In Between

This weekend my wife and I went on a road trip to visit my parents. This is always a great time because I’m fortunate to have an incredible mom and dad who are vibrant, active and engaging. They’re both in their mid-seventies, so I’m thankful that they’re both doing well.

We actually went on purpose this time for our visit to help them take down their Christmas decorations and put them away in their attic and shed. This was a first for them because they had always done this themselves, but the tide has turned when we now get the opportunity to assist them and take care of them. It didn’t take much effort, and I was glad we were able to help.

As we were driving home, I began to wonder how a simple task today was going to inevitably evolve over time. This is not a “new” subject, but it was the first time it hit home for me personally. I am from a generation that will be taking care of my parents while also having to take care of my kids. Granted, my “kids” are now young adults so there isn’t as much direct care needed, but it’s a fact that is going to be more an more present over time.

This is a workplace issue now, and I don’t know that we acknowledge it well as HR professionals. I hate to be bold, but I think that THIS is the real generational issue that all employers face. Are you prepared to address your employees who are in between taking care of their parents as well as their own family? Is it something you’ve even thought about?

I understand that employers have policies regarding time-off, leaves of absence and Family Medical Leave (FMLA). I’m sure that you’ll follow those according to the parameters that are established. This issue is greater than systems, as most HR issues honestly are.

We need to think outside the systems that we continue to establish to allow for people to care for their parents on a case-by-case basis. Wouldn’t it be a better workplace if we allowed for grace and movement versus containment and compliance? People are already feeling stuck between parental care, their daily work and their family lives at home.

On top of feeling stuck, we can’t come up with a program where one size fits all because no family situation is the same. The days of the “nuclear family” have long passed. You can’t define family relationships the same because no two families are alike. This doesn’t even address whether the relationship between people and their parents. Some may be healthy and others may be challenging.

You have an opportunity to get ahead of this by developing a procedure, not a policy, to allow for people to handle this in a healthy way. You may have employees who are in this situation now, and they are doing their best to make it on their own. Step in and find out how they’re doing and see if there’s a way to give them some flexibility to help their parents.

HR needs to take steps to no longer look for more ways to constrain employees. We need to be the profession that improves the workplace, allows for people to be caring and encourages organizations to see how they can be fantastic environments through all phases of our lives.

I loved helping my parents and look forward to what they coming years bring. I know there will be challenges, but it’s my chance to reciprocate the years of love and investment they’ve made in me. I hope the same for each of you !!

Changing Lives

I’ve mentioned in the past that I am fortunate to have amazing kids. They’re really adults now, and they’re still amazing !! I remember that when they were young they asked what I did for a living. When I told them that I was in Human Resources, they didn’t have a clue what that meant. It was difficult to explain employee relations, compensation, training and development, benefits and strategy. So, I simplified it for them.

“I hire people and give them jobs.”

They nodded and understood, but then asked, “Do you fire people too?”

I’ve always been candid with my kids and explained that firing people was part of what I did as well. There faces wrinkled up and they shook their heads as they said that that wouldn’t be fun to do. I told that that I agreed and that I never enjoyed that part of my job.

Termination is a hidden facet of HR. We don’t talk about it enough, and when we do, it’s about the legal aspects of it and our insurmountable fear of litigation. I understand that there could be potential legal considerations involved with terminations, but it shouldn’t be our primary focus. We lose the perspective that is as the base of anyone losing their job.

It changes people’s lives.

changing-livesThink about it. When a person came to work on a particular day, the last thing that entered their mind was that they were going to be let go. This may not be the case if a company has a history of downturns and layoffs, but those are usually the exception and not the rule.

Since termination changes the lives of those affected, I think it’s key to keep some things in mind in how we can approach this facet of our job from a human perspective.

People should “earn” it – What in the world does this mean? I follow a rule of thumb when it comes to termination. I only want to see someone terminated if their behavior warrants it. I don’t believe in building cases for, or against, someone. If a person’s behavior and actions are unacceptable, they should be talked to directly and intentionally. If their behavior doesn’t change, they should know that it could lead to dismissal. Having this context is much healthier and actually leads to fewer terms.

Show grace – When you have a termination discussion, show grace. This is never easy and should never be something you enjoy. Even if the employee has been very challenging, losing their job changes everything at the moment it occurs. There’s no exception. Your approach makes this process either easier or more difficult. I have been in HR for over 30 years now and I still get anxious any time terminations are involved. You need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Treat them with dignity and grace. It matters.

Be a bridge – If the termination isn’t volatile, I would recommend that you provide assistance to see how you can help them with either networking or landing their next great gig. You can be a positive influence during a negative time in their career. This may seem out of bounds or not what companies normally practice, but it differentiates you and helps with you being with them throughout their entire life cycle with your company.

Terminations are a fact in our field. You have a choice to do this well or continue to struggle with it. When you remember that what you’re doing changes lives, you’ll do it better I promise.

 

Stand.

The world around us seems to be doing its best to rip itself apart. We are bombarded with examples of social unrest, protests, and a political climate that is far from friendly. It’s hard to not have these, as well as many other, situations fill every corner of media that is present. Those are only descriptors of the U.S. and don’t take into account the many challenging situations happening globally.

It saddens me that in any of this that we have lost the ability to discuss and work through items. We get upset when someone states their opinion or takes an action for what they believe. Everything is put in terms of extremes and that makes us uncomfortable. It feels like you can’t be for something without alienating someone who doesn’t share that belief.

In all of this we’ve lost sight of how this affects the workplace. When people are uncertain about the environment around them, it seeps into all areas of life including work. As HR practitioners, we do our best to drive uncertainty out of the workplace. We go so far as to enact policies that try to limit discourse, differences of opinion and diversity. We want people and things to be the same. Our goal is conformity and that is something that hurts not helps.

Groupthink, singular lines of thought or approach and limiting expression just add to the tensions that surround us. Does it make sense to you that we spend so much of our time and effort in organizations striving for uniformity and control when we could, and should, be doing so much more?

For decades we have yearned for a “seat at the table.” Think of that. We have worked and worked as well as compromised ourselves to act and look like those in senior roles to gain “presence.” It’s not who we are and it’s not what organizations need. We must take a much more intentional approach and . . .

Stand.

take-a-standHR has an obligation to lead. We have to shed the mantle of striving for normalcy. We need to those that stand for people allow them to express their beliefs and then work with them in the workplace.

In order for us to take this new approach, we must take a stand personally as well as a profession. This has been missing for too long and it has limited us in our effectiveness. There’s no reason why HR can’t lead daily in all that they do. Remember – we work with, and for, people. We can do this from an encouraging and positive perspective. This doesn’t mean that we should ignore or downplay the upheaval around us. In fact, it forces us to jump into the midst of conversations or even generate them ourselves.

People are talking. They will continue to talk and share the thoughts, ideas and concerns. We have the ability to be the conduit for those conversations to be productive, provocative, civil and meaningful. The days for sitting have past.

It’s time for us to take a stand !!

You Have A Choice !!

Have you been watching social media lately? Even if you aren’t on the forums, the media makes sure to share tweets from political candidates. There’s one consistent feel to the majority of what is being shared – negativity.

Honestly, most of what we consume is negative. We either swim in it willingly, or we get frustrated because it seems that we can’t escape it. What is ironic is that we’re expected to make a decision on things like an election by all sides slinging mud at each other. It isn’t only politics. Stories of the failures of others makes up the majority of our “news,” and we don’t cover all items – just the ones that are the grimiest.

A great friend of mine and I had an exchange this week on social media where he stated that he might just stop participating on the forums because all he sees is negativity. It was a solid observation, but I jumped in and challenged him. I agree that there is so much darkness that is around us, but I think you can be genuinely positive.

choiceYou have a choice !!

One of the choices you have, which my friend shared, is to step away and stop being active on social media. I’m floored by the number of my peers who used to encourage and espouse the value of social media who are now silent. I miss hearing their perspective and insights. I respect this choice, however I would much rather hear from them.

Another choice is how you use social media. Every time you get on a social media platform, you have a moment before you post. It may be a brief moment, but it exists. Instead of instantly lashing out and reacting to what someone says, step back and think. Then respond.

I don’t feel comfortable in throwing out extreme views, although I understand why people share them. When you’re as emotionally vehement in return, why are you surprised when people dig in on their sides of an argument?

When I respond, I choose to be positive. It’s not hard for me to do, but it goes against the tide of the majority of messages. I think that going against the flow is what is needed – especially on these forums. You have to trust me that I’m not naive or sheltered on what is happening in the world today. However, adding to the negativity of a situation only continues to pile on and drive it further down.

People are looking for an alternative voice, and that voice is positivity. I’m not talking about puppies and unicorns. I am talking about seeing what’s good in others and how to arrive at solutions. I am talking about having discussions, and even disagreements, on items. I am talking about lifting others up to encourage them and show them that they can contribute, add value and succeed.

This is the choice I make when I use Social Media. Will you join me in going against the flow? I hope you do. You just have to make a choice.

Vinyl Rules !!

Recently, a very cool thing happened with my son who is about to turn 19. It was an early Saturday morning and he asked, “Hey, Dad can we go to the record store and look at some vinyl ??”

I had to step back and savor this moment. I’ve noted before that I’m a consumer of music. It is something that moves me emotionally and keeps me moving every day. So, when my son asked if we could go browse a record store (yes, they still exist), I was geeked to say the least !! We jumped into the car and made our way to Shake It Records and made sure we were there when the door opened.

Walking in you are immersed with music in images, posters, CD’s old concert shirts and, of course, vinyl. You actually walk downstairs to see rows and rows of vinyl – both new and used. It is like walking into a time capsule. Not surprisingly, the shop is packed and you are almost shoulder to shoulder with others checking out albums. It was also cool to see that there were other dads who were there with their kids.

Just as the record shops I remember, you could pull out the used albums and put them on a turntable to listen to them before you bought them. My son asked what to look for and how to tell if a record is “good” or not. He also asked my opinion on the choices he was making. Most of the music he ended up choosing was from my generation !! He picked some recent bands as well to make a rather eclectic set.

As we checked out, I mentioned to the shop owner that this was his first vinyl and he was taking it to college. The owner was geeked (he really was), and he said, “Wait here just one second.” He disappeared downstairs and came back up with a crate for the albums. He said, “Here, you need something to start your collection and this one is tall enough so the vinyl sits down below the edge of the albums. By the way, great choices on the tunes. Good mix.” My son was pumped to receive the affirmation.

Vinyl CrateAs soon as we got home, he disappeared into our basement and opened his new albums, put them on his turntable and cranked it. Bohemian Rhapsody never sounded so pure !! He was down there for hours and I taught him how to move the needle to one song and how to enjoy a full side. The chance to share this experience was awesome !!

It made me contemplate looking at work differently. No, this isn’t a “generations”  post. We tend to break down work into pieces and compartments that may, or may not, come together. It is ironic to me that we look at how to keep projects and people in their place. Collaboration has to be a concentrated effort instead of a natural occurrence.

What if we looked at the work we did as a “shared experience” instead ?? What if HR took the parts and pieces that either seem scattered or disjointed and acted as a connector to allow these experiences to happen?

I get tired of people who continue to splinter HR and the workplace into factions and differences. It may give them a niche to highlight what they focus on, but I find it to be contrary to how organizations can, and should, run.

The shared experience I had with my son brought us closer together and we’re now able to continue to enjoy a common bond for years to come. Having those common threads identified and established in the workplace would continue to make HR relevant and essential.

This week look for the vinyl that is all around you and see what kind of great music you can make with all of the beautiful snaps and pops !! I promise that you’ll hear songs better than you have before !!

HR Haka !!

A new workweek is upon us. How are you doing? Are you ready for what’s ahead? Have you bought into the pattern that Mondays are supposed to be horrid and a sluggish way to start the week? Are you someone that needs some motivation to get moving that even coffee can’t address? Worse yet, are you filled with dread or anxiety?

It is astonishing to me that we have perpetuated the idea that workweeks are destined to start poorly, work to some roller coaster hump mid-week, and then careen blissfully to the release at the end of the week so we can just get away from everything and everyone. Makes you want to wake up and jump to the commute doesn’t it?

Pile on top of this that we don’t fill our thoughts going in to work with positive vibes about people either. It’s true. We don’t anticipate seeing smiles and warm welcomes. We expect the worst, and we get it. It reinforces our malaise and we strap our our martyr gear and jump into the fray. Welcome to what HR has become !!

But wait . . . .

Why buy into the “norm” ?? Who is the person or entity that we can hang this on? The answer stares at you in the mirror every morning as you don your work clothes and head out into the midst of your work.

You are the reason this attitude and approach exists. It’s not others who cast their nets of darkness on you. They may be doing this, but if you’re defeated before you even enter the office, then you’re already conceding the worst is about to occur.

At SHRM16 this year, one of the keynote speakers was Dr. Amy Cuddy from Harvard University. She wrote a spectacular book called Presence which calls for people to bring their “boldest self” to their biggest challenges. Her work shows how that even though we teach fierce independence in our western society, most people are far from bold. She had great research and examples of people who felt open enough to embrace being bold.

One of my favorite things she shared was a video of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team and their pre-game ritual where they get geeked before a match by performing a haka. According to Wikipedia the haka is “traditional war cry, dance or challenge from the Maori people of New Zealand.” When they perform this, they are facing their opponent and they are so animated and intense !! It’s awesome !!

HR HakaWhen I gave my presentation, I encouraged all of the folks in HR that we should do a haka every day before we start a thing. Think about it !! It would absolutely freak out your staff and other employees if they heard you getting ready to face the day this way. I showed everyone how mine would look and it felt freeing.

Imagine this. Starting your day boldly, intentionally and fiercely !! All of the junk that tends to want to clutter our mind and our efforts blows away and disappears. Also, you’re ready to be proactive and jump into whatever comes your way willingly.

It’s overdue my HR friends. People will be bold if we are bold first !! Shake off the Monday blahs and get ready. It’s time for your HR Haka !!

Sparklers and Candles !!

This past week we had an amazing celebration at work !! We had two Team Members retire which isn’t common at our company. We’re so fortunate to have a great culture where people work for us for many years. It’s a true anomaly in today’s workplace environment, but it’s a true differentiator for us.

One of our retirees worked for us 11 years and the other for 35 years !! During the celebration, one of the owners shared the following . . . “Companies have two types of people, sparklers and candles. The sparklers shine brightly and are brilliant, but only for a short time. The candles are steady and burn slowly over time. They may not get as much attention as the sparklers, but they are more reliable. You two have been great candles for our company, and we are better for the contributions you gave over time.”

They were some of the most poignant words I had heard to celebrate people. In HR we tend to focus on the sparklers in our companies because they appear to be more vibrant and exhilarating. We may call them different things like “high potentials”, but are we looking for a little wax that goes along with the shine? We need people who bring life, energy and light to our cultures. However, the candles of our companies do this every day.

CandlesWhere is your focus? Are you being asked by senior management to pay attention to the sparklers? What about your systems? Who do they recognize and highlight? I think most of us would see that we get distracted by a group that may not be with us for the long run.

The question that faces us is can you convert a sparkler to a candle? The answer is – it depends. It doesn’t depend on HR however. It depends on the employee. You see, everyone starts a new job/role with exuberance, anticipation and maybe even a bit of anxiety. People want to prove themselves and add value. They often burst onto the scene and everyone notices them. It’s hard to sustain this level of energy and you see them transform over time to either become a steady contributor who is part of the company fabric or they burnout. HR can step in and help encourage people so that their flame doesn’t extinguish.

We can do this because HR is the “keeper of the flame” of an organization. We have to be able to ignite people and let them sparkle as well as nurture them to make sure that flames don’t go out. In order to do this, we need to stay lit ourselves. Who are the candles of HR that you know? Who are peers in the field that you can connect to that will keep your candle burning?

We need to own this role of what we do for employees and our companies. We have the ability to help people continue to burn and thrive in what they do in their various roles. Light the flame of others and keep your eyes and focus on the candles all around you.

Remember the Who !! #SHRM16

I’m catching up on rest after an exhilarating SHRM Annual Conference. It was truly wonderful the entire time. This year I experienced a new view of the conference as a member of the SHRM Board of Directors.

I have hesitated to write about being on the Board because stating it drums up different emotions for people. Let me give you my perspective about the role. I am truly honored and humbled to be on the Board of Directors for the profession and the membership association that I love. These aren’t hollow words, they’re a fact !!

I get to wear a cool badge that denotes my new role and it gives you the ability to have access throughout all of the venues. I cherished this and didn’t take it for granted because it gave me the ability to connect with more people.

It started on my first day when I met one of the hotel staff who was helping with breakfast, Ahmed. He greeted me with a smile and was kind enough to be up and in uniform at the crack of dawn to serve me and others a meal. I introduced myself and thanked him for being there. Ahmed used the same “trick” I did and read my name tag and said, “Good morning, Steve.”

Now, many people reading this may think that he’s just doing his job like he should. We’d overlook him more often than not to rush to get a plate of bacon and eggs. Our impending meeting, and the others at the meeting, would get more of our attention.

Why did this small introduction matter? On Monday, at a luncheon during the conference, guess who was serving the group? Ahmed. He saw me first this time and said, “Good afternoon, Steve. How is your day going?” I said, “It’s great Ahmed, thanks for asking !!”

I used my badge to walk into all of the different areas all week to thank volunteers, SHRM staff, hotel staff, convention center security and the transportation crossing guards. This isn’t to seek a pat on the back. Trust me. I wanted to be intentional to make sure these people weren’t overlooked. Why ??

These folks are the “who” that keep things going.

There were over 15,000 attendees as well as countless vendors who worked the Exhibit Hall. Without the “who” this event would never have occurred. Mike Rowe exemplified this during his keynote address and it has been his focus for much of his career. He noted how important it was to never overlook people at work because everyone matters.

Everyone MattersThis is key in our organizations as well. We are enveloped in such a rush of distractions that we walk past the “who” that help our companies succeed every day. HR has the ability to break this pattern because we have the ability and the latitude to make acknowledging others part of our job daily. Honestly, it needs to be in the fabric of our Human Resources DNA. It can’t be something that we ignore or hope that others will do.

People want to be acknowledged for what they do. This is more basic than appreciation. That is key and important, but we need to step back and acknowledge folks. When you take this approach, all of your systems and procedure look different and positive.

People want to do good work. This week step back and thank others. You’ll see that this will change your organization for the better !! Remember the “who” around you every day.

 

Your Stadium Moment !!

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but in case you missed it, I am a music freak !! I have music playing pretty much all throughout every day and in everything I do. There’s even a hashtag that a few of my friends and I started called #HRMusicShare on Twitter. It captures what people are listening to and it’s a ton of fun. Music is something that brings us all together.

During the summer, I get to enjoy my fascination with rock music even more because the community I live in has free outdoor concerts each week in several venues. My wife and I love to throw our chairs in the back of the car and go to catch two hours of tunes !! This week we went to a new venue and listened to a great cover band who played classic rock hits. They were tight as a band and they got the crowd out of their seats and out dancing.

While they were deep into their second set, the drummer, who was the leader of the band, shouted out over his microphone – “Who has seen our band play before ??” There was a “roar” from the crowd because many had seen them before. He said, “Thanks !!” (and then quietly) “I live for that.” It was his stadium moment !!

Rock Crowd from StageIf you’ve ever been to a rock concert, the front man usually yells out to the crowd, asks how everyone is doing, and then they wait for the swell of yells and screams as their response. They let it wash over them, and I have to think they are like the local band I saw and that they “live for that.”

HR practitioners need to have a stadium moment as well although most rarely experience one. Why is that? The key for me is that most of us are hesitant to take the mic and “be on stage.” I appreciate that we do better behind the scenes at most times, but we often blend in too much. HR in the shadows is limited in its exposure and its influence. So, you may not want to rock the boat, but you may not be rocking things at all.

We can also take note that our employees are looking for their stadium moments as well. We tend to downplay recognition and want to make sure things are more “fair” than over the top. Individuals deserve individual attention. The continue attempt to make all things fit all people has never worked, and it never will. Each person in your company brings a uniqueness to what they do. All together they make up an incredible ensemble. To do this they need someone to bring them to the mic as well. HR can be that person. Make the time to elevate the strengths and talents of all of those great people around you.

HR step out. Be bold. Look out over the crowd and take in all you see. It’s time for your stadium moment !! Go out there and seize it !!

 

Tall Tales !!

This weekend my wife and I had a date night seeing the musical, Big Fish, which was based on the novel and movie of the same name. It was a spectacular performance that captured you from the moment it began.

A quick summary . . .

The story contrasts the relationship of a father and son who have completely different perspectives on life. The father spins incredible tales where he is the hero. The son is cynical and skeptical about all of the amazing adventures of his father. He can’t fathom why his dad takes things and blows them out of proportion with endless exaggeration. The son wants life to be rational, logical and linear. This difference pulls them apart almost to the point of ruining their relationship.

Throughout the musical, my wife kept nudging me sharply in the ribs. You see, I am a storyteller. I always have been and actually took a class in college to learn how to interpret and share stories. I believe that you can make almost any situation come to life. It’s intriguing though to see how others view this. In the workplace, most people want you to “get to the facts” because they feel that other items outside of this are a waste of time. Their time.

Isn’t it interesting that we feel that time is wasted only if it affects us personally? I understand that people are self-centered, but there has to be a way around this. I don’t think you have to settle on this as a barrier. If we succumb to allowing everyone to be self-centered, you end up with a workplace made up of fierce individuality and no collaboration. People need to work together. You can’t avoid it.

When you go to conferences, or other HR events, you see people drawn to people who are storytellers. In fact, people will listen to those types of sessions even if they have little content. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you should ever go to sessions that don’t have content. However, when everything is facts, numbers, quotes and rational thought, it’s just dry. It’s accurate and relevant but lifeless.

In HR we tend to get frustrated because we keep taking a rational approach first. We wonder why people don’t just “get it” and stay within the parameters we establish. They work on paper every time, but fall apart once you introduce them to humans. I love this and think it’s fascinating because instead of trying another approach, we build more and more policies and procedures thinking that we’ll have an intricate enough structure which will finally limit and control behavior.

Stories CupsTry stories because they work. When we were children our parents read us stories to expand our vision and horizons. Weaved within these tales were lessons of do’s and don’ts that applied to our life at that formative time. We think those work for kids, but are senseless for adults. Organizations take great pride in beating the child and the fun out of people because we expect them to come to “work.”

Let me clear something up. You can’t get people to be stronger performers when you wrap things in stories. We love to hear tales of how to do things, and do them well. We also love to hear of magnificent failure and how to learn from it. We talk about engagement of others, but we need to be engaged ourselves first.

This week lead with a story. Share an experience. Tell a tall tale. Watch what happens when you see someone start to pay attention when they were indifferent in the past. Their interest will peak and they will hang on your words as you spin a story to make what they do come to life. I guarantee you will also enjoy what you do more as well. HR deserves life in all it does. Bring it !!