Prius – ahead of the curve
On my own personal change curve, I appear to have progressed from misunderstood misfit to shortlist wildcard in just under a month. Result, right?
So, I am in my second month of job hunting and the transformation has come about largely as a result of a new and improved CV, thanks to a panel of colleagues.
The document has, in fact, become a sort of embodiment of an Agile environment in that it is in its tenth iteration and counting. The good news is that my CV now better reflects the balance between my skills on the strategy side and those on the transactional side. In other words, there is a lot more of what I did.
The bad news, of course, is that I still don’t have a job and my wife is now asking for daily updates on my progress. “It takes time,” I tell her. “Getting the right job is like getting into a new relationship.”
“Wait, wait, wait – are you saying getting a new job is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman?” she mimics.
“No, I’m serious. It’s about fit and it’s about being clear about who you are and what you want. You have to want them as much as they want you.”
“Forget going for your dream date. Just get a job,” she says.
But I have found that applying for anything and everything simply doesn’t work. My dreams of working for an oil and gas conglomerate in Africa or an international bank in Dubai are likely to remain just that.
So I have thus narrowed my field and started looking at jobs where my creative background might just be an asset, at roles in ad and creative agencies, digital start-ups, content providers, TV production houses and the like.
Even so, in the last week alone, I have twice heard recruiters refer to me as a wildcard. But I take it as an improvement on being a misfit and at least it is getting me on a few shortlists. However, there is still a deep suspicion about the fact that I was not born and bred in HR.
After one recent interview, the recruiter calls to give me feedback. “They were worried about your language,” she says.
I don’t recall any swearing – at least not aloud – and, in general, my communication skills are pretty good, so I am puzzled.
“You weren’t using the language of HR enough,” she explains.
I think back. Perhaps it was my cocktail party analogy.
Because most of us spend longer at work than we actually do at home, I am a great believer that we should be comfortable in and engaged by our surroundings.
To that end, I occasionally liken the ideal work environment to a great cocktail party – that is, it should be interesting, fun and a great place to be. You mingle, chat with friends and leave when it gets boring.
Starting a Prius
Part of our role in HR is to make sure the party doesn’t get boring. (If anyone is interested, I can expand this analogy and may, in fact, launch a self-help book on the topic).
Or maybe it was my answer to the question about the role of HR in the 21st century, where I suggest that there are similarities between that and starting a Prius.
At the interview, I tell the outgoing HR director the story of how I tried to start a friend’s Toyota Prius. It was blocking my much less modern vehicle so I had to try to move it.
In the driver’s seat, I was at a loss to find the ignition – which turned out to be a big button that simply read ‘Power’. But the button only actually switches on the car once your foot hits the brake. Otherwise it just turns on the radio.
Then I couldn’t find the handbrake – because there wasn’t one. I also couldn’t figure out how the hell the rather stumpy lever on the dashboard worked the gears, and even if there were any.
There I was, a grown man sitting in a car for five minutes, feeling out of place because he is unable to do what should be simple to do. I almost had to get my 12 year old son to help.
My point is simply that HR is here to help people navigate exactly this sort of change in their working environment. Our role is to help people plot a course through this new norm, to explain the changes, to train, support, guide, reassure. In short, we should be showing people how to start and then drive the car.
But clearly this kind of talk scares some people – and maybe with good reason.
Conforming or innovating?
I make a mental note to conform more, but then scratch it out again with my metaphorical pencil. I don’t want to conform! How can we innovate if we do? What would happen to diversity?
I have noticed a tendency towards Stockholm Syndrome in many places I have worked. We’d employ vibrant, dynamic staff full of vitality and imbued with innovative ideas.
Yet after six months or so, something would happen. They became sympathetic to their captors and stopped innovating. Interestingly, those who didn’t were often viewed with concern.
This was part of the reason that I introduced an Entry Interview – to capture the enthusiasm of our new recruits about two months in.
But for all this talk, I am not really a revolutionary. I don’t want to upset the apple cart – in fact, what I want to do is to ensure that the apple cart is better, runs more efficiently and delivers a greater quantity of high quality apples to a growing customer base.
I might even investigate diversifying into pears and other common household fruit to yield even greater revenues.
There is no point in changing things just for the sake of change. Equally there is no sense in continuing to do something just because it has always been done that way.
So what about me? What do I need to change to hopefully find myself some meaningful work?
For a start, I must try to use more HR words. I must use fewer analogies about cocktail parties and cars. And I also need to demonstrate my technical expertise, while also showing that I’m comfortable being a strategist. Maybe I need to learn how to plot a course through a new norm too.