HR needs to Chop Wood; Carry Water

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Some days just are awful.  I mean really awful.

You hear of a team member’s passing.  You become overwhelmed with workload.  A good friend disappoints and rejects you. Your husband leaves you.  Your wife doesn’t trust you. You learn you have to lay off 1/3 of your workforce.

Humans have remarkable resilience.  But also have a deep need to help, solve, connect and save.  If there is one group of “savers” in an organization  – it’s HR. And it can be overwhelming.

I went through a divorce, wow, in 2007 (so a long time ago).  I was overwhelmed.  Although the divorce was very amicable, AND we didn’t have kids (which makes it a lot easier), I was still incredibly sad and overwhelmed.  I mean, holy crap, 1 week after we parted my computer crashed.  My ex always handled that s**t, and he’s not here and I don’t feel like dealing with this but I have to pay my bills and I need my computer to do that and I’ll get behind on my mortgage and I’ll lose my house and people will think I’m out of control ……


Or, I just got through handling an acquisition, and now half of the leadership team has left and 2 of my team members quit and if I don’t get help we’ll overlook that important employee relations issue and then we’ll get sued and then our new equity partners will fire me and then I won’t be able to pay my mortgage…..


My friend said, “Dawn, today you just need to chop wood and carry water”.


“Chop wood and carry water. Today you need to do just the essentials.  If you were stranded on a desert island, to survive you would just need to chop wood for a fire/shelter and carry water to drink.  That’s it.  The rest needs to go into a box for you to open up later.”

“Huh.  Really. That’s it.”  

Yep.  That’s it.

So the Zen phrase actually goes, “Before enlightenment chop wood, carry water…after enlightenment chop wood, carry water.” Essentially, there are times you must break life down into the simplicity of the present moment.  Do only what is necessary.  Don’t multitask. Stay present.

HR Pros.  Some days you just have to compartmentalize.  Handle what you can.  Just do the essentials.  Don’t get ahead of yourself.  Don’t panic.

Chop wood; Carry Water.











Your Best HR strategy: Give Up Being Proactive

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I’ve been in Sr. HR for sometime.  I’ve sat in countless strategy sessions.  Something I’ve noticed most execs (including HR) state emphatically is the need to be proactive.  Some even pine for proactivity, treating their inability to wrap their arms around a proactive strategy like a shunned teenage victim of unrequited love.  If only there was more time to be proactive! (Cue theme from Love Story).

Well, after a very long time working this gig I’ve come to the smart conclusion HR is not and never will be a proactive business.  To be a great HR pro, you have to be able to work within the very exhilarating yet stressful life that is completely an utterly reactive.

  • Somebody in a critical, high-profile role quits — you react.
  • You get hammered with a 23% year-over-year benefit cost increase — you react.
  • You’re told you have 45 days to turn around all due diligence on a potential acquisition — you react.
  • The police show up for one of your employees – you react.

Some will say, hold up.  Good strategy includes assessing trends, understanding the landscape enough to predict barriers to success and proactively putting processes in place before the other shoe drops.  Sure thing.  Makes sense.  Should help. But my friends, both shoes dropped long ago.  I mean with a thud.

I have yet to see a proactive strategy actually work within 6 weeks of implementing it.  Why? Because at the end of the day, human emotion doesn’t follow any typical or predictable pattern you can trend forward. Do financial markets follow trends, yes. Your competition, yes.  How people buy your product, yes.  But what is going to piss off an employee royally, no.  Who unexpectedly (yet joyfully) gets pregnant and decides to move 5 states away to be closer to family, no.  Who’s gets diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer and must understandably take FMLA leave, no.

Also, if you are an HR team who doesn’t have, doesn’t want, or doesn’t know how to get strategic talent management information funneled to you before the rest of the company — then you better tie up those two Adidas (you know , the “other shoes” that dropped a month back) and start running after the problems.

Although i think it imperative HR does everything it can to assess trends to predict outcomes, we just have to do that in tandem with the shoe dropping. And guys, this is OK.  Really, it is.  It’s the gig. It’s what makes the job an adventure.  So get this.  I went to an executive leadership training at UNC-Chapel Hill where one of the professors had a unique definition of what strategy truly is.  He said strategy isn’t what you plan to do — it is what you ACTUALLY do.  

For instance, when someone asks you, “what is your strategy?” most will pull down a big spreadsheet or their Q3 goals or some such stuff and say “see, right here, halfway down page 1, this is our strategy”.

“So are you doing this now?”.

“No, not quite yet. We plan to do this soon”

Well then it is not your strategy.  And before you beat up yourself or HR about being too reactive.  Guess what?  SO IS EVERYONE ELSE.

So what can you do to help be effective in a reactive job?

  1. Hire people that can think and react well.  Yes, react. Well.
  2. Always know what your top priority is.  Notice I said priority. Singular. That will be the one thing you will work on outside of all the items you will be reacting to.
  3. Buy technology that will help you simplify process and communicate quickly.
  4. Buy technology that will allow you to gather feedback and in real time and spit out some bite sized pieces of data to analyze in real time.  You don’t need a CSV file with 20,000 rows. If you do get a CSV file with 20,000 lines, then take that data to finance, buy your Director of Finance a beer and ask her to walk you through the numbers. Finance will know that s**t quick.
  5. Demand time with senior leaders to understand corporate decisions before they are announced to all employees.   I mean, ideally, you’ll be part of the decision making process.  But if you aren’t, then you only need ONE thing from leaders.  A heads up. That is all.

So, although a nicely packaged proactive strategy may be ideal, remember we didn’t get into this gig because it was a neat, clean and predictable job.  And if you did get into HR because you wanted neat, clean and predictable, then I suggest you proactively begin a new job search.









What I Learned On My Summer Vacation


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Me, my husband and 15 friends vacationed in St. George Island, Florida, for a week.  Here is what I learned:

Making time for life-long best friends is a non-negotiable

I like being called Aunt Dawn

Kids really do amazing things.  Give 6 kids an ipad with imovie and they’ll rock your world

I like to be a little tan.  Me and my BFF always say “tan flab looks better than white flab”.  It’s true (in my case)!!! I personally tested the theory

Raw Oysters, Grouper and Gulf Shrimp are the new Holy Trinity

Dance parties and foosball championships are fun

Sleeping in until 11am everyday has its upside (a big one)

You don’t have to “day drink” to have fun at the beach IF you have a great book

Being introduced to great authors is just the best

A book hasn’t been well-read unless pages are dog-eared, coffee-stained, and the cover is curled over from use

Being nostalgic is under-rated

I want the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the National Championship more than I’d like to admit. #believeland

I’m an introverted extrovert.  I get energized by people, but since my mind spins, I have to be alone often.  I just have to be “off” when i have nothing left

All women care about how they look in a swimsuit.  I don’t know a man who cares about how they look in a swimsuit

I don’t like antiquing

It’s OK to tell your friends you are going to sleep at 9pm, even if they can’t believe you, Dawn Hrdlica-Burke, are the one going to bed before everyone else.  I know, it’s hard to believe

The beach is still my favorite place in the world – sorry Europe

I really do love my job

Cussing in front of kids — well, it happens

Floating in the ocean may be the only place my mind doesn’t spin

Everybody loves my husband

MiracleSuits are worth every penny

Pelicans seem to fly in packs

I drink white wine and eat tortilla chips too fast.  I need some new “favorites” that require slow, slow and slow

It’s time to start some new habits.  Every now and then you just have to say “if what I’m doing now doesn’t work…try something different”.  It’s not rocket science

Work is cool; but not as cool as rest.

Making time for life-long best friends is a non-negotiable (it bears repeating)



Worst Open Enrollment Ever: 10 Sure-Fire Steps To Disaster

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Life is full of hot messes.

Honey Boo-Boo.

Orange “circus peanuts.”

Shia LaBouf.

Black licorice.

Gary Busey.

The list goes on and on….

But when you’re in HR, just about nothing feels more disastrous than a bad benefits open enrollment. So jump aboard the “Hot Mess Express” with me, and let’s look at the 10 open enrollment practices you should always, always avoid.

  1. Wait until the middle of December to decide on your next years benefits plan. Nothing says “I love you” like giving your employees 1 week to enroll. And watch your benefits administrator do back flips when they have to cram 2 months of admin prep into one week. Well, they may not do back flips, but they certainly will be flipping decision-makers something else.…

  2. Try to succinctly explain the math on how your plan deductibles and premiums work when you’re not 100% sure yourself. (Ever experienced flopsweat? You will!!) Seriously, don’t feel bad about passing the buck and letting your broker do this for you.


Read the rest of my post (and the other 8 great open enrollment disasters) on the ALEX Blog.  

Deliberately Disrupt Your Comfort Zone

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“I gotta go through the fire and brace the flame, let it burn real deep to get over the pain, I gotta break through.  I gotta break through.”  —My girl, Mary J. Blige!

So, I did a speaking gig for #DisruptHR Chicago a few weeks ago.  A new speaking format where you get 5 minutes, the slides are on auto pilot and you just go.  No notes. Just go. And it was uncomfortable.  Which turned out to be a fabulous thing.

Getting out of your comfort zone is the same feeling as riding a roller coaster.  See, I’m scared of heights but I love me a roller coaster.  Although parts of it are unimaginable (am I really on a flying-train-car-mobile, without some sort containment?), I still feel supported.  And for all-intents-and purposes, am pretty sure I’m gonna make it through the ride (aka won’t die).

When the ride is over your adrenaline starts to drop, you exhale and start laughing really hard.  You made it.  And then you want to do it again.

This was the same Same with #DisruptHR Chicago.  I’m pretty good at public speaking, but this format was simply new.  When I stepped on stage in front of 250 folks doing this presentation for the first time, I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be.

When it was over and I didn’t die, and folks seemed to like it — I exhaled, laughed really hard and wanted to do it again.

So here are some of my thoughts on how to disrupt your comfort zone once you’ve ID’d your new challenge:

  1. ID what transferable skills you have that will help in this new arena.  In this case I referred back to my theatre days.  This new format was the same as learning a 5 minute soliloquy.  No sweat.
  2. Ask for an opportunity to take on the challenge.  In this case I reached out and asked some Disrupt HR folks, namely  Jennifer McClure and Charlie Judy to be considered for this gig. Going for the ask  may have been the hardest part of the whole process.  It’s easy to cover up fear of disrupting your comfort zone by “waiting” for someone to give you an op.  
  3. Get support.  Tell people what you are doing and what you need help with.  I asked my Daxko team to watch me practice my presentation.  This was invaluable.  My buddy Kris Dunn shared some tips with me.  A group I’m a part of called Boondoggle (Jason Lauritsen, Joe Gerstandt, Stuart Chittenden, Maddie Grant, Jamie Notter) were full of hugs and love that night (I’m big on this).
  4. Find others in the same boat as you, struggling with the same challenge, and have counseling sessions.  You are never the only one working on a challenge.
  5. Remember this is still your jam:  Some folks you count on will disappoint.  Some folks will simply be too busy or distracted to pay you attention.  Some folks will think you really don’t need the help.  You do need to remember at the end of the day, this is your adventure to drive.
  6. Get quiet/ Find zen.  Before any new challenge you need quiet time to think.  Absorb.  Be creative.  Focus.  Before the DisruptHR Chicago event the energy was so high in the room I had to find a quiet corner at the other end of the building to just be quiet. And yes, some of this time was in a bathroom stall just sitting. It was the only quiet place! This is essential.
  7. Do a post-mortem.  I was fortunate to get a video of my performance.  Although I feel I did well, I learned so much by just watching.  Believe you me, I’m gonna change much of my delivery.  This is the second hardest part to the process — reviewing the results warts-and-all.

THEN, last but not least:

  • Eat Ice Cream
  • Get a Massage
  • Hug your cat-spouse-kid
  • Sleep

Enjoy knowing you just grew a little.

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Game Of Thrones + Performance Planning = Awesome Webinar

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“Shame…Shame…Shame…” if you miss this AWESOME webinar.

You guys know I am addicted to TV (I can think of worse).  And you know I share the good news on leadership practices.  And you know I am a member of the Fistful of Talent Crew.

I’ve got a win-win-win for you.  Join me and Kris Dunn in Winterfell as we serve you up a tasty knowledge mashup…

Join us on May 19th at 2pm Eastern for RAISING DRAGONS: What Game of Thrones Teaches Us About Performance Coaching and Building Teams,” brought to you by Fistful of Talent and Halogen.  We’ll use Castle Black and King’s Landing to explore best practices in performance coaching by giving you the following goodies:

A quick rundown of the history of Game of Thrones from a leadership perspective. Have a favorite character who’s dead? Whether it’s Ned Stark or Khal Drago, we’ll go rapid fire and tell you what they did well from a coaching perspective, then tell you what dysfunction caused them to be… well… cancelled.

We’ll feature the 5 most notorious leaders currently alive on the show and break down their coaching style—where they’re strong and where they struggle—with the help of the performance management experts at Halogen Software. Odds are you’ll find a mother of dragons, a short fellow anddire wolf owner in this breakdown.

We’ll breakdown the five most common coaching conversations in corporate America today and tell you which Game of Thrones leader your managers should emulate to nail the conversation—so they can maximize their team member’s performance.

We’ll wrap up the webinar by telling you what the coaching styles of the 5 characters featured means for their future—and the future of the teams they lead.

You’ve signed up for enough boring webinars, right? Break the pattern and register for our Game of Thrones webinar, and we’ll deliver the performance management/coaching science with a layer of pop culture you’ve grown to expect from Fistful of Talent.


Candy Everybody Wants: Easy Connections At Work


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The following is a guest post I had the pleasure of contributing to the  WorkXO blog, Culture Chat.  WorkXO is a new start up dedicated to humanizing the workplace.  Check them out. 

Before we talk shop, let’s be clear.  Baby Ruth Bars are the GREATEST OF ALL THE CANDIES.  Don’t be afraid to admit it.  Don’t be a closet Ruth lover.  Be brave and show your Ruth love publicly.

And I’m calling out all of you Butterfinger/ Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Lovers.  Lucifer created fake peanut butter.

So anyway….

I conducted training at our Daxko CSI Houston location.  In a fit of spontaneity, one of the Houston team members and I started coveting a jar of candy on her desk.  We got into a casual conversation about which candy we liked best:  my Baby Ruth vs. her Mr. Goodbar.  Both of us shocked that the other’s top choice was so awful, pulled out all the candies and ranked them from top to bottom.  Now it was starting to become interesting.

Read my whole guest post on the great WorkXO blog Culture Chat.