Friday, April 30, 2010

Seven Steps to Being Proactive: Lessons from Great Explorers

HR folks often complain about how they have to spend all their time being "reactive" and have little opportunity to be "proactive." Ever heard that? Ever said that? Yeah, right me neither (said with tongue-in-cheek.) SHRM has addressed that in the SPHR educational section of the learning system. They talk about the importance of being forward thinking and aware by being an "environmental scanner".

I  have always had a big interest in both the past and future. I read alot of history and biographies and I also read alot about the future. I was a big fan of John Naisbitt's  Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives, Megatrends 2000 and Peter Capezio's Powerful Planning Skills: Envisioning the Future and Making it Happen. I am currently reading a book called Futuring: The Exploration of the Future by Edward Cornish. In his first chapter I was able to find a lesson that I thought was very applicable to strategic HR. He talked about the seven lessons we can learn from the great explorers of the past. These lessons include:
  1. Prepare for what you will face in the future. There was never a successful explorer who did not sit down and make a list of what needed to be taken and prepared. Any explorer who did not do this preparation was not famous. They were dead. You cannot have a "we will cross that bridge when we get to it" attitude in HR.
  2. Anticipate future needs. This is implied by lesson 1. You cannot predict the future, but you can anticipate it. You can review scenarios and determine what is likely to occur. So if you are going to drastically change a process, or benefit program, or staffing think about what all the possible reactions may be and prepare for them.
  3. Use poor information when necessary. There may not be a good or perfect "road map" for where you are headed to, but someone has probably tried it already. They may have failed, but at least you have some information on which to base your decisions. Perhaps under a different set of circumstances you had tried to do something in the past and failed. You will not want to recreate that but at least there is the beginning of a "map" you can work with.
  4. Expect the Unexpected. Realize that "the best laid plans of men oft go awry". Have a contingency for dealing with something occurring that you had not planned for. What do you do if the company outing you had been planning for six months is to occur the same day a tornado occurs?
  5. Think long term as well as short term. Often projects, programs, and changes may get delayed, tabled or even cancelled in the short term. What can you do to foster your long term plans until a more favorable set of circumstances occurs?
  6. Dream productively. This is your vision. But is not just fantasizing. Great explorers are doers. As Cornish says "For the great explorers, dreaming was not idle reverie but research- a mental exploration of what lay ahead. By fantasizing about future events, they could explore alternative goals and strategies and thus develop and select worthwhile and achievable goals, as well as imaginative but realistic strategies for reaching the goals they selected."
  7. Learn from your predecessors. Read what you can that has been published by others who have attempted what you want to attempt. It is doubtful that you will be the first that has ever attempted what you want to do. (Most of us are not that brave.) But even if you are there may still be someone who may have done something similar that your can learn from. Remember the saying "those who ignore history are bound to repeat it."
There you go. Seven Steps to being proactive. Lessons we have learned from the great explorers. Follow their lead and you may lead your company to great things.

Be sure to document along the way so others may follow your foot steps as some point.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

HR Carnival: End of April Edition

The folks at Talent Junction hosted the latest version of the HR Carnival. There is some great reading in this one! Here are some samples:
  • For The Survival of HR: Drucker Lesson of the Day.
  • How To Fix The HR Profession
  • 6 Reasons Why Talent Management is a Strategic Imperative
  • Six Signs You Have An HR Pirate
  • Can Common Sense be Learned?
  • Be fluid in your thinking, but concrete in your communication
  • Getting the Performance Appraisal Right
  • 5 ways to Exit When Your Boss is Abusive
  • How To Fix The HR Profession
  • 5 benefits of taking a vacation
And much more. So buy your TICKET TO THE CARNIVAL HERE and head to the midway of great reading.

And stay tuned. The next HR Carnival on May 12th will be hosted right here at HR Observations!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book Review: Thrive! by Alan Weiss

I have made it clear in past posts that I am a big fan of Alan Weiss of the Summit Consulting Group. He is the consultant's guru, thought leader and my role model. He can be found on Twitter @BentleyGTCSpeed if you wish to follow him. He has written a superb series of books for consultants. I recommend them. Most recently however, he has written a book that has applicability to many people. I think it has particular application to those in the HR profession. Thrive! Stop wishing your life away is a guide book for success in life that will have a major impact on how well you do in your profession. This book is about achieving success through smart work and smart use of time, money and your brains. It is NOT a book about wishing for success. It is a guidebook for gaining confidence, gaining competence and gaining success. It is straight forward in its advice, and as is his approach Weiss' is direct and pointed in his comments. As an example he says "You can't live your life by daintily stepping around the eggshells of others' inadequacies."

Weiss in his writing is very quotable. Some of my favorites include:
  • Wallflowers are not chosen as centerpieces.
  • We are not here to stick our toes on the water. We are here to make waves. The water doesn't matter. You should.
  • Speed is "not of the essence" it IS the essence.
  • Life is about quid pro quo. Mastering your life entails helping others master theirs.
  • We should never put ourselves in a position of sacrificing our own needs to satisfy those of another. Even in a marriage.
  • We all grow by exploiting strengths not correcting weaknesses.
Chapter 9 discusses the Five Traits of The Masters of Their Own Fates. An excellent chapter. These traits include:
  • Trait 1- Resiliance. This means you do not the support or input of others to sustain yourself. Ture resiliance does not require the validation of others. It is a behavior, not a competency.
  • Trait 2- Eternal learning. NEVER "dumb down" your abilities, competencies or brilliance.
  • Trait 3- Self-esteem. (more about this in a minute.)
  • Trait 4- Perseverance. You win some, you loss some, some get rained out. But you have to "suit up" for all of them.
  • Trait 5- Love. Masters of their own fates feel free to love, and do so repeatedly and continually.
His Self-Esteem builders are excellent. They are:
  • Acquire and hone skills.
  • Apply positive "self-talk." (My comment: this is as close as he comes to "self-help")
  • Walk with the Lions. Enter tough debats, take on the "experts", question what you find to be suspicious.
  • Build on Strengths. Identify your strengths and exploit them. You don't grow on improving weaknesses.
  • Articulate your values. Be cognizant of what you stand for and be able to explain it to others.
Before I go on to repeat the other book I will stop here. All I can say is I got jazzed by reading this book. I took notes and I reread the notes on a fairly consistent basis. I suggest you do the same thing. You can get the book here. It will be worth you time and money.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The HREvolution: An Interview with Trisha McFarlane- Part II

Yesterday I published most of my interview with Trish McFarlane, who writes the blog HR Ringleader. We talked about HREvolution, a two day "unconference" being held in Chicago. Here is the remainder of that interview. I will close it with my own comments.

MH: Are there any official Tweeters and bloggers that people should pay attention to?

TM: As far as official Tweeters, Benjamin McCall created a great list of participants on Twitter (  People can also just search #HRevolution on Twitter and follow the stream live. I will give special shouts out to Eric Winegardner (@ewmonster) and Laurie Ruettimann (@LRuettimann or @punkrockhr) because they tend to tell it like it is at events and I’m sure if you want the “real” scoop, that is where you’ll find it.

As for bloggers, we have some of the best in the HR and recruiting community in attendance. Keep your eyes peeled for a special edition of Shauna Moerke’s “HR Carnival” that will capture most of the posts that come out after the event.

MH: Is there anything else you would like readers to know about HRE?
TM: I just want to thank everyone for their support. From a simple tweet I posted last June to a 50 person HRevolution1 last November, to an event almost three times that size this May, the interest has been amazing. And, what I love is that it is the participants that pull together to make it happen. So, thank you to all the early adopters, than you to all who are coming that are new, and we look forward to next year when even more of our peers will be there.

MH: Thanks Trisha for the great information and we look forward to the results of the "unconference being posted in blogs galore and the HR Carnival.
My comments:
I am very encouraged about the future of the profession as a result of things like HREvolution. This combined HR Revolution and Evolution is a  "from the ground-up" movement. It says to me that tomorrow's leaders are tired of the status quo and the trite answers that much of my generation of HR folks have lived with. These are people educated in HR from the get-go and they are going to drag the profession into the 21st Century. I LOVE IT!
If this excites you as much as it does me then stay tuned. Although I cannot make it to this one (the next one I promise) I will be pointing out to all my readers where they can go to get more info on the proceedings.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The HREvolution: An Interview with Trisha McFarlane- Part I

On May 7th and 8th a group of Human Resources and Recruiting "thought leaders" will meet in Chicago to discuss the future of the profession of Human Resources. This will not be an academic conference with names like Ulrich in attendance. This meeting is billed at an "Un-conference" and includes names like McFarlane, Eubanks and Ruettimann. The second meeting of HREvolution will be made up mostly of HR bloggers, tweeters and practioners who are interested in discussing how HR can fundamentally progress from the current state of the field.

I had the opportunity to interview "Thought Meister" Trish McFarlane who was the creator of the idea of HREvolution and I asked her some questions about the why and wherefor of HREvolution. This is Part I and Part II will appear tomorrow.

MH: You are the creator of HRevolution, so when people ask you what is HRevolution, what do you tell them?

TM: You know, we have this great description online that sounds all “official”. Here’s what HRevolution means to me personally. HRevolution is for ME, it’s for YOU. It’s an event that brings together not just like-minded HR and recruiting professionals, it also brings us closer to those people who do not think like us. It’s true purpose is networking and collaborating with some of the thought leaders in our industry. And the real beauty of it for me is that no one is excluded. Everyone pays their own way from the planning committee to speakers to participants. We’re all the same. That is how I know that people really come for the right reason. It’s not about collecting swag from a booth. It’s about making connections and friendships with people you respect. And, the participants are the most generous you’ll find. We have so many people paying for others who are out of work just so they can come and network too. It’s about being part of the HR/ Recruiting family.

MH: What was the genesis of HRevolution?
TM: The idea came out of the frustration of working (at the time) for a company that would not pay for conferences. Most conferences cost thousands of dollars to get in, then you have hotel, food, and travel costs on top of that. I wanted to attend one so badly, but didn’t have the money. So, I tweeted out:

“Think we should plan a #HR blogger conference. 1 day. Blog specific learning/sharing. @beneubanks @theredrecruiter @stelzner @lruettimann”

From there, Ben Eubanks came up with the name of HRevolution and we were on our way. We quickly added Steve Boese, Mike Owcarz, and Crystal Peterson to the planning committee. Mike eventually had to step out when he and his wife welcomed a new baby, but he was there in spirit. It was great to see what strangers could come together to create based solely on the trusting relationships we developed on Twitter and through blogging.

MH: What is the nature of the discussions at HRE? Does it look like a SHRM conference?
TM: That’s a great question. Many of us, including me, are SHRM members, but it is not like a SHRM conference. You’ll find the venues we choose are meant to be really comfortable, almost like you’re coming over to a friend’s house for a dinner party. BUT, the discussions are the key. You will find some serious discussions on every possible topic that affects HR and recruiting. Some sessions become quite heated, there may be debating, there may be a lot of agreement. We just never know. What I can promise is that you will not sit through even one PowerPoint presentation. You WILL be part of the conversation on the topics you choose. I left the last HRevolution feeling like I learned more in one day than I had in years.

MH: Who did you try to get attend HRE?
TM: Well, we may be a grassroots effort with no marketing budget, BUT we exploit social media to do our initial outreach. We use blogs, Twitter, FaceBook, and LinkedIn to spread the word initially. Then, our past participants jumped in and started to tell their networks. This time we also strongly encouraged the people in the online HR and recruiting community to reach out to friends and colleagues in the industry who are not using social media. At this HRevolution, you will begin to see more of a mix in our participant base. Ideally, that will continue.

MH: I believe HRE is filled up, for those of that didn't attend will any material be available from HRE?
TM: For those who cannot attend this time, we are going to be as creative as we can. We have plans to film portions of various sessions and eventually share those on the HRevolution site ( Also, you will see many blog posts coming out after the event. We may even have a white paper or case study develop from the event. It really depends on what direction the participants take it. It’s very exciting.

Tomorrow: Part II

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Performance Evaluations: "The GREAT EVIL"?

Periodically performance evaluations/appraisals/reviews get demonized. We have another round of that demonization going on currently. A new book "Get Rid of the Performance Review! How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing -- and Focus on What Really Matters." by Samual A. Culbert and Lawerence Rout is receiving media attention. Culbert wrote an article, Yes, Everyone Really Does Hate Performance Reviews, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal and has been talked about in's article Want to improve performance? Cancel reviews. Culbert's premise is "This corporate sham is one of the most insidious, most damaging, and yet most ubiquitous of corporate activities. Everybody does it, and almost everyone who's evaluated hates it. It's a pretentious, bogus practice that produces absolutely nothing that any thinking executive should call a corporate plus." He goes on further to state that it is all about whether the boss likes you or not and that performance reviews damage people psychologically and ruin productivity for the organization.

He also states that "Proponents of performance reviews say that the problem isn't the review itself, but poorly trained reviewers. Sorry, but that doesn't fly: The performance review done exactly as intentioned is just as horribly flawed as the review done "poorly." You can't bake a great cake with rotten milk, no matter how skilled the chef. They also say you need performance reviews to protect against lawsuits by laid-off workers. Nonsense: Most performance reviews hurt a company's case because they aren't honest assessments of a worker's performance."

His solution? Review performance everyday by having conversations.

That is all well and good. I agree with Culbert on a couple of areas. "Reviews" should be done all the time. The world changes too fast not to be doing "course corrections" to avoid surprises. And I think "conversations" are important. And the tools could be improved substantially in many cases.

But I disagree with Culbert on several areas as well. I disagree that the problem is just the tool. You will indeed have problems if you use some crappy check box format that is bought "off the shelf." But you can, through interaction with your employees, design a meaningful review tool that measures performance, updates the job description and provides improvement plans as needed. The problem is that most companies are too lazy to spend the time to do so.

Secondly, I disagree that training is not an issue. It is a major issue. American companies do a notoriously bad job of training supervisors and managers in ANYTHING. Culbert calls for "conversations" around work performance. Asking questions and listening to answers. Well hate to wake you up Mr. Culbert that requires training too. In case you haven't notice most people are not good listeners and don't know how to ask the proper questions. So "conversation" is not the simple solution.

Thirdly, paperwork is necessary in this world. The governments require that you document your decisions. If you do not YOU LOSE! Poor documents can get you in trouble too, no doubt. But NO DOCUMENTS are even worse.

Culbert's arguments almost sound like "sour grapes" from someone who has never gotten a good review. But I think there is a dash of senationalism tossed in there in order to sell a book. Hmmm.. I wonder, will Culbert be paying attention to the book reviews? Or will he ignore them as poor mechanisms produced by untrained reviewers who are only judging his personality?

Now I could be all wet on this, so I have posted a poll in the left column. Vote on your view of performance reviews/appraisals/evaluations and I will publish the results in a week.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Transactionist to Strategist: Horatio Alger at Work?

Have you ever heard the term "Horatio Alger story"? Ever actually read one? Most likely the answer is no, if not to both questions certainly the last one. I knew that "Horatio Alger story" was a synonym for "rags to riches." I was never even certain if they were about someone by that name or if Alger was the author. So I had the opportunity to read one the other day and got curious enough to do a bit of research. Horatio Alger, Jr. was indeed the author of a great number of stories about boys in late 19th century New York City who go from rags to respectability (however generally not riches as is usually stated.) They do this through a stroke of good luck that they then take advantage of through hard work and good moral character. There is even the Horatio Alger Association which honors individuals who "...are dedicated community leaders who demonstrate individual initiative and a commitment to excellence; as exemplified by remarkable achievements accomplished through honesty, hard work, self-reliance and perseverance over adversity. All potential Members must have a strong commitment to assisting those less fortunate than themselves and be willing to contribute to the mission of providing scholarships for younger generations."

As I finished reading one of the Ragged Dick stories, I started thinking, in a convuluted way, about HR and the transition from being a "lowly transactionist" to the much more "respected" level of "strategist" as a potential potential "rags to riches" story. Certainly no one wants to remain the "boot black" of HR, functioning as a "transactionist." Everyone wants to earn their "seat at the table" ( I see many of you cringing at that) and gain respectability in the organization. And many of you have done just that. You started initially in positions where you "toted that bail", delivered that package, filed that paperwork, did the screening interview, etc. Some of you may have had a mentor, "the wealthy benefactor" of the stories, that helped you along, gave you guidance and helped you better yourself in your position. And thus you found yourself in a position to affect change in your organization by providing advice, direction and wisdom based upon your knowledge of the business and the world. You became a Horatio Alger character.

So tell us your Horatio Alger story. Where did you start? Was there a "good turn of fortune" that helped you make it to the next level? Did you have a "wealthy benefactor"? What hard work did you do to achieve what you have today?

Or if you think I am "all wet" in my statement that no one wants to remain a "transactionist" tell me why. Do you take pride in the fact that you can "put a better shine" on transactions than others?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Carnival of HR: Mid-April Edition

Well some how I missed it.. But upon finding it I wanted to point it out to you. The "Not So Corporate HR Carnival" was published at the ImSoCorporate blog site. The topics of the 30 blogs posted cover the gamut from social media to workplace humor and songs about work. In between are posts on 360 reviews, leadership, myths of productivity, technology, compensation and labor.

It is this last post, by Mike Vandervort, that I want you to pay attention to. I was going to do a post on this as well but Mike says it so well I would just be redundant. BUT THIS POST HAS SIGNIFICANT INFORMATION IN IT. SO READ IT! Here is the special link to Life Under the New National Labor Relations Board. This new "life" will not be fun, it will not be easy and it may be expensive if you do not heed the warnings contained here in.

Monday, April 19, 2010

An Essential Tool of HR: COFFEE

HR folks are some of the hardest working (and underappreciated) people I know. Long hours, difficult decisions, difficult people, tons of paperwork (assuming you are a "transactionist") and a lot of reading (if you are studying for the PHR/SPHR/GPHR or are just being an "environmental scanner" or blog reader.) I know I start my day with a two cup commute at 6:30 in the a.m. and then usually supplement with a mid-morning jaunt out of the office to the Starbucks down the street. Sometimes when work or teaching requires a long into the evening night there will be a 5 p.m. stop as well.

I will admit, I am a caffine fiend, but I am at least not the 20 cups a day drinker I used to be. I will also admit that I am mostly a Starbucks drinker. My son, who worked for Starbucks for several years, even got me to grind my own beans. But I know this will bring scorn and derision down on me by many of you, but I like the coffee and the multiple locations that make it easy to get a cup of the Bold of the Day. And when you need an essential TOOL you need to be able to find it. I have even used some observations made in Starbucks as fodder for a blog post or two. And of course Starbucks as been written about several times for its management lessons. Here is Howard Schultz's book Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time if you are interested.

I have run across a blog written here in Atlanta that deals with coffee and things around it. Robb Sutton's Coffee Obsessed does a great job of reviewing coffees, coffee related products and coffee shops where he finds them. I appreciate the latter, in particular, because I am always happy to try out a new coffee shop. I even have occassional thoughts about opening up a shop. It was in reading Coffee Obsessed that I came across a post highlighting a coffee company called Rocket Fuel Coffee. Now that is a name to attract a caffeine fiend! I think I will check them out. I am heading to Greece in late May and I am looking forward to having coffee in the shops of Athens. Any recommendations?

So what is your coffee drink of choice that you find to be an essential tool? If not coffee do you get your caffeine a different way?

BTW, I do realize that beer and wine are also essential tools of HR, but not during working hours, unless  you work for a brewery or vineyard.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Humor in HR: "You Might Be An HR Manager If..."

"A man went to apply for a job. After filling out all of his applications, he waited anxiously for the outcome. Them employer read all his applications and said "We have an opening for people like you." "Oh, great," he said, "What is it?" "Its called the door!"

There are some days in HR were the only thing you can do to make the day tolerable is to laugh. I have had some funny situations occur to me that I use as stories in my speeches, my classes or in just having a beer with a friend. Some were not so funny at the time, but got funnier as time passed. A favorite involved a morbid story about a missing finger, the dark and a big brutish foreman who was afraid of looking for the finger in the dark. Another involves falling asleep in the middle of an interview... yep.. I fell asleep.

In one company were I worked  HR was often "joke central." So not only did we have funny real stories we had jokes as well. Being able to tell a good joke was an asset in my job, especially in a mostly male manafacturing plant. I have found humor is often a great "ice breaker."

So tell us your favorite joke or favorite funny story! We can even do a "You might be an HR Manager if..." So get those creative juices going....

(Picture credit: I got this off of Yahoo, but could not find it again to give proper attribution. My apologies to the artist.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The IRS and HR: Who is an Employee?

Here is a little humor to start off TAX DAY.
A man is on his death bed and his best friend is there beside him. The man says to his friend "Fred, I want you to do me a favor. After I am dead and cremated I want you to put my ashes in an envelope and send them to the IRS. And on the outside of the envelope I want you to write a message." Fred asks "What is the message?" The man answers "I want you to write NOW YOU HAVE EVERYTHING."

On this TAX DAY I thought it appropriate to talk about the fact that the IRS exerts a great deal of control over a company or organization that Human Resources must pay attention to, not the least of which is defining who is an employee. The IRS looks at four catagories of people who deliver services to an employer. These include common-law employees, statutory employees, statutory non-employees and, of course, independent contractors. Here is a quick break down:
  • Common- Law employee: Under common-law rules, anyone who performs services
    for you is your employee if you have the right to control what will be done and how it will be done. Pretty simple.
  • Statutory employees: If workers are independent contractors under the common  law rules, such workers may nevertheless be treated as employees by statute, “statutory employees,” for certain
    employment tax purposes. These workers include some drivers, full-time life insurance agents, some home workers, and traveling sales agents who may sell goods for you and others.
  • Statutory non-employees: These include direct sellers, licensed real estate agents, and some companion sitters.
  • Independent contractors: These are people over which the employer does not exercise behavioral control or financial control and with whom they have a well-defined relationship.
Who is an independent contractor and who is not is frequently an area of confusion for many employers. While the IRS used to have a 20-factor test, today the more frequently look at the amount of control you have over the person's behavior versus the outcome of their work. They look at how you pay the individual and whether they can work for anyone else at the same time. And they look at whether there is a written contract.
The quick and dirty rule is: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck the IRS is going to consider it a duck. And if you have improperly classified your "duck" as a "non-duck" then you are going to owe back taxes and probably penalties for that "duck" and all like "ducks."
Here is the IRS's Publication 15-A Employer's Supplemental Tax Guide that offers a pretty understandable definition of each of the catagories listed above, especially that of independent contractor. I would suggest you click on this link, download the document and read it. If you need further help here is a book that might be able to provide some further guidance. Surprisingly Simple: Independent Contractor, Sole Proprietor, and LLC Taxes Explained in 100 Pages or Less.

Given the aggressive agenda of enforcement that both the USDOL and the IRS have laid out for employers for the next couple of years it is important for HR professionals to understand the wage & hour issues and tax issues that inadverent misclassifications may cause.

You have been warned!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Four Activities for The Survival of HR: Drucker Lesson of the Day

Management Challenges for the 21st CenturyPeter Drucker in his book Management Challenges for the 21st Century talks about "universal entreprenurial disciplines" that he considers to be conditions that are necessary for any organization to survive today. I think these four disciplines are critical for HR's survival and will help HR contribute strategically to their organization. These four steps are:

Step 1- "...Organized abandoment of products, services, processes, markets, distribution channels, and so on that are no longer optimal allocations of resources." In any HR department there are processes that need to be abandoned. Have you ever asked yourself "why?" Why do you continue to file that paper, produce that report, take that step when it could be tossed out. Ever thought about eliminating it and seeing if anyone even noticed?

Step 2- "...must organize for systematic and continuing improvement." The hallmark of any great HR person is their desire to continually improve. Individually, this means constantly studying, reading, and learning in your field and in your business. Are you taking classes? Are you reading blogs? Are you going to conferences and visiting the vendors? You should be, this is how you improve. And if you improve then your department stands a good chance of improving as well.

Step 3- "...organize for systematic and continuous exploitation, especially of its successes." Building on success. This requires measurement and feedback in order to readjust. This feedback cycle needs to be built into every process HR is involved with.

Step 4- "And finally, it has to organize systematic innovation, that is, create the different tomorrow that makes obsolete and, to a large extent, replaces even the most successful products of today in an organization." Creating a different tomorrow requires understanding what tomorrow is and "technology" is tomorrow. If you are not paying heed to social media and the potential impact it will have on how you communicate with your employees, your managers and the organizations customers then you are not attuned to a "different tomorrow." It is my belief that social media will substantially change the intereactions with have with applicants, employees, the public and the government. Get on board. Denying they exist makes you the "Ostrich of HR" by burying your head in the sand.

This material came from my reading of The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done. This is a great book to provide you with some daily inspiration from one of the major thought leaders of business.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Is HR the Eunuch of the Corporation?

(Note: On Thursday, April 15th I will be the guest on the Internet radio show DriveThruHR, hosted by Bryan Wempen each day at 12 pm Eastern time and 11 am Central time. I will be talking to Bryan and the audience on the value of Twitter to HR. It is not a play toy. It is a serious tool for the leading edge HR professional. So join us by clicking on the link above.)

According to Wikipedia a Eunuch is " a castrated man; usually one castrated early enough to have major hormonal consequences. ...The term usually refers to those castrated in order to perform a specific social function...they have performed a wide variety of functions in many different cultures such as: courtiers or equivalent domestics, treble singers, religious specialists, government officials, military commanders, and guardians of women or harem servants...."

The meaning of the term "eunuch" has come to take on a more general meaning of "unempowered or powerless". It implies weakness and it is in this vein that I ask the question in the title. And in this vein it applies to both men and women in HR. My answer to the question is a resounding "it depends." It depends on the leadership of HR. The words from which eunuch is derived are "...from the Greek eune ('bed') and ekhein ('to keep'), effectively 'bed keeper'." In some organization HR plays a very servile role. Keeper of the files, doing the bidding of the management team, often in ways that cause many HR people to lose sleep at night and develop ulcers. I have personally worked for someone who was very much the "corporate eunuch." As with many eunuchs of history he used position power and intrigue to his advantage. Those of us that worked for him had no respect for him. And he let the company executive management get away with too much. The company collapsed not too long into its history.
Today I am encouraged however, with the growth of HR leadership. There are many in the profession who have shrugged off the mantel of eunuch and stepped up to the role of trusted and valued partner. They are trusted, respected and valued by their peers and company leadership. They have power, not because of intrigue and guile, but because of knowledge, foresight and courage. They are transforming HR in their organizations, as Dave Ulrich and his colleagues suggest in HR Transformation: Building Human Resources From the Outside In. By reading blogs and having conversations I have had the good fortune to meet several outstanding newer leaders in HR. They are the face of the "NEW" HR. They have both book "smarts" and "street smarts." They have trust, they have respect, they have courage and they have a "voice." This latter trait is important. That is what spreads the "word" and encourages others to adopt their ways.

I hope many of you have meet someone who falls into this catagory, but I want to name a few of the ones I have met who fall into this catagory. These include Kris Dunn, Trish McFarlane, Jessica Lee, Lance Haun and Laurie Ruettimann. A couple of up and comers to watch include Ben Eubanks and April Dowling. If you feel you have been labled the "corporate eunuch" then study these people and learn.

I am sure I am missing some great HR people. I did not mention the many great consultants I know that are helping lead the charge as well. If you know someone great let me know! Publish their name here so we can all get to know them.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Keeping the Enemy from the Gates: Preventing an OSHA Visit

The best way to prevent an OSHA is to never have an accident and never have a recordable injury. Actually the best way is to not have a company... but short of that here are my tips on how you can make your work environment a MUCH safer place.
  • Realize that safety is an ATTITUDE THAT STARTS AT THE TOP! Key executives must have an awareness of safety and enforce safety as a priority. If they do not then why should anyone else down the line. If employees see an executive, the plant manager, the department manager, the shift supervisor or the HR representative walk past an unguarded machine, a discharged fire extinguisher, a wet spot on the floor or any other safety hazard and not do anything about it then a BIG "I DON'T CARE" has been broadcast. A good safety program will pay for itself in reduced workers' compensation claims. So $$$$ to the bottomline may help foster the attitude. But if that doesn't work you can make your executives realize that they may now be held personally liable for safety violations that cause injury or death and pay hefty fines and go to jail. In jail most executives would not be on the top rung of the ladder, more likely they would be Bubba's b***h.
  • Have a good, well trained, active Safety Committee. This committee would typically have someone from each department who could report on safety issues for their department. Education is important. They need to understand the safety issues involved with the work they do so they can accurately report what needs to be corrected. Make sure whoever is in charge of maintenance is on this committee. Much of what needs to be worked on involves the maintenance department. Have the committee also trained to watch for unsafe acts of fellow employees. Ideally they would also be empowered to point out these acts as they occur, but "politics" may hinder that. So have a method for them to report these violations. It is a good idea to periodically rotate new members onto the safety committee. The good thing about this is that eventually everyone receives safety training.
  • Conduct periodic inspections. When I was with Printpack the HR Manager conducted a monthly safety inspection. If you have no one trained to do this, correct it. Also, many industry associations or insurance companies will have a risk management or safety professional that can be enlisted to do annual or semi-annual inspections. Even if you have no one trained, managers and supervisors using common sense can do periodic inspections. The major issue in conducting inspections is to be committed to correcting errors found. If you don't make corrections and then later have a major loss the record of your inspections that went unheeded can work against you. A resulting "willful" violation may be the result. Also, follow up each accident with an investigation.
  • Know and abide by the OSHA standards. This is particularly true of the recordkeeping and training requirements. The law requires that you keep records up to date of accidents, illnesses, lost-time injuries, and the training that people have received. If an OSHA inspector walks in the door these records are often the first thing they review. If they are not up to date you receive a violation and it goes downhill from there. OSHA Compliance Guide 18e, available from Amazon, can provide you with some guidance. Additionally, the if you belong to an industry association you may be able to get guidance specifically applicable to your company.
  • TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN! Train your managers and supervisors, but also train your employees. The training that is necessary is not only on how to safely conduct their work, but also on what their rights and responsabilities are regarding safety. They need to know where the posters are, they need to know what they say (thus you may need to translate them) and they need to know where the OSHA 300 Log is posted. If you are ever inspected they may be asked these questions by the inspector. There are many safety regulations that require periodic training renewal, such as forklift training. Or the Hazard Communication program, which requires retraining every time a new material is added. Yeah, I know it can be a pain in the butt, however, it will save money in the long run. More importantly it may save someone's life. The result of an accident investigation makes a great training lesson.
  • DISCIPLINE, DISCIPLINE. Correcting machinery issues does not eliminate safety problems. People still do stupid things. Unsafe acts need to be corrected immediately, and in some cases harshly in order to send a message. Do not let employees become habitual violaters, it will end up costing them and you in the end. I have had to pull people from machinery as a result of "short cuts" that were unsafe acts. Document these disciplinary actions.
Jared Shelly, of Human Resource Executive magazine published a post yesterday (not sure if mine on the New Sheriff in Town was the inspiration) that dealt with OSHA. If you want a further take on this you can read his post at Preparing for Stepped-Up Enforcement

Safety is not just for industrial sites. Office safety is critical as well. OSHA will be putting a new emphasis on ergonomics and muscular-skeletal disorders. So proper lifting, sitting and working methods are important. I have seen serious back injuries from lifting boxes and I have seen fingers cut off in papercutters. 

To conclude SAFETY IS AN ATTITUDE AS MUCH AS AN ACT. Keeping people safe is critical. There is nothing worse than having to face a family and having to explain why their loved one is hurt or not coming home. If you want to bring that home watch the news about the mine disaster. I would not want to be an executive in that company.  

Thursday, April 08, 2010

OSHA: "A New Sheriff In Town"

In a speech to the American Bar Association in March 2010, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occuaptional Safety and Health, David Michaels said "I know that by now you've all heard Secretary Solis describe DOL under this Administration as the "new sheriff in town." This is not an abstract wish; it is a stern description of how OSHA is now working - and I take this phrase seriously."

OSHA has taken a much more intense and "gonna get you" approach to dealing with employers. Michaels went on to further comment "First and foremost, we will emphasize strong enforcement - as evidenced in our record-breaking $84.7 million citation against BP Texas City, and the sharp increase in our egregious cases." He then added "If the threat of a fine isn't enough, we have other ways to drive home the point that employers need to obey the law." (My emphasis). To emphasis the point he stated "...we conducted the first-ever vehicle seizure in an OSHA whistleblower case..."
According to attorneys at Seyfarth Shaw much of what OSHA administers may now have criminal implications. Injuries may now be indictable and employer representatives and executives may now be subject to criminal prosecution. They number of citations will be stepped up in the "willful" catagories and fines will be increased substantially.
A company's liability under the Multi-employer Workplace Doctrine will increase. As an employer using outside contracting companies in your facility you will now be responsible for the safety training of those employees. Failure to provide this training is a violation and may be deemed a willful violation.
The general duty clause will take on broader meaning to allow OSHA to cover anything not specifically covered in the regulations. Ergonomics will become a bigger issue.
Michael's further states in his speech.. So, you can expect to see us moving, to the extent we can, toward higher penalties, not only to send a message to those employers who neglect their workplace responsibilities, but also to those employers who need reminding that a safe workplace is not something to think about only when it's convenient - when you have the time and money - but every day."
So, are you feeling that target on your back getting bigger?
Tomorrow I will conclude the week with some tips on what you can do to prevent or mitigate a visit from an OSHA inspector.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Five Steps to Diminish Wage & Hour Problems

First off let me get the disclaimer out of the way. I am NOT an attorney. I am NOT providing legal advice. I am making these statements from the perspective of an HR professional, consultant and HR instructor that has dealt with Wage & Hour issues for a long time. With that said here is my list of things that may help you avoid a wage & hour investigation or, if you have one, may help you come out better as a result.

  1. Step 1: Be educated. If you have been in HR for any period of time you have run across FLSA issues. You may think you know them. Hopefully you do. However, my 12 years of teaching has shown is that many people know how their company does things and not what the law says. Many times the "company" way of doing things is NOT correct. Additionally, there are variations on wage & hour issues that vary by states and also muncipalities. There is alot of material out there that will provide you guidance, the only caveat is to make sure you are getting materials published as recently as possible. The FLSA was altered substantially in 2004, so stay away from pre-2004 materials. The USDOL website actually offers materials that will help educate you. You can see their powerpoint by clicking Fair Labor Standards Act.
  2. Step 2: Educate your managers and supervisors. The interaction between manager and employee is where the "rubber meets the road" and most of your violations will occur here. Make sure they understand that no one works for "free." Make sure they understand not only the rules but also company policy on how to deal with issues as unauthorized overtime, breaks, meal times, travel time and "donning and doffing" time. Wage and Hour Law (Basic Training for Supervisors) is a guide book you can get from Amazon that provides some good basic training.
  3. Step 3: Realize that jobs classified at EXEMPT must truly meet the exemptions standards set forth by the FLSA. Job titles do not reign supreme. You can review these exemptions by viewing this powerpoint on exemptions. If as a result of your review of the exemptions you find it necessary to interview managers and/or employees, the lawyers of Seyfarth Shaw recommend that you involve an attorney in order to preserve the attorney-client privilege. If you engage an outside consultant make sure their work is being directed by an attorney as well in order to safeguard the privilege.
  4. Step 4: Create the appropriate policies. This includes a "Safe Harbor" policy to help protect you in case mistakes do get made. This policy needs to prohibit improper deductions, provides a mechanism for employees to complain TO YOU about them, and specifies you will correct the errors and promise to not make those mistakes again. Depending on the nature of your workforce you also need to specify other policies that deal with your employee population and the way they report time, get paid for that time and under what circumstances. These may include some of the things mentioned above, such as meal times, overtime, being fully relieved of work during meal times. But it may also include training time and travel time. You need to be specific to your workforce.
  5. Step 5: Train your employees. We covered supervisor training, but rather than having them correct behavior all the time it is easier to explain to employees what correct behavior is and thus avoid wage and hour issues. So once you have the policies written make sure you spend some time educating.
The USDOL has targeted some specific industries, including healthcare, restaurants, janatorial services, day care, car washes, and the temporary help business. But just because you are not on this list does not make you safe. A complaint from an employee or ex-employee may also bring a visit. So hopefully this brief statement may help you avoid some problems. Will it stop all of them? No.. remember the FLSA is 700 pages long. But the more you can do to ward off complaints being filed, the more you can do to keep investigators from visiting, the more you can do to lessen the impact of what they may find if they do visit, the better off you will be.

Tomorrow, stay tuned for what lies in store from OSHA.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

US Department of Labor: It's War! And Employers Are The Enemy

In a press release issued April 1 (yes April Fools Day, but this is no joke) Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced the release of the "We Can Help Program." If you were a trusting soul you might think this was a program to help employers correct wage and hour mistakes so that workers would be properly compensated. The FLSA is not an easy law to understand and deal with. After all there over 700 pages of regulatory text and over 50 statutory exemptions. So what would be better than a program to help employers to better understand this law. Well if this is what you think then you are the April FOOL.

The "We Can Help Program" is "being spearheaded by the department's Wage and Hour Division, will help connect America's most vulnerable and low-wage workers with the broad array of services offered by the Department of Labor. The campaign will place a special focus on reaching employees in such industries as construction, janitorial work, hotel/motel services, food services and home health care. It also will address such topics as rights in the workplace and how to file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division to recover wages owed."  (My emphasis.) The AFL-CIO touted this announcement as a war on "wage theft" and Solis reiterated this by saying "If someone is stealing your wages, you can and should call the Department of Labor….We can help, and we will help. If you work in this country, you are protected by our laws. And you can count on the U.S. Department of Labor to see to it that those protections work for you." Employees are going to be "helped" to identify you as a thief and be taught how to report you. Luck you.

As further evidence that the USDOL is not going to be a friend of the American employer they have announced, according to Seyfarth Shaw attorney, and former Deputy and Acting Administrator of the USDOL, Alexander J. Passantino, that NO MORE opinion letters will issued. So an employer cannot ask for the USDOL to rule on a position to determine if it is exempt or not. Additionally, another 293 Wage & Hour investigators have been hired and trained and another 90 have been requested. A Chief Enforcement Officer has been appointed to head this effort up.
Additionaly actions that have or will occur include:
  • Previous investigations will prompt more investigation
  • An employers investigation history will be available on the website of the USDOL
  • If  you accepted any stimulus money you will be investigated or if you are a subcontractor to someone who accepted stimulur money or is subject to Davis Bacon you will be subject to investigation.
  • Information about investigations may be shared with other Federal agencies, such as the IRS and Department of Homeland Security and also with state department of labors.
One of the major outcomes of the second bullet is that personal injury attorneys these days are getting into the Wage & Hour business. They are bringing lawsuits on behalf of employees or ex-employees. They advertize on daytime TV these days. With the records of an investigation against you now being published on the USDOL website they now have identified targets and have been known to seek out your ex-employees or even your current employees. They are even actively soliciting the business when someone calls into them about other lawsuits, according to Seyfarth Shaw attorney, Louisa Johnson.

The USDOL has also announced increased OSHA efforts targeting employers and the NLRB will also step up efforts detrimental to businesses. Both of these issues will be discussed later in the week.

The net result of this new world order is that a BIG  target has been painted on the back of businesses and it is going to require you to be vigilant and proactive.

Tomorrow I will post on some of the Wage & Hour areas you need to pay particular attention to and what you should be looking for and doing with them. In the meantime, please pass this blog post around to other HR folks you know and in particular to any small businesses you know as well. Small business is particulary vunlerable just because they lack HR resources. Until tomorrow.....

Monday, April 05, 2010

HR Development: Making HR Better

Several blog posts in the last couple of days stimulated my thinking about talent, skills, job security and development of HR professionals. I recommend these three posts to you and then offer my own thoughts. These three great posts are:
  1. Want to Build a Winning Foundation? Don't Forget HR Development by Kathy Rapp of hrQ, post at Fistful of Talent. She talks about the importance of making sure your HR people are being developed.
  2. A Fundamental Shift in Talent Management: Will "Active Job Security" Replace "Passive Job Security"? by Ann Bares at Compensation Cafe. Ann talks about the balance beam that employers must walk in order to stimulate workers, make them realize that they have to engage in "active job security", yet keep them at the company. She contrasts this with "passive job security."
  3. HR Should Get Out of the Talent Game by Paul Herbert at Fistful of Talent. Paul points out that "talent", which is the big item discussed in HR, is not the most important thing HR can focus on. Rather HR should focus on developing skills to best leverage the native talents that employees have.
So what deep thoughts have these three posts prompted in my little brain?  (I feel like the scarecrow ... 'If I only had a brain....')
  • The changes in the economic situation in this country have prompted a change in the mind set of employees. No longer do they want opportunity, rather they are interested in job security. Unfortunately the "old days" are gone and the traditional "passive job security" is gone. Employers no longer let you stay "just because." You have to perform. And employees know that they have some responsibility for their "active job security" yet they feel unprepared to deal with it.
  • Companies need to seize this opportunity and do a GREAT DEAL MORE skill development. Take the "talent" that has been recruited and spend time and money on making them better at what they do. Impressing on the employees that improving their "resumes" on an annual basis is the best way to engage in "active job security." "And they reason you want to stay with us, is because we provide you with the opportunity to constantly get better and more valuable." I am a big fan of Tom Peters' idea of improved resume as performance evaluation idea.
  • To faciliate this skills improvement, and to deal with the ever-changing, topsy-turvy world that HR is today, we need to have better HR professionals. Yet few, very few, HR departments demand that their professionals get better. Sure they may offer some encouragement, such as tuition reimbursement or extra money if you get a PHR, but few actually require this kind of development. I teach PHR prep and over my 12 years of doing so, most attendees are there on a volunteer basis. Some get their money back if they pass. Some get more money if they pass. Some employers even arrange for a class to be taught especially for people in their organization. But even then attendance is voluntary.
  • To me, the CEO of an organization should demand that his/her HR professionals be the best in the business. In an economy where most of the companies assets are the tied up in the brain power of the people working for the company, having an HR department that can handle this is of utmost importance. Thus HR at all levels needs to be developed, not on a voluntary basis, but as a requirement of continued employment. Don't want to learn and improve? Then leave and make room for someone that does!
  • Not everyone can earn a PHR/SPHR. You have to hold an exempt position in HR to qualify. But that doesn't mean non-exempt HR should be ignored. Classes can, and should, be structured to give EVERYONE IN HR, a learning experience to make them the best. All professional, exempt level, HR should be required to achieve the PHR or SPHR designation. Beyond that,  if there are other professional designations that can be earned, such as CEBS, then these should be required as well. The good news is that if for some reason you are ever let go, you are much more employeable as a result of this training.
I know this is pretty intense. But if an organization is truly committed to having the best HR pros, in order to have the best employees then this is the kind of committment needed. I have not yet run across any companies yet with this kind of committment to HR.

Do you kow of any? Wish to profile your company's committment to professional HR?

Jump Start Your Brain: Great Reading for a Monday

Last Wednesday on March 31st the HR Carnival was published at the Precept Employee Benefits Blog. What great reading. A feast of knowledge to jump start your brain on a Monday following a holiday weekend. Blog posts include:
  • Succession managment
  • Getting a delegated task back on track
  • Employee engagement is not the end goal
  • How to work for a younger manager
  • How good is your performance data?
  • What makes a good leader
  • 9 ways to make your boss happy
  • and of course my post on Strategy Alert: Too Few Workers and Union Activity
So wander on over and feed your brain some "breakfast of knowledge." You will be better for it.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Down the Rabbit Hole: My Career In HR

One of the alternative defintions to "Down the rabbit hole" is that "by extension the term has also come to signify any event which triggers a completely unexpected situation." And that pretty much defines my career in HR.

Like many HR people who have been in the field I did not intend to be in HR. In fact at that time HR did not exist. It was Personnel and SHRM was ASPA. (Got to have grey hair to remember that!) I was a graduate student at the time and up to that point had no interest in business. I was working on a Ph.D. in comparative animal psychology and was working at the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta, Georgia on the Lana Chimpanzee Project. Before that I had gotten an undergraduate in Psychology from the University of California/Riverside and had studied monkeys there too. I decided to take a break from my Ph.D. program (and never returned) and went to work on a research project studying... you guessed it... monkeys. When a TB outbreak occured and most of the monkeys died (TB is fatal in all primates execpt humans) I decided it was time to search out something else. I had a career oriented wife and a son ( a daughter showed up later) so I thought I needed to get a real job.

Well with that background who hires you? Answer: Almost no one!  But the placement agency I had filed with thought I had some smarts and some personality so they offered me the opportunity to find jobs for clerical people. I then graduated to placing sales candidates. In the meantime I learned alot about business and decided I wanted to be on the other side of the desk. So I quit my job and started doing my own search. But luck had it that a collegue thought I would be a good match for one of his clients. Ten weeks later I was a Personnel Trainee for Printpack in Atlanta, GA. I was with them for about 10 years as a plant personnel manager and the Corporate Recruiting Manager. With that background I then worked on a Masters degree in Industrial Relations (HR) and then moved to a software company. After a short and explosive ride with KnowledgeWare I then found myself with the opportunity to be self-employed. And launched the consulting career I have today, in 1991.

Now I have heard all the cracks (and have used them) about transitioning from monkeys and apes to personnel, so you can laugh if you want. But I did pick up some good information about behavior and learning that has proved helpful. I have also encountered some people who were not quite as bright as was Lana chimpanzee.

As I was relating my background to Trish McFarlane of HRRingleader fame in a phone call we wondered how many other people "fell into the rabbit hole" or as many of us say "we fell into HR". Today many people see it as a viable career opportunity and there are degree programs for it. However, I suspect many people still "fall into HR".

So I am curious. What is your story? How did you get into HR? If you have a "rabbit hole" story please share. If you intended to get into HR and persued a degree let us know what attracted you to the field. Please leave a comment and share with us.