I Refuse to Maintain the Status Quo

I dare say that most humans are creatures of habit and routine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; in our hurly-burly lives it’s nice to rely on muscle-memory so we can drive the same daily route to the office or know that Friday evening will inevitably be comprised of pizza, pajamas and movies. The usual and ordinary tasks we have are pretty straightforward when we do them the way we’ve always done them.

Naturally this tendency to adhere to the tried-and-true carries over into our work life. Whether we’re cranking out TPS reports or processing journal entries we get into the flow and rhythm. This is also a good thing. People who take comfort in the unremarkable may find a sense of peace cranking through mundane tasks. And for those folks who chafe at “sameness” day-after-day, entering automatron mode allows them to churn through the repetitious soul-crushing chores that exist in every job.

Now envision a department filled with people simultaneously jogging on the procedural treadmill as they push out the same reports, take the same phone calls, and sit in the same meetings week after week. Picture rows upon rows of cubicles. Department after department. Floor upon floor. A humungous organization located in either a suburban office park or on a busy street in a bustling urban city center.

Certainly all those workers are providing some sort of value as they strive to meet organizational goals while, undoubtedly, participating in the latest Corporate (HR) program-of-the-month designed to simultaneously boost engagement, track OKRs, and determine annual compensation increases?

There may be a fancy new name to this program-of-the-month but, let’s be real –  it’s the same old state of affairs.

And when you’re part of an existing entity, whether that be your job/company or your personal life/family, there’s an incentive to maintain the status quo.

It’s easy.

It’s cozy.

It’s safe.

And while human resources professionals are particularly adept at (and quite fond of!) maintaining the status quo, we are not alone amongst our corporate brothers and sisters.  In the corporate setting we’re often more keenly focused on reducing risk rather than setting our sights on maximizing potential.

So we make the “safe” hire. We stick to the same procedures whilst also building additional steps and creating complexity for the most insignificant processes (“let’s have the SENIOR Director sign off for all office supply purchases too!”). We rely on last year’s numbers (and the year before and the year before that). We look backward (only) instead of looking forward. We research other companies’ ‘best practices’ instead of designing our own ‘NEXT practices.’

We stay on the hamster wheel.

I get it. I totally get it.

But as for me? I want to try new things. I don’t want to settle for merely doing what’s easy, comfortable and that-which-has-come-before.

I refuse to maintain the status quo.

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Advocating for the Workplace Revolution

I can barely browse through LinkedIn or Facebook, open a magazine (remember those?), or attend a conference/event where the topic of the Future of Work is not being debated, dissected and regurgitated out as sound bites. We churn through conversations on automation, AI and machine learning, the gig economy, re-skilling and up-skilling of workers, income stagnation, and more. We discuss how work will be organized, what organizations will look like, and how people will interact with each other within organizations.

It’s the future and it’s quite revolutionary.

While there are numerous shifts happening, when my thoughts turn to the future of work I focus on a few key areas as an HR professional. These are also, in my opinion, the things every HR professional should be thinking about:

 

  • What jobs will exist in the future of work? In addition, which jobs will survive and which jobs will become obsolete?
  • How will we connect people and jobs/people and employment? There’s got to be a better way than what we’ve been doing up to this point.
  • What will individuals experience, day-to-day, while at work?
  • For that matter, how much of what people do will be done AT work (i.e. an actual physical location)?
  • How will the psychological contracts between employers and their employees change and evolve? Will the things we’ve come to expect, on either side, morph or vanish all together? There’s already been a general erosion, over the fairly recent past, in terms of guaranteed/lifetime employment and job security…so what is yet to come?
  • What is the occupational outlook? What jobs/occupations will see a decline and for what jobs/occupations will we see a rise? (hint: it’s the jobs that require empathy, humanity and judgment)
  • What skill sets will people need to have in this new world of work? How can we help existing employees adapt and develop the skills and competencies that will be in demand? How do we prepare students to be the next generation of workers?
  • For those jobs that will rise in demand how do we ensure that wages are sufficient enough to provide a living wage? Many of these jobs (teaching, care workers, service) have historically been low-paying so how can we ensure the transition to the future does not leave entire categories of employees behind.

Is there uncertainty? Absolutely. Is there a bit of apprehension by those tackling some of these issues? Certainly.

There’s also enthusiasm in the midst of the ambiguity and change and I, for one, am somewhat eager to get the proverbial show-on-the-road. Some business leaders are embracing the shift; we see this every time we hear about a company trying something new whether it be Holacracy (meh), unlimited PTO (I want some of that) or providing extended paid parental leave. Note: let me remind you how sad that we have to applaud the offering of parental leave at all, let alone paid leave. The US remains one of the only countries in the world (the other two are Oman and Papua New Guinea) that do not offer paid maternity leave nor are businesses required to do so.

I agree with my friend Laurie Ruettimann when she says #LetsFixWork. I can’t wait for the future.

Viva la revolution!  

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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

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