Category Archives: performance management

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.

Tough Topics

Every one of the 340 seats were filled and so was most of the floor space and entry ways when Paul Faclone, vice president of employee relations for Times Warner Cable, took the podium to talk about tough conversations.

As the poor SHRM volunteer was frantically trying to comply with the fire codes of the San Diego Convention Center and not let the doorways be blocked or the room be more filled than permitted (a losing battle made even worse when Falcone encouraged some of those in the doorway to take over some of the empty floor space up front), Falcone told the audience the one item he would like them to take away from the session:

“Perception management is the most important thing I want you to take away from this session,” he says. “It’s like feelings — they are not right or wrong; they just are.”

Perception, he says, is the reality — until proven otherwise.

Tough conversations, he says, will nearly always take place when someone is feeling vulnerable. It doesn’t take much to move that vulnerability to anger.

Treat people with respect. And remember, “it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it” that may leave the most lasting impression.

Sports Talk

Here, in the Philadelphia area, where HRE is located, the office talk is all about the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Finals and the sliding Phillies, who haven’t seemed recently too much like the Fightin’ Phils of old.

But, many employers, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, will soon be hearing more chatter about the World Cup — even though Americans rank fairly low on the scale of soccer afficiandos throughout the world.

So, the U.S. productivity levels probably won’t plunge as much as for employers around the globe, since soccer is the world’s most popular sport. 

In this country, the biggest productivity punishers, according to Challenger Gray’s non-scientific poll, are March Madness; college football bowl games; the Olympics; and the playoffs and finals for the NFL, MLB and NHL.

And one more that transcends sports: Apple product announcements.


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.