Who Will Speak for Me ??

A little over a week ago, I lost a dear SHRM HR friend and peer, Sharon Connell-Rick from North Dakota. It is tragic because Sharon was a victim of domestic violence. I don’t pretend to understand this in any logical way whatsoever. It hurts to know that a friend is gone and that a family is going to face incredible challenges going forward.

The situation has given me time to reflect about my own relationships, humanity, mortality and role in HR. Every day I go to work with literally thousands of employees who are facing their own personal situations that may be burdens or joys. I pass each one of them wondering how they’re doing and also if they’d be willing to share what’s going on. It consumes me at times.

I don’t want to know dirt or pain. I want to check in and give them someone who will be their voice in their location, their department and our company. For if HR isn’t the voice of the employee, who is? You need to note that if you choose not to speak for your employees – someone will. You may not want that to happen !!

I hadn’t talked to Sharon in over a year. It was at the last SHRM Annual Conference in Orlando. I don’t know if talking to her more regularly would have changed anything, but I just wonder if she had someone who spoke for her?

As people, we were created to be connected and there for each other. In the workplace, we downplay this fact and rush to our cubes to make sure “work” is being done. Also, when we talk about HR we spend our time either in the transactional trenches or in the lofty strategy speak in the constant chase of organizational validation. Let me be candid. We’re missing the boat.

If we aren’t in our roles to care for others, truly care for others, we shouldn’t be in HR.

This isn’t the claptrap catchphrase of putting the “H” back in HR. I hate hearing that. It’s contrite and dumbs down who we are and what we do. We need to be humans all the time and not just in the workplace.

If you aren’t caring for others, it may be because you feel someone doesn’t care for you. Let me put aside that concern. If you’re in HR, I care for you. If you share in this great profession, you have someone who wants to be there for you and walk with you in what you do. We are called to be the caretakers of our people.

If someone wants to challenge this as some fluffy Kum By Ya approach, try this on. If HR truly cared for your people and listened to them and helped them be better humans themselves, wouldn’t your company be better? I can’t think of a stronger value added facet for any organization. Period.

Be PresentTo do this, we have to adopt a new behavior where we haven’t been consistent. When I talk to my peers, they share about how people bother them and if they have to listen to another problem, concern, bitch, etc. they’re going to explode. Stop it. We need to be present for our people and for each other.

So, when you’re with people, put your phone down, stop staring at the computer screen or looking over their shoulder wondering when this conversation will stop. You need to be present when they’re present !! No exceptions. The person standing before you needs to be your focus, not your step to the next thing that’s “more important.”

HR friends, we can do this and it’s needed in our organizations and in our profession. We need to be present for each other and connect more than we currently do. It’s imperative that we are there for each other so we too can make it through the ups and downs of life.

I choose to speak for my employees. Will you join me in speaking for yours ??

Lorax HR !!

I don’t know about you, but I have always been a huge Dr. Suess fan !! When I was young I remember my mom reading me Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish among many others.  He was able to rhyme and bring things to life in an incredibly simple way.  I’m sure his books helped me learn to read as he has for thousands of others.

He also opened my imagination.  If he didn’t have a word that others traditionally used, he made them up.  The worlds he created were colorful and also believable.  It didn’t seem impossible that an entire civilization could live on the bloom of a flower, or that an elephant could hear them.  He was a contrarian who defined new rules and did it in a way to educate people. He was also an activist who wanted to bring messages like the materialism of Christmas or the destruction of our environment to people’s attention.  He did in a timeless way so that generations could continue to learn from his tales.

The Lorax Book CoverMy absolute fave by far was The Lorax.  Here is a story that resonates with me even today in the world of HR.  You see, when the Lorax spoke he said, “I am the Lorax.  I speak for the trees.” He spoke up for them because they could not speak for themselves.  The trees were being destroyed so that a company could make Thneeds for people to wear and everyone wanted them.  The trees were being harvested left and right and it didn’t matter that they were disappearing completely because the company had to have the material to make their product.

The “trees” we have in our organizations are our employees.  I’m not saying we’re destroying them, or using them to make sure the company moves forward at all costs.  But we need to be the ones who speak for them.  You see, if you ask Management who HR represents, they would say “Management.”  And, if you asked employees who HR represent, they’d say . . . “Management.”  So, how do they get a voice?

It’s time for us to realize that we are there for all people – both Management and employees.  We have to be the voice of reason that listens to all sides of situations and act as the bridge between those sides to bring resolution.  I get concerned that we often sway to the Management side only because we feel that’s where HR “should” be.  It’s true that we should look out for the best interest of our organizations, but that should include all employees !!

As this new year starts, take some time to evaluate who you spend the most time with.  Are you balanced and work with all staff?  If not, what’s keeping you from doing that?  We need to be the Lorax in our company.  We need to stand up and be vocal about our people.  By doing this we can help drive our culture and make sure that people aren’t silent.

So, as you start this week keep this quote in front of you – ” I am HR and I speak for employees !! ” You’ll be glad you do !!

Ride the Waves !!

This past week was truly wonderful !!  I was on a beach with my family enjoying vacation.  Overall, the week was fairly uneventful and relaxing.  We did the things we enjoy like playing Euchre, tackling an impossible 1,000 piece puzzle, rounds and rounds of miniature golf and time with our feet in the sand.

I don’t do well just sitting on the beach.  I need to move and be a part of the flow of the environment around me.  I love watching all of the different people walking by and sincerely wanting to talk to each of them (if it wouldn’t creep them out) and learn about who they are and what they do.  I don’t do that  . . . much, but the throngs of people fascinate me.  I tend to roam up and down the beach to search for shells, look for unique things and take in as much of the experience as I can.

This year we were actually in a condo on the beach.  And I mean ON the beach.  The endless pulse of the Atlantic Ocean was a constant melody if we were splashing around in the waves, or listening to them as we fell asleep at night.  It was a hypnotic symphony that I loved hearing and watching.

My kids and I love bouncing up and down in the waves for hours and hours.  We happened to be out in the surf in some rather active waves.  In fact, you had to really try to maintain your footing.  After fighting this force of nature, you were worn out.  We’d catch a breath, grab a drink of water and head right back out into waves.

WavesIt reminded me of HR, work and life.  It may seem like a stretch, but hear me out.  Life comes at all of us in waves.  And, like the ocean, the waves never stop.  I love it when we expect our employees not to “bring their life” issues to work because that is a flat joke.  You can’t wish that people would do this because it’s not possible.  Instead, I think we need to have a characteristic that should be in every HR role – resilience.  It’s something that we don’t teach, and it’s even hard to think about it.  This attribute is needed because waves of different sizes and intensity come at all of our employees every day. Instead of being pulled out by a rip tide, or having the waves of life bury us, we need to be there to pull people up and get them on their feet once again.

Too often we bemoan the circumstances of life that people share with us.  We want everything to be just perfect and smooth and get frustrated when it’s not.  Being resilient is what is needed instead.  If we are the people who can be the example to others, then they will understand they have support.  Support is something lacking in most workplaces for our employees.  If HR could step in consistently, then people would appreciate this and not be overwhelmed by what comes at them.

Tomorrow, I jump back into the surf, but this time it’s at the office.  I can’t wait to be in the waves with all of those around me !!

Listen.

Human Resources is often written about in vast layers and fantastic catch phrases !!  When I see posts about “harnessing the synergy of human capital” I start to twitch.  One of the shortcomings of what we do is that we try to make it harder than it needs to be.  I think that HR has fallen into the trap that if we sound like we’re more intricate, then people will give us more credibility.

Weaving a broader web of terms and efforts that keep the “mystique” of HR as our brand lends itself to more confusion than clarification.  When I talk to many of my peers, they share that many companies just “don’t get” them.  This has to be frustrating for those practicing HR and those who work with them.

ListenI’d like to show you a simple alternative.  Listen.

It’s an overlooked skill and attribute that we don’t practice in HR, or in organizations for the most part.  Please understand that I’m not talking about the different “types” of listening highlighted in communication models.  It’s much more simple than that.

Our employees want people who will take the time to hear what is on their mind.  We tend to think that these requests are such a hassle because we have so much more that is important and needs our attention.  I have to work myself to not fall into this approach.  I think that we consider the request to listen to people difficult because our mind tends to think the worst will occur.  If we were honest about it, we tend to be more negative about people than positive.  Our minds start to formulate all the “what if” scenarios that are sure to come up when the conversations occur, and they never come true.

Just this past week I had several requests from both Managers and front-line staff to meet with them.  This wasn’t on my schedule or in my planner.  The fact was that I had some fairly large projects in front of me that were due.  I chose to fight the urge to put these requests to the side and went to meet with each person.  I’m glad I did.  In each situation, I was able to be the sounding board that was needed at that time.  The conversations ranged from personal issues outside of work to difficultly with a manager who seems to be ignoring his staff.

Honestly, it was the best use of my time because the challenges that these employees were facing were only going to grow if someone didn’t listen to them.  I think there are three keys to making listening work:

Be Available – That sounds simple, but as I mentioned before, we put other things in front of people all the time.  Being available takes discipline and a ton of effort.  If you do this, you’ll honestly differentiate yourself from most HR practitioners !!

Don’t Seek Solutions – This goes against the grain of who we are.  We don’t feel we’re being good professionals if we don’t come up with the perfect solution to everything we face.  You may get a chance to offer a solution, but just listen first.  Seriously, listen and see where things go before formulating what could be done.

Be Consistent – You’ll do better to listen to all of your employees and not just those who are problems.  The more you listen to people the more you learn.  This will allow you to be closer to your team members, and chances are you’ll hear things early on and be able to anticipate how things will move.

Listening is something that has taken me years to learn.  It’s tough to admit that but it’s true.  I know it makes a difference.  This week start listening and see what happens !!

 

Dark Matter

The conversation usually starts out like this . . .

“You’ll never believe what just happened !!  I have an employee who . . .”

The conversation unfolds and you find yourself deep inside yet another difficult, dark employee relations issue.  Before you can say a word, or offer any insight, the mob (usually folks outside of HR) have gathered their torches and pitchforks ready to unleash their fury in the form of some level of progressive discipline – up to and including termination.  At least this time they came to you versus handing out their own type of justice first and expect you to pick up the pieces.

The challenge for you is not only that you are delving once again in the dark matter of people’s lives and in the organization, but how do you keep it up?  Seriously.  If you are always around the dark side of people’s lives and behavior, how do you not quickly fall into that same black hole?

Have you ever been to an HR Conference?  It’s like a dark matter convention.  If you listen in on what HR pros are talking about, more often than not, they’re unloading the dark matter situations that they’ve been dealing with since the last conference. It becomes a flurry of “Oh, yeah but let me tell you about this one !!”  I don’t fault people for sharing because they’re doing it to try and cope with constantly being surrounded with difficult situations.  Some of the stories truly are funny, but most of them are tragic and sad.

Add on to this the constant bombardment of people wanting HR to focus on Employee Engagement, being a great place to work, and building an attractive culture.  These are definitely items people would prefer working on.  The barrier to doing this is the lurking feeling that the next dark situation is just around the corner.

What can be done to combat this fact of working in Human Resources?  How can you make it so that you aren’t consumed with the next negative aspect of human behavior?  Is there something that isn’t trite or cutesy like inspirational posters on the wall that no one reads?

There is.  It’s not easy, but there is.

Candle in the DarkI’ve been in HR for over three decades now and I continue to enjoy it more and more each year !!  That’s not some motivational quote for a blog.  It’s the truth !!  Have I been discouraged at times? You bet.  It hasn’t been for long though.  Here’s what I do to fight the dark matter:

Remember that EVERYONE has value !! – We always talk about employees as if they aren’t people.  We also forget that we’re people too.  We can’t wait to pull out some manual and address people with policies.  You need to address people as people first.  If their behavior falls into an area that deserves discipline, then be consistent with it.  However, you must meet with the employee first and see what’s happening with them before launching into some short-sighted action just to lessen the pain.

Surround yourself with positive people !! – This is more than the usual “be positive” encouragement.  If you are around other HR pros who are positive as well as you are, then you have a community that gives your alternative perspectives to consider.

Have an accountability partner !! – You will slip and get dark.  It’s impossible not to.  However, you need to have an anchor or two who will be there for you no matter what.  They are your “confessor” so that you make your feelings known and they’ll be there for you no matter what is shared or felt.

Be the light in the dark !! – I know this sounds like a catch phrase, but hear me out.  You have the choice as to how to approach people every single day.  If you think poorly about others, it will show.  If people constantly bring a sigh to you and not a smile, then you can see where you are.

Turn that around.  I can tell you that it’s worth it.  I don’t think being positive is some parlor trick.  It’s a way of life.  Be that light.  Start dispelling the darkness.  Your company is looking for it !!

 

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.

Who Are You ??

I am an unabashed music freak !!  Seriously, I have music on constantly.  In my car.  In my office. When I do work around the house.  Almost everywhere.  My office has a signed copy of U2’s The Joshua Tree album (vinyl), a signed microphone from Peter Frampton and a huge collage of the legends of rock.

To keep my musical intake going, I’ve been listening to the autobiography of Pete Townshend, from The Who, called, Who I Am. It is incredibly raw, candid, deeply detailed and fascinating !!  This post isn’t meant to glorify the rock life because, honestly, he has made MANY choices that are detrimental in many ways.  The cool thing about it though is that he recognizes that and owns up to both his successes and failures.

However, one thing I am taking away from this deep dive into rock lore (he casually mentions how Jimi Hendrix was his friend . . .) is that Townshend is exactly who he is.  It’s not a charade.  It’s not an act.  It’s real at an almost uncomfortable level.

This brings me back to HR.  I think that too many of us in our profession are guarded in our approach to most of what we do.  We are hesitant to be ourselves at work because we’re “HR”.  This is odd to me.  How do we expect others in the workplace to be real and open when we’re not willing to be part of the tribe?

I think we’re missing out when we’re not transparent about our likes, beliefs, joys, concerns, successes, faults, etc.  In The Who’s epic anthem – Who Are You? – one lyric that Roger Daltrey screams is – I REALLY WANT TO KNOW !!

Most people I know, especially those in HR, are reluctant to put themselves out there because we feel we have to take on some corporate persona that distances us from everyone.  And you wonder why people take pot shots at who we are and what we do?  If we’re not willing to be genuine and accessible, then how do we expect others to take the first step?

Be Who You Want to BeHere’s how I have ALWAYS looked at life (and HR).  I make myself open and vulnerable the moment I meet you.  Does that mean that I’ve been hurt?  Yes.  Does that mean that some people take advantage of that? Yes.  Has it resulted in more lasting, sustainable and meaningful relationships in all areas of my life?  Most definitely !!

There is an amazing amount of risk and reward if you choose to live this way.  Overall though, it’s opened doors to be a more intentional person and HR pro who can more effectively connect with the humans all around me.  That matters.  And, it makes HR so much more meaningful and worthwhile.

To be the “Human” in HR you have to be the “human” first !!

So, this week start peeling back the layers and let people see the great person you are.  I have a feeling you’ll see how freeing this is, and I hope (truly) that I get to meet you, know you and see who you are !!

Image courtesy of Quote Diary

Stop the Just a’s !!

Not sure if you know this, but my life during the day is being the head of HR for LaRosa’s !!  We’re a regional pizzeria that is a true Cincinnati tradition.  I’m very fortunate to work for a known brand, and our pizza is honestly the best on the planet !!

The role I have is very strategic and is expected to be.  I get the chance to work with our 1,200+ Team Members over 15 pizzerias, a manufacturing plant where we make our incredible dough, a call center and our corporate office.  This isn’t a bio or a “look what I do” post.  It’s a reminder.

You see, I hear a phrase in my company that occurs in every company around the world.  It’s a phrase that relegates people and doesn’t show the value they truly bring to work every . . . single . . . day.  Whenever you hear someone say, “Well, they’re just a (insert position here)”

If you ever say this, or hear it said by someone else, you should correct the person who says it and tell them to cut it out.  There isn’t one position in an organization that is more critical than another.  All employees play a role and it is critical that we see the value of what they do.  For example . . .  If the phenomenal cooks in our restaurants don’t do their best, it has an adverse affect on the guest’s experience and possibly the company.  They aren’t “just” cooks.  They are the first chance to make a person’s visit to our location the best meal they’ve had !!

I think most people reading this will be cool with addressing the “just a’s” of other roles in our companies.  Now . . . let’s talk peer-to-peer.

HR pros need to quit saying, and acting, that we’re “just” in HR !!  Seriously.  There is no other position, or field, that is so critical of itself.  We continue to belittle what we do and it makes absolutely no sense.

Yoda QuoteI think we need to position ourselves differently by our actions and our behavior by being Businesspeople who practice HR.  We need to see ourselves as being integrated throughout our company, and make the steps to do this on a regular basis.  This isn’t a “try” position.  It’s a “do” commitment !!

I’ve had some people be skeptical about my enthusiasm about how much HR rocks !!  It doesn’t dissuade me in the least.  In fact, it makes me want to try even harder to get our field out of the mode of being a 2nd class position in organizations.

This week DO something about this.  (1) Stop allowing others to sell your employees short. (2) Value and elevate the great people who make your company successful !! and (3) Don’t ever, ever, ever say you’re “just” in HR again !!

Image courtesy of Inspiration Boost

When Kids Grow Up . . .

This past weekend I led our Troop Advancement Outing.  As the Scoutmaster, it’s my one outing where I am officially “in charge.”  That term is used very loosely because the boys plan everything.  I only make sure that the outing is focused on helping the new kids work on things that help them advance in rank.

It seems that every campout I run for the Advancement Outing has a unique weather element to it !!  This year we had below freezing temperatures, rain and sleet. Yipee !!  You have to love Ohio in April !!  The amazing thing about this weather anomaly was that the boys didn’t even flinch an eye.  Sure, it was cold, but they were camping and that was good enough for them.

During this full weekend, the older Scouts taught the new Scouts how to build fires, wield axes, identify plants and animals as well as basic First Aid.  One requirement we always include is a five mile hike.  I always go with the kids because I love doing the activies with them !!  The hike rocked !!!  We saw evidence of deer, raccoons and beavers.  We saw plants and trees we’d never seen before and the highlight of the hike was the break we took.  We stopped at a creek and I told the boys they could spend 15 minutes creeking.  They literally jumped off the bridge and straight into the freezing water !!  They searched for crayfish, fossils, caves, etc.  The energy level skyrocketed !!

Later, our First Aid walk was truly epic !!  The boys walk through the woods and come upon various injured people and they have to identify the problem and a solution to how to help them.  My amazing son led this and came up with Attack of the Insane Doll !!  So, each injured scout along the route had been attacked by a stuffed childhood toy and left the boys punctured, blistered, burned, rabid and broken – with a compound fracture.  The boys who acted out the walk were spectacular and the make-up and props were of Hollywood quality.

So, what does this have to do with HR or the workplace ??  Everything !!

You know what happens to kids when grow up ??  They become our employees !!

So, the bright-eyed and creative kids who jump into a freezing creek and get muddy and soaked may be CEO’s !!  The victims of the insane doll may be engineers, factory workers or managers.

However, when they grow up and come to WORK we have to do our duty to suck their souls out to make sure they “perform” and don’t bring their whole self to work.  We have standards to uphold for goodness sake.

Also, if employees actually did bring their entire being to work, what would happen ??  The sad thing is that we don’t know.  People put on their work face to make sure that things get done and order is ensured.  Also sad !!

Blur the LineWe have a great opportunity in HR to eradicate this and get the kid factor back into our workplaces.  When I think of culture, I want to see people who are engaged, genuine and playful.  I’m fortunate to be at a company that not only allows that – it expects it.

So, this week be a kid.  You know you want to and the other kids around you are just waiting for someone to break out and make it FUN versus it being WORK.  The creek’s waiting . . . just watch out for that doll !!

Grace

When someone wrongs you, how do you react?  Are you angry, vindictive, ready to pounce?  For most of us, the answer is “it depends.”  We’ll take a breath and then decide the best course of action.

However, when it comes to employees, we often forget to breathe first.  We jump to the nearest set of policies and then comb through them to see what level of discipline needs to be metered out.  It amazes me as an HR person that when employees slip up, the reaction is usually swift, harsh and doesn’t take anything into consideration – really.

Our systems of progressive discipline and layers of breaking Rule 1.0.1, Subsection A litter our field with little regard of how these actions affect the person who broke said rule.  We act as if they are the most disloyal, uncaring and detrimental person who EVER worked for the company !!

Here’s a question for you . . . ever make a mistake or break a rule at work?

Did the appropriate action take place?  Were you written up, counseled, suspended or fired?  What if you were in this situation?  How should the Company treat you ??

GraceIt’s time for a different approach to HR.  Please take note that this path is much more difficult, painful and intentional.  However, it works !!

Grace.

Before launching into the employee handbook, remember that your decision and actions are actually affecting another person’s life.  That may be their life at work, or their life in general.  I don’t think that as HR professionals, we ever think about the person we’re addressing.  Our system is more important because we feel we are acting justly and, in doing so, we’re protecting the Company.

I’m not saying that discipline and termination aren’t warranted at work.  However, I use a yard stick which says that these only occur based on an employee’s behavior and actions.  Even with that benchmark, I still review each case and take into account all of the factors as well as the person who’s about to be disciplined.  I want them to come out of any conversation understanding the situation, its context and how we move forward from there.

Now, so you don’t think I’m being Utopian or an idealist, understand that I practice this personally inside work and outside of work.  It’s not a popular position because most people want a pound of flesh when they are wronged.  I’ll hold out until the last moment that I can before making difficult decisions because I believe in people, even in the darkest situations.

You see, I make mistakes and I have disappointed others – even those closest to me.  How can I expect grace from others if I am not willing to be graceful myself?  Also, how will others show grace if it isn’t given to them?

I know this works.  And, I have reassurance as well because I’ve seen the results.  It’s like U2 says in their phenomenal song – Grace from All That You Can’t Leave Behind – “Grace finds goodness in everything.”  Try it and see !!