I haven’t always been a last minute shopper, but some years it sneaks up on me. If you’re looking for that gift for the special HR someone in your life, or if you are looking for an idea for yourself, here are three ideas that will delight the HR pro you’re buying a gift for. :-)

Fun HR Ninja Gear

hr_quirky_offspring_yellow_tshirtMost of you probably don’t know, but for more than five years I have been selling HR ninja gear on Cafepress. I actually forget about it sometimes, because I just threw it up there years ago and haven’t really put any effort into it since then.

I have virtually no markup on any of the products, because I love the idea of them being used far and wide, so grab what you like, such as this shirt that highlights HR as the offspring of a lawyer and a psychologist. I just had someone purchase 25 HR ninja mugs for their local SHRM chapter giveaways, so there are lots of ways to use this to give your HR friends a smile! Have fun with it.

HR Certification

Yes, it’s work-related, but you can give the timeless gift of certification to anyone, or yourself. This week I have a 10% discount on both the PHR and the SPHR self study courses. No discount code required, and the discount expires on December 26th, so get it while it’s hot! You can even buy now and use the course any time in the future. I have had several students taking the course this fall after purchasing during last summer’s sale.

For the Out of the Closet Nerds

If you are an admitted nerd, then one of the things you’re hoping for this year is a stack of books. If you know someone who is a reader, here are some great suggestions for books I’ve enjoyed that could not just entertain, but improve someone’s life/career.

  • The Front Line Leader: How to act like a CEO, what leadership looks like, and how to run a large, successful healthcare organization.
  • Innovation Judo: how to innovate despite structural and “people” roadblocks, including great stories of successful innovation.
  • All In: building a culture of belief, research-based stories of success, and the coolest profile of Bruce Lee I’ve ever read.
  • The Pursuit of Something Better: the first book I ever read and reviewed on upstartHR. Still one of my favorites, it explores the turnaround of U.S. Cellular and the readoption of basic tenets like culture, leadership, and service.
  • What about my book, What Running Taught Me about HR? :-) It’s a collection of stories and insights from my years in HR and also includes several profiles of other running HR pros and what makes them tick.

As always, you can find a ton of other book reviews here.

Whatever you end up picking up, I hope you have an incredibly merry Christmas!

Last week I was sitting in a board meeting for my local SHRM Chapter (NASHRM). I’ve been on the board for about five years now in various roles, and it’s a great way to get connected and serve others within the profession. But volunteering in that capacity is not what we’re discussing today. There was a point in the conversation where we were talking about our upcoming Mentor University program, and someone asked what the minimum threshold should be for mentors in the program. Someone threw out ten years as a baseline, and there was an immediate reaction from some of my friends on the board.

“What? Just ten years? We have ten years of experience and still feel like we don’t have much to offer.”

I had to laugh. First, because one of these self-professed not-quite-mentors is a good friend that speaks often in front of large crowds. She is a subject matter expert on recruiting, staffing, and managing candidate relationships. I have plenty of hands-on recruiting experience, but when she talks, I listen. So that seems funny to think that she can teach groups of senior level HR pros and recruiters about strategy and tactics but doesn’t have the capability (supposedly) to work in an informal one-on-one relationship with someone less experienced.

Secondly, everyone has something to offer. You do. Yes, you.

  • If you have twenty years of experience, that HR generalist with ten years under his belt can learn something from you.
  • If you have ten years of experience as a specialist in some area, the junior HR pro with a few years on the front lines can pick up a few tips and tricks you’ve learned.
  • If you have a week of experience as an HR pro of any sort, you have insights to offer someone who is just making steps to pursue an HR career.

See? You do, really.

I think in the end we dropped the ten year experience requirement on the mentors because it is artificial, and it doesn’t tell us what we want to know. When I am speaking on retention and the link to professional development, I often throw out the example of having ten years of experience. There are two ways to get to the ten year mark:

  1. Do the same basic tasks over and over again all year long, and then do it for ten years, never learning and growing beyond those basic functions.
  2. Master your basic tasks and then begin adding complexity and depth to your responsibilities, growing year after year progressively until you have a solid block of ten years behind you.

I want to be the second one here, and I want to find more of them in my daily work, because those are the people you can learn and grow from.

This week I’ll be in Florida for the Brandon Hall Group Excellence Conference. Wednesday I’ll be copresenting a workshop on the changing learning environment and how to integrate informal/experiential learning into your formal training programs. Friday I will be working in two sessions–the first on the changes we’re seeing in learning and development technology and the second focuses on the research linking human capital management technology and bottom-line business results. It’s going to be busy and fun. Am I the world’s foremost expert in these topics? No, but I do have something to offer. Insights from dozens of vendor briefings and discussions, data from our research, and practical experience from the trenches are all rolled together into one delivery that will help the audience learn and grow.

Think about yourself this week. Whether you’re volunteering through a local chapter or just finding a way to help someone else that needs it, you do have something to offer. Don’t let your own thoughts or anyone else tell you differently.

Today we’re not talking about HR.

IMG_20160101_173753940

Helping with the dental work

I’ve been quite of late, because it’s difficult to write from a remote village without electricity. From the end of December to early January, I returned to Guatemala for a mission trip designed to encourage and uplift some of the poorest people on earth (materially speaking). Below you’ll find a report based on my experience. I write this recollection not to “show off,” but to help keep myself focused on the most important things in life, such as faith and family.

I hope that this story gives you some hope yourself and possibly even encourages you to look for an opportunity to love on someone else, whether they are nine thousand miles away or just nine feet away.

I visited Guatemala two years ago on a similar trip and knew that I would one day return. I told my wife that I wouldn’t go back until she was able to experience it herself, and in July 2015 she joined a team visiting San Pedro Las Huertas in Sacatepecquez. It was a wonderful time for her, and it allowed me to make good on my promise to return. For the past few years, both of us have worked on the planning team for our church’s annual auction to support two feeding centers in San Pedro Las Huertas and San Cristobal el Bajo. Each feeds more than a hundred kids a day, which for most of the kids is the only meal they will get all day. Melanie was able to see the feeding centers in operation when she visited, which was probably a humbling feeling to see all of that effort paying off. Unfortunately the feeding centers were closed for the holidays while I was there (apparently Guatemala follows the United States’ lead and pretty much shuts down between Christmas and New Year’s).

There were many facets to trip preparation. It’s not as simple as packing a suitcase and heading for the airport. We were bringing 250+ stockings full of toys, clothing and personal hygiene items to pass out for kids, plus we had to plan for daily bible school lessons and more.

Sunday

I’ll just mention here that I hate being away from my family for any length of time. When I decide to go on a trip, that’s usually the first hang up I have. But I had committed to this experience, so…

Sunday afternoon one of my team members and I took all of the stockings and luggage to Atlanta to save some time and simplify logistics for the team. One extra night away, but it saved us from having to be up at 2:30am to get on the road in time for the flight.

Monday

Monday morning we met the rest of the team at the airport and hopped on the plane. Guatemala City, here we come! Coming back was very much a reunion-like experience for me. I had many friends in San Pedro las Huertas from my previous visit, and it was a great chance for me to practice my rusty Spanish yet again. On the way to the mission house from the airport, I rode in the only truck without an interpreter and was able to have a good conversation with our driver, which was fun.

That night we ate dinner and repacked the vehicles with plans to leave first thing in the morning.

Tuesday

The team was very excited about the trip, despite being on the road for nine hours. We did last minute checks and hit the road. At Chimaltenango we picked up our third driver, Pastor Luis. This man has been visiting the people of La Perla for a year at monthly intervals, and he was our local connection to the community there.

Again, I ended up riding in his vehicle with the rest of the gringos that didn’t speak a lick of Spanish. You never realize how much you talk on a nine hour road trip until you’re riding with a driver that doesn’t speak English.

The trip, though long, was fairly uneventful. We stopped for lunch at one of the only Gringo-safe places, Pollo Campero, in Santa Cruz (Quiche) and then continued on our way. We arrived late in the afternoon just before dark. There was just time for a quick dinner before we had church service. After that we all hit the hay, tired from the long day’s events.

Wednesday

House visits with Pastor Julio

House visits with Pastor Julio

The plan for the day included house visits for church members and family in the morning and vacation bible school for the kids in the afternoon.

I had the amazing opportunity to go for a run at first light, seeing the sleepy little village coming to life one cooking fire at a time. I’ll admit that I got some funny looks from the locals, but everyone was friendly and it is a memory I’ll treasure.

During our house visits, we had our first run in with the biting flies of La Perla. These small, gnat-looking bugs drink blood like a mosquito, but they don’t alert you to their presence since they are very small. But lunchtime some of the team had more than a dozen bites on their faces and arms. (I’d like to send a personal thank you to Off! Deep Woods for their support of my trip). :-)

One of the families we visited had recently lost someone, and that was definitely a pull at the heartstrings. However, the second visit was one I want to cover in more detail. We checked in on a Mayan family living on the side of a hill. They were quite poor, even by local standards. They had a dirt floor and a fire going in the middle of the room for cooking and heat. As soon as we walked in, the lady’s daughter ran to a neighbor’s house to bring chairs so that we could sit. As soon as we all were seated, she went and retrieved all of her food and began passing it out to us, a set of complete strangers. This amazed me, and we weren’t able to refuse it, because it would have been an insult to her and her family.

At bible school we did a lesson on Daniel and the lion’s den and did a little lion craft with the kids. Some of them were very shy, because they had never colored anything before. Then we played games–one of the team brought a massive bubble wand and made bubbles 2-3 feet long for the kids, and they were thrilled.

Thursday

The plan for the day included house visits for church members and family in the morning and vacation bible school for the kids in the afternoon.

The house visits on Thursday really got me. We hiked up the trail on the side of a mountain to get to the homes. At one home we met a teenage girl with no legs. Every night her little sister carries a flashlight and helps her get down to church, more than half a mile away. This girl crawls there every night. I was completely blown away by her faith and dedication.

We started to get a bit tired down from the kids being around us at every moment of the day, plus not getting much sleep at night. The children were climbing in the windows of our rooms, trying to see the gifts that we had brought for them. :-)

Friday

The plan for the day included a medical clinic in the morning and vacation bible school plus stocking distribution in the afternoon.

Discussing care of a very sick baby with his mother

Discussing care of a very sick baby with his mother

The local church had handed out fifty numbers for patients for the clinic, but through various conversations another twenty five people had been invited to come for treatment. We had a pretty good setup going. One team working blood pressure (note: even seventy year olds had great blood pressure there thanks to walking everywhere on mountain trails!), two dispensing medicine, one person diagnosing patients, some praying with the patients, and others working however they could. Because I have some understanding of Spanish I was writing instructions on the medicine as we prescribed it to patients.

Nearly everyone we saw had worms or parasites simply because their water is full of bacteria and germs, they don’t understand how to cook food properly, etc. I believe the long term answer to this is education, but as of today we wiped out a considerable number of parasites with the medication we distributed.

Some of the most heart-breaking stories, from the man that hadn’t eaten in fifteen days to the baby that wasn’t getting enough nutrition and might not survive, happened during this clinic. On one hand it was great to help ease the suffering of these people, but on the other it reminds me just how much pain there is in the world.

There were two kids that needed teeth pulled, and I was able to help a bit for the second one. The girl’s tooth had rotted, and grabbing it made it crumble to pieces. After several unsuccessful attempts we decided to bring her with us on the return trip to the first large city, Navaj, to see a real dentist and get the tooth pulled for good.

Due to the number of people at the clinic, we just had time for a quick grab and go lunch before bible school started. We did our lesson, took the kids out to play, and then brought everyone back into the church and locked the doors. We knew that this would be a problem if kids were wandering by and saw the gifts coming out, and we didn’t have enough to offer everyone in the entire village. We had brought approximately 250 stockings, and Pastor Luis brought about 50 more small gifts as well.

Once the kids were in the church, we told them they would get a single gift and then would be sent out the door. It was my job to guard the door and prevent anyone else from entering, because the priority was to serve the kids who had attended bible school. That was heart-wrenching, because within five minutes of these kids streaming out of the church with gifts, there were more than fifty people outside trying to get in and secure a gift for themselves or for their children. In the end we let a few more in and handed out everything we had, and we had to be comfortable with that. Just like with the medical clinic, you can’t help everyone, and that is just part of life.

The church was packed every night. Standing room only in the back.

The church was packed every night. Standing room only in the back.

That night we treated the locals. During church service every night they ran a generator to power the lights and audio equipment. We brought a projector and DVD player and the movie War Room. Most of the people there had never seen a movie before, and I knew it would be an experience. The entire church was packed out, standing room only, and the back walls were opened up so people could stand outside and still see. In the two hour movie, people sat on hard wooden benches and drank in the experience. The movie has a powerful message, and it was evident in the tears that shone when the lights came up at the end. I don’t think they will soon forget it.

Saturday

Saturday morning was bittersweet. We were excited to go back to the mission house in San Pedro and reunite with our team, but we were also very sad to leave the wonderful people of La Perla. We brought the little girl and her mom with us to go the dentist in Navaj, and that proved to be a painful experience. The girl’s mother did not travel often, so she got motion sickness and would not take any medication offered by the team. She ended up throwing up four times in the back seat of the truck, turning the three hour drive into a five hour drive. Once we got the girl in to see a dentist and off on the bus back home, we continued our journey. Ultimately with traffic and the other issues, we ended up taking thirteen hours to get back to the mission house.

Everyone was very tired from the road trip, but the nearby volcano was sending up lava on and off all night, and most of the team stayed up to see the eruptions.

Sunday

Sunday morning we had church in San Pedro. I rode with Danny, the local missionary, to pick up kids and families for church. It was great to see some of the same kids I remembered from before.

After church, one of the kids was left behind, so a friend and I decided to walk him home. After we dropped him off, I realized we were at the same location where we had built a house on our previous visit. I remembered hearing Danny say that the mother/wife had just died a few weeks prior of appendicitis at the age of 38. Despite me only having a grasp of the basics of Spanish and the family not speaking any English, we stopped by to offer our condolences. After all, on the previous trip we had played with their kids and spent several days building their home from the ground up, so we felt like we knew them as well as anyone else.

Sunday afternoon we began packing our gear for the trip home. It had been a long week, and we had accomplished much in the relatively short time we were in Guatemala. Monday morning we went to the airport and flew back to Atlanta.

Looking back now, it seems like it was all too short of a trip. I’m extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to visit with and love on these amazing people. My team was phenomenal. And my wife is a saint for keeping up with our kids while I was out of town. All that said, it was the wonderful experience that I hoped and prayed for.

keep fighting

Last week I spent several days with leaders at nonprofits from around the world at the LINGOS Global Learning Forum. It was a humbling experience, and I had some of my preconceived notions turned upside down.

In the past I would have imagined (based on my own experiences working in and with nonprofit organizations) that many nonprofits and NGOs are backward at worst and behind the times at best due to limited resources. That may be the case for some, but certainly not for the ones I talked with in Little Rock, Arkansas. There were groups focused on feeding the hungry, teaching people out of poverty, educating women and children in third world countries, providing clean water in Africa, and dozens of other amazing examples of world-changing ideals. What truly surprised me was the level of sophistication of the attendee population.

There were discussions on leading-edge technology, best practices for training and development, and global strategy implementations to reach millions of people. That doesn’t sound like the slate of topics for a group that is whining about how to get a “seat at the table.”

But how? Aren’t they dealing with tough budgets and limited resources? Yes, but because they know they have limits, they use it as fuel for innovation and creative thinking instead of a convenient excuse.

Honestly, I’m not here to beat you up. I’m guilty of using those same excuses. I don’t have time. I don’t have the budget. I don’t have… whatever. But when it comes down to it, there’s usually a way to get it done.

If they can face those same challenges and still feed a family in Peru, then those of us in the private sector need to toughen up just a bit. And remember when you’re supporting charitable organizations that they employ people like us to help them run smoothly and effectively.

Just a few thoughts to start your week of on the right tone.

What charitable organizations do you support? Why?

Today’s post is a personal one about my recent experience quitting caffeine and all of the associated side effects. Not so much about HR, but definitely an interesting look at the experience!

One month ago I quit caffeine. My main delivery method was diet cokes (that’s soda for those of you outside the Southeastern United States). I quit for multiple reasons, and the experience was what I expected in some ways and very much different in others. The thing that hit me since I quit (more on that experience below) was that those of us in the workforce don’t put much of a stigma on drinking caffeine. This experience has helped me to truly see the grip it had on me and the withdrawals were quite… um, intense. I don’t know that I’ll sway you to try quitting yourself, but stick around for the story!

The Background

Those people that know me know that my poison of choice is Diet Mountain Dew. Well, it was, anyway. I haven’t decided if I’ll ever go back to a more moderate intake, but for now I’m trying to live a decaffeinated life. I realized this summer that I was drinking about a two liter a day, and I knew it couldn’t go on forever. I am pretty healthy, eat well, and exercise regularly. But the mental slumps and anguish without caffeine combined with bouts of insomnia helped spur my decision to move away from the green juice.

Like many people, I started drinking caffeine heavily when I was in college. I worked all day, trained for 50-kilometer races in the afternoons, and attended classes at night. I needed something to keep me awake when my mind went fuzzy after a full day. Then I rationalized drinking even more when my kids came along. My joke was that I was short on sleep, and the best bridge for that gap was caffeine. :-)

Now that our third is nearing a year old, I was already going pretty heavy when he was born, so that wasn’t an excuse any more. In addition to that, I had a lingering foot injury from a previous race and poor sleep quality, so I knew I needed to make a decision.

Making the Call

My wife and I were at a funeral for a family member one afternoon and I overheard someone say, “Look at her sister! She’s 92 years old and still fit as can be. If the others had avoided smoking they would still be around too.” In addition, we attended yet another funeral the week prior for a friend of the family with three small children left behind. The death was a result of health complications and I realized how quickly something awful could happen to any of us. It’s amazing how often life events such as these cause us to stop and think about the bigger picture, right?

I decided on a Sunday that I was going to start my taper. I figured cold turkey would probably kill me, so I wanted to ease off and slowly get through the withdrawals with as little pain as possible. I did enough research to know that there were headaches and mental fog to be expected no matter the method used. I wanted to lessen the impact to my work and family, so I planned to taper by a few ounces a day over the course of two weeks.

Thus began my journey.

The first day felt so good that I restricted more than planned. Day two also felt pretty good, so I drank much less than planned (and about a third of my usual intake). I thought, “If this is as bad as it gets, I should have done this a long time ago.”

Then came day three. And boy did it ever. I’m not sure if I’ll always remember the day, because our brain has a setting deep inside that blocks out painful memories to protect our fragile sanity. Suffice to say it was rough.

And why break the cycle? Day four felt terrible. Day five I had back pains and insomnia—seriously. Back pain. That’s what clued me in to the thought that this is more than just something to keep me alert in the early morning hours. It’s affecting my system in ways I can’t even imagine.

One thing that helped was recording the experience. I kept a journal throughout the withdrawal process, noting each day and what I felt.

The most amazing thing is that I can now sit for thirty or forty five minutes at a time without fuzzing out or my thoughts getting hazy. I’ve always had a hard time sitting and focusing for long periods of time, and I attributed that to my naturally high energy. Apparently some of that was due to caffeine! In addition, I can actually recall what people say during those time periods. I’m still a high-energy person and always have been. I just realize now that the caffeine was masking my true energy in a hyper state of random thoughts with no ability to focus. I’m amazed that I have been able to work as a writer and researcher in the past year with this monkey on my back, and I’m glad to say that each day feels better and better in terms of focus.

My sleep is better than ever, and I am falling to sleep at more natural times and waking up feeling more refreshed than any time I can remember.

The Business Take

We freely offer this drug. Heck, we usually pay for employees to consume it. The rationale for many is that caffeinated employees are more productive. Some studies have shown the opposite to be true: when the caffeine “high” and the resulting “low” are balanced out, there isn’t much impact. (Note, I found some of that data while I was quitting as a way to encourage myself, but I can’t for the life of me find the study now that I’m writing this post!).

Anyway, whether it’s a call for wellness or an opportunity to reset your own caffeine clock, I encourage you to try living without it for a month and see how it affects you. It amazed me at the changes I felt weeks later.

Love to hear from some of you! Are you junkies like I was? Are you caffeine free? Why? How do you feel? 

I learned this week that one of my former bosses nominated me for a Young Professional Award for the work I have done over the past few years, both with this site and within the community where I live. I was (and still am) humbled by that support. As far as I can tell, I’m the only HR guy in the running, and I have until July 1st to gather a few votes in the competition. Would you be willing to take 20 seconds to vote for me? Whether you’ve been reading this site for one day or six years, I would sincerely appreciate the support.

No registration is required, and you do not have to vote for anyone else in the other categories if you don’t wish to. Thanks!

Click here to vote

It’s been a whirlwind this past week and I’m just catching my breath for a bit. The site was hacked for the first time in over six years. Lesson learned: choose a strong password and don’t ignore strange activity with your web host.

I was able to scramble and get it working again, but if you happen to run across something that doesn’t look right, please let me know and I’ll address it ASAP.

In the meantime, I’m pumped for a wide variety of reasons. Let’s cover a few seemingly random ones.

  1. I just finished reading a book on my flight today that was very enlightening and insightful. It shared many commonalities with another book I read recently, and I plan to tie them together in an upcoming post. Both were written by CEOs of large organizations, and some of the key pieces of advice that held them through the tough times were very similar, despite one of them being in manufacturing and the other in healthcare. I enjoy seeing similarities like those.
  2. In other non-HR news, the little guy is 7 months old now and is just trying to decide if he wants to crawl a bit. It’s so fun to watch him use his head to prop himself up. That laughter is priceless. My little girls are growing up, too, and it’s so crazy to think that I posted here when they were first born. I still remember my pal Mervyn being awake because although it was late here in the US it was morning time for him in the UK.
  3. I am spending a day in Delray Beach today with the Brandon Hall Group leadership team to talk about my role and what the future holds. I’m excited about the possibilities.
  4. I am talking with a local business leader in a few weeks about how he started his business with Christian principles. This is a passion of mine so it’s really neat to learn about how others are pursing a calling on their own terms. Should be a fun conversation and will share any insights I gather.
  5. I’m still volunteering with my NASHRM chapter. I love seeing the inner workings of a nonprofit serving its members, and as a longstanding introvert, having that natural “in” to start conversations is a great opportunity for me. Being on the board has really helped me to be more outgoing, despite it being against my natural tendency. Any other introverts out there?
  6. I ran two races a week ago on back to back days and am still paying for it. Plantar fascitis in my right foot/heel is AWFUL. In other news, I placed 8th in the 15k mountain race and ~3rd place in the 10 mile trail race, so at least it wasn’t all for naught.
  7. I mentioned last week that I was training a young man to run. It’s been fun to chat with him because high schoolers are often awkward and it reminds me that people who HIRE these workers have additional challenges. Kudos to those of you that do.
  8. Vacation Bible School is this week every night. I am relegated to the outdoors because I am loud and can’t stand still. I’ve led the games for at least five years running. I wonder why…
  9. I had my first Uber ride yesterday. Interesting. There isn’t any need for them where I live, so I won’t be able to try again for a while. Lots of regulation and push back on this industry, and I’m curious to see what happens over time. You can now even get food cooked for you–like Airbnb for your belly.
  10. I haven’t been this busy in a while. I have draft ideas to write about stacking up around my ears, but think I do this every summer. I get done with work and immediately jump into family time with Melanie and the kids at home. I may shift back to once a week until August.
  11. Another tradition Melanie and I have is watching a new TV series over the summer. We love the hero stuff, which includes Arrow and The Flash. I’m trying to decide if we will go for Gotham over the summer. She has been hooked on When Calls the Heart and I’d like to catch up on The 100, but time with the kids is at a premium for us.

Probably nothing enlightening or exciting, but wanted to share a few “tidbits and trivialities,” as my favorite fiction author F. Paul Wilson likes to say. Enjoy your week!