Rethinking HR: Why It's Time to Burn the Old Playbooks

Going Beyond Conventional Wisdom

I’m an HR person, but rest assured, this blog is not going to focus on how great I think our culture is at CrashPlan, or how our employees’ experiences are all rainbows and butterflies. A lot of the culture posts I’ve seen coming from companies tend to be from an individual’s point of view, which is limited. There may be hundreds, if not thousands, of other employees at that same company who may have a different experience than what the post is representing.

The reality is work (and life in general!) can be hard, and everyone is driving down their own road, hitting speed bumps at different times and at different velocities. If we’re not careful, we could get tunnel vision and miss out on the realness that is all around us. There can’t be a single playbook on culture that covers it all. So, if you see a post about a “Culture Playbook,” I suggest you move right along…

Questioning the Status Quo

In my career, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about their playbooks, as in “Jimmy has a playbook for how to do X.” But, what if Jimmy’s playbook has some fundamental flaws? Or maybe it worked for a previous company, but not for ours? When I think of the word playbook, I automatically correlate it to football. But even in the game of football, an overreliance on a set game plan can be your worst enemy. If it’s not constantly evolving to adjust to your players’ strengths and to the opponents’ weaknesses, you could lose games, fans lose interest, and ultimately, coaches could end up fired.

These playbooks can be in all different shapes or sizes and within any industry. I once had a leader tell me about how his late father, who was a doctor in the ER, used to say, “Don’t just do something, stand there.” As in, pause and think before acting. Clearly when working in the ER, you need to move quickly to save peoples’ lives. But, for those handful of seconds that he gave to the ER staff to quickly assess the situation before diving in with life-saving treatment, he may have helped to save even more lives. He was giving them time, albeit a very short period of time, to challenge their playbook.

In the business world, we need to challenge our playbooks, as it seems like each day can bring a new curveball. Things like a financial crisis, geopolitical conflict, social movements, or security breaches can drastically change the way in which consumers and businesses think about their money and how to spend it. 

The Evolution of HR Practices

All departments within an organization have their playbooks, whether or not they know they exist. Earlier in my HR career, my playbook consisted of policies and best practices. I would hide behind them. It scared me to think about changing a policy because my goal was to bring predictability in an otherwise unpredictable world. I wanted things to remain easy. 

Even in HR, set playbooks don’t work. Employees bring all sorts of different backgrounds, experiences, and skills. Their needs and desires can be drastically different from one person to the next. In HR, our ways of thinking, our policies and standards need to be challenged regularly and they need to evolve.

Think about the work that you do. What could your playbook be? What “right” approach or process are you holding onto despite changes in context?

Fostering a Trust-Based, Innovative Culture

I often say, “There are probably 5 different solutions to the problem you just posed.” I encourage people to think critically, to challenge what they know to be true, and to think about what could be. If a project is going off-track, then ask the question, “What are we solving for again?” When people take the time to actively listen, to truly understand the problem before starting to solve it, and to ask questions – sometimes at the risk of looking stupid – some pretty cool things can happen.

The reality is we are all problem solvers in the jobs that we have, no matter the level or the role. When I see that level of ownership for one’s work, not only can time and money be saved – two things that are very important to any organization – but many times, stronger relationships are built and a new level of trust emerges amongst a group of people. When you know that you are working with people who take the time to find the right solution versus the easiest solution, trust comes much more easily. Now that’s a culture that I want to be a part of!

Sparking Change in HR and Beyond

One of our Values at CrashPlan is “Fearlessly Improve.” I want to leave you with a few excerpts from the definition: “We aren’t afraid to stay curious and to try something new. Growth requires discomfort, and we trust each other enough to grow together… we never let our own egos get in the way of doing what’s right for our customers, our teammates, and CrashPlan.” If you’re not careful, the fear of unpredictability and bruised egos can stunt growth, whether it be an individual’s professional or personal growth, or the growth of a company. Push yourself outside of that proverbial comfort zone, be fearless, challenge what you know to be true…  because staying stagnant isn’t an option.

So I’ll ask again… what is your playbook? And do you need any matches? ❤️‍🔥