In part 1, I talked about how every human resource management policy and practice could be re-thought using Catalytic Thinking as the basis:
How could our ______________________ policy and practices bring out
the best in everyone?
Just after I finished writing it, someone on a Linked In group said employees couldn’t be trusted with such an approach, because people report fake dead grandmas as an excuse for time off. I replied:
“Why do you think employees fake dead relatives? It is rare in organizations that have helped employees understand how their work connects to the purpose of the organization, and given them some control over their work day. Or even if they just think their manager cares about them as people. If employees are told they can take leaves when they need one (and make their own arrangements to have their work covered by co-workers), they’ll take less time, not more.”
To bring out the best in people, wouldn’t it make sense for people to take leaves when they need to? Is it of value to keep people working when they are stressed about a child in hospital or caregiver responsibilities for a frail parent? Yes, it might mean the person on the intake desk is more senior than usual, but covering for each other promotes job shadowing, a key part of risk management and of succession planning. Most people who are treated with respect when they need time off will repay the organization many times over with loyalty and productivity.
BTW, I managed people for two decades in a union environment. I know that collective agreements can cause challenges, but there is always room to demonstrate kindness and caring. And none of my people ever faked their grandma’s death (or filed a grievance).
Recruitment that brings out the best in everyone
Let’s take another HR function you could transform with this thinking. Wouldn’t you like a pool of wonderful applicants who had the right attributes for success in the role, even if they needed some training on the details? Most job ads are a turnoff – they tell you what you’ll be doing rather than what you need to achieve. So they attract people who want to be told what to do, rather than smart people who will figure out the best way to accomplish the work. They might need less up-front training, but they will also struggle with change and often fail to grasp the inter-relationships that make a workplace function.
Listen to Stacy Ashton at Community Volunteer Connections in British Columbia. Even though her funding contracts specify the job descriptions, she has found that adding the purpose to the job ad and making it slightly quirky results in more interesting applicants. And she changes the interview process by sending most of the questions in advance, to see which ones prepare good considered responses.
When Candice Grimm was hired at Creating the Future, there was no job description at all. The job description evolved as she found ways to carry out the work. Candice thinks patience is critical because some employees will initially find this approach uncomfortable and may need extra orientation time and coaching. Reverse engineering the work from its highest potential became an ingrained practice for her, so she’s expecting to apply it to lesson planning (she’s now doing a masters in teaching) to bring out the best in each student.
Creating the Future was the first organization I had heard of that hired without a job description, but I now see Dan Rockwell at Leadership Freak saying,
“Job descriptions are distracting documents that dilute relationships, at least in the beginning. They’re often written to cover all the bases. If an employee screws up, you can point to an obscure sentence in their job description to hold them accountable.”
An up-front focus on the need to point out a failures sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy to me. What a terrible way to start to a workplace relationship.
Dan speaks of interviews that focus on passion—why a job matters— before responsibilities. Read more here.
Compensation that brings out the best in everyone
Many interviewers refuse to give out salary information to candidates, trying to see how low an offer they might accept. They start a working relationship off with a disrespectful, win-lose scenario that is bound to end up in disappointment, and often in discriminatory, unfair compensation schemes.
At Creating the Future, the board instead sees compensation as an enabler for people to live a vibrant life. They don’t look at the people involved through a transactional lens. Despite limited funds, they work on a theory of “collective enoughness”, trusting that if many people are involved, together they will have enough. They give help to many people, and are rewarded with proactive, committed volunteers and deep relationships. They always speak the language of abundance, not of scarcity, and, thankfully, that language is spreading fast.
Workplace culture that brings out the best in everyone
What will people feel, see and hear if they come into your workplace? If the organization is truly trying to bring out the best in everyone, I believe you will feel the optimism in the air. Employees will describe themselves as feeling honoured, respected, validated and treated equitably. They will be mindful of the values and purpose and inspired to act and learn to serve that purpose. They will be collecting and sharing stories of the impact their work is having and the amazing, thriving community they are part of. They will have empathy for each other and demonstrate kindness.
They are also likely to produce better results. A Minnesota study on corporate results (quoted in a Globe and Mail column by Harvey Schachter) found a direct correlation between CEO’s with strong moral principles and results. They delivered nearly five times the returns of their self-focussed counterparts. One of the four most important moral principles was Compassion—empathizing with and empowering others; actively caring; committing to their development.
It will take time and patience to fully bring in a new approach to HR and volunteer management. As a leader, you will need to learn and become comfortable with a new way of asking questions. You need to truly listen to your employees and volunteers, to learn their readiness for a new approach.
Take the risk! Open the door to their potential by uncovering what is strong and powerful about each and every one. Inspire them to use those strengths to build actions and get results. Achieving your mission might be closer than you think.