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.

The Annual Performance Review: Post Mortem?

Each day, more employers abolish their annual review system. Why? Because feedback delayed an entire year is arguably worthless, accomplishes negative value, creates fear of feedback and decimates corporate resources. For the annual review to succeed, feedback must be ongoing throughout the year, and the annual review cannot produce surprises. Any employer who over-attends annual feedback and under-attends daily feedback is in critical need of realignment. As showcase employers such as Adobe, GE, Microsoft, Accenture and Deloitte have recently rejected the annual review in favor or regular conversation, they understand that performance appraisal done right is the catapult to success! 

Jack Welch’s 1980’s described “rank and yank” methodology at GE has merit, if and only if, the 10% being guillotined after one year of poor performance are 1) provided the tools to succeed along the way, and 2) damage controlled short of a full year’s underperformance. Frequent feedback by education-empowered leaders is most certainly inherent to the success blueprint. Leaders must effectively lead daily, not just annually.
Does Your Company’s Annual Review Deserve a Kick to the Curb?
Are leaders often late in preparing and/or delivering the annual review?
Are employees shocked by ratings and feedback?
Has your company encountered legal argument or unemployment defense because of instrument content or omission?
Is the benchmark employee flat-lining between or after reviews?
Is compensation becoming more tied to timing than merit, serving more as a COLA than a performance accolade?

Annualized reviews have become default policy due to conformity with once widespread practice and a desire to delay cumbersome, often cookie cutter, legalese documentation. HR information systems, while offering efficiency to the tech savvy, are often exacerbating the practice through irrelevant templates, impossible to align. There’s a much, much better way. Consistent with young employees’ reliance upon push-button and command control feedback through technology, a revamp of the system absolutely improves engagement and productivity for today’s and tomorrow’s workforce. Let’s keep up with the changes!

What Should the Annual Review Look Like?
A “no surprise” recap of the year’s challenges, improvements, progress against prior goals and goals/resources for the future,
A meaningful, customized instrument to facilitate progress rather than to impede progress,
Benchmark plan of forward-moving feedback, rich with self-evaluation tools made quick, accurate and easy through metrics, 
Deployment of criteria which in no way provokes and in fact reduces legal argument,
Consistent, applicable, weighted metrics which align job description, goals and compensation, 
Where collective bargaining is applicable, alignment with said agreements.

Not an exhaustive list, these are the critical starting points. Opportunities exist to deploy several evaluation formats within a single employer, as long as lawful and fair consistency exists at a department and/or job function level. 

Is a Great Performance Appraisal System Enough?
Yes, as long as we clarify that a great appraisal “system” cannot exist without the following:
Getting the right people in the right company seats,
Selecting, developing and continuing lifelong learning for the right leaders,
Properly deploying magnets and motivators,
Adapting to unique employee learning styles,
Understanding and appropriately addressing the unique talent intensity and interrelatedness of each company role,
Dedicating laser focus to legal, fiscal and brand risk management. 

Legislation in Employment Law Necessitates Valuable Rewrite of the Review
The earlier weight on personal attributes now produces a 6+ figure risk for employers who miss the cues for rewrite. Given the many attributes stemming from culture, religion, genetic and medical protection, we can no longer consider personality, attitude, mood, and/or any characteristic which may attach to a protected class. While many employers are still missing the point, the more savvy, such as HRS clients, are finding not only risk management but also improved productivity outcome by swapping workplace behavior ratings for personal characteristic ratings. Actionable ratings without insult and risk better pave the way to success. 

When crafting the review, consider ratings which align with job description and meaningful criteria to the unique job. You’re one of the rare few if a universal template actually fits the purpose. Most templates can be the culprit to your leaders dreading and delaying the evaluation process. If a leader is already evaluating the criteria on a daily basis, dropping the rating into the appraisal is simple. If a leader doesn’t find the criteria naturally relevant or described in applicable terms, the blank stare and frustration will replace and likely reverse progress. 

Deploy “Appreciative Inquiry” by driving what’s going well to such an extent that it overpowers that which is going wrong. A recent HRS survey of 3000+ validates positive feedback 4 times as powerful as negative feedback. That being said, over-attending the positive without documenting need for corrective action can provoke a legal challenge for a well-intending employer. Failure to prove an employee was cognizant of substandard behavior and chose not to succeed will posture wrongful discharge claim, even beyond the obvious blemish to fairness. Balance is critical.

The Resolution
Originating in military protocol, the annual review emerged into mainstream workplaces circa 1950’s as a metric to rank, recognize and review compensation. Due to changes in leadership case study and employment law, the annual review is now under review itself. Employers continue to prototype 360 reviews and peer-to-peer bonuses. Both have their niche, but both can backfire dramatically if wielded haphazardly without precise control.  

It remains absolutely the strongest ROI to invest up front into a custom, ongoing performance management system. Relevant tailored tools and lifelong leader development safeguard time, energy and risk at every evaluation rollout. Managers should not dread or find cumbersome the evaluation process. Evaluation should be at the very core of leadership. Of more than 60 performance appraisal formats available through HRS, we still find ourselves further customizing the instruments for improved client outcomes. Without exception, the appropriate fit minimizes waste and improves outcomes for all.  It is far too often the inappropriate use of templates which has threatened the reputation and results of the review system. 

Furthermore, because leaders are entirely disposable if they don’t create better performance in those who depend upon them, it is the performance evaluation system upon which company success relies. We at HRS advocate, design and facilitate leadership development and performance management systems that position an employer for success. We deliver and we see the results!

This thought leadership article was initially produced for IBAW and subsequently licensed by request to BizStarts

Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, November 21, 2015


What I've Learned through Successful Nonprofit Leadership: A “Distinguished Service Award” Winner’s Perspective

I've been leading charitable concerns since age 10, when my dad charged me with organizing a successful MDA carnival held at our home. Once you've made a positive impact, provided you have a moral compass, you are fueled for life! I am privileged to know so many great charitable leaders and equally privileged to enjoy so many great contributors in my circle of friends, family and community. 

Through the tumultuous drama of juggling adult egos, I find daily comfort and pride in the knowledge of having helped millions and raised millions. In that vein, I suppose I self-served my own conscience. (Fade to Phoebe Buffay on “Friends.”) What I'll never how some can let self-interest override their commitment to greater good. I can't say I care 'why' someone facilitates good...just do good! 

As a volunteer leader, I've never taken a paycheck for service, but I've learned to set limits and be very selective in allocating my already overspent time and resources. I've supported hundreds, if not thousands, of causes... disease, legislative, economic, youth, community, education, ethics, professional, name it! I've earned a healthy collection of honors and awards along the way. I won't be stopping any time soon, nor will my friends and family. 

Lesson #1…
Along the way I’ve learned many valuable keys to success, which should be deployed for ongoing greater good at warp speed. That being said, I’ve also learned this country needs nonprofit reform now. It's stunning how many undeserving organizations are getting away with nonprofit tax exemption, while diverting attention and resources away from more critical deserving causes. If you feel compelled to address taxation in this country, don't lose sight of bogus nonprofits and/or tax exempt nonprofits defying their covenants. George Costanza's "Human Fund" is alive and well. What I've also learned is that the lazy and self-serving are effectively alienating our best contributors. We need to clean house in some areas and refocus the spotlight in others. 

Truly Serving a Great Cause… 
While I’ve been associated with many, many organizations, today marks 5 years since I announced retirement from Arthritis Foundation leadership. The success with a truly great cause, as earned through great effort, inspires reflection and celebration. For many reasons, I retired at the completion of Board term which coincided with regional reorganization, which I helped facilitate. I miss the AF, and I’m thankful to keep in touch with so many friends met through service! Over 11+ years time with amazing people lending powerful contribution, I was fortunate to have chaired 2 record breaking annual balls and 2 record breaking annual walks, sponsored 3 Fox televised awareness campaigns from my backyard, instigated an awareness campaign for juvenile arthritis, advocated successfully to U.S. Congress, and sponsored/served on leadership committees for 14 other successful AF events. Helping millions and raising millions, with loyal family and friends, we championed a great cause. That being said, I am humbled by the enormous impact we made, and I remain today so appreciative of the opportunity to have worked with great people. 

More Lessons Gained Through Success…
Every great cause comes with challenge. If it didn't, it wouldn't exist as a real cause. Through challenge comes lesson. Here are a few keys to success which I have learned are somehow not obvious to all:

• We must allow nonprofit employees pride for their mission without allowing them to mistake taking a paycheck from a charity as actually serving the charity. Paid employees need to take the effort at least as seriously as the donors. Above and beyond is where true service lies. 

• Volunteer leaders, whether involved or not in the selection and training of staff, need some defined management authority over employees. Carefully select, train and hold accountable the volunteer leaders. 

• Charitable events are everywhere, every day. It's a competition to gain support. Any misfires in implementation need attention as missed opportunity to serve the cause. 

• A true supporter of an ongoing mission is likely unwilling to "whistleblow" a bad act under charitable governance. A walkout, somewhat quiet, is more likely. Pay attention and investigate. As with any disengagement, find the information.

The Resolution…
Through exhaustion or frustration, try to stay engaged. Keep the keys to success in your hands, “shut up and hang on,” and get it done! Push through the challenges, because the positive impact is well worth the effort. Cling to every helpful cliché you can, including “anything worth doing is difficult to do.” If everyone really did their part for even just a little while, imagine what we could accomplish together. 

For me, my longest tenure has been devoted to these organizations who surpass the bar and actually deliver to essential cause, cause for which I am passionate. I look for co-leaders who rise to the task and well-serve their responsibilities. I send deep appreciation for those who continue to persevere challenges, because great causes deserve great perseverance. My many, many volunteer leader peers agree.

As a closing thought, I am compelled to wholeheartedly thank friends, family, community and professional peers for every greater good they have championed and/or will champion in the future. I am fortunate to have worked with some great Boards, Committees and Councils as leader, member and/or reporting consultant. We need more great people to step forward, and we need it today. Grab your family and friends as you step forward. "It takes a village."

- Jessica Ollenburg, Board Chair Angel Wings, Board Chair HRS Gives Back

Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, October 17, 2015


Unlimited PTO: Friend or Foe?

In a world where virtual and remote work are more prevalent, autonomous work systems are already necessary. Employers find advantage in creating accountability metrics which properly evaluate a job well done, and allow employees to self-evaluate in alignment. Where this is achieved, quality employees are empowered to determine their own ability to take PTO without jeopardizing performance outcomes. The obvious reality, however, is that a wealth of employees, by their own standards or by lack of structure, will not rise to this task. The additional realty is that many jobs, regardless of their incumbents’ initiative, are simply not built for this protocol. Unlimited PTO (Paid Time Off) is worth consideration on its merits and applicability. 

Where classified properly according to current FLSA standards, certain exempt employees are somewhat able to modify work schedules on their own volition. The keys to this include their positions’ interdependence upon real-time communication and collaboration with other roles. Being accessible at a specific moment matters for many functions. Certain hourly employees, by nature of job description, may be highly accountable to specific work schedules. Any employer attempting to structure benefits according to FLSA status must lawfully avoid any ivory tower policies. An organizational analysis will be necessary.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported less than 2% of employers deploying unlimited PTO systems. While this practice is certainly a heated discussion point and potentially on the rise, many employers are simply not candidates for this program. At HRS we’ve experimented with similar programs since the 1990’s, and many have worked quite well. In our version, we’ve used our own “comp time” as an add-on within the PTO benefit. In doing so, we’ve been able to attach additional PTO in consideration to specific job outcomes and in balance to extraordinary bottleneck needs. What makes us great candidates are our wealth of self-evaluating exempt roles, key metrics in place, remote work practices, and an organizational size and assessment process that allows us to hire only the best. 

Where Unlimited Paid Time Off Pays Off
Alleviation of PTO tracking and need for balance sheet carryovers for accrual basis employers. 
Employees can focus on work needs and business outcomes by choosing timing without concern for PTO accruals and losses.
A survey of 2000+ adults by found that 69% will gravitate toward a job offering unlimited PTO.
Top employees are less likely to jeopardize work results when PTO can be deferred until downtime or ability to seek better self-coverage.
The employer has created a singular culture of teamwork and assimilated work ethic where abuse is unlikely and team members are responsible to other team members.
“Inbox Zero” to quality standards is a requirement and is contingent upon continued PTO.
Relaxed minds are unequivocally more productive and creative than stressed minds, (except for the short-lived adrenaline response some of us enjoy.)
Unlimited PTO shows employees you trust them, a leadership tactic that works fabulously with those who will achieve.

Where Unlimited Paid Time Off Creates Unlimited Disadvantage
An HRS survey of 3000+ adults reveals work hours 150% less important on average than job advancement. Unlimited PTO abuse for coworker employees in a team function adversely impacts the advancement of all. (Listen to: Coworkers who don’t pull their own weight.) 
Hourly nonexempt employees in many operation queue systems are needed to be timely in place for full scheduled shifts. 
FMLA tracking, especially where paid leave substitution applies, will need even more complicated and consistent lawful application. 
Attendance enforcements in academia and key community initiatives become culturally and practically challenged when not enforced on-the-job.
While the average employer saves only 52 hours per year in PTO tracking, the uncaptured opportunities may far outweigh these benefits.
Employees who lack intrinsic career motivation will likely abuse the system. This extrinsic reward fails to motivate the intrinsically de-motivated, and chaos prevails.
The work-life balance demands of the over-coddled sector of workforce newbies are not realistic. While many of today’s twenty-somethings are “setting the world on fire,” others need more structure and less participation ribbons before it’s their turn to raise the next generation and save the world. 
Constructive resignation becomes a likely burden, barely actionable in the process. 

Employers such as Evernote, GE and the Virgin Group have made headlines with their unique approaches to structuring unlimited PTO; however, rarely it is available to learn the precise structure, demographics and outcomes of their own policies. Employers today are called upon to re-evaluate their own PTO approach, keeping in mind what is and is not applicable to their own infrastructures. Once policies are in place, bear in mind the unlawfulness of penalizing an employee for using a benefit. 

Americans already rarely use all of the PTO days to which they are allotted. Similar to how the minimum wage is meant to be a benchmark upon which to add an increment, for most, the PTO schedule is meant to be a benchmark upon which to subtract an increment. For some, unlimited PTO removes the metric needed for work schedule planning and judgment purposes. Unique employers will ultimately determine the fit.       

HRS has designed, consulted on and reviewed PTO policies for thousands of employers over our 30+ year history. PTO policies need to consider internal and external equities, legal compliance, job design, organizational structure, vision and the unique culture/demographics of a specific employer. As with most HR/OD policies, one size certainly does not fit all. Please contact us for expanded information and solutions on this topic!

Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, August 31, 2015


Savvy Employers in Action: Neroli Postures on Education and Employee Trust

Susan Haise, Owner of Neroli Salon & Spa and the Institute of Beauty and Wellness, leads with her heart and mind in symphony. While many business leaders find dangerous conflict of interest by mixing the two, Susan’s natural talents define a magnificent culture of trust, supported by a relentless commitment to education. Her passion and pursuit of excellence are compelling. 

The keys to success for any employer are to create an aligned brand that delivers upon expectations and supports both mission and operations. Neroli and IBW are each positioned on quality, experience and education. Susan delivers to her team members exactly what she wants delivered to her clients and students. She “pays it forward” with astute understanding that environment, culture and experience are equally important to quality service and top level education. 

Neroli’s mission… “To renew the spirits and awaken the minds of all whom we have the opportunity to touch.”  Neroli’s culture… “We believe personal and organizational balance is the key to sustainable success. We believe in treating ourselves, each other, and the planet with care and respect.”   

When the Affordable Care Act began peaking with questions, twists and heated controversy, Haise quickly called to action an open invite educational campaign for Neroli team members and IBW students. While most employers avoided dialog (except that mandated by the ACA itself), Haise deployed HRS to deliver an uncensored and unbiased third party expert forum, fielding team member questions on any ACA topic and promoting complete transparency into all sides of legislative and individual consumer impact. Both supporters and naysayers of the act attended. Grace in education and open minded inquiry were accomplished. Now two years since educational campaign commenced, Susan reports that every day navigation of the ACA has been easier for all.

Susan embodies the educational commitment of HRS, and we submit Neroli/IBW’s case study as a prolific example of education done right. True education depends upon discovery of opposing viewpoints with open minds. While we typically advocate against shining a light on a problem, in this case confusion and fear were the problem, and the employer shined a light on the solution: education and transparency. The program delivered exactly what team members needed to know and addressed questions they likely otherwise would not have known to ask…all while strategically supporting the organizational mission with custom curriculum. Ongoing resources were then available for updated information throughout the ACA’s journey to date. HRS further certified the educational campaign and ongoing commitment as employer “reasonable care” in compliance, facilitating additional written communications to the team. Haise comments…”We have successfully navigated the waters, and our team is comfortable today understanding their ACA rights and responsibilities specifically because of our educational campaign with HRS. They are aware and informed. They know information is accessible.” Where employers shut down information and behave "cloak and dagger," they lose employee trust. Once again, Haise optimized trust among team members. Trust is motivating, leading to top shelf employee engagement.

Employment law influences and often dictates workplace practice. As a precursor to the educational campaign, HRS facilitated the custom crafting of Neroli/IBW's employee handbook by consulting directly with Haise and her executive team to recommend policies which not only align with but also accentuate the brand. Follow up implementation training and on call consultancy were next steps. 

While case and statutory law shape our recommendations, we typically recommend the handbook language educates employees as to how policies are deployed to uphold law and to protect workplace fairness and consistency. Inasmuch as we see some competitor legalese actually planting seed for complaint and disgruntlement, we advocate language which yields positive outcome instead. An opportunity exists to leverage compliance as a workplace benefit. Susan Haise adopted recommendations which are both comprehensively lawful but also precisely supportive of education and culture. 

A leading businessperson who has not only mastered culture and brand but who keeps a keen eye, hour by hour, on the numbers which drive fiscal success, Susan is no stranger to the reality that financial acumen is the empowerment and sustainability of the ongoing mission. An award winning entrepreneur, Haise has created and sustained award winning businesses since 1993. Named among the “Best Places to Work” by the Milwaukee Business Journal for five consecutive years, Neroli Salon & Spa operates five popular locations, while the Institute of Beauty and Wellness remains the pre-eminent “go to” for top industry education. Both firms under Haise’s leadership have earned multiple industry innovation and business success awards and are said to have “changed the beauty industry.” And of course, as great leaders do, Haise shares the credit with her executive team.

As a trusted resource for employer case study and information, HRS reports and recommends the Neroli/IBW story as an example of “mission accomplished.” Certain this organization will not rest on its laurels, we look forward to the next chapter. HRS emphatically advocates a commitment to strategic education, adaptive to the learning styles of individuals and team demographics with custom curriculum to best support operational success and mission objectives. Handbook policies are equally important for expert custom crafting, while templates fall critically short of the goal.  Haise’s mission for Neroli/IBW capitalizes on unique competitive edge and visionary innovation. Adopting status quo practice along any criteria would derail the mission and impede the noteworthy success.

HRS serves holistic management information and operations solutions to business leaders and HR/OD professionals. Areas of focus include HR, Employment Law and Organizational Development. Headquartered in Brookfield, WI, HRS delivers international reach with a local commitment to an audience of approximately 5000 employers. The highly decorated firm celebrates a fourth decade of success.

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Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, July 23, 2015


5 Key Rules to Crafting Leader Learning

While most employers tend to finance formal classroom or seminar learning for leaders, substantial opportunity is missed when more targeted and cost-effective methods are overlooked. Embracing our 4th decade of dedicating ourselves to the understanding of cognitive function and the variety of learning methods, we offer the following 5 key rules to success. 

1. Address the 84% who prefer roundtable to classroom learning. 
Learning goals differ among individuals, as do learning styles. Audience adaptation is paramount. While kinesthetic learning outpaces auditory learning more than 2:1, classroom and/or seminar activities are less effective than hands-on and interactive learning. Top academic institutions certainly get this, and they heavily deploy group tasks, case studies and hands-on assignments as key training methodology. Classroom is the set-up to learning, but most will forget the “talking head approach” unless follow-up kinesthetic training is meaningfully deployed. 

Kinesthetic learning is preferred by most, and it consists of do-it-yourself or tactile activity. Interactive Q&A done well can address this learning style. Visual learning is the next preferred, consisting of videos, observation, pictures and graphics. Auditory learning is the least preferred learning style, consisting of lecture, listened instruction and/or audio-training. When learning style is unknown, kinesthetic or combination methods are best deployed as a default.

2. If the message isn’t delivered 3 times, don’t bother delivering it at all.
The average human mind must receive a message 3 times before long term memory is invoked. Long term memory is defined as only 20+ minutes’ duration. While we all know exceptional learners who can receive instruction once and simply get it, these learners have likely learned their own trilogy memorization techniques, such as visualization, note taking, rehearsal, role playing or others. 

Trilogy training curriculum must be deployed at least two-fold. Not only do we repeat any message 3+ times to our immediate leader learning participants, but we must also help them execute trilogy training with those they then train. All leader learning should not only consider the knowledge transfer to immediately trained leaders, but also a “train-the-trainer” approach. 

3. Preserve pride and safe harbor while training leaders.
One of the biggest mistakes is internal training of leaders where hierarchy is present in the room. Seasoned leaders, especially, shut down critical questions when either their supervisors or those whom they supervise are present. In doing so, learning assessment and learning itself both suffer dramatically. While building trust between supervisor peers requires careful protocol from the experts, a relaxed mind accelerates learning and builds supervisor teamwork in a support system beneficial well beyond the immediate training exercises. 

“Old school” leadership training started and ended with salesmanship training. While more than 16 effective leadership styles are profiled, a leader can only lead to the extent subordinates are willing to follow. Beyond salesmanship, therefore, substance is more important than ever. Supervisors who are transparently incorrect will lose team confidence fast. In many environments, new hires may have received more leadership training than those to whom they report. In many cases, either the talented new hire then resigns or is forced out by implying an ability to advance past the supervisor. Experts address these topics through “safe harbor” methodology.

4. When choosing a trainer, embrace that speaker and facilitator skills are reverse-correlated.
Unless a panel discussion, the act of speaking in front of hundreds or thousands most often requires an ability to disconnect from the audience and rehearse a scripted presentation. Some speakers are more of entertainers than subject masters, and while humor is engaging and promotes auditory and possibly visual learning, Q&A may suffer. These presenters most definitely have their effective place in the schemata of combination method training; however, be careful when choosing them for a rapport-building coaching role. Very few can effectively transition between the two. 

For roundtable methodology, choose a facilitator who is a subject master and assessor who can meaningfully answer unanticipated questions and tailor curriculum to learning needs. Ensure that meeting skills and Gestalt protocol are simultaneously trained as not only immediate training enhancements but also to ensure company-wide meeting effectiveness improves as well. 

5. Market leadership training as not only necessary but also an employee benefit.
The benefit component is easier to market when a third party trainer is brought in. However, every investment into the team is in fact a benefit to be boasted. Effective leadership training creates transformational leaders and improves career path and success rate for all trained and all reporting to the properly trained leaders. CEOs, newly promoted team leads, or anyone in between should find improved time management, job satisfaction and job success through effective leadership training. 

Beyond these 5 key rules, leaders need regular refreshers and self-forgiveness in re-grounding to the basics. While leadership training needs to help leaders advance, leadership training for many needs to remind leaders of the rote redundancy which the intelligent mind would prefer to move past. Adaptation is critical. Employment law, motivation, corrective action, personality styles, six-hat thinking, appreciative inquiry, situational leadership and so many more topics are integral to leadership training, yet missed by many “cookie cutter” trainers. Do not settle for less than the best!

A learning styles survey is available at

As experts in Organizational Development, Employment Law and HR, HRS empowers business owners and C-suite leaders with fiscally savvy performance management solutions, custom to each unique employer. Leadership training and assessment are delivered onsite for our employer clients. Headquartered in Brookfield WI, HRS offers locations in Washington DC and Scottsdale AZ plus national satellites. 

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Jessica Ollenburg - Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Do “Happy” Workers Have a Reason to Excel?

When happy workers become complacent, work suffers. Simultaneously, demotivated workers are a substantial threat to business viability. A blueprint of empowerment exists.

Not long ago, many C-Suite leaders displayed skepticism when advised that ‘happy workers are productive workers.” To a limited extent, this skepticism served them well.

Per definition, motivation is a reason for behavior. The most widely accepted longstanding theories, such as Maslow and ERG, force us to question if “happy” is in fact the absence of motivation. If “happy” equates to Maslow’s self-actualization stage, why would happy workers be motivated to excel? Furthermore, is “happy” an effective measurement and business criterion?

Decades of studies have validated the pragmatic human capital approach to talent management, yet certain extremists are still peddling a “puppies and sunshine” approach to business. While “happy” workers are not necessarily a meaningful target, and are certainly not a lawful target, let’s explore a more prudent target.

Is “Happy” a Meaningful Criteria?
No astute business leader will ignore today’s five to seven-figure risk of incorporating terms like “happy” and “attitude” into performance criteria. Mood disorders are specifically protected by the EEOC, especially via the Americans with Disabilities Act and its subsequent amendments. Therefore, evaluating happiness can be discriminatory per both statutory and case law. All performance appraisal toolsets that previously carried this language are no longer safe to deploy and require recrafting. With expert guidance, updated terminology equally protective of workplace outcomes is available.  

Highbrow thinkers often characterize “happy” in the same realm of “utopia,” where “happy” exists as a non-sustainable target rather than a constant state of being. That being true, optimum productivity exists in the individual who can achieve fleeting happiness in the workplace and finds that work excellence is the path to attainment. That worker, in the proper performance management system, then repeatedly pursues the fleeting sense of “happy” through positive work behaviors, well-aligned with the organization’s goals. This assumes the worker is at socio-economic level beyond basic safety and security needs. An employee whose food and shelter are threatened may throw “happy” out the window quickly for extra money or job security. 

Today’s expert business leader recognizes that motivation cannot happen without hope and incentive. Demotivation occurs when employees are not properly rewarded for positive performance. An employee who exceeds expectations may not repeat the excellence if behavioral reinforcement is absent. Rewards, however, must be commensurate with the performance. Both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards collaborate together in a well-aligned system, refraining from impinging upon the other’s efficacy. A bonus for only adequate performance, for example, strips intrinsic motivation and creates a derailing reward system. A bonus for no performance, as today’s federal government often promotes, most certainly strips motivation and threatens productivity. 

A Relaxed Mind is a Productive Mind.
More meaningful than the elusive “happy” is cognitive ability. Productivity and creative problem solving are increased when negative noise is averted. The noise of fear, anxiety and negative emotion shut down the capabilities of most, while a few might benefit from a brief adrenaline rush through sympathetic nervous system response before crashing. Where a team member believes he or she can succeed and shall receive betterment as a result, and where the negative noise is quiet, the team member is exponentially more likely to demonstrate positive work behavior. 

Quality of work life deliverables which facilitate problem solving are frequently deployed by companies who depend upon invention and creativity. Work campuses and work days designed to unlock mental energy flourish. Wellness is a powerful human asset which translates into positive corporate output. 

And the Answer Is…
The discussion of “happy” workers is not only an irritant to many business pragmatists but also lacks legal risk management and, quite frankly, lacks tangible meaning. The real discussion is about workplace productivity as defined by motivation, environment and leadership. Again, motivation is a reason, and complacency will not do. Failure to deliver proper incentive will also not do. We advocate and deliver lifelong learning for leaders, accompanied by proper crafting and delivery of performance management systems. New leaders do not instinctively know how to lead and require solid formal training, often in a kinesthetic learning environment. In any talent-intensive organization, getting the right people doing the right things is the heartbeat of success. Keeping talent management at C-level authority is critical. 

Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, May 14, 2015


The Skills Gap, Pt. II: Addressing Education

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the skills gap and the phenomenon of how workers are failing to meet the standards of U.S. employers. It’s an evolving situation. I argued the point of, “how could there be a skills gap now when we were just dismissing people for being overqualified a few years ago?” You can read more about my viewpoint here.

Recently, however, a new study came out that showed a new aspect of this problem, and it has to do with everyone’s other favorite topic: the Millennials.

According to a recent study from the Educational Testing Service (ETS), U.S. Millennials drastically lag behind the rest of the world in areas of basic job and life skills. Out of 22 different nations, the Millennials of the United States were tied for third-last in the rankings of reading and writing, and were dead last in math and number skills. Ouch.

As a millennial myself, I can speak to this – I am CONSTANTLY finding people my age who don’t know proper grammar and writing styles, and I find that, when you give the average millennial something to read, they will often miss some of the key points included. The math, however, seems to be more of a person-to-person distinction. Regardless, this study’s findings are quite alarming. (Note: These are just my personal findings – I have no study at this time to back it up. Don’t worry fellow Millennials, I am going somewhere with this).

The ETS made this statement in their report: “Millennials, who will form the backbone of this nation's future, are not poised to lift us out of this predicament; in fact, the lack of adequate skills in this population has become a challenge for us to confront.”

Let’s put this into perspective - all of this data is even more surprising when we factor into account that this generation is on track to be the most highly educated generation (in terms of average years spent in school) EVER. Let that sink in – this generation is highly under-educated, all while simultaneously dumping billions of dollars into our education system every year. So, let’s ask the question, “Where does the problem lie? With the students, or with those who are paid to arm them with these necessary skills?”

This issue can only be the result of a problem that our country, and our government, has spent years discussing: education. Our education system, as a singular entity, is failing to teach our kids these basic skills. I’d argue that we’re even teaching kids the wrong things. For example, I’d be willing to wager that the average American millennial knows more about the biological anatomy of a plant than how to write a proper business letter. Odds are, a child is probably more likely to wind up in a career in corporate America than as a botanist, wouldn’t you say? (Note: I don’t feel that every individual education institution is at fault here, but this is an overarching problem amongst the masses.)

We can talk about all the usual topics and criticisms here: how everyone writes in shorthand, the seeming over-fascination with pop culture, etc. The truth is, however, that none of these issues describe the problem itself; rather, they are only symptoms of the problem. The culture of this world has taken us to a place where we haven’t been before, and we simply don’t know how to teach people to be successful in it…as of yet.

We don’t know how to teach a young adult how to learn important life skills while also being able to utilize the vast amount of technology that’s at their disposal. Simply enough – the technology is winning and is making the average citizen dumber. We need to not only adapt our education system to teach kids the right tools, but we also need to adapt to teach kids how to perform their jobs as their predecessors would have – with a high work ethic and the right knowledge base.

So, where’s the solution? We can’t necessarily wait for Congress to get out of gridlock, especially with this being the final year of presidency for Obama. Let’s take action more quickly; let’s confront the problem ourselves. The issue is education, right? And it’s not a lack of desire to be educated, otherwise this generation wouldn’t be spending so much time and money on it. The answer, rather, is in the right education.

We have a specific call to action: an education that delivers critical information not just in classroom style, but also kinesthetically in hands-on roundtable format; an education that doesn’t require 4 years’ experience and thousands of dollars to finance; an education that delivers information to students as they work, and allows them to improve, while on the job, for a fraction of the cost. Summarized, our call to action is to deliver an education that actually sinks in (sic, is taught in a way through which students will learn more effectively), and transfers the knowledge of what employers actually want their employees to know. It’s an education that’s taught by the business world for the business world.

Professional Workshops and Individual Learning Sessions. Like other education leaders, HRS has built a long history off of delivering the necessary information needed for employees to succeed. We know what employers want and need because we represent them, and they’ve told us. We can convey this information to those who want to learn, and these Millennials WANT to learn. They WANT to be educated. They WANT to be successful. Let’s give them the tools to do so. 

HRS is proud to launch a series of professional development workshops tailored to address this specific issue. They are workshops which will teach individuals these aforementioned skills, and can do so for either an individual company or for a group of individuals. Let’s give the population the necessary skills they are spending thousands of dollars trying to obtain, but aren’t. Let’s give everyone the knowledge they need to keep a steady job. Let’s fix our workforce.

To learn more about HRS Workshops and Individual Learning Sessions for Professional Development, please contact us or visit our Workshops page for more info.


Please find a link to the ETS study here: It’s definitely worth a look.

Matthew Bare - Monday, April 20, 2015


HR Advice from Nonprofit Associations Can Be Lethal! Non-legit Nonprofits Lurk Among Those that Deserve Our Support.

Make no mistake. HRS has been a substantial supporter of worthy nonprofits since our inception, and our Angel Wings and HRS Gives Back programs are fabulous examples. In the face of that, certain nonprofit associations, not specifically tied to greater good, are abusing tax-exempt status, betraying taxpayers and delivering dangerous advice. We warn to be wary. 

A disreputable few nonprofits are beginning to cross the line and betray their status. In the world of HR, employer membership associations done well can be great places to swap case studies, find research, attain broad-based information and acquire non-custom tools. Those that promise to give advice, however, are in direct conflict with IRS tax code and their rights to the tax breaks they demand. Specifically, IRS tax exempt status prohibits a nonprofit from serving, addressing or advocating specific interests of individuals or individual members. This IRS covenant stands to prove that any nonprofit addressing the unique interest or custom need of an individual member is likely practicing tax fraud and is specifically ill-equipped to provide meaningful adaptive solutions of quality caliber. Some are delivering dangerously poor advice, resulting in six or seven-figure disaster for constituents. One such criminal was recently found distributing an employment application template unlawfully bearing a social security number field. 

HRS continues to support, contribute to and partner with a wealth of professional associations relevant to our fields of study. You will find our logos and sponsorships proudly displayed. The best of them provide complimentary benefit to tax paying consulting firms and internal employer expertise. Similarly, IRS code also requests nonprofits to refrain from providing service available in the private sector market from tax paying employers. Any nonprofit that dramatically changes its service line in recent decades does not find itself exempt from responsibility to tax exemption covenants. Criminal behavior remains the outcome.

We at HRS embrace additional opinions on any topic of consequence. Our own boardroom approach to client problem solving demonstrates our ideology. Our multi-rater approach to assessment scoring further validates. With HRS, you already find holistic approach and several experts represented in any single proposed solution. As far as competition, we welcome competition. Today, seven critical disciplines fall under the HR umbrella, and the generalist needs specialist partners to get it done right. Having opened our doors before widespread HR demand at executive level, we welcome those who help us promote the critically expanded role of HR and those who keep us on our toes.

However, in a world where worthy nonprofits that save lives, advocate human rights and protect our kids are starving for government support and are suffering government cutbacks, we demand the non-legit nonprofits back away from the table. When nonprofits compete with tax paying firms, by definition and tax code, the nonprofit is not a legitimate nonprofit… in the wrong and abusing greater good. Tax breaks, grants and donations are sadly misguided when nonprofits dishonor their status. Buyers and taxpayers are called to use their voice and their buying power to encourage reform for greater good. 


Jessica Ollenburg - Tuesday, April 07, 2015


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


Is The Talent Gap Overstated?

Let’s take a trip down memory lane, and recount the mindset of our society:

The year is 2009. The economy is in a massive struggle, and it is still trending downward. We see several busts, crashes, and every conceivable angle at which our financial sector could fail. Most Americans are either about to lose or have already lost a significant chunk of their life savings. Things look grim. Remember what that felt like? I’m sure you do…all too well.

It is at this time that a decree is handed out to corporate America, “Every business shall either adapt…or fail.” In order to survive during these crumbling economic times, a company had to scale back and had to become lean. Unnecessary waste and, more harshly, “unnecessary” jobs, had to be cut in order for the majority to survive and maintain their livelihoods. We all remember these times, and, chances are, most of us are still feeling the effects of these changes just a few years later.

As businesses were faced with these decisions, the ones who survived all seemed to make a common decision: just as the company had to become agile and adaptable, so did the workforce. What followed then was a decision to hire young, developable talent (a.k.a., adaptable talent). It was a smart decision; hire the young guns and develop them to be the people you will need in the future. This was not only smart because of the adaptability factor, but also because of the cost factor. Hiring a YP could be much cheaper than hiring a senior level employee.

This was such a smart decision that, as mentioned previously, numerous employers jumped on the bandwagon and made this a national trend. We saw this out of the majority of our clients here at HRS: many wanted to hire the younger, more developable, cheaper talent; it made too much sense to ignore.

Of course, the adverse effect of this was that the senior, higher trained employees became less in demand. At every turn, older workers seemed to be passed over for the younger talent. Employers no longer wanted to pay for the more experienced, more expensive talent. It wasn’t of the same value anymore, and it wasn’t as affordable (side note: this also likely explains the beginning of the YP boom, and also the analysis of the generational gap).

Our country, in unison, made the statement to a segment of our working population that all of their training, and all of their experience, was no longer valued and was no longer part of the equation to better our broken economy. Out of nowhere, U.S. workers who spent their entire career learning specific skillsets were told that they had, essentially, wasted their time. I’m sure you can understand how this would feel – or maybe this even happened to you directly.

Now, let’s fast forward to the present day: it’s 2015 and we have been in the midst of a multi-year discussion about how to fix the lack of talent and appropriate, usable knowledge base in our talent pool.


What happened to those workers we passed over that had that training? What happened to hiring younger talent, and developing them ourselves? What happened to our plan?

Short answer: the knowledgeable workers have become discouraged…pun intended.

Long answer: Our economy, almost instantaneously, went from a place of choosing not to hire the senior employees, and identifying advanced skill sets as “less than preferred,” to a place where suddenly those skills don’t exist, and haven’t existed for a long time.

We went from a place of telling the experienced worker that their skills were no longer valued, to a place of telling them that they never had the skills to begin with. Talk about being discouraged…

One of either two things is happening here, Corporate America: 1) We have forgotten about the discouraged worker, and we are wondering why the young professionals don’t have the hard (or soft) skills of a seasoned professional after only a couple years, or 2) Our demand for workers’ skills is rapidly changing and outpacing our supply. We have become too ethereal and ever-changing with our ideology of the “perfect worker,” and the common population just can’t keep up with the changing trends.

Either way, Corporate America, we have grown impatient. I’m sorry to say it. We signed up for the inexperienced, developable work force. We can’t be upset now that they don’t have the skills we are looking for…when we are the ones who haven’t given it to them. Our economy spent decades’ worth of time, energy, and resources training the workers of pre-2009 to have the skills we needed. Let’s either not let that work go to waste, or acknowledge the fact that we may need a few decades (not months or single years) to embrace the change.

Let’s give our workers a break. They’re not incapable; they’re just trying to keep up.

Matthew Bare - Friday, January 30, 2015