Sparklers and Candles !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Stadium Moment !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tall Tales !!

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

A quick summary . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Second Day

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

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

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

Day 2Then the second day comes . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Rocking Chair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A or B ??

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

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

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

A = Assume the worst and B = Believe the best

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

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

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

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

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

Be a Story Listener !!

This past weekend I had a true adventure. I went to visit my son at Ohio University for Dad’s Weekend. I have a vested interest in this not only because of my amazing son, but because I’m an alumni of OU as well !!

Every single moment of the weekend was wonderful whether we were at one of the planned activities or just hanging out together enjoying the people, sounds and movement all around us. It was also spectacular because OU is a beautiful, old campus with distinct architecture wrapped in majestic fall colors from trees that have been there for decades. There was a chill in the air too as people rushed from location to location.

I could continue to go on and on about many aspects of my weekend because I love stories. I am very willing to share a story any chance I can. There are a myriad of blogs and research that show the power of storytelling. This weekend, however, I was reminded of something that is even more powerful.

The best part of Dad’s Weekend was listening to my son and his new friends tell me their stories and experiences. It ranged from stories of discovery to tales laced with uproarious humor !! The young adults that we met were excited to see my son and share stories. This isn’t different than most social encounters, but there was one exception.

When people tell stories, the impulse to share your story is strong. We often get into a pattern of “one upping” each other. It’s hard to let a story stand and sink in. There’s nothing wrong with exchanging stories. I think we do this because we want to make connections and ties with others by showing that we have similar experiences.

Listening EarsThe opportunity I’d like you to consider is to strike a balance and be a story listener sometime. When you do this you’ll capture other’s emotions, passions, opinions and perspectives. If you’re eager to jump in and share your stories as well in a conversation, you may squash other’s interest even though that wasn’t your intent.

Now, this isn’t a post to throw out the old saying, “That’s why you were given two ears and one mouth.” I don’t believe that silence is listening. A great story listener also shows interest and is genuinely eager to hear what the story from others includes. If you’re only biding time “listening” until it’s your turn to jump in, you’re not ready to be a listener.

I took as much time to sit back and enjoy what my son and his friends had to say as I could. I was geeked to see how much they’re growing as young adults, and intrigued into how they’re making decisions in their collegiate environment. The more I listened the more I was actually involved in their stories. They would get to certain points in what they were sharing and ask what I thought. They weren’t speaking just to hear their voices. They wanted to engage me in their conversations. It was wonderful !!

So, this week when you’re in your HR role, take a breath and see if you should be a story listener. Show interest in what employees have to say. Resist the urge to finish conversations in believing that you’re saving precious time by cutting people off. Trust me. The more you listen, the more you’ll actually hear, and you’ll actually enjoy the daily interactions you have so much more !!

All the Time !!

One of my favorite daily things to do is randomly call friends on my commute home. I have almost an hour in the car, and it’s a great way to make the time go by. (Don’t worry, I’m a hands free user.)

This past week I had a great conversation with Heather Kinzie from Alaska. She’s a great HR pro and I highly recommend you connect with her !! We were chatting about life and work and she was telling me her thoughts about work when she said something profound. She noted, “I don’t want to work at a place where I’m half a person all of the time !!” I almost swerved off the road because that statement rang so true.

Heather wasn’t bemoaning a certain environment or employer. She was just stating the sentiment that affects the vast majority of employees who go to any workplace. You’ve had to see the statistics that are out there right now that state that 70% to 80% of workers are disengaged in their current role. That is staggering to me because we instantly personalize data like this and think of our own workplaces. What we don’t do is compile the number of workplaces that exist. If 70% to 80% of workers are disengaged in ALL workplaces, then we face a massive obstacle each and every day regardless of where we work.

In HR, we express that we want people to bring their “whole self” to work, but that’s not really true. We want people to bring as much of themselves as fit our systems and norms. We freak out if people are outliers and work so hard to make people conform. This isn’t an indictment, it’s an observation. Since this is the culture of most companies, it’s not surprising that someone would bring half of themselves to work – all of the time.

Is there anything we can do to shift this state of malaise? I think there is. However, it will take a truly radical step for HR. You see, we are the controllers of conformity. Our systems, procedures and policies scream for same mindedness and behavior within a tight framework of parameters.

I think there should be company norms and the majority of these happen naturally. If your company’s leadership and/or industry is more formal, your norms will follow. If they are more hip and edgy, your norms will follow there as well. HR has to look at how it makes these cultures come to life to see if you’re allowing people to freely move and perform in these environments, or if we’re making sure that people show up.

All The TimeYou see, the best cultures can be stifled if our HR practices are more focused on being visible and seen (i.e. showing up), or if they’re on performance. If your culture truly champions performance, and your focus is development and shepherding within that culture, then people will bring more of who they are to work – all the time.

What is the big concern? If we looked at having less control, would chaos really ensue? Trust me when I say this – If your HR systems are built to control folks, you actually have no control at all. You don’t have a work environment, you have an institution. People can’t help but be disengaged because the environment doesn’t even exist to encourage them to be engaged.

This week look around your company. Do you see “half people” ?? Are you existing as a half person yourself in HR ?? This needs to change and it starts with you. Don’t settle for environments where people only exist. Instead, work intentionally on building an environment where people can, and are expected to, thrive !!

Just a few degrees !!

This past week I had lunch with one of my HR peers. I always enjoy spending time with other folks who practice HR because we normally don’t have people that we can talk to within our own organizations. It doesn’t mean we’re isolated, but it’s hard to talk “shop” with others who don’t do what you do.

One of our “rules” when we have lunch is to share what’s going on candidly and then talk about solutions (if you can reach them.) She was telling me about her challenges in moving the company she works for in a different direction. I admire what she’s doing even though she has expressed that she feels like she’s hitting walls.

As we were sharing, she said something that was a true point of clarity for me. She stated, “I feel like I’m on a giant ship and if I could turn it just a few degrees, I think I’d see amazing things happen.”

Stunning. Really, it is. She captured what most of us in HR struggle with when we look at how to have change occur that is meaningful and sustainable. Too often we design and launch massive programs and initiatives which cannot last. The energy and effort that is needed to keep those types of efforts going fades quickly because people either can’t make the time to do what is implemented, or they just drag their feet some to wait for it to slip away quietly.

What could you accomplish if you implemented change in small doses? I know that much has been written about company culture and there are camps that say it exists and those who only think it’s a catch phrase for HR. I’m one who is a proponent of cultures and I love to see change be directed because change will occur whether you want it to or not.

Small ChangeYou see, small change can yield big results !! The difference in this approach is that you have to break it down to individuals instead of trying to canvas an entire organization. I have a belief that HR should be practiced in pieces that will build to a whole. This runs contrary to most people I know in the field because it’s not how we learned HR.

The truth about breaking HR down reflects what my friend shared. Changing things by a few degrees is attainable. It also gives you the ability to see cultures shift ever so slightly and stick. Over time HR and the company can be headed on a new course and they will subtly break out of the patterns that often hold us in a stagnate pattern.

So, this week, clear off your desk and scrap those monstrous themed initiatives. Break down the components of what you want to do and pick one. Introduce it. Nurture it and let it grow. As it sticks, start with the next one and continue. Remember, you can change a ship by just a few degrees !!

 

What’s Your Culture Type ??

I’m a donor, a blood donor. I’ve been doing it for years because I had an incredible example who did it well before I even thought about giving blood. My grandfather lived in the mighty metropolis of Luckey, Ohio (now at 1,013 people). My brother and I were raised by my incredible grandparents as my mom worked and went to college. Our father passed away when I was four and my brother was two.

My grandfather was a dairy farmer who also raised crops. He was a person who I admired greatly because of his humor, his outlook on life and his work ethic. Growing up on a farm is something that I know shaped me, and I cherish every moment of those years with him.

On the brim of his hat, my grandfather affixed pins representing the gallons of blood he donated. He kept his hat a hat rack near the front door. One day as he put it on while walking out to the barn to care for the cows, I asked him what the pins meant. He said he donated blood and I had no idea what that was. I said, “If they take your blood, won’t you run out?” Without missing a beat he said, “Heck no Steve, God gave me enough blood for everyone. I’ll always have what I need.” Then he laughed deeply and we went out to the barn.

As soon as I was able to donate as a teenager, I started giving. I’ve been fairly regular in doing this and just gave again recently. In the mail last week, I received my next pin. I am now up to seven gallons. I might catch Grandpa in a few more decades !!

The great thing about giving blood is that they tell you your blood type. This is necessary for you to know because some day, you may need help from somebody. My blood type is O Negative – the universal donor. Kind of cool that I have “enough blood for everyone.”

Your workplace has a culture type too. The question that comes up is – do you know what your culture type is? Does it fit everyone?

HRPositive Logo 2I’d like to tell you about a “new” culture type that Paul Hebert and I are introducing called #HRPositive !!

We’re both a bit tired of people tearing down HR thinking that by doing this, it will build up the field in the end. When has this ever worked? How does approaching HR negatively and ripping it up for its faults, which it does have, improve what we do and who we are? Who sits back and says, “Man, if I could find a job that wallows in misery all the time, I’d be set with my dream career ??”

Enough’s enough. I have always believed in being positive. It’s not a shtick or some social media persona. I also am a huge believer that HR drives the culture of an organization. We do it through our behavior and approach. I don’t know about you, but I have seen being positive work with people almost every time you interact with them.

We’re taking this seriously and would love to have you join this movement. We’re looking for examples of HRPositive that is happening in workplaces, in social media and anywhere we can find it. We’ve started a Linked In Group called “HRPositive” that is open to folks who want to see the tide turn back to HR being a great field to be in. You’ll also see us use the #HRPositive hashtag on Twitter.

So, would you like to be a culture donor? We’d love to see Human Resources be practiced in a way that encourages people, engages employees and moves companies forward. Remember – we have enough energy for HR to be positive for everyone !!