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.

CEO Must-Knows About Employing People in 2016

For those who create jobs, a new year creates new opportunities and new threats. While we at HRS highly recommend each CEO to empower a fully functional HR initiative, we simultaneously advocate these 10 areas for highest executive support and visibility before giving up the reins. CEO to CEO… here is the drill-down!

Invest Only into Programs Supported by Data-Driven Metrics
While HR earned its seat in the boardroom by producing undeniable results on the Income Statements and Balance Sheets, 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. 

Ensure a C-Level Eye on Key Employment Law Changes
CEO’s must have a high level knowledge of these laws before properly delegating implementation and due diligence in 2016. Especially if a Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) is not in place, the items which cannot disappear from C-level are: handbook policies, ERISA Section 510, HIPAA, anti-harassment, trade secrets, ACA, FLSA, social media, independent contractors and joint-employer relationships, at a minimum. Top tier execs must ask the right questions and provide adequate support and empowerment to the right leaders of these critical initiatives. 

Bring Salary and Hourly Practices into Alignment
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. Become more 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 forecasted 2016 shifts. 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 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.

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 
2015’s Q4 reveals new privacy crackdowns, and government fines are being wielded about. Privacy lockdowns are a “bottom-up” approach. Meaning, if you’re a CEO… be sure to know very little about employee personal and medical lives, and 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, even 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. 

As experts in Organizational Development, Employment Law and HR since 1983, HRS empowers business owners and C-suite leaders with fiscally savvy performance management solutions, custom to each unique employer. HRS is available to deliver extraordinary assistance with each action item recommended herein. Representing a wealth of industries, HRS clients range 25-100,000+ employees, start-up and emerging to Fortune-ranked. Headquartered in Brookfield WI, HRS offers locations in Washington DC and Scottsdale AZ plus national satellites. For more information, contact us

This article was produced for the IBAW magazine, January 2015 edition. Link to magazine

Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, January 04, 2016


C-Suite Edge: Keeping HR Eye-Level, Evaluating Partners and Rewarding Top Talent for Optimum ROI

No matter the organizational headcount, C-suite executives must focus due diligence upon talent management, workforce ROI and legal compliance. For any labor intensive organization, the keys to success rely upon increased workforce productivity, astute risk management and surgically cut talent dollars. In doing so, idle time, legal costs, under-utilization and any such wasteful spending must be avoided. Expert solutions exist and are catching on quickly. Those not paying attention will be left behind.

Employment law is ever-changing and requires daily research. Beyond pure legal advice, legal compliance experts need to deploy business acumen, organizational psychology and aligned mission commitment to deliver best decision tools and implementations. Top executives are earning spectacular ROI and competitive edge by finding their own perfect internal-external partnership balance. Some are outsourcing it all, but better options exist.

The options promoted here do not involve the outsourcing of the employment relationship. For many, outsourcing employees can be counterproductive to ROI. Employees want to feel part of a team, and in today’s world of “pay without play” where some label work a “choice,” employees often deliver commitment only with reciprocity and incentive. In many environments, outsourcing employees can be an expedient method of deteriorating engagement and productivity. Keeping workforce on the payroll and outsourcing certain or all HR management, however, can be a collaborative win for the entire organization. 

Third party expert operations have long been enjoyed by employers of all sizes and cultures. Employers under 200 are eligible to partner for all HR operations. Employers of limitless size find third party partnership extremely beneficial for talent assessment, education, compliance certification and change leadership. Most employers will attain betterment through a stable, highly competent and dedicated HR team, rather than revolving part-time talent with limited versatility. Employers who embrace external experts enjoy competitive edge and visionary foresight. Top quality is accessed with keen cost control, unbiased expertise, widespread case study and flexible utilization.

As we re-evaluate the HR team, workforce headcount only matters so much. For the average employer, the optimal team is comprised of functional management plus specialists and support under the direction of a Chief HR Operating Officer (CHRO), a right hand to the CEO. CHROs can be internal or external partners. An established CHRO already succeeding is always to be treasured and protected, as premier talent is undoubtedly rare and worthy of appreciation.

When selecting a professional consultant as CHRO, employers should seek quick adaptability, C-suite proven excellence, vast third party expertise and, of course, flexible utilization for cost control.  HR practitioners for top partner firms never stop learning, growing, embracing and delivering new value. Among many other deliverables, they bridge gaps and engage workforce into the company’s mission. CHROs should facilitate a highly effective and well-aligned supporting team.

Delivering fiscal due diligence, the average cost of third party partnership is less than the average cost of internalized operations. Done well, spectacular ROI is expected year one and builds substantially in consecutive years.  Through selection of the right partner organization, the HR team stays in place, benefiting from learning curve balanced with constantly emerging fresh ideas and case studies. Access to dedicated expert talent on demand without idle time is a steadfast cost reduction and quality optimization technique. Impartial third party experts avoid bias and deliver information with enhanced credibility. Everyone wins.

In some organizations, CHRO and CFO responsibilities are merged. This yields mixed results. Merging CHRO and CFO roles can produce conflict of interest or limited perspective; however, both CHRO and CFO need a clear grasp of fiscal prudence, organizational psychology and legal compliance. Ideally, each of these practitioners is ready to deploy as needed but never underutilized. Neither role should be subservient to the other.

Some fabulous internal HR leaders exist in today’s companies, and many of them are existing or future HRS clients. They call upon preferred partners for compliance, talent assessment, education, decision tools, case studies, affirmative defense and third party expertise. Astute business leaders recognize these top performers and keep them engaged with incentive and growth. Partner organizations deliver the tools and opportunities for such growth. 

Cookie cutter solutions are abused, overused and rarely appropriate in HR. Every employer is unique across widespread criteria, including but not limited to company brand, culture, history, demographics, business model and keys to success. Accredited consultants deliver the ability to assess and tailor programs which plug into these unique paradigms. Those who devote only to a single employer at a time and/or “job hop” do not necessarily deliver the third party expertise necessary to capture success opportunities.

While the essentials are somewhat universal, today’s business leaders enjoy a healthy range of HR options. Whether enjoying premier internal talent, premier external talent or a custom blend of the two, HR is never a remedial function. The HR function should be in the hands of those who deliver extraordinary legal knowledge, fiscal due diligence, talent management, lifelong learning for leaders, policy establishment, organizational communications, conflict reduction, operational efficiency and forward thinking, to name a few. HR is an executive function which, done poorly, can decimate an organization… and when done well, delivers impactful ROI, business sustainability and critical risk management. Today’s top executives keep it eye-level and empower extraordinary partners.


Article by Jessica Ollenburg, HRS Chief Empowerment Officer. Summary Bio. 

Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, May 05, 2014


Don’t Be Fooled by Salary Negotiation Strategies Generated by the Unemployed: 6 Rules to Success

Countless unemployed individuals with plenty of time to write are emerging again with salary negotiation strategies.  While it is true that strategies should change with market conditions, in many cases, negotiation should disappear completely. While many form their viewpoint based upon experiences with one or a few employers which eventually “outplaced” them, our analysis is based upon statistical knowledge working with thousands of preferred employers plus extraordinary research concerning hundreds of thousands over three decades and adapted to present conditions.

The following is a proven 6-rule blueprint to getting the most from “employers of choice.”  Sure, there are plenty of bad bosses and exploitative companies out there who do not follow appropriate protocol. However, if you are a candidate worthy of a top employer, ignore what happens at substandard employers and subscribe to what works at top companies.

Rule #1:  Top employers offer compensation based upon compensable factors, internal/external equities and merit-based performance proven within the organization.  For top employers, the base compensation component is non-negotiable at organizational entry, except possibly at C-level. 

Rule #2: Top employers do not pay you for what you did for someone else, but rather what you will do for them.  Success in one environment is not necessarily transferable to another.  Top employers know this.  Top employers also know that overall organizational development is optimized by practices which favor merit advancement from within.

Rule #3: Top employers request salary histories up front not to set your pay accordingly but rather to evaluate equities and expectations before continuing the very costly pre-employment screening process. Failure to provide history when requested risks indication of unwillingness/inability to follow direction and/or indication of something to hide.

Rule #4: Salary negotiation is effective in a very limited sector. It can be effective only when handled correctly and in cases where the job description requires heavy amounts of negotiation implementation. Time, place and audience are paramount.  Don’t be the first to bring up money, and don’t wait too long after money is mentioned to reveal that your requirements are higher.  Attach compensation requests to your delivery of quantifiable results to the new employer.  “I respect that the company has valued this position based upon specific metrics and expected outcomes.  Based upon my history of success, extraordinary knowledge and my determination to succeed, I expect to deliver outcomes beyond those benchmarks.  Is there opportunity for me to share in those financial successes? Can we set my quotas higher?”

Rule #5: Attempting negotiation risks the entire deal. It expresses discontent with the company’s existing practices and with the immediate job.  Just as a counteroffer constitutes an offer rejection, negotiation of any types constitutes rejection of the “as is” opportunity. There is usually another candidate right behind you who is appreciative of the opportunity to earn rewards without staunch demands.

Rule #6: If the relationship begins with negotiation, expect that you have set the tone for continued negotiation.  Rather than being awarded what you have earned, expect that you shall need to always negotiate for it.   The best way to avoid constant negotiation with your company as an “opponent” rather than a “teammate” is to negotiate all at once a gain-sharing program with pre-determined financial rewards for the outcomes and results you facilitate.

When an offer is presented, please know that taking time to consider may risk the opportunity.  Some companies will volunteer a proposed timeframe for your decision. Many will not. It is a myth that immediate acceptance makes you look “desperate.”  Actually, failure to immediately accept makes you look “hesitant” and possibly “disinterested,” either of which can immediately sandbag the relationship. If you believe it is best to take time to consider, state your unwavering interest up front.  Consider a safe explanation of the rationale behind your decision delay.  If the screening process was thorough and involved multiple steps, you should have entered the offer stage ready to accept if offered.  Your questions should already be answered and your interest should not falter.

Company cost control, lifelong learning, succession planning and sustainability are key organizational goals.  Age discrimination can be a factor, and advancement from within is typically a preference.  Employers are reluctant to pay you for what you did for someone else, because too many over time have “rested on laurels.” Employers typically have more leverage than employees in this situation.  Know your power. Evaluate the dynamics of your specific situation and reject “cookie cutter” advice. 


Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, November 29, 2010


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


Will the New Administration Fix It?

With the trilogy control of Presidency, House and Senate by the Democrats, we have “thrown the keys” to a single party and allowed them to “fix it.” 


For the good of our economy -- and quite frankly our wellness -- the backstabbing, blame-shifting and treasonous undermining of our leadership must cease.  Please think twice before resorting to the same ol’ same ol’ belly-aching that has undermined hope and destroyed confident spending over the past 8 years.


We certainly must question the legitimacy of employee free choice actually existing within the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, and we must think globally, creating work ethic policies that allow the US the ability to compete globally while building positive relationships.  Let's set an example of diplomacy and respectful disagreement in doing so.  Perhaps we can understand that by regularly skewering the important leaders in our country, we jeopardize ability to attract top talent. 

We can be empassioned without being destructive.  We must discontinue behavior which has adversely affected new generations and created current economic downfalls.  We can think twice before "bailing out" employers not likely to thrive and reinvest into our economy.  We must stop blaming all CEOs for the greed of a few.  We must remember and embrace "free enterprise."  We must rreat the USA with appreciative inquiry.
Politically, let me be one of many to say passionately advise our current administration “You’ve got the keys, now FIX IT!”  The world is watching with anticipation.  Every citizen also has a role and a responsibility in "fixing it."  It is most certainly a team effort!

Jessica Ollenburg - Friday, November 28, 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