5 TED Talks for the HR professional

There’s a TED Talk on almost every topic imaginable – from how to tie your shoelaces, to the secrets of success. And with over 1,800 available to watch online for free, delivered by speakers as diverse as Stephen Hawking, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alain de Botton, and Sheryl Sandberg, you’ll be hard pressed finding one that doesn’t inspire, persuade, fascinate, inform, shock, or move you.

But with an overwhelming number of ‘ideas worth spreading,’ it’s difficult to know where to start, and if there’s one thing we know about HR professionals, it’s that they’ll never have enough hours in the day. So here are five of our favorite HR-related talks for you to start off with.

Nigel Marsh: How to make work/life balance work

Getting the work/life balance right is perhaps more of an issue than most of us realise. The Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) recently published research revealing that 65% of UK workers feel under pressure to work extra hours, almost half work the equivalent of one extra day per week in unpaid overtime, and 47% regularly work through their lunch break. While France has taken steps to protect people working in particular sectors by banning the checking of work emails before 9am and after 6pm, the UK appears to be moving in the opposite direction, with only 13% of workers satisfied with their work/life balance. Is it really sustainable that 87% of the British workforce are unhappy with the current relationship between their job and lifestyle?

In his honest and funny talk, Nigel Marsh, Co-founder of Earth Hour, makes four key observations about the current state of the work/life balance. Although you’ll be hard-pressed to find a quick fix or life hack in his talk for leading the life you want to lead, it could be the nudge you need to re-evaluate your own relationship with your job, and stimulate serious thought about how, as an HR professional, you can support others to do the same.

Marsh’s talk takes a refreshing approach to establishing a good work/life balance, in part due to the absence of all-too-frequently rehashed advice on leaving work on time every day, which although is a good start, let’s face it, isn’t a) addressing the root of the problem, and b) necessarily always realistic (depending on your job).

Struck a chord? You may interested in our blog on leaving the office behind when you’re on holiday.

Jason Fried: Why work doesn’t happen at work

What are the top three things that stop you getting on with your job? I’ll take a wild stab in the dark and guess being in the office, interruptions from your manager, and meetings. How many did I get right?

Jason Fried, Co-founder and President of productivity web application company Basecamp (formally known as 37Signals), argues in his convincing talk that these three things – three of the collective global workforce’s biggest gripes – are not only unnecessary for productivity, but are detrimental to getting work done, and near impossible for getting great work done.

Monday: you have two meetings, seven interactions with your manager, ten interactions with various co-workers, sixty-eight emails (eleven of which elicit a response), a lunch break, and two twenty-minute phone calls. Around all of these obligations, are you actually getting any work done?

The work day is no longer a work day, Fried argues, but a series of work moments in-between all the things that go hand in hand with working in an office, leaving no extended periods of time where you can actually get work done.

So how does Fried suggest tackling this issue? Cancel that meeting – don’t move it or reschedule it – just cancel it, simply don’t have it. What is realistically going to happen if that meeting doesn’t take place? You may actually get some work done. And how about afternoon or whole days where no one talks?

Although I’m not entirely convinced by his proposal that staff should communicate more passively via email and IM (since we can hardly keep on top of our already-overflowing inboxes!) as opposed to talking to each other in person, Jason Fried’s simple solutions to those activities that prevent us from doing work when we’re at work, will get anyone who has ever worked in an office thinking if it could really be that easy.

Simon Sinek – Why good leaders make you feel safe

In a follow-up to his hugely successful 2010 TED Talk entitled ‘How great leaders inspire action’, which has been viewed almost 19 million times (the third most popular TED Talk of all time) and prompted two books, Simon Sinek asks again, what makes a good leader?

Beginning his talk with the inspirational story of Captain William Swenson, who in the midst of an ambush in Afghanistan, ran into live fire in order to rescue wounded soldiers, Sinek proceeds to ask what we’re all thinking: where do these people come from? Are they just better people? What is it about the military that produces great leaders of this calibre?

Sinek concludes they’re not better people, although it probably does have something to do with the military’s ethos, which rewards selflessness, comradery, and self-sacrifice, and is suffused with a “they would have done it for me” mentality. Yet in the ultra-competitive modern business world where large-scale lay-offs and unreasonably lengthy probation periods for new starters are all too common, these qualities are in notably short supply. How can companies expect their staff to do their best work or go above and beyond, if they don’t feel safe? This is where great leaders come in. Sinek argues that leaders should think of their team as their children. Would you lay off your children when times get tough? No – you would find a way to make it work.

He argues that by and large, only employees who know that their boss has their back, will be capable of greatness at work – be that great output, teamwork, or attitude. Companies that don’t invest in developing good leaders are doing their company, workforce, and bank balance an injustice. This absorbing twelve minute talk is well worth the time, particularly for HR people involved in recruiting or developing for roles higher up the ladder – or in leadership roles themselves.

Have you read our blog on why leaders eat last?

Susan Cain: The power of introverts

Having once been passed over at a late stage for a job with the reason that I didn’t come across as confidently as other candidates was incredibly frustrating, and opened my eyes to a major undiscussed prejudice that exists in business, politics, and the larger world: the bias against introverts. In her empowering and thought-provoking talk, Susan Cain, author of the New York Times bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts, begins by sharing a similar story – an instance in which she was made to feel that her natural disposition was holding her back, that she needed to be more extroverted if she wanted to progress in life.

Having spent seven years doing research for her book, Cain explains how our open-plan workplaces with no walls or room for privacy are designed to meet the needs of extroverts – who require large amounts of social stimulation – whilst discouraging the quiet and low-key working conditions that introverts respond best to. This unfortunately is reflected in the number of introverts being passed up for leadership roles, despite the fact that some of history’s most effectual leaders have been introverts: Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi.

If you identify yourself as an introvert – and even more so if you don’t – Cain’s TED Talk will get you thinking about the way different types of people work best, providing food for thought for anyone who’s experienced (either side of) the recruitment process.

Margaret Heffernan: Dare to disagree

As an HR professional, it’s likely that conflict is something you try to prevent as much as possible. But Margaret Heffernan, former CEO of five businesses and author of Wilful Blindness, sees conflict not as detrimental to the running of a business, but necessary for growth and innovation. Heffernan uses the example of British epidemiologist Alice Stewart and statistician George Kneale – extrovert and introvert, respectively – who worked together on Stewart’s ground-breaking research on child cancer in the 1950s. Their personality types falling at opposite ends of the spectrum, Stewart and Kneale’s working relationship was based upon conflict, neatly epitomised by Kneale’s admission that his job was “to prove Dr. Stewart wrong.” It was this unique working model – the constant search for disconfirmation – that Heffernan attributes to Stewart’s success, giving her confidence to know she was right.

Using a similar model to Stewart and Kneale, Heffernan describes how PhD candidates at the University of Delft are required to submit five statements that they are prepared to defend – the statements themselves are essentially irrelevant, but what’s important is that they are willing to stand up against an authority for something they believe in.

She argues that businesses that encourage diversity and see criticism as thinking will not only have more bases covered when it comes to spotting issues, but through doing so will create more room for both business and staff to thrive.

Which TED Talks do you think should be essential viewing for HR people? Let us know in the comment section below or tweet us at @CezanneHR – we’d be interested to watch them!

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