Tuesday, September 28, 2004

No Thanks to Knowledge Nomads

An article called, High Turnover, Should you Care?, was recently referenced in a Yahoo Group for Training Professionals. The article talks about "knowledge nomads" who although they switch jobs frequently are committed to their organizations for the time period that they are there. The article also suggests reframing the issue of turnover and retention. The author writes, "Rather than focus on how managers can retain workers, we have instead focused on how managers can elicit commitment and engage employees."

This of course is all nonsense. Here is a copy of my response to this article:
Praising these "nomads" because they are committed is a mistake. Employers don't benefit from committed employees if they leave just as soon as they are coming up to speed. How does it help a company if an employee feels "committed" but leaves a project hanging when he gets a better opportunity elsewhere? Short term commitment isn't the kind of commitment that produces value for a company. It takes time to learn enough about a company, its products, customers, culture, goals, etc.
By the time these nomads are just getting to the point of adding value, they are off to their next adventure. All that does for the company is draw time and money in training and replacing them and trying to keep their projects afloat in the interim.

This is what I call non-research. It doesn't matter if you call it retention or commitment or engagement. It all means the same thing. It's like HR practioners that have switched over to retention reports rather than turnover reports. It doesn't mean anything different to tell senior management that you have 75% retention instead of 25% turnover. It's all the same thing. I see this as purely a waste of energy that should be spent on creating excellent companies that employees want to work for and stay with and add value to. The rest is all just fluff.

I hope I wasn't too hard on them but I find this all very distracting.

A little further in the discussion someone suggested that employees can't feel committed to companies when companies aren't committed to employees. I tried to explain that it's not about being committed to employees it's about everyone having a common commitment to the organization.
Companies don't discard people who are doing an excellent job and adding value to the company. The only people that should be worried about being discarded are those who are either not individually performing or who as a team are not succeeding. The truth is if an employee is doing a good job, the company is MORE than committed to him.

Really, though, it's a mistake to think in these terms. We feel most committed when we feel that we ARE the company. We don't need anyone/anything to commit to us. For "it" is "us". That's like saying our hands need to be committed to our fingers. The company and the employees are one in the same.

I hope someday more people will understand this. Reduce the irritations and create a culture where employees want to work hard for the good of the company. That is the real secret to employee retention, commitment, engagement or whatever else you want to call it.

Beth C.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Why People Follow the Leader

For the past few years I have been noticing that it's getting harder and harder for leaders to motivate their staff. Back in my day, (don't you hate when people say, "back in my day...?"), most of us were easily swept into a cause, corporate or otherwise, by a charismatic leader. I've been struggling with why the change and I think at last I might have found the answer.

An article by Michael Maccoby in September's Harvard Business Review provides some clues. The article is titled, Why People Follow the Leader:The Power of Transference. Maccoby explains about the psychological phenomenon known as transference whereby people transfer experiences and emotions from past relationships onto the present. Maccoby's theory is that employees often view their leaders in a paternal or parental way. When an employee believes he will receive parental-like approval, he will often work in superhuman ways to receive that approval. In this case the paternal transference results in favorable behavior.

But sometimes transference is not so positive. According to Maccoby,
The images we project from childhood are shaped by the family cultures we grew up with, a fact of particular importance today because more people now have family experiences that differ -- sometimes quite radically from what was long considered the norm. Indeed, I've noticed that for an increasing number of people, the significant person from the past is not a parent but a sibling, a close childhood friend, or even a nanny.

Maccoby goes on to say that this generation of employees often thrives in peer networks but can be hard to lead because they may have an anarchic ideal of leadership. Because of the increase in sibling transference (as opposed to parental transference) employees are becoming increasingly critical of and ambivalent toward their bosses and may show less interest in being mentored and mentoring.

I'm still not exactly sure of the best way to use this information but it is nice to learn that there might be a reason behind the frustrations companies are experiencing related to motivating staff. The article does offer some suggestions.

You can read a description of the article and/or purchase it for $6.00 here.

Beth C.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Love 'Em or Lose "Em

If you haven't already read Love 'Em Or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People To Stay, go to your library or bookstore today.

I had a chance to speak with one of the co-authors, Sharon Jordan-Evans. Sharon and I found that we have a lot of common beliefs and philosophies when it comes to creating the kind of work environment that fosters employee retention. The book, co-authored with Beverly Kaye, is written for non-HR managers, but I think you'll find it a great reference tool for HR pros as well.

I was trying to decide which chapter is my favorite (there are 26 A-Z chapters) but there are many. How can anyone resist a chapter for supervisors titled: Jerk - Don't be One? This chapter includes some comments from employees about jerks they have worked for ("My boss told me I was passed over for promotion because I hadn't gotten over my grief soon enough following my father's death."), a jerk behavior checklist so you can determine to what degree of jerk you might be, and some information on how you can begin to change your jerk behavior.

Some of the other chapters in Love 'Em or Lose 'Em are:
ASK - What keeps you?
BUCK - It stops here
CAREER - Support Growth
DIGNITY - Show respect
ENRICH - Energize the job
FAMILY - Get friendly
GOALS - Expand options

Well, you get the point.

Sharon and I are going to be collaborating on some upcoming projects that I will keep you posted on. In the meanwhile I'm excited to report that Sharon will be available for consultations for WebExit exit interview system subscribers. Collecting the data is only half the equation.

Beth C.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Nouse - An Unusual Accommodation of the Future

What's a Nouse? It's a system that replaces your computer mouse with movements of your nose. It's completely hands free. You move the cursor on your screen by moving your nose.

Any guesses on how you left click and right click with the nouse?

Answer: Blink your left eye twice for left click and your right eye twice for right click.

The inventor, Dmitry Gorodnichy of the Institute of Information Technology in Ottowa, hopes that the nouse will make using the PC easier for people with disabilities. (Plus he has high hopes for gamers.)

Its detractors say they don't expect the nouse to catch on. Joe Laszlo of Jupiter Research said about the nouse, "I cannot ignore the high silliness factor of the nouse...People baulk at doing things that require them to look silly and there is ample room for looking silly here."

Read all about the nouse here and keep this in mind the next time you have to make special accommodations for an employee with carpal tunnel.

Beth C.

Who Is Outsourcing Jobs Overseas?

Curious about which companies in your area have outsourced jobs overseas?

Working America, a community affiliate of the AFL-CIO has put together a searchable database. If you are an HR exec, it might be a good idea to see if your company is listed and if the information is accurate. They also have a Paywatch section for each company that shows the compensation of the top executives.

The database is called JobTracker and it's located here.

Beth C.

Monday, September 20, 2004

When Being Less Than Excellent Is More Excellent

At the end of the last post I included a link to an article titled A Balanced Approach to Human Resources. This article stresses the need for HR professionals to become excellent risk takers.

This was reinforced for me this evening when I read an excerpt from a speech given by John D. Zeglis, the Chairman of AT&T Wireless. The speech was given to new members of Phi Beta Kappa honor society at George Washington University.

Because I like what he has to say so much, the following is the first several paragraphs in full:

As I speak, I have to be careful because it's just possible that a room like this has my future boss in it, and I don't want to offend her.

What is the essential message on a day you reach a pinnacle of academic success? The good news starts with the word that sums up the characteristics of all of you: excellence. Excellence is a choice. As John Gardner put it:

"Very few people have excellence thrust upon them. They achieve it. They do not achieve it unwittingly by doing what comes naturally, and they don't stumble into it in the course of amusing themselves. All excellence involves discipline and tenacity of purpose."

You are here because you've made a habit of excellence. Occasional brilliance will not get you into Phi Beta Kappa. You are not one-subject wonders. You've established your intellectual credentials in a wide range of subjects. The excellence that brings you here is not accidental. You have chosen to pursue it and you have earned it. You've broken the code of how to get it done. And that stays with you for life.

A word of caution from a worldly wise old guy who was once in your shoes: There is a paradoxical thing about academic excellence. If you want to continue your habit of excellence after graduation, you will have to learn how to take risks--and to fail more often than you're used to.

If excellence is the word for today, the word for your future is achievement. They are not disconnected. But they're not self-executing either--it's not automatic that you can go from excellence to high achievement in "the real world." Many people who are excellent in school don't have the same success over their lifetimes. Locking in a formula for excellence early in life, as you've done in your academic work, often makes people risk-averse. They know how to be excellent, and they aren't about to start taking risks on being less than excellent. But sometimes a little less success and a little more failure is a good thing.

The last thought sounds a lot like many HR professionals, doesn't it? They become so excellent at human resources that they become unwilling to take risks. It's important to remember that excellence isn't about perfection. Excellence in business requires well thought out actions and decisions that very often include risks.

You can read more of Mr. Zeglis' speech in Phi Beta Kappa's newsletter, the Key Reporter. There's a PDF of the newsletter available here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Thinking Strategically

There's been a lot of talk about Strategic HR over the last several years. There has also been a lot of confusion. Let's see if we can clear things up a little. Strategic HR doesn't mean strategic planning. Strategic planning is important, but that's not what we are talking about when we say HR needs to act more strategically. It is also not about performing HR metrics although measurement is also very important. Strategic HR is about thinking and acting strategically in every decision and in every action that you make throughout the day.

How do you think and act strategically in every action? It's very simple. You understand your business and think and act in accordance with your company's business objectives. Human Resources is the people side of the business and people extend through all facets of running an organization. That is what makes HR so fascinating and also so critical. Every decision we make directly or indirectly affects the success (or failure) of the business. That's a lot of responsibility, isn't it?

"But I am acting strategically," you say, "I minimize risk to the company. I make sure we are in compliance. I recruit applicants using psychologist tested behavioral interviews. That's all strategic!" Well, yes and no. There certainly is a strategy element to all of this but it is strategy relative to the human resources world. To become fully strategic we need to become better at acting strategically relative to the business world.

In the business world,there is one overriding objective. That is to grow and maintain a successful business and to reach specifically identified performance goals. Every company - every President and CEO and Board of Directors - has different ideas and methods of how they intend to accomplish this. HR professionals need to be in on this. We need to live this. We need to focus every single day and make every single decision based on whether or not our actions will aid or hinder the overarching business goals.

Instead many of our actions serve only to hinder the overall business goals. I get frustrated when I hear HR people say things like, "My stupid CEO wants me to cancel the compliance training and replace it with sales training. Why doesn't he understand how important compliance is?" Maybe because if the company is not making enough sales there will be nothing to worry about complying with!

If we stop focusing only on HR Best Practices and begin to focus on Business Best Practices we will be once and for all truly acting strategically.

Beth C.
PS. One area that we sometimes fall down on is over emphasis on legal compliance to the detriment of other aspects of the business. If you are interested in this topic, you might enjoy an article I wrote recently called A Balanced Approach to Human Resources. It's in the library over at Nobscot's website.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Addicting, Intriguing and a Little Bit Scary

I was doing some research on the use of social networking technology in Human Resources when I came across this shocker:

"Compared to sites that require users to map their own social networks, Weddle says, Eliyon Technologies' site is much more robust--they've used their spider to compile dossiers on over 19 million Americans. For free, he says, users can type in the name of a company and get a list of the people on whom the company has built dossiers." Full article here.

I don't know about you but when I hear the words "compiled dossiers" I get a little nervous. Particularly when it's used in the same sentence with 19 million Americans.

I had to check it out.

And I must admit it's very cool.

Eliyon has a little search box where you can search for corporate alumni or search by name. The cool (and a little scary) part is the results. I entered a company name in the alumni box and up popped a list of 50+ former employee names. When you click on a person's name, you get a sheet with as much information as Eliyon's spiders can scrape (literally) together on this person.

When I put in my own name, it had the previous company I ran, other titles I held, board memberships, past employment, education, information on me from the About Us page of Nobscot's website, a discussion list I used to moderate including my bio from that discussion list and two newspaper articles.

Another search I did brought up excerpts from an article that was written about me in a local magazine.

All of this information is freely available on the web but Eliyon does a nice job of pulling it all together in one place. It appears they pull from press releases, news articles, resumes, biographies and "about us" pages. It's very addicting looking up your past employers and business colleagues.

After I got over the initial fear and the subsequent search addiction, I found the whole concept terribly intriguing. I wonder how this technology will be used? I wonder if this will displace google searches? I wonder if this will be used for reference checks when hiring? I wonder if this will be used to gather names for recruiters to recruit? I wonder how they will keep it accurate?

There are a lot of things to think about but one thing is for sure. We will soon be hearing a lot more about Eliyon searches in the very near future. With any luck it will be put to good use and not bad.

Beth C.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Business Lessons from The Apprentice

The Apprentice season has just begun and the talk around the water coolers has already started. Who is the most outrageous? Who has the best chance of winning? Who is the best looking? It's the good, the bad and the ugly. I don't want to talk about that though. I'm more interested in some of the organizational behavior and business issues.

Two things struck me. One has to do with the dynamics of having the first project leader be of the opposite gender of the rest of the team. How fascinating to watch that play out! The other is related to the method by which the teams approached their project.

First I want to say, "Brilliant" to Trump or the producers who came up with the idea of having each same gender team send over one teammate to manage the first project on the opposite team. Great idea. On the male team, the testosterone was filling the room as Pam (who may have as much testosterone as the men) joined their group. Things didn't get off to a great start but once she told the guys to take off their ties in the Mattel boardroom, she seemed to be gaining a bit of control and respect. Unfortunately it went downhill from there. Her aggressive style was not accepted well by the men. Had she been a man, I suspect she could have pulled it off. The truth is that women succeed in leadership roles using different character traits than men use. Relationship and consensus building come to mind. The fact is, women who try to succeed with men by being like men usually find themselves being pushed aside. Men (and women too for that matter) are just not comfortable with it.

Over on the women's side, we had a different set of dynamics. Here we had a male leader who refused to trust his group of very capable women. Apprentice hopeful Brad could not accept that their idea might be better than his own. Even with 8 people telling him he was wrong, he overrode his team in favor of his own judgment. It took the male expert from the toy company to point out that his idea was flawed. Only then did he fall back to the women's winning concept. Also of note is that the women seemed to forgive him once he backtracked. I wonder if they would have been so quick to forgive the initial dictatorial act if the leader had been another woman?

The other issue that I was interested in was how the teams approached their project. Unless it was just a function of creative TV editing, both groups seemed to dive right in on coming up with ideas. (For those who missed it, the task was to create a new, marketable toy.) I noticed the same thing in last season's episodes as well. If it was me, I would have started not with the toy, but with the users of the toy. I would have had the group brainstorm what kind of toys kids like these days. What do kids want? What is cool? What is boring? Then we could have come up with various toy ideas that meet those criteria.

I'm hoping that the Apprentice teams did in fact go through some thinking process before diving into toy ideas and that it was just edited out. My fear is that it's the new Fast Company mentality of business. I realize that they only had a day and they had to work quickly but it seems to me they would have been able to work just as quickly and come up with better results had they focused first on the needs and wants of the customer and not on whatever ideas they could blurt out of their heads. Ideas need to have some foundation or context in order to be successful.

I suppose I shouldn't be too hard on the group since most of the apprentice candidates are lawyers and bankers and not business people per se. Last year the business entrepreneur won. I wonder if we'll see something similar this year.

Beth C.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Eleven Tips For Getting More Efficiency Out Of Women Employees - Circa 1943

I was reminded of this "oldie but goodie" today from a discussion on the SHRM Bulletin Board.

The following is an actual article that was published in 1943 in the Mass Transportation Magazine. You can check out the details including scanned images of the actual article here.


From: L.H. Sanders, Mass Transportation Magazine, 1943
Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees

There's no longer any question whether transit companies should hire women for jobs formerly held by men. The draft and manpower shortage has settled that point. The important things now are to select the most efficient women available and how to use them to the best advantage. Here are eleven helpful tips on the subject from western properties:

1. If you can get them, pick young married women. They have these advantages, according to the reports of western companies: they usually have more of a sense of responsibility than do their unmarried sisters; they're less likely to be flirtatious; as a rule, they need the work or they wouldn't be doing it -- maybe a sick husband or one who's in the army; they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to deal with the public efficiently.

2. When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home at some time in their lives. Most transportation companies have found that older women who have never contacted the public, have a hard time adapting themselves, are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy. It's always well to impress upon older women the importance of friendliness and courtesy.

3. While there are exceptions, of course, to this rule, general experience indicates that "husky" girls - those who are just a little on the heavy side - are likely to be more even-tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.

4. Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination - one covering female conditions. This step not only protects the property against the possibilities of lawsuit but also reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job. Transit companies that follow this practice report a surprising number of women turned down for nervous disorders.

5. In breaking in women who haven't previously done outside work, stress at the outset the importance of time -- the fact that a minute or two lost here and there makes serious inroads on schedules. Until this point is gotten across, service is likely to be slowed up.

6. Give the female employee in garage or office a definite day-long schedule of duties so that she'll keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes. Numerous properties say that women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves.

7. Whenever possible, let the inside employee change from one job to another at some time during the day. Women are inclined to be nervous and they're happier with change.

8. Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. Companies that are already using large numbers of women stress the fact that you have to make some allowances for feminine psychology. A girl has more confidence and consequently is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.

9. Be tactful in issuing instructions or in making criticisms. Women are often sensitive; they can't shrug off harsh words the way that men do. Never ridicule a woman - it breaks her spirit and cuts her efficiency.

10. Be reasonably considerate about using strong language around women. Even though a girl's husband or father may swear vociferously, she'll grow to dislike a place of business where she hears too much of this.

11. Get enough size variety in operator uniforms that each girl can have a proper fit. This point can't be stressed too strongly as a means of keeping women happy, according to western properties

What do you think? Have things changed?

Beth C.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Are We Condoning Discrimination Through Outsourcing?

I hate to even mention outsourcing since it's been discussed and debated ad nauseum. However I did come across an aspect of outsourcing that I haven't heard before that warrants attention. This comes from the unlikely place of a letter to the editor in CFO magazine. The letter writer, a corporate controller, writes:

"As a female accountant, it has been many years since I have been exposed to blatant discrimination based on my gender. However, almost every time I deal with offshore customer service staff, discrimination kicks me in the face."

She goes on to describe how male staffers in India or the Philippines belittle her suggestions and comments. "I often feel like I'm dealing with an automobile service station - all that's missing are the calendars with naked women on the walls."

Our letter writer doesn't find much relief in the outsourced female staffers either who she guesses aren't used to accepting that another woman might be as capable or more so than their male bosses.

She brings up a good point. In her words, "Offshore staffing ignores the benefits we have of working in our society and forces us to deal with behaviors that our nation has long since outlawed. As a professional female, I should not have to deal with discrimination...Women have worked too long and too hard to be respected in our professions. Those efforts should not be tossed aside just to enhance corporate profits and executive bonuses."

How do we as a country feel about this? How about from a Human Resources perspective? Do we need to protect our employees from discrimination that they might encounter on the job?

And what about the discriminatory practices (from US perspective) that might be occurring in the companies to which we outsource? Should it matter to us if in India it is common to discriminate against hiring young, child bearing age women for professional positions?

Feel free to leave comments. I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Beth C.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Joel on HR

Who thought that Human Resources practitioners could learn a thing or two about HR from a software developer? Joel Spolsky, who writes a popular blog for engineers called Joel on Software has a few things to say to which we should listen up.

Two things caught my interest.

1) Joel does a good job of reminding us about reducing the irritations.

2) Joel warns how incentive programs can actually detract from employee productivity.

Regarding irritations, Joel gives a great example of corporate irritations:

"At my last job, the system administrator kept sending me automated spam complaints that I was using more than --get this-- 220 megabytes of hard drive space on the server. I pointed out that given the price of hard drives these days, the cost of this space was significantly less than the cost of the toilet paper I used. Spending even ten minutes cleaning up my directory would be a fabulous waste of productivity."

He goes on to say (with emphasis), "Top-notch development teams don't torture their programmers. Even minor frustrations caused by using underpowered tools add up, making programmers grumpy and unhappy. And a grumpy programmer is an unproductive programmer."

He also hints that giving programmers "cool" new tools can be a great motivator even if your programmers are underpaid.

Well said.

Joel's comments on incentive programs are equally to the point. To Joel and countless other software engineers, incentive programs are demotivational. These techies are purists at heart and want to do a good job for the sake of doing a good job. It belittles their sensibilities to give them a plaque for their work, making them feel as if they did the good work solely for the plaque.

Here's a quote from Joel's book (which of course is titled none other than, Joel on Software): "Treating your rocket-scientist employees as if they were still in kindergarten is not an isolated phenomenon. Almost every company has some kind of incentive program that is insulting and demeaning."

He points to a Harvard Business Review article by Alfie Kohn in which Kohn states that dozens of studies over the years have shown that employees who receive a reward for a task do not perform as well as those who expect no reward at all.

All interesting points that should serve to remind those of us in HR that the things that motivate some of our employees actually undermine motivation in others. See my earlier post on the Fish philosophy for more details.

Beth C.