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 !!

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 !!

Give From Your Overflow !!

Have you ever been so exhausted after an event that you just had to collapse? Isn’t that a great feeling ??

That may seem counter intuitive, but it is refreshing to know that you’ve given your all for something. There are needs all over the world that are yearning for people to give of themselves with their time, focus and efforts – not just their money. The reason it gives us such a feeling of fulfillment is that I think we’re wired to give.

I hear folks every day state that they are “busy.” I understand that we all feel the pull of others come at us from multiple directions. However, I think that when people feel they’re busy, they’re actually trying to express that things that are vying for their time are things they aren’t genuinely interested in.

People have time. The challenge we have is that because we are pressed by things that bother us we get stagnate. When we get stagnate, we lose interest. After we lose interest, we lose the desire to give. The needs of others all around us don’t diminish though. There are opportunities all around us where people can plug in.

What does this have to do with HR and the workplace? Everything !! We need to be organizations that have a culture that provide avenues for employees to give. I don’t think that we should define where people should give, but we should give them the ability to do so. We can assist in this by giving our employees encouragement and helping them understand how not to be “busy.”

Start with yourself. I want you to understand that the issue of giving isn’t time, it’s capacity. All people are filled to their capacity with something. We don’t lack for being full. What’s great about this is that if we hit our capacity, then we can give from our overflow. Once people connect with causes that matter to them, they will find the time in their day to give.

It’s like a bucket.

There’s incredible volume within the vessel and the flow of life never stops pouring into the bucket. Remember, everyone has a bucket. Everyone feels busy. It’s not just you. So, since your bucket is going to be filled with work, commitments at home, kids, pets, extended family, etc. That is normal. You’re going to hit the lip and start overflowing. The question is the quality of the material filling your bucket. If it’s negative, then your overflow will come out to tear things down, see what’s wrong with everything and discourage others. If it’s positive, then who knows what amazing things will come forth? The opportunities are actually limitless.

HR people can help control the flow that enters everyone’s bucket at work. We really can. When people come to work, we can be a positive influence with each employee and our culture as a whole. We can clear the path so that people can do well in their role and have productive relationships with others. When we clear out the gunk, then their buckets can fill to capacity positively. Then giving will come more naturally.

This may sound overly optimistic, but it’s something that I’m passionate about and know that works. Take some steps this week to help others to change the flow. Be a giver yourself so that others can give as well !!

Get Rid of the Can’ts !!

Have you ever reflected about your perspective and approach on things in life? Do you tend to look at things logically or emotionally? Are you someone who sees the worst in others or the best?

Chances are you’re a blend. Most people are. I tend to start from a positive perspective on life, people and the situations I face. It’s interesting that being positive is unnerving to some. I’ve had people wonder if my approach is genuine or something that just comes on when I’m surrounded by others. Sorry, that’s just not the case.

It’s appropriate to write about this because I honestly can tell you that my approach was built over years by watching . . . my mother. My mom is the case study for positivity. She sees the best in others the moment she meets them. There’s no cautionary period or gauntlet that she requires people to struggle through before they earn her favor. The other amazing aspect of my Mom’s approach is that she isn’t over the top. It comes natural to her and people are drawn to her. She also is comfortable with people regardless of their background, status or heritage. She’s sees others in one way – as humans. So, growing up with this role model set the stage for who I am and how I view others as well.

My Mom also taught me to look at what you “can” do versus what you “can’t.” I never realized how critical this was going to be throughout my career. You see, the majority of people tell you what they can’t do when they are presented a situation. It’s our first instinct to look at obstacles. I don’t know why that is what we do, but we do. Once this stance is established, the dialogue continues to drum up more and more obstacles. The “cant’s” just pile up on top of each other. Then, when we hit a certain level, we feel that we can finally take things on to fix them.

It amazes me that the majority of people who go to work feel that their only true worth is when they are fixing problems. I don’t understand that. Do we go to work to perform or to repair? If everything is messed up, how does anything ever get accomplished? It’s seems to be a defeatist approach to work.

The folks who tend to say “can’t” the most are the people in HR. I say this with assurance because of how I was taught to practice human resources, and how I hear many of my peers discuss what we do. This has to stop along with one other thing. I know that many people state that HR says “No” too much. I disagree. You see, we’re supposed to say “No” because one of the primary values we add to organizations is to reduce liability. Saying no doesn’t curtail things moving forward. It allows people to move in a direction which has fewer chances to fail !!

We have the ability to be encouragers in our roles and throughout our organizations. We need to be the ones who show others how they CAN perform. We need to be the ones who believe that people CAN work from their strengths. We have to be the ones who are positive first. Every time and in every situation.

You CAN do it !! I believe in you !!