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Make more money by promoting a sense of belonging in your firm: A manifesto for HR

Posted on: November 22, 2009

I don’t do pain, even in my imagination

In my last post I described an exercise for testing the depth of our positive attitude: write a novel about myself and make myself feel pain.  I tried it.  It was hard!  I’m glad to know that I am not a masochist.

But I learned a little.  I learned that we hate to lose our ‘role’ and that I hate to be around people who are just pretending to have a ‘role’.  From there, I found myself listing the HR procedures for increasing belonging and the metrics to show how much value these procedures add to a company.

A manifesto for HR!

My worst nightmare

My worst nightmare is being in zombie-land.  I hate being in places where people have become cynical and at best are just “deteriorating as slowly as possible“.

Of course, I don’t really hate it ~ I am terrified by it.  We are terrified by anything which assaults our personalities.  I’m an INTFJ or a shaper/completer-finisher/resource-investigator.  I don’t do incoherent, lazy, out-of-it.   I may be misguided.  I may be slothful about many things.  But I will always have a purpose.  If I am going to be rudderless, I do it on purpose!

Our nightmare is not to have a role

This was my insight from the novel-writing exercise.   We are all terrified by the prospect of not having a role, or not belonging to our communities and workplaces.  We are very sensitive to rejection.  Even the nuances of rejection send us into a flat spin.

Many things that can lead us to feel that we don’t belong

A lot of things can lead to a sudden feeling that we are out of place.

  • Our general confidence
  • Policies of the firm which signal who is in and who is out
  • Cliques and favoritism
  • Mismatches with our own hopes and dreams
  • And storming – good old crises of confidence

Recraft your way to belonging

  • Heaps has been written in the last few years about recrafting jobs to meet our personal needs.  A waitress tenderly sweeping the floor of the cafe with good music playing in the background is recrafting her job just as the young guy who also works there recrafts his job by trying to sweep as fast and vigorously as possible.  Both put their personal stamp and sense of meaning on the job.
  • Poet David Whyte gives the same advice.  Begin with the ground, the hallowed ground on which you start.  Find meaning and belonging in what you already have and build from them.
  • Positive psychologist,  Christopher Petersen calls expanding from what we have “building a bridge while we walk on it”.
  • And for a good speech showing this is not just for me and you, but for the smartest and the brightest, listen to Dr Rao on Googletalk (YouTube).

Recrafting when we feel rejected

It is tough to recraft when we feel rejected though ~ for this reason.  We hate being rejected and we are loathe to admit that we have been excluded.

  • One, it hurts.
  • Two, we catastrophize and think that if this person rejects us, then everyone else will too.
  • Three, we worry that if we dismiss rejection, we may dismiss feedback that will help us manage future relationships.
  • Four, we catastrophize and think that if this relationship is not worthwhile, none will be worthwhile.
  • Five, we worry that the information that we have been rejected will be used against us!

Rejection put us in an emotional spin and bullies know it!  They’ll use rejection to keep you off balance.

That said, how do you work on finding the good in situation when you are feeling lousy?

Recrafting when we we are afraid

I would say we should do three things.

  • Make an objective assessment of the situation, as clinically as any staff officer in front of a paper map miles from the front line.
  • As you are not sitting behind the lines and you are actually in the thick of things, do as you would in battle. Move yourself, everyone else and everything you need out of the firing line.
  • Consider all the options including the options for negotiation and resumption of pleasantries.

This is really hard to do.  Believe me ~ being rejected by people like employers and teachers, on whom you depend, will frighten you almost as much as getting shot at.  In many ways it is worse.  You can allow yourself to be frightened by bullets as long as you act responsibly.  But to admit you are being “dissed” by your own side rips the guts out of you.

So you do the three steps: you take defensive actions, you try to be pleasant, you take time to make an objective assessment.  And guess what 90% of your energy is going into defending yourself from your own team!

Time spent on mending relationships in a firm

You are now being defensive and so is the next person and so is the next.  Guess what?  Anyone who wants to overrun this outfit, or take on this company, is going to win!

The firm is now in peril

This is my biggest nightmare.  It is quite clear once the spiral of defensive starts, the only thing allowing this firm to survive, is the incompetence of the opposition.  Anyone wanting to ‘take’ them would only have to distract the staff more for the whole ‘shooting match’ to fall apart.

What is the alternative to a firm where we are all watching our backs?

Inevitably, things do wrong in companies.  People do bump against each other quite unwittingly.  Feelings are hurt.  If we want to be successful (survive),we need to establish is a working culture where people are able to deal with shock and surprise without passing it down the line.

How do we stop defensiveness spreading?

Good HR departments, generally in larger firms work hard to keep a positive atmosphere  (I did say good.)

  • Good firms develop strong systems to minimize the management by whim. The reason they do that is to remove the objective threat to one’s employment that accompanies disagreements.  When there is no objective threat, then people can attend to mending their fences.  Good firms don’t allow people who are party to any “dissing”, in either direction, to take part in decisions about each others employment contract.
  • Good firms go to great lengths to manage the assimilation process ~ known as on-boarding or induction. They work with people through the forming, storming and norming stages and then take a watching brief during the performing stage coming back in when there are changes in a team or when someone leaves.
  • Good firms take some trouble to build diverse teams and to educate people why they need the very people who seem very different from themselves.  HR also takes some trouble to make sure that a team is not made of people who are too similar too each other and that the important bridging roles of team player and chairperson (the lazy roles!) are also present.
  • Good firms insist that everyone has an active career plan which is reviewed with you openly by committees chaired by senior members of the firm.
  • Good firms monitor diversity assiduously and keep a watchful eye on the formation of cliques.  HR is quick to intervene to minimize behavior that is rejecting and removes people’s attention from their own job.
  • Good firms design jobs carefully making sure that is is easy to get down to work (autonomy), that growth is possible in the job visible (competence) and that jobs allow us express ourselves meaningfully (relationships).  Work has goals, feedback built into the task itself, adequate resources, dignity, respect, physical safety, contractual safety, mentors and coaches.  We don’t want people so confused about how their jobs fit into the wider whole that they cannot think straight.

This is what I do for a living

My job is to make a system so that we are able to work together even when we are rubbing up against people.  I will see the effects of my systems in several ways:

  • People attempt to resolve difficulties without fear of their contracts.  People take the initiative; people don’t use the employment contract as a threat; negotiation of the employment contract is kept separate from other decisions; there is no fear in the organization or cynicism.
  • The output of people does not vary significantly when they move from group to group.   Nor does the output vary between people with different demographic characteristics.
  • The time taken for people to settle into the organization is known and the process is monitored and taken as seriously as quality on a Toyota assembly line.
  • Everyone has an active career path, we are mindful of who should be seriously thinking about progressing onto other firms, and we treat their onward progression as part of our competitive edge.
  • Deployment of individuals is not only done for and to individuals.  Teams are deployed so that they are balanced.  They are given time to bed down and their boundaries are respected.  Team work is not disrupted without investments being made in the time it takes to reestablish a team.
  • We have designed each job so that it has clear goals measurable by the incumbent, they can see how well they are doing and they can step-into the job in an orderly way sharing their successes publicly with others.

HR Metrics

To monitor my system, I have metrics on each process.  I also monitor HR Costs/Sales in each business unit and over time.  When people have the time to attend to their jobs, I would see small improvements in the ratio.

Take for example, the HR Costs/Sales ratio in manufacturing which is usually around 10%.  If people are able to do their job only 10% better, then the ratio will increase from 10/100 to 9/100 or done the other way from 10/100 to 10/110 or a 1% in Gross Profit.  That is generally going to be “pure” profit ~ that is, it is money that comes available for new equipment, training and even medical insurance and holidays.

When we are making more money because we aren’t worrying, then that is good profit indeed!

We do what concerns us and we are terrified by its loss

So it seems making a role for everyone comes from greatest concern -that we are going to have to sit around faking it.  That  led me to think that everyone wants a meaningful role.  Not everyone wants to sit around making meaningful roles. Who would make the money if we did?  While other people are off making things and selling things, it is my job to create an organization where we can get along without needless friction.

An emotionally healthy company requires good systems.  We must be able to work without fear.  Problems must be refereed as they arise and early.  And we must trawl our systems looking for emotional bruising that is getting buried.  If we continue to hide the casual rejection of people “because we can”, it will eventually cost us our livelihood. While we are all protecting ourselves from each other, our opposition will be taking over our business.

Simply, I am doing my job when you are able to do yours and I do this job because I cannot imagine what it is like to live defensively all day long!

PS I still don’t think I did the exercise properly.  It is very hard to imagine pain ~ even on a make-believe character that looks, moves and talks just like us!

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