What If You Broke Your Bubble ??

For the past several years, I’ve contributed to the #AdventBlogs series. It’s a great series from a multitude of global HR pros, and it’s a joy to be included. The series is now hosted by my friend Gary Cookson. I would recommend you connecting with Gary and read all of the Advent Blog posts from this year. I’m sure you’d get connected to some HR folks you don’t yet know – but should !!

Here is my submission. I hope you enjoy it and join me in expanding your personal horizons by breaking some bubbles.

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I’ve always been a person who has multiple interests. Growing up, I was fortunate to be in a loving, caring home nestled in a small town in the Midwest. This environment allowed me to explore a variety of activities. I wasn’t limited by the scope or number of things to try. What was ironic about this now reflecting years later is that I didn’t know that this was unique. I assumed everyone growing up at the time I did had the same experiences and opportunities I did. I understand now that this was a bit naïve because I didn’t have exposure to people who were much different than me.

Even though I had such a positive childhood, everyone I knew was similar to me in race, background, education, and belief systems. I was in the classic “you don’t know what you don’t know” setting. It was like I lived in a Norman Rockwell painting. Before I talk about how my perspective was broadened, let me share one more advantage of my small town. I didn’t think in terms of barriers or obstacles when it came to participation. I was involved in sports, academics, music programs, drama, and civic/faith communities all at the same time. I was a member of every stereotypical high school group. I hung around people who chose to be in only a few groups and relished that I could have relationships with people regardless of who they were or what their interests were. That was “normal” for me. My parents encouraged me and my brother to try everything and then stick with what interested us. We both were as well rounded as possible. Most of my core friend group also had this multi-faceted approach to life. It was exhilarating !!

When I went to college, my horizons were instantly expanded. It was the first time in my life that I met people who grew up in large metropolitan cities and foreign countries. I made connections with people who were vastly diverse from me and I loved it. I was disappointed that I wasn’t aware of how amazing and unique people were. Even in this, I realize now that college was only a microcosm of how limitless the variety of humanity truly is. However, it was a great way to challenge what I had known and experienced in my small town. I had to decide to stay cocooned in my small bubble or break that bubble to take in everything around me. I broke the bubble, and I’m glad I did.

I continued to be involved in as many different activities and social groups as I could throughout my college years. What I found is that the fabric of people I encountered gave me experiences I would have never had if I hadn’t ventured forth and taken risks to be fully engaged with people regardless of their background, culture, and experience. I never felt confined to be connected only to certain social groups.

Unfortunately, it was also during college that I learned that people also chose to not be as open to others as I was trying to do. I remember taking a class my senior year which studied the life and efforts of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. We had to do some form of visible non-violent activity and then write about our experience with the reactions we experienced. It was a group project. Four of us decided to “march” with banners and sheets with messages on them to bring attention to inequities we saw at that time happening at the University. As we walked through areas that were filled with the housing of our fellow students, we were jeered, cussed at and people even threw things at us. I was confused, angry, and hurt. My group’s experience was more visceral and emotional than some of the other groups in the class. It has stuck with me ever since. I didn’t understand why we received such a reaction from people just by walking down a street. It was hard to process.

This leads me to today. What if people intentionally chose to connect and have meaningful relationships with others just because they are fellow humans?

I understand that each person on the planet is unique and different. That doesn’t intimidate me. It fascinates me !! If I could spend each day I walk on this earth to meet and know every single person that I’m around, I would be fulfilled. I mean that. I would be completely content listening to the story of every person I encounter to try to learn from them and understand their life experience.

I was sitting on the steps of the New York Public Library a few years ago having a coffee with a dear friend while visiting New York City for a meeting. I said, “I wish I could stop and talk to every person walking around us. Don’t you?” He said that would be uncomfortable and uncertain. He’s right, but I’d love to take the risk.

I’d love to see the world, in general, come together and get to know each other and understand our various outlooks on life, work and society. I want to take the background I’ve grown up with and apply it to all aspects of human connection. I don’t feel we’ll ever come together until we take the time to learn, listen, respect and value where people come from. It doesn’t mean we’ll always agree, and it may lead to deep, intense dialogue. Isn’t that worth pursuing?

I have never felt comfortable when people want to put me in a box to say that you must be this or that or be part of this group or that one. Why can’t you move across all groups and types of people? I’m going to keep working on my “What if” because I know it works. I’m not sure where it will lead me, but I feel the world has so much to offer because of its people. I know that in doing this I will discover ways to view and experience a much bigger slice of life than if I only stayed complacent and within a defined bubble.

I’d encourage you to join me and break your bubble because I’d love to get to know you as well !!

When in doubt . . . grout

Doesn’t it seem like we cram a multitude of life events together all in a short period of time? It’s not advisable to group so many things together at the same time. You add unnecessary stress even though you have the best intentions.

My wife, Debbie, and I decided to remodel our kitchen, flooring and family room late in 2019. We had saved for it and thought it would be exciting to give some life to our house. Doing a remodel at this scale is a big deal because it meant that we would be “living” in our basement for several months. Of course, right when construction was scheduled to start, a global pandemic hits. We went forward with the project because we had it planned. We never anticipated that we’d be working from home and not at our workplaces on top of everything.

The project went well through every phase . . . until we started to reach the end. Materials were slow to arrive and the tile crew who put the new backsplash up didn’t follow the design. We had lived in the basement for 3 1/2 months and the tension was starting to mount. Let’s be honest, the whole “made for TV” shows on HGTV aren’t how projects truly proceed. They’re great television, but they’re not realistic. Things don’t get resolved in an hour.

Since we were nearing the end of our project, the final touches started to drag out and communication started to dissipate. Please understand that we have had a very good experience with the company, the designers, and the work crews who had done the work so far. We just wanted to be done !! Several calls and texts were shared to try to get the tile mistake repaired. We seemed to have hit an impasse.

Just when it seemed like things were going to escalate, I got a text from Aaron. It said, “Hey man, I heard you needed me to come out and fix the tile work. I’ll be out in a few days. This is my cell. We’ll get this taken care of.” The temperature instantly receded. He texted a few more times and we hit a few more delays, but we finally landed on a day for Aaron to work on the tile. He was the regular tile guy the company used instead of the first crew who didn’t do the work the way we had wanted.

I was working from home when Aaron and Ted, his assistant arrived. I had papers scattered across our new island and was typing away on a spreadsheet I needed to finish that day. Aaron was very gregarious and talkative. Ted was steady and silent. As they came into the house, Aaron exclaimed, “Hey man. Aaron. Nice to meet you. This is Ted.” Ted nods his greeting. “So, I see we need to finish up this tile and get it back to how you’d like it. Let me grab my tools, some drops (drop cloths), and we’ll knock this out and get out of your way.”

I instantly connected to these two guys and was grateful they had arrived. Aaron pulled out this large black square which I knew was a speaker. “You mind if I play some tunes man?” I replied, “No, that’s fine. I always have music playing when I work.” (In fact, I had Spotify playing in the background as he asked.) “You cool with country music?” he asked. I stated, “If that’s what helps you tile, I’m good with it.” “Cool. I may switch to some classic rock though. Just depends on what I’m feeling.” I let him know I was good with whatever style he chose.

Before, I continue you need to know that Aaron and Ted are artists. That is a fact !!. They worked smoothly and collaboratively. Aaron took measurements and Ted cut tiles so that the entire space came together seamlessly like a puzzle. They didn’t have to remeasure or recut any piece. Each one fit the first time. My conversation with Aaron continued as well. Having two extroverts in the same room ensures that talking will occur. We talked about our occupations, our families, the pandemic, politics and more. We did it with ease and it was so reassuring to experience.

As he was finishing up, he noted that he’d need to come back one more day. We were short with some detailed pencil tiles. I asked him about the framing of those tiles around our window. He noted, “Yeah, I see you’re window’s crooked. The other guys tried to make some cuts to cover that. I would have made some different cuts, but we can frame it and get it finished.” I replied, “Won’t it look a bit odd because you’ll have to match how the others started the job?”

He paused and smiled. “No problems, man. I follow the philosophy – When in doubt . . . grout.”

I didn’t know what he meant. He gleefully explained that he would use grout between the seams of the tile and pull it all together. If a space needed a little more grout, he’d add it. If it needed less, he’d thin it out so that the tiles all looked like they naturally were in their designated place.

I never expected to gain perspective from my tile guy, but I was wrong. His philosophy is exactly how we should approach HR. We are the grout that brings people together !! Since everyone is naturally different in how they work, look at life, and have a mix of unique skills and approaches themselves, someone needs to bring cohesion while still allowing them to be who they are.

Some people will need a bit more “grout” to add them to their place in the tile, and some will need less. The key for us is that we’re not trying to keep people set in their ways or conform. Employees are looking for ways to contribute while being connected. They want to be part of the bigger picture and understand how what they do adds value to the overall results of the company.

This week, take Aaron’s advice and see how you can reshape how you practice HR. Are you being the grout that fills in the seams? If you aren’t, I suggest you change and start bringing folks together. It is far more enriching and you’ll love how the workplace and culture looks when you’re done !!

The Fellowship

I am an avowed nerd and proud of it !! I have been nerdy since I can remember. It never really bothered me because I was also able to fit in with the jocks, the band and choir groups, and many academic factions. I’ve felt comfortable being involved and connected with whatever group of people I’ve been around. This is challenging for others because we would rather have people stay in their “assigned” group. I hope that I’m never that narrow because there are far too many amazing humans on this planet to get to know and affiliate with.

When I hit 7th grade, I was tall, gangly and looked like a giraffe that didn’t quite fit in its body. Clumsy was more of the norm than having graceful moves physically or socially. I was trying to figure out the mystery of being a teenager in a new town and a new school. I had to make new friends out of thin air. The overwhelming majority of my classmates had been going to school together since they were in Kindergarten. I was completely out of my element.

One day I found myself in the stacks of the school library and I found the book The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein. I had found my place !! The book took me to an entirely new world where I could lose myself. It gave me something to latch onto with all of the changes going on in my “new world.” I learned that this great book was the prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and as soon as I could open the first book, I did. It was time for The Fellowship of the Ring.

If you don’t know this book or haven’t seen the incredible Lord of the Rings movie, stop reading this post and go see them. I own them all and have read the trilogy several times as well as watched each movie over and over and . . .

The Fellowship was amazing because it brought characters together who were very diverse and not cohesive at first. They had several agendas and dislike for those who weren’t from their kingdom. Over time, as their adventure continued, they realized that each member of the group had talent and skills which were needed at various times of their quest. They were trying to get the ring to a very dark and evil place to destroy it so that evil would not be able to take over their world.

When I think of how this unlikely combination came together, I thought of HR. (Again, remember I’m a nerd and see HR in most aspects of life). I see so many amazing movements happening around the globe right now. I also am encouraged by more and more HR voices who are sharing on social media platforms. Top that off with podcasts that feature HR practitioners who express new thoughts and perspectives.

Unfortunately, there are also still those who feel they have to justify their work in HR personally and in their organizations. And, there are still those who write blogs, have podcasts and make presentations which diminish the profession in order for others to focus on them for personal gain. It’s frustrating to see that we continue to seem as if we exist outside the recognized business world.

So, I think it’s time for us to form a Fellowship of HR !! Seriously, it would be phenomenal to see the entire profession come together to move forward. The infighting and divisiveness would cease and we would lift other professionals up so they could succeed personally and professionally. Wouldn’t it be amazing to elevate the many voices and perspectives from around the world so that organizations became intentionally people-first all the time?

I think we can if we follow the example from the book on how the group came together. The most unlikely character, Frodo who was a Hobbit, stepped forward to say he would take the ring to have it destroyed in the midst of all of the other characters from various kingdoms argued as to who should lead or be in charge. The fellowship rallied around someone who had no visible strengths, stature, or personality. However, he showed a willingness to take a risk and humility that others overlooked or lacked.

The time to come together as a profession is now. The time to move the industry forward as a cohesive, diverse, and inclusive community is now. There are elements springing up everywhere that together form a fabric that is creative, authentic, and relevant. Let’s embrace all and give everyone access to join this fellowship. No one leader. No one effort. Instead, a fellowship that shares a common bond to improve the humanity of the workplace, and in turn, a more well-rounded society as a whole.

This isn’t aspirational. It’s needed. The quest is at hand. Will you join in the fellowship? It would be great to move ahead with each one of you !!

Too Much Time !!

This past Saturday is one of the most eagerly anticipated days of the year. No, not Halloween. It’s daylight savings time when we turn our clocks back for one hour. One hour. We get giddy about “adding” a single hour to our days. Most often it’s positioned so you can rest and get an “extra” hour of sleep. That’s cool, but I usually miss this because I think that having another hour lets me stay up later !! (I’m a night owl though.)

I’ve been spending some of this new found extra time contemplating why everyone gets so excited about daylight savings time. What I’ve landed on is that our days are so full that we want to feel some relief. Any relief. I’ve written about this in the past that most everyone you meet is exasperated all the time. They never feel that there are enough hours in the day in order to live life effectively.

This state of exhaustion has led to the work/life balance quest and other initiatives to see how we can squeeze one more minute out of our days. Our constant yearning for complete closure of every task and facet of our days seems unattainable . . . because it is !! There is value in completing tasks and getting things done. What we forget is that time never stops and neither does life. We live in a continuum and not a series of starts and stops. Layer on top of this that when we finish something, we’re devastated that another item looms in front of us. It’s easy to see how people can feel burdened and trapped by these feelings of incompleteness.

If you know me, or if you’ve read this blog for any time, you know that I look at life through a different lens. I feel I have too much time on my hands. (This is also a phenomenal Styx song by the way !!) It’s true and not because of the additional hour we celebrated.

I don’t feel pressed by the constraints of time. This isn’t some ethereal philosophy or aspiration. I choose not to be anxious about deadlines or schedules, but I make sure to follow them. They just don’t rule my day. Also, I have always believed people have the same amount of time in their days. It’s purely a matter of how you choose to use your time.

If you sat down and wrote ALL that you accomplished in your day from the time you get up until you sleep once again, you’d see how much is happening naturally each day. You may get anxious because of other pressures, but time continues whether you feel pressured or not. Also, if you wrote down the amount of time you spend on work, eating, social media, TV (or streaming services), conversations, etc., you’d be stunned at how your time is actually allocated.

Here’s an example . . .

Yesterday, before the hands of the clock jumped backward – I slept in and then got up to make a full breakfast for my amazing wife (including raspberry scones.) I did some chores around the house, signed some books to be sent out to some special folks, sent some messages and tweets to folks because I choose to be connected and active on social media, then made my way out to my “task” for the day. We have very mature trees surrounding our house and this is the time of year when I have to conquer the leaf blanket that covers our yard from corner to corner. The mulching of leaves, mowing of the yard and other lawn cleaning took five hours. I ached all over my body. However, the day was not even close to coming to an end.

I had a quick snack and some water before joining the weekly HR Pub Quiz that has been going each Saturday through the pandemic for an hour of trivia and laughs. Then came a quick reheating of leftovers, decorating a pumpkin and getting ready for trick or treaters to visit for the annual candy harvest of Halloween. After we had our last visitor, my wife and I watched a movie on Netflix for two hours and then decided to head to bed. The time change was still technically hours in the future.

See what I mean? A full day and that honestly doesn’t capture everything I did. The reason I feel I have too much time (and I do) is that I don’t spend my time on things that are negative, derogatory, or divisive. I don’t. You see, I think those things are a time suck that only leads to feelings of being overwhelmed.

You have a choice. Each person who reads this. Your time is your own even when it involves caring for a spouse/partner, kids, family, or your job. You can enjoy what you do while you’re doing it. When you do this and reframe your mental approach to what lies ahead, you’ll find that you have more time available than you thought you did. Try it and see what happens !!

To keep this front of mind, enjoy some Styx . . .

Against the Grain

I’m exhausted. I’m fairly sure if I asked you, that the answer would be the same. The past few months have been trying for everyone. The pandemic would have been enough for anyone, and now it seems to be gaining momentum which is going to prove to be another challenge. On top of the constant fight against the virus, there is legitimate social unrest, political disarray among other things. People seem to have blamed the year 2020 as the framework for wave after wave of discord. I don’t think the year is to blame, I think it’s us.

Everywhere you look people are making disharmony and divisiveness the norm. Remember several months ago when we wondered what our “new normal” would be? I don’t think this is what we expected. There are so many things that need to be addressed now that have been overlooked for far too long. I’m not going to be presumptuous and offer solutions for all that is surrounding us.

However, I can’t agree with the norm. I can’t partake in dialogue that seeks to only bring opposition. I can’t tolerate the incessant conversations that only seem to have the purpose of keeping people apart. Instead, I choose to go against the grain.

To me, it is far more important to believe in others than it is to focus on differences. I want to learn who people are and where they come from. I want to hear their perspectives and views on any subject they choose. I want to meet, connect, and understand anyone who is willing to do the same. Even those who think differently or come from angles I don’t personally agree with, I want to know them as well.

This isn’t just some personal crusade, mantra or lifestyle. I want to encourage others to do the same, but if they don’t I still plan to go against the grain. Instead of discord, I choose kindness. Instead of divisiveness, I choose to believe in others. Instead of opposition, I choose inclusion. This is true for me personally and especially at work.

As HR pros, we are surrounded by people all the time. I understand this may now be virtual for some, but it doesn’t change the fact that we are around others. Since that is the case, we should be the ones who choose non-conformity with all that is going on and do what we can to bring people together. I am astounded by the number of people who are struggling with various aspects of life and we would rather focus on completing tasks and measuring performance instead of ensuring the wellbeing of others.

Going against the grain takes discipline, an intentional spirit and courage to not bow down and join the forces trying to make life negative and frustrating. Being positive, kind and encouraging will not get the likes, retweets and self-focus that tries to dominate our attention. We cannot wait and continue to muddle through in the hope for relief. We must act and bring consistent positivity, kindness and encouragement through our behavior and our interactions.

I choose to go against the grain, do you?

Lessons from Lava Lamps !!

If you’ve read this blog for any time, or if you know me personally, I’m pretty much a hippie. Now, I don’t have the “look” much anymore, but I do have the vibe. I’ve always related to the general positive approach to life that embraces people for who they are and where they are in life. I dig tie-dye as a personal fashion statement even though it went out of style decades ago. It’s a natural choice for me.

One of the iconic items from this approach to life is the lava lamp. I remember seeing them in a neighbor’s house when I was a teenager. I was fascinated by the warm glow and the globs of liquid moving up and down the colored water. He was a stereotypical kid of the 70’s with his room filled with blacklight posters, incense, and a bead curtain that hung at the entrance to his room. I felt at home and have held onto this fascination with this simple, decorative item.

As a confession, I have four lava lamps in my office and three more at home. I was even given one this past Christmas as part of a secret Santa exchange. It has a Bluetooth speaker in it which you can stream through as it’s glowing and moving !! It’s epic. I love having the lamps on, and they are the first switches I throw on when I hit my office door.

Now, this may sound a bit “out there,” but I think we can take lessons from lava lamps which apply both to practicing HR and in interacting with people. You see, by themselves, lava lamps are fairly non-descript. There’s a metallic base and cap at the top of a tapered cylindrical piece of glass. The liquid inside may be clear or colored, but it is nothing more than a filled tube that is basically inanimate.

Sitting motionless at the bottom of the liquid is a chunk of some colored waxy goo which could honestly be a candle. The lamp will be another piece of furniture unless you take a simple action. You need to click the switch to turn on the lightbulb which is hidden in the base of the lamp !! That simple motion will give this throwback novelty the energy it needs to bring it to life.

The waxy substance will start to liquefy due to the heat and, over a few hours, it will start to separate and move to form ovals of various sizes which float to the top of the lamp and slowly glide back down. Once it’s fully heated, the lava lamp sets the mood of movement, peace, and calm. It’s fulfilling its purpose.

What does this obsession with lava lamps have to do with HR and interacting with people? Everything !!

Too often we sit inanimate in our offices just waiting for some tragedy to unfold. Too many HR pros feel their only reason for existence is to be called upon when some uncomfortable employee relations issue arises. We begrudgingly jump into action well after we could have been involved. This becomes our general approach to work and HR is seen in a negative light throughout the organization. We shrug and take on the burden of what we feel is our calling and we’re miserable. Makes you want to go into HR, doesn’t it ??

It never has to be this way. If you took a new approach and saw the amazing people around you like lava lamps, you could take the simple action of flipping their switch to turn on the lights that are hidden inside each of them. It may take hours, or much longer, for them to warm up to you. But, take heart, they will because each of us is looking for the intentional move by someone to acknowledge and value that we exist and want to contribute. At times, we make HR far too complicated and hard. Each person in your organization wants this uncomplicated act to occur every day.

What would your company look like if every person knew they had value, were cared for, and were believed in? Trust me, it would transform the world of work as we know it !!

So, this week instead of falling into the mindless pattern of task and compliance which you think defines you and how HR is accomplished, flip the switch on the lives waiting for attention all around you. Go out and get a lava lamp !! Put it on your desk wherever you’re working now and turn it on every day as a reminder that you can be the spark which brings life to others. Click !!

We All Have Stories To Tell

This past week my wife and I ventured out and went on vacation. We toured the north and west coast of Michigan and it was fantastic !! Yes, things have changed, but we felt safe and were safe ourselves. We liked seeing people adapt and still be able to enjoy the small towns, the sprawling sand dunes off Lake Michigan and countless lighthouses. (Quick aside – I’m a HUGE fan of lighthouses, but that’s for a different post.)

On the drive back, we were able to stop by and visit my parents. Any time I get to spend with them is something I cherish. They hadn’t seen Debbie since the beginning of March so this visit was even more special. I’ve written often about my hometown of Ada, Ohio where my parents still reside. This is because it offers a break from the maniacal pace of life that seems to swallow us in our “regular” daily routine.

Every time I visit, there’s always some task or chore that needs attending to. I’m glad to pitch in because I’m fortunate to have two of the best parents on the planet !! Yes, I’m biased. However, I see them show grace, support, encouragement, humor and hospitality to everyone they encounter. They continue to be great role models to learn from.

One special surprise for them was that I brought them a signed copy of my new book, HR Rising !!, for them. It’s funny that I still get butterflies in my stomach when I get to share accomplishments and moments from my life and the lives of my wife and kids with them. It’s like still beaming when they’d put a school paper up on the refrigerator. I was nervous because I dedicated the book to them and they didn’t know that. My mom read the dedication and started to tear up which made me tear up as well. We’re a very openly emotional family which is another thing I cherish.

She shared with my dad that the book was dedicated to them and he smiled. You see, my dad is almost blind now in his old age. He has been a diabetic for almost 60 years. I’m fortunate that he’s still with us, but each year another aspect of the disease limits another area of his daily existence. He’s not saddened by this. He is grateful he’s lived as long as he has because he’s been fighting the disease long before the great advances that are currently available.

As we continued to share the details of our vacation, I mentioned that in the book, the introduction was about an encounter, or “life lesson” as my dad called them, between my father and I some decades ago. My mom and wife said, “Why don’t you read it to us?” I got shaky. Now, you need to know that I am an avowed extrovert who rarely shies away from any chance to express myself. But, reading a story to my dad just hit me.

The story is about a time when he was still fit, hard working and able to figure out any situation which involved work with your hands. He had grown up on a farm and had been able to do literally any type of home repair. As I sat on the couch to read, he scooted his wheelchair up closer and said, “I want to be close to hear you. Now, don’t mumble.” This was typical of dad – always coaching.

I told him that this is how I remember the story, so hang in there. As I opened my mouth to start, the tears poured down my face. Here I was sitting in front of the father I love and admire and reading him a story I wrote. I’m sharing something that we experienced together and it’s captured on a written page forever. It really impacted me that I, his child, was reading to his parent.

I struggled to read the story and the pages because the whole time I was wondering how he would take it. I didn’t want him to feel misrepresented or seen in a bad light. That’s not how the story goes by the way. When I finished, he beamed and laughed about how everything had happened. It was a moment I will always hold dear and it was the perfect end to our vacation.

Whose story can you tell? Do you see the people around you as part of your life story? Could you take time to invest and pour into others for simply a few moments of your day? How do you think it would go if you showed kindness by intentionally spending your time with others this next week?

You need to remember that every person is part of your story. Therefore, pay attention to everyone and let them help write the fabric of life around you. Tell them your story and that they are a part of it. Let them know they are a meaningful part of your life. It matters.

To Dream . . .

If you took a poll right now in workplaces, the title of this post might be “to survive” or “just exist.” It’s tough right now. The work environment is being tested and challenged in ways it hasn’t in our lifetime. You have those who have been working remotely for months that have altered their living space, their schedules and their approach to work. There are also people who have been working ever since the pandemic began and haven’t missed a beat. Even though that has been the case for them, “work” doesn’t look like it used to. Unfortunately, there is also a very large number of people who are in transition and are not working. Any time that occurs you face personal, professional and economic obstacles while you’re trying to successfully land once again.

Each day is consumed with extenuating circumstances that have very little to do with the role we are expected to perform. The stress levels are higher and people are more emotional than I can remember. Throw on top of all this the constant level of uncertainty that seems to hang over everyone like a constant shadow. What can we effectively do in these challening times ??

We can dream.

“What?” you may think. Is it possible to break out of the mire and darkness that is trying to swallow us? Yes, it is. And, I’d also throw out there that we all need to gather ourselves to see how we can once again be creative in who we are and what we do.

Please note I’m not suggesting that you dream just to be aspirational. I feel it’s a great time to expand our approach to HR, people practices, workplace culture and how we conduct business. It would be a shame for us to just try to wait things out in the hope that things would return to “normal.” We all need to come to terms with the reality that the world of work has changed. It won’t, and shouldn’t, be the same any more.

The dreams I’m asking you to consider need to lead to tangible action both within your organization and in the profession of HR as a whole. This will take incredible effort to pull yourself out of all that’s going on. Your mind will tell you that you don’t have the energy or the time to come up with anything new. The pull will be immense and it will be easy to stay where you are, but fight it and dream.

I don’t want to be presumptuous and tell you to incorporate your new ideas in any particular area because each of you has a vast landscape of opportunities. Even if the topic was the same, the factors of each person and workplace would be different. Instead of looking to mimic someone else’s practices, step out and make something that fits you, your people and your company.

Look at every facet of an employee’s experience and see if it can be improved. There’s room for growth all around you. The key is to dream. You can. It’s time. We’ve been brought to the forefront of leadership over the past few months. Don’t let this time pass.

Lift your eyes up, be encouraged and dream. I’m geeked to see what you’ll create !!

Discipline(d)

I’ve been trying to read more and listen to more podcasts because I enjoy hearing the perspectives of others. My hope is to learn from what they are experiencing. In the midst of this when I listen to the HR voices, I see a common thread of reverting to creating and developing mountains of policies in order to address the current work environment and situation.

There are blogs and webinars about Return to Work policies. Now that we’re seeing that uncertainty is becoming more of the norm, there are more calls for discipline and punishment for those we KNOW are falling outside the boundaries we expect them to stay in. We keep striving for control and a lack of variablity in a time when variability is the norm !!

If you lead with “policy” as your first step, then I contend you’re completely missing the people aspect of your work. This is more reflective of how your company, and HR, truly view those who are your “greatest asset” on every mission statement adorning every company lobby. It continues to astonish me that people feel if we punish, address and confine people more tightly, then we’re sure to get the behavior we expect.

This has NEVER worked, and it NEVER will !!

I can already hear the traditionalist espousing that without stringent policies for every aspect of a person’s work life, abject chaos is sure to occur. They’re already listing one hundred HR horror stories of what happened when policies weren’t forcefully enacted. That has been their experience when working with people. This is flat miserable HR in my opinion, and I want to offer a different way to look at how discipline could occur in your organization.

Be disciplined first yourself.

It sounds simple and trite, but it takes incredible effort and energy. People struggle with being personally disciplined. We have no problem citing chapter and verse and then eagerly running to grab the form we spent days creating to make sure it was perfect in every possible way so we can enforce what is truly needed to maintanin order. That is simple.

Being disciplined yourself calls for you to be consistent, approchable, and willing to coach up rather than punish. There are many other ways to be disciplined physically, emotionally and spiritually. What I’d like you to consider is being displined yourself so you have to discipline others less.

Let me ask you this . . . Do you interact with others because you “can” or because you “have” to? Do you only spend more than 30 seconds with someone because of some assumed problem? Do you spend time with people because they’re great humans who come to work every day to do their best?

The number one reason I’m in HR is that I have the joy of being with people every day on purpose. That’s not some idyllic motivational aspiration. It’s a fact. People are amazing, messy, wonderful, challenging, inspirational, curious beings who seek to add value and be acknowledged – just like you are. We forget that everyone is a person.

You see, by being self-disciplined in how I view others, I can see the best in them. By working on being consistent, intentional and approachable, I can enter any interaction between two or more people with confidence. The approach is to have a conversation and assess what’s in front of us. If someone has gone out of bounds, then I coach them back in. Along with that I explain that if they choose to keep going out of bounds, there will be consequences.

I understand the need for parameters and definitions for how to work well, and I believe in them. What I don’t believe in is an archaic system built on punishment. I know people will disappoint me just as I could disappoint others. However, making the time to invest in others to learn who they are, what they’re interested in and how they’d like to perform well leads to a culture where hard core disciplining of others diminishes. It does.

When people know they’re valued by you and the organization, they are more likely to perform.

What would HR look like for you if you followed the expectation of pouring into others because they came to work that day? No other reason. You intentionally interactied with everyone you encountered just because. No agenda. No yearn to get in, get out and get back to your other tasks. Instead, you made the time to converse because you could. If you have to jump into a conversation more around the work at hand, fine, but don’t make that the reason you start the conversation.

I’m telling you if you developed this discipline, you’d start to believe in others and expect they would give their best. HR would then become the profession you’d always hoped it would be !!

This week start being discipline(d) yourself and see people for the great contributors they always have been !! You’ll soon be astonished how full and rich your days become.

Carry On

Have you noticed, or felt, that we’re stuck? My wife and I were hanging out with another couple enjoying a few Moscow Mules and we caught up on life. Instead of talking about the various activities of our grown children or the status of our jobs, we talked about the constant wave of global events that have happened throughout 2020. Each one has had a profound experience on each of us personally as I’m sure it has for you. There doesn’t seem to be and “end” to any of these events, and maybe that’s the point.

When the pandemic hit (and it’s still happening to some exent), people longed for normalcy and a return to the life and patterns of what we’d been accustomed to doing. Now, the civil unrest, protests and call for social justice has moved us in a new direction emphasizing that we should not return to how things “have been.”

People are frustrated, angry, anxious and uncertain as to what lies ahead for our society and for each of us personally. When this happens, there are three possible reactions which will occur – (1) You’ll stay put because that gives you some sense of stability and less volatility; (2) You’ll do all you can to slide back into comfort zones and make efforts to get out of all that’s going on; and (3) You move forward and carry on.

As I was thinking about writing this week, I had the Grateful Dead radio station playing on Spotify. I am a hippie in the 21st century. The station plays a variety of artists from a similar genre, and one of my favorite groups started playing – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The song they were singing was Carry On which is one of my favorites.

The song is about a relationship that has broken off, but it is laced with a message of encouragement to carry on because “love is coming, love is coming to us all.” With everything that is daily affecting us, I want to assure you that we can, and should, move forward by carrying on. We’re all tired and reaching the end of our ropes emotionally, physically and spiritually. The people I talk to are exasperated. They want to move forward, but are just so spent they don’t know how. If movement doesn’t occur soon, then they’ll become stagnant and ambivalent. This doesn’t have to happen.

At some time, we all will need to carry on. Now, I’m not going to be so bold as to list specific steps and a model to help you do this. I will say though that in order to start carrying on, you need to acknowledge that you can’t stay put where you are. It’s not easy and the urge to remain where you currently are is powerful and hard to break. You may even feel that others will chime in and tell you they’re not moving forward themselves, and they will do their best to have you join them. We can’t afford to do that as people or as HR professionals.

It’s time for us to take beliefs, words and sentiments and turn them into actions. We can’t continue to be aspirational and hope that someone will pick up the mantle and run with it. This is our task and our opportunity. So, what can you DO to ensure inequality and racism isn’t present in your practices and organizations? What can you DO to care for former employees who are now in transition after the pandemic? What can you DO to show your company that every situation in your company is centered around people? Every. Situation.

It’s easy to get caught up in the ground swell of emotions of all that is going on. I’m sure you’ve experienced strong feelings yourself. After time, this level of emotion, passion and outcry for sustainable change will subside. It always does. A good friend of mine and I were talking about this, and he had a great suggestion which he finds works well.

Write down what you want to accomplish in your calendar and then write out steps you need to reach that accomplishment. Set them all up as reminders so they don’t disappear. Let them be gentle nudges for you to continue to carry on.

As I mentioned before, I’m not going to give you absolute suggestions for you to pursue. I don’t know what is facing you – but you do !! Let’s all commit to not remain stagnate. Let’s be intentional in putting accomplishments out in front of us to see ourselves, and our companies, improve. Let’s make our words turn to action. Let’s all carry on !!

Just so you have a little reminder and inspiration to get you started, here’s the CSNY classic for your listening pleasure . . .