Not a Thought Leader

They are all around us. People with something to say that makes us think in a new direction, and analysis of trends and data that make us better at our work every day. They share their perspectives and conclusions through LinkedIn, blogs, media outlets, conferences, consultancies and on other platforms. They’re thought leaders. And they're amazing. 

I was thinking about my work today, and what I realized is that although I write on my blog, engage online in conversations with other HR professionals about timely topics, and even speak at events once in a while, mostly (like other HR professionals) what I do is work with people:

·       I help the owner of an amazing company built from the ground up figure out how to develop his team so he can exit his role soon and his business can run without him.

·       I listen to team members when they feel misunderstood, or even vilified. I help them sort through communications to view them realistically and helpfully, and develop an action plan that makes sense.

·       I teach and mentor emerging leaders, challenge them to take their performance to the next level, give them all I can and celebrate with them when they succeed.

·       I untangle the human, legal and business complexities of reasonable accommodation for workers with disabilities and needs for leave from work.

·       I take the complex pieces of the talent acquisition puzzle and try to put them together in a way that delights everyone with job satisfaction, excellent performance results and retention of high potential employees, and increases inclusion of diverse ideas and perspectives.

·       I empathize with the real emotions that arise from life and work and endeavor to create an atmosphere of transparency and respect wherever I go.

·       I tell the truth with dignity and compassion to leaders and clients, even when they don’t want to hear it, and I don’t back away from the fire breathing dragons that inevitably try to scare me away.

Learning, thinking, collaborating and strategizing are important. But results are essential too. A good HR leader can inhabit all of these roles, taking in what wisdom we can from thought leaders and serving as a conduit for ideas and a catalyst for action and outcomes.

So, here’s a big “thank you” to the thought leaders from those of us in the trenches. You make us all better HR professionals. And to those of you who manage to be both thought leader and results-deliverer? I am so amazed by you, and grateful for opportunities to continue to learn from you. 

Photo credit:


Kelly Marinelli
Twenty Years Gone-Have Women Made Any Progress at Work?

Bryce Covert wrote in today’s New York Times about how 20 years ago was the best era for working women. That seems weird, right? I don’t necessarily disagree, and having been there and started my career during the 1900's, I feel compelled to add my voice to this conversation. As a new lawyer (and accidental new mom) I expected that work and life integration would be relatively easy and open to me. I was wrong.

I had my first child during law school (another story for another time), and feeling overwhelmed as a new mom, I requested a part-time position as I prepared to enter the big law firm that had offered me a job after graduation. The firm told me that this type of arrangement was reserved only for women who had “put in their time” and that it was offered as a “perk” and as such wasn’t available to someone like me who was coming in as a new associate. Being 24 years old, still close to the message that I could achieve anything/my gender wouldn’t hold me back/the sky was the limit, I didn’t realize that exhibiting less than 110% willingness to give every moment of the day to my employer was labeling me as “not partner material” from day one, and that the career brinksmanship they played was designed to weed out people like me. When I told them I wasn’t coming on board because I wasn’t yet ready to work full-time, the response I got (from a male partner) was that I should consider my decision very carefully, because if I walked away, I would never get an opportunity like that again. 

What happened next is a story for another time. But suffice it to say that in the life I created after that, I left a lot of money and professional regard on the table. I had to fight my way back to career success when the time was right. I lived my life on my terms, and thanks to a lot of support and luck, I’m here today with a career I love and don’t regret a single decision I’ve made. Do I think that I had it easier than my mom did? Absolutely. But am I optimistic about the outlook for my own daughter? I’m sorry to say that not much seems to have changed since my first foray into the working world in the 90’s.

As a Gen-Xer, I saw my parents struggle to work, care for us and have a happy marriage. They failed in their quest to “have it all,” so I opted out of my career on the front end to make sure I did my best to create these things for myself: well-being, health, a strong relationship with my spouse, and, most importantly, time with my kids during their fleeting childhoods. I told myself that my career was further down my priority list. I don’t know if greater daycare and preschool supports would have helped me, but they might have. Would I have returned to my career, paid more in taxes and contributed to the economy to a greater extent? Maybe. I know that all along, as I was “opted out,” I desperately wanted to be in. I wanted to have a fulfilling, meaningful career and also be there for my family. If it had been less complicated or more affordable, then who knows what I would have done? I cherished my choice to do one or the other, as many parents didn’t have that luxury. But I would have greatly valued the opportunity to do both. And I want that for my daughter and son.

Besides tech advances that allow us to more easily connect with one another, I haven’t noticed a lot of advancement for women on the career front in the past 20 years. I still see few women executives atop major companies, and women V.C.s are rare. Women haven’t grown in number in politics, either. I see women struggling for recognition and understanding, and I still notice a lot of us footing the bill for the costs of being working parents and striving to get ahead in a world where childcare and backup care and emergency care tend to be women’s problems. Simply “leaning in,” in light of all of these life capacity and economic challenges, doesn’t seem to be helping us much.

What’s changed today, besides technology? In my early parenting days, we had already adjusted to the thousands of miles between family units, created by people like me who’d left their homes to relocate elsewhere. That is still a challenge for families. But what is even more difficult is that there is a greater emphasis on working long hours and having no boundaries between work and home (thanks to that new technology). There is a pride unique to American culture, described in this recent piece in The Atlantic, that celebrates how busy successful people are (versus in other cultures, where being successful means you don’t have to be busy). A 40-hour week was difficult enough 20+ years ago to balance in addition to other life challenges, including child-rearing. Today, 45 hours is a slow week in the average exempt-level position. Those in hourly jobs often need more than one to pay the bills. All of us are hustling in between work hours to try to get ahead, with more education, side gigs and building our own personal brands so we can land on our feet when the inevitable next change drops the floor out from beneath us. There are few minutes in the day that lie fallow.

I don’t believe in regrets, but if there’s one thing I do believe in, it’s progress. I’ve led a blessed, lucky life. I appreciate all the opportunities I’ve had, and the economic freedom to choose my path-there are no complaints. But if my daughter is still faced with the same obstacles I saw over 20 years ago, then it’s time for us to change. I can be there for her to support her through the life changes and help free up energy and time for her to reach her career goals and dreams, but what about all of the other young people who want to balance work and family, or other passions? What about the working parents who have no choice, and what about their children, who are in need of quality childcare and early childhood learning? If we want to broaden the possibilities for everyone, we need to address the root causes that impact women. That starts with workplace cultures that honor human needs, and resources that support childcare. After all, every one of us benefits when all able citizens participate more fully in our economy, and when we redefine success as being something that fits with a full and diverse experience of life, one that includes more than just work.

Photo credit: National Science and Media Museum via / No known copyright restrictions

Kelly Marinelli
Are You Ready to Disrupt?
Kelly DisruptHRDen.jpg

Last week was a crazy one. Planes, trains and automobiles (and subways and ferries) took me, my husband and kids all over NYC, and up the coast to Cape Cod. We had a beautiful time. The feeling of fulfillment and peace I get when we are all together will have to keep me until we reconnect. I love having grown kids, but the problem is that they stray. They go to make their way in the world, and they leave me behind. I love and celebrate their sense of adventure and relish that they have opportunities to make their own marks. But I can’t say that I am happy they are away from me. That is the bittersweet part. I need to turn my focus to how I will live this new chapter in my life, and find ways to challenge myself and keep growing.

So as much fun as we were having, I left Cape Cod early to make my way back to Denver to rise to a challenge of my own. I was humbled and excited and quaking in my boots when I was chosen by the amazing DisruptHR Denver team to speak at the August 24th event. What an exhilarating experience! It’s terrifying, fun, exciting and creatively fulfilling to design and deliver a message this way. If you’re not familiar with DisruptHR, the format is a five-minute talk, with 20 slides that automatically advance and are shown for 15 seconds each. Not only do speakers need to think through their content and how it plays in this sort of format, but they also must carefully consider each word that makes it into their presentations. It takes some careful planning, and/or serious guts to go for it!

There were two important characteristics of the presentations at DisruptHR Denver last week. The first was careful preparation. Speakers timed presentations so that they built excitement over the course of their delivery, arriving at a crescendo near the end. This is so tough to do-I admire the way speakers structured their content as well as the clear preparation involved in delivering the presentation perfectly so that it would coincide with the relentlessly advancing slides. I loved their sense of humor and willingness to share their viewpoints and expertise.

The second characteristic was palpable passion. Content was chosen for personal resonance and impact, and was delivered with vulnerability and 100% conviction. Speakers dared the audience to come on board with them-and it was clear that those listening were engaged and excited about the messages they were hearing. The organizers prepare attendees to see and hear innovative ideas, and to be open to supporting the speakers getting outside their comfort zones. This audience was among the friendliest and most energetic I’ve seen.

How would I describe my speaker experience? I loved hanging out with the other speakers and learning about their experiences preparing for the event. I met some great people but had entirely forgotten to bring business cards, because I was so hyper focused on my own preparation. A friend asked me if I wanted a shot but I wisely stuck with water. I just nervously paced around through most of the event while I rooted for other speakers as they presented. When it was my time to climb the steps to the stage, my heart was pounding out of my chest. But then I started talking…and it was like a conversation. I looked out at everyone sitting there in the audience, and I just chatted with them. And they smiled and laughed and I had fun. I hope they did too. My delivery wasn’t perfect, by any means. But it was a real moment in time. I hope that putting myself on the line for that five minutes meant something-I know I will never forget it.  

I have many colleagues (you know who you are) who’d make amazing DisruptHR speakers. I encourage people to submit, but I often get the response that they would be too terrified to try it. It is scary. It’s challenging. It’s out of your control…and it’s an amazing experience. I’m so happy I went for it-I’m proud that I climbed to the stage and gave it a shot, and now I’m a Disruptor for life!

Won’t you take the challenge? I would love to see you DisruptHR. Let me know where you will be speaking, and Wendy Dailey and I will bring the DisruptHR Road Trip to your town. Next stop: Minneapolis! See you there.  

Are You Telling Little White Lies to Get Butts in the Seats?

Lying to job seekers about your culture might get you a warm body-a butt in the seat. That much is true. And if you love onboarding and training lots of new hires, it will also give you something to do and feel productive about every day of the year as they churn through your organization. You may lie to yourself and tell your team that call center employees (or food service workers, or warehouse helpers) just turn over quickly and there’s nothing you can do about it. You may even say that machinists and nuclear engineers and UX designers are in short supply and all just looking for the highest pay and that’s why they’re leaving so soon after you hire them. But you’re not doing yourself any favors if you don’t look in the mirror and figure out what you and your HR team are doing (or not doing) to influence high turnover. Even if your executive leadership hasn’t gotten wise to the cost of each new hire (estimates range from $15,000-45,000 for average employees) then you should be educating them as a strategic HR leader on what you can do to recoup this cost for the organization.  

If we’re honest with ourselves, there are many conditions about our workplaces that we take a decidedly rosy view of, when we go to recruit new employees. It’s like anytime when we’re having new friends over for dinner. We clean up the house, cook up our best recipes, and serve them wine. We decide not to invite our crazy sister to dinner, even though she hangs out at our house almost every day. We don’t show them the basement, where we throw all the stuff we don’t want anyone to see but we don’t have the heart to get rid of. We’re on our best behavior and telling our most entertaining stories. We have an optimistic view of where this relationship can go, and all the things we can do with our new friends to make life fun and rewarding.

We do this when we bring in fresh talent to our organizations too. We don’t put that crazy, outspoken but genius team member on the interview panel because she might be a little too much to handle. The team has been pulling 80-hour weeks for the past six months and there’s no end in sight, but the hiring manager without much subtlety tells them not to advertise that fact to potential new hires. There are people on our team who should have been held accountable, and haven’t-they're holding us back from meeting our goals but no one wants to deal with it. Working conditions and tools are less than ideal, but those challenges aren’t mentioned. There are many more things we hide, lie about and ignore when we’re trying desperately to fill holes on teams that never seem to stay fully staffed.

“But what about the managers?” we in HR say. They’re the ones who don’t train new employees well, don’t hold others accountable, don’t give recognition and feedback (even though we’ve given them the tools and preparation) and fail to foster teamwork. Aren’t they at fault for the turnover? What about the barely acceptable wages our nonprofit, or startup, or low-margin industry is forced to pay? It’s no wonder people are leaving in droves. If only our (pay, benefits, working conditions, managers) were better, our retention would be too.

Before you blame it solely on the managers, read this from Jaclyn Westlake, in The Muse:

…I couldn’t wait to work with eager students as I guided them through the admissions process. I envisioned myself reassuring nervous parents, decorating my first-ever cubicle, and building lasting relationships with my co-workers. Sure, I was a little idealistic, but this was also what the hiring manager told me I would be doing.

When I arrived for my first day of work, I was led to a storage room and handed a phone, a sales script, and a long list of phone numbers and told to start making calls. I didn’t even have a working computer. Turns out, I had inadvertently accepted a job as a cold caller.

An experience like that isn’t easily forgotten, along with the ill will that goes with it. We can’t tell from this account whether there was any HR or recruiter involvement in the misrepresentation, but just reading about how this new hire’s hopes and excitement were dashed in this bait-and-switch makes my heart skip a beat. The employer brand is seriously damaged by this kind of disastrous misrepresentation, but even the little white lies we tell and the filtered information we release in our less-than-authentic interview processes can damage the chances we will create a successful hire and retained employee.

I’ll be speaking at DisruptHR in Denver soon on the topic of The No Filter Job Interview-I hope you’ll join me and hundreds of my favorite HR pros to hear my recommendations on sharing your real culture to get the right hire. See you there!

Photo credit:

Service Before Strategy

Last Saturday, I spent hours (and hours and hours) at Walmart. Why? I have a complex relationship with the oil change process. Take it to Jiffy Lube and you get the annoying upsell. Take it to the dealership and you have to either plan ahead or drop it off and leave it most of the day. Walmart? You walk in, drop off your car, buy some groceries, and pick up your car on the way out, paying a reasonable price for your oil change. Or, that’s the way it’s supposed to work in theory.

When I called to check on the wait time, the guy on the phone, Fred, told me it would be an hour and 45 minutes. His tone of voice, while not unfriendly, said, “Don’t come in.”

Of course, I disregarded his advice. I’d been putting this off for weeks, and the idea of facing a busy Jiffy Lube + hard sell vs. a busy Walmart + lack of a sense of urgency had me erring on the side of not being in a hurry. I was rewarded with an agonizingly long wait, and a check-the-box mentality among the folks helping me get something I needed. Ultimately, I got the job done, but I left questioning whether the folks at the tire and auto department really wanted any customers at all.

How many times has our front line given off this attitude and provided this low level of service in HR? We have a captive internal customer, someone who needs something that only we can give them. They are much worse off than I was last Saturday, in that they can’t choose a competitor to satisfy their needs. Employees come to us asking for help, and they should be able to expect for us to provide it promptly, kindly and correctly…except when they can’t. Sometimes we in HR don’t even have what’s needed to solve a problem. We may feel burned out, unnoticed and undervalued ourselves, so that’s what we turn on our internal customers. We may even complain about them, ridicule them, and convince ourselves they don’t deserve our best service.

Rather than simply blame the front-line HR service providers and accept the mantle and reputation of HR mediocrity that other teams in the organization tend to place on us, we need to take it up a few levels. There are several things we’re doing to perpetuate this lack of service:

·       Tolerating poor service delivery from long-time employees who have a depth of knowledge in our processes and history, that we haven’t bothered to document or cross-train

·       Failing to allocate critical resources to the departments where they are needed; telling our front-line employees to “deal with it” when they are understaffed and overloaded

·       Neglecting technology needs that would make delivering and receiving HR services more efficient, pleasant and accurate

·       Allowing a “pass the buck” mentality among service delivery taking place in siloes of specialty in HR, instead of facilitating and rewarding teamwork among departments in HR Operations, and promoting a focus on the internal customer, not passing off tasks

Neglecting the basic need for flawless execution in HR Operations service discredits all of HR, makes building credibility and trust more difficult, and fails to meet the expectations of our workforce. We must focus on delivery of these services first and foremost, whether through third-party services, our own internal HR staff, or technology, before we can move on to the important strategic work through which we can deliver success to the business.  


Photo credit: yonkershonda via / CC BY-SA