Archive for August 22, 2011

The Demon Barber of your Workplace

“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd
His skin was pale and his eye was odd
He shaved the faces of gentlemen
Who never thereafter were heard of again
He trod a path that few have trod
Did Sweeney Todd
The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

“The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” By Stephen Sondheim


We had a rousing kick-off this morning to the fantastic Illinois SHRM State Conference.  Close to 800 HR professionals have made the trip to northeast Illinois (up from 600 last year – wow!) to learn, listen and network.  The general session room is being held in the theatre at Drury Lane where a production of Sweeney Todd is currently running. 

My friend Ryan Estis got us moving with a discussion about Passion on Purpose: Winning with a Passion Culture. If you don’t already, you most definitely need to go and follow his blog.

While he shared a lot of great content and really got us thinking, there was one moment during his session that stood out for me.  He challenged (and yes, I do consider it a challenge) the audience to think/reflect back on a time in our professional careers when we were having our best experience at work.  How do we replicate that moment?  How can we close that gap between what that moment ‘was’ and recreate it now and in the future?

“Work is an emotional experience” said Ryan. 

Think about that.  We can’t turn our emotions off when we come to work, nor, dare I say, should we.  It’s our emotions that make us human and shouldn’t we be able to bring our whole selves to work with us each day?  And shouldn’t our employees be able to do the same?  Too often we have managers or organizational constraints cultures that take the stance that the business of business is SERIOUS business.  And then they proceed to suck all the passion, emotions and life out of the staff members who make up their workforce.


Now Sweeney Todd brought his emotions to work at the barbershop every day.  He grieved over the loss of his wife and daughter and sought revenge against the men and the system who had done him a great injustice.  His emotions at work led to, well, lots of bloodshed.

But he was passionate.  You gotta give him that.

Damn – I sure hope we’re not having meat pies for lunch.

Castoffs from the Island of the Doomed

There’s not much that’s more painful to one’s soul than working in a toxic environment.  Bitter rivalries, back-stabbing co-workers, gossiping busybodies in the lunchroom.  All overseen, and apparently supported by, blood-sucking overlords toxic managers.

But yet, chained there by a bad economy or a fear of moving to a new (and unknown) environment, some people toil in these sorts of workplaces for years.  Decades even.


There once was a mid-level administrative worker, Claire, who had put in years in a demeaning, soul-crushing workplace.  She initially felt chained to the job because it was all she knew and she had doubts about her ability to learn something else.  She also felt somewhat handcuffed to the company because of great benefits (she carried all the insurance coverage for her family) and a sense of ‘connection’ to her co-workers.  In a way they were like shipwrecked passengers; washed ashore onto a treacherous jungle island whose only way to survive was by relying on each other.

So a great number of them stuck together for years.  Occasionally, one would find their way off the island, and the others would furtively whisper “good luck; please take me with you” as they clutched each other and sobbed uncontrollably at the department farewell luncheon.  Inevitably, the festivies would end at 1:01 PM when the blood-sucking overlord manager would remind them all it was time to get back to work even if it was Bobbie’s last day.  The temporary goodwill would vanish and petty rivalries would once again surface as if the entire department and organization was being filmed for a yet-to-be-scheduled season of “Real Office Workers of Pomona.”

But one day, the blood-sucking-overlord manager had a bit of news to dispense.  The department was being downsized and positions were being eliminated.  She asked Claire and a number of her coworkers to go to the HR Department for a scheduled meeting.

And with that – Claire was free.


Now not to make light of a terrifying situation; losing one’s job for any reason is not something to be taken lightly, and our hearts ache for Claire and others in these situations.  But even in the face of this drastic change, Claire was presented with an opportunity.  She was given the chance to get OFF that Island – leaving an environment that caused stress and pain and self-doubt.

And now we all have the opportunity to help Claire or someone like her this Labor Day by participating collectively with the Zero Unemployment movement.  It’s not hard, it’s not time-consuming.  All you’re asked to do is “just take 15 min of your time to help a friend find a job. Make a referral, review a resume, help write a cover letter… do whatever it takes.”

You can even help one of those blood-sucking overlords managers find a job.  Perhaps just throw in a bit of personal coaching first.

No Need to “Get A Room”

Quite often, when hanging out on the social media channels, we get exposed to lots of PDA; the luvs, the likes, the pokes.  It’s an orgiastic delight of shared appreciation and good old-fashoned virtual hugging.  There’s a lot of love on display, but I’ve certainly never felt the need to put an end to it.  Unlike some of the activities witnessed on crowded dance floors or at beer tents at county festivals: “Good grief Hazel; will you look at those two?  They need to get a room!”


I took an out-of-town trip the other week to attend my HS reunion, hang with my daughter and soak up some Wisconsin goodness – also known as indulging in cheese curds, frozen custard and deep friend beer (verdict? – ick!) at the WI State Fair.

As part of the trip I made some plans to connect with some social media/online friends whom I’ve never met in person.  Jim Raffel and Shelby Sapusek live and work in Milwaukee and part of what they do (and I swear to God neither of them ever sleeps) is host a weekly twitter chat (#shehechat) on Thursday evenings.  They’ve also just recently begun live streaming the chat via UStream and taking it on the road!

Now I’ve never even “talked” to either Jim or Shelby; we’re twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ buddies. But when it became apparent that I would be in Milwaukee with no specific plans during the Thursday evening #shehechat, we started talking about my attending and horning in on getting in on the show.  And that, my friends, is how I ended up talking about Human Resources on a live streaming show that’s normally devoted to discussions surrounding social media, affiliate marketing and blogging. As an added bonus – we were broadcasting live from AJ Bombers so I could simultaneously enjoy a killer cheeseburger.

In some way, I imagine the regular #shehechat audience didn’t know quite what to make of the topic.  But, as any good advance men/women will do, Jim and Shelby prepped their audience about the topics via a blog post earlier in the day in order to best encourage interaction and questions.  They kicked off the hour by tossing me the question “Should HR control its employees’ social media voices?” and we were off.  We chatted about SM policies, SM content and using SM effectively/ineffectively in recruitment to bolster or destroy the employment experience.  We tackled the topic of employers searching SM networks for candidate information – the pluses and minuses.  And after about 20 minutes of HR goodness (I dare to say a first for their show), the hosts deftly moved on to discussions about SEO in blogging and using bad grammar in social media channels.

A fun time was had by all.  And the cursing was kept to a minimum – both mine and Jim’s.


Earlier this week, Shauna Moerke penned a post over at Women of HR called “How to Really Connect with People”  where she stated – “I love getting to sit face to face and chat with people that I have connected with online.”

How I agree. The glorious part of social media is turning all those online connections and conversations into real relationships.  Moving beyond the tweets and the posts and the facebook updates into social interactions.  The types of interactions where one can lend a hand, share some resources and have some fun.

So amen Shauna.  Amen.

And let’s keep it going.  No need to worry about having to get a room.


Now go follow my pals – check out Jim’s blog and Shelby’s website and follow them on the twitterz.  Perhaps you too can shove your way in tag along with them when you visit the midwest.

Going ‘Home’

I just got back from a trip to my hometown for a high school reunion.  Total time-machine (minus the hot tub); seeing and talking to people who, in some cases, I haven’t laid eyes on for several decades.  The after-party (as it were) went into the wee hours of the morning as I sat around and chatted with a bunch of people who were first my friends well before puberty.

It was fun, interesting and a bit sad all at the same time.  So much time has passed and I had momentary visions of my old age/mortality.  In these intervening years between HS graduation and NOW we’ve grown into adulthood, fallen in love and lost people we love.  Did the lessons we learned back in the day (literally), and the lives we led, set us on the path to the choices we’ve made throughout our lives?  How much of what we absorbed on the grade school playground or in 8th grade gym class continues to rule our actions as we move into middle age?

As adults we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about changing our behavior.  For many who linger on blogs such as this one focused on HR and related issues, there’s specifically an interest in our behavior at work – influence, leadership, management and all the things that keep industry humming and the world of commerce moving.

But what about the ‘pieces’ of us that grew out of our childhood?  I’m quite certain that these things continue to shape our destiny.  And may be the hardest of all to change.