HR, Be Water

“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” – Lao Tzu

Ever since I was a little kid, I have had a fascination with water. I would fantasize about visiting the ocean to witness the experience – watch the waves, listen to them crashing on the sand, smell and taste the salty sea air, and feel the breeze on my face. I always wanted to just sit on the beach and bear witness to one of nature’s more beautiful experiences.

Rivers, streams, lakes, oceans, ponds, puddles, rain… all of it fascinates me. I’ve thought much as to why this element so intrigued me, but only recently did I discover why.

A few weeks ago, I lamented that I only recently discovered the philosophical brilliance of Bruce Lee.

Many may not realize, but Bruce Lee was more than an iconic martial artist and action film star. He was also an accomplished and profund philosophers. Overshadowed by the Dragon persona, his philosophy is overlooked by the mainstream despite it being central to him becoming the Dragon. Without Bruce Lee’s philosophy, his mastery of martial arts would have been nothing.

Lee was a warrior, and as importantly, he was a philosopher. Particularly striking to me was this interview:

“Empty your mind.

Be formless, shapeless, like water.

You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup.

You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle.

You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot.

Now water can flow, or it can crash.

Be water, my friend.”

This poetry – based on ancient Chinese Taoist philosophy – is the balance I needed to hear. It’s the Yin and the Yang I was looking for. I recall in high school science classes that water flows from a higher concentration to a lower concentration and few things can stop water whether it’s a slow trickle or a heavy flow. Water is adaptable. It flows wherever it is supposed to flow in exactly the way it was meant to flow.

This wisdom from Bruce Lee was my own epiphany into why I’ve always had an attraction to water. The universe was trying to tell me something. For much of my early adult life, I was rigid and inflexible. If something was out of place in my life or didn’t go exactly according to plan, I would get anxious or crumble. I’d sulk and become intolerable.

The universe was trying to tell me to be like water. Be flexible, soft, graceful. Be yielding. Be understanding. Flow or crash depending on what is needed. Adapt or die.

The universe is complicated. Nature is complex, probably far more so than our minds can comprehend. So, too, are our lives, since we are part of nature and not separate. How do people cope with this complexity that we do not understand? We form boxes, categories. We then put ideas and thoughts into these superficial spaces, which is limiting and constricting. It’s a great coping mechanism for hunter-gathers trying to survive on the ice fields of Eurasia; but humans have long since moved past our primitive surroundings, and it’s time our thought patterns move along with it. The sabretooth cat isn’t going to jump out and eat us anymore. Let go of the notion that there’s something scary hiding behind the bush.

Dear HR professionals, be like water, my friends.

Much like nature, work life is incredibly complicated. I won’t waste words by rehashing the stats and stories here, but a quick Google search, and most will see what I mean. HR work is destructive to those unwilling to bend. It was lonely, isolating work prior to the COVID pandemic. Now, many good folks are being crushed under the uncompromising weight of a microbe.

As the world of work is ever-changing, and workplaces are more complex than our minds can comprehend, a more helpful approach to work life is one that is flexible or adaptable. One that enables us to flow along. You know… kinda like water.

Depending on its environmental constructs, water changes. When it’s cold, water becomes ice to fit the situation. When it’s hot, water evaporates to fill that need. When it’s in a glass, it becomes the glass, as the Dragon so eloquently spoke. And so on. Water doesn’t resist. It just keeps being water regardless of what comes its way.

What does this mean for the HR professional?

It means learning to be adaptive and flexible to the environment around us. Do not cling to your views on or approaches to the HR profession. Be open to receiving new information about old ways of doing things. Changing one’s mind is not weakness. Much like a river redirecting itself after an earthquake, water finds a new path to tread so that it can continue to reach the ocean.

It also means learning to listen to the environment around us and being non-judgmental about it. I want to be ice. Well, it’s 72 degrees outside, so I need to be water. I will move forward as needed. I’d rather be doing my monthly professional development with my team, but I’m needed on this investigation right now. It’s not fun, but it’s where I need to flow!

Being water means going to new places without hesitation. Lao Tzu said in the Tao Te Ching, “That which offers no resistance, overcomes the hardest substances. That which offers no resistance can enter where there is no space.” It’s been written about and discussed hundreds, if not thousands, of times. HR needs to be a TRUE unabashed leader in the DEI+ Belonging space. HR needs to challenge racism and bigotry head on. HR needs to back up employees when they have legitimate grievances. Yet, many in the HR profession don’t do these things. Why? Water doesn’t refuse to go where it has to. It goes wherever it is needed however it can. HR needs to be able to find the space to go where there is seemingly no space.

Bruce Lee said “empty your cup so that it may be filled.” Or as Yoda told Luke Skywalker, “No. No different. Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.”

If one remains rigid and unbending, they will eventually break.

Be water, my HR friends.

Street Level Influencer – Meet Shenise Cook

Shenise Cook is a DYNAMIC person, professional, and an all around badass! Get to know her, and then go connect with her!

The Street Level Influencer continues into 2021. Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

Street level influencers provide that for us.

COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, insurrections, hatred from seemingly all over. These things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler
  7. Blake Quinlan
  8. James Woods
  9. Anthony Eaton
  10. Jane Murtaugh
  11. Rhonda Owens
  12. Dan Huber

This next individual I spoke with is incredibly awesome. I had followed Shenise on social media for a while, but I was inspired to reach out to her after seeing a Tweet from Claire Petrie:

I was in a little rut, and Claire’s Tweet came at the perfect time. COVID was starting to finally take its toll on me. Continued work pressures, family turmoil, and societal problems – all that came ahead one year into the pandemic, social injustice, and societal instability. I was feeling it, like so many others.

After seeing Claire’s tweet, however, I thought, I need to talk to Shenise – that smile from Claire is too awesome, meaning Providence is telling me that Shenise is someone I need to chat with.

So, I reached out to her, and she graciously said “let’s do it!” We set up a Zoom chat, and after a few reschedules, we connected. It was such an amazing conversation. Shenise’s energy is infectious. I felt such a vibe from her, that I wanted to spread it to the HR Community and beyond!

I cannot thank Shenise enough. She likely doesn’t know what that conversation meant to me. To connect with someone so real, uninhibited, positive – it reenergized me. She is a sweet person, who deserves all the great things that come her way!

So, without further ado, here is Shenise’s story!

1. So, you’re a well experienced HR pro! Why do you do HR?

Despite sometimes thankless roles and efforts, HR combines some things that I innately enjoy – people, business, efficiency, and evolution.  As a teenager, I did not know exactly what I would do, but I knew it would be business. And before it was common phrasing, I knew nothing worked without people.  And yet most important for me is that I enjoy supporting people in being their best selves. In HR, it allows me to work in that space. Whether I am helping leaders figure out their workforce and succession plans for better strategic alignment, assisting an employee with a career development path, discussing sometimes overlooked/forgotten benefits options, or providing system updates/integrations to make work easier, I like to see people succeed.

2. Currently, you are in career transition. What are you looking for in your next role? How will you know the next role is right for you? 

First, let me highlight that I am blessed to have worked in a variety of areas within HR. I point that out because there are a few directions that I would enjoy taking, so I won’t narrow it to a title. What’s important to me regardless of the role is the ability to use a variety of my skills (talent management, organizational development, etc.), as well as working in partnership. How will I know? Do we ever really know? What I hope is that there will be good communication, a team-orientation, alignment and partnership between HR and leadership across the organization, and an aim towards work-life balance. All of this must be accompanied by a culture that believes in and invests in its people as a measure of success.

3. A lot of what you just discuss hit home. Along those lines, how would you define being a “good HR leader?”

In my humble opinion, a good HR leader understands the need to function in multiple roles. Sometimes you direct, other times you mediate, and sometimes you coach. There are others, but this is a short interview [smile]. Good HR leaders also attempt to learn their business. We often follow best practices, but the applicability, implementation, impact can be so varied. What is done at a software company may not be a good fit in banking. And what is done in a global product company may not work for a service company serving a small city. Then there’s agility.  Anyone that has worked in HR knows that no two days are exactly the same. So the ability to somehow pivot and maintain focus in sometimes a matter of hours is critical.  None of this is really important, unless its someone with integrity, that communicates, values people, supports opportunity, and allows some grace, so that people want to follow.

4. Agility and applicability are such overlooked words at times, or people use them and don’t apply (pun intended). So glad you brought that up! HR is a challenging profession, in that, we likely get too much blame and not enough credit when things go wrong or well, respectively. Have you had a particular story that you’re comfortable sharing to describe how you overcame a challenging situation?

I’ve done payroll, change management and been responsible for various approvals…I have tons of stories (laugh).  My experience in general is that most reasonable people are less upset when they are informed. “Ma’am, I understand you’re upset, unfortunately, you did not get paid because we have not received any paperwork to know you’re working.”  “Sir, we do not think you are racist.  We are committed to creating equal opportunities for employment so we will need to advertise in some additional places, which may take more time.”  “Yes, this is an additional item on your already full plate.  I know that your success is important and this is a way to make sure we gather your input on behalf of your department.  I’d be happy to provide some suggestions or act a sounding board so that you can work through it most efficiently.”  When people are upset, I always remember its not really about me, I am transparent as the opportunity allows, and I offer what I can to make sure they know they are not alone.

5. Great point about not taking things personal. People’s behaviors are more often than not about them and not about you or me. As a Black woman in the HR profession, what do you feel HR professionals can do better to promote BIPOC professionals in the workplace?

First, let me say that I am not a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) expert.  What I can say is that no component of the trifecta has true long-term positive impact without the other.  As HR professionals, we have to look at our organizations and identify where the experience and opportunities are different and ask why.  And after digging into the causes ask the questions that find the solutions.  Why aren’t our applicant pools diverse? Why do we only have one minority or veteran or person with a disability in last quarter’s hires?  What do the social activities for onboarding look like?  Are they really professional or do they demonstrate some cultural or socioeconomic preference?  Might they be contrary to someone’s religious beliefs? What assumptions, conversations, resources are there that may impact performance for better or for worse?  When are professionally beneficial collaborations really happening? Who’s there? Who is interacting just before and after meetings? Why? Who is listening? Ultimately, we have to become comfortable with initiating uncomfortable conversations and really delving into why leaders are making decisions that may cause disparate impact.  We have to be proactive in learning about experiences that may be different from ours. Those from underrepresented groups need allies that challenge people to consider them and the value of what they contribute when decision makers are simply relying on what worked last time. And allies in less than diverse populations should seek these opportunities out.  If an organization is genuinely aiming to build a diverse, equitable and inclusive work place, people have to feel comfortable discussing their challenges with us as HR professionals and we have to be courageous enough to highlight things even if the person impeding this progress is a “really a good person.”  This is by no means an all-inclusive list.  It’s the cliff’s notes of the short list. But let’s at least get started and ask for support along the way. 

6. You ask A LOT of great hard hitting questions all HR professionals must be mindful of. Have you seen progress towards more meaningful inclusion efforts over your career, last several years, last several months? How much further is left to go in your mind for HR professionals to be true advocates for workplace equality?

Collectively, I do not sense much progress has been made, but I don’t know the numbers. I do know that I’ve talked with HR people that see the challenges, but don’t have leadership that support corrective action. I also know HR people in organizations that are so understaffed that they probably miss things that are not blatantly overt or highlighted by collective complaint. While there are many HR professionals that are proactively making change, there are still so many not empowered.  With that said, I am encouraged when I interact with people such as yourself, that care and push for progress through voice, decision and action.

7. That’s a tough pill to swallow, and society in America has A LONG way to go. Thank you for being so open and honest. We need that more than ever, and we need to normalize it. On a more lighter note, who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

I have a variety of people in my network with all types of talents and wisdom. I would say that who readers should know is all about where they are on their professional evolution. So they’re all valuable.

8. All the more reason to connect with you and see who is in your network! What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

Oh the challenges will be many. Organizations are navigating (or choosing by inaction) differently, so I think within the near future it will generally be addressing the long-term impacts of the pandemic. The ability to be agile, will definitely determine how quickly organizations can move beyond survival mode. For those in industries that require on-site workers, the next phase of challenge will likely be the implementation and enforcement of safety protocols. In the United States, there were generally some mass restrictions and requirements. But as states remove mandates and vaccinations become available to more individuals, organizations will have to create legally enforceable policies that both protect workers’ safety and freedoms.  Given the varied opinions on the pandemic, vaccinations and liberties, I imagine this will be an arduous task for many. 

What I will be most interested to see is the how the employment market plays out. Traditionally, we would say, unemployment is high – it’s an employers’ market. But is it really the traditional landscape? Pre-pandemic, it was highlighted that there were jobs that could not be filled by the unemployed because the jobs didn’t match their skillsets. Now, we have both employees and employers that have performed better using remote or hybrid working models. And you have some of those groups that have no intention of returning to the previous model. Then you have those out of necessity, preference, or lack of agility that will be eagerly returning to organizational sites. What happens when the employer path and employee path don’t match? How hard will it be to keep or hire employees to come to site when your employment competitors allow remote work? Or, the reverse if they prefer on-site? One could suggest that employees will make changes based on preference and it will appear as a swap. But that assumes that the jobs and skill set are a similar match. If not, we could potentially see the pre-pandemic challenge exacerbated.  In addition to policy changes, new vacancies, larger candidate pools, and increased competition for top talent, HR should likely prepare for changes to onboarding and training. This is not just for individual contributors, but also for managers who may need more development in managing remote and/or hybrid teams.

9.  Your answers are so insightful and thoughtful. I appreciate you taking the time to share your perspective. This has been wonderful! How can people connect with you?

The quickest way to reach me is via Twitter @HRShenise.

10.  Last question, but, much like Captain America, I could do this all day! What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

I am dynamic. I really think that all people are, but there are some of us that are more comfortable not fitting into the box. I understand that initially people mentally create “boxes” to classify, to understand what we perceive. But we should never really presume that what we see is all there is or even that our perception is accurate. I can’t tell you how many times people said, “I thought you…”, “Well, I know you…”, or “You’re probably thinking…” and were wrong about me. I question and politely correct, but how often are the assumptions unvoiced? When we engage with people from a space that doesn’t put any of our restrictions on who they should/could be, (of course in my realm they have to be respectful) it allows them to engage authentically. Some of my best friends and most beneficial connections have evolved from this space. A space that allows both of us and our realities to evolve.  And we see that no one really fits the little boxes…and I have no desire to squeeze in.

That is so incredibly Stoic of you, Shenise! Dear reads, please go and connect with her now! You won’t regret it!

HR Philosopher – Street Level Influencer: Dan Huber

Dan Huber, Co-Founder of the HR Hot Seat, Milwaukee Chapter.

Many of us have people in our lives, who, when introducing us to their network, we proclaim “Any friend of _____ is a friend of mine!” For me, that person is Erich Kurschat. He seems to attract such a diverse set of individuals to his networking circle.

Recently, I got text from Erich asking if he could introduce me to Dan Huber. He said Dan was looking to expand his horizons, so I told Erich – “Any friend of Erich is a friend of mine” and said please make the introduction!

So, Dan and I hopped on a Zoom call and got to talking! I was instantly drawn to Dan’s warm personality. We discussed growing up in the Chicagoland area, and his job at Breakthru Beverage Group, which distributes liquor and beer in the region. We discussed Binny’s Beverage Depot, which is a Chicagoland staple for craft beer lovers!

What really drew me to Dan, however, was his passion for the Human Resources profession despite never having been in HR! He told me that prior to relocating, he became active in Erich’s endeavor the HR Hot Seat.

The HR Hot Seat was designed “to move the human resources discipline forward” through a network of active and diverse HR professionals as a safe space to gather and discuss issues in a “collaborative environment of trust, support, honesty, integrity, and respect.”

The HR Host Seat has grown over the last several years from a small Chicago based group to include over ten chapters in five states.

This is where Dan comes in. He started the newest HR Hot Seat Chapter in Milwaukee, WI earlier this month!

Actually, it’s pronounced “mill-e-wah-que” which is Algonquin for “the good land.”

But… I digress…

As Dan and I discussed his venture, I was impressed by his zeal for promoting the HR profession and building a support system for those struggling in transition. I was especially wide-eyed when he said they plan on setting up a special fund to allow HR professionals in transition to apply for funding to take certification or education courses to brush up on their skills.

This is truly a selfless effort, and it’s one I wanted to share with my own network. SO, without further ado, let me introduce you to Dan Huber!

So, Dan, please tell me about the organization you currently work at and what your role is.

I work for zizzl-Benefits consulting and payroll firm in Milwaukee. I am a Sales Executive with the company. It’s a family business and our mission is to help companies manage their healthcare and/or payroll costs. My uncle tapped me for this role. I feel very strongly in what the company stands for and how we can help our clients better provide for their employees.

Tell me why you wanted to start an HR Hot Seat chapter in the Milwaukee Area.

I felt that the pandemic made it nearly impossible for HR Pro’s to network. There is such a void currently in the area, and I talked to many who were looking for a networking group that offered more. So, I felt a mastermind group where we could have tangible conversations with tangible tactical advice was necessary. I just wanted to help support HR professionals with the resources they need and connect those looking for jobs with the right opportunities.

As a non-HR professional, why do you feel it’s so important to support HR pros? What draws you to doing what you do to encourage the profession?

In my profession I work with HR professionals every day. I have found so many professionals struggling during the pandemic that I finally had enough and wanted to create a resource where they can get real tactical advice.

As a son who grew up with a single parent (mother) who supported 2 sons and put them through college as a Kindergarten teacher, I can’t help but feel the same about some HR professionals, who have a lack of resources. I am drawn to help them and create this group so I can give back and leave things better than I found it for others.

HR is a challenging profession, in that, we likely get too much blame and not enough credit when things go wrong or well, respectively. Have you had a particular experience with HR that had you become a supporter of the profession?

I have always been a supporter for HR professionals but feel that today’s environment has really accelerated my support with the challenges it has provided many of your and our peers. What really made me turn to action was when I spoke with an HR professional in the beginning of the pandemic. I asked her how she was doing personally and how I could help. She replied “If I were a drinker, I would be at the end of a bottle right now.” That response was telling, so it gave me more urgency to make the HR Hot Seat happen.

Please elaborate on your vision for the HR Hot Seat. I am especially impressed by your idea to create a “grant program” for HR pros in transition, so they can obtain certification or other continuing educational opportunities.

Really, I am looking to build off the success of the Chicago chapter I knew more intimately. The goal of the HR Hot Seat is to “establish a community of HR pros who are committed to helping one another grow, build, innovate, achieve, and serve.” I saw firsthand the benefits of this promise, so felt it was time to move on it. As far as the grant program, we’re proud of this imitative. We will be looking to raise money for a scholarship funds for those who do not have the means to obtain important HR certifications for career growth. Members will also have access to a wide network of HR pros to ask for advice and for future career opportunities in our community.

Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

Folks need to connect with Dan Freschi, who is co-founder of our Milwaukee HR Hot Seat chapter. He’s an awesome dude with tons of HR knowledge and experience.

Who is one person — historic, famous, or personal — who inspires you to be better? Why and how?

Tim Ferris. His podcast allows me the opportunity to learn from those who have made a positive impact in their industry and community. I am a BIG fan and never miss an episode.

What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

I’m see two distinct yet interconnected things, and neither should be a surprise to any seasoned HR professional. It’s the rising cost of healthcare and other benefits and trying to retain your best talent. I think the pandemic has exasperated some of the underlaying problems, but my clients keep voicing the challenge trying to offering quality health insurance and creating attractive benefit packages for obtaining and retaining talent. I have some ideas on how to fix it, but that’s for another interview.

How can people connect with you?

The best ways to get ahold of me are through my email at Dan@zizzl.com any my personal  LinkedIn account.

What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

That I am a husband to my beautiful wife Jackie and father to 2-year-old son Sammy. Oh, and we’re expecting baby number two soon! Hope she doesn’t mind this article being our reveal! Our family and friends already know, but we were going to make a general announcement soon anyway! 😊

Black History Lessons: Why HR Needs to Study the Past

“You must unlearn what you have learned.” – Yoda

“Truth is powerful and it prevails.” – Sojourner Truth

“History is philosophy teaching by example.” – Thucydides

Some of my earliest memories of my Grandpa Bob are of me sitting with him watching the History Channel – back when it actually showed history. We would watch any World War II documentary we could. As we watched, he told me about his experiences as a young boy in Chicago during WWII. His brother, my great uncle Pete, moved to Portland, Oregon, to help build ships for the war effort. My grandpa, being far too young to enlist or build war machines, stayed home to endure food rationing, citywide raid blackouts, and news of family and friends perishing in faraway lands fighting fascism, imperialism, and racism.

My love of history grew from these earliest memories. So did my love affair with American history and all the traits that came with it. Exceptionalism, manifest destiny, rugged individualism, self-made millionaires, patriotism. As all American schoolchildren are taught from day one of kindergarten – America is the greatest country in the history of mankind with liberty ad justice for all. We’re better because of these aforementioned traits. Wear the red, white, and blue proudly for nothing can be better.

Except, those traits, while indeed making America what is is today, are certainly a type of baggage, and they are at best an exaggeration and at worst outright lies.

History is a funny thing. It is written by the winners, as the saying goes, and who are the ultimate winners of American history? Anglo-Saxons from England. The same Anglo-Saxons who simultaneously fought fascism, imperialism, and racism while committing the same crimes behind the very thin veil of feigned superiority – sometimes ironic, always ignored.

Perfection is a double-edged sword. It is negative, yet it adds value in a world that is not perfect. Nothing is perfect, and yet perfectionism is a standard we have to keep in front of us to let us know what we could be if we aspire to be better – if only little by little every day. (Yes, I know it’s more complicated than that).

However, this is America. An imperfect model of perfectionism. Fascism? Not in America! That’s Italy! Imperialism? Not in America! That’s Japan! Racism? Not in America! That’s Germany!

Never mind that many of FDR’s policies were the pure definition of fascism – much more Zeitgeist in the 1930s than we care to admit. Don’t pay attention to Manifest Destiny! That’s not the same thing as imperialism. Ignore Slavery, Jim Crowe, and Separate but Equal – oh and while we’re at it, ignore the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment Camps, and the Indian Removal Act.

I’ve been trying to find words that are meaningful in a small attempt to honor Black History Month and how it can influence the HR profession in a reflective way. I’ve stated on social media platforms multiple times that Black History is American history. There is no “White” history without “Black” history in these United States, and most certainly vice versa. They are linked, and the textbooks and classrooms have done their best to hide that from students.

As part of my history library, I have a book called Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen. It’s a classic originally published in 1995 with several reedits in 2008 and 2019. This past week I scoured over two chapters in particular to remind myself of history that was kept from almost every American school child.

“Gone With the Wind:” The Invisibility of Racism in American History Textbooks and John Brown and Abraham Lincoln: The Invisibility of Antiracism in American History Textbooks were incredibly powerful chapters detailing how American history is mostly unknown to Americans – Whites and Blacks alike and everyone in between.

This next passage in particular jolted me. I believe the times we are currently living in helped grant me better context and understanding I otherwise never could have seen. Loewen recalls a story when he was presenting Reconstruction to his mostly Black students at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. He was amazed at how many students thought Blacks failed in local government after slavery was abolished because they were Black, not because of the interference from racist former Confederates (and complicit northerners tired of Reconstruction policy).

“For young African Americans to believe such a hurtful myth about their past seemed tragic. It invited them to doubt their own capability, since their race had ‘messed up’ in its one appearance on American history’s center stage. It also invited them to conclude that it is only right that whites be always in control. Yet my students had merely learned what their textbooks had taught them. Like almost all Americans who finished high school before the 1970s, they had encountered the Confederate myth of Reconstruction in their American history classes.” (pg. 157, 2008 edition)

Loewen continues by explaining the “Nadir of American Race Relations,” the period between roughly 1890 and 1940 when Blacks were re-relegated to second class citizenship and American race relations were at an all time low. Racism was not hidden or veiled. Racism was unabashedly open for all to see.

And the world did seeAmerican racism influenced Hitler, and apartheid was influenced by segregation. These facts are not as well-known as they should be in America, or if they are, Americans pretend to not know.

The nadir, in part, came about once White northerners abandoned Reconstruction efforts in the decades following the Civil War. Whether they were tired of the fight, worried about other things like economic struggles, or caved to racism, matters not. Whites in the north had an opportunity to do the right thing, and ultimately, their inability to do so caused one of the great shames in American history that continues to negatively affect society today.

“The nadir left African Americans in a dilemma,” Loewen writes. “An ‘exodus’ to form new black communities in the West did not lead to real reform. Migration north led only to segregated urban ghettoes. … Many African Americans lost hope; family instability and crime increased. This period of American life, not slavery, marked the beginning of what some social scientists have called the ‘tangle of pathology’ in African American society.” (pg. 161-167)

Tangle of Pathology” is a phrase from the famed Moynihan Report that helped launch many of the War on Poverty Initiatives during the Johnson Administration in the 1960s. The report remains controversial to this day, but it’s well worth a read.

Low Black morale, low self-worth, family structures damaged, no hope, high crime – Loewen was talking about these things that came about during the nadir, but if you read that today, wouldn’t you think it was written about contemporary America in some way?

This is one reason why modern day “Black Pride” posts on social media are so powerful and in many ways necessary. For years, Blacks have been taught in American classrooms that their race had nothing to be prideful about – no accomplishments worth celebrating. Blacks had no special skills, were not as smart as Whites, and needed Whites to protect and guide them. As we continue down our own national reckoning, many are learning this isn’t the case and never has been the case. Blacks have contributed positively to this Country in so many ways in spite of the racism that hung over their head like Damocles’ sword.

What does this have to do with HR? Everything. The latest trend in HR is to recognize (finally?) that HR is people work. Workplaces are a direct reflection of society. They mirror one another. That’s why it’s so important to see posts about Black doctors, Black inventors, Black CEOs, and Black superheroes. For our entire history, Americans have been taught that Blacks couldn’t be any of those things! HR can be the voice in the room that helps push workplace systems towards equity and belonging. HR is an ally that can push cultural and policy initiatives to allow structures for Black success – not to be a reason for their success because many Blacks don’t need that help, per say. They just need what everyone else needs – structural support. HR needs to fight to create the workplace structures necessary for success, ensure that all have access to those structures, and then get out of the way. Many Black professionals have succeeded in the past and present despite overwhelming systemic roadblocks. HR has a sacred duty to help remove those roadblocks and move aside.

If society and work reflect one another, then the Black experience in every day American life is part of the Black experience in everyday work. Loewen discusses how racism kept Blacks out of unions, stripped them of their federal jobs (like post deliverers or patent office workers), and relegated many to the fringes of employability. While today is undeniably better, this doesn’t mean Black Americans have it great at work.

A simple Google search for “black americans bias at work” yields about 72,900,000 results in 0.49 seconds. Workplace biasdiscrimination, and hostility are all very real and happen daily despite White denial of such acts. While Black slaves were emancipated 158 years ago, their lives were daily battles for life, liberty, and happiness. Many were forcefully kept from those basic tenants of the American ideal. Today, the Black community STILL deals with this daily battle, even if the terms and conditions look somewhat different. It’s no wonder that Black self-esteem and self-worth have been eroded for decades upon decades. It is why Blacks showcase Black success with so much pride and zeal. Blacks have been told for generations by their history textbooks that their race is too stupid, too backwards to become doctors, or engineers, or successful. That myth continues to be devastating, yet it’s being chipped away piece by piece. Follow any Black professional on LinkedIn, and you’ll see how wrong that lie has been.

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius once thanked his teacher, Rusticus, for instilling in him the notion that reading to “get the gist” of something isn’t enough. It’s lazy and patronizing. We must read carefully, deeply, and attentively to truly understand. This is why a deeper reading of American history is so important – not just for HR practitioners – but for all Americans.

HR practitioners NEED to know history to be better at our jobs. Until I began to dive into the Mariana Trench of lost racist American history, it didn’t click. HR pros NEED to understand why Title VII exists, why the EEOC exists, why ERGs exist, why DEI principles exist. Not a high-level understanding to get the gist that “diversity is good and leads to better numbers!” That’s true but shallow. These policies and programs exist because throughout American history policies and programs existed for the exact opposite reasons – to keep Blacks OUT of American life – specifically White American life.

This is why Black History Month exists. To celebrate the incredible contributions Blacks have made to this country and our society. It also exists to remind us that many Whites did all they could to keep them from contributing. Separate but equal was NEVER about the latter and always about the former.

The overall point of this post is to present a different perspective to HR professionals (and hopefully anyone else curious enough to read it) about how history can make use better at our jobs, more understanding of our roles. It wasn’t to necessarily present a “how-to.” I am not necessarily the expert on that. I can tell you what I do and have done over my years as an HR professional, but Google is a powerful tool. Typing “psychological safety for blacks at work” yielded over 4 million hits. If anything, Google, learn, implement. Do what is right NOW because so many before us did not.

So, HR professionals, pick up a book and read deeply about true American history. It will make you better, and just as importantly it will make work better for so many, especially Black colleagues, if you implement the wisdom gained into tangible action.

I want to finish this by saying we have a long way to go unfortunately. Racism is so deeply engrained in the American psyche, and Lies My Teacher Told Me only reinforced that with me.

In a prior professional life, part of my job was designing bus routes. Public transit is vital to low income, elderly, and disabled persons. After designing a new route that would lead to better access for disadvantaged groups, the “bus stop” signs began going up. A few days later an official called me to discuss a complaint they received. A woman called to complain that a bus stop was placed in front of her house. She expressed her displeasure about the usual public transit complaint nonsense – property taxes, noise, traffic, etc. None of this is true. But what made her complaint anger me the most was when she told the official that she didn’t want “those people” getting on and off in front of her house near her children. “Those people?” We both knew what that meant. “Those people” only meant one thing – “criminal” Blacks that lived on the undesirable part of town. In this racist’s mind, the public transit system was only used by “those people” so they could get to the good parts of town to cause trouble. “Those people” certainly didn’t need access to jobs or the supermarket. They needed to remain on their side of town, which, not coincidentally, had no employment centers or food centers. I asked the official if they called her out on that comment, and regrettably, but predictably, they said “no” claiming it wouldn’t have helped the situation. I was disappointed in that response, but not surprised.

The lesson of this story is deep – the official didn’t call out racism so racism was allowed to proceed unchecked. I personally learned a hard lesson, that silence is acceptance, but it changed me. It might not be outright transparent racist policy anymore, like making undesirables ride the back of the bus, but it’s still racism when someone fights to ensure opportunities exist for some and not all.

I love my Grandpa Bob. He’s a funny, smart, well rounded Southside Chicagoan at heart. (Quick aside, Chicago – a northern city – is one of the most segregated cities in all the US). He taught me many things, one of the most important being that history is important. It’s just not treated as such. Learn history, become uncomfortable. Learning the true history of America doesn’t negate the inspiration that America has been. It helps us better move towards embodying those ideals laid out in the Grand Experiment that we’ve failed to embody up to this point. The only way to become what we can be is to let go of what we truly are.

It’s long past time that White America acknowledges and accepts our racist history. Only then can we adapt. Acknowledging doesn’t make us bad people. It makes us good people. In America, the sins of the Father or Mother aren’t passed down to the Son or the Daughter – with the caveat that the Children recognizes those sins and takes steps to correct them. We may not have caused the Great Sins of the past, but we MUST take action to correct their long term outcomes. We must continue to aspire – everyday. Even if it’s little by little. Eventually, America can realize the promise it set out to achieve – life, liberty, happiness for all people.

HR professionals can be leaders in this space by doing the right thing. Acknowledge. Accept. And act.

Panel Preview: Why Discuss The Obstacle Is the Way?

“The only reason to study philosophy is to become a better person.” – Ryan Holiday

On Thursday February 25th, my friends and colleagues Olga Piehler, Carlos Escobar, Erich Kurschat, and I are putting on a FREE Pop-Up Roundtable to discuss the book The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday. I hope you join us! It will turn a traditional roundtable on its head!

We are all GEEKED about this event, and we know it will be valuable to those who read and have not read the book! Registration link is at the end of this blog post.

That’s what this blog is about.

In the 6th grade, I had a teacher named Mr. Brabbits. He was a purposeful man, who enjoyed teaching. He had a habit of giving his students nicknames – mine being “Professor.” At the time I liked it but had no idea how consequential that name would be on my life!

Isn’t that usually the case? How we are treated and talked to by those around us has a profound impact on our futures far beyond what we see and what those who talk to us see. A young Black boy, for example, is told that he’s incredible talented at biology, and is nicknamed Doc. And so he decides he CAN be a doctor! But I digress….

Professor. It’s something that has stuck with me, at least internally, since the 6th grade. That name to me meant I was smart. It meant I was academic. It meant I could learn, and that people wanted to learn from me! Professors have something to say and something to teach. It meant someone else saw those things in me.

That’s a lot of positivity coming from one little word. Other people believing in you can be a catalyst for believing in yourself.

Briefly, I did ultimately get the title of “Professor” when I was an adjunct at a local community college, but other than that, I never became a “professor” in the traditional sense. I do believe; however, I achieved a more important title due to my continued interest in learning and growing, which was sparked by that nickname. I believe that title is Philosopher!

Why is that important? Because unlike a professor, anyone can be a philosopher. Philosophy is about becoming a better person, not just a smarter one. Studying wisdom is an action. Philosophers take words from pages and put them into practice in their daily lives for the goal of changing oneself – and by extension, the world – for the better.

So, in essence, any time someone tries to be a better person, they are a philosopher. You reading this now are likely trying to find some sense of new information, a sense of new wisdom, or idea. YOU are a philosopher, whether you know it or not.

Wisdom isn’t always lofty, complicated, or extravagant. Wisdom is often times simple – deceptively simple.

This is The Obstacle Is the Way. The title comes from a passage in Marcus Aurelius’ private journal, which is known to posterity as The Meditations – a cornerstone of Stoic philosophical study.

“That which is an impediment to action is turned to advance the action. The obstacle on the path becomes the way.”

The theory is that every obstacle contains the necessary components for us to ultimately overcome and triumph. Our greatest challenges can be turned into our greatest successes!

Here are my five favorite passages form the book.

  • Practice Objectivity. “It’s so much better to see things as they truly, actually are, not as we’ve made them in our minds.” – page 34
  • Live in the Present Moment. “Remember that this moment is not your life; it’s just a moment in your life.” – page 48
  • Do Your Job, Do It Right. “Everything we do matters…. How you do anything is how you can do everything.” – Page 97
  • Love Everything That Happens: Amor Fati. “To do great things, we need to be able to endure tragedy and setbacks. We’ve got to love what we do and all that it entails, good and bad. We have to learn to find joy in every single thing that happens.” – page 151
  • Postscript: You’re Now a Philosopher. Congratulations! “You may not see yourself as a philosopher… [but] you are a person of action…. The essence of philosophy is action – in making good on the ability to turn the obstacle upside down with our minds. Understanding our problems for what’s within them and the greater context. To see things philosophically and act accordingly.” – page 184

The philosophy – wisdom – presented within is timeless, borderless, and profound. It is so profound that it deeply affects millions of people who read the book, including Olga, Carlos, and Erich. In fact, it affected us so much, we’ve often discussed this book one on one, but then thought, why not bring it to our wider network, who may or may not have read the book and want to discuss more!

So, we decided to grow our small discussions into a larger interactive one for an audience. We bring to life the spirit of the Plaka and Stoa Poikile of Ancient Athens, the Forum of Ancient Rome, or the philosophical discussions during the Hundred Schools of Thought period!

Know that YOU are a philosopher. Battle whatever preconceived biases you have about what it means to be a philosopher. Philosophy is NOT about being a gray bearded man sitting in a classroom pondering the greatest mysteries known to man.

Being a philosopher is about becoming a better person. It’s studying wisdom in ALL its forms from ALL its sources and turning those words into action. Are you working to be a better person? You are a philosopher.

So, please, join us to hear and discuss new ideas, old ideas – the key being ideas.

Register for FREE at: bit.ly/obstaclepanel

Not Good Enough

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black community deserve more than posting the occasional quote.

“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I sit to write this piece on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the US, and predictably, a lot of MLK quotes are popping up all over social media – roughly two weeks after White Supremacists stormed Capitol Hill in an attempt to overthrow the results of our recent election.

Not since the Civil War has our Country faced such peril from within. Is that hyperbole? I don’t think so. Even during the Civil War, the Confederate Army never waived their flags inside the halls of the Capitol. On January 6th, a date which will live in infamy, White supremacists were able to do just that.

In a gesture of pure hatred and contempt, these self-described patriots chanting “USA! USA!” made it clear that racism is their religion and Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, and anyone else who thinks differently be damned.

THIS IS ‘MERICA, DAMN IT!

Horrified. This is what I felt. Also, incredible sadness.

I believe posting quotes is powerful. I love quotes. I start every HR Philosopher post with a quote. They inspire. They challenge. They help perspective. They can drive powerful change.

Yet, they can only do these things if the people reading them act upon them in a way that brings about justice. This takes wisdom, courage, temperance.

It is clear that watching the Capitol insurrectionists, our Country lacks a lot of these virtues – or, to be more clear – White America lacks a lot of these virtues.

Posting a quote by Dr. King, smiling, and then going on one’s merry way isn’t good enough. If it were, would White Supremacists have stormed the Capitol? Would George Floyd have been murdered? Would Dr. King still be alive today? People conveniently leave out that he was murdered for being peaceful and speaking truth to power. He was also arrested by White Supremacists, as well as put on the FBIs watch list… but White America continues to purposefully forget this.

Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested 29 times for his civil rights work. Doing the right thing is hard, but necessary. Sacrifices will be made.

Those searching for the perfect King quote to post on social media, but then stay silent when someone made a racist quip? That’s not good enough.

Business leaders liking all the Dr. King quotes and commenting on how inspirational he was, but then not doing the work to ensure your workplace has a meaningful and impactful DEI + Belonging program? That’s not good enough.

Watching the “I Have a Dream” speech but then not calling out your neighbor who is waiving the Confederate flag? That’s not good enough.

Staying silent when it’s NOT Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

NOT. GOOD. ENOUGH.

Don’t give me any of that bullshit that the Black Lives Matter protestors also lack those virtues because they looted and pillaged. I’m not absolving the wrongs, but here’s a Dr. King quote to ponder:

 Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. … But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?

More specifically, what are we not hearing, White America?

The following statistics come from a Business Insider report on systemic racism in the US. Here’s some select stats, but the entire article is well worth the read.

  • The wage gap between Blacks and Whites has gone up since 1967 – from 59% to 62%.
  • Poverty rates among Blacks are around 20.7% while 8.1% for Whites.
  • Upward mobility for Blacks remains elusive, meaning poverty is generational.
  • Blacks are still more likely to get denied mortgages from banks, thus home ownership – the key factor for families to create and pass on generational wealth – remains lower for Black families.
  • Nearly 10% of Blacks – twice as many as their White counterparts – do not have healthcare coverage, thus the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the Black community especially hard – higher rates of Blacks have died due to the pandemic than other races or ethnicities.
  •  Despite being 12% of the population, Blacks make up 33% of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
  • Blacks make up 32.9% of the prison population despite being 12% of the population.
  •  Black men are roughly five times more likely to be imprisoned than their white counterparts — and nearly 13 times as likely in the 18-19 age group.

Not. Good. Enough.

We are very far away from the dream of little Black boys and Black girls being able to join hands with little White boys and White girls as sisters and brothers.

Maybe other White Americans watched as I did in horror the attack on the Capitol, and they are beginning to listen. I hope so. It sucks it took that to make people listen, but coming to the party late is better than not coming at all – or worse, ignoring it or pretending one doesn’t exist.

Fighting evil take courage. It takes blood, sweat, and tears. It takes more than posting quotes.

Black folks have given plenty of that over the course of the Civil Rights Movement(s). And honestly, they’ve given much more. Meanwhile, a majority of Whites have stayed silent, ignored the issues, pretend racism is a fallacy – something “libtards” made up to push some false narrative. A majority of Whites stay silent except on the third Monday in January.

Not good enough.

Until the day that marches aren’t needed, until the day that Black people stop being harassed for their higher melanin content, until the day Whites stop staying silent in the face of racism, it’s not good enough.

We’ve come a long way, but we’re not there. We have much further to march. So until that time comes, post the MLK quotes, but don’t believe anything tangible has been done to improve society. Whites need to stand up and enter the realm of the uncomfortable. I’ve said this before: There is no movement without friction. And White America KNOWS what to do.

It’s time to get the courage to do it.

But if much of White America isn’t there yet, here’s some MLK quotes (that likely won’t get much airplay) to help them start getting uncomfortable, and making REAL movement towards justice, courage, wisdom. To do anything less is not good enough.

“Why is equality so assiduously avoided? Why does white America delude itself, and how does it rationalize the evil it retains? The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.”

—  Where Do We Go From Here

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

—  Revolution of Values, 1967

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

— Beyond Vietnam, 1967

“The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.”

— The Three Evils of Society, 1967

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

— Letter From a Birmingham Jail, 1963

Street Level Influencer – Meet Dr. Rhonda Owens

Dr. Rhonda Owens, a State Line Crew member and amazing human being!

“Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it.” — Anais Nin

Welcome to the new year. It seems a lot like the last year. Wasn’t there a song about that? Well, never mind.

Happy new year! The Street Level Influencer is back for 2021, and I can’t wait to continue sharing a closer look at my network with you all! Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

Street level influencers provide that for us.

COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, insurrections, hatred from all sides. All these things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler
  7. Blake Quinlan
  8. James Woods
  9. Anthony Eaton
  10. Jane Murtaugh

This next individual is incredibly special. Rhonda Owens is a proud #StateLineCrew member, who helped start it all! The State Line Crew is a group of IL and WI HR pros (and more importantly, friends) who meet once every other month or so on the IL-WI state border. We meet, talk, laugh, and grow. Well, we used to until COVID put us all on hiatus… but we’ve soldiered on by meeting occasionally via Zoom. I believe another one should be on the horizon!

I’ll never forget first meeting Rhonda. It was at our first State Line Crew meeting all the way back in September of 2018. As the entrenched introvert I am, I was nervous. I hadn’t officially met ANY of those who RSVP’ed in person, other than Jeff Palkowski. So, this was outside my confront zone for sure!

But as Rhonda introduced herself to me at Lakefront Brewing in Milwaukee, I was instantly put at ease! She was so kind, approachable, and funny! As it turned out, both of us have South Side Chicago roots, and we hit it off! She told me all about her husband’s home renovation projects, her degrees in education, and her love of craft beer and history – something that we both bonded over.

The very first State Line Crew Picture from September 2018, Milwaukee, WI. From left to right Alyssa Hernandez, Mary Williams, Rhonda Owens, Jeff Palkowski, yours truly.

In fact, one of the most impressive things about Rhonda is her humility. She’s technically Dr. Owens since she’s earned a Doctorate of Education, Organizational Leadership; but unless you checked her LinkedIn account, you may never have known! She remains humble. She remains hungry, and she’s always open to learning from others before she speaks. I feel those are true measure of an amazing person and leader.

Rhonda has a unique perspective as an HR/administration professional, as a Black woman with so many professional and personal accomplishments, and as an amazing human being. Without further ado, it is my pleasure to bring you Rhonda’s story!

Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I currently work as a Director of Administrative Operations for Rush University Medical Center in the College of Nursing.

How would you define being a “good HR leader?”

I would define a good HR leader as someone with compassion, empathy; someone who aligns with the goals of the business but doesn’t forget the “human” in human resources

What was your biggest HR success? Why was it important to you?

Earning my PHR and SHRM-CP!! Earning my credentials was a personal goal and gave me a sense of professional knowledge that was worth the number of times I sat for the exams.

What was your biggest HR setback? What did it teach you?

My biggest HR set back is that with all of my experience in HR, it has proven to be a difficult profession to navigate mid-career. The set-back teaches me that I should be patient with myself.

Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

I would say Erich Kurschat! Erich has been the guru for connecting me to others in the HR community and his HRHotSeat event is good information with GREAT people.

As a Black woman in the HR profession, what do you feel HR professionals can do better to promote BIPOC professionals in the workplace?

I believe HR professionals should be promoting BIPOC professionals in the workplace through opportunities. So many times, we have slow access to the HR industry because of educational or professional paths that are not directly associated with HR. In my own case, my path has been indirect, and now that I am in an HR associated role, I do my best to mentor any interested employee. 

Have you seen progress towards this end over career, last several years, last several months? How much further is left to go in your mind for HR professionals to be true advocates for workplace equality?

Progress is slow, but it is still progress. I believe in order to go further, senior HR professionals should reach back and mentor – and mentor those who would not have access to senior leadership.

How would you encourage HR professionals who are wanting to speak out more when they see injustices and wrongs in the workspace, but are struggling to find their voice?

Good question!  I would advise my fellow BIPOC professionals to use your experience to give an understanding on systemic and historical injustices; sometimes people don’t know what you feel because they’ve never heard it before. And I would advise my non-BIPOC professionals to use your influence to bring attention to injustices in the workspace. The Civil Rights Movement was not led by Blacks alone. Partner for CHANGE!

Who is one person — historic, famous, or personal — who inspires you to be better?

I would say my daughter. However, I have two, and so it could be either one at any time.  One inspires me to be kind and the other inspires me to be great.

What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

Creating space for belonging. The hot topic now is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I challenge my HR colleagues to broaden this concept to Belonging – having someone feel as if their contribution matters and is welcomed. This is BELONGING.

As one of the original members of the State Line Crew, I want to say I miss you and the other members of our Crew dearly! What is your favorite thing about being a part of the State Line Crew?

BEER!! And having the opportunity to move outside of my circle and meet new people. I have developed an affinity toward this Crew and miss you all tremendously. You all helped me to like great beer, good beer, and bad beer.

How can people connect with you?

The way to reach me is through my LinkedIn account at www.linkedin.com/in/rhonda-owens. I also have twitter. My handle is @dreamweaver3167.

Lastly, what’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

That I love British history!  I have watched the Crown at least 50 times (every episode) and binge-watched Downton Abbey in two weekends. There is also a series on CNN about First Ladies that has captured my attention – I can’t wait to get all the episodes at once. Anytime something is on that is historic I go down a rabbit hole.

#HRMixedTape – 2020 #HRMetal Edition

“Music is medicine.” –  Unknown

I lied in my last post. It was NOT my final blog spot for 2020.

As I’ve done numerous times in prior posts, I took Steve Browne’s call and made an #HRMixedTape. By this point it’s somewhat blasé to say 2020 was a horrid year. However, it was an amazing year for heavy metal music releases. Being well-documented that I am a metalhead, I couldn’t resist writing about how heavy metal helped give me strength and inspiration in an otherwise challenging year – and connect it to HR in a larger context!

Enjoy!

The Narrative from Guardians by August Burns Red

Dig a little deeper

Change what we inherited

Power to the people, or power to the narrative?

This album is an absolute monster! It came out JUST as the world was entering lockdown. I was jamming it on my back porch with a cool beer thinking… “this will be over by end of summer.” Well, about that… anyways…

Like many things in life, the narrative – or how stories are shared or interpreted – rules the day! It’s so important as HR professionals to temper our perceptions, wrangle our unconscious (and conscious) biases, and ensure we do what is right at the end of the day. Right needs to rule in all instances. That seems rather lofty, no? But if we don’t shoot for the highest standards, we settle for less.

The Black Hand Reaches Out from Weapons of Tomorrow by Warbringer

The grasping black hand reaches out

Out for your mind

Out for your soul

Its icy talons close

Taking control

The black hand reaches

Out for blood

Out of time

And now it sunk its claws

Into your mind

Reaching out for you

Thrash! Fast, political, uncompromising. My favorite music! 😊

The Black Hand was a secret terrorist group aimed at political independence of Serbia from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Their actions lead to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the beginning of World War I.

While I don’t need to get into all that, the lyrics I quoted reminded me of the poisonous effects social media can have, and has had, on many who use it. The #HRCommunity is not immune. I’ve seen many interactions from people I respect devolve into toxicity. I wonder what purpose it serves to attack one another so viciously behind a blue screen. Differences of opinion, culture, perspective, should ALWAYS be respected. It’s one thing to speak out against pure wrong and evil, but it’s another to attack others for the way they see the world. The moment someone becomes a “stupid libtard” or “a Trumpster asshole,” we lose our humanity. The Black Hand of ego and internet persona takes control, and that trip is NEVER a good one.

Memento Mori from Lamb of God by Lamb of God

The hardest hour, the cruelest sign

I’m waking up from this wretched lie

I fight it the same, don’t waste this day

Wake up, wake up, wake up

Memento mori

Memento mori – the Latin phrase meaning “remember your mortality” – has been my theme for 2020. It’s not morbidity so much as a reminder, a call to meditate on life’s ephemeral nature. Life is short. It’s brutally short. How often do you hear someone say “in a blink of an eye” when referring to their children growing up, their lives moving forward, their memories? If 2020 has taught us ANYTHING, and it should have taught us a great many things, it is that life is precious. Don’t waste it thinking about things that don’t matter. A difficult coworker? So be it. A bad presentation? It’s over – get the next one. Easier said than done, but don’t waste this day…

On a side note, this album SLLLLAAAAAAAAAYYYYSSSS!!! Lamb of God are like fine wine. Just keep getting better as they age.

Don’t Do It from V by Havok

I feel all alone

An empty shell of what used to be

Feel like a ghost

Psyche imposed by a mental cacophony

Falling falling falling down

Stalling stalling the urge to just let myself drown

Let myself drown

Earlier this year, I wrote the most personal, raw blog post. It was therapeutic, but more importantly, it was meant to be a sign for others. If you are struggling with your mental health – regardless of the form it takes – you are NOT alone. Others are always there for you if you look.

This song is a thrash version with the same message. “Don’t do it!” is yelled with such veracity and passion. Mental health should be top among HR professionals’ minds, especially in 2020 and going into 2021. Find a great EAP and push it. Partner with them to make discussing mental health in the workplace common. Train managers in Mental Health First Aid, and try to build a culture where mental health is not something to be ostracized over.

Guardian from Redneck Vikings from Hell by Æther Realm

When the road is long

And the night has come

I will stay with you

We will see this through

When your flame burns low

That’s a place I know

Place your hand in mine

We all need some help sometimes

See: Don’t Do It from V by Havok. Same message, just presented in a less aggressive ballot kinda way! Beautiful song. Beautiful message.

House of the Rising Sun from Helping Hands: Live at Metallica HQ by Metallica

Oh mother, tell your children

Not to do what I have done

Spend your lives in sin and misery

In the House of the Rising Sun

Metallica is a nonnegotiable when I am creating an HR Mixed Tape! While the band didn’t put together any new music in 2020, they did perform a live (semi) acoustic set for their charity “All Within My Hands.” Of course, I ordered it and jammed out. The surprise of the night was their cover of the classic House of the Rising Sun. A great song played true by a great band!

The lyrics above remind me, again, that life is too short to not enjoy what you do! We spend so much of our lives working. Do you want to be miserable doing it? I am lucky. I am good at human resources, so I have developed a passion for it. Not everyone in the profession is that lucky. I recall a phrase I heard my friend and mentor Steve Browne say once. Effectively, if you don’t like HR, get out! It’s a tough gig, and we need people who can endure it, help change it for the better. If that’s not you, then go find yours.

A Stroke of Red from Weight of the False Self by Hatebreed

Now there’s no wrong done (Wrong done)

No wrong is done

Unless the wrong is done to me

There’s no wrong done (Wrong done)

If I’m in the wrong, then there was wrong done to me

Hatebreed is the ultimate in don’t judge a book by the cover. I’ve been a fan for 20 years, and they (like Lamb of God) get better with age. Hatebreed is all about positivity. Not toxic positivity where you ignore your troubles and just put on a fake smile. They are about facing what consumes you, because only through action can you free yourself of your burdens. Nothing goes away until it teaches you want you need to know.

This song, A Stroke of Red, is rather Stoic in its message. At first it seems that Jamey Jasta (vocalist) is singing about selfishness. No harm done until the harm is done to me? That’s pretty evil sounding! You can do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t hurt you! But, no, that’s not the point… Jamey finishes by saying that if one does wrong, then they, in essence, have done wrong to themselves. It’s a reminder that you are what you do. The sins return to the originator. So, always strive to be good – be better than you were yesterday in all facets of life.

Hidden Track:

Stop the Bleeding (Single) by Machine Head

The endless scroll of human tragedy

I swipe along as the days go by

Another brother murdered out in the streets

I connect to the shame, we don’t know what it’s like

Born lucky ’cause the color of skin

America, your heart is caving in

Somehow I thought this was the land of the free

Where is our humanity?

Our humanity

Other than “COVID-19,” no other phrase dominated America, and reminded us our true illness, more than “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd’s murder ushered in a cascade of relentless emotions – some healthy, some not, all of it revealing and necessary.

My most viewed and shared article of 2020 was a call to White HR professionals to stand up and recognize the Black experience in America. It was about how HR’s duty was to be an ACTIVE ally to Black family, friends, and coworkers. HR cannot be silent. It is our duty to do the right thing for our fellow men, women, children, and everyone!

Reflections on 2020, Perspective, and Hope

“Rebellions are built on hope.” Jyn Erso, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

As I write my final blog post for 2020, I wanted it to be a reflection on this past year. I assumed I’d write how horrible this year has been, and make no mistake, it has been a very challenging year.

For the first time in 100 years, the world is crippled by a pandemic. Millions have died needlessly. People’s worst impulses have been on display. This has all been exasperated by a political year like one we haven’t seen in over a generation, or several generations. The US presidential election was a display of politics at its worst. There is a classic essay by famed economist F.A. Hayak called “Why the Worst Get on Top.” I recently reread it, and I was starkly reminded that America has been flirting with Fascism and will continue to do so if we as a people do not actively take a stand against would-be Il Duce rhetoric.

While we continue to fight the plague of COVID-19 and political dissonance, 2020 was also a reckoning for the history of America’s racism plague. This plague has been on this land since at least 1619 when the first 19 Africans set foot in New World Virginia. America is STILL dealing with the North Atlantic Slave Trade, which ended not that long ago… then again, the world is still dealing with the Fall of the Roman Empire, which ended 1,600 years ago.

What makes us so arrogant to believe we won’t be dealing with the fallout of slavery for generations to come?

Yet, we should be doing much better, but our racist past has been ignored by White America for too many generations. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many more Black men, women, children should be alive today. Their lives cut short by the Racist Plague that has taken early many lives as COVID-19 has.

Yes, 2020 has been a fucked-up year. Pandemics, economic destruction, selfishness and arrogance, political hatred, racist hatred. Yet, I don’t feel as defeated or down as I thought I would be. I feel hopeful, like I haven’t felt in many years.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized what I already stated: How arrogant to believe this year is the worst year ever. It is conceit that blinds many – a false sense of being special or different from those who came before us. Is anything really as “unprecedented” as we believe? Word of the year, no?

I don’t think so. None of this is new. In his Meditations, Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius reminded himself:

“To bear in mind constantly that all of this has happened before. And will happen again—the same plot from beginning to end, the identical staging.”

That was written almost 2,000 years ago. And it continues to play out the same! Same stage, different actors. This is what gives me hope.

Pandemics? The Spanish Influenza of 1918-1919 claimed an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. However, there was no vaccine created and distributed within 11 months of its onset.

Political conflict? Child please. The American Civil War period was far worse than anything we’re going through today. Yes, Trump is a monster, but at least he’s incompetent. Imagine if he were even half as capable as Mussolini or Franco.* I think it’s a testament to our Country, however fragile it appears, that Trump was soundly defeated and all his attempts to maintain power have failed. (It’s another conversation as to why he received so many votes in the first place, but that’s for another blog).

*While Trump is a wannabe dictator, and there can be little doubt of that, I refuse to liken him to Adolf Hitler as so many others have. In keeping with the spirit of this post – remembering the past – until someone systemically and industrially murders 6 million+ people and starts the deadliest conflict in human history, they are NOT on Hitler’s level. Keep it in perspective, folks.

Racism in America is another story. It takes generations for change to become institutionalized. We cannot, nor will we, change hundreds of years of institutionalized hatred and bigotry. We can, however, continue to chip away at it. And I believe more White Americans have been acknowledging the evil history and present of their homeland, unlike in years past. That’s the difference we need. Black America needs the allyship. White America needs that allyship, too, for our souls.

Whether it’s calling out someone at work for making a horrid comment, actively listening to one another about experiences, making concerted efforts at learning, or making a commitment every day at doing the right thing. All these actions are “little” but important and necessary. It’s the little things done consistently over time that build infrastructure. We need these items to build our foundation for greater, longer lasting change. And the road is long… but we’re finally walking it in greater numbers, or it feels that way. I hope I am not wrong.

The classic line “perspective is everything” has never been more meaningful.

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I never used to be one for “hope.” I guess to me, “hope” is a focus on the uncontrollable. Hope is about the expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. We have zero control over if that thing will or will not happen in a majority of instances. I see that as a waste of energy.

Or at least I used to. I’ve grown to believe that hope is important – when tempered and realistic. I use the past to stay grounded. We’ve been here before. We’ve made it through many times prior, and there’s no reason to believe we can’t do it again.

One of the few things we can control is our actions, our thoughts, our beliefs. I have seen firsthand how study, experience, and conversation have changed mine. I can control the foundation I built within myself in hopes of changing the foundation of others. I cannot control if my actions will change one person’s mind, but I continue to build my own, and that’s important. Just keep swimming. Eventually, the hope is, others will jump in the pool.

If we are to solve issues, whether at our workplace, in our neighborhoods, or in our society, we need to have a rebellious attitude. We need to think differently, challenge convention, and stay strong in the face of weakness. In short, we need hope, because rebellions are built on it.

2020 was a challenging year. It was not the worst year. Even if it were, we’re entering 2021. If you’re reading this, you made it through, and there’s a lot to be hopeful for going forward. Just continue forward. It’s the only place we have to go.

Networking as an Introverted HR Professional: How Stoicism Helped Me Overcome Distance

“You’ve been made by nature for the purpose of working with others.” Marcus Aurelius

I’ve mentioned it many times in the past. I am an introvert. This does not mean, as many erroneously believe, that I dislike people. As a dedicated HR professional, I don’t believe I’d have gotten very far if I didn’t like people!

No, being an introvert is more complicated. It means that my energy is drained as I interact with people. This isn’t a negative. People don’t suck the energy from me – not always anyway! No, it’s how my body naturally reacts to human interaction. I use energy to interact. And it takes a lot of “me” time to recharge. Conversely, extroverts tend to gain energy from interactions with people.

This background is important. As a natural introvert, I spend a lot of time in self-introspection (crazy, I know). I became aware a long time ago that if I were to succeed at HR, I needed to find a way to be comfortable being uncomfortable and interact more often with folks. Success in this industry requires meaningful connections.

How did I do this? Many ways, including this EXCELLENT presentation by Erich Kurschat, who challenged me to think differently about what it means to be a successful introverted professional.

But like most things in life, I turned to philosophy when I got in ruts, and it has proved invaluable.

I’ve written before that philosophy is for everyone, and HR pros can find much wisdom and answers by perusing the art and study of wisdom.

Stoicism in particular is important to me. Its platitudes are timeless. Its creeds applicable for a modern audience and modern problems. I’ve argued this. Others have argued this.

A central element of Stoicism is how the world is interconnected. The great Stoic teachers consistently communicated the idea of “Sympathiea,”meaning “all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other.”

Marcus Aurelius wrote in his private journal, later becoming the famous Meditations, that we ought to “Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe.” He also wrote, “Human beings have been made for the sake of one another. Teach them or endure them.”

Seneca, in his Letters from a Stoic, On Clemency, wrote that Stoicism was unique in philosophies due to its teaching on sympathiea.

“No school has more goodness and gentleness; none has more love for human beings, nor more attention to the common good. The goal which it assigns to us is to be useful, to help others, and to take care, not only of ourselves, but of everyone in general and of each one in particular.”

The Stoic idea of sympathiea is a reminder that we were made to work with other people. We were made to interact with one another, to teach one another, to learn from one another. HR practitioners, specifically, need to remember this.

So, when I contemplate the implications of sympathiea and networking, it leads me to remember that networking is built on the premise of helping one another – not for others to help me, necessarily, for when networking is done right, the self will benefit. However, the purpose of networking is to help others! It’s to make meaningful connections, gain ideas, and become a better person through helping others.

“One who seeks friendship for favorable occasions, strips it of all its nobility.” – Seneca

So, when I’m looking to network as an HR professional, what do I do?

  1. Connect others with similar interests. I love to make connections. Like Rush the band? I know several HR pros you should get to know! Love Baby Yoda? Do I know some folks! Want to make a career transition into HR? Well, let me introduce you to… “Friendship is given us by nature, not to favor vice, but to aid virtue.” – Cicero
  2. Learn from others. I’ve had a fairly unique career trajectory in HR industry. Honestly, everyone has, but I know what I know and what I don’t know. And I don’t know A LOT! Reaching out to thought leaders and subject matter experts in other areas helps me continuously learn and hone my craft. It’s intentional. It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows. – Epictetus
  3. Try to teach others. Learning is a two-way street. My hope is to pass on knowledge and understanding, or at least expose others to a different perspective they otherwise would not have considered or been exposed to, through my actions. Do what you say, or don’t do it! “Nothing will ever please me, no matter how excellent or beneficial, if I must retain the knowledge of it to myself. And if wisdom were given to me under the express condition that it must be kept hidden and not uttered, I should refuse it. No good thing is pleasant to possess, without friends to share it.” — Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

Notice that I didn’t say I network to find a job. Honestly, networking has helped me find new jobs. However, I didn’t go into those relationships looking to find a job. At the end of the day, what’s good for the hive is good for the bee, as Marcus Aurelius reminded himself. If I live my life in service to others, I should eventually see rewards. It doesn’t mean I will necessarily get a new job, or make new friends, or be thanked. But those things are not the point. They’re nice to have, but it’s better to have the knowledge that I controlled what I could and don’t worry about the rest!

More importantly, networking has afforded me amazing opportunities I otherwise would never have found if I stayed in my comfortable little introvert bubble. Due to networking, I’ve:

  • Been a guest on several podcasts
  • Been invited to speak at several conferences
  • Conducted several online trainings for organizations
  • Started this blog and shared many stories
  • Began a side hustle as an HR consultant due to people ASKING me for help
  • And, most importantly, I’ve made many new friends – real life friends – whom I otherwise would have never known or interacted with

The results don’t lie, at least to me. I think this is why it still shocks me to talk with other HR pros who don’t network, at least not consistently! I sense some hesitancy for whatever reason from many folks. Listen, I felt it, too! Whether it’s anxiety leaving your comfort zone, or healthy skepticism, I challenge those who don’t network to just give it a try. Why not?

The aforementioned actions have worked for me, but I encourage you to find what works for you! My strategies may help. Maybe others will help you. Either way, remember that Aristotle said humans are social creatures. Find the best way to translate that social nature into a good life for you and for others through the power of networks, which is just a fancy business term for sympathiea, a.k.a “meaningful connections.”