Category Archives: corporate culture

Productivity Drains — With or Without Mustard

Preoccupation with March Madness and the Super Bowl — not to mention the World Series, which is of special interest to us here in the Philadelphia area — are perennial topics for stories in Human Resource Executive®; stories that deal with how such events hamper productivity.

Well, we’ve added another event to the list: a Soft Pretzel Eating Contest.

Being as we are in, as I mentioned, Philadelphia, soft pretzels are a staple (and we pity those of you who haven’t sampled these delicacies, with or without mustard). So, after much trash talking about who could consume the most, a contest was devised: 12 minutes to eat as many as possible.

I was a late entrant since Andy McIlvaine, our senior editor who was supposed to participate, suspiciously called out sick today. The other participants: Mike O’Brien and Jared Shelly, both HRE staff writers, and Matt Brodsky, web editor for our sister magazine, Risk & Insurance®.

Jared, who nicknamed himself Future Fat Boy, won by chewing and swallowing furiously five pretzels. Matt (No Mo’ Dough) was close with four-and-a-half, and Mike (The Irish Nightmare and creator of this event) and I (Twisted Sister) ate four.

But any time spent on devising this contest or the few minutes we spent embarassing ourselves was more than paid for in the team spirit that was created among the group of co-workers who came in to watch.

Don’t Be Late

According to the good folks at the Associated Press, at least one African nation’s government (Nigeria) is taking a stand against an internationally known productivity thief: tardiness.

As part of a push to end tardiness, a number of federal offices in the nation’s capital Abuja locked out hundreds of tardy workers Tuesday. The move is part of an ongoing government effort to end chronic late arrivals among employees in Africa’s most populous nation.

The offices opened their doors an hour later to let the late employees in.

While it makes sense to discourage tardiness at the workplace, we’re not so sure that locking employees out for an hour will do anything to boost productivity rates.

Want to Work with Mad Men?

To celebrate the new season of Mad Men, (quite possibly the highest-quality TV series of all time, in this blogger’s humble opinion) the AMC Web site now offers an interactive “job interview” so fans can see how well (or not) they’d fit in with the mad men (and women) at the newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ad agency.

Take the quick quiz and see how you do. (Full disclosure: After taking the quiz, I was not offered a position with the firm, but that’s probably because I asked too many pointed questions about their positions on equal-employment opportunities, family leave and accomodations for disabilities; none of which were on the law books in their current form when the show’s Season 4 takes place, in late 1964.)

But even if you’re not hired, there’s at least one way to still be a part of the action: The next episode of Mad Men airs Sunday at 10pm on AMC. Be there or be square.

FDA Warns Lab: Make Better Hires

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently sent a warning letter out to Abbott Diabetes Care Inc., an Alameda, Calif.-based company that manufactures glucose-monitoring equipment.

(Tip o’ the hat to Jim Edwards who first wrote about it here.)

Among the varied charges leveled in the letter is that the company did not conform to necessary guidelines when hiring for critical positions at the company, especially ones that are responsible for quality control, calibration of equipment and regulatory affairs: 

4. Failure to have sufficient personnel with the necessary education, background, training, and experience to assure that all activities required by 21 CFR 820 are correctly performed, as required by 21 CFR 820.25(a). For example: 

a. The job description for the Director of Quality Systems requires that the person have a Bachelor of Science/Technical/or Engineering discipline. The person holding the position does not have this type of degree, but rather a Business Administration degree. 

b. The person holding the Regulatory Affairs Manager position lacks the minimum of 5 years of regulatory experience required in the job description. 

c. The person holding the Quality Control Supervisor position lacks the required Bachelor degree in science or the alternative five to eight years experience in Quality Control.  

d. The person holding the Calibration Coordinator position lacks the required Bachelor degree and the four years of relevant experience.

We have reviewed your response dated March 26, 2010, and have concluded that it is not adequate because the replacement Regulatory Affairs Manager does not have qualifications that meet the qualifications required in the job description. You stated that you are conducting a global review of personnel to compare qualifications and job descriptions of all individuals who have direct product impact to determine if their background and experience match the requirements of their current job description and are conducting a review of the Human Resources processes that support the development of job descriptions and the identification and selection of personnel. However, this process is ongoing and evidence of its completion and effectiveness was not provided.

For its part, the company says it is working with the FDA to clear up the problems.

“Abbott Diabetes Care has taken and continues to take the actions necessary to address the items outlined in the letter and is communicating those actions directly to the agency,” says Greg Miley, the company’s director of public affairs.

But with all the highly skilled — yet unemployed –workers out there currently flooding the job market, it boggles the mind to think that the company’s HR department is not able to find any qualified candidates for such important positions.

Furthermore, if you are an end-user of one of Abbott’s products, such as the FreeStyle glucose-monitoring and the Navigator continuous-monitoring systems, how sure are you that the product in your hand has been properly calibrated and tested for quality assurance if the people responsible for such things may not be qualified to do their jobs?  

When critical positions are filled by unqualified candidates, it’s a simply a recipe for disaster.

In Pursuit of Board Diversity

Investors have a bit more information to go on these days as far as evaluating the diversity levels of boards, since the Securities and Exchange Commission approved late last year rules to enhance the information provided to shareholders.

Calvert Asset Management, a mutual-fund company that invests in socially responsible companies, has been leading the charge when it comes to board diversity, with its most recent victory, involving Netflix, announced yesterday. Along with Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, Calvert reported the successful resolution of its efforts to promote board diversity at the entertainment distributor. Netflix, headquartered in Los Gatos, Calif., recently named its first female director, Ann Mathers, to its board.

The Securities and Exchange Commission rules are vague when it comes to defining the word “diversity,” but pretty much every proxy now at least mentions it. Yet while everyone agrees race and gender diversity are important, Henry Stoever, a spokesman for the National Association of Corporate Directors in Washington, stresses the importance of the board reflecting the skills that are needed to achieve a business’ strategy.

For now, employers can expect investors such as Calvert to continue to apply pressure. Aditi Mohapatra, sustainability analyst for the Bethesda, Md.-based company, reports that her firm has been issuing a steady stream of shareholder proposals on board diversity, roughly nine or 10 per year, since 2002. “We’ve been targeting the bottom of the bunch, those companies where we see a lack of commitment,” she says.

Nor is it alone in its efforts. “We’ve had seven or eight different firms file proposals with us,” Mohapatra points out.

Watchdogs or Snitches?

A new survey of nearly 3,000 doctors published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that 36 percent “do not feel obligated by professional commitment” to report impaired or incompetent colleagues to the proper authorities.

“It’s possible that there’s a real cultural issue here,” Catherine DesRoches, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor at the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Harvard Medical School, told the LA Times. “It’s a topic that might not have been addressed back when they were in medical school, so they do not know how to handle it.”

DesRoches also told the newspaper: “It’s concerning that there’s this somewhat large portion of physicians that don’t agree with the commitment to report when they have direct personal knowledge of a colleague that is in need. Since physicians themselves are the primary mechanism for detecting such colleagues, we must look to them to improve the situation.”

While the study only looks at doctors, one wonders how other specialized workforce segments that are involved in keeping the public safe and healthy — such as airline pilots, police officers, and firefighters, to name a few — handle that same situation when confronted with a colleague’s behavior that could very easily put someone in harm’s way.

Can Glassdoor Remain Objective?

Now here’s one worth watching. Glassdoor.com, the career website that lets employees trash or praise employers anonymously (with more doing the former than the latter), has just opened its doors to employers to defend themselves, if you will.

Actually, companies don’t respond to specific complaints. Rather, they’re now invited to join a new program called Glassdoor Enhanced Employer Profiles that lets them post their company profiles on the site — in exchange for a $495 (and up)-per-month subscription.

Problem is — and the Wall Street Journal lays it all out pretty nicely in this recent story (subscription only)  — Glassdoor’s going to have to somehow prove to all its users and visitors that those advertising dollars aren’t swaying decisions to filter certain reviews, or affecting the site’s employer-rating system.

Hmmm … this could get a bit dicey. Welcome, Glassdoor, to a dilemma journalists and media holdings face every day: how to ensure and uphold their objectivity in reporting on industries and organizations at the same time they’re inviting many of those organizations to adverstise.

 It’s not easy, but that advertiser/customer (reader) line is one we here at HRE endeavor mightily to never cross. Can’t say every competitor does the same. But can say our readers seem to appreciate it, from what I hear in my travels and discussions with them.

Glassdoor has already decided to allow paying companies to have their uploaded “company photos appear first when a job seeker is scanning a Glassdoor profile for a company, requiring a bit more work for site visitors to see the unofficial photos posted by employees,” the WSJ story says. Glassdoor CEO Robert Hohman tells the paper he doesn’t believe the order of photos will matter much.

Hope, for his sake, he’s right.

Maligning vs. Pitying Micromanagers

I noticed a couple of mentions over the last few days about the evils of micromanagement and how this horrible and uninhibited trait can impact a workplace.

One, from Beeson Consulting, warns that this obsession with every little thing that every single person under you is doing can, and will, prevent you from becoming the senior leader you’re trying to be. “Managers who are perceived by their troops as meddlesome micromanagers,” it reads, “are probably, in turn, viewed by senior executives as not having the bandwidth to step up to higher-level positions and handle greater responsibilities.”

Another, by Suzanne Lucas, a.k.a. the Evil HR Lady, questions why more companies don’t just fire the poor (anti-)slobs. The reason, she suggests, is that they’re still stupidly promoting non-leadership behaviors such as “attention to detail” and failing to promote (literally) their “self-motivated, results-oriented” employees.

The key for those suffering from this malady is to learn to delegate, obviously. The key for companies, writes Lucas, lies in implementing a results-oriented workplace environment (ROWE), where “managers let people do their work without hovering.” (We’re actually focusing on that very approach in Human Resource Executive®‘s August cover story.)

Personally, I’m wondering if more companies shouldn’t be training and coaching their micromanagers away from their addictions, or maybe directing them to their employee-assistance programs … or maybe we should all consider them disabled and in a protected class??!!

OK, I jest … well, mostly. As a parent, wife and manager, I’m here to tell you it’s damn hard to break out of the “If I want it done right, I have to do it myself” cycle. Or the killer mind-set of “If I don’t ask him about his progress, he won’t make any.” Thankfully, I’m getting better. But for some, it might take a 12-step program to overcome.

Lessons in HR Transformation

As I prepare for the SHRM conference each year, I often lament that there aren’t more HR executives presenting.  Personally, more often than not, I much rather hear what they have to say about a particular issue or topic, rather than a consultant or vendor.

That’s why I was pleased to see the Tuesday morning program open with a General Session panel featuring senior HR executives. (Hopefully we’ll see more sessions like this in the future.) It’s also why I set aside some time later that morning to catch a Mega Session entitled “HR Transformation: What Comes Next” by one of the opening-session panelists.

Conrad Venter, global head of HR for Deutsche Bank AG, detailed some of the steps taken by the bank to transform its HR function. Deutsche began its HR transformation efforts in 2005, during a period when the firm was facing some formidable global challenges.

In response, Venter said, Deutsche set out to restructure HR, putting “the right work in the right place.” Those efforts included moving much of the transactional work outside of HR.

What were some of the lessons that were learned along the way? First, he said, “we learned that one size doesn’t fit all.” He also noticed the importance of being “fluid” and continuing to “tweak things” long after they’ve been implemented.

“The soft stuff is really the hard stuff,” he said.

Repeating a comment he made during the opening panel, Venter also suggested that HR leaders might want to describe what they do as “people strategy” rather than “HR strategy,” to create more buy-in and less finger pointing.

Experimental HR

Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, a global IT services company headquartered in Noida, India, urged the SHRM audience to treat HR “as an experimental journey,” and to consider follow his example of treating the employee first, the customer second.

Management doesn’t create value, he said. It can only “induce, encourage [and] enable the creation of value by the employees.”

HR leaders, he said, should consider the leadership of Ghandi, MLK and Nelson Mandela. What they did, he said, was create dissatisfaction with today and develop a romance among their followers with tomorrow.

Autocracy doesn’t work, he said. Democratize the workplace. Managers need to be answerable to employees instead of just the other way around. And the result of treating employees first is that customers will be served better.

To create an environment conducive to change, however, requires trust. In his company, Nayar facilitated that trust by providing an environment of 100 percent total transparency. His 360-degree assessment is posted on the company intranet. If an employee asks him a question — and 99 percent of the questions are negative, he said — his answers are sent to all employees.  (The questioners must also reveal who they are.)

His $2.3 billion company continues to grow rapidly — without new services, new products, new locations. It’s due to placing trust in his employees.

“Transfer the problem to them. They create magic in the interface of customers and employees,” he said.