Category Archives: HR leadership

CHRO = CEO?

Based on the results of a new study, you CHROs out there might want to start measuring the drapes in the CEO’s corner suite. The CHRO CEOUniversity of Michigan’s Dave Ulrich (whom we often feature as a source in our news and features) and Ellie Filler, a senior client partner in the Swiss office of executive-recruiter Korn Ferry, examined several sets of data pertaining to the C-suite and concluded that the executive whose traits were most similar to those of the CEO was the CHRO.

“This finding is very counter-intuitive — nobody would have predicted it,” Ulrich told the Harvard Business Review.

Based on their findings, Ulrich and Filler recommend that companies consider the CHRO when looking to fill the CEO position.

Of course, it shouldn’t be news to HRE readers that today’s CHROs are a far cry from the HR honchos of yore. Many report directly to the CEO, as Ulrich and Filler note. They often serve as the CEO’s key adviser and make frequent presentations to the board.

The data they examined to arrive at their conclusion included the salaries for CEO, COO, CFO, CMO and CIO. They wanted to determine the importance of the CHRO relative to other C-suite positions. They found that CHROs are the third-highest paid executives, second only to the CEO and COO, with an average base pay of $574,000. That’s 33-percent more than CMOs, the lowest-paid executives on the list.

Ulrich and Filler also studied proprietary assessments administered by Korn Ferry to C-suite candidates to uncover leadership traits. They examined scores on 14 aspects of leadership, grouped into three categories: leadership style, thinking style and emotional competency. They then assessed the prevalence of these traits among the different types of executives and compared the results.

Of course, not all CHROs would be good candidates for CEO, say Ulrich and Filler. Those who’ve spent their entire careers in HR, for example, probably won’t make it to the top. Instead, CHROs with well-rounded business experience, such as running a business division, have a much better chance of assuming the CEO mantle. They cite CEOs such as GM’s Mary Barra and Xerox’s Anne Mulcahy, who served from 2001 to 2009, as leaders who served stints overseeing HR.

In their white paper, Ulrich and Filler include testimony from CEOs who agree the CHRO could be a contender for their role.

“It’s almost impossible to achieve sustainable success without an outstanding CHRO,” Thomas Ebeling, former CEO of Novartis, told them. “[The CEO] should be a key sparring partner for a CEO on topics like talent development, team composition [and] managing culture.”

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A Most Notable 2014 Class of NAHR Fellows

The National Academy of Human Resources ushered in yet another impressive class of Fellows at its annual dinner and induction ceremony Thursday night in New York.

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From left, James Schultz, chair of the SHRM Foundation; David Rodriguez of Marriott International; Daniel Yager of the HR Policy Institute; and William Allen of Macy’s Inc. (Photo by Robert Knowles)

Added to the elite group of current and former senior HR practitioners and thought leaders were William S. Allen, chief human resources officer at Macy’s Inc. and one of HRE‘s 2011 HR Honor Roll recipients; David A. Rodriguez, executive vice president and chief human resources officer for Marriott International; and Daniel V. Yager, president and general counsel of the HR Policy Association.

Introducing the three, NAHR Chair Kathleen S. Barclay, senior vice president of human resources for The Kroger Co., reminded everyone gathered in the Yale Club dinner hall just how significant the academy’s honor is. “Becoming a Fellow,” she said, “is the highest recognition possible in the HR profession.”

Prior to joining Macy’s in January 2013, Allen was group senior vice president for corporate human resources at A.P. Moller-Maersk in Copenhagen, Denmark. He also held HR posts with Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, PepsiCo and RCA Corp. As his NAHR write-up reads: “A common thread through Bill’s career is an unwavering commitment to a high level of organizational performance that helps companies win in their marketplaces. Elements of that philosophy include enhancing talent management and development, refreshing corporate cultures through clear and compelling leadership, and aligning compensation with performance. Bill is passionate about business processes that are simple, clear and aligned.”

Since joining Marriott in 1998 from Citicorp (now Citigroup), Rodriguez, a board member of the HR Policy Association, has provided leadership in the global growth of the company and the successful transition to the first chief executive officer outside the Marriott family. He has also, as his write-up reads, “built the strongest HR team in the industry and has led one of the most comprehensive and successful ongoing HR business-process-outsourcing programs, [in addition to leading] the company’s efforts to nurture and globalize its culture of innovation.”

Yager has been with the HR Policy Association for more than 26 years after working for the U.S. House of Representatives, where he was the principal Republican staff person on labor issues. He served as minority counsel to the House Education and Labor Committee and played a key role in drafting the WARN and Family and Medical Leave Acts. He was instrumental in helping to reinvent the HRPA, which is now an influential voice in public policy for HR at the highest levels of large companies. In addition, he is a leading expert on labor and employment, whose television appearances include The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour and The Today Show.

The three were welcomed into the NAHR fold with a standing ovation.

Also honored was the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation, which has been the philanthropic affiliate of SHRM since 1966, helping to shape the future of HR and working to be a catalyst for thought leadership, global HR information and human capital knowledge.

NAHR President Richard L. Antoine, former global HR officer for Procter & Gamble Co. — who will be turning over the presidency in February 2015 to Jill Smart, former chief human resource officer for Accenture Inc. — took a moment to bid the group adieu after his six years of leadership.

After starting in the supply chain at Procter & Gamble, he told the group, it wasn’t until later, when he moved into HR, that he realized how powerful and impactful the profession was — capable of influencing “success in people and their careers.”

“Our job is to hire, develop and retain great people,” said Antoine, “and that is a great thing.

“We’ve had those bad days — those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days — but we’ve had many, many more days [to realize] our calling, [which is] to enhance the lives of people,” he said, “and I was glad to be a part of it all.”

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The Fabrication of Culture

myth vs. factLaurie Ruettimann lumps the whole “corporate culture” concept in with the likes of Sasquatch, unicorns and Keyser Soze.

In other words, it’s a myth.

In a Nov. 4 blog post that I’m guessing has already been forwarded through a few HR departments, Ruettimann takes the idea of a super-duper corporate culture—and those who espouse the importance of having one—out to the woodshed.

“You are incorrectly applying the word ‘culture’ to a group of people who behave a certain way because their lives are dominated by a few powerful figures in your office,” writes Ruettimann, a consultant, speaker, writer, blogger, HR Technology Conference and Exposition® panelist and a former HR leader.

“That’s it,” she says. “Your [lousy] software company or little marketing agency doesn’t have a culture—it has a CEO and a leadership team that has particular points of view about how work should ‘feel.’ ”

There’s more.

“I’m on record saying that ‘culture’ is what we talk about when a company’s products and services are unremarkable,” continues Ruettimann. “We pay employees in culture when we can’t pay them in cash.”

We could debate how “culture” is defined, and could argue whether employees care about a great working environment as much as they care about the size of their paychecks. But saying that a company’s culture doesn’t matter—or even exist—is sure to raise some eyebrows throughout HR and beyond.

Take this response posted to Reuttimann’s blog, for instance.

“Maybe there’s a better term for it … but corporate culture is the thing that makes [or] breaks an individual’s experience at a company. The other tangibles are very important too … I don’t care how much a company pays me, if the environment is [shabby] I’m not sticking around.”

Provided he is paid fairly, another commenter says “it’s company culture that dictates whether I flourish, stick around or leave. Of course senior leadership need to set the rules, describe how they want their employees to operate … it’s their [bleeping] business that they are in charge of running.”

(Incidentally … Ruettimann and the commenters on her blog aren’t stingy with the expletives, are they?)

But salty language aside, it’s not as if some of what Ruettimann is saying shouldn’t resonate with readers.

For example, she urges her “friends and colleagues in human resources to start making evidence-based decisions.” Whether it’s based in reality or perception, there’s certainly a school of thought that says HR is still much more of a touchy-feely function than a true “strategic partner” or contributor to the bottom line.

While many within the profession would contend that HR has made great strides in using data and analytics to connect the function’s role to business performance, others feel there’s still a long way to go.

“I just want to say this article actually had me screaming YES!” writes another commenter. “… I am so tired of being associated with decisions and practices being made that are based off nothing!”

Another reader notes that “we try to sell people on culture when there is a lack of selling points in other areas. If you’re paying me a market-appropriate salary, providing good benefits, decent PTO and don’t let crazy people manage, I’m going to be happy and stay. Forget the complimentary Keurig, or the Foosball table, or the fully-stocked kitchen. Those things are [OK], but they’re not going to keep me.”

While free snacks and table soccer don’t begin to sum up what goes into creating a company’s culture, this comment still starts to get at what may be the biggest takeaway from this provocative post. It may be extreme to classify the notion of corporate culture as a figment of HR’s imagination, but it seems fair to say that employers and HR should be careful to provide their people with a lot more than just a “cool place to work” if they want them to stay.

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Career Management Missing the Mark

For all the stories we’ve written through the years about the merits of career management, you’d think the practice would have gotten a 178784049 -- career pathbit more efficient than it apparently has.

The latest indication that career-planning programs are basically failing to help employees plot their courses and understand advancement opportunities they might find at their companies comes from Towers Watson’s 2014 Global Workforce Study, which finds fewer than half (46 percent) of more than 32,000 global employees polled say their organizations provide useful tools for plotting their career paths.

Worse still, at least in my opinion, is that 59 percent of high-potential employees — a group employers should be working hard to keep — say their employers provide the right tools.

Here’s another discrepancy: According to another Towers Watson poll — the 2014 Global Talent Management and Rewards Study – half of employers (49 percent) say they’re effective at providing traditional career-advancement opportunities; however, employers also rank career-management opportunities as the No. 1 reason employees would join a company, ahead of base salary and challenging work.

“Many companies are failing to see the big picture when it comes to career-management programs and are in danger of losing some of their best talent,” says Renée Smith, a talent and rewards director at Towers Watson. “The lack of career-advancement opportunities is the No. 2 reason that employees leave an organization. Pay is the No. 1 reason.

“At a time when hiring and turnover are increasing, and employers are experiencing problems attracting and retaining talent,” she says, “employers need to understand the importance of providing [these] opportunities. Currently [and clearly], their programs are coming up short.”

In a newly published paper, “Career Management: Making It Work for Employees and Employers,” Smith says that, while it might seem simple enough to organize jobs, provide career-planning tools, define competencies and communicate opportunities, the reality of building an effective career-management program is more complicated. She points to several challenges identified in the Talent Management and Rewards Survey that employers face when trying to get the right kind of programs off the ground:

  • Career architectures and paths are poorly defined. Fewer than half of employers (48 percent) report their organizations have career architectures (or formalized frameworks) and career paths in place.
  • Managers are ill equipped to deliver. Only one-third of employers (33 percent) say managers are effective at conducting career-development discussions as part of the performance-management process.
  • Technology is not effectively leveraged for career management. Fewer than half of employers (45 percent) make effective use of technology to deliver career-advancement programs.
  • Most organizations don’t know if their programs are working. Only one in four respondents (27 percent) monitors the effectiveness of their programs.

Smith says there are other factors contributing to this challenge. “Information related to career management is often communicated in a disjointed manner. In some organizations, different parts of HR own different elements of the career-management process without clear accountability or partnership,” she says.

“Additionally, organizations may lack the business buy-in, which can make career management the sole domain of HR. Given this situation, it’s critical for employers to step back and think through how to best design, deliver and measure an effective and integrated career-management program,” says Smith.

Granted, we’ve gotten wind of this problem from other sources as well. This HREOnline news analysis in June by Tom Starner is based on research from BlessingWhite that found fewer than half of 2,000 employees surveyed expect to receive any kind of career-planning advice from their employers.

In that piece, Jeff Kudisch, assistant dean of corporate relations and a professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, says the main challenge is that many leaders and managers lack basic people-development skills.

“They can’t begin to help with career pathing if they can’t coach their people,” he says. “And worse, in many cases there are no incentives to hold managers accountable for that responsibility.”

There have also been pieces through the years pointing out that managers not only lack coaching skills, but are simply — and perhaps selfishly — reluctant to buy in to the whole internal-mobility thing and let (or even usher) top talent out of their hands.

“The company wins when you think about it from an employee’s perspective,” says Kurt Metzger, vice president of talent management at Newark, N.J.-based Prudential, in the Starner piece. “We are less focused on retention specifically than we are about what will get them excited and engaged [and] in the end, we have a much more productive workforce.”

Food for thought.

 

 

 

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Lutz on Leaders: Why So Nice?

happy leaderRetired automotive executive, former Marine and best-selling author Bob Lutz is also fluent in several languages. And he’s probably pretty outspoken in all of them.

Never known for holding his tongue, the former vice chairman of General Motors took part in a Q & A with the Washington Post earlier this week. And he offered up his usual, unvarnished take on subjects ranging from Mary Barra’s performance as GM’s chief executive so far (“too early to tell,” but “the early signs are outstanding”) to the increasingly guarded stance taken by executives when addressing the public (“nobody is speaking clearly anymore”).

Lutz also spoke at length about what makes for a great leader. While he praised the “quiet, somewhat low-key, persuasive and very effective” style that Barra has displayed at the helm of GM, Lutz seemed to suggest the leadership model prevailing at many organizations in 2014 is, well, a little soft.

When asked to name the best leader he’s ever worked for, Lutz went all the way back to his high school days in Switzerland, calling teacher—and future member of the Swiss National Council—Georges-Andre Chevallaz “an extremely effective individual” who could “convince intellectually, and … had the ability to motivate positively. You never wanted to let him down.”

The corporate community could use a few more like Georges-Andre Chevallaz, according to Lutz.

Today’s leaders “follow a politically correct line and listen to all the 1980s Total Quality Management consultants who say you should always respect everyone, that there’s no such thing as a bad idea,” he told the Post. “Of course we all know that’s hogwash. Good leaders have to be able to criticize constructively. We just have too little of that in American business now. Everybody is way too nice to everybody.”

A dearth of constructive criticism aside, Lutz sees something else lacking in the workplace: Fear.

“I can’t tell you how essential that is: a fear of consequences, of messing up, of letting the team down, of doing something unauthorized,” said Lutz. “That fear has to be there; otherwise the place is out of control. All of the consultants who say you’ve got to take fear away in a corporation don’t know what they’re talking about.”

While he may espouse some old-school ideals when it comes to leadership style, Lutz also warned that too much of the same old, same old can actually damage an organization’s culture; a lesson he says he learned decades ago.

Looking back at his stint as head of product development with Chrysler in the 1970s and ’80s—when the company was integrating an influx of talent from Ford and GM to go along with “the old Chrysler guys”—the culture at Chrysler “was a ragtag bunch of misfits,” he said. “At Chrysler, everybody was from somewhere else. It made for a very interesting environment, because there was no dominant culture. What you rarely heard in meetings was, ‘You can’t do that, because we’ve always done it this way.’

“It was messy,” he continued. “But it was very effective and everybody had a lot of fun. The nice thing about an enduring culture is that you have stability. But stability in a rapidly changing environment can be a very bad thing.”

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Recruiting Beyond Traditional Social Networks

An interesting little recruiting story came out of a late-afternoon session at the HR Technology® Conference in Las Vegas Thursday. 178915467--social mediaSlugged “How Red Hat Approaches Hiring Beyond Traditional Social Networks,” the session featured Brad Warga, senior vice president of customer and employee success for Gild Inc., a San Francisco-based technology-talent search firm, and Don Farr, director of global-talent acquisition for Red Hat, a global open-source provider.

“We found [traditional candidate sources such as] LinkedIn just weren’t providing the recruiting results we needed,” Farr told conference attendees. Long story short, he knew Warga, but not much about Gild, so decided to try him out with an assignment: Find him 200 top technology developers in a city abroad where Red Hat does business. Warga turned it around in record time “and more than half of the developers on his list were already employees of Red Hat,” said Farr.

Pretty convincing. So Farr decided to use Gild’s sourcing and reporting tool, based on far-more specific tech-developer social-media data — including code information and technical questions and answers, indicating levels of focus and expertise — to complement the recruiting system he already had in place.

Not only has it enriched Red Hat’s recruiting, with vastly improved and far enhanced returns on the right kinds of candidates for the growing company, it’s even provided some surprises.

Key among them was proof it needed to enhance its employee-referral service as well. Using Gild’s tools and services, Red Hat was able to determine that 70 percent of its developers who came in outside the referral program were actually connected in some way to current employees through social media.

“In other words,” said Farr, “we could have hired them ourselves if we had just sourced them through more social [streams]. The connections were out there.”

Long story short, Farr convinced his CEO to invest more in employee referrals and the savings are already being realized.

“We now have an employee-referral portal tracked through our applicant-tracking system,” Farr said. “We’ve effectively built a process where referrals aren’t going into a black box anymore.”

Lesson learned here? “Take advantage of the opportunity to embrace social media in multiple ways,” particularly when you’re looking for something as specific and hard to find as tech developers, he said.

“This is really the story of the old guard and the new guard,” Farr added. “You have to adapt or die.”

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New Workforce Data Explored at HR Tech

Based on new research released Wednesday at the 17th Annual HR Technology® Conference and discussed in Thursday’s opening 174186913 (1)general session, employers and HR leaders seem to have some exciting new arsenal for recreating, reshaping and sustaining their workforces of tomorrow.

The research, to be released in quarterly reports as part of an ongoing ADP Workforce Vitality Report, measures the total real wages paid to the U.S. private-sector workforce based on a number of metrics, including job holders’ wages, job holders’ hours worked, job switchers’ wages and total employment. Although this index, at 110.6 in the third quarter of 2014, is considered the report’s baseline, it did show 0.77 percent growth from the previous quarter.

So job growth, as measured by this new combination of statistics, is, essentially, going up.

What’s especially exciting, though, seems to be the potential future indicators that so much data can provide the employment sector, when you consider it’s depth — based on the wages and employment profiles of ADP’s more than 50 million (one in six) paycheck recipients.

Segments of the U.S. workforce and the growth of wages and hours worked in any industry in any state are now tangible, or at least potentially tangible, showing where growth is strongest and weakest, and perhaps why. Segments “by age, by income, by full-time and part-time status, and even by gender” will also be available, “the latter of which is especially exciting to me,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, head of the ADP Research Institute, at the panel discussion.

Here, for more, is a recent CNBC televised discussion about the new research and another report from MarketWatch.

The session — moderated by David Gergen, senior political analyst at CNN, and including panelists John Boudreau, professor and research director at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business; Steven Cochrane managing director at Moody’s Analytics; Steven Rice, executive vice president of HR for Juniper Networks; and Yildirmaz — took in differing perspectives on just what all this data might mean.

Although the report indicates the South is leading the Northeast in job creation, and low-wage jobs — as in trade, transportation and retail — are leading over higher-income positions, questions still loom over whether this retail boom “is driven by higher wages or higher numbers of jobs” since the data combines all factors into one vitality — or growth — index, said Boudreau.

Moreover, “HR folks today can think of [where to find, place and develop talent] like a chess game, playing it in a more nuanced way,” he said. For instance, the index looks at four types of workers in the labor market: those who stay with the same firm (job holders), those who change jobs (job switchers), those newly hired (entrants) and those who left the firm either voluntarily or involuntarily (leavers).

Where index indicators show higher numbers of “leavers” or “entrants” — be they by industry or region — or higher-level jobs unfilled, “HR folks can be asking, ‘What would it take to make [a particular] pocket of folks who aren’t ready to fill this new talent need more ready for this need as opposed to [having to] seek talent outside the organization?’ ” said Boudreau.

The dynamics of the numeric indications, said Cochrane, actually show “economic growth happening everywhere … we have moved through the downturn, albeit in  the context of a slow-growing economy … but the gap is widening between the South and West, and the Northeast and Midwest” … and this could be indicative of growth in general in the South, as in Texas oil and energy, and the “structure of the economy changing.”

Rice left attendees with an important reminder as the sole HR practitioner on the panel; that being that, while the ADP data is a start and a helpful tool, the main goal for all HR leaders using it will be to “build the best workforce to build our companies of the future.”

Looking at organizations, he said, “has completely changed for heads of HR [in terms of] where talent is located, where it’s leaving, cost of labor, etc.” It’s far more of a global challenge now.

“We need to be able to tap into that new talent pool,” said Rice. “There’s a lot of shifting, too, in terms of skill sets and teaching of skill sets to tie into that changing talent pool.”

HR leaders are also grappling with when it makes sense to bring talent together under one roof versus allowing for more virtual project work and collaboration.

“We all need to be asking, ‘What are the areas where we can drive the talent for our ideal workforce?’ ” said Rice. “This kind of data can help.”

 

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Dangers of Social-Media Discipline

judge's gaveEmployers should be concerned by the National Labor Relations Board’s latest decision pertaining to social media and work. If not concerned, then taking very special note of, at the very least.

This ruling, as detailed thoroughly in this posting from Littler Publications, centers around employees’ off-duty social-media posts about work, and what employers can and can’t mandate about that.

In the ruling, as the posting puts it, the board came down hard on the employer — Triple Play (a.k.a., Triple D) Sports Bar and Grille in Watertown, Conn. — in that it “set a high bar for employers before they can terminate employees based on speech otherwise protected by Section 7 [of the National Labor Relations Act], determined that [a Facebook] ‘Like’ in that case was protected, reversed the employee’s firing and found a key provision in the employer’s social-media policy to be unlawfully overbroad.” I’d say that’s coming down hard.

The case has to do with several employees who were complaining in a Facebook discussion about a mistake they suspected the bar’s owners of making when calculating their state tax withholding. Some in the discussion were simply following the lines of the conversation. Here is Littler’s rendition of what transpired:

The owners organized a staff meeting with the payroll provider to discuss the issue. Before this meeting, Jamie LaFrance, a former employee who had recently left [her job] started a Facebook conversation by posting the following status update:

“Maybe someone should do the owners of Triple Play a favor and buy it from them. They can’t even do the tax paperwork correctly!!! Now I OWE money…Wtf!!!!”

Several comments followed in which a customer and a current employee sympathized.

LaFrance continued by accusing the owners of making a mistake in calculating tax withholdings, and she expressed her intention to report the mistake to the state’s “labor board.” At that point, a current employee, Vincent Spinella, selected the “Like” option under LaFrance’s initial status update.

As the Facebook exchange continued, LaFrance verbally attacked one of the owners:

“Hahahaha he’s such a shady little man. He prolly [sic] pocketed it all from all our paychecks.”

Another current employee, Jillian Sanzone, followed this statement by posting: “I owe too. Such an asshole.”  More comments followed, including a statement by another current employee that she planned to discuss the tax issue at a staff meeting.

After learning about the Facebook exchange from one of LaFrance’s Facebook friends, a current employee who happened to be the sister of one of the owners, the owners questioned Spinella about his “Like.”  They told Spinella that it was “apparent” he wanted to work somewhere else because he had “liked the disparaging and defamatory comments” and terminated his employment.

Spinella accused Triple D of illegal actions under the NLRA and the case came before the NLRB. Triple D argued that the disparaging comments and Spinella’s “Like” took the case outside the realm of the NLRA’s Section 7 protection as a concerted activity. The board, however, ruled otherwise because: Spinella did not specifically “like” any of LaFrance’s allegedly defamatory comments in and of themselves, the comments weren’t intended for public consumption on a private Facebook page and no one mentioned anything disparaging about the employer, per se, but related everything to an ongoing labor — i.e., tax withholding — dispute.

The NLRB also ruled this portion of Triple D’s social-media policy was too broad:

“[W]hen Internet blogging, chat room discussions … or other forms of communication extend to employees … engaging in inappropriate discussions about the company, management, and/or co-workers, the employee may be violating the law and is subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.  … In the event state or federal law precludes this policy, then it is of no force or effect.”

So what should you be concerned about exactly? Littler attorneys Philip Gordon and Zoe Argento offer these six takeaways in their post:

  1. Because a “Like” standing alone can be protected, employers should consider consulting with counsel before disciplining employees based on their selection of the “Like” button.
  2. When analyzing whether a “Like” is protected speech, employers should refer to the specific post or comment to which the “Like” relates.
  3. When analyzing whether otherwise protected social-media posts have crossed the line and lost their protection, the NLRB will apply different standards to disparagement of the employer’s products and services and defamation of the employer or members of its workforce.
  4. The actual malice standard applicable to defamatory statements imposes a heavy burden on the employer to prove that the employee posted content knowing it was false or it was made with reckless disregard for the truth.
  5. Employers should consult with counsel before firing an employee for allegedly defamatory or disparaging speech when that speech takes place in the context of a group discussion in social media.
  6. The NLRB continues to closely scrutinize social-media policies. Employers should recognize that language which is general or establishes subjective standards, such as “inappropriate discussion,” will raise a red flag for the board unless accompanied by examples that make it clear to a reasonable employee that the general language is not intended to encompass protected speech.  Relatedly, employers should expect the board to closely scrutinize any disclaimer before relying on it to “save” policy language from invalidation.  Such disclaimers have not been very helpful overall in terms of avoiding NLRB problems.

For your additional reading pleasure, and pointers, here are numerous blog posts we’ve written about social media in the workplace and social-media policies employers are drafting, should be drafting and shouldn’t be drafting in their attempts to control its impact.

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HR Gets an Upgrade at Apple

HR has long been something of a mystery at Apple. In our effort to compile our Top 100, a list of chief HR officers at the nation’s 100 largest employers, we often struggle to get a response at Apple. Eventually, we do manage to get the information we’re after, but it often takes more than a few follow-up calls and emails to get it.

apple-logoDuring his tenure as chief executive officer at Apple, Steve Jobs was known as someone who didn’t give a whole lot of credence to HR. In fact, it’s said that Jobs, in interviewing an applicant for the position of vice president of HR, once said, “I’ve never met one of you [HR people] who didn’t suck. I’ve never known an HR person who had anything but a mediocre mentality.”

Perhaps these words are merely an urban legend, but if he did indeed say them, they’re a pretty harsh assessment.

Well, as you know, Jobs selected Tim Cook, then Apple’s chief operating officer, to replace him soon before his passing in 2011. And since then, there’s been no shortage of stories that attempt to address how Cook’s leadership style differs from Jobs. Search the web and I’m sure you’ll find quite a few. But for those of us in HR, an appropriate follow-up question might also be: Is HR viewed any differently today under Cook?

I recently ran across at least a partial answer to that in a post titled “These VPs report directly to Apple CEO Tim Cook” on Business Insider. The story reports that Apple recently expanded the group of executives featured on its executive profiles page—from nine to 14 (there are actually 15 there)—and now includes the company’s heads of special projects, environmental initiatives and, yes, even HR. All report to CEO Tim Cook BTW.

In case you’re wondering, HR today is led by Denise Young Smith, who previously headed HR for Apple’s retail division. Smith officially took over the top HR post earlier this year from John Podolny, who now heads Apple University and is also one of the 15 on the executive profiles page. We learned of Smith’s appointment just in time for us to include her on this year’s Top 100 list, though, despite our efforts, we weren’t able to determine who she reported to.

When I asked Jason Hanold, managing partner of Hanold Associates, an Evanston, Ill.-based executive search firm specializing in senior HR positions, whether things have changed under Cook as far as HR is concerned, his response was an unequivocal yes. He noted that a few folks he knows well recently joined Apple, and there’s little question the firm is elevating its people capability and emphasis.

Today, Hanold says, “they get that they will compete best and most sustainably with the best talent driving the most compelling innovation and products.” He adds that Apple is showing no signs of complacency, given the talent they are bringing on board today.

Personally, I would put that under the category of good news for the firm, though who can question Steve Jobs’ truly amazing track record. Who knows, perhaps this could even be a sign that going forward, HR at Apple won’t be nearly the enigma that it’s been in the past.

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Chamber Renders a Scathing EEOC Assessment

85449254 -- gavel and flagI have Michael J. Lotito’s LinkedIn group, Littler’s Workplace Policy Institute, to thank for cluing me in to this latest blast against the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that is so weighty with criticism, it comes in two parts: one, an examination of what it calls the agency’s “unreasonable enforcement efforts,” and two, a detailed review of its “unsuccessful 2013 amicus program, in which its legal interpretations were rejected by federal courts approximately 80 percent of the time.”

The conclusions of each part give a clear sense of just how scathing this assessment of the EEOC is. Here’s part one’s:

Combating discrimination in the workplace is a worthy goal and one that the Chamber supports. However … EEOC’s abusive enforcement tactics can no longer be ignored. While some federal judges are pushing back in some cases, EEOC clearly has not received the message. Moreover, relying on judges as the final check on EEOC enforcement is often a case of ‘too little, too late': by that time, employers have already spent significant time and resources defending themselves against unmeritorious allegations. In other words, even when employers win, they lose. The time has come for EEOC to adopt institutional procedures to provide for internal accountability, more efficient use of resources and adherence to its own statutory conciliation requirement. If EEOC continues to ignore the problem, then Congress should use its oversight authority to install much needed safeguards within EEOC.”

And here’s part two’s:

Whether EEOC’s 2013 amicus program’s success is measured on a pure numerical won/los[t] basis, or on the importance of the substantive interpretations of federal law it supported in its amicus efforts, one thing is clear: It was an overwhelming failure. What’s more, the courts’ rejection of EEOC’s underlying regulatory guidance leaves employers searching as to where to find accurate, reliable guidance on their legal obligations under federal non-discrimination laws. And, with a fully staffed Commission, several new guidance positions are possible on a broad range of topics including: wellness plans, reasonable accommodations, pregnancy and national-origin discrimination, and credit-related background checks. Of course, whether any future guidance would fare better than EEOC’s 2013 track record is unknown. However, if the best predictor of future performance is past performance, in light of EEOC’s 2013 amicus performance, it is unlikely.”

I contacted Christine Nazer, public spokesperson for the EEOC, to get her agency’s reaction to this hefty slap. Here’s what she had to say: “The EEOC’s litigation program is a critical part of the success of our mission to stop and remedy unlawful employment discrimination. By any measure, the EEOC has achieved a remarkable record at trial in recent years: We prevailed in nine out of 10 jury trials in 2013.  The agency also takes the concerns raised by members of Congress seriously, and will continue to work with them to ensure the nation’s workplaces are safe and free of discrimination.”

Still, as we report in our July-August HRE cover story, “Get Ready to Rumble,” which went live earlier today, and in last year’s June 16 cover story, “Watch Your Step!” the EEOC does, indeed, need to be reckoned with by employers and their HR departments because of its stepped-up enforcement tactics. And when it does come knocking, and it will, you and your counsel better be prepared with well-documented answers and proof of compliance.

Mind you, as the Chamber points out, and as many news stories and blog posts by us corroborate, including this one of mine on April 17, the agency hasn’t exactly been without its missteps in trying to carry that enhanced enforcement out.

But EEOC missteps haven’t stopped the agency from marching in and clamping down. At least, not yet.

As Merrily Archer — a Denver-based attorney, head of EEO Legal Solutions and a former staff attorney with the EEOC — put it in a recent blog post quoted by writer Will Bunch in “Get Ready to Rumble,” EEOC lawyers and human resource executives should ideally be acknowledging their shared goals in reducing discrimination — “but that level of peace and understanding is not likely anytime soon.”

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