WANTED: State Governor;No Exp Necessary

I have been attending an online conference called The Career Summit 2010, which is about finding, seeking, or keeping a job. In the session titled “Job Search 2.0”, Anita Bruzzeze was discussing what employers were demanding in this new market; they expect huge amounts of flexibility from the job candidate,  wanting them to perform multiple functions and across disciplines.  She commented that “you would have to be Batman to fill some of these jobs.”

As someone who has been reading job postings for over two years, that comment really hit home.  Consider this recent CareerBuilder.com job post for an HR Director at a community college in metro Detroit:

So to be an HR Director at a community college you need – or someone thinks you need – to be a lawyer (“preferred”) with significant experience in collective bargaining and considerable experience in HR planning and development, and at least 5 years of HR supervisory experience with all these things – at a community college.  Don’t forget the benefits administration and ability to manage integrated software systems.

It’s particularly frustrating for job seekers to be confronted with these pie-in-the-sky requirements when CEOs of companies, such as Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, and Rick Snyder,  feel that they can become state governors or senators without any specific qualifications and no elective position experience at all.  They use the term “career politicians” to mock those that have dedicated their careers to elective positions, and claim that their business savvy somehow automatically qualifies them to step into a position that requires coalition building and consensus establishment.  I would like them to submit a comprehensive statement – like the requirement in the job post above – of their experience with and approach to passing effective legislation that will solve the problems of our states and country.

What do you think? Are we asking too much of our potential employees and not enough of our elected officials?

(My thanks to Scott Bragg for inspiring this blog post.)Enhanced by Zemanta

Blogiversary Repost: WHAT HR CAN LEARN FROM GOOD PET OWNERS

It’s my one year blogiversary!  I posted my first blog, which was basically just an “intro to me” on October 24, 2009.  It was just a few short months prior that I had been introduced to the online HR community, many of them bloggers.  I knew NOTHING about blogging – except that I wanted to try it.  Now it is one of my favorite pasttimes.  Thanks to everyone (anyone?) reading – I appreciate it tremendously!

I am reposting my first substantive blog in recognition of my anniversary, and in memory of Freckles, the dog I miss so much.

At my direction, my veterinarian killed euthanized this dog today.  He was very old and very sick, and it was my first experience with this most humane and selfless of acts.  Since I have four more dogs at home, it will certainly not be my last act of this kind.  I know that good and responsible pet owners welcome the ability to euthanize their animals to end their pain and suffering; it is the ultimate and final act of kindness to the animal, even though it causes the owner great sadness.

In reflecting on my life with this dog, I found some analogies that could be drawn between pets and employees.  Not, of course, that employees are pets or should be treated like them.  But how WE behave, or should behave, toward our pets can be helpful in defining our HR behavior.

1.  ENGAGEMENT

It’s easy for everyone to spend time with a new puppy or a kitten –  they’re so cute and delightful!  Even the youngest owners can’t wait to play with them or stroke them.  But as the puppy or kitten grow into larger animals, many people lose interest in playing with or exercising or engaging their pet.  Their basic needs of food and shelter may be provided, but little else.  Unless the pet needs discipline or restraining, the pet is simply left to amuse itself.  A good pet owner is different – a good pet owner knows that the pet is a vital part of the household and makes sure that the pet is walked, played with, trained, touched, or talked to as much as the pet needs.  Forever.

There is often a similar honeymoon period with a new employee.  HR makes sure the employee is successfully onboard, and hovers a little bit while the employee gains their footing and grows confident in their surroundings. But all too often, once that honeymoon period is over and the employee is trusted to perform on their own, the employee is essentially forgotten.  Sure, the basic needs (pay and benefits) are met.  But no one attempts to engage the employee, to seek him or her out and make sure they remain interested, motivated, trained, or involved.  Unless the employee needs discipline or counseling, the employee is often completely forgotten about by HR.

Good HR is like good pet ownership: there should be resolve to stay interested and engaged with the employee forever – not just the first weeks or months.  Seek out your employee and find out what you both need to do to stay involved with each other.

2.  COMMUNICATION

It is sometimes very difficult for a good pet owner to determine if their pet has a problem that needs attention. Since pets can’t talk, good pet owners are vigilant in watching for signs that the pet is in trouble: Is he eating properly?  Does she seem lethargic?  Is he pooping too much? Too little?  What does the poop look like?  FIVE dogs – and I could tell each one of their feces apart.  I had to, because it is an early – sometimes the only – sign of distress.

Employees can usually speak, so the HR pro doesn’t have to go to such extreme measures to determine if there are problems needing attention and discussion.  Unfortunately, many are not taking the time or making the effort.  When did you last ask an employee if everything was alright, or if there were any issues or concerns that you could help them address?  Too often, we expect the employee to come to us if they need or want something.  But often a problem is not discovered until an exit interview, when it is too late to fix (at least for that employee).  It’s natural for an employee to prefer to be asked to give information, rather than have to demand it be given.

Good HR:  be vigilant and care enough to look for warning signs indicating a problem.  Communicate with the employee and make sure that trouble is addressed as early as possible.  Ask the employee before s/he asks you.

3.  COMMITMENT

Every good pet owner buys, rescues, adopts or otherwise obtains a pet with the knowledge and agreement that their obligation to that pet is forever.  Good pet owners expect that their home will be the animal’s home forever.  Yes, sometimes unforeseeable and insurmountable problems arise that cause pet and owner to be separated.  Even then a good pet owner will work to re-home their pet so that the pet’s well-being is maintained.  When the time comes for the pet to be released from its physical pain or suffering, the good owner does what is necessary, no matter how hard, to help the pet die in peace and with dignity.

I harbor no illusions that employers have a lifetime obligation to their employees.  But HR should hire an employee with at least an idea that they are going to commit to the employees professional well-being for as long as they possibly can.  If HR has shown that commitment to the employee, consistently engaged and communicated with the employee, and has acted similarly to the good pet owner throughout the employment relationship, the end, even if involuntary, will be more dignified.

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Attitude of Entitlement = Poor Customer Service

Daughter Amy as sketched by a Norwegian Cruise Line employee on the back of a bar ticket (circa 1996)

Customer service is an important issue in the Human Resources world.  As succinctly stated by China Gorman, former COO of SHRM, “As business leaders and HR professionals, we all know about the close relationship between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction.”  In the past week or so, China , Trish McFarlane, Mike VanDervort, and Deidre Honner – exceptional HR bloggers all –  have posted about customer service.

I recently returned from a vacation with a desire to write about the same issue, but from a slightly different perspective.  I want to tell you about genuinely helpful and friendly employees who bent over backwards to service my needs, and I am going to theorize why this type of service is so rare that one is surprised and delighted when it occurs.  Especially because it does not involve Zappos. 😉

I went on a cruise.

For 10 days and nights I was aboard a floating hotel city, where my need for food, drink, sleep, recreation, and entertainment was in the hands of one company and their employees.  For those 10 days, I was surrounded by cruise employees with friendly faces and cheerful greetings.  It did not take the wait staff long to learn that I like iced tea a lot, so when I sat down at a table 3 or 4 glasses of iced tea would instantly appear.  My room steward had the sweetest smile and happiest voice ever.  Her “good morning!” always cheered me, even on the day I had a bad eye infection and was running a fever.  It amazes me that she could display such a consistently positive, upbeat demeanor after cleaning my toilet and shower.  I could bore you to death with other examples.

I have been on well over 20 cruises, so I am not a gushing newbie.  I have found that most cruise line employees try very hard to ensure the customer’s satisfaction, although Regent Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC) (my recent host), did a truly exceptional job in this area.

So why does the cruise industry, and RSSC in particular, excel in the customer service area when so many other companies fail?  The sad answer, in my opinion, is entitlement.  Many US workers feel that they are entitled to jobs, and many US companies feel they are entitled to customers.  That attitude of entitlement causes both employees and companies to forget that they exist to serve their customers, and leads to the online gripes and complaints that they earned.  Remember Dave Carroll and his broken guitar?

Most cruise ship workers come from economically depressed countries where earnings don’t come close to matching the US and other Western countries.  The workers on my recent cruise -and who I interviewed specifically for this blog – came from Romania, Indonesia, Phillipines, Serbia, and India.  They work for cruise ships because they can earn a lot more money than they can in their countries of origin.  They don’t feel the slightest bit entitled to any job.

Cruise companies aren’t entitled to passengers, either.  Only  20% of Americans have ever been on a cruise, and competition for passengers is fierce.  These companies can’t afford to let lousy customer service make them lose a competitive advantage.

I’m not going to talk about other issues with cruise workers – and yes, I know there are many – in this blog.    Whatever the other issues, I am grateful for the RSSC workers who tried so hard to give me a pleasant vacation experience, and wish more companies and their employees would follow that lead.

Weigh in!  Does an attitude of entitlement foster poor customer service?

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THINGS I DON’T UNDERSTAND #1 – Where The Sidewalk Ends

Author‘s Note: This will be my last blog post until sometime in early July.  I am going on vacation and will be too busy drinking in new cultural experiences to blog.  Be very jealous.

Author’s Second Note: This is the first of a series – hence the #1 in the title. At least that’s the plan.

No, I am not talking about the 1950 Otto Preminger film, or the 1974 Shel Silverstein book of children’s poetry.  I’ve never seen the film, and I understood the book quite well, thank you.  It was one of my daughters’  favorites and I’ve read it many, many times.  Repetition can help foster understanding.

I have looked at this several times now, though, and I still don’t understand:

I first noticed this sign while driving my dog to the chiropractor.   As smart as my dog is (he is a border collie, after all), he isn’t much of a conversationalist, so I was forced to deal with the dilemma of sidewalk-ends signage by myself.

Now, being a lawyer, I think I have a pretty good understanding of ludicrous warnings that the legal establishment has forced upon a public that can’t be trusted to know that hot coffee is actually hot.  Having a background in law enforcement to boot, I also understand that people do really, really stupid things sometimes, and have to be saved from themselves.

So, imagine an extremely drunk person walking – or staggering – down this sidewalk on a moonless night.  The street is devoid of lighting.  The drunk reaches the end of the sidewalk, and then . . . wait . . .S/HE WALKS INTO THE SIGN.  Instead of falling onto a reasonably soft bed of untended grass and wildflowers.  Knocks him or herself out cold and suffers heat stroke (or hypothermia, if a different season).  Isn’t that person suing the subdivision development company that put the sign there?

So I don’t understand “sidewalk ends” signs in general, and I really don’t understand some company lawyers. Can you help me out here?

This sidewalk end is about 50 yards away from the one with the sign.  Different development company. Do you think they build better houses? Or are they less likely to listen to their lawyers and therefor take more risks with their construction? Inquiring minds really want to know. :-)

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Cultural Generations – A Response to “I’m A Me”

Author’s Note: As the title suggests, this entire blog is written as a response to Paul Smith‘s  “Welcome To the Occupation” blog post entitled “I’m A Me”.  Paul argues that discussion about cultural generations in the workforce is “just a bunch of clatter . . .because it’s simply a battle over words and identity, and the strange need for us to place labels on ourselves in order to have a sense of belonging.”

The author, around 1978
Me, around 1978

I mentioned this before, but I will do so again: I started out my professional life as a police officer in suburban Detroit in the 1970’s.  When I began my police career, professional training and development for police officers was a fairly new concept, less than 20 years old.  Police officers of the time were treated to all manner of training programs, particularly programs which advocated a more thoughtful, knowledgeable approach to dealing with community citizens.

One program that I still remember was presented by a psychologist, and officers were shown a movie made about – you guessed it – cultural generations.  I’m pretty certain that the term “generations” was never used, but the message was clear: many of the citizens we (“we” being mostly baby boomers) were dealing with were members of what is now called the “Silent Generation” – those people born from approximately 1925-1945, whose formative years were hugely impacted by the Great Depression. The training psychologist argued that police officers could respond to our public – their family fights, abandoned cars, unlicensed pets, and all manner of things that police officers must deal with – in a more compassionate way if we actually understood them, as a group, a little better.

So when Paul argues in his blog that generations are “just a label” that we place on ourselves to foster a sense of belonging, and that individual identity is all that is relevant, I am going to respectfully disagree.

Sometimes circumstances don’t allow the employee or employer to know each individual and make a judgment.  Police officers, and anyone who performs public service, uses the tool of generational identity to help them be more understanding and responsive.  If I am an HR practitioner, I want my employees to be aware of and use those tools to be better performers. Isn’t helping identify and guide employee performance an important strategic HR function?

Sometimes, individual identity has to be ignored by the HR practitioner when they are making group decisions.  If I am charged with reducing benefit costs by eliminating some benefits, and my workforce is largely 60 and older, I might decide to reduce family medical coverage in order to maintain a 401(k) match.  I may have some individuals who will prefer a different approach, but I will choose what is best for the larger group of  boomers who likely are concerned far more with retirement funds than with dependent coverage. Sometimes the “me” has to be ignored or overlooked for the perceived good of a group. This isn’t “clatter’ – it’s concern and compromise, based on cultural generational differences.  Again, the knowledge and understanding of the culture of a generation is just one more tool that an HR practitioner might be able to use.

I’d love to hear what you think.

(PS – I know I used that picture of me the last time I wrote about police work and generations.  I only have 3 pictures of me when I was a cop, and I’m not showing you the other 2. :-))

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