Get Rid of the Can’ts !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Sorry

The title of this post is not something you’d typically see from an HR blog. It comes from a recent lunch I had with a friend. She was talking about working with a new co-worker who said, “I’m sorry . . .” before every response she gave in regards to her work. I asked her how she was trying to change this behavior, and she calmly responded, “I’m beating the sorry out of her !!” I almost spit out my water with laughter. What a great saying.

Please don’t mistake this as asking people to not show empathy in how they practice HR. Empathy is an essential skill we all need, but apologizing all the time isn’t. When I think about how I hear HR peers talk about what they do, “I’m sorry” (or something like that) is usually the lead in phrase. Have you heard (or said) these?

“I’m sorry that our benefit costs are going up . . .”

“I’m sorry that wages are being frozen this year . . .”

“I’m sorry that your supervisor is difficult to work with . . .”

You could continue this list of apologetic phrases for hours. I understand that part of our role is delivering difficult news and/or dealing with challenging employee relations situations. However, we don’t have to state how sorry we are to try and ease into how things are occurring. It seems trite, defensive and lacking confidence. We may think we’re showing a softer side, but if you listen to it from the receiver side of the interaction, it sounds wishy-washy.

One of the marks against our profession is that people see us as indecisive within organizations. We may be great “support” functions, but we aren’t viewed as others are when it comes to leadership. I’m tired of seeing this happen. It also doesn’t make sense that downplaying who we are and what we do is a position that should ever be taken. We can’t just hope that someone will bestow the mantle of leadership upon us.

Leadership takes action and being intentional. That doesn’t mean you need to be a jerk or some hard head in order to he heard and taken seriously. However, we can’t keep coming in with an apology either. The shift that is needed isn’t difficult to adopt, but it does take discipline and a willingness to step forward in confidence in the decisions for which you are responsible.

The two best ways to stop apologizing include your approach and the use of context. Approach is something that you control personally. How you assess a situation, how you react and who you involve are factors with every interaction. We should address people who are involved in HR related situations directly and not in hallway gossip. Being direct (with empathy) is what employees would love to see on a regular basis.

The other aspect of approach is context. “Because that’s the policy” is not context, it’s a crutch. It may not feel great to give the hard answer on the reality of circumstances, but it’s needed. Know this – if you give up being the person who brings context to employee relations, then someone else will. It will most likely be their version of context, and it won’t be the truth. We can’t afford to keep forfeiting an area of culture which we should own and lead.

This week stop apologizing when you start talking. State what you want to say and move forward. People may be shocked at first that HR is using a new approach. Trust me though that they’ll appreciate this new HR so much more than what had been there before !!

All In !!

In two months, the largest annual gathering of HR professionals happens when people come from around the world for the SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition. This time we’ll be convening in New Orleans for SHRM17 !!

If you’ve never been to the this event, it’s a true spectacle in regards to its size, scope and scale. The room that hosts the keynote speakers is massive and seats thousands. The resource partner hall takes literally days to traverse through if you visit every booth (which you should). The Smart Stage is fun and give people a series of quick hit presentations that are full of energy and content. The SHRM Store holds a plethora of great books and resources with a mix of HR swag for your office or team. The Blog Squad  has a broad mix of social media folks who are great to know and interact with throughout the conference. Also, there are many phenomenal concurrent sessions ranging from solid technical trench HR material, to relevant legal updates, to folks who are stretching and reshaping the boundaries of the profession.

Each one of these facets would be enough to attend the event on their own. However, I go for one primary reason – the people. Seriously. I want to meet my peers who are in HR from around the world. There are thousands of people who attend the SHRM Annual Conference.

Most attendees come on their own without many connections when they arrive. It can be completely overwhelming if you’re not connected to others. There is a never ending sea of people who move from one room to another. Ironically, most of this movement is also done in an isolated manner. People are either looking at their phones or are rushing to grab a seat at a session.

I plan to break through that maneuver and intentionally meet people. Too many HR practitioners are on their own enough as it is. They are trapped in organizational silos or work with the rest of the company only when someone comes to them. This is unacceptable in my opinion. There is no reason for separation personally or professionally.

So, I’m going to step across whatever invisible boundary people put up and interact with them. I plan to network, connect and take time to get to know others as people. I want other HR folks to be encouraged and know that someone believes in them. To make this successful, I want to encourage other attendees to do this as well. Let’s make sure everyone is engaged and welcomed. You’ll still get to experience every facet of the conference, but you don’t have to try to do it on your own.

When I first got into HR, I didn’t even realize there were others who were in HR. I know that sounds a bit naive and myopic, but it was my point of view. I don’t think it’s much different today. I know that there is social media, SHRM itself, local SHRM chapters, etc., but the majority of HR professionals continue to exist separately and in a state of disconnection.

No more. It’s never been a good practice, and it needs to stop. We need to be “all in” to bring our community together locally, nationally and globally.

If you’re going to attend SHRM17, I plan to meet you. Every. One. Of you. It will be great and I hope you’ll help me make this happen !!

Get Tagged !!

Do you remember playing Tag when you were a kid? I think every child since the dawn of time has played Tag at least one time. To refresh you’re memory – there’s a person who’s “it” and they run around trying to tag others and transfer being “it” to someone else. Usually, there are tons of screams, giggles and taunts as people run around to avoid being tagged. It’s a great game where people typically quit only after becoming exhausted from running around.

This past week, I took a short vacation to Washington, D.C. with my wife. We really enjoyed seeing the sites from Arlington National Cemetery, to several monuments, the sobering United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, George Washington’s homestead Mount Vernon and a walking tour through Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. It’s amazing that we can walk about freely in our nation’s capitol and take in all of this history. We were surrounded by literally thousands of people that seemed to move like waves from attraction to attraction.

As I continued to read plaque after plaque about people who impacted our nation and world, I was struck by something. When they were tagged, they were okay with being “it.” They stepped into the situations before them and acted. It didn’t mean they were perfect in character or background by any means. They had faults because they were humans just like us. But . . . they acted.

As I look around at people today, I hope they are willing to be tagged. In the childhood game, the goal is to avoid the tagger at all costs because you don’t want to be “it.” This is also somewhat prevalent in our society. We’re very concerned about what affects us personally, but we don’t step up to act. I think we feel that if we act that it will infringe upon our personal time to such an extent that we’re stymied against moving at all. We also fall into the trap that we’ll be required to do something we’re not capable of doing. Our minds make us think that we’re not able to do well in what we’re pursuing, so we stay put.

I want to challenge everyone to understand that action is not some monumental task. It’s just the willingness to break out of inertia when needed. As HR pros, I want to encourage you to be a person who’s willing to be tagged. We can step up and get involved in areas both inside and outside our company. I fiercely believe that HR pros who are others focused are people who will be successful in ways they’ve never expected.

We can’t continue to sit idly by. I’m not going to presume where you can plug in, but I know that it’s needed. You see, if we don’t act then we can’t affect the outcome of situations. Something that could be worked out and have a positive result may not because it made us uncomfortable to be “it.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t let that be the case.

I am not under some misconception that some day people will be walking around reading some plaque about my actions. However, reading what others were willing to do rekindled the fire in me to continue to be tagged. And, since I’m “it”, I’m looking to tag others. Be watching. You may soon hear – “Tag, you’re it !!”

Image Courtesy of Brainless Tales

 

Are You Congruent ??

The majority of us work for our lifetime. Seriously. We are in a job of some sort from either our late teens/early twenties until our mid to late 60’s (if not longer). I’m not bemoaning this fact. Having a job is essential for all of us to be able to earn a living, provide for others, give generously and possibly have a family. With so much time invested, why do we hit times where things just feel a bit wonky?

Do you know what I mean? Every person I know hits a patch, or patches, where things seem misaligned. It’s hard to discuss because we’re afraid if we do that our company will think poorly of us and develop doubts about our “loyalty.” This has nothing to do with whether a person is loyal or not. When things aren’t congruent, we’re not sure what to do or where to go. It can affect how we perform because uncertainty causes anxiety. We may even get thoughts in our heads that have no merit, but that doesn’t make them feel any less real.

How do we get things back in line and balanced? This is an area where HR can, and should, step in. However, it will cause you to step into an arena where we tend to skirt by the edge. You need to be very connected to your employees. This goes far beyond just knowing the superficial demographic information about folks. That is very important and should never be overlooked. However, I’m talking about genuinely knowing about where people feel they are in their role/career and where they want to go.

Too often we have conversations about people’s career desires during annual reviews. But, honestly, those are superficial as well. Companies fear that if you have meaningful chats and someone says that they want to grow and/or take over another person’s role, then they’ll actually want to work toward attaining that goal !! Eek !! Since we don’t take the time to pour into others, we end up making decisions to move people ahead who may not be a good fit. They also may never have wanted to take on that next role, but it may result in larger wages, authority and exposure which are hard to look past. Remember – we need our jobs.

Another group of folks who face the challenge of congruency are those in transition already. I’m fortunate that I know a group of people who are in this situation because they regularly attend the HR Roundtable I facilitate. Being in transition is difficult, not challenging, difficult. That may not even accurately capture the emotional strain that you go through when you’re trying to find a new job. People just want to be employed again. I get that and know it’s critical for many reasons.

However, if possible, you need to find a role where things fit for you as much as the company is looking to see if you fit them. Being congruent in existing roles as well as when you take on a new role when you come out of transition is essential.

Managing your career over the entire span of your career is the mindset to have if you haven’t been doing that already. You’re going to hit those patches of uncertainty. It doesn’t mean you’re going to leave your job or organization, but it does mean an adjustment is needed.

This week step back, take a breath and reflect. Are you balanced? Do you need realignment? Take the time to do this and make sure you are doing your best to manage what you do and where you do it. Be congruent !!

So That . . .

The workplace is an interesting ecosystem. Not one of them is the same. However, I feel that workplaces fall into one of two categories. They are either vibrant and evolving, or they are a stagnate quagmire. Which one do you think happens the most? This isn’t an “it depends” answer. We are surrounded by bogs that keep people stuck in doing things over and over and over and over and . . . you get the point.

How does this happen? Well, unfortunately HR is a significant contributor to the muck and mire of the workplace. I know that I’ve been this person in the past. I also am sure their are peers of mine who revel in the practice of penning incredibly layered policies and procedures with the hope of control. Let me explain two things – “control” in the workplace is an illusion. You can’t dictate behavior and action by words on a page. Secondly, we live in a day and age where 140 characters can literally change the global landscape. However, HR still lives as if we’re monks in an ancient medieval candle lit monastery using ink dipped quills to etch policies into parchment that will last for eternity.

We need to not only quit practicing in the past, we need to lead into the future. To do that, let me suggest using the “so that” approach. Too often we create and implement policies and procedures as a hasty reaction to some fringe situation that could have been addressed directly. We then end up with systems that we can’t/won’t enforce, and nothing changes.

“So that” gives context to what you do and/or write. If you can’t give context as to why you’re doing something, then DON’T DO IT !! If you use “so that” in your approach, you’ll see that you can reframe how you practice HR and move your workplace forward so that you no longer remain stagnate. This means being intentional in your actions, but it is what your organization is yearning for !!

Let me give you the “so that’s” that I use and see which ones you can take and implement yourself.

  • Expect the best in others and tell them that they rock SO THAT they know they have the ability to add value in all they do.
  • Pay attention to the majority of your employees who do their job well SO THAT you stop creating policies that focus on the few.
  • Spend time with employees from all levels of the organization SO THAT people know that HR is available to everyone from the C-Suite to the front line.
  • Go to HR conferences and events for professional development SO THAT you stop going just to get recertification credit hours !!
  • Network and connect with other HR professionals in person and on social media SO THAT you don’t have to keep trying to do everything on your own.

I have many more that I could list. The key to making this approach is to understand that making what we do a positive contribution is essential. Take heart knowing that HR can, and should, move the organization SO THAT all that we do has value !!

The First Cut !!

One of the great things about living in the Midwest is that you experience four distinct seasons. Spring “officially” began March 21st with the vernal equinox, but Spring doesn’t really start until you get to work out in the yard. I truly enjoy working out in my yard. It’s a chance to listen to music with my ever present iPod (old school), clear my head with any of life’s pressures, and get my hands dirty working in the beds.

So, this weekend Spring officially began at my house. There was a forecast for warmer weather without rain for a few hours. I put on some clothes that I knew would get dirty, slapped in my earbuds and hit “play”. As Your Gold Teeth by Steely Dan started playing, I jumped into action. It was fantastic !! I moved from the front beds, to the side beds to the beds that serve as a perimeter to our back porch. There was a mixture of tasks ranging from picking up dead leaves, destroying weeds and removing the dead growth from plants just starting to turn green and reemerge.

Then, the lawn. I’m kind of old school on some things including walking behind my mower to cut the 1/2 acre lot I live on. As I get older, the yard seems to get a bit larger and a little more challenging to complete. However, it’s normally the best 1 1/2 to 2 hours I have every week. Exercise mixed with some sweat and tunes. Almost perfection.

There’s one thing to note that happens after the first cut of the season. The grass now has the okay to grow once again. A bit of trimming stimulates the innate nature of the lawn and growth is rekindled. I don’t know the science behind this, but the action which you’d think would be detrimental to a living organism, is exactly the opposite. It’s the stimulus it needs in order to fulfill its purpose !!

Have you looked around the “lawn” at your workplace lately? How does it appear? Is it dormant or eager to grow? Is your focus on the entire environment where you work?

Too often HR is stuck in the weeds – literally. We spend so much of our time on the exceptions of the people we have the privilege to coexist with that we never feel we even have time to tend to anything else. This is a mistake and we need to change our focus. We have the chance to put on our work clothes and interact with every department just like my lawn and flower beds. We can remove the clutter and unnecessary items that keep people from performing. We can make sure that everything has room to blossom and spread out. And finally, we can “cut the grass” and stimulate employees to no longer remain dormant and stuck in their ways.

The question is, where do you spend your time now? I choose to be the HR person who works the land and encourages it to flourish !! At the end of this weekend’s yard session, I was spent. In fact, I came inside and washed up before collapsing into a deep nap on the sofa. That same sense of giving all I have to make employees and the workplace thrive is something that I strive to do on a regular basis.

How about you? Ready to make the first cut of the year? Put in your earbuds, hit play and let’s go !!

Grow or Control ??

Coffee shops are inspirational. You knew that didn’t you? They really are and have to be. Most are full of people who are on laptops or tablets as well as groups of folks having great conversations. My fave coffee haunt, Cavu Coffee, is one of these inspirational locations !!

Recently, I was in the midst of a great conversation at Cavu with a friend and we talking about leadership. In the midst of a sip of some hot coffee, she laid this out for me – “You know Steve, there are two types of leaders. Those that help people grow and those who want control.”

I stopped sipping my coffee. I was struck by how accurate that was. When I think of the workplace, I definitely see this dichotomy at play. The tendency, however, is not usually focused on growth. I don’t mean to be negative, just realistic. Managers and supervisors live in a constant state of frustration because people just won’t do what they demand, I mean, ask.

We aren’t clean in this area either HR. The majority of our efforts in HR are to constrain and control. This is true from policies to performance “management” systems. I know many of my peers who are handcuffed by spending the majority of their time and contributions towards keeping employees in line.

How does this help people excel? How does this help companies thrive and perform? Why is the standard of how we allow managers and supervisors behave so low? The questions could go on and on . . .

We need to be a profession focused on growth – both personally and throughout our organizations. Trust me, this is healthier than what is being done currently. We all have to come to terms that “control” is a myth. It always has been.

Don’t believe me? Do you have kids, know kids or were a kid yourself? (I want to make sure to cover everyone). Parents miss so much of the phenomenal side of their children because they want their kids to behave, listen and stay within very tight boundaries. I believe in structure, and I was one of those parents who was more strict than I probably should have been. When I allowed my kids to just be themselves, they flourished !! Their creativity and imagination jumped out of them. There was little they wouldn’t explore or try. They were limitless.

The more I tried to keep them in line, the more I saw the edges get chipped off and they moved more and more to the “norms” that everyone expected of them. Why does this matter? You know what happens when kids grow up? They become our employees.

So, why wouldn’t you want employees who saw their work as having no limits? What if HR was less about “crossing the line” and more about boundaries and parameters that allowed people to perform? We need to step in and change the landscape of the workplace. It just has to happen.

People want to grow. They want to do this within their role and the organization. This doesn’t mean that everyone desires promotions and the out-of-date career ladder. They want to grow in how they do work. They want to grow in their responsibilities. They want to grow in how they move the company forward.

They want to grow . . . and so do you !!

I encourage you to eliminate the illusion of control and build an environment of growth. Go to a coffee shop and see how your inspiration blossoms !!

The Next Generation !!

I’m a nerd and always have been. I’m very cool with who I am. I’m a big fan of all things science fiction and fantasy. One of my faves is Star Trek. It’s quite amazing to think that a campy TV series that lasted only 3 seasons has become part of our culture for over 50 years now. The original series has evolved to an animated series, three successful spin-off series and multiple movies. They all paint an adventurous, balanced, humorous and diverse universe that coexists in the future.

Now for the present day . . .

This past week I was fortunate to speak at the Northern Ohio HR Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. I always enjoy the opportunity to present to my fellow HR peers. This conference (which is one of my faves) was even more meaningful because I was able to take my son with me. As I mentioned last week, he’s home on spring break from Ohio University. And, nothing screams spring break fun more than attending an HR conference !! He had never seen me give a presentation before and I was geeked to have him there. I also wanted him to see other HR pros and get a feel of how to interact and network with others.

While I was presenting, I made the statement that I hate that HR continues to separate the next generation by name. The whole “millenial movement” is not good. When did it ever make sense for our profession to segment and isolate a group of people because of their age? There are many who are trying to make a living by separating us, and there’s no room for it.

Ironically, on the drive up to the conference, Josh and I talked about how he disliked being labeled, generalized and isolated as a millenial. He said, “People know nothing about me and yet I’m put in a category. Also Dad, if we’re so bad as a generation isn’t that on you as our parents?” I could have stopped the car and hugged him. He gets it and I dig that about him.

At the conference, I conducted a 1/2 day workshop and spoke at a concurrent session. It was enthralling and exhausting to teach for five hours. After both sessions, I had younger people (you know THOSE M’s) who came up to me to thank me for dismantling this separation of an entire generation. To a person they told me how disappointing and challenging it is when they see countless blogs, books and workshops that are meant for others to learn and understand how to “deal with” and work with them as individuals and as a whole.

Back to Josh (and the folks from other generations) . . .

The folks at the conference ate him up and made him feel welcomed. They connected with him and he was able to meet other young professionals who were excited to meet another person considering HR.

And jump forward to the future . . .

Star Trek got it right. Every new edition of the franchise builds on the one before it and they honor and respect those that laid the ground work. There is never one iteration that states that the “new” version needs separate attention because those that went before just didn’t get them. Actually, there are several references to original characters and how people learned from their strengths, struggles and leadership.

We need to be more like Star Trek in how we look at the next generation that is going to rule, lead and transform our workplace. I’m geeked about who they are, what they believe and feel that they will be more successful than we’ve ever been.

In order to do that, I want to be like the original Star Trek cast who laid the foundation of inclusion, curiosity and the yearn to see what’s next. I want all of those who follow me in the workforce to bring others along and lift them up. The future’s bright because of these new folks. Let’s let them shine !!

A Common Bond

This past weekend my son came home from Ohio University for Spring Break. I know, not the most exciting choice for him I’m sure. However, we’re pretty close and enjoy doing things together. One thing that we share is a love of music. I’m geeked to see how he’s developed a catalog of his own that he continues to build over time.

We took a trek down to Everybody’s Records just to browse and see what we could find. We were met by an overpowering aroma of incense wafting throughout the store that literally hit you in the face when you entered. They were playing some Allman Brothers overhead, and we split up. He wandered over to the rows and rows of used vinyl and I went to the used CD’s racks. The place was teeming with all types of people from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities and musical tastes. Interestingly enough though, everyone greeted each other either with a “Hi” or a head nod which acknowledged our common love for music.

I was deep into trying to secure a David Gilmour solo album from my college days and I was also looking for more Elvis Costello and possibly some Husker Du. Now, I know these may not be your choices, but I was the one shopping. My son bounced over to me with his find and I was really geeked to see what he chose – Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder !! Another store patron saw his choice and said, “Man, I wore that album out when it came out. You will love it.” My son grinned from ear to ear.

This post isn’t just about music, although it could be. I think it’s a better reflection of how the workplace should, and could, exist. There is a constant feeling of divisiveness that seems to be swirling around everything lately. It’s almost impossible to have a differing viewpoint or an observation about any topic without people demanding that you take a side. Then, once you take a side people are instantly opposing each other and holding to their camp. How is this healthy?

On top of this, if you dare to be positive about anything, there is a huge swell of emotion and negativity that wants you to be full of angst and despair. There are many great things happening in all or our lives, and I feel that when we compartmentalize and segment people because of differences we do more damage than trying to find our common bonds.

As HR professionals, we have an opportunity to bring folks together without having them forsake who they are, where they come from and what they believe. We can be the ones who intentionally step in to assess interactions and see how we can pull people together towards common goals, performance and results. It is up to us to stop people tearing each other apart. Allow for discourse and dialogue. Allow for ideas that may not seem congruent to the norm. Encourage people to bring things out into the open and see where things go.

When my son brought the epic Stevie Wonder double set to me, he asked if I’d check the vinyl for it’s quality and that it didn’t have any serious scratches. He asked what I thought of his choice and I told him that it was one of my favorite albums. However, I also stated that he needed to experience it himself to come up with his thoughts and opinions about this set. When we got home, he went straight to my turntable and put on Sir Duke. Epic.

This week, look for the things in your workplace that bring you together. Be the ones who look for and establish the common bonds. Here’s a tune to get you started . . .