The Music in You !!

This past weekend my wife and I were invited to a friend’s house. We’ve known this family for 20+ years and our children grew up together. It’s not uncommon for all of us to see each other from time to time, but this was a momentous occasion. Their oldest son, DJ, is a junior at Miami University majoring in Piano Performance. We were invited to come over to see a preview of his junior recital.

I was so geeked to be able to attend because I knew he had been working very hard to get ready for this show. This preview would give us a glimpse of his real performance that will occur next week. As we entered their house, we were given a program DJ had composed sharing his theme of the recital and the pieces he’d be playing. The theme is “In der Nacht” (At night) and had pieces from Johann Sebastian Bach, Sergei Prokofiev, Ludwig van Beethoven and Robert Schumann. The house was filled with family and friends who caught up on life, shared stories and our anticipation of the in-house concert we were about to witness.

DJ showing us his incredible talent !!

We all took a seat around a well-worn grand piano which engulfs the family room. As DJ came into the room, he set up a camera to videotape his performance and the room fell silent as he addressed us. He told us the inspiration of his recital theme and why he chose each musical piece. He encouraged us to read the descriptions he had written so we could try to hear the music as he did with its variation of emotion and the “stories” they each told. After he set the stage for his performance, he turned toward the keyboard, took a seat on the piano bench, stretched his arms and fingers, and then lightly placed his hands above the keys. He drew in a deep breath and let loose !!

You need to get some context about the difficulty and complexity of DJ’s recital. The first piece by Bach has seven movements alone. The Prokofiev piece is radically opposed in style and pace to the Bach suite. Beethoven’s sonata has two masterful sections, and the Schumann piece has eight sections. I followed the sheet music from the Schumann piece which is over 30 pages long. DJ had memorized the entire recital. The ENTIRE thing !! There wasn’t one piece of sheet music used. He played for 45 minutes and it was simply magnificent. When he finished the last piece, tears were streaming down my face.

DJ’s talent was evident. I can’t imagine how much practice occurred to get to the stage we witnessed. It had to be hours upon hours. I was touched about his performance for a few reasons. First and foremost, I was proud of him because I’ve been in his life since his birth. To see him reach this level of accomplishment was personally fulfilling. I was proud of him as were his parents and everyone who had gathered.

Secondly, his performance gave me a picture of looking at talent. You see I play the piano. I took lessons for eight years from Mrs. Lindemann. She was a dear older woman who taught me scales, notes and songs in the hope that I’d learn how to play proficiently. I can still “play” but I never reached the same expertise as DJ. I never had wanted to put in the time and dedication needed. I enjoy playing, but it’s more of a hobby for me.

That is how talent works. Both DJ and I can use that same 88 keys to make music. Where he can play Bach as it was written, I can play some songs from my youth that interested me from Billy Joel and various rock artists. The instrument is a common tool for us to use, but the type and level of our talent is vastly different. Each one of us has the ability to bring music out from pounding the keys to release the hammers upon the piano’s strings.

In organizations, we try to evaluate, measure and judge the talent of people. Instead of releasing their talent, we do our best to confine and restrict it in order to keep some misaligned semblance of order. What if we saw each of our employees as a keyboard just waiting to be played? What would happen if we allowed them to share their talent in the manner they did best? Can you imagine the incredible variety, creativity and ingenuity that could be released?

It’s time we gave our people the tools they need in order for them to share the music locked in each one of them. They all have a recital ready to perform. They know each note and their contributions will range from the majesty of the most complex classical composition to the simplest banging out of Chopsticks. Each song that comes forth is needed in order for the good work of organizations to perform and move forward.

This week pull up a bench in front of the proverbial keyboards in your workplace and encourage everyone to sit down and start playing. Release the talent that is all around you. When you do, you’ll see that you’ve been surrounded by virtuosos this entire time !!

Just to give you a taste of the recital I heard, here’s a video of another pianist playing the Prokofiev sonata DJ shared. Enjoy !!

Recharge Your Battery !!

This past Friday morning I was up early and headed out to my car in the garage. As I turned the key in the ignition, all I heard was a click, click, click. I let out an audible sigh because I knew my battery was dead. This was not how I wanted to start my day !! However, we’re often thrown curves and something unexpected sends us off course from what we had planned to do.

So, I pulled the release lever inside my car to get under the hood. I have changed many batteries over the years. It’s not “fun” and there’s always the possibility that you’ll drop a small piece needed to fasten everything in place deep into the bowels of the engine. When I had the hood propped up, I stood there dumbfounded staring at where I thought the battery would be. Instead, I saw a large silver box with a black plastic cover. On the left side of this contraption there were four bundles of wires attached. I honestly didn’t know what it was.

I got out my owners manual for my 2017 Chevy Equinox thinking I could figure things out. I was wrong. I was even more confused because I couldn’t find the information I needed. The next step was to find a video on You Tube, which all the kids already do, but I’m older and didn’t think of this first. I found an instructional video on how to remove the computer sitting on top of the battery. There were several other steps to remove fasteners, a piece of plastic fascia before you could uncover the battery.

I thought I had everything mastered. I was informed now and knew the steps. I went to my basement to gather the needed tools to extricate the dead battery. I even got a headlamp so I could shed light on my operation. It didn’t work. I couldn’t remove the computer or the cover on it. My frustration took over and I let out more than an audible sigh. Thankfully my wife was still home so we carpooled in her car. I dropped her at her workplace and went to my office using her car. My Equinox was sitting quietly in my garage taunting me and my inability to change a battery.

On Saturday, we put the car in neutral and my wife helped me get the car out onto our driveway which is thankfully flat. I called AAA for roadside assistance (at my house), and waited for help to arrive. A little over an hour later, I got a call on my cell phone to let me know that AAA was “on the scene” and ready to fix my predicament. When I went outside to greet my mechanically adept friend, I was stunned once again.

Out from his tow truck stepped Ed. I knew that from the patch sewn on his uniform shirt. He was an older man who wore a Vietnam Veteran ball cap signifying he served in the military during the Vietnam War. He was so warm and gracious. He laughed when he saw the computer sitting on top of my battery and quipped, “They keep making these things harder and harder don’t they?” I agreed and explained that even though I watched a video, nothing seemed to work. He reassured me that everything would be fine.

The reason I was stunned was that Ed was now in his 70’s and was the same age as my biological dad. My dad passed away in 1968 when I was four years old and he was merely twenty-six. He served four tours in the battlefields of Vietnam. Here I was standing by someone who could have been my dad, and we were doing a dad/son thing by working on my car. I never got to do things like this with my dad, and I struggled not to tear up in front of this stranger.

I stayed out with him and lent a hand where I could. He deftly removed the computer by removing a bolt I didn’t notice (and wasn’t on the video.) Together we removed the dead battery and put a new one in place. While we worked together, I asked him about his time in the army and he shared some great stories. He was still very proud that he had served. After jumping in to the car and making sure it started, I paid him for the battery and his labor, shook his hand and wished him well. It was the best 45 minutes of my day !!

I’m sure Ed had no idea he had recharged my battery as a person. Here I was frustrated with my circumstances not knowing that this lovely older veteran would rekindle fond memories. It reminded me how easy it is to start each day feeling the weight of our situation to the point that we will miss something great right in front of us.

How are YOU doing? Are the realities of life feeling like a burden you can’t shake? Keep in mind that each person you encounter may have those same sinking feelings. The question is -What are you doing to recharge your battery?

We can’t be successful or effective if we are mired in muck. Everyone has challenges. They may be small or massive. It’s hard to say. However, we need to remember we have the chance to be like Ed. By something as simple as showing up, you may make a positive difference in someone’s life.

This week as you head to work I hope you take time to get recharged if you need to. At the same time, I hope you see the opportunities which are sure to come to be the catalyst to recharge someone else. Be encouraged and then be cognizant enough to encourage others. Make a difference and embrace the chance to bring energy and a positive experience to others !!

Runnin’ Down YOUR Dream !!

This Sunday something happened that hasn’t happened for an entire month. The sun came out. Now, I know the sun is always present, but it hasn’t shown itself in Greater Cincinnati during the month of January. Seeing sunlight was a welcome break from the never ending gloom of gray skies. As I was driving to church, I had the Tom Petty radio station blaring on Sirius XM. This is one of may favorites channels which I listen to often.

As I was enjoying the bright blue skies and warm touch of the sunlight, the song “Runnin’ Down a Dream” started playing. It captured the moment perfectly as the first few lyrics started to be sung . . .

“It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down, I had the radio on, I was drivin'”

Listening to this song made my thoughts wander which is a very common occurrence for me. I was taking time to reflect to see if I was someone who ran down my dreams. I think I have. Most everything that has happened throughout my life has led to exciting and adventurous outcomes.

If you don’t know me, I’m a fairly content person. I tend to go with the flow of things. When bumps occur, I ride them out and do my best to remain genuinely positive. This has been my approach to all aspects of my life since I can remember. It’s odd to share this because people don’t think people can be positive and encouraging in this day and age. When I hear those that choose to think differently than I do, I try to get to know them and hear them out. I may not agree with their perspective and outlook, but I’ll do my best to encourage them if they’re open to it.

So, when it comes to dreams, I guess I frame it like this. I like looking forward and pursuing different opportunities knowing that some will work out and others will not. In the past I wanted to become a public speaker, and now I’m fortunate to get to present at events across the globe. I thought it would be great to write a book, and now I’m close to having my second one published. I hoped to have a wife and family, and I’ve now been married over 30 years and I’m getting to see my kids start to figure out life and pursue dreams of their own.

My mind kept wandering and I thought of others who I’m fortunate to have in my life. They are a mix of people who have been successful in a variety of ways along with those who seem to get hung up on obstacle after obstacle. Every person is at a different place on this continuum.

I want to be supportive and encouraging for each of my friends and connections without giving them absolutes. Sure, I have my thoughts and am willing to share advice, but that’s what it is – advice. I’ve never been comfortable giving people a distinct path which much be followed to the letter. Life isn’t like that. It’s full of twists, turns, mountain tops and valleys. Each person’s path is as unique as they are as people.

I think Tom Petty captured my approach in his lyrics in this song. Life is a mystery. We would love for every moment of every day to be concrete and have little variability. But, life won’t conform to set patterns and is constantly unpredictable. Since that’s the reality of each day, the choice we have left is how we will move. We can either move forward, refuse to move, move sideways, or even backwards. There are countless maneuvers we can take.

Take note of the other phrase in Petty’s lyrics. “Going wherever it leads . . . ” Can you do that? Are you willing to step out not knowing what the next step will lead to? You see the mysteries of life are going to continue to present themselves. Having dreams and things to look forward to give us a brighter outlook on the lives we currently lead. Instead of being filled with worry and discontent, try to embrace the chance to go wherever life takes you.

Your career, the choices you make in your family and the people you bring into your life should be those who move you forward. People that embrace your dreams and do what they can to lift you up towards seeing them come true.

If you want to write a book or start a blog, then find those who have done those things and talk with them about what their experience was. If you want to travel to places unknown to you but familiar to others, reach out to them to see those places through their eyes and then take steps to get to them yourself one day. If you want to become a public speaker, an executive or leader in your company, or active in some professional or civic group, seek out others who have paved the way before you.

Remember, you are not doing life alone. You are among those who want to hear your dreams and see them come to fruition. I don’t know what your dream is, but it’s time for you to claim it, pursue it and see where it leads !!

Friends

This weekend the weather was a mix of clouds, mist, sleet and brisk winds. Everything was wet everywhere you looked. The wind made it feel colder than the actual temperature. This isn’t a blog post about the weather in West Chester, Ohio. These are the conditions I was facing when I went to visit my best friend Fred. He was moving this weekend from his current house to a new one that had just been completed. He and his wife were downsizing and moving into a ranch house which will most likely be their final home. Fred and Karen have been retired for quite a few years.

The move was invigorating because Fred and Karen were both excited to get their things moved and into their new abode. There were members of Fred’s family who came to assist with everything along with a young HR peer who is being mentored by Fred. If you’ve read my book, you’ll know all about Fred. He’s not only my best friend, but he’s my mentor. We chat at least once a week and try to see each other every two weeks. We’ve known each other for almost 20 years now, and he is an important part of my life.

The reason he’s important is that he’s my friend. Every once in awhile a post will be out on the internet that questions whether or not you can have friends at work. I personally think you can, but it is challenging especially for HR pros. It isn’t that HR folks aren’t friendly, it’s just that our roles deal with so much sensitive information that it’s difficult to develop many friendships. We can’t afford to get too close to many other employees.

We still need friends though. HR can be a very lonely profession because we don’t have close relationships. Therefore, we need to look outside of our workplaces. Trust me. One of the primary reasons I’ve stayed in HR is due to the friendships I’ve developed throughout my career. I’m fortunate to have friends around the globe who are in this field. I reach out to them often to check in and ask how they’re doing. If you’re kind enough to be friends with me, I will make sure that we’re intentionally connected.

One of those global friends is Michael Carty who is from the UK. He and I share many interests including music, art and blogging. He penned an incredible post about the recent passing of Terry Jones who was famously part of the comic troupe Monty Python. Jones’ best friend was Michael Palin, a fellow Python. In an interview after Jones’ passing, Palin says that he’ll miss having a pint at the pub with his dear friend. They were professionals who had learned to become friends. (The interview is very touching. Make sure to read Michael’s post and watch the short clip.)

Being active in social media has opened the ability to connect and develop friendships as well. You can “meet” and interact now without having to be in the same place. These platforms can be far more than a place to generate content and have people focus just on you. The amount of likes and follows are inconsequential compared to the relationships you can make. These people will become your community.

The friends I’ve been able to make are there for me personally far more than they are professionally. Yes, they are great resources of information when I need it, but most of our conversations are about life. Those are more deep and rich. I cherish each one I have.

So, let me ask you this. Do you have friends who happen to be in HR? I hope you do. I hope you have someone you can call when you need to move, need to share your thoughts and concerns, or need to grab a pint. This week evaluate where you are in regard to this. I know there are tons of great humans who would welcome the chance to foster and establish friendships with you. Reach out and make this happen. You’ll be glad you did !!

Make Your Work Art !!

This week one of my musical heroes passed away. Neil Peart was the drummer and lyricist of the legendary progressive rock band Rush. Whenever you admit that you’re a fan of Rush, you get mixed reactions. There are those who are die hard fans, and then there are those on the exact opposite side of the spectrum. There is very little middle ground. I’m cool with that. I’m on the die hard side. In fact, there are a group of my HR compatriots who post a Rush tune every week as part of #RushSaturday on Twitter. We have been posting well known hits, deep cuts and covers from popular artists as well as local acts.

The great thing about music, like any art form, generates emotion. It should. I love having discussions and disagreements about music. I’m sure there are many acts and genres I enjoy that others do not and vice versa. If music brings forth passion, then you’ve made a genuine connection. I am passionate about the entire catalog Rush has produced. Every song.

One of the amazing attributes of Neil Peart was his anonymity. That is almost unheard of in the rock and roll world. You find most people who become musicians in rock band seek notoriety, fame and especially visibility. There are countless stories of rock stars who live very public lives often riddled with bad choices. Peart was the complete opposite of the stereotypical rock star throughout his entire career. I admire that.

He was an accomplished author of several books, and he and his band mates were finally elected to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 which was 45 years after Rush had formed. You never heard him complain about not being recognized with accolades. He was about his music. For him, his work was his art. Many consider him one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, rock drummer of all time.

Peart’s example of allowing his work to do the talking for who he was, in part, is something that is worth emulating. When I think about those whom I look up to in the world of work are similar to this rock legend. They are artists in what they do on a daily basis who rarely call attention to themselves. They appreciate acknowledgement of their contributions, but they aren’t seeking to be someone in the spotlight. Organizations are filled with reliable, consistent performers who make their work seem effortless. At the same time, people go to these reliable folks because they are known for their phenomenal work.

Too often, companies look to the bright and shiny employees because they call for attention. In fact, you’ll hear about making sure that focus is placed on “high potentials” (or hi-pos). I despise this term and this approach. It is laden with favoritism and an unbalanced sense of those who are politically astute because they spend much of their time trying to take the stage whenever possible. I understand that there are people who exhibit stronger performance and even show genuine leadership capabilities. I would venture to bet though that the ones who will be truly successful are the ones who are genuine, humble and seem to make their efforts . . . reliable first.

It’s time we make sure that we are cognizant of ALL of our employees !! We are surrounded by people who make their work art on a daily basis. When you step back to do this, you’ll find that they have been worthy of your attention because of how they approach their work. These artists seek to contribute, add value and let their work speak for itself.

This week, broaden your vision and notice your people on purpose. You’ll see that they’ve been making beautiful music every day !!

RIP Neil Peart. I’m grateful for you, your music and how you shared your gift.

Take It In !!

This past week I celebrated another trip around the sun and became another year older. I find that I now look at each new year as a time to reflect. This is something newer for me and something I wish I would do more. For instance, I have now been alive 30 years longer than my biological father was. That is staggering to me !! I’m fortunate that I am still walking this planet, but sometimes wonder what life would have looked like had he lived as well. I’m sure it would have been completely different and I wouldn’t be writing a weekly blog, just as one example.

My kids and wife are an amazing and significant component in my life. Now that I’m older, I tend not to get any “things” as birthday gifts. I’m grateful that I get time with them far more than any material object. Debbie, my incredible wife, did get me something that will have incredible value – a set of experiences. She got me some tickets to Xavier University basketball games – my fave college basketball team – and some tickets to see part of the “Whose Line is is Anyway?” cast perform an improv comedy show. I can’t wait to go to these events. She made the gift even more meaningful by saying that I can take others with me to some of the games because she knows I’m a massive extrovert.

The reflection that has hit hard this year is this – You need to enjoy the experiences in your life !! Every. Day.

You need to be honest about this. You rarely take in what’s going on around you. We’ve been programmed to stay focused on whatever task is laid out in front of us. This isn’t only related to work. It is how we approach every aspect of our lives. We miss the majority of any event or encounter, and that’s a shame.

Don’t believe me? Tomorrow when you go to work watch how others interact with each other. Greetings are cursory and polite as everyone rushes to what they want to get to. No one seems to notice or care. Conversations are curt, concise and matter of fact. You will hear most people share some personal stories, but to say that both parties are “present” during the interaction would be startling. We feel the invisible push to move on. The vast majority of our daily experiences are more like a series of pass-by movements. There are short pauses in the rush of pass-bys, but they are limited on purpose.

I consider myself someone who consciously makes time to focus on others, and I have to constantly remind myself to be present in conversations. I have to fight the urge to follow distractions which are always tugging at me. I feel this is true with most people. I don’t think that this has to be the case. I know that we have time to be present when we interact with others throughout each experience we have.

Now that Debbie and I are empty nesters, we are doing more activities as a couple. We’re relearning what it’s like to spend time together just as a pair. We aren’t committed to running to this event or another for either of our kids who are now grown. So, we go out to dinner or make dinner together after a full day of work. We’ll go to the gym and also go to a movie in a theater (we’re old school like that.) Whatever we’re doing, I’ve decided that I am going to be present and take in every second we’re together. I don’t want to miss something because I’m yearning to get to the “next thing.”

I want to be like the two young kids I saw at the grocery store this weekend. They had pulled two of the bags you use to put produce in and were throwing them into the air. The bags would puff out and float slowly back and forth toward the floor. The kids would squeal, catch their bag and throw it back into the air. They were exuberant and present in the moment while their mother was trying to get her shopping done. Instead of chiding the kids, she laughed along with them and commented how beautiful the new “toy” they had created was.

The new year is still young. You can change your approach to how you embrace every day, and in turn, every person you meet. Slow down and take it in. Everything. Every. Single. Thing. You’ll be astonished how much more you’ll enjoy life !!

What Do You Think ??

This past week I renewed the domain name for my blog. To me it’s a milestone because in January I’ll be starting my 9th year of blogging. The site was actually a Christmas gift from my sister-in-law !! I remember when I opened the small envelope she had given me. I read the message on the paper inside and wept. I was touched by her gift.

I asked her why she decided to establish a blog site for me. She replied, “I think people want to hear what you have to say.”

I was floored by that. Why in the world would others willingly read my thoughts and ideas? It seemed to be a pretty big leap to share on a regular basis with the hope that you’d develop an audience. She reminded me that this was already occurring because of the presentations I had been giving at conferences.

I am still so grateful that she had a vision for something that I have truly enjoyed. I look forward to sitting down every Sunday to jot down ideas, thoughts, encouragement and a message to let others know they have value in who they are and what they do. In fact, my wife asks me every Sunday, “Did you write your blog yet?” It’s become part of the fabric of my life.

I wanted to give you this background to ask you some questions . . .

What do you think? Really. How do you learn from others? Do you take time to do this, or are you comfortable with what you already know?

You see I love to learn from others !! I regularly read several blogs daily. I also make sure to listen to various podcasts as I make my commute to and from work. I also travel to several pizzerias as part of my job so I have time to listen to the thoughts of others.

I don’t want to sit still and stay put mentally. There are far too many people who have fascinating ideas and concepts to share. When I get a chance to read the perspectives of others, I try to take away key nuggets even if I disagree with their approach. It’s important to see the world from all angles. I don’t want to ever want to be in a position where I’m not well versed in different aspects of life, thought and views on HR and the workplace. You can never know enough. I think it’s critical for us to continue to take in information so that we remain current, informed and relevant.

I do have one value that I stick to when participating in the forum of blogging or sharing on podcasts where I’m asked to be a guest. I will use the gateway I’ve been given to be positive. Please don’t ever misconstrue this as not willing to be intentional or take on issues. I just feel that it’s far too easy to be negative and tear others down. Being positive is something that I hope to continue because I’d rather see light pierce the darkness and give others a viable alternative to what they may hear/see on social media.

If you’re not regularly learning from others, I’d encourage you to give yourself a “gift” this holiday season. Find blogs, podcasts and speakers who you can learn from. Start making this a habit so that continuous learning isn’t some aspirational wish, it’s how you choose to improve yourself and the others around you.

See the Lights !!

This time of year can lead to a variety of emotions. For some, the holidays are difficult while others are ecstatic. It runs the gamut and it’s hard to know how people are facing the season. It would be best if we had the courage to have safe conversations with each other. We tend to steer clear of anything that could lead to vulnerability or sensitive issues. We’re afraid we won’t know how to “properly” respond if someone gives an answer for which we’re not prepared. So, instead of interacting we avoid. That saddens me. It truly does. We’re at a time in society where more interaction would be more beneficial versus avoiding each other.

I’m a person who goes through periods of joy and also times of stress. The stress in unrealistic and brought on by the thoughts in my mind. Like most people, they tend to wander and make up scenarios with absolutely no context. I do love the music, the chance to decorate our house and to exchange gifts with my wife and kids. I don’t even mind going out among the crowds who seemingly come out of the air and fill shopping centers. The stress comes because of time and how we try to cram a year’s worth of activities into a very small window.

Thankfully, my wife introduced a tradition from her childhood that keeps me balanced. She used to get in the car with her family and they would drive around neighborhoods to see the lights. The displays weren’t the houses of friends and families per se. They were random people who had decided to have outdoor displays to capture the feel of the holidays.

When we were first married (before kids), Debbie and I kept up with this tradition and we loved it. After our kids were born, we continued driving around to see what people had put up. Now that they’ve “left the nest”, we’ll have our first season to go and see the various lighting displays as a couple once again. I’m geeked to get a thermos filled with hot chocolate to enjoy as we cruise through the night to see how creative people are.

There are several reasons why I enjoy seeing the lights each holiday season.

Time together – I am fortunate to have a phenomenal wife and kids (adults). I don’t take that for granted in the least. I know that family dynamics may not always be the best for people. But, when you take time to do things together, you have a better chance to have positive experiences which lead to positive memories.

Reduced stress – It’s easy to get caught up in the pace of life and its various pushes and pulls of the holidays. It’s an even stronger level of stress than you experience the rest of the year. However, when you’re slowly driving through a neighborhood looking at lights, the pressure you may be feeling melts away. That release is so valuable and it helps you get things back in some semblance of order and sanity.

Seeing the light – The most stunning part of seeing the displays all around us is that the light pierces the darkness. The tiny bulbs emanate all of their energy to brighten the shadows. The colors are clear, distinct and welcoming. They bring a smile to your face every time and show how powerful light truly is.

Think what your days would be like if you enjoyed the time together with those around you. How would they feel if you stopped, paused and took a breath in the midst of the daily pace of work/life and realized you didn’t need to be that stressed. And, how would your day be if you saw the light in others instead of darkness?

You have the opportunity to keep in mind the serenity of seeing the lights as you approach your day. This next week do two things – (1) See the positive side of others and be the light in their day that breaks through any potential negativity and (2) Go out yourself at night and drive around.

Take the time to go and see the lights !! You’ll be glad you did and it may become a tradition for you as well.

Take the Stage !!

This past weekend my wife and I took a trip to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s always great to get together because we’ve always been very close siblings. Unfortunately we don’t live as close to each other as we’d both like, but that just means that when we do get together it’s even more meaningful. After the normal “catching up” about our gaggle of adult children, we settled in to just visit and talk.

One of the wonderful things about my family is that we’re very easy going. We don’t feel the need for a ton of structure which allows us the flexibility to be more adventurous. We had never really explored downtown Knoxville together, so the four of us decided we’d try to fill our Saturday visiting some very local attractions. We kicked off the morning meandering through the East Tennessee Historical Society, and it was magnificent !! The displays were thorough and interesting. Each artifact revealed a point in time with such flavor and color. We were near the end of the exhibits when my brother hustled us along because he had a surprise planned.

I was a bit bummed that we rushed out, but our next stop was well worth it. We walked down a few blocks to the Knoxville, Tennessee Visitor’s Center. I wasn’t sure why this would be better than where we had just been. However, my brother was right. It was incredible. In front of us were two sections of folding chairs with five rows in each. Ahead of the chairs stood a stage and a microphone on a stand. You see, the Visitor’s Center is also the home of the public radio station WDVX. It’s also the home of the “Blue Plate Special” radio show which offers a “heapin’ helpin’ of live music.”

My new magnet and reminder to unlock the talent in my organization !!

As I’ve mentioned several times in the past, I’m a music freak !! I enjoy most forms and genres of music – especially if it’s live. On the stage was a young musician named Jared Hard. He was singing his original music which was being simultaneously broadcast on WDVX. He has an engaging approach along with fantastic skills as a storyteller. The Blue Plate Special show only airs original music from local and regional artists. So, some of the people who appear are there for the first time to share their talent and get more people to recognize them. This was the case for Jared and I was geeked that I was able to hear his music and appreciate his talent. I will make sure to keep an eye on him and pick up his new album.

After listening, it made me think of how this applied to HR. I loved that this public radio station set the example of taking a chance on talent. Is this something that we do in our companies? Do we give people the stage or just expect them to show up in their cubicle or work space? Have we tapped into all that someone has to offer, or do we expect them to fit neatly into some typed job description?

Unfortunately, I think far more time is spent confining people to pre-defined roles than allowing them to show what they can do. We still follow the outdated model of someone earning their stripes over some imaginary gauntlet that we say “everyone” had to go through. Why do we continue this practice when we complained about it happening when we began a new job?

We are overdue in eliminating this approach. I feel we should learn from this local hidden gem and set up the “stage” for our employees to come forward and show what they can do. You are sure to find some true artists who’ve been yearning for their chance. You have nothing to lose in trying this. The more you learn about what people can do, the better they can contribute across your enterprise.

We have to understand that “talent” isn’t only about hiring the best possible people. It’s allowing them to flourish and share all they can do. Unlock the hidden talent in your company. Let people take the stage !!

Eye Contact

I love going to the grocery store !! I mean it. I love going every time. I meander up and down every aisle even though I have a list and don’t need something from every aisle. I enjoy searching for those hard to find items that you need to make sure your recipe is complete. The mix of people walking to and fro doesn’t phase me at all. In fact, I love seeing them !!

Almost every time I visit the grocery store, I get pulled aside by someone who is a stranger and they ask me to get an item for them from a top shelf because I’m taller than most. I love when this happens !! It fills my bucket to grab that hard to reach yogurt or box of cereal to helps someone out.

One thing that I notice when I walk through the store is the lack of eye contact. Even though the store is usually teeming with people, very few people connect visually. It’s astonishing to me.

Here’s my quick, obligatory HR disclaimer . . .

I know that I’m an extreme extrovert. Whenever I’ve taken assessment that measure extroversion, I’m at the top of the scale every time. I keep that in mind when I write about interactions with others. However, I still have observations that I feel can apply to one and all.

Now, back to the post !!

The reason I bring this up is that it seems that people are far more focused on getting to the task at hand while casually passing by every other person as if they don’t exist. I know that’s a broad generalization but it’s my observation. I also understand that everyone shopping may have a zillion things going on in their lives and they are trying to utilize their time well.

I don’t expect everyone to stop and have meaningful conversations, but people don’t even greet one another. When I do get someone to make eye contact, there’s usually a casual “Hello” and a smile. Simple. Honestly, all that’s needed. Intentional human interaction and connection.

The grocery store is just one environment where people spend more time passing each other as if no one else is in the room. I see this happen almost everywhere. When did we become so self-focused? How does this affect others? What would happen if people did slow down, make eye contact and greet each other?

As an HR practitioner, my hope is that others in this field are ones willing to be intentional. Ironically, some of the greatest times I see people avoid each other is at HR conferences !! The people who are genuinely in the “people” business, should be the last ones to avoid contact and connection.

Again, I know this is a generalization, and I respect that people have different comfort levels of meeting and connecting with others. However, I’m willing to challenge this “norm” and ask everyone to press through and start making eye contact – especially our HR peers. Instead of having assumptions that people will ask too much of you, or that something will be negative in nature, look forward to making contact.

I have been a person who tries to establish eye contact with everyone I pass by. My intent is to just be a friendly face, a welcoming smile and an acknowledgement that they exist. You’d be surprised how many wonderful conversations have occurred after such a simple action. Also, the vast majority of my closest friends started with this introductory movement.

I’m not naive and know that you could have a negative, or challenging, interaction if you make eye contact with some people. However, I think those examples are the exception. Also, if does go south, you could be the one positive encounter that was needed for someone. The fundamental approach I take is that making eye contact will result in a positive interchange. It may not go past this effortless action, and I’m good with that.

This coming week (and at future conferences), be intentional and look at others eye-to-eye. Smile. Say “Hello.” That’s it. You never know. That easy action may be the difference to make someone’s day brighter, and that’s worth everything !!