Category Archives: HR profession

Disabled Workers Lose Advocate

The New York Times is reporting on the death of Paul S. Miller, a long-time advocate for disabled workers who was also born with achondroplasia, or dwarfism.

The paper reported the cause of death was cancer.

Miller was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School, but was rejected by law firms more than 40 times, according to the piece, because of his physical stature:

One time, he said, he was told the firm feared that clients would see his hiring as a “circus freak show.”

Despite those setbacks, Miller was hired by a law firm, and eventually became a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he was director of the university’s disabilities studies program. According to the NYT:

For 10 years before joining the faculty in 2004, he was a commissioner of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. At the same time, he was the Clinton administration’s liaison to disability organizations, a role he reprised in the first nine months of the Obama presidency.

We here at the Leader Board salute Miller and his efforts to lead more disabled workers to their rightful places in the working world.

A Sign of Things to Come?

According to People Management, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in the UK:

“The BBC’s HR director Lucy Adams is to step down from her executive board position as part of a radical restructure, the corporation has confirmed. … The people division will also cease to be a “stand-alone” department and will join the expanded operations group led by chief operating officer Caroline Thomson.”

Critics — and supporters — of HR have been warning for some time that if HR leaders don’t actually get in front and lead, they will open the function up to more back-office outsourcing  and a second-rate future — if there is a future.

For all of the talk about how HR outsourcing will allow HR executives more time to strategize about how they can positively affect business operations and the bottom line, there has also always been talk about the ongoing and seemingly unchanging inability of many HR leaders to escape the administrivia mind-set.

(Of course, here at HRE, we find and celebrate the best and brightest with our HR Executive of the Year award — with Google’s Laszlo Bock most recently being honored.)

There are still too many HR leaders paying attention to seasonal-event planning, as Sue Meisinger writes in her latest HREOnline™ column, or blindly following orders without prioritizing HR initiatives.

As that latter story notes, a report by the Boston Consulting Group in conjunction with the World Federation of People Management Association states: “High-performing companies focus their efforts on fewer, more carefully chosen HR-related projects in areas such as recruiting and leadership development.”

Or, as Sue puts it in her column: Do Less. And Do it Better.

Or face the possibility that the HR function will be devalued and devoured.

Pay Scales and Weight Scales

Thanks to the good folks at CBSNews.com, who ran a very interesting story today about some new research from the University of Florida that finds skinny women and overweight men earn more, on average, than their average-sized colleagues:

According to the study, women who weighed 25 pounds less than the group norm earned about $16,000 more per year. A woman 25 pounds above the group norm earned about $14,000 less. Thinner men, on the other hand, made almost $9,000 less than their average male co-worker. 

Now, I get the idea that women who weigh less than their counterparts would make more than their average-size or overweight colleagues. After all, we all live in a society that praises puny and castigates corpulence.

But I admit I was shocked to learn that men who weighed less than the group norm actually made less money than their average-sized colleagues.

And, as a man who has always weighed in on the lighter side of the scale, I’m now wondering if, instead of working harder, I should just start eating more if I want to get a raise.

Read the University of Florida researchers’ paper, which was published in the journal for the American Psychological Association, here.

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.

Leveraging Assessment Software at Tenet

No one wants to be hospitalized for a serious illness. But if that happens to be your fate, I’m sure you’d find it comforting to know that the nurses caring for you were at the very least a good fit for their jobs.

Certainly, the folks in Tenet Healthcare’s HR department are operating (forgive the pun) under that assumption. In a session entitled “Tenet Healthcare Uses New Assessments to Reduce Nursing Turnover” at the HR Technology® Conference, Tenet’s Vice President of HR Joe Gage shared how the hospital successfully leveraged assessment software to ensure the right nurses were being hired for their jobs.

For many in the audience, I suspect hiring has yet to become a high priority, with unemployment still near 10 percent.  But as Gage reminded attendees, it continues to be very much an issue for hospital, which still stuggle to fill key nursing positions.

Gage told attendees on Thursday afternoon how Tenet uses PeopleAnswers to build custom Performance Profiles based on incumbent population for its hospital units, such as emergency, medical/surgery or critical care units. The net result of this was a more rigorous, though not necessarily time-consuming, assessment process that led to an improvement in quality of hire and a reduction in early turnover of 47 percent over an 18-month period.

Having the best talent in place is obviously good news for patients and hospital administrators alike. But Gage noted that it’s also good for recruiters, who automatically receive candidates in their applicant racking system (Taleo, in this case) who are ranked by fit.

Gage noted how the software also supported Tenet’s onboarding process by generating a guide that tells managers about new hires, including their likes and dislikes and how they respond to stress.

Among the various components of a comprehensive talent-management suite, assessment software certainly isn’t the first piece that comes to mind. But Tenet’s presentation hammered home its importance—especially in a hospital setting.

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.”

The Great HCM Debate, Part 2

Workforce planning and analytics: What do they really mean, and what does a workforce planning strategy look like? HR Technology® Conference co-chair Bill Kutik asked the two participants in The Great Technology Debate, Gartner managing vice president Jim Holincheck and Knowledge Infusion CEO Jason Averbook, to give their thoughts on the topic.

“Analytics are great if you have a great data structure in place,” said Averbook. “It also helps if analytics are really ‘in your face’–Amazon, for example, has a great metric: ‘People who bought this book also bought this book.’ That’s an analytic that creates some action–‘Hey, maybe I should check out this other book.’ When you create analytics that are actionable, that’s when this space will take off.”

A metric that alerts a business executive that sales are down in a particular region because of a shortage of trained salespeople is a good example of an “actionable analytic,” said Averbook.

Workforce planning technnology that lets companies predict labor trends and costs, and adjust their training and recruiting programs accordingly, is still in its first generation, he said. “That’s why this space is so exciting–we’re moving toward that predictability model.”

When asked about social media, Holincheck admitted he is “something of a curmudgeon” on the topic–particularly with respect to what he said is the trend of “everyone trying to embed social media everywhere–it just doesn’t make sense.”

“Some HR departments are very progressive about social media in the workplace but for many others, that’s not the case,” he said. “And, employees are already using Facebook and Twitter–why would they abandon those in favor of enterprise versions you’ve installed?”

Above all, said Holincheck, HR should not attempt to implement a social-media strategy without closely consulting with other departments within the organization. “Other departments are using social media–work with them, have a companywide strategy–otherwise, HR is going to be viewed as just trying to do their own thing, and the effort will fall flat.”

The Great HCM Debate

Although the HR Technology® Conference’s Industry Analyst Panel switched formats this year to a debate between two industry experts standing behind lecterns instead of the four-member seated panel of conferences past, it featured the same occasionally heated and always-fascinating dialogue between folks who live and breathe this stuff. Moderator and conference co-chair Bill Kutik (who also lives and breathes this stuff) kicked things off by asking the two debaters, Gartner managing vice president Jim Holincheck and Knowledge Infusion founder and CEO Jason Averbook, to define “strategic human capital management.”

“It’s plain and simple–strategic HCM helps companies execute their business strategy,” said Holincheck. “Much of what passes for talent managent has focused on automating existing processes. But that’s not strategic. What you want to be thinking about is, what is my company’s business strategy, and how can talent management help me address that?”

“It’s certainly not about buying technology,” said Averbook. “It’s about answering the question ‘Are we going to buy or build our talent and how are we going to do it?’ It’s a business process, not an HR process.”

A bit later on during the debate, Averbook noted that the days of companies buying software licenses for HR “super users” are long gone. ” “Back in the day, we implemented HR systems for HR users. Today, the consumer is no longer the HR department, it’s the workforce. We want everyone in the company to use these tools,” he said, adding that meant HR had to focus on pushing the new systems out to the workforce and ensuring they’re intuitive and user friendly, much like Amazon and Facebook.

Kutik asked both men to share their thoughts regarding Oracle Corp.’s new Fusion system.

“I see a lot of Gartner clients pursuing a ‘coexistence strategy’–they’re using Fusion on top of their existing Oracle products rather than making plans to install a new system,” said Holincheck.

Regardless of whether Fusion meets expectations, Averbook said, it will still give Oracle a big advantage simply because of the integration factor. “We tell folks to go look at best-of-breed solutions–well, what good is best of breed if you don’t have a way to tie those systems together? If you don’t have a foundation to do that, then best of breed is a waste of time.”

“You don’t need a single vendor to tie it all together,” said Holincheck.

“I’m not saying you need a single vendor, but you do need a strategy,” replied Averbook.

Further on, Averbook castigated vendors for luring customers to SaaS solutions with the “false promise” that they won’t need IT support. “The market’s screwed up because vendors are telling HR clients this–our customers encounter failure when they have no IT support for their SaaS solutions.”

Saving Time with Social Learning

Innovations and new discoveries occur all the time inside organizations. But how can you shorten the time between the moment those discoveries are made and the results  those discoveries will have in terms of increased customer satisfaction or more-efficient internal processes? Cerner Corp., a Kansas City, Mo.-based health-technology company, believes it’s found the answer, said Robert Campbell, the company’s chief learning officer.

Campbell spoke at a panel discussion on social learning at the HR Technology® Conference on Sept. 29. “We created UCern to reduce the time between discovery and adoption,” he said.

UCern is a virtual learning center consisting of threaded discussion lists, a point system that lets users rate the quality of contributors to those discussions, embedded videos and wikis, he said. When employees need the answer to a question, rather than searching for someone within their workgroup who can help them, they can access the discussion lists or the archived discussions for their particular topic. Solutions to vexing problems can be posted on the company’s publicly available wikis, said Campbell, which are available in “published” and “draft” versions. Material posted on published wikis has been verified for accuracy by the company’s experts; material on draft wikis has not yet been verified and is “use at your own risk,” said Campbell. Either way, it’s drastically shortened the time the company previously needed to document and publish information for employees and customers, he said.

Social media technology can, as in Cerner’s example, allow employees to quickly access the experience and knowledge of their colleagues, rather than waiting to take a formalized course or search for documents that may or may not be properly archived, said Jeanne Meister, the panel’s moderator and author of the book The 2020 Workplace.  Nevertheless, many HR leaders are reluctant to embrace social media, she said. They shouldn’t be, she added.

“You have to ask yourself whether your competitors haven’t already embarked on doing this, ” she said. A good place to find out is the website www.socialmediagovernance.com, a database of hundreds of different social-media policies from a wide variety of companies. The database can be searched by industry, so HR can determine whether their company’s competitors are on the social-media bandwagon, said Meister. “Don’t be left behind,” she said.

‘Yelp’ for Rating Managers??

Many of us turn to the website Yelp.com–the site that compiles user reviews of local restaurants and other service providers–when we’re looking for a good place to eat in whatever location we happen to be. But the folks at Cisco Systems are giving some serious thought to creating a homegrown version of Yelp that would let Cisco employees post reviews of their managers in a public forum available to all of the company’s employees, in a fashion similar to the way Yelp.com users rate the newest sushi joint or Italian bistro.

“We’re trying to figure out how ‘ungoverned’ we can be without getting into legal trouble,” said Don McLaughlin, Cisco’s chief learning officer, during a panel discussion on using social media for corporate learning at the HR Technology® Conference.

McLaughlin said he thinks it’s a great idea, although he admitted he’d be a bit worried about getting negatively “Yelped” himself. But the concept ties into Cisco’s long-term strategy with respect to social learning, he said, which is to create a new “capability set” for the company’s next generation of leaders.

Some in the audience were receptive to the idea of a Yelp for managers. “How can you really know what sort of training a manager might need without really frank, honest feedback from his or her direct reports?” one attendee asked.

Others were skeptical. “You might have people afraid to post honestly for fear of reprisals,” said another audience member. “Then you’d also run the risk of managers who are afraid to do anything that might be unpopular for fear of getting trashed.”

“What about combining the employee reviews with hard data, such as metrics on turnover in a manager’s group, and its business performance?” said another. “That might be really powerful.”

Moderator Jeanne Meister, author of the book The 2020 Workplace, said the concept could be an improvement over performance reviews. “Aren’t we all tired of performance feedback that arrives too late? Why not find out immediately if there’s something we may need to improve, skills we need to learn, rather than waiting six or twelve months down the line?”