Keep It Real !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re others focused

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

They show their emotions while keeping their cool

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

They laugh

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

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

Wide Awake !!

During my time at Ohio University, I fell hard for a new band (at the time) called U2. After I heard their music, I couldn’t get enough of them. We had two record (yes, record) stores in Athens at the time, and I made sure to make regular trips to both of them to pick up anything U2 had put out.

I found an EP on vinyl that the band issued called Wide Awake in America which contained only four songs. That didn’t matter to me because it had a live version of my favorite song, Bad. Every Friday afternoon, I would hurry back from class and pull out this wonderful vinyl masterpiece and turn on my stereo as loud as possible to crank out Bad !! Every. Friday. No one could yell at me because I was the Resident Assistant who was in charge of a section of the dorm. My residents just got used to it and new it was officially Friday afternoon. Quick aside – I let them crank their music too because that is what stereos were built for.

The reason I love the song Bad so much was that the band was fully engrossed in every note and Bono’s voice soared and screamed about the crowd bringing them to a major crescendo and then to an almost silent phrase. Honestly, I still get teary if I hear the song played loudly. The lyrics that pulled out such emotion are:

“Wide awake. I’m wide awake. Wide awake. I’m not sleeping.”

They seem pretty normal when you just look at them typed on a blog page. But, when they’re sung, they come alive and make me think about HR and the workplace.

Have you ever gone to work and everyone seems like they’re just going through the motions? Including you? It is so easy to get in a pattern that moves along like a slow hum that has little to no variation. People come to the office or plant at the same time, park in the same place and greet each other with the obligatory “Hi.” “How are you doing?” “Good.” “Good.” We’re even thankful that this interaction comes to a swift end.

Why do we tolerate this or fall into this sedated state? I’m not talking about the poor performers here. I’m talking about your solid performers at each level. At times, work just seems to feel like you’re a drone in a bee hive. You serve a purpose and you’re good at what you do, but there is little life to your efforts.

Time to wake up !!

Before you start pointing fingers about who the zombies are lurching around the workplace, look in the mirror. Where are you on the wide awake scale? When is the last time you pushed yourself out of the daze and interjected life into who you are and what you do? It’s easy to point out what’s missing in others, but I challenge you to take a different stance and lead from your own behavior first.

We have an incredible opportunity each and every day to bring the work environment to life. We can add energy and encouragement that lifts the spirits of others. There shouldn’t be an occasion when things aren’t addressed with passion and intent. Not one.

This week, wake up !! Make sure that where you work is awake and snap everyone out of their funk. As HR, it’s in your wheel house to make this happen. Quit thinking that everything is bland without taking action to never let that be the case. Join me and be wide awake !!

Time to get out the vinyl, drop the needle and turn it up !!

Given First

Trust.

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

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

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

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

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

These happen because we’re humans.

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

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

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

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

Steady, as she goes #TimSackettDay

It’s funny that the people who are the most visible on Social Media forums get the most “attention” when the vast majority of HR professionals diligently do their work with little fanfare. One of the great aspects I love about #TimSackettDay is that we get to shine the light on someone who is incredible, but they don’t get a ton of notoriety for it.

I met Lisa Rosendahl years ago at an HRevolution event in Atlanta, Georgia. It was one of the highlights of my trip because I enjoyed meeting the HR folks that I’d seen on-line. There was an eclectic mix of people who became good friends. Some spent time with you and others were kind and friendly, but moved on to others as they worked the room. Lisa, I noticed, was someone who took everything in. She was a bit cautious in meeting this rambunctious group, but that was because Lisa (I was soon to find out) is very intentional with her connections.

We met and she took the time to really chat to learn about me, my family, what I did in HR, etc. She was also glad to reciprocate and share about herself. I found out that she practiced HR in a challenging industry – the government.

Lisa is an Army veteran who has pursued her career in HR with U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Lisa Rosendahl is the type of HR professional I aspire to become some day. She has the patience, fortitude and strength to not only work in this arena, but excel !! Lisa has always had a broad focus and she seeks to constantly learn from areas outside of the public sector. She takes that knowledge and experience and weaves them back into the VA seamlessly.

Lisa was a co-founder of the phenomenal blog, Women of HR, which was needed because women make up the majority of HR and they didn’t have a common forum to share their voice. Lisa is also a blogger in her own right with her own HR blog, Story. Flow. Tribe. It captures her voice and her approach perfectly.

After meeting at HRevolution, I would often call Lisa on my commute home and we’d catch up on life, family and work. The conversations were never one sided. She has a genuine heart and that shows in all she does. Lisa embodies someone who is steady as she goes. We can all learn from her approach and be better for it !!

Get in Shape !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Unlikely !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Global !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expand Your Sphere !!

What does your group of connections look like? Are there people you are more tightly connected to than others? Does it matter?

It does.

HR is a challenging profession and it’s even more difficult if you try to gut it out and work in a sphere that only contains yourself. You won’t find many people internally who understand what HR is all about unless they are in the trenches with you. This isn’t to bemoan what we do, but it does point out the fact that we have few internal connections that we can go to and talk.

This doesn’t have to be your reality. You’re able to change and expand your sphere, but it takes effort and intentionality. This is more than having a professional network. You should have that, but genuine connections are deeper than people you may interact with on an occasional basis.

I just returned from the SHRM Volunteer Leader Summit which is made up of volunteers from all 50 states. They are HR professionals who are connected through local SHRM chapters and/or State Councils. When this group gets together, you feel a heightened level of energy. This is true because they share common experiences. It’s my favorite SHRM gathering because I “grew up” in the same structure at the local, State, regional and national level. I love seeing friends who have volunteered along with me and I really get geeked meeting those who are new to this environment.

Interestingly enough, even though these folks have a bigger commonality which brings them together, people still tend to stick with those they know from their State. I’m not being critical, it’s just an observation and a potential opportunity that could be missed. That opportunity is that they could reach out and meet folks from other parts of the country who may work in different industries, but they’re hesitant.

boy-in-sphereNow, I know that I’m comfortable meeting new people. I also know that’s not the norm. When I was first involved with SHRM as a volunteer, I was the person who stayed with those from my State. I was following the lead, and the expectation, of those who had gone before me. I didn’t know that you could break out of that model because my context was that we gathered to learn about the organization and our role, and nothing else.

Over time, that didn’t feel right. I come from the perspective that it’s more meaningful and critical to meet the people who do what I do. So, I decided to cross the invisible boundary and meet people from around the country. What I found out was that there were others who wanted to meet as well. It took some time, and it still does several years later. It’s hard to break into the spheres of others.

Here are some suggestions that could make this easier . . .

Be Genuine

It pains me to type this, but we are skeptical of others when they want to meet us. We think there’s some ulterior motive. Since that’s the environment you’re going to press up against, be up front and tell people who you are first and why you want to connect. Being genuine will allow you to connect naturally.

Connect Others

Meet people in other spheres whenever you get the chance and make connections for the people you meet. This isn’t about collecting folks just for yourself. That’s creepy. Connecting others allows them to meet new people they may haven’t had the chance to do before. It’s also a great way to make connecting more accessible for people regardless of being introverted or extroverted.

These two things may seem like small steps, but they aren’t done nearly enough. The next time you have the chance to make more HR connections, do it. Expand your sphere. You’ll be surprised to see how fulfilling it is personally and professionally.

. . . And I Feel Fine

When you head into work this week, I’m sure you have a million things on your mind. Everyone does. The majority of these items which fight for our attention all want to have top billing. Even the smallest of thoughts can become all consuming.

The question is, how do you parse through all of these things effectively? There is a sinking feeling that every, single item deserves our full attention and that is nearly impossible to do. You may have great intentions, but more often than not, you get stuck attending to just a few things and the emotions that keep building up have nowhere to go.

The ironic fact in this description is that you are not the only person who feels this build up. It’s every employee who walks into work each and every day. Having all of those emotions swirl around with no outlet isn’t healthy.

As HR professionals, we need to be that release valve. I know this may sound daunting, but it’s an opportunity to be an incredible asset to others and to your company as a whole. I was chatting with my dear friend Victorio Milian recently, and our conversation kept circling back to this reality. The challenges with providing this outlet for employees are two fold – (1) We wait too long to provide this for people in most cases and (2) Who’s going to be our outlet?

We need to come to terms that our “reason for existence” is people. I know that it’s a point that I keep harping on, but it needs to keep coming up until the needle genuinely moves and workplaces embody this. In order to take steps in this direction, you need to be unflappable. It’s hard to do, but here’s an alternative way to get you started.

In the 1980’s, I became obsessed with a band that got it’s start on college radio, R.E.M. I have almost every album they’ve ever released. One of their best songs is entitled – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine). I love this because even though the lyrics list all of the forces that are playing on the singer, he says that he’s fine. I know it may be a bit tongue in cheek, but it’s a great perspective to hold from our end.

By being the outlet for employees, we can help them work through their “stuff” and get back to a point where they feel less anxious, stressed or frustrated. I know there may be greater situations that would call for outside expertise, but you can’t even get to those recommendations without being an outlet yourself to start. Being unflappable means that no matter how incredible the situation is that your employees are facing, you stay “fine.” They think that their world is ending so they don’t need you to get caught up in their emotions. They’re looking for stability.

This investment of your time and focus is imperative. It will make HR more fulfilling than it is right now. Pouring into the lives of others and relieving their concerns doesn’t have to be overwhelming. We assume we’re going to hear some horrific ordeal, when someone may just need some attention. Walk into these encounters without any preconceived notions. Just stay and genuinely listen to what they’re facing and go from what you hear.

i-feel-fineSo, who is our outlet? You may be fortunate enough to have someone at work you can confide in as a release, but that’s rare. We deal with too many human issues that honestly can’t be shared with others at work regardless of their position. You may have a release at home, but they be difficult to do as well. Your family may look to you as their outlet just as much as the employees do as work.

My recommendation is that you find peers that understand and experience HR just like you. Having a strong network of friends that can empathize and listen is priceless. I have worked on building and maintaining this for years. I’m fortunate enough to be able to pick up the phone and call just to chat with HR folks around the globe. Being able to share stories, seek perspective and reciprocate and be an outlet for them keeps me balanced.

This week take a breath and understand that you get a chance to be there for others. When you do this you’ll see that we’re all fine !!

Be Different !!

Have you ever had someone tell you that you’re “different”?  If you have, I’ll bet you didn’t like it. We don’t want to be seen as being outside the norm. Throughout our lives we do our best to blend in because it’s more comfortable for us, and we feel safer being in groups. It’s not easy to stand away from the pack.

What if you did step away from the crowd? What would happen? Would you have the stamina to stay outside and be different?

The reason I’m asking these questions is that many HR practitioners take the safe path. Trust me, I’m not calling for you to be contrary just for the sake of standing out. However, I am asking you to consider how you practice HR. Doing things traditionally within organizations will allow you to be effective . . . to a point. There are tasks that we need to perform in order to keep structure and parameters in our companies. This aspect of our function should occur naturally and provide a foundation for HR practices, polices and procedures.

be-differentDo you move past the foundation? If you do, then you’re beginning to be “different.” It’s true. What we need to take to heart is that organizations expect us to have a strong base, but they are looking for more. It’s not enough to just make sure that things are in order.

One thing to note is that stepping away from the crowd isn’t negative. It’s not going to cause you to do things that take away from practicing great HR. It should allow you to be the businessperson you were meant to be. We need to come to terms that it is no longer enough to only practice HR. It just isn’t. We can’t continue to think that we’re needed in organizations if we aren’t contributing to the success of the company as a whole.

There are many ways to differentiate yourself. Some things are specific to the type of service/product your company does, but there are three items that can be implemented in every type of company.

Solutions not problems

I received a great piece of advice from an HR executive. He said, “Everyone brings me problems. I need you to bring me solutions.” He was talking about others in HR. His experience was that he could tell if an HR person was strategic or not by how they approached him. If they only brought up problems, he knew they weren’t strategic. We need to bring solutions to organizations. It makes us different.

Span the Levels

People tend to work and interact with people at the level they personally hold. Executives work with fellow executives. Middle management hangs with and collaborates with those in similar roles, and the front line staff stay with their peers. Great HR practitioners don’t see the levels. They move up, down and across with ease. It takes great effort to not get stuck at your level. However, when you do it, it makes you different.

Build Relationships

There is a step that goes past the ideal of making the workplace more human. That’s thankfully becoming the norm, and I’m geeked to see that. The next step is to build relationships. There’s a healthy way to do that across departments. The reason to do this is so that you can understand your employees better and more intentionally. Knowing information about their family, their interests and their hobbies matters. People are longing for acknowledgement and connections in their work. Step out as an HR person to make build their relationships and be different.

The small plaque pictured above is where I plan to stay and I hope it becomes the mantra for you and all of HR. Once you find ways to be different, don’t change. Stay that way.