The Beautiful Blues !!

This past week the world lost a true musical legend, Mr. B.B. King. He was a genius and a huge influence not only as a Blues artist, but to the world of rock n’ roll. Without B.B. King, as well as other blues artists, rock music would never have come to be. It’s also key to note that the Blues are purely American. They are our contribution to the world of music.

If you ever watched Mr. King perform, he would close his eyes and throw his head back and move with every note that came from his beautiful guitar, Lucille. Like most blues artists, he had a tough background and faced incredible challenges throughout his lifetime. He took those experiences and wrapped them beautifully in songs that ripple with raw emotion.

After years and years of performing, people began to recognize his influence and contribution with awards and accolades. He maintained his grace and humble approach to others and let his music speak for him. In interviews, you often saw his passion for others, their music and for life.

Would you have ever thought that the blues would capture passion so beautifully? When most people encounter situations that give them the blues, they wallow in them and their circumstances drag them further and further down.

Passion is something we shy away from in the workplace. We’re concerned that if we allow people to be passionate they’ll become someone we can’t fence in to the company norms. This seems to be contradictory don’t you think? We want people to bring their “all” to work, but only if it fits what we’re comfortable with.

Blues GuitarHow about you as an HR professional? Do you have passion? Do you express it at work, or hold it in? Are you scared of who you might be or how others would act if they saw you being passionate?

How would your work and your impact be seen and felt if you closed your eyes and threw your head back like B.B. King?  What if you took the “blues” at work and turned them into something amazing?

It may seem a bit out of your comfort zone, but I think you’d love it. People want to see passion at work – especially from HR. Instead of being pulled down in the constant battles you face in employee relations, turn them around and spin them into better renditions of how they are presented to you.

If you know me, you know I’m very passionate. Not just about HR, but life in general. When I hear artists like B.B. King, I immediately identify with them and feel I could jump up on stage with him. I have to say that being passionate has brought more people together in what I do versus trying to approach things in a sterile, predictable way. I don’t get discouraged when I feel blue or hear about experiences that are happening with employees that may not be very uplifting. I take time to connect, listen, and embrace them emotionally to let them know that someone cares.

People want HR to be personalized. This isn’t the “put the human back in HR” argument. This is the “be a genuine person to the people who come into your life.” This is needed not only in the workforce, but in our profession. So, this week strap on your blues guitar, harmonica or grab the mic and step up and belt it out !! You’ll see how beautiful the blues really are !!

To put a fitting wrap on the passing of B.B. King, I leave you with one of my favorite duets of his with my fave group of all time. Enjoy U2 and B.B. King singing – “When Love Comes to Town.”

Kill the Ants !!

How did you day start today?

It’s a simple enough question. We all have fairly set patterns especially during the work week. Do you jump up to the shower, grab a hot cup of coffee, turn on the TV? I’m sure it’s different for all of us. Let me ask you another question . . .

What’s your first thought of the day?

Now, I know there’s no way to have even the slightest clue about what your first thought is because it could be one of billions of possibilities. The key to that first thought is not it’s content or subject, it’s whether or not the thought is positive or negative.

Why is that key? It sets the tone for your whole day. That’s not an overstatement. It’s reality. Chances are that if your day starts negatively often enough, you’ll become an “ant.” What’s an “ant” ??

Automatic

Negative

Thinker

You may be this type of person, or you’re around them often. An ant sees what’s facing them and starts their thinking with, “What could be the worst thing that could happen?” Then, more often than not, their prediction comes true. When you’re in HR, it seems like ants are coming at you all the time. That may not be what is really happening, but it feels like it. If you don’t think that’s true, look at your normal day and see if people are coming to you with positive or negative situations.

With this barrage of negativity, it’s not a surprise that many conversations that we have about people are negative as well. It’s not how it should be, but it is a tough ship to turn around. There are many elements of this approach that will wear you down. It could affect your stress level and even your health. Why is that a good thing?

Change Your ThoughtsOur minds take us to good or bad places every moment of the day. It’s a constant battle. This is why it’s important to see which side you could be on more regularly. Norman Vincent Peale captured it perfectly – “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

Be mindful of the focus of this thought. The person who is in charge of your thoughts is you. We often try so hard to make others change because we want their behavior to fall in line. We use tactics, discipline and a multitude of systems. In the end, they will have limited results. You may get some people to bend or shift for a period of time, but things will go back to how they were.

However, you can change YOUR world. That is bigger than you think because if you have a better start than what you may be having, who knows what could happen? This is a choice. This is a discipline. In the end, it matters !!

So, when you get this, the next day you face, choose. Positive or negative?

It will influence your day, your life, the lives of others around you and also the work that you do. Don’t be an ant. It’s not the best way to face the day. I’m positive that you’ll make a great choice !!

Image courtesy of Deviant Art

 

 

Don’t HR Me !!

This past week I had one of my many “commute convos” on the way home from work. I have a pretty long commute and I love to fill it with calls with friends. I know it’s a bit archaic to have actual conversations with people these days, but I’m sticking to it. They are often exhilarating because I catch up with people and hear the great stories and experiences they are having.

During this one particular call, my friend (also in HR) was telling me about a recent chat with her husband who was struggling with his job. He wanted to throw in the towel and look for something different. (We’ve ALL had that kind of talk with someone !!) His wife was being awesome and listening to him. As he paused, she pulled out her expertise and started coaching and exploring options for him when he held up his hand and exclaimed – “Don’t HR me !!”

We both howled about this story because she was doing what comes naturally. All people in every profession do this. We tend to keep things at the surface level and talk about our profession. Not true ?? When you meet someone for the first time and learn their name, what’s your first question? I’ll bet you that it’s “So, what do you do for a living?”

We are fiercely defined by our career and occupation. If you want to test how true that is, talk to someone in transition. One of the driving challenges of getting that next new job is getting over the feeling that our job IS who we are. Don’t get me wrong, it is a huge component of our life, but it is only one component.

Confined WallsWhat’s the harm in getting to know people past their profession? If all we have to talk about is work with each other, the conversations would get pretty predictable don’t you think? It may give you the illusion of some safety bubble, but it keeps people at arm’s length.

I have dear HR friends right now who are celebrating new accomplishments, mourning loss of friends and/or family, looking for their next great gig, seeing life through the eyes of their children, trying on a new city they just moved to, etc.

I love hearing about every aspect of what they’re going through !! They’re very cool in reciprocating as well. You see other than my great HR job, I’m a husband, father, musician, writer, comic book movie nerd, sold out musicophile, Scout leader and social media wonk to name a few things.

In just a few weeks, I’m going to the SHRM Annual Conference in Las Vegas and I’m geeked !! I’ve had a goal the past few years to try to meet every attendee, and last year I  made some serious strides. This year, I’m keeping the same target, but I won’t ask one of them what they do. I already know they’re in HR !! I want to be different and get to know them for the phenomenal people they are !!

It may make some folks uncomfortable, but I’m good with that and I have a motive to do this other than being an extrovert. I think that the more HR people are connected as humans, the better HR people we will be in our organizations. You see, you won’t look at your employees other than people you happen to work with unless you’re connected to other humans yourself.

This week reach out and make a call during your commute. Fill your travel time with connections to those friends that you promise yourself you’ll call. Don’t pause anymore. Give them a call and ask them how life is going. I know they’d love to hear from you !!

You never know, I may be calling you as well !!

The Future Looks Bright !!

This past week I had a very cool experience !! I was one of the judges for the SHRM Student Case Study competition. I sat with two other great HR pros from the area as we heard graduate students from various schools give their take on an HR scenario. It was very cool to hear their approaches which ranged from a traditional HR viewpoint to some that were extremely creative.

I was so geeked to see so many students come in and share. It helped to continue to dispel the stereotype that the most recent generation is so “different” and just doesn’t “get it” like other generations. I wasn’t surprised because this isn’t new. There have always been generations in the workplace. The stigma that has been assigned to younger people is from older generations. We have fallen into the same trap that we said we would never fall into when older generations made broad generalizations about us. We hated it, but it hasn’t stopped us from doing the same thing.

I think we need to have a serious change of heart and be the generation that encourages and lifts up the newest folks. Let me ask you a question . . .

Do you remember when you got into HR?

Most people don’t start in HR, they fall into it. I’m one of those outliers who has been in HR for my entire career (on purpose). When I started though, I was pretty much on my own. I taught myself what I thought was correct, but to be honest, my efforts had to be limited because I didn’t look outside of what was within my reach. I must have missed areas. I did what I had to, but I could have done better.

I didn’t know having someone who was also in HR as a mentor was needed. The truth is, I didn’t think someone like that even existed. I was wrong on this account as well. When I finally reached out and connected with other HR pros, I found some great people who are still mentoring me to this day several years later.

Now, back to these students.

We can be the ones who reach out to them now to be their connections and mentors. They don’t have to “earn their stripes” in order to struggle as they enter HR. We can be the ones to share our experiences with them and make sure that they are not left to try and figure out this industry on their own.

Bright FutureWe have the chance to help shape not only the future of these great young people, but we can help shape the future of our profession !!

Wouldn’t it be great to help these kids who are interested in joining our field have a great experience coming into HR? How would they see our generation, and how would we see theirs, if we did more to build each other up instead of trying to focus on generational differences?

The future of HR is bright !! I was able to see this first hand. I plan to reach out to these students and connect with them now and going forward. I’d love to see them succeed now and become the leaders of HR to come. I want to break the cycle and not be the stereotype of my generation. Will you be willing to join me? I hope you will !!

 

What Do You Think ??

Feedback is a tricky thing. When we talk about this topic, our focus is how we give feedback to others. This is needed because it doesn’t occur naturally, or often enough, in our organizations. It’s interesting to me though that when we write about feedback, we personally are never in the mix. Since the direction of feedback is always outward, isn’t is possible that we won’t receive any ourselves?

We are more than willing to give our opinion about people. It doesn’t take much prodding at all. The challenge is that when this occurs, we tend to list negative items or note things that we think need to be “addressed.” This is technically a form of feedback and it’s typically what people expect. It seems that it’s harder to give positive feedback, but it’s just that we haven’t practiced.

Feedback IconsTo get started though, I’d like to suggest something different. What if you asked people for feedback? Seriously, What if you asked people – “What do you think?” but it was about you and your performance. I know this is absolutely out of everyone’s comfort zone, but it’s an alternative approach.

The fact is – we all have blind spots. We may be behaving or performing in a way that is affecting others, but we don’t know what’s happening. You may not be “clicking” with them, or something just feels out of kilter. There is also a significant norm you’d be breaking because asking others to give you feedback may put people on the defensive. They may not know how to respond because they are stuck in the old model of either giving or receiving negative feedback the majority of time.

I know that this is a big stretch, so here are some starters to help you ask and also seek feedback from others.

  • What am I doing right ?? – You can set the stage and approach for these types of interaction by being positive going in. You have to get over the self-esteem barrier that may hold you back. This isn’t for others to brag about you. It’s to help them see that feedback can be positive !!
  • Where do you see me being an obstacle ?? – We all get in the way of someone. There are things that hinder our performance from being the best it can be. If we’re an obstacle to others, it’s better to know what that looks like so you can address it and, hopefully, remove it.
  • What’s an area where I could improve ?? – People want to share how you could do better. Asking it this way stops them from launching on you with a barrage of negativity. Ask people for things that are tangible and relevant and not just differences in personality or approach.
  • How can I help you do better in your role ?? – This one will throw people off completely. You see, we TELL people what to do and to get work done. The majority of people have a “task” mentality and they want to see defined stops and starts. By offering to help someone else you develop yourself and also relationships. Both are key to you doing well.

I know that this goes against what people think when it comes to the world of feedback. I want you to be encouraged though. I know this works because I’ve tried to practice it myself with peers as well as people who’ve been my boss. It’s a bit wonky when it starts, but I’ve seen it blossom to more open, regular and consistent communication.

Check out other’s thoughts on this as part of the Feedback Carnival that Helen Amery is doing out of the UK !! It’s fabulous !!

So, now that you’ve seen this different option . . . what do you think ??

Be Full !!

As I type this post, I have to admit I’m spent. It’s a good feeling to be honest, but it’s also exhausting. I brought this upon myself. You see, I had the opportunity to spend the entire day out in the sun working in my yard. It was the first time since Winter and I loved it !!

I don’t know how you’ve been feeling lately, but feeling completely wiped out clears one’s head. Do you notice what most people say when you ask them how things are? The vast majority of them say, “I’m busy.” There’s never really a definition of what that means other than they apparently have a ton of things on their mind or taking up the majority of their focus.

Now, I know it’s just a word, but when I hear that people are “busy,” I hear a negative tone behind it. It seems that when you’re busy you have things that “have” to get done even though you may not enjoy doing them. Being busy also implies that you are overwhelmed and feel that others don’t share your sentiment. It’s the feeling that no one could be as busy as you are !! Having this approach is a bit daunting. The reason for it being daunting is that EVERYONE is busy !!

Full GlassA few years ago, I changed my answer when people asked me how I was. If you ask me, my answer is – “I’m full !!”  It’s true. I am. I take the chance to fill my life up every single day with things that are positive, challenging and interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things that fill up my life that I’d like to change. I get upset too often and frustrated more than I should. I watch too much TV and don’t eat as well as I should. Those are facts that I can work on. They could be things that pull you down, but they don’t have to be.

To be honest, I think I could even add a few more things in to make my life even more full. You aren’t any different. Your life is full too !! The question you have to ask yourself is – Do you like what your life is filled with ??

The same is true for HR. Most HR folks I know always share how busy they are. When I hear this I can sense frustration and angst that surrounds their view of what they do. The thing that people don’t see is that if you keep the “busy” mentality, you’ll never enjoy HR because you’ll always be chasing after the things you don’t enjoy doing.

It’s time for you to become full instead !! Take the time to review what you’re doing and strip away those things that pull you down. I understand that all work has it’s purpose. How you approach it is key !! Get full and see how your day goes instead.

The next time someone asks you how you are . . . tell them you’re full !!

Grass Roots !!

With Spring now fully upon us, I’ve been tempted to get out into my yard. The harsh winter took it’s toll, and I’m definitely going to have to get out there soon and do some work. There are patches of my lawn that have become bare. These areas will get the most attention and I’m eager to plant new grass.

Growing grass isn’t as easy as it sounds. If you just toss the seed on the ground hoping that it will come to life, you’ll have little to no success. Once you get the dirt broken up and the seed dispersed, you need to make sure it’s covered and regularly watered. After hours of work and days of waiting, you’ll start to see wisps of green starting to come to life. It takes attention, patience and a bit of faith to get even the smallest bare patches covered once again.

When I look at HR, I see bare patches as well. I don’t want to point out areas that I view as “wrong” because that is too much of a generalization without context. I’m not in your organizations, but I’m sure you see areas that need some attention. The question is – Do you want to tend to them? Are you willing to get out there and work the ground, spread some seed and nurture things to life?

I think people see bare patches and want to do the work, but they are overwhelmed with the distractions that are taking up the majority of their daily focus. In HR, you are pulled 500 ways in the same day. This isn’t a complaint, it’s a reality. You rarely have a day where you can plan it all out and have the situations you face play out accordingly. That honestly keeps HR exciting for me, but I understand how it can be exhausting.

grassI want to propose a solution that is Grass Roots in nature to revolutionize who we are and what we do. The best movements in HR start as grass roots efforts. That’s true when Social Media came about as well as places where HR pros gather at events and conferences. The idea I have isn’t revolutionary, but the effort to make it happen will be.

The bare patch I see is that we continue to be separated as a community. There are pockets of people who are close and connected, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Many HR practitioners continue to work in isolation. When you try to reach out and connect with them, they feel either that they don’t have enough time, or that their work won’t allow them to do this.

This just isn’t the case. Having meaningful HR professional connections will make you able to get to resources you didn’t even know existed. This is more than being connected on Social Media forums or reading someone’s blog !! The connections that can, and should, happen take time to plant, water and grow. The result is that you’ll have people that you can reach out to that understand what you do, what you go through in your role and how to encourage you and lift you up to succeed in HR.

I’ve been “working the ground” on this for years and years and I continue to plan on doing that. Will you join me? Will you be willing to reach out and connect with other HR pros and build your community? Will you make these connections flourish and not let them be a flash in the pan from when you met at a conference?

People want to be connected. This is especially true for HR folks. Join me in making the dream of a vibrant, integrated HR community come to life !! Be part of the grass roots !!

Coffee and Apple Pie !!

Let me pause here at the beginning so you can imagine the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the mouth-watering smell of fresh, hot apple pie. Got your attention? Good. Now, let me share the story behind these delectable items.

This past week I was at a McDonald’s. It was midafternoon and not during a meal rush. I went up to the counter and there Tracey met me with a smile and a warm greeting !!

“Welcome to McDonald’s! How’s your day going?”

After my shock and surprise at Tracey’s demeanor, I replied, “I’m great and how are you?”

“I’m having a great day. What can I get for you?”

McDonald's Coffee“I’d like a large, black coffee.” (Author’s aside – I’m a coffee fiend and McDonald’s is always good for a great cup of java !!)

I paid and Tracey said she’d like to take care of the guests behind me and then she told me she’d get my coffee. I was fine with that and went back to my seat to talk to some folks about an HR issue I was tackling. A few minutes passed by and I didn’t have my coffee. I wasn’t upset in the least, but I did want some caffeine so I went back up to the counter.

“Tracey, I didn’t get my coffee yet. Could you help me?”

“Oh my, I’m so sorry. I missed that. Let me take care of that for you right now.” She asked another team member to get me the coffee and he responded, “Sir, sorry that happened, but here you go. I’m sure this will be a great way to get through the rest of your day!”

Here were two people just Geeked about their job and it was so refreshing. The story would be great, in my opinion, if it stopped right there. I went back to my conversation and after a few minutes, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Tracey stood behind me and said, “Sir, I’m sorry that I was late with your coffee. That shouldn’t happen. Would you please accept this?” She handed me a small bag.

McDonald's Apple PieAgain, astonishment. Here I am in a fast food restaurant where I’ve had more challenging experiences than great experiences and I am dumbfounded twice. In the bag there were two piping hot apple pies that would go great with my coffee.

I left the restaurant after having a very memorable time. As I was driving back to my office, I reflected on what happened. You see, Tracey took a situation and did what she could to make it better. She didn’t ask her manager about this. She had the ability to do what she thought was right.

Can your employees do this? Do they have the ability to do their job without obstacles standing in their way? Are the systems and “norms” in your organization ones that allow performance, or do they hinder them?

Wouldn’t it be great if employees knew that they had the freedom that Tracey has? This is where HR comes in. I would like to propose that our job is to see where obstacles exist that hinder employees from doing their job well and remove them. Those obstacles are real, but we don’t address them. More often than not we wonder why people aren’t complying with the processes that we continue to produce.

We need to switch our focus if it’s an obstacle to others. When you do this, you will enjoy HR more than you have in the past. Take the steps Tracey did. It makes an incredible, tangible difference !!

Her simple action made my day. She was an amazing example of how anyone can make culture great !! And . . . the pies went great with my coffee !!

Being Mortar !!

This weekend I had the chance to work on another Eagle Scout project for one of my scouts. I always enjoy working on these because I love to see the scout’s advance, do great work and it’s a chance to follow their lead. His project, like most of them, has a large scope. He’s building a new backstop for a High School girl’s softball team that his sister played for. It involved tons of digging, moving dirt and building a wall using concrete block and mortar.

MortarWe had some construction experts with us who laid the first course (layer) of block for the wall and they moved with grace and ease. As they continued down the row, they asked if someone wanted to “jump in” and clean up all the seams of the wall. I volunteered and I received instructions on what to do and given three tools to use – an edging trowel, a joiner and a brush. The goal was to use these three tools to make sure that excess mud (mortar) was removed as well as the seams were filled and then cleaned off to get ready for the next course of bricks.

Recently, I’ve seen a disturbing trend both in the workplace and in our profession. There are more and more efforts to split and tear down things. In the workplace we continue to develop systems that are punitive thinking that the more we keep people in check, the better they’ll perform. Personnel files grow and grow with reams of paper to document people’s missteps. I have seen notes hung up in workplaces stating that there will be consequences if people refuse to comply with this or that with the sentiment that the manager is communicating effectively.

In our profession, I keep seeing blogs and articles that tear us apart. I feel that it’s good to have a critical eye or point out how we can improve if something isn’t working. But, there are more and more blogs with labels that are derogatory and belittle aspects of HR. We need to understand that HR jobs follow a bell curve from those that are highly transactional to those that are highly strategic. One isn’t “better” than another, they are just in different stages. Companies may not want HR that is conceptual and strategic. I personally am bummed when I hear that, but I understand that it happens.

I have to be honest that I struggle when I see people who feel that negativity and cynicism will improve who we are and what we do. I read them and learn from views that are different from mine. It’s just an approach that is contrary to who I am. I’m surprised when people say that being positive is so hard and rare in HR and in the workplace.

I choose to be mortar instead. I want to see our field, and our workplaces, be places that come together to build a culture that moves a company forward. I want to use the tools that I have to join people together, remove the excess items they don’t need and offer a brush of empathy to reassure them that their contributions matter.

You may see this approach as naïve, utopian or unreasonable. The thing is, I’ll keep doing it anyway because I see it working. When I see notes, I tear them down. When I hear criticism, I look for possible solutions. When I see that things aren’t changing, I get involved on purpose.

The construction expert who taught me how to do mortar was encouraging and thought I could do well even though I had never done it before. He even said, “If you run into a problem, or don’t feel it’s going well, tell me and I’ll help you.” He believed in me and told me what to do. He was positive in his approach and thankful that someone was helping him with his work. The work was hard and I have sore muscles, torn up hands and scraped up knees. However, the mortar is placed and the first course is laid to be the foundation of what’s to come !!

The Soul of the Company !!

This past week I was fortunate enough to lead a workshop I created on developing an HR Brand to an HR chapter. This was an attempt to differentiate from “employer brand” and “employment brand” which are both important. The focus of the workshop was to get HR to own who they are professionally and also within their organization.

Any time I get to speak to my peers, I get more Geeked than usual !! The ideas were flowing and the mood was light. People love to share and one of the exercises we did was intriguing. I asked the attendees to make a side-by-side comparison of how they viewed HR and how others viewed us.

Everyone jumped into the list, and it took the turn I expected. The “others” side of the list filled quickly, and the answers weren’t positive. In fact, one person even had to remind his table that they should at least come up with some answers on how HR viewed itself. Unfortunately, this breakout supported the approach of most people. We tend to think negatively initially even if that’s not who we are. Negative thoughts and situations surround us in the majority of our activities. You have to work on turning the tide so that this isn’t how you approach HR or life !!

To help everyone try this I asked people to list how HR viewed itself. And then it happened. One person shared, ” I think HR is the Soul of the Company !! ”

Her answer drew audible oohs and aahs. People truly enjoyed that perspective and it made me think. What if we WERE the soul of the company as HR?

SoulI think this makes sense because this has a deeper meaning and impact than culture. The “soul” of an organization should capture and embody what the company values. It is also appealing because every company’s soul is unique just as it’s people are.

Too often HR is seen as soulless and I’d love to see that turned around. The key to making this happen has to start with us personally. Senior management can’t bestow this upon us, and we shouldn’t look for them to do that. What should the soul of your company look like? It’s a bit conceptual, but there are a few factors you can consider.

First of all, you would be the “center” of all of the people activities and interactions in the company. You could assist people on having healthy communication that was consistent and productive. Many companies aspire to have this happen, but it’s an area where we can all improve.

Secondly, being the company’s soul would bring depth to what you do. We spend way too much time on surface items because we feel that’s where HR should be because it’s “safe.” It actually distances us from others. Taking the time to get to know our people more deeply makes us vulnerable, but it’s worth it. People have been coming to work forever with little to no meaning. They look for ways to connect, and we should be that connection !!

I think this is a perfect way to position HR. We have a chance to look internally first to see what our soul could be and then we could integrate that throughout our company’s culture. We all have it in us !! Let’s try it and see what happens !!