Embrace change…and a little chaos

chaos“I accept chaos, I’m not sure whether it accepts me.”

Bob Dylan

The future is scary. It’s rushing at us and it’s as if we’re not even keeping pace today let alone preparing ourselves for tomorrow.

To further complicate matters, the tendency of some – not all – who work in human resources, honed after years of practice, is to hunker down, pretend that change is not coming, and keep maintaining the status quo for as long as possible.

I’m not making that up. I meet HR professionals who, even after implementation, are hoping and praying that the Affordable Care Act will go away. I talk to HR practitioners who gripe about the burdens brought on by the Family and Medical Leave Act…and the FMLA has been around since 1993.

Employee reviews on Glassdoor. The rise of the contract worker. The demands for remote work and flexibility. The globalization of talent. The economic demands of underdeveloped nations. Politics. Wearable tech. Robots. Generation Z.

For some it’s all too overwhelming.

It can be somewhat comforting in this volatile environment for HR professionals to want to go back to the basics and focus on legislative updates, benefit plan utilization reports, 401(k) administration, and the doling out of annual performance reviews.

But you can’t retreat to the comfort of the familiar.  Your CEO doesn’t close the door and refuse to pay attention to trends. Your CFO is checking the markets and conferring with financial advisors to make projections on where to invest the corporation’s assets. Your CMO, originally terrified of Twitter and Facebook circa 2010, quickly learned that she will no longer be the only one controlling the company’s message.

Put your ear to the ground.

“But I am,” you protest (I can hear you). “I belong to my local SHRM chapter and go to monthly meetings and get updates. I read that HR Magazine they send me in the mail each month. Once a year I go to a legislative conference so I know what’s been proposed on the state and federal levels.”

That’s not enough.

I want you to explore and learn and be aware about issues going on in the economy, politics, and the technology sector. I want you to pay attention to consumer trends and pop culture. I don’t care if your favorite musical genre continues to be 80’s hairband music (Guns N’ Roses forever!) and you’ve made the statement that what passes for music today is crap; if your employees are tuning in to Common and Pro Era you best have them on your radar because your references to Will Smith as a hip hop artist are not going to cut it.

I’m not even going to talk here about the need to know your business and industry. That’s a given. If I hear one more HR pundit trot out that tired old line as if it’s some sort of earth-shattering revelation I am going to, perhaps quite literally, stab someone with a fork. Obviously if you work in the restaurant industry, you best hustle your butt into the restaurant and work a shift or two. If you work in banking you best understand how bankers categorize assets. Oil and gas? I want you to be able to talk, with some degree of understanding, about supply, demand and how pricing per barrel occurs. You get the picture.

But what I’m talking about goes far beyond that. Listen…

  • I run into HR professionals who have no idea who is running for national office in their district. “I don’t like politics so I don’t pay attention.”
  • I know HR leaders who have never heard of Glassdoor or other similar sites…even though their company has scathing reviews listed. “They can do what on what website?” 
  • I encounter HR practitioners who don’t pay attention to the changing workforce demographics and the rise of independent workers. They don’t comprehend how wearable tech and the “quantified self” is not just coming to the workplace but has arrived. They think they will use robots and data and technology on their terms instead of realizing that their lives are already affected.

“ I don’t have time,” they lament. “I’ve got work and my kids and my family. I sing in the choir every Sunday and we have choir practice on Wednesday nights and soccer on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

C’mon now; don’t be that guy/gal.

I want you to be wildly curious about everything. Subscribe (or read the free versions…there are plenty out there) to Fast Company, Forbes, and the Harvard Business Review. Peruse Architectural Digest and Popular Science and Psychology Today. Check out Rolling Stone (yeah…sometimes it’s still relevant), Politico, and your local newspapers. If you live in the US watch the BBC News. Explore your town. Drive to the neighboring city and take a walk. Ask questions. Seek answers.

I want you to look forward … not backward.

I want you to welcome the future … not run from it.

I want you to embrace change … and a little chaos.

“Chaos in the midst of chaos isn’t funny, but chaos in the midst of order is.”

Steve Martin


The Price of a Job: “De ducks are flying”

charityThis past weekend I spent some time at the Louisiana Art and Science Museum. Currently showcasing local artists (past and present) in a gallery show called “Monuments & Metaphors: Art in Public Spaces,” the museum is a pretty nifty gem here in the heart of downtown Baton Rouge.

One of the pieces currently on display is a digital model of some art (an aluminum relief piece) that has been embedded above the main entrance of New Orleans’ Charity Hospital. The hospital, opened in 1736 just 18 years after the city was founded by France in 1718, has been the second oldest continually operated public hospital in the US. As some of you may know, the hospital has been closed since the flooding of Hurricane Katrina. Hope, however, springs eternal that something will eventually move into the space.

On the placard next to the model of “Louisiana at Work and Play” created in 1939) it was related that artist Enrique Alferez included a duck as a reference to some shenanigans (and there were numerous shenanigans) of Governor Huey P. Long. A few enticing details were given so I went home to look up the story.

The book Kingfish: The Reign of Huey P. Long by Richard White gave me the details:

“With the Depression putting thousands of Louisianians out of work, state jobs became even more precious and patronage an incredibly important tool. Huey hired extra game wardens, bridge tenders, state policemen, and added thousands of jobs with his huge road building program, with every new job securing at least one new vote. By 1931, Louisiana employed over 22,000 men working on highways, more than any other state in the country.”

 “He funded his political organization with money given by wealthy supporters,,,,, and from the collection of “deducts” from state workers. State employees paid 5 to 10 percent of their salaries, a total of $1 million a year, for the upkeep of his political machine. If the refused to pay, the ‘come or quit” employees lost their jobs. When the squeeze was put on them for more contributions, they uttered the expression “de ducks are flying” and shelled out for tickets to the machine-controlled baseball park or took out another subscription to the machine-owned newspaper.”

I found this fascinating.

It also got me thinking about the reality of not only securing a job but also having a satisfactory experience as a job seeker or employee 85 years hence.

We know, with certainty, we don’t want to go back to the days of Huey and paying for the right to maintain our employment status. Yet, to combat the sort of crap that was de rigueur in the good-old-days, we have created complex processes in order for people to secure, let alone maintain, employment. Want to work for government or big business? You have hoops to jump through and HR ladies with whom you have to deal. HR ladies who could care less that you come personally recommended by Ms. Big Shot VP tell you to “fill out this 10 page on line application” if you want to be considered. Jesus himself may be your close personal friend but there are still rules.

We can, in a round about way, thank Huey and his brethren for this. But is is, perhaps, the price we pay today in order to gain employment. There’s no longer the need to toss a few bucks into the governor’s pocket but it is necessary to waste countless hours pleading like a supplicant at the altar of the ATS.

Huey may have looked damn dashing in his summer seersucker. It’s quite likely, as many will point out, that while he was nothing short of a dictator the people of Louisiana loved him and in his time as governor and later US Senator he did more for the regular Louisiana citizen than any other state politician who came before or after him. He certainly enjoyed, as do I, a perfectly blended Ramos Gin Fizz. He even wrote a song.

I, for one, would rather create my own kingdom than rely on someone else’s patronage.

Or at least create my own kingdom without the need to spend 55 minutes completing your online application only to get a canned “thanks but no thanks” reply 10 minutes later.


Image: LSU School of Medicine (New Orleans)


Do Something Awesome Every Day

it-is-ok-to-be-awesomeI recently had lunch with a woman I worked with several years ago; she and I had interacted somewhat frequently to attend to business but we also genuinely liked each other. Simpatico and compatible.

After catching up on the phone lamenting the fact that too much time had passed, we decided to get together, have a cocktail, laugh and giggle (yes…I admit to actual giggling), and swap war stories.

At one point during this lunch she said to me (paraphrasing a bit) “you’ve been my favorite HR person at any organization. You kept me sane. Remember when I told you that you were the first HR person who actually acted “human?”

I did indeed remember that.

This story is not, of course, unique to me. I’m sure many of you who work in human resources have heard this, or a variation of it, from employees. “You’re not like other HR people.” “Thanks for helping me through that situation.” “I appreciate you.” “You’re easy to talk to.” “You’re fun.”

Sometimes, when we hear those sorts of things, it makes our crazy jobs in HR a bit better.

That lunch conversation also reinforced something I have long believed and staunchly advocated for: it’s OK for human resources professionals to have a personality. In fact…it’s preferable.

HR ladies are people too. We drink, smoke, swear and tell dirty jokes. We’re the parents of rebellious teenagers and rambunctious toddlers. We have dogs, cats, horses and hamsters. We wonder how we’re going to get the car repaired because finances are tight. We have tattoos and piercings, we do inappropriate things, and a fair number of us like to sing karaoke after one too many margaritas.

Yet, for some reason, many an HR professional trudges off to an office building and erects an invisible shield in an attempt to sanitize and remove all personal uniqueness. He dons his blue suit, she buttons up her jacket, and both of them go about their daily business with all the personality of a come-to-life corporate stock photo. Soulless bureaucrats.

Afraid to be human. Afraid to do something awesome.

I’m not talking about doing something in order to add it to the resume: being strategic, adding value, or successfully navigating a major change management initiative.

I’m talking about doing the human things:

  • Taking someone from another department to lunch
  • Writing a Thank You note to an employee
  • Keeping your door open … and meaning it
  • Eating lunch in the company cafeteria
  • Going to Happy Hour with the Sales Department
  • Singing Karaoke

Being human. Being vulnerable. Being awesome.


“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Eleanor Roosevelt


h/t for the image


3 Things Your HR Department is Doing Right Now

old officeManaging employee data on spreadsheets

I recently read a job posting for an HR Director position with a mid-sized organization (several thousand employees). There, amongst the laundry list of job duties, was “Provide annual wage adjustments on Excel spreadsheet and relay wage increase information to the Payroll Department.”

Lesson: If you work in HR please don’t think you’re the only one who is behind the times. You’re not the only HR professional cobbling together your systems of record and HR data using spreadsheets, word documents and paper files.

Watching you

I had a conversation at a gathering this past weekend and a friend mentioned that his employer is “putting cameras everywhere. They’re all over the building now. They just want to catch us doing something wrong I guess.”

Lesson: No matter the reason for increasing the amount of cameras at a workplace (safety for staff, 24 hour monitoring for security reasons) rest assured that employees will be convinced the HR Lady decided to install cameras so she could catch employees in the midst of sinful transgressions. An employee once accused me of placing a camera in her office because we knew she changed clothes in there before heading to the gym; she was convinced someone in the security department was enthralled with sneaking peeks at her bra and panties.

Hiding Out

Last week a friend mentioned that her company’s HR Department (already well known for having a locked HR Department that requires employees to buzz for admittance) has recently spent a considerable amount of money ‘frosting’ the plate glass windows of the HR lobby. The explanation, as it has been relayed, is so that employees don’t see their co-workers and colleagues sitting in the HR Department.

Lesson: If your HR collateral claims your organization is warm-hearted, compassionate and open you need to make sure the HR Department understands the symbolism behind their actions. Ensuring privacy for sensitive conversations is a good thing thing but this group is sending the message (no one can see in our windows!) that the HR Department is a bad evil place just barely removed from the circles of hell. Even though the rest of the company’s employees dwell in cubicles and gather in collaborative work pods no one just pops in to chat with HR staff.

And that’s what your HR Department is doing right now.

They’re also probably on Facebook trading inspirational quotes and sharing pictures of puppies; you know, before updating the internet access policy that blocks your access to Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and…..


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