article and you’ll discover ways to avoid making the mistakes in question.

Before we get started, a correction. Last week, due to too many re-writes, I ended up posting backward logic, as several correspondents pointed out. You’ll find a corrected version here, near the bottom, in the Bob’s Last Word segment.

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Speaking of bad metrics (we weren’t, but I couldn’t come up with a better segue to this week’s topic), let me offer a big thank-you to Lee Neville, a long-time member of the KJR community, for bringing a high-profile example to our attention.

Titled “At N.F.L. Draft, America Begins Annual Tradition of Celebrating Hubris,” it’s by David Leonhardt and appeared in The New York Times, April 28, 2022. Annoyingly enough, I’m pretty sure Leonhardt’s core conclusion is at least partially on target: with lots at stake, and huge investments in data-gathering and analysis, the correlation between NFL draft rankings and player performance isn’t very good.

Leonhardt ascribes the problem to hubris, and extrapolates his conclusion to business hiring, which he suspects is just as unreliable, and for similar reasons.

So what’s the problem? Leonhardt bases his conclusion on the five 2018 first-round quarterback draft picks. Using career touchdowns as his metric, he demonstrates conclusively that actual career performance and draft order have little to do with each other.

I’m just messin’ with you. He did no such thing.

The illogic of his commentary began with his choice of career touchdowns as his quarterback performance metric. It conceals a wealth of missing but important information that’s critical to evaluating Leonhardt’s contention. For example:

Did all five quarterbacks play the same number of games? The answer is no. Baker Mayfield, for example, didn’t play until partway through week three of the 2018 season. In all he’s played 60 games, Sam Darnold has played 50. Josh Allen … the quarterback with the most touchdowns has, suggestively, played the most games at 61. That leaves Josh Rosen having played 24 games and Lamar Jackson 58.

It doesn’t take a metrics nerd to know that playing in fewer games means having fewer opportunities to score touchdowns.

Did all five of these quarterbacks enjoy the same level of protection? Every football fan knows that the better the offensive line, the more time the quarterback has to execute plays and the more successful he’ll be.

And yet, with all the zillions of statistics football game callers give us to fill time as part of their commentary, nobody seems to measure the average time between the snap and the moment the quarterback throws the ball or is sacked (limiting analysis to passing plays only for clarity). A similar point could be made about the caliber of the team’s receivers and running backs.

ESPN take note.

How about the quality of coaching? While some quarterbacks do call some plays, the coaching staff create the game plan and call a lot of the plays as well. Presumably, some coaches are better at this than others, which means some quarterbacks are the beneficiaries of better game plans and play calling than others.

A sample size of five? Seriously? With all the data available for football, getting to the magic number of 30 data points – the minimum needed for general-purpose statistics – wouldn’t have been all that difficult. Statistically speaking, a sample size of five is just pretending, especially because … why choose the 2018 draft for analysis and not some other year, anyway?

Bob’s last word: Picking on Leonhardt is fun, but it isn’t entirely fair. Far too many of his fellow reporters and opinion writers of all stripes just aren’t very good with math or statistics either, whether they cover sports, politics, management, or information technology. We can hope the level of sophistication among journalists who cover the fields of math and statistics is better.

Then there’s Leonhardt’s conclusion – that recruiting in all fields is a matter of hubris. It would be convincing if he offered a better alternative. So yes, recruiting and selecting the best candidates to hire is an imperfect science at best. That doesn’t mean a high failure rate is due to character flaws all around.

It means it’s hard.

Bob’s sales pitch: Schrodinger’s cat is alive and well, as will be revealed on May 11th, 2:40pm CST. That’s when a battle royale will ensue, as I engage with the estimable Roger Grimes in The Great Quantum Debate: Is There a Role in Business Yet? as part of CIO’s Future of Data Summit.

Oh, okay, it won’t be a battle royale, but there’s a pretty good chance you’ll enjoy it almost as much as Roger, Eric Knorr – our moderator – and I did when we recorded it.