All posts by Andrew McIlvaine

‘Yelp’ for Rating Managers??

Many of us turn to the website Yelp.com–the site that compiles user reviews of local restaurants and other service providers–when we’re looking for a good place to eat in whatever location we happen to be. But the folks at Cisco Systems are giving some serious thought to creating a homegrown version of Yelp that would let Cisco employees post reviews of their managers in a public forum available to all of the company’s employees, in a fashion similar to the way Yelp.com users rate the newest sushi joint or Italian bistro.

“We’re trying to figure out how ‘ungoverned’ we can be without getting into legal trouble,” said Don McLaughlin, Cisco’s chief learning officer, during a panel discussion on using social media for corporate learning at the HR Technology® Conference.

McLaughlin said he thinks it’s a great idea, although he admitted he’d be a bit worried about getting negatively “Yelped” himself. But the concept ties into Cisco’s long-term strategy with respect to social learning, he said, which is to create a new “capability set” for the company’s next generation of leaders.

Some in the audience were receptive to the idea of a Yelp for managers. “How can you really know what sort of training a manager might need without really frank, honest feedback from his or her direct reports?” one attendee asked.

Others were skeptical. “You might have people afraid to post honestly for fear of reprisals,” said another audience member. “Then you’d also run the risk of managers who are afraid to do anything that might be unpopular for fear of getting trashed.”

“What about combining the employee reviews with hard data, such as metrics on turnover in a manager’s group, and its business performance?” said another. “That might be really powerful.”

Moderator Jeanne Meister, author of the book The 2020 Workplace, said the concept could be an improvement over performance reviews. “Aren’t we all tired of performance feedback that arrives too late? Why not find out immediately if there’s something we may need to improve, skills we need to learn, rather than waiting six or twelve months down the line?”

Wellne$$

Remember C. Everett Koop, the distinguished-looking gentleman with the Amish-style beard who served as the U.S. Surgeon General during the Reagan administration? Well, there’s an award named after him—the C. Everett Koop National Health Award, administered by The Health Project, a Washington-based nonprofit that works to bring about “critical attitudinal and behavioral changes in the American health care system.”

Three employers have been selected to receive this year’s Koop Award, it was announced today: Medical Mutual of Ohio, Pfizer Corp and the Volvo Group of North America, for their efforts to improve employee health and reduce costs.

 Medical Mutual of Ohio was cited for its comprehensive health promotion program that includes health assessments, biometric screenings and “building a healthy company culture.” Pfizer was lauded for health promotion programs that include full coverage for preventative services and “multi-channel marketing and communication.” Finally, Volvo’s union-endorsed “Health for Life” program was praised its use of incentives and leadership support to encourage employee participation.

 All three companies were able to demonstrate that their programs cut costs and improved the health of participating employees (Volvo says its program cut its annual medical cost trend in half, from 10 percent to 5 percent). Something to consider, given that there’s a fair amount of head scratching going on in the business community today about how (and whether to) measure the ROI of wellness programs. It’s a topic we’ll be addressing in an upcoming issue of the magazine, and in other forums as well.

The Value of the Liberal Arts

For those of us (like me) who studied the humanities in college, a typical question we got was “So what are you going to do with a degree in [blank]?” I got tired of hearing it after a while and so I’d retort with this snappy comeback (especially if it was asked by a business major): “I’m gonna write about how computers are taking over your job.”

Aside from provoking extreme defensiveness, I do think studying English, history, political science, etc, really does give you the broad education that a college degree was always intended to provide. It forces you to learn to write clearly, digest huge amounts of information and do lots of critical analysis. These are skills that are important in any profession, including the medical field.

In fact, New York-based Mount Sinai medical school, considered to be among the top such schools in the country, sets aside slots for about 35 undergraduates a year specifically for humanities and social sciences majors.

Students admitted to the program can bypass the MCAT, the rigorous entrance test that applicants to most medical school programs must take before being admitted. Instead, Mount Sinai conducts a “boot camp” with accelerated courses on organic chemistry, physics and so on during the summer prior to when they enter med school. Students are admitted to the program on the basis of their SAT scores, high school and early college grades, two personal essays and interviews.

So how well do these lit majors and history buffs actually do in medical school? Turns out they do just as well as their counterparts who went the traditional pre-med, MCAT route, according to a peer-reviewed study conducted by Mount Sinai that compared outcomes for 85 students in the Humanities and Medicine Program with those of 606 traditionally prepared classmates.

So let’s hear it for liberal arts grads. We may not come equipped with specific skills, but we’re eminently trainable and have a thirst for knowledge.

Do You Hate Your Talent Management System?

Or, do you absolutely love it? Or do you love your system but hate the vendor that produced it? Or, do you feel it’s reasonably good but there are certain areas in which it, and other systems you’ve seen, need to improve?

Bersin & Associates wants to hear from you: they’re conducting their second annual “customer experience research study” and are trying to round up as many HR folks as they can to participate.

Given the rapid pace of consolidation in the HR vendor community of late, it’s more important than ever for the folks these vendors are targeting to make their voices heard. Click on the link to take the survey.  

A Goliath Gets Even Bigger

ADP’s recently announced acquisition of Workscape, a provider of compensation-planning tools, will be “hugely disruptive” to the talent management marketplace, says Josh Bersin, CEO of Bersin Associates, who was briefed on the deal by ADP earlier today.

The acquisition will enable ADP, the $9 billion provider of HR, payroll and ben. admin. services to 570,000 clients throughout the U.S. and the world, to offer Workscape’s world-class compensation planning tools to the thousands upon thousands of small-to-medium-sized companies that already use ADP for payroll processing.

ADP already distributes Cornerstone OnDemand’s suite of performance management and succession planning tools. The Workscape acquisition (ADP did not disclose the terms of the deal) will enable the Roseland, N.J.-based behemoth to gobble up an even bigger share of the TM marketplace by reaching out to the vast number of mid-sized firms that are just starting to focus on talent management, he says.

“The compensation-management platform from Workscape is the most sophisticated of its kind out there,” says Bersin. “If ADP is already providing payroll services, not to mention performance management [through Cornerstone] to these companies, and now they can sell comp planning as well, they’re going to have a huge leg up on other TM vendors. ”

ADP may also be able to differentiate itself from other software vendors through its  pricing, says Bersin.

“They get paid by their clients via a monthly charge, on a per-employee, per-check basis,” he says. “My guess is, they’ll embed the Workscape services into that monthly charge, just adding to it slightly, which will enable them to price it in a way that a typical software company could never price it. This will help them gain a lot of market share.”

“The big question is how aggressive ADP will get with it–how well will they train their salesforce and how heavily they’ll promote it,” says Bersin.

“I like to think of ADP as the General Electric of the software industry–they don’t think of it as tools, but as a business,” he adds. “When they buy a company, they look at how rapidly they can integrate it into their sales organization and sell it. I think they’re going to get a lot of traction, and other vendors–especially in the mid-sized market that ADP sells into–they’re going to have to deal with ADP.”

Professor: College is a Rip-Off

Richard K. Vedder, a professor of economics at Ohio University whom I recently interviewed for a news story about a report from Georgetown U. that predicts employers will face a huge shortage of college grads to fill positions by 2018, has a decidedly unorthodox take on what ails higher education in today’s America.

Vedder is cofounder of the Center for College Productivity and Affordability, a nonprofit that advocates for a decidedly conservative approach to how colleges should operate. Vedder and his colleagues argue, in a series of editorials that have appeared in various magazines and newspapers which are  available on the organization’s website www.centerforcollegeaffordability.org , that government funding (in the forms of Pell Grants, state subsidies to public colleges and universities, etc) has allowed academia to avoid the market-driven reforms that other industry sectors have been forced to undergo. Colleges continue to operate without regard to efficiency or expediency because they can, write Vedder et al.

Low-interest student loans, Pell Grants, and the like have the effect of shielding students and their parents from the true costs of college, they write. This translates into less market-driven pressure on colleges to aggressively adopt reforms (such as more online classes, fewer staff, greater use of technology to improve efficiency etc) that would make them more affordable.

Vedder argues for replacing state subsidies to colleges with direct vouchers to students. He also argues in favor of for-profit schools, such as DeVry University, saying that their continued growth and expansion will force nonprofit, public institutions such as the University of Michigan to become more market-oriented and to even, perhaps, privatize themselves.

I find Vedder’s views a bit extreme, but interesting nonetheless. Many students today graduate with a crippling debt load, and often go on to accrue more debt in grad school because they feel that’s their only route to a decent livelihood. And colleges can count on plenty more coming their way becasue we’ve drummed into kids that they must, MUST go to college if they want a decent job. Something’s askew here–in other countries, like Germany, it is NOT necessary to go to college in order to earn a decent income, and many parents often overlook the fact that  it’s not true in this country, either. Plumbers and electricians, for example, make decent wages and their jobs can’t be outsourced.  This is an area that’s due for a lot more examination, and viewpoints such as Vedder’s, radical though they may be, definitely add to the conversation.

Grumps Shall Inherit the Workplace

“If you want to be happy, be,” Leo Tolstoy once said. But, if you want to be more effective at work–to make fewer mistakes, better decisions and be a sharper communicator–then by all means, be miserable.

Joe Forgas, a professor at Australia’s University of New South Wales, recently told Australia Science magazine that, based on his research, a grumpy person can cope with more demanding situations than a happy one because of the way the brain “promotes information processing strategies.”

Forgas conducted a study of a group of volunteers and found that the ones asked to dwell on negative things in their lives and watch sad movies subsequently outperformed others in the group who were asked to focus on positive things and watch happier  movies.  “Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world.”

“A mildly negative mood may actually promote a more concrete, accommodative and ultimately more successful communication style,” said Forgas.

Well, there you have it: If you’re feeling a bit unproductive or downright useless, simply turn on coverage of the BP oil spill or think about our exploding national debt and then watch your productivity go up, up and up.  The scowl on your face and the furrow in your brow will inspire awe among your colleagues about what a productive, clear-thinking, precise communicator you surely are.  Or maybe they’ll just think you were rooting for France to win the World Cup.

Why It’s Hard to be a Woman Boss

I’m in the process of writing a story about how women bosses are perceived in the workplace. Just about all the research I’ve uncovered reveals that female bosses tend to be less popular in the workplace than male bosses. The experts I’m interviewing have a number of theories as to why, and what HR can or should do about it. In the meantime, thought I’d share what consultant BJ Gallagher, a management consultant, author of “It’s Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been” (and a woman), has to say about the double standards that female manager-types face in the workplace:

HOW TO TELL A MALE BOSS FROM A FEMALE BOSS

~ A male boss is aggressive; a female boss is pushy.
~ A male boss is attentive to details; a female boss is picky.
~ A male boss doesn’t suffer fools gladly; she’s a bitch.
~ He knows how to follow through; she doesn’t know when to quit.
~ He stands firm; she’s inflexible.
~ He’s a good leader; she’s bossy.
~ He’s ambitious; she’s driven.
~ He loses his temper occasionally; she can’t control her emotions.
~ He isn’t afraid to say what he thinks; she’s mouthy.
~ He’s a stern taskmaster; she’s hard to work for.
~ He’s a man of action; she’s impulsive.
~ He controls his emotions; she’s cold.
~ He’s a good team player; she just goes along with the crowd.
~ He thinks before he acts; she can’t make up her mind.
~ He thinks before he speaks; she second-guesses herself.
~ He tells it like it is; she’s tactless.
~ He’s authoritative; she’s caustic.
~ He makes things happen; she’s lucky.
~ He’s a ladies’ man; she’s a slut.

Google Not Sold on Employee Engagement

For an upcoming feature story in our July issue, I’m interviewing Google’s Prasad Setty, its director of people analytics and compensation. Setty and his boss, Google CHRO Laszlo Bock, both feel that the concept of employee engagement is of limited use, to say the least. “Engagement is one of those nebulous concepts that appeal to HR people but are very tough to get across to business people,” Setty told me.

Here’s what Bock had to say: “It’s impossible to define what ‘engagement’ means: Does it mean I like my work, my colleagues, my manager? Does it mean I live only for work? It’s such a general term.”

Setty and Bock both feel that focusing on employee engagement simply adds an unnecessary step to getting at what Google’s line managers and business leaders really care about: retention and innovation. That is, are the people that the company needs to keep planning on sticking around and are they being creative and innovative in their jobs?

At Google, Setty oversees Google’s employee survey, called “Googlegeist,” that’s designed to get the answers to those two questions. Focusing on engagement would simply be a waste of time, they say.

“You have to explain to managers why engagement matters–that there’s a link between engagement and productivity,” said Setty. “So why not just measure retention and productivity directly?”

I find Google’s stance noteworthy, especially considering the emphasis that the HR vendor community has placed on employee engagement within the last few years. You can’t throw a stick at an HR convention without hitting a consultant who wants to tell you all about his firm’s employee engagement tools, or how his product or service will ramp up your company’s employee engagement. Is it simply yet another HR trend that will come and go? If you consider Google a trendsetter, then the answer’s definitely yes.

Hoping for a Second Chance

Two years ago, a variety show was held in Indiana that featured comedians, spoken-word performances and singers described as “every bit as good as the performers on American Idol.” The twist? All of the performers were inmates at the state’s Putnamville Correctional Facility.

The show—The Redemption Project: Inmates Got Talent—was the brainchild of Johnny Collins, a comedian and documentary filmmaker who was interested in helping prisoners discover their inner talents and, in the process, gain the confidence necessary for finding gainful employment upon their release.

“I’m not trying to justify what these guys did to get put in prison, but most of them feel like they’ve been forgotten, that they’ve been discarded, and it stays with them when they get out,” says Collins, who says he was inspired to start the project in part through his interaction with “Big Mike” Mitchell, an ex-convict who’d gone on to forge a successful career as a comedian and comedy producer.

Approximately 100 inmates auditioned for the show, with 15 ultimately selected to perform a series of shows before an audience of inmates and prison employees, says Collins.

“Some of the inmate comedians were so good, I could easily see them having their own shows on Comedy Central,” he says.

The shows were taped as part of a documentary film that Collins is currently seeking a distributor for. He hopes to expand the talent-show concept to other prisons throughout the country, and is in discussion with other state corrections departments about it.

Ultimately, however, he wants the nation’s employers to take notice.

“Let’s face it, in this economy it’s tough to get jobs and it’s really tough when you’ve got a prison record—many ex-cons end up feeling beat down and discouraged and wind up back in prison,” he says. “It’s important for companies to see that they deserve a second chance—if we can recycle paper bags, why can’t we recycle people?”