Glory Days !!

This past weekend I traveled back to my hometown for a sobering event. The father of a dear friend of mine from high school passed away. I know this isn’t unique to any of us because we will all face the loss of those who are close to us at some time or another. I relished the opportunity to go back to my hometown because it’s like going inside a Norman Rockwell painting. Seriously.

I grew up in Ada, Ohio which has 5,600ish residents. It’s the type of place where everyone knows everyone and has for generations. I went to a school where every grade, Kindergarten through 12th Grade, was in one building (and still is). Walking into the Ada Baptist Church was like walking back in time. I immediately saw dear friends that I unfortunately hadn’t seen for anywhere from between 10 to 30 plus years. However, it was like we never missed a beat.

My friends from my hometown !! (Left to Right) Me, Dave West, Jeff Gossell, Bill Kent, Mark Browne and Joe Simmons

After a beautiful service and celebration of my friend’s father, we all gathered in the Fellowhip Hall for a meal and a chance to catch up. I immediately hooked up with my High School classmates and we asked about what has happened since we last saw each other. Then, we shared memories and laughed. We laughed so hard and so long, my ribs ached and my head hurt. It was magnificent !!

The time flew by and we didn’t want it to end. We all exchanged our contact information and agreed to get together again soon because we all agreed that we had waited far too long. It was bittersweet to leave the church and head back into my regular life. I did get to hang out with my brother and parents for a few more precious hours before I headed home.

As my wife and I headed back towards our home two hours away, I reflected on the day. I was thankful that she was so incredibly supportive and allowed me to reconnect with my mates. It made me also realize something that I had overlooked way too often.

The people in our lives on purpose. (Even if it’s only for a small slice of time.)

We walk through each day caught up in endless distractions all begging for our attention. Most of those, by the way, we seek out even though we complain about them. There are tons of people who move in and out of our days. Do you take the time to notice them? Or, do you take them for granted because they serve some functional role that is yet another cog in  your day?

You’re missing out on so much because it isn’t a mistake that these folks are in your life. That includes your family, your friends, your co-workers and the folks you encounter when you go to various places. As HR professionals, we need to wake people up so that they stop running to keep up with everything to intentionally connect with the humans all around them.

This is an opportunity for us to lead in our organizations. It shouldn’t take a significant life event or business calamity to bring people together.

I know that I was fortunate to grow up in a quaint town with an amazing family. To have friends that I still can hang out with is also a blessing. I don’t think this has to be an exception. I think it can be your norm.

This week pause, stop and breathe. Then, reflect on someone in your life that you may have drifted from that you’d like to see how their life is going. I know they’d appreciate it, and so would you.

Understand that others are in your life on purpose !!

Treat people this way and see how your life begins to enrich and grow. I hope you’ll get a chance to share great memories and new experiences as well !!

Gratitude

When I was a junior in high school, I took Chemistry. The class was a mix of juniors and seniors and was sure to be challenging. On the first day, a very young man walked into the room with a white shirt and a tie as we were chatting away and not paying attention. He turned to the chalkboard and wrote his name – Mr. Lusk.

He didn’t appear old enough to be a “Mr.” We soon found out that this was his first teaching opportunity after graduating from college. So, he was sitting in a room of students who were only four to five years younger than he was. Mr. Lusk was soft spoken and somewhat cautious in his approach. It had to be daunting to walk into a room where most of the students had been together since kindergarten !!

His first few weeks with us didn’t go well. You see our class had a mix of nerds (me included) who were geeked to learn Chemistry, and jocks who felt they had to get this class under their belt for college. They were there reluctantly and made that known every day. Mr. Lusk was strong even though he seemed meek. He had a down to earth teaching style and he made the different facets of the subject jump off the pages. A group of us (on the nerd side) decided to take him under our wings, and fight off those who didn’t want to be there.

A bond developed with four of us and we called ourselves “The Conclave.” We began to stay after class and also spent our study halls down in the chem room. We began to excel as he kept investing in us, and we, in turn, kept supporting him when others tried to dispel him as a teacher. Mr. Lusk survived and even started a second year of chemistry and a physics class that the Conclave willingly took. That was in 1980.

Mr. Lusk is still a fixture in Ada High School. He has been the same great teacher who invested in me almost forty years ago. His investment in me and hundreds of students since has left an amazing impact on every life. I have kept in touch with him and I tell him often how grateful I am that he got through those first few months when everyone tried to make it so hard for him. I’ve watched him become a father of very successful kids himself, and have shared my life with him as well.

His willingness to invest in others deserves more than a “Thank You.” Giving thanks is wonderful and polite, but he deserves gratitude. His example set the stage for me, and I want it to be an example to set for you as well.

If you’re in HR, you have the chance to be the person who invests in others. It’s a choice. You can either be like Mr. Lusk, or you can pass over others to get to the work at hand. I’d rather be the person who invests because you never know that the time you are intentional may have an impact and a legacy you never saw coming. People are worth it and deserve your focus, your time and your encouragement.

Who are you investing in? Are you being intentional to make sure others are acknowledged and lifted up? Why not?

This week I want to encourage you to do three things. The first is to switch your focus to one where you will invest in others. Secondly, go to those who have invested in you and thank them. Showing gratitude to them will sow the seeds in you to show gratitude to others on a consistent basis. Third, make sure you check out the new Impact Makers podcast from Jennifer McClure and subscribe to it !! She is featuring those who’s she’s seen make an impact on her and others. It’s a great example of what gratitude can do.

Mr. Lusk probably didn’t have the goal of making such a substantial difference in the lives of his students. He has, and I for one, am grateful !!

Encourage Daily !!

We all have things that have become daily habits. They range from when you wake up to whether you have breakfast or not to how you commute to work. These daily activities are so ingrained into our lives that we actually notice if something is slightly off. In fact, those slight variations can throw us off greatly (but we’re good with change – remember?)

Consistency is needed in our lives. We like consistency, and it gives us comfort knowing our daily routine. What’s interesting about our patterns is that they are most likely self-focused. We take care of ourselves far more than others. There is value in this, but it also may set up blinders. We can become numb to our routine and just glide through it without thinking about it.

When my kids were very young, I would take them to daycare everyday. It was a given part of my morning ritual Monday through Friday. I enjoyed getting their day started before heading into the office. One day, I packed my son into the car and started my commute. This day, however, I turned onto the highway and was blissfully moving in and out of traffic. About five miles along, a small voice from the back seat said, “Dad, am I going to daycare today?” I snapped out of my haze, and there was my son waving to me as I looked in the rear view mirror. He laughed hysterically with glee about my panic. We turned the car around and I dropped him off before heading back to work.

My routine had lulled me into just going through the motions to the point that I ignored my son !! I think this happens to too many people as we go into work. Why do you think people came up with the term “the daily grind”?

Aren’t you tired of this? Wouldn’t you like to break out of the doldrums and have a vibrant, engaged day – every day ?? I do and I have a way for you to break out of the doldrums as well. Encouragement.

We pass by a countless number of people every day without even noticing. They aren’t part of our daily habit. That needs to change. A friend of mine, Carlos Escobar, blogged and shared a video of a subway transit worker who greets every single person every day. He intentionally takes the time to say “Hello” to every person.

Encouragement is so simple and yet so difficult. The act of encouraging and saying something to lift someone up takes seconds of your day. Seconds. Not hours, seconds. We come up with excuses of why we shouldn’t encourage others. We may even fall into the awful mindset that if we encourage others they’ll “expect it” !!

In order to fight the urge to avoid, I want to encourage you to make encouragement a daily habit. Also, I want you to lift up everyone you encounter – even those who may not want it. This simple act will completely alter your daily outlook on life, work and interactions. Encouragement is the baseline for healthy relationships.

Tomorrow, as you start your work week, begin to notice others. Start a new daily routine. You’ll see the dark part of your days lighten up. You’ll see people respond positively where that may not have been the case. It’s worth the effort. Encourage others daily !!

I Like What I Like !!

When my kids were small, eating out was an adventure to say the least. Our options included any restaurant that had some form of chicken nuggets. I don’t know how that gets into their DNA, but it did. We couldn’t vary from this extremely limited option. Ever.

The lack of variety seemed as if it would last for eternity, but as they grew we could try other exotic foods like hot dogs or even a hamburger. With so many choices available, I couldn’t understand why the kids were so reluctant to try new things. Other foods wouldn’t harm them, and many of them are delightful. That didn’t matter to them. They were steadfast on what they liked. There was no reason to change. They were fed and they liked chicken nuggets. I still shudder when I see them listed on any menu !!

My kids have now grown up into young adults and they are fantastic humans who have a larger palette. My daughter was visiting this weekend as a break from graduate school and we reminiscing about how she, and her brother, ate as a kid. We laughed and she said something profound.

“Dad, you have to remember – I like what I like !!”

Why is this profound? She expressed the reality of every single person on the planet. We all have certain likes and dislikes, and we do our best to limit or avoid those items we dislike. The more I thought about this I was struck at how powerful our likes are.  It’s staggering !!

We tell everyone at work that they should be open and welcome to change. Change that is meant to be positive both personally and organizationally can’t budge people if they don’t “like” it. And yet, we continue to pound and pound the change because it has to happen. Rarely do we ever seek input and feedback because we’re concerned that someone will alter the change we feel is best.

I think we can learn some lessons from my kids. Change can happen and it will, but we can be more effective if we consider some factors.

Change takes time – Change that is sustainable takes time, not an instant demand or flip of a switch. That may be frustrating and test our patience, but the investment of time is needed.

Change need to be incremental – Massive shifts never work. You spend more time picking up pieces and making alterations to get to where you wanted to go. Make small changes that are easy to understand and implement.

Have faith and believe in people – When you involve the people who are affected by the change you want to implement, the chance of success rises incredibly. People expect context, and the more they get there is a better chance they will “like” the change.

It’s time for us to recalibrate  how we make change occur in our organizations. We need to take into consideration what people like as our framework to build from. If you do this and take the time to be intentional with your change, chances are more people will “like” it !!

Shine !!

I look forward to the weekend after Thanksgiving because that is when my family traditionally decorates for Christmas. I’ll hold out every year even though society keeps trying to make the holiday season start earlier and earlier. My favorite part of decorating is putting up lights outside. It’s special because my kids (now adults) always jump in to help. They get geeked about stringing lights, building massive electrical connections and making sure that the coverage is balanced and colorful.

Our family also has a tradition where we’ll get in the car and drive throughout neighborhoods to see the various displays that people have constructed. I like to see actual lights and not these projection systems because I enjoy seeing the creativity that people have. The homes that go crazy and try to drain the local power grid are fantastic !! However, I also enjoy someone who can use light subtly, and still convey an artistic display. I’m also a bit biased to multi-colored lights versus vs. monochromatic yards. But I digress . . .

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

You see we can be the ones who shine in our workplace. We can be that attractive display that people would get out of their office to meet and work with. What would HR be like for you if you were the light in the office and not the bearer of darkness?

I think shining your light is essential for HR. It’s actually easier that you may think because you are in control of how you approach your work as well as how you interact with others. I’m not talking about putting on some fake trappings to be peppy just for show. No one wants that. Shining to dispel the darkness is much more welcomed, and needed, in our workplaces.

We tend to think that making people feel good and enjoy what they do is a “waste of time” or an unnecessary “soft skill.” People are supposed to come to WORK, and that is all. (Insert giggle of disbelief here). The idea that people show up only to do their job is a misguided myth. Yes, they do their jobs. And, more often than not, they do it willingly even though they receive little encouragement or regular feedback.

Shining your light breaks up the drudgery of work. Being a beacon of light allows employees to look up from the grind of what they do to catch their breath and know they’ve been acknowledged and recognized. It’s time that HR intentionally be the light within their organization and push back the attitudes and approaches that look to force control and possibly anguish.

I understand that being someone who shines may not come naturally to some, but I encourage you to push through. Trust me. If you are someone who brings light to situations, you will be successful in all you do. It’s such a missing facet of today’s workplaces, that people will respond because they’re longing for it.

The key is to be the light in your organization year-round and not just during a season. It will be surprising to others at first, but how cool would it be if it became the norm? It would rock !!

(To give you a little nudge, I leave you with this gem from the 90’s !!)

Bailey

There’s a very cool place that is a five minute drive from my house called Station Road Farm. Many towns have a place like this where you can buy flowers, produce, mulch, pumpkins, etc. It is a popular location because it’s a farm that seems to have been dropped in the middle of a suburb. This has been a favorite shopping option for my family for years. It gave me a chance to keep close to my roots because I grew up on or near a farm for most of my youth, and my kids got to have a quasi-farm experience.

I remember on my relative’s farms that there were always animals. There would be multiple dogs and cats that just seemed to come with the whole environment. So, when we visited Station Road Farm, I wasn’t surprised when I saw the same thing. When my kids were very young, we were making a visit to pick up tomatoes and corn when they were distracted by new kittens roaming around the property. The cashier was very observant and she looked down to my daughter and said, “The kittens are free to a good home. Would you like to take one?” My daughter got those big eyes that kids get when they want something, and she cooed, “Can we Dad?” We didn’t have any pets at home, and I couldn’t say no to those eyes. I said, “If you see one that comes up to you, I’ll think about it.”

As if divine providence was upon her, a small yellow kitten started wrapping itself around and around my daughter’s legs. She squealed and said, “Dad, look !!” We drove back home and picked up my wife and son and brought them back to see the kitten. They loved him too. That was the day Bailey came home with us. We weren’t prepared and had nothing needed to take care of a new pet. So, we made a trip to the store and bought everything we needed – and then some.

That was 14 years ago. He has been a wonderful part of our family who had some very unique qualities. Every night when the kids came home from school, or Debbie and I came home from work, he was at the door to greet us. Every. Night. He also loved playing fetch by chasing a small rainbow striped ball up and down our basement steps forever. Bailey was never a lap cat, but he was ever present. If we were in a room, he was there with us. He always knew where we were and he did his rounds to check on everyone to make sure things were good.

This weekend Bailey passed. We fondly shared stories of his life. There were visits to elementary school for Show & Tell with both kids. Then there was the time of how he survived a thunderstorm when he fell out through a screen on our second floor and stayed on a small strip of the roof soaked and mewing until we pulled him in. He begged at the table and was a fan of lunch meat and licking tuna cans clean. Everyone is biased about having the “best” pet ever, but I would say that Bailey was the best fit for our family. I don’t think there’s any better description that fits him. I’m so thankful he chose to wrap around my daughter’s legs.

I know that I normally write about how to make HR better, but we need to remember that our lives are so much more than our chosen occupation. We have so little actual time truly interacting with people even though we feel it consumes every waking moment of our time at work.

Instead of being overwhelmed by the encounters and interactions you have with people, I challenge you to cherish them instead. People pass in and out of our lives daily. Instead of letting them pass you by, be intentional and connect with them. Who knows, you may be the exact connection they needed at the exact time they needed it.

Value others. Celebrate their lives and the time you have with them. Never take it for granted and be thankful for the time you have.

Thanks Bailey for being a vital member of the Browne family !!

Who Will Speak For Me ??

As you go into work this week, the first thing on your mind will most likely be a problem or challenge you’re facing. It could be a deadline that is looming or a myriad of other things that genuinely need your attention. I doubt, however, that employees will be the first thing you think about.

If they are your focus, chances are that you’re only thinking about the employees who are causing a problem. The people who are awesome and doing their jobs well are overlooked. I don’t mean to sound harsh. It’s the reality I’ve experienced in the past, and also the observation I’ve had when I hear my peers talk about their work experiences. It’s ironic that in a field that has “Human” in the title, we actually give our attention to a very small percentage of people who work with us.

If you would ask employees who HR represents, they’d say management. I’m not talking about a poor “us and them” culture either. I’d venture to say this reflects most workplaces. I think this is because people see us step in on situations where it’s not going well with someone as the example of what it’s like to interact with HR. Doesn’t that tire you out? Seriously. If you’re only practicing HR to handle people who are problems, it has to be discouraging. This limits what HR can, and should, do for organizations.

HR needs to develop relationships with employees at all levels. Whenever I’ve brought up this concept, my peers get defensive and state how difficult this is to accomplish due to their company’s size or number of employees. I work for a company that has 17 different business units and 1,200 team members over a regional geographic footprint. The vast majority of our team members work on a part-time basis and over different shifts. The challenge to know everyone is real.

So, this is how I’ve approached my current environment. I don’t try to reach every person on my own. That’s not feasible. However, it is realistic to teach others that HR is willing, visible and available for everyone regardless of when and where they work. That message has to be consistent and then followed by behavior. I will go to different locations at different times and dates that don’t always match my regular schedule. I needed to alter when I work so that I could reach others when they work. It’s changed how HR is viewed because they’ve seen that I don’t show up only for problems. There needs to be another important shift to make sure that representing all employees is the norm for HR.

Stop talking ABOUT people, and start talking TO them !!

We’re in a unique position as HR professionals. We have the ability to talk with everyone. Honestly, the majority of my day is spent talking to others. In the past, I’ve had people question the “value” of this approach. Over time, those people are now the ones who talk to me the most. We are the one function that can listen, evaluate, counsel and connect others. Doing this clears the air on items and feelings that may have been long held in silence and frustration. Allowing people to perform has both intrinsic and real value for organizations. This may be hard to quantify on the bottom line, but I contend it impacts it more than people think.

I recently was enjoying some John Mayer, and I think he captured how employees yearn for HR to act when he wrote:

“Show me something I can be, Play a song that I can sing, Make me feel as I am free – Someone come speak for me.”

It’s time for HR to change and speak for others. Trust me that when you do this, you’ll enjoy your role more and you will be making a tangible difference for your team members and your company as a whole. It’s worth the effort. Make the shift !!

 

Exist or Thrive ??

Another work week is upon us. How does that make you feel? Seriously. What’s your attitude going in?

I know the realistic answer is “it depends” because I can’t understand or cover all of the life situations everyone is facing. These probably run the gamut from bleak to awesome. The circumstances we find ourselves in are a heavy factor which influences our approach to work and to how we interact with others. I don’t want this to be some pop psychology piece that tries to analyze your current state. That’s not fair or even possible.

Let’s get back to the first question. How do you approach a new work week?

It’s important to take time to do this because I think it frames how we approach our work more often than not. I don’t think it’s the “Monday Blues” that bring stress and unnecessary negativity. I think we dread going in to work because we have chosen to exist vs. choosing to thrive.

Don’t believe me? I think people float because the culture of the company allows them to. I don’t think people want to float, but since we’ve taken the majority of direct human interaction out of work, they can’t help it. People want to be challenged. People want to stretch and tackle situations they can affect. However, we blow things up into dilemmas so that when an answer comes to light we get more recognition. It’s true. We can’t seem to break out of the doldrums of our roles.

Please note that this blahness isn’t at one level of an organization. It can occur from the most senior executive down to the front line. Don’t assume that people are just getting by who work below you by position. It’s a vicious myth that we keep perpetuating (again – to make us feel better).

Now, this will sound bold, but it’s something I know because I’ve experienced it myself. You can THRIVE in what you do currently in your role as well as throughout your organization. To do this though, you need to make a choice. The choice is simple, but the implementation is difficult.

The choice is that you personally will no longer settle. Ever.

This past weekend I went to visit my parents. My Dad is a quote machine. Whenever we’re in any situation, he’ll quip, “Write this down . . .” and then he whips out a quote. One that has stuck with me is, “To lower the standard is to give up the fight.” He said this when I’d choose to do something less than my best. It is strong encouragement to keep in mind when the next wave of negativity or cynicism hits.

Choosing to thrive is not some slogan on a wall. It’s a way to exhibit your behavior and a method to lift up and encourage others. HR has the opportunity to see the best in themselves and all employees who work in their company. How do you think your Monday would start if you had that intention and approach going in?

This week make the choice. Stop settling yourself first. Then, go talk to others you see who are not thriving. Work with them and get them to break out of their funk. Fight against the people who choose to tear things down with a better, and more sustainable, stance. Thrive !!

Give From Your Overflow !!

Have you ever been so exhausted after an event that you just had to collapse? Isn’t that a great feeling ??

That may seem counter intuitive, but it is refreshing to know that you’ve given your all for something. There are needs all over the world that are yearning for people to give of themselves with their time, focus and efforts – not just their money. The reason it gives us such a feeling of fulfillment is that I think we’re wired to give.

I hear folks every day state that they are “busy.” I understand that we all feel the pull of others come at us from multiple directions. However, I think that when people feel they’re busy, they’re actually trying to express that things that are vying for their time are things they aren’t genuinely interested in.

People have time. The challenge we have is that because we are pressed by things that bother us we get stagnate. When we get stagnate, we lose interest. After we lose interest, we lose the desire to give. The needs of others all around us don’t diminish though. There are opportunities all around us where people can plug in.

What does this have to do with HR and the workplace? Everything !! We need to be organizations that have a culture that provide avenues for employees to give. I don’t think that we should define where people should give, but we should give them the ability to do so. We can assist in this by giving our employees encouragement and helping them understand how not to be “busy.”

Start with yourself. I want you to understand that the issue of giving isn’t time, it’s capacity. All people are filled to their capacity with something. We don’t lack for being full. What’s great about this is that if we hit our capacity, then we can give from our overflow. Once people connect with causes that matter to them, they will find the time in their day to give.

It’s like a bucket.

There’s incredible volume within the vessel and the flow of life never stops pouring into the bucket. Remember, everyone has a bucket. Everyone feels busy. It’s not just you. So, since your bucket is going to be filled with work, commitments at home, kids, pets, extended family, etc. That is normal. You’re going to hit the lip and start overflowing. The question is the quality of the material filling your bucket. If it’s negative, then your overflow will come out to tear things down, see what’s wrong with everything and discourage others. If it’s positive, then who knows what amazing things will come forth? The opportunities are actually limitless.

HR people can help control the flow that enters everyone’s bucket at work. We really can. When people come to work, we can be a positive influence with each employee and our culture as a whole. We can clear the path so that people can do well in their role and have productive relationships with others. When we clear out the gunk, then their buckets can fill to capacity positively. Then giving will come more naturally.

This may sound overly optimistic, but it’s something that I’m passionate about and know that works. Take some steps this week to help others to change the flow. Be a giver yourself so that others can give as well !!

Get Rid of the Can’ts !!

Have you ever reflected about your perspective and approach on things in life? Do you tend to look at things logically or emotionally? Are you someone who sees the worst in others or the best?

Chances are you’re a blend. Most people are. I tend to start from a positive perspective on life, people and the situations I face. It’s interesting that being positive is unnerving to some. I’ve had people wonder if my approach is genuine or something that just comes on when I’m surrounded by others. Sorry, that’s just not the case.

It’s appropriate to write about this because I honestly can tell you that my approach was built over years by watching . . . my mother. My mom is the case study for positivity. She sees the best in others the moment she meets them. There’s no cautionary period or gauntlet that she requires people to struggle through before they earn her favor. The other amazing aspect of my Mom’s approach is that she isn’t over the top. It comes natural to her and people are drawn to her. She also is comfortable with people regardless of their background, status or heritage. She’s sees others in one way – as humans. So, growing up with this role model set the stage for who I am and how I view others as well.

My Mom also taught me to look at what you “can” do versus what you “can’t.” I never realized how critical this was going to be throughout my career. You see, the majority of people tell you what they can’t do when they are presented a situation. It’s our first instinct to look at obstacles. I don’t know why that is what we do, but we do. Once this stance is established, the dialogue continues to drum up more and more obstacles. The “cant’s” just pile up on top of each other. Then, when we hit a certain level, we feel that we can finally take things on to fix them.

It amazes me that the majority of people who go to work feel that their only true worth is when they are fixing problems. I don’t understand that. Do we go to work to perform or to repair? If everything is messed up, how does anything ever get accomplished? It’s seems to be a defeatist approach to work.

The folks who tend to say “can’t” the most are the people in HR. I say this with assurance because of how I was taught to practice human resources, and how I hear many of my peers discuss what we do. This has to stop along with one other thing. I know that many people state that HR says “No” too much. I disagree. You see, we’re supposed to say “No” because one of the primary values we add to organizations is to reduce liability. Saying no doesn’t curtail things moving forward. It allows people to move in a direction which has fewer chances to fail !!

We have the ability to be encouragers in our roles and throughout our organizations. We need to be the ones who show others how they CAN perform. We need to be the ones who believe that people CAN work from their strengths. We have to be the ones who are positive first. Every time and in every situation.

You CAN do it !! I believe in you !!