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7 HR practices I learned walking along the way of St. James

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During the months of August and September last year, I walked and walked for thirty-eight days of what were almost a thousand kilometers between Canfranc Station (in the Aragón Pyrenees) and Muxia, following the yellow arrows marking the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James in English, and its extension to Finisterre and Muxia.

Pilgrims have travelled the route “the Camino” for more than a thousand years. Tradition has held that the body of St James was moved to Santiago de Compostela, in the northwest of Spain after his martyrdom - this led to the emergence of a formal pilgrimage route through some of Spain's most important historic villages, towns and cathedral cities. It has been proclaimed the first European Cultural itinerary by the Council of Europe and included in the World Heritage List by the UNESCO.

The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela gives the open-minded wayfarer a chance to shed heavy loads, disconnect from everyday life and learn new things about himself and the world around at every step. A pilgrim said to me this year that walking the Camino is like living an entire life compressed into a few weeks.

I wanted to use this post to reflect on the things that an HR professional can learn from walking the Way of St. James. Here you have some of my thoughts on the subject:

Walking is much better in company than alone. Although you often need to be alone or walk at your own pace, knowing that you have a group to back you during those low moments on the harder days helps. Sometimes you are the one who receives support and in others, the one who gives it. What could be better than sharing the weight of the pack between several! Similarly, for HR professionals it’s essential to facilitate team building within our company.

Training and practice make us much more efficient. There's nothing like seeing how long it takes to put away the sleeping bag and get the backpack ready to start walking the first few days, a task that can take a good hour between one thing and another, and then contrasting with the efficiency of the last day’s movements, when you know you can have everything ready in just ten minutes to leave the hostel. You learn to do things faster and better just by practicing. Our job in HR is to help employees to have time to perfect the work they perform well, either through practice or the right training to improve their different tasks.

Cordiality and a smile go a long way. When confronted with a conflict—simple coexistence on the Camino is a breeding ground for this—often there’s a better solution to be had for everyone, when being pleasant. It doesn’t always happen, as there are all kinds of people everywhere, but when the atmosphere is tense, even at the personal level, it’s better to handle it in this manner. This is a must in the way we treat each employee, both when asking for extra efforts or giving bad news—it’s crucial to be a nice face to help the person on the other side.

Effort and satisfaction from achievements are the best reward when we like what we are doing. And if on top of it all, you share it with the people who helped you get to the Plaza del Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela, it’s like crowning Maslow's pyramid. In HR, we constantly talk about emotional salary and the need to make this visible to the employee. Often we omit the obvious: we need to show the employee what’s been achieved and that he should be proud of it.

Absolutely everyone has the ability to teach you something or surprise you. This requires us to listen, observe and most difficult of all, avoid prejudging people. The HR professional who thinks he knows everything and yet is unable to listen, does not contribute anything to the organization.

When we worry more about what happens outside rather than what we have inside, we lose our balance. This may negatively affect the pilgrimage. If you are frustrated by what is happening around you, people walking without backpacks, taking taxis, and so on, you're ignoring your own feelings and experiences. You need to keep the focus on yourself to make the best of everything. The same thing happens to us in HR, we must be aware of what’s happening on home ground, in our department, our problems and responsibilities. Once we have a balanced vision of what we do, then we can analyze clearly what is going on outside and what other practices other organizations are implementing.

Planning is necessary and important, but we must be flexible and be able to improvise. Our travel plan should set goals, but we must be able to recognize when these goals are unattainable and change them, or spot a new opportunity to achieve a better goal. The future is unpredictable and HR must be one of the departments with a greater ability to adapt to the situation the company finds itself in. What we plan at the beginning of a year as a smooth one for calmly rethinking the structure of competencies and jobs can turn into a frenzied year of attracting new talent and making it impossible to achieve what we originally planned.

Alfonso Mazariegos

Alfonso Villalonga Mazariegos is a blogger focused on talent and knowledge management. An HR consultant at Meta4, a firm specializing in the implementation and deployment of HR solutions in enterprises, where he worked in customer projects covering recruitment, training, performance management, career development, benefits and time management. A veteran pilgrim of the Way of St. James and an avid football fan of Atlético.

Alfonso Mazariegos Villalonga es bloguero especializado en gestión del talento y del conocimiento. Consultor de RRHH en Meta4, firma especializada en la implantación y despliegue de soluciones de RRHH para la empresa, dónde ha trabajado en el área de proyectos entorno cliente en las áreas de Selección, Formación, Evaluación, Desarrollo de Carrera, Beneficios y Gestión del Tiempo. Peregrino veterano del Camino de Santiago y futbolero empedernido con sangre rojiblanca.

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