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 !!

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 !!

Who Will Speak For Me ??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Exist or Thrive ??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What You Say . . .

. . . matters.

This may seem like an overly obvious statement. However, I don’t think we believe it because we are extremely careless with our words – especially when it comes to people.

It’s so easy to get frustrated with how others treat you, or the situations you find yourself in. Words that describe your immediate feeling and reaction usually aren’t positive. And, if we’re honest, we feel “better” by taking a shot at someone else – at least for the moment. I think we do it so often that we’ve become desensitized to how we casually describe others. It has become an expected response . . . and that is sad.

Now, trust me, I’m not pointing fingers at others because this is something that I struggle with as well. It’s not something I’m proud of, and it’s actually something I’m trying to turn around.

People don’t deserve to be called names that belittle or degrade. No one. Ironically, most of this happens out of earshot of the person we’re frustrated with which makes it even more underhanded. On top of this, we unfortunately highlight name calling and labeling almost incessantly in our social media forums or in the news. The juicier, or more vicious, the better. The response to when these barbs are thrown about is to take it up a level so it gets more and more harsh. I want you to note something.

Tearing someone down has NEVER improved a situation or a circumstance. Not once.

I mentioned before that I’m working on this. That’s the truth. I don’t mean this as an HR professional. I mean this as someone who’s a husband, a father, a friend, a volunteer and a co-worker. I observe that the ease at which others are torn down is the norm, and I can’t accept that. I understand people can be frustrating. However, what I think gets completely glossed over is that we’re ALL people !! I have to be someone who frustrates others. So, is the same name calling being used towards me when I push someone’s buttons? Of course it is. Even if I don’t hear it directly.

I had a conversation recently with a friend, and we were letting off some steam about a person who wasn’t in the conversation. It wasn’t positive. I’m embarrassed to say that. Afterwards, I decided that this isn’t how I want to behave. It’s an easy excuse to justify venting, but it isn’t how I want to see others treated, or be treated myself.

I believe we can, and should, be encouragers of people. This doesn’t count just for people we like. It’s for everyone because it honestly doesn’t happen enough. I know that when a kind word is given that is has meaning and impact. It matters. Now, it may be the exception in what people hear, but that means that kind words should be used even more regularly !!

We will all still be critical and there is value in that. We should be critical of the behavior we see and experience and not the person. Most people reading this will not agree with this position because it takes effort and grace to not bundle the human in our response.

This week I’m asking you to join me in changing the tide. Take time to encourage people and lift them up. When you’re faced with the urge to lash out, don’t do it. Breathe and then assess what was said. See how to respond positively and then act. It’s not what we’re used to doing in our interactions with others. What’s cool though is that people won’t be expecting a positive response either.

What we say matters. I choose to encourage and I hope you will as well !!