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 !!

Are You Congruent ??

The majority of us work for our lifetime. Seriously. We are in a job of some sort from either our late teens/early twenties until our mid to late 60’s (if not longer). I’m not bemoaning this fact. Having a job is essential for all of us to be able to earn a living, provide for others, give generously and possibly have a family. With so much time invested, why do we hit times where things just feel a bit wonky?

Do you know what I mean? Every person I know hits a patch, or patches, where things seem misaligned. It’s hard to discuss because we’re afraid if we do that our company will think poorly of us and develop doubts about our “loyalty.” This has nothing to do with whether a person is loyal or not. When things aren’t congruent, we’re not sure what to do or where to go. It can affect how we perform because uncertainty causes anxiety. We may even get thoughts in our heads that have no merit, but that doesn’t make them feel any less real.

How do we get things back in line and balanced? This is an area where HR can, and should, step in. However, it will cause you to step into an arena where we tend to skirt by the edge. You need to be very connected to your employees. This goes far beyond just knowing the superficial demographic information about folks. That is very important and should never be overlooked. However, I’m talking about genuinely knowing about where people feel they are in their role/career and where they want to go.

Too often we have conversations about people’s career desires during annual reviews. But, honestly, those are superficial as well. Companies fear that if you have meaningful chats and someone says that they want to grow and/or take over another person’s role, then they’ll actually want to work toward attaining that goal !! Eek !! Since we don’t take the time to pour into others, we end up making decisions to move people ahead who may not be a good fit. They also may never have wanted to take on that next role, but it may result in larger wages, authority and exposure which are hard to look past. Remember – we need our jobs.

Another group of folks who face the challenge of congruency are those in transition already. I’m fortunate that I know a group of people who are in this situation because they regularly attend the HR Roundtable I facilitate. Being in transition is difficult, not challenging, difficult. That may not even accurately capture the emotional strain that you go through when you’re trying to find a new job. People just want to be employed again. I get that and know it’s critical for many reasons.

However, if possible, you need to find a role where things fit for you as much as the company is looking to see if you fit them. Being congruent in existing roles as well as when you take on a new role when you come out of transition is essential.

Managing your career over the entire span of your career is the mindset to have if you haven’t been doing that already. You’re going to hit those patches of uncertainty. It doesn’t mean you’re going to leave your job or organization, but it does mean an adjustment is needed.

This week step back, take a breath and reflect. Are you balanced? Do you need realignment? Take the time to do this and make sure you are doing your best to manage what you do and where you do it. Be congruent !!

Grow or Control ??

Coffee shops are inspirational. You knew that didn’t you? They really are and have to be. Most are full of people who are on laptops or tablets as well as groups of folks having great conversations. My fave coffee haunt, Cavu Coffee, is one of these inspirational locations !!

Recently, I was in the midst of a great conversation at Cavu with a friend and we talking about leadership. In the midst of a sip of some hot coffee, she laid this out for me – “You know Steve, there are two types of leaders. Those that help people grow and those who want control.”

I stopped sipping my coffee. I was struck by how accurate that was. When I think of the workplace, I definitely see this dichotomy at play. The tendency, however, is not usually focused on growth. I don’t mean to be negative, just realistic. Managers and supervisors live in a constant state of frustration because people just won’t do what they demand, I mean, ask.

We aren’t clean in this area either HR. The majority of our efforts in HR are to constrain and control. This is true from policies to performance “management” systems. I know many of my peers who are handcuffed by spending the majority of their time and contributions towards keeping employees in line.

How does this help people excel? How does this help companies thrive and perform? Why is the standard of how we allow managers and supervisors behave so low? The questions could go on and on . . .

We need to be a profession focused on growth – both personally and throughout our organizations. Trust me, this is healthier than what is being done currently. We all have to come to terms that “control” is a myth. It always has been.

Don’t believe me? Do you have kids, know kids or were a kid yourself? (I want to make sure to cover everyone). Parents miss so much of the phenomenal side of their children because they want their kids to behave, listen and stay within very tight boundaries. I believe in structure, and I was one of those parents who was more strict than I probably should have been. When I allowed my kids to just be themselves, they flourished !! Their creativity and imagination jumped out of them. There was little they wouldn’t explore or try. They were limitless.

The more I tried to keep them in line, the more I saw the edges get chipped off and they moved more and more to the “norms” that everyone expected of them. Why does this matter? You know what happens when kids grow up? They become our employees.

So, why wouldn’t you want employees who saw their work as having no limits? What if HR was less about “crossing the line” and more about boundaries and parameters that allowed people to perform? We need to step in and change the landscape of the workplace. It just has to happen.

People want to grow. They want to do this within their role and the organization. This doesn’t mean that everyone desires promotions and the out-of-date career ladder. They want to grow in how they do work. They want to grow in their responsibilities. They want to grow in how they move the company forward.

They want to grow . . . and so do you !!

I encourage you to eliminate the illusion of control and build an environment of growth. Go to a coffee shop and see how your inspiration blossoms !!

Give a Sign !!

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

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

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

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

Be the brand !!

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

Give people direction !!

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

Light the way !!

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

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

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

Given First

Trust.

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

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

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

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

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

These happen because we’re humans.

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

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

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

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

Believe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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