Sounds as if another ubiquitous #CultureChat has taken place at SXSW replete with recycled lines about what culture is to the experts. Could they all be wrong?
While it’s relatively easy in anthropological terms to talk about how culture is passed on from generation to generation (or management team to management team, employee to employee, customer to customer) via things like storytelling or analysis of clay pot remnants, it’s the initial description of “What is culture?” that vexes almost everyone in HR and talent functions.
Almost everyone speaks of their culture in terms of its uniqueness, how special it is, how different it is from all others – using the same words as everyone else.
Well isn’t that special?
When groups of experts gather ’round to discuss the many shades of culture by using the same language how much learning actually takes place?
I think the reason most use the “standard culture word library” is because accurately describing culture is really, really difficult. It’s this “lapse” in analysis and erudition that leads to the typical “I’ll know it when I see it” action taken during recruiting.
“I’ll know it when I see it but I can’t really describe it.”
How frightening is this? Can you fathom how many great people and performers we’re tossing to the side – and yet at the same time claiming to others that we’re experts at recruiting?
I liken it to the saying, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”; in reality, most everyone inside a company either experiences the culture of the company second hand or takes the word of someone else.
Does the tree make a sound? Of course it must. Is our culture special? Of course it is.
It has to be.
How many in recruiting – especially those newer to it – actually spend significant time inside the groups being supported, with enough time spent observing and collecting data like the great anthropologists? Yes, it’s a rhetorical question.
Instead, most all recruiters simply take the word of their charismatic leader/founder, and/or authentic marketing expert, and/or HR branding guru. Think about how long anthropologists study the remnants of a people who long ago perished before they begin to understand the culture. Yet here in HR and recruiting we take the word of an entrepreneur whose company has been in existence 12 to 18 months?
That’s one of the core problems in recruiting – the forest we think we see through the trees isn’t what we’re describing with our words nor actions. If this isn’t what’s real then I posit that the profession is comprised of lemmings and sheep who need to have their collective eyes and ears examined.
As harsh as the last sentence is, it it spotlights that we’re darn near in the middle of a downward spiraling vortex that’s sucking our collective recruiting reputations down the drain then I’ll deal with the fallout. It’s time to plug the sink, hire better plumbers, fix the pipes, and enjoy the outcome.
Yes, the falling tree in the forest does make a sound and it’s time to prove it.
Jim Goetz, a partner at Sequoia Capital who recently joined Yik Yak’s board, said the app’s history of misuse was a concern when his firm considered investing in the company. But he said he was confident that Mr. Droll and Mr. Buffington were committed to ensuring more positive interactions on Yik Yak, and that over time, the constructive voices would overwhelm the destructive ones.
Jim, what about Yik-Yak’s history as a platform for abuse and cyberbullying didn’t scare you away? Was it the viral takeoff signaling a treasure trove of marketing targets and an IPO payday? What about Yik-Yak isn’t causing you buyer’s remorse? Is it how the app is now downvoting mentions of competitors?
Jim, they can’t be downvoting competitors because Mr. Buffington claims that Yik-Yak is “delivering organic and unfiltered truths, which cannot be said for other news mediums.”
Jim, what about the phrase “unfiltered truth” means downvoting competitors? I must not be very smart to understand this.
For certain, anonymity apps can be used by citizens living in oppressed nations but heck, these countries are already doing a fine job of blocking access. But if you look at where Yik-Yak’s growth takes place – on college campuses, in high schools, the only oppression that takes place are the targets of the anonymous vitriol.
Jim, a platform that by its very architecture and mission offers an easy way to spew this vitriol with impunity. Please Jim, tell me what is so empowering about this – even if it used by a relatively small number of users? Please Jim, tell me how an app like this can help to bolster the self-esteem of young people whose psyche has already taken beatings from members of society who claim that success can only measured by a pair of three-letter acronyms, GPA and IPO?
Jim, social goodness can’t take place without honesty yet the core concept of Yik-Yak – anonymity – veils honesty.
Jim, what are we going to do?
A guilty pleasure used to be a big piece of chocolate cake; in this social media era it seems that proving one’s superiority has eclipsed food as the new dopamine spritz.
Jim, in case you missed this, Iggy Azalea clearly demonstrates she understands elements of human behavior better than you when she wrote that,
Blue ribbons and IPOs? What about social goodness?
I’ve been accused a few times of being a cynic which is understandable if you simply read my words as words without bothering to ask what influenced a Tweet, a Comment, or a Blog Post. However, those who do ask for the back story will likely conclude that I am, in fact, a hopeless romantic who believes in honesty, goodness, grace, and purpose.
“Who’s influenced you the most in your life?” “My principal, Ms. Lopez.” “How has she influenced you?” “When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”
I know the power of an educator to be true because it’s been a single teacher who taught me more about myself – I hear her voice and words every day – than anyone before, and likely more than anyone ever will.
It’s not technology that disrupts, it’s people. One at a time…
Below is the audio and text of Dr. King’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon given on February 4, 1968; it was the last sermon he gave. Most scholars agree that he was eulogizing himself for he saw the cultural acrimony caused by the confluence of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war – and his own impending assassination.
I’ve read this sermon countless times and I still I cannot read it without tears welling in my eyes for knowing how far we’ve come but how far we truly have to go, for what was gained and for what is still being lost. At the core of Dr. King’s teaching was not black or white but of taking down the barriers that prevents every person from contributing to the growth of the human race. Call it Pollyannish if you’re a cynic but life isn’t all about accumulation of wealth and wearable technology.
We’ve managed to place a premium of power and influence on the shoulders of those who have disrupted taxis, hotels, and social voyeurism. We regale those whose IPOs have made billionaires out of millionaires; we genuflect at the portfolios of serial entrepreneurs; we view life in terms of skinny jeans, red-soled shoes, and hoodies.
Where do these points of view stand in the shadow of a man whose vision helped people see people for who they are?
The man and his movement has been the most disruptive social force I’ve experienced in my lifetime. I hope you both listen to the audio and read the words.
And tomorrow – take a moment to reflect on the person in the mirror.
This morning I would like to use as a subject from which to preach: “The Drum Major Instinct.” “The Drum Major Instinct.” And our text for the morning is taken from a very familiar passage in the tenth chapter as recorded by Saint Mark. Beginning with the thirty-fifth verse of that chapter, we read these words: “And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came unto him saying, ‘Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.’ And he said unto them, ‘What would ye that I should do for you?’ And they said unto him, ‘Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.’ But Jesus said unto them, ‘Ye know not what ye ask: Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ And they said unto him, ‘We can.’ And Jesus said unto them, ‘Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of, and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.’” And then Jesus goes on toward the end of that passage to say, “But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your servant: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”
The setting is clear. James and John are making a specific request of the master. They had dreamed, as most of the Hebrews dreamed, of a coming king of Israel who would set Jerusalem free and establish his kingdom on Mount Zion, and in righteousness rule the world. And they thought of Jesus as this kind of king. And they were thinking of that day when Jesus would reign supreme as this new king of Israel. And they were saying, “Now when you establish your kingdom, let one of us sit on the right hand and the other on the left hand of your throne.”
Now very quickly, we would automatically condemn James and John, and we would say they were selfish. Why would they make such a selfish request? But before we condemn them too quickly, let us look calmly and honestly at ourselves, and we will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance. That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first. Of course, the other disciples got mad with James and John, and you could understand why, but we must understand that we have some of the same James and John qualities. And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It’s a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.
And so before we condemn them, let us see that we all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, contends that this is the dominant impulse. Sigmund Freud used to contend that sex was the dominant impulse, and Adler came with a new argument saying that this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.
And you know, we begin early to ask life to put us first. Our first cry as a baby was a bid for attention. And all through childhood the drum major impulse or instinct is a major obsession. Children ask life to grant them first place. They are a little bundle of ego. And they have innately the drum major impulse or the drum major instinct.
Now in adult life, we still have it, and we really never get by it. We like to do something good. And you know, we like to be praised for it. Now if you don’t believe that, you just go on living life, and you will discover very soon that you like to be praised. Everybody likes it, as a matter of fact. And somehow this warm glow we feel when we are praised or when our name is in print is something of the vitamin A to our ego. Nobody is unhappy when they are praised, even if they know they don’t deserve it and even if they don’t believe it. The only unhappy people about praise is when that praise is going too much toward somebody else. (That’s right) But everybody likes to be praised because of this real drum major instinct.
Now the presence of the drum major instinct is why so many people are “joiners.” You know, there are some people who just join everything. And it’s really a quest for attention and recognition and importance. And they get names that give them that impression. So you get your groups, and they become the “Grand Patron,” and the little fellow who is henpecked at home needs a chance to be the “Most Worthy of the Most Worthy” of something. It is the drum major impulse and longing that runs the gamut of human life. And so we see it everywhere, this quest for recognition. And we join things, overjoin really, that we think that we will find that recognition in.
Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. (Make it plain) In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. (Yes) That’s the way the advertisers do it.
I got a letter the other day, and it was a new magazine coming out. And it opened up, “Dear Dr. King: As you know, you are on many mailing lists. And you are categorized as highly intelligent, progressive, a lover of the arts and the sciences, and I know you will want to read what I have to say.” Of course I did. After you said all of that and explained me so exactly, of course I wanted to read it. [laughter]
But very seriously, it goes through life; the drum major instinct is real. (Yes) And you know what else it causes to happen? It often causes us to live above our means. (Make it plain) It’s nothing but the drum major instinct. Do you ever see people buy cars that they can’t even begin to buy in terms of their income? (Amen) [laughter] You’ve seen people riding around in Cadillacs and Chryslers who don’t earn enough to have a good T-Model Ford. (Make it plain) But it feeds a repressed ego.
You know, economists tell us that your automobile should not cost more than half of your annual income. So if you make an income of five thousand dollars, your car shouldn’t cost more than about twenty-five hundred. That’s just good economics. And if it’s a family of two, and both members of the family make ten thousand dollars, they would have to make out with one car. That would be good economics, although it’s often inconvenient. But so often, haven’t you seen people making five thousand dollars a year and driving a car that costs six thousand? And they wonder why their ends never meet. [laughter] That’s a fact.
Now the economists also say that your house shouldn’t cost—if you’re buying a house, it shouldn’t cost more than twice your income. That’s based on the economy and how you would make ends meet. So, if you have an income of five thousand dollars, it’s kind of difficult in this society. But say it’s a family with an income of ten thousand dollars, the house shouldn’t cost much more than twenty thousand. Well, I’ve seen folk making ten thousand dollars, living in a forty- and fifty-thousand-dollar house. And you know they just barely make it. They get a check every month somewhere, and they owe all of that out before it comes in. Never have anything to put away for rainy days.
But now the problem is, it is the drum major instinct. And you know, you see people over and over again with the drum major instinct taking them over. And they just live their lives trying to outdo the Joneses. (Amen) They got to get this coat because this particular coat is a little better and a little better-looking than Mary’s coat. And I got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car. (Amen) I know a man who used to live in a thirty-five-thousand-dollar house. And other people started building thirty-five-thousand-dollar houses, so he built a seventy-five-thousand-dollar house. And then somebody else built a seventy-five-thousand-dollar house, and he built a hundred-thousand-dollar house. And I don’t know where he’s going to end up if he’s going to live his life trying to keep up with the Joneses.
There comes a time that the drum major instinct can become destructive. (Make it plain) And that’s where I want to move now. I want to move to the point of saying that if this instinct is not harnessed, it becomes a very dangerous, pernicious instinct. For instance, if it isn’t harnessed, it causes one’s personality to become distorted. I guess that’s the most damaging aspect of it: what it does to the personality. If it isn’t harnessed, you will end up day in and day out trying to deal with your ego problem by boasting. Have you ever heard people that—you know, and I’m sure you’ve met them—that really become sickening because they just sit up all the time talking about themselves. (Amen) And they just boast and boast and boast, and that’s the person who has not harnessed the drum major instinct.
And then it does other things to the personality. It causes you to lie about who you know sometimes. (Amen, Make it plain) There are some people who are influence peddlers. And in their attempt to deal with the drum major instinct, they have to try to identify with the so-called big-name people. (Yeah, Make it plain) And if you’re not careful, they will make you think they know somebody that they don’t really know. (Amen) They know them well, they sip tea with them, and they this-and-that. That happens to people.
And the other thing is that it causes one to engage ultimately in activities that are merely used to get attention. Criminologists tell us that some people are driven to crime because of this drum major instinct. They don’t feel that they are getting enough attention through the normal channels of social behavior, and so they turn to anti-social behavior in order to get attention, in order to feel important. (Yeah) And so they get that gun, and before they know it they robbed a bank in a quest for recognition, in a quest for importance.
And then the final great tragedy of the distorted personality is the fact that when one fails to harness this instinct, (Glory to God) he ends up trying to push others down in order to push himself up. (Amen) And whenever you do that, you engage in some of the most vicious activities. You will spread evil, vicious, lying gossip on people, because you are trying to pull them down in order to push yourself up. (Make it plain) And the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct.
Now the other problem is, when you don’t harness the drum major instinct—this uncontrolled aspect of it—is that it leads to snobbish exclusivism. It leads to snobbish exclusivism. (Make it plain) And you know, this is the danger of social clubs and fraternities—I’m in a fraternity; I’m in two or three—for sororities and all of these, I’m not talking against them. I’m saying it’s the danger. The danger is that they can become forces of classism and exclusivism where somehow you get a degree of satisfaction because you are in something exclusive. And that’s fulfilling something, you know—that I’m in this fraternity, and it’s the best fraternity in the world, and everybody can’t get in this fraternity. So it ends up, you know, a very exclusive kind of thing.
And you know, that can happen with the church; I know churches get in that bind sometimes. (Amen, Make it plain) I’ve been to churches, you know, and they say, “We have so many doctors, and so many school teachers, and so many lawyers, and so many businessmen in our church.” And that’s fine, because doctors need to go to church, and lawyers, and businessmen, teachers—they ought to be in church. But they say that—even the preacher sometimes will go all through that—they say that as if the other people don’t count. (Amen)
And the church is the one place where a doctor ought to forget that he’s a doctor. The church is the one place where a Ph.D. ought to forget that he’s a Ph.D. (Yes) The church is the one place that the school teacher ought to forget the degree she has behind her name. The church is the one place where the lawyer ought to forget that he’s a lawyer. And any church that violates the “whosoever will, let him come” doctrine is a dead, cold church, (Yes) and nothing but a little social club with a thin veneer of religiosity.
When the church is true to its nature, (Whoo) it says, “Whosoever will, let him come.” (Yes) And it does not supposed to satisfy the perverted uses of the drum major instinct. It’s the one place where everybody should be the same, standing before a common master and savior. (Yes, sir) And a recognition grows out of this—that all men are brothers because they are children (Yes) of a common father.
The drum major instinct can lead to exclusivism in one’s thinking and can lead one to feel that because he has some training, he’s a little better than that person who doesn’t have it. Or because he has some economic security, that he’s a little better than that person who doesn’t have it. And that’s the uncontrolled, perverted use of the drum major instinct.
Now the other thing is, that it leads to tragic—and we’ve seen it happen so often—tragic race prejudice. Many who have written about this problem—Lillian Smith used to say it beautifully in some of her books. And she would say it to the point of getting men and women to see the source of the problem. Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior. A need that some people have to feel that they are first, and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first. (Make it plain, today, ‘cause I’m against it, so help me God) And they have said over and over again in ways that we see with our own eyes. In fact, not too long ago, a man down in Mississippi said that God was a charter member of the White Citizens Council. And so God being the charter member means that everybody who’s in that has a kind of divinity, a kind of superiority. And think of what has happened in history as a result of this perverted use of the drum major instinct. It has led to the most tragic prejudice, the most tragic expressions of man’s inhumanity to man.
The other day I was saying, I always try to do a little converting when I’m in jail. And when we were in jail in Birmingham the other day, the white wardens and all enjoyed coming around the cell to talk about the race problem. And they were showing us where we were so wrong demonstrating. And they were showing us where segregation was so right. And they were showing us where intermarriage was so wrong. So I would get to preaching, and we would get to talking—calmly, because they wanted to talk about it. And then we got down one day to the point—that was the second or third day—to talk about where they lived, and how much they were earning. And when those brothers told me what they were earning, I said, “Now, you know what? You ought to be marching with us. [laughter] You’re just as poor as Negroes.” And I said, “You are put in the position of supporting your oppressor, because through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see that the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people. (Yes) And all you are living on is the satisfaction of your skin being white, and the drum major instinct of thinking that you are somebody big because you are white. And you’re so poor you can’t send your children to school. You ought to be out here marching with every one of us every time we have a march.”
Now that’s a fact. That the poor white has been put into this position, where through blindness and prejudice, (Make it plain) he is forced to support his oppressors. And the only thing he has going for him is the false feeling that he’s superior because his skin is white—and can’t hardly eat and make his ends meet week in and week out. (Amen)
And not only does this thing go into the racial struggle, it goes into the struggle between nations. And I would submit to you this morning that what is wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy. And if something doesn’t happen to stop this trend, I’m sorely afraid that we won’t be here to talk about Jesus Christ and about God and about brotherhood too many more years. (Yeah) If somebody doesn’t bring an end to this suicidal thrust that we see in the world today, none of us are going to be around, because somebody’s going to make the mistake through our senseless blunderings of dropping a nuclear bomb somewhere. And then another one is going to drop. And don’t let anybody fool you, this can happen within a matter of seconds. (Amen) They have twenty-megaton bombs in Russia right now that can destroy a city as big as New York in three seconds, with everybody wiped away, and every building. And we can do the same thing to Russia and China.
But this is why we are drifting. And we are drifting there because nations are caught up with the drum major instinct. “I must be first.” “I must be supreme.” “Our nation must rule the world.” (Preach it) And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken.
God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. (Preach it, preach it) God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.
But God has a way of even putting nations in their place. (Amen) The God that I worship has a way of saying, “Don’t play with me.” (Yes) He has a way of saying, as the God of the Old Testament used to say to the Hebrews, “Don’t play with me, Israel. Don’t play with me, Babylon. (Yes) Be still and know that I’m God. And if you don’t stop your reckless course, I’ll rise up and break the backbone of your power.” (Yes) And that can happen to America. (Yes) Every now and then I go back and read Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And when I come and look at America, I say to myself, the parallels are frightening. And we have perverted the drum major instinct.
But let me rush on to my conclusion, because I want you to see what Jesus was really saying. What was the answer that Jesus gave these men? It’s very interesting. One would have thought that Jesus would have condemned them. One would have thought that Jesus would have said, “You are out of your place. You are selfish. Why would you raise such a question?”
But that isn’t what Jesus did; he did something altogether different. He said in substance, “Oh, I see, you want to be first. You want to be great. You want to be important. You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be. If you’re going to be my disciple, you must be.” But he reordered priorities. And he said, “Yes, don’t give up this instinct. It’s a good instinct if you use it right. (Yes) It’s a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. (Amen) I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do.”
And he transformed the situation by giving a new definition of greatness. And you know how he said it? He said, “Now brethren, I can’t give you greatness. And really, I can’t make you first.” This is what Jesus said to James and John. “You must earn it. True greatness comes not by favoritism, but by fitness. And the right hand and the left are not mine to give, they belong to those who are prepared.” (Amen)
And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Amen) That’s a new definition of greatness.
And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, (Everybody) because everybody can serve. (Amen) You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. (All right) You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. (Amen) You only need a heart full of grace, (Yes, sir, Amen) a soul generated by love. (Yes) And you can be that servant.
I know a man—and I just want to talk about him a minute, and maybe you will discover who I’m talking about as I go down the way (Yeah) because he was a great one. And he just went about serving. He was born in an obscure village, (Yes, sir) the child of a poor peasant woman. And then he grew up in still another obscure village, where he worked as a carpenter until he was thirty years old. (Amen) Then for three years, he just got on his feet, and he was an itinerant preacher. And he went about doing some things. He didn’t have much. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. (Yes) He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never went two hundred miles from where he was born. He did none of the usual things that the world would associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.
He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. They called him a rabble-rouser. They called him a troublemaker. They said he was an agitator. (Glory to God) He practiced civil disobedience; he broke injunctions. And so he was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. And the irony of it all is that his friends turned him over to them. (Amen) One of his closest friends denied him. Another of his friends turned him over to his enemies. And while he was dying, the people who killed him gambled for his clothing, the only possession that he had in the world. (Lord help him) When he was dead he was buried in a borrowed tomb, through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today he stands as the most influential figure that ever entered human history. All of the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned put together (Yes) have not affected the life of man on this earth (Amen) as much as that one solitary life. His name may be a familiar one. (Jesus) But today I can hear them talking about him. Every now and then somebody says, “He’s King of Kings.” (Yes) And again I can hear somebody saying, “He’s Lord of Lords.” Somewhere else I can hear somebody saying, “In Christ there is no East nor West.” (Yes) And then they go on and talk about, “In Him there’s no North and South, but one great Fellowship of Love throughout the whole wide world.” He didn’t have anything. (Amen) He just went around serving and doing good.
This morning, you can be on his right hand and his left hand if you serve. (Amen) It’s the only way in.
Every now and then I guess we all think realistically (Yes, sir) about that day when we will be victimized with what is life’s final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don’t think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, “What is it that I would want said?” And I leave the word to you this morning.
If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)
I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,
If I can spread the message as the master taught,
Then my living will not be in vain.
Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, (Yes) not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.
So be proud that people call you a disruptor but weep knowing you haven’t paid the price to be called a Drum Major. Yet.
If you haven’t recognized the surge of conversations and bickering about race lately you have either been ignoring it or have living under a rock. For most people, having a discussion about race relations is the equivalent to standing in a public place with twenty people where there is a remarkable stench, but no one wants to be the one to say aloud that the room stinks. Talking about race stinks, but it has to be done.
Despite the front-page awareness brought by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and Eric Gardner in Staten Island, NY, there’s one place that has yet to directly embrace the discussion.
For all the sensitivity training mandated by corporate Human Resources with their PowerPoint decks and contrived “can’t we all just get along” group exercises, practically all diversity and inclusion sessions can be boiled down to lyrical statements such as these from the Diversity and Inclusion in the VA Workforce presentation from Department of Veterans Affairs:
Diversity is the mosaic of people who bring a variety of backgrounds, styles, perspectives, values and beliefs as assets to the groups and organizations with which they interact
The “melting pot” theory of American society has evolved, instead consider a vegetable soup metaphor
Members of various cultural groups may not want to be assimilated, they want their tastes, looks and texture to remain whole.
These present a sanitized and easy-to-deliver message that diversity and inclusion can be learned by all employees in a few hours.
Yet they never mention the phrase, Race Relations.
In some instances, participants are even asked to shout out words and phrases that further marginalize the recipients, like:
Jews are great with money; Blacks are great at sports.
Feel better now? Great, now get back to work and make some money you silly goose…
The bigger question is where has all of our diversity and inclusion training gotten us? As HR people, have we had the truly difficult conversations surrounding race or have we just chosen to do what’s comfortable for everyone involved – the 50% solution?
I can comfortably say we have done the latter. We’d much rather have employees overhear the whispers in cubicles or the clandestine rumblings about race at the water cooler than to have an open and honest discussion in the context of our corporate mission and values.
When we speak about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, we usually give it the backdrop of tolerance. We can’t make people love one another but is tolerance of one another enough? Our sentiment is that just as parents teach their kids about racism so does a company “teach” its employees how to treat those from other races within the company.
However, you can’t have bigots “protectively” draped in the veil of Human Resources prancing around your organization. It doesn’t work to insulate racially insensitive behavior because as we are witnessing, racism always manages to rear its ugly head. Take Sony Pictures: None of those fools saw a hacking of their emails coming and so they happily cracked racial jokes about the President of the United States along with bashing other notable artists. Where was HR?
It will be interesting to see if and how their HR department deals with the racial joking in the context of any policies they have on the books. The likely scenario will be that the public will play the role of HR and “force” Amy Pascal to resign because the public remedy of chopping off the head of the stinking fish – at the expense of fixing the deeper reason for the stench – carries more weight to company “leadership” than addressing the issue as a violation of a company policy which of course is predicated on the presence of an actual company policy that deals with racially charged actions.
Working in HR, we have found out that policies stating that there is “Zero Tolerance” for discrimination and/or racist discussion in the workplace are bull. While most companies have them to cover their behinds, HR issues such as internal inequity run rampant with minorities making disproportionately less money than their white counterparts (want more? search for “do minorities earn less”). Zero Tolerance policies notwithstanding, employees in general are free to spew their racial epithets company-wide, because they can without any significant repercussions. Heck, kindergarten children who point “finger guns” at other classmates are suspended more frequently than employees sending around racially-insensitive emails!
We have a major issue in the US around race and it has been fermenting in business and the workforce for a long time. You can thank race relations for your EEO-1 reports, for your Affirmative Action Plans, and for all the data you have to collect to prove your applicant pools have adequate ethnic and racial representation.
The world is laughing at us.
As our colleague and friend, Ron Thomas recently said in his article “Breathe Deep” about the world’s view of business and HR: “Every race imaginable, every language imaginable and everyone is too busy with their lives to get caught up in this racial mindset. We are too busy doing business to get caught up in this US kind of thing.” His point-of-view is framed by his relationships with business leaders in Dubai where he currently lives and works.
Here’s a thought…
If it is explicit (meaning in policy and action) that racism and/or discrimination will not be the basis for any business decision in company “X”, employees have three choices, (1) they can resign and find a company where their bigoted ideas are supported; (2) they will act accordingly and ensure that all people are treated fairly; (3) or they will be fired. Zero Tolerance should really mean Zero Tolerance.
However, anti-racism policies alone are not sufficient to solve the core problem. The real issues are Action and Accountability. Given the events of gross police misconduct in Ferguson, MO and on Staten Island, NY, are HR and C-suite leadership any more encouraged to offer corporate solutions for addressing race relations in the workplace? It is important to throw both company leadership and HR out in front because it stands to reason that the current model of HR wouldn’t write a policy or create education that will change this racial trajectory if it isn’t supported by leadership.
Much of the undercurrent of annoyance and fury surrounding the recent killings of black men in the media are not just about the killings, but how it is rooted in a build up of injustices felt in every corner of society by every category of a workplace EEO-1 report. Monochromatic leadership with monochromatic workforce planning when combined with the fear or inability to discuss complex socio-economic issues has led to an uneven playing field when it comes to the differences of upward mobility and opportunity for both whites and blacks.
We’ve steered clear of the word minorities as it is an all-encompassing “safe word” that frankly allows us in HR to downplay the impact our policies, procedures and ideals have on specific groups of people. With Diversity and Inclusion training, task forces, affinity groups, and even people of color on Boards of Directors, it sure sounds like we’re being inclusive when in reality the sanitization and compartmentalization produces even further misunderstanding and pushes conversation farther back into the closet.
Both of us have very strong ties to law enforcement; we’re quite aware that the job is dangerous and we do worry about our friends and family coming home every evening. We also know how hard-working, conscientious, and fair most of them are. It’s a small percentage of police officers who cross the lines into racist action, much in the same way we suspect that a similar percentage of companies create a culture of racism with divisive C-level leadership and non-existent HR oversight.
While “leaders” have created the problem, within the workplace, HR should have the knowledge, influence, and ability to change the deeply ingrained culture that is responsible for enabling the racism. Our thesis is that racism in the workplace continues to undermine the very purpose for why we exist in organizations and in so many instances HR has taken the easy way out.
It is time for a change.
When the death of black men in Ferguson, MO, on Staten Island, and in stairwells takes place so easily, then it really does become time not for a national discussion of race in America but a national call to action and change of culture. Surely we’re not naive to believe that either discussion or action will eliminate bigotry but since we’re in a profession that purportedly cares about the workplace, it is time to mobilize a new Human Resources to create new deliverables about Race Relations.
The workplace is not a community that sits on an island cordoned off from society but is in fact a microcosm of society. HR has failed either by fear, ignorance, or some bizarre take on professionalism to address racism in the workplace. If employees are the heartbeat of the company, then for certain HR is the pacemaker – and it’s time for some serious surgery.
People are now marching on the streets across the country – and it’s calling attention to racism in America but it’s time for HR to march into boardrooms. It’s time for HR to lead the discussion on racism at work, not as means for attaining a certificate of completion for diversity training but with a goal of creating a culture and all the necessary elements to root out racism in the workplace. It’s time for HR to look its recruiting and retention practices to see if we’re “bringing” racism into the workplace with bad hiring and “promoting” racism with bad management.
If all this talk about racism makes you uncomfortable to think or speak about, think of your “valued” employees who endure these racially-charged emails, water cooler jokes, and I-know-why-you’re-here smirks because you failed to create a culture that supports the value they bring to your company. If your talent chooses to leave or you can’t attract the best and the brightest because your company’s HR policies, procedures, and people aren’t fair and supportive, do you know what that makes you?
[thanks to Scott Adams for being so astute about HR issues & for the use of his intellectual property]
My thesis is that most have no idea what is meant by employee engagement:
That employee engagement isn’t something that company leaders can inspire just by being leaders.
That engagement is not an HR initiative that can be turned into talking points at a SHRM conference. Or an article on Forbes.
That when turned into an intellectualized topic for a weekly Twitter chat sounds phony.
That employee engagement is something that can only be inculcated into a company via better recruiting.
I won’t bore you with paragraph after paragraph by “experts” extolling the importance of engagement to company performance or how many rockstar leaders are quoted as saying the engagement is important. But let me go to the well just once with an article penned by Josh Bersin from Deloitte, “It’s Time To Rethink The ‘Employee Engagement’ Issue.”
Of all the articles I’ve read about employee engagement, Josh’s is the most thoughtful on the topic (which does not necessarily make it a great POV on EE) because it focuses on facts rather than feel-good fluff (or as I will from now on refer to as “pop HR”). At the end he wrote,
We can’t “retain” people, we can only “attract them.” We cant “engage them” but we can “inspire and support them.” We can’t only “train them” but we can “enable them to learn” and “give them the opportunities to develop.
Notice the first sentence?
Know what “attract them” means?
Meaning if you wanted to – and knew how to – you could bring talent on board who already embrace engagement. No need to bring in external consultants to find out why people leave 10 minutes after their boss leaves; why even the crappiest external recruiters can get your employees interested in another crappy opportunity; or why you even have to worry about your culture.
Try engaging this:
You can’t engage employees who don’t want to be engaged; it’s not your leadership that’s broken, it’s your hiring. You waste so much time hiring for fit because it feels better – and feels more human – rather than spending the time defining what great performance is to the role, the group, the function, and to the company. It’s so much easier to let your supposed charismatic leaders do the work – or believe they’re doing the work – than improving your recruiting function, people and processes – which isn’t easy and takes time, effort, sweat and tears.
When you create a meal with subpar ingredients, you need lots of seasoning to make it taste better. And even then it might not taste great. That’s employee engagement. Why not simply start with better ingredients?
Far too much emphasis in business is placed on the role of the “leader” (quotes added because most all will say, “I’ll know a leader when I see one but I can’t tell you what that person looks like”) and far too little on personal leadership – you know, taking responsibility, doing what you said you were going to do, etc.
My parents worked very hard to teach me about personal responsibility – doing what I’ve committed to do and finding out ways to do what I’ve committed to do when things weren’t working out. We’re not born with an infallible responsibility gene but have to learn how to make things work – even when many of the “things” don’t want to work with you. Learning personal responsibility is a lifelong foray into the good, the bad, and the ugly of commitments, people and situations – and plenty of knees and elbows are skinned along the way. There’s no terminal degree or PhD in Employee Engagement; but our parents are the one’s who should have created the initial plan for building the road. You see, employee engagement isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.
And engagement sets the tone for culture – another completely misunderstood concept – where culture is what you do when no one is there to watch.
In the end, it’s worth it: Folks who learned about personal responsibility are likely those who don’t need external forces to be engaged – because they’re internally engaged.
You see these people at work all the time – but you call them brown-nosers, ass-kissers, and likely a few other phrases that even I won’t put in here. These people are just as likely to pat a leader on the back for something they’ve done to taking a peer aside and asking them why they simply refuse to answer a simple email.
These folks volunteer for tough assignments because they want to be the example for others to follow so the entire company can be successful. Yes, engaged employees are the ones who put the M & E into “t-e-a-m”. No need to be a hater.
Now guess what? You can recruit for people who are engaged.
Toss aside your tired and worn bar raising questions, and ask them about personal responsibility the way you ask about performance; ask about their parents (ask them if their parents actually made them spell out the word at the dinner table like mine did). Ask them questions about early childhood, teenage, college, and early career events and how they remember these events through the filter of personal responsibility; notice their facial expressions and their body language as they answer.
You’ll have to drill down far deeper than your great ESP skills will take you – but in the end, asking What does personal responsibility mean to you?will help you understand if the person is likely internally engaged.
After practicing this line of questioning over many candidate interviews (heck, try it out on your managers and peers too), you’ll be in a better position to determine if a person might be engaged only when there’s a gun pointed at their head (or a “leader” pointing at them while uttering words of exhortation and encouragement) or if a person has the engagement make-up because of what’s in their head.
But please read the line quoted above again and consider this: If we recruit people who are already engaged, that is, make employee engagement part of the recruiting process, we’re setting the table for a great meal.
Do you have a problem with how an organization publicly deals with an “issue”? Sure you do – with…
CEOs who lie on their résumés. Employees who steal. Coaches who sexually abuse their athletes. Running backs who teach love by leaving their 4-year old still bleeding after 6 hours after a lesson. Running backs who punch women.
Like most, you have a solution: Fire the CEO – because things will automatically improve. It’s a simple premise – since the fish stinks from the head, cut off the head and the fish will no longer stink.
Appears to me that leadership is no longer about true leadership but about what leadership should be as viewed by the most professionally trained members of society – members of the mainstream media (don’t worry – this won’t turn into a political bully pulpit).
Even athletes believe that the coach must go if the team is performing badly. Well that makes sense – rather than the team performing better, lop off the head and the body will magically go back to achieving greatness.
The problem with the lopping-off-the-head-of-the-stinking-fish approach is that it’s darn near impossible to graft on a new one that works with the body. Even more unfortunate, if you make a figurehead fire rather than working to identify the cancer and surgically removing it as well as modifying the mechanism that caused the cancer in the first place, little – if anything – really changes.
No, firing the CEO isn’t a cure – it’s vigilantism that feels good.
Many people want the CEOs in charge to go because they actually feel better about themselves when a person they perceive as being over compensated is fired. How many laypeople say, “I could do that job for that kind of money!”
No – you can’t.
What the armchair CEOs of the world don’t understand is that leadership isn’t an all or none quality. In fact, it’s only partially a quality. It requires experience in – and finding a delicate balance between – the financial, operational, legal, analytical, and organizational components of an organization. Sorry folks but Roger Goddell becoming Commissioner didn’t happen over night; in fact, it took 24 years. During his tenure, the league’s office has had to face many issues that were either new challenges to the league’s culture or issues that we actually part of the NFL’s culture for some time but were never properly addressed.
Walking on virgin ground and deciding what can be built upon it is a substantial part of the challenge of being a CEO and often leads to unpopular decisions by those who aren’t privy to all the reports and discussions. Behind these decisions we typically hear the impassioned opinions of those who are really just spectators calling for the beheading of the fish regardless of the facts.
However, one thing that is clear to me is that what comes to light in every sport with a public issue is that of the culture of the guiding organization. From this comes one simple question:
Where was HR?
Take PEDs – these are part of the culture in many professional and Olympic sports. Suspensions have been handed out, athletes have been vilified, and new organizations have been created to “address” the problems (practically a cottage industry).
Take coaches who take advantage of younger athletes, committing heinous crimes against the youth they’re being paid to develop. Coaches have been jailed and/or banned, lots of new policies have been created. Plenty of “we’ll solve the problem” from the sports’ organization leadership. Some of these leaders have even resigned.
Take players in a violent sport who commit violent acts in their private lives.
Culture. Culture. Culture.
HR wants that coveted seat at the table when times are good – but seemingly not when times are bad. Smiling on the day after the Super Bowl the NFL talks about how much money they made but being nowhere to be found when the player-assaulting-women videos are being played leads me to the simple conclusion that firing the CEO won’t improve at all the decades-in-development culture if the head of HR of the NFL isn’t the one responsible for fixing the problem.
New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief, who serves as the Saints’ union rep, doesn’t believe Roger Goodell should lose his job but suggested that a season-long suspension would be a fitting punishment for Goodell since that’s what Goodell handed Saint’s head coach Sean Payton in the BountyGate situation.
Said Strief, “What is the precedent for making a colossal mistake? The precedent has been you missed a season. It’s very simple. The exact situation has already happened, and it happened here. There was a punishment and that was the punishment.”
Culture. Cohesiveness. Consistency.
If HR wants a seat-at-the-table when times are great, they have to be there when the shit hits the fan and sticks to it.
Cookie cutter values? A simple search will demonstrate that most Mission & Values statements are repetitive; with so many companies touting similar values, why are so many companies underperforming, why are tenures shorter, and why do HR folks love talking about how great they are at engagement? That’s easy: Shit rolls downhill…
Ever heard about The Monkey, Banana & Water Spray Experiment? The experiment is “real” (some of the quotes at the bottom are “interpretive”); it involved 5 monkeys (10 altogether, including replacements), a cage, bananas, a ladder, and an ice-cold water hose.
The Experiment: Part 1
5 monkeys were locked in a cage, a banana was hung from the ceiling, and a ladder was placed right underneath it. As predicted, one of the monkeys immediately raced towards the ladder to grab the banana. However, as soon as he started to climb, the researcher sprayed the monkey with ice-cold water. In addition, he also sprayed the other 4 monkeys…
When a second monkey tried to climb the ladder, the researcher sprayed the monkey with ice-cold water, as well as the other 4 watching monkeys. This was repeated again and again until they learned their lesson – climbing equals being sprayed with ice-cold water for EVERYONE – so no one climbed the ladder.
The Experiment: Part 2
Once the 5 monkeys knew the drill, the researcher replaced one of the monkeys with a new inexperienced one. As predicted, the new monkey spotted the banana, and went for the ladder. The other 4 monkeys, knowing the drill, jumped on the new monkey and beat him up. The beat-up new guy thus learned “don’t go for the ladder and no banana – period” without even knowing why and also without ever being sprayed with water.
These actions were repeated 3 more times, each time with a new monkey; each time each of the previous new monkeys – who had never received the ice-cold water spray himself (and didn’t even know anything about it) – would join the beating of the new guy. Eventually, none of the original ones that had been sprayed by water are left in the cage.
The Experiment: Part 3
Finally, a new monkey was introduced into the cage. It ran toward the ladder only to get beaten up by the others. The new monkey turned with a curious face and asked the other monkeys, “Why do you beat me up when I try to get the banana?” (a monkey translator was present).
The other 4 monkeys stopped and looked at each other puzzled – none of them had been sprayed and so they really had no clue why the new guy can’t get the banana – but it didn’t matter, it was too late, the rules had been set. Although they didn’t know WHY they beat up the monkey, one of them spoke up and said, “That’s just the way we do things around here…”
And people wonder why changing a culture is so difficult…
Changing culture requires far more than fluffy things like paying high-priced consultants to create new M&V elements; it’s far more than changing the brand of beer on Fridays, climbing retreats for executives, or yoga on Wednesdays for all employees. It involves a drastic and dramatic unraveling of a can of worms and a pile of pickup sticks in search of a special needle in a haystack.
#Tchat and #NextChat participants take note.
FYI, this culture joke is loosely based upon Stephenson, G. R. (1967). Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys. In: Starek, D., Schneider, R., and Kuhn, H. J. (eds.), Progress in Primatology, Stuttgart: Fischer, pp. 279-288.