Are you an HR snowflake?

Life is full of debate and discussion about issues and events. One of the joys of being social animals is the ability to express, challenge and build on the opinions of others. But always respectfully, thoughtfully and decently – no matter how robustly.

And business, like life, can be tough. There are a lot of great professionals working in-house that know how to navigate through their environments and to ultimately be successful. But the spectrum goes from some of the most inspiring colleagues I’ve worked with to those that frankly weren’t renowned for their thick skins.

Wherever you work in the broader HR family, you live and die each day based on your ability to perform in the environment in which you work. We know that we will be challenged daily and have to be robust in our pursuit of success. It isn’t a place for the weak-willed or the fragile. Not if you want to succeed.

Being robust, being willing to express a point of view, but also remaining open to challenge and being willing to listen, learn and amend your perspective is crucial. Closing off contrary viewpoints, becoming entrenched in blinding self conviction is a critical failure.

I particularly find it interesting that in areas of the profession that will talk about learning, growth mindsets, curiosity and development we so often see the opposite. If we are to be credible and valuable, then we should always stand up and practice what we preach. Not run away.

Don’t be an HR snowflake. If someone challenges your world view, take time to consider, question yourself and their perspective, recognise it as a chance to learn, grow and adapt. You have a choice, to listen, or to disengage. The successful will never, ever choose the latter path.

Give yourself a chance

How many times have you heard, “I’m not very good at” or listened to yourself say the same? Our ability to artfully segment activities in to “the things we can do” and “the things we can’t do” is legendary.

But how do we really know?

To give you an example, let’s say that I’m tasked with cooking a meal for a group of friends. I don’t normally cook, but for circumstances beyond my control I”m left to do so. I have the ingredients, I have the recipe, I have the cooker and the utensils. When everyone turns up on the saturday night to a pile of ill-determined, semi-burnt mush, I look at the evidence and declare, “I can’t cook”.

And from there on, I have the belief that this is an activity that I cannot perform.

I use cooking as a simple example, but what about maths, finance, presentations or public speaking? How often do we hear people declare in the workplace that they can’t do these things? And on what basis do they hold that belief?

What if instead we were to hold the belief that we could do anything? Well, anything biologically possible for a start. But rather than being about ability, instead we choose where we want to put our time, energy and effort? What if we were to accept that people had almost unlimited potential, just limited resource?

“I can cook. I just haven’t put the practice in to become good at it.”
“I can do numbers, I just haven’t had the exposure and I don’t really have the inclination.”
“I can speak in public, but I have to get used to handling the fear that comes with standing on stage.”

Ultimately, what we can and can’t do, comes down broadly to the things we want to invest in and the things we don’t. If we find that we also have an aptitude, that investment feels simple. If it is the opposite, sometimes the investment can feel too much.

The simple truth is that we choose the elements where we want competence or even mastery and we eschew those that we feel are a step too far. That choice is important in helping us come to terms with the essence of self determination and in turn how we manage and interact with those around us.

So next time you hear yourself professing that “you can’t”, instead try asking yourself how hard you’ve tried.

Meeting the productivity gap

I have a confession to make, I’ve become a little obsessed by meetings. I’m fascinated by the way in which we, in organisations, fill significant proportions of our time talking about the things that need to be done.

Which feels kind of weird.

I saw some data last week that showed that the higher up you go in an organisation, the higher proportion of your time is spent in meetings. Now assuming that people have succeeded in work because of a level of competence in doing “something”, to take them away from that to instead talk about “stuff” seems slightly counter intuitive.

And even accepting that the coming together of people within organisations is a valuable part of the working agenda (which I absolutely believe to be true). How often are meetings run by the most skilled most adept facilitator versus how often are they run by the most senior person?

What happens is that we are stuck in a historical model of business, where those on high would call together their underlings to convey, check, question or hold to account. And whilst so many aspects of our business life have changed, this one part still remains firmly planted in the past.

The much talked productivity gap that exists within UK business surely can’t be helped by the amount of unproductive time spent in unnecessary or badly run or defined meetings. Freeing people up to do rather than talk, to create rather than discuss.

When our lives become about meetings, we have to ask ourselves whether we are adding value, or simply taking resources away from the main purpose of our organisation.

Get innovative, goddamit!

It is a common refrain from business leaders – the need to be more “creative”, more “innovative” and to look at opportunities that explore beyond the present. “If we do what we’ve always done, well get what we’ve always got” is the refrain that echoes around multiple boardrooms.

And of course, this is both true and false at the same time. The motivation for making the statement in the first place is that doing what has always been done is no longer providing what has always been got. Otherwise, why change? The very issue is that external factors are creating moments that the business can no longer navigate – hence the need to think again.

What’s tough in these circumstances is that often the organisation is so hard wired, that no matter how many times someone shouts “CREATIVITY” or “INNOVATION”, no matter how positive the intent, there is a seeming inability to deliver against that good intention.

What’s wrong? Do we need to get a new type of person? Bring in some really “BIG thinkers”?

What are the chances that you’ve hired an entire workforce that is unable to think differently? What are the chances that there is not a single innovative bone in the collective body? That you’re institutionally bereft of creativity?

My guess is, that in those very organisations you have artists, musicians, writers, dancers, poets and sculptures. My guess is that at the very moment they leave your organisation for the day, they’re starting to display the very traits that you as an organisation are yearning for.

So what are the chances, that you’re trying to tackle lies within the corporate form rather than in the employee body?

Much of how we’ve structured organisations is to develop conformity, replication and rule following. Some people portray this as a negative, it isn’t. It’s just a thing. So if we want to change the behaviour, we need to also change the rules of the game. If you’ve never asked for a creative idea, why do you think one will come just when you think it should? If you process employees and value conformity and obedience, why will people think and act differently?

Creating the environment for people to express and develop their ideas, means creating the environment, not just artificial moments. If we want to unlock the innate skills and abilities that exist within our businesses, we’ve got to ask ourselves what closed them off in the first place.