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October 2008

These Stats Are Like an Asteroid to the Dinosaurs of HR...

Late last week, I did another installment in what has become an advocacy project for me - I presented to our state HR conference on the glaring need for HR pros to pick up some skills using social media.  Here's the deal - if you want the message delivered to any group you think has the need, call me.  I'm a big enough believer that I'll find the time to make it happen, free of charge.

What I've found in talking to the average HR pro about social media is that usage is very, very low. If you read this or other blogs centered around the HR and Recruiting professions, you're bleeding edge. WhenOld phone  I asked how many folks knew what a blog was, every hand went up.  When I asked how many of the HR pros had read a blog in the past month, only about 5% of the group had.  LinkedIn?  About half the hands went up when I asked who had a LI account.  When I asked how many had invited a colleague to join their LinkedIn network, half of those hands went down.  When I asked how many had used LinkedIn to recruit, one hand in a big group was in the air.

That doesn't mean the audience wasn't a talented bunch.  It just means that unless they embrace the tools, they run the risk of being dinosaurs at some point in the future.

Don't believe that?  Consider these stats mined out of BusinessWeek:

"It’s a given that young people live in a high-tech world. For details, take a gander at some of the data compiled by Peter Schilling, who heads the IT department at Amherst College in Massachusetts. His IT Index, as he dubs it, shows, for example, that just 5 of 1,680 students—0.3% of the school’s enrollment—have landline phones, compared with 82% of Americans. The data also capture emerging tech preferences. Freshmen (average family income: $76,183) make up half of those on campus who own an Apple iPhone or iPod Touch.

In contrast to upperclassmen, first- and second-year students are also more likely to own Macs than PCs, for instance. And 89% of the incoming class applied online, vs. 33% in 2003. As for the total e-mail received on campus, 94% is spam, Schilling found. Finally, a note to orientation planners: When 99% of freshmen join Facebook groups before hitting campus, does it make sense to assume these kids haven’t met?"

Right now, a lot of HR pros can rationalize that they don't need social media skills because they aren't doing campus recruiting.  As more and more of these classes come out and start looking for their 2nd and 3rd jobs, the competent HR pro or Recruiter is going to have to know how to use these tools, or they're going to be roadkill.  Both externally (recruiting) and internally (multiple uses for engagement, retention, etc.), the tools are going to be as ubiquitous as Outlook.  The only question is how quickly that critical mass hits. 

Until then, the dinosaurs (don't email me with ageism rants, because this is about change and keeping skills fresh, not age) can survive.  But, it's still a great way for you to separate yourself from the HR pack.

Watch Out for the Taliban When the "Two Bobs" Come to Town...

Recently, I had the chance to sit down with a couple of managing partners in one of my favorite consulting shops.  Now, the consulting shop in question, which will remain unnamed, is a small shop - probably 30 people tops, which certainly qualifies it as "boutique".

In talking to them about the niche they served, one observation they made was the contrast between theBob1a work they provided and what customers within larger companies expect.  The issue?  The consulting shop does all custom work, meaning they go in, do the needs analysis, get a game plan together, etc. - but the deliverables to every engagement are different as a result.

This reality apparently frustrates some project managers in larger companies, who have been trained by the big consulting firms to expect deliverables based on the time tested models they pitch as the gospel.

I'd imagine the conversation goes something like this:

Consulting Firm (my friends): Hey, it's great to be here this week. We're looking forward to digging in and finding out the best way for us to help.

Project Manager inside Fortune 500: Thanks for coming.  Do you have an outline of what the deliverables will be?

Consulting Firm: Um, no.  Since our work is really focused to our unique specialty, we find it's most effective for us to come in, ask a lot of questions, listen, then figure out how we can help you.

Project Manager: So you don't have slides?  Can you email me something?

Why's this on my mind?  First, I thought it was a cool observation by some folks who are trying to do more than go through the motions on behalf of their clients.  Second, Yahoo is in the news for securing Bain to help them reduce their workforce, and Bain apparently subscribes to the "stick to the model, kids" theory, to the extent they're viewed as being a little extreme, and largely "one size fits all", regardless fo the circumstances.

From Ed Frauenheim at Workforce:

"Critics of Intel’s reorganization say the company relied too heavily on an outside consulting firm, which reportedly was Boston-based Bain & Co. And the degree to which Bain’s benchmark figures were treated as gospel in chopping people and programs led employees to jokingly call the company’s consultants the "TaliBain," critics say.

Workforce's John Hollon chimes in that the same thing has been in play for Yahoo:

"This is code, of course, for slashing staff, and Bain & Co. has a reputation for being particularly effective at this. In fact, the consultancy earned the nicknamed the “TaliBain” for the work they did in this regard at Intel, and I speculated here that Yahoo brought in Bain & Co. because Yahoo executives didn’t have the cojones to buck up and do what they knew needed to be done—i.e., get rid of a chunk of people.

And that’s why today’s Wall Street Journal story on Yahoo getting ready to do some significant cost cutting “to try to reverse its fortunes from the inside” isn’t particularly surprising. What is surprising is the notion that big staff cutbacks (rumored to be at least 1,000 out of a workforce of 14,300) will actually help the company “accelerate our performance,” as Yang previously put it."

The economic slowdown is serious business, and a lot of people are hurting.  Still, when I think of the term "Taliban", I can't help but think of the "two Bobs" from Office Space who are there to run the organizational review for Lumburgh.

Except the Bobs didn't have slides.  They were more analog than that...

Healthcare in the USA and Mortality in China - Our System is Bad?

So, the economy is in the pits, you just took a fully-insured renewal from your medical insurance provider that gives you a company-wide 12% increase when the national trend is 6%, and you keep hearing that China is going to put the USA out of business.

Plus, you watched the Olympics, and the Chinese sure look modern.Olympics

Not so fast there, Chicken Little.  You may have been watching a made for TV event in Beijing, and for all the shiny stadiums and cute kids singing, there may be 10 kids in the countryside who live in squalor compared to our poverty level in the states, and aren't part of the picture China projects.

From Reuters:

"China's economic boom has resulted in stark health inequity between its urban and rural populations and health experts urged the Chinese government to work harder at providing healthcare for everyone.  Infant mortality in China's countryside stands at 123 for every 1,000 live births compared with 26 in the richest counties, the experts wrote in a paper published in The Lancet medical journal.

Of every 1,000 children, 64 in the countryside will not live beyond their fifth birthday, compared with 10 in the cities.

The report, by researchers in China, the United States and Britain as well as from the World Health Organisation, is part of a special series on China's health reforms.

Another paper highlighted how healthcare was taking up the bulk of household incomes, or a whopping 50 percent in 2006 (over 18 times that in 1990) because of inadequate health insurance. This compares with 45 percent in South Korea, 16 percent in Sweden, 15 percent in Japan and 11 percent in France."

Why this post on a HR blog?  Like you, I read a lot about our country's competitiveness in the global labor pool, and it hurts to see jobs lost to a cheaper labor market overseas.  That being said, I can't help but to be proud to live in a country, for all its challenges, that tries to do the right thing and actively has conversations about topics, like finding a way to ensure healthcare for all of our citizens.

You think serious conversations are going on in that regard in China?  Perhaps, but I suspect the context is for the ruling party to stay in control, not a drive for equality, fairness and doing what's right.

The USA - imperfect, but I like it compared to that.

England Once Voted For Change - Her Name Was Margaret Thatcher...

So, here we are - a week away, and regardless of what happens in the presidential election, change of a historic nature is going to happen.  Many of the proposed legislative changes that may result (the Paycheck Fairness Act, the ENDA, etc.) give me cause for pause as a business person due to increased governmental oversight.  Oddly enough, I'm OK with most of the employment-related ones as a HR pro. 

The reason I'm OK with those proposed changes as a HR pro?  Every company I've ever worked for has alwaysThatcher strived to be better than the law in those areas.  No situation is ever perfect, but when good people try to do the right thing, increased legislation isn't generally a big deal in the employment law arena.  There's always some cost to defend frivolous claims, but hey, that's business.  The laws are consistent with how most of us treat people (which is to say fairly), and laws generally get written for 10% of the population.  Play on.

But, there's one bill that is in direct opposition to treating employees fairly, even though the name suggests otherwise - The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).  Proposed by the Democratic party, the EFCA will actually remove the right to a confidential vote for/against a union representing workers in the workplace.  It doesn't give rights to individual employees, it actually takes them away.

Is that American?  You make the call.  I'm moderate in a lot of things, and the only way I can say that's American is that a huge special interest group (the unions, surprise!) has funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars to the Democratic party to make this special interest law a reality.

If it passes, we only need to look to our friends across the pond, and to Margaret Thatcher, to see what happens next.  Why am I bringing up Margaret Thatcher?  She was another historic election winner, serving as the Prime Minister of England from 1979 to 1990, and remains the first and only woman to date to hold the post.  Sound familiar?

Claire Berlinski isn’t an expert on labor unions, she’s an expert on Margaret Thatcher. Learn from history in Berlinski's great article in the City Journal regarding Thatcher’s 1980 Employment Act. Berlinski writes:

When Thatcher was elected in 1979, Britain had just endured a winter of discontent—a season of strikes and trade union agitation so severe that the nation stood effectively paralyzed. Food supplies were interrupted, whole industries choked, and exports fell. “We don’t want to increase our trade with you,” said the Soviet trade minister to his British counterpart. “You’re always on strike.” Rubbish piled up on the streets that winter; at one point, so did human corpses. This was what had become of a nation that was once the world’s greatest trading power.

For obvious reasons, Thatcher put reform of the trade union law at the top of her agenda. Among the key provisions of Britain’s 1980 Employment Act was a change in the way government would recognize unions. At the time, workers voted to join unions—or not—in public, by voice vote. Dissenters suffered harassment and physical intimidation. Henceforth, Thatcher decided, new union membership agreements would require approval by means of a secret ballot in order to protect rank-and-file workers from bullying by union organizers. If allowed to vote secretly, she believed, ordinary workers would not vote for policies against their long-term interests—such as pay raises so incommensurate with production as to render British businesses uncompetitive, or strikes so prolonged as to make even the Soviets unwilling to buy British goods.

I don't claim to know the impact of the EFCA on the economy.  I know the law is bad for employees and companies, in that order.  It's a classic special interest, overreaching grab that runs counter to many things the Democratic party has always stood for.  Remember what it means to you and your employees when you vote as a HR pro.

If the EFCA is signed into law?  I suspect we'll see another change agent down the road who rises and restores the right to a confidential vote for/against union representation back to the employee.

Could be 4 years from now, could be 20.  That's the scary part.   

Finding Action Orientation in a Behavioral Interview...

As most of the readers of the Capitalist know, I'm a big believer in the behavioral interview, where you ask for specific examples of what a candidate has done, rather than accepting the general hypotheticals most candidates provide.  Of course, it's easy to be a cynic and say that behavioral interviewing stinks, but my experience is that such criticism usually comes from those who have never watched a good behavioral interviewer grind for more detail from a candidate. 

The good interviewers get the behavioral detail from a candidate.  The good candidates, on the other hand, give a wealth of behavioral detail without being asked.

Last week, I talked to Jason Seiden, who's a management consultant who helps organizations manage and develop Gen X and Gen Y talent.  Check out his blog here, good stuff.  We had a great conversation, I subscribed to his blog, etc. 

Jason emailed me over the weekend with a link to the following video - a great primer on finding action orientation in a candidate as you conduct the behavioral interview.  Give a listen and I'll see you after the jump below the video (email subscribers click through for video):

That's good stuff.  You'd love to have a candidate who would do the work for you, especially in the dimension of action orientation (ironic, isn't it?), but be prepared to dig.  Most won't...

As for Jason, I think he mentioned he's got plans to do upwards of 200 videos similar to this.  If they're all like this, I'll be tuning in.  Makes me want to run to Best Buy and grab some video gear...

The 4 Day Work Week - Now Wrecking Innovation at a Company Near You...

My new Column is up at Workforce.com.  Topic is the 4-day work week, and why you shouldn't drink the Kool-Aid...

"Here’s a rule of thumb for all you capitalists working undercover as HR pros in corporateWorst_workspaces America:  If your local, state or federal government is leading the charge to implement a seemingly progressive workplace policy, don’t rush to be included in the "me too" camp.

In fact, when you get the brochure for the "government best practices seminar," run like hell.

As an example of such a policy, I give you the four-day workweek for exempt, salaried employees. I understand that nonexempt, hourly employees are going to work a certain number of hours, then go home. For hourly workers, the four-day workweek is a simple exercise in scheduling production and ensuring availability for customers.

The four-day workweek for exempt professionals is different, and it makes sense only if you don’t think about it too hard. Here’s the spin: We’ll work smarter, not harder, enhance work/life balance through organizational design and improve the morale of exempt workers. All this will be accomplished by chopping a calendar day off the workweek that we’ve carried over from the industrial age.

Listen to the logic, and you can fill up a buzzword bingo card with the catchphrases. As the gifted poet Flavor Flav once said, "Don’t believe the hype."

It just takes one click to check out the rest of the article, including four reasons you should think twice before implementing a 4 day work week. 

Please keep the cursing in the comments to a minimum.  My mom's reading and it's hard on her...

Changing a Losing Culture - Tough Love with Mike Singletary...

Let's say you're the new VP of Sales for ACME, Inc.  You've inherited a culture that isn't focused on results (actual sales results), but to make matters worse, really isn't focused on providing service to customers either.  The end result?  You've inherited a team that doesn't have a sense of urgency in any area, and the results (both sales and customer churn) show it.

So, you come in.  You're the new leader, and while you work with the team on how to close deals, you communicate to the team that everyone needs to respond to a customer call or email within 24 hours, even if you are simply telling them you've received their message and are working on their issue.  You're trying to instill a little work discipline into a team that hasn't had it in the past.  You're thinking that even though the sales results aren't there, if the team starts displaying the right habits with the little things, they've got a chance to turn it around.

After you communicate that policy, one of your most talented sales reps decides it's not important to return 3 or 4 customer calls, and after a few days, those calls get escalated to you.  While the rep is talented, their sales results have been poor as well.

What do you do?  You're in a turnaround situation, and you need to make sure everyone knows your way of doing things isn't optional.  Do you bring that sales rep in and coach him?  Write him up with a warning?  Move him out of the company?

If you're Mike Singletary, new coach of the San Francisco 49ers, you tell him to leave the building, adding that the team will be better playing shorthanded for the foreseeable future.  Check out the video below of Singletary in a press conference on 10/26/08 with classic "Change the Culture" action and language to get the attention of an underperforming group (email subscribers click through for video).

What would you do?  Regardless of your take, you've got to love the passion of Mike Singletary, new manager for the ACME San Francisco 49ers organization.

My Avatar is Just More Engaged than Your Avatar...

There's lots of buzz out there about employee engagement; everyone has an engagement model and most have a whitepaper (shudder) on the topic.  While I understand that there are ways to maximize engagement of the troops you have, I also understand that the actively disengaged - the employees who aren't simply neutral, they're negative - may be chronically challenged with the "work sucks" bug.

With that in mind, I've noted in the past that one of the best ways to maximize the engagement of yourPac_man_shot_glasses  workforce is to avoid hiring clock-watchers.  You want to hire people who naturally look for challenge and aren't simply there to punch in and punch out.  The problem with that?  It's easy to see the folks who have been actively engaged or disengaged in past positions, but very difficult to determine whether the fence-sitters (deemed "neither engaged nor disengaged" in their past employment stops) will bring an A-game to your shop. 

Further complicating the issue is the fact that Gallup claims the fence sitters make up 54% of the average workforce.  That seems to indicate that we should probably spend some time figuring it out.

The problem is that the usual tools aren't super effective.  Behavioral interviewing is great, but what if you emerge from an interview with an engagement fence-sitter with no clue how engaged they'll be in the environment you have to offer?  You need some objective help, which is why I was interested to see this from a Fast Company article on Kenexa:

"According to Kenexa, turnover among managers who feel pride in their company is 21% lower than among those who don't. Adds the Kenyan-born, Canadian-educated, Kenexa CEO Karsan: "When you're in a job that you enjoy and you're good at, you're not just a better worker. You're a better spouse, a better parent, a better citizen."

But this isn't just about group hugs. Kenexa's scientists do interviews and surveys to learn what inspires employees. (Managers: Apparently, employees love sessions where you just listen to them.) Its industry-leading software runs the data through sophisticated algorithms, identifying correlations and possible causations. Then Kenexa devises strategies to improve work environments and recruit, evaluate, and keep talent. For example, after studying several service industries, Kenexa recently developed a program in which potential hires use avatars to act out scenarios -- from remembering the proper arrangement of items in a hotel room to making judgment calls about inebriated drinkers at a bar -- to measure how naturally engaged an applicant would be on the job."

Playing with drunk avatars for an objective view of projected engagement?  Where do I sign up?  I'll try to find out more from Kenexa and do a follow up post. 

Cost of a background check - $110.  Cost of turnover - $5,000 per exiting employee.  Playing with obnoxious, drunk avatars to measure your projected engagement on the job....Priceless...

On Human Potential and Capturing Memories...

I had a project going at one point to put a video timeline together for each of the my kids.  The rules were pretty simple.  Cuts had to be edited down to 5 seconds a clip, to keep the timeline moving, and of course, it went in chronological order. 

The goal was to end up with a running 30 minute depiction of their life that Angela and I could watch when they were grown up and out of the house.  I need to get back on that project.  The video below (email subscribers click through for video) reminded me on why I was doing it.

The video below is a new Nike commercial, featuring a couple of NFL stars (LaDainian Tomlinson, better known as LT and Troy Polamalu).  What makes it special isn't football - it's the fact that the clips start with an ultrasound and tracks two kids growing up until they arrive at what they will become.  In this case, it's pro football players.  In the case of my kids, it will be something else. 

Both kids are unique from each other, but you can see behaviors in both as they grow up that hint at how they'll handle themsleves professionally.  How cool would it be to see something similar for the people on your team, your kids, etc?

I gotta get back to the video project.  Warning - if you are sentimental at all and have kids who are between 5 and 10, your eyes may well up a bit - especially if your kids play sports.  I've watched this about 10 times and mine have every time.

6 Good Things That Happen to HR Pros During Recessions...

I orginally ran this as a column over at Workforce in May, but since the recession seems all but official now, it seems to be more relevant than ever... Laugh, don't cry...


Economics quiz time! Sponsored by Workforce Management and the HR Capitalist, this ultra-compact quiz is designed to sharpen your skills as you seek to blend HR theory with economic reality.

To check your expertise, answer the two questions below and score accordingly:

    1. I know the U.S. is in a recession when:

  1. Two-year bonds are yielding more than 10-year bonds. Will_work_for_food
  2. I have employee spouses calling me to inquire why their 401(k) balance is down 10 percent for the quarter, even though they are 100 percent invested in funds labeled "uber-aggressive."
  3. Individual companies are announcing the layoff of thousands of HR pros.
  4. Our mailroom professional has hidden the FedEx envelopes and is asking us to consider stacking as an alternative to "wasteful stapling."

    2. When times get tight, my company:

  1. Starts to tighten up discretionary travel.
  2. Sets the thermostats to hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
  3. Seeks to deliver e-mail "on the hour" instead of instantaneously.
  4. Puts new budgeted positions not only in a freeze, but a freeze north of the Arctic Circle—in a sector where the ice hasn’t melted.

Score your answers: All of them are correct, but if you answered "D" to both, congratulations! You’re just jaded enough to lead your company through any economic downturn, but you’ll do it with the humor and style appreciated by employees at large, as well as the finance department.

Shine on, you crazy diamond.

Seriously though, my HR brethren, did you hear the news? Home Depot just threw a fastball at your head, announcing the layoff of more than 1,000 HR professionals. When’s the last time you heard of a triple-digit HR layoff, much less one that rang up more than a thousand displaced human capitalists?

    The simple answer is, you haven’t—which should give you pause.

    There is good news and bad news related to the role of the HR manager/director during an economic slowdown.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. If your company has to cut headcount, you’ll more than likely be front and center in delivering the news. That’s a tough spot, and most of us have been there. On the plus side, you likely have the best skill set to handle this task, in a way that treats employees with what they deserve—class and respect.

Now, let’s focus on the good news. There’s an opportunity in every crisis, and this one is no different. You just have to squint to see it.   

With that in mind, here’s my list of Six Good Things That Happen to HR Pros During Recessions:

  1. Voluntary turnover goes down: It’s a fact that during recessions, fewer jobs are available. It doesn’t take a Harvard MBA to determine that means fewer companies will be actively stalking your talent, which means reduced voluntary churn across your employee base. With unemployment levels in the low single digits for the past couple of years, lower turnover is going to feel like a vacation. The tricky part of this for HR pros is that you can’t sit still. You’ve got to use the time to build your skills and add value in other areas.
  2. The progressive HR pros get to show off their business skills: With recessions come pressure on all costs. When the call to look at expenses invariably comes, you get a great opportunity to flex your business mind. Need a reduction in total benefit costs? The normal businessperson is going to automatically raise employee contributions, co-pays and deductibles. But you understand how employees value the different components of your total benefit package. That means you understand best which cuts are most tolerable to the masses, which helps you manage retention and employee satisfaction.

    That doesn’t mean you won’t be involved in tough decisions. You probably will. But it’s a great opportunity to show your team that you can weave hard numbers with the fuzzier elements of human capital.
  3. Strong talent is available for less: Nothing is a bigger constant in recessions than big companies doing "across the board" job cuts, shuttering entire divisions, departments and locations as a matter of efficiency. That approach means they can’t discriminate between the high performers and the "performance-challenged" who are affected by the layoff. In addition, even though voluntary turnover is down, fear is rampant. Your opportunity is to match the best talent that’s been affected by layoffs with the opportunities available in your organization. You can also work passive channels to find high performers who are employed, but are available for the right opportunity.
  4. You can focus on building, not reacting: If recruiting is 30 percent of your job, and vacancies are down 50 percent in your company, what are you going to do with the hours of the workweek that you just got back? If you said "chill," this article’s probably not for you. The smart HR pros invest the time in activities that will help them when the economy picks back up—manager training, process improvement (ugh), a focus on performance management ... anything that will make your practice become more streamlined and run smoother, once the economy picks up and you are again strapped for time. Focus on activities that improve things rather than finding transactions to keep you busy.
  5. There’s no better time to start a focus on retention: Retention programs can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Included in the definition can be enhancing communication, rewards and recognition, employee satisfaction initiatives and total compensation programs, to name a few. Whatever your flavor, an economic slowdown is a great time to get started. It’s the perfect opportunity to pop onto the employee radar: You’ve got a little extra time, voluntary turnover is down and the masses might be a little nervous. Then you and the company show up to show that you care. Good call.
  6. You get a little "you time": Notice I didn’t say "relaxation," "downtime" or "chill." If you have the extra time, you’ve got to reinvest it in yourself and your career. What that means to you is an individual call. What benefits your career most? Certification, a degree program or starting a blog could all be a fit, based on where you are at in your career. Get started today. Don’t look back three years from now and play the "would have, should have" game.

So, what did we learn today? HR people can understand economics, I’m shopping at Lowe’s, and there’s a silver lining to every cloud, even a recession.

And you are just the person to lead your company through it.