What a Little Workplace Sleuthing Might Uncover

I learned a few things about going undercover in the workplace today when I came across this article by a business consultant named Eric Egeland.

For one, undercover assessments aren’t exactly management tactics I’ve read, edited or written much about in my years here. Several years back, we ran a story on top managers hitting the front line or manufacturing floor incognito to ferret out internal problems, but I don’t recall learning about the extent to which workplace sleuthing is such a marketable service.

According to Egeland, president of Capacity Consulting Inc., it’s often a lot less sexy and a lot longer-term than what you’d see on TV’s Undercover Boss. “Actually, it’s a lot like surveillance,” he writes. “You watch and listen to a whole lot of nothing for what seems like forever and then, suddenly, you witness something big.” Such as? you might ask. Consider this excerpt:

Over the years we have learned about various seedy activities performed by employees. We have seen employees engage in immoral behavior while requiring subordinates to watch guard. We have seen the most respected member of a management team threaten and assault the employees of an entire department as part of their natural “management style.” We have seen groups of employees in one department band together to undermine another department. We have seen employees purposely provide poor service to customers they didn’t like and brag with a sense of accomplishment after chasing them away. Extreme? Yes, but more common than you think.

On the less dramatic, but just as damaging side are the bookkeepers who really don’t know how to keep the books, employees who get angry about the boss’ new car and retaliate by lowering their productivity, and the snoops who go through the boss’ desk and computer when alone and then brag about it. The part that should surprise and shock you the most is that the overwhelming majority of these examples involve the longest-term and most trusted employees.

Why the long-term employees versus the new employees? The new ones can certainly pull some doozies, but they can’t get away with such nonsense for long. They haven’t been there long enough to have the support and/or fear of the other employees. They do something wrong and the current employees sell them out.

Fascinating … at least to this workplace-snooping novice. Far less dramatic but equally important are the work-process inefficiencies, or the safety and data-breach issues, Egeland says. “We always find improvement opportunities that increase the bottom line,” he writes, “and that is the true value of the undercover assignment whether it’s real life or television.”

Discussion, But No Consensus from Summit Panelists

Panelists at the 3rd Annual Cornell University Executive Summit took up the issues of “changing demographics” and “social media and HR” — the two topics selected from a list of 12 by attendees at the HR in Hospitality™ Conference for a wide-ranging discussion.

There were lots of opinions by the group of 11 HR leaders and attorneys on the panel about the use of social media for recruiting, engagement, training, screening, to reconnect with alumni, you name it.

There was little controversy about its use for recruiting; using it for screening candidates was another story.

A.J. Kamra, corporate director of HR at Dow Hotel Co., said he questioned the judgment of candidates who posted inappropriate information that was visible to him — and he wouldn’t want to hire them.

Some others, including Alan Momeyer, VP of HR at Loews Corp., said they had better things to do than “trolling the Internet” looking for such information. “What is extremely offensive about someone in their 20s having a drink?” he asked.

Even when you’re not looking for information, however, you can sometimes find it — such as discovering from a Facebook status that a supervisor is dating a subordinate — but many of the panelists said HR professionals should forget about the medium. Just treat the matter the same as if they had learned the information otherwise, they said.

“Technology is just the means that exposes and creates that conversation. … It could easily happen over email or any other form,” said Robert Mellwig, senior vice president of human resources at Destination Hotels & Resorts.

As for social media policies, two attorney panelists — Paul Wagner, a shareholder at Shea Stokes Roberts & Wagner, and Gregg Gilman, a partner at Davis & Gilbert — disagreed on whether such policies should include any reference to the right of employees to criticize the company via the Internet, per recent National Labor Relations Board rulings.

Wagner thought HR should include a provision that requires such criticism to be “done respectfully.” Gilman disagreed, saying “respectfully” was too “ambiguous” a term, and that “at the end of the day … [the issue will devolve to] ‘did the employee go over the line?’ ”

Patricia Smith, senior VP of organizational design and HR at The Leading Hotels of the World, said HR should not take an “unempowered approach,” which results in being reactive instead of proactive in regard to social media.

“It’s here. It’s going to happen. It’s happening. Why not take an empowered approach?” she said.

Greg Smith, executive vice president of HR at Denihan Hospitality Group, agreed: “If you don’t embrace it, you risk losing your competitive edge.”

When talking about the changing demographics of the workforce, the discussion focused on the diverse needs of all ages, from Gen Yers beginning their work careers and those pre-retirement workers who can’t afford to retire, to mid-career employees who don’t want to uproot their families and relocate to continue their career progressions.

Mellwig said his organization has explored a “teacher pay model,” in one area that needs seasonal managers, so they are paid for nine months of work instead of 12 months. The flexibility suits the managers as well as the organization, he said.

Debbie Brown, VP of HR for the Americas at Four Seasons, said there are 11 moves generally required before an individual is made a general manager, but her organization has been looking at a “compressed career path,” which would require only four, providing for some of the progressions to take place without a relocation.

Several of the HR leaders spoke about the need to customize jobs, as well as the need to forget generational stereotypes — and focus on the individual and his or her career aspirations and abilities.

“We sometimes typecast our team members” said Momeyer, “… and we don’t look at them as individual talents … .”

HR Leaders Discuss Talent Development

Although the HR executives on the “Re-Building the Bench” morning plenary session at the HR in Hospitality™ Conference represented organizations with 3,800 properties (and adding about 100 more properties each year), 55 properties (hoping to be 60 in a few months) and 16 hotels (hoping to be 25 in a few years), their thoughts on talent development and succession planning were not all that dissimilar.

And the baseline underlying all of the talent strategies was culture — especially in the hospitality industry, where each property/brand has its own personality and thus, its own sense of customer service and required competencies.

“When we look for talent … it really is dependent on the brand,” says Greg Smith, executive vice president of human resources for Denihan Hospitality Group (which has 16 hotels). “I am often amazed at how often really, really smart people fail because they don’t fit in.”

He was joined on the panel by Leslie Lerude, vice president of people and culture at Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants (55 properties) and Matt Schuyler, chief human resources office of Hilton Worldwide (need I give you the number?). The session was moderated by JoAnne Kruse, founder of HCpartners and Conference program chair.

Recruiting and developing talent, Schuyler says, can be extremely sophisticated in the United States, but quite different around the world. Globally, it can range from setting up street fairs in China to try to find potential workers —  while educating them about customer service — to Saudi Arabia, where Hilton will be opening a 9,000-room hotel in Mecca staffed only by Muslim men; a property that can never be visited by senior leaders as they are not allowed in that city because of their religion.

Lerude says Kimpton — which has a corporate psychologist on staff — has long believed an emphasis on personal development is the key to happy employees. Happy employees, she says, are engaged and focused on customer satisfaction, which translates into a successful organization.

She also believes too much focus has been spent on employee engagement, when emphasis should really be placed on “trust.” Hospitality workers are overwhelmingly engaged in their work, she says, but far, far fewer trust their employers or senior leaders.

And when senior leaders see that, via survey results or metrics, they often will make changes to attempt to rebuild that trust, she says.

Schuyler agrees the Great Places to Work Trust Index — which Kimpton uses as well — offers “more actionable” information than employee engagement surveys.

As for developing talent and creating succession plans, none of the HR leaders on the panel thought it was helpful to publicly designate certain individuals as “high potentials.”

“Different leaders need different things,” Smith says, “and they need different things at different stages in their careers,” while Schuyler notes a hi-po could stop being a hi-po after “a cycle or two.”

Lerude says that, while the word is not used, the organization’s actions — such as inclusion in a mentoring program or being asked to open a new facility — show individuals their value to the organization.

And developing talent in the HR function is really no different than other departments, Schuyler says, noting that the “litmus test” for success is when other departments try to poach HR talent.

Responding to Union Organizing

With the hospitality industry being a strong target for union organizing, experts offered HR leaders some tips on ways to effectively respond to such attempts during an afternoon session at the HR in Hospitality™ Conference on Monday.

But, be warned, said Jana Loewinger, vice president of employee relations at Darden Restaurants, if management waits until there is an organizing campaign going on to pay attention to employees, it’s probably already too late.

“When you are in a union campaign,” she says, “you have lost the credibility … . You can’t make amends at that point.”

There are three typical ways in which HR leaders typically deal with union-organizing attempts, says David Sherwyn, a professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, which co-produced the conference along with Cornell’s ILR School and Human Resource Executive Conferences™.

There is the traditional, old-school way in which the union attempts to persuade workers to sign cards or a petition, followed by a secret-ballot election in a month or so; there is a card check neutrality agreement that gives the union access to workers on the property; or the union attempts to convince the company’s management to accept a card check neutrality agreement.

When operating under a card check neutrality agreement, a simple majority of workers must sign cards seeking union representation for the union to become authorized. An election is not required.

Regardless of method, the first step HR leaders should take when a union seeks to organize workers is to work with managers on a “gut check poll,” says Celeste Yeager, a partner at Gandere Wynne Sewell. That’s when managers are asked to pinpoint how each of their direct reports feels about joining a union.

And if the manager doesn’t know, Loewinger says, “you really don’t have a very good manager.”

HR leaders should also work with the company’s managers to identify the issues that are driving employees to consider joining the union. It could be something simple and easily remedied — something employees had been asking for but had been frustrated by management — or it could be poor management — and be remedied by the firing of the general manager “because the general manager is a nightmare,” Sherwyn says.

But it’s important, Loewinger says, for companies to “step back and admit your mistakes or your failures … . It’s being up-front. It’s being honest.”

Yeager notes that “when [employees] feel like they are part of the process and they can come to you, they will not seek some third party to come in.”

Another effective tactic, she says, is to ask managers and other employees who are not pro-union to share with other employees their thoughts and experiences with unions; to talk about why having a union wouldn’t be the best option for your particular organization.

HR in Hospitality Conference® Opens

A “siege” by UNITE HERE protesters outside the Hyatt Regency San Francisco offers “a custom made labor-management learning environment” for the more than 300 attendees of the HR in Hospitality® Conference and Exposition, said Claude Werder of HRE Conferences, as he opened the three-day event this morning.

But it wasn’t union organizing or management that was the topic of the opening plenary session, which featured Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels in San Francisco (right). Instead, he spoke of the importance of employee satisfaction on corporate profitability.

For that to happen, individual employees must move beyong thinking of their jobs as a “job” or even as a “career,” but instead to find a “calling” in their professions.

That “self actualization,” based on Abraham Maslow’s theories, can be depicted by a pyramid that starts with money (the base motivation), moves up to recognition (which breeds loyalty and a desire to succeed) and peaks with meaning (which inspires the individual worker to find a “calling” in the work).

It’s those “abstract and intangible” aspects that create fulfilled employees, which, in turn, creates satisfied and loyal customers, says Conley, who recently stepped down as executive chairman of his company, which has merged with Thompson Hotels and is seeking to great a global brand of boutique hotels.

“You are in human resources or whatever you call it,” he told the audience, ” … and quite often you are diminished by the powers that be as if you are not important, primarily because we get very caught up in all of the rules.”

He reminded the audience that they “got into the job because of the calling of it and the meaning of it” and that they should endeavor always to remember that as they deal with the “job, the bureaucracy and the BS.”

It’s HR’s job, he says, to “help to convince the senior leadership why culture change will have a positive impact” on profitability,” noting that it’s proven that employee happiness “actually has a major impact on performance.”

The conference is produced by Human Resource Executive Conferences™ in conjunction with Cornell University School of Hotel Administration and Cornell University ILR School.

Giving Some Clarity to Succession

In his annual letter to shareholders, issued on Saturday, the legendary Warren Buffett confirmed that Berkshire Hathaway has a CEO successor in place as well as two back-ups. But he still left investors guessing the identities of those individuals.

No doubt Berkshire shareholders should be able to take some comfort in knowing that a successor has been identified. Yet I’m sure they’d sleep even better were they to know their names.

But then there would be nothing left to speculate about.

Earlier today, Buffett told CNBC that the letter’s mention of a plan wasn’t really a change—that the board has always had a preferred candidate and two backups. That, however, may not have been entirely clear to many shareholders, at least until Saturday.

I’m sure it was no accident Buffett inserted the mention near the very the beginning of his 22-page letter. The Berkshire chairman obviously didn’t want shareholders to miss the point. Though reportedly in good health, he is 81, after all.

Considering the importance of CEO succession, it never fails to amaze me how few companies actually have plans in place.  Buffett notes in this year’s letter that one of the principal roles of the board of directors is to ensure “the right people are running the business” and “that the next generation of leaders is identified and ready to take over tomorrow.” So why do we continue to read studies, like one released by Korn/Ferry, that report just 35 percent of companies have CEO succession plans in place?

Whether you personally consider it news or not, maybe Buffett’s reference—and some of the press reports it generated—will, at the very least, lead a few more boards to put it a bit higher on their agendas.

The Painful End of Maternity Leave

Found a nice reminder today on the Society for Human Resource Management website about just how hard it is for most moms to return to work after maternity leave.

The top video in SHRM’s archive features Cathy Carothers, president of the International Lactation Consultant Association, describing just what returning young mothers go through.

So often, what employers — and employees — focus on are the numbers of weeks and days allowed for maternity leave under state and federal laws (which just so happens to be the focus of the second video, following Carothers’).

What Carothers does is make it very personal and specific — the physical stress of post-birth and lactation, the loss of sleep, the emotional stress around leaving your baby in the arms of someone else … .

I so rarely hear those specific hardships talked about when reporting or writing about young moms returning to work. Hearing Carothers took me right back to my own painful pangs some 30 years ago. And to the much-more-recent experiences of young women in my life and circle of friends.

As Carothers stresses, every employer would do well to consider the special needs — beyond time-and-attendance — that these women come back to work with. (Suggestions might include extra counseling, support or affinity groups, and lactation and rest areas, to name just a few.)

Indeed, the transition from maternity to work would be so much easier for all involved, employers and employees, if organizations catered more to the whole returning new parent, not just the returning employee.



Rating HR’s Global Mind-set

Do HR folks have more of a global mind-set than most of their peers?  Not according to just released data from the Najafi Global Mindset Institute at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz.

Despite all of the attention globalization has been getting in recent years, GMI’s latest research suggests that HR’s global mind-set may be somewhat lacking, especially when it’s put up against other functions in the organization. On the GMI list, HR scored below management, educator, sales, marketing, financial, logistics/distribution and operations, though it managed to inch out R&D and IT.

In an environment where global talent strategies matter more than ever, that’s hardly encouraging news.

GMI defines an organization’s “global mind-set” as “the sum total of its individual employees’ global awareness and capacity to operate across cultures.” Its findings are based on an analysis of data from 13,000 people who have taken its Global Mindset Inventory assessment.

Joy McGovern, head of client services for GMI, told me she can only speculate as to why HR professionals ranked near the bottom of the list.  She suspects the function’s tendency to be “internally focused” might have something to do with it.

No doubt there are more than a few ways to interpret this data. But I agree with one of McGovern’s conclusions, which is that one of the key takeaways from the research is the need for HR leaders to focus more of their attention—and their teams’— on the business and less on the function. Of course, that’s something we have all heard before. But given GMI’s findings, it’s probably worth repeating.

Would that be enough to push HR past operations or logistics/distribution or finance? Who knows? But there’s little doubt it would go a long way to helping their businesses open up new markets and better compete in those where they already have a foothold.


Update on SAP and SuccessFactors

Thought I’d post this write-up from Bill Kutik, our HR Technology columnist and co-chair of our HR Technology Conference, who was briefed by SAP and SuccessFactors last week about the post-merger plans for the two companies’ products (SAP recently acquired SuccessFactors). Bill posted this on the HR Technology Conference Users Group on LinkedIn, and if you’re at all interested in anything having to do with HR technology, I strongly urge you to join this group. Registration is free, of course, and you needn’t have attended (or be planning to attend) any of the conferences.

Speculation Rages On About Oracle’s Acquiring Taleo

BY BILL KUTIK/ Influencers were briefed last week under embargo about today’s SAP and SuccessFactors announcement. The biggest news is SF will create SAP’s next generation SaaS replacement for its large company on-premise R/3 HCM. Just like Lars said two months ago! This doesn’t mean on-premise customers will be abandoned. SAP has committed to support R/3 (now called SAP ERP HCM) until 2020. While there will be minimal innovation and development in the on-premise Talent Management apps (that’s being saved for SF’s TM suite), the Core HRMS will get a new user experience and UI, Analytics, Mobility and Hana (SAP’s in-memory database).

The next gen product will come from accelerated development of SF’s Core HRMS product – Employee Central – and its continued integration with the existing TM suite.
SAP is taking dozens of experienced HRMS product managers and engineers from its own SaaS initiatives – Business ByDesign and Career OnDemand (now dead) – to work with the SF teams of VP Global Product Management Dmitri Krakovsky and VP of Engineering Adam Kovalevsky, a long-time PeopleSoft veteran. What is it with Lars and Russians?
Making that SaaS Core HRMS fully multi-national and useful for compliance is a terrifically complex task, despite Employee Central already having 100 customers. The effort has a slight chance of being derailed by SAP traditionalists who have always insisted all its ERP applications be on the same platform but that seems unlikely.When it is finished, the fully integrated SaaS HRMS/TM solution will be the perfect product to compete directly against Workday, which has a head start of several years. “We see the competitive threat from Workday,” says SAP’s David Ludlow, Group Vice President, Line of Business Solutions HR, SAP Labs, also speaking for his new comrade in arms, Dmitri. Uh, yeah.

Workday is much on the minds of Oracle, too, as it shapes and internally communicates plans for how to use Taleo’s market-leading big company recruiting application, as well as its full TM suite. Being such new software, Oracle Fusion HCM is apparently having a tough time competing against Workday, whose HCM is already six years old. In a recent announcement, Oracle said Fusion HCM had 50 customers signed, but much smaller companies than many of the PeopleSoft and SAP clients Workday is now targeting and taking away for its SaaS system. Yesterday, Workday reporting having more than 280 HCM customers signed and more than 25 for Core Financials. Average size is 15-20,000 employees.

I always assumed Oracle would use Taleo Recruiting and Learning to plug the two major holes in Fusion HCM and toss the rest away (Performance Management and Compensation). But Josh Bersin says Oracle is telling Taleo employees that it wants as many of them to stay as possible. So maybe a different plan is afoot. What would you do with Taleo if you were Thomas Kurian or Steve Miranda, Oracle’s top two product executives? As for the rest of SAP’s announcement, I leave that to others. Much of it makes good on what was telegraphed two months ago, including SF operating independently as “SuccessFactors, An SAP Company,” even keeping its own SuccessConnect spring user conference! A potent symbol of independence.
Does anyone imagine Oracle will stage the next Taleo WORLD in September?

Five Rules for Talking to the C-Suite

As someone whose day job regularly involves speaking with busy executives, I especially appreciated Tom Searcy’s post on Inc.com’s site this morning that lists his five best-practice rules for making the most of conversations with these time-sensitive titans of industry.

Just as Searcy recommends, we’ll get right to the good stuff:

Half a minute is forever in a boring conversation. Studies indicate that on the phone, the listener is considering whether to exit or stick around every seven to 11 seconds. In face-to-face meetings, you get a little more grace–say, all the way to 30 seconds. If you are not constantly generating someone’s interest, you are losing him.

Executives seem to have their own form of attention disorders. Executives are constantly trying to come to a decision about any interaction: “Do I delegate this, avoid this, deny this or run away from this?” You are fighting that internal dialogue in small battles. Keep it interesting.

Searcy’s other rules include watching for signs of boredom, asking for permission to tell stories in order to provide context to a specific issue and knowing what your point is.

But perhaps the most salient of his rules comes from the sales world:

Sales people have joked for a long time that everyone has the same radio station playing in their head: WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). By no means do I believe that every interaction has to be a selling conversation, or that there has to be something for your listener in every conversation. However, if you want to hold their attention, it’s good to keep it in mind. What is in it for the listener to be having this conversation with you?

Here’s hoping Searcy’s tips will lead us all to better conversations with harried executives, this writer included!