Category Archives: HR profession

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.”

In Search of an HR Analytics Culture

The second annual Human Resource Executive Forum® got a provocative kick-start Monday night at the Grand Hyatt New York in a pre-conference bonus session designed to do just that: provoke change in the way HR analytics are treated and supported in corporate America.

Let’s face it, said John Hausknecht, assistant professor of HR studies at Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, “HR analytics is still a relatively youthful member of this overall [scientific approach to business metrics].”

Leading off the session, “Breaking Barriers: Creating a Culture for HR Analytics,” Hausknecht cited a study by the ILR School’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, the “State of HR Analytics,” that uncovered some pretty crucial barriers to the usefulness and effectiveness of HR analytics for businesses today.

Only 27 percent of the more than 50 study participants from close to 30 CAHRS partner companies felt they had strong teams of analytical talent who could execute HR analytics projects. Only 33 percent agreed with the statement, “Front-line HR generalists understand the value of HR analytics.” Just 13 percent felt they had the necessary technology/systems to facilitate HR analytics, and only one in five respondents strongly agreed that they trusted the reliability and accuracy of their organizational data.

“Clearly, most organizational cultures do not support [the compilation, understanding and predictive applications of] HR analytics,” Hausknecht said.

What Hausknecht and fellow panelists Jonathan A. Ferrar and Craig Hurty offered as takeaways was probably what resonated most with the mostly senior HR practitioners in attendance.

“Be generous with your information [and forget your privacy rules and cultures of suspicion around information sharing],” said Ferrar, vice president of human resources and analytics for IBM. “Also, focus on the data you’ve got. In HR, we have millions and millions of data points. Try not to be tempted to do the next survey. People will be more impressed if you can find new information with old data points.”

Both Ferrar and Hurty, HR head of business operations for Aetna, encouraged listeners to look more closely at the causal relationships of risk, be predictive with the findings instead of reactive, and learn how to show it and trust it.

“I’d like to put my HR people in closer touch with sales,” said Hurty, “because our sales staff have this talent to trust the data and come out with a figure.

“Be provocative, too,” he said, suggesting HR leaders can and should be finding ways to share the type of information that will force challenges, competitiveness between departments and teams, and growth.

“Don’t be afraid to stir the pot,” said Hurty. “Think about ways you might want to break those cultural barriers … and start stirring the pot.”

More Consolidation Ahead?

Lawson Software confirmed last Friday that it’s received a $1.8 billion takeover bid from Atlanta-based enterprise-software maker Infor Global Solutions and Golden Gate Capital. According to the bid, the would-be buyers seek to acquire all of Lawson’s common stock at a price of $11.25 per share in cash.

According to a press release from Lawson spokesman Joe Thornton, the company’s board of directors has retained Barclays Capital Inc. to assist it in evaluating the proposal. The press release notes that the St. Paul, Minn.-based company long-term strategic plan will remain in effect unless the board decides to sell the company or engage in another transaction.  According to the New York Times’ Dealbook, Lawson had a market value of almost $1.9 billion at the close of the market on Friday and it had $228 million of long-term debt as of Nov. 30.

Business-Book Title Mash-Ups (Vol. I)

We here at Human Resource Executive magazine receive A LOT of business books in the mail — many times, multiple copies of the same title — which are then placed in the various bookshelves that surround our happy little newsroom.

While we can’t guarantee that the books are always read, some of the titles are clever enough on their own to warrant mention here. 

So we recently decided to embark upon a meta-media experiment to pair these books together in order to form new book titles, and we humbly apologize in advance to the authors of these esteemed tomes.

With that said, and with the help of web editor Anne Freedman and staff writer Jared Shelly, we now present a list of  mashups of our favorite business-book titles.

Enjoy your Friday!

“The Unforced Error”/”Ooops!”/”How Did That Happen?”

 “This is the Moment”/”At Your Own Risk”

“What’s Next, Gen X?”/”Ties to Tattoos”

“Riding the Tiger”/”The India Way”

“On My Honor I Will”/”Decide & Deliver”/”Clever”/”Daily Yoga Class”

“Happiness at Work”/”Can They Do That?”

“The Truth About Middle Managers”/”In the Workplace”/”Working for You Isn’t Working for Me”

“Your Next Move”/”Getting Naked”

“Flight Plan”/”Never Fly Solo”/(in)/”Turbulence”

“How Full Is Your Bucket?”/”Standing in the Fire”

“Reality-Based Leadership”/”Just Enough Anxiety”

“Leadership and Self-Deception”/”The Leap”

“The Executive and the Elephant”/”The Power of Pull”

And finally, the winner for lonest mash-up title goes to …

“Perfectly Able”/”Millennials in the Workplace”/”Who”/”Buy In”/(to a)/”Fully Charged”/”Shockproof”/”Well Connected”/”Orange Revolution”

Not Just Smoke-Free: SmokER Free

The trend of refusing to hire smokers seems to really be taking off in the healthcare industry. According to a story in today’s New York Times, hospitals in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas, among others, stopped hiring smokers in the last year and more are openly considering the option. A number of these organizations have justified the new policies as advancing their institutional missions of promoting personal well-being and finding ways to reduce the growth in health care costs. 

We’ve documented this issue before in our magazine, profiling companies such as Scotts Miracle-Gro, which found itself in the bulls-eye of public attention a few years ago for refusing to hire smokers and firing employees who failed urine tests for nicotine. It’s easy to see why organizations are sick and tired of smokers: the Times notes they cost $3,391 more a year each for healthcare and lost productivity, according to federal estimates.

I can sure sympathize with hospitals for taking this route—after all,  can you imagine a patient stepping outside and seeing the doctor, nurse-practitioner or physician-assistant who’s just counseled them about living a healthier lifestyle puffing on a cancer stick? On the other hand, it seems like it’s yet another intrusion over the line between work life and private life, especially the part about urine tests. If I want to smoke a cigarette now and then, then shouldn’t I, as a hardworking employee, have that right without risking my livelihood? Sure, I can always go work elsewhere, but as evidenced by this growing trend, my options would appear to be growing more and more limited.

Big Game, Big Consequences

Apparently, the leadership at U.S. Steel isn’t viewing the Pittsburgh Steelers’ upcoming tilt against the Green Bay Packers in Sunday’s Super Bowl with quite the same amount of excitement as some of its workers.

A recently released U.S. Steel memo says workers in a number of mills who miss work Sunday or Monday “without just cause” will face “severe disciplinary action,” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story:

The threat elicited a tongue-in-cheek response from USW International ice president Tom Conway. He called the warning “ham handed.”

“I’m concerned that since [Mon Valley employee relations manager] Preston [Henderson] hails from the Philly region, he may not be as flexible and that this is just some kind of Eagles sour grapes being displayed here,” Mr. Conway wrote in an e-mail to Mr. Henderson, U.S. Steel general counsel James D. Garraux and Donald C. Rizer, another employee relations executive.
The e-mail featured alternating paragraphs of black and gold type.
Mr. Conway proposed adjusting work schedules by enlisting volunteers for Super Bowl duty and making up any production lost during Sunday’s 3 to 11 p.m. shift over the coming week. He also suggested a post-game party for the Sunday shift workers at U.S. Steel’s training center in Duquesne, where they could watch a replay of the game.


“This would be a better approach to this weekend than your threat of SEVERE discipline … whatever that means,” Mr. Conway wrote.

U.S. Steel declined to comment on the issue, according to the report.

So enjoy your Super Bowl weekend, but not too much!