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I’ve been working hard with the RepCap team to get the HR Books website up and running. We are close. I didn’t want you to enter the first weekend in February without the official #HRBookClub selections.

We’ll be reading Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. It’s African-American History Month, and Ms. Rhimes is changing the way we see women and people of color on TV. Her stories are intersectional, much like the work we do in human resources, and you will enjoy this book. 

The second book is A Chance In This World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found a Place Called Home by Steve Pemberton. He’s the current Chief HR Officer at Globoforce and the former diversity officer at Walgreens. Globoforce is my client, but they are not sponsoring this book. I liked it, and you should read it. Mr. Pemberton’s autobiography covers topics like foster care, abuse, education, and identity through the lens of his life. His success is nothing short of a miracle, and the story is very inspirational.

So, there you have it. Two official books for February’s #HRBookClub. Read one, read both, and join me on February 28th to discuss the books. More on that soon. And I want to thank the RepCap team, including Kelsey Gallagher, for working hard to turn readers into leaders.

Everything is coming up Milhouse! 

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Years ago, I took part in an online experiment called The BMI Project. Hosted by Kate Harding, she collected photos of real women and tried to show that the BMI is bullshit.

Check out the slideshow.

Kate and I were friends, and I shared my weight over dinner. I weighed 130 lbs, and she said, “I would have guessed less.”

You might think Kate was polite, but that’s not her style. We spent the rest of our meal discussing body dysmorphia and how people overestimate their size and underestimate how much other people weigh. You’re thinner than you think. Your friends are fatter than you know. Nobody has a clue.

So, after my experience with Kate, I told everybody my size. Over the past ten years, I’ve run marathons and took part in all kinds of crazy races. My lowest weight was 110 lbs., and my heaviest weight was 136 lbs. 

(Right now, I weigh 127 lbs, and I’m about to hike up a skyscraper. Please donate here.)

Weight and Pay Transparency

The discussion about weight reminds me of the debate around pay transparency. There are a lot of good reasons why we should tell people how much we earn. For starters, a rising tide lifts all boats. Our collective knowledge is a source of strength. Workers can protect themselves against hegemonic corporate power run amuck. 

Also, pay transparency ensures that the least educated among us doesn’t remain in the dark. If you have excellent skills but can’t negotiate — or prefer not to bargain — you can cut to the chase and still earn a fair wage for your work.

The arguments against pay transparency are dumb and go something like this: If you tell people how much you earn, wage inflation occurs because people are petty and want to make more than their colleagues. If you’re paid one dollar, I want two dollars. Ultimately, capitalism folds in on itself and businesses won’t be able to pay anybody.

The other argument is that pay transparency can be demotivating because there’s a cap on your earnings, and the limiting factor isn’t your talent, but, instead, the black woman or the disabled vet who doesn’t work as hard as you and is holding you back.

Both arguments are bullshit and rooted in classism, sexism and racism. 

In reality, wage inflation happens at the executive level when leaders —with unchecked powers — pay company officers a lot of money for mediocre results. Preferential treatment, combined with monolithic corporate control, creates massive pay inequality in companies around the world.

And pay transparency is demotivating when you realize that you’re underpaid and will never pay off your student loans at your current salary.

Pay Transparency Starts With You

Pay transparency is a realistic goal for your company, and it can be achieved without putting names next to dollar amounts. There’s no reason why we can’t demystify the compensation process, motivate our workforce with competitive total rewards packages, and create enough flexibility in our budget to allow for incentives and merit-based increases.

All of that is possible.

Listen, I’m not asking you to rent a billboard and spill your personal secrets; however, if you’re sick and tired of guessing how much money other people earn and wondering if you’re paid your true value, it’s time to find a trusted colleague and ask. Then, whenever you feel it’s time, share how much you make. 

Talking about salary reminds me of talking about weight. It’s taboo, but only because someone told us it’s taboo. If we don’t look out for one another, who will? 

Not HR.

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My friend FrannyO is a trailblazer. Back in 2009, she and China Gorman organized the first-ever official “tweet-up” at an HR conference in New Orleans. It was a networking party with bloggers. You can see some photos here. We were all so young. Dammit.

My god, how easy, but the concept was new to the HR community. Franny made it happen — like she makes everything happen — through the winning combination of event-planning skills and her awesome personality.

On that same trip, someone swiped my watch on Bourbon Street, and Franny lost her wallet. That’s when I learned that the best way to carry money is in your bra.

Franny is my first guest on the #HRBookClub on my Facebook page at 2 PM ET today. She’s a Brené Brown fan, a fantastic human being, and a Vice President of HR who has a million things to do but still makes time to read.

Franny may be my only guest depending on how this thing turns out, but I can’t think of anybody better to kick off this journey.

See you on Facebook Live later today!

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last black unicornI finished a book called “The Last Black Unicorn” by Tiffany Haddish. She’s a comedian who starred in Girls Trip, a hilarious movie I watched in an aisle seat in the bulkhead row on a first-class flight from Raleigh to Los Angeles.

As people congregated in the aisle and waited for the toilet in the forward cabin — which is against FAA rules — they looked over my shoulder and watched me laugh at nasty scenes.

(You should see the movie.)

“Girls Trip” destroyed box office expectations and earned $140,073,354 worldwide. Lots of strong performances from amazing actors like Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah, but Tiffany Haddish is the star of the movie. She makes every scene better.

The Last Black Unicorn is an Origin Story

“The Last Black Unicorn” chronicles Tiffany’s life, which begins in poverty and foster care. Her early years are full of abuse and neglect. Powerful people with authority failed to protect her, and she couldn’t read above a second-grade level until she was in high school.

But Tiffany was resilient and determined to make a better life for herself. She fought hard to attend comedy class and learned how to tell jokes. When she wasn’t performing on stage, Tiffany always had a job. She was a high school mascot and worked the Bar Mitzvah circuit in Los Angeles. She eventually found a good job at an airline.

While working and performing and sometimes living out of her car, Tiffany tried to take care of her parents and grandparents, too. Raised Jehovah’s Witness, she felt a responsibility to heal her family’s wounds. Tiffany could have been bitter or angry about life, or she could have acted like a jerk at work. Instead, was kind to her colleagues and friends.

(Read the chapter on Roscoe and tell me what you think.)

It’s a Sad Book

Tiffany has hilarious stories about her rise to fame, but many of her stories are also about domestic violence and assault. When she’s a child, she was molested and beaten. As a young woman, men treated her like dirt. As she got older, it’s not much better. Tiffany had a string of relationships where men treated her like property.

For example, she married an ex-cop. He watches her, videotapes her without consent, and checks her phone. He’s always monitoring her social media accounts. Ultimately, he puts limits on who she can talk to and has her followed by his friends.

Then her husband moves her away from her friends and colleagues and limits her social interactions. Tells her she needs to be a wife, first, and then a comedian. And, you guessed it; he beats her.

Why do women stay with people who abuse them? Why don’t they walk away? Why don’t they leave before these men get so violent?

There are a lot of reasons smart and talented people don’t leave abusive relationships. Tiffany had a stepson and loved him. She felt the duties and obligations of being a wife. And she loved her husband. Hope springs eternal until it doesn’t. If you read the chapter where it all falls apart, your heart will break.

Why You Should Buy This Book

So, I hate saying that “The Last Black Unicorn” was a great book because some stories were shocking. But I’m grateful that Tiffany Haddish wrote a brave and honest book about her life. If she can talk about it and work on healing, there’s hope for all of us.

And, since we’re approaching the end of National Stalking Awareness Month, I wanted to remind you that stalking — including online stalking and cyber-stalking — are leading indicators of domestic violence.

If you see a woman struggling, say something. Offer online resources. And share Tiffany Haddish’s book. There is hope for women out there who endure the pain and shame of stalking and are looking for a kindred spirit.

In that way, I can’t recommend the book enough.

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I’m off to Florida to deliver a keynote speech to people who own shipping and delivery companies. 
The association put my photo on the cover of their conference brochure. They trust me to deliver a fabulous experience on Saturday morning.

Am I nervous? No, not about the speech. While there’s always room for improvement, I can stand on stage and deliver a competent keynote speech. An outline of a good speech looks something like this: Here’s a story. Here’s a lesson. Do things differently. Repeat 3-5 times. Wrap it up.

What I fear is the energy after a speech. After I step off stage, I’m pumped. I can run a mile in five minutes, punch a jerk in his face, and wrestle an alligator. When you deliver a good keynote speech, it’s hard not to feel energized. When it’s a disaster, it’s difficult not to be manic.

Most of the time, I have a drink and spend the rest of a conference with friends. My energy goes into a vessel of champagne and conversation. This time, I’ll be alone.

So, I’m bringing my running gear and a bathing suit. I’ll also have my Kindle. I might do something touristy, treat myself to a spa appointment, or simply explore the local area. I’m not sure. Then I’m coming home the following morning.

It’s a new year, and I want to adopt new habits. I gave up cream in my coffee as my New Year’s resolution, but that’s not a game changer. It would be great to step off the stage, feel good about my performance, and do something healthy and productive with the rest of my day.

Wish me luck and have a great weekend! 

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Hey, guys. Working on two things: the HR Books website and our selections for next month’s #HRBookClub.

The HR Books site is coming along. I believe readers are leaders, and there’s no single place to get decent book reviews on HR books. If you want the best HR books, you have to navigate through sponsored content and spammy websites. There’s a tendency to elevate complex, condescending leadership books and pretend it’s cool for outsiders to hate HR. 

I feel like hating HR is my thing, and it’s also very 2012. 

As we’re building the model and website for HR Books, I’m working on selecting two books for the #HRBookClub in February. The theme is African-American History Month. Until 1976, the month-long observance was only a week. President Ford formalized the month-long celebration in a proclamation:

The last quarter-century has finally witnessed significant strides in the full integration of black people into every area of national life. In celebrating Black History Month, we can take satisfaction from this recent progress in the realization of the ideals envisioned by our Founding Fathers. But, even more than this, we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.

Never thought President Ford would look so good, did you?

America has a tough time saying thanks to black people. And sometimes our ideas on how to recognize the month-long observance of African-American History Month show our values and biases. For example, I polled my friends and asking them to suggest book club selections for February. The goal of my book club is to help HR professionals read 12 books a year. It’s an audacious goal because most adults don’t pick up a book after college.

My progressive friends are like, “Have your book club read something by Ta-Nehisi Coates.”

Good suggestion, but one doe not simply read Ta-Nehisi Coates. Nobody will ever just pick up Between the World and Me and dive right into the book if they struggle to read 12 books a year. That’s not how this works.

Other people have suggested topics on Jim Crow, the broken justice system, and books on socio-economic problems in our society. Lots of suggestions relating to civil rights, gun violence and poverty. Just a few recommendations on careers, identity, passion, purpose, and vocation. 

The most important goal of the club? Develop a reading habit in 2018, and I don’t care what you read if I’m being honest. Just read. With that in mind, I made a few choices for February. I will announce the selections next week on HR Books (if it’s up and running, fingers crossed). Stay tuned, and I hope you’ve been enjoying the January selections.

Join me on January 31st at 2 PM ET on Facebook for the first official meeting of #HRBookClub.

Don’t have Facebook? Read the books, anyway. I’ll share the video of our meeting so you can enjoy it later! 

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If you’re paying attention to the news, you know Amazon opened a store with no cash registers or tills. Walk in the store, track your purchases with your app, and leave. Abscond? There’s no automation in teaching people a lesson. Bezos himself will hunt you down and beat you into submission to make an example out of you.

If you read the coverage about the new store, we no longer need to fear the United Nations. Amazon has either ended employment as we know it or is making in its grand plan to set up a shadow government and run lives. Could be both.

The Amazon store is another sign that retail — and anything related to food, restaurants, hospitality, hotels — has entered the age of automation. While personal shoppers and assistants are important brand ambassadors at high-end retail stores, Amazon just launched the Echo Look so you can figure out what to wear and ask people for their opinions. Augmented reality will eventually show your body in specific outfits before you buy new pieces of clothing.

(I declined the opportunity to buy the Echo Look early. I’ve got mixed emotions about Amazon’s impact on the labor market. I don’t want to put more people out of work before it’s necessary. Although I’m over those ladies at the Lululemon near my house who make me feel like a watermelon when I try on clothes.) 

And that is where we are headed. No more retail jobs. Likewise, fewer opportunities for kids to get their first paychecks from McDonald’s. If you watch Alexandra Levit’s new TEDxNorthwesternU talk, the near-term future of work eliminates these task-driven jobs and asks people to use creativity to solve problems that robots can’t tackle just yet. 

There’s a spectrum of roles — from housekeeper to a social worker to technical project leader — that require creativity, reflection, and human-to-human connection. So, learn about human behavior and psychology. Translate irrational patterns in work-related activities that can’t be programmed. Discern emotions and feelings. Show empathy and compassion. Come to work (whatever is left of it) and create an experience. Those are some ways you beat the machines and bots. 

You can see why I’m worried about the future of work, right? It makes sense why Amazon’s march towards domination freaks me the hell out, yes? You’re teaching your kids to code and asking them to do five hours of homework for their AP classes. You’re not raising kids who are equipped to earn a living on emotional labor.

God knows you can’t even do it.

I’ve written it before, and I’ll write it again: the future of work will not work for a majority of Americans, and we’ll need policy discussions on artificial intelligence, education, and universal basic income.

Who will lead that fight? Mike Pence or Lindsey Graham? Chuck Schumer? Sheesh, we’re doomed. Maybe Jeff Bezos and Amazon can save us after all. 

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America and the Soviet Union were mortal enemies when I was a kid. Ronald Reagan was a good guy leading a fight against the entrenched powers of communism and Orwellianism. Mikhail Gorbachev was a monster and wanted us to die in a nuclear holocaust and stand in a long line for bread in milk. And the Pope just wanted to protect children.

Boy, all of that was wrong.

It was a big deal when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev had a summit back in 1985. They met in Geneva and started a dialogue on shared interests and concerns: nuclear arms and money. From there, we gave them greater access to blue jeans, Coca-Cola, and a future president. 

Summits are effective. Two people with different points of view come together face-to-face to hash things out. There are rules, topics are off the table, and a mutual commitment to walk out of that room with accomplishments. It’s old school, but it works. HR leaders love a good summit, too. If you can get it catered, a summit is the best excuse to order from the good bagel place down the block.

But people have lost their goddamn minds and abandoned diplomacy for confrontation on mobile devices. We’ve ignored years of dedicated research on communication, and we jump at the chance to tell instead of show. We shout through the text on our screens and hope that the font sizes and the big words make it seem like we’re whispering.

I don’t know about you, but the lack of diplomacy is making my online experience confusing. Our dysfunctional communication patterns muddy the waters, and I always wonder what people are saying. Blog post on work-life balance: Is it about balance or is someone mad at her partner? Tweet about sports: Are you angry with your dad? Facebook link to a marketing article: Do you recommend this article or are you mad at me?

Let me suggest that you need to make like Mikhail and hold a summit — on the phone, at the coffee shop, via Skype — if you’re about to go online and write something you wouldn’t say out loud to someone’s face. Plan a summit if there’s a person in your life who needs to be told and you’re the one to do it. Extend an olive branch, accept an older olive branch, and have a damn summit. 

I’m sick trying to parcel out the subtext of your psychology in tweets and LinkedIn updates when I open my laptop. It feels like nothing is sacred, anymore, except videos of Fiona and photos of Lil Bub. If you ruin that for me, I’ll hunt you down. That’s a summit you don’t want.

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work from home

There’s snow here in Raleigh. A lot of it. Crazy.

Not saying it’s been a tough week for people who work at an office. But 9-to-5 jamokes are forced to work from home. They are out of their routines. Spending a lot of time with partners and cats. Did you hear what I said? Can you make me lunch since you are home? Are you working right now or surfing the web? 

Yes, I’m talking about my house.

Likewise, the weather is disruptive for people who work from home. Creativity is weird. Relies on routines and superstition. Just saying. Who turned the heat up? Who keeps turning off lights when I leave the room? Why are there dishes in the sink?

Good news is that snow-induced work-from-home scenarios allow for walks in the woods, breakfast for dinner, and naps. Also, more excellent news — Raleigh will be 60 degrees over the weekend.

Light at the end of the tunnel. See you Monday.

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As a freelance writer, there’s no shortage of opportunities for me to churn out content for $50 an article. I can write about the latest in fashion, beauty, or careers. My resume doesn’t matter as long as I can string two sentences together. And even that doesn’t matter. They edit my work.

I should be happy because content writing isn’t completely automated. Not yet, anyway. It’s managed by marketing agencies who work as the outsourced service providers to many of world’s largest media companies. Those firms buy my skills as a contractor, and it’s easy to become a third- or sometimes even fourth-party contractor to the most significant news outlets in the world.

But as a 1099 who earns $50 a pop, that means I’m making $25 an article. I’d make just as much with tips at Waffle House for the same time.

Now, my skills are in demand. I make more than $50. There is a point when the numbers don’t compute and being a freelancer isn’t worth my time. It’s a “new math” where there’s added complexity of people and attitudes.

Do I like you? Are you trying to boss me? Is this a real job you’re trying to do on the cheap?

Hiring a contractor when it should be a full-time job is the one that sticks in my craw. If you use the word “onboarding,” or you micromanage anything besides my work productivity, it’s a job. There’s always some level of orientation at any new endeavor. Human contact is required for any project. If there’s ever a meeting on my calendar to discuss anything except the next assignment and how much it pays, I’m not interested.

The gig economy is excellent for companies who view human labor as a roadblock to profitability. But here’s the secret they don’t know: it’s turning workers into entrepreneurs. I’m no longer just putting chicken in the bucket for the man, and neither are you. Whether we know it, we’re building business plans and creating mission statements that give us MBAs from the school of hard knocks. 

We aren’t going to business school while building a business because it’s fun. We’re doing this to survive.

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