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Policies and Practical Drift

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.

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Riding the Doom Loop

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.

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What Drives Your People?

“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.

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How Being a Bad Manager Made Me a Better HR Person

This week I read that about 70% of US managers are afraid to talk to their employees. This produced a series of conflicting thoughts:

  1. I sort of sympathize. I want to avoid talking to anyone about 70% of the time, so #twinsies, you know?
  2. It also deserves a big eye roll because REALLY? WHAT DID THEY THINK BEING A MANAGER WAS ABOUT??
  3. But really, so what? They’ll mostly be replaced by AI soon anyway.
  4. 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!)

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Tell Me About It…

It’s a bright, shiny new year, and the world has been given a fresh start. Good thing too, since we really need a do-over after 2017. But underneath the flurry of optimistic resolutions and ardent promises to eat better and exercise, we’d be wise to remember the lessons that we hadn’t quite yet absorbed from 2017 before the holidays began and forcibly turned over a new page for us all.

The HR profession seems to have found its voice on sexual harassment, and if the slew of upcoming events and panels are any indication, lots of us want to use it. I hope we will remember that the voices we need to hear from most are those who have experienced harassment in our organizations.

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What the People I Learned From in 2017 Learned in 2017

I learned a lot this year, even if you don’t count all the things I learned for a second or even third time (sigh). I’d been vaguely thinking that I should write something about these lessons, when I had a flash of inspiration. Instead of sharing what I learned this year I realized that it would be much, much more interesting to ask the people I learned from this year what they learned in 2017.

I didn’t expect all of them to answer my request. When they all did, I didn’t expect them all to take time to share a thoughtful contribution. When they all did, I got a teeny bit emotional. I’m very grateful for the generosity of the people on this list and many others who I learned from this year. I invite you to immerse yourself in their thoughts, shared below in no particular order. Best wishes to all for a learning-filled 2018.

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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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