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From HR transformation to HR disruption - Jennifer McClure [Interview]

From HR transformation to HR disruption - Jennifer McClure [Interview]

January 6, 2023
From HR transformation to HR disruption - Jennifer McClure [Interview] | peopleHum

About Jennifer McClure

Jennifer Mcclure is the CEO of Unbridled Talent & DisruptHR. She is consistently rated as a top speaker at major events and conferences. She has over 25 years of experience leading human resources and talent acquisition efforts. She has spoken at over 200 industry-related conferences and events, where she has delivered keynote presentations and provided workshops or training in the areas of leadership, executive development, presentation, and communications skills and talent acquisition strategies. We are extremely happy to have someone of her stature and expertise on our interview series today.


From HR transformation to HR disruption - Jennifer McClure [Interview] | peopleHum

Also, just a quick intro of peopleHum -  peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work with AI and automation technologies.

We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month. 


Welcome, Jennifer, we’re thrilled to have you.


Thank You. It's an honor to be here. I appreciate the opportunity to join you. 


Thank you.

So, the first question that I had for you, Jennifer was can you tell us a little bit about your journey that brought you to DisruptHR and Unbridled talent? 


Sure. I started my career way back in the day. I came out of university and chose a career in what was then called ‘personnel management’. That was pre-human resources or talent or people’s operations time. So, I really chose that thinking that that would be an opportunity in the organization to have influence and impact over most people that I could. I realized I couldn't be the CEO right out of the gate and probably not an executive or a VP.

And so I felt like what's the position in the organization that has the opportunity to influence and impact the most people. And so right or wrong I chose Human Resources and I believe, 30+ years later that that was a really good decision and still very applicable today. So I spent about 18.5 years in the corporate world, in leadership, in executive roles, and HR with responsibility for generalized activities all over the HR realm recruiting, talent acquisition, learning development.

And then the company that I worked for was sold, and I had the opportunity to kind of think about what would be next and I was really looking to kind of maybe make a shift out of the corporate world. I thought about starting my own business at that time. But thankfully, I engaged with a coach, got a lot of really good advice from networking with people, that I was nowhere near ready to start my own business. 

I didn't have a clue about what I would offer, what I would do, or how I would sell it. So they really gave me great advice about maybe joining another organization where I would have the opportunity to learn how to develop business, to market my services, to understand who I could help. And so I joined an executive search firm and the owner there was just a wonderful mentor, someone who from the beginning was willing to help me to learn those skills with the understanding that maybe eventually I would start my own business and he was okay with that. 

And I think that's great leadership. So I spent about 3.5 years there, got an executive coaching certification while I was there. So I was able to not only help leaders identify the talent to bring into their organizations but also work with leaders on improving their skills and making more of an impact. 

During that time, I started teaching people how to use LinkedIn or how to use social media for recruiting or how to be more of a strategic leader in those opportunities of just kind of giving that information away for free and helping people who came across my path. Then turned into opportunities to speak, which is to see that had been planted way back in my early career. I always wanted to be a speaker someday and do training and workshops and teach. 

So, the more I had the opportunity to do that, the more I realized that was what I was ultimately passionate about. So I started Unbridled talent in 2010 and the business is speaking and training and I do a little bit of executive coaching and I really love that opportunity to work with leaders to build careers that they love and live lives that matter and have and create an impact in their organizations. 

While I was doing that, about four years into that, I connected with an entrepreneur here in the Cincinnati area and just was kind of advising him on his company in the HR technology space and having good conversations and kind of sharing my thoughts and ideas that, yes, I get to speak at a lot of great conferences and events. But I felt like there was an opportunity to maybe hold an event in our city, Cincinnati where different people had the opportunity to speak. 

Maybe people who weren't professional speakers who had an idea or something to say about the workplace or the future of work. And so, thankfully, Chris Ostoich is his name, very much did not let me just have that be an idea and really got excited about it. And so he gets the credit for being the founder of DisruptHR because he made the idea into a reality and we held our first event in December 2013. 

I was not really expecting that it would be anything more than maybe a once or twice a year event in Cincinnati, but people heard about it, people at the event wanted to take it to other places and from there disrupt HR has grown to 157 licensed cities and 37 countries over 5000 DisruptHR talks have been given, over 400 events around the world in multiple languages and communities and cultures have been held. 

And it's just a joy for me to see people who never would have had the opportunity to get up on a conference stage or maybe never want to. But yet they have an idea, and they're willing to challenge themselves in a fun format to get up and share it. So that's still what I do today. Speaking training, even though that's not, you know, not a lot happening in the in-person space right now in DisruptHR. Events are on pause around the world as well. But I think the opportunity still exists to share ideas, to teach, and to help people.


Oh, very interesting, Jennifer. So you got into HR as a profession because you thought that it is a profession where you can influence the organization, the leaders, and things like that.

So as an HR professional, what do you think are things that a professional needs to do to influence the culture of an organization, particularly when, most of your workforce is remote as in these types of circumstances or when it's a very distributed workforce across the world? 


Sure, I think this is for all leaders, but I think HR often is leading the charge on this. First, it's really understanding the core values of your organization. And if you don't have those or they're not clear taking the time with your leadership team to really develop and understand and set in stone. This is who we are and this is what we stand for and this is how we navigate the world, you know?

So then, as leaders, we can look to those core values and reference back our decisions. Does this really match with who we say we are? So actually, I was just thinking yesterday with Sunday and laying here on the couch kind of thinking about you know, how I can add value in the world. And it's common to, you know, have things that are catchy or whatever. And for whatever reason, some P(s) just came to mind. For me, you know, its Purpose, its Path, it's Positioning, its People. Profit is certainly in there, you know?

"As leaders, we can look to our core values and reference back our decisions. For me, it's Purpose, Path, Positioning, People. Profit is certainly in there. But I'm also having to look at how do I pivot."

So it's nice that all of those begin with Ps, but for me and my organization, as I'm a one-person organization, but I'm also having to look at how do I pivot. So to do that pivot being another p-word. But I don't want to pivot away from what I believe in, which is again the opportunity to influence and impact, and the opportunity that we have as people leaders.

That's what I talk to leaders about. That's how I encourage them to make an impact in their organization. But how do I deliver that? And what am I delivering? So to go back for me, as an individual business owner or for leaders of large distributed organizations, what is the core of who you are? And then how do you make decisions on how you proceed?

You know, so if you are an organization that says we put our people first, they're our most important asset then your first decision in a difficult economy is more than likely not to lay off all of your employees, you know, so nobody wants to do that. But if your number one thing is profit or maximizing revenue, then you're gonna look at how to cut expenses and people are a big expense.

So it really is important that we as leaders, we've been a couple of months into this now, nobody is still doing it, you know well, our understanding of how to proceed forward. But if you haven't taken the time to take a breath, to take a step back with your leadership team and say, who are we? What do we stand for? How we approach business? In general, not during a pandemic. But what is our approach to business? And then how do we make decisions that reflect those core values?

I think that's where HR can really lead by helping leaders to understand that core responsibility and then HR often is the one that's kind of tax with how do we live that out in the world. 


How do you think technology plays a role in this? Obviously, you've been in this for almost 25 years. So you have seen various faces of how technology has evolved in the context of HR, right? Do you think that it has delivered on the promises that people originally envisioned for HR Tech to deliver? And what are your thoughts on? Has it delivered?


It's a great way to frame it. Has it delivered on the promise? I guess that there so many promises out there when it comes to HR technology, and a lot of them have not delivered on their promise.

Yeah, I just said when I started in HR 30+ years ago, there was zero technology. None. There were typewriters and books and files and, note-taking on note cards and things like that. And so to see that evolution over time, I mean, certainly technology has made not just sort of human resources but business in general, you know, the opportunity to communicate well is there now, whether or not we use the phone or computer technology or email or now zoom technology or the types of things where we can do video calls.

Well, it is still dependent upon us as human beings to understand the basic concepts of communication and what's effective communication. In terms of technology, I think, yes, the promise of helping us to collect data, to understand our workplaces, to use that information to make better decisions, to predict more of where we need to be in the future, that has really been an advancement in the workplace and for HR leaders in general and there are numerous technologies out there that can help us.

The failure, I think, is both on the part of the HR technology providers to understand the real needs of human resources and people leaders in organizations, and then to provide tools that they can use to deliver on what their job is and also on human resources and people leaders to communicate what it is that they're trying to accomplish. Again, do we need technology just for technology stake? Everyone is now going to be using this new tool or platform. And then you look around a couple of years later and we've got, you know, so many tools that we're using, that people are having to log in to different places.

I think, the failure that kind of happened from everyone reaching out for technology and not thinking again, 'What is that we're trying to accomplish? What is the best tool for us to use to do that? And if that tool is not delivering, how do we find one that works?' instead of continuing to bolt on things to things that don't work.

So the answer to your question, I guess, would be it has delivered, I think, a lot of efficiencies and the ability for us to understand things quicker, faster, better. The failure has been that we haven't been really clear on what it is that we want the technology to help us accomplish.

"Technology has given us the ability to understand things quicker, faster, better. The failure has been that we haven't been really clear on what it is that we want the technology to help us accomplish."


If you had to advise an HR technology company which is looking at, 'Okay, what do I have to build over the next 5-10 years?'. So, you know, I can make a big difference? Obviously, there are a lot of existing tools, which are dedicated to recruiting, some for learning and management. And there are also some tools that try to integrate.

What predictions would you make on things that would actually make an HR professional say, Yeah, that's something that I would be really keen to know more about?


Sure, I think the companies that both in the past and certainly the ones in the future who take the time to really understand who their customer is are the ones who will be able to really deliver what that customer needs. There are far too many technology solutions out there that look at their customer as almost anybody and everybody.

So regardless of whether or not you're a 10 person organization or a 10,000 person organization, our tool, if it's affordable to you, it can be used. That's not true. I think companies really need to say, 'Who is our core customer? Is it the small, medium-sized business? Is it the large enterprise business?' And then they need to take the time to really go out and understand who that customer is, what their needs are, what their pain points are, and then design a solution around them.

"So regardless of whether or not you're a 10 person organization or a 10,000 person organization, our tool, if it's affordable to you, it can be used. That's not true. Companies need to understand who their customer is, what their needs are, what their pain points are, and then design a solution around them."

It's not just in the HR technology world, but it's so many times where, especially right now, okay, so the world has changed forever and it will look different in the future. And there are already people who are racing ahead to say, you know, we think it's gonna look like this and we're going to develop a solution to solve that.

I think they're missing the boat because they're not saying okay, the real opportunity is to decide who are we going to serve and then to go out and talk to as many of those people as we can, get information from them about what their pain points are now and what they anticipate they'll be in the future and then build the technology or recreate the technology to serve that.

There's room for people who are out there taking gambles on, 'It's going to look like this, we think, so we're going to try that.' But still, if they don't know who they're going to serve, then who are they selling that to? So the real miss for technology providers across the gamut and for HR technology providers in general.

If you go to any large conference or event where there's an Expo hall and you walk through that conference Expo Hall and you ask the people that are in the booth, 'Who is your client, who's the ideal client and what are their problems?'

They probably have some marketing speak around that than a really an in-depth understanding of what the problems are of their customers. So technology providers, people like myself, I provide a solution through learning, through challenging leaders.

I need to really understand what the people that I serve are going through during this time, what their needs are so that when I come out and through this, I will have keynotes, talks, workshops, etcetera that address those pain points rather than just saying, 'Well, before I talked about the future of work and disrupting HR, and I'm just gonna put it on pause, I'm going to do that again in a year or two years or whatever.' That's not going to be the way to be successful. It's gonna be really understanding what's happening with the people that I serve now or with the technology provider serves now. What are their needs? What other problems. Design solutions for that.


Thank you. It's an interesting perspective


And to be very specific on who that customer is, not just HR leaders.


Yes, so shifting gears a little bit from the technology to more on leadership and coaching. So obviously in your current role, you're talking to multiple leaders. You have talked to leaders when things were on the growth phase, pre-COVID era, and then you're also talking to leaders during this time.

What are the qualities in leaders that will enable organizations to thrive in these uncertain times and how do you see leadership qualities evolve for the future?


Sure. So many people out there are doing really good things in terms of leadership that I think are being recognized and their companies will benefit from that. Even if they're struggling during this time. And those are the leaders that are being quick to communicate what the current state is even if the current state is is that we're evaluating what we need to do in order to be successful in the future.

The leaders who are hanging back, who are waiting to know what the plan is before they communicate to their teams and to their company and their people and their customers, what they're doing to manage through this, they're getting left further behind. I think, creating more stress and confusion for their employees.

So there are two kinds of paths here. There's the leader that says, 'Wow, things were bad. We're suffering. We're going to have to lay off some of our workforces, our revenue is falling. This is really bad' to find a way to compassionately communicate that:
1) I understand the current situation
2) We're taking the time to understand how to react to the situation and to do the best thing to go back to our core values, our purpose, why we're here, and that we are going to communicate with you every step of the way how this affects you, how this affects our company, our customers, and the decisions that we're making, and why.

That is real leadership. That's tough leadership, but that's real leadership. Also, the leaders who are saying, 'Here's what we see happening in the future. Here's how we're going to change. Here's what we're going to do. We're also willing to look at it if that's not working, what we can do in order to continue to thrive into position ourselves for success.'

It's that recognizing the situation, finding a way to clearly communicate it, showing empathy, compassion, transparency, all of those buzzwords. But they are real things and helping people to understand that you get that this is tough and that you're not immune just because you're in the leadership role.

But as a leader, you can't, you know, just show up and do a live town hall with your employees and cry. You cry if it's legit, but I mean, you can't say, 'Wow, things are so tough. I don't really know what to do.' You know that's not leadership, because then you just show everybody that we don't know where we're going. But you can say this is something that I've never faced before, we've never faced before as a company. We don't want to be quick to react, to make the wrong decisions, but yet we know we need to move with speed. So we are doing this, this, and this, you know?

So it's more about I recognize what is happening. But here's the plan we're taking now. If that plan should change and it may need to, I will be communicating with you.

So that's what's needed. And that's what some of the leaders that are rising to the top are doing. Those that are just sitting in their virtual board rooms and making decisions and then communicating after the fact that decision, whether it's positive or negative, I think you've created fear in the unknown and the uncertain with your people and with your teams, and that's going to be a disease as well.


Can you suggest a few tips for leaders who are not necessarily managers? These are leaders in the company. They are individual contributors there. The thought leaders and they are doing tasks that have been assigned to them are having thoughts that they want to share with people but they don't have a team that is reporting to them. So could you suggest a few career-enhancing tips with them?


I see a lot of comments online from people like, 'Oh, if you're not using this time to develop a new skill and to do this and that.' Then there's the backlash of people will be like, 'I'm just trying to keep my kids educated and we're all living in the same room.' So first, let's recognize that for some people, this is a forced opportunity to reset and to take the time to say, 'What can I learn? How can I grow?' And I definitely think, for people like myself, you know, my children are grown, I'm not homeschooling, I'm not trying to keep working from home in a place that's not set up for that, because that's what I do.

So I have the opportunity to say, 'How am I going to grow during this time? What's that opportunity?' For people who are navigating chaos right now, just give yourself grace, navigate the chaos. But for all of us, both that person who's navigating chaos and the people who are looking for opportunities to grow, it's the same advice that I would give for the HR technology question earlier, 'Who do you serve?'

If you're a thought leader, if you have thoughts that you shared both in the past or in the future, getting real clarity on if you didn't have that before this pause, this reset, getting real clarity on who you serve, spending time communicating with those people, 'How are you navigating this change? How are you doing this? What problems are you facing? What solutions are you looking for? And then deciding, 'Can I provide those solutions? Do I have solutions to offer them to the problems that they're serving? That's a real opportunity.

A phrase that I've heard from multiple people is ‘What does this make possible?' So with everything that's happened in the last couple of months and what will be happening for the near future and beyond because of how the world has changed, what does this make possible? Does this make it possible that if I didn't feel like I was in the right place, or maybe I was falling behind before, or maybe my thoughts that I was sharing weren't resonating with people?

This opportunity makes it possible the time for me to spend some time getting real clarity on my skills, what my talents are, what I can offer, but even more importantly, getting a real close to who, call it a customer, but if you're thought leader, maybe those people are buying from you. Who that end customer is for my message? Am I really serving them both now and for what they need in the future and in order to understand that I've got to be communicating with them.

So take this opportunity to build relationships, to understand your customers, to survey your community. What is it that they need from you now and maybe, you know, like in my case, my path for the last several years has really been talking to leaders from a strategic leadership perspective on how to lead your company, how to lead your team, how to make an impact on the organization?

"Take this time of pause to build relationships, to understand your customers, to survey your community."

At the same time, both as someone who's been in HR and hired hundreds or maybe thousands of people over the years who spent time as an executive search consultant, working with leaders to make sure we were getting the right people in the organization, who went through a career coaching process, who spent some time coaching people myself, I do have some career coaching skills.

So while that's not, you know where I've served people mostly in the past, that's a need that's out there now for both people who are considering what's new and what's next. And also people who will maybe begin navigating the world after being laid off or let go. So that's the way I conserve the community.

So that might not again be the way that I want to do so two years from now, being a career coach. But during this time of reset to add value to my community, that's a skill that I have. And it's one that I need to share with people. So that's another thing, I think. What are your skills? How can you add value? It may not be how you choose to monetize in the future or what your business model is, but just to add value where you can to grow and develop yourself.


It’s a great time to focus on your customers, understanding more about the customer. I think that's something that we don’t come across most of the time. The messages that are circulated are more about it. Go do this online thing for training or things like that, rather than go talk to your customers, understand more about the community and the state.


So it doesn't mean that we all have to hop on zoom calls with everyone five times a day. What that means is, who do you already know that maybe you haven't connected with and the both of you were too busy before, you know, running around doing all the things and while you're still busy, maybe there is time to carve out a 20-minute conversation.

Number one to check in to show you care. But number two again really understand how those people are navigating the world right now. So it's not a, 'tell me the top three things that you're working on now and how I can serve you.' It's, 'what's going on with you. What are you struggling with? What opportunities do you see?'

Those are three great questions that you could have a 20-minute conversation and you can get a lot of information from the, 'What are you struggling with? And what opportunities do you see that you could assimilate 4-5 of those conversations or maybe 50-60 of those conversations into ‘This is how I conserve people now and in the future, where it looks like I can serve people best.’


Lastly, any important soundbites that you would like to leave our audience with? 


Yeah, I think the one that I mentioned just a minute ago, it's not original to me but what does this make possible? And I try, especially when I get frustrated or things don't go as planned, I take a deep breath and then I take a step back and say, What does this make possible? It's a whole different framing to looking for opportunities vs wow this is terrible and it's derailed my whole day and I don't really know how I'm going to recover from this or, you know, the kind of magical thinking that we head down when things don't go as we expected.

But to take a step back and say what does this make possible and say, 'Okay, I lost my job. Not good. You could set down your how am I gonna feed my family? How am I going to pay my rent? What does this make possible?

This makes possible the opportunity for me to again maybe do some coaching with skills that I have. Maybe I can write and create blogs so that I can share and gain more visibility in position. So not all of those ideas, if you do like anything, it's brainstorming. You know, can you sit down with a piece of paper, whiteboard and say, What does this make possible?

Then choose one or two things that you're really going to focus your efforts on. And when you can kick your brain into forward motion rather than crisis, you'll come out at the end of wherever you're at better.

"When you can kick your brain into forward motion rather than crisis, you'll come out at the end of wherever you're at better."


Wonderful. It was a pleasure talking to you, Jennifer. I really appreciate your time and for sharing your views with us. It has been an enriching learning experience for me personally. And I'm sure our viewers will also learn a lot from this. Let's keep in touch. Stay safe. And have a good day. Thank you.


Thank you.

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October 25, 2021

A very inspiring list. Thanks for putting this together


October 25, 2021

This is such a great list of women leaders! More power to you all

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