Make a Fresh Start

January 1, 1998
Here we are again—a new year, a new beginning. This is a time of freshness and order, an opportunity to do things differently. In January, our thoughts move toward making fresh starts in both our personal and professional lives. It’s a natural time to review important life topics and to initiate new beginnings. How can we capitalize on this opportunity to bring changes for ourselves, our workers and our organizations?

Ask questions first.
Let’s start by asking ourselves some basic questions. What’s our role in HR? Does it need to grow or shift? Does our understanding, definition and practice of HR truly serve our customer base? Are we engaged in creating an environment in which employees are both productive and satisfied? Do we consistently look for areas in which we can help facilitate change for the greater good of our companies and the communities in which they reside? Finally, how can a time of new beginnings help us identify our roles in both HR and in our personal lives, and the synergy between them?

Taking a broad step back to ask ourselves these types of questions at the macro level is a good place to begin lighting the flame of new beginnings in our work lives. It also helps us begin to influence the work lives of our employees toward a more meaningful work experience.

Rekindle the flame.
Howard Schechter, a consultant, trainer and counselor in the areas of individual and organization development and the director of social development for Metalcast Engineering Inc. in Oakland, California, has written a delightful book, "Rekindling the Spirit in Work" (Barrytown Ltd. 1995). In his book, Schechter proposes some interesting ideas for rekindling the work flame. As we approach a new year, the idea of rekindling is appealing because it begs the questions: How do we begin again or create a brighter flame? Schechter thinks the main desire of working people today is having a sense of meaning in the workplace. "People want to love and rejoice in work, so it’s fun and playful. Work is play for adults," says Schechter. He makes the analogy of watching children playing a game on the playground. It’s exciting for them; it’s sometimes chaotic but usually rewarding. It’s filled with enthusiasm, passion and the zest for being "in the fray." When we work at the top of our capabilities, we inevitably have fun. And what grows from this playful spirit is commitment, and a willingness to give more. Are our jobs, and our firms, like this? Do workers demonstrate these qualities? If not, they may need to rekindle their work flames. And we, in HR, can help them.

Add fuel to the fire.
How do we begin to rekindle ourselves, our jobs and our workforces? It’s easy to set up goals and objectives for the outer parts of ourselves, such as becoming more organized, losing weight, exercising more and so on. However, Schechter suggests we spend time on the inner parts of ourselves as well. "Go inside yourself and get reconnected to [your] greatness—your essential self. You’re more than a personality with needs, wants and reactions to life. Begin to honor your own strengths, capabilities and talents. Now you can see yourself and your job from a new vantage point, and natural, graceful shifts occur."

It’s our inner beliefs, values and desires that determine how we see our lives at work and outside it. From a human resources perspective, it’s important to remember that what drives us internally will drive us collectively as a business. If we encourage ourselves and individual employees to explore our inner landscapes and make shifts that are appropriate, then deeper meaning and good old-fashioned fun can be the outcome. This leads to higher productivity, employee satisfaction and goal achievement, all which directly impact profitability.

Says another author, David Harder, in his new book "The Truth About Work: Making a Life, Not a Living" (Health Communications Inc. 1997): "Without passion, without interest, without meaning, work is a bit like coming into the world and signing up for life support: We get food, air and water, but who cares?" Harder, a former job-placement industry executive who’s now president of Careermotion Inc., a business and professional training firm in Los Angeles, says that the truth about work is that it needs to be about redefining our lives. "A leap is required from each and every one of us—the leap from survival-oriented, routine-based dispassionate work packages to our unique role in the world, the role that seduces us," he says.

Clearly, our individual flames are sparked by bringing our whole selves to work and by being able to express our personal missions through our work.

Four parts equal one whole worker.
Schechter suggests that we have four parts of us: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. At work most of us utilize and count on the physical and the mental, while the emotional and the spiritual are the neglected inner pieces. These neglected pieces are the essential parts of ourselves that our U.S. culture encourages us to leave at the door when we get to work. However, not utilizing these other parts of ourselves just cuts off a large portion of who and what we are. To rekindle new beginnings, we need our whole selves, including our hearts and souls, not just the usual work-oriented parts of ourselves.

Schechter urges HR professionals not to engage in the usual setting of New Year’s resolutions. "These usually fail," he says, "because they only take the external approach to change. Instead, try the internal approach, and then changes will begin to occur naturally. The outer [becomes] the result of the inner."

Once you’ve gone inside to determine what’s important, proceed to make those meaningful changes. For example, Gisella Falletta, staffing manager, corporate HR for Danka Business Systems PLC in Rochester, New York says she’s "hoping in 1998 to do all she can to make the HR function in her organization be more effective and more valuable than ever." She plans to accomplish this through practicing some of Stephen R. Covey’s ("The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" author) principles as well as TQM principles. "I want HR as a profession to be highly admired and valued everywhere, and I’ll strive to make a difference in accomplishing this," she says, adding, "But I think we have a ways to go."

These are lofty goals, to say the least. Keeping these thoughts in mind as you begin the new year, however, furthers the chance that you can set plans to achieve them. During this time of newness, initiation and change, it’s a natural time to re-focus, reflect and then shift if necessary. Enjoy your new beginnings and those of your organization. And have a happy new year!

Workforce, January 1998, Vol. 77, No. 1, pp. 125-126.