Friday, October 29, 2010

"Hire Attitude vs Aptitude": A Lesson from Disney

I have long been a proponent of hiring someone for their attitude toward the job rather than hiring just based on their aptitude for the job. Certainly for many positions there has to be a baseline of skills that must be met for a candidate to be qualified for the job. As I said to a friend the other day being an engineer is not just based on having a good work attitude. But, regardless of the skill level needed, it is still important to hire someone who has an "attitude" that matches the attitude or culture of the organization. In my experience people who are cultural mismatches don't last long in an organization, regardless of their job skill level. Professional sports teams probably provide the most visible examples. As a Braves fan one big standout was Gary Sheffield. He didn't mesh with the team and quickly moved on to the Yankees. In all he played for eight major league teams, so "meshing" with the team may not have been his strong point.

I bring this up because yesterday I attended the Business Growth Expo hosted by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. One of the speakers was Jack Santiago, a business program facilitator for Disney. He spoke about Disney's approach to People Management and their approach to quality service. This was my first opportunity to be exposed to the Disney approach. I was impressed. Their emphasis on culture, the language they use, the screening they do, communication methods and the care the demonstrate to employees all go into creating a culture that allows them to be, and has made them, a giant in the entertainment business. They realize that they are in a business where they can teach people the technical skills of the job but they have found it much harder to teach the "softer" skills or the "attitude" necessary to be successful as an employee. Their approach to selection consists of the following:
  • Communicate the organization's culture throughout the selection process
  • State non-negotiables up front
  • Treat applicants as guests
  • Hire attitude vs. aptitude
Mr. Santiago did not go into what selection tools they use to determine attitude. He did however, point out that the look of "Casting" building, the look of their materials, the films that all applicants watch, and the list of non-negotiable items (such as hair styles, hair coloring, restrictions on facial hair and tatoos) all have a self-selecting effect. After that I would imagine a well crafted interiew process with well trained interviewers is next.

I would like to know more. I plan on reading The Disney Way, Revised Edition: Harnessing the Management Secrets of Disney in Your Company by Bill Capodagli and Lyn Jackson to learn more. But if you know something please comment and tell us how it works?

One thing is certain. The derisive term of "a Mickey Mouse operation" is not correct. It should be seen more as a compliment.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

DOL Stands for Department of Labor NOT Department of Employers

I have written numerous times about the efforts of the US Department of Labor to increase their compliance efforts. They have taken a much more advesarial stance to dealing with employers. To find those posts I have written just do a search on this blog on USDOL. One of the posts you will find deals with their "WE CAN HELP" program. This is designed to help your employees report you, their employer, to the DOL so you can be investigated.

My fellow blogger Jon Hyman, an employment attorney, was poking around on the We Can Help pages and he came across something very interesting. He discovered something called the Work Hours Calendar. It is a tool for your employee to track their work time. It provides a way for employees to record arrival time, start time, break and meal times, stop time and when they actually leave. It gives lessons on overtime, misclassification, and what are called donning and doffing rules. These are the activities employees engage in to prepare for and to conclude work. They are told to keep these records and then to send them to the DOL. You can find this worksheet here.

Jon and I both believe that the Wage & Hour division is looking in particular for violations that can be classified as "off the clock". I strongly suggest that you go to Jon's blog and read his take on this. He can be found at  Do you know? The DOL is encouraging employee covert ops in your business.

Pay particular attention to his final line. Can you really put off that wage & hour audit? I don't think so. Find yourself a good consultant or good attorney and get this done. (In great modesty, I can make a very personal recommendation for a great consultant. )

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

HR and Time Travel

Here is a little exercise in creative thinking and an opportunity for you to perhaps redo something done in the past or to alter the future. The concept of time travel has been around for quite awhile. Big names in time travel include H. G. Wells and his book The Time Machine; Sir Issac Newton; and Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special and the General Theory (Classic Reprint). For the science fiction writer it was the stuff of a good story (and the Rod Taylor movie had a significant effect on me. Morlocks scared the crap out of me at the drive in.) For the scientists it was the fodder for thought and calculations but a was not a real event. However, recent theory has postulated that the structure of time and space may make it real.

So given the premise that time travel could be real I want to ask you two questions. First, if given the opportunity to return to the past in your HR career what, if anything, would you change? What would you do differently given your knowledge of the present? What would you alter to make the present different? (And yes I know I asked three questions there, but they have the same theme.)

Second question is What do you expect your furture in HR to look like? What would be different from today? And how did you get there?

The first question gets you to look at how things have been done and to consider how you might alter those things for today. The second one gets you to be a bit of a futurist and anticipate how things might look and gets you to consider if that is really the future you want. Take a stab at it. You can find my answers below. But first watch this little science lesson on time travel presented by Michio Kaku, a theoretical scientist.

My answer to the first question would be that I would get an MBA with an emphasis in HR, rather than an MS in HR (actually industrial relations) and probably would pursue a Ph.D. in business. My view of the future if for my business to be a major contributor to revising the world view of HR and helping make it a respected and integral business partner well versed in metrics in EVERY organization.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Everyone Needs to be an Artisan Because the "Age of Average is Over"

Thomas Friedman wrote an interesting opinion piece this past Sunday. His title for it was The Election That Wasn't. (In the Atlanta-Journal Constitution it was called Creating good jobs should be vital issue.) In his piece he asks the question "How do we generate the jobs needed to sustain ur middle class and pay for new infrastructure?" He suggests that government will have to change and we will have to dig our way out of the economic rut we allowed the government to get us into. He thinks we may need more "stimulus" but at the same time WE as individuals need to do more.

The "MORE"  is encapsulated in his statement "Everyone today... needs to think of himself as an "artisan" - the term used before mass manufacturing to apply to people who made things or provided services with a distinctive touch in which they took personal pride. Everyone today needs to bring something extra to the their jobs." (He was quoting Lawrence Katz a Harvard labor economist with the term artisan."

Friedman says there are alot of jobs that can be done in a low skill way and earn low skill wages. Or you can do those jobs with more skill, more learning, more "extra" and subsequently earn a higher wage.  He further states that "...average is over. We're in the age of 'extra' and everyone has to figure out what extra they can to their work to justify being paid more than a computer, a Chinese worker or a day laborer."

Basically Friedman is asking each worker to bring to the table what businesses define as "value-add". What distinguishes one business from another is the "extra" they can bring to the sale. It is also known by the term "unique selling proposition" or USP. People out looking for a new job are often taught to think in those terms. But how often do we help our workers still in place to think about what "extra" they can bring to their job. What additional knowledge can they add? What additional service can they add? How can they foster that relationship just a bit more? An example may be a haircutter being aware of the condition of someone's scalp and making a recommendation for a conditioner to improve this.

So the questions for they day are directed to individuals and to HR departments. First, as an individual, what can you do to add some extra? Can you do some reading in your field beyond what is required? Can you develop a relationship where no exists? Can you learn a bit more about a customer? Can you share something you learned with the rest of your department?

For HR, what are you doing to encourage the "extra?" Have you helped identify what "great" is for your employees? Are you rewarding that behavior with things like knowledge based pay?

I like the idea of ARTISAN. It sort of fits with the concept of YOU, INC.

How about you? What can  you tell us about that you add "extra" to your work? What examples can you think of where you have seen this extra added?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Free Agent Workers: "Everyone is going to be self-employed"

The title of the article was "Everyone is going to be self-employed." For someone who has been that way for almost 20 years it was an instant eye-catcher. I am a big fan of 'free agents" in the workplace so I read the article with interest. It was an interview in the October 17, 2010 issue of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution (no link available) of Jagdish Sheth, a consumer psychology expert and Emory University professor. When asked about his forecast for the future of the economy his response was :
"I forecast that by 2020 we will have 5 million employees in a 'company' which I have dubbed Self Inc. Everyone is going to be self-employed.... people want to work on contracts or free-lance, be their own boss. At that same time, companies are going to switch over from employees to contractors because the biggest expense becomes health care benefits. So, it is not that jobs are going to be revitalized, but the work is going to be revitalized."
I like the idea. I have liked the idea for a long while, ever since Fast Company and Tom Peters have been talking about Me Inc. and You, Inc. and a free-agent nation. I am not sure everyone would like to be self-employed however, but a large number might be. The roadblock that I see to this occuring is a little organization called THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. Both the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Labor both have rules and regulations that make it extremely difficult for businesses to use independent contractors on a widespread basis. And in fact they are currently stepping up the efforts to make this even more difficult. (If you want to know more I have written about it several times. Put in independent contractor in the search window to the right and you will find them.) Much of this is driven by revenue. It is easier for the government to collect taxes from companies than it is to collect them from individuals. Of course they will tell you it is for the protection of the worker. But there has been public acknowledgement of the need to generate more revenue.

I asked Attorney-at-Law David Long-Daniels, of Greenberg Traurig LLP, who was presenting, at the SHRM Atlanta conference, on the pitfalls of having contingent workers and independent contractors if he thought we would ever see the Feds allow the widespread use of independent contractors. His answer was a very difinitive "NO." And I agree with him as things exist today.

However, in the online version of Time Magazine from October 29th the following article appeared: Could the Courts Outlaw the Minimum Wage? Written by Adam Cohen, it details the political campaigns of two Republican senatorial candidates, John Raese, the Republican candidate for Senator in West Virginia and Joe Miller, the candidate in Alaska. Both of these men are saying that while the minimum wage is an ok idea it is fundamentally unconstitutional and they want the U.S. Supreme court to rule on the constitutionality of the Fair Labor Standards Act. I am not going to go into the details here because of length, you can read it by clicking the link above. But the conclusion is that would be a major uphill battle to over turn the FLSA.

But the idea has started. And it could gain steam if the forecast of Dr. Sheth starts to materialize. If more people want to be free agents and more companies want to use free agents there may be a drive to unregulate those relationships. And overturning the FLSA would certainly do that. I sincerely doubt that will happen but the move may cause more people to reexamine how we work in this country. Dr. Sheth had an interesting conclusion to his interview that may add some fuel to the movement. He said:
"America is has a survival instinct, and we foster entrepreneurship. It is a nation of ideas, and entrepreneurshisp is the best form of egalitarianism- better than democracy. Entrepreneurship does not discriminate by religion, gender, ethnic backgroun. To me that is the most powerful."
So there is some thought for you to chew on. What do you think? Do we have a chance to become a nation of Free Agents? Will entrepreneurship win over government?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Credit Checks: Yes or No?

As reported by the Wall Street Journal and by SHRM the EEOC has been holding hearings whether the use of credit checks on potential employees should be utilized by a company in making a hiring decision. Representatives from SHRM (tesitmony can be found here), the US Chamber of Commerce, the law firm of SeyfarthShaw, LLP, and others testified on behalf of continuing the practice of using credit checks. Advocates for low income individuals testified against their use. The major point appears to be that poor credit potentially could be a bar to gaining employment in these tougher economic times. I have had some clients and students inquire about the use of credit checks as well. So I thought I would weigh in on the subject for my readers.

Credit checks usage as a background check, and indeed all background checks, are treated the same as consumer credit checks and are governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The FCRA requires that you have an applicants permission to check their background. It also requires that if you make some adverse determination on the basis of that background check that you inform them, give them an opportunity to respond and to potentially correct the information if it is indeed incorrect. You can find the entire FCRA here. (Note it is an 86-page document.) The law does hold a company to the standard of insuring that their practices do not result in disparate impact, recognizing that minorities have historically have poorer credit records than do non-minorities, in some cases due to discrimination.

So the major complaint about the use of credit history as a hiring tool is that some companies use it across the board for all applicants as an indicator of "character" and "personal responsibililty." They deem this as "fitness for the job." In my opinion this is a poor decision making process and a misuse of the law. Character and personal responsibility are better left to the interview. Using the credit report is the lazy way out. Of course if they screw this up, they may be conducting illegal interviews as well.

What is the proper use of the credit check as a decision making tool? Determining if the position requires the employee to handle company money, company credit, customer money or customer credit, such as access to credit cards. Putting people in these positions without a credit check could expose the company to liability, either due to internal theft or to theft of consumer information. Let me give an example. I once ran across a company that would do a credit check on an employee on a whim. Poor decision making. Unfortunately for them, the one person they did not credit check was the person they hired to be their accountant. She had a good resume and she interviewed very well. She came across as trustworthy. So imagine their surprise when auditors discovered that she had embezzled over $60,000. If they had check her credit they would have discovered that she was $120,000 in debt. That might not have altered their decision to hire her, after all she was a good accountant. But it might have put them on alert to more closely manage her work. Either way money, time, effort, and heartache might have been prevented.

So my answer to the question in the title is YES. I would use, and have used, credit checks in making determinations on candidates for positions in which the future employee would be exposed to things that might damage my company or a client of the company. If you are running a piece of machinery, interviewing candidates, emptying the trash, filing reports, sewing clothes, cleaning the carpet I don't care what your credit history has been. I just require that you come to work and do a good job. If your credit history gets your car repossed then it might become an issue, but only if you can no longer get to work.

Will companies continue to use the credit check incorrectly? I am pretty sure the answer to that is YES. These are probably also the same companies that violate the FLSA, the Civil Rights Act, FMLA, the ADA and most of the other laws. Does that mean all of those have to be changed? Nope. Just need to penalize companies that violate them.

There is no one-to-one connection between your character and your credit... not today anyway.

So what do you do? Are you a YES or a NO?

You can find a differing opinion from Lance Haun here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wrap Up of the SHRM Atlanta 20th Annual Conference: Sports, Greatness, Social Media & Creativity

Without making this too long I will try to do my wrap up the SHRM Atlanta 20th Annual conference. I started off my afternoon with an intriguing title. I mean how can you resist a session called The Shift Has Hit the Fan? Presented by Michael Hanson of Jobs2Web he talked about some of the difficulties (and solutions) in dealing with Talent Acquisition in today's social media world. The SHIFT (Is that a silent F?) has been going from newspaper ads ---> Internet and job boards-----> to a myriad of social media sites. He talked about the nessessity of having your job postings present in the bigger picture and not just a select few. He emphasized that most job searches start on a web brower, e.g., Google, rather than a job board or a particular company site. He did emphasize that just posting jobs is push marketing and a company is better off in engaging both active and passive candidates by being available easily through social media. The information was interesting, not currently in my sphere of work, and he got a tiny bit "sales pitchy" at the end but there were quite a few questions from others in the room so he was relevant.

A second afternoon session was Creative Leadership: Making the Case for Creativity as a Core Leadership Skill. This was presented by Paul Reali. Paul made the observation that creative thinking in today's business world is less prevalent than it has in the past. He feels we should be teaching creative thinking and problem solving as leadership skills. I happen to agree with him. He took us through a couple of exercises to show us that sometimes knowledge and context can be limiting factors on creativity. He had us think of as many uses for a brick as we could in a minute or two. The range of solutions went from 6 to about 17. Most of us came up with 10-12 and include things like: build something, hit something, weigh something down, break a window, act as a water level raiser, etc. Not really all that creative. He said giving that same test to children, who have no real context for a brick, their lists often top 20 or 30 uses. Including a brick being a stand in for a Barbie funeral scene. None of us in the room of adults got that one.

He showed that there is a structure for teaching creative thinking and a structure for applying it. Given the limited time frame we had for the session we did not get too deep into that. But he did offer some of us a book that explains it further. This book is H2 Solve Wicked Problems. I have promised him I would review the book on this blog so stay tuned. Just leafing through the book it looks like interesting stuff.

In the previous reports I failed to mention the keynote address for Monday evening. The speaker was Don Yaeger former sports writer now turned inspirational speaker. I must confess I was somewhat skeptical of what a sports writer might be able to offer to a group of HR people. But he was an excellent speaker and he has developed a list, based upon his work with great athletes, of 16 Consistent Characteristics of Greatness. His delivery was excellent and he entranced the audience. Even if you did not know some of the athletes you got the point of the speech. Most people left that evening pumped up.

This was a pretty good conference. I was able to reconnect with old friends, reconnect with students who had been in classes years before and I was able to make many new connections. As one of the speakers, Vicki Hess, said, there is power in your associations. So I am energized. I will be working with SHRM Atlanta to help put on a spring event to help connect small business with professional HR. I will be one of the speakers and I am pumped about it. So stay tuned.

And by the way, congratulations to Keith Hicks of Radient Systems, Inc. and Gary Jones of Grizzard Communications for being presented the SHAPE Awards. Two older guys in a sea of women that won awards! Right on!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesday Report on the SHRM Atlanta Conference: Credible Activistism and Mobile Employees

The 20th Annual SHRM Atlanta conference is rolling along on it second day. The sessions continue to be good. I added a session earlier on Being a Credible Activist delivered by Vicki Hess of Catalyst Consulting. Vicki is has a professional speakers certification and it shows in her delivery. Smooth, engaging and interactive. More importantly however she spoke on being a Credible Activist, one of the competencies developed by SHRM and Dave Ulrich in HR Competencies: Mastery at the Intersection of People and Business. Here are some tidbits from my twitter stream of her session:
  • Direct impact on ROI= Credible
  • Passion, integrity, selflessness, and commitment make for a credible activist
  • Professional paradise for HR is being productive, satisfied and energized
  • Beliefs and mindsets drive actions and outcomes
  • Build credibility by knowing the business and telling the truth
  • You can be an activist by identifying the elephant in the room and pushing boundries
  • Practice HR with an "attitude"
Obviously a twitter stream does not do justice to her presentation. But the result of this presentation for many was the "OK" to have a voice in HR.

The second session I went to was another compliance session on Minimizing Unintended Risks from Today's Mobile Workforce presented by Rayna Jones an attorney for Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, LLC. Her message was somewhat sobering talking about employer liabilities for employees using mobile devices while driving, employer liabilities for "off the clock" work by employees using these devices and employer liability for what she called "textual harassment." Some very good policy advice. I will be posting about this subject more in the next week or so. So stay tuned.

The conference wraps us this afternoon with a silent auction so there will be some happy HR people later today.

Monday, October 18, 2010

2nd Report on SHRM Atlanta: Building a Better City - Social Awarness

I had the opportunity to sit in on a lunch where there was a panel discussion composed of a distinguished panel discussing the subject of Building a Better Atlanta. The panel consisted of the Mayor of Atlanta, Kaseem Reed, Sam Williams of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Mike Cote the CEO of Secureworks and Ed Baker, Publisher of the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

I am sure, unless you are in the Atlanta area, that you don't really care about building a better Atlanta. But I did want to highlight the comments of Ed Baker because I think they reflect solutions for Building a Better America. Ed's company also publishes business papers in about 40 other cities so he has seen the issues that are widespread.

The areas that Ed says we need to address are:
  1. The entrepreunerial market place. 90% of jobs today are in companies with fewer than 100 employees. We need to encourage growth in this sector.
  2. Education needs to be fixed. We have been talking for years about making it better. Business needs to be involved at ALL levels of education in order to equip students with the skills needed to succeed in the world.
  3. There is a dirth of leadership and it is going to get worse. Younger workers just are not taking on leadership roles. Older leaders have not engaged them and they are uninterested. That needs to be remedied.
  4. Aging demographics. 40% of BabyBoomers will be out of money before they die. This is going to create a whole new world fo homelessness. If we do not take care of the problem now we will never get a grasp.
  5. Wellness. Business needs to take the lead in making sure that the BabyBoomers (who start turning 65 this year) are taking better care of themselves. Wellness education needs to have a business lead. Otherwise will pay for it big time.
Although Mr. Baker was addressing his remarks to Atlanta issues I think this could have easily been transferred to most, if not all, major metropolitan areas in the country.

We need to heed his words. What can you as a business leader do to make an impact in your workforce and your community?

Report from the SHRM Atlanta 20th Annual Conference: Metrics and Legislation

The 20th annual SHRM-Atlanta conference is running full bore. I have attended two sessions this morning. Both have provided some scary news.

The first session was part of the Business Acumen & Leadership track. The session was entitled The Most Important Organizational Performance Metrics: What Every HR Organization Should Be Measuring. It was presented by Dr. Lepora Manigault (and was sponsored by Intellectual Capital Consulting.) She presented the Top 15 Metrics to Share with Your CEO. The list was mixed. Some were good, such as the Dollar Value of the Increased Workforce Productivity between This Year and Last. I can see a CEO being interested in this and perhaps Incentive Compensation Differentials between high performers and low performers. However, I don't see CEOs being interested in Time to Start figures or the percent of performance appraisals completed on time. These are HR activities and CEOs are not going to be interested in these. They will however be interested in the fact that you are not doing them, but they don't want to know the details.

The scary thing from this session was the fact that almost NO ONE in the packed room was measuring anything. Or at least they were not willing to say so.

The second session I attended was Contingent Workers & Independent Contractors: Avoiding Misclassification Pitfalls. It was presented by David Long-Daniels of Greenberg Traurig LLC. It was a general knowledge session of what makes for an independent contractor and what doesn't. He did have some interesting insights to dealing with temporary agencies and reminding everyone of the doctrine of "joint employer responsibility." He also let everyone know that the IRS has a  program to encourage your employees and your competitors to report your mis-use of Independent Contractors. They are offered a financial incentive of 15 to 30% of what you have to pay to the IRS. Nice.

The scary news that came out of this session was pending legislation, that is likely to pass. This legislation is called The Fair Playing Field Act of 2010. Among other things it will require you the company using an independent contractor to inform the IC, in writing, of the Federal Tax obligation they will have to pay and also a written statements of the employment laws that do NOT apply to them.

Stay tuned for further conference reports. More great sessions and a great exhibitor hall to spend time in.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The HR Ratio Or "How Many Employees Does It Take to Screw Up an HR Department?"

Ok, ok, I know this title made some of you bristle with outrage. But calm down, it was more to get your attention. What is the proper HR-to-Employee Ratio is a question frequently asked by people new to HR. Sometimes it is even asked by people not so new to HR. And if you ever get it asked by your CEO you had better know the answer.
This is the calculation. Though it is seldom expressed in terms of this calculation. It is generally experessed in terms of 1:100 or 1:250 or 1:400..... you  get the idea.

But knowing that calculation is not the answer to the question. Because the answer is "It depends." But if the CEO is asking you the question that is not what you say. Because you should know what the "DEPENDS" factors are for your company, your company size, your leadership, your industry and your sophistication. For example in The HR Scorecard: Linking People, Strategy, and Performance authors Becker, Huselid and Ulrich talk about research that shows that companies that had low quality of HR leadership had a ratio of 1:253.88. Companies that had high quality HR leadership had a ratio of 1:139.51. Research as also shown that the ratio also depends on these following factors:
  • Company size. Smaller companies may actually have a smaller ratio because much of the process are not automated and therefore require more people to get them done. (Either that or the person works themselves to death. A situation often expressed to me.)
  • Sophistication. Companies that are technologically adept may have smaller ratios due to automation, such as self-enrollment or online performance evaluation.
  • Level of Outsourcing. Obviously the more funtions of HR you have outsourced the fewer HR people you need on staff.
  • Service model. Your model for delivering HR services to your "customer" base will require different levels of staffing and hence a different ratio. A company I once worked for had 30 HR members for 1000 employees. A ratio of 3:100. That was because we had a "high touch" service model. The more complex or sophisticated your employee perhaps the higher the ratio.
  • Dispersion of the employees. If you have a decentralized structure and want to have a decentralized HR department you will probably have a larger ratio than will a centralized structure.
You do have to be careful, regardless of the reason, to not have HR people for the sake of having HR people. You must remember that there needs to be an appropriate Return-on-Investment (ROI) for the number of HR people you have on staff. So that requires you to be able to determine what that ROI is and if it is desirable in your organization.

So gather your information. One source of information, and the inspiration for this post, was SHRM's benchmarking reports . They are available to both members and nonmembers. (I get no compensation for suggesting them.)

If you want to read another blog post that does an excellent job of talking about this subject click on HR Ratio versus HR Contribution. This is a well written post by Magdelena Meller of breakpoint HR from about a year ago.

By the way, the answer to the question of "How many employees does it take to screw up an HR department?" is "IT DEPENDS." It is your call.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Are You Willing to Wait for Quality? Are Employees?

In a Wall Street Journal online article entitled Starbuck Baristas Told No More Than Two Drinks writer Julie Jargon relates that Starbucks is trying to improve the quality of its product by slowing down the baristas that make the drinks. (I find it amusing that someone with the last name of Jargon writes on Starbucks, the place where people ask the question "Why is a small called a tall? And why is a grande the medium size?") Ms. Jargon relates that making coffee at Starbucks has become too assembly-line-ish and as a result the quality has suffered. Workers were trying to meet the demand of lines as the register and lines at the drive-thru and thus making multiple drinks at a time. Rather than steaming milk for one drink they were steaming milk for mulitple drinks at a time, etc. So Starbucks has told its baristas (the people who make the drinks) to slow down and make no more than two drinks at a time and explain to customers that the wait is the price for a quality drink (that and the $4 you are spending on the drink.)

Now I have to admit that my first take on this headline was that they are telling to employees that they cannot drink more than two drinks a day. I thought perhaps they were trying to go through a massice detox effort. After all I have seen some seriously wired employees. But at the same time with some of the lines I have seen someone seriously wired was needed to work fast enough to handle the demand. So it will be interesting to see how this plays out. There is one component that will make sure that this fails.

That component is the feedback given to the employees. If they now receive negative feedback for not serving people fast enough, subsequently getting poor performance reviews, they will find ways to short cut the process in order to meet the demand. The quality effort will fall flat on its face. After all the store manager does not get an immediate measure of quality of drink produced, but they do see lines and they do hear complaints about how long it is taking. So managers may be tempted to short cut the rules or they will put additional pressure on employees to be faster. Either way, the corporate effort is not successful.

My personal solution? I only order coffee, in my own cup and I add my own cream and sugar. I am responsible for the time, and my cost is minimal. But what about you? Are you going to wait for Quality? And more importantly is that barista going to wait to produce it?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

No Great Ideas: But Great Referrals

I had a great idea, but lost one resource I was going to use. Once I find it again I will post on the subject of Non-competes. But in the meantime I read two great posts that you NEED to read.

The first is about the best COMMON SENSE explanation of the Paycheck Fairness Act I have read. Stephanie Thomas writing at the Compensation Cafe takes the emotion out of the subject and uses examples to explain how this will affect your workplace. You MUST read this. The "Commonsense" Bill and Its Nonsensical Implications. She is consistently a good writer and well worth putting on your "must read" list.

The second blog post is one that makes you really think. In The One-Eyed HR Professional in the Land of the Blind... Paul Herbert uses an HG Wells story to talk about the downside of imposing your opinions on others. (And admit it, HR often does that.) I am still mulling this post over. Perhaps it will also make you go "hmmm" too. (And for those of you that like Kurt Russell without his shirt on there is a picture."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Will You Hire a Moustache?

Watching the Atlanta Braves play the San Francisco Giants it was apparent that the teams are pretty evenly matched. The games have been close in score and exciting to watch. But it became apparent very quickly that appearances differed greatly. The Braves are more "clean cut" sporting no long hair and little facial hair, other than the occasional goatee. The Giants on the other hand have very prominant long haired players and they even have a relief pitcher called "The Beard." Flipping through the NFL games it is also apparent that long hair is making its comeback. So is that being reflected in other industries?

Those observations combined with an article on the online WSJ, called Read My Furry Lip, made me think about facial hair in the workplace. The article, written by Ruth Graham, asks the question "Are we ready for a President with a moustache?" She makes the observation that "According to Allan Peterkin, the author of "One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair," whiskers are taboo in arenas in which faddishness is frowned on and the appearance of transparency is prized." Mr. Peterkin, whom she quotes, says further that  "The generalization I'd make about modern facial hair is it's playful rebellion. And do you want a politician who's into playful rebellion?"

So the conclusion of the article is that presidential hopefuls will probably not be successful if they sport a moustache or beard. But what about the workplace? What are the trends today? Is wearing facial hair really a "playful rebellion?" And are you up for playful rebellions in your company?

I have sported a moustache, a beard, and a goatee a various times in my life. Once to make me look older, a couple of times to be somewhat rebellious,  a couple of times just to be different. Today I don't have one because I think it does make me look older and at my current age I don't want to go there. But in each case my facial hair was grown after I had a job, never before.

So my question to HR pros and recruiters is "Do you hire candidates that have facial hair?" Does this color your opinion of them? Is that industry dependent? Is is position dependent? Are blue collar candidates with facial hair more likely to be hired than white collar coandidates? Or is it an age thing? If you are older is it more acceptable? Let me know by leaving a comment.

Of course all this assumes that your candidates are male. Whether to hire female candidates sporting facial hair becomes a much different issue.

Friday, October 08, 2010

HR Should Never Be Involved in a "Turf War"

In the Thursday October 7 Wall Street Journal in the Marketplace section there was an article entitled Coming of Age, written by Joe Mullich. (It appeared in a special advertizing section on Workforce Risk. Other than mentioning CVS several times I am not quite sure what it was advertising.) The article talked about the aging workforce population and how we (yes I am a Boomer) are not rushing to retire and the challenge this is presenting to companies. So Mullich talks about the approach that several companies (most notably CVS) are taking to manage the risks, responsibilities and opportunities presented with Baby Boomers staying in the workforce. I recommend the article it was a good read.

But that is not what I wanted to write about. Mullich made a comment that struck a chord with me. He was relating a story about a company that was instituting alot of changes to help their older workers perform their jobs better, such as new flooring, changes in tools, etc. to minimize injuries and illnesses for older workers. The program met internal resistance. And who was giving them the biggest pushback? THE HR DEPARTMENT! The initiative was started by the Risk Management Department and as Mullich says "... the Human Resources department didn't like that its terrain was being encroached upon." So much for having a strategic orientation. He concludes his statement with "This is an age-old dynamic."

That is what struck the chord with me. I have seen those types of "turf battles" in a number of organizations. The training department operates independantly of HR and neither can stand the other. The Safety department is part of Risk Management or Manufacturing and HR feels infringed upon. You even get battles going between recruiting and HR. None of these turf battles are good for the organization. A true strategic HR professional would know that and would lead or coordinate a multi-functional effort to solve a problem or introduce a change initiative. In the example above, rather than HR having a pissy attitude about what Risk Management had done they should have jumped on the band wagon and realized that such an effort was probably important in other areas of the company and not just on the plant floor. They should have been asking the question "Where else can we apply the lessons learned?"

There is a quote from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride, in which two of the main characters are having a contest. Vinzzi, the kidnapper of the Princess Bride, and the Man-in-Black, who has come to rescue her are having a contest of wits. Vinzzini says "You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders - The most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia"

I offer similar advice to HR departments and professionals. Never get involved in a turf war in your company. You will not be well served, the company will not be well served and your standing in the company will be diminished. Coordinate, cooperate and work for the best interests of the company and the employees.

(BTW, The Princess Bride is a classic movie that should be watched by all. The rest of Vinzzi's quote was " but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line." Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha..." Right after which he dies. )

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Legislation Introduced to Strip States of "Right to Work" Status

The newsletter  reports that California Congressman Brad Sherman (D) has introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to strip states that are "right-to-work" states of that status. There are 22 states that are considered "right to work" as shown in red in the picture above. This was a state right granted in 1947 by the Taft-Hartly Act, an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act. (Taft-Hartly is officially the Labor-Management Relations Act, and it granted managment rights where none had been.)

Briefly, what "right to work" means is this. Employees in every state of the US have the right to organize a union. If they do so, two different conditions exist, depending on whether they are in a "right to work" state or a non-right to work state. In a non-RTW state an employee, in order to hold their job, must belong to the union if that job is covered by the union contract. They have no choice. When I was the HR manager in a union plant in Chicago, if I hired someone for a job and wanted to keep them after their probationary period, they had to become a union member otherwise I had to fire them. If that had been here in Georgia, a RTW state, they would have had the choice to become a member of the union. Regardless of their choice however, they would have kept their job. So it is a matter of freedom of choice for the employee. Some places they have that freedom of choice, other places they do not.

Congressman Sherman, who represents California, a non right-to-work state, says that it is unfair to California to have to compete with RTW states for jobs. He says it is costing California because companies are moving away and taking jobs with them. (Of course he doesn't mention the overburdensome employment laws, taxes or broken government in California. Employment laws in California are so different there is a separate PHR designation for CA) So, with the support and endorsement of the AFL-CIO, he has introduced legislation in Congress to strip ALL rights from the other 22 states that had the foresight to pass right-to-work legislation.

I would like to suggest to Congressman Sherman that perhaps there should be an introduction to make all states RIGHT TO WORK. This will level the playing field as well, potentially lower the cost for businesses, take away restrictive practices, and give employees a true free choice to belong to a union or not. If a company then has a union in place they will truly deserve it. But if employees do not wish to belong to one there will be no pressure of Job/No Job decisions.

Of course with a 100% endorsement of the AFL-CIO I doubt whether this option ever entered Rep. Sherman's wallet....errr... head.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Just Because You Sent a Message Does Not Excuse Your Lateness

I  really dislike being late. I try to be on time to all my appointments. And I dislike people who do not keep appointments with me. Yes, there are situations where it cannot be avoided, such as a road being shut down, etc. However, chronic tardiness, whether at work or in life is not acceptable as far as I am concerned.

What prompted this little rant was an article in the Tuesday edition of the Wall Street Journal. The article was entitled Sick of This Text: 'Sorry I'm Late' By Elizabeth Bernstein. The author relates a story about a friend who was late, and was chronically late, but thought the tardiness was "ok" because she had sent a text message that she was going to be late. As if the message sent 5 minutes ahead of the appointment was the equivalent of being on time. The ability to send a text message, and thus avoid even speaking to someone, has made tardiness even a bigger issue.  Bernstein concluded in her article that the ultimate harm in tardiness was that you showed a lack of respect for your friend. I agree and think it shows a lack of respect to the other party in general. It cries out "MY TME IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR TIME."

Of course in human resources we have been dealing with tardiness issues forever. We track it, we counsel on it, we discipline it, we make sure it is being dealt with in an equitable manner to keep our collective butts out of court and we fire people over it. But we are also guilty of it as well. I have know recruiters who were chronically late to interviews. In fact I have known some who use that as a power play showing the candidate who had the upper hand in the interview. I have know hiring managers, for whom I had scheduled an interview, to be late and leaving me holding the bag apologizing to the candidate. I have also had candidates be late for interviews. I have never liked any of it. My feelings were generally anger and that anger was due to the fact that I did not feel the person respected my time. So I think Bernstein is onto it but that many others are missing the point.

There are many ways to deal with someone who is late. You can leave before they get there, sending a message that they missed the appointment. You can punish the behavior in some way. But perhaps the best thing is to make it clear that it boils down to respect. Managerial training should include that lesson. Counseling sessions to employees should include that lesson.

Most importantly, teach that lesson to your children. What do you think? Will it work? Do you have other suggestions?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Does Unemployed = Unqualified? Refusing to Hire the Long-Term Unemployed

A trend in hiring seems to be developing. According to Don Chapman, a reporter for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, an increasing number of companies, looking for both white collar and blue collar workers, are specifying in the "Want Ads" that workers who have been unemployed since 2009 need not apply. In his article "Long-term jobless told not to apply" Mr. Chapman relates a number of stories of applicants being turned away because they have been unemployed for more than six months.

The reasons being given by employers vary. The include:
  • We only want people who have current skills
  • We only want people who are motivated
  • Someone thought they were deadwood, why would we want them
  • If they were good they would be employed
  • Using time of unemployment as a screening tool lets us keep our applicant pool manageable.
The question is: Is this the proper way to go about this? Sure I understand some of the reasoning and motivation behind what is being done, but I can think of other ways to accomplish this without the VERY PUBLIC DOWNSIDE to running an ad like this. And what is the downside? Here is a list.
  1. First, you get your company named splashed all over the front page in a very negative way.
  2. You may be engaging in disparate impact which will get you investigated by the EEOC. AND THEY ARE WATCHING. Disparate impact comes from the fact that a larger percentage of the long term unemployed are racial minorities, older workers or the disabled and by having an across-the-board ban on long term unemployed applicants you are discriminating against them. You will have the burden of proof in defending your "bona fide" business reason for using that selection process.
  3. You are SCREAMING "COME AND ORGANIZE US"  to any union paying attention. If you are "unfair" in one aspect of your business you may be "unfair" in another and your employees may be good targets for the "help" of a union.
  4. You may actually be missing some very good workers. Maybe an applicant has gone and gotten recent training in the job for which they are applying and thus may be more current or safer than even the people you have on staff right now. If you will not accept their application you will never know. You may also be missing people who will be hard working and productive because they have had a taste of unemployment and they don't like it. They want to avoid it in the future and so they will bust their butts to be good in order to avoid it in the future.
So what can you do to avoid having to look at 10,000 applications? Here are some suggestions:
  1. Be more specific in your minimum requirements. "Must be able to lift 50 lbs. and have warehouse experience" is going to get you way too many people. Besides you have to be willing to make a reasonable accommodation on the lifting. If you have a particular warehouse computer system then make experience with that a minimum requirement. Increasing your "minimum requirements" and stating that they are a minimum will help some.
  2. If you have a particuar skill that is necessary and you want to make sure that the applicant has it use a screening test. There are commercial tests that have been shown to be both valid and reliable that will help you cull through applicants.
  3. If you are anticipating a large volume of applicants and don't have the staff to handle it, then consider outsourcing the process.
  4. Don't accept applications if you don't have an opening.
Those are just a few suggestions. I am sure my recruiting friends out there can come up with other suggestions. Or do some of you think this trend is the best way to go? I would like to hear some "PRO" arguments if you have one.

I know the truism that "a currently employed candidate is the best candidate" is still widely held in the business world among HR people. However, in today's world it may not be so true and certainly may not be the most prudent method to use to fill most jobs.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Thought Provoking Blogs: Inspiration for the Week

I have been searching around this morning for a topic to post on. I haven't been successful in finding a single topic to post on. Rather I have been successful in finding three good topics to post on. But rather than write about them myself I am going to direct you to the original posts. They are thought provoking and informative. Your week will be off to a major start if you educate yourself by reading these three blog posts.

First up is More Insider HR Tips: What Are HR Pros Saying About You? This was written by Mary the Undercover HR Director. It is base on a session she attended at SHRM 2010 conference and was published on August 24, 2010. It deals with FMLA abuse and the reaction that HR gives those abusers and also the way that non-abusers are treated. It is a very interesting lesson for HR in overeaction.

The second one is also written by Mary the Undercover HR Director. She writes about employee use of the ADA to get accommodation, the interactive process that must be engaged in and the costs associated with an ADA accommodation. (Which by the way is suprisingly low.) Written from an employee perspective, you need to check out How To Request Job Accommodations From Your Boss By Using the ADA.

For the third entry I suggest Mad Men, Madder Women: Have Roles Really Changed in the Workplace? I don't watch the show Mad Men though my daughter has told me I should. And apparently it is favorite of many HR people because it has been the subject of numerous blogs. In this post/article Vivian Dillar talks about the two of the main female characters and their changing roles as a reflection of what was happening in the workplace in that time frame. This is a very thoughtful piece that may very well prompt me to watch the show as fodder for future blogs and, again according to my daughter, just some excellent entertainment.

So there you have it. Some brain jazzing reading to get yourself going on a Monday morning. I needed it, since my day started at 4:30 am and the coffee was not working to its full extent.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Importance of Reading: What Is On My List

One of my favorite "reads" is the monthly newsletter of Alan Weiss called the Balancing Act. It is full of advice for life, consulting and dealing with people. It is educational and often amusing. In this most recent issue Alan makes the comment "The debate whether you're reading books in hard copy or electronically is immaterial. The question is: Are you reading books?"

I mentioned the other day that I was posting (or trying to post) five times a week and occassionally a sixth time. Another person's remark to that was "I don't know how you do it, I don't have that much to say." Well part of the way I do it is from reading. Other blogs, newspapers (the actual paper kind), online news stories and books. I actually have two stacks of books on my desk here beside me to be read of reread. Here is what is there.
Well there you have a glimpse into my mind based on my reading list. What is on yours? And more importantly if you had ONE book you would recommend I read what would it be? (other than the Bible.. got that one.)

In summary the importance of reading books is you get NEW IDEAS, NEW WAYS OF THINKING, REVISIONS OF OLD IDEAS, GUIDANCE AND ENJOYMENT. At least I do. I always think of the statement I once read LEADERS ARE READERS.