Leadership Lessons from a Four-Time WNBA Championship Team


I went to Game 5 of the WNBA Finals a couple of weeks ago to keep tabs on my Minnesota Lynx and make sure they won the 2017 WNBA Championship. They did. You’re welcome. I had goosebumps from the minute we got our seats. Pretty sure my deodorant stopped working, so I tweeted about it. I almost chewed a hole in the giveaway shirt we got because a score that close in the last two minutes is not my favorite thing. I was able to breathe once there were 57 seconds left in the game and the Lynx were ahead by nine points. And really, I just wanted the Lynx to not even get close to any of the Sparks players because they are… something. The timeouts were killin’ me because listen. You are down by that many points? It’s not gonna happen and you’re just prolonging my high blood pressure from going back to a somewhat normal state. Okay – Lynx won. I was stressed out and trying to distract myself during the FIVE BILLION unnecessary timeouts and really terrible halftime show, so, you know, I was thinkin’ about HR-type stuff. (Shut up.  I love it.)

Backstory for my non-WNBA friends: Lindsay Whalen is my favorite WNBA player, possibly my favorite athlete. She’s a 13 year veteran point guard of the WNBA, graduated from the University of Minnesota, got drafted by the Connecticut Sun, came back home to the Minnesota Lynx in 2010 and now has four championship rings. That’s the short story. Even shorter story: she’s a true leader in every since of the world. She’s not the taller player, the best shooter, or the fastest runner, but she doesn’t have to be. She just knows how all those things work together well and where she fits into the mix.

Here’s my favorite example over the course of the WNBA Finals: Game 4. Lynx are down 2-1 in the series. They lose again, they lose the Finals. Not an option for Whalen. 1:30 into the game and she flattens the Sparks point guard to put an end to a fast break and gets a flagrant foul called. The Sparks hit both their free throws. Didn’t matter. The energy that Whalen fueled by putting the stop to that play sent the Lynx into a place where they desperately needed to be and it sent the Sparks into the opposite direction. The Lynx won.

You’re thinking I’m just telling you this story because I like reliving the mental picture of Whalen clothes-lining another point guard. You’re half right. The other reason is because it’s a pretty great example of how a leader can let other people focus on their jobs while figuring out how to  make things better in ways that other people aren’t focusing on.

I don’t think anyone else on the team knew how to get that energy back, including the coach. They knew the gist of how to win a game: play hard, score points, shift the momentum, all those sportsing things. But Whalen knew that something had to give, and I’m pretty sure the court gave a little bit when that other player hit the floor. Not the most orthodox approach, but one that was worth trying because nothing else was working. And it did.

This isn’t a personal story or a work story. It’s a combo of two of my most favorite things and it’s an observation of what an amazing, hard working, in the trenches leader looks like from a different perspective. And it was awesome.

The Robots are Coming. And They Might Bring Dennis Rodman.

They are. And as soon as they get here, there won’t be a need for people to work in HR departments. The robots have it under control and it will be glorious. (I’ve mentioned I speak fluent sarcasm, right?) There was a pretty great discussion about the shift of Artificial Intelligence into the Human Resource arena last week via the #NextChat twitter stream. The recap is on the SHRM blog if you’re really into that kinda thing.

The ATM just celebrated it’s 50th anniversary and there are now zero banks left in the world, thanks to John Shepherd-Barron. (FYI: The first one was at Barclays, which is the same company that’s installing sensors to see how often their employees are at their desks.) Robots have taken control of all of our money and will distribute it as the data sees fit. Please do not make eye contract with Robot Cashman. His infrared eyeballs will blind you and then turn you into a robot, too, which is actually pretty beneficial because then you’ll have a job!

The self-checkout made it’s appearance into the world back in the 1980s by a dude named David Humble. And since then, retail stores haven’t hired anyone at all because the machines are ALL OVER IT. You see those robots at Target all the time asking me if I’m finding everything okay six times in 20 minutes, making sure I have a RedCard so I can save 5% and stocking those damn end caps in such a beautiful, beautiful way that I want to buy everything.

Listen. I say this in jest, but it’s a fear that I’m pretty sure everyone has either felt or heard someone talk about at some point in their life. Probably 10 or 11 years ago, my BFF chastised me for using a self checkout at a grocery story because it would take away the cashier’s job. My bestie is not a conspiracy theory wackadoodle. My point in sharing what might embarrass her is this: IT’S OKAY TO BE NERVOUS.

Humans still need humans. That’s why I married my wife and not my quesadilla maker. The only thing that’s going to change is how those interactions happen. If I’m at my credit union and I need cash, but notice there’s a giant line in front me, I’m probably going to opt for the ATM in the lobby. But if I’m at my credit union (side note: here’s why you should join a credit union and ditch your big bank) and I need to figure out if I can get a better rate on my car loan, I’m going to talk to someone about it and I’m cool if the line is a little longer. A person is going to understand my situation much better than something that relies solely on artificial intelligence.

That works for HR, too. We’ll use AI to make sure we’re continuing to improve an applicant’s process, provide quicker responses to employee questions about their benefits or payroll and all that predictive analysis stuff that sounds super duper cool and helpful. But we’ll still use humans to do things like celebrate an employee’s 25th anniversary in a meaningful way, send an email to someone that works miles and miles away with a link to an article that reminded you of them, and spend more time developing, and, most importantly, take all the information we get from AI to make the workplace even better. See? It’s a gonna be a win for all us HR practitioners out there and we can’t be scared of it.

Dennis Rodman joined the Chicago Bulls back in 1995. He wasn’t much different in the 90s than he is now, minus palling around with Kim Jong-un. He wore dresses. He had a lot of tattoos. He punched a lot of people. I would imagine some of those championship level NBA players and coaches, along with millions of bandwagon Bulls were pretty terrified of that dude. He very well could have clocked Michael Jordan right in the face the very first day he walked into practice. But he didn’t. He was amazing and he helped the Bulls win three more NBA championships in a row.

See? It’s a gonna be a win for all us HR practitioners out there and we can’t be scared of it. If the greatest NBA player of all time (that’s Michael Jordan for you people that were incorrectly thinking Lebron what’s his name) can adapt to something scary and win some championships, then we can adapt to an addition to our daily lives that’s going to make us better, too.

What if we didn’t wait around in the locker room for AI to show up and throw his stuff in the locker next to ours? What kind of value could we bring our entire organizations if we proactively brought a case to our executive teams surrounding the benefits AI could bring from a business standpoint?

Embracing Twodolla

For years, I’ve had the internal debate on my twitter handle. It’s @twodolla. Pretty professional, yeah? To be completely fair, when I first started using Twitter, it was when you had to text in what you wanted to tweet to 40404 and you had to manually count those 140 characters. And when I start using Twitter, it was usually happening at the bar after shots and 2-for-1s. Now that I think about it, Twitter was just kinda for nerds back when it rolled out. It definitely wasn’t used by, oh, HR people or CEOs or those kind of folks. And, let me tell you, I was pretty good at it. Some real riveting content.


Backing up 10 more years before Twitter even started and blogging was just barely a thing is when twodolla came to be. You can read that story here. The whole thing stemmed from my days of working in a pizza delivery restaurant, where my buddy Kevin and I used to blast this song and dance around like fools anytime we worked together. (You’re welcome for this.)


And it stuck.

I tried dual tweeting for a while. Locking one down to private mode and using it for personal stuff and then having one with my whole name in it and using it for professional stuff, but that’s hard to do, man. You logout from one when you go to a conference you’re pretty sure your “normal” friends would have no interest in, tweet all about HR-related stuff that you’re completely geeked about. And then you forget to logout of your professional one and start tweeting to those people about your crush on a bartender and things get real weird, real fast. (I’m also kinda lazy, so this could just be me.)

I posted somewhere – probably Facebook or Twitter, but I don’t remember exactly where – not too long ago about trying to come to a decision on what I should do about my Twitter handle as I got more and more involved in tweeting about professional stuff. I contemplated using my name, but the same person that uses @wendyberry also owns wendyberry.com.au, which means I get a LOT of her email, including credit card invoices, random family holiday pictures, etc. Maybe that means she would be willing to give it up considering she hasn’t tweeted since 2011, but I have better things to do.

In the midst of my social media whining about this silly sort of drama, someone I really admire when it comes the whole grownup business lady world, Nancy Lyons, set me straight. I’m paraphrasing because I don’t where I’d originally posted it, but it was something like this: Knock it off. It’s part of your story and that’s what makes you you. (Sorry for completely botching whatever you said whenever you said it, Nancy…)

So here I am. If you search for “two dolla”, the first thing that shows up in Google is an awesome definition in the Urban Dictionary. The second is a scene from the movie Better Off Dead, the third is the Wikipedia entry for a two dollar bill and the fourth is my original personal blog. I’d say I’ve hit the big time, you guys, so why give up who I am now just because I’m almost all grown up, right?

It’s kind of like work life balance. It doesn’t exist. It’s just life balance. Well, sometimes there isn’t a black and white when it comes to personal and professional. If there was, I don’t think I’d like myself very much as a “professional”. I mean, look at me now – I’m blogging about my work life on a Saturday night while my son is singing a song that apparently has a line in it that goes “Where is Daddy? Where is Daddy?”


14 Years of Finding Strengths

The first time I ever took the StrengthsFinder assessment, I was working in a high volume contact center for a Fortune 500 company. It was the second job I’d had after moving to Minnesota in 2002, so I was feeling like kind of a big shot working for a company that was five times the size of my hometown. (I don’t even know.) The requirement of answering your phone after no more than two rings has been ingrained into my soul forever and I’m not mad about it.

I really wish I had those full results. I know our managers printed out all five of them for our cubicles, but I don’t ever remember going over them or knowing why we were doing it. I only remember one of my strengths: WOO. It stands for “winning others over”. It makes sense, right? I’m in my early 20s, fresh to a new state and a new company, and really only knowing about three people. I’mma woo the hell out of some people.

In either 2012 or 2013, I took it again. In my personal life, I was well into dating the person I would eventually marry and had managed to build up a pretty incredible group of friends. I was much more comfortable in my own skin, had more confidence in myself and had a better idea of what grown up life was about. Professionally, I was in my first HR job, working as a recruiter for a small staffing agency, where I’d started back in 2008. I was working 50+ hours per week and the culture was like riding a janky wooden roller coaster that could have fallen apart at any given time. But I loved what I was doing. All of that yielded these results, with my interpretation, of course. (Now, it’s no Buzzfeed quiz that tells me what type of tropical fruit I am based on the number of Kenny G songs I can identify in the first four bars, but stick with me.)

At this point in my career/life, these were my strengths: Activator, Command, Competition, Individualization, and Learner. Based on where I was both personally and professionally, I’d say it was pretty accurate!  I had a lot of metrics to knock out of the water, lots of things were time sensitive and it was a straight-up aggressive job where if you didn’t fill a position someone else was and you had to explain why.

I had to fill jobs and I had to fill them fast. I couldn’t quite grasp when people didn’t either didn’t want to or couldn’t do the same. Part of my job was putting together the puzzle of the right candidate for the right job and the evidence to that wasn’t often paper, so I had to know people – what they’d done, how that could match up to what we needed them to do in a job, where they’re at in their head when they go work each day. A resume wasn’t enough for that job (nor is it ever really…) and that’s where all the learning came into play. I had to at least understand things like polymer engineering, three way matching in the accounting field, and how pee samples were handled in the lab from start to finish. (I even made up a song about recruiting for that last position. I wouldn’t call it one of my greatest hits.)

My strengths in 2017 switched up a bit to: Activator, Developer, Maximizer, Communication, and Harmony. My personal life included being married for almost four years and having a two year old. My professional life was much different, too. I’m in a HR position that involves a lot more than just recruiting. I’m in a leadership position. I’m working for a company whose culture is consistently amazing and led with transparency and authenticity from the top down. I feel appreciated when I come to work every day and I feel like I make an impact every single one of those days.

I do hate conflict, but I also really love a healthy debate. If I don’t agree with you, it doesn’t mean I have to be right.  It means that I want to understand better. I’m not super into the whole sitting around the campfire, holding hands while we all agree about everything. That’s boring. The communication strength is also supposed to be something where you enjoy hosting or speaking in public, and noooooooo. I like to get shit done. I set my own standards high and sometimes that’s not a good thing, because not everyone does that. And that’s okay. I’m not surprised that my activator-like tendencies have remained consistent. I feel like it’s the most accurate of all five, especially when you consider that doesn’t always mean I’ll see it through to the end once it’s up and running. Area of improvement for this HR pro. No sense in hiding that! I think being in my HR role, often as a coach or someone to offer guidance, is what brings those developer and maximizer strengths to the top of the list, too.

Sometimes (okay, all the time), I wonder if this is similar to the whole chicken and the egg thing. I feel pretty confident saying my current position in my current company, where I feel like there’s a career path in place for me, are responsible for highlighting my current strengths to the top of the list. I’m fascinated with this type of thing and want to try to remind myself to take it every few years to see where things have changed. I can’t imagine you’re born with your strengths already picked out for you. Life hands you things and you get stronger from them… or so I hear!

Do you dig these kind of things? Are your strengths so far off that they make you laugh or so dang accurate that you’re a tiny bit scared? And I’m totally cool if you think it’s a giant pile of crap, too! I mean, after all, I’m all about harmony apparently.


Don’t Lead with Bias. Just Stop.

This morning when I giving my 2 year old a frozen chocolate chip waffle, America’s elected leader was making an announcement via Twitter banning transgender people to serve in the U.S. military because it’s a “burden” and “distraction”. No, it’s not a surprise, but that change the fact that it’s damaging and dangerous.

Once again, individuals are impacted by someone who allows his personal opinions affect the decisions he makes as a leader. This article is a couple of years old, but it doesn’t take away the accuracy of it or the way that it almost describes the current administration’s decision making over the past six months. I’m sure there are more than Five Common Unconscious Biases That Lead To Bad Decisions, but this is a really great start. If you don’t want to read the article and think about how closely it relates to the person that lives part-time in the White House, then read it and apply it to your own decisions that you have to make as a leader or as an HR professional. Here’s another article full of 7 Cognitive Biases That Impact Your Decision Making.

We often say biases are unconscious, but I don’t really know if that’s necessarily true. Merriam-Webster defines unconscious with other phrases like “not knowing”, “not aware”, “not deliberately planned out”, or “free from self-awareness”. The thing about all of those phrases is that each person, including you, has the power to eliminate things like that once you become aware of them.

You don’t always know what these biases are or one would assume you wouldn’t have them. If someone approaches you to call you out for your bias, hear them out. Listen to them. Understand them. Now your bias isn’t unconscious. It’s out in the open and you have privilege of being aware of it. You’re now equipped with the power to change it.

I know this doesn’t apply to everyone. There are people that will go to their grave with amazingly inappropriate biases that will make a negative impact every single day, but they’ll never acknowledge it. Those kind of people apparently wind up in the White House.

And What Do You Do?

My wife and I are expecting are second child together sometime in late December/early January, so we’ve been to a multitude of different doctors in the last several months, both pre-pregnancy and normal prenatal stuff. Normal prenatal stuff for parents in their late 30s/early 40s is a lot more involved than parents that are below what medical professionals deem “geriatric maternal age”. Some doctors are nice and replace the word geriatric with advanced, which is something we don’t quite hate as much. “Advanced” in school meant you were smarter than people, didn’t it? With all these visits, they always ask my wife what she does, then ask me what I do. It’s happened twice so far.

The first time:

CNM: And what do you do, Wendy?

Me: I’m in Human Resources.

CNM, with a slightly tentative tone to her voice: Oh, here at (insert name of clinic)?

Me: Uh, no. For a credit union.

CNM: Well, somebody has to do it, right?

Yep, someone totally has to do it. And I do it every day and I really love doing it. Those are the things I wanted to say. And then I wanted to say, “Yeeeeeah, and someone has to do your job, which I would never want to do because health care? That’s a big ew for me, ma’am.”

The second time:

X-Ray Tech: And what do you do, Wendy?

Me: I’m in Human Resources.

X-Ray Tech: Ohhhh.

It’s funny/not funny really. I never thought I’d want to be in Human Resources up until I was actually in Human Resources, but here I am. And I’m not going anywhere, so I’m gonna have to work on making it sound a little more exciting to people that don’t quite get the same excitement towards HR that I do.

#SHRM17 All Wrapped Up

I say #SHRM17 is all wrapped up and it almost sounds like I’ve put all the Christmas decorations in a box and put them in that closet in the basement that I only go on once a year. That’s definitely not the case. It’s more like the ornaments that have fallen off the tree, either by way of cat or toddler, and hung out in the living room with us all year ’round unbeknownst to any of us until the aforementioned cat or toddler manage to find them. (Note: add “awesome at analogies” to resume.)

I’m still referencing notes and slide decks, sometimes quoting the speakers I heard (with appropriate attributions, of course), listening to podcasts (which I’d always avoided in the past), asking questions outside the walls of my office, reading blogs and Twitter with intention and not because I’m bored. I loved HR before. That’s why I stay in it. But I feel like I LOOOOOOVE HR now, even more than I thought I could.

Did I just manage to get lucky in the sessions I went to? Did I just accidentally stumble upon this group of people that feel like my kindred HR folks? Are there constantly little HR Jiminy Crickets sitting on my shoulder all the time and reminding me that it’s important to be intentional as opposed to provide some immediate rapid response? I don’t know and I don’t even really care. I came back from this conference feeling motivated and inspired and all of those words that most people walk away feeling from things like this. And I also felt like I was coming back to my same job and my same company with a new sense of purpose and abilities I might not have realized I had six weeks ago.

I’ve been back for over a month. Life has been crazy because it always is. Work has been crazy because, hi, HR. My kitchen is clean right now, which I feel like is notable. (I’m also using this as documentation, documentation, documentation in case my wife doesn’t believe that I did actually clean the kitchen. Most of it anyway.) I finally managed to put together summaries of my days there, including most of the sessions I went to. There were a few where I didn’t really feel even remotely equipped to summarize the takeaways, because new ones are continuing to pop up.

Here they are, listed by day:

  • #SHRM17 Bound: I literally wrote this on the first leg of our flight to New Orleans, somewhere between Minneapolis and Atlanta.
  • #SHRM17 Upon Arrival: Arriving in New Orleans and making myself “network”, which gave me a great start to this whole conference.
  • #SHRM17 The Conference Commences: New Orleans, Kat Cole (so much love), more “networking”, more New Orleans.
  • #SHRM17 A Full Day: Otherwise known as The Day I Met All of the HR Blogging/Tweeting People I Love, with a subtitle of “and also learned HR stuff”.
  • #SHRM17 Another Jam-Packed HR Day: Most of my favorite sessions had been strategically scheduled on this same day.
  • #SHRM17 The Final Countdown: Soaking in every last bit of knowledge and a hell of a lot of rain thanks to Tropical Storm Cindy.


The Annual SHRM Conference was leaps and bounds more inclusive, comprehensive and enjoyable than any other conference I’ve ever attended. Truthfully, that’s not comparing it to a lot, but I’m cool with that. This experience has completely revitalized the way I look at my own HR skills and my own leadership skills. I’m trying to decide if I have the intestinal fortitude to get the 2018 Annual SHRM Conference approved this early in the game, because I really enjoy saving money, but I also can’t imagine not being back in 2018 in Chicago. I gotta hang out with these people again!

#SHRM17 The Final Countdown

Last day. Super bummed when I woke up, too! I felt like I still needed to learn more and more.

The closing session with Laila Ali didn’t start until 8:30, which was awesome because it meant the hotel breakfast was actually an option for us instead of the dozens of free breath mints I’d picked up from the various vendors. We checked our bags at the hotel and jumped on the shuttle to the convention center for one last time. Yep, I did say Laila Ali. You didn’t read that wrong. Boxing, reality TV, HR – it’s all really the same.

I’m not going to try to pretend that Laila Ali was the best speaker I’ve ever heard in my life because she’s not, but I also don’t think she’d be surprised if I said that to her… but she’s a really, really good boxer so I might not say that to her. Hearing her story and the different types of changes she’s had to make in her life, both personally and professionally, to get to where she is today. She tried to tie it into HR a couple of times, but it was a pretty tough stretch even though there are some days where I have wondered how often managers might consider hand-to-hand combat instead of approaching difficult conversations. The short of the message I felt like she brought to the table was something like this: Life isn’t easy. Things get in the way. You make your own path.

Of the course of the conference, it was fascinating to watch how more and more of the attendees became more comfortable talking to each other as they trekked across the convention center. Some of that might have been because we’d all been seeing each other for the past four days, either in sessions or somewhere in the French Quarter. I also couldn’t help but wonder how many of those people had taken something away from what they were learning in different breakout sessions or maybe even by following #SHRM17 on Twitter where they were hearing the repeated theme of PUT DOWN YOUR DAMN PHONE. Either way, I think if the conference would have lasted for a couple more days, we all would have been BFFs. That’s what HR professionals do, right?

There were two more sessions to wrap up the day before heading back to real life.


How to Deliver Bad News and Build Trust at the Same Time with Andrea Howe and Gary Jones

First off, Andrea Howe (co-author of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust) and Gary Jones present really, really well together. I think this topic is something that everyone wants to master in about five seconds, but I think we all know that’s not how we get better at harder things. Anyway, Andrea and Gary were engaging, they drew the audience in with partner activities that aren’t painful  and I really appreciated the way they applied things to examples that actually made sense. I also took three pages of notes and have already referenced some of the takeaways in a couple of work situations of my own. This is my one big takeaway, which is also broken down into four parts, but also the four biggest reminders to keep tucked away for those difficult conversations/bad news:

  • There are four main problems with delivering bad news. While I can think of about 3920 more problems I have with delivering bad news, here are the four that problem work for everyone:
    • It’s uncomfortable. This makes us naturally not want to have these conversations, because they are terrible and horrible and nothing good will come of them. Not true, but it’s still something that lingers in our brains. We also have the fear that having these conversations will hurt what trust we have. And really, it might, but it’s still the right thing to do if anyone is going to succeed. Candor is important. (More to come on candor because I’m obsessed with this podcast and still want to read Radical Candor.)
    • Conventional wisdom really sucks. Being objective and factual at this moment in time is fine, but you have to remember there’s more to it than that. You need to lead with vulnerability at this moment in time if you expect the other person to do the same way. Don’t automatically jump to answers and provide all of the solutions and tell them everything is going to be “just fine”. You’re not the one sitting there getting the bad news, dude. Let them have a moment to react and process. When they’re ready for answers or next steps, then you get there. They need room to react and, really, they might not really care about the solutions you’re ready to provide after getting that bad news from you. You need to be okay with that, too. You’re a human, they’re a human. There’s no difference.
    • It’s a tug of war. Ooh, what about a difficult conversation with – GASP – someone above your pay grade? Whaaaaaat? Oh, it’s gonna happen and the delivery might even feel even worse depending on the type of relationship you have with senior management. The thing is, the people that are in those senior management positions have probably had to have difficult conversations, so they’re going to know where you’re coming from. You might have to deliver bad news to your boss because you skipped a big part of something you were supposed to do. Major suck. But when you own it, admit your mistake, fall on your sword, whatever you want to call it, it’s one more step in getting better at this bad news thing. And then you learn from it.
    • People are watching. Oh, man. They sure are. From an HR perspective, I absolutely know that there are people who watch when someone walks into our office and waits to see what kind of expression they have on their face when they walk out the door. If that person walks out shell-shocked or in tears or full of rage, everyone else that sees that person for the next hour is going to feel that in some capacity. It could be co-workers, customers, other managers, you name it. That’s a hard thing to avoid and that’s why I’m glad my HR team doesn’t handle those conversations in our office and why we partner with our leadership team to handle them on their own. It’s my belief that a direct manager is going to have a much better way to address their own employees than HR.


There was a second session. I don’t remember the name of it. Probably because there was a tornado warning five minutes after it started and our entire session got evacuated since the room we were in was against a wall of windows. I grew up in tornado country and don’t get too worked up about tornados. People in New Orleans get even less worked up. Here’s all I have from that last session. I call it Die Hard HRing in an Interior Hallway. SHRM emailed out the presentation and the actual session itself since most people weren’t able to find room in any of the overflow rooms, but I haven’t had the chance to check it out yet.

We had lunch. Took a Lyft to the hotel to get our luggage and to the airport. Flight had been delayed an hour but we got home before midnight. I just wanted to get home by 9am the next day to go to our unborn baby’s ultrasound.

#SHRM17 Another Jam-Packed HR Day

Since we’re all about authenticity here, I’m gonna let you know I didn’t make it to the 7am session. My co-worker picked me up a box of Fruit Loops because she is a caring individual and I had a bottle of Coke I’d picked up Sunday morning, so the Breakfast of Champions was all I needed. Fair warning before you start reading – the things I heard on this day go much further beyond anything I could possibly explain via blogging or writing or probably even talking. It was a lot in a really, really, really great way.


Patrick Lencioni was the keynote speaker for the day and I was naive enough to know nothing about him. Turns out he’s pretty friggin’ amazing and kinda knows what he’s talking about. I had The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable on my Goodreads list after hearing a peer talk about it during a leadership forum, but hadn’t familiarized myself much more with Patrick. Big mistake that has sense been rectified! I need more knowledge from his guy and plan to gain all I can in the very near future. Here were my quick takeaways from his talk focused on How to Identify and Attract Ideal Team Players:

  • The ideal team player/co-worker/employee needs to be humble, hungry and smart. Two out of three ain’t bad isn’t exactly accurate on this one, Meat Loaf. Two out of three is also 66.7%, which is only about a solid D, according to my College Algebra teacher back in the day. We have to do better and really hone in on these three things if we’re looking for greatness.
    • Being humble doesn’t mean you need to lack confidence in what you do or what you can bring to the table. It just means you’re thinking less about yourself and that’s something we can all probably work on. The person that doesn’t have humility might be great in meetings and doing all the presenting, but deep down it’s still all about them. When the rest of the team starts to realize that, there’s bound to be a breakdown of trust.
    • You need the hunger to be there. If someone lacks the other two things we’re looking for, they’re going to bulldoze everything – their team, their leader, and anything else that gets in their way. You can see the hunger in someone by the way they always want to do more and their strong work ethic. It’s inherently who they are and is also the hardest to teach later in life. Without the hunger, you’re going to have someone that’s really great with people and truly cares about the people around them, but they’re never going to take things very far and have a hard time with that pesky commitment thing.
    • And they gotta be smart. It’s not the letters behind their name, how many books they read or how many conferences they go to all the time, even though those things are also very valuable. The smarts we want/need is more common sense with people they’re around and understanding how people might response to things. If they’re too smart for their own good and aren’t humble or hungry, they’re going to have that knack of being very good with people, but can also be arrogant and lazy meaning there’s nobody that’s really going to enjoy being around them.
  • You can work on developing your current team members, whether they’re your employees or your peers. As part of a HR department, you’re a leader of humans within your organization by default, so you’re going to need to get used to that. Go first. Be vulnerable with this. See yourself as too arrogant or just maybe pretending to be confident? (That latter is always me since we’re going first on this one…) Acknowledge that in front of your team and start the conversation that way. You’ve opened the door for the conversation and now each individual can work to identify the area where they need to improve. Once everyone’s nailed that down and the team has taken time to share it, hold each other accountable and give permission for everyone to call each other out on them. The first few times will be rough, just like any other awkward conversation, but that’s how we all grow. As a leader, it’s your job to go to someone time and time again if you don’t see a change happening because it’s important. You can’t half-ass invest in someone and expect greatness. Employees need to know where they have room to improve so they know how. It’s our job as a leader to have the courage to help them stay in their position and stay successful.


Ditch the Performance Evaluation Tool? Let’s Talk Leading Instead of Managing with Lepora Menefee.  

This is the thing now, right? I feel like I’m constantly reading something about this type of thing. I’m trying to write an annual review right now and I hate it. I don’t hate wanting to tell my employee how they’re doing – I think that’s vital. I hate having to go through an Outlook folder full of saved emails to figure out how the year was. It doesn’t seem sincere or at all intentional to me and I’m not even the one receiving the feedback. I’m always curious to learn more about why this is a great idea or a really terrible idea. And let me tell you, it tends to be one way or the other.

For me, I don’t think this particular session was what I’d planned on it being. It was much more of a session guarded towards showing leaders how to make those performance evaluations less of a chore and more of an interactive and engaging experience for the employee and the leader. There were a few ideas I still want to noodle for a while because I think they pose some great jumping off points if an organization is looking to revamp the review process, but I didn’t have any takeaways from here that I was itching to come home and implement RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND.

Brand Name HR: Giving Your Function Life and Purpose with Steve Browne

Truth: I’d really been waiting for this session as soon as I started stalking the SHRM17 schedule. I’m in HR because I want to make sure people can be their best selves at work. I’ve followed Steve on Twitter for what seems like forever and am pretty regularly inspired by his approach and intention towards Human Resources. If you were there and saw someone nodding their head up and down pretty much the entire time Steve was talking, that was me. And even though he made us all stand up and yell “I love HR!” before he got started, I totally wanted to do it about four dozen times while listening to him talk. I walked away with so much to take away from Steve, including his book HR on Purpose: Developing Deliberate People Passion These are only just a few:

  • How do you view and describe HR? How do others within your organization view and describe HR? I really, really doubt the answers to those two questions are going to even be remotely close to the same. They probably won’t ever match up word to word and, in my opinion, I think that’s probably okay. It’s our jobs as HR folks to at least get those answers running parallel to one another instead of at opposite ends of the earth. I’m looking at this as an opportunity to improve how I explain what my HR department is like, whether it’s to a New Employee Orientation class or to different student groups we have touring our offices from time to time.
  • Come to Me versus Intentional Approach. If employees are the ones coming to the HR department for things, we’re not doing our jobs right. We’re reacting based on each question. Yes, it could be the same question 15 times in a row from 15 different employees, but that doesn’t matter. Each person is going to need a different response because not every single person is the same, but more importantly, we should have been out there with those employees making sure things were clear from the get go. HR shouldn’t be a department that handles transactions. We shouldn’t answer a quick question about the effective date of someone’s benefits and then be done with it. We should have either been partnering with them well before that question even came up or we should stick with them until the very end to make sure they’re feeling confident about their benefits. It’s the difference between an order taker and a business partner.
  • People are emotional and we should treat them as such. Conversations, whether they’re really, really exciting ones or absolutely terrible ones, will easily hinge on emotion. Put yourself in the shoes of someone that’s meeting with their manager and/or HR. They’re probably nervous, anxious, unsure of what’s going to happen in that conversation. (This could be projecting, because before I got into HR, I was called into HR’s office with my manager and promptly fired for being terrible at selling educational software.) If tears happen to start flowing, let the tears flow. Sure, have some tissues nearby, but don’t try to placate someone by telling them “it’s going to be okay”, because you aren’t them and you don’t really know if it will be okay. Give them time to feel whatever it is they’re feeling because it’s valid. Whatever it is. It’s valid.
  • If people aren’t your foundational block, don’t be in HR. Steve could have dropped the mic and walked out right there. I think for the majority of the people in that room, that simple statement was probably a given. I don’t think it is for everyone. To me, it’s the same thing as if you don’t like math, don’t be a math teacher or if you don’t like driving, probably don’t drive an 18 wheeler your whole life. I know it’s not always easy to do what you love, but it’s not going to be a walk in the park for you or anyone else around you if you wind up doing something you hate. People have always been my foundational block and, because of that, it’s sometimes hard for me to understand the why behind people in HR that don’t feel that same way. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong I can’t figure it out. I can’t figure out Calculus, but I’m sure there’s some really great things about it, you know?


Getting the C-Suite’s Attention: Seven Strategies for Transforming from HR Leader to Business Leader with Jennifer McClure

If there was a conference where I could just sit and pick Jennifer’s brain for eight hours at a time, I would. And totally not in a creepy way, I PROMISE. I’m fortunate enough to work in an organization where it’s not a far stretch to already have the C-suite’s attention. That transformation from an HR Leader to a Business Leader is a shift I know I need (and want!) to begin to make. I’ve recently noticed that I’m lacking when it comes to strategy. While it was hard to admit that to my boss, I feel like actually saying it out loud was a good thing. I’m aware of this area I need to grow and I think by making my direct leader aware that I know that about myself just gives us a chance to gear our conversations more towards that. Point here: definitely a session I’d been looking forward to, not only because of the topic but because the speaker is someone whose beliefs I can get behind about 99.9% of the time. These are brief points, but if I didn’t make them that way, I’d go on and on more than I already am.

  • Strategy 1: Workforce Planning. I’m a recruiter by nature, but in my roles, I’ve never been the one to plan out what our workforce might look like to a larger scale. It makes sense it should involve an HR partner, because it involves that whole people thing that we happen to do. “The right people in the right place at the right time” is something we’ve heard/read 1 million times, but it’s the truth. It’s just how we get there that’s a potential bump in the road. We have to identify the people that fall into those critical roles – the hard to hire, hard to retain roles. Where does the redundancy in those roles lie? Nowhere? We’re in trouble. We either build that redundancy internally with those that are able to learn, we hire the folks that already have those skills that are high in demand and that price tag (and value) that would come along with that or we make a jump into the gig economy that’s starting to really grow out there.
  • Strategy 2: Attract and Recruit. OH, HEY, THAT. Our organization has only recently noticed we need to be more proactive in our recruiting efforts. Thinking like a job seeker instead is something I’d imagine most recruiting-type folks don’t think about and, yet, it’s the easiest damn thing in the world to do.
  • Strategy 3: Retain Key Employees. Everybody’s open to talking about changing jobs and don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. I was at my current job for just shy of three years when I got a call from a tech company that I’d applied to literally years ago for a Project Manager position when I’d never even managed much more than a Taco Bell in my life. And I’d casually hinted to the CEO via social media that I’d be more than happy to come do anything HR-related for her. Then I found my current job in 2013 and L-O-V-E it. Got a call to interview for a Director level position at this damn tech company. I had many conversations with that company, even accepted a job offer before I had a conversation with my boss as to why I was accepting it. I ended up staying where I’m at now and haven’t regretted it. Point is – your high performers, your low performers, your solid rocks that have been in place for 20 years? Don’t be so sure they’re going to slam the door in every prospective employer’s face. You gotta figure out what’s going to make them stay and it’s not always making it rain with dollar bills on Fridays. (Is that even still a thing kids talk about nowadays?)
  • Strategy 4: Develop Future Leaders. First off, remember not everyone wants to be a leader and not everyone who thinks they want to be a leader will really like it when they get there, because there’s no way to clearly paint a picture of what day-to-day things leaders do. But, as a leader, I’d sure love a set day-t0-day sometimes, man. Not all your “high potential” employees want to be leaders either. And since most organizations don’t have any type of formal process in place to figure out who those future leaders might be, it’s time to figure out how yours can get going on that. Mine doesn’t and we know that, so this one’s a big “more to come…” for me.
  • Strategy 5: Improve Engagement. I f’ing love employee engagement. I want everyone to be 100% engaged 100% of the time and I totally know that’s not ever accurate. But if it did happen, I think I’d be bored. The first thing that has to happen is to make sure your employees know you actually give a damn in who they are humans. You don’t have to go hug them, chest bump when you see them in Home Depot on Saturdays or talk about periods for them to see you’re truly engaged in who they are. You have to be genuinely interested. If you can’t find a way to do that, I might consider really evaluating whether or not leadership is for you.
  • Strategy 6: Create a Great Place to Work. I f’ing love this more than employee engagement. One thing that thrills me about where I work is how closely we each personally value our core values. I’m not naive enough to think 100% of the people feel the same way, but I actually know from a recent employee engagement survey we conducted in February that it’s pretty darn close. The reason we’ve all been able to get on the Core Value Train is because it truly comes from the top down. It’s communication, but it’s transparent and genuine communication. If your senior team isn’t open to this, well… good luck because you’ve got some work to do to convince them otherwise.
  • Strategy 7: Communicate Like an Executive. Like a BOSS is what I think this should actually say, because I’m hilarious. What I’ve learned in reporting up directly to a Senior VP is that bringing a whole list of questions is absolutely fine for some kind of fact-finding mission, but when it comes time for a final decision or a recommendation on something, just give it to ’em with confidence. Understand the “why” behind what you’re trying to solve for and make sure you can justify how your solution answers that question. Have the answers to the questions that they’re going to ask ready to go. Know you shit. Really know it. And if it winds up being a terrible action/decision, keep owning it at that point, too, and just learn from it. Learn from it and come back with another action. That’s how you get better.
  • Strategy 8: Sequester yourself away with Jennifer McClure for hours and pick everything you can out of her brain. But not in a creepy way. 

Shit. That was a day.

That night, we grabbed dinner, saw Harry Connick Jr. for about 20 hot minutes and then called it a night. We still had to pack and get ready to check out of the hotel the next day. Right about this time was when Tropical Storm Cindy started rolling into town and sleeping through that much rain was fantastic.

#SHRM17 A Full Day

And I mean a full day. For the record, I made it to the 7am session.

My focus for the conference was definitely learning as much as I could about transitioning my HR department and my own role into more of a proactive business partner instead of a reactive department that tends to operate a lot off requests or issues or problems, so this is what my day looked like in a nutshell:

From Vision to Transformation: Leading Through Change

The first session was a pretty big letdown. It wound up ending at 7:45am and it seemed like the speaker never even got past the surface of change. There were some pretty standard concepts that the speaker touched on: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a clip of a Lakers’ game that included a bunch of players pushing each other, and a brief rundown of what the different parts of the brain are called. The biggest takeaway was something that I think a lot of us might struggle with, especially when we want to keep people engaged or show our appreciation in either a tangible way or in some type of power trip for some reason. I think it’s something we understand and I think it’s valuable to reflect on things that we already know:

  • Incentive and threat rarely work in the long run. It’s easy to think both sides of that might help, but neither one really foster a feeling of trust or appreciation and that’s what a long term commitment is really about, whether it’s in the professional world or your personal life. In Human Resources, we focus on humans and that means we need to focus on them in their entirety. If you threaten or bribe your significant other or child to mow the lawn all the time, does it work forevermore? Sure doesn’t. Employees are people exactly like you, your leaders and your HR department. It’s important to remember that.

The ‘HOW’ of Spreading the ‘WHY’: Effectively Spreading Vision Throughout Your Organization with Randy Anderson 

I’ve been reading A LOT lately on how it’s important to explain the why to people. It’s easier for people to want to get on board when they know WHY they’re doing something and not just HOW to check things off a list. Makes sense, right? And as a person, it’s my own curiosity of WHY the heck are we doing this that gives me that extra push to knock things off checklist. If you think about it compared to the session right before this, it builds off of the stop threatening employees and stop trying to pay them off to get shit done. Just help them understand WHY they’re doing it. That’s not a lot to ask. My 2 year old asks WHY a million times a day. It’s annoying, but he sure does think it’s the greatest thing ever when I actually answer them. Win-win for both of us. Two key takeaways for me from this session:

  • If you asked your employees why the change, any change, was happening, what would they tell you? They’re likely the ones that will be answering questions from your external customers, their friends and family, or even new employees coming on board. If they don’t know the answer, this is how you know you’ve got some work to do.
  • Make the vision and goals of the organization a regular part of the conversation. I had a true sense of pride when Randy said this, because I feel like it is a regular part of the conversation where I work. It’s not one of those forced habits where your managers make you recite them every single day and chastise you because you don’t know them. For us, it’s because our employees feel like they exemplify our core values in what they do, at work and at home. I’m not completely naive in thinking 100% of our employees feel that way. I bet you could ask any one of our 540+ employees to name our core values and they could. As we go through big changes, it’s a good reminder to make sure those changes we’re making are also inline with our core values. And WHY they’re in line with our core values. It’s making sure they’re reminded of our values and why we do what we do on a regular basis.

Disrupt HR! Approaching HR, Talent Acquisition (and Your Career) in a Whole New Way with Jennifer McClure

I can’t even begin to do this talk justice. I’ve followed Jennifer on Twitter forever and, awesomely enough, actually met her in person right outside of my last session. Twitter is magic and I don’t really feel like that’s a stretch of the imagination.

I try really hard to take notes during these sessions because it makes better sense to me in the end when I start reflecting on what I heard. Didn’t happen during this session. At all. The word disrupt gets thrown around a lot right now and it doesn’t always make sense to do that in some aspects. It does in HR. At least for me. It also matches up to everything I’ve had in my head ever since moving from an agency recruiter role into an actual HR department a little over four years ago. I loved every single second. It just MADE SENSE and there’s also more for me to put together if I can get it all out of my head.

Equipping New Managers for Success: Tools for Creating High Performance Work Environments with Alan Fine

I think it’s a challenge with any company when it comes to making sure new managers are set up for success. Whether we hire people that have that management experience in the outside world on their resumes or we promote someone up through the ranks because they’ve been strong performers, we aren’t putting either of those people in good place without giving them the tools and knowledge they need before they get too deep in the weeds of everything else that goes along with a leadership role.

  • SPORTS ANALOGY. I don’t know how many times there are sports references in HR conferences for some reason. It’s certainly not due to the high level of males in the field – maybe it’s to attract them to our luxurious lives in HR? The actual point was something that really jumped out at me. In any team sport, the coach is the one that gets fired if the team is performing poorly, even if it’s just one person on the team that’s tanking it. In business, the player (or the employee for those of you that are already lost on this sports analogy) gets fired due to their performance/poor results. Why is it different? Professional athletes have gigantic 8-figure salaries with multi-year contracts, so is a coach really all that important when that’s the case? I think it tells me that in the business world, we think employees are easier to replace than managers. That’s probably true in a lot of cases. It doesn’t make it right.
  • SayDoCo. I love this and it’s easy. Say what you’ll do. Communicate when you can’t. Do what you say. Add them all up and it’s pure, unadulterated accountability, my friends. When we’re accountable to our teams and to ourselves, we create that feeling of trust that leaders need early on. Now we’re advancing in those five levels of leadership, am I right, John Maxwell?
  • Fire, Focus and Faith. We can give leaders (and employee, too, really) all of the knowledge in the world and provide them with all of the actual training in the world, but without these three components, there’s going to be a struggle. All three of those things enhance someone’s knowledge. If someone lacks faith or belief, it leads to insecurity. If they like the fire or the energy, it’s looked at as indifference. If there’s a lack of focus or attention, inconsistency is going to be right there.


And then there was an evening of hanging out with HR people for like six hours and it was phenomenal. I’m the type of person that will find a way to get out of professional networking any way I can, but this wasn’t professional networking and I think that’s what made it less uncomfortable for me. It was just people hanging out with people and that’s a concept I haven’t really run into in my minimal attempt at professional networking. It gave me a fresh mind on how network doesn’t HAVE to be and I’m so grateful for that.