I Own My Career

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the decision I made a little over a year ago, to “go out on my own.” I owe my success first to a supportive husband and family, all of whom have made it possible for me to take this risk. But beyond that, my SHRM and local HR networks have been instrumental to my success, by providing guidance, pep talks, commiseration and tools to help me get on my feet and fashion the career I’ve always wanted.

The decision to leave the flock as an HR Professional isn’t an easy one. Working as a department of one, or in an established HR team at a company that pays you every other week and provides employee benefits and a 401K provides a feeling of security, camaraderie, and a clear future path.  You get feedback on how you’re doing, and sometimes a pat on the back or some kudos when you hit it out of the park. The job can be easier, too. You know the minefield of personalities, politics and closet skeletons, and the goals are laid out before you like a yellow brick road leading to the Emerald City. The problem is, there’s also often a “man behind the curtain” and all of that isn’t what it seems.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a very fair salary that I appreciated going in, only to end up having to work two full-time jobs to avoid leaving real humans I care about without receiving the support, operational consistency and services they need from HR. So, the salary, benefits and 401K take on a different value when divided in half. Now, when I get paid, it’s because I worked my ass off and delivered exactly what I sold to my client, and more. And when I perform work, it’s because it’s meaningful to me and I’m interested in doing it. Are there lean times? Yes. And when those come, I am rich with time to do things I want to do. Time has immense value to me.

I’ve participated in goalsetting that doesn’t align with any semblance of business success-or that is supported in any way by internal customers. Sometimes those goals have been a moving target, or backed into after the fact based on pet projects of new leaders. There’s no yellow brick road, or if it’s there, it leads nowhere. Today, I set my own goals, and achieve my own milestones. And they are exceedingly meaningful to me. I celebrate, and appreciate, and love when my blood, sweat and tears (along with the support of my partners and resources) have brought me to success. The flip side? I fail. A lot. And I learn. A lot. The freedom to fail and learn is one of the things I cherish about the freedom my new career affords me.

In the past, I’ve been embedded in organizations where dysfunction reigns and the No Asshole Rule is never enforced. I’ve let myself be stuck in a vortex of self-pity and inaction when my efforts to call it out have failed. The upside of being my own boss is not that I’ve escaped that. To the contrary, that experience has helped me recognize where that’s happening, and consulting has gifted me with the freedom (and readiness on the part of clients to receive the message) to illuminate it where it exists and help repair it. Where teams revel in dysfunction and by default create their own survival code for members to suffer through each day, there is almost always a kernel of human pain and need, and lack of understanding and empathy at the core. I’m not always successful in triumphing over dysfunction, but I always get to try. The elephant in the room never goes unnamed, and I value that greatly.

Gratitude is the first word that comes to mind when I think about my career today. Appreciation for the many colleagues who have been there before me and have shared their advice on how to make this work-it’s helped me hang on and not give up. Fulfillment: it’s what I get from this work, and in turn, helps me have the energy to give all I have to my clients.

I own my career. And it feels like success to me.

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The HR Martyr

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Why is it that everywhere I go, HR professionals work ungodly hours, are expected to drop everything at any time, and don’t feel they deserve work-life balance? It’s like we believe the hype the business sells when they tell the story of us as a cost center and a transactional, commodity-type service. The cheaper the better, the business says-watch out, because if you cost too much and don’t make it worth our while, we’ll just outsource you, replace you with technology, or not build you in at all, like many startups do today.

What is our typical response? It should be to show the value we bring in bringing success to the business, and in increasing the bottom line. It should be to prove our strategic worth, and stop being simply the department of “no.” It should be that we resist being seen as the party planner, the cleaner-upper, and the administrative assistant, and instead provide something more that the business can point to that brings them less turnover, a happier, more productive and successful workforce, more efficiently structured teams, better hires, and in turn, increased profits.

What do we do instead? Often it’s more of the same transactional, tactical, check the box, frenzied activity. So much of it that we trick ourselves into thinking we are indispensible. We work 70+ hours per week, making our already relatively lower pay (compared with other critical business functions) lower still by spreading it over two full-time jobs. We tell ourselves we’re lucky to be working for such a great organization, and that some people probably appreciate what we do. We talk about how much we’re working, how crazy busy it is at work, and how it’s impossible to get everything done, but that we have to keep trying, because the people are important to us. You know HR, right? It’s always like that. And we don’t deserve any better. No one thinks we’re important. They just think we cost money, and they are always looking for ways to cheapen the outflow of cash in our direction, because they don’t understand or appreciate what we bring to the table.

Poor us. But one thing is certain: they will never know if we sit back and hope they’ll notice. Telling isn’t enough, either. And just working long hours isn’t going to do it. We have to bring the goods and push our way to the table, and show them.

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Make Your Hiring Process Real

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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?

Visit Solve HR, Inc.

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What Work Can Be

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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.

Visit Solve HR, Inc.

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5K, 10K, Half, Marathon-Find Your Race and Run it!

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It’s time for a confession. Before we start talking about running 5K, 10K half marathon races and marathons, you need to know something about me.

I was never in good shape as a kid. I was not the track star, volleyball and basketball player that my brother and sister, and many of my friends were in high school. I was uncoordinated, lazy, and preferred to spend my Sunday curled up on the couch with a good book, or nestled in the crook of the walnut tree branches, daydreaming, instead of riding my bike or running around the neighborhood, or hanging upside-down from the monkey bars at the park. Was I chubby? Yes. Not by today’s standards, but certainly not one of those skinny, ropy kids without an ounce of fat on them.

Fast-forward to college. I was still super insecure about athletics, or even about working out. I started doing more physical activity, and even got laughed at by a particularly sadistic boyfriend when I went for a run with some other friends. So the voice in my head always told me that I couldn’t do it.

When I moved to Boulder in 1991, I had some friends who were runners who came with me. They forced me to run if I wanted to hang out with them. At first I was mortified by my lack of fitness, and my slow pace. But bit by bit, I got better. Then I clerked for a local firm in the summer after my first year of law school, and those lawyers huffed and puffed their way through a daily lunchtime run. Some of them went further, on seven-mile trail runs, and they peer-pressured me into joining them. They were old, so I could keep up, right?

It was really tough. I think they slowed down a little at first so I could do it. But it made me confident enough to run my first half, with a good friend, the following summer. I have been running races, including halfs and marathons, ever since.

Today, my goal is to make it to the next age group and shave some minutes off my time so I can place in one of the smaller half marathons. Because right now those women in their 40s are killin’ it (and me)! Of course, I do race in Boulder and Denver, and there are people who run for a living here, and I’ve learned that I am not willing to work as hard at my training as I need to in order to reach my peak performance. But more than anything, the most important truth I have discovered during all of this running, is that 95% of it is in your head. That’s right. The voice in your head that says you can’t do it is what’s stopping you, and nothing else. If you go slow enough, you can run one mile, then two, then a 5K, then a 10K and beyond. Just don’t stop!

My favorite race calendar is Running in the USA.  You can find local calendars that will tell you about the most popular races, and all of them have little gems that may not be included in the bigger calendars. But Running in the USA is the one that has the most coverage, and the biggest variety of races all over your state or the U.S.

So check out Running in the USA, choose your race, get together some friends, and start running. You will feel like a superstar!

Visit Solve HR, Inc.

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Harnessing the Power of Connection: 5 Ways

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It’s easy in today’s world to focus only on what we have going on in the moment-head down, working hard, spending time online and frittering our minutes away just in time for the next day to begin, when we start it all over again. Sometimes I ask myself, “What for?”

Luckily, the same things I need to practice to enjoy a happy and fulfilled life also help me connect with other people in meaningful ways. These connections help me make and strengthen friendships and business relationships, which enrich all areas of my life. Here are my favorite five ways to harness the power of connection:

  1. Give. Giving to others in your community and in your profession is a fantastic way to connect. I have volunteered for a couple of opportunities with my local SHRM chapter in Boulder, Colorado (BAHRA) recently and have been delighted at how it connects me with others and is an instant foundation for building relationships. It’s fun, feeds enthusiasm for my career and giving back to my community, and according to helpguide.org, volunteering benefits your skill development, health and well-being.
  2. Practice Presence. Bringing our whole, real selves to the things we do, including work, makes us happier and more confident. Amy Cuddy’s brilliant book, Presence, teaches us more than power poses—it helps us understand that practicing confidence creates confidence, and that believing in what we’re doing creates an energy that others respond to.
  3. Exhibit Authenticity. Online and in person, the same vision should inform our communications and interactions with others. Being authentic means speaking our own truths, but above all, listening for the connections we can find in the stories of others. According to research described in the Harvard Business Review, people who are authentic at work are happier, have lower stress, and have a stronger sense of community.
  4. Learn. Join with others to learn something new, and continuously strive to improve. Constant learning not only creates an organization that is more creative, full of energy and innovation, and more engaging, but it also creates those feelings in us as individuals. Even learning in small ways (for example, through the Society for Human Resource Management-SHRM’s Twitter-based #nextchat) can help us feel connected with one another and build trust by sharing our expertise, learning from others, and expressing our appreciation.
  5. Laugh. According to the Ithaca College HR blog, laughter not only increases our own well-being but it also attracts others to us, and laughing together creates an instant bond between individuals. I firmly believe that finding the humor in every moment possible, and not taking ourselves too seriously, is the best way to cope with the inevitable difficult situations no matter where they arise.

It’s not a coincidence that these five tips not only increase our ability to connect with other people, but also make for a happy, rewarding life! How do you connect?

Visit Solve HR, Inc.

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Maybe it’s Time for Me to Finally Lean In

Lean In

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has been in the news this week, both for her updated take on “Leaning In” after tragically losing her spouse and being a single mom for the past year, and also for her moving graduation speech at Cal.

There was also a response from startup founder and blogger Penelope Trunk, who called Sandberg’s simplistic ideas a “sham,” and reminded us that feminism means we all have a choice to lean in, or not lean in, or not work at all, for that matter, whether we have a supportive spouse or not. I have a lot of complex feelings about motherhood and the working world, and from the start, the whole idea of “leaning in” struck me as vaguely sexist and lacking in recognition for the complexity of real life. In fact, I resisted it as divorced from reality and not resonating at all with me and my experience.

But to be fair, I never read the book, and I didn’t participate in the discussion circles, or follow Ms. Sandberg online. With only a vague idea of what the book is about, and only an impression of “leaning in” from the media and popular culture, what I understand the concept to be is an embracing of challenges, taking risks, and believing you can, as a woman, take on leadership roles in your career that stretch your comfort level and help you grow.

But I don’t like the idea of defining that concept with a catchphrase. It echoes the very real cultural gender barriers to success, like the fact that equal sharing of childcare and household duties is still not the norm. I have a great and supportive spouse, and we have grown together over our 20+ years of marriage, developing a partnership to share the work. For young women, finding the right partner is understandably critical. Other women are most certainly smarter than me and planned everything out more carefully, having all of those important conversations with their partners in advance about sharing childrearing and planning careers together. I do expect that for a good number of us, life intervenes and hands us the joys and challenges we encounter.

I had my first baby just before third year in law school. I was 24 years old, had no passion whatsoever for working as a lawyer, and had little idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I took 19 credit hours to finish on time, and passed the bar. When the firm that I was planning on working for let me know that they didn’t have the ability to provide any reduced schedule or flexibility, I understood. Associates at large law firms then (as probably now) were basically owned by their firms. It was a big deal back then to have your employer pay for a cell phone, but it was their way of handcuffing you to your job, 24/7, so you could bill hours for them and then they could use you up and spit you out if you couldn’t hack it.

I told them “thanks but no thanks,” and leaned out so I could stay with my baby, and then had another one. I paid a staggering price career-wise, but I don’t regret it. My children are grown now, and since I had a choice, I feel lucky I was able to hang around with them instead of doing research, writing memos and placating clients. I’m sure there are some, but as far as I know, none of the women I was close to in law school have stayed long enough at a traditional large law firm to make partner, although plenty of the men have. They make great money, and some have even gone on to be successful in politics or become CEOs. They are intelligent, successful and deserving people, and I am proud to know them. I don’t know about what challenges they may have faced as dads with demanding careers, but I don’t think anyone had to tell them to go for it. They just did.

Now that I’m older, and my kids are grown, you would think I have a lot of pent-up “leaning in” I want to do. Maybe it’s time to read that book, go to the discussion group, and follow Sheryl Sandberg online. She has been through heartache and tragedy, in a very public role, and she has generously shared her vulnerability in a way that inspires me. I still don’t think “leaning in” is the only answer for women who want success. But I do think listening to what other women have experienced helps, whether it resonates with me or not. And that probably includes listening to Sheryl Sandberg too.

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