Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Attack of the Prank Email

As if we didn't have enough to worry about with employees sending in company internal memos for publication on the Internet and completing employee satisfaction surveys that are publicly available online now we have a new threat to watch out for - the prank email.

With prank emails, the prankster pretends to be someone he or she is not and carries on a generally humorous email conversation until the prankee (there's a new word that will probably never become a buzzword) figures out it's a joke or otherwise ends the communication. Harmless fun in most cases and like candid camera type shows can be funny to watch or listen in on.

Unfortunately prank emails are now pushing the envelope and infiltrating the workplace in potentially harmful ways. Take Shizzy Joyce, the prank emailer from a website called Bob From Accounting. Shizzy, who calls his column, "Cruel, Cruel Prank Email from Deep within the Bowels of Slacker Hell," recently infiltrated Starbucks corporate offices. His prank email was directed to a new Human Resources assistant named Roger Simmons. In the email, Shizzy pretends to be Orin C. Smith, the president and CEO of Starbucks. The initial email starts out friendly enough with "Orin" welcoming Simmons to Starbucks. Over the course of a month and a half though, Shizzy as Orin Smith asks Simmons to do a variety of things including spying on the head of the HR department and firing "the fat girl" at a particular Starbuck's location. Throughout all of this, prankee Simmons has no idea that he isn't really communicating with the president and CEO of his company. You can read the full transcript here.

While it may be funny to read (and it is in a painfully funny sort of way) the potential for really damaging actions to come out of this is dangerously close. In the Starbucks prank, the prankee follows around his department head and reports back to the fake CEO that he's 90-95% sure that she's doing cocaine in the company bathroom. And what would the ramifications have been if he had fired the "fat girl" like he was instructed?

It looks like we are all going to have to be on the lookout for corporate prank email and make sure our employees don't fall victim. According to Shizzy Joyce he is looking forward to "entering the corporate world more often during the coming weeks and months." (Does anyone know if impersonating a CEO is illegal?)

Watch those emails!

Welcome Ray

Good news on the blog front. To increase the diversity of thought I
have asked Ray Halagera, President and COO of Career Systems
, to join Nobscot's WebLog as executive contributing editor. Ray is a new collaborator and friend and has a wealth of knowledge that he picks up from his insatiable thirst for news and information.

He also is highly educated and experienced. Ray holds an undergraduate degree from Purdue, an MBA from the University of Chicago and years of experience in both consulting (with A.T. Kearny) and private industry. His knowledge spans business management, online technology, the learning industry, strategic marketing and operations. I am very appreciative that he has agreed to become a contributor to the blog. I'm positive that our small but growing audience will have much to gain from Ray's information and insight.

A warm welcome to Ray Halagera.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Little Book of Bollocks

Looks like there is someone else out there who doesn't like buzzwords. Britain's culture secretary Tessa Jowell admits to keeping a "little book of bollocks" where she lists gobbledegook spouted by her and her colleagues.

Reported in the Financial Times:
"I have what I call a bollocks list where I just sit in meetings and I write down some of the absurd language we use - and we are all guilty of this, myself included. The risk is when you have been in government for eight years you begin to talk the language which is not the language of the real world," the culture secretary says.

Some of the examples she provides:

"Reprofiling expenditure"
"sustainable eating in schools"
"regional cultural data feedback rollout"
"strategic objectives for evaluation"

and my favorite:

"weaning the profile"

Jowell is urging government to "cut the crap" and speak openly and directly with the people.

Methinks the private sector could also benefit from some language lessons from secretary Jowell.

Beth C.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Can Employees be Too Engaged?

You can never have employees that are too loyal or a company culture that is too motivational. At least that is what I always thought until I read professor Herve Laroche's article in the MIT Review titled The Power of Moderation.

I'm a believer in moderation in most things so I was intrigued by this article. Professor Laroche describes a number of negative traits that he believes highly committed workers exhibit including:

- being difficult to get along with
- unknowingly substituting their own purposes for the company's goals
- resentment when the organization fails to meet their needs
- overconfidence leading to blindness of warning signs of impending challenges
- formation of cliques that can be antagonistic toward newcomers and other groups

Most organizations, according to Laroche, encourage employee involvement through vague mission statements. Because employees are unclear on exactly who and what they should be committed to they resort to faking loyalty. This faking is highly valued as it acknowledges the expected behaviors but doesn't create the problems listed above. In fact mid level managers who fake their own loyalty are suspicious of the truly loyal and therefore favor and reward other loyalty fakers, says Laroche.

I must admit I had to read the article several times to make sure I was understanding and not missing Laroche's point. (Which I might very well be doing.) I was disappointed that there is no mention of employee retention in the brief section that discusses the positive benefits of employee engagement. The only mention of employee turnover is that highly involved employees are prone to quit when there are changes in the company's mission and course.

I think my problem with the article is that I hold a different definition of committed employees. To me a motivated, loyal, committed and/or engaged employee is one who is motivated, loyal, committed and/or engaged to the success of the company. In this framework of caring about the overall success of the company, employees welcome changes assuming they are presented as changes that might help make the company stronger, better or more likely to succeed.

The one concern that I do share with professor Laroche is the one regarding the formation of cliques. Highly loyal employees do create strong bonds among themselves and are not always tolerant or accepting of those who do not share their level of commitment. This can create problems if new employees and distant work groups are not appropriately introduced and integrated into the corporate culture.

I must say that my favorite part of the article is Laroche's solution which he calls "sticky-note" employees. In this model employees should have moderate adherence to their organization much like a sticky note pad. With mild adhesion, employees, like sticky notes that can be reapplied over and over, can better endure through turbulent times and multiple course corrections. Regardless of whether I agree or disagree I can't help but love the analogy.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Stay Interviews and Exit Interviews

In preparation for a meeting today I was thinking about exit interviews in comparison with stay interviews. As I understand it, stay interviews are about reaching out and touching (oops, bad word - let's make that listening to) each employee and showing that you care about their individual success. This is a very worthwhile endeavor and an important part of your employee retention strategy. Not to mention it being the human thing to do.

The exit interview, on the other hand, is not about the individual. You'll hear people outside of the industry say things like, "Why conduct exit interviews? It's too late once the person is already leaving." That would be true if the exit interview were about the individual but exit interviews are about the organization. The purpose of an exit interview is not to try and persuade an employee to stay. The purpose is to identify organizational strengths and weaknesses and the irritations that drive turnover. Irritations are unique to each organization and exit interviews are the most effective way to uncover them. **

Most companies (reportedly 97%) strive to do exit interviews because they sense that there is valuable information there. They are right about that but without a system in place it's a huge burden on HR to conduct exit interviews with each terminating employee. If a company manages to conduct exit interviews with a good percentage of employees who are leaving (which is a real challenge) it takes even more effort to manually compile, analyze and report on the data. Because of the huge amount of effort required, most companies that I speak with rarely come full circle to the point where they can use the information from their exit data in meaningful ways.

Today, with the advent of exit interview management systems (yes, like WebExit) HR can automate the process. With exit interview automation, HR staff can reduce time spent on conducting, compiling and creating reports and focus their time instead on actually using the data to solve organizational issues. Exit interview automation has come a long way since January of 2001 when we released WebExit. Today, at the click of a few buttons an HR Director can be identifying the exact irritations causing turnover in each department or location worldwide.

So how I see it is that we shouldn't be deciding between stay interviews versus exit interviews. The two serve unique and different purposes. The stay interview with its focus on the individual and retention and the exit interview with its focus on the organization and reduction of turnover.

Beth C.

** Most effective because
1) they take place when the employee has the least to lose and therefore can be the most candid (plus there is a strong psychological pull in most people to "say their peace" when resigning).
2) There is no added time pressure on HR to act on the data when it is received through exits as opposed to information received via focus groups and employee surveys.

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