I will never forget the moment I discovered WorkHuman, it was as if I had unearthed buried treasure. There were others out there who looked at the world the way I did! Admittedly, as a unicorn in the training world, this was both wondrous and a little irritating. It reminded me of when I had hiked five miles to get to the top of an overlook, only to discover when I reached the summit that there was a road that took you to the top! The view was no less glorious, and I was glad I did the work, but at the same time I felt a bit silly. Had I known about the road all along, would that have changed anything? Probably not (the joy was likely found in the journey), but I made it a lot harder than it had to be. Maybe the conversation I had been working so hard to ignite on my own didn’t have to be such a Sisyphean feat?
Little did I know when I started my business ten years ago, that a groundswell was taking place. In corners all across the globe, people like me—HR professionals, researchers, consultants and trainers—had been doing the work of their lives to humanize the workplace, unwittingly setting the stage for a movement to begin.
Three years ago (when I first attended), there were about 700 attendees. Last year, the numbers doubled. This year, with more than 2800 attendees, there was no denying that something important was happening and that Globoforce’s WorkHuman Conference would forever change the conversation around performance at work.
For those of you who know me, you can imagine my delight! Three solid days of rich conversations about vulnerability, connection, authenticity, courage, and humanity in the workplace! Brene’ Brown, Simon Sinek, Shawn Achor, Adam Grant, Salma Hayek, Ashley Judd, Tarana Burke, Ronan Farrow, and Amal Clooney—all took the mainstage—a whirlwind of change-the-world-rockstars inspiring every one of us to do more, be better, take ownership, and work together to make a difference. The energy in the room was palpable; a visceral affirmation that I was among “my people” (to be surrounded by 2800 others who geek out over the same stuff I do, is a pretty extraordinary thing).
I gained a richer understanding of the #MeToo movement. One of the things I appreciate about WorkHuman is that they don’t shy away from difficult conversations. As Globoforce’s Derek Irvine said, “WorkHuman is not a conference. It’s a conversation about bringing more humanity into the workforce… if not (if we’re not going to talk about #MeToo at) WorkHuman, then where?” Thus, their commitment was backed up by a cadre of panelists (actress/activist Salma Hayek, activist Tarana Burke, journalist Ronan Farrow, and actress/activist Ashley Judd) who not only educated and inspired us but made each of look inside to examine what we could personally do differently to create positive change. I don’t think I had realized until the conference (and perhaps it’s my own insular daftness) that the stories we’ve been hearing about in the news aren’t just isolated horrific incidences of harassment and assault, but they’re part of a larger systemic problem that has made the abuse possible and silenced the conversation. Coming away from the conference I have an acute awareness of the responsibility each of us has, to ensure that we not only behave respectfully on a personal level, but that others are treated respectfully on a collective level. Tarana called for “institutional courage” but I think it’s more than that. I think, perhaps more than ever before, I recognized the need for “cultural courage.”
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Now is indeed the time for brave. Okay, given that I just released a book called Brave Leadership, I pretty much knew this going in, but WorkHuman definitely reinforced it. Brene’ Brown, Shawn Achor, Simon Sinek and Amal Clooney all brought extraordinary energy and passion to the mainstage with conversations that centered around the need for courage it the workplace. The importance of having uncomfortable conversations; taking responsibility for our feelings, instead of jumping to blame; inviting others in to support us and being willing to show up fully in the face of our vulnerability; and taking a stand—in essence, being brave in the face of our own humanity. You can imagine my excitement in seeing this conversation take hold on a bigger scale.
We are truly #BetterTogether. Shawn Achor’s keynote grabbed us from the beginning and took off like a freight-train as he wove a compelling argument about the power of the collective, based on his new book, Big Potential. From the first time I attended WorkHuman, three years ago, this has been one of the greatest wins for me—discovering a trove of like-minded people who are committed to making a positive difference in the workplace. It has fueled me, personally and professionally, in ways I can’t fully articulate. You begin sitting in a dark ballroom filled with strangers, and over the course of three days, you make relationships you’re sure will last a lifetime. It’s as if every person you meet is holding up a mirror and you can see your best-self reflected back. You are joyful, excited, energized, generous, patient, thoughtful, curious, and hungry to learn. Fully committed. Imagine what is possible with that kind of collective energy?
What would be possible in your organization if you could tap into the joy, excitement, energy, generosity, patience, thoughtfulness, curiosity and hunger to learn? If everyone was fully committed?
What I’ve learned after observing the WorkHuman Movement (and it really is a movement that is taking place) is that this doesn’t need to be a fantasy we all harbor with wistful cynicism. Nor do we need to be off on our own, slaying the dragons of disengagement and poor leadership. This is a fight we can win together. By honoring the humanity in our places of work, a more human workplace is truly possible.
I invite you to consider the impact of that possibility.
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