This past weekend, my wife and I ventured to Austin, Texas. I was fortunate to be part of the Austin SHRM Conference. We added some extra time so we could explore the city. We’re trying to do this now whenever we get the chance.
Austin has a VERY cool vibe and it felt like my kind of town. There was art and music everywhere throughout the city. Murals adorned countless buildings with styles ranging from traditional to modern to abstract. The music flowed freely through the air and it changed with every step you took. You heard folk, rock, country and bluegrass all intertwining to make a symphony of eclectic sounds that provided a soundtrack as you toured the neighborhoods.
As we wandered into our first small, local shop a coaster instantly caught my eye and I picked it up without hesitation. It wasn’t only the tie-dye pattern which would have been enough. The message resonated the moment I read it. It was an instant purchase.
You see, one of Austin’s slogans as a city is “Keep Austin Weird.” It is everywhere you look. I found out from a friend who is a resident that the slogan came about as local shops were trying to keep big box stores from coming in to crimp the cool Austin culture as well as put them under. They won out and the slogan stuck.
You see, I feel this reminder helps with how you can practice HR. We often state that we want people to bring their whole selves to work . . . but we don’t really mean it. That may sound harsh, but if you step back and review the majority of actions that HR takes, it’s not built to encourage individuality. If someone was trying to “keep things weird,” we’d take steps to get them back into the fold. We view those who express themselves openly as someone we have to “deal with.”
This has to stop. We need to understand that every person is wonderfully different and unique. They have their weird already wired in. It’s not something they create, it’s how they live. Weird doesn’t mean abhorrent behavior. We’ve made this assumption for far too long and it’s never been right. HR spends too much time trying to confine, control and conform, and it’s exhausting.
I’d rather learn how each employee I work with is unique. I’d rather see how I could encourage them to amplify their strengths and see how their approach and perspectives bring new angles to the work we have in front of us. I’d also love to see HR embrace its weirdness to breathe life, empathy, grace and a people-first approach in all we do. We have the chance to carry this mantra forward and no longer settle into the traditional approaches which are worn out.
The coaster is going to take its rightful place on my desk at work so there is always a visible reminder in front of me. This week see what YOU can do to “keep it weird” !!