FolkHR for HR Folk – business lessons from Dylan

With all the talk of big data I also think there is room for properly applied ‘folksy’ wisdom in business

I’m off to see Bob Dylan at the Royal Albert Hall later in the year and whilst it is disputable as to whether he is still ‘folk’, he certainly had his roots in that type of music. So in tribute to Bob here is some ‘folksy’ business lessons from his lyrical and musical masterpieces.

“Subterranean Homesick Blues” from Bringing It All Back Home, 1965

Key lyric: ‘Don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows’

Next time you ask someone you trust for more data – understand the request it is about your lack of bravery, not their lack of data. Next time you wait for your Employee Engagement survey to tell you what you already know – remember this point. Next time you are waiting for a Customer Satisfaction report when you already know where you can improve remember this point . Remember that sometimes you just know things and so you should act on them. It is ok to just do things, you are paid to act, not to observe. If you aren’t prepared to do things when you believe them to be the right thing to do, then aren’t you administrating rather than leading? Sure, data is good, but how much data do you need to know that someone is underperforming, unhappy or not delivering. How much better would your company and customer interactions be if you acted early?

“Positively 4th Street,” single, 1965

Key lyric: “I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes/ You’d know what a drag it is to see you”

There are times where you will not be the awesome leader or team member that you are in your head. There are times that the joke you tell will be funny to you – and not to anyone else. When you think you are being visionary – and everyone else thinks you are disruptive. When you think you are telling a home truth – and the other person thinks you are kicking them when they are down. When you think you are being charismatic – and everyone else thinks you are laying on the cheese.  Spend as much time on learning about this as anything else. if you can’ t make working with other people a strength then you will be limited in your choice of roles.  And when you do understand that sometimes you can be a drag – say sorry and ask people to point it out when it happens. You’ll both benefit from that.

“Maggie’s Farm,” from Bringing It All Back Home, 1965

Key lyric: “I try my best/ To be just like I am/ But everybody wants you/ To be just like them

We talk about leaders being authentic- and that is absolutely a good thing. The real challenge is whether you are allowing everyone to be authentic. Having a CEO who can say whatever he likes – and then a clone army repeating a mantra underneath him, really isn’t the point of authenticity in the workplace. If you value diversity then you have to appreciate people will have, at times, a different view of the world. And that is a good thing because those views are as valid as yours – and pooling everyone’s wisdom – and coming up with a united voice – that has got to be more productive than just the one voice echoing one thought.

Dear Landlord,from John Wesley Hardin, 1967

Key lyric:“And if you don’t underestimate me, I won’t underestimate you”

There is something really interesting about the way we assess our own contribution compared to others. A great workplace is one where everyone understands the role that other people are playing – and they place value on that. If you understand other people’s strengths then why wouldn’t you collaborate? And if you collaborate you all understand everything a bit better – and so it continues until you are part of a well oiled machine. The first step in getting people to work well as a team is to not underestimate them – look for the good in them, look for what they add – because you would be hoping that someone is looking for the best part of you to bring to the surface. That is what leaders do, help people be the best they can be – not underestimate the people around them.

And if you aren’t familiar with Dylan, this is one of my favourite pieces… I don’t think Dylan specifically wrote it about people who whinge all the time about wanting to work somewhere else. He might have though


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