Human Resource Optimization Engine?

Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)After writing one of my most positive and open posts, it’s probably odd to follow with a completely negative one. Make no mistake, I value the input, knowledge and trust of the people in my network, but every day my tweet streams, rss feeds and facebook newsfeeds become more and more saturated with the HR/talent/E2.0 get rich quick schemes.

Case in point; I logged in this morning and the first tweet I saw was something along the line of “Five sure fire ways to get fast content for your organization’s blog.”

I… just… can’t… do… it. I can’t keep reading them.

I’m no genius, and by no means do I think that my thoughts are foundation cracking, game changing gems. What I hope to offer is a perspective built on my own personal values, experiences and personality. My only guarantee is that nothing you read on this page is going to be some sort of Franken-blog of ideas from other people. What I write is will always be my own thoughts that you either connect with or ignore.

And that’s why ideas for generic, rapidly developed content feel so wrong to me, especially when it’s the entry point for a customer to learn about your senior leaders and corporate philosophy.

Social presence

If your organization is jumping into the social world for the first time, is writing about what everyone else is writing about really the best approach? People, more than ever, want to see behind the curtain. I know it’s a buzzword, but people want brands to be humanized and want to connect with the people that drive an org, not the product or service they sell.

In terms of customer loyalty, admitting a mistake and showing how your organization fixed that problem has become more valuable than any number of seamless launches or successful sales. Sure, we all care about why an organization makes money, but wouldn’t you rather get a shockingly honest/frank/surprising view a the senior leadership team? Or maybe what makes a company different?

It might seem extreme, but the fact you see these rapid dumps of HR intelligence nestled alongside SEO optimization techniques is pretty telling and should be a concern for every critical thinker in the industry focused on human beings.

I worked as an search engine optimizer for a few months almost a decade a go. I can honestly say it was horrible. Google had “rules.” Yahoo had “rules.” My day consisted of trying to write copy about jewelry and pharmaceuticals knowing if I followed the exact format of each search engine, I would start to see results.

For three months, I functioned as a robot and I fear HR/learning is moving in the same direction. Do this, this and this and you will be successful. You will gain traffic, support, cklout. How to make friends and influence people is no longer about networks and opportunities, it’s about statistics.

Of course you want your external presence, especially if it comes from the voice of the executive level, to be well written, telling and inoffensive to potential customers/clients. But that same voice, ideally, should be charismatic and extend to an internal, open presence. What we tell our customers has to mirror what we tell our employees, and if either is lip service, both will suffer.

I don’t read a ton of management books, mainly because I find most are simply different recipes made from the same ingredients. I am looking for books, posts, people that challenge me to be better and think differently (a perfect example and a book I can’t recommend enough, Yvon Chouinard’s “Let My People Go Surfing“). I search for that in the brands/products I support, and the organizations I want to be a part of as well.

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing our CEO speak, and that man can inspire the dead. If every employee and customer was given that opportunity, engagement and brand loyalty would soar.

HR Presence

More distressing to me is how these catch all blasts are impacting the process we preach as educators and change agents.  I’m not sure anyone in learning or HR ever fully realizes the trust of our customers, and dumbing it down isn’t going to help. I understand there are plenty of reasons that great ideas are streamlined and reused under the moniker of best practice, but I refuse to believe we can extend that another level and water down best-practices into standard practice without sacrificing growth.

In David Byrne’s fantastic book, “How Music Works“, he talks about how he fine tuned his stage persona from something spontaneous and free-formed into something other people – backing band, vocalists and dancers – could follow. His thought is simple, but so crucial in today’s world.

…did something spontaneously that worked perfectly for us, it could be repeated without any risk of losing its power and soul.

Think about those last five words. Losing its power and soul. Whether we are in traditional HR, traditional learning or (more than likely) some combination of the two, we can’t lose the soul of our work.

There’s nothing worse than dealing with an HR employee that simply follows flow charts and decision tools. You feel like a number. You feel worthless. If we target our thought and content creation to extend past the individual employee and apply simply to the masses, we are losing the soul that ultimately helps us do our jobs effectively.

There are many key factors at play (an increasingly contingent workforce trying to consume a never ending torrent of content and slowly being removed from any form of culture terrifies me), but the simple fact we take less time to consume and process content and prefer to operate in real-time means that most of the power and soul Byrne realized was so crucial to any form of best practice is never realized.

Those factors are also why we are at a critical time in HR. Technology is moving faster than the effective tools and methodology we can produce. The shift from the creation of progressive thought to the curation and simplification of process is only highlighted by the open sharing provided by new social channels. We all need more content.. NOW!

The scary thing is, as educators, we know how important individuality and timing is. No two learners/employees/contractors are the same, so why are we trying to formalize the standard approach of content across every organization? We can fool ourselves and say that informal and social learning help, but if we are all pumping out the same content in the same format, following the same rules… aren’t we just trying to optimize our work to get one algorithm’s definition of proper content?

I don’t have the answers, I’m looking for help. I know you can’t work 1:1 with every employee at your organization (at TELUS, we have a 1:1000 ratio of learning professionals to team members) but a good start is the material we share and from which we learn. Instead of pumping out a post to get some RTs and new followers, wouldn’t it be better to take the time to come up with something that can be consumed and debated, tested and improved?  Wouldn’t it be better to take a breath, challenge yourself to learn from a new source, but also to engage that author so they can learn from you? That’s the value in open sharing and social channels. We can learn from each others experiences, not our rules and shared bookshelves.

I know not many people read this blog, but this is something I really want to explore. If you have a thought on this post – positive or negative – I honestly would love to hear it.


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