A Box With No Sides

Now that we’re in December, expect to see a flurry of posts that will be overly hopeful for 2021 landing all over the internet. There will be countless “predictions” and a series of aspirations. I love seeing this optimism but feel most posts will just be calling for the end of 2020. It’s hard not to echo that sentiment because there are so many things we’d like to get past.

However, I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t reflect and see what we learned this past year. The entire landscape of work changed. I think that much of this change will take hold and there will be few who will revert back to how things were. I’m still amazed by the ability to easily connect with people virtually now. It has eliminated the barriers of geography and time in a way that we haven’t seen before. In fact, last week I was on two separate “calls” talking to people from the HR community that included people from Prestwick, Scotland; Dallas, Texas; Barbados; Manchester, England; and Bradford, England !! We were in the same room and having great conversations. It still amazes me because I’m old enough to remember the cartoon series, The Jetsons, when talking to people virtually seemed to be something that would only be in someone’s imagination. I know there are downsides to constantly being connected, which brings me to the focus of this post . . .

The pandemic “forced” HR to change. It was something that was overdue for so many reasons. The long-held yearning of getting a seat at the table was instantly eliminated because organizations had an epiphany – ALL situations in companies are people issues !! Therefore, who better to have a people perspective than those in Human Resources? Well, who?

If you asked HR professionals, they would exuberantly proclaim that they are the perfect resource for leading the “people” focus of companies. If you asked people from other departments, there might be a different answer. I’m being realistic and not critical. I know many HR pros who excel in approaching the work they do as true leaders. The pandemic has allowed them to step up and shine without having to ask if they have earned a seat or not.

My peers who have struggled in becoming more adaptable and agile struggle with one main thing – a box.

There is a long tradition within organizations that clear, succinct, and restrictive boxes work best. If rules are set forth and adhered to, then we know when people step outside those boundaries. Then, we established measurements and performance reviews which are largely based on how often you stepped outside of your boundaries and whether or not you were productive. Mind you, “productivity” is also typically measured by how busy one appears and if you’re good at knocking out tasks. We want, in fact, to demand that people land in boxes. We are uncomfortable when people seem to roam around. Those folks freak us out.

At the same time, we desire creativity, innovation, flexible work environments, fully autonomous staff, and the ability to not confine people. The two approaches don’t sync up because the wish list just stated is what leadership aspirationally talks about while it practices box building in the background. Please note that this won’t show up when you conduct employee engagement surveys either because employees are hesitant to be as candid as they are when they’re talking as peers. They’ll complete surveys which affirm the box factory because that matches the culture they live in.

Love this image and quote from Ziya off of the site – Boldomatic !!

Even though we have two systems that co-exist, it’s time for one to be broken down. It’s time to take the sides off the boxes in our organization. Now, I’m not talking about being “outside the box” (catchphrase) or to promote unfettered chaos (which won’t happen anyway). I want to see HR, as a profession, stop trying to restrict and confine. We need to be the profession that expects performance and gives people the scope and latitude to do that in the fashion that best suits a person’s strengths and abilities. We should be agitators and deconstructors. Taking this next step would keep us relevant as a profession. We should lead all the time and not only during a crisis.

The conversations I mentioned I had before virtually were talking about movements which opened boxes. This group of HR folks, along with many others, are the ones who are roaming around and are doing their best not to be constrained or constrain others. I’m encouraged by this and hope to be an agitator and deconstructor myself. This is a key takeaway from 2020 for me. Since things have shifted . . . keep shifting and taking down the sides of boxes.

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