The employee experience doesn’t happen by accident

HRNasty and the Zen of the Employee Experience

I am responsible for the employee experience and believe that I am the CEO of my personal brand. I manage the HR experience at a company I work with, but am the CEO of my personal brand. What I represent, who I am, and how I conduct myself are all part of my personal brand as an individual contributor, exec, and role model.  (I know plenty of folks who are rolling over in their grave with my name and “role model” in the same sentence, but I need to recognize the perception). Over the years, I have adopted the below philosophies within my professional HR career to provide a positive employee experience. I share them with you so you have an opportunity to see what makes me tick. I also provide this so that you can think about your own brand. 

What is your personal brand?

Below I share my HR philosophy with further explanations provided below the short list. I encourage everyone to articulate their personal brand. Most questions are answered with the below in mind. You already have a brand; you already believe and practice your craft in a purposeful way. Writing your tenants down will help you further define your brand, and can hold you to a higher standard.

With these ideas in mind, I am kept directed and purposeful about my craft. 

Employee Experience

  • Communicate company messages and decisions of consequence at least 3 times in three different ways.
  • Make your manager look good. Protect the company brand.
  • Look out for the company first. When I look out for the company, I am looking out for the employee.
  • HR guidelines vs. the HR Manual/Rules
  • It’s our own personal career, not our managers. Take the initiative to manage your career and your manager.
  • Assume good intent. No employee wakes up in the morning saying, I want to do the wrong thing. 
  • Recognize we are all people. We don’t get to pick where we are born, the color of our skin, or how we were brought up.
  • Coach employees to be better employees. Make it easy for managers to be better managers.
  • It’s not what we say; it’s how we say it.
  • Culture is not ping-pong tables and free catered meals.
  • Practice the appropriate level of HR for the industry and company culture. Not all companies need or want the same style of HR

Communicate the company message at least 3 three times, in three different ways

As executives and managers, we have had days, weeks, and sometimes months to finalize a company decision. We have thought through the decision, had discussions with senior leadership and thought of every scenario possible that could go wrong. Ultimately, we try to make the decision with the least downside. Condensing the week or month-long decision-making process into a 2-minute announcement will confuse employees. A short, paragraph-long email can also result in employees not understanding. Burying the 2-minute announcement in a 60-minute all-company meeting will dilute the message. Expecting the employees to grok the business logic within 2 minutes is unreasonable. 

My goal is two-fold:

  1. Explain the decision in such a way that even if employees don’t care for the decision personally, they respect the company’s perspective and understand why the company made the decision. I don’t expect anyone to like all decisions. 
  2. Give employees the time to digest decisions that took days, weeks, or months to finalize.

Rigor when making announcements:

  1. Explain the ultimate goal of the decision and be prepared to discuss the alternatives that were considered
  2. Share the announcement with the execs and managers
  3. Share the announcement with all employees via company meeting. Include the business logic
  4. Follow up with an email announcement explaining business logic
  5. Offer personal clarification at department meetings or via office hours
  6. Avoid once-and-done announcements

Make your manager look good

The behavior of the company will be a reflection of the CEO, the leadership team, and the credibility of the HR department. HR is a diplomat, mentor, and confidant. Occasionally, HR is law enforcement, but I consider this to be a failure on my part if it reaches this point. Usually, HR plays the role of the moral conscience of the company. When a company operates with good behavior, no one takes notice, and HR looks good.

Everyone notices bad behavior. When I look good, my manager will look good.

When the company looks bad, I look worse.   

Look out for the company first, not the individual. When I look out for the company, I am looking out for the individual

When I am recommending a company decision, I worry less about the 1% that is going to whine, see the negative, or be the squeaky wheel. There will always be a squeaky whiner who doesn’t see or want to see the big picture. I should not practice HR for this small percentage of the workforce. I am going to worry about the company and the other 99% of the employee force.

Making decisions defensively because we are afraid of

what the squeaky wheel will say will set us up for heartache

EG: In traditional HR, when one person becomes drunk at a company party, the normal result would be to cancel all drinking. I would prefer we have the professional courage to address the individual employee. The top 99% shouldn’t suffer because of the bottom 1%.

HR guidelines vs. the HR manual/rules

All people are different, and all situations are fluid and changing. A single rule from a master manual is not written to address every single situation. Times are changing, and we are working in disruptive environments. Our company guidelines need to adapt to these changing times, different cultures, and diverse demographics.

It’s our career, not our managers. Take the initiative to manage your career and your manager

As individuals, we need to manage our own careers. We should not rely on a manager to promote or direct us or ensure we are successful. As individual contributors, we can manage our careers by making it easy for our managers to manage us. We should work hard, explain what we want out of our careers, and, most importantly, show the initiative to accomplish those goals. When a manager has two employees who work hard, and one is specific in what they want out of their career, it is easy to help the employee who is articulate about long-term goals.  

We need to speak up. Managers are not mind-readers. Managers do not know our wins or losses, professional or personal. We need to share these experiences directly with our manager and explain how these experiences are affecting our current performance.

Assume good intent

Most people, in most circumstances, want to do the right thing. Most people treat others the way they want to be treated. That is the good intent. We need to recognize that not everyone wants to be treated the same way we want to be treated. Some cultures value speaking up to authority. Other cultures think it is insulting. Some cultures encourage you to clean your plate of food and eat everything. Other cultures encourage you to leave a little behind. Assume good intent.

We are all people. We don’t get to pick where we are born, the color of our skin, or how we were brought up.

Be sensitive to the fact that diversity is not a choice

We are men, women, trans, over 55, under 21, and all come from different generations and cultural backgrounds. We are different colors; we are veterans, millennials, and boomers. At the end of the day, we need to overcome our differences, and this is our individual responsibility. Reminder: The concept of “lean in” applies to all demographics.

When I was in middle school, I asked my mom, “What is White Trash?”  I had heard the term at school and really didn’t know what it meant. I remember her answer to this day. My mom was VERY angry with me. She rarely got visibly angry. She said, “Don’t ever use that term. Every culture has people who didn’t grow up with the opportunity you did. Our (home) country has the equivalent of people who didn’t have an opportunity. We don’t get to choose our upbringing.”

Culture is not ping-pong tables and free catered meals

Culture is created by recruiting like-minded individuals who work on a common mission. It is created by setting expectations when an employee is hired and consistently living up to those expectations. I want to avoid setting expectations that I am not able to meet. Transparency builds trust. Is it the transparency that worries us, or what people will do with this transparency that worries us? If we are not able to be transparent, then we may have the wrong people on the bus. 

I have worked in companies that made the number 1 slot on Best Place to Work lists without ping-pong and catered meals. We had serious camaraderie. It can be done. Ping pong tables and catered meals are a perk, but it is the mindshare of the people who make the culture.

No asshole rule revisited

I believe we can create the best place to work if u only hire assholes. This isn’t a place where I want to work, but if you are an asshole, you will probably feel at home in this environment. You will feel comfortable because you know what you are getting into, are surrounded by like-minded individuals, and can thrive in this environment. This is what makes the best place to work. Not all cultures are for everyone, and not everyone is for all environments.  Be purposeful about determining your culture and more purposeful about bringing tribe members into it.    

Lately, I have been working in fast-growing companies. This means the employees we are hiring today will be leaders tomorrow. So, I look for candidates that have a track record of continuous improvement and continuous progression. I am not looking for people who were stagnant in prior jobs because they will probably be stagnant in their future positions.  

Hire slow

Hire to win the war, not the battle

Coach up 

Don’t ever fuck up a paycheck. If we do, apologize and fall on the sword immediately, even when you are right.

Coach employees to be better employees. Make it easy for managers to be better managers.

Most employees do NOT know how to be successful in the work environment. It wasn’t taught to them in school, and it usually isn’t explained to them by the company. Goal setting, how to show initiative, and collaboration can all be new concepts to an employee and can be different at various companies. As managers, we need to show patience with our teams.

Most managers have not been through management training courses. As direct reports, we need to show patience with our managers and help them manage us.

MJ has style

Showing professional courage is the best thing we can share with our direct reports and our managers. Having a potentially difficult conversation/coaching moment will do the most for the manager and the employee. It’s not what we say; it’s how we say it.

Oprah asked Michael Jordan, “What do you hate?” His response was, “Hate is a powerful word, I don’t hate anything, I just haven’t found out how to appreciate that thing yet”.  I was speechless. So smooth. Such a gentleman. 

It’s not what we say; it’s how we say it.

Practice the appropriate level of HR for the industry and company culture. Not all companies need or want the same style of HR

Not all companies need the same style of HR. A large public corporation in a regulated industry will practice a different style of HR compared to a small tech start-up. I want to accelerate the company goals, not stifle them with “buy the book” HR. We won’t break any laws, but we should be creative in our craft, vs. just going back to “the laws”.  Laws are only effective as morals and compassion that are enforcing the culture.


Because most of my work is done behind closed doors, most employees don’t have an opportunity to see how HR operates. I am sure that many employees have wondered, “WTF! Is HR going to do anything about this messed up situation?” Trust me, even though progress may seem absent, work is being done, and we only want to respect individual privacy. We are not going to announce over the company loudspeakers “Attention all employees, we just caught Johhny coked up in the bathroom and will be administering corporal punishment out back after work. Grab a beer and come see the show!”  


See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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