Our need for team building is high, the risk may be higher.

When individuals need special attention is not a good time for team building
I been in the right place but it musta been the wrong time - Dr. John

People are social animals with a fundamental need to gather and socialize. For many, their primary social environment is at work. When the pandemic sent people away from the workplace, it sent away with them the opportunity to socialize and use their social skills. Teams are likely to have lost strength and solidarity. Individuals will be less socially confident and competent. Leaders will reasonably -- and rightfully -- decide that the need for team building is high, if for no reason other than to simply come together. It’s obvious. Or is it?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, …”

This opening line from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities captures the paradox of team building. Just when the need for team building is greatest, it may also be the worst time to do it. The potential for gain is great. Team building can do wonders to give people the time and opportunity to share their personal experiences and gain the insight of the team. But the same conditions raise the risk of two unwanted outcomes:

    • Crop dusting. Individuals have been away from each other so long they may be shy and literally have little to give the session the energy expected. and may hold back on their true selves resulting in "meh" team building.
    • Complete disaster. It will be especially difficult to predict where things may go. Some participants may be experiencing pent up aggression, others, compromised resilience (or even mild depression). The mix can be explosive.

So, what’s at the root of this paradox?

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Warning signs about resilience and resilience-based HR practices

Warning signs about resilience: Closeup of teary-eyed black senior woman experiencing compromised resilience

Summary:

    1. "Resilience" is now "Uber Competency," HR systems (esp. hiring) are being redesigned for (around) it.
    2. In the context of a life-threatening global pandemic, compromised resilience isn't the exception, it's normal -- but norms don't move.
    3. Psychological "issues" (resilience being one), are notoriously prone to bias; extraordinary times belie ordinary norms. Both qualitative (interview) and psychometric (personality inventory) assessment practices are now likely to generate false positives (incorrect classification as "compromised resilience").
    4. As a socially stigmatized condition, low resilience is likely to be misinterpreted as a trait-based deficiency vs a more contextually dependent, state-based reaction. (see 2)
    5. This pandemic has disproportionately affected specific groups (i.e., people of color, aged), warning signs about resilience and HR practices are emerging.
    6. These groups are protected by law from discriminatory practices or impact.
    7. The stage is set for potential resilience-based adverse impact.

Resilience.

If your next book’s title doesn’t include this word, I recommend adding it. (Try, "The Resilience of Cooking"). If your hiring practices don’t include resilience, you're exceptional (and not in a good way). Resilience is THE thing of HR today.

Although I start with "tongue in cheek" language, I'm not at all flippant on this topic. Resilience is serious and I mean no disrespect. It's merely a matter of style. So, let me be clear:

This is NOT a repudiation of resilience.

Resilience is real. Great thinking has brought attention, understanding and sage counsel to the concept. I wholly support the construct for it's value to progressing organization theory and practice. Not by any fault of its origin or development, but for a number of reasons, I see warning signs about resilience risk and urge caution with use of resilience-based HR practices.

Specifically in the case of resilience, the risks of misunderstanding and misuse are greater than for previous super constructs ("Emotional Intelligence" comes to mind). The mere term, resilience, seems so relevant today that many have been, and others will be, drawn to its "solutions" like choosing a book by its cover. A book that has your name on it. Who doesn't want a resilient organization?

But these are the framing conditions that can rapidly lead to over dependence and over confidence with an apparently simple term that is more nuanced and potentially hazardous than it appears.

Ultimately, I urge you to consider what I see as early warning signs about resilience and its application in HR systems. You may disagree, and I may be wrong. But both the stakes and risks are high. And I'm comfortable to risk my reputation to raise awareness and stimulate deeper thought on this topic.

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Career guidance isn’t always about jobs, it is always about people

Chris can help you through challenges and changes in your career, whether career guidance, search or coaching, I will "meet you" wherever you are to take you where you're meant to be..

Executive Summary (for Twitter users):

  1. Career guidance is growing. Many seek work. Many want different work.
  2. O*NET is a database of 1,000 jobs. It’s free, even for commercial use. Free.
  3. 1 and 2 have created a surge of job search applications using O*NET. But,
  4. O*NET is easy to “click around in,” but quite intricate “under the hood.”
  5. Job search applications use “proprietary algorithms.” Most suck.
    1. O*NET data aren’t perfect; no algorithm can fix that.
    2. O*NET data are VERY sensitive; razor-thin margins differentiate jobs.
    3. Algorithm-based applications are non-consultative (“make money at night?”), once they launch, where they land is determined. They’re done but leave the job seeker to pour over 100 job matches(?). {“Blind pig” strategy?}
    4. Following 5.3, job search isn’t like playing a slot machine, it’s interactive.
    5. Algorithms have assumptions built in, it’s impossible to know how your report was created. Given 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, errors of omission and commission are numerous and confusing.
  6. Career guidance isn’t about jobs, or even good search. It’s about people. People with different stories, different wants, and different needs.
    1. A good career coach is an expert in work psychology and psychometrics.
    2. The best career coach is a true coach, centered on the individual throughout the process. They can help an individual through a difficult task, in difficult times.

Job loss can be traumatic. It has serious effects on people’s well-being, and not just the person who lost their job. In my experience coaching people who’ve lost their job, particularly at middle stages of their career, the effects resemble depression. Not to a clinical level, but darn near it. This goes beyond typical career guidance. They need more than a quick career search and a list of jobs to consider.

But having a job isn’t the complete answer. I’ve also worked with many who question, deeply, whether the job they have (and deplore) is their true calling. Sometimes a new job is the answer, but sometimes a deeper review reveals a different story. Oftentimes it’s not the job that’s causing problems, it’s what’s around the job. This can be generalized to “the organization,” or “the culture,” but it usually has to do with the boss. This, too, is beyond the typical call of career guidance.

Add in a global pandemic and things get worse – more unemployed, more general stress and strain for everyone, working or not. As organizations have begun to add employees from the initial lows caused by this pandemic, the competition for jobs, fewer jobs, is driving greater demand for career-related services. And experts agree that not everyone who lost their job due to the pandemic will return once its impact is better under control. A lot of businesses have closed their doors and they won’t reopen. Of greater consequence, the nature and number of jobs in the workforce have been permanently changed by the new normal for work. All of this adds to uncertainty – especially for the unemployed.

Whether out of work or dissatisfied to the point of quitting, what most share is a feeling of being “stuck.” That’s the literal word used.  In this context, being “stuck” includes a variety of emotions, but none, positive. Mostly being “stuck” amounts to uncertainty, anxiety, and the lack of energy to pursue a job when they don’t know what job to pursue. Emotions are high with many experiencing feelings of grief, lowered self-confidence, and optimism – sometimes, feelings that border on hopelessness. Our society places so much importance on what people do that to lose your job is, in a very real sense, to lose your status, your identity. Your dignity.

This isn’t the case for everyone. But I’m not alone in experiencing individuals in a desperate state due to loss of employment. And even if it doesn’t come up that frequently, it’s critically important when it does. The typical career guidance counselor isn’t trained to handle situations like this. This is the job of a psychologist trained in emotional and behavioral counseling. While these aren’t clinical cases, they’re deeply affecting.

At minimum, a good coach needs to be able help individuals through a rebuilding process to regain the confidence and skill to carry out a strategy to gain employment. Job-related skills can atrophy over time. Many of these are the same skills necessary to carry out a back to work strategy that would be exhausting to anyone. But this is just about getting to the interview – not the interview itself. That’s another aspect of career counseling that I won’t go into here.

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