Posts Tagged ‘human resources’
This post originally appeared in the Women of HR Series:Random Encounters. Check out that site because, as the headline says, those writers have your back. I am re-posting it here as a personal tribute to the dog discussed in the post, who was euthanized last Friday. I will be back with fresh content very soon, including the return of #SHRMChat, so check back or sign up for email notifications.
I used to be a lot of things: politically conservative, impatient, intolerant, and demanding.
I also used to be a shopaholic. To me, going to the mall or a shopping center was as necessary and important as breathing or eating. My husband hated doing errands with me because I would enter a man-centric store with him – like a hardware store – and never leave.
So going to a mall on a Saturday afternoon was not random at all. But on one particular Saturday in the fall of 1999, a trip to the mall changed my life.
I stopped in the pet store, which was near my usual entrance, just to look. I had a dog at home who had been adopted from the humane society, and I certainly wasn’t in the market for another. But I loved to look. Did I say I was just looking?
Inside of one of those cages was a Border Collie puppy.
Maybe it was because my daughters and I had really enjoyed the recent movie Babe (which features BCs, as they are called), but the sight of that puppy excited me like no other dog ever had. I called my youngest daughter and said, “Guess what? There’s a Border Collie puppy at the pet store!” She asked if I was going to buy it, and I said, “Of course not.” Then I left the store and went about my shopping.
But for one entire week I thought about that dog. Constantly.
By the following Saturday I couldn’t stand it any longer, and returned to the pet store with my two teenage daughters. I bought the dog (my husband was out of town, thank goodness) and took him home.
And he changed my life.
You have to understand a little about the BC to understand why. BCs are considered the smartest dog in the world. Consequently, they need special attention – they need to be trained, encouraged, and engaged if they are going to be successful pets. (Yes, just like employees.) So I set out finding a job for my highly intelligent, driven boy.
What I found is flyball. And within flyball, I found a totally new world. It’s a dog-centric world, where the care and compassion for animals is overwhelming. It is a world where people cooperate and encourage each other – at least most of the time – in order to give their pets, and themselves, something special and rewarding.
Author Jon Katz writes about the “lifetime dog”. By his definition, it is a dog that touches your heart in a way no other animal can or does, often at a critical time or juncture.
Ike, as he was named, became a lifetime dog to me. I got him as my children were becoming adults and entering their own world. I was also at a professional crossroads, having left the practice of law and wondering what else I was suited for. Then he took me into the world of flyball, where I learned so much about dogs and animals – their need for care, compassion, tolerance, and their love of play, affection, and attention.
And that laundry list of me that started this post? Ike, and his ultimate love of flyball, changed all of those things for the better.
The professional crossroads? That’s when I went into HR.
Thanks to a random encounter of the most wonderful kind.
When The Huffington Post recently published a blog by Vala Afshar titled “The Top 100 Most Social Human Resource Experts on Twitter” a small storm erupted about who – and who was not – on that list. But what caught my attention wasn’t the list itself, but the words used to describe some of the people the author included in that list: “organizational development, HR technologies, compensation and benefits, strategic talent development, recruiting, and future of work domain experts.”
In other words, it’s an HR list with a lot of people called something other than HR, from someone who claims to believe that HR “is one of the most important functions in business.” So why does he include so many different “areas” of HR? Or are they not areas at all – but different functions that are not really HR but do support it? Because if they are all HR – there’s no need to differentiate, is there?
Think of it this way – if you list the “Top 100 Most Social Dentists on Twitter”, you list dentists – not hygienists, receptionists, insurance billers, or the vendor who sold them their computer programs or polishing equipment. All of those people may be important to and supportive of the dentist and his/her dental practice, but they are not dentists. They have different occupations and titles.
So what is HR? Does it have an identity that we can qualify, or is it whatever hodge-podge of loosely related occupations we want it to be?
Here are a few things that I think make someone an HR pro, without any other label or job description. To be labeled HR, you should have at least one. The more you have, the more weight your HR status would be given.
- Certification – SHRM and its affiliates invest a lot of time and effort into creating standards and tests that make sure HR pros have at least some actual knowledge of what constitutes HR. Based on my experience with a bar exam and the SPHR exam, I can tell your for a personal certainty that the SPHR exam is hard. If someone took the time to prepare for and pass this exam, they are a pro in my book, regardless of what their actual job is.
- Education - I’m not a believer in the idea that pros need to have a degree in HR., but I do believe that a college education is necessary. It proves that you have the ability to stay on task and to learn. Using that lawyerly term again – the kind of degree goes to the weight of your status, not the existence of HR status itself.
- Experience - Even if you are not certified or don’t have a degree, you can still be an HR pro if you have done some real HR work for a business that is paying you money to do it. Like fired someone. Or held open enrollment. Maybe counseled and/or trained a manager. Whatever the experience, it needs to be real experience that HR pros really deal with and learn from (so as to help others). No debates about whether or not HR should be the perfume or body odor police. They often are, so their experience counts. You don’t have to be #TrenchHR now – if you were at one time.
Of course, if you want to be a social HR pro, then your qualifications should be listed or otherwise discoverable through social media. And it doesn’t matter if you are a pundit, professor, or practitioner, you’ve earned your HR stripes.
Please tell me what you think! What makes someone an HR practitioner, without need for further explanation or title?
Last year I wrote a blog with a similar title about the death of Whitney Houston. In that blog, I argued that wellness was not just the absence of disease, but included the spiritual and emotional well-being of the individual. And I stated – and still believe – that our nation’s employers tend not to care about the mental and social health of their employees unless it somehow helps decrease benefit costs.
But wellness has been on my mind a lot recently, because a lot of my friends have been getting sick or dying – and it scares the shit out of me. Yes, I know I am middle-aged – with a very generous definition of what constitutes the “middle” – so a large proportion of my friends are between 40 and death, like me. But they shouldn’t be getting cancer. Or having heart attacks. Not yet.
But they are – and so are a boatload of other Americans. In fact, more than 4 times as many Americans die from heart disease or cancer – the two leading causes of death -than the 3rd leading cause of death.
This happens because many of us have this attitude that it won’t happen to us. Or we are too worried about the present to think about the future. So we do really stupid things that increase our risk. Things like
- Overeating and/or eating an unhealthy diet
- Failure to exercise or physical inactivity
Every one of those things increases risk of both cancer and heart disease. There are so many risks that the individual cannot control – things like environment and genetics – that it seems incredible that we would actually pile on more.
I’m not excluding myself, either. I still struggle to eat properly. I have to calendar my exercise sometimes, or I will just conveniently “forget” to do it. Or I try to negotiate with myself – telling myself I will do better tomorrow, or next week, or next month.
But when it comes to wellness, there is no negotiating. Either you do it right, or you risk dying much earlier than you should.
So what are businesses doing to promote wellness – mental, spiritual, and physical?
During my recent trip to the massive HR conference known as SHRM Annual (#SHRM13), I decided to see if the sellers of wellness programs – who are also the wellness-related speakers at conference learning sessions – actually bought into and promoted the idea that (1) wellness includes more than the absence of disease and encompasses mental and spiritual well-being, and (2) American companies bear more responsibility to make wellness a priority for their employees.
To do this, I chose to attend a session called “The 20 Essential Characteristics of Successful Worksite Wellness Programs”. I reasoned that both 1 and 2 above were pretty essential characteristics, and if they weren’t included, then all of the wellness programs in the country were doomed to failure.
The session was led by Dr. Don Powell of the American Institute for Preventative Medicine, and he started off by telling the attendees his personal road to wellness, starting with his cigarette habit. I liked his tongue-in-cheek discussion of wellness milestones that included this one:
and this one:
Then he launched into the things that HR wants to hear the most: the cost of insurance, unwell employees, and the correlation between benefit costs and employee health. Solid stuff, and important for the attendees to know. But I was still waiting for a discussion about mental or spiritual wellness, which I finally got at Essential Characteristic #11 . . .
. . . and #16. Number 16 was particularly relevant to me because Dr. Powell introduced the concept of well-being as a replacement for wellness, and urged attendees to consider that a whole-person approach, including spiritual health, was truly an essential characteristic of a company approach to employee
By this time I was pretty happy that Dr. Powell had gone beyond a cost benefit analysis of wellness programs to push the attendees into thinking of wellness in broader terms. But I had to wait until almost the end of his presentation to see if he would ask American companies to take a bigger lead in promoting employee health and well-being. It came in at #18:
Culture may be a popular buzz word right now, but I think the point is the same – a company needs to take responsibility for walking the talk about well-being. Buying wellness programs to reduce benefit costs just isn’t enough.
What does your company do to promote healthy employees? Your comments appreciated!
Jeff Pon, Chief Human Resource Officer for SHRM, is a man of HR.
I had the pleasure of re-connecting with him on Sunday at SHRM13, and we had an interesting discussion about the demographics of SHRM members. According to Jeff, SHRM has large chunks of HR practitioners – those in their first 10 years of practice and those at the highest job classifications – who are noticeably absent from SHRM membership.
During the course of our discussion, Jeff also mentioned that 81% of attendees at the conference were women, reflecting the gender make-up of the profession.
But everyone knows – and comments – on the fact that HR is a female dominated profession, so his remarks didn’t surprise me at all. It wasn’t until a little later, reflecting on our conversation, that the proverbial lightbulb flashed on in my head:
I know lots more men in HR than I should, given the statistical domination of women in the space.
And the more I thought, the more I realized that the number of my professional HR contacts was almost evenly split between men and women. How could that be?
It didn’t take me long to figure out the reason: bloggers and SHRM volunteers.
Look at the picture above of the SHRM bloggers who played kickball for charity during the conference. Of those 25 people, 13 are men. Now you might argue that the numbers are a little bit skewed because the teams were designed to be split evenly between men and women. That misses the point that there was an equal number of men available to play, when logic seems to demand that the HR bloggers should be about 80% female.
But there is a pretty even split of men to women among HR bloggers, as you can see by looking at this more casual picture of SHRM bloggers working, and taken before I even had my discussion with Jeff Pon.
I also know that membership in the two SHRM local affiliates I belong to is predominately women, running close to the expected 80-20 split. But the working volunteers and leaders who do more than pay dues (run committees, serve as board directors, etc.) has a much higher percentage of men.
The question that springs to my mind – as usual – is WHY?
When I asked some of my fellow bloggers this question, they thought it was because women were working practitioners with less time to be involved. I disagree with this, because a lot of the men – especially the active SHRM volunteers – are working practitioners, too.
My theory is that women tend to shy away from professional opportunities and development, because “cultural messages undermine their leadership”, as argued most recently by Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In manifesto. So the “extra” work of blogging or volunteer leadership is dismissed by a large percentage of the female HR pros.
And while I love the conversations and connections I have with these smart and savvy men of HR who blog and those who work so tirelessly for SHRM and its affiliates, I am a little dismayed that more women aren’t represented, given the larger number of working HR pros who are female.
What’s your theory?
When I was in law school, one of the directives I heard repeatedly from my professors was to “think like a lawyer”. When I became a law professor myself, I would implore my students to do the same.
“Thinking like a lawyer” isn’t an empty catchphrase used to humiliate law students. Search the term on Google and you will find how-to books written with that title, because it is a real skill that needs to be developed for law school – and eventual lawyering – success.
In its simplest form, thinking like a lawyer requires some basic steps:
- Pay attention to and analyze everything you see, hear, read and write.
- Think about the issue(s) or problem(s) that your analysis identifies.
- Use precise logic and specific evidence to support any conclusions about the resolution of the issue/problem.
Jumping through these mental hoops about everything is satisfying for the lawyer or law student, but it can make life frustrating for friends and loved ones who listen to the lawyer logically analyze even the simplest of situations.
But HR pros would be wise to use those lawyerly skills to help them sharpen their awareness of HR-related problems and issues, then using that awareness to confront and solve their HR challenges.
My first night in Chicago for #SHRM13 was last Saturday. A group of us went to dinner at a restaurant called Dick’s Last Resort. I didn’t know it before we got there, but it became evident early on that the entire staff at Dick’s was either irreverent or downright obnoxious and rude.
Because I was actively engaged in step #1 – analyze everything – it quickly became clear that the staff was behaving like this intentionally. Thinking like lawyer then helped me identify the HR problem the staff behavior presented: “How does this company hire obnoxious or rude servers to fit their culture? Is this a training challenge or a hiring challenge or both?”
I haven’t gotten to step 3 yet, because that is going to take a little more research. But just analyzing the situation and discovering a problem helps me as an HR pro, because the existence of a corporate culture and how to identify it gets reinforced and I get reminded that hiring requires a big look at cultural fit. By actively engaging in those thinking skills – while I was out having a nice dinner with friends – I can become a more thoughtful, aware HR pro. Researching their specific ways of hiring for cultural fit will give me a practical take-away.
Try practicing this critical thinking skill once every day until you find that you can understand and analyze a situation quickly and succinctly, and see the HR implications or issues presented. You will truly become a better HR pro.
Beware of voicing all of this to your dinner companions, though, because they may not want to eat with you any more.
One of the many – and there ARE many – reasons I love this show is that it makes me think a lot about women in the workforce and their struggles. Some people dismiss those struggles as historical issues, because the show takes place in the 1960’s. But to believe that things are so different now is to deny that women still fight to overcome traditional attitudes about their abilities and suitability for the upper echelons of business.
Last season (“The Other Woman”, Season 5), one of the female characters was asked to sleep with a potential client in order to help her advertising firm land a lucrative account for Jaguar. The character, Joan Holloway Harris, is the Director of Agency Operations at the ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a title given to her for a lot of extra work, but with no additional pay, recognition, or reduction of her secretarial duties.
So despite her initial protestations that she was being asked to prostitute herself, Joan ultimately agreed to sleep with the client in exchange for a 5% voting partnership in the agency. She agreed because her marriage was crumbling, she had a young child to support, and she had been unsuccessful in her efforts to break free of the female chains that bound her to a continually subservient position at work, even though she had repeatedly demonstrated her business smarts and talent.
Initially, I was shocked. I didn’t believe the character Joan (one of my two favorites on the whole show) would have made that decision, and I was terribly judgmental about her sleeping with the ultimate boss – the client. In fact, Joan had already slept with one of the partners (Roger Sterling, father of her baby) with absolutely no positive impact on her career.
“Where’s her self-esteem?” I cried. “How could she possibly do this to herself?”
But the more I thought about her situation – it aired in May 2012 so I have been thinking a long time – I thought “who am I to judge this woman?”
This was not a case of sexual harassment, where negative employment consequences were going to rain down on her if she didn’t consent, presenting her with a false choice. Her career was already suffering because simply she was a female. Joan chose to use the best advantage she had to further a stalled career. She chose to do with her own body what she thought was best for her.
This was not a case of rape, like the recent Steubenville case where a teenaged girl did not have enough physical and mental capacity to consent, or make a choice.
If I believe that a woman has the right to make a choice NOT to use her sexuality and to maintain control over her own body, then I must – MUST – believe that she has the right to do the opposite. If I believe in the right of a woman to control her own body and have an abortion, then I must give her the right to control her body to sleep with her boss if she wants to, for whatever her reasons. I will feel sad for our working women that are still confronted with the sexism that makes these choices necessary, but I will no longer judge the woman for doing what she thinks it takes.
Her body, her choice.
It’s not a lot different than landing a job because your partner is in a position to influence the person doing the hiring. I went to work for my husband’s company, so I guess I got a job because I slept with the boss.
I was a good hire for my employer and good at my job – so who should care?
Back in my uniformed police officer days, I once responded to a call at a home our department had visited many, many times. The calls were always of the neighbor/family/kid trouble kind, and the woman who called was often unreasonable and irrational.
I was walking up the driveway alone, because our department was a small one, and working in a double car – two officers – was rare. As I approached the house, the occupant came out her front door and onto the porch. She pointed her finger at me and yelled, “NO! I want a real cop here!”
I stopped and said, “Ma’am. I am a real police officer. If you don’t want ME here, then I presume you don’t need the services of the police.” She continued yelling that she wanted someone “real”, so I returned to my patrol car. I radioed into the dispatcher that the caller didn’t want my services. Then I left.
You may be able to guess what happened next. The woman had apparently called the station and spoken with a supervisor, and another police officer – a male – was sent to take the call instead.
I was livid.
I thought – and think to this day – that she should have been told that a competent, sworn police officer was available to handle her complaint, that she didn’t have the right to choose on the basis of sex, and that no other officer should have been dispatched.
I was recently reminded of this incident after reading about a Flint, MI hospital that allegedly granted a new father’s request that his baby not be looked after by any African-American nurses, one nurse in particular. There is some dispute about whether the father’s request was actually granted, but one statement from the hospital CEO said, “We regret that our policies were not well enough understood and followed . . .” I don’t think this statement leaves much doubt that the nurse in question was somehow prevented from doing her job for this white baby.
HR writers and thinkers – including me – implore HR to have a larger sense of the business that employs them, including an increased awareness of and attendance to the customers that fund them and their departments. But cases like mine, and the hospital in Flint, should serve as a cautionary tale to be sensible about what the customer is asking the employees to do. HR managers should train their employees to managers to ask one simple question:
Is the customer’s request reasonable and non-discriminatory to the employee?
If the answer is NO, tell the customer to take a hike.
(Do you have any stories of unreasonable or crazy customer service requests? Share them in the comments.)
JANUARY 2013 RECAP
Last month participants were asked to “think outside the lines.” We wanted to know if chapters/councils attempted to promote programs and conferences outside of their specific geographical area, and if there were benefits or disadvantages to doing so. We asked
- Q1. Does your state or local promote your conference or program to those who live outside of your boundaries? Why or why not?
Most of the participants did not actively promote their programs outside of their geographical area, although many relied on social media and word of mouth to do so in an informal way. Some felt that there were geographical disadvantages to doing this in their specific state and other chatters stated that they were met with some resistance from other councils when they asked to promote their conference. It was suggested that if some locals made an attempt to hold joint meetings, state councils and SHRM national might be able to interact with more chapters.
- Q2. Do you have specific strategies to suggest for promoting your conference to other states without creating internal jealousies or competition concerns?
The chat participants were a little stumped by this question, not seeing why outside promotion of their programs and conferences would cause others to be concerned with competition.
- Q3. Have you ever attended a conference outside of your state (not including SHRM national conferences)? Why?
Most of the chat participants, social media devotees that they are, had attended conferences outside of their state. They were quick to point out, though, that most people were limited in time, resources, and geography, limiting the likelihood of multiple-conference attendance.
- Q4. What are the benefits or disadvantages of attending other conferences?
Cost, travel time, and missed work were mentioned repeatedly as disadvantages of attending conferences or programs outside of traditional boundaries. The most frequently mentioned advantages were networking and the building of personal relationships. I was surprised that the potential diversity of program offerings was not mentioned in this discussion, although I personally believe in that as a major advantage.
- 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.
Most of the chatters agreed that there was sufficient advantage for them to invest in the concept to some degree. One chatter mentioned running announcements in neighboring states via LinkedIn. Another made a commitment to attend another state conference, and yet another participant vowed to promote their future state conference to neighboring states. Everyone agreed that social media can help chapters and councils think outside of their geographic lines.
FEBRUARY 2013 PREVIEW – Government Advocacy
SHRM National recognizes that it is at necessity for the human resources professional to be concerned about public policy. To that end, they have an Advocacy Team (the “A-Team”) to help create a relationship and dialog with legislators to help them understand relevant issues. But advocacy isn’t just a national issue – it means involving people at the state and local level, too. So we’ll discuss that issue this month, with special guest Chatrane Birbal, who is SHRM’s Senior Member Advocacy Specialist. Our suggested questions are:
- Are you currently engaged in advocacy activities on behalf of the HR profession? If not, why? If yes, what do you find most gratifying about your engagement in public policy?
- What challenges or road blocks do you face in your advocacy efforts? How can SHRM help your group become successful advocates on behalf of the HR profession?
- What HR public policy issues are most important to you and why?
I am only posting a few questions this month because after the 1st half-hour, I am going to add the hash-tag #GATChat to our discussion, which is the official chat hosted by the SHRM Advocacy Team during the State of the Union address. We hope that our participants will stay for at least a while and join in the #GATChat.
Join the #SHRMChat discussion on Twitter – Tuesday, February 12th at 8 pm EST/7 pm CST.
Don’t forget to add a name or three to the “Crowdsourcing SHRM Speakers List here before then!
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.
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?
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.