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January 2008

Managing the Font of Email Signatures - Now That's Value-Added HR Work....

When I got to my current company, there was a sheet in the orientation package that listed the company's protocol regarding email signatures in Outlook.   Mandated size, font, order of content, etc.   Total control - after all, you can't trust EMPLOYEES to make decisions about important details like this, right?

Wrong.  I ripped it up and banned the sheet from orientation and any other type of distribution.  ButEmail before you consider me the people's champion, understand it's for me as much as it is for them.

Allowing employees to do whatever they want with their signatures is not only American, it's natural selection at its best.  Consider the following:

1.  By allowing employees to "let their freak flag fly" when it comes to fonts and colors, you find out who the outliers are.  See an employee break out the Comic Sans in purple with a paisley background?  That's all you need to know.  Make sure the Christmas party is alcohol free for this person.

2.  Title inflation tells you who the Enron guys are - I love seeing who will add that little twist to their title, like the Customer Service Rep who will list their title as "Customer Service Representative - Reporting" because they pull the ACD stats off the printer at the end of their shift.  Just enough of a bump to feel a little bit superior.... and to pump up the resume (PS, with this crowd it's usually on Monster before you notice the title inflation).

3.  I don't need the Book of The Month club when I've got you laying down the quotes as a part of your signature.  Nothing says "Damn, I'm academic and philosophical" more than a good quote at the end of your signature.  What's that?  This week is something from Sun Tzu?   Sweet!  I was just thinking that business is a lot like ancient war, and you broke it down perfectly...

4.  Oops - This person doesn't have a signature.  What's that mean?  Probably a deep thinker who has disconnected themselves from the false status of titles.... Or, they don't know how to program a VCR.  Either way, I want to give them a big hug... They are my heros in world flooded with advertising, positioning and spin...

It's America, so you can do what you want with your email signature!!  Just know all your friends will be psychoanalyzing every letter, color and font from the cheap seats....


Why HR Pros Should Love the New England Patriots...

My latest article at workforce.com is up this week, and I'm in an NFL state of mind.  What's on my radar?  I think all HR Pros who follow the NFL, in even a passing fashion, should be in love with the New England Patriots. 

Not because they are 18-0, but because they epitomize teamwork.  Here's one illustration from myVrabel article of how the Patriots' organization gets the TEAM concept:

"The team theme rules, even when the system promotes stars. I’m from Missouri, which means I’m a St. Louis Rams fan. A few years ago, the Rams were hot and won the Super Bowl with the greatest show on turf (lots of passing and individual stars: Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, etc.). The next year they faced an upstart, underdog Patriots team in the early stages of the culture the Patriots have built. The game was getting ready to start, and I was watching the player introductions. The Rams went first, introducing the individual starters for their incredible offense one at a time. Next up, the Patriots started their introductions, and instead of shining the lights on their individual players for a little recognition and glory, they came out as a team and ran through the tunnel together.

I thought to myself, "That felt different."

Game over: The Patriots upset the Rams in the Super Bowl and it was the start of the New England dynasty. The Patriots still come out as a team to this day."

Love them or hate them, the Patriots are different. Not different like the Yankees, but different like in Jerry Maguire, when Jerry hugs Rod Tidwell in the tunnel after his breakout game.

Click over to the article at Workforce and check it out.  It's Super Bowl prep for Talent Management types...


Ugly Stats on the Impact of Bad Diversity Training...

Want to hear some ugly stats?

A recent study found the impact of most diversity training efforts to be counter-productive, according to aDiversity comprehensive analysis of 31 years of data from over 800 medium and large US workplaces.

See a review of the full study results at the Washington Post.

Here are numbers - The kind of diversity training offered by most companies was followed by a 7.5% drop in the number of women in management, a 10% drop in the number of black women in management, and a 12% drop in the number of black men in management.   The study cites Asians and Latinos as suffering similar fates, even while pointing to the good intentions of companies embracing diversity training as a way to make their workplaces more inclusive and to cater to a more diverse workforce and customer base.

The analysis did not find that all diversity training is useless. Rather, it showed that mandatory programs -- often undertaken mainly with an eye to avoiding liability in discrimination lawsuits -- were the problem. When diversity training is voluntary and undertaken to advance a company's business goals, it was associated with increased diversity in management.   That's good to know, but hard to explain to the OFCCP when they want a list of your good faith efforts in conjunction with your Affirmative Action Plan...

So the next time you're doing Diversity training, you might want to roll out the demographics of your customer base as a part of the package...and <gasp> make it voluntary?


The Limitations of Succession Planning - Nirvana and the Foo Fighters....

I'm in a rock and roll kind of mood today.  As a card-carrying member of GenX, I grew up buying flannel shirts for nights out, which means the whole "grunge" scene was driving my fashion sense in college.Nirvana_2   Looking back, all I was missing was a thick beard and I could have been a double on the set of Grizzly Adams.  Good times, but it was hard to look like you were having fun with all the angst in those grunge lyrics.

Over the weekend, I had two rock experiences.  First, we finally broke out Guitar Hero for the Xbox, which was a Christmas gift for my sons.   After handling Barracuda on "easy" mode, my wife and I headed to the arena for the Jimmy Eat World/Foo Fighters show, which was a blast.  From a wellness perspective, it was cool to see that holding up your lighter has been replaced almost entirely by holding up the LED screen of the wireless device of your choice. 

One connection to my GenX/grunge days from the night out was Foo Fighters founder Dave Grohl.  Grohl hit the rock/grunge scene in 1991 as the drummer for Nirvana, the band that has remained as icon for everything related to grunge.  At the time Nirvana was popular, Grohl was an afterthought, dramatically overshadowed by lead singer Kurt Cobain, and his crazy wife, Courtney Love. 

Like a big corporation with a famous CEO, Nirvana rocked on and changed the music scene for a couple of years, until the equivalent of the Nirvana CEO, Cobain, committed suicide amidst a struggle with depression and dependency.  The band dissolved, minus the leader who had defined them as an organization.  Grohl and the other surviving member of the band, Chris Novoselic (bass), went their separate ways.  No succession plan there...

Over time, Novoselic and Grohl started bands organizations on their own.  Novoselic's fizzled, butFoo_fighters_wideweb__430x320 Grohl's project caught fire, with the Foo Fighters ultimately releasing 6 CD's since 1995 and being widely regarded as one of the best rock bands/brands active today.

My point - and there is one - is that Grohl was widely regarded as an afterthought in the initial flagship he contributed to (Nirvana).  Overshadowed in life and death by Cobain, Grohl used his skills to reshape his post-Nirvana career and develop an organization/brand deeper, more diversified and ultimately more successful than Nirvana. 

So the moral of the story is this - you have a Dave Grohl in your organization right now, a talent deeper and more creative than what's currently in the spotlight.  How do you find them and ensure they maximize their potential without having to leave your company?  Wouldn't it be cool if you could spot the high potential in your company and do something different with that talent? 

Of course, once you find a Dave Grohl, the problem is being brave enough to do something different with the talent.  Development of individuals in succession plans is difficult, mainly because as soon as you treat someone differently, you're putting them and everyone else on notice they are on the fast track.  That causes hard feelings and politics...

Most organizations don't fight that battle.  It's just easier to have everyone wear the same flannel shirt......

(subscribers reading via email or specific readers may need to click through for Foo Fighters clip below)


Flame or Fetal Position? What to Do When You Are Thrown Under the Bus...

Earlier this week I riffed about when interviewing gets put on the back burner.  You know the drill.  Positions are open, nerves are frayed, and it's your job to get the candidate flow tweaked just right.  Can't you make it rain already?  Where are the candidates?

So you hustle up and get the candidate flow rolling.  Then you close business.  But every once in a while, you have a hiring manager who says they are too busy to interview, even though the director of their department is rolling by your office every couple of days to check on status.  I popped off in my last post with some reasons why this type of hiring manager doesn't want to interview - some real, some tongue-in-check.

HR Wench hit the comments of that post with some great food for thought.  Reacting to Reason #5 whyThrow_under_the_bus some managers can't make the time to interview ("Not being fully staffed is a great reason for missing some objectives.  Why rush?"), HR Wench exclaimed:

"I love it when the reason is #5 and then the hiring manager tries to tell their boss that they haven't filled the position because HR/Recruiting isn't sending them viable candidates. Enter my Outlook Sent Box. Now you're really in trouble!"

Ah, yes.  That's a standard morality play in any organization.  You're doing the best you can to generate candidate flow and actually have delivered volume, and hopefully quality.  Nothing happens, then word gets back to you that the hiring manager in question says they aren't getting help from you.

Ouch.  That's going to leave a mark...

Instinct #1 - Flame away, taking the thoughts of HR Wench to the extreme (more than she would recommend, but still the first instinct for most of us).  Copy everyone.  Gather round, kids, it's time for public humiliation.... It's flogging for the digital era... Gotta be tough on reputational terrorism.  Who could blame you?

Back in the day, I was all about the digital flame in those circumstances.  The rage kept me warm at night.  Over the past 5 years, I find I have mellowed considerably.  I'm much less likely to do the email flame with a bunch of CC's.  Instead, I'll answer the question truthfully when asked by the person's boss.  Maybe even seek the boss out for a little help to nudge the manager in question.  I guess I've learned to appreciate that everyone is under pressure, and sometimes it becomes a blame game to survive. 

Of course, the hardest circumstance in this area is when a rumor gets back to you that you're being sold out.  The boss doesn't come by to give you a chance to defend yourself.  Someone tells you you're being thrown under the bus.  Maybe they're right, maybe they have the context wrong.  What do you do?

Stay quiet?  Flame?  Perhaps a calm check-in with the hiring manager and boss to see if they want to set up a second round of interviews since the candidates were delivered 2 weeks ago? 

Now you're thinking!  Defend yourself creatively without flaming!  I imagine HR Wench could probably write a textbook on this.  Maybe I could write the forward.... "..I've never met the HR Wench, but the name really captures the essence of the professional behind the....blah, blah, blah...."

Doormats don't get invited to the table, so staying quiet in this circumstance isn't a long-term strategy.  But you have to mix up the intensity and find a way to deliver the message.  Flame every time, and you'll soon be tuned out.

Stay classy, San Diego....


Employee Relations 101 - Has Your Morale Killer (Terrell Owens) Turned the Corner?

If you've worked in HR for more than a year, you've dealt with this situation.  An employee has largely been regarded as a morale killer among other employees, but retained because he/she has "special skills" that are difficult to replace.  So, the company keeps them around as long as the production is there.

Over time, the production remains positive, but you gradually hear less and less about them being a cancer.  Maybe you even see them do something positive for another teammate.  Have they turned the corner?  Are they suddenly all grown up?  Do you trust them as you do other employees, or do you always remember how they lashed out at others when things didn't go their way?

So the world turns with Terrell Owens, NFL receiver Diva for the Dallas Cowboys.   After the Cowboys' recent loss in the playoffs, TO cried when it appeared reporters might question the judgment of QB Tony Romo.  Sure he was wearing shades when he did it - but he CRIED....

Nice, except it's hard to forgot how he assassinated former teammates, Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb.

What's your take?  Can you trust employees who have had scorched earth policies towards other employees in the past, or is the damage too extreme to recover from?

Take a look at the two clips (first is from his time with the Eagles where his agent had to hold the press conference for him, second is the emotional TO at the Cowboys' recent press conference) - and decide whether you would trust TO as a normal employee/citizen in your organization....


Hiring Manager Sabotage - What's It Mean When Hiring Gets Put on the Backburner?

Here's one I never get.  Hiring is critical at your company, and all parties are clamoring for candidates.  Like the progressive HR hack you are, you go get some candidates, get them phone screened and send sweet summaries to the hiring manager with recommendations.

Then you wait.  And nothing happens.  Then you follow up.  Once, Twice, etc.Oxy10

Finally the message comes back.  "This month's not good for me.  I should be more open at some point in February."

Excuse me?  This month?  What happened to the critical need?  The epic struggle for talent?

(Disclaimer - I've had my share of searches where I had much difficulty sourcing.  I take full responsibility for those.  I just don't get why hiring managers can de-prioritize interviewing for months at a time, right after the siren goes off to get positions filled.)

Here are some thoughts of why the hiring manager doesn't want to interview for another 30 days, after you got rung up in a staff meeting about open positions:

1.  We migrate to what we are good at, and they aren't good/comfortable with interviewing.

2.  They've got a big zit on their chin, and they figure that time frame should be right for it to clear with a steady regimen of OXY-10.

3.  They've got a little bit of martyr in them, and they like doing it all themselves.  Think delegation issues. 

4.  That canker sore in their mouth is painful, so they're going with activities that don't require talking.

5.  Not being fully staffed is a great reason for missing some objectives.  Why rush?

6.  The candidates you are providing don't fit their needs, and you are so domineering you haven't thought to ask for feedback, and there's no way they can bring it up to you without getting beheaded.

Out of these answers, I think #1 is the most probable reason for the delay in most circumstances.  Most hiring managers aren't you.  They don't interview for a living, and it's easier to de-prioritize it than to deal with it and get it over with.

But I'm keeping a tube of OXY-10 in my bag, just in case someone needs it....


Fire the Jerk and Take A Nice Trip - My Wishes for HR Pros in 2008.....

My latest article is up at Workforce, so check it out.  I'm channeling Tony Robbins, Richard Simmons and Stuart Smalley all at the same time, because I know this is going to be a great year for you... Here's how it starts:

"I was going to fire up a column to start 2008 with my New Year’s resolutions as a U.S. HR manager,Tonyrobbins3x796612 but let’s face it, by February, I’ll be in survival mode and most of the resolutions will be toast. So I’ll take a pass on making that list and just download some self-improvement audio on my iPod instead.

That doesn’t mean that we HR pros don’t deserve a great 2008. To the contrary, we’re due for a great year, kind of like the Red Sox in 2004 before they nixed the curse and won the World Series. With that in mind, I’m REALLY hoping this is your breakout year. So much so, I’m channeling a little Tony Robbins your way with the following heartfelt wishes:

--May this be a year without layoffs for you to administer on behalf of your company. If you have do layoffs, may you be blessed with a management team that understands the value of treating people with respect under such circumstances. May your process be free of rehire offers for less money, and may you be armed with severance packages greater than one week’s worth of pay.

--May you be invited to attend a swanky, company-sponsored, all-expense-paid junket of your choosing. May no one be surprised to see you, the HR pro, at said junket. May you personally not be surprised to have been invited and actually be attending."

Click through and check out the rest of my wishes for you in 2008.....


When Sticker Price in Medical Insurance Reminds You Of Buying a GM Car...

Bought a new car recently?  If so, you know sticker price is for suckers... Do two things - wait for the juicy rebates always offered by Detroit automakers, then head to the lot and try to dicker the sales people down even further.  That's right, the marketing machine of US automakers has conditioned us not to move until there's a $5K rebate involved off the top. 

Health care is similar in some ways, but different in some critical aspects.  First up, there's a sticker price Used_cars_moviecover that hospital facilities quote to the general public related to what different procedures cost. Think of that as their "sticker price".  Here's the big difference - rebates aren't available to everyone, just to the folks with quality health care plans.  The Blue Cross networks (as well as other big insurance providers) are able to extract HUGE discounts from doctors and facilities alike through the power of their network.  If doctors/hospitals want BCBS patients, they've got to be a part of the network, and to be part of the network they've got to agree to the fee schedule touted by BCBS. 

That's where the discounts/rebates come into play.  The rebates can be huge when compared to the sticker prices touted by hospitals.  Here's a new record in my world I just came across.  Employee goes in for a procedure, with the company billed 19K for the entire bill.  Sticker price from the hospital before BCBS got ahold of the claim and went all Tony Soprano on it?  $152K.  That's right - the sticker price was over 7 times the actual cost ultimately allowed by BCBS.

Which makes me think two things.  First, I'm glad we have a good provider that can extract deep discounts off of sticker price.  Second, the common guy out there who's not covered by a plan like ours and is trying to go without insurance is a car wreck away from a lifetime of bills he can't pay and a probable personal bankruptcy.

There's something wrong with health care when sticker price on medical procedures makes buying a car look like a "one price, no haggle" experience...


What Pecentage Increase Does It Take to Steal a Sales Rep From Your Competition?

Every time I think of sales reps, I think of Glengarry Glen Ross.  Always... Be... Closing.  Get them to sign on the line which is dotted.  Could it be that there is more to motivating sales reps than cash?

Ann Bares at Compensation Force has an interesting post up regarding the motivation of salesBaldwin_glengarry_glen_ross representatives.  Ann cites a recent Rewards of WorkSM (ROW) Study that points to the fact that sales reps may be motivated by more than just money.  Here are the details from the study:

The ROW Study found that sales employees, compared to non-sales employees, are:

  • More engaged (57% versus 51%)
  • More committed to their company (68% versus 62%)

And, of course,

  • More motivated by compensation (82% versus 62%)

Moreover, they have:

  • A greater sense of affiliation with their organization (67% versus 60%)
  • Higher career satisfaction (57% versus 52%), and
  • More trust in management (59% vs. 55%)

Interesting numbers, and Ann correctly points out that the data is worth pondering.  First up, Sales people ARE more motivated by money than your normal employee.   That's good to know.  I might have lost faith in the basic instincts of humanity if that were not the case...

More importantly, since sales reps put it on the line to sell your product/service everyday, they're more engaged, satisfied and committed to your company than other types of employees.   They also have a higher degree of affiliation with the company (and whatever brand you are selling as an employer) than other types of employees.

It's interesting data, and certainly contrary to the stereotype of the mercenary sales rep.  It's good to know that sales reps have all these positive attributes when it comes to engagement and affiliation. 

Here's the 64K question.  Look at the spreads noted above when comparing sales reps to all other types of employees.   The motivation of compensation still dominates the landscape, so what type of percentage increase will it take for the normal sales rep to give up the warm nest of affiliation and satisfaction for more money?

I'm guessing that number is 20+% if all other items (benefits, product, perks, etc.) are equal.

What's your number?