Is it fiercely ice-storming here (yes, in mid-April), and it currently sounds like a very determined swarm of bees is hurling themselves at our windows. Our lights keep flickering. There’s nothing left to say about this except that I am so, so tired of wearing my winter coat that I may burn it whenever (or if) Spring finally gets here.
In the meantime, I’m preparing for a busy week: I’m speaking at InnovateWorkTO on Monday night about the need for different thinking about workplace sexual harassment in the wake of #MeToo, then I head straight to HR Leader’s Summit West in Vancouver on Tuesday to join an excellent panel about remote work, and finally head to Whistler for a site visit as we finish planning Actionable’s upcoming Consulting Partner Summit.
Hence, this week’s post is a round-up rather than a new blog, but it’s packed with great stuff:
A good reminder that I married the right person is that he agrees to go to a talk about catastrophic failure in complex systems for date night. This week, Anthony and I heard Andras Tilcsik and Chris Clearfield give an overview of their new book: ‘Meltdown: When Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It’.
It’s a fascinating look at how many of the systems we encounter in our day to day lives are becoming increasingly complex and tightly coupled, making them more vulnerable to surprising meltdowns.
The word ‘journey’ should probably only be used if you’re talking about how someone got to the Olympics, or to Mordor. And yet I’m using it here because I’ve been thinking about the rhetoric and reality of change and transformation.
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.
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).