Stairway to heaven’s HR lesson

Despite accusations of clichéd pomposity, satanic messages and plagiarism, Stairway to heaven still ranks as the ‘greatest song in the world’. But what’s its message for HR?

Led Zeppelin’s 44-year old epic is a musical masterpiece and the song’s lyrical ambiguity adds to its charm. Do the rings of smoke, misgiven thoughts and ‘spirit crying for leaving’ depict hope, fear, greed or death? Or does the song really convey the struggle for meaning (without actually having any).

We humans have a fundamental need to feel important and to make a difference. This is evident in the profound questions we ask, such as who am I, what do I offer and why am I doing what I’m doing? For many people, work provides the answers to these questions. It offers us identity and status. That’s great if you work for an organisation you admire and undertake an interesting and valuable role in an environment where your contribution is noticed and respected. But if what you do is unappreciated or you feel your work is meaningless, it has a savagely detrimental impact on your engagement and your performance.

Going back to Stairway to heaven, HR can be the piper that leads us to reason. If you highlight the purpose of every job, and of the organisation, you can improve employee motivation. If you cultivate a climate where work is fun – and where line managers understand that part of managing people is managing their feelings – you can enhance the team spirit and sense of pride in your organisation.

Can HR teams find a way to do this? If you listen very hard, the tune will come to you at last.

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