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    Long-term deals - Are they for jocks only?

    If you work for company in the United States, and are not a member of a Union, it is quite likely your employment agreement is know as 'Employment at-will'.  What is Employment at-will?  From LegalDictionary.com we find:

    Traditionally, U.S. employers have possessed the right to discharge their employees at will for any reason, be it good or bad. The "at-will" category encompasses all employees who are not protected by express employment contracts that state that they may be fired only for good cause. "Good cause" requirements are typically a part of collective bargaining agreements negotiated by employee unions; nonunion workers rarely have this form of protection.

    But you know what category of worker in the US frequently gets the protection and security of guaranteed employment contracts?

    Profession athletes.

    These top professional athletes in sports like baseball and basketball can sometime agree to contracts upwards of five years, and the very best can command staggering compensation:

    Source - nydailynews.com

    Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees recently agreed to a 10-year deal that may pay him up to $305M.

    Not bad.

    A-Rod is a top player, an all-time great, and it makes sense for the Yankees to lock up his services for essentially the remainder of his pro career. A-Rod can't decide on his own to jump ship and join the Red Sox next season.

    But most organizations do not have the same assurances and control over their stars and top performers.  Almost all of your top players are working under Employment-at-will arrangements. The best java developer, marketing analyst, or senior accountant can pack up their desks and march out tomorrow, maybe even to one of your competitors.

     Almost all companies are willing to take the chance that great talent will leave in exchange for the ability to adjust staffing levels, downsize, and have total flexibility in workforce deployment.

    However, if the latest economic data is to be believed, the long downturn is showing signs of ending, and leaders will soon be faced with more challenges.

    A recent article in Forbes reports that over half of senior executives surveyed are extremely concerned about key employee retention once the recession ends:

    65% reported they were highly or very highly concerned that high-potential talent and leadership would leave once the economy turns. And 52% of surveyed executives predicted an increase in voluntary turnover at their companies once the recession ends, four times the number expecting a decrease

    The Forbes piece goes on to offer many familiar strategies to help retain high performers: increased engagement efforts, modifying compensation plans, and holding executives responsible for retention. Good ideas, but the article makes no mention of the strategy used in pro sports to ensure the best available talent won't simply walk out the door for a better deal somewhere else.


    Why shouldn't the organization offer two or three-year deals to 'lock up' the very top tier of performers? 

    The organization can get the benefit of knowing (for at least a couple of years) that this critical talent will remain with your firm, and the employee gets at least some near term job security, even more important after the job losses of the last two years.

    Of course these contracts limit the organization's flexibility to change course, and downsize, but if they are given to just the top tier of performers, then those are the last ones you would let go anyway, right?

    And I don't want to hear about any 'double-standard' complaints, A-Rod has a 10 year $300M contract because he is a star, Nick Swisher 'only' plays under a 5 year $26M deal because he's a role player. Nick understands he's no A-Rod, and somehow he manages to show up at work every day and do his job.

    So what do you think, time to 'lock-up' some of your star players?



    A User Interface Lesson from the Produce Department

    I have always been a huge proponent and implementer of Employee and Manager Self-Service systems for the enterprise.  These systems come with lots of promises, easy access to information, reduced administrative burden on the HR department, and the opportunity to give 'ownership' of HR data to the employees and managers.

    It's a win all around, right?

    But the problem with many self-service solutions is that they inherit the user interface and design elements from the core enterprise systems that they sit on top of. Boring or ugly design, lots of menus to navigate though to get to what you are looking for, and terminology that is straight out of the programmer's manual.

    HR Self-service systems need to be simple, easy to understand with no training (and by people who may not even read English all that well), and extremely efficient.

    They need to work more like this:

    Wegmans - Pittsford, NY


    A simple self-service kiosk for weighing and printing price labels for produce. Bag up your items, place them on the scale, enter your code, and get the price label.

    Look at the key elements, large and colorful action buttons, graphics that help users (especially ones with limited English skills) to make the correct choice, and a speedy, simple transaction.

    The current most popular items are prominently featured with large, color pictures, giving the shopper one-touch access to complete their transaction. I bougt some Green Peppers, and with one touch, I had my label and was on my way.

    Why is this important for HR Systems?

    Think about how in your employee self-service system, the online Pay Slip is almost certainly the most frequently accessed function. Is the link displayed prominently, like the Green Pepper? Is a shortcut available to provide one-click access? Or do the employees have to endure something akin to this:

    Employee Self-Service - Employee Payroll Data - Payslip Information - Current Payslip

    In the grocery store kiosk I kind of expect to have to punch a few choices, even look up a code to buy something exotic like a kiwi. But for tomatoes, peppers, or corn, I expect a quick and painless process.

    So how do your employee self-service systems stack up? Do you make it easy for employees and managers to do what they need to, especially for the most common transactions?

    Or is every interaction with the system like trying to find the right code for kiwis?


    Help You, Help You

    Professional sports and agents go hand-in-hand these days. Very few pro athletes handle their own contracts and negotiations with team ownership. Agents like Scott Boras and Leigh Steinberg became famous as some of their clients over the years, a testament to the power and influence of agents.

    In 1996 a movie about a sports agent 'Jerry Maguire' put the phrases 'Show me the money' and 'Help me, help you' into pop culture.Flickr - JohnnyCashsAshes

    But since you're not a professional athlete and most likely don't have a super agent negotiating your next deal for you, you need to be your own agent. And what do the best agents bring to the table?

    Preparation - The best agents understand not only your value and your performance record, but also the history and market position of the company. If this is a salary negotiation with a new company use all available sources of information, starting with the obvious (company website, financial statements), the less obvious (company Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, LinkedIn Company profile), and the most raw (Glassdoor, Vault, and Indeed forums). Walk in to that room knowing you are better prepared than the person across the table from you.

    Confidence - This confidence stems from thorough preparation.  Once you have assessed the situation, established your key must-haves (salary, benefits, vacation, etc.), then you have to walk into the meeting confident but not arrogant, firm but not inflexible.  When you truly understand your contribution and the value the marketplace puts on your skills, confidence should not be an issue. You are a star baby, make sure you always understand your own awesomeness.

    Client focus - remember who the client is, it is YOU.  As your own agent you are trying to negotiate a deal that will be mutually beneficial to both parties, but at the end of the day you are your only advocate. You have to protect your interests first. Unless you are working for your Mom, the person on the other side of the table almost certainly does not have your best interests as their top priority, in fact they shouldn't. Only you have to live with the outcome of the negotiation, so you better make sure you advocate for yourself every step of the way.

    Network - In sports negotiations a good agent is constantly working and maintain contingency plans, in case the deal can't get worked out.  He or she uses their network connections in other organizations and with media to have some idea of where their client can go next, or better still, which teams to try and play against each other to get the best deal. You should be doing the same, staying on top of what the other target companies in your region or your industry are doing. Who may be hiring? What company is expanding?  Is your industry undergoing consolidation or is outsourcing changing the nature of what you do?  The more personal contacts you can make inside your industry and with your local business organizations the better.


    Here is what a great (fake) agent can do, are you getting these kind of results repping yourself?


    The Cradle of Coaches, or Celebrating your Ex-employees

    Note: It's 'HR and Sports' this Friday on the HR Happy Hour show, and in that spirit, I figured I'd try some posts with some kind of sports angle. Apologies in advance, Kris Dunn over at the HR Capitalist does these type of posts way better than anyone else, in fact you should probably stop reading this and click over there right now.

    Still here? Ok here goes:


    In American college athletics it is not uncommon for coaches to have some success at smaller programs at lesser-known schools, then move out and up to higher paying, more prestigious jobs at so-called 'major' universities, like Ohio State, Notre Dame, or Florida. It does seem that almost every year one of these highly lucrative positions is filled in this way.

    One of these smaller programs is the Miami University of Ohio. Miami of Ohio is known as the 'Cradle of Coaches', based on the numerous legendary coaches that worked there, and then went on to have remarkable success at larger, more well-known universities as well as in professional football. Just some of the coaches that have Miami roots are Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Ara Parseghian, and Jim Tressel.

    Ara Parseghian - Time Magazine - Nov. 20, 1964The interesting thing is that Miami is not the only smaller program to have had this experience, but by embracing it, and celebrating the achievements of former coaches once they have left Miami, they have created a kind of sustainable competitive advantage for talent compared to their most likely competitors for coaching talent.

    Any candidate for an opening at Miami would absolutely know of this rich history of successful coaches moving on from Miami to the highest echelon of the profession.  And for a highly competitive field like collegiate coaching this is a huge selling point.  Come and coach here at Miami, and we can help you on your path to becoming the next National Coach of the Year at whatever 'big' school you go to next.  They take advantage of this legacy by fully embracing it, in fact they are planning to erect statues of many of the legends that built the 'Cradle of Coaches' history.

    How many 'regular' organizations do you know that celebrate the achievements of ex-employees in such an explicit manner? Think of organizations that typically recruit new graduates or early career professionals.  A compelling factor for the best talent among them might very well be, 'What can I do next with the experience I gain here?'  For smaller companies,or ones in the non-profit or educational sector that can't usually compete evenly on salary and benefits, this may be one source of advantage that can be exploited.

    Instead of limiting your pitch to the potential career paths within your organization, what about highlighting some of the success stories of people who left and then went on to achieve success in other places, or as entrepreneurs? Instead of just having current employee testimonials on your corporate job site, why not try and include interviews with some of your most famous alumni who would be willing to talk about how their experience with your organization set them up for long-term professional success?

    Who is the most successful ex-employee from your organization right now?

    Are you using that story to your best advantage?


    Coming up on the HR Happy Hour

    We have a pretty full and I think exciting schedule of shows coming up on the HR Happy Hour the next few months.

    Here is what Shauna and I have planned: (Times and Guests subject to change):

    Episode 8 - 'HR and Sports' - August 28, 2009  - 8PM EDT

    What are the connections between Sports and HR and Talent Management? Is managing superstar employees at all like managing superstar athletes? What can coaching Little League baseball tell you about management? Are my beloved Jets going to get the Super Bowl? Shauna and I will talk about these topics and who knows what else with scheduled guests Tracy Tran, Todd Kmiec, Lance Haun and Kris Dunn.

    Episode 9 - 'HR and Small Business' - September 11, 2009 - 8PM EDT

    Small businesses and small HR departments have lots of challenges.  Lack of resources, budget, time, and access to information can all put small businesses at a disadvantage.  What are some strategies that small business and small HR departments can use to try and level the playing field with their larger, and usually better equipped competition?  Set to join Shauna and I are Charee Klimek and Franny Oxford.

    Episode 10 - 'The Job Seekers Show' - September 18, 2009 - 8PM EDT

    We know unemployment is almost 10% in the US, and much higher than that in many especially hard-hit states.  This show is all about giving some practical, simple advice and strategies for the job-seeker,  facing the worst economic climate in generations. Folks that are actively searching are encouraged to call in with their questions.  Scheduled to join us and share their expertise are Jennifer McClure, Paul DeBettignies, Deirdre Honner, and Robin Eads.

    Episode 11 - 'Talent and Technology' - September 25, 2009 - 6PM EDT

    This should be a really fun show coming to you live from the offices of Halogen Software, a leading HR Technology vendor in the Talent Management Technology space.  Shauna and I will welcome some great folks from Halogen to talk about these technologies, the benefits that can be gained from the use of these tools, and some of the critical success factors necessary for organizations that embark on these projects.  Halogen has been a great support of my HR Tech class, and the HR blogging and social media community and I am really pleased to take the show to their headquarters.

    Episode 12 - 'The Work/Life Show' - October 9, 2009 - 8PM EDT

    The Work/Life balance debate really heated up this summer after the Jack Welch speech at the SHRM national convention.  Is there really such a thing as Work/Life balance?  Do employees have a right to expect flexibility or Alternative Work Strategies?  Should companies toss out schedules altogether and move to a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE)?  Shauna and I will welcome Leanne Chase and Chris Ferdinandi to figure it all out.

    Episode 13 - 'HR Horror Stories' - October 23, 2009 - 8PM EDT

    Shauna had a great idea for a 'Horror Stories' show to fit the Halloween season.  This show will be all about taking your calls with the scariest, craziest, and most frightening HR stories that you can share. Employee forgot to wear pants to work? Illegal escort service being run out of the stockroom? Anyone pull a George Costanza with the office cleaning lady?  Here's your chance to share with the world.

    That's it for now, as always the archives for past shows can be found at my Blog Talk Radio page.