Good from afar, but far from good…

February 7, 2010 1 comment

Julie Smolyansky, Playboy's "Sexiest CEO"

I’m not a sociologist and I haven’t done any scientifically sound research, but I think good-looking people have an easier go at career advancement than ugly people (I know, “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder”).  As a recruiter, can you honestly tell me that your own feelings about one’s looks doesn’t play into your final recommendation about a candidate? I’m not talking about charisma, or how they dress.  I’m talking about physical appearance.  I spent 13 years of my career with Deloitte and participated heavily in campus recruiting.  I can tell you with a great deal of certainty that the “better looking” students got internships and job offers. 

Does this bias continue after recruiting? Harder to prove, but I think it may.  Wally Bock, a Twitter pal of mine, reacted strongly to a Time Magazine article on his blog, Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership BlogTime suggested one’s looks could be a predictor of one’s success as a CEO.  Although the study supported this notion, I would agree with Wally that this is a stretch.  So for grins I looked at the highest paid CEOs of 2009 via CNN Money and aside from a few I can’t say many were fetching (man’s perspective, mind you.)  Then I looked at a gallery of Fortune 500 Women CEO’s at CNN Money and I think there was a bit more of a good looks factor going on there (man’s perspective, mind you.)  But I did this in all of about 10 minutes so none of this really means jack.

I’m hoping the workplace has matured enough to put physical bias aside; but I’m skeptical.    Do those who are soft on the eyes get a leg up?  Do those who make the stomach churn get looked over?  Are the physically appealing better leaders?  Are bad-looking people poor negotiators?  Do hotties get paid more?  So I’d like to know whether in your experiences as an HR professional, or as a citizen of Corporate America, good or bad looks play a substantive role in a career.


Toyota, Herd Mentality, and HR

February 3, 2010 9 comments

Let me start by saying that my sincere sympathies go out to anyone who has been harmed in any way by the Toyota accelerator/floor mat issues.  It sucks you’ve been hurt and I hope appropriate reconciliation will come your way…if even possible.  Having said that…

Would all you other crazy-hypersensitive-sky is falling-little ninny nanny-overly judgmental-freakazoids please just cool it?  This is a perfect example of how the general public is prone to media hysteria, hypnosis, and herd mentality.  Here’s a company that did the auto industry a favor: it injected a competitive life into the increasingly arrogant and complacent Big 3 and in the process brought 10’s of thousands of jobs to the US (their Direct Investment in the US has grown to $17 Billion and they spend $29 Billion annually with US companies).  Think of all the cars this company has put on the roads in the US over the last 53 years (27 million Toyotas on the road in the US right now) and then…this.  The media gets a hold of it, the American public cries “foul,” and the next thing you know the company is projected to lose somewhere in the neighborhood of $2B by the time this is all said and done.  And for what?  Toyota owners have a better chance of killing themselves by slipping in the shower (2,300:1) than they do having even an issue (not a fatal one) with their faulty accelerators or floor mats (13,500:1).  Check it out.

One of the hardest things you’ll ever do as an HR professional is take a stand on an employee’s performance, suggest they “aren’t done yet,” and insist that you (all) have an obligation to at least try and salvage their career with the organization.  This is easy enough to do when you have some employment law risk to fall back on.  But try it when the mob is forming, when quick-judgment has already been passed, and some loud mouth is crying “foul.”  If HR professionals went along with the herd every time performance came into question, our “Grim Reaper” moniker would be well deserved.  We go out of our way to understand the dynamics at play, we gather facts, we interpret the data, and we always perform a risk analysis.  History (track record) is considered.  Multiple view points and diverse perspectives are sought.  And ultimately a recommendation is made.  But we always start with the benefit of the doubt…don’t we?  Don’t we begin with the premise that people make mistakes, that no one is perfect, that flawless performance is fleeting, and that every one should be given another (and another) chance?  And more than anything, we hate the “either/or” solution and always look for the “and/both” solution…

Why do Americans suck at this?  There are solutions to this problem, their are a number of models not subject to the issues, the company will pay for the fix, and it’s not like they are going to put new cars on the market that have the same issue.  To any one who is thinking some semblance of “I really like Toyota but now there’s no way I’m buying one,” you’re a doo doo head.  I just hope you’re not an HR professional too.

The FLSA OT Exemption No Longer Computes!

February 2, 2010 4 comments

When the DOL enacted the FLSA back in 1938 there were a couple of things that could not have been taken into account.  The whole basis for the overtime exemption was that certain employees were educated, trained, and responsible at a level that afforded a certain flexibility in how they get their job done.  Generally the argument was that sometimes those professionals would work 40 hours a week, sometimes they would work 45, and sometimes they would work 35.  Whatever it was, though, the expectation was that their annual salary should take into account the level of effort – and the time on task – required by the role. 

Well the times have changed and this exemption as originally designed is losing its applicability…entirely.  As an example (one that you all can identify with) I have a Blackberry on my person at all hours – in fact, it’s on my bedside table when I go to sleep.  It’s the first thing I look at when I wake up, the last thing I look at before I go to bed.  Yes, that’s sad…and mostly it’s my fault.  BUT…there is some Employer culpability here.  Employers have grown to assume – almost by accident – that the average managerial or executive level employee will be available and on-call 24/7.  This applies, by the way, even when one is on vacation.  I don’t think I’ve truly disconnected from the office on a vacation – like leave the computer and smart device at home – since our honeymoon back in 2001.  Seriously. 

My annual base salary is fair and market competitive, but if I were to calculate an hourly rate based on hours worked I can guarantee you it doesn’t come close to what it is designed to be.  See if you can follow me here…  Let’s assume: a) over the last five years smart devices have become widely adopted and used as a business tool, b) said smart device usage has resulted in, on average, an additional 1.25 hours of work every week every year over those last five years (a conservative estimate I’d say), c) annual base salaries have increased, on average, by 3% every year over the last five years.  If you can buy into these assumptions, then you better sit down.  You’re really only making .26% (yes, less than 1%) more than you were 5 years ago! 


So, Mr. DOL, I hereby propose that you amend the current exemption to read, “Should you require an exempt employee to carry a smart device so that he or she can access job related eMails and/or phone calls outside of the office, employer must also pay said exempt employee an “on-call” rate above and beyond their annual base salary.  The on-call rate should approximate 1/4 of their regular base hourly rate and should be paid for all waking hours outside of the workplace.  If employee is also required to remain on-call during scheduled and approved vacation, employer shall increase the on-call rate to 1/2 of their regular base hourly rate.”  So if you’re on board with this approach, contact your respective congressmen and let them know.  I say it’s time the market be forced to adjust to what has very nearly become free labor.

Why Bother?

January 27, 2010 5 comments

How often do you take time to question the reasonableness, or idiocy, of what’s being asked of you and your team?  When’s the last time you made a substantially complete inventory of all the things your team does and ask, “why?” 

  • Why on earth do we do this? 
  • Why are you asking me for this?
  • Why is this a priority?
  • Why does this matter to our people?
  • Why isn’t there someone else who can do this?
  • Why does this have to be done so often?
  • Why oh Why oh Why?

Unless you have access to unlimited resources, part of providing exceptional customer service is making sure your team is focused on the right things.  Asking ‘why’ doesn’t mean you’re being obstinate, or insubordinate, or even difficult.  If done effectively, it means you’re charting your course, allocating your precious time, and ultimately bringing more value to your constituents.  Here’s a hint: If the answer to any of those questions is “because we’ve always done it that way,” you have a strong candidate for the trash can.  I once sat down with my HR ops team and asked them to go through a list of all the reports they give our Finance/Accounting department.  Many of these reports weren’t easy to generate, consumed a great deal of time, and were an all-around disruption to other important activities.  After asking “why” a lot, we determined that a number of those reports weren’t even being looked at by the Accounting/Finance department, others could be consolidated into fewer reports, and several could easily be generated by the Finance/Accounting department themselves.  What a waste!  Now do this with all aspects of your HR practice and see what happens…it’s like cleaning out the closet or trunk of your car.  You’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

We’re there to serve, but we have at least some say in who/what/how/when/why we serve.  You deserve to know, to question, to understand.  Stop being a “yes man,” never be a “no man,” and become a “why? man.”

Photo Credit: Thousanty One

Want to teach your daughter a REAL lesson? Sell their Girl Scout Cookies!

January 25, 2010 3 comments

It’s Girl Scout Cookie time again. Not only are those cookies worthy of a good glutinous binge, but who can resist that timid knock of that neighborhood girl practicing the fine art of door-to-door sales? It’s also a great way for children to get first-hand exposure to capitalism, commerce, ownership, responsibility, and…hard work.  So what’s up with all of you parents who bring your daughter’s order sheet into the office?  Some people would argue that you’re depriving your daughter of a good experience…that you’re giving them a cop out…that you’re spoiling them.  Others would say your actions border on unethical.  But I say you’re doing them a favor and that there’s a hidden lesson there for any of those daughters who may one day end up in the business world.  And here’s the lesson:

“People who succeed in corporate America inevitably have people in high places who help them get there.”

It’s just too tough out there to go it alone…hard work doesn’t cut it any more…it is mostly about who you know…nice gals do finish last…the “Good ‘Ole Boys Club” is alive and well.  I hate to say it, but it does matter whether you can play golf with the “big guys” (check out PunkRockHR today) or whether you can shoot the shit around the Super Bowl or whether you can smoke a cigar and drink scotch at a poker table.  And it will always matter when it comes down to promotions, evaluations, compensation, and any other “workplace competition” that you have someone in the room who can champion your cause.  Just like your parents are doing when they bring your Girl Scout Cookie order form into the office.  I have two daughters – only one of them is old enough to sell cookies.  We don’t even ask her to go door to door yet – that’s just too much for a 7-year-old.  She gives her pitch to her grandparents and close family and that’s it.  We end up buying most of the boxes, though; and that’s alright with me and my sweet tooth.  And I’m not sure I’ll ever bring her order form in to the office – it still kind of bothers me.  But I’m also not sure it’s such a bad idea either.  After all, helping your daughter – who will most likely one day become a working woman – get ahead in the workplace can’t be all that bad. 

Photo Credit: Factpile

There’s a Fly in my Fishbowl…

January 21, 2010 1 comment

Since my first tweet, I have been intrigued by what others say about HR.  It’s not often we take a hard look at what our clients think about us and Twitter gives us an abridged peek into the minds of others.  And it’s more raw than what we could get from any customer satisfaction survey…it’s like being a fly on the wall.  So I still comb the twitterverse from time to time to see what non-HR people are saying about HR.  It so happens Employees are much more critical of and vocal on HR than they are other departments.  After all, we impact their lives daily….and as a result we are a Fishbowl.  At first, I thought it might be cool to share some of those Fishbowl tweets.  After I reflected on the first list, though, I failed to find the value in sharing a bunch of whiney crap from people I don’t even know…what the hell do they know, after all, about my dear profession.  Sure, perception is reality and PR and Brand Image matter to HR.  But when @sfleatherbear tweets, “his company’s HR dept. could not possibly be more inept!” why should I f’ing care?  This is one man’s opinion and even if it’s true there is very little I can contribute to that department’s defense (or development).  But maybe I care a little bit when @adam_frisby tweets, “Wisdom Rule 1. Never walk into a HR department smiling, it’s a waste of muscle.” That hits a little closer to the core – that’s an image issue…one that more of us in the trenches may in fact be dealing with.  And from time to time I might even renew my faith when people like @kasinator tweet “My HR manager told me id be better off quitting & applying as an external candidate than trying to figure out the internal transfer system.”  Now that’s just funny and it’s evidence that HR departments can add levity to otherwise frustrating situations. 

So is this a “sticks and stones” thing?  Should I listen to my Mom and not pay attention to what these bullies are saying about us on the playground?  Or should I consider it another way to get perspective, albeit a tainted one?  One thing is for sure, I wish our employees could be as candid with our HR department as some of these tweeps are with theirs.  But until we create an environment in which they are comfortable doing so, I’ll keep looking for ways to be that fly on the wall.

A Call to Maladjustment…

January 20, 2010 3 comments

On 1/18/2010, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Bethel College in Kansas played for the first time a recording of a speech Dr. King made on its campus.  It is the only known recording of this speech and they were lucky enough to track down an alumnus who brought his own reel-to-reel recording equipment to the auditorium that day 50 years ago.  How cool is that?!  Anyway, Dr. King was fond of calling us to become maladjusted – and he did so quite a bit in his speech that day at Bethel.  Ordinarily, and particularly to conformists, this term connotes a negative: “lacking harmony with one’s environment from failure to adjust one’s desires to the conditions of one’s life” (Merriam Webster).  But in the context of humanity needing a slap upside its head, that’s exactly what Dr. King argued we needed more of.  There were, after all, “some things within our social order to which [he was] proud to be maladjusted and to which [he] called upon [us] to be maladjusted. [He] never intended to adjust [his]self to segregation and discrimination. [He] never intended to adjust [his]self to mob rule. [He] never intended to adjust [his]self to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism…” (from The Power of Non-Violence, June 4, 1957).

At the risk of trivializing Dr. King’s teachings (which I can assure you is not my intent), I think there’s a lot about this maladjusted thing we need to take to heart in HR.  Have we fallen prey to conformists?  Do we sometimes feel more at ease when blending into the background?  Do we try too hard to acquiesce to the personalities and workplace idiosyncracies thrown at us?  Are we often too quick to adjust our direction to what “the business” tells us it should be – do we wait around for our marching orders?  Are there times when we really wish we would have spoken up, but didn’t for fear of ____?  Are we known for rocking the boat? Are we known for affecting change or just responding to it? Are we guilty of applying the letter of the law without room for interpretation or flexibility?  Do we stimulate debate…do we even take part in it?  Do we cower when confronted, or altogether hide?  Do we face, do we oppose, do we dissent?  Does conflict give us pause? Have you ever said, “we’ve always done it that way?”  Are we completely risk averse? 

What success HR might advance – even catapult –  if it maladjusted to our workplace order! 

Photo Credit: Mennonite Library and Archives/Bethel College