“that’s the way we’ve always done it” isn’t a strategy

dragging timeBusiness is at a cross-roads. Business gets done for, through, and by people. Unfortunately, the human side of business has not evolved at the pace of technology, has not kept up with changing expectations, and is anchoring business in the past.

Leadership is at a cross-roads. The dictatorial command and control philosophy so repugnant in government yet so warmly embraced by business is losing effectiveness by the day. The world is changing too fast to leave all the decision making, planning, and creativity to only a few. A pyramid shaped hierarchy simply can’t keep up, can’t respond fast enough, and is too exposed to mistakes caused by the biases of its top leaders.

Organizational and work design is at a cross-roads. Trying to do 21st Century work with models and designs developed for the 20th, 19th, and 18th centuries has its limitations.

Human Resources is at a cross-roads. Changes in technology, business philosophy, and HR’s role in the organization mean it can play an increasingly important role or be so redefined that it essentially fades away, replaced by technology and outsourcing.

People know things are changing and need to change more. If you go to conferences that have “Reinvent,” “Future,” “Evolve,” “Change,” etc. in the name you quickly find that most of the attendees are already on the same page. Even at less future-oriented presentations, I’m finding large numbers of people embracing the idea of what their field could be, of how it could create more value or better results, of the need to leave the past behind and the opportunity to redefine the future.

There are people and companies leading the way, some for decades now, showing us how the future of work could be. Showing us how today could be. But they get dismissed as a novelty (not REAL business), of having unique circumstances that couldn’t possibly work in other businesses, of being faddish. Even though real life examples abound, it’s easier to dismiss new ideas than to invest in the effort to adapt them to our own circumstances. Easier to assume that what seemed to work well enough in the past is what will work best in the future.

Would anyone ever consider “but that’s the way we’ve always done it” a legitimate reason for continuing an outdated policy? No. So why is it so easily accepted as justification for clinging to antiquated business strategies, org design, or leadership? Why is it an easy excuse for sinking into the past as competition (and the world) passes by?

We know better, don’t we?

[Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc]

defining and shaping What Comes Next

In a couple of weeks, on November 11 and 12 Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt of Talent Anarchy are hosting/leading/facilitating an event called The Frontier Project on “Designing The Future of Work.” More think tank than conference or training, this is a chance for you to get together with 50 or so other sharp, passionate, innovative, and curious folks to discuss, debate, and (re)imagine where work is headed, where it needs to go, and perhaps what you can do about it in your world. Joe recently wrote about about it here.

I attended their first Frontier Project back in May and am excited for the chance to attend this next one. Although Jason and Joe are both masters at giving the box called “status quo” a good and vigorous shaking, I’m most looking forward to meeting and learning from the other participants. I don’t know who will be there but I’m expecting and hoping to see a mixed group of thought leaders, forward thinkers, and everyday professionals looking to define and shape What Comes Next. Interested? Sign up here (and notice you have one more day for the early bird discount).

Yes, I wrote about this a few weeks back and I’m writing about it again. I love to think about the FutureNow of work and I’m very excited to see Joe and Jason hosting another Frontier Project. It, along with the Meaning conference over in the UK, are two standout events dealing with what work could be. I’m encouraged and hope to see more and more events like these in the coming years.

I don’t know what this Frontier Project is going to look like, but I know what I got out of the last one. Rather than giving you a link, I decided to make it even easier and have included the summary I wrote and posted on May 29 after the first Frontier Project.



don’t predict the future, declare it

Human Resources, like many fields, is at a cross roads where its future is at a disconnect with its past. Many of its reasons for being have become irrelevant, easily outsourced, or reduced to a minor function. Some predict the end of HR; others cling to it. Ultimately, the future of business and work will decide the future of HR.

The Frontier Project, held May 20 and 21 in Omaha, Nebraska had the stated purpose of “Reimagining the Role of Human Resources.” That’s a bold tagline creating huge expectations and it was an interesting mix of 40 or so HR pros, consultants, vendors, and thought leaders who attended.

Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt led the group using an accelerated decision making process. Normally, it’s a technique used to create a decision and action steps for a specific problem. Applying it to the future of a field while still creating individual actions is a bit trickier, but worth the effort.

So, what’s the future of HR? I’m not telling. Not because I took a blood oath of secrecy; because I don’t know. No one does. But here’s a few thoughts I took away from the two days:

Predicting the future is really, really difficult. Particularly for experts because they know exactly how things are in the field, but most innovation and change is ignited from outside the field. If one isn’t careful, focused expertise leads to being blindsided. To prevent getting stuck in what our expertise demonstrated was right, we were told to use our “imagination, not expertise.” Regardless, it’s still difficult. Could you have imagined 2013 in 1993? Could you have imagined 2013 in 2008 before smart phones and social media took off? Another bit of advice for imagining the future: “If it makes sense today, you’re probably not pushing far enough out.”

Even people who think like me don’t think like me. Oddly enough, the future I’m convinced will happen looks different than the futures 39 other people are convinced will happen. We all have biases and, although there’s some overlap, it’s really easy to get stuck in our own reality tunnels.

When people discuss the most important things the field of HR should be focused on it sounds very buzzwordy business-speak. Lots of jargon. Lots of mention of technology, big data, etc. But when people describe what makes their job great it there is a strong emotional and personal connection. I don’t know what that schism means, but it makes me wonder.

The field of HR is so divided between administrative and strategic functions it makes me wonder if we shouldn’t identify them as separate fields. I suspect much of HR’s identity crisis would go away if we acknowledged we’ve been trying to find unifying answers for (at least) two distinct fields. Much as finance and accounting or marketing and sales are split, imagine the issues that would quickly dissolve away if we could allow HR to move in two different directions.

“Us vs them” is a powerful, powerful quirk of human thinking. It carries a lot of judgment and self-righteousness. Be very careful how you define “us” and “them”. Consider the possibility that it might really be “us and them”, or even just “us”.

Some other quick thoughts (mostly shared by others):

HR needs to stop waiting for someone to ask us to do and simply find what needs to be done and get on with it. If it requires permission, make a case for it and sell it. Stop waiting.

Technology/tools can be an enhancement or a distraction from the people/business connection. Like all tools, none are inherently good or bad, but how we use them determines how much they will help or hinder.

Statistics can’t predict the individual. Ever.

Integrate HR into the business processes instead of trying to integrate the business processes into HR.

Use imagination first to play and explore and then apply expertise to make it possible.

The future is scary when you don’t feel you have any control. The future is exciting when you feel you are creating it; it’s threatening when you want things to stay the same (or go back to being how they were); it’s liberating when you see how it could be even better than today.

I need to spend more time kicking ideas around with smart, passionate people. Really can’t do that enough.

 There’s lots more from those two great days that I’m still processing and thinking about. Joe and Jason are threatening to offer it again in the future and I’m excited to see how The Frontier Project evolves. Good, good stuff.

overthinking the human condition on a friday morning

Two of the most powerful human emotions are fear and hope. Interestingly, they are both future focused. Fear and hope are always about situations that might not exist or events that have not yet played out.

Pain and pleasure are the two great motivators. Whether we’re talking about the physical, emotional, or spiritual, us humans are always trying to organize our lives to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. Paradoxically, the choices and actions that create near-term/immediate pleasure often lead to long-term/future pain. And vice versa.

Pessimism and optimism are the filters and philosophies through which we take in and interpret data. Pessimism seems to focus on fear and pain while optimism concentrates on hope and pleasure. Pessimists tend to see pleasure as fleeting and temporary. Optimists view pleasure as the natural state, pain as a brief interruption. Fortunately, both approaches are useful.

Fear and a healthy desire to avoid pain helps keep us from making terminally stupid decisions. It drives us to plan ahead and save for the rainy days. Hope and a healthy belief that “this too shall pass” and tomorrow will be better than today has kept us moving forward through some really bleak, horrible, and desperate times. It is the inspiration and vision of tomorrow that keeps us going when things get overwhelmingly, crushingly bad.

Yet, pushed too far, both are crippling. Pessimism can convince us to never try, never strive, always suspect, always fear. The world looms big and we see everything both beyond our control and against us. Optimism can convince us we can do anything, to jump and leap without thought, preparation, or contingencies. We see everything and everyone as good: we trust those we shouldn’t and take on responsibilities we can’t handle. When we make blatantly irrational decisions, one of these mindsets has a bigger hold on us than it should.

Fear/pain/pessimism and hope/pleasure/optimism are hardwired into us for survival – it’s a part of the human condition and always operating in the background. It is so constant that it’s easy to overlook, to forget about, to think that us humans are now too sophisticated for such primitive drives. Yet, when we look for it, it’s pretty easy to see how fear/pain/pessimism and hope/pleasure/optimism shows up in business and our daily lives. Every product or service advertised, everything you’ve ever purchased, every career choice you’ve ever made has been out of fear of pain or hope of pleasure – likely both.

Ok, I’m not a psychologist – these are just observations and ideas I’ve picked up over the years. I don’t know for sure that it’s true or not. But if it’s true, how does that change how you sell, lead, dream, or decide? If it’s always there whether we give it’s due or not, how can you use it to your advantage to improve your communication, inspire others, and get out of your own way to play bigger?