Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Laurel K. Rutledge. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Alright, Laurel thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. Talk to us about building a team – did you hire quickly, how’d you recruit the first few team members? Any interesting lessons?
I chose this question because, I have no desire whatsoever to have employees. And I have not since the day I started my business. Maybe it’s the lingering trauma of being a senior HR executive, but just the thought makes me cringe. Yet, if you talk to other
business owners or read the books or talk to the experts, the only way to scale is to hire team. Why? Because you will be limited by your own time. This is a fact. But the beautiful thing about facts is that they are just the data. They are true and they are
critical to making good decisions. AND the POWER of the facts lies in what information the facts provide to you – what insights you gain.
Fact 1: if you are a solopreneur, you will be limited by the time that you have. That means you must decide what time is spent working on your business versus in your business and you have to prioritize and eliminate tasks. And it may take you longer to get
to your goals.
Fact 2: Hiring team gives you more “time” because tasks are spread across multiple people, thus allowing for greater efficiency and greater “load.”
Information: HIRING TEAM DOES NOT REQUIRE DIRECT HIRING EMPLOYEES. It’s all a matter of perspective. Your greatest team could be a group of service providers with clear contract and deliverables who see your vision and are as committed to excellence as you are. You both have clear expectations; service is delivered to those expectations – or not. And the relationship continues – or not – based on that quality (timeliness, content, etc.) of that delivery.
I believe this is a critical point to get across to entrepreneurs. It was brought home to me by a question that was asked in my current group: “what does your legacy look like?” For so many, legacy looks like passing an organization down to children or creating
generational wealth. But for those of us without children or others to pass the wealth down to, legacy can look much different. It’s still about creating and impact, but what that impact looks like can be different. Is it truly an organization that survives past our individual expiration date? Or, is it a name, impact, and ongoing support for a cause or institution that can be built without the need for an existing organization? It is a key question to ask oneself when deciding about building a team.
Now, I help clients build teams and have key items that must be in place to hire and retain a dream team. And guess what? I use those same items in hiring and retaining service providers. You still need to be clear on what you need. You still need to know how to identify skills and discern capabilities, aptitude, and attitude. You still must be compassionate and true while recognizing that it is important to keep mission first, people always. And you must have the discernment and courage to know when you need additional or when you need new and move accordingly. As I’ve built this business, I’ve had service providers who have been exceptional. And I’ve had service providers who didn’t come close to what was promised. In the latter situation, some were because I wasn’t clear, and some were because they were untruthful about capabilities/offerings. In the some of the bad cases, I waited too long to change because I wasn’t sure if it was just me. Well, my gut knew, but my heart wasn’t really into changing horses again, so to speak. But as all great executives (and great HR people will tell you) “hire slow, fire fast.” Take your time to get clear and be clear. Hold the resource accountable to expectations. Ensure communication REMAINS clear and consistent. Move expeditiously to make a change when necessary. If I had it to do over, I would trust me more than I’ve trusted some experts. Just because you are new at something doesn’t mean you are new. If you know nothing else, you know YOU. Act and hire accordingly.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers?
I move women from unclear to aligned, with a clear vision and a plan of action to make their next move – all in a space of no judgment. Some call it executive coaching. Some call it career or personal development. What I do encompasses all of that and taking empowered action. Whether you are building a business, department, or career, it all comes down to strategy and people. You need to know the goal to build your Village. And why spend all your precious resources talking about it if you aren’t going to BE about it?
What makes me qualified to do this work? After nearly 30 years in corporate America in various industries and professions, I ended as a senior HR executive. One of only 2 black women in senior positions in a company of 17,000 employees worldwide. I’ve always been the only or one of very few black women much less persons of color wherever I go. I’ve run the gauntlet and survived. Not unscathed, but with battle scars that have made me exceptional at what I do: connecting dots that most don’t even know exist, aligning words and actions, creating safe spaces for the full person to show up. I speak the language of organizations and believe in “mission first, people always.” I’ve learned how to play chess instead of checkers in sticky situations. It is my varied professional experience, relentless pursuit of self-awareness, and willingness to speak the truth to power that guide every interaction. My basic philosophies are simple:
• Speak the truth – even when it’s hard, or hurts or is embarrassing
• It is not unkind to be clear
• Leadership is about behavior not position
• You don’t have to be ugly to be candid
• We are free to make choices, but not free from the consequences of those choices
• You do you, boo (note comment above)
• Sometimes, you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying; but sometimes you’ve got to cry to make a change
Understanding perspectives and having Alignment, Vision, Action ©™ are the foundation of my work with every client. I know it works because I live it. And I know works it because my clients have told me. I am here for a purpose and that purpose is that no other person – in particular, no other black woman – feels the way I felt before I left Corporate. I am here to serve.
I serve clients in two main capacities: (a) through my one-on-ones, group programs and leadership consulting, and (b) as a speaker, facilitator, and media personality with a 3 weekly shows/podcasts. All my programs and links to my shows are on my website, laurelrutledge.com. Coming soon is my Alignment, Vision, Action Community. I will challenge your perspectives, hold you accountable with compassion, help uncover your genius and cheer you on to your next thing all in a place of no judgment. I live my philosophies. I know my blind spots and I LOVE doing this work. If you work with me, you get me and my work and lived experiences. What you see is what you get – word nerd and all. I meet clients where they are, not where I wish they would be because it’s not about me.
I am so proud to be closing out year five of my business when many don’t make it this far. And I am looking forward to the next 5+ if that is the Divine plan. I am also extremely proud that this introverted, empath has a Top 10 podcast among over two million global podcasts as ranked by ListenNotes, a live radio show for 3 years and counting and a new live interactive show on the Fireside platform. And I am honored by the support and trust of my global personal and professional Village and my clients and all those who listen, read, download, support, follow and comment. If not for you, I would not be here. And I am truly grateful.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
In year two of the business, I kept feeling like I needed a product – like a tangible product to sell that wasn’t around coaching or consulting. I was in a Mastermind with some amazing women who were running small businesses. These entrepreneurs kept having some strategic HR questions. And I kept jumping in because I could see the issues coming. The whole, “playing chess not checkers” thing. So first, I developed a video series freebie to grab attention: “The 5 Biggest Mistakes Leaders Make in Building and Retaining Your Dream Team.” Then I built the real masterpiece, an online HR portal for small business owners. The portal was built around my own Employee Lifecycle and had 6 modules with several courses inside. It was broad and robust. I designed the portal. I spent hours on the content – and tons of money getting some copywriting support. I spent additional hours and money getting it all up on the website and having a sales page written. There were different membership types, different offerings. It was a thing of beauty! I wanted it to be a place to get support but also a place to learn and prevent major missteps before hiring full-time HR support (which I was clear I was not going to do).
I launched. I promoted. I emailed. I did all the things. At least it felt like I did. And then I realized, I HATE THIS THING! This thing I had spent so much time and money on was the bane of my existence. I didn’t want to be in the compliance detail of HR anymore. I didn’t want to have to think about mailings and federal training requirements and minimum wage thresholds and all the things. And I knew that, if I truly wanted to be of service and offer something that was of value, I couldn’t just put this portal out there and never touch it again. I’d be dragged into that quagmire of HR compliance on a regular basis. I was just sick. Sick at the thought. Angry with myself for the time, energy and money spent. Disappointed that I seemed to be moving farther and farther away from my real genius of the connection between strategy and people. Drowning in doubt because I couldn’t see the “how” which was clouding both by “why” and my “what.” It sucked. Big time!
After a teary period of, “I’m just going to go get a job and not think about any of this anymore” and some hard therapy sessions, I just let it go! I shifted/pivoted. The only person telling me I had to do this thing was ME. Therefore, if I no longer wanted to do it, then I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to meet that market need. And guess what? There were tons of other folks who love the space who were jumping in. And if my real desire was to serve these women business owners, I could still do so by referring other options and doing some limited consulting!
Then I looked at the video series. Yes “5 biggest mistakes” grabs attention, but that’s not how I roll. I’m a glass-half-full kind of person. So, what could I do? I shifted that as well and transformed it into two courses which were the basis for what is now my Alignment, Vision, Action ©️™️ program. And guess what? The shift or pivot was a return to EXACTLY what I was talking about when I first launched the business. I had to allow myself to go down that road to gain clarity; but instead of wallowing in the resources expended, I re-focused on my why and how best to live into that. I had a “physician, heal thyself” moment and then took action. Had I not allowed myself that shift, AVA would not exist.
On my radio show, I’ve talked about how we sometimes hold on to things so tightly that we don’t have room for the thing we say we want. Even if what we are holding on to no longer serves us, we sometimes hold on because it’s comfortable. But if we are going to get to the good stuff, we must be willing to pivot way from the comfortable. I let go of all the stuff I was excellent at, to make room for the stuff in my genius zone. It’s less comfortable but much more gratifying.
Have any books or other resources had a big impact on you?
One thing that no one tells you about entrepreneurship, especially if you are coming out of Corporate, is all the head trash that shows up. When the only person you are relying on is you. In some ways, it’s a relief. In other ways, it’s a huge hill to climb. There are a few resources that were really helpful for me on this journey. First is having a consistent faith practice to focus on what grounds me when the mind is messy. Second is therapy. If you have a great therapist, not only are you able to address any existing challenges, but you are able to connect (or disconnect) those from any business challenges. After those two things that are non-negotiable for me, the following things have been truly helpful:
The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks
We Should All Be Millionaires, Rachel Rodgers
Finding Me, Viola Davis
Level Up, Stacey Abrams & Laura Hodgson
The Black Godfather Documentary
Interview with Fawn Weaver, Founder of Uncle Nearest Wiskey, Guy Raz
Hidden Brain Podcast (Shankar Vedantam)
How I Build This Podcast (Guy Raz)
HBR Women at Work Podcast (Amy Bernstein, Amy Gallo, Emilly Caulfield)
Professional Photo: Keer Orr, Point&Click Photography