Sunday 1 May 2011

Love in HR (and at #HRevolution)


  I’ve posted previously about my intent to blog on each of the words Gary Hamel suggests distinguish the more people focused language and behaviour we need to encourage in our organisations (see this post on trust – including Hay’s Trust conference).

I had planned to start with some of the easier words such as equality, wisdom and justice, but there were a couple of things come up at HRevolution which made me think about love, so I’ve decided to start here.

So, for one thing, there was the general lovey-doveyness of the thing whole (nothing wrong with that) as in Trish’s tweet here.  But the real driver for this post was Paul Hebert’s session on incentives and recognition, as well as a general frustration in this and other sessions with a**holes.

Paul talked about the common problem in organisations where managers want to hold their best people back and suggested we need something more like love from our managers – a bit more like the way parents feel about our children – wanting the best for them rather than ensuring they don’t get paid more than the manager etc.

Somebody (I lost track of who, sorry) suggested a boss had explained to them that he did his job in the same way that he looked after his kids: ‘I love them and look after them’.  This took us into a not particularly valuable loop about parenting as an analogy for management – and a chance for Laurie Ruettimann to present her proposal for a loveless model where work is just a contract.


But I still think the original point was spot on.  I think we do need love in our organisations.  (And there are lots of other ways of loving people than in parenting of course - Trish’s love for her attendees is probably a more apt example.)  I do think we need more love in our organisations to make them into more compelling places to be.

I didn’t always think so – and remember challenging someone else about this on some site somewhere once.  But the more I’ve thought about it, and worked with organisations to bring about deep change, the more convinced I’ve become that we can’t ignore those things we think are important, even if they makes people cringe at first.


So how do we bring more love into our organisations?  Well, I don’t think moving towards more love needs to be that hard.  Paul’s group came up with the ides of a crappy manager policy, which whilst not stimulating real love would remove a lot of the present distaste.

But policies (even those emphasising what you do want rather than what you don’t) act a little like employee recognition as per Paul’s presentation (he suggested that recognition can generate slight changes in behaviour, like altering the course of a ball rolling downhill by a couple of degrees, but you need incentives to get bigger change / start the ball rolling in a different direction).  I think you need something bigger to get real love.


To an extent, I think the something bigger needs to be a culture which emphasises the importance of personal relationships for their own sake, rather than as things which need to be manipulated to do a job.  And I think creating this culture is partly about freeing people up to have more time for these relationships, as well as educating people about social intelligence (building on the points Kevin Grossman made about emotional intelligence) to help them appreciate the importance of these relationships – to them as well as the other people, and the organisation they’re working within.


Yet there’s got to be more to it than this as well.  The key enabler I think must be more of a sense of pitching in together.  Would Trish have felt the same sense of love for her attendees if she’d been organising a standard SHRM conference?  Actually, Trish probably would!, but I think the general sense of love-in would have been much reduced.

So the traditional family may have been the wrong metaphor for organisations, but perhaps the model of a commune could work (for at least some aspects of organisational life)?


So there you go.  I’m not sure I’ve got to the answer on this, and I knew it wouldn’t be an easy post to write.  But I do agree with Gary Hamel that love is something we should be thinking about – and working towards.

What about you?  Do you want to see more love in your organisation, and how would you go about creating it?



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  1. All very good. I don't really object to love in the workplace as I met my husband at work. I have deep & meaningful friendships with former colleagues. I am the Gallup queen. I have always had best friends at work.

    Many of us mythologize work and create two archetypes: work is either a bastion of fun/love/innovation where everyone is allowed to emote & create OR it's a hell hole. I try to remember that work is a contract. It's an agreement. And for the agreement to work, both parties need to operate with integrity and kindness.

    I thought the session was spiraling into a simplified, pedantic way of describing rewards and recognition. And after coming out of the diversity & inclusion session with Joe, my barren uterus that will never give me a child was a little resentful, too.

    And let me say something else that I think is overlooked: work can be a liberating place where you express a different side of yourself and have some space/time/distance away from emotionally intense relationships in life. I am madly in love with my husband. I am madly in love with my cats. I love my neighborhood. My community is amazing. But I went back to work in a formal HR role because having access to love & safety & a great community wasn't enough. It's not enough to love. In fact, it's exhausting. Sometimes a little distance—and an opportunity to tamp down the emotionally charged side of the brain—is a healthy thing.

    This is a long comment. Thank you. Saves me from writing a blog post about it. :)

  2. Thanks Jon for getting something out the session. And thank you Laurie for being a part of it.

    As you would expect, trying to communicate an expansive topic to a very diverse audience in a short period of time requires some short cuts. My "parenting" as a model was one such shortcut. Unfortunately, it didn't work for everyone.

    I think, after reflection, there are really two things in play and they need to be separated. I think I will make sure I make this point more clear if I use the parenting example ever again.

    Work is a contract. A contract between a "company" and an employee.

    I also think there is another relationship, one not so transactional and impersonal, and that is between a manager and employee.

    In the first case it is all about minimums and all about quid pro quo. Just like contracts between organizational entities. Do this get that.

    I believe however, the manager/employee connection is much more personal and therefore, requires more personal approaches. Less transactional, more relationship - human - dare I say it - emotional connections and conversations.

    And the research (both academic and in real life) is very clear - people are more engaged, satisfied and happier at work when both the transactional and emotional needs are addressed.

    But, like I mentioned at the very beginning of the session - nothing when dealing with human beings is axiomatic. We are infinitely variable and therefore, the best we can hope for is to impact as many people as possible with the approaches we choose. Some folks work best when treated more "contractually" - others get more out of their workday when treated "relationally."

    Good managers know which is best for whom.

  3. John,
    Thanks for the post. I’m quite thankful to have been a part of this particular discussion as it took place, and also thankful to have met you this weekend. Unlike you, I found it rather valuable towards furthering my own thoughts on the requirements and expectations of relationships in the workplace. Experience has taught me that when smart people like Paul, Laurie, and you become passionate about a particular topic, I stand a good chance of learning something valuable.

    I admit to also having recoiled at the description of workplace relationships or responsibilities in the context (metaphorical or otherwise) of parenthood. I’d rather my own manager treat me with respect for my ideas, my work performance, and my contributions while clearly communicating expectations for future efforts. This after all is her responsibility to our employer (contractual or otherwise), which in my opinion outweigh her responsibility to me as an individual.

    I’m not convinced organizations need (more) love to become more compelling places to engage our colleagues, customers, or whoever else we may professionally contact. It’s possible that we’d stand a far better chance of improving the majority of workplaces if we’d focus time and effort on teaching simple, respectful communications skills.

    I also appreciate Paul’s comment reminding us that the entire discussion was prefaced with the “infinitely variable” introduction, which I believe makes it such an interesting and compelling discussion. Glad to have been (and remain) a part of this interesting dialogue.

  4. Wow, what great comments, thank you.

    Laurie, I agree that there are various options for for love in the workplace, but I still suspect that those organisations which generate more love will be more successful, just as HRevolution has been.

    And I struggle to see how you create love, or even anything close to it, when employment is simply seen as a contract. The problem with this is that the formal requirements of the contract are usually going to take over from any innate sense of integrity and kindness. And there are just too many different requirements in any job, particularly a managers' one, to cover all eventualities in the formal parts of the contract. So the only way, I believe, that you can get away from crappy managing, towards more of a love based relationship, is get away from work as a contract too.

    And I do absolutely understand what you mean about loving but needing to get away from too. I'll admit the reason I didn't join in the festivities on Saturday night was that, no matter how much I also love the people there, by the end of the unconference, I just needed to get away by my self.

    But I don't think business leaders should feel they need to accept that their organisations are going to be the place where they don't need to love. Employees will need to find someone else to chill - Starbucks perhaps?

    Paul, yes, that's what I'm getting at. But I also think the relationships needs to extend beyond the line manager and employee too. I've never been a fan of the 'people join organisations but leave managers' thing. My experience, and engagement research, just doesn't back it up. People have got to love each other, not just be loved by their manager. It's this network of love based relationships that made HRevolution so special too.

    Frank, I absolutely did gain something valuable from this. I've done some reward consulting in the past, but it's never been my main focus, and Paul is one of the main people I feel I've learnt from in this area so it was amazing to see him and hear him talk in the flesh. And I loved the way Paul distinguished incentives from recognition - something I'll never forget.

    It was just the bit on parenting I didn't think was so great. Not that I'm particularly against the analogy myself. Just that I did't think the discussion itself (on whether parenting is an apt analogy or not) was that useful. But I'm not saying that was Paul's or anyone else's fault.

    Thanks also for sharing your concerns about whether organisations need (more) love. I must admit my skin still crawls a bit when I write that organisations do need it. Yet I still sense they do.

    Logically, I'm pursuaded by Hamel's arguments on this. Emotionally, I'm compelled by my experience over the last few days - and I'd like to see all organisations being a bit more like this too.

  5. Some people in our company say we are "like a family" and mean it with affection. I believe we are far more functional then most families and we have to be. Yet there is a lot of LOVE through out the organizations.

    I also believe that unlike other types of relationships like family or life long friends, there can't be unconditional love in the workplace. Results still matter.

    So do I love my employees? Most of them. Do I still love some that have quit or some that I have liberated on to their next career? Many of them I still love. I agree that there is a great deal of room in employment relationships for true affection and respect, i.e. love!



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