Ideas do not fall, fully intact, from the sky. They are formed, refined and clarified when we interact with each other and with the world around us. Any given concept, although viewed by some as recycling of the same old thing, can be fresh and wonderous to others. A commonplace event can, without warning, turn into a lightning bolt moment.
We see a blooming bud emerging on a barren tree branch and are amazed at the rebirth wrought by spring. We remember our youthful freedom as we’re struck by the unselfconscious joy on the face of a little girl as she skips down the sidewalk. While whizzing by on the interstate we catch a glimpse of a stunning piece of architectural design and marvel at the human talent that creates beauty from the foundation of imagination and vision.
These pieces of disconnected fluff float in the recesses of our mind and when they are illuminated, connected or viewed in a new manner we learn. We grow. We celebrate, anew, our capacity to think.
To get to these moments we need to actively pose questions, challenge assumptions and poke holes in the balloons that are the status quo. When we do, ideas that were once viewed as subversive or even dangerous to long-held beliefs germinate, grow and spread.
I was reminded of this over the last few weeks as I dove into a few HR topics in the course of doing what I do: organizational approaches to socialization and the evolving world of work.
In “Toward a Theory of Organizational Socialization” (1979) John Van Maanen and Edgar H. Schein identified 6 major dimensions that represent how organizations may differ in their approach to socialization – in other words how newcomers are introduced to the group. One of the tactical approaches is “Investiture vs. Divestiture Socialization.” The investiture approach affirms the individual’s identity – recognizing, and even celebrating, the personal characteristics inherent to their personality. This occurs when organizations ask “what makes this person unique and how can we, the organization, use his/her skills, attitude and value?” The divestiture approach, on the other hand, disaffirms the personal identity of the newbie and requires them to eliminate, tamp down or change their personal characteristics in order to develop new habits and a new ‘identity’ to fit in with the organization.
Bringing the Awesome
Earlier this week I sat in on my friend Eric Winegardner’s session “Exploring the Evolving World of Work” at the SHRM-Atlanta HR Conference. He covered a wide range of content focused on understanding “why do we work?” yet there were two ideas tossed out by Eric that seemed to particularly resonate with the audience:
“Everybody has awesome in them; some of us just have more than others”
“If you can be who you are at work, that’s when the magic happens”
Not that many years ago exhorting a group of human resources professionals to let employees be themselves at work was HR heresy. In the name of cultural and company assimilation many of our HR brethren/sisters firmly believed that divestiture was the way to go: “wear our logo polo shirt every day when you come to the office.” “We discourage contact with your former co-workers, clients or colleagues; you’re one of us now!” “No personal décor in your cubicle or on your office wall.” “Cut your hair.” “Please be quiet.”
I’ve heard all of those.
Denial of awesome.
That stuff doesn’t work.
And HR professionals are getting it. Not all of them of course – there are still quite a number who, via their policies, processes and HR rules are afraid of other people’s awesome. Why? They may believe it’s easier to manage a workplace populated by compliant serial-numbered inmates than one that houses free wheeling free thinkers. They may want to hang on to the modicum of perceived power they have in their compliance focused role.
They may feel unable to unleash their own awesome and think “if I can’t be who I REALLY AM AT work, why should anyone else get to be?
I’ve heard that too.
But I have faith in HR; what was once heretical is shifting towards the mainstream. I say bring it.
Bring the awesome.