Step Out of Line !!

I’ve just returned from SHRM18, and this was one of the best SHRM Annual Conferences I’ve attended. It was the largest and most attended in SHRM’s history, and yet it felt very accessible and easy to maneuver. The attendees were geeked whether they were in sessions, browsing the SHRM store, enjoying the keynotes or taking in the wonder of Chicago.

At the end of one of the days, the 17,000+ attendees all seemed to be leaving at the same time. I was in the midst of everyone else and was hot and tired – just like the masses. I walked out into the city heat to grab a cab and was told to go back in line. I didn’t know there was a line, so I headed back inside. What I saw was staggering !! The queue for the cab line was enormous and folded back on itself many times. The lines for the shuttles seemed to go on forever as well. I also looked at a countless number of attendees looking at their phones waiting for their Uber or Lyft to arrive.

After observing all of this, I tried to lighten the tension by suggesting people step out to get a drink. I was met with scowls and grumbling. This didn’t seem to be going well in general. So, I made a decision.

I stepped out of line !!

I walked out of the cavernous McCormick Center and started walking down a street. I looked at a map on my phone and saw that I had a short 46 minute stroll in front of me as the sky above me darkened with thunderstorm clouds. I didn’t care and kept walking. After about eight expansive Chicago blocks, I spotted a cab by itself across the street. The driver was checking something in his trunk, and he was heading back to get in. I screamed across traffic, “Sir !! Sir !!” He saw me and beckoned me over. I zig zagged through passing traffic and collapsed into the cab dripping with sweat.

The driver calmly greeted me and asked, “Hello !! Where to sir?”

I told the driver my destination and then he began talking. He asked me how my day was and where I was from. He told me he was originally from Lagos, Nigeria and that he had been in Chicago for over ten years. His only job in the states has been driving a cab in Chicago, and he loved it. He loved talking to passengers and hearing about who they were, what they did and why they were visiting Chicago. He was wonderful, welcoming and fascinating !! All of my anxiety and stress of rushing back to get to the next HR event wanted, and we had a fantastic conversation.

As we pulled up to my hotel, I extended my hand out to the driver and said, “My name is Steve.” He replied, “My name is Sunday.” I thanked Sunday for the best experience of my time in Chicago yet.

I never would have met Sunday had I stayed in line. The lines were the most obvious choice because they were the system that was provided and that people were used to. There’s nothing wrong with the system, but it was bogged down. It was leading to frustration and angst because people wanted to get out of the building for the day.

This sounds like HR and the world of work that all of us face. If we would have the courage to step out of line vs. trying to contain people within lines, we’d have a completely different experience every day. We would see what’s happening all around us because we’d be in different environments. We’d have to fend for ourselves and learn how to solve situations from a fresh perspective, and we’d enjoy the adventure !!

All of the “learnings” we can encounter can occur in the most unlikely places. The key for all of us is that we intentionally – step out of line !!

HR Like An Artist !!

I don’t consider myself a “typical” male. I have many interests and enjoy all of them. I can talk sports with the best of them, but I don’t limit myself to sports alone. I love engaging in conversations about politics, religion, music, travel, random trivia and art. I LOVE art in all its forms. Just like most, I have certain preferences and not everything called “art” seems very artistic to me. But, that is the beauty of art. People can take it in and then decide what they like or what they detest. It doesn’t make a piece any more or less art. It allows for a wide variety of perspectives, emotions and opinions.

Lately, I have truly enjoyed watching Genius: Picasso on National Geographic. The series is capturing the eclectic life of Pablo Picasso. He chose to live life to its fullest and was quite a bohemian. His passion to paint consumed him, and it drove him to break more and more boundaries of what was considered to be how art should be expressed. There seems to have been many lives left in his wake as well as many relationships that fueled his passion along the way. His ego never was in doubt, but that meant that few people were very close to him. They were drawn to him because of his fire and charisma, but in the end, he put himself and his art before anything else.

Picasso was no different than us. We all have flaws, and some of them may be detrimental. What does make him different than most was that his drive to never settle runs contrary to how most people experience life. Settling gives us the illusion of comfort. What we miss in seeking a level of comfort is that we end up stagnate and immobile.

One of the reoccurring statements in the TV series is that when pressed about “rules,” Picasso defiantly shouts, “I don’t follow rules !!” This stance intrigues me because much of what is considered traditional HR is built upon the existence of a myriad of rules. In fact, and I know this may be an over generalization, I think most HR people feel they thrive in creating and enforcing rules. There seems to be an allure to make sure that all employees “fit” inside neat, confined systems. Personally, it baffles me.

How can limiting people help them? Please note that I support ideas like structure and framework in the workplace, but I feel that rules constrict. Rules are rarely applied consistently even though we say they are. I think our intentions are good, but our practice is inconsistent. It just is.

I believe in breaking rules and always have. In the show, Picasso says he wants to smash the rules artists were following. He wanted to set a new direction and path. Whenever I mention this to others in HR, I see the gleam in people’s eyes. They want to experience new ways and paths, but the pull of stability often dims the spark that is ignited.

How can we move past the spark? How can we be a profession that frees people to perform, express their creativity and allow them to contribute? The quote listed above is the key. Learn the rules that exist. Know the environment and situation you work within. Then . . . “break them like an artist.”

This coming week be willing to act like Picasso. See what is around you, but refuse to settle for the norms. Quit adding to the stagnation. Instead, be creative yourself to see what can be broken and redone in a new and imaginative way. This week become the artist in HR you were meant to be !!

I Like What I Like !!

When my kids were small, eating out was an adventure to say the least. Our options included any restaurant that had some form of chicken nuggets. I don’t know how that gets into their DNA, but it did. We couldn’t vary from this extremely limited option. Ever.

The lack of variety seemed as if it would last for eternity, but as they grew we could try other exotic foods like hot dogs or even a hamburger. With so many choices available, I couldn’t understand why the kids were so reluctant to try new things. Other foods wouldn’t harm them, and many of them are delightful. That didn’t matter to them. They were steadfast on what they liked. There was no reason to change. They were fed and they liked chicken nuggets. I still shudder when I see them listed on any menu !!

My kids have now grown up into young adults and they are fantastic humans who have a larger palette. My daughter was visiting this weekend as a break from graduate school and we reminiscing about how she, and her brother, ate as a kid. We laughed and she said something profound.

“Dad, you have to remember – I like what I like !!”

Why is this profound? She expressed the reality of every single person on the planet. We all have certain likes and dislikes, and we do our best to limit or avoid those items we dislike. The more I thought about this I was struck at how powerful our likes are.  It’s staggering !!

We tell everyone at work that they should be open and welcome to change. Change that is meant to be positive both personally and organizationally can’t budge people if they don’t “like” it. And yet, we continue to pound and pound the change because it has to happen. Rarely do we ever seek input and feedback because we’re concerned that someone will alter the change we feel is best.

I think we can learn some lessons from my kids. Change can happen and it will, but we can be more effective if we consider some factors.

Change takes time – Change that is sustainable takes time, not an instant demand or flip of a switch. That may be frustrating and test our patience, but the investment of time is needed.

Change need to be incremental – Massive shifts never work. You spend more time picking up pieces and making alterations to get to where you wanted to go. Make small changes that are easy to understand and implement.

Have faith and believe in people – When you involve the people who are affected by the change you want to implement, the chance of success rises incredibly. People expect context, and the more they get there is a better chance they will “like” the change.

It’s time for us to recalibrate  how we make change occur in our organizations. We need to take into consideration what people like as our framework to build from. If you do this and take the time to be intentional with your change, chances are more people will “like” it !!

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 !!

 

Send a Note !!

When I went to high school . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then . . . send another one.

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

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

Be the Change !!

SHRM17 just wrapped up this week in the midst of tropical storm Cindy knocking on the door as everyone finished the conference and headed home. Ironically, the energy that emanated from the event was almost as moving as the storm !! The vibe this year was positive, collaborative and you could feel a sense of togetherness throughout the entire week.

I had a lofty goal to meet every attendee, and I fell a bit short. It wasn’t for a lack of effort though. I was astonished how many people I observed that continued to move from session to session without meeting a single person. Please note that I don’t think people had to meet me, but I did hope that they’d connect with someone !!

I noticed this continued “eyes forward” approach while people were waiting to hear me present. As I saw this, I asked the AV folks to turn up my mic, and I implored the people who were kind enough to choose my session to look up from their phones and meet the people around them. The energy jumped through the roof, and I actually heard from someone later who said, “I appreciated the reminder to meet others because I was caught up in the stuff at work, and lost sight of others sitting right next to me. I liked meeting everyone.”

I may sound like a broken record, but, taking a page from Patrick Lencioni, I will keep reminding people of what seems simple – because people aren’t doing it. I find it so hard to grasp that HR pros almost refuse to meet their peers. They seem so set on getting to a class or training session to wait to see the person at the front of the room speak. I hope that those speakers rock and that you learn from each of them. But, what if the person sitting next to you was facing the same issues and challenges you were, and all you had to do was say, “Hi, my name’s ________. And you are?”

I closed my session this year with my most favorite quote from history. Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I don’t mean to overstate, or simplify this, but I truly want to see HR become a global community that is connected though people – on purpose !! I know that if this happens, then the desire for us to look at our field, and the people in it, positively won’t be some aspiration, it will be a fact.

I loved meeting the new folks that I did during SHRM17. The ranged from a room full of students and young professionals on Sunday, to HR folks who were from Cincinnati (where I’m from) whom I hadn’t met in the past, to people from Guam, Australia, Canada, India and Brazil. Each one of these HR pros is now a connection and I hope we stay connected for years to come !! In fact, I wish I had more time reconnecting with some of my friends who I get to see more regularly, but our paths didn’t cross as often as I’d hoped.

I ask those who attended SHRM17 to not let the energy and vibe of such a massive event slip by as we all return to our regular roles and duties. You experienced a shift and not it is up to YOU to be the change in your world. I plan to keep the movement going, and hope you join in !!

Get Tagged !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Courtesy of Brainless Tales

 

So That . . .

The workplace is an interesting ecosystem. Not one of them is the same. However, I feel that workplaces fall into one of two categories. They are either vibrant and evolving, or they are a stagnate quagmire. Which one do you think happens the most? This isn’t an “it depends” answer. We are surrounded by bogs that keep people stuck in doing things over and over and over and over and . . . you get the point.

How does this happen? Well, unfortunately HR is a significant contributor to the muck and mire of the workplace. I know that I’ve been this person in the past. I also am sure their are peers of mine who revel in the practice of penning incredibly layered policies and procedures with the hope of control. Let me explain two things – “control” in the workplace is an illusion. You can’t dictate behavior and action by words on a page. Secondly, we live in a day and age where 140 characters can literally change the global landscape. However, HR still lives as if we’re monks in an ancient medieval candle lit monastery using ink dipped quills to etch policies into parchment that will last for eternity.

We need to not only quit practicing in the past, we need to lead into the future. To do that, let me suggest using the “so that” approach. Too often we create and implement policies and procedures as a hasty reaction to some fringe situation that could have been addressed directly. We then end up with systems that we can’t/won’t enforce, and nothing changes.

“So that” gives context to what you do and/or write. If you can’t give context as to why you’re doing something, then DON’T DO IT !! If you use “so that” in your approach, you’ll see that you can reframe how you practice HR and move your workplace forward so that you no longer remain stagnate. This means being intentional in your actions, but it is what your organization is yearning for !!

Let me give you the “so that’s” that I use and see which ones you can take and implement yourself.

  • Expect the best in others and tell them that they rock SO THAT they know they have the ability to add value in all they do.
  • Pay attention to the majority of your employees who do their job well SO THAT you stop creating policies that focus on the few.
  • Spend time with employees from all levels of the organization SO THAT people know that HR is available to everyone from the C-Suite to the front line.
  • Go to HR conferences and events for professional development SO THAT you stop going just to get recertification credit hours !!
  • Network and connect with other HR professionals in person and on social media SO THAT you don’t have to keep trying to do everything on your own.

I have many more that I could list. The key to making this approach is to understand that making what we do a positive contribution is essential. Take heart knowing that HR can, and should, move the organization SO THAT all that we do has value !!

The First Cut !!

One of the great things about living in the Midwest is that you experience four distinct seasons. Spring “officially” began March 21st with the vernal equinox, but Spring doesn’t really start until you get to work out in the yard. I truly enjoy working out in my yard. It’s a chance to listen to music with my ever present iPod (old school), clear my head with any of life’s pressures, and get my hands dirty working in the beds.

So, this weekend Spring officially began at my house. There was a forecast for warmer weather without rain for a few hours. I put on some clothes that I knew would get dirty, slapped in my earbuds and hit “play”. As Your Gold Teeth by Steely Dan started playing, I jumped into action. It was fantastic !! I moved from the front beds, to the side beds to the beds that serve as a perimeter to our back porch. There was a mixture of tasks ranging from picking up dead leaves, destroying weeds and removing the dead growth from plants just starting to turn green and reemerge.

Then, the lawn. I’m kind of old school on some things including walking behind my mower to cut the 1/2 acre lot I live on. As I get older, the yard seems to get a bit larger and a little more challenging to complete. However, it’s normally the best 1 1/2 to 2 hours I have every week. Exercise mixed with some sweat and tunes. Almost perfection.

There’s one thing to note that happens after the first cut of the season. The grass now has the okay to grow once again. A bit of trimming stimulates the innate nature of the lawn and growth is rekindled. I don’t know the science behind this, but the action which you’d think would be detrimental to a living organism, is exactly the opposite. It’s the stimulus it needs in order to fulfill its purpose !!

Have you looked around the “lawn” at your workplace lately? How does it appear? Is it dormant or eager to grow? Is your focus on the entire environment where you work?

Too often HR is stuck in the weeds – literally. We spend so much of our time on the exceptions of the people we have the privilege to coexist with that we never feel we even have time to tend to anything else. This is a mistake and we need to change our focus. We have the chance to put on our work clothes and interact with every department just like my lawn and flower beds. We can remove the clutter and unnecessary items that keep people from performing. We can make sure that everything has room to blossom and spread out. And finally, we can “cut the grass” and stimulate employees to no longer remain dormant and stuck in their ways.

The question is, where do you spend your time now? I choose to be the HR person who works the land and encourages it to flourish !! At the end of this weekend’s yard session, I was spent. In fact, I came inside and washed up before collapsing into a deep nap on the sofa. That same sense of giving all I have to make employees and the workplace thrive is something that I strive to do on a regular basis.

How about you? Ready to make the first cut of the year? Put in your earbuds, hit play and let’s go !!

Grow or Control ??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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