Friends in HR !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Twirl !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve forgotten how to twirl.

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

The 2nd Cut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Be a Zombie !!

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

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

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

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

Be Passionate !!

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

Find other HR folks who are full of life !!

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

Be a zombie hunter !!

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

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

Urgent or Important ??

Another work week is upon us. As you enter the office to jump into the mix of the day, are you anxious? I think that many people are. This is especially true if you practice HR. Why do I say that? It’s because our days are never our own. When you work in the field of people, you’re subject to constant movement. It feels like you’re Daffy Duck and you have to “turn and parry and thrust” your way through whatever you come upon.

I’ve written before how most folks in HR (and business in general) state that their job is to “put out fires.” This is such a challenging way to work effectively because your entire day is based on something going wrong. You are always moving from one urgent situation to another. The urgency may not even be legitimate, but you jump to react because if gives you a sense of value. It’s short lived and it disrupts any attempt at consistency.

Now, I understand that there are things which are urgent and need to be addressed quickly. You shouldn’t ignore them, but you should step back to see if the situation truly is urgent or just packed full of emotion. When emotions rise, people tend to want things addressed immediately mainly to get their emotions back in check. The key is to take the time to gauge the level of urgency. Don’t step away from any situation, but get context first.

A stronger way to approach your work with people is to focus on what’s important. I’m not going to dare to define what that looks like in your current company and role because I’m sure it varies with each person. The method you do this is an individual choice as well. Some use quadrants to place items in, and some use to-do lists. It’s essential that you have a method that works for you because without some defined approach, you won’t get to important items. Your day will slip away so rapidly and you’ll wonder why you didn’t get to the important items . . . again.

There’s one more factor to consider in looking at this topic. Both urgent and important aspects of our job coexist. You will rarely be able to have one that can keep your full attention. I find that I keep an on-going list of “important” items that never ends. Some items can be accomplished sooner than others, but some stay on my list so that I don’t forget them. Losing sight of the important facets of how I practice HR automatically puts me in the fire extinguishing business again.

I recommend that you become fluid in how you practice HR. Go into each day with the assurance that urgent situations could occur. Take them in stride and do your best to not freak out. That never helps anything. Don’t let the urgent situation consume your attention, or day, completely. Make sure to get to one or two important items as well. Having a combination of the two allows you move within the natural flow of the day as it occurs.

We will continue to be frustrated, or worn out, if we keep separating the reality of our days. Take things in stride. It’s important !!

Bitter or Better ??

Change.

A simple word that is infinite in how it can be defined, measured and approached. There are countless articles, training courses, books and opinions on what change is/isn’t and how to approach it when it occurs. That seems ironic to me because if change is hard to define, how can a model be derived to effectively address the various components (that ultimately lead to more change.)

You see, change can’t be contained. We keep trying to put controls on everything because we assume that control will limit change. It doesn’t and can’t. Change is a continuum and I think that it would be better to address an aspect than try and cover everything.

When change happens we have a choice on how we respond. That is something we can absolutely control (if we’re intentional.) The challenge is that few people are intentional. We tend to react when change occurs. That may be instinctual or learned. The reality is that it is our first step because our emotions get the best of us. This isn’t right or wrong. It just is how we’re wired.

The difficulty with being purely reactionary towards change is that our choice is usually negative. Don’t believe me? Think of the last 3 to 5 changes that happened which affected you. How did you respond? I’ll let you think about that. So, since change occurs continually and our responses tend to be initially negative, it can lead to bitterness. It can also make us jaded which isn’t healthy. Seriously. Don’t you get tired of viewing change as if the worst possible scenario is going to happen?

Change can’t only be problematic. If we see change as being something that propels us backwards in order to catch up, how can we ever improve? If the only reason to work is to fix problems, then why work? I think there’s another choice. I think change makes things better.

Now, I know that there are changes that don’t have positive outcomes. I’m not trying to be utopian or naive – just intentional. There are so many stories where people have faced incredibly difficult circumstances and they had an outlook that is such an example of optimism that it seems surreal. I hope that that level of challenge isn’t something you’re currently facing or will have to face.

Assuming that our changes are more within the realm of our day-to-day existence, then let’s position ourselves positively. Let’s look at change as something that can lead to things being better. It is hard to do, but the effort is worth it. Seeing things that change as an opportunity and not as an obstacle is much more fulfilling. Please note that this isn’t a call to perfection because you will stumble. That isn’t negative at all. It’s another chance to do things better !!

This week make the switch and stop being bitter and choose to be better.

 

Legacy

I’m just getting back into the swing of things after enjoying a week with my amazing wife wandering through New England. We did more of an “off the beaten path” vacation with a mix of historical sites, lighthouses, touring towns and just soaking in a different culture. One place we visited was Concord, Massachusetts. Yes, it was interesting to see the site where the Revolutionary War began, but it wasn’t what I’ll remember most.

In the heart of this quaint town is a cemetery. It’s called the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. What makes it stand out is something called Author’s Ridge where several noted American authors are buried including Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. We walked through the winding paths until we saw the headstones of these memorable folks.

Standing there under the trees while a light breeze blew by was moving. I just stood there taking it all in.  I wondered if any of them thought that 150 plus years after their passing that anyone would be visiting their graves. I doubt it. However, I do believe that they wanted to share the creativity and thoughts within their minds. I believe they wanted to capture the world around them as they saw it. Their legacy is still read and studied throughout high schools and colleges around the world. I think they’d be somewhat surprised to know that their written word would have such a lasting effect.

I blog to share my voice, as do many others. I want to capture the world around me and help shape a view point that runs counter to the culture that continues to want to tear things down instead of build things up. I don’t pretend to think that my words will be remembered or celebrated 150 years from now. In today’s society, it’s rare if a blog post lasts more than a few days.

That’s why I want to encourage you to do something different than what I see happening.

First of all, if you feel you have something to share – write. Start a blog for whatever you want to put out there. It could be about HR, business, your hobby – literally anything at all. I know there are people who say that there are already too many blogs, but I don’t buy it. Blogs are a way to communicate. It’s worse to keep it in. Give it some thought before you jump in, but give it a shot.

Secondly, share the blogs of others. The authors I visited didn’t write to just hear themselves. They wanted others to experience their work. I see most people write their blog and then share it over many social media forums. I think that’s wonderful to see. However, I think it’s only a start. Sharing the writing of others has more reach, impact and gives things more life than only posting your own blogs.

This practice also runs counter to the norm, but it makes sense to me. I enjoy the work of others and want everyone to learn from them as well as connect with them. I think the way to break the “echo chamber” is to keep sharing the blogs that I read and not just my own.

There are many facets to one’s legacy. I know that writing is one way to establish yours. So, start composing and then start sharing. Let’s see where it goes. One thing for sure is that it has a better chance to last !!

Exist or Thrive ??

Another work week is upon us. How does that make you feel? Seriously. What’s your attitude going in?

I know the realistic answer is “it depends” because I can’t understand or cover all of the life situations everyone is facing. These probably run the gamut from bleak to awesome. The circumstances we find ourselves in are a heavy factor which influences our approach to work and to how we interact with others. I don’t want this to be some pop psychology piece that tries to analyze your current state. That’s not fair or even possible.

Let’s get back to the first question. How do you approach a new work week?

It’s important to take time to do this because I think it frames how we approach our work more often than not. I don’t think it’s the “Monday Blues” that bring stress and unnecessary negativity. I think we dread going in to work because we have chosen to exist vs. choosing to thrive.

Don’t believe me? I think people float because the culture of the company allows them to. I don’t think people want to float, but since we’ve taken the majority of direct human interaction out of work, they can’t help it. People want to be challenged. People want to stretch and tackle situations they can affect. However, we blow things up into dilemmas so that when an answer comes to light we get more recognition. It’s true. We can’t seem to break out of the doldrums of our roles.

Please note that this blahness isn’t at one level of an organization. It can occur from the most senior executive down to the front line. Don’t assume that people are just getting by who work below you by position. It’s a vicious myth that we keep perpetuating (again – to make us feel better).

Now, this will sound bold, but it’s something I know because I’ve experienced it myself. You can THRIVE in what you do currently in your role as well as throughout your organization. To do this though, you need to make a choice. The choice is simple, but the implementation is difficult.

The choice is that you personally will no longer settle. Ever.

This past weekend I went to visit my parents. My Dad is a quote machine. Whenever we’re in any situation, he’ll quip, “Write this down . . .” and then he whips out a quote. One that has stuck with me is, “To lower the standard is to give up the fight.” He said this when I’d choose to do something less than my best. It is strong encouragement to keep in mind when the next wave of negativity or cynicism hits.

Choosing to thrive is not some slogan on a wall. It’s a way to exhibit your behavior and a method to lift up and encourage others. HR has the opportunity to see the best in themselves and all employees who work in their company. How do you think your Monday would start if you had that intention and approach going in?

This week make the choice. Stop settling yourself first. Then, go talk to others you see who are not thriving. Work with them and get them to break out of their funk. Fight against the people who choose to tear things down with a better, and more sustainable, stance. Thrive !!

What You Say . . .

. . . matters.

This may seem like an overly obvious statement. However, I don’t think we believe it because we are extremely careless with our words – especially when it comes to people.

It’s so easy to get frustrated with how others treat you, or the situations you find yourself in. Words that describe your immediate feeling and reaction usually aren’t positive. And, if we’re honest, we feel “better” by taking a shot at someone else – at least for the moment. I think we do it so often that we’ve become desensitized to how we casually describe others. It has become an expected response . . . and that is sad.

Now, trust me, I’m not pointing fingers at others because this is something that I struggle with as well. It’s not something I’m proud of, and it’s actually something I’m trying to turn around.

People don’t deserve to be called names that belittle or degrade. No one. Ironically, most of this happens out of earshot of the person we’re frustrated with which makes it even more underhanded. On top of this, we unfortunately highlight name calling and labeling almost incessantly in our social media forums or in the news. The juicier, or more vicious, the better. The response to when these barbs are thrown about is to take it up a level so it gets more and more harsh. I want you to note something.

Tearing someone down has NEVER improved a situation or a circumstance. Not once.

I mentioned before that I’m working on this. That’s the truth. I don’t mean this as an HR professional. I mean this as someone who’s a husband, a father, a friend, a volunteer and a co-worker. I observe that the ease at which others are torn down is the norm, and I can’t accept that. I understand people can be frustrating. However, what I think gets completely glossed over is that we’re ALL people !! I have to be someone who frustrates others. So, is the same name calling being used towards me when I push someone’s buttons? Of course it is. Even if I don’t hear it directly.

I had a conversation recently with a friend, and we were letting off some steam about a person who wasn’t in the conversation. It wasn’t positive. I’m embarrassed to say that. Afterwards, I decided that this isn’t how I want to behave. It’s an easy excuse to justify venting, but it isn’t how I want to see others treated, or be treated myself.

I believe we can, and should, be encouragers of people. This doesn’t count just for people we like. It’s for everyone because it honestly doesn’t happen enough. I know that when a kind word is given that is has meaning and impact. It matters. Now, it may be the exception in what people hear, but that means that kind words should be used even more regularly !!

We will all still be critical and there is value in that. We should be critical of the behavior we see and experience and not the person. Most people reading this will not agree with this position because it takes effort and grace to not bundle the human in our response.

This week I’m asking you to join me in changing the tide. Take time to encourage people and lift them up. When you’re faced with the urge to lash out, don’t do it. Breathe and then assess what was said. See how to respond positively and then act. It’s not what we’re used to doing in our interactions with others. What’s cool though is that people won’t be expecting a positive response either.

What we say matters. I choose to encourage and I hope you will as well !!

Send a Note !!

When I went to high school . . .

(Yes, I know I sound like my Dad, but hang with me)

. . . you used to write notes to people to get their attention. It was like a spy movie because you didn’t want to get caught, or have someone read it who was not the intended audience. People wrote notes so often that some came up with their own “language” so that any intercepted notes seemed like gibberish. You always were hoping to get a note because it meant that someone wanted to communicate something cool, or ask you do join them in some activity. There were countless people who made dates this way and probably became people’s parents !!

Writing a note takes thought, intent and emotion. You didn’t want something to be seen as dull or meaningless. People weren’t careless with notes. Sending a note took some risk to put yourself out there because you weren’t sure what the response would be.

Flash forward to today. Now, if someone sends you a message electronically, they expect an answer almost before you actually send it. If someone doesn’t respond, we think the worst possible scenario for the reason(s) we were shunned. Electronic messages are also often not reciprocal. Tons of people post, snap, tweet, etc. about their lives and don’t really care if others do the same. Oh, we long for the affirmation like or emoji to our posts, but 90% of them are about ourselves, our experiences, or our interests. I’m not bashing these messages because I’m as active as the next person when it comes to being visible on forums.

I miss the days of notes because they were going TO someone and asking them to be involved. There were also notes that would tell someone how you felt about them, and some were even notes of encouragement. I played basketball all throughout my Jr. High and High School years and I had a secret person who would write notes before each game to wish me luck and that the team would play great. Every player had these spirit sleuths for each sport. It was amazing !!

Today’s society, and workplace, yearns to be more “human”, but we don’t incorporate personalization much at all. We’re so concerned about being politically correct, that we’ve ceased sharing “notes” with people to encourage them in their work and take steps to see the best in what they do. I’d like to see that change.

HR needs to come to terms with the fact that workplaces will never become more human unless HR becomes more human itself. Never. I get a sense that all employees are longing for a genuine connection and path to engage with someone with whom they work. So, I encourage you to step in the gap. You may not be the final connection, but you should be the person who initiates this and starts the process.

This week, send a note to someone. It would be awesome if it was handwritten !! However, if it’s electronic, make it a note. Check and see how someone’s doing. Write someone and tell them how much they make a difference in your life and the lives of others. Be positive and encourage others on purpose.

Then . . . send another one.

Keep doing this until it becomes a habit. Be a person who’s willing to break through the mire of negativity and the noise of the endless rush of life and send a note. When you do, you will change the direction of someone’s day. It may be the exact thing they need at the right time.

I need to go now because I have some notes to write.