Just Flourish !!

Unless you’re a self-avowed hermit, you’re surrounded by people. It’s inevitable that there are humans around you the majority of your day. Since that is the environment you find yourself in, you have a choice to embrace it or avoid it. This isn’t due to where you fall on the extroversion/introversion scale. You will choose how much human interaction works for you – and you should. We all have a limit. If we cross that, we tend to get frustrated, flustered and annoyed.

Being with people is more than just swimming among others as you pass through the hallways to their office/cubicle to have work related conversations. That type of interaction is necessary in order for good work to be accomplished. I would almost categorize those instances as “forced.” I don’t mean that you are reluctant to have conversations. It’s more like you have work conversations in order to get the next facet of your work at hand to move forward. They can be friendly, cantankerous or obligatory. They happen whether you “wanted” to have them or not.

The difficulty I see that happens all around me is that these pass by conversations make up the vast majority of communication today. It’s not only at work either. When people are using social media, you get quick snippets of partial thoughts. Or, you may get a picture in time of a great event or accomplishment. People taking time at home to truly interact without distraction is becoming an extinct approach. Again, I’m not making a right/wrong judgement here. It’s our reality and we need to acknowledge it. However, it doesn’t have to define us !!

Taking time to develop relationships has become a lost art. Unfortunately, the word “relationship” has been tarnished because of the unacceptable actions of some. That doesn’t have to be the case. Investing your time with others is incredibly valuable, and also necessary !!

We are never fulfilled when we only have pass-by conversations. We feel that something is missing because we can’t keep current with the pace. We don’t push through it enough because we’re concerned that the other person won’t reciprocate. I haven’t found that to be the case. In fact, I think people flourish when you give them your intentional time and attention.

I’d like to propose a different approach for you personally and especially if you’re in HR. Choose to have relationships that flourish !!

I think there are different gradients in this and you need to read the other person to see when they feel that things are full. Respect that. I mean it. Flourishing relationships have balance, mutual levels of input and especially authenticity. You can’t “fake it to  you make it” and have a meaningful friendship.

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I use my commute differently than most. I’m in the car about an hour each way to and from work. Every night I call people and have long conversations. We talk about work, HR, life, etc. There are inevitable times of laughter as well as times of deep philosophy. We may argue various styles of music and ask for each other’s support in the situations we are each facing in life.

The point is this. I want to pour into their lives so that they will pour into the lives of others !! I know that every moment I can invest in the lives of others that they will invest in others as well. When this happens, then lives improve. When lives improve, relationships improve. And, when relationships improve that grows into other relationships to improve the workplace. This isn’t Utopian. It works.

So, this week in the midst of the pass-by snippets of conversation that will still fly around you, invest in someone. Start with a close friend. Make that relationship flourish and then build from there. You’ll be glad you did !!

The Best Present !!

As the clock ticks toward Christmas, the hype and push for more purchasing increases. It almost reaches a frenetic pace. It seems that the message is that if you don’t make that one final purchase, then your entire holiday season will be less wonderful. The stress that people put on themselves and others in order to gain one more gift that will keep their interest for a day or less is incredible.

Please understand that this isn’t a rant against the cultural trappings of Christmas. My house if fully decorated in almost every room and our light display outside can be seen for blocks. I look forward to going to worship for Christmas Eve and singing Silent Night with a lighted candle in my hand. I enjoy Christmas time and all of it’s sounds, smells and sights. It is a time for me to explore my faith and look forward to the coming year ahead.

This year, something hit me more directly than it had before. I finally have come to terms with what the best present is that I can give someone else. You can’t find it in any store or on any website. It is the easiest gift to give, and yet it often is the hardest to willingly release.

The best present I can give anyone is my presence !!

The one thing I have the most of is my time. It’s something that my family and friends deserve without distraction. I’ve said this before, but I feel it needs to be said again and again. I have more time than I know what to do with. If I don’t have enough time, it’s because of what I choose to do with the time I have. I’m not unique in this. It’s the truth for everyone. The challenge is that we’d rather give people “stuff” than we would ourselves.

I would love to see this change in the coming year. I’d love to see people being present when they have conversations at work, in HR and wherever you encounter others. It may seem impossible because we’re so connected to countless forms of technology. We can’t seem to peel away for even one minute in case we miss a “like”, a retweet or a video. We rarely look up to see the eyes of those we’re talking to. This is happening in meetings, hallways and break rooms.

I’m not against being connected. Far from it. I enjoy the various forums that have allowed me to become more and more connected with folks from around the globe. What I’m asking you to consider is that when you are having a conversation with someone, pay attention to them – and them only. This will take a concerted effort and won’t feel natural. You’ll have to trust me that if you do this, both your day and the day of the person you’ll talking to will improve. It won’t matter if the situation is easy or difficult. What will matter is that the person you’re talking to will see that you’re present. It’s worth your time to listen, and it will be something so different than what others are normally used to.

This year, give a gift to others that you already have – yourself.

 

Moved to Tears

The holidays seem to raise the level of emotions everywhere you go. My wife has the Hallmark Channel on seemingly 24/7 to take in every Christmas movie she can. I peek in every once in awhile as well. It’s great to watch a story with a positive ending !! The mad rush of people gathering gifts that they feel compelled to give to others that may/may not need them. People are more generous during this season and do more to volunteer their time and resources to worthwhile causes.

There also heightened levels of stress, depression and a myriad of feelings when it comes to family gatherings, times of  worship and the inevitable holiday parties at work. All of those make me even more sensitive to my surroundings. You see, I’m emotional all of the time. I know. I know. Everyone is emotional all of the time. However, I am moved at the slightest movement of emotions all around me.

It may sound a little odd, but I am swallowed by the emotions of others. It isn’t just media that I watch. It’s everything. I can be moved to tears by a conversation that happens in my office that wasn’t expected in the least. I always have a ready box of tissue for those who visit me, and for me as well. I realize that there are many folks who view this as a weakness both personally and professionally. There are blogs written about keeping our emotions in check all the time. We are scolded and told to keep those pesky feelings to ourselves. We are to gather for “work” for goodness sake !!

Can’t do it. Won’t do it. It’s difficult to sense the ups and downs of those that work with me and not be affected myself. I’ve shed tears when having conversations with my staff, my boss, executives, volunteer leaders, pizza cooks and many more. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t weep daily. I just make sure to stay open and willing to engage people based on how they’re feeling.

I believe it’s far more valuable to be vulnerable than it is to be jaded.

There are risks in being someone who is moved to tears. There are those who will work with you who will be vocal and may even scoff or deride you. I don’t agree with pitting people against each other ever. It’s detrimental to a company’s culture and it’s leadership. I believe that people should be genuine. Period.

I feel that employees are looking for an HR function that understands the emotions they experience. They aren’t hoping for a system, process or policy. It’s so much more simple than what many consider “go to” methods to practice HR. People want to be heard, acknowledged and understood. That means getting emotional.

I want to encourage you to stop bottling in all that is going on when the feelings and emotions of others come at you. It’s not healthy, and it will assuredly lead to burnout, judgement of others and bitterness. None of those things will allow you to be an effective human resources practitioner.

My kids often poke fun because I’ll get misty at human interest stories at the end of a newscast, a SC Featured story on ESPN, or an episode of This is Us. I will even hear a piece of music and my eyes will well up. I’m good with that. You see, I don’t view being moved to tears as something that makes me a lesser person. I do it because I strive to see the beauty in others. I hope you will too.

(Here’s an example that gets me every time. It is just beautiful !! Take a few minutes out of your day to enjoy Freddie Mercury from Queen and acclaimed soprano Monserrat Cabellé. Yep, shed a tear when I posted it.)

Untitled

This past weekend I was in Chicago for a combination of events. First of all, I was a speaker at the HR Conference for Legal Professionals through ALA. Secondly, I was also celebrating my 28th wedding anniversary with my amazing wife !! We’ve been in Chicago several times and it is one of our favorite cities to visit. We’ve arrived in a different phase in our lives because we like to see sites that are off the beaten path that others may overlook for the big (traditional) attractions.

This time we decided to take in art. We did a walking tour to see the gigantic sculptures from Picasso, Chagall, Calder, Kapoor and Dubuffet. Those are hard to miss. We also went to the ground floor of Macy’s (the old Marshall Field store) to see the Victorian Age stained glass panels. We stumbled upon the Chicago Cultural Center and ended up taking a tour of the building as well as enjoy the Architectural Biennial exhibit going on. We took one more adventure to see the Museum of Contemporary Art – Chicago. At the MCA, we met Ray who was a docent at the museum. He was going to give us a tour of the 50th anniversary exhibition entitled “We Are Here.”

Now, I don’t know if you’re into art or not, but I’m a fan. My wife is learning, but is a bit more skeptical about some items classified as “art.” That’s probably how many folks feel, and Ray even noted that because we tend to think we could splash paint on a canvas. The tour he gave took an hour through one room of the museum. One room. It was spectacular !! He described the nuances of pieces that I would have normally passed by with disinterest or disdain.

As he was leading our group through the exhibit, he stopped and said something that really stuck with me. He pointed out an abstract piece hanging on the wall and said, “Do you know why many art pieces are called ‘Untitled’?” We all shook our heads and no one offered an answer. He then said, “The artist does this because it allows YOU to see it however you’d like. There’s no right or wrong. It’s whatever you want it to be according to your interpretation.”

After he said this, I began to look at each piece of art with an appreciation. There are still pieces I don’t comprehend, but that’s on me and not the artist for creating it. I actually found myself enjoying the separate pieces more, and took time to look more intently at them to think about what I could take in. I even began to speculate more than one possible explanation about paintings and sculptures.

It made me think about how I approach people both in HR and in general. People are truly works of art themselves !! Too often we want to “title” them with some label or stereotype so we can better frame them within our point of view. When people don’t fit those labels we dismiss them or ignore them because we can’t fully make them fit into our perspective.

That’s sad when you think about it. How many decisions are made each day because of how we “title” someone? I would venture to say that most decisions are made based on our biases. We need to change our approach towards people.

From now on I challenge you to see people as “untitled.” People who are mysterious, unknown, creative, intelligent and full of idiosyncrasies and nuances. People weren’t created to fit. They were created to add to the experience and existence of others. Just. Like. Art.

Drop the titles and start enjoying the uniqueness of the people in your life. I assure you that you will start appreciating folks for who they are, and not who you think they should be.

Being Human

I typically stay away from blogging about current events, but the recent response to Hurricane Harvey touched me. The outpouring of people willing to step in and help other humans was encouraging to say the least. I know there’s so much yet to be done, and that brings me to the other side of something that has been pulling at me lately.

As Hurricane Irma now advances, our attention shifts and we have another potentially tragic situation facing us. The reality is that there are significant challenges happening all around us. We don’t focus on them because the general media, and social media, goes for the most tragic hoping for the worst. Thankfully humans chose to show their best.

We have already forgotten the recency of many other situations which concerns me. I am embarrassed that we have become so myopic. We live in a global community, and yet we only concern ourselves with items that are within the US, or that directly affect us. I know this is generalizing and that it doesn’t reflect so many that serve and give willingly of their time and money to countless efforts. It is the reality for many though.

What has been sticking with me during this time of unrest and turmoil is that we have a choice. The endless banter of negativity and divisiveness can be overwhelming and disheartening because it comes at us from all angles. However, we don’t need to add to this. Ever.

The humanity that was shown during Harvey is who we are as people. We can, and should be, the great humans that we were created to be. If we can lend a hand to those who are facing disaster, we should. I would also encourage you to consider being compassionate on an on-going basis and not just during trying times. We have people in and around us every day in our homes, our neighborhoods and our workplaces that are facing a variety of situations and circumstances.

I would especially encourage my peers in HR to be genuinely compassionate in their roles. We have tended to shy away from this because we don’t want to get “too close” to people in the event that we have to address them some time in the future. Taking that stance is sad to me. Why in the world would expecting the worst to happen help us in practicing HR? Why not expect the best in others instead?

I understand that there will be people that frustrate us, and we may be the one who frustrates someone else. But, if we continue to expect the worst, that’s what will occur. Every day people come to work facing situations that may seem easy to handle for some, but may be extremely challenging for others. This is where compassion comes in.

It takes no effort or cost to listen to someone. People may not always expect us to solve things for them. They just want someone to hear them out. You may be able to help them organizationally or personally, but listening needs to occur first. Please understand that every employee wants to be acknowledged, heard and engaged. Every one.

I hope that compassion becomes our norm and that when it needs to elevate, we jump in just like we are now. See the best in others. We are better when we are always being human !!

Chores !!

I remember growing up and having a chart on the refrigerator that denoted the chores that my brother and I were responsible for. My Mom was a widow during this time, so it was like pulling teeth to get two young boys to be responsible and have any type of sustainable focus. She used different colored stars, and getting them was a giant reward !! We’d compete to see if we could EVER attain the elusive gold stars.

The chart was a simple form of encouragement to get us to do work that we would never have willingly chosen to do. The tasks listed on the chart were necessary for the general upkeep of the house. We had no clue that we were actually providing some relief for my mother. We never understood that she worked a full-time job as a teacher before coming home to make sure the household ran as well.

Being a parent myself, I adopted the chart for my kids as well. They did the same types of tasks for stickers instead of stars. I noted one difference though when my wife and I incorporated the chart system. We saw the resistance that I’m sure my brother and I gave when we were young. I was oblivious to the difficulty I’m sure I raised with my Mom when all she wanted was some assistance.

Chores exist today as well after my kids have moved out to attend college. However, I don’t get a chart from my wife. (To be honest, I probably would still be geeked to get a star !!)

The one thing about chores is that they never end. Ever. After you’ve picked up something once, other piles surprisingly appear and no one can remember how it happened. You did everything right in order to address the situation, but it never seems to remain clean, straightened or in order.

Chores are not only at your house. They exist at work as well. However, we don’t use charts to encourage people. Instead, we bark our expectations and wonder why things don’t get completed. The items that are “chores” at work are important because they provide a baseline and some stability in what we do. I don’t know many people who are geeked about doing chores, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored.

Is there anything we can do to make these tasks seem less mundane? Yes, there is. Like most things in our roles, the key is our attitude toward the work as well as our approach. It may seem simple, but so were stars. If we have an understanding that these items aren’t unpleasant, that is a big shift in how we have been getting them accomplished.

You can also do things such as schedule them to be done vs. letting them pile up. Also, take some time to evaluate if the chores you have are needed, or if they’ve just lingered on for decades for no apparent reason. We all have work that is just “busy” that may be sucking away our time. Use this mantra – If it doesn’t add value, stop doing it.

We need to be aware of all our work, and not just the big ticket/project items. This week take a new look at your chores and take them on willingly. I may get a piece of fluorescent poster board,  a sharpie, a ruler and some stars !!

Who Will Speak For Me ??

As you go into work this week, the first thing on your mind will most likely be a problem or challenge you’re facing. It could be a deadline that is looming or a myriad of other things that genuinely need your attention. I doubt, however, that employees will be the first thing you think about.

If they are your focus, chances are that you’re only thinking about the employees who are causing a problem. The people who are awesome and doing their jobs well are overlooked. I don’t mean to sound harsh. It’s the reality I’ve experienced in the past, and also the observation I’ve had when I hear my peers talk about their work experiences. It’s ironic that in a field that has “Human” in the title, we actually give our attention to a very small percentage of people who work with us.

If you would ask employees who HR represents, they’d say management. I’m not talking about a poor “us and them” culture either. I’d venture to say this reflects most workplaces. I think this is because people see us step in on situations where it’s not going well with someone as the example of what it’s like to interact with HR. Doesn’t that tire you out? Seriously. If you’re only practicing HR to handle people who are problems, it has to be discouraging. This limits what HR can, and should, do for organizations.

HR needs to develop relationships with employees at all levels. Whenever I’ve brought up this concept, my peers get defensive and state how difficult this is to accomplish due to their company’s size or number of employees. I work for a company that has 17 different business units and 1,200 team members over a regional geographic footprint. The vast majority of our team members work on a part-time basis and over different shifts. The challenge to know everyone is real.

So, this is how I’ve approached my current environment. I don’t try to reach every person on my own. That’s not feasible. However, it is realistic to teach others that HR is willing, visible and available for everyone regardless of when and where they work. That message has to be consistent and then followed by behavior. I will go to different locations at different times and dates that don’t always match my regular schedule. I needed to alter when I work so that I could reach others when they work. It’s changed how HR is viewed because they’ve seen that I don’t show up only for problems. There needs to be another important shift to make sure that representing all employees is the norm for HR.

Stop talking ABOUT people, and start talking TO them !!

We’re in a unique position as HR professionals. We have the ability to talk with everyone. Honestly, the majority of my day is spent talking to others. In the past, I’ve had people question the “value” of this approach. Over time, those people are now the ones who talk to me the most. We are the one function that can listen, evaluate, counsel and connect others. Doing this clears the air on items and feelings that may have been long held in silence and frustration. Allowing people to perform has both intrinsic and real value for organizations. This may be hard to quantify on the bottom line, but I contend it impacts it more than people think.

I recently was enjoying some John Mayer, and I think he captured how employees yearn for HR to act when he wrote:

“Show me something I can be, Play a song that I can sing, Make me feel as I am free – Someone come speak for me.”

It’s time for HR to change and speak for others. Trust me that when you do this, you’ll enjoy your role more and you will be making a tangible difference for your team members and your company as a whole. It’s worth the effort. Make the shift !!

 

Give From Your Overflow !!

Have you ever been so exhausted after an event that you just had to collapse? Isn’t that a great feeling ??

That may seem counter intuitive, but it is refreshing to know that you’ve given your all for something. There are needs all over the world that are yearning for people to give of themselves with their time, focus and efforts – not just their money. The reason it gives us such a feeling of fulfillment is that I think we’re wired to give.

I hear folks every day state that they are “busy.” I understand that we all feel the pull of others come at us from multiple directions. However, I think that when people feel they’re busy, they’re actually trying to express that things that are vying for their time are things they aren’t genuinely interested in.

People have time. The challenge we have is that because we are pressed by things that bother us we get stagnate. When we get stagnate, we lose interest. After we lose interest, we lose the desire to give. The needs of others all around us don’t diminish though. There are opportunities all around us where people can plug in.

What does this have to do with HR and the workplace? Everything !! We need to be organizations that have a culture that provide avenues for employees to give. I don’t think that we should define where people should give, but we should give them the ability to do so. We can assist in this by giving our employees encouragement and helping them understand how not to be “busy.”

Start with yourself. I want you to understand that the issue of giving isn’t time, it’s capacity. All people are filled to their capacity with something. We don’t lack for being full. What’s great about this is that if we hit our capacity, then we can give from our overflow. Once people connect with causes that matter to them, they will find the time in their day to give.

It’s like a bucket.

There’s incredible volume within the vessel and the flow of life never stops pouring into the bucket. Remember, everyone has a bucket. Everyone feels busy. It’s not just you. So, since your bucket is going to be filled with work, commitments at home, kids, pets, extended family, etc. That is normal. You’re going to hit the lip and start overflowing. The question is the quality of the material filling your bucket. If it’s negative, then your overflow will come out to tear things down, see what’s wrong with everything and discourage others. If it’s positive, then who knows what amazing things will come forth? The opportunities are actually limitless.

HR people can help control the flow that enters everyone’s bucket at work. We really can. When people come to work, we can be a positive influence with each employee and our culture as a whole. We can clear the path so that people can do well in their role and have productive relationships with others. When we clear out the gunk, then their buckets can fill to capacity positively. Then giving will come more naturally.

This may sound overly optimistic, but it’s something that I’m passionate about and know that works. Take some steps this week to help others to change the flow. Be a giver yourself so that others can give as well !!

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 . . .