Work

Go ahead and try to explain the current state and future state of HR in less than 50 words.

(I’ll wait. It’s not easy.)

In years past, I told people that HR is an inverted pyramid. There’s value at the top and bottom, but it turns out that fewer people are doing more and more of the valuable work. The rest is automated and outsourced.

On the bottom of the pyramid, it’s all about administrative processes. It’s low-value work to some people; however, I think it’s necessary work. You don’t have HR if you can’t pay people on time.

The second block is the part of the pyramid that delivers on HR’s value proposition. You’ll find recruiters and business partners who get things done in the trenches. It isn’t a very profitable part of the HR value chain, and it’s full of HR people making mistakes and demonstrating bad judgment masked in the confidence of undergraduate degrees and HR certifications. But it gets the job done.

The third part of the pyramid is where you see strategy come to life. HR business partners are promoted to Regional Managers and Directors, and you get talent acquisition professionals who think holistically instead of focusing on open requisitions. It’s still messy, but it’s informed chaos. This group spends money on consultants and vendors, too.

The fourth section is a playground for a lot of consultants and technical firms. That’s the particular segment of the HR pyramid where people-related decisions are made by internal experts who, allegedly, know what they’re doing. But most of these “internal experts” have favored vendors and providers who give guidance and sell technology. This is where I used to make most of my money.

The upper block of the pyramid is reserved for what consultants call, “Elite HR.” Not every HR department has an elite offering, but this is where global decisions are made in conjunction with the business imperatives of an organization. It’s a goldmine for consultants when they have access to it, but you have to be invited to play. And very few people in HR will ever work at this level, including your CHRO.

The way I’ve described HR just now hasn’t changed much in the past 25 years. But I think the future of HR looks different, and I’ve been drawing something else, these days.

The future of HR isn’t human resources. It’s all about the employee’s experience and triggering event. Is the worker contingent? Full-time? Working from home? Working abroad? Is she sick? Is her coworker bullying her?

An employee will enter their request into a Siri-like AI interface. Maybe it’s an intranet. Maybe it’s an app on their phone that can confirm an identity based on location and bio-identity markers. The interface will get to work and pull the best solutions from all facets of HR — plus outside of HR, as needed — to deliver an “answer” or solution to the worker via her device-of-choice.

But the future of HR isn’t just about on-demand service delivery. Behind the interface, those individual HR groups will work together proactively to design plans, programs and solutions. Each unit will validate the work of the other units, and there will be checks and balances to approve the quality and appropriateness. A solution will be delivered to employees through an interface (first choice) or in some sort of human form (second choice). A record of that transaction will be stored in a limitless personnel file in the cloud.

But here’s the kicker: When I try to explain the future of HR in less than fifty words, I tell people that human resources will be less and less human each day. HR departments and constituencies will evolve into blocks of knowledge, not people. Our HR “systems” will learn lessons from previous HR endeavors, and they’ll do automated premortems to calculate risks and overcome mistakes of the past. HR will use best practices from other industries and organizations, and it will devise HR strategies and programs that are customized to each individual worker without a lot of human messiness.

So, in short, the future of HR doesn’t have a lot of room for humans except in that elite core where critical thinking, creativity, and transparency are required to keep the whole thing running in an ethical way.

Modern day HR professionals laugh at me when I tell them that their time is limited, but they shouldn’t be laughing. Or they call me Henny Penny/Chicken Little and ask for easy solutions so they can transfer their knowledge to something else.

I think there are two ways you can play it. You can be a coal miner and get really mad when your skills are no longer in demand, or get competitive and try to push yourself into that elite echelon.

Here’s what I know: You can do anything. If you work in HR, study language, poetry, and history. Be passionate about stories so you can advocate for workers as needed. Learn to spot patterns and trends so you can get better at predicting the gulf between enterprise initiatives and human behavior.

And learn a little about other future-forward HR delivery models. I’m not sure my predictions will come true, but if you begin to listen to people talk about the future of HR in aggregate, it becomes pretty clear that your time is limited.

I’m in love with my career as a writer, but most of my blogging isn’t very good. It’s a narcissistic dump of feelings to clear my mind and boost my ego. I want to believe that I write great HR blog posts. But I peer back through time and see that I’m almost always writing for myself, which is the worst kind of public writing. And nearly all of my posts look something like this:

LFR BLOG

Unfortunately, HR bloggers all over the world copy my moderately successful style as a means to hack their way to success. But, my dear friends, that won’t work for you. It barely works for me, and I’m considered the master of great HR blog posts.

If you want to write a half-decent article that transforms someone’s life besides your own, you need to learn the rules and structure of a successful post.

So let’s talk about rules.

First rule: Don’t be a blogger until you read Strunk & White. Break the grammar rules once you sorta know the rules. Or break them because you’re trying really hard to learn.

Second rule: No paragraph should be more than five lines. Not five sentences. Five lines. And that’s probably two lines too many.

Third rule: Nobody wants to read about your childhood.

I’ve learned all of those rules the hard way.

Now let’s talk about the structure of a successful blog post.

The first section is the problem statement. Something’s on the reader’s mind about (HR, failure, wellness, leadership, work, money, art, animals). And, in your esteemed opinion, it’s a legitimate topic to discuss.

The second section is about validation. I can see your problem, dear reader. It’s on my mind. I’ve thought about this and/or experienced this, too.

The third section touches on why the problem statement is a universal challenge. It’s an opportunity to share a communal story that ties the reader and the author together.

The fourth section is the solution to the problem statement. As the author, I know your brain makes tens of thousands of decisions each day. You work too hard and think too much. There’s an easier way. Let’s tackle this problem together. There may or may not be bullet points.

The fifth section ties it together. The author repeats the problem statement, validates the reader’s struggle, and de-escalates the situation by restating the simple solution.

And the last stanza should be no more than a line or two with a call to action. Read my book. See me speak. Get to bed early. Take a Xanax.

So that’s the way a good blog post is written. You’ll see this formula in Forbes and Entrepreneur with sections 1-3 condensed for brevity. That’s why those articles have no soul and don’t remain with you. You finish and article and realize that there’s nothing worth imprinting on your heart.

If you want to be a phase three blogger, think bigger than click-bait and schilling for dodgy advertisers. And think beyond your childhood trauma, although good luck with that one. Cheryl Strayed advises writers to start with “why.” So here are the questions I ask myself before my daily writing exercise.

Why am I writing a blog post? Who is my audience? What do they get out of this? What’s the point? Who’s life will I change?

Once you answer those questions, the mechanics of the post — the physical and literal “how” of how you tell your story — will reveal itself to you. Then, and only then, will you write great HR blog posts.

You shouldn’t give feedback unless you want to change someone’s life.

That’s an audacious goal, and it’s probably unattainable. But feedback is tough. Not everybody is meant to deliver messages. If you start out with the purpose of intent of making someone’s life better, your petty attachments and issues fade away. You can focus on a story that is bigger than you.

Also, you shouldn’t be a leader unless you want to change someone’s life. You may think that’s impractical. Modern corporations are built so that the only way you get promoted and earn more money is through leadership. If you’re not a VP-of-something, you’re poor and you don’t have stock options.

In some companies, that’s true. But if you’re not focused on changing someone’s life, you probably aren’t very good at your job. Or maybe you’re good enough, for now, but not good enough in the long run. Because real leadership means making an emotional connection to people you don’t know and promising them that they’ll get something out of their exchange with you other than more work.

And, in the midst of March Madness, it’s especially true that you shouldn’t be a coach if you don’t want to change lives. Basketball coach, life coach, financial coach, or even just a coach on a kids football team. You can’t coach someone if you’re not obsessed with making that person’s life better.

Coaching isn’t about you and your bright ideas. It’s about having a plan, sure, but that plan can’t be rooted in your ego. In fact, you have to remove your ego entirely. Because if your client fails — and they will fail, we can plan for it — you need the strength and determination to motivate them, and yourself, to try again.

Feedback, leadership, and coaching are intrinsically linked by one core message: don’t bother if you’re not relentlessly passionate about changing someone else’s life. If you’re in it for yourself, or because it’s a default position on an organization chart, your journey is over before it begins.

I flew out to San Francisco last week for 24 hours. I wanted to stay longer, but my husband was out of the country, and my cat 16-year-old cat needed his medicine.

So I got on a plane, flew through a blizzard, met a guy who works for The Shins at an airport bar who invited me to a show and it wasn’t creepy, landed in San Francisco, went to bed, woke up, spoke to HR ladies about feedback, did SoulCycle, took a meeting and then took a shower (in that order), and flew home on the red-eye.

It was pretty exhausting, but I’ve inadvertently found myself in hustle mode. I fucking hate hustle mode, by the way. It’s awful. Who lives like this? My god, nothing stresses me out more than not having control of my calendar and acquiescing to other people’s schedules. That’s no way to work! That’s how savages work!

Unfortunately, I’m a savage until I move from pre-revenue to revenue. I’ll be getting my hands dirty for the next few years since it’s not like building a software company takes 21 days and then you dive into a swimming pool of money. Long story short: I’ll be hustling for awhile.

If I had kids, I would complain even more about hustle mode because whining is my favorite thing to do when I’m not crushing it. I commend my friend Sabrina for kicking butt and taking names on her entrepreneurial journey.

And, speaking of complaining, whizzing around the country delivering keynotes and having meetings is exhausting. If I learned anything from my earlier careers (plural), it’s that travel can wear me down. I already think my life is hard for no reason, and I can’t tolerate SSRIs or anti-anxiety medicine. So I’ve made a commitment to myself: intensive cardio six days a week.

I’m happy to report that, so far, the commitment is holding up. I’ve had to do some weird things like forewarn people that I’m arriving at their offices in workout clothes and sweaty armpits, but, at this moment, nobody has died from my body odor.

And the good news is that my friends are joining me on this crazy journey. Both Sarah and Jennifer are doing Orangetheory. Sarah-Beth and my niece are my SoulCycle sisters. My friend Dominique ran up a skyscraper with me. I’ve got my pilates and yoga practice, which makes me stronger and is helping me reconnect with my core, and I’ve picked up my running routine.

At some point, I need to take a look at my diet and align my fitness goals with my dietary restrictions. Wait, I don’t have to do that. I never have to do that. Nevermind. That’s a horrible idea. I’m in hustle mode. I’ll eat whatever the hell I want.

Whether I like it or not, I’m in hustle mode. I have goals, I have dreams, and I have a future that requires my full attention. And the only way I can manage all the chaos and the noise is to sweat and grunt my way through a workout.

When I want something, nobody works harder than me. It feels good to have a fire in my belly, again, along with pizza and ice cream. Thankfully, cardio will help on a lot of levels.

A couple of years ago, I sat in a marketing meeting with a client that had just gone through a major pivot. They were moving from an established product to a fresh way of doing business. Everything was different: new logo, new message, new leadership, a new vision for the enterprise. But what was the same?

Well, the buyer was the same. That’s a problem. Those imaginary leads who live on the cutting edge of HR and recruiting weren’t materializing. The reputation of the brand didn’t move, either. And while some leadership was new, the executive team largely remained the same. The company’s pivotal efforts were unrewarded.

Now, software has a long sales cycle. You invest energy and action into product development, marketing, sales enablement, customer success, and all the other tedious functions of a company so that you reap the rewards in 36 months. And it’s a matter of leadership: can with you withstand the pain of change in those early months, and can you financially afford to keep going?

And there’s the question of getting it wrong. Just because you have a hot take doesn’t mean it’s going to sell — or even that it’s a unique offering. These HR technology companies are myopic. You would think that businesses take some time and test out new ideas before they spend a lot of money, and some do, but most don’t. Even mature ones. There’s a hedonic treadmill, and HR technology companies feel pressured to keep up with the competitors and look good doing it.

“You’re a talent company? So are we. Look at our new platform.”

And there’s a moment when you discover your buyer isn’t buying what you’re selling, and you’ve burnt through your emotional and reputational capital. It’s a painful lesson. That’s when I’m often called into a room to help brainstorm new ideas.

So, in that period where my client was struggling and it had yet to see any return on its development and marketing investment, I offered guidance: you can keep pouring money into marketing campaigns and making toolkits for your sales team, or you can stop right now and work collaboratively with sales and engineering to ask better questions.

That’s when I introduced the concept of the premortem:

Take 90 seconds. Ask yourself why this relaunch has failed. Let’s compare the answers on our team and see what we learn. Then let’s ask some trusted customers why this pivot fell flat.

Well, that went over like a lead balloon. Nobody wanted to talk about failure because, my god, am I nuts? In a room with peers and colleagues? Also, what the eff is a premortem?! That sounds depressing. We want to talk about success!

That’s when I knew my future. I walked away from that client shortly after that and doubled-down on GlitchPath, my premortem software, which sometimes still gets the same general reaction.

Dammit.

Collaborative failure platform? Yes, okay, that’s great for someone else. But over here, we want solutions. And quit telling me that the person closest to the problem is the one with answers. I don’t want to fix things. If I knew how to fix it, I’d do it. I want to pay you to fix things.

Man, this is why I hated working in HR. Some people are so lazy and disengaged.

But there are people out there who see systemic problems at their companies and want to raise their hand — or wave a red flag — and stop the insanity. I know this because, after the meeting with my client, I was pulled aside and asked for tips and tools to help make the post-pivot business case for change.

GlitchPath is still committed to creating a platform to help people beat failure at work and in life. We’re obsessed with helping people communicate more effectively and have less drama in their lives. And, personally, I’m all about solving problems early instead of waiting until things fail.

If we make you successful, that’s great. You seem like a nice person who deserves happiness. But if we make you smarter and help you fight back against bureaucracy and stupid problems at work, even better.

So I’m still working on the premortem along with a more thoughtful way to help you find solutions. If you are disengaged and burned out, and if you’re tired of working with people who keep screwing up your career plans, I’m pivoting slightly and will have something for you and your colleagues soon.

Did you read the reporting that the US Supreme Court Nominee, Neil Gorsuch, allegedly said that women manipulate companies to extract maternity benefits?

Yeah, those sneaky broads start an interview with the intention of pulling a fast one on business owners by having kids!

He also allegedly believes it’s okay for employers to ask women if they plan on having kids while making no mention of asking men if they plan on starting a family.

So, first things first. If by manipulate you mean maximize benefits, the answer is yes. Recruiters and HR professionals help in the process, too. Maternity leave is so paltry in America that it’s like manipulating a jellyfish into a baseball bat. No matter what you do, the programs lack a spine and have a microscopic impact for working women who are trying to balance the demands of a career and parenthood.

(Advice to new moms: find an HR Generalist who knows how your STD, LTD, PTO and FMLA policies all work together and buy her a nice lunch. Make her your ally.)

What’s worse are the paternity plans. Not that Gorsuch cares, but when they exist, they often suck. Men manipulate companies, too, by hoarding sick days and vacation days to spend at home in those early days when the baby doesn’t need anything except its mom.

(Advice to new dads from almost every HR professional out there: save your paternity leave manipulating to months 3-4 when the baby is fussy, and the demands of parenthood are wearing your partner down.)

Gorsuch thinks it’s okay to ask women about their intentions to start a family during the interview process, which shows you how little he knows about the world of work. If he had any smarts, he’d support questions that are more relevant such as, “Do you plan on saying racist things to your coworkers disguised as passive-aggressive jokes? Will you be late every day and blame everybody — including the GPS voice who navigates your route on Waze — instead of taking responsibility for your life? In your opinion, is it okay to park in the disabled space because you have cramps?”

(That’s the real world of work.)

HR professionals sit at the intersection of work, power, politics and money. All over America, they’re working with companies to find the best and most talented candidates. Your government has no idea how business works, including those so-called business-friendly-Republicans who think the best way to strengthen America is to let hegemonic corporate power run amok.

What’s best for America is to empower talented and educated workers to do their thing in a free market environment. And to Gorsuch’s surprise, I think he will find that the best employers out there want men and women to take the time they need when a baby is born with no manipulation required. Heavily-regulated maternity leave is over. Parental leave, and treating employees like adults, yields better results.

Welcome to the intersection, HR professionals. While there’s nothing more boring than SCOTUS hearings, it’s time to start paying attention.

Every Friday night is the same around here: I’m hungry, the internet has me down, and I demand an early dinner.

For years, the husband and I earmarked Friday as date night. We grabbed a geriatric meal at the local Mexican place before seeing a movie. And, because my life unfolds online, I would bring the world with me and tweet about my margaritas and guacamole.

It was a fun phase of our lives. Having “geriatric Mexican” made me feel like I was having a moment with my husband and my readers.

But then our favorite Mexican joint shut down. We shopped our business around but couldn’t find a place that made us as happy. Also, movies started to suck. We’re in peak TV, right now, and all the good stuff is happening at home. I have no interest in seeing Logan or any other depressing movie out there.

So, our new ritual is to have no idea what we’re doing on Friday night. Maybe we’ll do Mexican, but sometimes we get Himalayan or Thai. And we don’t always see a movie because our DVR is full of good shows, plus we have Amazon Prime and Netflix. We watched Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and we both liked it, which is unusual.

I’m a big fan of rituals when they serve me. Finding a routine in my life hasn’t been routine at all — it’s been liberating to know that good stuff is on my calendar. We visit the same places in North Carolina to see farms and goats and even lavender fields. I feed the cats at the same time each day and have standing names for those rituals — noshes, boo boo kitty crunchies, and poo poo party (don’t ask). And during the summer months, I try to drive to the beach on a weekly basis.

But rituals can get stale. When the calendar serves itself instead of serving me, or when I become attached to the ritual and not the reason behind the ritual, it’s time to change things up.

I can’t say no to geriatric dinners entirely, just like I know you can’t ditch the routine of carpool or making school lunches. I won’t tell you to take a different route to school or break the golden rule of parenting and pack Lunchables, but maybe there’s one thing you always do that needs revisiting.

As for me, it’s Friday and I have no idea where I’m going to eat dinner. Last week, we ate Mexican food at 8:30 PM instead of 6:30 PM. There were no kids or elderly people in the restaurant, which was shocking. I’m not sure how I felt about it. If rituals are commitments we make to show the world what’s important, let it be known that I’m starving on Friday nights by 6:30 PM.

I don’t live in Spain where it’s okay to eat late. I’m not French, so I don’t snack lightly all day and have a great dinner with wine. I didn’t vote for Trump — and I don’t have a huge chip on my shoulder about the coastal elitists in America — but I want my dinner and a margarita while it’s still light outside. I don’t want to be judged about it, either.

That’s my ritual. That’s my routine. And it makes me happy. It stays!

As a rookie HR girl, I thought it was my responsibility to change the world and make everybody feel good about work. No tragedy was too big and no task was too troublesome to save me from my passion for getting involved in other people’s lives.

Unfortunately, other people’s lives are messy.

While working at a candy factory on the north side of St. Louis, I made a grand observation that everybody seemed depressed and anxious. I wasn’t far off. We hired workers from economically depressed areas in the region, including people from Ferguson. We had quite a few meth addicts at the factory. And we also hired refugees fleeing genocide in Bosnia.

My big plan was to practice the Fish! Book before the book was even in existence. I would have fun, smile, and try to make everybody’s day. One of my ideas was to put stickers on the factory workers’ timecards and write them notes of encouragement at the beginning of the week.

You matter!
Keep up the good work!
I like watching Melrose Place, too!

My boss pulled me aside, one Monday afternoon, and didn’t look happy. I asked, “Is everything okay? Am I in trouble?”

She said, “I need to give you some feedback. It’s a gift.”

Turns out, a group of factory workers had been planning to kick my ass before a more seasoned employee intervened and spoke to my boss. I was too smiley, which was honest and accurate feedback. One of them thought I was making a move on her boyfriend. That wasn’t correct, but I could see her point.

So, yeah, her feedback was a gift. But my boss wouldn’t say that I was in trouble — she just kept telling me that it was best if I don’t deface timecards because they are, technically, company documents that might need to be used in legal proceedings.

I asked, “Am I going to get fired because of this?”

She sighed deeply and said, “No stickers. No notes. Got it?”

Believe me, I got it. Nobody wants a beatdown in a candy factory parking lot over stickers.

I also understood that the word “feedback” had a lot of meanings. Feedback can be constructive, or it can be the equivalent of a cease-and-desist letter. So, before you use the word “feedback” at work, pause for two seconds and check this quick and dirty guide to help you figure out what you’re about to communicate.

Positive feedback: probably praise
Neutral feedback: information that can be relayed in the “stop/start/continue” format
Negative feedback: a command

Instead of beginning a sentence by telling someone that you have feedback, which is often an emotional buffer, just get down to brass tacks. Say what you mean to say. Organize your thoughts, anticipate the recipient’s reaction, and be concise. Then be ready to answer questions or offer real-time suggestions on how a situation.

Don’t tell me you have feedback for me. Say what you want to say and move forward.

It’s just too bad we can’t move forward with stickers!

It’s that time of year when HR nerds get together and talk policy and legislation at the SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference.

I’m not going to lie, it’s my favorite event on the calendar because it affirms my career-long thesis that HR sits at the intersection of work, power, politics and money. I always walk away smarter when I attend that conference, too.

Here are the issues on my mind. I’d love to hear HR professionals, consultants and academics talk about these issues a little more.

The workforce is too surveilled. From assessments to genetic testing to the internet of things, your boss knows more about you than you know about your CEO. I used to think transparency was a two-way street, but now I realize that I’m naive. While nobody has a right to privacy when committing unlawful acts, I fear that it will soon be illegal to do anything other than work fifty hours a week and keep your mouth shut. I hope the “human” part of human resources will advise employers that there’s a fine line between risk management and stalking.

People drop out of the workforce because they can’t afford to work. People are underemployed or working as contractors because it just doesn’t pay to show up for work and get hassled for less and less money. Lots of people like to blame Obama and regulations. I blame executives who are motivated by cash but tell the average worker that happiness has a threshold that caps around $75,000. Want to pay somebody less but offer a culture of happiness? Let’s put that to the test on the executive spectrum.

We work too much. I love being American, and I don’t want to be Italian or French. But I might like a government that supports the mental and physical health of its citizens. If Congress wants to increase its approval rating, it can win me over with mandatory paid leave.

Finally, I’m paying attention to the overall health and wellbeing of women in the workplace. It’s not like women’s health care rights are being challenged, and it’s not as if women are asked to perform their job duties in hostile work environments.

Oh, snap!

Human resources professionals sit on the front lines of work, power, politics and money. But they also sit on the front lines of intensely personal issues that affect workers to their core. It’s time to start treating our employees like humans — with wholly differentiated lives — and not commodities. And it’s time to create a better work experience for women.

I hope everybody at the SHRM event has a good time. I’ll be watching from the sidelines. Please channel good and creative solutions this way, and I’ll do my part to share and evangelize innovative ideas.

Every weekend, millions of people around wake up early, dress their kids in cute clothes, and drive to a local house of worship to get good with God.

Then they get to work on Monday and act like assholes.

Churches, mosques, and synagogues are filled with loving and thoughtful people who hate their jobs. About 51% of the workforce is disengaged, which means that people right beside you in a pew or on a prayer rug are dealing with a stupid boss, a long commute, or a toxic work environment.

And they’re miserable.

I wonder how many choose to ignore the lessons of scripture — and I mean any scripture from the Old Testament to the Bhagavad Gita — and look externally for blame. It’s easier to get angry with HR than to figure out the root cause of suffering, just like it’s much easier to blame a higher power in the form of a supervisor or CEO instead of looking within for answers.

There’s a second-tier of people who are actively disengaged. They go to church on Sunday and ask for mercy for being born in sin and shaped in iniquity, but they don’t offer forgiveness to those around them. And they probably don’t realize how much Grace is bestowed upon them by their colleagues and supervisors, either.

Actively disengaged workers have no problem spending a majority of the week with a chip on their shoulder blaming everybody from their coworkers to Barack Obama for their lack of purpose and meaningful experiences in life. They sabotage meetings or company endeavors and make the world harder for the people around them. Then it’s back to church on Sunday.

It’s insanity.

I’m always curious about what comes next for people who are bitter and can’t move from anger to action. What happens to chronic victims who can’t catch a break? Do we ignore them? Do we keep putting them on performance plans? Do we send them back to pastors and EAP counselors hoping that someone might get through to them?

Nobody is getting through to them. Not right now, anyway.

I have an alternative thought for all workers on this beautiful Monday morning. Let’s pretend that going to work is another opportunity to get good with God. Shut your eyes, calm your mind and breathe. Listen to stories. Be humble, generous, and put other people’s needs first.

People of faith know that you can’t get good with God until you get good with yourself. I think you can’t get good with work until you do the hard work, put in the hours, and get good with yourself.

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