HR

Unshrink (Book Review)

(Note: over the next week or two I’m going to revisit and repost some of my favorite books I’ve reviewed. This one originally appeared on November 27, 2012.) 

 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? ~ Marianne Williamson

 

I cannot tell you that Unshrink is the most important book you’ll read this year. I can tell you that it’s one of the most important books I read this year. It expresses, challenges, and expands thoughts and ideas about unbinding and unleashing humans and business and allowing us to expand and grow beyond our current constraining beliefs.

We are limited. Reduced. Operating so far below our potential because of the myths that we have believed, accepted, and perpetuated. We don’t need to expand our potential, we need to shed the myths that keep us shrunken and small so we can expand into the enormous potential awaiting us. We have the tremendous opportunity (obligation?) to unshrink ourselves, others, business, and the world.

That’s the premise of Unshrink by Max McKeown and Philip Whiteley. First published in 2002, I just came across it this year and have read it twice so far. It’s no secret that I’m an enthusiastic fan of Max McKeown – his books are consistently thought provoking, accessible, practical, and enjoyable to read – and this book is no different. At only 116 pages (133 with notes), Unshrink is also a quick read – assuming you can get through it without filling the margins with notes, which I couldn’t.

Why, though? Why unshrink? At the individual level, it’s painful to see (or be) someone hobbling themselves with the shackles of misguided myths about who they are and who they should be. Us humans are so amazing yet consistently play so small. Our potential is there yet we ignore it, dispute it, deny it.

Now expand that out. Businesses, communities, and countries are made up of individuals. When individuals are constrained below their potential so are the groups they are a part of. Businesses are less competitive and less profitable. Communities are more dysfunctional, less likely to attract newcomers. Countries, fueled by the soundness of communities and commerce, are likewise as restrained, hobbled, and shrunk as the individuals.

We often confuse short term spikes in performance measures with actual sustainable results. We think in terms of all or nothing. If a little of something is good, then an extreme amount must be extremely good. Yet, life consistently shows that few things are all or nothing. There is always a tradeoff based on points of diminishing returns.

The authors focus on replacing seven common, deep-seated myths with guiding principles. The myths are so familiar and entrenched that they are generally unquestioned as common sense. Yet, they are not common sense and rarely stand up to the light of real-world outcomes. The myths may have had truth in them at one time or been useful in a limited capacity, but have become dangerous when pushed to the all or nothing extremes. Better than an unquestioned myth is an adaptable principle.

Without giving too much away, the myth of “you are what you do” becomes the principle “you are what you can become”. It sounds like such a small shift, but is key to unshrinking ourselves. The myth of “work always comes first” is replaced with the real-world observable principle “life always comes first”. Holding to the extremes of the myths shrinks us and keeps us shrunk. The principles enable us to unshrink and expand.

Common management theories are driven by the myth that “organizations are machines.” Under this myth, people become easily and equally replaceable cogs, gears, and parts. Leading with this belief means stripping out our humanness, our individual strengths and weaknesses, our passions, and all the things that make us unique in order to make us conform into parts that really are the same. This comes at tremendous cost at both the individual and organizational level.

Replacing that horrible myth with the more accurate principle that “the organization is a community”. Thinking about it as a community means understanding that our differences can be important and valuable, each person’s contributions are unique, and each member of the community is interdependent with – not separate from – every other member. False rigidity is replaced with organic fluidity. The illusion of control is replaced with the power of influence. Machines are built, but communities are fostered. Machines are static and soon outdated; communities dynamic and ever changing and evolving. Machines break down, yet communities adapt.

There is much more. The authors delve into four other myths and principles aimed at unshrinking ourselves, others, and our businesses. All are worth more time and attention that I can offer here.

This book is for those who see that we operate below our potential, who are discouraged by the artificial separation between people and business, who imagine and hope for better. The authors conclude: We have been brought up to believe that there is always a trade-off or a choice between doing that which is good and that which leads to success. Such an assumption is wrong, and this is a tremendously liberating realization.

Your thoughts?

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EVERYTHING YOU THINK YOU KNOW ABOUT SUCCESS IS WRONG (A BOOK REVIEW)

(Note: over the next week or two I’m going to revisit and repost some of my favorite books I’ve reviewed. This one originally appeared on September 11, 2014.) 

Success is how you define it and mediocrity is one of my biggest fears. We all have different definitions of what success means to us in all aspects of our lives. I have some big ideas about the contribution I need to make before I leave this planet and the thought of not living up to those ideals terrifies me.

The challenge is that “pretty good” is a reasonably easy target while “extraordinary” requires a completely different level of choices and commitment. And those actions have to exist in a life where there’s a job, family, friends, pets, house chores, hobbies, etc., etc. No surprise that comfortable distractions are a lot more attractive than committed actions.

As one who enjoys anything that will help me be at my best, I have a love/hate approach to personal development books. Much of it is syrupy feel-good nonsense, but some is very legit and useful. The problem is, even the good stuff is usually just repackaged ideas that have been around for the last 50-100+ years.

Some very large names in the field have done quite well rehashing ideas from Napoleon Hill’sThink and Grow Rich, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Norman Vincent Peal’s The Power of Positive Thinking, or Earl Nightingale’s The Strangest Secret. Tony Robbins summarized the wisdom of the ages best with his Ultimate Success Formula which goes something like: 1) Know what you want; 2) Know why you want it; 3) Take massive action; 4) Notice what’s working or not; and 5) Change your approach until you get your results. Simple, straightforward, and intuitive, but perhaps not sufficient. No one who’s made it to adulthood should be surprised by any of those steps, yet most of us are still stuck in ordinary.

The title for this review comes from the back cover of Dan Waldschmidt’s (@danwaldo) bookEDGY Conversations: Get Beyond the Nonsense in Your Life and Do What Really Matters. He takes a different approach and asserts that goals, hard work, and tenacity are not enough because we are our own worst roadblock. Our beliefs and behaviors, excuses and justifications keep us in comfortable mediocrity. Truly rising above, standing out, and making a difference requires a completely different level of commitment, thought, belief, and action.

“Because success isn’t about knowing more, It’s about being more… The reality is that you already know what to do… The real question is, what will you do about it? Who will you choose to become.” – Dan Waldschmidt

Contrary to what the infomercial experts and hope pushers tell us, Dan wholeheartedly acknowledges that the whole being extraordinary thing is really freakin’ hard. Knowing what to do is easy; actually doing it is miserably difficult. The movies make it look simple, right? A three minute montage with some upbeat music in the background and suddenly the underdog is a martial arts winning, freestyle rapping, marathon running, dance champion with a Harvard degree and a thriving side business bootstrapped into a global powerhouse. But in real life it comes down to who we are choosing to be and the decisions we are making every day.

The author reminds us that outrageous success comes as much from what we say “no” to as it does what we say “yes” to. And in our instant gratification you-deserve-to-have-it-all marketing saturated world, saying “no” is weird. And painful. And miserable. And necessary.

This book is the author’s approach to breaking past ordinary. His formula is based on the acronym EDGY: Extreme behavior, Disciplined activity, Giving mindset, and Y(h)uman strategy. The last letter’s a stretch, but the writing is spot on. Actually, I could have shortened this review to: If you like his blog, buy the book.

If you’re unfamiliar with his blog, check it out here. Dan’s not into business or life as usual and has a contrarian approach written in direct one and two sentence paragraphs with brilliant turn of phrase and a deep belief that the reader has it in them to be amazing. If you don’t like his blog, you really won’t like his book. If you like the blog, you’ll find he brings powerful examples and a very human vulnerability beyond his normal writing to the book.

So here’s the ugly secret truth: life is so much easier when you have excuses or others to blame for not creating the results you want. Sure, you don’t accomplish what you want, but you get to be comfortable in your mediocrity. This book is aimed at stripping those illusions away and challenging you to set that comfort aside to pursue your intentions with the ferocious, relentless tenacity of a Spartan warrior. It’s not wondering what to do, it’s not creating a 10 point success checklist, it’s being the person you need to be.

All day, every day.

Trouble With Numbers

I once made myself a little unpopular with my statistics teacher with the Mark Twain quote: “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Numbers don’t lie, but people sometimes lie about what the numbers are telling us.

Consider the possibility that the trouble with numbers often isn’t intentional dishonesty, but misrepresentation committed in good faith or through ignorance or misinterpretation.

The other day I was listening to a podcast where the speaker mistakenly used two statements interchangeably:

  1. Nearly 80% of people between 25 and 40 years old have tattoos.
  2. Nearly 80% of people with tattoos are between 25 and 40 years old.

If a person isn’t paying attention, these sound the same and it’s easy to see how a person could mistake them for the same thing, yet the statements are radically different.

Another example of this same type of error would be saying:

  1. 70% of all men make $300,000 a year.
  2. 70% of those who make $300,000 a year are men.

I made up those numbers to help highlight how two very similar sounding statements can be very, very different.

Or consider the difference between:

  1. 90% of new hires at this company are unhappy.
  2. 90% of the unhappy people at this company are new hires.

Statement #2 doesn’t mean almost all new hires are unhappy, just that of the unhappy people most are new hires. If you have 100 new hires the first statement suggests 90 are unhappy. But if statement #2 is the true one and you only have 10 people in the company who are unhappy, well then 9 of them are new hires. Those are very different situations, requiring different responses.

Be careful out there.

The One Thing Worse Than Buying a Car

Quick. What’s the single most painful purchase process? Gotta be buying car, right? Nope, but you’re on the right track.

Now, buying a car is tremendously painful, I’ll give you that. It’s a big decision and a huge financial commitment. It seems impossible to have a simple transaction without the “I have to talk to the manager” games and even when you have the car negotiated out, the finance person will make your life miserable using techniques banned by the Geneva Convention until you agree to extended warranties, service plans, and maybe a life insurance policy or two. At the end you’re so mentally frazzled, worn down, and desperate for escape that you’ll agree to anything if it means you can go home. It’s hard to imagine any other purchase being so antiquated, cumbersome, and antagonistic. It’s almost as though the entire process was designed from the start to be as difficult as possible – sort of the opposite of Amazon.com’s one-click purchase.

Except, it’s easy to imagine how to make it worse by modeling another process involving a major life decision. Let’s have a bit of fun here.

Note: This was originally published at Performance I Create. Click to read the rest. [Spoiler alert: It’s about recruiting and the candidate experience.]

HR, it’s time to get bold

boldhrBold HR matters.

Bold is a lot of things to a lot of people. At a session I recently led on boldHR atHRevolution, the participants defined bold as: risk taking, unexpected, courage, gutsy, decisive with preparation, forward thinking, positive, out of context, change, flashy, powerful, large, and loud.

One participant quoted Robert Greene, pointing out “Everyone admires the bold and no one honors the timid.” That line resonated deeply for me because there are so many people who want to have an impact, who want to do meaningful work (doesanyone want to do work that doesn’t matter, work no one cares about?). Yet, too often we try to make a difference while playing safe and that rarely happens. No statue has ever been erected, no biography written, no career celebrated about the person who was just another anonymous face blending into the crowd.

The field of HR is at a crossroads. There is much discussion about dislocating, redefining, and overhauling what HR is and does. I think these are crucial conversations and I jump into every one I can, but they often fail to account for a crucial paradox: to the individual just trying to get a job done, revolutionizing an entire field seems impossibly overwhelming, but the field will never move forward and improve until individuals more forward and improve. No one individual can do it, but nothing will happen until individuals make things happen.

That’s where boldHR matters. No matter who we are, no matter where we are, no matter job title or career stage, we can all be even more bold. Whether you’re a senior VP of HR who wants to completely reinvent the HR function at your organization or you’re just starting out in your career and trying to learn the fundamentals you can be bold. You can be the person who makes things happen and gets things done, you can be the person who “steps into the conversation” (as one participant put it – I love that!), who doesn’t wait for permission, who is open and sharing, who attaches your work to the business needs, and who simply chooses to “get uncomfortable” in order to get things done. This is not simply my opinion, these are the words and ideas of participants.

The beauty of boldHR is it recognizes there is no one-size-fits-all. What might be an insane leap past the outer comfort zones for one person might be a slow day at the office for another. Rather than prescribing what everyone should do to be bold,boldHR looks to the individual to determine how boldness will show up in their life.

So what’s it mean for you? Here are a few questions to help you determine where you would benefit from being bolder and playing bigger in your job (and these apply to ANY job, not just in HR):

  1. What do you really want to do in your job but keep putting off because you’re too busy?
  2. What are you hesitating about asking for permission to do because you don’t want to be told “no”?
  3. What do you want to be remembered for at your company or in your career? What additional decisions or actions are necessary to make that happen?
  4. What do you need to say “no” to that would make a huge difference in your job?

Pick any one of your answers and decide on doing the smallest action that will make it possible. Even if it’s just a phone call, email, or quick conversation, do that one action. Then do it again. Then add another action. Keep going.

You don’t have to reinvent the field and you don’t have to change who you are. Keep doing what you do, just do it a little bigger, a little better, a little bolder.

What are your thoughts? Where can the field of HR be bolder? Where do you want to be bolder in your own job or career?

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[Photo Credit: Kellee Webb (@PurposefulHR)]

Management Innovation: It’s the new HR Technology…

Some massive ideas strung together in this great post by Gareth. No use skimming this – take a few minutes to really give it some thought.

Inside My Head...

WarningSo I’m starting my first blog from the #HRTechEurope conference by shooting straight to the end – or should I say the last session – Management 2.0: Business Strategy for the C21st Organisation by Gary Hammel.

I must admit, I’m a bit of a fanboy and I think he is right on the money when it comes to the state of Management and Leadership today. He’s an entertaining speaker too, although at times, with a good PA system, you need to hang on to your seat as he can literally kind of blow you way with his enthusiasm.

Having Gary, a management science guru, as the closing keynote may seem odd at an HR Tech conference but his message is very relevant:

“The kind of innovation that makes the biggest difference to business isn’t in technology or process. It’s in management.”

Hallelujah! This is the key message that all…

View original post 692 more words

permission to be great

asking for permissionOver the past couple of years I’ve attended several conferences aimed at innovating, evolving, or just plain reinventing the field of Human Resources. There is one theme speakers and participants have highlighted over and over again: Quit waiting for permission. Figure out what needs to be done and just go do it.

At first I nodded along, thinking, “Yeah! HR needs to get its act together. Stand up and make some noise. C’mon people!” Then I was surprised when the message really hit home. They were talking about me! I resisted it, of course, but it was true. Like everyone else on the planet, I like to believe I do a good job. No, that’s not quite right. I like to believe I do an outstanding job. How could it be? Maybe you can relate.

Read the rest over at Performance I Create.

#boldHR at #HRevolution

boldHRevolution is this weekend. Saturday, November 8th, near Dallas. If you’re in human resources, you’re going, right? It’s not too late.

I attended two years ago in Chicago and it changed my life. That’s a strong statement, but not hype. In so many ways, I can trace where I am now back to that event, the people I met, and the opportunities that began opening up because of it. It was pivotal for me.

It was the first HR conference I’d attended since the 1998 SHRM National conference while I was in grad school. That conference left me painfully disillusioned about the field of HR. I’d gone, figured school would lag the industry and anything I had learned was already common place status quo. Instead, the things being discussed in whispered tones as bleeding edge at the conference were all things I’d already read about in textbooks. I discovered there was a huge gap between what excited me about HR and what I thought the field could be versus where it actually was.

I first started reading blogs in 2009 and discovered people who also thought bigger about HR, people who approached it from different angles, people who had the same vision of the field as mine. I heard about HRevolution after the fact and kicked myself for somehow missing the first couple.

In 2012, three of my biggest heroes were leading sessions and there were many other people whose names I recognized presenting and attending. All at small conference intended to give the field a shove beyond its comfort zones. How could I miss?

I bought a plane ticket with my own money and went, staying in some wretched hotel far beyond the expensive hotels near the conference center. The next morning, the sleepy cab driver almost hit several other cars as he struggled to stay between the white lines and then missed the exit.

Happy and thankful to arrive, I wandered through the massive conference center to find the three or four rooms being used for HRevolution. And was welcomed by people I’d never met as though I were a friend. The whole day was a blur of amazing people, great ideas, and better discussions.

It feels silly to acknowledge it, but I have a strong emotional connection to that event. I met my heroes, made friends, greatly expanded the depth of my network, and launched my career forward. I left inspired, encouraged, and challenged to play bigger professionally.

Two years ago I awkwardly volunteered to participate in a session called “HR Improv”. This year I’m leading a session called “Bold HR”. There are also sessions by Franny Oxford, Bill Boorman, Lois Melbourne, Jason Seiden, Frank Zupan and Tammy Colson, Ravi Mikkelsen, and William Tincup and Matthew Stollak. Plus, many of the attendees are folks you’d normally see keynoting conferences attending as participants just because it’s a fantastic event.

Rather than the “sage on the stage” approach at so many conferences, everyone at HRevolution is down to earth, friendly, and completely accessible. So many great people to meet, share ideas with, and help raise the game.

This year, I’m very excited to meet new friends, see old ones, and learn from everyone. You’re running out of time, but if you’re at all on the fence about attending, there are still a few tickets left and I hope to see you there. Please find me and say hi.

“that’s the way we’ve always done it” isn’t a strategy

dragging timeBusiness is at a cross-roads. Business gets done for, through, and by people. Unfortunately, the human side of business has not evolved at the pace of technology, has not kept up with changing expectations, and is anchoring business in the past.

Leadership is at a cross-roads. The dictatorial command and control philosophy so repugnant in government yet so warmly embraced by business is losing effectiveness by the day. The world is changing too fast to leave all the decision making, planning, and creativity to only a few. A pyramid shaped hierarchy simply can’t keep up, can’t respond fast enough, and is too exposed to mistakes caused by the biases of its top leaders.

Organizational and work design is at a cross-roads. Trying to do 21st Century work with models and designs developed for the 20th, 19th, and 18th centuries has its limitations.

Human Resources is at a cross-roads. Changes in technology, business philosophy, and HR’s role in the organization mean it can play an increasingly important role or be so redefined that it essentially fades away, replaced by technology and outsourcing.

People know things are changing and need to change more. If you go to conferences that have “Reinvent,” “Future,” “Evolve,” “Change,” etc. in the name you quickly find that most of the attendees are already on the same page. Even at less future-oriented presentations, I’m finding large numbers of people embracing the idea of what their field could be, of how it could create more value or better results, of the need to leave the past behind and the opportunity to redefine the future.

There are people and companies leading the way, some for decades now, showing us how the future of work could be. Showing us how today could be. But they get dismissed as a novelty (not REAL business), of having unique circumstances that couldn’t possibly work in other businesses, of being faddish. Even though real life examples abound, it’s easier to dismiss new ideas than to invest in the effort to adapt them to our own circumstances. Easier to assume that what seemed to work well enough in the past is what will work best in the future.

Would anyone ever consider “but that’s the way we’ve always done it” a legitimate reason for continuing an outdated policy? No. So why is it so easily accepted as justification for clinging to antiquated business strategies, org design, or leadership? Why is it an easy excuse for sinking into the past as competition (and the world) passes by?

We know better, don’t we?

[Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc]