Are You a Workplace Kangaroo?

Red kangaroo carrying a cute Joey, isolated on clean white

I remember when I was about six or seven being told an Aboriginal folk tale. It was about the god Dingo telling all the other animals that he was going to create man who would be the greatest of all creatures and asking them for suggestions on what he might be like.

As this ‘man’ was to be the greatest of all creatures the animals consulted had a very clear view of what he should be like. Kangaroo suggested that he should have powerful hind legs and be able to jump. For Kookaburra it was very important that man should be able to fly whereas Platypus felt that a bill and the ability to swim underwater was a must.

It’s a story that comes back to me often because it’s one of those wonderfully timeless observations that people frequently seem unaware of. Put more simply: most people seem to value very highly what they themselves are. So, when they are looking for an ideal in others, project that on to them and judge how well it fits. When I worked in an organisation in which lots of people had CIPD accredited professional credentials there was a strong focus on only wanting to hire people who could demonstrate that. In another place, where CIPD and academic engagement was low, I was told that what we really needed was people with many, many years of hands on operational HR experience at the coal face. You’ve probably already guessed, but that was exactly the profile of the existing senior HR people.

By the way, this is not an easy landscape in which to find high ground. I have found myself guilty of this on countless occasions and even today, if I think of the ‘best kind’ of HR person their career path and approach looks an awful lot like mine.

This blog post is brought to an end by the convergence of two different factors. The first is a desire to bring a postmodern edge to the multiplicity of narrative in the Blogosphere. The second is that I’ve forgotten the end of the story. Either way, it’s an invitation for you to comment on your experience of this and how (if?) you have moved beyond it. If I had to guess I would say that Dingo ended up taking the best bits of each animal to create something that was better – although essentially a compromise. Some of you reading this will be writing your own version of that story today as HR practitioners so perhaps the really interesting thing is to ask where you would take it (and why) given that we are less concerned about Kangaroos and Kookaburras and more with bright young things, developing executives and more mature professionals.

Stories, particularly folk stories, can be helpful to identify patterns and themes in the modern workplace but so can songs, cartoons and comic books. If people are interested, I will take another one and see if we can provoke some thinking about the modern workplace that is helpful. It’s important that we can use these other narratives to find different ways in to these ideas and share our own stories and reference points – it’s what makes a reflective practitioner.

Then again, I would say that, wouldn’t I?

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