The First Cut !!

One of the great things about living in the Midwest is that you experience four distinct seasons. Spring “officially” began March 21st with the vernal equinox, but Spring doesn’t really start until you get to work out in the yard. I truly enjoy working out in my yard. It’s a chance to listen to music with my ever present iPod (old school), clear my head with any of life’s pressures, and get my hands dirty working in the beds.

So, this weekend Spring officially began at my house. There was a forecast for warmer weather without rain for a few hours. I put on some clothes that I knew would get dirty, slapped in my earbuds and hit “play”. As Your Gold Teeth by Steely Dan started playing, I jumped into action. It was fantastic !! I moved from the front beds, to the side beds to the beds that serve as a perimeter to our back porch. There was a mixture of tasks ranging from picking up dead leaves, destroying weeds and removing the dead growth from plants just starting to turn green and reemerge.

Then, the lawn. I’m kind of old school on some things including walking behind my mower to cut the 1/2 acre lot I live on. As I get older, the yard seems to get a bit larger and a little more challenging to complete. However, it’s normally the best 1 1/2 to 2 hours I have every week. Exercise mixed with some sweat and tunes. Almost perfection.

There’s one thing to note that happens after the first cut of the season. The grass now has the okay to grow once again. A bit of trimming stimulates the innate nature of the lawn and growth is rekindled. I don’t know the science behind this, but the action which you’d think would be detrimental to a living organism, is exactly the opposite. It’s the stimulus it needs in order to fulfill its purpose !!

Have you looked around the “lawn” at your workplace lately? How does it appear? Is it dormant or eager to grow? Is your focus on the entire environment where you work?

Too often HR is stuck in the weeds – literally. We spend so much of our time on the exceptions of the people we have the privilege to coexist with that we never feel we even have time to tend to anything else. This is a mistake and we need to change our focus. We have the chance to put on our work clothes and interact with every department just like my lawn and flower beds. We can remove the clutter and unnecessary items that keep people from performing. We can make sure that everything has room to blossom and spread out. And finally, we can “cut the grass” and stimulate employees to no longer remain dormant and stuck in their ways.

The question is, where do you spend your time now? I choose to be the HR person who works the land and encourages it to flourish !! At the end of this weekend’s yard session, I was spent. In fact, I came inside and washed up before collapsing into a deep nap on the sofa. That same sense of giving all I have to make employees and the workplace thrive is something that I strive to do on a regular basis.

How about you? Ready to make the first cut of the year? Put in your earbuds, hit play and let’s go !!

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 . . .

Keep It Real !!

It seems that the workplace environment is more of a moving target than ever. Employees have higher expectations of themselves and the work they do. I continue to see blogs and articles about how “frustrating” this is for HR, and I have to giggle. Seriously. How can you get upset that people want to have clarity in their roles and an explanation of how they can add value?

You’d think that we’d be out of the top/down model, mentality and approach in 2017, but we’re not. It’s true that more and more workplaces are blurring the edges and boundaries of what work spaces look like, and that is encouraging. The question I have is – Are we keeping up with this shift as HR, or are we holding firm on the tried and true?

I think you need to pull out the best answer there is in HR – it depends.

I want to be careful not to overgeneralize the state and temperature of company workplaces. I know there are folks who work in places where things rock and the employees are engaged more often than not. My hope is that this turns from perception and “best places to work” survey results to the reality of the workplace. The one thing I see that is a constant thread in great workplaces is that HR keeps it real.

What does “keep it real” look like? Let me paint a picture for you of what it is and what it isn’t. Let’s get the negative bit out of the way. When I hear HR folks who describe themselves as “brutally honest” and “don’t pull any punches”, I cringe. Those folks are just blowhards who wield their role, position and authority in a way that they bull their way through situations and people. That may be their “real” approach, but it is flawed and egocentric.

HR folks who keep it real are authentic, genuine, vulnerable and, dare I say, human. They are flawed, emotional and aren’t afraid to admit when they fail. Here are the outward characteristics I see in HR practitioners who keep it real:

They’re others focused

When you hear HR people who talk about the employees they lead and serve first, you’ve found a foundational quality of keeping it real. You very rarely see, or hear, these people talk about themselves first in any situation. Being others focused takes patience, intentionality and an assurance in knowing that in the end, taking care of others will benefit them personally in more meaningful and lasting ways.

They show their emotions while keeping their cool

A word, an approach, I’d like to see HR adopt here is being unflappable. You may have to fight the urge to scream or lash out at someone when you are involved in difficult employee situations, but you just can’t do it. I don’t mean that you swallow your feelings. In fact, it’s just the opposite. When you meet people emotionally where they are versus being an unfeeling robot armed with endless policies and procedures, you’ll see what I mean. All people are emotional – including HR !! Meet others where they are, and then keep your cool. When you do this, you can diffuse even the most highly emotionally charged situations. People want to be heard, so take a deep breath, and listen.

They laugh

This may seem silly, but people love to laugh. There’s no room here to try to force humor or tear others down because that isn’t funny, it’s just cruel. I know that we all need more joy and encouragement in our lives and having a positive outlook to see the good in others will lead you to laugh – naturally. I know that laughter is an essential part of every day for me. If I’m not laughing, and getting others to laugh with me, then tensions rise. Make sure you’re looking at yourself on this point. If you’re not laughing enough, change that.

It’s time for HR to remove the cloak of invisibility and dark theme music that people tend to try and associate us with as a stereotype. That can only happen when we put on something else – the mantle of keeping it real !!

Wide Awake !!

During my time at Ohio University, I fell hard for a new band (at the time) called U2. After I heard their music, I couldn’t get enough of them. We had two record (yes, record) stores in Athens at the time, and I made sure to make regular trips to both of them to pick up anything U2 had put out.

I found an EP on vinyl that the band issued called Wide Awake in America which contained only four songs. That didn’t matter to me because it had a live version of my favorite song, Bad. Every Friday afternoon, I would hurry back from class and pull out this wonderful vinyl masterpiece and turn on my stereo as loud as possible to crank out Bad !! Every. Friday. No one could yell at me because I was the Resident Assistant who was in charge of a section of the dorm. My residents just got used to it and new it was officially Friday afternoon. Quick aside – I let them crank their music too because that is what stereos were built for.

The reason I love the song Bad so much was that the band was fully engrossed in every note and Bono’s voice soared and screamed about the crowd bringing them to a major crescendo and then to an almost silent phrase. Honestly, I still get teary if I hear the song played loudly. The lyrics that pulled out such emotion are:

“Wide awake. I’m wide awake. Wide awake. I’m not sleeping.”

They seem pretty normal when you just look at them typed on a blog page. But, when they’re sung, they come alive and make me think about HR and the workplace.

Have you ever gone to work and everyone seems like they’re just going through the motions? Including you? It is so easy to get in a pattern that moves along like a slow hum that has little to no variation. People come to the office or plant at the same time, park in the same place and greet each other with the obligatory “Hi.” “How are you doing?” “Good.” “Good.” We’re even thankful that this interaction comes to a swift end.

Why do we tolerate this or fall into this sedated state? I’m not talking about the poor performers here. I’m talking about your solid performers at each level. At times, work just seems to feel like you’re a drone in a bee hive. You serve a purpose and you’re good at what you do, but there is little life to your efforts.

Time to wake up !!

Before you start pointing fingers about who the zombies are lurching around the workplace, look in the mirror. Where are you on the wide awake scale? When is the last time you pushed yourself out of the daze and interjected life into who you are and what you do? It’s easy to point out what’s missing in others, but I challenge you to take a different stance and lead from your own behavior first.

We have an incredible opportunity each and every day to bring the work environment to life. We can add energy and encouragement that lifts the spirits of others. There shouldn’t be an occasion when things aren’t addressed with passion and intent. Not one.

This week, wake up !! Make sure that where you work is awake and snap everyone out of their funk. As HR, it’s in your wheel house to make this happen. Quit thinking that everything is bland without taking action to never let that be the case. Join me and be wide awake !!

Time to get out the vinyl, drop the needle and turn it up !!

Give a Sign !!

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

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

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

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

Be the brand !!

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

Give people direction !!

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

Light the way !!

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

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

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

Given First

Trust.

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

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

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

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

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

These happen because we’re humans.

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

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

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

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

In Between

This weekend my wife and I went on a road trip to visit my parents. This is always a great time because I’m fortunate to have an incredible mom and dad who are vibrant, active and engaging. They’re both in their mid-seventies, so I’m thankful that they’re both doing well.

We actually went on purpose this time for our visit to help them take down their Christmas decorations and put them away in their attic and shed. This was a first for them because they had always done this themselves, but the tide has turned when we now get the opportunity to assist them and take care of them. It didn’t take much effort, and I was glad we were able to help.

As we were driving home, I began to wonder how a simple task today was going to inevitably evolve over time. This is not a “new” subject, but it was the first time it hit home for me personally. I am from a generation that will be taking care of my parents while also having to take care of my kids. Granted, my “kids” are now young adults so there isn’t as much direct care needed, but it’s a fact that is going to be more an more present over time.

This is a workplace issue now, and I don’t know that we acknowledge it well as HR professionals. I hate to be bold, but I think that THIS is the real generational issue that all employers face. Are you prepared to address your employees who are in between taking care of their parents as well as their own family? Is it something you’ve even thought about?

I understand that employers have policies regarding time-off, leaves of absence and Family Medical Leave (FMLA). I’m sure that you’ll follow those according to the parameters that are established. This issue is greater than systems, as most HR issues honestly are.

We need to think outside the systems that we continue to establish to allow for people to care for their parents on a case-by-case basis. Wouldn’t it be a better workplace if we allowed for grace and movement versus containment and compliance? People are already feeling stuck between parental care, their daily work and their family lives at home.

On top of feeling stuck, we can’t come up with a program where one size fits all because no family situation is the same. The days of the “nuclear family” have long passed. You can’t define family relationships the same because no two families are alike. This doesn’t even address whether the relationship between people and their parents. Some may be healthy and others may be challenging.

You have an opportunity to get ahead of this by developing a procedure, not a policy, to allow for people to handle this in a healthy way. You may have employees who are in this situation now, and they are doing their best to make it on their own. Step in and find out how they’re doing and see if there’s a way to give them some flexibility to help their parents.

HR needs to take steps to no longer look for more ways to constrain employees. We need to be the profession that improves the workplace, allows for people to be caring and encourages organizations to see how they can be fantastic environments through all phases of our lives.

I loved helping my parents and look forward to what they coming years bring. I know there will be challenges, but it’s my chance to reciprocate the years of love and investment they’ve made in me. I hope the same for each of you !!

Believe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaves.

I love Fall. I mean it. It is my favorite time of year by far. The mixture of cooler temperatures, apple cider, bonfires and the colorful trees make the season perfect. Add to that enjoyment is the fact that I’m a “yard guy.” I get incredible satisfaction from working with my hands doing yard work. From the first time of cutting the grass in the spring until the last piece of trimming after the first frost, I’m geeked. Genuinely, thoroughly geeked !!

I’m in the yard a ton right now because our house has several mature trees. For about a month straight it literally rains leaves all around my house. The grass becomes a vibrant blanket of color. It’s really hard to remove them, but that’s part of the gig. They need to be either raked up or mulched to clear things in anticipation of Spring.

falling-leavesAs I was mowing this year’s “crop,” something came to mind. Leaves are a lot like our employees. You see, the workplace is changing right before our eyes. Employees change roles more often than they did in the past. This may happen internally, but usually people move on to opportunities with another company. I’ve heard people say that employees aren’t loyal any more. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Just like leaves, people now work for us for a season. That season may be several years long, or it may be for a short period.

This presents a challenge for HR and traditional company cultures. We tend to settle in and think employees will stay with us forever. We are shocked when someone announces they have a new job. We should have a long-term focus for our employees, but we should balance that with the reality that they may leave. Today’s workforce is fluid and we need to be more agile and adept. This shouldn’t be seen as something that’s frustrating. It gives us a chance to evaluate and bring in great talent on an on-going basis.

On other aspect that leaves have in common with employees, is that we pile on when they change jobs. It is unfortunate that when people leave a company, everyone talks poorly about them. It’s like raking a big pile of leaves and then running to jump into it. What is the purpose of tearing someone down after they leave? Do we only have negative memories of what they did or how they performed?

We need to change this because I contend that if we can only cite negative memories of employees once they leave, then we’re thinking of them negatively now. HR should step in and not allow this negative approach to be pervasive. Here’s a new approach . . .

Get employees fully connected, engaged and contributing every day. Let them bring their best in all they do. Expect it from them and don’t shy away from this. Like leaves, every employee can appear green and the same to us when they really are colorful, creative and waiting to shed what’s common about them and show who they really are. If you do this with your people, you’ll celebrate and congratulate them when they move to their next opportunity.

Their past will get raked up or mulched to show they what they did built the value of the company while they were there. You have a chance this Fall to change your perspective about your people. Take a breath of the cool air and celebrate the leaves all around you !!

Changing Lives

I’ve mentioned in the past that I am fortunate to have amazing kids. They’re really adults now, and they’re still amazing !! I remember that when they were young they asked what I did for a living. When I told them that I was in Human Resources, they didn’t have a clue what that meant. It was difficult to explain employee relations, compensation, training and development, benefits and strategy. So, I simplified it for them.

“I hire people and give them jobs.”

They nodded and understood, but then asked, “Do you fire people too?”

I’ve always been candid with my kids and explained that firing people was part of what I did as well. There faces wrinkled up and they shook their heads as they said that that wouldn’t be fun to do. I told that that I agreed and that I never enjoyed that part of my job.

Termination is a hidden facet of HR. We don’t talk about it enough, and when we do, it’s about the legal aspects of it and our insurmountable fear of litigation. I understand that there could be potential legal considerations involved with terminations, but it shouldn’t be our primary focus. We lose the perspective that is as the base of anyone losing their job.

It changes people’s lives.

changing-livesThink about it. When a person came to work on a particular day, the last thing that entered their mind was that they were going to be let go. This may not be the case if a company has a history of downturns and layoffs, but those are usually the exception and not the rule.

Since termination changes the lives of those affected, I think it’s key to keep some things in mind in how we can approach this facet of our job from a human perspective.

People should “earn” it – What in the world does this mean? I follow a rule of thumb when it comes to termination. I only want to see someone terminated if their behavior warrants it. I don’t believe in building cases for, or against, someone. If a person’s behavior and actions are unacceptable, they should be talked to directly and intentionally. If their behavior doesn’t change, they should know that it could lead to dismissal. Having this context is much healthier and actually leads to fewer terms.

Show grace – When you have a termination discussion, show grace. This is never easy and should never be something you enjoy. Even if the employee has been very challenging, losing their job changes everything at the moment it occurs. There’s no exception. Your approach makes this process either easier or more difficult. I have been in HR for over 30 years now and I still get anxious any time terminations are involved. You need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Treat them with dignity and grace. It matters.

Be a bridge – If the termination isn’t volatile, I would recommend that you provide assistance to see how you can help them with either networking or landing their next great gig. You can be a positive influence during a negative time in their career. This may seem out of bounds or not what companies normally practice, but it differentiates you and helps with you being with them throughout their entire life cycle with your company.

Terminations are a fact in our field. You have a choice to do this well or continue to struggle with it. When you remember that what you’re doing changes lives, you’ll do it better I promise.