A Special Two-Part June #SHRMChat

This month SHRM hosts its annual mega-conference in Atlanta, June 24-27 (SHRM12). In order to take advantage of the opportunity to have SHRM staffers together in one room to participate in our chat during Atlanta, it has been decided to have two chats around one topic.

Our topic is SHRM – What It Can, Will, and Should Do For Your Chapter or Council.

During our regular 2nd Tuesday chat time on June 12, we will have a preliminary-type chat, without guests. The purpose is to discuss this topic and decide which questions or issues are most important. Then we will use the first discussion to firm up the questions and issues, and live chat from the SHRM conference with the appropriate SHRM staff guests. By doing this in two parts, we have to opportunity to find SHRM members who are best able to address our specific concerns. It also allows people who are not able to be present at one or the other to have the opportunity to participate in the topic.

Here is a general outline of questions for #SHRMChat on Tuesday, June 12, 8 pm EST/7 pm CST:

1. Name a program, service, or initiative that SHRM can do for your state or local. Is it something you have used to your benefit? Is it a service you know they have but haven’t tried yet? What can SHRM do that others may not know about? What do they do best?

2. Maybe it’s not a formal service or program, but have you had experience with SHRM doing something when you asked or sought specific help? Can you provide an example of something that SHRM will do?

3. The relationship between SHRM and its state and local affiliates is critical. Is there a service or program that you have really needed but haven’t been able to get from SHRM? What should they do?

After the June 12 chat, we will announce the time for the live chat from Atlanta, so be sure to stay tuned!

HR and Job Interview Attire

When I was still working at my former company, I was continually trying to hire meat trimmers. Hand trimming large pieces of meat and poultry to exacting specifications with a knife is a skill not easily learned and no longer taught. And the best meat trimmers are usually taken by large grocery store chains with an in-house meat department, so finding qualified candidates was always a challenge.

After the resume review and a phone screen, I would ask those still in the running to come into the plant for an interview. I always warned the candidate not to wear professional or business clothes, because the main reason I wanted them at the plant was to do a cutting test to see if they truly had the knife skills they claimed to have. Cutting meat in a wet, refrigerated space is sloppy work, and I certainly didn’t want anyone ruining their good clothes.

You see, I was interested in the applicant’s skills and abilities, and not at all in their appearance. In fact, throughout our entire building, even the office, I had one clothing rule: clothes should be reasonably clean.

But if you are a job candidate and asked me advice for what to wear to an interview, I would tell you the same thing everyone else would: wear business attire. Maybe business casual, if you were certain it fit in the company culture. I would never think of going to a job interview or even certain business functions dressed in shorts and flip flops, or blue jeans and a hoodie. All kinds of articles and blogs are written about what to wear, or not wear, to a job interview, like this one from Alison Doyle, who says “dress professionally for an interview, even if the work environment is casual.”

I find that incredibly sad. As HR pros we claim to be interested only in applicant’s KSAs – knowledge, skills, and abilities. We supposedly don’t care about their body type, hair and skin color, clothing choices, or sense of style.

But we do. Oh, yes. We do very much.

We do because our rational, intellectual behaviors are often at odds with our emotional reactions. So we use our rational selves to justify the sometimes erroneous assumptions or conclusions reached by our emotional selves. We reject applicants for their “poor judgment” or “lack of business sense”, when we are really faulting someone for their clothes, or the poor fit of their clothes, or their ugly (but comfortable) shoes. Unfortunately, we perpetuate that bias by forcing job candidates to conform, instead of forcing ourselves to change.

Think of it like this: If Mark Zuckerberg walked into your office as a job applicant, wearing his customary hoodie and blue jeans, would you hire him? What about Steve Jobs, who seemed to wear nothing but a black shirt and blue jeans his entire professional life?

You may say yes, because they are public figures whose achievements are known and transcend appearances. But what if it were someone else, a non-public figure  whose resume, phone interview, and other screening devices were good enough to bring him into your office, wearing the same hoodie or black shirt and blue jeans. Would you hire him then?

Be honest now – you probably would reject him.

Isn’t that tragic?

HR pros need to find a way to confront and eliminate their emotional biases about clothes and appearance and concentrate on what really matters – whether the candidate’s KSAs are going to help their company promote its mission. Stop making the candidate conform to your sensibilities in order to land a job.

Otherwise you might miss hiring the next Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. Besides, HR has more important things to do.



Helping Non-HR Do HR – May #SHRMChat Recap


There was one theme that the tweeters returned to frequently in the busy hour that was the May SHRMChat:

Marketing to and educating businesses without an HR function is a huge opportunity that is generally overlooked by most state and local SHRM affiliates.

Most of the chatters admitted that they have a healthy number of members or function attendees that are small business representatives and not specifically HR pros. Some chatters felt that their program offerings were targeted to generic business issues that would benefit everyone, even if their audience was not HR specific.

But more felt that their SHRM affiliate didn’t do enough to market to small business, and needed to reach out to them more specifically instead of waiting for the business to come to the chapter. Some of the suggestions for increasing non-hr attendance at events and programs were

  • Direct marketing and announcements to Chambers of Commerce and local business schools
  • Marketing and reach out efforts through local business press sources
  • Meeting attendance incentives such as free guest attendance and free student admission
  • E-books or other publications on basic HR topics for small business
  • Make sure the Board and volunteer positions includes business pros who are not necessarily HR pros

There was also a robust discussion about the type of programs that would be of interest to small business without an HR function. One of the chatters, Alicia Arenas, a small business strategist, offered some specific suggestions regarding the types of topics or issues that small business wants to address

  • How to have a performance discussion with employees
  • How to motivate employees
  • How to tell when an employee is lying

In short, chapters and councils need to think basic when considering how to attract and educate the business without a dedicated HR pro or consultant.

Finally, the chatters – ever vigilant about how to get their chapters to buy into increased involvement in the non-HR community, discussed how chapters tend to do things that get measured. SHAPE plans that require some type of initiative to reach small business was discussed.  One of my favorite comments was that an initiative that focused on educating and engaging the small business community would be “ripe for a Pinnacle Award.”

Although it wasn’t the last discussion of the chat, this probably best sums up the feelings of the May SHRMchat participants:

Small business access to chapter and council initiatives doesn’t have to mean an increase in membership or revenue. Connecting to your community, and improving human resources business function should be the ultimate goal.

Join us for a special two-part June SHRMChat. Our June topic is “SHRM national – what can they, will they, and should they do for the state/local affiliate?” We will be chatting on Tuesday, June 12, at 8 pm EST/7 pm CST to flesh out these issues in preparation for a special live chat from the SHRM conference in Atlanta. The Atlanta date and time will be announced as soon as it is finalized.

HR and the Line Between Tolerance and Acceptance

A few weeks ago I was volunteering an afternoon with the Humane Society Naples, helping set up a garage sale/flea market fundraiser they were holding the next day. One of the jobs that the group of volunteers had was to determine the asking price for the item being sold.

As the group was discussing whether to price low for swift sale or higher to try to maximize the amount raised for this non-profit, one of the other volunteers said, “You know someone is always going to try to Jew you down.”

No one in the room said a word. Including me.

I’m still beating myself up for not saying anything to this woman, and I can’t stop thinking about the incident. I keep wondering why no one else said anything, either. Would it have been different  if this was a group of paid workers?  What if she had said,  “There’s always going to be a wetback around trying to steal something”? Would that have changed the group reaction?

Sadly, I think that the answer is no on all counts. Even in a work situation with a group of paid employees in the discussion, bigoted remarks like this are often going to remain unchallenged.

HR pros often ask their employees to be tolerant of each other’s differences, to minimize tension and to avoid conflict between employees.  Tolerance is defined as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude towards opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.”

But in the name of workplace harmony, we often accept behaviors and attitudes which are clearly racist or bigoted, and should not require us to be “tolerant.”  Have you ever heard someone in your workplace joke about gays, blacks, or Muslims? Yeah, me too.

In our heads we say we don’t accept these attitudes, because by definition acceptance means we approve. But if we don’t actually say anything to the offender –  it doesn’t matter if we disagree silently. We have approved of the racist or bigot by failing to show others our dislike. And HR, by encouraging employees to refrain from behaviors which cause tension, aggravates this problem. By encouraging tolerance, we are often encouraging people to accept.

Some things should never be acceptable. Like bigotry, racism, and discrimination.  And HR should be leading the charge to ensure that people don’t confuse tolerance with acceptance.


May SHRM Chat – Helping Small Business Do HR

According to the US Census Bureau, there were just under 5 million “employer firms” in the US that employed less than 10 employees. Add another 1.2 million firms to that total to include those employers with less than 100 people. I don’t need a statistical study to tell me this: the vast majority of those 6 million plus firms have absolutely no formal or traditional HR  presence. In fact, I began my HR journey in one of those companies.

Unfortunately, formal HR organizations, including SHRM, tend to market themselves to people who are already established HR pros with degrees and certifications. How the small business copes with employee engagement or professional development is just not very high on their to do list, even though the numbers suggest it should be.

This month our SHRM chat will take a look a that issue and discuss how SHRM state and local chapters can help non-HR business people “do” HR.  Joining us as a guest will be Lyn Hoyt.

While Lyn is an avid supporter and participant of SHRMChat on behalf of her local (Middle Tennessee SHRM), many people may not know that Lyn, by profession, is not an HR pro. She is a graphic designer and co-owner of a small business that designs and manufactures framed recognition products. So her experiences through the back door are perfectly suited to our discussion of the following questions:

1. How many or what percent of your chapter members are not traditional HR pros? Do you feel that your chapter/council adequately represents business without a dedicated HR function?

2. Do non- HR pros attend your meetings and functions? Why or why not?

3. What services or programs does your council/chapter offer to help non-HR business people find the resources they need to help them with their HR needs?

For a sneak peek of Lyn’s thoughts on this subject, check out her blog post here.


Join us on TUESDAY, MAY 8th at 8 pm EDST/7 pm CDST for this #SHRMChat! Encourage a friend to come, too!


My TSA Customer Service Story

My friend Mark Stelzner, an HR consultant, travels a lot for his job. Because he spends so much time in airports, he often posts hilarious – and kind of sad – stories on Facebook about people and their airport behavior. Like this one:

 But one thing I have never seen Mark post about is similar strange and/or obnoxious behavior from TSA agents. Others, like my frequent flyer husband, confirm that while TSA agents may not always be chatty and effervescent, they are generally respectful, well-behaved, and take a lot of crap from members of the flying public who are the real behavioral problems.

So why does the TSA get such a bad rap? When I posted about having a great experience with TSA in Detroit recently, at least one Facebook friend thought I was joking. Others were skeptical. Here’s what happened:

I tried to return to Florida from Detroit with one carry-on bag and one small under-the-seat item, just like the rules say. When my bags went through x-ray, a TSA agent grabbed my carry-on and waited for me to get through the scanner to where he was standing at the end of the conveyor.

“You have 3 jars in your bag. What’s in them?” was his question.

I smiled and said, “Jelly. Preserves.” I said it with a smile because I was absolutely confident that you could bring food through security. After all, my meat processor husband never checks his bag, which often contains odd food items like corned beef, pastrami, or salami. Once he brought 5 pounds of bacon to me in Florida in his carry-on.

But Kevin, the TSA agent, explained to me that jelly, jam, and preserves violated their “no liquids/gels” policy, an idea which had never even occurred to me. Shampoo and toothpaste, yes! I had my little quart bag full of 2-3 ounce containers out and x-rayed. But Michigan sour cherry preserves and cherry butter? Not in my wildest.

The offending items

Kevin apologetically insisted that I had to check my bag. But instead of leaving me to handle the issue on my own,  he walked my bag (and me) back to the front of security, then moved the rope line so I could quickly get to the Delta check-in desk. When I was finished, I just walked back up to the front of security where Kevin was waiting for me. He escorted me back through x-ray and the scanner, pushing me up to the front of all of the lines and staying with me until I cleared security. He was pleasant and professional the entire time.

So why do people complain about the TSA? Because they pat down grandmas and children? If they only patted down Arabic-looking men, wouldn’t they be racist and stereotypical? Wouldn’t you complain if some nut case sacrificed their small child and blew up a plane because TSA never searched kids? Let’s face it, people do scary and awful things to their children sometimes. I’m a grandma, and I have been patted down several times. You know what? I’m still here.

I was breaking the rules, even if it didn’t enter my menopausal brain while I was packing. But when I was called out on my error, I was polite and humble with the TSA agent, and he was extraordinarily kind and accommodating with me.

So the next time you are inclined to TSA-bash, think about that Facebook post at the top of the page, and remember how many thousands of people like this the TSA sees every single day. Then remember my experience with Kevin Goins in Detroit, and wonder if you could possibly do that job any better.

(Thoughts or comments? Want to share a TSA experience? Go for it.)



HR Hates True Diversity

Inc. magazine posted a blog a couple of weeks ago entitled “5 Reasons You Need to Meet in Person”. Reason #3 was “make an impression”, and the author made hers with a pink, faux ostrich purse.

Now, pink is probably my least favorite color, and ostrich – faux or otherwise – is not my preferred texture in a handbag. But I always like messages that encourage people to accept and embrace their individuality. Joe Gerstandt, noted diversity and inclusion author and speaker, calls it flying your freak flag.

Embedded in that paragraph about carrying a pink purse, though, was a sad and telling sentence about the state of diversity in the HR/recruiting world today: “I was worried it was perhaps not professional enough for business.” With that sentence, the author turned her message “make an impression” into “make an impression – but only if it’s safe.”

HR and their recruiting counterparts claim to believe in diversity, but only because they try to be color or race-blind in their hiring decisions.  When it comes to  tons of other things that are marks of individuality – where you went to school, what you wear, what kind of company you keep,and what kind of jewelry you like – HR is incredibly close-minded. They want employees to think and look like them, and like everyone else in the company. That’s why people who write job seeker advice tell you to cover your tattoos and hide your flashy wedding ring, because diversity in HR is a no-no unless it is legally mandated, like race and religion.

In his latest book, Social Gravity (co-authored with Jason Lauritsen), Joe Gerstandt tells a story of working at a job fair with another recruiter when a gentleman visited their booth wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. His co-recruiter dismissed the gentleman as “clearly not management material” without knowing a thing about his talent, competency, or ability.

As Joe points out, we all make assumptions about other people that are often incorrect. HR pros and recruiters like the one in Joe’s story, though, are truly disadvantaged when they don’t fight back against that natural inclination to stereotype, and fail to embrace the worker who may look, talk, or dress just a little bit differently than everyone else. As a recruiter once said to me at a SHRM chapter meeting, “I don’t know why HR cares about all this stuff. They should only care about whether or not the person is going to help them make money. Period.”

So I continue to wear my Fit-Flop brand flip flops to business meetings, because they are the only shoes (except athletic shoes) that my problem feet can tolerate. If people talk behind my back, or if I fail to impress a potential client, so what? I just think of the song “I Am What I Am”, from the musical La Cage aux Folles, where Jerry Herman writes

So what if I love each feather and each spangle? Why not try to see things from a different angle?

Why not, HR?


The NLRB Facebook Cases – What Was Your Employment Lawyer Thinking?


Today's post is my 100th!


When I was in law school I had a professor who was positively gaga about policy. It was her belief that  students who understood what policy objective the courts and legislatures were trying to achieve would have a better understanding of and rememberence of any given law. It would also help those future lawyers, when confronted with facts and situations that had not been previously addressed, analyze those facts within the existing law and come to some type of reasonable conclusion (especially on her exam ;-)).

I used that technique to a large degree myself when I was a law professor, and I found it an invaluable way to keep sight of a law and its potential impact when faced with an endless series of “but, what if  . . .?” questions from my students.

So it puzzles me a bit that there is such a fuss about the NLRB and the so-called “Facebook cases”.  After all, the Wagner Act, or NLRA, has been the law for 75 years. Not exactly a new, untried law. Under the NLRA, all workers have the right to engage in concerted activity for the purpose of mutual aid and protection, and, if you think about it, the workers of today have always had that right. The policy objective underneath that act is to protect and encourage the formation of unions, which takes a whole lot of communication between employees about their common grievances.

So why would any employment lawyer worth his or her hefty fee advise a company to write a policy that forbids them from discussing work on social media sites such as Facebook? Or draft  a policy that forbids an employee from making a “negative comment” about their employer?

The many lawyers who advised their clients to adopt such policies, or even suggested outright social media bans – and based on these cases there were plenty – forgot the policy behind the NLRA. They forgot that this law was intended to protect certain kinds of communication among employees in order to keep them safe from those activities that might lead to unionization.

Not only did the lawyers forget the policy behind the law, they were so concerned about risk avoidance and so frightened of social media that they didn’t take the time to understand that it constituted an essential shift in the way that Americans, including workers, were communicating with each other.

Maybe the lawyers who advised employers to adopt these overly broad policies just simply forgot about the existence of the NLRA and its commitment to helping workers discuss their joint concerns about wages, hours, and working conditions.

Whatever the reason for the lawyer’s failing, it was not just a situation of “the rapidly changing law”, as many want you to believe. So if you have an overly broad social media policy suggested by a lawyer, that you are now struggling to change in light of the NLRB’s recent activity, you may want to throw out the lawyer as well as the policy.




Why Meetings Should End in Action Items

We’ve all experienced this workplace scenario: just when you’re in a super-productive groove, checking off your to-do list and impressing yourself with your productivity, a reminder pops up: you’re due in a meeting in 15 minutes. “Oh great,” you think. “This will be a complete waste of time.” By the time the meeting is over, your day is completely derailed and you’ve lost your momentum. To make matters worse, nothing was actually accomplished!

Meetings are a necessary part of business. Most of us wouldn’t dread them if we felt they were actually productive, instead of a waste of valuable time. Unfortunately, too often meetings are ineffective, where little is accomplished and participants feel frustrated.

It doesn’t have to be that way. When people have a clear expectation of a meeting’s objective and what they need to do next, they’re more likely to engage. Your meetings will be more productive, and you won’t be wasting anyone’s time. Most important, your colleagues won’t be filled with dread each time you call a meeting.

Here, we’ll highlight some simple ways to make meetings more effective, by respecting everyone’s time, creating action items and following up.

Respect Everyone’s Time

In the current business climate, most businesses are doing more with less. They’re asking employees for higher productivity, or combining the work of two people into one position. When planning meetings, it’s more important than ever to acknowledge that your co-workers could be overworked and stressed out, with very little extra time.

Since people hate wasting time, the meeting organizer’s job is to ensure it doesn’t happen. Here’s how:

  • Decide who really needs to participate, and invite only those people. Provide meeting notes to others who need to be informed, but don’t need to attend.
  • Prepare an agenda and stick to it. Determine the meeting objective and state it front and center. An example might be, “We’re meeting to establish a preliminary range for the sales staff’s annual salary increase.”
  • Then, list the actions that need to occur in the meeting to accomplish the objective. Use verbs such as “discuss,” “review,” “brainstorm,” “schedule,” and “decide.”
  • Keep the meeting as short as possible. If necessary, establish time limits for discussions and table undecided items until the next meeting.

If you’ve run an efficient meeting, you will accomplish the objective. Now, what happens when participants return to their offices and get back to work? Will Steve do that salary survey he mentioned? Was Meredith supposed to contact the management team for input? Or will everyone have forgotten what he or she agreed to do? Assigning action items prevents confusion over who does when, and when.

 Create and Assign Action Items

Before everyone leaves the room, determine what needs to happen next. By following these steps, you’ll have a clear plan of action:

  • Take official notes. Encourage participants to fully engage by assigning an official note-taker or recording the meeting. It’s difficult to be both facilitator and note-taker, so recruit someone else. Assure attendees they will receive a report, including key points and decisions made by the group, along with action items.
  • Decide how decisions will be implemented. Ask participants for input on how the group’s decisions will be implemented. These will be the action items.
  •  Assign tasks to the group. Determine who is best equipped to handle each action item.
  • Distribute notes and action items to the group. As soon as possible post-meeting, distribute a report and list of action items to each participant. Each item should have a clear expectation of what is necessary for successful completion, as well as a due date. Avoid using “ASAP,” since people are more accountable to actual calendar dates.

Assigning action items ensures that the meeting objectives are not forgotten when participants return to their offices and aforementioned to-do lists. It’s just as important to follow up and hold people accountable for their action items.

 Follow Up and Report Progress

Action items are the most important component of a meeting. They ensure something will be accomplished and keep all team members on the same wavelength. Remember, it’s essential to hold your co-workers accountable for their action items, or the due dates will come and go without any progress.

Follow up with each attendee to make sure they’re on track. Stop by to talk, send an email or make a phone call to check in, and extend due dates as necessary. Report any progress back to the entire group on a regular basis, until all action items are complete.

 To Make Meetings Effective, End with Action Items

Meetings can move projects along or stop them in their tracks – it all depends on how they are run. By following these steps, you’ll make your meetings more productive and effective, with actionable items that get things done. Instead of feeling resentful that their time is being wasted, your co-workers might even look forward to your meetings. Especially if you don’t forget the doughnuts!

Erin Palmer is a contributor to U.S. News University Directory – a leading source for higher education information online. The directory provides working professionals a reliable place to locate accredited colleges. Offerings include advanced business degrees and certificate programs in areas such as; human resources, marketing and project management.  For additional information, please visit http://www.usnewsuniversitydirectory.com.



Should You Stop At “Good Enough?”

If you have read this blog before, you know that I like to tell stories. At my advancing age there are so many of them, and social media connections help me remember and revisit them to see if I learned anything at the time, or can still learn now.

So when a Facebook friend posted this comment (about a picture of an alligator), it reminded me of my own time at the police academy.

When I attended the academy, candidates were required to meet certain standards in the following areas – academic, physical agility, and marksmenship. Each area had a minimum score that the candidate had to reach during a final test in order to pass and become certified. If you weren’t certified, you could not work as a police officer.

The physical agility test was a series of tasks, like running a mile in a certain time, and doing a minimum number of push-ups and sit-ups. When it was my turn, I did whatever minimum number it was to pass, and then stopped.

“Hey!” yelled one of my instructors as I was getting up after doing my minimum sit-ups. “I know you can do more!”

“Sure, ” I replied, “but what for? I’m not going to win any agility award, and I passed. I don’t see the point in doing any additional.”

Then I walked away, leaving the instructor scowling.

HR pundits and bloggers often discuss how important it is to try, and how people shouldn’t stop themselves from achieving more.  But I’m not sure if it’s necessary to always try to be on top. It may be just as important to minimize your effort in some area in order to shine brighter in another (I did win the academic award with the highest score in my academy class).

Sometimes, I think, good enough really is just that.

Do you?