Nancy J. Hess on Pioneering Extraordinary Change Through Skilled Conversation

Nancy Hess

What uncomfortable conversations are you avoiding? At work? At home? With your kids?

We all avoid hard conversations. But until I talked with Nancy J. Hess during my Own Your Expertise interview series, I hadn’t realized how much of a skill it is to be able to have and facilitate uncomfortable conversations. As an H.R. strategist and organizational development specialist, Nancy is the expert here.

Truth be told, before I met Nancy, I hadn’t ever really considered how important it might be for Human Resources professionals to be skilled at having conversations. To be fair, I don’t have a lot of experience with H.R. In fact, I dare say most employees at most organizations don’t have a lot of experience with H.R.

Human Resources is where you go to fill out your health insurance paperwork. It’s where you go for HIPPA training or Title IX certification. It’s where you go if there’s a problem with your paycheck. And it’s where you go if there’s a grievance filed against you. 

Let’s face it. No employee wants to be known for having a lot of experience with H.R.

And this is kind of sad, when you really think about it. I’m sure there are a lot of lovely people working in H.R. It’s a necessary department in every organization of a certain size. Why wouldn’t we want to learn more about what H.R. specialists know? Why wouldn’t we want to tap into this incredible wealth of knowledge in our organizations?

And when you think about it more, it makes sense that H.R. professionals would be skilled at having uncomfortable conversations. Or at least, those who enjoy their work and are successful must be skilled at it. After all, a lot of uncomfortable conversations are happening in Human Resources departments.

What I find most interesting about talking with Nancy, though, is that she is the only person I’ve ever heard talk about Human Resources as a movement. Here’s how she describes one conversation she had when the first seeds of her career were sprouting:

I share that many fragile people work in the industry. I hear stories from workers who tell me they have been homeless, sold their bodies, or drugs to survive. Some are in abusive relationships but have nowhere to go. Others are gravely ill from what is being called a gay disease. Staff are belittled and brought to tears but do not leave because they need the job. I observe the impact on the entire organization. The effects are collective, the dynamic creates a flock of hopeless searching souls. We feel angry and frustrated.

When she really thought about how employees were being treated in organizations where she worked and volunteered, she realized there was a need for organizational change. 

These reflections motivated Nancy to earn a Masters in Management, Labor and Human Resources (which was an emerging field at the time) and they continue to drive her today as her consultancy evolves. 

Nancy’s tagline, which I love, is “pioneering extraordinary change.” And like all pioneers, Nancy is out there leading the way with the organizations she works with. 

Nancy’s info: 



Twitter: @NancyJHess