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There’s one thing you need to know about me: I get Jim Rohn and Jim Rome confused.

(One dude is a leadership guru. The other dude is an ESPN guy or something.)

And there’s another thing you need to know: I love Jim Rohn quotes, but I don’t always get them right.

(Close enough, I say!)

So I was in a car, a few weeks ago, with a human resources consultant who also happens to be a dear friend. What do you talk about on a two-hour car ride when you’re done talking about work and life and pets and kids and employee engagement and SHRM?

You talk about more HR shit like leadership and motivational speakers.

So I said, “I believe you are the sum of the five parts of people you spend time with. That’s some Jim Rome gold, right there.”

My friend laughed and said, “Don’t wish for the stars, man. Wish you were a better.”

I loved it! He was playing along, too!

So I doubled-down on my fake Jim Rome knowledge and said, “If you want it, here it is. Go and get it. First, find a way.”

And my friend said, “Excuses build coffins with nails.”

Boom. That’s pretty much true.

Being on the road and away from home is boring. Sometimes it’s filled with awkward silence. Sometimes it’s filled with too much chatter about work itself. What I cherish about my friend is that he didn’t correct me on Jim Rohm versus Jim Rome. He didn’t bat an eyelash when I wanted to talk about anything other than work. And he made me think that, yeah man, excuses do build coffins. I see it.

Spending time and having weird conversations with colleagues and friends? That’s what motivates me (or keeps me from going crazy) when I’m on the road.

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I get calls on a regular basis to provide formal and informal references on people in my industry.

First things first: reference checks are not background checks.

Reference checks are subjective. Reference checks are unreliable and invalid ways of measuring someone’s knowledge, skills and abilities. Reference checks are what you do when you want to know if someone is a jerk.

Background checks give you facts like name, rank and serial number. You’ll learn about prior convictions and educational achievements.

The difference between a background check and a reference check is essential. Background checks will tell you if someone has been arrested or convicted; however, reference checks will give you gossip and tell you if someone is an itinerant drug addict.

When I’m asked to provide a reference for someone, I have a few rules.

  1. First, do no harm. Unless you’re Mitt Romney, you probably need a job. I don’t want to hurt you or your family. It takes a lot for me to throw someone under a bus.
  2. I only answer questions I’m asked. Sometimes people are fishing for information. Sometimes these reference checks are infuriating because the hiring decision is already made. The sooner I answer your specific questions, the faster we can get back to our lives.
  3. I’m choosy about my audience. Do you want to know what I think about someone? Ask me, but don’t ask a junior recruiter or an executive-recruiter-in-training to call me. I will never speak to someone more than one degree removed from the decision-making process. If my input is necessary, invest the time in seeking out my counsel.

Now I just gave you my three guidelines on reference checking, and I have to tell you that I violated one of them just recently. An executive recruiter asked me what I thought about a man in our industry. I had a pretty strong reaction because, frankly, I don’t like the candidate. He’s a dick.

I sat with my words and thought, Jesus, that’s not fair. This dude seems like a good husband and parent. I don’t know him beyond industry events and social media. While I have an opinion on just about everything in this world, my viewpoint is layered with my personal bullshit and baggage.

And I had to admit that he has what it takes to move this company to the next level.

So I called the recruiter and ate some crow. I walked through my thinking and took back my words. I admitted that I was reacting from the gut, my opinion was unimportant, and I think this guy could do the job.

(He was hired!)

So remember that, unless you’re protecting an organization from a serial killer or a child molester, you should either decline to offer a reference or stick to my three rules.

You never know when those three rules will help you out, too.

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Got this note from a PR guy named Eric. In general, I’ve stopped picking on PR professionals. However, this one needs some work.

Dear Laurie,

Today I have some news for you that is incredibly inspiring and empowering and worth sharing with your reader audience.

Lean Cuisine just launched an initiative to challenge women to value themselves based on their accomplishments – not their physical appearance. With ridiculous means of evaluating the “perfect” body and precious moments taken away by painstakingly editing a photo before it goes live online, more and more women are evaluating their self-worth on superficial topics. We are better than this.

Nestlé’s Lean Cuisine is starting a social conversation about weight and value perception by asking women how they really weigh themselves in a new campaign called: Lean Cuisine #WeighThis. The campaign repositions Lean Cuisine as a modern health and lifestyle brand, by starting authentic, relevant social conversations among women.

We know you might be thinking this feels out of place for a brand like Lean Cuisine. Over the past several years though, the brand has been undergoing a transformation –focusing on creating the best products to fuel people doing amazing things every day. It is no longer the diet brand of the 80s. In fact, “diet” is one of the dirtiest four-letter words in our vocabulary.

As one of our established partners, we’d really like your help sharing our video and its messages with your followers. It can be as simple as posting the video on Facebook or Twitter, sharing Lean Cuisine’s Facebook or Twitter posts, or, if you feel so inclined, writing a blog post about what you want people to “weigh” you on.

If you have any questions about the campaign, or would like more information, I’m happy to help in any way I can.

Dear Eric,

God bless you, but your use of the majestic plural at the beginning of this letter is a little weird. I don’t assume sex or gender based on names, but that’s a lie because I do. Are you a dude named Eric who feels my unique pain as a woman who photoshops her pictures before putting them on Instagram? C’mon man. Have some pride. This note sucks.

Eric, you seem like a nice guy, but let’s get a few things straight. I wouldn’t feed Lean Cuisine to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, let alone put that food in my mouth. Lean Cuisine tastes like overcooked baby food. Lean Cuisine tastes like a Sears leather sofa caught on fire. Lean Cuisine tastes like someone committed a hate crime against pasta.

After years of branding itself as nutritionally rich food but failing to make me skinny, Lean Cuisine tastes like shame. And if I’m going to feel shame and guilt from food, I’m going to shove something tastier in my pie hole.

Yours,
Laurie Ruettimann

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I’ve been doing some video chats for CareerBuilder, and they’re pretty fun. We use a combination of Google Hangouts and Twitter, and what you end up with is a crazy and interesting mix of video and interactive tweets.

We discussed talent management strategies and techniques in the last episode. Tim Sackett makes an offhanded comment that he likes forced ranking.

Now, listen, I have four cats. I rank them on a regular and ongoing basis. Emma is the best all around, Jake loves me the most, Molly is the smartest, and Roxy is the new baby. They all have strengths and weaknesses. But the order of “who is the best” changes based on my mood, and honestly, how much those cats are bringing it on a daily basis.

If you told me I had to line my cats up and rank them, and then cut the bottom x%, I would say—they’re all great and your rules are stupid. It’s not like I’m going to replace my cats with better cats. They’re cats. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

And that’s how I feel about your talented people. Even old school blue chip companies–and brutal sales teams that love blood and sport—have ditched this model for something a little more humane.

I know we want to push our teams to achieve new goals. I know you want an awesome workforce. But Tim’s words had me thinking that everything old becomes new again. Forced ranking might one day come back in vogue. I would just warn you that it’s nice to look back at something simple like forced ranking and say, well, it worked for Jack Welch.

Nothing comes from forced ranking except fear and loathing in the hearts and minds of your employees. Fire people who suck, reward people who do a good job, and stop ranking and stacking people (or cats) for the sport of it.

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I let my SHRM membership lapse in 2015 because my employer will no longer pay for it.

My employer is me, and honestly, she wants me to spend $190 on spa treatments in Turks & Caicos because she believes in employee engagement. So I won’t be going to the 2015 SHRM Conference & Exhibition in Las Vegas, this weekend.

(I know, I know. You’ll miss me.)

I will miss being on the expo floor, too. Let’s be honest. That conference gives me a ton of good blogging material for twelve months. When some drunk sales guy lectures me on agility and tells me that HR ladies aren’t aligned with their business—and then proceeds to puke on a side of a building in Atlanta—I’m energized for months.

(I’ll bet on the HR lady any day of the week.)

In my absence on the expo floor and parties, here’s my advice on how to navigate #SHRM15.

  1. Know you’re missing out on something super amazing and be okay with it. There is a SHRM CHRO meeting that happens at the same time as the conference, but you can’t go because you’re not a white dude who likes technology. SHRM’s Foundation hosts a nice cocktail reception that you can’t attend because you’re not a donor. And I hear John Legend will be playing at a vendor’s party, but you’re not invited because you’ll never buy enterprise HCM software. Don’t sweat it. Bring the party to wherever you’re at, and be with the people you love—not the people who wander the convention hall like lost puppies looking to be somewhere better.
  2. Don’t knock what the speakers are wearing. We’ve been through multiple waves of feminism—and we’ve burned the Confederate flag and embraced the new civil rights movement—to arrive at a place and time where HR presenters should be able to get on stage and wear whatever the hell they want to wear. Is the skirt too short? Is the tie too loose? Please bite your tongue. Judge someone on their ideas, not their appearance.
  3. Don’t buy anything from the SHRM bookstore at the conference. I know, I know. My SHRM friends are going to kill me but there’s this thing called Amazon, and it’s amazing. The rent is too damn high at the SHRM Bookstore! Also, you have to carry home whatever you buy. That Dr. Mehmet Oz colon cleanse system is expensive and heavy. Get it delivered via Amazon Prime.

I wrote a piece on the Halogen website that helps you to consider how you can extend your learning beyond #SHRM15. It’s more serious than this post, so check it out because I think you get SHRM-SCP credits for just showing up and reading blog posts.

(That’s what I hear, anyway. I don’t know that for a fact.)

And here’s another secret: I have to be in Vegas for client meetings (two) and dinner (just one), so you might see my face around town. I am trying to be principled and stay away from the convention floor. I won’t go back to the SHRM conference until I write an amazing book and I’m paid $100K to show up on stage and talk about myself with Gayle King as moderator (because I need a moderator to talk about my life).

That’s not happening in 2015. I don’t want it badly enough, I guess. So you won’t see me and Gayle on stage, this year, but you might see me on the strip. So please say hi. I don’t bite. And remember that I still sorta love SHRM. I don’t have sour grapes. I’m just old, the scene is no longer mine, and I love hanging out at the hotel pool between meetings a little more.

Have fun at the event and make good choices!

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You guys know that I’m just back from a trip to Spain.

I had so much fun.

(Side note: I am horrible with directions, and I burned a chunk of data using my iPhone to navigate the streets of Barcelona. Apple Maps should be free on all carriers/all countries, and subsidized by the legacy of Steve Jobs, to encourage user adoption and market share dominance over Google Maps. But nobody asked me.)

My friend and I were walking back to our flat (from our second visit of the day to a local gelateria) when two young girls from Poland approached us and asked for directions to the Plaça de Catalunya.

I said, “I’m sorry, we can’t help.”

Although I have a friendly face and seem helpful, that’s a lie. I’m not.

My friend said, “Of course we can help them, Laurie.”

She pulled out her iPhone and started downloading directions, which caused my lizard brain to surge into overdrive. I know that I’m a cynical woman, but this is the type of scenario they warn you about in the Rick Steve’s travel guides. Safety first, everybody. Don’t be too American, too friendly, or too quick to whip out your expensive electronics.

So I said, “Fine, she can help you. But if you grab our phones, we will fuck you up.”

Both girls, sorta fluent in English, started to laugh. It was uncomfortable, but I didn’t mind. You could see it in their eyes—Is she joking? She’s got to be joking. She’s little and old.

I also laughed while making eye contact, extending my umbrella and sending telepathic messages. I can do pull-ups. I’m stronger than I look. I will truly fuck someone up if given the chance.

But these girls weren’t interested in our crappy iPhones or purses, thankfully. They simply wanted to go meet up with cute Spanish boys in a bar.

So we said goodbye after they thanked us profusely and told us how much they want to visit America.

(Yes, even after my warm welcome.)

My friend said, “Laurie, you are awful. We ask for directions all over the world. We have to pay it forward for our next trip. And you have to give to receive.”

Yeah, okay. I think that’s probably true on some level, but after having my purse stolen in London back in 2011, I will mess up anybody who tries to steal my stuff. I am a global ambassador for goodwill and kindness, but safety matters.

What would you have done?

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Here are some questions that have come to me from events and via email.

If a company has grown organically, how do you start to grow through acquisitions?

I worked on the HR/M&A side of the house at a company called Kemper Insurance.  I was the only HR kid who understood the internet, so that was my beat. We bought cloud-based insurance companies before the internet was a thing. (Christ, that was a horrible job.) Anyway, we were first-to-market roadkill in almost all of our market segments.

Then I worked with employees impacted by the mergers and acquisitions at Pfizer. Immediate revenue growth through acquisition was a dream not quite fully realized.

Growth is tough, but growing by acquisition is difficult. You get short-term pain and legal liability for past mistakes, even when you think you’ve got that covered. Yes, there are some modest efficiency and productivity gains in the first five years, and (perhaps) favorable tax considerations based on what you’re acquiring and where. But you also get headaches, too. Lots of them.

You need solid advisors with lots of experience to pull off a successful acquisition that leads to revenue growth. Me? I like growth through licensing and affiliations.

How can I build a sales force with limited, fixed costs? Can I delegate sales? How do you scale up faster? How do I manage a new era of sales professionals? 

I don’t know how you build anything when you’re under the constraints of limited, fix costs (i.e., you have no money) unless you spend some other sucker’s money. Or you allocate your own money differently. I know plenty of successful businesses who outsource and/or commodify the act of qualifying leads and setting appointments. Many companies are using RPOs to hire a bevy of new sales professionals. I would work with recruiters who know that field—and your industry—rather than asking your busy and distracted internal HR team to scale up for you. How you manage your sales professionals is up to you, but embracing social selling—combined with corporate social responsibility and servant leadership—seem to work better than challenging your customers not to suck so much.

But I’m not salesy so don’t look to me for guidance on that one.

How do you leverage a network to grow your business?

Networking is so exhausting. Maybe don’t take so much. Maybe be a giver to those in your network who need help, leads, referrals, or good business advice. That’s where I would start.

How do you define a successful hire?

Someone who comes to work every day, gives her best effort, has a solid set of ethics, and does her job with integrity. Six months or six years doesn’t matter. Does she make the lives of her colleagues better? Is she a positive force for change? Even if you only have her for six months, a successful hire will make an imprint on your business for a lifetime.

If the future of the workforce is freelance, how do I make those workers feel loved and included?

We keep being told that the future of the workforce is a contingent workforce. That’s how it looks now, but that’s also how it looked back in the 1980s until Microsoft lost a landmark co-employment suit. The court basically said — do we look stupid to you? Those people are employees. Don’t be dicks. Further rulings have confirmed that you can’t scam your workforce. Walks like a duck, talks like a duck, it is a duck.

But philosophically, the freelance workforce has flaws. Commoditized work takes the worker further away from ownership. That’s risky. She is less and less responsible for seeing potential problems and offering solutions. I want workers who have a big-picture view of my enterprise. Freelance work makes sense in some areas. As a cost-cutting measure, I think it’s short-sided. I want someone to be invested in a shared dream, not working on a widget in a corner while hustling for her next job.

Have a question for me? Hit me up at [email protected] and I’ll be happy to respond.

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Ever since I entered the workforce as a kid, owners have been trying to find a way to pay people less.

I don’t mean cutting salaries. Paying people less looks like this:

  1. Paying less than minimum wage. I had this happen to me at an ice cream store. I was fourteen and wanted a job. The owner and I struck a deal. I was sixteen on paper but earned $2 less than minimum wage. It is not uncommon to negotiate these deals with young workers, undocumented workers, and people with felony convictions in the service sector who can’t find regular, professional work.
  2. Working people more than their documented time. How many of us have had hourly jobs and have been discouraged from claiming our overtime pay? From doctors offices to administrative assistants in corporate America, discouraging someone from claiming OT is a common practice.
  3. Pressuring people to come in early and stay late. When you are paid a salary, you are paid in smaller chunks. This confuses most workers. Sometimes your pay is expressed hourly. Sometimes weekly. Sometimes monthly. Look at your offer letter. So when your company pushes you to more hours/days/weeks/months than a traditional forty-hour work week, you technically receive a cut in pay.
  4. Stagnant wages. While some areas of the economy are improving, most workers haven’t seen the benefits of an improved economy. While the cost of living in America continues to rise, and you struggle to pay your student loan debt, your salary and 3.6% merit increase is worth less and less.
  5. Reduction in benefits. Your health and welfare benefits in America are part of your total compensation package. Healthcare costs are rising for many reasons, most of which have nothing to do with you. And benefits don’t start and stop with health. Anyone who survived the recession probably saw a reduction in PTO or “sick days” or retirement benefits. That’s money out of your pocket.

While HR is there to ensure that no illegal activities happen, your local HR team might not understand what’s going on in the trenches of the workplace. And, even if they do know, they might be unable to do anything because of the company’s culture. Or they might support it because more money for the company and its shareholders (whomever that might be) is what it’s all about.

So if you work for a company that is trying to cut your pay in obvious or subtle ways, get the heck out.

It never gets better.

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I spent some time with entrepreneurs and CEOs, last week, at a collaborative forum where executives can learn from one another in a tweet-free, blog-free zone.

It was super fun and interesting. I can’t give you a ton of details from the off-the-record sessions, but I can tell you about my sessions that I chaired.

First of all, everybody was talking about fit and culture. Most founders and CEOs would rather avoid hiring people. If they do need to scale, they would prefer to automate or outsource the work. If they can’t get a robot or a service provider to do the work, they’ll hire slowly to avoid making the mistake of hiring someone who is disruptive, demands too much money, or might hold the organization hostage.

(They don’t want to hire anyone who thinks he might be a future CEO. Ha!)

Many CEOs say that they would rather hire someone with no skills and a good attitude than hire someone with a poor attitude and the right skills. This rules out people with diverse points of view, and maybe excellent workers who have mild forms of autism. That didn’t matter to many people in my sessions. Nobody seemed too worried about bias or being sued for discrimination.

(I guess HR still serves a purpose!)

The other interesting thing is that, while most CEOs are focused on building businesses and exiting those companies with the express goal of achieving more personal wealth, most attendees in my room didn’t believe that the average worker is motivated by earning more money.

(I guess only CEOs are capitalists, whereas workers just like to feel good about themselves.)

One CEO jumped on the Dan Pink bandwagon and generously conceded that you have to pay people a decent wage; however, too much money has diminishing returns.

(That’s how I feel about CEO pay, but nobody in the room shared my point of view.)

My concluding impression is that many HR leaders and CEOs are speaking the same language about talent, culture and fit. The language is wrong, but nobody asked me. I think leaders are being duped into believing that employees aren’t capitalists, too. Your employees are the CEOs of their lives, families and careers. They deserve to be treated with much more respect. Focus on the false power of positive psychology, and not the power of the purse, at your own peril.

So in summary: my trip to Barcelona was fascinating and fun. I learned so much from my fellow attendees, and I look forward to my next event with the CEO Collaborative Forum. I encourage you to check them out!

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I hate it when business travelers are all like, “The road sucks, man. You go to boring meetings in cities that have no soul. You never get to see anything, and if you’re lucky, you get a bite to eat before boarding a flight home. Business travel used to be exclusive and now it’s for everybody.”

Yeah, some of that’s true. But I just can’t listen to people—especially those who have elite experiences and access to new opportunities—whine about living a big life. Just the other day, I turned around in Orlando and asked someone, “Are you complaining?”

I am a little woman. Although I like a little danger in my life, I’m not one for shaming complete strangers. Sometimes you gotta ask the obvious questions, though.

* Is this elite line not elite enough for you?
* Is your priority access not prioritized to your liking?
* Are you getting something for free and still complaining about it?

Sometimes you also have to be sneaky and ask, “What’s your name? Where do you work?”

(Funny how the world is so small and some boring HR lady in running clothes knows your boss!)

I am a genetic pessimist, and I like to complain when the clocks are off and the trains don’t run on time. But even I know when to shut my mouth and not complain about business adventures and new opportunities to see the world.

Wish more business professionals would express better leadership skills on the road, at events, and in public places where they represent their brands.

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