If you’ll recall from Part One, we were discussing things I learned from watching Buffy during my very own 1968 Summer of Drugs. If you read part one early on, please revisit. It’s been upgraded from 6 lessons to 8. If you didn’t read part one and now think I’m a crackhead for that Summer of Drugs remark, please read part one for the explanation. Now, back to the lessons:
5. Quit your whining and get it done.
Buffy, at times, had to do some things that were incredibly unpleasant. Killing slimy demons, saving the world over and over again, and constantly putting herself in danger. She didn’t ever focus on that though, she just did what she had to do. She DIED TWICE (again, there’s an explanation but I won’t spoil it) and murdered her vampire lover/soulmate in order to keep a statue from sucking the whole world into hell. She didn’t love it, but she did get it done. (And don’t anyone gripe about the killing Angel being a spoiler. The man came back and had his own spinoff for 5 years. He’s obviously ok.)
In my capacity as “HR”, I have done actual HR work, plumbing, counseling, laundry, cashiering, coordinated food, blood and school supply drives, and handed out about 750 fried Thanksgiving turkeys. In one office, made up of 99% ladies, no one besides me knew how to use a plunger, yet they found themselves frequently in need of one and I had the honor. Did none of these ladies ever live by themselves or in a dorm? You learn these things there. Did I want to make fun of them? Hell yes. It’s not the XR17 Laser Freeze Ray, it’s a stick with a piece of rubber on the end! COME ON! Was it the best use of my time and salary? No. Is the time to point that out when someone has to pee and the toilet is clogged? No. Get it done.
Another time, as part of a minor dispute with a uniform company, I had to sort and count and label all the uniforms of everyone in a factory. About 60 employees, each with 11 shirts and 11 pairs of pants. That’s 1320 pieces of (mostly dirty) laundry. That was not my best day on the job, but I got it done. As much as it’s true that you never know what’s walking in the door (see Lesson #1), you also never know what task you’ll have to do. Just do it. “That’s not my job.” is not something you ever want to hear from an employee, so you shouldn’t say it either.
6a. (Mostly) Identical Problems Sometimes Require Vastly Different Solutions. Context matters.
Pretty much everything will die if you cut its head off, right? Not in the demon world. Some creatures can only be killed by stabbing them in their eyes, like Gnarl. Some have to be killed with a weapon made of silver, like Fyarl demons. Some of the scariest demons Buffy ever fought were called “The Gentlemen” and they took everyone’s voices away so they could cut out their victims’ hearts without anyone screaming. But they didn’t just silence the victims, they stole all the voices in Sunnydale. They could only be defeated once Buffy found the box containing the spell to capture voices, destroyed it, and then screamed really loudly. It was way scarier than I’m making it sound here, trust me.
Sometimes, an employee is underperforming because they don’t feel well. Other times they are undergoing a divorce, domestic violence, depression or they’re worried about a sick child or parent. And yes, sometimes they are lazy and horrible and should never have been hired in the first place. Your actions in HR will depend upon this context. The identical problems of underperforming employees will have different solutions.
6b. Just Because a Solution Worked Once Doesn’t Mean You Should Always Return To It
Just because I repaired my own VCR that one time with a knife, a fork, and kitchen tongs doesn’t mean I’d do it again. A) I don’t own a VCR anymore and B) that small shock wasn’t as invigorating as I told everyone at the time. The feeling of accomplishment I had that one day was good enough. I don’t need to do it again. Change can be good. Looking for new and better ways to solve problems, once you’ve got the proper context, will keep you efficient and aware.
7. Share Your Power
For a while there, Buffy was the chosen ONE…the only Slayer in the world, with all that responsibility heaped upon her young and slim shoulders. That’s a lot for one person. Then, through a few loopholes and technicalities, there were two. But one died, and the other went bad, so really Buffy was still the only real Slayer. In the end though, Buffy decided to share her power. She used a magic spell from Willow to break with convention and activate all the potential Slayers in the world. Not only did it help her defeat her biggest enemy by having other warriors to depend on, it empowered them to do their best and got them even more engaged in the battle. (That one WAS kinda spoilery, but whatever. The show’s been off the air for 10 years. You’ll live.)
The best boss I’ve ever had, so far, had a saying that I loved. “This won’t be part of your job, but in case I get hit by a bus, here’s how you do _____.” It was great. I loved that she trusted me enough to show me some of her tasks. She was the boss, so they had to be more important and a step up from what I was doing, right? This statement could also be amended to: This won’t be a REGULAR part of your job, but I’m (going on vacation, having surgery, moving into BioSphere) so, here’s how you do _____. I’m a huge fan of cross-training. Teaching people more skills means you have a smarter pool of resources to draw from and makes employees feel more valuable and engaged.
The worst co-worker I’ve ever had thought she could create job security by being the ONLY ONE who knew how to do _____. You’re not in charge of the nuclear football, woman. It’s inventory, insurance, accounting, recipes, whatever. Get over yourself. You don’t become more valuable that way, you become a risk! What if you get hit by that bus? NO ONE is indispensable and not sharing your skills or being willing to learn the work of others is a surefire way to show you don’t believe in teamwork. Instead of job security, you know what she created? A bunch of people calling her a very mean word behind her back. And she’s since been fired.
LASTLY, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY:
8. Find a Network of Supportive People and Keep In Touch With Them Always
I debated between number 7 or 8 as the most important and final lesson…that’s how much I believe in cross-training! But ultimately, in Buffy and life…it’s important to have people to learn from, to vent to, and who will take you for a drink on the day you get a promotion, get fired, or send out a 911 because you’re getting ready to kill your boss and nothing but a martini and one of Spike’s fried onion blossoms will stop you.
Buffy had the Scooby Gang. The core was Willow, Xander and Giles, of course, but she also relied on Joyce, Angel (when he wasn’t bad), Tara (when she wasn’t crazy), Cordelia, Anya (when she wasn’t bad), Faith (when she wasn’t bad), Riley, Oz (when he wasn’t a werewolf), Willy the Snitch, Dawn, Clem, and my personal favorite combination…Spike and Andrew (when they weren’t bad). That previous sentence alone should make you want to watch this show if you haven’t seen it yet.
Other Slayers were isolated and kept their identities a strict secret. Buffy tried a little at first, but then she realized that wasn’t feasible and embraced her group. She had people to take her out and celebrate her birthdays, which almost always led to death and disaster…another running Buffy joke. She had people to gripe to when she had a bad day and she had people to literally meld with to make herself stronger. (It’s a thing from Season 4. Just watch.) Buffy was the most successful Slayer because she had a support network.
A few of my best friends are also in HR, so they understand and help me when I have questions about policies, laws and best practices. They understand that when an applicant writes under the felony question, “Spank my child & in-laws was being hateful!” that this demands to be scanned so I can look at it and laugh when I’m having a bad day. They also understand when I tell them that an employee brought me a receipt for his genital warts treatment and though I knew I couldn’t catch it, I still went around my office with a Clorox wipe and cleaned every surface after he left. Most importantly though, these friends do NOT work at my same office or company, so when I gripe about Larry in accounting forgetting to pay the insurance invoice or Helen in marketing spending her whole day knitting at her desk like we can’t see her…they don’t know these people. They aren’t friends with them. I can gripe all I want and they love it. They do it too.
A few of my other best friends, and all my family, are NOT in HR and that’s important too. You need people who will take you out of this realm from time to time. You can’t be focused on everyone else’s problems constantly or it will drive you crazy…she said, glancing at her Rx anxiety medication on the nightstand. Really. It’s important to take off your HR hat and focus on yourself and your life and your friends and family. Have some people you can vent to; have others who will tell you to shut the hell up. Everyone needs to shut the hell up sometimes.
Here endeth the lessons. :-[
Ok gang…what did I miss? What has Buffy taught you? Are you a Spike or Angel devotee? Did you love Cordelia and Anya as much as I did? Do you think these lessons apply to other professions besides HR? Hit me up in the comments with your thoughts!
All image credits to Joss Whedon and Warner Brothers Studios.