Thankful.

This past week my family, along with many others, celebrated Thanksgiving.  I am still a traditionalist when it comes to the holidays and their order.  Gathering together over food is always a good thing, but what drives it home for me is that we normally do it around people. These people may include relatives, friends or even acquaintances.  More often than not we feel recharged and refreshed after spending time with each other.

Then, we return to work and that level of enjoyment and intimacy dissipates so fast that it can’t even be tracked.  We are surrounded with another group of people who drive home the mantra of “get things done.”  Don’t get me wrong, productivity is essential for the success of businesses and our own personal careers.  But getting things “done” almost completely eliminates the interaction of the people around us.  We skim across the surface of everyone picking the one or two items needed to move our work and projects forward because spending time with them personally would be viewed as inefficient.

Don’t believe me?  There are entire books and conferences dedicated to this.  People flock to these forums and love the “take aways” they get from power points, flash drives or tool kits.  However, the best resources they could have found were sitting next to them.  Those resources were ignored because they are people we don’t know, and we could be seen as too forward if we reached out to get to know them.

I happened to check an e-mail while I was off for the holiday from a friend and it crushed me.  She wrote me to tell me that she was thankful for me because I had made an introduction to her back in 2009 that literally saved her business as a sole proprietor.  I couldn’t believe it.  She went on to say that this connection has continued to lead to business opportunities to this day.  She didn’t want to miss the opportunity to say thanks.

It led to me to think this . . .  Who we affect is far more important than what we get done !!

In HR we have the chance, and the obligation, to positively affect all of the people around us and not just wait for the holidays to recharge ourselves around those we know better.  We can dive past the façade of surfaces and spend time to get to know the people who make work come to life and drive productivity.  It’s time for us to remember that work happens through people and not in spite of them.

ThankfulSo, I’d like to start something that I hope you take forward.

I’m thankful for YOU !!  I’m thankful that you’ve chosen to read this blog.  I’m hopeful that we are connected, and if we aren’t, I’m hopeful that we can become connected.

I’m thankful that you’re involved in some way with HR and people.  It is a challenging field, but it is also one of the most fulfilling careers a person could ever pursue.  You have the chance to interact with humans everyday, and you never know how your interaction may deeply impact them.

Here’s how to move this forward.  Be like my friend and thank someone who has impacted you.  Don’t wait for the perfect moment or a particular setting.  Reach out today with a note, a phone call, an e-mail, or something you know will matter to them.  Watch what happens.  See how you will be recharged each and every day.  You won’t have to wait for that next holiday.  You’ll see that being Thankful is a fantastic state to be in all the time !!

Sorry, We’re Closed !!

This weekend, my son took a giant step of leadership and initiative !!  He began work on his Eagle Scout project.  He started building a shed to replace a POD for the Animal Friends Humane Society who currently has to pay to have the POD for food storage for the animals.  The project is massive, but he is more than able to take it on.  Have to say the “proud father” tears often swell to the surface when I think about how amazing he is !!

One of the keys in doing a project like this is that you get first-hand experience on when things go well . . . and when they don’t.

Josh had ordered the shed from one of those big box hardware stores and everything was scheduled to be delivered on site (a mile from the store) the Friday before his first workday on Saturday.  We stopped by the store on Friday night just to make sure that everything was ready.  The shipping supervisor looked a bit confused and dumbfounded when Josh asked about the delivery.  It looked like it was “supposed” to have happened, but another employee hadn’t entered the firm delivery in the computer, so it didn’t exist.

Another key to an Eagle Scout project is to adapt.

Josh asked if we could compromise and get a rental truck and get some of the material to make the shed’s base and floor for the next day because people were scheduled to come and help.  The store agreed and waived the rental fee for the truck and apologized for the mistake and confirmed that they could deliver the remainder of the materials on Sunday.  Josh added an extra work day, but still moved forward.

On Saturday morning, we arrived to get the rental truck and pick up the material for the floor.  We were directed over to the lumber yard, and we were the first customers for the day.  A young man in a Security shirt came out of the guard shack and the following happened.

Guard:  May I help you?

Steve:  We were told to come back to the lumber yard to get material.

Guard:  Sorry, we’re closed.

Steve:  What ?! (confused and frustrated from the original delivery being mixed up)  They told us to come back here.

Guard:  Sorry, they must have told you the wrong information.  We’re closed.

Steve:  But we need to get the lumber.  You don’t understand, we have people . . .

Guard:  It’s okay.  I’m just messing with you.  We’re open.  Come on in.  Can I help you get to where you need to go?

We busted out laughing !!  The young man saw that we were in a hurry and had to “get things done.”  He noticed we were missing out on starting the day getting some material to do some project.  We weren’t there to enjoy the experience and he was supposed to just do his job.

The thing is – he was doing his job better than anyone could have imagined !!  He chose to take a rather mundane job (checking people in and out of a lumber yard ALL DAY) and make it enjoyable.  I loved his creativity and told him that I appreciated his approach.

Love Your WorkI’m sure if typical supervisors had seen this interaction, the guard would have been coached if not disciplined or terminated.  We want people to WORK and be productive.  We have spent years beating the passion out of people, and yet we expect them to bring the workplace to life through their jobs.

I had to come back later Saturday morning, because you always have at least 3 return trips to hardware stores during a project, and I saw the guard again.  I couldn’t resist, so I said, “I see you’re open now !!”  He didn’t miss a beat, “Yeah, you just caught us because we were closed ten minutes ago.”

HR needs to take note to give employees permission to love what they do and who they interact with.  Work would be a better place if we looked at how to make people smile in what we do regardless of our role.

That young man made our day !!  I’m sure glad he was “closed” !!

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 !!

I Need a Bucket !!

Before you think this is a post about Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, it really takes a different twist (even though I’m a devout Python fan !!)

There has been a recent trend in blog posts that came to life at work for me this week.  I first came across Susan David‘s fabulous post on Harvard Business Review on engagement and meeting employee’s needs. Secondly, I read one of my faves Paul Hebert on Symbolist and his take on finding out what employees want.  If you take nothing else from this post, make sure you connect with these great folks and resources !!

This all came to life for me through one of my favorite Team Members.  Greg has been with us for over 30 years and he started when he was 16.  Greg is fantastic because he has always done the work that most people look down upon or consider below them.  Greg started with us as a dishwasher taking care of all of the various dishes from our guests as well as the kitchen equipment.  It really is one of the key positions in our pizzerias !!  A little over a year ago we asked Greg to try something new and clean the parking lot for our anchor store as well as the parking lot for the Corporate Office.

Greg has always taken great pride in his work, and he welcomed the new opportunity.  A few weeks ago he asked me for a new bucket.  I didn’t think much of it because he had a bucket, but something seemed wrong.  He seemed out of sorts which doesn’t happen that often.  When Greg saw me, he’d check in and see if I had found a bucket yet.  I asked Greg what kind of bucket he wanted and he said, “Something big and colorful.”

Lowe's BucketI took Greg’s request to heart and found a beautiful, blue bucket at Lowe’s.  I walked it over to the pizzeria and asked the GM to get Greg and have him meet me at the restaurant.  He thought something was wrong, but his eyes lit up when he saw me with the new bucket !!

He explained to me that someone had ruined his last bucket and it was great to have something new !!

You need to know something fantastic about Greg !! He is a Special Needs Team Member who is flat awesome.  In fact, when we had a group of sixth graders visiting us, Greg asked if he could speak to the class.  He was absolutely captivating because he spoke from his heart about how much he loved working for us, and he encouraged all of the kids to make sure to apply to work for us when they turned 16 just like he did !!

A bucket.  Something that seems to be insignificant and simple to most, changed Greg’s day.  I can see him now across the street as his blue bucket bops up and down as he walks joyfully through the lots.

What’s something that’s staring you in the face which may mean little to you, but would change an employee’s life ??  We make HR so layered and difficult, and miss people’s needs that are right in front of us.

This week, strip off the layers and look for those “bottom shelf” needs that you have been missing.  Recognize that it’s important to someone else and then fill their bucket !!

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 !!

 

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.

I Love to Laugh !!

How often are you around little kids?  I would have to say that I’m not around them nearly often enough !!  Little kids “get it” when it comes to life.  They see everything around them as something worth looking at, taking time for, and experiencing.  They will do this for their entire day and think that it’s normal.  When adults step in to squelch their innate sense of joy and exploration, kids respond with some of the most confused facial expressions possible.

One characteristic that I truly enjoy is hearing children laugh.  It’s infectious.  They see things that most of us consider mundane or irrelevant, and just flat lose their mind.  It’s fantastic !!  When a child loses themselves completely in laughter, anyone who is near them will be affected . . . in a good way.  They usually bust out in raucous laughter themselves.

I have to confess.  I’m a laugher.  It’s a loud, belly laugh more often than not. I make sure to laugh every day.  Every day.  It’s not like I put in a planner or on my To-Do lists. There are just too many things that happen every day that deserve laughter and joy.  You never know what it will be, but you will miss it if you’re not looking for it.

Laughter QuoteI wish more HR people would bring laughter and joy to what they do !! When I get together with my peers, and we can peel back the frustrations of the job, we have more laughs than not.  The question is – how can you incorporate more laughter in your workplace?  The first thing to do is to take on the philosophy that Charlie Chaplin followed (see the picture).

If you thought that your entire day would be wasted if you didn’t laugh, I bet you’d laugh more often !!  There are countless studies that show the healing power of laughter and how it reduces stress.  If that’s not enough of an incentive, it also clears the cobwebs and allows you to look at something with a fresh perspective.  Any feelings of angst just disappear.

Secondly, you have to take on the Mary Poppins approach where Ed Wynn proudly sings, “I love to laugh, loud and long and clear !!”  Laughing out loud is essential.  We are way too reserved as HR pros in the workplace.  We keep to ourselves and don’t feel that we can express ourselves.  That’s truly a shame because we have an opportunity to bring life and excitement to our people, our workplace and our culture.  If you chose to look at HR with this perspective, would it change your outlook as to what you do?

This week, stop the grousing and start the chuckling !!  Something so simple can be something extremely profound.  Look for the laughter.  I know I will !!

A Daily Mantra !!

This past week we celebrated a Team Member’s 30th anniversary !!  This is a rarity in any organization these days.  She truly is beloved.  When we sent out the notice that we were going to recognize her, many people, including several Executives and Senior Leaders, cleared their schedules to make sure they were present.

Our recognition program is very personalized.  We meet our Team Members during their shift and at their location. We finally learned that recognition needs to be focused on the employee and not the HR program or benevolence of the company !!  This simple shift has made recognition meaningful for all involved.

What made this occasion so great was the impact that this Team Member has had.  EVERY person who came to say congratulations had worked with her including the CEO and the President of the company !!  She has literally touched the lives of an incredible number of people who passed her to take on loftier roles in the organization.

When everyone gathered, there were loads of hugs, laughs and stories shared.  She had at least one story about everyone who came.  Here’s mine . . .

She is truly unique and salty !!  When I started in my role, my first interaction with her was because she had hung signs in the kitchen that said, “Make sure to put away your mother*$#*%ing glasses !!” She heard that HR wanted to talk to her and she was ready for me.  I told her that I’d like to take the signs down, and asked her why she felt the need to say these things.  She didn’t miss a beat. “Do you see all the glasses sitting around ??”  There was never any ill will or intent in her approach.

No one has ever felt threatened or hurt by her coarse language.  When I talked to her I got to know her better and she got to know me as well.  I make sure to drop by and see her every once in awhile and she says, “Hey, Steve, I haven’t put up any f*#$ng signs lately.”  And, we howl !!  We’ve both learned from each other over the years.

The whole time we were recognizing Louise, it was very emotional.  We shed tears, laughed until it hurt and reveled in the stories from her 30 years with us.  It was fantastic !!

Laughing Ha HaAs we were wrapping up, the President of the company shared this . . . “Recently, I read that to have a full life people should laugh out loud, cry out loud and touch someone else’s life every day – and Louise that describes you perfectly !!”  You can guess that tears flowed freely.

I think it’s something that all of us as humans can take on as our mantra.  This isn’t just an “HR” thing.  You see I believe that our workplaces are full of people like Louise.  It’s just that so many people continue to think that HR’s focus is on the negative. I hate when I hear people trying to learn from HR horror stories because that’s when idiotic policies, procedures and programs come to life.

I could have jumped her when I saw her signs.  I could have written up a tenured employee because she was using harsh language.  I could have overreacted and jumped to conclusions, created a massive anti-cursing policy with 5 levels of progressive discipline. Or, I could talk to her and hear her side of things.

I’m so glad I took the last approach.

I made sure I was Louise’s last hug.  It was warm, caring and I told her how much she meant to me and to the lives of so many.  She pulled back and said, “Thank You.  Now get out of here you . . . “

What’s Your Approach ??

At times Human Resources feels like it moves at an amazingly fast pace !!  There may be some peaks and valleys, but each day is more likely a blur.  I know many folks who have to double-check their Outlook calendars just to remind them what day it is.

With things moving so quickly all the time, there is the possibility that the field we should love becomes the job that is more drudgery than joy.  If you don’t think this is true, go to an HR Conference and listen to the conversations in the crowds.  Most of them are not positive and are laced with unending frustration.

There’s a way out of this constant drain of negativity.  It does, however, take a huge intentional effort which many aren’t willing to do.  It’s not “hard” but it is different from the norm.

It’s all about your approach . . .

ApproachYour approach to your life.  Your approach to HR.  Your approach towards your employees.  And, your approach towards others around you.

Let me share an example that just happened.  We are entering the SHRM Conference season.  There are phenomenal regional and State events that you should check out and attend.  I just attended and spoke at the 48th Annual Northern Ohio HR Conference (NOHRC) in Cleveland.  It’s a great event full of great programs, business partners and, most importantly, HR pros.

Often when folks go to Conferences, they are much more focused and concerned with which sessions have Strategic Credit, where are the best seats, who should they go see and what is going to happen . . . every . . . single . . . minute.  They willingly walk past every other attendee to get to their session without even greeting each other.  The session is FAR MORE important than the other attendees.

Having experienced this more often than I like, I opened my session by asking all of the people who came to take 30 seconds and meet the people around them. The energy level in the room jumped !!  People started smiling and they shook off the full day of sessions and activities.  Their minds were clear, they were ready for something different and we launched.

I shared with everybody my observation that we struggle with HR because of how we approach it.  Just like the conference setting, we are so much more concerned and focused on systems, policies and procedures than we are the people who work with us.  People who come to work and want to do great work, be recognized for it by person-to-person feedback and also want to see their company succeed !!

The other example I shared at my session was that when I attend an HR conference, I spend my time almost primarily seeking out friends, meeting new people and getting connected to them.  I also attend sessions, but usually to meet others.  When people go to conferences with me they better get used to delays because I will get, and give, countless hugs, handshakes and hellos.

You see, PEOPLE are my approach !!

This isn’t an admonishment, it’s an opportunity.  People make us who we are as a profession and it’s the most fulfilling approach I know.  So, this week, drop one system.  Ignore one policy.  Skip one procedure.

But . . . approach EVERY person with a new view !!  I guarantee you’ll love it !!

Image courtesy of Dragyn Studios

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.