Can HR Be Vulnerable, Brave, and Innovative? Lessons from WorkHuman 2018

Confession: I accidentally found the greatest HR conference I’ve ever attended because I set a personal goal to see Brené Brown speak somewhere before the end of the year.

I never expected that my personal passion for her work would lead me to being surrounded by throngs of self-aware, heart-centered, intellectual HR revolutionaries in Austin for WorkHuman 2018.

Here are my Top 10 A-Ha’s and Game-Changing Takeaways from the experience:

10. Self-Reflection Belongs in Your Business.

Self-reflection is something we teach at Lab Monkey Communications – it drives everything we do internally and externally. Compassion is a core value that we discuss daily. Cy Wakeman, author of “No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results,” kicked off the conference with lessons on the costs of drama and powerful tips to help everyone on your team shift to a deeper problem-solving mindset instead of a wasteful venting drama mindset.


9. Ask for the Feedback that You Need.

More frequent feedback and recognition was an overarching theme at the conference. Timely feedback allows your employees to improve valued behaviors incrementally along their professional evolution – instead of a full year later when it comes up in their annual performance reviews. Neuroscientist, David Rock, told us what we’ve been doing all wrong – whether we asked for his feedback or not.


8. Small Hinges Swing Big Doors.

You can’t start at your destination, it’s a journey. Small changes really stood out as the way that companies began their journey toward becoming more inclusive. When Citrix reviewed their paid days off policy from an inclusive perspective they realized that neither Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or Veterans Day were being recognized and observed. The addition of these paid days off made employees feel seen, valued, and heard.


7. Institutional Courage.

During the #MeToo panel discussion, this phrase came up frequently. It seemed to feel strange on the tongues of the panelists, a few of them checking in to ask each other during the conversation, “what did we call it? Institutional courage?”Increasingly, companies are having to lead publicly in the creation of the world we envision for our employees. That requires individuals who cherish the whistle blowers in the organization, model human-centered leadership and are willing to have hard conversations—both of which require connection, empathy, and vulnerability (which we’ll get to later).


6. Feedback should link back to core values and behaviors that support them.

As a communications agency, we try to link our marketing back to our clients’ business goals and core values to help employees better see their role in response to our messaging. It was eye-opening still to hear that feedback in the workplace often fails to connect back to the company’s larger values and vision. It’s just another example of how powerful a small shift in the way we do things can improve the employee experience and create a deeper sense of place and belonging.


5. The Importance of Being Seen.

I’ve talked with my female entrepreneurial friends about this for years. It’s a legitimate struggle to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to be seen. Many women are taught from a young age not to outshine the boys. Being seen embodies not only a fear of having our faults exposed but also of having to embody our strengths. The quote below reminded me of the power of vulnerability in helping us build community.


4. Our Humanity Is Our Biggest Asset.

After getting us to sing together and then dance together, Brené Brown, a self-professed “shame researcher” shifted the dialogue of the entire conference to a more heart-centered space. “The most human thing you can do is connect,” she told us. As teams striving towards a common goal at work or as neighbors in a community, we have to learn to connect. She defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when the can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” Who wouldn’t want to work for a company that fosters connection?!?!?


3. What #MeToo Is NOT About.

I still have a lot to unpack from this panel—including when and why it’s important for me to tell my own story of surviving sexual abuse, how I can dismantle the white privilege that shielded me from knowing more about Tarana Burke’s leadership in the #MeToo movement, and how I can leverage my privilege to create more opportunity for others. The stand out moment in the morning’s conversation came when the panelists tackled the topic of “workplace hugs.” Is every man who ever hugged a female co-worker going to get fired? No. Is every hug an act of sexual assault? Absolutely not. It’s about more than the hug. It’s about power structures, expectations, and professionalism. We can’t allow the real dangers and institutional systems that allow a culture of workplace assault to be undermined by smaller conversations about hugs or fears of being alone with women. We all have a lot to own and unpack here.


2. Rebooting Happiness Is a Thing.

Shawn Achor is known widely as “the Happiness Expert.” I read self-help and leadership development books by the truck load – but somehow I hadn’t made my way to Shawn Achor until now. His candor about dealing with depression spoke deeply to me as I’ve been working my own way through the grieving process after losing both of my parents in the past two years. For someone mired down in a state of depression or grief his tools might be your second step – after counseling and treatment. I feel a deep gratitude for his work and I hope everyone will explore his work further.


1. Dance Like No One Is Watching (but brace for the possibility that they might be filming).

Finally, I learned that when you are brave with your life people will notice. They will respond to your bravery by being brave themselves. Sometimes leadership requires bravery and vulnerability. And what could be more vulnerable than dancing in front of thousands of strangers? Alas, when Brené Brown asks you to dance, you do it…and sometimes that means that your epic awkward wedding dance moves end up enshrined in a video online for all of the world to witness. Do it anyway. The world needs more brave leaders. Watch me dance in the video below… 🙂

#workhuman #MeToo #internalcommunications #lovetheworkyoudo