No Comparison !!

I remember moving to Ada, Ohio in 1976. It was the bicentennial in America and everything was adorned in red, white and blue the entire year. I was going into the 7th grade which is just an awful transition year no matter what you do. On top of this, I had a new stepfather (who turned out to be an amazing human), moved into a new house, a new town . . . and a new school.

I don’t know if you remember what it was like in 7th grade, but EVERYTHING was awkward and you felt that every action you took was watched, judged and commented on. The school in Ada, Ohio was small. Note – I said “school” – singular. The entire school system of Kindergarten through 12th grade was in one building. Every school-age child in the town and the ones from the country homes around the village made the trek to the same building each day.

Most of the kids in my class had already been classmates and friends for seven years before I even arrived. Did I mention that I was very tall and geeky? That helped as well. On my first day, I actually got lost in one of the three hallways in the school. A teacher was kind enough to help me get started, but I was soon labeled as the tall, geeky new kid who was crying in the hallway.

The transition to meet new people, make friends and learn the social ropes of my new environment was bumpy. I was extroverted even then, but that didn’t make it easy. I didn’t know the established social norms or groups. I just wanted to be accepted and fit it. I didn’t want to be left out. It took the better part of the first half of the year to make my way through this jungle of social pressure. I had to join clubs, teams and slowly meet others who turned out to be fantastic people.

The pressure of comparison was immense. You never knew how to navigate through the minefield of what to wear, what to say, who to hang out with and what to join. There were tons of days of missteps filled with those who were mean, superficial and those who reveled in misdirecting me.

That was when I was 13. Not much has changed in humanity. We are so comparative and judgemental as a society that it’s no wonder people struggle. This is true at work, in our communities and on social media. We’re more concerned about how others view us because that desire to be connected and “fit in” is so powerful. We still are so critical about where people live, what job/profession they hold, and what they post/say on forums.

We have forsaken the art of conversation and discussion in the pursuit of likes, follows, and retweets. We live out part of our lives in a quasi-public way without seeing if the images we see truly encapsulate who people are completely. Add on top of that how many times people still enter a “new” environment like a job, a neighborhood, a church, a civic group, etc. We live in a sea of comparison and it’s exhausting.

Let’s look back to that time in 7th grade . . .

I didn’t enjoy trying to figure this out on my own and took note of how hard it was to be new. I made sure that whenever any other kids were new I did my best to help them get settled and connected. I didn’t want them to go through what I did. It was foundational to how I have tried to interact with people ever since.

I would much rather get to know you for who YOU are. I would like to know all of the intricacies of what makes you unique. The more I know, and that you’re willing to share, helps me think of ways to connect you with other great folks. I intentionally try to not be comparative. I don’t want to have my joy stolen.

How would you approach work, social media and interpersonal interactions if you enjoyed what you heard and learned? How would new hires feel if you went past the motions of onboarding and took more time to make sure people were anchored? What would our neighborhoods and communities look like if we were consistently checking in on each other just because?

I know life would be better for most. This week compare less and connect more.

Thread People

Did you know that my wife is amazing ?? It’s true. Not only because she’s been my better half for nearly 32 years (in October of this year), but she balances me in a way few others do. She always nudges me every Saturday to make sure I write a blog post on Sunday. How freaking cool is that ??!! Then, she coyly says, “Do you need me to give you an idea again this week?” She giggles and continues. “You know, you rely on me for these ideas EVERY week.” I roll my eyes and we laugh. She’s the best.

This week SHE is the theme behind my post. Debbie is unique in today’s workforce. She’s held two jobs during her career. Two. Her first role lasted 15 years and has been at her “current” employer for 21 years. What’s even more astonishing is that we were talking about her boss who is retiring after . . . 45 years !! (I’ll wait until you get back up off the floor from shock.) So, to help you with some HR math, Debbie’s boss Gilda was at their employer for 24 years before Debbie joined. Astounding !!

During their time they have seen turnover in leadership and coworkers. People have come and gone. Some moved up into greater roles and others were at the company for a relatively short period of time. There were those who moved voluntarily for new opportunities at other companies or locations by moving out of the area. Some were asked to leave. This occurs at every company. The regular movement and mobility in companies aren’t unique.

However, Gilda and Debbie represent something that is too often overlooked and taken for granted in organizations. They’re thread people. They’re the employees who provide stability, continuity, and reassurance which is vital to a healthy culture. Please note, I’m not talking about tenure on its own. That is valuable, but it doesn’t automatically translate that long-term employees are performing/productive employees. It does in many cases, but being a reliable thread that is woven throughout a company is far different.

The reality of those who provide consistency is that they are such an integral part of a company’s fabric. You need to make sure you have those who fill roles that are threads. People in these roles should be valued in a way that is celebrated. If you can go to someone who is a fountain of knowledge, is approachable, willing and capable of helping you, you should be grateful. They make work seem seamless and they make sure you don’t have nearly as many obstacles in your way to perform your job.

So often, we focus on those we deem high potentials (don’t get me started on this myth) or senior leadership. We get enamored with people who are the most visible, vocal and charismatic. They are bright, shiny objects who demand our attention. They are the subject of interoffice conversations. We feel they’re going to represent our companies future. We’re just sure of it !!

Then we see that this hi-po, or that one, finds a new role in a different company. We question whether they were loyal or not and the sparkle seems to dim quite a bit. Or, someone gets chosen to go into a larger role without support and infrastructure to help them thrive. They were “anointed” and . . . it fails. We aren’t taking the time to develop people to move into roles. That takes too much time and effort. (Can you feel the sarcasm ??)

During these various shifts and staff movements, threads quietly keep being added to the company. These wonderful folks roll with every change and new face they work with and keep doing the work that sits behind the curtain. They aren’t the subject of interoffice conversations, and yet they remain constant.

It’s time for us to get our head out of the clouds watching and paying attention to the employees who may/may not grow and advance. We should have a consistent development program that tests the capability, willingness, approachability, and capacity of EVERY employee !! See how everyone contributes and performs. Make sure that each person is included, valued, and given credit for how they move the company forward.

This week thank those incredible thread people who keep your company afloat and functioning. They deserve it every day.

17 Years !!

I live in the great State of Ohio are we are in the midst of a generational event. Brood X has emerged from their slumber to take over every outdoor space imaginable. What’s Brood X? It’s a giant number of cicadas. You can’t really picture how many there are without experiencing it. What makes this a different situation than most years is that broods only come to life after 17 years in the ground !! 17 years !!

Once they start arriving and burrowing out of the ground, they typically crawl up whatever’s closest to them to latch on. Our trees are covered with them because they live around tree roots while they are in the ground of their 17-year trek. They start as an exoskeleton that is much harder than their final appearance. The insect cracks open the exoskeleton and comes out fully formed with wings and an adult body. It’s an amazing transformation.

After they are fully formed, they go on to the next phase of their very short lives above ground. They make an incredibly loud sound to attract other cicadas. They find partners, mate, lay eggs on tree branches and then die. The eggs mature and turn into small larvae that drop to the ground. They burrow down and down and down to start the 17-year cycle over again.

Just a few of my “friends” on one of our fence posts.

When you see this many cicadas, you get the willies. It’s like being surrounded by countless aliens that chirp, fly, crawl and . . . creep you out. They don’t bite you or sting. They’re like big insect puppies who don’t really notice you at all. They’re extremely focused because the future existence of their species counts on them finding others and mating.

This is the third brood I’ve experienced in person. I’m 57 now and Brood IX was around when I was 40. My kids were 10 and 6 respectively and they still have memories of us camping surrounded by cicadas that crawled all over our tent as we slept. The ground pulsated, literally, with the mass of bugs around us. One of my favorite pictures of them is the two of them plus two of my friend’s kids who have a line of cicadas covering each of their forearms !! Brood VIII was present when I was 23 and new to Cincinnati. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.

Think about it. How much has your life changed in 17 years? Chances are you can’t remember a tenth of what has happened. Since I’ve now experienced three broods, thirty-four years have passed. It’s staggering when you think about it !!

I’ll be honest, I kind of dig the cicadas being around. I think they have some lessons for us to learn. Here’s what I notice:

Live with Purpose – Cicadas go through very slow phases of life for almost two decades without any interaction with others. So, when they get their chance, it’s on !! I don’t mean to be lewd. They know instinctively that their time above ground is short so they don’t waste a moment. Everything they do has purpose. Everything.

We don’t do this. In fact, we spend far too much of our time “above ground” consumed with what’s wrong in our lives, the world, our families and our careers. There are moments when we feel in a groove that has purpose, but they are more mountaintop experiences than a full lifetime. Wouldn’t life be more full if we were intentional and existed with purpose?

Live with Passion – Again, no inappropriate intent with this. We aren’t passionate. We mull through life with all of its challenges and they consume us. I’m not making light of this. Everyone has challenges that may range from something life-threatening to difficult relationships. It can be daunting and crippling.

So, what if you turned this around as well. What would life look like if you threw yourself into it every day? This doesn’t deflect the challenges ahead, but it does change your energy and outlook. Passionate people are usually positive people. They see the obstacles in front of them as something to address and work through. The challenge may win in the end, but the light they shine constantly is attractive and engaging.

Live for Others – Life is too short to do it on your own. The cicadas know this. They don’t throw up a bunch of limitations about how people are different and how will they look at me. They don’t have voices in their heads that accentuate weaknesses and they aren’t comparative. They look at others and instantly connect with them.

What would life look like if we all were more comfortable connecting with others? I can tell you from experience that each day is more full knowing you have people in your corner who are encouraging, supportive and available. There is no need for isolation. We have to be more committed to making connections. It will enrich your life in ways you can’t imagine !!

I’m not sure what the next 17 years will look like and I’m not concerned or worried. I’ll be 74 when my friends come back as the next brood. Most likely I’ll be in the next phase of my life if I’m fortunate to make it. (I’m confident I will). I choose to live life with purpose, passion and with others. I hope you learn from the lessons as well and do the same.

The Days of Malaise

It feels like we’ve been in a fog for over a year now, doesn’t it? Even though things are easing up in regards to regulations in the US, other areas of the world are still facing lockdown, restrictions and uncertainty. I hope we are moving forward and there are signs we are. What’s intriguing to me is that instead of trying to walk out of the pandemic, we’re trying to set limits and new organizational constraints. We’re willingly falling back into old patterns and I think there’s a contributing factor.

We’re stuck.

The endless barrage of virtual meetings. The ongoing argument of the new way work is being done pitting remote vs. in-person vs. hybrid environments. The misconstrued lens of communication coming primarily from a white-collar perspective while overlooking any blue-collar reality. The underlying divisiveness of people demanding one-sidedness to their viewpoint without considering other’s perspectives. Should I go on?

These factors of our new reality don’t take into account actual work. The efforts and contributions of the great people who have been diligently keeping companies afloat. We succumb and argue about the noise while overlooking our people. It keeps us . . . stuck.

I’ve been talking to many of my peers around the world and they feel overwhelmed, dulled, and disheartened. They want to do great work and be filled with passion once again, but they aren’t sure what to do. They’re not looking to leave their company or the field of HR. They just want this feeling of malaise to dissipate. I understand this and empathize.

I’m not writing about burnout. If you find yourself burnt out, then you need to take more drastic steps and you should probably change roles, companies or make a career shift. What I hear, and have felt myself at times, is the yearning to break free and enjoy not only what I do, but help those around me to get unstuck themselves.

This past weekend my wife and I took a road trip to see a nearby town just to do it. This is something we do when we feel stuck ourselves. A small day trip to explore always excites us. It seems simple, and it is. You see, making a small shift is far more within our reach than making some massive shift. Exploring the small town was phenomenal !! The main street through town was fascinating because almost every home was from the 1830s and had some amazing historical significance because they were a key conduit for the Underground Railroad. Few of the homes were residences anymore. Many had been transformed into small retail shops which were wonderful to meander through.

One of the shops had a piece that caught my eye and gave me the spark I was looking to find. It had a simple message. It was spot on.

What a wonderful piece of encouragement with a straightforward sentiment. We aren’t mediocre. We shouldn’t remain set in place. We have to fight the pull of malaise. That can happen by first believing in ourselves.

I’ve long been a proponent of modeling the behavior I want to see in others. This isn’t some hollow catchphrase. It’s something I practice because behavior can’t just be talked about, it has to be visible and shown.

When we feel that “mediocre” is our reality or we allow it to be our standard, we’re going to experience mediocrity for sure. Trust me, if you feel that mediocre is all that is needed, then you’ll never escape malaise.

It’s time for us to breathe, step back and defeat the current environment we are experiencing professionally. It’s time to light the fire of bringing life to the work, and world, of HR. As much as we’ve led throughout this global pandemic, it’s now time to lead and guide our companies out of the fog. Let’s be creative once again. Let’s continue to be intentional. There are far too many ideas and methods to rekindle yourself and I don’t want to be prescriptive or presumptuous. You know what you need to do for yourself. Whatever steps you choose, remember this . . .

Don’t be mediocre. Don’t remain stuck. Be passionate and let’s move forward !!

Live Again !!

As I went slowly down the escalator, my heart began to race. A table came into view with rows of attendee badges perfectly lined up in alphabetical order. There was a section for attendees, vendors and speakers. I quietly walked by as my face was plastered with the largest smile I could muster even though the volunteers couldn’t see it behind my mask. I didn’t care because I was filled with joy !!

I probably didn’t look like I belonged in the conference center because I was in a t-shirt, shorts and a baseball cap. I kept walking around and waved when I made eye contact with folks. I peeked in the vendor hall and then made my way to the ballroom. I opened the doors and stepped inside. I saw rows and rows of round tables with empty chairs placed around them. I looked to the front of the room and saw the stage that was well lit with spotlights. A podium was in the middle and a colorful banner was in the background announcing the conference theme. It was heavenly !!

I took a few pictures of the room, posted them on Twitter anticipating the event’s beginning the next day. It gave me a chance to share my excitement. You see, I was the opening keynote speaker the next morning. I did what I normally do when I go to conferences by walking through the spaces and getting a feel for what everything looks like. I like to have a mental picture of the environment and get a feel of the event’s vibe. I did my best to blend in because I didn’t want to interfere with the good work happening all around me.

The next morning I got ready quickly, went to the coffee shop, and hustled to the conference ballroom. I set up my table showing my office menagerie and donned my microphone. The attendees started to roll in and take their seats at the various table. I kept getting more and more excited as the tables kept filling up. The conference had an excellent emcee who I had interacted with for a few minutes prior to everything started. He did a great intro and then I heard it.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a music freak and a giant U2 fan !! Overhead I heard one of their many great songs, Beautiful Day, start to play as I took the stage. It was perfect. I pulled up my first slide and started with a story.

The hour I was to speak flew by as if it was a mere few minutes. The crowd was great, engaged and we laughed a ton !! Afterward, the best part of the entire day happened. I got to talk to people in person. There was a mix of greetings ranging from fistbumps to nods to full-on hugs. It was magnificent !! I am always humbled to get the chance to present and talk to my peers and encourage them in the good work they do. I didn’t realize how much I missed this form of human contact.

I was able to stay for the full first day of the conference. Throughout the day I caught up with old friends and met a ton of new folks !! I walked across the street to grab dinner at a restaurant that was filled with fellow attendees. I was invited to join a table and the night ended as fully as it had begun.

I am geeked that people are moving toward in-person events. I understand that there is still a great need to be cautious, safe and respectful of where things stand. However, we also need to move forward even in small ways. People want to see each other. THAT is the best reason to reconvene and have HR conferences.

I would be completely fulfilled to see more and more folks in the years to come. I know that each time will be a beautiful day !!

Reset vs. Return

This past week I was geeked to be involved with a virtual HR Happy Hour with my local HR chapter, GCHRA. The event had a much different vibe than the many virtual events that I’ve been a part of over the past year plus. We started with a local bar owner teaching us how to make common drinks we could put together for summer gatherings. Then, we broke out into rooms and attendees could choose where they wanted to go based on the topic of the room. You couldn’t know who the room facilitator was prior to going to the room to make sure people didn’t just choose people they knew.

I was the facilitator of a room and our discussion topic was – “Checking on Culture.” There were two rules for anyone entering this breakout room: (1) You had to drink any time someone used a catchphrase in their answer/response and (2) an expectation to participate and share. We had an energetic and lively discussion talking about how workplace culture had morphed over the time of the pandemic. The participants gave great examples of what was working, what was missing in their company cultures. They also shared that they were looking for ways to get some stability for themselves and for their employees.

One reoccurring word that was used was “return.” It’s not uncommon. You see it everywhere these days. Return to work. Return to normalcy. Return to how things were. I think there’s a fault in having this perspective and I offered this instead.

Why not focus on having a reset vs. having a return?

You see, I think when you frame things as a “return” then you’re moving back to patterns you had followed in the past. It doesn’t mean that these efforts were either good or bad, but they are looking back to what was and not towards what could be. People long for comfort and harmony in both work and life. The sentiment is noble for the most part because people want to feel less constricted than we’ve been for more than a year.

Having a reset mentality though allows you to have a new start. I feel this is healthier because things are not the same. They won’t be either if you try to recreate what you thought was good in the past. Our circumstances have forever changed. You won’t be able to make things as they were because people have all gone through a global crisis. The environments and cultures we had prior to this event wouldn’t be the “same” even if you tried. We’ve moved on.

Another reason to have a reset is that we can continue to reshape the workplace to be better than it had been. Let’s look at “return to work.” Honestly, people want people back in situations where there’s more face-to-face contact and communication. You see, feel and interpret more nuances than you can virtually. Underlying this positive intent is also the myth of visibility. What is that you may ask? It’s the belief that if I see you at work in person, then you must be productive. It’s old school thinking at its worst.

What if the reset was – We expect people to perform and produce regardless of their working environment?

This would allow for in-person, hybrid, and virtual environments to exist concurrently. And, isn’t great performance what we endeavor to capture from all of our talented folks? You could break the old habits, stereotypes, and generalizations by giving people the avenues to offer their best work all the time.

This is just one example. I think you could sit down and come up with countless ways to move forward instead of returning to something that may not have been as effective as you thought. As an HR leader, I challenge you to join me in both having a reset mentality yourself personally and for your department. At the same time, I challenge you to get in front of senior leadership and introduce this approach to them as well.

During the pandemic, people took note that HR had stepped forward as leaders. They were right and it was overdue. Let’s not slide back into old habits and patterns. Let’s move forward.

Let’s reset !!

A Better Way

This past weekend my wife and I traveled to see our daughter and help her through a monumental life event. She is preparing to buy her first car on her own. I don’t know about you, but fewer things bring me dread than the car buying process. She had done her research, knew the types of cars she wanted to test drive, and the locations of the dealerships near her. She had her personal information all accounted for and was prepared to make a purchase if everything fell into place. We planned to all pile into her tiny car she had been driving for 11 years so we had it available as a trade-in. Everything was ready and we were confident that nothing could dismantle our day.

Then we left her apartment.

The first dealership we went to was the brand our family traditionally had purchased. We love the brand and this was sure to be the leader. The people who met us were friendly and welcoming. They passed the first test by making sure they worked directly with my daughter and not me as the Dad. It was odd that we weren’t allowed to test drive on our own and we had to stay in the parking lot with one model and were allowed to go one city block with the other. We were a bit perplexed by that but were still positive. That didn’t last long. We got the obligatory question, “Is there anything you didn’t like?” My daughter said no but expressed that this was the first dealership we had visited and we wanted to see other cars.

The salesperson left to get another salesperson and then offered to evaluate our possible trade-in and give us some comparative data sheets to see why their car couldn’t be beaten. We had been there an hour by this time. The rest of the debacle took another 1 1/2 hours with various moves and distractions trying to get us financed, explore lease options, and hollow promise after hollow promise. My wife and I stepped in after staying on the sidelines to ask for our daughter’s key so we could leave. There was more stalling and then the dealership manager came out to fake plead with us about our poor decision to not make an instant (multi-thousand dollar) purchase.

My daughter was almost in tears and felt sick to her stomach when we finally extricated ourselves from the dealership. She didn’t even want to continue. We did. The second experience was incredible and positive !! The salesperson took time to show every facet of the car and asked what my daughter wanted. She was exhausted and said she didn’t really know. He was patient, thorough and treated her like an adult. The time we spent at the dealership from start to finish was less than an hour and he was in the mix with a brand she wasn’t planning on fully considering.

Let’s just say the third salesperson should find another job. He was apathetic and relied on us to read the tags on the cars to learn about the options available. He did let us drive on our own, but didn’t really care we weren’t interested. The fourth dealership has a salesperson who passed by us and shouted he’d get us keys if we saw a car we like and then proceeded to turn to his “bros” and shout some inane greeting which was far more important than a potential sale.

The day that had started so promising had fallen apart. We convinced our daughter to trust us and try a different dealership from our favorite brand even though it would require us to drive to the other side of the city. We looked things up to see if the model she wanted was even available and it didn’t look like it was. We went anyway, and we’re glad we did !!

At this dealership, salespeople didn’t rush like they were desperate for their commission. The person at the front desk asked us to take a seat and she’d make sure someone helped us. It was systematic, measured and intentional. After a few minutes, we met Chris. He invited us to his desk and spoke solely with our daughter. He was helpful, engaged and patient. He looked to see if the model she wanted was available and one had literally been unloaded into the lot minutes before we arrived. Even though all of the systems weren’t yet activated, he slowly explained everything, answered every question and let us take the car out on our own.

Oh, and we had arrived at the time the dealership was closing for the day. Chris didn’t care. He waited for us to return and then took more time to answer Melanie’s questions and gave her every piece of information she asked for. He didn’t ask for the sale. He just let her know he was available and would welcome any further questions whenever she had them. Then, we left. No car purchased, and he was completely at ease.

Guess who my daughter is going to work with ??

The reason for this story is that I see the same continuum of approaches from vendors and salespeople daily. The focus is primarily on the product or service they offer. Rarely, if ever, does someone ask anything about what I am/am not looking for. Linked In has become more and more a system for cold calling and pressure to accept invitations so people can make their sales pitch. If someone gets your email address, the approach is a mix of shaming, degrading and wondering if they’ve found the “right” person. And, if they hadn’t, would we please forward them on?

Sadly, I don’t feel this is how the best salespeople in our space do business. Fortunately, I am connected to more of them than the ones who keep trying to hammer me with approaches I just don’t see working. They are more like Chris and I believe they are more effective when it comes to selling to HR.

I know that HR owns part of this broken relationship as well with vendors. We don’t return calls, won’t make time to meet people and ostracize people who could be a real resource. We need to be more open as well.

We need to change because we are both important to each other in what we do. I’d love to see us take the steps to do this. Let’s quit the traditional/old school approaches and have some faith in each other. Let’s make better connections with the knowledge that sales will happen when they should and with whom they should. It’s needed now for our industry. Let’s do this a better way !!

Respond Instead

If I asked you how your day was going, how would you answer? I’m 99.9% sure you’d easily say “Good” or “Fine” because it’s polite and expected. The person being asked is hoping with all that’s in them that these one-word retorts will placate the inquisitor enough that they’ll move on. We say these responses because it is the norm of a shallow acknowledgment as humans. We may care how the other person is when we greet them, but chances are we care “ish.”

You see, far more daunting and important battles lay ahead of us. We are sure of it because why else would we venture to work if it wasn’t to slay the dragons that no one else is capable of handling? We tell ourselves we are indispensable due to a mix of self-assuredness and a need to feel valued as a contributor. So, now that the obligatory greetings of our co-workers are complete we can get to the day ahead which is sure to be far more fulfilling. As we open our “to do” list, the inevitable happens . . . something arises that catches us completely off guard. We didn’t want to be interrupted and we can feel our faces start to get hot because we want to stick to the list that we had so carefully crafted sometime before.

Then it happens. The instant it occurs we grasp the air trying to get the words that just spouted out back inside because the tone they carried was sure to sting. We snap. We react. We’re bothered that our idea of a perfect, lined out, step-by-step existence was thwarted because someone had the audacity to break the pattern !! Our reaction is swift, emotional and contrite. We blurt it out because, again, we want to return to what is more important to US. Don’t they understand that by asking for our input they’ve created an imbalance? Don’t they understand that this is so unsettling that I won’t be able to get back into my rhythm?

The answer is – No, they don’t. Nor, do they really care. They’re coming to you for a valid reason . . . they feel you are the one who can help them get things done too !!

I know it’s radical, but we weren’t meant to be isolationists in this world. That is especially true in the workplace. I also don’t think it’s feasible for you to constantly be surrounded by people all day because it would be exhausting and ineffective. (This is coming from one of the biggest self-avowed extroverts you’ll ever meet.)

Since we’re meant to interact, we would be better off by seeking a balance of being prepared and structured while allowing for interruptions and interactions weaved throughout our days. The way to find, and keep, this balance is to choose to respond vs. react. Doing this requires us to resist the environment we all currently find ourselves in.

In today’s rapid mad dash, reactions have become the norm. People expect you to snap back an answer on the fly and without context. We have bought into the myth that if answers aren’t given instantaneously, then they don’t have merit. The pace of social media, snippets, and partial scenarios drives this expectation. Then, if you do react, a multitude of similar reactions come flying back requiring us to react once again – or so we think. We have to break this incessant volley.

You have time. You have time in almost every, single situation of your regular day. I understand that some things may have more urgency, but even in those rushed circumstances you have time to breathe, pause, contemplate, consider, gather context . . . and then respond. You really do.

If we keep in mind that all humans are one giant ball of emotions, reacting is our natural tendency. We can’t help ourselves. That’s why responding takes practice and discipline. You need to take my word for it that this disciplined approach is far more effective and sustainable than being reactionary. Also, it’s not an either/or type of approach. Life never has fallen into two distinct camps where you can pull an answer from a set playbook with certainty to ensure the outcome you’re seeking. This is because people are involved and we just muck it up . . . because we’re human.

This week try to respond more and react less. It will take time and you won’t do it well every time. If you choose to follow this more constructive approach you will see better interactions, more collaboration, in-depth and contextual discussions and you’ll start developing relationships. Also, you’ll make more well-rounded decisions when that interruption hits you.

From now on . . . respond instead.

When We Fail . . .

Failure. No one likes to do it. We are encouraged to not be afraid to fail, and I concur with that. I’m not talking about stumbling if you’re trying to stretch, take a risk or be creative. In fact, tons have been written and shared about the power of learning from failure which is spot on. This was different because it was a personal failure.

For years, I’ve had a heart for helping others who are in transition between jobs. This came to mind when a peer asked me why the HR Roundtable I facilitate didn’t have resumes displayed to help out others. It was convicting and made me mindful of how easy it is to overlook those who don’t have a job when you do. It’s far too easy.

We should be grateful for the jobs we have and reach out to help others at the same time. As I mentioned, I do this on a regular basis. Last week, I failed.

I made a commitment to help someone and connect with them to help network, review their resume and see if I knew some avenues that could open doors to help them land. We shared a few initial emails and then life got in the way. That’s not an excuse. It’s reality. I experienced several significant personal challenges at work and at home within a short period of time. I understand that each one of us has “life” going on, but my focus slipped and my good intentions turned into forgetfulness.

When this person reached back out to me, they were hurt – as they should be. I wasn’t accountable for the help I said I would give. I apologized and shared that I didn’t have an excuse. I mentioned the challenges I had been going through which caused me to forget. He wished me the best in those circumstances but told me to stop helping him. I was crushed. Still am.

If you haven’t been in transition, you don’t empathize. It’s hard to put into words the ups and downs you experience. You can feel great optimism and overwhelming dread within the same day. You yearn for assistance from others and hope that someone will be the connector that lands you in your next role. The challenge in this rollercoaster of emotions is that all you want to do is land. Once you do, you unfortunately fall into the same comfort level as every other employed person. You’re safe. You soon forget what it was like to be in transition.

That’s why this is so raw for me. I’ve been in transition. I strive to be a resource for others. And yet, I am still human. I will fail others. I hope that when I do fail that I’ll get some grace to try and correct the situation. That won’t always occur, but I’m not discouraged.

In contrast, another situation happened this past week. A friend of mine actually landed after an extensive search. I was fortunate to be one of many who reached out to talk to her and encourage her. Please note, we’ve never met in person only through social media. She’s in the Seattle, Washington area while I’m in Greater Cincinnati, Ohio. She was appropriately geeked to share her good news and I can’t wait to see how she will continue to grow and thrive now that she’s landed. I also know she is going to share her journey to help others which will be wonderful to follow.

Both stories are examples of the gamut job seekers face. I encourage you to be someone who steps in and lends a hand. Even if you stumble in your efforts, it’s worth it. We all fail. We also move forward.

Lower Seeds !!

This weekend one of my favorite events began – the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. I’ve always enjoyed watching all of the games because I played basketball all through high school and even had a few offers to play at the collegiate level. So, when the tournament comes on, I’m hooked. I make sure to fill out brackets and love that people get excited to participate as well.

I don’t usually have connections with the teams who participate, but that doesn’t lessen the interest. This year, however, my alma mater Ohio University, made the tournament !! This isn’t new. They have been to the tournament several times and have done well. However, it’s a smaller university so they will rarely have the opportunity to come in as one of the higher (favored) seeds. That’s okay with me though. Getting to participate is the first hurdle in this tournament.

This Saturday, they were the #13 seed and they played the #4 seed the University of Virginia who also was the team that won the last National Championship. The odds were not in our favor. That was amplified by listening to the announcers who rarely talked positively about Ohio’s efforts. It was more about what Virginia wasn’t doing. This isn’t different in other games either. I’m sure the network tells the announcers to talk up the higher seeds because they are typically bigger schools, larger brand names and . . . potential revenue because more people will watch teams they know vs. a bunch of underdogs.

Photo by Midge Mazur @midgemazur on Twitter – from Ohio University Twitter page @ohiou

I’m geeked to say that OU beat Virginia and I was screaming and jumping up and down as if I was in person. As the game was coming to a close, the announcers were forced to acknowledge that the lower seed had won. It gave me great joy both as an alum and because I LOVE seeing the lower seeds win !! It’s a great facet of the NCAA tournament because any team can win and advance. The big-name programs do win more often than not, but it’s not a guarantee.

I find that we give far too much attention to the big names and brands when it comes to the world of work as well. When giant, global conglomerates make a move, it gets national press online immediately. If a smaller company made the same moves, just on a smaller scale, you wouldn’t even know it. We are enamored with those that are biggest, most visible and generate the most revenue. That’s ironic to me because the vast majority of people work for companies that would be considered “lower seeds.”

You see, I think talent exists in all companies. The brand name and notoriety of an organization is admirable, but it shouldn’t infer that they have better internal talent. I’m sure they are full of talented people as well as those that can grow with development . . . Just like every other company !! We shouldn’t get enamored and blinded by size alone.

I don’t think there’s a singular answer or approach that works to address this lack of exposure and participation. We can’t help but focus on the Fortune “x” companies because of their scale and resources. It’s true they may have more leverage to move the needle in some areas, but it’s not an accurate assessment that they influence the majority of work. Great work is happening everywhere.

What would our profession look like if we made sure to listen to HR voices from all types of industry and from companies of various sizes? How much more would we influence, shape, and transform our own organizations if we took a look at the whole field instead of just the top seeds? What if senior HR pros from small, midsize, and large companies filled Board seats and were able to participate in larger arenas?

Let me encourage you if you work in HR for a “lower seed.” I have for the majority of my career and it’s been amazing. It’s outstanding if your efforts move your company forward because that should be your goal on a regular basis. You can also make an impact on the profession as a whole. It can happen locally, nationally and globally. Go into each game with confidence. You’re in the tournament for a reason. Go out, play hard and see what happens !!