(re)inventing HR: be there

There is a gap. It’s a frustrating space. The space between what HR is today and what it could-be-should-be-must-be. But what is it, where is it, what might it be? That’s for you to decide. It’s always for you to decide. But you never need to decide alone.

May 20 and 21, Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen are hosting/facilitating/inciting The Frontier Project aimed at “Reimagining the Role of Human Resources”. From their site:

Wanted: Innovators, creators, culture hackers, workplace revolutionaries and leaders who can no longer stand idly by as talent is squandered. We can no longer wield our 20th century approaches in attacking 21st century challenges. The stakes are too high. The reinvention of Human Resources can wait no longer. We’re seeking people of courage and vision to join us on a quest of inquiry, discovery and creation. Where will this journey take us?

There are only two possible responses to reading that paragraph:

1. You instantly knew it was for you and you’ve stopped reading this and gone to their site to sign up (or you’ve already signed up and are thinking, “I’ll see you there, Broc.”)

2. You know it’s not for you, you’re really happy with the status quo and thinking about personally being involved in redefining, reinventing, rediscovering HR is a little scary sounding. And a little vague. And it’s probably against policy. And you only attend events to get recertification credits. And you have too much work to do, paperwork to push, filing to get done.

Some may be thinking, “No, I’m in a third category. This sounds cool, I just want to give it a year or so to see if it really takes off.” No, you’re in the second category. What you’re looking for is an annual conference with words like “strategic” and “table” and “innovation” where you get to show off your HR merit badges and let people know how edgy you are. All while you play safe and keep to the party line of the industry approved and acceptably “extreme” area of the status quo.

Here’s my fully transparent disclosure: I have no affiliation with this event, I’m not a sponsor, I’m not a facilitator, I’m not compensated in any way to promote it, and no one has asked me to write about it. What I am is really stinkin’ excited. Too excited to keep it to myself. Jason and Joe always do a phenomenal job and I jumped at the chance to attend. I don’t know what’s going to happen or even what to anticipate, but I am confident that it will be amazing and I need to be there (and you do too). I’m expecting to be a part of a bunch of really smart, creative, passionate people looking for (and finding) ways of playing bigger and doing better. In fact, I’m so excited about attending that I’m going even though it wasn’t in my department’s budget so it’s 100% on my own dime.

I would not miss this. I will not miss this. I will fully be a part of it. And I want you to be a part of it too. If you’re on the fence about it, here’s your push: GO!

Ground zero of the FutureNow of HR. No other place to be.

See you there!


the shop is no longer around the corner

I recently re-watched You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks (to be clear: I didn’t watch it with them, they were in the movie). It came out in 1997 at the cusp of three pivotal shifts and is an interesting look at people dealing with FutureNow and trying to find their way forward without a map.

Email was new and quaint and exciting, big box retailers were driving the small independent shops out of business, and – although the movie doesn’t address it – people and businesses were trying to figure out the whole internet thing by applying old business models to a new medium.

In one scene, Meg Ryan’s character wishes she could ask her deceased mom for advice on how her small bookstore can compete with the mega-store going in just down the street. A friend makes a show out of asking her mom’s picture what to do, holding it to her ear for the answer. The friend puts the photo down and says, “She doesn’t know what to do either.” There was no map, no established answer, no tried and true success model.

Fifteen years later and the big box stores are in the same position Meg Ryan’s cute little shop was in. The internet has evolved into a reliable commerce channel, creating enormous economies of scale AND a level of service that physical stores wouldn’t / couldn’t provide. No store can have enough staff to be familiar with every book, yet the online stores have ratings and comments available from people who have read the book. Online, there is no snobbery from the clerk at the CD store looking upon your musical taste with distain. Prices are low and the option to buy used pushes them even lower.

The bad guy of a decade and a half ago is now the victim. The world changed and no one told them. There is no map, no established answer, no tried and true success model for them to follow.

For better or worse, the world is changing and evolving and moving in faster and faster cycles. We’ve got email figured out and now we’re wrestling with social media. Higher education and banking are likely to take the same sort of leap the music and publishing industries did and others will follow. It doesn’t take much of a futurist to predict that there is another big shift about to happen just a few years down the road.

Here’s the HR / world of work spin: technology is driving massive changes at a societal level, allowing us to do so much more with so much less, eliminating old jobs and creating new opportunities. That’s not going away. It’s scaryexcitingterrifyingthrilling. It requires perpetual learning and thinking and changing and an ability to adapt at an ongoing level that’s never been asked of us before.

Hope, fear, uncertainty, confidence, desire for success, terror of failure are all very real and very human issues. I wonder how Human Resources and Learning & Development will best help individuals and organizations cope-survive-thrive.

Your thoughts?


Some Business and Leadership Lessons from Downton Abbey

I really enjoy Downton Abbey and I’m super excited about the new season. A friend turned me on to it this Fall and my wife and I quickly watched the first two seasons. I really shouldn’t be able to relate to it – after all, it’s a period drama (soap opera?) about British aristocracy and their servants in the early 1900s.

Except it’s not. It’s about humans dealing with the inevitable change of FutureNow. The tried and true traditions of the 19th Century have been blown up and burned down in the onslaught of change in the early 20th Century. Industrialization, automobiles, air travel, women’s rights, democracy, revolutionaries, class systems (and duties and obligations), a world fighting a new kind of war and the horrors it brings all get thrown in the societal blender. The characters, rich or poor, weak or powerful, are just humans trying to find their way and make sense of it all as what was battles what is and what should be.

Kinda like business and leadership today.

Any strength pushed too far becomes a weakness and the best ideas become frightful distortions and caricatures at their limits. Taylorism and scientific management brought much needed consistency and efficiency to manufacturing. But it was pushed to the point of removing all thinking and judgement  Design out the need for critical thought, problem solving, and creativity from the workers and (surprise!) we end up with workers who can’t innovate, who are comfortable with micromanagement, who push responsibility for their results higher in the organization.

Command and control is a self-serving, self-justifying cycle. Create an organization structure and leadership approach that fosters a lack thought, creativity, or innovation and you end up needing an organization structure and leadership approach to manage people who lack thought, creativity, and innovation. And it works. Until it doesn’t.

Right now it really doesn’t. We can argue it does because we’ve never seen an alternative or because we prefer to stick with the devil we know. Doing different is scary, it’s uncertain, we don’t know how it will work out. But ask yourself this: how successful would you be in 1920 trying to lead and live in the world that existed in 1870? How successful will you be in 2013 trying to lead and live in the world the existed in 1963?

Here’s my challenge to the world: name one person, one team, one company that has gained a successful advantage doing things the way they’ve always been done, doing things the way everyone else does them, and gets ahead by running with the herd. Should it be telling that there are no awards for doing sameness better than everyone else?

So why then do we insist on trying to stand out by blending in?


Some Lessons From Downton Abbey:

What are some of the lessons we can take from Downton Abbey as we face our own FutureNow? Some thoughts, in no particular order:

1. Just because it worked in the past doesn’t mean it will work in the future, or even now.

2. Just because it seems to work now doesn’t mean it’s the best solution.

3. Resist it, complain about it, long for the good old days all you want. Change is inevitable and happening regardless of our opinion of it.

4. The changes we resist today will be the traditions the next generation fights to keep. The world we resist and resent today will be someone else’s good ol’ days tomorrow.

5. We’re all just humans trying to figure out how to be happy and successful (however we define happiness and success).

6. No single group of people, gender, generation, race, profession, social class, etc. has a monopoly on all the good ideas. Or all the bad ones.

7. Traditions for the sake of traditions are silly and useless. Traditions that still serve a purpose provide continuity and community. Just because we’ve always done it doesn’t make it useful; just because it’s never been done doesn’t make it useless. AND just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t make it useless; just because it’s never been done doesn’t make it useful.

8. Experience is important, but you’ll never win by preparing to fight the previous war. We need to learn from the past but in a way that recognizes that even small changes will make a big difference.

Your thoughts?