Without Ada . . .

. . . there would be no Super Bowl !!

Ada Wilson SignThat’s a fact. You may not know this but my hometown, Ada, Ohio is the home of the Wilson manufacturing plant that makes all of the footballs used by the NFL. The great folks who work there get featured every year on Super Bowl Sunday. There are around 6,000 people who live in Ada which makes it awesome, but often overlooked.

If you look around today, we suffer from a “culture of celebrity.” We can’t get enough of it. Whether it’s sports, movies, or politics we focus on the few and neglect all those around them. The past two weeks have focused primarily on Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, the teams two quarterbacks. A NFL roster has 53 people on it, but we focus on one. The other 52 players are critical for the quarterback to be successful. However, focusing on the long snapper doesn’t make great television.

There is an alarming trend happening in organizations that is also focusing on the “few.” You see constant blog posts on how to handle and develop your “high pots” – high potentials. They range from warnings on what happens if you ignore them to “X” number of steps to make sure they succeed.

Don’t get me wrong, you should look for people who are current and future leaders. That isn’t new, it just isn’t done consistently so we focus on it. When you make celebrities in your companies, your attention turns from all of the great employees you have to a select few who may, or may not, become the people you’ll hope they’ll be. Also, I’ve seen that some people pegged as high pots learn about this and turn into major prima donnas.

HR practitioners get sucked into this trap as well. We think that if we can get these high potential people to take on great roles, then we’ll receive kudos as well. I’ve even seen performance management systems geared toward high pots only. Another trap is that we try to stay in the Senior Management spotlight because we think we’ll have a more significant impact if we are visible to the top of the organization chart. What about the other employees who come to work and contribute every day? What about the people who make the footballs?

Great HR is made up of people who have an endless view that looks out across the entire organization. Each person is known, valued and expected to be someone who adds value in their particular role. When HR is based on the fringe of any particular group, you actually end up making narrow decisions thinking that they will affect the entire organization. This just isn’t true.

In my opinion, every employee is a “celebrity” who has high potential. The key is that they have an HR person who sees that in them and doesn’t overlook their contributions for someone who is more shiny. Growing up in Ada with people who make the essential football gave me a perspective to never overlook anyone.

You need to step back and see if you’re trying to create celebrities, or engage all people. I think you’ll see if you work with the whole team, you’ll be more successful than trying to focus on one or two people.

So, every time you sit down to enjoy a Super Bowl or a NFL game, remember someone made the footballs !!


The Year of Others !!

It is rare that you get to write a blog post on your actual birthday when you write a weekly post, but today is my day !! I’m thankful to be another year older and geeked for what this year holds (and hopefully many more years to come !!)

I’ve seen many year-end posts chock full of predictions and resolutions for HR for 2016. I’ve never been a big fan of resolutions because we talk more about how they fail than they succeed. I dig the aspiration side of what they represent, but few ever expect them to result in sustainable change.

I’d like to take a page from the Chinese Zodiac where they have the Year of the  . . . (insert animal of they year of your birth) and declare for HR that this is  . . . The Year of Others !!’

So, what does this effort entail ?? I’d like to throw out to the profession that HR needs to be focused on others and not themselves. This isn’t some fluffy feel good idea. It’s a viable way to influence business and affect the bottom line. The difficulty is that it takes a change in our mindset. Focusing on other people goes contrary to the “What’s In It for Me (WIIFM)” mantra. The thought that you have to identify the trigger for every single person as their WIIFM and make that a reality is not feasible.

However, spending time – uninterrupted time – with others at all levels of an organization is priceless and a differentiator. Why? It’s simple. People don’t do it now. Companies, especially at the executive level, feel that when you spend time with people you’re “wasting time” because things aren’t “getting done.” They’re wrong.

Their is NOTHING more valuable and long lasting than investing time in others.

Others ButtonIt’s so difficult because we are surrounded by a society that is self-centered. The majority of social media is predicated on how many views, likes, retweets, etc. that one gets. People are more than willing to post their own work but rarely will they curate and post the work of others.

You have to understand that if you join this Year of Others effort that you will be going against the flow. It gets tiring and you could get discouraged, but it’s worth it !! You have to trust me on this. Organizations, and senior management, are looking for ways that HR can be a business partner, and that can happen if you’re willing to put your waders on and step in the stream to walk against the current.

Doing this also means taking a risk that it will work, and we are unfortunately very risk averse as a profession. We can no longer be timid. Your employees are yearning for an advocate who will genuinely take the time to meet them, listen to them, care for them and work with them. People want to perform and they will do better when they know that someone is there for them. You can do this by showing supervisors how to more consistently approach people as humans and not as task fulfillers.

Will you join me? Will you be a part of the Year of Others? I think we can alter the HR landscape and make what we do relevant and desired. When you do this, you will see how being in Human Resources will matter for you both personally and professionally !!

It’s going to be our best year yet as an industry and I look forward to walking alongside you as we do this !!

Be a Story Listener !!

This past weekend I had a true adventure. I went to visit my son at Ohio University for Dad’s Weekend. I have a vested interest in this not only because of my amazing son, but because I’m an alumni of OU as well !!

Every single moment of the weekend was wonderful whether we were at one of the planned activities or just hanging out together enjoying the people, sounds and movement all around us. It was also spectacular because OU is a beautiful, old campus with distinct architecture wrapped in majestic fall colors from trees that have been there for decades. There was a chill in the air too as people rushed from location to location.

I could continue to go on and on about many aspects of my weekend because I love stories. I am very willing to share a story any chance I can. There are a myriad of blogs and research that show the power of storytelling. This weekend, however, I was reminded of something that is even more powerful.

The best part of Dad’s Weekend was listening to my son and his new friends tell me their stories and experiences. It ranged from stories of discovery to tales laced with uproarious humor !! The young adults that we met were excited to see my son and share stories. This isn’t different than most social encounters, but there was one exception.

When people tell stories, the impulse to share your story is strong. We often get into a pattern of “one upping” each other. It’s hard to let a story stand and sink in. There’s nothing wrong with exchanging stories. I think we do this because we want to make connections and ties with others by showing that we have similar experiences.

Listening EarsThe opportunity I’d like you to consider is to strike a balance and be a story listener sometime. When you do this you’ll capture other’s emotions, passions, opinions and perspectives. If you’re eager to jump in and share your stories as well in a conversation, you may squash other’s interest even though that wasn’t your intent.

Now, this isn’t a post to throw out the old saying, “That’s why you were given two ears and one mouth.” I don’t believe that silence is listening. A great story listener also shows interest and is genuinely eager to hear what the story from others includes. If you’re only biding time “listening” until it’s your turn to jump in, you’re not ready to be a listener.

I took as much time to sit back and enjoy what my son and his friends had to say as I could. I was geeked to see how much they’re growing as young adults, and intrigued into how they’re making decisions in their collegiate environment. The more I listened the more I was actually involved in their stories. They would get to certain points in what they were sharing and ask what I thought. They weren’t speaking just to hear their voices. They wanted to engage me in their conversations. It was wonderful !!

So, this week when you’re in your HR role, take a breath and see if you should be a story listener. Show interest in what employees have to say. Resist the urge to finish conversations in believing that you’re saving precious time by cutting people off. Trust me. The more you listen, the more you’ll actually hear, and you’ll actually enjoy the daily interactions you have so much more !!


One of the best aspects of my job in HR is that I get to recognize our Team Members when they hit years of service milestones. I wrote about this in the past, but here’s a quick recap.

When one of our Team Members hits a 5-year anniversary, I go visit them during the day and shift they work at their location. We keep things simple by bringing them balloons, cookies and a gift card. Keeping things personal and one-and-one has made recognition more meaningful for them and for the Company. I get to make 7 to 10 visits a month because we are fortunate to have incredible tenure. It’s not uncommon to have people reach milestones from 5 years to 30+ years each month !!

The reactions I see range from being surprised, to sincere gratitude and, at times, tears. You never know what will happen, and that is fantastic !! This past week, we had a very touching anniversary that kept things in perspective.

I went over to our anchor store to celebrate the 35th anniversary of one of our dishwashers. Greg is one of my favorite Team Members. We chat every time I’m in the store about the Cincinnati Reds, the weather or whatever is on his mind. A group of folks from the office and pizzeria all gathered around Greg in the dish area. I came with my balloons and a large tray of cookies.

YepWhen I came up to him, I said, “Hi there Greg !! Do you know why we’re all here?”

He calmly said, “Yep.”

I said, “We’re here to celebrate your 35th anniversary working here !!”

He said, “Yep.”

I said, “Well, since it’s your 35th anniversary, that must make you 40 years old.”

He said, “Nope Steve. I know how old I am. I’m . . . 57.”

Everyone clapped and there were a few tears in some eyes (including mine.) You see Greg is an adult with special needs and he’s been a part-time dishwasher for us for thirty-five years !! Greg took his cookies, that each person gets in their own gift bag, and thanked everyone for coming over to see him. Then, he went back to his job.

Greg is a great reminder that so many employees come to work to do a great job willingly and positively. He’s also an example that our focus in HR should shift from spending the majority of our time on a small number of negative people. It’s staggering to me that we continue to be an industry that doesn’t see the great side of employees. We also don’t step in the gap and stop others from focusing on the few negative people in our organizations.

I think HR practitioners would love what they did more easily if we saw the best in our people. There’s absolutely nothing in the way from making this happen. It’s a choice, and it’s a choice that’s easy to make. The challenge is doing this all the time. It’s not enough to get excited when you get the chance to recognize people. Employees want to be valued and have the chance to perform with support and in a positive environment.

Making this shift seems well within our grasp, don’t you think ??


Time to Reignite !!

Many people are trying to shake the winter doldrums in the hope that spring will renew them. This happens every year and is very predictable behavior. Instead of enjoying the season we’re in, we keep looking forward to a rebirth in the next season to come. Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying the thaw that is finally upon us and am glad to see the snow start to dissipate.

I think many HR pros look at their career with the same anticipation they have with the changing of the seasons. There seems to be a push that ANYTHING would be better than the situation they currently find themselves facing. There is also a feeling of professional isolationism because they feel that no one is experiencing the levels of disgust, frustration and angst that they are. When I hear stories of despair I get concerned. I’m concerned because if that is how you are approaching your role, it will reflect in your performance and with the employees that work alongside you.

There are seemingly countless stories and sentiments of HR pros who are just flat burnt out. They can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.  In fact, all they see is the tunnel and it keeps getting deeper and darker. This isn’t healthy in any way whatsoever. Why would you continue to go back to a difficult HR environment just to be a martyr everyday?

It’s time for HR practitioners to come to terms with a reality in our careers. There is only one person who’s responsible for how Human Resources is in your role and that’s YOU !! Your career may be influenced by others around you, but in the end, you are the only person who can impact who you are and what you do.

Has the fire gone out for you?  Or, has the fire consumed you and eaten away at what you think HR should be in your company?

Lit Matches in a rowTake a different approach intentionally and reignite the fire of passion around Human Resources !! Everyday you have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the people around you and also add value to the growth and success of your company. You can, and must, be the model of making this happen in your culture. Believe me when I say that this isn’t a pep talk to motivate you.  Motivation is internal and you alone can build that energy up. You could spice in a great rock tune, say something from AC/DC, to get you jacked up, but this isn’t a peak and valley approach. Once your passion is reignited, you need to fan the flame so that others around you start catching this fire.

I’ve recently been talking with some friends who either just changed HR roles, or want to. In every case they expressed that they want an HR role where they can flourish and make a difference in what they do. This needs to be the expectation of everyone in HR !!  The conversations I had weren’t somber or melancholy. They were a chance to share some encouragement and give them a nudge to no longer settle for mediocrity in what they do. The companies they work(ed) for didn’t view HR in a positive, integrated and broad way. That’s fine if companies want to limit HR – but YOU don’t have to be a part of that !!

People wonder if my level of passion and excitement is some shtick for some on-line persona. You can trust me, it’s not. It took me several years to understand that HR can be on fire all the time. It also took some searching to find a role and a company that was as passionate and excited about what they did so that this ignited form of HR could grow and exist.

So, if you’re burnt out – rekindle !! If you’re an ember that’s just barely holding on and smoldering – add fuel and energy !!  If you’re in a role where HR cannot be exciting and passionate, then maybe it’s time to find a place that let’s you rock it out !! Reignite yourself and radiate great HR in all that you say and do !! It’s really the only way to practice.

Go Against the Flow !!

This weekend I had to get my HR Nerd on and go see The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. It was phenomenal and you should absolutely see it in the theater for the best experience.  You may not be a Middle-Earth/Lord of the Rings fan, but I think the movies did a great job capturing the essence of the books that I have read multiple times.

In the final Hobbit, the main character, Bilbo Baggins, is in an uncomfortable predicament because he has the key to make everything “right,” but he keeps the treasured jewel that the King wants to himself.  Now, don’t panic.  This isn’t an in-depth review filled with a myriad of fantasy terms and characters.

During a key scene in the movie, Bilbo stands up against Thorin, the King, and tells him that the reason there is conflict is because of the King’s behavior. This was not a popular stance to take in the least.  In fact, Thorin threatens to throw Bilbo over the castle wall to his death !!

individual goldfishIn HR we are in a unique position that others don’t share. We need to remember that we represent both management and employees.  Too often, it is perceived that we only represent management.  This perception is from employees who only see us take the side of senior management.  In many cases, companies only want us to represent management.  This is where you should go against the flow !!

Our role is to represent the Company.  That means that there may  be times where you will be like Bilbo and confront the “King.”  It’s not easy to be the person who stands up to management, and it doesn’t make you popular.  The key to deciding if you should make a stand is that your action is to make sure that the company is doing the right thing.

It’s an incredible position to be in by being able to represent both management and employees. It shouldn’t be daunting, but it usually is.  We fear that if we take a position that is contrary to the normal flow of things, it will damage our status within the company or we could even lose our jobs.  I’m not here to encourage you to take a stand regardless of your fear, but you should take a look at how management is treating HR.  If you aren’t able to have those tough conversations when they’re needed, then I contend that HR will be limited in its effectiveness.

As we wrap up another year, you have a chance to reflect and see if you are someone who goes with the flow, or if you are someone willing to go against it.  When I’ve had those tough conversations, I actually gained more access to the senior management.  They are looking for us to give them an objective viewpoint so that decisions can be made for the greater good of the company and also the situations you’re facing.

It’s not easy to be a contrarian, and it’s not something you have to do all the time.  Just be willing to step in when you need to.  It will be uncomfortable when you’re in the midst of tough conversations, but in the end you, and the company, will be better for it.

Spending Your Time !!

The one commodity that people state they don’t have enough of is time.  Our lives are so full that we have this constant sense that we’re either always behind or that something important isn’t being done.  This attitude puts us in a position where we are stressed and often focused on minutia that we feel, if handled, will put things back in their rightful order.

This isn’t a post about balance.  This isn’t a post about workforce flexibility.  This post is about choice.

We are all given the same amount of hours each day.  Our lives have patterns that we have chosen that involve our work which consumes most of our time during the week.  We rarely look at how those hours are used because we become set in certain methods that keep things relatively stable.  This is alluring because we accomplish the things we enjoy completing more often than not if this pattern is maintained.

The challenge with this is that our patterns become our expectations and any deviation from this throws us for a loop.  The other aspect of this repetitiveness is that it limits the number of people we regularly interact with and keeps us from having the chance to interact with the countless others who pass by us every single day.

Spending TimeSo, a big question for us is WHO do you spend your time with?  I think if you sat down and wrote down the number of people who get your time, it would be fairly small.  That may be comfortable for you, but why choose to be limited?  Why forsake the opportunity to meet and learn about others who, if given your time, could benefit from knowing you and you knowing them.

I have always been a person who is surrounded by people.  This has been my choice and I can’t get enough of it.  I don’t expect others to have this same perspective.  I understand that we all have a certain capacity for the number of people in our lives.  My contention is that you should see how full that capacity should be !!

I recently went to a fundraising dinner for the Boys & Girls Club of West Chester/Liberty which is the community where my family and I live.  During the presentation, the Executive Director quoted a study that says that kids spend less than 4% of their time with adults these days.  Think of that.  It’s staggering to think that kids, who will one day be our future leaders and employees, have so little meaningful interactions with adults.

How can we expect them to be the next great generation, when we aren’t willing to spend time with them?  This is just one example.  There are so many ways to have a positive impact on those around you for the present and to be a legacy for the future.  You need to choose if that is something you’re willing to do.

The story which gives us all the perspective of why how we spend our time matters is best told by Lauren Hill.  Lauren is a freshman at Mt. St. Joseph University in Cincinnati and she has inoperable brain cancer.  Her story has gained national attention because she had a goal of playing at least one college game.  Today, she did that and she scored the first two points and the last two points of the game.  She may not live until December of this year, but her goal was set and accomplished.  When you hear her tell her story of her shortened life, she only focuses on reaching those around her.

This week slow down time.  Take a look at how your spending it and who you’re spending it with. Make the time with those you’re with the fullest it can be and then see if you can take on even one more person. You’ll see that it’s the best way you could ever use of your time !!

Be a Builder !!


When I look at the vast field of HR, I have to say that I am swayed to the power of Culture more than other facets.  I truly believe that people decide to either stay at a company or leave it because of its culture.

Cultures vary with each company that exists.  In fact, you could even note that each department within a company has its own culture.  With so many different environments, it seems difficult to think that we keep trying a “one size fits all” approach and think that it will work.  There are too many factors to take in, and it’s honestly exhausting to try to make everything fit.

In the past, I thought that changing the culture in an organization was the answer.  I fell into the mythical trap that things can only get better if things are viewed as wrong and then fixing them.  That is extremely presumptuous when you step back and think about that.  To think that a culture can only improve if it’s first destroyed devalues all that has been in existence before you were part of that culture yourself.

Building CultureThis week something hit me like a ton of bricks.  It was an actual Aha moment !!  What if you built your culture instead of changing it ??

You may argue that this is semantics, but I don’t think it is.  Building a culture is working from the environment you currently experience.  I’m not saying that everyone has the best culture, but it is what you have to work from.  If you have a construction approach and not a destruction approach, you can see where there are opportunities to build.  Think of how healthy you would be as an HR person if you were adding to things instead of limiting them or tearing them down.

You need to understand that this is contrary to how we currently practice.  We are doing way too much justifying and reporting in our roles.  Reporting is important, but reports exist because of results.  Without actions that generate results, your reports are shallow and mundane.  If your focus were to evaluate, take some measurements and see how areas of your culture could be enhanced and improved, imagine what could happen !!

We are always looking for ways to enjoy what we do, and this can be the start of building our profession to be even better.  It takes some risk to see things positively and differently, but it’s worth it.

So, this week strap on your tool belt and your hard hat.  There are cultures out there where you can be a builder !!  They’ve been waiting for you to get started !!

Image courtesy of People Matters (one of my fave blogs !!)

Sorry, We’re Closed !!

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

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

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

Another key to an Eagle Scout project is to adapt.

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

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

Guard:  May I help you?

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

Guard:  Sorry, we’re closed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Campaign for HR !!

We’re getting closer and closer to another election season.  Even though this is a “light” year for elections locally, that doesn’t stop the candidates who are running for office from filling the airwaves with commercials. And, true to form, there are few candidates who say what they’re going to do.  Instead, they spend millions of dollars to smear their opponent.  People must feel it works because it gets worse the closer you are to the actual election day.

To me it seems similar to what I see from other bloggers in the “space” when they write about Human Resources.  People feel that if they continue to tear down HR, it will somehow get better.  I don’t follow the numbers and metrics of posts, including my own, but negativity must sell.  When I see posts that focus on division and separatism I get concerned.  Why would people want to work in a field that only wallows in things that are wrong?

I had toyed with the idea of seeking political office in the past and I determined back then that if I would ever run, I would only be positive. I think people should make choices on what you can bring and not focus on one and another’s faults.  Therefore, I am launching a campaign in support of HR !!

think, do, be positiveWhen is comes to HR, I am literally ALL in !!  It’s been my career of choice and I try to be active and visible through volunteer work, social media and speaking at events.  I only see HR growing and becoming more and more relevant in my organization and in many organizations across the globe.  There are creative and innovative people who are changing their approaches and their cultures to have workplaces where people can perform their best and move their organizations forward.

Here are the planks of my platform to share to make this campaign come to life !!

Be Others Focused

We are in the one profession that is built with a focus on other people.  Think of what a great opportunity that is !!  Seriously, you have a chance to work with people on purpose.  It’s built into your job and it needs to be the base of your thinking and approach every day.

Be Certified 

I refuse to continue to argue on one certification versus another.  Certification should be our ticket to moving ourselves, and the field, ahead.  The key to being certified is more than passing a test.  Having a professional certification gives you credibility and gives you the base on which to be a continuous learner and seek professional development.  We need to know HR to practice HR.  Take the time to get your letters and then build on your education from there going forward.

Be Connected

HR on its own is career suicide.  You will struggle if you aren’t connected to great people, great resources and great events.  Every time I read something, I look to learn from the author and their perspective.  When I find resources that help me do HR better, I share them with others.  Most importantly, when I go to events, I make sure to meet others to build my network in order to connect others.  We’re only better when we’re together as a profession.

So, can I count on your support ??  Will you join me in moving HR forward in a positive way ??  I would love to have you join in and stem the tide of negativity.  I know we can do it and am geeked to see what happens !!

I’m Steve Browne, candidate for the Campaign for HR, and I support this message !!