Kevin Green: Bruce Springsteen is an HR guru
Kevin Green, May 28, 2014
I have been a fan of 'The Boss' for more years than I care to remember, having first seen him and the mighty E Street Band on The River tour in 1981.
Apart from the great live performances and the many amazing albums, it's Springsteen’s connection to real people's lives that keeps me, and millions like me, coming back for more.
The man writes stories about everyday life but he rises above other musicians when he talks about work and the human spirit. The songs that always seem to inspire his audience the most, like The Promised Land or Badlands, are the ones when the working-class hero rises above the banality of a poor workplace.
In The Promised Land he explains how many employees feel:
"I've done my best to live the right way,
I get up every morning and go to work each day,
But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold,
Sometimes I feel so weak, I just want to explode."
That's what Springsteen is saying to HR practitioners everywhere, if you want to build a great organisation, you need a culture where people are inspired and love what they do, and they want to give their best. Our job is to free the human spirit.
Another descriptive story of work is Factory:
"Through the mansions of fear, through the mansions of pain,
I see my daddy walking through them factory gates in the rain,
Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life,
The working, the working, just the working life."
The contradiction of providing 'life' but damaging the human spirit is what should challenge every HR professional every day. Does your organisation completely utilise the full ability of every employee? It's a big challenge but one that we have to own and take action on.
What I think Springsteen is saying is that people want to belong, make a difference and give of their best. I am sure some will say that the world he describes is the world of the late 20th century and that in the last 30 years workplaces have improved.
The evidence suggests that even though we have better technology and different ways of working, a huge number of people still feel disengaged and unmotivated. The majority of businesses even now are not built people first. Leaders that inspire, motivate and fully engage their colleagues to this day remain the exception rather than the norm.
The challenge for us HR professionals is to respond to Springsteen’s criticism and change our organisations so that songs like The Rising and Shackled and Drawn where he describes people enjoying what they do and the human spirit released becomes a common place occurrence.
It's also important when working in HR to stand back from the daily grind of procedures, grievances and the like, to look at your organisation, to get below the employee survey and to see if the reality of working in your business is all it should be. Forget the description included in the employer brand statement, what’s it really like in your organisation day-in, day-out?
Two HR fundamentals remain constant for me. First, it's always about leaders and managers, so always recruit for attitude and train for skill. And secondly, make sure your managers have the capability, skill and self-confidence to create teams where people are free to give their best every day.
Let’s challenge the status quo and change our organisations so they truly are great places to work.
As Springsteen would say: "There's a new world coming, I can see the light".