I had a drink last night with an old friend of mine. She was my account person when I started at Ogilvy well over a decade ago--one of the first people who was decent to me. About seven years ago she switched from account services, where she was a superstar, to a job she created--helping agencies manage and retain talent--and to treat that talent right.
If an ordinary person had this job, I'd roll my eyes heavenward and sneer to myself, "HR." And that would be that. But my friend, I'll call her Diane for the purposes of anonymity, is extraordinary, one of those rare people with a heart. And a person with a mind large enough to tear away all the cliches of "talent management," and actually properly manage talent.
We were celebrating a bit. Diane returned from the UK earlier this year for a job at a large agency, and now she had gotten a new job at one of the world's leading companies. After 15 or so years, she's out of the agency business.
A lot of what Diane's had to do in her "talent management" role was to fire people. That's the way it goes sometimes. She told me a story about someone she had to fire a few years ago.
"He was super-talented. Super smart. Super ambitious. He just didn't fit in with the CEO. The CEO was threatened by him.
"I didn't hire this guy, but they made me fire him. I fought to make sure he was treated right. Fought to get him the severance he deserved. Fought to let him know it wasn't him.
"After I got this new job, this guy called me. He was working at my new company--in charge of Interaction Design.
"Thank god I was good to him."
Diane's story brings up two points.
One is it reminds you of the tiny size of our world. I remember reading once in the 80s in "Advertising Age" that the entire American advertising industry would not fill the University of Michigan's football stadium.
Two is even more important. It's that despite then omnipresent banality of our world, the corporate callousness of the companies that "buy our time" and "allocate us" as "resources," we are people.
Whether you're rich or poor, big or small, black or white, green or yellow, you have to be a human and treat people as humans.
I came across this ditty from the late 19th Century about a month ago and posted it once before but at the risk of being repetitious it seems like a fair way to end this:
There was an old owl lived in an oak
The more he heard, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard
O, if men were all like that wise bird!