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.

Street Level Influencer: Get to Know Kristy Freewalt

“A recruiter should be viewed as a business partner, someone who is critical to the success of the business.” – Mathew Caldwell


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 Kristy Freewalt. I first met Kristy a while back as I was exploring the possibility of making a career transition. She reached out to me and had me come in for a sit down. It my first time sitting with a recruiter, and she couldn’t have made the “interview” more comfortable! She is so warm and accommodating. I felt very good in her sphere of influence!

Kristy is an awesome recruiter! She truly cares about the people she works with. She wants to find candidates the best possible match. Some recruiters just want to place bodies, regardless of fit or match. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but this isn’t Kristy’s philosophy. She wants to place people in positions that make them happy and best fit with the organization for future success. That’s so admirable to me. In the end, she didn’t end up placing me, but I found a friend in the process. To me, that’s more important.

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

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

I currently work at Ajilon. I am an Executive Recruiter for Human Resource and Office Mid- to Executive level roles.

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

I began my career in mental health because I wanted to help improve the lives of others.  Immediately after college, I began working for DuPage County Health Department (suburbs of Chicago) as a caseworker for severely mentally ill adults. I would help my clients get the benefits they desperately needed (Medicaid, Social Security Disability, food pantry assistance, temporary housing etc). I eventually realized that the parts of my job that felt more like HR work, were the aspects that I enjoyed the most. Other areas of my role became stressful and at times dangerous. I chose to leave that field after a long maternity leave and transition to HR.   After graduating from Northwestern in their HR program, I began interviewing potential undergrads for the Alumni Admissions Counsel. I absolutely loved it! I still do that part time and have transitioned to full time Executive Recruiting. I love working for Ajilon because they covet the long- term relationship with our candidates and clients. I’m thankful because I still feel like I can improve the lives of others but in a different way. It is extremely rewarding to help someone find a great new opportunity, leave a toxic job, or to help an HR department to find the perfect fit for their team so they aren’t as over worked or overstressed! My job is different every single day and every single day I get the opportunity to meet great people!

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

My biggest HR success happened when I wasn’t technically in HR. While working for DuPage County, I had a client who was just 20 years old. He had recently gotten kicked out of a Division 1 school where he played a sport on scholarship. He had began having severe symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia and had been hospitalized. His parents were devastated and had no idea how to care for him after he left the hospital. He came to live at the group home that I managed at the time. I advocated for his care and linked him to the services he needed to regain his independence. We had to teach him how to navigate life as an adult with his mental illness.  He was eventually able to return to college and has a successful career in finance. We touch base from time to time and he has thanked me for not giving up on him.

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

My biggest failure in HR is anytime I am not successful in effectively representing my candidates to hiring managers. If there is something on their resume that may be a turnoff to potential employers such as too much movement between jobs, a big gap in employment, career changes etc.  I need to advocate for my candidate and help the hiring manager see past that. I feel that resumes in general are so ineffective in portraying an individual’s potential. I know that some of my candidates would be such an asset to a company if they were just given a chance to meet them in person. As a society we are taught to not judge a book by its cover but making a 30 second decision to dismiss a person based on a 1- page piece of paper in my opinion is an even bigger injustice. I know that after a 16- year maternity leave, I didn’t look that great on paper either. I am grateful that someone took a chance on me. I feel like I fail every time I don’t earn that opportunity for my candidates.

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

Someone in the HR world that I want everyone to know about is one of the candidates that I was thinking of when I wrote the answer to the previous question. Donna Eliades is a dedicated HR leader that spent over 12 years at one company and built the HR department from the ground up. She then moved to a smaller company and built another HR dept from scratch.  After the structure of the dept was built, she felt that the company was so small, they didn’t truly need an HR person. She loves to work hard and a work a lot!  She was recruited out of that company to a fast-paced role that she was looking for. At that time, she realized it was a toxic work environment and eventually left the company. I now present her resume for roles and hiring managers say “she’s too jumpy.” I feel that is absurd considering she spent 12+ years with one employer and had some bad luck after that. They just see the last two moves and make a split- second judgement on her despite the fact that she has excellent references, a successful established career and a phenomenal work ethic.  So, if anyone out there in the HR world would like to meet Donna, let me know. 😊

  1. How can people contact you?

I am always available to connect! I love talking and meeting anyone in the HR world and welcome a call/email/linked- in message, Anything! My LinkedIn profile is Reach out and connect!




Street Level Influencer: Get to Know Kirk Hamsher

Yes, in all my research, the greatest leaders looked inward and were able to tell a good story with authenticity and passion.” – Deepak Chopra

Kirk Hamsher: A Street Level Influencer, Guitar Hero, and all around genuine teacher!

In my last 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 begin this series by introducing you to Kirk Hamsher. I first met Kirk around 2016. I was working with Kishwaukee College on providing my workforce a training on customer service. The Kishwaukee College rep gave me Kirk’s info. I could not have been more impressed with Kirk’s training, and neither could my staff! His reviews were out of control GREAT! He was engaging, entertaining, impactful, and most of all, his training left a lasting impression. My staff still talk about Kirk and his class three years later!

Fortunately, Kirk and I have stayed in touch, and we’ve had several other opportunities to work together since. Most recently, Kirk provided another training at my agency and he spoke to the Kishwaukee Association of Human Resources (KAHR). The thing I like most about Kirk is how genuine he is! He oozes kindness, and you can tell he genuinely cares about providing his clients with life changing, meaningful training. He wants each individual to leave a training a better person, and I can say that knowing Kirk has helped me become a better person! I just wish he could teach me to play guitar! He’s not only a genuine person, but a genuine guitar hero – Stevie Ray Vaughan type of skills!

Without further adieu, I asked Kirk some questions, and this is what he had to say!

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

I currently own and operate a training & consulting company (KJSH Training & Consulting LLC).  We deliver an array of training programs from our menu, facilitate and moderate organizational sessions, create organizational business solutions and offer keynotes for special events.  I’m also Co-founder of Citizen University, an organization dedicated to helping kids become life-ready.  We do this by providing rich, life-skills curricula for mentoring organizations.  We also deliver workshops to enhance mentoring skills and offer an array of mentoring-related instruments and tools.

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

I have passion around helping individuals, groups, and organizations grow in ways that are meaningful to them.  Helping to develop people is exciting when you see how it helps them blossom in both professional and personal pursuits.  You can enhance effectiveness and day-to-day satisfaction as individuals pursue work and life.  I also learn a great deal from the people and organizations I work with.  As a life-long learner, I really value this aspect of my work.

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

My greatest HR success was each time an individual, group, or organization shared how I was genuinely helping them become more effective or satisfied in their work/life experiences.  This is always very gratifying as it indicates I provoked something within them that compelled them to apply what I had shared.  My main goal is provocation – moving people in such a way that they will use new or modified approaches to work or life.

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

My greatest failure was staying – for too long – in situations after I knew they were not healthy or right for me.  Whether the delay was a result of fear of change, lack of self-confidence or feeling ‘trapped’ in the situation, delaying worked against my best interests.  I’m also sure I was not serving others as effectively as I should have been by remaining in these situations.  When not satisfied, I learned to find a better fit more quickly, to pursue habits and practices that establish and sustain my self-confidence, to become more comfortable with risk and to give greater credence to my instincts or gut responses.  I have become more successful and satisfied – in both my professional and personal life – based on this learning.

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

Andy Kaufman.  He is an extremely gifted consultant – who offers development programs in an array of areas such as leadership and project management.  He has helped me in meaningful, kind and life-giving ways since I started my consulting business sixteen years ago.  As fabulous as Andy is as a consultant, author and speaker, he’s an even better human being.  He is one of the kindest and most compassionate people I’ve ever met.  Andy can be reached at: (email); (website); (twitter) @Andy_Kaufman.

  1. How can people contact you?

I can be contacted by: (email) or (cell phone) 815-245-6540.

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

One of my favorite hobbies in life is sports.  At this stage of my life, it’s watching sports.  I especially enjoy taking in football, basketball and baseball games.  When I was twelve years old, my dad and I attended Super Bowl III.  All week long, as seventeen-point underdogs, Joe Namath was predicting (and guaranteeing) a win for his team (New York Jets).  It turns out that Namath was right and they beat the Baltimore Colts.  Some experts say this was the biggest, most important Super Bowl ever.  What a thrill to be there!  I also played air hockey with Dick Butkus (Hall of Fame Chicago Bear), one block from my house, and have pictures of it.  That day, my dad took Butkus for a motor scooter ride around our block and our town of Fox Lake.  For a sports nut, these are cherished, life-long memories!

Street Level Influencers: HR Superstars Behind the Scenes!


 “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Wishing is not enough; we must do.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

In a recent HR Philosopher post, I discuss the importance and power of a “street level influencer.”

I came up with the idea after remembering the concept of a “street level bureaucrat.” The term was coined by Michael Lipsky, a public policy researcher and academic. Essentially, Lipsky argued that “policy implementation in the end comes down to the people who actually implement it.”

Let me explain. People at the top make the rules, right? The City Council sets policy, which is implemented by the bureaucrat. If City Council passes an ordinance that a particular stretch of road is 35 MPH, then it is the policy of the city that anyone going over that speed limit should be duly ticketed. However, what if the police officer (the street level bureaucrat) decided to NOT uphold that policy? Then what becomes policy is whatever that police officer is willing to uphold. Therefore, who has the real power over policy, the City Council or the police officer?

Here’s the classic example that I was taught in school. Let’s say Officer Barbrady wakes up on a fine sunny morning! He gets up to go have breakfast, and his kids are being well behaved and his dog brought him his morning newspaper! Officer Barbrady’s wife made his favorite breakfast, and he’s on top of the world! While on his shift, he sees you driving 40 MPH in a 35 MPH zone. He thinks to himself, “well, it’s only 5 MPH over the limit. I’ll let it go! All is well.” In effect he decided that the policy is 40 MPH on that stretch of road. You’re lucky and $110 plus court fees richer.

Flash forward a week later, and Officer Barbrady wakes up with a splitting headache due to the rain. His kids are being little hellions, and his dog ate the morning newspaper after peeing on it. His wife had to leave for work earlier than expected, so Officer Barbrady burned his toast and slipped on the dog pee. He goes to work really pissed off, and sees you going 36 MPH in a 35 MPH zone. He pulls you over, reads you the riot act, and gives you a huge ticket. Oh, and he keeps your driver’s license, which means you HAVE to go to court to get it back! Well, Officer Barbrady REALLY decided what policy was that day. Your ass was grass and he was smoking it! (Which is legal in your state now, but I digress).

See what Lipsky is arguing? Take academic policy discussion out of it. At its basic core, street level bureaucracy is about influence. Those on the street level are the ones who offer up the greatest influence over our day-to-day lives, not the City Council.

This made me think. The term “influencer” has entered our lexicon over the past decade or so due, in large part, to the rise of social media. According to Influencer Marketing Hub, an influencer is someone “who has a following in a particular niche, which they actively engage with.”

In HR, there are so many engaging influencers worth following. I could name so many, but a quick Google search of “Top HR Influencers” yields the following links here, here, and here.

These individuals are well known, well followed. Their influence is pretty established. I’ve even had the pleasure and incredible luck of meeting some of them.

However, just like the City Council, these “high level” influencers, who are well known and well respected, aren’t the only ones “setting policy.” Often times, we rely more so on those we can readily contact, those who are “on the street” with us. Our colleagues in our network, in our town, in our local HR group.

Equally important to the equation are the street level influencers! Those HR pros who aren’t well known, yet are in the trenches every day making a huge difference in the HR industry. These people are in your networks. They aren’t on any lists, per say; these influencers are more low key, yet they are working diligently to coach their staff, addressing the challenges of their CEOs, working to source and place the right candidates, training groups on the importance of conflict resolution, and so much more! I call these individuals “street level influencers.” They’re right in front of us if we know where to look.

They offer so much, and I want you to know some of them!

So, over the next few blog posts, I’ve asked some amazing HR pros who have directly influenced me if they’d allow me to share their stories. Thankfully, many of them said yes! More to come…

Happy HR Professionals Day! Protect Your Inner Citadel

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“Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

September 26th is HR Professionals Day! I am a proud HR professional, and want to share some quick thoughts – Jack Handey style!

This week I read the amazing Kyra Matkovich’s HR Shenanigans Blog post, HR Chose Me. Kyra is a prolific writer. Her style and prose are powerful and demanding of our full attention. This paragraph in particular struck me:

It isn’t a weakness to choose to leave when you know your environment is toxic (abusive).  You demonstrate a strength of character when you know your self worth and capabilities, and know when you are limited in your ability to apply those capabilities because of something outside of your control. I’m not suggesting to shift blame. (It’s important to own your part and what you’re contributing – positive and negative.) What I’m saying is if you know you can’t thrive in your current work situation, maybe it’s time to consider another opportunity where you’re able to flourish.

I identify with this logic because it’s relatable. How many of us get up every day for the “drudgery” of work? “They call work ‘work’ for a reason” is the saying, right? I ask, why?! Why does work HAVE to suck? Why can’t work be a fun place? Why can’t we have fun at work? Why can’t we, GASP, enjoy ourselves?

What’s the disconnect?

Well, a lot of things. Bad bosses, unaccountable managers, lazy coworkers, all breed toxicity. It’s toxic because it affects others, not just the host. Remember Captain Planet, and his incredibly amazing 90s theme song? (He’s our hero.) Whenever he had toxic pollution touch him, all his powers left him and he became weak and powerless. Similarly, this is how toxic workplaces affect those who come into contact with its sliming ooze and gunk. I imagine Captain Planet was a walking workers comp nightmare, but I digress.

But does negativity always have to affect us? The Dalai Lama (not llama) once said “Don’t let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” He’s right. We cannot control what other people do. We cannot make someone act with kindness and integrity. We cannot control how someone responds to a situation. The only thing we can control is our own reaction and perceptions, so we shouldn’t let others’ behaviors affect how we see ourselves and how we behave towards ourselves and others.

Therein is the key, however difficult it is to achieve. Control our perceptions and act according to what is right.

As HR professionals we are uniquely situated within our organizations to behave in a way that is positive, life giving, empathetic, and powerful. Uniquely situated because HR affects every single employee in the organization in some way. Not every department can say that (except maybe finance). We can be the example. By controlling our own perceptions, we can mindfully choose how to behave in any situation by doing the right thing. We can thrive in the face of toxic garbage.

How? Where a disconnect exists, create a connection.

  • If an office curmudgeon doesn’t say hi to anyone, say hi to the office curmudgeon!
  • If the manager is ignoring the staff, go up to the manager and strike up a conversation!
  • If a supervisor and a subordinate just aren’t clicking, talk to them each and see if you can build a bridge with them.
  • If there seems to be a lack of appreciation for a coworker, do something that showcases your gratitude!

These things seem little, and they are, to a point, because the acts themselves are small, but the physical act and conscience effort to do them take a lot of bravery and fortitude! That’s the point. A lot of little things eventually become big things over time – especially because they’re built on a foundation of bravery. Will doing the little things erase all the toxic negativity? If done by yourself, likely no, but by controlling yourself and your own actions you can create an internal atmosphere that can be more resistant to toxicity. Remember, others cannot force you to feel anything. Feelings come from within, and every person can control them. Stoics called this “the inner citadel.”

Don’t let the behaviors and attitudes of other people deteriorate your own self-worth or influence you in a negative way. The only time two negatives make a positive is in math, and I hate math!

However, even the most relentlessly positive person must admit, this is challenging and difficult. But like Kyra said, HR is a difficult field, not for the weak willed. Sometimes, citadels can become cracked from the pressure. Babylon, Jericho, Rome, Constantinople, Baghdad – they’ve all fallen at some point in history due to pressures that became insurmountable. If over time, the toxic culture begins to wear on you to the point that the negativity breaks you, even a little, then absolutely exercise your control to begin job searching! Your job isn’t a life sentence!

I say all this as a quick “top of the head” type writing session. HR professionals are more powerful than we sometimes realize. Use that power for good – always good. Give back to our employees. Give back to our peers. Give back to our profession. Represent HR in such a manner that in the future another up and coming Rockstar will say, “HR chose me” because of how kind they were treated by his or her contemporaries.

Happy HR Professionals Day to all the dedicated, positive, kind HR pros out there! Because of you, I am proud to be in this profession! I hope you all feel the same!

The Brightest Star

The darkest nights produce the brightest stars. — John Green


I first spoke to her in July 2018. I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet her a month prior at SHRM Conference 2018, but I had heard nothing but positive things about her. I needed help, so I emailed her. She replied, and I could read the enthusiasm in her email. We set up a phone call, and a few days later, we spoke for the first time.

“Hi, Paul, this is Callie. It’s so awesome to talk with you finally!” She helped me with my challenge, and a friendship was born.

A few months later, I got to meet Callie in person for the first time. The #StatelineCrew met at Hofbräuhaus Chicago for our second ever meeting. Mary Williams and I got their first. As we were catching up, Callie came in. She walked right up to me and gave me a hug. It was natural. No awkward first hugs for Callie. We sat together on the German bierhall style benches. We conversed. We broke pretzels. We clinked Biersteins. Most importantly, we laughed.

We did it again in February 2019, only this time in her hometown of Kenosha, WI. Her and I sat together and talked. She had a Bloody Mary, and followed it with a beer chaser – a common WI tradition!

As other members of the #StatelineCrew talked, Callie and I had an awesome one-on-one. She told me about some of her work challenges and how she was overcoming them. We discussed some of the happenings at SHRM National, and she told me she got wind of who was being booked as the Conference entertainment! A true professional, she wouldn’t budge on spilling the beans – even when I offered to buy her another Bloody Mary and chaser! I even offered to throw in beer battered cheese curds to sweeten the pot. She wouldn’t budge. I respected the hell outta that. (It ended up being Lionel Ritchie. I guessed Brittney Spears or Lady Gaga. Close, Paul. Oh, so close.)

A few weeks or so after that #StatelineCrew meet up, I got a Twitter DM from Mary Kaylor asking me if I’d like to join the SHRM Blogger Team for 2019. I was so excited and taken aback! ME?!?! Awesome sauce! But why me? I hadn’t even met Mary at this point, so how did she know who I was? Mary told me that Callie reached out to her and told her that I’d be a great addition to the team.

I messaged Callie: I got an amazing DM from Mary today. You recommended me to be a #SHRM19 blogger! I am so humbled you thought about me. You totally made my day, Callie!!! Thank you.”

Callie replied, in her trademark fashion: “Don’t mess this up!” 😊

Since then, we met at other #StatelineCrew meet ups. We emailed. We interacted on social media. We met at Illinois SHRM Leadership Conference. Callie presented to the Kishwaukee Association of Human Resources in Sycamore, IL. (She blew the roof off the house).

Our last in person meeting was at SHRM Conference in Las Vegas. We were at the Midwest Chapters Social Meetup. Callie and I were chatting one-on-one. She mentioned she was not feeling well. She was tired and didn’t know why. I told her I could tell something wasn’t right. I then confided in her something. I wanted her to know. She looked me in the eye, and I won’t forget what she told me. It was comforting. We hugged, and we went our separate ways socializing.

We didn’t see each other again. I won’t forget the night she messaged me to tell me about her diagnosis. I was gob smacked – helpless, other than offering words of encouragement, what could I do? What should I do? There was nothing to do other than that – be a friend. It’s what she needed.

I DM’ed her words of encouragement. I texted. I sent her a birthday card. She sent me a thank you card that I hung on the fridge. It won’t leave the fridge for a while.

The last communication I received from her was a text letting me know her fight was coming to an end. I thought about her family. I was heartbroken, but her family, my God, I felt for her and for them.

Callie was my friend, and now she’s gone to the eternity to which we all must enter. I will miss her. However, her influence will remain. A quick search on social media proves her influence was strong, and it will be a lasting influence.

Like the brightest stars, she didn’t last as long as others, but she burned brighter, and that is important to remember.

The last message I sent to Callie is below. I want to share it. I want people to know how important she was to the world. I want people to know that she was important, impactful, and inspiring. Callie was someone who has touched my life in ways she may never know, but if others know, then her spirt can live on. She deserves to live on in any way life will allow.

Callie, we’ve only known each other for a little over a year or so. Despite this, you’ve made a powerful impact on my life. You may not realize how important and meaningful you’ve been in my world. I want you to know that I’m so very thankful for our time together. Thank you for being there for me – especially in moments you weren’t likely aware that you were. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your world. I’m honored you let me in.

HR, Kindness, and Being a Street Level Influencer

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.” – Seneca


I was scrolling through LinkedIn the other day when I saw a video of a young kid being cheered on by his classmates when attempting to break a wooden plank with a karate kick.

He kept failing. As the child struggled, his team around him began to cheer him on. He kept failing. His team began to chant his name. He again failed. His team began to chant his name louder. He then eventually broke through, and a loud cheer went out as his team piled on him in celebration!

It was really awesome to see. It was beautiful, really. These kids instinctually rallied around their guy, and celebrated as he succeeded. It was wholesome altruistic joy!

Then I began to think about it. Why was this scene so awesome? Should it be? Is it awesome because it’s seemingly rare? We get choked up because this childlike innocence inevitably evaporates the minute the “real world” (whatever that means) begins to break that innocence.

It isn’t a new question. Boiled down to it, it’s asking essentially, are people naturally good or naturally bad? It’s a question as old as human thought.

Are people naturally inclined to cheer for one another and lift each other up when they witness someone fall, or are people naturally inclined to tear one other apart when they’re down?

Maybe the answer is more complicated, but again, I ask, should it be?

I think about this question and its implications in HR. The field has so many positive, good natured people in it! I’ve met so many, and continue meeting many others. These HR folks are the ones that stand up and cheer when employees finally break through their perceived limits to shatter a wooden plank. These HR practitioners truly care about all employees and helping to put them in positions to succeed.

For HR to be truly respected as an organizational function – strategic, tactically, transitional, or otherwise – the answer is simple. HR professionals cannot afford to be thought of as anything but naturally good. HR professionals must work harder than others to ensure that employees turn to us with confidence.

I don’t think we’re there yet.

When I was walking through the Las Vegas airport following SHRM National Conference, I was wearing some free swag. My shirt said “What Happens in Vegas Gets Reported to HR.” I thought it was cleaver and funny – at least initially.

As I walked through the airport, I felt many eyes gravitate towards me. A few people stopped me and said,

“That’s too good!”

“Man, that’s true!”

“Ain’t that the truth! Don’t go to HR!”

I felt slightly embarrassed, admittedly. I was trying to have some fun with my profession, but instead, I was bringing some negativity to it.

These interactions, however seemingly small, can’t be taken lightly. At least I didn’t take them lightly. There is still a prevailing stigma that HR isn’t there to help people. HR is there to uphold “the law,” keep employees in their place, or mess up their open enrollment process.

This should obviously not be interpreted as universal! There are PLENTY of examples of HR departments that rise to the occasion – plenty that go above and beyond to bridge relationships, build trust, and act justly.

However, maybe not enough?

Regardless, the tide has been turning for a while. With high profile HR influencers making waves and disrupting the fabric of the industry, HR is finally being seen as a strategic necessity by many in the C-Suite.

HR influencers have helped lead the way at a global level, but equally important – some could argue more important – is that HR pros at the street level need to become influencers as well. They need to become influencers at the street level. You don’t need to be on any grand list to make a difference! To make a difference in one person’s life is easier than you think!

Simply notice when they need you, and be there for them – be there for them at the moment when they need you the most. All you need to do is smile at an employee who hasn’t been smiled at in a while. Take a selfie with an employee and ask to put it in the employee newsletter as a shout out! Listen to them – really listen to them! Be kind, oh for Heaven’s sake be kind.

All it takes is an uncompromising attitude of being relentlessly kind! You may not be able to control the attitudes of a cruel CEO, the benefit packages that don’t seem generous enough, or the overall morale of the workplace. But you can ALWAYS control your own actions and attitude. So, take that power within and use it to light the world around you.

None of these ideas are new, I know, but sometimes we need reminders! It’s why my office is littered with post-it-notes! The next time you see an employee trying to break a wooden plank, for the love of God STOP THEM! You don’t need a worker’s comp case on your hands!

But then, ask them what they need, and feverishly try to help them achieve it.

Above all, be kind; be there for your people; be HR.

The Importance of Spontaneity in D&I

A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves. – Lao Tzu


Indianapolis is a hidden gem, I believe. When discussing up and coming or unique urban centers, I rarely hear people discuss Indy. It has everything you’d want in an urban area! Food, entertainment, craft beer, and reasonable cost of living. Most of all, it has examples of diversity and inclusion in spades — especially for a Midwestern city in a state not necessarily known for D&I.

My in-laws live in the Holy Cross Neighborhood of Indy, which is a historic neighborhood on the near eastside of the city’s downtown.

On a recent visit, I wanted some fresh air, so I decided to go for a walk around the block. I observed quite a bit of activity. The neighborhood is being heavily gentrified, but in a unique way. Gentrification generally has a connotation of wealthy (mostly white) individuals rebuilding neighborhoods at the expense of poor (mostly minority) individuals who are essentially kicked out.

As I walked around, I didn’t see a lot of gentrification in those terms, though. Yes, I saw a massive rebuilding of a once runned down neighborhood for sure. Home after home was being remodeled and rebuilt with the intent of leasing or flipping, I imagine. I saw gentrification, but it didn’t look how it “should.”

What I saw was a beautifully eclectic intersection of America. I saw several white families working on rebuilding their homes and/or investments. I saw several black families working on rebuilding their homes and/or investments. I saw several Hispanic families rebuilding their homes and/or investments. They were all neighbors – doing this work next to one another.

I saw several gay couples mowing their lawns and or doing yard work. I saw a woman wearing a hijab getting her mail with a toddler playing in the front yard. I saw American flags, gay pride flag, flags of countries I didn’t recognize, Indy flags, Colts football flags (to this Bears fan’s dismay), and dozens of “All Are Welcome Here” lawn signs – written in English, Spanish, and Arabic.

I saw people of all colors jogging through the neighborhood. Amid the backdrop noises of hammers pounding nails and lawnmowers mowing grass, I saw, heard, and felt harmony and peace.


While being a positive place on the surface, Holy Cross is not paradise. As I was waking, I saw a black family being visited by an Indianapolis Police squad car. A person who looked like the father (or possibly the head of the household) was using his phone to video the police from the front porch. This is a scene that likely plays out all over America every day. Nothing happened that I saw, thankfully, and the police drove away. But the man wasn’t recording it for no reason.

I saw several homeless sleeping on a park bench or walking with all their worldly possessions in their torn and disheveled backpacks. I saw grimy needles next to a dumpster. I don’t want to assume why the needles were there. I don’t know for sure. All I know is I saw them laying next to a home with beautiful bushes and flowers springing up through the mud below.

Holy Cross isn’t perfect. Yet, despite its imperfections, or maybe because of them, there is clearly something interesting going on in this Midwestern neighborhood in the heart of Indiana. Indianapolis bills itself as the “Crossroads of America.” Holy Cross is an intersection of so much diversity and, I’d argue, inclusion! It’s beautiful to see, warts and all.

Holy Cross is both intentional and spontaneous. Intentional because all gentrification is on purpose. Clearly, the residents of this neighborhood are acting purposefully in their daily routines and construction projects. Spontaneous because there seems to be no pattern to why or how this gentrification is happening. There’s no uniformity in how anything is happening, and it’s beautiful to see. People of all backgrounds, colors, races, nationalities are working side-by-side to reinvest in a beautiful neighborhood.

Much like the diversity and inclusion in Holy Cross, diversity and inclusion in our workplaces needs to be intentional, yet we cannot discount the power of spontaneity.

HR needs to advocate for D&I as an organizational priority. It needs to set the tone by explaining expectations of interactions and behaviors. It needs to set goals and measure them. All these acts are intentional. Yet, that’s where it should end. Give the direction, and then get out of people’s way. Let employees be spontaneous in their dealings with one another.

Spontaneity shouldn’t be feared in the D&I context. If it is, then why hire people if you can’t trust them to do the right thing once you set the tone?

Spontaneity allows groups to figure out on their own how to mesh and jive. It allows people to work together on their own terms in ways others from above wouldn’t have thought of or considered. It allows for an organic growth of mutual understanding and adaptability. And, just as importantly, if not most importantly, it allows for true ownership from the groups involved. They can look at their shared results that they did it on their own with each others help, not from help of the boss who “forced” D&I onto the masses.

That type of positive development cannot come from above. It cannot be dictated.

Now, spontaneity can sometimes yield negative results – sure. People are messy and sometimes don’t act in accordance with what is correct or appropriate.

However, in the workplace, that’s where HR steps in to kindly and gently (in best case scenarios) or forcefully and strictly (in worst case scenarios) guide staff back in the right direction. D&I is something we need to tend to regularly, like rebuilding a home. Yet, we cannot discount that the people in that home know what’s best at times, not those walking past observing the world through a different pair of glasses.

A key to successful D&I initiatives is acceptance and understanding of those involved. That can only come through working one on one and living side by side. Allow people to do that and good things can happen. Trust and let go. People generally do the right thing, and if they don’t, use the system to step in and help them see the error of their ways.