Being Mortar !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 thoughts on “Being Mortar !!”

  1. This is great, Steve. I was just having this conversation with someone recently – about how some people approach things with a build up approach, and others take a tear down approach. (I just know there’s a post in there somewhere…)

  2. Thinking about culture as glue – the positive effect is cohesion and direction. The dark side is inflexibility – How can we have the upside without the downside?

  3. Attention Employees: The beatings will continue until morale improves! . . . Great read Steve thanks for sharing an important way to look at #HR!

  4. When we build people up and fill in the cracks they may have in their development, we ultimately end up in companies that are supportive, flexible and nurturing. In that environment, everyone benefits – employees, customers and shareholders! Seems like a no-brainer!

  5. Thanks, Steve and good advice. As I was on a backpacking trip this weekend with my sons and fellow scouts to prepare for our Philmont trip, there was plenty opportunity to be negative.

    But, I agree the higher road is to build and lift and emphasize the positive. There are times when it is necessary to be critical, but even then, this can be done in a positive and constructive way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.