Street Level Influencer: Getting to Know Blake Quinlan

“Time spent on hiring, is time well spent.” – Robert Half


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.

In the series, I argue that some of the most impactful people in our lives are right in front of us, and we just need to remember to tap into those around us for their wisdom and influence.

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler

Next in theseries, I want to introduce you to Blake Quinlan, recruiter extraordinaire from Express Employment Professionals, based in Champaign, Illinois.

These past few years, most hiring managers understand the challenges that we’ve faced when hiring in this employees’ market! One of the best markets in recent history for job seekers has made hiring a major pain! Savvy employers had implemented distinctive techniques in attempts to bridge the gap between open positions and talent acquisition.

It was roughly a year and a half ago that yours truly began experimenting with new ways to ensure programmatic needs were being met – well, new ways to me! (That’s how we gain experience!!!)

The agency I worked for at the time was having a very difficult time filling positions in some area programs. So, I had reached out to a Express in an attempt to mitigate a most difficult situation. It my first time working with a temp agency, so I had no idea what to expect. Luckily, the experience was worth more than I’d have known at the time – both for my employer and for me!

Now, before I continue, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention an inside joke. There is a classic Key and Peele skit about a substitute teacher that mispronounces all his students’ names due to a cultural misunderstanding! One such name is “Blake,” which is mispronounced as “Buh-lah-kay.”

Thus, enter Blake (pronounced “Blake”), whom I got to know as the recruiter for the temp agency who was an intricate part of helping me navigate the wonderful world of temp workers! From the moment I met him, I could tell Blake was different. He exuded a passion for helping people find the right talent for their needs. He had a confidence about him and an excellent sense of humor! He understood the Key and Peele reference!

Blake was awesome to work with. He understood our needs, and worked well at helping my agency overcome some employee challenges. I was excited that he wanted to be a part of this series, so I could share his stories.

  1. Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I am currently a Senior Recruiter with the Specialized Recruiting Group out of Champaign, IL. The recruiting job in a nutshell is placing qualified candidates with companies that are looking to hire. I love what the position represents – networking and connecting people, but I am tired of some of the ways we go about connecting – emails and just sending resumes, specifically.

  1. In our recent conversation, you mentioned that there is a stigma in HR circles surrounding recruiting. I was intrigued by that point of view. Would you be willing to expand upon that?

There are a lot of ways I could go with this one. Like you mentioned in our conversation, recruiting is interesting because it is a function of HR. The way I see it a really good recruiter can make someone in HR look really good and vice versa. Unfortunately, too many times have there been bad experiences for both candidates and HR professionals that I think creates the stigma.  LinkedIn has put out some really good content about this.  Here’s a synopsis of the Future of Recruiting, with the full report linked in the article: One thing that stands out to me is how recruiters will be more strategist, which is where I hope I am able to show value to clients, in developing a customized recruiting plan and then executing it. 

  1. How do you work to address that stigma in your everyday professional endeavors?

I really try to address it straight on. I hope that my passion for my job is conveyed through everyone I speak with. I am also trying to take a creative approach toward connecting with both candidates and client companies through my use of video. You can see on my LinkedIn page how I have used it to advertise positions, but I am also using it to target specific clients that I am looking to work with and using it in my presentation of candidates to clients e.g. In lieu of a resume, you get a video of me and ~Candidate~ discussing the role! 

  1. What was your biggest professional success? Why was it important to you?

My biggest professional success came right around the time that we met, when I was in charge of developing a new office from scratch, in Ottawa, IL. I was responsible for everything from Business Development to managing Recruiting, to internal human resources, to everything in between. I cherish the experience because it showed me that I can take nothing and turn it into something with minimal direction, but also that the hard work and grind of being an entrepreneur is something that I enjoy.

  1. What was your biggest professional failure? What did it teach you?

My biggest professional failure came this year. As backstory for the readers, I quit my position with the Specialized Recruiting Group and took a role as a Port & Shopping Guide on the Harmony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean. The position seemed like it was going to be right up my alley, talking with people, networking, doing public speaking, etc. Unfortunately, when I got there, most of my 12-14 hour days were spent folding and stapling paperwork. It taught me the importance of a good job description LOL 😊 It taught me a lot specifically empathizing with how the majority of the world lives where a position on a cruise ship making as low as $600-800 per month is considered a “Top Job.” It also made me a lot more appreciative of everything I have in the middle of Illinois, specifically the relationships I’ve developed.

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

Lynn Yoerk is the owner of the Specialized Recruiting Group office I work in. Lynn has been a business owner for over 20 years, is consistently the most positive and outgoing person I deal with, and is incredibly talented at developing people into being the best version of themselves. I feel really lucky to be able to work with Lynn and her husband Richard and learn and grow from them daily!

  1. Do you have an professional experience where HR helped you in a unique or specialized way that you’d care to share?

HR helps me every day in my job!  I always enjoy when I have a great relationship with someone in HR and how much easier that can make every ones job.

  1. How can people connect with you?

People can connect with me on LinkedIn at

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

The world should definitely know that I am a fanatic of the funk! The last 3 shows I have been to have been funk bands and I can’t get enough.  I’m a fan of everything from the more retro Sly and The Family Stone to the modern gangsta funk of Tuxedo.

Conduct a Daily Performance Review with Yourself 

“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.” – W. Edwards Deming 

person hands woman pen
Write down your expectations, and they won’t elude you!

I have been at my new job for almost a month and a half! It has been an amazing experience so far. Never having switched professional organizations before – I was at my last organization right out of college and stayed for 10 years – I never had the perspective of how radically different organizations functioned. 

I had the idea in theory, of course, but finally having experienced it changes one’s perception and understanding.  

Currently, one of the projects I am helping direct on is rolling out the annual performance appraisal process. Traditionally held at the end of the year, we’re asking staff to reflect back on their year and offer input in how to move forward together – better. It’s standard issue stuff! 

Reflection is something many people do this time of year.  

It’s almost the New Year. Another year has passed, and a new one is rising in front of us as we scramble to buy last minute presents, make plans for parties, and finalize year end work tasks. 

We think back to the year that’s gone and wonder — what were my accomplishments, what were my failures, where could I have been better, what do I want moving forward, what made me happy, what made me sad, where do I go from here?  

I believe this is a wise thing to do. However, I believe it’s wiser to reflect on a daily basis. At the beginning of the day or end of the day, we should be thinking these about these questions. 

Think about it in terms of a performance management process. While doing a review is better than not doing one, many HR professionals understand that a better approach to the yearly review is a continuous evaluation process – continuous performance management rather than yearly performance reviews.

What makes for better performance management? Taking the time once a year to look back on your staffs’ work, struggling to remember all the ins and outs of their job performance, or implementing a year-round performance appraisal process – one where you do regular touch bases and hold regular conversations about how they are doing and how they can continue to succeed? 

For me, it’s no question that the latter model builds organizations towards greater success. Similarly, this approach is also how we can more successfully better ourselves! 

Conducting daily touch points with ourselves keeps us on task. It keeps us accountable to our goals, to our aims, to our inner needs. Yes, it’s good to look back at March and remember that I didn’t handle a situation too well. However, isn’t that better to do in March when the event is fresh in my memory, the details crisp and ready to address quickly and powerfully? Man, I really slayed that meeting back in August! I did so awesome! Well, maybe reflecting about it in August gives you immediate perspective as to WHY you slayed it and the wherewithal to build upon it right away.

Reflecting sooner to situations allows an individual time and space to work on immediate, daily self-improvement. 

As the old Zen saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Reflecting daily is that single step. Eventually, the days become months, become years, and we wake up a better person than the day before barely even realizing it because of the gradual nature of the process. 

That’s the point. We focus too much on results that we forget about the process. The process is a guide that leads to our results. Focus on the process, and you will see results. Focus on the steps, and you will experience a great journey!  

So, we should be holding daily performance reviews with ourselves. What does this look like? The old HR joke is if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen! I am a strong proponent for journaling. Writing it down provides a platform to record, analyze, and revisit personal progress. It’s easy to spend 5-10 minutes at the end of the day (or the first thing when you wake up) to think about what is going on in your world.

Journal on what your day was like, or what you want it to be. Journal about events, projects, or relationships that have gone wrong, or are going in the wrong direction, but don’t sulk. Write about what you plan to do to move forward on a path to correct those events, projects, or relationships. Journal about what went right, or what is going right, but don’t pat yourself on the back for too long. Use that success to build a foundation for more success. Staying put doesn’t move one forward.

This is what Marcus Aurelius did. One of the most powerful people in the world took time out of his day to reflect. He wrote those reflections down as a way to hold himself accountable – to get better. His daily performance reviews became his Meditations, one of the most influential pieces of literature in history.  

Think about that. A Roman emperor’s private thoughts written 2,000 years ago, which he never intended to share with anyone, held so much practical wisdom that the compilation sells thousands of books a year and influences people to become better versions of themselves. 

What practical wisdom can you be sharing with yourself as you conduct your daily performance reviews? Write it down and find out! 

Again, it’s about focusing on the process. Do that and the journey takes care of itself. 

Message from Paul: Thank you for reading! Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

Be Seen and See Others – Street Level Influencer: Get to Know Olga Piehler

No act of kindnessno matter how small, is ever wasted. – Aesop


I’ve been writing a lot about the power of the Street Level Influencer. I argue that some of the most impactful people in our lives are right in front of us! We just need to remember to tap into those around us for their wisdom and influence.

So, I’ve been working hard to put the spotlight on some HR pros in my network who have provided me with life giving energy recently! My next few blog posts will be a series where I get to share stories of some amazing individuals that you should connect with!

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton

I continue this series by introducing you to Olga Piehler. I first came into contact with Olga on Twitter when she reached out to connect! I was immediately captivated by her positivity. Olga always has an encouraging word to say or comment to give. She will go out of her way to help pick a person up, even if that means digitally! Olga is altruism personified!

My growing friendship with Olga is a perfect example of the power of the internet to bring people together. We may have never gotten to know one another if neither of us chose to be intentional about reaching out to others via social media. I am very excited to bring her story forward.

The most interesting aspect to this Street Level Influencer story is that Olga is not an HR professional! Yet, she found it important for her to connect with HR professionals on social media. She’s a testament to how influential HR can be, and how important the profession is to the business world. She cites examples below as to why HR is important and why she is connecting with HR professionals despite her not being in that world professionally. It is important to Olga to cast a large net and learn from as many differing perspectives as she can.

That’s a lesson everyone should believe in! Olga is a sweet, empathetic person, whom I hope you connect with! She will definitely brighten your day!

 1. Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I help people during one of the worst times in their life.

I am a team member in North America’s largest single provider of funeral, cremation and cemetery services. We are dedicated to compassionately supporting families at difficult times, celebrating the significance of lives that have been lived, and preserving memories that transcend generations, with dignity and honor.

Interestingly, and perhaps somewhat unusual in this day and age, my experience has been with ONE company for 18 years. I was employee number 8 for a small start-up company called Making Everlasting Memories (MeM). MeM delivers Software As A Service (SaaS) that aids Funeral Homes (and staff) in the personalization of the services they provide to honor a life lived.  In this manner, we work in a B2B environment although the output of our software/platform is received by a consumer family.  My beginnings at MeM were very humble … I came in to help with filing after having left my PhD. program in Australia (after the 9/11 events) and having to “figure” out what to do next with my life.  Fast forward 18 years, I am currently ​part of the executive leadership team at MeM.  My team is a cross sectional team of extremely talented individuals and our mission is to ensure that our customers trust, know, and want to use our platform so they can provide the highest level of benefit to the families they serve. We work closely with the delivery team (IT side) to ensure solution-based product development and we advocate to represent the goals and interests of our clients. In between, I have gained​ ​extensive experience supporting software deployment in a SaaS platform. We work in an agile environment and deploy software to over 2,000 properties across North America. I oversee all change management and implementation; negotiate with the Director of Technology product releases as to minimize impact to our customers while maximizing value; provide guidance and recommendations in product enhancements/changes based on customer feedback; involved in aspects of software platform design to ensure usability and scalability to meet the needs of our multiple customers. I am also responsible for the design, development and oversight of all strategic, revenue-generating initiatives that achieve customer acquisition and retention objectives.

  1. As a professional not with an HR background, how do you see HR fitting into the success of an organization from your perspective?

I believe the role of HR teams is extremely critical in organizations, particularly given the current climate of Digital Transformation during the 4th Industrial Revolution.  For a long time, and given older management and business models supporting command and control practices, HR teams in most organizations became compliance and process keepers and administrators of the rules governing the organizations.  I believe this contributed to many team members viewing HR teams as individuals to fear instead of partners in their success.

HR Teams have been PROCESS focused and they must become more HUMAN focused.

As organizations start to wake up and make the necessary changes from within to enable them to be successful in today’s world, HR Teams will be required to become Strategic Business Partners to aid in the transformation required to get teams/organizations ready for the Future Of Work (which really is the Present of Work).  I believe HR teams of progressive and successful organizations will be engaged regarding what are the organizational strategies and how the organization will deliver them by helping define the people strategy with a focus on the employee experience.  Develop career intelligence by re-scaling and up-skilling jobs within the organization by understanding which jobs will grow or shrink in the upcoming years and creating an environment of flexibility, adaptability and continuous learning that supports internal mobility. Understanding what skills are currently present INSIDE of the organization and how to tap into them.

  1.   What do you like about HR that has you connecting and interacting with so many in the profession?

 Over the last little bit in my life, I have come to understand that I am an HR person on the inside – I guess I don’t have the credentials behind my name to make me one on the outside.* I didn’t strive nor aimed to connect with HR professionals in particular.  The connections organically grew as I followed and participated in conversations with like-hearted individuals who believe in the innate value each one of us possess and have a deep commitment to leave the world better than we found it.  Before I knew it, I found myself in the middle of this beautiful community and most of their inhabitants happened to be HR professionals (on the inside AND outside!). I believe ANY true servant leader is an HR professional on the inside.

*Editor’s Note: Having HR certification does NOT an HR practitioner make. Yes, having credentials is a great achievement worth celebrating, and I am a SHRM Certification Ambassador who believes in getting certified IF ONE WANTS. However, there are thousands of amazing HR professionals that are not certified. An HR professional’s worth comes from within themselves and through the work they accomplish on a daily basis helping employees and organizations. It doesn’t come from arbitrary letters following their name! – Paul L.

  1.   What was your biggest professional success? Why was it important to you?

 My TEAM. I joined MeM as employee number “8” and helped it grow and be what it is today. At the beginning, like in most “start-ups” roles were very loosely defined – we had titles but the title did not “define” what we did … we simply just DID.  One of my early roles was to lead the Customer Service Team – and I’m proud to say that my first hires are still within our organization (now in very senior roles – software developers and creative design).  I have people in my team who have been with me for their entire career in most cases probably over 12 years. We are recognized within our parent company (Service Corp International) for our Customer Service – best in the company! Other Team members got advanced degrees while being part of the team and have left the organization and are doing GREAT things in other places.  Yet, when they are in town they stop by for a hug, to see how we are doing and share what they are doing and may even organize a small get together outside of work.  That gives me a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment.

  1. What was your biggest professional failure? What did it teach you?

Leadership Absenteeism – during my 18 year career, there was a period of about 2 years where I just “didn’t have it in me.”  I was exhausted, emotionally drained, unable to personally cope – after the birth of my second child, I developed postpartum depression. I never told anyone at work. I just kept “working” and wearing the “mask” that all is ok. Shortly after, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and what followed were 6 years of one crisis after another until her passing. Then, a year later, my grandmother passed.  I say all this as to contextualize where I found myself as a leader and how my inability to healthily cope with it all transformed my performance resulting in Leadership absenteeism. I DISAPPEARED to my team.  I couldn’t serve them as I had no reserves in my tank. I even grew resentful at times. This was a very dark period in my life and career. I felt inadequate as a leader and unable to lead.

What did it teach me? I learned that the concept of “COMPARTMENTALIZATION.” It’s the WORST advice we can give our team members as they struggle inside or outside of work.  It’s a fantasy to think someone can do that in a healthy way as they work through BIG challenges for an extended period of time. As a young leader, I was conditioned to think that way – emotions have no place in the workplace and was penalized for an inability to hide them or “compartmentalize” well.

As leaders we must create safe spaces for our team members to bring their full-selves to work each and every day.  A big part of who they are, it’s their emotions and the issues they may be trying to cope with.  It’s our responsibility to be there for them and with them in periods of growth, periods of challenge, life events (good or bad). That’s how we lead.

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

Minda Harts – author of The Memo: What Women Of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table.

  1.   How can people connect with you?

LinkedIn and Twitter are the two social platforms that I’m most involved in.  I deeply enjoy connecting with others and contributing to conversation.

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

I deeply believe that it is my responsibility to make an impact for the better – to use my time on this earth to bring my LIGHT to others so that they can bring their light in return and convert energy into JOY and LOVE and BELONGING. Every interaction in my life provides an opportunity to do so – as a mother, a partner, a friend, a colleague, a neighbor, a stranger. EVERY interaction. I believe WE ALL are walking miracles, and we have a responsibility to grow to our fullest potential to repay back the universe for the investment it made in our creation.

​ Be Seen and See Others​ – is my message to the world. Be seen: Know thyself, and be courageous to bring YOU into light for others to “see” you. See others: Provide a safe space for others to know themselves and be courageous to bring their light for others to see – Witness YOU and Witness OTHERS.

My purpose is to help remove obstacles that stand in the way of others from fulfilling their purpose. And my vision is to bring beauty, joy, inspiration and love into the world one interaction at a time.

My super power is ​Ignition – I can see potential, and I can transfer the energy I feel from that potential onto others so they can move forward, I can create excitement and momentum and provide an environment conducive to forward movement. I can make others “feel” what is possible and “want” what is possible.

I LOVE my children​ – two incredible humans. Being a mother is all about Leadership. I always felt like that innately, and then when I heard Bob Chapman shared that thought I felt validated – like, YES! I knew it! It’s having this incredible “seed” in you care that has within it the potential to become all it is to become and you get to provide the right conditions for it to flourish.

I LOVE my dog​ – like I never “got” dog-moms, and then I became one, and it was game over!  She provides me with this sense of UNCONDITIONAL LOYALTY. She is companionship and everyone in the family claims she is “my favorite.” I deny it of course (but wink, wink!)

I LOVE people​ – I genuinely DO. I know I embarrass my family at times because I don’t know a stranger, but I also know they feel more connected to this world because that’s the case. We don’t live in isolation (that was something I couldn’t get used to moving from Spain to the States – how anonymous one became). We are surrounded by walking miracles with stories and hearts. We are all TEAM HUMAN and in each interaction – however small – we are given the gift of being present and meet another member of our team.

I LOVE life itself​ – the mere fact that we get a chance every day to go at it again.

Message from Paul: Thank you for reading! Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own or my interviewees and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

#HRMixedTape – My Favorite Albums from 2019 Edition

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato


Earlier this year, Steve Browne wrote a blog called #HRMixedTape2019 – HR Edition!

In it, he issued a unique challenge. He wanted HR bloggers to post a “mixed tape” of songs that connect to HR concepts.

I thought this was an awesome challenge, so much so that I wrote TWO posts on the topic!!

#HRMixedTape2019 – Heavy Metal Edition! \m/

#HRMixTape2019 – Metallica Edition \m/

Music is a huge part of my life. It’s entertained me, inspired me, motivated me, and saved me. Usually, I do a December post on my Facebook page listing my favorite albums from the year. For 2019, I felt inspired to do another #HRMixTape challenge! I took my five favorite albums from 2019 and linked its themes to HR topics and workplace situations.

So, here’s my #HRMixTape for my favorite albums in 2019!

  1. Amon Amarth – Berserker

HR Lesson: Work so HR isn’t seen as the Viking invader sent to set fire to the village!

Amon Amarth are a melodic death metal band from Sweden. They take their name from the Elvish word for Mt. Doom from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. They are obsessed with Vikings! So much so that every album has a Viking theme. From Odin, to Thor, to pillaging, and war, Amon Amarth sing about all the Viking things!!! And their latest album, Berserker, is no different. The Berserkers were fierce warriors from Norway who were legendary for their fear inspiring brutality. The English word berserk is descended from the Berserkers, who cried and screamed and yelled hellishly as they ran into battle! They feared not pain nor death! Much like the Berserker, HR sometimes puts the fear of God in employees. This is unfortunate. HR should be seen as a force for good in the organization, not the force to fear. Ultimately, employees may not scream in fear as HR walks into the room, but many do hush up or quietly change their tone. It cannot be said enough: HR pros need to work harder than other functions at gaining trust and respect in the workplace. I hope you’re up to the challenge!

Also, on a side note, my favorite thing about Amon Amarth live performances is the tradition of the Viking Boat “row pit.” It’s pretty entertaining and takes some fierce diehard fans to start a row pit!

  1. Killswitch Engage – Atonement

HR Lesson: Be relentlessly positive in the face of adversity!

I previously wrote how influential Killswitch Engage has been on my life. They’re my second favorite band following the mighty Metallica!!! I was so pumped when they released Atonement this year – their first album release in three years. It’s an album about relentless positivity. Songs like “The Signal Fire,” “I Am Broken Too,” and “Take Control” help remind the listener that they are stronger than they know and are not alone in their internal struggles. Positivity isn’t about being naïve or ignoring reality. Positivity is about choosing to notice the good and find the good in the perceived bad. HR professionals are like everyone else, in that, many suffer from “imposter syndrome,” anxiety, stress, depression, etc. Remember, always remember, that you are not alone, you are stronger than you know, and you are competent. Find something good in a bad situation to cling to for strength and guidance.

  1. As I Lay Dying – Shaped By Fire

HR Lesson: Our failures don’t define us because we can always choose to acknowledge them, accept them, and act to rebuild!

As I Lay Dying is one of my favorite bands ever, which is why I was devastated to hear the news of their breaking up in 2013 due to the horrific deeds of the band’s front man. Tim Lambesis tried to hire a hitman, who turned out to be an undercover cop, to murder his estranged wife. It was shocking news, as Lambesis was always well thought of. By all accounts, he was a loving, positive, kind person. It seemed that many of his inner demons and the stress they caused him had him snap in a horrific, unacceptable way. Since that time, Lambesis had served a jail term that he claims saved him. He came to accept his disgusting actions, take responsibility, and try to change the world for the better. He’s been on the record for having stated he cannot erase, nor is he trying to, his sins, but he wants to make amends as much as is possible. He’s since become a certified councilor to assist in jail release/transition programs, done work for supporting mental health nonprofits, and been very open and honest about his past transgressions. He isn’t running, or hiding. Since, he made amends with the band, which reunited and released Shaped By Fire late in 2019. The entire theme of the album is how to rebuild, redefine, and move forward after extreme failure in positive ways.

This is a difficult one to write about. How can we celebrate someone who tried to do something so horrific? Yes, his inner demons got the best of him and made him act in ways counter to his nature, or in ways counter to basic human decency, and there have been plenty of people fighting internal battles who never succumbed in the way Lambesis did. It’s understandable why so many people would balk at showing Lambesis forgiveness. And they’d be in their right to do so, and in some ways justified.

I’d ask, though, what does shunning such people accomplish? Should someone be punished in such ways forever? If the answer is yes, then what’s the point of prison? Isn’t prison meant, in some instances, or many instances, to reform offenders so they can again reenter society as a positive addition? The case of Lambesis seems to support this. The system worked in this instance. He served his time, has taken full responsibility, and is trying to make amends for what he did.

Similarly, isn’t this the point of performance management? To help employees through their struggles towards greater success? HR practitioners need to take a more nuanced approach to performance management, especially the dreaded PIP! I’ve heard too many professionals say the PIP is the last resort. It’s punishment for unacceptable performance up to this point. To me, this is just setting the employee up for failure. Instead, maybe use the PIP earlier in the process, not at the end. We should use it as an intentional coaching moment, an intentional coaching process. A PIP should be the time to guide the employee towards better habits, expectations, and outcomes. IN the end, everyone benefits by this viewpoint and effort. Difficult employees shouldn’t’ be written off, ignored, or terminated willy nilly. People are messy. They make mistakes. Sometimes big ones, that deserve termination. That termination can be a kind move by management that sets up the employee for future success. But termination shouldn’t be the default reaction, which unfortunately is sometimes the case. Ultimately, decisions on performance management should me made in the realm of kindness. What is best and most kind? Only the individual situation can determine that. Be kind in all decision making.

  1. Rammstein – Rammstein

HR Lesson: We may speak different languages, but communication is more than that!

It’s been ten years since the German flamethrowers released new music, and the wait didn’t disappoint! The self-titled album is Rammstein at their purest German industrial metal greatness! For those unfamiliar with Rammstein, they are all about the theatrics! Influenced by German history, they take their cues from classic musicians like Wagner and Beethoven and add a modern hard metal edge to their sound. The result is both epic and beautiful (and other times scary and funny!). And they stay true to themselves by keeping all the lyrics in German! To achieve such worldwide success while not producing their work in English is truly magnificent. And as far as HR is concerned, we should remember that everyone in the work place speaks a different language. Maybe not always literally, but always figuratively. HR practitioners need to learn to be linguaphiles, and learn to speak multiple languages – languages each employee “speaks,” meaning learning styles, work styles, leadership styles, etc. By doing so, we make deeper connections with employees, strengthen relationships, and build a more cohesive business. Learning to “understand” the language of others can help us all appreciate the beauty of individual differences and how they make beautiful music!

Fair Warning: Rammstein are, well, uniquely artistic, so take that in mind before (or if) you watch the video. May not be safe for younger viewers!

  1. Metallica – Helping Hands… Live & Acoustic at the Masonic

HR Lesson: Sometimes reinventing the wheel isn’t necessary; just play the same song a little differently!

Those that follow me or this blog just KNEW I had to get in a Metallica paragraph! What does Metallica have left to do? Probably nothing! However, don’t tell them that. Earlier this year, they recorded an all acoustic set of some of their most classic songs (and some original covers). The proceeds from the live show and subsequent record release went to support their “All Within My Hands” charity, which its mission is helping various causes around the California Bay Area. The live recordings are unique takes on some really good music written by the band years prior. I think many times HR professionals try to seek new answers to questions that have already been asked! Sometimes, we need to seek the old answers to these questions. Sometimes, the answer is easier than we make it. Need a new form? Well, ask, do I REALLY need a form? Can this be answered without adding bureaucracy? And if the answer is still “I need a new form,” ask your peers if they’ll share a form with you! Take that form and tweak it so it fits your specific business needs. This is just a small example we’ve all likely done, but a lot of times the music has already been written. It’s up to us to reinterpret and cover it in a different way.


Message from Paul: Thank you for reading! Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

Street Level Influencer: Get to Know John Newton

“So wake me up when it’s all over, When I’m wiser and I’m older, All this time I was finding myself, And I didn’t know I was lost.” – Wake Me Up, by Avicii

When I began my Street Level Influencer blog series, I didn’t imagine the response would be what it has been. Many readers have reached out to say they enjoy the series and appreciate hearing the stories of people like them, those in the trenches who have overcome the same challenges, achieved the same goals. The original point of the series was to shine light on impactful people in my network who have provided me with life giving energy! By doing so, I was hoping to give others opportunities to connect and learn.

As I continue the series, I want to preface by saying this story is different – more personal. It needs to be. If it weren’t, the HR Philosopher wouldn’t exist.

You see, there are those individuals in life that completely change the trajectory of your path. They leave a mark so stark that you are never the same person after having them enter your world. Some people have many! Some have few. However, I’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have at least one in their life.

I am blessed that I have had many of these individuals enter my life. Yet, one in particular has been so instrumental in who I have become as a professional that I would be remiss if I never took an opportunity to put the spotlight on him!

His name is John Newton, and without him, I would have never focused on Human Resources as a profession.

I first met John roughly six years ago when I was at a crossroads in my career. (Aren’t we always at a crossroads in our careers? Anyway, I digress….)

I was struggling with my career path at the time. I was in a position that wasn’t really “cutting it” for me. Hard to explain, but I was doing good work, worked with good people, and provided a valuable service to the community. But I just wasn’t feeling fulfilled.

I had always performed HR tasks as a part of my normal duties, though the focus wasn’t an HR role, and I found that I really liked the work projects that had an HR bent to them. I decided to enroll in a two-day course “SHRM Essentials of Human Resources.” I had no idea what “shroom” was, but decided that this course could potentially help me find clarity. Either, I’d like HR and build upon my professional experiences in that direction, or I would be back to the drawing board.

John was the professor for the course, and boy, was that class in for a treat! I NEVER met anyone in my life who was SO energetic and so obviously passionate about a profession! John was engaging, he was interactive, he was FUNNY – John was mesmerizing!

What tipped the scales was one particular interaction that I will never forget.

During a class break, I was having a conversation with him. I made a comment that I was trying to figure out if HR was the career for me. John looked at me – and keep in mind he had only known me for roughly 24 hours at most – and said “You get HR,” as he patted his fist on his heart. “Paul, you know this stuff.”

That one comment changed how I thought about everything. It helped me realize that our own wishful plans in this world will inevitably meet the plans the Universe has for us, and we must go with the flow towards something that is better than we originally imagined.

Since that comment and that class, I took other courses instructed by John, including the SHRM Certification Prep Course. I passed the certification exam, and I credit John and that course with helping me reach my goal. I am happy that we have stayed in touch as colleagues and as friends. I have even gone back on several occasions to present to other SHRM prep courses he’s taught to give a brief rundown of how to make it through the fog! I am always honored he asks that I talk to his groups!

I am excited to share John’s story. He’s an amazing Street Level Influencer. I know my interactions with him are not isolated, and I hope you have an opportunity to connect!

  1. Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I currently run John Newton and Associates (JNA). It is a Human Resources and Learning and Development organization that serves clients of carried industries across the countries. Our motto is “Kindness is the Bottom Line.” I also teach continuing education courses for both DePaul University and Northern Illinois University.

  1. What do you like about HR that keeps you in the profession?

The ability to help people achieve their professional dreams and companies succeed beyond their wildest expectations.

  1. What was your biggest HR success? Why was it important to you?

I hope it still awaits me! When I reflect on my career, I most often go back to the success stories of individuals I have come in contact with. I can think of a person who was just so focused on becoming an HR professional but was having difficulty getting people to take a look at him. He was smart and experienced, albeit in jobs that were not specific to HR. One day, I sat him down and asked him ‘what is he most passionate about’. He responded airplanes. Three months later he had an HR job at an airport. Seeing him, and anyone, build careers that fulfills them, pays their bills, and makes the world a better place all in one…that’s what keeps me going!!!

  1. What was your biggest HR failure? What did it teach you?

The time I left a senior HR position because I struggled with the organization’s leader. While I believe in the phrase ‘know when to get out of the water’, I now believe I have learned how to handle this type of situation more directly. It taught me to be firm, and stand up not only for others, but for yourself. The post-script to this story is I now partner with this same senior leader in a different environment. We have both grown and learned how to address differences without either one of us wanting to escape to an island somewhere!

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

Eric Hermonson. Eric is an example of an incredibly strong HR person with an equally strong character. Eric has been a student of mine, a client of mine, an employee of mine and now most importantly a friend of mine. Eric currently is a senior HR executive for OSM, based in Bloomingdale, Illinois and is also an Instructor for Northern Illinois University. Eric knows his stuff, is not afraid to work hard and makes a difference in every life he touches.

  1. How can people connect with you?

I am all about directness. They can e-mail me at and view my website at

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

The more experience I have gained in the HR field, the more I realize how we all take things a bit too seriously sometimes. Yes, we have very difficult, and sometimes incredibly personal issues, to deal with in the workplace. However, I think we can best serve people by remembering that at the end of the day we are all equally, just simply doing different jobs. Everyone experiences joy and pain, hope and disappointment…everyone has a story to tell. What people are mad at is not what they are often really mad at. So, let’s emphasize the human in human resources, and we can all survive and thrive in this together.

Want to learn about other Street Level Influencers? Read about others in the series!

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. Rachel Palmer

Message from Paul: Thank you for reading! Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

World Philosophy Day 2019: Revisiting What It Means to Be an HR Philosopher

“Philosophy’s main task is to respond to the soul’s cry; to make sense of and thereby free ourselves from the hold of our griefs and fears.” – Sharon Lebell


Happy World Philosophy Day 2019!! What a wonderful day to remember our inner thinker!

In a past blog post, “What Is an HR Philosopher?” I describe what I believe a philosopher to be.

Philosophy is meant for everyone – more specifically, Epictetus’ philosophy [Epictetus is a Stoic philosopher] is meant for everyone. It’s meant to be a practical tool for everyday people to use as a guide for a happy life. Note: “Happy” in a stoic context isn’t to be interpreted as “pleasure” – that’s a modern translation. In a stoic context, a happy life is a “flourishing” life – happiness is acting virtuously in all situations.

I study Stoicism, and personally, I find much practical utility in Stoicism. It’s a philosophy of ancient wisdom for real world situations. This is a constant theme in Stoic teaching – that philosophy is an understandable and approachable way to live life. It isn’t an abstract ritual conducted by stuffy professors in some Ivory Tower.

I subscribe to the Daily Stoic, which sends a daily email with thought provoking wisdom based on many of those real world situations.

In a recent posting from the Daily Stoic, “There’s Nothing Special About Philosophers,” the newsletter discusses how philosophers aren’t particularly extraordinary. Philosophers are regular everyday folks.

Philosophers aren’t different from us or better than us. They are us. The best philosophers are regular people with a passion for self-improvement, with a love for their fellow human beings struggling in the real world. There might be Harvard professors who fit that bill, but too many of them don’t. It’s critical that you ignore them and don’t let them lead you astray (or intimidate you). Philosophy isn’t about books and big words and theories and complicated metaphysics. It’s about getting better, in a real practical sense. It’s about realizing your potential—intellectually, morally, spiritually. 

One doesn’t have to subscribe to Stoicism as a philosophy to understand this as a powerful concept. Philosophers aren’t special. They’re everyday people (to turn a phrase from Steve Browne).

This is a powerful thought because YOU can always engage in the one thing that separates us from the rest of nature – our ability to use reason and to think on a higher plane. Applying this approach to our everyday life is liberating. It means, we always have the ability to think about and choose our direction. We can choose to ignore things we can’t control. We can choose our mindset. We can choose our response.

That last line caught my attention from an HR standpoint, and brings me back to what I think an HR Philosopher is. “[Being a philosopher] about realizing your potential—intellectually, morally, spiritually.”

 As I wrote before:

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. And that’s something that will take an entire lifetime (or career, in a work context) to master!

Or put another way, being a philosopher is simply being a rational person and applying that process in our everyday life for the betterment of ourselves, our family, our community, our employer, and the entire world around us!

To realize one’s potential intellectually as an HR professional, one must continue learning! There is no such thing as enough knowledge, and therefore, we must be life-long learners! HR is an ever changing profession. We need to keep up with the times, or get left behind. So join a local HR group, whether SHRM or otherwise. Get your HR certification. Become a Six Sigma Black Belt. Become an expert in Traction or DiSC or whatever! Just keep learning! I also think to realize our intellectual potential that we need to be curious. It means asking the right questions, or questions others won’t ask. If we don’t our potential remains unfulfilled.

To realize one’s potential morally as an HR professional, one must do the right thing. Always, do the right thing. That may sound too vague and too gray. However, I believe in people’s heart of hearts, they know what the right thing is. Knowing what the right thing is isn’t necessarily the problem. I think sometimes a worse problem is knowing what the right thing is, but not having the courage to do it. To realize our potential as a morally sound profession, we need to call out bigotry, harassment, bullying, nepotism, and hatred when we see it. If we don’t, we lose credibility, as well as a piece of ourselves. And we lose any potential we want to create.

Which brings me to my next point. To realize one’s potential spiritually as an HR professional, one must protect our inner citadel. HR is a taxing profession. Yes, there are stresses in many professions! This isn’t a competition. However, HR can be isolating. It can be lonely. HR can get dumped on day in and day out. It can slowly waste you away on the inside. To keep the spirit healthy, we need to keep the mind and body healthy. So, take days off! Call a friend and talk things through. Go for a bike ride, paint, draw, read, write, laugh! Do whatever it is that cleanses your spirit. Otherwise, your potential cannot be reached!

Intellectually. Morally. Spiritually. It’s more complex than that. However, to be a philosopher may not be a special thing. Anyone can be one so long as they’re willing to apply their reason in a logical and life giving manner. Being an HR philosopher is doing this in pursuit of a flourishing career. However, every person who attends to that can become very special. It just takes some effort and a little bit of thought.

Message from Paul: Thank you for reading! Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

Social Media and the HR Professional: A Conversation with Claire Petrie

We don’t have a choice on whether we DO social media, the question is how well we do it. – Erik Qualman*

Claire Petrie and me at #SHRM19 National Conference in Las Vegas. We were in the Blogger Area listening to Chief Shoe Giver from TOMS, Blake Mycoskie.


I have no idea where my career would be without social media. That sounds like a hyperbolic statement at worst, or a goofy one at best. However, this is the 21st century. Like it or not, there is power in social media, and if used positively, that power can be harnessed for your own personal and professional growth.

It wasn’t always this way. I haven’t really used social media professionally all that long in the grand scheme of things. Oh sure, as the excellent Elder Millennial I am, I have used social media almost since it’s inception! I remember sitting in my college dorm room for hours fine tuning my MySpace account. I needed the perfect song, the perfect background, and the perfect array of information letting perfect strangers know exactly who I was!

(For those asking what “MySpace” is… well, I guess I can’t help you, or I am dating myself WAY too much).

Then came Facebook! Originally, one could ONLY connect with those who attended your same college. You needed a college email address to sign up. Then, it evolved where you could add other friends who attended other universities. Eventually, you could even connect with grandma… and that’s where it went off the rails! I kid, kinda….


Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn – social medial EXPLODED! There are now social media sites that I have NO IDEA WHAT THEY DO! And, I have grown from the hip kid to the guy on his front lawn looking more curmudgeonly than Clint Eastwood. Stay the hell off my block, not just my lawn.


However, I digress. Let me bring it back to the purpose of my writing. While I had a lot of personal experience with social media, I never really used it professionally until roughly two years ago. I created my Twitter account and reactivated my LinkedIn account, and I began having A LOT of fun with them! I simply used them organically without a strategic vision, and good things began to happen. After I began using my professional accounts,

  • I built an amazing community of colleagues that I learn from every day,
  • I made genuine friends that I share laughs and memories with, lean on for help, feedback, and guidance,
  • I was asked to join the SHRM Blogger Team at the National SHRM Conference in Vegas,
  • I became a better, more consistent writer, and began sharing my ideas with others through this very blog, and
  • I have gained more confidence in my skills as an HR professional.

One of the amazing connections I made once I expanded my social media presence has been Claire Petrie. Claire is an HR superstar from Buffalo, NY, who has such an infectious social media presence in the HR community!

Her positive energy, meaningful posts, and #ClaireShares hashtag set her apart and draw people in. We connected shortly after I created my Twitter account and have been friends ever since! In fact, she’s the first person I ever connected with “In Real Life” (IRL) after having “met” online at SHRM National in Chicago 2018. Without Claire, I doubt my extracurricular trajectory would be what it is today. I owe her a debt I cannot repay.

This past summer, we both attended SHRM National Conference 2019 as part of the Blogger Team, and spent time wandering the vender hall together when she stated during a conversation “I don’t know why more HR pros don’t engage in social media.”

Claire and me having fun at the #SHRM19 vendor showcase.

She meant it as an offhanded remark, but that comment stuck with me. Why don’t more HR pros use social media? Certainly, it isn’t for everyone, and we all know plenty of people who eschew social media in their personal lives, let alone any professional endeavors. Yet, social media when used appropriately can open up so many avenues for HR professionals make meaningful connections with like-minded professionals and challenge themselves to grow.

So, I asked Claire if she wanted to work together to expand upon that thought she had. I wanted to ask her a bunch of questions. And I wanted to have them answered immediately. Well, not exactly, but I did ask her a bunch of questions that she was all too happy to share her thoughts on! 

Paul: How and why did you decide that having a professional social media presence was something you wanted to do

Claire: I love getting this question! J So back in the summer of 2017, I was in the thick of my first HR Manager position where I was a DOO (department of one). I was the only HR person supporting a staff of 300, and I felt really isolated. I remember one day I put a question out on Twitter with the hashtag #HR. You (Paul) and Keith Enochs both responded to the tweet and offered me some support. I was blown away that there were HR professionals on Twitter, and ones that were so kind! Keith then introduced me to SHRM’s Twitter Chat hashtag #NextChat and the rest is history. Although getting started with my professional social media presence was not intentional, after that day it sure was. I wanted to help others and contribute to the profession as you and Keith had done with me.

Paul: I was so humbled when you first told me that story! I think I was only on Twitter for like a week at that point, and I don’t think of myself as much of a social media presence. I think of YOU in that way! So, including Twitter, what social media channels do you use and why? Do you prefer certain sites over others? If so why?

Claire: Professionally, I am very active on LinkedIn and Twitter. Having worked for a staffing agency for a while in which I was essentially running my own business, showing up on LinkedIn and giving value to my network was crucial for me to build relationships and be successful in my work. Twitter is where I find more meaningful conversations taking place thanks to Twitter chats. I find Twitter is a little more informal than LinkedIn, and people are more likely to have conversations and share information. I do have a professional Facebook as well, but I do not check it as often. I haven’t found the value in it yet, but I also don’t put as much time into it as I do LinkedIn and Twitter.

The first time I met Claire was at the Elephant and the Castle in Chicago prior to #SHRM18! She invited several HR Twitter peeps out to dinner! This is also where I met Jeff Palkowski and Michael Mullady for the first time! We all “met” on social media an became friends and colleagues since!

Paul: Interesting you mention “value.” We’ve had conversations in the past about the value we feel social media has brought to our careers. Could you expand upon how social media has brought value to your career?

Claire: Ever since that moment in 2017 when I posted that random #HR question, my career has skyrocketed! Once I intentionally decided to show up on social media, allowing myself to be findable and visible, opportunities have presented themselves. If I hadn’t been active on Twitter, I would have never been invited to participate on the SHRM annual blogger team. If I hadn’t been active on LinkedIn, I would have never been invited by local companies and colleges to present workshops on LinkedIn to help others grow their brands and careers. Social media has added value to my career and life by allowing me more opportunities to learn and fulfill my purpose which is helping others!

Paul: What do you think are the benefits for having a professional presence on social media?

Claire: The benefits are being findable and visible for opportunities of all kinds, (job, speaking, writing, volunteering, etc.) having a virtual handshake, gaining influence and credibility, attracting and retaining talent to your company, establishing and maintaining trust, communicating your personal brand to help your career/employer grow!

Paul: You talk about visibility, which is important. I find being actively engaged is a must. Posting occasionally doesn’t seem to bring as much value as posting consistently. Along that thought, what type of posts do you feel are most important to publish consistently?

Claire: For me personally, community involvement and volunteering are the posts that get the most engagement – i.e., people seem to really like to seeing these types of posts. Through consistently posting this type of content, I also get reached out to more often for similar opportunities. I love to volunteer and share my knowledge with local colleges and community groups, so by showing that this is something I enjoy and care about online, I attract more opportunities to myself. This is the type of content I publish consistently, but I also (try) and do a blog post at least once a month for my own blog, someone else’s (thanks Paul!) or the SHRM blog to showcase my HR knowledge and expertise.

Paul: Thanks! I am glad we connected to work on this together! Going the other way, are there any types of posts that you believe don’t add much value in your experience?

Claire: Twitter is a bit more informal like I said, and if there’s a tweet I don’t feel adds much value I just keep scrolling. On LinkedIn however, I really use my newsfeed as a professional development tool, so I try and curate it the best I can by unfollowing people who don’t add value or hiding specific posts so LinkedIn can learn what I don’t want to see. I typically don’t like seeing memes or any type of complaining/calling out on LinkedIn. I also tend to hide personal posts that don’t have anything to do with business, learning, or networking. This is just my personal preference for how I use LinkedIn.

Paul: That’s interesting. I remember we had a phone conversation about a year ago, and you taught me how to be better at LinkedIn! I appreciated that we were able to have that conversation, and since then, I feel my LinkedIn game has been raised! Do you have any posts that stick out in your head over the past that have been exceptionally meaningful to you?

Claire: I screen shot Tweets and add them to a folder on my phone so I can refer back and use them as a reminder to take action. A couple stick out as I am looking back through my folder. One from Kyra Matkovich that said “#HRpals, please stop comparing yourself to others. You have the ability to have great impact on & influence in your organization. You don’t have to be a global HR thought leader. Focus on what’s right in front of you. Your employees need you.” I remember at the time I really needed to hear this. I had recently started my new job and was feeling a little bit of the imposter syndrome. I was hired into a global role, and I was feeling discouraged I hadn’t already done more. This helped me realize there was plenty of low handing fruit and people in front of me that I can help. Another one was from Laura Mazzullo of East Side Staffing. It read “Your hiring process should reflect your company’s core values. All hiring managers should review company values (really look at them) and ask themselves ‘how can I take these core values and improve my hiring process?’” I just loved this one because it’s easy (I think) to use the company values in aspects of the business-like R&D, manufacturing, etc.; but it’s harder to use them in the support functions like finance and HR because these are, well, support functions. This was a lightbulb moment for me that there are many ways I can help change hiring practices to better reflect our values.

In what is fast becoming an annual tradition, Claire invited some HR Twitter peeps out for pre #SHRM19 dinner festivities! I got to reconnect with Keith Enochs and meet Julie Ann Sullivan.

Paul: In my experience, it’s those type of interactions that bring out the best of what social media has to offer us! So, I want to bring it back to what made this blog interview grow! You mentioned to me at 2019 SHRM National in Vegas that you felt too many HR pros don’t have a social media presence. Why do you feel that is? 

Claire: This is my experience in Buffalo for sure! It’s very interesting. I’m the Professional Development Director (programming chair) for my local SHRM chapter, and everywhere I go and every event I attend, I’m encouraging my fellow pros to get involved with #NextChat and get on Twitter in general. Most of them have LinkedIn profiles, but they aren’t updated, or they don’t check them regularly. It’s a huge missed opportunity in my opinion to build credibility, attract and retain talent, grow professionally, and all of the other things discussed already. The responses I usually get are that they don’t have time or aren’t tech savvy. I offer to help but get very little interest. I guess it’s hard to see the benefits before you’re knee deep in it. But I will keep trying because every LinkedIn post and Tweet aimed to share, network, learn etc. makes the HR profession that much better and stronger. And, it may just change the trajectory of your career and the opportunities available to you. J

Paul: Claire, thank you so much for taking the time to respond to these questions! I find it so apropos that a blog discussion about the benefits of social media is only possible due to our social media connection over two years ago! I am so blessed to know you. One final question. For an HR pro just starting out in their social media space, where do you recommend they begin?

Claire: I recommend creating your Twitter account and following the HR pro who encouraged you to get started. Every time someone in Buffalo creates their Twitter and tags me, I make sure to retweet, or tweet out a shout out and tag my other active HR friends. This snowball effect is so powerful and afterwards, that person is always surprised by the overwhelmingly positive outreach and support. I also make sure to introduce them to #NextChat and #HRSocialHour in order to meet some new pros to follow, learn, and start getting comfortable sharing their voice online. I’ve never gotten the feedback that getting more involved on Twitter and LinkedIn hasn’t been beneficial. I think humans crave connectivity and community. I always feel good after I’ve spent some time on social sharing and learning from my HR network.

*Erik Qualman (2010). “Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business”, p.286, John Wiley & Sons 

Message from Paul: Thank you for reading! Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.


Street Level Influencer: Get to Know Rachel Palmer

“To any entrepreneur: if you want to do it, do it now. If you don’t, you’re going to regret it.” – Catherine Cook, co-founder of MyYearbook.

Rachel Palmer, Founder and Owner of Koru HR Consultant, LLC and Street Level HR Influencer!

In a recent blog post, I wrote about the power of the Street Level Influencer. I argue that some of the most impactful people in our lives are right in front of us! We just need to remember to tap into those around us for their wisdom and influence.

So, I wanted to put the spotlight on some HR pros in my network who have provided me with life giving energy recently! My next few blog posts will be a series where I get to share stories of some amazing invididuals that you should connect with!

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith

I continue this series by introducing you to Rachel Palmer.

I first met Rachel at the Illinois Fox Valley Chapter of SHRM about six or seven months ago. I was quickly drawn to her stoic, quietly confident personality. It was her first meeting at the local SHRM Chapter, and she wanted to work the room introducing herself.

Instead, Rachel and I spent 20 minutes talking and conversing! I almost felt bad taking up her entire networking time, but our conversation was so interesting and meaningful, we just had to keep conversing!

She had just started her new adventure as an HR Consultant. She called her venture Koru HR Consulting, LLC. I was so intrigued by her motivations and how that translated into the designs of her company. How driven and passionate she was came out in how she spoke – her tone, her mannerisms – it all screamed “I’m a confident HR professional, and I will help you succeed!”

As I recently accepted a new position, I sadly needed to resign my work with IL Fox Valley SHRM. The last event I attended featured Erich Kurschat, who presented his excellent “Network Like an Introvert,” which was sort of apropos for me as I was leaving. Rachel stopped me to have another conversation. We talked more about how lucky we were to have connected. I let her know that I was watching her business with interest, and couldn’t wait to see where she went!

I asked Rachel some questions, and this is what she had to say!

  1.    Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I’m currently self-employed as a Human Resources Consultant for my own business, Koru HR. Prior to launching my own entrepreneurial endeavor, I was an HR manager and business partner in the health and nutrition industry.

  1.    What do you like about HR that keeps you in the profession?

I’m not sure if I chose HR or HR chose me. My father has always been an incredible mentor, and I knew I wanted to gain that same experience and knowledge working in a business environment. Human Resources is a profession that provides me with the opportunity to understand and engage people across an entire organization thus providing me with the experience I desired.  HR gives me with a deeper understanding of business dynamics, and the work itself is so varied. I couldn’t imagine doing anything other than what I do now.

  1.    What was your biggest HR success? Why was it important to you?

I was responsible for a recently acquired human nutrition division, which was comprised of five different manufacturing facilities. One of the locations in the division was experiencing over 75% turnover annually across their entire facility. Within the first year, we cut the turnover rate in half and by the end of year two, we had achieved a 14% turnover rate. Even though I took the leap to start my own business, I still think the impact that we made on the turnover rate was the most significant success I recall.  We were able to re-engage employees by establishing values, implementing standards, taking a collaborative approach to the creation of processes, and inviting fun into the workplace.

  1.    What was your biggest HR failure? What did it teach you?

In a position earlier on in my career, I worked on a cross-functional team project to revamp the onboarding experience. The goal of the project was to develop a process that would work for both the corporate and manufacturing teams so that each employee would have the same experience, regardless of where they were based.  Because the population I supported was based at the Corporate office and were primarily professional level, I was very focused on what worked for my population and less about what worked for the manufacturing population. The feedback I received from my manager at the time was that, at times, I was unwilling to see a different perspective. That was hard feedback to hear! I learned that it’s critical to not make assumptions, to look at things from multiple perspectives, and to always keep the end goal ahead of your personal goals.

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

People need to know about Terrance Wallace from Chicago, IL.  Terrance founded the InZone Project; a project designed to provide structure, support and education to underprivileged children and young adults. Terrance started his initiative in New Zealand where he purchased housing in districts with the highest quality education. He subsequently took guardianship of over 50 minority children from outside of the district and gave them the opportunity to attend the top schools in the country. Terrance has since returned to Chicago and is doing the same good work in Chicago, IL, and in Gary, IN.  Terrance and his team enable children and young adults to take advantage of educational opportunities not offered to them by the inner-city schools. He is an absolute inspiration.

  1.    How can people connect with you?

People can connect with me via phone, text, Facebook, website, LinkedIn, or email.


Phone:             608-346-4808


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

One thing that the world should know about me is that I am from a multicultural background.  My father is from Birmingham, England and my mother is from a small forestry village outside of Rotorua, New Zealand (hence the affinity for the work done by Terrance Wallace). Although I was born and raised in Wisconsin, I still have some English and Kiwi tendencies such as Marmite and watercress sandwiches, English breakfast tea, and traditional Maori music.  I’m very proud of my rare heritage and it has shaped me in so many ways.

Message from Paul: Thank you for reading! Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

Street Level Influencer: Get to Know Okie Smith

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” – Christopher Reeve


In a recent blog post, I wrote about the power of the Street Level Influencer. I argue that some of the most impactful people in our lives are right in front of us! We just need to remember to tap into those around us for their wisdom and influence.

So, I wanted to put the spotlight on some HR pros in my network who have provided me with life giving energy recently! My next few blog posts will be a series where I get to share stories of some amazing individuals that you should connect with!

I continue this series by introducing you to Okie Smith.

I’ll never forget when I first met Okie. I had recently posted an ad for a transit dispatcher. Okie had applied. Despite her not having any transit experience, I wanted to interview her because some of her other experience was interesting. During the interview I quickly realized she would not be a fit for the dispatcher role. However, I wanted her to work for the agency. I didn’t know where, and I didn’t know how, but Okie needed to work for me!

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a position open for her right away! So, I called her once a week for several weeks asking her if she had found a job yet while I waited for an opportunity to open for her. Every time she said no, I silently rejoiced, as there was still a chance to nab her for the agency. Thankfully, after about three weeks, I finally had a position open that fit Okie’s talents. I called her back one final time, and she said she still hadn’t accepted another job, so I asked her if she wanted one! She told me “Of course! I had been hoping it’d work out with your agency.”

Originally, Okie was hired as a meals on wheels assistant, but I quickly discovered her skills made for an amazing HR professional and convinced her to join the HR side, where she’s developed into a superstar over the past three years! Without Okie, my attempts at building a responsive HR department at our agency wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as they have been. I often hear feedback from employees that Okie is there for them. They trust her, and they know if they go to her with a problem, it will be addressed.

I may be biased, but Okie is one of the best HR professionals I have ever worked with or known, and her HR journey has only just begun!

I asked Okie some questions, and this is what she had to say!

  1. Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I currently work for the Voluntary Action Center in Sycamore, IL as a Human Resource Generalist. I began my HR career when I joined VAC and was asked to become VAC’s HR Assistant. It was the first position in the agency’s history dedicated strictly to HR. Having a background in psychology, the opportunity of working with employees directly intrigued me, and I couldn’t say no! Also, having an opportunity to join a new and growing HR department was exciting, as I could directly affect how this department grew and developed.

  1. What do you like about HR that keeps you in the profession?

I believe that HR is ultimately about helping people in the organization, and I have passion to help people. This philosophy is what keeps me in the profession. It is such a reward to know I am a part of a profession that is helping staff, as well as the company!

  1. What was your biggest HR success? Why was it important to you?

I enjoy HR because I have a chance to change lives. An example would be when I council employees through difficult personal situations, or coach them up on the job. I always try to live my life as positively as I can so others have a source to lean on.

  1. What was your biggest HR failure? What did it teach you?

I believe my biggest failure in my HR journey has been trying to avoid failure. Sometimes, I spent too much time trying to make things perfect, which stifles progress. Coming to terms with this has taught me in order to be successful in anything in life, one must be willing to fail and let it teach you what you need to know.

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

Becky Versluys has been Director of Operations at Safe Passage in DeKalb, IL, for over 20 years. She’s an amazing person! We went through the DeKalb Chamber Leadership Academy together a few years ago and have been close ever since. She does amazing work at Safe Passage, which is a social service nonprofit that provides services to individuals who have been abused either physically, mentally, or otherwise. She’s someone to connect with!

  1. How can people connect with you?

The best way to connect with me is through LinkedIn. My profile can be found at

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

I love dancing, attending concerts, and shoes! To sum up who I am: I am faith-driven and a passionate person who believes we are all put on this earth to help others!

Street Level Influencer: Get to Know Sue Oswalt

“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.” — Denzel Washington

Sue Oswalt, VP of HR at IPMG. She’s an street level HR influencer and all around awesome person!

In a recent blog post, I wrote about the power of the Street Level Influencer. I argue that some of the most impactful people in our lives are right in front of us! We just need to remember to tap into those around us for their wisdom and influence.

So, I wanted to put the spotlight on some HR pros in my network who have provided me with life giving energy recently! My next few blog posts will be a series where I get to share stories of some amazing invididuals that you should connect with!

I continue this series by introducing you to Sue Oswalt. I first met Sue when I began attending the Illinois Fox Valley SHRM Chapter several years ago. Sue served on the Board of Directors, and she was very outgoing! She came right up to me and introduced herself, which helped give me a sense into who she is as a person. I could tell she was warm and accommodating. Sue has a passion for HR and expanding her network, and most importantly, she is passionate about adding value to those in her network!

Sue has helped me so much over the years as we’ve gotten to know each other. She has provided me invaluable feedback, advice, and mentoring. I deeply value Sue’s mentorship and friendship! She is genuine and kind, and my favorite time with her was when we recently had cup of coffee at the local coffee house in St. Charles, Illinois.

I asked Sue some questions, and this is what she had to say!

  1. Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I am the Vice President of Human Resources at Insurance Program Managers Group, IPMG in St. Charles, Illinois. I’ve worked at IPMG since 2008, handling all HR aspects as well as assisting with marketing. IPMG currently has 106 employees and is a 100% Employee Owned ESOP. We’ve been voted as one of the best places to work in insurance since 2011 and held both Best Places to Work in Illinois and Best Places to Work in Chicago titles. We have a really dynamic bunch of people that makes it an exciting place to work.

  1. What do you like about HR that keeps you in the profession?

There is so much I enjoy about HR. I revel in the variety HR affords, as each day is different. In all of my HR roles throughout the years, I’ve noticed that HR is the “go to” for just about any task that needs to be completed. This has led me to dabble in customer service, professional insurance, marketing, building maintenance, and so much more. I like the challenge HR brings like rolling out a new policy, working with strategic change management, and developing plans and programs to help our employees prosper, grow and have a little fun. HR allows you to see a company from a bird’s eye view which makes you a critical part in implementing solutions that best suit the company as a whole. I love getting to select who works for our company, and seeing great people grow and prosper in their roles. I like being there to calm someone down and help them get to the root of their issue by diffusing situations before they turn ugly. I also love the HR community and how we are all eager to help each other. The Illinois Fox Valley SHRM chapter, where I am VP of Membership, is very special to me and helps me stay on top of what I need to know to do my best.

  1. What was your biggest HR success? Why was it important to you?

In my previous job, I worked for an international company and had exposure to people from around the world. I hadn’t realized before working with this company that I had been pretty insulated. The new exposure was eye opening for me. It taught me to appreciate different perspectives and to be a much better communicator, as well as how to efficiently pack when traveling abroad. In that same role, I was part of a post-merger integration project and was able to assist all employees that were not being taken on by the new company to find jobs. It was probably not my biggest accomplishment, but it was certainly the most memorable because it was so rewarding.

  1. What was your biggest HR failure? What did it teach you?

Oh wow, this is one that took me awhile to learn, but, boy, did I learn! In my early days of HR, I believed that all managers managed their employees well. They would come to me with their employee woes; and after asking many questions, I would offer up suggested routes they could take to correct the situation. I was surprised when they would come back a month or two later with the same issue and would learn they had not even begun the conversation with the employee or taken any steps towards resolution. Through this process, I learned many valuable tools to add to my HR toolbox. One, there are always two sides to every story. Two, some managers are terrified of confrontation, and they needed training in this skill. Three, that I needed to follow up with the manager to ensure they were addressing the issue. And four – most importantly – to document the situation on my own.

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

Oh my, I could not just name one person. With all the social media networks and my SHRM affiliations, there are too many to mention. What I can say is I recommend to anyone new to HR or in HR who is not connected to make sure to join a local SHRM chapter or local networking group. There is a world of knowledge at your disposal to share ideas and nurture new relationships. I endlessly listen to podcasts and Ted Talks of all sorts.

  1. How can people connect with you?

You can find me at my LinkedIn Account, or email me directly at I am open to chat with anyone. I recently discovered on LinkedIn that you can sign up to assist other LinkedIn members seeking career advice and have since worked with three candidates, and it is a total blast! I am always open to helping job seekers polish up their portfolios.

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

I have test anxiety and didn’t enjoy high school very much, which resulted in me having no aspirations of going to college post-graduation. Therefore, I don’t have a bachelor’s degree, but I recently completed my Associates of Liberal Arts degree. I graduated with honors and additional certifications while my kids were in school and I was working full time with a 3 hour daily commute. Insert cheers! Do I want to go on and get my Bachelors you ask? Nope. I learned through the Associates process that each class made me eager to learn more and take a deeper dive into subjects that intrigued me. I have since sought out the topics that interest me and self-study. If you see me at home working in my garden, you will also see me wearing earbuds, as I’m always listening to a book, podcast, or Ted Talk. I pepper the serious stuff with silly Snapchats from my son or listening through “speak” on my iPhone to my daughter’s blogs. I will forever be a student.