Gaining Respect in Business: If Snooki Can Be Political, So Can HR

If Jersey Shore's Snooki and Sen. John McCain can talk business and politics, why can't HR?

I was at the SMA Staffing Symposium in Seattle this week, and Laurie Ruettimann (former PunkRockHR blogger, current New Media Services founder) spoke to the audience about getting more engaged and gaining respect in the business world. How does she propose you do that? Well, it might be easier to say what she says doesn’t work:

  • Playing buzzword bingo by learning your business terms (synergy, 35,000 foot view);
  • Fighting for the proverbial seat at the table;
  • Avoiding personal and political topics;
  • Learning how to read a balance sheet.

In fact, Ruettimann argues that these things end up holding back talent professionals in the business world.

Faux language of business

When we talk in buzzword heavy phrases, we sound like we are auditioning for a financial show on a cable news network. This isn’t how real business leaders talk about business issues. If you listen to speeches by great business minds (Warren Buffet being used as example), they talk plainly about the issues and are able to distill the topics of the day to make day-to-day decisions that impact their company’s for years.

Ruettimann says that to speak the language of business is to speak of relevant issues. So instead of talking about synergies or engagement, talk about the deficit or the latest news in The Wall Street Journal. Don’t emulate self-proclaimed business gurus and talk show hosts; emulate the top business leaders of the day.

Being current

You’ve got to know what’s going on outside of your company. Not just in your profession or industry, but in the world as well. Ruettimann argues that business intelligence is about knowing more than just about what’s going on with your cash flow or your marketing strategy. It is about knowing what’s going on and making intelligent decisions that take into consideration a broad base of information.

When she talks to HR professionals, Ruettimann says they want to talk about employer branding, social media policies and other micro-concerns that are profession based. These are good conversations for HR people to have with one another but it won’t get you taken seriously with other high ranking executives.

Be political

In one of the more entertaining parts of the presentation, Ruettimann shared a tweet from Arizona Senator John McCain to Snooki (of MTV’s Jersey Shore) talking about the tanning bed tax. Her point was that if Snooki and Senator John McCain can be politically engaged (both online and off), so can HR and other talent professionals.

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HR people always say they hate politics or take on this faux neutrality, but business leaders take thoughtful political stands. The good ones do it based on what’s going on in the world, analysis and thinking about the impact on their business and employees.

If a reality TV star can take a stand on a political issue, why can’t HR?

Closing with a bang

Ruettimann shared that while she was at times embarrassed for the HR profession, she also believes that it can be improved. And even if the profession as a whole can’t be improved, individuals can improve themselves or move out of the way of other talented professionals who are willing to push the envelope and become real HR leaders.

Even coming from a self-proclaimed failed human resources professional (as Laurie Ruettimann describes herself) , it was a message that was welcomed by the crowd. Challenging the profession with a little snark, comedy, and hope.


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