Bruce Waller’s HR Super Stars Series… Meet Jennifer McClure, Keynote Speaker, Podcaster, and Executive Coach!

Sharing Leadership Lessons in an interview with Bruce Waller…

10 Answers from HR Leaders that make a difference! 

I once heard Sara Blakely, (CEO Spanx) say, “The more you experience in life, the more you have to offer others.”  Today, I want for you to experience more by learning from some Super Stars serving in HR! I am inspired by people every day who model great leadership for others through their daily actions in human resources. These leaders have common threads that include empathy, love and care for people. They value people and the importance of relationship building.

In this HR Super Stars interview series, I want to introduce you to some of the best of the best in HR! These leaders make impact and will share challenges, successes, and perspectives on their journey as a business leader and in their personal lives. My hope is each person will inspire you and challenge you to become more for others on your journey.  So, let’s get started and meet our HR Superstars!

Today, we are going to hear from Jennifer McClure, CEO Unbridled Talent & DisruptHR. I first became a fan of Jennifer’s work a few years ago on social media, then started listening to her podcast “Impact Makers”. I have seen her speak at different events including SHRM National conference and have even been a guest on her podcast. She is genuine, thoughtful, strategic, caring and a great keynote speaker that absolutely loves to help people. I have also had the honor of speaking at a DisruptHR event and have enjoyed following this movement hearing some great people share some of the most amazing stories across the US and abroad. I recently reached out to see if Jennifer would be willing to share more about her story in this interview so we could get to know her a little better and she gladly agreed. So today, I am super honored and excited to share Jennifer’s story with you today. I hope you enjoy…

Now, let’s meet Jennifer!  

1. Where did you grow up?

I was born in Cleveland, Tennessee, and grew up on a family farm that has been in my father’s family for generations. He passed away in 2012, but my mom still lives on the farm in a log house that was built by my great, great grandmother. My brother and I are the 5th generation of the Johnson family to have lived in that house!

2. How did you get started in business/career?

My dad was a CPA and college professor, who chose that as his “day job”, so he could have more time for farming. My mom stayed home with my brother and I until I was a junior in high school. I played sports all throughout high school, and only worked part-time jobs in the summer during high school and college. So, I really had no exposure to “business people”, or mentors who I wanted to emulate, or really any types of career opportunities. College wasn’t really great at exposing students to what was available back in the day, and (gasp) there was no internet or social media to understand the big wide world. (Yes, I am old.)  

So, as a junior in college, when I had to choose a major, and tell my Advisor what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said that I wanted to work in Personnel, which is what HR was called back in the day. I don’t really know where that came from, or why I said it. I didn’t know anyone who worked in Personnel, and my college didn’t even offer a major or classes in Personnel other than one in Industrial Relations. But, I think I viewed working in Personnel/HR as a place in the organization where I would be able to interact with, and have influence over the most people. I like to say that I was a millennial, before we even knew what millennials were. 😉 I thought HR was the best position to be in for the most impact, and 30+ years later, I can confirm that I was right!

3. Do you remember a challenge or life lesson that you had to overcome early in your career which made you a better leader?

The first “real” job that I got in HR was at a small manufacturing plant in Georgia. It was relatively new, and the employees were very well paid from the start up of the plant. As a result, they had not had a raise in several years, because they were already paid well above our competition. But, they did get an annual “lump sum” payment when their annual review was completed, which my predecessor had put in place to give them some more money each year, but not raise their hourly rate. I wasn’t a Fan of this compensation strategy, but it was what I inherited and had to work with. We had a stable and engaged workforce, but their pay rate was always their biggest complaint. Our employees didn’t feel that working any harder, or doing more was rewarded, because they couldn’t make any more money.

I decided to take on the challenge of developing a new compensation structure, where instead of everyone getting the same percentage amount for their annual lump sum, they could earn a higher percentage lump sum payment – or a lower percentage lump sum payment – based upon their rating in their annual review. In other words, the better you are/the more you do, the more you can make. And since normal distribution would come into effect, the effect on our budget would be about the same.

I thought it was brilliant, and once it was approved, I was truly excited to announce the new plan. Unfortunately, they absolutely hated it, and they loudly and not so nicely let me know about it in the all-employee meeting where it was announced. I was so stunned and hurt, I cried. In front of everyone. That was not cool.

I learned several things from that experience, including: (1) The power of “entitlements” – that once something is given, people don’t want it taken away – even if they don’t like it. (2) It was a mistake to get so emotionally invested in the idea that I was doing something great “for them”. As a young professional, this was a lesson I needed to learn. It’s important to always think about people, and the effect business decisions will have on them, but how people feel about those decisions will vary based upon how it affects them personally. In other words, not everyone will like your ideas, so make the best decision you can, with the best information you have, and for the right reasons. (3) Never cry in front of several hundred people, unless you’re winning an award, or watching videos of puppies and kittens.


4. What was that moment when you knew that you had found your lane, your purpose?

It was also during that first job. The company doubled in size while I worked there, and we had to make a lot of changes – both positive and challenging – to evolve the business. After a couple of hard knocks, I was able to see how I had made the right decision to go into HR. It was the best place to know the business, and the people, and to really implement ideas, changes, and improvements to not only employees’ lives, but overall success of the business as well.

5. What is your most valued achievement, and why?

I’m really proud that I made the decision to step out and start my own business in 2010. I learned so much during my career as an HR leader and executive, and then as an executive search consultant and coach, and I felt that I could help even more people by teaching and training others. Sometimes, I’m still surprised that I’ve been able to do what I love, be my own boss, work with people all over the world – and still pay the bills – for almost 10 years!

6. Is there any one person who inspired or mentored you along the way?

There have been several. Some were bosses, some were peers or co-workers, and some were people who I met along the way. Each of them has taught me something – or several things – and I’m grateful that they chose to invest in me. I’ve tried to take what I’ve learned from them and share it with others to keep the goodness flowing.

7. Do you have a saying or creed that you live by?

“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar

8. What book(s) are you reading or audio to help grow your leadership right now?

I’m a big Fan of podcasts, and listen to several each week. Some of my favorites right now are:

Building a Story Brand with Donald Miller
Dream Big Podcast with Bob Goff
Lead to Win with Michael Hyatt and Megan Hyatt Miller
Online Marketing Made Easy with Amy Porterfield
The Brendon Show with Brendon Bruchard
Build Your Tribe with Chalene Johnson
The Rich Roll podcast

9. Can you share any of your daily disciplines that help you stay focused as a leader?

I listen to podcasts every day – while driving, while preparing meals, getting ready, etc. If I’m not working, sleeping, or riding horses, I’m learning from others.

10. What advice would you give others to help them on their leadership journey?

There’s no more valuable tool or resource to invest in than your network. Prioritize time for identifying people that you should invest time in building meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with. (Or, people that you can invest in to learn from.) Your network will likely connect you with every great opportunity in your career, whether that’s a great job, a business opportunity, or an educational experience. Make growing and developing your network your number one priority!

This was so good, Jennifer! Thank you for sharing your story and letting us get to know you better. Some of my takeaways include: Family businesses often drive our values and are such great milemarkers in our life. It’s great to hear how you knew you wanted to be in “personnel” in college! Such a great story about wanting to make a mark by changing compensation structure early in your career – but more importantly the lessons learned including knowing not to ever cry in front of several hundred people, unless you’re winning an award, or watching videos of puppies and kittens. Lol! Stepping out on your own to run a business takes incredible courage – well done! We can never go wrong following Zig Ziglar… thanks for sharing the importance of helping others! Great podcast list and even included a few of them on my “Best of Podcasts”.  Our education never stops with podcasts… and appreciate how you continue to learn from others. Lastly, I smile when I read your advice to others… Make growing and developing your network your number one priority! It’s everything!

Congratulations on being an HR Superstar, Jennifer! You are truly making a difference in the HR community!

What did you enjoy most about this interview? What did I miss? I would enjoy hearing your takeaways by sharing in comments below!

If you would like to learn more about Jennifer McClure, visit her website and connect with her on social media by telling her you read her interview and include a takeaway. If interested in learning more about the value she can add as a speaker, visit her speaker page and check out her podcast Impact Makers Podcast – you’ll be glad you did!

This interview was submitted by Bruce Waller, CRP, PHR, SHRM-CP, Vice President of Armstrong Relocation and Companies in Dallas, Texas. If you have questions, or would like to recommend someone to be featured in Bruce Waller’s HR Superstars Series, call 972-389-5673 or email bwaller@goarmstrong.com. You can also sign up for the weekly blog and read in “A Relocation Minute” at brucewaller.com

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