The Layers of HR Leadership with Michael Erisman

In this episode of the B2B Leadership podcast, best-selling author and leadership coach Nils Vinje speaks with Michael Erisman, president and founder of People Implications.
In this episode...

0:21 - Michael's work - Michael explains the work he's doing now and the companies he works with.
3:06 - Smaller companies with limited resources - Why is it important to focus on helping smaller companies grow?
4:32 - Before the world of HR - What was going on in Michael's life prior to discovering the field of HR?
11:17 - Inside the world of HR - There was a particular job description that caught Michael's eye early on.
21:54 - The root causes of challenges - What's the core of what we all at some point get wrong in our leadership world?
28:10 - Comfort with discomfort - What advice would Michael give to somebody needing help easing into discomfort?
37:00 - Learning more about Michael and his organization - Michael shares where listeners can connect with him.
Connect with Michael Erisman:

Learn more about People Implications at:

Learn more about your own leadership style at:

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Everyone has their fair share of difficult times as they go on with their journey in life. Michael Erisman is no exception.

In this episode, we have Michael to talk about his leadership experiences, challenges, and expertise.

Keep reading to know more about his HR leadership journey.

Michael's work

Michael Erisman is the President and Founder of People Implications, a consulting firm that focuses on bringing HR strategies to smaller companies that need HR expertise, but cannot afford it.

He formed the company 18 months ago because he wants to partner with smaller companies that may have all the different types of lines of business and people challenges. He wants to help them build their people strategies aligned to their business strategies.

Michael has a huge passion for coaching HR leaders, not just from a tactical standpoint of what to do, but how to emotionally handle some of the ambiguity that comes with being in that HR role.

He is working with a number of CHROs at some companies who want to have somebody that can help and coach them on how to navigate being an HR professional.

Michael teaches at two different universities in his spare time.

Smaller companies with limited resources

Why is it important for Michael to help the smaller companies?

Smaller companies have limited resources whereas large companies have many resources. Large companies can put those resources into solving particular problems.

When you're a small company, you have the exact same problems as the large company, but limited resources. So, your options are to do your best in solving these problems or you hire legal firms and other much more expensive ways to handle those.

Before the world of HR

Michael went through a difficult phase in his life before he got into the world of HR. He had a background that wasn't perfectly lined up with being groomed to be a VP of HR at a global organization.

He took a scenic route through college. During that time, he got involved in drugs and alcohol, which took him down a dark path.

He was also running a catering company that did catering for concerts and films. He was in the entertainment business and worked directly with rock stars and bands which caused him to be more addicted to drugs and alcohol.

While he was struggling through that, he was also learning some skills that transitioned later on in his career.

When he was 25, he had a moment of divine intervention. He realized he needed to change his lifestyle. He went back to graduate school. Then he ended up in HR and started managing people in different industries.

GE recruited him into an HR role and he found out that he didn't know HR all that well. He only knew what it was like to be a manager of people and to solve a problem for a customer to achieve an outcome.

Michael wasn't the person who would implement policies and ask his people to follow those but he's someone who would ask his people's opinions on how to solve an issue. He had the ability to read people pretty well because of his past experiences.

He had the ability to understand the ploys, the challenges, the dynamics, and all of the emotional baggage that people bring into the workplace.

When you can look at your life and you can walk into a situation in a corporate environment, you can feel really stressed about whether you're able to produce something, or you're able to deliver an outcome.

Michael had that perspective in his career that when things didn't work out as planned, he wouldn't take the result negatively, instead, he would learn from it.

Inside the world of HR

Michael was once told that he should not go into an HR role but he found himself loving it. He loved how dynamic it was and how involved he was. He was even thrilled that he's getting paid for helping people solve their problems.

Everything changed after he got into the world of HR. Two months into his first HR job at GE, he found another job description that caught his eye. It was a job description for the Vice President of HR for NBC Sports which was owned by GE at that time.

Imagine the ego it would take to sit there two months into your first HR job and think you're going to do that. Michael knew there's no way he's going to actually apply for that job because no one would give it to him but he printed that job description anyway.

It was three pages of all the skills he had to learn. He carried it with him for seven years. What he did was learn all the skills stated in the job description. He did it by asking the people around him. He didn't care about his pay or title. His focus was to learn all the skills.

This led him down the path of his career and it caused him to take jobs and move on from jobs. When he had learned about everything he needed to learn in that environment, he went from GE to Pepsi. Pepsi allowed him to do a lot of things that he didn't get to do at GE. Then he left Pepsi for a company nobody had ever heard of called Corona.

People called him crazy for leaving GE & Pepsi for this company. Michael took the job at Corona and in his first six months, they did four acquisitions.

Michael said, "You don't get to touch stuff like that in GE and Pepsi for 20 years." Here he was being handed these things and he had no idea what to do.

This has been a hallmark of Michael's career. It has forced him to completely rethink how things work.

These are the kinds of experiences that were invaluable in his career. This is what opened the door for roles that he eventually had as CHRO in major companies and huge responsibility around the world.

If you want to get promoted, go find a job description that outlines everything that that role encompasses, carry around that paper for years, and start acquiring those skills. You will then have a map of where you need to go and what to do.

Take on different challenges with a purpose. Don't be so concerned with your title and compensation. Be concerned about how you can learn.

It changes the framework of how you think about the work you're doing and the direction of it.

Your next job does not really matter. What matters is taking roles that will give you the ability to learn to apply things that are going to come in handy down the road for you to build a better portfolio.

Somebody told Michael a long time ago that if you want to be successful, learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

If you know your job well and you are always comfortable, you're not learning. You're not being stretched and you're not growing.

You have to get out of your comfort zone and explore all the possibilities.

The root causes of challenges

The single greatest challenge that people have as leaders is not in the what, but in the how.

It's primarily an emotional challenge more than a mental challenge. To be an effective leader, you have to make decisions, sometimes even without a ton of clarity. It requires you to take risks on people. It requires you to get to know people and be vulnerable. It requires you to be uncomfortable.

Someone asked Michael this question before, "What's the most common thing you've heard from managers, and the most common challenges that managers are facing internally?" Michael said it's that lack of ability to allow somebody to grow and be uncomfortable because one of two things tends to happen.

Number one, as a leader, you may not give them the feedback that they need because you don't want to make them uncomfortable, which is not true because it's usually you who doesn't want to be uncomfortable.

The second one is caring more about them as a person than as an employee. You have to balance all these simultaneously and it is not easy.

Being a leader is not an easy thing to do. It's not a comfortable thing to do. It can be a lonely thing to do well, and it can also be the most rewarding thing you will ever do.

Michael did a lot of cool things but that's not where the lasting value comes. If you can help people be better, to learn, to grow, to get confidence, and to provide a safe environment for them to go beyond where they think they know how to go, that's where the lasting value comes.

As leaders, somebody along the way has given you those opportunities. Then it shifts to where you're the ones that need to give other people those opportunities.

Comfort with discomfort

What advice would you give to somebody needing help easing into discomfort?

First, you have to be curious. Ask questions and build relationships. Look for the context in terms of what you're doing. Be curious about where the opportunities are, because they're everywhere, all around you.

The second thing is more around the emotional side. A lot of times fear keeps you from doing things that you would do.

When Michael was speaking at one of the programs he attended before, one of the attendees asked him, "How do you deal with imposter syndrome?"

Michael said, "That's not imposter syndrome, that's reality. You don't know what you're doing, and that's fine."

Imposter syndrome is real. Part of the challenge is to recognize that it's normal to have these emotions, to feel fear and apprehension, and do things that you're not comfortable with.

Remember that you have the freedom to learn, to take some risks, and to do things. It's not always going to work out but learn from those and you will be fine.

Learning more about Michael and his organization

If you want to learn more about Michael and his organization, connect with him on LinkedIn, Michael S. Erisman.

At this point in his life, Michael just wants to make a difference and help people build their careers.

Michael did not get to where he is in his career without a lot of help along the way and a lot of people that he's reached out to have been lifesavers. There have been many people that he still reaches out to today and that's what he wants to be for others.

It's important to have people outside of your own company that can help you. You just have to reach out and ask questions.

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