Category Archives: corporate culture

About that 10 Percent Raise …

… Seems like it will go to all Googlers but one. The company has apparently fired the employee who leaked the information about the across-the-board 10 percent raise to employees.

David Shadovitz wrote about the raise on The Leader Board here, noting that “Don Delves, president of The Delves Group in Chicago, told me this is ‘one of those things Google does because it can.’ Others will look at it and be envious, he adds.

That envy will certainly be tempered by the technology giant’s decision to terminate an employee over disclosure of the information.

Sam Zell’s Tribune Co: The HR Factor

A really disturbing front-page story on the NY Times the other day profiled some of the goings-on at Chicago-based Tribune Co., the storied media giant that was taken over by real-estate mogul Sam Zell back in 2007. As the story notes, it’s all been downhill—WAY downhill—for the once-proud Tribune Co. ever since. Zell chose to make the purchase (piling enormous debt onto the company in the process) right before the newspaper market cratered.

The company filed for bankruptcy protection less than a year after Zell bought it, yet he and his management team were still able to persuade the bankruptcy judge overseeing the case to sign off on more than $50 million worth of bonuses for top managers earlier this year.

Possible financial shenanigans aside, the story’s big revelation (based on interviews with numerous former Tribune employees) is the allegedly depraved corporate culture that Zell and his people have allowed to flourish at the company.

Two former Tribune execs told NYT writer David Carr that Randy Michaels, one of Zell’s hand-picked minions to run the company (who has a history of sexual-harassment claims filed against him at his former employer), met them in a bar soon after joining the company and is accused of offering a female bartender $100 to show him her breasts. (Michaels has denied doing this).

Michaels and his lieutenants at one point allegedly stood on a balcony overlooking a work area and made loud remarks about the sexual attributes of various employees, within hearing distance of everyone. There’s plenty more, of course.

But for me, what really takes the cake is this little gem, from a rewritten version of the company’s employee handbook that was apparently one of the new team’s first priorities, according to the story:  

“Working at Tribune means accepting that you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use,” the new handbook warned. “You might experience an attitude you don’t share. You might hear a joke that you don’t consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process.” It then added, “This should be understood, should not be a surprise and not considered harassment.”

Wow—management actually went ahead and redefined harassment. Brilliant! So the obvious question is: Where was HR when this new handbook was approved and distributed to employees? How could any HR leader possibly sign off on this?

For a quick answer, I checked the archives of our People section and discovered that Luis E. Lewin served as Tribune’s senior VP of corporate human resources from 2000 to 2008. In other words, Lewin (who’s currently the CHRO at Purdue University) left Tribune right as Zell and his team were in the midst of making their changes at the company.

I don’t know Mr. Lewin or the actual circumstances of his departure, but I’d really like to think that it was because he would not be part of a management team that apparently had so little respect for the employees who worked there. I’d also like to think that most HR leaders would, upon failing to convince a CEO that their policies were similarly misguided, do the right thing and tender their resignation.

Times may be tough, but principles are priceless.

Erickson Opens Conference with a Call to Embrace the Times

As the opening keynote speaker for the 13th annual, and largest-ever, HR Technology Conference® and Exposition in Chicago, Tamara Erickson — collaboration and innovation expert, blogger and author of numerous books on generational evolutions in the workplace — got things rolling with an inspiring look at where technology’s taken us from the beginning of man to where it’s now taking American businesses.

That is, if they’re savvy and open enough to evolve.

Starting with the caveman’s need to share ideas  in order to make the very first tools and taking us through the 20th century corporate organizational model where “we had to make enough stuff at good-enough quality and low-enough costs to sustain the company and help it prosper,” she said,  “now, this century, if you can’t figure out how to tap into the knowledge and ideas of customers and employees … and do [the latter] on a more horizontal org. chart,” she said, you won’t make it.

Challenging listeners to adopt an entire new approach to employment; that is, away from expecting employees to perform because you pay them and into a model where you need to entice them to expend “discretionary effort,” she said, Erickson listed off numerous companies that are starting to adapt: Best Buy, Deloitte, Rypple, Kraft Food, the list went on.

But most companies, she said, are still stuck in the old way. “They’re not providing the technologies and investing in the tools so employees will choose to innovate,” she said.

“You have to invest in their discretionary effort,” Erickson said. “Now is the time for the combination of to invest in their discretionary effort,” Erickson said. “Now is the time for the combination of technology and HR. This time is ripe. HR holds the key to the next step change in our organizational technologies.”

Outsourcing Hits the Big Time!

A new workplace sitcom called Outsourced premiers on NBC tomorrow night at 9:30 p.m./8:30 central. Here’s the NBC website where you can read about it and catch the preview video. Considering this is the first I’m hearing about it (which doesn’t necessarily mean anything), I figured there might be one or two of you out there who haven’t heard about it either.

Looks like the premise (or goal, rather) is to put a “fresh and funny spotlight on the challenges that come with managing employees overseas,” says Brian Abrams from the New York-based PKPR public relations firm.

One of his clients, workplace behavior expert Aubrey Daniels, says the biggest mistake managers (and HR leaders) make is thinking people are different in other countries.

“The principles that cause people to do their best are the same in India, China, Russia and the rest of the world,” says Daniels, author of OOPS! 13 Management Practices that Waste Time and Money (and what to do instead. “When managers export techniques that they have learned in the United States to other cultures without an understanding of the science of behavior, they are bound to have problems, as I am sure that this series will exploit.”

Daniels talks about the show in more detail on his blog. Happy reading and TV viewing!

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.