Believe

Year-end is always a full time for HR. There are various open enrollment efforts, reports and social events. Throw into the mix that we’re in the midst of the holiday season which brings it’s own set of emotions ranging from positive to stressful. At a time when you’d hope people would be more open and gracious, you may find just the opposite.

I find that the longer I’m in HR, the more I see a common theme in people. They want something, or someone, to believe in. This sentiment seems to swell during the holidays because of the focus of the season. Whenever we talk about belief in the workplace, we start to shudder. Our HR anxiety starts to creep up, and we fear that we’re going to venture into territory that will surely lead to us having conversations with people. They will be the conversations that even make us uncomfortable.

When did this happen to us? Why did we become the people that limit conversations about beliefs? I understand the legal boundaries and that people don’t want to have things forced upon them. They shouldn’t have that happen, but people still are looking for that connection to anchor them.

Some may say that we need to rally around the organization’s values and missions, and that has merit. However, it doesn’t go far enough. Beliefs are personal and people feel more complete when they know they’re heard and even expressed. I know this may be contrary to the norm, but I don’t think we need to jump to extremes.

believeI remember when I was very young, I desperately wanted a pony for Christmas. My mom took my brother and I to see Santa Claus at the local American Legion Hall. When I went to share my desired equine gift, Santa evidently was getting the “No” nod in the background from my mom. So, Santa being very adept and quick told me that if I memorized all of the names of his reindeer and came back next year, he’d get me the pony. I’m sure he thought I’d lose interest because I was so young.

I didn’t lose interest. I wrote down the names of the reindeer including Rudolph and memorized them. The following year we went back to the Legion Hall and I was ready. I sat on his lap and recited each reindeer in order. I rushed home, fell asleep (sort of) and jumped out of bed waiting to see my pony. It wasn’t there under the tree or outside and I was crushed.

My mom came to console me and she was fantastic as always. She knew that I was disappointed. We had a long talk, a few cookies and she explained that she understood my disappointment, but that Santa didn’t always get everything for every boy and girl. That’s why he asked for a wish list. I liked her response. It didn’t cover the reality, but it didn’t destroy my belief.

Honestly, my mom still uses Santa’s name on the name tags of presents for our family. She knows the power of belief and how that brings people together.

This is a great lesson that I have kept with me. This year step back and take a breath and don’t let the pace overwhelm you. Instead, take time to believe.

Go Global !!

I grew up in Ada, Ohio which is literally one square mile in diameter. It was magnificent and I had no idea of what the world looked like outside its perimeter. You see, I grew up in the pre-internet days and we thought traveling to Lima, Ohio to see a movie was a true expedition !! It took us 15 minutes to make that trek, but we couldn’t believe we had such freedom. I have to say that I enjoyed being blissfully unaware of the world outside my little village. That was over 30 years ago . . .

Ironically, the world has changed little for most of my peers in HR. We continue to live in a microcosm of the global reality we live in. There are many folks today (around the globe) who limit themselves to the city/town/village they live in as their lens for looking at what they do. It may even be more constricted in that some HR professionals only perspective is within their own organization.

We live in a global community whether we recognize it or not. We can’t keep existing in a flat world model. There don’t have to be any horizons on HR and how we’re connected. I don’t think I’m the only one thinking this. I continue to find and connect with great folks from every continent. The more folks I find, the more I get geeked to make these new discoveries.

In a day and age where countries are calling for more segregation and isolationism, I think it’s up to HR to span those boundaries and blur them more and more. I understand that we each have unique practices, laws and regulations, but we have one thing in common . . . humans.

There’s no logical reason for us to stay confined within our own geography. With technology and social media all around us, all we need to do is click a button to Follow, Link In or Friend each other. We can talk via Skype or video conferencing regardless of distance or time zone. It only takes someone willing to step forward.

I remember a few years ago when I went to my first SHRM National conference and we were AMAZED that there were people who practiced HR in areas of the world other than us. I’m not exaggerating. It’s as if we discovered an entirely new land. It happened again when I attended my first HRevolution event and we were astonished that others who were active in Social Media in HR actually existed and that we were real people and not just avatars on a screen.

Better TogetherIt’s time for the HR community to be global. I don’t mean global from a U.S. perspective. I mean global from an industry perspective. This goes beyond the great professional societies that I encourage you to belong to because they are wonderful forums. This is a call for individuals to make a grass roots effort to connect, communicate and collaborate.

I look forward to the day when I’ll get to travel to the UK, India, Africa, Australia, Japan, Canada, etc. and meet peers who get to work with humans. It will be fantastic to get to know them personally and see what great things they are doing in the field and inside their companies.

I want you to not only thrive in your village, but in your profession. Join me and see how we can be better together globally !!

Expand Your Sphere !!

What does your group of connections look like? Are there people you are more tightly connected to than others? Does it matter?

It does.

HR is a challenging profession and it’s even more difficult if you try to gut it out and work in a sphere that only contains yourself. You won’t find many people internally who understand what HR is all about unless they are in the trenches with you. This isn’t to bemoan what we do, but it does point out the fact that we have few internal connections that we can go to and talk.

This doesn’t have to be your reality. You’re able to change and expand your sphere, but it takes effort and intentionality. This is more than having a professional network. You should have that, but genuine connections are deeper than people you may interact with on an occasional basis.

I just returned from the SHRM Volunteer Leader Summit which is made up of volunteers from all 50 states. They are HR professionals who are connected through local SHRM chapters and/or State Councils. When this group gets together, you feel a heightened level of energy. This is true because they share common experiences. It’s my favorite SHRM gathering because I “grew up” in the same structure at the local, State, regional and national level. I love seeing friends who have volunteered along with me and I really get geeked meeting those who are new to this environment.

Interestingly enough, even though these folks have a bigger commonality which brings them together, people still tend to stick with those they know from their State. I’m not being critical, it’s just an observation and a potential opportunity that could be missed. That opportunity is that they could reach out and meet folks from other parts of the country who may work in different industries, but they’re hesitant.

boy-in-sphereNow, I know that I’m comfortable meeting new people. I also know that’s not the norm. When I was first involved with SHRM as a volunteer, I was the person who stayed with those from my State. I was following the lead, and the expectation, of those who had gone before me. I didn’t know that you could break out of that model because my context was that we gathered to learn about the organization and our role, and nothing else.

Over time, that didn’t feel right. I come from the perspective that it’s more meaningful and critical to meet the people who do what I do. So, I decided to cross the invisible boundary and meet people from around the country. What I found out was that there were others who wanted to meet as well. It took some time, and it still does several years later. It’s hard to break into the spheres of others.

Here are some suggestions that could make this easier . . .

Be Genuine

It pains me to type this, but we are skeptical of others when they want to meet us. We think there’s some ulterior motive. Since that’s the environment you’re going to press up against, be up front and tell people who you are first and why you want to connect. Being genuine will allow you to connect naturally.

Connect Others

Meet people in other spheres whenever you get the chance and make connections for the people you meet. This isn’t about collecting folks just for yourself. That’s creepy. Connecting others allows them to meet new people they may haven’t had the chance to do before. It’s also a great way to make connecting more accessible for people regardless of being introverted or extroverted.

These two things may seem like small steps, but they aren’t done nearly enough. The next time you have the chance to make more HR connections, do it. Expand your sphere. You’ll be surprised to see how fulfilling it is personally and professionally.

. . . And I Feel Fine

When you head into work this week, I’m sure you have a million things on your mind. Everyone does. The majority of these items which fight for our attention all want to have top billing. Even the smallest of thoughts can become all consuming.

The question is, how do you parse through all of these things effectively? There is a sinking feeling that every, single item deserves our full attention and that is nearly impossible to do. You may have great intentions, but more often than not, you get stuck attending to just a few things and the emotions that keep building up have nowhere to go.

The ironic fact in this description is that you are not the only person who feels this build up. It’s every employee who walks into work each and every day. Having all of those emotions swirl around with no outlet isn’t healthy.

As HR professionals, we need to be that release valve. I know this may sound daunting, but it’s an opportunity to be an incredible asset to others and to your company as a whole. I was chatting with my dear friend Victorio Milian recently, and our conversation kept circling back to this reality. The challenges with providing this outlet for employees are two fold – (1) We wait too long to provide this for people in most cases and (2) Who’s going to be our outlet?

We need to come to terms that our “reason for existence” is people. I know that it’s a point that I keep harping on, but it needs to keep coming up until the needle genuinely moves and workplaces embody this. In order to take steps in this direction, you need to be unflappable. It’s hard to do, but here’s an alternative way to get you started.

In the 1980’s, I became obsessed with a band that got it’s start on college radio, R.E.M. I have almost every album they’ve ever released. One of their best songs is entitled – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine). I love this because even though the lyrics list all of the forces that are playing on the singer, he says that he’s fine. I know it may be a bit tongue in cheek, but it’s a great perspective to hold from our end.

By being the outlet for employees, we can help them work through their “stuff” and get back to a point where they feel less anxious, stressed or frustrated. I know there may be greater situations that would call for outside expertise, but you can’t even get to those recommendations without being an outlet yourself to start. Being unflappable means that no matter how incredible the situation is that your employees are facing, you stay “fine.” They think that their world is ending so they don’t need you to get caught up in their emotions. They’re looking for stability.

This investment of your time and focus is imperative. It will make HR more fulfilling than it is right now. Pouring into the lives of others and relieving their concerns doesn’t have to be overwhelming. We assume we’re going to hear some horrific ordeal, when someone may just need some attention. Walk into these encounters without any preconceived notions. Just stay and genuinely listen to what they’re facing and go from what you hear.

i-feel-fineSo, who is our outlet? You may be fortunate enough to have someone at work you can confide in as a release, but that’s rare. We deal with too many human issues that honestly can’t be shared with others at work regardless of their position. You may have a release at home, but they be difficult to do as well. Your family may look to you as their outlet just as much as the employees do as work.

My recommendation is that you find peers that understand and experience HR just like you. Having a strong network of friends that can empathize and listen is priceless. I have worked on building and maintaining this for years. I’m fortunate enough to be able to pick up the phone and call just to chat with HR folks around the globe. Being able to share stories, seek perspective and reciprocate and be an outlet for them keeps me balanced.

This week take a breath and understand that you get a chance to be there for others. When you do this you’ll see that we’re all fine !!

Leaves.

I love Fall. I mean it. It is my favorite time of year by far. The mixture of cooler temperatures, apple cider, bonfires and the colorful trees make the season perfect. Add to that enjoyment is the fact that I’m a “yard guy.” I get incredible satisfaction from working with my hands doing yard work. From the first time of cutting the grass in the spring until the last piece of trimming after the first frost, I’m geeked. Genuinely, thoroughly geeked !!

I’m in the yard a ton right now because our house has several mature trees. For about a month straight it literally rains leaves all around my house. The grass becomes a vibrant blanket of color. It’s really hard to remove them, but that’s part of the gig. They need to be either raked up or mulched to clear things in anticipation of Spring.

falling-leavesAs I was mowing this year’s “crop,” something came to mind. Leaves are a lot like our employees. You see, the workplace is changing right before our eyes. Employees change roles more often than they did in the past. This may happen internally, but usually people move on to opportunities with another company. I’ve heard people say that employees aren’t loyal any more. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Just like leaves, people now work for us for a season. That season may be several years long, or it may be for a short period.

This presents a challenge for HR and traditional company cultures. We tend to settle in and think employees will stay with us forever. We are shocked when someone announces they have a new job. We should have a long-term focus for our employees, but we should balance that with the reality that they may leave. Today’s workforce is fluid and we need to be more agile and adept. This shouldn’t be seen as something that’s frustrating. It gives us a chance to evaluate and bring in great talent on an on-going basis.

On other aspect that leaves have in common with employees, is that we pile on when they change jobs. It is unfortunate that when people leave a company, everyone talks poorly about them. It’s like raking a big pile of leaves and then running to jump into it. What is the purpose of tearing someone down after they leave? Do we only have negative memories of what they did or how they performed?

We need to change this because I contend that if we can only cite negative memories of employees once they leave, then we’re thinking of them negatively now. HR should step in and not allow this negative approach to be pervasive. Here’s a new approach . . .

Get employees fully connected, engaged and contributing every day. Let them bring their best in all they do. Expect it from them and don’t shy away from this. Like leaves, every employee can appear green and the same to us when they really are colorful, creative and waiting to shed what’s common about them and show who they really are. If you do this with your people, you’ll celebrate and congratulate them when they move to their next opportunity.

Their past will get raked up or mulched to show they what they did built the value of the company while they were there. You have a chance this Fall to change your perspective about your people. Take a breath of the cool air and celebrate the leaves all around you !!

Be Different !!

Have you ever had someone tell you that you’re “different”?  If you have, I’ll bet you didn’t like it. We don’t want to be seen as being outside the norm. Throughout our lives we do our best to blend in because it’s more comfortable for us, and we feel safer being in groups. It’s not easy to stand away from the pack.

What if you did step away from the crowd? What would happen? Would you have the stamina to stay outside and be different?

The reason I’m asking these questions is that many HR practitioners take the safe path. Trust me, I’m not calling for you to be contrary just for the sake of standing out. However, I am asking you to consider how you practice HR. Doing things traditionally within organizations will allow you to be effective . . . to a point. There are tasks that we need to perform in order to keep structure and parameters in our companies. This aspect of our function should occur naturally and provide a foundation for HR practices, polices and procedures.

be-differentDo you move past the foundation? If you do, then you’re beginning to be “different.” It’s true. What we need to take to heart is that organizations expect us to have a strong base, but they are looking for more. It’s not enough to just make sure that things are in order.

One thing to note is that stepping away from the crowd isn’t negative. It’s not going to cause you to do things that take away from practicing great HR. It should allow you to be the businessperson you were meant to be. We need to come to terms that it is no longer enough to only practice HR. It just isn’t. We can’t continue to think that we’re needed in organizations if we aren’t contributing to the success of the company as a whole.

There are many ways to differentiate yourself. Some things are specific to the type of service/product your company does, but there are three items that can be implemented in every type of company.

Solutions not problems

I received a great piece of advice from an HR executive. He said, “Everyone brings me problems. I need you to bring me solutions.” He was talking about others in HR. His experience was that he could tell if an HR person was strategic or not by how they approached him. If they only brought up problems, he knew they weren’t strategic. We need to bring solutions to organizations. It makes us different.

Span the Levels

People tend to work and interact with people at the level they personally hold. Executives work with fellow executives. Middle management hangs with and collaborates with those in similar roles, and the front line staff stay with their peers. Great HR practitioners don’t see the levels. They move up, down and across with ease. It takes great effort to not get stuck at your level. However, when you do it, it makes you different.

Build Relationships

There is a step that goes past the ideal of making the workplace more human. That’s thankfully becoming the norm, and I’m geeked to see that. The next step is to build relationships. There’s a healthy way to do that across departments. The reason to do this is so that you can understand your employees better and more intentionally. Knowing information about their family, their interests and their hobbies matters. People are longing for acknowledgement and connections in their work. Step out as an HR person to make build their relationships and be different.

The small plaque pictured above is where I plan to stay and I hope it becomes the mantra for you and all of HR. Once you find ways to be different, don’t change. Stay that way.

Our Future

I never thought I’d be the type of person who reminisces as he got older. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t yearn for the past when things were better and people had a stronger work ethic, etc. Trust me, I am doing what I can to debunk the continued effort to separate, isolate and categorize generations. I think it’s short-sighted and runs contrary to what HR should emulate – the bringing together of all of our differences to make us even stronger !!

I’m wondering what the future of HR will be. I still plan to be a big part of it’s present and future for some time to come, but I also know that the field needs to evolve, be disruptive and stay relevant. This will happen primarily with one group of HR folks  . . . students.

The “reminiscing” mention I noted before was thinking back to when I was a student. I graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Interpersonal Communications. I happened to go into HR as a recruiter, but I was taking a leap of faith because people were just starting to use the term “Human Resources.” The working environment was still very much in the world, and practice, of Personnel. No one came to campus to look for HR practitioners. The career services office was polite, but students had to do most of the leg work to find jobs.

Looking back, I don’t want to see that happen to students anymore.

One of the highlights of my career so far is working with HR students. I have had the opportunity to speak to classes at universities, serve as a judge at SHRM Student competitions and also speak at SHRM student chapters. It’s something that can give students encouragement and a reassurance that they’re entering a great industry.

I take a different approach than most because I don’t meet with them to regale them with my HR conquests and successes. It isn’t a chance for them to meet an “expert”. Ick.

past-present-futureInstead, I ask them questions and then answer whatever they ask. Everything is allowed because I want to clear up any misconceptions about HR as well as what it’s like to join an organization. You see, they are my future, and they’re yours as well. We have a chance to share our knowledge as well as our challenges. We can help them avoid some of the struggles we’ve experienced professionally. There’s no need for them to sink or swim like many experienced when they entered the HR field.

There are only two things you need to have to make this investment in our future – Your willingness and your time.

You don’t have to have all of the answers. In fact, it’s better that you don’t. Students are just like every other person in that they want to have you get to know them, not just preach to them. It’s a fantastic opportunity that I’d love to see those who are “seasoned” step up and give back.

Just so you know this isn’t some theoretical practice, I’m trying to help an HR student attending St. Norbert University with her Senior research project. Her name is Kalli Seglund and you can see what she’s doing on the HRPositive Linked In Group. Why don’t you join me in helping Kalli to get started helping students yourself?

Help me turn the tide. Stop separating generations and start investing in them !! Make a difference in other’s careers that you may not of had yourself. We can intentionally leave our mark on HR now and into the future. It’s worth it !!

Never Look Back !!

I have some questions for you. Do you enjoy being in your job? Is it what you expected? Are you engaged yourself?

These are the types of questions you would use to have a conversation with an employee to help them gauge whether they are enjoying their work or not. In HR we may do this as part of coaching or it could come up in an employee review. It seems like a natural occurrence when we are trying to assist others, but do we ask them of ourselves?

In HR we are very comfortable and willing to help other employees, but we rarely take care of ourselves. We think that career management is for everyone else. To be honest, I’ve fallen in to this trap during periods throughout my career. It’s easy to do. We’re willing to tell people to be reflective and we may even assist them in finding different roles. This is a great facet of our job and something that most enjoy.

I get concerned that HR people don’t manage their own careers. I get the sense that many (not all) trudge through their function on a daily basis. There’s a more prevalent vibe that we “tolerate” what we do instead of thriving in it with passion. It caught me when I was shuffling through my endless, and constant, stream of music this weekend when I was enjoying “Could Have Been Me” by The Struts. When you get to the chorus of this rocking song you hear:

“I wanna live better days, Never look back and say, Could have been me, It could have been me.”

never-look-back-quoteThat hit me because I don’t want to ever be the person who has regrets about what could have been in the past. I don’t want to be in a situation or job where I have more “what if’s” than I do accomplishments. When I started working, I never had these types of thoughts because the expectation of the workplace was more that you went to work out of need or obligation. The social norm was that you worked because you were supposed to.

I don’t look back and have poor feelings about some of my jobs, but I wish someone would have encouraged me to own what I do and where I do it. I have to say that when I finally started to do this, I began to truly enjoy HR and all it has to offer. It changed how I practiced and it drove me to make sure that others in my profession step back as well.

When we are engaged in what we do, we can model it for others. If HR isn’t personally engaged, then they can’t expect others to be engaged. People will replicate the behavior they see more than they will in responding to some program you throw together.

I love what I do and I love the company where I get to practice HR. It doesn’t stop me from managing my career. Far from it. I’m always looking at what I do and how I can impact the organization and our people. It has allowed me to look ahead and never look back.

This week I encourage you to reflect, refuse to just trudge along and move forward. You owe it to yourself, your company and to those you impact !!

 

Changing Lives

I’ve mentioned in the past that I am fortunate to have amazing kids. They’re really adults now, and they’re still amazing !! I remember that when they were young they asked what I did for a living. When I told them that I was in Human Resources, they didn’t have a clue what that meant. It was difficult to explain employee relations, compensation, training and development, benefits and strategy. So, I simplified it for them.

“I hire people and give them jobs.”

They nodded and understood, but then asked, “Do you fire people too?”

I’ve always been candid with my kids and explained that firing people was part of what I did as well. There faces wrinkled up and they shook their heads as they said that that wouldn’t be fun to do. I told that that I agreed and that I never enjoyed that part of my job.

Termination is a hidden facet of HR. We don’t talk about it enough, and when we do, it’s about the legal aspects of it and our insurmountable fear of litigation. I understand that there could be potential legal considerations involved with terminations, but it shouldn’t be our primary focus. We lose the perspective that is as the base of anyone losing their job.

It changes people’s lives.

changing-livesThink about it. When a person came to work on a particular day, the last thing that entered their mind was that they were going to be let go. This may not be the case if a company has a history of downturns and layoffs, but those are usually the exception and not the rule.

Since termination changes the lives of those affected, I think it’s key to keep some things in mind in how we can approach this facet of our job from a human perspective.

People should “earn” it – What in the world does this mean? I follow a rule of thumb when it comes to termination. I only want to see someone terminated if their behavior warrants it. I don’t believe in building cases for, or against, someone. If a person’s behavior and actions are unacceptable, they should be talked to directly and intentionally. If their behavior doesn’t change, they should know that it could lead to dismissal. Having this context is much healthier and actually leads to fewer terms.

Show grace – When you have a termination discussion, show grace. This is never easy and should never be something you enjoy. Even if the employee has been very challenging, losing their job changes everything at the moment it occurs. There’s no exception. Your approach makes this process either easier or more difficult. I have been in HR for over 30 years now and I still get anxious any time terminations are involved. You need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Treat them with dignity and grace. It matters.

Be a bridge – If the termination isn’t volatile, I would recommend that you provide assistance to see how you can help them with either networking or landing their next great gig. You can be a positive influence during a negative time in their career. This may seem out of bounds or not what companies normally practice, but it differentiates you and helps with you being with them throughout their entire life cycle with your company.

Terminations are a fact in our field. You have a choice to do this well or continue to struggle with it. When you remember that what you’re doing changes lives, you’ll do it better I promise.

 

Stand.

The world around us seems to be doing its best to rip itself apart. We are bombarded with examples of social unrest, protests, and a political climate that is far from friendly. It’s hard to not have these, as well as many other, situations fill every corner of media that is present. Those are only descriptors of the U.S. and don’t take into account the many challenging situations happening globally.

It saddens me that in any of this that we have lost the ability to discuss and work through items. We get upset when someone states their opinion or takes an action for what they believe. Everything is put in terms of extremes and that makes us uncomfortable. It feels like you can’t be for something without alienating someone who doesn’t share that belief.

In all of this we’ve lost sight of how this affects the workplace. When people are uncertain about the environment around them, it seeps into all areas of life including work. As HR practitioners, we do our best to drive uncertainty out of the workplace. We go so far as to enact policies that try to limit discourse, differences of opinion and diversity. We want people and things to be the same. Our goal is conformity and that is something that hurts not helps.

Groupthink, singular lines of thought or approach and limiting expression just add to the tensions that surround us. Does it make sense to you that we spend so much of our time and effort in organizations striving for uniformity and control when we could, and should, be doing so much more?

For decades we have yearned for a “seat at the table.” Think of that. We have worked and worked as well as compromised ourselves to act and look like those in senior roles to gain “presence.” It’s not who we are and it’s not what organizations need. We must take a much more intentional approach and . . .

Stand.

take-a-standHR has an obligation to lead. We have to shed the mantle of striving for normalcy. We need to those that stand for people allow them to express their beliefs and then work with them in the workplace.

In order for us to take this new approach, we must take a stand personally as well as a profession. This has been missing for too long and it has limited us in our effectiveness. There’s no reason why HR can’t lead daily in all that they do. Remember – we work with, and for, people. We can do this from an encouraging and positive perspective. This doesn’t mean that we should ignore or downplay the upheaval around us. In fact, it forces us to jump into the midst of conversations or even generate them ourselves.

People are talking. They will continue to talk and share the thoughts, ideas and concerns. We have the ability to be the conduit for those conversations to be productive, provocative, civil and meaningful. The days for sitting have past.

It’s time for us to take a stand !!