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” !!

Living a Legacy

This past weekend I experienced one of those milestone moments in life. My father passed away in October of 2020, but we didn’t have the opportunity to bury him at that time. That was because both of my parents decided years ago to donate their bodies to science. So, my dad first went to Wright State University then he was cremated. The pandemic then threw the proverbial wrench into this situation just as it has everything else. His headstone was delayed and we weren’t sure when we’d have the chance to celebrate him one more time.

We were fortunate to have spectacular weather and my family was all able to come home to be with my mom to support her. We traveled a mile outside of town and all gathered around his final resting place. The blue skies, billowy white clouds, and bright sun added to the peaceful breeze and covering shade under a mighty oak combined for the perfect setting for our graveside ceremony.

I was grateful to be able to be in this “final” goodbye. My dad was incredible and lived a full life. I miss him but have been at peace since 2020 with his passing. That was because he lived his legacy far more than “leaving” one.

He taught me the power of honesty, integrity and being intentional with everyone you meet and in all you do. He lived his faith publically and showered love on my mom every moment of every day. He filled our lives with humor, folksy sayings, and steadfastness you could always rely on. He was always in my corner and a ready sage to give advice, direction and encouragement.

All of these attributes have been woven into how I approach life now. Every interaction we had was a chance to teach, impact and shape me. He modeled life in how he’d like to see it in others. He never lectured, he showed. His approach was to work alongside you. Sure, we tussled, disagreed and even argued over things. It never got in the way of our relationship. It enhanced it because I always knew he loved me no matter how heated moments got.

You see, over the history of humankind a minuscule percentage of people made such a historical impact as to have had a visible and lasting “legacy.” We know their names and their contributions whether they were positive or negative. They may have attained some level of notoriety or celebrity, or their contributions affected large sections of society.

I’m not saying that you could be one of those people, but most likely you will not be. That shouldn’t inhibit you from being like my dad. You can live your legacy every day. We need to realize that we encounter people for a short period of time when we consider the times we truly cross paths. Since that is our reality, why not leave a positive mark when you meet?

If we’re honest with each other, it only takes a small situation for us to become frustrated and say things that are harmful or destructive. Someone could cut you off in traffic or not move fast enough in line. They could let you down with what they’d say they’d do or their approach is just different than you when you work together. Those negative emotions just come out and when we react, we say things we didn’t need to. It’s hard to fight back and not fall into this trap.

We have the opportunity to be more mindful. Knowing that each interaction leaves an impression may influence us to react differently. I want to be someone who lives in a manner that is intentional, positive and encouraging. When I fail others, and I will, I want to show grace and ask people to forgive me when I get frustrated or disappoint them.

I want to be someone who lives the legacy I want to leave. I won’t get to see or know if I’m “remembered”, but I have the opportunity to live in a way now that can make a difference in the lives of all I encounter. You can do this as well. I encourage you this week to join me as someone living their legacy daily.

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 !!

What’s Stopping You ??

This rainy Sunday gave me some time to jump into another writing exercise. I’ve decided to write another book which would make three for me. I’m anxious and eager at the same time. I don’t take anything for granted in starting this. It’s both exhilarating and daunting because I’m sure I’ll hit some patches where it will get slow and challenging to push through.

Writing a book was not in my line of sight in the past. I was encouraged by several people to give it a shot after doing public speaking at conferences for years. It sounded like an insurmountable challenge and I ignored the suggestions from others. On top of that, internal voices of doubt also kept me from moving forward. I came up with countless excuses of why and how I couldn’t write an entire book.

Finally, one day I took my laptop down to my favorite lunch haunt and told myself that if I could type one chapter of new material, I could write a book. I started typing. The words began to flow from the ideas I had, and then at the end of lunch, I had a chapter. I was geeked to have taken the step to break through my doubts, insecurity, and uncertainty.

Do you have something that’s been nagging for you to accomplish or attempt? I’m sure there is. It doesn’t have to be a book. It could be something monumental or something simple. There’s no set list of what you can do in your life personally or professionally. Too often, however, the same doubt that held me back is the same for others. It takes an intentional effort to break through this wall which will appear to be impossible to do.

The truth is it takes more energy to be inactive than it does to be active.

We believe just the opposite. We convince ourselves that the energy, knowledge, talent, etc. to take the first step is too much. So, we sit and start to have feelings of regret which only piles on our ability to move. Soon we’re stagnant and unsure we can ever reach those accomplishments which had filled our hearts and imagination. As time continues to naturally flow by, we are less and less likely to attempt anything.

Let me encourage you to turn that around !! You see, the only certainty in life is time. We hope we will have decades and decades to live a full life, and I hope that is the case. However, there is no guarantee. Thinking we have endless time ahead of us is a positive way to approach life, but it also gives us a reason to procrastinate. Please note that I live in the hope I have many years ahead of me. There’s nothing at this time to show me that isn’t true.

I just don’t want to live hoping the accomplishments that could be ahead of me will fall into place by themselves. I will never have “enough” time or a big amount of time with nothing pulling at me for my attention. It just isn’t how we experience daily living.

This week pause for just a bit. Reflect and write down those things you would like to accomplish. The list you feel you’ve been unable to get to. If you want to change jobs, what steps do you need to take to make that happen? If you want to make more of an impact in what you do in your current role, who do you need to collaborate with for it to become a reality? If you want to travel to a location you’ve always wanted to see, what budget can you put aside in order to save and reach that destination? If you had people encourage you to write a book . . .

I think you get what I mean. It’s time to quit living in quicksand. It’s time to see what’s stopping you and then see how you can take that first, difficult step. You’ll be amazed at what happens when you do !!

Roomie

This past week the clock turned back a few years to a time that continues to have had some of the most lasting impacts on my life. I pulled into the parking lot of Sinclair Community College to pick up my best friend, Fred, as we launched north to the Kalahari Resort in beautiful Sandusky, Ohio.

We were going up for the planning of the Ohio SHRM State Conference happening later this year in September. It’s the conference’s 50th anniversary, and Fred is an emeritus member of the planning committee. I’m fortunate to be this year’s emcee and keynote speaker. Those are just the trappings of what is truly important – the people we’ll see and hang out with in a few months.

Fred is more than a best friend to me. He’s been my mentor and confidant for close to 20 years. He has long since retired from being an HR practitioner, but he still has a heart for making the profession great. I used to be on the conference committee with him for years. In fact, at the first State Conference I attended, Fred introduced me around to his peers who had been active from all over the State for years prior to my involvement. It was a great way to see those who had been solid role models of engagement, passion, humor and dedication.

Back in 2004, Fred asked me if I’d like to room with him at the Conference. He had been rooming with another committee member, Tom, for years but Tom was the Conference Chair that year and had a separate room. I said I’d be glad to and we’ve been roomies ever since. Why is that important ?? Let me tell you.

Over the years, we have taken the time to be in each other’s lives through ups and downs, job transitions, family growth and challenges and more. He has continued to be an encourager as I was fortunate to grow in volunteer roles at the State, Regional and National levels. We keep in touch weekly and live in the same city. There is always a chance to jump on a call, send a text or share a story. We make time for each other intentionally and it’s always done with ease.

Coming back to the State Conference, Fred reached out to this year’s chair, Meghan, and said, “Make sure Steve and I are rooming together.” She touched base with me and wanted to see if that was cool with me. I laughed and said, “I’d have it no other way.” Our 4-hour drive to Sandusky felt like 10 minutes because of the rich conversation, world problem solving and constant laughter filling our car. The commute home was the same.

At the conference center, Fred and I made sure to invite the entire committee to our room to hang out, share tales, have a few adult beverages and just get to know each other. You see, that’s what Fred and I do as roomies. We pull everyone together so they can experience what is more meaningful than any work we ever do. It’s time together to develop friendships. We’ve been doing this for years at every event we get to attend together (and when we’re on our own.)

We invite any who will gather to join us. We take time to hear about them, who they are, what they do, and what’s happening in their lives. There’s no precursor or gauntlet to run through. There’s no judgment, labels, or obstacles to being included. The invitation is to be a human and build a relationship.

This time, as in times past, the energy and joviality of people coming together happened seamlessly. We shared why we’re roomies and why this is the “norm” for us. We hope it’s an example that they can have with others in their workplaces, their communities and their homes. This isn’t overstated. It’s a fact.

This week, I’ll make sure to reach out to Fred and I’ll open the text or conversation with a heartfelt “Roomie !!” The smile will cover my face and my heart will warm once again. There’s nothing better than to have people like Fred in your life.

I Say Hello – #SHRM22 Thoughts

The lanyards are ready to be hung on my hook of past conferences. The conference bag full of swag I thought I needed is bulging as I get ready to haul it into the office and add “toys” to my ever-growing office menagerie. The memories of incredible food at several places steeped in Cajun spices still make me salivate. And, the incredible improv blues/jazz/rock melodies from the jam session where any musician could bring in their instrument and jump on stage at Cafe Negri still resonates fondly in the recesses of my mind.

Oh, yes, then there was the ocean of people moving like a giant system of streams throughout the endless New Orleans convention center. Each one trying to find a concurrent HR session to make sure they were getting a full dose of professional development. The thousands of attendees of SHRM22 were constantly on the move. Session rooms were filled and emptied. The lines for coffee, food, vendor swag, box lunches and chances to win a ticket to SHRM23 ebbed and flowed with ease. The parties and gatherings that once again came to life throughout the city were all magnificent, colorful, and energetic !!

The SHRM22 Annual Conference and Exposition was fulfilling in so many ways. To see HR peers gather together en masse was thrilling to see. Watching people shop in the SHRM store, have conversations with each other off on the side, seeing the SHRM Executive Network grow and participate, as well as a full contingent of HR students from around the country filled my heart. On top of this, there were several global attendees that filled the halls. I met folks from Korea, Canada, India, Barbados, Bahamas, Ireland, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and more.

Yes, I’m a fan of the Annual Conference. I’ve been fully immersed in them for over the past decade as a volunteer leader from the local to the national level. I’ve been fortunate to be a speaker for several years and I get to sign books. I get a thrill every time I get to meet a person willing to chat and tell me their story as I sign my name. This year was a “return” for me because I was able to be an “attendee.” Yes, I had social media commitments and I spoke at two sessions, but that was stepping back from the past when almost every moment was scheduled with obligations and appearances.

I loved it !! It was freeing to swim in that ocean of people.

I wanted to make sure people felt a bit of that same passion. So, I chose to throw down a gauntlet to see if my peers would willingly pick it up. They did and it was magnificent !!

I noticed, as with most HR conferences, that people are far more concerned with getting their lanyard, their badge, their conference bag, etc. than they are in greeting and meeting the people milling around them. Attendees rush to sessions to grab a seat. It’s great to see full rooms, but the effort to run to sit is astonishing to watch. Few, if any, look up to see the thousands of amazing humans within arms reach.

People who are talented, experienced and disconnected. It’s true. In the 35+ years I’ve been in this field, HR pros eagerly take in as much content as they can at every session, but they miss the chance to meet the most incredible resources available to them. If even a fraction of the attendees at SHRM22 met each other, we’d see a gathering of such phenomenal HR knowledge exist that we’d have a natural bank of intelligence we could tap . . . if we connected.

The gauntlet I threw down was during one of my sessions when I challenged the capacity room to stop looking down. Pause. Look up and notice the other humans. Then . . . say “Hello !!”

The challenge was to be carried out throughout the venue including escalators and I said I’d be watching to see if people did. Oh, boy did they !! That was on a Monday afternoon and from then on you could hear people greeting each other out loud for the rest of the conference. The energy at the event jumped even higher as you saw smiles, laughter, and cheerful greetings happening everywhere. It spilled out into the events, the streets, and all over the city !!

It was a simple reminder that we need to show life ourselves in order to breathe life into others. What we do as HR pros is challenging work. We need to not only enjoy our time at HR conferences, but we need to return to our workplaces and bring encouragement, strategy, humor, fun and light. It’s not enough to say you attended SHRM22. You now have the chance to shape, shift and improve your role, your company, AND yourself !!

The gauntlet has been lifted, a positive wave has gripped many and they are now going forth to their corner of the HR Universe until we meet again. (And I can’t wait !!)

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.