We Can Be Heroes !!

This past week the rock universe took one of it’s brightest stars back. The legendary David Bowie passed away after his battle with cancer. I have been a fan of his for decades.

Oddly enough, the first time I saw him was during a Christmas special where he sang the “Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby. I remember watching the special with my Dad and he wondered who the “weird guy” was singing with Crosby. I said, “That’s David Bowie Dad, and he’s cool !!” He disagreed and thought that it was surreal to see the immortal crooner singing with this thin, pale British singer.

David BowieI’ve always been drawn to Bowie because he was willing to be himself. He never followed the norms that were expected in his music, his appearance or his approach. I also admired that he continued to remain relevant throughout his entire life when many of his peers faded into oblivion.

There are many attributes of David Bowie that I think translate well into how I practice HR and would love to see others consider and adopt. Please note that much of this is already happening. You just need to own it.

  • Be Genuine and Authentic

You could never note any time where David Bowie was not himself. He may have seemed contrary to his contemporaries, but he never apologized for it. I think HR people should be bold in who they are personally and professionally. It doesn’t mean that you should be avant-garde just to stand out. It does, however, call for you to not have an “HR/work face” and your normal face. There are too many people who feel that they can’t be themselves in HR and they end up being frustrated. If a company can’t accept you for who you are and how to practice HR, then don’t stay in that role or at that company. You’ll never have as much of an impact as you could.

  • Define new boundaries

Bowie shocked the rock world during his androgynous, glam rock Ziggy Stardust phase. He morphed into the sleek, fashionable man of the 80’s and then went a completely different route in the 90’s and 00’s with his band Tin Machine and working with artists like Trent Reznor. He constantly looked for new ways to be artistic and share his gift. It kept him relevant and others were inspired because he was willing to take risks and reinvent himself.

HR is reluctant to change. We feel the tried and true will always work, and we just need to apply it with small tweaks and adjustments. That just isn’t true. The biggest threat to our profession is whether we will stay relevant as a profession. To make sure we do, we need to see new boundaries and step out to set them. You don’t need permission. You just need to don the next phase of your career and adapt.

  • Share Your Work

I think there are too many of my peers who keep to themselves. This isn’t a matter of introversion vs. extroversion. HR people tend to sell themselves short and don’t recognize the impact they have on people every day. The music and contributions David Bowie made would have been diminished if he created and then shared his work with only a few people around him. Even though he was different, he stepped forward and shared his artistry with the world. He couldn’t keep things to himself and neither should we.

HR that only serves HR is meaningless. The business world without HR will continue to move on if we insist on working and living in arenas and forums outside of them. We need to be different ourselves and bring a fresh, challenging effort to what we do. As Bowie said, “We can be heroes. Just for one day.”

His message was meant to push others. His music was meant to make you see and think differently. He was one of my rock heroes and his impact will live on in HR if I have something to say about it !!

 

Your Voice Matters !!

The calendar has turned which is always exciting !! I’m really geeked about this year because it is also a Presidential election year. This post isn’t about one candidate or another because I think everyone should make their own choice for who they support. It’s unique this year because we have those vying for their party’s nomination and they are either polarizing or nominal. But it’s January. I’m sure many things will change before November comes !!

There is another event which has a major impact on Human Resources which happens on Tuesday, 1/12/16 and that is the State of the Union address. It is President Obama’s final address and it will surely be filled with issues and items that affect the workplace. Don’t believe me ?? Check out his past address which ushered in the Affordable Care Act, several labor initiatives and a call for other items ranging from wages to paid leave.

The fact is EVERY State of the Union address directly affects HR and the workplace. This isn’t a political call to action, it’s a reality. For the past few years the great team at SHRM‘s Governmental Affairs have been hosting the #HRSOTU – the HR State of the Union Twitter chat.

I’ve made sure to watch the speech every year and also participate in the Twitter chat. It matters because it gets out the voice of HR and our perspective on the items that come up. You may say . . . but it’s just something on Twitter. Fair enough. However, every time we have one of these, it gets attention from folks in Washington, D.C. It plants seeds for an opportunity to possibly discuss these workplace items with congressional staff locally or personally in D.C.

We Want to Hear From YouIt’s very easy to say “No” to opportunities like these and continue to implement whatever comes out as the newest law or regulation. We can sit by and just react, or we can make our voices heard. I personally know the impact that being an advocate for HR has. I’ve participated in Visit the Hill days with SHRM several times, advocated in my home state, participated in roundtables with the Department of Labor, and was even fortunate enough to testify in front of Congress. This isn’t meant to be a “brag” list. It’s an example of a regular person who is an HR professional who wants to make sure legislators hear the voices of employers and employees. You are one of those HR practitioners too !!

Every time I’ve participated, the staff and/or representatives of Congress want to hear from us and not lobbyists. They want context and not posturing. It only takes your willingness to step out and try it. They want to hear your voice and your perspective. You have that built in already !! HR advocacy is key to our profession and will help shape things. Wouldn’t you rather have your voice heard than to be silent?

Start with a first step by participating in the #HRSOTU Twitter chat with me and several other great HR folks from around the country. Let’s observe, comment and share. It matters !!

The Year of Others !!

It is rare that you get to write a blog post on your actual birthday when you write a weekly post, but today is my day !! I’m thankful to be another year older and geeked for what this year holds (and hopefully many more years to come !!)

I’ve seen many year-end posts chock full of predictions and resolutions for HR for 2016. I’ve never been a big fan of resolutions because we talk more about how they fail than they succeed. I dig the aspiration side of what they represent, but few ever expect them to result in sustainable change.

I’d like to take a page from the Chinese Zodiac where they have the Year of the  . . . (insert animal of they year of your birth) and declare for HR that this is  . . . The Year of Others !!’

So, what does this effort entail ?? I’d like to throw out to the profession that HR needs to be focused on others and not themselves. This isn’t some fluffy feel good idea. It’s a viable way to influence business and affect the bottom line. The difficulty is that it takes a change in our mindset. Focusing on other people goes contrary to the “What’s In It for Me (WIIFM)” mantra. The thought that you have to identify the trigger for every single person as their WIIFM and make that a reality is not feasible.

However, spending time – uninterrupted time – with others at all levels of an organization is priceless and a differentiator. Why? It’s simple. People don’t do it now. Companies, especially at the executive level, feel that when you spend time with people you’re “wasting time” because things aren’t “getting done.” They’re wrong.

Their is NOTHING more valuable and long lasting than investing time in others.

Others ButtonIt’s so difficult because we are surrounded by a society that is self-centered. The majority of social media is predicated on how many views, likes, retweets, etc. that one gets. People are more than willing to post their own work but rarely will they curate and post the work of others.

You have to understand that if you join this Year of Others effort that you will be going against the flow. It gets tiring and you could get discouraged, but it’s worth it !! You have to trust me on this. Organizations, and senior management, are looking for ways that HR can be a business partner, and that can happen if you’re willing to put your waders on and step in the stream to walk against the current.

Doing this also means taking a risk that it will work, and we are unfortunately very risk averse as a profession. We can no longer be timid. Your employees are yearning for an advocate who will genuinely take the time to meet them, listen to them, care for them and work with them. People want to perform and they will do better when they know that someone is there for them. You can do this by showing supervisors how to more consistently approach people as humans and not as task fulfillers.

Will you join me? Will you be a part of the Year of Others? I think we can alter the HR landscape and make what we do relevant and desired. When you do this, you will see how being in Human Resources will matter for you both personally and professionally !!

It’s going to be our best year yet as an industry and I look forward to walking alongside you as we do this !!

Checkers or Chess ??

I know this may sound presumptuous, but I have one of the best HR jobs ever !! It has definitely been the best of my career. One of the highlights is that I meet weekly with my boss who is part of the C-Suite. Now, don’t start to shudder thinking this is going to be another one of those “seat at the . . . ” posts.

Chess and CheckersOur weekly meetings are great because we talk about HR, the organization as a whole, our families and many other items. He always has some nugget for me to chew on, and I appreciate that he does his best to develop me. Recently he asked me if I practiced HR playing checkers or chess. I wasn’t sure where he was going with this so I took the bait. I chose not to answer directly and returned with the question – “Which one should I be doing?”

He explained which game made more sense for my role personally and for the organization. Can you guess which one? It’s Chess.

Many HR practitioners get caught up playing Checkers though. They move in straight lines and either forward or backward. They are more concerned with “getting things done” so they can reach the other side of the board and get rewarded. This is much more of a short-term task oriented approach. It may have bursts of success and things are coming off lists, but the pace never ends. It’s really a narrow way to practice what we do and can be very frustrating. If things occur that aren’t in a task format, you may halt and not move at all.

HR played like Chess is much different. This takes into account multiple players who have various skills. It also knows that the return move by the other team will not be predictable. There is strategy and various ways to conduct counter moves throughout the game. You can position yourself well and look ahead at what may happen. True, you may suffer losses and setbacks, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll be defeated. You can still get tasks done, but those can happen by every member of your team using their strengths !!

The other primary reason to approach HR as a Chess game is that you’re going to be playing with other departments who may have to play Checkers. How can you bring a long-term, strategic approach to those who are task oriented? I think the key is that you have be agile and adaptable in order to be strategic. I’m not talking about designing or developing some massive written publication. This is more hands-on and requires you to make the moves on the board – where they’re happening anyway !!

Which game do you play currently? Trust me when I say that you need to evaluate and determine which one it is. It’s difficult to try to keep either one of them as a hybrid because you will tend to drift toward what is more comfortable versus what is more challenging.

Chess takes time, thought and risks. We continue to think that if we pursue these characteristics in our job we aren’t “really working.” That just isn’t true !! Taking time to do HR well while being thoughtful in your approach is essential. Also, risk taking has to occur in order for you to move forward.

Making the switch to Chess is needed and fulfilling. Let me leave you with this . . .

Pawn to E4. Now it’s your move !!

Spoons !!

You may not have know this, but I grew up in small town Ohio. My extended family started out primarily as farmers. A few of my cousins still farm, but the majority of us have ventured into different occupations. We gather every other year for either “Big Thanksgiving” or “Big Christmas.” We do our best to bring together our remaining parents, aunts, uncles and cousins with their children. We’ve been doing this long enough that we’re starting to see great grandchildren !!

It’s a great time because we meet around an incredible potluck meal (always too much food) and activities. One unique thing to note in this day and age is no television, tablets or phones. We put technology away because we enjoy being with each other !! (Odd, I know.) There are many things to do that you can choose from such as a craft project or two, board games and especially card games !!

Spoons Card GameMy son LIVES to play Spoons with his cousins. It is a full contact sport in my family and he recruits as many of the crowd as he can to participate. I’ve played once or twice, but you better be dedicated because it’s raucous and energetic. For those of us who want something more sedate there’s the game of Euchre. We play 4-handed, 5-handed and even 6-handed games !!

If you don’t want to play games or make a Christmas ornament (this year’s craft), you are sure to find a thoughtful conversation about life, work, family, faith or politics. The key to all of these activities is that NO ONE is left out. Not one person. It would be unheard of for someone to be isolated. I honestly don’t know what my family would do if someone wanted to be alone.

When I get together with this incredible group of people, I am re-energized and fulfilled. You never leave with empty batteries. What if this was a model for our workplaces?

I find that people leave work each day more exhausted than rejuvenated. They either drag themselves out to their cars, or they can’t wait to leave and get to their lives. It can be disheartening. However, it doesn’t have to be what we experience.

If HR would be geeked about what they do and who they work with, we’d have a start in the right direction. My son doesn’t care about the card game. He wants to be with his cousins and share an experience that is sure to be uplifting and memorable. I want to be like him and get people to have their work also be significant and meaningful. Even the most “simple” interaction could be fun !!

Also, making sure everyone is connected where they can contribute is key to a viable organization. Allowing someone to be isolated while at work only hurts you. Step in and find out why they are disconnected. See if you can get them plugged in. Have many avenues for this to occur. Try not to be set in your ways and be willing to explore new ways for people to latch on.

This week step back and see what you can do personally to make sure work is fun. You never know, that game of Spoons may be right in front of you !! Just take the time to invite people to play !!

Belong !!

This past week I was fortunate to attend one of my favorite events – the SHRM Volunteer Leader Summit. It’s a great event for many reasons, but the main draw for me is being with other HR volunteers. We have a common bond. It doesn’t matter if you are attending for the first time or have been attending for several years. There is an instant recognition and affinity because we share some commonality in our experiences.

The sessions are great. The chance to visit Capitol Hill and advocate is amazing !! However, when you talk to people in the hallway they share about the people they’ve met, the connections they’ve made and the experiences they’ve had throughout the conference. They focus on how they “belong” to each other. This is more than some sappy emotion. It’s a tangible factor that draws people together.

I know that many HR bloggers write about “engagement” because it is something that also is a really and not some Kum By Ya spirit circle. However, I think we’ve overlooked a key component and that is that people want to belong. I’m not talking about belonging to SHRM or a local HR Chapter, but those are great examples of where this can happen.

BelongBelonging, I believe, is a human desire. We want to be part of something that is bigger than ourselves, and we want to do it with other people. It could happen in many arenas from churches to civic groups to professional associations.

One quick side note on this  . .  . Belonging is not generationally exclusive. People of all ages want to belong. Different ages may choose to belong in ways that we haven’t traditionally thought of, but they all want to connect. People naturally want to connect and not be alone.

As HR professionals, what are we doing to make sure this happens for our employees and within our companies? You see, if people feel they truly belong in their role and at your organization, then you’ve tapped into something that is much more powerful than merely being engaged.

The challenge of belonging that often keeps people outside of groups is that we don’t ask people to join us. We get used to being a part of a group and enjoy it so much that we lose sight of the fact that someone once asked us to belong. We should never become so comfortable that we don’t reach out to others to have them become part of something. The moment we start forgetting that new people could add to our place of belonging, it will become stagnate and shrink quickly. In the end, people will make a decision to go somewhere else. They will find another place to belong.

This week make sure you are doing some things to make belonging a reality for yourself and others.

Belong Yourself !! – You need to quit trying to do HR on your own. It will never be effective for you. Connect with your peers. I’m asking you to join me. Seriously, if you do nothing else, reach out to me and I will make sure you’re connected !!

Ask Others !! – Don’t let people shift in the wind hoping to land somewhere that has value. Be intentional and ask others to join you where you belong. With so many social media platforms, you can get someone to belong with you easily.

Do This at Work !! – Make sure that your employees know that they belong. Don’t assume this is happening. Reach out and be intentional to evaluate where people see their sense of belonging in their position and within their department and the company as a whole.

I love belonging. I know you do too. Let’s make sure that occurs !!

Don’t Be a Bobblehead !!

Everyone has their quirks. Most of the time we keep them to ourselves, but I’m cool with you knowing one of mine. I’m a collector. Not a hoarder, a collector. I have always collected things that interest me. When I was young, I was even trying to get a world record collecting bottle caps with my younger brother !! We ended up with over 20,000 bottle caps that we stored in an old console TV box, but I digress.

Bobbleheads2Since then I’ve curbed my collections (somewhat). Now I only have collections of marbles, fossils and rocks and . . . bobbleheads. Now I know there are bobbleheads for all sorts of things now like TV shows, movies and even cartoon characters. I am more of a “purist” and collect them from my favorite sports teams. They capture a point in time and players that were popular or legends from the organization’s history. Living in Cincinnati, I am a Cincinnati Reds fan. I try to get to several games a year and especially if it’s a bobblehead game. Here’s the collection so far.

I’m very cool with collecting bobbleheads, but not being one. Unfortunately, I feel that many HR pros act like bobbleheards in their organizations. Very often we find ourselves nodding acceptance from Senior Management because we don’t want to rock the boat. We may not agree with what is being said, but we don’t push back. We just do our best to make things happen. HR folks are great implementers when we should be great instigators !!

Acceptance for acceptance sake diminishes our role and what we could be doing in organizations. Ironically, great leaders in senior management don’t want people who just say “Yes” and bobble their head up and down. They expect people to give their input and have meaningful discussions as well as potential solutions. When HR continues the myth of receiving some special invitation from senior managers to engage and be strategic, we are fooling ourselves.

I want to encourage you to take on a new posture as an HR pro. There are many reasons that we need to quit saying “No” to people. Also, there is just as much harm in blindly saying “Yes.” So, the posture to take is where we perform best  . . . “It depends.”

I know that people hate this, but hear me out. The only reason people want that instant “Yes” or “No” answer is so that you agree with their take and position on what they’re presenting. Now, if you say “it depends” only to buy time and hope things get better, that’s poor as well. Using “it depends” allows you to look at all sides of a situation. The key is to follow that response with a decisive stance base on your expertise.

The stance we should all take is to be daily strategic in all that we do. It is a stronger position to lead from. Yes, lead from. HR has the obligation to lead in organizations and not settle for being a support function that nods its head. You see, the bobble heads I have are kept on a shelf and we have been on the shelf for way to long as a profession !!

This week get off the shelf and start anew in your role. Bobbleheads are cool to collect, but stop being one professionally !!

Be a Story Listener !!

This past weekend I had a true adventure. I went to visit my son at Ohio University for Dad’s Weekend. I have a vested interest in this not only because of my amazing son, but because I’m an alumni of OU as well !!

Every single moment of the weekend was wonderful whether we were at one of the planned activities or just hanging out together enjoying the people, sounds and movement all around us. It was also spectacular because OU is a beautiful, old campus with distinct architecture wrapped in majestic fall colors from trees that have been there for decades. There was a chill in the air too as people rushed from location to location.

I could continue to go on and on about many aspects of my weekend because I love stories. I am very willing to share a story any chance I can. There are a myriad of blogs and research that show the power of storytelling. This weekend, however, I was reminded of something that is even more powerful.

The best part of Dad’s Weekend was listening to my son and his new friends tell me their stories and experiences. It ranged from stories of discovery to tales laced with uproarious humor !! The young adults that we met were excited to see my son and share stories. This isn’t different than most social encounters, but there was one exception.

When people tell stories, the impulse to share your story is strong. We often get into a pattern of “one upping” each other. It’s hard to let a story stand and sink in. There’s nothing wrong with exchanging stories. I think we do this because we want to make connections and ties with others by showing that we have similar experiences.

Listening EarsThe opportunity I’d like you to consider is to strike a balance and be a story listener sometime. When you do this you’ll capture other’s emotions, passions, opinions and perspectives. If you’re eager to jump in and share your stories as well in a conversation, you may squash other’s interest even though that wasn’t your intent.

Now, this isn’t a post to throw out the old saying, “That’s why you were given two ears and one mouth.” I don’t believe that silence is listening. A great story listener also shows interest and is genuinely eager to hear what the story from others includes. If you’re only biding time “listening” until it’s your turn to jump in, you’re not ready to be a listener.

I took as much time to sit back and enjoy what my son and his friends had to say as I could. I was geeked to see how much they’re growing as young adults, and intrigued into how they’re making decisions in their collegiate environment. The more I listened the more I was actually involved in their stories. They would get to certain points in what they were sharing and ask what I thought. They weren’t speaking just to hear their voices. They wanted to engage me in their conversations. It was wonderful !!

So, this week when you’re in your HR role, take a breath and see if you should be a story listener. Show interest in what employees have to say. Resist the urge to finish conversations in believing that you’re saving precious time by cutting people off. Trust me. The more you listen, the more you’ll actually hear, and you’ll actually enjoy the daily interactions you have so much more !!

Yep.

One of the best aspects of my job in HR is that I get to recognize our Team Members when they hit years of service milestones. I wrote about this in the past, but here’s a quick recap.

When one of our Team Members hits a 5-year anniversary, I go visit them during the day and shift they work at their location. We keep things simple by bringing them balloons, cookies and a gift card. Keeping things personal and one-and-one has made recognition more meaningful for them and for the Company. I get to make 7 to 10 visits a month because we are fortunate to have incredible tenure. It’s not uncommon to have people reach milestones from 5 years to 30+ years each month !!

The reactions I see range from being surprised, to sincere gratitude and, at times, tears. You never know what will happen, and that is fantastic !! This past week, we had a very touching anniversary that kept things in perspective.

I went over to our anchor store to celebrate the 35th anniversary of one of our dishwashers. Greg is one of my favorite Team Members. We chat every time I’m in the store about the Cincinnati Reds, the weather or whatever is on his mind. A group of folks from the office and pizzeria all gathered around Greg in the dish area. I came with my balloons and a large tray of cookies.

YepWhen I came up to him, I said, “Hi there Greg !! Do you know why we’re all here?”

He calmly said, “Yep.”

I said, “We’re here to celebrate your 35th anniversary working here !!”

He said, “Yep.”

I said, “Well, since it’s your 35th anniversary, that must make you 40 years old.”

He said, “Nope Steve. I know how old I am. I’m . . . 57.”

Everyone clapped and there were a few tears in some eyes (including mine.) You see Greg is an adult with special needs and he’s been a part-time dishwasher for us for thirty-five years !! Greg took his cookies, that each person gets in their own gift bag, and thanked everyone for coming over to see him. Then, he went back to his job.

Greg is a great reminder that so many employees come to work to do a great job willingly and positively. He’s also an example that our focus in HR should shift from spending the majority of our time on a small number of negative people. It’s staggering to me that we continue to be an industry that doesn’t see the great side of employees. We also don’t step in the gap and stop others from focusing on the few negative people in our organizations.

I think HR practitioners would love what they did more easily if we saw the best in our people. There’s absolutely nothing in the way from making this happen. It’s a choice, and it’s a choice that’s easy to make. The challenge is doing this all the time. It’s not enough to get excited when you get the chance to recognize people. Employees want to be valued and have the chance to perform with support and in a positive environment.

Making this shift seems well within our grasp, don’t you think ??

Yep.

All the Time !!

One of my favorite daily things to do is randomly call friends on my commute home. I have almost an hour in the car, and it’s a great way to make the time go by. (Don’t worry, I’m a hands free user.)

This past week I had a great conversation with Heather Kinzie from Alaska. She’s a great HR pro and I highly recommend you connect with her !! We were chatting about life and work and she was telling me her thoughts about work when she said something profound. She noted, “I don’t want to work at a place where I’m half a person all of the time !!” I almost swerved off the road because that statement rang so true.

Heather wasn’t bemoaning a certain environment or employer. She was just stating the sentiment that affects the vast majority of employees who go to any workplace. You’ve had to see the statistics that are out there right now that state that 70% to 80% of workers are disengaged in their current role. That is staggering to me because we instantly personalize data like this and think of our own workplaces. What we don’t do is compile the number of workplaces that exist. If 70% to 80% of workers are disengaged in ALL workplaces, then we face a massive obstacle each and every day regardless of where we work.

In HR, we express that we want people to bring their “whole self” to work, but that’s not really true. We want people to bring as much of themselves as fit our systems and norms. We freak out if people are outliers and work so hard to make people conform. This isn’t an indictment, it’s an observation. Since this is the culture of most companies, it’s not surprising that someone would bring half of themselves to work – all of the time.

Is there anything we can do to shift this state of malaise? I think there is. However, it will take a truly radical step for HR. You see, we are the controllers of conformity. Our systems, procedures and policies scream for same mindedness and behavior within a tight framework of parameters.

I think there should be company norms and the majority of these happen naturally. If your company’s leadership and/or industry is more formal, your norms will follow. If they are more hip and edgy, your norms will follow there as well. HR has to look at how it makes these cultures come to life to see if you’re allowing people to freely move and perform in these environments, or if we’re making sure that people show up.

All The TimeYou see, the best cultures can be stifled if our HR practices are more focused on being visible and seen (i.e. showing up), or if they’re on performance. If your culture truly champions performance, and your focus is development and shepherding within that culture, then people will bring more of who they are to work – all the time.

What is the big concern? If we looked at having less control, would chaos really ensue? Trust me when I say this – If your HR systems are built to control folks, you actually have no control at all. You don’t have a work environment, you have an institution. People can’t help but be disengaged because the environment doesn’t even exist to encourage them to be engaged.

This week look around your company. Do you see “half people” ?? Are you existing as a half person yourself in HR ?? This needs to change and it starts with you. Don’t settle for environments where people only exist. Instead, work intentionally on building an environment where people can, and are expected to, thrive !!