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Introspection Looking Inside HR for Answers

March 1, 1997
Related Topics: Your HR Career, Featured Article
Welcome to "Heart & Soul." I invite you to view another side of human resources. In my long career as an HR professional, and more recently as a minister, I’ve wanted to see a column in Workforce that would be nurturing, gentle and supportive, yet stirring and deep. Over the past few years, I had given much thought to these ideas until this column was born. In the coming months, this will be a place for us to explore and share some of our joys, frustrations and desires. Please join with me as we delve into the reflective side, the spiritual or the soul side of human resources. Let’s explore a new meaning and focus for our profession. The purpose of this column is to be a support, a breath of fresh air and a space where you can let go and delve into the inside—the heart and soul of HR—without criticism or judgment.

Looking inside HR: A natural beginning. I pondered the choice of beginning this new column with the idea of ‘introspection.’ Why not ‘inspire’ or ‘insight’? Those words seem lighter, possibly more likable. But there’s something deep, stirring beneath the surface with introspection—like stepping into the unknown and looking at life from a different perspective. And then it occurred to me. Of course! We in human resources don’t usually take the time—nor do we have the inclination—to look at ourselves from the inside out. We’re too busy, just like everyone else.

It’s interesting that the very first step in any outplacement program is self- assessment: looking at one’s history, skills, achievements and talents. Outplacement professionals know this critical action is rarely taken by people on the job. They’re too busy ‘doing’ to have any time for ‘being.’ American business doesn’t have much, if any, reflection time for employees, and that’s certainly also true for HR. We want to be a part of the team, to look like everyone else. Human resources has made great strides in becoming incorporated within the mainstream life of companies by becoming true business partners. We’ve struggled to get away from being seen as ‘touchy-feely,’ soft folks. We’ve spent so much time proving we’re strategic that we seem to have ignored the ‘human’ side of HR. But this isn’t about degrading our work so far. Being seen as competent and important to the organization is essential to our continued success.

Yet, just focusing on the linear mode of ‘doing’ keeps us off balance and lopsided. It keeps us away from our creativity, compassion, wisdom and intuition. We’ve become bottom-line oriented, strong technocrats in a workplace that pushes harder and harder for more productivity and more hours. Yet employees seem to be looking for a quality of life that encompasses more than work. In his article "Corporate Soul" (American Way magazine, November, 1995) writer Jim Morrison quotes Tom Chappell, president of Tom’s of Maine and the author of the 1993 bestseller "The Soul of a Business" as saying, "We’re in an age in which a lot of people are looking for more meaning out of not just their personal lives, but their work lives."

Humanizing the workplace: A logical goal. We need to re-examine our focus and to reengineer our companies with a new perspective. Humanizing the workplace is an idea whose time has come. And we’re the ones to lead the change in this direction. Because we’re the ones who can best understand and advance these ideas, we must descend into a more balanced perspective of ourselves. We must have the willingness to be reflective and to explore who we are, from the inside out. As we begin to explore this new experience, we’ll begin to model the new attitudes that our employees so deeply desire.

What an incredible opportunity we have to be true leaders, coaches and mentors to our organizations. It doesn’t mean we can’t be technical. But it does mean we must balance that linear part of ourselves with gentleness. Our analytical minds are more effective when they’re balanced with reflection and creativity. We’re faced with more change, both in the workplace and in the world, than ever before. We often feel like we’re being overtaken with new technology and new tasks to handle. And it’s an acceleration that’s only going to increase in the future. Frantically, we’ve tried to handle and facilitate the changes that have occurred in our companies: upsizing, downsizing, rightsizing, reorganization, redesign, etc. Constant change is all around us.

Where do we go from here? This isn’t about developing a plan for change with catchy slogans and jargonistic expressions that are just surface-oriented and never go anywhere. These plans just create more ill-will than ever if they aren’t true or genuinely supported. Ghandi once said, "You must be the change you want in the world." So, how do you want your world to be? How could the workplace really be? We won’t know without introspection—really involving ourselves in the process of internal review and audit. It frees us to make new choices without conflict and contradictions within ourselves. It’s never an easy journey, but clearly, we must start.

Now is the time. Never before in our history has the need for the ‘soft skills’ of communications, behaviors and style been so important and so necessary. Never before has there been such a cry from people who are so hungry for meaning and for community in their lives. If we’re going to be successful—to truly champion change and growth within our organizations—we must begin to look within ourselves. We must begin to see the nontechnical as not only desired, but critical and vital to our success, and possibly even to our survival.

It all begins with introspection— because who and what we are ultimately begins and ends within each of us. Please join with me. This is our time. Let’s explore what we can be—together.

Workforce, March 1997, Vol. 76, No. 3, pp. 122-123.

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