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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Adaptive. Agile. Responsive.
Whether you believe that the world is changing faster than ever or not, I suspect there is near-universal agreement among leaders that organizations must become more nimble to succeed.
However, as is often the case, the desire for an organization to be something different seems to be strangely disconnected from the doing it will entail at the individual level. That is to say, adaptive and agile sound like fantastic destinations when considered in isolation from the daily practices required to get us there.
Last Monday I was part of a panel at an event titled “Keeping HR Human in a Digital World”. It was a great panel with diverse viewpoints and experience, and a lively audience that stuck around to ask questions and chat.
A question that wasn’t asked, but maybe should have been is:
“What do we even mean by ‘digital’?”
Certainly we all know the literal meaning of ‘digital’, and based on the discussion at this event, we definitely get that a digital world means one with lots of technology…but how is that different than last year, or 5 years ago, or even 10?