Make the Climb !!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hands Across the Water !!

I’m not sure if you noticed, but I took a few weeks off from blogging. That’s because my wife and I went to England for a two week vacation to have an early celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary !! (Before I go any further, you need to know that my wife, Debbie, means the world to me.) Every aspect of our trip was fantastic. Every. One. One factor that made this possible was that I left my laptop back home and disconnected from work, social media and from constantly staring at one screen or another. I’ll be honest, I didn’t miss it that much.

Having more time to focus on everything going on around us allowed us to be sponges. We enjoyed long walks around West Hampstead where we were renting a flat. We also visited various towns and historical sites from Bath to Cambridge to Notting Hill to York and all over London. I could write for weeks and weeks if I tried to share all of our adventures.

One of the many bucket list items I experienced was visiting the Abbey Road Studios where The Beatles recorded their music. Paul McCartney recorded a song after The Beatles had broken up with his new band The Wings called Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. It’s a very Beatlesque tune which I really enjoy. In the chorus, there is a phrase “Hands across the water (water), Hands across the sky (sky).” The reason I share this lyric is that the BEST thing that happened during our trip was meeting fellow HR peers. Not kidding. It was the biggest highlight.

For those that know me, I love meeting people !! The environment doesn’t really matter. Throughout our trip, I met people on the Tube, at restaurants and pubs as well as at the various historical sites we visited. People intrigue me. Getting to interact and know them gives me a perspective that is more real than any tour you could purchase. Debbie and I were fortunate when two HR friends who I had only “known” from Twitter met us and started our vacation by taking us all over. We connected immediately and we started developing our friendships in person.

This culminated later our first week when we had a Tweetup. A Tweetup is an excuse to get together with your peers, have a drink or a bite to eat and network. We met at Doggett’s Coat and Badge Pub on the banks of the Thames overlooking St. Paul’s Cathedral. The view was spectacular and the weather was perfect. That alone would have been enough, but then folks started arriving. In the end, there were 40 people who came. It was astonishing and humbling because many of the people traveled an incredible way to be there. Some took trains from hours away just to meet.

We had hours of fun meeting each other for the first time, learning about each other’s lives and laughing. Tons and tons of laughing !! We didn’t feel like strangers in the least. After some time, we wanted to make sure to capture the moment, so we asked our server to take a picture. I will cherish this forever !!

Several people were “amazed” that when we met in person that we were the “same” people as we are online. I never suspected that we would be any different. It was instantly comfortable to hang out with every person. We found that we had tons in common and it was if we had known each other for years. On the following Saturday another friend traveled 3 1/2 hours by train to come meet, and we met more HR friends when we traveled to York. I hope that all of the people we met remain lifelong friends. I know that will take work and effort, but it will be more than worth it.

The experience Debbie and I had is something that should be the norm and not the exception. I feel that whenever you get the chance to meet and connect with HR friends in person, you should take advantage of that. We are a global community, and we’re better the more we step out and connect.

We all have to be willing to stretch our hands across the water !!

Stand Up and Cheer !!

I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that I’m a fiercely proud alumni of Ohio University !! It’s a phenomenal university that is tucked in the hills of southeast Ohio along the banks of the Hocking River. It has the distinction of being the first university in the State. Those that have attended OU will make sure to let you know that they are NOT from that school in Columbus, Ohio which shall not be named.

I cherish every time I get the chance to visit the campus. It still has the vibe of being a welcoming home for all that pass through. The students oddly look much younger than I remember looking when I attended, but that’s to be expected. After graduating and starting my own career and family, I never thought that either of my kids would attend my alma mater. When it came time to make college visits, I told them both that they would visit OU even if they didn’t attend. My daughter visited first and liked the campus, but didn’t feel the same pull I did when I attended. She attended the University of Indianapolis and earned her Doctorate in Occupational Therapy. She did fine !!

When my son was about to graduate high school, we took the trek across the State to visit OU one more time. I made sure to visit the Bagel Street Deli to make sure he had the experience just in case I never would get to again. Josh surprised me by deciding he would attend Ohio University !! To say I was geeked would not cover how I felt.

The new OU Bobcat Alum !!

That was four quick years ago. This weekend I had the distinct pleasure to see my son graduate as an OU Bobcat. I sat in the same gymnasium 33 years earlier wondering what would happen next. As soon as I walked into the Convocation Center, tears streamed down my face. The reason for that had little to do with my alma mater and everything to do with my amazing son.

You see, I hoped that he would have an incredible time like I did when I went to OU. His experience was his own and had its various ups and downs as it should. I didn’t want him to mimic what I did. I just wanted his college experience to be memorable. It was. Josh was not a big fan of high school. He did well but he couldn’t wait to get out. He didn’t enjoy many classes and I was wondering how his next academic adventure would go. I had nothing to be concerned about. He graduated Magna Cum Laude and embraced all facets of learning.

After the graduation ceremony, my wife and I spent the entire day with Josh enjoying every moment. We made one last stroll up and down Court Street and made sure to buy one more batch of OU apparel. As the rain started to come, we stopped off at Donkey Coffee and Espresso (the coolest coffee house I’ve ever been to !!) It was so cool to sit and talk with the young man who started as an unsure teenager four years earlier. We talked about life, politics, his college memories, and it was obvious that he was ready to step out into the next phase of his life.

The fight song for Ohio University starts out with the lyrics “Stand up and cheer, Cheer loud and long for old Ohio . . .” Today I stand up and cheer for my fellow alum, my fellow Bobcat, my son.

It wouldn’t be an OU post without the Marching 110 – the most exciting band in the land !! Bobcat proud. Bobcat for life !!

No Permit Required !!

This past weekend my wife, daughter and I traveled to Athens, Ohio to help my son clear out his apartment one week before he graduates from Ohio University !! (I’ll write more about this milestone next week.) Being an alumni and proud Bobcat, I always welcome the chance to visit the town and my old school. There wasn’t a ton of time to enjoy ourselves in the sleepy city because we were there for a purpose.

I don’t know if you’ve been on a college campus lately, but parking is challenging. It’s a giant revenue option for landlords of apartment complexes and also for the university dorm system. Street parking in Athens is at a premium as well, and vehicles are bumper to bumper on each and every block. This isn’t a complaint, it’s just an observation of what students face. It’s always takes quite a bit of time to circle around and around blocks surrounding our son’s apartment with the faint hope that we’ll find a spot where we can squeeze in our car.

This weekend we not only had our car, but we also rented a UHaul box truck to get everything back home in one trip. The only truck available could have been used to move the contents of an entire house !! This made driving, maneuvering and parking an adventure to say the least. I wasn’t sure how we were going to get near his apartment building with this behemoth. There was NO way it would fit in any parking space.

As I was waiting near the truck as my family marched back and forth moving items to be loaded, my mind wandered and I wondered about the marked parking spaces and the permit needed in order to use them. You see, in addition to the distinctly marked parking spaces, there are a myriad of cameras for security as well as signs warning that illegally parked cars would be towed at the owner’s expense. My son even noted that as we were driving through town he saw four roving tow trucks eagerly searching for illegal activity. They couldn’t wait to bury their hook under an axle and tow yet another hapless car away to an impound lot. There would be at least a fee involved if not a traffic ticket.

This layered system which limited options and threatened punishment reminded me of the workplace. I know that may seem extreme, but hang with me. Many managers of others don’t want performance from their staff. They want people to occupy their space and their space alone. You can’t wander into any one else’s space because that would mean absolute chaos !! Wouldn’t it?

In addition to making sure people stay where we expect them to be, we add layers of veiled threats of punishments either through discipline or performance management systems. We so desperately want people to stay put that we develop programs and systems to ensure that moving around isn’t an option. We are no different than the lined parking spaces at my son’s university.

Why do we continue to think this effective? In the world of desired collaboration and engagement, how does confining people seem like the best option? Sure, the systems of limiting people’s experience and reach produces results, but are they the best results possible? I don’t think they are.

I think it’s time to have a “no permit required” approach to work. We need to foster relationships and expect that people will do their best when they interact outside their regular space. We can’t continue to bemoan the reality of corporate silos if we aren’t willing to break them down. I understand that we need structure in our organizations, but it should be structure that allows people to perform and not constrain. We can’t keep thinking the worst is going to happen everyday without imposed restrictions. People have the desire to get work done and done well if they’re given the environment to do that.

We ended up pulling the UHaul directly in front of the apartment garage. We parked our car in an empty space without a permit. I kept watch as everyone brought down the items to the truck, and was prepared to move if needed to let the other tenants out. We broke the “rules” in order to do the work needed. We accomplished it using a system that was speedy and efficient. We even had time to interact with the landlord’s son who saw we were breaking the rules. He commented on how it was smart to get a head start on moving a week before graduation and understood that we weren’t complying, but would be done soon.

This week take a look around and see if you’re causing more barriers and parking spaces to exist. Take this approach and remove the permits. You’ll be pleased to see how amazing people are and how engaged they can be if you’ll only allow them to work as people within a system instead of in spite of it !!

The Tie-Dye That Binds !!

If you don’t already know, I’m kind of a hippie. I have been for most of my life since college. I’ve tried to be an open minded person who looks at life from many, many angles. Don’t get me wrong. I have strong beliefs and values of my own, but I’m always keen on observing and hearing the perspectives of others. When I left my small village in Ada, Ohio to attend school at Ohio University, I had my eyes opened to so many different people from an innumerable amount of backgrounds, families, lifestyles and approaches.

It was at OU that I first met people who wore tie-dye clothing. I had seen some in movies from the 60’s and 70’s, but I didn’t know anyone who actually owned some. At college they sold tie-dye clothing of all sorts at stores, in booths on the street corner and at college festivals. I was drawn to the multicolor patterns and the way the clothing seemed to flow and blend together. I was hooked !! I started gathering more and more shirts over the years, and my wife even tie-dyed her garter as a surprise for our wedding. I’m still a big fan and wearer of tie-dye. My love for it has only grown.

What does that have to do with HR? Well . . .

This past week I had the honor of speaking at the Villanova HRD Annual Networking Reception. I had the chance to “meet” many of the students during a Zoom meeting. We hit it off and laughed a ton as we planned their event. I asked what they’d like to have covered and they shared that they wanted to hear what HR was “really like,” and if it matched what they had already learned and experienced. I tried to think of something fresh to present so I developed a presentation entitled “If I Knew Then . . .” I gathered my things and headed to the Villanova campus and I was geeked !!

After I checked into the hotel, I rode the elevator down do the conference room to set up. As the elevator came to rest, the doors opened and then I saw it . . . tie-dye !! The students had blue and white tie-dye shirts made with the hashtag for the event. I laughed and smiled because this was a complete surprise. I thought it was so touching that they chose to do this. We were all very excited to see each other in person, and I told them that their shirts meant so much to me.

Ironically, all of the students wore blazers over the shirts because they wanted to make sure they looked “professional.” That made me laugh even harder because their move is so reflective of the real culture situations we still have in the workplace today MANY years after I entered it. Think about it. In an effort to show support and camaraderie the students felt they still had to do something else to conform in order to be taken seriously by the people from the business community that attended that night.

Geeked to have a new item for my tie-dye wardrobe !!

How long can we continue to let something as simple as a piece of clothing determine whether or not we can “allow” people to express themselves? Seriously. You see, the students made a shirt for me as well, but I didn’t have a chance to get it before the presentation. I’m so glad it was late because the attendees would forgive me as the goofy, extroverted guest to wear tie-dye far more easily because I was visiting. But, they felt compelled to conform in order to be accepted by the outside “professionals.” I wonder how many of the professionals made comments or wondered why these future HR pros chose to be so intentionally non-traditional.

I see tie-dye differently. I think that something as simple as a multicolored shirt can show how much people want to be connected together. We spend so much time seeing people who choose to be different as “wrong.” Why is that? Why can’t we do more to value differences and see how those incredible personal attributes make up a pattern that shows how connected we are? I see people like a tie-dye shirt. The more colorful, swirlier and varied the better.

This week look for the tie (dye) that binds you to others. You’ll be amazed by all others have to offer without covering it up !!

Don’t Dwell !!

I mentioned recently that my wife and I have joined a gym. It’s at a neighboring city’s community center. It’s something we’ve talked about for years, and I’m glad we finally signed up. We intentionally started before the end of the year so we didn’t get caught up in the New Year’s resolution rush. It takes a ton of discipline, but it’s been wonderful.

One of the things I enjoy the most is that while I’m on the elliptical or the treadmill, I can put on headphones and listen to podcasts or music. I go back and forth between the two. Last week as I was huffing, puffing and sweating I was taking in the All Out 70’s playlist from Spotify. It’s an absolute fave station of mine. All of a sudden, a group that was extremely famous started singing one of their ballads. The group was Ambrosia and the song was “Holding On To Yesterday.” It’s a beautiful tune that was played often on AM radio. (Yes, I’m old and I’m cool with it.)

The song is about a relationship that used to be wonderful and the singer longs for when things were better and brighter for them. One of the great things about working out is that your mind has time to wander and consider different thoughts. Once I heard this song, I thought of organizational cultures and HR because we are folks who fiercely hold on to the past. People will make speeches and decisions based on a past accomplishment and use that as a point of reference for how they do what they do.

What’s funny about remembering the past is we only remember the good parts. Thankfully we don’t remember the challenges, obstacles and even pain that we went through at times to make change happen. The result was so phenomenal that the hard part of the past is easily forgotten.

We can’t allow people to dwell in the past. That is especially true for those of us in HR. The reality of how incredibly fast business changes doesn’t allow for it. You can, and should, learn from the past, but only as a point of reference. Learn from the decisions that were made – both good and bad. However, hanging your reputation on the past is honestly slowing you down and making you less and less relevant by the moment.

I find it better to look forward. It’s not easy for us to do this willingly because we want to have everything figured out before we step ahead. I love when people claim to be harbingers of “change”, but they aren’t looking forward at all. They’re relying on the past to set the stage . . . and then stay where they’re at. I have a quote from C.S. Lewis that I keep with me as a reminder that things ahead are far better than what is left behind.

This week take some time to reflect. See where your efforts are stuck in the past. Ask if it’s worth changing and moving things forward. This may not work for everything, but I’m sure there are items, policies, programs and procedures that could stand to have dust knocked off of them. You’ll be surprised how fresh your work becomes when you do this !! It’s time for us to quit dwelling on the past and holding on to yesterday. You’ll have to trust, and have a bit of faith, that things will truly be better ahead. This is how I try to approach every day. It’s hard to push against the grain, but worth it.

Now, you should still learn the song, because THAT is worth enjoying !!

Phone A Friend !!

Do you remember the television game show hosted by Regis Philbin Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? When it first aired my wife and I had two very young kids and we were glued to the set for every episode !! I have always been a trivia buff so this fed into me trying to guess the answers of the questions without any clues. Inevitably during the questions, contestants would get stumped either because they didn’t know the answer, or the stress of being taped while millions of people watched may them stumble.

The show had some “outs” for the contestants where they could either “ask the audience” or “phone a friend.” Those two options didn’t always help, but they were great to get an outsider’s perspective and insight as well as reassure your hunch.

I love phones. Always have. You see I’m old enough that I predate the computers we all carry in our pockets. In fact, I go back to a time where you only had to dial a “4” and the last four numbers of a phone number in my home town – on a rotary phone !! The call went through every time. I also fondly recall that you could talk to a friend (or significant other) on a phone FOR HOURS and it never got old.

Today though, even though we communicate and check in constantly through endless social media platforms, emails, blogs, pictures and texts, we can still be isolated. Don’t get me wrong, I think you can effectively communicate through all variations and forums. I’m actively involved in many myself on a daily basis. In the end though, nothing ever beats a phone call. Nothing.

What we’ve forgotten is that people long for direct, human contact and interaction. We want to hear people’s voices and see their faces. If this is electronic, so be it. The technology today is so incredible that you can sit in front of a screen and see a friend anywhere on the planet !! In person communication tops even phone calls because you can sense the emotion and context of another person face to face.

I’m a caller. A phone caller. I try to call people every day.

I have a long commute where I’m on the road driving at least 45 minutes each way. My job also takes me into the field to visit the great people in our company who work in our various locations. This means more screen (windshield) time. I love filling that time calling friends, peers and compatriots from all over regardless of time zone or time of day. I get geeked to hear their voice and all that is happening in their lives.

A dear friend of mine framed this approach very aptly this week, and I wanted to share it with you. You see . . .

“In your life, you are either spending time or investing time.”

I take time to talk to others because it has immeasurable value to me. I choose to invest my time in others. I truly feel nudges to give people calls because they’re on my heart or mind. If I don’t get them, I leave an encouraging message so they know that they matter and that someone is thinking about them. It doesn’t bother me if you think this is pie eyed optimism because it is !!

Just today as I was returning from a workout at the gym, I felt a nudge to call one of my best friends. When he answered, he started laughing before I even said, “Hello.” I asked him what was so funny and he said, “Of course you’d call right now. I have been so mad about things going on in and around my life and your goofy, smiling face pops up.” Then we chatted for 30 minutes. We didn’t solve one thing. But each moment was worth it.

I didn’t mention the two chats I had with folks thinking about going into HR, the person who wanted to chat about a potential job change and asked me to help her network, or the endless conversations I had at work. Every one of them was marvelous even though many were full of challenges.

This week, carve out some time to phone a friend. Just check in. Let them know that they’re not alone. It’s worth your time !!

Write. Read. Share.

I’m going into my eighth year of having an HR blog. It’s something I truly enjoy. It gives me a chance to share my thoughts, perspectives and ideas. I have always liked being creative, and having a platform like this gives me a chance to see what hits the page. I was a relatively early adopter of HR blogging and I admired the folks who were already active, visible and vocal when I started.

Many of the bloggers I read have tapered off. I understand that. It’s hard to come up with content, be consistent and sustain a blog. I miss seeing their work, but appreciate all that they did to bring the world of Human Resources to the business arena !!

Now, there are several new HR professionals who have started their own blogs. They are at various stages of their careers and come from different industries. It’s honestly exciting and reminds me of when blogging first began.

At the same time, there’s a concerning trend that is honestly disappointing. I keeps seeing more and more tweets and blog posts bemoaning that these new bloggers aren’t sharing anything “new”. They only contain retreads of ideas. Or, even worse, people spending so much more time tearing the ideas of others down instead of trying to listen and understand someone else’s perspective. The darkness, negativity and cynicism seems to be rampant, growing and prevalent. It doesn’t make sense.

When, in the history of society, did tearing things down ever result in building things up ??

I want to see this change. I want people to see people share all types of perspectives and insights. It’s not a matter of agreeing with everything that’s written. However, it does mean allowing all voices to be expressed. There is more than enough room for everyone’s blog. We don’t need to constrain things. Keep in mind that these new bloggers are reaching a new audience as well. The work they’re creating is solid and has real value. With that in mind, I’d encourage you to follow a new model – Write. Read. Share.

Write

As I mentioned earlier, writing for me is a release. I seem to have ideas constantly swirling around in my brain just trying to burst out. In fact, I write a weekly email for a global forum called the HR Net that I’ve been doing for 19 years. I write a song parody about HR and have written over 500 songs. Again, they just need to get out. Writing is cathartic. It’s key to get your ideas in front of others so they can be consumed, critiqued and understood. I think that getting your ideas down is where you should focus, and however you choose to approach this is fine. There’s no one method that works for everyone. The most important facet is to take the first step and write.

Read

I’m a voracious reader. I have been for as long as I can remember. I have two to three books going at a time, and they’re rarely from the same genre. I also read the blogs of many people they range from curated sites which gather the works of many authors to individuals who I enjoy learning from. You see, I read to learn. I don’t want to ever fall into the trap that my voice alone is all there is to know on any subject or facet of HR, work or life. With billions of people roaming the planet at the same time, I have to believe that they myriad of thoughts available is endless.

Share

Writing and reading are wonderful, but they are also self-serving. If I only express myself by writing and then only personally learn from reading, then the impact of that information is limited to my personal capacity. I think that sharing the work of others even more important than writing. I am a zealot about being others focused. It is in my core. I have never felt challenged, diminished or obstructed by shining the light on others. If you look back in history, the only way people learned was by sharing.

From now on, be encouraging of others. Let’s stop the trend of negativity for good. You have the time. Remember this – If you have time to write, you have time to read. If you have time to read, you have time to share.

Go forward and write what’s in your heart and on your mind. Read what others say and learn from them. And, share broadly and often so that our HR and business community can grow.

Write. Read. Share.

Blank Canvas !!

This past Friday my wife and I were invited by a friend to come to the soft opening of her new business. She had once been in a Corporate Wellness role, but recently was affected by a downsizing. This is never easy. To be between jobs is challenging for anyone. She reflected on what her next step should be, and after some time and talking with her husband she decided to open a Pinot’s Palette franchise !! These stores are where you can go and paint your own masterpiece with friends and family or on your own.

That’s a giant step for anyone. To make the move from a role where you’re part of a larger organization where you have co-workers and resources to becoming an entrepreneur takes faith. I wanted to make sure to be a supporter of her new endeavor, so we attended the opening.

Now, we honestly thought we’d come to congratulate her and share a drink and some finger food. We’d take a tour of her new place, meet her husband and wish them the best. However, as we opened the door we were greeted with life, upbeat music and MANY friendly faces. We looked over at the tables and there were 40 small easels all with a blank canvas on them. I thought that was a good representation of what a normal night would look at the business.

One of the new staff said, “Pick out an apron from the wall. We have a space marked out for both of you.” My wife and I looked at each other and then back at the staff member. I said, “I’m sorry. We’re supposed to grab an apron?” She replied, “Well, yes. You’re going to paint tonight !! We’re all doing Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.” We were caught off guard.

We grabbed an apron, moved to our places and stared at a blank canvas in front of us. My wife had never gone to a painting class, and I had only been once. As the room filled up, you could hear most of the people who were associated with the new owners share their same anxiety about what was about to occur.

Before we started, we both shared some food and a drink hoping it would calm our nerves. We also introduced ourselves to our table mates. The instructor asked us to take our places and get ready to paint. My wife leaned over to me and quietly shared, “I’m not sure I can do this.” I reassured her that she’d be fine, and then the painting began . . .

Let me break away for a second.

My wife’s response in facing a blank canvas is very similar to most people I know. We don’t like the unknown. When faced with a task that seems daunting and beyond our capability, we doubt ourselves. It’s how many face work daily and keep their anxiety to themselves.

Are you there to reassure others that they are capable? You have a great opportunity in HR to be an encourager on a daily basis. I wish more HR practitioners would do this. Employees yearn for acknowledgement and someone who believes in them. I hope you willingly step into that role.

Now back to painting . . .

Layer after layer was added to our canvases. What started as several brush strokes of deep blue paint now took form and started to look like a landscape. The conversations that people had ranged from people in awe they could paint to inevitable comparisons. Everyone stated that their painting wasn’t good enough. They didn’t look anything like Van Gogh’s work.

Back to employees and workplaces . . .

Sounds just like work doesn’t it? Instead of being encouraged for the performance people give through their effort, we compare. We have entire systems which measure what people don’t do and how they fall short. How backwards is this? And yet, we do nothing to eliminate this archaic and ineffective approach. We can, and should, change our approach to focus on the work that people do and expect them to be creative and perform. Workplaces would thrive if this became the norm and not the exception.

And now we finish . . .

My final piece of art !! Had a great time doing this.

Everyone ended up with their version of The Starry Night. Not one was the same, and that was perfect. Each person worked from their skill set and their interpretation of the instructions and what they felt and saw. My wife and I had a great time. We made new friends and went home with a shared experience our own “masterpieces.”

You can treat every day as a blank canvas because it is. Instead of doubting your ability, pick up a brush, dab some paint on it and start covering the white space. You can also be someone who adds color, life and vibrancy to other’s and their blank canvas. Do this on purpose and see how much better you enjoy your work, HR in general and the amazing accomplishments of others.

Practice the Practice !!

Last year in November, my wife and I joined a gym. We wanted to get healthy, and we wanted to get ahead of the traditional rush of folks who make their annual New Year’s resolution. This isn’t a major accomplishment for most, but since we’re both over the half century mark, we needed to make a change.

We chose to join the Mason Community Center for several reasons. First of all, it’s far enough away that you need to drive to get there. That’s good because the 15 minute drive makes you be intentional in using the membership. Secondly, the facility is phenomenal !! It has treadmills, ellipticals, weights, an indoor track, a indoor swimming pool and several basketball courts. The center is a magnet and it’s always full of people.

I loved all of the potential activities, but I was especially attracted by the basketball courts. You see, I’ve been playing basketball for over 40 years !! In fact, I played on organized teams for eight years in schools and was even recruited to play at the collegiate level (small colleges, but still !!) I chose to pursue my education at a larger university so I changed over to playing on intramural teams. Once I graduated and settled into my home/job, I kept playing on community teams. As I aged, my passion for playing competitively waned because of having great kids of my own and other items that took my time and attention. I “played” outside my house every once in awhile, but not like I used to.

Seeing the courts at the community center brought back the urge to play basketball again. I even asked for a new basketball from my wife for my birthday in January. I got one !! Since I had been so proficient and successful in the past, I couldn’t wait to get out on the court and shoot around. I decided to combine my workout and make it half treadmill/elliptical and half basketball.

I was so eager to launch my first shot with my new basketball !! As I hoisted the sphere into the air, I watched as it arced toward the basket . . . and came up about a 1/2 foot short. How could that be? I was really good at basketball. It should just come back naturally, shouldn’t it? I had the proper equipment and there wasn’t anything keeping me from performing, but I was awful. I made a few shots my first time back out. A few.

What was wrong? It didn’t make sense. Sure, I hadn’t played competitively for several years, but I wasn’t trying to jump into a pick-up game. I was only taking some shots to get back into the swing of things. The one thing I was missing was – practice.

We don’t like to practice. We don’t. It’s almost like joining a gym. We know it will help us feel better and it makes sense mentally, but we aren’t willing to make the time and effort needed to get involved. It doesn’t change the fact that practicing anything makes you better. This idea of practice pertains to HR because I think we’ve lost sight of practicing our practice.

Sure, we work daily in our field, but do we continue to practice to make us better? I think we tend to get in a pattern of how we take on HR in our corner of the business universe and we stick to it. That works and it’s functional, but it’s also limiting. The “practice” of HR is ever evolving and never remains constant. If we’re not keeping up on this movement, then we’ll be just like when I picked up a basketball again. Our efforts will come up short.

Did you ever notice that the word “act” is in the middle of the word “practice”? Practicing compels you to act. You can’t just wish something into existence. You need to move and break the pull of inertia.

It’s time for all of us in HR to practice our practice. Trust me. The more you practice the better professional you’ll be personally, for your company and for the field as a whole. So, consider this your new basketball. Time to get back out on the court and start practicing !!