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On the Contrary Happy New Year Indeed

Focus less on what you have to do and more on what you've already accomplished.

January 5, 2001
Related Topics: The HR Profession
January 1, 2001: You?restaring at waxy cheese squares, half-empty flutes of now-warm champagne,and...what is that? Someone?s clog sitting on the oak dining room table? Thatwas some New Year?s party, you tell yourself, silently vowing never to drinkagain. Without realizing it, you?ve just begun another 12-month cycle ofpromises and decisions borne of the desire to make life better.

Your list ofresolutions starts something like this:

  1. Drinkless. (Never was a little too extreme.)
  2. Crossthe Sextons off your party list.
  3. Makefriends with people who keep track of their shoes.

By the end of theday, your list has grown to include volunteering, losing weight, working out,organizing the sock drawer, eliminating eBay from your personal-favorites list,and remembering the birthdays of friends and loved ones.

Looking at the list,you grow tired. Forgetting your first vow, you pour yourself a glass of red wineand turn on Nick at Nite. Maybe Happy Days is on. You love Fonzie.

January 2, 2001: You walk intoyour office on the first workday of the New Year and spot the drooping plant onyour desk. Shoot. Forgot to water it before the long weekend. Again. You waterthe plant, dab at the spilled drops with the sleeve of your jacket, and sit downto review HR?s annual goals.

  1. Cuthealth costs by 8 percent.
  2. Slashturnover by 15 percent.
  3. Launchnew team-building initiative.
  4. Gethealthier food in the lunchroom.

And this is just thefirst page. Leaning back in your chair, you look at the ceiling and wonder ifthe list of fix-its and to-do?s ever ends. No, sigh, it doesn?t.

But as you thinkabout it, you realize that?s a good thing. The drive to build, improve,strengthen, invent, and organize is an admirable and uniquely human quality.Without it, we?d still be living in damp caves, wearing yak hides, and tryingto choke down meals of leaves and berries without the benefit of perfectly agedShiraz-Cabernet blends. You smile. The list of fix-its should never end, forthose very lists have made possible a stunning array of human achievement. Thedrive to better ourselves is, in short, what makes us better.

You return yourattention to the list of annual goals. Man, there?s an awful lot of work to bedone this year. Your enthusiasm for humanity?s adaptive qualities begins todim. A dried leaf falls from the desk plant onto your new daily planner.

Sullen once again,you recognize that the human drive toward betterment is also a bad thing. Thisis because in order to improve, we first have to acknowledge that something iswrong, that something does, in fact, need improving. No wonder we?re nevercontent with the status quo: we?re always focused on what?s broken. We?vebecome a nation of Fred Mertzes, the grouchy, grouper-lipped neighbor on ILove Lucy. Things aren?t good. Never have been. Never will be. How couldthey be, with such a lengthy list of ?initiatives? staring you in the face?Another leaf drops from the plant onto your desk.

As you pick up thetwo dead leaves, it dawns on you that your HR career, indeed your entire life,is very much like this plant. Okay, maybe not entirely like it, but it?s earlyin the morning and you can?t come up with a better metaphor. You continue thethought. Your life is like the plant because you spend a lot of time trying toprune out problems and coax new growth. And often it?s the watering andpruning and repotting and fertilizing that commands your attention. It?s thework that gets noticed, not the reward.

But look, look atall the healthy green leaves! (You?re dimly aware that you?ve started tosound like a child?s Dick-and-Jane book, but you?re on a roll.) Look at howmuch the plant has grown since you received it as a gift three years ago. Theplant, even when neglected, is beautiful. It reminds you of the wonderful friendwho gave it to you in honor of your promotion. Gosh, it?s great to havefriends who give such thoughtful gifts. As your career has grown, so too has theplant.

Your despair over the long list of annual goals is all but forgotten inyour newfound respect for good friends and Chinese evergreens like this one. Youpick up the list of annual goals, and instead of focusing on the tasks as leavesto be pruned, problems to be dealt with, you think about how much you and yourHR peers have been able to do for employees.

Thanks to the workof human resources professionals:

  • 75percent of Fortune 500 companies now have diversity programs in place.
  • Two-thirdsoffer flextime.
  • Morethan a third of companies now let employees telecommute.
  • Casualdress is the rule, not the exception.
  • Trainingexpenditures now represent almost 2 percent of payroll.

Furthermore,countless perks have been introduced that were practically unheard of when youstarted your career: domestic partner benefits, widespread profit sharing,on-site day care, elder-care, massage breaks, employee dry-cleaning services,and time and space for religious observances at work.

You smile. Is thatplant on your desk becoming greener? As you head down the hall to your firstteam meeting of the New Year, you make one more small but significant promise toyourself: to focus less on what you have to do and more on what you?ve alreadyaccomplished. It will be a Happy New Year after all. Now, if you can only figureout who that clog belongs to.

Workforce, January 2001, Vol80, No 1, pp. 16-18 SubscribeNow!

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