HR Is Art

Photo by Edward Eyer on

“But if your work is your art, a personal reflection of who you are, the only person who can do that better than you, is a future you.” — Bill Crawford

My wife and I love cooking shows. The other evening, we were watching Chef’s Table: Pizza on Netflix. The show is a behind the scenes look at culinary masters making waves in kitchens around the world. It’s a documentary style. The episode we watched centered around Gabriele Bonci, the Roman baker and chef known as the “Michelangelo of pizza.”

It struck me that throughout the episode Bonci discussed his craft as if it were art. Everything that went into his pizzas needed to be pure and an extension from whence it came. The dough was made only from wheat grown a certain way. The cheese was made only from sheep who were loved and cared for. The meat only came from animals who lived a great life. When he put it all together, kneading the dough, crushing the tomatoes, forming the mozzarella, and cutting the vegetables – all of this was done in a way that mimicked artistry. Bonci’s pizza was his art, and he made it only if he could put his entire being into the process.

Again, we love cooking shows, and we watch a lot of them. This is not unusual. A lot culinary masters refer to their work as art — Grant Achatz, Carla Hall, Gordon Ramsey, Masaharu Morimoto, Christina Tosi, . They treat their work differently. They seem to put a different level into what they do. It makes sense when someone says, “my craft.” To those, work is more than work. It becomes art.

Bonci relies on what he calls “agriculture as culinary art.” It means, from what I was able to gather:

  • quality without compromise,
  • use only the freshest, natural ingredients available,
  • using ingredients produced by people who share the beliefs and respect the true value of culinary and nutrition,
  • ever-changing toppings on the Roman-style crust,
  • a mix of meats, herbs, cheeses, and seasonal produce,
  • choosing the size of your slice so it’s easy to try more than one.

I wondered what would happen if I treated my work as art. I’ve always had an artistic side to me – writing, drawing, sketching – but I’ve never really thought of “work” as art. Obviously, my work is different than baking a pizza. My work is people, but I see a lot of overlaps with the principles and philosophies that Bonci uses to guide his life.

  • Quality without compromise – All too often we accept mediocrity for whatever the reason. Being great requires more. Accepting mediocrity is allowing your art to be less than it SHOULD be. People we work with deserve the best, and YOU deserve the best. Settling helps no one.
  • Use only the freshest, natural ingredients available – Often times, we don’t have the best support to work with! Maybe we don’t have HRIS. Maybe we don’t have the right knowledge. Over time, we need to make changes to GET the best ingredients, or in the case of HR, supporting systems. Much like growing the best tomatoes or onions, we need to plant seeds and cultivate them, so they sprout the ingredients we need! Do the work, and the plant grows.
  • Using ingredients produced by people who share the beliefs and respect the true value of culinary and nutrition – Surround yourself with a supporting cast that sees what you see and helps get you there! As the famous philosopher Seneca stated: “Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those who you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach.” Echoed by Epictetus, “The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.” Professionally, if the organization doesn’t share your values, then find one that does. It may take a while, but the effort will be worth it.
  • Ever-changing toppings on the Roman-style crust – The only constant is change. The best way to deal with it is to act as water and flow with it, or be carried away by it. Change can be an incredible time to lean into creativity! Change presents an opportunity to dust off old skills, develop new ones, work with colleagues you don’t see often, or become something altogether different. This takes vision and inner strength. Much like chisel to marble, embrace the inside of the block and see what comes out.
  • A mix of meats, herbs, cheeses, and seasonal produce – Diversity is the spice of life, so it is said. I don’t need to restate all the amazing statistics to prove the value of diversity in the workplace when it comes to people. It’s true. Different lived experiences coming together in a crescendo produce better results. Period. Art has a multitude of color strokes, techniques, attempts. Taken separately, and it means nothing. Put it all together to make the masterpiece!
  • Choosing the size of your slice so it’s easy to try more than one – Similar to diversity, having more than one experience is key to living an artistic life. But don’t stop there. Get diversity of experiences, diversity of skills, diversity of jobs. All of these can produce different outcomes and solutions no one saw coming. Apply experiences from one field to strengthen another! I’ve seen this work so many times. It’s worth finding the answers in places others don’t see them.

Most of all, being an artist is seeing the image in the unknown and being able to extract it for the world to see and benefit from. Being an artist is knowing something exists that no one else can see and bringing it into the world. Whether that is pizza, or whether that is a new culture that can provide greater results for your organization.

The key to being an HR artist is the same as being a culinary artist, or regular artist – it is putting all your skills, thoughts, passion, and logic into proving that something is more than it appears.

By the way, Bonci has only two restaurants worldwide. One in Rome. The other in Chicago. Luckily, being a Chicagoan, I know pizza. I’ve had Bonci’s art, and I can say, it is beautiful!

My visit to Bonci’s Chicago November 2022.

In whatever it is you do in life, Buon appetito!!

© 2023 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved

Published by Paul LaLonde

Husband. Father. Passionate about HR, helping people, and doing the right thing. Also, heavy metal, craft beer, and general nerd things! #SHRM19Blogger. Find me on Twitter at @HRPaul49 and LinkedIn. Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

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