HRD on the Hudson

In its April 25 edition, BusinessWeek published an interesting article on CEO Jeff Immelt and General Electric: “Can GE Still Manage.”

The story devotes a decent amount of ink to Crotonville, which continues to be at the center of GE’s leadership development efforts. “Crotonville remains the company Mecca,” writes Senior Editor Diane Brady. That was certainly clear during a media day event last November, attended by HRE‘s Senior Editor Andrew McIlvaine.  His report noted that despite the economic downturn, more employees than ever are cycling through Crotonville — so many that the dormitory is routinely overbooked and GE is forced to accommodate the overflow at a nearby Marriott.

Some critics quoted in the story wonder if the campus is more of a distraction than a “virtue.” But as the latest BW story reminds us, GE continues to be more committed than ever to Crotonville. Time will tell if that continued commitment is justified. But until GE proves it has successfully regained its mojo, Immelt and his team can be certain of one thing: Critics of Crotonville aren’t going to go away.

Trains and Automobiles — but no Planes

As for the High Cost of Travel post, I actually sat in on an HREOnline Webinar on Tuesday with Jackson Lewis’ Michael Lotito as co-presenter and he could only join us by phone because he was stranded in London.

Definitely felt the impact of the ash when he was telling us, before the Webinar began, that Englanders are getting very frustrated over Gordon Brown’s unkept promise of extra ships and trains to get people where they need to go. I guess that wouldn’t have helped Lotito though.

The Really, Really High Cost of Travel

The volcanic ash over Iceland and much of Europe has negatively affected travel for 80 percent of the companies surveyed by the research arm of the National Business Travel Association — at an average cost of nearly $200,000 per affected company.

According to the 234 corporate travel managers polled, more than 160 travelers from each company — on average — were stranded away from their homes, costing the company more than $197,000 in unexpected travel expenses.

About 2,000 companies were represented in the survey data, with more than 310,000 travelers experiencing travel disruptions, costing the surveyed companies more than $367 million collectively.

This is just one more reminder for HR leaders to have crisis plans in place before they are needed.

Getting Stricter

Companies are tightening their grip on the way employees use social-networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Contrary to the views expressed by experts during the Human Resource Executive Forum®, “Tear Down that Firewall,” chief information officers surveyed by Robert Half Technology finds that CIOs are getting more strict in their IT policies related to personal use of social networking (23 percent) and business use (15 percent).

More than half (55 percent) said there were no changes, while 10 percent were becoming more lenient with business use of such technology and 7 percent more lenient with respect to personal use.

What Doesn’t Get Reported

It always impresses me how much we journalists are forced to leave in our reporter pads and memory cells when we cover events or conduct interviews.

Take this one session I wrote about from our recent Human Resource Executive Forum® in New York. The session — focusing on re-engaging workforces after the recession to carry them through the recovery and beyond, and moderated by Charlie Tharp — was well attended and well run (thanks in large part to Tharp on both accounts).

When American Express CHRO Kevin Cox started describing the day he got the call from a fellow senior executive about what the federal government actually had in mind in terms of new rules and oversights for bailout-funded financial institutions — including Amex — when it comes to executive compensation, you could have heard a pin drop. There were silently nodding heads all around me. Basically everyone seemed to be hanging on his every word.

I was spellbound, too, by Cox’s full transparency about that moment and the feelings he had. I used his quote about his company’s “near-death experience” but there was so much more he said, about the helplessness he felt when other senior leaders came to him asking if there was any way around this new chokehold from the nation’s capital. He talked about feeling completely powerless to do what he was supposed to do as the head of HR. He described where he was at the time the call came in — on vacation — and what it was like staying on his cell phone for the next few hours, getting patched in here and patched in there.

What really impressed me, too, were the expressions on the faces of fellow HR practitioners in the audience. You could see it, feel it in the air. They not only seemed to share the pain, many — I sensed — had already experienced something similar in waking up to the new reality, the new sheriff in town, the new less-than-supportive “take” on corporate America they could feel emanating from D.C. 

We’ll actually be looking at this new reality through the eyes of some of the nation’s most powerful employment attorneys in our June issue, so stay tuned for that. For now, take it from me, within this country’s HR circles, the impact of the “new deal” in Washington is palpable.  

HR’s Destructive Side?

Former HR executive Liz Ryan sounds off in Business Week on the five most destructive HR policies of the land, and seemingly nothing is safe from her wrath.

On restrictive time-off policies: “Employers who can’t flex in small ways to accomodate carbon-based life forms don’t deserve their talents.”

On manager-driven in-house transfer policies: “It lets employees know that if they can’t trust their boss to look out for their interests when an appealing job in the company is available, their best bet is to bail on the organization entirely.”

An interesting read, to be sure, but is it a fair assessment of the HR function?

Healthcare Priorities

As Washington debates and agonizes over the healthcare-reform proposals, a recent survey of business leaders pinpointed open markets and tort reform as their top priorities — slightly different than the legislation currently proposed — and, not surprisingly, more attuned to the GOP position.

Argyle Executive Forum received more than 900 responses from its senior corporate leadership communication on the question of “which of these issues do you feel should be the top priority of law makers as they relate to the future of the U.S. healthcare system?”

The responses:

Open markets and increase competition across state lines: 23%

Tort reform: 22%

Universal healthcare/government option: 18%

Cost containment/fraud elimination: 16%

Coverage for pre-existing conditions: 6%

Prevention programs: 4%

Plan portability: 1%

Other: 10%