The Best Gift to Give !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dig In !!

Entering December, the last place I thought I’d be was out in my yard doing one last round of yard work, but that’s where I was this Sunday !! I spent over 3 1/2 hours cutting down dead items from our many flower beds, picking up sticks from countless trees and mowing leaves. We have one magnificent maple that never lets it’s leaves drop until at least Thanksgiving. Yesterday we had over an 1 1/2 inches of rain, so yard work was a bit sloppy.

At the end of this session of toiling through my clean-up, I was spent. I knew I would be. I’m not complaining in the least. It’s a great feeling to put all of your effort into your work and then collapse. I stumbled into a boiling shower and watched the brown water seep slowly down the drain. I slipped into some tie-dye (of course), jeans and took four Motrin for the impending achefest that was sure to come in the next few hours. I eased down the staircase and plopped on the couch, pulled out my laptop and started this post.

Do you lose yourself in your thoughts whenever you have an extended time alone? I absolutely do !! This most recent undertaking allowed my mind to wander and contemplate how getting your hands dirty relates to HR.

I admire people who have an occupation using their hands to accomplish their role. I truly do and always have. Being in HR, I tend to be in an office setting more often than not. Now, I understand that an office job is still work. This isn’t comparing one versus another.

However, most HR people I know practice at arm’s length. We don’t like jumping in and getting dirty. We’d rather pull out some handbook or manual and slowly flip through each page in order to apply some policy to situations we face. We have the misunderstanding that the written word can solve any interaction we have with employees. It just isn’t true.

You see, people are messy AND wonderful !! That is an inevitable fact of being human. So, instead of practicing HR from a visible distance, why don’t you dig in? I think it’s needed because no situation is crystal clear. Not one. You’re missing out by sitting back and trying to “interact” with people from a desk or a manual.

Even though the idea of spending hours in my yard meant sure exhaustion. The result of a clean yard and manicured landscaping was worth the time and effort. The same can be said by being intentional and digging in every time you have the opportunity to work with employees. Your time and effort may be taxing and leave you tired at the end of each day. But, isn’t that amazing ??

Whenever I hear my peers yearn for value and validation because of their work in HR, I want to remind them that what they’re looking for is always right in front of them. This week reach out with your hands and dig in !!

Follow the Flow !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Spice It Up !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drop the Mic !!

This past week I was fortunate to be a part of the Illinois SHRM State Conference. I was scheduled to be a speaker and was geeked to have the opportunity !! As I was sitting in the terminal before my flight from Cincinnati to Chicago, I received an email from the conference organizer. She put a question to me that was completely out of the blue. She asked if I would be the conference emcee.

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t expecting to see this request because I knew who was going to be the emcee and was at first concerned. It turns out that a work issue came up that he had to address. When I knew he was okay, I enthusiastically said that I’d step in !!

Being the emcee allows you to set the tone for the event. I was fortunate because I personally knew each of the speakers that I introduced. I also had a relationship with the Illinois SHRM volunteer leaders, and that set the stage for something I’ve always wanted to experience at an HR conference.

You see, when I go to an HR conference, I want to meet every attendee. This isn’t an exaggeration. I truly do. I know that this isn’t normal and that’s okay with me. It’s always been hard to try and reach this goal because people tend to avoid contact – even HR people. Most people have so many things going on in their personal lives as well as situations at work that they are looking for an escape. Sure, they want to learn from sessions and they’re also looking for credits towards their HR certification. But I find that few people want to genuinely meet others that they don’t already know.

I understand that I’m off the chart on the extroversion scale, and I’m good with that. What I can’t understand is why you’d pay to go to an event with peers who are potential resources and completely ignore them in order to grab a seat in a session or a plate of food in a buffet line.

So, since I had the microphone, the tone I chose to set was one that expressed the value of having personalized connections. Not one speaker that I introduced had a bio read. Instead, I shared stories about them as people and how much I learned from them and their insights. I was also able to thank Dave Ryan, the ILSHRM State Director, for his service by writing him a note full of song titles from The Eagles (one of his favorite groups.)

Then, the goal I have yearned for at an HR conference happened. I dropped the mic and was able to meander throughout the entire venue to greet everyone. With every “Hello” came a smile and a “Thank you” for them choosing to attend. I didn’t let one person get by me. Oddly enough, everyone returned both my greeting and my smile. Many also laughed and engaged with me.

You see people want to be acknowledged. People want to belong. This is especially true for those of us in HR. We spend so much time pouring into the lives of others that we often forget ourselves. I think this needs to change for ALL of HR and at EVERY HR conference.

A friend of mine on Twitter asked this week what would make HR conferences better – this is it.

From now on, take the time to look up and meet the others in your profession who came to learn just like you. Don’t settle for just attending sessions. Meet the great people you’re with as well. You’ll be glad you did !!

 

Some Assembly Required !!

This past weekend I was helping my son get ready for his senior year at Ohio University by moving some of his big items to his new apartment off campus. I’m a proud OU alum and I’m geeked to see my son enter his final year of college, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him !!

Moving furniture has drastically changed compared to when I went to college. We would either fill a small U-Haul truck or take several cars in a caravan down the highway. We had two cars for this trip, but everything was in boxes. I mean the furniture was in boxes !! You see we went to IKEA to get a bed and a dresser.

I’m a huge fan of IKEA. How cool is it that you can get furniture that is functional and practical all in boxes? Yes, it takes some time to assemble everything, but it’s worth it. You can get every type of furniture as well from beds to sofas to dressers to shelves. One of the very unique aspects of buying furniture from IKEA is the instructions that come with the piece.

The instructions only include pictures. There are no words. None. It’s very strange because if you’ve ever assembled anything else, they seem to be covered with more words than pictures. Also, there are tons of parts involved to make even the most simple box !! As I was assembling the furniture along with my son, I couldn’t help think how these instructions correlate very much with HR.

Some assembly required – We never have a “typical” day in HR despite our best efforts to follow a set pattern or schedule. Distractions are really our norm which causes us to alter our days.

We all need direction – This is more true than we care to admit. We tend to think in terms that leaders and managers direct people. That may be the case, but employees at all levels need directions !! In the IKEA instructions they break it down as to even which way something should be turned in order for the piece to be tightened. The key is that the directions are simplified and given step by step. This is something we should emulate !!

Every step is necessary – Too often in today’s business climate, expediency is valued much more than being thorough. It’s assumed that being thorough will slow down things to a screeching halt. This just isn’t the case. When you’re working with people, you need to make sure that you take time with them and not just rush to the next item that grabs your attention.

HR is heavy !! – Have you ever lifted a box from IKEA? They are crazy heavy when you take on the whole piece and it’s unassembled. You even can get discouraged because when you experience the weight you can’t imagine the final product will every come together. Practicing HR is like this as well. We can get swallowed by the weight of what we do. However, we need to be encouraged and realize that the work that we put in will bring forth a great, completed solution.

You need tools – You can’t assemble any piece of IKEA furniture with instructions alone. You need tools. It’s a solid reminder for HR pros as well. We need to develop and equip others, not just list instructions. When people have context, they know what to do and they can perform even better. Spend more time equipping others !!

The project came together after a mere five hours. We ended up with a great bed and a dresser !! Every item was used and ended up in it’s rightful place. His apartment is going to be great.

This week step back and look at how you’re practicing HR and make sure that you give instructions that are simple, equip others with tools and take the time and patience it needs to “assemble” the people you work beside !!

 

Leave the Cupboard !!

This weekend I’ve been binging Harry Potter movies . . . once again. It’s hard for me to turn away when they come on. This weekend the SyFy channel picked them up and it’s been great !!

If you’re not familiar with the stories, Harry originally stayed with his aunt and uncle who didn’t want him there. In fact, he live in a “cupboard under the stairs.” They didn’t like him being in their house and they didn’t like that he was “different.” When he was young, he was at his relative’s bidding and wasn’t able to get out. After Harry finds out he’s a young wizard, the series takes off and he is no longer held captive.

This information is readily available in the books, the movies, online and fan clubs I’m sure. I know this is rather nerdy, and I’m good with that. You see, I also tend to see HR applications in almost everything.

For far too long HR has remained in the cupboard under the stairs organizationally. We continue to practice as a fringe support function that is accessed when, and only if, needed. It leads to a lonely, frustrating existence. And yet, we do little to push against the way we’re treated. It’s as if we’re being held back just like Harry because what we offer our companies is seen as different.

I love that my peers are empathetic, caring people towards others in the company. By stepping out and leaving our normal surroundings, we don’t forsake this. It’s an attribute that should define us as humans overall and especially within the workplace. It shouldn’t, however, mean that we cower in the shadows only to step out at certain times. We are overdue in standing up, being confident and being seen, heard and valued.

I understand that this can be a daunting undertaking for most. It can be so challenging that it may force people to stay in place because that is more comfortable. There is an easy step that you can take which will start to broaden your perspective and give you the courage to move forward.

When you ask people what consumes the majority of their time during the day, they’d immediately respond “their work.” This isn’t really the case. Our reality is that our days are consumed with people. Conversations with people. Interactions with people. Issues with people. And so on . . .

So, the first step is something that I make sure to practice every day. Leave your desk and be out among others. It seems so simple, but very few willingly do it. We tend to talk to others in our company using our HR face and HR voice. I mean that we feel we “have” to talk to others in order to get some transaction completed. I understand that we have deadlines, tasks and administration that needs to be current. It shouldn’t be the main reason we meet with others. The main reason for interaction is . . . because they showed up !!

Your days will be so much more fulfilling when your out among others. You’ll learn more about the conversations that are happening, the feelings that are being shared and also the pulse of the organization. You cannot do this behind your desk or computer screen. It’s not possible !!

This week, step away from whatever’s holding you back from having intentional and meaningful encounters with other people. I encourage you not only to do this with co-workers, but HR peers as well. Don’t stay under the stairs. You have too much to offer your organization and your profession !!

Step Out of Line !!

I’ve just returned from SHRM18, and this was one of the best SHRM Annual Conferences I’ve attended. It was the largest and most attended in SHRM’s history, and yet it felt very accessible and easy to maneuver. The attendees were geeked whether they were in sessions, browsing the SHRM store, enjoying the keynotes or taking in the wonder of Chicago.

At the end of one of the days, the 17,000+ attendees all seemed to be leaving at the same time. I was in the midst of everyone else and was hot and tired – just like the masses. I walked out into the city heat to grab a cab and was told to go back in line. I didn’t know there was a line, so I headed back inside. What I saw was staggering !! The queue for the cab line was enormous and folded back on itself many times. The lines for the shuttles seemed to go on forever as well. I also looked at a countless number of attendees looking at their phones waiting for their Uber or Lyft to arrive.

After observing all of this, I tried to lighten the tension by suggesting people step out to get a drink. I was met with scowls and grumbling. This didn’t seem to be going well in general. So, I made a decision.

I stepped out of line !!

I walked out of the cavernous McCormick Center and started walking down a street. I looked at a map on my phone and saw that I had a short 46 minute stroll in front of me as the sky above me darkened with thunderstorm clouds. I didn’t care and kept walking. After about eight expansive Chicago blocks, I spotted a cab by itself across the street. The driver was checking something in his trunk, and he was heading back to get in. I screamed across traffic, “Sir !! Sir !!” He saw me and beckoned me over. I zig zagged through passing traffic and collapsed into the cab dripping with sweat.

The driver calmly greeted me and asked, “Hello !! Where to sir?”

I told the driver my destination and then he began talking. He asked me how my day was and where I was from. He told me he was originally from Lagos, Nigeria and that he had been in Chicago for over ten years. His only job in the states has been driving a cab in Chicago, and he loved it. He loved talking to passengers and hearing about who they were, what they did and why they were visiting Chicago. He was wonderful, welcoming and fascinating !! All of my anxiety and stress of rushing back to get to the next HR event wanted, and we had a fantastic conversation.

As we pulled up to my hotel, I extended my hand out to the driver and said, “My name is Steve.” He replied, “My name is Sunday.” I thanked Sunday for the best experience of my time in Chicago yet.

I never would have met Sunday had I stayed in line. The lines were the most obvious choice because they were the system that was provided and that people were used to. There’s nothing wrong with the system, but it was bogged down. It was leading to frustration and angst because people wanted to get out of the building for the day.

This sounds like HR and the world of work that all of us face. If we would have the courage to step out of line vs. trying to contain people within lines, we’d have a completely different experience every day. We would see what’s happening all around us because we’d be in different environments. We’d have to fend for ourselves and learn how to solve situations from a fresh perspective, and we’d enjoy the adventure !!

All of the “learnings” we can encounter can occur in the most unlikely places. The key for all of us is that we intentionally – step out of line !!

Be A Door Opener !!

Recently, it seems like Linked In has unlocked some vault of invitations. I’m not complaining, but it’s a bit daunting to get a constant stream of requests to connect. I’m not an “open networker”, but I am very comfortable in making connections. I have a slightly different perspective than most though.

Networking seems to be a regular subject for bloggers (including myself). I write about the topic because I don’t see many people network on an on-going basis. Most folks seem to “network” when they’re in the need of a job, and once they land their next gig, they slip back into professional isolation. I don’t understand that. How can people matter when you have a need, but once that need is met they don’t?

I view networking and making connections as a business skill. Having connections gives you the ability to make your company thrive through learning new methods, information and resources that you may not have known about. We tend to work within our four walls and barely lift our head during the day. I know it feels right, and it gets work accomplished. But,  what if there’s a better way?

We need to get past the thought that meeting and connecting with others is a waste of time or a hindrance to “real work.” It’s just not true. So, I have a suggestion for you to consider in making networking effective and fulfilling.

Be a door opener.

What does this entail? It means that connections don’t have to end when you meet with someone or accept their invitation on Linked In. You can take a next step and connect them with another person.

(Quick disclaimers – I understand that we all have a finite amount of time, focus and attention. Not every connection is going to lead to something long-term. Also, I’m not too keen on Linked In becoming the new salesperson’s cold call, but that’s for another time. Let’s continue . . .)

Someone reached out to you at one time to make a connection on purpose. There may have been several factors that led to that connection occurring, but they took the first step. So, if someone did that for you, why wouldn’t you open the door to someone else to make that next connection?

Here’s an example. When I meet someone who is in transition, I let them know that if I’m connected to someone in a company they’re trying to join, I’d be glad to reach out and drop my connection a note on their behalf. I’d open a door. I believe that good people should have great roles in great companies. I rest on the belief that opening these doors will not only help people, but it will also improve companies in the long run.

This is worth my time and it’s my personal choice to do this. The person seeking a job still needs to do the work of interviewing and landing the job. However, opening a door may be the one thing they can’t do solely on their own.

Taking this approach doesn’t only have to work with job seekers. I often meet with vendors who I know that I probably won’t use at the company where I work. However, I feel it matters to meet them because I may know someone else who could use them. If they can grow their business from a connection that I made, then people succeed. That’s always positive !!

This week change your approach to connecting and networking. Refuse to let connections stop with you. Instead, be courageous and connect them to at least one more person down the line. You never know, you may be making a connection for a future teacher, salesperson, entrepreneur, CEO or HR professional. Going forward – open doors.

What’s Your Name ??

Your name.

Everyone has one. The truth is that it is the most significant identifier of who we are as a human. You prefer to have others know your name when they talk to you because it provides a more personal connection. What is unique about names is that we’re very content knowing our own, and that’s about it.

The majority of people I meet willingly share that they struggle remembering the names of others. I find that fascinating and disappointing at the same time. It’s just not true. You know the names of many, many people, but you just don’t recognize it. For instance, you know the names of your immediate family and all of your extended family. Those names may actually extend for generations, and you’re able to recall every one without any effort.

You also know the names of many celebrities that span over decades. You can name the movies or television shows they were in, or the music that they perform. I’m not a celebrity follower, but I know too many of their names myself because they surround us.

So, you know more names than you think. However, the names of the people who pass by you every day are ignored and we “can’t” remember them because we’re “not good with names.”

I think this should change. People were given a name for a reason. To blow this off due to a lack of interest is not a good excuse. I don’t buy it. Why ?? I am good with names. I think that I have the names of thousands of people in my head at one time or another. Some of this may be that I’ve worked at this, but I think it’s also a set of factors that are a bit different than you may consider.

If you’re in HR, then I think it’s imperative that you are good knowing the names of those in your workplace at a minimum. There shouldn’t be an employee that walks through work anonymously. Now, I understand that we all work in company’s of various sizes. It could be very challenging to know every single team member’s name. That doesn’t make it less important, and I have some ways to make it less daunting.

Know that it matters – As mentioned before, our name is our unique identifier. We were given one on purpose. Remember that because remembering the name of other’s will keep you “others” focused which is the best type of HR.

You remember those who impact you or influence you – Remember the celebrity example? You remember those folks with ease because they’ve left some imprint on you. The same is true with your family and friends. So, treat those you work with with the same weight. Be an influence on them and expect them to be an influence on you.

Invest the time to remember names – It’s not as hard as we make it. The truth is that we’ll put our time towards things that matter to us. People should matter !! Knowing someone by their name will establish the foundation of a relationship. It’s key to all areas of your life.

Don’t be afraid to ask – We seem to hit a wall of fear if we forget someone’s name. The truth is that people are very forgiving if you take the time to ask them again. I’d work on it not happening regularly, but people will give grace since they struggle with remembering names as well.

This week start a new trend and approach. Work on remembering the names of others. It will change your perspective on relationships as well as other’s view of you. By the way, my name’s Steve.