The Next Generation !!

I’m a nerd and always have been. I’m very cool with who I am. I’m a big fan of all things science fiction and fantasy. One of my faves is Star Trek. It’s quite amazing to think that a campy TV series that lasted only 3 seasons has become part of our culture for over 50 years now. The original series has evolved to an animated series, three successful spin-off series and multiple movies. They all paint an adventurous, balanced, humorous and diverse universe that coexists in the future.

Now for the present day . . .

This past week I was fortunate to speak at the Northern Ohio HR Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. I always enjoy the opportunity to present to my fellow HR peers. This conference (which is one of my faves) was even more meaningful because I was able to take my son with me. As I mentioned last week, he’s home on spring break from Ohio University. And, nothing screams spring break fun more than attending an HR conference !! He had never seen me give a presentation before and I was geeked to have him there. I also wanted him to see other HR pros and get a feel of how to interact and network with others.

While I was presenting, I made the statement that I hate that HR continues to separate the next generation by name. The whole “millenial movement” is not good. When did it ever make sense for our profession to segment and isolate a group of people because of their age? There are many who are trying to make a living by separating us, and there’s no room for it.

Ironically, on the drive up to the conference, Josh and I talked about how he disliked being labeled, generalized and isolated as a millenial. He said, “People know nothing about me and yet I’m put in a category. Also Dad, if we’re so bad as a generation isn’t that on you as our parents?” I could have stopped the car and hugged him. He gets it and I dig that about him.

At the conference, I conducted a 1/2 day workshop and spoke at a concurrent session. It was enthralling and exhausting to teach for five hours. After both sessions, I had younger people (you know THOSE M’s) who came up to me to thank me for dismantling this separation of an entire generation. To a person they told me how disappointing and challenging it is when they see countless blogs, books and workshops that are meant for others to learn and understand how to “deal with” and work with them as individuals and as a whole.

Back to Josh (and the folks from other generations) . . .

The folks at the conference ate him up and made him feel welcomed. They connected with him and he was able to meet other young professionals who were excited to meet another person considering HR.

And jump forward to the future . . .

Star Trek got it right. Every new edition of the franchise builds on the one before it and they honor and respect those that laid the ground work. There is never one iteration that states that the “new” version needs separate attention because those that went before just didn’t get them. Actually, there are several references to original characters and how people learned from their strengths, struggles and leadership.

We need to be more like Star Trek in how we look at the next generation that is going to rule, lead and transform our workplace. I’m geeked about who they are, what they believe and feel that they will be more successful than we’ve ever been.

In order to do that, I want to be like the original Star Trek cast who laid the foundation of inclusion, curiosity and the yearn to see what’s next. I want all of those who follow me in the workforce to bring others along and lift them up. The future’s bright because of these new folks. Let’s let them shine !!

A Common Bond

This past weekend my son came home from Ohio University for Spring Break. I know, not the most exciting choice for him I’m sure. However, we’re pretty close and enjoy doing things together. One thing that we share is a love of music. I’m geeked to see how he’s developed a catalog of his own that he continues to build over time.

We took a trek down to Everybody’s Records just to browse and see what we could find. We were met by an overpowering aroma of incense wafting throughout the store that literally hit you in the face when you entered. They were playing some Allman Brothers overhead, and we split up. He wandered over to the rows and rows of used vinyl and I went to the used CD’s racks. The place was teeming with all types of people from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities and musical tastes. Interestingly enough though, everyone greeted each other either with a “Hi” or a head nod which acknowledged our common love for music.

I was deep into trying to secure a David Gilmour solo album from my college days and I was also looking for more Elvis Costello and possibly some Husker Du. Now, I know these may not be your choices, but I was the one shopping. My son bounced over to me with his find and I was really geeked to see what he chose – Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder !! Another store patron saw his choice and said, “Man, I wore that album out when it came out. You will love it.” My son grinned from ear to ear.

This post isn’t just about music, although it could be. I think it’s a better reflection of how the workplace should, and could, exist. There is a constant feeling of divisiveness that seems to be swirling around everything lately. It’s almost impossible to have a differing viewpoint or an observation about any topic without people demanding that you take a side. Then, once you take a side people are instantly opposing each other and holding to their camp. How is this healthy?

On top of this, if you dare to be positive about anything, there is a huge swell of emotion and negativity that wants you to be full of angst and despair. There are many great things happening in all or our lives, and I feel that when we compartmentalize and segment people because of differences we do more damage than trying to find our common bonds.

As HR professionals, we have an opportunity to bring folks together without having them forsake who they are, where they come from and what they believe. We can be the ones who intentionally step in to assess interactions and see how we can pull people together towards common goals, performance and results. It is up to us to stop people tearing each other apart. Allow for discourse and dialogue. Allow for ideas that may not seem congruent to the norm. Encourage people to bring things out into the open and see where things go.

When my son brought the epic Stevie Wonder double set to me, he asked if I’d check the vinyl for it’s quality and that it didn’t have any serious scratches. He asked what I thought of his choice and I told him that it was one of my favorite albums. However, I also stated that he needed to experience it himself to come up with his thoughts and opinions about this set. When we got home, he went straight to my turntable and put on Sir Duke. Epic.

This week, look for the things in your workplace that bring you together. Be the ones who look for and establish the common bonds. Here’s a tune to get you started . . .

Keep It Real !!

It seems that the workplace environment is more of a moving target than ever. Employees have higher expectations of themselves and the work they do. I continue to see blogs and articles about how “frustrating” this is for HR, and I have to giggle. Seriously. How can you get upset that people want to have clarity in their roles and an explanation of how they can add value?

You’d think that we’d be out of the top/down model, mentality and approach in 2017, but we’re not. It’s true that more and more workplaces are blurring the edges and boundaries of what work spaces look like, and that is encouraging. The question I have is – Are we keeping up with this shift as HR, or are we holding firm on the tried and true?

I think you need to pull out the best answer there is in HR – it depends.

I want to be careful not to overgeneralize the state and temperature of company workplaces. I know there are folks who work in places where things rock and the employees are engaged more often than not. My hope is that this turns from perception and “best places to work” survey results to the reality of the workplace. The one thing I see that is a constant thread in great workplaces is that HR keeps it real.

What does “keep it real” look like? Let me paint a picture for you of what it is and what it isn’t. Let’s get the negative bit out of the way. When I hear HR folks who describe themselves as “brutally honest” and “don’t pull any punches”, I cringe. Those folks are just blowhards who wield their role, position and authority in a way that they bull their way through situations and people. That may be their “real” approach, but it is flawed and egocentric.

HR folks who keep it real are authentic, genuine, vulnerable and, dare I say, human. They are flawed, emotional and aren’t afraid to admit when they fail. Here are the outward characteristics I see in HR practitioners who keep it real:

They’re others focused

When you hear HR people who talk about the employees they lead and serve first, you’ve found a foundational quality of keeping it real. You very rarely see, or hear, these people talk about themselves first in any situation. Being others focused takes patience, intentionality and an assurance in knowing that in the end, taking care of others will benefit them personally in more meaningful and lasting ways.

They show their emotions while keeping their cool

A word, an approach, I’d like to see HR adopt here is being unflappable. You may have to fight the urge to scream or lash out at someone when you are involved in difficult employee situations, but you just can’t do it. I don’t mean that you swallow your feelings. In fact, it’s just the opposite. When you meet people emotionally where they are versus being an unfeeling robot armed with endless policies and procedures, you’ll see what I mean. All people are emotional – including HR !! Meet others where they are, and then keep your cool. When you do this, you can diffuse even the most highly emotionally charged situations. People want to be heard, so take a deep breath, and listen.

They laugh

This may seem silly, but people love to laugh. There’s no room here to try to force humor or tear others down because that isn’t funny, it’s just cruel. I know that we all need more joy and encouragement in our lives and having a positive outlook to see the good in others will lead you to laugh – naturally. I know that laughter is an essential part of every day for me. If I’m not laughing, and getting others to laugh with me, then tensions rise. Make sure you’re looking at yourself on this point. If you’re not laughing enough, change that.

It’s time for HR to remove the cloak of invisibility and dark theme music that people tend to try and associate us with as a stereotype. That can only happen when we put on something else – the mantle of keeping it real !!

Wide Awake !!

During my time at Ohio University, I fell hard for a new band (at the time) called U2. After I heard their music, I couldn’t get enough of them. We had two record (yes, record) stores in Athens at the time, and I made sure to make regular trips to both of them to pick up anything U2 had put out.

I found an EP on vinyl that the band issued called Wide Awake in America which contained only four songs. That didn’t matter to me because it had a live version of my favorite song, Bad. Every Friday afternoon, I would hurry back from class and pull out this wonderful vinyl masterpiece and turn on my stereo as loud as possible to crank out Bad !! Every. Friday. No one could yell at me because I was the Resident Assistant who was in charge of a section of the dorm. My residents just got used to it and new it was officially Friday afternoon. Quick aside – I let them crank their music too because that is what stereos were built for.

The reason I love the song Bad so much was that the band was fully engrossed in every note and Bono’s voice soared and screamed about the crowd bringing them to a major crescendo and then to an almost silent phrase. Honestly, I still get teary if I hear the song played loudly. The lyrics that pulled out such emotion are:

“Wide awake. I’m wide awake. Wide awake. I’m not sleeping.”

They seem pretty normal when you just look at them typed on a blog page. But, when they’re sung, they come alive and make me think about HR and the workplace.

Have you ever gone to work and everyone seems like they’re just going through the motions? Including you? It is so easy to get in a pattern that moves along like a slow hum that has little to no variation. People come to the office or plant at the same time, park in the same place and greet each other with the obligatory “Hi.” “How are you doing?” “Good.” “Good.” We’re even thankful that this interaction comes to a swift end.

Why do we tolerate this or fall into this sedated state? I’m not talking about the poor performers here. I’m talking about your solid performers at each level. At times, work just seems to feel like you’re a drone in a bee hive. You serve a purpose and you’re good at what you do, but there is little life to your efforts.

Time to wake up !!

Before you start pointing fingers about who the zombies are lurching around the workplace, look in the mirror. Where are you on the wide awake scale? When is the last time you pushed yourself out of the daze and interjected life into who you are and what you do? It’s easy to point out what’s missing in others, but I challenge you to take a different stance and lead from your own behavior first.

We have an incredible opportunity each and every day to bring the work environment to life. We can add energy and encouragement that lifts the spirits of others. There shouldn’t be an occasion when things aren’t addressed with passion and intent. Not one.

This week, wake up !! Make sure that where you work is awake and snap everyone out of their funk. As HR, it’s in your wheel house to make this happen. Quit thinking that everything is bland without taking action to never let that be the case. Join me and be wide awake !!

Time to get out the vinyl, drop the needle and turn it up !!

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 !!