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July 2009

Here's Why Companies That Have Used Card Check In The Past Are Silent These Days...

The most recent edition of Workforce Management magazine is wondering aloud why companies that recognize card check have been silent regarding the card check provision of the Employee Free Choice Act.  After all, they have it, so shouldn't they be for it or against it?

Card check may be dead in the EFCA, but the article is asking a good question - one you can learn from -Efca but the analysis provided in the Workforce article is killing me.  All they had to do was ask a VP of HR who's helped telecoms fight to remain union free and they would have had their answer.  More on that after the jump, but for now, more on the question from Workforce:

"In the cacophony of the debate on the Employee Free Choice Act, one particular voice that might quell fears about the use of card check over secret-ballot elections has been silent.  None of the major companies that currently use card check has stepped up to support the bill.

American Rights at Work, an Employee Free Choice Act advocacy group, says that more than 500,000 workers have joined unions through majority sign-up—another term for card check—since 2003. On its Web site, the organization praises companies that use the process for listening to their workers and treating them with respect. Advocates say that big companies that use card check are staying out of the debate because of bullying by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is leading the charge against the bill.Those cited include AT&T, Verizon and Kaiser Permanente.

 All three companies refused to comment on the Employee Free Choice Act and their labor relations. Another employer, Harley-Davidson, did not respond."

Dudes... The answer is simple.  I cut my teeth in the telecom industry, which included helping union-free arms of the big telecoms stay that way. 

Here's the reality: the only companies that are accepting card check for union-free operations are the ones with HUGE embedded unions elsewhere in the enterprise.  As a result of the presence of those unions, these companies are often open to negotiating their right to fight union organizing away in exchange for other concessions at a much larger negotiation table.

Example - BellSouth had a huge union presence within its landline (home phone and network) organization. At one time, its wireless operation was fiercely union-free.  It made the business decision that as part of the bigger picture, it could extract meaningful concessions from the union it was dealing with by offering a "neutrality" pact for it's union-free wireless operations.  As a result of giving that "neutrality" negotiation chip, BellSouth agreed not to aggressively tell its side of the story regarding the downside of unions.  Many neutrality agreements that are bargained away also include card-check provisions as well.  If you've already agreed NOT to be honest with your employees regarding why a union might be a bad idea, why not give up card check, right?

As you might expect, neutrality agreements almost guarantee that a work unit will be organized.  But it has nothing to do with believing in the validity of the card check concept.  It's part of a much larger picture.

So when it comes to AT&T and Verizon, the answer is clear.  They did it all for the nookie money.  They gave up card check because the union gave them something valuable at the negotiating table..  A bad exchange in my eyes, one made by those who don't have to live with the results.  They're silent alright - they don't believe in it, but gave it up anyway.  What are they supposed to say?  "We sold out those employees for the money"?

Card check may be dead for now in the EFCA, but damn - don't let someone force the Kool-Aid on you.  They're silent because they sold card check for another negotiating chip - a fact under-reported by the Workforce article and the only answer you need for that question.

I Hate It When HR Pros Think They're Equal to Sales Pros...

True Fact - Too few HR pros get the fact that when it comes down to it, the sales reps for your organization - which come in many flavors - are the backbone of any company.

This rant is brought to you by... me listening to whining from HR pros at different companies over the past Steakknives month... about salespeople . . . their compensation, their moral code, yadda, yadda, yadda...

Let's face it - Sales Pros are the ones who bring home the bacon, so everyone else can fry it up in the pan.  They're the hunters, you're the farmer.  They start from a scoreboard that says "0" every month, while we're still trying to figure out what a scoreboard looks like for most positions in the organization.

You're an administrator, they book revenue.  Get it yet?

Meanwhile, the smart money ponders the mystic skill of the sales pro, like this clip from Ben Stein at the New York Times:

"Sales — when done right — is more than a job. It is an art. It is a high-wire act. It is, as Arthur Miller immortally said, being out there “on a smile and a shoe shine.” It is learning the product you are selling, learning it so well that you can describe it while doing a pirouette of smiles for the customer and talking about the latest football scores. It is knowing human nature so well that you can align the attributes of your product or service cleanly with the needs and wants of your customers.

At its best, selling is taking a doubt and turning it, jujitsu style, into a powerful push. Selling is making the customer feel better about spending money — or investing it — than he would have felt by keeping his wallet zipped.

I have special memories of people who have sold brilliantly.

In 1976, when I moved to Los Angeles, I desperately wanted a Mercedes 450 SLC, a car that was — even in used form — far more than I deserved or could afford at my entry-level, highly tenuous work as a scriptwriter. My salesman at Mercedes-Benz of Beverly Hills, Larry Anish, listened to my objections and simply asked, “Don’t you believe in your own future?” Of course, I bought the car."

Here's the reason for my rant: Many HR pros I know wonder a little bit about the motivation of sales professionals in their organization.  "Their only motivation is money" is a common refrain, spoken like the person has an open canker sore on their mouth and they may have touched it inadvertently. Or put the pen of said sales pro in their mouth...

If you've ever felt that way about the sales pros in your organization, repeat after me:  You need them to want to make hundreds of thousands of dollars.  You want them to be that good.  You have no right as an HR Pro to feel poorly about your compensation compared to a high end sales pro.  If you we're wired to do that job, you'd be there. You're not there.  That's not you. 

Guess what?  The market pays for those who drag the carcass home to the tribe.

Now, the next refrain from the "we're all created equal" HR crowd is that sales can sometimes act unethically to close the deal.  Without question, we need our sales pro to be ethical.  But don't EVER (EVER!) think the art of sales described by Stein above is unethical.  You've got the customer at the decision point.  You appeal to emotion, to comfort, to get the sale done. 

You call it manipulation.  I call it the art of sales - dealing with objections. 

Remember, like Nicholson in a few good men - you want them on that wall.  You need them on that wall...

So stop whining and start treating them (the good ones that can close) like the rockstars they are.

Connected Employees and The Triple Crown of Social Networking...

Lots of talk last week about a proposed Best Buy job description for a social media positoin that included the following requirement - the successful candidate was "required" to have at least 250 followers on Twitter.  The post drove a lot of traffic, and the "twitterrati" (those who consider themselves social media mavens) came out and laughed about it - after all, 250 followers on twitter isn't a lot, especially with the level of spam connections flying around twitter these days.

But buried in the comments to one of the posts was a nugget for consideration - is there a "triple crown" of  social networking that gives someone street cred in social media?  The triple crown would be the number of connections across LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.  In other words, how many connections/followers/friends does someone need across these three platforms to be "legit" regarding social media?


The question is interesting to me because as I continue to dig into the concept of passive recruiting and leveraging employee networks for recruiting efforts, the following questions come to mind:

-How do I know a connected employee when I see him/her?

-Should I be pushing employees to expand their own footprints across these tools to help themselves (professional development) and the company (recruiting)?

-Should my company provide incentives for employees who build out their networks?  If so, what do those incentives look like?

And the big question:

-Assuming encouraging employees to build out their networks is a good thing, how do we measure it?  What's the triple crown of social networking related to LinkedIn connections, Twitter followers and Facebook friends? 

I'd put the initial goal for employees not doing much currently at 250 LinkedIn connections and 250 Twitter followers, then double or triple the goal for employees already naturally into networking activity.  I have no clue on Facebook.

Your thoughts?  What's the triple crown of social networking (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook) for an employee not currently engaged, and for the natural networker who's already using the tools?

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

So, here we are - in the middle of a little economic slowdown.  Is it a slowdown or a recession?  Does itRecession matter?  Your 401k is a little bit lighter and everyone's on edge, meaning the therapist part of your job just became more important.  Good thing everyone has you around to hug it out with...

But you know, there are actually some good things that happen to HR Pros during recessions.  You just have to squint to see the opportunity.  I spent 10 minutes staring at the wall over a weekend, and here's my list of good things that are happening to you right now in all your HR-dom (click over to Workforce for the full article):

1.  Voluntary Turnover goes down...

2.  Good talent is available for less...

3.  There's no better time to start a focus on retention...

Wondering why these are good things or interested in the rest of my list?  Click over to my article with the same title on Workforce to see the rest of the breakdown...

Why Academics Shouldn't Influence Your Business Decisions...

Here's a tip for anyone in business.  Rely on academics for macro-research, but leave the business decisions to those who have to live with the results.  Need proof?  Check out this sloppomatic assumption from deep thinker Leonard Burman (Urban Institute) via the Washington Post:

"Right now, employer-paid health insurance is entirely tax-free -- a break that will cost the TreasuryBurman about $250 billion this year. If an employer pays $12,000 for health insurance, that money is not counted as income, whereas the same $12,000 paid as cash wages is subject to income, Social Security and Medicare taxes. The more generous the insurance policy, the bigger the tax savings.

Health experts criticize this arrangement because it encourages employers to provide health insurance plans that cover everything; this, in turn, contributes to overspending on health care by workers who have no incentive to pay attention to costs.

More important, in the long run, a cap could help union workers. For one thing, it would require employers to reveal what they pay for health insurance. If machinists earning $50,000 a year knew that their employers were paying $20,000 for their health insurance, many would ask them to find a cheaper plan (such as an HMO) and boost wages."

Hey Leonard: Here's the question you should ask the folks who represent union workers at the bargaining table: "Would you rather have a) benefits that cover everything, or b) higher wages, or c) more jobs at the plant?".

The answer in the real world?  Ask that question and the answer you'll get back is "Yes! We'd like some of all of that".  Unions aren't in the business of forcing choice (benefit levels vs. wages) or creating jobs at the expense of their current members - that's not the way it works, and union leaders know that won't sell on the street - that's not what they sold their members on when they organized the group.  What they sell is this - we're going to protect you and make sure you get more of everything, or at the very least, maintain what you have.

That's why you don't let academics make your business decisions for you.  Markets aren't always rational, and emotions and positioning are items that have to be factored in.  So read the macro research to understand the trends, but factor in your street knowledge as well.

Now where's my sign-on to the Urban Institute?  I need some help with an attendance issue...

<Captialist Note - to be fair, there's good research at the Urban Institute and Burman's columnn in the post is worth reading in it's entirety - just don't take all the macro assumptions to the street, because you'll get nailed...>

RIP Zappos: 1999 - ?

By now, you've probably heard that Amazon.com has scooped up Zappos in an acquisition deal that now combines two of the market's leaders in online retail and online footware sales. The deal has Amazon.com exchanging 40 million shares of Amazon stock (nearly $900 million at current trading values) for all of Zappos's outstanding shares, options, and warrants. The company will also contribute $40 million in cash and restricted stock to Zappos employees.

FYI - $40 Million equals an average grant/award of roughly $27,000 per employee (based on a company Amazon_zappos employee base of 1,500 team members).  Not bad, right?

If you've followed the Zappos culture as a HR/Talent pro, you want things to stay the same at Zappos.  Because it's cool as hell.  And because you like free two-day shipping.

I agree.  But I've also heard all the platitudes that have come from both sides of the acquisition.  The Zappos team, led by CEO Tony Hsieh, says nothing about how the well-publicized and unique culture will change.  The Amazon team says openly that Zappos will be allowed to operate as an independent company, and the unique culture was a big reason they wanted to buy Zappos.  They want to learn from the Zappos team...

That's cool.  But make no mistake, when a publicly traded company buys another company, change happens.  It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.  My take is that the changes to the Zappos culture take longer to play out than normal, but if history tells us anything, it's that the culture will change after one of the three following events happen in the interaction between Zappos and Amazon:

1.  The Zappos founding and leadership team, having realized a liquid event (that's a cash out, homies), sees the creeping pressures of having to answer to a corporate office and jumps earlier than expected, most likely to go build another company like Zappos, but different enough to not run afoul of their non-competes. 

2.  The Amazon team, having forced stretch budget numbers on Zappos that include revenue targets that can't be hit, force expense reductions that hurt the culture and are permanent in nature.  Culture, after all, is a fragile thing.

3.  The Amazon team, having been unable to force the founding Zappos team to do what they want them to do on the expense front, exercise their control and remove the Zappos leadership team and put their own people in.

I hope none of it happens.  But unless the founding team is going to stay there for the next decade, change is coming.  Not if, but when.  I like Zappos, and I'm rooting for them.  I've seen this movie before, however, and it usually ends in a similar fashion.

Welcome to the Amazon Jungle - we've got fun and games...

Positive Drug Tests - Everyone Talks About False Positives the 1st Time, But Scatter When the 2nd Positive Comes In...

I haven't had to deal with a lot of positive drug tests in my career, but the few I've dealt with have convinced me that there's a time-honored tradition with positive drug tests.  It goes a little something like this:

--Employee gets news of positive test.  Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.  Denial happensGasquet immediately from the employee.

--Employee gathers themselves (rallies around the Google search function), then comes back to you a few hours later with some possible reasons for the positive test - those could include - poppy seed muffin (ever wonder why they don't serve those in Kabul?  I forgot, they like to save the poppies for EXPORT...), second hand pot smoke, etc.

Here's a new one for the "It wasn't me, it was the second hand stuff" crowd.  You can now burn a positive cocaine test by making out with a junky model in South Beach.  Don't believe me?  Just ask Richard Gasquet via Sports Illustrated:

"While the 16 remaining players in the men's draw competed at Wimbledon on June 29, Richard Gasquet was a few miles from the All England Club, fighting for his career at a tribunal hearing. Three months earlier, the French player had tested positive for cocaine, triggering a two-year ban under the World Anti-Doping Agency code. In a sport with no guaranteed contracts and a short career shelf life, this was, potentially, akin to a professional death sentence.

But in a considerable upset, the International Tennis Federation's panel ruled Wednesday that Gasquet inadvertently took the cocaine. He was cleared to play after completing a 2½-month ban, which ended Wednesday. The three-person tribunal found credible Gasquet's defense that the trace amounts of cocaine had entered his system when he kissed a woman in a Miami nightclub.

"We have found the player to be a person who is shy and reserved, honest and truthful, and a man of integrity and good character," the tribunal said in its ruling. "He is neither a cheat nor a user of drugs for recreational purposes."

I kid you not.  It follows a predictable pattern related to initial positive tests.  The employee has reasons, and everyone likes him/her.  So, the pressure comes from the stakeholders in the company:

"Could it be that the poppy seeds caused it?"

"I've seen that model at South Beach. Sounds right..."

Depending on your policy or the agencies you deal with, you might have to have a hearing and subject yourself to the possibility of a workplace drug suspension being overturned, or at the very least, a termination being overturned, replaced by a suspension.

Here's the funny thing.   The first time the employee tests positive, many rush to his/her defense.  The second time they test positive?  Crickets.  No one comes to your office to talk about the poppy seed/junky model possibilities.

Just ask Jeremy Mayfield....

Killer Resume Apps - The Timeline Infographic of Your Professional Life...

I'm always on the lookout for cool ways to outperform others with a resume without looking like a total idiot.  For me, that means the cheesy video and picture on the resume is bad, but something that can take either of those elements and blend them into something that make sense from a contextual standpoint is good - think VisualCV (see mine here)

The latest find in the escalating arms race of cool resumes comes from the The Portfolio of Michael Anderson.  Let's call it the timeline infographic of your life:

"There are many ways of displaying information, as the info aesthetics blog shows, some are just lovely. Well, in that spirit, I decided to update my résumé with a different perspective on the typical time-line theme. This is just concept art, as there are almost no real metrics represented except for time. There is no energy expenditure unit of measure, nor tics to delineate percentage or otherwise. In the fun multi-variable intake / output chart, there should be unique units per each (and a few are almost unquantifiable).

Finally in the ring chart (that’s what I am calling it) there are 2 dissimilar axes representing professional deployment vs. % personal development time. This is by far my favorite chart, but I feel that it does a disservice to the myriad software packages and input/output operations in which I have at least a reasonable skill level. Not to boast, but a comprehensive list would take a bit more space."

Take a look at the finished product below.  A great opportunity to present facts and experience, plus have some fun at the same time.  Graphic designers always have a leg up on this type of stuff, but in a cluttered candidate space, is it worth giving some young turk graphics guy $100 to crank out something similar for you to present in addition to that boring document you call a resume?

I think yes...(Click on the graphic to blow it up bigger...)


The EFCA and Meatloaf - When it comes to Binding Arbitration, Two out of Three Aint Bad...

So Card Check is DOA, eh?  If you believe what's making the rounds, the Democrats have determined what everyone else knew all along - that removing a right to vote on an important issue isn't something that plays well to the majority of Americans - even to Democratic senators in states still moderate and capable of swinging Republican next election cycle. 

More on EFCA movement from the American Spectator:

"News broke earlier that Senate Democrats, seeking to save the Orwellian-named "Employee Free Efca Choice Act," have agreed to ditch the provision that would enable unions to rapidly expand their membership ranks by denying workers a right to a secret ballot on unionization. However, the new bill would preserve the other major element of the bill, which would force businesses that failed to reach a contract agreement with unions to accept terms imposed by a mediator. The Associated Press reports that unions are on board with the move. Many conservatives had predicted that if EFCA was in serious danger, Democrats would drop the controversial "card check" provision and settle for binding arbitration. But while the arbitration provision has received less attention, it is no less damaging to the economy or workplace freedom."

So if Card Check is gone, the pro-business groups are right to focus on the dangers of binding arbitration, which by all accounts will be set at the 90 to 120 day mark in the revised bill.  That means if a union is voted in, you've got 90 or 120 days to negotiate a contract with a union before it goes to a federal arbitrator, which obviously is a wild card for business where terrible things can happen.

Here's my take - I'm not sure we'll be able to prevent binding arbitration in the EFCA.  At the risk of peeving my anti-EFCA colleagues, I'd rather focus on winning 2 out of 3 important issues embedded in the EFCA discussion.  You know 2 of them from what's written above - card check and binding arbitration.

The 3rd issue?  That's easy.. What's the election period the company and union will have to pitch their case to employees before the vote is held?  I've read that the Dems are pushing for 10 days, even a 5-day election period, which is basically no campaign period at all.

Binding arbitration might be a done deal.  Organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce deserve a lot of the credit for escalating the card check argument to the point with the moderate Democrats had to pull  their support or risk a fiasco in the next election cycle.  If the Chamber has to pick the next hill to take in the EFCA fight, I'd prefer they secure the need for a 30-day election campaign over killing binding arbitration.

Here's why.  If you can't win the vote against the union after a 30-day campaign, you've likely got workplace issues you should have corrected long ago but chose not to.  A 5 or 10-day campaign is a dice roll, even for good workplaces and companies.

Two out of three ain't bad.  No card check and a 30-day campaign means arbitration doesn't enter into the picture for most employers who are doing things the right way. 

Ever Been Spammed By a Contingency Recruiter?

Admit it - you've been there.  You fought the good fight, then opened up a search on your chart to contingency recruiters, because it was obvious you weren't going to get it filled.  If you really, REALLY needed to get the job filled, you wondered aloud whether you should contact multiple recruiters.

Why did you ask that question?  Because you played the contingency game in the past, and it seemed Spam like the people who were around to answer the bell slammed you with candidates that really didn't fit the bill.  Some of the candidates were duplicates to what you had access to in Monster or CareerBuilder.  So you play the odds and have multiples working the search.

So, you're jaded on contingency search.  That's OK, because so are the good recruiters.  From Harry Joiner's Marketing Headhunter:

"Recently I undertook a contingency-based executive search for a Chicago-based ecommerce company.  Without being long winded here, the client's standards were really high.  But mine were higher.

Throughout the process, the client asked me to "increase the flow" of candidates -- but I refused to exceed my limit of four A-players at a time.  Like Mt. Rushmore ...

It's not that I couldn't submit dozens of average candidates.  It's that I simply didn't want to, and on a contingency-based search, clients are going to get what I want them to have.  Contingency clients use multiple recruiters for their projects, and if I'm one of, say, three recruiters chasing a search -- then I know that the client can get average candidates from my competitors.  And it's not my job to build the hiring company's database.  After all, until I close a search and they pay my invoice, I'm working for free.

I realize this makes me sound difficult.

But it's just good business.  I can't build a stellar reputation by submitting candidates who are marginally better than what the hiring company could get through Monster or from an unspecialized recruiter.  I need to win each search in a total BLOWOUT, and I can only do that by working with highly specialized rock stars and then learning to tell their story in a way that engages the client."

Harry's a sharp guy who doesn't have to be everything to everyone.   He's got a micro-niche, and he tries to own it.  That's refreshing, and I'm guessing, lucrative once he got established.

So here's the litmus test.  I'm guessing Harry does quite a bit of retained search.  If you're a recruiter looking to draw a retainer or even an exclusive contingency search arrangement, here's the 64K question:

"What niche do you recruit for?"

If you said, "We place IT professionals in the software industry", or something like that, you're too broad.  When I need a .net developer with healthcare experience, you have to throw darts like the rest of us.   

But if you own a niche like Harry and can get established, I'm only too happy to provide you with an exclusive, because I know you have a network that can produce 4 "A" players.

Of course, you have to get through some pretty lean times from a biz development perspective to get there. 

But once you are there, life could be nice.... If you pick the right niche....