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.

Catch Someone Doing Something Right!

An essential tool of leadership and motivation is to “catch someone doing something right.”  This single key principle allows us to achieve better results with corrective action and allows people their greatest level of hope, inspiration, buy-in and accomplishment.  While intrinsic motivation begins in childhood and can be difficult to change, extrinsic motivation is among the most volatile of variables in people.


So, why do we offer the exact opposite to our country in the face of economic crisis and election of new leadership?  Why do we allow negative campaigning that destroys hope and motivation, which in turn adversely impacts economic prosperity?  Why at the most visible and widespread level do we allow the opposite of desirable behavior?


Election propaganda, stereotyping and irresponsible journalism need to be called out and controlled.  Let’s catch our candidates doing something right.  Let’s catch our business leaders doing something right.  Let’s catch “Joe Six-Pack” doing something right.  “Joe Six-Pack”… really? Do we think calling our average American a lazy beer guzzling non-intellectual is upholding the right standard?  Joe should step away from the six-pack and produce some results.  Economic prosperity should be earned.  Results are to be rewarded and effort to be applauded.


Kindness, integrity, pride in a strong work ethic and the golden rule can go along away.  At the end of the day, how you feel when your head hits the pillow can be an indicator of personal success.  Hope creates success. Generation Y is mixed with regard to work ethic, partially because they’ve been raised with too much tragedy and negativity in their living room.  Some respond with conviction to overcome, while others are de-motivated by lack of hope. We de-motivate when we place bad news on page 1 and good news on page 36.  The media should get that.  Our political campaigners should get that. 


Let’s catch someone doing something right every day and make an example of that!  Let’s think things through before we automatically tear them down.  Let’s avoid dangerous stereotypes and look for positive exceptions.  Let’s stop creating fear of US businesses as a whole because of the greedy unethical actions of a few.  What I’m looking for in a candidate and political party is integrity and the ability to inspire.  Inspiration will have a positive impact on our economy.

Why should our country’s leadership be exempt from the rules of appropriate corporate leadership?  We call out inappropriate corporate leadership but we don’t enough call out inappropriate campaigning and inappropriate media behavior.  Both political parties talk of change, but I’m watching them use the same political tactics already.  Let’s enforce the standard to “catch someone doing something right!”


Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, October 11, 2008


Election Debate: Impact of CEO Salaries on the Economy

It is most certainly an organizational development question to determine the take home pay of top executives.  We can similarly discuss the high compensation for entertainment celebrities and sports athletes.  As CEOs can create jobs, impact work-life and stimulate the economy, we should safeguard salaries to CEOs proportionate to their results at such – as we need to attract top talent there!    

While CEO “greed” is certainly alive and well, it finds many exceptions and is not necessarily a direct fallout of tax breaks.  In fact, taxation needn’t have substantial impact on executive salaries at all.  Wherever you find a greedy CEO, you find a CEO who will take whatever s/he can regardless of net profit impact.  Compensation in any US company can be more a factor of supply, demand, job retention and market conditions than anything else. 


Tax breaks are intended to lure corporate behavior likely to create net positive impact on the economy.  These incentives are used to create jobs, stimulate economic spending and increase the many other taxation opportunities which fund our government.  Tax breaks to “big oil companies” could be considered in exchange for actions that heal the economy, such as the lowering of fuel costs to the public.  With proper structure and surrounding conditions, this tax break could provide a positive net economic impact.  Additional discussion on this point is well summarized at this CNN article.   While we need to avoid tax incentives as “currency” to special interest group and campaign fundraising, let’s keep the discussion focused on the “how” and “why” we propose tax breaks.  Let's also consider the individual taxes paid on salaries, personal spending and economic impact of the personal investments of CEOs.  Without that language, we haven’t enough information to comment. 


As a CEO who does not practice greed, I think and behave like many CEOs who think as shareholders, and I choose to protect company value, the supporting team/infrastructure and my future as the CEO.  CEOs are accountable to the shareholders.  These strategies are the subject of board meetings and MBA programs.  CEOs in large companies may have the shelf life of a pro football player, and if we want to attract top talent to these economy-driving opportunities, as a country we may choose to offer a large incentive package, again proportionate to results.  Where publicly traded companies may wish to empower a “celebrity” CEO to drive shareholder confidence, CEOs must be lured from one high paying opportunity to a higher paying opportunity.  Done well, this creates overall positive economic impact.


With the pyramid shape of a large company, competition abounds.  Power and high compensation are fragile here as many others are grooming and gunning for your spot.  If you don’t move up, you move out.  Once at the top, it’s far too easy to get pushed off that pedestal.  This may be career ending as experience isn’t entirely transferable and few companies wish to pay you for what you did for someone else.   


If you don’t believe the disconnect between corporate taxes and CEO salary, then spend a little time researching the high CEO salaries of the many giant companies who post annual fiscal losses – yielding no income taxes paid to the government. 


Anyone who has studied business in depth knows these principles to be true.  The United States needs first and foremost a President who inspires confidence.  It concerns me – no, disappoints me – that a political party would use lack of education as a weapon against the very sector of our population that it pledges to represent – and protect.  Less education can be a fallout of less financial resources – the people the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, professes to support.  So why make such wittingly false claims to the people you represent?  I love Democratic ideals and am a centrist at heart.  I tend to agree with Republican fiscal policies.  I tend to vote Republican because I believe in the foundation American principles of capitalism.  I believe the answer lies neither at extreme left nor extreme right.  I have specific ideals and blueprints for action.  I support the working people.  I support people who work as hard, and even not necessarily as hard, as I do.  I refuse to support those who don’t do their best and look for a payout due to some sense of entitlement.  There is no such entitlement.  If you don’t believe me, look up “free enterprise,” the backbone of US principles in business.



Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, September 27, 2008


Unemployment Rate is Artificially Inflated!

Suffering the adjudication of sometimes economically and ethically irresponsible state workers, it becomes more costly to appeal the wrongful award of benefits than to simply pay the wrongful benefits.  This in turn erodes not only employee work ethic but also employer confidence in the “system.”  A state neglectful in maintaining this confidence misses opportunities to attract and retain tax paying and job producing employers.  The unemployment rate simply needn’t be as high as it is, and our economy allows for more gainful employment than currently experienced.


When we fail to hold employees accountable for their choices and reward them for unacceptable work ethic, we behave unpatriotically and simply don’t uphold the free enterprise values of the “working American.”  When we award compensation to those who refuse to work, how do we simultaneously advocate that we support the working?


I can’t imagine a better cause than helping those who cannot help themselves.  There is nothing more frustrating than being forced to help those who refuse to help themselves.  We empower people who either cannot or will not make that distinction.   As we look to political platforms that promise “change,” let’s move this need for change to the forefront.  Society doesn’t seem to be getting smarter and doesn’t seem to be working harder.  While to “work smart” is the goal, we need to focus on both words in that key phrase.


The upshot of awarding unemployment to those who should not qualify is the de-motivation of employers to even attempt to follow guidelines and suggestions of the unemployment compensation adjudicators.  Employers understand the futility of attempting to work with standards that, if followed, would put them out of business or at a minimum, force the reduction of jobs offered.


The re-label from unemployment “compensation” to “insurance” is a complete misnomer.  Too many are being “compensated” for items completely within their control.   With 25 years of operations in the state of Wisconsin, I love my hometown state and have difficulty finding employers who do not support these statements.   As HRS continues to expand our bases in Arizona, other states and other countries, data pours in as to why employers choose specific locations, the politics and legislation considered. 


Growing up, I recall the joke “National welfare is a bus ticket to Milwaukee.”  As a businessperson with clients in many states and countries, I assert this problem is not unique to Wisconsin and goes to the political roots in every state.  Let’s please recognize that protecting jobs and protecting wages begins with protecting employers.  Let’s also please redefine what “working” means and hold “workers” accountable to their “work.”  

Jessica Ollenburg - Friday, September 19, 2008


Business Etiquette: Back to the Basics!

In coaching others and continually striving for lifelong learning & self-improvement, I’ve been in search of new ideas regarding business etiquette.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to know when to place your napkin on your lap at a business luncheon, but I’m seeking something deeper, more meaningful and directly applicable to our everyday work lives. 


As a starting point, I think a few of the biggest things that aren’t published frequently enough are getting back to the basics of 1) Respect other’s time, 2) “Do your homework” and 3) Listen & Retain.  While these seem to be such “common sense” and simplistic topics, they can be easy to quickly stray from.  With that, these are each things that most certainly point to etiquette in the workplace as without them, you will quickly set yourself up to be an extremely unprofessional professional.


Communication methods are very literally at our fingertips in various forms including e-mail and instant messaging.  Accordingly, it’s become incredibly easy to access your co-workers & clients.  While these forms are also a benefit in not needing to physically interrupt someone or cause their phone to ring – they are also easy to abuse.  Most especially taking note that Generation Y has grown up with these tools, we need to train ourselves and our teams to stop, search and review before we execute.


Though I sometimes wonder if I was born in the right generation, being a Gen Y’er myself, I’ve found I do crave knowledge and, stereotypically, like instant feedback.  Therefore, I recognize the importance first hand of maintaining patience and having the wisdom to see when there’s time for me to gain more of it.  Requesting meetings and feedback sessions with your superiors not only shows respect for their and the company’s time – but also shows polite respect for their knowledge and experience.  If you’re entitled to the information, management will be more willing to help you grow when you go about it in this regard. 


Of equal importance, it’s critical to always be proactive and productive on your own.  After all, isn’t that why you’re paid to be around?  To relentlessly be focusing on the bottom line and your positive impact to it should be a constant driver.  Especially during times of training, have you exhausted your available resources before interrupting a co-worker or superior? 


If you’re going to ask a question, it’s imperative to have the courtesy of having done your homework beforehand.  To be able to go to someone informing them of the resources you’ve tapped and information you’ve found shows your determination while letting them get straight to the point knowing those actions have been taken. 


Furthermore, it’s vital to then listen to and retain the information you’re given.  As employers constantly strive to attract, listen to, and retain their employees – so should we listen to and retain the assistance provided us to maximize the company’s investment and continue to be an asset to it.   


In the long run, needing to know which fork to use becomes irrelevant when you’re not even invited to the lunch with a client - because you can’t wow ‘em in the office.  Your internal team should be your #1 clients!  Get their positive attention, look out for the company’s bottom line, and watch your own grow along with your new opportunities!

Blog Article by Jodi Rasmussen, HRS Assistant Director of Professional Service Operations!

The Team At HRS - Sunday, September 14, 2008


Motivation is Volatile; Employers CAN Create and MUST Sustain It!

The greatest opportunities missed by individuals or businesses involve de-motivation.  In many instances, blame-shifting is replacing appropriate action.   While most people agree that motivation is a moving target,  “train the trainer” coaching activities are becoming increasingly more in demand.   While not always feasible, it is certain that motivation can be created.  Ample data exists, and we’ve successfully taught others to create and sustain employee motivation.  The business and personal rewards are too enormous to overlook.  The missed opportunities hurt the bottom line and morale


By definition, “motivation” is a willingness or reason to do something.  It stems from hope and/or confidence that effort or action will influence outcome.  To determine if motivation can be influenced, one must first determine if motivation, or lack thereof, is situational or core to the individual.  Proper coaching and motivation skills must be deployed at the very first interaction and sustained throughout.  


Motivation is typically situational, volatile, changeable and easily influenced.   The manager who instills hope and confidence can be rewarded with increased productivity and loyalty.  De-motivation occurs when employers send negative messages (or fail to send positive messages) about the outcomes of work effort, crushing hope or employee confidence.  De-motivation also occurs in stagnant or backsliding organizations.  De-motivation can in itself cause stagnation or backsliding.  Employers and members of management at all levels must take responsibility to build and sustain hope and confidence.  Without rewards and positive feedback, even top performers will lose their "drive."  


However, where core motivation doesn’t exist, it may be a costly and inappropriate investment for an employer.  De-motivation may occur during childhood when parents or other circumstances fail to build hope, inspiration and confidence.  Conversely, some individuals pull through the same circumstances with heightened determination, relentlessly seeking approval, survival and/or betterment.  These core motivations can be more solid and less easily influenced by management or training technique.  It is a manager’s responsibility to distinguish between situational or core motivation.   In a labor intensive environment, it is in the employer’s best interest to ensure managers have the resources to make this distinction.


By NO means do I take the responsibility off of employees.  People need to “suck it up” and do some work.  Whining is never an acceptable solution.  I found gainful employment at the age of 8 and have never stopped working.  Motivation is perpetuated by simply working hard until you achieve results.  Those results will feed more motivation.  If not, the desperation should motivate.  It’s simple survival skills… life skills!  Employees must always understand that demonstration of motivation through results is the only way to sustain gainful employment and get ahead.  Employees must take responsibility for the results of their work and be accountable, always willing to improve and be challenged.


In the mix of this, managers should not be overinflating employees or bribing them to do their jobs.  Overconfident people present problems, personally and professionally.  Employees don’t need mixed messages.  Rewards come in for the "above and beyond."  Simply doing your job at best yields the right to potentially keep your job and avoid negative consequences; unless someone else steps up to do it more effectively, cheaper, reliably or with a better attitude and potential to advance.


There is nothing more rewarding, both personally and professionally, than instilling hope and motivation into another human being … and watching that person convert new motivation into productivity, results and teamwork toward collaborative gain!   I’ve seen this happen many times and it continues to inspire!  Any disbelievers simply aren’t doing it right and need additional training… maybe they can’t lead by example because they are “unmotivated.”  To motivate, you must yourself be motivated.   Look to the “why” and the answers shall unfold.

Jessica Ollenburg - Friday, September 05, 2008


Gen Y Wants it All! Will They Get It?

Born 1980 to 1994, they’ve been called “pampered,” “nurtured” and even “spoiled.”   Raised with astounding conveniences and immediate electronic feedback, they’ve been simultaneously disheartened by negative impacts to trust coming right into their living rooms in an age of overextending media and never-ending awareness of world tragedy, terrorism and economic disaster.  Coddled by parents wanting their kids to have everything they didn’t have, they sometimes set their work thresholds low.  As a proud parent to a couple of these high functioning “millennials,” I understand their perspective and see an opportunity to mentor.


As a Baby Boomer, I firmly understand that my generation hasn’t exactly “gotten it right,” and while I’m proud of personal accomplishments and the accomplishments of my generation on the whole, I certainly recognize the opportunity for improvement.  To improve from one generation to the next is the very definition of progress.  It is not only the right but also the responsibility of each generation to improve upon the previous generation.  So, who are we to tell Gen Y they are wrong?


Should the entire generation stand united with determination to work less and tolerate less stress, maybe change can be effected.  I can already tell you, however, that several young members of this group are stepping up impressively.  In my generation, if you don’t work relentlessly, someone else will step up and steal the opportunity.  It’s simple competition and free enterprise.  In my generation, I don’t know how to serve my family, serve my community and serve my sense of pride and accomplishment without hard work and high stress tolerance.   These are essential survival and self-esteem skills I deem critical.   Wellness experts argue we need lower stress tolerance.  A hopeless workaholic myself, I believe the answer lies in balance.  Often multi-tasking, Gen Y's tasks are not always work related.


Regularly invited to speak to CEO’s, HR/OD professionals, corporate teams and media reporters on this topic, I guarantee this is an issue of popular concern.  As always, we must remember that each generation is comprised of individuals, individuals who are exceptions to the baseline rule of any generation.   Nonetheless, we must measure each generation by the median characteristics.


I think back to a sitcom which quoted “We were so busy giving our kids what we didn’t have, we forgot to give them what we did have.”  Determined to do things differently than our parents, we Boomers applied different concepts to parenting.  Is Gen Y reversing the process?  We are now pummeled with media discussing the low tolerance, impatience and neglectful parenting skills of Gen Y as they begin to raise kids.  We hear stories of child abuse.  Programs like “The Baby Borrowers” mock this generation’s ability to parent, albeit these couples are very young.  Has my generation created monsters?


I think not.  I believe we simply need to step up and transfer knowledge without crushing their idealism and determination to lead a healthier, more well-balanced life.  We simply need to mentor this generation and help them learn lessons, if at all possible, without forcing them to attend the same “school of hard knocks” we did. Yes… I know “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  (Quite frankly, I’m a testament to that old adage.)  However, if they can learn a few things more quickly than we did through our patience and mentoring, hopefully this new generation can keep the progress rolling forward.  Once we transfer the knowledge, I’m quite certain they’ll still run into a whole new set of challenges, but it just might be the “college of hard knocks” with advanced learning to benefit us all.  

Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, August 16, 2008


Frienemies at Work?

"Friendship" is risky in the work environment. Several years back I worked with our local Fox affiliate to create a television news piece "Dating in the Workplace," and many of the same rules apply. Bias, competition and goal conflicts enter the relationship. Friendship may be an illusion from the start, a "power play" or public relations initiative. The healthiest "social" friendships seem to emerge between employees who lack career hope and ambition, bonded in their contentment with the status quo, probably snickering at those "playing the game" to climb the corporate ladder. Such predictable alliances are noticeable by management, branding all participants as guilty by association, injured in upward mobility simply because of their chosen "friendships."

During 30 years of study, I’ve watched people accept employment with large companies to "make friends." Similarly, I’ve watched people strictly avoid friendships at work. As the rules for friendship and teamwork can differ dramatically, they may present conflict. With multiple definitions and interpretations of "friendship," complexity abounds. Typically, this arrangement of personal camaraderie, without boundaries or specific goals, hinders upward mobility in the organization if not funneled properly into teamwork and alignment with corporate goals. Too often friends lateral in the organization can betray one another, selling out for upward mobility. Both vertical and lateral friendships are risky.  Healthy employment choices are those made for the right reasons, bringing appropriate expectations. 


Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, August 16, 2008


Arthritis is NOT Confined to the Aging!

Nearly 300,000 U.S. kids are diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.  I suspect that with proper screening, that number would escalate exponentially.  Children, however, often don't know they feel differently or suffer more discomfort/limitation than other kids.
In the recent past, we've certified arthritis as the #1 leading disability, having diagnosed 46 million people in the U.S.   Kids are still sadly overlooked and need increased awareness and support.   Government spending does not focus on research toward this disease to the same extent funds are allocated toward diseases that have lesser impact.  10 years ago, when I began a personal and professional volunteer campaign to build awareness for Juvenile Arthritis, I found it sadly overlooked. Due to new information, today that's changing!  New studies and the outpouring of support to these campaigns have pushed it farther onto the radar for the Foundation's very successful initiatives, public awareness and much needed US congressional support.  
Advocating to US congressional reps this past February, I can assert with certainty that we are close to our goals and making progress with every voice and every individual supporter's advocacy.  Following our advocacy, 12 states including our chapter were singled out to receive additional Center for Disease Control (CDC) Funding.  Additionally, we have gained support of congressional majority and have earned recommendation for additional nationwide CDC and NIH funding.  The Arthritis Prevention, Control & Cure Act needs your support to make this happen.  We need a push to "mark up" so that this promise becomes actionable and not just a thought and intention. 
We need to overcome the serious lack of pediatric rheumatologists, increase youth screening and at least allow U.S. research and disease control investments to keep pace with inflation. 
Today's kids are tomorrow's adults!   Those not moved by the impact on lives can certainly be moved by the $128 billion annually these unchecked diseases cost our taxpayers.   
Please advocate today - you can do so right from where you're reading this message at 

Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, July 26, 2008


Workplace Power is Up for Grabs!

Tear down the thought of a management "ivory tower."   Workplace power is available to all!

Whenever I hear employees actually criticizing a co-worker for "kissing up" to a supervisor, I either scratch my head or roll my eyes.   The ambiguity of this phrase leads to derogatory interpretation of sometimes highly successful workplace practices.

If this term refers to recognizing and playing to workplace power in an effort to augment one's own career power, then every responsibile individual with a hint of motivation toward self-interest should "suck up."   However, it is certainly controversial to sacrifice one's integrity and core values long term for workplace advancement.  That situation would be a great topic for a new blog entry and needs to be excluded from this argument.
While it's clear that "employers of choice" create teams where employees and employers work together willingly toward clear and collaborative goals, I certainly agree many employers -- and employees -- "miss the boat" here.   Where an employer hears employees derogatorily tossing this term around to incumbent coworkers, an employer must ask "am I doing something wrong?"  The answer could lie in failing to communicate and create an appropriate system of performance outcomes.  The answer could also lie in hiring the wrong people.

Where an employee finds his/herself actually thinking that playing to and respecting power is not beneficial, the employee should re-evaluate his/her own career advancement methodology, goals or work ethic.  That employee might also wish to question if s/he is working for the right employer.

More info at

Jessica Ollenburg - Sunday, July 06, 2008


Must You Call Me "Kiddo"?!?

Some find it endearing, while many find it insulting.

The terms "kiddo," "dear" and "hun" are controversial, incurring a wide range of audience reactions.  Know your audience. 

Inherent in our culture and language is the bad habit of hearing some "cute" catch phrase, adopting it and then repeating it without ever really thinking about it.  Business relationship building clearly suffers from this damaging practice.

Calling someone "kiddo" is often interpreted as disrespecting and demeaning, a borderline attack on anyone over the age of 5.  The target of this term often feels defensive, conjuring such objections as -- "If you’re going to choose to disrespect the number of years I’ve endured, please don’t disrespect the challenges I’ve overcome, the good deeds I’ve contributed, the studies, accomplishments, dedicated parenting, charitable efforts,"... yadda…yadda... I rant to prove the point.

The point is... language sets the tone for workplace, customer service, negotiation, leadership and all business relationship building, so as always, choose your words and your tone carefully.  Condescending words such as "kiddo" and "hun" have no respectable and respectful place in business relationships.  Even children aspiring to maturity don’t like this label, so why would we assume a positive response from any adult?

With 25 years of validity and correlation studies including regression analysis and t-testing, the HRS Assessment Center (HRSAC) has established norms and preferred indicators for relationship building behaviors. I can assert with complete certainty that behaviors pointing to demonstrated respect are overwhelmingly the most underused toolset in our culture – and yet the most important to relationship building on the whole. 

More info at

Jessica Ollenburg - Sunday, July 06, 2008