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Nicola Carpenter Post by Nicola Carpenter

By Nicola Carpenter on December 14th, 2018

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To the Companies in Holiday Movies, You Seriously Need Some People Ops Assistance

Big Ideas | People Operations | Holidays | Human Resources

It is December, which means that I am watching way too many holiday movies -(specifically the romcom variety that Hallmark and Netflix do so well), and it seems like I’m not alone. As I’ve been watching movie after movie, I have noticed some common themes: baking cookies (yum!), accidentally falling in love with a prince (or Santa’s son!), really fake looking snow (or incredibly not winter friendly outfits!), and people loving their jobs (just kidding).

There are so many terrible work situations in these movies. There are people who are miserable at work, people who need to escape to small towns away from their jobs to realize the important things in life, and more than one workplace that requires a staff member to get married in order to get promoted (this one still has me completely perplexed).

Whenever I see a toxic workplace on the screen, I feel the need to offer these fictional companies some People Operations advice, because:

Work. Shouldn’t. Suck. Even for Santa’s elves.

To Holiday Shipping from Christmas Under Wraps:

I recognize that your shipping company is actually a front for Santa’s workshop, but you should know that this secrecy and lack of transparency can lead to a whole sleigh full of issues. If employees don’t know where your company is going or why, important information can be lost. Different teams can be working towards goals that are not in alignment with organizational objectives.

A snow globe featuring a snowman.
OKRs can make your internal operations as transparent as this snow globe.

I’m not sure exactly how your company is organized, but let’s say that you have a toy making department and a request department, and both are siloed and not in regular communication about their goals. This could lead to the toy making department making too many teddy bears and not enough cordless drills, making some kid out there really sad that they didn’t receive their drill. Now let’s say that your organization mission is to make kids of the world happy. The result of the lack of transparency is in direct opposition to your mission.

I might suggest you think about experimenting with Objectives and Key Results to increase the transparency within your organization and help the entire organization stay on track during your December busy season. Here’s some additional information about how Fractured Atlas uses OKRs that might be helpful. With OKRs in your rotation of tools, I think that you can absolutely achieve your stretch goals this year.

To Mr. Singh in Holiday Calendar:

I know that you run a small photography company and you might think that you don’t have time or resources to invest in your staff, but here’s a primer in why you can’t wait until tomorrow to focus on People Ops.

People cutting crafts to make holiday ornaments.Just like these people, you can craft your way to a new job.

You lost one of you most talented staff members, Abby Sutton. Sometimes this is inevitable and you should be happy when your employees leave to do exciting things, but there was a missed opportunity to make things better through Job Crafting before she left. Abby seemed to want more creative freedom in her photography, and that might have been something that your company could have benefited from.

Here’s a Job Crafting booklet so you can use this tool with a future employee that’s feeling stuck in their role. Your organization is going to be a lot stronger if you have engaged employees, so I encourage you to find ways of rethinking work. We’re actually having a Strategic HR Bootcamp in February that I encourage you to attend. You’ll meet others in the creative sector who are working through similar challenges and we’ll also give you takeaways that you can bring back to work the Monday afterwords.

To the Publishing company in Christmas Getaway:

You’re doing a lot of things well! Your openness to remote work options is really great, but I also want to remind you that encouraging employees to take time off is important and will actually improve productivity, general happiness of your staff, and has additional benefits too. One downside to remote work is the tendency to blur the line between between when you’re working and when you’re not. This can absolutely be mitigated, and I’d recommend that you read the book Remote: Office Not Required. It should give you helpful tips to share with your staff to make sure that they are working remotely in a way that’s beneficial to the organization and themselves.

I also want to question how your organization is training its employees to have difficult conversations. It seems like one of your editors would rather trick one of her writers into renting a cabin and writing an article instead of telling her directly that her writing was getting impersonal. It’s important to be willing to have these difficult conversations at work, and is a key trait of high performing teams. A couple resources to check out for improving your organization’s ability to have these conversations are to take a look at Crucial Conversations and Fierce Conversations.

To Emerson Foods in Married By Christmas:

You have a new owner and one of your senior executives recently resigned. This is an opportunity to take risks and innovate, but is also a time of big change for everyone. Change initiatives go most smoothly when you take time to figure out how you will manage them. This is a blog post that outlines the human psychology of change initiatives and it has some things that could be helpful to you as you plan.

I want to pull out one of the tools that I think could be particularly helpful to you when thinking about the current changes you’re experiencing. It’s called SCARF and is an acronym that represents 5 things that trigger someone’s fight or flight mode. The 5 items are: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness.

A teddy bear in a scarf and hat.
Hopefully this kind of scarf makes you feel cozy and cuddly, not like you need to fight or flight.

As you read through that list, you’ll likely recognize some things that resonate. If you look at Status and Fairness, you can start to see why Carrie might have responded negatively after learning that there was a stipulation in her grandmother’s will that stated that the company would be inherited by the husband of the granddaughter who married first. This threatened her sense of status and fairness (she was under the impression that she would inherit the family company). There are also likely people in the company who are feeling a lack of certainty, so you might want to try increasing your communication to let people know about the changes to come. Also, remember that these are all about how someone feels about a situation. If someone perceives a situation as unfair or uncertain the fight or flight switches are going to go off for them even if you don’t agree with the situation.

Besides managing change, you’ll also likely need to hire people in the coming months. This Primer outlines topics that you should be aware of in the hiring process including employer branding, how to build a high performing team, and biases that affect your decision making ability. Good luck in these times of change. And if Ethan ever feels like he’s drinking from a fire hose with all this new information, others have been there before.


Now, is there anything WE can learn from these cheesy (but wonderful) movies?

I think that there’s something we can learn from these movies. Besides the fact that there are a whole lot of people who don’t love their jobs, these movies also repeatedly show us that relationships matter. Now, do I believe that two people should get married after knowing each other for a week? No. Do I think that workplaces should be more welcoming to everyone and that we all need to find ways to celebrate resiliency and self care at work? Absolutely. If these movies say that the true meaning of the holiday season is love and friendship, then I say that the true meaning of work is to make the world a better place, one step at a time. [Camera slowly pans out from a desk of me writing this in a snowy cottage in the mountains while sappy music plays and end credits roll.]


If you wish that like these fictional companies, you too could receive some People Operations assistance, have we got a gift for you! Take a look at our People Ops Portal where you can learn more about our philosophy and what we do, and in February you can attend our Strategic HR Bootcamp. We’d love to hear about your people challenges and stay connected, even if you don’t live in a holiday movie.

More posts by Nicola Carpenter

About Nicola Carpenter

Nicola works on the People team at Fractured Atlas, where she finds ways for tools and processes to better align with the organization’s purpose. She believes in tools so much that she sets personal OKRs every quarter. Prior to joining Fractured Atlas, Nicola worked for a variety of arts organizations including MoMA PS1, Walker Art Center, and Heidelberger Kunstverein, and she still has a particular love for museums. Originally from Minneapolis, she received a BFA in Art from the University of Minnesota and continues to stay creative through knitting and sewing clothes. She is currently in too many book clubs, but still somehow finds time to read books about organizational culture for fun.