Intersections

As much as we’d like our lives to play out in a straight line, they just don’t. We’d love to live in such a manner that we have only positive experiences and little to no conflict. It sounds perfect, but we know this isn’t the case. We can go through ups, downs and quick moves sideways within the same hour !!

Since this is our reality, we have a choice to try to maneuver through this erratic pattern alone or with others to come alongside us. Honestly, too many people are trying their best to just slog through whatever is facing them primarily on their own. I don’t think they’re trying to be defiant or elusive. I just think it’s just the messaging we believe or hear from others. We don’t want to put someone out because of what we’re facing. We’re sure we’d be a burden and it’s not that big of a deal really.

I don’t buy it. We weren’t created to go through life alone. We’re wired to be connected and available for those that pass through our lives. We all have intersections we go through over time. They may be life events like school graduations, marriages, getting a job or death. Those types of intersections get the most attention, but they are few and far between over the course of our lifetime. There are a multitude of other times when our paths cross with other people.

Photo by Kaique Rocha from Pexels

At the crack of dawn this past Friday, I was buying some donut holes at our local Meijer to take to my men’s group when I encountered Jane at the self-checkout. I was the only patron in the store and her eyes lit up when I walked up to scan my items. She asked if I was ready for the Spring snowstorm which was predicted for Saturday morning. I said I was, and then she told me it would be “nothing” compared to what she was used to.

One thing to note – Jane is most likely in her mid to late 70’s. She is a treat and she seems to be working at Meijer 24/7. Back to the story . . .

She went on to tell me about growing up on a 500-acre farm that had livestock and crops. She shared details about monumental snowfall, endless chores, hard work, and how she loved every moment. I also learned about the family restaurant her parents started after her father sold the farm so her mother could continue to work. She was tickled that it was one of the few restaurants on the way from Cleveland to Pittsburgh so everyone who passed by would inevitably stop in to try her mom’s famous cooking.

I was just checking out to buy some donut holes.

However, Jane wanted to connect and talk. She felt the need to share her life and be a welcoming start to my day. I had a feeling that she’d have these impromptu conversations with anyone who was willing to stop and give her a few minutes. I met her at an intersection. Those few minutes were rich, meaningful and worthwhile. It was a great way to start the day !!

Yesterday, as I was reading through Twitter, I saw a tweet from an HR peer who shared about his current job search. He was being vulnerable and shared his frustration. He was questioning whether he should stay in HR or not. This caught my attention because someone tagged me and a handful of other practitioners as examples of people who believe in HR. They noted that we do our best to encourage, elevate and move the field forward.

I didn’t take this as a pat on the back. I saw it as another intersection. I sent a direct message to the young man working to land his next great HR role and offered to help him in any way I can. We don’t live in the same city and I don’t yet know what he is/isn’t looking for or what his journey has been. However, I know that I can do something with my network to try and open a door for him. We’re talking on Tuesday and I can’t wait to get to know him more and see where it leads.

I don’t believe these encounters are random or coincidental. I look for people intentionally all the time. I make myself available in the event an intersection presents itself. Also, I’m open and looking for others when I’m crossing intersections in my life. I welcome those who take the time to stop and listen.

This week make sure you’re looking for intersections with those who cross your path. Or, if you need someone to meet you at your intersection, be open to whoever shows up. The key to either way is to not just walk past. Stop and see what happens !!

No Strangers Here

This past weekend I was able to enjoy a great birthday gift. My grown kids know me so well, and they pulled their funds together to get me tickets to see a Xavier University basketball game. Ever since I moved to the Cincinnati area in the mid-’80s, I’ve followed and been a fan of, Xavier basketball. The other cool aspect of this incredible gift was that it was an away game against Butler University which is in Indianapolis where my daughter now lives. So, we got to go to the game together. My son lives in the San Diego area and it would have been even greater to have him there, but he couldn’t make it.

If you’ve never been to Butler University, they play in historic Hinkle Fieldhouse where part of the iconic movie, Hoosiers, was filmed. Walking into this arena was amazing in its own right. I’ve always been the fan who gets to games early and I stay until the very end. I have indoctrinated my kids with this expectation, and they enjoy doing this as well. My daughter and I sat in our seats in a predominantly empty stadium taking in all of the sites. Slowly, the arena began to fill up, and seats were becoming occupied. You always wonder who’s going to sit next to you, or if the seats next to you will remain open giving you a little more room to not feel cramped.

As I looked to my right, I saw a frail, elderly couple come into our row with a middle-aged couple. As they worked slowly toward their seats, the older gentleman leans down to me with an extended hand and says, “Hi there !! I’m Chip.” I know he saw my immense smile as I shook his hand and replied, “Hi there !! I’m Steve.”

He settled into his seat and then leaned over. He saw my Xavier hat and sweatshirt and wryly he stated, “Steve, just want you to know I won’t be rooting for your team tonight.” I warmly replied, “That’s okay Chip. I’m not going to be cheering for yours either.” He chuckled and we started a conversation. He asked if I was from Indianapolis and if I was with my daughter. He told me about his attending every game he could and that he wished they would play better. He was incredibly welcoming and we talked as if we’d known each other for years. He was very approachable and naturally comfortable with me even though we had never met.

He didn’t view this encounter as something odd or forced. He genuinely wanted to connect and make sure that I enjoyed my time visiting “his” school. We talked throughout the entire game gently ribbing each other about the plays, the fouls, the crowd, the cheerleaders and the overall experience. It was magical. I lost my Dad just over a year ago and it was as if I was sitting with him one more time. It couldn’t have been better. We said “Goodbye” to each other at the very end of the game even though Xavier ended up with the win over his beloved Butler Bulldogs.

I thoroughly enjoyed Chip and was touched that he didn’t see me as a stranger. He would have greeted whoever was seated next to him. I’m sure of it. He wasn’t awkward or too forward. To him, it was the most natural interaction possible. It was honestly refreshing to meet Chip and have such a memorable time with him. I wouldn’t have classified him as an extrovert. He was purely someone who felt that it was better to know who was next to him.

It reminded me how people have an innate need to connect and belong. We want to share our lives together and not be strangers. Too often we put up invisible barriers or do our best to avoid each other. I know it may seem a bit naive or old-fashioned to be so open to meeting others as Chip did. However, I’d beg to disagree. I think it’s heartwarming and missing in today’s society.

I may never cross paths with Chip again in this life, but he reminded me to be open and willing to extend a greeting to those around me. It is something I plan to do on a regular basis. No strangers. Just new connections.

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.

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.

When in doubt . . . grout

Doesn’t it seem like we cram a multitude of life events together all in a short period of time? It’s not advisable to group so many things together at the same time. You add unnecessary stress even though you have the best intentions.

My wife, Debbie, and I decided to remodel our kitchen, flooring and family room late in 2019. We had saved for it and thought it would be exciting to give some life to our house. Doing a remodel at this scale is a big deal because it meant that we would be “living” in our basement for several months. Of course, right when construction was scheduled to start, a global pandemic hits. We went forward with the project because we had it planned. We never anticipated that we’d be working from home and not at our workplaces on top of everything.

The project went well through every phase . . . until we started to reach the end. Materials were slow to arrive and the tile crew who put the new backsplash up didn’t follow the design. We had lived in the basement for 3 1/2 months and the tension was starting to mount. Let’s be honest, the whole “made for TV” shows on HGTV aren’t how projects truly proceed. They’re great television, but they’re not realistic. Things don’t get resolved in an hour.

Since we were nearing the end of our project, the final touches started to drag out and communication started to dissipate. Please understand that we have had a very good experience with the company, the designers, and the work crews who had done the work so far. We just wanted to be done !! Several calls and texts were shared to try to get the tile mistake repaired. We seemed to have hit an impasse.

Just when it seemed like things were going to escalate, I got a text from Aaron. It said, “Hey man, I heard you needed me to come out and fix the tile work. I’ll be out in a few days. This is my cell. We’ll get this taken care of.” The temperature instantly receded. He texted a few more times and we hit a few more delays, but we finally landed on a day for Aaron to work on the tile. He was the regular tile guy the company used instead of the first crew who didn’t do the work the way we had wanted.

I was working from home when Aaron and Ted, his assistant arrived. I had papers scattered across our new island and was typing away on a spreadsheet I needed to finish that day. Aaron was very gregarious and talkative. Ted was steady and silent. As they came into the house, Aaron exclaimed, “Hey man. Aaron. Nice to meet you. This is Ted.” Ted nods his greeting. “So, I see we need to finish up this tile and get it back to how you’d like it. Let me grab my tools, some drops (drop cloths), and we’ll knock this out and get out of your way.”

I instantly connected to these two guys and was grateful they had arrived. Aaron pulled out this large black square which I knew was a speaker. “You mind if I play some tunes man?” I replied, “No, that’s fine. I always have music playing when I work.” (In fact, I had Spotify playing in the background as he asked.) “You cool with country music?” he asked. I stated, “If that’s what helps you tile, I’m good with it.” “Cool. I may switch to some classic rock though. Just depends on what I’m feeling.” I let him know I was good with whatever style he chose.

Before, I continue you need to know that Aaron and Ted are artists. That is a fact !!. They worked smoothly and collaboratively. Aaron took measurements and Ted cut tiles so that the entire space came together seamlessly like a puzzle. They didn’t have to remeasure or recut any piece. Each one fit the first time. My conversation with Aaron continued as well. Having two extroverts in the same room ensures that talking will occur. We talked about our occupations, our families, the pandemic, politics and more. We did it with ease and it was so reassuring to experience.

As he was finishing up, he noted that he’d need to come back one more day. We were short with some detailed pencil tiles. I asked him about the framing of those tiles around our window. He noted, “Yeah, I see you’re window’s crooked. The other guys tried to make some cuts to cover that. I would have made some different cuts, but we can frame it and get it finished.” I replied, “Won’t it look a bit odd because you’ll have to match how the others started the job?”

He paused and smiled. “No problems, man. I follow the philosophy – When in doubt . . . grout.”

I didn’t know what he meant. He gleefully explained that he would use grout between the seams of the tile and pull it all together. If a space needed a little more grout, he’d add it. If it needed less, he’d thin it out so that the tiles all looked like they naturally were in their designated place.

I never expected to gain perspective from my tile guy, but I was wrong. His philosophy is exactly how we should approach HR. We are the grout that brings people together !! Since everyone is naturally different in how they work, look at life, and have a mix of unique skills and approaches themselves, someone needs to bring cohesion while still allowing them to be who they are.

Some people will need a bit more “grout” to add them to their place in the tile, and some will need less. The key for us is that we’re not trying to keep people set in their ways or conform. Employees are looking for ways to contribute while being connected. They want to be part of the bigger picture and understand how what they do adds value to the overall results of the company.

This week, take Aaron’s advice and see how you can reshape how you practice HR. Are you being the grout that fills in the seams? If you aren’t, I suggest you change and start bringing folks together. It is far more enriching and you’ll love how the workplace and culture looks when you’re done !!

Write This Down

This past weekend a significant life event occurred for me and my family. My dad passed away. I’ve written about him often here on this blog and in my books. I have incredible peace about this and let me tell you why.

Technically, Don Fleming is my stepfather. My biological father, John Browne was a Vietnam veteran who passed away from cancer in 1968 and I was four years old. My mother had been a widow for about eight years when Don came into our life. He and my mom connected right away, dated for a while, and then got married in 1976. It was a full-blown 1970’s gala where my dad, my brother and I all wore the obligatory polyester suits. (They were powder blue by the way. Rockin’ the fashion even then !!)

As soon as Don married my mom, we never called him “Dad” because we were pre-teen knuckleheads. However, he didn’t push back and handled it with grace as he did everything in life. As my brother and I got older, we realized how amazing he was and “Dad” replaced “Don” naturally. My father was an incredible role model of so many attributes that define my life now. I mentioned how he showed grace because he was a man of faith. He would never press this upon others, but he also was very self-assured of who he was. He also was the model husband. He was openly affectionate with my mom and would make sure to give her a kiss when he left for work and when he returned. He never missed a day – ever.

He always emphasized that my brother and I should be “couth” (a word that isn’t used anymore) when it came to respecting our mother and other adults. He expected us to do our share around the house, and he is responsible for our work ethic because of how he modeled it professionally and personally. My dad was never strict, but he was direct and intentional. He expected accountability from us which he always defined as following through on what we had committed to. He came to every. single. event my brother and I were involved in at school. He was supportive, proud, and kept us grounded to be thankful for any honor we received.

As we all grew older together and my brother and I went off to college, we saw my dad less and less because his goal was for us to get on our feet and provide for ourselves. In fact, the day I graduated from high school, Dad hugged me outside the school, told me he loved me and asked when I was leaving. True story. This transition happens to most families, so as life continued, we’d see each other less and less. As my brother and I started families of our own, those gaps naturally grew longer and longer.

Every time I’d visit Dad in Ada, at my house in Cincinnati or at family events all over the Midwest, he’d make sure to share his thoughts and opinions on life. He would grab your attention by saying, “Write this down . . .” Then he’d share a quote he had memorized, a quip or quick story and most assuredly a joke or two. He wanted me to remember these points because he knew they had an impact, reach and meaning. It became so common that I’d hear him pause, raise his hand and I’d jump in and say, “I know. ‘Write this down . . .”

I didn’t realize how ingrained this short phrase had become in my life, but even now, when I give a presentation at a conference I will find myself pausing, looking out to the audience, and say “Write this down . . .”

I am grateful for this man who came into my life 44 years ago. The man who married and loved my mother so incredibly deep and made me who I am today as a husband, father, friend, man of faith, and a professional. Without my Dad, I wouldn’t have had the model of grace, respect and humor that also make me who I am.

I know that as I write this, that not everyone has a great relationship with their parents and/or family. I do not take this for granted or feel that my example is greater than anyone else’s experience. I have learned from both my mother and father to be others-focused and value every person for who they are and where they come from. If I can ever be someone to confide in, converse with, weep with or laugh with, I am here for you. That is a fact and not an idle aspiration.

So, as I close I want to share something that Dad told me to write down. It’s from the poem Desiderata which was one of his absolute go to quotes.

Hello in There

This on-going pandemic is pressing in on people from all angles. It is causing distrust, angry comments, judgement and assumptions. People run the spectrum from full lockdown to unprotected flaunting. Throw in the middle of this that we have lost the ability to seek context or have discussions anymore. People take a thread of information or an image and make comments based on where they stand on an issue insisting that others absolutely agree with them. It’s exhausting and it doesn’t feel like we can treat each other as people anymore. We have decided to judge people based on taking sides.

Honestly, I feel people are doing this because they care. I don’t think its malicious or mean spirited (in most cases). People want to be seen and heard. This isn’t a new sentiment. It just happens to be front and center in almost every interpersonal interaction. I wanted to frame how I’m seeing, and experiencing, communication before sharing a story. It’s a story that has more meaning now to me than it did ever in the past . . .

A few weeks ago, my daughter came home to visit and see her friends. They discussed this beforehand and made sure they were being responsible where and when they met. She felt compelled to come back because one of her dearest friends just got engaged and she wanted to congratulate both of them in person. Since I had her home, I did what I had been taught – use her help with chores around the house. My daughter has always been fit and athletic and I could use her muscles to get some things attended to. We had a ball fixing a split rail fence, visiting the hardware store all masked up multiple times (because you never get everything on the first trip), and catching up on how life is going.

When she got back to her home in Indianapolis, she texted, “Dad, I’m becoming like you because you fix things for your mom and dad when you go visit them.” I beamed through glistening eyes. The next phases of our lives were in process. The following weekend, I went home to Ada, Ohio to visit my elderly parents. I am the trustee of their lives now, and they can’t sign certain things without me present. Again, we checked with each other to make sure everyone was healthy and safe before I trekked north.

I made it up for the day and went to a bank to sign some papers. Here’s where reality hits. I drove my parents over to Kenton, Ohio which is about fifteen minutes away. They felt I was putting them out, but I reassured them I was fine and glad to be their Uber. As we arrived, we masked up and I needed to assist my father who walks with canes and can’t see well at all. My father is now legally blind, and I had to help guide him the one block to the bank. When we were signing papers, I gently guided his hand to the line on the forms to fill in his signature. I had to repeat what the banker was saying because my mom is losing her hearing. My dad is a talker and he likes to connect and spin a yarn with everyone he encounters. He tried to do that with the young banker, but he was disinterested and just wanted to get through the task at hand. I’m sure he wanted to leave the bank as quickly as he could to get back to the family activities he was anticipating for the weekend. I could see my mom was hurt that the banker was impersonal because that just isn’t who she is.

I was the mediator and kept things moving. I chuckled at my dad’s stories and memories because they’re really funny, and I reassured my mom that we were getting everything taken care of. We went back to their house, had an incredible meal of homemade potato soup with sausage links, and then headed to the project list for the day. My mom wanted me do three things: (1) Put a new rope on a flag pole out front so they can fly the American and Ohio flags, (2) Clean out the gutters and fix some seams, and (3) Install a window air conditioner in one of their rental apartments. No big deal – right?

We took each task one by one, visited the local hardware store where my mom has a basket filled with homemade masks, she sewed which are free to the citizens of Ada, and got everything completed by dinner time. We laughed, caught up on life and talked about my remaining aunts and uncles’ health. Dinner was special because we ordered carryout pizza from their favorite local haunt. I was spent after it all but drove home satisfied knowing that a few hours with my parents helped them close out tasks that were on their mind.

This pandemic has kept us away from each other which has allowed us to be safe and evaluate how we can better connect and interact. I feel that for too long the incessant, rapid pace of life made almost every encounter with people trite and trivial. We were too busy to invest our time in others. One of the fallouts of being apart has been that older people are isolated even more than they already were. Now that we’re trying to maneuver our way through how we’re going to be around each other again, we can’t go back to the brush by approach.

I hope we’ve realized that we’ve always had time for others. Now we have a chance to pour into people in a more constructive way. You need to realize you work with, and possibly live with, people who are aching to connect and be recognized. They want to talk, see you and share stories that may have no significant meaning to you but mean the world to them.

This coming week, I want you to stop and assess how you can make time for others on purpose. Are there elderly people who could use a smile and an hour of your time? You need to be safe and follow guidelines so that someone isn’t put at risk, but you don’t have to avoid others. Wouldn’t it be great to know that every person around you had someone check in on them? Wouldn’t it be amazing to know that every person in your life felt connected, not alone and cared for? Take the time to say, “Hello in there” and let people know that you’d love to spend some time with them.

Dear Graduates . . .

I’m sure you’re seeing graduation “ceremonies” happening all over the country in a variety of new formats. The traditional gatherings which make each spring come to life had to be altered because of the current environment. I’m excited to see every type of ceremony occurring which have ranged from virtual Zoom commencements to semi in person walk throughs to meeting at drive-in theaters to a drive by parade.

It’s important regardless of how graduation is occuring that the students get recognized for this milestone in their lives. There are students finishing up their time in high school, colleges and military acadamies. It will be a benchmark moment in their lives because no one has had to make such a shift in order to mark this accomplishment in the past. It hopefully will launch them forward to the next step in their lives and careers.

My kids are far past graduations of their own, so I was taken by surprise when I received a request from an HR peer who I have a unique tie with. Professor Mindy West from Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business. She teaches multiple HR courses at ASU along with Professor Eric Knott, Professor Karen Stafford and Professor Lisa Macaffe to help students graduate with a degree in Human Resources !!

The unique tie I have with Professor West is that she grew up in Ada, Ohio with me. Our families were very close and I knew her all through junior high and high school. A few years ago, I was speaking at a SHRM Annual conference when Mindy came up to talk to me after my presentation. I was geeked to reconnect and was tickled she was not only in HR herself, she was teaching the next generation of HR professionals.

Mindy reached out through Linked In and asked if I would be the commencement speaker for the ASU HR grads. I was touched and humbled to be considered. Secretly I’ve wanted to be a commencement speaker at some time during my life, so this was perfect.

The ceremony was to be virtual and through Zoom. I set up in my basement and joined the students and professors who were sitting in their houses with their caps and gowns on. Everyone jumped on the call and you could feel the joy and excitement of the students and their families as the chatter was going back and forth between all of them all at once. After a great orchestral prelude, Jennifer Pigeon, an HR pro who is active in SHRM of Greater Phoenix, sang the National Anthem and crushed it !! The emotions were even higher and there were a few tears shed.

Then my fellow Adaite introduced me and I got to congratulate the students and share with them how proud I am of them being not only my peer but also my future. I encouraged them to embrace HR as a phenomenal profession where they can lead, thrive and help their perspective companies by adding value and ensure a people-centric culture. I also asked them to network now and throughout their career.

After I finished, the students recevied a taped message from Cheryl Sandberg of Facebook !! It was amazing. However, the best part of the night was about to occur. The professors all took a few minutes to congratulate the students which was so heartfelt. You could see the time and effort they had invested in each other. Then . . . the students were recognized.

Professor West shared unique facts and future plans of each student and then she’d say, “Okay, unmute and let’s hear from you and your family.” The small squares all over the screen erupted in screams, yells and words of praise and congratulations. Each student had their own time and we cheered for them as much as we could.

At the end of the ceremony, tears were streaming down my face that was smiling as broadly as I could manage. I will remember and cherish being a part of this graduation for the rest of my days. I’m sure my six minute speech will long be forgotten, and that is absolutely fine. What matters is that in the midst of what seems like endless bleakness, you find light.

This graduation, and the thousands happening everywhere at this time are a sign of hope and of moving forward. It’s time that we find more of these moments of life and celebrate them. It’s time to push back the darkness and take steps forward toward the future. I know these students are eager and we should be as well.

This week, continue to stay safe and also understand that you are a part of the present and future of the lives of everyone around you. Congratulations dear graduates !!

Fado’s

As of this year, I’ve been an HR volunteer leader for 20 years. It’s hard to believe that time has flown by so quickly !! I remember when I first got involved, I went to a Volunteer Leaders Summit in Crystal City, Virginia. I was an officer on my local SHRM chapter’s board. It was great to go to the conference to learn and be around other volunteer leaders. We went to an Irish pub down the street from the hotel where we were staying and we had a blast !!

Little did I know that it planted the seed for a gathering place for years to come.

The first time we went out though, we only hung out with the people from our chapter in Cincinnati. We didn’t interact with anyone else. It didn’t strike me as odd at the time, but as the years kept passing, it started to really eat at me. You have to keep in mind that this was long before social media. It made sense to hang out with folks you knew, but I wondered why we didn’t try to meet other HR peers because we were literally surrounded by them.

At subsequent Volunteer Leader Summits and at HR conferences in general, people continued to congregate based on geography. This was true during the event itself in sessions or when people gathered for lunches/dinner. People kept within the boundaries of their cities or states. It didn’t make sense to me and I wanted to see something change.

When I was the State Director of Ohio SHRM, we met for the Summit at the Gaylord Hotel in Maryland. I decided it was time to break the geographical model. So, I found another Irish pub and took a group of Ohioans along with me. While we were at the pub, I left my friends to introduce myself to everyone else in the pub and asked them to join us. I know – radical. However, I couldn’t recall it ever being done. Soon our group was full of people from Montana, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, California, Nebraska, North Dakota, Arizona, New Mexico and more !! We realized that we needed to be together as people and HR pros. It was a natural and easy connection to make.

After a few years, our conference location moved to downtown Washington, D.C. When we were “done” for the day with sessions, it was time to venture out once again and I found the best haunt EVER for us to assemble in the middle of the Chinatown district – Fado’s Irish Pub & Restaurant.

Now, since we broke the invisible geographical barrier a few years earlier, people were more interactive during the conference and were asking where and when we were going to meet. I asked everyone to meet me at Fado’s because it had a cool vibe, great food, adult beverages and space for us to all meet. The first night we had about 25 folks come out. Each night the number grew and more people ventured out to meet new friends as well as hang out with those they knew. We shared so many laughs, stories and experiences. We truly were becoming an HR community !!

Then, as fate would have it, the SHRM Annual conference was in Washington, D.C. in 2016. This meant there would be a larger group of HR pros that we could coax to Fado’s. And, we did. Every. Night. If there were social events planned, we’d go to Fado’s afterward. It became a go-to gathering place for us. One night I will always cherish was when I first joined the SHRM Board of Directors and everyone was eager to get me to come out to the pub. I was planning on it, but didn’t know why there was such a sense of “urgency.” It didn’t seem like any other night. I was mistaken.

As I showed my ID (which was required regardless of your age), I looked up and tears filled my eyes as everyone in the pub was wearing tie-dye to celebrate my new role. Some of the pub staff were also wearing the shirts. It was spectacular because it showed the power of what coming together as people means.

Since that night, we’ve been back to Fado’s many more times including last year in November. Little did I know that this would be the last time I’d get to enjoy the darkened wood, sticky floors and smell of Irish ale. Fado’s announced that it was permanently closing its doors as of April 2020. This wasn’t because of the current pandemic, it was due to their lease and relationship with their landlord. When they made the announcement on Facebook, there was an outpouring of stories, photos, memories and thank you’s.

I would like to add this one more “Thank You” to all that’s been shared to date. I can tell you that I’ve developed, and built on, friendships I cherish and am reassured will last for my lifetime. The familiar feel and welcoming spirit of Fado’s gave us the perfect environment to foster healthy relationships across boundaries.

I know that people are getting together more often now even if it’s virtually. My hope is that the efforts we make to come together intenionally only builds and doesn’t wane when we get back to our old patterns of life and work. I know that I will continue to do my best to bring folks together and hopefully we’ll find a place as great as Fado’s has been to do so.

We all need a Fado’s in our life !! So, I lift a pint and offer Sláinte !!