IN THE NEWS: HR Expert Encourages 'Bucket List'-Making

Leesburg Today
Thursday, May 14, 2009

By Kara Clark

Human resources expert Barbara Mitchell takes exception to the term “bucket list”. Instead, she refers to her list as “things to do while I’m still living.”

Mitchell spoke before the Sterling Women networking group Thursday afternoon and encouraged the 100-plus women in attendance to make such a list. She said she got the idea for her list after reading a newspaper article and immediately sprang to action. She happily reported that she has been able to accomplish the top two priorities on her list: starting a business and writing a book.

Mitchell spoke about both endeavors Thursday. After serving in human resources positions with Marriott International for many years, she left the company and took on two start-up HR assignments in areas where she doubted her abilities.

“I did things I did not know I knew how to do,” she said. “I realized there was a lot more in me.”

Mitchell co-founded The Millennium Group International in 1998 with a business partner who had the same vision, but different skills sets, something she said was vital.

“If you do the same things well you’re in each other’s face all the time,” Mitchell explained.

Both women wanted to differentiate their business from other consulting groups and, according to Mitchell, made the smart decision to plan an exit strategy early on in their business.

Mitchell explained that thinking about how to one day turn one’s business over to someone else “will make a huge difference in how you run your business.”

Mitchell explained that her business partner’s husband was expected to leave his job in 2008, so the two women worked toward the goal of being able to sell their business by that time while still growing their client base and providing excellent service.

“We had to convince people we had something that really was marketable so someone could [one day] wanted to buy [TMG] as a standalone business,” Mitchell said.

While noting that the selling process “was not fun,” she knew when 2008 rolled around “it was the right time to do something else.”

That something else came a bit earlier than expected, when her company had not yet been sold, but Mitchell knocked the second to-do off her list at the end of 2007. Mitchell co-authored The Essential HR Handbook with Sharon Armstrong, and the book was published last year.

Interestingly, Armstrong approached Mitchell about co-authoring the book when Mitchell and her business partner were actively seeking buyers for TMG, something Mitchell could not tell Armstrong because she worked for TMG as a consultant.

Despite the sale of TMG and authoring the book occurring on parallel tracks, Mitchell said, despite losing her weekend freedom for five months, writing the book was “the highlight of my life.”

The Essential HR Handbook, Mitchell said, is written especially for small business owners.

“It’s for people that need to manage others but don’t do it all the time,” she explained.

Noting that human resources has “gotten a bad wrap over the years”, Mitchell said many in organizations view HR employees as “the police.”

“They’re the one’s constantly telling you, ‘no you can’t do this’,” she said. Mitchell also said that managing employees has become increasingly difficult over time, with some companies now even instituting a Twitter policy.

However, she said HR personnel play important roles in every company.

“We do the things that add real value to an organization. Bringing in the right people is absolutely the most important thing [a business] can do,” Mitchell said.

In closing her speech, Mitchell encouraged all in attendance to make that list. The next item on hers, she said, is writing a historical fiction novel, something she is currently working on.

Making a list, “is a wonderful way to go through life and make things happen,” she said.