Category Archives: HR profession

TMBC Welcomes Averbook, Secures Funding

Jason AverbookJason Averbook has designs on reinventing workplace performance and employee engagement.

Earlier today, Averbook—recognized HR technology expert and former CEO of Knowledge Infusion—was announced as the new chief executive officer of The Marcus Buckingham Co. In the new role, Averbook plans to help the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based provider of leadership development training and tools “create an organization uniquely positioned to turn the world of talent and leadership inside out,” according to a statement announcing Averbook’s arrival at the company.

Averbook, who officially took over as CEO at TMBC on Oct. 31, won’t be alone in this task, of course. The same press release highlighted TMBC’s completion of a $5 million Series A fundraising round led by SurveyMonkey, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based online survey development company.

With Averbook at the helm and this funding secured, TMBC has lofty goals, according to founder Marcus Buckingham, a best-selling author, researcher, motivational speaker and business consultant.

The firm aims to “fix what is broken in the process of talent performance assessment and management,” says Buckingham. “TMBC’s vision is to deliver companywide and individual team leader visibility into employee strengths, engagement and performance; and its content aims to help the team leader build on the strengths of each employee.”

At the moment, “no such tools—designed explicitly for team leaders—exist,” according to Buckingham, who says the funds provided by SurveyMonkey will go toward “serving this pivotal but unserved market segment of true talent engagement, performance and real-time progress tracking.

On the eve of the announcement of his arrival at TMBC, Averbook echoed those sentiments in a chat with Human Resource Executive, during which he discussed the role of the company’s StandOut integrated performance and engagement platform in rethinking how workplace performance is measured and improved. The first round of funding from SurveyMonkey, he says, is tied to enhancements to StandOut, a strengths-based performance management system that includes a strengths profile for employees, pulse surveys designed to gauge employee-engagement levels and trends in real time, and talent reviews geared toward workforce planning using local talent data.

“The challenge has always been getting [the right] technology into the hands of team leaders,” says Averbook. “We want to [enable] real-time team building and measure engagement at a team level. We want to look at employee performance and engagement in a new way.”

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Protecting Black Friday Workers

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration wrote to the nation’s largest retailers this week reminding them about the potential hazards presented by the upcoming Black Friday sales events and offering recommendations on how to keep their employees safe during the shopping blitz, according to The Hill.

The agency is recommending the nation’s largest retailers take precautions via a crowd-management plan on Black Friday (and other busy shopping days) to protect workers from being trampled by customers:

“During the hectic shopping season, retail workers should not be put at risk of injury of death,” says David Michaels, assistant labor secretary. “OSHA urges retailers to take the time to adopt a crowd-management plan and follow a few simple guidelines to prevent unnecessary harm to retail employees.”

The Black Friday safety measures, the Hill reports, come in response to dangerous workplace hazards at retail stores that have increased in recent years as customers push and shove through packed crowds to shop for Christmas gifts.

According to OSHA, one retailer worker was even trampled to death by customers who were rushing through the store in 2008.

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EEOC Adds Pregnancy Cases to Controversy

Just an update for those who are following the recent pregnancy-discrimination guidelines issued by the Equal Employment 490128943 -- pregnanct employeeOpportunity Commission — despite the controversy some think the agency created amidst the pending U.S. Supreme Court consideration of Young v. United Parcel Inc.:  The EEOC isn’t waiting on the high court before filing or settling pregnancy-discrimination lawsuits either.

According to the EEOC’s website, press releases were issued on nine lawsuits filed and two settlements since the agency issued its updated Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues on July 14.

Here, for your information — should you choose to venture into this much reading — are all the cases the EEOC has filed and listed on its website against employers accused of pregnancy discrimination since the guidance was issued, from most recent to oldest:

All the suits in question accuse the businesses of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

“I am surprised that this issue continues to be a recurring theme in the workplace in this day and age,” says Robert Canino, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Dallas District Office, which filed the Pharmacy Solutions lawsuit. “We hope that by continuing to increase public awareness through our law-enforcement efforts, we will see more of an awakening by some companies about the right of a woman to hold on to her job and to earn a living when she is expecting and during her maternity leave.”

But critics of the EEOC’s assertiveness and timing in issuing its guidance — which was the focus of this HREOnline news analysis I wrote back in July — say adding cases to the pregnancy-discrimination docket only clutters an already-cluttered legal landscape.

“With its new pregnancy enforcement guidance still in its first trimester, the EEOC has set about vigorously pursuing companies that do not comply,” thereby filling the courts with more to work on as the Supreme Court hearing has yet to be scheduled,  says Philip Voluck, managing partner in the Blue Bell, Pa., office of Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck.

“Since the EEOC first gave birth [pun intended, no doubt] to the guidance in July, it has inserted itself as plaintiff in at least nine federal-court lawsuits against employers [allegedly] discriminating against pregnant employees,” he says. “Each decision is accompanied by rather strong remarks from the [agency], which state quite clearly its intent to induce an ‘awakening’ by employers and erase ‘archaic prejudices’ still held by companies toward pregnant women.”

The issue up for consideration in Young v. UPS is whether an employer — in this case, UPS —  is required under the PDA to offer light-duty work to pregnant employees with restrictions, even if light-duty work is available for certain categories of nonpregnant employees.

“This is precisely the issue the Supreme Court has yet to take up,” Voluck told me back in July, “and that decision won’t come out until next year some time. “I honestly have no idea why this was issued at this time,” he said then. “A power move? I have no idea.

“It’s like the Perfect Storm, these two entities colliding,” he said, referring to the 2000 movie, “though my crystal ball tells me there’s no doubt the Supreme Court will expand the rights of pregnant women.”

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Good News: I Quit

According to a new Reuters analysis of the latest monthly U.S. Labor Department labor data, Americans quit their jobs in September at the fastest rate in over six years, to the tune of 2 percent of U.S. job-holders, or about 2.8 million workers.

And while it may seem counterintuitive to think that a rise in the quits rate — or the number of people quitting their job in a given month — would actually be a good sign for the overall health of the economy, such is the case in the murky world of economic indicators.

But why is it a good thing when more people quit their jobs? Two reasons, according to Reuters:

One, the quits rate fell during the  recession and has been slower to recover than other labor market indicators because workers were hesitant to make any job changes in uncertain times.

Some analysts, the Reuters piece notes, believe this has helped keep wage gains stagnant even as the jobless rate has fallen because employers don’t have to raise wages as much to retain talent when there is less employee turnover.

Second, the report notes Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has signaled the quits rate as an indicator she is following on her “dashboard” for assessing progress in the labor market’s recovery.

“It’s definitely good for wages,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank. “Also, the chair of the Federal Reserve is looking at it, and if she’s looking at it, we have to as well.”

So if you happen to notice a rise in the quit rate of your own organization, you can either take solace in knowing it’s contributing to the overall health of the economy, or else reevaluate your compensation and retention programs to ensure your best talent doesn’t float out the door on the rising tide of the economy.

Just like with economic indicators, it’s all in how you look at it.

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Who’s Leading the Way?

leadingIdentifying what makes for a great leader isn’t an exact science. But, each year since 2001, Aon Hewitt has done its best to pinpoint the traits shared by the best business leaders—and the companies that excel in cultivating them.

The Lincolnshire, Ill.-based consultancy recently unveiled its 2014 Global Aon Hewitt Top Companies for Leaders list, a group of 25 organizations selected and ranked by a panel of independent judges, including experts from Wharton School of Business, the Indian School of Business, PUC Minas and Ivey School of Business.

The panel relied on a number of criteria, including strength of leadership practices and culture, examples of leader development on a global scale, alignment of business and leadership strategy, business performance and company reputation to compile the list, headed by GE, IBM, Hindustan Unilever Limited, General Mills Inc. and ICICI Bank.

What got them there?

According to Aon Hewitt’s analysis, the top companies for leaders shared five key characteristics in their approach to leadership:

  • Assessment. Top companies assess the whole leader early in their careers, evaluating leaders’ experiences, competencies, values and organizational fit, which helps organizations “understand the unique needs of their talent pipeline to fuel the right development solutions that move people forward faster,” according to Aon Hewitt.
  • Awareness. These organizations have leaders who demonstrate tremendous self-awareness by understanding their personal strengths and weaknesses, and using this information to become more effective leaders.
  • Resilience. Those atop the 2014 list build resilience in their leaders by creating inclusive cultures “where multiple perspectives and ideas are expected and fostered to help the organization meet continued business challenges.”
  • Engaging leadership. Leading firms focus on identifying and building engaging leaders who “are stabilizers, demonstrate versatility and stay connected to people and events inside and outside their organization.
  • Sustainability. Top companies for leaders also concentrate on building talent programs “nimble enough to respond quickly to the market demands, yet sustainable [enough] to deliver superior business outcomes.”

This year’s top companies have shown a knack for nurturing talent in an ever-more competitive marketplace, says Michael Useem, professor of management and director of the Leadership Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, in a statement.

The Top 25 firms are “especially notable for the detailed tracking and comprehensive building of their talent pipelines, with special emphasis on strategic thinking, broad engagement and personal resilience—all increasingly critical given the companies’ changing and complex markets,” says Useem, who also describes “the direct personal involvement of senior managers and even company directors in their leadership programs” at top companies as “striking.”

What it takes to be “striking” in terms of leadership has changed greatly in the 14 years Aon Hewitt has compiled its leader list, and “what was exceptional [just] two or three years ago … has now become table stakes for top organizations,” adds Lorraine Stomski, a partner and head of Aon Hewitt’s leadership consulting practice.

“Those companies that rest on their laurels and rely on practices that have previously brought them success will no longer thrive like top companies do,” says Stomski. “Change and innovation are a must.”

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Breathless at Work

It’s sometimes called “the hidden disease,” and the initials it goes by don’t help: COPD does not, in fact, stand for “Colorado Police Department,” joked COPD Foundation president and Co-Founder John Walsh during the opening day of the 19th Annual Conference of the National Business Group on Health yesterday in Washington. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease isn’t remotely funny — more than 24 million Americans are afflicted with it, and its symptoms can make the daily business of living rather hellish.

“Imagine trying to breathe through a cocktail straw, all day, every day,” said Walsh, who has a genetic form of the disease himself. “It can make tasks like climbing a flight of stairs feel impossible.”

COPD is actually an umbrella term for a number of illnesses that can wreak havoc on the lungs, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and some forms of asthma. Of the 24 million Americans who have it, nearly half aren’t aware that they actually have it — they tend to pass off the symptoms (chronic breathlessness, tightness in the chest, frequent colds) as mere signs of aging, said Walsh. About 70 percent of them are under the age of 65 and many are still working, he said.

Employers have a vested interest in both raising awareness of the disease and encouraging their employees to get screened for it and seek treatment if they have it, said Walsh. Untreated COPD results in frequent absences, presenteeism and diminished productivity — COPD typically results in co-morbidities such as anxiety and depression, he said. It’s also the second-leading cause of disability in the United States and extracts more than $32 billion from the country annually in healthcare costs alone, he added.

Although chronic smoking is a leading cause of COPD, factors such as industrial dust, in-door and outdoor air pollution and genetics also play a role, said Walsh. Even smokers who’ve long since kicked the habit are still at elevated risk, he said. “Smoking cessation programs are great, but even five to 10 years after quitting, these folks are still susceptible to COPD,” he said.

The COPD Foundation has created an employer’s toolkit to help organizations build COPD awareness into their wellness programs. It’s also helped fund two pilot programs, one in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and the other in Montana, in which local healthcare-purchasing coalitions are working with their member companies to raise awareness.

Increased awareness of the disease is especially important because it dispels the stereotype of who tends to have COPD: elderly men who’ve smoked all their lives, said Walsh. “Actually, a greater percentage of women have the disease than men,” he said. “It cuts across all ages and ethnic groups. When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.”

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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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More Perils of Shift Work Revealed

A new report in the journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine finds shift work may not just have negative effects on workers’ sleep patterns or social life, but also on their cognitive abilities.

According to CNN, researchers from the University of Swansea in the United Kingdom and the University of Toulouse in France followed approximately 3,000 employed and retired workers in southern France — some of whom had never worked shifts, while others had worked them for years — over the course of a decade. They found that shift work was associated with impaired cognition, and the impairment was worse in those who had done it for longer.

The impact was particularly marked in those who had worked abnormal hours for more than 10 years — with a loss in intellectual abilities equivalent to the brain having aged 6.5 years, CNN reports.

The researchers say that shift work, “like chronic jet lag, is known to disrupt workers’ normal circadian rhythms and social life, and to be associated with increased health problems (eg, ulcers, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, breast cancer, reproductive difficulties) and with acute effects on safety and productivity.”

There was one (very weak) bright spot in the findings, though:  Workers were able to regain their cognitive abilities after leaving shift work behind, but it took at least five years to do so.

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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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