One of the very few downsides to becoming a homeowner is that people (ok, your parents), don’t want to store your things (ok, junk) anymore: “You have your own basement now.” Fair enough. That is how I found myself sorting through half a dozen boxes of books, notes and random items that I had not seen since 2002, when I packed them away after University.
I’ve always had pack-rat tendencies, which at least partially explains why my inventory of these boxes turned up one (practically fossilized) high-school geometry notebook (the only math I ever truly enjoyed), my Forensic Anthropology Training Manual (with margin annotations about the intertrochanteric crest), the outline for my 4th year Social Theory thesis paper on postmodernism, ethnography and Ludwig Wittengenstein’s ideas about language and meaning (duck rabbit), and a stack of other random university papers I authored.
Reading these papers was unpleasantly disorienting. It wasn’t just that I didn’t remember writing them; it was as though they were written by a completely different human being, someone who was not me. I have frequent occasion to think “I wish I knew then what I know now”, but never before “I wish I knew now what I knew then”. Read more
There’s been quite a lot of dialogue in recent years about the ‘Skills Gap’, and the ‘War for Talent’, most of which is a lamentation about the finite proportion of in-demand, skilled workers that our organizations are playing tug-of-war over. If and why this gap persists is a subject of some controversy, but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about a different, and undoubtedly real skills gap, one that HR and business leaders should be truly worried about. Rather than existing at the narrow pinnacle of the workforce ‘pyramid’, it’s found below, eroding its crumbling base. Read more
Metrics. Big data. Analytics. If you work in HR and haven’t heard these words over and over again in the last few years then you probably work for ‘Underground Bunkers R Us’. The rest of us have heard again and again that the next big thing in HR is learning how to better capture and use the information we are all awash in to make our work more evidence-based, measurable and targeted.
In a recent article series for Personnel Today, Paul Kearns sets the bar even higher, making the case for putting HR on the same professional footing as medicine in Part 1 ‘It is Time to Build HR into a True Profession’:
“It [HR] is a highly skilled job that requires the same level of training and dedication as the most qualified and experienced brain surgeons.”
“If HR is to achieve the requisite level of professionalism, it has to become as scientific as it can be, and that requires methods based on the best evidence available.” Read more
I strongly dislike the phrase “put the human back in human resources”. In part because it has become an unimaginative cliché and also because it usually sits atop a passive-aggressive treatise pleading with HR people to stop being such heartless, paper-loving bureaucrats and realize that employees are people too.
The premise underlying these arguments is usually that doing HR well is really just a matter of caring about people. This is nonsense, and does our profession a significant disservice. To see what this belief has wrought, ask 10 HR students why they want to work in HR, and I will wager money that at least 7 of them will say “ Because I’m a real ‘people person’”. Sigh….. Read more
“It is generally the case with figures of authority that when the masses start laughing at you, you are through.”
Those in positions of authority, including HR pros, would do well to remember this quote. It comes from an article in the Economist discussing recent developments in language policy and enforcement in the Canadian province of Quebec. For those of you who are not Canadian, allow me to briefly contextualize:
Quebec, a French colony that was subsequently conquered by the English (thus being included as part of Canada’s confederation), has grown increasingly resolute in their efforts to protect the French language’s prevalence and usage within their province. Recently, an Italian restaurant owner in Montreal revealed that the office responsible for enforcing French language policy in Quebec- l’Office québécois de la langue française – had sent him a letter demanding that he change his menu to replace Italian words like ‘pasta’ with French ones. The media has had a bit of a field day with this, and dug up a few more ‘extreme’ examples of this type of highly enthusiastic application of authority, leading the Minister in charge of this enforcement to resign. Read more
Can I assume that you’ve heard about the recent case in Florida in which a woman was arrested for riding a manatee? When I heard about this incident my first thought was: “What kind of idiot tries to ride a manatee? Shouldn’t this lady have known better?” The answer, of course, is yes- reasonable people do not see animals drifting along a Florida waterway and think “All aboard!”
But the Florida Keys are positively blanketed in signs like the one above, and a law does in fact exist outlawing the behavior in question. I find it sad that the good people of Florida must legislate for the clueless few, but thatseems to be the world that we live in. A world where our coffee cups bear dire warnings about the hot liquids within, and my curling iron has an enormous label advising me against putting it into my eyes. Sadder still, this lunacy does not stop at the borders of our organizations- many of us will have encountered organizations that create policies for the clueless few. Read more
Your initial, gut reaction when you read the word below has the potential to tell me a lot about you, and possibly a lot about the organization you work for. Ready?
What happened when you read it? Did you think about snacks, agendas, white boards, decisions? Or did your eyelid start twitching as you imagined grueling hours spent under fluorescent lights, listening to other people drone on during meandering conversations about things that are largely irrelevant to you?
For the majority of my professional life I have been firmly in the second camp, viewing most meetings as some kind of uniquely cruel psychological experiment. But recently I’ve been rethinking my long-held enmity towards meetings- surely such a uniform loathing of all meetings can’t be rational, right? And so I’ve given some thought to meetings – their use, their meaning, and how I can increase my tolerance for them. Read more
Organizational culture: obsessed over, misunderstood, oversimplified, and scapegoated.
“We need to change our culture”, “That place has such a toxic culture”, “Our culture wouldn’t allow for that” “The real problem is our culture”…
Sound familiar? Whether you’ve heard it at your own organization, or come across a similar premise in one of the many fervent cultural calls-to-action online, it’s clear to me that these days culture is on the operating table. Underlying all these arguments is a sense of urgency, and a belief that culture can and should be engineered, shaped, and managed:
Mold it, control it, strengthen it, change it, or it will change you! Your efforts will mean the difference between culture as organization-limiting obstacle, and culture as critical competitive advantage!
But the sloppy and imprecise way we talk about ‘culture’ also effects our thinking and speech about changing culture, so that we find ourselves awash in popular discourse that basically equates organizational culture change with switching the wallpaper in your house: a real pain in the ass, but nothing that you and a few friends couldn’t get done over a long weekend. Read more
I really enjoyed this recent Forbes article “Don’t Just Bash HR. Help it Succeed.” In it, Ron Ashkenas talks about the transition that HR is going through, and the fundamental shift in some organizations’ thinking about where many HR accountabilities should reside. Here’s a quote from the article:
“So HR’s evolution…does not just concern changing HR. It’s also about helping managers take more accountability for people and culture, and eventually blurring the rigid distinction between ‘HR’ and ‘management’.”
For me, this quote sparked with an idea that’s been rattling around in my head for awhile, based on one of the many things I’ve learned since I entered the non-profit sector a little more than 2 years ago: the concept of capacity-building. Read more
Perhaps the most common question I am asked by candidates in interviews is “What’s the culture like here?” And I understand why. Accepting a job offer after a few interviews sometimes feels like accepting a marriage proposal after sharing a taxi with someone, and this question has become standard candidate-speak for “What would it really be like to work here? But if you read my last post on organizational culture, you’ll know that I believe taken literally, the question “What’s the culture like here?” is much more complicated than it sounds. Read more