I’ve been wanting to write about evidence-based HR for a while, in part because back in 2013 I wrote a blog post critiquing the idea (brattily titled: “Evidence-Based HR: Are We Kidding Ourselves?”) and have since completely changed my opinion. This time, I’ve left it to the experts and invited the wonderful Natasha Ouslis to set me straight on what evidence-based practice in HR is and isn’t, and why we should care.
Life is a series of trade-offs. Helpfully, life has continued to remind me of this fact (thanks life), despite it being something I should know well by now. One way to explain this concept is the Four Burners Theory. Have you heard of it?
Essentially it asks you to envision your life as a stovetop, with the four burners representing your health, work, family, friends respectively. As James Clear writes:
“The Four Burners Theory says that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.”
I remember the first time a manager asked me for advice on how to train one of their employees to “manage up”. This kind of question is my favourite part of working in HR. It’s like overhearing a fascinating snippet of conversation as you pass a dinner table at a restaurant and then trying to figure out the topic under discussion*.
What the heck does ‘managing up’ mean? I mean, I know what I think it means. But more importantly, what the heck does it mean to you, the manager on the other end of the phone? What unmet need or unarticulated frustration lies behind the request to HR to suggest how you can make someone on your team understand how to manage you, their manager? Let’s backtrack to explore the winding path that led to this moment, when you are asking me for a book** I can suggest for your employee to read on ‘managing up’.
Culture. It keeps coming up in the conversations I’m having with HR professionals about sexual harassment right now. After writing about sexual harassment last year and launching a related project for 2018, I’m having a lot of these conversations at the moment.
We should talk about culture when we talk about sexual harassment (which I would like us all to be doing right now, with a new humility and curiosity), as long as we’re doing so in ways that are actionable and specific. It’s far too easy for ‘culture’ to be used as shorthand for “I don’t know why, but that’s the way things are here”.
I am a messy desk person. I always have been a messy desk person, and at this point I think I always will be a messy desk person.
This fact always seems to come as a surprise to colleagues and friends. “But you seem so organized!” they exclaim, in a tone that makes it clear I’ve just revealed something disappointing and mildly shameful about myself. I am quite organized, but it’s always interesting to see how the state of my desk causes people to question this assessment of me.
I get it. Messy is not a characteristic we aspire to. At best, we consider it a quality of someone who’s childish or careless; at worst, a sign of madness. Mary Kondo took this to the bank.
I’m working on policies right now, which is always slightly depressing. Developing policies always feels like a lose-lose situation. At least some of them are necessary, but no one loves them. Organizations tend to view policy in very binary ways, either embracing it too tightly as a protective talisman against risk, or rejecting it outright as being oppressive. On its own, policy isn’t either of those things (protective or oppressive). That all depends on how its applied.
I am currently re-reading ‘Thinking in Systems: A Primer’ by Donella Meadows, a book that had a big impact on me the first time I read it. This time around, it reminded me of the Doom Loop.
A Doom Loop, aside from being an exceptionally good name for your next band, is the label attached to a reinforcing feedback loop in a system. A loop in which the selected solutions simply worsen the underlying problem. A vicious cycle, in other words.
“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
If you’ve interviewed in the last decade or so you’re likely to have heard this question.
I’ve always I struggled with answering it because it seems to demand performance rather than honesty. How can I know where I’ll be in 5 years? At a Neko Case concert? Spending too much money on tea? Trying to salvage my last contact lens from the sink drain? These are the very few constants in my life…
I think that well-meaning interviewers and managers ask this question to try to get a sense of what someone wants. What their aspirations are. How they see the narrative arc of their professional lives unfolding.
This week I read that about 70% of US managers are afraid to talk to their employees. This produced a series of conflicting thoughts:
- I sort of sympathize. I want to avoid talking to anyone about 70% of the time, so #twinsies, you know?
- It also deserves a big eye roll because REALLY? WHAT DID THEY THINK BEING A MANAGER WAS ABOUT??
- But really, so what? They’ll mostly be replaced by AI soon anyway.
- Also, I’m not really surprised since like most HR people, I’ve had an otherwise capable person physically deposit a crying employee in my office as though they were a mogwai that got fed after midnight (Google it, Millennials!)