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.

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.

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




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…