We are entering the last year of the 2010s. One year from 2020, a year painted as the poster child of human advancement and something of a sci-fi fantasy. From all I can tell, we haven’t exactly accelerated into a Jetson reality of flying cars, robot maids, and buildings in the clouds, but we do have Sophia the first humanoid robot citizen of Saudi Arabia, the beginnings of currency beyond government-driven assets, and a shift in everyday living, retail, and consumerism as proposed by Faith Popcorn where everything we need and could want is available via our homes and/or our mobile devices (otherwise known as “cocooning”).
As resolutions and grand plans waltz together in the hearts and minds of the collective, I offer a few of my own perspectives on society, work, life and the challenges we ought to be focused on as we approach a new decade.
Here are 10 perspectives for you to digest in 2019 and beyond:
- Lose the notion of “best-in-class”, “best practices”, “best-of-breed”. What seems to be the “best” is in the eye of the beholder. What your company deems a “best practice” is seldom the best set of solutions for your competitor. What works best for you in your life is not likely the blueprint for another human being. We have spent decades trying to be the best and create the best. Scenarios change. People change. Each passing moment diminishes the likelihood that something will be best or even suit the needs of those your practice or product are meant to impact. Focus on making a positive impact. Do your best whether through practice, action, or developing a product. Focusing on positive outcomes on a consistent basis is the best thing you can offer anyone.
- How can we be creating things in the likeness of a human when we have yet to perfect being human? Nobody loves the prospect of the future and technology more than I do (well maybe Elon Musk). My concern is we are creating things in our image when we have yet to perfect what it means to be human. Let’s face it we are failing at humanity currently and have been just passing to borderline failing at being human for some time now. We’re smart enough as a species, but can we honestly say we have lived this human existence to the best of our ability? It is likely that we are creating things like AI and robots in an effort to pass the buck on this human existence thing. There is still time to get it right. The question is are we up for the task?
- Fewer resolutions and more resolving to do a little better every day. Who are you trying to impress with your “new me, new year, who dis” posts? Better yet is this thing you plan to change or you wanted to be accountable to something you’re even passionate about? Most resolutions are baseless. When you resolve to change or accomplish something typically you have either grown tired or weary from the anguish and/or unfortunate outcomes a situation has brought to your life. In other words, those things that really caused you the most suffering in previous years are more likely to be a true catalyst of change rather than social coercion to make a random resolution. Change because it is necessary for you to do so, not because it’s popular.
- There is only so much that can be achieved in a given year, so cut yourself some slack. I am guilty of assuming I could conquer the world in a year and then some. The truth is there have been years when I achieved all goals on the list and years where I achieved everything but what I set out to do. This life is a journey. Some years we are prepping the field. Other years we are planting and yet other years we are reaping from the fruits of our labor. Set goals, but leave some wiggle room for serendipity, failures, and setbacks. They are all a part of the process.
- Are you good? Are you well? Do these questions make you uncomfortable? Wellness and wellbeing aren’t just some new age hippie concepts. People are suffering. Your employees are suffering some in small ways and others in some profound ways. Your pursuit of market domination is largely to blame too. You can’t operate in an industry that employs human beings to perform work and not be concerned with their wellbeing. I mean you could do that, but the road forward is looking disastrous. Prioritize your wellbeing and make sure your people do the same.
- Hippies in HR. Yes, this is a thing. I spoke at an event this year where we got into a debate about the need to do our jobs as HR practitioners in a way that adds to the greater good. In other words, can we be effective at our jobs by being ethical and human-centric while also focusing on impacting the bottom-line? It may seem like an old gripe, but it is front and center for younger practitioners who have yet to be initiated into an HR ecosystem only concerned with being seen as something more than a support function. The younger practitioner I spoke with said Hippie HR needs to be a thing. What do you think?
- Data isn’t our problem, accountability is. According to Forbes Contributor, Bernard Marr we produce 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day. We have produced 90% of the data we have currently in the past two years. Having more data to equip us with better insights isn’t any longer an issue. The issue we have is we have no clue how to slice and dice the data to get to the crux of some of our more pressing issues. Even more disturbing is the fact that in some cases we are refusing to do the data cleansing and storytelling for fear of what it will reveal about our practices, outcomes, intentions etc. If we were that transparent we would actually have to be accountable to fixing some things rather than parading accolades that make us seem like we are doing the right things. More accountability, please?
- Be careful. Your bias is showing. Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity is either part of the fabric of your company or you are simply looking to skate by on hiring the one or two poster humans that will serve to show how “hard” you are trying not to be diverse and inclusive. At this point, it would be much easier on diverse groups of people if you simply say in your job description that you are intolerant. You should simply have your CEO deliver a personal video message on your career website stating that you see no necessity in promoting the interests of a variety of people. He or she should say they are afraid of reasonable accommodations and have no desire to learn which is why you lack differently-abled people in your workforce. Your bias is showing and you will lose every time. Masking it doesn’t make it any less obvious. We see you.
- Control is a disease. You can’t control anything but yourself. The deafening cry to end hierarchy isn’t because the hippies of the world of work just want to obliterate it; it should be reimagined because it is an old framework that has very little utility in our modern world. Every system we have created through the decades is flawed in some way. Nonetheless, the inherent flaws are ones we can manage so long as there is overall utility in using a particular process or control within a given time and circumstance. The abuses of power have been many and much of it has hinged on these tightly-wound organizational structures that were meant to wield power from the top leaving an unhealthy lack of power further down the food chain. How can we evenly distribute power without relinquishing the necessary order and structure needed for the run of a profitable business?
- Privacy and boundaries take center stage. It’s fair to say there is no such thing as privacy. Every day there are breaches exposing us and our information in ways we couldn’t imagine a decade ago. Platforms like Facebook are busy selling our data to companies unbeknownst to us. Is privacy the new luxury? We started the decade with the message that sharing of information is the new currency. It’s possible that the end of the decade will bring more talk of sharing less and having more boundaries around how much of ourselves we give to the matrix and each other.
I almost gave you 19 perspectives, but I think these 10 perspectives are enough to chew on for now. My hope is that you walk away from this article with a more expansive focus on all of the things impacting the humans we employ, service, and the ecosystems we are all playing in. Increasingly, we have to step outside of our oftentimes narrow focus on executing HR or business strategy to see clearly where we can improve what we do.
Wishing you all a prosperous, balanced, and insightful 2019 ahead!
“Bureaucracy is a global thing. “ ~ Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School
I had the opportunity to sit in on a Q&A session Day 1 with Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School at Unleash 2018 in Vegas. Long before this Q&A, he had wooed me with his words and refreshing perspectives on the disease of bureaucracy as it pertains to the workforce.
One of the reasons why I believe I was unable to flourish in Corporate America was because of my disdain for bureaucracy and politics. “Disdain” is a strong word, but completely applicable here. It wasn’t that I was beyond adhering to the structure or constructs that existed in the organizations that I worked for. It was that those constructs and structures always felt constricting and for all intents and purposes they didn’t appear to have a positive impact on the workforce. To this point, Gary shared in our session that he thought “Very few businesses worry about the environmental costs of bureaucracy and CEO’s only recognize the cost of bureaucracy vaguely.”
The reason why businesses can’t bother to care about these environmental costs is that the function of bureaucracy is to control and maintain order. Gary suggests there are likely really great reasons why bureaucracy existed, to begin with, but maintains it isn’t very useful given the world we live in today.
To some, I may have been pre-maturely seen as an anarchist who wanted things her way and had little respect for rules. The reality is as Gary Hamel asserts: “The pressure on the employees in the US is far more impactful than anywhere else in the world. US companies have an even more transactional lens for people at work.” To put it plainly, those who participate in the US workforce are seen as expendable and a means to an end. It is this line of thinking that ensures that our employee engagement numbers never budge or budge ever so slightly year-to-year. US workers are mere cogs in the wheel and we know it. Not only do we know it, we aren’t collectively empowered to stop it, because of course money.
I was and I am currently one of those people who believe that there are alternatives to bureaucracy. In our Q&A, Gary shared: “You have to believe there are alternatives to bureaucracy. It’s hard to imagine what you haven’t seen.” There is a great conflict in the world at large, but most certainly one at work too. It is the battle of old ways of thinking versus new ways of thinking. In the former example, it is hard for older establishments to wrap their minds around any other work arrangement/relationship that isn’t grounded in having to control how people think, work and show-up. They haven’t been privy to the evidence that suggests an alternative, and even if they had seen the promise of another way of managing people; it is likely a very uncomfortable notion to imagine a workforce where people work autonomously and on their own terms without being infantilized at work.
“Why don’t people have the ability to design their own job or choose their own boss, or approve their own expenses? We are so used to people needing parents or infantilization at work. “~Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School.
Transparency for what?
Another pet peeve I have had with organizations I have been a part of was the lack of transparency. This goes hand-in-hand with the infantilization that goes on in many companies per Gary Hamel’s keynote on “Humanocracy”. Imagine for a second being an adult in every other aspect of your life. This is probably not a hard vision to conjure. You have a family that relies on you, bills, debts, and a healthy dose of responsibility. Yet, daily you report to a job that doesn’t think you worthy of sharing information that may affect your livelihood. Perhaps the business isn’t performing well financially. In most cases, that company you report to would rather cease to exist than to confide in the very people who make it profitable daily. It’s a ludicrous concept and surely antiquated. People should be trusted to show up and work as the adults that they are. Professor Hamel shared with us that: “Transparency needs to be a core principle for how we do business. Let’s be a little more open and have a little more freedom.”
What is the path forward?
“Evolutionary goals and revolutionary steps is the path forward. “
Gary challenges leaders to “employ radical business models while imagining a radically different workplace”. Questioning old hypothesis is a start as well as challenging your own embedded assumptions. Professor Hamel also maintains that we ought to “find a migration path between the past and the future”. “If you are a traditional company it is a much harder transition to moving from bureaucracy”. Aversive strategies to shifting out of bureaucracy do not work. It is about a gradual migration path”.
Some other sentiments shared by Professor Hamel worth further exploration:
- HR is the fastest growing function of the organization but has the least buy-in and respect within the organization. We need to ask ourselves why we struggle to self-actualize when this premise is true.
- The world is changing too quickly to be tied to hierarchical constructs. Why are you holding onto hierarchical constructs? Is it because it truly works for you or is it about control? It is worthy of some further exploration.
- Technology will be used to disempower more than empower.
- Technology is used to aggregate and exert control.
- Employees come first, customers’ second, shareholders last. If your employees aren’t happy, it is safe to say no one will be happy. Nurture your people first and everything else in business will flourish.
Gary is ingenious in the way he sees the world. He had a lot more to say, so as such I am sharing my Growth on my Terms podcast recording of the Gary Hamel Q&A. Have a listen and reflect on where your organization is and how you can begin to reimagine work while envisioning a gradual migration to less bureaucracy and more trusting professional ties and relationships.
Let’s start by defining what a “coon” is. A “coon” is a black person who values what white people think of them more than they care to honor their culture and the suffrage of the racial group they identify with. A “coon” seeks to be accepted and praised by white people while seemingly enjoying any and all humiliation, marginalization, bias, prejudice or mistreatment expressed towards them by white people.
“Coons” are the bud of innumerable jokes within the black community and at the same time equally loathed by others in the community. For the purpose of providing an example, Omarosa Manigault is widely known as a “coon”. She is a black woman who despite what everyone else sees as an ego-maniacal racist in our current president (who I will not name) decided to join his cabinet as Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison for the White House. To some, it just looks like she had a previous relationship with 45 and as a result of their friendship – she took a job she was offered. Sounds simple? Except, there is a little more to it if we dig deeper. I cannot say with any certainty what her specific motivations were for taking a job with the devil himself.
However, if I am to use the data that I have available, I will wager that she took the position to further her waning notoriety and influence. The fact that she did that knowing many of the disgusting views her former boss held is why she gets labeled a “coon”. Like a good “coon” she also thought as many of them do – that it would be different for her because she has presented herself as a supportive, non-threatening black woman. She was willing to sacrifice her own self-worth and maybe even some of her natural self-serving ways of being to be associated with a white supremacist. This is seen as self-hatred in the black community and while it has often been reduced to the derogatory nomenclature of “coon” this is the existential problem we are dealing with as it pertains to individuals who follow this pedigree.
In communities of color, individuals are never standing for themselves alone. As a person of color, you represent yourself and your community. It is a heavy burden to bear, but still, it is a fact-of-life we all assume and understand from an early age. There is a myriad of reasons why black people become “coons” a few examples are:
1) You grew up around white people your entire life and were taught that they are vehicles to progress your social status making your mere association with them a positive catalyst for your existence.
2) You grew up being taught “white is right” and that black people are in a constant state of striving towards learning and knowing more, but never achieve mastery when juxtaposed against white people.
3) You were taught that “white people” are trustworthy over people of color in every situation and always have your best interest at heart. Note: This is synonymous with the messaging and positioning of slavery times that Massa was beating you for your own good in an effort to refine your heathen and innate ways.
4) They secretly or unknowingly hate everything about being black or (more generally a person of color) because their conditioning tells them that everything from their religion to cultural norms lies well outside of what white people think is normal, so they choose to manufacture a representative of themselves that they think is more socially-appealing.
Being deemed a “coon” is the extreme of self-hatred black people harbor towards themselves stemming back to slavery times. However, I would wager that all of us whether we are deemed a “coon” or not sacrifice a little of our existence every day in ways that make us cry ourselves to sleep or pray for a “better” way of living. My entire career has included opportunities, trade-offs, and circumstances in which I had to assess whether being loyal to my culture and people was more important than a paycheck. Personally, I have always chosen the people over the perceived losses I may incur. I’m not ignorant to the fear that is attached to walking that road of choosing values, ethics, and community over livelihood and prestige.
Sometimes you have to bite your tongue and get to a certain place before you can exude the bravery. It takes a lot more self-exploration and integrity to honor yourself above self-serving activities that serve to forward a white agenda shrouded as an opportunity for progression for your career, life etc. Trust me, I get it.
Thankfully, I have the courage and license to confidently decline opportunities especially when they are in gross misalignment with who I am and what I stand for. That means if you ask me to take lesser roles on a project or in curating an event where white people who are less qualified than me have the spotlight, the answer will be “no”. If I have to sign-on to do any work that will adversely impact my community in any way, the answer is: “no”. Unfortunately, money and influence are everything to some so much so that they have absolutely nothing without it. That is an existential crisis of epic proportions. Money and influence are great, but at what cost? In Omarosa’s case, she thought she was making a power move and ending up coming up short in the end. How you start is how you end.
When we talk about diversity, inclusion, and equity in the HR world, do not stop short of understanding whether your policies, rules, and culture create cultural pitfalls designed to make people of various marginalized groups choose “white” over choosing themselves. It is a dangerous pitfall and one that breeds resentment. There aren’t enough town halls, focus groups, culture days or employment branding to save your retention efforts if you continue to make people of color choose your agendas over what is important to them. A word of caution.
Today not only marks the first day of February, but it also marks my first official day back on the blog. It is also the beginning of Black History Month and the revered Black Blogs Matter Challenge. Today’s theme is Black Blogs Still Matter.
Black blogs still matter quite simply because our silence as black people can no longer stand. By now, many of us have built our respective brands and rapport in various lanes. Even with the prestige, accolades, and recognition that comes with blogging for some time, there remains ignorance of epic proportions. Plainly, there are still people who like what we write about, will greet you with a smile at an event, but still lack the ability to hold space for you to be authentically, culturally and aesthetically who you are as a human and in word. How disheartening it is to realize that your ancestors were silenced or shunned for speaking their truths and here we stand in 2018 where not much has changed? The key difference is we will no longer be silenced, we don’t care what it costs us and we will be heard.
In the last year, I have learned it is more important than ever to speak up about matters that affect the black community and the society-at-large. I cannot afford the silence any longer. I cannot afford the silence any longer not because it is costing me money; on the contrary, it is still costing me, my soul. I don’t want to work with your brand if you want to censor me. There are plenty of bloggers happy to scoop up every dollar and coin of yours so long as they can say they worked with Brand “X”. I don’t want you as a client if you hold bigoted views, there is a special kind of consultant or small business out there to serve not only your business but satisfy your insatiable craving for racist banter. I am not interested in being your friend, colleague or online buddy if I’m only palatable when I meet your white standards or threshold for political correctness. I don’t want to attend your swanky event if you haven’t awakened to the fact that your speaker rosters and blogger teams need to be diverse. Inclusion at such events needs to look like I don’t sit through your dinners or group outings feeling like a foreigner in my own body. You may find my position unfair, but it is unfair to be held to standards that others never have to consider reaching. Yet, I smile, do the work and blaze ahead accepting those circumstances in which I am subjected to less than equitable conditions.
Almost 7 years into blogging, the beauty is I have no cares of who I please. I have learned if I please myself first I will attract the right people, opportunities, and clients. I would be remiss if I didn’t say, this mantra is already in play as many of you have written to me over the years expressing how thankful you were for my candor on difficult subjects. Thank you for holding space for me.
It was never the intention of this blog to “go lightly”. Whenever I tackle a topic it is with precision and the truth. I expect callousness from celebrities, politicians, and others who permeate the upper echelons of society. What I hadn’t expected to see was the lack of empathy, privilege, blatant disrespect that I have witnessed within our own HR community. Nonetheless, it is when you see what is wrong in the world that you have choices to make.
1) Accept that this is what it is and what is going to be and remain silent.
2) You can see it all as an opportunity to share a different perspective.
I have chosen the latter. If you learn from me during the next 15 weeks, I have done your job for you. If I have shared my truth unabashedly in the next 15 weeks, I have freed myself and empowered others like me to do the same. This is not Racism 101 or Diversity and Inclusion 19 at some university or Continuing Ed. Black blogs still matter. My voice still matters and it for that reason alone that I will continue to do the work and share what is true. I hope you will hang in there with me.
HR’s job has always been evolving. We have gone from administrative paper pushers to devising strategy that has operational impact to the organizations we serve. Are we headed for another evolution in this tumultuous political environment? I think so, but like many other human-related issues within organizations it isn’t really something HR can fix with a sweeping policy, focus group, or strategy.
Let’s consider a few factors. Before November 9th of 2016 how much did you think about employees’ or co-workers political ideologies? Probably not much, but when you consider that those ideologies could be tied to human flaws particularly the flaws of intolerance and hatred – what policy of strategy are you going to devise to combat that?
Better yet, if you are an HR professional of color who is now met with an emboldened employee who is anti-anything White, Anglo-Saxon, how motivated are you to work with that person and better yet serve them? How about if they verbalize their disgust for gender-neutral bathrooms despite the current regulations in place and several members of your team are part of the LGBTQ community?
Humans are flawed and messy. That makes our work in HR – flawed and messy.
I’m not suggesting that everybody wear their political ideologies on their sleeves and draw a line in the sand. Obviously, nothing would get done if we did that. However, I think we often paint a pretty picture of how things could and should play out without considering what has a real possibility of happening. That is to say that if people are protesting in the streets and having heated arguments/differences both in real life and online that are starting to reveal some character flaws; there is little if anything that any one-size-fits-all diversity, inclusion or HR program you could do to combat that.
The challenge of our work in HR is anticipating human behavior and balancing it with checks and balances through programs and policies. If we’re honest, we have never been able to control human behavior. All we really have success in is creating the best possible circumstances for our workforces to thrive. We have never truly been in control of the outcomes. If you disagree, I will kindly ask you to go back 5-8 years, search any common HR concern and count how many of the topics are recurring from year-to-year.
Where we get better is in rethinking how we approach the recurring and new issues that crop up, with the understanding that how it all plays out is dependent on something completely out of our control – human intention and behavior.
Back to the initial concern of the political environment, the same old policy and focus groups are not going to cut it. Now, more than ever we need to be sharing our experiences as a collective community and brainstorming better solutions. We need to not be afraid to say to the C-Suite that just-in-time training and reactive policy development will no longer do their company any good. This is a time for every HR practitioner to listen more than they speak. It is time to get comfortable with uncomfortable discussions about racism in the workplace, politics, pay disparity etc. I have met way too many practitioners in my travels that all too often have these items on their yearly HR to-do-list, but consciously put them off because it either doesn’t affect them or they can’t be bothered.
If you think what is going on outside the walls of your company doesn’t have the ability to spill into the day-to-day operation, you are kidding yourself. Your employees need a little more of the “human” out of Human Resources right now.
Here’s how you give them that “human factor”:
- Do not ignore complaints or concerns raised around employee relation concerns. This has always been true, but right now it is even more important. You need to have a handle on any discrimination, bullying or violent behavior that may be brewing in your organization.
- Make sure you are advising your C-Suite leaders regularly about the climate within the organization. It is important that the C-Suite and HR are in alignment on how to deal with sensitive matters. Encourage your leaders to be more visible than perhaps they are accustomed to.
- Communicate with your workforce regularly and let them know you are available. Yes, I know you are swamped and don’t have time for people traipsing in and out of your office all day. However, would you rather that you catch an issue early or when you’re in court? Will you sleep better at night knowing you settled an employees’ concerns or would you rather see them as a number? Regular communication keeps gossip and assumptions at bay. If your employee’s know where you stand they don’t need to wonder or conjure up alternative facts. See what I did there.
- Time to look at your programs and get some real feedback on its effectiveness. Yes, it will sting if you get negative feedback. However, the goal with any program or training is to actually usher in change. If your goal is to keep the organization afloat during these tumultuous times and keep the workforce progressing on an upward trajectory – you ought to evaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it.
- Add some levity to the workday every week. It doesn’t have to cost a lot or be overly time-consuming. What people need is a break from reality. Regardless of what our individual ideologies are, we can all find some commonalities among us. Have a “bring your favorite board game to work day” or an ice cream sundae social. Give people a chance to see the good in their co-workers .
- *Bonus* Watch the HR department carefully. You can’t have people so-called dedicated to making a difference for entire organizations be simultaneously pumping their fist for all muslims to be banned from the US in the breakroom or be rallying for the KKK off-hours. It is a bit of an oxymoron; don’t you think?
Creativity and heart have always been the answer to most of HR’s woes. There is no better time than now, to put both of them to use.