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 !!

Being a Dad

It’s Father’s Day once again. This can bring up a variety of memories for people. I know that not everyone has had a great relationship with their father. I’m fortunate because the experience with my fathers has been great for different reasons and for different periods of time. In the past, I’ve written about my biological dad who passed away when I was only four years old. I’ve also been able to capture the amazing time I had with my “stepdad” who was around for the majority of my life who passed away at the end of 2020. This year I wanted to share my reflections about being a dad.

I’ve been a dad for over 27 years now. My wife and I have two wonderful kids who are now adults – Melanie and Josh. I don’t take it for granted that we fit into the stereotypical nuclear family model. We have had far more ups than downs. Please understand that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our struggles, arguments, and disagreements over the years. It’s intriguing to me that when people share experiences that are positive, it’s met with skepticism and critique. There’s this insinuation that there must be something else that just isn’t being shared. Sorry to disappoint.

I love being a dad. It is probably the “work” that I value more than any other personal accomplishment I’ve been able to have. You see, I want my kids to know that they are loved just as they are and through whatever they face. I want to be the dad who laughs with them and holds them when things get emotional. I want to listen so that they are heard, and offer solutions only if they ask for options. It gives me great joy to celebrate with them when they have new life experiences. And, it touches me deeply when they contact me for advice.

You see, the most important thing I get to do is to be a model for them. They’ve seen when I’ve been loving and affectionate with my wife and with them. They’ve also witnessed when I’ve failed them and others. At times they’ve heard me yell at something I thought mattered SOOOOOO much when it usually didn’t. I’ve always strived to be genuine, vulnerable, and transparent with them. I cherish when they make fun of me when I tear up at a TV commercial. They eagerly wait to pounce on the first senseless tear and howl with glee when it happens (which is often.)

I love seeing them grow up to learn about life. I want to jump in and take care of everything, but know that I need to step back so they learn from life just like my dad did for me. I make sure to check in on them often to hear what’s happening in their corner of the world while also sharing what’s happening in mine. I share my faith, my successes, and my frustrations. We jostle over politics, social issues, and musical tastes.

They have always known that I’m the dad who was willing to jump in, be goofy, and make sure their friends always felt our house was a second home for them. I continue to strive to be the dad who encourages and takes interest in the people in their lives. I want to be the dad who can’t wait to see the next Marvel movie or ride the scary amusement park ride with them.

I know that this may sound sappy and sentimental (and I’m cool with that in so many ways.) I wouldn’t trade a second of the time I’ve been a dad. Not one. I look forward to growing old and staying an intricate part of their lives whatever comes. I don’t have a set of goals for them to meet or unreal expectations to measure whether they’ve “made it” or not.

It’s just a privilege to be a dad. I love it !!

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 !!

A Cup of Coffee

It’s hard to believe that the pandemic is approaching its one-year anniversary. I’m sure no one expected or wanted to go through a single moment of this. There are so many things that have been changed forever. At first, people were hopeful for a return to what they were accustomed to because that was our norm. Societal change was forced upon us and it has been challenging. It continues to press upon everyone in various ways.

The aspect of life that I have missed the most is being able to gather in person with others. I’m not talking about mass events like conferences, concerts or sporting events. I have missed grabbing a cup of coffee and hanging out in coffee shops.

This past weekend, my daughter came to visit which is something my wife and I always enjoy. We caught up, talked about her work and life and then settled into having her around the house. She asked me if I’d like to go check out a new coffee shop that one of her high school classmates recently opened. It was a half-hour drive from our house and the ride was incredible. Having one-on-one time with your child should always be a blessing regardless of their age. The conversation flowed easily and we were taking note of the sights of a neighborhood we weren’t familiar with as we looked for the coffee shop.

As we pulled into a parking spot along a crowded street, we saw the converted mechanic’s garage which was now the Square Mile Coffee Company. We were able to order a couple of wonderful hot beverages AND take a seat in the coffee shop !! It was magnificent. It was just as I remembered it even though the tables were spaced miles apart. There were others in the coffee shop as well and it was touching to hear the banter and laughter from one group while another person was sitting with his laptop.

I know that we’re still far from being able to be social in person on a larger scale. However, the glimmer of hope that this visit to a coffee shop gave me was just what I needed. There are more and more conversations happening about people experiencing loneliness and fatigue. What would happen if you took a step to have a cup of coffee with someone today? I understand that you may not be able to do it in person, but you could still make it happen. Sure, we’re all tired of looking at screens, but what if you took a look at it a bit differently?

Having some focused time to have a conversation with someone may just be the lift they need. It will recharge you as well. This week, I’m going to be intentional in reaching out to my peers in HR who would like to grab a coffee and some conversation. It’s going to be one-on-one and I really don’t care what we talk about. The work we do in HR is hard and we often don’t have someone to talk to that understands all that goes into being an HR practitioner. I’m not complaining. I’m just stating a reality.

I want to make the time for this to make this a new practice and not something to return to. I have decided to stop waiting for our environment to change. We can get together now. Don’t be surprised if I reach out to you to ask for a few minutes to share a hot cup of coffee (or your preferred beverage). I’d encourage you to do the same with those you know.

Let’s have a cup of coffee !!

Others Needed

This past week I joined a conversation with friends on Clubhouse. Now, I know it’s all the new rage, and it’s fun to see people get excited about gathering.

(Quick obligatory disclaimer – This post isn’t about the new platform, and I understand it works with iPhone users and not Android users at this time. It isn’t about jumping on a bandwagon either. Read the rest of the post and you’ll see why . . .)

I was asked to join four friends and we were going to talk about leading remote workers. What was amazing is that the five of us were located in New York City, New York; Granada, Spain; Manchester, England; Concord, New Hampshire and Cincinnati, Ohio. As others joined in the chat, there were others from all corners of the planet. It fascinates me that peers chose to show up for a conversation !! And, then it hit me . . .

Our topic was timely and is something facing the new definition of work and the workspace. Noted. It also had people with different perspectives and experiences with this new environment. Noted again. What was most intriguing to me though was the engagement, energy, respect, laughter and encouragement !! Then it sank in . . .

We need others in our lives.

I think this simple notion is overlooked and misconstrued in far too many ways. We come up with ways to discredit, distance or overanalyze this human reality. We want to say that there’s “more to it” because it can’t be that basic. We are far too intelligent, complex and knowledgeable. We can’t just “need” each other.

It is that simple.

If you know me at all, I thrive on connecting people. It drives me and fills my bucket. I want to make sure that anyone I encounter is not only connected to me, but to others who may anchor them more to reaffirm that they are needed. I’m not kidding. I would think that a significant portion of every day is made up of various quick check-ins and barometer checks with friends around the globe. This is on top of having the same approach with the people I’m fortunate enough to work with. As humans, we are wired with a desire to be connected and needed by others.

I’m concerned that people are walking in and around us feeling lonely, isolated and not wanted. There is a myriad of reasons why that is their reality. I’m not going to be bold enough to try to give a litany of reasons for this disconnectedness. I don’t have to have a “reason” to connect with others. If you’re a fellow human, you’ve passed the only criteria I find necessary. People don’t need to jump through hoops in order to know they’re needed with me. Nor do I fault someone else who feels they need to make sure it’s safe and valuable for them to connect with me.

While we were having our chat, I also took the time to tweet and share some of the insights that people were giving. You could feel the energy of our time together grow even more !! People who weren’t able to join could now learn and comment. You see, I feel we get into a trap of getting excited about events and our focus is purely on those that participate at the time. That is incredible, but the way we make sure others are aware, informed, interested and even geeked is if we have a mixture of an internal and external mechanism with interactions. This isn’t for notoriety. It’s to make sure no one is left out.

This week look around. You’re going to have a multitude of conversations and interactions in person, virtually and online. Keep your head up and make sure the others you’re talking to know they’re needed . . . on purpose. Don’t assume that just because they’re in the conversation that they’re connected. You can be a person who becomes THE anchor for someone and not even know it. You may unlock the talent of someone because they were intentionally acknowledged.

Remember you’re needed. Others need you and you need others. It’s that simple.

All You Need Is . . .

It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m exhausted. It’s not physical exhaustion. It’s that I’m emotionally and mentally drained. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel that I’m alone in feeling this.

I know there are a multitude of factors that play into this, but the main one is the constant message bombardment of fear, negativity, and inflammatory stories I see from the “news” regardless of the outlet. It seems that we continue to put out information that is meant to put us on edge and evoke some overly charged response of disdain or disbelief. Add on top of this that once something is posted, shared or released, then the wave of comments starts hitting the shore. People reply in snippets of raw emotion and rarely seek, or ask for, context. It is far easier to launch a volley. And, I think people long for a returned volley so the comments can spiral into a deeper and deeper hole of disparagement.

Ironically, it’s come to the point that when people choose to post something positive, people launch on that as well. They claim that people are faking their lives and only showing good things. Pause. Reread that sentence. We’re pissed that someone has something positive to share.

I understand that the world is filled with horrific things. I’m not naive to think that these things can’t be shared or unearthed. When things get overlooked or buried, the terrible actions and/or behaviors continue. I just think that we can change the approach and method of how we communicate with each other – including the tough things.

(Random side thought – My head is already wondering if people are just sitting there waiting to counter each word of this post. That saddens me to even have that thought. Back to the post . . .)

I believe in people. I believe in those who share my views, likes and opinions just as I do with those who don’t share them. Do I struggle with people? Yes. Just as sure as I think others struggle with me. We’re human and we live in a broken world. Even in the midst of that, I believe most people are good. I really do.

Just having that posture makes people scoff and throw up skepticism. We share experiences of how someone hurt another person. I’m sure each of those experiences are valid and personal. I’ve been hurt. I’ve had people hurt others in my immediate family. I’ve experienced loss of family and dear friends throughout my lifetime.

I don’t view life as a mass of either/or situations where I’m forced to land on one side or another. I’m an if/then person and in every circumstance in my life I choose to say that “if” such and such happens, “then” I choose to respond as positively as possible – even in the most difficult of incidents. You may think that’s unrealistic, but it’s something I hold on to.

We live in a time when people don’t feel they have anyone who believes in them. It fills conversations at work, on social media platforms and in public forums. I understand that it’s not feasible to reach everyone and close this gap. However, for those I’m fortunate enough to have in my life, I can act and lift them up.

I have faith that this small action will make a difference – even for a moment. I want to see the tone of conversations change to become a rich dialogue where people are heard and valued regardless of their perspective. If they are struggling with an issue in life or society, they know they have someone who is there for them to listen – not to solve or jump to conclusions. I don’t want them to feel invisible, unheard or ignored. I want to be someone at work, in HR, online, and in-person who is willing to challenge the norm and change the narrative. I want to show that there are amazing, positive and uplifting things happening all the time around us. It’s not all awful. In fact, it’s far from it.

It’s ironic to me that we set one day aside each calendar year to “celebrate” love on Valentine’s Day. I would rather suggest that love become our norm every day. I know it’s easy to think it can’t be this simple, but you need to start somewhere. For you see, all you need is . . .

Connecting

I’m a fan of Twitter. I know that may run contrary to the majority of people out there. I’ve been active for 13 years on the platform and I still enjoy it every day. I don’t enjoy it for news, celebrity gossip or politics. I’m not naive to think that this platform, along with many others, can be used for dissension, negativity and anger. That is honestly true with any form/method of communication. Any forum can be used in a myriad of ways. I choose to be positive.

I participate because I love the people. Seriously. I see Twitter as a way to connect with people around the globe in a matter of seconds. How cool is that? For me, it’s a quick way to see the good work of others and share it to make sure that many voices are heard. I can go on and on about the attributes I find attractive, but I want to share about one in particular.

When Twitter first began, people used Fridays as a day to put the hashtag #FF (Follow Friday) out there to recommend and encourage others to connect more. You have to remember that back in 2008, people weren’t connected nearly as much as they are now. It was fun to find HR peers and get everyone to know each other. It eliminated the boundaries of geography and time zones and started to pull the profession together more intentionally.

Like most efforts, you can tire of things. What once brought energy and excitement turned into seeing many of the same faces and names over and over again. It even became negative among some people and it, unfortunately, became comparative because you’d see some people often and new people rarely. So, people stopped doing #FF or they took potshots at it. That was sad because its intent never changed. The way people viewed it did.

I didn’t get dragged down or discouraged by people no longer participating though. I saw value because I looked at it as a way to truly connect and not be a popularity contest. Now, I did stop doing it weekly because that level of repetition was ineffective. Fast forward to 2021 . . .

This past Friday, I took the time to launch an extensive set of tweets for #FF. Believe it or not, this is now a bit risky because I was put in Twitter “jail” awhile back because they thought that I pre-programmed my tweets and they didn’t understand why I listed so many names in a short burst of time. They may have thought my account was a bot or that I was spamming and phishing others because this approach isn’t the “norm” of how people connect. I reached out to Twitter, as much as they’ll allow, to explain that I was not a bot, but they just kept me in detention for a bit.

This past Friday, a friend from the UK asked how I listed all of the names and I shared the truth. I type in each person’s name. Every. Time. I always have. There’s a reason for this.

I list each person by “name” because I want those with whom I’m connected to know that they matter. It’s important that we’re connected because I consider them part of my community. I don’t see this as a who’s who list. I want people to know that I see them and value who they are and what they contribute.

We don’t take the time to remind people about this nearly enough. I do my best to have some form of a relationship with anyone who is kind enough to want to be connected to me. I don’t take it for granted. Too many people aren’t encouraged or given affirmation. It’s something I can’t see overlooked. Please note that this is true for me with my family, my friends and my co-workers.

I heard a quote recently that hit me. “Community isn’t built on convenience. Community is built on time, effort and energy.” That’s the truth. My hope in listing people is that someone connects with someone else and that leads them to build a community. How you do it is up to you. The key is that you have one based on how you truly connect. It’s also important to stay true to your capacity. If you’re someone who is good with giving your time and effort to many people, then have a large community or several communities. If you would feel more comfortable with a smaller community, then make that happen as well. There is no one way to do this.

This week, I encourage you to connect with someone. Check to make sure they aren’t alone or isolated. Let others around you know they matter. You may be the one person who connected with them at the perfect time. Remind others they matter as well. In doing this, we’ll come together in ways that are meaningful and lasting.

Be a Culture Maker !!

Do you remember when you were a little kid? If not, do you know little kids? I’m sure you do. Little kids are brilliant because they love everything around them. The world is a place to be explored, and they are filled with endless curiosity. They also have few, if any, lenses to help them define their world. However they process it, they’re comfortable with their assessment.

You see this when you ask them to draw or color something. If you give a child a blank piece of paper and some markers, crayons or paint, you never know what the final outcome will be !! After they passionately create their image, they eagerly hold it up to you for your approval. Your first instinct is to ask them what the picture is and they proudly declare, “It’s a pony !!” when it is a mish-mash of squiggly lines with no form, “proper” color usage or assignment. As their parent, you swallow the instant challenge to your logic because they’re your child and you affirm them. “That’s the best pony I’ve ever seen.” Then, you grab a magnet and place it on the refrigerator for everyone to see. You don’t hide their creation. You proudly display it . . . as you should.

Recently, my wife was cleaning out some boxes in a closet and she came upon some of those wildly imaginative creations our two kids (now in their 20’s) made when they were young. She snapped pictures of them and sent them out to everyone to ask who these brilliant artists were. The same exultation and joy they showed when they made these “pictures” decades ago came through their replies. They argued which one was the most creative and a friendly competition ensued. It was magnificent !!

Of course, seeing this interaction and freedom in creation reminded me of HR. However, my reflection wasn’t as joyful.

You see, we don’t allow the same creativity in our organizations as we do with young kids. Why is that? What are we afraid of? Would it be so awful if someone came up with an idea that fell outside the normal pattern of work? Do we think that someone will come up with something that will send the company in a tailspin if we allowed them unencumbered freedom?

It’s interesting, isn’t it? As HR professionals, we are the shepherds of a company’s culture. I actually contend we own the culture far more than senior management, but that is seen as a “coloring outside the lines” by many in our profession. We are much more content to take our place inside a corporate structure and act as culture constrainers vs. culture makers.

Don’t believe me? My wife was just given a policy at her work that ALL masks worn (due to the current pandemic) may be solid colors ONLY !!!!!!! Any pattern and/or writing is not allowed and you will be addressed if you dare cross this. So, is the emphasis to wear a mask to provide protection for yourself and others to promote a safe work environment? Or, is this yet another example of something that could have been addressed with a few conversations with the employees who were wearing masks that were acting as advertisements for something that went against the companies values or mission?

(Quick side note: This isn’t an argument about face coverings. It’s an example of how HR misses the boat on their actions in the context of the culture they have a chance to create. Back to the post . . .)

We should be culture makers !! We have the ability to give people permission to do their work in a variety of ways that don’t have to be prescriptive. I understand there may be methods and processes which are proven and work well. But, if no one ever steps back to evaluate, test and challenge those processes we end up with a group of people who go through the motions. Then we praise predictability, repetitiveness and normality. These, in turn, become the metrics for performance and the chance for innovation is impeded and discouraged.

This starts with us as HR practitioners. We have to get out of our rut and practice of confining people. It’s time to open the gates and allow people to have input, insight and ideas about how their job should be done. We should evaluate our processes and procedures to see if they give people the ability to fully engage and do their job, or if they’re just a set of do’s/don’ts. (They’re mainly don’ts by the way.)

I challenge you to start coloring like you did when you were a kid. Don’t worry if you stay in the lines or if the color you use is the “right” one. When someone asks you what you just created, say, “It’s a pony !!” even if they don’t see it. Trust me. The more willing you are to be creative and unconventional in HR, the brighter culture you will help create.

So, I’ll get the blank piece of paper and a bunch of crayons and markers. Let’s see what cultures we can make !!