Be a Culture Maker !!

Do you remember when you were a little kid? If not, do you know little kids? I’m sure you do. Little kids are brilliant because they love everything around them. The world is a place to be explored, and they are filled with endless curiosity. They also have few, if any, lenses to help them define their world. However they process it, they’re comfortable with their assessment.

You see this when you ask them to draw or color something. If you give a child a blank piece of paper and some markers, crayons or paint, you never know what the final outcome will be !! After they passionately create their image, they eagerly hold it up to you for your approval. Your first instinct is to ask them what the picture is and they proudly declare, “It’s a pony !!” when it is a mish-mash of squiggly lines with no form, “proper” color usage or assignment. As their parent, you swallow the instant challenge to your logic because they’re your child and you affirm them. “That’s the best pony I’ve ever seen.” Then, you grab a magnet and place it on the refrigerator for everyone to see. You don’t hide their creation. You proudly display it . . . as you should.

Recently, my wife was cleaning out some boxes in a closet and she came upon some of those wildly imaginative creations our two kids (now in their 20’s) made when they were young. She snapped pictures of them and sent them out to everyone to ask who these brilliant artists were. The same exultation and joy they showed when they made these “pictures” decades ago came through their replies. They argued which one was the most creative and a friendly competition ensued. It was magnificent !!

Of course, seeing this interaction and freedom in creation reminded me of HR. However, my reflection wasn’t as joyful.

You see, we don’t allow the same creativity in our organizations as we do with young kids. Why is that? What are we afraid of? Would it be so awful if someone came up with an idea that fell outside the normal pattern of work? Do we think that someone will come up with something that will send the company in a tailspin if we allowed them unencumbered freedom?

It’s interesting, isn’t it? As HR professionals, we are the shepherds of a company’s culture. I actually contend we own the culture far more than senior management, but that is seen as a “coloring outside the lines” by many in our profession. We are much more content to take our place inside a corporate structure and act as culture constrainers vs. culture makers.

Don’t believe me? My wife was just given a policy at her work that ALL masks worn (due to the current pandemic) may be solid colors ONLY !!!!!!! Any pattern and/or writing is not allowed and you will be addressed if you dare cross this. So, is the emphasis to wear a mask to provide protection for yourself and others to promote a safe work environment? Or, is this yet another example of something that could have been addressed with a few conversations with the employees who were wearing masks that were acting as advertisements for something that went against the companies values or mission?

(Quick side note: This isn’t an argument about face coverings. It’s an example of how HR misses the boat on their actions in the context of the culture they have a chance to create. Back to the post . . .)

We should be culture makers !! We have the ability to give people permission to do their work in a variety of ways that don’t have to be prescriptive. I understand there may be methods and processes which are proven and work well. But, if no one ever steps back to evaluate, test and challenge those processes we end up with a group of people who go through the motions. Then we praise predictability, repetitiveness and normality. These, in turn, become the metrics for performance and the chance for innovation is impeded and discouraged.

This starts with us as HR practitioners. We have to get out of our rut and practice of confining people. It’s time to open the gates and allow people to have input, insight and ideas about how their job should be done. We should evaluate our processes and procedures to see if they give people the ability to fully engage and do their job, or if they’re just a set of do’s/don’ts. (They’re mainly don’ts by the way.)

I challenge you to start coloring like you did when you were a kid. Don’t worry if you stay in the lines or if the color you use is the “right” one. When someone asks you what you just created, say, “It’s a pony !!” even if they don’t see it. Trust me. The more willing you are to be creative and unconventional in HR, the brighter culture you will help create.

So, I’ll get the blank piece of paper and a bunch of crayons and markers. Let’s see what cultures we can make !!

Experience Needed ??

It’s hard to believe that I’m entering the 35th year of my career. I can distinctly remember the challenge of finding my first job. You see, I was trying to land a role in the newly renamed field of “Human Resources” before the internet was anything to be reckoned with. In fact, I went to a library on the campus of Ohio University at the beginning of my senior year and found a book called The Million Dollar Directory. It was a list of companies and their profiles. I picked out a list of 200 brand name firms and typed (yes, typed) a cover letter and resume for each one, and mailed them out.

I had to patiently wait for responses by mail. (yes, mail) Of the 200 letters I sent across the country, I received a handful of rejections and one positive response. I interviewed with this Fortune 500 giant and was fortunate to get hired. Did I mention that the country was in a recession when I was graduating from college? Also, unemployment was at a record high at the time. Sound familiar?

The one difference is that the company I joined was just starting to look for recent college graduates to join the recruiting department. I was the first college graduate they hired. Every other manager in the department had grown up by moving up the career ladder of the organization. I was an “experiment” in response to a directive that said that HR was going to start using the model the revenue-driving departments had used for some time. I was at the right place at the right time. I didn’t have any tangible experience. I just wanted to go into human resources.

I’ll never forget this story because it runs against the grain of ALL companies when it comes to hiring people. We continue to rely on old models and expectations with the myth of experience. If we review a resume that states someone has between “x” and “y” years of experience in a role, we attribute talent and skillset purely based on tenure at a company. That is the first hurdle candidates MUST pass in order to hit the next incremental step of consideration. If people can’t pass this barrier of chronology, then we keep digging until we find someone who matches.

You’d think after 35 years things would evolve. You’d hope that with AI, ATS, chatbots, digital methods, etc. we’d have moved the needle. We haven’t and, honestly, we refuse to because we feel if we eliminate the “experience” parameter then we’ll get a mish-mash of underqualified people. Here’s a more current example . . .

My son, Josh, graduated from Ohio University in 2019 with high honors. He’s a great, talented young man with a degree but he didn’t secure an internship or co-op during his time in college. I understand that is a choice, but again, there’s no measure as to what students did during internships. It’s just key for people to list one on their resume because it reflects . . . experience. This story isn’t true only for my son. It’s how HR and organizations continue to filter out new graduates, those trying to change industries, and people making career changes from one field to another.

When we were on a recent call, he was telling me the steps he was pursuing in his continued job search when he choked up a bit and said in frustration, “How am I supposed to gain experience if no one is willing to give me an opportunity?”

There it is. There’s the crux of this long-held myth. How does one gain experience to match the job requisition when companies aren’t willing to take the chance/risk on investing in someone first? We have all been lulled to sleep and complacency as business professionals because we’ve forgotten that when our careers began someone opened a door for us and invited us in. We lose sight of this because we’re working. I hate to be this candid – but if you have a job, you typically don’t care about those who don’t.

This has to change. There is no reason for people to continue to have to fight through unneeded steps in order to prove that they made it through some imaginary gauntlet and have earned the right to work for a company. It’s archaic and unproven. How can we state we are hiring for “talent” when we’re really looking for people to match buzzwords, overly complicated job descriptions and hidden preferences and biases in our current approach?

It’s time for all of us to open doors. As HR and talent acquisition professionals, we need to redefine the landscape that allows everyone access to jobs and then go through a process of consideration which measures aptitude, character, strengths and potential. We need to come to terms that we can train the details of the jobs they’ll take on. We’re going to anyway.

We should value the skills, knowledge and experience people earn over time. But, instead of playing organizational match game, we should see how we can take those attributes to our organization in order to have their talent move us forward by adding value. It’s time for this current generation of professionals in HR to change the landscape.

I’m not sure how it’s supposed to look. I’m not sure the facets needed to make a design that is inclusive, consistent, and accessible. I just know it can, and must, exist. I plan to start by opening doors for others. As an HR practitioner myself, I can reach out to job seekers and be a person who helps make connections in other organizations if I don’t have roles available myself. We have to think of others outside of ourselves and our companies. Think of how companies would excel if we opened doors to introduce them to talent all over because of the connections we have.

I hope someone opens a door for my son. I know that when it happens, he’ll remember his experience of landing his first job and he’ll open doors for others. You see, experience isn’t needed . . . genuinely helping others land in roles is !!

Don’t Be Sisyphus !!

How’s your new year shaping up? Is your plate full? Chances are it’s overflowing. I know this may be stating the obvious for most people. I’m not just referring to work either. Yes, work may take up the majority of your daily time, effort and attention. We need to remember that each person we encounter has their version of “life” going on. You may be addressing personal/family situations and struggles with spouses, partners, kids, or parents. You may be in between jobs now or you’d like to change your role/company if you had the chance. I’m not going to try and capture all that is in front of you. I’m just sure that you’re full (too full).

What’s interesting about being full at work is that we don’t view this positively. We complain. Incessantly. It’s true. So much of our daily routine includes bemoaning all that we have to do. On top of that, we complain about co-workers that are intertwined with our mountain of work. We exhale a gigantic sigh as if to get the attention of others so they can commiserate with us. Others follow this pattern and they grouse as well. For some reason, we find comfort in this mixing of conversations which look at all that is wrong with our day . . . because we’re full.

I remember a time when I went to a restaurant in downtown Cincinnati by myself (pre-COVID) to run an errand. It is a great, local Mexican place that I try to visit when I get the chance. I was by myself which is a rarity in itself. I ordered the daily special and found a table to sit in the middle of a full gathering who were “enjoying” their lunch break. Instead of scrolling through endless social media threads, I sat quietly and listened to the conversations of those around me. I know it’s a bit intrusive, but I curious to hear what others were talking about.

Every single conversation was negative. Every one. The people eating around me weren’t upset or animated. They were speaking at ease because this was, and is, normal for them – as it is for all of us. They were complaining about the work they had in front of them and the people that had to “deal” with in order to try and move forward. I’m sure there was a smattering of constructive input during the chats, but that was hard to assess. Since no one was phased by how the conversations occurred, I’m positive people went on with their day oblivious to the tone.

I understand that being full can be overwhelming, and it may even feel that we’re going to sink rather than swim. But, isn’t that a great position to be in? Seriously. When you are full, then, chances are, you’re either adding value or others are counting on you to come through because of your talent. So, we need to quit being Sisyphus !!

Illustration by Temujin Doran and Max Robinson

Who’s Sisyphus? He was a character in Greek mythology who was not a good king. His lifestyle of deceit and conniving angered the gods and he was given the task of rolling a massive stone up a hill with the hope that he’d clear the peak and the stone would roll down the other side. He would struggle and push against the boulder, but he could never clear the precipice. Oh, and he only has to push this immovable object up the hill . . . for eternity !! Sound familiar? THIS is how we sound when we talk about our work. We come off more like martyrs than contributors.

This needs to turn around and disappear. If we want to have people-centric organizations filled with performers, then we need to do all we can to destroy how work is talked about. And . . . it starts with us HR !! I understand that working with people can be daunting, challenging and even disheartening IF you view people as a problem first. Our mentality and mindset have to be reset. We must talk about how the work in front of us is an opportunity and not a burden. We must embrace the conversations we have with other employees as a chance to learn, hear new ideas and perspectives and work together collaboratively towards moving things forward.

I’m not a Pollyanna, but I am an optimist. I am grateful I am both full and overwhelmed with the good work I get to be a part of in my role. It’s very easy to go dark and complain. Very easy. I just choose not to. I plan to get that rock up over the hill so that I can see past the peak, go into the next valley and get the next boulder that is sure to be there.

If we would shift and become beacons of light as HR practitioners in our organizations, then others would see the great work they have in front of them positively as well. Organizations would thrive and cultures would improve. We’d actually have “best places to work” because you’d see people embrace their place as the talented people they already are. Be glad you’re full.

Too Much Time !!

This past Saturday is one of the most eagerly anticipated days of the year. No, not Halloween. It’s daylight savings time when we turn our clocks back for one hour. One hour. We get giddy about “adding” a single hour to our days. Most often it’s positioned so you can rest and get an “extra” hour of sleep. That’s cool, but I usually miss this because I think that having another hour lets me stay up later !! (I’m a night owl though.)

I’ve been spending some of this new found extra time contemplating why everyone gets so excited about daylight savings time. What I’ve landed on is that our days are so full that we want to feel some relief. Any relief. I’ve written about this in the past that most everyone you meet is exasperated all the time. They never feel that there are enough hours in the day in order to live life effectively.

This state of exhaustion has led to the work/life balance quest and other initiatives to see how we can squeeze one more minute out of our days. Our constant yearning for complete closure of every task and facet of our days seems unattainable . . . because it is !! There is value in completing tasks and getting things done. What we forget is that time never stops and neither does life. We live in a continuum and not a series of starts and stops. Layer on top of this that when we finish something, we’re devastated that another item looms in front of us. It’s easy to see how people can feel burdened and trapped by these feelings of incompleteness.

If you know me, or if you’ve read this blog for any time, you know that I look at life through a different lens. I feel I have too much time on my hands. (This is also a phenomenal Styx song by the way !!) It’s true and not because of the additional hour we celebrated.

I don’t feel pressed by the constraints of time. This isn’t some ethereal philosophy or aspiration. I choose not to be anxious about deadlines or schedules, but I make sure to follow them. They just don’t rule my day. Also, I have always believed people have the same amount of time in their days. It’s purely a matter of how you choose to use your time.

If you sat down and wrote ALL that you accomplished in your day from the time you get up until you sleep once again, you’d see how much is happening naturally each day. You may get anxious because of other pressures, but time continues whether you feel pressured or not. Also, if you wrote down the amount of time you spend on work, eating, social media, TV (or streaming services), conversations, etc., you’d be stunned at how your time is actually allocated.

Here’s an example . . .

Yesterday, before the hands of the clock jumped backward – I slept in and then got up to make a full breakfast for my amazing wife (including raspberry scones.) I did some chores around the house, signed some books to be sent out to some special folks, sent some messages and tweets to folks because I choose to be connected and active on social media, then made my way out to my “task” for the day. We have very mature trees surrounding our house and this is the time of year when I have to conquer the leaf blanket that covers our yard from corner to corner. The mulching of leaves, mowing of the yard and other lawn cleaning took five hours. I ached all over my body. However, the day was not even close to coming to an end.

I had a quick snack and some water before joining the weekly HR Pub Quiz that has been going each Saturday through the pandemic for an hour of trivia and laughs. Then came a quick reheating of leftovers, decorating a pumpkin and getting ready for trick or treaters to visit for the annual candy harvest of Halloween. After we had our last visitor, my wife and I watched a movie on Netflix for two hours and then decided to head to bed. The time change was still technically hours in the future.

See what I mean? A full day and that honestly doesn’t capture everything I did. The reason I feel I have too much time (and I do) is that I don’t spend my time on things that are negative, derogatory, or divisive. I don’t. You see, I think those things are a time suck that only leads to feelings of being overwhelmed.

You have a choice. Each person who reads this. Your time is your own even when it involves caring for a spouse/partner, kids, family, or your job. You can enjoy what you do while you’re doing it. When you do this and reframe your mental approach to what lies ahead, you’ll find that you have more time available than you thought you did. Try it and see what happens !!

To keep this front of mind, enjoy some Styx . . .

Against the Grain

I’m exhausted. I’m fairly sure if I asked you, that the answer would be the same. The past few months have been trying for everyone. The pandemic would have been enough for anyone, and now it seems to be gaining momentum which is going to prove to be another challenge. On top of the constant fight against the virus, there is legitimate social unrest, political disarray among other things. People seem to have blamed the year 2020 as the framework for wave after wave of discord. I don’t think the year is to blame, I think it’s us.

Everywhere you look people are making disharmony and divisiveness the norm. Remember several months ago when we wondered what our “new normal” would be? I don’t think this is what we expected. There are so many things that need to be addressed now that have been overlooked for far too long. I’m not going to be presumptuous and offer solutions for all that is surrounding us.

However, I can’t agree with the norm. I can’t partake in dialogue that seeks to only bring opposition. I can’t tolerate the incessant conversations that only seem to have the purpose of keeping people apart. Instead, I choose to go against the grain.

To me, it is far more important to believe in others than it is to focus on differences. I want to learn who people are and where they come from. I want to hear their perspectives and views on any subject they choose. I want to meet, connect, and understand anyone who is willing to do the same. Even those who think differently or come from angles I don’t personally agree with, I want to know them as well.

This isn’t just some personal crusade, mantra or lifestyle. I want to encourage others to do the same, but if they don’t I still plan to go against the grain. Instead of discord, I choose kindness. Instead of divisiveness, I choose to believe in others. Instead of opposition, I choose inclusion. This is true for me personally and especially at work.

As HR pros, we are surrounded by people all the time. I understand this may now be virtual for some, but it doesn’t change the fact that we are around others. Since that is the case, we should be the ones who choose non-conformity with all that is going on and do what we can to bring people together. I am astounded by the number of people who are struggling with various aspects of life and we would rather focus on completing tasks and measuring performance instead of ensuring the wellbeing of others.

Going against the grain takes discipline, an intentional spirit and courage to not bow down and join the forces trying to make life negative and frustrating. Being positive, kind and encouraging will not get the likes, retweets and self-focus that tries to dominate our attention. We cannot wait and continue to muddle through in the hope for relief. We must act and bring consistent positivity, kindness and encouragement through our behavior and our interactions.

I choose to go against the grain, do you?

Choose If/Then

One of my favorite activities around the house is to mow my lawn. I mean it. I enjoy it because it takes between 2 to 3 hours to do it. I’m a bit old fashioned in that I walk to mow. It’s incredible excercise which allows me to let my thoughts wander and have a good think.

As I was dripping with sweat this weekend taking my weekly lawn mowing jaunt, I was pieceing together something that has been troubling me lately with how people are choosing to interact in person, on line and through the media. More and more it seems that we are becoming an “either/or” society. Every situation and every issue tries to be dissected into two sides. The sentiment that is prevailing is that I either need to believe in what you believe, or I am adamantly against you.

It doesn’t help that we get snippets of information, or opinion, and we call that “news.” News that infuriates most and raises the temperature with every story that is shared. In looking at this, it shocks me how we take these tidbits of information and form full fledged approaches to our daily living. We have become so self-consumed and self-focused that anything happening around is also is either for us or against us.

I have never been comfortable with being presented with only two choices in life. To think that the amazing, complex, intricate and ever-changing world we live in can be simplified into such concrete black and white terms seems constricting and narrow. Truth be told, I think people want an “either/or” pattern in life because we don’t like variability. Each day we think our existence is to trod to work to fix everything because it’s ALL broken. (That’s not true, but we like to think it is because that’s how we find purpose in our work. That’s for another post some day.)

People also want to be “right” and have some sense of control. Uncertainity gives us the shakes and we want things defined. Change is our enemy even though change occurs whether we want it to or not. I’d like to offer a different approach to implement when it comes to facing each day.

Choose an “if/then” approach.

If you remember geometry, you had to figure out mathematical proofs using if/then statements. What this did was take the situation/circumstance/fact you start with and say, “If this . . . then that.” The then statement would give you options to consider. This method gives you the opportunity to take an objective look at things as they come forward.

A few weeks ago, my wife Debbie and I went on an Art Walk in Elk Rapids, Michigan. It was a meandering trail through a local park where artists had created and displayed their work. You had a flyer which led you from piece to piece and it was very cool and relaxing to see. The canopy of the trees provided a break from the heat and you could hear the rustling of leaves, the chatter of squirrels and the various calls of birds. It was a true escape. One of the sculptures we saw was called “Peace Signs” by Scott Froschauer and it captured my attention both because of the message as well as the if/then thinking. I was grateful to have a break from my normal overly full life to take this hike and discover a message that rang true with me. Normally, I would be consumed with the day-to-day pull for my energy and attention and may have missed this literal signpost which caused me to pause.

This coming week what would happen if you adopted some if/then approaches to all you do both at work and at home? Here are some I’ve been trying:

✦ If I take time to talk to my neighbors more intentionally, then we may have a true neighborhood.

✦ If I make sure to interact with my peers at work all the time, then we would communicate better and not just meet because of “issues.”

✦ If I choose to listen to those who disagree with me, then I may learn a new perspective to consider.

✦ If I encourage others on purpose, then they may have a better day then they were expecting.

The opportunities are endless. The key to an if/then approach is that it focuses on action and movement. I choose to do this so I can be positive regardless of the constant push of darkness, gloom and cynicism which keeps trying to swallow us all.

If you’ll take this new approach, then think of how each day you have will be better for you and those around you !! Peace.

Discipline(d)

I’ve been trying to read more and listen to more podcasts because I enjoy hearing the perspectives of others. My hope is to learn from what they are experiencing. In the midst of this when I listen to the HR voices, I see a common thread of reverting to creating and developing mountains of policies in order to address the current work environment and situation.

There are blogs and webinars about Return to Work policies. Now that we’re seeing that uncertainty is becoming more of the norm, there are more calls for discipline and punishment for those we KNOW are falling outside the boundaries we expect them to stay in. We keep striving for control and a lack of variablity in a time when variability is the norm !!

If you lead with “policy” as your first step, then I contend you’re completely missing the people aspect of your work. This is more reflective of how your company, and HR, truly view those who are your “greatest asset” on every mission statement adorning every company lobby. It continues to astonish me that people feel if we punish, address and confine people more tightly, then we’re sure to get the behavior we expect.

This has NEVER worked, and it NEVER will !!

I can already hear the traditionalist espousing that without stringent policies for every aspect of a person’s work life, abject chaos is sure to occur. They’re already listing one hundred HR horror stories of what happened when policies weren’t forcefully enacted. That has been their experience when working with people. This is flat miserable HR in my opinion, and I want to offer a different way to look at how discipline could occur in your organization.

Be disciplined first yourself.

It sounds simple and trite, but it takes incredible effort and energy. People struggle with being personally disciplined. We have no problem citing chapter and verse and then eagerly running to grab the form we spent days creating to make sure it was perfect in every possible way so we can enforce what is truly needed to maintanin order. That is simple.

Being disciplined yourself calls for you to be consistent, approchable, and willing to coach up rather than punish. There are many other ways to be disciplined physically, emotionally and spiritually. What I’d like you to consider is being displined yourself so you have to discipline others less.

Let me ask you this . . . Do you interact with others because you “can” or because you “have” to? Do you only spend more than 30 seconds with someone because of some assumed problem? Do you spend time with people because they’re great humans who come to work every day to do their best?

The number one reason I’m in HR is that I have the joy of being with people every day on purpose. That’s not some idyllic motivational aspiration. It’s a fact. People are amazing, messy, wonderful, challenging, inspirational, curious beings who seek to add value and be acknowledged – just like you are. We forget that everyone is a person.

You see, by being self-disciplined in how I view others, I can see the best in them. By working on being consistent, intentional and approachable, I can enter any interaction between two or more people with confidence. The approach is to have a conversation and assess what’s in front of us. If someone has gone out of bounds, then I coach them back in. Along with that I explain that if they choose to keep going out of bounds, there will be consequences.

I understand the need for parameters and definitions for how to work well, and I believe in them. What I don’t believe in is an archaic system built on punishment. I know people will disappoint me just as I could disappoint others. However, making the time to invest in others to learn who they are, what they’re interested in and how they’d like to perform well leads to a culture where hard core disciplining of others diminishes. It does.

When people know they’re valued by you and the organization, they are more likely to perform.

What would HR look like for you if you followed the expectation of pouring into others because they came to work that day? No other reason. You intentionally interactied with everyone you encountered just because. No agenda. No yearn to get in, get out and get back to your other tasks. Instead, you made the time to converse because you could. If you have to jump into a conversation more around the work at hand, fine, but don’t make that the reason you start the conversation.

I’m telling you if you developed this discipline, you’d start to believe in others and expect they would give their best. HR would then become the profession you’d always hoped it would be !!

This week start being discipline(d) yourself and see people for the great contributors they always have been !! You’ll soon be astonished how full and rich your days become.

Untangle the Knots !!

I don’t know what the weather has been like where you are, but it’s been extremely hot and humid where I live. It’s the kind of humidity that feels like you’re constantly swimming through thick steam. Even though it’s so moist and sticky, life continues and chores need to be tended to around the house.

I live in the suburbs and am fortunate to have an 1/2 acre lot with very mature trees. Our house seems to be an animal sanctuary because we have birds of every sort, squirrels, rabbits, and deer. We don’t have a “wooded” lot, but we still regularly get deer who travel through to eat the bird seed and chew on different vegetation. We are trying to grow two types of tomatoes and some green peppers in planters out on our back patio. The tomato plants were full of the first round of tomatoes, and I was set to harvest them the following day when they were all gone !! I’m sure our friendly deer had a nice snack.

We don’t mind having the deer come through because we had babies born each year for the last four years. I saw a new fawn just yesterday and we’re geeked that another new life has joined us. I did want to try to also enjoy our vegetables, so I went out to put a fence up to surround all of the plants. The fencing and the posts went up easy enough and I had some twine to secure the posts to the fencing. When I tried to get enough twine to cut pieces for the many posts, all I found was one giant knot. It took forever to even find an end to work from.

I started finding an end and then decided to take the time to remedy this giant intertwined mess. Did I mention it was hot? I was determined. I stood with the sun beating down on me trying to untangle the knot so the twine could be used for it’s given intention. As I slowly worked loop after loop through each other, my thoughts made me feel that this situation was very similar to everything that is going on around us.

People are all in knots over a variety of large scale, societal issues on top of all of the knots I’m sure they’re facing in their personal life. When we get bound up we don’t like it. We respond in a few ways to try to get things back in order. We fight against each strand which inevitably leads to more and more knots magically forming. Everything seems to constrict into tighter and tighter circumstances. Another response is to stop moving. The entanglement seems too daunting and we don’t have the energy to address anything, so we stay put. The third response is to just cut the knotted section out. Instead of trying to work through things, we hit a point where we feel that just cutting the knotted section out will fix everything. It never does.

I heard Trevor Noah the host of The Daily Show make an astute observation that he feels Americans look at things from only two sides. There’s only one choice or another, and when we only have those options they are automatically pitted against one another. We have lost sight of nuance and the inherent variety we have as people. When we limit our choices in life to either/or then we are doomed to become entangled and knots start forming. Our reactions are then in front of us – try to work it out, stop moving or just cut those that disagree with us out of our lives.

To be specific in today’s climate I agree that racism shouldn’t exist in any form in our communities, our workplaces or our approaches toward each other as humans. Also, we all want to feel safe, healthy and for the pandemic to end. Fear and uncertainty seem to be the prevalent leading emotions to every conversation and interaction. My hope is that we see that even in these difficult times, there is room for nuance, dialogue, opinion, action and diversity. There is no one way to address these items. There are a myriad of approaches and I’m encouraged that people are trying to take steps forward.

I was reminded of an Ernest Hemingway quote from his book, The Old Man and the Sea, which felt like it fit all that’s in front of us these days. Here it is . . .

One of the main causes of the knotted experience I’m seeing between people is that we focus on what we don’t have currently in place. We don’t look at our circumstance and environment and see what we can do with what exists. I think we need to find the end of the twine and work together to see how we can come together to untangle the many knots facing us.

I am willing to stay open minded to hear from others because they’re perspective may get one loop, or many, free and help us make progress. The key is knowing that this isn’t a program only in response to heightened emotions. It’s the first step in both moving forward AND connecting us more intentionally.

This week take a look at where knots are happening for you at home, at work, with your family and with your friends. Reach out and say that you’d like to do what you can to untangle the knots. You’ll be glad you did !!

Hello in There

This on-going pandemic is pressing in on people from all angles. It is causing distrust, angry comments, judgement and assumptions. People run the spectrum from full lockdown to unprotected flaunting. Throw in the middle of this that we have lost the ability to seek context or have discussions anymore. People take a thread of information or an image and make comments based on where they stand on an issue insisting that others absolutely agree with them. It’s exhausting and it doesn’t feel like we can treat each other as people anymore. We have decided to judge people based on taking sides.

Honestly, I feel people are doing this because they care. I don’t think its malicious or mean spirited (in most cases). People want to be seen and heard. This isn’t a new sentiment. It just happens to be front and center in almost every interpersonal interaction. I wanted to frame how I’m seeing, and experiencing, communication before sharing a story. It’s a story that has more meaning now to me than it did ever in the past . . .

A few weeks ago, my daughter came home to visit and see her friends. They discussed this beforehand and made sure they were being responsible where and when they met. She felt compelled to come back because one of her dearest friends just got engaged and she wanted to congratulate both of them in person. Since I had her home, I did what I had been taught – use her help with chores around the house. My daughter has always been fit and athletic and I could use her muscles to get some things attended to. We had a ball fixing a split rail fence, visiting the hardware store all masked up multiple times (because you never get everything on the first trip), and catching up on how life is going.

When she got back to her home in Indianapolis, she texted, “Dad, I’m becoming like you because you fix things for your mom and dad when you go visit them.” I beamed through glistening eyes. The next phases of our lives were in process. The following weekend, I went home to Ada, Ohio to visit my elderly parents. I am the trustee of their lives now, and they can’t sign certain things without me present. Again, we checked with each other to make sure everyone was healthy and safe before I trekked north.

I made it up for the day and went to a bank to sign some papers. Here’s where reality hits. I drove my parents over to Kenton, Ohio which is about fifteen minutes away. They felt I was putting them out, but I reassured them I was fine and glad to be their Uber. As we arrived, we masked up and I needed to assist my father who walks with canes and can’t see well at all. My father is now legally blind, and I had to help guide him the one block to the bank. When we were signing papers, I gently guided his hand to the line on the forms to fill in his signature. I had to repeat what the banker was saying because my mom is losing her hearing. My dad is a talker and he likes to connect and spin a yarn with everyone he encounters. He tried to do that with the young banker, but he was disinterested and just wanted to get through the task at hand. I’m sure he wanted to leave the bank as quickly as he could to get back to the family activities he was anticipating for the weekend. I could see my mom was hurt that the banker was impersonal because that just isn’t who she is.

I was the mediator and kept things moving. I chuckled at my dad’s stories and memories because they’re really funny, and I reassured my mom that we were getting everything taken care of. We went back to their house, had an incredible meal of homemade potato soup with sausage links, and then headed to the project list for the day. My mom wanted me do three things: (1) Put a new rope on a flag pole out front so they can fly the American and Ohio flags, (2) Clean out the gutters and fix some seams, and (3) Install a window air conditioner in one of their rental apartments. No big deal – right?

We took each task one by one, visited the local hardware store where my mom has a basket filled with homemade masks, she sewed which are free to the citizens of Ada, and got everything completed by dinner time. We laughed, caught up on life and talked about my remaining aunts and uncles’ health. Dinner was special because we ordered carryout pizza from their favorite local haunt. I was spent after it all but drove home satisfied knowing that a few hours with my parents helped them close out tasks that were on their mind.

This pandemic has kept us away from each other which has allowed us to be safe and evaluate how we can better connect and interact. I feel that for too long the incessant, rapid pace of life made almost every encounter with people trite and trivial. We were too busy to invest our time in others. One of the fallouts of being apart has been that older people are isolated even more than they already were. Now that we’re trying to maneuver our way through how we’re going to be around each other again, we can’t go back to the brush by approach.

I hope we’ve realized that we’ve always had time for others. Now we have a chance to pour into people in a more constructive way. You need to realize you work with, and possibly live with, people who are aching to connect and be recognized. They want to talk, see you and share stories that may have no significant meaning to you but mean the world to them.

This coming week, I want you to stop and assess how you can make time for others on purpose. Are there elderly people who could use a smile and an hour of your time? You need to be safe and follow guidelines so that someone isn’t put at risk, but you don’t have to avoid others. Wouldn’t it be great to know that every person around you had someone check in on them? Wouldn’t it be amazing to know that every person in your life felt connected, not alone and cared for? Take the time to say, “Hello in there” and let people know that you’d love to spend some time with them.

Praise You !!

This weekend my wife and I took a road trip. We did it for two reasons. One was to get out of the house and just see the world around us. She noted as we were driving that she hadn’t left the house except to go to the grocery store for a month. I was glad I could get her out for a drive. The second reason was more important to be honest. Our daughter lives in Indianapolis and we live in Greater Cincinnati. We’re about two hours from each other. She agreed to meet us halfway to have lunch in a parking lot.

We drove to Batesville, Indiana and met at the LaRosa’s Pizzeria. Yes, it’s one of the locations of the company where I work and it’s also a fave for our family. I was able to run in and check on our Team Members, and get some great food to have brought out to our cars. We never left our car to get close to our daughter because we wanted to maintain social distance and she also works in healthcare. She’s on the front line working with people who are recovering from COVID-19 as an occupational therapist.

It was so great to see her in person !! We’ve been having video chats with both of our kids because we all live in different parts of the country, and we want to stay as safe as possible. We spent an hour and a half talking, checking on her and listening to real world stories of lives being affected. We asked about her co-workers and many of her closest friends who are also in healthcare at various hospitals.

I made sure to do one more thing while I had Melanie “close” to me. I thanked her for all she’s doing. I told her how proud her mother and I were of her going into work everyday during this turbulent time. She appreciated it and said, “Dad, this is where I should be.” (Yes, I got weepy.)

I am so pleased with how people are praising those who are working in all types of industries to help us cope with all that’s going on. People are actually thanking folks they typically ignore. It’s needed now AND into the future !!

You see, we tend to react at heightened levels when situations directly affect us. We’re taking time to thank healthcare workers and deeming them as heroic (which is true !!) We’re thanking those working in restaurants, grocery stores, sanitation, emergency services, education, etc. It’s wonderful to see and it’s also overdue.

We should be grateful and appreciative of every person for the job they do. It shouldn’t occur only because we’re in the thick of a crisis. As the countries around the world are now getting agitated and impatient about not being able to break out of isolation, I’m concerned that when we go back to our normal patterns, this outward level of praise will subside. And, it will subside quickly.

I’m concerned we’ll fall back into our patterns of complaining about our commutes, the co-worker we’ll talk “about” but not to, as well as the things about our job we don’t enjoy. Yes, we want to get back to work and I hope it happens soon as well as safely. The question is – Will we relapse?

You see, when you see parents with kids giving praise is easy. We encourage our kids at every step of any activity. We do this because we want them to respond and understand they’re learning skills and reaching accomplishments. As we grow older, we forsake that pattern and expect people to “get to work” and “stay focused.” Our days are filled with far more converstations that tear people down, and we focus on what isn’t being done versus anything that is being accomplished.

This tidal wave of praise needs to become our norm in every workplace, every industry, every school and every family !! I know that’s a bold ambition, but you have to understand the power of praising others. I heard a person describe praise as “accelerated, amplified gratitude.” How cool is that ??

I am grateful for my daughter and for every person who is working at this difficult and uncertain time. My plan though is to continue to praise everyone for all they do every day. Every. Day. I encourage you to do the same. Let’s not relapse ever again. Value the people in your life for all they do !!

I want to leave you with two reminders going forward. One is the great effort from Workhuman where you can thank healthcare workers. Their effort is called “Thank You Healthcare “. Just click on the title and you can sign up to share some praise and gratitude. Secondly, we all need music to remind us to take action so I leave you with Fatboy Slim . . .

(One thing to note – the people who filmed the video did this as an impromtu flash mob. They’re regular people willing to be bold and express themselves. Note that someone tries to stop them because they’re not acting as they “should” but they aren’t swayed in the least. Enjoy !!)