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 !!

The Next Generation !!

I’m a nerd and always have been. I’m very cool with who I am. I’m a big fan of all things science fiction and fantasy. One of my faves is Star Trek. It’s quite amazing to think that a campy TV series that lasted only 3 seasons has become part of our culture for over 50 years now. The original series has evolved to an animated series, three successful spin-off series and multiple movies. They all paint an adventurous, balanced, humorous and diverse universe that coexists in the future.

Now for the present day . . .

This past week I was fortunate to speak at the Northern Ohio HR Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. I always enjoy the opportunity to present to my fellow HR peers. This conference (which is one of my faves) was even more meaningful because I was able to take my son with me. As I mentioned last week, he’s home on spring break from Ohio University. And, nothing screams spring break fun more than attending an HR conference !! He had never seen me give a presentation before and I was geeked to have him there. I also wanted him to see other HR pros and get a feel of how to interact and network with others.

While I was presenting, I made the statement that I hate that HR continues to separate the next generation by name. The whole “millenial movement” is not good. When did it ever make sense for our profession to segment and isolate a group of people because of their age? There are many who are trying to make a living by separating us, and there’s no room for it.

Ironically, on the drive up to the conference, Josh and I talked about how he disliked being labeled, generalized and isolated as a millenial. He said, “People know nothing about me and yet I’m put in a category. Also Dad, if we’re so bad as a generation isn’t that on you as our parents?” I could have stopped the car and hugged him. He gets it and I dig that about him.

At the conference, I conducted a 1/2 day workshop and spoke at a concurrent session. It was enthralling and exhausting to teach for five hours. After both sessions, I had younger people (you know THOSE M’s) who came up to me to thank me for dismantling this separation of an entire generation. To a person they told me how disappointing and challenging it is when they see countless blogs, books and workshops that are meant for others to learn and understand how to “deal with” and work with them as individuals and as a whole.

Back to Josh (and the folks from other generations) . . .

The folks at the conference ate him up and made him feel welcomed. They connected with him and he was able to meet other young professionals who were excited to meet another person considering HR.

And jump forward to the future . . .

Star Trek got it right. Every new edition of the franchise builds on the one before it and they honor and respect those that laid the ground work. There is never one iteration that states that the “new” version needs separate attention because those that went before just didn’t get them. Actually, there are several references to original characters and how people learned from their strengths, struggles and leadership.

We need to be more like Star Trek in how we look at the next generation that is going to rule, lead and transform our workplace. I’m geeked about who they are, what they believe and feel that they will be more successful than we’ve ever been.

In order to do that, I want to be like the original Star Trek cast who laid the foundation of inclusion, curiosity and the yearn to see what’s next. I want all of those who follow me in the workforce to bring others along and lift them up. The future’s bright because of these new folks. Let’s let them shine !!

Get in Shape !!

A New Year is upon us and everyone is supposed to be making resolutions. They’re evidently our feeble attempt to alter something that we want to see improve in our life. It’s odd that we wait until the 1st of January every year to get the urge and drive to change because the efforts that are taken to make resolutions are too often futile. We give up when the first chance comes to no longer eat well, read more, go to a gym etc.

Why is that? What is this cycle where people want to change (sort of) and then they don’t (reality)? Do we want to move in a new direction? I think we do. We need to remember that change happens around us all the time whether we want it to or not. It’s rare that change is done in massive shifts. Change occurs every day because our circumstances move and shift more than we care to recognize.

I think the question is more around the idea of “ownership” than it is change. We can either be a victim of the changes that occur around as or as they pass us by, or we can do our best to own our situations. I don’t mean to sound presumptuous or overly self-confident, but I feel that going in to a New Year you can move ahead of the changes you see and feel versus being trampled by them.

I recently received a cool gift that immediately went up in my office. It’s a quote that I can absolutely identify with. Here’s a pic of the quote along with another cool gift from a friend that captures who I am. Now, hang with me because this isn’t a post saying that you should like tie-dye, art and peace signs. I am sure that you have all kinds of characteristics and interests that define who you are. They don’t have to mirror someone else’s interests, and I’ll bet they won’t because you are unique.

The difference in “owning” who you are is captured in the quote. Shape your circumstances around you. This is true both personally and professionally. We all face things that some may deal with easily while others will struggle. One step in moving forward is to move. Sitting back, making some hollow resolution and then waiting for it to fail is being stagnate. That shouldn’t be an option for any of us.

I hope that you take on this encouraging position as you look at who you are and what you do in HR. I think it’s great that we serve others in our work. This doesn’t mean that we can’t own what we do or shape our world. HR that comes from a position of leadership is much more effective than sitting back and waiting for others to decide how we should practice HR.

This January do something more than make a resolution. Make the decision that you want to shape your world. Be persistent and persevere. When the bumps come, work through them because it’s part of the shaping and molding process. See what happens as you move naturally with the change that is sure to come. I’m sure it will be fantastic !!

Be Unlikely !!

When I was young, I remember watching Christmas specials on TV with my family. As a point of reference, this was long before cable TV and 1,000’s of channels. There were four networks to choose from – ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS. We didn’t think we were being slighted by having so few choices. It was our reality and we accepted it.

The most memorable instance I can recall happened during a Bing Crosby special. My Mom and Dad were huge Bing Crosby fans, and my brother and I didn’t get much of a say on what we watched. As we huddled together to watch the show, the most unlikely thing happened. Bing was in a set depicting a large, warm house and a neighbor came to the door. The neighbor was . . . David Bowie !!!

My Dad looked at my brother and I and asked who this British person was and if we knew him. I jumped at the chance to say how fantastic Bowie was, and I now had immense interest in this show. They did some forced dialogue and then sang a duet to The Little Drummer Boy. My Dad hated it, but I thought it was beautiful – and still do.

I’m sure the network execs wanted to bring someone young on their Christmas special to hopefully connect with young viewers. I don’t know if it worked, but it was great to see something so unexpected happen. Seeing something that is unlikely grabs your attention and leaves an imprint.

As we wrap up another year, it’s time for us to sit back a bit and reflect where we are personally and professionally. I know that you will have the chance to step out next year at least once into an area that won’t seem to fit. You’ll be the unexpected neighbor who shows up. You’ll have a choice to either see how to make this odd pairing work, or you can walk away.

I think it’s time for HR to willing be the unlikely person to show up. This needs to occur at the executive level of your organization as well as every department. We can no longer be the department that people “go to.” We need to be the people who make things happen for others. It’s the natural evolution of our profession, and we need to be intentional in seeing this through.

Don’t settle in being a part of the scenery and background of your company. That’s where we’ve been for far too long and people have come to expect that this is the norm. I think that this leads to many folks in HR becoming frustrated and tired. You have the opportunity to turn this norm around and set a new one.

The time is overdue to make this shift. You have to know that you might be the missing piece to an incredible duet that is just waiting to be sung. This next year . . . be unlikely.

NOTE: I’m going to take the remainder of the year to be with family and friends. I appreciate you for reading my blog and hope it is a regular dose of encouragement for you in what we all do in HR. I also hope that you have a phenomenal Christmas, New Year’s and overall Holiday Season !!

. . . And I Feel Fine

When you head into work this week, I’m sure you have a million things on your mind. Everyone does. The majority of these items which fight for our attention all want to have top billing. Even the smallest of thoughts can become all consuming.

The question is, how do you parse through all of these things effectively? There is a sinking feeling that every, single item deserves our full attention and that is nearly impossible to do. You may have great intentions, but more often than not, you get stuck attending to just a few things and the emotions that keep building up have nowhere to go.

The ironic fact in this description is that you are not the only person who feels this build up. It’s every employee who walks into work each and every day. Having all of those emotions swirl around with no outlet isn’t healthy.

As HR professionals, we need to be that release valve. I know this may sound daunting, but it’s an opportunity to be an incredible asset to others and to your company as a whole. I was chatting with my dear friend Victorio Milian recently, and our conversation kept circling back to this reality. The challenges with providing this outlet for employees are two fold – (1) We wait too long to provide this for people in most cases and (2) Who’s going to be our outlet?

We need to come to terms that our “reason for existence” is people. I know that it’s a point that I keep harping on, but it needs to keep coming up until the needle genuinely moves and workplaces embody this. In order to take steps in this direction, you need to be unflappable. It’s hard to do, but here’s an alternative way to get you started.

In the 1980’s, I became obsessed with a band that got it’s start on college radio, R.E.M. I have almost every album they’ve ever released. One of their best songs is entitled – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine). I love this because even though the lyrics list all of the forces that are playing on the singer, he says that he’s fine. I know it may be a bit tongue in cheek, but it’s a great perspective to hold from our end.

By being the outlet for employees, we can help them work through their “stuff” and get back to a point where they feel less anxious, stressed or frustrated. I know there may be greater situations that would call for outside expertise, but you can’t even get to those recommendations without being an outlet yourself to start. Being unflappable means that no matter how incredible the situation is that your employees are facing, you stay “fine.” They think that their world is ending so they don’t need you to get caught up in their emotions. They’re looking for stability.

This investment of your time and focus is imperative. It will make HR more fulfilling than it is right now. Pouring into the lives of others and relieving their concerns doesn’t have to be overwhelming. We assume we’re going to hear some horrific ordeal, when someone may just need some attention. Walk into these encounters without any preconceived notions. Just stay and genuinely listen to what they’re facing and go from what you hear.

i-feel-fineSo, who is our outlet? You may be fortunate enough to have someone at work you can confide in as a release, but that’s rare. We deal with too many human issues that honestly can’t be shared with others at work regardless of their position. You may have a release at home, but they be difficult to do as well. Your family may look to you as their outlet just as much as the employees do as work.

My recommendation is that you find peers that understand and experience HR just like you. Having a strong network of friends that can empathize and listen is priceless. I have worked on building and maintaining this for years. I’m fortunate enough to be able to pick up the phone and call just to chat with HR folks around the globe. Being able to share stories, seek perspective and reciprocate and be an outlet for them keeps me balanced.

This week take a breath and understand that you get a chance to be there for others. When you do this you’ll see that we’re all fine !!

Leaves.

I love Fall. I mean it. It is my favorite time of year by far. The mixture of cooler temperatures, apple cider, bonfires and the colorful trees make the season perfect. Add to that enjoyment is the fact that I’m a “yard guy.” I get incredible satisfaction from working with my hands doing yard work. From the first time of cutting the grass in the spring until the last piece of trimming after the first frost, I’m geeked. Genuinely, thoroughly geeked !!

I’m in the yard a ton right now because our house has several mature trees. For about a month straight it literally rains leaves all around my house. The grass becomes a vibrant blanket of color. It’s really hard to remove them, but that’s part of the gig. They need to be either raked up or mulched to clear things in anticipation of Spring.

falling-leavesAs I was mowing this year’s “crop,” something came to mind. Leaves are a lot like our employees. You see, the workplace is changing right before our eyes. Employees change roles more often than they did in the past. This may happen internally, but usually people move on to opportunities with another company. I’ve heard people say that employees aren’t loyal any more. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Just like leaves, people now work for us for a season. That season may be several years long, or it may be for a short period.

This presents a challenge for HR and traditional company cultures. We tend to settle in and think employees will stay with us forever. We are shocked when someone announces they have a new job. We should have a long-term focus for our employees, but we should balance that with the reality that they may leave. Today’s workforce is fluid and we need to be more agile and adept. This shouldn’t be seen as something that’s frustrating. It gives us a chance to evaluate and bring in great talent on an on-going basis.

On other aspect that leaves have in common with employees, is that we pile on when they change jobs. It is unfortunate that when people leave a company, everyone talks poorly about them. It’s like raking a big pile of leaves and then running to jump into it. What is the purpose of tearing someone down after they leave? Do we only have negative memories of what they did or how they performed?

We need to change this because I contend that if we can only cite negative memories of employees once they leave, then we’re thinking of them negatively now. HR should step in and not allow this negative approach to be pervasive. Here’s a new approach . . .

Get employees fully connected, engaged and contributing every day. Let them bring their best in all they do. Expect it from them and don’t shy away from this. Like leaves, every employee can appear green and the same to us when they really are colorful, creative and waiting to shed what’s common about them and show who they really are. If you do this with your people, you’ll celebrate and congratulate them when they move to their next opportunity.

Their past will get raked up or mulched to show they what they did built the value of the company while they were there. You have a chance this Fall to change your perspective about your people. Take a breath of the cool air and celebrate the leaves all around you !!

Be Different !!

Have you ever had someone tell you that you’re “different”?  If you have, I’ll bet you didn’t like it. We don’t want to be seen as being outside the norm. Throughout our lives we do our best to blend in because it’s more comfortable for us, and we feel safer being in groups. It’s not easy to stand away from the pack.

What if you did step away from the crowd? What would happen? Would you have the stamina to stay outside and be different?

The reason I’m asking these questions is that many HR practitioners take the safe path. Trust me, I’m not calling for you to be contrary just for the sake of standing out. However, I am asking you to consider how you practice HR. Doing things traditionally within organizations will allow you to be effective . . . to a point. There are tasks that we need to perform in order to keep structure and parameters in our companies. This aspect of our function should occur naturally and provide a foundation for HR practices, polices and procedures.

be-differentDo you move past the foundation? If you do, then you’re beginning to be “different.” It’s true. What we need to take to heart is that organizations expect us to have a strong base, but they are looking for more. It’s not enough to just make sure that things are in order.

One thing to note is that stepping away from the crowd isn’t negative. It’s not going to cause you to do things that take away from practicing great HR. It should allow you to be the businessperson you were meant to be. We need to come to terms that it is no longer enough to only practice HR. It just isn’t. We can’t continue to think that we’re needed in organizations if we aren’t contributing to the success of the company as a whole.

There are many ways to differentiate yourself. Some things are specific to the type of service/product your company does, but there are three items that can be implemented in every type of company.

Solutions not problems

I received a great piece of advice from an HR executive. He said, “Everyone brings me problems. I need you to bring me solutions.” He was talking about others in HR. His experience was that he could tell if an HR person was strategic or not by how they approached him. If they only brought up problems, he knew they weren’t strategic. We need to bring solutions to organizations. It makes us different.

Span the Levels

People tend to work and interact with people at the level they personally hold. Executives work with fellow executives. Middle management hangs with and collaborates with those in similar roles, and the front line staff stay with their peers. Great HR practitioners don’t see the levels. They move up, down and across with ease. It takes great effort to not get stuck at your level. However, when you do it, it makes you different.

Build Relationships

There is a step that goes past the ideal of making the workplace more human. That’s thankfully becoming the norm, and I’m geeked to see that. The next step is to build relationships. There’s a healthy way to do that across departments. The reason to do this is so that you can understand your employees better and more intentionally. Knowing information about their family, their interests and their hobbies matters. People are longing for acknowledgement and connections in their work. Step out as an HR person to make build their relationships and be different.

The small plaque pictured above is where I plan to stay and I hope it becomes the mantra for you and all of HR. Once you find ways to be different, don’t change. Stay that way.

Our Future

I never thought I’d be the type of person who reminisces as he got older. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t yearn for the past when things were better and people had a stronger work ethic, etc. Trust me, I am doing what I can to debunk the continued effort to separate, isolate and categorize generations. I think it’s short-sighted and runs contrary to what HR should emulate – the bringing together of all of our differences to make us even stronger !!

I’m wondering what the future of HR will be. I still plan to be a big part of it’s present and future for some time to come, but I also know that the field needs to evolve, be disruptive and stay relevant. This will happen primarily with one group of HR folks  . . . students.

The “reminiscing” mention I noted before was thinking back to when I was a student. I graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Interpersonal Communications. I happened to go into HR as a recruiter, but I was taking a leap of faith because people were just starting to use the term “Human Resources.” The working environment was still very much in the world, and practice, of Personnel. No one came to campus to look for HR practitioners. The career services office was polite, but students had to do most of the leg work to find jobs.

Looking back, I don’t want to see that happen to students anymore.

One of the highlights of my career so far is working with HR students. I have had the opportunity to speak to classes at universities, serve as a judge at SHRM Student competitions and also speak at SHRM student chapters. It’s something that can give students encouragement and a reassurance that they’re entering a great industry.

I take a different approach than most because I don’t meet with them to regale them with my HR conquests and successes. It isn’t a chance for them to meet an “expert”. Ick.

past-present-futureInstead, I ask them questions and then answer whatever they ask. Everything is allowed because I want to clear up any misconceptions about HR as well as what it’s like to join an organization. You see, they are my future, and they’re yours as well. We have a chance to share our knowledge as well as our challenges. We can help them avoid some of the struggles we’ve experienced professionally. There’s no need for them to sink or swim like many experienced when they entered the HR field.

There are only two things you need to have to make this investment in our future – Your willingness and your time.

You don’t have to have all of the answers. In fact, it’s better that you don’t. Students are just like every other person in that they want to have you get to know them, not just preach to them. It’s a fantastic opportunity that I’d love to see those who are “seasoned” step up and give back.

Just so you know this isn’t some theoretical practice, I’m trying to help an HR student attending St. Norbert University with her Senior research project. Her name is Kalli Seglund and you can see what she’s doing on the HRPositive Linked In Group. Why don’t you join me in helping Kalli to get started helping students yourself?

Help me turn the tide. Stop separating generations and start investing in them !! Make a difference in other’s careers that you may not of had yourself. We can intentionally leave our mark on HR now and into the future. It’s worth it !!

Changing Lives

I’ve mentioned in the past that I am fortunate to have amazing kids. They’re really adults now, and they’re still amazing !! I remember that when they were young they asked what I did for a living. When I told them that I was in Human Resources, they didn’t have a clue what that meant. It was difficult to explain employee relations, compensation, training and development, benefits and strategy. So, I simplified it for them.

“I hire people and give them jobs.”

They nodded and understood, but then asked, “Do you fire people too?”

I’ve always been candid with my kids and explained that firing people was part of what I did as well. There faces wrinkled up and they shook their heads as they said that that wouldn’t be fun to do. I told that that I agreed and that I never enjoyed that part of my job.

Termination is a hidden facet of HR. We don’t talk about it enough, and when we do, it’s about the legal aspects of it and our insurmountable fear of litigation. I understand that there could be potential legal considerations involved with terminations, but it shouldn’t be our primary focus. We lose the perspective that is as the base of anyone losing their job.

It changes people’s lives.

changing-livesThink about it. When a person came to work on a particular day, the last thing that entered their mind was that they were going to be let go. This may not be the case if a company has a history of downturns and layoffs, but those are usually the exception and not the rule.

Since termination changes the lives of those affected, I think it’s key to keep some things in mind in how we can approach this facet of our job from a human perspective.

People should “earn” it – What in the world does this mean? I follow a rule of thumb when it comes to termination. I only want to see someone terminated if their behavior warrants it. I don’t believe in building cases for, or against, someone. If a person’s behavior and actions are unacceptable, they should be talked to directly and intentionally. If their behavior doesn’t change, they should know that it could lead to dismissal. Having this context is much healthier and actually leads to fewer terms.

Show grace – When you have a termination discussion, show grace. This is never easy and should never be something you enjoy. Even if the employee has been very challenging, losing their job changes everything at the moment it occurs. There’s no exception. Your approach makes this process either easier or more difficult. I have been in HR for over 30 years now and I still get anxious any time terminations are involved. You need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Treat them with dignity and grace. It matters.

Be a bridge – If the termination isn’t volatile, I would recommend that you provide assistance to see how you can help them with either networking or landing their next great gig. You can be a positive influence during a negative time in their career. This may seem out of bounds or not what companies normally practice, but it differentiates you and helps with you being with them throughout their entire life cycle with your company.

Terminations are a fact in our field. You have a choice to do this well or continue to struggle with it. When you remember that what you’re doing changes lives, you’ll do it better I promise.