The Best Day !!

This weekend my wife and I took a day to have an adventure. We’re trying to make sure to get out and try new things and see new places. We went to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. We had perfect weather and arrived just as the gates opened. I personally was geeked because I grew up next to a horse farm and always enjoy anything I can do to get to farm-related events.

We made our way to one of the barns to see the horses being groomed. The stalls were filled with magnificent draft horses. After a show featuring some horses that were racing champions, we made our way to the Parade of Breeds. As we took our seats on some metal stands a young boy crawled up behind us and sat on his mother’s lap so he could see. He was fascinated by every, single horse that entered the arena. One horse was covered in a full costume as if he was in a medieval joust and his rider was costumed as well. The young boy squealed with delight and exclaimed that for Halloween he wanted to have a horse that wore a costume and he would wear one too !! His mom was so encouraging and told him that would be great.

After the show, we grabbed a wonderful lunch of loaded nachos. As we were starting to eat, the same young boy came strolling by with his family. He saw what we were eating and he shouted, “They have walking tacos ?? THIS IS THE BEST DAY !!!

His exuberance was heartfelt and palpable. He couldn’t contain himself. One quick note. He was the only child in a large group of adults and it didn’t phase him in the least. Every activity he participated in brought him unadulterated joy. I was taken by his response and it made me wonder.

Do I have “best days?”

I am a consistently positive person for the most part. I get frustrated at times and even angry. It happens more than I’d like to admit. As I reflect while writing this, most of the things that detract from being positive are minor and self-focused. For instance, I could get ticked that someone cuts me off on the road during my commute. Instead of thinking that the others around me are on a commute as well, my blood pressure rises. When someone is critical of my work, I want to step back and breathe, but that usually occurs after my emotions take hold first.

I’m sure you could come up with examples just like these and more. It doesn’t help that the majority of people you encounter throughout the day look at what’s wrong with the day first. On top of that, we are surrounded by news, social media and conversations that spend more time tearing down than building up.

I refuse to follow that trend. I want to be like the young boy taking in life as an endless picture of wonderment. I don’t think this is unrealistic or naive. I don’t want this to be something that is aspirational. I want it to be seen in my behavior and my interactions with others. In fact, I would love to see more people join me in this endeavor.

This is something that I will strive for personally and would also challenge those in HR to adopt it as well. Think what our profession and our workplaces would look like if every day was a “best day.” First of all, people would be stunned. How cool would that be? We could set our companies on edge by having a genuinely positive outlook. Seems radical doesn’t it? Secondly, how amazing would someone else’s day be if they saw you having a best day?

This calls for us to take in life and all that it offers and see the joy and opportunity in front of us instead of falling into the trap of negativity and sullenness. This also requires us to be others-focused and have faith that things will go well for them and for us as we work together.

The young boy probably didn’t realize how refreshing and countercultural he was this weekend. I’m grateful that we crossed paths and that I was reminded of how to have a best day every day !!

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 !!

Do Some Pruning !!

Last weekend I had a chance to head back to my hometown to visit with my mom. My wife and I always love traveling to Ada, Ohio because it’s honestly like stepping into a Hallmark movie. A small, midwestern town with a dedicated Main Street. It’s incorporated as a village because it’s not big enough to warrant other titles.

We went up not only to visit but to take in the 4th of July festivities !! My hometown hadn’t had fireworks for over 50 years and we got to experience this coming back. Even better, we watched them with our extended family in my cousin’s backyard. So very cool. We also heard the Lima Symphony Orchestra play an outdoor concert and it was spectacular to hear live music once again.

Those two things would have made the visit complete. However, I always make sure to see if there’s anything I can do for my mom around the house. It’s cathartic to be able to help her out and take care of some chores that she shouldn’t do as much anymore. She’s still very vibrant, active and engaged at 82 years young, but I don’t want her getting up and down ladders or doing more physical things when I can help. After cleaning the gutters, I went to the bigger task of the day – pruning.

My parents have always had great landscaping and curb appeal around their ranch-style house. So, we weren’t trying to work our way through a jungle of various plants. We were going to shape and prune some things to give them more definition and get them off the house and the siding. Also, cutting plants back allowed the sun and rain to reach smaller plants that surrounded the ones getting attention.

As I went to work with some electric shears on the first shrubbery, I noticed some overgrowth at the base of the plant that was honestly taking away nutrients from the main core of the bush. That needed to be pruned by hand. This is much slower, concentrated and meticulous. I had to crawl on the ground and reach up into the middle of various branches which poked and prodded every movement. After several well-placed cuts, the bush looked less frazzled and frayed. You could see the base of the beautiful shrub and it now was a focal point of the front corner of the house.

I continued working my way around the house with the hand pruners at the ready to give each plant some love and attention. It was wonderful to have some quiet time to myself and concentrate. As I was clipping and trimming, I began to see how the work I was doing was essential for the plant to thrive. Of course, it made me think of how this same action could be utilized in the workplace.

Pruning isn’t natural at work. We are far more focused on innovation, creativity and production. All movements are geared toward making more and more and more. It’s how we measure performance and how we reward and compensate people. We don’t feel we have time to ever step back and pause. It isn’t true, but we tell ourselves it is. With this incessant pace to always press ahead, work becomes misshapen, fragmented and unruly. We can’t keep up with all of the separate areas of growth. We need to be pruned!!

All of the benefits that I gave to my mom’s plants are true with work and people. If we cut back on some activities, then people can grow from their core and their strengths. If we untangle the things that pull at our base and foundation, then our people can stand firm and assured in what they do. Also, if we pull things back in line, we may see other people who have been overshadowed and need some light and nourishment themselves.

As HR pros, we would benefit our organization if we were those who recognized and made sure pruning happens. I’m not talking about reducing the size of your workforce. I’m talking about being the gardeners who see when things need more attention, care and some clipping. Doing this helps those that lead people to see the need for ALWAYS being mindful of their people.

This week get the pruners out and move around the office to see where your handiwork may reshape people in order for them to blossom, thrive and grow with purpose !!

A Window into HR !!

This past week you may have heard me laughing so loud from the great thing that happened at our offices. Seriously. I couldn’t control myself and it was fantastic.

You see, working for a restaurant company, our Team Members have been present and essential throughout the entire pandemic. We took every safety precaution we could and they pulled through in a magnificent way. We honestly wouldn’t be where we are today without them. (That’s not a new reality by the way. Our team members are the reason we succeed all the time.)

Our corporate office went through the cycle of fully remote, partially remote, hybrid and then in person. We have always had a flexible approach to work so we don’t have a policy. Instead, we have an expectation – Wherever you are, do your work. As things have changed over time and vaccinations have been available, we’ve seen more people choose to be back in person.

An adjoining department to HR is our operations, communications, and training group. Two of my co-workers had put up a plexiglass barrier to make sure they were safe in the office during all that had been going on. With things getting back to “normal”, I stopped by to visit (as I do every day) and made a quick side comment that it was okay to move the barrier if they wanted to. This week they moved it and put it up on top of a file cabinet. It took me by surprise and I commented how I loved where they put it.

Without blinking an eye or missing a beat, they stated, “It’s our window into HR.” I thought that was spectacular and told them how much I loved it. I happened to step out for a late lunch and got a text from them asking if I was coming back. If I was, could I come back and visit again. I was intrigued and hurried back.

When I turned the corner into their department, I lost it and the laughter ensued. Here’s the evidence . . .

They decorated the window into HR and I was touched. It was so personal and showed that we had a great relationship. I’m grateful for that. My team and their team work together often and it’s a joy to work with them. I asked them to keep it up and they reassured me they would.

Their fun office addition did make me think. Do people in your company have a window into HR? When I hear stories from employees I would question whether most truly do. I don’t think that should be the case.

We should have learned over this past 15+ months that everything at work is people-related. It always has been, but now people have acknowledged this truth. I have a feeling that most people’s “window” into our world is when an issue arises. Unfortunately, that may be the only time they interact with us. We should stop complaining that this is how we’re viewed and change what they see and experience.

I would love the window into HR to become where people look forward to interacting with us and that we intentionally reach out to everyone on a regular basis. We have the ability to foster and build our company’s cultures, elevate the performance of people and be the connector to pull together departments and levels of the organization so there is more cohesiveness. I don’t think this is out of reach or Utopian. I think it’s a choice.

This week get some cleaner out and see what your window looks like. Make sure that people not only have a view into who you are and what you do, but that they get to know you and work with you on purpose. Let people in. Remove the blinds and include them in the great work you do in making your company a people-first environment !!

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 !!

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 !!