When my son was eight years old and in the 2nd grade, he mentioned to me that he sometimes pretended to have to go to the bathroom at school. This was curious to me. As I probed further, he revealed that sometimes he needed a break to be alone, breathe, and think. At school they aren’t allowed to have that kind of break. So he learned to follow the rules, stay out of trouble, and sneak out under the guise of a bathroom pass to be who he is and find what he needs to succeed.
I was sad to see that, at such a young age, he had already learned what so many professionals know: You have to find ways to work the system and hide your needs if they don’t seem to fit the protocol. I will admit to, in my adult, professional life, pretending to go potty simply to get a break. I just can’t sit in the all-day, off-site meeting with chicken salad wraps and endless coffee without time to myself to think and breathe.
I am always quick to admit to being a poor businessman in the traditional sense. I’m more the guy in the back row coloring during the classes I don’t find interesting, but I’ll sit front row center for the ones I love. I’m not good at pretending to be something I’m not. I’m really bad at following rules. That can get you in trouble in business life. The lessons we learn as children carry into our work life – that it is often better to appear to go along with the rules, but secretly take an afternoon nap in our parked car, lie about being sick to skip work, wear crazy socks hidden under boring black pants, or sneak in the occasional gin and tonic at lunch.
Getting people to conform and follow the rules, or catching them breaking rules, is often the focus of the HR profession. That is why I don’t often refer to my work as HR. At The Fool our focus is to unleash the individual. We are working every day to embrace how people like to work and getting out of their way. We don’t presume that every person works best the same way, on the same schedule, at a desk, with the same system, wearing the same suit.
If my son worked at The Fool we’d identify that he needs some time to himself. We’d support his work style and look for ways to double down on how he is most productive. This work takes a big team of coaches and a lot of one-on-one connections. But in the end, the value for our business far outweighs the cost, and people are simply happier.