Thought Leadership Blog

The HRS Thought Leadership Blog delivers validated findings, visionary perspectives and op/ed commentaries related to HR, Leadership, Organizational Development and Employment Law. To enjoy the full volume of available articles, please enter topic keywords in the search box to explore our body of work. Articles are regularly presented by the HRS team and guest experts.

People Get Ready - The Rise of the Chief Human Resources Officer

It turned out to be fortunate for Mike McGuire, the CEO of US accounting giant Grant Thornton LLP, that his predecessor had decided to streamline things a few years back.
Up until then, McGuire had followed a fairly traditional route for executives in his field. He majored in accounting as a university student, earned his CPA, rose to audit practice leader in his region for Arthur Andersen, and moved to Grant Thornton, where he rose to become chief operating officer. 

Then a new CEO, the aforementioned predecessor, came in with an assignment for him. ”His predecessor had about 16 people on his leadership team, and he, being part of that, thought it was dysfunctional, there were too many direct reports to the CEO. So he had five,” McGuire recalls. “I had a high interest in talent and culture, so he said, ‘It really makes sense to have that report to you.'” And so for several years, while serving as COO, McGuire got exposure to a crucial function for any future leader of a firm with thousands of employees. Along the way, he developed a close working relationship with the chief people and culture officer and gained a deeper appreciation for the role of human resources. ”You always have to have that compliance side of HR; it’s critical. But it’s beyond that,” McGuire says. “What I was able to glean from it is that it’s a strategic role.” And that’s why, after McGuire got promoted to CEO in January 2015, he took the chain of command with him. “We have what we call a people-first growth strategy,” McGuire notes. “And I said, ‘How could we be a people-first organization without the chief people and culture officer, the talent function, reporting directly to the me, the CEO?'”

Businesses around the world are reckoning with similar questions: What does it mean for leadership to put people first? And who are the right leaders to do it?

Catching up to the people trend
The sudden intensity with which companies are focusing on their people/talent/culture/HR issues is arguably a very delayed reaction to one of the most transformational economic trends in history. The shift over the last century from manufacturing- to service-based economies in the developed world meant that people would become the most important raw material in a wide variety of industries. And yet HR at most big companies largely remained a box-ticking function responsible for labor-law compliance, benefits, and other administrative tasks. It was not a department where future business leaders would go to cut their teeth, nor a place that reigning business leaders would typically look to for help with strategy.

This didn’t change even as the makeup of the workforce changed drastically, as the percentage of women working outside the home in the US, for example, skyrocketed from nearly 34% in the 1950s to roughly 60% today. It didn’t change as compensation and benefits got far more complex, with the rise of employer-sponsored healthcare and perks like paid leave. 

It’s hard to say exactly what triggered so many companies to decide to finally play catchup. But clearly the past 10 years—bookended by the cultural rot exposed in the 2008 financial crisis and in the #MeToo scandals that would come to light almost a decade later—have produced a wave of “people” considerations, from the increased attention on diversity to the work-life balance demands of millennials, necessitating corporate action.

“Who are the people who can execute this?”
It perhaps speaks poorly of the craft that companies are still routinely caught flat-footed on HR issues—but it also suggests that HR executives haven’t been given the agency needed for the job to be performed better. That’s beginning to change, though, with some big employers suddenly starting to think differently about what they want from their HR departments and their chief HR officers (CHROs).

In the same way the corporate world treated chief financial officers with new reverence in the wake of the corporate malfeasance scandals that dominated business headlines in the early aughts, and gave CFOs responsibilities they’d never had before—indeed, the regulatory response to the scandals literally required it—companies are beginning to redefine the role and expectations of their CHROs. One hallmark of the new thinking about HR is that it should be led by someone whose experience more closely connects them to the strategy and operations of the overall business. Consider the findings of a 2017 analysis of CHROs in the Fortune 100, conducted by executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates. It saw a marked difference in the kinds of experience that new CHROs were bringing to the role.

One of the more extreme examples of the trend is the 2014 appointment of Kathleen Hogan as chief people officer and executive vice president for HR at Microsoft. A former developer for Oracle and partner at McKinsey & Co., she oversaw Microsoft’s customer service and support and was corporate vice president for Microsoft Services before landing her current role; up until then, she had never even worked in HR.

The idea of a major employer going outside of HR for a chief people officer isn’t surprising Verity Creedy, Europe sales leader for the global HR consulting firm DDI. After the 2008 financial crisis, Creedy says, many companies adopted a “do more with less” approach to HR. There were simply too many other priorities competing for attention at a time when businesses were retrenching. But as the economy recovered and demands for more innovative HR departments intensified, “companies started to realize … they needed a smart, clear, well-informed alliance between their business strategy and their people strategy,” she says.

“CEOs and CFOs were starting to look at their people strategy and starting to challenge, ‘Where are the people who can execute this?’ And those people weren’t in HR.”
But over the past 18 months, Creedy says, “we’ve started to see a rise of questions” from business clients about investing more in HR departments, and in the people who staff them. “Consistently the things that come out are business acumen and entrepreneurship—we need to see more of those skills.”

Or as Grant Thornton’s McGuire puts it: “Talent is a strategic asset of the organization—so much so that the people leading the talent function have to be more strategic thinkers.” He describes his own chief people and culture officer, Brenda Wagner, an experienced HR executive who previously worked at IQVIA and IBM, as being “joined at the hip” with him. “She’s at all the meetings [and] really gets the strategy,” he says.

That’s essentially the thinking that Dominic Barton, managing partner emeritus of McKinsey & Co., sought to spread this year in Talent Wins (Harvard Review Business Press, 2018). The book, co-authored with executive coach Ram Charan and Korn Ferry vice chairman Dennis Carey, argues that recruitment and development must be central functions of companies, and that the CHRO should be on par with the CFO as the two most important lieutenants of the CEO.

A path to the CEO post?
Historically, for leaders, the HR function has been seen as a bit of a dead end—a department that a particularly talented employee might master but never transcend. But with the heightened attention to talent and culture, and the increasing interest in having those functions led by well-rounded executives, it isn’t difficult to imagine a day when the CHRO job becomes a natural pathway to the CEO role.

As of now, it’s a barrier rarely broken. But it has happened, as when Mary Barra was made CEO of General Motors. An engineer by training who ran an assembly plant and served as GM’s product chief, Barra spent two years running HR before her 2014 promotion to the company’s top job. As the Washington Post noted at the time, it was unusual for someone considered CEO material to have even been assigned a rotation in HR. “It’s not a typical career path to the CEO job,” John Wood, vice chairman of the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, told the paper. “It happens more by exception.” But research from Wood’s own firm suggests this could change.
Heidrick & Struggles evaluates candidates for executive roles on 11 factors that it sees as driving acceleration in a leader’s performance. The factors include things like foresight (i.e. the ability to solve complex problems, develop creative solutions, and think with dexterity), adaptability, resilience, and putting customers first. In a recent review of its evaluations of 80 CEOs and 36 CHROs, Heidrick & Struggles found that CEOs score higher than CHROs on eight of the 11 factors. But on what the firm describes as “the two most important” factors that correlate with CEO performance—building talent and teams, and inspiring and influencing people—CHROs actually score higher than sitting CEOs. “I dedicated the book [Talent Wins] to the HR people I ignored for too long. Those people are going to play really important roles.”

Meanwhile, thanks to the developing interest in talent management in boardrooms around the world, CHROs with CEO-level ambitions have a better shot than ever before at landing board roles with other companies that want to benefit from their expertise. And though it may not be a requirement, board experience often is prized by the selection committees that choose CEOs.

McKinsey’s Barton and his Talent Wins co-authors suggest there is still much work left to do by companies that want to give HR functions, and HR leaders, their full due. But Barton’s own recent immersion in the subject—his previous books were about capitalism and China’s mobile economy—is emblematic of a broader shift in priorities that is pulling talent management to the fore. “To be a good business leader, you need to understand HR,” Barton told Quartz’s Oliver Staley earlier this year. “I hope we’ll see more CEOs coming from the HR function, and we’ll see more line leaders spending time in HR. There has to be a transformation there.” It’s an observation that no doubt applies to both how HR is run and how it is viewed elsewhere in the company. “It’s a trite thing to say, but I dedicated the book [Talent Wins] to the HR people I Ignored for too long,” Barton said. “Those people are going to play really important roles.”

By Heather Landy December 21, 2018, Quartz at Work




The Team At HRS - Wednesday, January 02, 2019


Trending Benefits Opportunities with Bang for Your Buck

In the war for talent, many business leaders continue to confuse and overthink the priorities... and others are getting it right! Maslow, ERG and a multitude of merited motivation case studies continue to advise us to know and address our demographic. Forget cookie-cutter solutions, and tailor your offerings to the specific magnets and motivators of the target audience. Those who think money doesn't matter are getting a harsh wake-up-call. Food, shelter, care and safety needs must be fulfilled before advancement, working conditions, socialization and self-esteem needs truly matter. That said, the dollar point shift differs according to individual lifestyle and caretaking needs relative to cost of living.  

Once the living wage is met, employees will sacrifice up to 15% of immediate wage for targeted benefits and improved working conditions. An HRS survey of 3000+ diverse demographic employees validates this point. 

Here's where the opportunities really arise! A limitless array of employee benefits continues to emerge and become deployed, and these can specifically lure and empower the target demographic of talent. While HRS takes great care with ERISA compliance and avoidance of cherry-picking benefits which can be accused of adverse impact to protected classes, tailoring benefits to those protected characteristics can be structured as the risk management safeguard. 

Malissa Misch, Managing Member of MK Protection Strategies, LLC, delivers workplace empowerment, productivity, risk management and de-escalation through employee education. "We offer a self-defense workshop that is an insurance policy of sorts for employers. Our workshop is heavily weighted in awareness, avoidance, verbal de-escalation strategies and physical strategies to use as a last resort. This information will benefit the employee both in their personal life and at the workplace if they should encounter any type of workplace violence. We also specialize in corporate wellness self-defense workshops and shorter lunch and learns." 

Tony Jace, CEO of Crisis Prevention Institute, delivers holistic education as both workplace benefit and crisis avoidance. Tony explains the takeaways via his powerful testimonial to Workplace Harassment, Avoidance and Solutions, the wildly popular new HRS training video. "Harassment is what we call a precipitating factor for crisis moments to occur. For example, a couple of years ago, a lot of our health care business -- roughly a third of our business overall -- could be traced back to what they call workplace violence, or harassment that occurs in the workplace. It’s a very critical issue that we deal with today. What’s so powerful about the HRS video is that it aligns so well with the values that we have here at CPI. One of our key values is that we fundamentally believe that every human has an intrinsic dignity no matter how vulnerable they are."  HRS recently called upon to successfully disarm a potential active shooter tragedy (not connected with CPI), we truly embrace the critical need for these workplace essentials. 

John Becwar, Executive Director/Owner of Oasis Senior Advisors, delivers an offering with widespread employee appeal. Employees today are overwhelmed with concern for care of their aging parents and grandparents, and John's organization eases the pain. "My service could be offered as an extension of an EAP program or simply as a new offering as a means for the employer to recognize the challenges of employee caregivers. I have been finding a fair number of grandchildren are assuming that role as well. A presentation of this sort would be not only serve as a nice introduction to the topic of senior care, but send a positive message from the employer about their commitment to help their employees." 

Jennifer Buchholz, Founder/Lead Trainer at Excel & Flourish, delivers the benefits of training, productivity, advancement and self-esteem. Aligned with HRS in the commitment to kinesthetic training and adaptation to individual learning styles, Jennifer agrees, "There is a higher commitment from employees to learn with instructor-led training. Whether it’s the engagement or the accountability that goes hand-in-hand, employees leave our instructor-led training prepared to implement changes the same day so there are immediate results. Every time we train a group, we share how the company has made an investment in the training, and therefore are investing in the employees. Employees feel valued -  that the company was willing to put money into increasing their skills. This is especially the case when people are taking the training for job advancement (optional training) vs. required training for the job."  

As recently showcased in Fortune magazine, along the journey "HRS tested casual Friday, in-house child care programs, HRIS, and remote work innovations at their offices before ever taking the ideas to clients. HRS has been trailblazing the HR industry for over three decades and continues to lead with unsurpassed accuracy and results." At HRS we pride ourselves in delivering extraordinary benefits strategies and compliance/risk management programs. We deliver these as custom solutions, and we recognize today's employer needs to be distinctive.  


Article by Jessica Ollenburg, HRS CEO | Sr. Practitioner. Celebrating 35 years as co-founder of HRS, Jess delivers balanced effective solutions at the intersection of employment law, organizational behavior, HR design, crisis management and the hard metrics of business productivity.

Jessica Ollenburg - Tuesday, June 12, 2018


The Making of “Workplace Harassment, Avoidance and Solutions” and Why This Training Video So Popularly Connects and Delivers

Facts fuel purpose, and harassment is despicable. Developing this action-propelling video was a poignant, challenging, incredibly important and all-consuming journey. Continuously diving deep to continuously confront diminishing experiences shakes one to the very core. That said, we’ve never for a moment lost sight that all forms of harassment are equally despicable and equally important to conquer, including but not limited to racial, religious, disability, military, any gender-related characteristic, family status, age, national origin, and so many more characteristics that simply make us beautifully and imperfectly human. 

When I activate on #MeToo, I’m doing so from the perspective of a woman beyond age 50. I’m in the age group of women who grew up where environmental harassment was culture, and only economic harassment was disciplined (sometimes.) We learned early about the “choices” women would need to make. Those of us who said “no” took many huge hits to our careers. Sometimes our “no” would establish our credibility, and other times we were blown back to start as if we landed on the tornado space in Milton Bradley’s Game of Life. 

Among a disproportionately small group of women who boldly entered the “businessman’s world,” I am reminded daily how the landscape has since changed. While some women even taped their breasts, assimilated to male protocol and/or imitated the Lilith Sternin Crane character from Cheers; few of us kept our hair feminine, wore modest makeup and enjoyed appropriate length skirts. When choosing to lead with sexuality, the majority of us were taught we’d be inciting a sexual response. While it’s entirely impossible to ask for harassment, which is by definition unwelcome, some of us experimented with the timeless strategy of “the best defense is a good offense.” Meanwhile, we were pummeled with the television commercial “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never-ever let you forget you’re a man.” Both women and men were harassing women, and when a gladiator culture collided with the female mud-wrestling era, men loved to pit women against each other for pure sport and entertainment. Many women could not find women to support them, but I always managed to find some good peeps!

We’ve watched many forms of harassment actually become seemingly lessened before they got worse.  It’s no secret that focusing too much on one’s own feelings can cause one to lose complete sight of her or his affect on others. The struggle can become “Who’s harassing whom?” On another important note, just before the #MeToo movement struck, men’s sexual harassment claims were increasing faster than women’s. I’m reminded of a timeless Fox6 PrimeSpot we delivered on “Dating in the Workplace” which opened with a scene from “Disclosure.” Whether labeled economic or environmental harassment, and regardless of which protected characteristic is attacked; it all dramatically shapes us, and it all becomes economic.

I can see genuine pain, empathy and determination in my face each time I’m forced to watch myself on the video screen, (and who likes to see themselves on the screen?) I’m proud to be in a generation who toughed those challenges and gave today’s harassed the ability to speak up and fight back. I’m even prouder to be on a team that has delivered 35 years’ action and positive outcomes by channeling extraordinary experience, know-how, passion, pragmatic understanding and empathy.  

9 months of masterful writing, screen play, casting, interview, actor scenes, editing, top-tier production, consistent community involvement and “all in” launch have produced something truly unique, and the hype continues to grow. At the earlier suggestions of our employer clients to produce an onboarding video that kicks off HRS’s 35 years’ equity in larger scale solutions, we took it to the next level. We captured current trends, updated definitions, crafted relatable actor scenarios, and we created magnetic catch-phrases to improve today’s workplaces. And, as always, we’ve safeguarded and leveraged our court-recognition as affirmative defense experts, delivering reasonable care to employers of all sizes and missions. 

More info, trailer, media coverage and purchase opportunities at:

Testimonials to the unique effectiveness of this solution at:

See why Amazon ranked this the "#1 New Release - Business Training" at launch: View/Buy at Amazon

Article by Jessica Ollenburg, HRS CEO | Sr. Practitioner. Celebrating 35 years as co-founder of HRS, Jess delivers balanced effective solutions at the intersection of employment law, organizational behavior, HR design, crisis management and the hard metrics of business productivity.

Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, May 28, 2018


Skills Gap Solutions: "If You Build It, They Will Come..."

Executive Summary 

The Problem:

• Company is facing an issue with the Skills Gap
• Potential for 30+ % growth foreseen, handicapped by diminishing quality of incoming talent
• Company Leadership: Internal HR Department of One needs recruitment specialists to assist
• Resources strapped for internal training due to labor intensity.

The Approach:

• HRS: "Build infrastructure to further become an endorsed Employer of Choice; you’ll find yourself winning the war for limited talent and then able to select the best of the best with an elite internal recruitment process.”
• Recruitment in fact proves to not be the only issue. Through first few weeks, HRS finds a higher-than-average rate of candidates selected for hire whom ultimately don’t take the job
• HRS 360-degree research (including candidates) produces the following findings:
     o Misaligned goals and miscommunication between organizational leaders led to outdated job descriptions and noncompetitive internal training programs
     o HR manager had previously identified some opportunities for improvement, however was not given tools or authority to succeed
     o Internal marketing was missing opportunities to sell competitive advantage as a workplace
     o Current handbook handicapped both trainers and managers in consistent policy application

The Results:

• Through attacking above-mentioned areas of improvement in a 360-degree format, Company found themselves in a better position to win the war for talent
     o Growth in number of applicants
     o Growth in number of candidates who accepted an initial offer
     o Quickened time-to-learn on the floor
     o Reduced screening time and time-to-hire
• HRS’ endorsement and presence bought trust in the candidate community and sold Company as an Employer of Choice

Case Study

The Problem

Company Unlimited, a materials manufacturer with operations in Wisconsin and Arizona, is having an issue with the dreaded skills gap. Experiencing a lack of qualified applicants responding to their recruiting ads, they’re having trouble meeting their otherwise projectable growth. Unlimited’s leadership foresees the potential for more than 30% growth in the next 2 years alone, if only they could hire qualified individuals interested in a career in manufacturing and machine operation positions. Unlimited has not had proper success with any of the staffing services in the region, training resources are strapped, and they’re in need of quality talent. Unlimited needs both talent that can grow from entry-level operators and others which can plug more quickly into skilled trades and precision technical roles. Unlimited’s leadership decides to make the call to HRS, looking for answers.

"Give us six months, and we’ll design, build, prove and streamline a process for you. You’ll then have a powerful system which you can self-administer or deploy partners as you choose. We’ll give your team the keys to success, and we’ll maximize the bottom line!"

The following week, HRS shareholders meet with Unlimited’s leadership to discuss the issue at hand. The issue appears to be very straight-forward; machinist, tool & die, warehouse, and other trades positions remain unfilled, and they’ve tried every iteration of recruiting they can think of. Leadership believes they need recruiting-specific consultants to assist their HR Department of One in tackling the numbers. Furthermore, they need help filling several senior roles which are projected to open, including a General Manager. HRS begins the discovery process, detailing how our process will be different than solutions such as PEOs, Staffing Agencies, or other recruiters.

“HRS will be recruiting under your brand name,” explains the HRS shareholder, “as we’re not part of the recruitment industry and we leave that process specifically to those who focus at such. Our focus is to work with your internal team, build an executable system, and return the keys to you at project completion and/or at your discretion. Yes, we will be handling talent evaluation for you and presenting you with ‘top-of-the-pile’ candidates from recruitments and assessments we will help you design, but the real solution comes in helping you build a s trong talent optimization infrastructure which will aid in selling you as an Employer of Choice. Give us six months, and we’ll design, build, prove, streamline and endorse a process for you. We’ll give your team the keys to success, and we’ll maximize the bottom line!”

The discussion between HRS and Unlimited continues from here, and Unlimited agrees to move forward with HRS services as they see how the solution aligns perfectly with their vision of being an Employer of Choice.

The Approach

“I think we found our proof that we’re not dealing with a purely recruitment issue here,” states an HRS consultant to her coworker. HRS is a few weeks into operations for Unlimited, and while the percentage of qualified-to-unqualified candidates is certainly low, another issue begins to arise. Among the first group of eligible candidates identified through HRS’ rigorous selection process, 70% of candidates identified for potential hire and final evaluation ultimately do not take the job. While refinements have been made, and will continue to be made, through 360-degree feedback to determine what an optimal candidate looks like, Company Unlimited still faces a much higher than average decline rate at the final stages.

Further HRS assessment and root cause analysis identified the following causes leading to their talent issues:
• Misaligned goals and miscommunication between organizational leaders led to vague job descriptions and ineffective internal training programs
• HR manager had previously identified some opportunities for improvement, however was not given tools or authority to succeed
• Leadership was not selling the company correctly to incoming employees; e.g., unique benefit package was often discussed as “what we do and don’t offer” instead of selling strategy of benefits being designed through direct employee feedback
• Poorly constructed handbook handicapped both trainers and managers in consistent policy application

Inconsistency with internal policy led to difficulty in initially engaging incoming employees and directly affected acceptance and retention rates. Unlimited’s leadership believed that such policy issues could be addressed once the right talent was in place. They were not considering that it could have affected an incoming employee’s initial production capacity.

The Results

After presenting hard findings through data analysis, we began our work on the identified problem areas. Through our expanded reach, HRS was able to balance production and leadership needs to achieve a precision implementation which increased the candidate pipeline by 240% in only three months’ time. In the war for talent, Unlimited was now finding themselves in a position to select from a higher number of qualified candidates.

HRS was additionally able to screen and evaluate this improved candidate pool while completing our other projects on implementing the new tools and practices. Beyond this immediate influx of production talent, HRS onboarded a highly preferred General Manager candidate for future vision, as well as complementary engineering, HR, and Accounting talent. Unlimited’s leadership felt inspired and energized by the additional leadership brought on board, stating “We never would have thought a candidate like this would be available.”

HRS’ work also recognized further benefit by selling to incoming candidates that our mere presence positioned the company as a preferred employer. Through third party objectivity, it was found that candidates within this specific market had grown distrustful of other recruiters in the area as Unlimited’s largest competition had grown a reputation for “churning” employees and “never hiring them” following a probationary period. Through our practice and endorsement of direct hire for Unlimited, our workforce reputation, and our known presence by the candidates, candidates were openly trusting and appreciative of Unlimited. Positive perception of Unlimited as a preferred employer began to grow, further facilitating the talent pipeline into the future.

As the number of open positions reached a closing point, HRS began work in turning the keys for recruitment back over to internal talent. Said the internal HR manager, “Thank you. I’ve never loved my job this much before!” as a result of the systems we implemented. While HRS remained as a partner and a relationship available to Company Unlimited, we concluded our project and positioned ourselves for potential further needs.

Note: HRS does not take a stance against staffing agencies or other such recruiters, as we recognize they serve a different mission and we will work alongside and recommend them in specific situations. Situations in this case study above were found to be the result of Unlimited’s competition as opposed to the recruiting agencies themselves. These findings represent our approach as a distinctive talent solution from such providers. HRS prides ourselves on finding the right solution for the right employer, getting the right people doing the right things.

The Team At HRS - Monday, February 19, 2018


Super Bowl LII: What Leaders Can Learn from Super Bowl Coaches

Wow. What a game it was last night. Super Bowl LII had just about everything you could ask for from a football perspective; 21 different individual-game Super Bowl records were either set or tied. The offenses combined for an astronomical amount of yards (1,151 to be exact), Special Teams combined to set both the record for most combined field goals made and most kicks missed in a single Super Bowl, The Patriots punted a record-tying zero times during the whole game, and the defenses (contrary to the yardage and points racked up) made some big plays of their own. It was an amazing game, and it was incredibly fun to watch and follow.

So why am I writing about it as part of our company’s business blog? What relevance does a game like football have to business? Football is a game where you have a set salary cap to attract your talent, sign them to contracts, and compete against other organizations in a direct head-to-head competition in order to achieve results. Businesses, well, typically have the opposite of all those things, to put it plainly. There is, however, one aspect of the game of football (or any sport for that matter) that can actually apply to business and make for a relevant article:

The coaches.

Football head coaches are in charge of setting the overall strategy to plot their team’s success, and they then train their team on the execution of how to execute that strategy; they chart their players progress and performance, hold them accountable, and reward and/or discipline them based upon both on-the-job and off-the-job results.

This sure sounds like a business leader to me.

In a game where the attention frequently focuses on the execution of the individual players on the field (especially the quarterbacks), I decided to take a deeper look into the decisions each head coach (and their coordinators) made as they looked to achieve their ultimate goal. I sure have to say, this was a lot more fun than expected, and I think I found some great pieces of insight that we, as business leaders, can all take away from their decision making.

Before we dive in, let’s just take a moment to understand that the key to appreciating the following piece is all about understanding that this WAS a masterfully coached game. Obviously, it’s easy to say that about Belichick and his staff, and I’d think it should be easy to accept that Doug Pederson did equally as good of a job (if not better) since his team came out on top.

My goal here is to analyze some key plays and decisions that, I think, dictated the flow of the game and had a huge impact on the ending outcome.

1. Eagles convert a 3rd and 12, 1st Quarter, Opening Drive of the Game
This play was big for several reasons, especially when you take it in context with the fact that the Eagles opened the game with 3 straight passing plays for Nick Foles. In a game (or an entire postseason, if you will) when the entire watching world expected the Eagles to play ball control and protect their backup quarterback as the best way to win the game, Doug Pederson decided to come out and do the opposite. It sure looked like the Patriots were expecting them to run the ball, as well, deciding to play simple coverage and not bring any extra pressure during the first three passing plays of the drive, and the result was that the Eagles got out to the 49-yard line. After two stalled plays, however, the Eagles faced a 3rd and 12, and the Patriots decided this was the time to send pressure and hassle the backup. What happened? The OL picked up the blitz, Foles stood tall and he found Torrey Smith down the middle for a first down.

Never mind the end outcome of this drive (stalling in the red zone and settling for a field goal), this play, and this drive, were huge for the Eagles and Nick Foles. Early on, Nick Foles was able to get comfortable and into a rhythm, finding success and being able to respond no matter what challenges (defensive scheme) were facing him. I think it’s likely that, if the Eagles came out and ran the ball to start the game and found themselves in a similar situation without those early passing plays, there’s a much lower chance that Foles converts this big 3rd down.

Lesson: Trust your talent. Show confidence in them and put them in a position to succeed as opposed to avoiding the situations in which they may fail.

2. Foles passes left to Agholor on 1st down for a 7-yard gain, 1st Quarter
It’s the first play of the subsequent Eagles drive after the Patriots tie the game at 3-3 with a long drive of their own. Doug Pederson, sticking to his guns, decides to continue his passing game approach to get his team into the rhythm he wants to set. Admittedly, this first play wasn’t a show stopper, but what it represents, and what it opened the door to, is.

Foles hits Agholor on a shallow crossing route for a few yards, but Agholor then breaks a tackle and picks up an additional 2-3 yards, bringing up a 2nd and short. Since it’s 2nd and short, the Eagles have the ability to call a running play. The Patriots crash the box in an attempt to stuff them and force a 3rd down, but Blount runs right and gets the 1st down. The next play, Foles takes the snap and find Alshon Jeffrey, deep left, for a long touchdown.

So why did I choose the Agholor play instead of the Jeffrey touchdown? To look at that, let’s go in reverse. The Jeffrey touchdown may not have been an option had the Eagles not been able to convert on the previous play with the Blount run to the right. The Patriots, possibly still convinced the Eagles were eventually going to stick to the running game, made the decision to play the run on defense and try to take that away, leaving the deep throw available as the defenders played shallow. Now, let’s back it up further and ask what would have happened if Agholor hadn’t broken that tackle and picked up those extra yards. Would the Eagles have still called a run play on a 2nd and 5 or 6? More importantly, would the Patriots have crashed the box to try and stop the run if it were that situation instead of a 2nd and 3? My guess to both questions is, “probably not.”

Lesson: Sometimes it’s an above average effort by an individual member of your team that opens the door for something greater. Maybe you don’t realize it at first, but it’s important to always acknowledge that a single accomplishment, no matter how big or small, can open doors that you cannot assume would have otherwise been there. Pay attention to what your team is doing, and again, trust your talent. Recognition is key.

3. Coaching Decision: Malcolm Jenkins on James White
While not a play, it was certainly a big coaching decision that affected the flow of this game. Everyone, including the announcers, assumed that the Eagles would play their best Safety Cover Man on Rob Gronkowski. That would be conventional wisdom, right? Well, Doug Pederson and his staff saw an opportunity for something that wasn’t conventional wisdom and what they believed was even better. They stuck Malcolm Jenkins on James White, arguably the biggest difference maker in last year’s Super Bowl comeback, as one of their keys to their defensive scheme.

Lesson: A lot of time, we as business owners are so concerned about filling one particular need or hole in our business that we often stick to conventional wisdom and try to make things work in the most obvious way possible; sometimes this works, and sometimes the outcome fails because we’re trying to take the most “circle-like” square we have and fit it into a round hole. Know the strengths of your team and play to those strengths; don’t always try to make your team play to the strengths of your strategy or operations.

4. Coaching Decision: Malcolm Butler doesn’t play
Yes, I’m finally getting to something that the Patriots did; lest I make it about a question that a lot of people are scratching their heads over (don’t worry, Patriots fans – this isn’t a Doug Pederson love article. In fact, the next three points are about positives for your team).

A lot of business owners react differently when it comes to an issue with one of their top performers, and I personally find it safe to say that leaders are split down the middle between whether they will take the approach to treat a star player like everyone else or to give them the “special treatment” and let them get away with more because of the overall good it does for the team and the organization.

We may not yet know why Malcolm Butler was benched, but we can surmise that Belichick is on the side of treating everyone equally and believing that no one person is greater than the team (having previously directly stated that last part).

Lesson: While it may be possible that the game would have been different had Butler played, I do not for a second doubt Belichick’s decision to bench him. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to question Bill at this point in his illustrious career, but he presumably did the right thing here. If a star performer does something wrong and needs to be reprimanded, the scenario of you taking action is that star performer’s fault, not yours. The star performer is the one who let their team down by doing something wrong, not you.

5. Brady finds Hogan deep right for 43 yards on 2nd and 10, 2nd Quarter
To this point in the game, the Eagles base defense with their Wide-9 technique (defensive ends split out wider than usual) was largely working on the Patriots. Yes, they had already racked up a bunch of yards, but they were also only held to two field goals (and a missed third one). This play was huge, not just from a yardage total, but also because it was the Patriots direct answer to the Wide-9.

Brady had an extra second (or two) to look down the field because the Pats had both Gronk and the Running Back chip the ends on their way out into their routes (sic, slow them down with a momentary block). This wound up being huge because the Patriots were able to scheme, through chip blocks and play action, to take away the biggest threat which was facing them. For the rest of the game, it’s important to note that the Wide-9 didn’t stop working, it’s just that the Patriots found ways to work around it (foreshadowing – this remedy only worked when it was a legitimate threat to the Eagles). This also wound up being huge because James White ran for a touchdown on the very next play. Eagles 15, Patriots 12.

Lesson: Take what the defense gives you. Okay, that’s not actually business advice. The closest thing like that to business analysis would likely by a SWOT analysis. The best business minds know how to take in information in the moment, analyze the situation, and deploy a remedy. Jeff Bezos, as an example, states that you need to become comfortable with making decisions with only about 70% of the information available.

6. Following Halftime, it’s Gronk Time
The Patriots are down by 10 points and getting the ball to start the half. There’s no sugar coating what they did to cut the lead down; they fed Gronk. Look, I’ll keep this brief. Sometimes you just need to go with what works.

Lesson: Use your best asset(s). As a business, strategy and overcoming adversity is a huge part of the game, but you can’t forget what it is that you do best and what your competitive advantage is. In the biggest moments, “with the game in the balance,” it can be a great time to go with your strength.

7. Coaching Decision: Matt Patricia seen on sidelines in heated discussion with his players
This flashed on screen for a few seconds, but you could see Patriots Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia in a heated discussion with his players following another Eagles touchdown. Maybe he was instilling a sense of urgency, or maybe he was being perceived as “yelling.” Admittedly, I’m not sure. What I do know, however, is that the Patriots were looking for answers on defense, and it wasn’t necessarily their fault. Honestly, I was a huge fan of Nick Foles’ performance in last night’s game. He was phenomenal. He was beating the Patriots defense whether they played man or zone coverage, whether they brought pressure or even dropped extra men into coverage (like they did when he threw over the top of double coverage on the Corey Clement touchdown). He had an amazing game, but the Patriots needed answers if they were going to win.

Lesson: How do you respond to your team when adversity arises? Do you try and instill a sense of urgency, or even a sense of fear? Do you try to reassure and build confidence? It’s no big secret that how we respond in these situations is a lot of what defines us as leaders and how our team perceives us.

8. Patriots bring a Slot Corner Blitz on 1st down with the Eagles on the Patriots’ 24-yard line, 4th Quarter
I’m pretty sure I even blurted out an “Oh, interesting,” as this happened in real time and my family just stared at me blankly. I was so deep into my note taking as the game was coming to a close, and I’m pretty sure they all thought I was insane for not paying close attention to the moment. The thing is, though, that this made me pay so much closer attention to the game than I had ever thought and, believe it or not, I had fun doing it.

On to the play, this happened on the very last true offensive possession for the Eagles – where they ultimately scored the go-ahead touchdown and went up by 5. On this drive, something was brewing on the left side of the offensive line that you may or may not have noticed; James Harrison was consistently beating the Eagles left tackle. He was incredibly close to getting sacks multiple times on this drive, including the immediately preceding few plays leading up to this 1st and 10 on the Patriots 24-yard line.

The Eagles were driving, and the Patriots once again needed answers, but I scratched my head at this decision. After however many plays in a row of James Harrison almost getting home on only four men rushing, the Patriots decided to send a corner blitz to bring extra pressure. What happened? Foles hit Agholor in the flat from where the blitzing corner just came and picked up a first down. It’s hard to second-guess Belichick and Patricia, as some of the best defensive minds in football, but I still question it. You’re essentially in the red zone, and zones automatically get tighter down there (so it’s a little easier to play pass defense) and you could have stuck with that defense and tried with the four-man rush that was, largely, working.

Lesson: The Patriots overreacted to recent results on this play. I’ll admit, this one may be subjective, and I see a valid argument for those saying, “they needed to do something. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” I think there’s a valid takeaway for business leaders here, though, in that sometimes we can feel the pressure and overreact ourselves to recent developments. When you see an obstacle continuing to unfold and you need a solution, how many times do you change your strategy instead of staying the course on what is, perceivably, so close to working?

9. Eagles play Zone Defense on a 2nd and 2, 2:16 left in the game
And now we come to the biggest play of the game; the one that decided the outcome. Why did I describe this play as I did above? Because this decision was $%!^ing brilliant. That’s why.

For almost the entirety of the game, the Eagles were visually playing man coverage against the Pats. Even more importantly, the Eagles had shown man essentially every time that Brady sent the Running Back in motion (a common tactic that modern offenses uses to identify zone vs. man coverage). On this play, with 2:16 left in the game, the running back went in motion but no single player followed him. The Eagles were in zone.

Brady dropped back to pass and, likely, needed one extra second to digest the zone coverage that he hadn’t seen much of to that point. What did that one second mean? Remember how I said that the Eagles Wide-9 was largely working throughout the game?

Bingo. Sack-fumble.

The Wide-9 never stopped working; it was just that the Patriots were, again, using those chip blocks and play action to slow it down and give an extra second to Brady. On this play, however, when you need quick routes and the threat to run goes away so play action becomes null and void with the clock running down, the Wide-9 finally paid off, and it may all have been because they showed zone.

Lesson: Know your strengths, but adapt when necessary. Wait, isn’t this in direct contradiction to the last lesson presented? Yes, but that’s the point and also the biggest lesson to take here. As business leaders, inasmuch as we have to understand our strengths, strategize against challenges, lead our teams through adversity, and know when to not overreact, we also have to know when to react and to adapt. It’s an exceedingly difficult task, and one that most business leaders only learn through trial and error.

This is why I compiled this article; I wanted to get a glimpse of any such examples that I could take from such an easily digestible, and entertaining, form of media. I need some takeaways myself to see how some of the best minds in football responded to game flow and adversity, and I personally feel that I got some valuable insights out of these key plays. I hope that anyone reading this feels the same way.

Matthew Bare - Monday, February 05, 2018


The Overuse of "Millennial" and Its Impact

A Google News search of the term “millennials” produced a result of 6,880 news articles…written in the 24 hours prior to starting this article. If we assume constant rate and extrapolate that number, that means that there would be 2.48 million news articles written on Millennials annually. This number does not even include individual pieces of content such as opinion pieces or those written by subject matter experts on the Generational Gap. Every day, you’ll see content flash across your screen which will tell you about how you can best approach Millennials, how you can talk with Millennials, what drives Millennials, which industries Millennials favor, which industries Millennials are “killing”, how Millennials have no work ethic, how Millennials are “snowflakes”, and so on. This begs the question…are you sick of the world Millennials yet in this article?


Because I am.

In entirety.

The word Millennial is used far too often, and we need to recognize that we’re over attending it. As a society, we have dissected nearly every conceivable notion of what it means to be a Millennial. This is a problem because, quite frankly, we don’t actually know who they are yet. We are defining an entire generation of individuals by how they have acted while in their twenties. I think it’s safe to say that virtually no one, in our entire society, wants to be defined by how they acted in their twenties. It is a decade which I would safely wager 90% of us wish we could go back to and do over or avoid the mistakes we had made.

From this point on in this article, I will start referring to this generation, my generation, as Gen Y. My thesis, as you will soon come to find, is that we should all start naming this generation as such. Millennial is becoming a pejorative word, and, if we’re going to be in the business of labeling people as a society, let’s at least do so in a manner that doesn’t conjure negative stereotypes.

How We Got to This Point (A Theory)

A helpful point to visit before we dive into the real meat of why I believe we need to stop using this term is to visit how this all began. Who better to help tell this story than, naturally, a Baby Boomer.

For that reason, I spoke with Jessica Ollenburg, President/CEO here at HRS.

“As a forefront behavioral researcher, we’ve served as keynote speakers on generational shaping since 2002, arguably 1983. Stereotyping and blame-shifting were never on our agenda. The purpose of our analysis was to understand impacts to trust and motivation. One symptom that arose due to Millennial labeling by others is that I was too young for my job until the day I became too old… I’m thankful I’m no longer considered too old. The two words that have been most abused in today’s lingo are ‘Millennial’ and ‘disrupt’… Please don’t disrupt centuries of sacrifice without respecting and keeping what works. Progress is critical. Making the same mistakes your elders made is not progress, but youth has to experience some feeling of change, as empowerment relies upon it.”

Jessica makes an important distinction here – there is a difference between “progress for the sake of progress” and progress by not repeating your elders’ learned mistakes. I’d hope that we can all agree that the latter should always be a goal for our society. After all, “respect your elders” is one of mankind’s oldest mantras.

As for the sake of “disrupting” and having Gen Y come in and seek change, hasn’t that been something that all generations have struggled with? Haven’t all new adults grappled with their elder generations about how things are done?

“To an extent, absolutely! My era of youth specifically discussed amongst ourselves that perceived ‘need’ for change was absolutely the fuel that gave us the bravery to push and create change. I consider this essential to progress. … [however] the ‘disruptor’ language implies some value of disruption for the sake of disruption. Shouldn't we limit that to disruption for the sake of progress?

Boomers take pride in having changed the landscape away from traditionalists fist-pounding quotes [such as] ‘We've done it this way for 50 years!’ … I see Gen Y doing the same. The difference sometimes is lack of diplomacy and protection of greater good. … When I hear the word ‘disrupt,’ I hear ‘it's so bad, we're just going to implode it and start over.’ It's demotivating and angering.”

So we do see some distinction here in how Gen Y is perceptively handling their entrance to the workforce compared with their predecessors; it’s an issue of perception and, at the risk of sounding too trite, possibly semantics. This is just one of many topics we can dive into regarding how this generation is so different than everyone before them.

Here's an excerpt from Jessica’s quote which really stuck with me, “I was too young for my job until the day I became too old…” This is a really important mantra which could explain how some of the infighting began. There are many Baby Boomers who truly feel that it was never “their time” and they had to fight for relevance. Baby Boomers hold a great distinction by being the only generation named by what their parents did (return from war to start a family) as opposed to what defined their “coming-of-age” tale (Millennials, Traditionalists, etc). Boomers were too young, as all generations were at one point, until the recession happened. At this point, companies were pinched for capital and we saw a number of companies make the decision to hire young, developable talent in lieu of older, established talent. It was at this moment that Boomers started to feel “too old,” and it seemingly happened over night. (For more on this topic, you can view my other article here.)

At this point, Boomers felt as though they had to fight for their relevance. They were about to enter the period of their lives where their dues had been paid and they were to inherit their rightful place in society as leaders and mentors. It wasn’t just financial security that they lost at this time, it was pride and a sense of purpose. They were no longer ahead of where their children were (at least to the degree they had hoped), and they found themselves fighting for the same open jobs. Thinking of us all as human, I believe that anyone would have responded negatively to such circumstances.

Yes, We Are Approaching the Business of Labelling Here

A Millennial is defined as an individual approximately born between the years of 1980 – 1995…that’s it. There is no other true defining factor. There are major life events which have affected all individuals born in this time frame, namely September 11th and the Great Recession, but they also effected all other generations, as well. The only question here is at which age did you witness these catastrophic events occur? Of course, age does plays an impact here, as it’s no secret that we perceive and react to events differently at different points of our lives – that’s one of the bases of studying human behavior.

What we need to recognize, however, is that since there is only one way to define who is a Millennial, that an individual is always going to be a Millennial. An individual will never grow out of being a Millennial – I will be 80 years old and I will still be a Millennial. When we start stating that somebody has A characteristics because they are part of B generation, we are offering no room for them to grow as a human being or, more importantly, for them to ever be perceived differently than what we have labeled that generation to be. This would be true of all generations.

Personally, I have already felt the effects of this. One of the reasons I am growing tired of the term “Millennial” is that I feel as though I have no hope of connecting with someone quickly if they call me by that term. For example, in a Networking room, my thought process immediately goes to, “That’s a lot of pre-conceived notions about me that I have to break down in the next 90 seconds before I can get this individual to buy-in to my value.” Professionals such as myself who entered the workforce with vigor and enthusiasm are often given no credit for their work, but rather judged simply on their age. Would you ever guess by my age that I was 12 years old when I started working at HRS?

Admittedly, I must pause from the thesis of this article to state that these arguments sound a lot like arguments that one would make in favor of equality amongst various protected classes. I am not trying to state that Generational differences are equitable to other such issues. Rather, my argument here is that someone should not be able to approach such a strong conclusion on Generational issues because it is so far and away not the same type of issue; the fact that we are approaching this territory as a society is exactly what’s wrong with this picture.

Jessica furthered on this point, “Far too many are confusing youth with generational stereotyping, perhaps forgetting their own youth. Will Millennials be the next EEOC protected class? Why is it ok to stereotype by birth year but not by culture, religion, race, geography? Aren't we shaped by both nature and nurture? As an example of how random the generational labeling is, I was classified as Gen X until much later in life. If we're forbidden to generalize based upon real nature and nurture characteristics, why are we allowed to generalize based upon random datelines upon which we can't even agree?”

This is another thing that’s dangerous about labeling an individual by generational attributes; we can’t even agree upon which years define which generation. For example, I’ve seen certain sources state that Gen Y starts in the mid-1970s…which, amongst other things, makes me wonder exactly what room is left for Gen X. I’m sure some of you born between 1975 and 1980 are saying to yourself, “There is no way that’s correct. I have nothing in common with the younger people in my workplace.” You should think this. This is exactly the point.

Can We All Agree to Move Forward?

Each generation has been raised with its own set of values. One generation was raised a certain way by their parents, which lead them to raise the next generation a little differently, which will lead them to raise their next generation a little differently, and so it goes on. Let me be clear – generational differences are a helpful tool. This research allows us to make an educated guess on what might constitute an individual’s psyche so that it might actually be easier to understand them. This is NOT a tool for us to assume that we already know who an individual is.

Yes – Gen Y is different. Gen Y did grow up with the advent of personal technology; Gen Y was raised with its own set of national and cultural issues; Gen Y is certainly not perfect. What we need now is to move forward constructively. If Boomers or Gen X don’t like the way that Gen Y does things – correct it constructively; please don’t criticize. Gen Y has many lessons to learn; after all, the oldest we are is, based upon whom you ask, mid-30s. To Gen Y – please be willing to listen. Constructive criticism is helpful for everyone, and let’s trust that the older generations are here to help. We don’t need to be know-it-alls. The next time I’m out in public, I’d prefer to not be thought of as a “Millennial,” I want to be thought of as a young professional who still has a lot to learn and is willing to do so. I’d like to think that this is no different than other young professionals who came before me. Where we are as a society is not the fault of anyone – it’s not the fault of the Boomers, and it’s not the fault of Gen Y. I’m sure both sides feel that “the war” was started by the other, but let’s please try not to worry about that and move forward constructively.

As our article’s Boomer states, “In all areas of our society, we're seeing push and push-back. The harder one pushes, the harder the equal and opposite reaction. I have no intention of insulting our youth, and I caution others to rethink their insults. It's our purpose to support the next generations. I recognize that my generation has helped shape the next generations, and I simply want them to respect the work, findings, accomplishments, endurance and sacrifices of my generation... and then to make them matter [in turn] by building upon them.”

After all, all that each of us wants is to provide value and to gain respect.


Matthew Bare operates as a Chief Officer and Stakeholder at HRS. Delivering 15 years of dedicated contribution at HRS, Matt brings client service excellence, relentless research and product development planning. Matt works with key HRS clients locally, nationally and abroad to understand pressing concerns and deliver timely solutions. He pursues an extraordinary knowledge base in employee engagement, talent development and HRIS/payroll solutions. You can learn more about Matt in his bio, including links to some of his other articles.

Matthew Bare - Friday, September 08, 2017


Why HRS Exited Recruitment & Why We’ve (Somewhat) Returned

“Just When We Thought We Were Out... 
 ...They Pulled Us Back In!”            

HRS did not initially intend to assist employers with talent acquisition, but one of our forefront successes is absolutely talent optimization. When HRS opened its doors in 1983, employment agencies and temp services were coming on strong, but we didn’t initially enter the recruitment field.

Our core services have remained:

• Talent Optimization
• Employment Law Compliance
• HR Technology
• Professional “Think Tank”
• “One-Stop Shop” or A la Carte HR

Within our third year of operations, our clients nearly begged us to form a staffing division for long-term advancement-oriented and trainable talent. Recruiting was so cumbersome until HRS invented one of the first applicant tracking systems (ATS) in the 1980’s. Employment agencies were largely populated by sales professionals rather than HR professionals, literally “selling” people into jobs which were a poor fit and then pulling the hired candidates back out to “sell” them again. Temp services were claiming NOT to be in the “placement business” as they did not want their perma-temps hired away by clients. Our highly labor-intensive employer clients needed an expert resource to expedite the process and provide an indication of trainability and long-term goals before an expensive commitment on their end. We answered the call. Employers always deployed us to develop talent and HR practices, but recruitment was a client-demanded after-thought.

Once pulled into the game, our employer clients kept quickly direct-hiring our referred candidates, and our success became our downfall in the staffing industry. We kept succeeding ourselves right out of the revenue stream, because our referred/developed talent stuck and succeeded, and there was no profitable churn for HRS. We did NOT belong in the staffing industry, and the media dubbed us “The Anti-Temp Service” for far more reasons than our comprehensive service offerings. Capturing the opportunities of our rare successes, we continued to package a total HR business model, but others pretended to emulate us… and did so poorly… creating an uphill battle for credibility. While those less risk tolerant may have rolled their eyes at our educating a new demand category, we continued to grow by referral and reputation for results. Others initially took the path of lesser resistance, and some have since attempted to follow our path. 

Why We Exited the Recruitment Industry…
• Our clients are labor-intensive, committed to top-shelf HR initiatives and are dedicated to reducing turnover. Those who validly call upon staffing services often demand opposing outcomes. 
• In a downsizing economy where retention is challenged, our differentiation was minimized, creating some brand confusion.
• With co-employment relationships in staffing, we refused to promise our employer clients risk management through contract talent. In fact, we believed this false sense of security to be risk-elevating.
• While we arguably created the first Professional Employer Organization (PEO), an onslaught of poor-quality imposters swarmed in and threatened the program integrity. As PEOs are typically assigned to risk pools, or are at least risk-rated, benefits-buying leverage for PEOs became a myth debunked.
• HRS determined to focus upon core services with target employers. We want no confusion as to whom we are and what we do!
• Talent cannot succeed without the resources of proper training, leadership, compliance, technology, fiscal prudence, vision and talent management infrastructure.

The cessation of our contract staffing operations caused immediate backlash, but we do not regret our decision. While we have no plans to resume that prior offering, the best of our own acquired skills are currently addressing the skills gap and today’s employment challenges. We recently returned to the talent acquisition forefront with an entirely new approach, focusing on our core strengths.

Why and To What Extent We’ve Returned…
• Our employer clients were largely unable to find adequate alternate resources to assist with talent sourcing and selection; we were adamantly requested to return.
• The skills gap, growing economy and lowest unemployment rate in 17 years have strained employers’ own strengths.
• Talent optimization requires validated assessment and training at the beginning of the talent lifecycle and throughout its entirety. The right people need to be properly on board. The “soft skills” have become the “hard skills.”
• HRS recruitment design consulting and Veracity assessment division has actually grown in employer reach and case study.
• Throughout our history of precision job analysis and laser-focused talent development, HRS deeper-dive job knowledge is a rare find and essential to talent onboarding.
• Emerging “right-to-work” laws directly impact HR initiatives; including team needs, HR job descriptions, scope of authority, compliance changes and opportunities to leverage. Employers must newly work in NLRA compliance beyond bargaining agreement guidelines and affecting laws.
• Employers understand what worked in past for them will not work moving forward. Change and transformation are imminent! We facilitate the transition, so our clients can keep succeeding and/or improve their success as “employers of choice.”

Celebrating Our 35th Year!

As we dive into our 35th year of commitment to the community, HRS proudly boasts that we’ve never abandoned our core focus, yet we’ve consistently adapted our methodology and paved the way. Recognized as “The Pioneers of HR Management and Research” in Fortune magazine, we continue to grow at double-digit controlled growth each year with robust shareholder dedication. While HRS did entirely cease contract labor services and contingency recruitment in 2013, our talent optimization programs are stronger than ever! We proudly answer the call with HR operations as subject matter and efficiency experts. HRS offers custom turnkey setup as either long term third-party solution or expert project design. A true blend of specialist expertise and out-task offerings, whether our project lasts 3 months or 35+ years, it’s our measurable results that continue to feed our future of relevancy! 

Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, July 10, 2017


The 7+ Disciplines of HR and How to Address Them All at Once

Employment Law, Organizational Development, C-Suite Planning, Talent Management, Engagement, Documentation and Compensation are the 7 minimum HR disciplines requiring dedicated focus in any single unique organization. Larger or more talent-centric employers will require additional disciplines of focus. The keys to success in each of these 7 critical disciplines can be quite distinctive, meaning a high-function team approach will likely produce best HR outcomes. While generalists should either be “big picture” oriented or adept at the most routine of company HR functions, the talent pool has simply not yet produced enough great generalists to go around. If you find one, hold on tightly and deliver resources. Today’s most savvy employers are partnering internal and external professionals to best address holistic organizational opportunities. Smaller employers enjoy cost control via flexible access to full-time caliber steady talent. All employers, including major market size, enjoy the benefits of third-party offerings.

The following drill-down sets forth today’s best practices in addressing the 7 disciplines independently and simultaneously.

Data-Driven Metrics are Critical, Yet Only as Valuable as the Applied Judgment

Collecting data for the sake of data is a widespread faux pas at this time. Data needs to support a reasonable hypothesis and promise end game of benefit surpassing cost of data. HR has earned its seat in the boardroom by producing undeniable results on the Income Statements and Balance Sheets, yet please avoid the assumption that all HR professionals grasp fiscal responsibility and know-how. Dubbed “The Pioneers of HR” in a 2015 Fortune Magazine spread, HRS knows exactly how thin the landscape was in prior decades, and we promise that more are boasting accolade than actually proven. While it’s possible to find a statistic to support any thesis you choose, be certain the statistic is valid and supports a meaningful takeaway for optimum outcome. Statistics can be developed internally or externally at the start, but should be benchmarked internally upon program commencement.

Keep a Professed Legal Expert in the Mix

A dedicated employment law consultant, a juris doctor and/or an attorney need to be on call and in visibility of policies and practice. HR should not be practiced without a keen eye on compliance. An employment law consultant should deliver an unfaltering knowledge of statutory and case law, plus holistic business acumen. An attorney should be your litigation representative and “go to” for filtered legal advice. Great HR firms, such as HRS, will balance the two for your greatest benefit. On the other end of the spectrum, inadequate compliance professionals are emerging everywhere, so vet your legal experts carefully. Non-profit associations and Payroll/HRIS vendors are unlikely to deliver due diligence here, have been caught delivering bad information, and will not typically suffice for court recognition of “reasonable care.” Cost-benefit analysis needs careful proactive thinking. A few items requiring legal savvy include handbook policies, ERISA Section 510, HIPAA, anti-harassment, trade secrets, ACA, FLSA, social media, independent contractors and joint-employer relationships, at a minimum.

Rethink the “Ivory Tower”

With Department of Labor (DOL) proposed overtime changes still embattled until late 2016, a major hike in minimum salary threshold may create unlawful “ivory tower” practices where they previously didn’t exist. Meanwhile, some key execs are already receiving above and beyond benefits creating ERISA, ACA and state law risks. A redefinition of “highly compensated” employees will also critically affect policy. Be mindful of benefits, payroll handling and policy discrepancies between exempt and non-exempt team members. Be proactive.

Engage Without Coddling

Attracting and engaging the right talent cannot be accomplished without employer branding and a precise amount of ethical bribery, in view of work ethic erosion and real economic demotivators. That being said, some novices out there are “over-coddling” and making a pure mess of things. Let’s not forget Maslow’s Hierarchy, ERG motivation theories and that truly happy workers have no reason to work at any stage other than self-indulging self-actualization. Give your employees a reason, reinforcement and the resources to attain corporate goals.

Keep HR and Accounting Completely Distinctive Functions at Lateral Vision

The keys to success in HR are absolutely neither a subset nor acquired along the accounting career path. These two critical functions each earn a boardroom seat, with critical communication between, and neither gets more leverage. While the HR effort cannot succeed without fiduciary vision and ability to assess proper fiduciary talent, the accounting effort can be tremendously successful with only limited communication from HR. In fact, too much information in the hands of the accounting team yields EEOC and HIPAA penalty risks. CFOs and CHROs are equally important and need independent perspective for 360-degree thinking.

Personality Tests Belong in the 1970’s with Mood Rings

Beaten down as unlawful 40 years ago, personality tests are somehow re-emerging for those who didn’t previously see the lightbulb. Throw in ADA protected mood disorders and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and personality tests tee up some real risk. Hiring without proper assessment poses even greater risk. Behavioral assessment delivers far more lawful, meaningful and reliable findings; keeping it job-related, predictive and risk free. Best options are still Simulation Scenarios and In-Baskets.

Create a Politics-Free Zone

Wherever you sit, divisionary tactics and heated arguments are likely to be found. The workplace is ripe for passionate political arguments that threaten. Other countries already classify politics as protected. Arguing the Bill of Rights from every angle, the U.S. has begun protecting employees against harassment and discrimination due to political affiliation. While the political forum is likely to emerge downright uncivilized for some, an opportunity exists to actually capitalize on the problem by aligning your brand as a safe haven for those who work smart, work hard and respect others. DeBono’s Six Hats of Thinking, after all, requires perspective from all sides.

Train, Train, Train! Talent May be Easier to Develop than Find

As a guest professor serving 6+ top-ranked institutions, I promise that even the best are concerned with proper education for today’s workplace. The employer who delivers appropriate development tools gains the competitive edge and exponential return on investment. Success is contingent upon corporate training in not only operations, but also workplace behaviors, leadership, organizational communications, problem solving and legal compliance. Avoid “canned curriculum” and deploy a topic expert to deliver on-point discussion and applied Q&A. Not only is it nearly impossible to “pick the right employee off a shelf,” but employees meeting life’s basic costs are willing to give up 15% of immediate pay for development opportunity. While cash can still be king and broken promises crush credibility, consider a well-balanced approach as investment into both employee and employer.

Take HIPAA and Anti-Harassment to New Levels

New privacy crackdowns and government fines are being wielded about. Privacy lockdowns are a “bottom-up” approach. Be certain your leaders are trained to refuse all such information except on a “need to know” basis. Knowing the wrong things about your employees can backfire just as much as knowing too little. For lawful compliance, even an HR department may need 5-7 separate files per employee depending upon the structure, and many items should never leave HR’s gatekeeping. Department managers, accountants, IT and company-wide team members need updated HIPAA training and enforced compliance -- pronto. Hand-in-hand with HIPAA, and with interplay between, Anti-Harassment due diligence needs another escalation. With newly protected classes, increased tension and steeper penalties, the courts are busy, and the courts are expensive! 3rd party experts can provide “affirmative defense” certifications not available through internal or video-based training.

Choose Carefully Your Automation Levels and External Partners

A well-implemented HR automation system can exceed 300% ROI through vastly improved efficiencies and turnkey statistical decision tools. While this opportunity cannot be overlooked, some are going too far and reversing the benefit. Before we dehumanize human resources, 1) safeguard ability for audience adaptation and case-by-case judgment, 2) recognize that more keystrokes do not improve efficiency, and 3) lock down intellectual property where law allows. Inasmuch as HRS is recognized by the USPTO for world-deployed HRIS automation invention, we know the boundaries. Don’t let your payroll and HRIS companies sell you the functions at which they fail. And finally, when choosing external partners, look for those who bring track record of success and extraordinary knowledge base, rather than just shiny new things that will become yesterday’s forgotten toys.

Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, May 12, 2016


What Doesn't HR Need to be Today?

HR has spent years in the “HR needs to provide business value” debate with the rest of the organization. At numerous points over the past 30 years, the field of HR has been challenged to prove that what they were doing held value and contributed to all facets of operations. This has been a hot issue over the past year, with numerous bloggers and consultants posting their views of how HR needs to be defined heading into 2016. SHRM even stated that the modern CHRO needs to be, essentially, a superhero. With all of this going on, you’ve probably read a majority of these viewpoints and are now contemplating which definition stands the truest. Your answer? In short, all of these definitions stand true. If someone out there believes that HR needs to be something, then there has to be at least some demand and truth behind that definition.

HR needs to perform a multitude of different roles for an organization. While it is certainly difficult to excel at everything that’s called for, we do have the ability to simplify all of these different calls to action into a simple, catch-all 5-point definition.

We hope that you find this two-piece article to be the final, and brightest, light bulb you need on this subject. This article is Part 2, which lays out a definition of what HR needs to be today. Part 1 is The 7+ Disciplines of HR and How to Address Them All at Once by Jessica Ollenburg.

Part One: Analytical 

Businesses thrive on data. Despite the fact that data became a popular buzzword in 2015, this has always been the case. A data-driven mindset means everything to a business. But what is data, really? In the simplest form, data is information. Nothing more, nothing less. Therefore, we can look at processing data as equivalent to understanding information, and we can therefore simply label this trait as one being analytical. That’s part one of the definition: can you understand what the data is telling you?

Part Two: Business Savvy

Understanding the data isn’t the whole picture, however. It’s only half the process in meeting the C-Suite’s demands. HR also needs to be able to identify the information their C-Suite truly needs to consider. While the other leaders within your company may understand the final result that they need from HR, they likely won’t understand what data is necessary to get them there. Just as is true with all aspects of operations, all parties at the table will (or should) understand and agree upon the end game for the organization, but it’s up to you as your department head to assemble the nuts and bolts. Remember: that’s why HR (or anyone with a specialty) has been hired in the first place.

Part Three: Confident

This one might be the most surprising to you. Confidence is becoming more and more key to success in HR. HR must have the confidence to trust their abilities and successfully analyze the data, all while having the confidence in their knowledgebase to lead the rest of the organization by presenting the information that truly needs to be looked at.

This confidence isn’t just in your work, however. Recently, a new phenomenon has entered the world of HR: pride. HR has a sense of pride that it’s never had before. Not in a negative way, but in a confident, friendly-competition sort of way. More and more HR professionals are looking to assert themselves above their peers, just as has been the case in other business functions for so long. If you want to last in the world of HR these days, you have to prove that you’re better than the next person, and that leads to the bravado in asserting yourself as one of the best. Make sure you have pride in what you do, because you will make a difference.

Part Four: Relatable

HR needs to be relatable. That’s part four. Relatability should be a goal for you even if your goal isn’t to be the People’s Champion HR. This definition of relatability, however, doesn’t necessarily translate to being likable. You don’t need to be likable in the sense that everyone loves you, but you do need to be likable in the sense that everyone respects you. Big difference. HR needs to be able to obtain by-in from all aspects of an organization.

By enticing communication and knowing all aspects of your workforce, you are garnering the maximum amount of information necessary to do your job. By having all of the necessary information to succeed at your job, you can be confident. By being confident, you can be assertive and present the right information to the right people. By presenting the right information, you are being data-driven and making your C-Suite happy. See how it all ties together?

Part Five: Holistic Mindset

Lastly, we arrive at one of the most critical points. Just as HR needs to be relatable to all the other divisions within the organization, HR must also have enough of a knowledge base in all those parts of operations in order to be relatable and successful. Accounting, IT, fiscal prudence, Marketing, Engineering…you name it. You won’t truly be able to gain the respect you need if you don’t prove yourself in all of these areas (plus more). Additionally, you need a knowledgebase in all of these areas in order to be able to meet a department’s demands and put together a holistic, data-driven solution. After all, how do you know what’s best for your organization if you don’t have a fundamental understanding of how the rest of your organization operates?

So there you have it. Our final definition of HR stands as thus:

HR needs to be analytical, business-savvy, confident, relatable individuals with a holistic mindset. It’s not so bad once you break it all down, is it? You have a blueprint on where to begin. Now comes the hard part, however…achieving all five of these traits.

Matthew Bare - Thursday, May 12, 2016


Workforce Preparedness: 5 Key Skills That Can & Should Be Developed by Employers

As we address the skills gap and the need to change how we educate, the skills most lacking are those related to problem solving, work ethic, leadership, time management and organizational communications. Unless and until we can rely upon pre-employment training to develop these toolsets in our team members, employers need to absorb the burden of this development, thereby enjoying the incredible ROI on the initiative. Many are still failing to capture this incredible upside opportunity. 

As corporate educator, guest academic professor and consulting CHRO to both academic institutions and a wealth of employers realizing the outcomes of pre-employment education, I draw upon 360-degree visibility, impact and passion. 

These 5 key skills represent the most critically lacking employment skills, as well as, the most efficient means of employer resolution. These also represent the most popular and successful HRS workshops across widespread talent functions, hierarchy and lifecycle stages. 

1. Problem Solving:

There is nothing less common than sense, and few academic institutions are properly developing critical thinking. With the crazed-wave deployment of unlawful personality profiles and meaningless instruments, we’re strongly recommending talent assessment such as the SR2, pinpointing problem solving, trainability and critical thinking beyond job knowledge. Critical thinking can be taught, and many unique problem-solving styles can succeed in the workplace. Critical thinking is not necessarily a pass-fail proposition. Via proper assessment and delivery, educational bullets such as problem solving, data interpretation, metrics, cost-benefit analysis, and the Six Hats of Thinking are highly effective at identifying individual trouble spots and capturing opportunity for development.

2. Work Ethic:

While the U.S. continues to lag global competitors in average work week and appropriate recharge use of break time, productivity will equally lag. Employers have a responsibility and an opportunity in setting forth culture and expectations of the work hours, commitment and focus needed for individual and corporate success. The less committed employees are demotivating the more committed. Window-dressing engagement is not enough. As third party expert educators, we’ve realized the upside, and we need to get this message out! If work ethic factors are extrinsic, corporate education can mitigate, if not eliminate, the problem.

3. Leadership:

“Cash is King” only to the point that life’s needs can be afforded. Thereafter, employee retention, employer brand, risk management and workforce productivity all rely more heavily on proper leadership. Old-school methods of promoting the best “doers” are rightfully replaced with promoting more interested and trainable leaders, and then developing them with lifelong leader learning. Poorly trained leaders decimate success in a labor-intensive organization. Furthermore, as long as employees are willing to forego 15% compensation for a better boss, employers find a less costly and more productive win in properly selecting and developing leaders. For proper role modeling and culture, leaders must be seen embracing learning, while balancing their immediate credibility. Leader learning is best deployed as a partnership between internal and external expert trainers.

4. Time Management:

While the first component of time management might be gaining worker commitment to expand the workday, actual time management and efficiency-based routines are currently under-taught.  While lean thinking and efficient use of technology are often properly attended, time management in work flow planning, appropriate multi-tasking, prioritization, communication tactics, team meeting protocol and compartmentalization are critical to education initiatives. By teaching holistic time management, we additionally reduce energy shift and optimize quality. 

5. Organizational Communications:

Beyond the time management principles involved in crafting communications, fabulous upside is gained through proper teaching of communication mode selection, non-verbal cues, body language, time, place, audience and tone. While anti-harassment is lawfully essential to employer reasonable care, teaching acceptance of dissimilarity also delivers competitive edge, better invention and enhanced problem solving. Exceptional curriculum includes the benefits of diverse thinking, as well as, the protocol most effective with each of the 16 personality types. Today’s most popular topics also include Internal customer service and building organizational bridges. 

When teaching these 5 skills, 3 key rules are critical to learning, yet still under-attended by those employers missing the mark. These 3 simple rules include: 

1. Address unique audience learning style and aptitude, 

2. Deploy simultaneous assessment toward curriculum development and success benchmarking, and 

3. Remove fear of reprisal. 

More specifically, participative learning remains preferred by most, while auditory learning remains least effective. Pacing too fast, too slow and/or audience adaptation failures remain common pitfalls. Training from, or in the presence of, supervisors creates fear of reprisal and fear of presenting the “stupid question.” (I always remind here the only stupid question is the one not asked.) 

While employers cannot rely solely upon external expert educators, both internal and external trainers must partner for optimum learning. Roundtable workshops, facilitated by topic experts deploying Gestalt Protocol, are the fastest and most meaningful method of speed-track knowledge transfer and useful application. Live case studies are highly engaging for even those not prone to academia, and these similarly avoid distracting perception of internal bias. In our corporate education series, our own case studies are revealed in full protection of employer confidentiality and intellectual property, of course.  

We invite you to stay tuned for continuing information on this topic including steadfast findings and ever-emerging trends. Keep training!


Jessica Ollenburg - Friday, April 15, 2016