Practice the 3 R’s !!

It intrigues me that when the majority of HR conversations occur, they are around broad areas.  They range from regulations to compliance, HR technology to HR analytics, performance management to being strategic.  Interestingly enough there is something missing in the midst of the noise.

What’s missing ??  Employees.

When I see the myriad of pros and cons about certification options, the argument is between the terms of  “knowledge” or “competency.”  Again, concepts and not people.  The majority of our HR education and training is to become proficient with systems and processes.  But, what takes up the majority of our time and efforts? Employees.

I’m not saying this as if employees are a negative.  Far from it.  Employees are THE reason why I practice HR at all !!

So, if our interaction with employees make up the majority of HR, why are they “missing”?  I think it’s because the other areas of HR can be defined and wrapped in structure.  We can create systems that have a beginning, middle and end.  There is more of a linear approach to these areas of HR, and we appreciate the step-by-step aspects of things that can be accomplished time after time.

Employees aren’t linear.  Isn’t that fantastic?  Seriously, who wants to be around people who are predictable, bland and one-dimensional?  Is that who YOU want to be as an HR practitioner or consultant?  Would HR be better if people conveniently fit our lives like a form to be completed?  I don’t think so.

What if you did have a system that would help you describe working with employees?  What if you had three simple words that could change your perspective towards people each and every day you went to work?

My son is a senior in high school and he just started his first job.  He is making smoothies and he’s geeked about it !!  He has a uniform to wear, of course, which is intriguing because he’s a bit of a non-conformist like his dad.  However, when he saw the message of the uniform, he put it on willingly.  Why ?? Take a look.

Three R's ShirtThis is such a positive and uplifting message !! Remember . . . he makes smoothies.  When customers come to his store and see the crew decked out in these shirts, how do you think they feel?  Even if you had been experiencing a rough day, I think you’d be getting something if it revived, recharged and rebuilt you.

Now, think if you approached HR using these three R’s. If you went into work every day saying to yourself, “I’m going to revive all of those around me !!”  Think of the energy you’d bring to your role.  You’d never think about being burnt out in dealing with people because now you were going to take the time and focus to revive things.

How would your day go if you knew that you were recharged yourself and you had the chance to recharge others?  I tell you it would be awesome.  Knowing that what you did brought things to life would make HR a profession that people would be asking to join !!

Finally, if you looked at rebuilding people and lifting them up on a daily basis, I bet that you would welcome the chance to work with employees.  How would people appear to you if you knew your efforts would make them better, more productive and valued?

So, there you have it.  The three R’s don’t make people less challenging or unique, but they do give you a “structure” to work with employees. The key to remember in all of this is that HR is about people.  As a person yourself, take these three R’s to heart and see how much you, and your employees, enjoy who you are and what you do !!

How’s Your Tank ??

As you read this, you are facing another workweek. What’s your attitude going in?  Is it positive, negative, anxious?  It’s interesting that we’re always concerned with how we face the workweek, but what about all of the other employees?  They also have the same opportunity to decide how their workweek starts.

We’ve become numb when it comes to the workplace.  We go through the same patterns and motions as we enter each day.  There is truly very little variety.  When there is any significant change, we are really thrown off.  We want stability and things to be predictable.

But, have you asked yourself if your predictable pattern is healthy or not?

Fish BowlsI’ll be honest, I take my amazing work environment for granted too often.  I was reminded of this when a dear friend of mine, Brian Griffin, and I crossed paths at a favorite coffee haunt one day before work.  As we headed to our cars, he said, “Have a great day !! Remember, you become like the tank in which you swim.”

I couldn’t get this thought out of my head. The workplace is the tank that we jump into everyday and the people we work with are swimming right along side us.  If I asked the others around me, what would they say about our “tank” ??

The work environment is a key indicator of your company’s culture.  We spend an incredible amount of time in our lives at work so it shouldn’t be something that is just taken for granted.  HR has the prime opportunity to work on the fish tank and make sure that it’s healthy, inviting and fun !!  Did you recognize that last word . . . “fun” ??  It’s something that can happen.

People want to enjoy their workplace. They may still come to work if they don’t, but that doesn’t excuse HR from trying to change that.  So, what things could you address that keep people from enjoying their work?  What are things that are within your reach that could be changed with a simple move?

The challenge in making this come to life is that everyone’s workplace is unique.  There is no one size fits all formula to make this work.  That allows you to be creative.  How exciting is that?

This week step back and take a look at your workplace.  Evaluate if it is a place where people enjoy themselves and look forward to coming in.  If it needs some cleaning, then do that as well.  HR should own this.

From now on, before you go into work, ask yourself – “How’s my tank ??”

I Am Groot !!

I am an avowed HR Nerd. This is something I embrace and have since my high school days.  Growing up I collected comic books (unfortunately my mother thought they took up “too much space” . . .) and I loved them.  I couldn’t get enough of the action, the heroes, the villains and the stories.  I’ve kept that hobby going with my son.  He has a collection of comic books too, and we’ve been able to share something else – comic book movies !!

Whenever a Marvel or DC movie comes out, we are at the theater on opening night. This past summer we absolutely had to see Guardians of the Galaxy !!  It was phenomenal from start to finish (and my amazing wife bought the DVD for my birthday). If you don’t even finish this post, you should make sure you see this movie !!

I Am GrootMy favorite character by far is Groot. You’ve never seen anything like him because he’s like a giant tree and the only thing he can say is, “I am Groot.”  It doesn’t matter what the situation is he doesn’t have any other vocabulary.  In the movie he is the most empathetic individual in the group.  He is caring, heroic and even sacrificial in his friendship.  In one scene he protects the other Guardians and when his partner protests, he says, “WE are Groot.”

And this ties into HR how ??

I went to an Ohio SHRM State Council meeting at the Capitol Square Sheraton in Columbus, Ohio recently. When I arrived in our meeting room, there was George one of the Sheraton staff.  He turned quickly and said, “Steve !!” and hugged me.  “I was hoping you’d be here. Where were you last time?”  I explained that I just couldn’t make it and was sorry to miss seeing him. George left the room to tell Theresa and Mike that I had made the meeting.  Theresa shared with me that at the end of December she was named Employee of the Month for the hotel and Employee of the Year for the chain regionally.  We hugged.  Mike came out on a break to tell me about his family and we hugged.  The meeting went well and then Sammy came to the room after we had finished for the day just to say, “Hi !!” and said he couldn’t miss seeing me.  We hugged.

This is humbling in ways that are hard to express.  These great folks aren’t my employees and I see them at most three times a year for less than a few minutes each time. It is always great to see the staff at the Sheraton because we are Groot !!

Too often we get caught up in HR focusing on the people who are only within arm’s reach. Many HR practitioners I know struggle to make connections with people they work with, and that is tough.  I understand that it’s hard to encourage you to take in people who are outside your day-to-day environment, but I’d like to have you consider something different.

We can “practice” HR wherever we are and whoever we interact with.  This is because people are the basis for who we are and what we do.  You don’t have to limit yourself to the systems that you feel you control.  People all around you desperately want someone to connect with them, notice them and understand that what they do has value.

You can be that person who reaches out.  You can be the person who takes a few minutes to make sure someone isn’t missed.  You can be the person who people miss if they expected you to be there.  You can be the hug someone melts in because it came at the right time.

This week, take a look and see who is around you.  Take the step to be different and reach out.  I know this works and I know you have it in you because in HR – We are Groot !!

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 !!

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.