Life lessons from more than 30 years in HR circa 2017

The life lessons of my HR career 

The life lessons of my career, pdated through 2017. Happy New Year!  

I wrote a post on my old blog back in January 2010 called Life Lessons from 25 years in Human Resources. I recently had occasion to revisit that post when someone reached out to me for some help in discussing a career change.  Apparently, changing jobs and posting the news on Facebook qualifies you as someone with wisdom and experience.

I referred them to this article, and I added some new thoughts from the last (almost) five years.

My career advice

  1. The kind of work you are doing matters a lot. If you want happiness, you better be doing something you enjoy, believe in and feel passionate about. I’m not saying “do what you love”. Most people can’t get paid for surfing or to shop for Manolo Blahnik heels.
  2. Don’t fall into the trap of giving everything to your work. Work is NOT everything, even though you may fervently believe that it is for you. You’re wrong. Work isn’t the most important thing. You don’t get back life moments though, and you should cash those chips in with great care.
  3. Where you do the work matters a lot. Make sure that the company you choose to work for has the resources and culture fit that will allow you to do your best work.  It’s a critical detail that often gets hidden behind a great reputation or an awesome salary offer.  And never ever pick a job based strictly on place

Here are my lessons learned.

1986 – How to deal with difficult people.  The value of innovation and compromise.

1987 – The danger of failing to have all the information required in for a serious life decision.

1988 – The value of working with professional HR colleagues.

1989 – The value of being an integrated HR practitioner.

1990 – That you should value the exceptional opportunity and workgroup more than your future career early in your career.

1991 – The secrets of meticulous preparation, and how that can both add and detract from conducting negotiations.

1992 – Managing people is challenging, and not always what you expect it to be.

1993 – That you really need to know what you are talking about before you open your mouth.  That if you open your mouth at the right time, amazing things happen.

1994 – That the secret to work/life balance is finding out that there is some sort of life out there beyond work.  Also, that a long business death is not something that I choose to do.

1995 – That you really need to consider place as a factor when accepting a new career opportunity.   The place alone can make the grass look browner!

1996 – HR can have a seat at the head of the table, but if you want to keep it, it won’t happen via fear and intimidation.

1997 – Flexibility, agility, innovation, and compromise are the keys to surviving in a business downturn.  When given a chance to re-invent your organization, don’t squander it.

1998 – That you can come back home again, and everything will be different while remaining very much the same.

1999 – That sometimes a job interview is just a job interview, and sometimes a job interview is a life-altering experience.

2000 –  That sometimes you have to make a negative change in the short term in order to generate long-term positive change.

2001 – That it is a very difficult transition to make to a new boss when you had worked for the best boss you’ve ever had.

2002 –  Treating employees well will almost always choose alignment with the goals of an excellent company.

2003 – You can develop personal relationships in the workplace with colleagues and not have it be harmful to your role as an HR practitioner.

2004 – Out of the most trying personal and professional times of your life, amazing new opportunities will arise.

2005 –  Even unemployment by choice sucks.  It requires some risk to reinvent yourself, but ultimately it is worth it.

2006 –  Developing a global perspective is an imperative for HR professionals.  Networking as well.

2007 – Building a culture of innovation, creativity, and fun is a difficult process, but ultimately worthwhile.

2008 –  Having expertise in social media and web research are career differentiators in human resources.

2009  – Influence is earned.  Use it wisely.

2010 – The evolution continues!

2011 – Getting involved in professional groups builds your network and opens doors professionally.

2012 – Take a different assignment outside your comfort zone if you want to grow.

2013 – Sometimes you have to go back to your roots to find your true path.

2014 – Being laser focused on one key goal while embracing a multitude of paths leads to unexpected results. It’s the end game that matters, not how you get there.

2015 – The evolution continues!

2016 –  Managing conferences is complicated work, and not unlike having children twice a year

2017 – Time to build on the strategic plan

The most powerful themes running consistently running through the past quarter-century are as follows:

  • trust
  • agility
  • credibility
  • innovation
  • strong culture
  • flexibility
  • compromise
  • approachability
  • judgment

Bonus lesson: Don’t be afraid to recycle good blog content or career experiences! They can lead to new things.

You need to be at WorkHuman 2018

Only Two Days Left to Save $300 on WorkHuman 2018

Have you heard of WorkHuman?  If you haven’t, you should check it out.   It’s an event. It’s a movement.  It’s among the best HR conferences I’ve ever attended.

If you know about WorkHuman and haven’t registered yet, do it by the end of the year to get the lowest rate. Use code WH18INF-MVA to save $300!  You can see speakers like Ashley Judd, Brene’ Brown, Simon Sinek, Amal Clooney and Adam Grant.

As I said, WorkHuman is one of the best HR events I’ve ever attended.  I went as a registered attendee in 2017 and had a fantastic experience.  I learned a lot, networked, and had a tremendous experience with friends old and new.  The event was worth every dollar I spent.   This year, I’m on the Influencer team, which means I’m helping Globoforce promote the event.  You should go!

If you need to hear from some other HR practitioners about their experience at WorkHuman 2017, you don’t have to take it from me.  I did a series of podcasts on Drive Thru HR a few weeks ago with Carrie Bucci, John Baldino, and Kelly Poulson.  You can listen to the shows and hear about their experience.

If you don’t know about WorkHuman, here is a description from GloboForce:

Globoforce pioneered the WorkHuman movement to galvanize leaders worldwide to harness the transformative power of people for the next generation of HR. We celebrate breakthrough organizations building human-centric workplaces where employees achieve their fullest potential – where people feel appreciated, connected, and empowered for who they are and what they do. WorkHuman recognizes businesses that thrive by bringing humanity and crowdsourcing to the employee experience. WorkHuman is the future of the workplace.

See you in Austin!



How can HR help in Houston?

How can HR help in Houston?

There are a lot of things you can do besides just donating $10 to the Red Cross via text.

See if your company has a matching program and make a donation.

The organization I work for made a donation to the American Red Cross to assist with the recovery in Houston.  You can do the same here.

Short on cash? You can use this link to find a local blood collection center where you can donate blood that is badly needed in Houston right now.

If you want to work with someone who is trying to provide hands on help in Houston, then check out this Amazon shopping list from Franny Oxford who is asking for help in purchasing essential items to help people get started with the cleanup.

You can also donate to any to any of the following local Houston based charities, which are passed along by Franny:  a) Jewish Federation of Greater Houston b) American Red Cross Houston Texas c) Houston Food Bank d) Humane Society of Southeast Texas e) Habitat for Humanity

If you work for an employer  and want to think about helping out in Houston, Laurie Ruettimann wrote the playbook for that.

The Executive Summary on that:

  • Pay people for as long as you can.
  • Double down on remote work and transfers.
  • Think creatively about PTO.

What’s Your SHRM Relationship Status? Final Thoughts on #SHRM17

Final Thoughts on #SHRM17

How would you describe your relationship with SHRM?  

  • Member
  • Volunteer
  • Vendor
  • Speaker
  • Staff
  • Board Member
  • New Attendee
  • Certified Professional

In this grouping, I am or have been a 1) member 2) volunteer 3) speaker 4) new attendee, but none of the others – although I know people who played them on television.

If you put it into Facebook relationship status terms,  you have more than one option to choose from:

  • Single
  • In a relationship
  • Married
  • Engaged
  • Not specified
  • In a civil union
  • In a domestic partnership
  • In an open relationship
  • It’s complicated
  • Separated
  • Divorced
  • Widowed
  • I’d rather not say

My Facebook status with SHRM would have to be “It’s complicated”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love SHRM. I’ve been a volunteer for many years at the state and national level.  SHRM is the kind of organization that works like this:

“The more value you put into the organization, the more value you get out of the organization.”

The miracle is this, the more we share, the more we have. – Leonard Nimoy

So why is my relationship complicated?  Several reasons:

  1. My favorite SHRM event is the Legislative and Legal Conference they run every year.  It’s smaller and more intimate, and thusly more on point for me as an attendee.  The smaller size allows me to find topics that are more relevant to me, and to network more effectively with individuals who will matter to me throughout the year.
  2. There were nearly 20,000 people in New Orleans this year, including god only knows how many vendors.  I am a professional conference goer and I felt overwhelmed and exhausted by day 3, which for me was Monday because I was in town starting Saturday morning for SHRM volunteer meetings.  I came to New Orleans with some great intentions about meeting new practitioners and checking out new vendors, but the event was just so damned big that I called an audible and worked on building on networking relationships from past SHRM events or with people I had met at other conferences like #Workhuman.   My most memorable moment from New Orleans was hanging around the Kat Cole talk with Kelly Marinelli and Kate Bischhoff.

Once again, don’t get me wrong. I’m not faulting SHRM for this.  I get a ton of value from every SHRM event I attend, but I’m finding that at this stage of my career, I get more value from the smaller, more intimate events that SHRM runs.

I was also involved in a discussion thread on Facebook about this notion of smaller conferences becoming something of a growing trend for HR practitioners, and to vendors.  There’s a lot of competition in the space – like WorkHuman, HRTechWorld coming to the US, and HR Tech going to Europe, not to mention TRU, HRevolution, excellent state conferences like HR Florida or Illinois SHRM and a bunch of others including the boutique labor and employee relations conference that CUE (the organization I run) puts on 2x a year.

This is a little bit of a rambling post.   SHRM National conference is not going anywhere, and it’s an excellent event.  There is lots to learn and many benefits to attending, but it has some competition.  If you want to find the most value, check out some different events from time to time, although I can promise you will never find an HR conference that has more offerings on site based drink delivery systems for sale in the exposition hall than #SHRM17 including smoothie makers, Kuerig, juicers and even a Nespresso Cafe with lattes to go.

That’s all for this year!



Born on the Bayou – HR Social Media #shrm17

A big topic of discussion that ran through the week of #ASHRM17 was how the New Orleans SHRM 2009 event was in many ways the birth of the social media sphere that exists in SHRM today.  I was part of a terrific informal dinner that took place one night while I was at that conference that built relationships that still flourish today.

Lance Haun, Laurie Ruettimann, Kris Dunn and Jessica Lee (I think) gave the first official SHRM National panel for SHRM. It was moderated by China Gorman.  It was a big step for a conservative organization, and according to John Jorgenson many people now claim having been at the panel who were not there.  I was not one of them.  I had already departed New Orleans that morning.

How the times have changed.  Social media tools are now integrally woven throughout the SHRM event.  Twitter is a key metric for the organization.


Total Tweets: 46,255
Total Unique Tweets: 24,470
Total Retweets: 21,785
Total Unique Users: 7,032
Total Reach: 21,018,765

There were more than 40 bloggers tweeting and writing and facebooking.  It’s pretty incredible really.

Twitter and Facebook even provide a way to join the conference remotely via hashtags and the work of some dedicated people like Tamara Rasberry, Jessica Merrell-Miller, Dave Ryan, Andi Devers, Dave Ryan and many others.  Check out #NotAtSHRM.


But – there are still HR people who don’t know how to use social media, and don’t understand how it can augment their relationships during and after the event.

But- there are 20,000 people (give or take) at the event, and you can’t meet them all, even with social media.

But – there is nothing that can replace meeting people face to face.

You should plan on attending #SHRM18 in Chicago, and you should also begin to plan your social media connection strategy now.  It will give you a big head start for 2018. Here’s your SHRM JumpStart.  and don’t forget #NextChat run each week by Mary Kaylor. 


It’s Time To Make A Change #shrm17

It’s Sunday, June 25th.  Today is the day that I made the decision to switch from being an avid Uber user to a hopeful Lyft user.  

The reason I made this decision today comes from conversations I had with other HR pros while serving as a member of the social media team for #SHRM17 in Las Vegas last week.   One of the great things about being part of this team is that you get to interact for several days with HR people who come from all over the world and bring their different perspectives with them.   And given that most bloggers have opinions, these HR people are willing to share their opinions, whether they are introverts or not.

One of the strong discussions I was a part of was Uber and whether or not it made sense to stop using them due to the issues with their culture and the looming sexual harassment cases that have still not been resolved.

Full disclosure:  I used Uber the entire time I was in New Orleans.   I like Uber as a service.  They are much better than cabs in most cities.  The drivers almost always have interesting stories to tell while we travel.  It’s a big part of my travel experience.   And it looks in the media that the Board of Directors was taking steps to try and create the culture.  Heads have rolled, including the CEO and many others.   That’s a step in the right direction, right?

And there are lots of opinions out there:

  • Travis isn’t totally responsible.
  • Travis built the culture and he had to go:
    • Timeline of how the mighty are fallen:
      • Feb. 19: Susan Fowler’s blog post

      • Feb. 20: Uber taps Eric Holder

      • Feb. 28: A senior executive leaves

      • March 1: Travis’s on-cam meltdown

      • March 24: The escort-bar incident comes to light

      • June 6: Uber fires 20 employees

      • June 7: Uber fires an exec for his role in a rape investigation

      • June 12: Travis’s No. 2 leaves

      • June 13: Eric Holder’s report is out

      • June 14: Travis takes an indefinite leave of absence

      • June 20: Uber’s “180 days of change” (including tipping for drivers, agreed to with a drivers guild)

        • June 21: Travis steps down

      • June 25:  I become a Lyft client (too late)

        I made this change reluctantly after listening to a number of HR women discuss their reasons for not supporting a culture where such bad behavior is tolerated.  I was more of the mind that “they were making changes and deserved another chance”.   Listening to my professional colleagues changed my mind.

        I feel like I need a shower in that it took me so long to get here.

I’m not the only one wondering if the decision is correct.

Uber employees are revolting following the unceremonious resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick.

Staffers at the embattled ride-hailing company are circulating an anonymous petition intended to reinstate their boss.

 In emails obtained by BuzzFeed News, managers are sending the petition to employees urging them to “revolt this.”

Uber is not the only company we should consider looking away from as HR practitioners, perhaps.

I’m not usually one to call for a boycott, and frankly I’m skeptical of the effectiveness sometimes, but if this continues, then something needs to change.   I’d love to hear your thoughts on this incredibly stupid behavior and how to stop it.

3rd person present: boycotts
  1. 1.
    withdraw from commercial or social relations with (a country, organization, or person) as a punishment or protest.
    synonyms: spurn, snub, shun, avoid, abstain from, wash one’s hands of, turn one’s back on, reject, veto

    “they boycotted the elections”
plural noun: boycotts
  1. 1.
    a punitive ban that forbids relations with certain groups, cooperation with a policy, or the handling of goods.
    synonyms: ban, veto, embargo, prohibition, sanction, restriction; More

If Not You, Who? If Not Now, When? Kat Cole @ #SHRM17

I’m writing a series of three short blogs that touch on the key points that I encountered in New Orleans while attending the SHRM 2017 Conference and Exposition. 

I’m going to start with the Sunday keynote, Kat Cole.  I’m a fan boy of this amazing business leader who I’ve known for a few years and have seen her speak nine previous times.

Cole is the group president of FOCUS Brands, the franchisor and operator of Cinnabon, Carvel, Auntie Anne’s pretzels, Schlotzsky’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill and other restaurants.

She is also the resilient child of a not very happy home and childhood.

She has been on Undercover Boss, a show I used to hate but now kind of enjoy since they made it more about the learning of the participants and less about the reality driven “gotcha” narrative of the first season.

She is someone who visited the U.S. Chamber of Commerce a few years ago, and told the leadership they had some stuff to learn about getting millennial business leaders interested in their organization.

When I first saw Kat speak, she was a working in the restaurant business at Hooters, and was telling her story of having moved up through the ranks as a hard  worker who stayed close to process and people. She was also a college dropout who was asked by Hooters corporate at age 19 by corporate to travel to Australia and open the first Hooters store on that continent.  She didn’t even have a passport. She said yes, and now travels the globe for business, fun and social good.

Over the next few years, the business stories she told on stage as she matured in her work and in her life.  She took over Cinnabon and turned the brand around although not without some difficulty.

She traveled to Sudan with a group of mutual friends to learn more about how to help that country with infrastructure issues, and while there was responsible for being part of a group of people who literally saved a village citizen who had no access to clean water or healthcare by driving him to a larger city to gt the he needed.

She’s a heroic leader and a great example for other companies to aspire to as they hire new leaders.

Here are the notes that I took for myself during this – the 10th time I’ve heard her speak:

  • Always stay close to the employees who work for you, and understand the processes.  Chicken wings are cooked and ready to serve when they float in the fryer.
  • If you want to win the war on talent, look in unexpected places. As Kat opined: “I’m a college dropout, a former employee of Hooters and the child of a broken home. I’m probably not getting  past most of the HR screening systems at your company.
  • If you want to get bigger, sometimes you have to think smaller.   What she actuall said was that if you are trying to change your company or business or culture, you can’t look just the symptoms. Sometimes you to look at the underlying systems and make sure they are working.
  • The people who do the work always know the answers to questions that business managers are trying to find the answers to. They lack the language and skills to bring them forward in the organization.  Managers can achieve the greatest success by tapping into this resource and helping the workers bring the answers forward.
  • Failure can be your greatest friend.  In recounting a moment as a new CEO faced with a huge mistake and the loss of trust of her boss, Kat asked for 24 hours to find what happened and how to fix it.  Given time, she was still paralyzed until she thought about and answered this question first posed by Rabbi Hillel the Elder:

Ultimately, she realized, “You, that’s who.  You’re the freaking President.” and took difficult actions to fix the problem and regain the trust of her colleagues.

Kole enjoys great career success just having been named the new COO and President, North America at FOCUS Brands, an awesome personal life, including a new husband who she married at Burning Man, a child on the way and much more.  What makes all this possible?  She stays true to her roots, listening daily to a message from her mother:  “Don’t forget where you came from but don’t you dare let it solely define you.”

Keep up the good work, @KatColeATL.  I can’t wait until I get to hear the next evolution of the story




Culture Is a Four-Letter Word

Culture Is a Four-Letter Word

Welcome to a guest post from Steven Blue in which he discusses some of the issues facing companies in the gig economy like Uber.

By Steven L. Blue

When I started to write this article I originally titled it “Culture Is Not a Four Letter Word.” It was intended to address the CEO’s who think culture is a squishy, beer for lunch, feel good concept that doesn’t deserve a place at the grown-ups table. I wanted to demonstrate how wrong-thinking that can be and make the case for the power of culture and why it should be at the top of every CEO’s list.

I was prepared to make a compelling case to convince CEO’s that culture is every bit as important as strategic planning. I was ready to cite all kinds of studies and dazzling statistics that prove that positive cultures create positive financial performance.

But now I know I don’t have to thanks to a four-letter word: Uber. Uber’s toxic culture is front and center this week in the news.

According to recent reports, Uber has engaged in everything from sexual harassment to stealing driverless technology from Google. Even some of its own investors claim the company fosters a toxic culture.

There is that four-letter word again. You know, the beer for lunch, don’t bother with culture mind-set. Culture can be a four-letter word if it is ignored. Culture can be a four-letter word if is toxic. And toxic cultures kill more businesses than recessions. And it is liable to kill Uber too.

So what went wrong with Uber? How can a company that claims its values are “making communities safer” and “standing up for its driver community” go so horribly wrong? That is because those are only what I call “bumper sticker” values. Values that look good in an annual report but have no real meaning inside the company. Wells Fargo is a perfect example of this. Two of Wells Fargo’s key values are “ethics” and “what’s right for customers”. And yet they defrauded their customers by creating over 2 million ghost accounts.

There is often a difference between bumper sticker slogans and the real values that lie beneath. Value statements are always warm and fuzzy. But a company’s real values are manifested by how they act, not how they claim they act. And at the end of the day, the culture is nothing more than a collection of values. And values dictate how employees will behave. Such was the case with Wells Fargo. Such is the case with Uber.

If you’re a CEO, don’t wait until an Uber-like disaster strikes before you do a values check-up. But don’t have the human resource people ask employees what the company values are. Don’t declare what you think the values are and expect people to behave accordingly. That never works. Here is what you should and shouldn’t do:

  • Do not make this an exercise for the human resource department. If it is to be taken seriously, it has to come right from the top. People need to know that values matter.
  • Have an outside professional survey company conduct an anonymous survey and ask every single employee in complete confidence what they think the company values are. You may be astounded by the results.
  • If the underlying values are not the same as the bumper sticker, find out why. What is driving the difference? Chances are you’ll find operating managers are the root cause. Or you might be the root cause. As an example, many operating managers don’t give a hoot about anything other than results. Of course results matter. No company can prosper without positive results.  But results without appropriate values are often temporary, or in the case of Wells, only illusory.
  • Reality check time. Does your company have the “right” values? By that I mean values that serve your employees, customers, community, and shareholders equally. Values that form what I call a “culture by design, not default”. If not, it’s time to change them
  • Let’s assume you have the “right” values (you may, but I doubt it). Start at the top and go layer by layer. Those that don’t believe in, won’t abide by, or demonstrate the values have to go. This sounds simple, but it is not easy. But it is essential. If your top managers ignore the values everyone else will. This is a multi-year process that you must undertake carefully and delicately, otherwise the business will crash and burn. Take it one step at a time, one manager at a time. Once you start replacing managers for values reasons, the whole organization will begin to behave differently. People will applaud you for doing so.
  • Don’t let anybody in the front door that doesn’t fit in with your values. Interview potential new employees with values in mind. Don’t just state the values and ask if they agree. Of course they will agree, they want the job. Ask them what their values are. Ask them what values they would admire in a company. If their values don’t match with company values, don’t hire them. No matter how good they are. Otherwise, they will be like an infectious disease on the organization.

Bottom line, make values a key part of performance evaluation. Don’t make this a check off the box exercise. Make values the standard for promotions and compensation increases. And make values a key determinate in terminations. By instilling the right set of values, you’ll save your company from becoming a four-letter word too.

Steven L. Blue is the President & CEO of Miller Ingenuity, an innovative company revolutionizing traditional safety solutions for railway workers, and author of the new book, American Manufacturing 2.0: What Went Wrong and How to Make It Right. For more information, please visit, and connect with Blue on Twitter, @SteveBlueCEO.

You’ll Know About it When I Think You Need to Know About It

But how will you know?

No one is that smart.  No one is smart enough to ask all the questions, and no leader is smart enough to know when to give the information you might need to run your business effectively.   I’m on a slightly tangential rant with this post today.

The blog is old slow. I am creaky and cranky. Let’s shake off some rust, shall we?

My god, this blog site is old and slow and make me cringe as I wait for it to get limbered up to post something for the first time in a while.

I read this article from Chris Dessi on Inc. this morning entitled  “7 Things You Say That Make You Sound Old at Work”  and it included a list of things that might help you relate better with the young people in your organization if you didn’t say them.

Here’s is the list from Dessi.  You can go read the full article for the back story on each one, most of which make sense.

1. Please put your phone away.

2. No, you can’t work from home.

3. You’ve got mail!

4. Don’t forget the four P‘s!

5. There’s nothing like an in-person meeting.

6. You’ll get your information on a need-to-know basis.

7. She’s a social media guru.

This list got me thinking about things I had said when I was younger, and how I have actually grown past some of those naive statements.  You’ll recognize them.  They sound like this:

  1. Cell Phones?  That thing is gigantic. Why would you ever want to carry something like that around on your belt?  People could get in touch with any time.  I’d never do that!  (MVD circa 1996)
  1.  This one gets credited anonymously to one of my former supervisors circa 2003, and covers working at home and the need for face to face meetings.

Her: “I don’t care if you have worked from home successfully from home for the past five years.  “We”  (read I, your new boss) believe your customers deserve personal access to you.

Me   only 6% of the clients I serve in my region work at that building.

Her:  “We”  (read I, your new boss) still believe your customers deserve personal access to you.  Oh and by the way, you are going to have to cut back on travel also.

Me:  You mean cut back on personal visits to the other 94% of my customer base?  Don’t they deserve to me in person like the customers in Indianapolis?

Her:  Michael, stop being difficult.

  1. Again with the old boss,

Her: “You’ll get the information you need to know when you need to know it.”

Me  “How will I know if I need to know it if you won’t tell me about it?”

Her: “I’ll know it when the time comes.”

Me:  “but how does that work, like the supreme court decision on porn?”

Her:  “Michael, stop being difficult.”

And so it goes…