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    Wednesday
    Nov102010

    A Policy of Truth?

    Nothing like a solid HR policy to get in the way of some good natured 'bashing the boss on Facebook' antics.

    Turns out, at least in the case of the employee fired by American Medical Response of Connecticut, even an all-encompassing and overly broad policy, ('don't say anything at all negative about the company in any way on the internet), was still not enough of a deterrent to stop this employee from exercising what the NLRB contends is her right, and that is not significantly different from water cooler or happy hour commiserating with co-workers.Flickr - Enokson

    I've been thinking about policy development, application, and enforcement lately, not really so much about the above mentioned 'Facebook Firing' case, but in the broader context of what the overall set of policies, (and the attitude towards enforcing them) say about an organization's culture, and how the organization is perceived by new entrants to the fold.

    Most of the time review and communication of an organization's policies and norms is kind of an individual exercise.  We make sure each new hire is aware of and (sort of) knows how to comply with our policies, (at least the important ones).  We confirm that every employee knows where to find the documentation about our policies.  But most companies don't host open employee forums or implement interactive tech tools to discuss, create, modify, or even eliminate policies.  Questions and answers about policies are usually private discussions.

    And employee investigations of alleged policy violations also tend to examine and evaluate policies on a one-off kind of basis. Unless an employee really goes crazy, transgressions tend to be limited to a single policy violation (attendance, dress code, internet use, etc.).  Usually the HR pro focuses on the demonstrated behavior compared to the policy, (or at least the expectations) for that one area only.

    This individual or isolated focus is necessary really; if a random new hire doesn't like the company travel policy; well, too bad.  And when an employee needs to be disciplined for taking too many three hour lunches, there usually isn't a call or need for a careful review of the travel expense policies.

    Where it starts to get interesting, and I think much more illuminating, is when an organization is compelled to to make a more comprehensive review of its policies in a broad context.  The kind of review that companies undergo when having to assimilate a newly acquired company.  

    Questions from the new group abound. Whose benefit plans are better?  How much vacation will I get? Can I work from home?  Is my dog still welcome in the office?  

    And on and on.

    The thing is most companies believe they have a kind of unique and special and winning culture.  And that the policies they have established help to outline and support their wonderful culture.  But once they are put in place they tend not to get much revision or consideration, at least not on a holistic level.

    Until you have to assimilate a few hundred or thousand people from another company, one that believes that they too, have a unique and special and winning culture it is easy to kind of revel in your own 'specialness'.   In these exercises your culture gets put under the kind of scrutiny that is typically just not practical or possible in the course of normal business.

    Sure, your company is special, and fantastic, and progressive and all that.  I'm sure of it.

    But the folks who aren't so sure are the newest few thousand colleagues that just found out puppies aren't welcome in the workplace anymore.

    Monday
    Nov082010

    Where can we find someone that knows...

    Check out the embedded map below (email subscribers may need to click though).

    It is from a free service called Map My Followers, a site that presents a mashup of information about a given user's followers on Twitter, superimposed on a Google Map.

    The image above presents a visual representation of a sample of 100 of the folks that follow me on Twitter, overlaid on the standard Google map, and hovering on the little marker for each person pops up their Twitter name as well.  On the lower right, a tag cloud of common terms from my followers profiles is displayed, which provides additional insight (beyond geography) of these 100 followers interests.

    Sort of neat, kind of cool looking, and quite honestly the kind of capability, presentation, and wow factor usually lacking in the traditional workforce analysis tools that attempt to perform similar functions. 

    Imagine if you were the person in charge of sourcing and staffing a project team to support some new organizational initiatives.  Factors like geography, skills, interests, availability, and prior experience would all come in to account as you attempted to assemble the team. Instead of a map of Twitter followers, your 'map' would be sourced from core HRIS information,  internal talent profiles, internal skills inventories, and perhaps even insight from the CRM system (as to the size and strategic importance of the opportunity), and augmented by your database of external talent (maybe even a custom LinkedIn or boolean search result on top of that).

    Build in more advanced filtering capability and have the tag cloud on the right be user configurable and actionable (let me click on a tag and have the mashup highlight all the people that match that tag), and now you have the start of more dynamic and adaptable tool for insight and action into the workforce (and perhaps even all the available and accessible talent).  Make hovering over the map marker pop up a lightweight bio, with essential information displayed, and include the ability to quickly contact the person via email, IM, or even a Tweet.

    I love checking out all these new and innovative services that seem to be proliferating lately, the cleverness and industry these developers show simply by accessing open APIs and re-imaging the data is outstanding.

    What I don't love is after spending a lunch time playing with a cool site like Map My Followers is having to try to piece together similar organizational insights in an aging set of enterprise tools that were designed in a different age.

    Friday
    Nov052010

    Whistle Blowing vs. Blowing Whistles

    I love a nice juicy workplace drama story.  And when the workplace drama also includes a sports angle then I am in the happy zone.

    Submitted for your consideration - from the State University of New York at Binghamton - (courtesy of Inside Higher Ed), Coach's Exit vs. Whistle Blower's Exit.

    The important details from the Inside Higher Ed piece:

    The State University of New York at Binghamton announced last week that it had agreed to a $1.2 million settlement that will lead to the departure of its suspended men's basketball coach, Kevin Broadus. Under Broadus, the basketball program achieved athletic success but found itself in the middle of a controversy over the admission of academically unprepared athletes and numerous arrests of players.

    One of those who blew the whistle on the basketball program, however, faces a future much less financially secure than Broadus does. Sally Dear, an adjunct since 1998 and a key source for a New York Times article last year on the scandal, received a letter Monday telling her not to expect a renewal of her teaching duties for the next semester. She currently teaches two courses and is paid $5,000 for each one. In the Times article, which angered many supporters of the Binghamton athletic program, Dear was quoted about how basketball players arrived late, left early, and disrupted class in other ways.

    Nice.  The school more or less looks the other way on some questionable and possibly illegal activities associated with the basketball program in order to see some success and get some notoriety for the program.  After some time, the behaviors and violations become too egregious and well-known that eventually it all comes crashing down.  The coach, who has at least some, if not most of the blame for the mess will walk with a cool $1.2M, while one of the whistle blowers gets casually shown the door. Interesting how Binghamton can find seven figures for the coach but can't free up $10,000 for Ms. Dear to continue teaching her two courses. 

    I don't know much more about the tale than the few details in the piece, but the bit that is concerning is how colleges in particular, and corporate organizations in general can come to view and value the service, contributions, and expandability of temporary or contract staff.  

    Colleges use adjuncts for lots of reasons - sometimes to fill slots to teach unique or specialized courses, to backfill permanent faculty doing research or on sabbatical, or often to cut costs and improve incremental profit margins.  Kind of the same reasons that organizations engage temporary or contract staff in the corporate world. Many adjuncts will tell you that while they enjoy their work, and are committed to their discipline and their students, they fully realize their (low) place on the institutional pecking order.  

    But as we heard last night on the HR Happy Hour interview with Dan Roddy of IBM, the trend towards more flexible and fluid workforces, with more representation of contract and temporary staff is not only continuing, but likely is accelerating. 

    My guess is Ms. Dear has not been (effectively) dismissed because she was a whistle blower, but more likely since she was merely 'contract' staff, and therefore much more expendable. Not a big deal you might think, part of the reason that any organization employs temporary or contract staff is the ability to adapt and react to changing conditions and new opportunities much more rapidly than in the past.  In many organizations there has always been a bit of a stigma attached to the 'temps'. But I wonder in a world that seems to be barreling towards an even greater use of temporary and contract staff if we really need to think more consciously about how we have traditionally viewed these contributors.

    I don't think we can continue to view and treat them as mere commodity purchases.  I don't think we can continue to cast them off for acting in a manner that is consistent with what we would expect and demand from the 'real' employees.

    At SUNY Binghamton, the 'real' employee that blew a whistle for a living is walking away with a sweet exit package.  The 'fake' employee, one of the whistle blowers, now has to scramble to find a way to replace the $10,000 she won't earn this semester.

    Hopefully she can land another temp gig somewhere else, and soon.

    Wednesday
    Nov032010

    Possible reasons I won't be presenting at SHRM '11

    Monday morning started early this week, in a breezy and crisp ‘autumn is pretty much over and winter will be here very soon’ kind of way.  Me, semi-staggering from the early hour and the too-much Halloween candy from the night before cobwebs managed to have a reasonably productive start to the week only to be interrupted by an unfamiliar visitor, the mail guy, who dropped off an official looking letter addressed to me.

    Sort of odd, because in the short time I have been here I don’t think I had received any snail mail at all, in fact, I can’t imagine the career prospects for folks that actually still deliver snail mail in corporate campuses to be all the bright.

    This letter was from SHRM, the Society for Human Resources Management.  A few months ago I, along with many of my colleagues and friends had submitted presentation proposals for next June’s SHRM Annual Conference.  In fact, I want to say I submitted the presentation for consideration about a year before it would be (theoretically) delivered, SHRM had better hope nothing significant changes in the world of work and HR for twelve months.  But I digress.

    As you can tell from the post title, and from the image on the right, my proposal was rejected.  For the purposes of full disclosure, my proposal was not for a formal or traditional presentation, it was a pitch to do a live, on-site version of the HR Happy Hour show, and I offered as my ‘proof-of-performance’ the archive of 70-odd shows that we have done, highlighting some of the best episodes that featured leaders and well-known experts like Dave Ulrich and Andrew McAfee.

    The form letter I received informing me of the rejection offered nothing specific about why the session was rejected - my theory - the folks that evaluated the session had never heard of the show; but a close read of the text does offer some clues as to perhaps why the HR Happy Hour show will not be on the program at SHRM ‘11.

    Possible reason 1 - ‘We strive to offer a balanced program of educational sessions’

    Likelihood - Thinking no, as I can’t imagine there were any other ‘live radio show’ sessions pitched.  So including the HR Happy Hour could not have ‘unbalanced’ anything.  In fact, something like the show would have been a good counterweight to the 13 sessions given by lawyers.

    Possible reason 2 - ‘(we) select proposals that best fit the overall programming framework of the conference’

    Likelihood - Pretty high I think.  Assuming that the ‘overall programming framework’ doesn’t include ‘different’, ‘unique’, or ‘innovative’.  Can anyone actually describe this framework anyway? But this had to be the main reason for the snub.  The Happy Hour show just does not fit the typical and expected template.  And I do believe that SHRM does know what its members want.

    Possible reason 3 - ‘Please understand that we receive many proposals with several on the same topic’

    Likelihood - On the ‘many proposals’ part - sure; on the ‘several on the same topic’ - no way.  No one else is crazy enough to keep organizing, producing, and presenting a weekly show on HR and Workforce topics.  Maybe I should take that as a sign there really isn’t much of an audience for this sort of thing.

    The end result is that the HR Happy Hour show will not be broadcasting from SHRM ‘11 next June, at least not as part of the ‘official’ proceedings.  I am not trying to whine and complain about being rejected, I quite honestly did not put that much effort into the submission, but I did want to let listeners of the show (all seven of you) know what was going on.  From experience broadcasting from several prior events, I have come to the conclusion the only way to reach anyone outside the core audience is to get on the 'official' conference program. Whether or not that will ever happen is another story.

    Regardless, after writing this piece, and processing all the information, I actually think I figured out where I went wrong.  Instead of pitching a live HR Happy Hour show, the pitch should have been ‘HR Professor Steve Boese will interview a panel of legal and communications experts on the perils of unfettered access to internet radio in the workplace’.

    I bet that would have matched the overall programming framework.

     

    Monday
    Nov012010

    Builder or Custodian

    In the world of big-time college athletics success on the field or court often results in ancillary benefits to the institution in the form of increased donations, an uptick in applications for admission, and in the case of so-called ‘Cinderella’ type schools that have not been traditionally strong, a surge in awareness and name recognition for the school to a wider audience.

    In the college ‘money’ sports of (American) football and Men’s Basketball, a successful season or two, or a deep run in championship competition can be a springboard of opportunity for coaches at these smaller schools to make the jump to a larger school (and substantially raise their compensation), and can also create exposure for players at these small schools that perhaps might lead to a shot at professional contracts in the NFL or NBA.

    Not unlike many industries or even geographies, there is a kind of hierarchy in college athletics; schools ‘know’ their place in the hierarchy by virtue of their level of competition, the conference and peer institutions that they choose to organize and affiliate with, and this hierarchy guides and influences the players they can recruit, and the quality and experience of the coaches they can employ.  Schools (and fans, alumni, students, etc.) all know their ‘place’ in the hierarchy, and while their is occasionally some institutions that ‘climb’ the ladder to higher levels of affiliation and competition, most of the upward mobility is personal, e.g., a successful coach at a lower level of competition gets a similar job at a bigger, top-flight school.

    Last spring Butler University, a liberal-arts school with less that 5,000 students made a remarkable run to the Championship game of Men’s College Basketball, only to lose by two points to perennial power Duke, 61-59.  Butler’s coach Brad Stevens, was purported to be a candidate for several ‘bigger’ jobs (he stayed), and star player Gordon Hayward was seen as a potential NBA star (he left, and now plays for the Utah Jazz).  The movement of coaches and players from these small school successes is not really news anymore, and not terribly interesting (even to me).  

    But another piece of employee transition news from Butler caught my attention over the weekend - the surprise resignation of Butler’s President Bobby Fong to take the over the same position at even smaller Ursinus College (I had to look it up too), a school of about 1,700 students located in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. Fong has been President of Butler for 10 years, a period that has been marked by rising enrollments, a successful $150M fundraising campaign, and capped off last spring by the exciting run to the Men’s Basketball Final Four and the Championship game.

    If Fong were a player or coach on the basketball team, we’d expect his next move to be ‘up’; to take over at a big school like Michigan or South Carolina.  But to drop down to a tiny, off the map school like Ursinus?  In sports, this would be considered a step back, a career hiccup, or even the first step on the road to obscurity.  But look a bit closer and we see that what matters to Fong is the job he will be doing, not necessarily who he will be doing it for.  After 10 years of building up Butler, Fong wanted to start all over again the process in an environment where he would have that opportunity.  The money quote from Fong - “"You always want to be able to help an institution improve, and I tend to be a builder. I am not a custodian."

    Super line, and one that reveals much about Fong as a leader, and that can also help anyone better understand and assess potential career moves.  Sometimes moving ‘up’ only means you get a nicer office to sit in while you simply look after things and try not to screw up. Sometimes you have to take a step ‘down’ in order to keep building.

    Good luck at Ursinus President Fong, and if you make the Final Four again, I will demand an NCAA investigation.