Thursday, April 30, 2009

Zappos Is Very Interesting From an HR View

The May 2009 issue of Inc. Magazine has Tony Hsieh (pronounce Shay) on the cover. Apparently Mr. Hsieh is a favorite of Inc. because searching on their site produces 216 or so articles written on him in the past 5+ years. And I have heard of Zappos, but never really paid attention to them. (In fact I must confess that I thought they were a brand of shoe rather than an online retailer of a multitude of shoes.) This time however, I took time to read the article on him and Zappos. So here is my "Johnny-come-lately" HR view of some of the things that Zappos has done and currently does.

Tony Hsieh runs his company by going against much conventional wisdom. Zappos has a quirky culture that encourages alot of individuality. The interview process starts off with cultural fit questions in an hour long interview. Questions include "On a scale of 1-10, how weird are you?" Apparently you have to be sufficiently weird to work at Zappos. After that you go to the department that is interested in hiring you. Disputes between HR and the department are decided by Hsieh himself.
The company provides alot of training for both new hires and current employees. That is not all that unusual, but what distinguishes Zappos is that, for new hires, after two weeks of training and two weeks on the job the employees are offered $2000 to quit. Yes quit! This lets the company keep people who are committed and get rid of the ones not suited to the culture or the job. The company actually found that this is a cheaper way than retaining non-productive employees and then terminating them for performance later. I really like this idea, and may think of clients that this may work for as a solution to turnover.
Each employee contributes to a "culture" book. And with more than 1500 employees the book has grown quite large. But all employees have a "piece" of the company that way. I like that too.
A last anti-conventional wisdom point is that the company does not pay the highest wages out there, in fact somewhat lower than other companies may pay. But to help offset this the company moved from San Francisco, with its high cost of living and high tax rate, to Henderson, Nevada (Las Vegas area) where there are no taxes and a lower cost of living. Additionally, Hsieh wanted a place where bars and restaurants were open 24 hours so that late working employees would have places to unwind after work. Pretty employee-friendly thinking.
Hsieh is very concerned with happiness. In fact he is doing a current study on happiness. This concern seems to show in his treatment of employees.
So I encourage you to pick up this month's Inc. and read the article (or wait until next year and you can read it at your doctor's office). Tony Hsieh and is a very interesting study. I may even buy some shoes from them, though the pair I wanted was not available when I checked. Oh well.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Life Lessons From Mom You Can Use At Work

Wally Bock at Three Star Leadership has a great post today on Mom's Supervision Lessons. I thought it was a great post with super lessons stated in a way everyone can understand them. He talks about behavior, feedback, and consequences in terms of "Mom." Give it a read. I am sure you will enjoy it, learn from it, and learn to apply the lessons taught in it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

How the Recession Will Make the Swine Flu Worse

The U. S. Government has declared a public healthy emergency with the outbreak of swine flu. The CDC has some guidelines and more information about the swine flu. You can find that here.

Naturally one of the ways to prevent the spread is for sick people to stay home. However, in a recession employees are going to be extra sensitive to things that might make them seem to be "expendable." They will try to show their work ethic by coming to work sick, hoping this will show the boss that they are hard workers and loyal and thus should be retained. And some bosses will expect this. Unfortunately this is short-sighted on the part of both parties.

Employees that come to work sick run the risk of making everyone sick and thus having a more detrimental effect on the workplace than if they had just stayed out and recovered. Bosses who expect employees to "suck it up" and "give one for the team" are poor managers. How many managers are prepared to deal with a "pandemic of flu" that wipes out their workforce? Well you should be prepared. Here is a link to a website for dealing with pandemics in the workplace.

The early symptoms of swine flu are early nausea and high fever. If you feel any of these symptoms don't be a "hero", stay home! If you are a boss make sure you let your employees know that if they are sick they are to stay home.

What plans do you have in place?

Friday, April 24, 2009

EFCA Slight of Hand: My Prediction Comes True

About a month or so ago I predicted that the Pro-EFCA crowd would offer some compromise on the bill in order to get it passed. The firestorm of controversy around the secret ballot provision was too much and was making the law defeatable in the Senate. I said that the Pro-EFCAs would compromise on secret ballot because what they really wanted was the second provision of the law, arbitrated contract negotiation. See this March 11th post.

Well it appears my prediction is coming to be. This article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer online version quotes Sen. Sherrod Brown as saying the bill will be rewritten to preserve the secret ballot. No mention is made of the more onerous provision of the law.

Do not be fooled folks. This is slight of hand, the magician's trick of pay attention to this hand while I actually do the trick with the other. Don't let up on your Sentors in telling them this is not good legislation regardless of what happens with the secret ballot.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Freedom of Speech and Privacy: Don't Make This Mistake

One of the rights given to us as Americans is the Freedom of Speech, as guaranteed by the First Amendment. People think this protects them in anything they say. However, this is not quite the way it works, as is being pointed out in a lawsuit being litigated in New Jersey. In an article in the Wall Street Journal, online version, entitled Employers Watching Workers Online Spurs Privacy Debate reporter Dionne Searcy talks about a case in which two workers maligned the restaurant for which they work. They did so on a MySpace page. They had an invitation only discussion, which required a password, where the nature of the discussion made fun of the restaurant, the managers and the patrons. Another coworker revealed the site to the managers. This escalated to upper management and the two workers ended up being fired. In their lawsuit they claimed an invasion of privacy.

A similar case in NY led to the suspension of police officers for making lewd remarks about the town mayor in a Facebook posting. Thay have also appealed on privacy grounds.

However, according to Searcy's article "The legal landscape is murky. For the most part, employers don't need a reason to fire nonunion workers." All us good HR types know this is the common law doctrine of Employment at Will. (Click the link for the Wikipedia definition) The issue that is being argued is does a company have the right to read things not originally intended for them and then act on this?

Some argue they do not. From this side proponents will say that this is the same as wiretapping a conversation. However, the law does not cover things posted on the Internet. In fact, as the article says "But the courts might not view online musings as private communication. 'You can't post something on the Internet and claim breach of privacy when someone sees it,' said Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute in Princeton, N.J." Proponents from the employers perspective say that companies have a right to protect their business from libel and certainly have the right to fire workers who are disparaging the company for which they work.

More and more companies are developing policies covering blogs and other Internet media (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) to let employees know that they may suffer discipline or termination if they disparage the company. Many employees have the mistaken view that they have a right to free speech, as I stated above. What many people don't realize is that only covers what you say about the government. There is no guarantee of Right of Free Speech in the workplace. And generally (depending on state or local law) there is no right to privacy either.

It will be interesting to watch this case in NJ. Did the employer have the right to fire these employees for what they said? In my opinion, yes. Were they correct in looking at a MySpace page? Not so sure on that one. Afterall, they were showed it by another employee who had been invited. They did not go snooping and stealing passwords or hacking the site. So we will have to see. Just remember, it is all about image management.

What policies do you have in place as an employer? And as an employer, suffer any reprecussions for things you have written in a blog? Is this why some of you are anonomous?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Freecycling" Your Employees

I received a newletter today from The Herman Group written by Joyce Gioia that was talking about "freecycling." Freecycling is a concept I am familiar with, I have been doing it for years. It is giving away "stuff" to people who want your "stuff." I have given away National Geographic magazines to home schoolers, wood scraps left over from woodworking projects, old sporting equipment (me and rollerblades were not a good thing), carpet samples to a woman who needed cage liners for her rabbits, and much more. It is a great idea and keeps stuff out of landfills that can serve a purpose for someone else. You can find out more about it by visiting the Wikipedia section The Freecycle Network or by going directly to their website, Freecycle.

Reading that got me to thinking, what about "freecycling" the employees you are "throwing out" in a headcount reduction? Why can't you put together a list of employees, their skill sets and other "features" and email that list to other companies in your area or industry? This will give the employees a potential headstart on the job search process and you may save another company some time, effort and expense in finding workers. Mail the list to temp agencies, headhunters, Chambers of Commerce or anyone else who might find a "good use" for these displaced workers.

I think your employees will be grateful (thus reducing the chance of a lawsuit) and you may even get some good press in your community.

I have seen it work. A company that was going out of business contacted a client of mine, who was in a similar business, and said "we have these employees who will be available, do you want them?" My client took a good number, became heroes to those people, racked up all kinds of good will and on top of it picked business they did not have before. It was a win-win-win.

So rather than just handing out pink slips consider ways in which you might be able to "freecycle" you employees.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Let Me Introduce a New Blog on Compensation

An associate of mine has joined the blogsphere. Phil Blount and his associate Barbara Mackintosh are the main players in Phillip Blount & Associates, a compensation and human resources consulting firm located in Atlanta. Their new blog leads off with an explanation of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It is a great explanation and offers a pay-for-performance solution to dealing with the requirements of the act. So give them a visit and add them to your list of excellent comp blogs, right along side Ann Bares' Compensation Force.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Helping Your Laid Off Workers: Have You Ever Heard of Trade Adjustment Assistance?

An article in the Wall Street Journal Online,on Monday April 20th, entitled Crazy-Quilt Jobless Programs Help Some More Than Others pointed out a program called Trade Adjustment Assistance. According to the USDOL website "Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) and Alternative Trade Adjustment Assistance (ATAA) help trade-affected workers who have lost their jobs as a result of increased imports or shifts in production out of the United States. Certified individuals may be eligible to receive one or more program benefits and services depending on what is needed to return them to employment." According to the WSJ article TAA is "an obscure federal program called Trade Adjustment Assistance. Launched by President John F. Kennedy, TAA offers superior unemployment benefits to U.S. manufacturing and farm workers who lose jobs due to imports or production shifts out of the country."

A very small percentage of workers are receiving these benefits, mostly because few workers or companies are aware of the program. Groups of workers, or a company on their behalf, must apply for certification and then workers have to pursue it on their own. "To obtain TAA or ATAA services and benefits, a group of workers must first file a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor's Division of Trade Adjustment Assistance (DTAA) requesting certification as workers adversely affected by foreign trade. If certified, each worker in the group may then apply separately for individual services and benefits through their local One-Stop Career Center. Workers age 50 and older who are certified as eligible to apply for both TAA and ATAA may choose whether to participate in the TAA program or the ATAA program, but may not participate in both."

There are problems with the program beyond it being relatively unknown. One problem is that the staff to handle certification is only 3 people and they are overwhelmed with requests. Another problem, according to the WSJ article is "The trade-adjustment program underscores broader problems with the way U.S. unemployment benefits are distributed. Critics say it's impossible to pinpoint who, exactly, is displaced by global trade. Moreover, they say, singling out a small class of unemployed Americans for richer benefits is discriminatory." The U.S. unemployment-insurance system is a patchwork of state and federal programs. Each state administers its own benefits, doling out up to 26 weeks of checks based on the worker's former salary.

The patchwork nature of the system, the particular requirements of various programs make it difficult to determine who is eligible for what. But if your company or your terminated workers qualify for TAA the benefits are very nice. According to the WSJ "...the government sweetened the pot even more for TAA recipients. Workers approved after May 18 will qualify for an 80% tax credit for health insurance, up from 65% currently. They'll be eligible for as much as 2½ years of cash payments, up from two years now, with schooling and related transportation paid during the period. TAA beneficiaries over 50 who find lower-paying work can recoup as much as $12,000 in "lost" wages from the government, up from $10,000."

So if you are in a business that has suffered due to work being transfered overseas, or foreign competition is making business difficult check into the Trade Adjustment Assistance by clicking on the USDOL link above and learning if you can apply for certification for your workers.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Economy Is Affecting Everyone's Retirement

The stockmarket fall, the large numbers of layoffs, the dimishing values of our 401(k)s and pension plans is causing a lot of aging workers to put off their retirements. Certainly my wife and I have felt that way as have alot of our friends. (Yes we are Baby Boomers).

But I did not realize how widespread the effect was until I saw this headline in today's Wall Street Journal Online:

Lawmakers Pressure NASA to Delay Shuttle's Retirement

I guess it has gotten pretty bad when even the aging space shuttles can't retire.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Want to Improve HR: View HR As A "System"

Yesterday consumer advocate and radio and TV personality Clark Howard had a show segment on a hospital (I believe it was Geisinger Health System and their ProvenCare system) in which he discussed their system approach to providing healthcare. He talked about how they have a protocol for ensuring that patients get the proper treatment, which includes a strict checklist that must be completely checked before anyone gets operated on. This "system" they have put in place has been so successful in reducing relapses and thus greatly reducing costs that they now give 90-day warranties on certain procedures. This means that if you need further care within the 90-day period there is no additional cost to you, the patient. It has increased the "wellness" of the patients and has reduced costs by 15%.

This got me to thinking about HR and the fact that it is a system and as such could probably benefit from a strict protocol similar to what is used at Geisinger. I know many HR departments have checklists for various procedures, yet many are not followed. We have a checklist for hiring, yet many times I-9s are not completed. We have checklists for terminations, yet many times a form is missing or ignored. These checklists, often poorly done, are for discrete segments of HR and could use some improvement. If we used them strictly we might avoid bad hires, bad terminations, poor reviews, missing reviews, undocument promotions or demotions, expired visas or missed enrollments. Think about that. Anything you can improve in your shop?

But a bigger picture comes from thinking about HR as a system and realizing that things we do in compensation, e.g., also has an impact on recruitment, promotions, employee relations, terminations, retirement and benefit costs. I think it would be a major change for many HR departments to sit down in a working session and go through a checklist asking the question "If we put this in place how will it affect ......?" This might help some of us avoid problems caused by implementation of "programs" where we have not thought about the impact on a bigger system. It would also help companies that have a tendency to implement the "HR or management program de jour". You can ward off managers and executives who bring you "the newest and the best."

Who knows, this approach might lead to better care for your "patients" and reduce your operating costs as well.

If you are reading this and have such a system in place PLEASE leave a comment and tell the rest of us about how it works (or doesn't). Let us learn from you.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

April 15th Carnival of Human Resources

Chris Young hosts the April 15th version of the Carnival of Human Resources at his blog Maximize Possibility. Some of the great articles there include:

Check it out for a wealth of knowledge in one small place.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

And You Would Belong to the Union Why?

This got some play on a radio show yesterday, so I thought I would mention it again. The SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, is being struck by the union that has organized the workers of the SEIU. Say what?? Yes, that is true. the Union of Union Representatives has filed unfair labor practice charges against the SEIU, according to the Washington Post article, which said "The workers union's leaders say that the SEIU is engaging in the same kind of practices that some businesses use: laying off workers without proper notice, contracting out work to temporary-staffing firms, banning union activities and reclassifying workers to reduce union numbers." The quoted a union official ""It's completely hypocritical," said Malcolm Harris, president of the workers union. "This is the union that's been at the forefront of progressive issues, around ensuring that working people and working families are taken care of, but when it comes to the people that work for SEIU, they haven't set the same standards."

The article further quoted Harris saying "... his union's understanding is that the layoffs are the result of budget troubles faced by the SEIU, which, on top of the California dispute, spent $80 million during the 2008 election and is planning to spend tens of millions more to advocate on behalf of Obama's health-care plan and card check." The article also mentioned that "Fewer than half of the workers at SEIU chapters are unionized, and Harris's union's contract with SEIU forbids it from trying to help organize SEIU employees in local chapters."

My first question is, if the SEIU is so great why is it necessary to have their workers represented by another union?? My next question is, why would anyone want to be represented by a union who mistreats its own workers? The SEIU seems to be more about making Andy Stern a powerful man as opposed to making things better for workers. He is on a power grab, waging war on other unions. But it seems that his "better world" may be falling apart on him. Some of the unions that broke away from the AFL-CIO following the SEIU have gone back or are considering so. Regardless, any company being organized by the SEIU certainly needs to use this example of how the SEIU treats its own workers as a picture of what the world really looks like.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Vow to be Visible!

I am back from vacation. Yes, I had a great time, thanks for asking. Having disappeared for a week or so I thought about visibility as I came back. Two blog posts by other bloggers prompted this thought, so I thought I would pass on their ideas and add a couple of my own.

The first thought comes from Alan Collins writer of Success In HR in his post Seven No B.S. HR Career Strategies Your Boss Won’t Tell You About! His fourth point is "Visibility is not an official HR competency, but it should be." Alan makes the comment "...focusing on doing what you do better than anyone else and trusting that that alone is enough, guarantees you one thing and one thing only: a long life laboring in oblivion." The implication is that you need to "toot your own horn." People within your organization need to know that you are good, not just your boss. My experience has been that you can increase your visibility by working on committees, task forces, etc. You can also increase your visibility by being a good speaker and making good company presentations. Alan also makes the comment that writing a blog can increase you visibility. I can attest, it does.

Kris Dunn, The HR Capitalist, makes the comment "Develop a professional identity outside the workplace, and you'll never be held hostage intellectually to the job you currently have." In his post How a Sucky Economy Makes A Professional Identity Outside of the Workplace More Important... he makes the point that having an identity outside the workplace is protection against the psychological impact of losing your job. I think it also makes you somewhat more resistant to losing your job. So how do you get a professional identity outside of your workplace? Well following Alan Collin's advice of writing a blog can help. But there are other ways too. Volunteer! There are many non-profits that need help, especially on their Boards of Directors. This allows you to demonstrate your leadership ability and your decisionmaking skills. It can be fulfilling, challenging and provide you a stretch. It can also position you to go to work for someone else if you lose your current postion.

So vow to be visible! It will make you a better current employee and a better future employee.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Carnival of HR April Edition and Other Stuff Too

In case you missed it the Fistful of Talent blog site posted the April version of the Carnival of HR. Great reading in human resources all in one place.

On April 5th Dan McCarthy will host the Leadership Carnival at his blog Great Leadership. I will have a post in there as well. Good reading on leadership.

On Thursday, April 9th I will have a blog post appear in the Atlanta Journal Constitution Online version in the HR Roundtable column. So check it out on Thursday by clicking here and looking for the recent post on vacations.

In the meantime I will be on vacation. Out of touch, no computer. R&R. Hiking, waterfalls, reading and coffee in the mountains of Western North Carolina. See you in a week or so.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

"What Should I Do With My Life Now?": A Discussion of a Po Bronson Article

Author Po Bronson (see his bio here) has an article in the current, April 2009, issue of Fast Company magazine that is the same as the title of this blog post. In this article he discusses one aspect of the the question "What do I do with my life now?" His original premise,form six years ago, was that people and companies were better off if people were doing something they really cared about. And if they did "They would work extra hard and innovate their way out of this black hole." His discussion in this article is about six major fallacies that people project onto this dilemma. These are:

Myth 1: People are the architects of their own change. "Extremely few people quit because of career ennui. (definition) Rather , most are pushed into change. They're laid off or can't make ends meet or have at-home demands or find their new , postmerger boss to be an absolute ass." Comment: My personal experience matches this. Although I voluntarily left several postions I did so not because of boredom, there was typically some other situation that was not to my liking. And of course the once I was let go in a downsizing. I would like to think that I have been the architect of my own change, but perhaps not. And most other people I know had job change happen TO them as opposed to making it happen.

Myth 2: All it takes is passion. "I call this the Modern Dream Machine Industry. Media companies have made a killing selling .... false claims that you can just dust off your fantasies and live your dream." Comment: We would all like to believe you can go and do what you love to do and the money will follow. All you have to do it do it with passion. But if you have been around for any period of time you know that is not generally true. There does have to be a market, and passion must be accompanied by planning and sacrifice

Myth 3: Your dream job has no sucky parts. "I call this the Fallacy of Intrisic Fit. There's this notion that you should love the mere act of what you do so much that just by virtue of it being Monday morning and you're at work, neurotransmitters of joy will drip on your brain all day. That is not how real people do it. All jobs have things you hate about them. But real people feel fulfilled enough by the overall purpose that the crummy parts are worth it." Comment: I know I have never had a job without some crummy parts. And I don't think I have EVER talked to someone who loved EVERY aspect of their job.

Myth 4: You'll love the job for the job. "There is an old parable about the three bricklayers..All three men have a sense of purpose (money, family, building a cathedral). Not one said, 'I just love laying bricks.' Doing something for the sheer love of it is not what real people mean when they say their work provides a sense of purpose." Comment: A common theme throughout history is 'having a purpose'. Most everyone I know has at sometime asked "Why am I here?" Having a purpose, a reason, for doing what you are doing makes doing it easier to do.

Myth 5: There is "the one." "There is no one thing each of us is meant to do on this planet. ... For each of us, there are dozens, even hundreds, of careers, any one of which could provide a sense of meaning and goodness. The biggest mistake is to be seduced by the myth that you're looking for the right answer, as if there is only one. For most people a 'calling' is not something you just know the moment you see it. It's something you grow into by having an impact on your organization and your community." Comment: I would like to think that I could, and would, do many other things in life and be as good (or bad) at them as I am at what I do currently. I do get some satisfaction out of thinking about the impact I have had on people. Ones who got jobs, ones who learned more, ones who passed tests, ones who ended up better off having gotten some guidance from me. Human resources really turns out to be a much more powerful position than people give it credit for being.

Myth 6: You don't know what you want. "Don't tell me you don't know what you want. Of course you know what you what you want: fulfillment, connection, responsibility... and some excitement. The real problem is figuring out how to get it. Which is hard. Of course it is hard. It's supposed to be hard. If it weren't hard you wouldn't learn anything along the way.... If you don't know how to make the best of a bad situation you will never get there. Comment: Excitment... I have thought that the best job in the world for me would be to be Indiana Jones, with one leg in the classroom and the other persuing 'scientific' adventure. Either that or be like Dirk Pitt from Clive Cussler's novels. Guess I will just settle for the time being of dealing with excitement of negotiating I-75 in Atlanta at 7 a.m.

Bronson ends his article with this statement: "If you are not willing to be humble and repeatedly be a beginner in new areas and learn the details faster than the next guy, you are not capable of transformation. Only by embracing these realities will you be able to answer the question "What should I do with my life now?" So to all you job seekers, to all you bored HR people, to everyone read some Bronson and reflect and decide if you can TRANSFORM.