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 !!

Making the Sale !!

This past week has been one of transitions. My wife and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary, and our oldest child was getting ready to leave home. We’re excited that Melanie is moving and continuing her career as an Occupational Therapist in Indianapolis, Indiana. A few weeks earlier, our son Josh, moved from Ohio to California, so our adventure as empty nesters is on the near horizon.

To get ready for Melanie’s move, we took a trek up to Indy to shop for furniture for her new apartment. She’s been working for a year and wanted to get her own things. We agreed and thought it would be fun to help her out. She was going to be purchasing everything, but she wanted us to check things out and share our opinion. My wife and I are grateful that we have solid relationships with both of our kids. They touch base every so often which is just enough. We don’t have any intention of being helicopter parents. We want to see our kids stand on their own and thrive !!

Back to the shopping excursion . . .

I don’t know about you, but I dread shopping for furniture. I love meandering through the stores and sitting on various sofas and chairs. I also love seeing the different styles, colors and shapes of things that can accent a house. The reason I dread furniture shopping is the immediate accosting that happens when you step two feet into a store by an over eager salesperson.

Now, I understand this is their occupation and respect that. I appreciate that they have knowledge of pricing, financing, dimensions and availability. What I can’t stand, from the majority of them, is their approach. They know why you’re visiting the store, and yet you still get asked, “Are you here to find some furniture?” We both know we are, but they use this mundane and obvious greeting for one reason which is to set their hooks in you. This ties them to you and gives them a chance at commission while also fending off the other salespeople also lurking at the front door.

The first store we visited caught me off guard. We visited Value City Furniture, and the salespeople greeted us and said to contact them if we needed them. Then we roamed freely for an hour !! It was bliss. It also allowed my daughter to take her time and see what she did/didn’t like. Roger, who met us at first, came up to us after an hour and then assisted us in purchasing a sofa and a love seat. He gave us all of the details and was outstanding. He also worked directly with my daughter since she was the purchaser.

The second store was an even better experience !! We went to Bob’s Discount Furniture and met Chauncey. He lit up the showroom and was warm, welcoming and hilarious. He worked directly with our daughter while also checking in with us to make sure she found what she needed. He had one liner jokes that put us at ease even though they were outlandish and cheesy. He chose to be intentional and engaging while also allowing us the time we needed. Melanie ended up getting a bedroom set from him.

The third store we saw brought back my anxiety, dread and past experience. We were ambushed at the door and the young man said he wouldn’t stalk us, but gave us a coupon that we could show other salespeople slowly circling for their next kill to keep them at bay. He said he’d be back in 10 to 15 minutes which really meant three. Oh, and he only addressed me as the man/father of our group. He never talked to my daughter because she obviously wouldn’t be the one paying. We walked out.

The key to all of this is relationship building. Every salesperson I know states they believe in doing this, but few practice it. I wish that people would take the cues from Roger and Chauncey !! Each of them were willing to stay in touch and allow us to have a good experience. The time they allowed for latitude ended up securing a sale for each of them. Neither had the same style, but they understood the value of meeting us where we were.

In HR we don’t think we “sell”, but that just isn’t true. Every day we are selling to make sure people have a great experience in their roles. Too often we buy the myth that we are pressed for time and that we just don’t have enough time in our day to invest in others. That, my friends, is sad.

The poor reputation that haunts our profession can be tied almost exclusively to our approach towards others. If we’d see the value of making the time to build relationships, our “sales” record would drastically improve !!

This week make time for those you work with and teach others the value of this practice. Make it your norm like Roger and Chauncey do. Trust me, you’ll start seeing the value in others, and your experience as an HR pro will get better on purpose.

It’s Geaux Time !!

This past weekend has been spectacular !! My wife and I traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for the Greater Baton Rouge SHRM Fall Conference. I was fortunate enough to be the closing keynote speaker. Any time I get a chance to interact with my HR peers in person is a joy for me. It fills my bucket because I want to genuinely meet them, encourage them, and laugh with them.

This conference had an extra twist added to it because the theme was based on my book, HR on Purpose !! That was surreal and something I never thought would occur during my career. Seeing HR practitioners gather to understand that we all do better in our roles and in our organizations if we do it with purpose was invigorating. The conference was wonderful from start to finish, but our trek to Louisiana was just beginning.

If you’ve never been to Baton Rouge, then change that and make plans to visit. The hospitality from every single person is heart warming. Honestly, we didn’t encounter one person who didn’t greet us and make eye contact. If the rest of the world would treat each other with these simple gestures intentionally, think how much more positive every day would be in our lives. Add to the hospitality and endless world of tastes and smells. The food in Baton Rouge is phenomenal !! It didn’t matter where we went, we found dishes filled with spices and flavors that you don’t experience in many places.

We took in local sites like the State Capitol and the Old State Capitol as well as visit a historical plantation. My wife and I are history nerds, so these attractions were wonderful. We appreciated that each site was true to ALL of the history surrounding their past. Even though some of it was very troubling, it was candid and honest. We thought that the stories we heard of the people who had lived before us was a great learning experience.

It wouldn’t be a proper trip to Baton Rouge if you didn’t get to experience an LSU football game !! We happened to be in town for a home game, and it’s hard to capture the energy and camaraderie we saw. We were engulfed in a giant sea of purple and gold. Every person attending the game had these colors on. Every. One. We made sure to make it in time to see the team come down “the hill” to the stadium followed by the magnificent LSU marching band.

The massive stadium teemed with thousands of people all coming together for a bonding experience – to cheer their team on to victory. This Saturday the Tigers were playing a school that wasn’t at their same level, and it was a one-sided victory. However, that didn’t dim the exuberance from the fans yelling and cheering their support for every play that occurred. It was great to be a part of all of this fervor. I have to be honest that I was screaming “Geaux Tigers !!” as loud as the LSU faithful.

This trip made me think about how this all applies to HR because I tend to see HR in everything. It showed me, once again, that people want to join and belong together. They want to be around fellow humans to learn and grow (like at the conference), or rally around a common goal and share their excitement (the LSU game). You could be as engaged as you chose in both environments, but the key was to be included.

Do you include others? When you’re going through your day are you more focused on “work” or the people you encounter? By recognizing the innate need to be included, we should make sure we are cognizant of this and make it part of our daily routine. Think what your day would look like if you helped someone learn something new, or if you congratulated them for being a part of your team.

It’s Geaux Time HR !! This week make sure that YOU are the one who is the stimulus for inclusion. You’ll be glad you did.

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.

Stop the Sighs !!

We’re about to embark on yet another week of work. As you get ready to make your commute, what is your mindset? I’m sure the answer is “it depends” which is a fair answer for any day. In the midst of whatever is ahead of you, are you geeked about what lies ahead or do you have an overwhelming sense of dread?

Now, I know these hypothetical questions are broad generalizations. Rarely do we have a day that is an either/or reality. Our days don’t present themselves in such absolute terms. However, you wouldn’t know that because the vast majority of people heading to their jobs tomorrow start with the same reaction before they enter their workplace.

They pause, take in a massively deep breath and then . . . SIGH !!

It’s true. Whatever is sitting at our desk, out on the floor or in the field, we see the worst outcome first. Think of that !! We head into another new day with a sigh because our mind assures us that something negative is sure to smack us squarely in the face. How often has that truly happened? I would think that it’s rare unless you are seeking that because it’s been your typical experience. (If a negative outcome is your regular experience, I would encourage you to find a new job !!)

I’ve noticed something about how people view their work that is very unsettling. Everyone feels that the only reason for their existence is to solve problems because “everything” is broken. It truly isn’t, but that’s how people approach their jobs. We feel better when we fix things because we think it defines our worth. It is very important that we do “get things done” on a daily basis, but it isn’t because everything is broken.

Organizations keep perpetuating and expecting this martyr approach to performance. In fact, we reward and promote those who are great “doers” far more than we do those who are strategic and accomplish things as well. If you step back and look at this, “everything” can’t be broken or companies wouldn’t exist in the first place. So, why do we keep making this the norm for our daily existence all the way from the C-Suite to the front line?

Let’s change this. Seriously. Let’s stop the sighs.

How would your day look if you were eager to jump in and take on the work laid in front of you? Instead of looking as everything as fractured and ineffective, what if you looked at the opportunities to take existing systems and improve them?

We should perform and make work better. As HR professionals, that “work” is humans. I’m sure you don’t look at your role this way, but it’s the truth. We have the opportunity to jump into the work week, and honestly every day, to engage, interact and encourage every person we encounter. Our approach to our work and the great people we work with is the key. You can’t expect people to have a positive attitude towards their roles if you aren’t positive yourself. So, if your day starts with a sigh, guess what you’re going to expect from others who are coming with work with you.

This week turn things around for yourself and, eventually, your workplace. We’re fortunate to have jobs that provide a living for ourselves, our staff as well as a product/service valued by our guests and consumers. What an incredible landscape that is full of options and an environment where we can utilize our talents and strengths. This isn’t Utopian, it’s what truly lies in front of you every. single. day.

Stop the sighs. Believe in yourself and in others instead !!

Callie

This past week has been a whirlwind. Each week I have is full, and I’m fortunate for that. I have some great things going on at work, and I was able to also have the opportunity to speak at the Vermont SHRM State Conference and attend a SHRM Board meeting. Any time I can be near my HR peers and get to know them more, do good work and share some laughs along the way, my bucket is filled.

However, this week, my bucket leaked a little.

Several years ago, my dear friend Matt Stollak, was talking to me about his HR Students at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin. He is a phenomenal human who also happens to teach people to become the future practitioners in our profession. Matt always has fond stories of his students, but one in particular made a profound difference in my life. One day he reached out and wanted to make sure that I connected with one of his students named Callie. I sent her a note to connect and she jumped on the request right away.

Callie was eager, interesting and engaged the first moment that we talked. She was always smiling, ready to share a jab and challenge your perspective because she wanted to learn more and more about HR. When I started to get to know her, she was the SHRM student chapter President. She interviewed me for a paper of hers and kept in touch until she graduated. When she entered the workforce, we stayed connected and I loved seeing her start to dig in and grow as a peer in HR.

Our paths crossed over the years at various SHRM events because she remained involved as a SHRM volunteer leader for the Wisconsin SHRM State Council as both the Social Media Director and College Relations Director. I’ve been active and volunteering for two decades now, so I had a good chance of running into her. Just a short time ago she left the corporate world of HR and actually joined SHRM as an employee. Her role was as a Field Services Director which meant she would visit State Councils and local SHRM chapters and conferences to work/meet with SHRM volunteer leaders. It was great to see her join in and give the role a new viewpoint and energy !!

As I kept staying involved myself, I saw Callie more regularly because I had stepped into different roles which allowed me to travel and speak around the country. Every time I was at an event with Callie we would chat, catch up and laugh (of course.) She was a bright light that I couldn’t wait to see. She was continuing to flourish and improve the lives of so many people, and I loved seeing her thrive !! She even recently stepped into the role of overseeing College Relations and the Young Professionals efforts of SHRM National.

A few months ago, she called me and shared some incredibly grave news. She told me she hadn’t been feeling well and the doctors she had visited couldn’t figure out what was happening to her. After multiple visits to doctors, she was told she had Stage 4 stomach cancer. I was crushed. I thanked her for letting me know, but I felt absolutely helpless.

I reassured her that I would check in and be available for her at any time. I am a man of faith, and I told her that she would be in my prayers. This wasn’t a hollow sentiment. She told me that she was facing a fierce regimen of chemotherapy, but was hopeful that since she was younger, she would get through.

A week ago, Matt reached out and told me that Callie was given 4 to 6 weeks to live. Now I was devastated. I reached out that day to text her and tell her how much she meant to me and to so many others. I told her that she needed to know that she was a light who made a lasting impact on everyone she encountered. I also told her that my life was better because she had been in it. Again, not a hollow sentiment.

I then heard that she was going to meet with hospice this week. After I had spoken at the Vermont SHRM conference and had a packed room filled with more HR peers who were laughing and looking at life and HR in a positive way, I got the news that Callie had passed.

Picture with dear friends at SHRM18 in Chicago. From left to right: Michelle Kohlof, me, Mary Williams, Callie Zipple and Anthony Paradiso.

There are no good words for how much I’m affected by her passing. I know that the loss of anyone is never easy. I ache in a way that seems to have no end because Callie is no longer here. I’m crushed for her husband and family as well.

I reached out to Matt to ask if he thought sharing the news on social media would be okay. I wanted to be respectful, but also wanted to let others know that were fortunate enough to have met and known Callie. He thought it would be fine. When I shared, I was floored by the incredible response and outpouring of love and support. She HAD made a difference !!

I’m writing this today for two reasons: (1) I needed to make sure that even more people knew about my friend Callie. (2) I wanted this to be a reminder for all of us.

You see, Callie engaged every. single. person she encountered. She met them with interest, joy and a willing ear to listen. She didn’t look past anyone to get to something, or someone, more important. People mattered to Callie.

My friends, we have the same opportunity that Callie took every. day. We are surrounded by people in our families, our workplaces and in our communities. Are you taking the time to engage with others? Do they matter?

Do you know that YOU may be the one person who chose to stop, connect and listen at the exact moment someone needed to be noticed and heard? The people who are in your life are there for a reason.

You need to remember that you make an impression on people any time you meet them. Those interactions can be positive and lasting if you choose to be intentional and step into the lives of others on purpose. You can be the one interaction to remind them that they matter.

Callie did that for me as well as for so many others, and I am eternally grateful that she did.

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 !!