Convenience or Community ??

This past weekend I ventured out once again to finish my Christmas shopping. The weather was absolutely atrocious because of an endless, soaking rain. I would not be deterred because this was my one completely free day. I didn’t mind the rain, the snail like traffic, or the myriad of people who must have had the same idea I did.

One stop along my day long trek was at a brand name store that was an anchor location at a shopping mall. I was able to find what I was looking for there, and I wanted to stay dry for a bit longer so I decided to walk through the old mall. I was floored by the vast emptiness of the once robust gathering place. It was honestly a bit unnerving. Over 3/4 of the store fronts were blacked out and their logos were nothing but faded outlines that could barely be made out.

Now, I understand that business evolves. People do less and less shopping out in public. Many of us sit in our living room on our couch and place orders online. I’m not against this at all because it is easier to press a button and have something placed outside your front door. What I miss though is seeing people. Seriously. I love the hustle and bustle of people milling among each other. I don’t mind waiting in lines and listening to what people are discussing. I get energized by it !!

You see the empty shopping mall reflects one thing that is occurring that I’m not geeked about. More and more people are choosing convenience over community. This is a pretty broad generalization, but there are countless examples of how we want to have things brought to us so we don’t “waste time.” There is nothing wrong with being efficient. But, in doing this we aren’t coming together in other ways. We’re becoming increasingly isolated intentionally. The major concern about this move towards isolation is that we accept it as the norm. There is little push back against being slowly lulled apart.

I understand that I am an off the chart extrovert, and that weighs into how I feel. However, I see convenience being touted as being so much more attractive in all facets of life. During the holiday season, it’s well known that people struggle. There are many reasons for this and all of them are valid. With that before us, the last thing we need is a move to more isolation.

How does this tie into what we do as HR professionals? I think it’s pretty obvious. Isolation, you see, is occurring in our workplaces as well. We spend more time with our tasks than we do in actual interactions with others. On top of this, most people want to have little time with others that isn’t “work only” because we’re wasting time. (This includes how most HR pros approach employees.)

Well, I for one, don’t want HR and the workplace to go the way of the shopping mall. It’s going to happen if we don’t pivot and change now. I mean it. The call for convenience is hoping that we move farther and farther apart. I understand that you may not feel comfortable connecting with tons and tons of people. Please don’t take this request to the extreme.

You have the opportunity to start/build your community by intentionally reaching out to ONE person. One !! This is true because it takes only one person to step out of isolation and into the midst of another’s life on purpose. I can’t tell you how much I am driven by this feeling to see this change in our profession and in our company cultures.

This week, reach out to one person. You may be the absolute break from the isolation they’re experiencing right at this moment. It’s time for all of us to make a difference in the lives of others. Let’s finish 2018 building our community so that 2019 and the future will evolve as others come together. Always remember . . . we are better together !!

The Best Gift to Give !!

We’re in the midst of the holiday season. You can’t escape the endless string of Christmas music or the many, many television channels completely dedicated to Christmas movies. Every retail location is decorated to the hilt as well. You can’t escape it.

Now, I’m not complaining, and this isn’t a Grinch post railing against the commercialism of the holidays. I enjoy most facets of this season. Most. The one area where I struggle every year is shopping for others. I have never been a list person in any aspect of my life. That isn’t a cry for help and a need for more structure and organization. It’s just a fact. My amazing wife is a list person and it suits her well. So, when she asks for gift ideas for myself or my kids she gets an audible groan.

The whole idea of roaming from store to store and aisle to aisle gives me the shakes !! It’s not the thought of spending too much money on things. It’s because I do so much people watching that I don’t pay attention to the items that could be potential purchases. I’m not “focused” according to my family because they are much more apt to locate, compare and acquire. They can accomplish all of their shopping in a matter of hours. This is true whether they go out to stores or browse various internet sites.

This year I took a new approach. I changed my attitude about shopping and decided to keep an open mind about the experience. Instead of being filled with dread, I was positive because I included a “gift.” The gift was my time. I chose to intentionally be with my wife and enjoy every interaction and encounter. Ironically, this is how I approach most every day outside of the holiday season. Taking a simple shift in MY attitude made an incredible difference !!

For the first time since I can recall, I enjoyed shopping. The lists had beautiful lines running through completed purchases. Debbie and I laughed often and found some surprises outside of the list which filled me with glee. We were even able to get some people watching in. I was patient and kept my wife calm because she doesn’t like large crowds.

You see, giving Debbie my time on purpose meant more to her than anything written down on a list. It was a phenomenal reminder of how powerful giving someone else your time is. As the quote notes, your time is priceless because you can’t get it back !! It goes to the other person and then time moves on.

We all tend to feel that time is fleeting and that we never have enough. That  just isn’t true. We get frustrated because we don’t have enough time for what WE want. Our self-centeredness dominates our daily activities and where we choose to spend our time. I’m not pointing fingers because this affects me as well.

This week, and this holiday season, shift your approach. Give your time to others. This will take more effort than you think it will. It’s not like you can just turn this off and on like a switch. Giving your time to others takes a concerted effort. I’d even recommend that you start looking at how you can give your time to others on a consistent basis throughout the year. Get ahead of the whole New Year’s resolution nonsense that is just around the corner.

Time is something we ALL possess !! Make it your gift.

What You Have . . .

This past week we celebrated Thanksgiving in the States. It is my favorite holiday because it is a chance to step back, reflect and give thanks for all that you have. We kept things low key as my immediate family gathered. It was wonderful to spend time and cook with my wife and two kids (adults). Everyone pitched in as we put our meal together and each person was responsible for a dish. After eating we watched a little football and then a new Christmas movie on Netflix.

The following day we continued our family tradition by putting up Christmas decorations throughout the house as well as lights in the front yard. This time always brings the four of us together and helps us break out of the crazy pace we all seem to follow. The break was needed for all of us.

Now, I know this isn’t “unique” to many situations that happened this past week. Most of the people that I regularly talk to, or hang out with, were fortunate to have similar Thanksgiving gatherings. I was reminded, however, about the power of being thankful for what I have . . . not what I lack.

Too often our days are filled with all that’s “missing” or desired. Few people ever seem content with how life, work and relationships are going. There seems to be a missing component somehow. If someone is grateful, or satisfied, with how things are going, others seem sarcastic, doubtful or challenging. You may even hear someone retort that if you’re not always going after more and more, then you’re actually slipping behind.

To be honest, this negative mindset is exhausting to me. I ache when I hear that people are struggling. I also understand that there are tangible and legitimate mountains that people face every day in regards to all facets of life. I’m not naive. However, I choose to be grateful in the midst of all situations that I face. This runs against the grain of how most people face each day, but I’m good with that.

To help in launching a counter movement to what society has to offer, I choose to encourage others, connect others and let others know that I am thankful for who they are.  This simple approach is daunting because every comment is often met with resistance. The key is to keep moving forward and be persistent. I truly believe that being  genuinely consistent in this approach breaks through in the end.

This week take note of all that you currently have in your life regardless of your circumstances. I’m sure that you’ll find a mix of friends, family and connections all within reach. Tell them that you’re grateful for them and how they impact your life. Don’t let it pass by as an assumption. Make a call. Write a note. Send a text. Whatever it takes, let them know how much they matter to you and others. Who knows? It may be just the spark they needed.

Image from www.sticky-quotes.com 

Blanket Forts !!

I remember that when I was young my brother and I would pull out as many blankets as we could and start “building.” We’d drape them over and piece of furniture we could find and make our fort. Some forts were small, but most were massive and seemed to fill the entire room. We’d bring in various toys, create some scenario from our minds and then play for hours and hours.

We didn’t have the ability to look things up on the Internet back then. We relied only on our imagination. That didn’t limit us at all. Whenever we built forts, we’d come up with something completely new. We’d make up names of characters and incredible lands that never existed in “real life.”

Back then the majority of our day involved our imagination and creativity. I’m sure there were times we were bored, but I don’t remember many. Please note that this isn’t some rant about the “good old days” or how kids were more free thinking because we didn’t have the same technology kids have today. It is, however, a yearning for the days when I relied more of my imagination than I do today.

Imagination and creativity is stymied in today’s organizations because we don’t view those facets as “work.” We think that anything that takes away from traditional approaches to production is inefficient. There are calls for innovation which usually lead to random retreats to get the juices flowing and break away from the daily routine. We only look to tap into people’s creative potential when something is critically wrong or stuck.

My kids made blanket forts when they were young, and now that they are entering the workforce. I’m concerned that they too will fall into the trap of the mundane daily grind. That’s sad to me and it needs to change.

This past weekend, I was reminded about the joy of a blanket fort !! The ironic thing about this experience was that it didn’t involve kids at all. I made a trip to the SHRM headquarters to meet with the great folks who helped me publish my book – HR on Purpose !! The reason for the trip was another surreal opportunity. I went to do an audio recording of the book which will be on Audible in the future. I was geeked to have this chance, and couldn’t believe it was happening.

Where does the blanket fort come into the picture? Take a look at my recording “studio.” The staff at SHRM took a soundproof room and set up this makeshift wonder out of blankets !! I had someone apologize that there wasn’t something more “professional to make the recording. I told them that the studio couldn’t have been more perfect.

I sat in a chair in front of a microphone with headphones on and began reading. Six hours later we finished and everyone was spent. We had time to share stories in between chapters, laugh a ton and also each of us reminisced about the blanket forts we all had made when we were young.

This week step back and reignite your imagination. Take some time to find the joy and creativity that you used to enjoy. See how you can make this a regular occurrence once again. See how many ideas are just waiting to be let loose. Build a “blanket fort” at work. It’s sure to be fun, and I know that you’re looking for a way to break out of your rut !!

Is This the Real Life ??

“Is this just fantasy? . . .”

The opening lyrics to the Queen classic anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody” grab me every time.  This weekend I went to see the movie, Bohemian Rhapsody, because I am a huge Queen fan, and have been for many decades. I loved it !! Now, I understand that it’s been getting some push back because of some inaccuracies, but it’s a movie. I didn’t go to critique it. I went to enjoy it, and I truly did !!

The music was, and still is, magnificent and I loved singing along in the theater. What intrigued me even more was some of the dynamics that were portrayed throughout the movie. I think there are some very interesting lessons we can learn from about being in a band that can be reflected in the workplace.

Unique Talent – Each member of the band brought something new to the makeup of them as a unit. This both brought them together and tore them apart. It’s difficult when you put various talents together because we tend to compare and desire that other’s share our talent. That isn’t usually possible. I think that we should encourage the strengths that each person brings and see how to meld those together.

Diversity of Thought – This is something that isn’t valued nearly enough. Each member of the band contributed different ideas and perspectives towards their various hits. At times, ideas can run contrary to the flow of where a team (band) is heading. It is hard to listen to contrarian thoughts, but great leadership makes space for all thoughts to be shared and considered. You may want to see if you encourage this diversity. You may be missing some great ideas waiting to be known !!

Incredible Bonds – The band realizes that they are much stronger together than they are apart. They each play their part which allows them to make incredible music. When a team hits their stride in the workplace, they can have this same type of success. It takes incredible work and a component we tend to avoid – conflict.  Rarely does a team come together to take on a project and get everything accomplished smoothly. Conflict is something that will occur. Since you know that the bond is critical, help people work through conflict instead of avoiding it.

Risk taking and Creativity – More voices can lead to a team to rally together. When the band recorded their classic anthem, the record company balked because it was longer than the standard three minute radio play of the day. The band wasn’t willing to accept that roadblock because they felt their work was worth it. In the end, their risk worked. We always say we desire risk taking and creativity in the workplace, but we rarely truly allow it. Teams can come together to be a “safe” lab to try things out and move in exciting and new directions.

So, when you get your teams (bands) together at work, I hope you look at all of the great facets they can bring to each other, the workplace as a whole and the contributions they can make. Who knows? Maybe they have an anthem in them as well. Take time to nurture teams and expect them to thrive, and this can be the real life at work and not a fantasy.

Vote.

There is always some level of risk when you delve into the world of politics. I’m cool with that because this is a topic that is critical in my opinion. Now, take a deep breath before you read on. This isn’t a post that is for or against any candidate or issue. I don’t know how to do that objectively because everyone has different views, beliefs and affiliations.

One thing I hope we all can agree on is this . . . voting.

I believe in voting so much because I know the power that casting your ballot has. I’ve been able to vote over the past 30+ years and I’ve never missed the opportunity. Not once. It didn’t matter to me if the issues were “insignificant” to most. It was important to me to vote. This included ballots for local school levies (and my kids are grown), emergency services levies, local political offices to be filled, etc. My parents instilled this behavior in me, and they both have been personally active their entire life. In fact, my Mom still works the polls and she just turned 80.

There are a few observations that I do want to mention that I see as obstacles for people participating. The first is the unending negativity that comes at us from every forum, platform and form of media. You never hear what a person can do or desires to do. You only hear how horrible their opposition is. Amazing that we are asked to make choices on who is less awful. If you know me at all, I’m not a negative person and don’t understand it. It takes some time and effort to look past the barrage of crud to see where people and/or issues stand, but it’s worth it to be educated and informed.

Secondly, when people say that they “don’t have the time” I shake my head. Millions of people have no problem voting often for their favorite reality show characters on a variety of shows each week. We can make time to vote for entertainment choices, but not on candidates that may shape policy for years to come. It doesn’t make sense. I know that voting makes us drive out of our way on our normal commute, and that it doesn’t “fit” our regular schedule. However, it’s worth being put out.

I’ve seen local school levies pass by less than ten votes. I’ve seen people get into office more because people chose not to show up to the polls than to actually receive votes. I’d rather see people be active in making a choice than to see someone take office just because voting was inconvenient.

This week I encourage you to go to the polls and choose. I understand that we live in challenging, divergent and even divisive times. One thing you can do to affect this takes only a few minutes.

This week . . . vote.

 

Follow the Flow !!

If you’ve been reading my blog for any time, you know that I’m sort of an HR hippie. I love tie-dye clothes, psychedelic classic rock and  . . . lava lamps. Now, you need to understand that this isn’t a “new” phase for me. These things have been an interest of mine for decades. The difference that exists is that those interests are also something that defines me. I surround myself with these components in my work space, and I am more than willing to share how they keep me at ease.

Over the past few years, I’ve taken the lava lamp mantra out with me during presentations at HR conferences. It’s not uncommon for me to have a lava lamp going while I’m speaking. Most of the time, I give this great piece of lighting away to an attendee. My only requirement if someone wins a lava lamp is that they actually use it in their office. They need to take it to work, turn it on and send me a picture of it in action. What’s so cool about this is that everyone who has won a lava lamp has added it to their office and has sent me a picture as evidence.

Now, the coolest thing is happening in workplaces across the globe. HR peers have been getting their own lava lamps, taking pictures and letting me know about it on Facebook, Linked In and Twitter !! It is surreal. What gets me geeked is what they say for reasons to get a floating masterpiece themselves. The descriptions range from just wanting to have something colorful in their office to stating that it was a reminder to have a positive outlook about HR and towards employees.

The more pictures I’ve received made me think about why this simple object is having such an impact. You see, I think HR people are often tired and on the edge of being burned out. The constant push and pull of interactions with people can drain you. This doesn’t have to be the case, but I get it because it’s something that is a constant force that pushes against me as well.

Since that is the case, I recommend that you “follow the flow” and surround yourself with items that give you a sense of serenity and calmness. I’m sure you have interests that could give you some much needed peace during your hectic day. You need to take care of yourself in the midst of taking care of others. There are far too many folks in HR who skip taking care of themselves. This is a simple release and a small respite. Remember, it’s small things that make a difference far more than massive shifts.

Here’s a picture from my office. When things get pressured and hectic, I look to my right and see the blobs of lava serenely moving up and down and I exhale. For me it’s perfection. (The Magic 8 Balls are a bonus too, but that’s a post for a different time.)

This week take a second and reflect to see if you have something in your work space that provides a healthy diversion to recalibrate your day. It’s simple to do. I, of course, would highly recommend getting your own lava lamp. In this way we can change HR, and the workplace, one lava lamp at a time !!

 

Leo

This past weekend I stepped out of my normal surroundings and into my past. My wife and I, along with two other couples, went to visit another couple, Clay and Kelly in rural Carroll County, Ohio. They live in a wonderful house located on a 400 acre farm. It’s a beautiful landscape made up of rolling hills, streams, fields of grain, cattle along with a few chickens.

This was a step into my past because I grew up on, or around, farms. My grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins have  run farms for generations. I loved farm living because you were outside between 90% to 95% of your day. My imagination ran wild as I created worlds around me by playing in pastures, fields and barns. I fondly remember helping out where I could with chores, fixing things and hanging around the various barn animals.

That brings me back to this weekend. I took in every, single moment and loved once again being outside with the sights, smells and sounds of the farm. I even got to make a new friend – Leo !! Leo is one of the steers on the farm who loves to eat treats from your hand. It was great to hear him eagerly moo as he quickly skipped up to the fence to say, “Hi !!”

What does this trip have to do with HR ?? – Everything.

You see, my friend Clay is a fellow HR practitioner who also farms. Kelly is a nurse who also farms. If you met them in their “normal” job, you wouldn’t readily know much more about their lives unless they shared it with you.

We are surrounded by people each and every day, and yet  we know so little about each other. If we were honest about it, we don’t really want to know because having conversations about someone’s life outside of work would cut into our “precious” time. Isn’t that sad?

I know that this type of time investment has been a regular theme of mine lately. I think that’s because I know that learning more about the people around us makes an incredible impact. People are almost shocked that you’d step out of your self-focused bubble to learn about them. I’ve found that the more I learn about others, the more meaningful our relationship is professionally.

I know this may be out of the norm for most people, but look at it this way. Someone in your life has taken an interest in you and what you were experiencing at least once. I’d wager it’s happened many times. Tap into the feeling that occurred when someone took the time to take interest in you. Remember how great it felt and then turn it towards others around you.

This week try something different. Instead of launching into the lives of everyone, reach out to a peer in HR. Learn who they are outside of what they do professionally. Set aside time to see how much more in depth their lives really are. I’m sure they’ll be touched you did.

And, who knows, you may get to meet your own Leo !!

Spice It Up !!

This past weekend I had the pleasure of being the closing keynote of the Wisconsin SHRM State HR Conference !! This was a bucket list item for me because I always love the chance to be among my HR peers, and this time I was able to send them forth with encouragement as they headed back to their companies.

My wife traveled with me, and we took some time to explore the Wisconsin countryside. We also stopped to visit one of our dear friends in Milwaukee. This visit was especially awesome because our friend unexpectedly lost her husband in a car accident 16 months ago. We have been in touch, but hadn’t seen each other since his funeral. It was a touching moment as we pulled into the driveway and exchanged warm embraces and some tears.

We spent a few hours catching up on life, family, and work because we just had to fill the gaps. Seeing each other in person is always more powerful than talking online or over the phone. We then asked our friend to show us Milwaukee. We told her that we didn’t want to specifically see the tourist attractions most people expect to see. My wife and I like to see places through the eyes of others. See the city based on what is important to them.

Our friend thought about this for a bit, and then we headed to the car. She drove us around the suburb she lived in and pointed out various landmarks including the high school her kids had attended, where she shopped, her church and a neighborhood called The Shire that had a Hobbit Hole at the front gate. (The HR Nerd in me was so geeked about the Hobbit find !!)

She kept driving for a bit and then we pulled into a retail shopping center. We weren’t sure what we were stopping to see, but she assured us we’d love the store. We walked over to Penzeys which is a store that sells spices. That’s it. Spices.

The mixture of smells enveloped you as you entered the store. On top of that, the staff greeted us warmly and was genuinely excited that we chose to stop by. One of the staff went to our friend and hugged her warmly and asked how she was, how her kids were and how she was improving each day. The encouragement seemed to drip from every square inch of this amazing store. I never knew there were so many variations of salt, pepper, paprika, cinnamon, vanilla, etc.

What made Penzeys amazing was that each spice had a full description written out along with suggestions on how to use the spice to bring out its fullest potential. It was noted that you only needed a small amount of spice to improve whatever cooking you were attempting. They also offered spice themed magnets, dish towels, gift boxes and other accompanying items that all had positive messages on them. I was floored by this approach.

It made me think of how HR people can be the folks who spice it up with the employees we work with. If we would be the one ingredient that could encourage and lift someone up, imagine what our workplaces would be. And, just like the store, you don’t have to use the same spice for each person. In fact, each interaction you have will require a different ingredient in order to make it come to life !!

This week instead of thinking you need to make massive movements in order for change and improvement to occur, just add a pinch of spice.

Choose

A new workweek is upon us. I’m sure it’s going to be filled with both challenges and opportunities. If you’re like most people, you probably feel that the challenges far outweigh the opportunities. That may not be the case, but it gives you the illusion that you’re going to be better at your job because you feel that solving problems is why you exist.

I think taking this position is difficult personally. If our days our chock full of a majority of challenges, then how can we see any glimmer of hope? I don’t mean to make light of the conditions of other’s lives. That would be short sighted and presumptuous.

I want to throw something out there that may seem naive, but I find it to be true. In the midst of all that is swirling around us, we have a choice on how to start our day. Every. Day. We can either make the conscious decision to be positive or not. I used to think that the choice was positive or negative, but that is too much of a generalization.

Choosing to be positive frames everything even in the middle of legitimate challenges. It’s not naive, but it is difficult. Most forces in our personal lives and our lives at work want us to focus on what’s wrong as the point where things start. That gives us a jumping off point to move away from because the less something is broken, the more we have a sense of accomplishment.

In HR we are constantly surrounded by people. People who are going through life just like we are. It’s easy to hear how people are facing their days and become sarcastic and embittered. You get tired of the unending waves of struggle. There doesn’t seem to be a viable way out. So, you get swallowed along with it.

Choosing to be positive changes the playing field because you don’t enter the encounters you have with others as something you’re obligated to solve. You may get a chance to be part of a solution, but it doesn’t have to be your only purpose. When you approach others expecting things to be positive regardless of what you come across, you put yourself in a position to be available. That, honestly, is more than most people expect when it comes to daily interactions.

I know this is a big ask, but I want to put an option out there for others. There needs to be something for you to latch on to because what you do matters. When you spend time with people you may be the one spark that turns the tide for them.

This week choose.