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 !!

Stop Adding Bricks !!

“All in all you’re just another brick in the wall” – Pink Floyd

The incredible double album, The Wall, was released my senior year of high school. I listened to it endlessly. It is still one of my favorite sets from one of my favorite bands. During college I worked as a Resident Assistant and we had “Cool Steve’s Movie Night” every year. We played the movie of The Wall each year at midnight and sang every word of every song !!

(Pardon the nickname. It was given to me because I ran things differently in the dorms. I was practicing my brand of HR even then and didn’t realize it.)

The theme of the movie and the album was that seen from a character who felt every situation in his life kept building a wall that continued to constrict him. It’s not a cheerful way to look at life by any means. However, it seems to be how many people see life . . . and HR.

Too harsh? Tell me, have you had this happen? You walk into a room and people rustle and say, “Shhh, here comes HR.” Not a great feeling is it? Have you ever noticed that when people do this, they never say your name. It’s honestly the most impersonal comment anyone could make in the workplace, and it paints us in a poor light.

We rarely counter this comment. In fact, most of the time, we try to deflect it, ignore it or work around it. I think that we need to step up and not allow this attitude towards us anymore. However, there is a key thing that needs to occur before that happens. We need to quit adding bricks to the walls of our organizations. We do this all the time in the majority of our human resources efforts. We have the best intentions when we put out policies and procedures, but to be honest we manage to the exception. We have supervisors who see a small fraction of people behaving in ways they don’t like and they ask for another layer of bricks to be added. This is done instead of expecting people to talk to each other and address situations as they occur.

Brick in the WallHonestly, it’s easier to pen another policy and lay more bricks than it is to face human interaction. However, it is our job as HR professionals to show people how to interact, listen and address people. We should refuse to pen one more item that builds the barriers in the workplace we already battle.

I recommend that you follow a test I call, The Three “O’s”. If your actions hit any of these three, then don’t do them. Come up with another alternative. It takes effort, but it works. So, don’t move forward with policies or procedures if they:

Obstruct

Are your efforts causing more obstacles for people to do their jobs? Have you considered how these methods affect performance? Chances are you’re only developing layers of rules which won’t be practiced consistently. Play out how things will affect others before you are quick to implement them.

Ostracize

Evaluate how many people your policies and procedures actually apply to. If you see that you’re addressing a small minority, then step back and refuse to add it. This is a poor business practice not just a narrow HR practice. Companies should not have systems which only impact a thin ribbon of the organization. The same is true for HR. Remember we are business people who practice HR – not the other way around.

Obfuscate

This word even sounds clunky !! It describes when things are obscure, unclear or even unintelligible. Have you even looked at your policies and procedures recently? There is an old mantra from the world of education which states “publish or perish.” HR falls into this trap by writing more and more rules for people to follow. The lack of clarity that occurs is a huge brick in the way of people understanding their roles and what they are to do.

This week take a look at your HR practices and see what walls exist. Apply the Three “O’s” test and then start taking those bricks down. When you do this, the next time you enter a room people will be geeked to see you and call you by name !!

 

 

Coffee and Apple Pie !!

Let me pause here at the beginning so you can imagine the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the mouth-watering smell of fresh, hot apple pie. Got your attention? Good. Now, let me share the story behind these delectable items.

This past week I was at a McDonald’s. It was midafternoon and not during a meal rush. I went up to the counter and there Tracey met me with a smile and a warm greeting !!

“Welcome to McDonald’s! How’s your day going?”

After my shock and surprise at Tracey’s demeanor, I replied, “I’m great and how are you?”

“I’m having a great day. What can I get for you?”

McDonald's Coffee“I’d like a large, black coffee.” (Author’s aside – I’m a coffee fiend and McDonald’s is always good for a great cup of java !!)

I paid and Tracey said she’d like to take care of the guests behind me and then she told me she’d get my coffee. I was fine with that and went back to my seat to talk to some folks about an HR issue I was tackling. A few minutes passed by and I didn’t have my coffee. I wasn’t upset in the least, but I did want some caffeine so I went back up to the counter.

“Tracey, I didn’t get my coffee yet. Could you help me?”

“Oh my, I’m so sorry. I missed that. Let me take care of that for you right now.” She asked another team member to get me the coffee and he responded, “Sir, sorry that happened, but here you go. I’m sure this will be a great way to get through the rest of your day!”

Here were two people just Geeked about their job and it was so refreshing. The story would be great, in my opinion, if it stopped right there. I went back to my conversation and after a few minutes, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Tracey stood behind me and said, “Sir, I’m sorry that I was late with your coffee. That shouldn’t happen. Would you please accept this?” She handed me a small bag.

McDonald's Apple PieAgain, astonishment. Here I am in a fast food restaurant where I’ve had more challenging experiences than great experiences and I am dumbfounded twice. In the bag there were two piping hot apple pies that would go great with my coffee.

I left the restaurant after having a very memorable time. As I was driving back to my office, I reflected on what happened. You see, Tracey took a situation and did what she could to make it better. She didn’t ask her manager about this. She had the ability to do what she thought was right.

Can your employees do this? Do they have the ability to do their job without obstacles standing in their way? Are the systems and “norms” in your organization ones that allow performance, or do they hinder them?

Wouldn’t it be great if employees knew that they had the freedom that Tracey has? This is where HR comes in. I would like to propose that our job is to see where obstacles exist that hinder employees from doing their job well and remove them. Those obstacles are real, but we don’t address them. More often than not we wonder why people aren’t complying with the processes that we continue to produce.

We need to switch our focus if it’s an obstacle to others. When you do this, you will enjoy HR more than you have in the past. Take the steps Tracey did. It makes an incredible, tangible difference !!

Her simple action made my day. She was an amazing example of how anyone can make culture great !! And . . . the pies went great with my coffee !!

Being Mortar !!

This weekend I had the chance to work on another Eagle Scout project for one of my scouts. I always enjoy working on these because I love to see the scout’s advance, do great work and it’s a chance to follow their lead. His project, like most of them, has a large scope. He’s building a new backstop for a High School girl’s softball team that his sister played for. It involved tons of digging, moving dirt and building a wall using concrete block and mortar.

MortarWe had some construction experts with us who laid the first course (layer) of block for the wall and they moved with grace and ease. As they continued down the row, they asked if someone wanted to “jump in” and clean up all the seams of the wall. I volunteered and I received instructions on what to do and given three tools to use – an edging trowel, a joiner and a brush. The goal was to use these three tools to make sure that excess mud (mortar) was removed as well as the seams were filled and then cleaned off to get ready for the next course of bricks.

Recently, I’ve seen a disturbing trend both in the workplace and in our profession. There are more and more efforts to split and tear down things. In the workplace we continue to develop systems that are punitive thinking that the more we keep people in check, the better they’ll perform. Personnel files grow and grow with reams of paper to document people’s missteps. I have seen notes hung up in workplaces stating that there will be consequences if people refuse to comply with this or that with the sentiment that the manager is communicating effectively.

In our profession, I keep seeing blogs and articles that tear us apart. I feel that it’s good to have a critical eye or point out how we can improve if something isn’t working. But, there are more and more blogs with labels that are derogatory and belittle aspects of HR. We need to understand that HR jobs follow a bell curve from those that are highly transactional to those that are highly strategic. One isn’t “better” than another, they are just in different stages. Companies may not want HR that is conceptual and strategic. I personally am bummed when I hear that, but I understand that it happens.

I have to be honest that I struggle when I see people who feel that negativity and cynicism will improve who we are and what we do. I read them and learn from views that are different from mine. It’s just an approach that is contrary to who I am. I’m surprised when people say that being positive is so hard and rare in HR and in the workplace.

I choose to be mortar instead. I want to see our field, and our workplaces, be places that come together to build a culture that moves a company forward. I want to use the tools that I have to join people together, remove the excess items they don’t need and offer a brush of empathy to reassure them that their contributions matter.

You may see this approach as naïve, utopian or unreasonable. The thing is, I’ll keep doing it anyway because I see it working. When I see notes, I tear them down. When I hear criticism, I look for possible solutions. When I see that things aren’t changing, I get involved on purpose.

The construction expert who taught me how to do mortar was encouraging and thought I could do well even though I had never done it before. He even said, “If you run into a problem, or don’t feel it’s going well, tell me and I’ll help you.” He believed in me and told me what to do. He was positive in his approach and thankful that someone was helping him with his work. The work was hard and I have sore muscles, torn up hands and scraped up knees. However, the mortar is placed and the first course is laid to be the foundation of what’s to come !!

The Soul of the Company !!

This past week I was fortunate enough to lead a workshop I created on developing an HR Brand to an HR chapter. This was an attempt to differentiate from “employer brand” and “employment brand” which are both important. The focus of the workshop was to get HR to own who they are professionally and also within their organization.

Any time I get to speak to my peers, I get more Geeked than usual !! The ideas were flowing and the mood was light. People love to share and one of the exercises we did was intriguing. I asked the attendees to make a side-by-side comparison of how they viewed HR and how others viewed us.

Everyone jumped into the list, and it took the turn I expected. The “others” side of the list filled quickly, and the answers weren’t positive. In fact, one person even had to remind his table that they should at least come up with some answers on how HR viewed itself. Unfortunately, this breakout supported the approach of most people. We tend to think negatively initially even if that’s not who we are. Negative thoughts and situations surround us in the majority of our activities. You have to work on turning the tide so that this isn’t how you approach HR or life !!

To help everyone try this I asked people to list how HR viewed itself. And then it happened. One person shared, ” I think HR is the Soul of the Company !! ”

Her answer drew audible oohs and aahs. People truly enjoyed that perspective and it made me think. What if we WERE the soul of the company as HR?

SoulI think this makes sense because this has a deeper meaning and impact than culture. The “soul” of an organization should capture and embody what the company values. It is also appealing because every company’s soul is unique just as it’s people are.

Too often HR is seen as soulless and I’d love to see that turned around. The key to making this happen has to start with us personally. Senior management can’t bestow this upon us, and we shouldn’t look for them to do that. What should the soul of your company look like? It’s a bit conceptual, but there are a few factors you can consider.

First of all, you would be the “center” of all of the people activities and interactions in the company. You could assist people on having healthy communication that was consistent and productive. Many companies aspire to have this happen, but it’s an area where we can all improve.

Secondly, being the company’s soul would bring depth to what you do. We spend way too much time on surface items because we feel that’s where HR should be because it’s “safe.” It actually distances us from others. Taking the time to get to know our people more deeply makes us vulnerable, but it’s worth it. People have been coming to work forever with little to no meaning. They look for ways to connect, and we should be that connection !!

I think this is a perfect way to position HR. We have a chance to look internally first to see what our soul could be and then we could integrate that throughout our company’s culture. We all have it in us !! Let’s try it and see what happens !!