Common Sense

“Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.”

“Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“There is nothing more uncommon than common sense.”
Frank Lloyd Wright

Every day I receive numerous HR email newsletters in my inbox and every month, HR Magazine from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in my mailbox.  I value these sources for their informative reporting on HR topics ranging from healthcare to employee engagement to the latest relevant legislation and employment law.  Often these resources also include articles that are essentially case studies, regarding managing and leading, provided by “experts” and big time CEOs, VPs of HR etc.  These articles go into detail about the newest strategies for human resources and organizational leadership that companies are implementing in the face of today’s challenges in the workplace.

What strikes me most about all this “new” wisdom is, while the information is voluminous and substantiated by a scientific approach, the conclusions are not necessarily new.  Much of it confirms what we have known for some time.  The literature seems to echo tried and true approaches that have always been successful and derived from an age-old tool that seems to be disappearing from the workplace… common sense. defines common sense as “sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training or the like; normal native intelligence”.  I am concerned that the state of today’s workplace seems to have elevated the science of human resources over the humanity of it.

Old News You Can Use

Here are a few of the recent headlines that I’ve seen:

“‘Bosses need top-notch people skills’, says Century Payments CEO” – Sounds reasonable, leaders should be able to get along with others, listen and have compassion for their viewpoints.

“Bad leaders get the workers they deserve” – Sound like Karma, just another version of “What goes around comes around”.

“Leaders should be consistent, says Google exec” – Hmmm, I’ve regularly stressed the importance of consistence.

“The Power Of Nice – Kindness As A Leadership Trait” – Should we find it surprising that treating people well when you lead yields positive results?

“Opportunities for professional growth are crucial to retention” – Another way of saying “give them a reason to stay”.

“Employee engagement starts with personalized communication” – Uh oh, that means putting the smartphone down and getting out from behind the desk.  Yikes!

“Innovation boils down to people, not processes” – The bottom line has always been people make companies successful.

“How to make your workers more ethical” – What if we returned to ethical expectations and then hired folks that live up to those standards?

“The New Hiring Mantra: Finding Candidates With Great Cultural “Fit” – Round pegs have never fit into square holes; fit has always been important.

“Stop! Don’t hire the wrong person” – Just in case you forget the mantra, I guess…

This is all good guidance but none of it is new.  All the findings and advice relate back to concepts that are axioms that have served leaders well for years.  Moreover, it’s all common sense.  However, these days common sense seems to have become lost in a morass of new terminology, studies and, unfortunately, a legal system that believes broadly focused “rights” are more important than setting high expectations and holding people accountable for their workplace behaviors or lack of them. (click here to read more about one federal court’s opinion on sleeping on the job)

Some Things Never Go Out of Fashion

Like a pair of khakis or a crisply ironed white shirt, common sense need not go out of fashion in the workplace.  A good leader can make the conscious choice to do what’s right, to do what makes sense when they lead and manage others.  Regardless of what the new trend or buzzword may be there are some things that never change.  Good communication, a consistent approach, setting high expectations and expecting ethical behavior of coworkers and customers have always served everyone well.  Hiring people that fit your company’s culture, treating them well and supporting their professional growth as well as recognizing and rewarding their achievements always helped motivate employees to perform at a high level and earn their loyalty.  None of this is new, just good, basic common sense.  Any coach will tell you that the best teams are not the ones that have the coolest uniforms or the best equipment.  The best teams are the ones that get back to basics when they play.

The Good Old Days

It’s time to return to what has always worked for successful companies.  Perhaps all the studies and the experts with their opinions and experience can point us back to the leadership methods that worked so well before all the sophisticated research and opinions were available in print and online.  Want to know what your employees are thinking; ask them.  Want them to understand the challenges your company faces; educate them.  Looking for good people to work for you and who will stay with your company; put more effort into hiring people with whom your organization’s mission resonates and show them you appreciate their work.

Regardless of all the data and advice at our fingertips, despite all the challenges we face in today’s workplace, maybe it should be more common that we just do what makes sense.

Here to serve,


John Duba

Next month:  In with the Old, Out with the New, Not So Fast…

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