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Losing the Map

As the end of the year draws closer, I find it hard to resist the urge to plot out goals for 2018. I’m a planner and find goals highly motivating. In years past I’ve taken time to carefully plan annual objectives and break them down into the quarterly, monthly, or daily activities required to reach each goal. While I don’t always achieve everything I set out to, I’ve done quite well with this approach (as long as you don’t ask me about my meditation habit).

2017 was not a bad year for goals. I set out to improve my writing by committing to publish a blog post every week this year, and unless something catastrophic happens, I will achieve that goal (as well as having reached my 100th post on Talent Vanguard). I diligently kept up my weightlifting training, and hit PRs on all three major lifts. And I overcame a significant fear to do some public speaking (I didn’t die, but it’s still terrifying).

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What HR Needs to Do Now

The tide of revelations about sexual harassment at work has continued to go out, receding to expose an ugly landscape that has been there all along. I suspect that I’m not the only one who has found it shocking and yet also depressingly unsurprising.

I’ve been relieved to hear the voices rising from within HR, calling us to reflect on our role as a profession in the epidemic of sexual harassment, and urging us to do better. It’s certain that we must do better, but I worry that this doesn’t set the bar very high. The tales of HR complicity, or astonishing and willful ignorance if we’re exceedingly generous, are shameful. If even a small percentage of HR professionals are contributing to the pain and exploitation of employees, this should be seen as the crucial and foundational failing of Human Resources that it is.

It should be a moment of somber reflection for us; as individuals and as a profession, we must be unflinching in examining the outcomes we have contributed to, not just our intentions. But it would be a tragic missed opportunity if we were to stop there.

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How We Get Corporate Wellness Wrong

December is upon us, and with it come admonitions to enjoy a season filled with peace, joy, and reflection. In reality, it’s also a mad scramble to finish projects and see people before the arbitrary temporal landmark that is December 31st. Prevailing corporate wellness wisdom tells managers and HR to be especially mindful of employee stress during this period, and there is a tidal wave of articles aimed at individuals with tips to “survive the holidays”.

I have mixed feelings about wellness programs at work, and the holiday season reminds me why. Too often, these programs add things to employees already long list of tasks, rather than consider what might be removed or changed in the work environment.

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A Season of Bright and Shiny Things

This week I finally made it to Social HR Camp (after scheduling conflicts in past years) and got to hear about all kinds of cutting-edge HR/People tech making its way onto the market. It was an exciting and interesting event. Also this week, I had dinner with a friend who shared that her 600 person organization still does payroll manually. She had the carbon paper pay slip to prove it. Reader, I nearly choked on my focaccia bread.

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HR in the Age of Distraction

It wouldn’t have occured to me to write about technology this week, even after attending Adam Alter’s talk about addictive tech at Rotman on Monday, which made such a big impression on me. Then Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter landed in my inbox headed by this image, and it felt like a sign.


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How to Help Teams Turn Conflict Into a Superpower

Working in HR means working with conflict. Often that conflict appears in our inbox or at our office door because it’s reached a stage at which it feels unmanageable to one or more of those involved.

When it lands there, we can find ourselves cast as mediator or referee. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who finds this to be a source of professional frustration; a firefighter called to the scene only after the flames have spread to adjacent buildings.

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How to Set Work/Life Boundaries that Work

The only job I’ve ever been fired from was at The Body Shop, and I totally deserved it. In my last year of high school I had enough credits to need only a handful of classes, so I got two retail jobs at the local mall to pay for car insurance and cigarettes (gross, I know). The Body Shop was a tight-knit collective of diligent young women who seemed to re-invest most of their paycheques back into Body Shop products. They loved the ethos of the company, and completed intensive product knowledge training that allowed them to chirpily recite the ingredients on demand for any one of our vast array of aromatic offerings.

I did not fit in.

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When Are Subcultures in Your Organization a Problem?

A major challenge of talking about something as complex as culture is that we have to be reductive to be succinct. Something as layered, nuanced, and invisible would take ages to accurately convey (if we could even put it into words), but often, we try to distill it into a soundbite. A few key words or phrases that we think make our organization distinct from the average company.

“Keep learning. Explore crazy ideas”

“The Customer is Not Always Right”

“Warrior Spirit; Servant’s Heart, Fun-luving Attitude” (Note: Guys, I just found out these are actually Southwest Airlines’ values and I can’t even)

Although most organizations talk about their cultures as being unique and monolithic (that is, consistent throughout the organization, which is often an unstated assumption underlying the practice of hiring for ‘culture fit’), this is rarely the case.

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Reflecting on 100 Talent Vanguard Posts

I really try not to blog about blogging, because there are far more interesting things to blog about. However, I’m going to ask you to indulge me today in light of the fact that I published my 100th post here on Talent Vanguard this week .

As part of my 5 week countdown, I’ve been sharing my top 5 most-read posts of all time, and some that I liked, but which failed to attract a lot of readers.  Here they are:

Most Read

  1. HR Capacity Building – January 2013 (by quite a large margin, my most read ever)
  2. HR’s Future: People Persons Need Not Apply – May 2013
  3. HR’s Sloppy Thinking on Culture – December 2012
  4. Utopia, Dystopia, and the Future of Work – March 2013
  5. HR and the Myth of Best Practices – January 2013

Less Read (but possibly worth your time)

  1. Stop Hacking Your Productivity – June 2017
  2. Organizational Plumbers – October 2013
  3. HR and the Art of Oppression – April 2013
  4. HR: Organizational Cheerleader or Agony Aunt – December 2014
  5. Message in a Bottle – October 2013

On Writing Talent Vanguard

I started blogging back in 2012, when it was a lot cooler to blog about HR, or blog in general. It’s taken me a while to hit 100 posts, mostly because I nearly stopped publishing for a couple of years. I started 2017 in a new role, with a goal to rededicate myself to writing as a deliberate and regular practice. To keep myself accountable, in January I publicly shared that I’d be posting something every week, on Sunday night.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve kept that commitment, missing only one week due to an unexpected emergency in February.  I’d love to tell you that I treat writing like the craft it is, and have some kind of ritual or process. The truth is I have no shortage of ideas and all of them are really hard to get out my head into words that make some kind of sense to other people.  I record ideas or links into Evernote (which I’ve used for years and think of as my second brain), and compose on the computer (sometimes right into WordPress). Although I have aspirations to start writing earlier in the week, I often start writing my post on Sunday, sometimes finishing moments before I hit publish in a race against the clock.

Every writer I admire says pretty much the same thing: you have to practice, a lot. Blogging this way, non-negotiably, every week has definitely improved my ability to generate ideas, and I have increased my writing speed significantly. That’s great, except that I was slow AF to begin with, so now I suspect I am only slightly slower than average. Lots of edits. Once it’s published I can’t read it again otherwise I feel compelled to keep changing it.

My early days of blogging led me to connect with many other wonderful HR people, which I am incredibly grateful for. I still connect with people through writing, but it felt more like a community back then, and I can’t tell if it’s changed, or I have.

I constantly have to fight my tendency towards ‘post creep’ (is that a thing? I maybe just made that up), where I want to connect an idea to others, or think more broadly about something…and then it becomes bigger and bigger and gets lodged in my brain because it’s too big, and I give up on it. This has led me to notice how I do this in other aspects of my work too, and I’m trying to get better at starting out with smaller components, prototyping, removing false requirements and extraneous elements, not getting stuck.

I’m still really wordy…the most common constructive feedback I hear is that my posts are too long, and while I appreciate people caring enough to share that, I decided a while ago that sometimes that’s okay. I occasionally worry I seem negative, but I just tend to be more interested in reflecting on what’s not working and why, or what we’re accepting as true without thinking critically about whether it really is. Agreeing with people all the time is not the way to advance thinking about anything.

My posts sometimes attract several hundred readers (or in a handful of cases several thousand), and sometimes they barely hit a hundred. I’ve never been able to predict what will be most popular, and I try not to think about it much, instead just writing about what is most interesting to me at the moment. I try to avoid ‘clickbait’ (which to me means sensational or buzzword-titled posts designed to get views, rather than readers). I also frequently revisit topics (because I still find them interesting or I’ve changed my mind about them).

This year I deliberately pursued more speaking opportunities because I find it really scary in comparison to writing, and I’d like it to be less so. Writing a presentation or a talk is very different than writing a blog, so that’s been good learning too. Probably like a lot of introverts, I’m much more articulate in writing than in person, but I’m hoping I can close that gap with practice.

Well, this is the fastest post I’ve ever written and I’m going to just leave it as is. Apologies for any typos. And thank you for reading, whoever and wherever you are. It’s a strange and wonderful feeling to know that someone takes the time to look at something you’ve created, even if it’s just a little HR blog 🙂



Leadership Capacity and Constraint

“Leaders are made not born”.

We must believe this, since our organizations spend a staggering amount of money every year to improve the managerial and leadership skills of their employees.

We also place a high value on leadership as individuals, treating those recognized as great leaders with a kind of cultish reverence. Inspiring quotes about leadership abound on social platforms, often in the same intense language used to describe CrossFit.

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