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

Practice the 3 R’s !!

It intrigues me that when the majority of HR conversations occur, they are around broad areas.  They range from regulations to compliance, HR technology to HR analytics, performance management to being strategic.  Interestingly enough there is something missing in the midst of the noise.

What’s missing ??  Employees.

When I see the myriad of pros and cons about certification options, the argument is between the terms of  “knowledge” or “competency.”  Again, concepts and not people.  The majority of our HR education and training is to become proficient with systems and processes.  But, what takes up the majority of our time and efforts? Employees.

I’m not saying this as if employees are a negative.  Far from it.  Employees are THE reason why I practice HR at all !!

So, if our interaction with employees make up the majority of HR, why are they “missing”?  I think it’s because the other areas of HR can be defined and wrapped in structure.  We can create systems that have a beginning, middle and end.  There is more of a linear approach to these areas of HR, and we appreciate the step-by-step aspects of things that can be accomplished time after time.

Employees aren’t linear.  Isn’t that fantastic?  Seriously, who wants to be around people who are predictable, bland and one-dimensional?  Is that who YOU want to be as an HR practitioner or consultant?  Would HR be better if people conveniently fit our lives like a form to be completed?  I don’t think so.

What if you did have a system that would help you describe working with employees?  What if you had three simple words that could change your perspective towards people each and every day you went to work?

My son is a senior in high school and he just started his first job.  He is making smoothies and he’s geeked about it !!  He has a uniform to wear, of course, which is intriguing because he’s a bit of a non-conformist like his dad.  However, when he saw the message of the uniform, he put it on willingly.  Why ?? Take a look.

Three R's ShirtThis is such a positive and uplifting message !! Remember . . . he makes smoothies.  When customers come to his store and see the crew decked out in these shirts, how do you think they feel?  Even if you had been experiencing a rough day, I think you’d be getting something if it revived, recharged and rebuilt you.

Now, think if you approached HR using these three R’s. If you went into work every day saying to yourself, “I’m going to revive all of those around me !!”  Think of the energy you’d bring to your role.  You’d never think about being burnt out in dealing with people because now you were going to take the time and focus to revive things.

How would your day go if you knew that you were recharged yourself and you had the chance to recharge others?  I tell you it would be awesome.  Knowing that what you did brought things to life would make HR a profession that people would be asking to join !!

Finally, if you looked at rebuilding people and lifting them up on a daily basis, I bet that you would welcome the chance to work with employees.  How would people appear to you if you knew your efforts would make them better, more productive and valued?

So, there you have it.  The three R’s don’t make people less challenging or unique, but they do give you a “structure” to work with employees. The key to remember in all of this is that HR is about people.  As a person yourself, take these three R’s to heart and see how much you, and your employees, enjoy who you are and what you do !!

HR is as HR does !!

Over the weekend I was channel surfing (because I don’t have Netflix – no one pass out) to see if something would pop up, and I came upon one of my all-time favorite films, Forrest Gump. I stopped at the point in the film when Forrest is in Vietnam and he runs back into the jungle many times to save his best buddy Bubba, and ends up saving many of the men in his platoon.  My skeptical 17 year-old son wanted to me to change the channel, but I asked to let me see just this one scene.  He was hooked and we ended up watching the rest of the movie.

I love the movie because Forrest has such a fresh outlook on life and it made me think that we could take many lessons from the film as we practice HR.

When I’m around most of my HR friends, I hear them bemoan how difficult EVERYONE is to deal with – when it’s actually only a few people.  I also hear people try to one up others with tales of employee misconduct.  The stories that are more shocking and/or vulgar seem to gather crowds !!

I don’t think living in an environment of constant truth or dare scenarios helps us personally or professionally.  If we only see the bad things around us, or the flaws and negative characteristics of others, how can we ever hope to move an organization forward?  It’s no wonder people cast a negative light on HR when all they hear are HR horror stories.

Forrest GumpWhat if we saw life as Forrest did?  Sure, the movie is filled with a character who “happens” to experience almost every single major historical event in the U,S, personally, but it’s a movie.  If you notice, Forrest isn’t swayed by his good fortune, his fame, or his run ins with Presidents or other famous people.  He takes it in stride.  This is also true when the dips in life hit him and he experiences loss of his mother and his beloved Jenny.

We come across opportunities every day to interact with great people.  What’s our mindset when we’re about to meet with them?  Are we burdened by it?  Do we think the worst is sure to happen even before we talk to anyone?  Do we jump to extremes and make broad-based decisions, policies and procedures because the interaction we just had should become the law of the land for all people going forward (even though it was an exception to how work usually goes)?

Forrest is unflappable.  The only time he struggled with his situation was when Jenny introduces him to his son and Forrest worries if his son is smart or not. I think that he would have loved him either way, but it was obvious he didn’t want his son to face the same challenges he did in how people saw him as stupid – or less than others who were “normal.”  He always responded “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Think about it becoming HR is as HR does.  Forrest always let his actions show his intent and genuine approach toward life.  We should do the same.  HR’s behavior needs to be unflappable and able to not only take life in stride, but enjoy it because we never know what the next step will be.

Forrest thought his life turned out exactly like it should have.  It was filled with extraordinary adventures which he thought were just normal situations.  He wasn’t fazed.  It’s a fabulous approach each day and something I’d encourage each of you to try !!  Every person we meet may be an incredible adventure just waiting to happen.  Don’t miss it !!

“And that’s all I have to say about that.”

Squeals of Joy !!

This past week I got to do something that I haven’t done often over the past few years.  I was interviewing potential candidates to become Team Members for one of our pizzerias.

Typically, our great Managers interview, but I got to help this week because we had a bigger hiring need.  It was energizing to sit across the table to learn about people who are interested in joining us.  One thing I forgot about interviewing was the nerves, anxiety and anticipation of the candidate. Each person I spoke to was eager to give answers and share their experience.  A few of them were worried they’d give the “wrong” answer, and a few were very confident with every response.

At the end of the interview we decide whether to make an offer or not.  That’s when it happened. When I offered a job to some of the candidates, they actually squealed !!  They were so excited that they were going to get a job that they couldn’t help but express their joy.

I guess I’ve been in HR too long because I lost the experience and thrill of what it meant to offer someone a job. I think that’s true for most of us especially when I hear people speak more about metrics and not people.  The majority of how our focus in recruiting and hiring has come down to statistics like “time to hire” or “cost per hire.”  Where is the statistic – changed my life ??

Think about it.  When you make a hiring decision, you trust that the person you just interviewed is someone who will add value to your company.  You have been given the responsibility to identify and meet someone who is going to bring their lives, experience and talent to your organization !!  Isn’t that more important than a report or making sure that your next job requisition comes off the board?

JoyWhen we hire someone, we change their lives.  They are so excited to have this new opportunity.  We miss this squeal of joy because we’re so eager to move onto the next task, interview or project.

It’s time for us to step back and take in the fact that we are adding talent to our company.  If we are doing anything else, then we aren’t doing our job effectively because if the people we hire are just to alleviate pressure or ease some uneasiness in low staffing levels, then we’re missing the mark.

What if you approached hiring and job seekers with the same joy they hope to experience by landing a job?  What if you met each person with excitement, anxiety, nerves and anticipation about who you’re about to meet?  How do you think you’d view the “task” of recruiting and hiring with this type of attitude?

One of the people I hired asked if she could call her dad to tell him she had just landed her first job.  I said, “Of course,” and I listened as she shared the news.  It was a great wake up call for me.  What we do in HR is full of joy everyday in our lives, and potentially in the lives of others.  Let’s see if we can make that happen !!

1st Time Handshake . . .

This past week I was fortunate to be the emcee for the second DisruptHR in Cincinnati !!  We had another great time and the presentations were unique, diverse and thought provoking.  The venue of Memorial Hall also added to the ambiance of the night.  The true highlight for me was seeing many familiar faces as well as a large number of new people.

It’s fascinating to me to see how people greet each other at HR events.  People look for people that they know first if they didn’t already come with someone they know.  If they don’t know people, they head to either a corner or the bar to get a view of the room and scope out how they’re going to maneuver around people before figuring a way to get to their seat with the fewest interactions possible.

If someone does introduce themselves they tend to keep a clear distance and reach for a business card as a force field to get the niceties out of the way.  There may be some small talk exchanged asking where someone works, why did they come to the event and what do they expect.  More often than not, the room is filled with more people you don’t know than it is people you do know.

I’m not trying to make fun, it’s just what I see.  I’m an extreme extrovert, and I know that isn’t common.  I thrive in a room full of people.  I can’t wait to meet as many people as I can.  I don’t want to just meet them, I want to get to know them.  In order to not have this be overwhelming, I’ve developed the following approach.

1st time handshake. 2nd time hug !!

Free HugsOkay, the hugging part may be overwhelming, but it’s necessary.  I mean it !!  People need to be hugged especially if they work in HR.  You’ve heard me say that working with people is challenging.  That is nothing new, but a genuine support system for HR is !!  HR people tend to want to move on their own and have bought into the myth that they shouldn’t be close to anyone.

Being isolated in our field is senseless and harmful.  It’s harmful because if you think you can foster engagement in employees, but you aren’t connected to other people on purpose youself, then you’re just trying to make something come to life you don’t believe in.  We need to care for each other and be up front about it.

I remember a few years ago, Joe Gerstandt came to speak at Ohio SHRM and I was the program chair.  We had never met in person at that time, only through social media.  When I saw him far across the room, I squealed and ran over to him and gave him a giant bear hug. (I skipped my 1st time rule.)  Joe pulled back a bit from me and said, “I guess brothers hug.”  Love that !!

Ironically, other HR people there chastized me for being loud and too excited.  You see, we want order and decorum in a world that is calling for empathy and compassion.  I choose hugs and will not shy away from it.  I’ve had too many people melt in an embrace because it hit them just at the right time.

This week, Ohio SHRM is happening once again and I will be giving out hugs as much as possible !!  To say I’m Geeked would be an understatement.  I will love seeing friends and meeting new ones.

If I see you there (or at other great HR and SHRM events), choose.  I’m good with a hug right off the bat.  You need to know someone cares about you and that you are in HR.  I’ll be looking for you !!

I Love to Laugh !!

How often are you around little kids?  I would have to say that I’m not around them nearly often enough !!  Little kids “get it” when it comes to life.  They see everything around them as something worth looking at, taking time for, and experiencing.  They will do this for their entire day and think that it’s normal.  When adults step in to squelch their innate sense of joy and exploration, kids respond with some of the most confused facial expressions possible.

One characteristic that I truly enjoy is hearing children laugh.  It’s infectious.  They see things that most of us consider mundane or irrelevant, and just flat lose their mind.  It’s fantastic !!  When a child loses themselves completely in laughter, anyone who is near them will be affected . . . in a good way.  They usually bust out in raucous laughter themselves.

I have to confess.  I’m a laugher.  It’s a loud, belly laugh more often than not. I make sure to laugh every day.  Every day.  It’s not like I put in a planner or on my To-Do lists. There are just too many things that happen every day that deserve laughter and joy.  You never know what it will be, but you will miss it if you’re not looking for it.

Laughter QuoteI wish more HR people would bring laughter and joy to what they do !! When I get together with my peers, and we can peel back the frustrations of the job, we have more laughs than not.  The question is – how can you incorporate more laughter in your workplace?  The first thing to do is to take on the philosophy that Charlie Chaplin followed (see the picture).

If you thought that your entire day would be wasted if you didn’t laugh, I bet you’d laugh more often !!  There are countless studies that show the healing power of laughter and how it reduces stress.  If that’s not enough of an incentive, it also clears the cobwebs and allows you to look at something with a fresh perspective.  Any feelings of angst just disappear.

Secondly, you have to take on the Mary Poppins approach where Ed Wynn proudly sings, “I love to laugh, loud and long and clear !!”  Laughing out loud is essential.  We are way too reserved as HR pros in the workplace.  We keep to ourselves and don’t feel that we can express ourselves.  That’s truly a shame because we have an opportunity to bring life and excitement to our people, our workplace and our culture.  If you chose to look at HR with this perspective, would it change your outlook as to what you do?

This week, stop the grousing and start the chuckling !!  Something so simple can be something extremely profound.  Look for the laughter.  I know I will !!

Sochi, the Media and HR !!

The 2014 Winter Olympics are in full swing, and I have to tell you that I’m a fan.  It’s a chance for the entire world to come together for a common purpose through sports.  I’m not a skier, skater, bobsledder, luger or curler.  Although, I think being on the US Curling Team would rock !!

With all of the pomp and circumstance, bright colors and international community comes an unfortunate dark side.  It is truly almost unbearable to listen to the blathering commentators.  During the opening ceremony, one of the visual special effects where snowflakes were supposed to transform into the five Olympic rings failed.  It caused a global uproar and Twitter exploded !!  In fact there’s an account on Twitter that focuses on the things in Sochi which are “wrong.”

The negativity doesn’t stop with the talking heads of NBC in their studios, during the Today Show or the Evening News.  It continues during EACH event !!  We’ve never been a country who admires that other countries actually send athletes who also compete alongside us.  The coverage is so U.S.-centric that we only get to see an extremely small portion of the actual competition even though it’s hours and hours of TV coverage.  Then, during the coverage, the analysts talk about all of the errors people make instead of focusing on how amazing it is that this athlete is representing an entire country !!

I get sick of it.  Ironically, it reminds me of how the majority of HR is focused.  Entire company cultures go to work each day to focus on “what’s wrong” with work and especially with their employees.  I know I’ve been guilty of this because it’s so much easier to be negative vs. being positive !!  It has to stop.

Happy face amongst sad faces.Just think what would happen if your culture refused to be negative !!  I understand that there are challenges in every workplace.  But those are opportunities, not obstacles.  HR should make it there mantra that ALL systems that touch, or affect, people in the organization should be intended to encourage, develop or address folks where they are.

If someone is lacking a skill, then take the time to teach them what they need.  If someone is struggling with a person/boss/management, talk to them directly without having the approach of “making a case.”  If there are differences between people or departments, be the glue who connects the dots and show how to integrate people’s strengths instead of harping on people’s differences.

I could fill an entire post on these types of if/then statements.  The key is that we need to be more like Sage Kotsenburg who won the Olympics 1st gold medal of the games and the first in his inaugural event.  He was stoked about his performance and his press conference is a great mixture of awe, excitement and “dudeness.”

He only focuses on what he was able to do and how cool it was to do it !!  If we in HR, were like this and could be positive and excited about what we did, just think of the possibilities !!  Turn off the negative and see what happens.  I think you’ll be geeked !!

Is Your HR Like Gas Prices ??

One of the most visceral emotions people experience everyday is during their commute to and from work.  It may be the pace of traffic, the volume of traffic or the urgency to get to your destination.  Driving is never without emotion !!  One item that never misses is when you drive past gas stations.  The board listing the prices of the moment glares at you every time you pass it.

High Gas PricesIf the prices are lower, you’re ecstatic – even it’s a few cents.  If they are higher in the least, you say something under your breath, or you curse the sign and the unexplained variability from the morning drive to the commute home.  It feels like you’re being held hostage.  You know you need to drive to get anywhere (at least in the States), and it never makes any sense when you see the price variation.  You can’t go to anyone to get an answer for the change.  It just happens and you’re left to “deal with it.”

Sound like HR ??

Too often we sit at our desks writing policies and procedures that address the fringes of our employees and then enact them with little rhyme or reason.  We do our best to hold people “accountable” through enforcement and inconsistency.  How’s that working for you?  Frustrated?  Emotional?

In order for HR to bring stability through the workplace and a company’s culture, we must have consistency.  That doesn’t mean being fair.  It means being consistent.  We strive to make EVERYONE fit all that we do when that just isn’t possible.

This week try something new that will really work.  Look for the inconsistencies in how HR occurs at your company.  That could be within the HR department or how things are carried out in action in the field.  Take one area and get it to have less variation.  Keep it in check and then find the next area.  Over time the lack of variation will bring a flow to what you’re doing vs. having to feel that you must react !!  Knee jerking only gives you black eyes.

I was listening to The Police this week and heard a real gem from them called Walking in Your Footsteps.It talks about the dinosaurs and how they once ruled the earth, but you can only see them in museums today.  If HR doesn’t change its ways to move from compliance to integrating itself into the flow of work, we will become extinct as well.

Try something new this week !!  Start removing the variation and you’ll see others outside of HR treating you differently.  You won’t be like the ever-changing gas prices.  You’ll be the fuel necessary to help them run better !!