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 the Change !!

SHRM17 just wrapped up this week in the midst of tropical storm Cindy knocking on the door as everyone finished the conference and headed home. Ironically, the energy that emanated from the event was almost as moving as the storm !! The vibe this year was positive, collaborative and you could feel a sense of togetherness throughout the entire week.

I had a lofty goal to meet every attendee, and I fell a bit short. It wasn’t for a lack of effort though. I was astonished how many people I observed that continued to move from session to session without meeting a single person. Please note that I don’t think people had to meet me, but I did hope that they’d connect with someone !!

I noticed this continued “eyes forward” approach while people were waiting to hear me present. As I saw this, I asked the AV folks to turn up my mic, and I implored the people who were kind enough to choose my session to look up from their phones and meet the people around them. The energy jumped through the roof, and I actually heard from someone later who said, “I appreciated the reminder to meet others because I was caught up in the stuff at work, and lost sight of others sitting right next to me. I liked meeting everyone.”

I may sound like a broken record, but, taking a page from Patrick Lencioni, I will keep reminding people of what seems simple – because people aren’t doing it. I find it so hard to grasp that HR pros almost refuse to meet their peers. They seem so set on getting to a class or training session to wait to see the person at the front of the room speak. I hope that those speakers rock and that you learn from each of them. But, what if the person sitting next to you was facing the same issues and challenges you were, and all you had to do was say, “Hi, my name’s ________. And you are?”

I closed my session this year with my most favorite quote from history. Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I don’t mean to overstate, or simplify this, but I truly want to see HR become a global community that is connected though people – on purpose !! I know that if this happens, then the desire for us to look at our field, and the people in it, positively won’t be some aspiration, it will be a fact.

I loved meeting the new folks that I did during SHRM17. The ranged from a room full of students and young professionals on Sunday, to HR folks who were from Cincinnati (where I’m from) whom I hadn’t met in the past, to people from Guam, Australia, Canada, India and Brazil. Each one of these HR pros is now a connection and I hope we stay connected for years to come !! In fact, I wish I had more time reconnecting with some of my friends who I get to see more regularly, but our paths didn’t cross as often as I’d hoped.

I ask those who attended SHRM17 to not let the energy and vibe of such a massive event slip by as we all return to our regular roles and duties. You experienced a shift and not it is up to YOU to be the change in your world. I plan to keep the movement going, and hope you join in !!

Get Rid of the Can’ts !!

Have you ever reflected about your perspective and approach on things in life? Do you tend to look at things logically or emotionally? Are you someone who sees the worst in others or the best?

Chances are you’re a blend. Most people are. I tend to start from a positive perspective on life, people and the situations I face. It’s interesting that being positive is unnerving to some. I’ve had people wonder if my approach is genuine or something that just comes on when I’m surrounded by others. Sorry, that’s just not the case.

It’s appropriate to write about this because I honestly can tell you that my approach was built over years by watching . . . my mother. My mom is the case study for positivity. She sees the best in others the moment she meets them. There’s no cautionary period or gauntlet that she requires people to struggle through before they earn her favor. The other amazing aspect of my Mom’s approach is that she isn’t over the top. It comes natural to her and people are drawn to her. She also is comfortable with people regardless of their background, status or heritage. She’s sees others in one way – as humans. So, growing up with this role model set the stage for who I am and how I view others as well.

My Mom also taught me to look at what you “can” do versus what you “can’t.” I never realized how critical this was going to be throughout my career. You see, the majority of people tell you what they can’t do when they are presented a situation. It’s our first instinct to look at obstacles. I don’t know why that is what we do, but we do. Once this stance is established, the dialogue continues to drum up more and more obstacles. The “cant’s” just pile up on top of each other. Then, when we hit a certain level, we feel that we can finally take things on to fix them.

It amazes me that the majority of people who go to work feel that their only true worth is when they are fixing problems. I don’t understand that. Do we go to work to perform or to repair? If everything is messed up, how does anything ever get accomplished? It’s seems to be a defeatist approach to work.

The folks who tend to say “can’t” the most are the people in HR. I say this with assurance because of how I was taught to practice human resources, and how I hear many of my peers discuss what we do. This has to stop along with one other thing. I know that many people state that HR says “No” too much. I disagree. You see, we’re supposed to say “No” because one of the primary values we add to organizations is to reduce liability. Saying no doesn’t curtail things moving forward. It allows people to move in a direction which has fewer chances to fail !!

We have the ability to be encouragers in our roles and throughout our organizations. We need to be the ones who show others how they CAN perform. We need to be the ones who believe that people CAN work from their strengths. We have to be the ones who are positive first. Every time and in every situation.

You CAN do it !! I believe in you !!

Keep It Real !!

It seems that the workplace environment is more of a moving target than ever. Employees have higher expectations of themselves and the work they do. I continue to see blogs and articles about how “frustrating” this is for HR, and I have to giggle. Seriously. How can you get upset that people want to have clarity in their roles and an explanation of how they can add value?

You’d think that we’d be out of the top/down model, mentality and approach in 2017, but we’re not. It’s true that more and more workplaces are blurring the edges and boundaries of what work spaces look like, and that is encouraging. The question I have is – Are we keeping up with this shift as HR, or are we holding firm on the tried and true?

I think you need to pull out the best answer there is in HR – it depends.

I want to be careful not to overgeneralize the state and temperature of company workplaces. I know there are folks who work in places where things rock and the employees are engaged more often than not. My hope is that this turns from perception and “best places to work” survey results to the reality of the workplace. The one thing I see that is a constant thread in great workplaces is that HR keeps it real.

What does “keep it real” look like? Let me paint a picture for you of what it is and what it isn’t. Let’s get the negative bit out of the way. When I hear HR folks who describe themselves as “brutally honest” and “don’t pull any punches”, I cringe. Those folks are just blowhards who wield their role, position and authority in a way that they bull their way through situations and people. That may be their “real” approach, but it is flawed and egocentric.

HR folks who keep it real are authentic, genuine, vulnerable and, dare I say, human. They are flawed, emotional and aren’t afraid to admit when they fail. Here are the outward characteristics I see in HR practitioners who keep it real:

They’re others focused

When you hear HR people who talk about the employees they lead and serve first, you’ve found a foundational quality of keeping it real. You very rarely see, or hear, these people talk about themselves first in any situation. Being others focused takes patience, intentionality and an assurance in knowing that in the end, taking care of others will benefit them personally in more meaningful and lasting ways.

They show their emotions while keeping their cool

A word, an approach, I’d like to see HR adopt here is being unflappable. You may have to fight the urge to scream or lash out at someone when you are involved in difficult employee situations, but you just can’t do it. I don’t mean that you swallow your feelings. In fact, it’s just the opposite. When you meet people emotionally where they are versus being an unfeeling robot armed with endless policies and procedures, you’ll see what I mean. All people are emotional – including HR !! Meet others where they are, and then keep your cool. When you do this, you can diffuse even the most highly emotionally charged situations. People want to be heard, so take a deep breath, and listen.

They laugh

This may seem silly, but people love to laugh. There’s no room here to try to force humor or tear others down because that isn’t funny, it’s just cruel. I know that we all need more joy and encouragement in our lives and having a positive outlook to see the good in others will lead you to laugh – naturally. I know that laughter is an essential part of every day for me. If I’m not laughing, and getting others to laugh with me, then tensions rise. Make sure you’re looking at yourself on this point. If you’re not laughing enough, change that.

It’s time for HR to remove the cloak of invisibility and dark theme music that people tend to try and associate us with as a stereotype. That can only happen when we put on something else – the mantle of keeping it real !!

Wide Awake !!

During my time at Ohio University, I fell hard for a new band (at the time) called U2. After I heard their music, I couldn’t get enough of them. We had two record (yes, record) stores in Athens at the time, and I made sure to make regular trips to both of them to pick up anything U2 had put out.

I found an EP on vinyl that the band issued called Wide Awake in America which contained only four songs. That didn’t matter to me because it had a live version of my favorite song, Bad. Every Friday afternoon, I would hurry back from class and pull out this wonderful vinyl masterpiece and turn on my stereo as loud as possible to crank out Bad !! Every. Friday. No one could yell at me because I was the Resident Assistant who was in charge of a section of the dorm. My residents just got used to it and new it was officially Friday afternoon. Quick aside – I let them crank their music too because that is what stereos were built for.

The reason I love the song Bad so much was that the band was fully engrossed in every note and Bono’s voice soared and screamed about the crowd bringing them to a major crescendo and then to an almost silent phrase. Honestly, I still get teary if I hear the song played loudly. The lyrics that pulled out such emotion are:

“Wide awake. I’m wide awake. Wide awake. I’m not sleeping.”

They seem pretty normal when you just look at them typed on a blog page. But, when they’re sung, they come alive and make me think about HR and the workplace.

Have you ever gone to work and everyone seems like they’re just going through the motions? Including you? It is so easy to get in a pattern that moves along like a slow hum that has little to no variation. People come to the office or plant at the same time, park in the same place and greet each other with the obligatory “Hi.” “How are you doing?” “Good.” “Good.” We’re even thankful that this interaction comes to a swift end.

Why do we tolerate this or fall into this sedated state? I’m not talking about the poor performers here. I’m talking about your solid performers at each level. At times, work just seems to feel like you’re a drone in a bee hive. You serve a purpose and you’re good at what you do, but there is little life to your efforts.

Time to wake up !!

Before you start pointing fingers about who the zombies are lurching around the workplace, look in the mirror. Where are you on the wide awake scale? When is the last time you pushed yourself out of the daze and interjected life into who you are and what you do? It’s easy to point out what’s missing in others, but I challenge you to take a different stance and lead from your own behavior first.

We have an incredible opportunity each and every day to bring the work environment to life. We can add energy and encouragement that lifts the spirits of others. There shouldn’t be an occasion when things aren’t addressed with passion and intent. Not one.

This week, wake up !! Make sure that where you work is awake and snap everyone out of their funk. As HR, it’s in your wheel house to make this happen. Quit thinking that everything is bland without taking action to never let that be the case. Join me and be wide awake !!

Time to get out the vinyl, drop the needle and turn it up !!

Get in Shape !!

A New Year is upon us and everyone is supposed to be making resolutions. They’re evidently our feeble attempt to alter something that we want to see improve in our life. It’s odd that we wait until the 1st of January every year to get the urge and drive to change because the efforts that are taken to make resolutions are too often futile. We give up when the first chance comes to no longer eat well, read more, go to a gym etc.

Why is that? What is this cycle where people want to change (sort of) and then they don’t (reality)? Do we want to move in a new direction? I think we do. We need to remember that change happens around us all the time whether we want it to or not. It’s rare that change is done in massive shifts. Change occurs every day because our circumstances move and shift more than we care to recognize.

I think the question is more around the idea of “ownership” than it is change. We can either be a victim of the changes that occur around as or as they pass us by, or we can do our best to own our situations. I don’t mean to sound presumptuous or overly self-confident, but I feel that going in to a New Year you can move ahead of the changes you see and feel versus being trampled by them.

I recently received a cool gift that immediately went up in my office. It’s a quote that I can absolutely identify with. Here’s a pic of the quote along with another cool gift from a friend that captures who I am. Now, hang with me because this isn’t a post saying that you should like tie-dye, art and peace signs. I am sure that you have all kinds of characteristics and interests that define who you are. They don’t have to mirror someone else’s interests, and I’ll bet they won’t because you are unique.

The difference in “owning” who you are is captured in the quote. Shape your circumstances around you. This is true both personally and professionally. We all face things that some may deal with easily while others will struggle. One step in moving forward is to move. Sitting back, making some hollow resolution and then waiting for it to fail is being stagnate. That shouldn’t be an option for any of us.

I hope that you take on this encouraging position as you look at who you are and what you do in HR. I think it’s great that we serve others in our work. This doesn’t mean that we can’t own what we do or shape our world. HR that comes from a position of leadership is much more effective than sitting back and waiting for others to decide how we should practice HR.

This January do something more than make a resolution. Make the decision that you want to shape your world. Be persistent and persevere. When the bumps come, work through them because it’s part of the shaping and molding process. See what happens as you move naturally with the change that is sure to come. I’m sure it will be fantastic !!

Be Unlikely !!

When I was young, I remember watching Christmas specials on TV with my family. As a point of reference, this was long before cable TV and 1,000’s of channels. There were four networks to choose from – ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS. We didn’t think we were being slighted by having so few choices. It was our reality and we accepted it.

The most memorable instance I can recall happened during a Bing Crosby special. My Mom and Dad were huge Bing Crosby fans, and my brother and I didn’t get much of a say on what we watched. As we huddled together to watch the show, the most unlikely thing happened. Bing was in a set depicting a large, warm house and a neighbor came to the door. The neighbor was . . . David Bowie !!!

My Dad looked at my brother and I and asked who this British person was and if we knew him. I jumped at the chance to say how fantastic Bowie was, and I now had immense interest in this show. They did some forced dialogue and then sang a duet to The Little Drummer Boy. My Dad hated it, but I thought it was beautiful – and still do.

I’m sure the network execs wanted to bring someone young on their Christmas special to hopefully connect with young viewers. I don’t know if it worked, but it was great to see something so unexpected happen. Seeing something that is unlikely grabs your attention and leaves an imprint.

As we wrap up another year, it’s time for us to sit back a bit and reflect where we are personally and professionally. I know that you will have the chance to step out next year at least once into an area that won’t seem to fit. You’ll be the unexpected neighbor who shows up. You’ll have a choice to either see how to make this odd pairing work, or you can walk away.

I think it’s time for HR to willing be the unlikely person to show up. This needs to occur at the executive level of your organization as well as every department. We can no longer be the department that people “go to.” We need to be the people who make things happen for others. It’s the natural evolution of our profession, and we need to be intentional in seeing this through.

Don’t settle in being a part of the scenery and background of your company. That’s where we’ve been for far too long and people have come to expect that this is the norm. I think that this leads to many folks in HR becoming frustrated and tired. You have the opportunity to turn this norm around and set a new one.

The time is overdue to make this shift. You have to know that you might be the missing piece to an incredible duet that is just waiting to be sung. This next year . . . be unlikely.

NOTE: I’m going to take the remainder of the year to be with family and friends. I appreciate you for reading my blog and hope it is a regular dose of encouragement for you in what we all do in HR. I also hope that you have a phenomenal Christmas, New Year’s and overall Holiday Season !!

Next Year !!

As 2016 winds down, it’s a great time to reflect on what has transpired over the last twelve months. It’s easy to step back and take sides to argue your point. What I was aiming at was broader and more holistic. I’m sure people had a mix of successes and setbacks. All of those experiences made up where you are today ready to jump into 2017.

So, if you had to reflect where you are as an HR professional, what would you say? Have you moved ahead, taken a step backwards or sideways, or are you stuck in a pattern you’d like to see change? I can’t speak for others, but I’m encouraged about what has happened this year and I’m eager to see what 2017 brings.

I know that one of the standard questions we ask when we interview folks is what they’d like to have as goals in five years. It’s great to be wishful and have aspirations, but we get discouraged when things don’t pan out as we had hoped. I think there’s always value in looking ahead as long as it’s paired with taking in the experiences we have along the way. We have a chance to make and impact throughout the year as well as have strategies that have a longer cycle.

Too often we keep our head down and crank out endless amounts of work. Have you stepped back to evaluate if those efforts are adding value, or just making sure that we’re “busy”? We need to be more cognizant of the work we’re doing, how it’s affecting our employees and if it has merit. Those things that are redundant or inefficient need to be evaluated and hopefully either eliminated or changed to become worthwhile.

Let’s do something different next year. I’m not talking about setting resolutions or lofty goals because we know those have little chances of sticking and actually resulting in change. No, I want to suggest that we dive into our field fully and unabashedly with excitement and passion !! Not some sense of false and forced niceties, but a real shift in owning HR.

next-yearThis will look different for everyone, so I won’t presuppose that you should take any prescribed number of steps like many models that are often proposed. I think there is a more fundamental and basic approach we can adopt. I would like to see 2017 be the year where we are confident personally and as a profession in who we are and what we do in human resources. I want to see us quit apologizing, or downplaying, our field. No other profession does this, and neither should we.

I want to encourage you to not only enjoy HR, but thrive in it. You can do things like intentionally connect with more HR peers, go to HR conferences and events or even start your own HR blog. It’s imperative that you step out and be part of the greater HR community. Next year make the move to no longer be isolated. Once you do that, the next step will reveal itself to see how you can improve what you do within your organization.

I’m geeked about HR more than I’ve ever been as we enter 2017. I hope you share my enthusiasm and make moves to make that happen. It’s going to be a phenomenal year and I look forward to seeing it come.

Go Global !!

I grew up in Ada, Ohio which is literally one square mile in diameter. It was magnificent and I had no idea of what the world looked like outside its perimeter. You see, I grew up in the pre-internet days and we thought traveling to Lima, Ohio to see a movie was a true expedition !! It took us 15 minutes to make that trek, but we couldn’t believe we had such freedom. I have to say that I enjoyed being blissfully unaware of the world outside my little village. That was over 30 years ago . . .

Ironically, the world has changed little for most of my peers in HR. We continue to live in a microcosm of the global reality we live in. There are many folks today (around the globe) who limit themselves to the city/town/village they live in as their lens for looking at what they do. It may even be more constricted in that some HR professionals only perspective is within their own organization.

We live in a global community whether we recognize it or not. We can’t keep existing in a flat world model. There don’t have to be any horizons on HR and how we’re connected. I don’t think I’m the only one thinking this. I continue to find and connect with great folks from every continent. The more folks I find, the more I get geeked to make these new discoveries.

In a day and age where countries are calling for more segregation and isolationism, I think it’s up to HR to span those boundaries and blur them more and more. I understand that we each have unique practices, laws and regulations, but we have one thing in common . . . humans.

There’s no logical reason for us to stay confined within our own geography. With technology and social media all around us, all we need to do is click a button to Follow, Link In or Friend each other. We can talk via Skype or video conferencing regardless of distance or time zone. It only takes someone willing to step forward.

I remember a few years ago when I went to my first SHRM National conference and we were AMAZED that there were people who practiced HR in areas of the world other than us. I’m not exaggerating. It’s as if we discovered an entirely new land. It happened again when I attended my first HRevolution event and we were astonished that others who were active in Social Media in HR actually existed and that we were real people and not just avatars on a screen.

Better TogetherIt’s time for the HR community to be global. I don’t mean global from a U.S. perspective. I mean global from an industry perspective. This goes beyond the great professional societies that I encourage you to belong to because they are wonderful forums. This is a call for individuals to make a grass roots effort to connect, communicate and collaborate.

I look forward to the day when I’ll get to travel to the UK, India, Africa, Australia, Japan, Canada, etc. and meet peers who get to work with humans. It will be fantastic to get to know them personally and see what great things they are doing in the field and inside their companies.

I want you to not only thrive in your village, but in your profession. Join me and see how we can be better together globally !!

. . . And I Feel Fine

When you head into work this week, I’m sure you have a million things on your mind. Everyone does. The majority of these items which fight for our attention all want to have top billing. Even the smallest of thoughts can become all consuming.

The question is, how do you parse through all of these things effectively? There is a sinking feeling that every, single item deserves our full attention and that is nearly impossible to do. You may have great intentions, but more often than not, you get stuck attending to just a few things and the emotions that keep building up have nowhere to go.

The ironic fact in this description is that you are not the only person who feels this build up. It’s every employee who walks into work each and every day. Having all of those emotions swirl around with no outlet isn’t healthy.

As HR professionals, we need to be that release valve. I know this may sound daunting, but it’s an opportunity to be an incredible asset to others and to your company as a whole. I was chatting with my dear friend Victorio Milian recently, and our conversation kept circling back to this reality. The challenges with providing this outlet for employees are two fold – (1) We wait too long to provide this for people in most cases and (2) Who’s going to be our outlet?

We need to come to terms that our “reason for existence” is people. I know that it’s a point that I keep harping on, but it needs to keep coming up until the needle genuinely moves and workplaces embody this. In order to take steps in this direction, you need to be unflappable. It’s hard to do, but here’s an alternative way to get you started.

In the 1980’s, I became obsessed with a band that got it’s start on college radio, R.E.M. I have almost every album they’ve ever released. One of their best songs is entitled – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine). I love this because even though the lyrics list all of the forces that are playing on the singer, he says that he’s fine. I know it may be a bit tongue in cheek, but it’s a great perspective to hold from our end.

By being the outlet for employees, we can help them work through their “stuff” and get back to a point where they feel less anxious, stressed or frustrated. I know there may be greater situations that would call for outside expertise, but you can’t even get to those recommendations without being an outlet yourself to start. Being unflappable means that no matter how incredible the situation is that your employees are facing, you stay “fine.” They think that their world is ending so they don’t need you to get caught up in their emotions. They’re looking for stability.

This investment of your time and focus is imperative. It will make HR more fulfilling than it is right now. Pouring into the lives of others and relieving their concerns doesn’t have to be overwhelming. We assume we’re going to hear some horrific ordeal, when someone may just need some attention. Walk into these encounters without any preconceived notions. Just stay and genuinely listen to what they’re facing and go from what you hear.

i-feel-fineSo, who is our outlet? You may be fortunate enough to have someone at work you can confide in as a release, but that’s rare. We deal with too many human issues that honestly can’t be shared with others at work regardless of their position. You may have a release at home, but they be difficult to do as well. Your family may look to you as their outlet just as much as the employees do as work.

My recommendation is that you find peers that understand and experience HR just like you. Having a strong network of friends that can empathize and listen is priceless. I have worked on building and maintaining this for years. I’m fortunate enough to be able to pick up the phone and call just to chat with HR folks around the globe. Being able to share stories, seek perspective and reciprocate and be an outlet for them keeps me balanced.

This week take a breath and understand that you get a chance to be there for others. When you do this you’ll see that we’re all fine !!