Being a Dad

Father’s Day is a wonderful time filled with a mix of emotions. It’s a day to be thankful and fondly recall my two dads. My biological father, John, passed away when I was four years old. I don’t have a ton of memories of him, but my extended family has told me we have the same walk, same loud laugh, and the same dose of extroversion. My dad never met a stranger. He would make quick friendships at every turn. It served him well as a Seargent who served in Vietnam because he was always focused on his men instead of himself.

My mom remarried when I was 13 years old to my second dad, Don. It wasn’t easy for him to jump into a family with two teenage boys. However, he made it work. He was a glorious example of work ethic, serving others and the community you lived in. He was always the wittiest person in the room, and he taught me countless lessons on how to be a consistent husband and father. He passed away at the end of 2020 and I miss him daily.

My “kids” are now adults. They are out on their own and I couldn’t be more proud of them. They are finding their way in life, their careers, and their relationships. We are having real conversations about every topic possible and I love seeing them continue to grow and develop. There have even been a few times where they’ve asked my advice !! I nearly fainted the first time it happened and cherished it at the same time. Making the transition where we are now has been the best stage of fatherhood yet.

I know I have been fortunate with my two dads. Trust me. We have had our ups and downs and disagreements. I’ve had the same with my kids. But that’s honestly just life. Life happens and I wouldn’t change a moment. My two dads were with me through all the facets of my life and I plan to be there for my kids for as long as I’m on this planet.

I’m not sure what the future will hold for me, my wife, or my kids. I hope that one day they have fond memories of their dad and share the experiences they had with me over the years.

For everyone who is a fellow dad – Happy Father’s Day !!

It’s quite an adventure. An adventure worth taking.

A Christmas Wish . . .

As we are in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I wanted to capture my thoughts in a poem. Wishing you, your families and your friends only the best !! Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a blessed holiday season to one and all.

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

A Christmas Wish

Another year’s about to pass

          A trip around the sun

We always quip time flies so fast

          We’re always on the run

What have we learned this time around

          Through all the highs and lows

We keep yearning for some certainty

          Amidst the ebbs and flows

We’ve all felt joy and also loss

          We’ve seen things displaced

We wonder what emotions

          Are masked upon our face

There’s been so much exhaustion

          We all seek some release

We want to see each other

          We seek much needed peace

The world still has its problems

          Some folks don’t get along

I wish we’d come together

          For then we would be strong

My wish for you this season

          Is not that hard to do

Reach out to one another

          Connect, lift up, break through

Encourage folks each day

          Be a light that shatters dark

Let people know they matter

          Your impact leaves a mark

Avoid the trap of anger

          When conflict comes, show grace

Embrace that we are different

          And watch discord erase

Another trip’s about to start

          Another year begun

Let’s make this next year special

          And value everyone !!

Being a Dad

It’s Father’s Day once again. This can bring up a variety of memories for people. I know that not everyone has had a great relationship with their father. I’m fortunate because the experience with my fathers has been great for different reasons and for different periods of time. In the past, I’ve written about my biological dad who passed away when I was only four years old. I’ve also been able to capture the amazing time I had with my “stepdad” who was around for the majority of my life who passed away at the end of 2020. This year I wanted to share my reflections about being a dad.

I’ve been a dad for over 27 years now. My wife and I have two wonderful kids who are now adults – Melanie and Josh. I don’t take it for granted that we fit into the stereotypical nuclear family model. We have had far more ups than downs. Please understand that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our struggles, arguments, and disagreements over the years. It’s intriguing to me that when people share experiences that are positive, it’s met with skepticism and critique. There’s this insinuation that there must be something else that just isn’t being shared. Sorry to disappoint.

I love being a dad. It is probably the “work” that I value more than any other personal accomplishment I’ve been able to have. You see, I want my kids to know that they are loved just as they are and through whatever they face. I want to be the dad who laughs with them and holds them when things get emotional. I want to listen so that they are heard, and offer solutions only if they ask for options. It gives me great joy to celebrate with them when they have new life experiences. And, it touches me deeply when they contact me for advice.

You see, the most important thing I get to do is to be a model for them. They’ve seen when I’ve been loving and affectionate with my wife and with them. They’ve also witnessed when I’ve failed them and others. At times they’ve heard me yell at something I thought mattered SOOOOOO much when it usually didn’t. I’ve always strived to be genuine, vulnerable, and transparent with them. I cherish when they make fun of me when I tear up at a TV commercial. They eagerly wait to pounce on the first senseless tear and howl with glee when it happens (which is often.)

I love seeing them grow up to learn about life. I want to jump in and take care of everything, but know that I need to step back so they learn from life just like my dad did for me. I make sure to check in on them often to hear what’s happening in their corner of the world while also sharing what’s happening in mine. I share my faith, my successes, and my frustrations. We jostle over politics, social issues, and musical tastes.

They have always known that I’m the dad who was willing to jump in, be goofy, and make sure their friends always felt our house was a second home for them. I continue to strive to be the dad who encourages and takes interest in the people in their lives. I want to be the dad who can’t wait to see the next Marvel movie or ride the scary amusement park ride with them.

I know that this may sound sappy and sentimental (and I’m cool with that in so many ways.) I wouldn’t trade a second of the time I’ve been a dad. Not one. I look forward to growing old and staying an intricate part of their lives whatever comes. I don’t have a set of goals for them to meet or unreal expectations to measure whether they’ve “made it” or not.

It’s just a privilege to be a dad. I love it !!

17 Years !!

I live in the great State of Ohio are we are in the midst of a generational event. Brood X has emerged from their slumber to take over every outdoor space imaginable. What’s Brood X? It’s a giant number of cicadas. You can’t really picture how many there are without experiencing it. What makes this a different situation than most years is that broods only come to life after 17 years in the ground !! 17 years !!

Once they start arriving and burrowing out of the ground, they typically crawl up whatever’s closest to them to latch on. Our trees are covered with them because they live around tree roots while they are in the ground of their 17-year trek. They start as an exoskeleton that is much harder than their final appearance. The insect cracks open the exoskeleton and comes out fully formed with wings and an adult body. It’s an amazing transformation.

After they are fully formed, they go on to the next phase of their very short lives above ground. They make an incredibly loud sound to attract other cicadas. They find partners, mate, lay eggs on tree branches and then die. The eggs mature and turn into small larvae that drop to the ground. They burrow down and down and down to start the 17-year cycle over again.

Just a few of my “friends” on one of our fence posts.

When you see this many cicadas, you get the willies. It’s like being surrounded by countless aliens that chirp, fly, crawl and . . . creep you out. They don’t bite you or sting. They’re like big insect puppies who don’t really notice you at all. They’re extremely focused because the future existence of their species counts on them finding others and mating.

This is the third brood I’ve experienced in person. I’m 57 now and Brood IX was around when I was 40. My kids were 10 and 6 respectively and they still have memories of us camping surrounded by cicadas that crawled all over our tent as we slept. The ground pulsated, literally, with the mass of bugs around us. One of my favorite pictures of them is the two of them plus two of my friend’s kids who have a line of cicadas covering each of their forearms !! Brood VIII was present when I was 23 and new to Cincinnati. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.

Think about it. How much has your life changed in 17 years? Chances are you can’t remember a tenth of what has happened. Since I’ve now experienced three broods, thirty-four years have passed. It’s staggering when you think about it !!

I’ll be honest, I kind of dig the cicadas being around. I think they have some lessons for us to learn. Here’s what I notice:

Live with Purpose – Cicadas go through very slow phases of life for almost two decades without any interaction with others. So, when they get their chance, it’s on !! I don’t mean to be lewd. They know instinctively that their time above ground is short so they don’t waste a moment. Everything they do has purpose. Everything.

We don’t do this. In fact, we spend far too much of our time “above ground” consumed with what’s wrong in our lives, the world, our families and our careers. There are moments when we feel in a groove that has purpose, but they are more mountaintop experiences than a full lifetime. Wouldn’t life be more full if we were intentional and existed with purpose?

Live with Passion – Again, no inappropriate intent with this. We aren’t passionate. We mull through life with all of its challenges and they consume us. I’m not making light of this. Everyone has challenges that may range from something life-threatening to difficult relationships. It can be daunting and crippling.

So, what if you turned this around as well. What would life look like if you threw yourself into it every day? This doesn’t deflect the challenges ahead, but it does change your energy and outlook. Passionate people are usually positive people. They see the obstacles in front of them as something to address and work through. The challenge may win in the end, but the light they shine constantly is attractive and engaging.

Live for Others – Life is too short to do it on your own. The cicadas know this. They don’t throw up a bunch of limitations about how people are different and how will they look at me. They don’t have voices in their heads that accentuate weaknesses and they aren’t comparative. They look at others and instantly connect with them.

What would life look like if we all were more comfortable connecting with others? I can tell you from experience that each day is more full knowing you have people in your corner who are encouraging, supportive and available. There is no need for isolation. We have to be more committed to making connections. It will enrich your life in ways you can’t imagine !!

I’m not sure what the next 17 years will look like and I’m not concerned or worried. I’ll be 74 when my friends come back as the next brood. Most likely I’ll be in the next phase of my life if I’m fortunate to make it. (I’m confident I will). I choose to live life with purpose, passion and with others. I hope you learn from the lessons as well and do the same.

Every Moment

This post represents quite a few milestones !! It’s a New Year, it’s my birthday and it’s the 10-year anniversary of my blog. Hard to grasp that all of these events convened at the same time. It also is a great example of what I wanted to “talk” about this week.

You do tend to reflect more as you get older. I never thought that would be the case, but it happens because I think you realize your time on this planet is on the downward side of the curve. Please don’t think I’m being pessimistic because that rarely occurs in how I live and see life. I’m being realistic though because I’m much closer to my sixth decade roaming the earth than my first !!

So many people have sentiments about escaping 2020. I am not one of those people. Yes, it was a tough year for most everyone I know including me. The loss of my father and my boss will alter my life. There is no doubt about it. I can’t adequately capture the myriad of events that happened around the world that seem that we’re far more unsettled and divided than we are cohesive.

As I reflect on getting the chance to celebrate another year of life, I’ve come to realize something is so true that I never grasped until late last year. My brother was with me and our mom as our dad was passing. As we were discussing all that was happening, a well-intentioned surgeon was telling us he was sure he could perform a procedure which may have a sliver of success for my dad. We discussed this as a group, and my brother, a doctor himself, shared a piece of advice he received from his Chief Nursing Officer. She told him, “Mark, you need to remember that we see people for only a few moments of their life.”

That struck me. It’s true. We act on very little information with very little time in each other’s lives. When you step back to look at it, the majority of how we live, what we believe, and how we view the world is made up of a series of very small moments. For some reason, our brain takes these various interactions and pulls them together to make thoughts, opinions and perspectives.

We need to keep this in mind because it seems that we are acting on these small moments to make massive assumptions, judgments, and movements. We tend to expand these encounters to make our feelings and attitudes absolute. We fill in the pieces on people without even thinking about asking them for any details or context. This concrete approach leads to putting people into compartments that validate our personal view and outlook on life . . . and they may be very skewed and we don’t even see it happening.

The surgeon I mentioned earlier was trying to do his best based on his talent, skills, and experience to help our dad. Fortunately, my brother remembered the advice he was given and called his colleagues to explain the situation and get input from others. It confirmed his suspicion that the chances of my dad recovering were remote. So, we thanked the surgeon and chose not to proceed. The surgeon was indignant about our decision. He was very confident in his abilities. I’m sure he was talented, but he didn’t realize that he had little knowledge of who my dad was and what his wishes were if he were in a life-ending circumstance. He was only in my dad’s life for a moment but didn’t recognize that.

As we all take our next trip around the sun, I’d ask you all to join me in stepping back to acknowledge that we are in each other’s lives for mere moments. Hopefully, you have family and friends who get to experience more moments than others and that is positive. I know that may not be the case with family or friends, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m an eternal optimist.

I don’t want to overlook any opportunity I have to be in a moment with others. Not one. I want every person I meet to know they matter and that I would rather enjoy our time together regardless of the circumstance. You never know. The one time you are with another person may be the ONLY time you’re together.

Why wouldn’t you take that brief time to make it the best possible moment you could? You need to remember that you will be remembered by whomever you encounter – every. time. You have the choice to make that a positive experience. I would encourage you to embrace that !!

I typically write to an audience of HR pros because I feel we can always improve how we work with others. I believe this approach of enjoying every moment should be the baseline for great human resources. If you choose to adopt this, I guarantee that you will enjoy not only the work you do but (more importantly) the fabulous people around you.

Enjoying every moment with all people is an even bigger expectation, but I think it’s needed now more than ever. If we would cherish the moments we have with each other, I think we would appreciate people as the wonderful, creative, and humorous works in progress we ALL are. I know there will continue to be trials, disappointments and failures. However, I can be assured that I will have people who will be doing life with me and the moments we share together will help us work through whatever we’re facing.

Start your year with a positive outlook which will take you forward through the years to come. Enjoy every moment !!

Grateful

I’m geeked about this week because one of my favorite holidays is happening – Thanksgiving !! I love intentionally taking time to pause, reflect and give thanks for life in general. Yes, it has its ups and downs and difficulties. However, I am grateful for every aspect of life. It’s not some false pretense or posturing. It’s how I choose to face each day – grateful.

I’m not blind to all that is going on in the world. Far from it. I would contend that everyone is being touched and/or affected by many things ranging from the political environments which are not positive globally, the reality that the pandemic can (and does) reach anyone in any corner of the world, as well as the personal situations faced in every family which run the gambit of a myriad of circumstances.

On top of being barraged with the on-going waves of trial after trial, people are more divided now than any time I can remember. I’m not trying to make a right/wrong statement with this. It’s just our reality. Unfortunately, the majority of taking sides seems to only pull us apart and exacerbate the general malaise we find ourselves facing.

However, I am still grateful !! Truly. I have an amazing wife who is my partner in everything and two phenomenal adult children who are also trying to navigate the same world of uncertainty. I have an incredible extended family scattered all over the globe who have been more connected and in touch with each other to try to remind us of the family bond we all share. If that wasn’t enough, I have a global professional HR community that is filled with talented, diverse, thoughtful and passionate people who want to see things healed in all facets of society and the workplace. This doesn’t even capture my grateful list completely, but I hope it gives you a glimpse of how I view life.

All of these thoughts, feelings and “nudges” have been pulling at me. I feel that similar forces are at work around the globe because I am having more and more similar conversations with folks. When I get in this mindset, I feel the urge to write. Long before I had a blog or wrote two books, I wrote poetry. I still write a “poem” regularly when I do the song parodies for the HR Net forum I facilitate. It has been quite some time though since I wrote some verse. So, I want to close this blog post with a new set of stanzas.

(Friendly disclaimer: Please note that the poem below isn’t specifically about and one certain division occurring in the world. Please don’t misconstrue, label, or read more into it. I am trying to capture the general sense I feel and see and also how I hope things improve and move forward. )

I am grateful for you, the reader, who is kind enough to read my regular thoughts. I appreciate you, the work you do and the lives you touch. I wish you only the best this Thanksgiving and hope that you see life in an encouraging light. Peace to all !! – Steve

THE GREAT DIVIDE

We cannot run
  We cannot hide
We’re living in
  The great divide
 
Things uncertain
  Nothing’s clear
We seem to live
  In hate or fear
 
If you speak up
  Or if you post
Few will agree
  And some will boast
 
We’re choosing sides
   No matter what
With words that pierce
   And words that cut
 
We do not talk
  We only state
And if opposed
  Choose to berate
 
I am concerned
  For those I know
The gap between folks
  Seems to grow
 
I’d like to see this
  Turn around
With dialogue
  While voices sound
 
I’d take the steps
  To understand
Listen first
  And not demand
 
Start with grace
  Don’t jump to solve
Hear new perspectives
  Then evolve
 
Measured steps
  The gap will close
Value others
  Compassion shows
 
This won’t be quick
  It will take time
But it is worth
  The rugged climb
 
Be positive
  And strive for peace
Exhibit kindness
  Let light increase
 
I ask you to join
  And decide
Together, we bridge
  The great divide

Write This Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louise

Friends, I wanted to share something because I experienced a loss this weekend. One of our long-term team members passed away who had left a lasting impact on me and to those she worked with for many decades. Our encounters meant so much and I learned from her. Louise was unorthodox in how she approached people and yet she was incredibly endearing. Our first meeting was so powerful, I captured it and shared it in my new book, HR Rising !!

So, please forgive me for sharing this excerpt. It isn’t meant to bring attention to my book at all. It’s a way to say “Thank You” and “Good-bye” to Louise. We can all learn from the Louise’s in our life !!

Chapter 15: Grace

Have you ever made a mistake at work? Have you ever talked poorly about someone else you work with, or that you know, without that person knowing about it? Have you ever disappointed someone else because you didn’t follow through on what you said you’d do? Have you ever said something that you thought was harmless, but it hurt someone deeply?

The answer for me is a resounding “Yes” to all the questions listed above. I’m not proud of that, but it’s a reality. I’m human. I’m sure to fall and fail others. Hopefully it’s not intentional, but it could be. I can fill this entire book with more questions that show how people fall short of positive or ideal behavior.

The challenge in today’s workplace, and in society overall, is that when we fail each other there is no room for grace. We demand an instant response along with a staunch stance to be taken with little room for any other position. We usually want others to hear our opinion, and we make arguments for others to come to our side. During this type of reaction, we completely run over our humanity.

Now, please understand that I’m talking about when someone makes a mistake and is insensitive or thoughtless about others and their feelings or diverse viewpoint. I’m not talking about overt actions and misconduct. That is a much deeper, and more concerning, level, and poor behavior should always be addressed. Even then though, I would offer that you should allow grace when entering these difficult situations.

As HR professionals, we are surrounded by people daily. (At least I hope you are !!) People are messy and will fail each other. It’s unavoidable. When it occurs, we have a choice to either rely on a system of unrealistic policies and procedures as a list of do’s and don’ts, or we can be humans ourselves.

We struggle with this because of the continued need for “accountability.” This is one of the most misinterpreted terms in organizations. Accountability should be defined as following through on what you commit to doing. However, more often than not, we misconstrue this term by alluding to the fact that accountability equals punishment. When it comes to situations involving employees, we often forget to breathe first. We jump to the nearest set of policies and 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 really take anything else into consideration.

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 . . . Have you ever made a mistake or broken 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?

When I began working in the restaurant industry, I was disappointed by many of my HR peers. Instead of being geeked that I had found a new role, they piled on concern after concern that I wouldn’t enjoy this new environment because restaurant employees and cultures made it difficult to do good HR. That was their opinion at least. Please note that few of these folks have ever worked in the restaurant industry, but that didn’t stop them from sharing their opinions on the inevitable turnover present in hospitality jobs, the challenge of having a workforce that predominantly works part-time schedules on ever changing shifts, and the idea I’d be spending most of my time disciplining and terminating people. Astounding, simply astounding. Each facet of what they thought HR would be like in restaurants was either negative or daunting.

I didn’t have any preconceived notions about working in restaurants. I looked at my new HR gig as a chance to work with a whole new batch of humans. When I took on this role, HR didn’t have a good reputation internally either in the office or in our pizzerias. This was primarily because of the approach of my predecessor. They did a great job of establishing HR systems that hadn’t existed in the past, but the company needed structure on the people side of the business. The difference that I brought to the mix was that I didn’t believe HR needed to be practiced in a traditional manner which focused more on compliance than relationships.

Compliance needs to be respected because of the myriad of laws and regulations that cover and protect the workers, the workplace, and the company as a whole. Most situations and issues involving compliance are common sense. Also, you can be far more compliant when you have relationships with people because you can talk about the situation and the behavior they’re exhibiting. Then you can give folks context around rules and systems. This is far more effective than ensuring people “stay in line.”

Before I joined the company, HR typically showed up in the pizzeria when something needed to be “addressed.” We rarely went out to visit just to see how people were doing. There had to be some sort of agenda item and purpose. The entire approach was task-oriented and transactional. Any visit was short, concise, and involved the least amount of conversation and personal interactions possible. This led the team members in the pizzerias to be apprehensive any time a person from HR appeared. Sound familiar?

I am not wired that way. I am probably far more conversational and relationship-focused than the average human. This is how I’m naturally wired. After my first few months being tied to my office and desk, I decided to venture out and visit our locations. Every time I entered a restaurant, I would get distrustful looks combined with a murmur of mumbling wondering why HR had come to visit. Who was in trouble? Who was getting fired? This barrier presented itself right as I hit the door, but I didn’t get discouraged. In fact, it fueled my desire even more to break through the wall of negativity about HR.

There was one visit that helped me recalibrate team member interactions that I will always remember.

I was walking through the kitchen of one of our high-volume pizzerias when I saw a piece of paper mounted on one of the prep tables. It was at eye level, and you could tell it had been posted there to make sure the message was visible to every single employee. I had seen notes posted before, and I didn’t care for them because they were usually a negative message. I felt that it showed that managers weren’t talking to their staff. They were just dictating something that wasn’t being performed or attended to. This note, however, was something I had never encountered before. It read:

“Look you motherf*#%ers, You need to put your f*#%ing glasses in the dishwashing area. If you bastards don’t start doing this, you will be f*#%ing fired. The Management.”

To say I was stunned would be an understatement. At first, I wasn’t sure how to respond to what I just read. The first thing I did was look around at the other team members moving back and forth in the kitchen. No one seemed to be shocked, offended, or surprised by this mandate laced with creative language. It was fascinating!!

Before I tell you how I did respond, let me take a break to share how I assume many HR pros would have reacted . . .

The first response would be feigned offense, indignation, and disbelief. How could anyone allow this to be posted in the work environment? What were the managers thinking? The next step would be to tear the posting down in disgust with a tinge of embarrassment. Then, it was time to find out who was responsible for this obvious policy violation and hold them “accountable.” This surely would result in some discipline. It could even mean a suspension with a good chiding, or even a termination. There wouldn’t be joy in doing this, but the emotion of how awful this message from management was would have to be immediately dealt with and addressed. Heads would roll. An example would have to be made that this would never be tolerated ever again. Cue scary music in the background as the HR pro glares at the crumpled posting in their shaking hand.

Now let me share what really happened . . .

I carefully took the paper down and found the GM who happened to be working the shift. I calmly asked, “Having problems with team members and glasses?”

Their head dropped below their shoulders. “I didn’t write that note. It was Louise.” That didn’t register with me because I didn’t know who Louise was. “Is she a manager here?” I asked. “No, well, it’s hard to describe,” they stammered.

The GM went on to let me know that Louise was a long-term team member who came in very early in the morning to clean and get the store ready to be open every week day. She had her own crew, but she wasn’t officially a manager. She had been such a regular part of the store that she had seen managers come and go while she remained. I appreciated the background and asked if she was still at work. “Yes,” they sheepishly replied. “She’s right over there.”

In the back of the kitchen stood an older, slender woman with an apron on. She was busily working, and the other team members seemed to enjoy being around her. I went up to her and introduced myself.

“Louise?” I asked, noticing I towered over her. I’m fairly tall, and she was not.

“Yep. Who are you? I’ve never seen you here before,” she stated.

“I’m Steve,” I replied.

“Uh huh. You from the office?” she wondered.

“Yes I am. I’m the new human resources director. Can I ask you about this note?” and I pulled out the instructions about how used glassware was to be properly placed.

“Oh yeah, I wrote that,” she willingly admitted.

“Okay. Well, did you need to cuss when you wrote this? That’s a pretty harsh way to describe our team members,” I explained.

“Have you met some of them yet?” she calmly responded.

I laughed out loud. I know that may not have been the “proper” response from the HR 101 Operation Manual, but she caught me off guard, and it was funny.

“No ma’am. I haven’t met many team members yet,” I said.

She smiled back at me and said, “I suppose you don’t want me to post my notes.”

I wanted to make sure I had a good response for her. “I guess you’re frustrated with others here. Would that be safe to say?”

“You’re damn right I am. These kids don’t have any work ethic. I come in here every f*#%ing day and pick up after them. Lazy f*#%ers. The whole bunch of them,” she stated without batting an eye. It didn’t matter that I was in human resources or from the corporate office.

She kept on going, but I stopped her and said, “Louise, I understand you’re frustrated, but do you have to cuss when you’re talking about others?”

“I don’t f*#%ing cuss honey. I’m just talking,” and she meant it. She didn’t even notice that she was swearing. Did I mention that Louise was in her early 70’s during this encounter with me? I know that doesn’t excuse coarse language, but it didn’t really upset me. I had been around employees who swore during work for years. Many times, I joined in just so we could converse.

“Well Louise, I’m going to take down this note. I tell you what. I’ll come visit you on a regular basis and you can share any frustrations you have with me, and we’ll take a look at things. How does that sound?” I wasn’t sure of the response I was going to get.

“I’d like that.” She smiled again. “Nice to meet you.”

I didn’t write her up or discipline her. I crumpled up the sign and threw it out in a waste basket sitting next to us. I then left and went about my day, and so did she. The GM was watching our conversation the whole time. I’m sure they were curious to see how I was going to respond. We went to a part of the restaurant where we could talk, and she told me Louise’s history. “She doesn’t even know she’s cussing, and the other team members love her. She loves them too. My restaurant is better with her in it. That’s a fact.”

I kept my commitment and visited Louise often. We grew very close, and she never stopped swearing. I learned about her family and how she had grown up with our founder’s wife as a childhood friend. She was endearing just as the GM had told me.

I chose to respond with a tool that has worked for me my entire HR career when I found myself in these awkward circumstances. This is a very effective tool that is available for every person throughout your organization.

Grace.

This may be foreign to you, and I can almost guarantee that it’s foreign to how employees have been approached in the past. We don’t feel that we have the latitude in our roles to show grace to others when they mess up. I just don’t think it’s true. We can take ownership of how we approach others with our own personal style.

I know that when others have shown me grace when I’ve stumbled, I’ve been thankful. It allowed both of us to breathe, calm down, and look at the situation in a fresh and open way.

Often, it led to a productive outcome and a stronger relationship. Trust me when I say that allowing grace in our interactions with others will result in a positive experience most of the time.

I’m not saying that discipline and termination are never warranted at work. However, I use a yardstick that says that you only need to implement these steps based on an employee’s behavior and actions. Even with that benchmark, I still review each case and consider 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 both inside work and outside of work. It’s not a popular position. Most people want a pound of flesh when they are wronged. I’ll hold out until the last possible moment 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 recommend that you try a new approach and allow grace to occur.

I’d also recommend that you make grace the norm when people work with each other regardless of their position and level in your company. If you can teach those who manage people the power of this tool, you’ll see a genuine shift in how people treat each other. It’s time for us to buck the trend of others who tend to be reactive and destructive when people fail them. Instead of talking about others, talk to them with an attitude of grace first so that you seek to understand them, the situation they’re facing, and the way to move forward. If you try this, you’ll see people aren’t as bad as you think. It will also make HR, and your life, more balanced and fulfilled. It works.

One last note . . .

I had worked with Louise for over a decade when age started to finally catch up with her. She had lasted through two additional GMs since we first met. They moved on to other stores in our chain and she remained a constant. She had to retire when her memory started to fade, and she’s living in an assisted living facility now. The last GM to work with her had kept a folder with her notes that she had posted in it. When she was getting ready to leave on her last day, he showed Louise the folder and said, “This will always be here in the store because we want you to always be here with us.”

That, my friends, is grace.

Getting Together !!

As I write this, the entire world has changed. It’s unprecedented and has caused an environment of isolation in order to hopefully ensure safety in the long-term. Emotions range from anxiety and fear to confidence and hope. The whole situation has caused us to reevaluate how work is done and what we focus on in life in general.

I have to say that in the midst of this challenging time, I love that people are finding ways to get together even though it’s not in person. There are folks having virtual happy hours and coffee clubs. This is so encouraging because I’ve always been someone who believes that we are wired to be connected as people. This is true for everyone.

Cheers during our Zoom chat !!

Recently I joined a Zoom call with a group of friends who happen to also be in HR that have been daily connected for the past 3+ years. We have a GroupMe and talk every day. Every. Day. Even with that, we felt the need to see and hear each other. In moments we were laughing, telling stories and checking in on how we’re responding to everything going on around us. We talked for 1 1/2 hours !! It was magnificent in every possible way. We got to see each other’s houses even though we live all across the country. This made sense to get together because it’s what we’re used to.

The inaugural #HRPubQuiz !!

Then, yesterday I joined a chat that was predominantly made up of friends I’ve only “met” on social media from the UK. Selena Govier put out a call to have an HR Pub Quiz which she was going to run virtually. So, at 9:00pm GMT the quiz began with five rounds of ten questions. This was great because I got to see and hear the voices of friends I’ve only seen online !! The questions were tough because I’m in the US and don’t have a ton of knowledge of UK only trivia. It didn’t matter one bit because we also laughed and had fun sharing all of the answers. I scored a 22 out of 53 and was pretty geeked about that. Selena plans to have the #HRPubQuiz each week while we’re all at our homes.

Hanging with the State Line Crew !!

Once that wrapped up, another group of HR friends who identify as the #StateLineCrew had a chat as well. They are near the border between Illinois and Wisconsin, and the person putting the call together asked if I could join as a surprise. She also reached out to friends in Virginia and South Dakota to join in. We had another hour of rich conversation, laughter and some commiserating because that was a welcomed relief. It was a great reminder that HR folks don’t have a ton of people they can share with inside their organization because of the nature of the work we do.

No one really knows how long we’ll be apart from each other as this global crisis continues. So, take the time to get together virtually with your family, friends and co-workers. With technology there are no geographic boundaries to stop you. Put together a video chat or use social media forums to connect. Invite others and ask them to join in with you.

This is a time for us to make sure everyone is noticed and included. Having gatherings like this is worth your time because you’ll feel encouraged, connected and know that we’re in this together. Reach out !! I know I will be.

Travels

This past weekend I happened to travel. I’ve come a long way personally when it comes to trips. I used to get very anxious about almost every aspect from finding a place to park at an airport to talking to a desk clerk at a hotel. It’s not rational. I know that. I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m an uber-extrovert. I easily approach folks and find it energizing to meet strangers and get to know about them. So, the anxiety I experienced while traveling was even more troubling because in every other situation I rarely hesitate to interact with others.

Over the years in my volunteer roles with SHRM, I had to face my anxiety more and more. As I took on larger positions, travel became much more regular. Fortunately, I have a dear friend who was patient with me who taught me how to have confidence during my travels. I learned how to not get overwhelmed and started enjoying the time I had in airports and in new geographic locations. Now, I’m at a much different place because I’ve put in place some simple patterns I follow to keep things in order. You have to understand that this is a giant challenge for me because I tend to be carefree and spontaneous.

Since I’m more at ease with travel, I’ve slipped back into what I normally do – observe others. I’m an avid people watcher !! People fascinate me. I love seeing how everyone is unique in their appearance and their approach to traveling themselves. The vast majority of people have a destination mindset. They will do all they can to get through security quickly and without incident because they don’t want to slow down. Once they’ve cleared this first hurdle, they keep their head down and their pace increases as they dash to their gate. If anything inhibits people, they will audibly huff, groan or sigh. They only care about their destination and everyone else is honestly seen as being in their way.

I get it. I see the anxiety and stress on the faces and in the voices of my fellow travelers. I’m not judging because there are so many factors that can upset your plans. You’re hoping for each moment to go smoothly, and you convince yourself that something will go wrong. Unfortunately, it can. The volume of people who are traveling is only increasing and many of the systems are over capacity or not modernized. Also, not one airport is the same. There is variety in how everything is handled.

Because I know my triggers, I’ve learned to be more patient with other travelers. I’ve also decided to show grace, appreciation and thanks to those who help us along the gauntlet from the parking lot to our final destinations. The employees on the travel side get bombarded with all of the people who are wired and on edge. They deserve to be treated well instead of launched upon. Many of the delays and idiosyncrasies that pop up are out of their control.

This past weekend I noticed a piece of art which captured who I try to be and how I thought I’d travel. I’ve seen it in the past, but it truly caught my eye this time. I’m sure I’ve missed so much in airports, hotels and even the towns I’ve gone to because I was focused on arriving more than enjoying the journey. That’s a shame. It truly is.

I’ve been doing my best to keep my eyes and ears open so I can take in the experience around me far more than worrying about where my gate is. I’ve found that it’s lowered by stress, anxiety and probably my blood pressure. I don’t want to miss the people, sights and interactions that swirl around me. I am now embracing the pace with all of it’s chaos.

It’s a great reminder to use this same approach at home with my wife, at work with my peers and out in public. This week I hope you slow down and calm down. Life is short. We casually say this all the time, but we don’t take steps to do anything about it and savor where we are and who we’re with. Change that today. Our lives can be full and abundant if we embrace the experience during all of our travels as well as our destinations !!