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.

I Am Part of the Problem

This was shared with me recently. Given …life, I thought it was worth sharing with others in the HR community, especially as we head into the week of #SHRM16. – Michael

Several events in the past couple of weeks have led me to turn inward. I’m debating job change with the sub-debate of whether I want to return to HR and Employee Relations. There are things I am very good at within that sphere. I enjoy being a part of creating solutions to damaged work environments and relationships. Two things this week have led me to second-guess my role in the passive advancement of misogyny in the workplace.

A little over a week ago, the victim of a terrifying rape released her victim’s statement to the predator who raped her unconscious body but got a scarily lenient sentence. Shortly thereafter, a terrorist attacked The Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, killing dozens of innocent men and women. While the two are not at all similar, the combination of events made me question the role I have played in investigation and analysis of harassment and unwelcome behavior of any kind in the workplace.

I work in an environment that is primarily male, primarily Christian, and primarily conservative. I have turned away or kept my thoughts to myself when jokes about the LGBT community are voiced, I have held my tongue when their rights are questioned. I have committed the crime of inaction and not speaking when I felt it would be damaging for my esteem or when I was unsure of if my speaking out would be supported. I’ve heard our CEO talk about the micro-aggressions women and minorities in the workplace hear day in and day out – and believe me, I have kept micro- and macro- aggressions based on my gender to myself more than I’d like to admit – but I don’t think he really knows what that feels like or what falls outside his filter. The crime here is passive, one of ignorance and carelessness. We continue to ostracize the LGBT community and all of its members by not being openly welcoming; by not broadcasting an open and protected environment, by not addressing their safety and protection when in the public, and by not recruiting within the community. Of course, our workplace probably isn’t the most open or protective, — and because our state is not protective, there is no financial incentive for us to change. But my voice does not have be silent.

I have also misapplied my voice in another area, and this is one that I see common across HR and legal departments. I cannot tell you the defensive, adrenaline-based glee an HR or legal department will take when a woman files a complaint (either within the “system” or within company-reporting mechanisms) of sex harassment. I cannot tell you the number of mindless emails I have read between said complainant and everyone else in the world to find a reason her complaint would not be valid. Of course, protecting the company is paramount, but what if we’re protecting the wrong thing? What if all of those stacks of performance reviews that show less than rock star performance or the flirtatious emails with another coworker mean absolutely nothing? What if by investigating that way, we create an environment when victims don’t come forward because they don’t want their lives examined piece by piece? Are we really victim blaming when an employee complains? I like to think of several investigations I have done where this was not the case, — where I looked at the situation in isolation and showed the appropriate compassion for the complainant. But, I know I have also fallen prey to the Eureka! moment when I find something unsavory to use against a plaintiff prior to the Company’s response or a deposition.

It hit me like a ton of bricks when I thought of it that way. Men that know this is the approach a company takes feel free to treat women as sexual objects in the workplace, they feel freer to make sexist comments, they feel okay to show the power they have over women. They know the burden of proof is on the complainant, and that everyone knows she doesn’t have a squeaky clean slate (because who does, right?). And so many women will not share what it is really like day to day. I have tried to capture for myself what it is really like to be a woman in the workplace, — but can’t believe the words I’ve written myself. Why is the bright-line test creating doubt about the employee’s record or behavior instead of finding irrefutable proof from the accused? This is a watered-down version of what defense attorneys do with rape survivors, re-victimizing them in public and on-record. I wholeheartedly believe the accused are innocent until proven guilty, — but defendants in public trial have to at least show their whereabouts and records along with the record and whereabouts of the plaintiffs. Why don’t we look at it the same way? Is it because our competitive nature kicks in when a claim is filed, getting our adrenaline running to play defense? Is it because we never liked her anyway? Is it because we’ve put up with a lot worse and never complained? Is it because we second-guess our own worth in the workplace?

I don’t have answers. I do have resolve – to give a voice to those not at the table (or those at the table but afraid), to give compassion to complaints because I know how hard it is to report, and to resist the urge to get amped up for the hunt if one falls onto my desk. Today, I am sad. For the families and community with hurt rippling from a popular club in Orlando. For a hurting rape victim working to rebuild her life with the knowledge that her strong stance has helped so many others. For women worried about reporting inappropriate sexualization of the workplace because they really just need their job. For any part I may have had in allowing these broken parts of our society to find a home in our workplace.

Seasons of Change

It’s the Season of Change on #CarnivalofHR

The heat of summer has passed.  The crisp air of Autumn is starting to blow. The leaves are starting to change color, and for a brief shining moment, all of nature shines with an astonishing blaze of glorious color. Take a moment and enjoy the view down the road, then enjoy the wisdom of this month’s HR bloggers who shares their thoughts on change during this season of change. It’s the Carnival of HR.


First up is Robin Schooling from the HR Schoolhouse with her take on Your Culture’s Counterculture, and how it might cause some changes in your organization.

There is some fantastic scenery to be found by Climbing the Leadership Mountain from Jeff Harmon of Brilliance Within Coaching and Consulting.
Tim Gardmer of the HR Introvert blog isn’t shy about shy about asking Change – Do You Let It Be or Male It Happen?

Anita Lettink from Visions of HR give us some original content written especially for the Carnival with her post Change on a Page.

Linda Fisher Thornton from Leading in Context shares her thoughts on the new normal with a great piece on ethics entitled Full Accountability for Ethics: The New Normal.

Stuart Rudner drops in from north of the border to share some wisdom some wisdom on legal changes related to employment from the Canadian HR Law Blog.

Ian Welsh of Civilization Simply Said tells us How to be a Champion of Change.

John Hunter is a Curious Cat who tells us how to Take Advantage of the Strengths Each Person Brings to Work.

Dorothy Dalton shares some tips on time management.

 The whiz kid of HR, Ben Eubanks doubles down on change with two posts, Dealing with change inside a new business and some insights from #TNSHRM that focus why HR  must face the changes social media is forcing in the workplace head-on instead of hiding from it.

Erika Napoletano  is one of my favorite bloggers.  She didn’t ask me to include this very long, very potty-mouthed, very personal piece on change, but I read it yesterday and loved it.  Maybe you will too.  Check out Why Dreams aren’t Bullshit.

 Happy Fall.



Fountains of info flowing at #SHRM14

Lots of advice for HR in today’s sessions.  Here are two short lists from those speakers I listened to, my friend Steve Browne and keynoter Tom Friedman.

Steve Browne’s Rules for HR

This isn’t the stuff he said in his SHRM talk. It’s how I heard it.

  1. Tear down the silos

  2. Say hello to everyone and then get to know them.

  3. Go where the people are.

  4.  If you don’t love HR, let it go

  5. Be passionate

Career advice from NYT columnis and author Tom Friedman on how to find a job into the new “hyper-connected” economy.

  1.  Think like a new immigrant

  2. Think like an artisan

  3. Always be in beta

  4.  PQ + CQ > IQ

  5.  Always think like a waitress (or a server)


HR Grumpy Cat

What kind of HR stories do you pay attention to?

The title of the blog is a lot more cute than the topic.

Do you read all the uplifting Zappo’s culture stuff or do you read the stories that reveal where deep seated employee issues exist?

All of us should be paying attention to both sides. I probably focus too much on the negative side, but someone has to every now and then.

For example, consider these articles from various points around the globe that are critical of Amazon’s employment practices:

Another hot topic receiving a lot of discussion is the difficult issue of hourly workers earning a living in larger urban areas.

You can click through the links for greater detail, but even by scanning the headlines, it’s pretty obvious that there are some serious labor issues facing employers today. This raises a serious question, a question with no simple answer:

What will HR do to deal with these issues?

From this point on, the rest of this point is kind of a rant. Leaders all over our country have it wrong right now. Politicians are fighting over a BS agenda that is doing nothing to resolve real world problems. We are polarized along economic lines, and elected government officials are far more worried about what we are doing in our bedrooms than they are about whats happening in our economy. Hell, even SHRM and HRCI are fighting over competencies and revenue.

Look at the issues underlying the headline links I published above. HR professionals need to think about how our companies are going to address those issues. Sh*t is broken for many people, and we don’t have answers. Government isn’t going to provide the solutions. At many companies, hourly employees are crying out for solutions. If there was ever a moment for HR to step up and shine, this is it.

Who advocates for your employees? If it’s not you, who will it be?






How to help your CEO stop hating HR and learn to love you

HR is a bi-polar function

Over the last few years, HR has divided itself into two distinct functional areas – the boring administrative stuff and the fun stuff where you actually deal with people.

Coupled with a highly competitive business climate, this split is creating two fundamentally different approaches to the work being done in HR.

The legal/admin approach is often reactive in their approach, and prone to clamping down on creative approaches or throwing up firewalls around the company to reduce risk. Those who practice a more proactive HR style strive to find new innovative ways to do things, but often with limited budget and resources.

This creates competition for limited resources, and establishes a conflicted dynamic inside the very organization that should provide  the best guidance and leadership during such times. Conflict tends to create factions, and getting information and support from a divided organization isn’t an ideal situation for client groups seeking help. This frustrates clients and increases the “disrespect” factor often mentioned by HR peeps

HR as a Negative Force

The legal/administrative/regulatory area manages benefits and pay, deals with government agencies, and responds to the various enforcement agencies that may impact the company negatively. This is important work, but it’s mostly reactive and forces HR people doing the work to act as a kind of negative change agent inside their own organization.

It’s often this point where HR becomes hated and reviled by our own colleagues. None of us like this situation, including those of us in the HR department, but the work still needs to get done once it’s started.

So how does HR fix this, and stay a force for positive change in the organization.

HR as a Positive Force

HR brings value to organizations every day, and the greatest value is found in those areas where we directly connect with people in the real world. Functions like recruiting, labor and employee relations, and training and development where we work to lift people up, or resolve problems preventing them from doing their work most effectively.

By focusing on these proactive efforts, HR can make great contributions to an organization. Good proactive work is also the best avoidance strategy for staying out of the negative HR traps discussed above.

HR leaders should focus on leading proactive HR efforts in their organizations.

Here’s a few tips on where to start:

  1. Get clear on the mission
  2. Build alliance within the function, not a silo
  3. Stay informed on what is going on in the business, internal and external
  4. Put people first
  5. Find solutions
  6. Find resources or creative ways to deliver programs to clients
  7. Find ways to WOW them. Challenge your brain and innovate.
  8. practice #GreatHR every day!

Ultimate Software Celebrates Landmark Event

Join me at Ultimate Software’s 100th HR Workshop in Miami, FL

Ultimate Software (Nasdaq: ULTI), a leading cloud provider of people management solutions, announced today that its 100th HR Workshop will be held on Thursday, April 24 at The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. Ultimate Software started its HR Workshop program in 2008 as a strategic, collaborative way to bring together leaders in human resources, talent management, recruitment, compliance, training, and retention for a range of interactive sessions.

Since its inception, Ultimate’s HR Workshop program has assembled approximately 8,000 professionals from more than 11,500 companies in HR, payroll, finance, and IT throughout the U.S. and Canada. These peers interact in an intimate setting, identify both short- and long-term business drivers, share proven ideas, discuss and evaluate industry trends, and exchange innovative methodologies with one another.

In addition to its HR Workshops, Ultimate also supports HR, payroll, and IT professionals through its HCM Online Academy–a free, online resource that provides options for distance learning. To date, more than 3,600 HR/payroll professionals have registered for Ultimate’s Online Academy where they have quick access to videos, white papers, third-party studies, and more.

At its 100th HR Workshop in Miami, Ultimate will host high-level HR executives from well-known companies, industry analysts, and two employment attorneys from a prestigious law firm. The discussions will cover how to:

   -- help organizations reach new heights through HR transformation 
   -- recognize the changes in human capital management and understand where 
      it's headed 
   -- understand the drivers of the global competition for critical talent 
   -- avoid key labor and employment law risks during acquisitions 
   -- steer clear of social media missteps, and more

Agenda for Miami/Coral Gables HR Workshop

   -- 8:15 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.: Registration and Continental Breakfast 
   -- 9:00 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.: Welcome and Introductions 
   -- 9:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.: Helping Your Organization Reach New Heights 
      through HR Transformation 
   -- 10:15 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.: Panel Discussion: How Has Human Capital 
      Management Changed and Where Is It Headed? 
   -- 11:15 a.m. to Noon: Ultimate Showcase and Refreshment Break 
   -- Noon to 1:00 p.m.: Lunch and Networking Opportunities 
   -- 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.: Best Practices in Talent Management Strategy from 
      an HR Expert 
   -- 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.: Key Labor and Employment Law Land Mines to Avoid 
      During Acquisitions 
   -- 3:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.: Ultimate Showcase and Refreshment Break 
   -- 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.: Social Media Leaders Tell All about Avoiding 
      Social Media Missteps

Speakers at the Miami HR Workshop are:

   -- Mark Simpson, Texas Roadhouse, Vice President of Legendary People 
   -- Patrick Sterling, Texas Roadhouse, Senior Director, Risk and People 
   -- Nikki Jackson, Nikki Jackson Consulting, Principal Owner 
   -- Dorothy Knapp, Society for Human Resource Management, Field Services 
      Director in the Southeast Region 
   -- Sharlyn Lauby, ITM Group, President 
   -- John Nykolaiszyn, Florida International University, Associate Director 
   -- Michael VanDervort, The Human Race Horses, Author and Blogger 
   -- Dan C. Dargene, Ogletree Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., 
   -- David M. DeMaio, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., 

To see the full agenda, register for the event, or view dates for upcoming workshops, visit

The Miami HR Workshop has been approved for 5.0 recertification credits (1.0 of which is a business/strategic credit) from the HR Certification Institute, 5.0 credits from the National Registry of CPE Sponsors in the Personnel/HR or Business Law fields of study, and 5.0 rchs from the APA.

About Ultimate Software

Ultimate Software is a leading cloud provider of people management solutions, with more than 15 million people records in the cloud. Built on the belief that people are the most important ingredient of any business, Ultimate’s award-winning UltiPro delivers HR, payroll, talent, compensation, and time and labor management solutions that seamlessly connect people with the information and resources they need to work more effectively. Founded in 1990, the company is headquartered in Weston, Florida, and has more than 1,900 professionals focused on developing the highest quality solutions and services. In 2014, Ultimate was ranked #20 on FORTUNE’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For; recognized as a ‘Leader’ in Nucleus Research’s HCM Technology Value Matrix; and awarded the highest rating by Constellation Research in its Cloud Buyer’s Bill of Rights Certification. Ultimate has 2,700 customers with employees in 150 countries, including Adobe Systems Incorporated, Bloomin’ Brands, Culligan International, Major League Baseball, Pep Boys, Texas Rangers Baseball, and Texas Roadhouse. More information on Ultimate’s products and services for people management can be found at

UltiPro is a registered trademark of The Ultimate Software Group, Inc. vRide is a registered trademark of vRide, Inc. All other trademarks referenced are the property of their respective owners.

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    CONTACT: Ultimate Software, Weston

Public Relations Contact: Darlene Marcroft, 954-331-7444


For Sales Information:

Ultimate Software, 800-432-1729


    SOURCE: Ultimate Software 
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