Give a Sign !!

This weekend my family and I found a hidden gem !! We visited the American Sign Museum. Who would have thought that signs have a history? It was fascinating to walk through very familiar signs of various sizes, colors and neon lights. We learned the stories of how signs were designed, who were their artists and the science behind communicating a message.

As I meandered through each display, I realized something. Signs are powerful !!

When I looked at the signs from gas stations like Phillips 66, Sohio and Shell, I could picture where those locations were and getting gas from them. The food signs from Burger King, McDonalds and Howard Johnson’s reminded me of great times eating a quick meal with my family growing up. There were signs for museums, buildings, drug stores, ice cream parlors, etc. Each one identified something specific and gave a clear message with a purpose.

Do we do that at work? I contend that we don’t, but we could !! HR has the opportunity to be a shepherd at work with all levels of the company. We can bring people together and have them move towards common goals and have them truly perform. Here are some things that having a good sign can do in an organization.

Be the brand !!

Great signs draw people closer and you can use them to rally them to accomplish incredible things. They can not only promote the brand, they can BE the brand. The constant notion that employees will just represent your brand “just because” isn’t realistic. Develop symbols and signs that show the energy and life that your brand represents. Help your employees understand the brand and give them signs they can share with others. Employer brands are made by your employees. Equip them to share your message both inside and outside your company. They are the best brand ambassadors you have.

Give people direction !!

Too many people float at work because they don’t have clarity in what they’re supposed to do. Give them a sign, or a series of signs, for them to follow. Don’t just expect people to get it through osmosis or watching others do work around them. Be intentional as HR and develop benchmarks and milestones that mark the way for employees to perform and excel.

Light the way !!

The best signs are lit up. They break through the darkness and illuminate everything around them. You are drawn to signs that are lighted. Workplaces lack light. They really do. We’re more concerned that people show up and crank out work than we are that they come share their passion and energy through their work. This level of light in an organization rests solely on HR’s shoulders. I’m not kidding. If we don’t bring passion to what we do, how can we expect others to be passionate?

This week start planting signs to be the brand, give others direction and bring work to life !!

(The pic above is of my amazing daughter and I at the museum. We couldn’t resist the chance to leave a sign !!)

Given First

Trust.

It’s a topic that’s getting a ton of attention these days. It’s in our discussions, our social media and in societies around the globe. People are trying to determine if people are/aren’t trustworthy and there’s never a clear answer because everyone’s opinions and definitions are different.

I’m not here to define what “trust” is. However, I do want to tackle the first aspect of trust – and that is whether it is earned or given. The majority of people I know feel trust has to be earned. If trust isn’t earned, how do we know how people will act or treat each other? In the workplace, and life in general, people want you to tally a series of activities so that people will finally establish a certain level of comfort so that they can open up to each other incrementally over time.

I don’t think this works, and I never have. I give trust first.

You don’t have to earn my trust, my time, my empathy or my attention. I will give it to you. You don’t have to hold a certain level of job, have a minimum level of education, come from a similar family background, or share the same beliefs I have. I will give you trust the moment I meet you.

Will you disappoint me? Yes. But, I will disappoint you as well. Will I fail at some point in our relationship? Absolutely. Are there differences we have that will be possible points of disagreement and contention? Of course there are.

These happen because we’re humans.

If everyone has to earn trust first, how will trust ever happen or occur? Someone has to step up and be willing to be vulnerable and open up. Does being open mean that you are naive and blindly unaware of actions or stances that don’t match up with who you are? No, it doesn’t.

As an HR professional, I believe that giving trust first is the approach to take with everyone. Please note that when you take this stance you’re going to get bruised. People don’t trust those that give trust first. (Sorry for the pun, but it’s true). Employees are wary because most of them live in the “earn it” world. I want to encourage you that when the bruises come, trust people again. The next time it happens, do the same. I don’t want you to be a martyr, but I do think you have to fight through the disbelief with your consistency and your willingness to be intentional with people.

If you get to know me personally, and I hope you do, you need to know that the next step past trust is that I am fully in with getting to know you. I can see how many people do “drive by” relationships where I give you snippets of my time and attention. Those result in a multitude of acquaintances that may be miles wide but an inch thick. You have the appearance of connections and relationships, but at the most you’re nice to a bunch of folks. There’s value in that, but there’s also so much more available.

Employees want someone they can trust. It’s almost palpable in workplaces all over. It’s time for us to be the people who make that happen. Let’s turn the page and be the profession made up of people where trust is – given first.

Believe

Year-end is always a full time for HR. There are various open enrollment efforts, reports and social events. Throw into the mix that we’re in the midst of the holiday season which brings it’s own set of emotions ranging from positive to stressful. At a time when you’d hope people would be more open and gracious, you may find just the opposite.

I find that the longer I’m in HR, the more I see a common theme in people. They want something, or someone, to believe in. This sentiment seems to swell during the holidays because of the focus of the season. Whenever we talk about belief in the workplace, we start to shudder. Our HR anxiety starts to creep up, and we fear that we’re going to venture into territory that will surely lead to us having conversations with people. They will be the conversations that even make us uncomfortable.

When did this happen to us? Why did we become the people that limit conversations about beliefs? I understand the legal boundaries and that people don’t want to have things forced upon them. They shouldn’t have that happen, but people still are looking for that connection to anchor them.

Some may say that we need to rally around the organization’s values and missions, and that has merit. However, it doesn’t go far enough. Beliefs are personal and people feel more complete when they know they’re heard and even expressed. I know this may be contrary to the norm, but I don’t think we need to jump to extremes.

believeI remember when I was very young, I desperately wanted a pony for Christmas. My mom took my brother and I to see Santa Claus at the local American Legion Hall. When I went to share my desired equine gift, Santa evidently was getting the “No” nod in the background from my mom. So, Santa being very adept and quick told me that if I memorized all of the names of his reindeer and came back next year, he’d get me the pony. I’m sure he thought I’d lose interest because I was so young.

I didn’t lose interest. I wrote down the names of the reindeer including Rudolph and memorized them. The following year we went back to the Legion Hall and I was ready. I sat on his lap and recited each reindeer in order. I rushed home, fell asleep (sort of) and jumped out of bed waiting to see my pony. It wasn’t there under the tree or outside and I was crushed.

My mom came to console me and she was fantastic as always. She knew that I was disappointed. We had a long talk, a few cookies and she explained that she understood my disappointment, but that Santa didn’t always get everything for every boy and girl. That’s why he asked for a wish list. I liked her response. It didn’t cover the reality, but it didn’t destroy my belief.

Honestly, my mom still uses Santa’s name on the name tags of presents for our family. She knows the power of belief and how that brings people together.

This is a great lesson that I have kept with me. This year step back and take a breath and don’t let the pace overwhelm you. Instead, take time to believe.

Come Together

I just came back from a quick trip to Seattle. No, it wasn’t because I was chasing Pokemon for Pokemon Go. I was a part of the SHRM Talent Symposium hosted by the Puget Sound SHRM Chapters – Seattle SHRM, Lake Washington HR Association, South King County SHRM, and the Washington State Human Resources Council. Fortunately, I was able to speak and attend the entire event. There were 300 other HR folks who come out for the day to learn about current and future Talent Acquisition trends.

It was encouraging to see HR pros set aside time, leave their desk/office and take a day for networking and professional development. When I met different attendees, I found that most of them did not know each other. A venue like this allows people to come together – and this is needed more than ever !!

With all of the social unrest happening globally, we’ve lost something in the midst of emotion, rhetoric and posturing. While groups want to gather during this storm of change, they are overlooking the families that have been directly affected by violence, loss and unrest.

On top of all of the ever changing social climate, you have a highly charged election season in the US, Brexit in Europe and military coup attempts in Asia. It seems that you can’t turn on the TV or your phone or tablet and not be faced with massive shifts in the midst of extreme actions and dialogue.

What about the workplace?

You see, in the midst of all of this upheaval, these people are employees of some company or another. Please note that I’m not trying to belittle the social weight and implications of all of these events one bit. However, when the next tragedy hits the social media sites and airwaves, the prior one that still conjures up visceral emotions, is less visible and not as much of a priority as the newest occurrence.

And after whatever people are facing, they go back to work. They have to work through all of these emotions and also perform and produce. As HR practitioners, and as companies, we rarely walk into these situations head on. Instead, we hope that people cope and move on as soon as possible.

This has to stop.

Come TogetherIt is past time for the Human Resources profession to come together as one across the globe. This isn’t a time for self identifying whether you belong to Group A or Group Z. It’s a time for HR practitioners, and those who work with humans, to realize that we can be a bridge that will make a lasting impact on our employees who are either affected or dealing with these constantly changing social conditions.

We can’t keep being people wishing that things will be all right if we just passively sympathize and console people. It’s time for us to be intentional and strip away the practices that we think define who we are, and we should act as who we really should be – HUMAN RESOURCES !!

We should always be present and available for our people, but we aren’t. We spend so much time trying to categorize and place people into “controllable” environments and boxes when we could be spending our time in fostering and developing relationships.

I ache for all of the tragedy that is happening around me. It seems to be endless, and it may be. However, I choose to no longer just hope it will go away. We need to come together and be available for our HR peers, our communities and our workplaces. This isn’t something that is going to remedy itself by wishful thinking.

I don’t know exactly what this looks like, and it may be vastly different for each situation (as it usually is). But action needs to start now and continue going forward both personally, professionally and organizationally.

So, this week – step out, reach out and help me in making us come together !!

Sparklers and Candles !!

This past week we had an amazing celebration at work !! We had two Team Members retire which isn’t common at our company. We’re so fortunate to have a great culture where people work for us for many years. It’s a true anomaly in today’s workplace environment, but it’s a true differentiator for us.

One of our retirees worked for us 11 years and the other for 35 years !! During the celebration, one of the owners shared the following . . . “Companies have two types of people, sparklers and candles. The sparklers shine brightly and are brilliant, but only for a short time. The candles are steady and burn slowly over time. They may not get as much attention as the sparklers, but they are more reliable. You two have been great candles for our company, and we are better for the contributions you gave over time.”

They were some of the most poignant words I had heard to celebrate people. In HR we tend to focus on the sparklers in our companies because they appear to be more vibrant and exhilarating. We may call them different things like “high potentials”, but are we looking for a little wax that goes along with the shine? We need people who bring life, energy and light to our cultures. However, the candles of our companies do this every day.

CandlesWhere is your focus? Are you being asked by senior management to pay attention to the sparklers? What about your systems? Who do they recognize and highlight? I think most of us would see that we get distracted by a group that may not be with us for the long run.

The question that faces us is can you convert a sparkler to a candle? The answer is – it depends. It doesn’t depend on HR however. It depends on the employee. You see, everyone starts a new job/role with exuberance, anticipation and maybe even a bit of anxiety. People want to prove themselves and add value. They often burst onto the scene and everyone notices them. It’s hard to sustain this level of energy and you see them transform over time to either become a steady contributor who is part of the company fabric or they burnout. HR can step in and help encourage people so that their flame doesn’t extinguish.

We can do this because HR is the “keeper of the flame” of an organization. We have to be able to ignite people and let them sparkle as well as nurture them to make sure that flames don’t go out. In order to do this, we need to stay lit ourselves. Who are the candles of HR that you know? Who are peers in the field that you can connect to that will keep your candle burning?

We need to own this role of what we do for employees and our companies. We have the ability to help people continue to burn and thrive in what they do in their various roles. Light the flame of others and keep your eyes and focus on the candles all around you.

Your Stadium Moment !!

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but in case you missed it, I am a music freak !! I have music playing pretty much all throughout every day and in everything I do. There’s even a hashtag that a few of my friends and I started called #HRMusicShare on Twitter. It captures what people are listening to and it’s a ton of fun. Music is something that brings us all together.

During the summer, I get to enjoy my fascination with rock music even more because the community I live in has free outdoor concerts each week in several venues. My wife and I love to throw our chairs in the back of the car and go to catch two hours of tunes !! This week we went to a new venue and listened to a great cover band who played classic rock hits. They were tight as a band and they got the crowd out of their seats and out dancing.

While they were deep into their second set, the drummer, who was the leader of the band, shouted out over his microphone – “Who has seen our band play before ??” There was a “roar” from the crowd because many had seen them before. He said, “Thanks !!” (and then quietly) “I live for that.” It was his stadium moment !!

Rock Crowd from StageIf you’ve ever been to a rock concert, the front man usually yells out to the crowd, asks how everyone is doing, and then they wait for the swell of yells and screams as their response. They let it wash over them, and I have to think they are like the local band I saw and that they “live for that.”

HR practitioners need to have a stadium moment as well although most rarely experience one. Why is that? The key for me is that most of us are hesitant to take the mic and “be on stage.” I appreciate that we do better behind the scenes at most times, but we often blend in too much. HR in the shadows is limited in its exposure and its influence. So, you may not want to rock the boat, but you may not be rocking things at all.

We can also take note that our employees are looking for their stadium moments as well. We tend to downplay recognition and want to make sure things are more “fair” than over the top. Individuals deserve individual attention. The continue attempt to make all things fit all people has never worked, and it never will. Each person in your company brings a uniqueness to what they do. All together they make up an incredible ensemble. To do this they need someone to bring them to the mic as well. HR can be that person. Make the time to elevate the strengths and talents of all of those great people around you.

HR step out. Be bold. Look out over the crowd and take in all you see. It’s time for your stadium moment !! Go out there and seize it !!

 

Tall Tales !!

This weekend my wife and I had a date night seeing the musical, Big Fish, which was based on the novel and movie of the same name. It was a spectacular performance that captured you from the moment it began.

A quick summary . . .

The story contrasts the relationship of a father and son who have completely different perspectives on life. The father spins incredible tales where he is the hero. The son is cynical and skeptical about all of the amazing adventures of his father. He can’t fathom why his dad takes things and blows them out of proportion with endless exaggeration. The son wants life to be rational, logical and linear. This difference pulls them apart almost to the point of ruining their relationship.

Throughout the musical, my wife kept nudging me sharply in the ribs. You see, I am a storyteller. I always have been and actually took a class in college to learn how to interpret and share stories. I believe that you can make almost any situation come to life. It’s intriguing though to see how others view this. In the workplace, most people want you to “get to the facts” because they feel that other items outside of this are a waste of time. Their time.

Isn’t it interesting that we feel that time is wasted only if it affects us personally? I understand that people are self-centered, but there has to be a way around this. I don’t think you have to settle on this as a barrier. If we succumb to allowing everyone to be self-centered, you end up with a workplace made up of fierce individuality and no collaboration. People need to work together. You can’t avoid it.

When you go to conferences, or other HR events, you see people drawn to people who are storytellers. In fact, people will listen to those types of sessions even if they have little content. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you should ever go to sessions that don’t have content. However, when everything is facts, numbers, quotes and rational thought, it’s just dry. It’s accurate and relevant but lifeless.

In HR we tend to get frustrated because we keep taking a rational approach first. We wonder why people don’t just “get it” and stay within the parameters we establish. They work on paper every time, but fall apart once you introduce them to humans. I love this and think it’s fascinating because instead of trying another approach, we build more and more policies and procedures thinking that we’ll have an intricate enough structure which will finally limit and control behavior.

Stories CupsTry stories because they work. When we were children our parents read us stories to expand our vision and horizons. Weaved within these tales were lessons of do’s and don’ts that applied to our life at that formative time. We think those work for kids, but are senseless for adults. Organizations take great pride in beating the child and the fun out of people because we expect them to come to “work.”

Let me clear something up. You can’t get people to be stronger performers when you wrap things in stories. We love to hear tales of how to do things, and do them well. We also love to hear of magnificent failure and how to learn from it. We talk about engagement of others, but we need to be engaged ourselves first.

This week lead with a story. Share an experience. Tell a tall tale. Watch what happens when you see someone start to pay attention when they were indifferent in the past. Their interest will peak and they will hang on your words as you spin a story to make what they do come to life. I guarantee you will also enjoy what you do more as well. HR deserves life in all it does. Bring it !!

 

The Second Day

Have you ever started a new job? Do you remember what it was like? I remember anxiety about what I wore, how to drive to the office, where to park and what would happen. You weren’t sure who you were going to meet and wondered what they’d think about you. What would your work space look like? Where do you eat lunch and when do you do that?

The are countless questions and thoughts that run through your head. Most of them also assume the worst even though nothing has even happened yet. After you settle in the parking lot wondering if you’re in someone’s space, you hesitantly go to the front door and the receptionist. All of a sudden you’re warmly greeted and they call into your new boss who comes out and takes you to their office to explain how your first day will unfold. Your shoulders relax and you let out a heavy sigh. The first day then flies by with the mandatory HR paperwork, a tour of the company, multiple introductions to people who say their name too quickly, and then you land at your desk. Lunch is still a mystery because you seemed to either miss it or work through it. Then, the commute home.

You’re all geeked up after a positive experience on day one. You liked the majority of people you met. The work seems to match what you heard in the interview and you dig your new boss.

Day 2Then the second day comes . . .

You’re first day fears have been squelched and you are comfortable with the commute and how to get into the building and to your desk. Oddly, no one is there to greet you and the receptionist is already up to their eyes in guests, calls and e-mails. You go past your boss’s office and they wave, and say “We’ll talk later” – which never happens. You go to your desk and you have to figure things out on your own. You still don’t know what to do about lunch.

Sound familiar ?? It happens every, single day in companies across the globe regardless of industry. No one ever explains the existence of “assumed culture.” This is where we just think employees will “get it” because we don’t want to spend time with them because we’re too busy with our own work. When we miss those new folks they start making decisions as to whether they’ll stay or not much more quickly.

I’m heading to the SHRM Talent Conference and I’m geeked !! I think the sessions will be great and I’m looking forward to meeting new HR folks from around the country. I’m also sure that the majority of sessions will encourage HR to look at employees as “talent” because we honestly don’t. We are still stuck in the mire of filling job requisitions and keeping hiring managers calm. Also, the focus will be on the front end of the business or attracting and recruiting people.

Until we start viewing ALL employees as “talent” within our organizations, then our labeling of them will not change. I received some great advice from my boss when I started in my current role some 10 years ago. He wanted HR to be with employees for their entire life cycle – from candidate until the time they leave the company. He wanted to make sure that people didn’t get lost on Day Two.

This is another opportunity and reminder that HR needs to firmly be focused on people and not processes such as on-boarding. New employees aren’t things and tasks and we need to keep that in front of us.

This week see who’s joining the company and make sure their first day rocks, but also greet them on the second day  . . . and every one after that so they know that they truly are the talent you sought in the first place !!

A Rocking Chair

This past weekend I was fortunate to be part of a celebration at work. It was a chance to say “Thank You” to a Team Member for an incredible accomplishment. One of our delivery drivers had decided to retire. This may seem like a normal occurrence in the life of a company, but when it happens at our company, it’s a big deal !!

This is true because we’re an anomaly in the restaurant industry. We have several Team Members who have many years of service which is fantastic. Yes, we have turnover but it’s not our focus. Celebrating folks who have 10, 15, 20,25 and more years of service is common.

This retirement celebration, however, set a new standard. You see we’ve been in business for 62 years and this Team Member has been with us for 55 of those 62 years !! That is ridiculous and phenomenal !! I knew he had been with us for a long time, but I had no idea it was this extensive. He started with us when he was 15 years old and has been taking care of guests for a lifetime – literally.

To get ready for this day, we asked around to see if there was anything we could get to commemorate his retirement. His wife was wonderful and she told us, “He’d like a rocking chair so he can sit on the porch and drink a Coke.”

55 years and thousands of hours of service, and he wanted a place to rest and reflect. Epic.

Rocking ChairsWe met at the restaurant where our driver had worked the majority of his time with us and we did our best to make it a surprise. The turnout of family, friends and co-workers was inspiring. So many people couldn’t wait to also say “Thank You.” As everyone gathered in a party room, we got the jet black rocking chair out of my car and walked through the restaurant. You could hear oohs and aahs as we walked by. I heard “look at that chair !!” and “I wonder who that’s for?”

It was so cool to witness. You have no idea how humbling it was to experience this anticipation as to how he’d react. I asked everyone to have a seat, said a few words of thanks and then asked our retiree to say a few words. He stepped up and was visibly moved. Very graciously he said, “I’ve enjoyed my time here and the people I’ve worked with. It’s been a great family to work for. I appreciate everyone coming out for this. Thank you.” That was it. Beautiful.

I asked him to try out the chair for pictures. He sat down, looked up at me and said, “Look at that, it fits just right !!”

Too often we overthink recognition when it comes to our Team Members. We put our focus on programs and not people. Recognition can be broken down into asking what matters to someone. The differentiator in how HR and companies approach this is whether or not you’re willing to allow individual requests. This takes more work, but it’s worth it.

It’s another example of how we complicate and layer HR when it is begging to be simplified. More does not mean better, it just means more. This week break the mold of conformity in recognition and look at the individuals you need to recognize instead.

Who knows? You might need to go out and buy a rocking chair.

A or B ??

Do you remember taking multiple choice quizzes and exams? I always enjoyed them more than essay questions because you could at least make a choice. Every so often though you’d have a quiz where the answer could be “a”, “b”, “c”, “a and b”, etc. That was difficult because you had to put more thought into your response versus rushing through the exam with your No. 2 pencil to just get done.

We like clarity in the workplace. We’d prefer to have things fall into a multiple choice format so that tasks and relationships would fall into place smoothly. This may work well with things and tasks, but it rarely is that clear when it comes to working with people. This is because people are so diverse in every way.

I heard some sage advice recently from my pastor who was talking about relationships. He stated that when it comes to interactions between people we can either choose “a” or “b” broken down like this . . .

A = Assume the worst and B = Believe the best

A or BIt floored me !! This is so true in our workplaces and especially in Human Resources. Far too often I think the majority of people choose to assume the worst in others. Even before any words are shared, we make assumptions about how the conversation is sure to progress. We get bogged down and think that every time we meet with someone it’s going to result in more work for us. The power of this negative approach is extremely hard to ignore. It’s also challenging because we “just know” that the person we’re interacting with is assuming the worst as well.

I’m a choice “b” person !! I honestly go into situations believing the best will happen. It’s something that was modeled by my parents and it always seemed to work and also felt natural. It’s odd that even as I type this I sense people reading this and being skeptical or cynical. Believing the best of others doesn’t mean being naive or Utopian. Let’s be honest about something – I know that people will disappoint me because I’ve disappointed others !! Choosing to believe the best does not mean to overlook situations or treat them at a surface level.

I just don’t think something bad is going to happen when I meet other people. In fact, if someone does disappoint and/or hurt me, I will still believe the best will happen the next time I meet with them. I have come across some people who want to intentionally try to not let me believe the best in them, but I try because I think they deserve it.

If you choose to believe the best, I promise you that HR will be great for you every single day. It doesn’t have to be a battle for you to choose “b” and not “a.” I think it’s key to surround yourself with others who believe the best. There may not be as many of us around, but there are quite a few. Connect with them and see how much this group will encourage you to keep believing.

So, here’s the test for you as you enter the workweek – “A” or “B” – what will your choice be ??