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Bend Me, Shape Me

Flexibility in the workplace is not a new concept.  For years, we've heard about it from both the employee and the employer perspective.  There have been books and articles written about the 5, 8, or 10 steps in workplace flexibility (I know that there are other numbers of steps, but you get the idea).  Lectures have been given, speakers have been paid and enthusiastic companies have implemented short-lived flexibility plans.  SHRM has resource after resource of material and case studies for review.  So what more can be said?

How about this question: What is the business case for workplace flexibility?  Too often the goal seems to be flexible people with flexible schedules working for flexible companies.  What the heck does that even mean?!  One thing I do know is that profitability is not supposed to be flexible.  It's supposed to increase and move along a trajectory of growth.  I don't want the success of a company to be measured in its constant ability to reinvent itself at the cost of its core product or service all in the name of flexibility.  What if Apple decided that since being flexible is the latest rage, it would add a restaurant chain and a apron manufacturing subsidiary to its business?  Silly and over-the-top, right?  However, the point is that many of us in HR forget about what the company we work for is really about.

The company is about making money.  Every person working in the organization is in sales (just ask Todd Cohen).  What the company is selling is its product or service to the global market.  We don't want to take our eyes off the ball for the sake of being flexible.  What if it won't work to have flexible staffing for your organization?  What if you really need people to work the manufacturing equipment from 9AM to 5PM?  Those employees cannot telecommute.  They might not be able to have "fluid hours" (a new phrase I've heard).  Sometimes, the work has to be done in a certain time and in a certain way.  So, I ask you, are we to say that company is not flexible?

Sometimes being inflexible is just what's needed.  Sticking to what you know the business is about ought to be protected by the C-Suite and HR.  There is a vast difference between studying markets and preparing for changes in production, assembly and marketing compared to putting programs in place to make employees happy at the destruction of the work itself.  Some of those companies have granted their employees the most flexible schedule imaginable...the companies closed their doors.

Please hear me clearly, I am flexible.  I am a pretzel.  In HR, we have had to walk into each day ready to conquer whatever comes our way.  However, that is to be done to protect the core steady belief in the mission and vision of the organization.  We have to take hold of those non-negotiables and refuse to apologize.  The company's success will depend on someone somewhere making a decision and sticking with it.  We cannot be flexible about everything.  You're not a bad HR person if you cannot be flexible all the time.

Re-read those mission statements.  They are matter-of-fact and unapologetic in what the goal of the company is.  Inflexible?  Nah, right on the money.

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