Take the Stage !!

This past weekend my wife and I took a trip to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s always great to get together because we’ve always been very close siblings. Unfortunately we don’t live as close to each other as we’d both like, but that just means that when we do get together it’s even more meaningful. After the normal “catching up” about our gaggle of adult children, we settled in to just visit and talk.

One of the wonderful things about my family is that we’re very easy going. We don’t feel the need for a ton of structure which allows us the flexibility to be more adventurous. We had never really explored downtown Knoxville together, so the four of us decided we’d try to fill our Saturday visiting some very local attractions. We kicked off the morning meandering through the East Tennessee Historical Society, and it was magnificent !! The displays were thorough and interesting. Each artifact revealed a point in time with such flavor and color. We were near the end of the exhibits when my brother hustled us along because he had a surprise planned.

I was a bit bummed that we rushed out, but our next stop was well worth it. We walked down a few blocks to the Knoxville, Tennessee Visitor’s Center. I wasn’t sure why this would be better than where we had just been. However, my brother was right. It was incredible. In front of us were two sections of folding chairs with five rows in each. Ahead of the chairs stood a stage and a microphone on a stand. You see, the Visitor’s Center is also the home of the public radio station WDVX. It’s also the home of the “Blue Plate Special” radio show which offers a “heapin’ helpin’ of live music.”

My new magnet and reminder to unlock the talent in my organization !!

As I’ve mentioned several times in the past, I’m a music freak !! I enjoy most forms and genres of music – especially if it’s live. On the stage was a young musician named Jared Hard. He was singing his original music which was being simultaneously broadcast on WDVX. He has an engaging approach along with fantastic skills as a storyteller. The Blue Plate Special show only airs original music from local and regional artists. So, some of the people who appear are there for the first time to share their talent and get more people to recognize them. This was the case for Jared and I was geeked that I was able to hear his music and appreciate his talent. I will make sure to keep an eye on him and pick up his new album.

After listening, it made me think of how this applied to HR. I loved that this public radio station set the example of taking a chance on talent. Is this something that we do in our companies? Do we give people the stage or just expect them to show up in their cubicle or work space? Have we tapped into all that someone has to offer, or do we expect them to fit neatly into some typed job description?

Unfortunately, I think far more time is spent confining people to pre-defined roles than allowing them to show what they can do. We still follow the outdated model of someone earning their stripes over some imaginary gauntlet that we say “everyone” had to go through. Why do we continue this practice when we complained about it happening when we began a new job?

We are overdue in eliminating this approach. I feel we should learn from this local hidden gem and set up the “stage” for our employees to come forward and show what they can do. You are sure to find some true artists who’ve been yearning for their chance. You have nothing to lose in trying this. The more you learn about what people can do, the better they can contribute across your enterprise.

We have to understand that “talent” isn’t only about hiring the best possible people. It’s allowing them to flourish and share all they can do. Unlock the hidden talent in your company. Let people take the stage !!

Get Established !!

Earlier this month, my wife and I celebrated our 30th anniversary of marriage. I’m very fortunate that Debbie said “Yes” three decades ago !! I mean it. We are very compatible because we’re opposites. As extroverted as I am, she isn’t. As detail oriented and organized as she is, I’m not. It works for us, and I’m grateful for her every day.

I’ve written about our kids here on the blog over the years as well. This weekend we hit a true life milestone by “officially” becoming empty nesters. Both of our adults have moved to different cities, San Diego and Indianapolis, as they start the next stage of their life. We’re excited to see them grow and can’t wait to see what will come next for both of them.

Our anniversary occurred in the midst of both of our kids transitioning which was fine with us. So, we didn’t have a giant night out or some massive celebration. That really isn’t our style. The kids wished us well and told us to keep our eyes out for a package. We hadn’t seen anything, so we forgot about it. We just completed the move to Indy for our daughter this weekend. After two fairly full and exhausting days helping her set up her apartment, we came home to an unexpected surprise.

A large, flat, square cardboard package was leaning against our front door on the porch. We were eager to see what it was !! Once we opened it, we both smiled and were very touch. Here’s what we opened . . .

We couldn’t believe it !! The gift from our kids was perfect. This would be a daily reminder that we “established” our lives together. It seemed to give our family a sense of permanence. In fact, my wife was tickled that we were now finally established.

It made me think of other areas of my life. Our kids are now taking steps to become established themselves in new cities and with new jobs. It is our hope that they will do well and start having milestones of their own.

What about work? Was I established there? I’ve been with the same company for 13 years now so I guess you could say “Yes” from a tenure standpoint. But, had I put my stake in the ground to make HR and the organization better in what I had done over this time? I’d like to say “Yes” to this as well.

However, it made me think about others in HR. Far too often I hear of stories where HR practitioners don’t feel they’re grounded or have their place identified within their organization. This is extremely frustrating and people feel defeated in their roles. Why don’t people take steps to address this when they find themselves in this situation? Why suffer unnecessarily?

You can turn this around. You can. It isn’t as difficult as you may have been lead to believe. Organizations want HR to be relevant, successful and needed. We just need to see it in ourselves and believe it. The steps you need to take are unique to your role and your organizational culture. I can only offer one piece of advice that will get things started.

Ask the organization what they expect from HR and inform them of what you expect from them. Establish this with the leaders of every department. It will be different for each one, and that takes effort to keep track of the various expectations that will be shared. This type of effort works. You shouldn’t leave your relationship to chance or ambiguity.

Setting expectations of each other is something my wife and I have done over these past three decades. As life has evolved, so have our expectations. The years have been filled with far more joy than challenges, and part of this is because we know where each other stand.

This week set your expectations and get established. It would be great to get your own sign to put up on your wall starting this year !!

Make the Climb !!

When my wife and I went to England recently, it seemed like everything was an adventure !! Some of that was because each experience was new. You couldn’t help but be awestruck by the deep, rich history that surrounded you at every turn. Before we went on the trip, we made a list of possible places to visit. I then reached out to friends via social media and asked their opinion. This was so helpful because we were able to hear from people who had experienced the various places we wanted to try and visit.

One of the recommendations was the city of York. We checked it out and decided we would be sure to visit there. It was hard to believe that our experience would be affected starting at the train station, but it absolutely was !! We took the tube to King’s Cross Station. For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, this is awesome because I got to see Platform 9 3/4 where the Hogwart’s students would go through a pillar to catch their train. I’m a big kid stuck in an adult’s body. Seeing the platform only set the stage for what was to come.

Our trip went quickly and we took a short walk to our beautiful hotel The Principal York. We settled in and then walked to a site that dominates the city and its skyline – The York Minster. The Minster is a church and you’re probably more familiar with Westminster Abbey in downtown London. It’s hard to describe how massive the York Minster is. When you walk up to its doors, you are dwarfed by the size. It truly envelops you. We had a feeling that it would take several hours to take it all in.

When you get your ticket to go through the beautiful church, you have the option to buy an additional ticket to climb the steps of the Central Tower. Before the clerk allows you to buy a ticket for this extra experience, they point to a disclaimer. The one page sheet is full of warnings telling you that you need to be fit, have no breathing or heart issues, and are good with very tight confined space. I said that I’d be fine because I was eager to try this. I paid the extra five pounds and had a ticket to climb.

Debbie and I went through some of the Minster before I got in a queue to scale the steps of the tower. There was quite a buzz from the 30 or so folks waiting to climb. One of the staff came out to give one more word of caution before she opened the door. Everyone nodded their willingness to go, and then we entered the tower. What you saw were narrow stone steps going up in a very tight spiral. The first few minutes of the climb were easy and then my breathing became very labored as well as everyone else on this trek. We climbed for a good ten minutes and saw some daylight streaming into the staircase. You could hear sighs of relief and some joy as we exited a door and came out on the edge of one of the roofs of the church. Everyone pulled out their phones to snap pictures when someone noticed that this was only the first half of the ascent.

A view from the top of the Central Tower of York Minster.

You crossed the roof line and entered another door with another spiral staircase that was even more narrow and confined. Now people started to shake and heave with every step as we continued to do our best to keep moving upward. Another ten or fifteen minutes and we got to the top. The view was amazing and breathtaking. We had climbed 275 steps to a height of 235 feet. To give perspective, the Central Tower is above the two prominent spires at the front of the Minster. Everyone was smiling between trying to catch our breath. You could walk around the entire perimeter of the tower and take pictures.

After some time, you realized that you had to go back down, and there was only one way to do that. So, you took a deep breath and started to wind back down the steps you just struggled to climb. It didn’t take as long to get back to the floor of the Minster, but the constant turning made you very dizzy. When I came out of the stairwell, I was exhausted and went to sit on a chair to collect myself. My wife came and checked on me and I told her all about the trip. We spent several more hours in the church to make sure we saw everything. It was wonderful, but I was still spent several hours later.

Making the climb was worth it and reflecting back on it made me think of HR and work. How many times do we have the opportunity to pull ourselves out of our surroundings and ascend to a new place? Why do get stuck when we see/hear the warnings about potential serious outcomes? How often do we stay right where we always are wondering what making the climb would mean?

We hear that the view is amazing and needs to be experienced personally, but the power of breaking our inertia paralyzes us. Isn’t it time you paid the small price and take the first step up? Yes, it could be daunting and physically/mentally difficult. But, the effort and work is worth it. The view is captivating !!

This week look around and see where you could move forward and/or up. Get in line regardless of the potential risks or obstacles. Feel the excitement and anticipation. Then, make the climb !!

Hands Across the Water !!

I’m not sure if you noticed, but I took a few weeks off from blogging. That’s because my wife and I went to England for a two week vacation to have an early celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary !! (Before I go any further, you need to know that my wife, Debbie, means the world to me.) Every aspect of our trip was fantastic. Every. One. One factor that made this possible was that I left my laptop back home and disconnected from work, social media and from constantly staring at one screen or another. I’ll be honest, I didn’t miss it that much.

Having more time to focus on everything going on around us allowed us to be sponges. We enjoyed long walks around West Hampstead where we were renting a flat. We also visited various towns and historical sites from Bath to Cambridge to Notting Hill to York and all over London. I could write for weeks and weeks if I tried to share all of our adventures.

One of the many bucket list items I experienced was visiting the Abbey Road Studios where The Beatles recorded their music. Paul McCartney recorded a song after The Beatles had broken up with his new band The Wings called Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. It’s a very Beatlesque tune which I really enjoy. In the chorus, there is a phrase “Hands across the water (water), Hands across the sky (sky).” The reason I share this lyric is that the BEST thing that happened during our trip was meeting fellow HR peers. Not kidding. It was the biggest highlight.

For those that know me, I love meeting people !! The environment doesn’t really matter. Throughout our trip, I met people on the Tube, at restaurants and pubs as well as at the various historical sites we visited. People intrigue me. Getting to interact and know them gives me a perspective that is more real than any tour you could purchase. Debbie and I were fortunate when two HR friends who I had only “known” from Twitter met us and started our vacation by taking us all over. We connected immediately and we started developing our friendships in person.

This culminated later our first week when we had a Tweetup. A Tweetup is an excuse to get together with your peers, have a drink or a bite to eat and network. We met at Doggett’s Coat and Badge Pub on the banks of the Thames overlooking St. Paul’s Cathedral. The view was spectacular and the weather was perfect. That alone would have been enough, but then folks started arriving. In the end, there were 40 people who came. It was astonishing and humbling because many of the people traveled an incredible way to be there. Some took trains from hours away just to meet.

We had hours of fun meeting each other for the first time, learning about each other’s lives and laughing. Tons and tons of laughing !! We didn’t feel like strangers in the least. After some time, we wanted to make sure to capture the moment, so we asked our server to take a picture. I will cherish this forever !!

Several people were “amazed” that when we met in person that we were the “same” people as we are online. I never suspected that we would be any different. It was instantly comfortable to hang out with every person. We found that we had tons in common and it was if we had known each other for years. On the following Saturday another friend traveled 3 1/2 hours by train to come meet, and we met more HR friends when we traveled to York. I hope that all of the people we met remain lifelong friends. I know that will take work and effort, but it will be more than worth it.

The experience Debbie and I had is something that should be the norm and not the exception. I feel that whenever you get the chance to meet and connect with HR friends in person, you should take advantage of that. We are a global community, and we’re better the more we step out and connect.

We all have to be willing to stretch our hands across the water !!

Resurrecting HR !!

HR is dead.

(At least that’s what people want you to believe.)

It’s staggering to me that there continues to be this on-going conversation that is desperately trying to kill Human Resources. Blogs, magazine articles, conference presentations, etc. It’s happening throughout the profession, and very few people are standing up against it !! Why in the world should we allow people to degrade, belittle and tear down our profession? It’s especially disheartening when some of those voices are coming from inside HR itself !!

I believe that there should always be discourse, dialogue and critique. If that doesn’t occur, then change doesn’t happen. However, trying to move things forward through tearing it down has never worked. Never.

The reason for this post, and the title, is that I truly believe there is a problem and HR does need resurrecting !! Also, with it being Easter, how could you not use this title ??

The problem, as I see it, is that we are working so hard to maintain the status quo, that we’ve lost the urge to stretch and dream to see what HR could be. We feel that keeping things comfortable and in line will make our role effective and needed in organizations. It helps to have some of that, but not as your primary approach. It’s interesting that we encourage others not to settle, but we don’t see that this advice also applies to us.

Still AliveI’d like you to consider some ideas to make HR alive for you personally and collectively as a profession !!

Stand up and be heard !!

When you hear someone taking a shot at HR and what you do, respond. If that happens in your organization, push back. Bring solutions that elevate the human element of your employees and pull the company together. Quit making efforts to manage to the exception and recognize the whole. If you see negative comments online, respond. Being frustrated behind a screen will not bring about change. Comment, share and respond !!

Get connected and involved in the profession !!

HR is a field of isolation by design because we deal with the difficult side of employee issues. They have to have a safe haven they can work with and come to. After awhile, that isolation builds up and you have nowhere to go. (or so you think). The best thing about being in HR is the other people who practice it !! Having a viable, interactive and living network of HR professionals is essential if you want to thrive in this field. There was never anything written in your job description that stated that you had to quietly suffer.

Reach out. Connect with others who are near you. Make social media the communication vehicle it was intended to be and find out that there are thousands of ┬ápeople who do what you do, and they’re looking to connect as well !! Go to conferences to meet people. Join organizations like SHRM nationally as well as locally. Do it because it makes you a better HR pro, not just because you were told to do it !!

Believe in what you do !!

HR is alive and well. It’s not just a blog post or a rallying cry. It’s a fact. Every day senior management is seeking HR to step up and make sure that organizations are more human. It’s a natural instinct in most of us and the time for suppressing it is past. It’s not time for us to be wildly optimistic, but it is time for us to say – How can we make the workplace better?

There is value in what you do my peers and friends. Inherent, tangible value. As you head back to work this week shake off the cobwebs, drudgery and negativity which can swallow the best of us. It’s time to resurrect HR !! Will you join me ??