Monday, June 26, 2006

465 Men and 35 Women

The Answer: 465 men and 35 women. The question: What are the numbers of men and women Chief Financial Officers in Fortune 500 companies. Just 35 women out of 500 top positions even though women make up the majority of graduates receiving accounting degrees and the majority of new hires at CPA firms.

This from the June issue of CFO magazine by senior writer Alix Nyberg Stuart. In this well written and well researched article, Stuart probes some possible reasons for the disparity. "It seems that women choose better balance over a full-on grab for the brass-ring or have that choice very subtly made for them."

Maybe it's not so subtle though. Fifty-eight percent of women in CFO's survey said they believe that in the past 5 years they have been denied a promotion or raise at least partly because of their gender. That's a majority of women believing they were subjected to illegal discrimination.

Two reasons that the article explores around the scarcity of women in CFO positions that I found compelling:

* 98% of CEOs are men and they tend to hire someone like themselves for the CFO position. The CFO position is described as the CEOs closest confidante. This can lead the CEO to choose someone with whom he is more comfortable letting his hair down (assuming he still has any) - usually another man. (Sidenote: don't you think the CHRO should be the CEOs closest confidante? Oh wait, there is no CHRO position.)

Interestingly, the article suggests that male CEOs who have worked for a woman boss in the past or have daughters in the workforce may tend to be more open to hiring or promoting a female into a top role.

(Sidenote 2: I just read in Parade magazine that males in the House of Representatives vote on bills concerning women's safety and reproductive rights based on how many daughters they have.)

This leads me to conclude that men need to have more exposure to competent women in a professional capacity. Perhaps women oriented mentoring programs would be more beneficial if they included a component for men allowing them to both mentor and be mentored by women.

* Women need to better prepare for top level leadership jobs. The women interviewed who had made it to CFO positions had worked in a variety of positions prior to being promoted to the top spot. They had gained both deep and broad experience in a variety of business functions including operational areas. These women felt that this was critical for them to be qualified for the top spot.

It would be interesting to compare women's career paths with men's to see if in general, women tend to stay in one area rather than seek broader career experiences.

Last, no discussion on women's glass ceiling would be complete without considering whether or not the ceiling is in any way self imposed. The CFO survey shows that 68% of women take the opportunity for flexible hours into consideration when reviewing a job offer compared with 40% of the men. Opportunity to work remotely is also an important consideration in a job offer for 49% of women finance professionals versus just 28% of men. This does suggest that women may not be interested in Chief level positions in today's Fortune 500 companies. Smaller firms or self employment might be more aligned with many professional women's needs and interests. That is, until Fortune 500 companies retool themselves into being less male oriented in structure. You have to wonder if large companies are limiting their potential by being so male dominated in their upper levels of management. Women have a lot of insight that they can bring to the table. Once the table is better set for them.

Below are the survey results. I highly recommend you go to CFO magazine to read the full story and better yet sign up for a subscription as there are always articles that apply to Human Resources and the workforce.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Brain Research Provides Clues to Best Management Approaches

There is a fascinating article in Business + Strategy magazine that links neuroscience, psychology and business management practices. It points out that many standard business practices such as punishment and rewards and performance feedback run counter to the way our brains function.

The articles gives a fairly scientific but very readable overview of various brain structures and how they function in the workplace. To help me follow the article clearly, I drew myself a diagram illustration which I have re-created brain research
Here is my synopsis of the article. Hopefully I have understood it correctly but since I'm not a scientist caveat emptor if you quote me on this.

The pre-frontal cortex handles the higher intellectual functioning. New information is handled here in what can be likened to a temporary work area. Chemical connections between neurons are created which require a lot of energy. These connections may or may not make it to the more permanent storage areas of the brain.

The Basal Ganglia area of the brain stores information more permanently. This area is for habits and routines. Most people can drive their car using the Basal Ganglia. This area requires very little energy to perform its tasks.

To create behavioral change in the workplace, the goal is to have information processed in the pre-frontal cortex and then assimilated into the basal ganglia. I believe this might be the brain definition of learning.

So far so good. But if it was this simple, workplace change would be easy for everyone. How come it's difficult to get those who are not performing to improve? Why do employees have such a difficult time with change? What does it take to get the temporary connections in the brain to be pushed down to permanent memory? And what prevents this from happening?

The good news is that repetition, focus and attention all help the new information in the pre-frontal cortex makes it's way into routine in the basal ganglia. Practice using the new copy machine and soon enough it becomes routine. Do you remember when you first tried to use a computer mouse? When all goes well we learn and assimilate the new information. Sometimes though another part of the brain works against us. The orbital frontal cortex, according to the article's authors Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz and David Rock, acts as an error detector; an often faulty error detector. When presented with new information, this area of the brain compares the information with what the brain already knows and assumes the new information must be a mistake. It saps the energy from the pre-frontal cortex, which needs all the energy it can get, and it alerts its very close neighbor, the amygdala which is the home of fear. Without enough energy, the intellectual area of the brain tires and is unable to make the permanent connections necessary to assimilate the information. The change literally hurts the brain.

How about if we introduce rewards and punishments? The brain doesn't like them very much either. When you punish the employee for an undesirable behavior, you inadvertently focus attention on the negative behavior. What happens when you focus attention? You begin to create permanent connections. So with punishments, you actually create permanent connections tied to the behavior you are trying to eliminate. Rewards aren't much better. They focus the marginal performer on things they think they can't accomplish plus create fear and jealousy toward those who outperform them.

Performance reviews are used to provide a gentle way of discussing areas for improvement. This request for improvement also activates the error detector plus focuses attention on the problems rather than solutions.

So what is a manager to do? The article provides a relatively simple answer that works in concert with the way the brain functions. That is, helping the employee find his or her own INSIGHT on a particular situation. When an employee is the originator of the insight, his or her brain creates a burst of energy (40Hz oscillations of gamma waves to be exact). This helps the high energy needs of the pre-frontal cortex and overcomes any sapping of energy from the error detector region. Insight causes the brain to create a complex set of new chemical connections. When attention and focus are added, these temporary links create permanent changes in the brain. Better still, managers can speed up this process by providing positive feedback. Positive feedback actually alerts the brain that the connection is something worth saving. Positive expectations have also been shown to aid in this process.

The article finishes up with this thought
Perhaps you are thinking, this all sounds too easy. Is the answer to all the challenges of change just to focus people on solutions instead of problems, let them come to their own answers, and keep them focused on their insights? Apparently that's what the brain wants.

The simple summary is that asking or requiring change, punishments and rewards, performance review feedback all work against innate functions of the brain. Helping employees find their own insights works with the brain to achieve long term positive results.

If there are any neuroscientists reading this post, please feel free to correct any misinterpretations or mistakes that I have made on this post. I promise to keep my orbital frontal cortex out of it!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Dear Abby - HR Style

I thought I'd share some HR Q&A today. These are real questions from real HR people.

Question: This is the first time I have worked for a start up company. I have asked for a mission statement (there is none). I have asked for more direction of where the company is going (it is still being talked about). Is this unusual? How can HR align if there is nothing to align to???

Beth C.: They don't have time to fuss with that. They have to create a great product/service and get paying customers. (And fuss around with keeping Venture Capitalists happy if they took their money.)

I suggest that you stop asking for things they already have take some initiative.

Try to pick projects that will help with immediate short term goals. You want to build your own credibility as being someone who adds to the team not someone who is wasting time working on things that don't provide immediate value.

Listen carefully to what the execs are talking about and try to determine how you can help. What do they need NOW that will help them succeed?

If you are used to (and enjoy) working for a large company where there are lots of resources and programs in place, you might find that the start up environment is not for you. You'll have to change your mindset completely. You'll find that there is no such thing as standard operating procedure and you will find that a different level of risk often IS acceptable.

Keep open minded and have fun!

Question: Female EE came to my office crying today when her manager told her she was prohibited from drinking too much water because she takes too many restroom breaks.

A Senior Manager had spied her on a surveillance camera going to and from the the water cooler and restroom.

She said she can't get a doctor's note but has had urinary tract infections in the past from not drinking enough water.

She's one of the best employees in the production area but the manager is worried that other employees are getting angry about her special treatment since they wait until their designated breaks to go to the bathroom.

How would you handle?

Beth C.: I don't think we should ask employees to provide proof of needing to go to the bathroom. This is awfully Dilbertesque and creates a negative, untrusting and personally invasive company culture.

If the concern is not so much this employee but other employees' reactions, how is that really going to change by getting a doctor's note? The manager needs to tell his or her other employees to stop paying so much attention to their coworkers bodily functions and start being more productive on their own jobs.

How much we pee is no ones business but our own.

I have a number of these Q&As that I will share in future posts. Feel free to send in your own questions or add your answers to the comments area.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Cognitive Enhancers - Coming Soon to a Workplace Near You

Did you read in the Washington Post about the alarming trend of college and high school students taking "cognitive enhancers" - pills obtained legally or illegally to boost their concentration?

A recent survey of 7th through 12th graders reported that, 2.25 million kids of middle and high school age are using stimulants such as Ritalin without a prescription. This equates to 10% of all kids in those grades.

Unlike other drug use, the kids and young adults using cognitive boosters are the high achievers not your typical "druggies."

Dr. Richard Restak, a neurologist and noted expert on the brain predicts that we will soon begin to see this pill-popping in the workplace.
We're going to see it not only in schools, but in businesses, especially where mental endurance matters." Restak can easily imagine a boss saying, " 'You've been here 14 hours; could you do another six?' It's a very competitive world out there, and this gives people an edge.

According to the Washington Post article, two of the most commonly taken drugs of this variety include Adderall, an ADD medication and Provigil, normally used for narcolepsy. Each, of course, come with a host of potential side effects including sudden unexplained deaths in children with cardiac abnormalities. Adderall sales are up 3,135.6 percent over the same period. Provigil is up 359.7 percent.

Eric R. Kandel, a researcher working on developing pharmaceuticals to improve memory of those who are impaired is shocked by the use of such drugs in kids and young adults.
That's awful! Why should they be taking drugs? They should just study! I think this is absurd. What's so terrible about having a 3.9? The idea that character and functioning and intelligence is to be judged by a small difference on an exam — that's absurd. This is just like Barry Bonds and steroids. Exactly what you want to discourage. These kids are very sensitive. Their brains are still developing. Who knows what might happen.

My sentiments exactly.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Should Recruiting Secede?

Big discussion on an absurd question. Should Recruiting secede from HR?

That's like asking, should accounting secede from the CFO's area. Recruiting is about hiring the right people which is the centerpiece of HR's job. I'd go as far as to say it's the core competency of anyone in Human Resources.

Now, when I was a third party recruiter and thought (mistakenly) that I knew something about HR, I might have agreed with this nonsense. Third party recruiters are trained to avoid HR. Why? Not because it's good for the companies they service, but because it's good for the recruiters to make placements.

Recruiting, performance management, employee retention are all intertwined. They are the drivers of Human Resources and done correctly they are the things that bring value to a company. They are HR. The transactional items that must be done are simply that - paperwork that must be done. Just like every other department. The CFO area handles A/P and A/R and the CTO handles data entry. Would someone suggest seceding the IT strategy from the CTO's domain because the department also had to handle repetitive or administrative tasks?

The Power of Saying "NO"

Some very practical business advice from Patti Danos, a business book publicist who specializes in workplace titles:

Know and Understand the Power of No
From saying 'no' to new business that doesn't feel right to saying 'no' to a client request that doesn't gel strategically to saying 'no' to timelines proposed by others that compromise my work-life balance, I've learned that there's as much power, if not more power, in 'no' than 'yes.'

And on Getting New Business -

"Referrals, Referrals, Referrals

Danos is the publicist for Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans employee retention classic Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

What's Hot in Motivational Rewards

Are you up on the latest trends in incentive rewards? According to a recent survey 40% of people chose travel as their most desired incentive and 23% chose a shopping spree. Electronic gadgets were selected as a reward of choice by just 4% of people surveyed.

Travel has always been a hot reward. When I was a recruiter in the mid to late 1980s, we had contests for travel to places such as Aruba, St. Maarten, Bermuda, Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. We worked hard to win those trips and they were always great fun. (Thanks, Paul George!)

Today, Generation Xers are motivated by different kinds of trips from the types that motivated us Boomers. According to an article in Selling Power magazine, GenXers favor experiences. Said one expert, "Experience is king. The more unique the better." Another tells us "Give people moments they will savor and that they can brag about to their friends."

Examples of unique experiences that are currently popular include:

Wine tasting at a high rated winery lead by the vineyard owner.

Dinner and a meet and greet at the restaurant of a celebrity chef.

Unique travel destinations such as Panama, Dominican Republic or St. Petersburg, Russia.

Combining travel with a charitable event such as building homes in Cancun.

Another current trend in motivational rewards is to structure individual travel for prize winners rather than group travel. GenXers often prefer traveling with their family rather than with a company group. Family friendly destinations such as Orlando are also proving popular as is providing winners with choices of destinations.

Current favorite destinations?

Las Vegas, Hawaii, New York City

Least Favorite Destination: The Cumberland Mountains

HR should be involved in incentive planning so it's a good idea to keep up with the current trends. See the article titled The Best Reward in the May 2006 issue of Selling Power.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Howz Yer Spelling?

Great article called Fix Your Spelling over at HRWhatnot.

It includes steps for fixing your spelling (keep a "cheat sheet"), spelling rules (prefixes never change the spelling of the root word), common mistakes (a lot and all right), misused words (ironic), bankrupt expressions (in point of fact) and a spot where you can add your own misspellings.

I am sure I am going to refer back to this article often.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Straight Talking Americans - But Not in the Workplace

Have you ever noticed how Americans who are known for being opinionated and valuing straight talk are actually make-no-waves yes-men and women in the workplace?

It's an interesting dichotomy that I hadn't given much thought to until I read the excellent article in Across the Board magazine by intercultural expert Susan Davidson. In this article Davidson shares many European executives' experiences working for American companies. These managers were surprised to find that in the workplace Americans:
  • avoid being negative
  • are labeled a trouble maker if they disagree
  • are careful to put a positive spin on what they say
  • follow rigorous corporate hierarchies (corporate ladders)
  • are keenly deferential to those above us (think Trump boardroom)
  • provide minimal, weak feedback that primarily confirms a decision that has already been made
  • avoid face-to-face confrontation

These charges ring true, don't they?

I never realized that this was a uniquely American phenomenon as opposed to being a normal stumbling block for most corporate cultures. Apparently, though, this is not business as usual for our European counterparts. For example, according to Davidson, Scandinavians have a much more inclusive organizational structure where "anyone can talk openly to anyone about anything."
"If an American CEO says something is a good idea, then people nod and say yes, whether they agree or not," says Marjon de Groot, a former Dutch director of product marketing for Philips. Another Dutchman at Philips, agrees: "Dutch feeback enriches the decision. You don't get that that kind of feedback in the United States."

The article goes on to explain some of the suspected reasons for Americans not speaking their mind at work. This includes fear of losing their jobs (which Europeans are less likely to fear due to stricter labor laws and generous unemployment benefits) and our litigious society which causes both employees and employers to dilute what they say.

Another reason that comes to my mind is that Americans may see the key to climbing the American corporate ladder as being built more upon social ties than on business contributions. If employees and middle managers believe that being liked is what will help them get ahead, then it makes sense that they will strive to act postive and agreeable. Presenting unique ideas and suggestions comes with the risk of appearing to make waves or disagree with colleagues and bosses. Perhaps American leaders are rewarding conciliatory behaviors (consciously or unconsciously) rather than rewarding behaviors that question and contribute.

This is something that company leaders should take a hard look at within their own organization. I know that CEOs believe they want more honest feedback from employees. They say they want honest feedback but are they rewarding those who provide honest feedback? Maybe there are some lessons we can learn from our friends overseas.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Want to be an HR "Mover & Shaker?" Write a book!

Who are the most influential "movers and shakers" in HR? According to Human Resources (UK) magazine, not HR people.

I pulled together some statistics on the top 25 HR Influencers from a Top 100 list published this week.

Those with the greatest influence in the HR profession are:
  • 80% male; 20% female

  • 56% published authors, most of muliple titles (one guy has written over 100 books)

  • 44% college or university professors or otherwise academically affiliated

  • 36% current or former HR practitioners
Those we are listening to have studied HR and/or teach HR but only 35% of them have lived HR.

#1 Influencer Dave Ulrich, who has written a number of fine HR business books, spent the last 3 years running a Mormon mission in Quebec. Jim Collins has been in his research lab for 10+ years. Wouldn't it be great if one of these thought leaders spent a year or two actually managing a Human Resources department? I bet they would have a whole different perspective.

You can see the full list of 100 HR movers and shakers here.