Blowing up traditional HR

Disrupt Madison is part of a broader movement to fundamentally change the way companies handle human resources. It’s a bold step, but not an unwelcome one.

If you’re a stickler for the rules, this probably isn’t the article for you.

For too long workers have labored under the rigid, ever-watchful eye of the lords and ladies of Human Resources. These purveyors of office law and order may not win any workplace popularity contests, but they’re the ones companies task with ensuring everyone on the payroll maintains corporate cohesion in the pursuit of the omnipresent bottom line.

All that could change — and soon — as the Disrupt Madison movement gains traction locally, even as the wider DisruptHR movement seeks to drastically alter the HR landscape on a global scale.

Coreyne Woodman-Holoubek

Laura Gmeinder

It should be noted that the Disrupt Madison founders — Coreyne Woodman-Holoubek, vice president and co-owner of The Apu Group, and Laura Gmeinder, founder and president of Laura Gmeinder Coaching & Consulting LLC — aren’t idealistic HR outsiders. Rather, they’re experienced HR professionals who grew tired of the “old way” of doing things and set about to break a few rules in service of creating a better HR system for everyone.

“Disruption is the way our world works now,” explains Woodman-Holoubek. “It is about being the positive, forward-thinking change you want to see around you. For example, we hear that employers need to change the way they recruit and retain ‘talent’ because there is a ‘talent shortage.’ In reality, talent is all around us. We need to stop thinking of having a talent shortage, but rather a pipeline shortage or an opportunity shortage.

“There are so many talented people who have the need and initiative to create and live their meaningful purpose, but because of their circumstances or life stage they cannot ‘conform’ to working what employers think they need — eight-hour, five-day work weeks, or even part of second or third shift of a 40–50 hour work week,” Woodman-Holoubek continues. “Instead, people are creating their own inroads to making a living via the ‘gig’ economy, but most employers still are not listening to this underlying need. We aim to change that.”

Born to disrupt

Gmeinder and Woodman-Holoubek already knew each other from having been enrolled in the same UW HRCI SHRM certification preparation course. Over the years, they’d see each other around town at various events and briefly chat about career pursuits.

In early 2014 Woodman-Holoubek discovered the opportunity to pursue the Disrupt movement Madison, and at the same time she saw on LinkedIn that Gmeinder had taken the leap to start her own coaching and consulting company.

“I sent her a message to congratulate her, and asked if she would like to meet for coffee,” recalls Woodman-Holoubek. “I shared the vision to create the Disrupt Madison movement, and without hesitation Laura said, ‘I’m in, let’s do this!’ We feel we were destined to pursue this venture together. We fondly refer to each other as ‘HR soul mates.’”

But, what, exactly does Disrupt Madison do?

Disrupt is an information exchange designed to energize, inform, and empower executives, business leaders, and people in the HR field. Disrupt is a night of short, focused talks from professionals who want to share their ideas on how to move forward with their approach to talent.

Disrupt bucks traditional HR values and is a stark contrast from what you would experience going to a SHRM seminar, note both Woodman-Holoubek and Gmeinder. How? Disrupt offers quick, 5-minute presentations, a diverse lineup of speakers, and taboo or controversial topics.

Often, HR is the seen as the corporate police, according to Gmeinder and Woodman-Holoubek. Many companies don’t give HR professionals a seat at the table — and pay for it later down the road. True HR professionals should be empowered to impact the strategic direction of their company because they are more than just recruiting or payroll. The disruptive HR person is multifaceted and multitalented.

“We challenge our Disrupt Madison community to impact the world of work,” explains Gmeinder. “Whether it’s a company or an employee change, it starts with a conversation that impacts attitudes and the status quo. What do you have control over? What is working? What can be better? What is the future of your industry and how do you get ahead of a talent shortage, for example? Maybe your idea about what a well-qualified candidate’s experiences are needs to change. So how do you change it?

“Start with your mission and values — why are you doing what you are doing?” Gmeinder continues. “How can you best relay that to talent? You make sure you weave that into your job postings and what your employees are telling their network about your company. Not because it’s what you are telling them to say but because they genuinely love working for your company. And you create an interview process that honors and attracts like-minded candidates. You show and tell them how you retain and engage your employees. You walk the walk when it’s easy and when it’s hard. You care about your employees and you practice transparency.

“It’s been exciting to see the movement grow; recently we’ve had interest from companies inviting us in to help them disrupt the status quo within their teams, and then organization wide. If that isn’t reflective of our success in Madison, I don’t know what is.”

According to Woodman-Holoubek, last year’s Disrupt Madison 1.0 event was a success with more than 100 professionals in attendance at High Noon Saloon and via a global live feed.

This year’s event, Disrupt Madison 2.0, is set for June 7 at High Noon Saloon. It’s already sold out but because there’s been so much interest and buzz from the Greater Madison community, Woodman-Holoubek says she and Gmeinder have plans to expand the disruption, bringing the essence of Disrupt Madison to the organizational level. “Stay tuned for more information before the end of Q3!”

That also means taking the disruption on the road. A planned Disrupt Milwaukee event last year didn’t come to fruition due to a difficult pregnancy, says Woodman-Holoubek, but the duo are now set to bring Disrupt Milwaukee 1.0 to the Cream City this fall. And they are currently in discussion with Milwaukee Startup Week to make Disrupt Milwaukee part of the week’s events, and to hold a Disrupt Milwaukee live feed party in Madison as part of the Madison events.

“Laura and I are focused on challenging the way Wisconsin views the ‘world of work,’” says Woodman-Holoubek. “We feel that the voice, ideas, and action of the ‘disruption’ should not be limited to just HR executives and professionals. Everyone works, everyone contributes to our community and our economy. We even challenge the idea that stay-at-home moms and dads and other primary caregivers do not ‘go to work.’ They work. They manage a household and develop, coach, and mentor conscious citizens — their children — within their households.

“Retirees and community members volunteer — that’s ‘work,’” Woodman-Holoubek adds. “They use their talents, initiative, and efforts to move the needle forward every day so another person can have the opportunity they so desperately need. For Disrupt Madison 2.0 our intention is not to focus specifically on the HR function, for no other reason than to ensure everyone who wants to attend feels welcome and that his or her work is valued. In addition, we want to influence the unlikely thought leaders that exist in every organization, and here again even the organization of the household, to see value in their unique voice and perspective to make positive disruptive change in the workplace. Lastly, it’s important to move the needle on the stereotypical view of HR — aka ‘the evil HR lady,’ lovers of all ‘fluffy’ work initiatives, or the ‘the organizational police.’”

A schedule of the Disrupt Madison 2.0 presentations is provided below:




HR burnout

Gmeinder and Woodman-Holoubek took different paths to arrive at the same philosophy that HR needed to be shaken up.

A “proud townie,” Gmeinder grew up in Madison and earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the UW–Madison in family and consumer (adult) education.

During her undergraduate studies she had an internship at AAA Wisconsin, which turned into a full-time position upon graduation. She wound up working there for 14 years.

“My co-workers were my work family,” Gmeinder says. “During my time there I worked with all levels of executive leadership and management, focused on coaching, recruitment, and employee relations. About seven years in I felt like I was going through a quarter-life crisis. Work wasn’t lighting me up the way it once had and my life was nothing like I thought that it would be. In doing some soul searching I realized I was called to do more. I wanted to be challenged and make a bigger impact in the world.”

So Gmeinder started volunteering and taking leadership positions with community groups such as the Junior League of Madison and United Way. Eventually she discovered life coaching and started taking on clients in the fall of 2010.

By 2014 Gmeinder decided to strike out on her own full time and she resigned from AAA Wisconsin. “It was the scariest and most exciting day of my life. I immediately landed my first consulting client working on a company’s culture to develop trust between executives and management.”

Woodman-Holoubek is also a native Madisonian who left town to travel the world before coming back home to settle down — “or not, depending on how you look at it,” she quips.

“My upbringing was nontraditional in the sense that business and entrepreneurialism were part of my daily life as a child,” notes Woodman-Holoubek. “My family owned four grocery stores in south-central Wisconsin. I was payrolled when I was 10 years old to count coupons and photocopy sales announcements. I never really knew what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’ and was always told I didn’t really have to worry about it because I ‘would be a grocer.’”

Woodman-Holoubek graduated from UW–Madison with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish linguistics with an emphasis on Spanish, Latin American, and South American language and culture. At the time, she was still convinced she was going to be a grocer, and she felt that learning Spanish would help the stores with the then rapidly increasing Hispanic population in south-central Wisconsin.

“That was the plan until I traveled abroad to Seville, Spain, during my last semester at UW and became overwhelmingly enthralled with European culture,” Woodman-Holoubek explains. “My mother is a European immigrant, and I guess it was just my DNA’s way of saying that exploring Europe was the path I was mean to take.”

She felt at that time that she couldn’t leave Europe, so she did what any recent graduate would do — start another degree. She went on to complete an international business degree with an emphasis on European languages (mainly Spanish and Italian) and human resources in the UK at the University of Brighton, and then she earned her graduate degree at the University of Plymouth in personnel and development — the UK version of human resources.

“During my time in Europe I worked for the Chamber of Commerce in Cadiz, Spain in the Foreign Trade department, and for Wrigley UK as the learning and development assistant advisor within the European, Middle East, and Asia division,” says Woodman-Holoubek. “When I moved back the U.S., I had difficulty finding a position in HR for my respective experience in south-central Wisconsin. I went back into the retail industry in supervisory and management, and found my way into retail recruitment. After a number of years, I moved into a position as a recruitment specialist for a popular Wisconsin-based food manufacturer. My time there was brief after experiencing dissatisfaction with the organization’s cultural practices and views.”

A few weeks later Woodman-Holoubek was contacted by a headhunter to interview with a growing regional cheese manufacturing and distribution company that had just been purchased by a larger European parent company from Switzerland. She was hired after the first interview with the goal to merge three respective national locations with three very different cultures, policies, and practices, and over 300 employees. The organization up until that point had not had an HR department. She was promoted to regional HR manager after a fourth location was added via acquisition.

However, “after becoming pregnant with my first daughter, my purpose and ideals for my life changed,” Woodman-Holoubek notes. “I decided to leave corporate HR and join my husband in his entrepreneurial pursuits. We created The Apu Group, a collaborative of executive leaders for contract. I currently run the HR team. I started out wanting my HR career to take me to the C-suite, but I hit a ceiling. I hit the ceiling not because I am a woman, but because I wanted to be there for my young family — two girls now 4 years old and my baby, 8 months. Being a Chief HR Officer — considered in most circles as the highest ‘influencer’ in an organization within the HR career path — was not an option for me, and again, not because I wasn’t talented or didn’t have the initiative or drive, solely because my employer’s work policies and practices were biased against my desire to ‘raise’ a family.”

“My experience in HR was for a conservative company,” comments Gmeinder. “Often, rules were made for the outlier, which bothered me because I am not a rules person. I would rather have a conversation with someone about how they are dressed than to create a rule impacting everyone’s dress code.”

The world of work is evolving faster than traditional HR can keep up with it, notes Gmeinder. HR is often siloed instead of being partnered with internal experts — for example, she says, partnering with IT to create social media guidelines or partnering with marketing when their job posting isn’t resonating with their candidates.

“Millennials get a bad rap; some of our mentors and role models are millennials,” Gmeinder says. “We love that millennials are having a positive impact on the world of work. They want their employer to be the vehicle to support them in making a difference in the world. They want to work for a company they can be proud of and with a team that is driven by more than profit. For example, Jillana Peterson spoke (at Disrupt Madison’s inaugural event last year) about the changing view of philanthropy. I am so impressed with all she is doing in her role at Zendesk and beyond. It’s a generation that challenges employers to do more. As a group, they are disruptive.”

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