I spent the last several days attending conference sessions and picking the minds of HR professionals at the HCI Human Capital Summit in Orlando, Florida.
Among the more powerful sessions I witnessed — at least judging from the reaction of the crowd — was one called “The Art of Leadership,” by an artist named Erik Wahl. (It’s not surprising his talk was so popular — this was a guy who, while on stage dispersing words and stories of motivation, painted portraits of innovators Steve Jobs, Bono and Albert Einstein. Take a minute and Google his name; it's very impressive.)
The thing is, Wahl isn’t in the industry, he was simply someone motivating a room of HR professionals. He did it so well that the crowd enthusiastically gave him a standing ovation.
His simple but powerful message? Take risks, be creative, try new approaches and do not settle for complacency.
“Complacency is the architect of our future downfall,” he told a crowd of HR professionals. He urged them to think outside the box when considering employee management, how to engage employees and how to best optimize the workforce.
Among other notable quotes from Wahl:
“Take a step back so you’re looking at a blank canvas. If you take your role in HR — in your department, as a leader — too seriously, it will affect your ability to perform.”
“Fear stands for ‘false evidence appearing real.’ Fear is going to stifle employee optimization, employee engagement and employee loyalty.”
Get any tangible examples on how to fix workplace problems out of that? Me neither.
Motivation and the call for action can only go so far without ideas or nuggets of information to back it up. But that’s not the job of someone like Eric Wahl. That's up to HR professionals. They’re the ones deep in the trenches. So why don’t they know their workforce better?
Why aren’t they trying any new tactics? Why are they reverting to the same old-same old when it's not working?
Employee engagement, or rather lack thereof, has been the big buzz in the industry — I heard about it all week — but what are HR departments and the C-suite nationwide really doing to help it? (Our reporter Alan Goforth dove into this problem this week in a feature on our site. Check it out here.)
Maybe the problem is as simple as a hands-off approach — HR often doesn’t ask employees what they want or need. Maybe it’s as simple as not properly rewarding hard-working employees. Maybe it’s as simple as not trying anything new.
Another prime example of HR complacency was outlined by Mark Allen at the conference this week. He said that ill-suited managers are one of the workforce's biggest issues. Many move incapable workers to management positions--where they have a negative impact on their employees — and keep them there. Despite acknowledging the problem, HR departments keep the practice up.
What I got out of the Wahl session — and the conference in general — is that HR professionals are craving a new approach. They’re excited about some sort of call to action. They know things should change, but for whatever reason, they aren’t following through.
HR knows there are big problems facing the workforce and big questions about how to properly engage and retain employees. So now the question is: what are you going to do about it?