Category Archives: corporate culture

Culture Change: Chicken or Egg?

Which comes first, culture change or increased profits?

I touched on this chicken-and-egg issue in our October 16 cover story, “Culture-Change Agents.” The article looks at how Microsoft CHRO Kathleen Hogan and her team have been working to develop a “growth mind-set” among 118,000 workers at the tech giant.

Some experts argue the best way to get the culture you want is to rack up some business successes first. Bob Herbold, a business consultant and former Microsoft COO, says it’s no different than getting a football team on a winning streak. First you need to win, and then use employee excitement to create a virtuous cycle.

“The primary ingredient for changing the culture is winning,” he told me. The key, he says, is to get employees “to realize that we’re having fun, I have stake in this, I feel part of it.”

It’s a lot tougher to create success by first changing the culture, he says. “To try to create an ‘up’ culture in a ‘down’ business is almost impossible.”

But there is some evidence that culture change can improve the bottom line, says Felix Meschke, an associate professor of finance at the University of Kansas School of Business.

Research by Meschke and several of his colleagues in Lawrence, along with others, “suggests that a positive work environment is associated with higher firm performance,” he told me in an email interview over the summer as I was working on the Microsoft story.

Meschke worked with Minjie Huang , Pingshu Li  and James P. Guthrie on a study published last year in the Journal of Corporate Finance. It found that in family-owned companies, at least, having a “human-capital-enhancing culture improves firm performance.”

Meschke says that study looked at a large number of companies and controlled for many variables. “Based on large-scale statistical analysis,” he told me, “I am quite confident that, in general, corporate culture can be an asset for companies that benefits shareholders and other stakeholders.”

But he notes that isn’t the same as saying a specific HR initiative at a specific company, like Microsoft, improves profits. Measuring the effect of a such an effort requires something that’s impossible: a “control” that researchers can use for comparison — a company that is identical in every way except lacking the culture change.

“In a nutshell,” Meschke wrote, “Is it plausible that the HR approach improves performance? Yes, it is. Is there a way to attribute its impact on MSFT’s performance through quantitative analysis? No.”

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Successful C-Suite Psychopaths

Higher-than-expected levels of psychopathic traits exist among people found in the upper echelons of the corporate business sector, and companies should undertake psychological screening to help identify ‘successful psychopaths.’

That’s according to new research presented at the Australian Psychological Society’s Congress, which was recently held in Melbourne.

Forensic psychologist Nathan Brooks says emerging studies show that, while one in 100 people in the general community and one in five people in the prison system are considered psychopathic, these traits are common in the upper echelons of the corporate world, with a prevalence of between 3 percent and 21 percent.

Brooks says the term “successful psychopath,” which describes high-flyers with psychopathic traits such as insincerity, a lack of empathy or remorse, egocentric, charming and superficial, has emerged in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, prompting a range of new studies.

To arrive at their conclusions, Brooks and colleagues first examined psychopathic traits in the business sector. One study of 261 corporate professionals in the supply chain management industry showed extremely high prevalence rates of psychopathy, with 21 percent of participants found to have clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits — a figure comparable to prison populations.

The current issue of HRE also features a story by Julie Cook Ramirez about how HR can weed out psychopaths in the workplace:

What sets a psychopathic leader apart is the way in which he or she manages or interact with people, says William Spangler, associate professor of management and organizational behavior at the School of Management, State University of New York at Binghamton.

“Psychopathic leaders are toxic individuals who manage subordinates [with] a combination of fear, threats, punishment and public humiliation,” says Spangler. “They present a positive persona to their superiors and are often promoted for what is perceived to be their effectiveness, but they can [cause] great harm to the organization by destroying relationships, damaging work units and putting the entire company at risk for legal action.”

Ramirez also quotes A.J. Marsden, assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla. who says that, by hiring a person who demonstrates these types of tendencies, “you are putting your other employees at risk for bullying and other abuse.”

“The organization may end up losing many good employees [and] facing harassment suits against the psychopath,” says Marsden. “At higher levels of employment, psychopaths may engage in unethical and illegal behaviors, such as embezzlement, just to look successful.”

 

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Ratedly Review-Tracking App Rates

I guess my biggest surprise after speaking recently with Joel Cheesman — creator of the new Ratedly anonymous employee-review monitoring service for employers that launched in May — is that competitors don’t seem to be furiously chasing or even nipping at his heels since the launch.

Joel Cheeseman and his Ratedly app.

Joel Cheesman and his Ratedly app.

Equally surprising is Cheesman isn’t that concerned about competition or heel-nipping at all. He’s doing just fine with the 10 primary review sites he spiders to — including Glassdoor and Indeed — and Ratedly’s slow-but-steady clientele growth.

But the app — which he was good enough to demo for me — is so simple and straightforward, and the most logical next step for helping employers through the employee-review revolution, you’d think other vendors would be clamoring to partner with him or give him a run for his money. If either of those things happens, he tells me, “we’ll welcome it.”

Bottom line, he adds, “we want to be the best at what we do, so we’re not against people looking into what we’re doing and trying to take us on.”

At the same time, says Cheesman, without giving away too many numerical specifics, “there’s no pressure to make a ton of money real fast here. We’re building customers at a rate that I’m comfortable with. It’s all going well, and self-funded, and I’m going to keep it that way.”

It didn’t take long for Cheesman, a 20-year veteran of the recruiting and employment industry, to walk me through his brainstorm several days ago. It’s really that basic. Resembling a Twitter feed, if you will, Ratedly is, in essence, a mobile-enabled real-time index for iPhones, iPads and iPods that constantly checks for subscribers’ company pages and or company mentions on anonymous employee-review sites.

“Employers waste so much time these days hitting the refresh button to track reviews about them online,” he says. “We saw a real need out there to take that task off the plate of HR professionals across every industry category. No one is immune to anonymous reviews.” He adds:

“The days of putting your head in the sand are over. Companies NEED to know what’s being said out there. If you have someone flaming your company and you don’t know about it, you’re at a real disadvantage. People you’re interviewing are going to these sites. That’s your brand … not what you’re spending on your website. If the community at large says you ‘suck,’ all that [other] branding stuff [you’re doing and paying for] doesn’t do any good or make any sense at all.” 

Anyone who signs up for the $150-a-month service gets automatic access to the data Ratedly’s bot scrapes every day from the 10 main review sites in its arsenal. Clients can also ask that custom feeds be added if their company happens to be showing up regularly on an additional site as well. They can bookmark whatever comments they choose and/or share them with whomever they want.

They also get push notifications whenever their company is mentioned so they can get on with the work they’re supposed to be doing, as opposed to constantly watching and waiting for what employees and job candidates think of them. Or worrying about missing another anonymous review. In addition, Ratedly will warn them if their reputation appears to be trending up or down on any given week.

Next on Cheesman’s to-do list is enhancing the analytics and metrics with word-search capabilities, being able to tie an organization’s trending reputation to stock fluctuations and company news, and getting more consultancies and agencies involved with the product.

“A lot of agencies are being sought right now to help employers with their reputations and employer brands,” Cheesman says, “so working more with and in that space will be our next big thing. That will be huge.”

He also plans to work harder with clients’ CEOs and other top leaders such as CHROs to get them more personally and regularly involved with social media, especially as it pertains to employee-review sites. In his eyes, this will speak volumes to younger workers and job candidates. Think about it, he says:

“You’re a CEO. You go out and find a positive comment posted by one of your younger employees on Glassdoor. Instead of moving on, you take the time to post [to Twitter, Facebook, etc.] something like, ‘Hey, another happy employee!’ with a link to Glassdoor. That shows that young person [and all his or her friends] that you’re a CEO who’s on top of social media and took the time to notice someone’s post; that looks really, really good in the public eye.”

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A Glimpse Inside a Strange Corporate Culture

At Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, employees are expected to familiarize themselves with “a little white book” written by the firm’s founder, Ray Dalio, that’s filled with more than 200 of his “principles” on life and business. Aside from the overtones of Chairman Mao and his little red book, a New York Times story that’s based on documents from a filing against Bridgewater by the National Labor Relations Board and interviews with former employees and people who’ve done work with the $154 billion company suggests there are other odd practices at the Westport, Conn.-based firm.

An employee who filed a complaint earlier this year with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities likened the company in his complaint to a “cauldron of fear and intimidation,” the Times reports. Employees are under constant video surveillance, all meetings are recorded and security guards regularly patrol the building, all as part of an effort to “silence employees who do not fit the Bridgewater mold.”

Employees in some units of the company are required to lock up their personal cell phones when they arrive at work, the sources tell the Times.

Such secrecy and surveillance sounds, and probably is, uncomfortable, but then again hedge funds do tend to be secretive places with enormous amounts of money at stake. But at Bridgewater, the practice appears to have been taken a step further, with meetings between employees and managers not only routinely recorded but also shown to other employees. For example, new are shown videos of confrontations between executives and managers in an effort to “give new employees a taste of Bridgewater’s culture of openly challenging employees and putting them on the spot,” the Times reports. In one such video (which is no longer shown, according to the former employees), a confrontation between executives and a female manager ends up with the woman breaking down and crying. That certainly must have made for a memorable onboarding experience.

The employee who filed the initial complaint with the state commission was Christopher Tarui, an adviser to large institutional investors, who contended that he was sexually harassed by his male supervisor. In his complaint, Tarui said he did not report the conduct “out of fear it would become public because of the firm’s policy of videotaping confrontations between employees.” He ultimately complained to Bridgewater’s HR department, he said, because his supervisor gave him a bad performance rating despite the fact he’d been promoted and given a pay raise a few months earlier. Tarui said in his complaint that the firm promised to investigate, but management tried to persuade him to withdraw his allegations.

Tarui said all of his meetings, including his meeting with HR to complain about the alleged harassment and a subsequent meeting with top executives, were recorded and “widely shared” with managers at Bridgewater, the Times reports.

“The company’s culture ensures that I had no one I could trust to keep my experience confidential,” Tarui said in the complaint.

He filed the complaint in January. However, in March both Tarui and Bridgewater jointly asked to withdraw the complaint from consideration by the Connecticut human rights commission, which halted its investigation. The Times notes that Bridgewater employees (as at many companies) are required to settle disputes through binding arbitration.

However, the Times reports that in a related action, the NLRB later filed a separate complaint against Bridgewater accusing the company of “interfering with, restraining and coercing” Tarui and other employees from exercising their rights through confidentiality agreements that all employees are required to sign once they’re hired. The Times obtained the NLRB complaint and Tarui’s initial complaint through a Freedom of Information Act request. In a statement to the Times, Bridgewater said “we are confident our handling of this claim is consistent with our stated principles and the law.”

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Job Satisfaction Hits New High

According to the Conference Board’s latest job satisfaction survey, the rate of job satisfaction among U.S. workers is at the highest level it’s been since 2005, with nearly half (49.6 percent) of workers reporting that they’re satisfied with their jobs. The Conference Board notes that job-satisfaction rates have increased steadily since 2010.

Of course, this also means that half of U.S. workers are not satisfied with their jobs. The latest number is also a far cry from the highs hit in 1987 and 1995, when the Conference Board’s survey found that 60 percent of American workers were satisfied with their jobs.

The strengthening economy is a big factor in the higher job-satisfaction rates in the latest report, says the Conference Board’s Michelle Kan, who co-authored the report. “The rapidly declining unemployment rate, combined with increased hiring, job openings and quits, signals a seller’s market, where the employer demand for workers is greater than the available supply.”

In other words, employees today have more options than they’ve had in some time, and they know it — and HR needs to pay attention to their needs. Indeed, while the Conference Board report finds that workers are most satisfied with their colleagues (59 percent), interest in their work (59 percent) and their supervisors (57 percent), they’re much less satisfied with their organizations’ pay and promotion policies. In fact, the five job components with the lowest satisfaction are promotion policies (24 percent), bonus plans (24 percent), the performance review process (29 percent), educational/job training programs (30 percent) and recognition/acknowledgement (31.5 percent).

Gad Levanon, the Conference Board’s chief economist for North America, tells the Wall Street Journal that the high satisfaction rates of 1987 and 1995 are unlikely to be repeated soon.

“It was a whole different world in terms of employee-employer relationships,” he said. “There was much more loyalty. People looked to their employer for more than a job, in many cases.”

Nevertheless, said Levanon, a satisfaction rate of 55 percent may be achievable.

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A Mixed View of Volunteer Work

When employees volunteer in the community, how do co-workers view these efforts? As genuine acts of kindness? Or subtle self-promotion? And can taking part in altruistic endeavors outside the office actually help one get ahead at work?

A pair of researchers from the University of Georgia Terry College of Business sought to answer such questions in a pair of recent studies, and found answers that suggest employees who do volunteer work might be seen in a less-than-charitable light by some of their colleagues.

Volunteering is “something that can be done with your kids’ school or through your church,” notes lead study author Jessica Rodell, an associate professor of management at the Terry College, in a statement.

“But it turns out that this behavior can have a real impact on how people view you at work.”

In an effort to get a sense of that impact, Rodell and co-author John Lynch, an assistant professor of managerial science at the University of Illinois-Chicago, first conducted a field study that involved 120 employee-colleague pairs. Employees directly reported information about their volunteering activities.

Roughly four weeks later, the authors asked the colleagues to provide an evaluation of the employee’s reputation (the credits and stigmas they associated with the person), the attributions the colleagues made for employee volunteering, and their general interactions with and treatment of the employee.

The second study relied on an experimental design to further demonstrate the types of credits and stigmas assigned to people who volunteer. Students in a large introductory management course were asked to evaluate profiles of potential teammates, which included a description of that person’s volunteering and their motives for volunteering. In total, 305 students participated in this experiment.

In the course of their research, Rodell and Lynch found that employees often have mixed feelings about their colleagues’ volunteer efforts, with their perceptions largely shaped by what they believe to be a co-worker’s motives.

When an employee is seen as being “personally compelled to volunteer,” for example, both supervisors and co-workers tend to hold the volunteering employee in high regard, according to the authors.

Colleagues and managers tend to form a more negative opinion, however, when an employee is viewed as “a showboat who volunteers to enhance his or her image or score brownie points.”

In the grand scheme of things, a person’s volunteer work in the community may just be one piece of data “that we use to determine someone’s character,” says Rodell, “which affects how we treat them.”

In some cases, participating in volunteer activities may even help alter one’s career trajectory.

Take, for instance, two employees whose performance ratings are identical. One of those workers, however, has done volunteer work “for what appeared to be good reasons,” says Rodell. “That person would be more likely to get a raise or promotion because that volunteering positively affects their reputation at work.”

Naturally, the second worker in this scenario may harbor some resentment over such a decision, stewing in the belief that a colleague is getting a bump at least partly because of work that he or she did that wasn’t at all job-related.

Managers and organizational leadership shouldn’t discount this type of reaction, and workers should be made aware of the possible workplace repercussions of volunteering.

“Employees should know that, if they’re going to volunteer, it’s going to have consequences, depending on how they manage it,” says Rodell. “And, if done for the right reasons, it’s ultimately going to benefit them.”

While the authors acknowledge employees’ views on volunteer work as “a mixed bag” with both positive and negative connotations, co-workers are generally “OK with the fact that someone might personally benefit from their volunteer work,” she concludes, “with the caveat that they are also doing it for good reasons.”

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A Lesson on Politics in the Office

ThinkstockPhotos-153920586Some of the biggest events at this week’s SHRM 2016 Annual Convention and Exposition had little to do with HR. One was a concert Tuesday night by the band Train. The other was a highly entertaining discussion about politics between pundits Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

I don’t know about Train — I didn’t go, but it’s hard to imagine that the performance had much instructive value. On reflection, though, I think Begala and Carlson had a lesson for HR practitioners.

They didn’t make their point explicitly, but rather by modeling a healthy way for colleagues to disagree. The takeaway: Political discussions — including those playing out every day in company lunchrooms — don’t have to be divisive.

It’s a natural concern, particularly this year. An unusually heated and dramatic presidential race has passions running high, and employers naturally don’t want workers distracted by conflict in the workplace.

A SHRM study released as the conference began Sunday in Washington, D.C., found 26 percent of HR professionals responding said employees are more vocal about their political opinions this year. The survey found 72 percent of employers discourage political activity in the workplace, but only 24 percent have a written policy.

Companies can ban bullying or active campaigning in the office. But a SHRM news release quotes Edward Yost, an employee-relations expert with the organization, saying they generally “cannot have policies that prohibit all political discussions,” without running into issues with the National Labor Relations Board.

Here’s where your company culture gets tested. If workers are going to disagree on political issues, you want them to do it the way Begala and Carlson do — with empathy, humor and respect for other views.

Begala is a former adviser to President Bill Clinton and longtime Democratic political consultant. Carlson is a commentator on Fox News and founder of the conservative news site The Daily Caller. The two co-hosted CNN’s political talk show “Crossfire” more than a decade ago and often appear together on stage as they did Tuesday morning at the SHRM conference.

In some ways their presentation was a comedy show, with the men gently poking fun at each other — and themselves. But they had serious and substantive disagreements.

Carlson’s main point was that the nation’s elites on both sides of the aisle have missed the rise of middle-class economic anxiety that fueled the rise of presumptive GOP nominee Donald J. Trump. And he freely included people like himself in that blame.

“Where I live, there is literally no downside to mass immigration,” because high-income jobs are not threatened, he said. “Immigration is a no-cost way to feel good in my neighborhood.”

Begala agreed that both parties have “failed a whole lot of people in Youngstown,” using that city as a proxy for white middle-class families whose livelihoods are threatened by a changing economy. But the answer is not to demonize immigrants, as he contends Trump is doing. Instead, “we have got to find a way to lift up the poor and middle class.”

Both men acknowledged each other’s perspective and recognized that neither Democrats nor Republicans had all the answers — basic elements of any healthy political discussion.

The nation’s polarized political environment has led many to feel “a contempt for people who disagree with them,” Carlson said. “There should be a space for sincere, honorable disagreement.”

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The Many, Many Vacation Days Not Taken

Here’s a new buzzword to add to your lexicon: “under-vacationed.” It’s how Project: Time Off, which regularly surveys American workers on how much time they take off from work, describes the 55 percent of U.S. workers who left vacation days unused last year, according to its latest survey. Previous Project: Time Off research showed that 42 percent of Americans were leaving vacation time on the table.

Project: Time Off is sponsored by the U.S. Travel Association, which obviously stands to benefit from more people taking time off to, you know, travel. But the research seems pretty legit, using polling firm GfK to conduct random representative samples of the U.S. population. This year’s survey queried 5,641 American workers working at least 35 hours per week, including 1,184 managers who are company decision-makers.

American workers have lost a full week of vacation, the research finds. Previous research conducted by Project: Time Off found U.S. workers’ vacation usage had fallen to 16.0 days a year—nearly a full week less than the average between 1978 and 2000, when it was 20.3 days per year. In the latest analysis of vacation usage, American workers took 16.2 days of vacation in 2015.

This year’s survey marks the first time that a majority of American workers have left vacation days unused. Previous surveys showed that 42 percent of Americans were leaving vacation time on the table. These “under-vacationed” Americans left a total of 658 million unused vacation days, far exceeding the previous estimate of 429 million unused days, according to Project: Time Off.

It’s not quite as bad as it sounds: Previous Project: Time Off surveys were conducted mid-year and asked respondents how much vacation time they anticipated using during the year. However, the latest survey was conducted in January and required that respondents know the exact amount of time they’d used during the previous year.

Why are so many Americans leaving their vacation time unused? Fears that employees would return to a mountain of work (37 percent) and that no one else can do the job (30 percent) topped the list. People who ranked higher in the organization also expressed concern that it’s harder to take time off when you hold such positions (28 percent). Twenty-two percent cited the idea that employees want to show “complete dedication” to their company and job.

People with high-ranking positions can have a big impact on changing this trend for the better: Eighty percent of employees said if they felt fully supported and encouraged by their boss, they would be likely to take more time off.

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When Grief Hits Home at Work

From the beginning of the American workplace, there have been workers in various stages of life and life events. All part of the 515860456 -- sad employeehumans-as-resources thing.

I’ve been through my fair share: raising kids while working; having kids while working, for that matter; getting them into college, then becoming an empty nester; surviving the end of their dad’s and my marriage, then getting them used to another …

But not until I lost my spouse — my kids’ zany, crazy, brilliant, life-loving dad and stepdad — did I know just how profound an impact the grief  event could have on work. And that was three short months after seeing my incredible dad through his final wrestling match with cancer.

I have a whole new respect for employers that choose to acknowledge and focus on the power pain can have on employees, and for colleagues and supervisors who’ve mastered the art of listening.

In fact, listening is just one of many helpful suggestions I came across recently in this piece, Helping a Grieving Friend in the Workplace, from Cincinnati-based Hodapp Funeral Homes. Until I went through my own nightmare, I honestly never would have considered the part managers, co-workers and HR can play in working to regenerate engagement and productivity in a shell-shocked, grief-stricken worker.

I’ve had those moments, fingers poised on the keyboard, when the words won’t come. I now know the fear, loneliness and incredible self-doubt, wondering if I can handle the same tasks I aced throughout my career in journalism and publishing, or the same projects around the house I used to enjoy. I know the frustration over how long it all seems to take.

But I also now know how helpful help is. And I also know I can now help others.

Judie Bucholz, a faculty member at Columbia Southern University specializing in human and organizational systems, weighed in on all this with me. As she put it,

“We know dealing with death is difficult, and yet, as an American society, we typically give our employees three days off to ‘deal’ with it and come back to work as if nothing ever happened. The reality is something did happen and three days is hardly enough time to acknowledge the reality of death, let alone deal with it.

“We cannot change corporate America and business, so what can we do to help those we work with [or employ] who are grieving the death of a friend or family member?”

She suggests the following:

  • Offering to take the kids for a day or for a sleepover;
  • Volunteering to do chores, such as cutting the grass, trimming the hedges, cleaning the pool, washing the car, etc.;
  • Sending gift certificates to favorite eateries, spas, beauty salons, etc.;
  • Helping with a project so the employee can leave early one Friday.

Yet, she says:

“Perhaps the best thing we can do is ask our co-worker [or employee] how he or she is doing and then take the time to listen — even if it makes us uncomfortable.”

And if those dealing with loss and grief want to quietly focus on work without talking, or silently space at a computer monitor from time to time, just let them do that, too.

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Job Candidates’ Rising Expectations

If you’ve become accustomed to having job candidates jump through hoops in order to land positions at your organization, then you might want to brace yourself for change: Candidates are simply less willing to put up with lengthy application procedures and cumbersome hiring processes than in years past.

466488753That’s one of the major findings from CareerBuilder’s 2016 Candidate Behavior study, which is based on surveys of more than 4,500 workers and 1,500 hiring managers. The study shows that employers are continuing to struggle: Although 76 percent of full-time, employed workers are either looking for a new position or are open to new opportunities, nearly half of employers (48 percent) say they’re unable to fill job vacancies.

In today’s market, companies need to present their best faces to candidates. “It’s important to remember that the candidate experience starts from the very first click and can impact how effectively a company is able to recruit quality candidates, the popularity of its employer brand, the strength and quality of its referrals, and even the bottom line,” says Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s VP of HR.

Candidates are more quicker to walk away from applications that are too cumbersome, with one in five telling CareerBuilder they are not willing to complete an application that takes them 20 minutes or more, while 76 percent want to know how long it will take them to finish an application before it starts. However, the majority say they’d be willing to endure a lengthy application process if the company is offering a higher base salary.

Candidates are also less willing to wait around: 66 percent said they’re willing to wait less than two weeks to hear back from an employer before considering the opportunity a “lost cause” and moving on to another. HR must also ensure that information on the company is easy to find, with 37 percent of candidates saying they’ll move on to the next opportunity if they can’t find the information they need on the company.

Candidates also want to see more information in the job description: 74 percent want to know the salary, 61 percent want to see the total benefits package, 46 percent want to see employee ratings, 40 percent want contact information for the hiring manager and 39 percent want information on work-from-home options. They also want to see how the company provides work/life balance (35 percent), photos/video of the work environment (31 percent), team structure and hierarchy of the role (27 percent) and how many people applied for the job (25 percent).

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