Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.

Forest fires, idiots & HR policies

Last week we were back in the US re-visiting one of my two favourite cities of 2017 – Portland, Oregon.  (I will reveal the other favourite in a later post….)


It’s been slightly eerie this time due to forest fires. For the last couple of days there has been a haze of smoke over the city and little bits of ash in your hair or on the trees.

Thankfully there has been some rain but the fires are still raging for thousands of acres. They were caused by a 15 year old boy playing with fireworks.

It got me thinking about how one idiotic act can cause such an enormous amount of damage, inconvenience, harm, loss and can even kill people.

In HR and Health and Safety I think we take the wrong approach to idiotic behaviour. We put enormous amounts of legislation or policy in place to say that you can’t do the idiotic behaviour. Unfortunately that doesn’t stop it from happening.

What we have to do instead is put that time and resources into educating people on the impact of being an idiot, or doing something idiotic.

I remember working in a retail company where we had a 6 foot fence up around the box crusher. It jammed and one of the employees decided to climb in to try and un-jam it. It was lucky he wasn’t killed. We had to put sign up advising people not to climb into the box crusher. But as well, perhaps we should have spent time discussing what should happen if the box crusher jammed, and what the consequences could be if you climb in. I know this seems like common sense, but it’s not for the one person who decides to do something idiotic.

We have to start building the why into our HR and H&S policies and legislation – not just the how. That’s what Simon Sinek found that great companies and leaders do. Why aren’t we?

As for me, once the skies cleared and the sun came out – we were off to explore Portland a bit more. If you ever get the chance to visit, I’d highly recommend it. Hopefully the forest fires will be brought under control soon and perhaps this will stop someone else from playing with fireworks in the future.

And to honour Portland, I thought I’d publish something I usually only share over on Facebook. One of my flash fictions. I was inspired to write this last time I visited and I hope you enjoy.


FLASH FICTION: She didn’t know what to expect. All she had to go on was a few snippets of Portlandia. Why had she never thought to go and watch a full episode?

But sometimes having expectations isn’t a good thing. Sometimes it means you can be disappointed.

Having no expectations on the other hand, means you can be pleasantly surprised.

And so it came to pass for Portland, Oregon.

They’d driven up from Sonoma. 10 hours on the road and Portland was now supposed to be only a few miles away. But all they could see were trees. Where the hell was this city? Normally a few miles out of the CBD you could see buildings. Was Portland hiding from them?

And then they came around a corner, and the I-5 ducked and weaved down a hill and across a bridge – and there was the river, and there was the city and there were the bridges. Not that she’d even known Portland was on a river. Not that she’d known there were bridges. But now she did.

It was late in the day but the sun still sparkled on the water and reflected off the buildings. There were trees everywhere. On every street. Even downtown.

Arriving at their hip hotel in the Lloyd district, overlooking a mural of RIP city, they found there was a rooftop restaurant and craft beer bar. So they sat and drank and ate and watched the sun set.

They had come to taste Oregon wine. Over the next few days it just wasn’t to be. With a craft brewery seemingly every few metres, their Portland drink of choice had to be beer. And drink they would (him tasting and her curating).

But they had something else brewing in Portland.

One of the perks they had discovered of travelling the world, was making new friends. Often these friendships lasted just one evening, drinking and eating and laughing but knowing you’d probably never see each other again. And that was okay. You still had an awesome night. They’d had one of these in Honolulu with a couple who lived in San Diego and Portland. They’d all said if they visited they would catch up.

So now they were actually here in Portland – they were about to attempt something that could go horribly wrong. They were going to meet up again. But one night Friendships as they called them, were one thing. They were fragile. They were tenuous. You didn’t deep dive into too much. You didn’t find out that you deeply disagreed on topics that were important. You didn’t discover that you didn’t have that much in common. You didn’t get to know enough to ruin those few hours of being great friends.

Except that’s what they were going to do.

And so they dived in. Met up with their Honolulu friend for a drink. 12 hours later back in the rooftop bar, the lights of Portland twinkling around them, still talking and laughing, they found that in Portland a rare and beautiful thing had happened.

And they were glad they’d had no expectations because Portland had delivered something wonderful. A city with edge. A city with trees. A city with craft beer. A city with true friends.

They would be back.

Oh yes, they would be back.

Angela Atkins is People and Learning Director for Elephant Group NZ and Elephant Group UK – and also developed the Management Bites training programme. She is best-selling author of the bites series of books and is passionate about helping HR and managers create better businesses. If you liked what you read here, please follow her blog and get updates when she writes new articles!


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This entry was posted on September 13, 2017 by in human resources, Leadership and tagged , , .
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