It would be very easy to dismiss Laurie Ruettimann as a lightweight or vacuous. (I was going to use the word flaky but that means undependable and Laurie is never that). The personality behind Punk Rock HR and the current author of Cynical Girl, Ruettimann takes a very 21st Century social media orientation to her work as an HR pundit. Articles about her cats and pet peeves are integrated tightly with common sense answers to HR conundrums.
The outer superficiality is like the ‘spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down’. Claiming Penelope Trunk as her inspiration, Ruettimann delivers Mary Poppins in the same way that the Brazen Careerist channels Helen Gurly Brown. Ruettimann is busy in the midst of an experiment to see how educational approaches can be adapted to make great HR palatable.
Leadership styles are changing. The model of HR credibility, rooted in trying to pass as a member of the dark-suited-pasty-white executive team is dying. Emerging in its place is a looser, more intimate leader who fails publicly, is easier to get to know and comes with the quirks and foibles that make real people who they are. Laurie is at the leading edge of this shift. Occasionally awkward looking, new and better approaches often have difficult births. Part of Ruettimann’s influence comes from her willingness to go first, to be at the edge of this new and improved style.
More than a few very serious old timers treat Ruettimann’s method and content with disdain. In the drive to build credibility for HR, much of the sense of humor required for effective leadership has given way to a dour focus on ROI. When HR is busy being the hatchet-man (I mean person), it’s easy to lose sight of the basics of the human part of this thing. Cheerful even when bitter (it’s that magical nanny thing), Ruettimann has little toloerance for ogres.
21st Century communications channels are not the same as they were in the industrial era. In a time of intense quantification, influence might be best understood as a function of audience size (yep, it matters). Ruettimann’s deep influence on the industry (whether you like the style or not) comes from the size of her audience and her willingness to hit the road to build it. Influence doesn’t come from great ideas or virtuous behavior (it would be a wonderful world if it did). Instead, people follow the people they can see. Without an audience, good ideas are useless. With an audience, anything is possible.
Laurie is using the skills she learned in her formal HR career to build a communications channel. Smart enough to know that she has a lot to learn, she builds with charisma and common sense. If you stop to think about it, who has a bigger platform? Lots of people are listening. SHRM solicits her strategic advice.
After moving into HR straight out of college, Laurie found she was great at hiring. “I know how to deconstruct a narrative,” she says. “That’s how you find the connection between a person and a job.” She rose quickly into Recruiting leadership slots and branched out into the rest of HR.
In 2007, following one more move, she started blogging. A decade in HR served as the foundation for her writing. She quickly developed the style she is still known for three and a half years later.
“It’s all about connecting people, all about the conversations. The current crop of blogging advice is pretty awful. It’s focused on the process, not the things you need to do.”
We spoke about the things driving HR’s evolution.
“HR is being pulled apart. Part of the problem is that HR simply hasn’t delivered. The other element involves the fact that technology eliminates HR’s traditional role as coordinator of administrivia. That said, much of HRTechnology is lost on me. It’s technology for the sake of technology. HR is not about Tech; it’s the relationships, the management of behavior and the generation of results.”
Moxie is a key element of creating results in an organization. Ruettimann is at the very beginnings of what will be an extraordinary career. By brashly putting herself out in front, she’s built an opportunity to make some interesting things happen. If you want to understand how influence works, watch the way Laurie uses hers in the next couple of years.