Category Archives: HR profession

Aon Hewitt Think Tank: Let’s Talk Leadership

Panelists discuss leadership trends at Aon Hewitt's Top Companies for Leaders Think Tank event. Photo courtesy of Frank Mari

Panelists discuss leadership trends at Aon Hewitt’s Top Companies for Leaders Think Tank event. Photo courtesy of Frank Mari

Each year, our “What’s Keeping HR Up at Night” survey asks HRE readers to share some of the challenges that keep them counting sheep in the wee hours.

We recently closed this year’s poll—the results of which you can find in our upcoming July/August print and digital editions. While the findings yielded some surprises— as they always do—HR’s biggest woes remain pretty much the same in 2015. When asked to identify the biggest HR challenges facing their organization today, the most common replies were “ensuring employees remain engaged and productive” (39 percent), “retaining key talent” (26 percent), and “developing leaders” (24 percent). These issues have comprised the top three challenges among our readership for three years running.

CHROs at some firms, however, are apparently sleeping more soundly than others, at least as far as leadership development is concerned.

Earlier this week, I had a chance to listen to HR leaders at a handful of organizations who excel in this area; so much so that they earned a spot on Aon Hewitt’s most recent Top Companies for Leaders list, which consists of 25 organizations singled out for their strength of leadership practices and culture, examples of leadership development on a global scale, alignment of business and leadership strategy, business performance and company reputation.

On Monday evening, representatives from 23 of these 25 companies converged on General Electric’s picturesque GE Crotonville campus in Ossining, N.Y. There, they would spend the next two days talking about some of the leadership development efforts that landed them on the guest list for “the party that everyone wants to attend,” said Pete Sanborn, the Atlanta-based global practice leader of Aon’s talent and organizational practice group, in kicking off Tuesday morning’s activities by individually acknowledging each of the Top Companies and the characteristics that set them apart.

One trait shared by these organizations is a knack for finding and nurturing potential leaders early on in their careers, and setting them on the leadership track.

As part of a Tuesday morning panel presentation, GE’s Peter Cavanaugh and Belinda Tang from IBM Corp. discussed approaches to identifying and assessing young, would-be leaders. (GE and IBM hold the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on Aon’s latest Top Companies for Leaders list, respectively.)

Entry-level leadership initiatives are certainly “not a new concept,” said Cavanaugh, global learning and operations leader at GE.

Such programs, however, “provide a framework for taking new approaches to developing leaders,” he said.

GE, for example, selects certain entry-level employees to work on high-level project groups, providing ideas and input, and, moreover, getting a taste of what it’s like to lead a team.

At IBM, the Armonk, N.Y.-based technology company has introduced Consulting by Degrees, a developmental program designed to groom top, entry-level business consultants to one day fill leadership positions.

Within the program, these young IBMers “are operating like senior consultants,” said Tang, vice president of global leadership development at IBM.

Participants build core skills over a two-year period, performing work for clients and returning to the classroom every six months to practice speaking with clients and “doing the things that make a great consultant” before deciding the area in which they want to specialize, she said.

Getting broad leadership experience under their belts in their early days at IBM helps these high-potential consultants find a niche within the organization—regardless of their pedigree, Tang told the audience.

“We hire the best athlete,” she said. “We’ve had dance majors who have flourished with us.”

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Towers Watson and Willis Announce Merger

According to this press release sent out early this morning, Willis Group Holdings and Towers Watson just announced the signing of a definitive merger agreement under which the companies will combine in an all-stock merger of equals transaction.

According to the release, the implied equity value of the transaction is approximately $18 billion. The transaction has been unanimously approved by the Board of Directors of each company. The combined company will be named Willis Towers Watson.

John Haley, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Towers Watson, said, “This is a tremendous combination of two highly compatible companies with complementary strategic priorities, product and service offerings, and geographies that we expect to deliver significant value for both sets of shareholders.”

Haley says he also expects to “realize substantial efficiencies by bringing our two organizations together, and have a well-defined integration roadmap to capitalize on identified savings, ensure the strongest combination of talent and practices, and realize the full benefits of the merger for all of our stakeholders.”

There’s no word yet on how — or even if — the two organizations will combine their robust human-capital management practices, but we’ll keep you posted here  when we learn the answer to that one. (Calls to both sides for comment have yet to be returned.)

Mark Stelzner, founder and managing principal of Inflexion Advisors in San Francisco, shared his thoughts on the merger with HRE Daily earlier today.

Towers Watson and Willis, he said, complement each other in many ways, creating potential for stronger offerings for the newly combined organization and, by extension, its clientele.

“Like any merger of this size and complexity,” he said, “clarity of purpose, organizational restructuring, operational rationalization and cohesive external messaging are going to materially impact the success or failure of the newly combined entity.”

Stelzner’s advice to existing clients of both organizations: Take the time to weigh whether the emerging philosophy, strategy, services and product offerings are strategically aligned with their current and future needs.

Meanwhile, Liz DeVito, an associate director at Kennedy Consulting Research & Advisory in Keene, N.H., who specializes in HR consulting and covers the benefits, human capital, outsourcing and investments markets, says the merger’s timing may put TW in a precarious position from a talent perspective.

“TW is now vulnerable to client and talent poaching,” she says. “The deal has six months to close, which is a long time, and I’m sure the competition is drawing up campaigns to poach consulting clients from TW, especially in the areas of rewards, talent management and HR transformation.”

DeVito says she was at Mercer when Aon bought Hewitt and Towers Perrin & Watson Wyatt merged, “so I speak from experience. The competition will be able to exploit client anxiety over the next few months.”

She says the same goes for consulting talent as well.

“I’m sure Willis-TW leadership will come up with an attractive stock options program to retain key talent, but there will be some leakage,” she says.

What I have noticed in my research over the past six months is that the HR consultancies are poaching talent right and left. I’ve never seen it so active in my three years of covering this market.

They’re poaching from the Big Four human capital consulting practices and strategy firms, as well as each other, she says.

“They’re looking for consultants with very specific capabilities as they build out next generation service offerings in talent management,  HR technology advisory, HR analytics (particularly strategic workforce planning), HR transformation, organization design, and change management.  And these are all areas where TW has very strong capabilities and talent.

“I’m sure there were a lot of phone calls today from TW consultants to the competition,” DeVito says.

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Know When the ADA Trumps Your Policy

101390464 -- gavel and law booksBeware your urge to discipline.

That seems the best mantra for HR leaders in this new ADA day.

Two reminders of the mounting murkiness when it comes to drawing the line between your work policies and the amended Americans with Disabilities Act floated my way recently in this piece from the Society for Human Resource Management (registration required) and this from The Growth Co., headed up by Lynne Curry.

The SHRM piece highlights a $180,000 settlement Walgreens agreed to pay a cashier who the company fired after she took and ate a $1.39 bag of potato chips without paying for it. Turns out the cashier, Josefina Hernandez, was a diabetic who needed the chips during a hypoglycemic attack to stabilize her blood sugar.

Also turns out, in this age of heightened disability sensitivity and the need for employers to be sure they’re engaging in reasonable-accommodation discussions and the interactive process, Walgreens apparently did everything wrong. (Requests for comments from Walgreens have not been returned.)

According to the piece, when a loss-control supervisor asked for an explanation after finding the empty potato-chip bag under the counter at her cash register, Hernandez wrote in a statement, “My sugar low, not have time.” The supervisor didn’t know what she meant, so she was fired for violating Walgreens’ anti-grazing policy. On the contrary, the courts found, it was Walgreens that was in violation, of the ADA.

Had HR been involved throughout the investigation and pre-termination process, Walgreens would probably have been $180,000 richer. As Robin Shea, an attorney with Constangy, Brooks & Smith, says in the piece, “HR people are generally in the best position” to determine whether workplace discipline and/or termination is an overreaction.

“If it appears that the employer is using a nuclear weapon to kill a gnat, then maybe termination is not the answer,” she tells SHRM.

The other piece concerns alcohol. In it, Curry reminds us that, as much as an employee’s alcohol dependence brings everyone down — employee, co-workers and employer — and although you can establish policies prohibiting alcohol consumption at work or prior to work events, an alcoholic does have rights.

For the record, here’s Curry on that:

“According to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an alcoholic who can perform the essential functions of his [or her] job may have a disability requiring employer accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The courts are fairly unanimous in ruling that an employer needs to grant at least one leave of absence so an alcohol-dependent employee can participate in a treatment program if the employee hasn’t misused alcohol on the job or engaged in misconduct.

“For example, in the landmark Schmidt v. Safeway Inc. case, the court ruled that the ADA may require an employer to provide a leave of absence to an employee with an alcohol problem if it is likely that the employee would be able safely to perform his duties following treatment. With an alcohol-dependent manager, a leave of absence for outpatient or inpatient treatment may be the logical accommodation.”

At the same time, she writes:

” … alcoholism doesn’t immunize managers or employees from the consequences of their actions. Employers can hold alcohol-dependent managers and employees to the same performance and behavior standards as non-alcoholics and discipline or discharge an alcoholic whose alcohol use adversely affects his job performance. As an example, if an alcoholic employee often arrives late to work or makes frequent errors, the employer can take disciplinary action based on the poor job performance and conduct. Furthermore, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ADA does not protect an employee from termination for alcohol-related absenteeism when reliable attendance at scheduled shifts is an essential job function.”

Where does this leave us? I guess with a simple “Be Careful.” And in today’s increasingly employee-supportive legal landscape, “Consult Counsel,” too.

As clear-cut as it may seem that certain activities — such as stealing company property and alcohol abuse — have no legitimate place in your organization, except as forbidden zones in your employee handbook, just remember to beware the law, where black-and-white mandates are far outweighed by shades of gray.

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HBR: It’s Time to ‘Blow Up’ HR

powIt’s summer blockbuster season, with actors like Chris Pratt and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson saving us from rampaging dinosaurs and earthquakes with the aid of tons of CGI special effects (and plenty of clunky dialogue), so perhaps it’s appropriate that the Harvard Business Review (subscription required) has emblazoned the cover of  its July/August issue with an icon of a ball of dynamite and the provocative headline “It’s Time to BLOW UP HR And Build Something New.”

The three related articles inside aren’t quite as explosive as the cover suggests, but  thought-provoking nonetheless. The first piece is by none other than our own Talent Management columnist, Wharton professor Peter Cappelli, who writes that business leaders tend to see HR as a valuable asset during talent crunches but as a mere nuisance when times are better. In order to get out of this rut, HR leaders need to “set the agenda,” Cappelli writes. Rather than waiting for the CEO to tell them what to do, HR leaders must strongly advocate for excellence in every process the function touches (or should touch), from layoffs to recruiting to performance management, he writes.

HR leaders also need to either deepen their own knowledge of analytics or partner with those who are experts in order to “help companies make sense of all their employee data and get the most from their human capital,” Cappelli writes. Finally, HR leaders must help their organization’s leadership “take the long view,” he writes:

How can HR bring the long view back into organizations? By reconciling it with the immediate pressures that businesses face, which those one-at-a-time projects are designed to address. … HR should also keep stepping back to study those initiatives in the aggregate: What emerging needs do they point to? How do those needs map to the organization’s talent pipeline and practices? Which capabilities need shoring up?  … That’s the kind of analytic counsel the “new HR” should provide.

The next piece is by none other than Ram Charan, the management consultant who stirred up controversy last year with an HBR piece in which he argued for splitting HR in two. Well, he’s back and this time he’s got company in the form of co-authors Dominic Barton, global managing director of McKinsey & Co., and Dennis Carey, the vice chairman of Korn Ferry. In “People Before Strategy,” they argue for a new triumvirate at the top of organizations comprised of the CEO, the CFO and the CHRO. This three-person team will form a “core decision-making body” for the organization in which the CHRO will be the trusted advisor in all things people-related. “Forming such a team is the single best way to link financial numbers with the people who produce them,” they write.

The final piece is a deep dive into the work done by the HR department at tech firm Juniper Networks to make itself a vital part of that business. Juniper Networks has had to make a number of adjustments to its business over the years, write co-authors Jon Boudreau (of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business) and Steven Rice (former EVP of HR at Juniper Networks and now CHRO at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), and HR has been key in those transformations. Rather than reaching for the latest “bright shiny objects,” as too many HR leaders do, they write, the JN team worked hard to understand the big picture of the company’s business, identify the most valuable ideas, apply them in context and carefully manage their impact.

The work the HR team did included working closely with business leaders to reorganize the organization to make its operating model more simple, do away with cumbersome processes that were adding little value (including a forced-ranking system that was hurting morale) and finding ways to increase collaboration and innovation.

Developing a reputation as an innovative HR organization “requires walking a fine line,” the authors write. Ideas for innovation often arise from popular talks and articles, yet if you “embrace too many of these … or apply them too superficially,” you’ll develop a reputation for fad surfing, they write. Instead, “dig beneath the surface to the fundamental scientific research and insights, and you can set the stage for true impact.”

All in all, a worthwhile series of articles — complete with the bizarre yet compelling artwork the HBR has been featuring in recent years.

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Female Managers: Change Agents or Just Cogs?

Do female managers act in ways that narrow, preserve or even widen the gender wage gap?

That was the essential question for Sameer B. Srivastava, an assistant professor,  and Eliot L. Sherman, a doctoral student, both of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and their answer might just surprise you:

“We find conditional support for the cogs-in-the-machine perspective: In the subsample of high performing supervisors and low performing employees, women who switched from a male to a female supervisor had a lower salary in the following year than men who made the same switch. “

Their research, “Agents of Change or Cogs in the Machine? Re-examining the Influence of Female Managers on the Gender Wage Gap,” is featured in the latest issue of the American Journal of Sociology.

The study examined how the salaries of both male and female employees changed when they switched from reporting to a male manager to reporting to a female manager (and vice versa).

Previous research suggested that female managers can be “agents of change” who act in ways that reduce the gender wage gap, but this study didn’t support that supposition.

In fact, a subset of switchers—low-performing women who switched to working for a high-performing female supervisor—fared worse financially, not better, than their male colleagues making a comparable switch.

“A high-performing woman might, for example, worry about being devalued because of her association with a low-performing female subordinate,” says Srivastava. “This effect can occur when people see themselves as part of a valuable group but worry that others won’t see them that way. This might lead her to undervalue the subordinate’s contributions.”

Srivastava and Sherman analyzed 1,701 full-time employees in the U.S. who worked for a leading firm in the information services industry between 2005 and 2009. The researchers had access to complete employment data: salary, reporting structure, annual performance evaluations, and demographic information. For example, the average age of employees was 43; average length of employment was 8.85 years; and merit increases ranged from 3 percent to 5 percent.

The authors conclude that it may be wishful thinking to assume that the gender wage gap will automatically close as more and more women take management positions.

For fundamental change to actually occur, the authors say, the increasing number of women managers must be matched by an organizational culture that is committed to gender equality, fostering initiatives to reduce tokenism, and encouraging women to positively identify with their gender in the workplace.

So, HR leaders, I pose this question to you: Is your organization training its female managers to become agents of change or just cogs in the machine?

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Unions Helped, But Now Hurt, Cannabis Industry

Yea yea … last week it was drug abuse and addiction. This week it’s marijuana. Trust me, I’ve taken my share of ribbing around the halls 173779091--cannabisof HRE for having seemed to take on the “drug beat.” (Though Mark McGraw’s post on Wednesday about the implications of the Colorado Supreme Court’s Coats v. Dish Network decision may have spared me a few ribs.)

For the record, I’m not obsessed. Nor am I high. (Or funny, I’m sure.) Just hugely intrigued by the growing problem of drugs at work, and the almost explosive ascension of marijuana as a legalized “mind-alterer” and legitimate business. (Here are two recent posts — one late last year, one early this year — and a news analysis in which I’ve examined this phenomenon.)

It’s the business side of marijuana I find most intriguing in this recent piece on the Marijuana Business Daily site. Seems the very union that has nudged this burgeoning cannabis industry along, “helping to pass legislation and regulations that benefit business owners and the movement as a whole,” as the story puts it, is now presenting “canna-business” owners with some challenges.

Actually, the story refers to unions, plural, but the leader of the charge to organize thousands of businesses — dispensaries, infused products companies, ancillary firms and cultivation sites in numerous states including California, Colorado and Minnesota — and to represent even more thousands of employees, from budtenders to growers, is the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, one of the largest labor organizations in the country. UFCW even has a marijuana division along with a parallel website dedicated to promoting unionized marijuana businesses.

Bear in mind, these businesses sprouting up faster than the plants themselves are being run — for the most part — by people who are new to business. Now they’re finding they have to negotiate collective-bargaining agreements, and “that can boost costs, increase red tape, lead to legal issues and create new headaches,” the story says.

Granted, there are positives, too.

As the MBD story notes, in addition to politically partnering with the industry and helping to muscle pro-marijuana legislation through in more than one state, the UFCW’s “experience in moderating employer-employee disputes is an asset, along with systems the union usually proposes to standardize employee reprimands and evaluations.”

Still, it will be interesting — “intriguing,” to quote this very post — to see just how these cannabis start-ups deal with the challenges of working with labor unions.

As industry consultant Todd Mitchem tells MBD:

“When someone’s pro-union in the industry, my question is, ‘What’s the motivation?’ [According to him, there’s not a lot of need in cannabis companies for the traditional watchdog role that unions have played in other industries, such as mining or automotive manufacturing.]

“By and large, this industry wants to play by the rules. You run into a massive divisiveness between the employer and the employee [once unions become part of the equation]. To overlay a union structure onto a fragile industry … is really short-sighted and, in my opinion, risky.”

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Are ‘Significant’ Changes to Comp Disclosures Coming?

If you believe the good folks over at Towers Watson, then the answer to that question in the headline is a yes. (A qualified yes, but, a yes nonetheless.)

One in three U.S. public companies expect to significantly change their approach to disclosing information on how they reward their executives in the wake of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposed pay-for-performance disclosure rules, according to a poll by global professional services company Towers Watson.

The poll also found that a majority of companies are likely to provide additional information and analysis that go beyond what the proposed rules will require.

In case you forgot, back in April, the SEC issued proposed rules to implement the Dodd-Frank provisions that require companies to disclose the relationship between executive compensation actually paid and the company’s financial performance.

The proposal would require company proxy statements to include a pay-versus-performance table and an explanation of the relationship between pay and performance. The Towers Watson poll of 453 corporate executives and compensation professionals was conducted June 4, during Towers Watson’s national webcast on the proposed rules.

According to the poll, 33 percent of respondents expect the pay-for-performance disclosure rule will fundamentally change their approach to executive pay disclosure. More than half of the respondents (55 percent) expect to do more than the minimum that would be required under the SEC proposal: 37 percent plan to disclose additional information and analyses to help tell their pay-for-performance story, while 18 percent will perform and may disclose additional pay-for-performance analyses.

“With the SEC rules on the table, companies can carefully evaluate how they tell their pay-for-performance story to shareholders,” said Steve Kline, a director in Towers Watson’s Executive Compensation consulting group and the practice’s pay-for-performance analytics team leader. “The fact that many companies expect to provide more information than the rules require is encouraging, although for many, the real challenge will be deciding the best way to present this information in their proxies.”

The poll also found that nearly half of the companies (46%) have been waiting for the rules to be issued and now expect to make some changes to their Compensation Discussion and Analysis (CD&A), while one in 10 view this as an opportunity to revamp their CD&A significantly. Additionally, roughly half of respondents (51%) anticipate using the same peer group for their pay-versus-performance disclosure that they use for benchmarking their total compensation.

“While not surprising given the language of the Dodd-Frank requirement, the fact that the SEC proposal defines performance in this disclosure as total shareholder return will put even more shareholder focus on this measure,” Kline said. “However, TSR is only a part of the pay-for-performance story. Companies will want to think carefully about the broader performance picture and how best to help shareholders understand how the pay programs support long-term value creation.”

Indeed, HR leaders will need to be a big part of that thought process around the “broader performance picture” in order to set the right framework to ensure compliance with these proposed changes.

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Clearing the Haze Around Medical Marijuana

smokeEarlier this week, the Colorado Supreme Court handed down a ruling that one attorney says “may serve as a roadmap” for other courts—and employers—navigating the gray areas surrounding medical marijuana laws.

On Monday, the state high court’s 6-0 decision in Coats v. Dish Network determined that an organization can terminate an employee for using medical marijuana, even if said marijuana use occurs while off-duty.

Court documents indicate that former Dish Network employee Brandon Coats has been confined to a wheelchair since he was a teenager, as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident. Court records indicate that Coats registered for and obtained a state-issued license to use medical marijuana in 2009, as a way to treat leg spasms brought on by his quadriplegia.

On June 7, 2010, however, Coats was fired from his job as a telephone customer service representative with the Dish Network, after testing positive for tetrahydrocannabinol—a component of medical marijuana—the previous month.

At the time, Coats informed the company that he was a registered medical marijuana patient, and planned to continue using medical marijuana, according to court records. After being fired for violating the organization’s drug policy, Coats filed a wrongful termination claim against Dish, alleging the company was prohibited from firing an employee based on his or her engagement in “lawful activities” off the employer’s premises during non-working hours. Coats argued that his off-the-clock and away-from-work medical marijuana use was lawful under the Medical Marijuana Amendment and its implementing legislation.

In affirming lower court rulings, the Colorado Supreme Court found the term “lawful” applies only to those activities that are legal under both state and federal law. Ergo, employees engaging in activities such as medical marijuana use that are permitted by state law but forbidden by federal law are not protected by the statute.

While not binding in other states, this Colorado ruling could hold lessons for employers elsewhere, John DiNome, a Philadelphia-based labor and employment attorney and partner at Reed Smith, told HRE this week.

“The short takeaway,” says DiNome, “is that Federal law trumps state law. The Federal Controlled Substance Act lists marijuana as an illegal substance. As such, use of marijuana is not a lawful activity in Colorado.”

For employers, “this seems to confirm that, if they choose to have a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy with respect to drug use, they are on fairly solid ground in doing so.”

As such, “even if an employer is operating in a state where marijuana is either legal for medical or recreational use, the employer may ban use of illegal drugs and take the position that marijuana is not legal at the federal level,” he says.

DiNome notes that, while the Justice Department has said it will not prosecute certain marijuana use offenses, “the fact remains that Congress has not addressed the topic, and marijuana is still an illegal substance under federal law.”

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Drug Use, Addiction at Work Continues to Rise

The use and abuse of drugs in the workplace isn’t slowing down at all. Latest reports indicate the percentage of American workers 73267092 -- drugs at worktesting positive for illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines has increased for the second consecutive year in the general U.S. workforce — putting an end to the decades-long decline.

Indeed, this article references a government report that finds nearly one in 10 full-time workers now has a substance-abuse problem. And the latest Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index shows an upsurge in the positivity rate of drug tests by 9.3 percent — from 4.3 percent in 2013 to 4.7 percent in 2014. (Here is an additional link to the actual tables/stats within the index.)

“American workers are increasingly testing positive for workforce drug use across almost all workforce categories and drug-test-specimen types,” says Dr. Barry Sample, director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions. “In the past, we have noted increases in prescription-drug-positivity rates, but now, it seems, illicit drug use may be on the rise, according to our data.

“These findings,” says Sample, “are especially concerning because they suggest that the recent focus on illicit marijuana use may be too narrow, and that other dangerous drugs are potentially making a comeback.”

Dr. Robert DuPont, former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, says this latest analysis by Quest not only “suggests that illicit drug use among workers is increasing broadly for the first time in years in the United States [but that] public and private employers might want to consider revisiting existing substance-abuse policies to ensure that they are taking the necessary precautions to protect their workplace, employees and businesses.”

Equally concerning is the fact that abuse of legal drugs is also going up, as this news analysis by Andrew McIlvaine addresses. Drugs taken for attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder — such as Ritalin, Adderall and Focalin — are now being abused by employees looking to add some sparks to concentration and alertness.

Will Wesch, Novus Medical Detox Center director of admissions, says many organizations are now updating their language in drug-free workplace policies to include potential impairment from a prescription drug. He urges HR practitioners to coach managers in how to engage employees suspected of such abuse and offer reasonable accommodations, up to or including modifying job responsibilities should an employee inform him or her that the medication he or she is on may impair job performance.

As for specific policies, concerns and approaches HR leaders should be considering right now when it comes to all workplace drug use, DuPont has this to offer:

“First, look at the big picture in workplace drug testing. There is much more to workplace drug testing than just testing for marijuana. An effective drug-free program includes testing for many widely used drugs [including prescription]. Second, consider the legal complications of workplace marijuana testing.  For example, several states allowing medical use of marijuana are now requiring an employer to show impairment before taking action against an applicant or employee who tests positive for marijuana. These provisions pose a significant limitation to workplace drug-testing programs for marijuana.

“I also recommend you provide clarity in your drug-free policies. … Every employee must be informed of the company’s substance-use policy and the reasons for the policy. Drug testing needs to be described in a written statement of the employer’s substance-use policy. This policy statement must clearly lay out the elements of the drug-testing program, including who is subject to testing, how testing is administered, how positive results are confirmed and what the consequences are for positive drug-test results. Supervisors and human resource staff should be trained in the employers’ substance-use policies and procedures, and be able to explain them to all employees and job applicants.”

And, again, when it comes to marijuana, DuPont says, “pay close attention to the specifics of state and local law,” obviously and especially in those states where it’s medically or recreationally legal. And make sure your drug-testing policies are being reviewed by attorneys “who are familiar with federal, state and local laws … particularly related to marijuana.”

Yes, folks, it’s a whole new world when it comes to drugs at work. DuPont says it’s time to consider “going beyond the urine cup and … the typical five-drug tests” and embrace the bigger picture now upon us.

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Do HR Leaders Have What It Takes?

This past Tuesday, I had a chance to hear Bill Conaty, HRE’s 2004 HR Executive of the Year, share his insights on how chief HR officers can be more effective leaders during the National Academy of Human Resources’ 13th CHRO Academy, held at the Yale Club in New York.

Bill Conaty, speaking in New York on Tuesday. (Photo by Robert Knowles)

Bill Conaty, speaking in New York on Tuesday. (Photo by Robert Knowles)

Conaty addressed his remarks to about 30 CHROs attending a dinner at the two-day, invitation-only event, which is held annually and specifically focuses on the needs of CHROs who are new to the job, have moved to a new employer or have a new CEO. As far as I know, there’s nothing comparable in the field today. (The faculty for CHRO Academy primarily consists of NAHR Fellows.)

A Distinguished Fellow in the NAHR, Conaty retired as senior vice president of HR at General Electric in 2007, but still remains quite active in the field and advises business leaders on a wide range of HR issues through his firm Conaty Consulting LLC.

In his talk, he touched on a number of important topics—but for purposes of this post, I’d like to specifically focus on his comments about what it takes to be a strong HR leader today. His list was based on the specs he had for his own job while at GE and reflected many of the qualities he was looking for in his own successor, though he was quick to point out that he didn’t necessarily fulfill each and every one of the items himself. Whether you’re new to the CHRO role or not, perhaps they might prove helpful in elevating your own game.

First on Conaty’s list: Ensuring that there’s a good fit between the CHRO, CEO and CFO posts. Conaty shared how CEO Jeff Immelt, one year, did something at GE that hadn’t been done before: He asked to take a close look at the CEO, CFO and HR leader in each GE business. “What he was looking for was styles and fits,” he said, “If you had a CEO who was a hammer, a CFO who was a hammer and an HR leader who was a hammer, employees had no chance.”

Stressing the importance of having the “right balance,” Conaty said the exercise resulted in “changing a couple people out.”

Also on Conaty’s list is being able to earn the trust and confidence of the entire senior leadership team. “I’ve heard a lot HR folks say ‘I have a phenomenal relationship with my CEO—I’m in,’ ” he said. “I’ll tell you how long you’re in for: about 18 months. And then you’re going to get sucker punched and you’ll never know where it came from. The CEO is going to say, ‘Bill, I love you but no one else does—so we’re going to need to wrap this game up.’”

As the CHRO, Conaty said, “you have to work the whole 360.”

Other qualities Conaty cited included being a “talent magnet,” a great assessor of talent, someone who is able to operate in a global marketplace, a clear thinker and a change leader.

CHROs, he said, also need to have the ability to think through business issues and a capacity for complex problem solving. “You’ll still get some of the easy treadmill ones,” he said, “but you’re probably also going to confront things you haven’t confronted before … .”

His list also includes attributes such as operational savvy, decisiveness and the courage to make the tough calls, along with the need to be a continuous learner. You don’t want a person in the role who says he or she’s “ ‘been there, done that. I’ve seen it all,’ ” he said. “I never saw it all in my 40 years at GE. It was always a new day.”

At the end of the day, Conaty said, your job is to take [issues] off the CEO’s desk, not add to the pile. Conaty said he made it a point to never add to CEO Jack Welch’s pile. (I’m assuming the same was true when Immelt took the reigns.) If an issue arose that he felt Welch needed to be aware of, he said, he would bring it to his attention, but then tell him that he would take care of it and, if he couldn’t, would then get back to him. If you follow this approach, Conaty said, you’ll be “a welcomed face when you stick your head through that door.”

And who wouldn’t want to be a welcomed face when he or she entered the CEO’s office, right?

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