SHRM Speaker Q&A: Cy Wakeman #SHRM14

SHRM Speaker Q&A: Cy Wakeman #SHRM14

This week we’re featuring our favorite SHRM speakers so those in attendance can learn a little more about who they are and their session through a Q&A session. Today we’re featuring Cy Wakeman. From her website,

Cy Wakeman is a dynamic national keynote speaker, business consultant, New York Times bestselling author, and trainer who has spent over 20 years cultivating a revolutionary approach to leadership. Grounded in reality, Wakeman’s philosophy teaches people how to turn excuses into results and transform unhappy employees into accountable, successful members of the workforce. Through her prolific work with companies such as Bayer, New York Presbyterian, National Institutes of Health, Hallmark, Verizon Wireless, TD Ameritrade, and Wells Fargo, Wakeman has helped eliminate tired, impersonal management techniques in favor of a reality-based revolution. Read more

Getting to know Cy Wakeman

What do you love about HR?

In addition to the amazing, caring, smart, open-minded people that tend to end up in or choose HR, I am currently loving the opportunity that is at hand for us in HR.  We are definitely at a turning point – so many of the concepts and tools we teach are proving to be ineffective in our current realities.  Many of the principles we have accepted as truth are being exposed as conventional wisdoms that don’t quite sync with the evidence of other disciplines such as behavior economics, positive psychology, or nueroscience.

So what I am loving about HR today is that we have a huge opportunity to create an HR function of the future that truly empowers employees to own their own contribution to the value of the organization and to succeed in spite of the circumstances.   I am confident that we can restore sanity to the workplace through reality-based practices that become readily adopted “thinking processes” by the entire workforce which can eliminate a profound amount of emotional waste in the workplace!  We are poised to drive a huge amount of value in the workplace, to actually be heroes rather than villains.

In your session you’re going to call upon HR departments to “change completely” in order to creative a more effective workplace. What would you say to those organizations that are afraid of drastic change? 

First of all, I would ask that they edit the story they have created to realize that “organizations” are not capable of feeling fear….organizations are a gathering of individuals.  By believing that their culture is afraid of change is actually an excuse for why something won’t work.  To move beyond your excuses, acknowledge that you don’t have to change the culture of the organization and focus instead on changing the climate in the areas in which you work.  Bottom line – Work with the Willing!  Work first with those who are hungry for change – who already realize that our current approach is not achieving the results and are easy converts.  Then play the numbers, as you work with the willing and convert the easy converts, you were be able to build and activate a wonderful majority with little effort.  The trick is to give very little energy or focus to the group who is fear-based and resisting change.

In your online bio you state that your professional journey began in the late 1980s when you acquired your first management position. What made you want to take the leap of faith in changing all policies and teaching a more reality-based mindset?

It was simply reality that I found myself in – I was wholeheartedly using all the suggested concepts and tools that were given to me in my leadership development experiences and they simply were not working, in fact, they were counterproductive at times!  I was working hard on trying to create perfect circumstances so that my employees would “theorectically” get engaged and step up and deliver great results – only they just got more dependent, disengaged and entitled.  My open door was a portal for drama!

So, I simply did what I knew from my training as a counselor, what I knew worked with my clients when they were trying to increase their happiness and results in my life.  I turned to the evidence and my expertise on how to shift people’s mindsets so that they can deliver results.  I didn’t set out to change policies, I simply began by teaching the Reality Rules of the Workplace and it worked beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.  The fact that it worked – increased both engagement and results – that it showed in the metrics and our success led me to just continue.  There came a point where while people could question my methods, they couldn’t argue with the results.  I didn’t ask to change policies, I produced results and began to document the drivers of our results and they became best practices, supported by policy changes.

What kind of HR practitioner should attend your session? What’s the #1 benefit they’ll get out of it?

Those practitioners that have begun to suspect that something has to change, that our current approach in HR is not working, that are open minded and willing to questions HR conventional wisdom.  That want to be part of the revolution in leadership and in HR that is all about ditching the drama, restoring sanity to the workplace, and turning excuses into results!  You will leave with a whole new view of your role as a practitioner and the role of HR in the future success of the organization.

 What’s your best tip for the SHRM Annual Conference? 

Do not sit through the incredible sessions with the wrong mindset.  Be careful not to sit through sessions as a victim – thinking about the people you wish were in attendance because they really need to hear it or coming up with reasons about why things won’t work in your workplace.  Focus instead on how you could make it work, how you could initiate change.  Resist the urge to get hypercritical of your organization and focus on what is wrong and focus instead on the nexts steps you could take to add value.  Ask what you can do rather than blaming those you believe that are stopping you.  Leave the conference with an attitude of progress, not perfection – plans not excuses.

And, take time to connect with the people at the conference!  It is not all about classroom sessions – only 10% of our development happens in the classroom, the rest comes from interaction with people!  It is through our connections with people that we can get feedback, mentorring, support, coaching, and learn creative ways in which great concepts are applied in the workplace.

Where can we learn more about you? 

Not only can you learn more about me but more importantly, you can get access to a ton of great content on the Reality Based Philosophy at  Make sure and sign up for our newsletter on the website so that you can be a member of our community and participate in our great webinars and sessions that we offer for free.

SHRM Session Info

Title: Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace: New HR Foundation to Boost Employee Value & Drive Results
Time: 06/24/2014 10:45 – 12:00 PM
Room: Valencia AB
Track: Business Management & Strategy
HRCI Credits? 1.25 Business Credit
Audience: Mid-level

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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