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.

Gen Z Isn't Planning On Going to College... Can You Support It?

Only 15% of Generation Z have stated that they have definite plans to pursue their four-year degree. The plan of the other 85% is to enter the workforce at age 18 and look to have their career, and their employers, dictate the necessary education they should pursue. This finding comes from a global study conducted by Universum, whom surveyed approximately 50,000 members of Generation Z in an effort to identify what the young generation values. Our society is looking at a big shift in thinking here, but it’s a shift that can be embraced. As long as this shift is done right, we’re looking at a resulting increase in trade school enrollment, individual financial standing and general workforce preparedness (i.e., a decline in the skills gap). 

Who is Generation Z? 

I know what you must be thinking right now – “We’ve barely begun to understand the Millennials…now we have a whole new generation to worry about?!” 

I get your hesitation. Please know, however, that this article will prove to be much more about looking at our future actions as employers rather than about defining a generation. 

Generation Z consists of any individual born 1995 or later. In non-mathematical terms, that means that the oldest are currently out at the bar buying their first beer (well, maybe not RIGHT now). They are that close to beginning their careers. The majority, however, are currently middle- and high-school aged and are the ones that we can focus on under this thesis. At first glance, they might seem similar to Generation Y, however this generation is growing up with a much greater sense that nothing can be taken for granted. In essence, they recognize that they need to make their own future. One way that Gen Z is looking to accomplish this is by learning from some of the professional and financial pitfalls of prior generations. 

The biggest perceived pitfall that’s been identified so far? “Unnecessary College.” Generation Z is seeing two (negative) things result from Generations X and Y: crippling debt and a lack of preparedness to enter the work force – both of which have logical ties to attending the wrong form of college. What’s meant here? The idea is that too many citizens are being forced into the wrong education: Bachelor's degree attainment when what they really need is trade school certification and/or professional on-the-job education. The reality is that certain individuals are putting up to hundreds of thousands of dollars into their education and it’s not giving them proportionate professional or financial advantage. For example, did you know that Gen Y professionals who went to college are not able to afford a home as quickly as their non-bachelor-degree-holding counterparts? (Yahoo article). For more support on this thinking, you can also read my prior article here

How This is Different than Gen Y…and Where that Thinking Came From

If you’re Generation Y, then societal pressure essentially dictated that you had to get your Bachelor’s degree. In fact, the following line was drawn: 

No Bachelor’s degree? Unemployable. 

And Gen Y listened. Gen Y is on pace to be the highest educated generation EVER…. all while being the most criticized generation for not having the skills required by their employers. Therefore, the question has to be asked (and has been by several, including myself, already): 

Is it the individual or the education that’s truly lacking? 

(This is the part which will make this article more editorialized than I would typically like to be, but I want you to follow my logic.) 

Long story short, this line of thinking has led us to the over-attendance of Bachelor’s degrees. Getting your Bachelor’s degree is now no different than what having your high school diploma was 30 years ago. Is this progress? It should be, but it has also come with a form of decline that no one saw coming. 

Now, you can get a degree from anywhere, and colleges know that you need that degree in order to work…so up goes the price of tuition (and the student debt) since demand has become essentially inelastic. Consider this: tuition has increased 3.4% per year above inflation between 2005 and 2015, whereas average income has seen an overall decrease between those same years. In broader terms, we’ve seen an overall 26% increase in the cost of tuition vs. a 4% decline in income over these ten years. (Visit College Board and The Department of Numbers for a further look at some of these statistics). 

Why This Is Good for Our Workforce 

Looking at everything presented above, one thing becomes clear: we need to stop overvaluing Bachelor’s degrees because of what’s happened. Let’s correct. Let’s take matters into our own hands, employers. You have an entire generation of students who is completely willing to be sculpted by you and who is willing to learn whatever it is you tell them to learn. Take that opportunity. If you believe in the skills gap…this is how you fix it. 

According to a recent Fast Company article, only 23% of surveyed employers agreed with their incoming college graduates that these young professionals learned the necessary skills needed to excel in their job during their time at college. 

I repeat: 23%. This means that, on some level, 3 out of 4 of us already know that college is not always teaching our youth what they need to know in order to succeed. Couple this with our country’s consistently dropping education rankings (28th overall globally, 2nd to last in high-income nations – CNBC article) and you have a recipe for disaster: we’re forcing our youth to attend colleges that are poorly rated, force way too much debt and financial pressure, and don’t always prepare you adequately for the workforce. 

Employers, I implore you, start your search for Gen Z employees on the early side. Don't require them to immediately attend a 4-year school. Your training costs will not increase over that which you currently have, and will be much lighter on the back end. Chances are, you’re already putting your employees through this exact corporate education course load that we’re referencing here. Plus, now you know that your employees will have the skills that you want…because you instilled them onto a blank slate. 

Matthew Bare - Friday, April 15, 2016


Old School Meets New School With “Social HR”

The new big thing in HR technology merges social platforms together with cutting edge information systems, especially via mobile and interactive apps for HR deliveries. Many call it “social HR.” A natural evolution of the steadily emerging HR portals, social HR grants employees interactive communications related to learning, assessment, performance management, payroll, benefits, policy handbooks, employer news, record keeping and so much more. This trend is actually the re-emergence of old school success, postured on new school innovation. For years we’ve been dehumanizing Human Resources for the sake of compliance. Social HR re-socializes, without compromising compliance.

Where Social HR Will Succeed
To the same extent corporate websites have turned to interactive rather than search engine based filtering, employee portals enjoy similar advances, delivering a more “social” attentive feel. Every employer whose brand is attached to progressive technology is keeping a keen eye on these emerging trends. Workplace pride, motivation, productivity, cultural acceptance and comprehensive efficiency are impacted by employer choices. Too little, too much or poor posturing will affect outcomes. Cost is a factor; however, proper methodology and timing will yield return on investment. 

Having reported on social HR for three years, a recent Forbes article discusses nuances, examples and impact for 2015. Forbes Article. Highlighting the training features, today’s mobile apps and gamification allow kinesthetic learning, which is not only the most effective, but also the most preferred, of the learning styles. By deploying a variety of training media, we incur a high probability of meeting unique individual learning styles. Done well, platforms will tailor learning to individual styles. In applause to employers who deliver hands on and facilitated round table training, social HR is the next best option. While only certain training needs can be effectively satisfied via technology, platforms can deliver options, decision tools and event scheduling. 

To qualify as “social HR,” the platform must truly consider the precise audience, demographics and communications culture. As data collateral to audience knowledge, more than 3000 responded to an HRS learning style survey, validating that kinesthetic learning remains most effective, preferred 2:1 over auditory learning. 3 different primary learning styles exist, and each learning style, relevant to demographics, needs to be attended. Learning Styles Survey. While social learning cannot entirely replicate the effectiveness of more precise hands-on learning and/or face-to-face interactive learning, the social HR apps discussed promise far greater effectiveness as an everyday tool than applications currently in use.

Much of the prior de-socialization of HR is due to the critical need for written documentation. Verbal discussions alone have become nearly worthless in the schemata of HR, as compliance documentation is not addressed by oral communication. Done well, social HR could create critical documentation while simultaneously serving a more personal interaction.

Where Social HR Can Fail
Employers that fail to tailor precisely to their own teams will likely achieve poor results. Platforms need to serve content creators and content recipients. The quality of content is critical. An already emerging downfall is the use of cookie-cutter information, rather than the unique toolsets critical for unique employers and unique employer brands. The key to success will be the creation and deployment of custom resources and policies. Those that focus only on the technology and under-attend quality of content and adaptation will fail. 

While each organization has its own subcompanies and subcultures of varying peoples with varying tech savvy and learning preferences, HR deliveries of the future will need to keep up with simultaneously serving each employee. We're already seeing certain HR departments boasting the best “bells and whistles” without proper consideration to the utilization needs of each individual employee. While entertainment is known to heighten engagement, our learning survey respondents chose quality of content over entertainment 2 to 1.

Recent studies have shown that more people own iPhones than any other phone on the planet, so many HR teams will want to address mobile apps for the popular phone of the day. However, technology can't be a foreign language to employees. It must tailor to the specific audience, and it must simplify content updates. Additionally, varying media updates must align. The hard print binder in the corner needs to be updated at the very moment of the smart phone update. 

What Does This Mean to Employers
Social HR is not a fad; it's the way of the future. This natural evolution promises to deliver great outcomes. Employers need to begin research now, assess tech comfort of employees and proceed in specific alignment with unique demographic characteristics and company resources. This progression is a movement of gradual change, to be followed and reassessed no less than annually. Not all employers should dive in head first, but missed opportunities will result for those who don't at least dip a toe in the water and keep an eye on the tide.

Recognized by the U.S. Patent Office, HRS has been bringing HR technology inventions every decade since the 1980s. We pledge more pioneering and ongoing topic research. As your company continues in its unique technological journey, keep us in the loop as a worthy partner. 

Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, January 31, 2015


Op/Ed Commentary to Cleveland's "Communicator of the Year"

According to viral news, Cleveland’s “Communicator of the Year” is wielding her communication weaponry, maliciously attacking young professionals who invite her to connect on LinkedIn.  CNN Backstory. One of these victims, Diana Mekota, has come forward with well-publicized evidence. Along with many others who find these attacks revolting, I am compelled to comment. 

In a scolding response to a social media invitation, Kelly Blazek attacks 26 year-olds in general and reprimands the sense of “entitlement.” Inasmuch as seeking employment is by no means demonstrative of entitlement, generalizations and stereotypes today remain as unprofessional and ignorant as they were 50 years ago. We use generational analysis for big picture planning, not for individual attack and presumption of guilt.

It is absolutely true that a sense of entitlement in the U.S. is prevalent and endangers our values, jeopardizes patriotism and threatens sustainability of American goal attainment. However, Gen Y is not the culprit. In fact, it is the generations and individuals preceding Gen Y that are causing the problems, including those establishing values at the highest level of visibility and leadership. Because “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” I find a stronger work ethic and determination in Gen Y than I’ve found in many. Of course Gen Y will question the rewards of hard work after seeing what has befallen their parents. Additionally, much study has been devoted to the impact of potentially inappropriate messages upon these inheritors of the new regime. As we’ve pointed out in many other collaborations and articles, successful Boomers should prepare to pass the torch, not extinguish it.

Please find me among the many Boomers who recognize our true service to greater good in helping the incoming generations succeed. We accomplish this through dedicated knowledge transfer, tempered with respect and the augmentation of confidence among emerging professionals. We do not support overconfidence, but we build bridges of trust and collaboration. We dedicate ourselves to not only our own continued relevance and accomplishment, but also to active participation in productive succession planning. Perhaps it is Blazek who deserves a scolding and a trip to the back woodshed.

Jessica Ollenburg - Sunday, March 02, 2014


Is Balance Between Gen Y and Baby Boomers Key to Skills Gap Solution?

We have rightfully spent the last decade debriefing Baby Boomers regarding the unique work habits, motivators and keys to success for Gen Y team members.  Amidst these adaptation challenges it is equally essential to debrief Gen Y workers the same about Baby Boomers. Is it possible to mitigate the skills gap by properly addressing this issue?

The skills gap was once defined by the shortfall of available skilled labor in today’s workforce. Experts have since expanded the skills gap to include deficits in critical thinking and communication. Some say the lack of latter skills is twice as prevalent as the lack of technical skills.  Can we better empower Gen Y and Gen Z by better tapping the Baby Boom?

As a 30-year professional who spent the first 20 years of her career being perceived as “too young,” I’m watching people my own age suffer age discrimination. We, the “50 and fabulous” younger Boomers went quickly from being too young to being too old. This alone tells us that age does not matter. Competency, contribution and adaptability do matter, and ageism is a barrier to success. Beyond the missed opportunities of ageism, we continue to warn against discrimination. The best way to be litigation-proof is to make decisions which are both actually and perceived to be legally compliant.

Since 2003, HRS has been called upon by nationwide academia, media, professional associations and employers of choice to deliver findings and solutions related to the generation shift. We commenced this campaign by forecasting the breakdown of trust and 5 global impacts to millennial motivators. We were absolutely correct, much attention has ensued, and we now transition our change agency by posing new questions and delivering new study. Many experts continue to deliver works on generational differences in attempt to reach those still too stubborn to respond to the original messages. We return to addressing those who are open to learning… those seeking more in depth action planning. In collaboration with several experts, we are creating an updated blueprint for decision planning.

Gen Y Brings Great Promise

The Gen Y professionals with whom I am proud to collaborate push back against today’s stereotypes. They pride themselves on accomplishment and resilience. They pride themselves in individuality and knowledge that each Gen Y peer has handled the impact of their generation uniquely. They bring the same “save the world” commitment I saw in my peers at that age and still today. These emerging leaders are willing and anxious to learn from the successes and failures of their predecessors. If handled correctly, Boomers have an open door for collaboration, if not mentorship.

Although every unique household enforced its own set of beliefs, outcomes and motivation principles, Boomers were not exposed to widespread media of de-motivators to include the dot-com bust, housing bubble burst and, of course, the twin towers collapsing in their living rooms.  While we coddle and apologize to Gen Y, are we missing the point that Gen Y is the very generation that witnessed 9/11 as children, both witnessing and proving resilience at early age?  This generation has also been listening to our well-founded observations, and many have taken heed to resist the stereotype. Each generation has been stereotyped, and as always, stereotypes and generalizations pose danger.  Matthew Bare, HRS AVP, is at the top of his generational class and openly questions “Are we ‘feeding the beast’ in over-attending Gen Y needs? Are we convincing some they are delicate flowers? Were participation trophies a bad idea?”  Admittedly, I was one of those little league coaches who ensured my team received the same participation ribbons as the other teams, but the trophies were always a noticeable step above the ribbons. There was always motivation to excel. Gen Y and Gen Z represent current and future leaders, and the best of them offer some astounding deliverables.

Matthew Bare continues, “Our parents strived to give us a better world than they had, especially in light of the tragedies that occurred during our upbringing. For most of us, this resulted in positive praise, almost at an excessive level. We were told that we could accomplish anything, and we believed it. All of the focus on positive praise and putting an end to bullying led us to one thing - loads of self-esteem. If there is one, consistent fact about our generation, it's that Gen Y might be the cockiest generation to ever walk this planet. Each and every one of us believes that we can accomplish whatever we want. Work ethic doesn't even become an issue for some. We were rewarded for our efforts no matter what the outcome (trophies, ribbons, etc.). You combine that self-esteem with the world events that we had to witness… and the world has created an entire army of individuals who are cocky, self-obsessed, and resilient. Why do some people my age not work? Because they don't feel the need to. Either they feel that they can accomplish what they desire without working hard, or, thanks to the economic depression, they don't see the benefits of working hard. This is no one's fault, while also being everyone's at the same time.”

Gen Y is questioning everything that did not work for the prior generations and is incorporating new age thinking into new decisions. Is this different than what high-achieving Boomers did in their 20’s? Isn’t change a component of progress? Some perceive Gen Y as owning a lesser work ethic. Is this really a generational trait, or is it just a symptom of age… time for kids to be kids? We begin to see a shift as Gen Y ages. Most Gen Y are no longer kids… enter Gen Z and a forthcoming set of studies.

Gen Y is showing substantial signs of resilience, learning and fiscal prudence. Fidelity Investments’  “Five Years Later” study reports that Gen Y has “learned more and (has) taken the most positive action post-crisis of any generational cohort.”

Boomers Adapt & Continue to Deliver

At this recession’s start, many Boomers presented unreasonable demands and found themselves out of work. Demanding future pay based upon past performance was rarely effective in an economy of belt-tightening and youth-oriented technology. Seasoned egos were replaced with equally competent and more developable talent for less money… specifically Gen X and Gen Y. Most employers have been pummeled with employment solicitation from unemployed Boomers. As a single employer, since 2008, HRS alone has received more than 12,000 resumes from seasoned professionals seeking to join our consulting team. Flattered as we were, sadly we were unable to provide any meaningful response to candidates not accepted for excess jobs we could not offer. This is true of many employers, and Boomers have adapted.  Those who just five years ago presented unreasonable demands have either learned, have exited the job market, or to this day…“stick out like a sore thumb.”  It is time for employers to circle back and re-tap this valuable resource. While promotion from within remains productive methodology, we need mentors. Enter Boomers.

Doug Franklin, President of FLHRPS and Principal of Epic Business Strategies, has spent a great deal of time researching and addressing this very topic. “I believe many of we Boomers have had long great careers, but due to a number of factors, many of the Boomers will find they need to continue their careers well past the dates they had targeted.” Reasons for the extended careers are well documented. We concede the economic impact to retirement funds, asset value and household income. On the positive side, Boomers are enjoying longer career-life expectancy than generation predecessors.  Some Boomer business owners will stay involved due to the “brain drain” and the challenge to replace themselves. Franklin continues, “Most senior-managers have now turned their thoughts towards extending their careers and not retiring as early as they had thought or maybe hoped.  I regularly speak to Boomers who are in their mid-sixties who are continuing to work and have their eye on 3-5 more years of very strong career path.  For some I think this is economically driven. I think for others it is because they enjoy working and are open to taking on a lower level position which they may feel is fun and less stressful.  I think many Boomers now are thinking of working full time until they are closer to 70 than 65.” Whereas Boomers are known as the generation of hypertension, many are responding with wellness routines and stress management, efforts which keep them productive in the workplace.

An August 2013 SHRM article “Invest in Older Workers” discusses the stereotypical characteristics of Boomers. Low absenteeism, low turnover, high problem solving and customer service patience are among the positives. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports Managerial, Administrative Assistant and Driver positions among the most popularly held by age 55+. Other popular roles include retail sales, teaching, health care, accounting and law.

A Gen Y start-up business owner recently declared...

“I understand patience is key to my business success.”

Boomer entrepreneurs cringe and shrug in response. As one of those left scratching my head and struggling for response, I embrace this... if I had been patient for even one day, HRS would not be here. In fact, if I hadn’t pushed back or walked away every time someone deployed a work avoidance technique, HRS would not be enjoying 30 years, and you would not be reading this article. Except for happenstance, working smart and working hard are the keys to business success. Is this a Gen Y problem for Boomers to solve?  Is it an inherent Gen Y trait to redirect after experiencing resistance… is this a learned trait, an individual trait? Is there an opportunity for Boomers to assess and contribute? Are some Boomers just plain crazy, needing to wind down by talking with a calm, patient Gen Y?

The Solution

Whereas some professionals will continue to shout at those still ignoring the basic concept of demographic adaptation, and while some employers will extinct themselves like dinosaurs, we understand those reading this article are already among the select few who are well-researched and will use this information to succeed. It is time for us to now focus upon reassessment and blueprint of balance.

“Most of my Client companies do not seem to be directly addressing head on the large future loss of the Boomer ‘Resource’ that they now rely on and cherish.  However, some are putting serious resources into a variety of programs to try to keep up with the large loss of Boomer talent they expect to lose in the coming years,” advises Doug Franklin. “Some of these programs include strong succession planning...and even more aggressive internal training programs coupled with remote learning initiatives by progressive major universities to train younger generations.”

Boomers offer attributes, experience and knowledge in need of transfer to the incoming generations. The communications gap and electronics age challenge us to relay information more easily handed down in prior generational transitions. Gen Y’ers who step up to meet Boomer communication styles will find competitive edge in collecting the data. Boomers willing to meet Gen Y halfway may find equal reward.

The mobile and virtual workforce model at HRS provides a valuable prototype for employers eligible to reduce brick and mortar. Working families are accommodated while businesses grow with reduced costs. Today’s Gen Y offers more alignment with longstanding ethics than typically recognized.  Adaptation always has and always will be an essential. Our Gen Y team has always appreciated and contributed to our invention.  HRS work life pioneering to include the initially scoffed at “Casual Friday,” wellness programs, corporate charitable initiatives, as well as, the in-house day care center we dared to attempt in the 80’s are everyday happenings today. It is the Boomers who led Gen Y to this place in time. Boomers can continue to augment future success, as long as Boomers practice what they’ve preached, showing respect, active listening and collaboration.

We at HRS are recommending a balance of collaboration between the generations. If you want a better approach to solving a problem, ask someone likely to disagree with you. As with all team collaboration, negotiation and management skills, know your audience’s motivators and anticipate objections. Franklin comments further on keys to success for achieving generational balance. “Companies have added onsite recreation and gyms, coffee bars in-house… and provide wireless internet access as just a few ways to attract the younger generations.  Companies are also catering to Boomers to encourage them to stay working longer by offering flexible work weeks, virtual positions, and even company provided financial planning services. This team effort helps to train younger generations… and allows X and Y generations to have opportunities to step up and fill Boomer positions at times in a trial period.  However, it remains to be seen as to the overall impact on companies as Boomers finally phase out permanently.  Gen X and Y workers have different life expectations and work thoughts.”

Article by Jessica Ollenburg, HRS President & Senior Consultant. Summary bio.

Doug Franklin is Principal of Epic Business Strategies and President of FLHRPS, Florida's affiliate of the national HRPS, dedicated to HR executives. Franklin held industrial executive leadership positions during the first 30 years of his career with companies such as Honeywell, Ferguson Enterprises, SPS Technologies, and Pacific Scientific. A former HRS client, Doug now serves as a partner consultant to HRS, contributing knowledge-based resources.

Matthew Bare is Associate Vice President of HRS. Matt works with key HRS clients locally, nationally and abroad to understand pressing concerns and deliver timely solutions. He pursues an extraordinary knowledge base in legal compliance, relationship development, employee motivation and best practices for efficiency. Summary bio.

Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, September 12, 2013


Mobile Workforce Solutions Are In Flight, On the Road and In the Home!

Whereas it took decades to carefully pioneer and wait for technology to catch up, HRS became a fully mobile business in 2009 with new triumphs in 2013, and we are likely not going back! We enjoy a blend of fixed and flex offices, and we travel by appointment in between sites. We enjoy entirely web-hosted work tools. As we began pioneering this new wave of organizational development thirty years ago, we have managed the risks and replaced challenge with reward. We endured the pitfalls so that our clients need not follow. We now have a turnkey solution and blueprint for client use. We could not be more pleased with our success.

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, advises “Many employees who work from home are extremely diligent, get their job done, and get to spend more time with their families. They waste less time commuting and get a better work/life balance. To force everybody to work in offices is old school thinking.”

To be truly mobile, work from home is somewhat inevitable, and HRS offers consulting to employers seeking this transformation. We have endured the work from home challenges, and we have conquered.  We have learned that we (at HRS) really never stop working anyway, so boundaries are impractical. That being said, we at HRS do take “power breaks” to recharge for the next great thing, and we strongly promote wellness routines. We advocate certain “home hygiene” when establishing in home offices.

Not all businesses can break down the brick and mortar, but as we are in the information business, we can. Our manufacturing and distribution clients are learning the efficiencies of mobile solutions where possible.

Our greatest challenge in creating a mobile workforce has been employee supervision. We have developed a number of custom and proprietary trade secrets which have addressed this concern. Mostly, we have changed how we hire, whom we hire, and how we measure work. We at HRS are entirely pleased with outcomes, and we have adapted our business model to capture these new opportunities.

Hidden benefits include improved documentation and better communication habits. Work from home policies must achieve balance between personal privacy and company risk management. Accepting in person visits only by appointment allows improved focus upon the customer and spontaneous client needs. Our clients deserve our immediate attention and top priority. A mobile workforce allows us improved client access. We offer more satellites with nationwide and global reach, and we can be where the clients want us as needed through flex offices.

Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, May 23, 2013


Gamechangers: New Rules in Employee Motivation

Culture of entitlement, questions regarding capitalism, redefining “success” and Gen Y characteristics are some of the many gamechangers affecting today’s organizational outcomes. While we do not advocate creating a leadership culture that entertains repetitive and burdensome employee questions, we do advocate an employer-driven commitment to education which enhances engagement and motivation toward shared employee-employer success. This article discusses considerations and blueprints toward that success.

Today’s Gen Y career entrant speaks in terms of “I feel,” phraseology we Baby Boomers were taught to be unacceptable. America’s leadership postures for votes by touting principles of entitlement, birth right, refusal to work and socialized benefits.  These characteristics feed a de-motivation to work harder or smarter than the next person. In an era where state government leaders can organize an initiative to refuse work which arguably outweighs their initiatives to demonstrate work, how can we expect impressionable youth to grasp real work ethic? When we are willing to question our constitution, why shouldn’t employees question workplace rules?

Collective bargaining was created in an era where employees worked hard and employers often lacked principle and know-how to properly keep checks and balances toward mutual economic success.  Today we find employers committed to lifelong learning while many employees cannot construct a meaningful sentence. Checks and balances are once again off while the best workers in America are held back by concepts of seniority and union dues, at least until employers have as much power as self-serving, dues collecting unions who are among the biggest businesses of all… next to government.  Nonetheless, we recommend employers do not entangle with the NLRB unless willing to wage a costly war.  Except for some successful adjustments by Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, employers need to recognize that unions have more “solicitation” leverage than that allowed of employers.  The general population continues to listen to the loudest voice in the room.

Financial success is being undermined, capitalism and its complexities are in question, and profiteers take advantage of conflict, sensationalizing every issue. Employees are more uncertain than ever before as to their own goals and how to attain them. 

Amidst this chaos we have worked hard to simplify the steps for employer response. The blueprint for workplace best practices is a 6-step program:
1) Problem Recognition:  Accept and understand the larger de-motivation of the community at large.  Accept reasons behind de-motivation where it exists.
2) Apply Appreciative Inquiry:  Assess and create focus upon what the organization does best.  
3) Evaluate Unique Organizational Demographics & Motivation Trends: Assess the motivation culture of your company’s own workforce and evaluate trends. Consider the power of workplace outcomes and how they are affecting the overall mindset of employees. Each organization is unique and is affected uniquely by the impact of the community at large. Local success can overpower widespread deficiencies. If it is not broken, do not attempt to fix it.
4) Tap Into 3rd Party Solutions: Reach out to field experts as means to deploy proven toolsets, to optimize credibility and to avoid appearance of bias. Refuse to experiment in this risky area offering noteworthy ROI for success. Consider HRS as an expert resource here.
5) De-Politicize the Company Stance and Comply with NLRA Regulations: Work ethic, wealth and big business versus small business topics all evoke personal politics. Today’s politics are quite polarized. Avoid biases and stick with the facts. Discussion of unions and collective bargaining risks NLRB repercussions or heightened collective bargaining activity. Stress merit-based outcomes without indicting union methodology. Derive merit-based incentives that work well and are easily communicated. 
6) Be Consistent, Build Trust and Deliver on Promises: False promises will create long term damage, but failure to inspire will cause such short term damage that the long term becomes jeopardized.  Apply practices consistently and within policy. Create and troubleshoot an action plan before broaching this highly essential topic.

Democracy is complicated, and motivation remains fragile. HRS recommends a keen eye on changes and a quick and accurate response to keep engagement on track.  Case studies and specific solutions are available upon request. 

Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, February 11, 2013


Org Comm 101: How to Avoid "I Forgot"

While not biologically correct, "the mind is a muscle" offers some merit, and it is true... "when you don't use it, you lose it." Think tank studies overwhelm us with evidence that memory is contingent upon attention and interest. To a certain extent we can, in fact, hold others accountable for the ability to remember. 

On the flip side, however, the best of us can overwhelm, over-absorb, spread too thinly and/or burn out. 

"I forgot" is not a legitimate excuse.  To that end here is a quick organizational trick to ensuring top efficiency in daily priorities and task handling... 

Use technology wisely.  Use task reminders and event invitations.  Require email correspondence as a paper trail to avoid confusion.  

Create email folders and filters. Use subject lines, keywords and especially senders to automatically sort incoming and outgoing correspondence for quicker future reference. Use technology to automatically attach correspondence to contact records. Consider privacy protection for items of public sensitivity.

Use flags, priority codes and subject line keywords to set expectations of deadlines and urgency. 

If you do not have someone on your team to help you with this, make it a priority to acquire someone, internally or externally to set this up. Give that priority a big red flag on your desktop of "to do's."  For those who do not work at a desk, mobile desktops and PDAs are available. 

Jessica Ollenburg - Tuesday, May 29, 2012


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


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


Start them Young to Help them Succeed in the Workplace

The key to assessing motivation and predicting results of employees is to pinpoint information they may not even know of themselves.  How do we do this?  Carefully crafted investigations through behavior based assessment and interviewing. Why do we do this?  Work ethic is detectable, complex and begins early. While successful organizational development depends upon the creating and sustaining of extrinsic (situational) motivation, an individual’s intrinsic (from within) motivation can be very difficult to change and requires an entirely different approach. 


Work ethic is a core fundamental unique to every individual.  It is developed over our lifetime and benefits from the earliest start possible.  It begins with reaching for the infant toy rather than having that toy placed in your hand.  It stems from inspiration… inspiration through need (sometimes desperation) and requires the belief set that work will influence results.  Those too coddled fail to develop the need.  Those not exposed to role models attaining results fail to buy-in to the outcomes.  We know these fundamentals are shaped and reinforced over our lifetime.  


Somewhere in the early 90’s, at a CEO Summit for which he was keynote speaker, I had the good fortune to work one-to-one with Bob Galvin, former Motorola CEO and son of founder Paul Galvin.  Bob & I instantly connected on an essential finding:  future leaders can be pointed out by age 14.  A very controversial summation at that time, people have jumped on board to that thinking more and more.  While several interpretations of “leadership” exist, the leadership we speak of here is visionary leadership and invention through inspiration, creativity, problem solving and risk taking, something for which Bob has been multiply awarded, something that stems from work ethic.  


Why can we spot leaders in their early teens? 


1)      Intrinsic motivation starts in early childhood, part nature and a lot of nurture.  Messages through parenting and life’s experiences teach a child the connection between hard work, results and rewards.  It requires risk tolerance and effort. “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” (Wayne Gretzky) 

2)      Success breeds success.  Those who get a taste of accomplishment early can acquire a hunger for it, and of course – a confidence in the ability to attain.

3)      Leadership is not the automatic progression of doing something else well.  It is a distinctive skill set, orientation and career path.  It is marked by characteristics which reveal themselves early in life and need nurturing.  Leadership is also not a degree in management without the knowledge of how to do anything else in specific at which to lead. 

4)      The leadership we speak of here requires willingness to fail and go on, problem solving and a lifelong learning commitment.  Each of these fundamentals are easiest developed at an early age.

5)      Many scientists and psychologists believe our highest level of pure intelligence is at birth and with learning peaking during our first 2 years of life.  Wisdom, education and experience fill in over time proportionate to our exposure.


Can this type of leadership emerge later in life?  Yes, through dedicated choice and/or circumstances of revelation impact.  


Work ethic can emerge from an intrinsic sense of responsibility and/or when we believe we can or are desperate enough to try to “control our own destiny.”  Leadership is both a subset of work ethic and a combination of behavioral characteristics.  We cannot lead effectively if no one is willing to follow.  We should be willing to lead by example.  Whether a leader of creation/invention or a leader of others, effective leadership relies upon creating inspirational ideas and/or directly inspiring others. 


Effective leadership, like any career path, requires commitment.  Commitment requires work ethic.  Parents can be most effective in developing work ethic when they lead by example, create need (inspiration) and reinforce the rewards of work.  Think about the term “street smarts” to further understand the importance of “need” in work ethic development. 


Whatever the choices or extenuating circumstances of one’s life, work ethic is simply “doing your best” with sincerity and willingness of sacrifice.  If education is the target, substantial learning is not reliant upon financial resources but rather the willingness to do the work to learn.  People have been self-taught with very little financial resources… Abraham Lincoln, for one.  If advanced education is the desire, college can be self-financed.   Start them young wherever you can.  Parents need to understand their role in work ethic development and they must start at infancy.  If they aren’t willing to do the work, maybe they should just provide access to a proper role model and then leave the kid alone to figure it out. 


Make no mistake.  We know the “leave alone” approach can be over-used and backlash with other developmental problems, which is why so many attentive and well-intending parents fear and under-use it – also affecting work ethic and leadership..  We’re looking for balance, commitment, role modeling and work ethic in our parenting.  We’re looking for parents to teach their kids to successfully “leave the nest” by providing supportive age-appropriate guidance, work skills and motivation.  The work ethic development trail can be very telling and predictive to future workplace outcomes.   It can be visible in a self-prepared resume and can be detected in a carefully crafted interview or assessment exercise.  Again, most commonly, it begins in early youth. 


Jessica Ollenburg - Wednesday, October 29, 2008