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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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.

Black Friday Thoughts on Gift Giving

I have a friend who speaks at HR conferences and meetings throughout the country. It is common for the organizers of these seminars and conferences to give speakers a thank-you gift of some kind.  When asked, my friend said that the best “speakers” gift s/he ever got was a $25 gift card.

Sounds pretty ordinary, doesn’t it?

My friend went on to explain that many conference organizers try to give things that are tied to the region in some way, or have some type of local significance. For example, a speaker at a conference in Louisville, KY, home of the Louisville Slugger baseball bat, might get a miniature baseball bat from the organizers as a thank-you gift. It sounds cute and thoughtful, until the speaker drags the bat to the airport and then tosses it in a trash can, because there is no way the TSA will let you have a bat on an airplane, and the speaker didn’t really want a baseball bat anyway.

It’s not the gift – it’s the thought that counts, right? But gifts like a miniature baseball bat beg the sarcastic question: what were you thinking? That’s the reason a nice, simple gift card from a retailer that sells just about everything was the perfect gift for my friend. It conveyed the proper thought, and was useful and desired by the recipient.

Considering the shopping and buying frenzy that surrounds Black Friday, the entire country is caught up in this idea that they can find the perfect gift at the perfect price, being cute and thoughtful to boot, if they plan properly and get up early enough.

Bullshit. And here’s why:

I love scarves. Anyone who knows me even casually can see this, because I wear them all of the time. But because I love them so much, I buy them a lot and have oodles of them. So if you go to Target on Black Friday and buy a scarf  for me, thinking it’s a great gift – you will probably be wrong. Either I won’t like the color, or the weight, or the shape, or I have 3 just like it.

So now I will have to make a trip to Target, where I will exchange the scarf for Sterlite storage containers. I use those babies everywhere, and I never have enough. And they are expensive. But they aren’t the kind of thing that anyone buys me as a gift.

Wouldn’t it have been easier on everyone if you had just gotten me a Target gift card – at your convenience – in the first place? Less expenditure of precious resources, like gas. Most certainly a time saver. And it isn’t any less “impersonal” than the scarf you got up to buy at 5 am. Since it is what I wanted in the first place, it’s highly personal.

Given the lengths of the return lines I see at the stores right after Christmas, I am not alone in wanting something other than what you bought me. So why do people persist in  this shopping and gift buying nightmare?

In this digital age, it’s super simple to give gift cards or electronic gift certificates. They save everyone time and resources. They’re always the right color and fit. They save precious resources, including time, which everyone wants more of.

Most importantly, they tell the recipient how you feel – which is what giving a gift is all about.





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.


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.


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.

Jesus Fish and Religious Tolerance

Suppose you had an employee who put a magentic Jesus fish on the outside or his or her locker at work. You know, one of these:

Now let’s say that another employee saw the Jesus fish and responded with their own magnetic fish on the outside of their locker. But theirs looked like this:


Or even this (which is my personal favorite):

Let’s skip the “HR is not the religion police and we should let these adult employees work out their issues” discussion. Because my concern is not about figuring out how to monitor any differences these employees may have. My concern is this: are the gefilte and Darwin fish a symbol of religious intolerance that needs HR intervention?

This is a relevant question even in the world at large, if you think about it for a minute. After all, would you tolerate someone who mocked a Muslim for wearing traditional clothing? Or would you make fun of a person wearing a piece of crucifix or cross jewelry? These are basic outward symbols of a person’s religious beliefs, and HR would likely not tolerate an employee who made fun of them or the employee that embraced them. Nor should you tolerate it from anyone in the world at large.

But is a gefilte fish or a Darwin fish an outward mocking of the Christian religion? I never thought of them as mocking Christianity, but as alternative expressions of faith. Or, in my case as an atheist, as an expression of a lack of religious faith. There aren’t many ways to publicly proclaim that you are an atheist, after all.

But maybe I’m wrong. A recent discussion among Facebook friends over whether a T-shirt that poked a little fun at polygamy was mocking the Mormon religion made me think of Jesus fish. If a T-shirt that gently chides polygamy is intolerant of Mormons – at least in some people’s opinion –  what does that say about a gefilte or Darwin fish? They are pretty clearly at least a parody of Jesus fish, the symbol which has existed for centuries.

But some people do believe that they are mocking examples of religious intolerance. If you read the link  you may wonder, as I did,  if the Jewish blog writer truly believed in the mocking nature of the Darwin fish, or just didn’t like that it is against creationism, which is also anti-Judaism.

I have never thought that any of the many fish parodies were intolerant, but maybe I need to change my tune.

I’ve always felt myself to be tolerant of religion, even though I am not a believer. I don’t belittle Facebook friends who ask me to pray for their loved ones. I just send good wishes and thoughts and skip the prayer language. I don’t refuse to enter churches or synagogs. Many are historical marvels and I love to look at them. Just don’t ask me to pray in one.

What do you think? Are people who use non-Christian fish magnets mocking the Christian believer, or are they merely promoting their own beliefs?


5 Ways Companies Mishandle Employee Records

(I am going to be on a short vacation this week – New York City here I come!  This guest post was provided by Jessica Edmondson who contributes on business and leadership issues, such as human resource management, for the University Alliance, a division of Bisk Education, Inc.)

Employees rely on employers to treat their personnel records with care and to maintain their privacy, particularly with highly confidential or personal matters. Mishandling employee records can erode trust and lead to serious repercussions, including legal action.

By reviewing some of the more common and most harmful ways that employers mishandle records, you may be able to prevent the same mistakes from happening at your workplace.

Mistake 1: Giving Employees Unfettered Access

This mistake can happen in one of two basic ways: by providing certain employees with unrestricted access to review the files of others; or by failing to secure records to prevent unauthorized access. Personnel records must be kept under lock and key. Otherwise, it can prove to be too much temptation for others who have no business looking through such records. Although there are circumstances in which a manager may need to see a subordinate’s file, allowing open access might mean making the manager privy to more information than he or she is entitled to and may also constitute a breach of the employee’s right to privacy.

You should secure all employee records, including hard and soft copies, with appropriate controls, such as passwords and locks. Access should be closely monitored and recorded, and should be limited only to those who demonstrate a specific, job-related need to review the records.

Mistake 2: Consolidating Records into a Single File

Employees have several types of information on file, including IRS and payroll records, job applications, performance appraisals and medical information. By putting everything into one file, you run a higher risk of a breach of privacy. For example, a supervisor might have a legitimate need to see a performance appraisal and in the process ends up getting access to the employee’s medical records.

A better practice would be to file records separately by type, such as general employee information, compensation information, and medical or legal information. Then limit access based on specific needs. Medical and legal information typically requires the highest level of security and the most stringent review procedures. Separating records by type also helps ensure that they are retained for the appropriate amount of time.

Mistake 3: Misplacing or Discarding Files When an Employee Leaves

Various laws govern how long employers must retain employee records and failure to abide by those regulations can have significant legal consequences. Misplacing files can be worse than discarding them, as the employer has no way of knowing who has had access to private information or how to recover it.

It’s critical to have a retention policy in place that is in full compliance with all applicable state and federal laws. In addition, you should also have a well-designed filing system so that authorized personnel can access the correct files when needed.

Mistake 4: Failing to Document Important Events

If an employee or former employee files a grievance, the company’s main line of defense is all in the personnel file. The easiest way to guarantee a legal victory for the disgruntled employee in such matters is through a failure to document.

Do you and your management staff document performance issues and keep copies of written reprimands? Do you have a signed acknowledgement that the employee was notified or trained on certain company policies, such as sexual harassment, attendance requirements and the like?  If not, now is the time to start compiling information so that employees can’t say they didn’t know, and managers can demonstrate employee awareness and the company’s attempts to resolve the situation.

Mistake 5: Backfilling the File to Replace Missing Records

If you do find yourself in a legal dispute with an employee and discover that his or her file has no evidence of a history of performance issues, the worst thing you can do is to add or alter documents after the file has been reviewed. Most attorneys are skilled at evaluating the chain of custody of an employee’s personnel file and “missing” documents that are suddenly found almost always backfire on the employer. You’re better off just taking your lumps for failing to properly document issues. Even better, follow the advice in the previous step and establish a policy for employee documentation.

By learning from the errors of others, you can prevent making these same missteps and inadvertently losing the trust of your employees, as well as putting your company at risk for legal action.

The #1 HR Pro In The Movies


Last month Moviefone took it upon themselves to rank every single character created by Pixar Studios.   Woody, of Toy Story fame, took the #1 spot.

This didn’t surprise me in the slightest because I have always been a big fan of all of the Toy Story movies. The actor who voices Woody, Tom Hanks, is also one of my favorites.

But it wasn’t until I read Moviefone’s blog post that I started thinking seriously about why I liked Woody as much as I do. And here’s where those thoughts took me –  I like Woody because he is the best HR pro I have ever seen in the movies. Here’s why:

Experienced – Woody is a wooden toy with a pull ring coming from his back, but he is the undisputed leader of his company, which I call Andy Development Services, Inc. Andy is the human who owns all of the toys, and their mission is to teach Andy to be a loving, creative, and thoughtful adult. Being an older toy, it is sometimes tough for Woody to accept competition and change. But he ultimately overcomes his fears, using his knowledge and experience to adapt and lead.

Business Leadership – Woody is the undisputed leader of his company, and his actions are always consistent with its mission. No one told him to become a business leader, and he didn’t wait around for someone to invite him or create the role for him.  He used his skills and abilities and just did it.

Strategic Employee Development – This is where Woody really shines as an HR pro. He has an incredibly diverse workforce with huge differences in talent, skills and abilities. He recognizes all of the differences and what each toy can do in their unique way to further the company mission, without judgment of their faults or failings. He mentors Buzz Lightyear after first thinking of him as a rival, so that Buzz will also fit into the team and put the company mission in the fore front. Woody has a gun on his hip (perhaps to enforce company policy), but he never needs to use it. When trouble arises – as it inevitably does – Woody makes sure that everyone in the company works to solve the problem and return the company mission to its misson.

Woody gets my vote as best HR pro in the movies, even though the movie isn’t actually about business. Who is your favorite example of a movie character who is a great HR pro?