Tie Dye, Ice Cream & T-Shirts !!

This past week I was in my element more than usual because I attended the Ohio SHRM State HR Conference. I was able to be surrounded by my peers as well as a constant vibe of music, tie dye, lava lamps and harmony. Yes, I know that sounds like serious hippie lingo, but I felt right at home.

If you haven’t been to State SHRM conferences, you should check them out. They have a more intimate feel to them and you can take time to genuinely connect with people. Yes, they are full of events, excitement and phenomenal sessions of HR content, but they have a more relaxed pace to them.

Two speakers completely captured my attention because of their personal story in approaching business. We heard from Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s and John Jacobs, co-founder of Life is Good. So much of what they had to share really stuck with me both emotionally and logically. In today’s frenetic pace and ever-changing work environment, these two companies have made sure that they ran their enterprises from a values-based perspective. These aren’t the “values” that corporations dream up during their annual strategic planning exercise. Both companies have deep held beliefs that they will not sway from as humans that shape their culture and their impact throughout the world.

It was so reassuring to see this, but this approach is rarely followed. The “value” that is espoused and held to more than any other today is profit.

(I can already sense your eye roll and concern that I’m going down the hippie path – and I’m good with that !!)

I understand, and agree, that companies need to be profitable in order to survive. I get the economics of it. However, if there isn’t a higher calling to having an organization, it can’t sustain itself. It’s great to see more and more small businesses and those making up the Gig Economy are changing the rules of work. It’s also reassuring the businesses are finally starting to realize that they are nothing without their people.

Please note that this has ALWAYS been the case, but we’ve spent centuries trying to prove it out as something else. There are still holdouts that will contend that structure, processes and systems are the real backbone of successful companies. Those elements are needed, but they mean nothing without people.

Both Jerry and John shared stories about humans and how those shaped who they were and how they were able to succeed. They stuck to their unconventional approach while holding to the beliefs that (1) social responsibility is an obligation and not a feel good philanthropy effort and (2) optimism always outshines negativity !!

I knew I was among my brethren when I met them. Jerry doesn’t shake hands, he hugs. Perfect. John started his session by saying “The best way to kick off a presentation is to throw stuff into the crowd !!” and he tossed Life is Good frisbees into the masses. He also closed his speech by having a group of attendees join him on stage to play Beatles tunes on kazoo while the rest of us sang along !!

Being genuine in business shouldn’t be an exception. It should be the norm. I’m thankful for the reminder and will remember to practice this every day on purpose !!

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 !!

Legacy

I’m just getting back into the swing of things after enjoying a week with my amazing wife wandering through New England. We did more of an “off the beaten path” vacation with a mix of historical sites, lighthouses, touring towns and just soaking in a different culture. One place we visited was Concord, Massachusetts. Yes, it was interesting to see the site where the Revolutionary War began, but it wasn’t what I’ll remember most.

In the heart of this quaint town is a cemetery. It’s called the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. What makes it stand out is something called Author’s Ridge where several noted American authors are buried including Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. We walked through the winding paths until we saw the headstones of these memorable folks.

Standing there under the trees while a light breeze blew by was moving. I just stood there taking it all in.  I wondered if any of them thought that 150 plus years after their passing that anyone would be visiting their graves. I doubt it. However, I do believe that they wanted to share the creativity and thoughts within their minds. I believe they wanted to capture the world around them as they saw it. Their legacy is still read and studied throughout high schools and colleges around the world. I think they’d be somewhat surprised to know that their written word would have such a lasting effect.

I blog to share my voice, as do many others. I want to capture the world around me and help shape a view point that runs counter to the culture that continues to want to tear things down instead of build things up. I don’t pretend to think that my words will be remembered or celebrated 150 years from now. In today’s society, it’s rare if a blog post lasts more than a few days.

That’s why I want to encourage you to do something different than what I see happening.

First of all, if you feel you have something to share – write. Start a blog for whatever you want to put out there. It could be about HR, business, your hobby – literally anything at all. I know there are people who say that there are already too many blogs, but I don’t buy it. Blogs are a way to communicate. It’s worse to keep it in. Give it some thought before you jump in, but give it a shot.

Secondly, share the blogs of others. The authors I visited didn’t write to just hear themselves. They wanted others to experience their work. I see most people write their blog and then share it over many social media forums. I think that’s wonderful to see. However, I think it’s only a start. Sharing the writing of others has more reach, impact and gives things more life than only posting your own blogs.

This practice also runs counter to the norm, but it makes sense to me. I enjoy the work of others and want everyone to learn from them as well as connect with them. I think the way to break the “echo chamber” is to keep sharing the blogs that I read and not just my own.

There are many facets to one’s legacy. I know that writing is one way to establish yours. So, start composing and then start sharing. Let’s see where it goes. One thing for sure is that it has a better chance to last !!

Who Will Speak For Me ??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Exist or Thrive ??

Another work week is upon us. How does that make you feel? Seriously. What’s your attitude going in?

I know the realistic answer is “it depends” because I can’t understand or cover all of the life situations everyone is facing. These probably run the gamut from bleak to awesome. The circumstances we find ourselves in are a heavy factor which influences our approach to work and to how we interact with others. I don’t want this to be some pop psychology piece that tries to analyze your current state. That’s not fair or even possible.

Let’s get back to the first question. How do you approach a new work week?

It’s important to take time to do this because I think it frames how we approach our work more often than not. I don’t think it’s the “Monday Blues” that bring stress and unnecessary negativity. I think we dread going in to work because we have chosen to exist vs. choosing to thrive.

Don’t believe me? I think people float because the culture of the company allows them to. I don’t think people want to float, but since we’ve taken the majority of direct human interaction out of work, they can’t help it. People want to be challenged. People want to stretch and tackle situations they can affect. However, we blow things up into dilemmas so that when an answer comes to light we get more recognition. It’s true. We can’t seem to break out of the doldrums of our roles.

Please note that this blahness isn’t at one level of an organization. It can occur from the most senior executive down to the front line. Don’t assume that people are just getting by who work below you by position. It’s a vicious myth that we keep perpetuating (again – to make us feel better).

Now, this will sound bold, but it’s something I know because I’ve experienced it myself. You can THRIVE in what you do currently in your role as well as throughout your organization. To do this though, you need to make a choice. The choice is simple, but the implementation is difficult.

The choice is that you personally will no longer settle. Ever.

This past weekend I went to visit my parents. My Dad is a quote machine. Whenever we’re in any situation, he’ll quip, “Write this down . . .” and then he whips out a quote. One that has stuck with me is, “To lower the standard is to give up the fight.” He said this when I’d choose to do something less than my best. It is strong encouragement to keep in mind when the next wave of negativity or cynicism hits.

Choosing to thrive is not some slogan on a wall. It’s a way to exhibit your behavior and a method to lift up and encourage others. HR has the opportunity to see the best in themselves and all employees who work in their company. How do you think your Monday would start if you had that intention and approach going in?

This week make the choice. Stop settling yourself first. Then, go talk to others you see who are not thriving. Work with them and get them to break out of their funk. Fight against the people who choose to tear things down with a better, and more sustainable, stance. Thrive !!

What You Say . . .

. . . matters.

This may seem like an overly obvious statement. However, I don’t think we believe it because we are extremely careless with our words – especially when it comes to people.

It’s so easy to get frustrated with how others treat you, or the situations you find yourself in. Words that describe your immediate feeling and reaction usually aren’t positive. And, if we’re honest, we feel “better” by taking a shot at someone else – at least for the moment. I think we do it so often that we’ve become desensitized to how we casually describe others. It has become an expected response . . . and that is sad.

Now, trust me, I’m not pointing fingers at others because this is something that I struggle with as well. It’s not something I’m proud of, and it’s actually something I’m trying to turn around.

People don’t deserve to be called names that belittle or degrade. No one. Ironically, most of this happens out of earshot of the person we’re frustrated with which makes it even more underhanded. On top of this, we unfortunately highlight name calling and labeling almost incessantly in our social media forums or in the news. The juicier, or more vicious, the better. The response to when these barbs are thrown about is to take it up a level so it gets more and more harsh. I want you to note something.

Tearing someone down has NEVER improved a situation or a circumstance. Not once.

I mentioned before that I’m working on this. That’s the truth. I don’t mean this as an HR professional. I mean this as someone who’s a husband, a father, a friend, a volunteer and a co-worker. I observe that the ease at which others are torn down is the norm, and I can’t accept that. I understand people can be frustrating. However, what I think gets completely glossed over is that we’re ALL people !! I have to be someone who frustrates others. So, is the same name calling being used towards me when I push someone’s buttons? Of course it is. Even if I don’t hear it directly.

I had a conversation recently with a friend, and we were letting off some steam about a person who wasn’t in the conversation. It wasn’t positive. I’m embarrassed to say that. Afterwards, I decided that this isn’t how I want to behave. It’s an easy excuse to justify venting, but it isn’t how I want to see others treated, or be treated myself.

I believe we can, and should, be encouragers of people. This doesn’t count just for people we like. It’s for everyone because it honestly doesn’t happen enough. I know that when a kind word is given that is has meaning and impact. It matters. Now, it may be the exception in what people hear, but that means that kind words should be used even more regularly !!

We will all still be critical and there is value in that. We should be critical of the behavior we see and experience and not the person. Most people reading this will not agree with this position because it takes effort and grace to not bundle the human in our response.

This week I’m asking you to join me in changing the tide. Take time to encourage people and lift them up. When you’re faced with the urge to lash out, don’t do it. Breathe and then assess what was said. See how to respond positively and then act. It’s not what we’re used to doing in our interactions with others. What’s cool though is that people won’t be expecting a positive response either.

What we say matters. I choose to encourage and I hope you will as well !!

Be Present

Our world, and our lives, seem like they are nothing but an endless chain of distractions. Items rarely catch our attention for more than mere seconds at a time. If fact, it’s a bit ironic to write this observation on a blog that may get read and possibly shared, liked or retweeted – but only for a moment.

I’m not complaining. It’s our reality regardless of age or background. We seek instant knowledge and instant recognition. Because of this immensely rapid pace, we miss the majority of what is actually happening around us. That is especially true when it comes to people. I love seeing when other bloggers bemoan how people are buried in their devices, but that’s where ALL of our posts go. Electronic forums are the primary means of communication for everything from life milestones to choices of food and drink to images of almost anything you can imagine. Again, not complaining, just trying to frame the world we have built.

Now, put this environment into the workplace, or at home, or in any social gathering . . .

Regardless of the constant buzz, ping and snap, we’re surrounded by people. People who still want to, and have to, communicate directly. Ideally, this would be face-to-face, but that’s not always the case. However, more and more video is being used through various channels to give people the face-to-face interaction they desire. Let’s be honest. When you communicate with someone in person, it’s a completely different feel, message and outcome than if it’s done electronically. That’s because humans were wired to communicate TO and WITH each other.

The true challenge in making communication better is that we have to fight the distractions. We need to be present.

The harsh reality is that we aren’t present during conversations. We either partially listen as we’re trying to end this interaction as quickly as possible, or we flat out do other things while people are talking to us. Be honest. We all do it. Since, our behavior is to somewhat engage, or at least fake attention, the outcome is that communication fails. All. The. Time. Messages are misunderstood or interpreted based on the scant snippets of what broke through the cloud of distractions loud enough to hit our brains. I want you (and me) to shift this approach to something that is much more effective !!

A dear friend of mine, Steve Boyd, said one of the most sage things I’ve ever heard during a training session at my former workplace years ago. He was sharing how he used to lead an 8-hour training class on Listening Skills. EIGHT HOURS !!  I joked with him and said, “Couldn’t you just start the class and say, ‘We’re going to practice listening today,” and then just be quiet for the rest of the time?” We both chuckled at the image of that. However, he was serious when he was talking about the power of being present. He saw how inane his class really was, and he came up with this:

“When you’re with other people, BE there when they’re there !!”

This simply means pay attention to the person wanting to talk with you on purpose. Drop the phone or keyboard. Get off social media. Eliminate the distractions around you and hear what they have to say. Don’t try to jump to conclusions, rush to an answer, or figure out a way to shorten the conversation. Listen from start to finish. Then – respond and continue the conversation.

When you start practicing this at home, at work, or in social gatherings, you’ll be amazed at how full and colorful communication still is !! You want to be heard, and so does everyone else. This week – start being present !! You’ll be glad you started.