How Far has Modern Civilization Advanced?

24 May

Can we really claim our civilization is advanced? Advances in technology are astounding including space travel and DNA mapping, but has human potential – except to live longer – really advanced? Has our ability to reason and our understanding of subjects at greater depth increased or diminished as we become bombarded daily by diverse information (e.g. internet based) that possibly leads us to understand much, but only in a fleeting way.

Have we become one way receivers of information that we generally accept rather than debate? Is it too easy to search online and find an acceptable answer rather than think through a subject and develop well thought out personal positions and conclusions? Is there increasing acceptance of one way communication and is that contributing to the dulling of our minds?

Throughout history, regular people have been like sheep having to accept proclamations of the ruling class and spiritual leaders. Is the impact of the internet similar? Do we control the internet or does the internet control us? Will the internet continue to grow as a tool for brainwashing society? Is it all bringing us too close to George Orwell’s “1984”?

One fear I have is that we live in a fearful world. We have learned to fear and be mindful of obscure illnesses, drinking alcohol, restricting our diets, remaining slim and exercising regularly. There are so many rules controlling things and we are possibly far more capable of stretching out life a few years, but not necessarily increasing the quality of our lives.  If we constantly worry about what could go wrong, that must inhibit the ability to explore and experience life to the fullest.

On a personal level, our senses, particularly sense of smell, have been delegated to a very perfunctory role. The natural smells, particularly between people, are no longer key to mutual attraction or emphasized in other respects. Our sense of smell has been pushed into the background with more emphasis on what we don’t want to smell than what we do want to smell.

Listening and hearing, particularly natural and sounds of nature is less important as our electronic devices can occupy us constantly with ongoing communication and music. It can be pleasant, but is it lessening our appreciation of what is natural and real in life? I frequently notice babies in strollers being pushed by nannies talking continuously, it seems, on the phone. Will the baby learn to listen to birds, animals and enjoy conversation, or just look forward to having his/her own phone? Our sight experiences are similarly affected with far more emphasis on viewing things on screens than in real life.

It is not, I must admit, my dream to be in wide open spaces using our human senses to their fullest capability, but that may not be a bad idea. Our senses function in conjunction with our brain and if they are allowed or encouraged to function at high sensitivity, it may correspondingly open our minds and heighten our ability to experience. Could that make us wiser and able to understand more? Could that be a path to greater enlightenment?

Enlightenment in earlier generations was often associated with drugs. We continue to be obsessed by drugs, whether legal medication or illegal mind enhancers. In the attempt to prolong life, it is now possible to detect thousands of things (if you believe all the advertising) including dangerous foods and city-life in general that need to be treated with medication.

So, most of the “civilization” of today are on drugs of one kind or another. They obviously alter our senses, particularly as the function of many is to lessen pain and anxiety. They are used for understandable reasons, but the downside is that they must, to some extent, also be dulling our natural senses.

In a similar context to medication, we can also consider the focus of exercise programs followed by many people. There are important and logical reasons why they are followed, but are we addressing our body more as a machine rather than focusing on the control panel which is the brain? If the brain controls all the moving parts, could exercising the brain deal with aches and pains and other problems better than forcing movement of the body to try to overcome the programming of the mind? Are people more ready to engage physical exercise than to expand, understand and better utilize our brain as the holistic “leader” of our body and soul?

Are we truly evolving as increasingly enlightened human beings or has our environment and social focus put us in a holding pattern? Are we, in effect, trading some higher values to achieve longevity and more physical (superficial?) goals? In many ways our lives seem more adapted to receiving facts, dealing with physical issues and living longer than to experiencing at the highest level possible and harnessing the potential power of our minds.

What do you think? Are we advancing solidly ahead, or at most, standing still? Is it possible that our ability to experience our environment and personal relationships has diminished rather than heightened over the years! That would be very sad in spite of all our technological advances!

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.

Ian

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How Can HR Empower Employees to Reach Full Potential?

16 May

This is a very interesting question as reaching full potential can mean many different things depending on the context. When a parent wants a child to meet his/her full potential, it probably reflects the values of the parent and traditionally may mean doing well at school, getting a good job, raising a nice family and other similar things. We want to be proud of the achievements of our children.

When an organization wants employees to meet their full potential, it is usually more for the benefit of the organization. Theoretically if the employee is working at a higher level, work output should be at a higher level, but that may not be the case. In striving to meet full potential, an individual may actually lose interest in his/her job. As long as the person (ignorance is bliss) thought of the job as his/her reasonable “lot in life” there would be acceptance and some engagement, but if the “I could/should be doing better” is too strong, the current job may be handled in a cursory way waiting for rightful destiny.

Expanding the concept of “full potential” further, why should HR attempt to empower employees to reach full potential and what would that mean? Here are some thoughts:

  • It could mean that the employee develops stronger values and work standards that result in more thoughtful application of the employee to the job and some continuous improvement combined with great results
  • It could mean that the employee gains a fuller understanding of life totality and starts to see employment as a very small part of life – a necessity to earn money – but in general a diminishing aspect of enlightenment. The employee could easily lose interest and transfer interest to more meaningful (his/her opinion) things

There are risks (as throughout history) in making people too aware of reality, but if the objective for HR is truly to empower employees to reach full potential, there can, I believe, be mutual benefit in a mature organization, but greatly influenced by a number of things and particularly employee expectations, including :

  • If the employee’s self-worth is increased (encouraged by HR) the person would expect to be promoted or be paid more
  • If the employee is moving towards achieving full potential, he/she would question information more and the company could not just pretend to be great communicators. There would have to be a forum for employees to intelligently and positively discuss and question company information that more commonly may be given one way in less enlightened organizations
  • If the employee is encouraged to reach full potential, there must be reasons, in an organizational context, to justify why the employee should make the additional effort
  • HR people, the teachers, are equally employees and should be equally committed to their own progression and able to give testimony why and how fulfilling full potential benefits people and should be able to give personal business examples. This may be difficult if the HR person is very young and clearly still evolving

Achieving full potential is also complicated because it is a more holistic concept than just being loyal to one function or one manager. Traditional career advancement would in many cases not give sufficient incentive and the way the company operates would have to be adapted to focus on a workforce encouraged to attain full potential. For example:

  • Company values that emphasize the commitment to employees reaching full potential. Not just words, but realistically thought through (before being a stated value) with applicable strategies
  • More open internal job postings with the good of the total organization being most important and individual managers not able to prevent employees in their function from transferring elsewhere within the organization
  • More emphasis on developmental transfers to allow progression of employees through expanded experience and understanding
  • Less emphasis on hierarchical relationship and programs (e.g. HR programs) where managers are required to judge employees. A parent/child type environment is not really conducive to an employee developing full potential as it is not logical to tell an individual how he/she must evolve
  • An environment within which TRUST is a key value and should be reflected through policies including accepting the employee’s self opinion on various subjects including performance management, attendance and acknowledgement of improvement needs on matters that may often result in discipline

What do you think? Is promoting employees to meet their full potential realistic in most organizations or does it conflict with the way most organizations operate? If it is practical, what benefit is it likely to bring? Can HR hope to succeed in promoting employee potential if other managers and particularly senior executives are not similarly committed or significantly developing their own potential?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.

Ian

My Fantasy Stay at Sunnybrook!

14 May

I spent a considerable time, between January and May 2015 (three occasions), in Sunnybrook Hospital. It was a strange experience, particularly at first, hovering between consciousness and the deepest level of sedation and governed by dreams that felt real but were not. The dreams provided, it seems, acceptable explanations about what was happening. They were not reality, but to this day continue to feel real, like an alternative reality that accompanied, protected and strengthened me. I am still trying to understand the possible meanings and in this post will give some examples, commencing with Sunnybrook waterway, even though Sunnybrook is NOT on a waterway.

1. Sunnybrook Waterway

I left the building through the glass doors and onto the nice lawn overlooking the waterway.   The view would be similar from all floors, but I had only been on the terrace attached (same level) to my floor. I believe that there was a flight of steps between the terraces, but had never investigated. On the ground floor it was more like a small park leading to the water where the regatta was held every year with all the Canadian and Norwegian flags reflecting the shared jurisdiction of the waterway.

I had attended the regatta on an earlier occasion when the weather had been beautiful, but this year it was freezing, the coldest recorded February in Toronto, but the regatta still looked and felt the same. The Sunnybrook waterway belonged in a different climate and a different ocean, but if an illusion, was very warm and comforting.

2. Sunnybrook Tower and Hospital

I had been in hospital since late January, but not truly aware what was happening for about three weeks. Initially hovering between life and death and then progressively merging a little more reality and understanding to my life of fantasy and illusion as I became more aware.

My hospital room, in my mind, was very modern and very modular with similar patient rooms stacked above one another – a type of narrow multi-storey building reaching high into the sky and impressively overlooking the waterway.   I remember, during a thunder storm, thinking that if one floor was seriously damaged or on fire, it could seriously affect and threaten the floors above.

3. Where am I?

I am actually in Sunnybrook Hospital (Health Sciences Centre) which although a large building was very wide with less floors than my”reach for the sky” image. I was admitted January 31 after being rushed in by ambulance and being revived after dying in the corridor. I remained in hospital until March including some time at their St. John’s rehab. Centre. I was admitted a second time (in late March) in similar circumstances – dying and being revived again. I was also admitted for a few days in May, but remained conscious and aware, although it did make me reflect about my earlier stays and the strange merging of fantasy and reality.

4. What is my story about?

I am not really sure at this point. I am trying to understand or simply rationalize my strange life over the past few months. I am accustomed to dreams, but mainly when I am sleeping. In this case, I was awake, a patient in intensive care and living my delusions while life went on around me. A simple example is when I was learning to swallow and eat again, I refused to eat until my wife arrived. In reality she would be a hospital visitor, but in my mind, I was waiting for her in a restaurant (belated Valentine’s meal) and had been served my meal before Ann arrived and had been urged to eat by the server, who in reality was a wonderful nurse who helped and encouraged me during my most awkward (and rebellious) period. I remember the nurse in the restaurant and hospital context, but interpreting what was happening in a very different way.

I will continue to expand on my experiences – I have written two blog posts already on this subject. I am not sure where it will lead as I know I want to write more but without fully understanding, I cannot define exactly how.   To give more context and to introduce some key characters, I will tell you something about the “Sunnybrook benefactors”. It is an aspect of my fantasy that I did not cover in my earlier posts, but the benefactors will feature significantly on a number of occasions as part of my story.

SUNNYBROOK BENEFACTORS

The Sunnybrook benefactors (my fantasy) were active in a number of ways. They were usually present as a group and contributed significantly to the hospital and regatta. On my hospital floor (one particular time) a recognition function for the benefactors was being held. At the end of the corridor in two different rooms there was a “Yo ho ho and a bottle of Rum” celebration under way. The bottles of rum or whatever were in large chests which seemed to be filled with ice. I was aware of an earlier occasion when I was able to drink, but this time it was only for the benefactors. My role, together with a nurse who appears in a number of fantasies, was to stand close by (with my walker) and to hand small gifts to the benefactors. It was a nice occasion.

One interesting aspect is that my wife, Ann, was also one of the benefactors. My fantasy was sufficiently realistic that she was a benefactor but still my wife and visiting me while from time-to-time going to join the other benefactors for a formal meeting where they would discuss various proposals and hospital initiatives.

So, for at least three weeks I lived in a mostly fantasy world. Sunnybrook hospital (the reality) is impressive, but my Sunnybrook was different and particularly as it was overlooking a waterway and very futuristic. I have introduced the benefactors as important characters and there are also workplace characters and hospital characters that feature particularly strongly in my later attempts to escape!

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any comments or thoughts you may have and intend to write more quite soon.

Ian.

 

 

 

I Must Admit HR is Getting Better, Better all the Time!

3 May

It does not seem so long ago, maybe two or three years when HR seemed to be going through a period of great uncertainty. A lot of discussion was about why people disliked HR, why HR was not respected and why HR was not at the table. At the same time (and earlier) HR seemed troubled about HR identity and was seeking to align more closely with business partners which, in many cases, seemed to include less emphasis on people and less emphasis on the HR problem solving role and ability to respond to challenges.

HR people have been frequently criticized for being too reactive, but today, it seems, it is becoming not only respectable but critical in our constantly changing environments. New style HR people (similar to many in the past) are able to react promptly to deal with issues and in many cases convert reactive into transformative to further interests of the organization.

The improvement in HR that I have noticed, from sentiments expressed by many HR people, is a significant increase in professional confidence and renewed pride that we have distinct skills to benefit an organization. Our skills complement other functions but our skill pattern may be significantly different and being a business partner does not mean agreeing with everything presented to us. We must take a stand when necessary to support achievement of organizational goals that may sometimes differ from the direction pursued by some functional executives.

With this new, more practical thinking, we also seem to have greater confidence in looking within our function and taking steps to revitalize HR including critical evaluation of programs that may have been key to HR for many years. For example:

  • Less emphasis on large somewhat fixed HR programs (e.g. performance management) and more emphasis on a more modular approach using the integration of mainstream data rather than stand alone HR programs
  • Being fully part of the business and with high credibility HR people close to the action (ear to the ground) and at any time ready to respond to support organizational interests and deal effectively with any organizational challenges and       threats
  • Not being obsessed by being at the big table, but making sure we are at the right small tables (e.g. functional) where the action takes place and we may be involved early enough to be part of the strategic thinking and contribute positively rather than challenge after the fact when people already feel committed to the planned action. With such a strategic and business focused role, HR would automatically have a very legitimate place at the big table and the new confidence and practical support of HR would be welcomed
  • HR confidence that our specialist expertise on people issues translates into present and sustained business advantage and we are able to sell concepts in the most practical and acceptable way.  Not only employee issues, but significant focus on our community, our customer/sales focus and external resources of various kinds that may be critical and needed at any point
  • The evolving more pragmatic HR seems more ready to take a strong stand on critical matters (e.g. ethics and corporate values) and to achieve this recognizes the need to develop the appropriate negotiating and diplomacy skills. We cannot just be stubborn people in an HR world of our own (sometimes the problem with old style HR) but be straight-talking business-sensitive leaders able to gain the respect of those we deal with
  • HR is coming of age by the way we seem ready now to question all our HR beliefs. It is very difficult not to develop a bias and our bias may have matched perfectly the conventional way of doing things in the past, but be outdated based on the technological capability now available. We must grasp the opportunities and be leaders in redesigning how we do many things and how we may train and impart user confidence during a period of organizational transition.
  • The success of HR in the future may depend very much on the ability of HR to attract the right talent and be able to meet staffing needs with the minimum of delay. I would have liked to say that HR has simplified and made the process more practical, but there still seem to be major philosophic differences between different HR people. There are HR people who make the selection process very complicated and try to match such things as attitude. There are others who support a simpler and more objective process. The key to success would be HR’s contribution to effective organizational design to ensure that the culture of the organization is able to assimilate most employees, regardless of different styles. I believe trending, particularly, by HR generalists, is moving more towards a simpler recruiting process, but at this point, opinions continue to be very divided

I must admit HR is getting better – it’s getting better all the time! I offer some thoughts on this subject which I believe are supported by many modern day HR realists and seem consistent with the beliefs of many HR students who, of course, will soon be setting the HR trends for tomorrow. HR improvement is dependent on realistically acknowledging evolving business and people differences and expectations and balancing them in the most appropriate way. Success of HR depends on us knowing who we are, what we can do and to updating and adapting much of what is already in place to reflect the present as it is and move confidently into the future. I believe an increasing number of HR people are committed to change and that gives reason to feel confidence about the future of our profession.

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.

Ian

 

Leadership Insights from my Hospital Bed

1 May

After spending many years in a leadership role within business and specifically Human Resources it is such a role reversal to become a hospital patient and totally dependent on the skills, leadership and caring of medical staff. In industry I was a leader based on my function and because I made and recommended decisions and provided leadership and direction to staff. In hospital I was a dependent client trusting the competence of those I relied on to handle my medical problems.  In my vulnerable position I had to trust professional staff to set me in the right direction and instruct me in what has to be done to cure, to the extent possible, my medical condition.

The comparison between dependent staff and management in an industrial setting is not in all respects the same, but being confined in a hospital for a few weeks, considering relationship similarities and contrasts was an interesting diversion.

One aspect which relates to developing employee engagement, is considering the degree to which understanding the business is likely to motivate employees. In industry the following are a few observations:

  • Employees appreciate being updated on company progress, plans etc., but are not always very interested, particularly when the information is remote from their own understanding and direct function.   Employees may appreciate the social function associated with company updates (e.g. general meeting and reception with senior management) more than the information received
  • Employees respond more positively when management feedback is from management directly involved in their function and seen as able to influence progress of an individual. Conversely, if feedback is negative (dissatisfaction with the work team) it is unlikely to motivate improved performance in most cases

As a hospital patient, what motivated my confidence and engagement with medical and hospital staff? In a survey I recently completed about my hospital stay, one key question seemed to be whether Doctors and Nurses spoke about patients in front of them as though they were not present. This suggests that although equally unacceptable in industry, it is probably more common in hospital where there is a greater knowledge and role distinction between patients and medical staff. I do not consider myself particularly well informed on medical matters and in general was interested in information directly related to my condition rather than too technical, theoretical or generic. For example:

  • “Performance” improvement, for example how well responding to medication and test results of significance
  • Treatment plans and options. This was particularly interesting when addressed by the senior medical team (on their daily rounds) when there may be questions or comments from various people present

From a patient perspective I was also very interested in observing the professional relationship between senior medical staff and nursing and support staff. From my bed, there was not too much else to watch and I was consistently impressed by the professional and respectful relationship that seemed to exist between all staff and seemed to extend also to patients.

My comments relate specifically to the two occasions in 2015 I have been a patient at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Canada. I was impressed in every way by the promptness and excellence of treatment received and the courtesy and respect extended in every way including their very liberal visitor policy.

Thank you very much for your interest. Do you believe that the Health Sector operates consistent with industry and following similar principles? I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.

Ian

HR Near Death Experience! My Thanks to All!

16 Mar

I could have found far better ways to avoid February 2015 (the coldest February on record) but my fate was to be confined to a hospital for the entire month, hooked up to all kinds of equipment and for most of the month not aware what was happening.  I know now how wonderful people were to me and thank them sincerely for standing by me (often literally) including so many I am unable, at this stage, to acknowledge after such a long time off line and without checking all my mail. Ann lovingly supported me throughout, including many nights at the hospital at the earlier critical stage, while Daisy patiently waited at home waiting for walks and the good times to resume. If you were expecting to hear from me during February or waiting for a response to something, I apologize. I am now working to get thing back in order – normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

HOSPITAL STAY ILLUSION

It was a strange experience, particularly at first, hovering between consciousness and the deepest level of sedation and with reality and dreams that felt real, blending to provide a composite explanation about what was happening, but not really accurate as I later discovered.

The strangest persistent delusion was about the location of the hospital. It was actually only about 10 minutes from our home, but in my mind it was remote on a waterway that was somehow linked by treaty to Norway and although freezing, still host to water sports at an annual event I recall attending voluntarily on an earlier occasion. Like my mind authenticating and also linking to some other related festive events. My hospital room (in my mind) was in a towering building overlooking the waterway.

As I progressively gained consciousness and learned why I was in hospital there was one strange link that persisted between all the medical attachments and a work perspective. I saw the medical hook-ups as workplace limitations placed on me and translating into a restricted area (precisely 10 feet square) within which I could freely move but not necessarily going where I wanted to go e.g. a door into another area. This was incredibly frustrating as I attempted to leave workplaces (imaginary) or access others.

They tell me that in those early days, when I was so heavily restricted and medicated, I was fighting constantly and trying to unhook all the attachments and get out of bed. Certainly not smart to do, and fascinating how the link between hospital and workplace restrictions developed. I cannot remember any of the earlier incidents, just my sanitized dream version and explanation.

HOSPITAL LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT

In some ways, the experience was like a role reversal, with me now the person needing to learn new skills or relearn in some cases. I cannot thank the staff of Sunnybrook Health Science Centre and St. John’s Cardiac Rehab enough for their support and for dealing so capably with my medical crisis.

As I started to recover, emphasis was placed on learning to swallow again. I did not feel there was a problem, but until I was fully checked out, my food was pureed with a mound of green (vegetable) brown (meat) and white (potato). So incredibly bland, but very nicely presented.

I also had to learn to walk again. I was very proud when I was given a green tag certifying that I could walk unaccompanied, using a walker. By the time I was discharged I had also earned the right to walk with a cane unaccompanied. Such tiny steps and handled in conjunction with other training including exercises and nutrition and other health and safety aspects handled in much the same way as in industry. The Rehab Unit even provided safety inspections of residences to help discharged patients avoid slips and falls after returning home.

Certainly February 2015 was like no other month I had ever experienced. I faced very serious medical challenges but in many ways it made me so thankful to professional staff, family and friends for their constant support and encouragement. It may have been difficult at times to distinguish between reality and illusion, but the greatest reality is my appreciation of all and my continuing confidence in our international caring society.

Very best wishes and sincere thanks to all,

Ian

 

How Can We Make HR Better for 2015 and Beyond?

11 Jan

What can I do – what can we do – to make HR better as we move into the future and face challenges distinct to this point in history? Depending on how we see life, everything may seem about the same, but in reality, the way we acknowledge and with an open mind handle the differences will define HR and its relevance as we move ahead. Here are a few thoughts:

  • HR must have a distinct identity. We cannot just be followers trying to keep everyone happy. We must be clear in setting our allegiances. We must be integral in meeting the goals and needs of the organization, but at the same time be clear about HR, business and society principles that govern our actions and also the actions of the organization – often legally. We cannot simply compromise (or cave-in) to keep people happy. If our actions are questionable, in making one person (e.g. the big boss) happy, the “equal and opposite reaction” is likely to be making a number of other people very unhappy while our HR reputation (and business) may be tarnished.
  • If HR is prepared to take a strong stand on certain matters (e.g. ethics and corporate values), we must also develop our negotiating and diplomatic skills. To be effective in the future (as in the past) we must be able to present our positions while taking into account the sensitivities and specific interests of those we are addressing. Whenever possible, we would not just say what we believe is right, but why it is right (giving context) for our specific business and our diverse colleagues and employee population. We cannot just be stubborn people in an HR world of our own, but straight-talking business-sensitive leaders able to gain the respect of those we deal with.
  • We must question all our HR beliefs, particular those of us who have been in HR for a significant time. It is very difficult not to develop a bias and our bias may have matched perfectly the conventional way of doing things in the past, but be outdated with the technological capability now available. Staking our reputation on standard, generic HR programs based on a specific point in time (e.g. performance management) no longer makes sense when customized ongoing programs (individual specific) are the way of the future. We must grasp the capabilities and be leaders in redesigning how we do many things.
  • We must recognize the strengths of others. Older very experienced employees and younger employees with a “new age” skill set can complement one another in a superb way. We must learn how best to share strengths within our diverse workplace community rather than stand apart and criticize. The young should not count the days until the old people are gone, and the “mature” people should not discount the young and expect them to come around to the old way of thinking – the wisdom of the past! The reality is that the young are developing into the future leaders and we must support them and any style differences more appropriate to our changing world.
  • The success of HR in the future may depend very much on the ability of HR to attract the right talent and be able to meet staffing needs with the minimum of delay. HR can be big winners if the process (including for contingent workers) is simplified and streamlined as much as possible, possibly using central registries for most regular positions. The key to success would be HR’s contribution to effective organizational design (supported by environmental technology) to ensure that the culture of the organization will assimilate most employees, regardless of different styles, rather than seeking to hire a specific type of person. HR future success will also depend on recognizing our limitations e.g. in defining the psychological make-up of a candidate through a conventional recruiting process.

These are just a few thoughts on this very complicated subject. We have to be realistic and recognize that we can make HR better by being very honest in acknowledging evolving business and people differences/expectations and balancing them in the most appropriate way. Success of HR depends on us knowing who we are, what we are and developing a confident and holistically balanced approach in meeting the needs of the business and our internal clients. Many of the differences are already in place and a major challenge, to make HR better, is to update and adapt much of what is already in place to reflect the present as it is and move confidently into the future.

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.

Ian

 

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