Friday, June 27, 2014

Deprogramming The Robots

As I limped through the Exhibitor Hall at the Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference (I have a slightly fractured ankle) a thought came over me:

If all of these vendors have it figured out. Why is only 13% of the Global Workplace engaged?

I passed thousands of sales people trying to differentiate themselves from one another until I got to a corridor thinking I had escaped the madness.... then, I realized I was only half way through the Exhibitor Hall. 

Mother F-er (my ankle hurt, my brain was tired, and my soul was unfulfilled)!

It struck me that the burnout I felt meandering the Exhibitor Hall was a metaphor for today's employee. With so many tasks, portals, forms, meetings, mandatory training sessions, and peer emotions to navigate; when do we get time to do our actual job? 

In this hall full of madness transactions were being made in rapid fire. 

While I understand that the SHRM Annual Conference would not exist without vendor sponsorship, I couldn't help but wonder if the badge scanning and swag hand outs would help any business solve any problems. 

The thrill I felt at the SHRM Annual Conference came not through transactions but genuine human moments. Presentation bravado, infographics, branded merchandise, gift cards, demos.... None of it matters and transactions fail to leave a memorable impression.

Your Life's Memories
In decompression from the conference I spent the plane ride home with John Roderick in my head phones. He spoke of his strange ability to remember seemingly random events. I was reminded of a toast I gave at a friend's weeding:

It is not the grandiose events we remember but the moments in-between...

Clarity came over me. We have given up on engagement because we think it is a transaction. Technology cannot create genuine human moments, annual rewards and disingenuous speeches cause people to quit, and people hate training. With all due respect, most vendors suck at what they do. The Global Engagement Crisis is the fault of two things:

1. Vendors who pretend to care about culture while selling transactions.
2. HR Professional who do not demand more of those to whom they outsource human moments. 

Employee Recognition is a meaningless transactional waste of money that serves nothing more than an insult to your employees intelligence. In truth, you cannot outsource human moments. 

Employee Engagement is something completely different. Without true partnership, Engagement is impossible. This takes deep analysis of business objectives and employee preferences along with a team of champions who will not allow others to ignore the love they feel for their company.

Can You Teach Engagement... Yes, You Can!
What's worse than demos and badge scanning are speakers who talk of humanity in the workplace but compose no strategy for improvement.

The Truth You've Ignored:
a. Industry surveys are meaningless... what matters is what YOUR employees think.
b. Your shelf-stored solutions continue to insult your employees.
c. Technology drives transactions which only create entitlement.
d. Recognition is a benefit not a strategy.
e. If you view your job as a series of transactions, you are easily replaceable.
f.  Transactions between HR Administrators & Vendors will lead to only one thing...

Mass Unemployment!

SHRM has entered the certification process because they are hell-bent on making HR professionals more strategic. I know people who will make sure they stay true to that mission. I believe their commitment is to transform the HR profession. Those insulted by this transition may be afraid that their transactional existence is threatened. I hope it is. 

The vendor hall may never be cut from 5,000 vendors to 500, but it would be nice to see the forest through the trees.

We need to transform not transact. This takes a genuine investment in people that requires consistent human interaction and an uncompromising commitment to evolving organizational strategy. Very few people have the guts to continue to splash in the wishing well whether they are an HR Professional or a vendor. We prefer to throw coins into the fountain, let them sink to the bottom, and hope something comes of the transaction.

If we continue to act like robots, the robots will replace us. No company will exist without interactive human commitment. We are differentiated not by our tools but in our ability to take off the tool belt.

Don't Forget to Remember!



  1. Great passion, great message and great inspiration. I can't wait to take this journey with you in the coming years!

  2. Thanks Jeff. There is room for everyone.... hop on board!!!!