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I came across an editorial column by David Brooks at The New York Times a couple of months ago and saved it for all these months because of this one statement – “the most important power we have is the power to help select the lens through which we see reality.”

This year is still young (it is only March), spring is around the corner though snow remains, and the US economic recovery is fragile. Yet I sense that individuals are beginning to stand up and purposely choose a new lens of optimism and hope. Daily there are twitter and facebook posts that tell stories of new momentum, renewed hope and break-through renewal. Perhaps now more than ever, the greatest work we are all called to is to claim our power and choose a new lens from which to interpret our reality…whether we currently are:

  • employed and disengaged from our work
  • unemployed and discouraged
  • cynical because of the public behavior of leaders
  • overburdened with crushing debt
  • mired in and overwhelmed by any difficult situation

I write this as someone who is like many of you…I am unemployed and looking for “great work” in a new home state and city; I am struggling to sell a home in an economically-challenged state; and I am watching people I love experience their own job loss and all the challenges that result from such a significant life event.

This post is my commitment to hold fast to the new lens of hope and optimism. I invite you to stand up to claim your power and choose your new lens for 2010.

Note: Below is an excerpt from David Brook’s column…

“We’re all born late. We’re born into history that is well under way. We’re born into cultures, nations and languages that we didn’t choose. On top of that, we’re born with certain brain chemicals and genetic predispositions that we can’t control. We’re thrust into social conditions that we detest. Often, we react in ways we regret even while we’re doing them.

But unlike the other animals, people do have a drive to seek coherence and meaning. We have a need to tell ourselves stories that explain it all. We use these stories to supply the metaphysics, without which life seems pointless and empty.

Among all the things we don’t control, we do have some control over our stories. We do have a conscious say in selecting the narrative we will use to make sense of the world. Individual responsibility is contained in the act of selecting and constantly revising the master narrative we tell about ourselves.

The stories we select help us, in turn, to interpret the world. They guide us to pay attention to certain things and ignore other things. They lead us to see certain things as sacred and other things as disgusting. They are the frameworks that shape our desires and goals. So while story selection may seem vague and intellectual, it’s actually very powerful. The most important power we have is the power to help select the lens through which we see reality.”

I had the opportunity to participate in a coaching program today at Babson College in Wellesley Massachusetts. The program matches undergraduate freshman, juniors, and seniors with area Babson alumni and business professionals. In my opinion, it is an innovative approach to integrating feedback into the undergraduate curriculum as well as connecting Babson College to the broader Boston community. Kudos to Babson!

But what really struck me as I finished the coaching session today was the courage of those students who participated in the program. Imagine participating in three business case discussions with other classmates, while being directly observed by six older business professionals…all with the goal of receiving specific competency-based behavioral feedback on your performance during those discussions…and you are 18 to 22 years old.

In the business world real behavior-based feedback on performance is a rare commodity…many of us “prefer” not knowing how we are performing and rarely elicit specific and regular feedback from others. Performance reviews, when given, often are considered a chore and very perfunctory. 360 degree assessment feedback is often reviewed, possibly disputed and then filed away for a “some day” review when the “real” work is done.

The undergraduate students at Babson who participated in the program inspired me to courageously ask for regular feedback I know I need for my own growth and excellence. I challenge each of you in the business world to do the same.

So…let me rant….Generation Xers you are beginning to sound like Boomers! And the volume has gotten a lot louder this past week with the Jay Leno vs. Conan O’Brien fiasco.

You know…to borrow text from Steve Boese @HR Technology “Leno is just a few months shy of 60, placing him squarely in the Baby Boom generation…O’Brien is 46, and could be considered at the upper end of Gen X, and after waiting patiently for his chance (to be fair, one that was promised to him) at the ‘big job’ suddenly finds himself getting squeezed by a Boomer that won’t retire. Steve goes on to describe Jay Leno as a “long-tenured Boomer with the plum job that he can’t or won’t let go” though he does acknowledge that Jay “has a track record of success (Leno was regularly the ratings leader in his old time slot)” and Conan is described as “talented, yet frustrated Gen X dude waiting in the wings eager for his chance.” In another blog, the lament focused on the guarantee that NBC gave to Conan back in 2003 to keep him from jumping ship to ABC and how it wasn’t fair that Leno wouldn’t move over.

I am struck by similarities between the whining I often hear from Boomers (and I am a Boomer) about how “the man” reneged on guarantees of lifetime employment, inflation-adjusted wage increases, and retirement benefits, and Gen Xers complaining about fairness and Boomers not moving over. And my response to both groups is “there are NO guarantees” of anything, ever! (they are illusions that we bought into) so get over it and make a life.

And can we have the real conversation about talent…who is the best person for the role, who gets results, how do we attract and retain that best talent, and how do we plan for talent transition…irrespective of race, gender, age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation?

Most of us are aware of the public outrage over big Wall Street bonuses being paid out especially in light of Wall Street’s contribution to the financial collapse last year. Given this year’s theme of “Bold” and “Courage”, I wonder what HR’s role could be in 2010 in creating the strategies and influencing the structure of executive compensation plans.

My experience is we are often called upon to provide the important work of administering executive compensation – working with external executive compensation vendors to develop compensation models, massaging (in the best sense of the word) the data so that it translates to the goals/outcomes of our businesses, presenting the output to our senior HR leadership and possibly to the Board of Directors and then administering the plans once approved.

So if we claimed “Bold” and ” Courage”, what would our role look like? Would we move beyond the important work of administration? What does true leadership look like? Can we (HR) define the big hairy audacious goals (BHAGs) for executive compensation? Are we equipped – we know the business, how it makes money and grows profitability, its strategy and its current objectives; the compensation levers; the talent we want to incent and retain; and the impact of plan design on achieving both short-term and long-term objectives? Are we willing to go head-to-head with those who would exclusively craft short-term focused executive compensation plans (usually in the name of keeping certain talent) that often do not serve the business and its long term profitability goals?

There are many more questions…and I am aware that the time for questions is quickly passing as we (HR) need to quickly get in front of this one. I am calling myself and all HR professionals to stand in the space of “Bold” and “Courage”, as we move forward on this very important business lever.

Your thoughts?

Courage is in the air…it is showing up in tweets, on fb postings, in conversations with colleagues, and in the recent eBook “Do Amazing Things”

So I reread the Fast Company article from December 19, 2007 on Why We Hate HR by Keith H. Hammonds. The article had the same effect on me today as it did back in 2007 – felt like a smack upside the head! It is clear that Keith does not like HR and he lays out pretty damming arguments of why we [HR] suck! What hit me the hardest is his contention that “after close to 20 years of hopeful rhetoric about becoming ‘strategic partners’ with a ‘seat at the table’ where the business decisions that matter are made, most human-resources professionals aren’t nearly there. They [HR] have no seat, and the table is locked inside a conference room to which they [HR] have no key. HR people are, for most practical purposes, neither strategic nor leaders.

POW! to the right and left of the head!

He argues that:

  • The HR profession does not attract and keep top talent.
  • “HR represents a relatively low-risk parking spot.”
  • HR professionals aren’t “interested in, or equipped for doing [the real work of ] business.”
  • HR delivers the “administrivia” [of payroll, benefits, hiring, compensation, learning & development] because it is easier.
  • HR doesn’t understand any approach to policy beyond one-size-fits-all.
  • HR’s goal is sameness [compliance] vs. delivering long-term business value [talent].
  • HR can bring “strong technical expertise to the party” but no/little understanding of business strategy and how HR drives that strategy.

So I am sitting here looking at the list of arguments and feeling angry at us [HR] – we have not built The Case for HR! In many cases, we [HR] have defaulted on the opportunity for delivering competitive advantage to the business “through the lens of people and talent” and instead, have provided compelling evidence for Keith’s complaints against HR.

So I am back to the original invitation to a conversation. I know that we [HR] are smart, capable of delivering short-term/long-term business value, and understanding/engaging/delivering on the business strategy of talent! And I am confident that we [HR] refuse to be “stuck” in the box of “Why We Hate HR.”

I have just started a new book, The Case for God by Karen Armstrong (full disclosure – one of my favorite authors!), and this morning I woke up with this phrase running through my head…The Case for HR…crazy what the brain does during the night.

Anyway, I am intrigued by the idea of The Case for HR, because I am not sure I (nor the broader HR community) could articulate The Case for HR in a powerful, convincing way that matters to organizations, to employees, and to HR professionals. I certainly have read a lot about HR during my career, I have pulled together proposals that I presented to senior leadership on why this/that as part of the broader HR organization, and I have attended many conferences/workshops to learn about the latest and greatest thinking about topics such as workforce planning, succession planning, leadership development, etc…we know this stuff because we talk a lot about HR these days. But underlying all the functions/initiatives of HR is The Case for HR. Let me state that I believe that this topic is hard and complex and our collective arguments for The Case of HR have, at times, seemed very underdeveloped even arbitrary despite the growing education levels of our profession and the acknowledgement by organizations that talent is one of the key ingredient for success in the 21st century.

So this blog is an invitation to everyone, whether you are a business leader, a student of the HR profession, an employee of an organization, currently unemployed, or an HR professional in any capacity to journey with me as we collectively examine, discuss, disagree/agree, and ultimately build The Case for HR. I believe that if we are willing to share our knowledge freely and then let our expertise go with the goal of learning, we will be able to collectively build The Case for HR.

Two requests; first, that all discussion is respectful and second, that each of us approach this topic with an openness that furthers this discussion.

I look forward to our conversation!

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