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It’s Just a Game
It’s Just a Game 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

As I watched the first Sunday of NFL football yesterday, I started thinking about the fact that these grown men actually play a game for a living.  They study the game, practice the game, prepare to perform in the game, and condition to perform well in the game.  In addition, they study their opponents to get a deep understanding of how they play the game in hopes of uncovering some insights that will provide an advantage.  

This makes me wonder why people some times get offended when I talk about viewing the workplace like a game.  Here’s how defines the word “game”:

Game –  noun a competitive activity involving skill, chance, or enduranceon the part of two or more persons who play according to aset of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators.

If you have any interest in advancement, recognition or increased compensation and you think that work isn’t a competitive activity with spectators, you are kidding yourself.   The people above you are watching you perform on the field next to your peers every day.  While we talk often about the utopia where every employee puts the interests of the company or the greater good before their own, the reality is that we work to provide our self (and our families) with a quality of life.  And, most people want more than they are getting from the company at any given moment (regardless of whether they are willing to do more to get it).  In order to get more in most companies, you have to outperform or maneuver the person next to you in a way that gets the attention of the “management.”  That sounds like a game to me.

In addition, there are certainly rules to this game.  As a member of the HR community, I can attest to rules because we create most of them.  Rules for how and when you can get promoted.  Rules for how performance should be measured.  Rules for what differentiates a good employee from a bad one. These are all written rules.  Then there’s the unwritten rules of culture, history, and status quo.  All of these provide walls within which you must play this game as you work to get ahead.

So, work really is and should be viewed as a game.  A serious one, but a game none the less.  If you approached your “game” in the same way and with the same rigor as professional athletes do, I suspect you’d find yourself getting promoted in a hurry.

The other upside of taking a “game” mindset to work is that most games are truly for your enjoyment or amusement.  I love it when pro athletes get interviewed and talk about how blessed they are to “get to play a game I love for a living.”  This is what we should aspire to.  Find a game (i.e. job) you love to play and then play it with reckless abandon.  Study, practice, prepare and condition to be the very best at your game.  The rewards will be great if you do.

Playing a game you love and getting paid to do it is a blessing.  I wish that blessing on everyone.

Disarming the Corporate Bully
Disarming the Corporate Bully 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

My Dad has taught me a lot of important stuff throughout my life: never let anyone compromise your integrity, better to be lucky than good most days, working hard will set you apart, etc.  But, yesterday over a coffee with a friend, I was reminded of one of the most important lessons he taught me.

Like most kids, I was a teen age “know it all” who thought I was smarter than the rest of the world (some would probably argue that I never grew out of this, but I digress).  My Dad, to entertain himself mainly, took great pleasure in pushing my buttons in this regard.  When I would start running my mouth about some particular topic, espousing my vast insight on the issue, he would always take the opposite side of the issue and start provoking me.  At that age, not only was I an annoying know it all, but I was also a bit of a hot head.  I would get really worked up, to the point of being angry in these discussions.  The more fired up I got, the more my Dad seemed to enjoy the conversation.  He was teaching.  And, I never won an argument.

Dad was tweaking me.  He was pushing my buttons, and I responded every time.  And when I responded, I lost my cool and with it, my ability to have a civilized conversation.  In these moments, I stopped listening and stopped learning.  And, I used to get really angry with him for doing this to me.

Of course, I eventually realized that he wasn’t doing anything to me, he was just making a couple of comments in the context of a conversation about some topic or another.  I was choosing to react to his comments as hostile and in doing so, I completely lost my head.  Once that happened, I had no ability to engage in a real conversation and any opportunity I had to influence was lost.

The main lesson I took from all of this was:

Most times, you take away a bully’s power by choosing not to engage.  

If you don’t fight back or freak out, you aren’t any fun to bully.  This doesn’t mean that you become a push over, but it means that you can’t let others dictate your emotions and responses to situations.

Within organizations, I have seen this kind of aggression used to gain politic power and to distract attention from what really matters.  If I am a manager or VP over a division that’s not performing extremely well, a tactic I can use to keep the heat off of me is to pick on another area (HR anyone?).  If I start pointing fingers and accusing others of being responsible for failing to support me appropriately and they respond, the attention within the organization is now drawn to either the conflict or the other department’s response.  Either way, the eyeballs are off of me and my lousy performance.  It happens all the time.  And, we usually take the bait.

Don’t get caught in this trap.  It’s tempting to feel like you need to defend yourself and fight back every time something like this happens.  However, if you are taking care of business and performing in your own right, then the best response to an act of aggression is often a non-response.  Be polite, be friendly, and add no fuel to the fire.  A vast majority of the time, the bully will simply go away.  They have now power without you giving it to them.

And, the happy by-product of this approach is that your level of day to day aggravation will decrease dramatically.  We give energy to much of the turmoil around us.  When we stop feeding it, most of it goes away.  Less aggravation leads to a lot more fun at work.

Thanks Dad.

The Danger in Adding Too Much Value
The Danger in Adding Too Much Value 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Some lessons are hard ones to put into actual practice.  I have a project that I’ve been working on the past several months.  One part of this project has been giving me fits.  The harder I worked at the problem and the more creative I tried to be, the farther away from a solution I got.  I kept trying to find a new and creative way to attack this issue, to add some new value.  But,  nothing was working.  

But, finally I stopped.  I went clear back to the beginning and started over.  I asked a few more questions.  I listened.  And what I found was that the solution was simple.  Painfully simple.  I think that I so wanted to show off my creative abilities that I was taking a straight forward problem and making it complex.  I was trying to add value where it really wasn’t needed.  
I think this happens a lot in our work.  We attack a problem or situation with a flurry of ideas and approaches when something far more simple is called for.  To justify our existence (and our salary) we have a compulsion to spring to action, to roll up our sleeves and do some work.  The irony is that often times, the best thing we could do is the simplest, even the easiest.  Sometimes, the best way to add value is to do nothing.  
To check yourself before you run off to create a bunch of work, start by asking these questions:
  • What is the ideal outcome (or What do you want to see happen?)
  • What is the simplest way to make that happen?
  • Is there any risk with following this simplest solution?
In human resources, the place where we try add too much value every day is employee relations.  Employees and managers come to us with basic problems every day.  Because we want to prove our value, we take on these problems and launch interventions and investigations.  This makes us look and feel busy.  But, a majority of employee relations issues stem from a communication gap between two people.  If we asked the three questions above, we wouldn’t launch into intervention mode.  Rather, we’d coach the person in front of us to go have a conversation with the other person with whom they have a issue before we would take any action.  It’s amazing how many issues get resolved this way.  
So, the real question is this: do you want to be busy or get results?  I sure wish I had paused to ask these questions at the beginning of my project because I can’t get my time back.  But, I suppose it’s better late than never.  Don’t make the same mistake I did.  Find the simple path and follow it.  
Talk is Cheap (and I only care about your actions)
Talk is Cheap (and I only care about your actions) 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I think one of the most powerful things we can do as leaders is to help people understand the disconnect between their intentions and their actions.  People will often talk a good game about what they will do or what they intend to do, but it’s much harder to do it–particularly when there is risk of failure involved.  Talk is cheap and we have that in abundance.  It’s much harder to actually do the hard things that might scare us.  

Sometimes, it is important that you be the bucket of cold water that is thrown in someone’s face.  My best mentors throughout my career have been those who would tell me the unvarnished truth about where my words didn’t match my actions.  It never feels good to hear these truths, but they have always made me better and propelled me forward.  Sadly, it has become less and less common for people to tell each other the truth.  This doesn’t mean that we should be cruel, but rather be courageous enough to help someone else see that they are creating their own frustration by not doing what needs to be done in order to live up to their own intentions.  
#Quotes for Labor Day
#Quotes for Labor Day 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

As we enjoy a day off to celebrate the spirit of the American worker, I thought I’d share a few quotes to inspire us as we return to work tomorrow.

There’s no scarcity of opportunity to make a living at what you love.  There is only a scarcity of resolve to make it happen.
-Wayne Dyer 

The nearest way to glory is to strive to be what you wish to be thought to be.

The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.
-Bruce Lee 

Everyone who got where he is had to begin where he was.
-Robert Louis 

In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.
-Thomas Jefferson

Have a great holiday!
Are We Really in the Talent Acquisition Business? #TruLondon
Are We Really in the Talent Acquisition Business? #TruLondon 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I am so excited to be joining Bill Boorman and  the fine folks at Jobsite in London this week for the TruLondon4 Unconference.  I love the unconference format and am flattered and privileged that they have invited me to join them as a guest track leader.  I look forward to sharing a post or two about the experience when I return next week.  Below I am sharing the second guest post I wrote for Jobsite to outline one of the topics I plan to discuss this week with the fine folks at TruLondon4.  
Are We Really in the Talent Acquisition Business?
I’m not sure exactly when this happened, but at some point in the last decade it became the trend to replace the functional description “Recruiting” with “Talent Acquisition”.  Don’t get me wrong, Talent Acquisition sounds cool and progressive.  It was in keeping with the other trends around HR to focus on Talent.  However, I don’t think the two mean the same thing.  And, frankly, I think we still practice a whole lot more recruiting than we do talent acquisition.  Hear me out.
When you do a quick Google search for a definition of the word “recruit,” here’s some of what you’ll find (these courtesy of
  • To supply with new members or employees
  • To replenish
  • To obtain replacements for something lost, wasted or needed
At the most basic, recruiting in our work is about finding new employees or replacing ones that left.  The qualities or characteristics of those new employees aren’t really a function of the definition but rather a consideration of the quality of the process used to recruit.  Sure, we want to recruit the best people we can, but in most cases, we are paid to fill open positions with people the hiring manager deems suitable to hire.
When we decide we want to fly the Talent Acquisition flag, it implies something much bigger than just recruiting.  Technically, recruiting and acquisition are probably similar, but now we’ve added this notion that our job is really about talent.  But what does that mean?
In February 2010, I wrote a blog post for the Human Capital Institute called, “What is Talent?” where I considered this important question and how potentially complicated it can be.  We like to throw around the word “talent” a lot in our work, but from my experience, most of us aren’t completely clear on what it means.
If you are in the talent trade, how are you defining talent?  Is it about potential? Is it situational?  Is it about experience or current ability?  Is it about cultural fit?  And you can’t say, “Yeah, all of that stuff” because in order for the definition to be meaningful, you must be able to recognize talent and measure it.  After all, we are in the talent acquisition business.  How can you know if you are acquiring talent if you can’t measure it?
So, what’s the answer?  I don’t think there is a single definition of talent—at least none that I can find.  My advice to you, if you call yourself a talent acquisition professional, you had better know how you define and measure talent in your business or organization.  If you can’t or won’t do that, then be honest about it and get back to recruiting.  That doesn’t mean that you don’t want to do quality work or that you don’t work with talent, it just means that you understand that your role is about finding and replacing employees—the kind that our hiring managers will hire.
When we do recruiting and call it Talent Acquisition, we are diluting the idea of talent.  If you are in Talent, then recognize that it’s bigger and more demanding that just recruiting.  And hold yourself and others to that higher standard.
Are you Asking this Question of your Employees?
Are you Asking this Question of your Employees? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Last week, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a young woman who used to work on one of my HR teams several years ago.  It was great to sit down to catch up and share stories about our time working together.

As you would expect, our conversation centered around our current jobs and how things were going for each of us today.  Thankfully, we both seem to be happy with our current situations which made for fun lunch time talk.  As she shared some details with me about her role and her company, some things really stood out to me about why she loves what she’s doing today.

This is what she said:

  • People are friendly and they want to get to know you.  They make time to connect.  
  • They let me do what I do best.
  • I have the opportunity to impact what we do and how we do it.  
She propped these things up as really refreshing things about her current role.  She also felt that this was rare. These things read like questions off of an employee engagement survey, so clearly her employer and/or manager is doing some right.  But, there was one thing that she mentioned three times during our lunch so I took it to be the most significant.  She shared with me that her management asks her a particular question frequently that really matters to her job satisfaction. Here it is:
  • “Are you enjoying your job?  Do you like what you are doing?” 
And she believes that they really want to know the answer.  She knows that it is her responsibility to tell the truth then they ask her this question, but she hasn’t had any real complaints to this point.  I’m guessing by the fact that they regularly ask this question that this company probably behaves in a way that helps employees find their way to work that they enjoy, so the questions is more of an affirmation than an inquisition.  
It was a reminder of how simple it can be to engage talented people.  It’s not always easy, but by just asking the right questions sincerely, you can make a major impact.  
HR Strategy (and a Special Offer from #ILSHRM11)
HR Strategy (and a Special Offer from #ILSHRM11) 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I am fortunate to be presenting a session at the SHRM 2011 Strategy Conference being held in Chicago on October 5-7.  The conference theme this year is “Think Different” so I suspect I will fit right in.  If you are still interested in attending this great event (even if you have no interest in my session), I have a great opportunity to share with you.  By virtue of being a keynote speaker at the Illinois State SHRM conference this week, I am able to offer you a discount to attend the SHRM Strategy Conference.  You can get a discount on your registration if you sign up before September 30 and use the discount code: SHRMIL2011.

My session at the Strategy conference is titled “The Power of a Plan: Unlocking the Full Value of an HR Strategic Plan in a Mid-Sized Organization.”  Basically, this session will dig into a simple framework for an HR strategic planning process that anyone can implement within their own organization.  And, we’ll talk about the real reason to do HR strategic planning (hint: it’s not what you think it is).  

To give you a sense for my perspective on HR Strategy, I’m republishing a post here that I originally posted on earlier this year.

Building a Strategic HR Plan: The Best Time You’ll Ever Invest in Your Team

Originally posted: April 21, 2011 on

When historians write about the great battles throughout human history, invariably one of the keys to victory is a military leader with a brilliant strategy for defeating the enemy forces. It seems that when it comes to winning battles, the leader who can execute the most cunning plan will almost always emerge victorious.

The power of a great plan translates far beyond the battlefield and is particularly relevant for HR teams. After all, human resources is in a battle — a battle for credibility; a battle for respect; a battle for influence. And a great plan may be the key to winning this battle.

For human resources, the power of planning may not be where you expect it to be.

Four keys to a well-designed plan

Instead of being solely the results produced from the execution of the plan, the real power lies in the planning process itself. To be most effective, the planning process for an HR team must be broadly inclusive of internal customers and stakeholders. A well-designed inclusive planning process can accomplish several things.

  • Alignment. This is the commonly understood value of strategic planning. The plan articulates how the work HR does aligns to support the organization’s strategy and goals. The plan also ensures that the people and functions within human resources are aligned with each other towards achieving the same objectives.
  • Buy-in. One of the struggles of HR teams is that many of our customers think they could do our jobs better than we do. They have a lot of opinions about HR, some good and some ill-informed. By executing a broad, inclusive process of strategic planning, you can solicit your customer’s opinions in the process so that they feel like you’ve heard their ideas and considered them in creating the plan. If they feel included, they are far more likely to be supportive.
  • Education. Let’s face it, most of our customers don’t really understand what we do in HR. And, if we are honest, we’ve probably worked to keep it that way in order to preserve the value of our expertise. But to enhance our credibility organizationally, we need to invite the business into our work instead of keeping them out. An inclusive planning process that involves our customers will help them get better educated about what we do and how we do it. They will, without question, come away with a better appreciation for how hard our job is in HR.
  • Control. We’re not talking about control over others, but rather a control of how HR should be evaluated and understood. One of the principles I live by is that we teach people how to treat us. Put another way, if you aren’t being treated the way you think you should be, it’s because you are allowing it to happen. When we don’t manage the organization’s expectations of human resources, we leave our destiny in other’s hands. We know they don’t really understand how we add value, so why would we allow them to determine how we should be evaluated? A well-designed strategic plan enhances your control of how others will interpret your results.

If you currently have a strategic planning process within HR, but you aren’t seeing these results, it’s likely because you aren’t making it inclusive enough of the business. Being inclusive takes time so it can be a tempting step to minimize or skip. Avoid this trap.

What the planning process must include

There are many correct ways to do strategic planning and you will have to choose which approach is best for your organization. Regardless of the specific approach you choose, to achieve the results outlined above, your process must include the following components.

  • Extensive input from your internal customers on the current state of HR. This process can be painful because if done correctly, you will get some feedback that isn’t flattering or easy to hear. How you gather this information can range from surveys to focus groups to one-on-one discussion. Depending on your organization, you may need an external consultant to assist with this part of the process in order to get honest feedback.
  • Feedback from your HR staff on the strengths and weaknesses of the team.  Again, this process can be handled in a variety of ways. The critical element is to ensure that the HR staff has input and feels heard, particularly those who work on the front lines with employees every day.
  • Strategic information from each business unit or department/division about their future plans, and the major challenges they anticipate for their business, both in general and regarding their talent. It’s important to spend time on in-person discussions in addition to gaining copies of written strategic plans. The conversations are another way to make them feel included in the process and to ensure that your plan reflects the critical needs of their business.
  • Broad communication of the plan back to those who participated in the process and other key stakeholders. Depending on the audience, the amount of detail to share will vary, but it’s critical that once the plan is completed, you take the time to sell it back to the organization. In the communication, you must remind them of how the plan reflects their input and is designed to support their success.

This process is time consuming to complete and it can feel tedious at times — but it might also be the best time you ever invest in your HR team. When executed correctly, an inclusive strategic planning process can take your HR team from being perceived as a necessary evil to emerging as a strategic leader within the organization.

What is Talent?
What is Talent? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I originally wrote this post as a guest post for the Human Capital Institute in February 2010.  I was recently reminded of it and as I read it again, I liked the message.  So, I thought it was worth sharing again here.

What is Talent?

Over the past decade, it seems that the concept of Talent has come to the forefront of our business conversations. We talk about talent. We select for talent. We even have entire departments devoted to the management of talent. But what truly is talent? 

When we talk about talent, there are a variety of perspectives we can take. As defined by, talent is defined as both: A special natural ability –or– A capacity for achievement or success.
I think that the realm of sports offers the easiest examples when it comes to thinking about talent. By the definitions above, if we were putting together a basketball team, we would find a couple different kinds of talent. The first kind of talent is the kind we find in a point guard who is very quick with his hands and feet which allows him to dribble and pass the ball very effectively. This is certainly a special natural ability. At the same time, an individual who is 7 feet tall could also be thought to have talent because height in basketball generally means a capacity for achievement (although we probably wouldn’t normally have thought of height as a talent). The thing that both individuals share in common is that they possess traits that may predispose them to success in basketball, but that definitely don’t guaranty success. 
In organizations, talent is more complicated to understand. We’ve all known people who have both the ability and capacity to be successful, but don’t for some reason. While some people may argue that this is a case of wasted talent, I think that it’s more complicated than that. I think that at the root of the problem is that we often consider talent to be universal, that a “talented” individual will excel in any situation. 
If we take a more practical approach to talent in business, we might define talent as “anything that predisposes an individual to success in a position or organization.” Said another way, talent is situational. It is something you don’t have to learn that will give you a natural advantage towards being successful in a specific situation. Defined this way, a trait may be considered a talent in one situation and not another (i.e. being 7 feet tall is a talent in basketball but not in flying fighter jets). I’m not suggesting that you have to have talent to be successful in a role, but that having talent will mean that you are starting with an advantage. If I have a position on my team that requires heavy interaction with people, hiring someone who has the talent of an outgoing personality would certainly make for an easier path to success than hiring an introvert. Conversely, that outgoing personality may not be a talent if I was hiring for a computer programmer. 
So, if we think of talent as situational rather than universal, our job as talent management professionals can be boiled down to finding ways to set talent free. Our focus should be on placing people in the right roles where their abilities and capacities can manifest as talent to drive our organization’s success.
8 Ways to Turn Conference Attendance into Actual Results
8 Ways to Turn Conference Attendance into Actual Results 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

How often have you returned from a conference or training seminar with a notebook full of ideas, intentions, and new contacts only to immediately get sucked back into the work vortex at the expense of everything in the notebook?

It happens to everyone, all the time.  Good conferences can shoot you full of energy and renew your spirit.  But, it’s really, really hard to maintain that energy when you return to work.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  But, the only person who can change the cycle is you.  You have to make a commitment to yourself and your organization that you won’t let allow this investment of time and money to be wasted.

Here are few things I have found work for me, perhaps they will work for you.

  1. When you schedule to attend a conference, block out several hours (maybe even half a day) on your calendar the morning after you return from a conference and call it “Conference Follow Up/Debrief.”  This helps to ensure that you have time when you get back to the office to process the experience and take some immediate steps to capitalize on the momentum from the conference.
  2. During this time, send follow up emails and social network connection requests to all of the people you met at the conference.  The follow up is just to ensure that you solidify the connection, share contact information and perhaps create an expectation of connecting again in the future.  
  3. Either on your way home from the conference or in this time you set aside once you are back, go through your notes and make a list of the most important things you learned or ideas that were sparked throughout the conference.  This list can be as long as it needs to be.
  4. Chose one thing on your list to take action on immediately.  It doesn’t have to be huge, but chose something that can have some immediate impact.  
  5. Identify up to 3 more things on your list that you will commit to take action on in the next 30 days.  
  6. Type these four things into a document.  At the top, it should say: “I commit to doing these things in the next 30 days.”  Print this document and either hang it up in your office (most effective) or put it into a drawer on your desk where you will have to look at it frequently.  
  7. Share this document with someone else in your office or your network who you respect and trust.  Ask them to follow up with you in 30 days to see if you completed the things on the list.
  8. Schedule a 30 minute appointment in your calendar for 90 days from the day you return from the conference.  The meeting should be titled: “Review xyz Conference/Training Session Notes.”  This will remind you to pull out your notes and look through them again, creating another opportunity to capture some of the energy of the experience again and to perhaps find some new things you could implement.  
By taking some very simple, but intentional steps, you can use your conference and training experiences to propel you and your team forward.  Be brave enough to hold yourself accountable for turning your ideas and intentions into results.  
Jason Lauritsen