Rantings of a reasonable man

By Sean Curtain

I thought she said, “Celebrate”.

That would have made some sense.

After all, we were talking about what drew her to work for this worldwide company. They were an important global organisation, with a ubiquitous logo, thousands of places where their products could be bought and at this stage (later to be tarnished) a fine reputation. A company with a strong commitment to its people and the environments in the countries they operated in.

I was deep into the interview, my third with them so far with two more after this if I can get through her, to try to join this prestigious organisation in a senior role. When I was given the opportunity to ask questions in the interview, I thought I’d ask what had attracted her to join them from another fine global company, only two years before.

I’d done my research on the company, as usual in far too much detail and ran the risk of appearing overly formal and clever .(Actually, the word I am looking for here,  is smart arse).

In reality, I was showing her that I could use the internet, and hoping she’d missed that this wasn’t really a skill in short supply these days!

But as this was for a human resources position, and with she being a very senior person within human resources for this fine establishment, I thought the appearance of the word ‘celebrate’ within her answer was a great sign.  That there was a soul and spark within both her and the company she proudly represented.

I don’t think enough companies celebrate, properly and with feeling, instead of attaching it to a corporate goal. Celebrations that were spontaneous and focussed on the people, not structured and with an end objective or plan.

Celebrating, or being part of a celebration, fitted my understanding of at least a component of what the role I was going for entailed.

It also matched what I thought was an important component of the role human resources could play within a company and something all good companies should do for and with their people.

It was something I believed in. Something that I was passionate about, and maybe, this company felt as I did, that she was like me, and we could all be at the start of what could be a beautiful friendship.

So when I heard, or thought I heard, “celebrate”, I found myself nodding.

Celebrate I can understand. Celebrate I can identify with. Celebrate I can visualise, sympathise, and empathise with.

Celebrate meant to work with your employees, those valuable parts of the business that cost a lot but produce more, that talk to your customers, or each other, make changes, improvements and innovations to assist companies to achieve their targets.

Whilst this company had a product that was essential for life, for businesses to succeed and for economies to run properly, human beings still played a significant role in making it all happen.

This company didn’t go as far as to say that people were their greatest asset, like many did, so at least they were honest. Their greatest assets were what they found in the ground, and what they used to transform it into various products. Assets like their means of transportation. Their buildings. Their brand and reputation.

But the people they employed did contribute something to the success of the business, as well as taking up a considerable part of the company expenses in wages and training costs. They had a vital part to play in representing the company to the world, through advertising, customer contact, and simply social interaction with friends, family and strangers who asked them, “So, where do you work?”

I loved being in human resources and loved making a difference to an organisation through working with employees. Sometimes it was hard and sometimes you were asked to make nasty decisions. You could be hated and despised, and avoided.

But there were times when you played a role in something great, something wonderful and something that called for celebration, across part or all of an organisation.

A time in which you got away from the hard-nosed money making, the focus on results and looked at the way people achieved and behaved and made a fuss.

So for me to hear that this company celebrated with its employees and that it was a feature of the human resources role this lady performed, and that she was telling me it was what attracted her and made her enjoy where she worked, was great to hear.

Except she didn’t say celebrate.

She said “calibrate”.

She came into this business to, amongst other things, calibrate.

That’s one of the things that attracted her to the role and company.

To calibrate things. Calibrating. Calibracation? (Calibfornication? No, probably too far)

I had to look it up.

Calibrate:

To Calibrate: to mark something on a scale; measurements to establish and mark the units on a measuring instrument; measurements to test and adjust the accuracy of a measuring instrument or process

Calibration: Standardisation of measuring instrument; the checking of a measuring instrument against an accurate standard to determine any deviation and correct for errors. To mark on scale, a mark showing one of the units of measurement on a measuring instrument

Right.

To my naive and innocent ear, maybe my confusion was a reasonable error in interpretation.

Because, if I was to look at the context of the word in her answer, and compare that to the definitions of the word itself, I could see, somehow, that it made some sort of sense.

I could accept that it was a reasonable task that she had been asked to do in her senior role in a company like hers.  That calibration, whilst initially making me think of mechanical or scientific activities, could of course be just as easily applied to human beings and what they did in their daily working lives.

For her to have as part of her position or role description, key result areas, key targets, key performance indicators, measurable outcomes, milestones, timelines, responsibilities, to do lists, tasks and objectives the act of calibration, I could understand.

It was just that it sounded so strange, and so far from what I heard her say.

And so at odds with it.

Strictly, the terms were complete opposites, the left and right wings of company behaviour and personal approaches.

Of course, these things can operate together. I wasn’t foolish enough, after 20 years of corporate life, to think that work and the role human resources played within it was all about ending the day with a group hug and a cupcake.

But I couldn’t really see many celebrations being caused by successful calibration, or at least none of the sort that would be fun to attend.

And more so, who decided that this was a word that could be borrowed from the more scientific world of measurement and formality and applied to the management of human beings? Who asks anyone to calibrate something (or someone) and who willingly sees this as something that should occupy a major part of their living and breathing output?

I could accept that a scientist, attempting to find a cure for something, or working to make a discovery, or redesigning a vital piece of machinery (or instrument, noting the definition previously), would see calibration as an essential, necessary and definite part of their work, and life’s output.

If I was a mechanic with responsibility for the operations of a jet airliner, a racing car, or even just a family car in for a wheel alignment, I would take my commitment to successful calibration extremely seriously.

In fact, there were entire industries and professions that would have the need for accurate and measurable instruments and tools achieved through the magic art of calibration, which I would never stand in the way of.

It was just that I hadn’t seen it as a big part of dealing with human beings.

Human beings, (frustratingly so for the steady progress of calibration beyond machines and instruments), have logic and reasoning skills, brains that can decide to operate differently if they choose to, and not be exactly the same as everyone else, every time.

One of the continually wonderful, annoying, challenging and brilliant things about my chosen field was that you dealt with human beings. People are illogical and emotional. They zig when they should zag. They take a different path to the one expected.

They start without reading instructions; they do things again and again without remembering the errors of eth previous attempts. They can be brilliant and completely wrong in equal parts, and who would have it any other way?

(Possibly the International Calibrators Association, but that’s for another time.)

I had assumed that there were certain aspects of people, such as their emotions, brains, values, decision making ability, desires, and passions, which would make calibration somewhat difficult to apply, to everyone in the same way.

So, racing cars yes. People, not necessarily.

Celebration, of people, events, achievements and occasions, seemed to be more applicable.

But here I was, hearing,  not (I admit) for the first time in a working context in relation to people,  a highly scientific phrase and process as an accepted part of the work and job I may have been asked to participate in.

I once sat in a presentation, which had as its general theme a desire for simplification, which included the terms: black box approach, chevrons, cascade, leverage, burning platform, drilling down and intellectual horsepower.

If I got this job, part of it may have included calibrating things.

And that’s when I got worried.

Why do we use words out of context? Why do we use complicated words when simpler ones would suffice? Why do we borrow from an unrelated area to justify what we do?

I may have calibrated before. I may have been a skilled calibrator for all I knew. I may have set records for calibration that would have astounded my interviewer.

She may have described me later as a natural calibrator.

So, if I had to calibrate anything in this role, would I know what to do? Would calibrating be fun, or would I enjoy it?

Would I even know when I had done it properly and be able to clean up after it was finished?

And if I did it right, would there be a celebration after it?

 

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    What’s in a word? Plenty.

    Welcome aboard Sean.

  2. johnharms says:

    And for each word like that, there’s many others. When I listen to that stuff I feel like I live in a different world.

    Thanks for your words Sean.

  3. Sean – can’t wait to hear what calibrating in the workforce actually entails. When you find out, please advise.

  4. This reminds me of a joke about a new monk arriving at a monastery where he is assigned to help the other monks in copying the old texts by hand. He notices, however, that they are copying copies, and not the original books.

    So, the new monk goes to the head monk to ask him about this. He points out that if there was an error in the first copy, that error would be continued in all of the other copies. The head monk says, “We have been copying from the copies for centuries, but you make a good point, my son.”

    So, he goes down into the cellar with one of the copies to check it against the original. Hours later, nobody has seen him. So, one of the monks goes downstairs to look for him. He hears sobbing coming from the back of the cellar and finds the old monk leaning over one of the original books crying. He asks what’s wrong.

    “The word is celebrate not celibate,” says the old monk with tears in his eyes.

  5. Litza, if she had said she joined the company or enjoyed working there because it was celibate, I definately would not have been interested in joining them!
    Good gag, thanks.

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