Sunday night is when I sit down to pen my weekly blog. Usually, the words flow easily and I can put something together relatively quickly.
If you don’t know, I am an extremely positive person 90% of the time. It’s natural and genuine. Honestly, it feels a bit odd to type it out because I don’t mean this in either an arrogant or naive way. I believe in the good in life and in people.
Then, the mass shootings of El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio happened this Saturday. Dayton is a mere 25 miles north of my home. These tragedies are always horrible and senseless. So, I am floored by this weekend and the mass loss of life. We often get moved by the horror until something else grabs our attention.
I know that there are millions of people who are continuing to move on and live life well. They may see the news online or through social media, and feel remorse or disbelief. And yet, life continues.
This week, instead of writing about the good in people (which I still firmly believe in), I’m taking a break to reach out to those close to me. I’m being intentional to tell them how much they mean to me, and the impact they make in my life and the lives of others. I can’t take the chance that I’d miss the opportunity to do this. I don’t want to take any day for granted.
For those of you kind enough to read my blog, please know that you matter. Every. Day.
As an HR professional, you’re in one of the most emotionally demanding professions around. That’s the case because you are bombarded by the various emotions of every person you encounter throughout your day. This isn’t bad. It’s just a fact. The result of this is that HR pros are flat worn out. This is the type of tired that goes to your bones. And, it can become a daily reality.
Add on top of this the reality that in today’s workplace the majority of employees also are exhausted and drawn out from a mixture of the pressures of their jobs and their lives. It doesn’t matter if you personally feel that their “pressure” may not be as extensive as what you’re feeling. We have to remember that the pressure everyone feels is real to them. And, THAT is their reality.
Since that is what we face when we go into the workplace, how do we cope? Seriously. How do we continue? What I’m seeing much more often than not is that people are either feeling burnout, emotional detachment or loneliness. And, that’s descriptive of my HR peers.
What in the world does that mean? I mean it’s time for us to face this harsh reality and do two things – (1) Deal with it and (2) Turn things around. How do we do this? We need to encourage each other. Genuinely encourage each other. The one way out of this pit of despair (not exaggerating) is for us to come together as peers and as a global HR community.
We spend far too much time nitpicking and cutting around the edges for the sake of hearing our voice or personal viewpoint. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be critical where and when needed. Not at all. However, encouragement takes far more courage in today’s workplace than adding to the tenor of people tearing things down.
I’ve mentioned this in the past through blogs and at presentations – HR needs to stop trying to do things in isolation. There’s no reason for it. You can connect with at least one other peer outside your organization who can be your sounding board and someone who lifts you up through encouragement. You need to have a person in your life who breathes life into you when you aren’t sure if you can take one more breath.
One key piece to this is to not compare. I mean it. We get caught up in how many people we are/aren’t connected to. To me I think you should understand your personal capacity of how many folks you can comfortably, and consistently, communicate with. Then remember that this is YOUR capacity and don’t worry about what others do.
I’m fortunate to have many connections. However, I have an incredible capacity to connect. One reason for that is that I encourage others. I’ve learned from others who always pour into me. My circle is filled with a mixture of family and friends who I see in person and also talk to on Social Media. Figure out the sphere you need to have in order to fill up your bucket of encouragement, and work on keeping it active. If you need a connection to get you started, reach out and I’ll be glad to both connect and encourage you. I’m grateful you’re in HR and know that you can make a positive impact on the people in your company.
Taking this first step will give you the energy and support you need to press on. I understand that it won’t be easy. But, it’s worth it. Get connected now.
This past weekend I was fortunate enough to drive two hours north of my house with my wife to visit my parents – Connie and Don Fleming. Of course, this also meant that I was able to return to Ada, Ohio (center of the universe.) I spent the day cleaning the gutters, removing dead rose bushes and tightening all of the shutters on the windows. My mom stayed with me to give me “direction” and my dad stayed inside to chat with my wife.
The cool thing about seeing my parents now is that our lives have once again transitioned. You see, my mom is 80 years old and my dad is 76. If we hadn’t taken the time to visit, my mom was planning on getting on a ladder to do the gutter cleaning !! Add to this the fact that the past few months have been rougher than most because my dad has been in the hospital and a rehab facility more than he’s been home. It’s been challenging for him and my mom. She’s his sole caregiver at this point in time. We’ll need to keep watching this for both of them.
Even though my parents are relatively close for me to get to within a relatively short period of time, my brother is almost eight hours away. Even with that time separation driving is quicker than flying because Ada isn’t near an airport. We all keep in contact, and I wish that the majority of our conversations weren’t about our parent’s health status or the news of another elderly relative or friend of the family passing away. But that’s where we are . . . sort of . . .
You see, my brother and I also have great kids who are now technically “adults” according to their ID’s. They’re all embarking on the next phase of their lives by landing jobs, adding friends and meeting significant others. It’s exciting to see them maneuver and struggle as they find their way. We give them guidance and assistance, if they ask for it, and we see what decisions they make.
In the midst of all of this great “life” stuff going on, we all have our careers and jobs ourselves. We’re sandwiched !! We’re in the middle of caring for our aging parents and also taking care of our kids. This isn’t unique by any stretch of the imagination. This is the norm for the majority of people now. This wasn’t always the case for families, but with people being able to have a great life for many years, it’s our reality.
Now, I’m fortunate in that I have a great relationship with my parents. I know that isn’t the case for everyone and don’t take it for granted. Regardless of the relationship status, we all have parents. This “sandwich generation” is now a huge work challenge, but it doesn’t have to be !!
When I hear about most workplaces, time off is cordoned off into days and hours. We “allow” people to have time off if they’ve earned it, it’s been appropriately accrued, and if they fill out the proper 7-page over detailed form for HR which must be approved by anywhere from one to three people. It’s ridiculous and archaic. Our HR systems continue to be based on “showing up” and being visible versus performing.
What if you knew your people so well that you could give them the grace to take time when needed to help a parent or a child? What if you did this and didn’t have unlimited PTO? Would doing this lead to complete and utter anarchy in an organization ???
Here’s a different perspective . . .
Understand your people enough to learn about their circumstances and situations. Allow them to have a work schedule that meets their needs as well as allows them to perform in their role. Give them time to both address “life” things and do their work. Allow your systems to ebb and flow instead of being locked in concrete.
My experience has been if your workplace can accommodate people individually, they will, in turn, be more engaged, loyal and grateful for you as a company. If someone takes advantage of this in a detrimental way, address it – just like you can with ANY person’s behavior. You will have far more success if you aim for consistency versus compliance because someday YOU will need some latitude in your life as well.
I know that this approach takes more work, effort and attention. However, aren’t your employees worth it? This week take a look to see if you have folks who are sandwiched. Get to learn their story and see how you can be a partner in helping them through life AND work !!
When do we start complaining about our age? Is there a certain birthday that sends us over the edge and make us feel that we’re deteriorating more than we are living? Is it different for different people?
I’ll admit that when I get up from the couch, or wake up in the morning, there are far more snaps, creaks and groans than there were 30 years ago. That’s not a complaint. It’s a fact !! I get it that there’s no way to stop the natural process of aging. I honestly wouldn’t want to change a thing as the years roll by. Sure, I hope that my health and mental state don’t fade. There are positive choices I can make with my diet and exercise that will assist in hopefully doing well. I also know that all of this could be taken away in a second without my choice.
This summer I’ve been doing something that I haven’t done regularly in over 20 years. I’m going to rock concerts !! The majority of the artists I’ve seen so far were ones I grew up with. I still listen to their music often and have been geeked to see them perform live before they hang it up. You see, the majority of the artists I’ve seen are in the “way over 50” club.
On the Saturday evening before the SHRM Annual Conference started, some friends and I went to see Aerosmith !!!! (that’s really not enough exclamation points by the way.) They just started a residency in Las Vegas, and the concert was mind blowing !! The played a little over two hours and crushed every song with the same energy they had when they started in the early 1970’s. The set list included hits and some deep cuts. Phenomenal !!
During the conference, the ageless Lionel Richie played for the Tuesday night conference. He moved seamlessly from ballads to the hard funk of his time with the Commodores. He was engaging, funny and great to take in.
That should have been enough for one summer, but this weekend I saw two more great acts. The first was Jason Bonham‘s Led Zeppelin Evening. For those of you who say, “So what ??” Jason is the son of John Bonham, the original drummer of Led Zeppelin who passed away over 30 years ago. This band just ripped into amazing versions of Zeppelin songs and I was screaming out the lyrics right along with the lead singer. Zeppelin broke up years ago and they are one of my favorite bands of all time. So, to hear something even remotely close in a live venue was perfection !!
Bonham was the opening act for another fave of mine, Peter Frampton !! He is on his final tour and I couldn’t believe I got to see him one last time. This was my third time seeing him. What was amazing about the show is that he shared very poignant stories throughout and it made the experience even better. Later this summer, I’m going to see The Doobie Brothers and Santana together !!
What does my summer of concerts have to do with HR ?? Everything !!
You see there continue to be countless articles, blogs and conference sessions on the younger generations either in the workforce or entering the workforce. I can’t handle any of them personally because I think it’s a shame that we separate anyone for any reason in life or in the workplace. Age is a fact. Categorizing someone because of their age is unnecessary.
You see we think it’s just one generation getting crotchety and becoming the grumpy old folks they swore they’d never become. Some of that unfortunately is true and needs to stop. However, the same light is being cast on those who are older workers. It seems that once someone crosses the half century mark (that’s 50), then a person’s value has to automatically diminish. Doesn’t it ??
The same narrow thinking and stereotypes towards younger workers is also being applied to older workers. Seeing these rock legends of my time reminded me that you can still ROCK regardless of your age. Because, you see, age is just a concept. The work we do should be based on expectations to perform and not what year we were born. HR absolutely has to step in and address anyone who is starting to treat older workers poorly. We may be the only voice who does this.
I know people much younger than me who are stymied by facets of life or obstacles at work that aren’t that challenging. I also know people much older than me that can, and do, work circles around me. Also, please don’t say “age is just a mindset.” Catchphrases aren’t necessary at any age. One other thing to remember . . . EVERYONE gets older !! So, if you’re allowing this behavior now, one day when you’re older don’t be surprised when this same narrow treatment gets applied to you.
Let’s make a pact HR. Stop ageism regardless of the generation. Treat people as Steve, Sally, Jorge or Dee – humans. It’s time we right this inequity in the workplace for good !!
Now, sit back and enjoy some of the music I heard . . . Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun covered by Peter Frampton on his Grammy winning Fingerprints set. It’s ageless !!
Each year the country celebrates another July 4th, and it becomes a year older. With all of the picnics, concerts, fireworks and days off from work, we tend to overlook this fact. Even though America is a mere 243 years old (young compared to many countries), it’s still another milestone.
In today’s fast paced world, we tend to see milestones come and go with little fanfare. In fact, unless the milestone directly affects us, we don’t pay it much attention at all. I understand that it isn’t feasible for you to acknowledge every possible milestone that occurs around you. However, do you slow down enough to see the ones that you can?
Recently, a spectacular milestone occurred that I’m sure you weren’t aware of. My cousin Mary turned 60 years old !! Now, that in itself isn’t much of an accomplishment. People age every day and hit significant birthdays ranging from 1 to 100. Her aging was just time passing as it always does.
What you don’t know is that my cousin, Mary, is an amazing human !! She and I have been very close since we were young children. She grew up on a family farm in the metropolis of Pemberville, Ohio while I grew up in a house trailer in the equally as massive Luckey, Ohio. (These are real places. You can Google them.) We worked on her family’s farm together over the years, but then my mother remarried when we became teenagers, and we moved to Ada, Ohio which was about an hour away. I saw Mary at family gatherings and holidays which was wonderful.
Time continued to pass and Mary graduated from college, got married and started a family. I also went to college and then happened to move back into the same town as her. Again, none of this is that unique. I’m sure you have similar extended family and/or friend stories that would mirror this.
Where the story takes an interesting twist happened 17 years ago. My cousin was diagnosed with cancer. It was not good news, and she came inches from passing away. It was simply a miracle that she made it through. Many people were praying for her and hoping for the best. She did get better and has been in remission since she was on the edge of leaving us.
THAT is why my cousin turning 60 is a true milestone !!
Since her remission, Mary has poured into the lives of others even more than she already did. She’s been fortunate to see all of her children do well and become great humans themselves. Mary is someone who still lights up a room with her smile, her heart and her infectious laugh.
As I’m typing this, I have two very good HR friends who have been recently given a diagnosis like my cousin. I’m praying and pulling for them and hope that they will get the care that they need so they can reach milestones as well. I know that there are many more circumstances that people are currently facing. They range from health challenges to difficulties at work. They may be in between jobs or have family struggles more than can be adequately captured.
I’m sharing this because I think it’s time we stopped to relish and enjoy the milestones of those folks who are in our lives. That may be true of direct family members or co-workers. Instead of rushing to the next like, share or post, what would life (and work) look like by taking time to listen and understand what is happening in the lives of those around us?
I know this may not be “natural” for you, but I think it’s worth your time. I genuinely feel that investing your time in the lives of others is the best use of your time. Every. Day. This is especially true if you’re an HR peer. HR has always been about humans and the lives they live. It’s not about the work they do !! Trust me. When you focus on the lives of others on purpose, they will be more engaged and productive than they ever have been.
I, along with about 20,000 others, just finished attending SHRM19. It was a full, adventurous and exhausting conference. This isn’t new. Any HR conference of this scale is hard to wrap your hands around because there are so many options available for you to choose.
The common denominator in this sea of movement though is people. Whether it’s the thousands of folks passing by each other throughout the conference venue, or the people sitting next to you listening to a Smart Stage talk or full presentation. People are near you every minute of the day. In the midst of this swell of people, you think there would be a ton of interaction going on. Not really. Don’t get me wrong, there is some, but most people are going through the event seemingly alone. That is a broad generalization and I don’t want you to think that people are just automatons wandering aimlessly from session to session.
In an industry that is meant to be focused on humans, we tend to still focus on tasks, circumstances and situations. We have potential connections and resources passing us by literally at our sides, but the energy and effort it takes to greet each other intentionally is often crippling. I don’t think this is a matter of introversion or extroversion although that definitely plays a part.
I honestly think that we have been conditioned over our lives to set our face towards a destination so much that we don’t notice others. We may “notice” them if there’s some line we’re waiting in to buy coffee or an item from the ever popular SHRM store. However, others are seen as a nuisance or hindrance that is imposing on my time. If you don’t think that’s true, watch the people standing in line or riding the myriad of hotel shuttles and see how many of them are not connecting and talking to each other. The overwhelming majority of people keep to themselves and face forward.
Ironically, there is something that gives me hope in all of this. Pictures.
When you look at the thousands and thousands of tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram photos and Snapchats, there is one common theme . . . people. What is shared the most are pictures of the faces of attendees. It may be anything from a great speaker they enjoyed to a meal shared or a night out on the town. We share pictures of faces !! All of those wonderful experiences which show mainly smiling, laughing humans make up the mosaic of who we truly are as a society.
The pictures show you that people ARE connecting because they want to. It’s how we’re all wired. People want to belong and be acknowledged by others. It doesn’t matter if you’re someone who enjoys being connected to hundreds of people, or just a few. We weren’t meant to experience life or work alone.
The reason I love SHRM Annual Conferences, and honestly any HR gathering, is seeing people !! I saw so many old friends and made tons of new ones. We shared hugs, laughs and stories about our families, our jobs and our common bond of being in human resources. Each one of those encounters will have far more of a lasting effect than any session I attended. The rush of energy that happens when someone asks you to jump into a picture is wonderful. This is true because that image will capture the memory of the time together and will be a lasting reminder that the people you hung out with defined your time at the event.
I hope that this week you remember that you are not alone. You have peers all over the world who share the same field you do even though they’re in different places geographically and their role and company may not exactly reflect yours. Regardless, you have a connection that is always a click away.
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.
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 !!
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 !!
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.
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 !!
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 !!