Nuggets from SHRM16


I recently read Tim Sackett’s post on topics that tend to repeat at SHRM Annual, basically saying that there was a lot of familiar content at SHRM16 as compared to recent past conferences, but ultimately recognizing the value in that. I get it. There are only so many big ideas for concurrent sessions that resonate in HR and are suitable for a broad audience. And some of the best speakers and most active SHRM leaders seem to have real jobs and don’t necessarily speak for a living, so if they are repeating their best material, that just allows people to soak it up again if they still need the message, or choose a rival session next time, of which there are many.

In addition to the topics that tend to boomerang, there were at least two other critical types of content at SHRM16 that need to be mentioned here. I am not talking about the general sessions, which are served up fresh and new each and every year. Every one of them was a complete knockout. I’m talking about:

  1. Small, interactive sessions on critical HR and business skills that we don’t typically get in other HR conferences and local events—an example is the great social media talk with Sabrina Baker and Michael VanDervort where we learned more about using different social media channels to implement specific strategies. I’m not a marketer, so it was a welcome conversation, after which Sabrina and Michael generously invited questions, then stayed to talk one on one with attendees to give them direction based on their own specific needs. Priceless!
  2. Nuts and bolts HR help that is up-to-the minute in nature-Mickey Silberman of Jackson Lewis gave a talk on pay equity legal compliance that was so fresh that the slides and even the title had been revised in the two weeks prior to the conference. Not only is Mickey a superior presenter, but the content was worth its weight in gold.

It was also super helpful to have all of the best vendors in HR gathered together in the SHRM16 expo. My clients are of the small to mid-size variety, and I was able to explore many different solutions for them in one place.

The other thing I grooved on at SHRM16 was the chance to meet people I interact with online and fellow SHRMies that work in other areas of the Southwest Central region. I also had fun getting to know international HR pros that feel like SHRM Annual is the best investment for their development dollar. I don’t meet them at the other conferences I attend, so that’s another great opportunity for me.

This was my first year at SHRM Annual, so naturally I feel like it was the best SHRM conference I’ve ever attended. There’s no question that it was well worth the investment for me. I’d love to be there for SHRM17, but since I’m the boss, first I need to make the money-speaking of which, it’s time to go do the real work of HR. See you in NOLA!

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Photo credit: “Nugget in the Back 40” by Kelly Marinelli




I took a Blogcation this week. Part of the reason was that I was at SHRM16 in DC, and I didn’t want to distract myself by doing actual work when I was trying to learn, explore and network. The other reason is that I wanted to totally digest the experience and mull it over before I start to write about it. I am feeling inspired so I am getting together some topics to dig into next week, so more to come on that.

One observation I will share with you as a preview is this: when HR pros get together, they are unrelentingly real-there is a vulnerability and recognition that makes for fast friendships. We share an experience that binds us together instantly, and even the most introverted and curmudgeonly of us will bond when mixed, kind of like a chemical reaction. In that setting, you can learn so much, so fast, and on such a deep level, that you come away like you didn’t just develop, you changed.

I’ll be back next week with some SHRM nuggets. Speaking of Nugget, I need to go feed my sister’s chickens. Have a great weekend.

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Photo credit: Simeon Berg via / CC BY

Volunteer Leadership is Real Leadership

Volunteer Today

Reminder: volunteers don’t get bonuses or performance reviews. And they don’t give a hoot whether you are happy with what they do, unless they care personally about what you think and want to exercise their own integrity and motivation in carrying out their volunteer duties. This makes them an absolutely perfect practicing ground for honing your leadership skills!

I am participating in a volunteer committee through my professional group. When things go well, everyone is so happy to be together, contributing to the group and spending time together working on projects. But I noticed recently that the “masks” we might wear at work are not on when we get together as volunteers. When a volunteer doesn’t agree with something, or doesn’t like an outcome, he wears it all over his face. If someone is disengaged, the negative body language in response is immediate. We don’t hold the same level of patience for our fellow volunteers that we do for people who control our work destinies.

It’s easy to be annoyed in that situation, and get lost in the emotional response to others’ cues. But it’s such a fantastic opportunity to observe how people respond to the way you communicate. I asked myself these questions:

  • What communication approaches (in-person meeting, email, polls, social media) generate the most productive responses?
  • Do I need to listen more and talk less?
  • Am I using the right level of clarity, or assuming shared knowledge that just isn’t there?
  • Are there members who are hanging back, waiting for assignments, but feeling frustrated about their level of involvement?
  • Conversely, are there members doing too much work and feeling put-upon?
  • Do people need more information to connect the work they are doing to the mission of the organization?

All of these questions make me a better leader in projects and teams for “real” work, not just volunteer activities. The great bonus in my group is that I am working with a team of effective, motivated and successful professionals who truly care about their work (paid and unpaid) and about each other. It’s the kind of high-performing team that is fun to work with and generates great results.

If you want to be a leader and aren’t finding opportunities in your current role, consider a volunteer position. It’s “real” experience, learning and development, and helps your community too.

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Photo credit: byzantiumbooks via / CC BY

Make Your Hiring Process Real


While working in severely dysfunctional environments back when I was a baby professional, I have personally sat in on interviews as an individual contributor and heard hiring leaders tell bold-faced lies about things like work-life balance. And I’m not talking about technicalities here, like saying “Our organization’s values statement includes work-life balance” when it isn’t actually implemented in practice. What I heard was, “Oh, yes! There’s plenty of balance here! We manage to get our work done and leave plenty of time for your personal life. And we’re flexible too, no worries!” Umm, no, and no.

Should I have offered to walk this candidate out to the entrance after the meeting and told her the truth? Yes. But that would be ruining any chance for my own work-life balance since I was working in “survival mode” as my manager called it, and with two team members currently missing, I needed some new sucker to take the job. That makes me a terrible person out to save my own hide, but I’m not sure what anyone expects in that situation, where you pit team member against team member and put them on a tropical island without enough food or tools. “Survival mode” is fine when it’s really just in emergencies, but nobody has the fortitude and motivation to do their best work that way all the time. The organization had made a choice that it was worth the turnover to keep lean. I’m not sure they were right, but that’s for another day, another post.

In the years after that, I had a very different experience with a much more enlightened employer. I had been looking for a new opportunity and wasn’t in a hurry. The role was very demanding, but exciting too. When I heard about the salary range, I wasn’t dazzled, but the work was cool enough that I wanted to know more. I had a great call with a recruiter, and was next scheduled to speak with another person in the role I was being considered for.

She helped me put the brakes on pretty quickly. “This is a job where you can expect to work 60 hours or more per week consistently, every week. And then sometimes we work through weekends if there are deadlines.”

She continued, “And you should expect to travel 50-75% of the time, depending on client need.” Hmm…this was not previously mentioned by the recruiter. Travel is fun, but not all the time, and it’s certainly something I would need to know in order to realistically evaluate the opportunity.

“You also should know that you will be held to billable hours and sales goals.” OK. As a recovering lawyer, “billable hours goal” is code for “we will work you within an actual inch of your life.”

I revisited the salary range, thought through the other details, and it was very clear that I wasn’t willing to be worked within an inch of my life or expected to spend most of my waking hours there, even for exciting work, for the salary they were offering. If I wanted to do that, I wouldn’t have left the legal profession.

What if my interviewer had been a coward, like me? The organization would have gotten some good work out of me, that’s true. But alas, it wouldn’t have been a long-term gig. Telling the truth about the job gave me, and the organization, the right result. It wasn’t a fit. Wise hiring leaders and talent acquisition professionals know that painting an accurate picture, warts and all, makes for not only good hires, but the right hires.

Think about your own recruiting, interviewing and hiring processes. What incentives is your organization creating among those involved in the hiring process (recruiters, interviewers, yourself) that aren’t in alignment with your business and hiring strategic goals? Are you being frank with job seekers about what you have to offer?

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Photo credit: dv over dt via / CC BY-NC-SA

Run for Fun

run 13er

I have been running half marathons every weekend lately. It can get costly, but it rejuvenates me in a way that I just can’t get from any other activity. It’s cheaper and more effective than therapy, it’s less disruptive to my life than medical problems and the care that go with them, and it adds untold joy to my life.

I have been running for 25 years. I’m by no means a great athlete. From the start, I did it because it proved to me I could be strong. I do it still for that reason. I recently became introduced to an organization called Running Start, which supports women as they make their journey toward becoming runners. There are other groups like this one as well, but I saw Running Start firsthand at the Skirt Sports 13er on Sunday, where a big group of new runners participated in the races, and were cheered on by their Running Start mentors. What a wonderful way to share joy and confidence and health with other women!

If you haven’t ever run a race, or you haven’t done it in a while, consider signing up for that 5K or 10K race in your area. Summer is a time when events like these are often going on close to everyone, and if you can’t find an event, consider participating virtually. Get a group of friends together, and celebrate the summer by getting active!

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Photo Credit: Kelly Marinelli, at Skirt Sports 13er Half Marathon



What Work Can Be


I’ve been having a lot of conversations about work with people I respect and admire lately. I just returned from the Colorado Capital Conference in Washington, D.C. last week, where I learned about and discussed the work of the U.S. Congress. I also talked with fellow Coloradans about their work, their lives, and the things they care about. It was an opportunity of a lifetime, not just because I was able to visit the floor of the senate and hear from our nation’s leaders, but also because I came away with a new faith in our system and trust in our Colorado congressional leaders to work together in a bipartisan manner for the good of our state.

When I returned, I had a great conversation with a neighbor and friend I greatly respect and look up to. She was feeling invigorated by a recent career change, and entering a time of great passion around her career as she approaches age 60. I recently made a big transition in my career this spring, and I found that we fed off each other’s energy in discussing our plans. When I walked away, I felt even more excitement about my work, and gratitude for the opportunities I have now to do work I love in HR, be in my community of Boulder, and interact with intelligent, caring people of integrity that share my commitment to making work better.

Sometimes I forget that not everyone shares my core belief that work brings meaning to life. In the past, our grandparents worked hard for the same company or organization for their entire careers, and were “rewarded” with a pension in retirement. Like many other working people my age, I joke about never retiring, because none of us will ever truly be able to afford it. But the real story is that the people I know who have deep passion for their work don’t ever want to stop working. The new “gig” economy is taking root just in time for us to envision our later working years in a way that fits with what we want and need for our changing lives.

As I examine what I truly want from my work, I realize that I yearn for more than just an exchange of brainpower for money. That, at its basic level, is what work is to most of us, and what it’s been to me at some points in my career. But if I have a choice, I want more. I want to do work that not only just helps people, but furthers an organization I respect and trust. I want to be part of something bigger than just me. At its best, work can feed the spirit and contribute to our feelings of worth, belonging and our place in the world. All work has value, and there is justified pride in a day’s work well done that is appreciated by and performed for an organization that treats its workers with respect, that is deserving of their trust.

Work can be more to all of us: more satisfying, more rewarding, and adding energy to our lives, not exhausting it.

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Photo credit: franklin_hunting via / CC BY-ND


Friday Facts: Self-Improvement Edition

glass bottles

Today I am curious about the cottage industry of leadership development and coaching, and all of the nebulous advice I see out in social media telling us all how to have a better career. These are just a few representative articles of the type I see every day:

Ten Unexpected Things that Will Radically Improve Your Life

Nine Things Emotionally Intelligent People Won’t Do

Five Traits of Successful Leaders

Want to Succeed at a Startup? Focus on These Five Qualities

Ten Secrets to Living a Vibrantly Happy, Healthy Life

Surprising Habits of Truly Powerful People

I’ve concluded that we are all starving for this kind of advice, because it’s so ubiquitous in the places where professionals gather, online and in person at conferences. We all are longing for a roadmap to personal and professional success. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an actual way to just follow the directions and do it right?

But this is just one piece of that puzzle. The rest has to be gained through experience, self-awareness, reflection, and, frankly, a willingness to be vulnerable and accept one’s own failures and learn from them. I know how to put on a mask of confidence, capability, understanding and leadership-but if I’m not genuine and trustworthy, you will sniff me out as a fraud and reject whatever it is I have to say, and you certainly won’t want to accept me as a genuine leader.

As much as I love sitting around reading these articles and thinking smugly, “mmmm, hmmm, I knew that,” it takes a lot more work to get to real emotional intelligence, recognition, respect, effective leadership and success than what I will read online or hear from even the most engaging speaker at a conference.

Guess I’ll keep reading, just in case. But I’ll make time to do a little thinking too.

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Photo credit: Unhindered by Talent via / CC BY-SA