What If You Broke Your Bubble ??

For the past several years, I’ve contributed to the #AdventBlogs series. It’s a great series from a multitude of global HR pros, and it’s a joy to be included. The series is now hosted by my friend Gary Cookson. I would recommend you connecting with Gary and read all of the Advent Blog posts from this year. I’m sure you’d get connected to some HR folks you don’t yet know – but should !!

Here is my submission. I hope you enjoy it and join me in expanding your personal horizons by breaking some bubbles.

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I’ve always been a person who has multiple interests. Growing up, I was fortunate to be in a loving, caring home nestled in a small town in the Midwest. This environment allowed me to explore a variety of activities. I wasn’t limited by the scope or number of things to try. What was ironic about this now reflecting years later is that I didn’t know that this was unique. I assumed everyone growing up at the time I did had the same experiences and opportunities I did. I understand now that this was a bit naïve because I didn’t have exposure to people who were much different than me.

Even though I had such a positive childhood, everyone I knew was similar to me in race, background, education, and belief systems. I was in the classic “you don’t know what you don’t know” setting. It was like I lived in a Norman Rockwell painting. Before I talk about how my perspective was broadened, let me share one more advantage of my small town. I didn’t think in terms of barriers or obstacles when it came to participation. I was involved in sports, academics, music programs, drama, and civic/faith communities all at the same time. I was a member of every stereotypical high school group. I hung around people who chose to be in only a few groups and relished that I could have relationships with people regardless of who they were or what their interests were. That was “normal” for me. My parents encouraged me and my brother to try everything and then stick with what interested us. We both were as well rounded as possible. Most of my core friend group also had this multi-faceted approach to life. It was exhilarating !!

When I went to college, my horizons were instantly expanded. It was the first time in my life that I met people who grew up in large metropolitan cities and foreign countries. I made connections with people who were vastly diverse from me and I loved it. I was disappointed that I wasn’t aware of how amazing and unique people were. Even in this, I realize now that college was only a microcosm of how limitless the variety of humanity truly is. However, it was a great way to challenge what I had known and experienced in my small town. I had to decide to stay cocooned in my small bubble or break that bubble to take in everything around me. I broke the bubble, and I’m glad I did.

I continued to be involved in as many different activities and social groups as I could throughout my college years. What I found is that the fabric of people I encountered gave me experiences I would have never had if I hadn’t ventured forth and taken risks to be fully engaged with people regardless of their background, culture, and experience. I never felt confined to be connected only to certain social groups.

Unfortunately, it was also during college that I learned that people also chose to not be as open to others as I was trying to do. I remember taking a class my senior year which studied the life and efforts of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. We had to do some form of visible non-violent activity and then write about our experience with the reactions we experienced. It was a group project. Four of us decided to “march” with banners and sheets with messages on them to bring attention to inequities we saw at that time happening at the University. As we walked through areas that were filled with the housing of our fellow students, we were jeered, cussed at and people even threw things at us. I was confused, angry, and hurt. My group’s experience was more visceral and emotional than some of the other groups in the class. It has stuck with me ever since. I didn’t understand why we received such a reaction from people just by walking down a street. It was hard to process.

This leads me to today. What if people intentionally chose to connect and have meaningful relationships with others just because they are fellow humans?

I understand that each person on the planet is unique and different. That doesn’t intimidate me. It fascinates me !! If I could spend each day I walk on this earth to meet and know every single person that I’m around, I would be fulfilled. I mean that. I would be completely content listening to the story of every person I encounter to try to learn from them and understand their life experience.

I was sitting on the steps of the New York Public Library a few years ago having a coffee with a dear friend while visiting New York City for a meeting. I said, “I wish I could stop and talk to every person walking around us. Don’t you?” He said that would be uncomfortable and uncertain. He’s right, but I’d love to take the risk.

I’d love to see the world, in general, come together and get to know each other and understand our various outlooks on life, work and society. I want to take the background I’ve grown up with and apply it to all aspects of human connection. I don’t feel we’ll ever come together until we take the time to learn, listen, respect and value where people come from. It doesn’t mean we’ll always agree, and it may lead to deep, intense dialogue. Isn’t that worth pursuing?

I have never felt comfortable when people want to put me in a box to say that you must be this or that or be part of this group or that one. Why can’t you move across all groups and types of people? I’m going to keep working on my “What if” because I know it works. I’m not sure where it will lead me, but I feel the world has so much to offer because of its people. I know that in doing this I will discover ways to view and experience a much bigger slice of life than if I only stayed complacent and within a defined bubble.

I’d encourage you to join me and break your bubble because I’d love to get to know you as well !!

Carry On

Have you noticed, or felt, that we’re stuck? My wife and I were hanging out with another couple enjoying a few Moscow Mules and we caught up on life. Instead of talking about the various activities of our grown children or the status of our jobs, we talked about the constant wave of global events that have happened throughout 2020. Each one has had a profound experience on each of us personally as I’m sure it has for you. There doesn’t seem to be and “end” to any of these events, and maybe that’s the point.

When the pandemic hit (and it’s still happening to some exent), people longed for normalcy and a return to the life and patterns of what we’d been accustomed to doing. Now, the civil unrest, protests and call for social justice has moved us in a new direction emphasizing that we should not return to how things “have been.”

People are frustrated, angry, anxious and uncertain as to what lies ahead for our society and for each of us personally. When this happens, there are three possible reactions which will occur – (1) You’ll stay put because that gives you some sense of stability and less volatility; (2) You’ll do all you can to slide back into comfort zones and make efforts to get out of all that’s going on; and (3) You move forward and carry on.

As I was thinking about writing this week, I had the Grateful Dead radio station playing on Spotify. I am a hippie in the 21st century. The station plays a variety of artists from a similar genre, and one of my favorite groups started playing – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The song they were singing was Carry On which is one of my favorites.

The song is about a relationship that has broken off, but it is laced with a message of encouragement to carry on because “love is coming, love is coming to us all.” With everything that is daily affecting us, I want to assure you that we can, and should, move forward by carrying on. We’re all tired and reaching the end of our ropes emotionally, physically and spiritually. The people I talk to are exasperated. They want to move forward, but are just so spent they don’t know how. If movement doesn’t occur soon, then they’ll become stagnant and ambivalent. This doesn’t have to happen.

At some time, we all will need to carry on. Now, I’m not going to be so bold as to list specific steps and a model to help you do this. I will say though that in order to start carrying on, you need to acknowledge that you can’t stay put where you are. It’s not easy and the urge to remain where you currently are is powerful and hard to break. You may even feel that others will chime in and tell you they’re not moving forward themselves, and they will do their best to have you join them. We can’t afford to do that as people or as HR professionals.

It’s time for us to take beliefs, words and sentiments and turn them into actions. We can’t continue to be aspirational and hope that someone will pick up the mantle and run with it. This is our task and our opportunity. So, what can you DO to ensure inequality and racism isn’t present in your practices and organizations? What can you DO to care for former employees who are now in transition after the pandemic? What can you DO to show your company that every situation in your company is centered around people? Every. Situation.

It’s easy to get caught up in the ground swell of emotions of all that is going on. I’m sure you’ve experienced strong feelings yourself. After time, this level of emotion, passion and outcry for sustainable change will subside. It always does. A good friend of mine and I were talking about this, and he had a great suggestion which he finds works well.

Write down what you want to accomplish in your calendar and then write out steps you need to reach that accomplishment. Set them all up as reminders so they don’t disappear. Let them be gentle nudges for you to continue to carry on.

As I mentioned before, I’m not going to give you absolute suggestions for you to pursue. I don’t know what is facing you – but you do !! Let’s all commit to not remain stagnate. Let’s be intentional in putting accomplishments out in front of us to see ourselves, and our companies, improve. Let’s make our words turn to action. Let’s all carry on !!

Just so you have a little reminder and inspiration to get you started, here’s the CSNY classic for your listening pleasure . . .

Not Sure What to Say

It’s rare that I don’t have words readily available to type and share. I have been struggling with all of the unrest happening around the country and in my city. I wanted to say something, and I’ve been apprehensive for a few reasons. First of all, I don’t want to make a statement that would be taken out of context which is easy to have done with anything that is but a snapshot of words in time. Secondly, writing about a racial issue when I’m a white man makes me anxious as well. I don’t want my words to be taken in a way that lessens or marginalizes anyone. However, I needed to say something.

I recently read that in a time of crisis, people of courage take a stand. I choose to step in on this with grace and a yearning to understand. Along with everyone else, I hear people screaming for people to pick a side and be held “accountable.” In fact, I’ve had friends cast their sentiments and shame on me for not instantly, and emotionally, respond to all that’s happening. I realize that I’m a visible person in the world of HR, and I choose to be one on purpose. With that, I don’t feel you can only comment on all that’s good, but you should also respond when things are challenging and uncomfortable.

I ache for what is happening. I truly do. I don’t pretend that I have the same background, fear and anger that many do because my life has not been made up of the same experiences. I understand that I am treated differently because I am white and not black. I don’t agree with it and I never have. To me, I am disheartened because people have lost their lives. There are families who have lost those dear to them forever when it didn’t need to happen, and we all know that in a moment a bad decision can be made that will change the course of a person’s life forever.

The country has been filled with angst, emotion and frustration for some time. All that has been happening with the pandemic, endless political rhetoric and a constant focus on all that’s “wrong” with our existence has consumed the majority of our thoughts and conversations. I’ve seen injustice occur when a spark is lit and the bucket of emotions unleashes. It’s honestly a cycle we refuse to address and break from.

And, here’s where I get stuck for words . . .

You see, I don’t dare be prescriptive or should that “this” action should happen or “that” person should be addressed. That’s only because there are far too many of us who need to act and speak up. It’s not only the people involved in the loss of life.

I’ve seen many contacts and friends who are beside themselves and have very publicly shouted that they’re getting off social media because they just can’t handle it anymore. I’m concerned when people step away only because it can lead to a trap of isolation, intimidation and indifference. I would hope there’s a chance and a window to engage, understand and have dialogue even when emotions are running high.

This past weekend, I was in Indianapolis with my wife visiting our daughter. As we were walking through the neighborhoods around Mass Ave., I saw this piece of art which captured what I can do during this time. It’s a crossing sign that has two alternative messages on it versus the traditional Walk/Don’t Walk. It shows “Don’t Care/Care” and the button below says, “Push button to change.” As we came up on the sign, it was on the blue light saying, “Don’t Care,” and we pushed the button to make the sign express “Care.”

Now, I know this is an analogy and just a visual cue. However, I believe that in all this unrest what I can do more than ever is care. I choose to do that by reaching out to friends who I know are angry and fearful. I’ve had conversations already and plan to reach out to others to check in. I’ve asked for context and not “why” when we’ve talked. I want them to know that I’m here for them no matter what.

That may seem minor and not doing “enough” in the eyes of many. What you need to understand though is that I have lived my life with the belief and behavior of meeting you WHERE you are and for WHO you are in every aspect of your life. While the world keeps ripping itself apart over ignorant words, self-aggrandizing tweets, and a cult of personality, I choose to engage people as humans, and I will continue to do so.

I value our differences and see them as strengths and attributes that make you a wonderful person worth engaging and knowing. I refuse to be someone who is called upon to only know others if I have to compartmentalize, label, judge, marginalize or generalize them.

I care about people and I ache that once again race has become something that divides us. I want to see that change and I am going to do that one person at a time. It’s been said for centuries that “actions speak louder than words.” I hope you are reflecting on how you can genuinely express care for people for who they are and where they are in life. To me this is basic and foundational.

In getting ready to write this, I did find some words that captured my heart well from of all places – Nike. Take a look and let’s do all we can to bring people together and move forward.

A Bright Future !!

“How old are you? Seriously, what’s your age?”

Pretty straightforward isn’t it? If that’s how I introduced myself, how would you react? I bet you’d be “offended” or put off because you would wonder why that had any bearing whatsoever on our meeting. The next thought in your head would be wondering why in the world I would start a conversation in such a rude way. You’d wonder if I was judging you or making assumptions about you as a person just because of a number. That’s assuming that you’d even answer me.

Seems pretty outlandish doesn’t it? However, we continue to do this as HR professionals and think nothing of it. In fact, we have conference sessions, books and blogs about how to “deal” with these young whipper snappers disrupting OUR workforce !! (Insert the “Get off my lawn” with the obligatory fist shaking motion here . . .)

Every HR conference has a “Working with Millenials” speech that you can get credit for. Sadly, the room will be packed because we’re so mystified by such a difficult challenge. Ironically, the presenter most likely won’t be a millenial. It will be someone older complaining about how different these folks are from us. Sad. Just freaking sad.

How did the profession that espouses diversity and inclusion become the profession that delineates employees based on their age? Who said this was a good idea? And, why in the world would you pay anyone as a speaker on consultant to come in and teach you how to “DEAL” with people who are different than you? One other quick fact, the next generation after the millenials is already entering the workplace. I can’t wait until the next phase of generation separation starts happening !!

I hope you can tell this ticks me off. It’s disappointing on so many levels and it has to stop. Here’s how . . . embrace the folks who will replace us !!

My future and yours !!

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to have HR students from Ohio University visit me as part of a field trip. They visited four employers from different types of industries to learn about the companies and how HR was practiced. I was geeked to have them come learn about LaRosa’s, Inc. You see, I am a proud OU Bobcat alumni !! I mentioned that I graduated from college before the internet existed. There were audible gasps.

We had a phenomenal time together !! They were eager, engaged and hilarious. We spent the whole afternoon together, and I let them ask me anything they wanted to know. They asked pointed questions about how I viewed/practiced HR and what workplaces were “really” like.

Not once did the students hold my age against me as a barrier. I didn’t treat them any differently than any person I encounter on a daily basis. It never came up. Nor, should it.

I encouraged the students to take a serious look at the cultures of the companies they were visiting as a benchmark for what workplaces are like. I told them a truth that I know which is people will stay or leave a company because of it’s culture. I also wanted them to ask their future prospective employers to describe how they view HR and the role it plays in their organizations. I told them to listen to the response because it would reflect the company’s culture and would be the best measure of whether they should join that company or not.

We closed the day in a very cool, and humbling, way. I was able to give them a copy of my book and when I signed the copies I put “OU ’86” under my name. One of the students said “Like 1986 ?? Whoa !!” I laughed. I loved that they thought I was ancient.

The future of HR is bright because of students like these !! I take any opportunity I can to meet with and speak to students because I believe that they need to hear from business people who won’t treat them differently. Instead, you engage them as talented, wonderful future employees.

This week, stop the generation separation. I mean it. We’re better than that. Let’s make our present as bright as our future !!

All the Verts !!

This past week has been an interesting week of interactions. They ranged from conversations in my office to various connections on-line in social media forums. I tend to take in as much as possible on a regular basis because I enjoy all of the contact. Yes, I am an extrovert. In fact, when I’ve taken assessments that measure this, I’m off the chart. That isn’t always a good thing.

I only mention that because my extroversion is only one small facet of who I am. We tend to take our “vert” and use it to lead in describing us as people. This is solid because it’s a fact. However, we often use it as a label to explain what we’re not instead of highlighting who we are. Knowing who we are is essential because self-awareness, in my opinion, is the baseline of healthy relationships, interactions and even leadership !!

One of the unexpected interactions this week was from my friend Paul LaLonde. He just started a new blog called the HR Philosopher and he described how we met each other in person at last year’s SHRM Annual Conference. I love that he described me as “a giant man with a booming voice and a tie-dye shirt” because it makes me smile. He also shared how he stepped out of his comfort zone to be intentional that we met. I love this because I’m the opposite. If I see you in a room, I want to meet you.

The reality of your “vert” is that it drives how you process thought, how you tend to communicate and how you approach meeting others and the relationships you develop. Your vert is your lead in. That is spectacular and not a hindrance. Respecting that people land all across the scale of extroversion and introversion is imperative because we start interactions based on who we are and regardless of who the other person is. I would challenge you to not charge, or creep, into interactions. Feel things out. See if there is receptivity in initiating contact. It’s safer for all the verts to do this.

The other unexpected connection I made this week was listening to a podcast. I love listening to the HR Social Hour 1/2 Hour Podcast because it features fellow HR practitioners. You get to learn about them more as people including how they arrived in the field of HR, their varied experiences and some personal faves in movies, TV and music. This week’s episode featured Natasha Desjardins, an HR pro in the non-profit sector in Washington, D.C. She lit up the microphone with excitement and passion which was an instant draw for me personally.

She shared an incredibly profound statement which she stated is a personal philosophy that she has adopted which is an African proverb – “I am because WE are.” She described it so well stating that who she is as a person is because of all of the great variety of people in her life that are connected to her. She never said, “Because I’m an ______vert . . . We are __________verts.” Her joy about how she is intentionally connected to others was spectacular to hear. Honestly, I clapped in my car when the episode ended.

This week enjoy the interactions with everyone you encounter because of who they are and not because of some label !! We are far more than our “verts”, but we are also who we are because of them. Connect on purpose my friends. Show others how amazing the whole you really is !!

(P.S. – Start by connecting with Paul and subscribing to his blog and listen to Natasha on the podcast. You’ll be glad you did !!)

Tradition !!

This past week my wife and I went to see Fiddler on the Roof as part of the Broadway Series in Cincinnati. We love seeing live theater, and this is honestly one of my favorite musicals ever !! This version did not disappoint either. It had your attention from the moment the lights went down until the cast was “walking” out of their town of Anetevka to end the musical.

If you’ve never seen this great musical, I would highly recommend it. It has a great story line and the songs are all very memorable. The show starts with the powerful song “Tradition” where the various members of the little town in Russia during the turn of the 20th century all sing about their designated role. The main character, Tevye, is both narrator the one who carries the torch of tradition for himself, the townspeople and especially his five daughters.

During the opening song, Tevye has a line that says, “You may ask, ‘How did this tradition get started?’ I’ll tell you. I don’t know.” That seems to be the case with most traditions whether they be ones you have in your family or those within organizations. Even though we may not know the origin of traditions, we follow them fully just as they do in the show . . . at least for a while.

You see, I think there is value in tradition. Many people get this mixed up with the practice of doing things the same way because that’s “the way things have always been done.” If you come across this type of stagnation, then you have to challenge it and/or change it in some way. There is a natural change that happens in companies just due to the fact of the passing of time and the addition and deletion of people. Any time you get new folks involved on work and projects, change occurs simply because they aren’t the people who were involved in the past.

Traditions have their place in companies because they can give you a picture of what has worked in the past. Remember, you can always learn from the past. You just can’t constantly dwell in it. Traditions are an essential part of a company’s culture. They give flavor, distinction and help shape the fabric of what your company offers. These on-going facets are those that critical components of retention. Traditions can be a very positive aspect if they are healthy, living and inclusive.

The key movement in the musical is also a great lesson for us as HR professionals in organizations. Tevye wants to desperately hold on to the traditions of his past that you assume happened for generations. His daughters challenge him in every way and break with tradition by choosing a spouse when spouses had been traditionally agreed upon by the father and another family. He reluctantly gives in on the three who choose a partner because he sees all sides of what the change will bring. This includes the hope that his daughters would benefit from breaking with tradition.

We should look around within our companies to see what traditions need to be tweaked or altered all together. One reason for this is that making changes will allow for diversity to be present on purpose. You can seek the input of others and make sure the voices of everyone have a chance for input. The goal would be for them to benefit from the changes that happen.

Traditions are all around us and we can benefit from having them personally and in our companies. The key is to make sure they are current and relevant. Know why and how you have the traditions that make you great !!

Is This the Real Life ??

“Is this just fantasy? . . .”

The opening lyrics to the Queen classic anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody” grab me every time.  This weekend I went to see the movie, Bohemian Rhapsody, because I am a huge Queen fan, and have been for many decades. I loved it !! Now, I understand that it’s been getting some push back because of some inaccuracies, but it’s a movie. I didn’t go to critique it. I went to enjoy it, and I truly did !!

The music was, and still is, magnificent and I loved singing along in the theater. What intrigued me even more was some of the dynamics that were portrayed throughout the movie. I think there are some very interesting lessons we can learn from about being in a band that can be reflected in the workplace.

Unique Talent – Each member of the band brought something new to the makeup of them as a unit. This both brought them together and tore them apart. It’s difficult when you put various talents together because we tend to compare and desire that other’s share our talent. That isn’t usually possible. I think that we should encourage the strengths that each person brings and see how to meld those together.

Diversity of Thought – This is something that isn’t valued nearly enough. Each member of the band contributed different ideas and perspectives towards their various hits. At times, ideas can run contrary to the flow of where a team (band) is heading. It is hard to listen to contrarian thoughts, but great leadership makes space for all thoughts to be shared and considered. You may want to see if you encourage this diversity. You may be missing some great ideas waiting to be known !!

Incredible Bonds – The band realizes that they are much stronger together than they are apart. They each play their part which allows them to make incredible music. When a team hits their stride in the workplace, they can have this same type of success. It takes incredible work and a component we tend to avoid – conflict.  Rarely does a team come together to take on a project and get everything accomplished smoothly. Conflict is something that will occur. Since you know that the bond is critical, help people work through conflict instead of avoiding it.

Risk taking and Creativity – More voices can lead to a team to rally together. When the band recorded their classic anthem, the record company balked because it was longer than the standard three minute radio play of the day. The band wasn’t willing to accept that roadblock because they felt their work was worth it. In the end, their risk worked. We always say we desire risk taking and creativity in the workplace, but we rarely truly allow it. Teams can come together to be a “safe” lab to try things out and move in exciting and new directions.

So, when you get your teams (bands) together at work, I hope you look at all of the great facets they can bring to each other, the workplace as a whole and the contributions they can make. Who knows? Maybe they have an anthem in them as well. Take time to nurture teams and expect them to thrive, and this can be the real life at work and not a fantasy.

Something to Believe In !!

Do you remember the movie Bull Durham ?? It’s one of my all-time favorites. There’s a scene where Susan Sarandon meets with Tim Robbins (the talented pitching rookie) and Kevin Costner (the long-term minor league catcher), and she’s deciding who’ll she’ll be dating that season. Costner gets fed up being treated like he has to prove himself and stands to walk out. Sarandon challenges him and asks him what he believes in, and he gives one of the best answers ever captured in the movies. She responded almost breathlessly, “Oh my !!”

Costner’s character was ready to act on what he believed, and he held to it. I know it’s just a movie, but I appreciate the example. Belief in something greater than yourself is needed because it gives you direction and clarity. In today’s never ending stream of chaos, it seems that being someone who has beliefs isn’t popular.

Just using the word “belief” raises the defenses of others. This seems odd to me because having beliefs doesn’t mean that you are automatically contrary to others. I admire people who will be definitive and state what they believe in and stand by it. It doesn’t upset me or offend me that others have different beliefs than I do. In fact, I wouldn’t expect it to be otherwise because people are unique. Even if you picked one particular belief that two people “shared”, they would interpret it differently.

It also seems to me that people don’t want to talk and dialogue about having varying points of view. Instead, people want to scream their beliefs with the expectation that you support what they believe . . . or else. This saddens me. I value that people look at the world from different viewpoints and perspectives. I learn from others even if I don’t hold to what they believe. I don’t think that we should want everyone to be the same. All I’d like to see is that people respect differences. I think that if this occurred, then we’d have a chance to reach consensus on many things that would hopefully move us forward.

The reason I wanted to tackle this potentially volatile topic, is that I think it is a facet of what we do in HR. We work with people who come from drastically different backgrounds. Even when we think there may be similarities in people, they are far outweighed by the uniqueness that everyone brings to the workplace every day. Each of our employees has beliefs. They may, or may not, express them. But, you need to know they exist. It drives how they behave and how they perform.

We tend to shy away from asking about what our team members believe. I understand that because we’re not sure what we’ll hear. I think what’s key is not what you hear, but how you respond. I have found that when I take the time to listen to my team members I hear what they believe. Those thoughts and perspectives give me a better understanding of them as a human, and that’s the key.

I can’t lose sight that we’re in the business of humans. Ever.

So, this week, I want you to take the chance to understand that having beliefs is innately human. Then, I want to also challenge you to listen to what other’s believe in and not judge. You may not agree with them. Most likely you won’t. But, understanding humans is needed now more than ever.

Like I said in the beginning, I have beliefs. I believe that people want to do good more often than not. I believe in having faith and showing grace. I believe in encouragement and lifting others up consistently. I believe in creativity, laughter, enjoying tie-dye and all types of music. I’m defined by my beliefs . . . and you are defined by yours.

Us and Them

I am a self-avowed Pink Floyd fan. Seriously. I have everything they’ve ever done on vinyl and CD’s. Yes, I know streaming exists, but that’s for another post . . .

As I was driving this weekend, I was taking in The Dark Side of the Moon which is just an epic set and I heard the track – Us and Them. Note the words of the title. It’s “and” not “vs.”

Lately, I have been struggling with everyone demanding that people take a side on issues that may, or may not, be important. I think people use a filter that if it’s important to them personally, then they expect everyone else to have that same level of interest. That’s not reasonable or feasible. I think there are issues that have larger social implications than others. I do feel that you need to have a position on those as you see fit. The difficulty is that people are now expecting that almost all of their life circumstances demand that people take a side. It’s exhausting !!

Our model in HR, and work in general, follows the “versus” side of the us and them dilemma. We tend to feel that we are expected to be on the side of the company or management by the nature of our role. Unfortunately, many folks who practice HR believe this wholeheartedly. I think this is essential, but it’s only one side of the equation. I’d like to propose a new approach. Don’t have an “us” or “them.” Only have an “us.”

This has to happen in organizations because if it doesn’t we can’t truly be diverse. The more factions we establish, or allow, the more dysfunctional we are. I understand that the unique nature of each person can lead to friction or divisiveness, but I think that only happens WHEN we take sides. HR has an opportunity unlike any other role within an organization because we can move and float from the most senior leaders to the front lines. We can work with every department and get to know the employees for who they are and in what they believe.

Great HR weaves people together instead of allowing people to pull themselves apart.

A key to making a culture of “us” is to make sure that all employees are heard, accounted for and not left behind. It’s hard to do this because of the nature of our roles as well as our disposition. I wish HR people would be more honest and admit that we spend more time with folks we like than will all employees. It’s natural because that’s what all humans do. Therefore, it takes more focus and discipline to ensure that employees are included. Remember, inclusion is not a program, it’s an action.

This next week, start seeing where the us and them camps exist. Evaluate them and see how you can bring people together and still allow them to be the fabulous, unique and diverse people they are. It’s worth it !!

To get you in the mood, I leave you with some inspiration . . .

Untitled

This past weekend I was in Chicago for a combination of events. First of all, I was a speaker at the HR Conference for Legal Professionals through ALA. Secondly, I was also celebrating my 28th wedding anniversary with my amazing wife !! We’ve been in Chicago several times and it is one of our favorite cities to visit. We’ve arrived in a different phase in our lives because we like to see sites that are off the beaten path that others may overlook for the big (traditional) attractions.

This time we decided to take in art. We did a walking tour to see the gigantic sculptures from Picasso, Chagall, Calder, Kapoor and Dubuffet. Those are hard to miss. We also went to the ground floor of Macy’s (the old Marshall Field store) to see the Victorian Age stained glass panels. We stumbled upon the Chicago Cultural Center and ended up taking a tour of the building as well as enjoy the Architectural Biennial exhibit going on. We took one more adventure to see the Museum of Contemporary Art – Chicago. At the MCA, we met Ray who was a docent at the museum. He was going to give us a tour of the 50th anniversary exhibition entitled “We Are Here.”

Now, I don’t know if you’re into art or not, but I’m a fan. My wife is learning, but is a bit more skeptical about some items classified as “art.” That’s probably how many folks feel, and Ray even noted that because we tend to think we could splash paint on a canvas. The tour he gave took an hour through one room of the museum. One room. It was spectacular !! He described the nuances of pieces that I would have normally passed by with disinterest or disdain.

As he was leading our group through the exhibit, he stopped and said something that really stuck with me. He pointed out an abstract piece hanging on the wall and said, “Do you know why many art pieces are called ‘Untitled’?” We all shook our heads and no one offered an answer. He then said, “The artist does this because it allows YOU to see it however you’d like. There’s no right or wrong. It’s whatever you want it to be according to your interpretation.”

After he said this, I began to look at each piece of art with an appreciation. There are still pieces I don’t comprehend, but that’s on me and not the artist for creating it. I actually found myself enjoying the separate pieces more, and took time to look more intently at them to think about what I could take in. I even began to speculate more than one possible explanation about paintings and sculptures.

It made me think about how I approach people both in HR and in general. People are truly works of art themselves !! Too often we want to “title” them with some label or stereotype so we can better frame them within our point of view. When people don’t fit those labels we dismiss them or ignore them because we can’t fully make them fit into our perspective.

That’s sad when you think about it. How many decisions are made each day because of how we “title” someone? I would venture to say that most decisions are made based on our biases. We need to change our approach towards people.

From now on I challenge you to see people as “untitled.” People who are mysterious, unknown, creative, intelligent and full of idiosyncrasies and nuances. People weren’t created to fit. They were created to add to the experience and existence of others. Just. Like. Art.

Drop the titles and start enjoying the uniqueness of the people in your life. I assure you that you will start appreciating folks for who they are, and not who you think they should be.