Keep It Real !!

It seems that the workplace environment is more of a moving target than ever. Employees have higher expectations of themselves and the work they do. I continue to see blogs and articles about how “frustrating” this is for HR, and I have to giggle. Seriously. How can you get upset that people want to have clarity in their roles and an explanation of how they can add value?

You’d think that we’d be out of the top/down model, mentality and approach in 2017, but we’re not. It’s true that more and more workplaces are blurring the edges and boundaries of what work spaces look like, and that is encouraging. The question I have is – Are we keeping up with this shift as HR, or are we holding firm on the tried and true?

I think you need to pull out the best answer there is in HR – it depends.

I want to be careful not to overgeneralize the state and temperature of company workplaces. I know there are folks who work in places where things rock and the employees are engaged more often than not. My hope is that this turns from perception and “best places to work” survey results to the reality of the workplace. The one thing I see that is a constant thread in great workplaces is that HR keeps it real.

What does “keep it real” look like? Let me paint a picture for you of what it is and what it isn’t. Let’s get the negative bit out of the way. When I hear HR folks who describe themselves as “brutally honest” and “don’t pull any punches”, I cringe. Those folks are just blowhards who wield their role, position and authority in a way that they bull their way through situations and people. That may be their “real” approach, but it is flawed and egocentric.

HR folks who keep it real are authentic, genuine, vulnerable and, dare I say, human. They are flawed, emotional and aren’t afraid to admit when they fail. Here are the outward characteristics I see in HR practitioners who keep it real:

They’re others focused

When you hear HR people who talk about the employees they lead and serve first, you’ve found a foundational quality of keeping it real. You very rarely see, or hear, these people talk about themselves first in any situation. Being others focused takes patience, intentionality and an assurance in knowing that in the end, taking care of others will benefit them personally in more meaningful and lasting ways.

They show their emotions while keeping their cool

A word, an approach, I’d like to see HR adopt here is being unflappable. You may have to fight the urge to scream or lash out at someone when you are involved in difficult employee situations, but you just can’t do it. I don’t mean that you swallow your feelings. In fact, it’s just the opposite. When you meet people emotionally where they are versus being an unfeeling robot armed with endless policies and procedures, you’ll see what I mean. All people are emotional – including HR !! Meet others where they are, and then keep your cool. When you do this, you can diffuse even the most highly emotionally charged situations. People want to be heard, so take a deep breath, and listen.

They laugh

This may seem silly, but people love to laugh. There’s no room here to try to force humor or tear others down because that isn’t funny, it’s just cruel. I know that we all need more joy and encouragement in our lives and having a positive outlook to see the good in others will lead you to laugh – naturally. I know that laughter is an essential part of every day for me. If I’m not laughing, and getting others to laugh with me, then tensions rise. Make sure you’re looking at yourself on this point. If you’re not laughing enough, change that.

It’s time for HR to remove the cloak of invisibility and dark theme music that people tend to try and associate us with as a stereotype. That can only happen when we put on something else – the mantle of keeping it real !!

Given First

Trust.

It’s a topic that’s getting a ton of attention these days. It’s in our discussions, our social media and in societies around the globe. People are trying to determine if people are/aren’t trustworthy and there’s never a clear answer because everyone’s opinions and definitions are different.

I’m not here to define what “trust” is. However, I do want to tackle the first aspect of trust – and that is whether it is earned or given. The majority of people I know feel trust has to be earned. If trust isn’t earned, how do we know how people will act or treat each other? In the workplace, and life in general, people want you to tally a series of activities so that people will finally establish a certain level of comfort so that they can open up to each other incrementally over time.

I don’t think this works, and I never have. I give trust first.

You don’t have to earn my trust, my time, my empathy or my attention. I will give it to you. You don’t have to hold a certain level of job, have a minimum level of education, come from a similar family background, or share the same beliefs I have. I will give you trust the moment I meet you.

Will you disappoint me? Yes. But, I will disappoint you as well. Will I fail at some point in our relationship? Absolutely. Are there differences we have that will be possible points of disagreement and contention? Of course there are.

These happen because we’re humans.

If everyone has to earn trust first, how will trust ever happen or occur? Someone has to step up and be willing to be vulnerable and open up. Does being open mean that you are naive and blindly unaware of actions or stances that don’t match up with who you are? No, it doesn’t.

As an HR professional, I believe that giving trust first is the approach to take with everyone. Please note that when you take this stance you’re going to get bruised. People don’t trust those that give trust first. (Sorry for the pun, but it’s true). Employees are wary because most of them live in the “earn it” world. I want to encourage you that when the bruises come, trust people again. The next time it happens, do the same. I don’t want you to be a martyr, but I do think you have to fight through the disbelief with your consistency and your willingness to be intentional with people.

If you get to know me personally, and I hope you do, you need to know that the next step past trust is that I am fully in with getting to know you. I can see how many people do “drive by” relationships where I give you snippets of my time and attention. Those result in a multitude of acquaintances that may be miles wide but an inch thick. You have the appearance of connections and relationships, but at the most you’re nice to a bunch of folks. There’s value in that, but there’s also so much more available.

Employees want someone they can trust. It’s almost palpable in workplaces all over. It’s time for us to be the people who make that happen. Let’s turn the page and be the profession made up of people where trust is – given first.

In Between

This weekend my wife and I went on a road trip to visit my parents. This is always a great time because I’m fortunate to have an incredible mom and dad who are vibrant, active and engaging. They’re both in their mid-seventies, so I’m thankful that they’re both doing well.

We actually went on purpose this time for our visit to help them take down their Christmas decorations and put them away in their attic and shed. This was a first for them because they had always done this themselves, but the tide has turned when we now get the opportunity to assist them and take care of them. It didn’t take much effort, and I was glad we were able to help.

As we were driving home, I began to wonder how a simple task today was going to inevitably evolve over time. This is not a “new” subject, but it was the first time it hit home for me personally. I am from a generation that will be taking care of my parents while also having to take care of my kids. Granted, my “kids” are now young adults so there isn’t as much direct care needed, but it’s a fact that is going to be more an more present over time.

This is a workplace issue now, and I don’t know that we acknowledge it well as HR professionals. I hate to be bold, but I think that THIS is the real generational issue that all employers face. Are you prepared to address your employees who are in between taking care of their parents as well as their own family? Is it something you’ve even thought about?

I understand that employers have policies regarding time-off, leaves of absence and Family Medical Leave (FMLA). I’m sure that you’ll follow those according to the parameters that are established. This issue is greater than systems, as most HR issues honestly are.

We need to think outside the systems that we continue to establish to allow for people to care for their parents on a case-by-case basis. Wouldn’t it be a better workplace if we allowed for grace and movement versus containment and compliance? People are already feeling stuck between parental care, their daily work and their family lives at home.

On top of feeling stuck, we can’t come up with a program where one size fits all because no family situation is the same. The days of the “nuclear family” have long passed. You can’t define family relationships the same because no two families are alike. This doesn’t even address whether the relationship between people and their parents. Some may be healthy and others may be challenging.

You have an opportunity to get ahead of this by developing a procedure, not a policy, to allow for people to handle this in a healthy way. You may have employees who are in this situation now, and they are doing their best to make it on their own. Step in and find out how they’re doing and see if there’s a way to give them some flexibility to help their parents.

HR needs to take steps to no longer look for more ways to constrain employees. We need to be the profession that improves the workplace, allows for people to be caring and encourages organizations to see how they can be fantastic environments through all phases of our lives.

I loved helping my parents and look forward to what they coming years bring. I know there will be challenges, but it’s my chance to reciprocate the years of love and investment they’ve made in me. I hope the same for each of you !!

Get in Shape !!

A New Year is upon us and everyone is supposed to be making resolutions. They’re evidently our feeble attempt to alter something that we want to see improve in our life. It’s odd that we wait until the 1st of January every year to get the urge and drive to change because the efforts that are taken to make resolutions are too often futile. We give up when the first chance comes to no longer eat well, read more, go to a gym etc.

Why is that? What is this cycle where people want to change (sort of) and then they don’t (reality)? Do we want to move in a new direction? I think we do. We need to remember that change happens around us all the time whether we want it to or not. It’s rare that change is done in massive shifts. Change occurs every day because our circumstances move and shift more than we care to recognize.

I think the question is more around the idea of “ownership” than it is change. We can either be a victim of the changes that occur around as or as they pass us by, or we can do our best to own our situations. I don’t mean to sound presumptuous or overly self-confident, but I feel that going in to a New Year you can move ahead of the changes you see and feel versus being trampled by them.

I recently received a cool gift that immediately went up in my office. It’s a quote that I can absolutely identify with. Here’s a pic of the quote along with another cool gift from a friend that captures who I am. Now, hang with me because this isn’t a post saying that you should like tie-dye, art and peace signs. I am sure that you have all kinds of characteristics and interests that define who you are. They don’t have to mirror someone else’s interests, and I’ll bet they won’t because you are unique.

The difference in “owning” who you are is captured in the quote. Shape your circumstances around you. This is true both personally and professionally. We all face things that some may deal with easily while others will struggle. One step in moving forward is to move. Sitting back, making some hollow resolution and then waiting for it to fail is being stagnate. That shouldn’t be an option for any of us.

I hope that you take on this encouraging position as you look at who you are and what you do in HR. I think it’s great that we serve others in our work. This doesn’t mean that we can’t own what we do or shape our world. HR that comes from a position of leadership is much more effective than sitting back and waiting for others to decide how we should practice HR.

This January do something more than make a resolution. Make the decision that you want to shape your world. Be persistent and persevere. When the bumps come, work through them because it’s part of the shaping and molding process. See what happens as you move naturally with the change that is sure to come. I’m sure it will be fantastic !!

Be Unlikely !!

When I was young, I remember watching Christmas specials on TV with my family. As a point of reference, this was long before cable TV and 1,000’s of channels. There were four networks to choose from – ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS. We didn’t think we were being slighted by having so few choices. It was our reality and we accepted it.

The most memorable instance I can recall happened during a Bing Crosby special. My Mom and Dad were huge Bing Crosby fans, and my brother and I didn’t get much of a say on what we watched. As we huddled together to watch the show, the most unlikely thing happened. Bing was in a set depicting a large, warm house and a neighbor came to the door. The neighbor was . . . David Bowie !!!

My Dad looked at my brother and I and asked who this British person was and if we knew him. I jumped at the chance to say how fantastic Bowie was, and I now had immense interest in this show. They did some forced dialogue and then sang a duet to The Little Drummer Boy. My Dad hated it, but I thought it was beautiful – and still do.

I’m sure the network execs wanted to bring someone young on their Christmas special to hopefully connect with young viewers. I don’t know if it worked, but it was great to see something so unexpected happen. Seeing something that is unlikely grabs your attention and leaves an imprint.

As we wrap up another year, it’s time for us to sit back a bit and reflect where we are personally and professionally. I know that you will have the chance to step out next year at least once into an area that won’t seem to fit. You’ll be the unexpected neighbor who shows up. You’ll have a choice to either see how to make this odd pairing work, or you can walk away.

I think it’s time for HR to willing be the unlikely person to show up. This needs to occur at the executive level of your organization as well as every department. We can no longer be the department that people “go to.” We need to be the people who make things happen for others. It’s the natural evolution of our profession, and we need to be intentional in seeing this through.

Don’t settle in being a part of the scenery and background of your company. That’s where we’ve been for far too long and people have come to expect that this is the norm. I think that this leads to many folks in HR becoming frustrated and tired. You have the opportunity to turn this norm around and set a new one.

The time is overdue to make this shift. You have to know that you might be the missing piece to an incredible duet that is just waiting to be sung. This next year . . . be unlikely.

NOTE: I’m going to take the remainder of the year to be with family and friends. I appreciate you for reading my blog and hope it is a regular dose of encouragement for you in what we all do in HR. I also hope that you have a phenomenal Christmas, New Year’s and overall Holiday Season !!

Next Year !!

As 2016 winds down, it’s a great time to reflect on what has transpired over the last twelve months. It’s easy to step back and take sides to argue your point. What I was aiming at was broader and more holistic. I’m sure people had a mix of successes and setbacks. All of those experiences made up where you are today ready to jump into 2017.

So, if you had to reflect where you are as an HR professional, what would you say? Have you moved ahead, taken a step backwards or sideways, or are you stuck in a pattern you’d like to see change? I can’t speak for others, but I’m encouraged about what has happened this year and I’m eager to see what 2017 brings.

I know that one of the standard questions we ask when we interview folks is what they’d like to have as goals in five years. It’s great to be wishful and have aspirations, but we get discouraged when things don’t pan out as we had hoped. I think there’s always value in looking ahead as long as it’s paired with taking in the experiences we have along the way. We have a chance to make and impact throughout the year as well as have strategies that have a longer cycle.

Too often we keep our head down and crank out endless amounts of work. Have you stepped back to evaluate if those efforts are adding value, or just making sure that we’re “busy”? We need to be more cognizant of the work we’re doing, how it’s affecting our employees and if it has merit. Those things that are redundant or inefficient need to be evaluated and hopefully either eliminated or changed to become worthwhile.

Let’s do something different next year. I’m not talking about setting resolutions or lofty goals because we know those have little chances of sticking and actually resulting in change. No, I want to suggest that we dive into our field fully and unabashedly with excitement and passion !! Not some sense of false and forced niceties, but a real shift in owning HR.

next-yearThis will look different for everyone, so I won’t presuppose that you should take any prescribed number of steps like many models that are often proposed. I think there is a more fundamental and basic approach we can adopt. I would like to see 2017 be the year where we are confident personally and as a profession in who we are and what we do in human resources. I want to see us quit apologizing, or downplaying, our field. No other profession does this, and neither should we.

I want to encourage you to not only enjoy HR, but thrive in it. You can do things like intentionally connect with more HR peers, go to HR conferences and events or even start your own HR blog. It’s imperative that you step out and be part of the greater HR community. Next year make the move to no longer be isolated. Once you do that, the next step will reveal itself to see how you can improve what you do within your organization.

I’m geeked about HR more than I’ve ever been as we enter 2017. I hope you share my enthusiasm and make moves to make that happen. It’s going to be a phenomenal year and I look forward to seeing it come.

Believe

Year-end is always a full time for HR. There are various open enrollment efforts, reports and social events. Throw into the mix that we’re in the midst of the holiday season which brings it’s own set of emotions ranging from positive to stressful. At a time when you’d hope people would be more open and gracious, you may find just the opposite.

I find that the longer I’m in HR, the more I see a common theme in people. They want something, or someone, to believe in. This sentiment seems to swell during the holidays because of the focus of the season. Whenever we talk about belief in the workplace, we start to shudder. Our HR anxiety starts to creep up, and we fear that we’re going to venture into territory that will surely lead to us having conversations with people. They will be the conversations that even make us uncomfortable.

When did this happen to us? Why did we become the people that limit conversations about beliefs? I understand the legal boundaries and that people don’t want to have things forced upon them. They shouldn’t have that happen, but people still are looking for that connection to anchor them.

Some may say that we need to rally around the organization’s values and missions, and that has merit. However, it doesn’t go far enough. Beliefs are personal and people feel more complete when they know they’re heard and even expressed. I know this may be contrary to the norm, but I don’t think we need to jump to extremes.

believeI remember when I was very young, I desperately wanted a pony for Christmas. My mom took my brother and I to see Santa Claus at the local American Legion Hall. When I went to share my desired equine gift, Santa evidently was getting the “No” nod in the background from my mom. So, Santa being very adept and quick told me that if I memorized all of the names of his reindeer and came back next year, he’d get me the pony. I’m sure he thought I’d lose interest because I was so young.

I didn’t lose interest. I wrote down the names of the reindeer including Rudolph and memorized them. The following year we went back to the Legion Hall and I was ready. I sat on his lap and recited each reindeer in order. I rushed home, fell asleep (sort of) and jumped out of bed waiting to see my pony. It wasn’t there under the tree or outside and I was crushed.

My mom came to console me and she was fantastic as always. She knew that I was disappointed. We had a long talk, a few cookies and she explained that she understood my disappointment, but that Santa didn’t always get everything for every boy and girl. That’s why he asked for a wish list. I liked her response. It didn’t cover the reality, but it didn’t destroy my belief.

Honestly, my mom still uses Santa’s name on the name tags of presents for our family. She knows the power of belief and how that brings people together.

This is a great lesson that I have kept with me. This year step back and take a breath and don’t let the pace overwhelm you. Instead,¬†take time to believe.

Go Global !!

I grew up in Ada, Ohio which is literally one square mile in diameter. It was magnificent and I had no idea of what the world looked like outside its perimeter. You see, I grew up in the pre-internet days and we thought traveling to Lima, Ohio to see a movie was a true expedition !! It took us 15 minutes to make that trek, but we couldn’t believe we had such freedom. I have to say that I enjoyed being blissfully unaware of the world outside my little village. That was over 30 years ago . . .

Ironically, the world has changed little for most of my peers in HR. We continue to live in a microcosm of the global reality we live in. There are many folks today (around the globe) who limit themselves to the city/town/village they live in as their lens for looking at what they do. It may even be more constricted in that some HR professionals only perspective is within their own organization.

We live in a global community whether we recognize it or not. We can’t keep existing in a flat world model. There don’t have to be any horizons on HR and how we’re connected. I don’t think I’m the only one thinking this. I continue to find and connect with great folks from every continent. The more folks I find, the more I get geeked to make these new discoveries.

In a day and age where countries are calling for more segregation and isolationism, I think it’s up to HR to span those boundaries and blur them more and more. I understand that we each have unique practices, laws and regulations, but we have one thing in common . . . humans.

There’s no logical reason for us to stay confined within our own geography. With technology and social media all around us, all we need to do is click a button to Follow, Link In or Friend each other. We can talk via Skype or video conferencing regardless of distance or time zone. It only takes someone willing to step forward.

I remember a few years ago when I went to my first SHRM National conference and we were AMAZED that there were people who practiced HR in areas of the world other than us. I’m not exaggerating. It’s as if we discovered an entirely new land. It happened again when I attended my first HRevolution event and we were astonished that others who were active in Social Media in HR actually existed and that we were real people and not just avatars on a screen.

Better TogetherIt’s time for the HR community to be global. I don’t mean global from a U.S. perspective. I mean global from an industry perspective. This goes beyond the great professional societies that I encourage you to belong to because they are wonderful forums. This is a call for individuals to make a grass roots effort to connect, communicate and collaborate.

I look forward to the day when I’ll get to travel to the UK, India, Africa, Australia, Japan, Canada, etc. and meet peers who get to work with humans. It will be fantastic to get to know them personally and see what great things they are doing in the field and inside their companies.

I want you to not only thrive in your village, but in your profession. Join me and see how we can be better together globally !!

Our Future

I never thought I’d be the type of person who reminisces as he got older. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t yearn for the past when things were better and people had a stronger work ethic, etc. Trust me, I am doing what I can to debunk the continued effort to separate, isolate and categorize generations. I think it’s short-sighted and runs contrary to what HR should emulate – the bringing together of all of our differences to make us even stronger !!

I’m wondering what the future of HR will be. I still plan to be a big part of it’s present and future for some time to come, but I also know that the field needs to evolve, be disruptive and stay relevant. This will happen primarily with one group of HR folks ¬†. . . students.

The “reminiscing” mention I noted before was thinking back to when I was a student. I graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Interpersonal Communications. I happened to go into HR as a recruiter, but I was taking a leap of faith because people were just starting to use the term “Human Resources.” The working environment was still very much in the world, and practice, of Personnel. No one came to campus to look for HR practitioners. The career services office was polite, but students had to do most of the leg work to find jobs.

Looking back, I don’t want to see that happen to students anymore.

One of the highlights of my career so far is working with HR students. I have had the opportunity to speak to classes at universities, serve as a judge at SHRM Student competitions and also speak at SHRM student chapters. It’s something that can give students encouragement and a reassurance that they’re entering a great industry.

I take a different approach than most because I don’t meet with them to regale them with my HR conquests and successes. It isn’t a chance for them to meet an “expert”. Ick.

past-present-futureInstead, I ask them questions and then answer whatever they ask. Everything is allowed because I want to clear up any misconceptions about HR as well as what it’s like to join an organization. You see, they are my future, and they’re yours as well. We have a chance to share our knowledge as well as our challenges. We can help them avoid some of the struggles we’ve experienced professionally. There’s no need for them to sink or swim like many experienced when they entered the HR field.

There are only two things you need to have to make this investment in our future – Your willingness and your time.

You don’t have to have all of the answers. In fact, it’s better that you don’t. Students are just like every other person in that they want to have you get to know them, not just preach to them. It’s a fantastic opportunity that I’d love to see those who are “seasoned” step up and give back.

Just so you know this isn’t some theoretical practice, I’m trying to help an HR student attending St. Norbert University with her Senior research project. Her name is Kalli Seglund and you can see what she’s doing on the HRPositive Linked In Group. Why don’t you join me in helping Kalli to get started helping students yourself?

Help me turn the tide. Stop separating generations and start investing in them !! Make a difference in other’s careers that you may not of had yourself. We can intentionally leave our mark on HR now and into the future. It’s worth it !!

Never Look Back !!

I have some questions for you. Do you enjoy being in your job? Is it what you expected? Are you engaged yourself?

These are the types of questions you would use to have a conversation with an employee to help them gauge whether they are enjoying their work or not. In HR we may do this as part of coaching or it could come up in an employee review. It seems like a natural occurrence when we are trying to assist others, but do we ask them of ourselves?

In HR we are very comfortable and willing to help other employees, but we rarely take care of ourselves. We think that career management is for everyone else. To be honest, I’ve fallen in to this trap during periods throughout my career. It’s easy to do. We’re willing to tell people to be reflective and we may even assist them in finding different roles. This is a great facet of our job and something that most enjoy.

I get concerned that HR people don’t manage their own careers. I get the sense that many (not all) trudge through their function on a daily basis. There’s a more prevalent vibe that we “tolerate” what we do instead of thriving in it with passion. It caught me when I was shuffling through my endless, and constant, stream of music this weekend when I was enjoying “Could Have Been Me” by The Struts. When you get to the chorus of this rocking song you hear:

“I wanna live better days, Never look back and say, Could have been me, It could have been me.”

never-look-back-quoteThat hit me because I don’t want to ever be the person who has regrets about what could have been in the past. I don’t want to be in a situation or job where I have more “what if’s” than I do accomplishments. When I started working, I never had these types of thoughts because the expectation of the workplace was more that you went to work out of need or obligation. The social norm was that you worked because you were supposed to.

I don’t look back and have poor feelings about some of my jobs, but I wish someone would have encouraged me to own what I do and where I do it. I have to say that when I finally started to do this, I began to truly enjoy HR and all it has to offer. It changed how I practiced and it drove me to make sure that others in my profession step back as well.

When we are engaged in what we do, we can model it for others. If HR isn’t personally engaged, then they can’t expect others to be engaged. People will replicate the behavior they see more than they will in responding to some program you throw together.

I love what I do and I love the company where I get to practice HR. It doesn’t stop me from managing my career. Far from it. I’m always looking at what I do and how I can impact the organization and our people. It has allowed me to look ahead and never look back.

This week I encourage you to reflect, refuse to just trudge along and move forward. You owe it to yourself, your company and to those you impact !!