On episode 47 of the Talent Experience Podcast we sat down with Lars Schmidt the founder of Amplify and author of Redefining HR, to chat about his recent authorial endeavours, and the evolution of HR and modern people practices.
Along with host Rhonda Taylor, they discuss our launch into the future of work and how many momentous workforce changes have been rocket fueled by recent global events. Together they consider the shifts we are seeing in employee autonomy and the irrefutable fact that how we craft and will continue to craft our personal work experiences is forever changed – “people are much more entrepreneurial about their own careers.”
Tune in to Lar’s episode below, at tlntx.co/e47 or wherever you like to podcast!
Here’s how the conversation went… This interview has been edited and condensed.
Rhonda Taylor: Lars, I think I spoke to you probably a year ago, maybe a year and a half ago about finding time to come here. And at last, we have Lars Schmidt joining us. Just before Lars starts speaking about his brand-new book, I’ll give you a little bit of background, but I think Lars is gonna have to tell me more because he was very frugal in his comments to me on his bio. He is the founder of Amplify, a boutique firm that helps companies and HR leaders navigate the new world of work through HR executive search, and the Amplify Accelerator Program. He has spent over 20 years in the industry building a range of leading global companies. He’s a writer for Fast Company, author of best-selling book Redefining HR, which we’re talking about today, and co-author of Employer Branding for Dummies, and he’s the host of Redefining HR Podcast. Lars, did I miss anything?
Lars Schmidt: That’s pretty good, that’s pretty, you know, embarrassingly comprehensive. Most importantly, I’m a dad, I’ll throw that out there. So that’s my top job.
Rhonda Taylor: Yeah, and you know one of the nice things that Lars says in his personal brand, we kind of know him and his family and the pictures at Christmas, it’s such a special family picture Lars, congratulations. So Lars last year you published a book Redefining HR and it has got tremendous reviews. Adam Grant, who I really think the world of, has said that this is really redefining the future of HR. And HR has had to sit back and reflect upon itself. And Lars has taken the opportunity at this time during this reflection, of coming up with a book, almost like a how-to book if one could say, and we’re gonna talk about it. We’re going to talk about Redefining HR. So, Lars, why did you write this book? First of all.
Lars Schmidt: I mean, I wrote the book because I had been kind of covering the evolution of HR and modern people practices for almost a decade, and a lot of the kind of content that I was creating around that was, you know, individual content. So, you know, I have a column for Fast Company, I used to write for Forbes, you mentioned the Podcast, you know, it would kind of hone in on a specific thing, but there’s only so much depth you can get into and, you know, 1000 word, editorial piece, or even a half hour podcast. And so, I had been really wanting to kind of write a book that tied it all together and actually presented kind of a macro view of the evolution of HR with a focus on kind of companies and leaders that are working at the leading edge of people ops, what are they doing differently, and how that field is changed. And then really packet full of case studies and tangible examples, from people in the industry that are actually doing the work because I’m not a practitioner. Right now, the world didn’t need another pundit book, on the field of HR, I wanted to make it very kind of real and practical and relatable with real stories. And so, kind of that was why I kind of got to the point where, you know, it was time to bring all of those interviews, all the conversations, all the stories together into a book.
Rhonda Taylor: You know, we spoke to you while you were writing this book, and I guess my quick question was, did you see the transition that was going on during the time of COVID, as an accelerator to get the book done?
Lars Schmidt: Yes and no. So, I think at the beginning of the pandemic, you know, I was involved in a couple of different open source projects, trying to help the industry as we’re navigating this, you know, once in a generation pandemic, and I ended up investing a lot of time in that I kind of dropped everything to try to get back in the industry and help with that, and didn’t write any of the book. I had the framework and I kind of knew the outline of the book, but I didn’t actually get to writing until probably four months into the pandemic. The benefit of that was, you know, we were already starting to see some profound shifts to how we think and operate in HR and what our future was beginning to look like. And it was looking very different than our past. So, I was able to account for all of that in the book. I was able to account for the changing narrative and conversation we were beginning to have around diversity, equity, inclusion in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. So, a lot of the things that happened in 2020, I was able to bring into the book. So, when it was published in January of 2021, it was I think, the first HR book that really accounted for this new reality that the field was in, given everything that we had been through with the pandemic, and everything that stemmed from that.
Rhonda Taylor: Right. And there was so much going on, at the time that you’re writing the book, and I wrote a book, so you sit down and you at the very beginning, you come up with your lesson what your schedule is, and your content, then the pandemic came. What, what chapter was the hardest for you to write?
Lars Schmidt: Yeah I mean, I think that the chapter on diversity, equity, and inclusion was the hardest to write, and for a range of reasons, right? I’m obviously a middle-aged white guy, my lived experience is very different from the perspective that I was really trying to capture in that chapter, because I think it is really important in the field of HR that is, you know, some statistics I’ve seen recently are, you know, roughly 70%, white. When you look at things like dismantling systemic inequity and trying to address some of these generational issues that we face in society, in our workplace, if the dominant group within the field of HR, his way, you know, those things are systemic, because they’re designed to be invisible to us. And we have to be able to really educate ourselves to see some of those things in order to change some of those things. And so, you know, writing that chapter, I wanted to make sure that it really reflected the history of LGBTQ plus, and that struggle, as well. And so, there was so much that went into it. And I also kind of owned that my perspective, based on my life experience, you know, is very different from people who I would really want this chapter to be able to focus on. And so, I wrote the chapter, rewrote the chapter, did it several times, and then also brought in a range of people in different perspectives for my network, to read it. And, you know, tell me where it was wrong, and where it was off, and really kind of valued their input in helping me write a chapter that I think really kind of reflected what HR needed to read in that moment.
Rhonda Taylor: Oh, my gosh, and even that chapter was in transition, you know, we went into COVID, with LGBTQ, and now you know, it’s plus, plus, plus, there’s just so many other factors. And that’s another story that we covered in the Talent Experience with Katrina Kibben. How has the book impacted your career?
Lars Schmidt: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, I think that the book was really the catalyst for this whole new segment of my business, which is the, you know, the Amplify Accelerator, which is, kind of an ecosystem aimed at developing and connecting and supporting the next generation of Chief People Officers. And really, the inspiration for that was, I was getting a lot of feedback from the book and people who read it and said, “Hey, I’m inspired to learn more about kind of this new model of HR, you know, do you think it’s a more progressive way? Where can I go to continue my education?” And I was stumped. I didn’t actually have anywhere that I was comfortable saying, “Go here! Like, this is where you will.” And so, I said, okay, my personal mission has always been accelerating innovation in HR. And so, I was like, this is really my mission, I need to take a more proactive approach to how I think about doing this. And so that led to the accelerator platform, which is, you know, a four-week cohort program for leaders. It’s a community, there’s a job board, there’s on demand courses, and then there’s an open-source learning lab kind of connected to that. But all of that was built last year, and all and really the kind of the driving force behind all that was feedback from the book. So, in that way, it had a profound impact on my career. I never envisioned myself being a teacher or being somebody would have that kind of like a developmental platform. But here I am, and I love it.
Rhonda Taylor: Yeah, and when you think of yourself, traditionally executive search, looking outside and COVID has taught everybody to look internally. Internal mobility is the new buzzword that we’re witnessing? Did you cover that in your book?
Lars Schmidt: I did, yeah, and I covered a few examples of upskilling and reskilling and how even as a result of COVID, some organizations who’s whose businesses were dramatically impacted, industries like hospitalities, and then you had other companies, I believe in that example, the book was CVS. CVS was hiring unbelievably, and so they did a collaboration with Marriott, where they took a lot of the Marriott employees who were furloughed, and actually gave them kind of temporary roles at CVS. And so, we just saw these really interesting collaborations that occurred as a result of the pandemic that again, we talked about, you know, moving into this new world of work and whether COVID was an accelerant. I mean, it was rocket fuel. And this still is, you know, we’re still navigating through this. But the only thing that is certain is that our reality that existed in February of 2020 is gone forever.
Rhonda Taylor: That’s right and you wonder, we’re all waiting to see what the new norm is all about. You know, it’s been a year since you’ve published the book. What would you add, if you were writing it today?
Lars Schmidt: That’s a hard question to answer, because I think that so many of the things that were top of mind, for me, I was able to get in the book, like, I think, yeah, I want to give a thoughtful answer if I had one. But honestly, I there’s nothing that I can, that is like a glaring omission for me today. There are areas where I certainly would have gone deeper, and I would have loved to have gone deeper if I had the space. But you have, you know, when you’re writing a book like that, there’s limitations in size and word count. And so, you know, there’s areas that certainly I would have loved to have spent more time in the book that I wasn’t able to just because I ran out of space, but no glaring thing that to me where we absolutely missed X or Y.
Rhonda Taylor: All right. And what’s next on Lars’s agenda?
Lars Schmidt: You know, I’m having a lot of fun with the Accelerator. So, if you look at kind of my world today, you know, there there’s three components to Amplify, which is my business, there’s HR executive search, and that’s going great, there’s media, which is the podcast and Fast Company column, and you know, kind of things like this and speaking at conferences, which are starting to happen live again, which is kind of exciting. And then there’s an Accelerator platform, and that just continues to grow, and scale. And so, you know, I’m really heavily invested in that as kind of a growth channel, within Amplify. And so, you know, I tend to not look out beyond a year, in terms of like, what’s next, and when I’m playing is too much happens. I find that, you know, when you when you lock into a three-year plan, a five-year plan, you miss opportunities. So, I don’t do that I kind of look at a year at a time. And you know, this year, I’m gonna be focused on scaling and growing the Accelerator and really trying to build a really unique and valuable place for kind of the next generation of leaders.
Rhonda Taylor: Right, and there’s so much going on with the next generation. Where do you where do you see the workforce going? You see everybody going gig, some people are saying that by 2030, 70% of the workforce is going to be gig relationships. What’s your crystal ball say Lars?
Lars Schmidt: Yeah, my crystal ball doesn’t say that, that would surprise me. I think that’s a bullish estimate, there’s a range of reasons why people go to gig work, some by choice, some not by choice, right, they have to have a range of roles, because they can’t find the full-time role they want. I think we are in an environment that’s going to be much more flexible. From an employee standpoint, I think hybrid is here to stay, many more companies are going to be built distributed from employee one through 1000. You know, moving forward, I think real estate is going to shift, you know, people don’t need those giant office spaces that they used to, it’ll be more like hotel spaces, co-working spaces, lounges, clubs in some ways, right? In terms of like, how they’re arranged and configured, you know, that is going to be a huge shift. So, it’s exciting. I mean, there’s no, there’s no one single thing that is going to be… it’s just this it’s like, it’s a range of things. And we’re not done, like things that we’re not thinking about now, in a couple years from now, they’re going to be coming up and now we’re gonna have to address that. Things like, you know, right now, I think one of the barriers to work from anywhere is regulatory, you know, and compliance driven. And so, our laws and our policies haven’t kept up with how we work now. And so, you know, that I expect to catch up. So, it’s an exciting time. I mean, I thought this before the pandemic, it’s never been a better time HR, we have to own, it’s also never been a more stressful and difficult and challenging time to work in HR. But if you are somebody who really likes to kind of look at the future, and you know, see how things may evolve in a positive way, there’s so much I think optimism for this new world of work that we’re actually building today.
Rhonda Taylor: Right. And, you know, the transition I have seen with COVID, and the pandemic, is people taking ownership of their careers. I grew up in an age where I felt that the company, I worked for owned my career. And I would go up the ladder, according to what my how my supervisors viewed my performance. What are you seeing now?
Lars Schmidt: Yeah, not anymore! I think that people are much more entrepreneurial about their own career. And for good reason. I mean, there’s so many opportunities, especially when you look at the rise of remote and hybrid work, right now, there’s very little friction to change jobs, right? If I’m wake up in the morning, I walk into wherever I work from my home, I open my laptop, but I do my work that if I don’t like the place where I’m doing that, I close my laptop, I go somewhere else, the next day, I open my laptop, and I’m working at a different company. Right? So, there’s very little friction in, you know, obviously, we’re narrowing into to office jobs and jobs that are that are able to work from home. And that’s a subset of the overall job market. So, let’s acknowledge that. But I think that the ability for people to, you know, go somewhere, and if they don’t feel valued and challenge that they don’t find room to grow. They’re not going to stay. And so yeah, I think employees are very much in the driver’s seat in this market. And I think it’s also where we’re making this more kind of societal shift towards, you know, away from, you know, what I, you know, called the hustle porn culture, right? That we kind of been in, it’s like, oh, grind, grind, grind? How are you? No, no, like going through a global pandemic. This is a humanity shaping event, you know, people spent more time with their families and their loved ones, and building hobbies, and traveling and, you know, realizing that life isn’t all about work. And in the US, we have, you know, been fed that for a very long time. And I think that those attitudes, especially with younger generations, are starting to change. And so, they’re in the driver’s seat, and they’re going to craft the future and the life that they want to have. And it’s about moulding life and work together. It’s not just about being beholden to that job and climbing that ladder within a single company.
Rhonda Taylor: Exactly. Lars, we at the Talent Experience, we always wrap up our podcast, having our guests answer this question, and it’s, you’re very good at what you do. You always bring the top your performance to the game. How do you do it every day, day in and day out?
Lars Schmidt: You know for me, and this will be a cliche, but I really love my work. I love what I do. I love the variety. It’s intellectually stimulating, it’s engaging. There’s an analytical side, there’s a creative side, there’s people elevate, woven through everything that I do, and so those are all things that get me excited. And I think particularly in my role now, and kind of being an entrepreneur, I can craft the work life that I want, I can choose the companies that I work with, there’s a lot of freedom to that. And so, I think in that environment, where I’m probably just to kind of work on open-source projects, commercial projects, creative projects, you know, no two days are identical. And for me, that is just that’s really fulfilling. And it makes it easy to kind of, because even you know, not every day is like that, right? There are some days where it’s like, damn, I have to drill up every bit of motivation I can to do that one thing. That’s the thing I really hate doing, but I know I have to do it. Yes, I have those. We all have those, but every day has at least some things that I like, and they give me energy and it helps overcome the things that might not be as exciting. Yeah, you feed off your wins.