Category Archives: HR leadership

Employees, Customers and HR

It’s March, and you know what that means—the start of conference season. (Indeed, next week we’ll be hosting our own event, the second annual Human Resource Executive Forum® in New York. Look for coverage here.)

Later today, the Human Capital Institute wraps up its annual summit in Atlanta. Because of a conflict, I missed last year’s event in Arizona, where the conference has typically taken place. But this year, especially with it being a bit closer to home, I was able to attend.

As usual, the agenda featured some familiar names: Environmental activist Robert Kennedy Jr., Former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, author Daniel Pink (who always manages to deliver at the events I’ve heard him at) and author Gary Hamel (who keynoted this morning).

Perhaps a bit less familiar, but hardly unknown, is Vineet Nayar, vice chairman and CEO of HCL Technologies and author of Employees First, Customers Second. I missed Nayar when he spoke at SHRM’s annual conference last year about the key role employees played in HCLT’s turnaround, but was able to catch his story this time around. Glad I did.

I tend to be somewhat wary of CEOs who write books before they retire (“You really have time for that?”), but Nayar is someone who is clearly passionate about the subject of human capital. He tells a compelling and convincing tale about business transformation.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Nayar told those attending that his book doesn’t include any references to HCLT’s HR leadership. (It’s about being a CEO, not an HR leader, he said.) But in this particular talk, Nayar did devote a few minutes sharing his views on the kind of role HR leaders should play in an “employee-first” company.

Responding to a question from the audience, Nayar recalled that it was initially somewhat of a challenge getting HR on board. “They needed to understand that they were my ambassadors in getting managers to understand that they were the ones who needed to motivate employees to [transform the company],” he said. But eventually, he said, they came around.

He also noted that it was necessary for HR to understand that the initiatives needed to come from the company’s business leadership, not from HR.

More often than not, when CEOs address HR groups, you typically hear them toss out words like “instrumental” and “critical” to describe HR’s part. But not here. Instead, Nayar’s assessment of HR’s role, while certainly positive, was refreshingly a bit more tempered—and perhaps more typical of what happens in the real world.

Top Stories on HREOnline Last Week

These were the most-read stories on HREOnline™ last week, in case you missed any:

1. Technological Revolution: Sue Meisinger’s latest HR Leadership column:

The ease of using social-media tools, combined with recent indications that the Democratic-controlled National Labor Relations Board will be examining acceptable uses of technology by employees — and not just union employees — means that HR leaders should be taking a hard look at the issue as well.

2. Bridging the Credibility Gap: a contributed article by Sarita Bhakuni and Michelle Johnston, both with CPP.

To retain top talent, organizations need to start talking to their employees. When left in the dark, people draw conclusions which tend to be worse than reality. HR leaders should also be aware of uncharacteristic behavior by their managers, which often indicates high levels of stress.

3. Court Rules for Third-Party Retaliation Claims, by Tom Starner

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to reactivate a lawsuit — based on a claim that a company retaliated against one employee by firing her fiancee — should result in more lawsuits being filed by spouses and significant others. But the unanimous decision did not define just how expansive the “zone of interests” is, leaving HR leaders in the dark about where to draw the line.

4. Marketing HR Messages, by Kristen B. Frasch

Should HR leaders turn over their internal communications and engagement efforts to marketing professionals? No, say HR experts, but their organizations sure could benefit by HR learning more about the marketing mind-set.

5. Temp Salaries Rising, By Michael O’Brien

Wages for skilled, temporary workers are beginning to inch up from their low points, according to new benchmarking information. And since demand for temps — which historically precedes the demand for permanent workers — is increasing, does this mean the job market is finally improving?

Most Read Stories on HREOnline last week

See what you may have missed:

* Checking in With the Next Generation

Peter Cappelli ‘s latest Talent Management column looks at Wharton’s annual mid-term exam, which explores students’ view of their last job and the way they were managed. In most cases, management was lacking. Feedback was limited or nonexistent, and bonuses — instead of resulting in engagement and motivation — often prompted these high-potential candidates to quit or slack off. 

* Time to Re-Engage

Top businesses for HR practices — according to an exclusive recalibration of Fortune’s “Most Admired Companies” list — are taking employee engagement very seriously in this economy. (A PDF of the Top 50 Companies is here.)

E-Learning Still Trending Up

Companies continue to adopt technology-based training for employees as expenditures in training and development decreased overall last year. At the same time, the expenditure per employee actually remained stable, because the workforce was smaller.

 * Pinpointing Leadership Qualities

Social networking is changing the way HR leaders think of legal risks and recruiting opportunities, writes Susan R. Meisinger in her latest HR Leadership column. It also should make them think about the way they select high-potential candidates for leadership-development programs.

* Talking up Flexibility

Work/life balance is drawing more attention from the White House and other policymakers as research continues to show that the issue has an impact on the decisions of working families. A recent conference brought together representatives from the administration, military, academia and corporate America to attempt to drive the discussion onward.

HR Manager Killed by Workers in India

Sad — and scary –news from India, where a group of workers attacked and killed a 45-year-old HR manager at Allied Nippon, a joint Indo-Japanese venture that manufactures brakes and brake shoes for cars, according to the Times of India.

Joginder Singh died of multiple head and chest injuries about a day after workers suddenly attacked him and other managers with iron bars in protest of staff firings, according to AFP.

Nine of the factory workers in  Ghaziabad have been arrested and charged with murder. Another 27 workers were identified as being part of the brawl and 300 are so far unidentified.

Two company officials remain in the intensive care unit of a local hospital.

As HRE wrote earlier this year, HR seems to be a more frequent target of violence by workers — and not just overseas. That’s because HR leaders are often the messengers of bad news.

William J. Daly, senior vice president of London-based risk consultant Control Risks, was quoted in the story as saying that HR leaders can be hurt by the tendency of senior leaders bringing them up on stage to announce bad news and then leaving them on-site to deal with the repercussions.

“Traditionally, HR [leaders] have thought they were part of the solution and trying to help people but are now realizing that sometimes, during a difficult situation, there is no positive spin on the fact that jobs are being lost or some action should be taken against employees.”

… 

 Daly says [scaling back the HR presence is] not the answer because communication from HR is too vital during those critical times and remains just as important to many laid-off workers after the fact.

 The best they can do, he says, is to handle it like any other security risk — with preparation. Identify workers who may pose a security threat and figure out how to handle violence if it happens.

 “You need to be aware of your surroundings,” Daly says. “This is your job, you need to go and do it, but you need to go in there with eyes open. If there are any threats or issues that come up, know how you’re going to deal with them. Have a plan.”

In this case, police said the company had no warning violence was about to explode.

The factory’s HR vice president Mahendra Chowdhary told the media the attack by workers “was premediated and unprovoked. Workers attacked and chased the human resources staff and those on the board of directors.”

A Night of HR Excellence: Some Connections and Impressions

It was nice to see so many familiar faces — HR leaders we’ve highlighted in our magazine in recent years — taking the stage Thursday night at the annual dinner of the National Academy of Human Resources to become well-deserved inductees into the prestigious group’s Class of 2010 Fellows.

Included among the seven inductees were: Bonnie C. Hathcock, senior vice president and CHRO of Humana Inc., Human Resource Executive(R)’s 2007 HR Executive of the Year (featured in our Oct. 16, 2007 cover story); John T. (Jack) Mollen, executive vice president of human resources for EMC Corp., HRE‘s 2006 HR Executive of the Year (featured in our Oct. 16, 2006 cover story); and Sharon C. Taylor, senior vice president of human resources for Prudential Financial, an HRE 2007 HR Honor Roll inductee (featured Oct. 16, 2007).

Also inducted was Anthony J. Vegliante, executive vice president and CHRO of the United States Postal Service, who we just featured in this November’s cover story for his approaches to some very unique challenges at the U.S.P.S., and for his achievements in helping HR lead the organization through a very necessary transformation.

Completing the list of remarkable HR leaders and 2010 NAHR inductees were Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at the London Business School; Gary P. Latham, secretary of state professor of organizational effectiveness and professor of organizational behaviour at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto; and Charles G. Tharp, executive vice president for policy at the Center on Executive Compensation and a university lecturer.

Tharp, a 1998 NAHR Fellow and former NAHR president, received the last and ultimate honor as the group’s 2010 Distinguished Fellow, a title given to only 11 others since the group’s founding in 1992. Not only was he recognized for his many years of service in human resource and executive compensation positions, including long stints at Bristol-Myers Squibb and Saks Fifth Avenue, but also for his ongoing commitment to learning, teaching and HR thought leadership. (He’s held faculty positions at Rutgers University, Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and the University of Massachusetts-Boston.)

In introducing him, Bill Conaty, former CHRO for General Electric and former NAHR president, even joked that “this guy has more degrees than a thermostat.” (Oh, and while we’re mentioning — admittedly unabashedly — the evening’s ties to HRE, Conaty not only was an HR Executive of the Year, in 2004, with his cover story appearing Oct. 16, 2004, but will also be a keynote speaker at the magazine’s upcoming Human Resource Executive Forum(R), running March 14 through 16 at the Grand Hyatt New York. He’ll be focusing on the subject matter of his new book, The Talent Masters, out this month.)

Tharp, in his characteristically unassuming and humble fashion, took the podium and said to the group that, “As a teacher, I’m going to give you a homework assignment: Look at your calendars and carve out more time to help people in their careers, to give back to people in this profession and help them through the rough spots … because there are rough spots.”

Taking advantage of the opportunity to help less-experienced but promising HR professionals, he said, “is what this academy is all about.”

“My challenge to the fellows in this room, and all the other HR leaders,” he said, “is if we don’t do that, give back, then we’re not doing the most we can with this profession.”

From Tharp’s quiet but impassioned plea to the caliber and accomplishments of his six fellow Fellow inductees, Thursday’s dinner certainly underscored the fact that — at least in this circle — HR excellence is alive and well.

Limiting Your Human Capital Risk

After seeing invites to a number of previous events, I finally was able to carve out some time yesterday to get to Argyle’s Human Capital Leadership Forum in New York.

I was especially interested in hearing the first main speaker, Orlando Ashford, senior vice president of human resources at Marsh & McLennan Cos., who opened the conference with a talk on “Managing Human Capital Risk.” Considering MMC is in the risk-management business and the allegations of price-fixing that plagued the firm roughly six years ago (an $850 million settlement was eventually reached), Ashford seemed to select a topic that’s near and dear to MMC on at least a couple of fronts. (Ashford joined MMC in 2008, coming there from Coca-Cola.)

Unfortunately, Ashford didn’t have much to say specifically about MMC, but he did a fine job detailing some ways HR leaders can help businesses mitigate human capital risk, which he summarized as the ability (or inability) to “attract, develop and retain key personnel and to create an organization whose employees are optimized to create value for the business.”

Ashford shared several examples of human capital risk, but not surprisingly cited CEO succession as the most critical. (MCC has had three CEOs in the past six year, with its current CEO, Brian Duperreault, taking the helm in 2008.)

Succession is extremely important across the entire enterprise, he said, but has to start  with CEO succession. “Most boards agree that one of their most important roles is choosing the next CEO,” he said, “but, on average, boards spend less than two hours per year on CEO succession.”

To be sure, this is a process that’s owned and managed by the board. But as Ashford reminded conference attendees, it’s also one that frequently involves HR, beginning with putting in place processes that enable discussions around succession to happen.

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.

In Honor of HR Excellence, Humility and Class

Excellence in HR leadership was honored once again Thursday night at the 2010 HR Executive of the Year and Honor Roll Awards dinner in Chicago. The humility and class of the winners were also a large part of the fare.

Accepting his award as the 2010 HR Executive of the Year, Google Inc.’s vice president of people operations, Laszlo Bock, honored in return the people and culture of his company that has made his unique leadership possible and has turned Google’s HR function into a flagship for all HR practitioners to follow. “One of the nice things about the Google culture,” said Bock, “is it keeps you humble.” He jokingly referenced one colleague “who heard I was going to win this award, and she said, ‘For what?’ ”

Yet on a more serious note, Bock lauded his company for valuing freedom and transparency, “and giving people the knowledge that makes them free” — a poignant tribute from a man who, as a boy, fled with his ethnically Hungarian family from the despotic reign of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu to come to America.

“Fundamentally, everyone wants freedom and meaning in what they do, and I am humbly proud to work for a company that recognizes that,” he said.

The dinner, presented by Human Resource Executive(R) magazine and sponsored by Monster, also honored HR Honor Roll inductees Mark Fogel, vice president of human resources and administration for Leviton Manufacturing Co. Inc.; Julie Wood, chief people officer for Crowe Horwath; and Stephen R. Fussell, senior vice president of human resources for Abbott.

Each Honor Roll winner was equally eloquent in praising the HR teams that brought them to that podium. Fogel — recognized for making the HR function at Leviton more strategic and globally focused — likened his good fortune to football, where “some have to block, some are on special teams, yet me, I’m lucky enough to be the quarterback who gets the ball to the right people to carry it down to the end zone.”

Wood, honored for cutting millions in payroll costs while still implementing programs to support both employees and the business, talked about the passion “any leader of any team feels about what we do every day.”

“I feel my team truly does understand the importance of people strategies at our firm,” said Wood.

Fussell too — recognized for having the vision and guts to both streamline and implement programs that eventually saved Abbott $100 million — thanked the staff behind him.

“Any successful chief human resource officer worth his or her salt understands we’re simply a reflection of the visions and the talents of the team we work with,” he said. “Every day I’m reminded by the people I work with that [human resources] is truly honorable work.”