Urgent or Important ??

Another work week is upon us. As you enter the office to jump into the mix of the day, are you anxious? I think that many people are. This is especially true if you practice HR. Why do I say that? It’s because our days are never our own. When you work in the field of people, you’re subject to constant movement. It feels like you’re Daffy Duck and you have to “turn and parry and thrust” your way through whatever you come upon.

I’ve written before how most folks in HR (and business in general) state that their job is to “put out fires.” This is such a challenging way to work effectively because your entire day is based on something going wrong. You are always moving from one urgent situation to another. The urgency may not even be legitimate, but you jump to react because if gives you a sense of value. It’s short lived and it disrupts any attempt at consistency.

Now, I understand that there are things which are urgent and need to be addressed quickly. You shouldn’t ignore them, but you should step back to see if the situation truly is urgent or just packed full of emotion. When emotions rise, people tend to want things addressed immediately mainly to get their emotions back in check. The key is to take the time to gauge the level of urgency. Don’t step away from any situation, but get context first.

A stronger way to approach your work with people is to focus on what’s important. I’m not going to dare to define what that looks like in your current company and role because I’m sure it varies with each person. The method you do this is an individual choice as well. Some use quadrants to place items in, and some use to-do lists. It’s essential that you have a method that works for you because without some defined approach, you won’t get to important items. Your day will slip away so rapidly and you’ll wonder why you didn’t get to the important items . . . again.

There’s one more factor to consider in looking at this topic. Both urgent and important aspects of our job coexist. You will rarely be able to have one that can keep your full attention. I find that I keep an on-going list of “important” items that never ends. Some items can be accomplished sooner than others, but some stay on my list so that I don’t forget them. Losing sight of the important facets of how I practice HR automatically puts me in the fire extinguishing business again.

I recommend that you become fluid in how you practice HR. Go into each day with the assurance that urgent situations could occur. Take them in stride and do your best to not freak out. That never helps anything. Don’t let the urgent situation consume your attention, or day, completely. Make sure to get to one or two important items as well. Having a combination of the two allows you move within the natural flow of the day as it occurs.

We will continue to be frustrated, or worn out, if we keep separating the reality of our days. Take things in stride. It’s important !!

Untitled

This past weekend I was in Chicago for a combination of events. First of all, I was a speaker at the HR Conference for Legal Professionals through ALA. Secondly, I was also celebrating my 28th wedding anniversary with my amazing wife !! We’ve been in Chicago several times and it is one of our favorite cities to visit. We’ve arrived in a different phase in our lives because we like to see sites that are off the beaten path that others may overlook for the big (traditional) attractions.

This time we decided to take in art. We did a walking tour to see the gigantic sculptures from Picasso, Chagall, Calder, Kapoor and Dubuffet. Those are hard to miss. We also went to the ground floor of Macy’s (the old Marshall Field store) to see the Victorian Age stained glass panels. We stumbled upon the Chicago Cultural Center and ended up taking a tour of the building as well as enjoy the Architectural Biennial exhibit going on. We took one more adventure to see the Museum of Contemporary Art – Chicago. At the MCA, we met Ray who was a docent at the museum. He was going to give us a tour of the 50th anniversary exhibition entitled “We Are Here.”

Now, I don’t know if you’re into art or not, but I’m a fan. My wife is learning, but is a bit more skeptical about some items classified as “art.” That’s probably how many folks feel, and Ray even noted that because we tend to think we could splash paint on a canvas. The tour he gave took an hour through one room of the museum. One room. It was spectacular !! He described the nuances of pieces that I would have normally passed by with disinterest or disdain.

As he was leading our group through the exhibit, he stopped and said something that really stuck with me. He pointed out an abstract piece hanging on the wall and said, “Do you know why many art pieces are called ‘Untitled’?” We all shook our heads and no one offered an answer. He then said, “The artist does this because it allows YOU to see it however you’d like. There’s no right or wrong. It’s whatever you want it to be according to your interpretation.”

After he said this, I began to look at each piece of art with an appreciation. There are still pieces I don’t comprehend, but that’s on me and not the artist for creating it. I actually found myself enjoying the separate pieces more, and took time to look more intently at them to think about what I could take in. I even began to speculate more than one possible explanation about paintings and sculptures.

It made me think about how I approach people both in HR and in general. People are truly works of art themselves !! Too often we want to “title” them with some label or stereotype so we can better frame them within our point of view. When people don’t fit those labels we dismiss them or ignore them because we can’t fully make them fit into our perspective.

That’s sad when you think about it. How many decisions are made each day because of how we “title” someone? I would venture to say that most decisions are made based on our biases. We need to change our approach towards people.

From now on I challenge you to see people as “untitled.” People who are mysterious, unknown, creative, intelligent and full of idiosyncrasies and nuances. People weren’t created to fit. They were created to add to the experience and existence of others. Just. Like. Art.

Drop the titles and start enjoying the uniqueness of the people in your life. I assure you that you will start appreciating folks for who they are, and not who you think they should be.

Bitter or Better ??

Change.

A simple word that is infinite in how it can be defined, measured and approached. There are countless articles, training courses, books and opinions on what change is/isn’t and how to approach it when it occurs. That seems ironic to me because if change is hard to define, how can a model be derived to effectively address the various components (that ultimately lead to more change.)

You see, change can’t be contained. We keep trying to put controls on everything because we assume that control will limit change. It doesn’t and can’t. Change is a continuum and I think that it would be better to address an aspect than try and cover everything.

When change happens we have a choice on how we respond. That is something we can absolutely control (if we’re intentional.) The challenge is that few people are intentional. We tend to react when change occurs. That may be instinctual or learned. The reality is that it is our first step because our emotions get the best of us. This isn’t right or wrong. It just is how we’re wired.

The difficulty with being purely reactionary towards change is that our choice is usually negative. Don’t believe me? Think of the last 3 to 5 changes that happened which affected you. How did you respond? I’ll let you think about that. So, since change occurs continually and our responses tend to be initially negative, it can lead to bitterness. It can also make us jaded which isn’t healthy. Seriously. Don’t you get tired of viewing change as if the worst possible scenario is going to happen?

Change can’t only be problematic. If we see change as being something that propels us backwards in order to catch up, how can we ever improve? If the only reason to work is to fix problems, then why work? I think there’s another choice. I think change makes things better.

Now, I know that there are changes that don’t have positive outcomes. I’m not trying to be utopian or naive – just intentional. There are so many stories where people have faced incredibly difficult circumstances and they had an outlook that is such an example of optimism that it seems surreal. I hope that that level of challenge isn’t something you’re currently facing or will have to face.

Assuming that our changes are more within the realm of our day-to-day existence, then let’s position ourselves positively. Let’s look at change as something that can lead to things being better. It is hard to do, but the effort is worth it. Seeing things that change as an opportunity and not as an obstacle is much more fulfilling. Please note that this isn’t a call to perfection because you will stumble. That isn’t negative at all. It’s another chance to do things better !!

This week make the switch and stop being bitter and choose to be better.

 

Bailey

There’s a very cool place that is a five minute drive from my house called Station Road Farm. Many towns have a place like this where you can buy flowers, produce, mulch, pumpkins, etc. It is a popular location because it’s a farm that seems to have been dropped in the middle of a suburb. This has been a favorite shopping option for my family for years. It gave me a chance to keep close to my roots because I grew up on or near a farm for most of my youth, and my kids got to have a quasi-farm experience.

I remember on my relative’s farms that there were always animals. There would be multiple dogs and cats that just seemed to come with the whole environment. So, when we visited Station Road Farm, I wasn’t surprised when I saw the same thing. When my kids were very young, we were making a visit to pick up tomatoes and corn when they were distracted by new kittens roaming around the property. The cashier was very observant and she looked down to my daughter and said, “The kittens are free to a good home. Would you like to take one?” My daughter got those big eyes that kids get when they want something, and she cooed, “Can we Dad?” We didn’t have any pets at home, and I couldn’t say no to those eyes. I said, “If you see one that comes up to you, I’ll think about it.”

As if divine providence was upon her, a small yellow kitten started wrapping itself around and around my daughter’s legs. She squealed and said, “Dad, look !!” We drove back home and picked up my wife and son and brought them back to see the kitten. They loved him too. That was the day Bailey came home with us. We weren’t prepared and had nothing needed to take care of a new pet. So, we made a trip to the store and bought everything we needed – and then some.

That was 14 years ago. He has been a wonderful part of our family who had some very unique qualities. Every night when the kids came home from school, or Debbie and I came home from work, he was at the door to greet us. Every. Night. He also loved playing fetch by chasing a small rainbow striped ball up and down our basement steps forever. Bailey was never a lap cat, but he was ever present. If we were in a room, he was there with us. He always knew where we were and he did his rounds to check on everyone to make sure things were good.

This weekend Bailey passed. We fondly shared stories of his life. There were visits to elementary school for Show & Tell with both kids. Then there was the time of how he survived a thunderstorm when he fell out through a screen on our second floor and stayed on a small strip of the roof soaked and mewing until we pulled him in. He begged at the table and was a fan of lunch meat and licking tuna cans clean. Everyone is biased about having the “best” pet ever, but I would say that Bailey was the best fit for our family. I don’t think there’s any better description that fits him. I’m so thankful he chose to wrap around my daughter’s legs.

I know that I normally write about how to make HR better, but we need to remember that our lives are so much more than our chosen occupation. We have so little actual time truly interacting with people even though we feel it consumes every waking moment of our time at work.

Instead of being overwhelmed by the encounters and interactions you have with people, I challenge you to cherish them instead. People pass in and out of our lives daily. Instead of letting them pass you by, be intentional and connect with them. Who knows, you may be the exact connection they needed at the exact time they needed it.

Value others. Celebrate their lives and the time you have with them. Never take it for granted and be thankful for the time you have.

Thanks Bailey for being a vital member of the Browne family !!

Tie Dye, Ice Cream & T-Shirts !!

This past week I was in my element more than usual because I attended the Ohio SHRM State HR Conference. I was able to be surrounded by my peers as well as a constant vibe of music, tie dye, lava lamps and harmony. Yes, I know that sounds like serious hippie lingo, but I felt right at home.

If you haven’t been to State SHRM conferences, you should check them out. They have a more intimate feel to them and you can take time to genuinely connect with people. Yes, they are full of events, excitement and phenomenal sessions of HR content, but they have a more relaxed pace to them.

Two speakers completely captured my attention because of their personal story in approaching business. We heard from Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s and John Jacobs, co-founder of Life is Good. So much of what they had to share really stuck with me both emotionally and logically. In today’s frenetic pace and ever-changing work environment, these two companies have made sure that they ran their enterprises from a values-based perspective. These aren’t the “values” that corporations dream up during their annual strategic planning exercise. Both companies have deep held beliefs that they will not sway from as humans that shape their culture and their impact throughout the world.

It was so reassuring to see this, but this approach is rarely followed. The “value” that is espoused and held to more than any other today is profit.

(I can already sense your eye roll and concern that I’m going down the hippie path – and I’m good with that !!)

I understand, and agree, that companies need to be profitable in order to survive. I get the economics of it. However, if there isn’t a higher calling to having an organization, it can’t sustain itself. It’s great to see more and more small businesses and those making up the Gig Economy are changing the rules of work. It’s also reassuring the businesses are finally starting to realize that they are nothing without their people.

Please note that this has ALWAYS been the case, but we’ve spent centuries trying to prove it out as something else. There are still holdouts that will contend that structure, processes and systems are the real backbone of successful companies. Those elements are needed, but they mean nothing without people.

Both Jerry and John shared stories about humans and how those shaped who they were and how they were able to succeed. They stuck to their unconventional approach while holding to the beliefs that (1) social responsibility is an obligation and not a feel good philanthropy effort and (2) optimism always outshines negativity !!

I knew I was among my brethren when I met them. Jerry doesn’t shake hands, he hugs. Perfect. John started his session by saying “The best way to kick off a presentation is to throw stuff into the crowd !!” and he tossed Life is Good frisbees into the masses. He also closed his speech by having a group of attendees join him on stage to play Beatles tunes on kazoo while the rest of us sang along !!

Being genuine in business shouldn’t be an exception. It should be the norm. I’m thankful for the reminder and will remember to practice this every day on purpose !!

Being Human

I typically stay away from blogging about current events, but the recent response to Hurricane Harvey touched me. The outpouring of people willing to step in and help other humans was encouraging to say the least. I know there’s so much yet to be done, and that brings me to the other side of something that has been pulling at me lately.

As Hurricane Irma now advances, our attention shifts and we have another potentially tragic situation facing us. The reality is that there are significant challenges happening all around us. We don’t focus on them because the general media, and social media, goes for the most tragic hoping for the worst. Thankfully humans chose to show their best.

We have already forgotten the recency of many other situations which concerns me. I am embarrassed that we have become so myopic. We live in a global community, and yet we only concern ourselves with items that are within the US, or that directly affect us. I know this is generalizing and that it doesn’t reflect so many that serve and give willingly of their time and money to countless efforts. It is the reality for many though.

What has been sticking with me during this time of unrest and turmoil is that we have a choice. The endless banter of negativity and divisiveness can be overwhelming and disheartening because it comes at us from all angles. However, we don’t need to add to this. Ever.

The humanity that was shown during Harvey is who we are as people. We can, and should be, the great humans that we were created to be. If we can lend a hand to those who are facing disaster, we should. I would also encourage you to consider being compassionate on an on-going basis and not just during trying times. We have people in and around us every day in our homes, our neighborhoods and our workplaces that are facing a variety of situations and circumstances.

I would especially encourage my peers in HR to be genuinely compassionate in their roles. We have tended to shy away from this because we don’t want to get “too close” to people in the event that we have to address them some time in the future. Taking that stance is sad to me. Why in the world would expecting the worst to happen help us in practicing HR? Why not expect the best in others instead?

I understand that there will be people that frustrate us, and we may be the one who frustrates someone else. But, if we continue to expect the worst, that’s what will occur. Every day people come to work facing situations that may seem easy to handle for some, but may be extremely challenging for others. This is where compassion comes in.

It takes no effort or cost to listen to someone. People may not always expect us to solve things for them. They just want someone to hear them out. You may be able to help them organizationally or personally, but listening needs to occur first. Please understand that every employee wants to be acknowledged, heard and engaged. Every one.

I hope that compassion becomes our norm and that when it needs to elevate, we jump in just like we are now. See the best in others. We are better when we are always being human !!

Chores !!

I remember growing up and having a chart on the refrigerator that denoted the chores that my brother and I were responsible for. My Mom was a widow during this time, so it was like pulling teeth to get two young boys to be responsible and have any type of sustainable focus. She used different colored stars, and getting them was a giant reward !! We’d compete to see if we could EVER attain the elusive gold stars.

The chart was a simple form of encouragement to get us to do work that we would never have willingly chosen to do. The tasks listed on the chart were necessary for the general upkeep of the house. We had no clue that we were actually providing some relief for my mother. We never understood that she worked a full-time job as a teacher before coming home to make sure the household ran as well.

Being a parent myself, I adopted the chart for my kids as well. They did the same types of tasks for stickers instead of stars. I noted one difference though when my wife and I incorporated the chart system. We saw the resistance that I’m sure my brother and I gave when we were young. I was oblivious to the difficulty I’m sure I raised with my Mom when all she wanted was some assistance.

Chores exist today as well after my kids have moved out to attend college. However, I don’t get a chart from my wife. (To be honest, I probably would still be geeked to get a star !!)

The one thing about chores is that they never end. Ever. After you’ve picked up something once, other piles surprisingly appear and no one can remember how it happened. You did everything right in order to address the situation, but it never seems to remain clean, straightened or in order.

Chores are not only at your house. They exist at work as well. However, we don’t use charts to encourage people. Instead, we bark our expectations and wonder why things don’t get completed. The items that are “chores” at work are important because they provide a baseline and some stability in what we do. I don’t know many people who are geeked about doing chores, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored.

Is there anything we can do to make these tasks seem less mundane? Yes, there is. Like most things in our roles, the key is our attitude toward the work as well as our approach. It may seem simple, but so were stars. If we have an understanding that these items aren’t unpleasant, that is a big shift in how we have been getting them accomplished.

You can also do things such as schedule them to be done vs. letting them pile up. Also, take some time to evaluate if the chores you have are needed, or if they’ve just lingered on for decades for no apparent reason. We all have work that is just “busy” that may be sucking away our time. Use this mantra – If it doesn’t add value, stop doing it.

We need to be aware of all our work, and not just the big ticket/project items. This week take a new look at your chores and take them on willingly. I may get a piece of fluorescent poster board,  a sharpie, a ruler and some stars !!

Legacy

I’m just getting back into the swing of things after enjoying a week with my amazing wife wandering through New England. We did more of an “off the beaten path” vacation with a mix of historical sites, lighthouses, touring towns and just soaking in a different culture. One place we visited was Concord, Massachusetts. Yes, it was interesting to see the site where the Revolutionary War began, but it wasn’t what I’ll remember most.

In the heart of this quaint town is a cemetery. It’s called the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. What makes it stand out is something called Author’s Ridge where several noted American authors are buried including Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. We walked through the winding paths until we saw the headstones of these memorable folks.

Standing there under the trees while a light breeze blew by was moving. I just stood there taking it all in.  I wondered if any of them thought that 150 plus years after their passing that anyone would be visiting their graves. I doubt it. However, I do believe that they wanted to share the creativity and thoughts within their minds. I believe they wanted to capture the world around them as they saw it. Their legacy is still read and studied throughout high schools and colleges around the world. I think they’d be somewhat surprised to know that their written word would have such a lasting effect.

I blog to share my voice, as do many others. I want to capture the world around me and help shape a view point that runs counter to the culture that continues to want to tear things down instead of build things up. I don’t pretend to think that my words will be remembered or celebrated 150 years from now. In today’s society, it’s rare if a blog post lasts more than a few days.

That’s why I want to encourage you to do something different than what I see happening.

First of all, if you feel you have something to share – write. Start a blog for whatever you want to put out there. It could be about HR, business, your hobby – literally anything at all. I know there are people who say that there are already too many blogs, but I don’t buy it. Blogs are a way to communicate. It’s worse to keep it in. Give it some thought before you jump in, but give it a shot.

Secondly, share the blogs of others. The authors I visited didn’t write to just hear themselves. They wanted others to experience their work. I see most people write their blog and then share it over many social media forums. I think that’s wonderful to see. However, I think it’s only a start. Sharing the writing of others has more reach, impact and gives things more life than only posting your own blogs.

This practice also runs counter to the norm, but it makes sense to me. I enjoy the work of others and want everyone to learn from them as well as connect with them. I think the way to break the “echo chamber” is to keep sharing the blogs that I read and not just my own.

There are many facets to one’s legacy. I know that writing is one way to establish yours. So, start composing and then start sharing. Let’s see where it goes. One thing for sure is that it has a better chance to last !!

Who Will Speak For Me ??

As you go into work this week, the first thing on your mind will most likely be a problem or challenge you’re facing. It could be a deadline that is looming or a myriad of other things that genuinely need your attention. I doubt, however, that employees will be the first thing you think about.

If they are your focus, chances are that you’re only thinking about the employees who are causing a problem. The people who are awesome and doing their jobs well are overlooked. I don’t mean to sound harsh. It’s the reality I’ve experienced in the past, and also the observation I’ve had when I hear my peers talk about their work experiences. It’s ironic that in a field that has “Human” in the title, we actually give our attention to a very small percentage of people who work with us.

If you would ask employees who HR represents, they’d say management. I’m not talking about a poor “us and them” culture either. I’d venture to say this reflects most workplaces. I think this is because people see us step in on situations where it’s not going well with someone as the example of what it’s like to interact with HR. Doesn’t that tire you out? Seriously. If you’re only practicing HR to handle people who are problems, it has to be discouraging. This limits what HR can, and should, do for organizations.

HR needs to develop relationships with employees at all levels. Whenever I’ve brought up this concept, my peers get defensive and state how difficult this is to accomplish due to their company’s size or number of employees. I work for a company that has 17 different business units and 1,200 team members over a regional geographic footprint. The vast majority of our team members work on a part-time basis and over different shifts. The challenge to know everyone is real.

So, this is how I’ve approached my current environment. I don’t try to reach every person on my own. That’s not feasible. However, it is realistic to teach others that HR is willing, visible and available for everyone regardless of when and where they work. That message has to be consistent and then followed by behavior. I will go to different locations at different times and dates that don’t always match my regular schedule. I needed to alter when I work so that I could reach others when they work. It’s changed how HR is viewed because they’ve seen that I don’t show up only for problems. There needs to be another important shift to make sure that representing all employees is the norm for HR.

Stop talking ABOUT people, and start talking TO them !!

We’re in a unique position as HR professionals. We have the ability to talk with everyone. Honestly, the majority of my day is spent talking to others. In the past, I’ve had people question the “value” of this approach. Over time, those people are now the ones who talk to me the most. We are the one function that can listen, evaluate, counsel and connect others. Doing this clears the air on items and feelings that may have been long held in silence and frustration. Allowing people to perform has both intrinsic and real value for organizations. This may be hard to quantify on the bottom line, but I contend it impacts it more than people think.

I recently was enjoying some John Mayer, and I think he captured how employees yearn for HR to act when he wrote:

“Show me something I can be, Play a song that I can sing, Make me feel as I am free – Someone come speak for me.”

It’s time for HR to change and speak for others. Trust me that when you do this, you’ll enjoy your role more and you will be making a tangible difference for your team members and your company as a whole. It’s worth the effort. Make the shift !!

 

Exist or Thrive ??

Another work week is upon us. How does that make you feel? Seriously. What’s your attitude going in?

I know the realistic answer is “it depends” because I can’t understand or cover all of the life situations everyone is facing. These probably run the gamut from bleak to awesome. The circumstances we find ourselves in are a heavy factor which influences our approach to work and to how we interact with others. I don’t want this to be some pop psychology piece that tries to analyze your current state. That’s not fair or even possible.

Let’s get back to the first question. How do you approach a new work week?

It’s important to take time to do this because I think it frames how we approach our work more often than not. I don’t think it’s the “Monday Blues” that bring stress and unnecessary negativity. I think we dread going in to work because we have chosen to exist vs. choosing to thrive.

Don’t believe me? I think people float because the culture of the company allows them to. I don’t think people want to float, but since we’ve taken the majority of direct human interaction out of work, they can’t help it. People want to be challenged. People want to stretch and tackle situations they can affect. However, we blow things up into dilemmas so that when an answer comes to light we get more recognition. It’s true. We can’t seem to break out of the doldrums of our roles.

Please note that this blahness isn’t at one level of an organization. It can occur from the most senior executive down to the front line. Don’t assume that people are just getting by who work below you by position. It’s a vicious myth that we keep perpetuating (again – to make us feel better).

Now, this will sound bold, but it’s something I know because I’ve experienced it myself. You can THRIVE in what you do currently in your role as well as throughout your organization. To do this though, you need to make a choice. The choice is simple, but the implementation is difficult.

The choice is that you personally will no longer settle. Ever.

This past weekend I went to visit my parents. My Dad is a quote machine. Whenever we’re in any situation, he’ll quip, “Write this down . . .” and then he whips out a quote. One that has stuck with me is, “To lower the standard is to give up the fight.” He said this when I’d choose to do something less than my best. It is strong encouragement to keep in mind when the next wave of negativity or cynicism hits.

Choosing to thrive is not some slogan on a wall. It’s a way to exhibit your behavior and a method to lift up and encourage others. HR has the opportunity to see the best in themselves and all employees who work in their company. How do you think your Monday would start if you had that intention and approach going in?

This week make the choice. Stop settling yourself first. Then, go talk to others you see who are not thriving. Work with them and get them to break out of their funk. Fight against the people who choose to tear things down with a better, and more sustainable, stance. Thrive !!