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The following post comes from Lucy English, Managing Director of Institutional Research at Horizons Workforce Consulting.

I'm not typically possessed by an extreme need for order, but lately work has been a bit overwhelming (in a good way) and I seem to have started to express my need for order in one area where I have control my two-year-old son, Arlo's lunch.

This morning as I punched flower-shaped pieces out of a slice of watermelon, wondering vaguely if this is pathology, I realized that the bento box is the metaphor I've been looking for as I've tried to communicate how a well-being approach to people practice provides an incredibly useful organizational scheme.

I also heard Brene Brown's voice in my head talking about her social work background: "I was surrounded by people who kind of believed in 'life's messy love it' and I'm more 'life's messy, clean it up, organize it and put it into a bento box.'" Accepting of life's complications while dedicated to trying to create some order for the people in their organizations, HR practitioners are a nice combination of those two approaches. The bento box approach to HR appeals to the orderly side, but allows for some personality as well.

Five Ways the Bento Box is Instructive for HR Strategy

  1. Proportionate

    A bento box has sections that you use proportionally to the most needed nutritional elements of the meal- this is tailored to the person eating the lunch. Likewise, in an informed strategy, HR leaders understand what areas of support are most important in their workforce and provide more offerings of these elements.
  2. Diversity

    A well designed bento box prides itself on variety of content- shapes, colors, food types. A good HR strategy provides diverse offerings, recognizing that their people have varying needs across life course, culture, family style, and other factors.
  3. Organization

    You can easily see if a key element in the meal is missing, or if there is too much repetition. When an HR plan that is laid out according to known needs of the workforce, you can more easily identify where there are redundancies and where there are gaps.
  4. Aesthetics

    Packaging counts. How you communicate HR offerings requires some artful marketing. People are more likely to consume your programs if you have made the communications visually appealing.
  5. Unique

    Each bento box is different and reflects both the maker and the person who will consume it. This uniqueness has two aspects: the overall approach (ours are vegan) and the presentation (in my case targeted to appeal to a toddler). Michael Porter reminds us that true strategy comes from something truly individual to your organization- something competitors can't easily imitate. Just as each bento creation is unique, your HR strategy should be too. The companies we love have a sort of personality of their ownthink of Apple, Whole Foods, Zappos.
Even if we know very little about these companies we have an impression of their character. What is unusual or even quirky about your organization? Let it shine in both your approach and presentation.

Informed Design

Reading some books on vegan nutrition and working with my nutritionist have informed my strategy for Arlo's nutrition. How will you know what your workforce needs? Ask. Traditional employee surveys won't tell you. You need data where you've never had it before. A holistic well being assessment will give you the information you need to respond to your workforce with programs that address their needs and will allow you to track the return on your efforts over time.