Bitter or Better ??

Change.

A simple word that is infinite in how it can be defined, measured and approached. There are countless articles, training courses, books and opinions on what change is/isn’t and how to approach it when it occurs. That seems ironic to me because if change is hard to define, how can a model be derived to effectively address the various components (that ultimately lead to more change.)

You see, change can’t be contained. We keep trying to put controls on everything because we assume that control will limit change. It doesn’t and can’t. Change is a continuum and I think that it would be better to address an aspect than try and cover everything.

When change happens we have a choice on how we respond. That is something we can absolutely control (if we’re intentional.) The challenge is that few people are intentional. We tend to react when change occurs. That may be instinctual or learned. The reality is that it is our first step because our emotions get the best of us. This isn’t right or wrong. It just is how we’re wired.

The difficulty with being purely reactionary towards change is that our choice is usually negative. Don’t believe me? Think of the last 3 to 5 changes that happened which affected you. How did you respond? I’ll let you think about that. So, since change occurs continually and our responses tend to be initially negative, it can lead to bitterness. It can also make us jaded which isn’t healthy. Seriously. Don’t you get tired of viewing change as if the worst possible scenario is going to happen?

Change can’t only be problematic. If we see change as being something that propels us backwards in order to catch up, how can we ever improve? If the only reason to work is to fix problems, then why work? I think there’s another choice. I think change makes things better.

Now, I know that there are changes that don’t have positive outcomes. I’m not trying to be utopian or naive – just intentional. There are so many stories where people have faced incredibly difficult circumstances and they had an outlook that is such an example of optimism that it seems surreal. I hope that that level of challenge isn’t something you’re currently facing or will have to face.

Assuming that our changes are more within the realm of our day-to-day existence, then let’s position ourselves positively. Let’s look at change as something that can lead to things being better. It is hard to do, but the effort is worth it. Seeing things that change as an opportunity and not as an obstacle is much more fulfilling. Please note that this isn’t a call to perfection because you will stumble. That isn’t negative at all. It’s another chance to do things better !!

This week make the switch and stop being bitter and choose to be better.

 

Tie Dye, Ice Cream & T-Shirts !!

This past week I was in my element more than usual because I attended the Ohio SHRM State HR Conference. I was able to be surrounded by my peers as well as a constant vibe of music, tie dye, lava lamps and harmony. Yes, I know that sounds like serious hippie lingo, but I felt right at home.

If you haven’t been to State SHRM conferences, you should check them out. They have a more intimate feel to them and you can take time to genuinely connect with people. Yes, they are full of events, excitement and phenomenal sessions of HR content, but they have a more relaxed pace to them.

Two speakers completely captured my attention because of their personal story in approaching business. We heard from Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s and John Jacobs, co-founder of Life is Good. So much of what they had to share really stuck with me both emotionally and logically. In today’s frenetic pace and ever-changing work environment, these two companies have made sure that they ran their enterprises from a values-based perspective. These aren’t the “values” that corporations dream up during their annual strategic planning exercise. Both companies have deep held beliefs that they will not sway from as humans that shape their culture and their impact throughout the world.

It was so reassuring to see this, but this approach is rarely followed. The “value” that is espoused and held to more than any other today is profit.

(I can already sense your eye roll and concern that I’m going down the hippie path – and I’m good with that !!)

I understand, and agree, that companies need to be profitable in order to survive. I get the economics of it. However, if there isn’t a higher calling to having an organization, it can’t sustain itself. It’s great to see more and more small businesses and those making up the Gig Economy are changing the rules of work. It’s also reassuring the businesses are finally starting to realize that they are nothing without their people.

Please note that this has ALWAYS been the case, but we’ve spent centuries trying to prove it out as something else. There are still holdouts that will contend that structure, processes and systems are the real backbone of successful companies. Those elements are needed, but they mean nothing without people.

Both Jerry and John shared stories about humans and how those shaped who they were and how they were able to succeed. They stuck to their unconventional approach while holding to the beliefs that (1) social responsibility is an obligation and not a feel good philanthropy effort and (2) optimism always outshines negativity !!

I knew I was among my brethren when I met them. Jerry doesn’t shake hands, he hugs. Perfect. John started his session by saying “The best way to kick off a presentation is to throw stuff into the crowd !!” and he tossed Life is Good frisbees into the masses. He also closed his speech by having a group of attendees join him on stage to play Beatles tunes on kazoo while the rest of us sang along !!

Being genuine in business shouldn’t be an exception. It should be the norm. I’m thankful for the reminder and will remember to practice this every day on purpose !!

Being Human

I typically stay away from blogging about current events, but the recent response to Hurricane Harvey touched me. The outpouring of people willing to step in and help other humans was encouraging to say the least. I know there’s so much yet to be done, and that brings me to the other side of something that has been pulling at me lately.

As Hurricane Irma now advances, our attention shifts and we have another potentially tragic situation facing us. The reality is that there are significant challenges happening all around us. We don’t focus on them because the general media, and social media, goes for the most tragic hoping for the worst. Thankfully humans chose to show their best.

We have already forgotten the recency of many other situations which concerns me. I am embarrassed that we have become so myopic. We live in a global community, and yet we only concern ourselves with items that are within the US, or that directly affect us. I know this is generalizing and that it doesn’t reflect so many that serve and give willingly of their time and money to countless efforts. It is the reality for many though.

What has been sticking with me during this time of unrest and turmoil is that we have a choice. The endless banter of negativity and divisiveness can be overwhelming and disheartening because it comes at us from all angles. However, we don’t need to add to this. Ever.

The humanity that was shown during Harvey is who we are as people. We can, and should be, the great humans that we were created to be. If we can lend a hand to those who are facing disaster, we should. I would also encourage you to consider being compassionate on an on-going basis and not just during trying times. We have people in and around us every day in our homes, our neighborhoods and our workplaces that are facing a variety of situations and circumstances.

I would especially encourage my peers in HR to be genuinely compassionate in their roles. We have tended to shy away from this because we don’t want to get “too close” to people in the event that we have to address them some time in the future. Taking that stance is sad to me. Why in the world would expecting the worst to happen help us in practicing HR? Why not expect the best in others instead?

I understand that there will be people that frustrate us, and we may be the one who frustrates someone else. But, if we continue to expect the worst, that’s what will occur. Every day people come to work facing situations that may seem easy to handle for some, but may be extremely challenging for others. This is where compassion comes in.

It takes no effort or cost to listen to someone. People may not always expect us to solve things for them. They just want someone to hear them out. You may be able to help them organizationally or personally, but listening needs to occur first. Please understand that every employee wants to be acknowledged, heard and engaged. Every one.

I hope that compassion becomes our norm and that when it needs to elevate, we jump in just like we are now. See the best in others. We are better when we are always being human !!

Chores !!

I remember growing up and having a chart on the refrigerator that denoted the chores that my brother and I were responsible for. My Mom was a widow during this time, so it was like pulling teeth to get two young boys to be responsible and have any type of sustainable focus. She used different colored stars, and getting them was a giant reward !! We’d compete to see if we could EVER attain the elusive gold stars.

The chart was a simple form of encouragement to get us to do work that we would never have willingly chosen to do. The tasks listed on the chart were necessary for the general upkeep of the house. We had no clue that we were actually providing some relief for my mother. We never understood that she worked a full-time job as a teacher before coming home to make sure the household ran as well.

Being a parent myself, I adopted the chart for my kids as well. They did the same types of tasks for stickers instead of stars. I noted one difference though when my wife and I incorporated the chart system. We saw the resistance that I’m sure my brother and I gave when we were young. I was oblivious to the difficulty I’m sure I raised with my Mom when all she wanted was some assistance.

Chores exist today as well after my kids have moved out to attend college. However, I don’t get a chart from my wife. (To be honest, I probably would still be geeked to get a star !!)

The one thing about chores is that they never end. Ever. After you’ve picked up something once, other piles surprisingly appear and no one can remember how it happened. You did everything right in order to address the situation, but it never seems to remain clean, straightened or in order.

Chores are not only at your house. They exist at work as well. However, we don’t use charts to encourage people. Instead, we bark our expectations and wonder why things don’t get completed. The items that are “chores” at work are important because they provide a baseline and some stability in what we do. I don’t know many people who are geeked about doing chores, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored.

Is there anything we can do to make these tasks seem less mundane? Yes, there is. Like most things in our roles, the key is our attitude toward the work as well as our approach. It may seem simple, but so were stars. If we have an understanding that these items aren’t unpleasant, that is a big shift in how we have been getting them accomplished.

You can also do things such as schedule them to be done vs. letting them pile up. Also, take some time to evaluate if the chores you have are needed, or if they’ve just lingered on for decades for no apparent reason. We all have work that is just “busy” that may be sucking away our time. Use this mantra – If it doesn’t add value, stop doing it.

We need to be aware of all our work, and not just the big ticket/project items. This week take a new look at your chores and take them on willingly. I may get a piece of fluorescent poster board,  a sharpie, a ruler and some stars !!

Who Will Speak For Me ??

As you go into work this week, the first thing on your mind will most likely be a problem or challenge you’re facing. It could be a deadline that is looming or a myriad of other things that genuinely need your attention. I doubt, however, that employees will be the first thing you think about.

If they are your focus, chances are that you’re only thinking about the employees who are causing a problem. The people who are awesome and doing their jobs well are overlooked. I don’t mean to sound harsh. It’s the reality I’ve experienced in the past, and also the observation I’ve had when I hear my peers talk about their work experiences. It’s ironic that in a field that has “Human” in the title, we actually give our attention to a very small percentage of people who work with us.

If you would ask employees who HR represents, they’d say management. I’m not talking about a poor “us and them” culture either. I’d venture to say this reflects most workplaces. I think this is because people see us step in on situations where it’s not going well with someone as the example of what it’s like to interact with HR. Doesn’t that tire you out? Seriously. If you’re only practicing HR to handle people who are problems, it has to be discouraging. This limits what HR can, and should, do for organizations.

HR needs to develop relationships with employees at all levels. Whenever I’ve brought up this concept, my peers get defensive and state how difficult this is to accomplish due to their company’s size or number of employees. I work for a company that has 17 different business units and 1,200 team members over a regional geographic footprint. The vast majority of our team members work on a part-time basis and over different shifts. The challenge to know everyone is real.

So, this is how I’ve approached my current environment. I don’t try to reach every person on my own. That’s not feasible. However, it is realistic to teach others that HR is willing, visible and available for everyone regardless of when and where they work. That message has to be consistent and then followed by behavior. I will go to different locations at different times and dates that don’t always match my regular schedule. I needed to alter when I work so that I could reach others when they work. It’s changed how HR is viewed because they’ve seen that I don’t show up only for problems. There needs to be another important shift to make sure that representing all employees is the norm for HR.

Stop talking ABOUT people, and start talking TO them !!

We’re in a unique position as HR professionals. We have the ability to talk with everyone. Honestly, the majority of my day is spent talking to others. In the past, I’ve had people question the “value” of this approach. Over time, those people are now the ones who talk to me the most. We are the one function that can listen, evaluate, counsel and connect others. Doing this clears the air on items and feelings that may have been long held in silence and frustration. Allowing people to perform has both intrinsic and real value for organizations. This may be hard to quantify on the bottom line, but I contend it impacts it more than people think.

I recently was enjoying some John Mayer, and I think he captured how employees yearn for HR to act when he wrote:

“Show me something I can be, Play a song that I can sing, Make me feel as I am free – Someone come speak for me.”

It’s time for HR to change and speak for others. Trust me that when you do this, you’ll enjoy your role more and you will be making a tangible difference for your team members and your company as a whole. It’s worth the effort. Make the shift !!

 

Exist or Thrive ??

Another work week is upon us. How does that make you feel? Seriously. What’s your attitude going in?

I know the realistic answer is “it depends” because I can’t understand or cover all of the life situations everyone is facing. These probably run the gamut from bleak to awesome. The circumstances we find ourselves in are a heavy factor which influences our approach to work and to how we interact with others. I don’t want this to be some pop psychology piece that tries to analyze your current state. That’s not fair or even possible.

Let’s get back to the first question. How do you approach a new work week?

It’s important to take time to do this because I think it frames how we approach our work more often than not. I don’t think it’s the “Monday Blues” that bring stress and unnecessary negativity. I think we dread going in to work because we have chosen to exist vs. choosing to thrive.

Don’t believe me? I think people float because the culture of the company allows them to. I don’t think people want to float, but since we’ve taken the majority of direct human interaction out of work, they can’t help it. People want to be challenged. People want to stretch and tackle situations they can affect. However, we blow things up into dilemmas so that when an answer comes to light we get more recognition. It’s true. We can’t seem to break out of the doldrums of our roles.

Please note that this blahness isn’t at one level of an organization. It can occur from the most senior executive down to the front line. Don’t assume that people are just getting by who work below you by position. It’s a vicious myth that we keep perpetuating (again – to make us feel better).

Now, this will sound bold, but it’s something I know because I’ve experienced it myself. You can THRIVE in what you do currently in your role as well as throughout your organization. To do this though, you need to make a choice. The choice is simple, but the implementation is difficult.

The choice is that you personally will no longer settle. Ever.

This past weekend I went to visit my parents. My Dad is a quote machine. Whenever we’re in any situation, he’ll quip, “Write this down . . .” and then he whips out a quote. One that has stuck with me is, “To lower the standard is to give up the fight.” He said this when I’d choose to do something less than my best. It is strong encouragement to keep in mind when the next wave of negativity or cynicism hits.

Choosing to thrive is not some slogan on a wall. It’s a way to exhibit your behavior and a method to lift up and encourage others. HR has the opportunity to see the best in themselves and all employees who work in their company. How do you think your Monday would start if you had that intention and approach going in?

This week make the choice. Stop settling yourself first. Then, go talk to others you see who are not thriving. Work with them and get them to break out of their funk. Fight against the people who choose to tear things down with a better, and more sustainable, stance. Thrive !!

What You Say . . .

. . . matters.

This may seem like an overly obvious statement. However, I don’t think we believe it because we are extremely careless with our words – especially when it comes to people.

It’s so easy to get frustrated with how others treat you, or the situations you find yourself in. Words that describe your immediate feeling and reaction usually aren’t positive. And, if we’re honest, we feel “better” by taking a shot at someone else – at least for the moment. I think we do it so often that we’ve become desensitized to how we casually describe others. It has become an expected response . . . and that is sad.

Now, trust me, I’m not pointing fingers at others because this is something that I struggle with as well. It’s not something I’m proud of, and it’s actually something I’m trying to turn around.

People don’t deserve to be called names that belittle or degrade. No one. Ironically, most of this happens out of earshot of the person we’re frustrated with which makes it even more underhanded. On top of this, we unfortunately highlight name calling and labeling almost incessantly in our social media forums or in the news. The juicier, or more vicious, the better. The response to when these barbs are thrown about is to take it up a level so it gets more and more harsh. I want you to note something.

Tearing someone down has NEVER improved a situation or a circumstance. Not once.

I mentioned before that I’m working on this. That’s the truth. I don’t mean this as an HR professional. I mean this as someone who’s a husband, a father, a friend, a volunteer and a co-worker. I observe that the ease at which others are torn down is the norm, and I can’t accept that. I understand people can be frustrating. However, what I think gets completely glossed over is that we’re ALL people !! I have to be someone who frustrates others. So, is the same name calling being used towards me when I push someone’s buttons? Of course it is. Even if I don’t hear it directly.

I had a conversation recently with a friend, and we were letting off some steam about a person who wasn’t in the conversation. It wasn’t positive. I’m embarrassed to say that. Afterwards, I decided that this isn’t how I want to behave. It’s an easy excuse to justify venting, but it isn’t how I want to see others treated, or be treated myself.

I believe we can, and should, be encouragers of people. This doesn’t count just for people we like. It’s for everyone because it honestly doesn’t happen enough. I know that when a kind word is given that is has meaning and impact. It matters. Now, it may be the exception in what people hear, but that means that kind words should be used even more regularly !!

We will all still be critical and there is value in that. We should be critical of the behavior we see and experience and not the person. Most people reading this will not agree with this position because it takes effort and grace to not bundle the human in our response.

This week I’m asking you to join me in changing the tide. Take time to encourage people and lift them up. When you’re faced with the urge to lash out, don’t do it. Breathe and then assess what was said. See how to respond positively and then act. It’s not what we’re used to doing in our interactions with others. What’s cool though is that people won’t be expecting a positive response either.

What we say matters. I choose to encourage and I hope you will as well !!

Send a Note !!

When I went to high school . . .

(Yes, I know I sound like my Dad, but hang with me)

. . . you used to write notes to people to get their attention. It was like a spy movie because you didn’t want to get caught, or have someone read it who was not the intended audience. People wrote notes so often that some came up with their own “language” so that any intercepted notes seemed like gibberish. You always were hoping to get a note because it meant that someone wanted to communicate something cool, or ask you do join them in some activity. There were countless people who made dates this way and probably became people’s parents !!

Writing a note takes thought, intent and emotion. You didn’t want something to be seen as dull or meaningless. People weren’t careless with notes. Sending a note took some risk to put yourself out there because you weren’t sure what the response would be.

Flash forward to today. Now, if someone sends you a message electronically, they expect an answer almost before you actually send it. If someone doesn’t respond, we think the worst possible scenario for the reason(s) we were shunned. Electronic messages are also often not reciprocal. Tons of people post, snap, tweet, etc. about their lives and don’t really care if others do the same. Oh, we long for the affirmation like or emoji to our posts, but 90% of them are about ourselves, our experiences, or our interests. I’m not bashing these messages because I’m as active as the next person when it comes to being visible on forums.

I miss the days of notes because they were going TO someone and asking them to be involved. There were also notes that would tell someone how you felt about them, and some were even notes of encouragement. I played basketball all throughout my Jr. High and High School years and I had a secret person who would write notes before each game to wish me luck and that the team would play great. Every player had these spirit sleuths for each sport. It was amazing !!

Today’s society, and workplace, yearns to be more “human”, but we don’t incorporate personalization much at all. We’re so concerned about being politically correct, that we’ve ceased sharing “notes” with people to encourage them in their work and take steps to see the best in what they do. I’d like to see that change.

HR needs to come to terms with the fact that workplaces will never become more human unless HR becomes more human itself. Never. I get a sense that all employees are longing for a genuine connection and path to engage with someone with whom they work. So, I encourage you to step in the gap. You may not be the final connection, but you should be the person who initiates this and starts the process.

This week, send a note to someone. It would be awesome if it was handwritten !! However, if it’s electronic, make it a note. Check and see how someone’s doing. Write someone and tell them how much they make a difference in your life and the lives of others. Be positive and encourage others on purpose.

Then . . . send another one.

Keep doing this until it becomes a habit. Be a person who’s willing to break through the mire of negativity and the noise of the endless rush of life and send a note. When you do, you will change the direction of someone’s day. It may be the exact thing they need at the right time.

I need to go now because I have some notes to write.

Be Present

Our world, and our lives, seem like they are nothing but an endless chain of distractions. Items rarely catch our attention for more than mere seconds at a time. If fact, it’s a bit ironic to write this observation on a blog that may get read and possibly shared, liked or retweeted – but only for a moment.

I’m not complaining. It’s our reality regardless of age or background. We seek instant knowledge and instant recognition. Because of this immensely rapid pace, we miss the majority of what is actually happening around us. That is especially true when it comes to people. I love seeing when other bloggers bemoan how people are buried in their devices, but that’s where ALL of our posts go. Electronic forums are the primary means of communication for everything from life milestones to choices of food and drink to images of almost anything you can imagine. Again, not complaining, just trying to frame the world we have built.

Now, put this environment into the workplace, or at home, or in any social gathering . . .

Regardless of the constant buzz, ping and snap, we’re surrounded by people. People who still want to, and have to, communicate directly. Ideally, this would be face-to-face, but that’s not always the case. However, more and more video is being used through various channels to give people the face-to-face interaction they desire. Let’s be honest. When you communicate with someone in person, it’s a completely different feel, message and outcome than if it’s done electronically. That’s because humans were wired to communicate TO and WITH each other.

The true challenge in making communication better is that we have to fight the distractions. We need to be present.

The harsh reality is that we aren’t present during conversations. We either partially listen as we’re trying to end this interaction as quickly as possible, or we flat out do other things while people are talking to us. Be honest. We all do it. Since, our behavior is to somewhat engage, or at least fake attention, the outcome is that communication fails. All. The. Time. Messages are misunderstood or interpreted based on the scant snippets of what broke through the cloud of distractions loud enough to hit our brains. I want you (and me) to shift this approach to something that is much more effective !!

A dear friend of mine, Steve Boyd, said one of the most sage things I’ve ever heard during a training session at my former workplace years ago. He was sharing how he used to lead an 8-hour training class on Listening Skills. EIGHT HOURS !!  I joked with him and said, “Couldn’t you just start the class and say, ‘We’re going to practice listening today,” and then just be quiet for the rest of the time?” We both chuckled at the image of that. However, he was serious when he was talking about the power of being present. He saw how inane his class really was, and he came up with this:

“When you’re with other people, BE there when they’re there !!”

This simply means pay attention to the person wanting to talk with you on purpose. Drop the phone or keyboard. Get off social media. Eliminate the distractions around you and hear what they have to say. Don’t try to jump to conclusions, rush to an answer, or figure out a way to shorten the conversation. Listen from start to finish. Then – respond and continue the conversation.

When you start practicing this at home, at work, or in social gatherings, you’ll be amazed at how full and colorful communication still is !! You want to be heard, and so does everyone else. This week – start being present !! You’ll be glad you started.

Doors

I’d bet a significant amount of money that if I looked in your company’s employee handbook I’d find a statement that says you have an “open door policy.” This infers that people have access to anyone at any level at any time. I’d love to say that this is really the common practice in organizations, but it often isn’t. That’s because being an open door is tough.

Doors can exist in one of two positions – open and closed. I know that sounds obvious, but doors play a bigger part of our careers than we recognize. You hope that people would be willing to communicate openly, but we hesitate, or think that people have some hidden agenda, when they meet with us. That may happen every once in awhile, but it isn’t the norm. The challenge is that negative experiences have such a huge impact on us that they override any positive ones that we have. We end up communicating less than we should or we give partial messages to folks hoping they can come to the conclusion we have in our heads.

I find this to be the case with HR peers as well. I understand that we work with people at all levels and that it can be challenging. However, shouldn’t we be the ones who set the standard and expectation of being accessible? If you ask people in your company who work in other departments, I think you’ll hear that we’re not as accessible as we could be.

So, how can we become open doors?

The easy answer is practice. The hard reality is that it takes courage, patience and a willingness to meet and listen to ALL people. This includes the people that you tend to interact with only when you have to. We all spend more time with people who we’re comfortable with. It’s human nature. Well, we need to fight human nature. Every employee deserves our time and attention. You may be the only person who’s giving an employee an audience. It could keep them engaged, and even better, understood so that they know they’re connected to your company.

Secondly, I think you need to open doors for others. Too often HR is categorized as the group that shuts people down. That may be needed in certain situations, but it’s an awful moniker to carry with you. We live in a time that is extremely self-focused. I’ve never seen this work long-term. You may see short-term success or visibility, but you can’t sustain it. Opening doors for others is something you can do for your entire life.

Recently, an HR friend of mine was in transition. She contacted to let me know. I wanted to make sure she was okay and let her know she had someone willing to make connections for her that she may not be able to do on her own. I also encouraged her to see if she could create her own role and position within a company. I told her to share that she could open doors for their organization by bringing her knowledge, skills and experience. I reached out to two dear HR friends who lived in her area of the country and asked them all to meet each other and network with each other on purpose.

At SHRM17, she was able to share all that had happened after our conversation. She is now a close connection with the two folks that I introduced to her, she found a few new HR roles to consider and convinced a company to allow her to create a role that they had not seen in the past. I was geeked to hear all the great things that occurred from a phone call and two e-mails. Three opened doors.

This week, take a look at two things: (1) Are you truly an open door at work for ALL of your employees and (2) Are there folks in your life that you could open doors for?

When others shut doors on you, and they will, don’t get discouraged. Just look for the next opportunity where you can step in, reach for the knob and pull open a door. It may change your life and the life of others. Trust me. Opening doors is worth it.