Spoiler Alert: There’s No Prize for Being a PTO Martyr

Work/Life balance.  We all talk about it.  We all tell our friends, family, spouses, and employees to take their time, but do you take your time?  Like many professional I know, I used to leave days on the table every year.  My unused PTO doesn’t carry over anymore, but even when it did, I still didn’t take my allotted time that was carried over.  There it was, just sitting there, accumulating with no hopes of being used.  Crazy, right?

I’m not alone.  Did you know in 2016, 662 million vacation days were left on the table?

At one point in time, it wasn’t worth it to me to take the time off because I would be so far behind when I got back.  Plus, who was going to do my job when I was gone?  I started to take time off, but I would still “keep up with my e-mails” while I was out.  I had convinced myself that if I kept up with my e-mails while I was out that it would lessen the “catch up” when I got back.

Guess what?  My children were off for Spring Break this year from March 30th until they grudgingly return tomorrow, and I was very fortunate to be able to take the entire break off as well to spend time with them.  Confession:  I have never taken off their entire Spring Break before.  Ever.  My oldest is in the 7th grade.

I have a photo on the lock screen of my phone with a picture collage of two photos:  a picture of my kids and I during their winter break in our pjs and a quote that says “You will never look back on life and think ‘I spent too much time with my kids.'”  You could apply that logic to kids, family, friends, fur babies, etc.  The bottom line is that we don’t regret the time we take off with friends and loved ones, and it makes us better humans doing it.  Win/win.

I’m proud to say that despite a few cursory checks of my e-mail and two replies, I have stayed on vacation since I put my out of office message on the morning/afternoon(ish) of Friday, March 30th.  Yes, I know that was my vacation day.  Old habits die hard.  I made sure that my team knew to text me if they needed me as I wouldn’t be checking e-mail regularly.  However, as I’ve mentioned before, they are absolute rock stars, and there was nothing they couldn’t handle.

My kids will never be this age again.  It took me a while to learn to let go and have balance, but I’m so thankful I did.  We had absolutely ridiculous weather for “Spring” in Ohio, but the memories we made and the experiences we shared more than made up for it.

I know that in order for me to encourage others to practice balance, I have to show it for myself first, and I’m so thankful I did.  I’m returning tomorrow morning refreshed, restored, and ready to dig in and work hard.  I’m not going to win the prize for most outstanding PTO at the end of the year, and I’m thankful that I’ve finally learned that’s a good thing.

Image Credit: http://s7d2.scene7.com/is/image/Baudville/TRAVELING-TROPHY

Transparency Counts

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Transparency counts in all aspects of HR.  You don’t have to air all your dirty laundry, but please be real.  This is especially crucial in communication with candidates.  In #NextChat today, the topic of communicating with candidates and transparency came up.  I feel very strongly that when a candidate is making a LIFE CHANGING decision such as possibly leaving a long-term employer, relocating, or even taking their first job, the decision should be made with the most accurate information possible.

Please do not sell your opportunity to the candidate.  No one wins in this scenario.  You will violate all trust with the candidate, and they will inevitably leave anyway, leaving you to source this position again.  Be real.  If you have problems, let the candidate know.  Invite them to come in and meet the team, including the leadership team, and ask questions.  Show them a “day in the life” of the position.  It’s great if the candidate hits it off with you over the phone or in person, but they have to work with their team, remember?

If the candidate’s role in the organization will play a pivotal part in addressing your culture issues, let them know that you are aware of the issues currently in your culture, and you are committed to improving it.  One step in that is with their role, and this is how they fit in that.  Not everyone is cut out for being such a crucial member of the team from the start.  That’s okay.  You want the person that wants to get their hands dirty on day one in this case, so you need to make sure that your candidate knows that.

Please also be transparent about job responsibilities and duties.  When I was hiring an HR Assistant to take 15 years of paper employee files to electronic, I said so in the interview:

“I want you to have an accurate idea of this position.  You see those filing cabinets and that scanner?  It’s a pretty cool scanner.  It can scan 26 pages front and back in 1 minute.  Your first task will be converting those files from paper to an organized, electronic system.”

I needed someone who was like “That scanner is cool.  When do I start?” not “Ummm…that sounds horrible…I thought I was going to get to solve world peace here?”

The best compliment you can get in HR when you are recruiting for your own organization is for the candidate to tell you after they were hired that their expectations matched their reality.  It’s great if they were excited over the phone, found the environment engaging, and are still psyched on Day 1, right?  It’s equally rewarding when someone knows there is a challenge, is ready to get to work, and after some time, you both see the results of the team’s hard work.

Be real.  Thank me later.

Confessions of a Recovering Control Freak

I’ve mentioned before I’m very Type-A.  I’ve also spent over half of my career being an HR Department of One.  This allowed me to hone my problem-solving skills, but it also honed my nature of being a complete control freak.

Now, when you are an HR Department of One, and everything is resting on your shoulders, there is a certain amount of control freak(ness) that is required, right?  How else are you going to ensure that everyone was paid, all benefits are accurate, candidates have all been communicated with, etc, etc, etc.?

Beware the drug that is control.

Following changes in my organization, my responsibilities began to change, and I had to begin to loosen my grip on the day to day, focusing more on supporting those that got things done – whether they did it in the same manner I used to or not.  I mean, it worked for me, just do it the way I used to do it.  Right?  I couldn’t be more wrong.

At first, my training was primarily “here you go, this is how I have always done it.”  If something was missed, I was convinced it was because it hadn’t been done the way I had explained, demonstrated, created a step-by-step guide with screenshots and video (yes, I did).  I’m sure you’re cringing reading this right now, and looking back at it, I am, too.

I would love to say that I made a complete 180, and that I had a new outlook on empowering my team rather than controlling them and checking on everything they did.  I do have that outlook.  I didn’t change overnight.  It’s a struggle, but I can tell you that I know that to be a better leader, I have to let them figure things out for themselves, try new ways of doing things, and even fail.  After all, failure is feedback, right?

I want to be a better leader.  In order to do that, I have to make changes in my behavior to be better for them.  I want to inspire others to be better leaders and develop my team into the kind of leaders that will have book acknowledgements dedicated to them.  I’ve been very fortunate in my career thus far to have worked with some of the most inspiring, engaging, supportive, motivating people.  It’s my hope to be that for someone else.  I just have to remember that the only thing or person I can control is me.

Failure is Feedback…

I saw a post on from the fabulous Sarah Hathorn on Twitter a while back:

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I thought to myself.  “Right.  It’s feedback.”  So I replied to her:

“Failure is feedback. It allows us to change our approach and improve the process.

Stop and take an honest inventory of your view on failure.  Do you view failure as an opportunity to improve, or do you view it as being “less than” or “not good enough” because Plan A didn’t work out?  What drives those feelings?  Where is your focus and mindset?

I was talking to a friend of mine about the idea to this post and he said “I fail every day.”  I love that.  He didn’t say “I quit every day.”  He said he failed – this implies he’s trying daily.  We don’t have all the answers.  We are not always going to get it right, but we are 100% more successful when we try than when we are paralyzed by fear of failure.

Did you know that there are over 534,000 videos that talk about how many times some of the most successful people failed before they got it right?  These are meant to be inspirational videos.  If they can do it, I can do it.  Right?  Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, Henry Ford, all faced adversity and failure, but they stuck with it.  They kept going.

Below is one of my favorite quotes by J.K. Rowling:

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

― J.K. Rowling

In some cases these people faced monumental setbacks, but they didn’t let it define them.  They continued to try.  They rebounded until they succeeded, and then they continued to work hard and continue trying new things.

In order to dare to do great things, two important aspects must occur:  you must put yourself out there to try AND you must engage with others who encourage continuous learning and continuous improvement.  Far too often we engage in cultures where there is such a stigma around failure and so much effort is placed on perfection and the pursuit of it.  Spoiler alert:  no one and no organization is perfect.  We could all save a lot of time and heartache striving to something unattainable.

We see it every day in the news – especially lately with the #MeToo movement:  organizations learn somewhere along the way that a catastrophic lapse in judgment has occurred, and in many cases, lack the courage to admit it, learn from it, and make it right.  We all make mistakes.  We are all human.  Why do we try so hard to convince those around us otherwise?

Hello, I’m Here to Help…

“The value of our lives is not determined by what we do for ourselves. The value of our lives is determined by what we do for others.”  –Simon Sinek

I’ve been a fan of Simon Sinek since before it was cool.  If you aren’t familiar with his stuff, check him out and thank me later.  He’s going to be at #WorkHuman this year, and although I’m not able to attend in person, I’ll live vicariously through you all that do.  If it wasn’t the same week as my kids’ spring break, I would have lobbied a lot harder to get permission to attend, but packing up the family to head to Austin while Mom is geeking out in a conference all day is not what I consider “Mom of the Year” criteria, so I’ll let you all enjoy, and I’ll read all the tweets.

The thought of “Hello, I’m Here to Help” has been a frequent one lately.  HR is the epitome of servant leadership.  We are here to help.  That is why we have our positions.  We are here to help our employees, our management teams, and the company.  This is what we are trained to do.  We know what we’re doing, and we take a great deal of pride in being that resource.

It has come to my attention lately that while we’re here to help, how we help is not always how we may have originally offered.  The theme of HR Without Ego is real.  We are servant leadership, here to help.  However, we don’t dictate how we help.  We approach conversations and prepare for meetings with an entire scenario laid out how we plan to offer our help and support.  By the end of the meeting, we have scrapped Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C.  We collaborated on Plan D, and while it’s not what was originally planned, we are supporting the solution.  We need to focus on the end game when offering our support and not be emotionally invested in our original plan.

There are also times when our help is not accepted.  Take a deep breath, accept that fact, don’t take it personally, and move on.  It’s okay that our help was not accepted.  We must focus our efforts where they are best utilized.  There is always something to do, someone to support, and focusing on what we can’t do will only drive us crazy.  Change your focus.  Change your mindset.  After all, we’re here to help…

5 Minutes: Intentional Time

My son, my first born child, will be a teenager on Monday. I am taking a vacation day, and we’re celebrating with my world famous pancetta mac and cheese and Top Golf. Yes, you read that right. Pancetta in the mac and cheese. It’s a heart attack on a plate and completely delicious.

The older my children get, the more I believe those people that told me “Enjoy it while it lasts, because time flies.” They weren’t kidding. It seems like yesterday he was a baby, cuddled up with me on the couch, watching Nemo. He loved Nemo.

I’ve adopted a new mindset with them. No matter what I’m doing: work, homework, volunteer work, if one of my children comes to me, I stop everything and give them 5 minutes minimum of my undivided attention. This is no small feat. I have work-induced ADHD. It’s a struggle to stay singularly focused, and the phantom phone alert is a real thing. I feel the haptic on my wrist when there’s nothing there. I’m making an effort to be more intentional with my time and energy, though. I know how tough the teenage years are, and I don’t want my kids to feel like they can’t come to me for at least 5 minutes.

It’s not just my kids, though. I’m more intentional in my time with friends, staying present and in the moment. I’m more focused in my 1:1s with my team. I already mentioned they’re amazing, right? Why would I want to short change them? I have an hour a week devoted completely to each of them. It’s modeled after the Manager Tools 1:1. If you want to be a better manager, check out “The Basics” on the site. In the 1:1, they start the meeting and can talk about anything for their part. Work-related or otherwise. They’re people first after all, and I want to know about that part of them as well. E-mails can wait. I turn my phone over. If we’re face to face or over the phone, I’m focused and listening.

Take a look at your schedule the last week or month, were you intentional in your time? If not, what can you do today to make even one step towards being more intentional in how you spend one of life’s most precious gifts?

Has HR Lost the Trust of Employees?

It was a nice little Sunday.  We went to the Cincinnati Auto Expo.  I had been looking forward to this all week.  When I was a little girl, my Dad always had a “race car.”  He had a ’76 Corvette for most of my childhood, and would take my older sister and I to car shows.  My Dad lives in New Mexico, and I miss him dearly.  The Auto Expo was the highlight of my week to connect with my Dad, thousands of miles away.  The Expo did not disappoint.  It was wonderful.  I sat in several cars, breathed in that new car smell, reminisced about my childhood, and life was good.

We got home, I settled in with a nice cup of tea, and my husband forwarded me this article that took my breath away within the first few sentences “Human resources has to be one of the greatest bait-and-switch professions one can join today.”  OUCH.  I had to read on.  Surely there was more to the story.  There seemed to be some serious pain here for such a statement.    “…the field often attracts starry-eyed idealists, people who seek a mission-oriented, perhaps even noble profession for their careers. They join thinking they are going to make a difference.”  Yep.  That sounds like me, 14 years ago.  I wanted to help people and make a difference.  That’s still one of the things I love the most about HR.  We have the potential to make an impact.

The article goes to on to describe scenario after scenario where corruption occurs in the organization, calling them “HR abuses.”  I bristled as I read the accusations against my beloved profession, but again, I read on.  After all, perception is reality, right?  Isn’t that what we coach and teach others?  We have to manage perception?  And just like there’s no crying in baseball, there’s no ego in HR.  If there is a perception that we are not there to support our people, we need to talk about that – no matter how hard those conversations may be.

The crux of the article explained how various apps and third-party agencies could coach employees to have difficult conversations when faced with situations at work, calling this “network-based HR resources that can be responsive to worker concerns in real-time.”

Rather than looking outside of the organization for support, HR Pros, let’s challenge each other to open our doors, open our ears, take down our walls, and talk to people.  Really talk to people.  Spend time with managers, coaching them, sharing resources to help refine communication skills, empowering them to be better leaders for their teams.  Encourage our leadership to live a culture of accountability.  HR can’t “fix” the issues.  Despite popular opinion, that’s not our role.  We’re not “fixers.”  We are supporters, coaches, facilitators, and it is up to us to ensure that our organizations not only see us for who we are, but utilize us in that manner.  I accept the challenge.  Who’s with me?