Making a First (and Fast) Impression

In baseball, there are can’t-miss talents with potential that’s abundantly and immediately clear.

Take Mike Trout, for instance. At age 24, the Anaheim Angels centerfielder/four-time American League All-Star/freakish baseball prodigy’s trophy case already includes the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year, 2014 AL Most Valuable Player and two All-Star Game MVP awards. And, as one of a handful of names on the short list for this year’s AL MVP, he may soon be taking home more hardware.

Then there are late bloomers like the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista. The right fielder and occasional third baseman showed flashes in his first five years at the big-league level, but not enough to keep him from being jettisoned by four teams between 2004 and 2008. Bautista finally broke out in 2010—his third season with the Jays and first in a full-time role with the club—when he earned his first of six All-Star Game selections. Since then, he’s led baseball in home runs twice, picked up two Hank Aaron awards and bashed his way to three Silver Slugger awards as well.

The point of all this is that some don’t start as strong as others, and being patient with a prospect just might pay off in a big way sometime down the road.

Those in the corporate world, however, apparently don’t have that kind of time.

Consider a recent online survey, in which 319 executives at companies with revenues of at least $1 billion shared their thoughts on entry-level employees. In the poll, 78 percent of respondents said they think employers take less than three months to make a judgment as to whether an entry-level employee is likely to succeed with the organization. Twenty-seven percent said they form an opinion within the first two weeks.

Now, this particular Harris poll was commissioned by Fullbridge Inc., an education technology company with a learning platform that offers “everything students and young professionals need to rise to the next level,” according to Fullbridge.

It’s natural—and not unfair, I think—to be a bit skeptical of this sort of poll, given the company that commissioned it just happens to offer the type of technology designed to make sure these fresh-faced young employees thrive in your organization.

But that’s not really here or there, at least as far as my purposes here are concerned. Misgivings about survey methodology aside, the aforementioned findings—especially the percentage of companies saying new employees essentially have 10 business days to prove themselves—still seem to beg the question: How long should it take to get a good read on a young, new employee’s likelihood for success? For that matter, what sort of variables should factor into making that judgment?

I put those questions to Dave Ulrich, Rensis Likert Professor of Business at the University of Michigan, partner at The RBL Group and frequent contributor to HRE.

Not surprisingly, there’s no specific timeframe for predicting—at least not with any real accuracy—how an entry-level worker’s going to fare over the long haul, says Ulrich. And he cautions against rushing to judge new employees in their first few weeks on the job.

“First impressions limit future impressions,” says Ulrich. “This is sad, because many first impressions are based on visible look and feel, and real impact often comes from insight and ability to manage relationships.”

Still, 90 days or so should be long enough to gain a sense of how an employee’s going to perform, he says, adding that “it’s important to give new employees autonomous responsibility for a task or project to determine their technical skills and cultural fit.”

It’s even more critical, he says, “to know if they have ‘learning agility’ and an ability to adapt and change [when] given new information.”

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PwC to Assist Employees with Student Loans

Starting next year, PricewaterhouseCooper’s employees will receive $1,200 a year to help pay off student loan debt, according to numerous media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal.

The accounting and professional-services firm announced today that it plans to assume up to $7,200 in student debt for its U.S. employees. Starting next July, the company will pay up to $1,200 a year toward employees’ student loans for up to six years, according to Michael Fenlon, the firm’s global talent leader.

“This is an issue that is important to our people,” Mr. Fenlon said. “We certainly think it’s a beneficial attraction for top talent.”

Indeed, according to a July 2015 survey by iontuition, it asked 1,000 student-loan borrowers if they would like to work for a company that offers student-loan-repayment assistance, including matching contributions and loan-management tools. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed said yes, which could equate to 30 million Americans with student loan debt.

David Melancon, co-founder and CEO of New York-based btr., which measures companies’ performance beyond their balance sheet, says he is seeing more companies tailor their benefits to their employees’ priorities, needs and wants.

He says the PwC move “is about the optics for PwC — the cost of offering this benefit is small compared to increased visibility among the young, smart college graduates they are trying to recruit.”

Melancon says he was not surprised by financial-services firm’s move, given the climate of today’s job market.

“Companies know the best young candidates have student debt,” he says. “It would be easy to simply increase their salary [instead of offering a student-loan-repayment plan], but structuring it this way allows them to talk about the fact they care about the same things employees care about.”

He envisions more organizations pulling the same lever in order to reach the best candidates they need.

“For all the concern in the news today about the fact that people need work, the truth is companies need workers, too,” he says. “You’re going to see more companies tailoring their benefits packages to the groups they’re trying to recruit.”

After all, he says, the HR department “is one of those places where you need to see more innovative thinking. The HR departments of old were simply order-takers. The HR departments of the future need to be more innovative and think of new ways to attract employees.”

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Parental-Leave Parade: Where Could This Lead?

At this point, I’m wondering where this parental-leave maelstrom will take us. Earlier this month, protesters of the Netflix-leave 510042321-- parents & newbornannouncement descended on that company’s headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif. to demand the new program extend beyond its wealthiest workers.

Groups including UltraViolet (which I blogged about a little more than a month ago), NARAL, Working Families Party, Democracy for America, Make It Work and were out in force with picket signs and audible opinions — after collecting more than 100,000 signatures protesting Netflix’s policy that, apparently, only serves those making as much as $300,000.

Two days after that protest, Hilton Worldwide unveiled what it’s calling its “industry-leading parental-leave policies.” The benefits will be open to all new parents, not just those in corporate roles. Mind you, it’s not unlimited, but, as Hilton puts it, it’s “the best offered by any major global hospitality company in the United States and Puerto Rico.”

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2016, new parents at Hilton, including fathers and adoptive parents, will receive two weeks of fully paid parental leave. New mothers who give birth will receive an additional eight weeks of maternity leave for a total 10 weeks of fully paid leave.

“We are proud to be at the forefront of driving significant change in our industry … ,” Matthew Schuyler, Hilton Worldwide’s executive vice president and chief human resources officer, said in a statement.

I contacted Schuyler to get his take on where his initiative fits in with the other “news of the day.”

Unlike at Netflix, “we’re supporting all new parents,” he told me. “From our hotels to our corporate offices, and for hourly and salaried team members alike, these new benefits are consistent across all levels. We know the importance of bringing balance to our team members’ lives, and these enhancements will help support them and their growing families.

Mind you, the hotel industry is not the tech industry. There are different variables and realities — and income levels — involved in those two worlds. As this piece on the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog, by Lydia DePillis, puts it:

“While many still find it troubling that lower-paid workers get less paid leave than higher-paid ones, the financial calculus is clear. As competition for tech talent has heated up in places like Silicon Valley, generous leave policies have become a recruiting tool for in-demand professionals — but aren’t necessary to find people who can work a production line.”

Still, I commend Hilton, and Schuyler, for taking the lead in all things hospitality. I’m waiting for others in that industry to join the bandwagon.

In fact, I’m waiting to see just where all this parental-leave one-upmanship — if you will — will lead. And I’m eager to see how the tech industry handles the more complicated conflict the Netflix hoopla has unveiled.

In the greater scheme of all that work/life balance entails, could this new focus on working new parents help redefine the workplace a bit more? Methinks it could.

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Tapping an HR Exec for That Top Job

Some of you may recall that back in June we published a cover story titled “Could You Be the Next CEO?” It was based, in part, on an article appearing in the Harvard Business Review under the headline, “Why Chief Human Resource Officers Make Great CEOs.” (University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business Professor Dave Ulrich and Korn Ferry Senior Client Partner Ellie Filler authored the piece based on study they conducted.)

ThinkstockPhotos-462411043Through their research, Ulrich and Filler discovered, to their surprise, that the traits of highly successful CHROs closely matched those of CEOs. As Ulrich explains in HRE’s cover story, “CEOs must have skills to meet financial, customer and operational requirements. The differentiator of effective CEOs in globally changing business conditions comes from their ability to manage organization issues around talent, leadership and culture.”

The story makes the point that the ideal corporate leader is one who understands the traditional guideposts of profit-and-loss statements, yet also knows how to get the most out of people—the skills that also define a best-in-class CHRO.

Both our cover story (written by Will Bunch) and the HBR piece obviously came to mind when I read earlier this week about Nintendo’s promotion of the firm’s chief HR officer Tatsumi Kimishima to president. Kimishima succeeds the late Satoru Iwata, who passed away on July 11 as a result of a bile duct tumor.

Analysts told the Wall Street Journal that Kimishima’s appointment “signals that Nintendo seeks continuity as it pursues a strategic shift begun by Iwata.” The piece quotes Tokai Tokyo Securities Co. Analyst Osamu Kamada, who notes that Kimishima has been “ ‘watching Iwata closely for a long time and therefore makes a safe choice to implement steps laid out by Mr. Iwata.’ ”

Yesterday, I asked Jason Hanold, managing director of the Evanston, Ill.-based executive search firm Hanold Associates, to share his thoughts on Kimishima’s selection.

Hanold speculated it probably has more to do with Kimishima’s relationships than the way the HR function might be viewed as Nintendo. “Often times,” he said, “the head of HR [at Japanese companies] is not a classic HR officer, but one who holds strong relationships with other senior members of the organization; who is given responsibility for HR and perhaps other aspects of the role. Therefore, while they think highly of the ‘head of HR,’ it doesn’t necessarily mean they think more highly of the HR function,” even though they apparently consider it a key functional rotation.

In the specific case of Nintendo, Hanold said, management clearly viewed HR as a key rotational assignment for executive development. “Tatsumi Kimishima was hired originally as a CFO, and then progressed through operational roles, only most recently in HR,” he explained adding that it was quite similar to Mary Barra at General Motors.

To be sure, Kimishima is going to have his work cut out for him as Nintendo’s new president.

As a recent article in Fortune noted, “[Nintendo’s] Wii U is in a distant third behind Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One, and portable gamers who were previously willing to buy company devices, like the Game Boy or the Nintendo DS, have turned to smartphones and tablets.”

Guess time will tell whether Kimishima’s HR experience proves to be an asset as he attempts to move the organization forward. I’d like to think that would be the case.

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Bonuses for Low Performers

“So, Mr. Employee, your performance this year has failed to meet expectations. And … here’s your bonus.”

bonus failThat’s right — about three in 10 (30 percent) of U.S. employers plan to give bonuses to employees who fail to meet expectations (the lowest performance ranking possible) this year, according to Towers Watson’s just-released Talent Management and Rewards Pulse Survey.  Meanwhile, these companies are once again failing to fully fund their employee bonus pools and say they continue to struggle to attract and retain “critical skill” employees.

“The fact that some companies continue to deliver substantial bonuses to weak performers raises questions as to whether they are investing their bonus dollars as effectively as possible or truly holding workers accountable for performance,” says Laura Sejen, managing director at TW.

It should be noted, however, that the poor performers don’t necessarily get the same bonuses as the  high performers. While some of the companies give payouts to all employees regardless of performance, others give their lowest-ranking employees only 65 percent of their target payout, while the high performers tend to receive bonuses of about 19 percent above target, according to the survey, which queried 170 large and mid-sized companies from various industries.

The companies’ average projected bonus funding for the current year is only 89 percent of target — this marks the fifth year in a row that U.S. employers have not fully funded their bonus pools, according to TW.

More than half the companies (52 percent) say they’re having trouble holding on to critical-skill employees, compared to 41 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, 66 percent report problems attracting critical-skill employees.

“With hiring activity on the increase and employees more receptive to changing jobs, there is greater competition for talent, making it more difficult for companies to keep their most-valued employees,” says Sejen.

Employers also appear to be daunted by President Obama’s recent proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime rules, with 50 percent saying the changes will have a significant impact on their organizations and only 47 percent prepared to make the changes.

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The Ongoing Expansion of Worksite Health

Affordable Care Act uncertainties be damned—employers are going ahead with their plans to launch on-site health centers.

That seems to be the overarching message to emerge from Mercer’s new targeted survey on worksite clinics.

The New York-based consultancy’s poll is actually a follow-up of sorts to last year’s National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, in which 29 percent of organizations with 5,000-plus employees that provide an on-site or near-site clinical site said they offer primary care services. (That figure marks a 5 percent increase in the number of companies saying the same in 2013.)

For this recent survey, all participants from the 2014 poll that reported offering a worksite clinic were invited to answer detailed follow-up questions about their clinic operations. Among the 134 respondents, 91 percent of those with clinics identified controlling total health spend as a “very important” or “important” objective in establishing an on-site center. For 77 percent of survey participants, reducing lost employee productivity was also a key goal, with 68 percent saying they consider improving member access to healthcare important or very important.

These findings are very much in line with what Towers Watson’s 2015 Employer-Sponsored Health Care Centers Survey uncovered earlier this year. In that survey, 75 percent of 105 organizations currently offering employer-sponsored health centers cited increasing productivity as a key goal, with 74 percent indicating the same about reducing healthcare costs, and 66 percent reporting they hope to improve employee access to healthcare services.

What experts at both Towers Watson and Mercer find most interesting about these figures, however, is the suggestion that the ACA’s infamous excise tax hasn’t deterred many employers from building new on-site health clinics, or from expanding existing centers.

“ … Companies are adding centers despite concerns around the Affordable Care Act and its excise tax, which [requires] that the cost of an on-site center has to be included in the cost of delivering healthcare to employees,” Allan Khoury, senior health management consultant at Towers Watson, told HRE in June.

“If that cost goes too high, you violate the Cadillac tax. But we’re still seeing great support for these clinics among employers.”

That’s not to say companies aren’t concerned that on-site health centers’ operational costs could help push them over the threshold for the excise tax, of course. But, by and large, most organizations remain convinced that their clinics “will deliver positive net value,” said David Keyt, principal and National Onsite Clinic Center of Excellence leader at Mercer, in a statement.

In the latest Mercer survey, 15 percent of respondents said they believe their general medical clinic will hurt them in terms of the excise tax calculation, but 11 percent said they think it will help, “presumably by helping to hold down the cost of the company’s health plan,” according to Mercer. Twenty-eight percent think it won’t have an effect either way.

And, ultimately, most companies aren’t really using cost as a barometer for the value of their on-site health centers anyway, according to Keyt.

“For many employers, employee satisfaction is a more important measure of success than ROI,” he said. “If employees are using the clinic, it means they haven’t been taking time off work to visit a doctor, and that they’re getting the medical care they need to stay healthy and productive.”

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Warren: Credit Checks are Discrimination

Earlier today, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) posted an op-ed piece titled “It’s Time to Stop Employer Credit Checks” on Time’s website, based on the idea that a person’s credit history “has no correlation with his or her ability to succeed in the workplace.”

For hardworking people struggling to make ends meet, the pair writes, the only way to get back on their feet is to find a good job and earn a paycheck. But even when they are able to sell their homes—often at a loss—or after they are forced to close their business’ doors or find temporary work, that bad credit history continues to haunt them.

To quote directly from the piece:

And despite the often-desperate effort to find a job, many employers are unfairly shutting the door on applicants with less-than-stellar credit. We should call this what it is: discrimination.

And, Warren and Cohen note, such discriminatory practices are why they are re-introducing the Equal Employment for All Act.

“It would help level the playing field for hardworking families who deserve a fair shake,” they write. “Our legislation would prohibit employers from requiring prospective employees to disclose their credit history as part of the job application process, unless the position requires a national security clearance or a credit report is required under state or local law. It makes sure that hiring decisions are based on an individual’s skill and experience—not on past financial struggles. The bill also would stop discrimination against African Americans, Latinos and seniors who are more likely to be hit by bad credit.”

This is an issue of basic fairness, they write. “Americans should be able to compete for jobs on their merits, not on whether they have enough money to pay all their bills. Much of America—hard-working, bill-paying America—has damaged credit. It is wrong to shut them out of the job market.”

In its coverage of the op-ed piece, the Huffington Post cites a 2012 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management that found 53 percent of employers said that they did not conduct background checks on any of their job candidates, though 87 percent said that they did check the credit history of potential employees in financial positions. Forty-five percent of respondents in the survey said that they conducted credit checks to prevent theft and embezzlement.

“No one should be denied the chance to compete for a job because of a credit report that bears no relationship to job performance and that can be riddled with inaccuracies,” the pols write. “Our Equal Employment for All Act would make sure all hardworking Americans have a real shot to get back into the workforce and back on their feet.”

It’s unclear how many more working Americans would actually benefit from a ban on employers’ ability to check the credit reports of prospective candidates, but what is certain is that this issue won’t be going away any time soon, just like a bad credit report.

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Report: HR Really Is Becoming More Strategic

Back view of businessman

Back view of businessman

We’ve all been hearing and talking about HR professionals becoming better strategic leaders and business partners for years, so there’s no real surprise here.

But in this report from the Cranfield Network on International Human Resource management, in collaboration with the Society for Human Resource Management and the Center for International HR Studies in the School of Labor Employment Relations at Penn State University, we do have new numbers. And they’re worth noting.

The report, Human Resource Management Policies and Practices in the United States, outlines the results of a survey of almost 700 senior-level HR practitioners in organizations with 200 or more employees.

It finds HR is more often on an organization’s board of directors or executive team and taking sole responsibility for major policy decisions than in years past.

Specifically, in terms of leadership, 70 percent of responding organizations said HR has a place on the board now, compared to 63 percent in 2009 and 41 percent in 2004. Also, two-thirds of responding organizations (66 percent) said they have a written HR-management strategy. As the report states:

“The HR department appears to be moving away from working jointly with line management in terms of where the responsibility lies for major policy decisions across a whole range of HRM activities such as pay and benefits, recruitment and selection, training and development, industrial relations and workforce expansion/reduction.

“In most cases, there has been an increase in either the HR department taking sole responsibility for these activities or line management taking responsibility (but at a much lower absolute level), with a concurrent reduction in the number of cases where both parties collaborated on the activity led either by HR or by line management. On average, line management is most active in the area of training and development, and least active in establishing pay and benefits policies.

“This trend implies that HR and line management roles may be becoming institutionalized, with each party focusing on its own responsibilities. The increasing regulatory environment may be playing a part here, with firms needing clear guidelines around responsibilities to ensure compliance with regulations and standards.”

This last sentence certainly underscores what we’ve been hearing lately as well!

The report also confirms the use of technology as a foundation for increased strategic HR leadership, with 83 percent of organizations using HR-information systems or electronic HR-management systems and 67 percent using employee self-service options.

Interestingly, according to the report, HR departments remain involved in the development of business strategy, either from the outset or through consultation, although their involvement has declined slightly (ranging from 80 percent in 2004 to 78 percent in 2009 to 76 percent in 2014/15).

Also, interestingly (and it’s hard to pinpoint what’s behind this), there was a decrease in the percentage of HR departments not consulted when the organization was going through a merger, relocation or acquisition between 2004 and 2009 (8 percent in 2004 and 4 percent in 2009); however, in 2014/15 the percentage returned to 9 percent, a level similar to that reported in 2004.

On a more positive note, though, the report states …

” … more than one half of HR departments report that they are consulted from the outset in such situations, which has remained stable since 2004 at 54 percent to 61 percent (depending on the type of organizational change), an indication that HR continues to be involved in processes vital to the success of organizations.”


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Making Your Career Site More Accommodating

Earlier this week a press release arrived in my email that served as a reminder of the work that still remains to be done as far as career sites are concerned.

ThinkstockPhotos-464672063In this case, the question at hand is, How accommodating is our career site for candidates who are deaf or have a hearing impairment?

The bottom line: Most organizations’ career sites are severely lacking on this front.

The findings come from a study conducted by CareerXroads and Middlesex County College in New Jersey.

As the press release explains …

“The study, which took place over four months and used the fictional job seeker Jack ‘Jacque’ Coostow to probe some of the world’s most admired companies, found that companies are missing fundamental pieces in ensuring the deaf and hearing impaired have what they need to learn about and apply for jobs.

Middlesex students submitted Coostow’s résumé for positions at the 100 companies on Fortune’s 2014 Best Companies To Work For list. The companies on this list are widely admired for their recruiting and human resources practices. They are considered models for organizations worldwide. Many of them have repeatedly touted their commitments to diversity hiring, including individuals with physical disabilities.”

Among the findings …

  • Three in 10 companies provided a phone number or email address that would allow deaf or hearing-impaired job seekers to access resources for their special communication needs.
  • Roughly one in 10 companies had a TTY line, also called a text telephone or Teletypewriter, that enables deaf and hearing impaired individuals to communicate by phone.
  • One in five companies asked applicants if they had preferences in communication.

You’d think we’d be further along by now than that. No?

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DOL Mandates Pay Transparency

moneyOn the heels of President Obama’s recent executive order requiring federal contractors to provide at least seven days of paid sick leave, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs today issued a final rule banning federal contractors from having policies that discourage their employees from discussing, disclosing or inquiring about their own pay or that of their co-workers.

The final rule implements Executive Order 13665, signed by the president last year, which stems from the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

“It is a basic tenet of workplace justice that people be able to exchange information, share concerns and stand up together for their rights,” said DOL Secretary Thomas Perez in a statement. “But too many women across the country are in the same situation: They don’t know how much they make compared to their male counterparts, and they are afraid to ask.”

A “culture of secrecy” around pay keeps women from knowing they are underpaid and makes it difficult to enforce equal pay laws, according to the DOL. Women still earn only 23 cents for every dollar earned by male employees, the agency says.

The rule allows job applicants and employees of federal contractors and subcontractors to file a discrimination complaint with the OFCCP if they believe that their employer fired or otherwise discriminated against them for discussing, inquiring about or disclosing their own compensation or that of others.

Pay transparency benefits companies as well as employees, said OFCCP Director Patricia Shiu.

“Indeed, forward-thinking companies that have embraced greater transparency find that it benefits them and their workforce by helping them attract and retain talented workers,” she said.

The rule will go into effect 120 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

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