Monday, November 15, 2004

Airing Your Dirty Laundry

Did you know that there is a website where employee satisfaction surveys are made public?

I can only imagine what would happen to me if Nobscot's clients' exit interviews were made public. (I'm thinking something like public flogging or maybe root canal without anesthesia.)

Meanwhile over at the, ironically named with the tag line "the most trusted name in career information," the results of employee surveys on specific employers are available for an individual membership fee of $3.95/month.

At the moment, satisfaction surveys from Verizon employees and ex-employees appear to be free of charge. I wonder if the head of HR and the executive team over at Verizon know about this?

The problem with this kind of information being made public is that it is taken out of context. The surveys are completed by a small percentage of the employee population and I would assume more so by the disgruntled than the engaged. A well planned in-house survey or exit interview program is conducted with a random sampling and significant number of employees. The results of such surveys are then organized, tabulated and viewed by those who have a full understanding of the context of the issues involved. There are, of course, two sides to every story and even more so when dealing with workplace situations.

I am a fan of opinion and rating sites such as e-pinions but when you are dealing with human resources, the issues are much more complicated than when you are purchasing a dishwasher. I'm afraid that these surveys have the huge possibility of misinforming prospective applicants/employees, investors, customers and the general public.

In the past, I've warned about a website that encourages employees to send in private internal memos for publication. At that time I encouraged any company affected to seek a legal stop to the publishing of private documents. This time, I have asked attorney George from George's Employment Blawg for his opinion. I'm hoping he can share with us if there is anything a company should do to protect themselves if they are included in the Vault's surveys. According to the Vault's website, they have employee surveys on nearly 3000 companies.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Good News for Retention of NextGen Employees

A surprising new finding from the Institute for the Future (IFTF) about today's youth. Teens and young adults between the ages of 14 - 21 said they would prefer to advance within one company rather than grow by switching jobs. If true this is great news for companies.

With any luck this could signal the end of the "knowledge nomads" and good riddance to them.

The reason provided for this shift, however, is not so good. According to Lyn Jeffery, the research director at the Institute for the Future, these kids have been "profoundly affected" by the layoffs and job losses of the adults in their lives. They are seeking the stability that their family members have not had in recent years.

Regardless of the reason, I'll take this as a good sign for the future of business. We need a committed workforce and it looks like the next generation is ready, willing and able.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Tips for Hiring Nerds

When I was in junior high school and making fun of the "nerds", my Dad said something that turned out to be a prophetic statement. He said, "Beth, it's the nerds of today that are going to be the leaders of tomorrow." I promptly ignored him for not understanding how the current nerds were just plain uncool.

That's why I love when I see the nerd word revived. (By the time nerds started to gain status they were being called geeks instead of nerds.) This is a long winded way to introduce you to a brief article on Computerworld's website titled "Hiring Nerds." The article is a Q&A with Johannna Rothman, the author of Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds.

I agree with everything Rothman says. Which those of you who know me recognize as a rare event. Her background is in engineering management so she brings a real world perspective to her advice. I'm looking forward to reading the book.

Also, take a quick peek over at her website and you'll find some more goodies on hiring technical people including her blog which is all about that very same subject.

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Aftermath of Political Debates in the Office

A wise person once said that political and religious debates in the workplace don't mix well. This year's presidential election stirred up much emotion and ignited fierce debates in offices and workplaces nationwide. Like political advertising these debates (between colleagues, supervisors and subordinates) often took a nasty turn. Now as the season begins to wind down, companies need to take a careful look at the damage this debate has inflicted. Have your teams become so polarized that they can't effectively work together? Are there employees who have lost respect for their boss? Have partisan alliances developed that might lead to unfair treatment for these not a part of the group?

A Harvard Business Review case study from the October issue doesn't offer much help in regard to political debate in the office. One expert suggests that political debate is good for team spirit. Another, a CEO at a respected company, recommends executives lead the political debate by informing employees of the company's agreed upon political beliefs.

I advocate encouraging employees not to get into political and religious debates with coworkers on the job. From a business perspective there is absolutely nothing positive to be gained. From a societal standpoint, there's not much to be gained either. As we all know, few minds are changed from such debate. And while there are few if any positives, there are plenty of negatives. Many of which are potent and long lasting.

How does one gain back respect for someone they think is a fool? How do you work together with a colleague who has raised their voice to you and called you names? How does the employee labeled a "conspiracy theorist" ever build bridges with a team of people who have belittled his questioning of the status quo?

While I don't suggest censoring speech, I would advise reminding managers of their responsibilities in keeping the workplace harmonious. It's not difficult for a supervisor to ask employees to knock it off when the debating around the water cooler gets loud and angry. Managers can meet privately with the debate instigators and ask for their assistance in keeping political and religious debate out of the office. Staff should be reminded that debating is inappropriate in the workplace and ask for their help in turning the discussions to less volatile subjects. Most employees appreciate such discipline as they already know that they are venturing into a lose-lose situation.

Beth C.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Rethinking Top Talent

My blog friend Dutch Driver has alerted me to an interesting "manifesto" by Malcolm Gladwell, the author of The Tipping Point. This manifesto (and don't ask me what a "manifesto" is versus an article) is called, The Talent Myth - Are Smart People Overrated. It's an outstanding look at the results of recruiting the top pedigreed candidates and giving them free reign once they are hired. The article - oops, manifesto - looks in detail at one company that embraced this philosophy to the nth degree with disastrous results: Enron.

One of the areas that Gladwell covers includes the Mckinsey consulting firm method of rating employees in A, B, C groups and reviewing them twice per year. With this method, A employees are rewarded disproportionately and given an unusual amount of autonomy. In some companies A employees are allowed and encouraged to pursue any and all projects they choose to work on regardless of their abilities and/or the company's needs. This is further complicated by the fact that employees are often rated as A employees not based on their job performance but on their expected job performance as predicted by their former ivy league college status and high grade point average.

At Enron, if an A rated employee took on a task and failed he or she was labeled an excellent risk taker and praised for his or her efforts. Once assigned an A rating, the employee could do no wrong.

Another interesting tidbit in the manifesto is how there is very little correlation between high IQ and job success. If you use a scale where 0.1 equals no correlation and 0.7 equals strong correlation, the correlation between IQ and job success, according to Gladwell, stands at a paltry 0.2 or 0.3 correlation. IQ it seems does not pick up common sense nor the ability to work effectively with people.

It's a thought provoking piece of writing and I highly encourage everyone to read it.

My own opinion on recruiting Top Talent is as follows:
(reprinted from something I posted elsewhere)

Top talent is important and it should be sought out for every position whether we are talking the mail room clerk or the COO. But a top talent person isn't the high flying ivy league college superstar. A top talent person is someone who has a little more knowledge and a little more interest and a little more initiative and a little more dedication and a little more smarts (and so on) than the average person for that position.

True top talent doesn't have to be showy and true top talent doesn't require mega-bucks. There are lots of talented people out there from every walk of life. It just takes patience to find them and a keen eye to spot them and sometimes a recruiter to uncover them.

In light of Malcolm Gladwell's manifesto, maybe it would be a good idea to redefine what is meant by recruiting top talent. And while we are at it let's take a good hard look at the best ways to manage, motivate and retain these most valuable employees too.

Beth C.