All the Verts !!

This past week has been an interesting week of interactions. They ranged from conversations in my office to various connections on-line in social media forums. I tend to take in as much as possible on a regular basis because I enjoy all of the contact. Yes, I am an extrovert. In fact, when I’ve taken assessments that measure this, I’m off the chart. That isn’t always a good thing.

I only mention that because my extroversion is only one small facet of who I am. We tend to take our “vert” and use it to lead in describing us as people. This is solid because it’s a fact. However, we often use it as a label to explain what we’re not instead of highlighting who we are. Knowing who we are is essential because self-awareness, in my opinion, is the baseline of healthy relationships, interactions and even leadership !!

One of the unexpected interactions this week was from my friend Paul LaLonde. He just started a new blog called the HR Philosopher and he described how we met each other in person at last year’s SHRM Annual Conference. I love that he described me as “a giant man with a booming voice and a tie-dye shirt” because it makes me smile. He also shared how he stepped out of his comfort zone to be intentional that we met. I love this because I’m the opposite. If I see you in a room, I want to meet you.

The reality of your “vert” is that it drives how you process thought, how you tend to communicate and how you approach meeting others and the relationships you develop. Your vert is your lead in. That is spectacular and not a hindrance. Respecting that people land all across the scale of extroversion and introversion is imperative because we start interactions based on who we are and regardless of who the other person is. I would challenge you to not charge, or creep, into interactions. Feel things out. See if there is receptivity in initiating contact. It’s safer for all the verts to do this.

The other unexpected connection I made this week was listening to a podcast. I love listening to the HR Social Hour 1/2 Hour Podcast because it features fellow HR practitioners. You get to learn about them more as people including how they arrived in the field of HR, their varied experiences and some personal faves in movies, TV and music. This week’s episode featured Natasha Desjardins, an HR pro in the non-profit sector in Washington, D.C. She lit up the microphone with excitement and passion which was an instant draw for me personally.

She shared an incredibly profound statement which she stated is a personal philosophy that she has adopted which is an African proverb – “I am because WE are.” She described it so well stating that who she is as a person is because of all of the great variety of people in her life that are connected to her. She never said, “Because I’m an ______vert . . . We are __________verts.” Her joy about how she is intentionally connected to others was spectacular to hear. Honestly, I clapped in my car when the episode ended.

This week enjoy the interactions with everyone you encounter because of who they are and not because of some label !! We are far more than our “verts”, but we are also who we are because of them. Connect on purpose my friends. Show others how amazing the whole you really is !!

(P.S. – Start by connecting with Paul and subscribing to his blog and listen to Natasha on the podcast. You’ll be glad you did !!)

Tradition !!

This past week my wife and I went to see Fiddler on the Roof as part of the Broadway Series in Cincinnati. We love seeing live theater, and this is honestly one of my favorite musicals ever !! This version did not disappoint either. It had your attention from the moment the lights went down until the cast was “walking” out of their town of Anetevka to end the musical.

If you’ve never seen this great musical, I would highly recommend it. It has a great story line and the songs are all very memorable. The show starts with the powerful song “Tradition” where the various members of the little town in Russia during the turn of the 20th century all sing about their designated role. The main character, Tevye, is both narrator the one who carries the torch of tradition for himself, the townspeople and especially his five daughters.

During the opening song, Tevye has a line that says, “You may ask, ‘How did this tradition get started?’ I’ll tell you. I don’t know.” That seems to be the case with most traditions whether they be ones you have in your family or those within organizations. Even though we may not know the origin of traditions, we follow them fully just as they do in the show . . . at least for a while.

You see, I think there is value in tradition. Many people get this mixed up with the practice of doing things the same way because that’s “the way things have always been done.” If you come across this type of stagnation, then you have to challenge it and/or change it in some way. There is a natural change that happens in companies just due to the fact of the passing of time and the addition and deletion of people. Any time you get new folks involved on work and projects, change occurs simply because they aren’t the people who were involved in the past.

Traditions have their place in companies because they can give you a picture of what has worked in the past. Remember, you can always learn from the past. You just can’t constantly dwell in it. Traditions are an essential part of a company’s culture. They give flavor, distinction and help shape the fabric of what your company offers. These on-going facets are those that critical components of retention. Traditions can be a very positive aspect if they are healthy, living and inclusive.

The key movement in the musical is also a great lesson for us as HR professionals in organizations. Tevye wants to desperately hold on to the traditions of his past that you assume happened for generations. His daughters challenge him in every way and break with tradition by choosing a spouse when spouses had been traditionally agreed upon by the father and another family. He reluctantly gives in on the three who choose a partner because he sees all sides of what the change will bring. This includes the hope that his daughters would benefit from breaking with tradition.

We should look around within our companies to see what traditions need to be tweaked or altered all together. One reason for this is that making changes will allow for diversity to be present on purpose. You can seek the input of others and make sure the voices of everyone have a chance for input. The goal would be for them to benefit from the changes that happen.

Traditions are all around us and we can benefit from having them personally and in our companies. The key is to make sure they are current and relevant. Know why and how you have the traditions that make you great !!

Weathering the Storm !!

This past weekend we were caught off guard. Our winter in West Chester (just north of Cincinnati) has been unseasonably mild. There have been a few cold days sprinkled in through December and January with far more rain than frost or snow. People were getting comfortable with the higher temperatures, and it lulled us to sleep.

We received a notice of a winter storm warning, but we were skeptical. Many, many times our meteorologists make predictions of doom and destruction while a dusting of snow barely covers the tips of the grass. We had 3 to 4 inches fall between Friday and Saturday which is a nuisance, but it didn’t shut things down (as the local news outlets had hoped). Overnight we were supposed to get 1 to 2 more inches. Not really something to fret over.

View of our backyard !!

Waking up this morning, we were truly surprised. We didn’t get 1 to 2 inches we got 8 inches !! THAT shut things down to start the day. I was planning to head to church and my son was planning on leaving to return for his final semester of college. I did get out on the road, but it was very tentative. I grew up in a part of Ohio that was used to many inches of snow. So, I’m pretty comfortable driving in snowy and icy conditions. Many, however, aren’t. Whenever snow hits here, you’ll see several cars spin out, swerve off the road or get crinkled by running into something or someone.

The experience I had this weekend is typical of most situations we face personally and in our organizations. We hear warnings and we may, or may not, heed what’s predicted. The signs of a challenge are all around us, but we don’t think things will be “that” bad. We take the chance that we can get through whatever comes, and many times we can.

However, there are storms that do hit very hard. These usually are unpredictable and the circumstances and situations can seem insurmountable. Whenever storms do hit, you have some choices you can make.

Stay Inside

It’s an option most choose. There is safety in making this choice because you’re in the surroundings where you’re most comfortable. You also probably stocked up and have all of the supplies you need. There’s nothing wrong with staying warm and cozy.

Get Overwhelmed

I hate to be negative, but storms can bury you. That’s a reality. If a storm presents itself to be so large as to overwhelm you, make sure you have a lifeline to get help. Trying to tackle life on your own is reckless. There’s no value in being a martyr who has every burden stack on them time after time. I realize that people are more isolated than ever these days. Change that and reach out to connect with folks who will be there when the storms hit.

Venture Out

You can grab a shovel and take on the conditions that attempt to keep you stymied. It’s not easy to dig out, and it will wear you out. It’s hard to face challenging conditions. At times though, we need to go through the storm in order to get to the other side which will be even brighter than anything the storms throws at us.

Storms happen. We don’t look forward to them, but that doesn’t stop them from coming. As an HR professional, remember this because you are surrounded by people that are either in the midst of storms, or one is on the horizon. You have the chance to help them with their choice when it hits. You can help them hunker down and stay safe. You can offer empathy and support to help them not to get overwhelmed. You can also encourage them and stand with them as they venture out to face the storm swirling around them.

I don’t think there’s an option to avoid and let people just slog through storms. We need to respect how much a person is willing to let us assist them, but just leaving them alone isn’t acceptable in my opinion. You may be the ONE person who makes a difference because you chose to care.

I think HR folks should venture out !! This week take a look at those you work with and assess the weather. You need to be ready because a storm is sure to be on its way . . .

Follow the Flow !!

If you’ve been reading my blog for any time, you know that I’m sort of an HR hippie. I love tie-dye clothes, psychedelic classic rock and  . . . lava lamps. Now, you need to understand that this isn’t a “new” phase for me. These things have been an interest of mine for decades. The difference that exists is that those interests are also something that defines me. I surround myself with these components in my work space, and I am more than willing to share how they keep me at ease.

Over the past few years, I’ve taken the lava lamp mantra out with me during presentations at HR conferences. It’s not uncommon for me to have a lava lamp going while I’m speaking. Most of the time, I give this great piece of lighting away to an attendee. My only requirement if someone wins a lava lamp is that they actually use it in their office. They need to take it to work, turn it on and send me a picture of it in action. What’s so cool about this is that everyone who has won a lava lamp has added it to their office and has sent me a picture as evidence.

Now, the coolest thing is happening in workplaces across the globe. HR peers have been getting their own lava lamps, taking pictures and letting me know about it on Facebook, Linked In and Twitter !! It is surreal. What gets me geeked is what they say for reasons to get a floating masterpiece themselves. The descriptions range from just wanting to have something colorful in their office to stating that it was a reminder to have a positive outlook about HR and towards employees.

The more pictures I’ve received made me think about why this simple object is having such an impact. You see, I think HR people are often tired and on the edge of being burned out. The constant push and pull of interactions with people can drain you. This doesn’t have to be the case, but I get it because it’s something that is a constant force that pushes against me as well.

Since that is the case, I recommend that you “follow the flow” and surround yourself with items that give you a sense of serenity and calmness. I’m sure you have interests that could give you some much needed peace during your hectic day. You need to take care of yourself in the midst of taking care of others. There are far too many folks in HR who skip taking care of themselves. This is a simple release and a small respite. Remember, it’s small things that make a difference far more than massive shifts.

Here’s a picture from my office. When things get pressured and hectic, I look to my right and see the blobs of lava serenely moving up and down and I exhale. For me it’s perfection. (The Magic 8 Balls are a bonus too, but that’s a post for a different time.)

This week take a second and reflect to see if you have something in your work space that provides a healthy diversion to recalibrate your day. It’s simple to do. I, of course, would highly recommend getting your own lava lamp. In this way we can change HR, and the workplace, one lava lamp at a time !!

 

Leo

This past weekend I stepped out of my normal surroundings and into my past. My wife and I, along with two other couples, went to visit another couple, Clay and Kelly in rural Carroll County, Ohio. They live in a wonderful house located on a 400 acre farm. It’s a beautiful landscape made up of rolling hills, streams, fields of grain, cattle along with a few chickens.

This was a step into my past because I grew up on, or around, farms. My grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins have  run farms for generations. I loved farm living because you were outside between 90% to 95% of your day. My imagination ran wild as I created worlds around me by playing in pastures, fields and barns. I fondly remember helping out where I could with chores, fixing things and hanging around the various barn animals.

That brings me back to this weekend. I took in every, single moment and loved once again being outside with the sights, smells and sounds of the farm. I even got to make a new friend – Leo !! Leo is one of the steers on the farm who loves to eat treats from your hand. It was great to hear him eagerly moo as he quickly skipped up to the fence to say, “Hi !!”

What does this trip have to do with HR ?? – Everything.

You see, my friend Clay is a fellow HR practitioner who also farms. Kelly is a nurse who also farms. If you met them in their “normal” job, you wouldn’t readily know much more about their lives unless they shared it with you.

We are surrounded by people each and every day, and yet  we know so little about each other. If we were honest about it, we don’t really want to know because having conversations about someone’s life outside of work would cut into our “precious” time. Isn’t that sad?

I know that this type of time investment has been a regular theme of mine lately. I think that’s because I know that learning more about the people around us makes an incredible impact. People are almost shocked that you’d step out of your self-focused bubble to learn about them. I’ve found that the more I learn about others, the more meaningful our relationship is professionally.

I know this may be out of the norm for most people, but look at it this way. Someone in your life has taken an interest in you and what you were experiencing at least once. I’d wager it’s happened many times. Tap into the feeling that occurred when someone took the time to take interest in you. Remember how great it felt and then turn it towards others around you.

This week try something different. Instead of launching into the lives of everyone, reach out to a peer in HR. Learn who they are outside of what they do professionally. Set aside time to see how much more in depth their lives really are. I’m sure they’ll be touched you did.

And, who knows, you may get to meet your own Leo !!

Spice It Up !!

This past weekend I had the pleasure of being the closing keynote of the Wisconsin SHRM State HR Conference !! This was a bucket list item for me because I always love the chance to be among my HR peers, and this time I was able to send them forth with encouragement as they headed back to their companies.

My wife traveled with me, and we took some time to explore the Wisconsin countryside. We also stopped to visit one of our dear friends in Milwaukee. This visit was especially awesome because our friend unexpectedly lost her husband in a car accident 16 months ago. We have been in touch, but hadn’t seen each other since his funeral. It was a touching moment as we pulled into the driveway and exchanged warm embraces and some tears.

We spent a few hours catching up on life, family, and work because we just had to fill the gaps. Seeing each other in person is always more powerful than talking online or over the phone. We then asked our friend to show us Milwaukee. We told her that we didn’t want to specifically see the tourist attractions most people expect to see. My wife and I like to see places through the eyes of others. See the city based on what is important to them.

Our friend thought about this for a bit, and then we headed to the car. She drove us around the suburb she lived in and pointed out various landmarks including the high school her kids had attended, where she shopped, her church and a neighborhood called The Shire that had a Hobbit Hole at the front gate. (The HR Nerd in me was so geeked about the Hobbit find !!)

She kept driving for a bit and then we pulled into a retail shopping center. We weren’t sure what we were stopping to see, but she assured us we’d love the store. We walked over to Penzeys which is a store that sells spices. That’s it. Spices.

The mixture of smells enveloped you as you entered the store. On top of that, the staff greeted us warmly and was genuinely excited that we chose to stop by. One of the staff went to our friend and hugged her warmly and asked how she was, how her kids were and how she was improving each day. The encouragement seemed to drip from every square inch of this amazing store. I never knew there were so many variations of salt, pepper, paprika, cinnamon, vanilla, etc.

What made Penzeys amazing was that each spice had a full description written out along with suggestions on how to use the spice to bring out its fullest potential. It was noted that you only needed a small amount of spice to improve whatever cooking you were attempting. They also offered spice themed magnets, dish towels, gift boxes and other accompanying items that all had positive messages on them. I was floored by this approach.

It made me think of how HR people can be the folks who spice it up with the employees we work with. If we would be the one ingredient that could encourage and lift someone up, imagine what our workplaces would be. And, just like the store, you don’t have to use the same spice for each person. In fact, each interaction you have will require a different ingredient in order to make it come to life !!

This week instead of thinking you need to make massive movements in order for change and improvement to occur, just add a pinch of spice.

Choose

A new workweek is upon us. I’m sure it’s going to be filled with both challenges and opportunities. If you’re like most people, you probably feel that the challenges far outweigh the opportunities. That may not be the case, but it gives you the illusion that you’re going to be better at your job because you feel that solving problems is why you exist.

I think taking this position is difficult personally. If our days our chock full of a majority of challenges, then how can we see any glimmer of hope? I don’t mean to make light of the conditions of other’s lives. That would be short sighted and presumptuous.

I want to throw something out there that may seem naive, but I find it to be true. In the midst of all that is swirling around us, we have a choice on how to start our day. Every. Day. We can either make the conscious decision to be positive or not. I used to think that the choice was positive or negative, but that is too much of a generalization.

Choosing to be positive frames everything even in the middle of legitimate challenges. It’s not naive, but it is difficult. Most forces in our personal lives and our lives at work want us to focus on what’s wrong as the point where things start. That gives us a jumping off point to move away from because the less something is broken, the more we have a sense of accomplishment.

In HR we are constantly surrounded by people. People who are going through life just like we are. It’s easy to hear how people are facing their days and become sarcastic and embittered. You get tired of the unending waves of struggle. There doesn’t seem to be a viable way out. So, you get swallowed along with it.

Choosing to be positive changes the playing field because you don’t enter the encounters you have with others as something you’re obligated to solve. You may get a chance to be part of a solution, but it doesn’t have to be your only purpose. When you approach others expecting things to be positive regardless of what you come across, you put yourself in a position to be available. That, honestly, is more than most people expect when it comes to daily interactions.

I know this is a big ask, but I want to put an option out there for others. There needs to be something for you to latch on to because what you do matters. When you spend time with people you may be the one spark that turns the tide for them.

This week choose.

 

Drop the Mic !!

This past week I was fortunate to be a part of the Illinois SHRM State Conference. I was scheduled to be a speaker and was geeked to have the opportunity !! As I was sitting in the terminal before my flight from Cincinnati to Chicago, I received an email from the conference organizer. She put a question to me that was completely out of the blue. She asked if I would be the conference emcee.

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t expecting to see this request because I knew who was going to be the emcee and was at first concerned. It turns out that a work issue came up that he had to address. When I knew he was okay, I enthusiastically said that I’d step in !!

Being the emcee allows you to set the tone for the event. I was fortunate because I personally knew each of the speakers that I introduced. I also had a relationship with the Illinois SHRM volunteer leaders, and that set the stage for something I’ve always wanted to experience at an HR conference.

You see, when I go to an HR conference, I want to meet every attendee. This isn’t an exaggeration. I truly do. I know that this isn’t normal and that’s okay with me. It’s always been hard to try and reach this goal because people tend to avoid contact – even HR people. Most people have so many things going on in their personal lives as well as situations at work that they are looking for an escape. Sure, they want to learn from sessions and they’re also looking for credits towards their HR certification. But I find that few people want to genuinely meet others that they don’t already know.

I understand that I’m off the chart on the extroversion scale, and I’m good with that. What I can’t understand is why you’d pay to go to an event with peers who are potential resources and completely ignore them in order to grab a seat in a session or a plate of food in a buffet line.

So, since I had the microphone, the tone I chose to set was one that expressed the value of having personalized connections. Not one speaker that I introduced had a bio read. Instead, I shared stories about them as people and how much I learned from them and their insights. I was also able to thank Dave Ryan, the ILSHRM State Director, for his service by writing him a note full of song titles from The Eagles (one of his favorite groups.)

Then, the goal I have yearned for at an HR conference happened. I dropped the mic and was able to meander throughout the entire venue to greet everyone. With every “Hello” came a smile and a “Thank you” for them choosing to attend. I didn’t let one person get by me. Oddly enough, everyone returned both my greeting and my smile. Many also laughed and engaged with me.

You see people want to be acknowledged. People want to belong. This is especially true for those of us in HR. We spend so much time pouring into the lives of others that we often forget ourselves. I think this needs to change for ALL of HR and at EVERY HR conference.

A friend of mine on Twitter asked this week what would make HR conferences better – this is it.

From now on, take the time to look up and meet the others in your profession who came to learn just like you. Don’t settle for just attending sessions. Meet the great people you’re with as well. You’ll be glad you did !!

 

Replacement Parts

My Mom is an amazing human in almost every way !! This November she will celebrate her 80th birthday and I’m geeked to see that come along with family and friends. If you met my Mom, you wouldn’t think that she’s roamed this planet for eight decades. She is active, vibrant and a true servant leader in her community.

Just this past week, she had a hip replaced. This wasn’t due to an injury. She just needed some new parts. Her doctor has asked her for months if she was in any pain. My Mom always replied that she was “fine.” Evidently she had arthritis building up and her doctor was concerned that if she fell at some time, her hip would break and it could seriously hurt her. Thankfully, she had the procedure in time.

Seeing her go through this made me think of HR of course. How many systems, programs, policies and procedures have you created that are out dated, stale and stagnate? Do you even know? Chances are the vast majority of all of your human resources efforts need a check up. I’m sure that you are oblivious to how your systems are performing. I know I am. That may be a hard thing to admit, but it’s true. Most HR processes only get dusted off when there’s some “crisis” or policy violation. I know there are times when I ask to buy some time so I can pull up a Word document from some long forgotten file to make sure that I respond correctly.

This is not an effective way to practice HR. There are so many instances when we are reactive because we just don’t have a good reason to utilize our systems on a regular basis. I think it’s time we look at some replacement parts for what we do and how we practice.

I’m not sure what specifically needs to be replaced in your systems, but I’m sure there are ways to make things current and relevant. I’d suggest that you do some of the following steps to see what happens.

Does anyone know it exists? – We all have policies and procedures that were developed years and years ago. If you pull up one of these to review it and it says “As of . . .” and the date is over two years old, you need to see if people even know it exists. Chances are they don’t, and you didn’t either.

Is it relevant? – Our companies go through change on a daily basis (at least). I remember going through an old handbook I had written about the use of pagers. Pagers !! (If you don’t remember these technological miracles, look them up on Wikipedia). At the time, we HAD to have a policy because people spent too much time on them. Sound familiar? It was stupid then and senseless now. These gems are riddled in your documents. Trust me. Find them and get rid of them.

Can you be consistent? – This is the one piece of advice that I hope you use for anything you create in HR. It has to be able to be applied and implemented consistently. If it can’t be, then  keep working on it until it is. My rule of thumb is that any program, system, policy or procedure has to affect the majority of employees and not the exceptions. That runs contrary to how most HR products are created. You can’t be consistent when you’re systems are geared towards exceptions.

Try them out !! – The last piece of advice is based on my Mom’s surgery again. The hip she received is brand new and shiny. However, unless she can walk easily and have mobility and range of motion, it’s just shiny. So, instead of having constant launch parties for your HR efforts, try things out in focus groups or departments. Test them to see how they perform. If they need tweaked, then do that before you release it to the entire organization.

My Mom was up and walking within hours of her surgery. It was amazing to see. She’s walking better than she had been for months. She still had little pain still and I’m thankful for that. She’s going to continue to be amazing. She just needed a tune up. This week, start the tune up you need in HR as well !!

Wonderful, Always

This past week I woke up earlier than normal because I need to do some last minute shopping and prep for a day of development for our managers. As most people tend to do, I had a list in my head of what I needed to purchase. I wanted to get into the store and avoid contact if possible so I could “get things done.”

As I was hurriedly walking to the aisle for the supplies I was seeking, a cashier caught my eyes and greeted me. “How’s your morning going so far?”

“Great !!” I replied. “How about yours?”

She said, “Wonderful, always !!”

I stopped walking. I was struck by her response. This was not your normal greeting. I smiled and made a note to remember her reply. I gathered my supplies and couldn’t wait to get to her checkout aisle. I just had to talk to her more. As I checked out, we chatted for a few minutes about the day ahead and how it was sure to be great. I thanked her and I went off to set-up my meeting . . . but my attitude had completely shifted.

Did I mention that this interaction happened at Wal-Mart at 7:00am in the morning? Yes, Wal-Mart. There was something else that occurred as I was shopping. Every employee warmly greeted each other. Every. One. And, they didn’t do they typical “drive-by” greeting with the obligatory non-engaged response of “I’m fine” or “I’m good.” It was so refreshing to see and experience !!

Let’s put things into context. The employees I was observing worked in a retail environment that gets more criticism than other retail outlets. People judge folks who shop at Wal-Mart and make offhanded, look down your nose remarks about them. However, the employees seemed more authentic and engaged than most employees I’ve seen in any workplace !!

Now, I understand that all of us have “life” going on in varying degrees of challenges and/or success. That won’t change because life moves in waves. I wish we were always on the crest of those waves, but there will always be the inevitable troughs that come as well.

I admire Carol (that is the Wal-Mart cashier I met) because regardless of what is happening in her life, she chooses to genuinely see things as “wonderful, always !!” I love that a front-line team member is positively authentic. It’s a posture that I try to take and would love to see be the truth of anyone who works in Human Resources.

This isn’t about being naive or utopian in your approach to the day. It’s proven that if you start your day, and then continue through it, with a positive mindset that most of your interactions will go well. This is true even during the most emotional and/or dark circumstances you encounter during your day.

This week be intentional and determine that you will start each day positively. Don’t just make this a resolution. Work on making it your norm.

You have to trust me that when you do this things will improve. Your work will become manageable regardless of the obstacles that will occur. When you are out with your employees, you’ll brighten their day first before they have a chance to dump another load of crud at your feet. When you’re consistently positive on purpose, you eventually shape the culture of your company and the relationships you have with others.

I hope that from now on you’re  wonderful . . . always !!