Cliffhangers for Hire | HR Fishbowl

Written on May 24, 2010 by Charlie in Employee Engagement cliff_hanging-1811717

My wife and I are huge fans of Lost: the 121 episode TV thriller that has kept tens of millions of people enthralled for six seasons.  It’s over now.  And devotees will spend the next several months walking around in a daze trying to figure out what to do with themselves now that it’s gone.  If you’ve never watched it, go rent the entire first season and block out a day because you won’t be able to turn away.  Lost kept it’s viewers guessing better than any series before its time.  It propagated speculation, and rumor, and theory…and fan clubs that obsessed over them.  The end of each episode was inevitably met with audible moans of frustration directed at the producers who “left you hanging” like that.  But it kept you coming back again…and again…and again.

It strikes me that most employers (and their managers) are really bad at creating a similar sensation for its viewers.  The workplace has become terribly predictable.  Outcomes, after all, are limited.  Hell, most employees actually have their jobs scripted to one page – a job description giving them the outline to what their days will look like again…and again…and again. A lot of employees like that script, they like to check the boxes, know where they are headed; they aren’t very good with uncertainty.  High potential employees, on the other hand, are typically very good with it.  In fact, many thrive on it.  The workplace paradigm over the ages has included a strong aversion to uncertainty.  That’s a missed opportunity in my mind. Why not actually go out of your way to create it?  And why not let HR help script it?  Create jobs and their descriptions that are no more than one line: “Run to the side of the ship that needs the most attention.”  Invite HIPOs to participate in secretive projects, and tease them only with clues as you approach the launch.  Give an executive the express instruction to take a HIPO to lunch and “give them a peak under the tent”…but only a peak!  Instead of publicizing the next company social as if it were the second coming of Christ, why not share the date and the time but leave the details of the event under lock and key until people actually show.  HR plays many roles and that of workplace screenwriter is an important one. Use it as an opportunity to keep your people – especially your good ones – glued to what’s coming up next.

Photo Credit: Flickr, Zama Ree Do

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