Recent conversations with colleagues have led me to uncover and share a focus on connections: in this case, connections between my passions for both scuba diving and for the work I do to serve business clients.

In this brief booklet, I will highlight some HR issues to watch as the New Year 2020 approaches and begins. To fit them together, lighten the tone, and for good fun, I’ll use some scuba diving analogies.

Download the brief booklet by clicking the link below.

Diving Into 2020

In the top right quadrant of the Johari Window is the area labeled, “blind spot.” The concept may be useful when considering colleague (and potential colleague) behavior. It ties into some of what co-author Jody Foster presents in her book, The Schmuck in My Office: How to Deal Effectively With Difficult People at Work.


In an interview discussing ideas related to the book, Ms. Foster mentions individuals in our work places whom the majority views as disrupters. These are people who routinely demonstrate annoying habits: habits viewed negatively by the majority of work place inhabitants. Instead of opening an uncomfortable conversation with any said disrupter, the rest of the team puts up with those little annoyances. Or, we think we put up with them.


What’s likely really happening is that the majority of colleagues – the ones who find a disrupter’s habit annoying – remain silent, letting little annoyances build into frustration and even into major conflicts: office blow-ups that become the subject of workplace legend. Who wants that?


I’ll take a bit of a detour and introduce a related arena in which a similar phenomenon occurs: selecting potential employees. I’ve experienced situations in which an ideal candidate has been interviewed, and a manager would like to extend an offer. What holds him back is a difference in stated salary expectations. Early in the process, the candidate has stated a salary objective, and it’s a bit over what the manager has determined the job’s value to be. What to do? Is extending an offer to a different candidate the best response?


In both situations, a better answer is, Talk. Have a conversation. Build a relationship based on trust and integrity. Consider:

  • The individual perceived by nearly everyone as a disrupter may not even be aware that he is a disrupter. The behavior he’s demonstrating may simply be in his blind spot.
    • The rest of the team is guilty, then, of letting the irritation – the one little annoying thing – spiral out of control. Through silence, the team implies everything is okay and, so, why would the disrupter change the behavior?
    • If you extend him the courtesy of a respectful confrontation, he may say, “I didn’t know; thanks for telling me.” And the behavior may stop. Ms. Foster shares this may be true in about 80% of cases.
  • In the selection scenario, considerable personal experience is that in at least 80% of situations, a respectful – and sometimes creative – conversation may lead to a win for both the candidate and the hiring manager: a good hire who comes into the organization ready to build upon a beginning based on integrity and trust. For example:
    • Hiring manager begins, “We’ve each learned a lot during this interview process, including information about our benefit and other employee programs. I think you’re a great fit for this position, and I’d like to talk more about compensation. I’d like to negotiate a mutually agreeable starting pay level within both your expectations and our goals.”

In how many situations – work, social, family, etc. – might your willingness to respectfully begin an uncomfortable conversation yield an improved relationship, not just for you but for many?

Most often, I think of both/and opportunities when it comes to dessert. Who doesn’t like pie and ice cream or cake and fruit topping?


Since 2017, small businesses have had a both/and opportunity about which many leaders remain unaware.  The opportunity is a Qualified Small Business Health Reimbursement Arrangement: a QSEHRA.


To put a QSEHRA in some context, consider a growing small business. Every new hire is critical for adding the right skills and strengthening the desired culture. It’s also critical to manage the budget. What to do when it comes to valuable employee benefits?


Recognizing that the health insurance market may well be out of reach within the company budget, some business owners turn to offering employees a monthly cash stipend to help offset the individual cost of health care. This is a commendable and valuable offer. And, it’s taxable to those individuals.


This situation may be ideal for a QSEHRA: a budget-friendly method for offering valuable health care assistance to employees on a tax-favored basis. Saving employees some of their income and payroll taxes can be quite attractive.


What is a QSEHRA? Broadly, a QSEHRA:

  • Is available to employers of fewer than 50 employees who don’t offer group health insurance.
  • Does not require pre-funding.
  • Is flexible regarding funding and features.


There are administrative conditions and requirements for participation. These are manageable, and there are professional administrators in the market.


If you’re a business leader and valuable both/and opportunities are of interest to you – this one or perhaps others – call me.

In Kingdom of the Blind, author Louise Penny has her lead character observe:

“…that our lives are like an aboriginal longhouse. Just one huge room. …if we thought we could compartmentalize things, we were deluding ourselves. Everyone we meet, every word we speak, every action taken or not taken lives in our longhouse. With us. Always. Never to be expelled or locked away.”

Accepting some truth in this creative observation, one might consider how to apply the idea: 

  • You led a successful, difficult development conversation with a team member: you had a clear focus on both relationship and results.  It’s in your longhouse.  You can repeat the success.
  • You enjoyed that training program, practicing targeted interviewing skills until you felt confident and competent.  It’s in your longhouse.  You can repeat it and select your next team members.
  • You took a deep breath, focused on relationship and successfully talked with a friend, spouse or a child about a tough topic.  It’s in your longhouse, and you can repeat that success.

Faced with having a difficult conversation in your immediate future, perhaps a deep breath and a moment to recall how you’ve succeeded in the past will benefit both you and your colleague, friend or family member.

First, I was reminded by a friend how differently two people can recall a verbal exchange that simply did not quite rise to the necessary level for communicating.  Ugh.  Here we both were after some time: one still wondering what was meant by the words he heard and the other not wondering at all about the exchange, because he knew what he meant when he spoke.


Next there was an episode of two friends tackling a small household project: one person ready to jump in and get started and the other unwilling to dive in until there was a mutually understood plan for the work.  These two people know about this difference in approach, but that doesn’t make the necessary conversation easy.  Communication does not occur and frustration sets in.


Last, consider this quote, “If your people aren’t informed by you, there’s a good chance they’ll be misinformed by others,” fromPatty McCord’s book, Powerful – Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility.  I have not read this book.  For purposes of this writing, I would hope the author raises the possibility that misinforming may in fact come from self.


This idea is not new, but it surely is important.  That is, communication typically requires conversation: all parties willing to get out of their own heads (i.e., what we “know” we mean) and invite other participants to join in understanding. It’s in fact why great authors need great editors.  Editors help question and clarify what an author means.


For example, as a leader of a project team, give the essential elements of a new project and then stop telling (i.e., talking).  Ask your team:


  • What have I not shared that would be helpful for you to know before we begin this work?
  • How might this work plan be improved from your perspectives?
  • What suggestions do you have to break the project into meaningful parts?
  • When does it make sense to bring the whole team together for status reporting?
  • If you have questions or need tools or information, do you know what resources are available?


In other words, remind yourself that telling people what you know, even as the leader of a team, is likely not sufficient verbal activity.  If communication is indeed the experience of all participants getting all of the information they need for understanding and engagement, we must work to achieve it. Our teams, as well as our families and friends, will be better for that work.

In response to questions about a favorite activity, I have told others that one of the best things about scuba diving is the peacefulness of it.  One plans the travel and packs the luggage.  Once there, one endures the hauling, checking, donning gear and the entry itself.  Then, the reward – the gift – is immediate.


For the duration of that dive, there is no telephone, computer or other electronic noise.  There will be no loud voices, no incivility, no horn honks or flashing billboards.  There won’t even be a to-do list, because there won’t be a desk or work station.  Bliss!


At favorite sites, one is immediately overwhelmed by beauty and color, by the genuine fascination of variety and even humor before one’s eyes.  It becomes obvious that the surface we all see when looking at the ocean contains under it all, more color and life and natural behaviors than any man-made facility on land.  One learns that taking an electronic-free vacation is indeed as wonder-ful and revitalizing as the experts say it can be.


This author argues that simply making time to notice and appreciate a quiet moment or a natural landscape can be refreshing and revitalizing as well.


I suggest, “just do it:”

  • Enjoy a walk or simply sit in a park, leaving your favorite device behind.
  • Create time|space, not responding to calls or messages after a particular time – or even for a whole day.
  • Let yourself dream what it might be like to be surrounded by quiet.


If you’re an introvert, these ideas may naturally suit you and energize you, stimulating your creativity.


If you’re an extrovert, these ideas may energize you as you get creative when sharing them with others at your next opportunity.

Curious about a new term, I recently checked a definition of ludic loop: doing something over and over again because every once in a while you get a reward.


Considering the definition and how it might apply to the workplace, one imagines its usefulness in several situations.


For example:

  • Individual Level: As a manager dealing with a ‘problem employee’ ask yourself a hard question: are you trying to address that problem the same way over and over again? If yes, stop the ludic loopiness.
    • Take a fresh look at the situation and use a new, better approach.
    • Before the next conversation with that employee ends, be certain you have a clear mutual understanding of what is expected going forward.
  • Team Level: Put some time in your next team meeting agenda for a new discussion item with an opportunity for creative problem solving. During that meeting, share the term and come to a team understanding of its definition.
    • Before the meeting ends, ask what is happening within the team that may fall into ludic loopiness.
    • Collect ideas and identify one that seems to grab people’s attention.
    • Use collective creativity to plan for changed behaviors so that particular loop is no longer preventing team success.
  • Self Level: Do you get to the end of too many days without completing urgent items on your To-Do list? That’s another potential ludic loop.
    • What changes will you make to better manage your work day?
    • What rewards will you experience when the loopiness is overcome?


Use these ideas to identify and overcome the ludic loopiness within and around you.

Once your organization decides to make intentional Culture change, the work has only begun.


After agreeing on the need, value and direction of the change, each individual must be invited and expected to participate.  At this individual level, ongoing work and success requires:

  • Description: What work behaviors demonstrate this new intentional Culture: the way we will do things around here?
  • Mutual understanding and commitment: Does everyone have the same understanding of what’s expected and the willingness to make the change?   Express willingness out loud among the team.
  • Repetition: repeat, repeat.


Relationships among staff need to be built so that it’s expected to reinforce and reward each other in making the change as well as to hold each other and self accountable for continuous improvements.  Team members need to recognize there will be slip-up’s and need to talk about how to help each other recover and move ahead.


There are several personal techniques that may be useful in such accountability.  One of those techniques is perspective: a personal pocket mirror so to speak:

“I am the person who __ (fill in the blank) __.”


For example:

  • (respect) I am the person who starts staff meetings on time to show respect for those who are prepared.
  • (courtesy) I am the person who actively listens to each person with whom I speak.
  • (respect, courtesy) I am the person who takes a deep breath and practices continuing respectful conversation in difficult moments or on difficult subjects.
  • (teamwork) I am the person who informs others about potential delays in a project timeline so that the whole team can plan well.
  • (courtesy, leadership) I am the person who practices criticizing without judging and helps others do the same.


To help you visualize the value of this practice, consider a recent glaring example: Can anyone imagine the individual who would not have benefitted from a deep breath and a seconds-long break in the situation of removing a passenger from a flight to remind himself, “I am the person who treats others with respect?”


What powerful change could that moment of perspective have wrought?  What every-day change can this practice make for you?

A familiar quote, “Get up, dress up and show up.” is attributed to author Regina Brett. It has entered my head and helped me start more than a few days through tough times. I have heard myself remind colleagues of the sentiment. We all have tough times, and we find different ways to keep moving forward.


Toward that goal of moving forward: in line with some of the ideas I have presented in these postings and influenced by a recent conversation with a friend, I have created a personal ‘work’ version of Brett’s solid three-part direction.


1. Shape up: Before showing up anywhere, one must “shape up:” focus at least a little time on getting one’s head into the approaching day. Once your feet are on the floor and you’re looking the part – and before you greet others in your day – get your head into it all.

2. Set up: Set a goal for those encounters you may have with people during that day. Three good possibilities:

• Listen well and get to mutual understanding to address an issue.
• Clear the air: have a necessary difficult conversation focused on respect and treating each other well.
• Learn something new from someone you didn’t expect to be your teacher / because your mind was open to growth.
3. Lift up: Simply share kindness because you choose to do so. If you will speak with others via telephone or other devices, setting goals is equally as important. It will matter that you’re smiling when you pick up the phone. It will matter whether you’ve decided to listen well and to treat the other party with respect – or not. In defiance of all the known laws of gravity, lifting another’s spirits often raises our own.


I have heard it said that sometimes life simply hits one in the head. While that may be true, I think this straightforward plan could help each of us focus, learn something and even grow along our way.