Callie

This past week has been a whirlwind. Each week I have is full, and I’m fortunate for that. I have some great things going on at work, and I was able to also have the opportunity to speak at the Vermont SHRM State Conference and attend a SHRM Board meeting. Any time I can be near my HR peers and get to know them more, do good work and share some laughs along the way, my bucket is filled.

However, this week, my bucket leaked a little.

Several years ago, my dear friend Matt Stollak, was talking to me about his HR Students at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin. He is a phenomenal human who also happens to teach people to become the future practitioners in our profession. Matt always has fond stories of his students, but one in particular made a profound difference in my life. One day he reached out and wanted to make sure that I connected with one of his students named Callie. I sent her a note to connect and she jumped on the request right away.

Callie was eager, interesting and engaged the first moment that we talked. She was always smiling, ready to share a jab and challenge your perspective because she wanted to learn more and more about HR. When I started to get to know her, she was the SHRM student chapter President. She interviewed me for a paper of hers and kept in touch until she graduated. When she entered the workforce, we stayed connected and I loved seeing her start to dig in and grow as a peer in HR.

Our paths crossed over the years at various SHRM events because she remained involved as a SHRM volunteer leader for the Wisconsin SHRM State Council as both the Social Media Director and College Relations Director. I’ve been active and volunteering for two decades now, so I had a good chance of running into her. Just a short time ago she left the corporate world of HR and actually joined SHRM as an employee. Her role was as a Field Services Director which meant she would visit State Councils and local SHRM chapters and conferences to work/meet with SHRM volunteer leaders. It was great to see her join in and give the role a new viewpoint and energy !!

As I kept staying involved myself, I saw Callie more regularly because I had stepped into different roles which allowed me to travel and speak around the country. Every time I was at an event with Callie we would chat, catch up and laugh (of course.) She was a bright light that I couldn’t wait to see. She was continuing to flourish and improve the lives of so many people, and I loved seeing her thrive !! She even recently stepped into the role of overseeing College Relations and the Young Professionals efforts of SHRM National.

A few months ago, she called me and shared some incredibly grave news. She told me she hadn’t been feeling well and the doctors she had visited couldn’t figure out what was happening to her. After multiple visits to doctors, she was told she had Stage 4 stomach cancer. I was crushed. I thanked her for letting me know, but I felt absolutely helpless.

I reassured her that I would check in and be available for her at any time. I am a man of faith, and I told her that she would be in my prayers. This wasn’t a hollow sentiment. She told me that she was facing a fierce regimen of chemotherapy, but was hopeful that since she was younger, she would get through.

A week ago, Matt reached out and told me that Callie was given 4 to 6 weeks to live. Now I was devastated. I reached out that day to text her and tell her how much she meant to me and to so many others. I told her that she needed to know that she was a light who made a lasting impact on everyone she encountered. I also told her that my life was better because she had been in it. Again, not a hollow sentiment.

I then heard that she was going to meet with hospice this week. After I had spoken at the Vermont SHRM conference and had a packed room filled with more HR peers who were laughing and looking at life and HR in a positive way, I got the news that Callie had passed.

Picture with dear friends at SHRM18 in Chicago. From left to right: Michelle Kohlof, me, Mary Williams, Callie Zipple and Anthony Paradiso.

There are no good words for how much I’m affected by her passing. I know that the loss of anyone is never easy. I ache in a way that seems to have no end because Callie is no longer here. I’m crushed for her husband and family as well.

I reached out to Matt to ask if he thought sharing the news on social media would be okay. I wanted to be respectful, but also wanted to let others know that were fortunate enough to have met and known Callie. He thought it would be fine. When I shared, I was floored by the incredible response and outpouring of love and support. She HAD made a difference !!

I’m writing this today for two reasons: (1) I needed to make sure that even more people knew about my friend Callie. (2) I wanted this to be a reminder for all of us.

You see, Callie engaged every. single. person she encountered. She met them with interest, joy and a willing ear to listen. She didn’t look past anyone to get to something, or someone, more important. People mattered to Callie.

My friends, we have the same opportunity that Callie took every. day. We are surrounded by people in our families, our workplaces and in our communities. Are you taking the time to engage with others? Do they matter?

Do you know that YOU may be the one person who chose to stop, connect and listen at the exact moment someone needed to be noticed and heard? The people who are in your life are there for a reason.

You need to remember that you make an impression on people any time you meet them. Those interactions can be positive and lasting if you choose to be intentional and step into the lives of others on purpose. You can be the one interaction to remind them that they matter.

Callie did that for me as well as for so many others, and I am eternally grateful that she did.

Hidden Gems !!

If I asked you if you were an adventurer, what would you say? Most people I know tend to fall into patterns because we like the stability and predictability. I try to fight this pull because I don’t want to get into a rut. I’ll be honest, it isn’t easy. I like traveling on the same route to and from work and I have some favorite places to eat on a weekly basis. I understand patterns and respect people who have the discipline to follow them.

This weekend, my wife and I went on an adventure. She is very tolerant of my desire for constant change which is ironic because she is VERY pattern driven. It gives her comfort and an understanding of what most potential steps are going to be. A friend of ours sent me a Facebook message about a restaurant she thought I’d enjoy. It’s located on the edge of Pleasant Plain, Ohio (population 140). The restaurant is called the Plain Folk Cafe.

She thought the restaurant would be appealing because it’s a hippie themed place that features local live bluegrass and country music. I was immediately intrigued and wanted to make the trek no matter where it was located. My wife and I jumped in the car, turned on Google Maps and headed out. It took us almost 40 minutes to find the cafe. We went through a few small towns and plenty of rural landscape. As the phone indicated we were close, we saw an old school house on our left surrounded by a small gravel parking lot.

It turns out that the cafe sits inside an old two-room schoolhouse that was built in 1913. The moment we entered I was hooked. The walls were covered in album covers and a large blackboard had only positive vibes written on it including – “Practice kindness everywhere.” The staff was in tie-dye shirts or Grateful Dead gear. The music that played overhead was a mix of the Dead, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and other folk and rock artists. They also played very cool bluegrass artists. There was a stage on one end of the restaurant and a back patio which also was set up for live music.

The cooler was covered in peace and hippie related bumper stickers. There were also several small model VW buses scattered throughout the cafe to match the real vintage one used by the owner sitting in the parking lot. The whole menu was made up of hippie related names for their sandwiches, paninis and salads.

I couldn’t take in enough of the vibe and ambiance of this hidden gem. It reflected much of what I enjoy because I’ve been someone who’s always enjoyed tie-dye, folk music and a lifestyle that promotes peace, kindness and community. The staff talked to every person who came in and engaged them about their day and their take on being at the cafe. It was like sitting in someone’s house and taking in their home cooking. I haven’t been this relaxed in a restaurant. I even showed one of the staff the new tie-dye tapestry I just put up in my basement earlier that day.

Now, I know that this is something that I enjoy. What did my wife think? She loved it !! She stated, “I can’t believe you’re so excited about going to a restaurant that you’ve never seen before. However, I love that you’re adventurous. Let’s see what it’s like.” After our time there, she was the first to say that she wanted to come back again.

I think there are hidden gems all around us in life and at work. We tend to miss them because they often take extra effort and a willingness to try something new. In fact, I think there are folks who want to contribute, but we overlook them because we’re used to going to the same people over and over again.

As HR practitioners, we can’t let people stay hidden. Every person in your company is worth the effort to go out of your way to see who they are and how they want to add value. No one should be seen as too distant or difficult to engage. You need to make sure that you break out of your rut and take a new path to make sure that everyone is connected in your organization.

We can’t wait to go back to Plain Folk Cafe !! I’m going to make sure to tell everyone about it so they can see the joy in finding a hidden gem.

Going to California

A few weeks ago I wrote about being a part of the “sandwich generation” where I have the privilege of taking care of my parents and also my kids (adults). We are all at different stages of life. My adults are just starting out their career while my wife and I are in the midst/latter stages of our career, and my parents are fully retired.

Well, this past Friday, a new wrinkle presented itself which brought about a mix of excitement and sadness at the same time. My son, Josh, just packed his car and is driving across the country from Ohio to San Diego, California. He is on the precipice of beginning his life past college. He truly wanted to get a start in California, and we decided to support him.

The sadness was just a small part of this new transition. We all hugged, shed some tears and then sent him on his way. We know that he will be successful and admire that he is willing to be such a risk taker. We’re very excited that he is adventurous !! Today we can talk to him at any time using various methods which make his moving out a bit more comforting.

As we came to the day of Josh leaving, we had several meaningful conversations along the way. One night he mentioned something that truly caught me by surprise. He said, “Dad, when I tell everyone that I want to go to California, everyone gives me reasons why they wouldn’t go. They say it’s too expensive or too ‘weird’ or other things. Why is that?”

Great questions. We worked through everything, and he knows he has our full support as parents. Our conversation did make me think though because when he was asked about his future, he was expecting affirmation and encouragement. He received doubt, cynicism and negativity. Why is it that when others step out to take risks, most everyone does their best to limit or confine that expression?

I think the answer is that since we would be less likely to do this ourselves, we share our concerns to confirm that we like things how they are. It is funny to me that people constantly say they’re “good with change” which just isn’t true. We desire stability and pattern, and there is a ton of predictability and certainty with that. It’s not wrong or right. It’s just how most people live.

When a risk taker enters our space, we get edgy and defensive because we’re afraid they’re going to upset OUR patterns. We don’t like people who are unpredictable and we have some pretty strong adjectives to describe them which are all negative. We can’t expect creativity and innovation in our organizations if we describe risk takers in negative terms. You see, they won’t be stifled for long because they’ll willingly take their next step in a new direction.

This week try something new. Affirm and encourage those who are trying to bring about change. I understand that all organizational change needs context. This time don’t assume the worst and think that the change will assuredly lead to failure. Embrace the risk takers in your life. You need them to keep things fresh, alive and relevant.

I love my risk taking son. As soon as he was driving out of our driveway, I thought of the beautiful Led Zeppelin classic “Going to California.” It has the lyrics:

“Made up my mind to make a new start, Going to California with an aching in my heart . . .”

The ache is there, but the new start is about to launch and I can’t wait to see the amazing things that he will accomplish !!

Read the Signs !!

Recently my wife and I went to the fabulous Cincinnati Art Museum to see the traveling Burning Man exhibit. It was incredible !! The different art pieces and memorabilia brought out my inner bohemian. The whole event is not for those who want to just observe if you attend the actual event in the desert. This isn’t for spectators, it’s for participants. The pictures of those attending are very comfortable with who they are, how they look and how they see creativity all around them.

When special exhibits are brought in to most museums, they’re able to confine them into a relatively gallery size location. They do this so they’re more concentrated and it’s also a way for museums to generate much needed additional revenue. They can charge an extra fee to see something special. I’m absolutely cool with this. This exhibition couldn’t be contained into such a size which is indicative of the Burning Man event as well. The pieces ranged in size to such an extent that they were placed throughout the entire museum. This allowed everyone to see the entire museum as well as release their inner bohemian.

One of the favorite pieces I saw caught my eye instantly and also made me pause. Once you look at it, you can see a much different message versus what you expected this iconic symbol to convey.

What do you think? Do you see it? If you came into an expansive gallery room, turned the corner and saw this hanging on the wall, would you have the same reaction I did? Be honest. When you see this familiar red octagon, you’ve been conditioned to expect the letters spelling out “STOP”. You see many of these on a daily basis on your commute to and from work. When you see the sign you’re expecting, you halt, look around and then move in some direction.

Seeing this piece of art made me think of how HR is what you expect when you see this symbol. We are known for telling people to “stop” when it comes to behavior and the majority of systems that we design and monitor. At times this may be necessary. Unfortunately, it seems to have become the majority of how we spend our days both in reality and perception.

This doesn’t have to be the case !!

What if you took this piece of art for what it is? What if you slowed down to see the signs of those who work with you. Are you already acting as if they’re easy to define, assess and move past? Do you think that you don’t have time to notice everyone? I mean honestly, you have work to do that is far more important than connecting with your employees. Don’t you?

I wish there was a professional development class that taught people to observe nuances at work. There are countless subtle signs that happen all around us in the workplace !! How people interact with each other. How departments act when working inter-departmentally. And, how people interact when their roles are at different levels within the organization.

You can see signs in every interaction you personally have as well as all of the interactions you observe. However, if you’re too concerned with “real work” you’ll miss most of them.

Remember this – EVERYONE watches the interactions they have with you and how you have interactions with others. All. The. Time.

So, if others are taking in the signs around them, shouldn’t you as an HR practitioner?

This week follow the example of this Burning Man art piece. Slow down and then START watching and reacting to the signs happening with your people. They deserve someone who’s willing to be different and do the unexpected. Release your inner HR bohemian and see the new results which will occur !!

Arise !!

As an HR professional, you’re in one of the most emotionally demanding professions around. That’s the case because you are bombarded by the various emotions of every person you encounter throughout your day. This isn’t bad. It’s just a fact. The result of this is that HR pros are flat worn out. This is the type of tired that goes to your bones. And, it can become a daily reality.

Add on top of this the reality that in today’s workplace the majority of employees also are exhausted and drawn out from a mixture of the pressures of their jobs and their lives. It doesn’t matter if you personally feel that their “pressure” may not be as extensive as what you’re feeling. We have to remember that the pressure everyone feels is real to them. And, THAT is their reality.

Since that is what we face when we go into the workplace, how do we cope? Seriously. How do we continue? What I’m seeing much more often than not is that people are either feeling burnout, emotional detachment or loneliness. And, that’s descriptive of my HR peers.

Arise !!

What in the world does that mean? I mean it’s time for us to face this harsh reality and do two things – (1) Deal with it and (2) Turn things around. How do we do this? We need to encourage each other. Genuinely encourage each other. The one way out of this pit of despair (not exaggerating) is for us to come together as peers and as a global HR community.

We spend far too much time nitpicking and cutting around the edges for the sake of hearing our voice or personal viewpoint. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be critical where and when needed. Not at all. However, encouragement takes far more courage in today’s workplace than adding to the tenor of people tearing things down.

I’ve mentioned this in the past through blogs and at presentations – HR needs to stop trying to do things in isolation. There’s no reason for it. You can connect with at least one other peer outside your organization who can be your sounding board and someone who lifts you up through encouragement. You need to have a person in your life who breathes life into you when you aren’t sure if you can take one more breath.

One key piece to this is to not compare. I mean it. We get caught up in how many people we are/aren’t connected to. To me I think you should understand your personal capacity of how many folks you can comfortably, and consistently, communicate with. Then remember that this is YOUR capacity and don’t worry about what others do.

I’m fortunate to have many connections. However, I have an incredible capacity to connect. One reason for that is that I encourage others. I’ve learned from others who always pour into me. My circle is filled with a mixture of family and friends who I see in person and also talk to on Social Media. Figure out the sphere you need to have in order to fill up your bucket of encouragement, and work on keeping it active. If you need a connection to get you started, reach out and I’ll be glad to both connect and encourage you. I’m grateful you’re in HR and know that you can make a positive impact on the people in your company.

Taking this first step will give you the energy and support you need to press on. I understand that it won’t be easy. But, it’s worth it. Get connected now.

Arise !!

Sandwiched !!

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to drive two hours north of my house with my wife to visit my parents – Connie and Don Fleming. Of course, this also meant that I was able to return to Ada, Ohio (center of the universe.) I spent the day cleaning the gutters, removing dead rose bushes and tightening all of the shutters on the windows. My mom stayed with me to give me “direction” and my dad stayed inside to chat with my wife.

The cool thing about seeing my parents now is that our lives have once again transitioned. You see, my mom is 80 years old and my dad is 76. If we hadn’t taken the time to visit, my mom was planning on getting on a ladder to do the gutter cleaning !! Add to this the fact that the past few months have been rougher than most because my dad has been in the hospital and a rehab facility more than he’s been home. It’s been challenging for him and my mom. She’s his sole caregiver at this point in time. We’ll need to keep watching this for both of them.

Even though my parents are relatively close for me to get to within a relatively short period of time, my brother is almost eight hours away. Even with that time separation driving is quicker than flying because Ada isn’t near an airport. We all keep in contact, and I wish that the majority of our conversations weren’t about our parent’s health status or the news of another elderly relative or friend of the family passing away. But that’s where we are . . . sort of . . .

You see, my brother and I also have great kids who are now technically “adults” according to their ID’s. They’re all embarking on the next phase of their lives by landing jobs, adding friends and meeting significant others. It’s exciting to see them maneuver and struggle as they find their way. We give them guidance and assistance, if they ask for it, and we see what decisions they make.

In the midst of all of this great “life” stuff going on, we all have our careers and jobs ourselves. We’re sandwiched !! We’re in the middle of caring for our aging parents and also taking care of our kids. This isn’t unique by any stretch of the imagination. This is the norm for the majority of people now. This wasn’t always the case for families, but with people being able to have a great life for many years, it’s our reality.

Now, I’m fortunate in that I have a great relationship with my parents. I know that isn’t the case for everyone and don’t take it for granted. Regardless of the relationship status, we all have parents. This “sandwich generation” is now a huge work challenge, but it doesn’t have to be !!

When I hear about most workplaces, time off is cordoned off into days and hours. We “allow” people to have time off if they’ve earned it, it’s been appropriately accrued, and if they fill out the proper 7-page over detailed form for HR which must be approved by anywhere from one to three people. It’s ridiculous and archaic. Our HR systems continue to be based on “showing up” and being visible versus performing.

What if you knew your people so well that you could give them the grace to take time when needed to help a parent or a child? What if you did this and didn’t have unlimited PTO? Would doing this lead to complete and utter anarchy in an organization ???

Here’s a different perspective . . .

Understand your people enough to learn about their circumstances and situations. Allow them to have a work schedule that meets their needs as well as allows them to perform in their role. Give them time to both address “life” things and do their work. Allow your systems to ebb and flow instead of being locked in concrete.

My experience has been if your workplace can accommodate people individually, they will, in turn, be more engaged, loyal and grateful for you as a company. If someone takes advantage of this in a detrimental way, address it – just like you can with ANY person’s behavior. You will have far more success if you aim for consistency versus compliance because someday YOU will need some latitude in your life as well.

I know that this approach takes more work, effort and attention. However, aren’t your employees worth it? This week take a look to see if you have folks who are sandwiched. Get to learn their story and see how you can be a partner in helping them through life AND work !!

Age is Just a Concept !!

When do we start complaining about our age? Is there a certain birthday that sends us over the edge and make us feel that we’re deteriorating more than we are living? Is it different for different people?

I’ll admit that when I get up from the couch, or wake up in the morning, there are far more snaps, creaks and groans than there were 30 years ago. That’s not a complaint. It’s a fact !! I get it that there’s no way to stop the natural process of aging. I honestly wouldn’t want to change a thing as the years roll by. Sure, I hope that my health and mental state don’t fade. There are positive choices I can make with my diet and exercise that will assist in hopefully doing well. I also know that all of this could be taken away in a second without my choice.

This summer I’ve been doing something that I haven’t done regularly in over 20 years. I’m going to rock concerts !! The majority of the artists I’ve seen so far were ones I grew up with. I still listen to their music often and have been geeked to see them perform live before they hang it up. You see, the majority of the artists I’ve seen are in the “way over 50” club.

On the Saturday evening before the SHRM Annual Conference started, some friends and I went to see Aerosmith !!!! (that’s really not enough exclamation points by the way.) They just started a residency in Las Vegas, and the concert was mind blowing !! The played a little over two hours and crushed every song with the same energy they had when they started in the early 1970’s. The set list included hits and some deep cuts. Phenomenal !!

During the conference, the ageless Lionel Richie played for the Tuesday night conference. He moved seamlessly from ballads to the hard funk of his time with the Commodores. He was engaging, funny and great to take in.

That should have been enough for one summer, but this weekend I saw two more great acts. The first was Jason Bonham‘s Led Zeppelin Evening. For those of you who say, “So what ??” Jason is the son of John Bonham, the original drummer of Led Zeppelin who passed away over 30 years ago. This band just ripped into amazing versions of Zeppelin songs and I was screaming out the lyrics right along with the lead singer. Zeppelin broke up years ago and they are one of my favorite bands of all time. So, to hear something even remotely close in a live venue was perfection !!

Bonham was the opening act for another fave of mine, Peter Frampton !! He is on his final tour and I couldn’t believe I got to see him one last time. This was my third time seeing him. What was amazing about the show is that he shared very poignant stories throughout and it made the experience even better. Later this summer, I’m going to see The Doobie Brothers and Santana together !!

What does my summer of concerts have to do with HR ?? Everything !!

You see there continue to be countless articles, blogs and conference sessions on the younger generations either in the workforce or entering the workforce. I can’t handle any of them personally because I think it’s a shame that we separate anyone for any reason in life or in the workplace. Age is a fact. Categorizing someone because of their age is unnecessary.

You see we think it’s just one generation getting crotchety and becoming the grumpy old folks they swore they’d never become. Some of that unfortunately is true and needs to stop. However, the same light is being cast on those who are older workers. It seems that once someone crosses the half century mark (that’s 50), then a person’s value has to automatically diminish. Doesn’t it ??

The same narrow thinking and stereotypes towards younger workers is also being applied to older workers. Seeing these rock legends of my time reminded me that you can still ROCK regardless of your age. Because, you see, age is just a concept. The work we do should be based on expectations to perform and not what year we were born. HR absolutely has to step in and address anyone who is starting to treat older workers poorly. We may be the only voice who does this.

I know people much younger than me who are stymied by facets of life or obstacles at work that aren’t that challenging. I also know people much older than me that can, and do, work circles around me. Also, please don’t say “age is just a mindset.” Catchphrases aren’t necessary at any age. One other thing to remember . . . EVERYONE gets older !! So, if you’re allowing this behavior now, one day when you’re older don’t be surprised when this same narrow treatment gets applied to you.

Let’s make a pact HR. Stop ageism regardless of the generation. Treat people as Steve, Sally, Jorge or Dee – humans. It’s time we right this inequity in the workplace for good !!

Now, sit back and enjoy some of the music I heard . . . Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun covered by Peter Frampton on his Grammy winning Fingerprints set. It’s ageless !!

Milestones

Each year the country celebrates another July 4th, and it becomes a year older. With all of the picnics, concerts, fireworks and days off from work, we tend to overlook this fact. Even though America is a mere 243 years old (young compared to many countries), it’s still another milestone.

In today’s fast paced world, we tend to see milestones come and go with little fanfare. In fact, unless the milestone directly affects us, we don’t pay it much attention at all. I understand that it isn’t feasible for you to acknowledge every possible milestone that occurs around you. However, do you slow down enough to see the ones that you can?

Recently, a spectacular milestone occurred that I’m sure you weren’t aware of. My cousin Mary turned 60 years old !! Now, that in itself isn’t much of an accomplishment. People age every day and hit significant birthdays ranging from 1 to 100. Her aging was just time passing as it always does.

What you don’t know is that my cousin, Mary, is an amazing human !! She and I have been very close since we were young children. She grew up on a family farm in the metropolis of Pemberville, Ohio while I grew up in a house trailer in the equally as massive Luckey, Ohio. (These are real places. You can Google them.) We worked on her family’s farm together over the years, but then my mother remarried when we became teenagers, and we moved to Ada, Ohio which was about an hour away. I saw Mary at family gatherings and holidays which was wonderful.

Time continued to pass and Mary graduated from college, got married and started a family. I also went to college and then happened to move back into the same town as her. Again, none of this is that unique. I’m sure you have similar extended family and/or friend stories that would mirror this.

Where the story takes an interesting twist happened 17 years ago. My cousin was diagnosed with cancer. It was not good news, and she came inches from passing away. It was simply a miracle that she made it through. Many people were praying for her and hoping for the best. She did get better and has been in remission since she was on the edge of leaving us.

THAT is why my cousin turning 60 is a true milestone !!

Since her remission, Mary has poured into the lives of others even more than she already did. She’s been fortunate to see all of her children do well and become great humans themselves. Mary is someone who still lights up a room with her smile, her heart and her infectious laugh.

As I’m typing this, I have two very good HR friends who have been recently given a diagnosis like my cousin. I’m praying and pulling for them and hope that they will get the care that they need so they can reach milestones as well. I know that there are many more circumstances that people are currently facing. They range from health challenges to difficulties at work. They may be in between jobs or have family struggles more than can be adequately captured.

I’m sharing this because I think it’s time we stopped to relish and enjoy the milestones of those folks who are in our lives. That may be true of direct family members or co-workers. Instead of rushing to the next like, share or post, what would life (and work) look like by taking time to listen and understand what is happening in the lives of those around us?

I know this may not be “natural” for you, but I think it’s worth your time. I genuinely feel that investing your time in the lives of others is the best use of your time. Every. Day. This is especially true if you’re an HR peer. HR has always been about humans and the lives they live. It’s not about the work they do !! Trust me. When you focus on the lives of others on purpose, they will be more engaged and productive than they ever have been.

This week start celebrating milestones !!

I know that this may be a change in focus for you, so I wanted to give you a tool to get you started. My good friend, Kevin Monroe, is starting a 10-Day Gratitude Challenge. I’ve signed up and would encourage you to do the same. Here is the link – https://kevindmonroe.com/the-gratitude-challenge/

It’s All About . . .

. . . the people !!

I, along with about 20,000 others, just finished attending SHRM19. It was a full, adventurous and exhausting conference. This isn’t new. Any HR conference of this scale is hard to wrap your hands around because there are so many options available for you to choose.

The common denominator in this sea of movement though is people. Whether it’s the thousands of folks passing by each other throughout the conference venue, or the people sitting next to you listening to a Smart Stage talk or full presentation. People are near you every minute of the day. In the midst of this swell of people, you think there would be a ton of interaction going on. Not really. Don’t get me wrong, there is some, but most people are going through the event seemingly alone. That is a broad generalization and I don’t want you to think that people are just automatons wandering aimlessly from session to session.

In an industry that is meant to be focused on humans, we tend to still focus on tasks, circumstances and situations. We have potential connections and resources passing us by literally at our sides, but the energy and effort it takes to greet each other intentionally is often crippling. I don’t think this is a matter of introversion or extroversion although that definitely plays a part.

I honestly think that we have been conditioned over our lives to set our face towards a destination so much that we don’t notice others. We may “notice” them if there’s some line we’re waiting in to buy coffee or an item from the ever popular SHRM store. However, others are seen as a nuisance or hindrance that is imposing on my time. If you don’t think that’s true, watch the people standing in line or riding the myriad of hotel shuttles and see how many of them are not connecting and talking to each other. The overwhelming majority of people keep to themselves and face forward.

Ironically, there is something that gives me hope in all of this. Pictures.

When you look at the thousands and thousands of tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram photos and Snapchats, there is one common theme . . . people. What is shared the most are pictures of the faces of attendees. It may be anything from a great speaker they enjoyed to a meal shared or a night out on the town. We share pictures of faces !! All of those wonderful experiences which show mainly smiling, laughing humans make up the mosaic of who we truly are as a society.

The pictures show you that people ARE connecting because they want to. It’s how we’re all wired. People want to belong and be acknowledged by others. It doesn’t matter if you’re someone who enjoys being connected to hundreds of people, or just a few. We weren’t meant to experience life or work alone.

The reason I love SHRM Annual Conferences, and honestly any HR gathering, is seeing people !! I saw so many old friends and made tons of new ones. We shared hugs, laughs and stories about our families, our jobs and our common bond of being in human resources. Each one of those encounters will have far more of a lasting effect than any session I attended. The rush of energy that happens when someone asks you to jump into a picture is wonderful. This is true because that image will capture the memory of the time together and will be a lasting reminder that the people you hung out with defined your time at the event.

I hope that this week you remember that you are not alone. You have peers all over the world who share the same field you do even though they’re in different places geographically and their role and company may not exactly reflect yours. Regardless, you have a connection that is always a click away.

Life, in all it’s facets, is about people !!

Make the Climb !!

When my wife and I went to England recently, it seemed like everything was an adventure !! Some of that was because each experience was new. You couldn’t help but be awestruck by the deep, rich history that surrounded you at every turn. Before we went on the trip, we made a list of possible places to visit. I then reached out to friends via social media and asked their opinion. This was so helpful because we were able to hear from people who had experienced the various places we wanted to try and visit.

One of the recommendations was the city of York. We checked it out and decided we would be sure to visit there. It was hard to believe that our experience would be affected starting at the train station, but it absolutely was !! We took the tube to King’s Cross Station. For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, this is awesome because I got to see Platform 9 3/4 where the Hogwart’s students would go through a pillar to catch their train. I’m a big kid stuck in an adult’s body. Seeing the platform only set the stage for what was to come.

Our trip went quickly and we took a short walk to our beautiful hotel The Principal York. We settled in and then walked to a site that dominates the city and its skyline – The York Minster. The Minster is a church and you’re probably more familiar with Westminster Abbey in downtown London. It’s hard to describe how massive the York Minster is. When you walk up to its doors, you are dwarfed by the size. It truly envelops you. We had a feeling that it would take several hours to take it all in.

When you get your ticket to go through the beautiful church, you have the option to buy an additional ticket to climb the steps of the Central Tower. Before the clerk allows you to buy a ticket for this extra experience, they point to a disclaimer. The one page sheet is full of warnings telling you that you need to be fit, have no breathing or heart issues, and are good with very tight confined space. I said that I’d be fine because I was eager to try this. I paid the extra five pounds and had a ticket to climb.

Debbie and I went through some of the Minster before I got in a queue to scale the steps of the tower. There was quite a buzz from the 30 or so folks waiting to climb. One of the staff came out to give one more word of caution before she opened the door. Everyone nodded their willingness to go, and then we entered the tower. What you saw were narrow stone steps going up in a very tight spiral. The first few minutes of the climb were easy and then my breathing became very labored as well as everyone else on this trek. We climbed for a good ten minutes and saw some daylight streaming into the staircase. You could hear sighs of relief and some joy as we exited a door and came out on the edge of one of the roofs of the church. Everyone pulled out their phones to snap pictures when someone noticed that this was only the first half of the ascent.

A view from the top of the Central Tower of York Minster.

You crossed the roof line and entered another door with another spiral staircase that was even more narrow and confined. Now people started to shake and heave with every step as we continued to do our best to keep moving upward. Another ten or fifteen minutes and we got to the top. The view was amazing and breathtaking. We had climbed 275 steps to a height of 235 feet. To give perspective, the Central Tower is above the two prominent spires at the front of the Minster. Everyone was smiling between trying to catch our breath. You could walk around the entire perimeter of the tower and take pictures.

After some time, you realized that you had to go back down, and there was only one way to do that. So, you took a deep breath and started to wind back down the steps you just struggled to climb. It didn’t take as long to get back to the floor of the Minster, but the constant turning made you very dizzy. When I came out of the stairwell, I was exhausted and went to sit on a chair to collect myself. My wife came and checked on me and I told her all about the trip. We spent several more hours in the church to make sure we saw everything. It was wonderful, but I was still spent several hours later.

Making the climb was worth it and reflecting back on it made me think of HR and work. How many times do we have the opportunity to pull ourselves out of our surroundings and ascend to a new place? Why do get stuck when we see/hear the warnings about potential serious outcomes? How often do we stay right where we always are wondering what making the climb would mean?

We hear that the view is amazing and needs to be experienced personally, but the power of breaking our inertia paralyzes us. Isn’t it time you paid the small price and take the first step up? Yes, it could be daunting and physically/mentally difficult. But, the effort and work is worth it. The view is captivating !!

This week look around and see where you could move forward and/or up. Get in line regardless of the potential risks or obstacles. Feel the excitement and anticipation. Then, make the climb !!