Category Archives: talent management

The Value of the Liberal Arts

For those of us (like me) who studied the humanities in college, a typical question we got was “So what are you going to do with a degree in [blank]?” I got tired of hearing it after a while and so I’d retort with this snappy comeback (especially if it was asked by a business major): “I’m gonna write about how computers are taking over your job.”

Aside from provoking extreme defensiveness, I do think studying English, history, political science, etc, really does give you the broad education that a college degree was always intended to provide. It forces you to learn to write clearly, digest huge amounts of information and do lots of critical analysis. These are skills that are important in any profession, including the medical field.

In fact, New York-based Mount Sinai medical school, considered to be among the top such schools in the country, sets aside slots for about 35 undergraduates a year specifically for humanities and social sciences majors.

Students admitted to the program can bypass the MCAT, the rigorous entrance test that applicants to most medical school programs must take before being admitted. Instead, Mount Sinai conducts a “boot camp” with accelerated courses on organic chemistry, physics and so on during the summer prior to when they enter med school. Students are admitted to the program on the basis of their SAT scores, high school and early college grades, two personal essays and interviews.

So how well do these lit majors and history buffs actually do in medical school? Turns out they do just as well as their counterparts who went the traditional pre-med, MCAT route, according to a peer-reviewed study conducted by Mount Sinai that compared outcomes for 85 students in the Humanities and Medicine Program with those of 606 traditionally prepared classmates.

So let’s hear it for liberal arts grads. We may not come equipped with specific skills, but we’re eminently trainable and have a thirst for knowledge.

FDA Warns Lab: Make Better Hires

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently sent a warning letter out to Abbott Diabetes Care Inc., an Alameda, Calif.-based company that manufactures glucose-monitoring equipment.

(Tip o’ the hat to Jim Edwards who first wrote about it here.)

Among the varied charges leveled in the letter is that the company did not conform to necessary guidelines when hiring for critical positions at the company, especially ones that are responsible for quality control, calibration of equipment and regulatory affairs: 

4. Failure to have sufficient personnel with the necessary education, background, training, and experience to assure that all activities required by 21 CFR 820 are correctly performed, as required by 21 CFR 820.25(a). For example: 

a. The job description for the Director of Quality Systems requires that the person have a Bachelor of Science/Technical/or Engineering discipline. The person holding the position does not have this type of degree, but rather a Business Administration degree. 

b. The person holding the Regulatory Affairs Manager position lacks the minimum of 5 years of regulatory experience required in the job description. 

c. The person holding the Quality Control Supervisor position lacks the required Bachelor degree in science or the alternative five to eight years experience in Quality Control.  

d. The person holding the Calibration Coordinator position lacks the required Bachelor degree and the four years of relevant experience.

We have reviewed your response dated March 26, 2010, and have concluded that it is not adequate because the replacement Regulatory Affairs Manager does not have qualifications that meet the qualifications required in the job description. You stated that you are conducting a global review of personnel to compare qualifications and job descriptions of all individuals who have direct product impact to determine if their background and experience match the requirements of their current job description and are conducting a review of the Human Resources processes that support the development of job descriptions and the identification and selection of personnel. However, this process is ongoing and evidence of its completion and effectiveness was not provided.

For its part, the company says it is working with the FDA to clear up the problems.

“Abbott Diabetes Care has taken and continues to take the actions necessary to address the items outlined in the letter and is communicating those actions directly to the agency,” says Greg Miley, the company’s director of public affairs.

But with all the highly skilled — yet unemployed –workers out there currently flooding the job market, it boggles the mind to think that the company’s HR department is not able to find any qualified candidates for such important positions.

Furthermore, if you are an end-user of one of Abbott’s products, such as the FreeStyle glucose-monitoring and the Navigator continuous-monitoring systems, how sure are you that the product in your hand has been properly calibrated and tested for quality assurance if the people responsible for such things may not be qualified to do their jobs?  

When critical positions are filled by unqualified candidates, it’s a simply a recipe for disaster.

Do You Hate Your Talent Management System?

Or, do you absolutely love it? Or do you love your system but hate the vendor that produced it? Or, do you feel it’s reasonably good but there are certain areas in which it, and other systems you’ve seen, need to improve?

Bersin & Associates wants to hear from you: they’re conducting their second annual “customer experience research study” and are trying to round up as many HR folks as they can to participate.

Given the rapid pace of consolidation in the HR vendor community of late, it’s more important than ever for the folks these vendors are targeting to make their voices heard. Click on the link to take the survey.  

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.

Lessons in HR Transformation

As I prepare for the SHRM conference each year, I often lament that there aren’t more HR executives presenting.  Personally, more often than not, I much rather hear what they have to say about a particular issue or topic, rather than a consultant or vendor.

That’s why I was pleased to see the Tuesday morning program open with a General Session panel featuring senior HR executives. (Hopefully we’ll see more sessions like this in the future.) It’s also why I set aside some time later that morning to catch a Mega Session entitled “HR Transformation: What Comes Next” by one of the opening-session panelists.

Conrad Venter, global head of HR for Deutsche Bank AG, detailed some of the steps taken by the bank to transform its HR function. Deutsche began its HR transformation efforts in 2005, during a period when the firm was facing some formidable global challenges.

In response, Venter said, Deutsche set out to restructure HR, putting “the right work in the right place.” Those efforts included moving much of the transactional work outside of HR.

What were some of the lessons that were learned along the way? First, he said, “we learned that one size doesn’t fit all.” He also noticed the importance of being “fluid” and continuing to “tweak things” long after they’ve been implemented.

“The soft stuff is really the hard stuff,” he said.

Repeating a comment he made during the opening panel, Venter also suggested that HR leaders might want to describe what they do as “people strategy” rather than “HR strategy,” to create more buy-in and less finger pointing.

What if Your Star Talent Came Knocking Today?

Gerry Crispin raised a provocative mind-bender at his Monday session at the SHRM conference in San Diego. “If an exact duplicate of your very best employee was applying right now, what would happen?” said Crispin, principal of CareerXroads and recognized recruiting expert.

“More importantly,” he said, “can you afford not to know?”

The purpose of the session, “Mystery Job Shopping: What Happens When You Apply Online to your Own Firm,” was to get HR professionals thinking — or, rather, rethinking — about how they brand — or rather, fail to brand — their organizations through their recruiting processes.

For instance, he pointed out, most companies won’t accept the risk of following up with candidates who weren’t hired, detailing the reasons they weren’t; in other words, the skills they don’t have yet need for the job. The message this could send about how your company cares, and the propsects it could reap down the road in return candidates would far outmeasure the potential liability of providing that kind of information, he told listeners.

“I guarantee you,” Crispin said, “when those people come back to apply at the point they do qualify, they will turn out to be the best employees you could ever hope to have in that position … because you provided the information they needed.” Getting such a practice past your corporate attorneys, he added, means “building the case that this kind of follow-through will be worth the risk.”

Not only was Crispin touting the merits of becoming far more transparent for online candidates who come knocking at your Web site, he was also promoting “mystery shopping,” or applying through your own recruiting process and those of your competitors.’ How’s your time to apply? Are you asking so many questions that you’re losing top talent because their time is too precious to be “writing a dissertation, answering hundreds of questions” the first time they visit simply to poke around? And how about technology and social networking? Have you embraced that? “Can your competitors’ candidates set up a mobile connection with your recruiters and yours can’t?” he asked.

Crispin also spoke in favor of picturing recruiters and providing simple instructions for constant access to them. “How available is your recruiter?” he said. “You need to think about what you’re doing and how transparent you’re being. You gotta figure smart candidates know how to find your recruiters anyway, through LinkedIn and other modes. If you’re refusing that kind of accessibility, that says something about you, and it isn’t good.”

Your company brand, your commitment to sustainability, your value proposition as to how people should be treated … it’s all in how you present yourself through your online recruiting, Crispin said.

One recruiter in the audience admitted she went through her own system anonymously just to see what experience her department  was providing. “How was it? Crispin asked.

“It was awful,” she said.

Crispin: “I rest my case.”

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.”

SHRM’s Call to Arms for Veteran Hiring

The Society for Human Resource Management kicked off its 2010 Annual Conference and Exposition in San Diego with a special appeal to consider the nation’s military veterans in all hiring practices.

Welcoming what they reported as a record crowd of more than 11,000 HR professionals in attendance, SHRM President and CEO Lon O’Neil and SHRM Board Chair Robb E. Van Cleave went out of their way to mark their conference as a launching pad for better advocacy and activism in veteran hiring.

Noting special sessions held Saturday and Sunday morning to, as O’Neill put it, “help in this military acclimation,” the two then went on to introduce to the audience Ray Jefferson, the assistant secretary for the Veteran’s Employment and Training Service at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Jefferson brought the crowd to its feet after showing the scars of his own injury that resulted from his heroic act of bravery in hanging onto a detonated grenade and losing his left hand rather than risk any of his team members’ lives or limbs by throwing it away.

“Sometimes the end of a dream can be the beginning of a destiny,” he said, after raising his wounded limb. “One life can make a difference. Our veterans need you; our nation needs you.”

From my own vantage point, in a sea of SHRM-goers, Jefferson’s passion for a new surge of advocacy for veterans returning home and seeking new livelihoods was palpable and evident. Time will tell how this message and push gets translated by attendees post-SHRM. The energy around me in the standing ovation for the war hero-turned veterans’ advocate bodes well.

Supreme Court Rules on Texting at Work

The U.S. Supreme Court has just unanimously ruled that a California police chief was within his constitutional rights when he viewed sexually explicit text messages sent by an officer’s work pager to two different women.

According to the LA Times, Sgt. Jeff Quon sued the police department after learning that thousands of messages he separately sent to his wife and a girlfriend had been viewed by his police chief in Ontario, Calif. He previously won his case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but lost today because:

In this case, the high court said the police chief’s reading of the officer’s text messages was a search, but it was also reasonable.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy agreed the police chief’s actions amounted to a search, but it was reasonable, he said, because it had “a legitimate work-related purpose.” He wanted to see whether officers were using their text pagers for police work or for personal matters. “Because it was not excessive in scope, the search was reasonable,” Kennedy said.

While it’s true that many, if not most, employers tell employees that they should have no expectation of privacy when using company-owned communication devices, an Associated Press report on the ruling reports that Kennedy also offered some advice to employees on the topic:

Kennedy said that it is true that many employers accept or tolerate personal communications on company time and equipment. But he suggested that employees who want to avoid the potential embarrassment of having those communications revealed might “want to purchase and pay for their own” cell phones and other devices.

Ultimately, one wonders if this ruling will prompt HR departments across the country to revise, with stronger language, their employees’ handbooks on the use of company-owned telecommunications devices and the accompanying lack of an expectation of privacy.

Or maybe they should just send out a text message to everyone with a company cell phone.

Why It’s Hard to be a Woman Boss

I’m in the process of writing a story about how women bosses are perceived in the workplace. Just about all the research I’ve uncovered reveals that female bosses tend to be less popular in the workplace than male bosses. The experts I’m interviewing have a number of theories as to why, and what HR can or should do about it. In the meantime, thought I’d share what consultant BJ Gallagher, a management consultant, author of “It’s Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been” (and a woman), has to say about the double standards that female manager-types face in the workplace:

HOW TO TELL A MALE BOSS FROM A FEMALE BOSS

~ A male boss is aggressive; a female boss is pushy.
~ A male boss is attentive to details; a female boss is picky.
~ A male boss doesn’t suffer fools gladly; she’s a bitch.
~ He knows how to follow through; she doesn’t know when to quit.
~ He stands firm; she’s inflexible.
~ He’s a good leader; she’s bossy.
~ He’s ambitious; she’s driven.
~ He loses his temper occasionally; she can’t control her emotions.
~ He isn’t afraid to say what he thinks; she’s mouthy.
~ He’s a stern taskmaster; she’s hard to work for.
~ He’s a man of action; she’s impulsive.
~ He controls his emotions; she’s cold.
~ He’s a good team player; she just goes along with the crowd.
~ He thinks before he acts; she can’t make up her mind.
~ He thinks before he speaks; she second-guesses herself.
~ He tells it like it is; she’s tactless.
~ He’s authoritative; she’s caustic.
~ He makes things happen; she’s lucky.
~ He’s a ladies’ man; she’s a slut.