Mr. Lusk

The year was 1980 and I was a junior in high school. I was geeked to jump into more college prep courses and one of those was Chemistry. This class was only open to juniors and seniors. Many of my friends signed up as well, but we weren’t really sure how it was going to go. We heard that a new teacher was going to teach Chem and that brought about an air of uncertainty.

We didn’t handle “new” well. I joined the Ada school system in 7th grade and it took me almost an entire year to break in to find my way and make friends. That’s because the vast majority of my classmates had been together since Kindergarten. Now that I’d been accepted into the mix and going to my fifth year with this cohort of peers, I was as skeptical as they were about any new teacher.

As we took our seats, this slender man with large glasses entered the room and turned to the blackboard. With a piece of chalk, he printed his name . . . Mr. Lusk.

It didn’t seem to fit. He was VERY young compared to the much older teachers in our high school. He had a mild demeanor and softly introduced himself.

“Hi there. My name is David Lusk and I’m your new Chemistry teacher. I recently graduated from Ohio Northern University and this is my first class and first day teaching full-time.”

Our jaws hit the floor. He was brand new !! I’m sure he had some student teaching experience, but nothing like taking on a group of juniors and seniors who were extremely close and familiar with each other. We were sure that this was going to go south. Being immature, even though we had all of life already figured out, we made up our minds we were going to give him a shot, but we were going to stretch the boundaries as much as possible too.

The first few weeks were pretty tame. We jumped into learning the Periodic Table and started with the very basic building blocks of Chemistry. He seemed to be chill enough and the classes were interesting. He gave us a schedule of labs we’d be doing and our interest peaked. I hung out with three of my close friends and we maneuvered our desks to be like a little pod in between the two large, long lab stations. We didn’t ask. We just shuffled together and watched to see how Mr. Lusk would respond. He didn’t mind and we didn’t pay attention to the seniors or the other juniors in the room. The seniors were marking time and had little interest in the subject or the new teacher. The girls who were in the class were crazy rule followers and they felt the four of us should get back in the rows of desks like all of the other kids. Upsetting them was icing on the cake.

After about a month, we had an unusually early snow. Our room was on the first floor in the “new” wing of our school. We had a large paned window with a small panel that would jut out just about ten inches. As class was going on, my buddy, Tom leaned over and said, “Watch this. It’s time.” He ducked out of his desk went back to the window and popped it out. Mr. Lusk was writing formulas on the blackboard and people were frantically taking notes.

Tom popped back into his desk with a giant, fresh snowball. “What are you going to do with that?” I asked. “You’ll see.” He stood up and threw the snowball to the front of the room easily and it smashed into the blackboard !! We sat there in awe and anticipation to see how the new teacher would react. Tom was ready to get busted and go to the Principal’s office. It was an epic act of anarchy and we were sure he was going down.

What happened next set our opinion of Mr. Lusk going forward. He reached up calmly, wiped off the wet streaks of snow and kept writing the formulas. Not a word. He didn’t turn around. No reaction at all. As we received evil glares from the rule girls about what dorks we were, we sat there in pure admiration. Class ended about thirty minutes later and Mr. Lusk still didn’t bite on our attempt to rattle him.

The four of us formed a group called The Conclave (we were massive nerds in school) and we decided we’d be Mr. Lusk’s champions and supporters from then on. It was the best decision Tom, Jamie, Greg and I ever made. We ended up learning lesson after lesson from Mr. Lusk. He even added Chem II and taught Physics our senior year. We were the first to sign up. Tom and I also scheduled it so that every, single study hall, we went to the Chem room to hang out with Dave.

After graduation, we still made sure to stay in touch with Mr. Lusk and drop in every so often to see how he was doing. Every time we did, he’d explain that we were his first class with pride. He continued to check in with us long after we completed college, got married, had kids, and stepped into our careers.

This weekend, I was able to go to his retirement party 43 years after he stepped into that Chemistry room with a bunch of goofy juniors. He has been honored year after year as the best teacher and most beloved teacher at the high school. He has taught well over 1,000 kids the joy, magic, and importance of Chemistry and Physics. He was active in tons of additional activities including running the school Quiz Teams, overseeing Student Government, and taking trips to Cedar Point to let kids enjoy the amusement park.

The receiving line for Mr. Lusk started at 2:00 pm and didn’t wane until the reception was over at 5:0o pm. An endless group of people including community members, former teachers, members of his church, and alumni from the many years he taught came to tell him “Thank you” for all he had done.

Greg Lavan and I were the two members of his first class who came back. You need to remember when Dave was starting his teaching journey, he was 22 years old and we were . . . 17 !! We were basically peers. We’re on the precipice of entering our 60s and he is just a bit ahead.

When I was able to have some time with him, we embraced with a deep fondness. I tried as best I could to express to him how he changed my life and I wouldn’t be who I am without his investment. We both had tears welling up in our eyes as we shared our moment and I giggled as he stood in his Monty Pythonesque “I’m not dead yet . . .” t-shirt and jeans.

I spent hours with Greg and another classmate, Dave West, who was a year younger than us and we shared hours of stories, laughs and joy about Mr. Lusk and his impact on our lives and the lives of others.

Left to right: Dave West, Steve Browne, Mr. Lusk and Greg Lavan

I spent five hours a week with Mr. Lusk for a year in class and then ten hours a week my senior year in class and infinite hours skipping study hall. He embraced The Conclave and every. single. student. who entered his classroom over his 43 years. He left a mark that set direction in my life and had as much of a meaningful, lasting impression as my parents. I love him and he knows it.

I share this story not only to honor him but to remind you dear reader that you leave a mark on people every time you encounter them. This is true whether you intend to or not. Don’t overlook this. Choose to leave a positive, long-lasting impact and influence as Mr. Lusk did.

You never know what will come of this. Being intentional and cognizant of this reality will shape your attitude and approach toward others. I have taken the example Mr. Lusk exhibited to heart. I do my best to be mindful of leaving a positive impact on people every time I have a chance to be with others.

To thank Dave, I found a mint copy of Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police issued in 1980 the first year he taught. Greg and I signed it as two members of The Conclave. One last chance to leave a memento. So grateful that he swiped the snowball off the board and kept going. He has made an everlasting and eternal investment in the lives of many because he did.

Five Fingers

I haven’t been writing the past few weeks because I took some time “off” to pursue one of my other passions – speaking. I was fortunate to have been asked to present at three conferences – Workhuman in San Diego, the Oklahoma State SHRM HR Conference in Oklahoma City, and the New Mexico State SHRM Conference in Albuquerque. Being that I live in West Chester, Ohio just outside of Cincinnati it’s taken me some time to understand and acclimate to the different time zones I found myself in. I’m just now getting back into a regular wake/sleep cycle.

Each event was magnificent in its own way !! I could write blog posts about each one for weeks and weeks to come. A highlight for me at each conference involved a mix of seeing familiar friends I’ve met over the years accompanied by meeting scores of new people. There is nothing that captures my attention as much as this. I’ve always been wired around people throughout my life. I can’t get enough of meeting and engaging with new folks.

At New Mexico SHRM, the incredible volunteer leaders burst into the main room and brought people to their feet with music, dance, clapping, and extravagant purple sequined coats and hats. Energy and anticipation were high as they set the mood for the full conference ahead. They shared details of the schedule, thanks for all of the work people had done to pull the conference together, encouragement to visit and chat with exhibitors and sponsors, and more. I was used to this cadence because it reflected a pattern I’ve seen at many SHRM State Conferences. It was so well done and I personally was getting more geeked myself to be a part of what was about to happen.

While waiting to take the stage and open the event, I was fortunate to experience something that put things into perspective in a way I’ve rarely experienced at past HR gatherings. Margaret (a new friend by the way) took to the podium. She is Navajo and she explained the conference had a Native track and then she introduced the amazing Gabriel Ayala to open the conference with a prayer and a song. He is a singer, musician and artist also from the Navajo nation.

Margaret and Gabriel welcomed everyone as fellow “five-fingered beings.” They explained that the Navajo described humankind as five fingers because it is something that binds us all together as humans. I was floored. Something so visible, obvious, and yet overlooked by all of us.

Gabriel encouraged us to embrace each other as fellow five fingers. He noted it is far better for us to see how we have a common bond than it is to continue to try and tear each other apart. He acknowledged we are all unique and have known differences that make us strong as fellow five-finger beings. He then sang a prayer in his original language as tears rolled down my cheeks.

It was perfection. To recognize and affirm we are all humans should be at the opening of every HR event !! Too often we focus and dwell on those situations and circumstances that exhaust us. As HR pros we forget we have a common bond and we fall into the trap of the dark side of human behavior. We don’t see how to step back and get out of the muck.

Take heart !! The majority of people around us are fantastic most of the time. As humans the “all of the time” standard is out of reach. However, most of the time is very adequate. We need to take the advice of Margaret and Gabriel and call upon our five fingerdness.

This week when the urge to focus on the negative starts to well up within you, look down at your hands. Then, remember the people you will work with have those same five fingers. Value them as fellow humans first and foremost. Trust me, it will reshape your day, your outlook, and your approach.

(The artwork above is Gabriel’s native take on The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album. You know I needed to have this !!)

Mending Fences

In the past, I’ve been sharing about home repair adventures at our daughter’s home in Indianapolis. Every time we visit we’re sure to be doing some sort of project, and we love being able to help. During Easter weekend, Melanie reached out and surprised me by asking if I’d like her help to repair our split rail fence. I jumped at the chance !!

My wife and I have lived in the same home since 1991. When we moved in, we were excited about the beautiful split rail fence that bordered our backyard. The family we replaced had a dog so there was an extra wire fence attached to the split rails. I took the interior wire fence down soon after we established our home. We didn’t anticipate getting a dog ourselves and I wanted to fully enjoy the wooden perimeter.

Over time we’ve had rails rot to the point of needing to be replaced. The horizontal pieces aren’t much of a challenge. The hardest part is getting them from the hardware store back to our house while protruding out the back of my SUV. I’ve figured the slow-motion transportation out, and find that I’m replacing three to five rails each year. I’m good with that. The extreme hurdle that has only occurred three times in 32 years is when a vertical post breaks off.

This usually occurs at the post’s base but it results in six rails being affected. Something you may not know is that split rail vertical posts reside in a hole about 2 to 2 1/2 feet deep. So, getting the partial, buried part of the post out of the ground is physically difficult. However, you need to get it out before replacing it with a new post.

Melanie and me mending the fence.

When Mel got home we traveled to one of the big box hardware stores near us to buy a vertical post and five replacement rails. We had two remaining from when the fence breach occurred and I was sure we could replace a few more around the yard. After two hours, lots of mud and water were removed along with the buried post remnant, and a hole appeared. We placed the new vertical post and made sure it was level. We put the two past rails in their place and added four brand-new rails. The fence had been in disrepair for over two years. I didn’t have the right weather, enough time, or a willing helper. It was easier to leave the gaping hole and make excuses than face the work needed to fix the fence.

Sound familiar?

We all have relationships in our lives that could use some mending – personally and professionally. I’m not going to venture into when there’s splintering in our personal lives. I’m sure there are circumstances and experiences I have little context about to give any specific advice. I would like to mention this though – Our time with the people in our lives is limited. Why have that time wasted with fences that could be mended if you took the time and steps needed to attempt that? I know some personal relationships in my life need more of my intentional attention. I’m willing to try and hope I can get them back in place.

At work, we’re better when there aren’t broken fences. Too often we spend time talking about how relationships are fractured to other people who aren’t part of the relationship. We avoid going to the people involved for some of the same reasons I chose not to fix my split rail fence. We tell ourselves we don’t have time, and we’re sure that it won’t help. This can’t be the case. Companies that continue to work in a manner where factions of people pull each other apart will never be as successful as they could be.

HR pros need to be the ones who go to the hardware store, get the materials needed, and then pull the people together who need the mending. Being willing to step in to bring the organizational fence back in order is essential to leading from the HR chair. Instead of listening to the complaints and conversations where people keep the fences broken, take the time to turn things around by resolving that you won’t allow for any gaps in your perimeter anymore.

We need to realize that when our boundaries are in place and relationships are healthy, then people can perform. When they perform, the company succeeds as a whole and among each employee involved.

This week, look around your company’s backyard and determine where your fence needs attention. Then, get to the store buy the rails needed and start mending.

I Know A Guy . . .

This past weekend I took a look outside in my yard and saw various tufts of grass starting to grow a bit more than in other areas. The flowers in our beds had begun breaking through the soil and mulch. You could see that Spring was trying its best to squelch the unending Winter, which was encouraging. It also meant that the next season of working in the yard was inching ever closer.

I’ve mentioned several times before that working in the yard brings me joy. It’s increasingly exhausting the older I get, but I wouldn’t trade one moment of that exhaustion. I love being outside, taking in the sun, getting my hands dirty, and especially making the looping walk of mowing the grass. Of course, that means I need to make sure my sturdy lawn mower is ready to go. I consider myself somewhat handy, but not when it comes to mechanical things with motors.

So, I folded the seats down in my Chevy Equinox, laid down a blue tarp, and hoisted my mower up into the car for its annual check-up. Years ago there was a large store that sold and repaired mowers in my town. I’m not sure why it went out of business, but one day it was just gone. I was at a loss for what to do now to get my mower maintenance done. One of my dear friends Bob told me that another one of our friends, Dave, “knew a guy.” I was geeked because I needed a new place to go. I called Dave and asked about this new option. He told me the name and location of this new haven and I went to check it out.

When you go to Jericho Mower Services, you find yourself heading through neighborhoods and over into an area of small industrial shops nestled into a series of cul de sacs. When you enter the minuscule lobby, you smell oil, gas and hear the clang of wrenches working on the mowers lined up in the back of the shop. It’s magnificent !! The owner is the person who warmly greets you with, “What’s up brother?” and you’re set to go. The team at Jericho always takes care of your equipment and they give you a detailed explanation of what they did or what’s needed.

I dropped off my Toro self-propelling unit at Jericho this Saturday and was told it would be about three weeks until it was ready. The owner was warm as ever and I knew I was in good hands. Talented hands. I was comfortable because someone who had a skill set I lacked was not only able to meet my needs but exceed them !!

What we forget in the workplace today is that there are so many talented specialists who are “go-to” resources when a fix is needed. Often they are overlooked until the time we need to contact them for help. We all “know a person” who we can rely on to provide laser-focused assistance. They may be a tradesperson, an IT professional, a mechanic or maintenance person, or a specialist in a department who excels in having a narrow focus.

I’d love to see us change the narrative and perspective on this. We all need people who possess various talents and we should value who they are and what they do. There is no hierarchy of importance that needs to be followed. Each person in an organization or who provides support for an organization from a third-party effort has immeasurable value !!

Be thankful that you “know a guy” when it’s needed. Just understand these wonderful people are essential and needed all the time and not just in a pinch. I can’t wait to get my mower back and get the chance to see the Jericho owner another time to thank him for all he does for me and others. Bring on Spring !!

The Impression That I Get

We took the trek to Indianapolis once again to our daughter’s house for Thanksgiving. She wanted to host the gathering since it was her first one there. So, my wife and mom brought some dishes and we spent time enjoying each other’s company, some incredible food and tons of laughter. My family has never been very sedentary. If there’s a chance to get out and enjoy some activity, then we’re going to do it.

We piled into a car on Friday and drove out to Newfields and the Indianapolis Museum of Art to see the newest immersive “Monet & Friends” exhibit. We had seen the VanGogh experience a few years ago and were excited to see what this would entail. You enter a room and find yourself surrounded by flowing images of artwork covering the various walls and the floor !! There is a soundtrack that compliments the show and pulls you deeper into the artwork. It’s not possible to see everything that happens. You don’t really need to. It’s better to get lost and flow with the colors, images and sounds.

Interspersed with the famous works of the French Impressionists were descriptive slides to give you context about the time, society and culture these artists experienced. One of the slides which caught my attention described how radical this group was because they broke for the traditional art world. Most art, up to that point in time, had been more portrait driven. Artists depicted historical and religious figures and scenes. The paintings looked more like what we would consider pictures taken by a camera or phone. They’re beautiful but they lacked much variety. The impressionists chose to paint everyday life and “common” people.

Monet’s Water Lilies at the LUME Indianapolis

They looked at the world around them and captured the “impression” of the situation they personally observed. They also deviated from portraiture and created a new form of art using a full palette of colors and various levels of light. They didn’t consider the life moving around them as mundane. Everyday life had a purpose, and the artists wanted to make sure their canvas kept each moment in time perfectly frozen. The result of their efforts has made their work considered classic now.

As I stood enraptured in the ever-changing visuals, I wondered how many scenes have flown by me and I never even recognize they occurred. They didn’t warrant enough of my attention to warrant an impression. However, maybe they should have because I’m sure those scenes involved people. People who wanted to be seen, noticed, or acknowledged, and I was focused elsewhere. It doesn’t mean I was trying to be dismissive or ignore them, it’s just how we experience life.

I didn’t like that feeling whatsoever. If this small group of artists could stop in the midst of the bustle of Parisian life in order to put their brushes to canvas, why couldn’t I do the same? What’s keeping me from taking in the impressions happening all around and savoring them? Nothing. I can enjoy every situation if I just choose to.

I think this is a better approach to follow at home, at work, and with those whose paths we cross. Taking the time to enjoy the humans and the situations we find ourselves in gives life so much more fullness and depth. This coming week slow down, look around you and see what impressions are happening. Jump into them and put them on a “canvas” of memories. See how much each day becomes brighter and more purposeful !!

(To give you some initial inspiration here’s a great tune from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones !!)

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 !!

******************************************

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 ??

Just My Imagination . . .

Last week my wife and I were able to do one of our favorite things – go to the theater !! We saw the incredible show – Ain’t Too Proud – which chronicles the remarkable career of The Temptations. The moment you see the marquee lit on the stage you can feel tingly anticipation. We were pretty familiar with many of their songs and when the first note hits you were instantly transported back to 1960’s Motown.

The show is a mix of hit after hit sung beautifully by the cast while also being craftily narrated by the character playing Otis Williams. He is the founder of The Temptations and the only living original member at 80 years young. The group’s story is filled with a series of amazing highs as they reached the heights of fame over several decades. They broke barriers and crossed over from being seen only as a black R&B group to becoming one of the all-time best-selling and recognized groups around the world. Their music is timeless and has outlived their heyday.

As magnificent as their success was, they were also plagued and marred by dramatic lows including struggles with egos, infighting, drugs, alcohol and untimely death. The show candidly covers these lows just as much as they did the aspects of success. The destructive behavior of some of the original members led to the difficult decision to ask them to leave the group. When group members were replaced, they experienced the magic of being a Temptation until their humanity crept in and the same set of harmful behaviors started showing in new members as well.

Towards the end of the show, Otis shares that there have been 26 members that have been Temptations over their 60+ years of existence. It’s a factual, sobering statement. It’s not one of pride and joy. It’s more an observation of survival.

Like most things, I see a parallel that applies to HR in my life experiences. When it comes to talent in our organizations, we will often overlook behavior that pulls teams apart if someone is talented “enough.” We will suffer through whatever shenanigans they do because they produce results. We need to be honest about this. Leaders will turn the other way and say things like “that’s just the way __________(insert name here) is.” We excuse detrimental actions without so much as a peep.

Otis Williams did just the opposite. David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks were once in a lifetime talents as musicians and performers. However, when Ruffin’s drug addiction and Kendricks’ dissension about the group’s direction tried to alter the trajectory, Williams asked them to leave. Think of the courage that took. It was very possible they wouldn’t survive the loss of these two originals. Thankfully they did.

It’s very challenging when talented team members become “bigger” than the organization. There is no doubting their skill level and contribution, but there is more value in having a collaborative and cohesive culture. ALL people are talented, not only a few. Make sure that you keep consistency in your culture and value the contribution from every person. That has far more longevity than focusing predominantly on the bright shiny stars.

One of The Temptations most stirring hits was “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” As I close, take a listen and see the power and beauty of a group that performs as one. Let’s make sure we do the same in our companies !!

On Loan

Do you have neighbors? I’m fortunate to have some great ones all around me. With Spring just starting to burst forth, it’s time to get out in the yard. I know that if I need a hand or to borrow a tool (or two) from one of my neighbors, they’d be very willing. I am the same. It’s great to be in a position where we’re willing to help each other out.

The key to any tool borrowing is the understanding that they’re returned in good shape after they were used. It’s wonderful to have the right implement to complete the tasks at hand, but there’s never an expectation you get to keep the borrowed tool(s). In fact, if you did keep your neighbor’s tools, they’d be less likely to let you borrow any more in the future.

This past week I was enjoying an episode of the HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcast featuring a friend from Scotland – Scott Leiper. He shared a wonderful perspective he heard from the incredible Kirsty Mac who reminded him to look at employees who work at our company as being “on loan.” I loved this the moment Scott shared it. He went on to frame that he loved this as well and it helped him view people in a much healthier way.

You see, we don’t view people as being with us for a period of time. We think of them in permanent terms very quickly after they join our companies. In fact, we’re quite put off when someone decides to leave our organization. We may even become indignant because we just don’t understand why someone would “turn” on us. If we were honest, we may miss someone if they change jobs, but we’re more likely upset because we worry about how this transition will impact us !! It’s true. We continue to talk in terms of job requisitions to be filled instead of humans bringing talent to our teams.

Add on top of this the sentiment expressed by most employees that they’re rarely engaged or recognized if they stay with a company. The mantra we continue to perpetuate is about work, tasks, procedures, strategies, and goals regardless of who is accomplishing those things. It’s astonishing that we keep people at our companies at all !!

Let’s turn the narrative around. Let’s embrace the reality that we have our people for a period of time. Let’s encourage them to stay awhile and value them every day for all they do. Let’s get excited for the entire time we have “borrowed” them to allow them to perform, thrive and drive our organizations forward. How would your culture and workplace look if you understood you only have a finite amount of time to work with those around you? I’d bet it would matter and you’d make sure everyone was anchored, involved and valued. You would make sure their talent was used to do the good work you had in front of you each day.

Let’s quit talking about, and focusing on, people changing jobs as part of some Great Whatever !! We have to quit following the next big trend to just mimic and bemoan our circumstances. Let’s celebrate the time we get to have with our people instead. We should use the full term of our loan so when it’s completely paid we get excited for the next step of their career.

From now on remember that our people are on loan. They’re going to be given back to our “neighbor” throughout their career. Trust me. When you do this you will start making the first foundational step of truly being a people-first organization !!

Time to Develop

We live in a world of “instants.” We desire instant affirmation, adoration and adulation. We are impatient during our commutes, the delivery of goods that we order or any time we are required to wait in any line of people more than one. We truncate our communication and make broad decisions based on snippets of words without seeking, or asking for, context.

We binge our entertainment and get frustrated when the next season may, or may not come out. For those who can’t even sit through an entire show, we consume TikTok and YouTube videos in larger volumes which ironically take the same amount of time. We have even bought into the thought that these behaviors help us “relax” when they seem to make us more entrenched in taking in more and more.

Put on top of this environment that we have raised at least two generations of humans who know no other reality. Every moment of their lives has happened at an exponential pace. Every. Moment. They only know immediacy and wonder why those who are older fight against what they see as normal. Add to this the rapid expectation of work, reward and advancement are pressing its way into the workplace and culture of every company.

Don’t think that I’m positioning this as a complaint. I personally am someone who has realized the climate I live in even though I’m old enough to remember when you couldn’t get access to almost anything you wanted instantly. In fact, the majority of my life has been lived before the age of instancy. It’s something that is starting to reemerge in the workplace. People want to know how to slow down, how to breathe, and how to develop.

I fondly remember the days when we had cameras that required actual film. It seemed nearly impossible to load the camera correctly with the roll of film the first time. You then had to advance the film until you saw the indicator on the back of your camera show the number “1” just to get ready to take a picture. After all of that effort, you had to hope that the scene you wanted to capture held still enough for the click of the button for the mechanism to close and open to imprint the negative image on the film tucked away inside the camera. You couldn’t even enjoy the picture you took until the entire roll of film had been used AND after you dropped it off to get developed.

Ironically, I don’t ever remember anyone complaining that this process took so much time. You had actual anticipation when you went to the drug store to pick up the prints to see if the pictures even turned out well. The issue of time was built into the art of photography whether you were an amateur or a professional. You couldn’t make it go faster. You were at the mercy of taking your time in order to enjoy the outcome.

This is what is reemerging in the workforce even today. People yearn to be developed more than being measured. They want the time and attention of their managers, their peers and senior leadership. Employees understand that this desire exists even in the middle of the mad rush of the day. Many are now choosing to make the decision to change jobs and/or companies. I think this is happening in part because companies are choosing to not take the time to develop people.

This is a giant blind spot. We keep fostering the myth that pace and production are far more important than people equipped to perform. HR would be an even more strategic leader if they’d be willing to step up and fight the myth. I have made a conscious effort to put development as a priority this coming year and going forward. It’s something that I hope to assess, define and create on a person-by-person basis from executive leadership throughout the organization.

I’m not quite sure what it will look like, but I know that it’s needed and that people are longing for it. Time is our best ally if we choose to use it intentionally as we continue to move rapidly. Development can happen in every company naturally as long as there is someone willing to stem the tide.

You see, I love that I can now take a picture whenever I want with the “camera” on my phone. I’m grateful for the advancements in technology that have improved this process because now I have more time to develop those I work with. Reallocate your time. Adjust who gets your attention. Take time to develop others. You’ll love the pictures that come from doing it well !!

Clear the Fog !!

Last week I was getting ready for work like I normally do. After having breakfast, I loaded up my laptop and jumped into my car to head to my office. I’ve been working in person (safely) for the majority of the pandemic.

(Quick aside – I am fortunate to work for a regional pizzeria company and I made the decision to be in person because our amazing Team Members have been in person every day. I wanted to make sure to support them. Now back to the post . . .)

I turned on my favorite morning radio show and 45 minutes later I pulled into the parking lot. There was nothing notable about my commute. But, that was the problem. I didn’t recall a single moment of the commute. No recollection of whether the traffic was heavy or not. No idea if someone cut me off or if I drove too close to someone myself. I don’t recall the weather or what was playing on the morning show. The only thing I remember is parking my car and heading into my office.

That’s not good. It was as if I was in some fog that clouded every facet of my morning. When I arrived at work, I couldn’t say I was “prepared” for the day at all. I was unconsciously going through the same pattern I had become accustomed to. Later that day, I felt like I was lost and the fog kept infringing on all that was going on.

Sound familiar? I don’t think I’m alone in this at all. I understand that people head to their jobs because they’re used to the patterns that define how they face their day. This is true whether you’re working in person or remotely. What are you missing when you’re mind is covered in fog? The truth is, you’re not sure.

The whole experience was unnerving and I was shaken about it when I headed out to lunch. I don’t want to be a person who goes through the motions of work, has convenient conversations, plods through project work, and then heads back home feeling I’ve had a “day.” Not a full day. Not a day that seemed to slip away, but a “day.”

I was determined to clear the fog that had so easily encapsulated my mind the very next day. I’m sure there are a myriad of methods and approaches that people postulate to clear one’s head. I’m also sure that following prescriptive steps works for some. I’m not that person. I knew I needed to break my pattern and I kept it simple. Before jumping into my car in the garage, I walked outside and looked around. I slowed down to take some deep breaths and listened to the birds chirping in the trees. The brisk winter breeze slapped at my cheeks and even brought some tears to my eyes.

I felt more centered and aware of my surroundings. I then committed to stay aware of all that I saw and heard. When I did this, it seemed like color entered my line of sight once again. I saw things that had been there for some time as if they were brand new. I enjoyed everything as I took them in. The fog dissipated right away. I felt more energized and eager to take on the day. I no longer felt trapped in a haze. The day was enjoyable right off the bat.

I was able to consider the items and situations I was going to face. I looked forward to interacting with everyone once again and I felt renewed. I know that I need to be intentional in taking steps like this so that brain fog doesn’t creep back in and fill my head. I’m sure that I could fall back into the mists very easily if I don’t stay on top of this.

I wanted to share this story because I have a feeling that there may be others around you who struggle with brain fog themselves. You may be the nudge that breaks through for someone else. They may not realize they are meandering themselves.

There is too much to life to be covered in layers of fog. Take the steps that work for you to make sure your mind stays clear and sharp, and be alert that you may be able to help others as well. Let’s clear a path so we can take in all that is ahead !!