Leo

This past weekend I stepped out of my normal surroundings and into my past. My wife and I, along with two other couples, went to visit another couple, Clay and Kelly in rural Carroll County, Ohio. They live in a wonderful house located on a 400 acre farm. It’s a beautiful landscape made up of rolling hills, streams, fields of grain, cattle along with a few chickens.

This was a step into my past because I grew up on, or around, farms. My grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins have  run farms for generations. I loved farm living because you were outside between 90% to 95% of your day. My imagination ran wild as I created worlds around me by playing in pastures, fields and barns. I fondly remember helping out where I could with chores, fixing things and hanging around the various barn animals.

That brings me back to this weekend. I took in every, single moment and loved once again being outside with the sights, smells and sounds of the farm. I even got to make a new friend – Leo !! Leo is one of the steers on the farm who loves to eat treats from your hand. It was great to hear him eagerly moo as he quickly skipped up to the fence to say, “Hi !!”

What does this trip have to do with HR ?? – Everything.

You see, my friend Clay is a fellow HR practitioner who also farms. Kelly is a nurse who also farms. If you met them in their “normal” job, you wouldn’t readily know much more about their lives unless they shared it with you.

We are surrounded by people each and every day, and yet  we know so little about each other. If we were honest about it, we don’t really want to know because having conversations about someone’s life outside of work would cut into our “precious” time. Isn’t that sad?

I know that this type of time investment has been a regular theme of mine lately. I think that’s because I know that learning more about the people around us makes an incredible impact. People are almost shocked that you’d step out of your self-focused bubble to learn about them. I’ve found that the more I learn about others, the more meaningful our relationship is professionally.

I know this may be out of the norm for most people, but look at it this way. Someone in your life has taken an interest in you and what you were experiencing at least once. I’d wager it’s happened many times. Tap into the feeling that occurred when someone took the time to take interest in you. Remember how great it felt and then turn it towards others around you.

This week try something different. Instead of launching into the lives of everyone, reach out to a peer in HR. Learn who they are outside of what they do professionally. Set aside time to see how much more in depth their lives really are. I’m sure they’ll be touched you did.

And, who knows, you may get to meet your own Leo !!

Choose

A new workweek is upon us. I’m sure it’s going to be filled with both challenges and opportunities. If you’re like most people, you probably feel that the challenges far outweigh the opportunities. That may not be the case, but it gives you the illusion that you’re going to be better at your job because you feel that solving problems is why you exist.

I think taking this position is difficult personally. If our days our chock full of a majority of challenges, then how can we see any glimmer of hope? I don’t mean to make light of the conditions of other’s lives. That would be short sighted and presumptuous.

I want to throw something out there that may seem naive, but I find it to be true. In the midst of all that is swirling around us, we have a choice on how to start our day. Every. Day. We can either make the conscious decision to be positive or not. I used to think that the choice was positive or negative, but that is too much of a generalization.

Choosing to be positive frames everything even in the middle of legitimate challenges. It’s not naive, but it is difficult. Most forces in our personal lives and our lives at work want us to focus on what’s wrong as the point where things start. That gives us a jumping off point to move away from because the less something is broken, the more we have a sense of accomplishment.

In HR we are constantly surrounded by people. People who are going through life just like we are. It’s easy to hear how people are facing their days and become sarcastic and embittered. You get tired of the unending waves of struggle. There doesn’t seem to be a viable way out. So, you get swallowed along with it.

Choosing to be positive changes the playing field because you don’t enter the encounters you have with others as something you’re obligated to solve. You may get a chance to be part of a solution, but it doesn’t have to be your only purpose. When you approach others expecting things to be positive regardless of what you come across, you put yourself in a position to be available. That, honestly, is more than most people expect when it comes to daily interactions.

I know this is a big ask, but I want to put an option out there for others. There needs to be something for you to latch on to because what you do matters. When you spend time with people you may be the one spark that turns the tide for them.

This week choose.

 

Allow Grace

Have you ever made a mistake at work? Have you ever talked poorly about someone else you work with, or that you know, without that person knowing about it? Have you ever disappointed someone else because you didn’t follow through on what you said you’d do? Have you ever said something that you thought was harmless, but it hurt someone deeply?

The answer for me is a resounding “Yes” to all of the questions listed above. I’m not proud of that, but it’s a reality. I’m human. I’m sure to fall and fail others. Hopefully that’s not intentional, but it could be. I could have filled this entire post with more questions which feature how people fall short of positive and/or ideal behavior.

The challenge in today’s workplace, and in society overall, is that when we fail each other that there is no room for grace. We demand an instant response along with a staunch stance to be taken that has little room for a right/wrong position. We usually want others to hear our opinion and then we make arguments for others to come to our side. In the midst of this type of reaction, we completely run over our humanity.

Now, please understand that I’m talking about when someone makes a mistake and is insensitive or thoughtless about others and their feelings and/or diverse viewpoint. I’m not talking about overt actions and/or poor behavior. That is at a much deeper, and more concerning, level. Poor behavior should always be addressed. Even then though, I would offer that you can allow grace when entering into these difficult situations.

As HR professionals, we are daily in the midst of people. (At least I hope you are !!) People are messy and will fail each other. It’s unavoidable. When it occurs we have a choice. We can either rely on a system of unrealistic policies and procedures as a list of do’s/don’ts as our response, or we can be humans ourselves.

I would recommend that you try a new approach and allow grace to occur.

This may be foreign to you, and I can almost guarantee that it’s foreign to how employees have been approached in the past. We don’t feel that we have the latitude in our roles to show grace to others when they mess up. I just don’t think it’s true. We have more latitude and ownership in how we approach others because it’s our own personal style.

I know that when others have shown me grace when I’ve stumbled, I’ve been thankful. It allowed both of us to breathe, calm down and look at the situation in a fresh and open way. More often than not, it led to a productive outcome and a stronger relationship. Trust me when I say that allowing grace in our interactions with others will be positive most of the time.

This week buck the trend of others who tend to be reactive and destructive when people fail them. Instead of talking ABOUT others, talk TO them with an attitude of grace first so that you seek to understand them, the situation they’re facing and how to potentially move forward. If you try this, I think you’ll see the people aren’t as bad as you think. Also, it will make HR, and your life, more balanced and fulfilled. It works.

Glory Days !!

This past weekend I traveled back to my hometown for a sobering event. The father of a dear friend of mine from high school passed away. I know this isn’t unique to any of us because we will all face the loss of those who are close to us at some time or another. I relished the opportunity to go back to my hometown because it’s like going inside a Norman Rockwell painting. Seriously.

I grew up in Ada, Ohio which has 5,600ish residents. It’s the type of place where everyone knows everyone and has for generations. I went to a school where every grade, Kindergarten through 12th Grade, was in one building (and still is). Walking into the Ada Baptist Church was like walking back in time. I immediately saw dear friends that I unfortunately hadn’t seen for anywhere from between 10 to 30 plus years. However, it was like we never missed a beat.

My friends from my hometown !! (Left to Right) Me, Dave West, Jeff Gossell, Bill Kent, Mark Browne and Joe Simmons

After a beautiful service and celebration of my friend’s father, we all gathered in the Fellowhip Hall for a meal and a chance to catch up. I immediately hooked up with my High School classmates and we asked about what has happened since we last saw each other. Then, we shared memories and laughed. We laughed so hard and so long, my ribs ached and my head hurt. It was magnificent !!

The time flew by and we didn’t want it to end. We all exchanged our contact information and agreed to get together again soon because we all agreed that we had waited far too long. It was bittersweet to leave the church and head back into my regular life. I did get to hang out with my brother and parents for a few more precious hours before I headed home.

As my wife and I headed back towards our home two hours away, I reflected on the day. I was thankful that she was so incredibly supportive and allowed me to reconnect with my mates. It made me also realize something that I had overlooked way too often.

The people in our lives on purpose. (Even if it’s only for a small slice of time.)

We walk through each day caught up in endless distractions all begging for our attention. Most of those, by the way, we seek out even though we complain about them. There are tons of people who move in and out of our days. Do you take the time to notice them? Or, do you take them for granted because they serve some functional role that is yet another cog in  your day?

You’re missing out on so much because it isn’t a mistake that these folks are in your life. That includes your family, your friends, your co-workers and the folks you encounter when you go to various places. As HR professionals, we need to wake people up so that they stop running to keep up with everything to intentionally connect with the humans all around them.

This is an opportunity for us to lead in our organizations. It shouldn’t take a significant life event or business calamity to bring people together.

I know that I was fortunate to grow up in a quaint town with an amazing family. To have friends that I still can hang out with is also a blessing. I don’t think this has to be an exception. I think it can be your norm.

This week pause, stop and breathe. Then, reflect on someone in your life that you may have drifted from that you’d like to see how their life is going. I know they’d appreciate it, and so would you.

Understand that others are in your life on purpose !!

Treat people this way and see how your life begins to enrich and grow. I hope you’ll get a chance to share great memories and new experiences as well !!

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 !!