Read the Signs !!

Recently my wife and I went to the fabulous Cincinnati Art Museum to see the traveling Burning Man exhibit. It was incredible !! The different art pieces and memorabilia brought out my inner bohemian. The whole event is not for those who want to just observe if you attend the actual event in the desert. This isn’t for spectators, it’s for participants. The pictures of those attending are very comfortable with who they are, how they look and how they see creativity all around them.

When special exhibits are brought in to most museums, they’re able to confine them into a relatively gallery size location. They do this so they’re more concentrated and it’s also a way for museums to generate much needed additional revenue. They can charge an extra fee to see something special. I’m absolutely cool with this. This exhibition couldn’t be contained into such a size which is indicative of the Burning Man event as well. The pieces ranged in size to such an extent that they were placed throughout the entire museum. This allowed everyone to see the entire museum as well as release their inner bohemian.

One of the favorite pieces I saw caught my eye instantly and also made me pause. Once you look at it, you can see a much different message versus what you expected this iconic symbol to convey.

What do you think? Do you see it? If you came into an expansive gallery room, turned the corner and saw this hanging on the wall, would you have the same reaction I did? Be honest. When you see this familiar red octagon, you’ve been conditioned to expect the letters spelling out “STOP”. You see many of these on a daily basis on your commute to and from work. When you see the sign you’re expecting, you halt, look around and then move in some direction.

Seeing this piece of art made me think of how HR is what you expect when you see this symbol. We are known for telling people to “stop” when it comes to behavior and the majority of systems that we design and monitor. At times this may be necessary. Unfortunately, it seems to have become the majority of how we spend our days both in reality and perception.

This doesn’t have to be the case !!

What if you took this piece of art for what it is? What if you slowed down to see the signs of those who work with you. Are you already acting as if they’re easy to define, assess and move past? Do you think that you don’t have time to notice everyone? I mean honestly, you have work to do that is far more important than connecting with your employees. Don’t you?

I wish there was a professional development class that taught people to observe nuances at work. There are countless subtle signs that happen all around us in the workplace !! How people interact with each other. How departments act when working inter-departmentally. And, how people interact when their roles are at different levels within the organization.

You can see signs in every interaction you personally have as well as all of the interactions you observe. However, if you’re too concerned with “real work” you’ll miss most of them.

Remember this – EVERYONE watches the interactions they have with you and how you have interactions with others. All. The. Time.

So, if others are taking in the signs around them, shouldn’t you as an HR practitioner?

This week follow the example of this Burning Man art piece. Slow down and then START watching and reacting to the signs happening with your people. They deserve someone who’s willing to be different and do the unexpected. Release your inner HR bohemian and see the new results which will occur !!

Arise !!

As an HR professional, you’re in one of the most emotionally demanding professions around. That’s the case because you are bombarded by the various emotions of every person you encounter throughout your day. This isn’t bad. It’s just a fact. The result of this is that HR pros are flat worn out. This is the type of tired that goes to your bones. And, it can become a daily reality.

Add on top of this the reality that in today’s workplace the majority of employees also are exhausted and drawn out from a mixture of the pressures of their jobs and their lives. It doesn’t matter if you personally feel that their “pressure” may not be as extensive as what you’re feeling. We have to remember that the pressure everyone feels is real to them. And, THAT is their reality.

Since that is what we face when we go into the workplace, how do we cope? Seriously. How do we continue? What I’m seeing much more often than not is that people are either feeling burnout, emotional detachment or loneliness. And, that’s descriptive of my HR peers.

Arise !!

What in the world does that mean? I mean it’s time for us to face this harsh reality and do two things – (1) Deal with it and (2) Turn things around. How do we do this? We need to encourage each other. Genuinely encourage each other. The one way out of this pit of despair (not exaggerating) is for us to come together as peers and as a global HR community.

We spend far too much time nitpicking and cutting around the edges for the sake of hearing our voice or personal viewpoint. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be critical where and when needed. Not at all. However, encouragement takes far more courage in today’s workplace than adding to the tenor of people tearing things down.

I’ve mentioned this in the past through blogs and at presentations – HR needs to stop trying to do things in isolation. There’s no reason for it. You can connect with at least one other peer outside your organization who can be your sounding board and someone who lifts you up through encouragement. You need to have a person in your life who breathes life into you when you aren’t sure if you can take one more breath.

One key piece to this is to not compare. I mean it. We get caught up in how many people we are/aren’t connected to. To me I think you should understand your personal capacity of how many folks you can comfortably, and consistently, communicate with. Then remember that this is YOUR capacity and don’t worry about what others do.

I’m fortunate to have many connections. However, I have an incredible capacity to connect. One reason for that is that I encourage others. I’ve learned from others who always pour into me. My circle is filled with a mixture of family and friends who I see in person and also talk to on Social Media. Figure out the sphere you need to have in order to fill up your bucket of encouragement, and work on keeping it active. If you need a connection to get you started, reach out and I’ll be glad to both connect and encourage you. I’m grateful you’re in HR and know that you can make a positive impact on the people in your company.

Taking this first step will give you the energy and support you need to press on. I understand that it won’t be easy. But, it’s worth it. Get connected now.

Arise !!

Make the Climb !!

When my wife and I went to England recently, it seemed like everything was an adventure !! Some of that was because each experience was new. You couldn’t help but be awestruck by the deep, rich history that surrounded you at every turn. Before we went on the trip, we made a list of possible places to visit. I then reached out to friends via social media and asked their opinion. This was so helpful because we were able to hear from people who had experienced the various places we wanted to try and visit.

One of the recommendations was the city of York. We checked it out and decided we would be sure to visit there. It was hard to believe that our experience would be affected starting at the train station, but it absolutely was !! We took the tube to King’s Cross Station. For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, this is awesome because I got to see Platform 9 3/4 where the Hogwart’s students would go through a pillar to catch their train. I’m a big kid stuck in an adult’s body. Seeing the platform only set the stage for what was to come.

Our trip went quickly and we took a short walk to our beautiful hotel The Principal York. We settled in and then walked to a site that dominates the city and its skyline – The York Minster. The Minster is a church and you’re probably more familiar with Westminster Abbey in downtown London. It’s hard to describe how massive the York Minster is. When you walk up to its doors, you are dwarfed by the size. It truly envelops you. We had a feeling that it would take several hours to take it all in.

When you get your ticket to go through the beautiful church, you have the option to buy an additional ticket to climb the steps of the Central Tower. Before the clerk allows you to buy a ticket for this extra experience, they point to a disclaimer. The one page sheet is full of warnings telling you that you need to be fit, have no breathing or heart issues, and are good with very tight confined space. I said that I’d be fine because I was eager to try this. I paid the extra five pounds and had a ticket to climb.

Debbie and I went through some of the Minster before I got in a queue to scale the steps of the tower. There was quite a buzz from the 30 or so folks waiting to climb. One of the staff came out to give one more word of caution before she opened the door. Everyone nodded their willingness to go, and then we entered the tower. What you saw were narrow stone steps going up in a very tight spiral. The first few minutes of the climb were easy and then my breathing became very labored as well as everyone else on this trek. We climbed for a good ten minutes and saw some daylight streaming into the staircase. You could hear sighs of relief and some joy as we exited a door and came out on the edge of one of the roofs of the church. Everyone pulled out their phones to snap pictures when someone noticed that this was only the first half of the ascent.

A view from the top of the Central Tower of York Minster.

You crossed the roof line and entered another door with another spiral staircase that was even more narrow and confined. Now people started to shake and heave with every step as we continued to do our best to keep moving upward. Another ten or fifteen minutes and we got to the top. The view was amazing and breathtaking. We had climbed 275 steps to a height of 235 feet. To give perspective, the Central Tower is above the two prominent spires at the front of the Minster. Everyone was smiling between trying to catch our breath. You could walk around the entire perimeter of the tower and take pictures.

After some time, you realized that you had to go back down, and there was only one way to do that. So, you took a deep breath and started to wind back down the steps you just struggled to climb. It didn’t take as long to get back to the floor of the Minster, but the constant turning made you very dizzy. When I came out of the stairwell, I was exhausted and went to sit on a chair to collect myself. My wife came and checked on me and I told her all about the trip. We spent several more hours in the church to make sure we saw everything. It was wonderful, but I was still spent several hours later.

Making the climb was worth it and reflecting back on it made me think of HR and work. How many times do we have the opportunity to pull ourselves out of our surroundings and ascend to a new place? Why do get stuck when we see/hear the warnings about potential serious outcomes? How often do we stay right where we always are wondering what making the climb would mean?

We hear that the view is amazing and needs to be experienced personally, but the power of breaking our inertia paralyzes us. Isn’t it time you paid the small price and take the first step up? Yes, it could be daunting and physically/mentally difficult. But, the effort and work is worth it. The view is captivating !!

This week look around and see where you could move forward and/or up. Get in line regardless of the potential risks or obstacles. Feel the excitement and anticipation. Then, make the climb !!

Hands Across the Water !!

I’m not sure if you noticed, but I took a few weeks off from blogging. That’s because my wife and I went to England for a two week vacation to have an early celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary !! (Before I go any further, you need to know that my wife, Debbie, means the world to me.) Every aspect of our trip was fantastic. Every. One. One factor that made this possible was that I left my laptop back home and disconnected from work, social media and from constantly staring at one screen or another. I’ll be honest, I didn’t miss it that much.

Having more time to focus on everything going on around us allowed us to be sponges. We enjoyed long walks around West Hampstead where we were renting a flat. We also visited various towns and historical sites from Bath to Cambridge to Notting Hill to York and all over London. I could write for weeks and weeks if I tried to share all of our adventures.

One of the many bucket list items I experienced was visiting the Abbey Road Studios where The Beatles recorded their music. Paul McCartney recorded a song after The Beatles had broken up with his new band The Wings called Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. It’s a very Beatlesque tune which I really enjoy. In the chorus, there is a phrase “Hands across the water (water), Hands across the sky (sky).” The reason I share this lyric is that the BEST thing that happened during our trip was meeting fellow HR peers. Not kidding. It was the biggest highlight.

For those that know me, I love meeting people !! The environment doesn’t really matter. Throughout our trip, I met people on the Tube, at restaurants and pubs as well as at the various historical sites we visited. People intrigue me. Getting to interact and know them gives me a perspective that is more real than any tour you could purchase. Debbie and I were fortunate when two HR friends who I had only “known” from Twitter met us and started our vacation by taking us all over. We connected immediately and we started developing our friendships in person.

This culminated later our first week when we had a Tweetup. A Tweetup is an excuse to get together with your peers, have a drink or a bite to eat and network. We met at Doggett’s Coat and Badge Pub on the banks of the Thames overlooking St. Paul’s Cathedral. The view was spectacular and the weather was perfect. That alone would have been enough, but then folks started arriving. In the end, there were 40 people who came. It was astonishing and humbling because many of the people traveled an incredible way to be there. Some took trains from hours away just to meet.

We had hours of fun meeting each other for the first time, learning about each other’s lives and laughing. Tons and tons of laughing !! We didn’t feel like strangers in the least. After some time, we wanted to make sure to capture the moment, so we asked our server to take a picture. I will cherish this forever !!

Several people were “amazed” that when we met in person that we were the “same” people as we are online. I never suspected that we would be any different. It was instantly comfortable to hang out with every person. We found that we had tons in common and it was if we had known each other for years. On the following Saturday another friend traveled 3 1/2 hours by train to come meet, and we met more HR friends when we traveled to York. I hope that all of the people we met remain lifelong friends. I know that will take work and effort, but it will be more than worth it.

The experience Debbie and I had is something that should be the norm and not the exception. I feel that whenever you get the chance to meet and connect with HR friends in person, you should take advantage of that. We are a global community, and we’re better the more we step out and connect.

We all have to be willing to stretch our hands across the water !!

Practice the Practice !!

Last year in November, my wife and I joined a gym. We wanted to get healthy, and we wanted to get ahead of the traditional rush of folks who make their annual New Year’s resolution. This isn’t a major accomplishment for most, but since we’re both over the half century mark, we needed to make a change.

We chose to join the Mason Community Center for several reasons. First of all, it’s far enough away that you need to drive to get there. That’s good because the 15 minute drive makes you be intentional in using the membership. Secondly, the facility is phenomenal !! It has treadmills, ellipticals, weights, an indoor track, a indoor swimming pool and several basketball courts. The center is a magnet and it’s always full of people.

I loved all of the potential activities, but I was especially attracted by the basketball courts. You see, I’ve been playing basketball for over 40 years !! In fact, I played on organized teams for eight years in schools and was even recruited to play at the collegiate level (small colleges, but still !!) I chose to pursue my education at a larger university so I changed over to playing on intramural teams. Once I graduated and settled into my home/job, I kept playing on community teams. As I aged, my passion for playing competitively waned because of having great kids of my own and other items that took my time and attention. I “played” outside my house every once in awhile, but not like I used to.

Seeing the courts at the community center brought back the urge to play basketball again. I even asked for a new basketball from my wife for my birthday in January. I got one !! Since I had been so proficient and successful in the past, I couldn’t wait to get out on the court and shoot around. I decided to combine my workout and make it half treadmill/elliptical and half basketball.

I was so eager to launch my first shot with my new basketball !! As I hoisted the sphere into the air, I watched as it arced toward the basket . . . and came up about a 1/2 foot short. How could that be? I was really good at basketball. It should just come back naturally, shouldn’t it? I had the proper equipment and there wasn’t anything keeping me from performing, but I was awful. I made a few shots my first time back out. A few.

What was wrong? It didn’t make sense. Sure, I hadn’t played competitively for several years, but I wasn’t trying to jump into a pick-up game. I was only taking some shots to get back into the swing of things. The one thing I was missing was – practice.

We don’t like to practice. We don’t. It’s almost like joining a gym. We know it will help us feel better and it makes sense mentally, but we aren’t willing to make the time and effort needed to get involved. It doesn’t change the fact that practicing anything makes you better. This idea of practice pertains to HR because I think we’ve lost sight of practicing our practice.

Sure, we work daily in our field, but do we continue to practice to make us better? I think we tend to get in a pattern of how we take on HR in our corner of the business universe and we stick to it. That works and it’s functional, but it’s also limiting. The “practice” of HR is ever evolving and never remains constant. If we’re not keeping up on this movement, then we’ll be just like when I picked up a basketball again. Our efforts will come up short.

Did you ever notice that the word “act” is in the middle of the word “practice”? Practicing compels you to act. You can’t just wish something into existence. You need to move and break the pull of inertia.

It’s time for all of us in HR to practice our practice. Trust me. The more you practice the better professional you’ll be personally, for your company and for the field as a whole. So, consider this your new basketball. Time to get back out on the court and start practicing !!

Go Global !!

I grew up in Ada, Ohio which is literally one square mile in diameter. It was magnificent and I had no idea of what the world looked like outside its perimeter. You see, I grew up in the pre-internet days and we thought traveling to Lima, Ohio to see a movie was a true expedition !! It took us 15 minutes to make that trek, but we couldn’t believe we had such freedom. I have to say that I enjoyed being blissfully unaware of the world outside my little village. That was over 30 years ago . . .

Ironically, the world has changed little for most of my peers in HR. We continue to live in a microcosm of the global reality we live in. There are many folks today (around the globe) who limit themselves to the city/town/village they live in as their lens for looking at what they do. It may even be more constricted in that some HR professionals only perspective is within their own organization.

We live in a global community whether we recognize it or not. We can’t keep existing in a flat world model. There don’t have to be any horizons on HR and how we’re connected. I don’t think I’m the only one thinking this. I continue to find and connect with great folks from every continent. The more folks I find, the more I get geeked to make these new discoveries.

In a day and age where countries are calling for more segregation and isolationism, I think it’s up to HR to span those boundaries and blur them more and more. I understand that we each have unique practices, laws and regulations, but we have one thing in common . . . humans.

There’s no logical reason for us to stay confined within our own geography. With technology and social media all around us, all we need to do is click a button to Follow, Link In or Friend each other. We can talk via Skype or video conferencing regardless of distance or time zone. It only takes someone willing to step forward.

I remember a few years ago when I went to my first SHRM National conference and we were AMAZED that there were people who practiced HR in areas of the world other than us. I’m not exaggerating. It’s as if we discovered an entirely new land. It happened again when I attended my first HRevolution event and we were astonished that others who were active in Social Media in HR actually existed and that we were real people and not just avatars on a screen.

Better TogetherIt’s time for the HR community to be global. I don’t mean global from a U.S. perspective. I mean global from an industry perspective. This goes beyond the great professional societies that I encourage you to belong to because they are wonderful forums. This is a call for individuals to make a grass roots effort to connect, communicate and collaborate.

I look forward to the day when I’ll get to travel to the UK, India, Africa, Australia, Japan, Canada, etc. and meet peers who get to work with humans. It will be fantastic to get to know them personally and see what great things they are doing in the field and inside their companies.

I want you to not only thrive in your village, but in your profession. Join me and see how we can be better together globally !!

Resurrecting HR !!

HR is dead.

(At least that’s what people want you to believe.)

It’s staggering to me that there continues to be this on-going conversation that is desperately trying to kill Human Resources. Blogs, magazine articles, conference presentations, etc. It’s happening throughout the profession, and very few people are standing up against it !! Why in the world should we allow people to degrade, belittle and tear down our profession? It’s especially disheartening when some of those voices are coming from inside HR itself !!

I believe that there should always be discourse, dialogue and critique. If that doesn’t occur, then change doesn’t happen. However, trying to move things forward through tearing it down has never worked. Never.

The reason for this post, and the title, is that I truly believe there is a problem and HR does need resurrecting !! Also, with it being Easter, how could you not use this title ??

The problem, as I see it, is that we are working so hard to maintain the status quo, that we’ve lost the urge to stretch and dream to see what HR could be. We feel that keeping things comfortable and in line will make our role effective and needed in organizations. It helps to have some of that, but not as your primary approach. It’s interesting that we encourage others not to settle, but we don’t see that this advice also applies to us.

Still AliveI’d like you to consider some ideas to make HR alive for you personally and collectively as a profession !!

Stand up and be heard !!

When you hear someone taking a shot at HR and what you do, respond. If that happens in your organization, push back. Bring solutions that elevate the human element of your employees and pull the company together. Quit making efforts to manage to the exception and recognize the whole. If you see negative comments online, respond. Being frustrated behind a screen will not bring about change. Comment, share and respond !!

Get connected and involved in the profession !!

HR is a field of isolation by design because we deal with the difficult side of employee issues. They have to have a safe haven they can work with and come to. After awhile, that isolation builds up and you have nowhere to go. (or so you think). The best thing about being in HR is the other people who practice it !! Having a viable, interactive and living network of HR professionals is essential if you want to thrive in this field. There was never anything written in your job description that stated that you had to quietly suffer.

Reach out. Connect with others who are near you. Make social media the communication vehicle it was intended to be and find out that there are thousands of  people who do what you do, and they’re looking to connect as well !! Go to conferences to meet people. Join organizations like SHRM nationally as well as locally. Do it because it makes you a better HR pro, not just because you were told to do it !!

Believe in what you do !!

HR is alive and well. It’s not just a blog post or a rallying cry. It’s a fact. Every day senior management is seeking HR to step up and make sure that organizations are more human. It’s a natural instinct in most of us and the time for suppressing it is past. It’s not time for us to be wildly optimistic, but it is time for us to say – How can we make the workplace better?

There is value in what you do my peers and friends. Inherent, tangible value. As you head back to work this week shake off the cobwebs, drudgery and negativity which can swallow the best of us. It’s time to resurrect HR !! Will you join me ??

 

We Can Be Heroes !!

This past week the rock universe took one of it’s brightest stars back. The legendary David Bowie passed away after his battle with cancer. I have been a fan of his for decades.

Oddly enough, the first time I saw him was during a Christmas special where he sang the “Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby. I remember watching the special with my Dad and he wondered who the “weird guy” was singing with Crosby. I said, “That’s David Bowie Dad, and he’s cool !!” He disagreed and thought that it was surreal to see the immortal crooner singing with this thin, pale British singer.

David BowieI’ve always been drawn to Bowie because he was willing to be himself. He never followed the norms that were expected in his music, his appearance or his approach. I also admired that he continued to remain relevant throughout his entire life when many of his peers faded into oblivion.

There are many attributes of David Bowie that I think translate well into how I practice HR and would love to see others consider and adopt. Please note that much of this is already happening. You just need to own it.

  • Be Genuine and Authentic

You could never note any time where David Bowie was not himself. He may have seemed contrary to his contemporaries, but he never apologized for it. I think HR people should be bold in who they are personally and professionally. It doesn’t mean that you should be avant-garde just to stand out. It does, however, call for you to not have an “HR/work face” and your normal face. There are too many people who feel that they can’t be themselves in HR and they end up being frustrated. If a company can’t accept you for who you are and how to practice HR, then don’t stay in that role or at that company. You’ll never have as much of an impact as you could.

  • Define new boundaries

Bowie shocked the rock world during his androgynous, glam rock Ziggy Stardust phase. He morphed into the sleek, fashionable man of the 80’s and then went a completely different route in the 90’s and 00’s with his band Tin Machine and working with artists like Trent Reznor. He constantly looked for new ways to be artistic and share his gift. It kept him relevant and others were inspired because he was willing to take risks and reinvent himself.

HR is reluctant to change. We feel the tried and true will always work, and we just need to apply it with small tweaks and adjustments. That just isn’t true. The biggest threat to our profession is whether we will stay relevant as a profession. To make sure we do, we need to see new boundaries and step out to set them. You don’t need permission. You just need to don the next phase of your career and adapt.

  • Share Your Work

I think there are too many of my peers who keep to themselves. This isn’t a matter of introversion vs. extroversion. HR people tend to sell themselves short and don’t recognize the impact they have on people every day. The music and contributions David Bowie made would have been diminished if he created and then shared his work with only a few people around him. Even though he was different, he stepped forward and shared his artistry with the world. He couldn’t keep things to himself and neither should we.

HR that only serves HR is meaningless. The business world without HR will continue to move on if we insist on working and living in arenas and forums outside of them. We need to be different ourselves and bring a fresh, challenging effort to what we do. As Bowie said, “We can be heroes. Just for one day.”

His message was meant to push others. His music was meant to make you see and think differently. He was one of my rock heroes and his impact will live on in HR if I have something to say about it !!

 

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 !!