A Tale of Three . . .

Dinner with Friends

This past week I was invited by some dear friends who all work in different facets of HR. It was a chance to network, share stories, laugh and get to know each other better over a great meal. I was tickled to be invited because I never take that for granted. To be asked to come to an event on purpose is a feeling I never want to assume is going to happen. Also, I had an ulterior motive. Another person was invited to attend and I had longed to connect with him.

As people gathered and started to introduce themselves to each other, he entered the room. He had a quiet self-assuredness about him and he seemed very at ease with everyone although it was obvious he knew few, if any, people attending. He was in the midst of an intentional conversation and I wanted to interrupt. I didn’t. I waited for their conversation to hit a natural break and then stepped in.

He looked up as we caught each other’s glance and he said, “I know your face.” I said, “Hi Torin, I’m Steve Browne.” His eyes widened and we shook hands. “I’ve been wanting to meet you for years,” I said. We jumped into a conversation as if we’d known each other for years even though we had only ever “connected” online. It was deep, moving and something I had yearned for.

We moved to separate tables and enjoyed a meal with those around us. As I rose to leave, I went back over to my friend and thanked him. I told him once again about the joy I felt in getting to spend time with him. We exchanged our contact information and I told him I’d be intentionally staying in touch with him going forward. He said, “I hope you do.” We then embraced as friends should.

Hey Neighbor !!

My wife and I have lived in our neighborhood for 31 years. We are in a quiet cul de sac in an “older” set of homes. The development was build in the mid 1970’s and we’ve loved it. We had been married only two years when we moved in. The other houses were filled with families who had been there since the neighborhood popped up. We were the “new” family.

Turn the clock forward three decades and now we’re the established family while others have moved on. We’ve seen slow movement over this time, but it has happened naturally. The ranch house directly across from us recently changed from a rental property to one for sale. People refurbished the house and wanted to flip it and take advantage of the hot housing market. Unlike many other homes, this didn’t sell instantly. In fact, it stayed available for months.

Then, this last week, it sold !! We saw it online and were curious as to who was going to move in. After going out to see a small town and just meander (a fave activity for my wife and me), we pulled into our driveway and saw a family standing in the adjacent driveway. Our hearts jumped. My wife asked if I was going to introduce myself. The extrovert in me was eager to jump out of our moving car and go see them. I controlled my urge and decided to walk out and check our mail.

As I did, our new neighbor looked up, raised his hand and exclaimed, “Hi there.” I was in. I walked over, extended my hand and said, “I’m Steve, welcome to the neighborhood.” He replied, “I’m Byron. Nice to meet you and nice to be here.” We talked for a few minutes when my wife and his wife joined us. “I’m Debbie.” “I’m Jill.” “It’s great to have you in the neighborhood,” my wife shared. “We hope you feel welcomed and at home.” We continued chatting and getting to know each other for a little while longer, and then said we’d catch up more after they got settled.

I’d Like to Catch Up

One of my closest and dearest lifetime friends, AJ, texted me this week and said he’d like to jump on a call over the weekend. I said, “Of course,” and we planned to talk Sunday afternoon. AJ was one of my “kids” during our time at Ohio University. I was the Resident Assistant in a freshman dorm and AJ originally lived on the 3rd floor while I worked/lived on the 1st floor. He had a challenging roommate his first semester and he had found his way down to my section. I saw him hanging out more and more often. He asked if he could transfer to join my floor, and we made it happen.

We connected instantly, and I could tell he was accliamating more with new friends. He found his way and we became fiercely close. He stayed connected with me throughout college and he moved to Cincinnati. During his time in Cincy, we hung out just as we had in college. He was here for the birth of our kids and we shared many “life” moments together. We stayed close until he moved out to Seattle. It was harder to stay in touch, but we managed. He was even kind enough to ask me to be his best man in his wedding.

Time passes too easily and we connected less and less. We have remained close though because every time our paths crossed, we picked up right where we left off with ease. The call this Sunday was no different. There was only one noticeable change. During the call, he told me, “Hey, I know we haven’t stayed as close as we had been. I want to change that. I miss you and Debbie and want Kiki (his wife) and I to rekindle things.” He then told me some very heartfelt feelings about how it mattered that I had reached out to him when he was a freshman, stayed true to him as he worked through his 20’s and remained with him even now so many years later. I told him it wasn’t cool to make me weepy.

The one-hour conversation filled us both and we committed to no longer drift apart. I know that will be the case !!

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The reason for these three tales is simple. Connections matter and people matter. Every. Single. Person.

We tend to take the relationships we have for granted and overlook how impactful they could, and should, be. We get swallowed by shallow comparisons, differences of opinions or perspectives and the ridiculous pace we follow throughout our daily living.

We need to pause, slow down and not miss any chance to connect. People want to know they matter. They don’t hear it or see it enough.

Change this. Start having experiences where you can tell tales. Show others that it’s important to have them in your life. Trust me. In doing this you’ll see that life is full, meaningful and valuable. Wouldn’t that be an amazing position to face each day ??

Contribute vs. Consume

It’s astonishing how much the workforce has evolved and changed over the past three years, isn’t it? We’ve moved from in-person as the primary mode of “work” to a mix of in-person, remote, hybrid and gig. Employees no longer accept their roles and jobs as their status quo just because they’re supposed to. They are empowered to own and manage their careers. All of these things are healthy and were honestly overdue.

We don’t need a company full of people who blindly punch the clock and take up space just to earn a wage and care for themselves and their families. I’m not going to even recognize the trend of catchphrase after catchphrase that pop up to try and describe the work landscape. They’re hokey and clickbait to get people all riled up. They also become massive overgeneralizations that we apply to every person when it may not be the case at all. Sure, people are quitting and changing jobs . . . but this has happened since work has occurred. We’re just frustrated and upset because having these changes forces us to do more work in sourcing, recruiting and landing talent.

Isn’t it ironic that we see this as a burden? We have the opportunity to bring amazing people in to add to the work we do as an organization. Yes, it’s harder to find people and there may be fewer people to consider. Instead of bemoaning the challenge, what are we doing to be agile and respond to the problem facing us?

We need to be creative and see what we can do in the midst of this current trend as well as look to the people who remain in our companies. It’s an “if/then” reality and not an “either/or” situation. How much healthier would we be if we looked to add great folks AND retain great folks as well?

When looking at people we retain there is a measurement we should look at because it is a mitigating factor that takes up so much of our available time. Let me lay it out for you . . .

As humans we are consumers. It’s a fact. We consume time, effort, money, food, entertainment, etc. It’s a never-ending facet of our daily existence. There’s value in consuming IF it’s balanced. That’s a big IF !!

The other side to this human equation is being a contributor. This is where you bring something to the table through your performance, your attitude, your approach to others and your willingness to put yourself aside for the “whole” to work. That could be at home, school, church, in the community or at your workplace.

Hopefully, in the workplace, people are both contributors and consumers. The sad reality is that we all have people who consume far more than they contribute. These folks tend to demoralize the culture and suck the soul away from what you’re trying to maintain. They also get the most attention – when that should not be the case.

People who are contributors watch to see how HR and the company responds to employees who are primarily consumers. When this is out of whack, contributors will leave. This is facing the workplace today. We need to switch the lens and set the expectation that we value contributions. We want to equip and value contributions from people at all levels of the organization. Then, when they consume, it will be healthy and you’ll see people stay. Knowing this balance is the “norm” of how you approach work will be the strongest retention tool you can offer.

As we approach another year-end, take note and see where your people stand on the contributor/consumer scale. Make sure to see where you stand as well. This is more effective if you look at all employees from executives to the front line. Talent isn’t only the front end of the process. People are talented all the time for as long as they’re with you. Help them to be contributors !!

The Entire Catalog

This weekend I had a ton of yardwork facing me. I relish time in the yard even though it wears me out. I always make sure to have music playing as my work accompaniment. It helps pass the time and I love having tunes constantly playing most of my days. My phone was acting a bit wonky before I headed out so I pulled out my old, yet reliable, iPod. Yes, iPod.

I’ve had a classic iPod for almost 20 years. Sure, it’s old school, but it still works. One other great thing about it is that its music I enjoy. I know that these days you can stream the music you enjoy and make your own channels. Trust me, if it involves music, I’m on top of it. One of the differences with storage units like iPods is that you can load an artist’s entire catalog onto it.

Years ago when people had to purchase albums, tapes, or CDs they usually bought a complete collection of songs. You could get singles but I rarely did. I wanted to take in everything an artist created. It gave me a broader picture of their vision and talent. There were some “misses” on these pieces of work, but somehow they seem to fit the picture as well. When albums and CDs were the choices you had to get music, I would work on purchasing everything artists recorded. I enjoyed the hits that were usually in the tracks, but I also loved the deeper cuts that few listened to.

The longer I was in the yard, the more songs played. I heard a variety as it randomly chose one tune after another. I was able to add 12,449 songs to my iPod before Apple decided to no longer support their once popular music system. I had more albums and CDs to add, but it is no longer supported. But I digress . . .

I was able to think and let my mind drift during my tasks and the endless flow of music made me think of “talent” in our organizations. You see, I think we are making a few mistakes as we look to add people to our companies. We all look for rock stars and I’m sure we have some success in doing so. However, when we source, recruit, interview, and eventually hire people, we only ask for and look for, a person’s “greatest hits.”

It’s how we write our job descriptions and it’s how we frame the gauntlet for people to get through in order to join us. We only scratch the surface of who these people are and what their capabilities truly are. Digging too far into those deep cuts takes too much time. Something we convince ourselves that we just don’t have. The pressure to find people in an ongoing talent shortage takes precedence over fully considering someone.

It doesn’t stop us from adding people. The problem with only looking for people based on their greatest hits is that those wear out and they get stagnant because they’ve stopped creating new material. This brings us to our second miss . . . we stop thinking of people as “talent” once they’re hired. Even the term we use is talent acquisition which means that acquiring is key. Odd isn’t it? Shouldn’t we look at people as talented all of the time?

I think we can change this narrative if we decide to hire people and their entire catalog !! That means valuing their strengths, understanding where and how they can grow, and how they can be aligned to contribute over a longer period of time. During the time they work with us, you’re sure to get some great hits from them. They may even have enough to build their own greatest hits album from their efforts. Wouldn’t that be amazing ??

It’s time for us not to only ask people to bring their whole selves to work. It’s time for us to engage, elevate and embrace their full talent from the time they join us until the time they leave. The organization has an obligation to create a culture that is holistic and expects people to be able to play every track they’ve recorded. It will make our companies and our team members richer. Make sure you’re tapping into the entire catalog of the talented people around you !!

(The track on the screen in the picture is from the album The River in Reverse by Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint. Here’s the tune so you can enjoy a deep cut from a catalog of one of my favorite artists !!)

Keep it Weird !!

This past weekend, my wife and I ventured to Austin, Texas. I was fortunate to be part of the Austin SHRM Conference. We added some extra time so we could explore the city. We’re trying to do this now whenever we get the chance.

Austin has a VERY cool vibe and it felt like my kind of town. There was art and music everywhere throughout the city. Murals adorned countless buildings with styles ranging from traditional to modern to abstract. The music flowed freely through the air and it changed with every step you took. You heard folk, rock, country and bluegrass all intertwining to make a symphony of eclectic sounds that provided a soundtrack as you toured the neighborhoods.

As we wandered into our first small, local shop a coaster instantly caught my eye and I picked it up without hesitation. It wasn’t only the tie-dye pattern which would have been enough. The message resonated the moment I read it. It was an instant purchase.

You see, one of Austin’s slogans as a city is “Keep Austin Weird.” It is everywhere you look. I found out from a friend who is a resident that the slogan came about as local shops were trying to keep big box stores from coming in to crimp the cool Austin culture as well as put them under. They won out and the slogan stuck.

You see, I feel this reminder helps with how you can practice HR. We often state that we want people to bring their whole selves to work . . . but we don’t really mean it. That may sound harsh, but if you step back and review the majority of actions that HR takes, it’s not built to encourage individuality. If someone was trying to “keep things weird,” we’d take steps to get them back into the fold. We view those who express themselves openly as someone we have to “deal with.”

This has to stop. We need to understand that every person is wonderfully different and unique. They have their weird already wired in. It’s not something they create, it’s how they live. Weird doesn’t mean abhorrent behavior. We’ve made this assumption for far too long and it’s never been right. HR spends too much time trying to confine, control and conform, and it’s exhausting.

I’d rather learn how each employee I work with is unique. I’d rather see how I could encourage them to amplify their strengths and see how their approach and perspectives bring new angles to the work we have in front of us. I’d also love to see HR embrace its weirdness to breathe life, empathy, grace and a people-first approach in all we do. We have the chance to carry this mantra forward and no longer settle into the traditional approaches which are worn out.

The coaster is going to take its rightful place on my desk at work so there is always a visible reminder in front of me. This week see what YOU can do to “keep it weird” !!

Dump Your Bucket

My wife and I are very fortunate. We have a solid relationship with our kids. One of the things I’ve worked on with them over the years is that I’m always available as an outlet. It doesn’t matter the timing, the subject matter, or how “big” of an issue it is to them. This has resulted in some very emotional conversations over the years. They involve a mixture of tears, raised voices, and sometimes some “colorful” language. I never get upset when these convos pop up because I want them to know they have a safe outlet to help them work through the various ups and downs of life. They know that they can dump their bucket with me.

The key to making this work is to not automatically jump to potential solutions. We’re wired to try and solve whatever is presented to us within moments. Too often, we don’t even allow sentences to be completed before we start offering options to work through whatever is presented to us. Ironically, we think that is being helpful and why someone sought us out in the first place. That is so far from the case, but it’s our typical response. This “jump to a conclusion” approach is so limiting and narrow, but it is what we lead with. This is most likely because, if we were honest with each other, we just want to solve and move on.

We feel that people are worth our time and attention only if we can provide the expertise to pull them through the situations they find themselves in. In turn, this gives us a great, warm feeling because we convince ourselves we’ve been such a critical help. I don’t want to seem that there isn’t value in these interactions. The majority of business is conducted with these solution-based snippets with little to no depth or context expected.

Because we don’t take time to let people dump their buckets, you’ll find that their buckets start leaking. People want to have that safe outlet at work. They don’t want to continue to walk around feeling like they’re about to burst. The question to ask organizationally is – Are we willing to do this? There is a risk in allowing people to dump their buckets, but it’s a risk worth taking.

Whenever I am available for my kids, I know the release they experience helps them clear their heads, balance their emotions and work through a path toward resolution. The release is what is needed more than any solution. It’s a much healthier method to try than letting the pressure and stress build up over time. I’ve been there when my kids start leaking. It’s not pretty. They don’t enjoy it and neither do those around them.

This past year, our company has been upfront that we’d like people to have the ability to dump their buckets when needed. It’s been quite the journey and we’ve had some bumps and stumbles along the way. However, it’s been the most freeing cultural shift we’ve ever embarked on. Please don’t think that it’s a constant dumpfest with people grousing all the time. It’s just the opposite. Now we have more constructive conversations because people have had the ability to clear the air and their heads before jumping into the old quick solution pattern. We’ve seen more context, more shared perspectives, and healthier relationships. It’s been needed and it was sitting right in front of us all the time.

I’ve found that more and more of my time leading HR is making sure that people are dumping their buckets. I’m not always the person involved in the conversations, but I am making sure they’re happening. It’s such a valuable use of my time because enabling these sessions to occur is making people healthier, and it puts them in a better position to perform.

This week start looking around at those you work with. How are their buckets? I’m sure they’re overflowing and even leaking a bit. See what you can do. Figure out how to set an environment where bucket dumping can happen. Put on your wading boots and see the great things that lie ahead !!

Fatigue

I’ve lived in the same house since 1991. It was the first house my wife and I bought on our own. Hard to believe that 31 years have passed !! One of the attractive features of where I live is that we have a half-acre lot. There are some massively mature trees scattered throughout, but the majority of the lot is the lawn.

As you know, you can’t keep up with growing grass. We live in the Midwest and we’re fortunate to have fairly consistent rain. I’m grateful for that because I love seeing a green lawn out my picture window . . . until it’s time to mow it once again. I’ve always had a push mower because I enjoy the exercise (seriously) and the time in the yard. I put some headphones on, pick a playlist from Spotify and start down the first row.

When I was younger and had just purchased the house, I could mow the entire yard in 1 1/2 hours and on one tank of gasoline. Now, I do the front yard one day and the back yard the next. I may even sneak in a break during each cut if the grass is overly long. I was 27 when we moved into our house. You can do the math . . . Time is winning as it always does.

Recently, we’ve had an abundance of rain. Inches of it !! I can usually get by with cutting the lawn once a week, but not at this time. A few weeks ago though, I didn’t have any time to cut after work. I am going into the office and am usually spent after a “normal” day. So, a full week went by and my grass must have been trying to overachieve because it was well over six inches when I finally was able to attack it.

This go-around was draining at a level I hadn’t experienced. I ended up splitting the days for the front and back lawn but needed to cut each one twice just to get it back to a manageable height. The usual one and half hour cut turned into five hours !! I was completely spent after both days. When I get finished with a cut, I fall into a chair on my front porch to rehydrate and catch my breath. After tackling the entire lawn for over two days, I could barely move.

As I was trying to regenerate on the front porch, I understood complete fatigue. There was nothing I could do to recover. It was concerning. I took some deep breaths and calmed myself down. I chose to sit and relax for as long as I needed. My wife brought me a giant cup of ice water and some small snacks. It gave me some time to think.

I feel people at work are experiencing this same level of fatigue more often than not. Still, they go to their jobs dutifully as they struggle. They make it through days barely, but they make it. I’ve seen it trickle down to interactions between people throughout their days as well. They can’t escape it.

If you try to capture the cause(s) of the fatigue people are experiencing, you fall short. There is no one circumstance that is consistently facing every person. Everyone is looking at the landscape of ever-increasing costs for day-to-day items such as food and gasoline, the global turmoil happening on various stages, the endless ripping and tearing of political diatribes from all angles, and that doesn’t include the situations in each person’s home/family structure. Throw on top of this the often unclear expectations and communication pressing people in the workplace. It’s overwhelming to determine all that could possibly be overwhelming those we work with.

Is there anything we can do? Do we just succumb to the crushing weariness and shuffle our feet while mumbling complaint after complaint? I don’t think so. There are ways to assess where we are and how we can move forward in a healthy manner.

First of all, we need to acknowledge it’s all around us and affecting people at all levels of an organization. We need to affirm what people tell us and not dismiss it as someone slacking off. The next step is to assess each person’s situation for what it entails. No broad stroke movements. No overarching declarations. Possibly no easy solutions. Just listen and assess.

The next step is critical and runs contrary to all we do in companies. Allow people to have a personalized path to fight their fatigue. One by one. You need to stick to this individualized approach because no one is experiencing fatigue in the same manner or for the same reasons.

Finally, be patient, empathetic and genuine. This sounds simple, and it can be if we allow HR and employees to work their way through their own path for their personal wellbeing. Step into this my friends. You can be there for each other.

Time for a change . . .

I’ve been in an HR role for my entire career – on purpose. I didn’t fall into the field or find it accidentally. I know several of my peers who have done that, and I love that they found the field. If you’ve been in the profession for any amount of time, you’re sure to hear or see, the perception that others have of HR. We hope that we’re viewed in a positive light. Honestly, everyone is regardless of their profession.

This past week, my friend Erich Kurschat posted the first eight emojis when he typed in “HR.” This is what came up . . .

Interesting set of emojis aren’t they? When I saw them, I replied to Erich and asked, “Is that how others feel when they work with HR, or is it how HR feels about working with others?” He stated he thought the same thing.

I wasn’t kidding. The range of emotions pictured above is merely eight of the thousands we encounter on a daily basis. Heck, you may run through all of them in one interaction alone !! It concerns me that the ones that came up during the search are all negative or ambivalent. It doesn’t bode well for what we do and how others view their interactions with us in an HR capacity. It’s also disappointing that many of you reading this who work in HR would say, “Yep, that’s how it is.”

Who wants to work in a field where the descriptive imagery is negative? I can’t think of one person who would willingly run to join it. Let’s state what people are experiencing. Chances are people work with HR when there’s some situation that is already tenuous. That’s because we’ve allowed ourselves to take on that mantle. Organizations and senior leadership put us in the “call when there’s a people emergency” box and we dutifully stay there. We feel we dare not push back or rewrite the narrative because at least we have a role to fulfill.

I’m tired of the self-defeatist mantra of HR. It’s old, worn out, and outdated. Sure, there are bad HR pros . . . just as there are in EVERY other profession !! We continue to wallow in the muck because we are the only profession that is intricately intertwined with humans all the time. Our actions affect the work life and personal life of others.

That is a great thing !! In fact, it is the best facet of working in HR. Without people, HR can’t exist – and it shouldn’t. The same truth is foundational for companies and it’s time we own, lead, shape and make this a reality and not an aspiration.

If we want the emojis to change when someone searches them in the future, then HR needs to be intentional in turning the perspective around. This has to occur one encounter at a time. We need to be cognizant that we are involved when things get sideways or ooky at work. Isn’t it great that we’re called in to assess, address and resolve situations? Each situation is a chance to build in a good outcome. You can show how empathy, consistency and a positive approach can work through anything constructively.

Let’s not allow the negative images to continue. Let’s step up and show through our behavior, our words, and our presence the value of human resources. It’s imperative. It’s overdue. And . . . it’s attainable. Yes, we may stumble and fail at times. Yes, we may be frustrated or frustrate others. However, it remains an incredible profession that makes a tangible impact on the lives of others.

It’s time for a change. I’m going to do all I can to change the images and I hope you’ll join in.

Not in Charge

I was listening this weekend to the Top 40 songs of 1985 on Sirius XM’s 80s on 8 channel. It’s definitely one of my go-to stations because it covered the transitions of life from high school to college to starting my career in HR to marriage. It was a big decade !! A staple song of the 80’s and especially 1985 was the phenomenal “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears.

Quick aside – they have a new album that just came out in 2022 entitled The Tipping Point and it’s epic !! Now back to the post . . .

Listening to this tune for the millionth time made me reflect on how accurate the title and the lyrics are even today. When you look around society and in the workplace, people want to “rule.” It is rarely overt and clearly obvious, but there’s an underlying tone of ruling. You see it all the time in the workplace. People use titles and levels to make sure others know that they are supposedly “in charge.”

There is a real draw for people to feel in charge. I guess that’s okay if it makes sure work and communication have clarity and removes uncertainty. However, when people yearn to be in charge they tend to want to be over people in an unhealthy manner. There’s an expectation that when those in charge bark, people automatically jump without question. I’ve seen this throughout my career and it’s never been good.

There’s a modicum of assumed power that people enjoy yielding over others. It gives people a false sense of worth, influence, and attention. They feel that they are the “go-to” people when it couldn’t be farther from the truth. It can be crippling in organizations because the self-centered nature of ruling tends to lead others to work around and circumvent interactions. There is far more effort in avoiding those who try to wield their scepter in order to work with others who effectively lead.

There’s a massive misconception about leadership in that this infers being in charge. Effective leaders may get things accomplished, but the focus is rarely directly on them. You’ll find true leaders direct, shepherd, encourage and approach others willingly and naturally. Their role may afford the chance to finalize decisions, but it’s not the primary driver for them.

As HR professionals, we need to jump into the midst of breaking up the ruler complex. Instead of grousing about the behavior of people who regularly hold themselves above others, jump in and address it. Make sure people know that this approach is ineffective, limiting, and unnecessary. We need to start in our own backyard as well. Too many HR pros wield assumed power because we’ll throw out the fear and “you might get sued” excuse. This isn’t effective and never has been.

There are many ways to make sure you foster a culture of leadership versus allowing those in people management roles to rule over others. Here are three I have found most effective. They work regardless of industry type.

Model the behavior you expect in others – People respond more to what they see than what is said. You can set the standard by your example of how you work with others before you give one word of coaching or advice. Your behavior is what people respond to. Be mindful and intentional. It works.

Be aware of how you approach others – There may be no greater attribute to work on in human interactions than this. How you approach others sets the stage for productive or destructive outcomes. A collaborative, willing approach will go so much farther than ever telling/demanding people listen and respond just because you said so.

Show grace – People may not be aware of their behavior and approach. You don’t know how they’ve learned from others or what has been modeled to them. So, instead of correcting them, give them grace and meet them where they are. Shaping people into leaders takes time, effort and patience. Failure will occur and it’s hard to break from old patterns. People need to know you’re going to come alongside them in a safe way. Then, over time, they’ll respond and evolve.

This week, cue up some Tears for Fears on your Spotify and keep it playing as a reminder of what we’re facing. It’s time to transform rulers into leaders. Trust me, your organization will be better for it !!

One Note

This past Friday, my wife and I were fortunate to take in the season finale of the phenomenal Cincinnati Pops Orchestra !! Not only was it the 10th anniversary of their acclaimed conductor, John Morris Russell, but a favorite group of mine was a featured guest – Over the Rhine. If you’re ever in Cincinnati, I highly recommend seeing the Pops perform while enjoying the majesty of Music Hall.

As a self-avowed music freak, I couldn’t contain myself. I was going to get to see live music once again, and it was a night out with my wife. The program was full of current hits, older standards, and great accompaniment with the guest musicians. It was easy to get lost in each piece as the orchestra played. You could fully take in all of the moving melodies and harmonies as the music wafted out over the audience. It was challenging to see which section would take the lead and the conductor led each section with ease. It was both enthralling and surprising at the same time.

You may not know this about me, but I’m easily moved by most things. I can be brought to tears at the drop of a heartfelt story or a well-played musical piece. Heck, I’ve even welled up during a TV commercial !! I am cool with this emotional response and feel it’s something that defines me.

Well, during the night at the Pops, I was teary several times. It was glorious !! I wasn’t thinking about those seated around me or embarrassed in the least. My wife knows what’s coming any time we’re out. The first song of the second half of the concert was the debut of a piece written by the conductor’s friend who had been working on it for 10 years. It was his interpretation of the well-known Prelude in C Major by Bach.

The hall was silent when the harpist started plucking out the familiar arpeggio and I could feel my chest start to swell. It was as if I was witnessing this on my own with no one else around me. When the full orchestra came in, the violins played one prolonged note for several measures, and the tears started rolling down my cheeks.

One note. Just one and my emotions burst forth.

After the amazing night, I reflected on that moment. How incredible was it that one note could bring so many joyous emotions to the surface? Seriously. One. Note.

When we look at the privilege of working with other people we tend to focus on what isn’t accomplished or how someone approached us in a way that frustrated us. If you listen to the conversations happening in the halls, or online, you get barraged with negative comments about others. They dominate how we talk about the people we allegedly value. The “talent” of our organizations must be full of more shortcomings than real skills.

I know this isn’t the case. We rely on others, and we should. So, instead of talking about what people “don’t do,” what if we helped find their one note? What if we found the one thing that unlocked their passion and helped their emotions flow out of them freely and positively? I think our workplaces would be overflowing with employees who couldn’t wait to contribute and excel if we found their one note.

This week, change your approach and your conversations. Don’t allow people to keep talking about others through a negative lens. Take up your instrument and start playing. Soon you’ll see people connect and respond. Trust me. It will bring tears to your eyes.

To give you a nudge, here’s some Bach . . .

Tell Me Something Good !!

I took a few weeks off from writing a blog for some much needed PTO and a chance to get away to be with HR peers and also family. A few weeks ago my wife and I got to explore the wonderful city of Houston, Texas. I was invited to speak to a company’s HR team as part of their off-site team-building gathering.

Our travel was uneventful and I was geeked to get to the venue to meet the Perry Homes folks. We were unsure of where to go because we had never visited this sprawling metropolis before. I was a bit anxious because we were getting uncomfortably close to the time I was supposed to speak. I hadn’t set up yet. I didn’t know what the room looked like. How would the AV work? And, how many people would be present?

My wife was patient and reassuring as she usually is. She said to skip checking into our hotel and just get to the retreat. She’d stay with me and we could check-in after I was done. This was just what I needed to hear. She provided the first good thing to happen on our adventure. We soon met the second good thing and that was Angela.

Angela was the contact from Perry Homes who was eagerly awaiting our arrival on the first floor of the converted industrial building. I approached her because I felt we were lost and she calmly said, “I’m waiting for our speaker and his wife.” I let out an audible sigh of relief and said, “That would be us.”

“Fantastic !!” she exclaimed. “We’ve been very eager to meet you and look forward to what you have to share.” Then she showed us up to the theater room (a legit one with big, comfy recliners) and I was able to get things ready to go. My wife was going to wait outside and Angela went out and invited her in. “You should join us.”

The room had 20+ members of the HR team and I was fortunate enough to hear the business at hand. The leaders were positive, encouraging and upbeat. They shared current success stories and news of good things to come. This was a phenomenal environment to jump in and give my presentation. We laughed, learned and shared a good hour together. As the team got ready for a volleyball game, food and drinks, Angela handed my wife a list of things to do and places to eat while we were in town. I also received recommendations by email from some of the HR team. They wanted us to have a great weekend together in their city. Good thing number 3 !!

After sharing in the Tex-Mex lunch buffet, we headed just a few miles away to check in to our hotel. Standing behind the desk was good thing number 4 – Yolanda. “Welcome !!” she exuberantly greeted us while we were a good five feet from her station. “I’ll bet you’re here to spend some time at our great hotel. I’m so glad you chose us. Now, let’s get you settled.” She continued to gleefully talk to us throughout the process. She let us know that she’d be available for anything we needed throughout our stay.

You may be skeptical and think that Yolanda just had great training and she was reciting a script for exceptional customer service. You’d be wrong !! We saw her over the next few days and she remembered us and asked how our stay was going. I watched her treat every person with interest, engagement and grace. It oozed out of her. She and I had a chat and she said, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years at this hotel and I just love it !! I’m going to be 60 soon, and I know that I won’t be doing this forever, but I’m going to enjoy it while I can.”

My wife and I had an incredible time in Houston. We went to the restaurants the Perry Homes folks recommended. We took some of the sites in town including the NASA Johnson Space Center and the traditional game of miniature golf we play on every vacation. Yes, we had a few snags during our trip like traffic and a few bumps in our plans. However, the majority of our time was exceptional.

Too often we walk through our daily lives burdened by fret, concern and the perceived anticipation of what will go wrong. Our focus is based more on obstacles, problems and potential pitfalls than it is on anything good. What a difference it makes when you intentionally refuse to get swallowed by those negative influences. There is so much in front of us that is good.

I’d love to say “great”, but I’m a realistic optimist. Good works. Good is available and sitting right in front of us. This week take a deep breath and clear your mind. Then, as you step into what’s ahead of you, look for the good things. They’re waiting for you !!

To get you in the mood with a dash of funk and soul, here’s some Rufus and Chaka Khan !!