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.

Stop Saying “Work Smarter, Not Harder” and Great Things Shall Happen!

Emerging from a recession, grabbing opportunity and surviving intense global competition, we cannot be fooled by the dangerous and misleading propaganda... "Work Smarter, Not Harder!" Statements along these lines when misinterpreted can only lead to disaster. The blueprint for success requires balance. 

Agreed it can be more effective to work smart than to work hard, in most cases both are necessary. In addition, “smart” can be a matter of misinterpretation in itself. “Smart” can only truly be judged by one who is “smart” in the capacity and criteria to be evaluated. “Smart” can be ill defined.  Nonetheless, "Work Smarter" should remain our dedicated target, we just need to lose the "Not Harder" component.

Through study of human work ethic, it is undeniable that many top performers equate “working hard” with “doing your best.” Anything short of doing one’s best is less than adequate. Therefore, working “hard” is always one of the goals. Where and how we channel our energies and how we balance and care for ourselves is a matter of personal choice and commitment.

Nations rich in socialism and suppressed middle class existence present global competition of both working hard and working smart in tandem. Those who wish to compete must rise to the occasion or lose the opportunity to fight another day. While the U.S. is not easily adaptable by history and infrastructure to the socialist principles which have been embraced by other nations, Americans must not think they can exist in a vacuum, especially after centuries of global involvement.

Those proven to offer judgment, accomplishment and commitment to excellence effectively draw upon the “Work Smarter, Not Harder” mantra with astute understanding that successful results require efficiency and sound judgment. These toolsets can lead to quicker, easier and more accurate positive outcomes, freeing our resources to accomplish more in the end.  The mantra works best for those already working hard. Those, however, lacking necessary work commitment are adversely impacted and misled by this mantra, using it as an excuse to retract effort.

This is an essential organizational development topic to be safeguarded by employee education, policies, practices and daily performance management. The ambiguity of related remarks is polluting team members’ understanding of workplace expectations and the blueprint to security and advancement. Consider this both a “call to action” and an opportunity of betterment for organizational leaders at all levels.

Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, January 09, 2010


“If I’m a Self-Starter, Why Aren’t You?”... Team Members High in Initiative are Challenged as Coaches

Until we learn otherwise, we tend to believe others think and behave as we do. Sometimes that learning comes with a thunderbolt and leaves us with our “jaw on the ground.” Pillared on more than 30 years experience in leadership coaching to a wealth of Fortune-rated and emerging employers alike, this evidence does not falter. Consequently, it is easy to conclude that common sense does not actually exist. Coaching requires understanding motivation, capability and learning style. Without these, the ability to transform is challenged.

If you ask a self-starter why he or she is a self-starter, you shall often encounter uncertainty. According to Bob Galvin, retired Motorola chairman, self-starters and leaders can be spotted by age 14. Being a self-starter derives from intrinsic motivation (coming from within), not nearly as easily influenced as extrinsic motivation (impacted by external variables). Self-starters rarely understand those who are not self-starters, and most individuals are not self-starters. This lack of understanding creates a barrier to audience adaptation and coaching effectiveness.

Employers tend to promote top performers, usually self-starters, to leadership roles. These promotions often occur for the wrong reasons. A self-starter with the right leadership training can lead by example and deploy certain tactics, yet he or she can be challenged in ability to understand and coach those without intrinsic motivation. Leadership is a lifelong learning commitment. Without learning and adaptation to new audiences, we stunt company growth and can only hire a small percentage of the available applicant pool.

Those who study leadership recognize leadership is not a natural progression, but rather a distinctive and precise skillset. Many self-starters are completely disinterested in coaching; however, they accept the role as a title award and advancement strategy. Self-starters are often admittedly more interested in managing processes than people. Employers who create advancement ladders not necessarily tied to supervision are able to truly gauge commitment to coaching and creating transformation. Self-starters often view themselves as self-transformed and therefore may not be inclined to transform others. A supervisor, trainer or coach who fails to create transformation also fails to provide betterment to employee productivity. If the employees are not better for the supervisor’s impact, why is the supervisor retained? Assuming the talent acquisition process is doing its job, successful coaching creates transformation and improves workplace productivity through improved employee performance.

By its very definition, extrinsic motivation is volatile, affected by the employer. Motivation is, in its simplest terms, a reason. Understanding what transformed you to improved performance is a valuable toolset to transforming others. This means looking beyond intrinsic motivation. Those who were “transformed” can be highly influential and motivational success stories for others.

HRS deploys these validated studies in globally recognized assessment and kinesthetic coaching programs, serving employers in more than 100 countries plus world respected academic and certification institutions. Programs are augmented through learning style surveys having earned more than 3000 global responses to date. Typical program methodology includes leadership assessment to pinpoint coaching style, transactional/transformational effectivess and learning opportunities. This analysis is most frequently followed by audience adaptive kinesthetic workshops proven highly successful in transforming leaders, entry through CEO and BOD, into transformational coaches. Please visit for more information regarding learning survey findings, validation studies, leadership assessment and kinesthetic workshop offerings.

Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, October 15, 2009


Private Sector Solution to Health Care Industry Problems

If you want to understand why anything happens in health care simply follow the dollars.

After having spent 35 years in the health care cost management field I am convinced that this is a true statement. The dollars influence and in some cases dictate hospital expansion, physician carrier choices, additional technology, administrative systems, insurance company plan designs, employer benefits and any other aspect of the health care field. This being the case, influencing the dollars will drive solutions to the industries problems.

As evidence of this, look at the expansion of PPO type plans over the past 20 years. Offering employees a benefit incentive to use one doctor or hospital over another has resulted in the largest change in buying habits ever recorded, with over 90% of today’s health care being provided through PPO type plans. Even HMO’s have re-packaged their services into PPO type plans.
There are three changes that can be made to the existing system that will reduce costs, significantly limit cost increases, improve quality, improve access, streamline administration and expand insurance coverage. All three changes are made in the private sector and require no government intervention or additional taxes.  

1. Price Transparency:

Today we do not know the true cost of even the most routine procedure (normal deliveries). As a result of multiple PPO, HMO and government contracts the price has been distorted. In Milwaukee 38 procedures represent 65% of the dollars spent at the hospital. The price range of each procedure among Milwaukee hospitals is at least 100%, with 300% and 400% variances common. Each hospital should be required to disclose the average private sector revenue for the top 20 procedures. Because this is an average confidential contract pricing is not disclosed.  

2. Change the PPO and HMO contracts:

In the mid 1990’s most hospitals were reimbursed a set dollar amount per day of hospital stay. As a result the cost increases for benefit plans in 1995 and 1996 was virtually “0” according to the Mercer study on health care costs. In the latter 1990’s competitive pressures and improved hospital negotiating skills resulted in a move to a percentage off billed charges. The control of the cost of health care was turned over to the providers. From the late 1990’s to about 2006 cost increases were in the low to mid teens each year. A return to fixed pricing is essential to controlling costs. Both hospitals and physicians should be reimbursed according to a fee schedule.

3. Change Benefit Plan Designs:

Price transparency and a change to schedules under contracts allow the designers of benefit plans to create plans that embrace the schedules. The cost of this service ranges from $1000 to $4,000. The benefit plan will pay $2,500. These are the providers who will accept this price or less.

4. Create Global Services:

Fixed pricing allows the formation of Global Services. Under these services all of the parts of a procedure are contained in a single contracted price. For example a Global surgery would include the surgeon’s fee, assistant surgeon (if necessary), anesthesia, radiologist, facility, drugs, tests and any other items required to provide that service. This is the way that health care is provided when benefits are not involved. Most cosmetic surgeries are presented to the patient set fees are patient (who is going to pay the bill) as a single fee with all the necessary parts included.
These four changes would result in an immediate cost reduction (fixed prices are used and providers have an incentive to control costs since it will increase their profits), improve quality (the main differentiation factor is now quality of care and patient satisfaction), improve access (if providers know they will be reimbursed they are more likely to offer services in areas they might otherwise ignore), streamline administration (more efficient administration increases profits) and expand insurance coverage (better priced insurance products can be afforded by more companies and individuals).
These changes can be implemented by the end of this year with no government intervention or expense. If consumers demand better benefit plans they will be delivered.
On the flip side the current proposal of a government sponsored “public plan” will increase Medicare taxes by 20% to 30% within two years.
The “public plan” is based on fees that Medicare has negotiated with hospitals, physicians and other health care providers. These rates are often 60% below billed charges and according to a recent study 20% to 30% below provider costs. The only reason that the provider community has been able to tolerate these low reimbursements is because they can increase their costs to the private sector. A study by the Lewin organization estimates that if the “public option” were offered 85% of the private sector would move to this option within two years because of the lower cost to companies and individuals. This would effectively kill private sector helath benefit plans.
If there is no private sector there is no one to whom costs can be shifted. Medicare would have to increase reimbursement to at least cost or hospitals and doctors would go out of business. This would require a 20% to 30% increase in Medicare reimbursements and a similar increase in Medicare taxes. It would also result in limitations on services available and probably result in hospitals and doctors opting out of the “public” plan with their services being available to only those who could afford to bay the bill.
We have the ability to control health care costs in a fashion that benefits patients, providers and payers. The question is do we have the resolve to implement the changes.


This article was contributed by Richard L. Blomquist, Esteemed Member of the HRS Advisory Board
Mr. Blomquist's Bio and Contact Info 







Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, September 07, 2009


The Antisocialism of Socialism

Sending wholehearted gratitude to those and their families who paid the ultimate price defending their country against socialism, the false propaganda in this country threatening blind allegiance and subserviance to socialist principles needs also to be defended against.  Some proponents of the universal health care movement are now using socialism labels… and this is an unnecessary extreme to create the much needed change.  Nations choose their political systems carefully and defend them tenaciously.  The US has fought tenaciously as well and shouldn’t easily abandon longstanding beliefs.

Those who think they understand socialism need to visit a socialist nation and spend time truly analyzing its affects.  Socialist principles can be altruistic and often attractive in theory.  Like many political systems, the rollout of socialism yields outcomes completely contradictory to its perceived intention.   In the US we are entitled choice, and in that, let’s please remember that for which our founding fathers and millions of US military have shed blood.  Hitler and Mussolini also are also connected with socialism.  Think carefully.

In the US please consider rejecting all programs cloaked with the word “socialism” and “socialized” unless you really believe pure socialism is the answer... and you believe the US needs to reject its longstanding principles and overturn that for which many have given their lives.   There are many things to attempt here in the US short of socialism before overturning our guiding principles in such an extreme.  Many believe through research that true socialism simply eliminates the middle class… making the rich richer and the poor poorer.   

Whether you are for or against more government intervention in our BIG health care problem, socialism is not the next step in progression… and please don’t let much needed hope for betterment allow such a tricky movement to sneak past the great people of this country. 

Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, September 07, 2009


Getting the Right People Doing the Right Things with Safeguarded Precision!

Amidst organizational change employers deploy a wealth of employee assessments in a scheme of cost-benefit analysis. Some overspend the outcomes and then don’t even understand the data. Some sales-based assessment organizations inundate prospective clients with “high brow” tricks while brow-beating them into pretending they understand. What’s just as important as data integrity is simplified and universal buy-in… and the ability to attach meaningful cost saving action. Crazy labels and “smoke and mirrors” are not the keys to predicting success. If you don’t understand, your employees won’t either!

Employee assessment, training needs analysis, legal compliance and leadership development remain at the forefront of today's critical employer issues. Employees and leaders at all levels must be ready to adapt quickly and assume responsibilities, potentially for the first time with limited up front training. Employers can manage 5-7 figure risk with a 2-3 figure implementation before the change. This awareness continues to expand, and the demand for the right employee assessments explodes!

As a follow up to our research essay published by SHRM in 1999 and countless essays since including a Forbes interview a few years back, let’s review the changed environment. A wealth of assessment exercises is now available on the open market, and we endorse some but certainly not all of them. While HRS proprietary instruments are clearly our favorites (shameless plug), we have welcomed the most valid, reliable and meaningful instruments of other vendors into our catalog. Those we exclude and caution against are the many, many instruments that fall short of data integrity, legal compliance and assessor/assessee buy-in. For instance, validity does not exist if you cannot prove test performance directly correlates, within acceptable statistical margin of error, to workplace performance. This includes both positive and negative performance. A common pitfall here is to sample assess your top performers against the instrument and be fooled that good performance on both test and appraisal constitutes validity. That’s only part of the argument. Before assuming complete validation, test your poor performers and potentially those who weren’t selected for hire. 

Why Assess?

According to recent survey (to which 3000+ responded), advancement is the primary employee magnet and motivator, yet nearly half of incumbent managers miss at least 45% of the opportunities to be successfully transactional or transformational in leadership tactics. Self starters are proven not naturally inclined to transform others, and are therefore challenged as leaders. Incumbent call center employees are proven to miss more than half of follow through opportunities when presented with task to resolve rather than route. Nearly half of those excelling in external customer service roles underperform with internal customers, creating disharmonious team environments and unnecessary efficiency waste. In the HRSAC SR2 simulation, analytical adaptability consistently reveals itself as the most challenging criteria when employees are asked to assume a changed job condition. In short, job knowledge can hide logic, problem solving and trainability. Change for some can create disaster. Assessment results should pinpoint the “why” and the learning goals behind the performance ratings, present and future. When top performers are competing for promotion, 3rd party objectivity and buy-in are essential to ensure every top performer walks away feeling valued and empowered with tools to win that promotion next time. 

What Can Be Assessed?

Leadership Styles/Tactics, Customer Service, Critical Thinking, Analytical Adaptability, Multi-Tasking, Attention to Detail, Problem Solving, Group Presentation Dynamics, Teamplayer Orientation, Time Management, Workflow Planning, Conflict Resolution, Change Advocacy, Negotiation, Persuasion, Natural Abilities and Natural Roadblocks can be measured at a minimum, and are certainly among the most popular. Some erroneously call these the “soft skills.” While there’s nothing less common than sense, I attest these are the “hard skills.” Crafted reliably, in-baskets can predict job success according to any identified job description. Skills tests are available with endless functionality. 

Selecting the Right Assessment Instrument(s)

Examining validity and reliability is not as complex as it sounds. The assessment administrator who has an instrument of meaningful integrity will proudly take you through this explanation and may demo the instrument for you. Ask the following questions when choosing the instrument…
1. Inquire regarding validity and reliability studies. This includes pass-fail and/or both positive and negative ratings.
2. Investigate margin of error and resolution thereof.
3. Be convinced the instrument and its scoring report will be meaningful and gain buy-in from all parties. Be convinced the outcomes point to meaningful action.
4. Ensure the instrument’s content, delivery method and criteria support the job description for both meaningful information and legal defensibility. 

Delivery Method

On-line assessment grows in popularity due to convenience and has its important place, but for those not required to deliver such communications on the job via Internet, validity and data integrity are compromised. The testing environment should relate to the work environment. For those allowed to deliver key communications on-the-job in discussion, why force only Q&A or multiple choice based tests? Allow essay and/or conversational feedback modules. Such modules should not be computer scored. In short, the testing method and environment must be consistent with the job conditions.
In labor intensive or talent based organizations, success is largely impacted by human accuracy or error. Advancement is a key motivator, and a blueprint is essential. With the appropriate tools, employers can maneuver the right people doing the right things. Employers still promote great implementors into leadership, assuming this is the natural progression. Management is not natural progression but rather its own professional skillset and a lifelong learning commitment. The same is true for project management. For those who already buy in to the assessment center method, it remains challenging to differentiate between assessment instruments.

Having endured great cost in creating and validating precisely job specific instruments so obviously on the mark and easily understood that even assessees immediately buy-in, it’s difficult to watch others throw some meaningless crapshoot of a “smoke and mirrors” tool onto a website and pummel advertising at the public held hostage.

The best assessments gain buy-in upon inspection and discussion of scoring outcomes. The HRSAC has validated our proprietary assessments over 26 years working with hundreds of organizations from 10 to 100,000+ employees including global operations. Baselines have been established over these years for job-related criteria across countless demographics and fields. The scored analysis of the job-specific instrument reveals more precisely how behavioral traits would actually manifest themselves in a specific job setting. Probabilities for successful corporate training efforts coincide with these baselines. As interest surveys, personality profiles and integrity questionnaires continue to move out of utilization, job-predictive assessments continue to move in. Reputable assessment instruments come with validity and reliability studies, so don’t hesitate to ask! Sample reports should be proudly presented. Both employer and employee should be convinced. The key to success will be actionable findings, easy to understand with trust that ratings are accurate, job-related and meaningful in career-oriented decisions without bias. If your assessment doesn’t meet all the goals described herein, you haven’t found the right tools. Contact HRS… we’ve got them!

Jessica Ollenburg - Sunday, May 24, 2009


Staying Up in a Down Economy

With all of the negative media and statistics out there, it’s become more and more difficult to rise above and find the good. When negative information is flying at us via internet, e-mail, television and radio – motivation can quickly dwindle. So how do we lift our team’s spirits and powerfully press on? Find the good, create the good, be the good!

We all know negative energy radiates and quickly creates potential for a domino effect to all those exposed. The same holds true for positive energy and uplifting motivation. Now is the time, maybe more than ever, to find team building opportunities and the “silver lining” in all possible.

Find a cause that’s important and get your team excited about making a difference! It’s typically the result that those who volunteer their time and resources determine that as much or more of a positive difference has been made in their own lives as those they’ve helped.

To help your team find, create, and be the difference in the lives of others as well as their own is certainly one of the most amazing benefits a company can provide!

Article contributed by Jodi Rasmussen, SPHR
HRS Assistant Director of Professional Service Operations


The Team At HRS - Saturday, May 23, 2009


Three Steps That Will Control Health Care Costs

We have the tools to effectively control excessive health care costs and improve the quality of health care. In order to address the damaging impact of these costs it is necessary that we understand the underlying cause of the problem and implement three fundamental changes. The goal is to have health care services of acceptable quality, reasonably priced and available to our citizens.

Where We Are...

Health care costs are one of the largest expenses of many families. In the past few years they have risen to represent the largest source of personal bankruptcy.

For corporations the cost of health benefit plans typically represent the second or third largest expense after payroll and raw materials. Today GM, Ford and Chrysler would not be facing potential bankruptcy if they did not have to sustain health benefits for employees and retirees.

For local, state and federal governments these expenses are forcing the increase in taxes and limitation of other services.

In all cases these expenses represent the most inflationary expense typically increasing from 8% to 15% or more. They are several times the increased cost of other goods and services.

Why The Problem...

Volumes have been written in an attempt to identify the reasons for health care cost increases. Technology, malpractice insurance expenses, defensive medicine, aging population, administrative inefficiencies, the uninsured, insurance company greed and a medical arms race among integrated health systems have all be advanced as the culprits. These are all symptoms of a deeper and more pervasive underlying situation.

At the core of our health care cost dilemma is an economically dysfunctional system. This system has evolved as a byproduct of employer based health benefit plans and government social programs. These two systems today represent about 95% of health care purchases in the United States. They have resulted in a system where those who need the service are different from those who order the service and both of these groups are different from those who pay the majority of the bill. Each of these groups has different needs and incentives which results in a dysfunctional system.

Let me present an example. Discretionary cosmetic surgery is typically not covered by benefit plans. The doctor presents the services, the risks and the cost, "That nose job will be $5,000." All services, surgeon, assistant surgeon, anesthesiologist, pathologist, lab work, facility cost, pre-surgery care and post-surgery care are included in one "Global" fee. The patient makes the final decision to have the surgery and pays the bill.

This is a normal customer – provider relationship. The patient can compare costs and through references obtain quality information.

If a health benefit plan is involved, a dramatically different presentation occurs. The patient may elect to have the surgery and select the surgeon but the other components are independent and are factored in as the system requires. Each will result in a separate charge which may be aggregated or submitted separately. The patient and the patient’s insurance will not know the cost of the service until the end of the day when all the bills have been submitted. This system has been driven by the nature of the health insurance contract where each component of health care is treated separately.

This is similar to the difference between buying a dinner and purchasing each component of the dinner separately. With the latter the steak is one charge, the potato another, the peas are a third and determined by how many peas you want, if you want a plate… that is additional, as are the knife and fork. The napkin is considered unnecessary and will not be covered by insurance.

Add to this confusing system two other elements. First, each service is subject to a discount which will most likely vary between insurance company, PPO, HMO and government contracts. A service may have a 60% discount from billed charges for Medicare, a 50% discount for one HMO and a 40% discount for a PPO. Even patients without insurance get a discount. No one pays billed charges anymore.

Second, the price of a single service will vary widely from provider to provider. In 1984 prior to the Medicare program moving from cost plus 5% to Diagnostic Related Groups (DRG), the price variance was about 10% in a given metropolitan area. Today, of the top 38 hospital procedures the variance is at least 100% and can reach 400%. A $2,000 service at one hospital will cost $8,000 at another.

What Can Be Done...

There is no other industry in the world where a dysfunctional system of this magnitude occurs. No individual, corporation, industry group, consumer group or government can effectively address this problem. Changing the underlying economic model, however, will result in a thousand responses by the market that will effectively address the problem.

For this to occur, three steps must be taken.

1. Health care costs must be made transparent. In order to not violate private confidential contracts between the health care provider and the payer, an initial report of the average revenue received by a hospital for the top 20 procedures will identify those hospitals that are doing a good job of controlling costs and those that are abusing the system.

2. Where possible, services should be offered on a "dinner" basis. These "Global" fees can be developed for about 85% of the services American’s purchase annually. Their development will encourage the medical community to improve efficiencies and develop mechanisms to report on quality.

3. Insurance plans (both through insurance companies and self-insured) and government plans like Medicare can then be modified to embrace the Global fees. This will result in greater cost control and more efficient payment systems (pay one Global fee instead of 12 smaller bills).

These three actions will change the economic foundation on which we as a society provide and purchase health care services. Costs will be contained and reduced and quality will be emphasized. If quality care is more affordable it will also be easier for various programs to provide care in more challenging inner city and rural areas.

The first step is for state and federal governments or corporations through existing contractual relationships to require average price disclosure (net of all discounts) by each hospital.

This article was contributed by Richard L. Blomquist, Esteemed Member of the HRS Client Advisory Team
Mr. Blomquist's Bio and Contact Info 


The Team At HRS - Friday, May 01, 2009


Team Motivation Principles: Debunk the Crazy Propaganda that All CEOs are Greedy!

With a small percentage of “hired gun” CEOs being called out for ridiculous greed… and flaunting it, our legislative and media communities are creating a dangerous misperception which threatens not only the immediate workplace but also the US’s global position.  Simply stated, so many CEOs are not greedy, and these are the people who can really impact the economy. So, why do we rake them over the coals?  Having devoted my career to advocating sharing wealth among team members… proportionate to results contribution… I see how wrongful mistrust of the right CEOs negatively impacts workplace results.


This ivory tower perception of “me against you” in the employee-employer relationship tears down employee confidence and teamwork necessary for corporate bottom-line success.  While we all know, “if it bleeds, it leads” in the press, this concept sells publications only because people buy in to this concept.  Blame the media all you want (and I can be heard griping often), the media sells only what the public buys.   


Successful corporations are those that have endured hardship, challenge and downturn.  Discussing the resilience of corporate leadership can lead to positive outcomes.  Without discussing concepts the employee isn’t qualified to process, keep it audience adaptive.   Frame these discussions to build confidence, and don’t present them in a manner which presents weakness or creates fear.   We know overcoming adversity depicts strength while dwelling upon and empowering the obstacles depicts weakness.   The target is not to whine.


The problem is that most people are not the risk takers of entrepreneurism, so if we divulge hardship to those while we’re in it, they may become fearful to buy in and contribute when needed to do so.  There’s nothing wrong with being more conservative here, so we don’t wish to lose the engagement of this audience.  Risk takers “suck it up” and keep their sacrifices private.  When they don’t take a paycheck, when they mortgage their home to pay employees, and when they make lifestyle choices which sacrificed personal or social time, it’s typically not visible.  Later on, the Mercedes-Benz is visible and some people complain of greed.   Those who complain are those who didn’t make the same sacrifices and don’t get it. 


Many CEOs are not "silver spooners."  The plain truth is that most Americans have opportunity to be CEOs themselves and they choose not to.   They choose against the start-up risk, they choose the bar over the office or maybe they have family needs needs which become rightfully prioritized.  To choose not to be a CEO is not wrong.  Personally, I find the “pillow test” the ultimate test of success.  If you’re comfortable with what you did that day when your head hits the pillow, you are successful.   Yet, while emerging CEOs are choosing work over party time, the bars are filled with people complaining about their bosses.   Backstories are emerging right now, illustrating the personal sacrifices made by some of the great US CEOs who have created jobs, shown philanthropy and endured hardship which benefits us all.  Let’s not lump these good people in with the greedy few. 


There are some amazingly great employees out there!  It can be just as difficult to take direction as it is to give it, especially from some of the bad bosses out there.  Amazing employees will probably never realize the benefits of the new COBRA subsidy, as they will probably never see “involuntary termination.”  In most reasonable estimations,  over time less than 1% of corporate downsize decisions are not directly attributed to employee poor performance.  Most downsize decisions are selective.  Employees do have a choice. Absent union protection of service length vs. merit or bad management, top performers typically keep their jobs.  In many cases, better employee performance would have saved the company that need to downsize.  That being said, we hold this to be true:  it is the supervisor’s direct responsibility to ensure the right people are doing the right things.  It’s not a blame-shifting game.  Everyone has a role.


Right now we’re living in a country that penalizes those who create jobs and rewards those who are terminated for cause.  Many believe we live with an administration that seeks to deny free choice under the disguise of the Employee Free Choice Act.  Surely this is no way to compete.  Keep this discussion on the table without creating destructive conflict.  There are facts to be shared and teamwork to be built.   Clearly, government and media are tearing down this important sense of capitalism.  CEOs and organizational development leaders must counteract with the right amount of information needed to restore faith in organizational alignment.   Chances are, the employees who don’t currently buy in are not reading this, so they need to hear it from you!



Jessica Ollenburg - Sunday, March 08, 2009


Leadership Challenges: Sales vs. Substance

Repeatedly validated by survey and experience, a top reason for resignation is lack of confidence in one’s supervisor.   Leaders attempt to blend “sales” with “substance” sometimes mutually exclusively.  Sales training experts suddenly become experts in leadership training and confusion begins.

Make no mistake... sales skills facilitate success everywhere!  Most certainly one can’t effectively lead unless someone is willing to follow, and that takes salesmanship.  Without substance, however, leaders may lead down a dark alley into a brick wall or down an unfortunate path.  Too often we see managers who are all sales or all substance, severely lacking in one of the two. 

It is most definitely an organizational development issue to decide your employer brand in creating the right proportionality of “sales” vs. “substance” in the leadership team.   That decision creates a blueprint for hiring, development, advancement and the entire performance management system.   Employers with strong labor intensity rely upon the right people doing the right things at all times.   In this case, substance actually becomes more important than sales.  The key word here is “right.”   Employees who have substance are likely to recognize and respect substance in leadership, and successes can be attained.  In the less labor intensive environment, (e.g. quick training, high automation, low competition and/or low impact of human error), leader salesmanship may be a higher priority.   

Too often we see managerial candidates sell themselves into positions for which they are not qualified.  The salesmanship is sometimes so intense, it conceals the absence of substance.  Credentials aren’t checked.  Pre-employment assessment isn’t administered.  Lifelong learning doesn’t always happen.  Blame-shifting can wrongfully and frequently replace engagement.  When these folks are empowered, employees of “substance” tend to leave the system. 

Be careful as to whom you’ve empowered.  The highly “sales” driven manager lacking “substance” can be quite a gatekeeper, sometimes keeping the good ones down… or out.     

Jessica Ollenburg - Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Self-Starters Can Make Terrible Managers!

Self-starters rarely understand those who are not self-starters, and most available employees are not self-starters.  This lack of understanding creates a barrier to audience adaptation and leadership problem solving.  Until we learn otherwise, we tend to believe others think and behave as we do.  Without specific leadership training, self-starters lack necessary frame of reference and are often less than successful engaging and guiding the performance of others.   By definition, these individuals “figured it out” by themselves and simply can’t understand why others can’t or won’t do the same. 
Employers tend to promote top performers, usually self-starters, to leadership roles.  Upon doing so, we fail to recognize that we are often promoting for the wrong reasons.  A self-starter with the right leadership training can lead by example.  A self-starter may be more proactive in the leadership education process and gain more.  A self-starter unwilling or improperly trained in leadership, will most likely fail, especially if they are unwilling or ineffective to be either transformational or transactional in leadership style.  Leadership is lifelong education, requiring regular revisits to the basics.  Without ability to understand and adapt to those unlike us, we stunt company growth and can only hire a small percentage of the available applicant pool.  For most organizations, too many self-starters in the hierarchy can be similar to “too many cooks in the kitchen.”  It is for this reason that major market employers can rarely be highly selective with regard to this characteristic, even in times of high unemployment.
We know that leadership is not a natural progression but rather a distinct, precise and often trainable subset.  Coaching is something many self-starters have no interest in. “Why should I coddle you, when no one coddled me?”  Coaching should never be coddling but rather a transfer of information, measurable success benchmarks, regular performance feedback and precisely communicated and delivered rewards and consequences.  Assuming the talent acquisition process is doing its job, coaching is that which makes success an employee choice. 
To be a self-starter is to be intrinsically motivated, motivated from within, believing that hard work and/or successful results lead to positive outcomes.  Those not intrinsically motivated can often pinpoint the catalyst to their new extrinsic motivation and can successfully understand and relate to others also not intrinsically motivated.  We know that extrinsic motivation is volatile, affected by the employer.  Motivation is, in its simplest terms, a reason.  We know most people are not intrinsically motivated.  This is validated through decades of results, employee research in the hundreds of thousands, and pinpointed findings in the surveys.
Self-starters can make great managers, provided they are willing and precisely trained in audience adaptation and effective coaching principles.  Those who make good employees because of someone else’s effective coaching should also be considered for coaching opportunities.  Understanding what transformed you to improved performance is a valuable toolset applicable to transforming others!  Those who were “transformed” can be highly influential and motivational success stories for others.  If you are reading this, you are most likely already a self-starter. 
HRS interactive leadership workshops are globally valued, offering quantifiable success.  Please contact us with your interest!

Jessica Ollenburg - Friday, December 12, 2008