All the Time !!

One of my favorite daily things to do is randomly call friends on my commute home. I have almost an hour in the car, and it’s a great way to make the time go by. (Don’t worry, I’m a hands free user.)

This past week I had a great conversation with Heather Kinzie from Alaska. She’s a great HR pro and I highly recommend you connect with her !! We were chatting about life and work and she was telling me her thoughts about work when she said something profound. She noted, “I don’t want to work at a place where I’m half a person all of the time !!” I almost swerved off the road because that statement rang so true.

Heather wasn’t bemoaning a certain environment or employer. She was just stating the sentiment that affects the vast majority of employees who go to any workplace. You’ve had to see the statistics that are out there right now that state that 70% to 80% of workers are disengaged in their current role. That is staggering to me because we instantly personalize data like this and think of our own workplaces. What we don’t do is compile the number of workplaces that exist. If 70% to 80% of workers are disengaged in ALL workplaces, then we face a massive obstacle each and every day regardless of where we work.

In HR, we express that we want people to bring their “whole self” to work, but that’s not really true. We want people to bring as much of themselves as fit our systems and norms. We freak out if people are outliers and work so hard to make people conform. This isn’t an indictment, it’s an observation. Since this is the culture of most companies, it’s not surprising that someone would bring half of themselves to work – all of the time.

Is there anything we can do to shift this state of malaise? I think there is. However, it will take a truly radical step for HR. You see, we are the controllers of conformity. Our systems, procedures and policies scream for same mindedness and behavior within a tight framework of parameters.

I think there should be company norms and the majority of these happen naturally. If your company’s leadership and/or industry is more formal, your norms will follow. If they are more hip and edgy, your norms will follow there as well. HR has to look at how it makes these cultures come to life to see if you’re allowing people to freely move and perform in these environments, or if we’re making sure that people show up.

All The TimeYou see, the best cultures can be stifled if our HR practices are more focused on being visible and seen (i.e. showing up), or if they’re on performance. If your culture truly champions performance, and your focus is development and shepherding within that culture, then people will bring more of who they are to work – all the time.

What is the big concern? If we looked at having less control, would chaos really ensue? Trust me when I say this – If your HR systems are built to control folks, you actually have no control at all. You don’t have a work environment, you have an institution. People can’t help but be disengaged because the environment doesn’t even exist to encourage them to be engaged.

This week look around your company. Do you see “half people” ?? Are you existing as a half person yourself in HR ?? This needs to change and it starts with you. Don’t settle for environments where people only exist. Instead, work intentionally on building an environment where people can, and are expected to, thrive !!

Be a Student !!

I’m a big proponent of Social Media. The various forums give us a variety of ways to communicate, connect and learn from each other. It can be overwhelming at times because it comes at us from every angle and during every moment of the day.

What intrigues me though is how people approach Social Media. I find that most people present ideas, opinions and perspectives that I would not have necessarily come up with myself. I enjoy looking at the material I see as a way to build the amount of knowledge that we can use.

One thing that is challenging in how people use Social Media is when people are critical. Not in the way of poking at the status quo, but in the way where their style, or form of sharing. is to tear everything down. There are no areas that are off limits and the more critical the better. Very few solutions are offered and it is really disheartening when I see the tone of blogs tear people down.

I value hearing from others who don’t look at things the way I do. The fact is this happens every single day all around me. I don’t need Social Media to get that. I do think that Social Media has a “critical” feel to it because we spend the majority of our days being critical of each other and the experiences we have. This isn’t to point fingers. It’s an observation and one I’m guilty of as well.

It’s exhausting and not productive. When you think that you’re spending so much time being critical when you could take a different approach. I heard a piece of advice this week that hit me directly and made me want to change. Here it is . . .

Be a student and not a critic.

LearnThe thought is to learn from others instead of critiquing what they say, or who they are. This may seem passive, but I don’t think so. Hearing other’s points of view does not necessarily mean you agree with them. However, it also doesn’t mean that you tear what they say apart only because it differs from your beliefs.

This is essential in HR. One of the biggest roles you have on a daily basis is being a counselor. You are in a position where you hear the good, the bad and the ugly of people’s lives. If you take the posture of being critical, you will always see the dark side of what you’re facing. You can’t help it because you assume that the worst will surely occur.

You have a choice. You can listen, synthesize and respond to people, or you can critique, judge and react. This is true for all people in organizations and in life. I know that even in writing this people will be critics. My choice is to be the student.

I’d rather learn from you, get to know you and have a relationship with you. Even though our thoughts and opinions may differ, I can still learn. This week I ask you to stop being a critic, and start being a student.

Listen. Respond. Repeat.

How many people do you encounter in a regular day? Do you meet the same people every day, or does it vary greatly?

I know that I have hundreds of interactions every day and they are rarely the same even it is with some of the same small group of people. I understand people’s desire for these conversations and situations to have some commonality, but they rarely do. The differences may be significant or they be just a slight nuance that adds something new to the mix.

This constant variety is often a challenge and source of frustration for HR pros. We want to take some time to breathe or synthesize one interaction when another one happens on top of what we were just responding to. Since this is the reality of human resources and not the exception, we need to have a method that better prepares us to work through situations instead of facing a constant start/stop pace every day.

I have found that the longer I practice HR that deconstructing works for me far more often than creating something bright, shiny and new. So, I’d like to introduce how I handle the beautiful myriad of interactions I encounter. This is what I do . . .

Listen. Respond. Repeat.

Listen and RespondThey are three simple words, but in order for you to be consistent in taking this approach, you need to address some things that are in our way. I was talking with a great friend this week and he was sharing the challenge of the perceived motivations we think people have. We do our best to guess what will drive and engage people and this lends us to making assumptions about them without talking to them. Having this approach leads to more misses than hits. It’s true that you can “know” your people, but the circumstances of life are constantly moving. Therefore, people exist on a continuum and not in set places.

If you use listen, respond, repeat as your approach going in to interactions, you will eliminate those assumptions you may have because other’s are sharing first. Please note that this suggestion isn’t listen (sort of) and then come up with a solution while people are still talking !! I say this because we are so consumed with getting things done and moving on that we see our time as being wasted by the interactions we have.

If you think interacting with people is a waste of your time, then you may want to get another career.

Trust me. If you follow this approach, your employees won’t know how to react initially because it’s not what they’re used to from anybody. Most managers and supervisors also have perceptions that try to keep their employees in boxes versus taking the time to get to know them. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see your employees surprised by you? It is very cool to see how they respond.

This coming week I hope you try this simplified way of practicing HR. Remember the first two steps work when you use the third. Take the time for your people and repeat it over and over. You’ll soon see that you take each encounter with people as something you’ll enjoy !!

 

Stop Adding Bricks !!

“All in all you’re just another brick in the wall” – Pink Floyd

The incredible double album, The Wall, was released my senior year of high school. I listened to it endlessly. It is still one of my favorite sets from one of my favorite bands. During college I worked as a Resident Assistant and we had “Cool Steve’s Movie Night” every year. We played the movie of The Wall each year at midnight and sang every word of every song !!

(Pardon the nickname. It was given to me because I ran things differently in the dorms. I was practicing my brand of HR even then and didn’t realize it.)

The theme of the movie and the album was that seen from a character who felt every situation in his life kept building a wall that continued to constrict him. It’s not a cheerful way to look at life by any means. However, it seems to be how many people see life . . . and HR.

Too harsh? Tell me, have you had this happen? You walk into a room and people rustle and say, “Shhh, here comes HR.” Not a great feeling is it? Have you ever noticed that when people do this, they never say your name. It’s honestly the most impersonal comment anyone could make in the workplace, and it paints us in a poor light.

We rarely counter this comment. In fact, most of the time, we try to deflect it, ignore it or work around it. I think that we need to step up and not allow this attitude towards us anymore. However, there is a key thing that needs to occur before that happens. We need to quit adding bricks to the walls of our organizations. We do this all the time in the majority of our human resources efforts. We have the best intentions when we put out policies and procedures, but to be honest we manage to the exception. We have supervisors who see a small fraction of people behaving in ways they don’t like and they ask for another layer of bricks to be added. This is done instead of expecting people to talk to each other and address situations as they occur.

Brick in the WallHonestly, it’s easier to pen another policy and lay more bricks than it is to face human interaction. However, it is our job as HR professionals to show people how to interact, listen and address people. We should refuse to pen one more item that builds the barriers in the workplace we already battle.

I recommend that you follow a test I call, The Three “O’s”. If your actions hit any of these three, then don’t do them. Come up with another alternative. It takes effort, but it works. So, don’t move forward with policies or procedures if they:

Obstruct

Are your efforts causing more obstacles for people to do their jobs? Have you considered how these methods affect performance? Chances are you’re only developing layers of rules which won’t be practiced consistently. Play out how things will affect others before you are quick to implement them.

Ostracize

Evaluate how many people your policies and procedures actually apply to. If you see that you’re addressing a small minority, then step back and refuse to add it. This is a poor business practice not just a narrow HR practice. Companies should not have systems which only impact a thin ribbon of the organization. The same is true for HR. Remember we are business people who practice HR – not the other way around.

Obfuscate

This word even sounds clunky !! It describes when things are obscure, unclear or even unintelligible. Have you even looked at your policies and procedures recently? There is an old mantra from the world of education which states “publish or perish.” HR falls into this trap by writing more and more rules for people to follow. The lack of clarity that occurs is a huge brick in the way of people understanding their roles and what they are to do.

This week take a look at your HR practices and see what walls exist. Apply the Three “O’s” test and then start taking those bricks down. When you do this, the next time you enter a room people will be geeked to see you and call you by name !!

 

 

The Future Looks Bright !!

This past week I had a very cool experience !! I was one of the judges for the SHRM Student Case Study competition. I sat with two other great HR pros from the area as we heard graduate students from various schools give their take on an HR scenario. It was very cool to hear their approaches which ranged from a traditional HR viewpoint to some that were extremely creative.

I was so geeked to see so many students come in and share. It helped to continue to dispel the stereotype that the most recent generation is so “different” and just doesn’t “get it” like other generations. I wasn’t surprised because this isn’t new. There have always been generations in the workplace. The stigma that has been assigned to younger people is from older generations. We have fallen into the same trap that we said we would never fall into when older generations made broad generalizations about us. We hated it, but it hasn’t stopped us from doing the same thing.

I think we need to have a serious change of heart and be the generation that encourages and lifts up the newest folks. Let me ask you a question . . .

Do you remember when you got into HR?

Most people don’t start in HR, they fall into it. I’m one of those outliers who has been in HR for my entire career (on purpose). When I started though, I was pretty much on my own. I taught myself what I thought was correct, but to be honest, my efforts had to be limited because I didn’t look outside of what was within my reach. I must have missed areas. I did what I had to, but I could have done better.

I didn’t know having someone who was also in HR as a mentor was needed. The truth is, I didn’t think someone like that even existed. I was wrong on this account as well. When I finally reached out and connected with other HR pros, I found some great people who are still mentoring me to this day several years later.

Now, back to these students.

We can be the ones who reach out to them now to be their connections and mentors. They don’t have to “earn their stripes” in order to struggle as they enter HR. We can be the ones to share our experiences with them and make sure that they are not left to try and figure out this industry on their own.

Bright FutureWe have the chance to help shape not only the future of these great young people, but we can help shape the future of our profession !!

Wouldn’t it be great to help these kids who are interested in joining our field have a great experience coming into HR? How would they see our generation, and how would we see theirs, if we did more to build each other up instead of trying to focus on generational differences?

The future of HR is bright !! I was able to see this first hand. I plan to reach out to these students and connect with them now and going forward. I’d love to see them succeed now and become the leaders of HR to come. I want to break the cycle and not be the stereotype of my generation. Will you be willing to join me? I hope you will !!

 

What Do You Think ??

Feedback is a tricky thing. When we talk about this topic, our focus is how we give feedback to others. This is needed because it doesn’t occur naturally, or often enough, in our organizations. It’s interesting to me though that when we write about feedback, we personally are never in the mix. Since the direction of feedback is always outward, isn’t is possible that we won’t receive any ourselves?

We are more than willing to give our opinion about people. It doesn’t take much prodding at all. The challenge is that when this occurs, we tend to list negative items or note things that we think need to be “addressed.” This is technically a form of feedback and it’s typically what people expect. It seems that it’s harder to give positive feedback, but it’s just that we haven’t practiced.

Feedback IconsTo get started though, I’d like to suggest something different. What if you asked people for feedback? Seriously, What if you asked people – “What do you think?” but it was about you and your performance. I know this is absolutely out of everyone’s comfort zone, but it’s an alternative approach.

The fact is – we all have blind spots. We may be behaving or performing in a way that is affecting others, but we don’t know what’s happening. You may not be “clicking” with them, or something just feels out of kilter. There is also a significant norm you’d be breaking because asking others to give you feedback may put people on the defensive. They may not know how to respond because they are stuck in the old model of either giving or receiving negative feedback the majority of time.

I know that this is a big stretch, so here are some starters to help you ask and also seek feedback from others.

  • What am I doing right ?? – You can set the stage and approach for these types of interaction by being positive going in. You have to get over the self-esteem barrier that may hold you back. This isn’t for others to brag about you. It’s to help them see that feedback can be positive !!
  • Where do you see me being an obstacle ?? – We all get in the way of someone. There are things that hinder our performance from being the best it can be. If we’re an obstacle to others, it’s better to know what that looks like so you can address it and, hopefully, remove it.
  • What’s an area where I could improve ?? – People want to share how you could do better. Asking it this way stops them from launching on you with a barrage of negativity. Ask people for things that are tangible and relevant and not just differences in personality or approach.
  • How can I help you do better in your role ?? – This one will throw people off completely. You see, we TELL people what to do and to get work done. The majority of people have a “task” mentality and they want to see defined stops and starts. By offering to help someone else you develop yourself and also relationships. Both are key to you doing well.

I know that this goes against what people think when it comes to the world of feedback. I want you to be encouraged though. I know this works because I’ve tried to practice it myself with peers as well as people who’ve been my boss. It’s a bit wonky when it starts, but I’ve seen it blossom to more open, regular and consistent communication.

Check out other’s thoughts on this as part of the Feedback Carnival that Helen Amery is doing out of the UK !! It’s fabulous !!

So, now that you’ve seen this different option . . . what do you think ??

Be Full !!

As I type this post, I have to admit I’m spent. It’s a good feeling to be honest, but it’s also exhausting. I brought this upon myself. You see, I had the opportunity to spend the entire day out in the sun working in my yard. It was the first time since Winter and I loved it !!

I don’t know how you’ve been feeling lately, but feeling completely wiped out clears one’s head. Do you notice what most people say when you ask them how things are? The vast majority of them say, “I’m busy.” There’s never really a definition of what that means other than they apparently have a ton of things on their mind or taking up the majority of their focus.

Now, I know it’s just a word, but when I hear that people are “busy,” I hear a negative tone behind it. It seems that when you’re busy you have things that “have” to get done even though you may not enjoy doing them. Being busy also implies that you are overwhelmed and feel that others don’t share your sentiment. It’s the feeling that no one could be as busy as you are !! Having this approach is a bit daunting. The reason for it being daunting is that EVERYONE is busy !!

Full GlassA few years ago, I changed my answer when people asked me how I was. If you ask me, my answer is – “I’m full !!”  It’s true. I am. I take the chance to fill my life up every single day with things that are positive, challenging and interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things that fill up my life that I’d like to change. I get upset too often and frustrated more than I should. I watch too much TV and don’t eat as well as I should. Those are facts that I can work on. They could be things that pull you down, but they don’t have to be.

To be honest, I think I could even add a few more things in to make my life even more full. You aren’t any different. Your life is full too !! The question you have to ask yourself is – Do you like what your life is filled with ??

The same is true for HR. Most HR folks I know always share how busy they are. When I hear this I can sense frustration and angst that surrounds their view of what they do. The thing that people don’t see is that if you keep the “busy” mentality, you’ll never enjoy HR because you’ll always be chasing after the things you don’t enjoy doing.

It’s time for you to become full instead !! Take the time to review what you’re doing and strip away those things that pull you down. I understand that all work has it’s purpose. How you approach it is key !! Get full and see how your day goes instead.

The next time someone asks you how you are . . . tell them you’re full !!

Being Mortar !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Soul of the Company !!

This past week I was fortunate enough to lead a workshop I created on developing an HR Brand to an HR chapter. This was an attempt to differentiate from “employer brand” and “employment brand” which are both important. The focus of the workshop was to get HR to own who they are professionally and also within their organization.

Any time I get to speak to my peers, I get more Geeked than usual !! The ideas were flowing and the mood was light. People love to share and one of the exercises we did was intriguing. I asked the attendees to make a side-by-side comparison of how they viewed HR and how others viewed us.

Everyone jumped into the list, and it took the turn I expected. The “others” side of the list filled quickly, and the answers weren’t positive. In fact, one person even had to remind his table that they should at least come up with some answers on how HR viewed itself. Unfortunately, this breakout supported the approach of most people. We tend to think negatively initially even if that’s not who we are. Negative thoughts and situations surround us in the majority of our activities. You have to work on turning the tide so that this isn’t how you approach HR or life !!

To help everyone try this I asked people to list how HR viewed itself. And then it happened. One person shared, ” I think HR is the Soul of the Company !! ”

Her answer drew audible oohs and aahs. People truly enjoyed that perspective and it made me think. What if we WERE the soul of the company as HR?

SoulI think this makes sense because this has a deeper meaning and impact than culture. The “soul” of an organization should capture and embody what the company values. It is also appealing because every company’s soul is unique just as it’s people are.

Too often HR is seen as soulless and I’d love to see that turned around. The key to making this happen has to start with us personally. Senior management can’t bestow this upon us, and we shouldn’t look for them to do that. What should the soul of your company look like? It’s a bit conceptual, but there are a few factors you can consider.

First of all, you would be the “center” of all of the people activities and interactions in the company. You could assist people on having healthy communication that was consistent and productive. Many companies aspire to have this happen, but it’s an area where we can all improve.

Secondly, being the company’s soul would bring depth to what you do. We spend way too much time on surface items because we feel that’s where HR should be because it’s “safe.” It actually distances us from others. Taking the time to get to know our people more deeply makes us vulnerable, but it’s worth it. People have been coming to work forever with little to no meaning. They look for ways to connect, and we should be that connection !!

I think this is a perfect way to position HR. We have a chance to look internally first to see what our soul could be and then we could integrate that throughout our company’s culture. We all have it in us !! Let’s try it and see what happens !!

LLAP !!

This past week an entertainment icon passed away – Leonard Nimoy. He was mostly known for his immortal TV character, Spock from Star Trek. As a devout HR Nerd, Spock has always been my favorite Star Trek character.  I admired him because of his loyalty in his relationships and his willingness to always explore who he was and what humanity was all about.

Live Long and ProsperSpock had a signature greeting, or salute, that he gave to others by raising his right hand, splitting his fingers into a V and state, “Live Long and Prosper.” Looking back now, it truly reflected Mr. Nimoy’s life and his journey. He struggled with being identified as Spock for his entire career. He even wrote a book called “I Am Not Spock.” Everyone wanted him to stay in this role because that’s how they saw him. They didn’t know he was a very thoughtful man, poet, musician and artist. After some time, he came to terms with who he was and the legacy his role had. He actually wrote a second book entitled “I Am Spock.”

Did you know the original Star Trek series only ran three years and stopped in 1969? That’s forty-six years ago !! What an incredible legacy !! Yes, there have been subsequent movies, books and other Star Trek series. Those existed only as a legacy to the original show. In fact, Star Trek and Spock have become a part of social culture.

Now, think of how you approach your role in HR. Are you looking at how you practice what you do, or are you just making sure your job gets done? Do you have an “impact approach” or a “legacy approach”?

You see, you make an impact every day whether you are intentionally choosing to or not. Your impact is determined by your behavior, outlook and effort with others in your company. That doesn’t ensure that your impact is positive though. One can impact others in negative ways which have a much longer effect than you can even imagine.

A legacy approach is just slightly different because it still involves your impact. Remember, Mr. Nimoy’s original run as Spock was only three years. If you knew that your “run” as an HR practitioner had a limited time to it, would your daily look at your job be different? Would you put everything you had into what you did so that when you were done, it would be remembered and sustained?

I think that too many of us in HR are either concerned about keeping our job, advancing in our job or just existing in our job. There is an opportunity to not only have an impact, but an impact that truly makes a lasting difference in the lives of the people around us. When you change your approach to one that will leave a legacy, you will see each day in a fresh new way.

I love that Leonard Nimoy came to terms with who he was and his legacy. He was active on Twitter and would finish his tweets with #LLAP for Live Long and Prosper. Every tweet. Every time he would communicate to others.

That is my hope for everyone who practices HR. It’s how I approach what I do and I hope you join me in having a legacy approach to what you do !! #LLAP