HR Shouldn’t Be Puzzling !!

I have a phenomenal family !! I don’t take that for granted. They allow me to be myself and it’s something that we value in each other. Recently, we celebrated Father’s Day and, true to form, my kids got creative. I’m not your typical dad. I’ve always been someone with more eclectic tastes and am more comfortable with non-traditional things. I was tickled that the kids reached out to have a Facetime call and I said about two words after they wished me a happy Father’s Day. They just talked, laughed, poked fun at each other and didn’t even realize I was on the call. It was magnificent !!

They were both kind enough to get me a gift, and my kids get me. They know that I’d be grateful for anything, but that I wouldn’t truly enjoy getting tools, ties or a gift card. My son, Josh, floored me with a giant LEGO kit of an English double-decker bus. My wife and I are huge UK admirers so this was perfect. Hours of activity with an anticipated cool outcome to add to my home and office toy menageries. My daughter Melanie bought something that was not only meaningful but also reflected a hobby we learned to share together – a puzzle. This one was even more special because was an old-fashioned chart of minerals !! You see, I collect rocks and minerals as another side of my fragmented interests.

Newest puzzle in progress . . .

As I opened the puzzle and started constructing it, my mind wandered and I saw so many connections to HR. You see, we make human resources far too puzzling for those we work with. We have our own “language” filled with terms, applications, and acronyms that sound foreign to anyone not working in the field. Too often when people interact with us there’s usually some situation that has escalated too far because that’s how we’ve allowed our profession to become. That saddens me.

We have an opportunity to change how, and when, we interact with people so that it’s more constructive, positive and valuable. We just need to take lessons from puzzles to stop being so puzzling !!

Be Face Up !! – When the puzzle is emptied out on the table, some pieces are face up and others are face down. As HR pros, we are face down more often than we are face up. We get buried in our work, spreadsheets, emails, phones, etc. and we never look up. If we would just take a simple step and pull away from the tasks we think deserve our attention and face those we work with more intentionally, you’d see a new way to set the foundation of practicing HR – face your people !!

Find the Corner Pieces !! – The frame of any puzzle is critical, but if you don’t find the four corners, the frame can’t come together. Recently, our company has chosen to adopt and practice The 4 Agreements from the book by Don Miguel Ruiz. I like these four components especially for practicing HR because they help shape our behavior and the behavior of others. I recommend you check out the full book for the great context behind the agreements. But to get you started, here they are: (1) Be impeccable with your word, (2) Don’t take anything personally, (3) Don’t make assumptions, and (4) Always do your best.

Put Every Piece in its Place !! – The beauty of puzzles is that pieces can only go where they were designed to go. What would our companies look like if we made sure this was true with every employee in their roles? When the pieces are all correctly aligned you see the picture that was there all along. Making sure people are developed and aligned is a much better use of the strengths of HR than just being the fire brigade waiting for the next crisis to arise.

I just finished the frame before I sat down to write this post. I can’t wait to get back to my basement to put the pieces inside and see the minerals start to appear. This week, step back and take the steps needed to pay attention to your people, build your four foundational pieces and get people better aligned. I’m sure you’ll love the way your company transforms and you’ll no longer be puzzling to work with as HR !!

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 !!

Crossing the Moat

I love reading books and watching shows and movies that were set back in the times of castles, kingdoms and mystical creatures. I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan as well as the tales of King Arthur. It may also explain why my favorite movie is Monty Python and the Holy Grail !! In many of these tales you find a gargantuan castle surrounded by a moat.

The moat is a deep trench filled with water that separate those within the castle from the various things and people trying to breach it to get in. Moats keep one side from another and the only way to span the expanse is to walk across a drawbridge which is controlled by those running the castle. Some moats also have things swimming beneath the surface that are just waiting for some poor soul to try and swim across in the hope of scaling the castle wall.

It seems today that many people have built their own emotional moats around them to keep others out just like a castle. There is no doubt that emotions are running high because of all that is happening throughout society and around the globe. We all see pictures of those emotions on display calling for action, justice and equality. There’s also the reality that much of what we used to do on a regular basis isn’t happening. Socially, people are pent up and looking for ways to express themselves. We are realizing the power and need for intentional in person human contact.

As workplaces try to figure out how “work” is going to look and evolve as a result of the pandemic, people are either eager to return or anxious of the unknown. At times, those can appear in each person within the same day, or the same hour. More and more is being written and discussed about self-care and the emotional strain which seems to be a part of every person’s daily routine.

In reaction to this constant pool of emotions, people are digging trenches and building their moats to protect themselves, their feelings and their thoughts. The ones I’ve encountered seem insurmountable. You can “see” the person on the other side in their castle, but it’s becoming more and more dim as the distance increases. This distancing is leading to more and more isolation. You may be aware of someone taking steps away from you. However, a person may be personally isolated standing in a crowded room and you’re not even aware it’s happening.

As humans, especially in HR, we need to check on others and see if they’ll let down their drawbridge and allow us to cross. Isolation may have its time and place to reflect, collect your thoughts and recharge, but those are usually short periods of time. We need to step in to make sure that people truly are “okay”. If they are, then that’s fantastic. If they’re just saying they are, but their behavior isn’t matching their words, I encourage you to respectfully press in. When you find someone who just isn’t willing to lower the bridge, you need to see if you can find resources or assistance to recommend so they can connect with someone in an environment which they personally deem safe.

The key to crossing any emotional moat is two-fold. (1) You have to truly want to make the steps to connect because you care about the others you’re trying to reach and (2) You need to consistently show others that they truly matter all the time, and not just because they’re struggling a bit right now. Moat crossing means making relationships. Relationships which are safe, appropriate, value all involved and are genuine.

We are wired as humans to be interdependent. This runs across the grain of today’s society which screams for each person to be themselves. You can still be yourself and have relationships which bridge the gap of the emotional moat you’re facing. It may take some time, and you need to be patient because some connections will move forward while others will remain as friendly hellos only.

This week look around to see how your friends are doing. Once you do, ask them to lower the bridge so you can walk across to have a chat, a coffee and some meaningful conversations. Don’t leave someone trapped behind a castle wall. It’s time for us to cross the moat !!

Get Off the Wall !!

I mentioned last week that I was able to take in the amazing Burning Man art exhibit touring in Cincinnati. It was a great reminder that I need to remember to release my inner HR bohemian more often. The images of the event’s attendees show people who are uninhibited. To me it’s intriguing to see how free people are in expressing themselves. I’ll be honest part of me would love to attend, but I don’t know how “free” I could really be.

You see, if you go to Burning Man, you’re expected to participate. It’s not meant for spectators who are curious about the oddities, and not for those who just want to gawk. That is an incredible approach that we should implement in our workplaces as well !! What would your HR department look like if everyone was geared towards participation as an expectation?

I know, you’re already replying to the blog to tell me how “busy” you are with mountains of work. I’m sure that’s the case. But, is it work that adds value or is just tedious, mundane and senseless? When you look at your daily activities, are you geeked to jump in or are you hesitant? I want to personally approach my days with abandon and fervor. I also want to instill that expectation with my team.

When we look at how companies broadly express their “expectations”, it’s typically framed and placed on a wall in the form of Mission and Vision statements. I’ve been a part of full-day strategic planning sessions when the entire leadership team would wrestle over one, single word. There were hour long discussions on grammatical framework and what message(s) were being conveyed. Then, after this meaningful exercise, copies would be artfully printed by an outside vendor to be proudly mounted in public areas of the office.

Don’t get me wrong, visions and missions are critical to the values, direction and culture of an organization. However, many of them are too wordy and aspirational. Companies desire action but they don’t state it clearly. Back to Burning Man . . .

They have the “10 Principles” that have been captured in various forms over the years. They’re on pamphlets, flyers, artwork and even a multi-tiered street sign !!

When you read them, they state beliefs and expectations at the same time. They’re also a mix of simple statements that call you to action. As I read them, these ten items inspired me because I felt that I could identify with them and also could see myself as willing to follow them.

Interestingly enough you need to notice that the ten principles aren’t regulatory and so defined that they’re a list of rules. They aren’t do’s and don’ts. I know that when we make these broad statements in organizations, people get ooky. (That’s an official technical HR term by the way.) We feel that if statements aren’t completely spelled out, then people will be far too expressive and chaos will ensue. It isn’t true and it never has been.

I don’t want to be so bold as to create “10 HR Principles” because each of our organizations are unique. This is something that needs to be evaluated on your end. I would just encourage you to follow the example of the bohemians and give your company, and especially your HR efforts, the breadth that they deserve. Come up with a set that calls you, and others, to action and trust that they will come alongside to join in. Allow your people to be expressive and assume positive intent going in.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll see their inner bohemian come out as your vision and mission come off the wall and get into the hearts of your folks !!

Change the World !!

Something has been truly puzzling to me lately. In the swirl of events, there seems to be a larger and larger focus on upheaval and dismay versus anything positive. I am not naive and ache for the constant wave of tragedy that fills every form of media. Honestly I do take time to step away and reflect just to break the pattern.

It’s odd to me that we continue to pile on more and more negativity that is happening either to us, or around us, and we expect that the more we scream and tear things down that we’ll hit some basement. I don’t think it’s possible because your “bottom” may not even be close to what’s happening to others.

I do my best to personally fight this and encourage others on purpose. I find that even in doing that, there is a push back that occurs because people feel better if you suffer with them. Enough is enough. I will not fall into the trap that I need to tear things down in order to build things up. I just won’t.

Recently, as I was working out walking and sweating on a treadmill, I heard a song that I hadn’t heard in years. The song is “Change the World” by Eric Clapton. It is a beautiful song and the words just tear at me. It’s a song that he sings to another person claiming that he’d pull down a star and shine it on his heart to show how much he loved and cared for another person. He would do anything if he could “change the world.”

I know that I’ve written on this topic in the past, and yet it still tugs at me. You see it seems that HR has chosen more to conform to be like the rest of everyone at their company instead of choosing to make a change. We’d rather blend in than stand up. I think we’d do better in understanding that our interactions could literally change the world !!

One of my favorite quotes ever is from Ghandi when he encouraged others around him to “be the change you want to see in the world.” We tend to shy away from this expansive aspiration because we think that changing the world would involve some massive effort beyond our abilities. I don’t think that’s the case at all. We just need to reframe how we look at making change.

I think there is far too much focus on results in all facets of work and our lives. Results are important, but they don’t lead. They lag. Relationships are far more important and you make change through those relationships. These lead to stronger results. Every. Time.

Changing the world isn’t about effort. It’s about people. It always has been.

In HR you’re surrounded by people and you can be the ONE person who makes a positive impact for them. A kind word, a listening ear and a willing heart can build up others. These aren’t “soft skills”, they’re human skills. And, make no mistake about it, human skills are what drives business and allows for world shaping change.

This week I hope you turn away from the negative noise and choose to be a person who can change the world. Pull a star from the heavens and reach out to others and show them that they matter and have value. Trust me, the more of us that make this effort will be the change we want to see in the world !!

The Second Day

Have you ever started a new job? Do you remember what it was like? I remember anxiety about what I wore, how to drive to the office, where to park and what would happen. You weren’t sure who you were going to meet and wondered what they’d think about you. What would your work space look like? Where do you eat lunch and when do you do that?

The are countless questions and thoughts that run through your head. Most of them also assume the worst even though nothing has even happened yet. After you settle in the parking lot wondering if you’re in someone’s space, you hesitantly go to the front door and the receptionist. All of a sudden you’re warmly greeted and they call into your new boss who comes out and takes you to their office to explain how your first day will unfold. Your shoulders relax and you let out a heavy sigh. The first day then flies by with the mandatory HR paperwork, a tour of the company, multiple introductions to people who say their name too quickly, and then you land at your desk. Lunch is still a mystery because you seemed to either miss it or work through it. Then, the commute home.

You’re all geeked up after a positive experience on day one. You liked the majority of people you met. The work seems to match what you heard in the interview and you dig your new boss.

Day 2Then the second day comes . . .

You’re first day fears have been squelched and you are comfortable with the commute and how to get into the building and to your desk. Oddly, no one is there to greet you and the receptionist is already up to their eyes in guests, calls and e-mails. You go past your boss’s office and they wave, and say “We’ll talk later” – which never happens. You go to your desk and you have to figure things out on your own. You still don’t know what to do about lunch.

Sound familiar ?? It happens every, single day in companies across the globe regardless of industry. No one ever explains the existence of “assumed culture.” This is where we just think employees will “get it” because we don’t want to spend time with them because we’re too busy with our own work. When we miss those new folks they start making decisions as to whether they’ll stay or not much more quickly.

I’m heading to the SHRM Talent Conference and I’m geeked !! I think the sessions will be great and I’m looking forward to meeting new HR folks from around the country. I’m also sure that the majority of sessions will encourage HR to look at employees as “talent” because we honestly don’t. We are still stuck in the mire of filling job requisitions and keeping hiring managers calm. Also, the focus will be on the front end of the business or attracting and recruiting people.

Until we start viewing ALL employees as “talent” within our organizations, then our labeling of them will not change. I received some great advice from my boss when I started in my current role some 10 years ago. He wanted HR to be with employees for their entire life cycle – from candidate until the time they leave the company. He wanted to make sure that people didn’t get lost on Day Two.

This is another opportunity and reminder that HR needs to firmly be focused on people and not processes such as on-boarding. New employees aren’t things and tasks and we need to keep that in front of us.

This week see who’s joining the company and make sure their first day rocks, but also greet them on the second day  . . . and every one after that so they know that they truly are the talent you sought in the first place !!

Being there !!

One of the coolest outcomes of being involved in social media is meeting the folks behind their avatars.  The vast majority of folks I’ve met rock and the “connection” we had on-line has turned into friendships that have relevance and meaning.

Paul HebertToday we are celebrating one of my dearest friendships that came from the various forums, and that is with Paul Hebert.  Last year a tradition of #TimSackettDay was started for the inimitable Tim Sackett. To have it be #PaulHebertDay this year is just as cool !!

Paul reached out one day when I mentioned that the HR Roundtable that I facilitate in Cincinnati was going to be on Incentives and Recognition.  For those of you who don’t yet know Paul – he is THE go to resource in this area in the country !!  (Not an embellishment.  It’s a fact !!)  He wanted to Skype in or call in to be part of the discussion.  I said that I hadn’t had that type of request before because it’s better as a live forum.  He asked when it was happening.  I told him and he said, ” I’ll be there !! ”

Now, the commute from Greenville, South Carolina to Cincinnati, Ohio takes a bit of time – say 6 1/2 hours or so.  He gets the prize for longest distance traveled to be at a Roundtable to date !!  When he popped out of the car, I ran to hug him because that’s what I do when I see a friend.  He was a bit taken aback for a sec, but he knew it was what brothers do.

First time we met in person.  First, now of many !!  We saw each other at HRevolution in Atlanta, SHRM National 2012, Ohio SHRM (where he rocked it as a speaker) and most recently at GCHRA in Cincinnati.  We always make time to catch up, share ideas and most importantly challenge each other !!

You see, I dig Paul because he’s very intentional about life – as am I.   I think that’s one of the key elements that ties us together.  Most people shy away from folks who are fully intentional, but not Paul.  He is always willing to mold thoughts, give various perspectives and hone our conversations.  I don’t get mad about this.  I CHERISH IT !!

He’s facing a serious health issue right now, and true to nature, he put up a blog to share about his experience and I love it.  In spite of the blog, I call him because talking to him is more intentional and that is what we’ve come to expect from each other.

He’s pulling through this challenge and then he’s launching into his new business relationship with Symbolist. I’m geeked for him and for the great work that is going to come from this partnership !!

When Paul wrote about coming to Cincy for the HR Roundtable, he used the Proclaimers fab one-hit wonder – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).  In the lyrics they state how the person would be there for his friend no matter what.  That’s what #PaulHebertDay is to me.

I will be there for him no matter what !!

Make sure you get to know Paul.  You’re life will be more intentional and only brighter because of it !!