All the Verts !!

This past week has been an interesting week of interactions. They ranged from conversations in my office to various connections on-line in social media forums. I tend to take in as much as possible on a regular basis because I enjoy all of the contact. Yes, I am an extrovert. In fact, when I’ve taken assessments that measure this, I’m off the chart. That isn’t always a good thing.

I only mention that because my extroversion is only one small facet of who I am. We tend to take our “vert” and use it to lead in describing us as people. This is solid because it’s a fact. However, we often use it as a label to explain what we’re not instead of highlighting who we are. Knowing who we are is essential because self-awareness, in my opinion, is the baseline of healthy relationships, interactions and even leadership !!

One of the unexpected interactions this week was from my friend Paul LaLonde. He just started a new blog called the HR Philosopher and he described how we met each other in person at last year’s SHRM Annual Conference. I love that he described me as “a giant man with a booming voice and a tie-dye shirt” because it makes me smile. He also shared how he stepped out of his comfort zone to be intentional that we met. I love this because I’m the opposite. If I see you in a room, I want to meet you.

The reality of your “vert” is that it drives how you process thought, how you tend to communicate and how you approach meeting others and the relationships you develop. Your vert is your lead in. That is spectacular and not a hindrance. Respecting that people land all across the scale of extroversion and introversion is imperative because we start interactions based on who we are and regardless of who the other person is. I would challenge you to not charge, or creep, into interactions. Feel things out. See if there is receptivity in initiating contact. It’s safer for all the verts to do this.

The other unexpected connection I made this week was listening to a podcast. I love listening to the HR Social Hour 1/2 Hour Podcast because it features fellow HR practitioners. You get to learn about them more as people including how they arrived in the field of HR, their varied experiences and some personal faves in movies, TV and music. This week’s episode featured Natasha Desjardins, an HR pro in the non-profit sector in Washington, D.C. She lit up the microphone with excitement and passion which was an instant draw for me personally.

She shared an incredibly profound statement which she stated is a personal philosophy that she has adopted which is an African proverb – “I am because WE are.” She described it so well stating that who she is as a person is because of all of the great variety of people in her life that are connected to her. She never said, “Because I’m an ______vert . . . We are __________verts.” Her joy about how she is intentionally connected to others was spectacular to hear. Honestly, I clapped in my car when the episode ended.

This week enjoy the interactions with everyone you encounter because of who they are and not because of some label !! We are far more than our “verts”, but we are also who we are because of them. Connect on purpose my friends. Show others how amazing the whole you really is !!

(P.S. – Start by connecting with Paul and subscribing to his blog and listen to Natasha on the podcast. You’ll be glad you did !!)

Be the Bridge !!

When Winter rears it’s ugly head, it often forces you inside. That can either be insufferable, or a chance to get indoor projects done that you haven’t been able to get to. We’re on the projects end of the spectrum. This weekend’s project was to paint our master bedroom. I looked forward to it because I love to paint !! I mean it. I love painting indoors because it turns out to be me and my iPod.

Yes, I said iPod. You see I have an iPod Classic with 12,400+ songs loaded onto it. When I turn it on and hit shuffle, I escape into every song, and it makes any task I take on seem easy. What could easily become mundane because of its difficulty, now becomes lively and time flies. As I dipped the roller into the tray, I heard the beautiful voice of Art Garfunkel of the immortal duo Simon & Garfunkel. His beautiful lilting voice started singing the beautiful ballad “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Every time I hear this song played, I get misty. I really do. It’s a gorgeous melody with haunting lyrics that hit you right from the start. Here’s a snippet . . .

“When you’re weary, feeling small; When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all”

The song talks about someone willing to be present for someone who’s going through something difficult. The imagery is that they are willing to be the bridge for their friend in order for them to reach the other side of whatever they’re facing.

The reason this song resonates so much for me is that this how I view HR. I truly feel that we need to be the bridge for others who need it. I know that this runs contrary to the current trend to keep a clear distance from people. Please note that I agree with, and understand, that there are boundaries that should always be respected. However, people are coming to work every day aching. I feel they don’t share what’s going on either because they don’t feel they’ll genuinely be heard, or they feel that they’ll be blown off because their personal situation isn’t “work.”

How long can we continue this disinterested stance and feel that we’re being effective? I can hear the resistance that is rising even as I type this. If we don’t watch it, HR is going to make itself so disconnected that there won’t be a reason for us to exist. We have to step in, reach out and be the bridge for others. You have to trust me, from personal experience, that whenever I’ve been a bridge builder great results have occurred. It hasn’t always meant that the person’s situation was completely addressed or that they even stayed with the company. However, the personal touch that they yearned for occurred and started something positive in the midst of the “troubled waters” they were facing.

I also think HR people stop being a bridge themselves because they’ve had a bad experience and have been burnt. This never good and is a definite risk. I do think it’s a risk worth taking though because this is more of an exception than the rule. Another factor that makes HR pros hesitate in being bridge builders is that we don’t have someone who will be our bridge when we face difficulties ourselves.

I know that I seem to be shouting a similar message over and over, but HR people need to understand that our peers can be a bridge. I have many very close friends that I can reach out to who also reach out to me. It’s not some hokey, professional camaraderie. They are genuine relationships that have developed over social media and also in person.

If you don’t have HR peers who are bridge builders, you need to find ones. I will also put this out there . . . I’m willing to be the first person to reach out. You don’t have to face what you’re doing alone. I mean it. You reach out and I’ll be there.

It’s time for us to realize that we have an incredible opportunity in front of us. Please join me in reaching out. Be the bridge !!

Image from Successories

Tradition !!

This past week my wife and I went to see Fiddler on the Roof as part of the Broadway Series in Cincinnati. We love seeing live theater, and this is honestly one of my favorite musicals ever !! This version did not disappoint either. It had your attention from the moment the lights went down until the cast was “walking” out of their town of Anetevka to end the musical.

If you’ve never seen this great musical, I would highly recommend it. It has a great story line and the songs are all very memorable. The show starts with the powerful song “Tradition” where the various members of the little town in Russia during the turn of the 20th century all sing about their designated role. The main character, Tevye, is both narrator the one who carries the torch of tradition for himself, the townspeople and especially his five daughters.

During the opening song, Tevye has a line that says, “You may ask, ‘How did this tradition get started?’ I’ll tell you. I don’t know.” That seems to be the case with most traditions whether they be ones you have in your family or those within organizations. Even though we may not know the origin of traditions, we follow them fully just as they do in the show . . . at least for a while.

You see, I think there is value in tradition. Many people get this mixed up with the practice of doing things the same way because that’s “the way things have always been done.” If you come across this type of stagnation, then you have to challenge it and/or change it in some way. There is a natural change that happens in companies just due to the fact of the passing of time and the addition and deletion of people. Any time you get new folks involved on work and projects, change occurs simply because they aren’t the people who were involved in the past.

Traditions have their place in companies because they can give you a picture of what has worked in the past. Remember, you can always learn from the past. You just can’t constantly dwell in it. Traditions are an essential part of a company’s culture. They give flavor, distinction and help shape the fabric of what your company offers. These on-going facets are those that critical components of retention. Traditions can be a very positive aspect if they are healthy, living and inclusive.

The key movement in the musical is also a great lesson for us as HR professionals in organizations. Tevye wants to desperately hold on to the traditions of his past that you assume happened for generations. His daughters challenge him in every way and break with tradition by choosing a spouse when spouses had been traditionally agreed upon by the father and another family. He reluctantly gives in on the three who choose a partner because he sees all sides of what the change will bring. This includes the hope that his daughters would benefit from breaking with tradition.

We should look around within our companies to see what traditions need to be tweaked or altered all together. One reason for this is that making changes will allow for diversity to be present on purpose. You can seek the input of others and make sure the voices of everyone have a chance for input. The goal would be for them to benefit from the changes that happen.

Traditions are all around us and we can benefit from having them personally and in our companies. The key is to make sure they are current and relevant. Know why and how you have the traditions that make you great !!

The Coming Year . . .

I remember gathering at a friend’s house in 1999 for New Year’s Eve. The party was very casual and the crowd was made up of several couples with many little kids running around. The excitement was high because as the ball was going to drop and become the year 2000 we wondered if Y2K was actually going to occur. There was some anxiety mixed with a ton of skepticism.

We counted down, 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 !! And, then the power went out completely in the house. It was pitch black and we thought that Y2K did happen. We all scurried to grab our things and get to our houses when the power returned. Todd, the home owner, came around the corner laughing heartily with his drink in hand. “Just kidding !!” We all pelted him with a barrage of Boo’s and then joined him in uproarious laughter as well.

So, here we are two decades later and we’re on the verge of stepping into yet another New Year. I’d have to say that many are still filled with a mix of anxiety along with skepticism. This may not be unique because every year we are faced with situations of all types. There may be personal challenges, personal opportunities or even larger scale circumstances that stand in front of us.

Many people will make a series of resolutions with the best intentions of keeping them, and they will have limited success. I have never been one to make resolutions because the areas of my life that I need to work on have a longer window than just to get started every January. Also, I know that when I’ve tried to make massive life jumps or switches, I fall back into my regular pattern way too easily.

So, am I going to do anything differently in the coming year? I wouldn’t classify my approach as “different”, but I would say that it’s going to be even more intentional. I want to connect HR pros to each other even more than I have in the past !! I also want to see people interact with each other with respect and grace even in the midst of differing opinions.

I continue to be astonished at the number of HR practitioners who try to conduct their jobs on their own. They may even be part of a larger HR team within an organization. Why do we think isolation will enable us to be effective and viable in HR? We absolutely must break this paradigm !! There is so much value in being connected to others who do what you do. This can happen through social media as well as in person. Please join me in helping others in HR connect with other practitioners. Let’s eliminate this facet of our profession for good.

While making connections, we need to step up as HR pros to facilitate AND participate in dialogue and discussions regarding the challenging issues in the workplace, our industry and the country. These conversations should lead to action which not only addresses issues, but does it in a way to move organizations forward. I would ask that we allow for true dialogue which considers all perspectives that is supported by respect and grace. This is overdue in all areas of our work.

I’m looking forward to 2019. I think it’s a chance for us to be positive and lift each other up. I hope you find the areas in your life that you’d like to continue, and that you’re successful. Happy New Year my friends !!

Convenience or Community ??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Gift to Give !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 !!