Delivering Happiness

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, brought his message of the importance of happiness to the SHRM conference in a morning keynote address on Tuesday. 

He shared a bit of his personal history — making and selling pizzas while in college (eventually hiring as the Zappos CFO his No. 1 customer — who he found out was buying his pizzas and then selling them by the slice to college kids — and later, creating an online company he eventually sold to Microsoft when he dreaded going to work in the morning because it wasn’t fun anymore.

Selling out during the dot-com boom, he became an investor and ultimately decided to join Zappos, which he describes as “a service company that just happens to sell shoes.” It is a company designed to offer “the very best customer service and customer experience.” To that end, for example, Zappos offers free shipping both ways and a 365-day return policy.

But a company can’t offer excellent customer service, he said, if it doesn’t have an excellent company culture. So, everyone hired at Zappos goes through two types of interviews — one for skills and one for cultural fit. Regardless of skill level, individuals will not be hired unless they fit — and they may be fired for the same reason.

To ensure new hires are excited about the oportunity of working there, Zappos offers a bonus of a few thousand dollars if they want to quit during the training period — and everyone, regardless of job title, goes through the same training, which includes two weeks on the call center phones, he says.

His story has been covered a lot — especially since his 23-city book/bus tour last year — but it’s surely a welcome message for HR leaders, as they are the keepers of the culture — and as they are the executives who talk up the value of culture with their C-suite colleagues.

During those talks, they could share some of the research findings Hsieh talked about that link successful companies with both strong cultures and “counterintuitively,” offer a higher purpose beyond higher profits.

That vision, that purpose, that passion, he said, gets companies — and individuals — through the tough times. It inspires employees and seemlessly results in better performance — and higher profits.

“There’s a huge difference between motivation and inspiration,” he said. “Conmpanies with a higher purpose actually generate more profits in the long term.”

Army Reserve’s Employer Partnership Program Off and Running

I’m not a big fan of clichés, but I just attended a Tuesday morning session at the SHRM Conference in Las Vegas that seems like such a perfect example of “win-win,” I had to share.

By now, many of you have heard about the U.S. Army Reserve’s Employer Partnership Program that launched in 2008 — joining the efforts of employers and the reserves to benefit both by coordinating military training with civilian-skills needs. But you might not be aware of how fast it’s growing and how well it’s working.

Brig. Gen. Tim Williams, deputy commanding general for the Washington-based U.S. Army Reserve spelled it out for those who came to hear “An Innovative Approach to Workforce Development: Increasing Employment Trends Within the U.S. Army Reserve.”

Basically a brainstorm led by Lt. Gen. Jack C. Schultz, the program links employers with veterans and reservists looking to rejoin the U.S. civilian workforce by setting up the right lines of communication so the military organization can train and certify soldiers to be able to step into jobs or return to jobs that have changed and grown, and be productive and successful.

“It’s our job to ensure our soldiers make as easy a transition as possible back into civilian life,” said Williams. But employers no longer have to exercise sheer benevolence by taking in a returning veteran in need of additonal training and transition support. The program “actually saves them the expense” of employee-support services often spent on all employees.

For instance, all field medics are now getting emergency-medical-technician training and certification. In transportation-type duties, reservists are now getting commercial drivers’ licenses and certifications. X-ray technicians are now leaving the reserves certified. Medics are getting the additional training they’ll need for specific posts in medical and pharmaceutical organizations.

The reserves are even conducting the health screening and drug screening tests for employers they’ve contracted with. Religious counseling, family support, health services for disabled and brain-injured veterans, mental-health counseling … all are provided by the military, free of charge to the employer they’ve contracted with.

“We’re using best practices in a business sense now, and this includes implementing an enterprise approach that ensures more predictable deployments” so employers are no longer caught unawares, Williams said.

The cost to employers? Cut. The cost to the military? Actually and surprisingly, no change. Williams said it was simply a matter of “figuring it out … and learning how to run our organization more efficiently” by cutting unnecessary programs or personnel, and adding the trainers and counselors in far-more strategically productive capacities.

The first employer contracted was Inova Health Systems in Fairfax, Va., which — in two years — has gone from one to 275 reservist soldiers hired. The program now includes 1,300 contracted employers.

“This has grown so big,” Williams said. “There’s such a need for soldiers coming off the field to find productive life and work. This is on the verge of becoming a really big deal.” In fact, to help younger returning infantry find meaningful work, the entire Army (what Williams called the “big Army”) will soon be included in the program that, so far, services the reserve’s 206,000 “employees, most of them part-time, and most of them equipped with the Army’s engineering and medical expertise.”

Hopefully, by the time you read this, the program’s new website,, will be up and running. Wasn’t working when I was posting this, for some reason. But if you’re interested, you know you can find what you need, fellow Googler.

Rhoades Maps Out Proven Strategies

At the end of day, hiring is the most important thing HR does.

So suggested Ann Rhoades, who held senior HR posts at Southwest Airlines, Doubletree and JetBlue, during a Master Series session on Monday titled “People-Centric Cultures Pay Big Dividends: Lessons from Great Companies”

 In her talk, Rhoades, who serves on JetBlue’s board, expanded on some of the messages contained in her 2010 book, Built on Values: Creating an Enviable Culture that Outperforms the Competition.

 “It’s really important to understand that hiring is the most important thing we do,” Rhoades said. “Everyone [we hire] represents an opportunity to reinforce the culture. Everyone should be looked at as though they will be living the brand every time they touch an internal or external customer.”

Employers need “A” players on their payrolls, not “C” players, she stressed. “You can’t afford [‘C’ players] to affect the culture.”

 “If someone isn’t working out and I want to get rid of them,” Rhoades added, “I’ll send their resume to the competition.”

Other topics she addressed were transparency and involving employees in business decisions.

“People will help with the numbers if they understand them,” she said. “We get them involved the very first day they join JetBlue. Quit just telling them that you’re not making the numbers. Show them that they can help you.”

JetBlue, a publicly traded company, shows its employees the numbers before it releases them to the public, she says, “because we don’t want them to hear about them later.” It’s all about keeping employees engaged in the business, she added..

Rhoades also said Fred Reichheld, author of The Loyalty Effect and The Ultimate Question, is right on target when he suggests that the only questions “you need to ask anyone is ‘Would you recommend JetBlue as a place for family and friends to work? And if not, why not? And would you recommend JetBlue to family and friends to fly? And if not, then why not and what would you change?’ ”

What’s New at the Expo

To be sure, the number of new product announcements at SHRM doesn’t come close to approaching those made our own HR Technology® Conference, to be held this October 3 through 5.  But for whatever reason, there seemed to be a bunch more launches this year than we’ve grown accustomed to.

Not surprisingly, two of the announcements involved mobile solutions. I say not surprisingly because we’ve seen a wave of vendors that have made this a top priority in recent months.

Yesterday, I was briefed on a mobile solution from LexisNexis Risk Solutions, a supplier of employment-screening solutions. The app provides recruiters and prospects access to the process via remote devices in an effort to speed up the background-screening process.

Meanwhile, the former Peopleclick Authoria, which unveiled its new name, Peoplefluent, at the conference yesterday, announced this morning Fluency on the Move, its mobile product line that’s intended to give managers remote “access to relevant and correlated data about their people.”  Initially, four mobile products were released, including Workforce Explorer, Manager Compensation Assistant, Manager Guidebook and Candidate Explorer.

I also was briefed this morning on two other new recruiting products.

Halogen Software announced its anticipated recruitment entry, eRecruitment, an applicant tracking system that integrates with the firm’s other talent-management modules. Like other Halogen products, eRecruitment was “organically built,” points out Donna Ronayne, the company’s vice president of marketing. General availability is slated for August.

And the RPO provider The RightThing launched RightThingRecruit, a recruitment technology platform, for prospects just looking for a technology solution, that addresses sourcing, recruiting, contact relationship management, applicant tracking, onboarding and reporting. CEO Terry Terhart, who says business has been strong for the company, cites flexibility and speed of implementation as two key differentiators.

Granted, jobs may be slow to come back. But suppliers haven’t slowed down their efforts to build out their offerings.

The Changing Nature of Work

Gary Kushner offered lots of data about the future nature of work so that HR leaders could begin questioning the way their organizations are designed, the composition of their total rewards and the purpose underlying their HR strategies — but he didn’t provide any answers during his session at SHRM on Monday afternoon.

Kushner, president and CEO of Kushner & Co., a consultancy focusing on employee benefits and strategic HR, outlined five global trends affecting strategic HR: technological advancement, outsourcing, changes in demographics and diversity, changing worker attitudes and values, and globalization.

He also noted that, while business success was based on manufacturing processes 40 years ago and on technology 20 years ago — that it is people who “are our competitive advantage” today.

Kushner talked about the adjustments that would have to be made with four generations — and soon, five — in the workplace, especially the way it would impact upward advancement. And that the ever-growing segment of older workers would impact total rewards and benefits.

He talked about the challenges that the combination of employees, temps, independent contractors and outsourcing have on creating a shared vision and facilitating teamwork. And he talked about how individuals have changed their attitude from living to work to working to live.

“How do we leverage the way we think about all of these trends?” he asked. “The way work has been done is not the way it is going to continue to be done.”

But it will be up to individual CHROs to take it to the next step — and figure out what the answers are.

Your Workers May Be in Worse Shape than You Think

HR and benefits professionals might be surprised to find out — if they asked — just how on the edge financially their employees are … and how many of them in these dire straits there really are. They also might raise an eyebrow or two to learn how many on-the-edge workers actually don’t think a debilitating or catastrophic event could impact them or their family.

Such was the warning from Audrey Tillman, executive vice president of corporate services at the Columbus, Ga.-based supplemental and guaranteed-renewable insurance provider, in an interview Monday. She was referring to the results of a study released earlier this month, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Aflac.

The 2011 Aflac WorkForces Report shows 51 percent of American workers say they are not very, or not at all, prepared to pay for out-of-pocket expenses not covered by major-medical insurance. What’s more, six out of 10 workers do not have a financial plan in place to deal with an unexpected and costly life event, such as a medical emergency. And 31 percent have less than $500 in savings for emergency expenses.

“Remember, these are people who are working!” Tillman says. “These are the people one would assume have some sort of financial stability. We found these statistics startling.”

The study also finds that only 19 percent of employees think it’s likely that they or a family member will ever be diagnosed with a chronic illness, such as heart disease or diabetes, and only 13 percent say they think a serious illness, such as cancer, will ever occur or that there will be a need for long-term care.

Yet, according to the National Safety Council, more than 25 million people in the United States suffered accident-related disabling injuries in 2008 and the American Heart Association reports nearly one in three deaths in 2006 was caused by a form of cardiovascular disease. “So, clearly, these things are happening,” says Tillman.

Worse still, “about half of the workers we surveyed said they’re already struggling with financial stress, and again, remember, these are the people who are working,” she says. “These surveyed employees are real people in the workforce.”

When asked how they would pay for out-of-pocket expenses due to an unexpected illness, 44 percent said they would have to borrow from family or friends, tap retirement savings or use a credit card.

And, for the clincher, 19 percent — one out of five people — have no idea how they would cover the costs.

Aflac products and services aside, says Tillman, this should sound a reverberating wake-up call to employers to take a fresh account of the benefits they’re providing and, in this economy, with so many Americans living on the edge, “make sure the benefits they are providing really make a difference and are really providing that safety net” so desperately needed right now.

“What this says to me as an HR executive is that it’s time many of us survey our employees to find out where the real needs are,” she says. “We should be taking a new look with a critical eye, through our own research and workforce analysis, to become fully aware of what really impacts people.”

Supplemental insurance, for instance, which could mean the difference between financial ruin and recovery in the event of a catastrophe, and which a significant number of employers still don’t offer, “may have to be added in place of something else that may not seem so critical in this economy,” says Tillman.

“The pressure has been on HR to hold the line and cut back on costs,” she says. “This may not feel to an HR executive like a good time to revolutionize the system.”

But workers whose employers provide for them when catastrophe strikes, she adds, will not only stay on as productive workers in the long run, “they’ll become champions for that company.”


What Your CEO Won’t Tell You

Sue Meisinger is in a prime position to tell HR professionals what HR should know about CEOs — she was CEO and president of SHRM for six years and worked for the organization for more than 20 years.

In a packed session on Monday morning, she talked about the 10 things CEOs will never tell their HR leaders — and what the implications were for HR. And the overall message was one of honesty and transparency, of being knowledgeable and speaking the language of business, of taking the risk of offering opinions and making decisions, and of creating a workplace that is conducive to innovation and productivity.

CEOs are often isolated, she said, and it’s up to HR to be an “honest broker,” and keep them advised of what is going on in the business and among the executive team — within reason: No one likes a tattletale and HR should not break confidences in filling that role, she said. “This is risky business.”

HR leaders should also realize that CEOs really don’t understand HR — they don’t know what it does and they view it as a cost center or a bringer of problems. To counter that, HR executives must articulate how HR practices impact the bottom line — don’t tell them how happy the employees are.

And when seeking funding for HR technology or other purposes, discuss the return on investment or the impact to productivity or revenue — CEOs really don’t care if the latest HRIS will make HR’s life easier.

The tenure of CEOs has dropped to 6.3 years in the past decade, she said, and often, when the new CEO comes in, he or she will bring an HR executive along. That may not be a great thing for the incumbent HR leader, but overall it speaks to the “tight bond” and good working relationship that is often present — and should always be present — between the CEO and CHRO.

Sue also writes a monthly column for HREOnline on HR leadership.

Recruiting on Facebook

In the never-ending quest to leverage Facebook for recruiting, Rick Marini thinks he has created the Holy Grail.

As “Founder, CEO and Chief Connector” of BranchOut, Marini has grown from nothing to “millions of users” since Jan. 1 — although he declines to offer an exact number.

What those millions of users are doing is using Facebook for career networking. BranchOut also has created what Marini says is the “largest job board on Facebook,” boasting more than 3 million job listings. He’s also gotten millions in funding, he says, raising $24 million in the past nine months — and using some of that funding to make his company’s big splash at the SHRM convention.

 BranchOut offers individuals and organizations access to the work history, education and endorsements (no personal pictures!) of other individual users on Facebook — of which there are 700 million in total.

“I would say 25 percent of the HR community is not sure about mixing professional and personal; the other 75 percent are saying, ‘Thank God, somebody built this.’ ”

Starting Aug. 1, the company will offer a service similar to LinkedIn Recruiter Pro, but he says, BranchOut is in a complementary, not a competitive, position with them.

Partnership Moves the Cash-for-Healthy-Behavior Trend Forward

The emerging trend of paying workers cash for healthy behavior got a boost today in the announcement by InteliSpend Prepaid Solutions that it is now partnering with Virgin HealthMiles to provide its clients with the latter’s wellness expertise, program design and program delivery.

Rewarding cash through prepaid cards strictly as a reward for achieving a wellness goal — as opposed to discounting premiums or awarding other health-based services — is “just now starting to catch on,” Deanna Baker, InteliSpend’s vice president of employee development and human resources, told me moments after making the partnership announcement the second day of the SHRM conference in Las Vegas.

“With healthcare reform moving forward,” she said, “we’re seeing more employers who weren’t focusing on wellness before now seeing they need to. And more and more are catching on to the fact that incentives will be the big mover of this trend.”

Earlier this year, Fenton, Mo.-based InteliSpend, an employee recognition and prepaid-incentive provider, announced its exclusive MasterCard wellness prepaid card, its “venture into the incenting-wellness arena,” where the future lies, Baker said. London-based Virgin HealthMiles “already gets this,” she added, as a provider of employee health programs that pay people to get active.

The Search for Meaning in Life

When the country’s founders set forth the need for the “pursuit of happiness,” they weren’t talking about happy hours and shopping malls, said Arianna Huffington in the morning keynote address of the SHRM conference on Tuesday.

They meant individuals should feel good by doing good, she said; that individuals need to “make something of our lives beyond ourselves.”

In a speech that was billed as one dealing with social media, Huffington’s message was more philosophical — although she managed to put in a few promotional messages about the Huffington Post and its blog content. She also briefly spoke about her organization’s merger with AOL and the way it imparted to her the “incredible value of HR.”

But it was her message of the importance of trust and authenticity and giving back — and how HR can facilitate  that to create what she called a “tribal feeling,” in which the organization pulls together in a single direction. That’s what will offer the most value to HR, especially as society changes from one of survival and competition to one of meaning and collaboration (quoting from polio vaccine inventor Jonas Salk — one of the many quotes peppered throughout her speech).

Hampering trust, however, she said is the “obnoxious roommate in my head,” that voice of doubt that everyone has, the voice that focuses on the down side or potential for failure. Too many people focus on what is not working instead of what is, she said.

And, in her wide ranging speech, she proselytized the importance of sleep, calling herself a “sleep crusader,” and noting that one her first actions in the newly merged Huffington Post/AOL organization was to create two nap rooms. For some reason, she said, men think it’s good business practice to have only a few hours a sleep a night, she said, but more sleep means more creative and less reactive leadership.