When asked “what I do” at HR events I often say that I operate somewhere in the grey area between HR and property. It usually prompts gently raised eyebrows, a knowing look, a soft nod and a muted “oh, yes, right”. In other words, “huh?”. It is a challenge to the comfort of discreet disciplines and professions butting up against one another in a rigidly ordered world, protected by real or apparent barriers to entry – in many respects the only barrier actually being the label applied.
We don’t like grey areas. It means uncertain, undefined, non-specific. We can’t document it properly, or put it on a plan or chart. If we present grey, we often get sent back to work harder on stretching it to black or white. It is dusk, neither day or night. Nothing happens at dusk of any importance. No-one in cheesy films ever said “you will be shot at dusk”. Grey is what lies between.
It was Nietzsche (second from the left, above) who said “we think that by naming something we have described it” – of course he meant we haven’t. Organisations are built on job titles, backed with role descriptions that try to make sense of them. Each of the roles nestles within the cast iron structure of the required disciplines, neatly arrayed.
Yet the exponentially increasing complexity of our world that social business brings (see the previous post) is turning the comfort of fixed roles in a rigid structure filled by a fluid workforce on its head. It is becoming increasingly likely – and necessary – to source the people we need, and to have them perform a combination of what is required, and to identify what we don’t yet know we need.
Whither titles and roles descriptions, even professions. We may have whole teams operating in grey areas., comprised of the right people. And we may only know they are the right people when we meet and talk to them. Whither the person specification too.
For ourselves it is becoming harder to define what we do, and easier to say what we might be able to do. Our predictable certainties are vanishing. The clues to the future are in what lies between.