By Name

I’m a child of the late 60’s and early 70’s. During my early childhood, I was raised by my grandparents because my mom was working after the untimely, early death of my father. Growing up on a farm in Luckey, Ohio was wonderful !! My brother and I had countless adventures that were mostly outdoors. You used your imagination to make your surroundings come to life. We watched very little television because our grandmother wanted us out from under her feet. When we did watch on their tiny black and white set, we watched PBS. Yes, PBS. Grandma made sure we watched the Public Broadcasting System because it was filled with educational programming. One of our favorite shows was Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

We loved visiting his neighborhood with the various characters in the Land of Make Believe. You learned something every time you watched. We never thought the show was simple, easy-going or even “cheesy.” The messages he gave rang true, and he always seemed so interested in you as a person.

Fast forward to 2019. My wife and I just went to see the new Tom Hanks movie where he plays Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It is magnificent !! Granted, I already had fond memories of Mr. Rogers, but this movie made some facets of his life more visible and poignant. I highly recommend you go see the movie to get the entire feel and impact of the message so I don’t want to reveal too many components.

The one characteristic that resonated deeply with me was that Mr. Rogers made sure to know everyone he met by name. He didn’t overlook anyone he encountered either on the set of his television program, or if he met you in person. People mattered to him. One scene, shown in the preview, shows the main character’s wife, Andrea, squeal when Hanks calls their home and introduces himself to her. She is trying to pass the phone to her husband, but Mr. Rogers stops her to take time to intentionally talk to her. She says, “Mr. Rogers knows my name !!” It obviously moved her.

They note that Rogers, a man who had a strong personal faith, prayed for the people in his life by name. Every. Day. This wasn’t some parlor trick that showed he had a great memory. He valued being connected to people and wanted to know them personally.

I am a person who shares the same conviction of Mr. Rogers. I think it’s critical to meet, know and interact with people by name. Whenever you meet someone for the first time, you have to make the time to get to know (and remember) their name. Our names are the most significant identifying trait of who we are as humans. When you share your name with someone and they share theirs with you, you are connected immediately.

We were given names on purpose when we were born. Even though people may share the same first name, it doesn’t diminish the reality that they are unique. No one “Steve” is the same as another. The reason it’s important to know someone’s name is that when you interact, it’s more intimate and meaningful. You will remove the distractions of the day which constantly vie for our attention because you have called someone out by name. You’re locked together and those conversations will be more rich and meaningful than just trying to catch someone on the fly.

As HR professionals, this should be a skill that matters to you. I know that it can be difficult to remember names, but that’s an excuse. We all need to take the time to learn and recall the names of the people who are in our daily lives. If you need to make lists, then do it. If you need to make associations that spark your memory to remember a person’s name, then keep track of those attributes. Be intentional about this. We can’t fool ourselves to think that our companies are people-centric if everyone remains nameless.

Once you know someone by name, you can get to know them as a person. Having knowledge of who they are is far more important and lasting than anything they do. I mean it. They, in turn, can get to know you more as a person as well. I see it every day. People want to connect and be known for who they are.

This week start interacting with people by name on purpose. It will make a huge difference for you personally and professionally. Be like Mr. Rogers and make it matter. It will make our various neighborhoods the great environments they were meant to be !!

Affiliate !!

I just returned from the SHRM Volunteer Leader Business Meeting in Washington, D.C. This is the year-end “thank you” for volunteer leaders from around the country. I’ve been going to this conference for many years, and it’s honestly my favorite one !! The reason it’s my favorite is that I get to be around my peers – HR professionals who also happen to volunteer their time and talent to the profession.

Years ago when I was the State Director of Ohio SHRM, I broke the norm that happened at this gathering. Typically, when people go to conferences and events, they hang out with the people they know. I get that. It’s comfortable, and it’s also a time to catch up and get to know each other better because most SHRM State Councils and chapters meet here and there. It’s nice to get away to build your team so you can be effective when you return to your part of the country.

It seemed odd to me that people who shared the same profession as well as the same connection as volunteers rarely reached out to meet people from other geographic areas. We had several opportunities to do this in sessions, but even there people sit in their cloistered groups. I wanted to see this change, so I invited people from all over the country to a local Irish pub after hours to get to socialize, network and continue “conferencing.” It stuck. I got to know peers from almost every state. That breaking with the norm set a new path, and now people go out of their way to connect and see each other on purpose.

Back to this year’s event . . .

After countless warm greetings and hellos with many people right as I entered the conference hotel, I saw my friends from New Mexico SHRM. They were more geeked than usual (which is a pretty high bar). The reason for their excitement is that their State Council won a Pinnacle Award – the highest recognition a group can win for efforts above and beyond their normal work. They were all wearing a new lapel pin that was the shape of the State of New Mexico. I loved it and was jealous because I dig getting all types of local pins and buttons from SHRM chapters. I congratulated them and we went our separate ways.

My new pin just fits my collection !!

When all of the attendees gathered, all of the volunteer leaders from New Mexico were sitting in one row with their lapel pins, blinky rings and small New Mexico flags. James, their incoming State Director-Elect, beckoned me over and handed me a pin. “You’re one of us. You always have been.” I was moved and instantly added it to my lapel.

It was so humbling to hear James say this, and he mentioned how I had reached out years before I knew him to get folks from New Mexico SHRM connected with others from outside their region. He thought it was great to make sure that I was affiliated with him and the folks from his State. Now I had a visual symbol that tied us together.

How simple was this act? He reached out and gave me a token to make sure to let me know that we were connected. It made me wonder why we don’t do this more as peers. What would HR look like if we were more intentionally connected as a profession? I think it would mean that human resources and, in turn, our organizations would be better.

People want to connect. People want to affiliate. The heart of all that SHRM has to offer is it’s members. It always has been and it always will be. We need to recognize that and make the move to break down the invisible, geographic barriers and come together as HR professionals.

When we’re connected, we become resources for each other both personally and professionally. There’s no good reason to keep in our own geographic areas. This week, be like James and reach out to ask others to affiliate. Let your peers know that they belong. They always have.

Eye Contact

I love going to the grocery store !! I mean it. I love going every time. I meander up and down every aisle even though I have a list and don’t need something from every aisle. I enjoy searching for those hard to find items that you need to make sure your recipe is complete. The mix of people walking to and fro doesn’t phase me at all. In fact, I love seeing them !!

Almost every time I visit the grocery store, I get pulled aside by someone who is a stranger and they ask me to get an item for them from a top shelf because I’m taller than most. I love when this happens !! It fills my bucket to grab that hard to reach yogurt or box of cereal to helps someone out.

One thing that I notice when I walk through the store is the lack of eye contact. Even though the store is usually teeming with people, very few people connect visually. It’s astonishing to me.

Here’s my quick, obligatory HR disclaimer . . .

I know that I’m an extreme extrovert. Whenever I’ve taken assessment that measure extroversion, I’m at the top of the scale every time. I keep that in mind when I write about interactions with others. However, I still have observations that I feel can apply to one and all.

Now, back to the post !!

The reason I bring this up is that it seems that people are far more focused on getting to the task at hand while casually passing by every other person as if they don’t exist. I know that’s a broad generalization but it’s my observation. I also understand that everyone shopping may have a zillion things going on in their lives and they are trying to utilize their time well.

I don’t expect everyone to stop and have meaningful conversations, but people don’t even greet one another. When I do get someone to make eye contact, there’s usually a casual “Hello” and a smile. Simple. Honestly, all that’s needed. Intentional human interaction and connection.

The grocery store is just one environment where people spend more time passing each other as if no one else is in the room. I see this happen almost everywhere. When did we become so self-focused? How does this affect others? What would happen if people did slow down, make eye contact and greet each other?

As an HR practitioner, my hope is that others in this field are ones willing to be intentional. Ironically, some of the greatest times I see people avoid each other is at HR conferences !! The people who are genuinely in the “people” business, should be the last ones to avoid contact and connection.

Again, I know this is a generalization, and I respect that people have different comfort levels of meeting and connecting with others. However, I’m willing to challenge this “norm” and ask everyone to press through and start making eye contact – especially our HR peers. Instead of having assumptions that people will ask too much of you, or that something will be negative in nature, look forward to making contact.

I have been a person who tries to establish eye contact with everyone I pass by. My intent is to just be a friendly face, a welcoming smile and an acknowledgement that they exist. You’d be surprised how many wonderful conversations have occurred after such a simple action. Also, the vast majority of my closest friends started with this introductory movement.

I’m not naive and know that you could have a negative, or challenging, interaction if you make eye contact with some people. However, I think those examples are the exception. Also, if does go south, you could be the one positive encounter that was needed for someone. The fundamental approach I take is that making eye contact will result in a positive interchange. It may not go past this effortless action, and I’m good with that.

This coming week (and at future conferences), be intentional and look at others eye-to-eye. Smile. Say “Hello.” That’s it. You never know. That easy action may be the difference to make someone’s day brighter, and that’s worth everything !!

Get Established !!

Earlier this month, my wife and I celebrated our 30th anniversary of marriage. I’m very fortunate that Debbie said “Yes” three decades ago !! I mean it. We are very compatible because we’re opposites. As extroverted as I am, she isn’t. As detail oriented and organized as she is, I’m not. It works for us, and I’m grateful for her every day.

I’ve written about our kids here on the blog over the years as well. This weekend we hit a true life milestone by “officially” becoming empty nesters. Both of our adults have moved to different cities, San Diego and Indianapolis, as they start the next stage of their life. We’re excited to see them grow and can’t wait to see what will come next for both of them.

Our anniversary occurred in the midst of both of our kids transitioning which was fine with us. So, we didn’t have a giant night out or some massive celebration. That really isn’t our style. The kids wished us well and told us to keep our eyes out for a package. We hadn’t seen anything, so we forgot about it. We just completed the move to Indy for our daughter this weekend. After two fairly full and exhausting days helping her set up her apartment, we came home to an unexpected surprise.

A large, flat, square cardboard package was leaning against our front door on the porch. We were eager to see what it was !! Once we opened it, we both smiled and were very touch. Here’s what we opened . . .

We couldn’t believe it !! The gift from our kids was perfect. This would be a daily reminder that we “established” our lives together. It seemed to give our family a sense of permanence. In fact, my wife was tickled that we were now finally established.

It made me think of other areas of my life. Our kids are now taking steps to become established themselves in new cities and with new jobs. It is our hope that they will do well and start having milestones of their own.

What about work? Was I established there? I’ve been with the same company for 13 years now so I guess you could say “Yes” from a tenure standpoint. But, had I put my stake in the ground to make HR and the organization better in what I had done over this time? I’d like to say “Yes” to this as well.

However, it made me think about others in HR. Far too often I hear of stories where HR practitioners don’t feel they’re grounded or have their place identified within their organization. This is extremely frustrating and people feel defeated in their roles. Why don’t people take steps to address this when they find themselves in this situation? Why suffer unnecessarily?

You can turn this around. You can. It isn’t as difficult as you may have been lead to believe. Organizations want HR to be relevant, successful and needed. We just need to see it in ourselves and believe it. The steps you need to take are unique to your role and your organizational culture. I can only offer one piece of advice that will get things started.

Ask the organization what they expect from HR and inform them of what you expect from them. Establish this with the leaders of every department. It will be different for each one, and that takes effort to keep track of the various expectations that will be shared. This type of effort works. You shouldn’t leave your relationship to chance or ambiguity.

Setting expectations of each other is something my wife and I have done over these past three decades. As life has evolved, so have our expectations. The years have been filled with far more joy than challenges, and part of this is because we know where each other stand.

This week set your expectations and get established. It would be great to get your own sign to put up on your wall starting this year !!

It’s Geaux Time !!

This past weekend has been spectacular !! My wife and I traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for the Greater Baton Rouge SHRM Fall Conference. I was fortunate enough to be the closing keynote speaker. Any time I get a chance to interact with my HR peers in person is a joy for me. It fills my bucket because I want to genuinely meet them, encourage them, and laugh with them.

This conference had an extra twist added to it because the theme was based on my book, HR on Purpose !! That was surreal and something I never thought would occur during my career. Seeing HR practitioners gather to understand that we all do better in our roles and in our organizations if we do it with purpose was invigorating. The conference was wonderful from start to finish, but our trek to Louisiana was just beginning.

If you’ve never been to Baton Rouge, then change that and make plans to visit. The hospitality from every single person is heart warming. Honestly, we didn’t encounter one person who didn’t greet us and make eye contact. If the rest of the world would treat each other with these simple gestures intentionally, think how much more positive every day would be in our lives. Add to the hospitality and endless world of tastes and smells. The food in Baton Rouge is phenomenal !! It didn’t matter where we went, we found dishes filled with spices and flavors that you don’t experience in many places.

We took in local sites like the State Capitol and the Old State Capitol as well as visit a historical plantation. My wife and I are history nerds, so these attractions were wonderful. We appreciated that each site was true to ALL of the history surrounding their past. Even though some of it was very troubling, it was candid and honest. We thought that the stories we heard of the people who had lived before us was a great learning experience.

It wouldn’t be a proper trip to Baton Rouge if you didn’t get to experience an LSU football game !! We happened to be in town for a home game, and it’s hard to capture the energy and camaraderie we saw. We were engulfed in a giant sea of purple and gold. Every person attending the game had these colors on. Every. One. We made sure to make it in time to see the team come down “the hill” to the stadium followed by the magnificent LSU marching band.

The massive stadium teemed with thousands of people all coming together for a bonding experience – to cheer their team on to victory. This Saturday the Tigers were playing a school that wasn’t at their same level, and it was a one-sided victory. However, that didn’t dim the exuberance from the fans yelling and cheering their support for every play that occurred. It was great to be a part of all of this fervor. I have to be honest that I was screaming “Geaux Tigers !!” as loud as the LSU faithful.

This trip made me think about how this all applies to HR because I tend to see HR in everything. It showed me, once again, that people want to join and belong together. They want to be around fellow humans to learn and grow (like at the conference), or rally around a common goal and share their excitement (the LSU game). You could be as engaged as you chose in both environments, but the key was to be included.

Do you include others? When you’re going through your day are you more focused on “work” or the people you encounter? By recognizing the innate need to be included, we should make sure we are cognizant of this and make it part of our daily routine. Think what your day would look like if you helped someone learn something new, or if you congratulated them for being a part of your team.

It’s Geaux Time HR !! This week make sure that YOU are the one who is the stimulus for inclusion. You’ll be glad you did.

Be a Trailblazer !!

I’ve been very fortunate to have worked at the same company for the past 13 years. I don’t take it for granted. What you may not know is that having this length of tenure is still considered “new” to many whom I work with. It’s true. I get to regularly celebrate anniversaries with our Team Members, and it’s not uncommon to have people reach their 15th, 20th, 25th, 30th and even 40+ year milestone.

Having a company where people can grow, thrive and contribute for what most would consider a “career” has it’s advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are obvious. You get to work with amazing, talented individuals who offer stability and consistency both personally and organizationally. It’s also very comforting heading to work and seeing folks you enjoy being with. You get to go through life with many of them. You get to experience life events with your fellow employees including families growing, kids graduating and even weddings and funerals. Many companies claim that they have a “family” environment. Ours actually does.

The disadvantage to a company that has such extensive tenure is that you can easily get into a rut of thinking. It’s easy to take things at face value because you’re around the same people every day. You may question things less because everyone seems to be “on the same page.” (My least favorite corporate phrase.) You don’t even realize that you’re following in step because it’s your daily norm.

My boss and I have a weekly check-in which we’ve done since I’ve been at the company. It’s a great time to catch up on projects, HR items, team member issues and life. We didn’t know that we were being so forward thinking since check-ins and regular feedback are the newest craze in HR circles. I guess we didn’t realize it because it was the best way for us to stay connected and do our jobs well. We haven’t approached this as a program.

The key to these meetings is that we’ve always been open and candid with each other. That’s refreshing and challenging at the same time. However, I don’t think we could have made it successfully for 13 years if that wasn’t a foundational expectation of our meetings. A little over a year ago, we had one of those challenging conversations.

My company has been very supportive of my involvement in the greater HR community. That’s been true when I’ve been in roles locally, at the State level and also nationally. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to see what other companies do, and how they practice HR and business as a whole.

So, he said, “You know you go to these events all over and hear/see all kinds of approaches to work.” I agreed. Then he said, “Funny, you seem to be becoming more like us. I don’t hear those different ideas and viewpoints much anymore.” That was it. I sat there silently because he was right. I had fallen into the pattern that tenure can lead to and didn’t even notice.

Before I joined LaRosa’s almost 15 years ago, I worked for another great company and boss. When I told her that I was going to change jobs and leave her after 9 years, we just wept. I was so close to her and words wouldn’t adequately express how much she had meant to me and my career. A few weeks after I had left to take on the new HR role at LaRosa’s, I received a card from her with a quote in it.

It was from the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. When I read it, I wept again and then taped it to my office wall. She wrote in the card – “I saw this and thought of you. Always remember to make new trails.”

It was great advice then, and it still is today. You see, we have the opportunity to blaze new trails in our organizations from both an HR and a business perspective. It’s easy for us to lose sight of this, and too often we feel we don’t have the time or energy to go where there is no path. That shouldn’t be the case. We shouldn’t be lulled into any pattern at work that dulls us or keeps us just plodding along.

HR was meant to drive change. I know that even typing this, many will disagree. I will hold to this belief though. We can look at the various human interactions which occur in every department. Then we can make suggestions and maneuver them so that people are in alignment in order to perform at their best. This often means changing the path and making a new one so others can follow the trail.

This week step back and see if you’re being a trailblazer or if you’re following the path that has been set before you. If you’re on a path that hasn’t changed much, step off and explore new directions. You don’t know what great things lie before you !! This week blaze a new trail.

Stop the Sighs !!

We’re about to embark on yet another week of work. As you get ready to make your commute, what is your mindset? I’m sure the answer is “it depends” which is a fair answer for any day. In the midst of whatever is ahead of you, are you geeked about what lies ahead or do you have an overwhelming sense of dread?

Now, I know these hypothetical questions are broad generalizations. Rarely do we have a day that is an either/or reality. Our days don’t present themselves in such absolute terms. However, you wouldn’t know that because the vast majority of people heading to their jobs tomorrow start with the same reaction before they enter their workplace.

They pause, take in a massively deep breath and then . . . SIGH !!

It’s true. Whatever is sitting at our desk, out on the floor or in the field, we see the worst outcome first. Think of that !! We head into another new day with a sigh because our mind assures us that something negative is sure to smack us squarely in the face. How often has that truly happened? I would think that it’s rare unless you are seeking that because it’s been your typical experience. (If a negative outcome is your regular experience, I would encourage you to find a new job !!)

I’ve noticed something about how people view their work that is very unsettling. Everyone feels that the only reason for their existence is to solve problems because “everything” is broken. It truly isn’t, but that’s how people approach their jobs. We feel better when we fix things because we think it defines our worth. It is very important that we do “get things done” on a daily basis, but it isn’t because everything is broken.

Organizations keep perpetuating and expecting this martyr approach to performance. In fact, we reward and promote those who are great “doers” far more than we do those who are strategic and accomplish things as well. If you step back and look at this, “everything” can’t be broken or companies wouldn’t exist in the first place. So, why do we keep making this the norm for our daily existence all the way from the C-Suite to the front line?

Let’s change this. Seriously. Let’s stop the sighs.

How would your day look if you were eager to jump in and take on the work laid in front of you? Instead of looking as everything as fractured and ineffective, what if you looked at the opportunities to take existing systems and improve them?

We should perform and make work better. As HR professionals, that “work” is humans. I’m sure you don’t look at your role this way, but it’s the truth. We have the opportunity to jump into the work week, and honestly every day, to engage, interact and encourage every person we encounter. Our approach to our work and the great people we work with is the key. You can’t expect people to have a positive attitude towards their roles if you aren’t positive yourself. So, if your day starts with a sigh, guess what you’re going to expect from others who are coming with work with you.

This week turn things around for yourself and, eventually, your workplace. We’re fortunate to have jobs that provide a living for ourselves, our staff as well as a product/service valued by our guests and consumers. What an incredible landscape that is full of options and an environment where we can utilize our talents and strengths. This isn’t Utopian, it’s what truly lies in front of you every. single. day.

Stop the sighs. Believe in yourself and in others instead !!

Age is Just a Concept !!

When do we start complaining about our age? Is there a certain birthday that sends us over the edge and make us feel that we’re deteriorating more than we are living? Is it different for different people?

I’ll admit that when I get up from the couch, or wake up in the morning, there are far more snaps, creaks and groans than there were 30 years ago. That’s not a complaint. It’s a fact !! I get it that there’s no way to stop the natural process of aging. I honestly wouldn’t want to change a thing as the years roll by. Sure, I hope that my health and mental state don’t fade. There are positive choices I can make with my diet and exercise that will assist in hopefully doing well. I also know that all of this could be taken away in a second without my choice.

This summer I’ve been doing something that I haven’t done regularly in over 20 years. I’m going to rock concerts !! The majority of the artists I’ve seen so far were ones I grew up with. I still listen to their music often and have been geeked to see them perform live before they hang it up. You see, the majority of the artists I’ve seen are in the “way over 50” club.

On the Saturday evening before the SHRM Annual Conference started, some friends and I went to see Aerosmith !!!! (that’s really not enough exclamation points by the way.) They just started a residency in Las Vegas, and the concert was mind blowing !! The played a little over two hours and crushed every song with the same energy they had when they started in the early 1970’s. The set list included hits and some deep cuts. Phenomenal !!

During the conference, the ageless Lionel Richie played for the Tuesday night conference. He moved seamlessly from ballads to the hard funk of his time with the Commodores. He was engaging, funny and great to take in.

That should have been enough for one summer, but this weekend I saw two more great acts. The first was Jason Bonham‘s Led Zeppelin Evening. For those of you who say, “So what ??” Jason is the son of John Bonham, the original drummer of Led Zeppelin who passed away over 30 years ago. This band just ripped into amazing versions of Zeppelin songs and I was screaming out the lyrics right along with the lead singer. Zeppelin broke up years ago and they are one of my favorite bands of all time. So, to hear something even remotely close in a live venue was perfection !!

Bonham was the opening act for another fave of mine, Peter Frampton !! He is on his final tour and I couldn’t believe I got to see him one last time. This was my third time seeing him. What was amazing about the show is that he shared very poignant stories throughout and it made the experience even better. Later this summer, I’m going to see The Doobie Brothers and Santana together !!

What does my summer of concerts have to do with HR ?? Everything !!

You see there continue to be countless articles, blogs and conference sessions on the younger generations either in the workforce or entering the workforce. I can’t handle any of them personally because I think it’s a shame that we separate anyone for any reason in life or in the workplace. Age is a fact. Categorizing someone because of their age is unnecessary.

You see we think it’s just one generation getting crotchety and becoming the grumpy old folks they swore they’d never become. Some of that unfortunately is true and needs to stop. However, the same light is being cast on those who are older workers. It seems that once someone crosses the half century mark (that’s 50), then a person’s value has to automatically diminish. Doesn’t it ??

The same narrow thinking and stereotypes towards younger workers is also being applied to older workers. Seeing these rock legends of my time reminded me that you can still ROCK regardless of your age. Because, you see, age is just a concept. The work we do should be based on expectations to perform and not what year we were born. HR absolutely has to step in and address anyone who is starting to treat older workers poorly. We may be the only voice who does this.

I know people much younger than me who are stymied by facets of life or obstacles at work that aren’t that challenging. I also know people much older than me that can, and do, work circles around me. Also, please don’t say “age is just a mindset.” Catchphrases aren’t necessary at any age. One other thing to remember . . . EVERYONE gets older !! So, if you’re allowing this behavior now, one day when you’re older don’t be surprised when this same narrow treatment gets applied to you.

Let’s make a pact HR. Stop ageism regardless of the generation. Treat people as Steve, Sally, Jorge or Dee – humans. It’s time we right this inequity in the workplace for good !!

Now, sit back and enjoy some of the music I heard . . . Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun covered by Peter Frampton on his Grammy winning Fingerprints set. It’s ageless !!

It’s All About . . .

. . . the people !!

I, along with about 20,000 others, just finished attending SHRM19. It was a full, adventurous and exhausting conference. This isn’t new. Any HR conference of this scale is hard to wrap your hands around because there are so many options available for you to choose.

The common denominator in this sea of movement though is people. Whether it’s the thousands of folks passing by each other throughout the conference venue, or the people sitting next to you listening to a Smart Stage talk or full presentation. People are near you every minute of the day. In the midst of this swell of people, you think there would be a ton of interaction going on. Not really. Don’t get me wrong, there is some, but most people are going through the event seemingly alone. That is a broad generalization and I don’t want you to think that people are just automatons wandering aimlessly from session to session.

In an industry that is meant to be focused on humans, we tend to still focus on tasks, circumstances and situations. We have potential connections and resources passing us by literally at our sides, but the energy and effort it takes to greet each other intentionally is often crippling. I don’t think this is a matter of introversion or extroversion although that definitely plays a part.

I honestly think that we have been conditioned over our lives to set our face towards a destination so much that we don’t notice others. We may “notice” them if there’s some line we’re waiting in to buy coffee or an item from the ever popular SHRM store. However, others are seen as a nuisance or hindrance that is imposing on my time. If you don’t think that’s true, watch the people standing in line or riding the myriad of hotel shuttles and see how many of them are not connecting and talking to each other. The overwhelming majority of people keep to themselves and face forward.

Ironically, there is something that gives me hope in all of this. Pictures.

When you look at the thousands and thousands of tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram photos and Snapchats, there is one common theme . . . people. What is shared the most are pictures of the faces of attendees. It may be anything from a great speaker they enjoyed to a meal shared or a night out on the town. We share pictures of faces !! All of those wonderful experiences which show mainly smiling, laughing humans make up the mosaic of who we truly are as a society.

The pictures show you that people ARE connecting because they want to. It’s how we’re all wired. People want to belong and be acknowledged by others. It doesn’t matter if you’re someone who enjoys being connected to hundreds of people, or just a few. We weren’t meant to experience life or work alone.

The reason I love SHRM Annual Conferences, and honestly any HR gathering, is seeing people !! I saw so many old friends and made tons of new ones. We shared hugs, laughs and stories about our families, our jobs and our common bond of being in human resources. Each one of those encounters will have far more of a lasting effect than any session I attended. The rush of energy that happens when someone asks you to jump into a picture is wonderful. This is true because that image will capture the memory of the time together and will be a lasting reminder that the people you hung out with defined your time at the event.

I hope that this week you remember that you are not alone. You have peers all over the world who share the same field you do even though they’re in different places geographically and their role and company may not exactly reflect yours. Regardless, you have a connection that is always a click away.

Life, in all it’s facets, is about people !!

Make the Climb !!

When my wife and I went to England recently, it seemed like everything was an adventure !! Some of that was because each experience was new. You couldn’t help but be awestruck by the deep, rich history that surrounded you at every turn. Before we went on the trip, we made a list of possible places to visit. I then reached out to friends via social media and asked their opinion. This was so helpful because we were able to hear from people who had experienced the various places we wanted to try and visit.

One of the recommendations was the city of York. We checked it out and decided we would be sure to visit there. It was hard to believe that our experience would be affected starting at the train station, but it absolutely was !! We took the tube to King’s Cross Station. For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, this is awesome because I got to see Platform 9 3/4 where the Hogwart’s students would go through a pillar to catch their train. I’m a big kid stuck in an adult’s body. Seeing the platform only set the stage for what was to come.

Our trip went quickly and we took a short walk to our beautiful hotel The Principal York. We settled in and then walked to a site that dominates the city and its skyline – The York Minster. The Minster is a church and you’re probably more familiar with Westminster Abbey in downtown London. It’s hard to describe how massive the York Minster is. When you walk up to its doors, you are dwarfed by the size. It truly envelops you. We had a feeling that it would take several hours to take it all in.

When you get your ticket to go through the beautiful church, you have the option to buy an additional ticket to climb the steps of the Central Tower. Before the clerk allows you to buy a ticket for this extra experience, they point to a disclaimer. The one page sheet is full of warnings telling you that you need to be fit, have no breathing or heart issues, and are good with very tight confined space. I said that I’d be fine because I was eager to try this. I paid the extra five pounds and had a ticket to climb.

Debbie and I went through some of the Minster before I got in a queue to scale the steps of the tower. There was quite a buzz from the 30 or so folks waiting to climb. One of the staff came out to give one more word of caution before she opened the door. Everyone nodded their willingness to go, and then we entered the tower. What you saw were narrow stone steps going up in a very tight spiral. The first few minutes of the climb were easy and then my breathing became very labored as well as everyone else on this trek. We climbed for a good ten minutes and saw some daylight streaming into the staircase. You could hear sighs of relief and some joy as we exited a door and came out on the edge of one of the roofs of the church. Everyone pulled out their phones to snap pictures when someone noticed that this was only the first half of the ascent.

A view from the top of the Central Tower of York Minster.

You crossed the roof line and entered another door with another spiral staircase that was even more narrow and confined. Now people started to shake and heave with every step as we continued to do our best to keep moving upward. Another ten or fifteen minutes and we got to the top. The view was amazing and breathtaking. We had climbed 275 steps to a height of 235 feet. To give perspective, the Central Tower is above the two prominent spires at the front of the Minster. Everyone was smiling between trying to catch our breath. You could walk around the entire perimeter of the tower and take pictures.

After some time, you realized that you had to go back down, and there was only one way to do that. So, you took a deep breath and started to wind back down the steps you just struggled to climb. It didn’t take as long to get back to the floor of the Minster, but the constant turning made you very dizzy. When I came out of the stairwell, I was exhausted and went to sit on a chair to collect myself. My wife came and checked on me and I told her all about the trip. We spent several more hours in the church to make sure we saw everything. It was wonderful, but I was still spent several hours later.

Making the climb was worth it and reflecting back on it made me think of HR and work. How many times do we have the opportunity to pull ourselves out of our surroundings and ascend to a new place? Why do get stuck when we see/hear the warnings about potential serious outcomes? How often do we stay right where we always are wondering what making the climb would mean?

We hear that the view is amazing and needs to be experienced personally, but the power of breaking our inertia paralyzes us. Isn’t it time you paid the small price and take the first step up? Yes, it could be daunting and physically/mentally difficult. But, the effort and work is worth it. The view is captivating !!

This week look around and see where you could move forward and/or up. Get in line regardless of the potential risks or obstacles. Feel the excitement and anticipation. Then, make the climb !!