HR Lessons From ‘Goodnight Moon’

I recently rediscovered one of the simple joys of life thanks to my 2-year-old and a classic children’s book.

“Goodnight Moon” is the simple story of a little bunny as he settles down into his bed and says good night to all the things he sees in his room. During the nearly seven decades since the book was first published, the little bunny’s bedtime ritual has become part of the nighttime routine of countless young children.

For my son and me, it became more than just a routine. He learned some of his first words as we read the book together. He giggled as the bunny did silly things like say good night to the stars and the air. It became a source of entertainment for me too as I watched him learn about the world starting with his room, begin to put pictures and words together and discover the simple power of stories.

It was refreshing. I’ve always been an avid reader, but in recent years it’s become more like a chore, something I know really should be done but, man, does it feel a lot like work sometimes. That’s a far cry from the nights when I’d sneak a flashlight past my parents into my room and stay up long past bedtime burning through the pages of “The Hobbit.”

But thanks to “Goodnight Moon” I’m getting my groove back. For a long time, my own bedtime reading has been some pretty heavy stuff. Spurred by current events in Ukraine, I recently finished reading “The Man Without a Face,” Russian journalist Masha Gessen’s take on the rise of Vladimir Putin from unexceptional KGB staffer to president of Russia.

It gets worse. The teetering stack of books beside the bed includes such page-turners as “Naked Statistics,” author Michael Wheelan’s attempt to demystify statistical formulas and explain the power of numbers in layman’s terms, French economist Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” a 700-plus page dive into the roots of economic inequality, and “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s discourse on how our brains make decisions.

Those nighttime reading choices have been a source of endless amusement for my wife, who looks at me with pity as I furrow my brow and wrestle to comprehend things like how Pigovian taxes can be used to offset the environmental costs of coal production.

My reading list had become the mealtime equivalent of a plate full of vegetables with a dessert of steamed broccoli: good for you but not the tastiest going down. The good news is I usually have no trouble falling asleep after just a few pages.

But what “Goodnight Moon” taught me goes beyond the fact that I should lighten up when it comes to reading. It reminded me that sometimes a story is just a story with no deeper purpose or goal beyond making you smile, laugh or cry. I’ve since added some fluff to my reading list and have found myself ripping off hundreds of pages at a time from the latest spy thriller by Alex Berenson.

Talent management doesn’t need to be so serious all the time either. Granted, you are dealing with weighty issues that have deep and lasting effects on your organization. The decisions you and your fellow managers make have significant, often life-changing effects on people’s lives, leading to a long-sought-after promotion or a painful exit. Succession planning, recruiting and assessing and managing performance are not child’s play.

But it doesn’t always have to be so results-oriented and business-focused. It sounds counterintuitive, but a little relaxation and relief can deliver better performance results than putting the pedal to the metal. But it’s true. Athletes have long known the power of down time for their performance. Scientists and creative types, too.

I’m not advocating that talent managers re-anoint themselves as party planners in chief. We’ve come too far and fought the stereotypes too hard for that. I’m simply arguing that there is a tangible benefit in taking a step back sometimes and creating programs or practices whose sole purpose is to entertain or energize the troops.

It shouldn’t take a children’s book to remind us of that.