In my last post I wrote about Zappos. I neglected to mention something that I really like about them. Which is, that I get the impression from reading Tony Hsieh’s book, that he and the people he works with have done a lot of thinking to figure out the best way to run their company and create an environment in which employees can happily give their best.
That’s happened through learning from mistakes – Tony talks about how the culture went bad in his first start up, mainly because he didn’t pay attention to it. And also he frequently explains how he gets interested in a subject, like positive psychology, and then finds the research and reads up on it, and works out how to use these theories to make his company better.
What Zappos are not doing is following the herd or following the rule book of HR practices.
I think that is really important.
I think that there is too much ‘follow the leader’ behaviour in HR, and business more generally. It becomes like Chinese whispers. Sometimes people don’t even know why they do things the way they do. They just do it because it’s what everyone else does. And it is what is required for their CVs and by the job ads for their next role. For the concept of Talent Management is criticised by many, e.g. see here on Flipchart Fairy Tales or here on Gareth Jones’ blog. But I suspect that most L&D people feel a pressure to put Talent Management on their CV and LinkedIn profiles because that is what is demanded by our future employers.
Here’s another example. An organisation I know of has recently added two questions about happiness to its employee survey. “Are you happy?” is one of the questions. What is the thinking behind it? I bet it is a Chinese whispers watered down interpretation of the current vogue for positive psychology in work. E.g. from the example set by companies like Zappos, and from Harvard Business Review’s Jan-Feb 2012 issue being about happiness. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the actual idea of seeking happiness within businesses. But what is wrong is picking up the vague concept of the idea, without studying it properly, and implementing a tiny portion of it. It’s a cheap rip off. Fake goods.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given this follow the herd mentality, some of the most interesting people management that I read about does not come from HR. Take the wonderful Valve employee handbook. It is kept on wiki style webpages that every employee can add to and edit. Most HR departments would turn over in their graves at the very thought.
I do think it is important to study other companies, to study academic research, to read books. But I want that to inform what I do. It is so important for me to take a step back and think innovatively and clearly about what is right for the place where I currently work.
Am I being too critical? What do you see in terms of fake goods or the real mccoy? What are the barriers to taking a step back and doing some thinking about what is really the best thing for your organisation?
NB If you do want to gain more insight into positive psychology there is a seminar in London on 17th August, which I think will be really helpful.