10 Reasons HR Professionals should go to Summer Camp

Campfire Every June for the past 4 years, I’ve gone off to Summer Camp. It’s a week I look forward to all year. The camp is hosted by TDn2K (Transforming Data into Knowledge), which provides workforce, sales, and social data analysis and reporting for the restaurant industry. Originated to focus on ever-blurring line between consumer and employment brands, Summer Brand Camp brings together service sector leaders from HR, Marketing, and Operations to listen to thought leaders and innovators, while sharing our own ideas as well. Here are the top ten reasons this HR leader would never miss Summer Brand Camp:

  • 10. It’s not your typical HR conference. In fact, it’s not like any conference you’ve ever attended – that’s why we call it “camp”.
  • 9. It renews my faith in capitalism. Every year I get to hear from innovative, passionate leaders about how they are changing the face of business by creating connected, socially conscious workplaces focused on culture and customer experience.
  • 8. The snacks. A lot of people really look forward to the S’mores. Since I’ve been eating vegan, I get all excited about the Hail Merry Snacks. They donate their amazingly delicious vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free, raw snack products. Don’t rat me out, but I stuff my travel bag full of them! This year’s favorite was the sea-salt caramel macaroon.
  • 7. The good deeds. We don’t just talk about social consciousness, we actually get out and volunteer. This year’s activity was at a Salvation Army location. I was so moved when Celton Hayden, president of CeCe’s Coffee House, shared that he grew up in that neighborhood and hung out at that rec center. It’s truly a small world!
  • 6. The convergence. In order to survive, much less succeed, HR professionals have got to embrace their role in building brand. To do that, we must stay current with changing relationships between marketing, Ops, and HR. We need to know as much about branding as we do about talent management. Speakers such as Jonathan Wolske (Zappos), Scott Stratten (Un-Marketing), and Dr. Bob Deutsch (Brain Sells) taught me things I would definitely never learn at a SHRM conference.
  • 5. The talent show. Can’t describe it – you’ve just got to be there! Who knew these biz stars are also rock stars? Leave your corporate image at the door…..
  • 4. The Worklabs. So many great choices, so little time! This year I attended “Can You Win the Culture Wars?” where Chris Ebbeler (Brinker) and Jason Lauritsen (Best Places to Work Quantum Workplace) taught us how to use storytelling to communicate our brands inside and outside the business.
  • 3. I don’t want to be left behind. Summer Camp helps me stay on the leading edge of workplace and branding innovation. Experience is a good thing, but the world is changing so fast that much of my HR “background” is becoming irrelevant.
  • 2. The tribe. At Summer Camp, I’ve not only networked, I’ve made friends for life. The casual atmosphere and small size means that everyone feels welcome and included. My tribe is my support and inspiration year-round as I work to bring change to my clients. And drumroll….
  • 1. I want to make a difference. After years in the executive suite, I know for certain that success can’t be measured in terms of titles and money. I believe that workplaces can be places of growth and fulfillment and that businesses can help solve social problems. That’s what Summer Camp is all about.

Are you a change agent? Want to leave your company and your planet better than you found it? Then Summer Brand Camp is the place to be.

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How do well-meaning companies become soul-sucking bastions of evil?

Example of work text message; disengaged employees, workplace from hellIf you’ve never experienced a dysfunctional, distrustful, Darwinian nightmare of a workplace, count yourself lucky. If you have, you understand the lasting impact of these environments on confidence and self-worth, not to mention physical and emotional health.

I’m pretty sure no one ever started a business with the goal of becoming a corporate prison, but sadly, a great many end up that way. How does it happen?

#1 Cognitive Dissonance

Psychologist Leon Festinger proposed this theory: We humans have an inner need for our beliefs and behaviors to be consistent. When they aren’t this creates disharmony that has a powerful impact on behavior and actions. People become cynical and distrustful.

Organizations often create lofty statements of purpose and lists of core values, then fail to consistently use these as filters for decision-making. Or, leaders rationalize decisions without anticipating the disconnect perceived by employees. I once worked with an organization that actually farmed out the creation of its “Values” to a consultancy which then delivered a product based solely on input from the executive team. Fortunately, this version wasn’t rolled out. We convinced leadership to adopt a participative process engaging grass-roots peer leaders. What we got was unfiltered feedback about the tacit or perceived values of the company, and consensus about “aspirational” values. In a future post, I will discuss “dialogue-based leadership” and how it can help to reduce cognitive dissonance in organizations.

#2 Bureaucracy and Territorialism

Have you ever been in a job interview where you were questioned in detail about the number of reports and size of your budget in a previous role? It’s a completely outmoded way of gauging the size of a person’s contribution, but one that’s common in many, mostly larger, companies. Hmm – shouldn’t you be asking what I was able to accomplish with scarce resources and a limited budget?”

Tying titles, levels, and rewards to size of team and budget leads to bad behavior. Management has no incentive to flatten structure and empower employees. Even worse, I’ve seen Machiavellian maneuvering during budget creation and blatant land grabs by departments or business units in competition for resources.

The lack of trust engendered by territorialism is deadly to culture. Favored departments become predators of talent and resources while others become prey. Leaders focus on defending turf vs. collaboration. The little people get eaten.

#3 Hanging onto Bad Bosses

Of all the factors that can make a workplace hell, the most damaging (and most obvious) is leadership’s tolerance of bad bosses. A good friend told me that when he took over as CHRO for a large private company, he became a hero by focusing on only two things: filling open positions quickly with high quality talent, and zero tolerance for “bad bosses.” A few years later, he was promoted to president.

We’ve all had bad bosses and know the misery they create through poor communication, over- or under-managing, and lack of people skills. Many hiring/promotion processes result in advancement of the person who was best at the work done in the department, not the best at leading people who do that work. A well-known R&D organization realized that their best scientists were often not the best managers of other scientists. They began creating a group of non-scientist leaders whose primary focus was supporting innovation and removing roadblocks, and who were evaluated on the success and retention of their scientists. In contrast, I’ve seen organizations hang onto bad bosses because they hit their budget targets, even as they continually bleed talent.

In short, the difference between a great workplace and a miserable hell-hole can be as simple as shifting how we measure and on what we base our decisions.


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Welcome to a Corporate Soul

“Just ask yourself: if you were to walk into any corporation, would you find faces brimming over with deep fulfillment and authentic delight—or stonily asking themselves, “If it wasn’t for the accursed paycheck, would I really imprison myself in this dungeon of the human soul?””
Umair Haque, US economist and author

After spending decades in corporations large and small, I find myself a bit battered, yet surprisingly hopeful about the possibility of workplaces where the human spirit flourishes and possibility is alive and well. I know from experience that for every corporate hellhole, there is a business where people feel part of a community whose purpose aligns with their own talents and passions. But most organizations fall somewhere in the middle – good intentions yielding questionable results.

So, I think I have some stories to share. But more importantly, I hope to start a dialogue with other like-minded folk about the potential of capitalism as a force for good in the world. And I don’t just mean corporate philanthropy, although that’s certainly a great thing. I mean workplaces where people thrive personally and professionally, where they can point to tangible evidence that they are valued.

This isn’t all about holding hands and singing Kumbaya. This is about hard-headed decision-making, people practices that actually work, and how to not be evil. Because most organizations invest time and money in crafting statements about their mission and purpose. What they lack is a “structure for fulfillment” – a set of policies, practices, and resources that enable people to connect those statements with their everyday reality.
I’ll leave you with some words from a great man that are just as true now as they were then:

“The greatest tragedy in America is not the destruction of our natural resources, though that tragedy is great. The truly great tragedy is the destruction of our human resources by our failure to fully utilize our abilities, which means that most men and women go to their graves with their music still in them.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes (American Physician, Poet, Writer, and Harvard Professor, 1809-1894)

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