Category Archives: leadership development

In Search of Diversity

In April, I wrote a story for HREOnline™  about the efforts of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, to initiate a survey of Fortune 500 companies to see “if the boardrooms high atop Wall Street look like what we see every day walking down Main Street.”

Well the findings are now in—and aren’t pretty. Though voluntary, the survey reaped an impressive response of 219 Fortune 500 corporations and 71 Fortune 100 corporations. It found that minorities represent a total of 14.5 percent of directors on corporate boards and overall have less representation on executive teams than they do on corporate boards.

Hispanics, the study found, are the least proportionately represented on boards and fared even worse on executive teams. They comprise just over 3 percent of board members and just under 3 percent on executive teams.

Obviously, the findings confirm what everyone pretty much already knows: That employers still have much more work ahead when it comes to diversifying their executive ranks.

In releasing the findings, Menendez didn’t suggest a legislative response. But he did offer the following recommendation: creating a task force with select corporations, executive search firms, board members and other experts to help companies move in this direction.

The Human Side of BP and Other Disasters

With the latest news from the Gulf of Mexico suggesting an end to BP’s horrific leak may be in sight, and with the follow-up stories on the recent Duck Boat disaster in Philadelphia fading from view, I propose we take a little time to reflect on the human factors behind the crises and even, perhaps, some take-aways for HR.

Consider this recent write-up from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Actually, it’s a joint write-up by Cliff Boutelle, SIOP’s head of information, and Rhona Flin, a professor of applied psychology at the University of Aberdeen’s Industrial Psychology Research Center.

Call Flin the guru of decision-makers’ competence and abilities during catastrophes, if you will. She’s been researching North Sea offshore oil safety since 1987, a year before the Piper Alpha oil platform fire and explosion in Great Britain left 167 people dead. In her studies, including of Piper Alpha, she finds common threads that led to problems because of incident commanders’ inabilities to immediately assess and be aware of developing situations.

Mind you, this write-up casts no aspersions about what went wrong or who did what on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig or the Duck Boat, or the barge that hit it. But who hasn’t wondered, knowing something had to be tied to someone, somewhere? Read what Flin says about how faulty the assessment and training is, in these industries and many others, of installation and production managers who may have to become crisis managers with only a split second to make a decision that could save or lose lives.

Read what she says about what went right when Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed his plane in the Hudson River in 2009. It all came down to training —  something called crew resource management teamwork — and it can be translated to a myriad and variety of team contexts in many different industries where danger may lurk.

Even for the seemingly safest of organizations, her views on crisis leadership might shed some light on the importance of having the right person, with the right training, at the helm when the ship starts going down.

Maligning vs. Pitying Micromanagers

I noticed a couple of mentions over the last few days about the evils of micromanagement and how this horrible and uninhibited trait can impact a workplace.

One, from Beeson Consulting, warns that this obsession with every little thing that every single person under you is doing can, and will, prevent you from becoming the senior leader you’re trying to be. “Managers who are perceived by their troops as meddlesome micromanagers,” it reads, “are probably, in turn, viewed by senior executives as not having the bandwidth to step up to higher-level positions and handle greater responsibilities.”

Another, by Suzanne Lucas, a.k.a. the Evil HR Lady, questions why more companies don’t just fire the poor (anti-)slobs. The reason, she suggests, is that they’re still stupidly promoting non-leadership behaviors such as “attention to detail” and failing to promote (literally) their “self-motivated, results-oriented” employees.

The key for those suffering from this malady is to learn to delegate, obviously. The key for companies, writes Lucas, lies in implementing a results-oriented workplace environment (ROWE), where “managers let people do their work without hovering.” (We’re actually focusing on that very approach in Human Resource Executive®‘s August cover story.)

Personally, I’m wondering if more companies shouldn’t be training and coaching their micromanagers away from their addictions, or maybe directing them to their employee-assistance programs … or maybe we should all consider them disabled and in a protected class??!!

OK, I jest … well, mostly. As a parent, wife and manager, I’m here to tell you it’s damn hard to break out of the “If I want it done right, I have to do it myself” cycle. Or the killer mind-set of “If I don’t ask him about his progress, he won’t make any.” Thankfully, I’m getting better. But for some, it might take a 12-step program to overcome.

Some Final Thoughts on SHRM

As the 2010 SHRM conference draws to a close, here are a few final (and random) thoughts about the event (and my first blog post filed from an airplane).

Best news coming out of the conference: 11,000+ attendees! After a couple of years of major belt tightening, companies appear to be spending once again.

Most discouraging observation: On day one, folks stuck around to hear Steve Forbes pretty much until the end, even though he had little to share on the topic of HR strategy. In contrast, on day two, I’m told they left in droves soon after a panel of senior HR executives began to tackle some of the profession’s more pressing challenges. What gives?

Best performance by a ’70s band: Hall and Oates (so what if they were the only ’70s band to perform).

Most popular show giveaway: You guessed it, the iPad. (If you want to know what next year’s big giveaway will be, just check out Apple’s product pipeline.)

Longest line for a  ’70s celebrity on the expo floor: Attendees (mostly women) who were eager to meet and greet Erik Estrada (of CHiPs fame) at the Columbia Southern University booth. (Didn’t personally see, but was told he looks the same.)

Worst part about the venue: Overcast skies pretty much the entire time, with cooler than usual temps for San Diego.

Best part of the venue: It wasn’t 95-degree, 90-percent humidity New Orleans! (Remember last year?)

 

The Ambiguity of Employee Engagement

Most HR leaders would be quick to say that employee engagement is a good thing; far fewer would actually be able to definitively define it.

That’s because there seem to be a zillion definitions out there. But many employers and consultancies continue to attempt to measure it, nonetheless.

Right Management is no different, but Douglas Sietsema, its talent management practice leader, (who I caught up with at the SHRM convention) mentions an interesting correlation.

One recent survey found that 65 percent of employees said their managers positively impacted their engagement, while 25 percent said managers had a negative impact and 10 percent said no impact.

What’s interesting, he notes, is that the numbers are pretty similar to another survey — this one measuring leadership.

In that survey, 60 percent said their companies provide some leadership, 22 percent said no leadership and 15 percent said consistent leadership.

“That’s where we started to see leadership, engagement — that correlation kind of thing.”

Leaders provide a sense of identity, of buy-in, he says.

“Leadership is what leads to engagement,” Sietsema says.

From Cradle to C-Suite

You can never get started too early when it comes to building the workforce of the future.

Certainly that premise is at the heart of SHRM’s decision to join a business coalition, managed by the Pew Center, to study later this year what steps employers should be taking to prepare the nation’s infants and toddlers so they’re able to lead tomorrow’s businesses. The initiative was mentioned during a press briefing held on the conference’s opening day.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that meeting the needs of the workforce of the future means meeting the developmental needs of children today,” explained Deb Cohen, chief knowledge officer of SHRM.

A SHRM brochure describes the challenge as follows: “In order to compete, U.S. employers must attract and retain a team-capable, job-ready workforce that can spur and maintain continual innovation. The foundation of skills required to achieve that end is built in the earliest years of life—between birth and age 5—yet we do not give our young children the early educational, health and social supports they need to get there.”

Looking the Part

Does one need a competent looking face to land a job as CEO? A story in today’s Wall Street Journal entitled “Is CEO Success Just Skin Deep?” suggests the answer could be “yes.”

The article reports that researchers at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, working with the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that CEOs are perceived to have more competent-looking faces than non-CEOs.

Finance professors John Graham, Campbell Harvey and Manju Puri of the Fuqua School asked 2,000 students to rate the photos of 100 CEOs and non-executives for competence, according to a story on the school’s blog. The photos featured individuals with similar facial features, hairstyles and clothing. What their study, A Corporate Beauty Contest, found was that CEOs are more likely than non-CEOs to be rated as competent looking, though also less likely to be classified as likeable.

But before HR execs get too exciting—figuring they can trim their vetting process down to 15 minutes of simply studying a CEO candidate’s facial characteristics—they need to consider one other finding: There was no evidence that a CEO’s appearance is related in any way to a company’s profitability.

 Oh well, guess we’ll have to just keep vetting as usual.

Do as Mom Says, Not as She Does

That traditional refrain, certainly from my childhood, could be one of the messages from a recent survey, as three in four working women (74 percent) want their children to pursue a different profession or career path than their own.

The finding — just in time for Mother’s Day — comes from the latest American Workplace Insights survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Adecco Staffing US.

The survey also found that nearly one-third (30 percent) of working moms are the sole breadwinners of their household, but given the choice, half of them (52 percent) would be stay-at-home moms for their kids. (I wouldn’t be surprised to find half of working dads wishing they could stay home with their kids, too.)

And one of the more puzzling findings had to do with perceptions of leadership: More than half of the moms (56 percent) say mothers make the best bosses, yet only four in 10 (42 percent) of the moms would rather have their mom as a boss than their dad.

Wonder what that means?