The Pace of Business. The Pace of HR.

Atlas Rockefeller CenterI grew up in Wisconsin. I spent my childhood and HS years in the Milwaukee suburbs, headed off to college in central Wisconsin, and then returned to live and work in Milwaukee. It’s a bustling city and I’ve found that unless you’re from the area or have reason to visit you generally don’t have any awareness that the MSA is quite so sizable. We moved at a brisk clip and took care of business; might be that whole Socialist and Germanic heritage. Or because we knew a beer was waiting at the end of the day. I dunno.

Thirteen years ago we moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. One hour up the I-10 from New Orleans (let’s face it, the most unique city in the USofA), Baton Rouge suffers from an identity crisis usually articulated as “we are NOT New Orleans!”

There are certainly many things to love here in the Red Stick; the food, the ever-present music, a fascinating history, and super friendly and welcoming people. We have gorgeous scenery, exotic wildlife, and LSU football … if that’s your thing. There are also characteristics that reside firmly in the negative column; a general aversion to anything progressive, the absolute worst traffic ever, an atrocious education system, and institutional racism and sexism that still snuggle companionably alongside the Sazeracs served to Tripp and Tiffany at the local country club or at the annual power-broker crawfish boils.

Oh…and we move slowly. V-E-R-Y slowly. And that, other than learning how to pronounce a whole new bunch of words, was the biggest area of acclimation for me.

Is it because of the heat? Any day now we’re destined to hit the upper 80’s/90’s and then resolutely remain there until October and, of course, our heat is like wrapping yourself in a wet woolen blanket. Do we take our time because we’ll break into a sweat if we pick up the pace?

Or is it, as some have postulated, because we believe in enjoying life? We like to stop and smell the roses (or magnolias)? We wonder “what’s the rush?” Laissez les bon temps rouler.

There’s something to be said for that.

Yet whenever I head out of town I notice the remarkable differences in how we not only “live” but also in how we “work.”

I spent part of last week in NYC with a colleague working with an HR team full of energized, super smart, young, and hip HR professionals. Well, certainly more hip than me. We rocked through a ton of content at a fast clip all day long and then, because unlike Baton Rouge there are things to do in NYC past 8 PM, we went out for drinks and festivities.

No moss growing under their feet.

And, it goes without saying, this team was not an anomaly.

I took a stroll through Grand Central Station, purposefully at commute time, to revel in the frenzied activity of harried suburbanites catching their trains. I sat at a table, mid-day, in Bryant Park to watch the go-go young investment bankers grab some Jamba Juice before continuing on with their important phone calls. While scoring some cocktails I chatted up a marketing dude (finance industry) at the bar; he was still in his suit (tie loosened) and had his computer bag at his feet…4 hours after the workday ended. He paused, mid-conversation, to take a 30 second phone call, send off a quick email (another 30 seconds), and then resumed our conversation.

That shit doesn’t happen in Baton Rouge.

Is that good…or bad? Certainly the desire for a certain lifestyle…fast pace vs. slow pace… boils down to personal preference. There are many individuals who purposefully choose to escape (isn’t that how it’s usually put?) so they leave DC or Chicago or pick-a-big-city and relocate to a less frenetic metro area or even a small town.

More power to ‘em.

I got to thinking though; does the speed at which the overall business community moves impact how HR moves? Does an HR team or an HR professional working in a sluggish environ become … well…sluggish? Can human resources professionals ideate and innovate and ACT when those around them are content to live by the mantra “don’t be in such a hurry; we’ll get there someday.”

What would Atlas do?

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One thought on “The Pace of Business. The Pace of HR.

  1. Robin,

    Very interesting observations. I’m a life-long resident of the Midwest and it’s always interesting to visit other locations and see how the people live their lives. As a former resident of Milwaukee (the most under-rated small big city in the U.S.) and of Chicago, I can relate to what you say about the pace of life. I’ve “been there, done that” with Chicago and its big city living. Loved it when I was younger, but not sure I’d love it now.

    I think some people are fed in a positive way by that pace and vitality and others are drained by it.

    How does this affect HR/ Heck if I know! And when I worked in Milwaukee and Chi-town, I was in HR. 🙂

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