HR Kaleidoscope !!

This past week I was fortunate to present to my home SHRM chapter the Greater Cincinnati HR Association (GCHRA). It was special to me because this is the place where I “grew up” as an HR professional. They provided the laboratory to get to meet peers in the field, learn and develop HR skills and learn to grow in the role as a volunteer leader. To be asked to come back and now present to the chapter was amazing.

Please note that I never take the opportunity of speaking at HR events for granted. It is something that gives me energy because few things in life get me more geeked than being with other HR peers !! I was also eager to try out a new “personal workshop” based on my book – HR on Purpose !! The reason I was eager was that I was trying out a new concept for attendees.

The concept is this – I think attendees at HR events expect the speaker to wave some magic wand through their presentation and give people black and white takeaways. These takeaways will be perfect when used regardless of the industry or how HR is viewed in their organization. This just isn’t true. If it was, then we’d all need to hear one presentation from one speaker and then all of our challenges would be solved.

The reason this was framed as a personal workshop is that we discussed topics and concepts, and then everyone took time to write down what mattered to them. Here was the next radical move – no one shared what they wrote down !! No one complained or felt on the spot.

I think that every HR practitioner follows many of the same concepts in their role. However, every company is different. Also, HR has to be pliable and morph into different shapes and sizes because people are unique. We can’t keep thinking that the one approach fits all works. It never has and never will. Why ?? Because HR is a kaleidoscope.

Did you ever have a kaleidoscope as a kid? They are one of the coolest toys because no matter how many times you look through them, the pattern is different. It’s a simple toy. Metal tube (the best are made of tin.) Tiny bits of colored plastic enclosed at one end of the tube that move loosely while still being a bit contained. The end of the tube where the colored bits are can be twisted and rotated to make things roll around and give you a new picture. The only other aspect is looking up towards the light so you can catch the different fractals as they move.

This is just how HR is in reality. We need to look to the light (or positive) side of what we do. Then, move things around and we’ll see the colorful bits (our people) move, shift and perform to make new pictures and results.

After the workshop, several people came up and shared that they had been looking at HR the same way for years and years. Having some time to hear a different perspective and then write down some things to act upon reenergized them. They left eager to apply something they learned based on what THEY needed !! It’s not a novel concept, it’s just something we’ve not done.

Going to HR events, chapter meetings and conferences is essential so that you get your batteries recharged and you also meet, and hang out with, your HR compatriots. The key is to twist your kaleidoscope and no longer go just to be motivated and jacked up by a speaker. Try something new and take notes that work for YOU so that you can continue to grow and thrive in all you do !!

I recommend that you do one more thing. Buy a kaleidoscope for yourself and keep in in your workplace as a reminder to keep HR fresh and colorful all the time. I have one that I look at all the time. It works !!

What Are You Reading ??

I know that it is a bit odd to ask what you’re reading when it’s currently this blog. But, I want to delve a bit deeper than the obvious because I’ve seen a flurry of posts and efforts asking if you’re reading books. And, if you are, which books are you reading?

I don’t think this is a mistake and I’m encouraged that interest in book reading has surfaced once again. I’m a book reader. I love being a traditionalist when it comes to books. I understand that using readers are convenient and you can take them everywhere. I just happen to be someone who likes to feel the pages and read from either a hardcover or paperback.

I love that books are having a resurgence because we honestly don’t read enough. We are a society of “watchers.” This isn’t right or wrong. It’s just how we spend our time. The reading we do is in snipets and quick hits because we feel we don’t have enough time for more. We’re glued to screens. Trust me. As I type this, I’m including myself in this mix.

There are many reasons to read books. My favorite reason is that they continue to expand your horizons and keep your imagination alive. We need to use something to feed this urge because if we don’t, our thoughts atrophy. This is career limiting and we don’t even see it.

Too often we get stuck in a pattern that seems to mimic walking around in circles. This is true in our work and in our lives. If there isn’t something that adds a spark of interest, or a distraction, we’ll just keep plodding on and on making a deeper and deeper rut that keeps us from looking around.

One of the great opportunities that we have in HR is that we can infuse life and new ideas into our roles and into the workplace. I would even be so bold as to say that HR would be more valuable than it is already if we took this approach. Instead of working so diligently to keep people “in line”, why don’t we take new approaches to help them perform?

How can you do this? Read. A. Book.

Take an assessment of what is/isn’t going on in your workplace and then find books that can help you learn about different methods. It doesn’t mean that you will find a single method/model to solve what you’re facing. But, if you don’t learn about new ideas, you’ll continue to do what you know and nothing else. You don’t have to only read HR and business related books either. It’s great to read books from all types of genres because your brain gets charged and is interested to take in more and more. We make our company’s better when we bring new ideas to be considered.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started. The first is to subscribe to Goodreads. We always do better when others join in around us. If you’re a part of Goodreads, you share the books you’re enjoying and see what your friends are reading as well. You may get ideas for books you never considered !! The other effort is being launched by Laurie Ruettimann called the #HRBookClub. Laurie is encouraging people to join in and read a book a month. Think of that !! You’ll have 12 books read after one year. Very cool.

I’m not going to try to sway you to read one book or another. I will encourage you though to read. You have the time. I hope you join in this movement because you may find the idea that has just been out of reach. Expand your horizons and get out of your rut. It’s worth it !!

 

The Best Present !!

As the clock ticks toward Christmas, the hype and push for more purchasing increases. It almost reaches a frenetic pace. It seems that the message is that if you don’t make that one final purchase, then your entire holiday season will be less wonderful. The stress that people put on themselves and others in order to gain one more gift that will keep their interest for a day or less is incredible.

Please understand that this isn’t a rant against the cultural trappings of Christmas. My house if fully decorated in almost every room and our light display outside can be seen for blocks. I look forward to going to worship for Christmas Eve and singing Silent Night with a lighted candle in my hand. I enjoy Christmas time and all of it’s sounds, smells and sights. It is a time for me to explore my faith and look forward to the coming year ahead.

This year, something hit me more directly than it had before. I finally have come to terms with what the best present is that I can give someone else. You can’t find it in any store or on any website. It is the easiest gift to give, and yet it often is the hardest to willingly release.

The best present I can give anyone is my presence !!

The one thing I have the most of is my time. It’s something that my family and friends deserve without distraction. I’ve said this before, but I feel it needs to be said again and again. I have more time than I know what to do with. If I don’t have enough time, it’s because of what I choose to do with the time I have. I’m not unique in this. It’s the truth for everyone. The challenge is that we’d rather give people “stuff” than we would ourselves.

I would love to see this change in the coming year. I’d love to see people being present when they have conversations at work, in HR and wherever you encounter others. It may seem impossible because we’re so connected to countless forms of technology. We can’t seem to peel away for even one minute in case we miss a “like”, a retweet or a video. We rarely look up to see the eyes of those we’re talking to. This is happening in meetings, hallways and break rooms.

I’m not against being connected. Far from it. I enjoy the various forums that have allowed me to become more and more connected with folks from around the globe. What I’m asking you to consider is that when you are having a conversation with someone, pay attention to them – and them only. This will take a concerted effort and won’t feel natural. You’ll have to trust me that if you do this, both your day and the day of the person you’ll talking to will improve. It won’t matter if the situation is easy or difficult. What will matter is that the person you’re talking to will see that you’re present. It’s worth your time to listen, and it will be something so different than what others are normally used to.

This year, give a gift to others that you already have – yourself.

 

Moved to Tears

The holidays seem to raise the level of emotions everywhere you go. My wife has the Hallmark Channel on seemingly 24/7 to take in every Christmas movie she can. I peek in every once in awhile as well. It’s great to watch a story with a positive ending !! The mad rush of people gathering gifts that they feel compelled to give to others that may/may not need them. People are more generous during this season and do more to volunteer their time and resources to worthwhile causes.

There also heightened levels of stress, depression and a myriad of feelings when it comes to family gatherings, times of  worship and the inevitable holiday parties at work. All of those make me even more sensitive to my surroundings. You see, I’m emotional all of the time. I know. I know. Everyone is emotional all of the time. However, I am moved at the slightest movement of emotions all around me.

It may sound a little odd, but I am swallowed by the emotions of others. It isn’t just media that I watch. It’s everything. I can be moved to tears by a conversation that happens in my office that wasn’t expected in the least. I always have a ready box of tissue for those who visit me, and for me as well. I realize that there are many folks who view this as a weakness both personally and professionally. There are blogs written about keeping our emotions in check all the time. We are scolded and told to keep those pesky feelings to ourselves. We are to gather for “work” for goodness sake !!

Can’t do it. Won’t do it. It’s difficult to sense the ups and downs of those that work with me and not be affected myself. I’ve shed tears when having conversations with my staff, my boss, executives, volunteer leaders, pizza cooks and many more. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t weep daily. I just make sure to stay open and willing to engage people based on how they’re feeling.

I believe it’s far more valuable to be vulnerable than it is to be jaded.

There are risks in being someone who is moved to tears. There are those who will work with you who will be vocal and may even scoff or deride you. I don’t agree with pitting people against each other ever. It’s detrimental to a company’s culture and it’s leadership. I believe that people should be genuine. Period.

I feel that employees are looking for an HR function that understands the emotions they experience. They aren’t hoping for a system, process or policy. It’s so much more simple than what many consider “go to” methods to practice HR. People want to be heard, acknowledged and understood. That means getting emotional.

I want to encourage you to stop bottling in all that is going on when the feelings and emotions of others come at you. It’s not healthy, and it will assuredly lead to burnout, judgement of others and bitterness. None of those things will allow you to be an effective human resources practitioner.

My kids often poke fun because I’ll get misty at human interest stories at the end of a newscast, a SC Featured story on ESPN, or an episode of This is Us. I will even hear a piece of music and my eyes will well up. I’m good with that. You see, I don’t view being moved to tears as something that makes me a lesser person. I do it because I strive to see the beauty in others. I hope you will too.

(Here’s an example that gets me every time. It is just beautiful !! Take a few minutes out of your day to enjoy Freddie Mercury from Queen and acclaimed soprano Monserrat Cabellé. Yep, shed a tear when I posted it.)

One Thing Leads to Another !!

There’s a myth in the workplace that I’d like to take on, and hopefully debunk. The majority of work that occurs every day regardless of industry is that we strive to be “done.” It consumes us. Entire strategic plans are regularly based on things getting done.

We compensate based on things being done. We establish on-going, and often unrealistic, goals so that people can spend all of their daily efforts towards getting things done. It’s the basis of management theory and it’s how we make organizational design and allow for promotions.

Now, I understand that we need to have completion on projects and tasks. We can’t just keep floating in a constant state of partial accomplishments. The challenge is that when we seek to just get “done”, we’re actually looking for relief. We don’t want to have things completed, we want them to stop. Every task and project has a life. But, if our goal is to have things end so we can breathe, what does that say about how we approach work?

I think this mentality, approach and organizational drive is limiting how much can truly be accomplished !! I mean it. Because our focus is so narrow and limited to getting things “done,” we shrink the possibilities of things unknown, untested ideas and new innovation. I think that if we keep following the mantra of getting things “done” we will never realize the greatness that organizations, and their people, should easily achieve.

The group that is most notorious for this mentality is HR !! We want every box checked, every signature authenticated and every policy followed. When things don’t get done (i.e. performance reviews), we hunt people and shame them into making sure things can be checked off a list. Ugh. We perpetuate the fact that if items have any sort of fluidity chaos will surely ensue. It’s just not true. It never has been. The fact is that most work occurs like clockwork with little to no monitoring at all.

I think it’s time for understand the reality of work and that it’s on a continuum. The great band from the 80’s, The Fixx, captured this when they sang “One Thing Leads to Another.” It’s true. Work is an on-going flow of one thing constantly building on top of another.

Don’t you see this? This fact actually leads to frustration as well because people feel they can’t ever get off the never ending treadmill.  We complain about the next item that comes up instead of understanding that it’s natural. If we would step back and know that another item is waiting for our attention and skills, I think we’d be in a healthier place.

I recommend that you strive for completion of milestones and benchmarks. Yes, I know that means you’re “done” with a phase or facet of what you’re working on. However, it establishes your mindset to get ready for the next step. Celebrate your accomplishments !! Take a breath because nothing is that urgent that you can’t collect yourself, and move on to the next thing – which leads to another !!

 

Shine !!

I look forward to the weekend after Thanksgiving because that is when my family traditionally decorates for Christmas. I’ll hold out every year even though society keeps trying to make the holiday season start earlier and earlier. My favorite part of decorating is putting up lights outside. It’s special because my kids (now adults) always jump in to help. They get geeked about stringing lights, building massive electrical connections and making sure that the coverage is balanced and colorful.

Our family also has a tradition where we’ll get in the car and drive throughout neighborhoods to see the various displays that people have constructed. I like to see actual lights and not these projection systems because I enjoy seeing the creativity that people have. The homes that go crazy and try to drain the local power grid are fantastic !! However, I also enjoy someone who can use light subtly, and still convey an artistic display. I’m also a bit biased to multi-colored lights versus vs. monochromatic yards. But I digress . . .

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

You see we can be the ones who shine in our workplace. We can be that attractive display that people would get out of their office to meet and work with. What would HR be like for you if you were the light in the office and not the bearer of darkness?

I think shining your light is essential for HR. It’s actually easier that you may think because you are in control of how you approach your work as well as how you interact with others. I’m not talking about putting on some fake trappings to be peppy just for show. No one wants that. Shining to dispel the darkness is much more welcomed, and needed, in our workplaces.

We tend to think that making people feel good and enjoy what they do is a “waste of time” or an unnecessary “soft skill.” People are supposed to come to WORK, and that is all. (Insert giggle of disbelief here). The idea that people show up only to do their job is a misguided myth. Yes, they do their jobs. And, more often than not, they do it willingly even though they receive little encouragement or regular feedback.

Shining your light breaks up the drudgery of work. Being a beacon of light allows employees to look up from the grind of what they do to catch their breath and know they’ve been acknowledged and recognized. It’s time that HR intentionally be the light within their organization and push back the attitudes and approaches that look to force control and possibly anguish.

I understand that being someone who shines may not come naturally to some, but I encourage you to push through. Trust me. If you are someone who brings light to situations, you will be successful in all you do. It’s such a missing facet of today’s workplaces, that people will respond because they’re longing for it.

The key is to be the light in your organization year-round and not just during a season. It will be surprising to others at first, but how cool would it be if it became the norm? It would rock !!

(To give you a little nudge, I leave you with this gem from the 90’s !!)

Friends in HR !!

HR is often a profession practiced in isolation. That’s unfortunate but true. HR folks are isolated both inside their organization somewhat because of the nature of the work that we do, and outside because HR people are reluctant to connect on purpose. I find that amazingly ironic that we work with humans all day, but don’t have many HR connections. I understand that people have different capacities when it comes to how many connections they have, but to continue to work in an isolated manner will only hurt you in your career.

Why are we so hesitant in connecting? Do we just want to get away from our work and we feel that if we have HR friends, we never really break away? Is it because we are slow to trust people?

I’m sure there are other questions that may answer this situation. However, I think that if you’re alone, you need to remedy that. Please note that what I’m encouraging you to consider is far more than networking. I think you should have friends who work in HR.

This past week I had the opportunity to travel to Nebraska to meet new HR folks in both Omaha and Grand Island. I then went to the annual Volunteer Leader Summit in Washington, D.C. where I saw many old friends as well as met many new HR peers. These events are extremely invigorating for me !! I feed off the idea of meeting new people – especially those who are in HR.

During my time in D.C., I was fortunate to go to the retirement celebration of SHRM CEO Hank Jackson. We gathered at The Phillips Collection museum which has a limited exhibit of Renoir paintings including the famous Luncheon of the Boating Party. A docent from the museum spent about 15 minutes explaining all of the nuances of this French impressionism masterpiece. I’m a huge art geek and I could have listened to her for hours. The one point that she made about the piece was that the boating party Renoir painted was made up of his friends. His friends !! in

Having friends in HR is necessary because they DO understand what you face on a daily basis. They DO feel the same ups and downs. They want to be included in their organizations as partners and contributors. The anxiety and concern that you may have in your head about stepping out to have friends just isn’t the case.

You see, we all want to belong. It’s innately human. Since we work in a field where we don’t have many friends internally within our companies, we need to find some outside. Whenever I go to HR events to speak or attend, I seek out HR peers to make sure to get to know them and get them to break out of the funk they’re too often sinking in. I do this by intentionally taking time to greet them, talk to them and learn something unique about them, and get them connected with others. I can’t stand seeing people remain isolated.

Are you isolated? Fix that. Reach out to someone else in HR and make a friend. Someone who will listen, grow and thrive with you. What’s the result in doing this? Your friends will become YOUR masterpiece !!

Just Twirl !!

Every week I get to see joy unlike anything else around. I’m a greeter at my church and there’s a young family who has two kids – a boy and a girl. As they come up to the front door, their daughter comes running up and jumps in the air to come to a complete stop. She then looks up and her eyes are sparkling with anticipation. She waits for me to ask, “Well, are you going to twirl?”

She then puts her arms out as far as she can and twirls so her dress spins in a perfect circle. She giggles uncontrollably as she twirls. When she comes to a stop, she gathers herself and runs inside. She does this every week regardless of the weather or if there’s just me at the door or a gathering of people. She is fierce and undaunted.

I stopped her mom one Sunday and told her how much I enjoyed her daughter’s enthusiasm. Ironically, when I mentioned that, she sighed with exasperation. I asked her what was causing her sigh. She explained that her daughter looks at dresses for hours the night before trying to decided which one to wear. I told her that I thought this was magnificent !! Her daughter couldn’t wait to get ready to share her joy.

The young mother said she never looked it that way. Then she smiled, gave me a hug and said, “Thank you. Thank you for noticing my daughter.” I told her that her daughter’s joy is catching and that people can’t wait to see her.

I hope that this little girl never loses her unabashed joy as she grows up. Chances are though, she will. “Life” will start happening and she’ll hear more and more adults scold her to keep her in line to make sure she fits the norms of school, church, work, and her social interactions will become muted. People will expect that she falls in line because that’s what we want from everyone.

I know this sounds harsh, but it’s the reality that we face. Now, I don’t agree with it whatsoever. In fact, I try to push against this shaping of people any chance I can. Organizations are built around conformity and we willing participate. HR must be the field that turns this around. We must.

What would a culture look like if people had joy and were able to express it? It’s gets me geeked to even imagine it !! In order to do this we need to reshape our approach on a daily basis. It starts with us and no one else. I know way too many HR peers who are miserable. I wish they’d be more honest with themselves. You don’t have to be in a bad place. HR can, and should, bring you joy. If it’s not currently doing that, then I encourage you to take steps to get out of your funk.

Once you have joy, it spreads. You can’t help it or stop it. This sounds simple, but practicing it is hard. Taking the steps is worth it because as people experience joy interacting with you, they’ll start catching sparks themselves. They in turn will start spreading joy.

We’ve forgotten how to twirl.

This week jump up and come to a complete stop. Throw your arms out to your side and look fiercely forward. Then . . . twirl. It’s time to recapture your joy.

The 2nd Cut

I love working in the yard !! I mean it. It’s cathartic for me to be able to get away from regular day-to-day activities and just lose myself outside. My yard is full of mature trees that are now in their full natural color. The leaves had their big reveal later than usual this year. There is now a bright mix of oranges, yellows and reds highlighting the landscape.

I used to rake for hours and hours to bag the leaves and put them at the curb for them to be picked up. That was enjoyable because you could make giant piles to jump in which was a family tradition. For the past few years, I use my lawn mower to cut the leaves up and mulch them down into the grass. Mowing the lawn at my house is a true workout. When the grass is not too overgrown, it takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours to cut. When the leaves start to turn my lawn into a colorful blanket, that time doubles.

This weekend I ventured out into the yard, turned on tunes from my iPod, and started to mow. I was flying through the yard and truly enjoying myself. The side yard didn’t have many leaves, but the main part of the front yard was a different story. After I made the first pass, it looked as if I hadn’t even used the mower. So, I made a second cut. It looked so much better after the second cut was complete.

Since I had tons of yard left to go, it gave me time to think about how this is very similar to HR and to work in general. We see the layers of work in front of us, and our desire is to “get things done.” Completion is our goal. It is almost consuming because we either have this as a personal expectation, or we feel real (or perceived) pressure from our organization. There is such a demand on completion that we want to see this happen just to relieve pressure from all that is going on around us.

Don’t get me wrong, getting things completed is necessary in our work in order for things to move forward. It’s not reasonable to let things hang open for long periods of time. However, in the rush to get things done, we often leave tasks partially fragmented and not as complete as we say they are. It’s like making the first cut. The lawn is “done” but not what it could be. We need to make the second cut.

We hesitate to do this because a second cut takes more time. So, instead of taking a bit more time, we knock things out in order to pass things on to others. This can result in rework. When you look at the time it takes to address any fragments or rework, aren’t you better off making the second cut the first time? We can’t let time be the factor that keeps us from doing the best job we can. I understand that being timely and deadlines are useful if they’re consistent and sustainable. They need to be measured against the effectiveness of the work that is produced.

It took me over four hours this weekend to complete the second cut, and my lawn looked fantastic . . . for about an hour. More leaves began their decent and I’m sure there will be more second cuts coming – and I can’t wait !!

Don’t Be a Zombie !!

It’s the week of Halloween, and I know that HR is scary overall. It doesn’t have to be, but many people position it as a field that is daunting, challenging and often overwhelming. When I hear these descriptions of human resources, I can empathize that there may be seasons where these feelings occur.

We don’t like to admit it, but there are times when people go through the motions at work. It happens at every level of the organization because we all fall into patterns of repetition at times. You’ll get overly perky HR folks that will swear that this never happens because they “love people.” Don’t believe it. We all hit dry spells.

Have you had this happen? You start yet another day at work and it seems like you travel the same path, do the same tasks in order and then look up to see that another day has flown by without you even noticing. If you don’t break out of this malaise, you become an HR Zombie. You seem lifeless as you stumble down the hall with an audible groan slipping out of your lips with each shuffled step.

I know there are times when you’d like to eat the brains of the people who frustrate you at work. However, that isn’t very productive. To avoid falling into this pit of being mundane, you need to take some very conscious steps. You can’t just wish your way out of it because it is like being stuck in some green ooze that just seems to swallow you the more you struggle. Here are some ways to avoid becoming an HR zombie !!

Be Passionate !!

We keep looking at passion as something that should occur on special occasions when you can really get jacked up about what’s happening. That is wonderful, but you can’t sustain things when they are a series of peaks and valleys. HR should drive you because it offers variety, nuance and opportunity every day. People are unpredictable, and that gives you the chance to assist them through the swamps they may be facing.

Find other HR folks who are full of life !!

Instead of succumbing to other zombies wandering around the office, reach out and connect with other HR pros. We can’t practice alone. We need viable, life-filled connections of our own who will life us out of the muck when it tries to pull us down. There are tons of HR pros who love what they do and who welcome the chance to be intentionally connected. Reach out and do this !!

Be a zombie hunter !!

The best way to avoid becoming a zombie is to find others who are already lurching around the office and “take them out.” I don’t mean that you should get rid of them. You can, however, break them out of their funk. Get in front of them and see what is dragging them down. Do all that you can to alter that pattern and chip away at what’s nagging at them. You’ll be surprised as to how many people come back to life.

This week, take a look and see if you’re stuck in a rut and if you’re groaning a bit too much. If you are, take the steps to breathe life back into your HR role. You’ll be glad you did !!