One Thing Leads to Another !!

There’s a myth in the workplace that I’d like to take on, and hopefully debunk. The majority of work that occurs every day regardless of industry is that we strive to be “done.” It consumes us. Entire strategic plans are regularly based on things getting done.

We compensate based on things being done. We establish on-going, and often unrealistic, goals so that people can spend all of their daily efforts towards getting things done. It’s the basis of management theory and it’s how we make organizational design and allow for promotions.

Now, I understand that we need to have completion on projects and tasks. We can’t just keep floating in a constant state of partial accomplishments. The challenge is that when we seek to just get “done”, we’re actually looking for relief. We don’t want to have things completed, we want them to stop. Every task and project has a life. But, if our goal is to have things end so we can breathe, what does that say about how we approach work?

I think this mentality, approach and organizational drive is limiting how much can truly be accomplished !! I mean it. Because our focus is so narrow and limited to getting things “done,” we shrink the possibilities of things unknown, untested ideas and new innovation. I think that if we keep following the mantra of getting things “done” we will never realize the greatness that organizations, and their people, should easily achieve.

The group that is most notorious for this mentality is HR !! We want every box checked, every signature authenticated and every policy followed. When things don’t get done (i.e. performance reviews), we hunt people and shame them into making sure things can be checked off a list. Ugh. We perpetuate the fact that if items have any sort of fluidity chaos will surely ensue. It’s just not true. It never has been. The fact is that most work occurs like clockwork with little to no monitoring at all.

I think it’s time for understand the reality of work and that it’s on a continuum. The great band from the 80’s, The Fixx, captured this when they sang “One Thing Leads to Another.” It’s true. Work is an on-going flow of one thing constantly building on top of another.

Don’t you see this? This fact actually leads to frustration as well because people feel they can’t ever get off the never ending treadmill.  We complain about the next item that comes up instead of understanding that it’s natural. If we would step back and know that another item is waiting for our attention and skills, I think we’d be in a healthier place.

I recommend that you strive for completion of milestones and benchmarks. Yes, I know that means you’re “done” with a phase or facet of what you’re working on. However, it establishes your mindset to get ready for the next step. Celebrate your accomplishments !! Take a breath because nothing is that urgent that you can’t collect yourself, and move on to the next thing – which leads to another !!

 

Shine !!

I look forward to the weekend after Thanksgiving because that is when my family traditionally decorates for Christmas. I’ll hold out every year even though society keeps trying to make the holiday season start earlier and earlier. My favorite part of decorating is putting up lights outside. It’s special because my kids (now adults) always jump in to help. They get geeked about stringing lights, building massive electrical connections and making sure that the coverage is balanced and colorful.

Our family also has a tradition where we’ll get in the car and drive throughout neighborhoods to see the various displays that people have constructed. I like to see actual lights and not these projection systems because I enjoy seeing the creativity that people have. The homes that go crazy and try to drain the local power grid are fantastic !! However, I also enjoy someone who can use light subtly, and still convey an artistic display. I’m also a bit biased to multi-colored lights versus vs. monochromatic yards. But I digress . . .

What does this have to do with HR ?? Everything.

You see we can be the ones who shine in our workplace. We can be that attractive display that people would get out of their office to meet and work with. What would HR be like for you if you were the light in the office and not the bearer of darkness?

I think shining your light is essential for HR. It’s actually easier that you may think because you are in control of how you approach your work as well as how you interact with others. I’m not talking about putting on some fake trappings to be peppy just for show. No one wants that. Shining to dispel the darkness is much more welcomed, and needed, in our workplaces.

We tend to think that making people feel good and enjoy what they do is a “waste of time” or an unnecessary “soft skill.” People are supposed to come to WORK, and that is all. (Insert giggle of disbelief here). The idea that people show up only to do their job is a misguided myth. Yes, they do their jobs. And, more often than not, they do it willingly even though they receive little encouragement or regular feedback.

Shining your light breaks up the drudgery of work. Being a beacon of light allows employees to look up from the grind of what they do to catch their breath and know they’ve been acknowledged and recognized. It’s time that HR intentionally be the light within their organization and push back the attitudes and approaches that look to force control and possibly anguish.

I understand that being someone who shines may not come naturally to some, but I encourage you to push through. Trust me. If you are someone who brings light to situations, you will be successful in all you do. It’s such a missing facet of today’s workplaces, that people will respond because they’re longing for it.

The key is to be the light in your organization year-round and not just during a season. It will be surprising to others at first, but how cool would it be if it became the norm? It would rock !!

(To give you a little nudge, I leave you with this gem from the 90’s !!)

Friends in HR !!

HR is often a profession practiced in isolation. That’s unfortunate but true. HR folks are isolated both inside their organization somewhat because of the nature of the work that we do, and outside because HR people are reluctant to connect on purpose. I find that amazingly ironic that we work with humans all day, but don’t have many HR connections. I understand that people have different capacities when it comes to how many connections they have, but to continue to work in an isolated manner will only hurt you in your career.

Why are we so hesitant in connecting? Do we just want to get away from our work and we feel that if we have HR friends, we never really break away? Is it because we are slow to trust people?

I’m sure there are other questions that may answer this situation. However, I think that if you’re alone, you need to remedy that. Please note that what I’m encouraging you to consider is far more than networking. I think you should have friends who work in HR.

This past week I had the opportunity to travel to Nebraska to meet new HR folks in both Omaha and Grand Island. I then went to the annual Volunteer Leader Summit in Washington, D.C. where I saw many old friends as well as met many new HR peers. These events are extremely invigorating for me !! I feed off the idea of meeting new people – especially those who are in HR.

During my time in D.C., I was fortunate to go to the retirement celebration of SHRM CEO Hank Jackson. We gathered at The Phillips Collection museum which has a limited exhibit of Renoir paintings including the famous Luncheon of the Boating Party. A docent from the museum spent about 15 minutes explaining all of the nuances of this French impressionism masterpiece. I’m a huge art geek and I could have listened to her for hours. The one point that she made about the piece was that the boating party Renoir painted was made up of his friends. His friends !! in

Having friends in HR is necessary because they DO understand what you face on a daily basis. They DO feel the same ups and downs. They want to be included in their organizations as partners and contributors. The anxiety and concern that you may have in your head about stepping out to have friends just isn’t the case.

You see, we all want to belong. It’s innately human. Since we work in a field where we don’t have many friends internally within our companies, we need to find some outside. Whenever I go to HR events to speak or attend, I seek out HR peers to make sure to get to know them and get them to break out of the funk they’re too often sinking in. I do this by intentionally taking time to greet them, talk to them and learn something unique about them, and get them connected with others. I can’t stand seeing people remain isolated.

Are you isolated? Fix that. Reach out to someone else in HR and make a friend. Someone who will listen, grow and thrive with you. What’s the result in doing this? Your friends will become YOUR masterpiece !!

Just Twirl !!

Every week I get to see joy unlike anything else around. I’m a greeter at my church and there’s a young family who has two kids – a boy and a girl. As they come up to the front door, their daughter comes running up and jumps in the air to come to a complete stop. She then looks up and her eyes are sparkling with anticipation. She waits for me to ask, “Well, are you going to twirl?”

She then puts her arms out as far as she can and twirls so her dress spins in a perfect circle. She giggles uncontrollably as she twirls. When she comes to a stop, she gathers herself and runs inside. She does this every week regardless of the weather or if there’s just me at the door or a gathering of people. She is fierce and undaunted.

I stopped her mom one Sunday and told her how much I enjoyed her daughter’s enthusiasm. Ironically, when I mentioned that, she sighed with exasperation. I asked her what was causing her sigh. She explained that her daughter looks at dresses for hours the night before trying to decided which one to wear. I told her that I thought this was magnificent !! Her daughter couldn’t wait to get ready to share her joy.

The young mother said she never looked it that way. Then she smiled, gave me a hug and said, “Thank you. Thank you for noticing my daughter.” I told her that her daughter’s joy is catching and that people can’t wait to see her.

I hope that this little girl never loses her unabashed joy as she grows up. Chances are though, she will. “Life” will start happening and she’ll hear more and more adults scold her to keep her in line to make sure she fits the norms of school, church, work, and her social interactions will become muted. People will expect that she falls in line because that’s what we want from everyone.

I know this sounds harsh, but it’s the reality that we face. Now, I don’t agree with it whatsoever. In fact, I try to push against this shaping of people any chance I can. Organizations are built around conformity and we willing participate. HR must be the field that turns this around. We must.

What would a culture look like if people had joy and were able to express it? It’s gets me geeked to even imagine it !! In order to do this we need to reshape our approach on a daily basis. It starts with us and no one else. I know way too many HR peers who are miserable. I wish they’d be more honest with themselves. You don’t have to be in a bad place. HR can, and should, bring you joy. If it’s not currently doing that, then I encourage you to take steps to get out of your funk.

Once you have joy, it spreads. You can’t help it or stop it. This sounds simple, but practicing it is hard. Taking the steps is worth it because as people experience joy interacting with you, they’ll start catching sparks themselves. They in turn will start spreading joy.

We’ve forgotten how to twirl.

This week jump up and come to a complete stop. Throw your arms out to your side and look fiercely forward. Then . . . twirl. It’s time to recapture your joy.

The 2nd Cut

I love working in the yard !! I mean it. It’s cathartic for me to be able to get away from regular day-to-day activities and just lose myself outside. My yard is full of mature trees that are now in their full natural color. The leaves had their big reveal later than usual this year. There is now a bright mix of oranges, yellows and reds highlighting the landscape.

I used to rake for hours and hours to bag the leaves and put them at the curb for them to be picked up. That was enjoyable because you could make giant piles to jump in which was a family tradition. For the past few years, I use my lawn mower to cut the leaves up and mulch them down into the grass. Mowing the lawn at my house is a true workout. When the grass is not too overgrown, it takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours to cut. When the leaves start to turn my lawn into a colorful blanket, that time doubles.

This weekend I ventured out into the yard, turned on tunes from my iPod, and started to mow. I was flying through the yard and truly enjoying myself. The side yard didn’t have many leaves, but the main part of the front yard was a different story. After I made the first pass, it looked as if I hadn’t even used the mower. So, I made a second cut. It looked so much better after the second cut was complete.

Since I had tons of yard left to go, it gave me time to think about how this is very similar to HR and to work in general. We see the layers of work in front of us, and our desire is to “get things done.” Completion is our goal. It is almost consuming because we either have this as a personal expectation, or we feel real (or perceived) pressure from our organization. There is such a demand on completion that we want to see this happen just to relieve pressure from all that is going on around us.

Don’t get me wrong, getting things completed is necessary in our work in order for things to move forward. It’s not reasonable to let things hang open for long periods of time. However, in the rush to get things done, we often leave tasks partially fragmented and not as complete as we say they are. It’s like making the first cut. The lawn is “done” but not what it could be. We need to make the second cut.

We hesitate to do this because a second cut takes more time. So, instead of taking a bit more time, we knock things out in order to pass things on to others. This can result in rework. When you look at the time it takes to address any fragments or rework, aren’t you better off making the second cut the first time? We can’t let time be the factor that keeps us from doing the best job we can. I understand that being timely and deadlines are useful if they’re consistent and sustainable. They need to be measured against the effectiveness of the work that is produced.

It took me over four hours this weekend to complete the second cut, and my lawn looked fantastic . . . for about an hour. More leaves began their decent and I’m sure there will be more second cuts coming – and I can’t wait !!

Don’t Be a Zombie !!

It’s the week of Halloween, and I know that HR is scary overall. It doesn’t have to be, but many people position it as a field that is daunting, challenging and often overwhelming. When I hear these descriptions of human resources, I can empathize that there may be seasons where these feelings occur.

We don’t like to admit it, but there are times when people go through the motions at work. It happens at every level of the organization because we all fall into patterns of repetition at times. You’ll get overly perky HR folks that will swear that this never happens because they “love people.” Don’t believe it. We all hit dry spells.

Have you had this happen? You start yet another day at work and it seems like you travel the same path, do the same tasks in order and then look up to see that another day has flown by without you even noticing. If you don’t break out of this malaise, you become an HR Zombie. You seem lifeless as you stumble down the hall with an audible groan slipping out of your lips with each shuffled step.

I know there are times when you’d like to eat the brains of the people who frustrate you at work. However, that isn’t very productive. To avoid falling into this pit of being mundane, you need to take some very conscious steps. You can’t just wish your way out of it because it is like being stuck in some green ooze that just seems to swallow you the more you struggle. Here are some ways to avoid becoming an HR zombie !!

Be Passionate !!

We keep looking at passion as something that should occur on special occasions when you can really get jacked up about what’s happening. That is wonderful, but you can’t sustain things when they are a series of peaks and valleys. HR should drive you because it offers variety, nuance and opportunity every day. People are unpredictable, and that gives you the chance to assist them through the swamps they may be facing.

Find other HR folks who are full of life !!

Instead of succumbing to other zombies wandering around the office, reach out and connect with other HR pros. We can’t practice alone. We need viable, life-filled connections of our own who will life us out of the muck when it tries to pull us down. There are tons of HR pros who love what they do and who welcome the chance to be intentionally connected. Reach out and do this !!

Be a zombie hunter !!

The best way to avoid becoming a zombie is to find others who are already lurching around the office and “take them out.” I don’t mean that you should get rid of them. You can, however, break them out of their funk. Get in front of them and see what is dragging them down. Do all that you can to alter that pattern and chip away at what’s nagging at them. You’ll be surprised as to how many people come back to life.

This week, take a look and see if you’re stuck in a rut and if you’re groaning a bit too much. If you are, take the steps to breathe life back into your HR role. You’ll be glad you did !!

Us and Them

I am a self-avowed Pink Floyd fan. Seriously. I have everything they’ve ever done on vinyl and CD’s. Yes, I know streaming exists, but that’s for another post . . .

As I was driving this weekend, I was taking in The Dark Side of the Moon which is just an epic set and I heard the track – Us and Them. Note the words of the title. It’s “and” not “vs.”

Lately, I have been struggling with everyone demanding that people take a side on issues that may, or may not, be important. I think people use a filter that if it’s important to them personally, then they expect everyone else to have that same level of interest. That’s not reasonable or feasible. I think there are issues that have larger social implications than others. I do feel that you need to have a position on those as you see fit. The difficulty is that people are now expecting that almost all of their life circumstances demand that people take a side. It’s exhausting !!

Our model in HR, and work in general, follows the “versus” side of the us and them dilemma. We tend to feel that we are expected to be on the side of the company or management by the nature of our role. Unfortunately, many folks who practice HR believe this wholeheartedly. I think this is essential, but it’s only one side of the equation. I’d like to propose a new approach. Don’t have an “us” or “them.” Only have an “us.”

This has to happen in organizations because if it doesn’t we can’t truly be diverse. The more factions we establish, or allow, the more dysfunctional we are. I understand that the unique nature of each person can lead to friction or divisiveness, but I think that only happens WHEN we take sides. HR has an opportunity unlike any other role within an organization because we can move and float from the most senior leaders to the front lines. We can work with every department and get to know the employees for who they are and in what they believe.

Great HR weaves people together instead of allowing people to pull themselves apart.

A key to making a culture of “us” is to make sure that all employees are heard, accounted for and not left behind. It’s hard to do this because of the nature of our roles as well as our disposition. I wish HR people would be more honest and admit that we spend more time with folks we like than will all employees. It’s natural because that’s what all humans do. Therefore, it takes more focus and discipline to ensure that employees are included. Remember, inclusion is not a program, it’s an action.

This next week, start seeing where the us and them camps exist. Evaluate them and see how you can bring people together and still allow them to be the fabulous, unique and diverse people they are. It’s worth it !!

To get you in the mood, I leave you with some inspiration . . .

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.