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Monday, May 21, 2007


Animals seem to be drifting in and out of my life these days, occupying my thoughts.

There is a morning dove that visits my backyard daily. She or he arrives alone. Eats alone. Leaves alone. Morning doves typically mate for life and travel in pairs. To see this solo dove causes me to wonder what their life is like. If the norm is to be mated, and that is what one’s internal wiring is geared towards – what kind of life does one have when there is no other half?

It’s Shel Silverstein’s ‘The Missing Piece’ in a nutshell.

Now don’t get upset. I’m not equating being single with being less than whole. I’m not equating the morning dove’s life to those of happy single humans. We are talking about a bird – whose life was pretty much limited to searching for food, shelter and struggling to survive. The possibility of bearing offspring figures in there, too. So what happens when those are the limits of your expectations of life and the other half of your team – meant to guarantee one of those expectations – is missing in action?

If you were a bird, then I suppose the joy of flying might make up for it – but once the magic of that became part of the mundane – what then?

I guess you’d end up hanging out at the same place every day or night. Kind of like a neighborhood bar.

So, I do my part to keep it interesting. I change the kind of bird seed I put out once in awhile, just for varieties sake… and I make sure it’s there, along with adequate water. My yard is fenced, so it’s relatively safe… save for the two Chihuahuas that live with me.

The dove… it just makes me wonder (and a little sad). What happened to his/her partner? Was there ever a partner? Are birds capable of missing something – even if it never was?

I’m not sure what I want to believe. But I hope the bird is happy no matter what. I certainly am doing my best to see that it is.

Then - there is a Shih Tzu in the paper that someone is trying to find a home for. The dog is nine years old and deaf. The Shih Tzu had a partner for nine years, but apparently - no more. Maybe the owner died and there isn’t anyone to take the dog.

That is what I want to believe.

I can’t imagine giving away a dog that has lived with me for nine years. It must be a great hardship – for both parties.

I hope the Shih Tzu finds a good home. They’re very nice dogs.

A very nice cat recently made my front steps its home. The cat was a black short-hair and, by my estimates, about 6 months old. I first saw the cat the previous Friday on my way home from work. Two of the neighborhood boys were chasing it. I know the boys – not on a personal level – but because of their many activities in the neighborhood – like throwing snowballs at passing cars and then ducking behind their house. Kid stuff, right? Not in my eyes. In my eyes such activities are the stuff of kids in need of supervision. I was proven right after dropping by to chat with their parents after the boys had pelted my car (two days old at the time) with sloppy gobs of snow. The youngest member of the brood (all boys) answered the door (he was maybe seven, probably six). He told me that no one else was home and that I could check if I wanted to. I declined the invitation and drove home. Those kids are one of the reason my entire yard, including the front, is fenced. They are also the reason I installed a security system and watch my dogs when they are outside.

But back to that cat.

I stopped my car and yelled (like a real ugly adult) that they had better not hurt that cat. The boys stopped and looked at me. They told me it was theirs. Sorry. I didn’t buy it. I told them that hurting animals was not a good thing to do (leads to being a serial killer). After feeling like the old crank I was, I drove on. Moments later the boys were at the back fence of one of my neighbor’s house. The cat was in the neighbor’s fenced in yard, under a vehicle. Again I came to the defense of the cat… don’t you dare hurt that cat, I screeched. They turned and looked at me dead-faced. There were three of them now. It’s our cat, one of them said. Well… our cat? But none of you are brothers (only one of the kids chasing the cats came from the house of The Brood). What’s its name, I asked. There was a slight pause. ‘Buddy’, came the answer. The boys began calling out the cat’s ‘name’. I warned the boys that if they hurt the cat I was going to call the police and walked away. Moments later I saw one of the boys climb the fence (so much for mine), and retrieve the cat from under the car. I guess I forgot to mention that trespassing was also a not a good thing.

Off they went.

The following day, ‘‘Buddy’’ began spending time in my backyard, no doubt attracted to the number of birds, squirrels and bunnies. The resident Chihuahuas were less than welcoming. But this didn’t deter ‘Buddy’ from climbing the fence, letting the dogs know that he wasn’t to be intimidated and eventually take up residence on my front steps – an area separated from the back yard by a gate – hence no dogs.

‘Buddy’ wanted in my house. He was very vocal and persistent. But I wouldn’t budge. I had a cat for 16 years some ten years ago. The one thing I learned from that experience was… I am not a cat person. But ‘Buddy’ had no way of knowing that. He was just being nice.

First, I gave him some wet dog food. Then a can of tuna (he was very skinny and very hungry). Then some water and some milk. Then a towel to curl up in. Then two towels – it was early spring and I didn’t want him to get cold. I was amazed to find that not only had he spent the night sleeping on the towels, but that he remained on my doorstep for the entire weekend.

I contemplated having an outdoor cat that lived on my front steps. It didn’t seem like a quality life. Especially for ‘Buddy’, because he was just the sweetest, nicest cat – even if he wasn’t neutered, yet.

Wiser heads prevailed. Animal control was called. Animal control refused to take ‘Buddy’ unless he was ‘contained’. They suggested I shove him in a box or trap him under a clothes basket and place a brick on it. We opted to use one of the resident Chihuahuas kennels. ‘Buddy’ walked right in and made himself at home. I closed the door. He never made another sound. He was happy and content. We waited for animal control. They transferred ‘Buddy’ into one of their side compartments and ‘Buddy’ went along willingly. He was a happy cat.

I assume he still is.

Whoever adopted him – and for the sake of own well-being I tell myself that is undoubtedly the case – they got one nice cat.

I have a friend who constantly reminds me that I can’t save the world.

Well… I just hope someone in the world saved ‘Buddy’.

After all - he’s a very nice cat.

Monday, May 07, 2007

What Happened to the Human in Human Resources?

When was the last time H.R. did anything for you?

The initial purpose of the human resources movement in Corporate America was to meld the human factor to the business factor in order to produce mutually beneficial results. It was supposed to benefit employee, employer and the company’s bottom line. A win-win-win, if you will.

But like a group of idealistic college students setting off on some grand adventure into the unknown… something went horribly wrong.

Despite claims to the contrary, H.R. has become little more than an indifferent placement agency saddled with compliance duties and an administrative hangover.

Their goal is not to fill openings with the best candidates and then to help those candidates succeed for the sake of the company, but to get those positions filled. Period. What happens once an employee is in place only becomes their concern if there is a breach of a compliance policy. And then (if you are management) only if it is a really serious breach.

I remember a time when H.R. had a face. Her name was Helen.

It was my first real job - with a major retailer on the in-store level. Helen, a very sweet, older woman, interviewed me. We hit it off right away. She had a good feel for people and the store benefited greatly from her knack of spotting bright prospects. Helen became my go-to person whenever I had issues, concerns, or problems, or when I just needed an ear or some constructive feedback. It was a large store, yet, amazingly, she knew everyone by name. She should. She hired them. In turn, employees felt comfortable going to her, confiding in her. She could be trusted to point them in the right direction – suggesting a course of action or inaction or a department to touch base with - or to tell you when you were way off base. And because we trusted her, we always took her advice.

She never dropped the ball. She was always accessible. She had a face.

None of this is true of modern H.R. Once you accept a position and attend orientation, you are pretty much on your own – and therefore, at the mercy of whomever they plugged into the role of your immediate supervisor. You see, H.R. expects managers to manage people in addition to their management of company projects. It’s that old you-fix-it-it’s-your-problem-now attitude. Unfortunately, most people placed in such positions, lack the basic tools to do so - and there is the crux of the situation. You’re stuck with whomever you’re given. For better or worse. Until resignation do you part. It’s a marriage of convenience, all right. Their convenience – not yours.

It’s sad. Because those supervisors incapable of managing people feel that it is H.R.’s responsibility to do so. H.R. on the other hand believes it to be the manager’s responsibility – that’s why they were hired. So, in the end, it begs the question:

What’s become of the human in human resources?

Should you have a problem with management (or lack, thereof), H.R. will tell you to deal with it directly. In other words, don’t look to them for help – don’t involve them – don’t even look in their direction. They will only intervene if an egregious violation of a written policy comes to light – like if your manager starts hitting you and leaving bruises. Keep in mind that H.R. doesn’t acknowledge spiritual or emotional bruises and that the more senior the management level, the more egregious the violation must be to warrant intervention. They’re consistent that way.

Sure. You can go to them and complain about things, but why waste your time, energy or breath? H.R. will begin to view you as the problem. You will be branded as ‘a problem’ – which means eventually you’ll need to go away. That’s kind of sad – and a waste of potential talent. Exactly when did employees with concerns and issues become ‘problems’? When did your development as a valued company employee come to rest solely on your own shoulders? Where did the win-win-win philosophy of having an H.R. department become an us against them kind of situation?

It feels like that. Frequently. Us versus Them.

That’s why I miss Helen. Helen listened. She was approachable. She had a face. She had common sense. And she was empowered to use it.

H.R. is there to serve the greater good. Which I think, at one time, included everyone employed by a company and the company goals. Now that greater good is something called ‘brand identity’ – which, I might point out, is a thing – and not human at all. H.R. is there to protect that brand identity. If you want to play on their playground with their equipment, you better be prepared to be branded. Even if it means being branded a problem.

And this branding? It’s not a question of choice. You will become what they say you are – be it problem or success. No matter what you bring to the table, what you heard in the myriad of interviews you participated in (my last position? nine separate interviews!), no matter what you thought you were getting yourself into – you will succumb or be banished. You will comply or be denied.

That’s why companies like Target Corporation and Walmart are represented by symbols (again, a thing, not human). Basically, once you come on board – that is what you must become – be it an omnipresent, stoic red and white bulls-eye or a big generic smiley face. To be anything else is heresy.

So could one to conclude that H.R. is there to take/keep the human aspect (individuality, originality, common sense, opinions) out of the company?

Everyone with a smidgeon of personal integrity (i.e. a personality, a sense of self, a world view based on reality, common sense, etc.) that I have spoken with in Corporate America has a horror story involving H.R. It would seem that those who lack such integrity (the bigoted, the cruel, the small-minded, the insecure – those with chips on their shoulders) use H.R. as a tool of evil so that they can remain in power. This explains a lot about the state of corporate America and the state of H.R. You see, H.R. likes it when people who lack integrity operate in that manner. That way, H.R. doesn’t have to be bothered with ethical dilemmas – like reassessing someone they put in a position of power or potentially making a judgment call based on common sense and not hearsay – or (gasp) actually investigating a situation before jumping to a conclusion. As long as all the rubber stamps are in the right places, then it’s right by H.R. After all… that is what they hired that manager to do - to keep people (the human element) away from H.R.

In my experience, most H.R. departments do even a worse job as administrators (think COBRA, confidentiality, etc.) than they do as placement and compliance entities. Is that possible? Yes.

Keep in mind - they hired those people, too.

There’s more to this little essay… a lot of back story, actually. But I’m not inclined to share the details. Mainly because I am still processing the experience – yes, it’s been that head-shakingly unbelievable. But one final thought…

Helen? Wherever you are? Please come back. Corporate America needs you.