Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Value of Twitter: Putting Some RICE in Your Social Media Diet

I attended a networking last evening. It was people from various walks of business that had one thing in common, the host of the event. We are people that she has met through various methods, but I was one exception. I was the only one that she had met through Twitter. We don't quite remember who followed who first, but upon looking at her Twitter page and her contact information I sent her a message and asked for a face-to-face over a cup of coffee. She assented and we had a very pleasant discussion. She is a successful business person and business advisor that I felt fortunate to be able to connect with.

Well as the networking began I was introduced several times as the person she had met through Twitter, so I spent some time explaining to people how that had occurred and of course fielded a number of questions on how and why I thought Twitter was valuable. Thinking back over what I told people I have developed an acronym that to me best describes the value of Twitter. RICE
  • R stands for Resources. If I need a reference, a referral to someone, a tool, a place to meet, a restaurant, etc. there are people out there that will be able to give me that resource. I have discovered a number of great blogs to read as a result and have had a number of referalls made to me as well.
  • I stands for Information. Search engines, mostly Google and Yahoo and now Bing, were where I usually went to find information on human resources topics. Today I include Twitter, and often that is the first place I go. If you ask for something you get answers from people who have already filtered the monumental amount of information that is on the Internet. So rather than having to sort through those things myself why not use what others have already filtered.
  • C stands for Contacts. I have "met" so many great professionals in HR and employment law through the "follow" function on Twitter. Many of these people I feel I come to know well enough to call them "friend", even though we have never met in person. I have contacts around the country. I have had the opportunity to meet some of them as they travel to Atlanta or as I travel to their locale. But I have also meet a number of people here in the Atlanta area from fields that I would have not generally sought out. Tweet Ups get organized and you actually have an opportunity to go meet in person at a local restaurant and do some "old-time" networking. It is a great way to get out of the usual circle of contacts that you may have developed through the years. Business and friendships can, and do, develop.
  • E stands for Energy. As you read tweets, or connect with people, there is a palpable energy that you pick up. People get excited about their topics, their lives, and the livelihoods and  that ends up making you excited too. You can draw on that energy to renew yourself during the day. You can pick up this energy and transmit yours to others.
There are certainly some downsides to Twitter, but that depends on what you try to get out of it. Some people use it only to follow a celebrity with whom they are obsessed. Some use it soley as a display of their vanity and only transmit but don't interact. Some people get so caught up in it that it becomes a black hole that sucks their time away. You do have to be careful about that. But the nice thing about Twitter is you can do as little or as much as you want to do. You only follow who you want and only allow people to follow you as you want. You control what you say and how often you say it and even to whom. Not everything has to be public and you can even be anonymous, though to me that lessons the value.

But I think it is great tool for HR professionals to use to broaden your horizens. So put a bit of RICE in your social media diet and become a Twitter user today.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Human Resources Should Be About Improving What Works

In HR we quite often get caught up in discussions about the disciplinary process. What to do with poor or marginal performers? Sometimes we even discuss firing "adequate" performers, see The HR Capitalist's discussion entitled More than Jack Welch: Should We Fire Everyone Who's Doing an "Adequate" Job? Typically in HR we advise supervisors to counsel, warn and then terminate because the employees have not abided by the rules or are not producing at the level we expect or require. We sit down and tell them what they are doing wrong and then tell them to correct it. Often they don't and so we terminate their employment. Sometimes we work on a PIP, a performance improvement plan, and detail the steps we want to see change. Most often these things do not work and termination results.

Dick Grote, consultant and author of Discipline Without Punishment, has advocated for an approach which he says will turn poor performers into superior performers. He uses a "responsibility" based system with the employee himself "owning" his improvement or lack there of, as the case may be.

Two things I have just read made me think along a different line of thought about discipline and the role of HR. Neither reading dealt with HR or discipline. Rather they dealt with either personal or organization improvement. Alan Weiss, in Thrive! talks about personal growth and development, but he makes the statement that "We all grow by exploiting strengths, not by correcting weakness..." (pg. 125). In  the February 2010 issue of Fast Company Chip Heath and Dan Heath publish an adaption of their book Switch, called Find A Bright Spot and Clone It.  They discuss successfully dealing with change by focusing not on a problem but by focusing on what works. They state that we have a tendency to focus on a problem, whether it is in our business life or our personal life. We don't look at the A's and B's on our report card, but instead focus on the D's and F's. They state that "We need to ask ourselves a question that sounds simple but is, in fact, deeply unnatural: What's working and how can we do more of it?"

I think these two approaches are a good way to think of improving employee performance. Focus on what they do well, what is working about them, and try to improve that. The Heaths do point out that "knowledge does not change behavior." And as Weiss states "...the strengths need to be identified, codified, and replicated. Unless we know why we're good, it's very hard to replicate the behavior." Thus a counseling session with a "problem" employee must go beyond pointing out the failing behavior. It must point out to the employee what they do well and focus on getting more of that behavior. And Grote's program points out that the employee must accept the personal responsibility for that improvement.

Will it work? Does it work? Probably, but like anything else it will require change and work on behalf of the organization and management and HR. Are you willing to do it? Is there a payoff? The Heaths state "If you are a manager, ask yourself, What is the ratio of the time you spend on solving problems versus scaling successes?" The answer to that may come down to the 80/20 rule. So the reversal of that may end up paying big dividends, such as improved performance, improved morale, improved retention, and lowered costs.

Just my $0.02 worth. Who is working this successfully? Anyone? Bueller...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Resistance to Change: Does It Doom Us to Failure?

I am reading a book by Jared Diamond, called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. I find it to be a stimulating read, and if you click on the link you will find it has been reviewed 444 or more times, so others have found it stimulating as well. I am not really going to get into the nature of the book, but I did want to talk about the resistance to change. Diamond shows that a society's resistance to change, its unwillingness to change, can lead to its downfall. It is not a sole determiner. The use or misuse of resources, climate change, and competitors also contribute societies disappearing. As I read this I was struck at how well this can be applied to companies and business as well.

We have seen an number of companies go out of business. They have been overwhelmed by a competitor, or they have borrowed too much money (the equivalent of cutting down all their trees), or the climate has changed (recession as ice age?) and they have not adapted. But the other big factor is resistance to change. Diamond, on page 275, makes the following comment ".... the values to which people cling most stubbornly under inappropriate conditions are those values that were previously the source of their greatest triumphs over adversity." Most of us can think of examples of companies that, as things change around them, they redouble their efforts to keep doing business the same way they have been rather than adapt to the new environment. A software company I worked for did something along those lines. Selling a mainframe based software, business started to suffer as midrange software became available. Rather than adapt the management tried to keep competitors from appearing and redoubled the effort to sell mainframe software. Unfortunately, clinging to this technology and ways only led to the demise of the company and today it is only a distant memory.

So Jared Diamond's warning to societies can also apply to companies as well. Is your business adapting? Or are you too resistant to change? Is your management team clinging to what had been successful or moving to what will be successful? How often do you hear "Well that is the way we have always done it"?

I think it is interesting that humans can, at the same time, have resiliancy as a hallmark and also resistance to change as a hallmark. Reading Diamond's discussions of societies long past shows that we are not so different than our ancestors. We do many of the same things, we just may do them faster and on a larger scale. What is the old saying "Those whom ignore history are bound to repeat it?"

So I recommend Collapse as a stimulating read for HR professionals for the business lessons and societal lessons that can be learned. You want to be proactive and knowledgeable then grab yourself a copy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The HR Carnival: Dead of Winter Edition

Lisa Rosendahl, who writes Simply Lisa, lives where it is very cold. As a result snow, ice and winter sports are at the forefront in her thoughts. Using the theme of winter sports she has put together a very good Carnival of HR using hand warmers, luges, snowshoes and more to display a very large and well done collection of blog posts. Leadership, terminations, HR budgets, social media, career transitions, jobs and more can be found in this Mid-winter edition. So check it out by visiting Simply Lisa's Carnival of HR.

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Victims" Make Good Union Targets

I am currently reading a book by my favorite consulting guru Alan Weiss of Summit Consulting. The book is called Thrive!. It deals with taking control of your life and thriving as a result. I will write more on this later when I do a book review. But one of the things he said in one chapter dealt with the victimhood. Some people embrace being a victim. In HR we all have known someone like this. "Stuff" always happens to them. They are never at fault. Someone was out to get them; the boss did not understand them; someone stabbed them in the back, etc. There is always a "THEM."

This got me to thinking that unions thrive on the culture of victimhood. For a union to gain a toehold in a business they need to find, or need to create, a victim inside the workplace. And of course the "them" is always management. As a "victim" worker, management could always be paying you more, or offering you better benefits, or more security. And unions are more than willing to point out your "victim" status. Unfortunately today there is plenty of fodder for the union propaganda machines. Companies have been laying off, cutting wages, and regrettably taking advantage of some of their workers.

So how do you keep your company from feeding the propaganda machine? Here are some suggestions:
  • Communication- the more employees know about the company situation the less the rumor mill works
  • Fairness- I am all for people making as much money as they can, but if you are furloughing your teachers you don't give your superindendent a $20,000 increase. You don't give your CEO a $1 million bonus when your are closing three plants. You get my point.
  • More communication- listen to your workers. Enlist their input on what can be done.
  • More Fairness- spread the pain to minimize the pain. There may not be any raises this year if we can avoid laying anyone off.
  • Don't do stupid things- Don't fire someone for a bogus reason. Be honest.
  • Don't let stupid things be done to you- Don't let employees take advantage of a situation. It undermines everyone else's morale.
I am sure there are many more, so suggest some. It just dawned on me that this list could apply to employee retention too. Makes sense, not all "victims" are willing to stick around.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Great Sex Divide in Unemployment and Retraining

The current unemployment situation, 10% or more of the population being unemployed, has made apparent a divide between genders. The Department of Labor for Georgia reports that 58% of the people collecting unemployment are men. Part of the reason for this is that much of the job loss has occurred in manufacturing and construction where typically you will have a higher proportion of men. These are jobs which have become obsolete, so we may never see employment numbers again to reemploy all these men. People who have been in these positions need to be trained.

And that is where the great sex divide becomes apparent. According to Michael Thurmond, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Labor, men only make up 37% of the people in the labor department's training programs, only 37% of the students in the technical college programs and only 43% of the student populations at the two year and four year college and universities in the state. I think I would be safe in extrapolating those number to the nation as a whole.

So why do we have this great divide in the sexes? Here is my take:
  • Men view themselves as being more self-reliant. "Cowboy" mentality. We don't need to ask for directions, we don't need to read directions, and we don't need to go to the doctor. Therefore, why should I need any help in finding a job.
  • Women generally have a greater "support" group system in their lifes and as a result are more accepting of receiving help and are more likely to seek it out.
  • Men tend to be more stubborn, or "pig-headed" if you will. I think men are more subject to the "inertia" of doing nothing. Hard to get back to doing something once you have been doing nothing.
I don't have numbers on this, but I believe age is a big factor in this divide as well. I think "older" men may have a harder time. Older men have had more of their identities wrapped up in their work and have a harder time letting go of that. Working women have been multi-taskers probably the majority of their careers. Their ego is less tied up in what the career field is and thus accept training more easily.

Well I could play amateur psychologist for awhile, but I would rather ask you. Why is there such a divide between the sexes in unemployment and retraining?

Note: Inspiration for this post came from Henry Ungar's blog in the AJC entitled Wanted: Ideas to create more jobs in Georgia

Thursday, January 14, 2010

When It Comes to Leadership Companies Are In a World of Hurt

Talent Management Magazine reported the results of a leadership survey that presented eye-popping numbers on the lack of leadership many companies are facing in their future. The article, Many Companies Do Not Have Enough Future Leaders Onboard, reported the results of a survey done by OI Partners. They survey 212 large and midsized companies and found:
  • 54% of companies in the survey said they do not have enough qualified successors now working for them to succeed their executives and managers.
  • Only 32% of companies report currently having enough management successors in place.
  • 14% of companies are not sure whether they have enough future leaders already in their organizations.
My experience in working with small companies is that their leadership situation is even more dire.

The rest of the survey went on to describe what an opportunity this presents to employees or prospective employees. And indeed this is true. But from a company standpoint this is very worrisome or should be.

Where does your company fit into this survey? Do you have enough leadership talent? You had better look around. If it the talent is not there it will not automatically appear. Yes, some very ambitious employees may take it upon themselves to read and study and get personal experience to make themselves better leaders, but you cannot count on that.

Unfortunately many companies have the approach that once we give someone a title they are automatically imbued with all the supervisor, managerial and leadership skills we would want. "DING, you are now imbued with great leadership skill, go forth and lead." Well, it does not work that way. So how can you give people the leadership experience? Here are some of my suggestions:
  1. Mentoring. But this only works if you are a good leader and teacher.
  2. Structured classes and structured reading. If you do this test the knowledge and try to have it applied quickly.
  3. Project work. Rotate various employees through project leading opportunities.
  4. Allow mistakes. Errors produce learning, but only if the opportunity to correct is allowed. Immediate punishment leads to learning the wrong thing.
  5. Get your employees involved in postions on nonprofit boards. It is amazing how much you learn, both good and bad, while serving on a board of directors.
  6. Have your employees read leadership blogs, such as Great Leadership by Dan McCarthy and Three Star Leadership by Wally Bock.
What am I missing? How do you develop leaders?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Unions and Republicans: Both Unhappy With Healthcare Bill

There is an old saying that politics makes for strange bedfellows. (Click for an explanation of the idiom.) And it looks like 2010 is going to make for some weirdness in Washington (even more than usual.) Everyone knows that Republicans are unhappy with both versions of the Healthcare bill being promoted by the Obama administration. One of the versions proposes to pay for healthcare by taxing what the President calls "cadillac plans." This was meant to appeal to the "masses" because it implied taxing the rich. Well it turns out that many labor union members have "cadillac" healthcare plans and they are really upset with the current state of the healthcare bill.

They are so upset that they went to see the President Monday night to not only express their dismay but to threaten that many Democrats may lose their jobs in the next election if changes are not made. (Anyone surprised that union leaders resort to threats?) In an AP article, Labor angry over Obama-backed insurance tax, reporter Erica Werner says "The president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, warned that Democrats risk catastrophic election defeats similar to 1994 if they fail to come up with a health bill labor likes." She goes on further to report "The head of the International Association of Firefighters, Harold A. Schaitberger, made similarly threatening remarks in a statement Monday. 'The president's support for the excise tax is a huge disappointment and cannot be ignored. If President Obama continues to support it and signs a bill that includes the excise tax on workers, we will hold him accountable,' said Schaitberger, who was not among the attendees at the White House meeting."

So here we have a strange beginning to 2010 and the renewed debate on healthcare, labor unions and Republicans working together to get it changed. Who would have guessed it is the union workers who have the "rich" benefit plans that the Democrats railed against. OOPS!

This one will be interesting to watch.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Robots Running HR: Weird News Prompts Weird Thought

Found on the Associated Press news feed today... they following quote... "A New Jersey company says it has developed 'the world's first sex robot,' a life-size rubber doll that's designed to engage the owner with conversation rather than lifelike movement. At a demonstration at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas on Saturday, the dark-haired, negligee-clad robot said 'I love holding hands with you' when it sensed that its creator touched its hand."

Yep, you read right. A speaking love doll that you can have a human connection with because it talks back to you. Well having the slightly bent mind that I do, this got me thinking that this device would be good for HR as well. NOOOO... NOT the the love doll part.... the ROBOT that talks to you is what I was talking about. You could conceivably program the robot with all the applicable employment related laws and all of your company's policies. Using either a keyboard, or voice recognition, you could sit down in front of RobotHR and ask your question. The robot could compare databases and give you the answers you were looking for and then possible steps to follow to deal with the issue. You could program it to be "tough as nails" or a softer HR approach of finding a way to say "yes", as Kris Dunn called for in The HR Capitialist post entitled The Secret to HR That Matters... (BTW, I like Kris' approach.)

Many managers may not even recognize that RobotHR has replaced the incumbent, or, if they do, they may like them better. Well, the technology is probably not really there yet, so we really don't have to worry for the moment. But if you are currently offering no more value to your management than what a robot would offer then you need to be concerned. The robot will work without a salary.
As a closing note, I don't think the Love Robot is going to be a big hit. Many men don't want to talk and cuddle with a real woman let alone a Robot one.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Carnival of HR: The New Year Edition

Melissa Prusher at the Devon Group is the host of the first edition of The Carnival of HR for 2010. Happy New Year! This one is filled with several posts about predictions and top 10s. There is also several posts about learning, such as Trish McFarlane, at HR Ringleader’s Blog, sharing some favorite quotes in What Dr. Seuss Taught Me about Succeeding in Business and how many of his quotes can be applied to the business world. My good friend Cathy Missildine-Martin, at Profitability Through Human Capital, presents A New Year’s Resolution for HR Volume 2, a collection of thoughtful resolutions aimed at reducing costs, improving performance and increasing profitability. There is a thought-provoking piece on why people should NOT be promoted on merit and much, much more.

So set aside sometime and start the new year off right by reading this great collection of blog posts. In fact, make that a resolution! Resolve to read every Carninval of HR through the coming year. Talk about self-improvement!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Consumer Trends and HR

In HR we frequently talk about the "customer" of HR. I have written about this before. In my opinion the ultimate customer of HR is the actual consumer of your company's product or service. As a result as an HR professional you should be aware of consumer trends and understand how your customers wants and desires may change how your employees deal with them. It is also true that the company's employees are also HR's customers. They are often driven by same wants and desires and for that reason you should also be aware of consumer trends.

To that end I recommend that your pay attention to "trend watchers" such as or Faith Popcorn. just published a report called "10 Crucial Consumer Trends for 2010" that I think is "must" reading. Here are the top ten trends:
  1. Business as Unusual
  2. Urbany
  3. Real-time reviews
  4. (F)luxury
  5. Mass Mingling
  6. Eco-Easy
  7. Tracking and Alerting
  8. Embedded Generosity
  9. Profile Myning
  10. Maturalism
All of them are pretty interesting. But you will have to click the link to read more. All of them can be applied in some way shape or form to the workplace. But one that got me thinking as I was listening to the weather report. That is Tracking and Alerting.

Tracking and Alerting is the movement to consumers seeking information. It started as simply package tracking, something we all did at Christmas time. Now, as says "TRACKING and ALERTING is something that consumers actually need and want, that delights them, that they crave. They are quite literally asking for relevant information, even giving you permission to provide them with more." 

How does this apply to employees and the weather you ask? Here in Atlanta this week the weather forecasters are mentioning the "S" word. SNOW! A word that translates to grocery stores being emptied of bread and milk and employees anxiously awaiting to see if they get a day off of work. Well traditionally we tell employees to call in, or be called or listen to the radio or TV to find out if work has been closed. But what if you had a company Facebook page or a Twitter presence that all employees could follow? You could make that announcement of "No Work" via Twitter or Facebook and simplify the process for everyone. Or you could do like many universities do with safety alerts and broadcast a message via text message.

I wonder how many of you already do something similar? Anyone? If so please share how you do it and whether or not it works.

After reading the consumer trends listed above, how can you apply this knowledge to your "consumers"? I will be exploring these trends in terms of employment over the next week or so and I would like your input.

Monday, January 04, 2010

New Year, Bad Way to Start: A Management Mistake

Over the holidays I was going to be a good blogger and do what many others were doing and come up with my TOP 10 list (or TOP 5) or make predictions of what to watch out for in 2010. But I spent most of that time sick in bed with cold/flu/food poisoning (pick on of the above.) So I was not really motivated to write on anything, needless to say. (Hmmmm if it was needless to say, why did I say it?) I am still a bit fuzzy brained and I may yet write on some of those topics, but I did want to relate a story that shows a management team starting off on the wrong foot and setting a bad example and a bad precedent.

Fortunately this is not a business example. It is a local county government. I will not name the county, it is really irrelevant to the story. Some of you may recognize this story. In this story we have a police chief with whom the Board of County Commissioners is unhappy. They accuse him of insubordination, mishandling sexual harassment investigations, poor monetary management, poor evidence storage, missing firearms, mismanagement of police chases and just poor management in general. They hold a public hearing (open government I suppose), make public the charges and do not allow him to make any statement defending himself. (He makes his statement anyway, to the press.) Then they announce their job action.

Now any business oriented human resources reader might come to the conclusion that their job action was termination. Most businesses I know probably would have made this decision. However, in this case they demote him and put him in charge of (get this) THE TRAINING ACADEMY! Yes, the Training Academy where all new officers are prepared for their jobs. Unbelievable! Whether or not the accusations are true or not is irrelevant. If they truly believed he was guilty of even half of the accusations why would they put him in charge of the training of incoming officers. What does this say to those officers? What does it say about their view of ethics? What does it say about their view of management? I was flabbergasted! (Click on the word for definition.)      

I would hope that business would not make this type of mistake, but I have a sneaking suspiscion I would be disappointed. I have seen some poor decisionmaking when it comes to employees who are protected by policy, or relationships, or have a stronger will than the management or HR representative. How about you? Have you ever seen anything as outrageous as this? Tell us your story.

And Happy New Year and best wishes for a profitable, successful 2010 to all my readers.