The Soda Academy
"A balanced life makes you whole. A whole person is inspired. Inspired people create awesome stuff."
"People who have an expanded concept of who they are and bring that into the office, create more dynamic and relevant products and services. This is foundational to business innovation."

Sohail Coelho, Instrument

From Policy to Human – Expanding HR

From Policy to Human – Expanding HR

Imagine we assessed our designers, not by the freshness of their ideas, but by how closely they stuck to the rules they learned in design school. What would happen? Likely, they would stifle, their work would become derivative and clients would be bored. Well, if we don’t hold our designers to that model, why would we hold any other discipline within our organizations to it?

There is an opportunity to expand HR – beyond the policies and systems to take care of people into actively growing people. What I am offering here is a philosophical evolution for the HR function. I have worked in digital marketing and product development for 15 years, across agency and client sides. I have seen us relegate HR to a system of policies, rarely feeling any impact on the actual workings of the business itself. However, as a function, it can do so much more.

At Instrument, in Portland, OR, we are actively inventing a system that is essential to how we do business. We are innovation-focused and so we are building a system that expands the minds of our people to support imaginative thinking – and the focus is on life as well as on work. Re-imagining and expanding HR takes it into the realm of Human Development.

The central operating philosophy of Human Development is growing the whole human. What’s a whole human? Imagine you’re talking to someone. First, they tell you what they do for work. You get a picture in your head. Then they share their passions, hobbies and side hustles. They talk of their ancestry and upbringing. Then, their hopes, dreams, and life plans. A complete picture forms and that’s what we call “the whole human.”

By taking a developmental approach that grows all aspects of them to lead balanced lives, everyone benefits. This approach to growing isn’t about what a company wants them to be, but it’s about finding that perfect intersection between the needs of the company and the needs of the employee. We can’t make someone into something they are not. But we can seek to understand who they are, what they love and challenge them into growing into the next expansive version of themselves, where both work and life are enhanced.

Why This Makes Sense
Traditionally, people being whole or living balanced lives isn’t the business of the workplace. But we know that a balanced life (where needs of work, self, family and passions are adequately nourished) makes you whole. A whole person is inspired. Inspired people create awesome stuff.

Imagine you’re in a brainstorm and you have a group of people who stick to their roles and titles. Imagine that output and the feeling of that room. Who governs the conversation? What is the outcome? Now imagine a comparable session where every person feels safe and inspired to show all aspects of themselves—the artist, the musician, the mom, the introvert, the athlete, etc. What could those collective voices create? And wouldn’t that layered creation be more likely to resonate with more of the world? People who have an expanded concept of who they are and bring that into the office, create more dynamic and relevant products and services. This is foundational to business innovation.

How We’re Doing This
It’s a human development system that we are incubating, testing, and experimenting with. It’s comprised of 1-1 guidance, group workshops and work-life balance. Employees opt-in and set up time to discuss everything from expansion at work to expansion in life. Group workshops create a sense of shared purpose, are an open forum to discuss life limitations and ultimately, foster a real depth of intimacy. Then a series of skill-specific targeted programs enable a laser focus on areas like leadership development, the art of influence, presentation skills, and more. After a year of incubating these programs we are seeing direct impacts on work, better retention, a more broad-scale focus on life and work expansion and more inspired people.

We are standing at the nexus of change – our businesses, the tools we use, our processes, our clients’ needs - are all constantly changing. In that environment, we must all be asked to truthfully assess who we are, how we work and the depth of our impact. Every discipline, function and process must evolve. And in this, there is a unique opportunity for the expansion of HR into a business-critical function that empowers, champions, and grows the whole human.

About the author:

Sohail Coelho is the Director of Human Development at Instrument, a digital brand and product innovation company in Portland, OR. He worked in New York City at agencies, like Digitas and client-side at American Express in digital business development. After 12 years in the hustle, he left it all to travel around the world for several years in search of an expanded concept of self. Along the way, he found the artist and healer/teacher in him and has since dedicated his life to helping people expand their concept of who they are and live from it.