Glory Days !!

This past weekend I traveled back to my hometown for a sobering event. The father of a dear friend of mine from high school passed away. I know this isn’t unique to any of us because we will all face the loss of those who are close to us at some time or another. I relished the opportunity to go back to my hometown because it’s like going inside a Norman Rockwell painting. Seriously.

I grew up in Ada, Ohio which has 5,600ish residents. It’s the type of place where everyone knows everyone and has for generations. I went to a school where every grade, Kindergarten through 12th Grade, was in one building (and still is). Walking into the Ada Baptist Church was like walking back in time. I immediately saw dear friends that I unfortunately hadn’t seen for anywhere from between 10 to 30 plus years. However, it was like we never missed a beat.

My friends from my hometown !! (Left to Right) Me, Dave West, Jeff Gossell, Bill Kent, Mark Browne and Joe Simmons

After a beautiful service and celebration of my friend’s father, we all gathered in the Fellowhip Hall for a meal and a chance to catch up. I immediately hooked up with my High School classmates and we asked about what has happened since we last saw each other. Then, we shared memories and laughed. We laughed so hard and so long, my ribs ached and my head hurt. It was magnificent !!

The time flew by and we didn’t want it to end. We all exchanged our contact information and agreed to get together again soon because we all agreed that we had waited far too long. It was bittersweet to leave the church and head back into my regular life. I did get to hang out with my brother and parents for a few more precious hours before I headed home.

As my wife and I headed back towards our home two hours away, I reflected on the day. I was thankful that she was so incredibly supportive and allowed me to reconnect with my mates. It made me also realize something that I had overlooked way too often.

The people in our lives on purpose. (Even if it’s only for a small slice of time.)

We walk through each day caught up in endless distractions all begging for our attention. Most of those, by the way, we seek out even though we complain about them. There are tons of people who move in and out of our days. Do you take the time to notice them? Or, do you take them for granted because they serve some functional role that is yet another cog in  your day?

You’re missing out on so much because it isn’t a mistake that these folks are in your life. That includes your family, your friends, your co-workers and the folks you encounter when you go to various places. As HR professionals, we need to wake people up so that they stop running to keep up with everything to intentionally connect with the humans all around them.

This is an opportunity for us to lead in our organizations. It shouldn’t take a significant life event or business calamity to bring people together.

I know that I was fortunate to grow up in a quaint town with an amazing family. To have friends that I still can hang out with is also a blessing. I don’t think this has to be an exception. I think it can be your norm.

This week pause, stop and breathe. Then, reflect on someone in your life that you may have drifted from that you’d like to see how their life is going. I know they’d appreciate it, and so would you.

Understand that others are in your life on purpose !!

Treat people this way and see how your life begins to enrich and grow. I hope you’ll get a chance to share great memories and new experiences as well !!

Love Your Job !!

Over the past several years, I’ve been fortunate to travel to HR conferences all over the U.S. I’ve had to learn how to be a “good” traveler through much anxiety and frustration. I know that is an unfounded fear, but I’m just being candid.

This past week I was fortunate to travel to New Orleans to be the opening keynote speaker for the Louisiana SHRM State Conference. It was an amazing event and checked off another item from my personal bucket list. But I digress . . .

To catch my flight, I awoke at 3:00am to drive down to the airport and make sure I was there two hours before my flight. Now, I know there are people who are regularly up and about and working at this hour, but very few. Driving the major highways was wonderful because I must have only passed 20 cars or so. I cruised down to the long-term parking lot where I normally park each trip and was given my allotted row to settle in. As I groggily stumbled out of my car to get my luggage, the shuttle pulled up to take me up to the airport as it always does. However, this time was much different !!

“Well, GOOD MORNING !! Are you excited to catch your flight today?”

This was NOT how I expected to be greeted at 3:45am. Not at all.

“Jump up on board. I have a few other folks to gather and then we’ll be on our way.”

His over the top cheeriness was an incredible surprise. He was genuine and  pleasant. Two others joined the shuttle and he welcomed them in the same joyful manner. As we headed out of the lot and up to the terminal, he continued.

“So, which airline is everyone on? We’ll be up there in just a few minutes.” We responded and he kept going.

“I just love my job !! I get to meet new people every day and they’re all from different backgrounds and headed to different places. I especially love kids who fly. They’re so excited about getting on a plane, and when they return they’re even more excited about where they’ve been. I love hearing their stories. You guys are my last trip up and back tonight and then it’s off to home and bed. It’s been a great day !!”

I sat in the shuttle with a gigantic smile on my face. Any stress or travel anxiety had disappeared and I was ready to go. His approach to his work is still sticking to me. He doesn’t have the more glamorous, visible or high level job. He is in a role where people more often than not don’t want to interact with the others sitting next to them. He didn’t ask if he could share his joy, he just did it. I feel that he does this with everyone who has the fortune to ride his shuttle.

Is this how you view your job?

I doubt it. To be honest, even though I consider myself a positive person, I don’t have this natural level of joy all the time. However, it was so infectious that I’ve decided that this is my goal going forward. Think of how HR would be within companies if this was our approach every day. How would you feel about yourself? How would you treat and view others?

I think it would be magnificent !!

This week own this approach. Love your work. Love your job and take steps to intentionally engage others. It changes your day for the better !!

Rest for Work !!

Have you ever been exhausted? Or, is a better question, when aren’t you exhausted? When you meet most people the two answers that are given most when you ask how someone’s day is going is either “busy” or “tired.” Neither option sounds that appealing. Honestly, if those are your only two options for how life is going, it seems rather limiting as well.

When we talk about rest it’s usually in response to whatever pace we run in our daily activities. We yearn for an escape most likely so we can collapse. Whenever you collapse, you’re overdue for anything you can truly consider as getting rested. It’s as if your body takes over and finally shuts you down just to make sure you don’t hurt yourself.

A trend that still gets attention when it comes to wellness and HR circles is the myth of work/life balance. The premise is that we need to “get away” from work in order to embrace and enjoy life. Again, it’s a means of escape from one facet of our lives. There’s no balance per se. It’s an attempt to make everything feel stable so that work doesn’t swallow us. The intention is good, but the reality is not fully attainable.

It’s odd to me that in order to rest, we’re succumbing to a feeling (or a reality) of not being able to carry on. That seems backwards to me. Now, please note that this is how I’ve approached rest for most of my life. I never feel fully rested because it’s as if I’ve run some sort of endless marathon that I’m going to have to rejoin in a matter of hours.

This past week, I heard a different approach that caught my attention that I’d like for you to consider. What if you rested FOR work ??

If you looked at resting yourself to get prepared for instead of escaping from work, how would that change your day? Seriously. If you were rejuvenated and geeked to jump into what was ahead of you versus falling onto your bed or sofa, think of what you could accomplish !! It would transform you and how you approached your work and those you would encounter.

I am planning on changing how I look at, and obtain, rest for myself. I want to be proactive in all that I do. Getting rest for work will take discipline. Most great things that prepare you for life take discipline and are well worth it. Making time for rest is much more appealing because you know that it’s a more regular part of your day. You wouldn’t settle for what you could get. You’d enjoy the rest that you plan to take.

There’s another reason I’m turning this around in my life. I work with humans every moment of every day. Being rested and ready to meet folks on purpose is a much healthier perspective to have. I believe that HR should be proactive as much as possible. Turning the corner on this facet of life would allow me to be at my best regardless of who I encounter.

What about you? Aren’t you tired of being tired? This week change your pattern and start resting for work !! You’ll be glad you did.

 

Gratitude

When I was a junior in high school, I took Chemistry. The class was a mix of juniors and seniors and was sure to be challenging. On the first day, a very young man walked into the room with a white shirt and a tie as we were chatting away and not paying attention. He turned to the chalkboard and wrote his name – Mr. Lusk.

He didn’t appear old enough to be a “Mr.” We soon found out that this was his first teaching opportunity after graduating from college. So, he was sitting in a room of students who were only four to five years younger than he was. Mr. Lusk was soft spoken and somewhat cautious in his approach. It had to be daunting to walk into a room where most of the students had been together since kindergarten !!

His first few weeks with us didn’t go well. You see our class had a mix of nerds (me included) who were geeked to learn Chemistry, and jocks who felt they had to get this class under their belt for college. They were there reluctantly and made that known every day. Mr. Lusk was strong even though he seemed meek. He had a down to earth teaching style and he made the different facets of the subject jump off the pages. A group of us (on the nerd side) decided to take him under our wings, and fight off those who didn’t want to be there.

A bond developed with four of us and we called ourselves “The Conclave.” We began to stay after class and also spent our study halls down in the chem room. We began to excel as he kept investing in us, and we, in turn, kept supporting him when others tried to dispel him as a teacher. Mr. Lusk survived and even started a second year of chemistry and a physics class that the Conclave willingly took. That was in 1980.

Mr. Lusk is still a fixture in Ada High School. He has been the same great teacher who invested in me almost forty years ago. His investment in me and hundreds of students since has left an amazing impact on every life. I have kept in touch with him and I tell him often how grateful I am that he got through those first few months when everyone tried to make it so hard for him. I’ve watched him become a father of very successful kids himself, and have shared my life with him as well.

His willingness to invest in others deserves more than a “Thank You.” Giving thanks is wonderful and polite, but he deserves gratitude. His example set the stage for me, and I want it to be an example to set for you as well.

If you’re in HR, you have the chance to be the person who invests in others. It’s a choice. You can either be like Mr. Lusk, or you can pass over others to get to the work at hand. I’d rather be the person who invests because you never know that the time you are intentional may have an impact and a legacy you never saw coming. People are worth it and deserve your focus, your time and your encouragement.

Who are you investing in? Are you being intentional to make sure others are acknowledged and lifted up? Why not?

This week I want to encourage you to do three things. The first is to switch your focus to one where you will invest in others. Secondly, go to those who have invested in you and thank them. Showing gratitude to them will sow the seeds in you to show gratitude to others on a consistent basis. Third, make sure you check out the new Impact Makers podcast from Jennifer McClure and subscribe to it !! She is featuring those who’s she’s seen make an impact on her and others. It’s a great example of what gratitude can do.

Mr. Lusk probably didn’t have the goal of making such a substantial difference in the lives of his students. He has, and I for one, am grateful !!

Something to Believe In !!

Do you remember the movie Bull Durham ?? It’s one of my all-time favorites. There’s a scene where Susan Sarandon meets with Tim Robbins (the talented pitching rookie) and Kevin Costner (the long-term minor league catcher), and she’s deciding who’ll she’ll be dating that season. Costner gets fed up being treated like he has to prove himself and stands to walk out. Sarandon challenges him and asks him what he believes in, and he gives one of the best answers ever captured in the movies. She responded almost breathlessly, “Oh my !!”

Costner’s character was ready to act on what he believed, and he held to it. I know it’s just a movie, but I appreciate the example. Belief in something greater than yourself is needed because it gives you direction and clarity. In today’s never ending stream of chaos, it seems that being someone who has beliefs isn’t popular.

Just using the word “belief” raises the defenses of others. This seems odd to me because having beliefs doesn’t mean that you are automatically contrary to others. I admire people who will be definitive and state what they believe in and stand by it. It doesn’t upset me or offend me that others have different beliefs than I do. In fact, I wouldn’t expect it to be otherwise because people are unique. Even if you picked one particular belief that two people “shared”, they would interpret it differently.

It also seems to me that people don’t want to talk and dialogue about having varying points of view. Instead, people want to scream their beliefs with the expectation that you support what they believe . . . or else. This saddens me. I value that people look at the world from different viewpoints and perspectives. I learn from others even if I don’t hold to what they believe. I don’t think that we should want everyone to be the same. All I’d like to see is that people respect differences. I think that if this occurred, then we’d have a chance to reach consensus on many things that would hopefully move us forward.

The reason I wanted to tackle this potentially volatile topic, is that I think it is a facet of what we do in HR. We work with people who come from drastically different backgrounds. Even when we think there may be similarities in people, they are far outweighed by the uniqueness that everyone brings to the workplace every day. Each of our employees has beliefs. They may, or may not, express them. But, you need to know they exist. It drives how they behave and how they perform.

We tend to shy away from asking about what our team members believe. I understand that because we’re not sure what we’ll hear. I think what’s key is not what you hear, but how you respond. I have found that when I take the time to listen to my team members I hear what they believe. Those thoughts and perspectives give me a better understanding of them as a human, and that’s the key.

I can’t lose sight that we’re in the business of humans. Ever.

So, this week, I want you to take the chance to understand that having beliefs is innately human. Then, I want to also challenge you to listen to what other’s believe in and not judge. You may not agree with them. Most likely you won’t. But, understanding humans is needed now more than ever.

Like I said in the beginning, I have beliefs. I believe that people want to do good more often than not. I believe in having faith and showing grace. I believe in encouragement and lifting others up consistently. I believe in creativity, laughter, enjoying tie-dye and all types of music. I’m defined by my beliefs . . . and you are defined by yours.

Just Flourish !!

Unless you’re a self-avowed hermit, you’re surrounded by people. It’s inevitable that there are humans around you the majority of your day. Since that is the environment you find yourself in, you have a choice to embrace it or avoid it. This isn’t due to where you fall on the extroversion/introversion scale. You will choose how much human interaction works for you – and you should. We all have a limit. If we cross that, we tend to get frustrated, flustered and annoyed.

Being with people is more than just swimming among others as you pass through the hallways to their office/cubicle to have work related conversations. That type of interaction is necessary in order for good work to be accomplished. I would almost categorize those instances as “forced.” I don’t mean that you are reluctant to have conversations. It’s more like you have work conversations in order to get the next facet of your work at hand to move forward. They can be friendly, cantankerous or obligatory. They happen whether you “wanted” to have them or not.

The difficulty I see that happens all around me is that these pass by conversations make up the vast majority of communication today. It’s not only at work either. When people are using social media, you get quick snippets of partial thoughts. Or, you may get a picture in time of a great event or accomplishment. People taking time at home to truly interact without distraction is becoming an extinct approach. Again, I’m not making a right/wrong judgement here. It’s our reality and we need to acknowledge it. However, it doesn’t have to define us !!

Taking time to develop relationships has become a lost art. Unfortunately, the word “relationship” has been tarnished because of the unacceptable actions of some. That doesn’t have to be the case. Investing your time with others is incredibly valuable, and also necessary !!

We are never fulfilled when we only have pass-by conversations. We feel that something is missing because we can’t keep current with the pace. We don’t push through it enough because we’re concerned that the other person won’t reciprocate. I haven’t found that to be the case. In fact, I think people flourish when you give them your intentional time and attention.

I’d like to propose a different approach for you personally and especially if you’re in HR. Choose to have relationships that flourish !!

I think there are different gradients in this and you need to read the other person to see when they feel that things are full. Respect that. I mean it. Flourishing relationships have balance, mutual levels of input and especially authenticity. You can’t “fake it to  you make it” and have a meaningful friendship.

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I use my commute differently than most. I’m in the car about an hour each way to and from work. Every night I call people and have long conversations. We talk about work, HR, life, etc. There are inevitable times of laughter as well as times of deep philosophy. We may argue various styles of music and ask for each other’s support in the situations we are each facing in life.

The point is this. I want to pour into their lives so that they will pour into the lives of others !! I know that every moment I can invest in the lives of others that they will invest in others as well. When this happens, then lives improve. When lives improve, relationships improve. And, when relationships improve that grows into other relationships to improve the workplace. This isn’t Utopian. It works.

So, this week in the midst of the pass-by snippets of conversation that will still fly around you, invest in someone. Start with a close friend. Make that relationship flourish and then build from there. You’ll be glad you did !!

One Thing Leads to Another !!

There’s a myth in the workplace that I’d like to take on, and hopefully debunk. The majority of work that occurs every day regardless of industry is that we strive to be “done.” It consumes us. Entire strategic plans are regularly based on things getting done.

We compensate based on things being done. We establish on-going, and often unrealistic, goals so that people can spend all of their daily efforts towards getting things done. It’s the basis of management theory and it’s how we make organizational design and allow for promotions.

Now, I understand that we need to have completion on projects and tasks. We can’t just keep floating in a constant state of partial accomplishments. The challenge is that when we seek to just get “done”, we’re actually looking for relief. We don’t want to have things completed, we want them to stop. Every task and project has a life. But, if our goal is to have things end so we can breathe, what does that say about how we approach work?

I think this mentality, approach and organizational drive is limiting how much can truly be accomplished !! I mean it. Because our focus is so narrow and limited to getting things “done,” we shrink the possibilities of things unknown, untested ideas and new innovation. I think that if we keep following the mantra of getting things “done” we will never realize the greatness that organizations, and their people, should easily achieve.

The group that is most notorious for this mentality is HR !! We want every box checked, every signature authenticated and every policy followed. When things don’t get done (i.e. performance reviews), we hunt people and shame them into making sure things can be checked off a list. Ugh. We perpetuate the fact that if items have any sort of fluidity chaos will surely ensue. It’s just not true. It never has been. The fact is that most work occurs like clockwork with little to no monitoring at all.

I think it’s time for understand the reality of work and that it’s on a continuum. The great band from the 80’s, The Fixx, captured this when they sang “One Thing Leads to Another.” It’s true. Work is an on-going flow of one thing constantly building on top of another.

Don’t you see this? This fact actually leads to frustration as well because people feel they can’t ever get off the never ending treadmill.  We complain about the next item that comes up instead of understanding that it’s natural. If we would step back and know that another item is waiting for our attention and skills, I think we’d be in a healthier place.

I recommend that you strive for completion of milestones and benchmarks. Yes, I know that means you’re “done” with a phase or facet of what you’re working on. However, it establishes your mindset to get ready for the next step. Celebrate your accomplishments !! Take a breath because nothing is that urgent that you can’t collect yourself, and move on to the next thing – which leads to another !!

 

Shine !!

I look forward to the weekend after Thanksgiving because that is when my family traditionally decorates for Christmas. I’ll hold out every year even though society keeps trying to make the holiday season start earlier and earlier. My favorite part of decorating is putting up lights outside. It’s special because my kids (now adults) always jump in to help. They get geeked about stringing lights, building massive electrical connections and making sure that the coverage is balanced and colorful.

Our family also has a tradition where we’ll get in the car and drive throughout neighborhoods to see the various displays that people have constructed. I like to see actual lights and not these projection systems because I enjoy seeing the creativity that people have. The homes that go crazy and try to drain the local power grid are fantastic !! However, I also enjoy someone who can use light subtly, and still convey an artistic display. I’m also a bit biased to multi-colored lights versus vs. monochromatic yards. But I digress . . .

What does this have to do with HR ?? Everything.

You see we can be the ones who shine in our workplace. We can be that attractive display that people would get out of their office to meet and work with. What would HR be like for you if you were the light in the office and not the bearer of darkness?

I think shining your light is essential for HR. It’s actually easier that you may think because you are in control of how you approach your work as well as how you interact with others. I’m not talking about putting on some fake trappings to be peppy just for show. No one wants that. Shining to dispel the darkness is much more welcomed, and needed, in our workplaces.

We tend to think that making people feel good and enjoy what they do is a “waste of time” or an unnecessary “soft skill.” People are supposed to come to WORK, and that is all. (Insert giggle of disbelief here). The idea that people show up only to do their job is a misguided myth. Yes, they do their jobs. And, more often than not, they do it willingly even though they receive little encouragement or regular feedback.

Shining your light breaks up the drudgery of work. Being a beacon of light allows employees to look up from the grind of what they do to catch their breath and know they’ve been acknowledged and recognized. It’s time that HR intentionally be the light within their organization and push back the attitudes and approaches that look to force control and possibly anguish.

I understand that being someone who shines may not come naturally to some, but I encourage you to push through. Trust me. If you are someone who brings light to situations, you will be successful in all you do. It’s such a missing facet of today’s workplaces, that people will respond because they’re longing for it.

The key is to be the light in your organization year-round and not just during a season. It will be surprising to others at first, but how cool would it be if it became the norm? It would rock !!

(To give you a little nudge, I leave you with this gem from the 90’s !!)

Urgent or Important ??

Another work week is upon us. As you enter the office to jump into the mix of the day, are you anxious? I think that many people are. This is especially true if you practice HR. Why do I say that? It’s because our days are never our own. When you work in the field of people, you’re subject to constant movement. It feels like you’re Daffy Duck and you have to “turn and parry and thrust” your way through whatever you come upon.

I’ve written before how most folks in HR (and business in general) state that their job is to “put out fires.” This is such a challenging way to work effectively because your entire day is based on something going wrong. You are always moving from one urgent situation to another. The urgency may not even be legitimate, but you jump to react because if gives you a sense of value. It’s short lived and it disrupts any attempt at consistency.

Now, I understand that there are things which are urgent and need to be addressed quickly. You shouldn’t ignore them, but you should step back to see if the situation truly is urgent or just packed full of emotion. When emotions rise, people tend to want things addressed immediately mainly to get their emotions back in check. The key is to take the time to gauge the level of urgency. Don’t step away from any situation, but get context first.

A stronger way to approach your work with people is to focus on what’s important. I’m not going to dare to define what that looks like in your current company and role because I’m sure it varies with each person. The method you do this is an individual choice as well. Some use quadrants to place items in, and some use to-do lists. It’s essential that you have a method that works for you because without some defined approach, you won’t get to important items. Your day will slip away so rapidly and you’ll wonder why you didn’t get to the important items . . . again.

There’s one more factor to consider in looking at this topic. Both urgent and important aspects of our job coexist. You will rarely be able to have one that can keep your full attention. I find that I keep an on-going list of “important” items that never ends. Some items can be accomplished sooner than others, but some stay on my list so that I don’t forget them. Losing sight of the important facets of how I practice HR automatically puts me in the fire extinguishing business again.

I recommend that you become fluid in how you practice HR. Go into each day with the assurance that urgent situations could occur. Take them in stride and do your best to not freak out. That never helps anything. Don’t let the urgent situation consume your attention, or day, completely. Make sure to get to one or two important items as well. Having a combination of the two allows you move within the natural flow of the day as it occurs.

We will continue to be frustrated, or worn out, if we keep separating the reality of our days. Take things in stride. It’s important !!

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 !!