Recruiting and training programs, to be truly successful, must have a clear purpose with well-defined objectives.  This is very difficult to do.  In the book Change to Strange, author Daniel M. Cable writes about just how difficult it can be to define your organization’s true priorities, the ones that you will be fanatical about in the execution of the organization’s business, and then building your workforce architecture around that “strange” picture. 

For an example of the lessons taught in Change to Strange, have a look at this speech by Randy Nelson, dean of Pixar University, the company’s recruiting and training arm.  Mr. Nelson is inspiring, to say the least.  From his presentation, it’s clear to me that Pixar “gets it.”  As in, really gets it.  I am very impressed. 

[The video is made available by Edutopia.org, which Fast Company posted about early in the month.]

The video is about 10 minutes long (worth every second of your time).   As Fast Company describes the HR theory Nelson advocates:

Mostly, it’s about hiring ultra-nerds with good communication skills. To wit: You want people who have become exceptional at a tiny discipline, no matter how obscure or dorky, since it’s that compulsion to truly master something that predicts how they’ll handle a new task. (Wannabe Pixar employees: Don’t bury your unicycle or juggling skills on your resume.) Another idea is looking for people who have failed and overcome—as Nelson puts it, “The core skill of innovators is error recovery not failure avoidance,” which is key if you’re asking someone to solve a never-before-solved problem. But perhaps the squishiest trait is the ability to make others around you better, through communication and camaraderie.

This, I believe, is the HR Gold Standard in action.

Employers are implementing layoffs and other drastic cost-cutting measures.  Done improperly, these “cost-cutting” measures can result in ruinous litigation. shutterstock_21695104

Learn how to conduct reductions in force without inviting a lawsuit by attending this half-day seminar hosted by Young Conaway. Delaware employment law attorneys Scott A. Holt, Teresa A. Cheek and Maribeth L. Minella will discuss the downsizing dos and don’ts. 

This program is taught at an advanced level and is designed for senior human resource professionals, equal employment and affirmative action managers, in-house counsel, and other business professionals. 

Registration

Program Fee:  $60.00 per registrant

Registration form is available for download at the event’s page at Young Conaway’s website.  The deadline for registration is March 2, 2009.

When:  March 5, 2009 9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

Where:  Young Conaway offices, Wilmington, Delaware

*HRCI Credits Pending

[Update to Change to Facebook’s Privacy Policy Under Attack]  Here’s the quick background of this post, if you don’t know already: 

Facebook has privacy policy warning users that their content is “owned” by Facebook until they terminate their membership or permanently remove the content.  Facebook changes policy by adding one sentence, which states that, even after the termination of one’s membership, Facebook retains ownership of that member’s content–forever.  Facebook users are outraged and there is a public outcry about concerns for privacy rights. Facebook announces that the policy is legitimate and here to stay. image

That gets you caught up through this morning.  But there’s more to the story.  This morning, on CNN’s American Morning, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, Chris Kelly, spoke about the outcry from users following the change in the policy’s language.  And, it turns out, Facebook has been persuaded by the public voice.   In a total about face, (sorry but the pun is intended), Facebook has decided to again change its policy, this time to satisfy the concerned public. 

One of the most insightful points made by Kelly came as a reminder about just how private your content is not, once posted online.  From the transcript of today’s show:

Well, we think it’s incredibly important for people to realize the power that they can have in terms of choosing to put up information or not, and then also to whom they show that information.

The video can be viewed in whole at the CNN website: Facebook’s About-Face

The four-day work week is very popular among public employers these days.  Employers who have implemented a compressed work week program successfully say they’ve enjoyed benefits such as saved energy costs, decreased absenteeism, and improved employee morale resulting from the change. 

I don’t believe that a four-day work week is the solution of all solutions, as some have claimed.  But I do believe that there are certain organizations that, because of their structure and purpose, can be good models for the program.  The ideal candidates, though, are almost always government employers.  A mandatory four-day work week, generally, is not realistic in the private sector. image

But does that general proposition lose its vigor in a bad economy?  Can the four-day work week be implemented in the private sector more effectively because of the downturn?  It turns out that flexible schedules can have important benefits in an economic downtime, just as they can in times of fiscal health.  The trick, though, is to get employers to be aware of the opportunities.  

Fast Company blogger, Cali Yost, has an ongoing series of posts about the benefits of “flexible downsizing” and why employers are better suited to consider this option as opposed to layoffs.  In a recent post, she explains:

There are creative, cost-effective ways to use strategic work+life flexibility to reduce labor costs while remaining connected to valuable talent. These options include reduced schedules, job sharing, sabbaticals, and contract workers.

In a recent interview with Penn professor and author, Dr. Peter Capelli, Yost questioned why more employers aren’t taking advantage of the benefits that can be derived from a flexible-downsizing initiative.  Most employers, said Capelli, are too short-sighted, focusing only on short-term cuts instead of the longer term savings to be had.  Capelli asserts that it is cheaper to retain an employee at  5% reduction in pay than to layoff 5% of the workforce because “there are no severance packages; the legal liability and associated costs are much less; and the savings come instantly without the agonizing administrative process of figuring out who has to go…”.

Flexible downsizing is also a valuable option when employers are trying desperately to avoid layoffs–at the cost of the fiscal health of the organization.  These companies are so pained by the thought of laying off personnel that they avoid doing so to the extent that it actually results in more layoffs in the long-term.  Alternatives such as voluntary, across-the-board pay cuts, reduced-hour schedules, and furloughs of even a few weeks can mean the difference between voluntary, and relatively minor, cut-backs now and involuntary and severe cut-backs later. 

1 in 5 employers use online social networking sites (OSNs) to screen job applicants.  Some employers even use OSNs to monitor the activities of current employees.  (Think workers’ comp fraud.)  If done properly and for the right purpose, I support the use of the Internet as a tool for employers.  But there are plenty of critics of the practice.  word background social networking

Those who are against the use of sites like Facebook and MySpace to screen job candidates cite “privacy” concerns.  I don’t buy it.  There is no reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to information an individual voluntarily posts on-line.  Yes, there may be other problems if an employer creates a false identity for the purpose of “tricking” an individual into granting the employer permission to access his or her site or web page.  But, the simple act of viewing something that was published for the purpose of being viewed, does not seem like a privacy violation from my perspective. 

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The Wall Street Journal recently posted an entry on its blog “The Juggle,” entitled Laid Off . . . And Pregnant,” describing the position of tens of thousands of pregnant women laid off in the current economy. As noted by the article, pregnant women are just as subject to any one else to being laid off for economic reasons, as long as they are not specifically targeted based on their pregnancy or assumptions about their future commitment to the job as new mothers. stick people family images

A woman laid off while pregnant, however, is in a uniquely difficult position. Legal prohibitions against pregnancy discrimination notwithstanding, women with a visible belly are not the most competitive job candidates. Most unemployed women “showing” their pregnancy assume (with good reason) that they will never get hired, and therefore remove themselves from the job market. Others hope to land a job offer before their appearance forces them to disclose their condition.

Although it is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire a candidate simply because of her pregnancy, the employer is likely to assume that the employee will be unable to work for at least some period in the near future. In addition, there remain societal assumptions about a new mother’s lack of focus on work (that the EEOC’s Guidance on Family Responsibility Discrimination (pdf) was designed to combat). Even if, subconsciously, one would anticipate most employers to reach the decision that another (non-pregnant) candidate was better suited for the position. It goes without saying that an expectant father who is laid off does not face the same hurdles.

We’ve come a long way, baby, but not that far.

There’s no easy answer to this issue. I’m sure there are plenty of expectant mothers crossing fingers and toes (if they can reach them) and hoping that they remain employed through the duration of their pregnancy.

I know we are in tough economic times. Sacrifices must be made. Budgets must be cut. But can you go too far? Can personnel cuts go so deep that they become counter productive? For example, a layoff may make no sense if all the cost savings are lost due to overtime paid to the remaining employees. Similarly, cutting staff would seem to be inappropriate if customer service deteriorates to a point that customers are driven away. Yet, many retailers seem to be taking such an approach in the expansion of self-service checkout.group with briefcases

Last weekend, I visited a major home improvement retailer to purchase seeds for this year’s garden. I won’t say its name, but its logo is blue and white. Now, I am generally a fan of this chain and drive a few extra miles because I have found it offers a great selection of goods at a fair price. But mostly, I go there because I have found it’s employees knowledgeable, helpful, and most importantly, accessible. I drive right by this chain’s major competitor (the one with the orange sign) for this reason. But the customer service of that chain is not what this post is about.

By the time my wife and I had finished our shopping, we had a couple of dozen seed packs and related materials. As we approached the checkout, we noted that every aisle was closed except the self-service checkout aisle. Two clerks were working at a closed aisle. When I approached them, hoping that they would open up, they directed me back to the self-service checkout aisle. A sense of dread came over me.

Be honest. Have you ever been able to successfully checkout a dozen or so items at a home center or grocery store without a problem of some sort? I never have. Either an item won’t scan or an “unexpected” item will be detected in the bag, or some other issue will require assistance from the clerk (i.e. how do you ring up two loose screws and three nuts? Or, is this a sweet potato or a yam?)

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Employment law lessons can be found everywhere.  As winter slogs on, I have been spending more time indoors.  For me, more time indoors means more time watching TV.  One show that I have discovered is Kitchen Nightmares, in which chef Gordon Ramsay helps failing restaurants. 

The shows follow a predictable pattern.  As the show opens, Ramsay meets a proud, yet clueless owner and places an order. The food is always horrible.  Gordon then tours a filthy kitchen and meets the a hapless kitchen staff led by a despondent chef.

Chef Ramsay’s recipe for turning around a restaurant can be used by virtually any employer.

First, he carefully reviews the strengths and weaknesses of the restaurant.  He then delivers his findings to the owners in a direct, expletive strewn, way.  Interestingly, they usually know about most of the weaknesses, but have failed to address them. They are paralyzed with fear that making changes will make a bad situation worse.  Of course, their failure to act simply accelerates the restaurant’s decline.  Ramsay convinces them that their approach is a fool’s game, since without change the restaurant will ultimately disappear.

Second, he demands that the owner be an effective leader.  In each of episodes, the owner is new to the restaurant business. This lack of experience leads to either indecisiveness or arrogance.  Both approaches fail.  The indecisive owner is ignored.  While the arrogant leader is sabotaged.  Ramsay counsels a middle ground where the owner listens to the staff while imposing consequences for failure to follow directives. image

Third, he orders a complete cleaning of the kitchen.  To Gordon, the filth is a symptom of a staff without pride.  Where necessary, he orders new equipment to ensure that the staff can actually produce food in a safe manner. 

Fourth, Ramsay simplifies the menu.  In virtually every restaurant, the menu is bloated with dozens of appetizers, entries, and desserts– all done poorly.  Ramsay’s approach is develop a single theme for the restaurant which customers can understand.  All other items, are eliminated.  The restaurant can then focus on a “core competency.”

Fifth, the smaller menu also allows Ramsay to train the kitchen staff on the proper preparation of each item.  To often, the kitchen staff is a “jack of all trades, master of none.”  The trained staff leads to better prepared dishes which lead to praise from customers which lead to a more motivated staff.

And, sixth, he demands communication in the kitchen. To often, the chef mumbles the orders as they come in.  The staff fails to acknowledge the orders and they go their separate ways.  As a result, the orders become hopelessly backed up due to preparation errors and poor timing.

In these tough economic times, employers should take stock of Ramsey’s ideas.  Access strengths and weaknesses. Deal with problems now.  Listen to employees. Discipline when necessary. Invest in new equipment. Clean up the workplace. Focus on your core business.  Train. Communicate.

Bon Appétit.

I need a new office chair. Actually, what I need is a real office chair.  One that does not increase my desire to run to the door and flee the building at 5 p.m. anymore than the normal office-bound employee.  I discussed this crisis (a/k/a “the office-chair lament”), shortly after the start of 2009 in, Wellness Resolution: The Quest for the Perfect Ergonomic Office Chair.  

Leadership blog, What Would Dad Say, adds to the topic with a positively hilarious post called, Is a Nice Chair Too Much to Ask For?.  In the post the author laments the fact that he never invested in an upgraded office chair.  The funny part, at least to me, are the 5 suggestions offered for the inventive types out there.  Here are the 5 ways in which modern office chairs can be improved, according to WWDS:image

 

1. Heat. Some offices are cold so why not a heated chair, like my car? If they can make it even a bit hotter where my lower back hits the chair, score!

2. IPod connections. Let’s get hooked up properly, without the cords running across the desk. Are hidden speakers too much to ask for?

3. The Wii Fit idea. When you step on the Wii Fit board, the little lady says “Ohhh.” This really means “Lard-Ass” but it is a cute reminder just the same, chairs should do that.

4. Make them recline. I mean I-want-to-take-a-15-minute-nap flat.

5. Mood chairs. Ever walk into someone’s cube, with some simple, easy question and the person turns on you like one of Michael Vick’s pitbulls? A chair that turned colors depending on the mood of the sittee would save a lot of hurt feelings. Tell me I’m wrong.

 

I agree with each and every one.  Somebody, please, take these suggestions to the assembly line and whip up a real office chair for the office workers of the world!!  (In case the pictured chair is your idea of the ideal office chair, you can get more information about the WorkBay chair at Vitra.com, which makes this jewel and many other pieces for work and home, not all of which are this “unusual.”)

Military caregiver leave, which was amended to the FMLA in January 2008 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, provides unpaid leave to employees who need to take time away from work to help care for a covered family member who became ill or was injured in the line of duty. This leave can be critical to these employees.  But what about when the employee is the service member?  There are ways that employers can offer assistance to employee service member, as well. 

Employment can play a major role in the recovery of wounded and injured service members. To support these brave men and women in their return to civilian life, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), has launched two employment-related outreach programs for returning service members and their employers—REALifelines and America’s Heroes at Work.soldier march

Recovery & Employment Assistance Lifelines (REALifelines)

The DOL’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS), developed the REALifelines program, which is managed by the DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).  The program creates a personalized network to ensure that wounded and injured service members are trained for rewarding careers in the public and private sectors. REALifelines provides wounded and injured service members—and their primary caregivers—the opportunity to meet face-to-face with a Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program specialist who provides guidance on how to secure employment and achieve economic self-sufficiency.

America’s Heroes at Work

The DOL’s second initiative, America’s Heroes at Work, focuses on the employment challenges of returning service members living with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which are two of the most common injuries among today’s service members.  America’s Heroes at Work offers a variety of educational resources devoted to workplace best practices for returning service members with TBI and PTSD. Materials include fact sheets, Web-based training tools, educational presentations and more—all designed for employers, workforce development professionals, service branches, key military support systems, veterans’ service organizations and One-Stop Career Centers.

These two programs are representative of the ODEP’s ongoing efforts to give the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces practical assistance in their transition back to civilian life.  Employers who employ service members or the family of service members should not hesitate to take advantage of the many initiatives made available by the DOL and ODEP.  

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