Category Archives: HR profession

Talking with the C-Suite

Unlike many conferences which see a huge drop off on the final day, such was not the case for the final two sessions at the HR in Hospitality® Conference & Expo on Wednesday.

One session, which I already blogged about, brought in the NLRB’s Craig Becker. The other one brought in three hospitality executives to offer their thoughts on HR and people policies.

Some of the tidbits from that session:

* David Moran, managing director of Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, one of the top five grossing restaurants in the country, told the audience his 14-restaurant organization (Clyde’s of Gallery Place) has no HR department.

Instead, the organization offers “one on one management” as well as a lot of upfront training with managers and staff – all based on Ken Blanchard’s One Minute Manager, he said. “We preach it. We live it and our members embrace it.”

* Especially in hospitality companies, employees are crucial to profit and guest satisfaction. John Longstreet, president and CEO of Quaker Steak and Lube restaurants, said he discovered that a long time ago and was able, with the help of some university researchers, to statistically prove it. Such metrics are key in convincing senior leadership on HR initiatives.

* When it comes to hiring employees, look for attitude, said Conrad Wangeman, area vice president for Northeast USA and Canada for Hilton Worldwide. “If you get someone who has the right attitude, you can train for the skills,” he said.

* Another tip, from Longstreet, be transparent. Tell employees as much as you can, not as little as you can get away with.

* And one from Moran: Be truthful in performance appraisals. Honest feedback lets employees know that the organization cares about them and their development.

Avoiding Lawsuits

Compliance with the law will only take you so far.

Sure, you can argue over whether mandatory arbitration is a good way to go (or even requiring employees to agree to non-jury trials, as suggested by Kirsten Hotchkiss, SVP of Enterprise Compliance and employment counsel for Wyndham Worldwide), but the best way to avoid a lawsuit is to treat employees fairly.

“I like to rely on good [HR] practices,” said John Longstreet, president and CEO at Quaker Steak and Lube restaurants, during the “legal issues” segment of the Cornell University HR Executive Summit at the HR in Hospitality® Conference in Washington.

Gregg Gillman, partner and co-chair of the Labor and Employment Practices at Davis & Gilbert in New York, agreed that “best practices cure everything.”

As for whether mandatory arbitration is the best way to go, the panelists disagreed.

The down side: The decision can’t be appealed. Hearsay evidence is accepted. There is no summary judgment. Too often, the arbitrator will “split the baby,” in an effort to offer solace to both sides. Managers and supervisors often see it as a loss of their authority.

The up side: It’s usually cheaper. It may persuade plaintiffs’ lawyers to settle the case. If it is part of a robust process, disagreements will often get settled before they ever get to arbitration. It’s a private process; no publicity.

Plus, said Paul Wagner, a shareholder at Stokes Roberts & Wagner, plaintiffs’ attorneys generally hate arbitration and want to take their clients’ issues to court.

“That fact alone tells me we are doing something right,” he said.

Thoughts on the HR Function

There were lots of thoughts to absorb from the Cornell University HR Executive Summit, held as part of the HR in Hospitality® Conference at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington this morning.

It was a huge roundtable discussion, with 16 panelists, but moderator Bruce Tracey, associate professor of management at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration did a good job of engaging the entire group and keeping the conversations pithy.

Some food for thought:

*HR Hit Hard: At the Four Seasons, the HR department “took a disparate hit” of a 20-percent reduction in headcount, said Debbie Brown, its VP of HR for the Americas. Overall, the organization lost 4 percent of its workforce.

HR was hit even harder at Hilton Worldwide, where there was a 40-percent global cut, said Barbara Holkamp, senior vice president of HR consulting, who said the HR function focused on providing simple, automated toolkits and models related to people practices and focused on “top grading,” meaning talent development.

She noted that the reductions did not affect hotel-based HR directors – and that guest-service satisfaction scores remained “very high.”

Brown said the organization looked at outsourcing transactional work, “anything that is not mission critical” and that “learning took a real hit.”

*Doing More with Less: In a survey result taken by attendees, 100 percent said their organizations are doing more with fewer resources. In another question, asking for important HR issues for 2011, retention (23 percent) came in first (if you don’t include other, which received 28 percent of the votes); followed by recruitment (21 percent); productivity (18 percent); and compensation (10 percent).

* Adding Instead of Cutting Training: At the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, the recession actually prompted “the most comprehensive service training program than we ever had in our company’s history at a time when many of our competitors were cutting back or cutting training all together,” said Carolyn Clark, SVP of HR.

But the difference was the program was led by operations, she said, not HR.

“We were really looking for behavioral change to drive business results,” Clark said. The workers completed a self-audit at the end of the training program and created an action plan that was integrated into future performance reviews.

This year, she said, a refresher course will use 30 actual case studies drawn from guest survey results.

* Finding Talent: Recruiting “actually got harder for us” during the downturn, said Greg Smith, executive vice president of HR for Denihan Hospitality Group. “Yes, there were more people looking for work but the people we needed were harder to find.”

So, he shifted the recruiting function down to individual properties and further down, to individual functions, so room attendants were involved in looking for room attendants; front desk managers looked for front desk managers, and so on.

“We have had some pretty good results,” he said.

* Salary Grumbling on the Rise: Don’t expect workers to accept doing more with less forever, the panelists said, especially if their pay is not seeing an increase.

“Their patience is wearing thin,” said Laura FitzRandolph, SVP and assistant general counsel at Interstate Hotels & Resorts. “You have to manage expectations,” but noted that, for the hospitality industry, “the climb back is going to be longer than the fall into the basement.”

* Just-in-Time Staffing: John Longstreet, president and CEO of Quaker Steak and Lube, said he remembers when one major brand laid off 130 managers in a single day – and he wondered how an organization could be so overstaffed.

“I am trying to do more with the same,” he said, noting that he would prefer to under-staff and over-pay. He also has invested in technology to make it easier for his restaurant managers to access the information they need and therefore be able to spend more time with team members.

* Preparing for Retirement: Want to engage your workers? Ask them when they will retire. That’s the advice of Alan Momeyer, VP of HR at Loews Corp.

“There’s nothing wrong with that question,” he said. Plus, it will require them to think about designating successors and then making sure those successors are qualified to step in when necessary.

Those conversations will cascade through the organization — and that’s what results in engagement, he said.

Attracting Talent with Online Games

OK, I admit it. I have never played Farmville. Or any of those other online games. I see my friends on Facebook asking for help with Wheel of Fortune or looking for strange gifts for Mafia Wars, but, hey, I never even really got into video games. I’m a purist. I like pinball.

The point of my meandering, however, is that Marriott is looking to leverage the popularity of online games as a way to lower the “mental barriers of entry” for potential job applicants in emerging economies, said David Rodriguez, CHRO of Marriott, during his address at the HR in Hospitality® Conference on Monday.

I know this is my third blog post from his single keynote, but it had a lot of interesting elements to it. And this is one of them.

The genesis of the game, he said, began after members of a focus group in India told the company they would be too intimidated to apply to work at Marriott because their hotel in Mumbai was so luxurious, they wouldn’t even feel comfortable going inside to check it out. So, they really wouldn’t feel comfortable working there.

The pilot is designed to attract potential employees and introduce them to elements of hotel operations. It will go live later this month and it will at first focus on culinary matters, with the player delivering meal tickets to the chef and then sending them out to diners. Rodriguez said the entire suite of games, once completed, will offer a multi-layered view of the hotel business.

Seems like an interesting way to connect with potential employees and leverage the interest in online games, especially among the young.

HR Leaders for the Future

I already wrote about David Rodriguez’s comments about the importance of company culture included in his keynote address at the HR in Hospitality® Conference — and being a “cultural leader” was one of three main competencies required of HR leaders.

The other two were “talent portfolio manager” and “HR strategic leader.”

The first, he said, includes the usual aspect of bringing on, maintaining and exiting talent. But it also must include “organizational capability,” which he defined as proactively structuring jobs and processes to achieve results.

“Making the work easier to do is as important as getting the right person in the right job,” Rodriguez said.

Part of that exercise, he said, is to make clear what is valued in the organization and what is not permissible — talking about balancing risks and profit seeking (mentioning Enron, of course).

The second aspect, HR strategic leader, was not the usual comment about how important it is to know the business and be able to speak in those terms — although that certainly factored into his keynote. It was more a discussion around globalization and inclusion, and how HR leaders must find commonality in a world of diversity, while leveraging differences at the same time.

“I think leading companies will look for practices that unite people even in a world of differences, and this is essential for global effectiveness,” he said.

To contribute to the business, employees must perform their jobs well and be good neighbors in the workplace. “That’s it,” he said.

Cross-cultural skills are needed to bridge differences and leverage diverse gifts, he said, but companies need to re-frame diversity and inclusion.

Two More Years? Or Six More?

On the same day President Obama began his re-election campaign, Shawn McBurney, senior vice president of govermental affairs at the American Hotel and Lodging Association, spoke of the way the hospitality industry was being targeted by his administration.

“For those of you who feel persecuted, you should,” he said, noting that the Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Labor Relations Board, to name just a few, are looking hard to find violations of workers’ rights.

The DOL, he said, believes the hospitality industry “is evil and they are targeting the industry.”

The comments were part of a session on public policy and HR strategy at the 5th Annual HR in Hospitality® Conference, which drew more than 275 attendees to the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington. The event runs April 4 to 6.

And even when there is not ill intent, off-the-cuff comments by politicians can be harmful, said Geoff Freeman, executive vice president of public affairs and strategy development at the U.S. Travel Association. He mentioned Obama’s infamous-in-the-industry remarks about discouraging travelers from going to Las Vegas, Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks about not traveling by air when fears of swine flu were rampant, and a U.S. General Services Administration notice to the effect that any trips not taken are good for the environment.

That last statement, Freeman said, was made without any study being done or being grounded in any data. In fact, he said, the truth might be just the opposite: Employees who are on business trips or at conferences may use less energy because they are grounded in one spot and are not driving to work or taking subways every day.

Regardless of whether Obama wins re-election or not, however, the deficit may drive whoever is in power to reconsider the ability of companies to write off healthcare and retirement costs, said Mike Aitken, director of governmental affairs at the Society for Human Resource Management. Those two tax write-offs offer the most potential revenue to the government, ranking even above the home-mortgage deduction.

Companies should also be wary, Aitken said, of actions emanating from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has been examining “barriers to employment,” including age, credit reports, criminal-background checks and even unemployment. Credit and criminal checks, he said, are areas the EEOC is “particularly interested in.”

Immigration is another area where the government believes “we are the bad guys,” Aitken said. The Department of Homeland Security collected $1 million in fines in 2009 from-employer violations. In 2010, he said, the total fines collected were $7 million. And DHS is continuing to increase its enforcement efforts.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

“Culture” may be one of the most discussed aspects of the workplace thus far at the 5th Annual HR in Hospitality® Conference and Expo, being held at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington from April 4 to 6.

It was an important part of the opening keynote address given by David A. Rodriguez, executive vice president of global human resources for Marriott International, this morning. And it was discussed often during a panel discussion involving HR leaders at three of Fortune‘s Most Admired Hospitality Companies.

Twice during his keynote, Rodriguez quoted the words of J.W. Marriott Sr.: “If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your customers and the customers will come back.” And, in a concrete example of how Marriott’s leaders today strive to meet those core values, Rodriguez talked about how the current recession caused some companies to eliminate healthcare benefits for workers whose hours were cut back and thus, were no longer be eligible for benefits.

“It was never a question at Marriott,” he said. “We immediately suspended the eligibility requirement so no associate or their family would lose their healthcare coverage,” he said.  

Even though it was a decision that added to expenses at a time when the company was trying to cut back, “we knew as leaders, we needed to care for our associates. We needed to preserve our foundations and preserve our values.”

Later in the day, when senior-level HR leaders from three leading hospitality companies cited byFortune — Debbie Brown, VP of HR for the Americas at the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts; Stephanie Rosol, VP of HR at Wynn Resorts and Karl Fischer, chief HR officer of The Americas at Marriott International — discussed their HR policies and programs, they all mentioned culture as an essential ingredient in creating successful enterprises.

“I can’t think of a single decision,” Brown said, “that the driver hasn’t been the culture or [where it hasn’t been] a participant in decision-making. … It’s how we think and what we do.”

Four Seasons, she said, spends a lot of time selecting and training employees. Then it trusts them to do a good job. “They get a lot of benefit of the doubt,” Brown said, noting that such trust is extended in both directions — from company to employee and from employee to company.

That benefit of the doubt was extended by workers to the company during the recession, she said, when “we stumbled, for sure, but I think we did a lot more right than wrong.”

Having a strong culture at Wynn, Rosol said, helps employees, especially young leaders, make proper decisions even when they are not sure what to do. As long as their decisions are grounded in the culture, they are able to “act in the face of not knowing.”

Let Us Now Praise Progress

As news headlines continue to track the strife and struggle across the Middle East on an hourly basis, let us now take a moment to welcome the end of a hiring rule that once embodied a centuries-long struggle between two warring parties.

According to the Associated Press:

The British government says Northern Ireland’s police force will stop being required to hire a certain number of Catholics over Protestants following a decade of swift social change.

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson says the affirmative action policy in force since 2001 can no longer be justified because today’s Police Service of Northern Ireland is nearly 30 percent Catholic.

Reform of Northern Ireland’s overwhelmingly Protestant police force was a central goal of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord that ended decades of sectarian violence. Only 8 percent of police at that time were Catholic.

For the past decade, recruiters have been legally obliged to ensure that at least 50 percent of job-winning applicants were Catholic. Paterson said Tuesday that law will lapse March 28.

So, while it may be difficult for American employers to even ponder the concept of hiring policies based on religion, and the debate over the merits of affirmative action rages on, we can at least all agree that it’s a grand and glorious day when such considerations are no longer necessary.

Conaty’s Closing Keynote … With Feeling

For all the logic he offered — and there was a lot — on best ways to become a master of talent, it was the emotion referenced quite often by Bill Conaty that resonated most in his closing keynote at the Human Resource Executive Forum® on Wednesday.

Conaty, the recently retired senior vice president of human resources for General Electric Co., who spent 40 years at the company and was instrumental in creating its reputation as a talent-building giant, used words like “obsession,” “intimacy,” “passion” and “compassion” as he laid out his blueprint for “Becoming a Talent Master: Why Smart Leaders Make People Their Top Priority.”

In fact, item No. 1 on his tips to talent mastery — the subject of his new book co-authored with fellow talent guru Ram Charan, entitled The Talent Masters: Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Numbers — was to “make talent development your obsession.”

There were myriad other sage pointers from Conaty’s proven track record, such as making leaders accountable for talent development, giving frequent and honest feedback, integrating business plans and people reviews, and — as he put it — “drilling down on talent like you drill down on financials.”

But the punch lines of all his lists for success all had to do with authenticity and “balancing passion with compassion” and “having that personal touch and intimacy with your top talent,” as he put it.

Whether working in tandem with former GE CEO Jack Welch or current CEO Jeffrey Immelt, Conaty said, “we would always spend time with our high-potentials on site visits to find out who they really were and how they thought, so there would be no surprises.”

His formula for championing talent to the office of the CEO was equally straightforward and heartfelt. “Courage of conviction, candor and trust” were mentioned in that equation. So were “solving problems instead of just identifying them.”

“The real point,” he said, “is you should use your persuasion and intelligence to convince your CEO” of the value of the HR function. “No talent, no numbers.”

“Change that environment,” he said. “Convince that CEO that you’re really going to give him a business advantage. HR’s got the opportunity here to really make a difference, but it really needs to step up.”


Grappling with HR’s Role in Innovation and Growth

Four top leaders of the HR profession took to the stage Monday in the opening session of the Human Resource Executive  Forum® to share their respective challenges and solutions when it comes to igniting — or at least mining — innovation in the workplace.

The general consensus of the session seemed to be that some senior HR leaders are tackling the challenges pretty well — including panelists J. Randy MacDonald, senior vice president of human resources for IBM; Mirian Graddick-Weir, executive vice president of human resources for Merck & Co. Inc.; Richard Floersch, executive vice president and CHRO for McDonald’s Corp.; and Daniel Sullivan, executive vice president of human resources for Qualcomm Inc. — while most HR leaders still, and sadly, are not.

Leading off the Senior Executive Roundtable, subtitled HR’s Role in Driving Innovation and Growth, moderator Susan Meisinger, author, speaker and former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, presented findings from a recent Human Resource Executive® poll suggesting all is not well in the land of HR and corporate innovation.

Citing first an IBM survey showing global HR leaders in agreement that driving creativity and innovation is their No. 1 business challenge, Meisinger went on to present some of the HRE innovation survey results, showing virtually half of the HR executives polled not doing anything about it. Though a majority, 70 percent, said HR plays a significant or somewhat significant role in fostering innovation at their organizations, a whopping 71 percent said they don’t use any screening tools designed to bring in creative and innovative candidates, 53 percent don’t tie performance-management systems to driving it and 53 percent don’t even have a formalized suggestion system in place.

“The takeaway for me in all this,” Meisinger said , “is we all think these things matter, but most of us are not doing something about it.” Second takeaway, she added, “it’s difficult; if it were easy, we’d all be doing it.”

Interestingly, and almost as a juxtaposition to it’s being difficult, one of the strongest admonishments of HR’s failure to drive innovation and growth came from MacDonald: “Five years ago, we launched something called IBM Think Place,” he said. “We burdened this thing with so much bureaucracy and so many policies [something HR is all too prone to apply], that we blew it up. In many ways, the informal system is the best one for generating ideas.”

MacDonald and the others also shared their successes in this quest for creativity. Some included: IBM’s Think Future, which recently let employees engage in real-time expertise-sharing to arrive at five new ideas for the company’s future workforce; Qualcomm’s Innovation Network, which allows employees to submit ideas to peers for instant collaboration and communication, regardless of who gets there first; Merck’s program that sends teams of HR practitioners to nonprofit companies where they collaborate to help them build new HR processes; and McDonald’s innovation center, a mock store where managers can brainstorm applications for their markets.

So what’s slowing most of HR down in this arena? Meisinger asked. Fear of failure? The notion that risk equals failure?

“Let’s face it,” said MacDonald. “I’ve never been to a party to celebrate a failure, but bottom line, there’s a lesson learned in every one. There’s also merit in perseverance.” Some of the strongest innovations at IBM, he added, were achieved because HR got its policies out of the way and those with good ideas “kept going in the face of all odds.”