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 !!

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 !!

Send a Note !!

When I went to high school . . .

(Yes, I know I sound like my Dad, but hang with me)

. . . you used to write notes to people to get their attention. It was like a spy movie because you didn’t want to get caught, or have someone read it who was not the intended audience. People wrote notes so often that some came up with their own “language” so that any intercepted notes seemed like gibberish. You always were hoping to get a note because it meant that someone wanted to communicate something cool, or ask you do join them in some activity. There were countless people who made dates this way and probably became people’s parents !!

Writing a note takes thought, intent and emotion. You didn’t want something to be seen as dull or meaningless. People weren’t careless with notes. Sending a note took some risk to put yourself out there because you weren’t sure what the response would be.

Flash forward to today. Now, if someone sends you a message electronically, they expect an answer almost before you actually send it. If someone doesn’t respond, we think the worst possible scenario for the reason(s) we were shunned. Electronic messages are also often not reciprocal. Tons of people post, snap, tweet, etc. about their lives and don’t really care if others do the same. Oh, we long for the affirmation like or emoji to our posts, but 90% of them are about ourselves, our experiences, or our interests. I’m not bashing these messages because I’m as active as the next person when it comes to being visible on forums.

I miss the days of notes because they were going TO someone and asking them to be involved. There were also notes that would tell someone how you felt about them, and some were even notes of encouragement. I played basketball all throughout my Jr. High and High School years and I had a secret person who would write notes before each game to wish me luck and that the team would play great. Every player had these spirit sleuths for each sport. It was amazing !!

Today’s society, and workplace, yearns to be more “human”, but we don’t incorporate personalization much at all. We’re so concerned about being politically correct, that we’ve ceased sharing “notes” with people to encourage them in their work and take steps to see the best in what they do. I’d like to see that change.

HR needs to come to terms with the fact that workplaces will never become more human unless HR becomes more human itself. Never. I get a sense that all employees are longing for a genuine connection and path to engage with someone with whom they work. So, I encourage you to step in the gap. You may not be the final connection, but you should be the person who initiates this and starts the process.

This week, send a note to someone. It would be awesome if it was handwritten !! However, if it’s electronic, make it a note. Check and see how someone’s doing. Write someone and tell them how much they make a difference in your life and the lives of others. Be positive and encourage others on purpose.

Then . . . send another one.

Keep doing this until it becomes a habit. Be a person who’s willing to break through the mire of negativity and the noise of the endless rush of life and send a note. When you do, you will change the direction of someone’s day. It may be the exact thing they need at the right time.

I need to go now because I have some notes to write.

Paperback Writer !!

Did you ever know someone who always seemed to have their head in the clouds? They seem to see the world from different angles and make observations that may not seem congruent with others around them. They may be seen as contrarians, but they’re good with it. They don’t seem to fit a category because once you try to put them in one box, they’re off somewhere else.

I’m one of those dreamers. It’s a bit unnerving to even talk about it because I want you to know that this post is much more about ideas and an approach than it is about me as a person. I’ve never felt comfortable when someone self-proclaims something because it brings about skepticism and doubt. We have a “prove it” lens we use, and we honestly wait for people to fail versus expect them to succeed.

For several years, I’ve been fortunate to share my thoughts on this blog, as a guest writer for other HR related blogs and as a speaker. It’s something I truly enjoy and look forward to. It’s nice to have a platform to take the ideas that keep rattling around internally, and get them out to share with others and see if they stick and have merit. There’s a risk in doing this because you need to be willing to be vulnerable and know that there may be those who absolutely disagree with you. That’s cool because dialogue and conversations should be welcome instead of forcing someone to just take your side.

After having many opportunities to share my perspectives and approach on HR, I had some friends say, “You know what? You should write a book and capture this. I’d read it.”

This is very kind and humbling. When I first heard people say this to me, I was intrigued with a mixture of cautious anxiety. All of the voices that pull at you questioning whether you should move ahead or not on a venture like this are powerful and loud. I’ve never been someone who feels comfortable in the status quo or staying stuck in a pattern, but the urge to just continue what I’ve been doing was attractive.

Each week I go to a local haunt called JTaps which is close to where I work. It’s great because there are not many people there and you can get away from the buzz and pace of the world and the workplace to think. I opened a journal and started writing down themes, ideas and thoughts. One week I took my laptop, opened a Word document, looked at my journal, ordered a Gyro, chips and a Diet Coke and started typing on a blank page.

After awhile, words became paragraphs and paragraphs became chapters. I had the beginnings of a book and decided to share it with a few close friends to see what they thought. They liked what they saw and so I reached out to see if someone would consider publishing it. As most of you know, I’ve been active with SHRM for almost 20 years as a volunteer leader. I mentioned that I was trying to create a book about HR and they asked to see it and then put together a proposal for them to consider.

(Here’s the exciting bit . . . .)

They chose to publish the book and this week at the SHRM Annual Conference in New Orleans, my book – HR on Purpose !! – launches.

It’s so surreal and I’m so geeked that I can hardly contain myself !! The book looks at HR from a positive viewpoint and gives you examples, real-world stories from the trenches and encourages people to own and thrive in human resources.

The book captures the belief that I have, and live, that people have value and that HR is the best profession that anyone could ever be in. It shows how you can enjoy HR . . . on purpose !!

I’ve shared before that I’m a music freak. I have some playing now even as I type this. This week, I get to live out one of the songs from my fave group, The Beatles, because now I’m a paperback writer !!

I’d be geeked if you took the time to check out my book, and I hope you enjoy it and enjoy HR even more !!


The Beatles Paperback Writer Rain 1966 by moss3516

Get Tagged !!

Do you remember playing Tag when you were a kid? I think every child since the dawn of time has played Tag at least one time. To refresh you’re memory – there’s a person who’s “it” and they run around trying to tag others and transfer being “it” to someone else. Usually, there are tons of screams, giggles and taunts as people run around to avoid being tagged. It’s a great game where people typically quit only after becoming exhausted from running around.

This past week, I took a short vacation to Washington, D.C. with my wife. We really enjoyed seeing the sites from Arlington National Cemetery, to several monuments, the sobering United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, George Washington’s homestead Mount Vernon and a walking tour through Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. It’s amazing that we can walk about freely in our nation’s capitol and take in all of this history. We were surrounded by literally thousands of people that seemed to move like waves from attraction to attraction.

As I continued to read plaque after plaque about people who impacted our nation and world, I was struck by something. When they were tagged, they were okay with being “it.” They stepped into the situations before them and acted. It didn’t mean they were perfect in character or background by any means. They had faults because they were humans just like us. But . . . they acted.

As I look around at people today, I hope they are willing to be tagged. In the childhood game, the goal is to avoid the tagger at all costs because you don’t want to be “it.” This is also somewhat prevalent in our society. We’re very concerned about what affects us personally, but we don’t step up to act. I think we feel that if we act that it will infringe upon our personal time to such an extent that we’re stymied against moving at all. We also fall into the trap that we’ll be required to do something we’re not capable of doing. Our minds make us think that we’re not able to do well in what we’re pursuing, so we stay put.

I want to challenge everyone to understand that action is not some monumental task. It’s just the willingness to break out of inertia when needed. As HR pros, I want to encourage you to be a person who’s willing to be tagged. We can step up and get involved in areas both inside and outside our company. I fiercely believe that HR pros who are others focused are people who will be successful in ways they’ve never expected.

We can’t continue to sit idly by. I’m not going to presume where you can plug in, but I know that it’s needed. You see, if we don’t act then we can’t affect the outcome of situations. Something that could be worked out and have a positive result may not because it made us uncomfortable to be “it.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t let that be the case.

I am not under some misconception that some day people will be walking around reading some plaque about my actions. However, reading what others were willing to do rekindled the fire in me to continue to be tagged. And, since I’m “it”, I’m looking to tag others. Be watching. You may soon hear – “Tag, you’re it !!”

Image Courtesy of Brainless Tales

 

Grow or Control ??

Coffee shops are inspirational. You knew that didn’t you? They really are and have to be. Most are full of people who are on laptops or tablets as well as groups of folks having great conversations. My fave coffee haunt, Cavu Coffee, is one of these inspirational locations !!

Recently, I was in the midst of a great conversation at Cavu with a friend and we talking about leadership. In the midst of a sip of some hot coffee, she laid this out for me – “You know Steve, there are two types of leaders. Those that help people grow and those who want control.”

I stopped sipping my coffee. I was struck by how accurate that was. When I think of the workplace, I definitely see this dichotomy at play. The tendency, however, is not usually focused on growth. I don’t mean to be negative, just realistic. Managers and supervisors live in a constant state of frustration because people just won’t do what they demand, I mean, ask.

We aren’t clean in this area either HR. The majority of our efforts in HR are to constrain and control. This is true from policies to performance “management” systems. I know many of my peers who are handcuffed by spending the majority of their time and contributions towards keeping employees in line.

How does this help people excel? How does this help companies thrive and perform? Why is the standard of how we allow managers and supervisors behave so low? The questions could go on and on . . .

We need to be a profession focused on growth – both personally and throughout our organizations. Trust me, this is healthier than what is being done currently. We all have to come to terms that “control” is a myth. It always has been.

Don’t believe me? Do you have kids, know kids or were a kid yourself? (I want to make sure to cover everyone). Parents miss so much of the phenomenal side of their children because they want their kids to behave, listen and stay within very tight boundaries. I believe in structure, and I was one of those parents who was more strict than I probably should have been. When I allowed my kids to just be themselves, they flourished !! Their creativity and imagination jumped out of them. There was little they wouldn’t explore or try. They were limitless.

The more I tried to keep them in line, the more I saw the edges get chipped off and they moved more and more to the “norms” that everyone expected of them. Why does this matter? You know what happens when kids grow up? They become our employees.

So, why wouldn’t you want employees who saw their work as having no limits? What if HR was less about “crossing the line” and more about boundaries and parameters that allowed people to perform? We need to step in and change the landscape of the workplace. It just has to happen.

People want to grow. They want to do this within their role and the organization. This doesn’t mean that everyone desires promotions and the out-of-date career ladder. They want to grow in how they do work. They want to grow in their responsibilities. They want to grow in how they move the company forward.

They want to grow . . . and so do you !!

I encourage you to eliminate the illusion of control and build an environment of growth. Go to a coffee shop and see how your inspiration blossoms !!

Given First

Trust.

It’s a topic that’s getting a ton of attention these days. It’s in our discussions, our social media and in societies around the globe. People are trying to determine if people are/aren’t trustworthy and there’s never a clear answer because everyone’s opinions and definitions are different.

I’m not here to define what “trust” is. However, I do want to tackle the first aspect of trust – and that is whether it is earned or given. The majority of people I know feel trust has to be earned. If trust isn’t earned, how do we know how people will act or treat each other? In the workplace, and life in general, people want you to tally a series of activities so that people will finally establish a certain level of comfort so that they can open up to each other incrementally over time.

I don’t think this works, and I never have. I give trust first.

You don’t have to earn my trust, my time, my empathy or my attention. I will give it to you. You don’t have to hold a certain level of job, have a minimum level of education, come from a similar family background, or share the same beliefs I have. I will give you trust the moment I meet you.

Will you disappoint me? Yes. But, I will disappoint you as well. Will I fail at some point in our relationship? Absolutely. Are there differences we have that will be possible points of disagreement and contention? Of course there are.

These happen because we’re humans.

If everyone has to earn trust first, how will trust ever happen or occur? Someone has to step up and be willing to be vulnerable and open up. Does being open mean that you are naive and blindly unaware of actions or stances that don’t match up with who you are? No, it doesn’t.

As an HR professional, I believe that giving trust first is the approach to take with everyone. Please note that when you take this stance you’re going to get bruised. People don’t trust those that give trust first. (Sorry for the pun, but it’s true). Employees are wary because most of them live in the “earn it” world. I want to encourage you that when the bruises come, trust people again. The next time it happens, do the same. I don’t want you to be a martyr, but I do think you have to fight through the disbelief with your consistency and your willingness to be intentional with people.

If you get to know me personally, and I hope you do, you need to know that the next step past trust is that I am fully in with getting to know you. I can see how many people do “drive by” relationships where I give you snippets of my time and attention. Those result in a multitude of acquaintances that may be miles wide but an inch thick. You have the appearance of connections and relationships, but at the most you’re nice to a bunch of folks. There’s value in that, but there’s also so much more available.

Employees want someone they can trust. It’s almost palpable in workplaces all over. It’s time for us to be the people who make that happen. Let’s turn the page and be the profession made up of people where trust is – given first.

Be Unlikely !!

When I was young, I remember watching Christmas specials on TV with my family. As a point of reference, this was long before cable TV and 1,000’s of channels. There were four networks to choose from – ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS. We didn’t think we were being slighted by having so few choices. It was our reality and we accepted it.

The most memorable instance I can recall happened during a Bing Crosby special. My Mom and Dad were huge Bing Crosby fans, and my brother and I didn’t get much of a say on what we watched. As we huddled together to watch the show, the most unlikely thing happened. Bing was in a set depicting a large, warm house and a neighbor came to the door. The neighbor was . . . David Bowie !!!

My Dad looked at my brother and I and asked who this British person was and if we knew him. I jumped at the chance to say how fantastic Bowie was, and I now had immense interest in this show. They did some forced dialogue and then sang a duet to The Little Drummer Boy. My Dad hated it, but I thought it was beautiful – and still do.

I’m sure the network execs wanted to bring someone young on their Christmas special to hopefully connect with young viewers. I don’t know if it worked, but it was great to see something so unexpected happen. Seeing something that is unlikely grabs your attention and leaves an imprint.

As we wrap up another year, it’s time for us to sit back a bit and reflect where we are personally and professionally. I know that you will have the chance to step out next year at least once into an area that won’t seem to fit. You’ll be the unexpected neighbor who shows up. You’ll have a choice to either see how to make this odd pairing work, or you can walk away.

I think it’s time for HR to willing be the unlikely person to show up. This needs to occur at the executive level of your organization as well as every department. We can no longer be the department that people “go to.” We need to be the people who make things happen for others. It’s the natural evolution of our profession, and we need to be intentional in seeing this through.

Don’t settle in being a part of the scenery and background of your company. That’s where we’ve been for far too long and people have come to expect that this is the norm. I think that this leads to many folks in HR becoming frustrated and tired. You have the opportunity to turn this norm around and set a new one.

The time is overdue to make this shift. You have to know that you might be the missing piece to an incredible duet that is just waiting to be sung. This next year . . . be unlikely.

NOTE: I’m going to take the remainder of the year to be with family and friends. I appreciate you for reading my blog and hope it is a regular dose of encouragement for you in what we all do in HR. I also hope that you have a phenomenal Christmas, New Year’s and overall Holiday Season !!

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 !!

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.