Changing Careers

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” – John C. Maxwell

The Great Resignation is a lot of things. Some of them true, some of them REALLY true. One stat, in particular, strikes me as incredibly interesting!

Last year, 53% of those who quit did so for a career change. That’s incredible to me. Over half of those who quit didn’t move on to the same or similar role – they outright said “NOPE! See you later [insert industry here].”

Have you ever changed careers midstream? I have – sort of. I began my professional career as a nonprofit program director. My job was to ensure the senior citizen bus ran on time. However, along the way, I discovered this little thing called human resources. I nudged my way into a dual role of program director and HR Director. Eventually, I shed the program to focus solely on HR.

My wife changed careers – twice! She was a daycare director, then a nonprofit director, and now she’s a FT early learning teacher.

The point is, I have been around career changes, and I know it’s not without scariness, nor is it without stress and uncertainty.

A friend recently messaged me on LinkedIn. She told me that she left a highly stressful job doing the only thing she’s known her entire career. Unfortunately, the toxic culture led her to lose her love of what she was doing. She wrote:

“You should write a piece about mid-career changes. How does one move from a role they have done for 15 years but has burnt out on. How do they transition? How do you build a resume to help highlight the skills necessary for a new kind of role, etc.. current situation and I think an HR perspective would be cool!”

The HR perspective isn’t that different, I would say, from the general one. HR professionals leave the industry and enter the industry same as other. But one thing we may (or should) have over others is a perspective that skills make the person, not the industry experience. It’s hard to break into new careers without getting someone to give you a shot. Hiring managers get too stuck on “industry” knowledge, instead of focusing on how this person’s skill set or personality will add value. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as the old saying goes.

HR can help hiring managers get past this by vetting and presenting talent that can be great additions to any team. I think HR professionals should stress skills and personality more with hiring managers than focusing solely on “industry.”

I don’t want to give the impression industry experience isn’t valuable. It is. But in the context of career change, it’s an artificial construct that keeps many from hiring incredible talent simply because they lack “industry” knowledge. Industry knowledge can be taught and learned. It is a concern, but it doesn’t register high on my list. Skills, attitude, thought process, innovation, ideas – these things register higher on my “wants” list. I think we need to focus on potential more than we do. These things are transferable. It just sometimes takes some clever marketing to showcase that having a skill that served X-Industry can also serve Y-Industry. Sometimes BETTER than one would have thought. Unique perspectives cannot, nor should be, overlooked by employers – especially in today’s employment market.

Another thing I think that gets lost is the importance of NETWORKING! People make hires base don relationships. Is it 100% fair? Maybe not always, but it’s not as bad as it many make it out to be, in my opinion. If you know someone and you trust them, of course you want to work with that individual. Nothing wrong with that. So, get out and build a network of people you can lean on in good times and bad.

Another thing that networks do oh so awesome at is offering up their wisdom and guidance and mentoring!

I took to Twitter to ask some of my favorite HR pros their thoughts to get the “HR” perspective.

Here’s what many had to say:

Highlight how your transferable skills can make an immediate impact. Make a plan to deal with the PTSD from your old role. Think deeply about what type of leader you need, & the type of organization you want to join. Clearly define what brings you joy. – @BozemanKimberly

Be very clear on what you want and what you won’t sacrifice on.  Know thyself.  That being said, be realistic and if you have to take a job to pay the bills in between do it. – @mjmullady

Stay #Curious and have a #BiasForAction – the rest will fall in place #Career. BTW #CareerPath is a lagging metric for most humans 😉 – @anisharavind

If it was me and I had an idea of what kind of work would bring me joy, I would make a list of obvious transferable skills, and a sub-list of outside the box transferable skills. Reach out to old pals, and network with new pals. And most importantly do all the things that make you happy to refill the cup that the toxic place drained from you. Family time and silly dog videos on YouTube work wonders. — @TheRealGappa

Is it really a desire for a career change or was the toxic workplace driving need for the career change?

Why? What are you wanting to do now? Are you realistically qualified to make that change? Transferable skills? Can you take the potential hit to salary if the change requires a comp decrease to start? Who do you know in the career to info interview with? Are there prof associations to join and build your network? Are there current connections in your network to chat with? – @murtaughj

Go to therapy to get closure from the toxic work environment and then hire me as their coach to help them move on to the next best thing. — @iamjulieturney

To an extent, the advice depends on factors like: do they know what profession/industry they want to pivot to, do they need to maintain a certain income level while they’re pivoting, etc. Maybe I’m getting too granular? Sorry to answer a question with a question. 🤷🏻️ — @KeithCEnochs

Leaving a toxic place is liberating. Tomorrow is full of possibilities. Take a deep breath & relax. Next, reflect on what worked & didn’t work, and identify your needs for your next role. Reach out to mentors, learn, and read. Be diligent in finding the next role and move on. — @baski_LA

Be realistic about your financial situation. Do you need a stop gap to pay bills? That’s totally okay. Take it and then take the time to decide what’s next. — @mfaulkner43

Overtly understand what U don’t like in current circumstances & ensure that new org won’t have same issues. Be sure 2 compare salary, learning opps & benefits, i.e. total rewards offered. Investigate culture of org you move to. Don’t romanticize current or future situations. — @doublempeacock

1st Visualize: What would your dream job be? Research companies & positions. Who do you know in that company or industry? What are the key requirements? Do you have those skills? If not, develop a plan to gain those new skills. Brush up that old resume. Develop a 90-day plan to land a new job: Outline how many jobs you will apply for each week & how many people you will connect with each week. Update & use #LinkedIn to learn new skills, find new jobs & connect w/ recruiters. #HRCommunity #HRPhilosopher — @ebonyagrey

@RobDromgoole posted a quote by @mikeroweworks

Heal first so you can make good decisions about what you want. Right now, you are clear on what you don’t want, which is also important but not the same. Also, the question is not what you want to be or do; it’s what would you like to try next? — @heatherbussing

Make a list of what you want in your next role & company. Also, make a list of what you want to avoid. Have that laid out before you start looking. Stick to your lists !! It’s just as important for you to interview the company as they are interviewing you. Get a meaningful network of people to help you now AND remain as a resource for you (and you for them) going forward. #Networking is a #Business skill – NOT a #jobseekers skill. Great folks give you encouragement, a sounding board and support. #HRCommunity – @sbrownehr

I was just about to say what Steve said. I say make a list of the “energy givers” – the things you most look forward to doing & that give you energy. Then make a list of the “energy suckers” – the things that suck the energy from you. Once you have your lists, identify the non-negotiables – the things that must absolutely exist & the things that must absolutely not exist. This will help you look at your skills in a new way- what’s transferable – and the type of environment/company you want to work in/for. And in the words of one certain mentor/friend: “Don’t underestimate your ability to create your own position in a company…” — @KyraMatkovichHR

Is it what they did or where they did it? Focus your interview with new orgs on examples of them living their mission, mission & values. An aspect of the former job they loved, that they can be focus of next gig. Transferable skills they can use for a role that will bring joy. – @JeffreyWShapiro

Some thoughts:

1) what is it you want to do and what are the skills/competencies you need?

2) what skills/competencies do you already have – and what are transferable?

3) if you aren’t already, network (and never stop)

4) share your interest and skills with that network. — @tomrdaniels419

So, themes I am seeing:

  • Truly ask yourself what is making you not like where you currently are. Be honest with yourself.
  • Identify those things that bring you joy in work, or things you at least don’t mind. Focus on the next phase of your life through those “life givers.”
  • Focus on the value your skills and attitude bring to an organization.
  • Do not forget the HEALING. Sometimes, if not often times, a toxic workplace stays with you for a long time, much like pollution of the ocean. It takes time to clean that all out.
  • Organize your social media to highlight your value and what you bring to the table.

Ultimately, this is amazing advice. Much of it was brought to you by folks who went through similar situations as you! I’d like to add, based on my own experiences switching careers:

  • Do not go into it thinking it will be quick! It took me over a year to finally find a place to take a shot on my skills (I didn’t have their industry experience). Be patient, as hard as that is when you need to shed toxicity.
  • Don’t forget your value. Don’t convince yourself that you are not what you lack. You are what you are, and that has value!
  • Get used to rejection, but don’t take it personally. Every rejection is a redirection. Easier said than done, but you will end up where you need to be!
  • Don’t settle. Sometimes, you need to be OUT. If that is the case, do it. If you can wait, then ensure you’re getting in with the right folks.
  • Don’t neglect your mental health. Do what you do that gives you life – cooking, reading, exercising, vegging out(within reason). This is needed more than we like to admit.

For those looking to change careers, do it! Life is short. It’s brutishly short. Why use the limited amount of time we have hating your existence. The only person we need to answer to every single day is the person in the mirror. If the Great Resignation has taught me anything, it’s that making that person feel better will make your life (and the people in it) that much better.

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Amplifying Voices

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – Dalai Lama

My parents divorced when I was seven. Raised by a single mother, my three brothers and I had a challenging life. Was it horrible? No. Not at all! But one cannot discount the negatives that affect fractured families.

Still, I honestly didn’t think much of it. It didn’t matter to me a whole lot. Despite these challenges while growing up, I made it out OK in the end. Not entirely without wounds, but certainly living a life many would consider thriving.

I say all this for one reason. These setbacks I mentioned, none of them were due to my race. Being a White male did not add more burden to an already burdened life.

This is the definition of privilege.

I’ve learned that having privilege doesn’t mean I am a bad person. It doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle or get hurt along the way. I just know that my race played no factor in my struggles.

I didn’t have to worry about being pulled over driving while Black. I didn’t have to worry about having weed I didn’t own or have on my possession mysteriously show up on the ground next to me during a suspicious arrest. I didn’t have to worry that my name held me back on resumes. And, most of all, I didn’t have to worry that I wouldn’t come home that night while getting groceries.

The more I read, the more I listen, the more I research, I am convinced that I need to use whatever means I must educate others, speak up, and ensure I am being a positive influence towards a more just tomorrow. What injures the hive, injures the bee. I want to be good for the hive.

So, this blog post is about amplifying voices. Specifically, it is about amplifying voices of Black and brown professionals for White ears. For anything to change, my fellow White folks need to acknowledge a great many things about American history – about world history. The narrative isn’t what many have been taught. Racism isn’t just real. It’s what this country was built on. Sometimes implicitly. Many times explicitly. Always destructively.

Racism must end, and I am only one man, but I cannot sit idly by and do nothing!

I have a voice and platform. I want to use them to enhance the voices of individuals from whom I have learned. These folks have something worth saying, and I want to share that with others. I am a better person for hearing what they have to say, and many of us will be if we open our minds and silence our own biases and assumptions.

To all White folks – Read. Learn. Get uncomfortable. And then change things.

Note: Apologies for the links. I wanted to embed these posts, but LinkedIn and WordPress don’t play nice together! If anyone knows anything I don’t, happy to learn, but I didn’t want technology to stop my sharing these posts!

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© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcast: A Story

“Personal values are the measuring sticks by which we determine what is a successful and meaningful life.” – Mark Manson

How do you know you “made it?” Depends on what you value.

Personally, I value relationships. I value being of service to others. I value trying to make the world a better place. How did I know I made it in the HR community? It was the day Jon Thurmond reached out to me to ask if I’d be a guest on the HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcast!

I remember exactly where I was when we spoke for the first time. I was in my office and this big voice says “Hey there Paul! So nice to get in touch with you!” I hadn’t met Jon prior to that, but it felt like we had known each other for a long while! I was active in the monthly (at the time) HR Social Hour Twitter Chat. I had listened to him and Wendy Dailey on the HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcast.

Their guests taught me so much. And many were HUGE in the HR community. Steve Browne, Jennifer McClure, Katrina Kibben, Laurie Ruettimann, Mary Faulkner – these were “HR royalty” in my mind. I admired them and was deeply influenced by them. And Jon and Wendy wanted ME to join their podcast, the same podcast where they conversed with these giants in the industry?

It meant so much.

I never told Jon and Wendy, but when they asked me to be on the podcast, I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life. I’m not sure I hid it well or not, but during the interview, I was going through a deep depression. Having this interview helped me. Jon and Wendy helped remind me, even if briefly, that I had value. I had worth.

Being an HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcast alumnus means a lot. It means, I made it!

I asked Jon where he thought the podcast was going when he and Wendy started it. He told me:

“I expected to do 50 episodes with the people we knew from the Twitter chat, we’d have fun talking to them and be done.  I never would have imagined that we’d go on to be pushing 300 total episodes with listeners in more than 125 countries and have guests from literally the other side of the globe take part in our conversations.”

“It’s truly changed my perspective on our profession and community.”

It changed my perspective, too. The HR Community is unlike any other I’ve been a part of. HR pros care for one another, look out for each other, and want what is best.

I’ve had the honor of being on the podcast not once, but twice! I’ve been on other podcasts, as well, and I value all those conversations, but you always remember your first time! 😊

You can listen to all the HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcasts where you can download podcasts. Here’s a link to the complete list, but here are some of my favorite listens! Make sure you download as many episodes as you can, listen as often as you can, and don’t forget to connect, give back, and network!

Tiffany Toussaint

Key Take Away: Tiffany is an X-Files nerd. Also, she’s great at talent acquisition and knows the ins and outs!

Best Line: “Anything related to baseball. Whether it’s coaching my son’s team, cheering him on, trying to cheer him on without yelling at someone from the stands is always enjoyable!”

Anthony Paradiso

Key Take Away: DEI from the LGTBQ+ point of view is one we cannot lose sight of!

Best Line: “If a company is not inclusive, people are not going to stay there.”

Claire Stroh Petrie

Key Take Away: Claire went “the opposite” direction most go in! From corporate HR recruiting to third party HR talent acquisition! More proof to show she’s one of a kind and does things by the “Book of Claire!”

Best Line: “The biggest thing is to explore your options early and network!” (On how young professionals can break into HR).

Jennifer McClure (Disrupt HR Edition)

Key Take Away: Jennifer’s story about founding HR Disrupt is just fascinating! As someone who had the opportunity to present at Disrupt HR event, it’s worth attending and learning more about!

Best Line: “Water is boring.”

Mike Spinale

Key Take Away: Mike changed majors several times in college, which is an amazing reminder that not knowing what you want to do is fine! Just keep doing, and you’ll find what you want and need!

Best Line: “Speak up more. You know what’s right in these situations, and don’t be afraid of who else is in the room. Let them know what you have to say.”

Kim Bozeman

Key Take Away: Kim is a huge advocate for small businesses – she especially feels public policy is skewed too far away form helping them!

Best Line: “Maybe I’m a freak of nature! I love the craziness that is California (HR practice). It keeps me on my toes!”

Shenise Cook

Key Take Away: Her Twitter origin story is the best of all time.

Best Line: “I did one closeout [in payroll processing], and I decided that was not the route I wanted to go again!”

While I chose to highlight these episodes, let me tell you, it was incredibly difficult to do so! The breadth of interviews and people they’ve talked to is staggering! I had to leave out so many episodes I loved listening to!

Again, make sure you download as many episodes as you can, listen as often as you can, and don’t forget to connect, give back, and network!

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Stockholm Syndrome, Toxicity, and Work

“You, what do you own the world? How do you own disorder? Disorder.” – System of a Down, Toxicity

I first heard of Patty Hearst in high school. Her story is an interesting one, if not tragic. She was abducted and held hostage by a terrorist group in San Francisco in the 1970s. The group began robbing banks to fund their activities, and police were baffled when they saw security footage of Patty helping her captors with the robberies! She eventually came to identify with her captors and joined them.

This is a phenomenon known as Stockholm Syndrome, named after events from a 1973 hostage situation in Stockholm, Sweden, where the captors came to identify with and support those who held them hostage – going so far as to not even support the police investigation into their captivity!

Sociologists are not unanimous with their support that Stockholm Syndrome is a legitimate illness, but the condition tends to have the following traits, according to Sundaram’s “Stockholm Syndrome” (2013):

  1. A hostage’s development of positive feelings towards the captor,
  2. No previous relationship between hostage and captor,
  3. A refusal by hostages to cooperate with police and other government authorities, and
  4. A hostage’s belief in the humanity of the captor, ceasing to perceive them as a threat, when the victim holds the same values as the aggressor.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, people who have Stockholm syndrome have:

  • Positive feelings toward the captors or abusers.
  • Sympathy for their captors’ beliefs and behaviors.
  • Negative feelings toward police or other authority figures.

I recently began wondering why people don’t leave jobs they hate. It certainly isn’t the same, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s some sort of workplace Stockholm Syndrome going on with folks who refuse to leave toxic jobs. There may not be positive feelings, but there is little to no action towards leaving a toxic workplace for many folks.

I know you know someone, or have known someone, who hates their job. Yet, they remain rather than find new work. Bitching and complaining register the emotions rather than determination to better their experiences.

Not everyone stays, obviously. What’s the old saying? Something to the effect that the best leave toxicity while those who don’t, stay and underperform causing the toxicity to spread further and deeper until it permeates all facets of the organization.

And isn’t the Great Resignation driven at least partially by folks no longer willing to tolerate toxic work environments?

All true! For the first time in, well, probably ever, employees are not tolerating horrible working conditions. They are leaving in droves, and rightfully so! No one should be subjected to shitty work environments.

But still, what drives people to stay! Because not everyone is leaving, and until the COVID-19 Pandemic, people were not leaving workplaces as quickly or as readily as they are now.

So, why are these folks staying? Is it generational? Is it cultural? Is it something else?

Richard Chambers from the Audit Beacon had a pretty interesting blog post on the topic. He feels people stay because:

  1. People believe they are doing good work despite the culture.
  2. People feel it would be disloyal to leave those who are suffering along with them.
  3. People feel trapped by their circumstances.
  4. Some people don’t want to be held accountable.
  5. People become infected by the culture.

“Some workers are attracted to a toxic culture because it provides protection and advancement for all the wrong reasons.”

This makes sense to me. Many people feed off negativity. It helps them scratch whatever itch they have. Similarly, Thich Nhat Hanh once put into perspective that:

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

Still, some of this sounds like Stockholm Syndrome. Like, folks know something is off, but they aren’t sure. So instead they buckle in and begin aiding and abetting.

I used to be like this. I had stayed in some past jobs despite the toxic work environment and despite my heath suffering. Why did I do this? Partially because, I think, I didn’t know I was in a toxic place. I was still young and just trying to earn a dollar.

Do you know anyone like that? Maybe it’s you. How is someone to know the environment they are in is bad unless they experience it first? If you were like me and didn’t know, you can turn to others and learn!

Brigette Hyacinth has a good piece she wrote with her 10 Signs of a toxic workplace culture.

  1. Company core values do not serve as the basis for how the organization functions.
  2. Employee suggestions are discarded. People are afraid to give honest feedback.
  3. Micromanaging -Little to no autonomy is given to employees in performing their jobs.
  4. Blaming and punishment from management is the norm.
  5. Excessive absenteeism, illness and high employee turn over.
  6. Overworking is a badge of honor and is expected.
  7. Little or strained interaction between employees and management.
  8. Gossiping and/or social cliques.
  9. Favoritism and office politics.
  10. Aggressive or bullying behavior.

I’ve experienced a lot of these in the workplace over the years. And yet, I stayed. So, maybe my point in exploring this topic is less about other folks’ motivations, and it’s more about mine. Regardless, isn’t that why we read and write? To learn from mistakes of others and to make sense of the world?

Ultimately, why folks stay in toxic environments should not be any of my business. It’s interesting to me, but there really isn’t anything for me to do about it. People make their own way in the world, and that sometimes means staying in situations that are self-harming.

The only goal I have is to ensure I use whatever influence I have to build positive, supportive, and kind workplace cultures. I can control what I do for others – and for myself. If that means leaving a shitty workplace, then it means I’ve grown and learned. It means I’ve become aware of being kinder to me, by not allowing others to destroy my inner sense of self-worth.

Self-recognition is the key to avoiding Stockholm Syndrome at work. Recognize who you are. Recognize what you can control. And recognize that you always have a choice. Always.

Marcus Aurelius wrote that we should “Leave other people’s mistakes where they lie.” Our job as HR folks shouldn’t be figuring out why folks stay in bad work environments. We should figure out how to destroy bad work environments so people don’t have to leave.

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

People Leaders, Beware the One Ring of Power

The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it. – Galadriel, The Lord of the Rings

Something is indeed in the water. It is in the earth, the air. Something was lost, and people in power do remember it and are trying to get it back.

Is it the One Ring of Power? One ring to rule all employees? Kind of.

What a lot of employers seem to want back is their illusion of control – where people work, how people work. They care more about these artificial things than what actually matters – the work results themself!

This is conjecture. I haven’t done any deep dive studies. I just notice things. I pay attention. There just seems to be a attitude of “when we all get back to the office….” Hell, even the President of the United States stated something to this effect during his State of the Union!

But those folks are wrong, as is the President. Returning to the office is about calming an ego. It is not about “culture” or “symbiosis” or any other word thrown out there. Return to the office is about control and about ego.

That’s it. That’s the tea, that’s the tweet, as some may say.

I recently shared a post on LinkedIn about work from home. It went viral!

See original post here.

Over half a million views, almost 11,000 reactions, almost 1,200 shares, and over 200 comments (and counting) – obviously, it struck a chord with folks.

And why is that? Overwhelmingly, the comments and reaction has been SUPPORTIVE of allowing folks the work flexibility they’ve adapted to. Ultimately, if the work is being done and at an acceptable level, then what’s the issue with continuing down the path of work flexibility?

“Love this! When did we lose sight of paying employees for results instead of their time?”

“Am I the only one who finds it odd that results weren’t the measurement of success to begin with?”

“I was discussing this concept with a colleague late last year and they weren’t grasping the concept at all. I couldn’t think of an easier way to explain it. People are so focused on, ‘But what if they finish all their work in less than 40 hours? I should give them extra work! That is how people eventually get promotions!!!’ But that isn’t, is it? That is how people get overworked, and taken advantage of for years with no advancement because they’ll do more work for the same pay as their peers.”

“One more time for those in the back! Focus on results, not the clock – such an important point!!”

“I’m also convinced Managers don’t like people working from home because they fear they are going to have to manage differently. They can’t just look up and see that they are at their desk. They may have to engage more directly and make individual contact to see how people are going, what they need to succeed, etc.”

These were some of the comments. Not all were supportive. Some comments were sarcastic strawmen arguments against allowing work from home and flex scheduling. Thus is the internets, so spoke Zarathustra. Regardless, the overwhelming majority supported the idea of allowing employee choice.

I am an optimist. I never used to be, but I trained myself to be one over time. I do believe in people. What I don’t trust is ego and power. Both corrupt. So, this optimist hates to think it, but Laurie Ruettimann is right. Work is broken. It’s beyond repair if people leaders cannot figure out how to get work done in new ways, only to try reverting back to the old paradigm the moment an opportunity presents itself.

Like Russia invading Ukraine, old world people leaders are trying to hold onto a past that no longer exists. They are trying to force THEIR world views on a world that doesn’t want that outdated view, nor can support it.

And we wonder why people don’t want to go back? Who wants to be around a system that is broken? Much like the KGB of old, these misguided at best (and failed at worst) leaders want to force breadlines, bank runs, and obtuse morals on their people against their will for no other reason other than it satisfies an ego that cannot be controlled.

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This isn’t necessarily new. It has been simmering for decades. The Pandemic just brought this environment to the consciousness of employees. And guess what? Employees are no longer taking this abuse laying down.

No More Working for Jerks!

Starbucks union campaign pushes on, with at least 16 stores now organized.

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And worst of all, there’s a seemingly larger than should be contingency of people leaders covering their eyes, plugging their ears going “Nah nah nah nah nah! I can’t hear you! Nah nah nah nah nah!”

Fed-up managers declare WFH is over, as 77% say they’d fire you or cut your pay for not coming back to the office

This self-imposed childish ignorance is laughable – if it wasn’t such a threat to the overall wellbeing of workers. It’s fact, not fiction, that flexible work provides people with health and wellbeing that the old ways of working could not, so long as it’s done right. But then again, work is broken. If workplace leaders are truly concerned about the health of the employee, then flexible work schedules, work from home, hybrid scheduling, all of it, would not be under attack.

Forcing folks to come back to an office is not about the work. It never has been. It’s about control! It’s about ego! It’s about power dynamics. It’s about managers that don’t know how, nor care to know how, to manage a dispersed, empowered team.

Ultimately, yes, the employer needs to ensure that work is being done, that it’s being done well, and it is bringing value to an organization. I am not saying that those things should be ignored. No! I am saying that those things can be enhanced when an employee is allowed freedom, control, and creativity! This comes from the aforementioned work arrangements.

And honestly, good managers can get good work from their staff under any circumstance – in office or at home. The workplace matters not. It’s about results. Manage the person where they are, not where you want them to be – both physically and metaphysically speaking.

When organizational leaders refuse to entertain different ways of doing things simply because it’s easier to revert to old habits, then they take the risk of destroying their organization. People will leave. And those that don’t leave will not be motivated to provide the best quality of work.

Organizational leaders need to challenge themselves to think beyond what they know. They need to embrace the difficult. Let go of the ego, or it will convince you to jump into Mount Doom after a One Ring of Power that has been cast into the  volcanic fires – forever destroyed, yet foolishly held onto as one melts away clutching a Precious that never was.

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Nine Quotes by Marcus Aurelius That Could Change the Way You Do HR (and Life)

“Marcus Aurelius is the noblest of all the men who, by sheer intelligence and force of character, have prized and achieved goodness for its own sake and not for any reward.” – Michael Grant, Historian

It’s no secret that the Stoics have deeply influenced my personal and professional life. When I need wisdom, I turn to the writings of these ancient philosophers, as well as their contemporary heirs.

Other than Ryan Holiday and his incredible breadth of Stoic works, few other Stoic philosopher are likely as influential or as widely read today as Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius was Emperor of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 CE. Known as one of the Five Good Emperors, his reign helped usher in much prosperity for the Roman people. Equally as impressive is that he is considered one of the few real-world examples of the Philosopher King that Plato so longed for. He was called “The Philosopher” in many ancient history texts, such as Historia Augusta.

Aurelius wrote what came to be known as Meditations over the course of his life, most likely near the end when he was on the battlefields in present day Austria. The book as we know it today is a collection of his journals that survived after his death. They were never meant to be published or shared, but by happenstance and Providence, we have this wisdom today.

Much like a Christian turning to the Bible, a Muslim turning to the Koran, or a Buddhist turning to their respective Buddhavacana, we can turn to the Meditations when we need some comfort, wisdom, or guidance.

The best thing about Meditations is that it’s not the “word of God” but the word of a very mortal, flawed human being written down in the morning or evening during his most private moments of solitude and reflection. I believe this makes it more relatable and applicable to our life. If the most powerful person in the world had a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, then it’s OK that so do we!

Meditations has inspired millions over time – from St. Augustine of Hippo, American Founder George Washington, former president Bill Clinton, the rappers Twista and Lupe Fiasco, former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, actresses Brie Larson and Anna Kendrick, and so so many more. It is a collection of wisdom written by a flawed man, read by flawed people – all trying to be less flawed.

That’s the beauty of the work. We keep trying to be better every single day. We will fall. We will stumble. We will fail. But though that failure, we get better and become better.

As I have maintained since day one of writing this blog, philosophy offers professionals a difference making outlook on life, work, love, and everything. And thankfully, philosophy is more than stuffy textbooks in a college classroom, as Meditations shows.

Philosophy is about living one’s best life and acting on what is right. Stoicism especially teaches this. So, in essence, I take that to heart.

Doing HR right is an act of philosophy to me. It is always important to create space to think, put things into perspective, and act on what is right. Marcus Aurelius has helped me with this!

Here are nine powerful quotes from Meditations that can help us all become better professionals, and people!

Note: There are numerous translations of the ancient text. I used the one by Gregory Hays. It is contemporary and easy to read by eschewing the “thous” and “thees” that make such texts difficult to read. Regardless, any translation can be a great starting point to deepen one’s understanding of the values that Aurelius tried to hold himself to. S/O to O’Brien McMahon for the recommendation!

  1. “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.” – Meditations 2.1

Even Emperors, or especially Emperors, must face the daily barrage of people issues. People are messy. They have different priorities, sometimes conflicting priorities. They are annoying. They are backstabbing. They lie, cheat, steal. But people are our profession in HR, and we wouldn’t be in it if we didn’t know that they are also good. People need help, and we need people. We are here to bridge the gap between wrong and right. In our profession, we help them understand “good” and “evil,” or more contemporarily, we help them understand the culture, the expectations, and their potential! Just keep reminding yourself we’re here to guide them. Don’t let the 20% of your people ruin the other 80% of your experiences!

  • “The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do.” – Meditations 4.18

This lesson is one learned through time and age, except for those very special personalities and young rebels. To listen to yourself over naysayers is something we can all hope to achieve. Whether it is finally taking that leap to start your own business, or taking the time to learn a new hobby, or fighting for that policy you know would benefit the people and the organization – listening to yourself starts with trusting yourself. Trust.

  • “The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.” – Meditations 5.16

In ancient Rome, purple symbolized the Imperium, and it has stuck with Western culture since antiquity. The purple dye came from the innards of shellfish from present day Lebanon. This comment is reference to that process. Much like dying wool, our minds are dyed by the colors we provide it. This isn’t just Stoic philosophizing. There are scientific studies that show people become what they think. The brain rewires itself to meet reality – or what we believe reality to be. This is powerful. Believe in yourself, as hokey as it sounds, and you will succeed because YOU define what success is. Self-fulfilling prophecies are amazing things. If you are a King. Be a King. If you are a Queen. Be a Queen. If you are a Monarch. Be a Monarch. And you will become royalty.

  • “Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and convers to its own purposes and obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way [emphasis mine].” – Meditations 5.20

This phrase changed my life. I’ve written about its influence and meaning a lot here, here, here, and here.

  • “Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter.” – Meditations 6.2

This one is both inspirational and frustrating. YES! Let’s do the right thing! It’s so easy! Except, what is the right thing to do? Sometimes, it is easy. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t invade Ukraine. Other times? Do we need to have layoffs? Will the company go under if we don’t? Do we hide this from employees, or do we be open about it? Sometimes, the right thing to do is not so easily known. However, the goal is always to strive towards doing the right thing with the information, feeling, and reason we have at the time. In the future, it may be proven true. Or, it might be proven that it wasn’t the right thing. Ultimately, we need to keep trying and keep our shared humanity at the center of making the decisions we make. Speaking of…

  • “My city and state are Rome… But as a human being? The world. So for me, ‘good’ can only mean what’s good for both communities.” – Meditations 6.44

“HR is just a shill for corporate.” Anyone in HR has heard this in some form or another! An employee once told me “I know where your loyalties lie.” In an uncharacteristic moment, I let my emotions get the better of me, and said rather curtly “You don’t know anything about my loyalties, so please don’t say that to me again.” The employee backed down, but still that cut me deep because despite all my work over my tenure to be as employee friendly as I could, I was still seen as the employer’s shill. This phrase means a lot to me because, yes, I am on the employers’ side, but I am also on the employees’ side. One cannot exist without the other! Why is this such a hard concept to grasp? We can have a mutually beneficial relationship. Life is not a zero-sum game. Ultimately, what is good for all is the direction HR should lead.

  • “You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you. Things can’t shape our decisions by themselves.” – Meditations 6.52

In today’s world of “hot takes” and “instant outrage” and “cancel culture,” it’s nice to know that we really don’t have to have an opinion on every little (or “big”) thing. That’s powerful. Do we really need hot takes on everything!?! Having no opinion on trivial garbage is so freeing! And it leaves us space to have opinions on what really matters! The decision to have an opinion is just that, a decision! Opinions are decisions, and we can change our opinions, or decide not to have them. There’s so much going on in the world, that being discerning with our thoughts adds more value than having a half-baked opinion on everything.

  • “Don’t be ashamed to need help.” – Meditations 7.7

The Emperor of the Roman Empire, one of the most powerful and consequential states in world history, wrote to himself that it’s OK to need help. If this man can accept help from others, why can’t you? Are you so proud? Are you so much better? No. All people need help, and we need to be more open and accepting of that – not only with others, but with ourselves. The mental health crisis in America and the world is only going to get worse with the continued fallout of COVID the renewed threat of nuclear holocaust. Just be kind to yourself and others. It’s OK to not be OK. Roll with it.

  • “To do harm is to do yourself harm. To do an injustice is to do yourself an injustice – it degrades you. And you can also commit injustice by doing nothing.” – Meditations 9.4-5

Now, seemingly more than ever, HR is at the apex of organizational right and wrong. If HR has historically been a gatekeeper, even if we despise and revile that term and role, then let’s make our gates open only for what is right and just. When HR acts inappropriately towards others, they hurt themselves. When they act on what is right for others, they do good for themselves. So, do good! Build policies for real DEI+ Belonging advancement. Build a culture that welcomes trusting and engaging with employees. Open the doors for pay transparency and pay equity. All of it while closing the door to bigotry, harassment, and social acceptance. HR is pivotal for changing our culture for the better. Accept the cause and take it up and run!

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Agrippa’s Trilemma and the Meaning of Life

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The meaning of life is that it is to be lived, and it is not to be traded and conceptualized and squeezed into a pattern of systems.— Bruce Lee

Google “the meaning of life” and 1,260,000,000 results appear. It’s safe to say that this is a mystery many folks want to figure out. As with many other existential questions – like where do we come from?, what are we?, and where are we going? – the questions of what is the meaning of life is likely unanswerable.

Or, better yet, it likely has as many answers as there are humans on the planet. Despite his recent negative news coverage (some of it deserved, some of it not), Joe Rogan does have interesting and thoughtful guests on his podcast. Surprisingly, or maybe not if I were paying closer attention, Mike Tyson was an awe-inspiring guest, who had a thoughtful response about discipline that really made me reevaluate how I tackle my own self-discipline.

For the purposes of this piece, I recently saw a LinkedIn post with a minute clip of Rogan interviewing Naval Ravikant, a successful entrepreneur and investor. In the discussion, Ravikant brought up Agrippa’s Trilemma, also known as the Münchhausen trilemma.

Essentially, the Trilemma sets out to ask “is it possible to prove any truth?” Essentially, according to the argument, no, it is impossible to prove the validity of an argument. Ironic, no???

Broken out, the Trilemma states no argument is provable because the why can never be answered because of the following flaws:

  1. Circular Reasoning: A logical fallacy in which the reasoner begins with what they are trying to end with. “A is true because B is true; B is true because A is true.” Example: The HR Director told us lying to the boss is bad. Why is lying to the boss bad? Because the HR Director told us. So, lying is bad!
  • Infinite Regress: Those who have children can likely relate to this next example, or those who have an employee who is never satisfied with your response! A child asks a question. The parent gives a response. The child asks “why,” and the parent answers. The child asks “why,” and the parent answers. This continues FOR-EV-ER! The answer in the loop only exists because of the previous answer, and there is no answer that “why” cannot be a response.
  • Axiomatic Statements: This is a statement that is taken to be true, to serve as a starting point for further reasoning and arguments. It is a statement that doesn’t require proof! It is self-explanatory! You have likely heard conversations where someone says – maybe you – “it’s common sense.” Common sense demands that the person is aware of and familiar with certain things in the environment! Another is anything to do with “God” or religion. Maybe the “math says this” or “science says this.” When we hear these statements, we are to assume that what follows, or preceded, is true based on pre-existing knowledge that doesn’t require any other proof!

I will ironically ask, why is all this important? Raag Trivedi writes it is because of epistemology, or the study of how humans acquire knowledge and justify our arguments.

“We live in times where we are surrounded by all kinds of news. Media is playing a strong role on the global platform. Epistemology as a field, stresses on the importance of research and fact-checking for the individual. While we have the presence of media to provide us with information and shape our opinions, we should not alienate ourselves from this process.”

These ideas are important in the field of human resources, especially logical Fallacies –flawed, deceptive, or false arguments that can be proven wrong with reasoning. Knowing logical fallacies can help you to navigate future disputes with bosses and colleagues without descending into anger or judgement. By building better arguments and recognizing flaws in others’ logic, your work will be enhanced along with the organization!

Also important is the idea of how people learn! Today, we read article after article about how the future success of all organizations hinges on the training provided to employees, managers especially. Knowing how people learn best is the key to ensuring that these trainings don’t end up as fun exercises that are quickly forgotten once they leave the training room and reenter the workplace.

For what it’s worth, I currently believe the meaning of life is to live. It’s that simple in my mind. We are put on this earth, or we randomly find our selves on this earth, so we should make the most of it while we’re out and about! Just live. Do good by you and yours, and don’t hurt others. Ultimately, however, that seems easier said than done for many – yours truly included.

People are flawed. Fallible. It’s best to let them find their own truth, so long as it’s grounded in some form of logic and reasonableness. Unless you’re the Pope speaking ex cathedra. Shrug!

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Street Level Influencer – Meet Kim Bozeman

Time for another Street Level Influencer interview! Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

Street level influencers provide that for us.

COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, insurrections, hatred from seemingly all over. These things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

So far in the series, I have shared stories from:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler
  7. Blake Quinlan
  8. James Woods
  9. Anthony Eaton
  10. Jane Murtaugh
  11. Rhonda Owens
  12. Dan Huber
  13. Shenise Cook
  14. Scott McCullough

I met this next Street Level Influencer where I’ve made many a friend, social media! Kimberly Bozeman is someone I have only known for a little while, but I feel a connection to her. I believe this shows what a truly special person she is! She even asked me to help proof some of her marketing materials, and being a reading and proofing nerd, I said YES! Spoiler: Her shit was awesome and didn’t need much editing at all!

I hope she doesn’t mind my sharing, but she almost didn’t want to do the Street Level Influencer interview! I told her that this series is about showcasing amazing folks, and I felt her story should be shared with others – but ONLY on HER terms and in HER way. I believe Kim is special, and I wanted to use my platform to get to know her better and share what made her special with the world!

And I’m not the only one. Just a few days ago, the ones and only Jon and Wendy dropped their HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcast episode with Kim as their guest. I listened, and LOVED IT!

So, without further ado, here is my interview with Kim! ENJOY!

So, you recently began venturing out as an independent HR consultant! CONGRATS! Tell us about your company.

Yes, it’s been so exciting, exhausting, and an incredible journey. KNB is a full-service HR Solution firm. What makes us unique is that our solutions are customized to each organization’s industry, mission, vision, and values. HR is not a one size fit all model. To optimize growth and give your people the best experience, it’s essential that HR understands the organization’s business, pain points, and vision and plan accordingly.

I could not agree more if I tried! What is your business strategy? What makes this venture “pop?”

While we support a few industries, our primary clients are startups or organizations in the pharmaceutical or tech industries going through rapid growth. My clients overall have realized the value that HR can provide, so our focus is on making HR accessible for smaller, but growing, organizations by using a hybrid business model of integrated cost leadership and differentiation strategy. What makes us pop is a few things. We are fully vested in our clients from top to bottom; an hourly rate does not drive our decisions. It’s also imperative that we believe in the organization’s mission and values and fully understand the culture to provide superior customer service. My diverse background in operations, HR, and customer service offers a competitive advantage to other consulting firms. Finally, our values of Diversity, People, Integrity, Innovation & Improvement, and Customer Service are displayed daily, and the primary reasons we have repeat clients

A big part of your mission seems to be staying true to who you are while ensuring your solutions for companies connect to solutions for greater societal ills. What does this mean to you and what is the value to this approach?

Before George Floyd’s murder, I was on a personal growth journey of self-love and healing. While our country erupted after his murder, I had to have an honest conversation with myself, which was the catalyst to personal accountability and change. The reality at the time was that I caused a lot of harm by staying silent about injustices and systemic racism in our country. I vowed never to do that again. I will only work with clients that share similar values and beliefs, which allows me to give 10,000% of myself to their business. The freedom to show up as my authentic self for my clients brings more creativity, more vital collaboration, and psychological safety. The data clearly shows the value of having an inclusive environment adds to the bottom line. As a business owner, I understand the tremendous pressure on my clients to provide for their employees and remain as stable as possible. I do not take that responsibility lightly, and it allows me to work just as hard for your organization as I do for mine.   I also have accepted that my personality, unique perspective, and untraditional background are not for everyone, and that’s okay. All money isn’t good money, and I fully realize that privilege allows me to make decisions that other business owners may not be able to.

I LOVE that. “All money isn’t good money.” At the end of the day, we need to be able to look ourselves in the mirror. What is one simple thing that HR leaders can do today to make their place of employment a better place to work?

Move from policy driven decisions. Demonstrate emotional intelligence and create psychological safety for employees. Kim Jones, an HR Consultant that has helped me tremendously, once said, “Find the hard way to say yes rather than the easy way to say no.”

Wow. That line is powerful. I need to hang that on my wall! What is one book you’ve read that has influenced your leadership style? 

To be honest my anxiety and ADHD make it a bit more difficult to read (in the traditional way) over the last few years, but I listen to tons of audio books. Two books that have been essential for my growth and leadership style are The Four Agreements, and You Can Heal Your Life. In my opinion being a great leader requires self-awareness, empathy, emotional intelligence, and the ability to be a servant for others. I had to work on healing myself, loving myself, and dealing with trauma in the workplace that I experienced so that I could be the best leader, and teammate. I don’t see how you do that if you’re completely broken as a person.

Thank you for being so open and honest. I know your words will be heard by someone who needs to hear them. Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

This is such a HARD question. Over the last few years, there are some amazing people that have helped me, and there’s no way I can pick one!  Here’s my list: George Parada, Milly Christmann, Vandy Densmore, Tracie Sponenberg, Michelle Strasburger, Ricklyn Woods, Meghan Beaupre, and Christina Wang.

I know many of those folks! Such a great group of professionals! I know why you couldn’t choose one! What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

Continuing the trend from a Fixed Mindset vs. a Growth Mindset, as well as continuing to manage the intense amount of change. I see so many HR professionals stuck in the past, not evolving with technology, people, and how we do business today – let alone tomorrow! HR professionals that fail to grow and evolve will not be able to provide value to their organizations, or contribute to their growth.

How can people connect with you?

By connecting with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or visiting the KNB consultant website at www.knbsensiblesolutions.com.

What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

I love football, whiskey, and tacos. I am extremely passionate about civic engagement – it’s work that sets my soul on fire. I am different and CELEBRATE that. I might be a bit loud, but know when and how to speak with C-Suite (that doesn’t mean I am going to completely suppress who I am). I was a TA for English 1A, and received an A in every damn English class in college, but I cannot use a comma to save my life! I have shit punctuation when writing.

I barely graduated high school – I don’t think I should have – and I went back to college very late in life. I worked three jobs while going to school, but somehow found time to intern for Congressman Jerry McNerney. I graduated cum laude because I learned how to study by discovering that I was an auditory learner. Like many, I have had a hard life. I have been homeless, abused, buried a child, and experienced a significant amount of loss, including myself. I almost lost my life in January 2020.

I always believed that our circumstances don’t define us, and gratitude is the key to happiness. But I went through a very dark, dark time and lost myself. I felt completely overwhelmed and hopeless. It was HARD to pull myself out of that, and I still struggle. We’re not defined by our mistakes or failures. How we overcome them is what shows our character, grit, and fortitude. I want the world to know that peace and happiness do not come from our job titles, professional certifications, cars, homes, etc. It’s found within, and it’s just the beginning, despite what you’ve been through.

Street Level Influencer – Meet Scott McCullough

Too many businesses today are based on driving prices lower by screwing over somebody: pounding suppliers or squeezing employees. We’re the opposite. We put our employees first. If you take care of them, they will take care of your customers better than anybody else.  — Kip Tindell, CEO, Container Store

For the first time in almost 10 months, I bring you the Street Level Influencer series! It’s been a minute, that’s for sure! Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

Street level influencers provide that for us.

COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, insurrections, hatred from seemingly all over. These things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

So far in the series, I have shared stories from:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler
  7. Blake Quinlan
  8. James Woods
  9. Anthony Eaton
  10. Jane Murtaugh
  11. Rhonda Owens
  12. Dan Huber
  13. Shenise Cook

Next up, I share the story of Scott McCullough! I was introduced to Scott by Claire Stroh Petrie. She mentioned my name to him during a conversation, and Scott reached out after reading one of my blog posts! Through our messaging back and forth, Scott and I discovered a lot of mutual interests including philosophy, leadership theory, and coffee!


We also discovered that we had a similar career arc. After successful stints as managers, we both discovered that we enjoyed the HR side of managing folks. So, I gave him some stories about how I successfully transitioned into HR, and he recently shared he got his first FT HR job! YEAH SCOTT!!!!

So without further ado, here is Scott’s story as a Street Level Influencer!!!

1. You just made the transition to your first true HR professional role! Congrats! Tell us about the role and why you wanted to make this transition.

I’ve always considered myself a People Manager & Leader. I’ve worked with coffee for the past 10 years from Barista to Director of Operations. The sheer breadth of work a Retail Manager is responsible for is wild. At my last gig, my team and I were responsible for interviewing, hiring, onboarding, orientation, training & development, succession planning on top of ensuring our shops were running profitable businesses by taking care of their bottom line, people, customers, and communities.

Navigating the Pandemic has not been easy, and doing what is right can be hard; but I started to realize that I focus heavily on the “people” side of the business, which brings me joy, especially influencing leaders and stakeholders on what we need to be doing. Being able to work with a manager on performance management and how maybe they didn’t communicate clearly or well enough on what the real issue is or get deep enough to understand has always been rewarding. It’s untangling a web of thought and actions to bring clarity on how we can be better people and better leaders. There is nothing like working with a manager or supervisor on how to adapt their leadership and communication style to be the most impactful with the entirety of their team, to get to the root-cause of a behavioral or performance problem, and then to find a way or create a plan to improve it.

My new role is formally titled a Manager, People & Culture, but the position functions as an HRBP for a national general contractor. I’ve worked in a scrappy DIY company for a long time and value that freedom to be creative, but I want the experience of working somewhere more established, to see systems and processes, and to work cross-functionally with more departments. Most importantly, I wanted to work alongside fellow HR professionals so I can continue my journey. I am so jazzed to have the chance to partner and support Benefits, Comp, L&D, OD, and the rest of my client groups.

2. What would you advise others making a career transition to HR?

Know what you love and are excited about. Understand that everyone is human and complex. There is so much going on beneath the surface that motivates people and defines their actions that we can’t see. Believe that people want to innately be good, but often lack the resources, support, and knowing what is expected of them. Be willing to have conversations, lead with compassion, and ask questions that seek to understand and give space to just listen. Maybe it’s Humanism, but I feel it’s helped me immensely.

3. How would you define being a “good HR leader?”

Know your people and the teams you work for. Understand what opportunities are present. Know what excites people about their work. Find ways to cater to their strengths and passions. I’ve found that weaknesses are inherently hard to change. It can be demoralizing to not have the growth that is expected of you because you are trying to improve something you just aren’t good at. We learn at a young age that we can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, and it’s a simple lesson we should be mindful of at work and with our people. I’m ‘speaking out of both sides of my mouth’ as we obviously cannot ignore weaknesses as people should be developed but make it a priority to celebrate wins, acknowledge small and large victories with your people, find creative ways to leverage strengths to lift up someone’s weaknesses.

4. So, we’ve established that your background is in the coffee world! As a man who loves coffee, I want to thank EVERY barista out there! It’s hard, demanding work. What were some lessons as a barista that were transferable to your HR career?

Communication for sure, both in setting expectations with customers and within a team. There are so many moving parts behind a line that affect everything. For example, if you don’t deploy team members and provide support at the right moments, the line backs up, the customers get impatient, or worse angry, they take it out on the people working the line, and then all of a sudden morale drops. It taught me that coaching needs to happen in the moment. It cannot wait. When you see an opportunity to address a behavior or performance opportunity, that moment is the right time while it’s fresh. If you wait too long, things start to lose context for all parties.

5. HR is a challenging profession, in that, we likely get too much blame and not enough credit when things go wrong or well, respectively. Have you had a particular story that you’re comfortable sharing to describe how you overcame a challenging situation?

Heading into September 2021, my last gig’s revenue was driven primarily by students. There was an estimate of 50,000 students returning to the city proper at the end of August/beginning of September. With that knowledge I knew that we had to update our application process as we had been running pen and paper for 7 years with no applicant tracking system (ATS). I was forecasting to increase our workforce from 80 – 200 employees (which were pre-pandemic levels), and knew it would be impossible to manage & create a good candidate experience without a system to provide some oversite. We rolled out an ATS at beginning of August and to grow our staffing. By the beginning of September, even though we hired and trained 80 new team members, it just wasn’t enough to meet the demand customers were putting on the business. We were facing burnout and the writing was on the wall that there could be a lot of turnover if we tried to push our employees through that.

I recommended that we close shop for 2 days at each of our 8 retail location as that would allow us to reallocate about 14 shifts per store to the other days of the week to meet the demands of the business, give the level of service our customers needed, and have enough support on the floor to not be understaffed. It gave us the time needed to continue hiring & training so we could appropriately staff across the week and get back to regular hours of operations.

This helped immensely with manager morale as well given the nature of the job and often being on demand to deal with any problems shift leads can’t handle or address on the day-to-day. Given that retail is a commodity, it will probably never change significantly, but I would love to see a truly people first retail operation be closed 2 days a week for managers to disconnect from the demands of their shops and be able to walk away. The nature of the business is on-call. I’ve seen my share of long days and sleepless nights trying to take care of my people. I know I didn’t always meet everyone’s expectations.

6. Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

There are so many awesome people to know and connect with it’s hard to choose just one. I would say check out some LinkedIn and Twitter communities as everyone has been welcoming and supportive. #HRSocialHour Twitter chat is a place everyone should by at some point. It is every other Sunday from 6pm to 7pm central time.

To actually answer your question, I would say Claire Petrie. I found her through listening to Honest HR Podcast when I was in a pretty bad place in my career. Work was toxic, and I was struggling with imposter syndrome. I knew something needed to change but wasn’t sure what. She introduced me to so many amazing people and communities and helped get me back on track to believing in myself and seeing my worth.

7. What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

I think in retail it’s going to be training managers on leadership, compassion, flexibility, and adaptability. We can all make sound business decisions in a way that keeps compassion and humanity at the forefront of interactions. They are expected to take care of their people and have a productive workforce, but they are often making decisions that negatively impact the business based on their survival, their own needs, trying to have some semblance of work/life balance, and a lack of proper training and continuous support.

Right now, you see many businesses being forced to change to demands they didn’t expect to be put on their businesses resulting in irregular hours, staffing problems, and product shortages. I think that the former to be embraced, and we need to continue to adapt. I would love to live in a world or see a cafe closed once or twice a week so leadership can truly unplug. Give your people leaders a break and change customers’ expectations of your business, morale can get very low and burnout is a common occurrence. If you are multi-unit, be strategic & intentional. Reroute customers to different stores for mobile orders, partner with a POS that is integrated with a delivery service.

Also, please be patient with customer service workers. The beginning of the pandemic forced a lot of businesses to adapt mobile ordering, delivery services and funky hours to name a few. If you enjoy going into a café to order in person, expect to wait. Most shops seem to operate on a “First-in, First-out” basis. If you order at a register and 10 drinks come in through mobile, odds are your ticket will stay at the back of that line.

8. How can people connect with you?

You can find me on LinkedIn at Scott McCullough – I’m the goofy looking guy out for a hike. I’m also on Twitter @ScottMcBadger, and you can find me at #HRSocialHour Twitter chats when they’re happening!

9. What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

I went to music school and something that I miss dearly is being able to play and collaborate with other musicians. So, if anyone’s in Plymouth County, MA – hit me up so we can hang out and jam from time to time. I am also fascinated by dog training. One of my rescue pups and I do a scent work class. She has anxiety and getting to see her do what she was made to do, smell smells, makes me so happy.

Thích Nhất Hạnh and Lessons for HR Professionals

Beautiful painting of Thích Nhất Hạnh by TriDung Vo (http://www.tridungvo.com/)

“Tomorrow, I will continue to be. But you will have to be very attentive to see me. I will be a flower, or a leaf. I will be in these forms, and I will say hello to you. If you are attentive enough, you will recognize me, and you may greet me. I will be very happy.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh

I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but sometime nearly a decade ago, maybe longer, I came across a book that helped me begin a journey towards a clearer more peaceful way to live. This book helped me begin my walk towards and with mindfulness.

Not the “cliché” mindfulness that has become a buzzword in many business circles, but a mindfulness of sincerity, a mindfulness of compassion – for the world around us and within us.

The book is titled Living Buddha, Living Christ, and its author is someone you may not have heard of, but someone you should get to know.

Thích Nhất Hạnh was born in 1926 in rural Vietnam. He became dedicated to Buddhism from an early age, entered the monastery, and was eventually ordained a monk. Once ordained, Thay, as his followers call him, Vietnamese for “teacher,” grew to become a peace activist and outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, which earned him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as earning him exile from his homeland. He eventually ended up in France and formed Plum Village, a Buddhist, mindfulness community. He authored dozens of bestselling books, appeared on Oprah, and became a worldwide leader for peace.

Thích Nhất Hạnh with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during a peace summit in the late 1960s.

On January 22, 2022, Thích Nhất Hạnh passed away at the age of 95. I felt a great deal of sadness. I feel as though Thích Nhất Hạnh was a member of my family. His lessons deeply influenced my in ways that remain indescribable. If anyone could articulate my innerbeing in ways that are understandable, it would be the man known as Thay. His articulation of obscure and difficult knowledge was nothing short of poetic.

Although those influenced and touched by Thích Nhất Hạnh mourn, he himself would likely want them to know he isn’t truly gone. He is simply moved on to the next part of his journey.

“I am a continuation like the rain is the continuation of the cloud.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

What began with Living Buddha, Living Christ led me to other works from the gentle monk. Everything he wrote was poetry – a catalogue of understanding, enlightenment, kindness. All of his works lead me to a better understanding of myself, of the world, and of beyond.

It also, as all good reading should, taught me how to be a better HR leader and person in general. Professional inspiration can be found in places we never thought to look if only we open our eyes to what is in front of us, removing the cataracts that blind us.

As a way to pay tribute to a man who inspired me, here is a list of ideas from Thích Nhất Hạnh that made me a better person and HR professional. I hope they help you find peace, encouragement, and success, as they have me.

Mindfulness: The first time I heard of the idea of mindfulness was in Living Buddha, Living Christ. In the book, Thích Nhất Hạnh defines mindfulness as “the energy to be here and to witness deeply everything that happens in the present moment, aware of what is going on within and without.” The power of this concept is someone’s own self-mastery. When someone is a master of the moment, they increase their ability to think, to act, to live on another level. No obsessing over the past that doesn’t exist, no worrying about a future scenario that hasn’t happened, just understanding what’s going on right now – the only time that truly exists.

Thích Nhất Hạnh practiced calligraphy as a meditative practice.

Mindful breathing: A root of a lot of meditative practices is focusing on the breath. “When I am breathing in, I know I am breathing in.” Sounds easy. It’s not. Think about it. Breathing is the one thing humans do without thinking. It’s so natural that is happens spontaneously and also automatically. We are so often completely unaware we are doing it. Learning to “know” that you are breathing is a gateway to truly “knowing” all the other things you do on autopilot. This is powerful but ever so challenging. Our minds are designed to think, and thinking they do! Most of the time without our knowing it – just like our breathing! Knowing that you our breathing can be a step to knowing that you are thinking and therefore a step to knowing a universe of action and possibility!

Tolerance and Acceptance: The entire book Living Buddha, Living Christ is written in a way that projects the author’s love and kindness towards people of other faiths. A Buddhist monk writing about all the positive aspects of a religion that is not his own, never once trying to convince any reader that his religion is superior – or that any religion for that matter is superior! It’s not preachy. It’s not judgmental. It’s just pure poetic kindness, which is based on accepting others as they are. Today, we need this more than ever. Things that divide us are arbitrary and false. The point of the writing is to open people’s minds to our contemplativeness.

Peace and Nonviolence: Conflict is inevitable. Violence, however, isn’t. I used to think of violence in terms of physicality. I have come to believe that violence is much more than that. Violence can be thought of as doing any act that harms another person, creature, or our world, which is in itself a living ecosystem. Making fun of someone. Not taking your pet to the vet. Littering. All these actions can be thought of as violence.

Violence is never far. It is possible to identify the seeds of violence in our everyday thoughts, speech, and actions. We can find these seeds in our own minds, in our attitudes, and in our fears and anxieties about ourselves and others. Thinking itself can be violent, and violent thoughts can lead us to speak and act violently. In this way, the violence in our minds manifests in the world.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

This perspective helped me realize that I can be a better person. I have been a violent man in many ways, and I can do better. I’ve come to believe that the best way to act is in the antithesis of violence – compassion. We must be able to transform our violence and fear into something beautiful. Acting compassionately is acting nonviolently.

The Interconnectedness of Nature: Separateness is an illusion. Everything is connected and part of the same whole. When you eat your cereal in the morning, you are not eating little crunchy bits of goodness. You are eating the sun, the clouds, the rain. You are eating the earth, which produced the metal for the spoon. You are eating the grass that the cow ate, which produced your milk. Or, you are eating the soil from which the almonds grew that produced your almond milk. Everything is connected. Nothing exists without the other pieces. When we do harm to one, we do harm to all. Think about the workplace in such terms! No one can exist without the person next to them, or the coworker they do not see nor have met.

Engaged Buddhism: Is a concept created and purported by the Thay. It was habit for many Buddhist monks to stay out of society and not get involved on a larger level. Thích Nhất Hạnh looked to change this by applying the teachings of Buddhism to social life in order to bring about social change, including relieving or eliminating economic suffering and social injustice. These teachings are aligned with the Stoic value of living in the world, with the world, and amongst the world. Thay believed that there was no reason to obtain enlightenment if it didn’t make the world a better place, and all people deserved opportunities for betterment. To do this, one must be educated; one must be with others, not apart. We must be open to the experiences of other people and do our part to relieve their suffering. I can think of few other beliefs that HR leaders should embrace. We need to be with our folks. We need to support our folks. We need to relieve their suffering. Only then can HR move beyond into a better place in the hearts and minds of our people.

No mud, no lotus: The first Buddhist truth is that there is suffering in the world. Thích Nhất Hạnh taught me that suffering can serve a purpose. Lotus flowers are considered one of the most beautiful plants that nature gives us. Lotus flowers cannot bloom without mud. In the same way, we cannot become who we were meant to be unless we accept our suffering and look to it in ways that helps us. We need to be embracing of our experiences and our powerful emotions. We need to acknowledge them, not fight them, or bury them, or ignore them. That doesn’t relieve our suffering; it only prolongs it, or enlarges it, or pushes it onto other people. Looking into our suffering helps us open up and see things that make us better. So, suffering is something we need. Without it we cannot grow.

Impermanence: Suffering, while necessary, is unpleasant. While we need it, we also need happiness and enjoyment. Our emotions are a complex web of interconnection that make us who we are. All of it is impermanent. Our suffering will not last. Our happiness will not last. Being open and welcoming to all we feel and experience – good, bad, indifferent – will help us realize that change is good and necessary. It’s the only constant in life. Being accepting of this will increase our ability to be resilient and adaptable.

Smile, and know you are smiling. Your smile can bring joy to you, and in turn, bring joy to others. Happiness is simple if we know how to live in a way that allows us to be free. RIP Thay. The next time I see a leaf fall from the oak tree in my backyard, I will smile and greet you by saying thank you for everything.