Sunday, December 30, 2007

An HR Lesson From Psychology

Rob May over at The BusinessPundit blog wrote about the Dunning-Kruger Effect. I think this blog is required reading for all HR people. He writes "The essence of the Dunning-Kruger effect is that "ignorance more frequently begets confidence than knowledge." Studies have shown that the most incompetent individuals are the ones that are most convinced of their competence. At work this translates into lots of incompetent people who think they are superstars." He then adds "...that if you have a manager that doesn't closely supervise work, he or she may judge performance based on outward appearances using information like the confidence with which these incompetent blockheads speak." That unfortunately is a situation most of us in human resources are familiar with, generally because we do not have an effective performance management system in place. We allow appraisals based on subjective measures to hold sway.

Now a corollary to the D-K Effect , as Rob writes, " that the most competent people often underestimate their competence." As a result, the very effective people in organizations may not get the recognition deserved. Rob suggests that organizations can handle this by doing the following:
  1. Use as many measurable standards of performance as possible. Even idiots have a difficult time refuting concrete performance goals.
  2. Encourage dissension and debate. This is tough, because if this is not handled properly, it can build a culture of negativity and risk aversion. Your goal shouldn't be to avoid risk, just to expose and understand it.
  3. Show confidence in your best employees, even when they don't have confidence in themselves.

Human resources can fight the D-K Effect by instituting effective performance management and by conducting managerial training to incorporate these three suggestions.

By the way, Rob is asking for feedback from readers on their observations of the Dunning-Kruger Effect and how you may have dealt with it. So if you have some feedback for him follow the link above to his blog and leave your feedback, or leave it here.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Vacations: An End of the Year Thought

I hope most of you took some time off at the end of this year. It has been a good time to refresh, spend time with family and get ready for 2008. Management guru and author Harvey Mackay published a newsletter recently that had some very good words of wisdom in it:
  • Take your vacation time. Hoarding earned days? Do you lose them if you don't use them? Maybe you are just building up a cache of time that you will use "when you need to." People seem to be almost unwilling to take breaks when they really need them. Keep in mind that the workplace and world will survive, probably quite well, if you go on vacation. If you think you are indispensable at work, stick your finger in a bowl of water and notice the hole it leaves when you pull it out. Now try to imagine the hole in your family's life without you. It suddenly becomes a clear choice!

I hope you have made the choice to not leave a hole in your family life in preference to your job. As 2008 chugs along think about the "hole in the water."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Carnival of HR

The most recent issue of the Carnival of HR is posted at at Ann Bares' site Compensation Force. It is a collection of human resources blogs all worthy of reading. There is no better way to get a good overview of what is being written about in human resources than to review a Carnival of HR. Enjoy the reading.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Book Review: Future, Inc. How Businesses Can Anticipate and Profit from What's Next

I mentioned in a previous blog that I like "future" stuff and strategic impact. In addition to just finding it interesting I think knowing about trends and anticipating the future is an invaluable skill for consultants and senior HR people. This is especially true for the latter if they want to be a strategic player. If you truly want to make your "place at the table" being a "business futurist" is one way to do it. I just finished reading Eric Garland's Future Inc.: How Businesses Can Anticipate and Profit from What's Next and I think it is excellent. Garland steps you through the process of viewing the world as a system, recognizing trends, developing scenarios, drawing pictures to make those scenarios easier to communicate and then actually communicating the future to your target audience. One tool that I found to be very helpful, in fact I have already applied it to one consulting situation, is what he called the STEEP model. It is a model that you can use to think about all the potential impacts on your situation, as an example, your current recruiting method. STEEP stands for:
  • Society
  • Technology
  • Economics
  • Ecology
  • Politics

Thus, if you were trying to determine what future recruitment for you company might look like you would consider these areas and what their impact might be on recruiting. For example, society might include, Gen Y considerations, talent shortages, demographics, migration patterns, and educational shortages. Technology might include the impact of Internet recruiting and video resumes. Economics might include inflation, cost-of-living, and relocation expense. Ecology might include "green" considerations and your company's reputation. Politics might include federal and state legislative changes that would change discrimination definitions. If you get nothing else out of this book other than the use of this tool it will be well worth the price of the book.

Garland then finishes the book with his take on what he calls the "Drivers of the Future." He discusses: Aging, Information Technology, Health Care (versus what we do today which is 'sick care'), Biotechnology, Energy, Nanotechnology, Media and Communications, and Ecology and Sustainability. All of them are important, but for the HR professional the first three are of particular importance.

The key point of his book is to view the world as a system and to realize that there are multiple impacts on whatever you are working on and to be effective in anticipating the future you must consider this system. That is why the STEEP tool is so effective. This can be put to use today in ALL HR departments and it will have an immediate impact on how you view the strategic aspect of your job and how you are viewed as a contributor to strategy.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Future View of Work: A Generational Perspective

I like to read "futurism" stuff. Penelope Trunk, at the Brazen Careerist, provides a "future" look work. I found it very interesting, especially given the Gen Y view of how work may change. I happen to think many of these will predictions will come to be. The one I think will be most difficult will be "everyone becoming a consultant." I think labor and employment law will be a big roadblock, as well as the influence of unions. The idea of working for yourself is great until you need a steady paycheck, holidays, overtime, vacations, etc. and no one is providing these to you. As a consultant, you don't work, you don't get paid. Most people can't handle that and would cry "foul" if suddenly employers started treating them that way.

Anyway, read her predictions and tell me (and her) your opinions. I encourage you to leave a comment here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Different View of the Organizational Chart

I had to chuckle when I read today's posts from BNET. They present a satirical look at employees, motivation, problems and what they called the Honest Org Chart. They present the work of Dr. Lawrence Kersten of Dispair, Inc. a demotivational company. He talks about how the typical org chart visually mispresents the importance of employees because the boxes are all the same size. They suggest using larger boxes to represent the size of the salary of the position, thus the bigger the salary the bigger the box on the chart, and the smaller the salary the smaller the box. They contend that this will visually tell lower level employees how unimportant they are to the organization, a good thing in their de-motivational thesis.

It is obviously a tongue-in-cheek presentation, but should give you pause to think about your own org chart. Does it tell everyone what it should? How might you do it better?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Social Security Number "No-Match" , I-9 and Homeland Security: Someone Explain This One

The Department of Justice filed an appeal, on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, on the injunction issued by a San Francisco federal judge on the implementation of the "No-Match" Rule. Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement on December 5th regarding the No-Match Rule stating that " I believe that the No-Match Rule is a major step forward in preventing employment of illegal migrants. Contrary to the ACLU’s incorrect statements, the rule is not harmful to legal workers. DHS is not abandoning it."

He further stated: "Employers receive a No-Match letter from the Social Security Administration when an employee’s name does not match the social security number it has on file. Sometimes there is an innocent explanation for this discrepancy, such as a clerical error. But sometimes the discrepancy reflects the fact that the employee in question is an illegal alien. When employers receive such No-Match letters, they are on notice that the employees in question may not be authorized to work."

He goes on further to state how important the No-Match letters on Social Security Numbers is to the security of The United States. I happen to agree with him but PLEASE, SOMEONE EXPLAIN TO ME, if this is so important why is it that THE SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER ON THE NEW I-9 IS VOLUNTARY! Go figure.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Enjoying Your Work? A Quick Thought.

My favorite newsletter writer, Alan Weiss of Summit Consulting, sent his December newsletter to me. I love reading it. He is witty, informative and a pleasure to read. He is a fabulous book author and the consultant's consultant. As you can tell I am a fan. Anyway, in the December newsletter he made a comment that struck me as a great approach to viewing your work. When you are thinking about work ask yourself "Do I enjoy my work as much as a dog enjoys chasing a ball?" If you are not getting that kind of pleasure from what you do maybe it is time to look for a "new ball" to chase!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Overtime: And You Thought You Worked Hard??

A judge in Tokyo ruled that a Toyota employee in central Japan had died from working 106 hours of overtime in a month. The judge ruled that the family of the employee, who had died of an irregular heartbeat at 4 a.m., was due compensation. Apparently overworked employees is a big problem according to the Yahoo article. So the next time you feel overworked remember it could be worse. You could be working in Japan!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Smoking and Weight: The Effect on Employment

Two other blogs caught my eye this week. One dealt with economic impact of weight on earnings and the other the lifetime cost of a pack of cigarettes. The first was from Freakonomics and was titled The Wage Effect of Fat. This blog discussed a study on obesity and the effect on hourly earnings, with the conclusion being that people with lower levels of body fat, thus higher levels of fat free mass, had higher hourly earnings. This held true across sex and race. They concluded this might be related to productivity. I think this can be extended to several issues. I think people who are percieved as being fat have fewer job opportunities and job opportunities that have lower earnings potentials. I know many employers are hesitant to hire overweight people, especially those that are very overweight, for a number of reasons. These may include the effect they may have on insurance costs, the effect on productivity, and the perceptions customers may have of the employee and thus the company. Once they are hired I think weight may have an effect on productivity in the long-term, tied to the long-term effect of weight on health. It doesn't make any difference how productive you are in the office, if you are not there.

The second article came from Kris Dunn's The HR Capitalist blog and dealt with his discussion on smoking and his thoughts on tring to stop smoking at his company, Smoking Discrimination- Truth or Fiction for HR Departments? He referenced an article that discussed the lifetime cost of a pack of cigarettes, which for men is $222 per pack. So this gets into the discussion of what is the cost of a pack of cigarettes to the company? What is the cost of lost productivity due to smoke breaks, poor health, absenteeism. And what is the effect today on the earnings potential for the smoker. In some states, for example in my home state of Georgia, you can refuse to hire someone on the basis that they smoke. Not just at work, but smoke at all. Thus smokers are running into the same issues as someone obese. Fewer potential job opportunities and job opportunities that have less economic potential. Kris Dunn was pondering putting in a smoking cessation program at some point, but not now, and he pondered if he was doing anyone a favor by waiting.

My answer to that question is "NO". No favors done to the employee or to the company. If you are dealing with a similar issue in your company now might be a good time to think of instituting a wellness program. Tie it to the new year and your employees making the traditional resolutions to lose weight, stop smoking, exercise more, etc. Help them out. Resolve to be a healthier company for their benefit and for the benefit of the company.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Performance Management: Making it Work

Compensation consultant and blogger Ann Bares wrote, in her blog Compensation Force, about the Trifecta of Effective Performance Management. She points out that for performance management there must be three components:
  1. A well designed program that has defined objectives, appropriate metrics, and ease of use.
  2. Top management support that makes performance management an integral part of the organization..
  3. Management Execution. This means that performance management actually gets done and done correctly.

My experience with performance management throughout my career has reflected the same things. I have found that if you make a system overly complicated, such as MBO/BARS, that no one will buy into it. So you have to arrive at a system that is effective with defined measures, accountabilities and competencies. I have also experienced what happens to a system when company leadership doesn't really care. There is no support, no accountability, no tie-in to company strategy or performance and thus, part three, managers do not do performance management. There is "no time" or they avoid unpleasant situations. Hey, it is not going to reflect on them, so why go through the effort.

I am not going to spend anytime talking about the positive effects of effective performance management, but I do encourage you to read Ann Bares' blog and click on her links if you have a greater interest in effective performance management.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Look Out! Here Comes Unionism.

If you thought unions have gone the way of the dinosaurs don't look now but here they come. They have been in the news in the US quite a bit the last month or so. First the UAW dealing with the auto companies. Then the writers in Hollywood. And now home-based child care workers. Yes, that is right HOME-BASED child care workers. In New York City these workers are joining the powerful New York City chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. They are looking for more money and, in particular, health benefits and retirement benefits.

An article on MSNBC, entitled Writers a rarity- A union with power argues that the writers may be one of the most powerful unions in the country because they deal in intellectual capital. And the home-based child care workers may have a similar claim. The trend seems to be less power for unions that have workers that make things and more power for unions that have workers that work on brain power.

With the prospect of a Democratic administration starting in 2009 unions stand to gain even more power. Legislation is already floating that will take away secret ballot elections, opening up the prospect of the intimidation factor in union elections. Changes in the make up of the NLRB may also bring about more union friendly decisions. And just a Congress and Administration controlled by the labor friendly Democratic party bodes well for union friendly legislation.

So hold on to your HR hat (the one of many you wear) and be alert for union activity. Get those supervisors trained now.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"Gee that was funny"- The Value of Humor in the Workplace

Chris Robert, an assistant professor of management at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said that humor is good in the workplace, according to an article in MU News Bureau. "Occasional humor among colleagues, he said, enhances creativity, department cohesiveness and overall performance. The conclusion was made by examining theories on humor and integrating literature from a wide variety of disciplines that touch on the subject." The article goes on to quote him saying "...Humor isn’t incompatible with goals of the workplace. It’s not incompatible with the organization’s desire to be competitive. In fact, we argue that humor is pretty important. It’s not just clowning around and having fun; it has meaningful impact on cohesiveness in the workplace and communication quality among workers. The ability to appreciate humor, the ability to laugh and make other people laugh actually has physiological effects on the body that cause people to become more bonded.”

I have always thought that humor was good in the workplace. I have always enjoyed hearing and telling a good joke or funny story. Just as in personal relationships, humor is important to make the person or people you are dealing with more "human." Of course, since this is an HR blog I must point out that the humor needs to be work appropriate otherwise you run the risk of stepping on someone's sensibilities. It is also important to point out, as did Robert, that humor has a major cultural component to it and may not have a universal translation.

I just know that having a co-worker putting a smile on my face makes the day go by much more smoothly.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Human Resources Salaries

I just received my November copy of HR Magazine. The cover story is the 2007 HR Salary Survey. I have not had a chance to read the article in depth. However, after a scan two things stuck out to me:
  1. There is a greater number of HR positions that include short-term and long-term incentives in the compensation mix. This indicates that there is an increasing use of metrics in HR. How else do you give out incentives without having some metrics to measure.
  2. The second thing I noticed was that HR generalist are close to the bottom of the totem pole. Specialization is where the money is, especially for a specialization in Compensation and Benefits.

Take a look at the article, assuming you get the magazine. (Right now the SHRM website is still displaying the October issue.) Where do you fit in? Get incentives? What are they based on?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fake Excuses for Your Employees on the Internet

Heard this on the news and had to look for myself. There is a website where your employees can download excuses to get out of work called . They can go here and purchase any type of excuse they need, even funeral announcements for the "dead aunt."

Have you fallen victim to any of these? What do you do to an employee that you find out is using one?

Primer on the Balanced Scorecard

Most HR people don't know or don't understand the balanced scorecard concept. Here is a good primer on the balanced scorecard from BNet. Take a look at it, it is helpful. Of course if you don't measure anything in HR then it will not be helpful. That means you have another hurdle to get over.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Making Informal Networks Formal- Say What?

I was reading an article out of The McKinsey Quarterly entitled Harnessing the power of informal employee networks by Lowell Bryan. The article starts off discussing the importance of the informal network for communicating and passing on ideas. In fact Bryan and his coauthors state "As we studied these social and informal networks, we made a surprising discovery: how much information and knowledge flows through them and how little through official hierarchical and matrix structures." So they suggest that companies need to take advantage of the strength of these informal networks by making them formal! They even go on to suggest this formalization include a leader of the group, evaluation of the leader, required membership by employees who fall into the practice area or job grouping around which the formal informal network has been formed.

Now I am not a McKinsey consultant and I don't work with very large organizations, but it seems to me that by formalizing informal networks you run the risk of making them as unappealing and unworkable as the heirarchical or matrix organizations they initially compared them to. To me informal networks are formed around people with like interests who are attracted to each other not only for the interest but a personal attraction or likability factor. Requiring an employee to participate in a network established around a practice or field will work no better than a heirarchy if there is no personal attraction to the group. I have participated in a number of networks that were established around a common interest that ended up falling apart or splintering into groups who wanted to share with each other.

Now I am not knocking Bryan, in fact he has a new book out, Mobilizing Minds: Creating Wealth from Talent in the 21st Century Organization, that I have already ordered. Formalizing informal networks may work in very large organizations, but I think it is doomed in smaller organizations.

People in HR and Management should recognize the power of these informal networks. They can work for both good and bad. One of the points Bryan et al. made was that informal networks fall apart if the "lynchpin" person leaves the network, hence the need to formalize. But knowing just that fact can serve the HR person very well in making use of, or in stopping, an informal network.

Friday, October 19, 2007

HR and Baseball Make a Connection

A lot of people would have a hard time making a connection between baseball and human resources, but as we near the World Series Kris at the HR Capitalist has done it. He is hosting the Carnival of HR and he has related all the HR blog articles to various aspects of baseball. There are a number of good articles to read and some blogs to become familiar with. So give it a read, link to a few blogs (in addition to this one of course) and enjoy yourself.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How Did You Figure My Pay and What Are You Going to Do About It?

"Today's (and tomorrow's) employees are not inclined to believe and accept a pay program that is shrouded in mystery."

This is how author and consultant Ann Bares ends her blog, Compensation Force, on the disconnect between employees and employers in dealing with compensation practices. This is one more example of how the workplace has changed with the generational differences. It used to be that no one ever questioned what they were paid or why. And companies had (and many still have) a prohibition against sharing how much you make with a coworker. BTW, this is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act if the sharing of such information is deemed to be concerted activity by employees.

Bares states that a study entitled Emerging Workforce Study (catchy title) shows "a significant divide between employees and employers on compensation. Three quarters (75%) of the employees surveyed cite compensation as the thing most crucial to retaining them, but only 26% are currently satisfied with this aspect of their job." Bares feels this is indicative of different attitudes by younger generation towards pay, and as she says "Good or bad news, what it adds up to is an employee population that is more inclined to challenge and/or disbelieve an employer's pay data, practices and policies than in the past. "

She has a warning to HR professionals, one that I hardily agree with, that we must be prepared to address this challenge. Her solution is transparency in the pay program. As she says "openly sharing how the pay program is built, where the data used to build it comes from, how it is designed to operate, and what its philosophical underpinnings are meant to be. And - certainly - I think individual employees should fully understand how the program applies to them (i.e., their salary range, etc.)." I have always been an advocate of such transparency. What people make is no secret. People talk, or whisper, or see things, or some how figure what everyone else is making. And if they don't know they generally inflate what they think the other person is making, which is worse for the organization.

So if you are one of those organizations that shrouds the pay system in mystery you may be facing a challenge in the coming years as your workforce shifts to the next generations.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Generational Differences At Work

Author/columnist/blogger Penelope Trunk wrote a blog on the 5 workplace practices that should be over, now. Trunk is a writer and speaker who provides advice to the younger generations in the work place. Her blog The Brazen Careerist is a great source for identifying generational issues in the workplace.

In her blog on the 5 workplace practices two of them are clearly generational. First, she states that voice mail is seldom used by workers under the age of 30. Only the "old" people leave voice mails. For the under 30 crowed, they either use texting, email or just return the missed call. They don't listen to or leave voice mails. So if you are having communication issues with younger workers (or if you are a younger manager and have older workers) take a look at the communication system you have set up and give the "generational test."

The second practice that might be considered generaltional is using the "reply-to-all" button in email. As she says "This was a great button to have in 1993 when even the busiest people only got fifty emails a day. Back then reply to all was a way to have an inclusive conversation.
Now reply to all is only a way to annoy people and make
yourself look foolish."

Her other three practices that she thought should be gotten rid of are:
  1. The office candy machine.
  2. The office fundraising drive.
  3. The massive office party.

She is an interesting read, especially for us "older" HR types. So I recommend you link to her blog and keep up with this "voice" of a younger generation.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Less Glass Ceiling?

Fortune Magazine just published its list of the 25 HIGHEST PAID WOMEN . Are we seeing less glass ceiling today? These women work or did work for big companies in a variety of industries. So is this progress?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Motivational Fit: Two Shortcut Questions to Good Employees

Fellow HR blogger Kris Dunn, The HR Capitalist, posted a blog the other day about interviewing. He mentioned the standard way most managers interview, the hypothetical question methodology and its pitfalls. He talked about behavioral interviewing and apparently he is a fan and user, as am I. He did point out the downside of it, and I agree, which is, if not practiced the interviewer falls back into the hypothetical mode. It is very effective, but it does take training and practice and a willingness to ask the hard questions.

Kris suggests using two questions, which he feels cut through the B.S. These are:

  • Tell me when you have been most satisfied in your career.
  • Tell me when you have been least satisfied in your career.

He suggests "Those two questions measure Motivational Fit and are stunning in their simplicity. Assuming you like the background and experiences of the candidate and are confident they can do the job, you really only need to evaluate if your company, the specific opportunity and the candidate are a fit for each other. So ask these questions one at a time. Once you get the response from the candidate, ask "why?" and say "tell me more" multiple times. Then, s.h.u.t. u.p. Seriously - stop talking. Don't bail the candidate out, but rather force them to tell you what really jazzes them about jobs and companies, and subsequently, what drives them crazy."

I like this. I have one client where we have had a difficult time finding the right match for the executive positions. The background and experience have been good, but the "fit" has not been there despite DISC behavioral profiles. So I am going to suggest to him we use these questions, perhaps that will be the solution.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Too Chicken to Be a Manager

I just read this quote from CCH Net News:

Ten percent of U.S employees say their company has used email to fire or lay off employees, according to a national survey of 752 U.S. workers. And, 17 percent indicated their boss used emails to avoid other difficult face-to-face conversations. "Email has become the new shield of today's business. Companies hide behind it to avoid the negative reactions of unhappy employees," said Frank Kenna III, president of The Marlin Company. "While email works fine for day-to-day communication, the last thing you want to do is use it for something as sensitive as layoffs. That risks turning former employees into disgruntled ones who can become walking negative advertisements for your firm."

I am astounded that ANYONE does this, let alone 10 percent. If you don't have the guts to face your employees and say you are letting them go then you don't deserve to be a manager! And what HR departments are allowing this to occur?? They have no more back bone than the manager and run the risk of causing the company more trouble. What has happened to courage?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

UAW and GM: Unions Wonder Why Membership Has Decreased

The news about the United Auto Workers and General Motors has been in all the newspapers and we all know that the strike of one day is over with and that an agreement is pending. Here is a good article on the website for The Detroit Free Press summarizes the agreement.

I don't know about the rest of you, but wouldn't it be nice to get a $3000 check for refusing to do your job for a day???

Also, it was hard to be sympathetic to a group of employees making $58,000/yr. (at a minimum) for assembly line work.

Read the article and see what you think. Ready to join the union?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Department of Homeland Security Mad at Illinois

Back in May on my blog called "Catching Up" I wrote an item about the employment verification system the Federal government was going to require all employers to use when they hired someone. It is currently required of government contractors. Well, apparently in response to this, (the announcement, not my blog) the State of Illinois passed a law barring businesses from using the system until the system's databases become faster and more accurate. Because the program requires employers to fire employees within 8 days if they are not verified the State of Illinois argued this subjected employees to unfair treatment under the federal government's flawed program.

The Justice Department, on behalf of Homeland Security, filed a civil suit to stop the enactment of the Illinois law, with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff saying "This is about as bold an anti-enforcement measure as I've ever seen," and further calling it a " assault on the federal law."

This will be interesting to watch.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Warm Chair Attrition

I was reading a newsletter called the Herman Trend Alert today, an older issue on the subject of fear and the paralyzing effect it can have on employees. In that discussion they talked about something they called "Warm Chair Attrition". They describe this as employees who are unhappy, but "... these employees still collect paychecks, take up space, and infect their fellow associates. It would seem to be good news for employers: their workers will not leave. However, bottom line, disaffected employees are not particularly productive."

Do you have workers like this? I have met some. They don't leave for several reasons, such as fear of not being able to find another job, fear of having to move, fear of the unknown, laziness or a lack of motivation. Our task as managers and human resources professionals becomes to help identify these employees and either turn them around or move them out.

How have you done this? Or have you? Is this something your company lives with because it is easier to get some work out of them than it is to try to find someone to replace them?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Catch Up Time

Ok, I have not blogged in a month and a half. Vacation is part of the reason. Overcoming the intertia of not blogging is tough. Restarting something, anything, after a layoff is tough. I am going through that right now with exercise and dieting too... Oh well here are some catch up thoughts.

  1. Vacation- We don't take enough of it in this country! We are behind the rest of the world in how much we take. I have come to the conclusion that vacation needs to be taken in a minimum of two weeks, especially if you are going out of the country. We Americans overwork ourselves and it is to our detriment. While on vacation in the Dominican Republic I met a young woman who had to go and check her work email twice a day. I don't think she ever relaxed.
  2. Immigration- Whether or not you think the immigration plan the President and Congress is working on is right or not it is going to be a nightmare for Human Resources departments. It will require the following: Use of electronic verification that is currently not designed to handle the 7 million employers that will have to sign up; REVERIFICATION of ALL your current employees, regardless of how long they have worked for you; a follow up system on everyone that gets kicked out of the system (currently about 15% of the verifications that get sent in electronically.) In addition, the fines go up exponentially. YOU HAD BETTER PAY ATTENTION TO THIS ONE. SHRM feels this will have the impact of FMLA. (Oh great!)
  3. Minimum Wage- How many of you noticed that the increase in the minimum wage that got snuck into the Iraq War funding bill? It will go into effect 60 days after the President signs the bill. So far I have seen no details, but I am sure they are forthcoming.

Well, that will do for now. I will keep it going now... at least until I go on vacation again and inertia takes over once more.. LOL.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Video Resumes: Getting Your Next Star Employee

I read an article today on the SHRM site today about VIDEO RESUMES . It talks about the increasing use of video to present a candidate and his/her qualifications. I think we are going to see more and more of this as Generation Y enters the workforce in greater numbers. It is not hard to see video on MySpace or even in blogs where something from YouTube has been inserted. People send video by phone all the time, with no other message attached. I get to see my granddaughter weekly by looking at my son's MySpace page. So obviously there is value to the use of video, even beyond the ease of creating it.

What is this value? To the candidate it is a good way to get across their ability to speak well as they cover their background. For the employer you get to see this same ability. You can measure presentation skills. However, there is a downside as well. Not every resume will have the same production value. Not every position needs to have good presentation skills. Good "on camera" skills may mask a lack of other skills.

The article points out that HR professionals (and legal professionals) are torn. The naturally conservative types see the opportunity for descrimination on race, disability and "looks." The less conservative see the opportunity to make decisions about candidates in situations where speaking ability, charisma and leadership potential are important.

So my questions for readers are:
  • How do feel?
  • Have you viewed one?
  • If yes, how was it received?
  • What do you see as the value?
  • What do you see as the pitfalls?

Let me know.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Mandated Sick Days- Kennedy At It Again

Ted Kennedy, the senior senator from Massachusetts, is getting ready to introduce the "Healthy Families Act", a bill that would require organizations with 15 or more full-time employees to provide at least seven days of paid sick leave every year. Additionally, the bill "also would lock-in existing leave benefits, such as “paid time off” (PTO) programs, thereby limiting or eliminating an employer’s flexibility in making even minor adjustments in leave provisions. This is significant because many employers tailor leave policies to meet their employees' needs." (Source: SHRM HR Issues Update, March 23, 2007)

It is too early yet to see how this might screw up companies with PTO policies, but mandating that small companies MUST provide 7 days of paid sick time will cause a financial burden to these companies that some might not be able to bear. Additionally, it will certainly take away some flexibility in how companies deal with their employees.

In addition to this legislation, Kennedy is also introducing into the Senate the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would take away the private ballot voting rights of American workers in union organizing campaigns. This bill has already passed in the House. It eliminates secret ballot elections in union campaigns offering the opportunity for intimidation in the election process. And yes, unions do work on intimidation. Someone needs to explain to me how taking away the right of secret ballot is an EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT. Most people, if they have to make their choice known in a public arena, where they know they may receive threats if their vote goes counter to some members of the group will have a tendency to vote with the group. That is NOT free choice. That is more akin to choice by mob rule.

Kennedy, who has never held a legitimate job a day in his life and has certainly never run a company is out of touch. He must have tremendous guilt for his life of privilege and that is why he champions the "little" people. Just my opinion.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Biometric Information in Employment Decisions

In the state of Georgia, State Representative Ed Setzler has introduced a bill to outlaw the use off biometric information in employment decisions. This data includes:
  • Information derived from genetic testing.
  • Biometric information other than genetic testing; provided, however, that this condition may be waived when necessary for employment in positions that involve unaccompanied access to high security areas, intelligence information or children.
  • Any information derived from biometric sensors.
  • Any information derived from personal location tracking technologies.

Additionally, House Bill 276, the Biometric Information Protection Act would bar:

  • Insurers from requiring genetic testing information to determine an applicant’s eligibility or premiums for life insurance.
  • The implanting of sensors or personal location tracking devices.
  • Educational institutions from using biometric information in enrollment decisions.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Congress is currently considering the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (HR 493), which would similarly bar employers and insurers from using genetic information in employment and insurance decisions. The bill has cleared the House Education and Labor Committee. (Source: SHRM Online)

I am not sure how to digest this. I am not one for creating laws just to be creating laws. Is this an issue with anyone? Are any of you out there taking genetic samples of employees or applicants and using this data in your employment practices? Better yet, are any of you implanting devices in your employees to keep track of them? (Well on second thought that might cut down on absenteeism.) I think this legislation is solving a problem that does not exist yet. What do you think?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Terminations- Getting Riskier

One of the things I advise clients and HR students is to not let poor performing or trouble-making employees stick around too long, and a recent article on has given us good reason. The article, entitled "Employees From Hell", points out that recent court cases make it easier for problem employees to preempt or sue their employers for wrongful termination. For example, if an employee suspects that they are going to be fired they can claim sexual harassment, harassment, file an OSHA complaint, file a Department of Labor complaint, claim discrimination or any number of other complaints and then when the job action occurs they can claim the action was due to retaliation. (By the way, the job action need not be a termination. It can be a transfer or some other job change.)

Problem employees and their lawyers are getting much more savvy about how to do this. As the article states: "Roxanne Davis, who represents employees in discrimination cases as principal of Davis Gavsie in Los Angeles, is a member of an educational network through which attorneys meet to discuss the latest changes in labor law and how to use them to employees' advantage. "There is a growing group of lawyers who are learning the field better and better, she says."

So how do you avoid this problem? One way was pointed out in the article "The key, ...., is to act quickly and resolutely." I agree with this 100%. When asked the question by clients "What should we do?" my response is often "Fire them." However, for many companies, particularly small ones, this is difficult to do. They often have no documentable reason to fire the person. Yeah, I know that employement is supposed to be "At-will", but the realities of the world are such that without a good reason you are asking the termination to be labeled as the employee would like to have it labeled. So pay attention to poor performance. Document it and if the person fails to improve then ACT! Make it swift, make if factual, and make it happen. DO NOT let this behavior go on and on.

Additionally, don't let a "progressive discipline" policy get in your way. Make sure that your hands are not tied by a policy that makes you adhere to a multi-step process. Have some "wiggle room" in the policy to allow you an "out" of immediate termination, if needed. And if you have one in place, make sure you follow it sooner than later. Delaying action gives the problem employee more time to act against you.

Friday, March 02, 2007

How To Read a Business Book

I have often said/complained/bemoaned the fact that most people in HR just don't read enough. Lots of reasons why are given; time, interest or the lack thereof, etc. I think it is important for PROACTIVE AND STRATEGIC human resources professionals to read all the time. So to help that along here is a link to a blog that gives tips on How To Read a Business Book. There are also links to other tip sites. Following these tips will help you get the most out of the book. Reading about a book a month puts you in the top 10% of business executive. (BTW, this is how I read them.)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Employees Becoming Disengaged

I read a blog today called Disorganizational Behavior discussing employee disengagement. It struck a note with me, as it should with all HR Managers. The topic dealt with a Kenexa study that showed that employee's become disengaged, or disenchanted, with their jobs after about 6 months. According to the study this is associated with a heavy cost to the company. Lost productivity, lost training cost, potential turnover and replacement costs.

However, according to the DB blogger "One thing the study didn't discuss, however, was why employees are becoming disengaged. I think part of it has to do with people realizing that all of the promises made by the company aren't going to come true, or that the job isn't exactly what they thought it was." And the blogger makes a point all HR Managers need to pay heed to: "It is no secret that it is imperative to organizational success and growth to keep employees engaged and happy. With new hires, management must be explicit about what the job is about, what the duties are, what role they will have within the organization (or group/team), and what is expected of them."

So click on the link above and read this entire blog. Then look seriously at your organization and assess how much of an issue this is for you.

Monday, February 19, 2007

In Search of Excellence Turns 25

Almost 25 years ago managment guru Tom Peters published In Search of Excellence. This was a groundbreaking book and continues to be an important addition to anyone's business book library. I think I will reread to book to mark the occasion. However, noting the day is not the sole purpose of this blog. In a newsletter I received from Tom Peters the following paragraph caught my eye and I thought the all human resources professionals should pay heed.

"Our core belief, just like the best Professional Service Firms from whom we can all learn so much, is that "people excellence" is at the very core of future success. Achieving the "people-talent" mindset transformation is Job #1, and this is just as tough with the people inhabiting the Board Room as it is with the folks on the front line. The first indicator of a future winner is whether the leaders see their people as talent and see their prime function as being to position their talent in a context where they can create maximum value for the business. The leaders pass Excellence Test #1 when their front liners attest that they feel like talent - when they're at work, that is!"

Note what I put in bold face. Is your organization one that recognizes the importance of people as talent?

If yes ask yourself:
  • How do we perpetuate this?
  • How do we communicate this?
If the answer is no, ask yourself:
  • How can we turn this around?
  • How does this affect our position in the marketplace?
  • How does this affect our ability to attract people?
  • If I cannot impact this do I really want to continue to work here?

If you have never read In Search of Excellence I suggest you pick up a copy. And then become a Tom Peters fan.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Are You Ready for Gen X Managers?

An article in Chief Learning Officer describes research that shows there is a distinct skills gap between retiring Baby Boomer managers and the incoming Gen X managers. "New research by Personnel Decisions International (PDI) shows companies face a substantial employee skills shift, as 22.5 million baby boomers are on schedule to retire during the next 10 years, and company leadership transitions to Generation X managers (born between 1964 and 1979) who will bring a new, distinct skills set to the workplace."

The research study shows that "Baby boomers received higher ratings from their managers in 10 out of 18 competencies. They were nearly 18 percent more likely to be rated as “knowing the business” and 10 percent more likely to use technical or functional expertise on the job.
Baby boomers also rated substantially better in their ability to coach and develop and their ability to manage execution. On the other hand, Gen X managers are more likely to receive higher ratings in self-development, work commitment and analyzing issues than their older counterparts."

This means that companies need to do alot more managerial training. To prepare for this future you need to:
  • Identify what skills sets your up and coming managers lack
  • Structure training with existing managers to provide the Gen X'ers the exposure to the bigger picture skills
  • Start thinking about how the company may need to restructure to take advantage of the collaborative approaches with collective buy-in that Gen X'ers use.

This is an opportunity for HR Managers to exercise their strategic skills and be proactive in the success of their companies. If you don't start doing it now the company will suffer in the future.

Monday, February 12, 2007


Seth Godin, marketing guru, has a very interesting blog entitled Sheepwalking. He says "I define "sheepwalking" as the outcome of hiring people who have been raised to be obedient and giving them a braindead job and enough fear to keep them in line." He indictes schools and companies for teaching and hiring compliant, mechanized people. "And many organizations go out of their way to hire people that color inside the lines, that demonstrate consistency and compliance. And then they give these people jobs where they are managed via fear. Which leads to sheepwalking. ("I might get fired!")" He says that two groups suffer as a result, the employee and the customer.

Often in HR we are guilty of perpetuating "sheepwalking." We reward people for obeying the rules instead of being innovative. Innovators are harder to manage.

Perhaps that is because many human resources people are the ultimate sheepwalkers. We are so stuck in the "rules and regulations" environment that we stop being creative. If that is the case we need to break out of it. Time to read a book like Mavericks at Work.

So if the next time you look in the mirror and you look a little sheepish and wooley... well you know what I mean.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Strange Bedfellows: WalMart and Union Join Forces

In one of the strangest alliances of recent memory, WalMart and arch foe the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), joined forces to announce that they were going to work together to push the federal government to provide universal healthcare and to get out of the system of employer provided healthcare. As reported in a Washington Times article, H. Lee Scott, CEO of WalMart and Andy Stern, President of the SEIU, held a press conference in in Washington, D.C. and "...pledged to work together for the first time to fix what they called the nation's health-care crisis by 2012." Joining in the press conference were representatives from AT&T, Kelly Services, Intel, and the Communication Workers of America.

The thrust of the announcement was that the healthcare system in the U.S. is not working, people are uncovered by insurance and the system of employer provided healthcare makes U.S. companies less competetive in a world market.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Communication - A Symptom Not The Problem

There is an excellent post in Slow Leadership on Why Most Communication Problems Aren't. Carmine Coyote states that "Sometimes it feels as if nearly every difficulty or source of discontent is labeled a “communication issue” as a matter of routine. On the surface, it may even look as if this is correct. Bosses and their subordinates routinely misunderstand and miscommunicate with each other. Information becomes garbled as it is passed through the organization. Customer queries are mishandled because what the customer wanted wasn’t clearly understood or communicated internally. Projects falter in a morass of poorly-communicated data and inadequate reports. Is it any wonder that trainers and coaches spend probably more time trying to help people with their communications that any other single topic?" And this is where HR often jumps in. We try to fix the communication problems. We have training sessions or one-on-one sessions to improve communication. However, as Coyote points out "When communications are bad, the real cause is likely to be something else."

The blog points out that poor communication is often the symptom of other problems, such as pressure, haste, aggression, mistrust and fear. Communication gets seen as the problem because it is visible. The lesson in this for the Human Resources Manager is to look beyond the surface. If your organization is having communication problems ask yourself the question "What is causing this?" Then treat the disease and not the symptom.

For further discussion click the link above to go to Slow Leadership.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Wow, And I Thought HR Was Underpaid!

It has been reported, in a number of different locations, that Dennis Donovan, the head of Human Resources at Home Depot, has resigned. According to a WorkForce magazine article, "... Donovan could receive $15 million to $20 million, plus retirement benefits, stock options and compensation already earned."

Not too bad... but then again, maybe HR is still underpaid. Afterall, Nardelli did receive about $210 million.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Court Decisions Muddy ADA Accommodation Definition

Jonathan R. Mook, attorney and ADA expert, wrote an excellent article about recent court decisions regarding "Reasonable Accommodation" and how these circuit court decisions have made it more difficult for employers. The article written in HR Magazine (sorry SHRM membership required) points out that three different Circuit Courts have decided cases that require employers to apply reasonable accommodation not only to individual with actual disabilities under ADA, but also to individuals perceived as having a disability. He feels this split court situation will eventually end up in the Supreme Court and he encourages all HR people to pay attention to this developing situation.

In his article he gave a very clear example of how to determine if an accommodation is needed and whether it is reasonable. There are four steps:
  1. Conduct a job analysis
  2. Identify performance barriers
  3. Consider potential accommodations
  4. Assess reasonableness in choosing among reasonable accommodations (The point here is that the reasonable accommodation selected does not need to be the best accommodation possible. It just has to allow the individual to perform the essential functions of the job.)

Here is also a link to the USDOL website on the Accommodation Process.

Watch the news and the SHRM website for news on this newly developing application of "reasonable accommodation."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Where Do You Fall?

Blogger Carmine Coyete in a blog called Slow Leadership talked about the number 1/9/90. Carmine's point about this number was that 1% of people do, 9% comment or refine and 90% do nothing. "Maybe just one in 100 people will come up with ideas for change and decide to try to see them implemented.....Maybe between 5% and 9% of people will respond by taking up the idea and looking to see if it has any merit. They will discuss it and add to it, maybe alter it somewhat, and exhibit at least some willingness to see it turned into action.....The remaining 90% will almost certainly do nothing, and outwardly register little or no interest either."

The point about the 1/9/90 Law is a little deeper than what I have portrayed, so you need to read the entire blog. But it got me to thinking about HR people. Many times I have heard HR people complain about only being reactive. Never being proactive. Yet they seldom do anything about it. I wondered if this fits the 1/9/90 Law profile. One percent of HR will do something proactive, 9 % will applaud it and work with it and 90% will either ignore it or complain about.

What do you think? Click on the link, Slow Leadership, to read the entire blog.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Avoid Being a Cultural Knucklehead in HR

In Human Resources we often deal with people from other nations, whether employing them locally or dealing with them in International operations. Sometimes we travel internationally for business or pleasure. As we do so we find that there are many cultural differences (stating the obvious), however, often we apply our language, references and ways of doing things. As a result we look like a "cultural knucklehead." Well here is an blog article on How Not to be a Cultural Knucklehead in Global Business, written by Pamela Slim.

In this blog you get some great advice and tips on dealing with a world different than your own, like:

  • Don't use baseball analogies when talking to a global audience.
  • Stay away from "country insider" metaphors and analogies.
  • Plan for a level of interaction appropriate for the culture of your audience.

These are just a few tips, there are more, and even more in the comments section.

I found this very informative and made me think of a conversation I had with a native French speaker and how many colloquial terms I used in my explanation of a subject. I wish I had read this first.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Mandated Sick Days- The Next "Minimum Wage"

According to a report in Workforce News In Brief San Francisco is leading the country with mandated paid sick days, a law effective in February. It required companies to provide 9 paid sick days per year. Sen. Edward Kennedy is proposing a similar bill on a national level, requiring companies of 15 or more employees to provide seven paid sick days. “This is the next worker issue after minimum wage,” says Deven McGraw, COO of the National Partnership for Women and Families. “People are starting to understand the predicament that low-wage workers in this country face.”

Opponents point out that this is destructive to many companies PTO policies and could be an administrative nightmare.

If you have any feelings about this, one way or the other, now is the time to start talking to your Congressional legislators.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Peek Into the Mind of a Union President

There is an interview in Wall Street Journal Online with Andy Stern, President of the Service Employees International Union, SEIU, that is very revealing. Stern is a new voice in 21st Century unionism and if you are not paying attention to him now, you may end up paying attention to him in the future. Read this interview for a peek into his mind.

Freakonomics as a Lesson for HR

I am reading a very interesting book called Freakonomics ( I know, I am behind the curve). The premise of the book is the study of incentives. Don't let this, or the fact that it is an economics book, frighten you. It is VERY interesting. One of their fundamental ideas is that "Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life. And understanding them.... is the key to solving just about any riddle, from violent crime to sports cheating to online dating." (Told you it was interesting.)

Further, they describe "... the study of incentives: how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing." And "There are three basic flavors of incentive: economic, social, and moral. Very often a single incentive scheme will include all three varieties." As I was reading this I was thinking this is also the cornerstone of human resources. We are always wondering how to motivate employees. What incentives do we use to make them work better, harder, smarter, longer? And often we are puzzled. Why does one thing work for one person and something else works for the next person.

There are some good insights in this book for human resources managers and I strongly suggest you read it and try to apply those insights to your work place.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I read this great quote on Seth Godin's blog. Although he was discussing marketing I thought it more than applied to human resources.

"But the art of management is in understanding that all problems are different, and that your intuition and insight are the key."

This piggybacks very well on the blog from yesterday. Reading, education, and a variety of experiences will help develop that intuition and insight you need to have to deal with the variety of problems you deal with on a daily basis.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Want To Be An Expert?

One of my favorite motivational authors is Harvey Mackay. He writes a weekly column that is often filled with wisdom that is applicable to most of us. This week he writes on "Are You Working On You?". I won't repeat the entire column here , I will let you read it, but he writes about how little people read today. However, in his column he cites some numbers that I found interesting.

  • If you read just one book per month for 12 straight months, you will be in the top 25 percentile of all intellectuals in the world!
  • If you read five books on one subject, you are one of the world’s foremost leading authorities on that subject!
  • If you read just 15 minutes a day – every day, for one year – you can complete 20 books!

This got me thinking about some of the classes I have taught in the past nine years. I survey the class (a group of people who are trying to advance in their career, hence they are in a certfication prep class) and I am usually dismayed by how little anyone reads anything. Well reading this column and these numbers made me think... if you really want to be an HR expert all you have to do is read. Look at these numbers... one book a month.. 5 books on one subject... just 15 minutes a day...

So in 2007 become an expert... read 5 books on HR and another 7 in business, classics, whatever and you will be on the top of the heap.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Book Review: The Nature of Leadership: Reptiles, Mammals, and the Challenge of Becoming a Great Leader, by B. Joseph White, Reviewed by Mike Haberman

Having a professional background in dealing with people in a wide variety of leadership positions and an early educational background in studying animal behavior I looked forward to reading a book subtitled Reptiles, Mammals and the Challenge of Becoming a Great Leader. The premise of the book is that there are two sides of leadership, a hard and cold reptilian side and a soft and warm mammalian side. This dichotomy is pretty much the same as the numbers versus people sides of leadership or management.

White, who is the President of the University of Illinois, spends a brief chapter on various leadership theories. These include a bit on McGregor’s Theory X and Y, Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid, a little Herzberg and McClelland. He writes about the theory that leaders are born and not made, but then goes on to talk about a “leaders can be made” (hence his book.)

Using his reptilian/mammalian analogy, White puts his model of leadership together as a pyramid. The base of the pyramid consists of four characteristics. First is a desire to be in charge, followed by ability, strength and character. Without these you have no hope of being a leader. The implication is this is what you are born with.

The second component of his pyramid is the reptilian and mammalian traits. The reptilian side is described as “cold-blooded”, disciplined, economic sense, financial management, attention to detail, detached and analytical, among others. The mammalian side is “warm-blooded”, nurturing, people sense, attention to context, communication ability, delegate, empower, and others.

He then spends a couple of chapters describing the characteristics of these two sides. He warns us not to make value judgments about the “reptilian” traits being bad or the “mammalian” traits being good. He argues that both sets of traits are necessary for great leaders to have. The problem with this however, is that people do make judgments on labels and my guess is that not too many potential leaders would be thrilled as being described as having a reptilian style. Not many people want to be known as a “snake.”

The apex of White’s pyramid of leadership consists of the qualities he associates with being a great leader. According to White to be a good leader you must have both the reptile side and mammalian side capped with innovation, risk-taking, an appetite for talent, and what he calls the “helicopter view” and the “sparkle factor.” The “helicopter view” is perspective, looking ahead, back and sideways. The “sparkle factor” is charisma, presence and magnetism.

The book is an easy read that mixes in his personal leadership “journey” along with his observations about his leadership “heroes”. I think his reptilian/mammalian analogy is somewhat flawed (some reptiles can show great tenderness and some mammals can be very hard and cruel). However, it is somewhat of a novel way to discuss the “hard” and “soft” sides of management and leadership. I was left with a mixed message about the ability to become a great leader. He tells you what it takes to become a great leader but also leaves you with the message “if you ain’t got it, you ain’t gonna get it.” But, that said it is an easy introductory book on the concepts of leadership and is good for people who have not read a lot on the subject.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Learning to Swim in HR

First let me wish everyone a Happy New Year!

My favorite author, consultant and "hero" is Alan Weiss. He has a monthly newsletter that I look forward to receiving at the first of each month. His newsletter this month began with an article entitled Sink or Swim. He starts off with the relating that he read the entire O'Brian series on Jack Aubrey, a captain in the British Navy. (Russell Crow starred as Lucky Jack in the movie Master and Commander Far Side of the World.) Alan relates that in reading the historical notes he learned that "...virtually no British common seaman knew how to swim. In an age when a sinking boat meant almost certain death, these sailors couldn't swim a mile to a beach or even a hundred yards to floating wreckage or a stray boat. Although the admiralty never thought it necessary to teach the skill, surely the sailors could readily have learned it during the long assignments when ships were often becalmed for days on end. They didn't. "

Alan then goes on to say "I meet a lot of people like those sailors. On the lighter side, there's the 20-year airline ticket clerk, still using one finger to type and taking five times as long, never having bothered to learn to type despite it being a key element in the job. On the darker side, there is the teacher who never did understand the need for testing understanding, and never got around to mastering it, thereby undermining learning."

He then has the admonition "If you insist on being the bartender at the party but have to keep apologizing because you can't make a margarita, I have a suggestion: Either stop being the bartender or learn to mix a margarita, which I'm pretty sure is somewhat easier than splitting an atom. While it may seem astonishing to you that sailors, whose lives were spent on the ocean, never learned to swim, then contemplate the fact that I constantly meet department store clerks who have no idea where anything is."

He then ends his comments with the statement "I have no idea why people make little attempt to master the simple things in the environment which can vastly improve their lives and, perhaps, even save them. I mean, you'd think people would rather swim, than sink, wouldn't you?"

I was astonished by the fact about the sailors and amused and dismayed by his other observations, but, it is this last statement that really got me to thinking. I thought about things that I may not know or may not do that fall into this catagory. And that got me thinking about HR departments in general.

Dave Ulrich, in his book Delivering Results: A New Mandate for Human Resources Professionals, talks about delivering flawless administrative services as one of the necessary steps in being seen as "business partner" material. You can't have a place at the table if you can't deliver even the basic services of HR flawlessly. Which brings me back to Weiss' point about mastering the simple things.

At the beginning of this new year can you deliver, can you answer the questions, do you know the answers? Or are you like the sailor thrashing about in the water unable to reach the flotsam that will save his life. If there are things you should do or know make it a resolution to make a change. Learn to swim and be determined not to sink.