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I have a working theory that 92% of an HR leader’s job is managing expectations.

People bring their issues to work. Whether it’s a stage-of-life problem or a money problem, nobody ever shows up to a job without their personality quirks. When those irregular characteristics manifest themselves in the form of conflict, HR is often asked to swoop in and provide counseling and comfort to workers who are disappointed in themselves and the world around them.

HR knows the truth. Nobody gets rich or solves emotional problems from working. You get rich from three paths in life: inherited wealth, privileged access to leadership roles, and entrepreneurialism. And you solve your emotional problems on your own time.

So when a baby boomer is stressed because his retirement goals aren’t met — or when a millennial is sweating her student loan payments — those concerns become fully realized in the workplace. And they become 92% of HR’s concerns.

One way HR can make a difference (and lighten its workload) is through radical transparency during the hiring process.

* It is okay to tell people that there is limited career mobility in a job.
* Be ethical and tell candidates that you hire at the 25% percentile and most people never earn more than 50% of the overall salary band.
* Try to own your behaviors and tell people that you reward discretionary effort through hugs, not cash or promotions.

If you manage expectations better, you manage your day better. HR could live in a world with fewer disasters, meltdowns, and emotional casualties. Managing expectations will lead to stronger hiring practices, improved engagement rates, and better retention.

And if we manage our expectations about work, maybe we can burn out a little less, too.

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billy bush lochte

I know everybody in America is mad at Ryan Lochte. Rightly so. He’s a fool and solely responsible for the lies that spewed from his lips.

But I’m also annoyed by NBC’s coverage of the Rio Olympics.

You know the lines between journalism and entertainment are blurred when Billy Bush — a cousin to George W. Bush and a journalist one step above Mario Lopez — is, mouth agape, interviewing a visibly drunk Olympic athlete on live television and not probing on critical issues related to the story.

Like:

You know, Ryan Lochte, I hear you. You’ve been victimized. But it seems like you’re pretty hammered, right now. You sure you got this right?

Wait, a gun was pointed at your forehead? Can you tell me this story again from the beginning? What happened?

Hold on. Maybe we should turn the cameras off and get you some water. Clearly, you’re in no shape to be on TV, right now. You smell like urine and an alleyway. Also, this story makes no fudging sense. Can we get an intern on this?

But to expect Bill Bush to do journalism is to expect NBC to have standards on what they air on The Today Show, which we know is a joke.

We live in a weird era of broadcast news where an event happens, and television executives use their editorial discretion to let “newsworthy” people tell their stories without any fact-checking or corroboration. The cycle goes like this:

Publish. Review. Edit. Redact.

That’s a flow formerly reserved for bloggers, but which now applies to major newspapers and media outlets. It’s old news to report that being the first to break a false story is better than being the last to report a fair and accurate account of boring events; however, newsrooms are now allegedly run like corporations. NBC didn’t have to give Lochte a platform for his story. That was a judgment call, which is why I think Bill Bush and his cadre of producers bear some responsibility for opening the door to this mess.

And what’s worse is the sanctimonious way in which Matt Lauer and Al Roker have worked overtime to shame Lochte. I didn’t see one substantive report from NBC during the Olympics on how the Rio where the government continues to be in shambles, women and tourists are not always safe, and the beaches continue to be polluted with toxic viruses and waste. But Lochte? Oh my god, this is breaking news.

When NBC stops chasing ratings and starts chasing the truth between 7-9 AM ET, I’ll listen to Lauer and Roker wax poetic about the privilege and trustworthiness baked into our society. Until then, someone ought to put that whole Rio reporting team on a 90-day performance improvement plan.

So for all of you future journalists and storytellers out there, I’m appealing to the better angels of your nature. Just because you have a microphone or a camera doesn’t mean you have to use it when a random story drops in your lap like a gift from God. Just because someone famous says something doesn’t mean you need to cover it. And when a random story comes out of nowhere, you have permission to use your education and senses to seek out the truth.

You have a college degree and tens of thousands of dollars in debt. You might as well use your skills. As Trump says — what the hell do you have to lose?

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I broke up with my Pilates teacher.

Of course, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to normal people. But I’m not normal. My instructor is one of my dearest friends. I have known her since 2010. I’ve seen her at least three times a week for the past five years. And I let her touch my feet, which is a big deal.

We had to break up because our schedules weren’t aligning. I tried to make it work, but ultimately, my Pilates practice started to suffer because of my inflexible calendar.

So I said goodbye to my teacher in an email that made me cry. I love her. I’m committed to her. But it’s just not working for me.

Since this is a business arrangement, my instructor was totally professional. She is a champ and wants to recommend teachers and studios. There’s a grieving process for me, though. I’m not looking to be “set up” with someone new. I want to surf anonymously through studios and classes to see if a new teacher sticks.

I’m about to start dating with no commitment. Crazy.

My instructor and I will remain great friends, and I’m excited to move to the next phase of our relationship. We’ve traveled together. We have shared a bed together while on the road. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

And the whole experience reminds me that you can love someone, commit to somebody, but also respectfully change the terms and conditions of a relationship if it no longer works for you. Whether it’s a service provider or an employer, you are only constrained by your inhibitions and fear of change.

So if something isn’t working, this is a gentle reminder that there’s always another path. You just need to be brave enough to admit it’s time to change and move forward.

I promise that you will still be loved no matter how hard it feels to pivot. And, most importantly, the world won’t come to an end.

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There is a weird phenomenon happening in human resources departments around the globe. Far too many people in HR are suffering from learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness is a psychological condition that commonly describes victims of abuse and neglect. Those poor souls give up on themselves. They see themselves as perpetual victims — even when they’re not. Learned helplessness makes you feel like you have no control, so you give up trying. In many ways, it’s an extreme version of self-handicapping that stems from severe psychological trauma.

Can HR professionals be victims and suffer from learned helplessness? I think so.

Smart people like Dan Pink and Jim Collins have written about the need for individual autonomy and a sense of purpose at work. What happens when workers, particularly in HR and staffing, have been summarily dismissed and verbally attacked for the past 30 years?

Well, I think you see people who know they can’t make decisions and work toward important goals. They stop trying too hard. And if everybody from your CHRO to your CEO wants to make HR great again, it’s easy to see why people start to think, “Am I not great? What’s wrong with me? Why do I suck so much?”

Not to steal a line from Michelle Obama, don’t let anybody tell you that you need to make HR great again. You’re already great. A lot of the nasty language used around HR and recruiting is sexist, biased and lazy.

But most line-level HR professionals harbor serious doubts about their abilities. When I travel around the world, I’m challenged to answer these questions:

“How can I be brave and bold when all of my ideas are ignored?”
“How can I stand up to ethical violations when it’s clear that I have no power?”
“Why is it that it’s okay for other departments to give feedback to HR, but I’m not allowed to give feedback to other underperforming executives and employees?”
“How is it that people who don’t do HR can come into my organization and tell me what I’m doing wrong?”
“Why do I never see my CHRO? Why doesn’t she sit with us?”
“When is it okay for HR to take a stand?”
“Why are people the most important part of an organization but HR can’t get the proper budget to help the company achieve its work-related goals?”

I stand on stage and remind people that (sometimes) a job is just a job. It’s not the sum of what makes you great. Yes, you can try to work collaboratively. You can be smart about what battles you pick. But if you keep hitting a brick wall, maybe it’s time to quit.

Quitting isn’t a failure. Living in perpetual victimhood is a failed state.

Learned helplessness impacts people, families, and even communities. I also believe it can affect organizations. When someone feels as if they have no voice and cannot affect change — and they perceive themselves as a victim of unfair or unfortunate circumstances that are beyond their control — learned helplessness effects the financial and mental health of your company.

So if you feel helpless and stuck, know that you’re alone. But also know that it’s on you to get yourself unstuck. Take courses in persuasive communications. Learn a new skill that makes you more effective in your current role. Or find a new job.

Change your thinking, change your life. What makes you feel like a victim in HR might be true, but it also might be in your mind. If you’re looking for a sign to help you feel less powerless, this is it. Take control. Take a new path. Take a break. Just stop coming to HR conferences looking for an external solution. Nobody can save you from a bad job in HR except yourself.

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Let me make a quick recommendation: if you’re running a marathon, try not to travel.

If you’re going to travel, try to stay healthy.

And if you can’t stay healthy, don’t catch a cold with a thick cough.

But if you have a cold and cough, try not to catch it while you’re also recovering from jet lag.

So that’s a lot. Let’s say you fail at all of that. Try not to feel sorry for yourself and wonder why you’re such a failure, and nobody loves you in life.

Yeah. That was my week, last week. Of course, I’m not a failure. My body was knackered by the extremes in time zones and food. And the cold and cough just pushed me over the edge. I had to cancel two days of meetings, which is unheard of in my line of work. I just didn’t have the energy to sit on the phone and pay attention to someone else’s line of thought.

I could barely pay attention to my cats.

I tried to stick to some semblance of an exercise schedule because nothing makes me feel better than whining through a workout but completing it. I managed some short runs while in India and then again over the weekend, but nothing pretty.

Thankfully, this upcoming week offers all kinds of opportunities to reboot and feel better. And if the weather holds up in North Carolina, I’ll be able to run at the beach.

I’m looking forward to getting back on track. But if I ever run another marathon, I’m clearing my calendar and not traveling for twelve weeks. Going around the world is a privilege, but it’s also a major inconvenience. You relinquish control of your schedule. People demand a “performance of a lifetime” when they pay for your time. And it’s tough to stay hydrated, sleep properly and eat while also working long hours and remaining mentally sharp.

Lesson learned.

Too bad I’m on the docket in six cities over the next ten weeks.

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I went to India, and all I got you is this lousy blog post.

(Sorry. It’s not like I could pack souvenirs in my carry-on for all of you.)

I won’t bore you with the details of my trip, but I will tell you that flying to India from North Carolina is no joke. If you go to India, you go hard. That’s why I tried to do 100 things in the two days I had as a tourist.

First of all, I spoke at a conference. I participated in roundtables, walked the expo floor, spoke on a panel, and delivered a keynote speech on failure. I did this with no sleep, no sleeping pills to aid my sleep, and no goal other than to meet people and have a few good conversations.

The conference was great, but the man who introduced me tried to make a joke. Here it is, to the best of my memory.

“Our next speaker is about to talk about failure. By the way, have you heard the one about an Indian hotel manager who hires an illiterate villager to clean the elevators? The villager goes missing for four days. When he comes back, the hotel manager is stunned. He said, ‘I thought you quit.’ The villager responds, ‘No, I’ve been cleaning the elevator this whole time. Did you know the hotel has twenty floors, and there are two doors on each floor?”

There was silence.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Laurie Ruettimann.”

I dare you to step on stage and deliver an inspiring keynote after that.

Then I went to New Delhi and stayed at a nice hotel with a pillow menu. I don’t mess around. I tried every damn pillow because it’s criminal to pass that up.

Then I went to Agra, which is about three hours away from New Delhi, and saw the Taj Mahal with a driver named Sanjay Gupta. We also saw monkeys, feral pigs, oxen, water buffalo, beggars, a marble factory, and men defecating on the streets. It was a full day.

On my final day in Delhi, I visited all seven boroughs of the city. Highlights include a rickshaw ride, a visit to a famous Hindu temple, monkeys swinging on jury-rigged power lines, and not getting killed by motorbikes as I crossed the street in the heart of Old Delhi.

(You think you know traffic and congestion and pollution because you live in a big American city? You really don’t know shit until you see a woman riding side-saddle on the back of a motorbike going 55 mph with a toddler pressed between her and the driver. No helmets.)

Anyway, I had a wonderful trip. The people of India are very generous. But no matter where you live, there’s no place like home.

India 2016

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Have you heard the phrase ‘trigger warning’?

Per the internet, it’s a statement at the beginning of a piece of writing, video, etc., alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material. The warning is meant to help people — such as those with post-traumatic stress disorder — make a choice about what they’re about to witness.

I feel like the documentary Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru should come with a trigger warning.

If you don’t know anything about Tony Robbins, he’s a self-help guru who encourages people to achieve breakthroughs — whatever the heck that means. His movie highlights a week-long personal improvement seminar where severely broken people try to change their lives.

And it was tough to watch.

Right from the beginning, we learn that Robbins charges $5,000 per person for this event. There were 2500 attendees, and many told harrowing personal stories of physical abuse, sexual assault and even living in a cult.

I was overcome by the sheer sadness of the documentary. Honestly, it knocked me back on my ass. I saw how people would give anything to unburden themselves from the pain of humanity, and all I kept thinking is that the biggest breakthroughs in life don’t come from seminars and programs. They come from deep, quiet, private, thoughtful work that takes more than six days.

Not that a weeklong Tony Robbins course isn’t helpful. Sorta. Maybe. 

From mindfulness to purpose, he’s offering a crash course in resiliency and project management. I can see why business leaders and celebrities love him. And if you’re a smart person with the means to attend one of these courses, you’ll probably come away with tools and tips to begin a journey.

But, oh man, it’s a journey.

And when Tony Robbins tells his audience that he knows human behavior and pain — and we fucking know that he fucking knows it, according to his own language — I want to counter by asking, “So what?”

Because knowing something on an intellectual level is different than understanding it at a profound level and being able to affect change.

And, just like Tony Robbins, I know people. I fucking know people. While a roadmap and a six-day seminar can be helpful in breaking through some pain and achieving an increase in your life on an incremental level, his approach feels reckless and uninformed. 

I truly worry about some of the attendees who are shown in film. I worry about those who show up at one of his seminars feeling suicidal or trying to overcome the psychological impact of sexual and physical abuse. A week-long workshop with Tony could be helpful, but it looks pretty dangerous. 

When someone slaps a “buyer beware” sign on his product and tells you that he’s not your guru, you should believe him. Whatever you’re looking for, keep looking.

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Emma-1

My sweet kitty, Emma, is allergic to the world.

This poor boo has been on shots and meds over the past few years to decrease her sensitivity to pollen. Emma’s personality is sweet, though, and she doesn’t give us a hard time about taking medicine.

(Well, it’s no more complicated than any other cat. We wrap the tablets in a pill pocket and shove them down her mouth.)

Emma detects patterns and avoids us at certain times of the day, which is surprising because we never thought she was all that sharp. I prefer to dispense her medicine at night, so she started hiding after 9 PM.

I’ve had to become stealthy, for sure. I’m now focused on continuous improvement so that the whole process can happen at any time of the day and well before Emma knows what the hell is going on.

I’ve also been trying to bring some of that continuous improvement into my life. When activities become a drag, or when events become obligations, it’s good to shake things up. Change my routine. Stop old behaviors and start new habits.

In July, I tried to give up bread and pasta. That lasted until I went to London and ate my way through every restaurant by starting with a bread course. But it was good to be mindful and pay attention to my default behaviors (“get that bread in my tummy!”) and to try to behave in different ways.

So this month I’m not giving up anything. I’m going to shake things up, for sure, but I’m giving up “giving up something” for 31 days. Whatever happens, whenever it happens, will be okay.

And I’ll continue my shock-and-awe medicine strategy with Miss Emma. Pills at night? Meds during the day? Skip a day? It’s going to be just fine. I’m giving up the quest for perfection. I’m happy to give her medicine when she just lets me. 

Look at that face. I need less stress and rigor — and more chill Emma — in my life!

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ruettimann commencement

Last month, I delivered a speech to the 2016 graduating class at Regent’s University London. They have eight colleges under the larger university, and I spoke to the American College (which I attended) and the school of fashion and design.

The ceremony was at St. Marylebone Parish Church where Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning were married in secret back on September 12, 1846. So it’s pretty much me and two famous poets. Not a bad roster.

I’m not going to go full Trump on my speech, but I thought it was pretty great on paper. I had to deliver a shorter version due to time constraints, and it was fine except for the part where I nervously put my hands in the pockets of my dress. (Oh my god, such a rookie move.)

Jennifer McClure came with me and said that the hands-in-the-pocket thing wasn’t so bad. (Mostly because I was behind a large podium.) Then she made me say three things that went well about the day. So I told her — I inspired the next generation of adults, I made a bunch of people happy, and I look okay in blue.

I’m not good at self-affirming statements, obviously, but I know that the speech was earnest. I told the kids — Don’t listen to adults. Do whatever the hell you want to do with your life. Just make sure it’s in the service of others. Then I quickly told them to join the alumni association. I failed to mention that I don’t belong to the alumni association, but that’s precisely the spirit of my speech. Don’t listen to me. Even I don’t trust my advice.

After the ceremony, a very old man in a wheelchair called me over. He said, “I have something important to tell you. You are never so alone in this world that your alumni association can’t find you.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

Countless graduates and parents came up to me and thanked me for my message. The parents, in particular, were hilarious. One said, “I can’t believe you told my child not to listen to me. But it’s true. I didn’t listen to my parents.”

In one case, proud parents were very eager to introduce me to their oldest daughter. She is the first kid in the family to earn a degree, and she graduated first in her class. They were so spirited, and I was moved by the family’s story.

So the verdict is in: speaking in London was an incredibly meaningful experience in my life. If you ever want me to deliver a commencement speech for your graduating class, I’d like to do it again. I think this could turn into a full-time job: motivating and inspiring the next generation of adults one graduation speech at a time!

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EOS ModelA friend of mine recommended a book called Traction. Have you heard of it? He thought that my consulting company and my software company could benefit from implementing The EOS Model™.

What is the EOS Model™? Well, it’s a framework to help founders and CEOs understand everything from people to internal processes. Very simply, it’s just another way to run your business. There are a million models out there. Pick one.

I liked the book because I’m bad on processes. (“It’s all in my head, man.”) That’s the curse of the sole proprietor who is trying to grow. My language and behaviors are okay for me, but they’re not great for my CFO and the other people who are paid to support me. I waste a lot of time on inefficient business practices.

And as I was reading this book, I was simultaneously negotiating a new contract with a client. The procurement department told me, “We have a culture of Net 45.”

Let’s back up.

First of all, this chick was telling me that her company will hold on to my invoice for nearly a month and a half after I do the work because that’s how they do things. I sign a contract, perform a service over the course of a month, and then wait another 45 days to get paid. Wow, the gig economy is awesome!

But she was also telling me, “Our procurement department stakes its identity on Net 45. If I negotiate differently with you, I don’t know who I am. How do I add value?”

All I kept thinking is — Wow, that’s not culture, lady. It’s your process.

And if your process is your identity, you will never grow.

Process-dominant cultures are clandestine killers of innovation. If who you are as a company is defined by how you do things — rather than what you believe or create — you are never going to develop as an organization.

As I start to think about the next version of my business, I know it’s important for everybody to be aligned on what matters. Consistency is key. Alignment is critical. Let’s get our processes and language locked down, of course. But let’s not be captive to the system.

You and me? We’re better if we remember that corporate functions like procurement and HR are meant to support the enterprise — not define it. If there’s no flexibility built into the way you do business, you won’t do business for very long.

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