City Livin’

city of Milwaukee

I spent the last week in Milwaukee, WI with my daughter (thankful yet again for my 100% work-from-anywhere company!). She lives exactly 5 blocks north of the hospital at which I was born. That 38-bed hospital is long-closed although the building, originally built by a lumber baron and listed on the historic register, still stands.

Talk about a “we’ve come full circle” moment.

This trip, beyond providing me with the opportunity to indulge in Wisconsin delicacies like walleye, cheese curd and czarnina at Polonez, (so so good; I simply refuse to think about the duck’s blood part) really put me in a contemplative mood about the different places I have lived in my life. Not so much “where” I have lived (Wisconsin vs. Louisiana) but more so the types of environs in which I have found myself. I realized my life has been split fairly neatly into thirds:

  • one-third of my life in the suburbs
  • one-third of my life in a city
  • one-third of my life in a town

The ‘Burbs

For the bulk of my childhood my family lived in a pastoral (at that time) suburb of the greater Milwaukee metropolitan area. We had big yards, wide streets, and minimal traffic. We took the school bus every day and my best friends lived, on average, 5 – 10 miles away from me in their own suburban idyll. Across the street from my family’s home were several empty lots overgrown with shrubs and trees in which the neighborhood kids carved out a baseball field (I generally was relegated to the outfield) as well as a few hide-aways (under those canopies of trees) where we experimented with cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana (pilfered from the supplies of parents and siblings). To travel anywhere outside the immediate confines of our neighborhood required either a car or, for us kids before we had driver’s licenses, a bicycle. I truly don’t remember actually “walking” anywhere except for strolling through a few back yards as the short cut to my friend Lisa’s house down the street.

The Big City

When I returned in my early 20’s, post college in small-town Wisconsin, I settled in an apartment in the city of Milwaukee. Suddenly I had sidewalks and streetlights and a bus stop right outside my front door. Across the street was not only a grocery store but an actual by-God department store! I could walk to my hairdresser’s salon (4 blocks), my bank (6 blocks), the corner store to pick up a Sunday paper (2 blocks), innumerable restaurants, and my auto mechanic (3 blocks) if I needed to drop-off/pick-up my car for an oil change. I lived in the city (with a few address changes) for close to 20 years and while, obviously, used my car, I always enjoyed being able to head out down the sidewalk to take care of a few errands or walk to a friend’s house.

The Town

Technically, Baton Rouge, LA where I currently live, is a city. Yet, with a population just slightly over 225,000 people it “feels,” to me anyway, like a small town. Our downtown, at just over 1 square mile is the very definition of a commuter destination; workers (the vast majority state government or the businesses that support them), drive in from far flung parishes in the morning and then head back out as the sun sets. Of course there’s plenty to do in BR of if one is willing to get in the car and traverse the sprawling metropolitan area while battling with the nation’s 4th worst traffic according to February 2022 rankings. Oy.

And while we live “in” the city in a centrally located neighborhood (with sidewalks! and streetlights!) we go everywhere by car. We may walk around the block but there is no way to take a stroll to the grocery store or a restaurant or even a coffee shop. I could just as well live 30 miles out in the country.

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So I realized, while spending the week in my daughter’s top floor apartment just several blocks from the shores of Lake Michigan, that I miss – and actually crave – the hustle and bustle.

  • It was energizing to be surrounded by people whenever I wanted; even an elevator ride downstairs to check the mail was an adventure. (And after doing some back-of-the-envelope #HRmath I figured out the population density within a 2 block radius of her building alone far exceeds the approximately 3,400 people (1,428 households) in my neighborhood.)
  • It was delightful just to take a walk up the street, shopping list in hand, to grab some groceries. To a store where, accustomed to walkable customers, the cashiers automatically asked if I wanted to double bag heavy items for carrying. I was able to walk to the store, complete my errand, and return home in less time than it takes me to navigate an automobile trip to make groceries in Baton Rouge.
  • I found it thrilling to order from a restaurant and, instead of relying on Waitr delivery, taking a 5-minute stroll to pick it up myself. Naturally I felt it was my duty to uphold the Milwaukee Fish Fry tradition.

Was it loud? A bit. But I crave some noise when settling into bed at night. In the big city I simply found myself heading into slumberville to the sounds of street traffic and patrons at the corner pub rather than nodding off to my “Distant Thunder” sleep app.

Was it inconvenient? A bit. It does require more planning to maneuver purchases or packages from the parking garage (or the street) as opposed to pulling into one’s garage and just carting items into the house in a few trips. And I literally cannot fathom the thought of my dogs having to go down an elevator and out for regular walks as opposed to their existing life which consists of their doggy=please of “please open the door and let us out to run around the yard and bark and do-our-business whenever we want!”

Was it sensory overload? A bit. The lights were, well…BRIGHT; I found myself fervently wishing for some black-out shades at night.

Did I love it? Yes.

It was fully immersive. I found myself back in the city of my birth and in close approximation to a previous way of living. Would I live in the big city again? At this stage in my life? I don’t know. I’ve grown accustomed to quiet at night (and in the morning) with wandering neighborhood cats and the occasional possum showing up in the back yard. I know I will never get overnight (let alone same day) Amazon delivery which, quite frankly, I can easily do without.  All things considered I imagine I am destined to stay in “The Town.”  

But I am willing to try some Beach Livin.’

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Let’s Do the Time Warp Again: 15 Years of the Carnival of HR

HR Time Warp
Images of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” are copyright 1975 by 20th Century Fox.

The very first Carnival of HR ran 15 years ago this week (February 21, 2007) when Suzanne Lucas kicked off our long-running tradition with this post.

In the intervening years there have been hundreds of Carnivals as various people took on the role of Ringmaster: Alison Green (aka @AskAManager) in 2008; Shauna Griffis from 2009 -2016; Robin Schooling (hey that’s me!) from 2016 – 2021; and John Baldino (2022 – beyond!).

There have been numerous shifts in the online HR community since the halycon (and experimental) early days of HR professionals getting on social media, participating in Twitter chats (RIP weekly Thursday night #HRHappyHour) and creating blogs left and right. (check out The Unofficial (and totally non-scientific) History of HR Blogging written for the 10 year anniversary of the HR Carnival).

Is ”blogging” as we knew it, dead? Maybe. But it’s been supplanted with newsletters (so.many.newsletters), podcasts, and “live” events on LinkedIn and Facebook. And that’s a GREAT thing…because those of us working in/around HR have a LOT to say. And now we have increasingly more ways of getting our message out into the world.

So let’s take a jump to the left and then a step to the right…and check out some recent HR content. Shall we?

*****

“You look like you’re both pretty groovy!”

Dr. Frank “N Furter

Golden Girls – Betty White/Rose Nylund – Anthony Paradiso at AllThingzAP

How to Prevent and Manage Burnout – Joey Price at While We Were Working (podcast)

“If only we were amongst friends… or sane persons!”

Janet

Employer Branding Can’t Fix a Poor Candidate Experience – Kevin Grossman at TalentBoard  

Just Because You Can Do Something, Does It Mean You Should?- Wendy Dailey at My Dailey Journey

“It’s astounding, time is fleeting, madness takes its toll.”

Riff Raff

Leadership Barriers to DEI and How to Address Them – Kelly Primus at LeadingNOW

We Don’t Talk About Bruno: Acknowledging Former Employees – John Baldino at Humareso

The Return of Candidate Resentment – Kevin Grossman at TalentBoard

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Peace out HR.  “’Don’t Dream it. Be it.”

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In Order to Form a More Perfect (HR) Union….

HR professionals are raised (trained? taught?) to view labor unions as the enemy. Unions are the Moriarty to our Sherlock Holmes. The Hans Gruber to our John McClane. The Ursula to our Ariel.

But unions served a historically important role fighting for many of the workplace norms we now take for granted. Early organizing efforts advanced women’s rights and gender equality while the voices of the labor movement brought awareness (and change) to dangerous and unsafe working conditions. 

Occasionally I wonder if HR professionals should exercise their collective voice and form a union; after all a group of organized workers is, at its most elemental, dedicated to furthering the economic and social interests of workers.

And if we do so I have decided we can call it the HRPWU – “Human Resources Professional Workers Union.”  

If HRPWU came into existence there would be no more dependence upon “the world’s largest professional HR association” (also known as they place where one gives money but has no voice) as the place for peers to gather. Rather, with HRPWU, members could elect their own officers, determine their own goals for the profession, set their own dues and choose the rules by which the union operates. Banding together, HRPWU members could negotiate, on behalf of HR workers everywhere, better working conditions and wage equity. HRPWU could promote better work/life integration and working hours flexibility; no more of this 60+ hour per week crap that many HR professionals find themselves sucked into against their will.  I also envision a GROUP collective bargaining process; negotiating with ALL employers across the board for appropriate pay, benefits, health and safety policies and practices (including access to mental health resources) and workplace equity and justice.

As a bonus, being represented by HRPWU, Human Resources professionals could, once and for all, be assured a seat at the (bargaining) table.  

Talk about making an investment into the future of HR…

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A 9/11 Legacy

My friend Christine Lewis-Varley wrote this guest post for me in 2011 and it ran for the 10th year anniversary of 9/11 over at the HRSchoolhouse. Sadly Christine passed away in 2014. I’m re-running this post today in memory of Christine as well as in memory of those who perished in the attacks, the heroes, the survivors and the families.

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This weekend we’re going to be inundated by media hype – we’re going to see the planes go into the Towers time and again. We’re going to switch the TV off because it’s so incredibly sad and there’s nothing we can do to make it better.  We can’t take it back, we can’t rewind the movie.

In some ways it seems like a life time since September 11th 2001 and in other ways it seems like yesterday. Certainly none of us will ever forget where we were, what we were doing and how we felt.  I wanted to share a story with you.

Amongst the thousands of memories that I have of September 11th 2001 I have one very special one that is forever imprinted on my heart.  A young woman, by the name of Anya, was living in Brooklyn with her husband Alexander – they were from Siberia.  Alexander was a very young technology guru who was brought to the US by Leman Brothers to work in New York.  Alexander brought with him his young twenty year old bride, Anya.  After several months in the US Cantor Fitzgerald contacted Alexander and offered him a job working for them in the World Trade Center.  Alexander was very excited, it was more money and he and Anya had not realized how expensive it would be to live in New York and so additional money was going to be tremendous for them.  The rest is history! 

Alexander called Anya just before he died and told her what was happening.  All alone, Anya watched the television for hours and days until someone from Cantor realized that she must be alone – they sent people to sit with her, to comfort her until her young sister arrived from Siberia.  Anya was 20 and her sister was 19 and neither spoke English! 

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After September 11th 2001 I was very honored to join a small group of New York female executives in the rag trade who opened their hearts and their businesses to the women who had been left behind after their husbands, fiancées and significant others had been killed.  The mission of this small group was to help the women talk, share, explore and start to get involved in completely different areas of work than most of them had ever dreamt of.  The idea being to that these new and different areas would help the women have something different to think about as they moved through this agonizing period of their lives.   As a side note – it was amazing – the CEOs of fashion houses such as Ann Taylor, Perry Ellis, DKNY and others that I can’t think of right now, offered the women jobs, apprenticeships, days in the life of – anything they could think of that would provide a distraction for just a little while!  It was amazing and truly an experience that none of us will forget. (WITHH = Women in Transition Helping and Healing.)

We met many times with various groups of women and we talked and talked and it was at one of these gatherings that I had the pleasure of meeting Anya for the first time.  She was the most beautiful young woman, as you can imagine, blonde and blue eyed.  She and her sister sat quietly together, listening intently to the other women as they shared their stories.  I watched Anya very carefully and I could see that she was trying to figure out how to say something in English – I reached for her hand and squeezed it gently and attempted to send as much supportive energy as I could.   She started to speak – you could hear a pin drop.  Very carefully and quietly she shared with the room of strangers, united by a bond that nobody wanted, many of whom were understandably angry and frustrated and others who were silent and crying as they listened to the women share their feelings. 

Anya told of the horror she experienced – how she had sat in her apartment alone for the first few days and how she would hear the heavy footprints in the hallway outside her apartment; she would know they were coming for her to sign a receipt that another fragment of Alexander’s remains had been identified.  She told of her difficulty in understanding what was being said; she told of her loneliness and terror in a foreign country.  She told of her sister’s arrival days later and the comfort she’d found in being able to talk to someone in her own language.  She spoke for several minutes – nobody cared that she struggled hard to put the words together to make sense and often used her hands to show her meaning and other times asked for help to clearly make her point understood. 

She completed her story and then she shared something that was extraordinary coming from anyone, especially someone so young.  Anya said that she didn’t want her wonderful memory of Alexander to be marred by hate.  That she didn’t hate the people who had done this.  She said that she felt sorry – terribly sorry.  She wanted to understand why they hated so much and why they could do something so horrendous.  She said she would spend the rest of her life teaching love and helping children build bridges of love and understanding rather than hate and terror. 

You can imagine – the women in the room received Anya’s message with very mixed feelings – they certainly had a right to hate but here was a young women, who had gone through this terror alone, who was in a foreign country away from her parents – and her message was of love not hate. 

I was very fortunate to become Anya’s surrogate mother in the US until she left three years later.  We spent many hours on my porch in West Hartford, talking about her future, her past – what she was going to do with her life and how what had happened to her was going to influence her future.  Anya went on to graduate from NYU and is now home in Siberia with her family, she has found a new love and one day she says she may get married.  She’s a teacher, and best of all, she has founded an organization with a friend in New York to bring Siberian children to the US and American children to Siberia.  Anya would often tell me, as she laughed with delight, that when people found that she came from Siberia they immediately asked “how?”  She said the Americans she had met thought that Siberia was made up of snow and bears – they had no idea people actually lived there.  The truth is that Anya lived on the second floor above an open shopping mall – she would make me laugh when she told me how she would have a date and have to run downstairs to the shops to buy a pair of tights!  (FYI – her clothes were off the charts – fashion in Siberia is very high style).

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I will never forget Anya and her amazing soul – old and wise beyond her years and blessed with a grace that is almost impossible to comprehend.

I met so many women, there were so many stories – those are the people I want to hear from this weekend.  I don’t want to watch the planes go into the towers – that happened, there’s nothing we can do to change it.   I want to hear and see about the incredible guts and determination that those left behind have harnessed and used to do extraordinary things with their lives – those are the people I want to hear about.  

This Sunday I will go to church and thank God for standing by my side – even when I ignore him as I have done so many times.  I will hang my American flag this weekend and I hope you will too.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on the media – I have just heard another great story of a wife of a young husband and father of three who lost his life in September 11th 2001.  She has started a foundation to help Afghanistan women create small businesses so that they can make their own money to buy materials and build schools to educate their children. 

I wonder what I would have done had I been one of the women left behind – would I have had the guts to carry on?  I wonder! 

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Replicate? Or Redefine?

best practices

A number of years ago, as I was cavorting-in-the-job-market whilst in pursuit of a new gig, I had an interview for an HR Leader role when the site leader (we’ll call him Bob) asked me “what HR best practices are you aware of in our industry? I want us to implement all the best practices.”

(I could sense the HR-splaining pride oozing out of Bob’s pores as he tossed that cliché (“best practices”) into the conversation. I decided he must have visited the SHRM website in preparation for hiring into an HR role he had not needed to fill for a number of years.)

Well,” said I, “I’m not particularly a fan of merely replicating what’s been done at other organizations. I’ll most certainly look at our immediate market competitors and across the industry  but I’m not one for simply ‘copying’.”

“Why,” I asked, “should we replicate when we have the opportunity to redefine?”

I got the job. 

(And I like to think I kicked ass at the job).

It certainly would have been very easy to walk in there, researched a bunch of shit from other companies in our industry or in our geographic area, and copied and pasted every single HR/People Ops program and initiative. Bob, as a matter of fact, was a great believer in duplicating (even down to the “naming” of things) what others were doing. Not unlike many (many!) other leaders:

  • “Acme Company, LLC down the street is doing X. We need to do X too.”
  • “When I worked at Ginormous Corporation we did A, B and C. I want to do that here at Small Potatoes, Inc.”
  • “Did you see that recruitment campaign/post/job advert from Sexy Company? We need to do that!”
  • “Well, I know Big Bad Competitor Across Town, LLP is leading the market with compensation and coming in 20% ahead of us in starting pay but we really can’t compete with them….” (oh…wait…bad example…#snicker)

Here’s the deal…

Market intelligence is important. Keeping an eye on what’s happening in the world of work is necessary. Conducting regular environmental scans/PESTLE analyses is imperative. Finding out what job or environmental factors matter to candidates and employees is crucial.

And yes; taking something one did at a previous company, adjusting it and implementing at a new company is often a wise move. Over the years I’ve carried (digitally speaking) forms, templates, policies, and training curriculums from one company to the next. These are the sorts of things that don’t require a reinvention, as the saying goes, of the wheel.

But not everything is ideal for imitation. You shouldn’t blindly borrow, plunder or copy someone else’s:

  • Company Values
  • Employer Branding
  • Talent Acquisition Strategies
  • HR Metrics and Success Measures
  • Performance Management Process
  • Rewards and Recognition Structure

Why? Because their (the other guy’s) “best practice” may not be the BEST practice for YOUR organization.

Besides…it’s much more fun to CREATE rather than replicate.

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