We All Have Stories To Tell

This past week my wife and I ventured out and went on vacation. We toured the north and west coast of Michigan and it was fantastic !! Yes, things have changed, but we felt safe and were safe ourselves. We liked seeing people adapt and still be able to enjoy the small towns, the sprawling sand dunes off Lake Michigan and countless lighthouses. (Quick aside – I’m a HUGE fan of lighthouses, but that’s for a different post.)

On the drive back, we were able to stop by and visit my parents. Any time I get to spend with them is something I cherish. They hadn’t seen Debbie since the beginning of March so this visit was even more special. I’ve written often about my hometown of Ada, Ohio where my parents still reside. This is because it offers a break from the maniacal pace of life that seems to swallow us in our “regular” daily routine.

Every time I visit, there’s always some task or chore that needs attending to. I’m glad to pitch in because I’m fortunate to have two of the best parents on the planet !! Yes, I’m biased. However, I see them show grace, support, encouragement, humor and hospitality to everyone they encounter. They continue to be great role models to learn from.

One special surprise for them was that I brought them a signed copy of my new book, HR Rising !!, for them. It’s funny that I still get butterflies in my stomach when I get to share accomplishments and moments from my life and the lives of my wife and kids with them. It’s like still beaming when they’d put a school paper up on the refrigerator. I was nervous because I dedicated the book to them and they didn’t know that. My mom read the dedication and started to tear up which made me tear up as well. We’re a very openly emotional family which is another thing I cherish.

She shared with my dad that the book was dedicated to them and he smiled. You see, my dad is almost blind now in his old age. He has been a diabetic for almost 60 years. I’m fortunate that he’s still with us, but each year another aspect of the disease limits another area of his daily existence. He’s not saddened by this. He is grateful he’s lived as long as he has because he’s been fighting the disease long before the great advances that are currently available.

As we continued to share the details of our vacation, I mentioned that in the book, the introduction was about an encounter, or “life lesson” as my dad called them, between my father and I some decades ago. My mom and wife said, “Why don’t you read it to us?” I got shaky. Now, you need to know that I am an avowed extrovert who rarely shies away from any chance to express myself. But, reading a story to my dad just hit me.

The story is about a time when he was still fit, hard working and able to figure out any situation which involved work with your hands. He had grown up on a farm and had been able to do literally any type of home repair. As I sat on the couch to read, he scooted his wheelchair up closer and said, “I want to be close to hear you. Now, don’t mumble.” This was typical of dad – always coaching.

I told him that this is how I remember the story, so hang in there. As I opened my mouth to start, the tears poured down my face. Here I was sitting in front of the father I love and admire and reading him a story I wrote. I’m sharing something that we experienced together and it’s captured on a written page forever. It really impacted me that I, his child, was reading to his parent.

I struggled to read the story and the pages because the whole time I was wondering how he would take it. I didn’t want him to feel misrepresented or seen in a bad light. That’s not how the story goes by the way. When I finished, he beamed and laughed about how everything had happened. It was a moment I will always hold dear and it was the perfect end to our vacation.

Whose story can you tell? Do you see the people around you as part of your life story? Could you take time to invest and pour into others for simply a few moments of your day? How do you think it would go if you showed kindness by intentionally spending your time with others this next week?

You need to remember that every person is part of your story. Therefore, pay attention to everyone and let them help write the fabric of life around you. Tell them your story and that they are a part of it. Let them know they are a meaningful part of your life. It matters.

To Dream . . .

If you took a poll right now in workplaces, the title of this post might be “to survive” or “just exist.” It’s tough right now. The work environment is being tested and challenged in ways it hasn’t in our lifetime. You have those who have been working remotely for months that have altered their living space, their schedules and their approach to work. There are also people who have been working ever since the pandemic began and haven’t missed a beat. Even though that has been the case for them, “work” doesn’t look like it used to. Unfortunately, there is also a very large number of people who are in transition and are not working. Any time that occurs you face personal, professional and economic obstacles while you’re trying to successfully land once again.

Each day is consumed with extenuating circumstances that have very little to do with the role we are expected to perform. The stress levels are higher and people are more emotional than I can remember. Throw on top of all this the constant level of uncertainty that seems to hang over everyone like a constant shadow. What can we effectively do in these challening times ??

We can dream.

“What?” you may think. Is it possible to break out of the mire and darkness that is trying to swallow us? Yes, it is. And, I’d also throw out there that we all need to gather ourselves to see how we can once again be creative in who we are and what we do.

Please note I’m not suggesting that you dream just to be aspirational. I feel it’s a great time to expand our approach to HR, people practices, workplace culture and how we conduct business. It would be a shame for us to just try to wait things out in the hope that things would return to “normal.” We all need to come to terms with the reality that the world of work has changed. It won’t, and shouldn’t, be the same any more.

The dreams I’m asking you to consider need to lead to tangible action both within your organization and in the profession of HR as a whole. This will take incredible effort to pull yourself out of all that’s going on. Your mind will tell you that you don’t have the energy or the time to come up with anything new. The pull will be immense and it will be easy to stay where you are, but fight it and dream.

I don’t want to be presumptuous and tell you to incorporate your new ideas in any particular area because each of you has a vast landscape of opportunities. Even if the topic was the same, the factors of each person and workplace would be different. Instead of looking to mimic someone else’s practices, step out and make something that fits you, your people and your company.

Look at every facet of an employee’s experience and see if it can be improved. There’s room for growth all around you. The key is to dream. You can. It’s time. We’ve been brought to the forefront of leadership over the past few months. Don’t let this time pass.

Lift your eyes up, be encouraged and dream. I’m geeked to see what you’ll create !!

Discipline(d)

I’ve been trying to read more and listen to more podcasts because I enjoy hearing the perspectives of others. My hope is to learn from what they are experiencing. In the midst of this when I listen to the HR voices, I see a common thread of reverting to creating and developing mountains of policies in order to address the current work environment and situation.

There are blogs and webinars about Return to Work policies. Now that we’re seeing that uncertainty is becoming more of the norm, there are more calls for discipline and punishment for those we KNOW are falling outside the boundaries we expect them to stay in. We keep striving for control and a lack of variablity in a time when variability is the norm !!

If you lead with “policy” as your first step, then I contend you’re completely missing the people aspect of your work. This is more reflective of how your company, and HR, truly view those who are your “greatest asset” on every mission statement adorning every company lobby. It continues to astonish me that people feel if we punish, address and confine people more tightly, then we’re sure to get the behavior we expect.

This has NEVER worked, and it NEVER will !!

I can already hear the traditionalist espousing that without stringent policies for every aspect of a person’s work life, abject chaos is sure to occur. They’re already listing one hundred HR horror stories of what happened when policies weren’t forcefully enacted. That has been their experience when working with people. This is flat miserable HR in my opinion, and I want to offer a different way to look at how discipline could occur in your organization.

Be disciplined first yourself.

It sounds simple and trite, but it takes incredible effort and energy. People struggle with being personally disciplined. We have no problem citing chapter and verse and then eagerly running to grab the form we spent days creating to make sure it was perfect in every possible way so we can enforce what is truly needed to maintanin order. That is simple.

Being disciplined yourself calls for you to be consistent, approchable, and willing to coach up rather than punish. There are many other ways to be disciplined physically, emotionally and spiritually. What I’d like you to consider is being displined yourself so you have to discipline others less.

Let me ask you this . . . Do you interact with others because you “can” or because you “have” to? Do you only spend more than 30 seconds with someone because of some assumed problem? Do you spend time with people because they’re great humans who come to work every day to do their best?

The number one reason I’m in HR is that I have the joy of being with people every day on purpose. That’s not some idyllic motivational aspiration. It’s a fact. People are amazing, messy, wonderful, challenging, inspirational, curious beings who seek to add value and be acknowledged – just like you are. We forget that everyone is a person.

You see, by being self-disciplined in how I view others, I can see the best in them. By working on being consistent, intentional and approachable, I can enter any interaction between two or more people with confidence. The approach is to have a conversation and assess what’s in front of us. If someone has gone out of bounds, then I coach them back in. Along with that I explain that if they choose to keep going out of bounds, there will be consequences.

I understand the need for parameters and definitions for how to work well, and I believe in them. What I don’t believe in is an archaic system built on punishment. I know people will disappoint me just as I could disappoint others. However, making the time to invest in others to learn who they are, what they’re interested in and how they’d like to perform well leads to a culture where hard core disciplining of others diminishes. It does.

When people know they’re valued by you and the organization, they are more likely to perform.

What would HR look like for you if you followed the expectation of pouring into others because they came to work that day? No other reason. You intentionally interactied with everyone you encountered just because. No agenda. No yearn to get in, get out and get back to your other tasks. Instead, you made the time to converse because you could. If you have to jump into a conversation more around the work at hand, fine, but don’t make that the reason you start the conversation.

I’m telling you if you developed this discipline, you’d start to believe in others and expect they would give their best. HR would then become the profession you’d always hoped it would be !!

This week start being discipline(d) yourself and see people for the great contributors they always have been !! You’ll soon be astonished how full and rich your days become.

Untangle the Knots !!

I don’t know what the weather has been like where you are, but it’s been extremely hot and humid where I live. It’s the kind of humidity that feels like you’re constantly swimming through thick steam. Even though it’s so moist and sticky, life continues and chores need to be tended to around the house.

I live in the suburbs and am fortunate to have an 1/2 acre lot with very mature trees. Our house seems to be an animal sanctuary because we have birds of every sort, squirrels, rabbits, and deer. We don’t have a “wooded” lot, but we still regularly get deer who travel through to eat the bird seed and chew on different vegetation. We are trying to grow two types of tomatoes and some green peppers in planters out on our back patio. The tomato plants were full of the first round of tomatoes, and I was set to harvest them the following day when they were all gone !! I’m sure our friendly deer had a nice snack.

We don’t mind having the deer come through because we had babies born each year for the last four years. I saw a new fawn just yesterday and we’re geeked that another new life has joined us. I did want to try to also enjoy our vegetables, so I went out to put a fence up to surround all of the plants. The fencing and the posts went up easy enough and I had some twine to secure the posts to the fencing. When I tried to get enough twine to cut pieces for the many posts, all I found was one giant knot. It took forever to even find an end to work from.

I started finding an end and then decided to take the time to remedy this giant intertwined mess. Did I mention it was hot? I was determined. I stood with the sun beating down on me trying to untangle the knot so the twine could be used for it’s given intention. As I slowly worked loop after loop through each other, my thoughts made me feel that this situation was very similar to everything that is going on around us.

People are all in knots over a variety of large scale, societal issues on top of all of the knots I’m sure they’re facing in their personal life. When we get bound up we don’t like it. We respond in a few ways to try to get things back in order. We fight against each strand which inevitably leads to more and more knots magically forming. Everything seems to constrict into tighter and tighter circumstances. Another response is to stop moving. The entanglement seems too daunting and we don’t have the energy to address anything, so we stay put. The third response is to just cut the knotted section out. Instead of trying to work through things, we hit a point where we feel that just cutting the knotted section out will fix everything. It never does.

I heard Trevor Noah the host of The Daily Show make an astute observation that he feels Americans look at things from only two sides. There’s only one choice or another, and when we only have those options they are automatically pitted against one another. We have lost sight of nuance and the inherent variety we have as people. When we limit our choices in life to either/or then we are doomed to become entangled and knots start forming. Our reactions are then in front of us – try to work it out, stop moving or just cut those that disagree with us out of our lives.

To be specific in today’s climate I agree that racism shouldn’t exist in any form in our communities, our workplaces or our approaches toward each other as humans. Also, we all want to feel safe, healthy and for the pandemic to end. Fear and uncertainty seem to be the prevalent leading emotions to every conversation and interaction. My hope is that we see that even in these difficult times, there is room for nuance, dialogue, opinion, action and diversity. There is no one way to address these items. There are a myriad of approaches and I’m encouraged that people are trying to take steps forward.

I was reminded of an Ernest Hemingway quote from his book, The Old Man and the Sea, which felt like it fit all that’s in front of us these days. Here it is . . .

One of the main causes of the knotted experience I’m seeing between people is that we focus on what we don’t have currently in place. We don’t look at our circumstance and environment and see what we can do with what exists. I think we need to find the end of the twine and work together to see how we can come together to untangle the many knots facing us.

I am willing to stay open minded to hear from others because they’re perspective may get one loop, or many, free and help us make progress. The key is knowing that this isn’t a program only in response to heightened emotions. It’s the first step in both moving forward AND connecting us more intentionally.

This week take a look at where knots are happening for you at home, at work, with your family and with your friends. Reach out and say that you’d like to do what you can to untangle the knots. You’ll be glad you did !!

Hello in There

This on-going pandemic is pressing in on people from all angles. It is causing distrust, angry comments, judgement and assumptions. People run the spectrum from full lockdown to unprotected flaunting. Throw in the middle of this that we have lost the ability to seek context or have discussions anymore. People take a thread of information or an image and make comments based on where they stand on an issue insisting that others absolutely agree with them. It’s exhausting and it doesn’t feel like we can treat each other as people anymore. We have decided to judge people based on taking sides.

Honestly, I feel people are doing this because they care. I don’t think its malicious or mean spirited (in most cases). People want to be seen and heard. This isn’t a new sentiment. It just happens to be front and center in almost every interpersonal interaction. I wanted to frame how I’m seeing, and experiencing, communication before sharing a story. It’s a story that has more meaning now to me than it did ever in the past . . .

A few weeks ago, my daughter came home to visit and see her friends. They discussed this beforehand and made sure they were being responsible where and when they met. She felt compelled to come back because one of her dearest friends just got engaged and she wanted to congratulate both of them in person. Since I had her home, I did what I had been taught – use her help with chores around the house. My daughter has always been fit and athletic and I could use her muscles to get some things attended to. We had a ball fixing a split rail fence, visiting the hardware store all masked up multiple times (because you never get everything on the first trip), and catching up on how life is going.

When she got back to her home in Indianapolis, she texted, “Dad, I’m becoming like you because you fix things for your mom and dad when you go visit them.” I beamed through glistening eyes. The next phases of our lives were in process. The following weekend, I went home to Ada, Ohio to visit my elderly parents. I am the trustee of their lives now, and they can’t sign certain things without me present. Again, we checked with each other to make sure everyone was healthy and safe before I trekked north.

I made it up for the day and went to a bank to sign some papers. Here’s where reality hits. I drove my parents over to Kenton, Ohio which is about fifteen minutes away. They felt I was putting them out, but I reassured them I was fine and glad to be their Uber. As we arrived, we masked up and I needed to assist my father who walks with canes and can’t see well at all. My father is now legally blind, and I had to help guide him the one block to the bank. When we were signing papers, I gently guided his hand to the line on the forms to fill in his signature. I had to repeat what the banker was saying because my mom is losing her hearing. My dad is a talker and he likes to connect and spin a yarn with everyone he encounters. He tried to do that with the young banker, but he was disinterested and just wanted to get through the task at hand. I’m sure he wanted to leave the bank as quickly as he could to get back to the family activities he was anticipating for the weekend. I could see my mom was hurt that the banker was impersonal because that just isn’t who she is.

I was the mediator and kept things moving. I chuckled at my dad’s stories and memories because they’re really funny, and I reassured my mom that we were getting everything taken care of. We went back to their house, had an incredible meal of homemade potato soup with sausage links, and then headed to the project list for the day. My mom wanted me do three things: (1) Put a new rope on a flag pole out front so they can fly the American and Ohio flags, (2) Clean out the gutters and fix some seams, and (3) Install a window air conditioner in one of their rental apartments. No big deal – right?

We took each task one by one, visited the local hardware store where my mom has a basket filled with homemade masks, she sewed which are free to the citizens of Ada, and got everything completed by dinner time. We laughed, caught up on life and talked about my remaining aunts and uncles’ health. Dinner was special because we ordered carryout pizza from their favorite local haunt. I was spent after it all but drove home satisfied knowing that a few hours with my parents helped them close out tasks that were on their mind.

This pandemic has kept us away from each other which has allowed us to be safe and evaluate how we can better connect and interact. I feel that for too long the incessant, rapid pace of life made almost every encounter with people trite and trivial. We were too busy to invest our time in others. One of the fallouts of being apart has been that older people are isolated even more than they already were. Now that we’re trying to maneuver our way through how we’re going to be around each other again, we can’t go back to the brush by approach.

I hope we’ve realized that we’ve always had time for others. Now we have a chance to pour into people in a more constructive way. You need to realize you work with, and possibly live with, people who are aching to connect and be recognized. They want to talk, see you and share stories that may have no significant meaning to you but mean the world to them.

This coming week, I want you to stop and assess how you can make time for others on purpose. Are there elderly people who could use a smile and an hour of your time? You need to be safe and follow guidelines so that someone isn’t put at risk, but you don’t have to avoid others. Wouldn’t it be great to know that every person around you had someone check in on them? Wouldn’t it be amazing to know that every person in your life felt connected, not alone and cared for? Take the time to say, “Hello in there” and let people know that you’d love to spend some time with them.

Not Sure What to Say

It’s rare that I don’t have words readily available to type and share. I have been struggling with all of the unrest happening around the country and in my city. I wanted to say something, and I’ve been apprehensive for a few reasons. First of all, I don’t want to make a statement that would be taken out of context which is easy to have done with anything that is but a snapshot of words in time. Secondly, writing about a racial issue when I’m a white man makes me anxious as well. I don’t want my words to be taken in a way that lessens or marginalizes anyone. However, I needed to say something.

I recently read that in a time of crisis, people of courage take a stand. I choose to step in on this with grace and a yearning to understand. Along with everyone else, I hear people screaming for people to pick a side and be held “accountable.” In fact, I’ve had friends cast their sentiments and shame on me for not instantly, and emotionally, respond to all that’s happening. I realize that I’m a visible person in the world of HR, and I choose to be one on purpose. With that, I don’t feel you can only comment on all that’s good, but you should also respond when things are challenging and uncomfortable.

I ache for what is happening. I truly do. I don’t pretend that I have the same background, fear and anger that many do because my life has not been made up of the same experiences. I understand that I am treated differently because I am white and not black. I don’t agree with it and I never have. To me, I am disheartened because people have lost their lives. There are families who have lost those dear to them forever when it didn’t need to happen, and we all know that in a moment a bad decision can be made that will change the course of a person’s life forever.

The country has been filled with angst, emotion and frustration for some time. All that has been happening with the pandemic, endless political rhetoric and a constant focus on all that’s “wrong” with our existence has consumed the majority of our thoughts and conversations. I’ve seen injustice occur when a spark is lit and the bucket of emotions unleashes. It’s honestly a cycle we refuse to address and break from.

And, here’s where I get stuck for words . . .

You see, I don’t dare be prescriptive or should that “this” action should happen or “that” person should be addressed. That’s only because there are far too many of us who need to act and speak up. It’s not only the people involved in the loss of life.

I’ve seen many contacts and friends who are beside themselves and have very publicly shouted that they’re getting off social media because they just can’t handle it anymore. I’m concerned when people step away only because it can lead to a trap of isolation, intimidation and indifference. I would hope there’s a chance and a window to engage, understand and have dialogue even when emotions are running high.

This past weekend, I was in Indianapolis with my wife visiting our daughter. As we were walking through the neighborhoods around Mass Ave., I saw this piece of art which captured what I can do during this time. It’s a crossing sign that has two alternative messages on it versus the traditional Walk/Don’t Walk. It shows “Don’t Care/Care” and the button below says, “Push button to change.” As we came up on the sign, it was on the blue light saying, “Don’t Care,” and we pushed the button to make the sign express “Care.”

Now, I know this is an analogy and just a visual cue. However, I believe that in all this unrest what I can do more than ever is care. I choose to do that by reaching out to friends who I know are angry and fearful. I’ve had conversations already and plan to reach out to others to check in. I’ve asked for context and not “why” when we’ve talked. I want them to know that I’m here for them no matter what.

That may seem minor and not doing “enough” in the eyes of many. What you need to understand though is that I have lived my life with the belief and behavior of meeting you WHERE you are and for WHO you are in every aspect of your life. While the world keeps ripping itself apart over ignorant words, self-aggrandizing tweets, and a cult of personality, I choose to engage people as humans, and I will continue to do so.

I value our differences and see them as strengths and attributes that make you a wonderful person worth engaging and knowing. I refuse to be someone who is called upon to only know others if I have to compartmentalize, label, judge, marginalize or generalize them.

I care about people and I ache that once again race has become something that divides us. I want to see that change and I am going to do that one person at a time. It’s been said for centuries that “actions speak louder than words.” I hope you are reflecting on how you can genuinely express care for people for who they are and where they are in life. To me this is basic and foundational.

In getting ready to write this, I did find some words that captured my heart well from of all places – Nike. Take a look and let’s do all we can to bring people together and move forward.

Who You Are to Me

Recently, I’ve noticed an unfortunate malaise when it comes to being active on social media. It seems that you can’t post anything without someone making a comment to the contrary. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is or the opinion that was shared. If you shared that you were, “having a great day with your family and enjoying the beautiful weather and the blue skies”, inevitabily someone would say something like, “well it’s raining here.”

What has happened? Why has it become so prevalent to make sure that no comment is supported, but we make sure it is criticized? I know some dear friends who even say things like, “Well, life just can’t be that good. Look at how their picture is perfect . . .”

I understand that we are going through a difficult time globally. This is a first for many because now this situation affects us personally. We tend to forget, or not know, that challenges exist everywhere and every day. They may be visible and get news coverage if they’re horrific enough because that is what we seem to thrive on. However, many people are facing challenges which are not visible to others. You may never know the extent of what they’re going through.

Now, as a realistic optimist myself, I don’t find myself stuck in dark places often. It happens, but I try my best to focus on those areas of my life where I have the most interaction including my faith, my family and my friends. I even make sure that this is how I view my interactions on social media. I would much rather see the light of recognition and acknowledgement be on others and their good work.

Recently, a dear friend of mine, broke through the veil of negativity which seems to try and continue to divide us with a simple postcard. The message on the front instantly captured my attention. It said – “Who You Are to Me.” I had no idea who it was from or why I had received it. I hastily flipped it over eager to read if there was another message. It was a simple message just as the one on the front. At the top I read, “5 words I’d use to describe you” and there were five numbers with lines next to each number. Then, my friend, wrote five descriptive words to fill the card. She then signed it, “Laurie.”

The words she used were personal, heartfelt and meaningful. I’m sharing them just so you get the feel of how touching this act was. The words were: “Trailblazer, Leader, Community builder, Compassionate communicator and Friend.”

I read the card over and over. I was floored that this is how she viewed me. We have been friends with her for several years. kI always enjoy when we chat or see each other. Honestly, this piece of mail was such a perfect ray of light and a reminder that personalized encouragement leaves a long-term and significant mark.

I would love to see everyone, especially those in HR, practice this in person and on social media. Think how much more positive your daily activities would be knowing who you are to somebody else !! We have no problem expressing feelings which divide us. Let’s turn that around and let those who are in our lives know how much they matter. Laurie did this with a 50 cent stamp and five words.

This week pick three people who positively make a difference in your life, and the lives of others, and tell them how much they mean to you. Use a method like this one and share five descriptive words to let them know how you feel. Make it personal. Do it because you want to and not because it’s a task.

I will be doing this going forward and on purpose. I want to take the opportunity to shed light on others and break through the darkness. I want to see everyone lifted up as we move forward. It costs you nothing to share what’s on your heart, but it may be the one piece of encouragement that someone needed at just the right time !!

Dear Graduates . . .

I’m sure you’re seeing graduation “ceremonies” happening all over the country in a variety of new formats. The traditional gatherings which make each spring come to life had to be altered because of the current environment. I’m excited to see every type of ceremony occurring which have ranged from virtual Zoom commencements to semi in person walk throughs to meeting at drive-in theaters to a drive by parade.

It’s important regardless of how graduation is occuring that the students get recognized for this milestone in their lives. There are students finishing up their time in high school, colleges and military acadamies. It will be a benchmark moment in their lives because no one has had to make such a shift in order to mark this accomplishment in the past. It hopefully will launch them forward to the next step in their lives and careers.

My kids are far past graduations of their own, so I was taken by surprise when I received a request from an HR peer who I have a unique tie with. Professor Mindy West from Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business. She teaches multiple HR courses at ASU along with Professor Eric Knott, Professor Karen Stafford and Professor Lisa Macaffe to help students graduate with a degree in Human Resources !!

The unique tie I have with Professor West is that she grew up in Ada, Ohio with me. Our families were very close and I knew her all through junior high and high school. A few years ago, I was speaking at a SHRM Annual conference when Mindy came up to talk to me after my presentation. I was geeked to reconnect and was tickled she was not only in HR herself, she was teaching the next generation of HR professionals.

Mindy reached out through Linked In and asked if I would be the commencement speaker for the ASU HR grads. I was touched and humbled to be considered. Secretly I’ve wanted to be a commencement speaker at some time during my life, so this was perfect.

The ceremony was to be virtual and through Zoom. I set up in my basement and joined the students and professors who were sitting in their houses with their caps and gowns on. Everyone jumped on the call and you could feel the joy and excitement of the students and their families as the chatter was going back and forth between all of them all at once. After a great orchestral prelude, Jennifer Pigeon, an HR pro who is active in SHRM of Greater Phoenix, sang the National Anthem and crushed it !! The emotions were even higher and there were a few tears shed.

Then my fellow Adaite introduced me and I got to congratulate the students and share with them how proud I am of them being not only my peer but also my future. I encouraged them to embrace HR as a phenomenal profession where they can lead, thrive and help their perspective companies by adding value and ensure a people-centric culture. I also asked them to network now and throughout their career.

After I finished, the students recevied a taped message from Cheryl Sandberg of Facebook !! It was amazing. However, the best part of the night was about to occur. The professors all took a few minutes to congratulate the students which was so heartfelt. You could see the time and effort they had invested in each other. Then . . . the students were recognized.

Professor West shared unique facts and future plans of each student and then she’d say, “Okay, unmute and let’s hear from you and your family.” The small squares all over the screen erupted in screams, yells and words of praise and congratulations. Each student had their own time and we cheered for them as much as we could.

At the end of the ceremony, tears were streaming down my face that was smiling as broadly as I could manage. I will remember and cherish being a part of this graduation for the rest of my days. I’m sure my six minute speech will long be forgotten, and that is absolutely fine. What matters is that in the midst of what seems like endless bleakness, you find light.

This graduation, and the thousands happening everywhere at this time are a sign of hope and of moving forward. It’s time that we find more of these moments of life and celebrate them. It’s time to push back the darkness and take steps forward toward the future. I know these students are eager and we should be as well.

This week, continue to stay safe and also understand that you are a part of the present and future of the lives of everyone around you. Congratulations dear graduates !!

Fado’s

As of this year, I’ve been an HR volunteer leader for 20 years. It’s hard to believe that time has flown by so quickly !! I remember when I first got involved, I went to a Volunteer Leaders Summit in Crystal City, Virginia. I was an officer on my local SHRM chapter’s board. It was great to go to the conference to learn and be around other volunteer leaders. We went to an Irish pub down the street from the hotel where we were staying and we had a blast !!

Little did I know that it planted the seed for a gathering place for years to come.

The first time we went out though, we only hung out with the people from our chapter in Cincinnati. We didn’t interact with anyone else. It didn’t strike me as odd at the time, but as the years kept passing, it started to really eat at me. You have to keep in mind that this was long before social media. It made sense to hang out with folks you knew, but I wondered why we didn’t try to meet other HR peers because we were literally surrounded by them.

At subsequent Volunteer Leader Summits and at HR conferences in general, people continued to congregate based on geography. This was true during the event itself in sessions or when people gathered for lunches/dinner. People kept within the boundaries of their cities or states. It didn’t make sense to me and I wanted to see something change.

When I was the State Director of Ohio SHRM, we met for the Summit at the Gaylord Hotel in Maryland. I decided it was time to break the geographical model. So, I found another Irish pub and took a group of Ohioans along with me. While we were at the pub, I left my friends to introduce myself to everyone else in the pub and asked them to join us. I know – radical. However, I couldn’t recall it ever being done. Soon our group was full of people from Montana, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, California, Nebraska, North Dakota, Arizona, New Mexico and more !! We realized that we needed to be together as people and HR pros. It was a natural and easy connection to make.

After a few years, our conference location moved to downtown Washington, D.C. When we were “done” for the day with sessions, it was time to venture out once again and I found the best haunt EVER for us to assemble in the middle of the Chinatown district – Fado’s Irish Pub & Restaurant.

Now, since we broke the invisible geographical barrier a few years earlier, people were more interactive during the conference and were asking where and when we were going to meet. I asked everyone to meet me at Fado’s because it had a cool vibe, great food, adult beverages and space for us to all meet. The first night we had about 25 folks come out. Each night the number grew and more people ventured out to meet new friends as well as hang out with those they knew. We shared so many laughs, stories and experiences. We truly were becoming an HR community !!

Then, as fate would have it, the SHRM Annual conference was in Washington, D.C. in 2016. This meant there would be a larger group of HR pros that we could coax to Fado’s. And, we did. Every. Night. If there were social events planned, we’d go to Fado’s afterward. It became a go-to gathering place for us. One night I will always cherish was when I first joined the SHRM Board of Directors and everyone was eager to get me to come out to the pub. I was planning on it, but didn’t know why there was such a sense of “urgency.” It didn’t seem like any other night. I was mistaken.

As I showed my ID (which was required regardless of your age), I looked up and tears filled my eyes as everyone in the pub was wearing tie-dye to celebrate my new role. Some of the pub staff were also wearing the shirts. It was spectacular because it showed the power of what coming together as people means.

Since that night, we’ve been back to Fado’s many more times including last year in November. Little did I know that this would be the last time I’d get to enjoy the darkened wood, sticky floors and smell of Irish ale. Fado’s announced that it was permanently closing its doors as of April 2020. This wasn’t because of the current pandemic, it was due to their lease and relationship with their landlord. When they made the announcement on Facebook, there was an outpouring of stories, photos, memories and thank you’s.

I would like to add this one more “Thank You” to all that’s been shared to date. I can tell you that I’ve developed, and built on, friendships I cherish and am reassured will last for my lifetime. The familiar feel and welcoming spirit of Fado’s gave us the perfect environment to foster healthy relationships across boundaries.

I know that people are getting together more often now even if it’s virtually. My hope is that the efforts we make to come together intenionally only builds and doesn’t wane when we get back to our old patterns of life and work. I know that I will continue to do my best to bring folks together and hopefully we’ll find a place as great as Fado’s has been to do so.

We all need a Fado’s in our life !! So, I lift a pint and offer Sláinte !!

Our Time is Now !!

Can you feel and see the rumblings of the next phase of the COVID-19 crisis on the horizon? We’ve been in a mix of constant change, uncertainty and regulatory direction. People are getting antsy. People are getting even more expressive and emotional. The feeling isn’t all good either. With the inevitable lifting of restrictions, people are voicing their opinions on timing, the extent of movement and political posturing is growing. To be honest, this next phase can be almost as unsettling as the front part of this time in our history.

We were asked to take drastic and immediate action when this all started, and now we’re asked to slowly return to . . . normal. Let’s be clear – normal isn’t going to be what it was. It just isn’t, and it shouldn’t be !!

I am so pleased that HR has stepped up and into leadership during the crisis. It has been long overdue. There are several blogs which have featured senior HR leaders and how they’ve been the voice of strategy, response and direction. It is unfortunate that we were only looked to as leaders because potential tragedy loomed in organizations and workplaces. I don’t want to take away from any of the great work that has been done to date in the least. The circumstances we find ourselves in have allowed HR to flex their muscles and show how a people-centric approach was needed in our companies. Because, like most issues in the workplace, the center of them is people. It always has been . . . and always will be.

People are now seeing HR as it should be seen. This isn’t a call to take advantage of a crisis. It’s a chance for us to step into leadership because that is the vantage point from which HR operates best.

My hope is that we don’t return to any semblance of normality as HR practitioners. We can’t step away from being leaders. We should take up the same mantle we’ve assumed during this time of crisis and be those who help organizations perform through its people. We need to be present and visible from now on and not shrink back to our places of feeling we’re merely a support function.

Our time is now !!

I mean this with every inch of my being. I am calling out and throwing down the gauntlet to my peers to continue leading in every facet of your work. There is no reason for us to be on the sidelines or in the shadows. We need to break from the traditional pattern of yearning and hope that “one day” we’ll be called upon. That day has arrived. The opportunity which lies before us is wide open and can be defined by us through a continued movement which we are currently facing.

It’s intriguing to me that people are pushing against the boundaries of the restrictions we’ve been placed in to keep us safe. They’re looking for the ability to move around, interact and return to work. There is a palpable energy that is about to be unleashed. We should ride that train of emotion and stop our continued systems of confinement and restriction in HR.

People have been working from home and redefining productivity, innovation, collaboration and connection. So, why would we push for people to get back into their place in line? This is a time for us to unleash the talent which people possess and expect them to continue to produce, develop and grow !!

It’s also time for us to embrace the skill of being agile and adaptable. We were forced into this a few weeks ago, but now we can continue to practice agility and adaptablity !! My good friend Paul Hebert recently wrote a post on HR Examiner asking – “Can HR do their future job?” My answer is a resounding, “YES !!!” There’s absolutely no reason to seek normality. It’s our time to launch forward and construct the new workplace, create the new expectations of performance plus encourage the development of talent throughout the organization.

I plan to move forward. Will you go with me ?? My hope is that we continue to lead, grow and thrive personally, professionally as a global HR community.

Our time is now !!