2nd Annual Tim Sackett Day – Paul Hebert

hebert

 

Somehow I missed the first Tim Sackett day.

Maybe it was because last year at this time I was coping with a recent move from Michigan to Florida. Maybe it was because January 23rd is the day before my birthday and I’m always feeling too sorry for myself and my fading years to give a shit about anyone else.

But I am here for the second Tim Sackett day. I am here to honor a HR practitioner who does great work but isn’t likely to end up on an arbitrary influencer list.

I’m here because I know and love Paul Hebert.

I met Paul in early November 2009, at the very first HRevolution in Louisville. Paul led what we came to call the “baby blogger” session – the session for people who were beginning HR bloggers or thinking about blogging, or who didn’t blog but who didn’t have anywhere else to go. With kindness, thoughtfulness, and the smartest sense of humor I have ever seen, Paul taught that group of wide-eyed, blogger innocents that it was okay to try, to fail, and to try again. There are several of us from that class who started blogging about HR and related issues after that class – and are still doing so today.

Since then, Paul has been a help to me anytime I have asked him for it – and even if I didn’t.  He showed up at my Twitter #SHRMChat last October when we were discussing maximizing membership, just to be supportive and because he knows everything about incentivizing your people there is to know.

OctSHRMChat1

Now he  is inspiring me in a different way.

Paul has cancer, you see. Cancer scares the shit out of me, because three of my siblings have already died from cancer, and my mother had it, too, although her heart quit before the cancer killed her.  To me the big C is more of a matter of when, and not if.

But Paul is facing his cancer with his customary wicked humor and smart style. He started a blog called Peestrong – bladder cancer, so the title of the blog perfectly reflects his smarts – where he details his journey through this debilitating illness. I find myself reading his entries over and over, hoping that I can face my eventual cancer with the same type of thought and graceful wit he has shown me.

Yes, Paul is a force in the online, #trenchHR world that deserves recognition and credit. To me, though, he is much, much more.

Check him out – I know you won’t be sorry.

 

 

 

Your Job Descriptions Are Unhealthy

In my house, the longest ingredient label is on canned dog food.
In my house, the longest ingredient label is on canned dog food.

I am one of those people who block your way in the grocery store aisle while I carefully read the ingredient label on almost everything I take off the shelf.

I do it because I am pretending to be conscience about my health, and part of that awareness,  I’ve been told, is to avoid certain ingredients and additives that are going to kill me quickly.

I have realized lately that this is just so much bullshit, really, because truly healthy eating doesn’t require reading any labels. Not one. Because where is the healthiest food in the grocery store?

It’s in the produce section – where there are no ingredient labels on a bunch of spinach or carrots. Or in the fresh meat, poultry, or seafood section,because a piece of fish doesn’t need any label.  A loaf of bread has a relatively large list of ingredients, but a bag of flour describes just one, like  “unbleached white” or “whole wheat”.

The more over-engineered and over-processed a food item is, the longer the list of ingredients. The longer that list is, the more likely it is that you shouldn’t be eating the food if you are interested in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

The same could be said of that staple of HR practice: the job description.

Read a standard job description from your basic company. It’s full of ingredients, most of which aren’t any more healthy or understandable than “sodium acid pyrophosphate” or “acesulfame potassium”.  It says things like “able to compile and analyze performance data that support decision-making for resource allocation and subsequent campaigns“. Or how about “able to develop a strategic decision-making, prioritization, and governance process“?

Ack.

Those phrases came from an actual job description – found on the web – for a marketing director. I like this one better, for a similar job, but from a different company: Be an all-around marketing goddess (or god).

Simple. Understandable. Healthy.

Health experts will tell you to avoid eating foods that have more than 5 ingredients in their nutrition label. I have a feeling that most HR pros will argue to the death that there is no way they can limit their job description to 5 qualities or functions. Fair enough.  But if you are an HR pro, look at your job descriptions and ask yourself this:

Can I briefly and succinctly explain what this description/qualification is and why it is essential to this job?

If you can’t, get rid of it. If you can, reduce the qualification/description to less than 10 easy to understand words.

Your job description, and your company, will be healthier.

 

Does Your HR Policy Really Matter?

 

 

It was in August 25 years ago – give or take – when the whole family was preparing to attend the Michigan Renaissance Festival. August in Michigan is pretty hot, and usually pretty humid, so summer clothing was the choice I expected my kids to make when they were getting dressed.

My oldest daughter Amy, about 4 at the time, showed up at the station wagon wearing a typical summer shorts outfit but with a strange footwear choice. She was wearing winter boots.

Not those cute little suede Uggs that celebs and other fashionistas wear today, but kid’s Michigan winter boots – rubber with fake fur linings and toppers, suitable for snow and slush. I think they were pink.

My husband told her to take off the boots and put on more appropriate footwear, like sandals or tennies. She refused. I chimed in and said I didn’t give a damn what she wore on her feet and let’s just leave already, which, of course, caused a massive argument between me and the hubby.

We went to the Festival with my daughter in her winter boots, my husband and I barely speaking.

It didn’t really matter to anyone but my daughter what she wore on her feet, did it?  She wasn’t in danger of injury or illness or inability to perform her duty to enjoy herself. If her feet got too hot or she was embarrassed – it was her problem to learn from, not mine or my husband’s. And she was old enough to learn that lesson if necessary. And having our family “firm” slowed down over the footwear of a 4 year old was, in my opinion, unnecessary and counter-productive.

But many employers  have decided that their business somehow cannot function properly if they don’t tell you what to wear, how to behave, or what kind of pictures you can have on your wall. I once interviewed at a law firm where the lawyer hid his child’s colorful crayon drawings behind a door, so they wouldn’t “offend his partners”. (I didn’t go to work at that law office!)

In other words, employers treat their employees like 4-year-olds – or in ways that parents can treat a 4-year-old, even if they shouldn’t.  And HR is forced to write endless policies trying to control behavior that doesn’t really matter to the successful operation of the business.

Remember the Serenity Prayer?  It was plastered all over dorm walls and offices when I was young:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

HR should go through every single policy and ask, “Does it really matter if employees do or don’t do this?” Then they should look on their wall or divider and recite my version:

God (or whatever works for you) grant me the serenity to accept the behavior that doesn’t matter
The courage to write a simple policy only when it does
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Do you still think I should have made my daughter change her boots?

All of the footpaths at that Festival were wet and muddy, and it turned out that, despite the fine summer weather, she was the only one who came home with clean, dry feet.

Think of that when you analyze whether your policy really matters to the bottom line of your company.

 

 

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#SHRMChat – December Recap and January Preview

 

December Recap

 

Like many workplaces during the December holidays, SHRMChat was pretty quiet during December. We had the usual gang of suspects, but no newbies or novices. Hopefully we can attract more people from outside of the HR social media bubble in 2013. Tell your friends and acquaintances to join us!

That doesn’t mean that our questions weren’t discussed, because our regulars are never at a loss for words. Here are the questions posed, with a quick summary of the discussion that followed.

  •  Does your chapter or council do anything to recognize December holidays for their members? SHOULD THEY?

There were as many different responses to this question as there were people chatting. Some chapters take the month off, some have special holiday themed events, and some chapters focused on charity events. It was the general opinion of the chatters, though, that December should be a time for board, holiday, or recognition programs and charity-based works. Take the focus off chapter or council events during the holidays.

  •  People in the HR discussion space often call for HR to get out of the party-planning and gift-giving business.  Do you agree? If parties and gifts are not the responsibility of HR, who should be taking care of them?

Participants in the December SHRMChat were almost unanimous in their belief that holiday parties should not be an HR-only function. But they were split almost down the middle into two groups: (1)HR should jettison all parties, or (2) All work groups or departments should contribute in some way to holiday functions. What do you think HR should do – let me know in the comments for a future discussion.

  •  Other than cash or praise, what is the best or worst year-end gift you have ever received from an employer?

The majority of our December attendees didn’t receive any kind of year-end gift, so the best and worst answers were a little sparse. Here were a few of my favorites: Best (1) Getting off work early, and (2) Layoff notice from a hated job. Worst (1) Forced to work through Christmas party, and (2) a cheap plaque.

  •  Do you have a resolution for your chapter/council for 2013? What is the most important thing  your chapter/council should do in 2013?

Mostly our December chatters wanted more and better chapters – more members, a bigger and better conference, greater support to students, and a better system to find/rate speakers. Don’t forget to support the Wisconsin effort to rate speakers here!

 

January Preview – Thinking Outside of the Lines


Does your chapter or council focus your marketing and program attendance on members or potential members inside of your specific geographical area? Do you, as a SHRM member, confine your program attendance to your own state or local?  The January SHRMChat will discuss the potential benefits of attending and promoting outside of your geographical box or lines. Here are a few questions; feel free to add your own during the chat!

  • Q1. Does your state or local promote your conference or program to those who live outside of your boundaries? Why or why not?
  • Q2. Do you have specific strategies to suggest for promoting your conference to other states without creating internal jealousies or competition concerns?
  • Q3. Have you ever attended a conference outside of your state (not including SHRM national conferences)? Why?
  • Q4. What are the benefits or disadvantages of attending other conferences?
  • Q5. Based on tonight’s discussion, will you do ONE thing you will do to promote your program outside of the state or to change your attendance plans to include another state? Name it.

#SHRMChat is held on Twitter the 2nd Tuesday of every month at 8 pm EST/7pm CST. Join our next chat on January 8th!

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What a Tech Guy Said About HR

HR conferences are – or should be – about connecting as well as learning. If you look beyond the person sitting next to you in a session or at the same lunch table, you can find all kinds of people who can give you a different view of things.

During the fall conference season, I had the opportunity to talk to an IT/tech vendor several times when he responded to various issues in the conference venue. I’m not sure if he was hired by the HR group running the conference or by the facility, but it was clear that he had spent a lot of time dealing with the HR community just previous to and during the conference. I won’t tell you which conference, and I’ll just call him Kevin because I don’t want to identify him and possibly get him in trouble. 😉

So I asked him, “What do you think of HR people now that you have worked with them so closely on this conference?”

Do his answers surprise you?

  1.  HR cares only about operations and is unadaptable.  Kevin explained that HR is “all about process”.  HR wants to follow a script, even when it is clear that the script needs to be adjusted or has failed to work in a particular situation.  Thinking strategically and changing things doesn’t happen, even when it is necessary to fix a problem or deal with an unexpected event.
  2. HR doesn’t understand human value or compensate it appropriately. Kevin was stunned by the fact that there were people working during the conference – volunteers – that had paid their full registration fee to attend. “I work a lot of conferences”, he said, “and no one – NO ONE – works at a conference after paying to get in.”
  3.  HR certification is meaningless. It didn’t take long for Kevin to notice that no one was keeping track of attendance and that many people left the sessions long before the end. “How can someone get certification credits for something they left midway through?”

If you follow the online HR chatter even a little bit, you know that many, many HR writers have similar complaints and make similar arguments over and over again.

What no one seems to be able to address, though, is WHY. Why are people still making the same complaints about HR?

Maybe we should ask the IT/Tech department to fix it, because HR isn’t.

I’m Thankful for People Who Work on Thanksgiving

For the first time in our 25 year marriage, my husband and I will be alone together on Thanksgiving. We will be over 1300 miles from our children and grandchildren, whose number is so large that I am usually required to roast two Thanksgiving turkeys. With just two of us to celebrate the holiday together this year, my Thanksgiving dinner solution was simple.

Eat out.

I live in Naples, Florida, which is mostly a resort town. People flock here from cold climates every November to April to enjoy the beaches and the golf courses. Winter holidays find the area packed with people who all have to eat, so restaurant dining options are plentiful on the Thanksgiving holiday.

Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant gets prepared and served by employees. Working stiffs. Waitstaff and dishwashers and prep cooks – people working on the holiday.  I don’t know who will get to share the tip,  but I’ll leave a big one, because I will be thankful that their dedication to their jobs allows me to have a meal without worry and bother.

As a former police officer, I have worked a lot of Thanksgivings (and Christmases, etc.), usually responding to family fights at homes where too much liquor was consumed by too many relatives. So I can sympathize with people whose job forces them to bundle up their kids and ship them off with relatives for the day while they work, because I have been there and done it.

The author, around 1978
Me, around 1978, a working police officer.

I don’t sympathize too much with people who gripe about working on Thanksgiving, though, like the workers from Target. After all, police officers, medical personnel, hotel service, restaurant workers, football players and others* have been working the holiday for years. Everyone seems to have survived just fine.

Maybe the Target workers who are complaining about the loss of  “family time” should think about what they can be thankful for – and it’s not that they have a job. They can also be thankful for others that are working on Thanksgiving, like the police officers who show up  if there is a fistfight  in their store, or the ambulance driver who responds when a customer has a heart attack. These employees, and countless others, have sacrificed family time for years in order to serve the community, keeping it safe, happy, and entertained.

And serving the community is really what working on Thanksgiving is all about – no matter what your job is.

*(Movie theaters are generally open on Thanksgiving, staffed by workers. Here’s a great letter to Target workers about that. Thanks to author Matt Stollak, as well as Victorio Milian for inspiring this blog. )

Baby Steps Are For Infants, Not HR Organizations

It’s been almost 4 years since I fully embraced social media, and 3 years since I started blogging. One of the things I loved about social media from the start was the ability to hook up with a lot of really smart people and hear their thoughts and ideas about business.

One of the recurring themes that I have heard repeatedly during this social media journey is that innovation and movement, whether personal or professional,  requires taking risks and willingness to fail. People in the social media business space are fond of quoting other smart people like Wayne Gretzky (“You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”), Frederick Wilcox (“Progress always involves risk. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”), or Jim McMahon (“Yes, risk-taking is inherently failure prone. Otherwise it would be called ‘sure-thing taking.’ “)

So why do we make exceptions when it comes to HR and the adoption of social media? I have been told many times that the adoption of social media requires baby steps, and that I am wrong to suggest that we push our associations and HR business units harder to adopt effective social strategies.

Bullshit.

Real change and innovation in companies, organizations, and associations doesn’t come from acting like a baby who does not have the physical or mental ability to leap. It comes from leaders who are not afraid to leap when it is necessary, knowing that failure is possible but that any failure will bring even more opportunities to learn and change.

Today, Curtis Midkiff, Director of Social Engagement for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), announced that SHRM was a finalist for a 2012 Social Media Leadership Award.  SHRM isn’t a finalist for this award because Curtis took baby-steps to introduce social networking in tiny increments – he took giant leaps since taking his job with SHRM in 2010. Yes, he had some help from volunteers, as he acknowledges in this Facebook post,  but the vision and execution – and risk – was his. From 5 bloggers at the annual conference in 2010, he moved to a massive social media team in 2012, with 100 bloggers, a dedicated space where attendees could get social media training, knowledge, and networking, and a special website specifically for social media news, blogs, and Twitter  before, during, and after the conference.

Those were the decisive moves of a leader, not the tottering steps of an infant who is going to fall down many times, while we all smile and take pictures.

HR and its related organizations should be following this type of leadership, and not making claims that baby steps are a more appropriate strategy.

 

Michigan SHRM State Conference – Rants and Raves

It’s been a while since I have done a rants and raves blog about a conference I’ve attended (this was the first), even though there have been several conferences I’ve been at that I could have ranted blogged about.

I can’t overlook the recent Michigan conference, held last week in Novi, MI, though. I have previously avoided attending the Michigan conference because I have felt that my personal professional development dollars were spent in better venues. But this year my home SHRM chapter, Detroit SHRM, was the conference sponsor, so I felt a little more obligated to be there. Plus, it was held about a 3 minute drive from my Michigan house (still unsold!) so travel arrangements were cheap and easy. Cheap and easy is a huge motivator sometimes. I was also able to volunteer during the conference, which always makes me feel more productive. So here are my thoughts about MISHRM12:

RANTS

No social media presence – At least not much of one. To be fair, the organizers did create a blog site this year, but it contained nothing much but presenter or exhibitor advertisements for their session or booth. There was no useful content or information on the blog at all. There was no Facebook page at all. There were a few brave souls on Twitter (I was one of them). Here’s what one person sarcastically said about the MISHRM Twitter presence:

No, there weren’t even baby steps – more like a comatose baby in a crib. It makes me wonder if anyone from MISHRM even attends and understands their own sessions, since the always-wonderful Curtis Midkiff, Director of Social Engagement for SHRM (the national organization) gave a compelling session on why social media is important. Sad.

Sponsored sessions – MISHRM sold sponsorships of each learning session, so someone from the sponsor introduced each session speaker. BUT – not until after giving a little commercial for their company and why it was wonderful. I hated this with a passion. I didn’t think it was appropriate for people to be forced to listen to a sales pitch before they got what they paid and came for – learning. I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

Nice theme, but poor execution – The theme of the conference was “The Difference is U”. It was all supposed to be about learning and college/university. A lot could have been done with the theme – encouraging everyone to wear their college logos or colors during the conference, cheerleaders with pom pons announcing things, and presenters and vendors getting into the act. It would have made the conference FUN. But attendees, presenters, and exhibitors still wore their business clothes, with the exception of a “Tailgate Party” at the end of the Thursday session day. Unfortunately, most people left the conference hall right after sessions ended – it was clearly a commuting group of locals who wanted to hightail it home. Allowing people to have more fun during the session day would have held a lot more of them there for evening festivities. Ask Steve Browne the marketing value of letting your theme set your tone, who started his 2011 “HR Rocks” conference in Ohio dressed as a rock star and lip syncing a rock song. People still talk about that conference.

RAVES

Location – In a recent #SHRMChat about conferences, location and facilities was considered to be highly important when planning a conference. I loved this facility because the session rooms were fairly close together, the exhibitor hall was large and spacious with a lot of room to sit, and it was conveniently located right off an expressway. There was no attached hotel, but since I wasn’t staying at a hotel anyway it didn’t bother me a bit, and kept the walking to a minimum. The official hotel was only a few minutes away, and shuttle service was offered.

Location – There was WiFi capability, which put it ahead of many conferences I have attended, and was also rated as hugely important during the previously mentioned SHRMChat. I’m not sure many people were using it (see Rant #1), but it was there. Kudos. By the way, there was also a mobile conference app – which has nothing to do with location but shows that the organizers CAN be up-to-date if they want to be.

Location – Lots of available parking and food service was . . . serviceable. The biggest complaint from attendees was that there were no soft drinks, even during scheduled meals. Being a local, neighborhood girl, I was able to go out for meals and get back in plenty of time. That’s a rave in my book. 😉

 

Rocking A Corporate Culture or Rampantly Discriminating?

One of the last slides in the presentation.

 

When the organizers of the 2012 HR Florida Conference & Expo had their already-paid opening keynote cancel due to Tropical Storm Isaac, they had to scramble a bit to find a substitute.

That scrambling paid off well, because they found a great opening keynote speaker in Jim Knight. Jim was with Hard Rock Cafe for over 20 years, most recently as the senior director of global training and development. His presentation was titled “Create a Rocking Corporate Culture” – or something like that. His engaging and lively discussion centered around the idea that developing a corporate culture is an important part of business success, and that there are specific, positive steps that can be taken to develop that culture.

Now I don’t have an issue with that general premise, and I certainly don’t know anything about what Hard Rock does specifically to hire people who are the “proper” cultural fit, so I am not claiming that they engage in discrimination. But I can tell you this: one of Jim Knight’s early slides showed a 30-ish white female waitress. His explanation for that slide was that when Hard Rock first opened in 1971, they wanted to hire the 30-ish, more mature-looking female so that diners could feel like they were being served by their mother. That slide was their hiring target.

Sounds a little – no, a lot – discriminatory to me. Both sexist and ageist, as a matter of fact.

But Jim went on to say that it was different today, and that Hard Rock hired all kinds of people. And while he was explaining this shift in hiring philosophy, he showed a different slide. That slide contained pictures of 3 or 4 people. All were youthful, with tattoos and piercings and what an older person (like me) would call a “punk rock” appearance.

Not one middle aged white guy wearing a buttoned-down shirt in the picture. That’s a little – no, a lot – discriminatory, too, isn’t it?

I will repeat that Hard Rock may have all kinds of boomers and traditionalists working in their stores, but Jim Knight didn’t choose to show them on his slides because they aren’t as visually appealing when you are giving a talk about rocking corporate culture. So this is not a condemnation of his presentation or former company. But I do believe that anytime an organization hires for any reason other than knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs), there is an exponential leap in the potential for discrimination.

In fact, this current emphasis on hiring for cultural fit can, by itself, create a corporate culture of discrimination. If Hard Rock were to hire only the youthful and tattooed, does that not create a work culture that by itself discriminates against the aged?

Some scholars have pointed out the discriminatory pitfalls of over-emphasis on work culture. One legal scholar even argued that organizational culture or work culture was actually a tool for controlling employee behavior as opposed to empowering employees as some organizations suggest. In calling for more thorough judicial review of discrimination claims, that same scholar stated:

Recognizing the discriminatory potential of work culture and the increasing importance of conformity with work culture to job success should, at the very least, trigger modest reforms in the way courts and litigants think about traditional discrimination claims.

Since no one wants more lawyers involved in determining their employment practices, be very careful when stepping outside of traditional KSAs and hiring for “culture”.

Does your organization hire for cultural fit? What do you do to ensure that those hiring norms are not discriminatory?

 

Most Job Descriptions Suck

An actual job description template found on the web

 

Last month a young woman named Cathryn Sloane posted a blog in the NextGen Journal titled “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25”. In this piece the author argued that because the youngest adults grew up with social media, it became part of their fabric in a way no other group could claim, which entitled that group to suspend more mundane requirements like work experience in order to be successful in that particular job.

As you might suspect, there was a huge backlash of comments about the arrogance, absurdity and ageism of the premise that only people under 25 could possibly be effective social media managers. The outcry was so great that the very next day the founder of NextGen Journal posted his own response, which continued to draw negative comments (“just as entitled as the original post”).  Finally, NextGen posted a rebuttal from an outsider that somewhat summarized why the oldsters were so upset with both posts.

But what all of these posts and counter-posts and comments seemed to miss was that Cathryn Sloane had a valid point. Yes, her youth, inexperience and poor communication skills made her miss that point entirely – but so, it seems, did all of the other writers. This is the point:

Job descriptions and requirements for social media managers suck.

HR writes countless job descriptions based on outdated templates that keep getting used over and over again, despite the fact that those templates are not based on any proven correlation between the stated requirement and the actual skills needed. Instead, you see advertisements that require things like this, an actual social media job posting on LinkedIn:

  • BS/BA: Marketing, Advertising, Communications
  • 3-5+ years Social Media experience
  • 3+ years Ad Agency Experience
  • Proficient in social media monitoring and analyitcal software/resources

Who cares if you have a BA in advertising? Your advertising degree could be 20 years old and irrelevant. Ad agency experience? What for? There are tons and tons of people on the net having extraordinary conversations via social media that have never set foot inside of an ad agency.  Instead, HR pros should create job requirements that really address what people need in order to be successful community managers:

  • Exceptional communication skills
  • A dynamic personality
  • Large amounts of creativity
  • Empathy, reason, intelligence

These may vary a bit from job to job or by brand, but the point is the same: successful social media management has a lot to do with personality and intelligent expression, and almost nothing to do with degrees and professional experience. And it certainly has nothing to do with age – a point missed entirely by poor Ms Sloane.

Job posts and ads for social media managers are not the only ones that suck, though.  Tom Brokaw, in his keynote closing address at the recent  massive Society for Human Resources Management conference (#SHRM12), told a story about a military captain returning from 12 years in Afghanistan. He is told by an HR pro that he has “no experience”. He replies to that criticism by listing all of the things he did in Afghanistan that were certainly key competencies for many jobs: he rooted out bad guys, he helped locals create better systems, he learned to live off the land and available resources, and he did it with minimal loss.

He got the job, but the sad truth is that in most HR departments that military captain would not have even landed an interview, because a ridiculous job description with boilerplate language that said nothing about real world skills and competencies would have kept him out the door. Job descriptions or posts would have asked for a college degree, with possible project management certification, a number of years at a Fortune 500 company, and all kinds of statistical proof of his claimed accomplishments.

And that really sucks.