Changing Lives

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

“I hire people and give them jobs.”

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

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

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

It changes people’s lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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



The world around us seems to be doing its best to rip itself apart. We are bombarded with examples of social unrest, protests, and a political climate that is far from friendly. It’s hard to not have these, as well as many other, situations fill every corner of media that is present. Those are only descriptors of the U.S. and don’t take into account the many challenging situations happening globally.

It saddens me that in any of this that we have lost the ability to discuss and work through items. We get upset when someone states their opinion or takes an action for what they believe. Everything is put in terms of extremes and that makes us uncomfortable. It feels like you can’t be for something without alienating someone who doesn’t share that belief.

In all of this we’ve lost sight of how this affects the workplace. When people are uncertain about the environment around them, it seeps into all areas of life including work. As HR practitioners, we do our best to drive uncertainty out of the workplace. We go so far as to enact policies that try to limit discourse, differences of opinion and diversity. We want people and things to be the same. Our goal is conformity and that is something that hurts not helps.

Groupthink, singular lines of thought or approach and limiting expression just add to the tensions that surround us. Does it make sense to you that we spend so much of our time and effort in organizations striving for uniformity and control when we could, and should, be doing so much more?

For decades we have yearned for a “seat at the table.” Think of that. We have worked and worked as well as compromised ourselves to act and look like those in senior roles to gain “presence.” It’s not who we are and it’s not what organizations need. We must take a much more intentional approach and . . .


take-a-standHR has an obligation to lead. We have to shed the mantle of striving for normalcy. We need to those that stand for people allow them to express their beliefs and then work with them in the workplace.

In order for us to take this new approach, we must take a stand personally as well as a profession. This has been missing for too long and it has limited us in our effectiveness. There’s no reason why HR can’t lead daily in all that they do. Remember – we work with, and for, people. We can do this from an encouraging and positive perspective. This doesn’t mean that we should ignore or downplay the upheaval around us. In fact, it forces us to jump into the midst of conversations or even generate them ourselves.

People are talking. They will continue to talk and share the thoughts, ideas and concerns. We have the ability to be the conduit for those conversations to be productive, provocative, civil and meaningful. The days for sitting have past.

It’s time for us to take a stand !!

Hi There !!

I just had the pleasure of being the opening keynote speaker at SHRM Georgia  yesterday and it was a blast !! Any time I can get in front of, and among, my peers is a pleasure. I mean it. When I get a chance to be with other HR folks I get more and more geeked !! Why ?? It’s because I get to surround myself with folks who are in the best profession in the world.

Some reading this may disagree, but I’d go up against you to defend HR. Yes, we have our challenges and there may be pot holes in how we practice, but that’s true in every industry.

What made this experience with my peers greater was that I was in a culture that I don’t get to see often. From the moment I arrived something very cool happened. Honestly, it’s something that I try to do myself, but I rarely am surrounded by others who do it.

What happened ??

Every person I’ve met said, “Hi there !!” or “Hello !!” Every. Single. Person.

I’ve heard of Southern hospitality, but I thought it was a cliche. It couldn’t be true across the board. I was wrong. I’m not kidding. I have been greeted by every person that I passed. Being someone who really enjoys this I felt I was in my element.

Now, 99% of the people I encountered had nothing to “do” with me and I had no direct business with them. And yet, they still made sure to make eye contact and say, “Hi !!” There was no segmentation of extrovert or introvert. Just humans making sure to acknowledge each other.

It made me wonder something from an HR/workplace perspective. I don’t see this happening. People don’t genuinely greet each other. We make sure to be pleasant and utter something as we quickly pass by each other to get to things we think that really matter like our desks, spreadsheets or e-mails. You know it’s true, and I’m unfortunately guilty of this as well.

We knowingly pass by the reason we even have work to get to stuff which didn’t even miss us. This has to change !! You’d think this would be simple, but it takes effort to alter our behavior and approach people differently.

hiI want to put a challenge out to every HR person. For the next 30 days when you see an employee I want you to say, “Hi there !!” with everyone you encounter. Don’t skip anyone. Don’t rush it. Be intentional and make eye contact to greet those around you.

Trust me. If you don’t already do this naturally, it will take practice. But, you can also be reassured that if you start making this your approach, you will see your workplace transform – for the better !!

Once you get good at this and you can consistently feel comfortable you need to implement the next step. This is a two-step challenge. Now, you need to get your department heads to do the same thing. They will think it’s silly and won’t matter, but you need to press forward.

When you do this, the culture will begin to shift right before your eyes. Something so simple will move an organization. You’ll see conversations start to occur face-to-face vs. being secretly held in hallways. You’ll find people being positive and looking forward to seeing each other. It’s amazing to experience.

So, start today. Quit avoiding people. Just say, “Hi there !!”

Do Good.

Have you been through a season in your life when everything either seems to be passing you by, or seems to overwhelm you? Have you been at a point when something that seems should be simple turns out to halt you in everything you do?

These questions are the reality of many people who surround us every day. We may, or may not, know that they are struggling, but it happens. Chances are the people you call co-workers are trying their best to work through life. Is this something that we should concern ourselves with as HR practitioners? We’re honestly taught not to even allow “life” to come into the workplace because people are supposed to show up to WORK.

We write, speak and pontificate about methods and numbered steps that will ensure stronger employee engagement or emotional intelligence, but we skip over the situations that people are in. It’s yet another example of how we complicate HR when it could, and should be simplified. I think that when it comes to working with others, it boils down to a simple phrase . . .

Do good.

Do GoodWhen you are with others at the workplace – do good. When you find yourself in situations involving conflict and differences of opinion – do good. When things elevate and may get heated and people lose their cool – do good.

I may be in the minority here, but I believe that this is the foundation block of what Human Resources even is. Without it, we are no different than any function within an organization. There is another component to this approach, never stop or tire of doing good.

When you step back and understand that people mask the facets of life, both great and challenging, in order to even make it in for another day of work, you’ll realize it can become exhausting. However, no one is stepping into this gap and providing an outlet for people. HR has to be the profession that willingly and genuinely steps into the lives of others. When people know that they have someone they can connect to and that you will genuinely listen to them, you can honestly feel the pressures of life slowly release. As that release occurs, their heads will clear and it will allow them to PERFORM and not just work.

There is one last facet you should consider if you become an HR person who follows the approach of doing good. It’s about you. Where, and who, do you go when you are constantly dealing with the lives of others? How do you make it without breaking down yourself?

We have the same pressures and situations in life that our employees have. However, HR people tend to be isolated in companies because they don’t have people that they can confide in themselves. Here’s a chance for us to transform our profession.

It’s time for HR to do good . . . for each other by being there for each other.

The absolute key for me remaining in HR is the network of peers that I have who are my friends. They are people who also “do good” in their roles and we make sure to reach out to each other intentionally to know each other, our lives and what is happening. Joys and concerns. Highs and lows. Struggles and opportunities.

You need this in your life. You need others who understand you. This is essential to thriving in HR.

So, reach out to each other and connect on Social Media, make a phone call, drop someone a note. Be an encourager in another HR person’s life. Never stop and never tire of . . . doing good.

Sowing Seeds !!

The back-to-school season is upon us once again. You can see it in the stores as aisles and aisles of supplies are displayed. Backpacks, notebooks, laptops, pencils and pens, etc.

My two “kids” are now adults and in various stages of college. My wife and I are very fortunate that we have such incredible kids. We don’t ever overlook that. Our son is going to be a sophomore at Ohio University (proud Bobcat Dad alum !!), and our daughter is in graduate school at the University of Indianapolis.

Transition at this stage of life looks a lot different than going to Elementary or High School. We’re moving them into dorms or apartments which is an adventure every time and every place. It’s great to see them start to walk on their own two feet, and it gives us a different perspective as parents of who they are and what they’re becoming.

You get genuinely different questions from your kids at this stage. “How do I make a deposit?” “What do I do if the sink leaks?” “What if I don’t get along with my roommate?” We honestly think there are more questions now than when they were younger. Each one is wonderful though because they’re learning about how to do life with each one.

The challenge for us is that we’re not sure they’re always going to make great decisions now that we’re at a distance. I know that we can get in touch with them instantly with technology, but that isn’t that same as seeing them lounging around on a couch in the family room. We hope they will, and we have faith and confidence that we’ve been consistent in how we’ve raised them. We shared our values and our faults as they’ve seen us grow over time in our relationship as well. They’ve experienced the ups and downs, the stress and joy as well as the need for apologies and grace.

The most we can hope for is that we planted seeds in them that will grow over time. We may, or may not, see the outcome but I’m good with that.

Robert Louis Stevenson QuoteYou see, parenting our kids is just like HR to me. In HR, and in life, you have a chance to sow seeds every time you interact with someone. In this day of metrics and analytics (which honestly lag what happens), we continue to be results focused instead of understanding that every interaction is the key. It’s no wonder that companies and employees wonder about the value of HR because we try to mimic what others do to be like them internally and professionally. HR is, and always has been, different. We’re in the “human business” and that comes with a myriad of unique facets. We need to be distinct and intentional versus trying to survive as another carbon copy.

This week step back and sow some seeds. You shouldn’t ignore results, metrics and analytics, but how you treat others and the impact you plant will yield much different outcomes. It’s more important to touch someone’s life intentionally than it is to crank out another report filled with data.

My kids are starting their next steps in life, and I’m geeked about it even though much of it is unknown. I want to make sure that I’m geeked about being involved with the employees and those who I meet as well. Remember that you’re always sowing seeds !!

HR Haka !!

A new workweek is upon us. How are you doing? Are you ready for what’s ahead? Have you bought into the pattern that Mondays are supposed to be horrid and a sluggish way to start the week? Are you someone that needs some motivation to get moving that even coffee can’t address? Worse yet, are you filled with dread or anxiety?

It is astonishing to me that we have perpetuated the idea that workweeks are destined to start poorly, work to some roller coaster hump mid-week, and then careen blissfully to the release at the end of the week so we can just get away from everything and everyone. Makes you want to wake up and jump to the commute doesn’t it?

Pile on top of this that we don’t fill our thoughts going in to work with positive vibes about people either. It’s true. We don’t anticipate seeing smiles and warm welcomes. We expect the worst, and we get it. It reinforces our malaise and we strap our our martyr gear and jump into the fray. Welcome to what HR has become !!

But wait . . . .

Why buy into the “norm” ?? Who is the person or entity that we can hang this on? The answer stares at you in the mirror every morning as you don your work clothes and head out into the midst of your work.

You are the reason this attitude and approach exists. It’s not others who cast their nets of darkness on you. They may be doing this, but if you’re defeated before you even enter the office, then you’re already conceding the worst is about to occur.

At SHRM16 this year, one of the keynote speakers was Dr. Amy Cuddy from Harvard University. She wrote a spectacular book called Presence which calls for people to bring their “boldest self” to their biggest challenges. Her work shows how that even though we teach fierce independence in our western society, most people are far from bold. She had great research and examples of people who felt open enough to embrace being bold.

One of my favorite things she shared was a video of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team and their pre-game ritual where they get geeked before a match by performing a haka. According to Wikipedia the haka is “traditional war cry, dance or challenge from the Maori people of New Zealand.” When they perform this, they are facing their opponent and they are so animated and intense !! It’s awesome !!

HR HakaWhen I gave my presentation, I encouraged all of the folks in HR that we should do a haka every day before we start a thing. Think about it !! It would absolutely freak out your staff and other employees if they heard you getting ready to face the day this way. I showed everyone how mine would look and it felt freeing.

Imagine this. Starting your day boldly, intentionally and fiercely !! All of the junk that tends to want to clutter our mind and our efforts blows away and disappears. Also, you’re ready to be proactive and jump into whatever comes your way willingly.

It’s overdue my HR friends. People will be bold if we are bold first !! Shake off the Monday blahs and get ready. It’s time for your HR Haka !!

Sparklers and Candles !!

This past week we had an amazing celebration at work !! We had two Team Members retire which isn’t common at our company. We’re so fortunate to have a great culture where people work for us for many years. It’s a true anomaly in today’s workplace environment, but it’s a true differentiator for us.

One of our retirees worked for us 11 years and the other for 35 years !! During the celebration, one of the owners shared the following . . . “Companies have two types of people, sparklers and candles. The sparklers shine brightly and are brilliant, but only for a short time. The candles are steady and burn slowly over time. They may not get as much attention as the sparklers, but they are more reliable. You two have been great candles for our company, and we are better for the contributions you gave over time.”

They were some of the most poignant words I had heard to celebrate people. In HR we tend to focus on the sparklers in our companies because they appear to be more vibrant and exhilarating. We may call them different things like “high potentials”, but are we looking for a little wax that goes along with the shine? We need people who bring life, energy and light to our cultures. However, the candles of our companies do this every day.

CandlesWhere is your focus? Are you being asked by senior management to pay attention to the sparklers? What about your systems? Who do they recognize and highlight? I think most of us would see that we get distracted by a group that may not be with us for the long run.

The question that faces us is can you convert a sparkler to a candle? The answer is – it depends. It doesn’t depend on HR however. It depends on the employee. You see, everyone starts a new job/role with exuberance, anticipation and maybe even a bit of anxiety. People want to prove themselves and add value. They often burst onto the scene and everyone notices them. It’s hard to sustain this level of energy and you see them transform over time to either become a steady contributor who is part of the company fabric or they burnout. HR can step in and help encourage people so that their flame doesn’t extinguish.

We can do this because HR is the “keeper of the flame” of an organization. We have to be able to ignite people and let them sparkle as well as nurture them to make sure that flames don’t go out. In order to do this, we need to stay lit ourselves. Who are the candles of HR that you know? Who are peers in the field that you can connect to that will keep your candle burning?

We need to own this role of what we do for employees and our companies. We have the ability to help people continue to burn and thrive in what they do in their various roles. Light the flame of others and keep your eyes and focus on the candles all around you.

Remember the Who !! #SHRM16

I’m catching up on rest after an exhilarating SHRM Annual Conference. It was truly wonderful the entire time. This year I experienced a new view of the conference as a member of the SHRM Board of Directors.

I have hesitated to write about being on the Board because stating it drums up different emotions for people. Let me give you my perspective about the role. I am truly honored and humbled to be on the Board of Directors for the profession and the membership association that I love. These aren’t hollow words, they’re a fact !!

I get to wear a cool badge that denotes my new role and it gives you the ability to have access throughout all of the venues. I cherished this and didn’t take it for granted because it gave me the ability to connect with more people.

It started on my first day when I met one of the hotel staff who was helping with breakfast, Ahmed. He greeted me with a smile and was kind enough to be up and in uniform at the crack of dawn to serve me and others a meal. I introduced myself and thanked him for being there. Ahmed used the same “trick” I did and read my name tag and said, “Good morning, Steve.”

Now, many people reading this may think that he’s just doing his job like he should. We’d overlook him more often than not to rush to get a plate of bacon and eggs. Our impending meeting, and the others at the meeting, would get more of our attention.

Why did this small introduction matter? On Monday, at a luncheon during the conference, guess who was serving the group? Ahmed. He saw me first this time and said, “Good afternoon, Steve. How is your day going?” I said, “It’s great Ahmed, thanks for asking !!”

I used my badge to walk into all of the different areas all week to thank volunteers, SHRM staff, hotel staff, convention center security and the transportation crossing guards. This isn’t to seek a pat on the back. Trust me. I wanted to be intentional to make sure these people weren’t overlooked. Why ??

These folks are the “who” that keep things going.

There were over 15,000 attendees as well as countless vendors who worked the Exhibit Hall. Without the “who” this event would never have occurred. Mike Rowe exemplified this during his keynote address and it has been his focus for much of his career. He noted how important it was to never overlook people at work because everyone matters.

Everyone MattersThis is key in our organizations as well. We are enveloped in such a rush of distractions that we walk past the “who” that help our companies succeed every day. HR has the ability to break this pattern because we have the ability and the latitude to make acknowledging others part of our job daily. Honestly, it needs to be in the fabric of our Human Resources DNA. It can’t be something that we ignore or hope that others will do.

People want to be acknowledged for what they do. This is more basic than appreciation. That is key and important, but we need to step back and acknowledge folks. When you take this approach, all of your systems and procedure look different and positive.

People want to do good work. This week step back and thank others. You’ll see that this will change your organization for the better !! Remember the “who” around you every day.


Your Stadium Moment !!

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but in case you missed it, I am a music freak !! I have music playing pretty much all throughout every day and in everything I do. There’s even a hashtag that a few of my friends and I started called #HRMusicShare on Twitter. It captures what people are listening to and it’s a ton of fun. Music is something that brings us all together.

During the summer, I get to enjoy my fascination with rock music even more because the community I live in has free outdoor concerts each week in several venues. My wife and I love to throw our chairs in the back of the car and go to catch two hours of tunes !! This week we went to a new venue and listened to a great cover band who played classic rock hits. They were tight as a band and they got the crowd out of their seats and out dancing.

While they were deep into their second set, the drummer, who was the leader of the band, shouted out over his microphone – “Who has seen our band play before ??” There was a “roar” from the crowd because many had seen them before. He said, “Thanks !!” (and then quietly) “I live for that.” It was his stadium moment !!

Rock Crowd from StageIf you’ve ever been to a rock concert, the front man usually yells out to the crowd, asks how everyone is doing, and then they wait for the swell of yells and screams as their response. They let it wash over them, and I have to think they are like the local band I saw and that they “live for that.”

HR practitioners need to have a stadium moment as well although most rarely experience one. Why is that? The key for me is that most of us are hesitant to take the mic and “be on stage.” I appreciate that we do better behind the scenes at most times, but we often blend in too much. HR in the shadows is limited in its exposure and its influence. So, you may not want to rock the boat, but you may not be rocking things at all.

We can also take note that our employees are looking for their stadium moments as well. We tend to downplay recognition and want to make sure things are more “fair” than over the top. Individuals deserve individual attention. The continue attempt to make all things fit all people has never worked, and it never will. Each person in your company brings a uniqueness to what they do. All together they make up an incredible ensemble. To do this they need someone to bring them to the mic as well. HR can be that person. Make the time to elevate the strengths and talents of all of those great people around you.

HR step out. Be bold. Look out over the crowd and take in all you see. It’s time for your stadium moment !! Go out there and seize it !!


What’s Your Motor ??

I think it’s fascinating that we have so many amazing people in our lives, and that most of them are acquaintances. There’s nothing wrong with this because people have a certain capacity on how many people they’re both willing to know deeply, or can dedicate the time to do that.

The challenge with people only knowing each other at a surface level is that you don’t know enough about them that gets them geeked !! You may wonder why that’s important, but in HR you really can be a step ahead of the pack if you take note of what motivates and excites people. There’s one caution to finding out this information about others because it has . . . wait for it . . . NOTHING to do with their work !!

Just making this statement is already making people shiver. You see, there’s a myth the permeates organizations that the only subject people talk about when they have conversations is work related. We tend to try to limit our communication to work related interactions because it’s safe and comfortable. If we have disagreements, it’s about work. If it’s positive, it’s about work. I am going to go one step further and speculate that the vast majority of these “work only” conversations are hardly effective. It’s not the content, it’s the reality that we have so many items we’re juggling in a day that the length of time a conversation captures our attention is minuscule.

It amazes me that so many HR people rush to the situation at hand, and don’t take a couple of minutes to talk about the person and what drives them first instead. When I hear that people want to humanize the workplace more, but they’re not willing to take the time to talk about the human in front of them and their interests, I’m skeptical about their approach.

Motor RunningPeople are fascinating !! There is so much going on in their lives that would amaze you about what gets their motor going. The question is – are you willing to dive in ??

I am. In fact, I spend a large portion of my day catching up with people about their interests, their families and their lives in general. You need to realize the your employees are aching to have someone acknowledge them and take just a few minutes for you to be genuinely interested in them. I realize that they may bring up topics that you aren’t particularly interested in, but that’s part of the gig if you want to differentiate yourself in HR.

If I’m not aware of a certain interest a person has, I take more time to listen to them to let them share even more. You see, you have the ability to get people reenergized and release their passion in a work setting. When you do this, people will perform and do almost anything you ask. This approach also works when you need to address difficult situations as well. Taking the time to see what’s behind what may be frustrating an employee and causing challenging behavior is worth the time !!

Let me close with one reminder to make sure this works for you. What gets your motor running ?? You need to know this and you need to make sure that you’re filling your days with these things on a regular basis so that you remain passionate yourself. You can’t fake this, and you shouldn’t. There is absolutely nothing wrong with renewing yourself to keep you motivated.

Me ?? My motor gets going when I meet new people (especially if they’re in HR), going to HR events, being active in my church, time with my amazing wife and kids, endlessly playing music, movies, a great book, tie-dye anything and lava lamps. And that’s just a start !!

I surround myself with things that motivate me because I know that it’s key that I motivate others. It’s one of the bright spots about HR !! So, step back, list out your “motorvators” and get geeked !!