Category Archives: corporate culture

The Biggest Lie Employers Tell Employees

That’s quite the headline, no?

But it’s also one of the most interesting nuggets to be unearthed in LinkedIn Co-founder and Executive Chairman Reid Hoffman’s new book, The Alliance, according to Erza Klein’s post on Vox Technology this morning.

So just what is that untruth companies tell employees? Klein quotes Hoffman directly from the book:

“The biggest lie is that the employment relationship is like family,” Hoffman says.

Klein’s piece (which is well worth a read on its own) then goes on to quote Hoffman’s description of the two versions of the lie employers tell:

“One is where the employer is actually deluding themselves.” Employers may want to believe their workplace really is like a family, and, in that moment, they may convince themselves it actually is like a family.

The other version of the lie comes because the employer wants the employee to believe it. “They really want the employee to be loyal to the company,” Hoffman writes. “That’s when it gets deceptive.”

Indeed, the misplaced concept of family is central to the book, according to an interview the author Daniel Pink held on Amazon with the Hoffman and the co-authors of the book (Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh).

When prompted by Pink to talk about the “notion” that successful companies are “families,” the authors responded:

Some CEOs like to refer to their companies as families. The concept of family is a powerful one, and describes how the best companies treat their people: with compassion and respect.

Yet we believe that using family language is a big mistake. The problem is that families are permanent–you can’t fire your kids, no matter how many times they may forget to take out the trash.

Companies are not permanent. The instant you lay off an underperforming employee, or someone leaves to pursue a better opportunity, the illusion of family is shattered. The only way to maintain the fiction is for people to lie to themselves and each other. This underlying dishonesty is corrosive, and prevents the kind of trust that is necessary for a close, high-performance relationship.

Both sides need to be honest with each other about the fact that the employment might not be permanent.

The authors definitely have an interesting take on the fallacy of the “company=family” dynamic.

It’s one that may be even worth pondering as you spend some real “family” time during the Memorial Day holiday weekend. (Just be prepared for an encounter with a family member you may wish to “fire.”)

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Doing Good Through Better HR

doing goodChristine Bader, a former corporate social responsibility executive at BP, has an interesting piece up today at The Atlantic on the importance of a good HR department for companies that want to be better corporate citizens.

Bader, author of the 2014 book The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil (judging from the title, I assume it touches at least partly on her BP experience), cites companies such as auto-parts manufacturer Lear, Google and clothing company Eileen Fisher that take innovative approaches to HR to unleash their employees’ resourcefulness and creativity.

At Lear, Bader writes, CHRO Tom DiDonato did away with basing compensation on performance reviews, “realizing that the emphasis on pay created stress and stifled the candor that people need to improve and innovate.” Instead, the company now bases compensation on market conditions and awards equity and promotions for good performance.

Bader describes Google’s efforts to do away with unconscious bias through training that not only helps its employees recognize their own biases, but encourages them to step in and intervene when they see biased behavior toward others, Head of People Operations Laszlo Bock told her. The training isn’t being done entirely out of altruism, he said: People perform better when they feel more safe at work. However, Bader writes, if people are treating others more fairly at work, one hopes that will spill over into their lives outside the office.

At Eileen Fisher, the company’s long-term plan to improve the environmental and social sustainability of its supply chain depends on an intense spirit of collaboration within the organization — one that is carefully nurtured by HR, Bader writes. Eileen Fisher’s sustainability efforts are overseen by a team of leaders from different departments within the company who meet weekly by phone and monthly in person. “Traditionally, work evolves into buckets or silos; we help connect people so they can break down the silos,” Director of Leadership, Learning and Development Yvette Jarreau told Bader.

HR still has a reputation among too many people as a bureaucratic rut — a dark hole of stifling paperwork and mindless processes, writes Bader. But for companies that are trying to change for the better, she writes, a smart and flexible HR department is crucial.

 

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Watching Unconscious Bias at Work

watching workThere’s a theory that says men who assert themselves on the job gain respect for their take-charge attitudes, while women who do the same gain a reputation for being surly, difficult … or worse.

There’s also data supporting the existence of this phenomenon in the workplace, commonly referred to as unconscious bias.

A team of researchers expected to find more evidence of this type of bias in a recent study, working on the hypothesis that male employees who speak up regularly with suggestions or solutions would be viewed more positively by their managers than women who frequently offer input.

In evaluating 693 employees from 89 different credit union units, the study authors certainly found unconscious bias at work, in more ways than one.

For example, they determined that supervisors were “more likely to credit those reporting the same amount of voice if the employees have higher ascribed or assigned (by the organization) status-cued by demographic variables such as majority ethnicity and full-time work hours,” according to the study, recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

The authors also found that, when certain groups of lower-status employees speak up more, “they cannot compensate for the negative effect of their demographic membership on voice recognition by their boss.”

This is all a very academic way of saying that input from full-time, non-minority employees with higher ranks and longer tenures seemed to carry more weight with supervisors in this particular study.

Gender was a factor as well, just not in the way the researchers anticipated.

In fact, the authors found that female employees’ contributions were valued as much as those of their male counterparts, if not more so.

They were careful to point out, however, that demographics may be at least partly responsible for this result. In a recent Washington Post article, the researchers note that women made up 80 percent of the employee base and more than 70 percent of the managerial ranks at the credit unions they evaluated.

“It was very dominantly female,” Taeya Howell, research scholar at New York University and study co-author, told the paper.

“It was just what we were able to get access to,” added Howell. “In a perfect world, we would hope gender would have no effect, but women were heard more than men [in this case], and it was because they were in the majority.”

But, putting the aforementioned percentages aside, this research seems to offer evidence that a greater number of women in leadership positions could help eliminate the idea that assertiveness and outspokenness are only positive traits when found in male employees.

“What this finding sort of says is, look, when you’re in an environment where the people above you are more like you, suddenly all those problems disappear,” James Detert, co-author of the study and a professor at Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, told the Post.

“It’s not causal proof,” continued Detert. “But isn’t that suggestive that, in fact, all this focus on how women are behaving is nonsense? When you put them in a situation where they’re in the majority, suddenly the focus on their behavior—Is it too meek? Is it inappropriate, too assertive?—seems unnecessary.”

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Working Hard, or Hardly Working?

feet upIt’s a scene that’s been played out in countless movies and television shows, and, for better or worse, in real corporate offices everywhere.

A determined go-getter logs punishing hours—days, nights, weekends—on a tireless quest to earn that big promotion, missing wedding anniversaries, kids’ soccer games and other important personal stuff along the way.

In the movies, the ultra-ambitious workaholic eventually has some kind of epiphany, learns to slow down, stops doggedly pursuing the corner office, and starts spending more time actually living life.

In the real world, however, there’s a nagging perception that the “all work, all the time” approach is still the surest way to the top.

Some interesting new research, however, suggests that simply giving the appearance of a slavish dedication to your work may be enough to get there—especially if you’re a man.

That’s what Boston University’s Erin Reid found in a study of one global consulting firm’s American offices, the findings of which were recently published in Organization Science.

Reid, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at BU’s Questrom School of Business, interviewed more than 100 employees at said consultancy. She also had access to performance reviews as well as internal HR documents within the firm, which has “a strong culture around long hours and responding to clients promptly,” according to a New York Times piece highlighting some of Reid’s findings.

Her research found that those who embraced this culture tended to be top performers, while those who resisted it—insisting upon more flexible work schedules or less travel, for instance—were “punished in their performance reviews,” according to the Times.

Overall, Reid found that both men and women were likely to have trouble with “always on” expectations within the firm. It was how men coped with these demands “that differed strikingly,” Reid wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review summary of her findings.

For instance, women who struggled with work hours tended to take formal accommodations, reducing their work hours but also “revealing their inability to be true ideal workers,” wrote Reid, noting that these female employees “were consequently marginalized within the firm.”

Men, meanwhile, often found unobtrusive, discreet ways to alter the structure of their work—such as seeking mostly local clients or building alliances with other colleagues, for example—that allowed them to work more predictable schedules in the range of 50-to-60 hours per week.

“In doing so,” wrote Reid, “they were able to work far less than those who fully devoted themselves to work, and had greater control over when and where those hours were worked, yet were able to ‘pass’ as ideal workers, evading penalties for their noncompliance.”

Take Lloyd (not his real name), a senior manager at the firm. Lloyd was “deeply skeptical about the necessity of being an ideal worker, and was unwilling to fully comply” with steep expectations, according to Reid.

“He described to me how, by using local clients, telecommuting and controlling information about his whereabouts, he found ways to work and travel less without being found out,” wrote Reid, noting that “Lloyd” even went skiing during the day five times in the week prior to their interview.

“He clarified,” added Reid, “that these were work days, not vacation days.”

Reid is careful to point out that the lessons learned from this unidentified firm can’t necessarily be applied to other organizations. And she acknowledges that men experience difficulties meeting job demands just like women do, noting that men also “face resistance and penalties” for expressing reservations about working more hours, being available on nights and weekends and so on.

What seems to vary, she says, “is that many men are able to stray while passing as fully devoted.”

Reid’s findings underscore yet another example of the disparities that still exist between how men and women are viewed in the workplace. But the notion of “passing” also highlights the flaws in how and why some organizations reward employees, she concludes.

“Passing is not a good strategy for the organization as a whole,” according to Reid. “Not only does it involve an element of deception between colleagues, bosses and subordinates, it also perpetuates the myth that those who are successful are also all wholly devoted to work.”

 

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Forming a Different Kind of Alliance

Trust. Loyalty. Lifetime employment. I think most of you would agree these words don’t really apply to today’s workplace.

ThinkstockPhotos-181678934As Ben Casnocha pointed out during his keynote yesterday at the SHRM Talent Management Conference—conveniently taking place this week just a few city blocks from the ERE Recruiting Conference I also attended—companies such as General Electric used to treat employees like “family” and offer them lifetime employment. But as we all know, factors such as globalization and technology forced employers to abandon such approaches decades ago.

Casnocha, an entrepreneur who co-authored with LinkedIn Founder and Chairman Reid Hoffman and Wasabi Ventures Partner Chris Yeh a book titled The Alliance: Managing Talent in a Networked Age (published last July by the Harvard Business Review Press), noted that a General Electric executive once described job security as one of GE’s prime corporate objectives. The year: 1963.

It’s hard to imagine anyone saying that today, right?

More recently, Casnocha said, many companies have embraced the other extreme: the free-agent model. True, he explained, that model does provide both employers and employees with the upside of greater flexibility; but it doesn’t build the kind of relationships that are needed to innovate.

“Would you do your very best work knowing you might not have a job the next day?” he asked.

For those of you who haven’t read The Alliance, Reid, Casnocha and Yeh make a compelling case for a third model that treats employees as “allies.”

“Think about any great alliance between countries, companies and people,” Casnocha said. “In an alliance, both sides commit to adding value. It’s a relationship that’s characterized by mutual trust, mutual investment and mutual benefit.”

Both the employer and the employee need to be adaptable in order for such a model to work, he added.

Employers, Casnocha said, need to “look the employee in the eye and say, ‘We’ll help transform your career, even if that means your career takes you to a different company someday.’ ” As for the employee, he or she “needs to say, ‘If you can make my LinkedIn profile look more impressive by having worked here, I will do great work [for you] and make a meaningful contribution to the company … .”

In his talk, Casnocha also touched on tours of duty, in which employees embark on a specific “mission.” (Once one tour of duty is completed, a new one is then defined.)

Alliances are especially effective, Casnocha pointed out, when it comes to “super-talented employees” who can really move the needle in your company. “What fires [these] employees up more than anything,” he said, “is the opportunity to transform themselves, the company and the world.”

To be sure, it’s a collaborative effort.

Casnocha told the story of one manager who printed two copies of an employee’s LinkedIn profile (so both the manager and the employee would have copies). Together, the two went through the profile, circling those parts that mattered most to the employee and writing in how that person might like to see it read two or three years from then.

On the subject of millennials, Casnocha asked: Which is better for their careers: Giving them a new title? Or telling them that you’re going to help them have conversations with three of the most important people in the industry?” (Hint, it’s not the first. Because, as Casnocha explained, people can take their networks and relationships with them when they leave.)

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A Goodbye to Bosses at Zappos

manager exitIn a matter of days, Zappos will officially say so long to hierarchy, and say hello to Holacracy.

As of April 30, “people managers” will be a thing of the past for the Las Vegas-based online shoe and clothing retailer, according to a recent memo sent from CEO Tony Hsieh to all Zappos employees.

In that same memo, Hsieh outlines the Holacracy system, which he says removes traditional managerial pecking orders, allowing employees to self-organize “to complete work in a way that increases productivity, fosters innovation and empowers anyone in the company with the ability to make decisions that push the company forward.”

Hsieh also lamented not making “fast enough progress toward self-management, self-organization and more efficient structures to run our business,” announcing that Zappos would be taking a “rip the Band-Aid approach” to accelerating the full implementation of Holacracy, a concept the company first adopted in 2013.

Over the next few months, Hsieh plans to minimize service provider groups and lean more toward creating “self-organizing and self-managing business-centric groups,” and will begin the process of breaking down the organization’s silo-like structure of merchandising, finance, marketing and other functions.

All that said, the company will still have room for those who are giving up their manager positions, says Hsieh, who acknowledged the “absolutely necessary and valuable” role these leaders have played in aiding Zappos’ growth to this point.

He also expressed his eagerness to see “what new exciting contributions will come from the employees who were previously managers,” noting that these soon-to-be former supervisors will have opportunities to find new roles within Zappos “that might be a good match for their passions, skills and experience.”

In addition, all former managers who remain in good standing will keep their salaries through the end of 2015, “even though their day-to-day work that formerly involved more traditional management will need to change,” according to the memo.

It’s fair to say that adopting this kind of model is unorthodox. But it becomes a much less unusual move when you consider who’s making it.

This is, after all, the same organization that eliminated traditional online job postings and created Zappos Insiders, a social network where job seekers can sign up to schmooze with the company’s employees, participate in contests and chat directly with recruiters.

And, Zappos has famously offered workers financial incentives to leave the company, as a way to ferret out those who were sticking around strictly for the paycheck.

While Hsieh and Zappos have often been lauded for flouting the conventional, other firms have largely avoided following the company out on such limbs.

The Holacracy concept does have its proponents, however, with Twitter co-founder Evan Williams implementing the system at his new company, Medium, for instance. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey did the same at non-profit Conscious Capitalism Inc.

It’s not easy to envision that list getting significantly longer anytime soon. But, as was the case with telecommuting, dress-down Fridays and every other workplace development that once seemed like a radical idea, someone had to be the first to try it.

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$70,000: The New Minimum Wage

By now, you’ve likely heard of Gravity Payments’ CEO and Founder Dan Price, who set off the latest salvo in the wage wars when he told his 120-person staff that he would raise the salary of even the lowest-paid clerk over the next three years to a minimum of $70,000.

According to the New York Times‘ piece, Price, who started the Seattle credit-card-payment processing firm in 2004 at age 19, said he would pay for the wage increases by cutting his own salary from nearly $1 million to $70,000 and using 75 percent to 80 percent of the company’s anticipated $2.2 million in profit this year.

The paychecks of about 70 Gravity workers will grow, with 30 ultimately doubling their salaries, according to Ryan Pirkle, a company spokesman. The average salary is $48,000 a year.

While Price’s audacious move may not have many companies following in its path, it at least speaks to an economic issue that has captured national attention in the years since the recession: The disparity between the soaring pay of chief executives and that of their employees.

 Indeed, in an essay published recently by Politico Magazine, venture capitalist Nick Hanauer warned that the widening income gap in the United States would eventually spark a violent revolution:

“No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out.”

But, according to the Huffington Post,  rather than see this as a charitable offer to his workers, Price sees the pay raises as an investment. In theory, workers motivated by higher salaries will ultimately attract more business and handle clients better.

“This is a capitalist solution to a social problem,” Price said. “I think it pays for itself, I really do.”

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Are Your Managers Just Muddling Through?

boredIf your managers are supposed to set an example for employees to follow, a new report finds the odds are pretty good they’re leading your workers down a road that’s been paved with apathy.

In its State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders report (available for download here), Gallup Inc. surveyed 2,564 U.S.-based managers, studying the relationship between managerial talent and engagement, and the level of engagement among managers. The Washington, D.C.-based performance management consulting company found that just 35 percent of managers are engaged in their jobs, with 51 percent of managers “not engaged,” and another 14 percent “actively disengaged.”

It stands to reason that this type of managerial discontent would have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the workforce, and this survey doesn’t offer any figures to suggest otherwise.

For example, Gallup’s analysis found that employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59 percent more likely to be engaged than those overseen by actively disengaged managers.

That finding shouldn’t surprise anyone. No, it’s the sheer number of disengaged managers that should be alarming. And, just as disconcerting is the small percentage of supervisors the poll found to have the “innate talent to become a great manager,” according to Gallup.

Defining talent as “the natural capacity for excellence in a given endeavor,” Gallup found just one in 10 individuals has the “unique blend of innate characteristics” that are predictors of management excellence, including motivational skills, assertiveness, accountability and decision-making talents.

Another two in 10 have “functioning” talent, which means they possess some of the aforementioned traits but not all of them, and could become successful managers with the right coaching. Just 18 percent of current managers have “high” talent, according to Gallup.

Naturally, these managers are more likely to be engaged. Fifty-four percent of those classified as having high managerial talent described themselves as being engaged in their work, compared to 39 percent of those with functioning talent and 27 percent of managers in the “limited” talent group.

It can and has been argued that “employee engagement” is a somewhat nebulous concept. But few would dispute that—however you define the term—getting and keeping employees engaged at all levels throughout the organization is critical to success.

And, this Gallup data certainly suggests there’s a big problem with engagement among managers. Fixing it may be a tall order, but, as Gallup notes in its report, a failure to do so comes with a hefty price.

“Managers influence everything that gets done in organizations,” according to Gallup. “They translate energy into action and hold employee morale, turnover, productivity, safety and creativity in their hands. A great manager improves lives while improving performance. A poor manager makes workers’ lives miserable while destroying performance.”

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Starbucks Doubles Down on College

Starbucks, the Seattle-based coffee giant, announced yesterday it was doubling its free college tuition plan for employees to cover a full four years of college instead of two. Starbucks will offer employees faster tuition reimbursement–after every semester instead of after completing 21 class credits.

The program, in partnership with Arizona State University, offers all eligible full-time and part-time employees full tuition coverage for a four-year bachelor’s degree though ASU’s online degree program. Starbucks says it will invest up to $250 million or more to help at least 25,000 employees graduate by 2025.

Nearly 2,000 Starbucks employees have already enrolled in the program, which offers 49 undergraduate degree programs through ASU Online.

“By giving our partners access to four years of full tuition coverage, we provide them with a critical tool for a lifelong opportunity,” says Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, in a statement. “We’re stronger as a nation when everyone is afforded a pathway to success.”

And in a LinkedIn piece announcing the move, CEO Schultz talks in a video interview about the importance of education and his company’s role in making the American workforce a more robust and agile one within the next 10 years.

“We have a long history of under-promising and over-delivering,” he says. “We think we’ll do the same there.”

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John and the Thick Glass Ceiling

According to a new piece on the New York TimesTheUpshot section, fewer large companies are run by women than by men named John.

If that seems like an unlikely thing to consider, that nugget of information was dug up from what the Times calls its Glass Ceiling Index, explained thusly:

Among chief executives of S.&P. 1500 firms, for each woman, there are four men named John, Robert, William or James. We’re calling this ratio the Glass Ceiling Index, and an index value above one means that Jims, Bobs, Jacks and Bills — combined — outnumber the total number of women, including every women’s name, from Abby to Zara. Thus we score chief executive officers of large firms as having an index score of 4.0.

The GCI is inspired by a recent Ernst & Young report, which computed analogous numbers for board directors, according to the piece. That report yielded an index score of 1.03 for directors, meaning that for every one woman, there were 1.03 Jameses, Roberts, Johns and Williams — combined — serving on the boards of S.&P. 1500 companies.

While the methodology behind the figures is certainly interesting and unique, the NYT piece notes that it also points to the sad truth “that in many important decision-making areas of American life, women remain vastly outnumbered.”

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