Keep It Weird!

My wife and I traveled to Austin, Texas, this past summer, where I was fortunate to be part of the Austin SHRM Annual Conference. We extended our trip so we could spend some time exploring the city.

Austin has a very cool vibe, and it felt like my kind of town. There was art and music everywhere. Murals adorned countless buildings, with styles ranging from traditional to modern to abstract. The music flowed freely through the air, and it changed with every step you took. You heard folk, rock, country and bluegrass all combining to create a symphony of eclectic tunes that provided a soundtrack as you toured the various neighborhoods.

As we wandered into our first small, local shop, a drink coaster quickly caught my attention and I picked it up without hesitation. It wasn’t only the tie-dye pattern that was eye-catching. (Anyone who knows me well knows that would have been enough!) The message also resonated with me the moment I read it. It was an instant purchase.

You see, one of Austin’s slogans as a city is “Keep Austin Weird.”

It’s everywhere you look. A friend who is a resident of the city told me the slogan came about as local shops fought to keep big-box stores from coming in; the concern was that these stores would crimp the cool Austin culture and drive the smaller competitors out of business. The local shops won out, and the slogan stuck.

I feel this message can help with how we practice HR. We often say we want people to bring their whole selves to work, but we don’t really mean it.

That may sound harsh, but if you step back and review the majority of the actions that HR takes, the function is not built to encourage individuality.

If someone were trying to “keep things weird,” we would probably attempt to get them back into the fold. We tend to view those who express themselves openly as people we have to “deal with.”

This has to stop. We need to understand that every person is wonderfully different and unique. They have their weird already wired in. It’s not something they create; it’s how they live. Weird doesn’t mean abhorrent behavior. We’ve made this assumption for far too long, and it has never been right. HR spends too much time trying to confine, control and conform, and it’s exhausting.

I’d rather learn how each employee I work with is unique. I’d rather see how I could encourage all workers to amplify their strengths and see how their approach and perspectives bring new angles to the work we have in front of us.

I would also love to see HR embrace its own weirdness and breathe life, empathy, grace and a people-first approach into all we do. We have the chance to live this mantra and move away from traditional approaches that are worn out.

The drink coaster I bought in Austin has taken its rightful place on my desk at work and serves as a visible reminder to embrace weirdness. What can you do in your work to “keep it weird”?


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