What Do You Think ??

This past week I renewed the domain name for my blog. To me it’s a milestone because in January I’ll be starting my 9th year of blogging. The site was actually a Christmas gift from my sister-in-law !! I remember when I opened the small envelope she had given me. I read the message on the paper inside and wept. I was touched by her gift.

I asked her why she decided to establish a blog site for me. She replied, “I think people want to hear what you have to say.”

I was floored by that. Why in the world would others willingly read my thoughts and ideas? It seemed to be a pretty big leap to share on a regular basis with the hope that you’d develop an audience. She reminded me that this was already occurring because of the presentations I had been giving at conferences.

I am still so grateful that she had a vision for something that I have truly enjoyed. I look forward to sitting down every Sunday to jot down ideas, thoughts, encouragement and a message to let others know they have value in who they are and what they do. In fact, my wife asks me every Sunday, “Did you write your blog yet?” It’s become part of the fabric of my life.

I wanted to give you this background to ask you some questions . . .

What do you think? Really. How do you learn from others? Do you take time to do this, or are you comfortable with what you already know?

You see I love to learn from others !! I regularly read several blogs daily. I also make sure to listen to various podcasts as I make my commute to and from work. I also travel to several pizzerias as part of my job so I have time to listen to the thoughts of others.

I don’t want to sit still and stay put mentally. There are far too many people who have fascinating ideas and concepts to share. When I get a chance to read the perspectives of others, I try to take away key nuggets even if I disagree with their approach. It’s important to see the world from all angles. I don’t want to ever want to be in a position where I’m not well versed in different aspects of life, thought and views on HR and the workplace. You can never know enough. I think it’s critical for us to continue to take in information so that we remain current, informed and relevant.

I do have one value that I stick to when participating in the forum of blogging or sharing on podcasts where I’m asked to be a guest. I will use the gateway I’ve been given to be positive. Please don’t ever misconstrue this as not willing to be intentional or take on issues. I just feel that it’s far too easy to be negative and tear others down. Being positive is something that I hope to continue because I’d rather see light pierce the darkness and give others a viable alternative to what they may hear/see on social media.

If you’re not regularly learning from others, I’d encourage you to give yourself a “gift” this holiday season. Find blogs, podcasts and speakers who you can learn from. Start making this a habit so that continuous learning isn’t some aspirational wish, it’s how you choose to improve yourself and the others around you.

See the Lights !!

This time of year can lead to a variety of emotions. For some, the holidays are difficult while others are ecstatic. It runs the gamut and it’s hard to know how people are facing the season. It would be best if we had the courage to have safe conversations with each other. We tend to steer clear of anything that could lead to vulnerability or sensitive issues. We’re afraid we won’t know how to “properly” respond if someone gives an answer for which we’re not prepared. So, instead of interacting we avoid. That saddens me. It truly does. We’re at a time in society where more interaction would be more beneficial versus avoiding each other.

I’m a person who goes through periods of joy and also times of stress. The stress in unrealistic and brought on by the thoughts in my mind. Like most people, they tend to wander and make up scenarios with absolutely no context. I do love the music, the chance to decorate our house and to exchange gifts with my wife and kids. I don’t even mind going out among the crowds who seemingly come out of the air and fill shopping centers. The stress comes because of time and how we try to cram a year’s worth of activities into a very small window.

Thankfully, my wife introduced a tradition from her childhood that keeps me balanced. She used to get in the car with her family and they would drive around neighborhoods to see the lights. The displays weren’t the houses of friends and families per se. They were random people who had decided to have outdoor displays to capture the feel of the holidays.

When we were first married (before kids), Debbie and I kept up with this tradition and we loved it. After our kids were born, we continued driving around to see what people had put up. Now that they’ve “left the nest”, we’ll have our first season to go and see the various lighting displays as a couple once again. I’m geeked to get a thermos filled with hot chocolate to enjoy as we cruise through the night to see how creative people are.

There are several reasons why I enjoy seeing the lights each holiday season.

Time together – I am fortunate to have a phenomenal wife and kids (adults). I don’t take that for granted in the least. I know that family dynamics may not always be the best for people. But, when you take time to do things together, you have a better chance to have positive experiences which lead to positive memories.

Reduced stress – It’s easy to get caught up in the pace of life and its various pushes and pulls of the holidays. It’s an even stronger level of stress than you experience the rest of the year. However, when you’re slowly driving through a neighborhood looking at lights, the pressure you may be feeling melts away. That release is so valuable and it helps you get things back in some semblance of order and sanity.

Seeing the light – The most stunning part of seeing the displays all around us is that the light pierces the darkness. The tiny bulbs emanate all of their energy to brighten the shadows. The colors are clear, distinct and welcoming. They bring a smile to your face every time and show how powerful light truly is.

Think what your days would be like if you enjoyed the time together with those around you. How would they feel if you stopped, paused and took a breath in the midst of the daily pace of work/life and realized you didn’t need to be that stressed. And, how would your day be if you saw the light in others instead of darkness?

You have the opportunity to keep in mind the serenity of seeing the lights as you approach your day. This next week do two things – (1) See the positive side of others and be the light in their day that breaks through any potential negativity and (2) Go out yourself at night and drive around.

Take the time to go and see the lights !! You’ll be glad you did and it may become a tradition for you as well.

By Name

I’m a child of the late 60’s and early 70’s. During my early childhood, I was raised by my grandparents because my mom was working after the untimely, early death of my father. Growing up on a farm in Luckey, Ohio was wonderful !! My brother and I had countless adventures that were mostly outdoors. You used your imagination to make your surroundings come to life. We watched very little television because our grandmother wanted us out from under her feet. When we did watch on their tiny black and white set, we watched PBS. Yes, PBS. Grandma made sure we watched the Public Broadcasting System because it was filled with educational programming. One of our favorite shows was Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

We loved visiting his neighborhood with the various characters in the Land of Make Believe. You learned something every time you watched. We never thought the show was simple, easy-going or even “cheesy.” The messages he gave rang true, and he always seemed so interested in you as a person.

Fast forward to 2019. My wife and I just went to see the new Tom Hanks movie where he plays Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It is magnificent !! Granted, I already had fond memories of Mr. Rogers, but this movie made some facets of his life more visible and poignant. I highly recommend you go see the movie to get the entire feel and impact of the message so I don’t want to reveal too many components.

The one characteristic that resonated deeply with me was that Mr. Rogers made sure to know everyone he met by name. He didn’t overlook anyone he encountered either on the set of his television program, or if he met you in person. People mattered to him. One scene, shown in the preview, shows the main character’s wife, Andrea, squeal when Hanks calls their home and introduces himself to her. She is trying to pass the phone to her husband, but Mr. Rogers stops her to take time to intentionally talk to her. She says, “Mr. Rogers knows my name !!” It obviously moved her.

They note that Rogers, a man who had a strong personal faith, prayed for the people in his life by name. Every. Day. This wasn’t some parlor trick that showed he had a great memory. He valued being connected to people and wanted to know them personally.

I am a person who shares the same conviction of Mr. Rogers. I think it’s critical to meet, know and interact with people by name. Whenever you meet someone for the first time, you have to make the time to get to know (and remember) their name. Our names are the most significant identifying trait of who we are as humans. When you share your name with someone and they share theirs with you, you are connected immediately.

We were given names on purpose when we were born. Even though people may share the same first name, it doesn’t diminish the reality that they are unique. No one “Steve” is the same as another. The reason it’s important to know someone’s name is that when you interact, it’s more intimate and meaningful. You will remove the distractions of the day which constantly vie for our attention because you have called someone out by name. You’re locked together and those conversations will be more rich and meaningful than just trying to catch someone on the fly.

As HR professionals, this should be a skill that matters to you. I know that it can be difficult to remember names, but that’s an excuse. We all need to take the time to learn and recall the names of the people who are in our daily lives. If you need to make lists, then do it. If you need to make associations that spark your memory to remember a person’s name, then keep track of those attributes. Be intentional about this. We can’t fool ourselves to think that our companies are people-centric if everyone remains nameless.

Once you know someone by name, you can get to know them as a person. Having knowledge of who they are is far more important and lasting than anything they do. I mean it. They, in turn, can get to know you more as a person as well. I see it every day. People want to connect and be known for who they are.

This week start interacting with people by name on purpose. It will make a huge difference for you personally and professionally. Be like Mr. Rogers and make it matter. It will make our various neighborhoods the great environments they were meant to be !!

Affiliate !!

I just returned from the SHRM Volunteer Leader Business Meeting in Washington, D.C. This is the year-end “thank you” for volunteer leaders from around the country. I’ve been going to this conference for many years, and it’s honestly my favorite one !! The reason it’s my favorite is that I get to be around my peers – HR professionals who also happen to volunteer their time and talent to the profession.

Years ago when I was the State Director of Ohio SHRM, I broke the norm that happened at this gathering. Typically, when people go to conferences and events, they hang out with the people they know. I get that. It’s comfortable, and it’s also a time to catch up and get to know each other better because most SHRM State Councils and chapters meet here and there. It’s nice to get away to build your team so you can be effective when you return to your part of the country.

It seemed odd to me that people who shared the same profession as well as the same connection as volunteers rarely reached out to meet people from other geographic areas. We had several opportunities to do this in sessions, but even there people sit in their cloistered groups. I wanted to see this change, so I invited people from all over the country to a local Irish pub after hours to get to socialize, network and continue “conferencing.” It stuck. I got to know peers from almost every state. That breaking with the norm set a new path, and now people go out of their way to connect and see each other on purpose.

Back to this year’s event . . .

After countless warm greetings and hellos with many people right as I entered the conference hotel, I saw my friends from New Mexico SHRM. They were more geeked than usual (which is a pretty high bar). The reason for their excitement is that their State Council won a Pinnacle Award – the highest recognition a group can win for efforts above and beyond their normal work. They were all wearing a new lapel pin that was the shape of the State of New Mexico. I loved it and was jealous because I dig getting all types of local pins and buttons from SHRM chapters. I congratulated them and we went our separate ways.

My new pin just fits my collection !!

When all of the attendees gathered, all of the volunteer leaders from New Mexico were sitting in one row with their lapel pins, blinky rings and small New Mexico flags. James, their incoming State Director-Elect, beckoned me over and handed me a pin. “You’re one of us. You always have been.” I was moved and instantly added it to my lapel.

It was so humbling to hear James say this, and he mentioned how I had reached out years before I knew him to get folks from New Mexico SHRM connected with others from outside their region. He thought it was great to make sure that I was affiliated with him and the folks from his State. Now I had a visual symbol that tied us together.

How simple was this act? He reached out and gave me a token to make sure to let me know that we were connected. It made me wonder why we don’t do this more as peers. What would HR look like if we were more intentionally connected as a profession? I think it would mean that human resources and, in turn, our organizations would be better.

People want to connect. People want to affiliate. The heart of all that SHRM has to offer is it’s members. It always has been and it always will be. We need to recognize that and make the move to break down the invisible, geographic barriers and come together as HR professionals.

When we’re connected, we become resources for each other both personally and professionally. There’s no good reason to keep in our own geographic areas. This week, be like James and reach out to ask others to affiliate. Let your peers know that they belong. They always have.

Take the Stage !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eye Contact

I love going to the grocery store !! I mean it. I love going every time. I meander up and down every aisle even though I have a list and don’t need something from every aisle. I enjoy searching for those hard to find items that you need to make sure your recipe is complete. The mix of people walking to and fro doesn’t phase me at all. In fact, I love seeing them !!

Almost every time I visit the grocery store, I get pulled aside by someone who is a stranger and they ask me to get an item for them from a top shelf because I’m taller than most. I love when this happens !! It fills my bucket to grab that hard to reach yogurt or box of cereal to helps someone out.

One thing that I notice when I walk through the store is the lack of eye contact. Even though the store is usually teeming with people, very few people connect visually. It’s astonishing to me.

Here’s my quick, obligatory HR disclaimer . . .

I know that I’m an extreme extrovert. Whenever I’ve taken assessment that measure extroversion, I’m at the top of the scale every time. I keep that in mind when I write about interactions with others. However, I still have observations that I feel can apply to one and all.

Now, back to the post !!

The reason I bring this up is that it seems that people are far more focused on getting to the task at hand while casually passing by every other person as if they don’t exist. I know that’s a broad generalization but it’s my observation. I also understand that everyone shopping may have a zillion things going on in their lives and they are trying to utilize their time well.

I don’t expect everyone to stop and have meaningful conversations, but people don’t even greet one another. When I do get someone to make eye contact, there’s usually a casual “Hello” and a smile. Simple. Honestly, all that’s needed. Intentional human interaction and connection.

The grocery store is just one environment where people spend more time passing each other as if no one else is in the room. I see this happen almost everywhere. When did we become so self-focused? How does this affect others? What would happen if people did slow down, make eye contact and greet each other?

As an HR practitioner, my hope is that others in this field are ones willing to be intentional. Ironically, some of the greatest times I see people avoid each other is at HR conferences !! The people who are genuinely in the “people” business, should be the last ones to avoid contact and connection.

Again, I know this is a generalization, and I respect that people have different comfort levels of meeting and connecting with others. However, I’m willing to challenge this “norm” and ask everyone to press through and start making eye contact – especially our HR peers. Instead of having assumptions that people will ask too much of you, or that something will be negative in nature, look forward to making contact.

I have been a person who tries to establish eye contact with everyone I pass by. My intent is to just be a friendly face, a welcoming smile and an acknowledgement that they exist. You’d be surprised how many wonderful conversations have occurred after such a simple action. Also, the vast majority of my closest friends started with this introductory movement.

I’m not naive and know that you could have a negative, or challenging, interaction if you make eye contact with some people. However, I think those examples are the exception. Also, if does go south, you could be the one positive encounter that was needed for someone. The fundamental approach I take is that making eye contact will result in a positive interchange. It may not go past this effortless action, and I’m good with that.

This coming week (and at future conferences), be intentional and look at others eye-to-eye. Smile. Say “Hello.” That’s it. You never know. That easy action may be the difference to make someone’s day brighter, and that’s worth everything !!

Plant Some Bulbs !!

I have lived in Ohio for the majority of my life. I love the Midwest because I get to experience all four seasons in a year. My favorite season is happening even as I type. I love Fall because the temperature drops and it’s chilly and brisk most days. It’s also when trees shed the green they’ve been exhibiting through the Spring and Summer to show they’re true beautiful colors. Everywhere you look you see a mix of yellows, reds and oranges. It’s stunning !!

Another facet that happens during autumn is that I get a chance to be out in the yard on a regular basis. I have days and days of work to gather the leaves because we have very mature trees on our lot. I also get to work in the flower beds that encompass the perimeter of our house to clear out the dead plants and get things ready for next year. One task that I enjoy the most is planting bulbs. The look like tiny onions that will someday turn into various beautiful blooms.

Planting bulbs reminds me of the opportunity we have in connecting with and working with others. It may sound odd, but I truly feel there are similarities.

When I planting several tulip bulbs today, I had to turn over the soil and then get down on my knees to break it up and pull it back to reveal the hole I was going to use. It was challenging because there were countless roots that criss-crossed just below the surface. They made an incredibly tangled mess that were barriers to me getting to the work at hand.

Digging in the soil with a small garden trowel and my bare hands felt great, but the dirt was driven under my nails and cuticles. After a few moments my hands were caked in dirt. I loved it !! Even though this was very trying, I was making progress. After several minutes, I was able to place the bulbs in the hole (pointy side up). I spaced them out so they each had enough room to take root and grow. I took the loose soil that was sitting on the edge of the hole I dug and gently covered the bulbs. The last step was to give them a good soaking from the hose to make sure they received that first dose of nourishment.

Then, you wait. You wait for months. Yes, months. You hope for great results, but you really won’t know until Spring comes.

I believe the same process occurs when you take the time to intentionally pour into someone else’s life professionally. Before you can “plant” anything, you need to work the soil by getting to know each other. This is so often overlooked because we either want to be a mentor or have someone mentor us. Sometimes the soil between two people isn’t good. You need to make sure that you have a healthy, respectful, inclusive and balanced professional relationship. When you develop someone, you aren’t there to “fix” them. Mentoring and development are both two-way activities. When someone tries to make it all about them, development never occurs. Never.

After you have good soil, the mentor needs to untangle and remove the roots that get in the way of getting the bulbs arranged. There are always potential obstacles in any development effort. It’s hard to tell if there will be several or few, but there will be things to work through. This allows you both to share expectations of each other. Get everything defined up front. It’s necessary.

You start your mentoring road together and then you add nutrients and time. There are many who try to make this a formal process, but I’ve never found that to be effective or sustainable. Mentoring and development needs to be flexible because life happens at the same time that you’re trying to spend time together. There will be periods where you meet/chat often and other times where you may touch base every so often. No one pattern works for everyone. Don’t believe the people who offer firm timelines and formulas. That eliminates the reality of people being unique and having different needs. Don’t diminish that. It makes mentoring and development wonderful !!

Then, you see if something blooms over time. Hopefully, it will if you take the time to see what works for you and your mentee or mentor.

You see, EVERYONE wants someone to pour into them with their time, attention and knowledge. Everyone. The question is – Are you doing this? Do you have someone you mentor, or is someone mentoring you? If not, why not?

We weren’t made to do life on our own. We were wired to connect and be in the lives of others. It helps us stay healthy, active and relevant. Please make sure to use one “rule” when it comes to these type of relationships – You can’t be a mentor unless you have a mentor. I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I feel it’s essential to keep you balanced.

This coming week, start planting some bulbs so that you enjoy Fall. It will be cool to see what happens this coming Spring !!

Be a Trailblazer !!

I’ve been very fortunate to have worked at the same company for the past 13 years. I don’t take it for granted. What you may not know is that having this length of tenure is still considered “new” to many whom I work with. It’s true. I get to regularly celebrate anniversaries with our Team Members, and it’s not uncommon to have people reach their 15th, 20th, 25th, 30th and even 40+ year milestone.

Having a company where people can grow, thrive and contribute for what most would consider a “career” has it’s advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are obvious. You get to work with amazing, talented individuals who offer stability and consistency both personally and organizationally. It’s also very comforting heading to work and seeing folks you enjoy being with. You get to go through life with many of them. You get to experience life events with your fellow employees including families growing, kids graduating and even weddings and funerals. Many companies claim that they have a “family” environment. Ours actually does.

The disadvantage to a company that has such extensive tenure is that you can easily get into a rut of thinking. It’s easy to take things at face value because you’re around the same people every day. You may question things less because everyone seems to be “on the same page.” (My least favorite corporate phrase.) You don’t even realize that you’re following in step because it’s your daily norm.

My boss and I have a weekly check-in which we’ve done since I’ve been at the company. It’s a great time to catch up on projects, HR items, team member issues and life. We didn’t know that we were being so forward thinking since check-ins and regular feedback are the newest craze in HR circles. I guess we didn’t realize it because it was the best way for us to stay connected and do our jobs well. We haven’t approached this as a program.

The key to these meetings is that we’ve always been open and candid with each other. That’s refreshing and challenging at the same time. However, I don’t think we could have made it successfully for 13 years if that wasn’t a foundational expectation of our meetings. A little over a year ago, we had one of those challenging conversations.

My company has been very supportive of my involvement in the greater HR community. That’s been true when I’ve been in roles locally, at the State level and also nationally. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to see what other companies do, and how they practice HR and business as a whole.

So, he said, “You know you go to these events all over and hear/see all kinds of approaches to work.” I agreed. Then he said, “Funny, you seem to be becoming more like us. I don’t hear those different ideas and viewpoints much anymore.” That was it. I sat there silently because he was right. I had fallen into the pattern that tenure can lead to and didn’t even notice.

Before I joined LaRosa’s almost 15 years ago, I worked for another great company and boss. When I told her that I was going to change jobs and leave her after 9 years, we just wept. I was so close to her and words wouldn’t adequately express how much she had meant to me and my career. A few weeks after I had left to take on the new HR role at LaRosa’s, I received a card from her with a quote in it.

It was from the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. When I read it, I wept again and then taped it to my office wall. She wrote in the card – “I saw this and thought of you. Always remember to make new trails.”

It was great advice then, and it still is today. You see, we have the opportunity to blaze new trails in our organizations from both an HR and a business perspective. It’s easy for us to lose sight of this, and too often we feel we don’t have the time or energy to go where there is no path. That shouldn’t be the case. We shouldn’t be lulled into any pattern at work that dulls us or keeps us just plodding along.

HR was meant to drive change. I know that even typing this, many will disagree. I will hold to this belief though. We can look at the various human interactions which occur in every department. Then we can make suggestions and maneuver them so that people are in alignment in order to perform at their best. This often means changing the path and making a new one so others can follow the trail.

This week step back and see if you’re being a trailblazer or if you’re following the path that has been set before you. If you’re on a path that hasn’t changed much, step off and explore new directions. You don’t know what great things lie before you !! This week blaze a new trail.

Hidden Gems !!

If I asked you if you were an adventurer, what would you say? Most people I know tend to fall into patterns because we like the stability and predictability. I try to fight this pull because I don’t want to get into a rut. I’ll be honest, it isn’t easy. I like traveling on the same route to and from work and I have some favorite places to eat on a weekly basis. I understand patterns and respect people who have the discipline to follow them.

This weekend, my wife and I went on an adventure. She is very tolerant of my desire for constant change which is ironic because she is VERY pattern driven. It gives her comfort and an understanding of what most potential steps are going to be. A friend of ours sent me a Facebook message about a restaurant she thought I’d enjoy. It’s located on the edge of Pleasant Plain, Ohio (population 140). The restaurant is called the Plain Folk Cafe.

She thought the restaurant would be appealing because it’s a hippie themed place that features local live bluegrass and country music. I was immediately intrigued and wanted to make the trek no matter where it was located. My wife and I jumped in the car, turned on Google Maps and headed out. It took us almost 40 minutes to find the cafe. We went through a few small towns and plenty of rural landscape. As the phone indicated we were close, we saw an old school house on our left surrounded by a small gravel parking lot.

It turns out that the cafe sits inside an old two-room schoolhouse that was built in 1913. The moment we entered I was hooked. The walls were covered in album covers and a large blackboard had only positive vibes written on it including – “Practice kindness everywhere.” The staff was in tie-dye shirts or Grateful Dead gear. The music that played overhead was a mix of the Dead, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and other folk and rock artists. They also played very cool bluegrass artists. There was a stage on one end of the restaurant and a back patio which also was set up for live music.

The cooler was covered in peace and hippie related bumper stickers. There were also several small model VW buses scattered throughout the cafe to match the real vintage one used by the owner sitting in the parking lot. The whole menu was made up of hippie related names for their sandwiches, paninis and salads.

I couldn’t take in enough of the vibe and ambiance of this hidden gem. It reflected much of what I enjoy because I’ve been someone who’s always enjoyed tie-dye, folk music and a lifestyle that promotes peace, kindness and community. The staff talked to every person who came in and engaged them about their day and their take on being at the cafe. It was like sitting in someone’s house and taking in their home cooking. I haven’t been this relaxed in a restaurant. I even showed one of the staff the new tie-dye tapestry I just put up in my basement earlier that day.

Now, I know that this is something that I enjoy. What did my wife think? She loved it !! She stated, “I can’t believe you’re so excited about going to a restaurant that you’ve never seen before. However, I love that you’re adventurous. Let’s see what it’s like.” After our time there, she was the first to say that she wanted to come back again.

I think there are hidden gems all around us in life and at work. We tend to miss them because they often take extra effort and a willingness to try something new. In fact, I think there are folks who want to contribute, but we overlook them because we’re used to going to the same people over and over again.

As HR practitioners, we can’t let people stay hidden. Every person in your company is worth the effort to go out of your way to see who they are and how they want to add value. No one should be seen as too distant or difficult to engage. You need to make sure that you break out of your rut and take a new path to make sure that everyone is connected in your organization.

We can’t wait to go back to Plain Folk Cafe !! I’m going to make sure to tell everyone about it so they can see the joy in finding a hidden gem.

Going to California

A few weeks ago I wrote about being a part of the “sandwich generation” where I have the privilege of taking care of my parents and also my kids (adults). We are all at different stages of life. My adults are just starting out their career while my wife and I are in the midst/latter stages of our career, and my parents are fully retired.

Well, this past Friday, a new wrinkle presented itself which brought about a mix of excitement and sadness at the same time. My son, Josh, just packed his car and is driving across the country from Ohio to San Diego, California. He is on the precipice of beginning his life past college. He truly wanted to get a start in California, and we decided to support him.

The sadness was just a small part of this new transition. We all hugged, shed some tears and then sent him on his way. We know that he will be successful and admire that he is willing to be such a risk taker. We’re very excited that he is adventurous !! Today we can talk to him at any time using various methods which make his moving out a bit more comforting.

As we came to the day of Josh leaving, we had several meaningful conversations along the way. One night he mentioned something that truly caught me by surprise. He said, “Dad, when I tell everyone that I want to go to California, everyone gives me reasons why they wouldn’t go. They say it’s too expensive or too ‘weird’ or other things. Why is that?”

Great questions. We worked through everything, and he knows he has our full support as parents. Our conversation did make me think though because when he was asked about his future, he was expecting affirmation and encouragement. He received doubt, cynicism and negativity. Why is it that when others step out to take risks, most everyone does their best to limit or confine that expression?

I think the answer is that since we would be less likely to do this ourselves, we share our concerns to confirm that we like things how they are. It is funny to me that people constantly say they’re “good with change” which just isn’t true. We desire stability and pattern, and there is a ton of predictability and certainty with that. It’s not wrong or right. It’s just how most people live.

When a risk taker enters our space, we get edgy and defensive because we’re afraid they’re going to upset OUR patterns. We don’t like people who are unpredictable and we have some pretty strong adjectives to describe them which are all negative. We can’t expect creativity and innovation in our organizations if we describe risk takers in negative terms. You see, they won’t be stifled for long because they’ll willingly take their next step in a new direction.

This week try something new. Affirm and encourage those who are trying to bring about change. I understand that all organizational change needs context. This time don’t assume the worst and think that the change will assuredly lead to failure. Embrace the risk takers in your life. You need them to keep things fresh, alive and relevant.

I love my risk taking son. As soon as he was driving out of our driveway, I thought of the beautiful Led Zeppelin classic “Going to California.” It has the lyrics:

“Made up my mind to make a new start, Going to California with an aching in my heart . . .”

The ache is there, but the new start is about to launch and I can’t wait to see the amazing things that he will accomplish !!