Louise

Friends, I wanted to share something because I experienced a loss this weekend. One of our long-term team members passed away who had left a lasting impact on me and to those she worked with for many decades. Our encounters meant so much and I learned from her. Louise was unorthodox in how she approached people and yet she was incredibly endearing. Our first meeting was so powerful, I captured it and shared it in my new book, HR Rising !!

So, please forgive me for sharing this excerpt. It isn’t meant to bring attention to my book at all. It’s a way to say “Thank You” and “Good-bye” to Louise. We can all learn from the Louise’s in our life !!

Chapter 15: Grace

Have you ever made a mistake at work? Have you ever talked poorly about someone else you work with, or that you know, without that person knowing about it? Have you ever disappointed someone else because you didn’t follow through on what you said you’d do? Have you ever said something that you thought was harmless, but it hurt someone deeply?

The answer for me is a resounding “Yes” to all the questions listed above. I’m not proud of that, but it’s a reality. I’m human. I’m sure to fall and fail others. Hopefully it’s not intentional, but it could be. I can fill this entire book with more questions that show how people fall short of positive or ideal behavior.

The challenge in today’s workplace, and in society overall, is that when we fail each other there is no room for grace. We demand an instant response along with a staunch stance to be taken with little room for any other position. We usually want others to hear our opinion, and we make arguments for others to come to our side. During this type of reaction, we completely run over our humanity.

Now, please understand that I’m talking about when someone makes a mistake and is insensitive or thoughtless about others and their feelings or diverse viewpoint. I’m not talking about overt actions and misconduct. That is a much deeper, and more concerning, level, and poor behavior should always be addressed. Even then though, I would offer that you should allow grace when entering these difficult situations.

As HR professionals, we are surrounded by people daily. (At least I hope you are !!) People are messy and will fail each other. It’s unavoidable. When it occurs, we have a choice to either rely on a system of unrealistic policies and procedures as a list of do’s and don’ts, or we can be humans ourselves.

We struggle with this because of the continued need for “accountability.” This is one of the most misinterpreted terms in organizations. Accountability should be defined as following through on what you commit to doing. However, more often than not, we misconstrue this term by alluding to the fact that accountability equals punishment. When it comes to situations involving employees, we often forget to breathe first. We jump to the nearest set of policies and comb through them to see what level of discipline needs to be metered out. It amazes me as an HR person that when employees slip up, the reaction is usually swift, harsh, and doesn’t really take anything else into consideration.

Our systems of progressive discipline and layers of breaking Rule 1.0.1, Subsection A, litter our field with little regard of how these actions affect the person who broke said rule. We act as if they are the most disloyal, uncaring, and detrimental person who ever worked for the company.

Here’s a question for you . . . Have you ever made a mistake or broken a rule at work?

Did the appropriate action take place? Were you written up, counseled, suspended, or fired? What if you were in this situation? How should the company treat you?

When I began working in the restaurant industry, I was disappointed by many of my HR peers. Instead of being geeked that I had found a new role, they piled on concern after concern that I wouldn’t enjoy this new environment because restaurant employees and cultures made it difficult to do good HR. That was their opinion at least. Please note that few of these folks have ever worked in the restaurant industry, but that didn’t stop them from sharing their opinions on the inevitable turnover present in hospitality jobs, the challenge of having a workforce that predominantly works part-time schedules on ever changing shifts, and the idea I’d be spending most of my time disciplining and terminating people. Astounding, simply astounding. Each facet of what they thought HR would be like in restaurants was either negative or daunting.

I didn’t have any preconceived notions about working in restaurants. I looked at my new HR gig as a chance to work with a whole new batch of humans. When I took on this role, HR didn’t have a good reputation internally either in the office or in our pizzerias. This was primarily because of the approach of my predecessor. They did a great job of establishing HR systems that hadn’t existed in the past, but the company needed structure on the people side of the business. The difference that I brought to the mix was that I didn’t believe HR needed to be practiced in a traditional manner which focused more on compliance than relationships.

Compliance needs to be respected because of the myriad of laws and regulations that cover and protect the workers, the workplace, and the company as a whole. Most situations and issues involving compliance are common sense. Also, you can be far more compliant when you have relationships with people because you can talk about the situation and the behavior they’re exhibiting. Then you can give folks context around rules and systems. This is far more effective than ensuring people “stay in line.”

Before I joined the company, HR typically showed up in the pizzeria when something needed to be “addressed.” We rarely went out to visit just to see how people were doing. There had to be some sort of agenda item and purpose. The entire approach was task-oriented and transactional. Any visit was short, concise, and involved the least amount of conversation and personal interactions possible. This led the team members in the pizzerias to be apprehensive any time a person from HR appeared. Sound familiar?

I am not wired that way. I am probably far more conversational and relationship-focused than the average human. This is how I’m naturally wired. After my first few months being tied to my office and desk, I decided to venture out and visit our locations. Every time I entered a restaurant, I would get distrustful looks combined with a murmur of mumbling wondering why HR had come to visit. Who was in trouble? Who was getting fired? This barrier presented itself right as I hit the door, but I didn’t get discouraged. In fact, it fueled my desire even more to break through the wall of negativity about HR.

There was one visit that helped me recalibrate team member interactions that I will always remember.

I was walking through the kitchen of one of our high-volume pizzerias when I saw a piece of paper mounted on one of the prep tables. It was at eye level, and you could tell it had been posted there to make sure the message was visible to every single employee. I had seen notes posted before, and I didn’t care for them because they were usually a negative message. I felt that it showed that managers weren’t talking to their staff. They were just dictating something that wasn’t being performed or attended to. This note, however, was something I had never encountered before. It read:

“Look you motherf*#%ers, You need to put your f*#%ing glasses in the dishwashing area. If you bastards don’t start doing this, you will be f*#%ing fired. The Management.”

To say I was stunned would be an understatement. At first, I wasn’t sure how to respond to what I just read. The first thing I did was look around at the other team members moving back and forth in the kitchen. No one seemed to be shocked, offended, or surprised by this mandate laced with creative language. It was fascinating!!

Before I tell you how I did respond, let me take a break to share how I assume many HR pros would have reacted . . .

The first response would be feigned offense, indignation, and disbelief. How could anyone allow this to be posted in the work environment? What were the managers thinking? The next step would be to tear the posting down in disgust with a tinge of embarrassment. Then, it was time to find out who was responsible for this obvious policy violation and hold them “accountable.” This surely would result in some discipline. It could even mean a suspension with a good chiding, or even a termination. There wouldn’t be joy in doing this, but the emotion of how awful this message from management was would have to be immediately dealt with and addressed. Heads would roll. An example would have to be made that this would never be tolerated ever again. Cue scary music in the background as the HR pro glares at the crumpled posting in their shaking hand.

Now let me share what really happened . . .

I carefully took the paper down and found the GM who happened to be working the shift. I calmly asked, “Having problems with team members and glasses?”

Their head dropped below their shoulders. “I didn’t write that note. It was Louise.” That didn’t register with me because I didn’t know who Louise was. “Is she a manager here?” I asked. “No, well, it’s hard to describe,” they stammered.

The GM went on to let me know that Louise was a long-term team member who came in very early in the morning to clean and get the store ready to be open every week day. She had her own crew, but she wasn’t officially a manager. She had been such a regular part of the store that she had seen managers come and go while she remained. I appreciated the background and asked if she was still at work. “Yes,” they sheepishly replied. “She’s right over there.”

In the back of the kitchen stood an older, slender woman with an apron on. She was busily working, and the other team members seemed to enjoy being around her. I went up to her and introduced myself.

“Louise?” I asked, noticing I towered over her. I’m fairly tall, and she was not.

“Yep. Who are you? I’ve never seen you here before,” she stated.

“I’m Steve,” I replied.

“Uh huh. You from the office?” she wondered.

“Yes I am. I’m the new human resources director. Can I ask you about this note?” and I pulled out the instructions about how used glassware was to be properly placed.

“Oh yeah, I wrote that,” she willingly admitted.

“Okay. Well, did you need to cuss when you wrote this? That’s a pretty harsh way to describe our team members,” I explained.

“Have you met some of them yet?” she calmly responded.

I laughed out loud. I know that may not have been the “proper” response from the HR 101 Operation Manual, but she caught me off guard, and it was funny.

“No ma’am. I haven’t met many team members yet,” I said.

She smiled back at me and said, “I suppose you don’t want me to post my notes.”

I wanted to make sure I had a good response for her. “I guess you’re frustrated with others here. Would that be safe to say?”

“You’re damn right I am. These kids don’t have any work ethic. I come in here every f*#%ing day and pick up after them. Lazy f*#%ers. The whole bunch of them,” she stated without batting an eye. It didn’t matter that I was in human resources or from the corporate office.

She kept on going, but I stopped her and said, “Louise, I understand you’re frustrated, but do you have to cuss when you’re talking about others?”

“I don’t f*#%ing cuss honey. I’m just talking,” and she meant it. She didn’t even notice that she was swearing. Did I mention that Louise was in her early 70’s during this encounter with me? I know that doesn’t excuse coarse language, but it didn’t really upset me. I had been around employees who swore during work for years. Many times, I joined in just so we could converse.

“Well Louise, I’m going to take down this note. I tell you what. I’ll come visit you on a regular basis and you can share any frustrations you have with me, and we’ll take a look at things. How does that sound?” I wasn’t sure of the response I was going to get.

“I’d like that.” She smiled again. “Nice to meet you.”

I didn’t write her up or discipline her. I crumpled up the sign and threw it out in a waste basket sitting next to us. I then left and went about my day, and so did she. The GM was watching our conversation the whole time. I’m sure they were curious to see how I was going to respond. We went to a part of the restaurant where we could talk, and she told me Louise’s history. “She doesn’t even know she’s cussing, and the other team members love her. She loves them too. My restaurant is better with her in it. That’s a fact.”

I kept my commitment and visited Louise often. We grew very close, and she never stopped swearing. I learned about her family and how she had grown up with our founder’s wife as a childhood friend. She was endearing just as the GM had told me.

I chose to respond with a tool that has worked for me my entire HR career when I found myself in these awkward circumstances. This is a very effective tool that is available for every person throughout your organization.

Grace.

This may be foreign to you, and I can almost guarantee that it’s foreign to how employees have been approached in the past. We don’t feel that we have the latitude in our roles to show grace to others when they mess up. I just don’t think it’s true. We can take ownership of how we approach others with our own personal style.

I know that when others have shown me grace when I’ve stumbled, I’ve been thankful. It allowed both of us to breathe, calm down, and look at the situation in a fresh and open way.

Often, it led to a productive outcome and a stronger relationship. Trust me when I say that allowing grace in our interactions with others will result in a positive experience most of the time.

I’m not saying that discipline and termination are never warranted at work. However, I use a yardstick that says that you only need to implement these steps based on an employee’s behavior and actions. Even with that benchmark, I still review each case and consider all of the factors as well as the person who’s about to be disciplined. I want them to come out of any conversation understanding the situation, its context and how we move forward from there.

Now, so you don’t think I’m being utopian or an idealist, understand that I practice this both inside work and outside of work. It’s not a popular position. Most people want a pound of flesh when they are wronged. I’ll hold out until the last possible moment before making difficult decisions because I believe in people, even in the darkest situations.

You see, I make mistakes and I have disappointed others—even those closest to me. How can I expect grace from others if I am not willing to be graceful myself? Also, how will others show grace if it isn’t given to them?

I recommend that you try a new approach and allow grace to occur.

I’d also recommend that you make grace the norm when people work with each other regardless of their position and level in your company. If you can teach those who manage people the power of this tool, you’ll see a genuine shift in how people treat each other. It’s time for us to buck the trend of others who tend to be reactive and destructive when people fail them. Instead of talking about others, talk to them with an attitude of grace first so that you seek to understand them, the situation they’re facing, and the way to move forward. If you try this, you’ll see people aren’t as bad as you think. It will also make HR, and your life, more balanced and fulfilled. It works.

One last note . . .

I had worked with Louise for over a decade when age started to finally catch up with her. She had lasted through two additional GMs since we first met. They moved on to other stores in our chain and she remained a constant. She had to retire when her memory started to fade, and she’s living in an assisted living facility now. The last GM to work with her had kept a folder with her notes that she had posted in it. When she was getting ready to leave on her last day, he showed Louise the folder and said, “This will always be here in the store because we want you to always be here with us.”

That, my friends, is grace.

Getting Together !!

As I write this, the entire world has changed. It’s unprecedented and has caused an environment of isolation in order to hopefully ensure safety in the long-term. Emotions range from anxiety and fear to confidence and hope. The whole situation has caused us to reevaluate how work is done and what we focus on in life in general.

I have to say that in the midst of this challenging time, I love that people are finding ways to get together even though it’s not in person. There are folks having virtual happy hours and coffee clubs. This is so encouraging because I’ve always been someone who believes that we are wired to be connected as people. This is true for everyone.

Cheers during our Zoom chat !!

Recently I joined a Zoom call with a group of friends who happen to also be in HR that have been daily connected for the past 3+ years. We have a GroupMe and talk every day. Every. Day. Even with that, we felt the need to see and hear each other. In moments we were laughing, telling stories and checking in on how we’re responding to everything going on around us. We talked for 1 1/2 hours !! It was magnificent in every possible way. We got to see each other’s houses even though we live all across the country. This made sense to get together because it’s what we’re used to.

The inaugural #HRPubQuiz !!

Then, yesterday I joined a chat that was predominantly made up of friends I’ve only “met” on social media from the UK. Selena Govier put out a call to have an HR Pub Quiz which she was going to run virtually. So, at 9:00pm GMT the quiz began with five rounds of ten questions. This was great because I got to see and hear the voices of friends I’ve only seen online !! The questions were tough because I’m in the US and don’t have a ton of knowledge of UK only trivia. It didn’t matter one bit because we also laughed and had fun sharing all of the answers. I scored a 22 out of 53 and was pretty geeked about that. Selena plans to have the #HRPubQuiz each week while we’re all at our homes.

Hanging with the State Line Crew !!

Once that wrapped up, another group of HR friends who identify as the #StateLineCrew had a chat as well. They are near the border between Illinois and Wisconsin, and the person putting the call together asked if I could join as a surprise. She also reached out to friends in Virginia and South Dakota to join in. We had another hour of rich conversation, laughter and some commiserating because that was a welcomed relief. It was a great reminder that HR folks don’t have a ton of people they can share with inside their organization because of the nature of the work we do.

No one really knows how long we’ll be apart from each other as this global crisis continues. So, take the time to get together virtually with your family, friends and co-workers. With technology there are no geographic boundaries to stop you. Put together a video chat or use social media forums to connect. Invite others and ask them to join in with you.

This is a time for us to make sure everyone is noticed and included. Having gatherings like this is worth your time because you’ll feel encouraged, connected and know that we’re in this together. Reach out !! I know I will be.

Travels

This past weekend I happened to travel. I’ve come a long way personally when it comes to trips. I used to get very anxious about almost every aspect from finding a place to park at an airport to talking to a desk clerk at a hotel. It’s not rational. I know that. I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m an uber-extrovert. I easily approach folks and find it energizing to meet strangers and get to know about them. So, the anxiety I experienced while traveling was even more troubling because in every other situation I rarely hesitate to interact with others.

Over the years in my volunteer roles with SHRM, I had to face my anxiety more and more. As I took on larger positions, travel became much more regular. Fortunately, I have a dear friend who was patient with me who taught me how to have confidence during my travels. I learned how to not get overwhelmed and started enjoying the time I had in airports and in new geographic locations. Now, I’m at a much different place because I’ve put in place some simple patterns I follow to keep things in order. You have to understand that this is a giant challenge for me because I tend to be carefree and spontaneous.

Since I’m more at ease with travel, I’ve slipped back into what I normally do – observe others. I’m an avid people watcher !! People fascinate me. I love seeing how everyone is unique in their appearance and their approach to traveling themselves. The vast majority of people have a destination mindset. They will do all they can to get through security quickly and without incident because they don’t want to slow down. Once they’ve cleared this first hurdle, they keep their head down and their pace increases as they dash to their gate. If anything inhibits people, they will audibly huff, groan or sigh. They only care about their destination and everyone else is honestly seen as being in their way.

I get it. I see the anxiety and stress on the faces and in the voices of my fellow travelers. I’m not judging because there are so many factors that can upset your plans. You’re hoping for each moment to go smoothly, and you convince yourself that something will go wrong. Unfortunately, it can. The volume of people who are traveling is only increasing and many of the systems are over capacity or not modernized. Also, not one airport is the same. There is variety in how everything is handled.

Because I know my triggers, I’ve learned to be more patient with other travelers. I’ve also decided to show grace, appreciation and thanks to those who help us along the gauntlet from the parking lot to our final destinations. The employees on the travel side get bombarded with all of the people who are wired and on edge. They deserve to be treated well instead of launched upon. Many of the delays and idiosyncrasies that pop up are out of their control.

This past weekend I noticed a piece of art which captured who I try to be and how I thought I’d travel. I’ve seen it in the past, but it truly caught my eye this time. I’m sure I’ve missed so much in airports, hotels and even the towns I’ve gone to because I was focused on arriving more than enjoying the journey. That’s a shame. It truly is.

I’ve been doing my best to keep my eyes and ears open so I can take in the experience around me far more than worrying about where my gate is. I’ve found that it’s lowered by stress, anxiety and probably my blood pressure. I don’t want to miss the people, sights and interactions that swirl around me. I am now embracing the pace with all of it’s chaos.

It’s a great reminder to use this same approach at home with my wife, at work with my peers and out in public. This week I hope you slow down and calm down. Life is short. We casually say this all the time, but we don’t take steps to do anything about it and savor where we are and who we’re with. Change that today. Our lives can be full and abundant if we embrace the experience during all of our travels as well as our destinations !!

See the Lights !!

This time of year can lead to a variety of emotions. For some, the holidays are difficult while others are ecstatic. It runs the gamut and it’s hard to know how people are facing the season. It would be best if we had the courage to have safe conversations with each other. We tend to steer clear of anything that could lead to vulnerability or sensitive issues. We’re afraid we won’t know how to “properly” respond if someone gives an answer for which we’re not prepared. So, instead of interacting we avoid. That saddens me. It truly does. We’re at a time in society where more interaction would be more beneficial versus avoiding each other.

I’m a person who goes through periods of joy and also times of stress. The stress in unrealistic and brought on by the thoughts in my mind. Like most people, they tend to wander and make up scenarios with absolutely no context. I do love the music, the chance to decorate our house and to exchange gifts with my wife and kids. I don’t even mind going out among the crowds who seemingly come out of the air and fill shopping centers. The stress comes because of time and how we try to cram a year’s worth of activities into a very small window.

Thankfully, my wife introduced a tradition from her childhood that keeps me balanced. She used to get in the car with her family and they would drive around neighborhoods to see the lights. The displays weren’t the houses of friends and families per se. They were random people who had decided to have outdoor displays to capture the feel of the holidays.

When we were first married (before kids), Debbie and I kept up with this tradition and we loved it. After our kids were born, we continued driving around to see what people had put up. Now that they’ve “left the nest”, we’ll have our first season to go and see the various lighting displays as a couple once again. I’m geeked to get a thermos filled with hot chocolate to enjoy as we cruise through the night to see how creative people are.

There are several reasons why I enjoy seeing the lights each holiday season.

Time together – I am fortunate to have a phenomenal wife and kids (adults). I don’t take that for granted in the least. I know that family dynamics may not always be the best for people. But, when you take time to do things together, you have a better chance to have positive experiences which lead to positive memories.

Reduced stress – It’s easy to get caught up in the pace of life and its various pushes and pulls of the holidays. It’s an even stronger level of stress than you experience the rest of the year. However, when you’re slowly driving through a neighborhood looking at lights, the pressure you may be feeling melts away. That release is so valuable and it helps you get things back in some semblance of order and sanity.

Seeing the light – The most stunning part of seeing the displays all around us is that the light pierces the darkness. The tiny bulbs emanate all of their energy to brighten the shadows. The colors are clear, distinct and welcoming. They bring a smile to your face every time and show how powerful light truly is.

Think what your days would be like if you enjoyed the time together with those around you. How would they feel if you stopped, paused and took a breath in the midst of the daily pace of work/life and realized you didn’t need to be that stressed. And, how would your day be if you saw the light in others instead of darkness?

You have the opportunity to keep in mind the serenity of seeing the lights as you approach your day. This next week do two things – (1) See the positive side of others and be the light in their day that breaks through any potential negativity and (2) Go out yourself at night and drive around.

Take the time to go and see the lights !! You’ll be glad you did and it may become a tradition for you as well.

Callie

This past week has been a whirlwind. Each week I have is full, and I’m fortunate for that. I have some great things going on at work, and I was able to also have the opportunity to speak at the Vermont SHRM State Conference and attend a SHRM Board meeting. Any time I can be near my HR peers and get to know them more, do good work and share some laughs along the way, my bucket is filled.

However, this week, my bucket leaked a little.

Several years ago, my dear friend Matt Stollak, was talking to me about his HR Students at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin. He is a phenomenal human who also happens to teach people to become the future practitioners in our profession. Matt always has fond stories of his students, but one in particular made a profound difference in my life. One day he reached out and wanted to make sure that I connected with one of his students named Callie. I sent her a note to connect and she jumped on the request right away.

Callie was eager, interesting and engaged the first moment that we talked. She was always smiling, ready to share a jab and challenge your perspective because she wanted to learn more and more about HR. When I started to get to know her, she was the SHRM student chapter President. She interviewed me for a paper of hers and kept in touch until she graduated. When she entered the workforce, we stayed connected and I loved seeing her start to dig in and grow as a peer in HR.

Our paths crossed over the years at various SHRM events because she remained involved as a SHRM volunteer leader for the Wisconsin SHRM State Council as both the Social Media Director and College Relations Director. I’ve been active and volunteering for two decades now, so I had a good chance of running into her. Just a short time ago she left the corporate world of HR and actually joined SHRM as an employee. Her role was as a Field Services Director which meant she would visit State Councils and local SHRM chapters and conferences to work/meet with SHRM volunteer leaders. It was great to see her join in and give the role a new viewpoint and energy !!

As I kept staying involved myself, I saw Callie more regularly because I had stepped into different roles which allowed me to travel and speak around the country. Every time I was at an event with Callie we would chat, catch up and laugh (of course.) She was a bright light that I couldn’t wait to see. She was continuing to flourish and improve the lives of so many people, and I loved seeing her thrive !! She even recently stepped into the role of overseeing College Relations and the Young Professionals efforts of SHRM National.

A few months ago, she called me and shared some incredibly grave news. She told me she hadn’t been feeling well and the doctors she had visited couldn’t figure out what was happening to her. After multiple visits to doctors, she was told she had Stage 4 stomach cancer. I was crushed. I thanked her for letting me know, but I felt absolutely helpless.

I reassured her that I would check in and be available for her at any time. I am a man of faith, and I told her that she would be in my prayers. This wasn’t a hollow sentiment. She told me that she was facing a fierce regimen of chemotherapy, but was hopeful that since she was younger, she would get through.

A week ago, Matt reached out and told me that Callie was given 4 to 6 weeks to live. Now I was devastated. I reached out that day to text her and tell her how much she meant to me and to so many others. I told her that she needed to know that she was a light who made a lasting impact on everyone she encountered. I also told her that my life was better because she had been in it. Again, not a hollow sentiment.

I then heard that she was going to meet with hospice this week. After I had spoken at the Vermont SHRM conference and had a packed room filled with more HR peers who were laughing and looking at life and HR in a positive way, I got the news that Callie had passed.

Picture with dear friends at SHRM18 in Chicago. From left to right: Michelle Kohlof, me, Mary Williams, Callie Zipple and Anthony Paradiso.

There are no good words for how much I’m affected by her passing. I know that the loss of anyone is never easy. I ache in a way that seems to have no end because Callie is no longer here. I’m crushed for her husband and family as well.

I reached out to Matt to ask if he thought sharing the news on social media would be okay. I wanted to be respectful, but also wanted to let others know that were fortunate enough to have met and known Callie. He thought it would be fine. When I shared, I was floored by the incredible response and outpouring of love and support. She HAD made a difference !!

I’m writing this today for two reasons: (1) I needed to make sure that even more people knew about my friend Callie. (2) I wanted this to be a reminder for all of us.

You see, Callie engaged every. single. person she encountered. She met them with interest, joy and a willing ear to listen. She didn’t look past anyone to get to something, or someone, more important. People mattered to Callie.

My friends, we have the same opportunity that Callie took every. day. We are surrounded by people in our families, our workplaces and in our communities. Are you taking the time to engage with others? Do they matter?

Do you know that YOU may be the one person who chose to stop, connect and listen at the exact moment someone needed to be noticed and heard? The people who are in your life are there for a reason.

You need to remember that you make an impression on people any time you meet them. Those interactions can be positive and lasting if you choose to be intentional and step into the lives of others on purpose. You can be the one interaction to remind them that they matter.

Callie did that for me as well as for so many others, and I am eternally grateful that she did.

Going to California

A few weeks ago I wrote about being a part of the “sandwich generation” where I have the privilege of taking care of my parents and also my kids (adults). We are all at different stages of life. My adults are just starting out their career while my wife and I are in the midst/latter stages of our career, and my parents are fully retired.

Well, this past Friday, a new wrinkle presented itself which brought about a mix of excitement and sadness at the same time. My son, Josh, just packed his car and is driving across the country from Ohio to San Diego, California. He is on the precipice of beginning his life past college. He truly wanted to get a start in California, and we decided to support him.

The sadness was just a small part of this new transition. We all hugged, shed some tears and then sent him on his way. We know that he will be successful and admire that he is willing to be such a risk taker. We’re very excited that he is adventurous !! Today we can talk to him at any time using various methods which make his moving out a bit more comforting.

As we came to the day of Josh leaving, we had several meaningful conversations along the way. One night he mentioned something that truly caught me by surprise. He said, “Dad, when I tell everyone that I want to go to California, everyone gives me reasons why they wouldn’t go. They say it’s too expensive or too ‘weird’ or other things. Why is that?”

Great questions. We worked through everything, and he knows he has our full support as parents. Our conversation did make me think though because when he was asked about his future, he was expecting affirmation and encouragement. He received doubt, cynicism and negativity. Why is it that when others step out to take risks, most everyone does their best to limit or confine that expression?

I think the answer is that since we would be less likely to do this ourselves, we share our concerns to confirm that we like things how they are. It is funny to me that people constantly say they’re “good with change” which just isn’t true. We desire stability and pattern, and there is a ton of predictability and certainty with that. It’s not wrong or right. It’s just how most people live.

When a risk taker enters our space, we get edgy and defensive because we’re afraid they’re going to upset OUR patterns. We don’t like people who are unpredictable and we have some pretty strong adjectives to describe them which are all negative. We can’t expect creativity and innovation in our organizations if we describe risk takers in negative terms. You see, they won’t be stifled for long because they’ll willingly take their next step in a new direction.

This week try something new. Affirm and encourage those who are trying to bring about change. I understand that all organizational change needs context. This time don’t assume the worst and think that the change will assuredly lead to failure. Embrace the risk takers in your life. You need them to keep things fresh, alive and relevant.

I love my risk taking son. As soon as he was driving out of our driveway, I thought of the beautiful Led Zeppelin classic “Going to California.” It has the lyrics:

“Made up my mind to make a new start, Going to California with an aching in my heart . . .”

The ache is there, but the new start is about to launch and I can’t wait to see the amazing things that he will accomplish !!

No Words

Sunday night is when I sit down to pen my weekly blog. Usually, the words flow easily and I can put something together relatively quickly.

If you don’t know, I am an extremely positive person 90% of the time. It’s natural and genuine. Honestly, it feels a bit odd to type it out because I don’t mean this in either an arrogant or naive way. I believe in the good in life and in people.

Then, the mass shootings of El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio happened this Saturday. Dayton is a mere 25 miles north of my home. These tragedies are always horrible and senseless. So, I am floored by this weekend and the mass loss of life. We often get moved by the horror until something else grabs our attention.

I know that there are millions of people who are continuing to move on and live life well. They may see the news online or through social media, and feel remorse or disbelief. And yet, life continues.

This week, instead of writing about the good in people (which I still firmly believe in), I’m taking a break to reach out to those close to me. I’m being intentional to tell them how much they mean to me, and the impact they make in my life and the lives of others. I can’t take the chance that I’d miss the opportunity to do this. I don’t want to take any day for granted.

For those of you kind enough to read my blog, please know that you matter. Every. Day.

Milestones

Each year the country celebrates another July 4th, and it becomes a year older. With all of the picnics, concerts, fireworks and days off from work, we tend to overlook this fact. Even though America is a mere 243 years old (young compared to many countries), it’s still another milestone.

In today’s fast paced world, we tend to see milestones come and go with little fanfare. In fact, unless the milestone directly affects us, we don’t pay it much attention at all. I understand that it isn’t feasible for you to acknowledge every possible milestone that occurs around you. However, do you slow down enough to see the ones that you can?

Recently, a spectacular milestone occurred that I’m sure you weren’t aware of. My cousin Mary turned 60 years old !! Now, that in itself isn’t much of an accomplishment. People age every day and hit significant birthdays ranging from 1 to 100. Her aging was just time passing as it always does.

What you don’t know is that my cousin, Mary, is an amazing human !! She and I have been very close since we were young children. She grew up on a family farm in the metropolis of Pemberville, Ohio while I grew up in a house trailer in the equally as massive Luckey, Ohio. (These are real places. You can Google them.) We worked on her family’s farm together over the years, but then my mother remarried when we became teenagers, and we moved to Ada, Ohio which was about an hour away. I saw Mary at family gatherings and holidays which was wonderful.

Time continued to pass and Mary graduated from college, got married and started a family. I also went to college and then happened to move back into the same town as her. Again, none of this is that unique. I’m sure you have similar extended family and/or friend stories that would mirror this.

Where the story takes an interesting twist happened 17 years ago. My cousin was diagnosed with cancer. It was not good news, and she came inches from passing away. It was simply a miracle that she made it through. Many people were praying for her and hoping for the best. She did get better and has been in remission since she was on the edge of leaving us.

THAT is why my cousin turning 60 is a true milestone !!

Since her remission, Mary has poured into the lives of others even more than she already did. She’s been fortunate to see all of her children do well and become great humans themselves. Mary is someone who still lights up a room with her smile, her heart and her infectious laugh.

As I’m typing this, I have two very good HR friends who have been recently given a diagnosis like my cousin. I’m praying and pulling for them and hope that they will get the care that they need so they can reach milestones as well. I know that there are many more circumstances that people are currently facing. They range from health challenges to difficulties at work. They may be in between jobs or have family struggles more than can be adequately captured.

I’m sharing this because I think it’s time we stopped to relish and enjoy the milestones of those folks who are in our lives. That may be true of direct family members or co-workers. Instead of rushing to the next like, share or post, what would life (and work) look like by taking time to listen and understand what is happening in the lives of those around us?

I know this may not be “natural” for you, but I think it’s worth your time. I genuinely feel that investing your time in the lives of others is the best use of your time. Every. Day. This is especially true if you’re an HR peer. HR has always been about humans and the lives they live. It’s not about the work they do !! Trust me. When you focus on the lives of others on purpose, they will be more engaged and productive than they ever have been.

This week start celebrating milestones !!

I know that this may be a change in focus for you, so I wanted to give you a tool to get you started. My good friend, Kevin Monroe, is starting a 10-Day Gratitude Challenge. I’ve signed up and would encourage you to do the same. Here is the link – https://kevindmonroe.com/the-gratitude-challenge/

The Box

Today is a very meaningful day for many families. Memorial Day is when we remember those who lost their lives in military service. My biological dad served in the Vietnam War. He was different than many people who were drafted. He voluntarily enlisted in the Army. It was his best option after high school.

My father was a Staff Sargent who went into combat with other men. My mom told me that he didn’t talk about warfare much and she never pressed him to do it. He would share about friends and fellow soldiers who laid down their lives with empathy and sadness. He loved his men, and from what I’ve learned, they had a great relationship with him as well.

My dad fought in the battle of Da Nang and was wounded. The day before the battle, Agent Orange was used to clear the foliage. His unit was the one that went in first to any conflict. After he was shot, he couldn’t be removed from the field of battle for 24 hours. So, he lied motionless with a massive wound to his neck and was exposed to the residue of the chemicals laid down earlier. Shortly after the battle, my dad developed cancer. He had non hodgkin’s lymphoma and he died a few short months later. That was 1968 and I was four years old.

Please understand that I’m not upset. I am very proud of my father and that he served his country. Do I wish I could have had him grow old with me and see what has happened over the past 50 years? Of course. However, I believe that life happens the way it was designed. I’m fortunate that he fell in love with my mom and that I was born. He helped give me life. That never goes away.

A few weeks ago I was home visiting my parents (my mom got remarried to my dad and he’s awesome !! They’ve been going on 42 years of marriage themselves.) They’re getting to the stage of life where they’re parsing out things to my brother and I to make sure that they stay in the family. My mom said, “I have a box of your dad’s things that I want  you to have.” I wasn’t sure what that meant. She told me it was back in the den and I retrieved a fire proof box that was packed full. I was anxious to see what was inside, but waited until I returned home.

When I couldn’t wait any longer, I carefully opened the box. Inside was more information and memories of my father than I had ever known. There are military records, pictures, and patches from his military uniforms. I had some patches from him in the past that sit in a shadow box in my family room.

There was one other treasure in the box. There were hand written letters that my dad wrote to my mom when he was away from her. They were simple and full of love. It was like hearing his voice. They were conversational and poignant. Tears streamed down my face as I took in every word. Fifty years later I was sitting together in my house with my dad.

On Memorial Day, remember and be thankful. We are all able to enjoy the lives we have today because there are those who served and sacrificed. This box reminded me of the gift of my father’s life who is still touching others long after he has gone.

I hope that I can live my life in a way that honors who he was and what he did. Have a great Memorial Day !!

Doctor, Doctor !!

This past weekend my amazing daughter accomplished something 21 years in the making !! (if you start from Kindergarten) She earned her Doctorate of Occupational Therapy from the University of Indianapolis. To say that my wife and I are proud would be a gross understatement.

I know there are many families who are celebrating the graduations of their children from high schools and colleges all over the world. It’s a milestone that still gives me chills to see people reach any level of education. There are countless hours of studying, research papers, projects and presentations. Each one seems daunting at the time they’re due for both the student and their parents. So, I want to wish a hearty congratulations for everyone celebrating graduations this Spring and Summer. Make sure to enjoy them.

Now, back to my daughter Melanie . . .

There were 52 people in her class who earned their Doctorate this weekend, and they are all part of the inaugural doctoral class at UIndy. There were many proud parents, spouses, partners, children and extended family. It was wonderful because we don’t have enough times in our days where there is only positive energy. You didn’t hear one complaint. Instead, you could hear an audible sigh of relief from everyone involved.

We have been so fortunate over the academic portion of Melanie’s life. She has been at the top of her class ever since she began school. She never faltered and pressed herself to succeed. My wife and I expected both of our kids to perform, but left it to them to do the work and get the results they’ve earned. She continued excelling throughout high school, undergraduate and throughout her graduate studies. She ended up with a 3.93 GPA out of 4.00 in her doctoral program. (I know, slacker. She left .07 on the table !!)

More than any academic achievement, we’re proud of who our daughter is as a young woman. She is someone who has a strong faith and a heart for others. She has served people in many different arenas around the world including Ghana and many inner cities throughout the U.S. She attracts others like a magnet and is a close friend to many. You’ll find her to be selfless and yet self-aware and confident. She’s also fiercely funny and a joy to be around. My wife and I often heard from teachers, friends and their families how much they enjoy having Melanie around.

Remember how I said I was proud ??

We’re most impressed by what a great human Melanie has become. She is positive and does her best to bring life and light to all she encounters. You can’t ask much more than that from your children.

Now, like all of those other graduates, she steps out to take her next step. The difference this time is that she won’t be going to another school. She’ll soon be sitting for her boards and then will enter the workforce somewhere. I’m geeked that she’ll be in a field where she’s taking care of humans because that is what she was made to do.

There were many tears shed and they glistened on my face at every event I attended. It’s hard to believe that 24 plus years ago I held this beautiful little girl born on Christmas Day. And, from now on, I get to call her Dr.

I can assure you it will never get old !!