Impact Player Interview: Liz Ryan

I’ve mentioned before that impact players should be mentors to the upcoming generation. And the best way for the upcoming generation to learn is by asking, just as Plato would have done to Socrates thousands of years ago. In the context of today, we call them interviews. In a previous interview I shared a spotlight on a self-trained entrepreneur. 
Now, I had the privilege to interview a personal favorite of mine. Founder of Human Workplace and the spearhead of what I call “The Human Revolution” in HR…. Liz Ryan. Before I became a personal branding consultant I learned many of my strategies and methods from reading article after article that Liz Ryan wrote. It is clear that Liz Ryan is an impact player.

 Here are the highlights of our conversation…

You are an advocate for the human voice resume. When did you first realize that people hire people and not skills on a page?

I was an HR leader for a million years and I read tens of thousands of resumes. I had commented and been critical of the formal, stick-up-the-tush style of resume writing for years but one day I said “Why not change it?” and started to write and teach Human-Voiced Resume writing. We invented Human-Voiced Resumes to allow people to bring more of themselves into a resume and thereby into a new job. A resume is a branding document. If someone isn’t going to like your brand of jazz, wouldn’t you rather know that right up front? A human voice in your resume makes it clear to a hiring manager that you aren’t another sheep in the pen.  

 Tell us a bit of your backstory. How did you get to where you are today? 

I sang musical theatre and opera and was a vocal performer major at a conservatory in New York. I moved to Chicago to sing punk rock when I was nineteen and I was a waitress until the restaurant closed for the winter. I went inside and became a customer service person for a greeting card company. I moved into HR in 1984 and got to design HR as a people-centric function as the company grew from a couple of million dollars in annual sales to $180M. In 1988 I went to U.S. Robotics and was their HR chief as they grew from $15M in sales to $3B.In 1997 I left USR and started writing about the workplace, and in 2012 we launched Human Workplace to teach individual people and employers how to bring a human voice and human energy into every aspect of work. We are happy, because we only launched in November 2012 and we have over 300,000 members now and 30 million monthly readers and fans.

What is the best advice anyone has ever given you personally or professionally? 

My boss at U.S. Robotics, Casey Cowell, said “Make big goals, because if you don’t hit the goal, you’ll still be way ahead of where you would have been chasing a small goal.” We had a goal to grow the company from $50M in sales to $500M in sales in five years. The plan was called Five by Five. We made teeshirts for everyone and did the whole hoopla thing. I asked Casey “How will we know how to proceed, to hit this huge goal?” He said “We can’t know any of that now, of course. It will all become clear as we get closer to it.” That’s what we teach our clients now. Make the goal, first. Dare to have a huge dream for yourself, not a wimpy little one. Most of us set very conservative goals. Why? Because it’s scary to commit yourself to something big. We feel that people will judge us and say “Who do you think you are?” Once you commit, everything else gets easier. The obstacles really melt away.

 Is this the right time for entrepreneurship? 

It’s the best imaginable time. There has never been a better time. We are all entrepreneurs anyway. We are entrepreneurs whether we realize it or not. You’ve got the same things I’ve got –time, energy, focus, friends. No one has more or less than anyone else. We invest the resources we’ve got where we think they will do us the most good. When you view your career as a business as we teach folks to do, you won’t think of the step into entrepreneurism as a big deal.

I was dead-set against working for myself. I was horrified at the thought of it. I was a corporate Sally of the most gagtastic order. If you cut my vein the company Pantone color would flow out. Now it’s obvious that I was afraid to try entrepreneurism in case I failed. You have to wait for the right time. It’s not a matter of will, but of aligning with energetic currents that are already there anyway.

 Is there anything you’d like to say to the next generation of impact players (Gen Y, Generation Z)? 
Listen to your gut above anyone else, including your boss, your parents, your girlfriend or boyfriend,  me or anyone else. Listen to your own gut. Do  not buy into the fiction that hitting other people’s marks and expectations is the way to win anything, because it isn’t. The thing to focus on growing is not your bank account or your organizational level but rather your voice. Test it. Say what needs to be said when no one else is saying it. You’ll be amazed how you change once you start to do that. Everything gets easier.  


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