The Next Generation !!

I’m a nerd and always have been. I’m very cool with who I am. I’m a big fan of all things science fiction and fantasy. One of my faves is Star Trek. It’s quite amazing to think that a campy TV series that lasted only 3 seasons has become part of our culture for over 50 years now. The original series has evolved to an animated series, three successful spin-off series and multiple movies. They all paint an adventurous, balanced, humorous and diverse universe that coexists in the future.

Now for the present day . . .

This past week I was fortunate to speak at the Northern Ohio HR Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. I always enjoy the opportunity to present to my fellow HR peers. This conference (which is one of my faves) was even more meaningful because I was able to take my son with me. As I mentioned last week, he’s home on spring break from Ohio University. And, nothing screams spring break fun more than attending an HR conference !! He had never seen me give a presentation before and I was geeked to have him there. I also wanted him to see other HR pros and get a feel of how to interact and network with others.

While I was presenting, I made the statement that I hate that HR continues to separate the next generation by name. The whole “millenial movement” is not good. When did it ever make sense for our profession to segment and isolate a group of people because of their age? There are many who are trying to make a living by separating us, and there’s no room for it.

Ironically, on the drive up to the conference, Josh and I talked about how he disliked being labeled, generalized and isolated as a millenial. He said, “People know nothing about me and yet I’m put in a category. Also Dad, if we’re so bad as a generation isn’t that on you as our parents?” I could have stopped the car and hugged him. He gets it and I dig that about him.

At the conference, I conducted a 1/2 day workshop and spoke at a concurrent session. It was enthralling and exhausting to teach for five hours. After both sessions, I had younger people (you know THOSE M’s) who came up to me to thank me for dismantling this separation of an entire generation. To a person they told me how disappointing and challenging it is when they see countless blogs, books and workshops that are meant for others to learn and understand how to “deal with” and work with them as individuals and as a whole.

Back to Josh (and the folks from other generations) . . .

The folks at the conference ate him up and made him feel welcomed. They connected with him and he was able to meet other young professionals who were excited to meet another person considering HR.

And jump forward to the future . . .

Star Trek got it right. Every new edition of the franchise builds on the one before it and they honor and respect those that laid the ground work. There is never one iteration that states that the “new” version needs separate attention because those that went before just didn’t get them. Actually, there are several references to original characters and how people learned from their strengths, struggles and leadership.

We need to be more like Star Trek in how we look at the next generation that is going to rule, lead and transform our workplace. I’m geeked about who they are, what they believe and feel that they will be more successful than we’ve ever been.

In order to do that, I want to be like the original Star Trek cast who laid the foundation of inclusion, curiosity and the yearn to see what’s next. I want all of those who follow me in the workforce to bring others along and lift them up. The future’s bright because of these new folks. Let’s let them shine !!

A Common Bond

This past weekend my son came home from Ohio University for Spring Break. I know, not the most exciting choice for him I’m sure. However, we’re pretty close and enjoy doing things together. One thing that we share is a love of music. I’m geeked to see how he’s developed a catalog of his own that he continues to build over time.

We took a trek down to Everybody’s Records just to browse and see what we could find. We were met by an overpowering aroma of incense wafting throughout the store that literally hit you in the face when you entered. They were playing some Allman Brothers overhead, and we split up. He wandered over to the rows and rows of used vinyl and I went to the used CD’s racks. The place was teeming with all types of people from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities and musical tastes. Interestingly enough though, everyone greeted each other either with a “Hi” or a head nod which acknowledged our common love for music.

I was deep into trying to secure a David Gilmour solo album from my college days and I was also looking for more Elvis Costello and possibly some Husker Du. Now, I know these may not be your choices, but I was the one shopping. My son bounced over to me with his find and I was really geeked to see what he chose – Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder !! Another store patron saw his choice and said, “Man, I wore that album out when it came out. You will love it.” My son grinned from ear to ear.

This post isn’t just about music, although it could be. I think it’s a better reflection of how the workplace should, and could, exist. There is a constant feeling of divisiveness that seems to be swirling around everything lately. It’s almost impossible to have a differing viewpoint or an observation about any topic without people demanding that you take a side. Then, once you take a side people are instantly opposing each other and holding to their camp. How is this healthy?

On top of this, if you dare to be positive about anything, there is a huge swell of emotion and negativity that wants you to be full of angst and despair. There are many great things happening in all or our lives, and I feel that when we compartmentalize and segment people because of differences we do more damage than trying to find our common bonds.

As HR professionals, we have an opportunity to bring folks together without having them forsake who they are, where they come from and what they believe. We can be the ones who intentionally step in to assess interactions and see how we can pull people together towards common goals, performance and results. It is up to us to stop people tearing each other apart. Allow for discourse and dialogue. Allow for ideas that may not seem congruent to the norm. Encourage people to bring things out into the open and see where things go.

When my son brought the epic Stevie Wonder double set to me, he asked if I’d check the vinyl for it’s quality and that it didn’t have any serious scratches. He asked what I thought of his choice and I told him that it was one of my favorite albums. However, I also stated that he needed to experience it himself to come up with his thoughts and opinions about this set. When we got home, he went straight to my turntable and put on Sir Duke. Epic.

This week, look for the things in your workplace that bring you together. Be the ones who look for and establish the common bonds. Here’s a tune to get you started . . .

Stand.

The world around us seems to be doing its best to rip itself apart. We are bombarded with examples of social unrest, protests, and a political climate that is far from friendly. It’s hard to not have these, as well as many other, situations fill every corner of media that is present. Those are only descriptors of the U.S. and don’t take into account the many challenging situations happening globally.

It saddens me that in any of this that we have lost the ability to discuss and work through items. We get upset when someone states their opinion or takes an action for what they believe. Everything is put in terms of extremes and that makes us uncomfortable. It feels like you can’t be for something without alienating someone who doesn’t share that belief.

In all of this we’ve lost sight of how this affects the workplace. When people are uncertain about the environment around them, it seeps into all areas of life including work. As HR practitioners, we do our best to drive uncertainty out of the workplace. We go so far as to enact policies that try to limit discourse, differences of opinion and diversity. We want people and things to be the same. Our goal is conformity and that is something that hurts not helps.

Groupthink, singular lines of thought or approach and limiting expression just add to the tensions that surround us. Does it make sense to you that we spend so much of our time and effort in organizations striving for uniformity and control when we could, and should, be doing so much more?

For decades we have yearned for a “seat at the table.” Think of that. We have worked and worked as well as compromised ourselves to act and look like those in senior roles to gain “presence.” It’s not who we are and it’s not what organizations need. We must take a much more intentional approach and . . .

Stand.

take-a-standHR has an obligation to lead. We have to shed the mantle of striving for normalcy. We need to those that stand for people allow them to express their beliefs and then work with them in the workplace.

In order for us to take this new approach, we must take a stand personally as well as a profession. This has been missing for too long and it has limited us in our effectiveness. There’s no reason why HR can’t lead daily in all that they do. Remember – we work with, and for, people. We can do this from an encouraging and positive perspective. This doesn’t mean that we should ignore or downplay the upheaval around us. In fact, it forces us to jump into the midst of conversations or even generate them ourselves.

People are talking. They will continue to talk and share the thoughts, ideas and concerns. We have the ability to be the conduit for those conversations to be productive, provocative, civil and meaningful. The days for sitting have past.

It’s time for us to take a stand !!

#7Songs – Release Your Inner Nerd !!

I am a nerd. There’s no doubt about it and it’s who I’ve been all of my life. In school I never was one of the “cool” kids. I was in Show Choir, Physics Club, Chemistry Club, Student Council, etc. Like many of the folks I know, I was involved in as many activities as I could find because these were my social outlets.

The odd thing about being a nerd is that people don’t expect you to do things outside of the box that they put you in. You see, I was also a very good athlete as well as a musician and student. People desperately want people to fit inside their filters and stereotypes because if you don’t it’s unpredictable and that’s unnerving.

Another thing that you don’t think of when you’re younger and nerdy is that you’ll “grow into it” later in life. The teenage years are awkward enough without having to carry a moniker of Geek with you. Relationships are challenging because teens (like adults) want to run around with packs of people who are just like them. You aren’t supposed to cross lines.

It’s no wonder that when I saw a “nerd” be a rock n’ roll artist, I was drawn to him which brings me to my next song.

#6 – Veronica by Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello was unlike anyone I ever had seen in music before and no one made music like he did. When he burst onto the scene, he looked like a Buddy Holly remake, but he was far from anyone who played rockabilly.

Elvis CostelloHis tight suits, coiffed hair and HUGE black glasses were outstanding. You could tell by listening to his songs that he was a lyricist. One, in my opinion, that is unmatched in the music industry !! I think I have every song he’s recorded, and this song just hits a note every time I hear it.

Like most of his music, Veronica, tells a story. The video is dead on with the song by showing Elvis visit an elderly woman in a nursing home. She fondly remembers the past, but is slowly forgetting the present and even her name. It’s something that perfectly frames a moment in time.

Being able to write like that is a gift. No one who “looks” at Elvis Costello expects him to be someone who is enshrined in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Ironically, very little of his music ever has had radio play and the general Top 40 public who follow the next great passing trend would hardly recognize him.

He’s recorded with legends of the music industry and often has an eclectic mix of artists who back him up. It’s outstanding that he’s never veered from being the original nerd that he always has been. He’s never fallen to the narrow path and formula that record companies force on their artists.

I dig Elvis because I believe in living out my inner nerd as well. So, how about you? Are you trying to “fit in” with the folks who want you to blend in with everyone around you so there’s no visible identity or distinction? Break with the crowd and let that inner nerd out !! You’ll be glad you did.

 

All I Want Is You !!

Desire.

It’s an innate human element.  Every person has desires about something.  You can determine what those desires are typically by where a person spends their time and money.  People can say they desire a variety of things or be more focused.  Desires are unique.  Even if people are wildly passionate about the same types of things, it’s never really the same.

Desire.

It’s something we want employees to have every day when they come to work.  There are countless articles, blogs and efforts about employee engagement.  When I see these I think more and more of the effort is on getting “buy-in” as to what a Company offers instead of allowing people to bring their desires to the workplace.  We aren’t very comfortable with really allowing people to be who they are.

HR spends an incredible amount of its time and focus on limiting behavior and adding stipulations to systems to make sure people comply and fit in.  In fact, most managers talk with the majority of their employees only when needed.  That includes sitting down for performance reviews, weekly meetings, etc.  More and more of our structures force interactions, but they don’t develop communication or bring out the best in our people.

What if we changed ??  What if HR took the opportunity to be less restrictive and chose to work on ways to bring out the best in people?  It’s not the norm in our field by a long shot. It calls for more variety and people assume that more variety will bring instability and chaos.  I think that’s not true.  There is more variability, but that should allow for genuine diversity and not some trumped up program that makes us “feel better.”

DesireDesire.

Think about it.  A workplace that is filled with people who can discuss and share their lives.  I don’t think this should be a forced effort in the least.  However, HR struggles with this too.  I’m not sure why we all have relationships, friendships and interactions rather naturally as a social norm, but we don’t try to foster that in the workplace.  I think that if we took the time to not just “talk” with people, but just treat them like the desirous, passionate humans they are, we’d enjoy each other so much more !!

I want to encourage you to take a “U2” approach to this.  You have to know that I’m a fierce U2 fan and love all of their work.  You could say that following them is one of my desires. One of their fab songs is “All I Want is You.”  The song lists many things that someone wants, but the signer responds that all they want is that person.  It really is a consuming approach to have the feeling that someone wants you that completely.

I know this is a big step.  I also know that it works !!  I try to take more and more of my time with my co-workers and find out what drives them.  I may not share their same interests, but knowing what they are passionate about is fabulous.  It allows me to have more of a connection with them as well as something to check in on when we see each other.  It’s very enriching and it makes HR wonderful.

You see in the end – I hope our desire is people.

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation(s) !!

Something has been bothering me for some time now.  When did we realize that we have generations in the workplace?  Haven’t we ALWAYS had people from various generations in the workplace?

It truly is disappointing that we have taken to labeling people due to when they happen to have been born.  For instance, technically by my birth year, I am at the tail end of the Baby Boomers.  I more strongly identify with Generation X personally. But, I would have to say that, I have a touch of Millennial and whatever the newest generation is being called in me as well.

My Generation 45Any time I hear someone in HR bemoan the perceived weaknesses and challenges of a generation in HR presentations or on blogs, I hear The Who and their epic song, My Generation.

Roger Daltrey belts out ” People try to put us down . . . Just because we get around . . . Things they do look awful c-c-cold . . . Hope I die before I get old.”

The lyrics are indicative of how I think EVERY generation feels when they are shoved into a stereotype so that others can “deal” with them.  Tell me how this enhances a workplace?

I give a presentation where I bring out a vinyl album, a cassette tape, a CD and my iPod – all of the Beatles White album. (Didn’t ignore the immortal 8-Track, just didn’t have one anymore)  I ask a younger person to tell me what the LP is and the answers range from frisbee, to plate, to tray. It’s fun to see how things have changed.  What hasn’t changed though is the message !!  You see each form of music is just what each generation used to capture it, but the songs are still magnificent in each medium.  The same is true about people.  It’s just that WE need to look at it differently !!

It saddens me that HR even considers labeling people when we fiercely fight to not do this in every other aspect of our job.  I know Boomers who are more hip than Millennials and Gen X’ers that should have grown up at the turn of the 20th century.

Let’s do this instead . . .

We should value the diverse experience, culture, background and age of everyone we work with.  Learn who they are as people first versus categorizing them into some box that we think makes it convenient.  Quit assuming the worst of people and accentuate their strengths instead !!  People who know that you value who they are will automatically be engaged because the focus is on THEM and not their generation.

We work with a tapestry of extremely diverse people who bring an incredible breadth and depth of humanity to work everyday.  Any time that HR narrows this, we only lose out.  Refuse to be narrow !! Go against the norm and dive into the myriad of generations around you.

Believe in others !!

One summer while I was in high school, I worked as a counselor at an Easter Seals camp for disabled adults.  Going to this camp genuinely changed my perspective on life !!  I entered the camp a bit freaked out honestly.  Everyone around me was vastly different that me, and what I was “used to.”  People in wheelchairs.  People who couldn’t speak clearly.  People who couldn’t feed themselves, or pretty much care for themselves on their own.

Remember, I was a teenager.  Arrogant, self-assured, indestructible, etc.  This was too much for me. The adult who had asked me to work was a counselor I had a Church Camp for years.  He was a mentor and knew me better than I knew myself.  The first night at camp, I cried myself to sleep because of the challenged people and my inability to accept them.

The first full day of camp, Duane (my mentor), asked me to sit in a wheelchair and he tied my left hand (I’m left handed) to the arm of the chair.  He then told me that I was teaching art class all day for campers, but wouldn’t be allowed to leave my chair.  I had to eat all of my meals, use the restroom and live the life of the campers.  I didn’t handle it well !!  I was frustrated at how limited I found myself.  Duane had told the campers to really push me – and they did with fervor !!

As the day came to a close, one of the campers, Bill, who had severe cerebral palsy and “spoke” with a rudimentary computer, pulled me aside.  He said something that changed me forever.  He said, “Steve, don’t be frustrated.  We ALL have disabilities !!  Some are just more visible than others.”

Believe34 years later, Bill’s words rang true once again . . .

This past week I was honored enough to be a part of Disability Awareness Day at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio.  One of our LaRosa’s Team Members, Mark, was going to speak about being able to work and be independent.  Mark was born without arms and he is one of our Customer Service Representatives and has been with us for 7+ years.  As he came to the podium and microphone, he boldly spoke of his work and how he loves taking people’s orders so they can enjoy our great food. He doesn’t view himself as being different.  He knows he is a person who is able !!

The room was at capacity and was filled with people whose disabilities were “more visible than others.”  They cheered for Mark when he finished and a person in a wheelchair gave me a high five as I came off the stage as well.  The great people on this day reminded me that we need to believe in ALL people !!  Everyone at the rally felt you were included and not separate.  We all came together – as it should be.

So, this week make sure to change your perspective on people from now on.  Everyone has value and a life worth living to its fullest extent.  Don’t pass someone over, or avoid them because of their appearance.  Instead, reach out and let them know that you believe in them.  It will change your life as it has mine.

HR is Puzzling !!

I love puzzles !!  I mean it.  I love the challenge of opening a box and seeing thousands of tiny, misshapen pieces that only show a portion of a bigger picture.  To be honest, I like puzzles that are also a little unique.  I’m not a big fan of the large, scenic panoramas.  If it’s something that challenges you and comes out with a very cool end product – then I’m in.

At Christmas, the kids and I all got puzzles.  Here’s a look at them . . .

PuzzleCool puzzle of the US made up of license plates !!

Bowie Album PuzzleA double-sided puzzle of David Bowie’s classic album – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars !!  Dig that – puzzles and rock combined !!

Puzzles also offer great lessons for HR.  Here are a few . . .

  • Give things framework !! – The first rule in most puzzles is to put together the frame because it defines the puzzles boundaries and also gives it just enough structure to give it cohesiveness.  Great HR does the same when you look at employee situations as well as your systems and “frame” them up !!
  • Every piece counts !! – When you look on a puzzle box and see that there are 1,000 pieces, then you rely on the fact that without even one piece, the puzzle is incomplete.  What if we looked at our teams and our employees in the same way?  If we had the approach that every person mattered, wouldn’t you strive to make sure that happened?
  • We come in different shapes !! – It’s time that HR understood that diversity is all around us in our organizations.  It’s not a program or an initiative.  It’s a fact !!  Just like puzzle pieces, people each add their own take, shape, approach and view on the work we do.
  • Look at the big picture !! – The thrill of completing a puzzle is that you get to see the results of your work and the whole picture comes into view.  Too often, HR gets hung up on one piece and can’t let it go until that one is “fixed.”  When you see how the whole puzzle of employees, integrating HR, being strategic and moving a company forward come together – you’ll try to help pieces fit vs. trying to fix them.

All of us in HR have puzzles we have to evaluate, consider, assemble and/or disassemble everyday.  Instead of looking at that as a point of frustration, why not view it as a great thing to do?  Seeing things come together will help you enjoy HR everytime the next puzzle comes along !!

 

My Christmas Wish !!

One of the best things about Christmas time is that people come together.  Whether it be families or friends, people make time out of their hectic lives to be with each other.  I know that I’m looking forward to our family’s “Big Christmas” where all of my
Aunts, Uncles and cousins gather in tiny Luckey, Ohio at the American Legion Hall.

We’ve been gathering as a family for over 50 years now and it is something that I treasure.  When all of us are in the same room, it is quite like a company.  Four generations are gathered, and the interests, skills and talents are all very diverse.  There are white collar, blue collar, small business, corporate, urban and rural representations.

Christmas WishThe key to all of it is that we have the common bond of being family.  This brings me to my “Christmas Wish.”

Our profession of HR is like my family.  We come from all generations, from all walks of life, from all types of industries and from all areas of Human Resources.  The gigantic difference is that we aren’t all together.  I honestly don’t understand that !!  There isn’t a good reason for us to be separated, isolated or divergent !!

So, help me by being a part of this wish.  I have this crazy, hairy goal to truly connect all HR pros from around the globe.  You may ask why someone would even desire something like this.

I see it this way . . .

We are only better if we’re together.  We can learn from each other.  We can come together on issues to make the workplace better for both employers and employees.  We can make our professional associations stronger and relevant.  Instead of rallying against them, let’s work together to make them better !!

With technology especially, we can be more and more connected.  I cherish the times to see and meet HR pros in real life because then the connection really takes on a new life of its own.

We can’t keep trying to improve HR being isolated.  It has never worked, and it won’t work in the future.  I also hear from friends who are stating that even HR blogs are lacking “new” ideas, or things that are fresh.

Let’s take our cue from my favorite Christmas song ever because of who did the duet.  It’s the Little Drummer Boy sung by Bing Crosby and David Bowie.  It happened on a 70’s Christmas special and I remember watching it live with my family.  My Dad asked who the “freak” was and I said, “Dad, you know that’s Bing Crosby !!”  After running away from him, we both sat down to listen and it was beautiful.

Here’s my challenge . . . Join in !!

Threre are great new efforts by Charlie Judy on HR Fishbowl and Paul Smith on Welcome to the Occupation for HR folks to share their voices. There are also great collaborative groups you can learn from like: XPertHR, Women of HR, Fistful of Talent, Performance I Create, The EO List and Talent Culture.

Instead of nodding at this post and saying that you’re in or supporting this effort to be more intentional and connect with other HR pros, write a comment on the blog to let me know it.

Seriously.  Step out (including you uber social folks who RT, but rarely comment) and join in.  If this was on Facebook, people would rally.  This takes a bit more of an effort.  Join in.  Be intentional and starting now and through 2013 – connect !!!

Opportunity or Task ??

“People.  They’re all around us every day.  It’s as if we HAVE to deal with them !!!”

Sound familiar?  Sound like you?  Sound like most people in the workplace . . . and HR?  It’s not surprising.  The workplace is filled with people.  It’s an amazing fact.  They desperately want to interact, communicate, perform and excel.  But, most of our efforts each day are to limit, thwart, conceal and conform.  Why is that?

Do you know that the 1st thing the vast majority of people do when they take that first step out of the car to enter the office is to heave a massive sigh and drop their shoulders resigned that they are off to WORK once again.  We do all in our power to make sure that people are in line, on task and diligent.  We overlook the chance that they are creative, intuitive and willing.

I think it’s because we treat the interaction between people as a task and not an opportunity.  We dread the possibility that someone will want us to stop, spend time with them and listen !!  Our e-mail, twitter account and texts are vastly more important than the conversation we are “stuck in” right now.  We are so horribly distracted and long for impersonal means of communication, that we will do almost anything to make sure we keep things short and sweet in person.  Ironically, we wonder why people never change the behavior we see in them that we wish would improve !!

The fact that this must change in the workplace is a gross oversight in HR !!  In our quest for “engagement,” we refuse to genuinely interact.  By making things a program, we miss the opportunity to take things in, relish and reflect on what is said and then act in tandem with others.

We tend to say, “Well, if Steve would just change, then I could make things work between us.”  (or something similar)  The fact is that we need to take the initiative and first step to look at others (even the really difficult ones) as an opportunity each and every time we interact.  People deserve this to be honest.

So, this week, drop your task list even though it will make most of you twitch a bit.  Look around you.  Find the sea of people that are a vital component of you are and what you do and dive in !!  It will get messy, challenging and even overwhelming.  But, the outcome is worth it !!