Season 2, Episode 1: Self Care & The Human Resources Professional

Kristen : In the past year, there’s been such an incredible movement to building sustainable businesses instead of exit ready businesses. As always, Up Right and Better is here to bring brilliant guests to the table and help you explore ideas, strategies and real life examples of businesses built with people at the front. Thank you for tuning and sharing your time with me. As you know, you can reach out to us with questions, guest ideas, or comments. Just find us on the web at

Before we begin today’s episode, I want to tell you about an event like no other. On February 27th and 28th, right here in Portland, Oregon, Edify is hosting the first ever human school. Do you feel like you don’t know what you don’t know? If you’re the people operations person at your startup, you need human school. You might be an administrative assistant, and office manager, or an operations professional. You might even already be an HR professional. You might also be the founder and you haven’t hired HR yet. Human school is for you too. Human School is the only development focus learning experience designed for people, operations people, official or unofficial, in growing startups. It’s unlike any conference you’ve ever been to before. You’ll experience two high intensity, high value days of learning and applying experiences to create your own, full fledged people operation strategy. We are thrilled to have diverse expert set of speakers for Human School. Few of our speakers come from traditional HR backgrounds. You’ll be sure to be in for a treat when it comes to thinking about a human focused people operations strategy.

Each and every workshop is packed with immediately useful tools. You and your peers will create the community you’ve been looking for. Right before you leave, you’ll gain new skills and negotiations so you could head back to work ready to advocate for your vision and strategy. You’ll leave the conference with an actual usable people operations strategy ready to go. You can find your tickets for Human School at and if you use the code BETTERPOD you’ll get $300 off your ticket. Now on with the show.

I’m so excited to kick of season two of Up Right and Better with Reini Chipman. I’ve known Reini since early 2016 and have learned so much from her in that time. Without further ado, let me introduce you to Reini. In college, Reini studied psychology and social work and always envisioned helping, supporting and being involved with people. Like may HR folks, HR fell into her lap. Overtime, she’s noticed it’s become interesting and complex and every organization has some form of it, so she’s leaned into it for the last 18 years. Over her career, Reini has supported many different types and sizes of organizations in human resources, operational and executive roles. She’s worked with thousands of talented individuals, hundreds of teams and several companies who are recognized as best places to work. Through these experiences, she’s learned that although every organization is unique, there’s some very powerful strategies that can be applied din almost any organization to increase engagement and performance. Now, Reini’s a coach and mentor and continues her HR work in the Portland tech ecosystem. Help me welcome Reini.

Kristen : I’m super excited to have Reini Chipman on the podcast today. I’ve known Reini since, gosh February 15.

Reini: That sounds right.

Kristen : Brand new to Elemental, somehow we talked and we had coffee in northwestern Portland and I just loved her immediately.

Reini: And I loved you.

Kristen: That’s the best. That’s the best. I just remember thinking oh my gosh, I have not met HR person that I actually liked, ever and there we are, and here we are today. I’ve actually had the luxury of spending some time today with our guest already, but you all get the chance to spend some time with her now. So just want to say welcome and thank you for being here.

Reini: Thank you so much for having me. I’m flattered and honored and looking forward to having conversation.

Kristen : Good, good. So excited. You’ve to a great, long career. It’s 18 plus years deep and you’ve worked for companies like Simple Finance, Simply Measured, Geo Cacheing, even the experienced music project in Seattle, and I’m curious why do you do the work that you do and do you still love it and if so, why?

Reini: Yeah. Why do I love it? I do still love it. Why I love it is because I find that many, many people don’t love what they do and aren’t happy at work. In fact research shows that’s about 80% of us, which I find appalling and heartbreaking. And even back to my first job, which would have been back in the 80s probably, when I was about 14 or 15, my first job was detasseling corn in the fields of Ohio. It was a really fun job because we would ride pickup trucks out to the fields and we unload and we would go de-tassle the corn.

Kristen : I didn’t know that was a thing because I actually, as a kid, and still today, I eat the tassels. I really like them.

Reini: You eat the tassels?

Kristen : They’re so sweet. They’re really good. I’m sure I’m the only person in the world that does that.

Reini: I don’t know if all those hours in the field, I don’t even know if I even ate a tassel. So interesting, good question.

Kristen : Next time you have corn, try it.

Reini: I will. You know, even having that first work experience, I looked around and I remember people grumbling or not being happy about it, and I was super stoked because, even though I was only making three dollars an hour, I felt like it was very tangible work and I was going to be able to save up for something I wanted to do and I was just kind of psyched. From there, I had many, many different jobs but throughout almost every experience, I noticed that here in this place where we spend most of our waking hours, which is work for most of us, whether we get paid for it or not, 80% of people are not loving it. So from my perspective, that’s a huge opportunity to have impact.

Working in human resources, working as a business leader or within a for profit, or not for profit for that matter, we have a chance for people to feel safe, feel connected, and have a sense of joy in what they’re contributing in their career or in this life. So that’s what keeps me kind of back.

Kristen : That’s so good. I so appreciate that because some of those reasons are the exact reasons I quit my job and I decided to go to my business full time, now almost three years ago, and so much of it has to do with toxic workplaces and people making other people feel sad because they fell sad, and angry, and frustrated. I think this bleeds into our culture as human group. It’s not just at work that you feel this way, but if you feel that way at work and you come home, how could you be a good family member or how could you be a good citizen or good global citizen. I mean, I’m not sure you can be if you are struggling with these kinds of things at work.

Reini: Yeah, I agree. I haven’t done a ton of research on this but I know even from sources like Gallup that did some work around wellness in the work place, what they found is individuals in who like what they do, or love what they do, are more than twice as likely to be thriving overall in their life. So that’s really compelling statistic and if I’m going to focus my time on getting the most ROI on the hours that I put into work, just seems like a no brainer. No brainer.

Kristen : Yeah, you would want it to make sense. You’ve noted in the past that there are many ways to measure success in an organization but it’s pretty hard to move the needle if you don’t make employees your top priority. Do you think that organizations need to be doing this to become better companies? What’s the impetus to do this and can you tell me a little bit more about that, moving the needle to become employee centric?

Reini: Yeah, absolutely. So, and I will also say that my perspective on this theme on this topic is continually evolving which is really fun. But I do still stand by that statement that you can’t move the needle without making people a top priority. That said, different businesses have different priorities over time for good reason, and I do believe that it’s always important to have one top, top priority. Many teams will have ten top properties and we all know what happens when that’s the case. And businesses also, I’ve noticed, can also really suffer when they can’t decide what the top priorities are and really, really stick to them.

My perspective is evolving but the one thing that I think … well there’s two things that I think the best organizations do. First of all, they ensure that they have a solid business model, right? This is back to basics, debits and credits, can we pay the bills, are we delivering enough value that we have the revenue we need, whether that comes from bootstrapping or whether that comes from outside funding. Can you create a business model that’s working? Because if you don’t have money coming in the door, you’re dead in the water and you’re no good to anybody including your customers or employees. So having a solid business model is one of two things I think the best businesses do. And the second thing is you back that up by having an inspiring and committed and capable executive team who will do what ever it takes to win.

So winning can look like a lot of different things depending on an organization but the question is how are you going to measure your success. You can look toward your company vision, your mission, your values as ways to create your metrics on what success looks like. You also, I think, need to look at what promises have you made to your stakeholders, right? A lot of companies nowadays are saying, we’re mission driven and so come work here because we’re mission driven. But for for-profits, we’re actually stakeholder driven. So yes, there’s a mission but the promises we’ve made are to our stakeholders for most organizations. So there needs to be a way to measure success on how we’re delivering on those promises, in my onion, because once you stop delivering on your promises, depending on your funding model, your stakeholders can really put some pressure on it, it gets uncomfortable and of course people stuff is the first stuff to get impacted from those companies.

Another way that I think companies need to look at how they measure success is, what are the promises they’re making to employees, right? You’re establishing what you hope to be an authentic brand and you make promises along the way and studying whether employees believe you’re delivering on those promises and staying in integrity as a company is another way to measure success. And then finally, what are the strategic priorities? Employees love to be part of something where we establish a big hairy goal strategically, and then we nail it, or we come close to nailing it or we exceed it. Generally people want to be part of a winning team and for many people, I think it could be even more important than pay, frankly. These are things that employees are looking for and also just basic good business.

Kristen : It’s true and I can’t remember exactly the study I was reading about in a article recently, but I believe that the research supports that. That people want to be part of a team and how the side benefits that can come with that, over the pay. And we all know that the pay is not going to keep people most of the time. If you really have a toxic team and you just offer 10,000 more, that might keep them for another two months or another year, but their commitment to you is going to be lower because you made it financial transaction rather than, what I think, you’re talking about and we’ve talked about in the past. I’m actually giving you part of my soul and my work and my day to day. I’m spending more time in this space, whether it’s a remote space and I’m spending it in my basement or I’m actually showing up to your office, but I’m giving you that and I need something in return for that and it’s not just so I can keep the lights on in my house.

It’s different, if you want to talk about blue collar work and white collar work, but I think that’s something we need to be especially mindful of as the world of work is changing and I think we’re still in kind of a challenge of finding the right talent and the right people for most of our companies, but also, how do we nurture the talent that we have and how do we continue to build them up so that they can feel like they’re actually part, and genuinely be a part of the company’s mission in those promises you’re talking about.

Reini: Yeah, absolutely. I think the employees of the future are really going to value flexibility. Flexibility in terms of hours, spaces, those kinds of things. That’s going to be more and more important. And I also think people are going to value feeling that they are joining an organization that’s taking steps to become more and more equitable. Another thing that I think the best executive teams and leadership teams do is to vigilantly audit and correct and structural and leadership processes and practices that prevent a sense of safety and equity. And why I bring this up is building equity in an organization should not be a function of just a people team. If you don’t have an executive team that’s committed to this and committed to doing that work and getting real uncomfortable themselves as individuals and as a team, it’s harder to create as much change as you want to create in the time you want to create it.

And when you are able to do it. When you’re really able to get this group committed to auditing structure, right, this sounds kind of boring. Like applicant tracking systems, pay ranges, job descriptions, so those kinds of things. Those structural things can really impact the equity within the organization and when you do that, you start to build a virtuous generative cycle instead of more vicious cycles that break trust. What I mean by virtuous generative cycle is you’ve got this foundation of safety, which impacts trust, when you add to that as executive team, awesome clarity and alignment about where are we at, where are we going, people feel more clear, they feel more engaged, they feel safe. Then that entails them to grow even more and build more capacity and develop as leaders, then the team performance improves. Then the customers are realizing it and excited. Then you experience more financial abundance and sustainability and so on and so forth. Back to that audit, make sure the safeties righty and just keep that generative cycle humming. That’s the commitment that’s needed, I think, by leaders.

Kristen : I so agree with that. I always like to ask guests if our choices are up into the right and we know that we have to make trade offs to get to that up and right position, and those trade offs, like you said, they’re almost… hard to watch because you know that it’s the people that will eventually bring you the financial stability that you’re looking for in your company. It is the employees that tend to your customers. It is the employees that help make sure that structures are sound and you can build upon them, and without that, I don’t know that you’re actually going to get to the financial stability that you want.

So it’s really hard to watch those things be cut or to never be invested in, in the first place. I see a lot of young founders for, whatever reason, have had negative experiences with HR and they think it’s just a risk function and they think I don’t need to hire one and finally their CFOs I’m not doing payroll anymore and so they hire a generalist. Sometimes it’s an office manager and I’m really concerned about how we build up our people operations people and how we make sure that they’re getting the care and the feeding in a way that they need to become leaders of people and not just, oh I think we should do these benefits over these benefits, but really strategic, really core elements of the business. I’m curious what you think about that.

Reini: How to build up the HR folks?

Kristen : Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Reini: Yeah, I love this question and my answer is always very quick with my first bit of advice, which is ensure that your … anybody whose in the business of people, whether they’re in a people team or they’re a manger of souls, a manger of people, we need to encourage, demand, and support them in prioritizing self care. I’ve noticed time and time again that when we can create enough space for individuals and for teams to take of themselves, put that gas mask on, then when they come to a conversation or a project and their buckets filled up, they’re just going to be in a much better space. People that are in the business of people, whether it’s customer relations, customer service, HR folks, it’s very easy because it’s people and there’s so much that the stakes are high, right?

When you’re in people operations, you are impacting people’s pay. You are impacted their career, you are impacted their health and privacy. The stakes are high and sometimes it’s very easy to get swept up in that and over function, over commit, and then what happens is that you’re not doing anybody any good, especially yourself. So as counterintuitive as it sometimes seems, it always works when people take a step back and make that time for themselves.

I also encourage people operations folks to think about who is on their own personal board of directors. This can include a manager, or maybe not. This can include a mentor, or a coach. Just like most therapist have some sort of counselor to support them in the work they do, I think people that are in HR or the people business in general, can really benefit from ongoing consistent coaching. And those coaches can be formal, informal, they can look different over time but it’s always good to have some sort of coach in your board of directors. So building up kind three to seven folks that are there for you that you can bounce things off of because people are messy and chaotic and sometimes you start to wonder if you are sort of out of your mind on things. And you just need that board of directors to bounce things off of and help you feel.

There’s two more things that I encourage people to do when they’re in the people operations world. The first one is model loving your work, right? Model resonance with what you’re doing. A very simple at approach that is to decide, what are your four cornerstones for this job that you’re in? What are the top four deal breakers or deal makers that you need to be happy and thriving in your work? And sometimes you create those four cornerstones and you look at your current job and it’s not the right fit, and when you’re in people operations, you need to go. If it’s not the right fit and your corner stones aren’t at least closely being met, you need to model finding a place where they are so that when you’re coaching other employees, you can really feel confident that you’re walking the talk there and even story tell about your own struggles and gain some credibility.

And then finally, just basic skills that you can never go wrong. Developing coaching skills, develop your communication skills ongoing. We’re never ever done developing communication skills. The people that are committed to constant development with communication skills are the people that get promoted and who experience the most abundance in their career, I’ve seen it time and time again. And finally, business acumen, you know, just understanding the business you’re in. Set of the different functions. Make sure you understand how things work so that you can be a strategic partner instead of a reactive order taker.

Kristen : That is pretty much the elevator pitch for Human School.

Reini: Which I feel like I should be attending.

Kristen : Yeah, I mean, you should probably just be running it.

Reini: No. No. Not going to do that.

Kristen : No, no, no. But I love that there is a minimum, at least two different gears that you have to be in. You have to be in the daily firefighting mode and have supporting employees in a very real, very emotional way very often. Having been somebody who actually wasn’t … I’ve never been a human resources professional. I’ve always been a learning and development professional but being associated with HR means that you get that too, because not everybody understands that. And just seeing the little tidbits that I’ve seen and getting the coaching request and in the hallway craziness. You know people requesting advice on something that you’re completely unqualified to give advice on.

But clearly seeing them in an emotional place and needing to find them some support, that draws so much out of you and I think I’ve never seen the advice that you shared, that you need to fill back up your well before you can go back out again. Which I’m going to be a little critical here and I wonder if people have negative experiences of HR, is it because those HR, those people operations professionals are at their wits end. Maybe they haven’t filled back up and you’re continuously burying out. You’re showing up at work burnt out for years and that would make you maybe not a great person, a nice person to interact with or it would maybe make you fall back on the risk and the compliance elements of the role. So I really appreciate hearing that from you.

Reini: Yeah. I think one thing you’re touching on really astutely is when you’re in an HR function, you have assumed power. HR people are kind of scary, even to senior people in the organization because there is assumed power there. So I think the reason that a lot of people have poor experiences with HR folks is powers in the mix, they are right, powers at play. And so if you add on to it someone who either isn’t on the career tracK for themselves and shouldn’t be practice HR, or hasn’t filled up their own bucket, it’s just a recipe for disaster. It is emotional work and it can be very, very intense.

Kristen : It’s so true. So as we wrap up our conversation, I know that you have been engaged in some really interesting projects in the last couple of months and I’m curious, what’s next for you? What do you think you want to work on in the world of people?

Reini: Great question. So speaking of self care and creating space, I am currently on a sabbatical so I’m creating some space to really get introspective and think about my next chapter. It’s been 16 years since I’ve had break. I recommend not waiting that long. I have a change to take a break and think about it. There’s a couple different things I want to be doing. I’m working on writing a book, which should be a fun journey. I’ve never done that before so I’m coming to that with a beginners mind and just enjoying the craft process. I’m also speaking with some female CEOs. So I’ve spend about 20 years supporting male CEOs just sort of coincidentally and I want to get really intentional about, there’s some really inspiring female CEOs coming up now and I just to help them be successful and build their business and I think the world needs that. It needs the ladies to be successful in the business world, and that’s not exclusive of all groups, but I happen to be a lady and so I think I can provide unique niche coaching to them and mentorship to help them be successful.

Kristen : I think, I completely agree with you, that the ladies do need to be successful and I think you’re one of the most perfect people for it.

Reini: Thank you.

Kristen : I just want to say thank you for sharing all of that with us and I look forward to seeing your book sometime soon.

Reini: Well, thank you for that. It might be five years but it will happen.

Kristen : Soon, in the grand scheme of the world.

Reini: Thank you so much.

Kristen : Thank you.

That’s it for today. Thank you so much for joining us for another episode. Until next time, grow better.