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?

Write This Down

This past weekend a significant life event occurred for me and my family. My dad passed away. I’ve written about him often here on this blog and in my books. I have incredible peace about this and let me tell you why.

Technically, Don Fleming is my stepfather. My biological father, John Browne was a Vietnam veteran who passed away from cancer in 1968 and I was four years old. My mother had been a widow for about eight years when Don came into our life. He and my mom connected right away, dated for a while, and then got married in 1976. It was a full-blown 1970’s gala where my dad, my brother and I all wore the obligatory polyester suits. (They were powder blue by the way. Rockin’ the fashion even then !!)

As soon as Don married my mom, we never called him “Dad” because we were pre-teen knuckleheads. However, he didn’t push back and handled it with grace as he did everything in life. As my brother and I got older, we realized how amazing he was and “Dad” replaced “Don” naturally. My father was an incredible role model of so many attributes that define my life now. I mentioned how he showed grace because he was a man of faith. He would never press this upon others, but he also was very self-assured of who he was. He also was the model husband. He was openly affectionate with my mom and would make sure to give her a kiss when he left for work and when he returned. He never missed a day – ever.

He always emphasized that my brother and I should be “couth” (a word that isn’t used anymore) when it came to respecting our mother and other adults. He expected us to do our share around the house, and he is responsible for our work ethic because of how he modeled it professionally and personally. My dad was never strict, but he was direct and intentional. He expected accountability from us which he always defined as following through on what we had committed to. He came to every. single. event my brother and I were involved in at school. He was supportive, proud, and kept us grounded to be thankful for any honor we received.

As we all grew older together and my brother and I went off to college, we saw my dad less and less because his goal was for us to get on our feet and provide for ourselves. In fact, the day I graduated from high school, Dad hugged me outside the school, told me he loved me and asked when I was leaving. True story. This transition happens to most families, so as life continued, we’d see each other less and less. As my brother and I started families of our own, those gaps naturally grew longer and longer.

Every time I’d visit Dad in Ada, at my house in Cincinnati or at family events all over the Midwest, he’d make sure to share his thoughts and opinions on life. He would grab your attention by saying, “Write this down . . .” Then he’d share a quote he had memorized, a quip or quick story and most assuredly a joke or two. He wanted me to remember these points because he knew they had an impact, reach and meaning. It became so common that I’d hear him pause, raise his hand and I’d jump in and say, “I know. ‘Write this down . . .”

I didn’t realize how ingrained this short phrase had become in my life, but even now, when I give a presentation at a conference I will find myself pausing, looking out to the audience, and say “Write this down . . .”

I am grateful for this man who came into my life 44 years ago. The man who married and loved my mother so incredibly deep and made me who I am today as a husband, father, friend, man of faith, and a professional. Without my Dad, I wouldn’t have had the model of grace, respect and humor that also make me who I am.

I know that as I write this, that not everyone has a great relationship with their parents and/or family. I do not take this for granted or feel that my example is greater than anyone else’s experience. I have learned from both my mother and father to be others-focused and value every person for who they are and where they come from. If I can ever be someone to confide in, converse with, weep with or laugh with, I am here for you. That is a fact and not an idle aspiration.

So, as I close I want to share something that Dad told me to write down. It’s from the poem Desiderata which was one of his absolute go to quotes.

Adjust Your Shelves !!

My wife and I had a significant event happen this past week. We emerged from our basement after four months !! This wasn’t due to the never-ending pandemic. The renovation of our home’s first floor was completed. Now, please understand that we had this transformation planned before the world changed forever.

We have been very fortunate to have lived in the same house for 29 years. When we had been married for two years, we purchased our home which was originally built in 1977 and we moved into it in 1991. Over the nearly three decades, we’ve changed paint, carpet, decor, roofs, appliances, etc. However, the basic look of our family room and kitchen still had that late 70’s vibe. We had a discussion at the end of 2019 when my wife said she wanted to remodel or move.

That’s quite a decision !! Do you spend money to redo the house you’ve enjoyed for so many years and “update” it, or do you go through the adventure of finding a new home that brings its own level of stress? I’m fairly comfortable with change, but I hesitated when I was faced with these options. We raised our two kids in this house and have had many family gatherings, scout meetings, dinners with friends, and more. I know we could do that in a new house, but I wanted to stay. That decision meant that we would go through a patience exercise that you’ve never planned for. We got everything designed and once the project began, we went down the stairs to our new living quarters . . . for four months.

We completely altered how we normally live, and then the pandemic hit. Honestly, we got through life together in a much smaller space with very little conflict. As we came back up to the first floor, it felt like we were emerging from a bunker. The work of replenishing, reorganizing, and getting rid of things we didn’t need was at hand. This too went very smoothly and ended up taking multiple trips of donations to Goodwill and finding new homes for our old furniture and appliances. Everything went well . . . until the shelves.

On the “end” wall of our family room, we had two built-in bookshelves added to frame a fireplace. One bookshelf came with five shelves and the other with four. That was the first discrepancy. The next one was the placement of the shelves. My wife and I are very different which is what makes us a great couple. She balances me in so many ways. One area where we differ though is she likes order and I like variety. The shelves we added have clips on each side and it takes considerable effort to unsnap them before they can be moved.

Debbie wanted everything to match so when you faced the built-ins they would have symmetry. We hadn’t added anything to adorn the shelves yet, so we didn’t account for different sizes of items. I didn’t care. There didn’t need to be symmetry for me. As I was trying to get the levels right and have things match, I started to lose patience. I just wanted things to be completed, and my wife wanted things done correctly. You’d think that something so “easy” would not have added so much consternation. Sound familiar ??

This simple act of adjusting shelves reflects what we face at work every day. You have at least two parties working on the same task. I guarantee that many sides will be taken because no one approaches work the same way. We claim to be so good with change and being adaptable, and that just isn’t true because we overlook one simple fact. We’re “good” with adjustments if they match how WE want the outcome to be. People want to get their own way. I feel it is the underlying obstacle we hit whenever two or more people interact – which is the majority of every. day.

The shelves were adjusted. They’re symmetrical and they look wonderful !! The other part of adjustments to be successful is compromise. There is value in evaluating other people’s perspectives because we should learn from each other and stop knocking heads with each other. The goal is to move forward, not just be right and get your way.

Our house will keep coming together, and I’m sure that more adjustments will face us along the way. This week take a look had how good you are/aren’t with adjusting, and be honest with yourself. Once you assess this, then start applying new methods to move forward and truly get comfortable with adjustments.

Now to the kitchen cabinets . . .

Lost in Transition

Have you ever been between jobs and unemployed? It sucks. There’s no greater truth. Throughout my 30+ years of my career, I’ve been in transition twice when I wasn’t working in HR. I wanted to spend some time on this topic because I’m seeing a very unsettling trend. Even though there are millions of people who are unemployed, little is being done to help them.

I’m not talking about social assistance or making a political statement. We need to step back, be reflective, and evaluate this situation because we can make a difference in the lives of others if we choose to. The reality in our lives is that we may genuinely feel bad for those who are unemployed, but we expect them to buck up and shoulder the work (and it IS work) to find a new job. If we were honest with ourselves, we’re concerned if we’re personally employed first and foremost. I understand that and it is important because you want to be able to provide for yourself and those you support. Don’t you think that the same sentiment is important for those in transition as well?

Being in transition is draining, frustrating, and stressful. Like it or not, much of how we define ourselves is through our occupation. If you don’t think that’s true, take note of the first question most of us ask, and receive, when we meet someone for the first time. It’s, “So, what do you do?” We ask about their work and employment. It shouldn’t be the first things we ask, but that’s for a different post.

After time, people in transition lack the confidence, energy, and initiative to keep plodding on. They feel isolated and may even feel like a failure. It isn’t true, but no words of encouragement can breakthrough. The emotional toll that hits people in transition is significant. They may not share it with you, but it’s present and makes any job search of any length even more challenging.

Now, this is the point in most HR blogs where there are tips and tricks for jobseekers including effective networking, resume construction, how to use social media, etc. There are several people who have solid insights and suggestions which can be referenced and used. I want to offer a different suggestion that falls outside giving people more work in order to find work.

Ask those in transition one question – How can I help you?

That’s it. It sounds simple but it will call for you to make a commitment that requires consistency, follow-through, and being willing to put others ahead of yourself.

We don’t do this as often as we could. As HR professionals, we should have more natural connections with our peers and other employers than any other profession. Since that is the case, how can we be more intentional in making connections for people? I’m not talking about filling openings in your own organization. I’m talking about helping people in transition just because you can !!

I’ve been facilitating an in person HR Roundtable for 20+ years. It pains me that we haven’t been able to meet in person for several months due to the pandemic. Several years ago, a peer of mine came up to me after one of our meetings and asked if I’d consider putting people’s resumes out on a table at the back of the room. I was a bit confused. I explained to him that this was an “HR” Roundtable, and he countered without hesitation, “Then why wouldn’t the people who work with people help others? It seems natural to me. By the way, I’d like to put my resume out too.” I was floored and embarrassed by the oversight.

The next month we set up a resume table and have had one ever since. We also allow anyone in transition to attend regardless of their background. I opened up the forum for two reasons. First, HR professionals need to realize we are businesspeople first. We should embrace that and own it. Secondly, people in transition needed a way to show they are talented, smart, and willing professionals who just happen to be between gigs. It’s not uncommon to announce at the end of roundtable gatherings that several people have found jobs.

You see, people need to get healthy emotionally before they land again. YOU can be the person who helps them along that path !! This week, reach out and talk to those who are looking for work that are in your sphere. It may be a neighbor, a friend’s spouse or partner, or a stranger. (Yes, a stranger.)

We can be the solution to helping others find themselves and stop them from being lost in transition. I hope you take this to heart and reach out a helping hand. It only takes one question . . . How can I help you?

Louise

Friends, I wanted to share something because I experienced a loss this weekend. One of our long-term team members passed away who had left a lasting impact on me and to those she worked with for many decades. Our encounters meant so much and I learned from her. Louise was unorthodox in how she approached people and yet she was incredibly endearing. Our first meeting was so powerful, I captured it and shared it in my new book, HR Rising !!

So, please forgive me for sharing this excerpt. It isn’t meant to bring attention to my book at all. It’s a way to say “Thank You” and “Good-bye” to Louise. We can all learn from the Louise’s in our life !!

Chapter 15: Grace

Have you ever made a mistake at work? Have you ever talked poorly about someone else you work with, or that you know, without that person knowing about it? Have you ever disappointed someone else because you didn’t follow through on what you said you’d do? Have you ever said something that you thought was harmless, but it hurt someone deeply?

The answer for me is a resounding “Yes” to all the questions listed above. I’m not proud of that, but it’s a reality. I’m human. I’m sure to fall and fail others. Hopefully it’s not intentional, but it could be. I can fill this entire book with more questions that show how people fall short of positive or ideal behavior.

The challenge in today’s workplace, and in society overall, is that when we fail each other there is no room for grace. We demand an instant response along with a staunch stance to be taken with little room for any other position. We usually want others to hear our opinion, and we make arguments for others to come to our side. During this type of reaction, we completely run over our humanity.

Now, please understand that I’m talking about when someone makes a mistake and is insensitive or thoughtless about others and their feelings or diverse viewpoint. I’m not talking about overt actions and misconduct. That is a much deeper, and more concerning, level, and poor behavior should always be addressed. Even then though, I would offer that you should allow grace when entering these difficult situations.

As HR professionals, we are surrounded by people daily. (At least I hope you are !!) People are messy and will fail each other. It’s unavoidable. When it occurs, we have a choice to either rely on a system of unrealistic policies and procedures as a list of do’s and don’ts, or we can be humans ourselves.

We struggle with this because of the continued need for “accountability.” This is one of the most misinterpreted terms in organizations. Accountability should be defined as following through on what you commit to doing. However, more often than not, we misconstrue this term by alluding to the fact that accountability equals punishment. When it comes to situations involving employees, we often forget to breathe first. We jump to the nearest set of policies and comb through them to see what level of discipline needs to be metered out. It amazes me as an HR person that when employees slip up, the reaction is usually swift, harsh, and doesn’t really take anything else into consideration.

Our systems of progressive discipline and layers of breaking Rule 1.0.1, Subsection A, litter our field with little regard of how these actions affect the person who broke said rule. We act as if they are the most disloyal, uncaring, and detrimental person who ever worked for the company.

Here’s a question for you . . . Have you ever made a mistake or broken a rule at work?

Did the appropriate action take place? Were you written up, counseled, suspended, or fired? What if you were in this situation? How should the company treat you?

When I began working in the restaurant industry, I was disappointed by many of my HR peers. Instead of being geeked that I had found a new role, they piled on concern after concern that I wouldn’t enjoy this new environment because restaurant employees and cultures made it difficult to do good HR. That was their opinion at least. Please note that few of these folks have ever worked in the restaurant industry, but that didn’t stop them from sharing their opinions on the inevitable turnover present in hospitality jobs, the challenge of having a workforce that predominantly works part-time schedules on ever changing shifts, and the idea I’d be spending most of my time disciplining and terminating people. Astounding, simply astounding. Each facet of what they thought HR would be like in restaurants was either negative or daunting.

I didn’t have any preconceived notions about working in restaurants. I looked at my new HR gig as a chance to work with a whole new batch of humans. When I took on this role, HR didn’t have a good reputation internally either in the office or in our pizzerias. This was primarily because of the approach of my predecessor. They did a great job of establishing HR systems that hadn’t existed in the past, but the company needed structure on the people side of the business. The difference that I brought to the mix was that I didn’t believe HR needed to be practiced in a traditional manner which focused more on compliance than relationships.

Compliance needs to be respected because of the myriad of laws and regulations that cover and protect the workers, the workplace, and the company as a whole. Most situations and issues involving compliance are common sense. Also, you can be far more compliant when you have relationships with people because you can talk about the situation and the behavior they’re exhibiting. Then you can give folks context around rules and systems. This is far more effective than ensuring people “stay in line.”

Before I joined the company, HR typically showed up in the pizzeria when something needed to be “addressed.” We rarely went out to visit just to see how people were doing. There had to be some sort of agenda item and purpose. The entire approach was task-oriented and transactional. Any visit was short, concise, and involved the least amount of conversation and personal interactions possible. This led the team members in the pizzerias to be apprehensive any time a person from HR appeared. Sound familiar?

I am not wired that way. I am probably far more conversational and relationship-focused than the average human. This is how I’m naturally wired. After my first few months being tied to my office and desk, I decided to venture out and visit our locations. Every time I entered a restaurant, I would get distrustful looks combined with a murmur of mumbling wondering why HR had come to visit. Who was in trouble? Who was getting fired? This barrier presented itself right as I hit the door, but I didn’t get discouraged. In fact, it fueled my desire even more to break through the wall of negativity about HR.

There was one visit that helped me recalibrate team member interactions that I will always remember.

I was walking through the kitchen of one of our high-volume pizzerias when I saw a piece of paper mounted on one of the prep tables. It was at eye level, and you could tell it had been posted there to make sure the message was visible to every single employee. I had seen notes posted before, and I didn’t care for them because they were usually a negative message. I felt that it showed that managers weren’t talking to their staff. They were just dictating something that wasn’t being performed or attended to. This note, however, was something I had never encountered before. It read:

“Look you motherf*#%ers, You need to put your f*#%ing glasses in the dishwashing area. If you bastards don’t start doing this, you will be f*#%ing fired. The Management.”

To say I was stunned would be an understatement. At first, I wasn’t sure how to respond to what I just read. The first thing I did was look around at the other team members moving back and forth in the kitchen. No one seemed to be shocked, offended, or surprised by this mandate laced with creative language. It was fascinating!!

Before I tell you how I did respond, let me take a break to share how I assume many HR pros would have reacted . . .

The first response would be feigned offense, indignation, and disbelief. How could anyone allow this to be posted in the work environment? What were the managers thinking? The next step would be to tear the posting down in disgust with a tinge of embarrassment. Then, it was time to find out who was responsible for this obvious policy violation and hold them “accountable.” This surely would result in some discipline. It could even mean a suspension with a good chiding, or even a termination. There wouldn’t be joy in doing this, but the emotion of how awful this message from management was would have to be immediately dealt with and addressed. Heads would roll. An example would have to be made that this would never be tolerated ever again. Cue scary music in the background as the HR pro glares at the crumpled posting in their shaking hand.

Now let me share what really happened . . .

I carefully took the paper down and found the GM who happened to be working the shift. I calmly asked, “Having problems with team members and glasses?”

Their head dropped below their shoulders. “I didn’t write that note. It was Louise.” That didn’t register with me because I didn’t know who Louise was. “Is she a manager here?” I asked. “No, well, it’s hard to describe,” they stammered.

The GM went on to let me know that Louise was a long-term team member who came in very early in the morning to clean and get the store ready to be open every week day. She had her own crew, but she wasn’t officially a manager. She had been such a regular part of the store that she had seen managers come and go while she remained. I appreciated the background and asked if she was still at work. “Yes,” they sheepishly replied. “She’s right over there.”

In the back of the kitchen stood an older, slender woman with an apron on. She was busily working, and the other team members seemed to enjoy being around her. I went up to her and introduced myself.

“Louise?” I asked, noticing I towered over her. I’m fairly tall, and she was not.

“Yep. Who are you? I’ve never seen you here before,” she stated.

“I’m Steve,” I replied.

“Uh huh. You from the office?” she wondered.

“Yes I am. I’m the new human resources director. Can I ask you about this note?” and I pulled out the instructions about how used glassware was to be properly placed.

“Oh yeah, I wrote that,” she willingly admitted.

“Okay. Well, did you need to cuss when you wrote this? That’s a pretty harsh way to describe our team members,” I explained.

“Have you met some of them yet?” she calmly responded.

I laughed out loud. I know that may not have been the “proper” response from the HR 101 Operation Manual, but she caught me off guard, and it was funny.

“No ma’am. I haven’t met many team members yet,” I said.

She smiled back at me and said, “I suppose you don’t want me to post my notes.”

I wanted to make sure I had a good response for her. “I guess you’re frustrated with others here. Would that be safe to say?”

“You’re damn right I am. These kids don’t have any work ethic. I come in here every f*#%ing day and pick up after them. Lazy f*#%ers. The whole bunch of them,” she stated without batting an eye. It didn’t matter that I was in human resources or from the corporate office.

She kept on going, but I stopped her and said, “Louise, I understand you’re frustrated, but do you have to cuss when you’re talking about others?”

“I don’t f*#%ing cuss honey. I’m just talking,” and she meant it. She didn’t even notice that she was swearing. Did I mention that Louise was in her early 70’s during this encounter with me? I know that doesn’t excuse coarse language, but it didn’t really upset me. I had been around employees who swore during work for years. Many times, I joined in just so we could converse.

“Well Louise, I’m going to take down this note. I tell you what. I’ll come visit you on a regular basis and you can share any frustrations you have with me, and we’ll take a look at things. How does that sound?” I wasn’t sure of the response I was going to get.

“I’d like that.” She smiled again. “Nice to meet you.”

I didn’t write her up or discipline her. I crumpled up the sign and threw it out in a waste basket sitting next to us. I then left and went about my day, and so did she. The GM was watching our conversation the whole time. I’m sure they were curious to see how I was going to respond. We went to a part of the restaurant where we could talk, and she told me Louise’s history. “She doesn’t even know she’s cussing, and the other team members love her. She loves them too. My restaurant is better with her in it. That’s a fact.”

I kept my commitment and visited Louise often. We grew very close, and she never stopped swearing. I learned about her family and how she had grown up with our founder’s wife as a childhood friend. She was endearing just as the GM had told me.

I chose to respond with a tool that has worked for me my entire HR career when I found myself in these awkward circumstances. This is a very effective tool that is available for every person throughout your organization.

Grace.

This may be foreign to you, and I can almost guarantee that it’s foreign to how employees have been approached in the past. We don’t feel that we have the latitude in our roles to show grace to others when they mess up. I just don’t think it’s true. We can take ownership of how we approach others with our own personal style.

I know that when others have shown me grace when I’ve stumbled, I’ve been thankful. It allowed both of us to breathe, calm down, and look at the situation in a fresh and open way.

Often, it led to a productive outcome and a stronger relationship. Trust me when I say that allowing grace in our interactions with others will result in a positive experience most of the time.

I’m not saying that discipline and termination are never warranted at work. However, I use a yardstick that says that you only need to implement these steps based on an employee’s behavior and actions. Even with that benchmark, I still review each case and consider all of the factors as well as the person who’s about to be disciplined. I want them to come out of any conversation understanding the situation, its context and how we move forward from there.

Now, so you don’t think I’m being utopian or an idealist, understand that I practice this both inside work and outside of work. It’s not a popular position. Most people want a pound of flesh when they are wronged. I’ll hold out until the last possible moment before making difficult decisions because I believe in people, even in the darkest situations.

You see, I make mistakes and I have disappointed others—even those closest to me. How can I expect grace from others if I am not willing to be graceful myself? Also, how will others show grace if it isn’t given to them?

I recommend that you try a new approach and allow grace to occur.

I’d also recommend that you make grace the norm when people work with each other regardless of their position and level in your company. If you can teach those who manage people the power of this tool, you’ll see a genuine shift in how people treat each other. It’s time for us to buck the trend of others who tend to be reactive and destructive when people fail them. Instead of talking about others, talk to them with an attitude of grace first so that you seek to understand them, the situation they’re facing, and the way to move forward. If you try this, you’ll see people aren’t as bad as you think. It will also make HR, and your life, more balanced and fulfilled. It works.

One last note . . .

I had worked with Louise for over a decade when age started to finally catch up with her. She had lasted through two additional GMs since we first met. They moved on to other stores in our chain and she remained a constant. She had to retire when her memory started to fade, and she’s living in an assisted living facility now. The last GM to work with her had kept a folder with her notes that she had posted in it. When she was getting ready to leave on her last day, he showed Louise the folder and said, “This will always be here in the store because we want you to always be here with us.”

That, my friends, is grace.

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 !!

Choose If/Then

One of my favorite activities around the house is to mow my lawn. I mean it. I enjoy it because it takes between 2 to 3 hours to do it. I’m a bit old fashioned in that I walk to mow. It’s incredible excercise which allows me to let my thoughts wander and have a good think.

As I was dripping with sweat this weekend taking my weekly lawn mowing jaunt, I was pieceing together something that has been troubling me lately with how people are choosing to interact in person, on line and through the media. More and more it seems that we are becoming an “either/or” society. Every situation and every issue tries to be dissected into two sides. The sentiment that is prevailing is that I either need to believe in what you believe, or I am adamantly against you.

It doesn’t help that we get snippets of information, or opinion, and we call that “news.” News that infuriates most and raises the temperature with every story that is shared. In looking at this, it shocks me how we take these tidbits of information and form full fledged approaches to our daily living. We have become so self-consumed and self-focused that anything happening around is also is either for us or against us.

I have never been comfortable with being presented with only two choices in life. To think that the amazing, complex, intricate and ever-changing world we live in can be simplified into such concrete black and white terms seems constricting and narrow. Truth be told, I think people want an “either/or” pattern in life because we don’t like variability. Each day we think our existence is to trod to work to fix everything because it’s ALL broken. (That’s not true, but we like to think it is because that’s how we find purpose in our work. That’s for another post some day.)

People also want to be “right” and have some sense of control. Uncertainity gives us the shakes and we want things defined. Change is our enemy even though change occurs whether we want it to or not. I’d like to offer a different approach to implement when it comes to facing each day.

Choose an “if/then” approach.

If you remember geometry, you had to figure out mathematical proofs using if/then statements. What this did was take the situation/circumstance/fact you start with and say, “If this . . . then that.” The then statement would give you options to consider. This method gives you the opportunity to take an objective look at things as they come forward.

A few weeks ago, my wife Debbie and I went on an Art Walk in Elk Rapids, Michigan. It was a meandering trail through a local park where artists had created and displayed their work. You had a flyer which led you from piece to piece and it was very cool and relaxing to see. The canopy of the trees provided a break from the heat and you could hear the rustling of leaves, the chatter of squirrels and the various calls of birds. It was a true escape. One of the sculptures we saw was called “Peace Signs” by Scott Froschauer and it captured my attention both because of the message as well as the if/then thinking. I was grateful to have a break from my normal overly full life to take this hike and discover a message that rang true with me. Normally, I would be consumed with the day-to-day pull for my energy and attention and may have missed this literal signpost which caused me to pause.

This coming week what would happen if you adopted some if/then approaches to all you do both at work and at home? Here are some I’ve been trying:

✦ If I take time to talk to my neighbors more intentionally, then we may have a true neighborhood.

✦ If I make sure to interact with my peers at work all the time, then we would communicate better and not just meet because of “issues.”

✦ If I choose to listen to those who disagree with me, then I may learn a new perspective to consider.

✦ If I encourage others on purpose, then they may have a better day then they were expecting.

The opportunities are endless. The key to an if/then approach is that it focuses on action and movement. I choose to do this so I can be positive regardless of the constant push of darkness, gloom and cynicism which keeps trying to swallow us all.

If you’ll take this new approach, then think of how each day you have will be better for you and those around you !! Peace.

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.