Category Archives: HR profession

When HR Files Suit

An attorney once told me that organizations should be very wary of adverse-job actions involving HR or finance professionals — because they know where all the dirt is.

Evidently, no one ever mentioned that to Medtronic, which was sued recently by David Ness, its former vice president of global rewards and human resources.  Ness alleges in the age-bias complaint that the company pushed him out to replace him with a younger version. He’s 61.

According to the suit, Ness says he not only was pushed out, he was forced to train his replacement. And when the company offered him a severance package that the lawsuit notes was much lower than that offered to other executives who were forced out, he was fired instead.

Ness had been with the company for 36 years. Medtronic, of course, denies it engaged in age discrimination.

Might be interesting to see some of the discovery that takes place as this lawsuit winds its way through the court system.

Experimental HR

Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, a global IT services company headquartered in Noida, India, urged the SHRM audience to treat HR “as an experimental journey,” and to consider follow his example of treating the employee first, the customer second.

Management doesn’t create value, he said. It can only “induce, encourage [and] enable the creation of value by the employees.”

HR leaders, he said, should consider the leadership of Ghandi, MLK and Nelson Mandela. What they did, he said, was create dissatisfaction with today and develop a romance among their followers with tomorrow.

Autocracy doesn’t work, he said. Democratize the workplace. Managers need to be answerable to employees instead of just the other way around. And the result of treating employees first is that customers will be served better.

To create an environment conducive to change, however, requires trust. In his company, Nayar facilitated that trust by providing an environment of 100 percent total transparency. His 360-degree assessment is posted on the company intranet. If an employee asks him a question — and 99 percent of the questions are negative, he said — his answers are sent to all employees.  (The questioners must also reveal who they are.)

His $2.3 billion company continues to grow rapidly — without new services, new products, new locations. It’s due to placing trust in his employees.

“Transfer the problem to them. They create magic in the interface of customers and employees,” he said.

Wayne Cascio Honored at SHRM

Turnabout is fair play, I guess, as Wayne Cascio, winner of the $50,000 Michael R. Losey Human Resource Research Award, promptly donated $10,000 back to the SHRM Foundation, on whose board he has served for eight years.

The Foundation, along with the HR Certification Institute and SHRM itself, selected Cascio because of his “high-impact contributions to both academia and the practice of HR,” said Howard Winkler, chairman of the HRCI board of directors.

He cited Cascio’s research on the the effect of downsizings, which “often fail to achieve [their] objectives,” as well as his research on virtual teams, women in global assignments, and the correlation of age and job performance, as well as his extensive outreach efforts to HR practitioners.

William Schiemann, chairman of the Foundation’s board of directors, spoke of Cascio’s work on trust, ethics and global issues, calling him a “great thinker, a wonderful humanitarian, a colleague of so many and someone I cherish to personally call a friend.”

During his brief remarks, Cascio lauded the namesake of the award, “who tirelessly has promoted the use of HR management practices that are informed by established research factors.”

And in donating back one-fifth of his award, he recited the words of Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

Globalizing HR

That fact that 100 or so HR professionals at the SHRM conference woke up in time for a 7 a.m. session on Building a Global HR Dream Team is indicative of the growing importance of globalization in today’s world. 

Even the presenter, Manjushree M. Badlani, chief HR and administrator officer of Jhpiego, said she “didn’t expect so many people here.”

After talking about the four typical types of global HR organizations (centralized, decentralized, regionalized and divided between headquarters and country), she split up the audience into groups and asked them to select the competencies and attributes required for each of them.

The attributes, developed by SHRM, were credible activist, culture and change steward, talent manager/organizational designer, strategy architect, operational executor, and business allies.

“All of them” was the common response — although each group selected a few and ranked higher than others, depending on which type of HR organization was being discussed.

When drilling down to discuss specific attributes, Badlani suggested a few she think may more be more important than others when working in cross-cultural situations: humility, good listener, customer focus, agility, unafraid to go beyond one’s comfort zone, and unflappable.

A sense of humor doesn’t hurt, either. “You have to laugh at some of the absurdities and some of the demands that people put on us,” she said.

Why We Hate HR: Five Years Later

It’s been almost five years since Bill Taylor and Fast Company published the incisive — yet divisive — essay titled above on the reasons why people tend to dislike the human resources function.

The author suggests here that, five years on, HR executives remain frustrated with their roles in organizations:

So here’s a proposal. As this provocative essay approaches its fifth anniversary, perhaps it’s time to change the debate. The real problem, I’d submit, isn’t that HR executives aren’t financially savvy enough, or too focused on delivering programs rather than enhancing value, or unable to conduct themselves as the equals of the traditional power players in the organization — all points the original essay makes. The real problem is that too many organizations aren’t as demanding, as rigorous, as creative about the human element in business as they are about finance, marketing, and R&D. If companies and their CEOs aren’t serious about the people side of their organizations, how can we expect HR people in those organizations to play as a serious a role as we (and they) want them to play?

Taylor cites Cirque du Soleil, Pixar and DaVita as examples of organizations with positive, forward-thinking HR processes and a real focus on people, and then poses a number of queries to HR executives who are not happy with the role HR plays in their organization:

Why would great people want to be part of your organization in the first place? Do you know a great person when you see one? Are you great at teaching people how your organizations works and wins? Does your organization work as distinctively as it competes?

It’s nice to see that, five years later, Taylor has changed his tune when it comes to HR.

And, with those last questions, it’s even nicer to see him offer some sound advice for HR leaders looking to improve not only their performance, but also the overall perception of the HR function.

HR’s Balancing Act

One of the Web extras to our June 2 cover story on Ford’s turnaround offers a brief list of the qualities of courageous HR executives, as set forth by Johnny Taylor, former president of the Society for Human Resource Management in his book with Gary Stern, The Trouble with HR.

Among his key points are: Act as a leader, not a follower; possess the courage of your convictions; and adapt to a  changing business environment. Read the rest on HREOnline.

More succinctly: Hold firm and be creative, but don’t be stubbornly resistant to new facts on the ground.

Such courage, writes Tere Bettis, an HR VP with Coppermark Bank in Oklahoma City, Okla.,  is “not always supported by senior management. … The balancing act between recruiting, developing, and retaining the best of the best while maintaining the bottom line for the CFO is tricky.”

But having the courage of your convictions is required in these tough times. Senior leaders won’t respect the ideas of their HR leaders, if HR won’t respect themselves.

Biometric Brouhaha Boiling On

Sentiments from either side of the proposed biometric national ID card debate are getting more and more heated, as this recent story from the Society for Human Resource Management underscores.

Aside from the politics involved in the idea of including the card in an immigration-reform bill, HR professionals are also “casting a wary eye,” according to the story. The ACLU predicts employers could pay as much as $1.2 billion to issue the cards and workers would have to pay $105 to $139 eachto obtain them. Expanded to the entire U.S. workforce, the program could translate to a cost of $285 billion.

ACLU Legislative Counsel Christopher Calabrese tells SHRM the bureaucracy behind such a program “would involve new government offices across the country, tens of thousands of new federal employees and the construction of huge new information-technology systems.”

Other opponents predict long document-presentation lines, inevitable information errors and bureaucratic red tape. Employers “would have to purchase expensive biometric readers, train HR workers to be immigration agents and endure delays in their workforce,” Calabrese says.

But nothing else could be as fraud-proof and sure to enhance homeland security and reduce the number of illegal immigrants living and working here, card proponents say.

My prediction: This cauldron has a heckuva lot more cooking time ahead.

The Essential Nature of HR

HR may not be essential in some small companies as its transactional work can be done by other managers, but it is esential in the way it can add “considerable value” to an enterprise, suggests an essay, “Combatting Skepticism Towards HR,” in the Cornell HR Review.

The author, a student pursuing a master’s in industrial and labor relations and a founding member of the Review, compares HR to marketing — each function is “indisputably essential for the firm to stay afloat amid the competition over time.”

And sometimes, the value of HR can be seen, writes Joshua D. Rosenberg-Daneri, in what is not occuring within the business, instead of what is.

Think: unions.

HR’s Destructive Side?

Former HR executive Liz Ryan sounds off in Business Week on the five most destructive HR policies of the land, and seemingly nothing is safe from her wrath.

On restrictive time-off policies: “Employers who can’t flex in small ways to accomodate carbon-based life forms don’t deserve their talents.”

On manager-driven in-house transfer policies: “It lets employees know that if they can’t trust their boss to look out for their interests when an appealing job in the company is available, their best bet is to bail on the organization entirely.”

An interesting read, to be sure, but is it a fair assessment of the HR function?