Category Archives: career development

From Cradle to C-Suite

You can never get started too early when it comes to building the workforce of the future.

Certainly that premise is at the heart of SHRM’s decision to join a business coalition, managed by the Pew Center, to study later this year what steps employers should be taking to prepare the nation’s infants and toddlers so they’re able to lead tomorrow’s businesses. The initiative was mentioned during a press briefing held on the conference’s opening day.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that meeting the needs of the workforce of the future means meeting the developmental needs of children today,” explained Deb Cohen, chief knowledge officer of SHRM.

A SHRM brochure describes the challenge as follows: “In order to compete, U.S. employers must attract and retain a team-capable, job-ready workforce that can spur and maintain continual innovation. The foundation of skills required to achieve that end is built in the earliest years of life—between birth and age 5—yet we do not give our young children the early educational, health and social supports they need to get there.”

SHRM’s Call to Arms for Veteran Hiring

The Society for Human Resource Management kicked off its 2010 Annual Conference and Exposition in San Diego with a special appeal to consider the nation’s military veterans in all hiring practices.

Welcoming what they reported as a record crowd of more than 11,000 HR professionals in attendance, SHRM President and CEO Lon O’Neil and SHRM Board Chair Robb E. Van Cleave went out of their way to mark their conference as a launching pad for better advocacy and activism in veteran hiring.

Noting special sessions held Saturday and Sunday morning to, as O’Neill put it, “help in this military acclimation,” the two then went on to introduce to the audience Ray Jefferson, the assistant secretary for the Veteran’s Employment and Training Service at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Jefferson brought the crowd to its feet after showing the scars of his own injury that resulted from his heroic act of bravery in hanging onto a detonated grenade and losing his left hand rather than risk any of his team members’ lives or limbs by throwing it away.

“Sometimes the end of a dream can be the beginning of a destiny,” he said, after raising his wounded limb. “One life can make a difference. Our veterans need you; our nation needs you.”

From my own vantage point, in a sea of SHRM-goers, Jefferson’s passion for a new surge of advocacy for veterans returning home and seeking new livelihoods was palpable and evident. Time will tell how this message and push gets translated by attendees post-SHRM. The energy around me in the standing ovation for the war hero-turned veterans’ advocate bodes well.

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 We Hate HR: Five Years Later

It’s been almost five years since Bill Taylor and Fast Company published the incisive — yet divisive — essay titled above on the reasons why people tend to dislike the human resources function.

The author suggests here that, five years on, HR executives remain frustrated with their roles in organizations:

So here’s a proposal. As this provocative essay approaches its fifth anniversary, perhaps it’s time to change the debate. The real problem, I’d submit, isn’t that HR executives aren’t financially savvy enough, or too focused on delivering programs rather than enhancing value, or unable to conduct themselves as the equals of the traditional power players in the organization — all points the original essay makes. The real problem is that too many organizations aren’t as demanding, as rigorous, as creative about the human element in business as they are about finance, marketing, and R&D. If companies and their CEOs aren’t serious about the people side of their organizations, how can we expect HR people in those organizations to play as a serious a role as we (and they) want them to play?

Taylor cites Cirque du Soleil, Pixar and DaVita as examples of organizations with positive, forward-thinking HR processes and a real focus on people, and then poses a number of queries to HR executives who are not happy with the role HR plays in their organization:

Why would great people want to be part of your organization in the first place? Do you know a great person when you see one? Are you great at teaching people how your organizations works and wins? Does your organization work as distinctively as it competes?

It’s nice to see that, five years later, Taylor has changed his tune when it comes to HR.

And, with those last questions, it’s even nicer to see him offer some sound advice for HR leaders looking to improve not only their performance, but also the overall perception of the HR function.

The Never-Ending Saga of Hard-to-Fill Jobs

Surprisingly, with all of the layoffs and restructurings that have taken place in the last year or two, the survey of more than 35,000 employers in 36 countries found that 31 percent of employers are having a difficult time finding the right talent. In 2009, that number was 30 percent.

The most difficult jobs to fill in the United States are in the skilled trades, sales reps, nurses and technicians, according to the just-released Manpower Talent Shortage Survey.

Jonas Prising, Manpower president of the Americas, attributes the problem to “a talent mismatch. There are not enough sufficiently skilled people in the right places at the right times.”

Making it worse, he says, is employers “are seeking ever more specific skill sets or a rare combination of skill sets.”

Seems to me that’s all the more reason that employers should ramp up their training and development programs — an issue that Wharton professor Peter Cappelli explored not that long ago in one of his HREOnline™ columns.

In “Difficulties in Finding Qualified Workers“, he writes: “There is no shortage of people with the appropriate education credentials for any jobs I’ve seen. The skills that are in short supply are work-based skills, the kind that are only learned on the job: Experience with these vendors, knowledge of these work practices, an understanding of this industry.”

So why are so few employers willing to train and develop the people they need to implement their business strategies? That’s another difficult question to answer.

Looking the Part

Does one need a competent looking face to land a job as CEO? A story in today’s Wall Street Journal entitled “Is CEO Success Just Skin Deep?” suggests the answer could be “yes.”

The article reports that researchers at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, working with the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that CEOs are perceived to have more competent-looking faces than non-CEOs.

Finance professors John Graham, Campbell Harvey and Manju Puri of the Fuqua School asked 2,000 students to rate the photos of 100 CEOs and non-executives for competence, according to a story on the school’s blog. The photos featured individuals with similar facial features, hairstyles and clothing. What their study, A Corporate Beauty Contest, found was that CEOs are more likely than non-CEOs to be rated as competent looking, though also less likely to be classified as likeable.

But before HR execs get too exciting—figuring they can trim their vetting process down to 15 minutes of simply studying a CEO candidate’s facial characteristics—they need to consider one other finding: There was no evidence that a CEO’s appearance is related in any way to a company’s profitability.

 Oh well, guess we’ll have to just keep vetting as usual.

Do as Mom Says, Not as She Does

That traditional refrain, certainly from my childhood, could be one of the messages from a recent survey, as three in four working women (74 percent) want their children to pursue a different profession or career path than their own.

The finding — just in time for Mother’s Day — comes from the latest American Workplace Insights survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Adecco Staffing US.

The survey also found that nearly one-third (30 percent) of working moms are the sole breadwinners of their household, but given the choice, half of them (52 percent) would be stay-at-home moms for their kids. (I wouldn’t be surprised to find half of working dads wishing they could stay home with their kids, too.)

And one of the more puzzling findings had to do with perceptions of leadership: More than half of the moms (56 percent) say mothers make the best bosses, yet only four in 10 (42 percent) of the moms would rather have their mom as a boss than their dad.

Wonder what that means?

HRD on the Hudson

In its April 25 edition, BusinessWeek published an interesting article on CEO Jeff Immelt and General Electric: “Can GE Still Manage.”

The story devotes a decent amount of ink to Crotonville, which continues to be at the center of GE’s leadership development efforts. “Crotonville remains the company Mecca,” writes Senior Editor Diane Brady. That was certainly clear during a media day event last November, attended by HRE‘s Senior Editor Andrew McIlvaine.  His report noted that despite the economic downturn, more employees than ever are cycling through Crotonville — so many that the dormitory is routinely overbooked and GE is forced to accommodate the overflow at a nearby Marriott.

Some critics quoted in the story wonder if the campus is more of a distraction than a “virtue.” But as the latest BW story reminds us, GE continues to be more committed than ever to Crotonville. Time will tell if that continued commitment is justified. But until GE proves it has successfully regained its mojo, Immelt and his team can be certain of one thing: Critics of Crotonville aren’t going to go away.