EP: 138 How To Recharge And Rehumanize Work Cultures With Dr. Keri Ohlrich

BWW 138 | Work Cultures


Human capital is an important element to achieve business success. But how can business leaders implement empowering work cultures and guide HR officers to perform at their best? Today, Dr. Keri Ohlrich presents her book, The Way of the HR Warrior: Leading the CHARGE to Transform Your Career and Organization. Regardless of whether you are in HR or not, her book and message surely have something for you. What are you waiting for? Hit that play button and don’t miss this chance to transform your trusted team into resilient HR Warriors!


During my chat with Dr. Keri, we discussed:

  1. What motivated her to co-write her book, The Way of the HR Warrior
  2. What the CHARGE framework is, and how we use it in our careers, whether we work in the HR field or not
  3. Why HR aligning their goals and values with the organization is critical
  4. We also talked about leadership and how self-awareness is so important at any stage as a leader
  5. Keri also shared her top books and resources to develop leadership muscles in your career
  6. She also left us with her advice for anyone who wants to get into the HR field (here’s a spoiler alert – it’s not for the faint of heart)

Listen to the podcast here


How To Recharge And Rehumanize Work Cultures With Dr. Keri Ohlrich

How are you doing out there? Summer of 2023 has flown by. Some people may be throwing daggers after I say this but while I enjoy summer as much as anyone else, I’m not so secretly excited for the kids going back to school and some fall weather. To be honest, I’m more of that fall, pumpkin spice, latte kind of girl. Sweater weather. Sweatshirts are my favorite. I’m jonesing for the crisp fall air. Doesn’t that sound lovely? The leaves are falling and bonfires are in the backyard.

What about you? Are you a summer person and you never want this heat to end, like you could bathe in all of the stickiness and the heat? Are you on Team Fall like me? You hear where I’m at and you know where I’m landing. I am pro-fall so bring on September and October 2023. I will still enjoy every day of the remaining days of the summer of 2023 before the kids go back.

On a separate note, I need to share something awesome with you. My second book, Brave Women at Work: Lessons in Confidence, hit Amazon bestseller status in five categories. Can I get a woo-hoo and amen over there? I’m so excited. I wanted to thank my family, dear friends, and all of you for your support. The hardcover is available for presale and will officially be for sale on August 22nd, 2023. You can pre-order the book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can order it from Hunter Street Press who is the publisher of this wonderful book.

If you don’t know about the Brave Women at Work books, there are two of them. Brave Women at Work: Lessons in Confidence, which is the new one. The first one was Brave Women at Work: Stories of Resilience. They are anthologies of women’s stories. These women will knock your socks off. They’re amazing authors from all over the country. They have stories that are so relatable. I appreciate their vulnerability and willingness to share so that we can all learn from them. Go ahead, pick it up, and get the pre-order in. We would love to have you check it out. On social media, tag me and give me some feedback. I would love to hear them.

Related to books, my guest for this episode is Dr. Keri Ohlrich. I discuss her book, The Way of the HR Warrior: Leading the CHARGE to Transform Your Career and Organization. Regardless if you are in human resources or not, it doesn’t matter. Dr. Keri’s book and her message have something in it for you so I’m glad you’re reading this.


BWW 138 | Work Cultures


During my chat with Dr. Keri, we discussed what motivated her to co-write her book, The Way of the HR Warrior, what the CHARGE framework is, how we can use it in our careers whether we work in the HR field or not, and why HR aligning their goals and values with the organization is critical and benefits you as an employee and/or a leader manager, wherever you are in your career.

We also chatted about leadership and how self-awareness is so important at any stage as a leader. Bonus, you can be a leader even if you’re not a people manager. That point applies to everyone. Dr. Keri also shared her top books and resources to develop leadership muscles in your career. She also left us with her advice for anyone out there who wants to get into the HR field.

Here’s the spoiler alert. It’s not for the faint of heart. You probably already knew that but I’m confirming what you already knew. I also had an HR department for 6 or 7 years. I am on the other side of that. I’m a happier person not being in human resources. It was not my jam and perfect fit but there are so many of you, and my hat’s off to you those that are in HR, serving us in that way.

Here’s more about Dr. Keri. With over twenty years on the front lines of the HR field, it’s safe to say that Dr. Keri Ohlrich is considered an expert. As co-author of The Way of the HR Warrior book, she continues her mission to share insights from these experiences with others whose passion is to be the best in the HR arena. Along with fellow Abbracci Group Cofounder, Kelly Guenther, Keri co-host The Breakout Podcast to get advice and insights from change experts and dive into the stories of people who have busted out of life’s stifling boxes and shifted their lives into bold new territory. Bonus, I was on that podcast coming out in August 2023. I also was a guest on Dr. Keri’s show.

Keri also shares her wisdom and experience as a guest on podcasts, industry interviews, and articles, as well as speaking engagements in the US and abroad. To finish off, to share a bit of a fancy part of her bio, Dr. Keri earned her PhD in Human Development and Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University, an MS in International Peace & Conflict Resolution from American University, an MS in Global Human Resources from Loyola University Chicago, and a BS in Psychology and Business from Carnegie Mellon University. That’s a lot of amazing background in schooling, Dr. Keri.

Before we get started, if you’re enjoying the show, please make sure to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts and/or Spotify. If you’ve already left a rating and review, I thank you so much. Your support of the show means the world to me. It also gets that word out to all of the corners of the globe. You may think that it doesn’t matter but it does. Thank you. One more note, the co-authors of Brave Woman at Work: Lessons in Confidence and I are hosting a Virtual Author Summit on Thursday, August 24th of 2023. If you’re interested in attending, you’re going to be able to learn more at my website at BraveWomenAtWork.com. Let’s welcome Dr. Keri to the show.

Dr. Keri, welcome to the show. How are you?

Thank you so much. I’m good. Thank you for having me.

I got to ask you because I forgot to ask you before we started. Is it okay if I intermix Keri and Dr. Keri or do you prefer Dr. Keri?

Just Keri, please. Only if my son would call me “doctor,” but he refuses. No, you don’t have to.

I got it in there. I wanted to respect the doctor. That’s a big accomplishment so kudos.

Thank you. I appreciate that.

Why don’t you tell us a little bit about you and your background story? You have your successful company podcast. Tell us how you’ve gotten to where you are.

That’s always the hardest question, how to compress all that, make it interesting, and not take 25 minutes of the time to do that? I find that to be hard. I started loving psychology. I always wanted to study humans and thought they were fascinating. It was very interesting what they did. Probably because I’m a kid of divorce so I was trying to figure out why. That’s most likely why that happened but I still loved it regardless of why it started.

I was in school getting a Master’s degree in Human Resources and International Peace & Conflict Resolution because I couldn’t figure out exactly how to use that Psychology degree. I didn’t think I was going to go right into being a therapist. I wasn’t sure. With all that wonderful accumulated college debt, I realized I had to get a job. You’re like, “That’s a lot of money.” It’s a real thing.

I found a job at a giant corporation that was a management development program and it was in human resources. At first, I was like, “I don’t know about this.” I saw this strategic piece of HR where you were implementing these programs that you were able to affect 6,000 people at one time. If they’re happier at work, they’re happier at home. You’re putting out this good energy and wonderful environment for people. I thought that was cool. You get to make some big sweeping changes and help people. At the core, I want my work to make a difference and matter to someone.

Individually, you get to coach leaders, help people, and give them jobs. There’s the hard side of HR but I like to focus on the positive parts. You get to do all this great stuff. I continued this career with HR on the talent side of the house and then I did some HR journalist work as well. I worked for pretty major corporations in the Midwest and then moved out to LA for a startup and had a great time doing that. It just so happened that a woman I worked with, Kelly, moved out to LA around the same time I did. We did not plan this. It’s so interesting the way things happen. We don’t plan it or talk about it.

At that time, the book was coming out, The Way of the HR Warrior. My co-author Monica and I saw a need for a skill level of HR. They have such an important role to play in the organization. That was coming out and we said, “I wonder if we start our business.” All the stars aligned. We started our business years ago. We focused on HR consulting, coaching, team development, and fractional HR, which is what we’re doing quite a bit.

Throughout that, we started with a podcast on recharging your life, taking what we’ll talk about in the book, The Way of the HR Warrior, and talking about, “How do people make changes in their life? What are some of those decisions that changed them in the trajectory of their lives?” With that, it’s not HR. It was just how people are managing and living their best life. As Kelly and I jokingly say sometimes, “She’s living her best life.” You see that all the time on social media.

It became our real passion project, which is called The Breakout. We love it because it’s about breaking through these expectations, which is what you do as well, Jen, and why we had you on our podcast. What are some of those expectations that pull you down that sometimes you don’t even know that you live by? What can you break out of so you truly can be your real self? When I am that way, I am a better human. I spread more joy and love. It’s beautiful.

We did all that and we’re doing it in Southern California. We’re living it, doing a lot of scary stuff, being brave about it, and doing great. I feel bad that I talked all about work and I didn’t say, I also have a husband, a son, and two dogs. We’re not on a show talking about my family so I feel like I put them to the side but then I sound like a jerk because then I don’t ever say that. People are like, “She does have a family.” I’m like, “I do and they’re important to me.”

It was funny. I was at a training in Change Management Certification. I remember how you sit in the U-shape and I was sitting next to my coworker. They started by saying, “Tell us one thing about yourself.” It was work-related so I said, “I’m working on this.” My coworker said something work-related. A person said, “First, I’m a father of two and my family is the most important.” My coworker and I looked at each other like, “We sound like total jerks. We didn’t start with the family.” It was work so we went to work first. I remember that because we were laughing. We brought it up to the group. We’re like, “Just so you know, Philip and I still love our family but just because we didn’t say it first.”

We have to qualify that because we were in that work brain. I get that. Thank you for telling me about the family. You even put the dogs in there. I don’t think I met a guest who even mention that they have pets. I’m sure that many of them did. I’ll give kudos to my dog, Jake.

What flavor is Jake?

He is a bichon Shih Tzu. He’s a little white power pup. They call them teddy bear dogs. He does a lot of sleeping. He’s cantankerous but we don’t care. He’s always begging me for treats. I spoil him but when you get old, who cares?

You can do what you want. I always tell my husband, when I hit 85, that’s when I’ll start smoking and tanning a lot. Who cares? What’s it going to do? I’ll drink all day, tan, and smoke. Why not?

We’re always talking about improvement but that’s a way to improve yourself at 85 because if you get to that point, you’re living it up.

All we do is try to improve organizations, employees, and ourselves. If I’ve put in 85 years of work, maybe the last 5. I can still help people. I’ll be smoking while I do it. Also, tanning and drinking.

Let’s go back around to the helping part. You mentioned a book, The Way of the HR Warrior. The subtitle is Leading the CHARGE to Transform Your Career and Organization. Can you tell us a little bit more about what prompted the book and what it’s about? Give us a little snippet. The other sub-question in there is, we have some people that I’m sure in HR are going to be jonesing with this book. What about those that may not be in HR? I wanted to know if this also serves them as well.

BWW 138 | Work Cultures
The Way of the HR Warrior: Leading the CHARGE to Transform Your Career and Organization

We have a couple of reviews and some people who are not in HR who still like the book. At the end of the day, it’s a leadership model that we’ve wrapped around HR. Why we started it is, like most people, you saw a need and a problem. You wanted to solve it. Being in HR, I heard so many people say, “I want to seat at the table. Why doesn’t the business appreciate me?” I then heard from the business, “This HR person, I don’t invite them to meetings. They’re ridiculous. I don’t want to work with HR.”

We all know the TV shows and stereotypes around HR people. I thought, “That’s not cool because when I see it, we’re so powerful. There are so many great things that we do. What’s this disconnect?” When you look at the training for HR, they always tell you to be strategic. You’re supposed to somehow graduate and figure out all the compliance stuff because that’s what you have to do when you graduate. All of a sudden, you’re strategic. There’s a gap there. I couldn’t figure out how to make that jump for people.

Monica and I said, “We’re not going to write a book on what it’s like to be a strategic HR partner but what are those core and fundamental skills that you need to get there.” It was driven by the business telling us, “You are good at HR and this is why.” That’s what we put in the book. It’s business-driven from what you need to do in business to be a successful HR person. What people who are not in HR realize is, “We need to have courage and be resilient.” These are things that are agnostic that you can be an HR, IT, or sales. That CHARGE model is still going to be impactful for your career.

This applies to everybody. You’ve got me more interested. I will admit, I have not completed the book so I will have it on my list. Everybody, full disclosure. Can you give us a little bit more of a teaser on what the CHARGE model is? We keep referencing it but I can’t explain it yet so let’s talk about it.

First of all, we riffed off a book that’s called The Way of the Warrior. The HR Warrior is such a powerful position. You have the chance to impact an organization and employees’ lives. You can make the world a better place. If we have great organizations and environments, then people go home happier and better. That’s why we are very intentional about warriors because it is great work that you do. It’s also hard.

Being an HR Warrior is a powerful position. You have the chance to impact an organization and the employees’ lives. You can make the world a better place. Click To Tweet

You do have to have that warrior nature sometimes to get through a day where you have to be like, “This is so great. I’m going to hire this new group of people.” Right after, you go, “We have to performance manage this person. They’re not doing well. I have to have a hard conversation.” You vacillate between great things and then hard stuff. Someone then calls you and says, “My brother passed away and I have to leave for a while. How can you help me with that?” It’s an intense job. HR Warrior, there’s an intention why we chose that.

You got to have a model. If you don’t have a model, what’s the point? We love HR. “Here’s the three-letter acronym for something.” We have CHARGE. We broke it down to, “These are the qualities that you need to be an HR warrior, IT, sales, or finance.” I’ll go in order. The first is Courage. What is the courage that you need to be successful? In HR, it looks like saying something that people don’t want to hear. You might be sometimes the only person in the room who’s going to say, “This sounds unfair. This leader isn’t the problem. You’re the problem.”

I was joking with someone. They said, “They might have to coach this person.” They’ll say it’s her problem and not their problem. It could be the culture’s problem but HR could be the only person who says that. You might be the only person who says, “This leader is bringing in $5 million a year of sales but she also is doing it the wrong way.” How can we manage this situation? Some people might go, “She brings in $5 million. We’re great. Don’t worry about it, Keri.” That courageousness is so needed in HR. It could be scary. You could go sideways and lose your job because of it. You need to have the courage and say something. That’s the courage part.

The H part is Humility. Especially in HR, that humility is around. You don’t have to know everything. In HR, a lot of people think that you know every single law in the back of your hand and you recite it. Sometimes because we’re a lot of helpers as well in HR, we want to give the answer. “I know what that’s like.” Sometimes we don’t know it so it’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” There’s a humility to that. In HR, however, we don’t run the business.

What Monica and I saw a lot of is HR going slightly askew because they would say, “I can’t believe he’s not doing it that way. I told him to do it that way.” They get a little jaded and rough because of it. They get quite pissed. We give coaching and advice but we don’t run the business. If you want to run the business, then go into the business to run it and be in the operations.

We just give advice for it. You can get sometimes on the wrong side of it. Leaders don’t want to hear that because leaders want you to bring them solutions and recommendations. At the end of the day, you have to respect. They’re the leader so they’re the one who makes the decisions. You don’t have to agree with it. You can use your courage to disagree but you have to understand that we are a second banana to that. I saw a lot of HR people go sideways because they think, “I’m HR and I’m telling you what to do.” It’s like, “Not usually.”

It’s more of consulting or giving advice.

It’s a rare thing in HR. Once in a while, it is black and white. You’re like, “You didn’t do this. This is wrong. You violated this law.” In California where I’m at, there’s a lot of stuff you have to be mindful of. If you don’t submit a report, “You didn’t submit the report, you’re wrong. Sorry, you got to submit a report to the state of California.” Once in a while, you have some very black-and-white things but in HR, it’s usually not very black-and-white. You can’t say to a client, “That’s wrong. You have to do it this way.” You have to think through and be a consultant.

You have Accuracy, which you already mentioned accurate, which I love. What it means is, are you getting to the root cause? In HR, because we’re pleasers, so many times, a leader will come to you and say, “We have an issue with X, Y, and Z. Do you know what we need? We need training or skill building. We need it next week. Everything will be fixed.” In HR, many times we say, ” I’ll do it.” You’re like, “Dear Diary, I’m so happy that they called me. They want me to work with them. I’m adding value.” Instead, you don’t ask the question, “Why do you need this? What is necessary? Do we need training on this or is it one person’s issue?”

You have to ask a few more questions to get to the root so you can solve it and sustain that solution versus putting a Band-Aid on it. That’s hard for people because you want to be customer service-oriented so you want to give them exactly what they’re asking for. It’s hard to ask questions. Especially earlier in your career, you’re feeling a little like, “I can’t ask the leader, ‘Do you think this is the right thing? How do I do that?'” That’s getting to that root cause, accuracy.

You get to R which is Resiliency. It’s incredibly important for everyone, don’t get me wrong but in HR, you can have these twists and turns throughout the day. You think, “I’m going to have this perfect day. I only have a few meetings. I’m going to get through it.” Then someone leaves, like a high-powered person in the organization. “I’m quitting.” You have two weeks’ notice. Whatever it is, there are so many things that happen that most HR people can’t even tell you that happens because they can’t. It’s important for HR folks to take care of themselves and figure out how to have that network to help them be resilient and bounce back.

We tend to be helpers so we don’t take care of ourselves. I’ve talked to quite a few HR people. They put themselves last. They’re not eating the best. Maybe they don’t sleep the best because they keep putting everyone else first. You’re not going to be resilient or bring your A-game to work if you are so depleted. It’s hard for HR folks to take care of themselves first. It’s not in their nature. They didn’t go into HR to be the star of things. With resiliency, we hear a lot about HR needing to get help.

HR people keep putting everyone else first. It is their nature. They cannot bring their A game to work if they are depleted. Click To Tweet

There was a stat in 2022. It was a poll where they found 98% of HR professionals feel burned out, which almost sounds like, “That can’t be right.” After COVID, you realize it is. They’re exhausted. COVID took a lot out of them, this whole return to work, remote work, and all of that. They’re navigating everything. They’re such a vessel for people’s emotions. People will come to HR to vent and then go, “I feel better.” They leave but the HR person’s like, “If you’re like me, you pull in some of those emotions.” You can’t just shake it off right away. How to be resilient is important.

The G in CHARGE is around Goal orientation. For most people, we’re saying, “You should have goals. What are you working toward?” In HR specifically, your goals in HR need to be tied to the goals of the business. If you’re in an elevator and someone asked, “What are you working on,” I should be able to say, “My program around leaders is supporting our overall vision of having top leaders so we can hit our revenue goals,” or whatever that is. You should be able to tie whatever you’re doing in HR to what the business is driving toward.

In HR, there are tons of conferences like, “Here’s the best practice, how to do engagement, and how to do retention.” Those are wonderful best practices. They may not work in your culture. They may not be tied to your business goals at this time. HR needs to be tied to the business if you’re not. What we’ve seen is, HR that isn’t, the business says this, “What are they even doing? They do the compliance stuff but I don’t know what they’re driving for us.” You do not want to be in that position with HR because then you get very much sidelined and you will never have that proverbial seat at the table.

The last is Exemplary. We all want to be exemplary. It’s very critical for HR. I had this conversation about they see us in HR a lot. We’re very visible. If we’re not doing what we’re telling everyone else to do, you get clocked on that so quickly. They go, “Keri talks a lot about goals but do you know what I heard? She doesn’t have any. Keri talks about feedback but she has a mess of a team. She never gives them feedback.” You’re on that stage and everyone knows you so you have to have things tight.

I remember, in my team, we would do things like compliance training. I would say to them, “You know what this means. Let’s get it done first. Let’s be 100% because we cannot be that team that we roll out compliance training, development plans, and performance management yet we’re the ones who don’t get it completed. Come on.” That’s exemplary. It’s especially important for HR because we’re so visible and HR a lot of times puts ourselves last so we won’t do those things. The other groups see that and go, “If they can’t do it or they’re not doing it, why am I doing it?” It hurts our reputation for that. That’s CHARGE.

The one other thing on this is most of that applies or can apply to any leader. I’m excited to dive into the book deeper because I’ll be able to bring it forward in things that I’m doing. I was in HR and I have to give HR people a lot of respect. I was not day-to-day managing HR teams but I was more on the strategy side. I had it in my wheelhouse in one of my departments. It is very stressful to be in HR. Much respect for everybody. I ended up divesting it smartly. No offense. I took a break. I went into more business development, which was a better alignment for my personality. I had it for about six years and that was good for me.

That was your tour of duty and you’re like, “I’m out. That’s enough.” I get it. Kelly and I joke that we don’t need any employees in our business. We’re like, “That’s okay.” We have clients but we don’t want to. We deal with all that all day. We don’t want our employees at this point. We’ve done it before. It’s because you’ve been through it. It’s hard work.

I’ve been there. It is a lot of work. You mentioned something that you guys do and some people may not understand what this is. Can you briefly say what fractional HR means? People might be like, “You guys never covered that.” What does that mean?

I love it that I heard it a few years ago from someone. They said, “You’re a fractional HR person.” I said, “I don’t know that I am.” All it means is like a temporary HR person in an organization. Lots of organizations sometimes need help. There are fractional sales, fractional finance, fractional HR, and fractional IT. It means you’re either a consultant or you’re helping for this period and they’re outsourcing it. It’s a different way of saying that.

That’s why they call it fractional because it’s a piece of, rather than moving stuff all the time. Going back to the CHARGE framework, you said that HR has to align its efforts with the organization’s business goals. How do you make sure that the teams or the organizations that you’re working with are doing that? Everybody can deviate. I can deviate even in business development. My CEO is going to reign me in because I’m the innovator. If I’m going off, he’s like, “Come back.” HR probably can do that too. How do you make sure in HR that you are in that alignment with the organization’s goals?

There are a couple. One is you can look at the goals of the business. The business should have goals. If they don’t, that’s a whole other issue. They should be like, “What are the goals? What are we driving toward? What’s our vision? What are our current OKRs, goals, or KPIs? What are we working on this year?” There’s that big macro view that HR should be able to tie to when they create their goals as well.

You need to be in the business. If HR people are not having meetings every week or every other week with their business clients or business partners, you won’t know what’s going on. We set goals at the beginning of the year. We want to do X, Y, and Z as a company but you don’t know what’s truly going on in finance, IT, operations, clinical services, or something like that. The only way you know that is to partner with the business. This is where sometimes HR folks say, “I don’t have time to have that meeting. I’m working on a policy or something else.”

Continually being aligned and tied to the business, being in their meetings, and listening, you can adjust your goals as well. For example, we’re trying to get some stuff done at a client site. One of the clients was saying, “I don’t know how much we can do because the organization is a bit stressed. We have to watch the timing. How are we going to tone down our program?” Still, make them impactful but be understanding of timing because they’re trying to get more business and that’s what they’re focused on. How can we help them but not take too much time to not drain them or burn them out?

That’s what I’m talking about being aligned with the business. I know that so I can adjust to my program. If someone says, “Why is it 8 hours instead of 12?” I could say, “It’s because I know you’re doing a ton for business development. I don’t want to get in the way of that because that helps our business. We’re going to still do some impactful stuff. We’re going to take it down to eight hours, and then maybe next year, we’ll add some more depending on where the business is at.”

When you do that, you see the business light up. Your business partners light up and say, “She listens. She understands and hears us. I’m going to call Keri more often. She gets us.” That’s what you want your business to say. “They get us. They’re here for us to help us.” That’s it. If you get that, that would be great.

Rather than that stereotypical like, “It’s HR.” They feel like, “We’re all on the same side of the table.”

You get that, “HR is here.” That’s what you don’t want. What you do want to hear is, “I have this problem. Keri could help us with it. Let’s see what she’s thinking. She heard us that we are burned out. Instead of pushing through her agenda, she flexed it a bit to help and meet us where we’re at.” That’s what I’m talking about, aligning those goals. Meet the business where it’s at too. Make sure you’re constantly aligned. It is not just on January 1st when you’re like, “We made the goals. We’re done.” It’s a continual effort of ebbing and flowing with the business and being flexible.

I’m going to be flexible and switch gears a little because you work with leaders and other units as a fractional HR person. We talk a lot about leadership at this show. I wanted to get your opinion on self-awareness. How do you feel self-awareness plays into great leadership?

I don’t think I have the proper words for it. It is the be-all-end-all bottom-line foundational item that you have to have as a leader. In any leadership training, anytime we talk about leadership, you have to have that self-awareness. Get a 360 and do some psychometric assessments and introspection. However you get that, you need it. Leadership, like parenting, will pull up things in you that you had no idea were even there. You’re like, “Why don’t I like that person? Why don’t I want to manage that person? They remind me of my sister,” whatever that is.

I like to call it your family baggage a little bit because I see a lot of, “I’m going to fight for my leader’s attention because I didn’t have it when I was a kid or something like that from mom or dad.” You got some family stuff you got to figure out and make sure. In terms of even the skills that I bring to the table, I’ll give you a perfect example as a leader, one of my learnings of not being as self-aware. I love to brainstorm. It comes very naturally to me. When things come naturally to you, you forget that it might not come naturally to other people or they might not like it.

I remember sitting with someone on my team and I’m like, “Let’s brainstorm this new OD Process or Organizational Development Process.” He kept staring at me and I was like, “What is wrong with him?” This is the most fun and you should be able to do this in a second. I surround myself with people like that. I’m married to someone like that. Why can’t you give 100 ideas a minute? A month later, we did a psychometric assessment and I scored 94 percentile in brainstorming. He scored in the 1 percentile of brainstorming.

It’s that moment of knowing how much I love it and how I am in the minority. I love it so much. No one else loves it as much as I do. I went, “I need to recalibrate sometimes my meetings and know who’s in it. If they don’t want to brainstorm, they can stay out of it and then we’ll get to them later.” It was understanding what my skills are. I love to brainstorm but I don’t like structure. How can I manage my team? How can I hire people on my team to help me in the areas that I struggle with? Not over-index, because we all hire people sometimes like us. All of a sudden, you have all brainstormers and you didn’t get one person who’s thorough who would make sure that your ideas could work.

That self-awareness is so incredibly important in how you’re going to hire, develop your team, and show up to coach them. Truly, when you’re self-aware and you’re living this more authentic and transparent life, you can coach people through things and show them that you care. You don’t have your BS that’s clouding how you coach them. You’re there to help them. As a leader, all you want your employees to say about you is, “I care about you.” “My leader cares about me.” If you have that, they’ll be engaged and they’ll stay.

When you are self-aware and living a transparent life, you can coach other people through things and show them that you care. Click To Tweet

That statement is quite simple. What is very difficult is how to do it. You have to know what you get triggered by, how you work in terms of goals, sense of urgency, and all those kinds of things because you’re going to end up putting that on this team. Nature organizations love diversity. We want to have many different types of people. It is very hard to manage many different types of people if you don’t know yourself.

I got goosebumps. It’s critical. I appreciate you talking about that. I’ll tell you why. There are so many memes on LinkedIn about management versus leadership. You’ve explained it well in that one line, “My leader cares about me.” I’ve never heard that before in that most succinct way. It does sound simple. There’s a big difference between a manager and a leader. The goals are important for a leader too but they’re so focused on the work. A leader is so self-aware that they’re like, “Yes, the work is going to get done. It’s all going to happen.” We also have to build relationships with people. I have to understand what my people are going through.

I’m not a therapist but it’s interesting as a leader. People will tell me. I’ve had employees say, “I’m going through a divorce.” I’m like, “How can I support you?” I had an employee say, “My spouse has an addiction problem.” It’s because I built the trust. If someone tells me, “I’m going to retire in six months,” I’m like, “Thank you so much for telling me early so that we can work through the transition. Rather than you giving me your notice and two weeks later, you’re out the door.” It’s building the trust and respect bank where people know that you’ve got them. That takes a lot of TLC or love and time. You can’t do it overnight. I do think that leadership is not for everybody. That is the labor of love in and of itself.

You said it the best. It’s not for everyone. Many people are like, “I need to be a vice president because that’s what I’ve been told all my life. I need to be a vice president to earn the money to do that.” With that comes people leadership and people saying, “I maybe have an addiction issue. I have someone in my family. I’m going through a divorce. I had someone pass away.” All this, you have to manage through and you have to help them. Don’t be a leader if you don’t want to deal with it. It’s okay. This is where organizations can help and figure out other ways of promoting you and giving your money without managing people. There’s the structural issue that you can look at.

If more people had that self-awareness to say, “It’s not for me. It’s okay. I don’t need to have the title. I’m going to do what I want to do,” that would be so beautiful. They wouldn’t be so angry sometimes and fearful of losing certain things. That’s self-awareness. When someone comes to you and says, “My spouse has addiction problems,” if you aren’t right with yourself on how that affects you, you can’t show up well for that person.

You might think, “I guess that person’s not strong enough to give up alcohol,” and be angry or rigid about it. That person or employee won’t come to you and talk to you because you’re confronted with all these issues. You got to get right with what those issues mean to you, how you manage through them, and how you can remove yourself from them. There are quite a few people I don’t necessarily like but I work with them and I let the stuff that rubs me the wrong way.

I’m like, “That’s my personality and I don’t like that other personality but that’s fine. We can work together.” That takes a detachment that you got to be like, “I’m still okay as Keri that I work with this person but I don’t need to hang out with him. I’m okay.” That’s a lot of work. Most leadership programs should have therapy in the beginning. It would be great. I’m a big proponent of therapy. It’s made me a better leader.

We’re giving you tools and I’m going to ask you next about a little bit more on the tools side and resources side. This is to get to the ninja level of leadership. Younger generations especially are demanding this level of leadership. Younger generations won’t stay if they don’t feel like their leader has their back. They’re just like, “Sorry, I can go elsewhere. Life is too short.” For a Gen X-er, I’m like, “That’s awesome.” We still were in the gold watch-like school so we’re a little bit different than our young ones there.

We talked about self-awareness. I’ve never heard of this so psychometric. Let’s give whatever number. Let’s say 3 to 5 or if you have a little mental list of books or any other resources for someone that’s like, ” I do want to be a leader and be self-aware.” What would you recommend in how they would get started?

Psychometrics is a fancy PhD term for personality assessments. They just tend to call it psychometrics. Any personality assessment is going to give you nuggets of who you are and a language. A lot of times when I do personality assessments with people, they all say, “That sounds right.” What it gives you is a language. I gave the example of, “I brainstorm in this percentile. I get why some people look at me strangely sometimes or why I bond with this person over this person.”

Any personality assessment you can get, grab it. We love the Caliper, which is more robust and a little more expensive. There are things that most companies offer. There are StrengthsFinder. Even if you pay for it yourself, it’s probably less than $100. There’s The Predictive Index and DISC. A lot of companies have these assessments that you can go online.

Sometimes they have little free ones or something like that but please, get psychometric assessments because it will help you articulate who you are. Every time I take one, I’m like, “That was good. That’s a way I can talk about myself. I get it.” Anything you can do. If your company has 360s, even if they don’t have one, you could still ask people, “Can you help me out? I would love to learn about what are my strengths and what am I not doing well.”

Let me tell you, that’s a tough one but it is so good. If you have some people that you trust, you can say, “I’m working on myself and I want to find out, what are some of the words that you think about when you meet me? What stands out about my work?” People, for the most part, if you have that good relationship, they’ll tell you, “Here’s what I like about you. You’re so loyal and detail-oriented.” You go, “That’s interesting. I didn’t know people thought that about me.”

We talk about people having a board of directors so they have their group of people. I love that. I wish I had that when I was younger. Here’s the group of people that I can trust and who will tell me, “You’re acting like a fool.” You’re like, “I am not.” They’re like, “No, seriously. You might’ve wanted to calm down right there.” Those people can help you too with your self-awareness. If you have family members who want to give you some straight feedback, sometimes that works and sometimes that does not work. It’s getting that feedback and those assessments.

Any assessment is going to help you with a language for yourself. That’s helpful. Find your network and a mentor. It’s amazing to see how many people want to help you. There are been some studies done where people want to help more than you think. We always think no one’s going to want to help but people do want to help more than you think if you ask them. They just won’t volunteer it. Even on LinkedIn, reach out to someone. Is it going to hurt? No.

People will be like, “We’re scared they’re going to say no.” Who cares? There are millions of other people on LinkedIn.

What you don’t know is that there could be a person and it’s just the right timing. They’re like, “I’d love to tell you about how I made it to this part of my career.” You can say, “I don’t know. Could you give me some advice?” Even getting someone else’s advice, getting their career coaching, and having that mentor relationship are so helpful for your self-awareness as well.

Those are all good tips and resources. If someone wants to be in HR, any advice that you would want them to have as they’re starting in that career?

If you’re doing it solely because you like people, you think you’re going to help people and that’s the high you’re going to get all the time, you’re helping people with good things, HR will be very disappointing for you. It’s like the party planner idea. “HR sounds like fun. I get to talk to people and I can help people.” You’re going to help people and make an impact but there’s some dark and hard stuff that you have to deal with. If there are organizational changes, there are people who leave the organization and people who do some dumb stuff. That goes across all organizations that you have to deal with.

I’ve seen people go, “I thought this was going to be fun and fun people stuff.” Please don’t. If you can keep in mind that you’re doing some good work, impacting the organization, and making significant changes in the world and for these employees in the organization, you can get through it. If you want to be a party planner, go be a party planner but don’t come to HR. There’s a job for you. Be a party planner, help people go, and do something else.

If you can keep in mind that you are impacting your organization and making significant positive changes, you can get through your HR career. Click To Tweet

If you’re in a helping profession, there’s a slight edge to HR that you got to hit goals and hold people accountable. You have to have that mix. If you have that mix, please come to HR because I want more wonderful people to come here, be more consultative, and make this great impact in the world. It’s a great profession for the right people. They can excel and be amazing in their career and the lives of others.

What do you believe are 1 to 2 ways that women can be braver at work?

It’s a little bit of a repeat. It’s the board of directors. Find people that you can talk to and get your strength that way too. Build your resiliency and strength through your network. Talk to them. There’s work to be done. I always have to do this work on owning my worth and being okay with putting myself first. Being braver at work means you have to put yourself first and take care of yourself. For women, that can be hard. We play small because we’re taking care of everyone else. How do we play big? It’s still a struggle for me but to be brave, you got to be confident and take care of yourself. You’ll then be even braver at work. Take care of yourself first and know yourself.

As an anecdote that has taken me, I’m a solid mid-career. For the longest time when I was starting my career, I kept looking to my employer to take care of me. I’m an overly ambitious person. I’m a worker bee. As a sidebar here, it took me burning out from a health perspective and being like, “That’s not their job. That’s my job. It’s my job to advocate for myself and have my back.”

If that is a PSA for someone and helps one person reading, then I’ve done my job. Their job is to get you to work, get the work done, and support the business. There are EAP programs. We’re talking about HR here. They give you benefits but at the end of the day, it is your responsibility. I felt impassioned to share that with someone.

BWW 138 | Work Cultures
Work Cultures: At the end of the day, HR officers should respect the leader as they are the one who makes the decision.


Don’t get salty with a company for not taking care of you from that perspective. You’re right. They’re there to run the machine. While we want to have engaged employees and we want to have that machine run as well as we can, no one is going to stand up for you the way you do. Don’t wait and figure out how you can stand up for yourself. That means, “I need to be self-aware. I need to know how I’m going to come across when I ask those things. I’m going to be confident.” Those things come when you take care of yourself. Know yourself and your worth. Say, “That’s BS. I’m pretty sure I should get paid more for that.” You’re the only one who’s going to do that.

Here’s a little secret. They might not even know about it. Sometimes we make it up in our heads like, “Everyone must know I’m low-paid.” They might not. They might have zero idea until you bring it up and say something. Advocate for yourself. No one knows. You say it. I’m going into relationship stuff but I’ve heard a lot of women say, “He should know that that’s how I feel.” I’m like, “Did you tell him that? He should know.” Sometimes we do that at a company too. “They should know I’ve worked hard. I should get a raise for this. They’ve seen it.” No, they don’t.

There are 100, 500, 1,000, or whatever number of people. It’s impossible for them to know.

I’ll leave with one thing. Sometimes I say to myself, “What would a man do?” I mean that in the advocacy with men that I have seen throughout my HR career. I’ve seen behind closed doors what they do. They will write a letter and put themselves out there like, “This is why I deserve the raise.” There’s the study of men who will apply for a job when it’s a 70% match. Women wait for 100% match. There’s something about that slight bravado confidence that motivates me. I’m like, “Keri, calm down. What would a dude do?” He would be like, “I’m worth it.” I look at my son and I’m like, “He is good like that.” He’s like, “I’m worth it. What are you talking about?”

Sometimes that motivates me because I’ve seen the way they act behind closed doors, in HR, and what they demand. Women don’t even come close to asking for what the men do. Gather that strength and confidence. Own your worth. I’m like you, Jen. It’s a work in progress for me. If we can help anyone stand in their truth and worth, act big, and don’t play small, it’s worth it.

Women don’t even come close to asking for what men do. Gather that strength and confidence and own your worth. Click To Tweet

As we wrap here, I’m like, “I’m going to buy some swag for everybody.” I’m not ready to start an online store for the show but if I was, I would get those jelly bracelets like, “What would so and so do?” It could be like, “What would a dude do?” Forget that. “What would a brave woman do?” She would advocate for herself. Everybody, if you end up at a store and you see a jelly bracelet that says, “What would a brave woman do,” you know where it was born. Keri, thank you for that.

I’m a brainstormer so this is like, “Let’s do more and get more ideas on your store.”

Let’s get a whiteboard.

I have an entire wall that’s painted whiteboard material. That’s when you know you have.

I’ll take one of those assessments and see where I am at with that. You work with companies. You’re not just working with women but with everybody. Where can people find you, your company, and your work online?

It’s super easy. If you find me on LinkedIn, my name is pretty unique so you don’t end up getting ten of us. Look up Keri Ohlrich on LinkedIn. I’m on there. You can go to Abbracci Group. We have a contact form on there too. You can see what we do. Buy the book, The Way of the HR Warrior, and take a listen to our podcast, The Breakout.

Keri, thank you so much for being here. It was such a joy to talk about HR. We talked about HR and leadership. You made it so fun.

Thank you so much for having me, Jen. I love the work that you’re doing. We need tons more brave women out there.

That does it for my discussion with Dr. Keri. I hope you found our conversation both valuable and inspiring. As a reminder, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The show is also available on Google Podcasts or any other platform you enjoy. Until next time. Show up, recharge, and be brave.


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About Dr. Keri Ohlrich

BWW 138 | Work CulturesWith over 20 years on the front lines of the HR field, it’s safe to say that Dr. Keri Ohlrich is considered an expert. As co-founder of the Abbracci Group and the co-author of The Way of the HR Warrior, she continues her mission to share insights from these experiences with others whose passion is to be the best I the HR arena.
Along with fellow Abbraci Group co-founder Kelly Guenther, Keri co-hosts The Breakout podcast to get advice and insights from change experts, and dive into the stories of people who have busted out of life’s stifling boxes and shifted their lives into bold new territory.
Keri also shares her wisdom and experience as a guest on podcasts like Brave Women at work, in industry interviews and articles, as well as speaking engagements in the US and abroad.

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