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Lots of HR professionals want to know how to deliver value and build trust in organizations.

(Like there’s a ten-step plan for being a better human being, too. Whatever.)

People are always looking to experts when the answers reside within themselves. Drives me crazy. In as much as a blog post or a conference can inspire you to live better, well, that’s great. But let’s not pretend that there’s a shortcut to delivering value and building trust.

You have to answer questions that are rarely asked.

1. How do you define value?
2. Is it the same way I define value?
3. Is your definition ethical or appropriate?
4. Does it matter if you feel like I’m delivering value?
5. Are you important, or should I aim higher in the organization?

I also want to know:

1. Is building trust a realistic goal?
2. Is trust a valid indicator of healthy and productive teams?
3. What if we all trust one another, but we don’t get any work done?
4. What if the barrier to trust is too high?
5. What happens when we trust, but you still disappoint me?

I think the word “value” is subjective. Value is what is appreciated by the powerful. I also believe trust can be unhealthy. Look at the Catholic church. Lots of trust and dysfunction, am I right?

It’s great to work in HR and make a difference. But you know how to do this without referring to the latest article in some stupid business magazine that exists to sell advertising.

Want to add value and build trust? Start with the basics. Be present, be a subject matter expert, and be confident in your abilities.

Deliver value on your terms and build trust slowly. Be sure to remember that it’s not only your job to deliver value and build trust. People should be doing the same with you, too.

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Visiting Chicago is a challenge for me. I was born and raised in the area until I was seventeen. Then I moved back in my twenties for a few years.

I know so many fun people in my life and have good memories in that city. On the other hand, I have a lot of misplaced anxiety that serves no purpose and makes me weird.

If you’re a basic bitch, you take all that negative energy and make poor choices. If you’re me, you’re still a mess; however, you try to create new memories to replace the old ones.

This past weekend, I flew into Chicago for 30 hours to see my girlfriend and walk through Frank Lloyd Wright homes. We had been planning this for at least six months, although we’ve been talking about this event forever. And it was an excellent cultural experience, although it was initially stressful. Beyond the fact that I’ve been on the road too much and wasn’t excited about cramming in a weekend in Chicago, I also had to prepare my marathon (also in Chicago — October 2016) by running for 1:40 minutes before our home tour.

It was rough.

I woke up at the ass-crack of dawn. I accidentally packed my husband’s running socks, so I wore them. I didn’t bring my stash of running snacks, so I grabbed some Twizzlers from the hotel gift shop (in case my blood sugar levels felt sketchy). And I ran the best I could for a woman who’s been in three hotel rooms in four days.

It’s like — exercise? At this ungodly hour? Please. Let me sleep in this stuffy hotel room for twenty more minutes.

But running is one of a limited number of ways that I can live with my general anxiety disorder and not stab someone in the face. And if there’s any place that makes me feel stabby, it’s in Chicago. So I woke up and found some peace in the woods.

Beautiful morning for my first long run of the marathon season. #chicagomarathon #runchi

A photo posted by Laurie Ruettimann (@lruettimann) on

Next time, I’ll pack better socks.

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government of the peopleI’m just back from Philadelphia, a scrappy Midwestern city on the east coast of America.

Philadelphia is known for art, and more specifically, sculptures. So I took a walk and tried to take in as many sculptures as possible in a few hours. It was raining and very dreary, which was a challenge, but I was determined to see some art.

One of the weirdest sculptures I saw was Government of the People by Jacques Lipchitz. It was created in 1976, and you can tell that it’s a product of the 1970s at first glance.

It’s ugly.

I’m not a fan of surreal art, which means I’m definitely not the audience for this piece. Call me old-fashioned, but I dislike protruding limbs and heads. I’m not a fan of detached body parts that are weirdly sized, and I’m not alone. I read that the mayor tried to withhold the funds for its final commission back in 1976.

(I also read that the mayor was a jerk, but I don’t know anything about that.)

But here we are, today, with a lumpy bronze sculpture near Philadelphia’s city hall. I spent some time trying to figure out what I might like about the sculpture if I weren’t so freaked out by the bulges and the body parts. Turns out, I just don’t like anything about it. That’s okay. I’ll just go look at something else.

So thanks but no thanks, Philly. I like much of your other outdoor art, but Government of the People wasn’t for me.

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Want to know how to close the wage gap in pay? Here are three ways.

Close it.

It’s nice when people talk about the complexities and nuances of the labor market and then fold in a discussion on intrinsic motivation and capitalism. Those people are avoiding an honest conversation about accountability. If you want to close the gender gap, you close it. You get serious about titles and compensation. And you craft a total rewards program that is transparent, simple, and applicable to all levels of the organization: from people who package frozen dead chickens in a warehouse to executives who fly the company jet.

It’s a tough conversation made easier to stave off by conflict-avoidant HR professionals who don’t want to admit that we enable super-inflated executive pay and benefits at the cost of our middle-class workers.

Reward discretionary efforts.

Incentive programs should enhance your transparent compensation system, not deter from it. A well-designed plan doesn’t have to be rooted in Stalinist principles. There are ways to reward discretionary effort and encourage workers to demonstrate loyalty and advocacy without contributing to the cultural tendency to reward the youngest, the prettiest, or the most privileged in our society. I believe in bonuses, extra PTO allotments, gift cards, recognition programs, and technology applications that help leaders identify and celebrate good work.

Work on your communication skills.

Benefits communications are tricky. You wouldn’t pretend to know anything about the complexities of filing IRS tax documents after the issuance of common stock grants, so why would you pretend to know anything about pay equity or the gender gap? Hire some experts to help you understand your current plan. Learn how you can enhance it. Then work with professionals to help you communicate the changes to your program.

So those are three ways to make change without excuses.

However you have to do it, you must close the wage gap. You need to do this today.

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There’s a conspiracy theory out there that the CIA has been involved in drug trafficking since the 1960s.

Starting with America’s involvement in Southeast Asia (remember that old war?) through our current conflict in Afghanistan, people on the internet believe that the CIA moved drugs across the globe to impact political outcomes while simultaneously working to distribute crack cocaine in African American neighborhoods in Southern California and providing big pharmaceutical companies cover to hook middle-class Americans on painkillers.

So that’s a lot, right?

Those highly coordinated efforts by the CIA helped to install politicians, boosted the military industrial complex, and made billions of dollars for fat-cat corporatists whose for-profit prisons disproportionately imprisoned African American and Latino members of our society.

Seems crazy, does it?

That’s how I feel about social media.

I don’t think the CIA created social media to continue its historic and covert oppression of American citizens, but I don’t not think it.

Over the past decade, I’ve watched social media spread through our society like Nicaraguan cocaine in the 1980s. What was once exclusive and independent is now mainstream and interdependent. Through a highly sophisticated and coordinated dissemination of mobile devices, we’re all on our favorite social media channels trying to feed the addiction we have for ourselves.

That’s some seriously impressive CIA-level work.

Social media makes a lot of things worse, especially HR.

You know how there’s one really drunk or high person at a party who thinks she’s interesting but is really just a moron? That’s HR on social media. Anybody who tells you that Snapchat is the future of recruiting is high — and she also happens to be wrong. That’s the same lady who said LinkedIn was the future of recruiting. And before that, the fax machine.

While it might be true that today’s job seeker wants to learn more about your company on Snapchat, it’s also true that today’s job seeker might prefer to be paid in a brick of cocaine.

Just because you want something doesn’t mean you get it. Even El Chapo finally understands that.

So am I a social media conspiracy theorist?

I don’t think Twitter and Facebook are tools of the CIA, but I don’t not think it.

Power concentrated is power abused, as crazy-lady Carly Fiorina tells us. Hegemonic power loves people who are dumb, slow, and addicted to drugs and narcissism. That’s true when it comes to CIA drug trafficking or the executive leadership team of Snapchat.

So even if you’re not fully on board with my social media conspiracy theories, I hope you can check yourself before you wreck yourself. Social media changes our brains like heroin. Part-time browsing on Instagram and Pinterest probably won’t kill you. Reading posts on LinkedIn and Medium won’t harm the world. (Well, TBD.)

But nothing good comes from overindulgence and addiction, whether it’s an illegal substance or Snapchat.

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NMC-HB2-Logo

I live in North Carolina. It’s a beautiful part of the country with mountains, beaches, and rolling meadows of wildflowers in between.

My city, Raleigh, is one of the fastest growing towns (and tech towns) in America. We are a hub of innovation, and unlike every other city that makes the same claims, it’s true. We are surrounded by major universities, and the Research Triangle is an excellent place to invest if you’re looking for highly skilled workers and a reasonable cost of doing business.

Except, you know, my state legislature passed a bathroom bill and screwed everything up for the business community.

The new law in North Carolina is ridiculous. It mandates that you pee and poop in a segregated bathroom that aligns with the sex assignment on your birth certificate. The law also strips away the rights of municipal governments to extend protections to transgender citizens. Furthermore, there’s a whole bunch of nonsense in that bill about worker protection and when/how people can sue because of discrimination.

It’s hot garbage. The bill is backed by individuals here in North Carolina who feel like Obama’s agenda was pushed down their throats. The past eight years have been tough. Gay marriage is now a thing. Eric Holder made them mad about stuff. Don’t even talk about Obamacare, am I right? But they’re sure as hell not going to agree that it’s okay for some dude to say he’s a chick and pee in the ladies bathroom.

They have to take a stand, dammit.

The thing about the last stand is that it’s usually some white guy, like Lt. Col. George A. Custer, fighting to preserve his beliefs against an oppressed minority, like the Lakota and Cheyenne. And if you know how that battle went, you know that Custer lost.

Not only did he lose, but his men went down with him.

You could argue that the Lakota and Cheyenne lost in the end, but history doesn’t look kindly on Custer and The Battle of Little Big Horn. I suspect history won’t look kindly on my governor, Pat McCrory, who helped this anti-discriminatory law get established in less than a day but can’t even pass a piece of anti-puppy-mill legislation.

It’s sad.

And if you’re an investor from the outside who’s considering North Carolina as a place to do business, you know a few things:

1. The business climate in North Carolina is great.
2. We elect bigoted state officials who believe in big government for toilets but not enough teachers to oversee behavior in the bathrooms at schools.
3. We have a governor who will advocate for discrimination but not for puppies.

If you put a Venn diagram together of people who don’t fight for puppies and LGBT people, the center is Pat McCrory.

HB2

The fight against HB2 matters because it’s a fight for less government and more personal freedom. It’s a fight against unnecessary and harmful government intrusion on social issues that bleeds over to the business community. And it’s a fight for basic civil rights.

So I hope you’ll stay informed and speak out against HB2 (and all forms of discrimination). I hope you’ll advocate for universal bathroom design that is safe and accessible to everybody of all genders and abilities — not just people who lump themselves into two categories. And I hope you’ll support funding your local school system so that teachers and staff members can ensure a bully-free zone where everybody can pee and poop in peace.

And I hope you know that these narrow-minded politicians don’t speak for the citizens of North Carolina, and they certainly don’t speak for me.

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I’m the queen of helping vendors put on better conferences, but nobody asks me to touch the obligatory CHRO panel.

That’s too bad.

A CHRO panel looks the same at nearly every event. The interviewer always asks Chief HR Officers about policy and culture with an eye towards a “holistic bigger picture” that is never fully described nor understood by the audience. And the answers are always self-important and vague.

“You could be a CHRO, too. First, you have to be strategic and have a relationship with the CEO.”

Yeah, okay, I’m out.

If I hear one more CHRO talk about data or STEM or predictive analytics, I might implode. They never speak of the great teams around them who make it possible to have access to technology. They never talk about the challenges they face on a daily basis. And they never tell the audience how to get promoted.

So I’ve been doing some thinking, all conference season long, and here are the questions I would ask of a CHRO panel.

1. Ask questions about career journeys. How did you get your job? Do you need the MBA from a prestigious school to be the CHRO? Do you have any HR certifications?

2. Ask about mistakes and failures. What’s an important lesson from your career that you would share with an aspiring CHROs?

3. Ask about being scared and overcoming fear. How did you overcome anxieties and self-doubt? How and when did you talk about money?

4. Ask what they’d tell younger versions of themselves. Is this a good career?

5. Ask about managing up. What’s the biggest way an audience member can impress their CHRO?

6. Ask about professional development. How can the audience members get promoted? What are three things they can do this year to improve the chances of getting a raise and promotion?

7. Ask reflective questions. Do the CHROs regret choosing quiet and unglamorous jobs with impact over prestigious jobs that people covet?

8. Ask about grit. What’s the worst HR job they’ve had? How did they endure?

9. Ask about optimism. What’s the best job?

10. Ask about confidence. How did you turn your biggest challenge into a win?

Nobody learns how to be a better business partner and improve culture from a CHRO panel. Give the audience something meaningful and specific, and they’ll love your technology company for providing a world-class opportunity to hear the truth from influential people.

That’s a panel I would pay money to see!

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workout gearA few years ago, I wrote about a woman at my gym who was working out in pantyhose. What kind of workout gear is that? You have to be entangled in a weird web of shame to put yourself through that nonsense.

Lots of people gave me feedback and said, hey, it’s none of your business what that lady wears to work out. Maybe just focus on your shit, which is equally as web-like and shameful.

True!

And sure enough, I do have issues. My boxing gym has banned me from wearing HR technology t-shirts to the gym. My trainer is firm on the subject.

“Laurie, we need to talk. What the heck is QueSocial?”

I’m like — please don’t ask. I don’t know how to explain the technology behind a company that did something like Hootsuite (but for recruiting nerds) and was sold to an advertising agency. I just wear the shirt because it makes me feel unseen.

Turns out, it’s the opposite. I’m the girl who wears HR technology shirts. Everybody notices. And the shirts are all ugly.

“Listen, you need to stop wearing these nerdy shirts. All of them. I have a reputation.”

I tried to explain that I’ve put on a little weight. My Lululemon gear fits more like a Luluwatermelon. I suffer from extreme regret and sadness about my eating habits. On top of that, I feel like a failure since my running injury. My inner fourteen-year-old girl would rather wear ugly technology t-shirts than wear an unflattering tank top.

“Are you kidding me? You’re talking about going from an extra small to a small. You’re not poor. Get some new clothes.”

It’s a boxing gym, not therapy. I get it.

And not only are the shirts incredibly ugly, but they’re also made of cotton. The gym is hot, and my clothes weigh a thousand pounds by the time I’m done with my workout.

“Don’t wear those nerdy shirts in here again. You hear me?”

Yeah, I hear you. We’re not here for girl talk. We’re here to punch the shit out of things to get back into shape.

I look around my gym and see people of all sizes and shapes wearing functional clothing, regardless of appearance, to maximize their performance. So I need to get back into workout clothes that don’t rub my skin and weigh me down with sweat.

And nobody is looking at me, anyway.

(Well, that’s not true. They’re looking at my nerdy, androgynous clothing choices. That’s too bad. I loved that QueSocial shirt.)

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I have great clients who know that I’m a nerd.

I went to visit one of them in March, and they structured our meetings so I could leave in the afternoon and see an exhibit called Van Gogh’s Bedrooms.

It’s an art show based on three paintings of the same bedroom, created by Van Gogh at different times in his life. Whoop dee doo, right?

Well, the paintings are lovely. Full stop. Van Gogh is no slouch.

Van Gogh

The Art Institute of Chicago created an experiential show where you could take pictures, which is unique for an art museum. (Other museums are so stuffy. From Paris to Paducah, art museums are limiting photography.) And you could see different artists who inspired Van Gogh, which is is always helpful. They also used Instagram to promote the show and partnered with AirBnB and let people rent a room based on Van Gogh’s bedroom.

(I like all of that.)

Mostly I like a client who sees our relationship as a partnership. So often, consultants are expected to show up and perform like a circus monkey. It’s as if we don’t earn our money if we’re not thoroughly tired and exhausted after a grueling day of meetings.

I don’t want to go crazy like Van Gogh, which is why I try to keep my life at a leisurely pace. Travel is taxing. Managing a business on top of helping other people do great work is one of the biggest challenges of my life. And it’s pretty impressive when clients are like, hey, don’t you have something fun you want to do while you’re in Chicago?

(Yes. Yes, I do.)

I want to see three paintings from a guy who had Meniere’s Disease (like me!) and lived in relative poverty and then lost his mind before committing suicide.

It’s art. It’s beautiful. It’s a signal. Thank God for Van Gogh!

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Hello, everybody. I’m back from a few days in Florida. I was at a conference called WorkHuman, which is all about work-life balance and purpose.

My husband is like, “Whoa, did you get some sun?”

I’m like, “Uh, what? No. I was inside the whole time doing important things for my client.”

Meanwhile, poolside, I “worked human” and read two books: Presence and All Stories are Love Stories.

That moment when you realize your dress is the color of your hotel wall. #workhuman

A photo posted by Laurie Ruettimann (@lruettimann) on

As expected, I played my usual role of America’s big sister and had a ton of conversations with colleagues who are tired, friends who are frustrated, and readers who are fighting all kinds of battles.

It was pretty intense at times. People are hurting. Working in HR is hard, but more accurately, the struggle to find meaning at work is very real.

I nodded and absorbed the stories — all of them too intimate to share. If I’ve learned anything about business travel, it’s that hotels and airports are universal disinhibitors. We pass through TSA, and we enter a liminal state where we’re forced to spend too much time alone with ourselves and we want to talk about our personal lives with total strangers.

And when you put 1,000 HR professionals in a room and ask them to think about concepts like work-life balance and purpose, they get a little emotional. They’re not ashamed to talk about it, either.

I don’t have much to say on the topic of meaning and purpose, but I know what the experts told me at WorkHuman. They said that sometimes the first, best and only thing you can do is change the conversation in your head.

Shawn Achor told us that incorporating small gestures of gratitude can change your life. Amy Cuddy and Pandit Dasa taught us that meditation, breathing, movement, and posture alignment will help us fake it until we become it. And Michael J. Fox talked about living a full life — with or without Parkinson’s — which gave everybody a fresh perspective on adversity and grit.

I came away from WorkHuman suspicious of my certainty, and I’m totally suspicious of your uncertainty, too. None of us is as bad or as shameful as we believe. And, thanks to the conference, I feel armed with a few more tools and resources to take better care of myself.

I hope my fellow attendees feel the same way.

When it comes to recognizing and rewarding the contributions of the modern HR department, there is no other movement out there that’s paying attention to the needs of HR executives like WorkHuman.

If the story around your mission and purpose in life is all screwed up, and you’re feeling confused about your career, please talk to a professional who can offer good advice. But do find supportive, uplifting colleagues in the free WorkHuman community on LinkedIn. And please see me in Phoenix at WorkHuman 2017.

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