I Will Follow !!

Followers.

It’s amazing to see how a word can transform and become something completely different. I’ve always thought of the word as a group of people who were willing to get behind someone, or some effort, that they believed in. I still do.

However, with the constant flood of Social Media, the term has taken on a new life. Now the word “followers” is associated with those that click a button on a social media platform in order to connect with another person. This action may have substance, or it may mean that they’re connecting to follow a trend. It’s a false sense of popularity and visibility that also carries weight. Countless lists that rank people on social media look at the number of followers as a metric to show “influence.”

Now, before you get all riled up, I’m not against these lists, this level of visibility or having a method for people to connect with each other. What does concern me is that leadership is watered down because following is no longer something that has significance.

In organizations, senior management invests in many people who they identify as “high potentials”. I’m not a fan because people perform at different times of their careers at a peak level due to the work they do as well as the environment or economic climate they are experiencing. I do believe that all employees have potential, but the isolation of a select few rarely leads to optimal results. The assumption is that high potentials are great leaders. In most cases these folks are charismatic and very visible to the “right” people. There are countless examples of people who are deemed to be the future of the company that either don’t pan out or leave because they were able to get someone else’s attention.

Leadership is written about daily in several blogs. It is something that is critical in organizations and people are striving to continue to define it, identify it and make it thrive. What is intriguing to me is that HR rarely jumps in on this topic either personally or organizationally. We typically position ourselves to support and respond to others who take on leadership roles. This needs to change.

Lead and FollowHR is in a perfect position to lead in all they do, and this is especially true in identifying those who should assume leadership roles within a company. I want you to consider a different, and much simpler benchmark, when seeing what leadership looks like.

Look to see who others in your company congregate around. See who is the person whose opinion is sought on a regular basis. This may, or may not, include people who hold current “leadership” roles by title. Titles don’t automatically infer leadership. Leadership is said to be better defined when you look over your shoulder and you see people there. In others words, do they have followers?

People want to follow and rally around someone. They look for leaders who focus on others and not just themselves. This is where having followers is key. As the observer of the organization, HR needs to see where this is occurring and take note. These are the people to check out and see how they are leading. They may be your real potentials that will continue to grow and succeed !!

This week step into a leadership role HR. Find out where the leaders and followers are in your organization. It’s imperative that we do !!

The Year of Others !!

It is rare that you get to write a blog post on your actual birthday when you write a weekly post, but today is my day !! I’m thankful to be another year older and geeked for what this year holds (and hopefully many more years to come !!)

I’ve seen many year-end posts chock full of predictions and resolutions for HR for 2016. I’ve never been a big fan of resolutions because we talk more about how they fail than they succeed. I dig the aspiration side of what they represent, but few ever expect them to result in sustainable change.

I’d like to take a page from the Chinese Zodiac where they have the Year of the  . . . (insert animal of they year of your birth) and declare for HR that this is  . . . The Year of Others !!’

So, what does this effort entail ?? I’d like to throw out to the profession that HR needs to be focused on others and not themselves. This isn’t some fluffy feel good idea. It’s a viable way to influence business and affect the bottom line. The difficulty is that it takes a change in our mindset. Focusing on other people goes contrary to the “What’s In It for Me (WIIFM)” mantra. The thought that you have to identify the trigger for every single person as their WIIFM and make that a reality is not feasible.

However, spending time – uninterrupted time – with others at all levels of an organization is priceless and a differentiator. Why? It’s simple. People don’t do it now. Companies, especially at the executive level, feel that when you spend time with people you’re “wasting time” because things aren’t “getting done.” They’re wrong.

Their is NOTHING more valuable and long lasting than investing time in others.

Others ButtonIt’s so difficult because we are surrounded by a society that is self-centered. The majority of social media is predicated on how many views, likes, retweets, etc. that one gets. People are more than willing to post their own work but rarely will they curate and post the work of others.

You have to understand that if you join this Year of Others effort that you will be going against the flow. It gets tiring and you could get discouraged, but it’s worth it !! You have to trust me on this. Organizations, and senior management, are looking for ways that HR can be a business partner, and that can happen if you’re willing to put your waders on and step in the stream to walk against the current.

Doing this also means taking a risk that it will work, and we are unfortunately very risk averse as a profession. We can no longer be timid. Your employees are yearning for an advocate who will genuinely take the time to meet them, listen to them, care for them and work with them. People want to perform and they will do better when they know that someone is there for them. You can do this by showing supervisors how to more consistently approach people as humans and not as task fulfillers.

Will you join me? Will you be a part of the Year of Others? I think we can alter the HR landscape and make what we do relevant and desired. When you do this, you will see how being in Human Resources will matter for you both personally and professionally !!

It’s going to be our best year yet as an industry and I look forward to walking alongside you as we do this !!

Get Rid of Doubt !!

Another great week happened when I was talking with another one of my peers who was facing a tough challenge at work. She is in a senior HR role and was asked to talk to other senior managers about how roles are defined. She and I chatted and she had a solid plan and approach to have this tough conversation. It was balanced, professional and didn’t seem presumptuous which was a concern because she wanted to do well in working with this team.

As we were wrapping things up she said a telltale attribute that haunts HR pros – “I wish I didn’t doubt myself and felt more confident about this.”

Please understand that she is an incredible HR pro – one of the best I know. She wouldn’t be in her current role if that wasn’t the case. The difficultly is that HR people, in general, lack “organizational confidence.” We’ve been taught to be the caretaker who is behind the scenes. The person who makes sure that peace and stability are the norm.

There’s nothing wrong with those attributes. However, they can’t be what you lead with. Being confident in what you do is essential and is needed if you wish to have credibility with Senior Management, your department and with employees. If doubt is your lead in how you approach HR, then you won’t be seen as a resource worth engaging. In fact, people may avoid you, and HR in general, because they think you’ll be unsure of yourself.

Confidence and DoubtYou have to note that being confident doesn’t mean being arrogant. You can practice confidence with humility. The key is not only to be confident in who you are and what you do, but also to remove doubt. Doubt occurs most when you feel you are on your own. A real challenge in HR is that so many people are isolated as “departments of one” or they are not connected throughout their organization. Some of this is based on how HR is designed within a company, but some of it is by choice.

I’ve never come across another profession who feels that can’t be connected. What’s keeping you from doing this? There are a myriad of ways to be connected to each other, and it’s worth the time you invest in making this happen. I think one of the main reason’s we don’t connect is that we’re waiting for someone to make that first step and reach out. This is an obstacle that doesn’t make sense to me. In a field where we are meant to be WITH people, what would keep us from being with each other?

I have worked for years to build a network of people who are friends first, but they started out as resources. I had doubts in what I wanted to try in HR and I had to bounce my ideas off someone. Now, I have a true web of people around the globe that I can reach out to – and I make sure to do that often. I still face doubts, but have replaced it with confidence because I know that the friends I have in HR will be there to lift me up, lend an ear and are willing to question and/or disagree with me.

It’s time for you to get rid of the doubt you face as an HR professional. Reach out and connect to others. Don’t wait and keep trying to do things on your own. Don’t let doubt ever creep in again. Make connections that matter and build the confidence that others have in you !!

Just a few degrees !!

This past week I had lunch with one of my HR peers. I always enjoy spending time with other folks who practice HR because we normally don’t have people that we can talk to within our own organizations. It doesn’t mean we’re isolated, but it’s hard to talk “shop” with others who don’t do what you do.

One of our “rules” when we have lunch is to share what’s going on candidly and then talk about solutions (if you can reach them.) She was telling me about her challenges in moving the company she works for in a different direction. I admire what she’s doing even though she has expressed that she feels like she’s hitting walls.

As we were sharing, she said something that was a true point of clarity for me. She stated, “I feel like I’m on a giant ship and if I could turn it just a few degrees, I think I’d see amazing things happen.”

Stunning. Really, it is. She captured what most of us in HR struggle with when we look at how to have change occur that is meaningful and sustainable. Too often we design and launch massive programs and initiatives which cannot last. The energy and effort that is needed to keep those types of efforts going fades quickly because people either can’t make the time to do what is implemented, or they just drag their feet some to wait for it to slip away quietly.

What could you accomplish if you implemented change in small doses? I know that much has been written about company culture and there are camps that say it exists and those who only think it’s a catch phrase for HR. I’m one who is a proponent of cultures and I love to see change be directed because change will occur whether you want it to or not.

Small ChangeYou see, small change can yield big results !! The difference in this approach is that you have to break it down to individuals instead of trying to canvas an entire organization. I have a belief that HR should be practiced in pieces that will build to a whole. This runs contrary to most people I know in the field because it’s not how we learned HR.

The truth about breaking HR down reflects what my friend shared. Changing things by a few degrees is attainable. It also gives you the ability to see cultures shift ever so slightly and stick. Over time HR and the company can be headed on a new course and they will subtly break out of the patterns that often hold us in a stagnate pattern.

So, this week, clear off your desk and scrap those monstrous themed initiatives. Break down the components of what you want to do and pick one. Introduce it. Nurture it and let it grow. As it sticks, start with the next one and continue. Remember, you can change a ship by just a few degrees !!

 

The Silent Trap.

The work week starts and I’ll bet you do things in a certain pattern that has little variation. It’s great to be organized and have methods of doing your work. It keeps you efficient and allows you to perform.

The problem that creeps up on all of us ever so silently is complacency. Most people don’t even recognize that they’re trapped. We continue to do things the same way and never think that stagnation occurs. How many training sessions state that people won’t make change happen because things have “always been done this way”?

The other side of this spectrum is change. There are countless articles and books on being a “change agent” or some other catchphrase. If change was normal and regular we’d never have the need for the term “out of the box” because it wouldn’t seem like an anomaly. Doing something different takes effort and energy. It’s not easy and never has been.

Staying stuck in an endless rut is a real concern. HR is a master at this because the nature of the majority of what we do is to reduce variation. There’s no consistent reason for this, but it has become the traditional way to practice. We seldom shift in any dramatic way when it comes to our systems. We may edit or tweak things annually because we’re “supposed” too, but it’s insignificant. Most people strive for comfort themselves and want the environment around them to be comfortable as well. This isn’t wrong, but it is narrow.

Being UncomfortableI like being uncomfortable. I really do. I don’t like to stay in the same patterns if I can avoid it. Please understand that I think that being uncomfortable is a personal choice, and I try to keep it in how I approach life. I’ll travel different ways to work, order an entire menu over time, and other little things that keep things new. I also surround myself with others who are comfortable in being uncomfortable because I learn from their diverse perspectives and outlooks on many different areas of work and life.

There is so much that can, and should, happen in HR. We have a natural playing field because people are fluid and moving. They may seek stability personally, but when you work in HR, you work with a vast array of humans who are all different and unique. This is one of the main draws of the profession that keeps me energized and passionate. The idea that you can encounter another person who is distinctly different than you every day is fascinating !!

Do your systems have cobwebs? Have you taken a risk and blown something up in how you practice HR? How is your department, role, approach designed? Do you know . . . or do you just follow the same steps you ALWAYS follow?

If you keep doing things to be comfortable, you will miss the variations that are occurring all around you. It’s not that you’re negligent, you just won’t see the changes because they will fall out of your line of sight.

This next week be intentional and do something uncomfortable. I don’t know what that is, but you do. If you consciously do this on a regular basis, HR will remain alive and colorful for you. Isn’t that better ??

It’s time to act because the trap will silently grab you if you don’t.

 

Stop Adding Bricks !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obstruct

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

Ostracize

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

Obfuscate

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

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

 

 

What Do You Think ??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Full !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grass Roots !!

With Spring now fully upon us, I’ve been tempted to get out into my yard. The harsh winter took it’s toll, and I’m definitely going to have to get out there soon and do some work. There are patches of my lawn that have become bare. These areas will get the most attention and I’m eager to plant new grass.

Growing grass isn’t as easy as it sounds. If you just toss the seed on the ground hoping that it will come to life, you’ll have little to no success. Once you get the dirt broken up and the seed dispersed, you need to make sure it’s covered and regularly watered. After hours of work and days of waiting, you’ll start to see wisps of green starting to come to life. It takes attention, patience and a bit of faith to get even the smallest bare patches covered once again.

When I look at HR, I see bare patches as well. I don’t want to point out areas that I view as “wrong” because that is too much of a generalization without context. I’m not in your organizations, but I’m sure you see areas that need some attention. The question is – Do you want to tend to them? Are you willing to get out there and work the ground, spread some seed and nurture things to life?

I think people see bare patches and want to do the work, but they are overwhelmed with the distractions that are taking up the majority of their daily focus. In HR, you are pulled 500 ways in the same day. This isn’t a complaint, it’s a reality. You rarely have a day where you can plan it all out and have the situations you face play out accordingly. That honestly keeps HR exciting for me, but I understand how it can be exhausting.

grassI want to propose a solution that is Grass Roots in nature to revolutionize who we are and what we do. The best movements in HR start as grass roots efforts. That’s true when Social Media came about as well as places where HR pros gather at events and conferences. The idea I have isn’t revolutionary, but the effort to make it happen will be.

The bare patch I see is that we continue to be separated as a community. There are pockets of people who are close and connected, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Many HR practitioners continue to work in isolation. When you try to reach out and connect with them, they feel either that they don’t have enough time, or that their work won’t allow them to do this.

This just isn’t the case. Having meaningful HR professional connections will make you able to get to resources you didn’t even know existed. This is more than being connected on Social Media forums or reading someone’s blog !! The connections that can, and should, happen take time to plant, water and grow. The result is that you’ll have people that you can reach out to that understand what you do, what you go through in your role and how to encourage you and lift you up to succeed in HR.

I’ve been “working the ground” on this for years and years and I continue to plan on doing that. Will you join me? Will you be willing to reach out and connect with other HR pros and build your community? Will you make these connections flourish and not let them be a flash in the pan from when you met at a conference?

People want to be connected. This is especially true for HR folks. Join me in making the dream of a vibrant, integrated HR community come to life !! Be part of the grass roots !!

Coffee and Apple Pie !!

Let me pause here at the beginning so you can imagine the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the mouth-watering smell of fresh, hot apple pie. Got your attention? Good. Now, let me share the story behind these delectable items.

This past week I was at a McDonald’s. It was midafternoon and not during a meal rush. I went up to the counter and there Tracey met me with a smile and a warm greeting !!

“Welcome to McDonald’s! How’s your day going?”

After my shock and surprise at Tracey’s demeanor, I replied, “I’m great and how are you?”

“I’m having a great day. What can I get for you?”

McDonald's Coffee“I’d like a large, black coffee.” (Author’s aside – I’m a coffee fiend and McDonald’s is always good for a great cup of java !!)

I paid and Tracey said she’d like to take care of the guests behind me and then she told me she’d get my coffee. I was fine with that and went back to my seat to talk to some folks about an HR issue I was tackling. A few minutes passed by and I didn’t have my coffee. I wasn’t upset in the least, but I did want some caffeine so I went back up to the counter.

“Tracey, I didn’t get my coffee yet. Could you help me?”

“Oh my, I’m so sorry. I missed that. Let me take care of that for you right now.” She asked another team member to get me the coffee and he responded, “Sir, sorry that happened, but here you go. I’m sure this will be a great way to get through the rest of your day!”

Here were two people just Geeked about their job and it was so refreshing. The story would be great, in my opinion, if it stopped right there. I went back to my conversation and after a few minutes, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Tracey stood behind me and said, “Sir, I’m sorry that I was late with your coffee. That shouldn’t happen. Would you please accept this?” She handed me a small bag.

McDonald's Apple PieAgain, astonishment. Here I am in a fast food restaurant where I’ve had more challenging experiences than great experiences and I am dumbfounded twice. In the bag there were two piping hot apple pies that would go great with my coffee.

I left the restaurant after having a very memorable time. As I was driving back to my office, I reflected on what happened. You see, Tracey took a situation and did what she could to make it better. She didn’t ask her manager about this. She had the ability to do what she thought was right.

Can your employees do this? Do they have the ability to do their job without obstacles standing in their way? Are the systems and “norms” in your organization ones that allow performance, or do they hinder them?

Wouldn’t it be great if employees knew that they had the freedom that Tracey has? This is where HR comes in. I would like to propose that our job is to see where obstacles exist that hinder employees from doing their job well and remove them. Those obstacles are real, but we don’t address them. More often than not we wonder why people aren’t complying with the processes that we continue to produce.

We need to switch our focus if it’s an obstacle to others. When you do this, you will enjoy HR more than you have in the past. Take the steps Tracey did. It makes an incredible, tangible difference !!

Her simple action made my day. She was an amazing example of how anyone can make culture great !! And . . . the pies went great with my coffee !!