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The Wellness Obstacle – The Leader’s Health
The Wellness Obstacle – The Leader’s Health 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

In my last post, I shared my thoughts about why I think Wellness programs are becoming an increasingly important part of our work in HR.  I’m relatively new to the field.  It wasn’t until I joined my current organization that I become really familiar with this notion of wellness within the organization.  

Aside from all of the corporate benefits of wellness programs done right, I have experienced some very personal and specific benefits.  Since the corporate wellness function exists within HR at my organization, I am the executive champion for wellness by default.  For me, that meant that I had better start acting the part.  After all, who would want to hear about wellness from an overweight, out-of-shape HR guy–hardly a credible source on the subject (it’s like getting medical advice from an unhealthy doctor).  Since taking on this role, I’ve started eating better, exercising more and generally being far more conscientious about my health because I feel that it’s a requirement of the job. I love this pressure because it’s a great motivator to stay in shape.  However, I suspect that not everyone would feel the same way.

As I have thought about this circumstance and the personal changes implied by being associated with leading a wellness strategy, it occurred to me that this might be why wellness is such a challenging thing to get right or to get adopted.  An unhealthy leader might consider that wellness is an intriguing program for their organization until they realize that the act of putting in a program like this might mean that they must personally change.  I suspect that many a wellness program has died before even starting due to this factor.  Generally, it’s been my experience that people won’t voluntarily put themselves into a position where they knowingly take on significant accountability for personal change.  Instead, it’s just easier to argue that wellness programs haven’t been proven to work or that company’s have no business telling people how to manage their health.  All surface arguments that are hiding a more complicated truth, many of us are insecure about our own health and our ability to manage it successfully.

So, if you are considering presenting a wellness initiative or strategy for your organization, take time to consider the implications on yourself and the other leaders within the organization.  In order for your program to work, you (as the champion) and the key leaders in your organization must not only support the strategy but they must also walk the talk by modeling healthy lifestyles.  Don’t overlook the very personal impact this has on each individual leader.  By acknowledging this in the process, you are more likely to get a clear picture of the obstacles that must be overcome on your way to implementing a successful program.  
why wellness programs matter - employees doing yoga together
Why Wellness Programs Matter
Why Wellness Programs Matter 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

I have a confession to make. I used to think that corporate wellness programs were ridiculous.

I’d hear about weight-loss contests and health fairs and, frankly, it felt like the typical busywork kind of stuff HR departments are known for.

Then, I went to work for an organization that invests heavily in wellness (and had been doing so for 15 years) and I found out I was wrong.

As I’ve studied wellness and the impact that well-executed wellness programs can have on an organization, I’ve changed my tune. I’ve become a wellness champion.

I believe in wellness programs within organizations and I think that every organization should be investing in them. It seems so obvious to me that there is a benefit to having a wellness program that it’s hard to understand why companies wouldn’t embrace them, particularly in today’s world of health care expenses that continue to spiral out of control.

The general argument against corporate wellness is that companies have no business mandating anything to do with employee health.

It’s argued that requiring employees to get in better shape or care for their general health and well-being is an intrusion of their privacy.

I’ve heard this sentiment coming from some pretty smart HR pros, and I find their objection to wellness to be short-sighted.

The fact is, we mandate things to employees every day. We tell them how to dress. We give them standards for their hygiene. We require them to attend training classes. We give expectations on how to execute their job. We tell when they can and can’t take personal phone calls. We tell them what they can and can’t say to who and when.

And we do all of this because specific employee behaviors have a direct financial impact on the organization.

But, when it comes to wellness, we get squeamish about setting the same kind of standards despite the fact that employer-paid health insurance benefits have become the second-largest expense line item for many companies behind salary.

And research tells us that 75% of healthcare expenses in America come from chronic health conditions that are largely preventable through behavior modification.

So, to extrapolate, it can be assumed also that approximately 75% of our health insurance expense at the organization level is being caused by the behaviors of our employees. And, if they change these behaviors, there could be a dramatic decrease in healthcare expenses for the employee and the organization.

This doesn’t even take into consideration that people are doing real damage to themselves and their families through their unhealthy choices.

With this much at stake, why wouldn’t a responsible organization get invested in wellness?

It almost feels like an imperative to create healthy organizations that proactively help employees make healthier decisions. In fact, if we are willing to dictate how employees dress when there’s so little at stake, why wouldn’t we offer help with what they eat or how much they exercise when there’s so much at stake?


Related Reading:

Wellness 2.0

Why Employee Well-Being is Vital to Work Performance

How (and Why) to Check in With Your Employees Now More Than Ever

Sending My Kids Back to School Broke Me

Style Matters in HR
Style Matters in HR 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Today, I attended a seminar.  My schedule is busy, so I try to chose wisely how I spend my time.  The topic was of interest to me.  The speaker was flown in and touted as an expert.  I had high expectations.  My mistake.

Here’s a short summary of my experience of the session:

  • The presenter seems like a smart guy who clearly knows his stuff.
  • The presenter is also a guy who has some great experience and has probably done some good work.
  • The topic was interesting and a lot of content was shared.
  • I left early because the overall presentation design and delivery was terrible. 
Today should have been an engaging, educational experience for me where I took away great lessons to help my organization.  BUT, because the presenter lacked some very basic presentation skills, I lost out.  That sucks.  Maybe I’m lazy that way, but if I feel like I’m having to work as hard as the presenter to extract the meaningful information from the session, I check out.  Don’t get me wrong, I made a couple of notes, but it could have been so much more.  
All too often, presenters assume that if they put together powerpoint slides with tons of data, that it doesn’t matter how they deliver it or how polished the presentation is.  WRONG.  This is a trap that I’ve seen HR pros and others fall into over and over.  They assume that they don’t need to work hard on presentation design when it’s an internal presentation.  They assume that style doesn’t matter.  In fact, I’ve even heard HR folks criticize others who invest in style as if it’s cheating or something.  This makes for rambling, data overkill presentations that are ineffective at best or credibility killers at worst. Don’t do it.   
If you want to stand out as a rock star in HR, invest your energy and time in knocking presentations out of the park.  (Note: A presentation doesn’t have to be in front of a large audience.  It can be simply presenting an business case or idea to your boss.)  Here’s how it’s done.
  1. Study how to design great presentations (there’s lots of online resources out there) and put that to work.  
  2. Write out the speaking part of your presentation word for word. 
  3. Revise those words until they are just right.  
  4. Then, rehearse until you can do it in your sleep.  This programs the words into your brain so when you make the presentation, even if you are nervous, the words will be there.  
  5. Finally, find a couple people you respect and do the presentation for them and have them give you some critical feedback.  Use that feedback to tweak things to make it better.  
  6. Dazzle your audience.   
Taking the time to put a little style and polish in your approach will set you apart from your peers.  You don’t need to have the most experience or knowledge to seize this advantage.  Great presentations build credibility and credibility puts you in the game.
One versus Many
One versus Many 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

The holy grail in HR seems to be to find a system or process that will impact every employee and affect change uniformly across the board.  We strive to build performance management and talent management processes that can be applied at every level across the company.  We look to find a way to get all managers to embrace the same best practices and become better leaders collectively.  We spend money on consultants and technology that seem to hold the promise of this elusive holy grail.  We want a clean, easy and elegant solution to our organization’s people problems.  

The problem is that HR is about working with (and changing) people.  People are complicated and messy.  I, just like everyone else, still spend hours in pursuit of the elegant process-driven approach to broadly changing employee behaviors because these approaches have merit.  But, the underlying truth of the work we do in HR is that each person is unique and they change on their own terms and at their own speed.  And, much more importantly, change within an organization actually happens one person at a time.  

This is where my thinking has taken a turn in recent years.  It’s not a new thought, it just took me a while to arrive here.  Given that our role in HR is to impact employee behavior company-wide while change in behavior happens one person at a time, we appear to have a dilemma.  However, when you break down how organizations of people work, there are key players within the organization who have broad influence on how others in the organization choose to behave.  In essence, if you get these people to change, the rest of the organization will follow.  Here are a few of the key groups:
  1. Executive leaders.  Clearly, the group with the most significant influence.  But, we don’t always have access to these folks.  
  2. Emerging leaders.  Those who are either formally or informally identified as the future leaders of the organization.  This group may be the most significant because not only do they have influence today, but their influence will grow in the future.
  3. Informal leaders.  These are the employees who may not have formal titles, but who others look to for what to do in times of change or conflict.
  4. Connectors.  Those employees who have relationships that are broad and stretch across divisions.  These connectors have the ability to spread ideas quickly due to their network.  
HR is a busy profession with lots of demands on our time.  So, we aren’t going to have the luxury to literally work with each employee one on one in the organization.  The big payoff is focusing efforts on the key groups of people outlined above and focus on strategies to influence them..  If you want to get everyone to do a particular thing a certain way, get these groups to do it and the rest will follow.  

Change happens one person at a time.  The key is to start with the right person.  

If you’re in, be in
If you’re in, be in 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I recently read a blog post by a blogger who is an HR professional by day.  In the post, she said something to the effect: “I have a love/hate relationship with HR.”  This struck me the wrong way.  In fact, the more I thought about it, the more it chapped my . . . well, you know.

You see, I used to say silly things like this when I was new to HR.  I didn’t respect HR early in my career.  I was a hardcore headhunter prior to coming into HR and part of my training had been that all HR people were either worthless or washed up–they were failures.  In the headhunting world, HR is nothing but an obstacle between you and a commission check (hey, that’s how I was trained).  So, when I made the jump to HR, I had a little identity crisis to work through.  I had an love/hate relationship with HR at the beginning because I wasn’t bought in yet.  My expectations were way out of whack with the reality of HR.

But now it’s different.  When you work in HR, you are HR.  If you have a love/hate relationship with HR, you have a love/hate relationship with yourself.  You have an identity crisis and a self-esteem problem.  Imagine how you’d feel if your child’s teacher said that he had a love/hate relationship with education.  How in the world is your organization supposed to respect you if you aren’t even sure if you respect yourself.  Aaarrrggghh!  Stop it, stop it, stop it, stop it!  

There’s a saying that you have probably heard many times.  From the first time I heard it, it has rung in my ears:

If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.  

Not only did the words, “I have a love/hate relationship with HR” come from a practicing HR professional, but from one who blogs to the world professing to help others be better at HR.  While I’m sure that this particular blogger would argue that she’s helping HR move forward, but I think that this type of mindset is part of our problem.

If you are in HR, be HR.  Love the work.  Love the profession.  Love the people.  Yes, we are flawed.  Yes, we have a lot to improve.  But, so does every other discipline.  Instead of trying to distance yourself from HR, start being the solution.  Model the way HR should be.  Have a vision for the future of HR and share it with others. Hold yourself, your team and your peers to incredible high standards.  Mentor, teach, lead, grow.  That’s what we need in HR.

I am HR.  So are you.  Start acting like it.

Culture is Hard to Define, Do it Anyway
Culture is Hard to Define, Do it Anyway 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I recently sat in a facilitated discussion about the development of emerging leaders with a group of my peers from large employers in my area.  During the course of the conversation, one particularly seasoned HR leader at the table offered up that one of the most critical characteristics of the emerging leaders within his organization was “cultural fit.”  When pressed about what that meant, he explained that culture is something that’s very difficult to define.  The obvious follow up question is “if you can’t define it, then how do you measure for cultural fit?”  He responded that it’s just something you can tell about the person.  I glanced around the room as he said this to see nodding heads around the table.  (I am not making this up.)

As I sat a bit stunned to have just heard this exchange, the discussion continued.  In less than ten minutes, the same person brought up that attitude was a very important characteristic in their emerging leaders.  When asked to speak more about that, he said . . . wait for it . . . “it’s really hard to define, you just can kind of feel it.”  Un.  Freaking.  Believable.

So, to summarize this HR executive leader’s comments: They know that cultural fit and attitude are critically important components for identifying those people who will make or break the future of their company.  However, they have no reliable way to measure these things in others, so instead they fall back on the old reliable HR tool, “gut feel.”  Is it any wonder that HR isn’t considered a legitimate player at the executive table with this kind of thinking?

I wish this were an isolated or fabricated story.  Sadly, this type of scene is playing itself out in HR departments in companies everywhere.  Too many of us have fallen into the trap to believe that if something is hard to define, that it’s not possible.  Don’t let this happen to you.

Here’s a list of things that are hard to define:

  • Leadership
  • Culture
  • Purpose
  • Values
For some reason, it seems that the things that matter the most are also the most difficult to define.  However, each of these can be defined.  This work is not for the faint of heart because it’s big, ugly, scary work to take on because despite the power that definition brings in alignment and focus, the effort will be met with resistance.  This resistance comes because the process of definition not only requires the organization to define and commit to what it IS, but also what it IS NOT.  This process takes out the gray area of culture or leadership where it’s easy to hide if you aren’t playing within the rules.  
So, yes, it’s hard to define culture.  Most people won’t even try.  Be different.  Do it anyway.  
Stuff I Liked this Week – Vol 1
Stuff I Liked this Week – Vol 1 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Since there are roughly four bazillion blogs and online news sources out there, it can be pretty overwhelming to figure out what to read.  I am constantly refining what I read and I try to do it often as I can.  However, no matter how much I try to read, I am always finding great new stuff based on the recommendations of others via blogs and twitter.

There are a lot of topics out there.  And there are a lot of smart folks out there writing about those topics.  So, rather than try to address every topic myself, I’d rather point you towards blogs and people with points of view that I respect and find compelling.

So, for both of these reasons, I’m going to try to create a post about once per week where I share with you the things I read in the past week that I found most intriguing.  My hope is that this will help you find some great content and save a little time.

This week’s hit list:

Jason Seiden – Throw Away Your Metrics—You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

Free Range Communication – is your employees’ health their own private matter?

The HR Capitalist – Job Description Syndrome and the Case for Fewer Goals.

Altitude Branding – 5 Tactics for Civil Disagreement – Twitter: Media Or (Un)Social Network?

Have a great week!

HR as Role Model
HR as Role Model 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Being the expert feels good.  It means that you get to render your judgement about others actions and hand out advice freely.  In HR, we are frequently called upon to be the expert when it comes to employees.  And boy do we love to give out advice on how others should do things.

The big question is whether we are credible experts.  Are we both providing expertise but also “living the way” in our own teams?  Being the role model of best practices is one under utilized way that HR can shape change in an organization.  Advocating for employee development?  Make sure you are doing world class development within HR.  There’s no better way to get others attention than to utilize your expertise to transform you own team.

As I think about the following issues that seem to be hot in our HR world, how are we role modeling the change we would want to see?

  • Employer Brand — How are you branding HR?  How are you branding yourself?
  • Culture – Are you defining and managing to an intentional culture in HR?  Do you know your core values?
  • Social Media – How are you using the tools within your team to drive innovation, connection, and learning?
  • Performance Management – Are you working with a process in HR to plan performance and hold people accountable?  Does HR do quality goal setting?
  •  Diversity – How are your actively creating and embracing more diversity within in the HR team?  
The list goes on.  The point is, that one thing that you can influence most as an HR leader is what happens with your team.  Be the example and practice the change you desire in your own shop before you take it on the road.  By being able to show how you made something work and talk about the results, you gain real credibility and power to influence others to do the same.
#HRevolution Effect
#HRevolution Effect 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

So, the parade of HRevolution posts continues.  If you didn’t attend, go next time.  If you did, this post is largely for you as I think you may relate to my experience.

I was invited to participate in this unique event originally due to my Talent Anarchy work.  TA is my alter-ego life where I get paid to speak about how companies and people are screwing up talent and what they should be doing differently.  So, I came to the conference ready to play that role to the best of my ability.  
However, the larger part of my professional life is spent as a VP of HR for an 800 employee bank.  As the conversations unfolded throughout HRevolution, I found myself viewing the conversation more specifically from this formal HR perspective as it seemed that this kind of perspective was in shorter supply.  
This event has impacted me in a number of ways.  The major impact is that it stoked an already burning fire within me to take up the fight to help bring credibility and swagger to the profession of human resources.  We have a confidence problem in HR that’s paired up a lack of ability in some very important areas.  HRevolution reinforced for me that I have both the opportunity and the responsibility to be a part of the solution.  And intent without action is pointless, so I’ve committed to making some things happen on my end.  

As of today, Sunday, May 16, 2010, not only has HRevolution inspired many, many posts to be written.  It has inspired at least one more blog to be created . . . this one.  Whether that is a good thing or bad thing remains to be seen, time will judge that one.  I plan to share what I think is my somewhat unique perspective on HR for the purposes of helping others move forward in their HR careers.  For those of you who spent the weekend with me at HRevolution in Chicago, my blog won’t be aimed at you because you already get it.  My hope is to use this platform to share information from my HR leadership experience with others in HR who it might help.  I also intend to use this vehicle to connect those folks to the blogs being produced by all of you who are so much more eloquent and brilliant than I am.  We’ll see you this goes.  I don’t have anything to sell here, so my intentions is simply to create and share content that will help others.  
My other resolution, post HRevolution, is to find a way to bring this kind of conference/dialogue to my home turf.  It is crystal clear to me that if there is to be an evolution or rather a revolution in HR, we have to bring the movement to the people doing the work.  HR won’t change until those who sit in the chair and do the work on a day to day basis sign up for change.  I will lead the charge in Nebraska and I hope that others will do the same elsewhere.  I hope that the national HRevolution events continue because we need to keep the community of revolutionaries connected and supporting each other.  The battle at home will be much tougher to fight, but fight we must to create a new future for our field.  Change will happen one conversation and one person at a time.  
Thank you again to the planning committee and visionaries who made HRevolution a reality.  You have truly made a difference.  
Why I created yet another HR blog . . .
Why I created yet another HR blog . . . 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I ended up in HR by accident.  I didn’t study HR in college.  I didn’t even study business.  My early career in sales eventually led me to become a headhunter where I discovered my passion.  I love working with the dynamics of how people and companies come together.  It seems inevitable that my career would lead me to human resources, but my path here has been anything but traditional.

Today, I lead a corporate HR team of thirteen people at a regional bank based in Nebraska.  My team is responsible for everything from processing payroll to succession planning, from recruitment to corporate wellness.  If it has to do with the people side of our business, we are involved.  My role places me at the executive “table” in my organization, so I can speak to what it means to sit in the “seat at the table” that we like to discuss in our field.  My responsibility and accountability to both my organization and my profession is to live up this role.   
So, now to the reason for this blog.  There are a lot of great HR blogs out there.  My belief is that maybe I can bring a little different perspective to the discussion of HR.  My goal will be to share ideas, create conversations, and provide any resources I can to help the “practice” of human resources to evolve as it must if we plan to be relevant in the future.  In particular, I want to illuminate the reality of what it means to be a senior leader in HR and what that reality means for how HR pros must change how they think and behave.  
So, why is my perspective unique?  Here’s a few things you ought to know about me:
  • The qualifications noted by my boss (the CEO) when hired for my current role were the following three things: sales skills, strategic ability, and a powerful and broad professional network.  I was chosen over a dozen other HR professionals who had much more impressive and lengthy HR credentials.  My organization “gets it.”  But make no mistake that this will become more of a trend in the future.  
  • I don’t have a PHR, SPHR, or GPHR nor do I plan to get one.  If you have been in HR for a while, you probably have deeper technical knowledge of HR than I do.  I value HR technical knowledge, but it’s not what has helped me succeed.  My strengths are deep in interpersonal, influence, strategy, and communication skills.  Plus, I ask important questions and am unafraid of conflict.  
  • In my world, HR is a business practice.  We exist to help the business be successful.  HR is not social service.  If that’s the kind of work you want to do, there are a lot of places who need your talents that aren’t HR. 
  • I am a Talent Anarchist.  In full disclosure, besides my formal career in HR, I am also a paid professional speaker with my colleague Joe Gerstandt.  We call ourselves Talent Anarchy.  I have a passion for speaking in front of people about ideas. 
  • I’m not much of a conformist and I don’t much care for rules.  I know that structure is important, but my disdain for unnecessary rules makes for some interesting tension in HR.  
  • I’m a proud member of Gen X.  Read into that what you will. 
Hopefully, this is enough background for you to determine if you have any further interest in reading my new blog.  All I ask is that if you do choose to read, that you occasionally say hi and let me know what you think of the work I’m sharing here.  If there’s any way I can help you, ask and I will help if I can.  If you want me to share my experience on a specific topic, I’ll happily do it.  
Thanks in advance for your time.  I know that’s a lot out there for you to read.  I’m honored that you’ve chosen to spend a few minutes with me.  
Jason Lauritsen