I’m Becoming Less Religious But More Spiritual

My father died last month.

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Now, please understand that it’s OK.  I am sad, but not devastated.  He died three months short of his 89th birthday, at home, surrounded by his family.  He suffered from dementia for the past four years and was really suffering the past few months.  Over those four years, we had the time to tell him how much we loved him, what a great father and husband he was.  I took him to lunch almost every Monday.  (He objected to that last sentence.  “You’re driving me to lunch; I’m the one paying for it – so I’m the one taking YOU to lunch!”).

So, I don’t feel cheated and devastated.  If he had died suddenly at the 55 – like his father and grandfather did – then I would feel entirely different.

My business partner and friend, Tony Rose, recently wrote a book with his daughter about lessons they learned from the sudden death of his son a few years ago, Beautiful Grief, (which will be available on January 30).   I’ve known Tony for over 30 years, and he knew my father for almost 50 years.  The grief I feel cannot compare to the grief that Tony and his family have felt and will feel.

But spiritually, something has changed within me.

It started a day or two before Dad’s death.  He was at home, unconscious, under hospice care.  One of the hospice care nurses – who had seen many people die – was telling us stories about what happens when people are about to pass away.  Their eyes open, they move – sometimes for the first time in years – they see for the last time.

One of my biggest fears over the past few years was that I wouldn’t be there when Dad died.  I travel a lot for business, and I worried I wouldn’t be there.  We live on the west side of Los Angeles; and with all that traffic, and your parents living on the other side of town, you might as well be on the other side of the world.

On the day he died, we were aware the end was near, but not how close it actually was.  We were all at the house.  I got sent to pick up lunch for everyone.  As I was walking out of the restaurant, I got a call from my sister: “Get back here as fast as you can.”  I broke several speed and traffic laws and got to his bedside as fast as I could.  His eyes were open.  He saw each of his – his wife, daughter and son – and died three minutes later.

The hospice nurse immediately turned to me and said, “He waited for you.”

Of course he waited for me.  He was that sort of human being.

But if you told me a year ago that was possible – that my father, in a coma, would wait for me to arrive before dying – I would have laughed at you.  I don’t laugh at it any more.  I was there.  I don’t just believe that happened, I know it happened.  That is spirituality.

That Saturday, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  The sky was blue, the mountains clear as day.  It was his favorite type of day.  My wife looked outside and said, “See?  It’s a perfect day.  He waited for this day to go to heaven.”

That observation wasn’t about religion, it was about spirituality.

I run an HR outsourcing and workforce development business, which I started from scratch 15 years ago.  Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize the best business relationships are those where the relationship evolves from client to friend.  People take advice better when it comes from a trusted friend perspective than merely a paid vendor perspective.

(I have a client, who has also become a friend.  Last year, I said to him: “I don’t know how to introduce you to people.  Are you my friend, or are you my client?”  Ross thought about it for a moment and said, “I’m your fri-ent!”.)

Thus, some of the most meaningful expressions of empathy came from – of all places – my clients, and people I do business with.  I told the hospice story to the President of a company I’ve worked with for 10 years.  She not only understood, she told me her mother had been a hospice nurse for years and saw the same thing numerous times.  I never knew that.  I learned a lot about a lot of people.

Donations and flowers came from businesses that I hadn’t worked with in years.

Then there is Stephen Wise Temple in Bel-Air.  Stephen Wise is a large reform Jewish congregation, with multiple schools.  I’ve worked closely with them for about six years.  They are one of a handful of clients that I consider ‘transformational’, meaning they have changed me as much as I’ve hopefully changed them.  What I knew about Judaism before I met them was next to nothing.  But working with and coaching the clergy – the rabbis and cantors – have been revelatory to me. I’ve learned more than I’ve given; they have been a blessing to me.

I confided in the Temple’s Executive Director that my father was at home and in hospice.  Unbeknownst to me, she shared that information with the clergy and senior leadership team.  (It may have been shared without my knowledge, but as I was to find out, certainly with my blessing).  I was overwhelmed with the connections as the clergy reached out.  One Rabbi called me three times. The senior Rabbi, who happened to be in Europe, texted me repeatedly.  (I just got a follow up note from him yesterday).  I received numerous notes and e-mails.  You might say that’s nice – but that’s what they do for a living.  But I’d argue that’s what they do for their congregants.  But I’m just a vendor to them, or so I thought.

A couple of days before Dad died, I was talking to one of the Rabbis.  (I take the liberty of calling them “my rabbis”).  He just found out about dad and reached out to call me. He asked my permission to give a prayer for dad and all our family. He said, “no matter what happens it’s always hard, because we want our parents to be healthy and live forever.”  I thanked him and said, we need to schedule our annual lunch.  His response: “I would love that. And then you can tell me all about your Dad.”

From not knowing anything about Judaism a few years ago to that conversation a few weeks ago was incredibly meaningful to me.

Soon after my father’s Memorial Service, my wife and I went to Japan, on our annual trip to visit her family at New Year’s.  On my last day in Tokyo, we decided to pray for my father.  So we walked over to the Buddhist temple near her home.  I have prayed at Temples before and have been impressed by the elegance, simplicity and symbolism that are essential to Buddhism.

On that cold, clear day, we rinsed our hands and walked up the stairs towards the shrine.  We walked up to a table in front of the shrine where incense was softly smoking.  We put our hands together, bowed, and took a pinch of incense and added it to the smoking pile.  Then closed our eyes and thought about my father and prayed for him and all our family.  I cannot say I saw him, but I can say he was clearly and deeply in my mind.  The moment was incredibly profound.

I think about the eulogy I gave for my father.  It was at the Episcopalian church my sister and I grew up in.  It’s where I sang in the choir and was an altar boy in the 1970’s.  Even though much had physically changed in 40 years, there was still a comfort in being there.  We didn’t know well the minister who counseled us and led the memorial service, but she was amazing with my Mother and sister, and exceptionally comforting and compassionate to my family.

I think back to these events and try to tie them all together.   The friends, business colleagues, hospice care nurses and reaching out and genuine connections to three entirely different religions and I wonder: is it all about religion?  Or is religion just a beautiful avenue to spirituality?

Maybe it doesn’t matter.  But I feel connected to everything that has happened in the past month and then realized the common bond that all these events and connections and relationship have, which is found in the definition of spirituality:

“The quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul.”

Maybe I was spiritual before all of this happened.  But I have now become more spiritual.

This article is, in some small way, my way of thanking everyone who reached out, who cared, and who caused me to think about spirituality in such a meaningful way.

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On Dress Codes and Pornography

 

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Strange bedfellows, huh?  Dress Code and pornography?  The title of this post should make for some interesting Google searches.  But bear me out – it has a relevance for every business.

I’m sorry to report to those curious that most of this article is about corporate dress codes and not pornography.  (Read until the end – you’ll get there eventually).

What’s going on with dress codes these days?  If you read some experts, you’ll see that businesses are trending to a more formal dress code.  Other experts believe that a more casual dress code is here to stay.

What I’d say is, don’t worry about what everyone else is doing and focus on what your culture is and what you aspire it to be, and make sure your dress code matches that culture.  Develop and enforce a policy that makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is a 10 page list of what is or isn’t permissible.  And what else doesn’t make sense is not adapting to reality, cultural trends and what employees want to wear (remember, there are way more many jobs available than qualified employees: they can somewhat dictate to us what they want).

For three years, I worked for a large, publicly traded company that mandated suits on men – not just a shirt and tie, not just a coat-and-tie, but suits at all times – even when travelling on weekends.  That restriction provided me an impetus to start my own business in 2003; the first thing I did was put a sign in my new office: “There is no *&%$#@! dress code.”  (It was part of a whole anti-corporate theme that I’d developed; I was tired of being told what and how to do things all the time).

Intellectually, the suit dress code made some sense.  The company is east-coast based, where there’s more formality expected than in California, where I was working.  But one day, marching through a dusty field to meet with the owner of a construction company in a dark blue suit, I felt completely out of place.  And the owner – in his jeans and mackinaw, looked at me like I’d stepped off the moon lander.  That’s when a dress code makes zero sense.

Today, I work closely with a CPA firm, and in every employee survey there are plaintive requests to loosen the dress code to include denim.  (The firm has what I’d call a modified business casual policy – no denim, but no ties, either.)  Employees – who work long hours during tax seasons – would appreciate the comfort of a more relaxed dress code.  The firm’s partners are concerned about what that dress code would look like to their clients who visit the office.  The clients skew conservative.  Currently, the modification is “Denim Fridays”.

One of my favorite clients has about 55 employees in West Hollywood, California.  It’s not exactly a start-up – it’s 7 years old.  But they have a start-up mentality, and most of the employees are in shorts and flip-flops every day.  (Hey, it’s California).  They keep aligned with a youthful casual culture, and that dress code encourages younger employees to work and stay at the company.  I once took a client, a bank president, to that office.  I thought he was going to have a coronary.

It’s not what everyone else does – it’s what works for you.

Another client I’ve worked with is a law firm in San Francisco.  There was an uproar when some of the partners wanted to eliminate polo-style golf shirts, which were permissible in the dress code.  It turns out that one associate wore golf shirts every day that looked like they’d been washed a thousand times: wrinkled, collars curled up and basically not law firm appropriate.  But, as I pointed out, another lawyer wore golf shirts every day and they looked great – creases on the sleeves, ironed crisply – perfectly fine.  So, the issue wasn’t golf shirts – it was how they looked on everyone.  We spoke to the employee with the wrinkled shirts – he bought new shirts and took much better care of them after that.

Which gives rise to the pornography connection.  In the 1960’s and 1970’s, many lawsuits came to the U.S. Supreme Court regarding obscenity in movies.  And all the Supreme Court Justices would trek down to the theater to watch each movie and determine whether it violated the 1st Amendment as obscene.  Finally, it became ridiculous, and Justice Potter Stewart, frustrated that he could not define pornography in a case, said: “I know it when I see it”.

That’s exactly what should happen with dress codes.

So much time is spend writing these codes and even more time is spent counseling employees and having angst whether to bring it up at all – it’s a waste of time!  I’ve seen dress codes that are pages long, itemize every conceivable thing an employee can or cannot wear.

Here’s what a better solution looks like:

OUR COMPANY DRESS CODE

During the interviewing process, you’ve had occasion to see how our employees dress and therefore what are expectations of your dress and appearance should be.  And we hired you because we believe you understand our culture (and vice-versa). Therefore we expect you to dress and appear in keeping with those expectations and our culture.  If you have any questions about whether to wear something, please feel free to check with your manager or Human Resources before coming to work.  And we have the right to send you home to change if we believe something you wear is not keeping with our desired culture.

So it’s not an itemized list of what you can and cannot do.  It’s not a formal or informal dress code.  It lays out expectations and really places those expectations on the employee – not HR or management.

Look at your dress code.  Is it really something that works for you today, or is it as outdated as the person who says, “We’ve always done it that way?”

 

Eric’s Rules of the Road

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I currently have 8 HR professionals working for me.  I’ve been working with HR pros since 2001.  There’s a big difference with consulting (which is what we do) and being on staff.  When you work as an HR pro for a company, you can say ‘no, you can’t do that’.  Not so, when you’re a consultant.

So, after 18 years of working with HR consultants and with a nod to Jerry Perenchio, here are my Rules of the Road:

  1. Take 100% responsibility for your actions.
  2. Be relentless about your intellectual curiosity. Nothing makes you obsolete faster than refusing to learn new things.
  3. It’s all about results. I’m not interested in “how”; I’m interested in “if”.
  4. Never say “no”. Your job isn’t to tell someone they can’t do it, but how they can do it.
  5. Sometimes the answer may actually be “no”, but don’t you think it is about being sure that you understand the outcome the client wants to reach?
  6. Being late to a client meeting is unforgivable. Exception: calling the client and letting them know you’re running late.
  7. You’re the Option King or Queen. If a client has a challenge, your role is to present options and the risks therein.  There’s rarely just one way to solve a challenge.
  8. Mistakes are never a problem. That’s learning.  Making the same mistake twice is a problem.
  9. Never ignore an e-mail or voice mail. Even if your response is “let me get back to you tomorrow”.  Clients don’t like to be left hanging.  (Neither do I!)
  10. Have fun and project enthusiasm. No one wants to deal with a downer.
  11. Minimize drama. We’ll all live longer.
  12. Care as much about your client as your client does. (You can’t care about a client’s business more than your client cares about their business).

Why Experience No Longer Matters

It’s almost comical.  I’m referring to the amount of money businesses globally are spending to streamline resume reviews – reading bots, artificial intelligence, and the like.  The idea is for the bot to scan resumes looking for keywords – college degrees, or at least 5 years as a software engineer, for example.  The bot then ‘approves’ selected resumes for follow up by HR or the appropriate hiring manager.

Everyone likes having the newest technology, and every company looks for efficiencies – but really?  In hiring?  As Jack Welch used to say:

What could possibly be more important than who gets hired?

And the kicker is – everyone’s doing it wrong, because experience no longer matters.

Yep, I went there.

Most businesses still look at employees and job candidates through the same lens as they did two or three decades ago. They review résumés and interview using the same old, tired questions. They look for experience and technical competency as if these are the only criteria needed in this world of massive and constant change.

Today, we are confronted with a multi-cultural and multi-generational workforce with investors and shareholders demanding more profits, lower expenses, and better efficiency. In an era of social media, every employee and every customer are broadcasters, having the ability and ease to shout their complaints or problems to millions of people.

Today’s employees are significantly different from those who came before, and employers have significantly different needs from what they ever had before.

There are two major excuses offered by companies who wrongly insist that experience is the most essential factor in hiring.

  • Because that’s the way we’ve always done it. A bank in the southeast U.S. asked me to help with an issue with their tellers.  Seems that they were having a problem hiring and retaining bank tellers.  It took me 5 minutes to spot the issue – a college degree was required.  Really?  For a $10 an hour bank teller position?  Turns out the CEO liked having employees with college degrees – that was the way it was done when his father (and grandfather) ran the bank.  But the insistence there be a college degree was the reason many potential applicants declined to interview, and also why existing tellers bolted when the first better offer emerged.

It took 5 minutes to find the issue and about a month to talk the CEO into changing the policy.  A college degree is a piece of paper and proves many qualities, but being a great bank teller isn’t one of them.  I instead re-focused the bank’s hiring managers into looking for a genuine customer service orientation; a values system aligned with the banks culture; and a hunger to work at the job.  Desire and passion are very good motivators.  By opening the position up to a larger pool of candidates, turnover decreased and hiring became easier.  Within a year, there was even an uptick in customer satisfaction!

  • So the new employee can ‘hit the ground running’. This is code for “I don’t want to spend time training this person.”  Yet there’s going to be a significant amount of training no matter what.  A CPA firm I work with requires of its newly hired CPA’s to have at least 3 years of experience in a certain software program.  The problem is that the software dramatically changes every few years, so there inevitably must be significant training or re-training anyway.  And why 3 years of experience?  What’s the difference between 1 and 2 years or 3 years?  Very little, in my opinion.

I learned the lesson about over-relying on experience nearly 20 years ago.  I was managing a sales and service operation for an insurance company – about 30 employees.  I was having problems hiring an inside sales representative.  After 6 weeks, my boss called and told me he’d hired a person for me.  I thanked him and asked for her resume and when I would get to interview her.  He indicated I’d forfeited that chance – I’d meet her when she completed corporate training.

When I met finally met her, I was impressed by her desire, and during the first day our client clearly responded to her positive and friendly attitude.  So I called my boss and asked to (at last) see her resume.  Turns out there wasn’t a resume.  She was the checker at his grocery store.  He’d been going there for years and was impressed by the way she remembered his name and her friendliness.

And my boss was right: no way I would have even interviewed her, because I wanted insurance “experience”.  I missed out on a whole number of great potential candidates because I over-focused on experience.

I’m not saying to eliminate experience and education entirely (you wouldn’t want a high school student performing your brain surgery); but I am saying you need to re-think exactly how critical (and how much) is necessary for your hire.  Experience only proves the past – attitude, agility, and alignment predict the future.

Artificial Intelligence might be able to screen for attitude, agility and alignment in the future, but they can’t and aren’t doing it now.

Hiring is critical. Not only do you want to hand-select employees who are likely to stay on board for more than a little while, but you also want employees who will blow you out of the water in terms of performance. You need to find employees who have the intangible values and characteristics that your company needs, and you must also find those who will flourish in the face of change.  You won’t find that reading a resume.

 

Are You Happy With Your HR Department?

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CEO’s and business owners: are you happy with your HR department?  In small businesses, you might be happy with your HR person, but then take this short questionnaire.

What is your level of confidence – on a scale of 1-10 – in your HR Department to:

  • Keep up-to-date with state and federal labor laws?
  • Be accessible to employees and management?
  • Integrate automation/technology into the HR function?
  • Coordinate and offer the best possible benefits?
  • Effective coordinate and teach performance reviews?
  • Guide effective leadership and organizational strategy?
  • Manage employee relations issues?
  • Lead the Training & Development function?
  • Ensure Workplace Safety?
  • Manage employee compensation?
  • Lead the recruiting, interviewing & hiring process?

Now – tell me again: are you happy with your HR Department?