Who Are You ??

I am an unabashed music freak !!  Seriously, I have music on constantly.  In my car.  In my office. When I do work around the house.  Almost everywhere.  My office has a signed copy of U2’s The Joshua Tree album (vinyl), a signed microphone from Peter Frampton and a huge collage of the legends of rock.

To keep my musical intake going, I’ve been listening to the autobiography of Pete Townshend, from The Who, called, Who I Am. It is incredibly raw, candid, deeply detailed and fascinating !!  This post isn’t meant to glorify the rock life because, honestly, he has made MANY choices that are detrimental in many ways.  The cool thing about it though is that he recognizes that and owns up to both his successes and failures.

However, one thing I am taking away from this deep dive into rock lore (he casually mentions how Jimi Hendrix was his friend . . .) is that Townshend is exactly who he is.  It’s not a charade.  It’s not an act.  It’s real at an almost uncomfortable level.

This brings me back to HR.  I think that too many of us in our profession are guarded in our approach to most of what we do.  We are hesitant to be ourselves at work because we’re “HR”.  This is odd to me.  How do we expect others in the workplace to be real and open when we’re not willing to be part of the tribe?

I think we’re missing out when we’re not transparent about our likes, beliefs, joys, concerns, successes, faults, etc.  In The Who’s epic anthem – Who Are You? – one lyric that Roger Daltrey screams is – I REALLY WANT TO KNOW !!

Most people I know, especially those in HR, are reluctant to put themselves out there because we feel we have to take on some corporate persona that distances us from everyone.  And you wonder why people take pot shots at who we are and what we do?  If we’re not willing to be genuine and accessible, then how do we expect others to take the first step?

Be Who You Want to BeHere’s how I have ALWAYS looked at life (and HR).  I make myself open and vulnerable the moment I meet you.  Does that mean that I’ve been hurt?  Yes.  Does that mean that some people take advantage of that? Yes.  Has it resulted in more lasting, sustainable and meaningful relationships in all areas of my life?  Most definitely !!

There is an amazing amount of risk and reward if you choose to live this way.  Overall though, it’s opened doors to be a more intentional person and HR pro who can more effectively connect with the humans all around me.  That matters.  And, it makes HR so much more meaningful and worthwhile.

To be the “Human” in HR you have to be the “human” first !!

So, this week start peeling back the layers and let people see the great person you are.  I have a feeling you’ll see how freeing this is, and I hope (truly) that I get to meet you, know you and see who you are !!

Image courtesy of Quote Diary

Stop the Just a’s !!

Not sure if you know this, but my life during the day is being the head of HR for LaRosa’s !!  We’re a regional pizzeria that is a true Cincinnati tradition.  I’m very fortunate to work for a known brand, and our pizza is honestly the best on the planet !!

The role I have is very strategic and is expected to be.  I get the chance to work with our 1,200+ Team Members over 15 pizzerias, a manufacturing plant where we make our incredible dough, a call center and our corporate office.  This isn’t a bio or a “look what I do” post.  It’s a reminder.

You see, I hear a phrase in my company that occurs in every company around the world.  It’s a phrase that relegates people and doesn’t show the value they truly bring to work every . . . single . . . day.  Whenever you hear someone say, “Well, they’re just a (insert position here)”

If you ever say this, or hear it said by someone else, you should correct the person who says it and tell them to cut it out.  There isn’t one position in an organization that is more critical than another.  All employees play a role and it is critical that we see the value of what they do.  For example . . .  If the phenomenal cooks in our restaurants don’t do their best, it has an adverse affect on the guest’s experience and possibly the company.  They aren’t “just” cooks.  They are the first chance to make a person’s visit to our location the best meal they’ve had !!

I think most people reading this will be cool with addressing the “just a’s” of other roles in our companies.  Now . . . let’s talk peer-to-peer.

HR pros need to quit saying, and acting, that we’re “just” in HR !!  Seriously.  There is no other position, or field, that is so critical of itself.  We continue to belittle what we do and it makes absolutely no sense.

Yoda QuoteI think we need to position ourselves differently by our actions and our behavior by being Businesspeople who practice HR.  We need to see ourselves as being integrated throughout our company, and make the steps to do this on a regular basis.  This isn’t a “try” position.  It’s a “do” commitment !!

I’ve had some people be skeptical about my enthusiasm about how much HR rocks !!  It doesn’t dissuade me in the least.  In fact, it makes me want to try even harder to get our field out of the mode of being a 2nd class position in organizations.

This week DO something about this.  (1) Stop allowing others to sell your employees short. (2) Value and elevate the great people who make your company successful !! and (3) Don’t ever, ever, ever say you’re “just” in HR again !!

Image courtesy of Inspiration Boost

When Kids Grow Up . . .

This past weekend I led our Troop Advancement Outing.  As the Scoutmaster, it’s my one outing where I am officially “in charge.”  That term is used very loosely because the boys plan everything.  I only make sure that the outing is focused on helping the new kids work on things that help them advance in rank.

It seems that every campout I run for the Advancement Outing has a unique weather element to it !!  This year we had below freezing temperatures, rain and sleet. Yipee !!  You have to love Ohio in April !!  The amazing thing about this weather anomaly was that the boys didn’t even flinch an eye.  Sure, it was cold, but they were camping and that was good enough for them.

During this full weekend, the older Scouts taught the new Scouts how to build fires, wield axes, identify plants and animals as well as basic First Aid.  One requirement we always include is a five mile hike.  I always go with the kids because I love doing the activies with them !!  The hike rocked !!!  We saw evidence of deer, raccoons and beavers.  We saw plants and trees we’d never seen before and the highlight of the hike was the break we took.  We stopped at a creek and I told the boys they could spend 15 minutes creeking.  They literally jumped off the bridge and straight into the freezing water !!  They searched for crayfish, fossils, caves, etc.  The energy level skyrocketed !!

Later, our First Aid walk was truly epic !!  The boys walk through the woods and come upon various injured people and they have to identify the problem and a solution to how to help them.  My amazing son led this and came up with Attack of the Insane Doll !!  So, each injured scout along the route had been attacked by a stuffed childhood toy and left the boys punctured, blistered, burned, rabid and broken – with a compound fracture.  The boys who acted out the walk were spectacular and the make-up and props were of Hollywood quality.

So, what does this have to do with HR or the workplace ??  Everything !!

You know what happens to kids when grow up ??  They become our employees !!

So, the bright-eyed and creative kids who jump into a freezing creek and get muddy and soaked may be CEO’s !!  The victims of the insane doll may be engineers, factory workers or managers.

However, when they grow up and come to WORK we have to do our duty to suck their souls out to make sure they “perform” and don’t bring their whole self to work.  We have standards to uphold for goodness sake.

Also, if employees actually did bring their entire being to work, what would happen ??  The sad thing is that we don’t know.  People put on their work face to make sure that things get done and order is ensured.  Also sad !!

Blur the LineWe have a great opportunity in HR to eradicate this and get the kid factor back into our workplaces.  When I think of culture, I want to see people who are engaged, genuine and playful.  I’m fortunate to be at a company that not only allows that – it expects it.

So, this week be a kid.  You know you want to and the other kids around you are just waiting for someone to break out and make it FUN versus it being WORK.  The creek’s waiting . . . just watch out for that doll !!


When someone wrongs you, how do you react?  Are you angry, vindictive, ready to pounce?  For most of us, the answer is “it depends.”  We’ll take a breath and then decide the best course of action.

However, when it comes to employees, we often forget to breathe first.  We jump to the nearest set of policies and then comb through them to see what level of discipline needs to be metered out.  It amazes me as an HR person that when employees slip up, the reaction is usually swift, harsh and doesn’t take anything into consideration – really.

Our systems of progressive discipline and layers of breaking Rule 1.0.1, Subsection A litter our field with little regard of how these actions affect the person who broke said rule.  We act as if they are the most disloyal, uncaring and detrimental person who EVER worked for the company !!

Here’s a question for you . . . ever make a mistake or break a rule at work?

Did the appropriate action take place?  Were you written up, counseled, suspended or fired?  What if you were in this situation?  How should the Company treat you ??

GraceIt’s time for a different approach to HR.  Please take note that this path is much more difficult, painful and intentional.  However, it works !!


Before launching into the employee handbook, remember that your decision and actions are actually affecting another person’s life.  That may be their life at work, or their life in general.  I don’t think that as HR professionals, we ever think about the person we’re addressing.  Our system is more important because we feel we are acting justly and, in doing so, we’re protecting the Company.

I’m not saying that discipline and termination aren’t warranted at work.  However, I use a yard stick which says that these only occur based on an employee’s behavior and actions.  Even with that benchmark, I still review each case and take into account all of the factors as well as the person who’s about to be disciplined.  I want them to come out of any conversation understanding the situation, its context and how we move forward from there.

Now, so you don’t think I’m being Utopian or an idealist, understand that I practice this personally inside work and outside of work.  It’s not a popular position because most people want a pound of flesh when they are wronged.  I’ll hold out until the last moment that I can before making difficult decisions because I believe in people, even in the darkest situations.

You see, I make mistakes and I have disappointed others – even those closest to me.  How can I expect grace from others if I am not willing to be graceful myself?  Also, how will others show grace if it isn’t given to them?

I know this works.  And, I have reassurance as well because I’ve seen the results.  It’s like U2 says in their phenomenal song – Grace from All That You Can’t Leave Behind – “Grace finds goodness in everything.”  Try it and see !!

Believe in others !!

One summer while I was in high school, I worked as a counselor at an Easter Seals camp for disabled adults.  Going to this camp genuinely changed my perspective on life !!  I entered the camp a bit freaked out honestly.  Everyone around me was vastly different that me, and what I was “used to.”  People in wheelchairs.  People who couldn’t speak clearly.  People who couldn’t feed themselves, or pretty much care for themselves on their own.

Remember, I was a teenager.  Arrogant, self-assured, indestructible, etc.  This was too much for me. The adult who had asked me to work was a counselor I had a Church Camp for years.  He was a mentor and knew me better than I knew myself.  The first night at camp, I cried myself to sleep because of the challenged people and my inability to accept them.

The first full day of camp, Duane (my mentor), asked me to sit in a wheelchair and he tied my left hand (I’m left handed) to the arm of the chair.  He then told me that I was teaching art class all day for campers, but wouldn’t be allowed to leave my chair.  I had to eat all of my meals, use the restroom and live the life of the campers.  I didn’t handle it well !!  I was frustrated at how limited I found myself.  Duane had told the campers to really push me – and they did with fervor !!

As the day came to a close, one of the campers, Bill, who had severe cerebral palsy and “spoke” with a rudimentary computer, pulled me aside.  He said something that changed me forever.  He said, “Steve, don’t be frustrated.  We ALL have disabilities !!  Some are just more visible than others.”

Believe34 years later, Bill’s words rang true once again . . .

This past week I was honored enough to be a part of Disability Awareness Day at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio.  One of our LaRosa’s Team Members, Mark, was going to speak about being able to work and be independent.  Mark was born without arms and he is one of our Customer Service Representatives and has been with us for 7+ years.  As he came to the podium and microphone, he boldly spoke of his work and how he loves taking people’s orders so they can enjoy our great food. He doesn’t view himself as being different.  He knows he is a person who is able !!

The room was at capacity and was filled with people whose disabilities were “more visible than others.”  They cheered for Mark when he finished and a person in a wheelchair gave me a high five as I came off the stage as well.  The great people on this day reminded me that we need to believe in ALL people !!  Everyone at the rally felt you were included and not separate.  We all came together – as it should be.

So, this week make sure to change your perspective on people from now on.  Everyone has value and a life worth living to its fullest extent.  Don’t pass someone over, or avoid them because of their appearance.  Instead, reach out and let them know that you believe in them.  It will change your life as it has mine.

Are you a safe haven ??

Too often we hear people say “Shhh !! Here comes HR !!”  I know that most HR folks shudder when they are treated in that manner. When that happens, what does that say about how people view HR in your organization?

Now, this isn’t a post that chides HR for not being visible, or tries to geek you up about making HR more vibrant and engaged.  Those should be active ways of approaching HR everyday in my opinion.  They should be in your fabric.

What needs to be added is the ability to be accessible and available.  Do employees look to you as a safe haven?  What does that entail?  It’s a bigger jump than you may think.

You see, most employees do the “hush thing” when we come by because the only time they interact with HR is when there is a problem or something has to be addressed.  If employees only feel that they can approach HR at times of dire need, or the classic need to put out a fire, then you’ll never be a safe place for them to share.

Safe PlaceAlso, this isn’t just for a certain level of employees in the company.  You need to be a safe haven for front line staff as well as executives.  It’s like we’re Switzerland – a neutral body that is open and willing to listen, counsel and empathize.  In my opinion, it’s an opportunity to be an incredible asset within an organization !!

If you want to bring the “human” factor into your workplace, and make it a fact versus a passing trend, then you need to become a resource that is known to be safe.  Trust me, people yearn for this but few HR people do it.  We feel that we need to take sides with either Senior Management or the staff.  Great HR needs to position itself to say – I’m here for the people.  ALL of the people !!

Don’t you love it when you have someone you can confide in?  Those conversations may lead to working through tough situations and stronger employee relations.  I’m not asking you to cover for someone, or do something unethical or illegal.  However, turn off your Compliance First mentality and try the Human First approach.  Trust me, people want it from all of us.

This approach takes patience, energy, an open heart and most of all a genuine willingness to be there for your people.  I encourage you to become a safe haven.  It will make HR more rewarding than you ever thought it would !!

Opportunity or Task ??

“People.  They’re all around us every day.  It’s as if we HAVE to deal with them !!!”

Sound familiar?  Sound like you?  Sound like most people in the workplace . . . and HR?  It’s not surprising.  The workplace is filled with people.  It’s an amazing fact.  They desperately want to interact, communicate, perform and excel.  But, most of our efforts each day are to limit, thwart, conceal and conform.  Why is that?

Do you know that the 1st thing the vast majority of people do when they take that first step out of the car to enter the office is to heave a massive sigh and drop their shoulders resigned that they are off to WORK once again.  We do all in our power to make sure that people are in line, on task and diligent.  We overlook the chance that they are creative, intuitive and willing.

I think it’s because we treat the interaction between people as a task and not an opportunity.  We dread the possibility that someone will want us to stop, spend time with them and listen !!  Our e-mail, twitter account and texts are vastly more important than the conversation we are “stuck in” right now.  We are so horribly distracted and long for impersonal means of communication, that we will do almost anything to make sure we keep things short and sweet in person.  Ironically, we wonder why people never change the behavior we see in them that we wish would improve !!

The fact that this must change in the workplace is a gross oversight in HR !!  In our quest for “engagement,” we refuse to genuinely interact.  By making things a program, we miss the opportunity to take things in, relish and reflect on what is said and then act in tandem with others.

We tend to say, “Well, if Steve would just change, then I could make things work between us.”  (or something similar)  The fact is that we need to take the initiative and first step to look at others (even the really difficult ones) as an opportunity each and every time we interact.  People deserve this to be honest.

So, this week, drop your task list even though it will make most of you twitch a bit.  Look around you.  Find the sea of people that are a vital component of you are and what you do and dive in !!  It will get messy, challenging and even overwhelming.  But, the outcome is worth it !!


All you need is . . .

This past weekend, some friends of mine and I went to a local pub.  Our intention was just to catch up and share a few adult beverages.  When I got there, my friends were all excited because the pub was doing a music trivia contest.  A DJ played a snippet of a song and your team had to guess the song and the artist.

Now, for those of you who don’t know me very well, I’m sort of a music freak !!  I have music playing constantly.  In the house, in the car, while I’m doing yardwork and ESPECIALLY in my office. (We’ll get to this in a bit . . .)

My friends knew that I was really into music, so we jumped in eventhough we missed the first round.  By the end of the contest we moved from missing the first round to placing 5th out of 20 teams.  To say I was geeked was an understatement !!

The true highlight of the night though came during The Beatles “speed round.”  Ten songs with just a small bit played and you had to guess.  During this round, more than the others, the patrons of the bar sang every song out loud.  It didn’t matter that we were competing against one another.  The music brought everyone together.

What does this have to do with HR ??  EVERYTHING !!

To often in the workplace, we focus on what pulls us apart.  In fact, some people in organizations count on this fact because if they can try to get people to see what bothers them, then you won’t even attempt to look at what draws you together.

To be honest, this is draining and defeating.  To constantly be at odds with others within your organization, and possibly in your own department, is detrimental and leads to discord and other nasty things.

What things do you have around you that bring folks together?  Is it music?  It is another cultural tie that people rally around?

Remember, there will always be folks who won’t join in to the ties that bind others together.  The trick is to move toward the ties and let them be.  In time, they will either not like the positive direction you’re going, or you can sit with them and say, “We’d love to have you be a part of this.” And show them what they’re missing.

I don’t apologize for the music that emenates from my office.  In fact, I keep it going even if I’m not in there to enjoy it.  HR has the responsibility to set the constructive culture of a company and show how people can bring their indiviudal nuances and strength to make the “song” even better !!

The Beatles kept it simple in their classic, “All You Need Is Love.”  The question you have to ask yourself this week is . . . What do we need ???

Image courtesy of Society 6

It’s Just Dough !!

Have you ever made a comment thinking it was innocuous, but it really had damaging effects ??

Let me help you out with this.  Your comment usually starts with “It’s just . . .”  You don’t mean this to be harmful, but you don’t see how your position is calling the situation simple or “below you.”

I’ve heard people say, “What’s so hard about what you do?  I mean, it’s just HR !!”  Needless to say, I didn’t feel to good about how that person viewed me or the work that I did.  You see, this post isn’t an indictment of others, it’s a confession of my behavior.

At LaRosa’s, we have a bakery that makes our pizza dough.  The great Team Members that work there start as early as 3:00am and the 2nd shift wraps up around midnight.  They make thousands of pizza doughs a week.  One of the positions in the plant is along our two lines where the dough balls get flattened and then sent down a conveyor and people stretch and shape the doughs as they pass by.

Imagine if this was your job.  Now, imagine if you stretched dough for 40 hours a week for 20+ years !!

Could you do it?  I am at the Bakery often and there have been some Team Member issues, as there are in all locations.  People one day were having conflict over how one person on the line stretched dough vs. another person.  I said, “Seriously?  It’s just dough !!” The brilliant Admin. Asst. who works at the Bakery quickly corrected me.  “No, Steve, it’s their job and they want to make sure that it’s done right.  It matters to them.”  You could have seen my shoulders sink into the floor because I knew she was right.

This weekend I went to the retirement party of one of our doughline Team Members.  She has been stretching dough for over 20 years.  I came to realize that without her, and others who do great work, I wouldn’t even have a job.  If we don’t have dough, we don’t have pizza !!

Look around your organization.  Are there people or positions that you feel don’t contribute much?  How arrogant is that?  If you’re in HR, you should feel the weight I felt when I made this trite comment.

ALL people add value !!  ALL of them !!  It’s time we did our best to rid our companies and our profession of any more of the “It’s just” comments.

I felt very fortunate to be invited to Joyce’s retirement and loved seeing her pass to her next phase of life.  What she did was critical to the foundation of our company and our customers.  I will never belittle someone and what they bring to work again.  How about you?

Don’t You Forget About Me !!

Over the weekend, I saw the new movie Pitch Perfect.  Part of me wanted to see it because I love comedies, but the other part of me wanted to see it because I was in a Show Choir – the Varsity Singers – during high school.  It seemed like a great combination, and I was right !!  (Make sure you see this flick !!)

What made it EVEN better was the reference to an essential movie that I lived through – The Breakfast Club.  I was surrounded by all of those characters in the movie, and let’s just say I could “connect” with Anthony Michael Hall.

The key theme in this legendary movie, was that these people didn’t even know each other until they were forced into a situation during detention.  Even then, they had incredible filters and stereotypes of what each person was like, or so they thought.  The Pitch Perfect movie plays on this by pulling together another unlikely group of people together to make an amazing team !!

Too often, as HR professionals, we want to group people together in our organizations instead of celebrating their individuality.  We’re concerned that if people don’t “play by the rules” or “fit in,” then they’ll surely be trouble makers.  Also, in the classic closing song by Simple Minds, the lyrics remind us not to “forget” people.

Organizations tend to reward, promote and recognize those that are the most vocal and visible.  The people who may be the true talent who underpin those that are public are often relegated to anonymity.  Since they never speak up, we are okay with it.

This needs to change.  ALL employees have the opportunity to add value.  ALL employees !!  These great, unmined talents need someone to take note of who they are and not “forget” them.  This is squarely upon our shoulders as HR people.

I’m not talking about the exercise where everyone shares on every answer during a meeting or training session.  I’m talking about seeking these employees out intentionally and giving them our attention to let them know that they matter !!

So, this week, be like the end of The Breakfast Club !!  Break down the filters, seek out the greatness that works all around you and lift them up !!  They’re waiting for you !!