Thursday, August 28, 2008

Talent Management: Just What Does It Mean?

The other day I posed this question to a group of HR people: "Is there a consistent definition of the term TALENT MANAGEMENT?" The responses I got pretty much matched my thought. There is not a consistent definition. And I think this is confusing to HR folks and upper management. And thus things don't get done. "Talent" (whatever that means) does not get managed. Upper management gets frustrated with HR, HR gets frustrated with HR, and confusion reigns. As I was searching for a definition Cathy Martin, author of Find Your Metrics That Matter, sent me a link to the following article.

Mary Ann Downey, of IC4P, wrote an article entitled Talent Management by any Other Name... I don't think I could be anymore articulate than she was in this post. So I refer her to you and maybe she can clear it up.

Also along those lines, here is another article called Kill the 'HR Speak' by John Sullivan in Workforce. Click on the title to read that article. Talent Management is part of HR speak.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Creating Problems In Order To Solve Them

If you have been in management or HR for any period of time you have probably encountered an employee who always seems to encounter more problems than others, but seems to always successfully solve them. Sometimes you are happy they have taken care of them, other times you wonder why that employee always encounters the problems. Sometimes people get rewarded or promoted for their problem solving skills. Sometimes people make their reputations on their ability to solve problems and become known as turn around specialists.

It is always good to have a problem-solver in the fold, but sometimes you are suspicious. Just a gut feeling that things are not quite the way they seem. You suspect that the person is creating as many problems as they solve and in fact seem to be making them up to look good. Maybe to get a promotion, a raise, or just to get the praise. Well it turns out that this may be a more widespread problem than thought. In an article in the Monday, August 25th issue of the Wall Street Journal writer Phred Dvorak discusses a phenomena called 'Munchausen at Work.' Georgia Tech business professor Nathan Bennett coined this term to describe work behavior that resembles a rare psychological disorder called Munchausen Syndrome.

Munchausen Syndrome (click for the Wiki) is a disorder in which people make up illnesses or diseases in order to get sympathy or to draw attention to themselves. It is named after a real person, Baron von Munchausen, who used to make up fanciful tales about himself. (His story was actually made into a movie The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.)

Some of the symptoms of 'Munchausen at Work', according to Dvorak, include withholding help or key information until the last moment and then stepping in to save the day. Other examples include things like creating rumors among employees and then dispelling the rumors after having "talked to the boss" or "saving your job." Another example was a manager undermining relationships in his work group and then holding group sessions to improve relations. Managers create the workplace "illnesses" in order to cure the illness and thus draw attention to themselves.

Part of the problem may be of our own creation. We usually get the type of behavior we reward. So if we consistently reward problem solving behavior we may have created an "attention junky" (my term) who now has to create problems to solve in order to get the attention for solving the problem.

So, HR Manager, take a look at your managers. Do you have one that is always the "hero"? The White Knight who comes dashing to the rescue? If so you may want to look a little closer and see if what they are saving you from is not of their own creation. Hopefully not, but it doesn't hurt to be a bit skeptical and investigate. You might cure some more headaches. Then of course we would have to worry about you craving that attention too!!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Is Your Head In the Cloud?: Education For The HR Department

Jim Stroud, of the Recruiters Lounge, pointed out in a Tweet today the 12 New Rules of Working You Should Embrace Today, from the blog site Zenhabits. It is pretty interesting and I would recommend it as a read. But directing you to two new blog sites is not my purpose.

My purpose this fine day is to educate you a bit since most of us HR people are not the most technologically savvy folks there are. In the 12 New Rules Leo Babauta uses the term "the cloud", a term I must admit I was not familiar with until just this past Thursday when I heard a story on NPR. This story was called Computing in the Cloud: Who Owns Your Files? It describes how people are keeping all their files on the Internet and not stored on computers. Calendars, shared files, records, email, etc. are stored out in "the cloud" of the Internet and not resident on your computer. The article describes the advantages and disadvantages of both methods of storage, but indicate that the wave of the future is the "cloud." Here is the definition of THE CLOUD on Wikipedia.

So that is your education for the day. You now know what "the cloud" is so when someone more technical than you, or younger than you, or more savvy than you, uses it you will not look like a doofus. You will understand and be able to converse intelligently on the subject. And people will be impressed.

Oh by the way, did I throw you with the word TWEET that I used earlier? A tweet is a communication on Twitter. Twitter is a social networking site that allows for quick communication with a wide variety of people. All the fashionable and up-to-date HR people are using it to expand their horizons and network with other professionals. Check it out.

To quote Sean Connery's charactor in The Untouchables, "Here endth the lesson."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Government Jobs: Protection for All A Free Ride For Some

There is a stereotypical image of a government worker as lazy and incompetent who has a job in government because they could not make it in the private sector. They receive protection from the Civil Service system. This stereotype holds for all governments throughout the world. It is especially potent in the US and American humor. Think of postal workers, fat bellied county sheriffs, "military intelligence", and the humor goes on. We all know that this is not true in 95% of cases. But humor is based on reality. And it is funny, in most cases, but not when it costs a life.

In Georgia (the state, not the country), the Fulton County 911 system employed someone who fit the stereotype of the failed employee and the system fit the stereotype of a failed system. As a result someone looking for help is now dead because the operator and the system failed. The operator did not respond correctly to the call for help and sent emergency workers to an incorrect address. She failed to notice that the call was coming from an entirely different part of town. As a result a woman calling for help did not receive it and she later died. You might be inclined to say "Well that is unfortunate, but people do make mistakes." However, in this case this 911 operator had a long history of mistakes and problems. In her 12+ years as an operator she had amassed a 2100 page personnel file detailing mistakes in routing calls, sleeping on the job, fights with co-workers and bosses, multiple tardiness and more. Two thousand one hundred pages of personnel file!!!!

The question becomes "Why was this woman still working as an operator with this kind of record?" The answer shows where the system failed. She had been suspended several times. Yet, the civil service system reinstated her each time. I have no idea of the reasoning, but they did. And as a result a woman is dead. To me this intolerable. This is a failed system protecting a failed employee. If this does not cause a "re-think" of the system it should. But I have no hope that it will. That is one of the hallmarks of the stereotypical government system.

By the way, they reassigned the Director of the 911 center (sounds like sports doesn't it. Players suck so we fire the coach.) They have also suspended the operator, AGAIN. However, she and her attorney have appealed her case to the county Personnel Board. Her case will be heard August 28th. We have another opportunity to see if the system will fail again by reinstating her.

All jokes aside, this time it is no laughing matter.

If you want to read the story click on AJC.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Age Discrimination: Even AARP Is Not Immune

AARP, the national association that advocates for older Americans, is being sued by an ex-employee, who claims she was discriminated against because of her age, so reports the New York Times. The woman, Bonita Brady, claims she lost her job in a reorganization and then was passed over 9 times for other positions, despite the fact that she had excellent performance reviews in the past. AARP has not responded to the claim.

There are several things that may be going in this case. But first, here is a primer on age discrimination. Age is covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and is administered by the EEOC. It has been amended by the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act and the Equal Employment Act of 1991. Basically the law protects workers over the age of 40 from discrimination in all aspects of employment. Employers have to make decisions about employees or candidates based upon factors other than age. If an employee is being terminated or laid off they can be asked to sign a letter waiving their rights to sue if: 1) they are given something of value in return (read severance here), 2) they are given 21 days in which to make the decision (45 days if it is a group layoff), 3) they are informed they have the right to consult an attorney, and 4) they have 7 days in which to rescind the agreement.

There are a couple of Supreme court cases that have major impact on age discrimination. The first was General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline in 2004 said that the law was meant to protect workers over the age of 40 from discrimination in favor of workers under the age of 40, not from workers over the age of 40 but of a different age. The case dealt with benefit favoritism for workers over 50 but not for workers ages 40-49. A couple more recent Supreme Court decisions allowed older workers to file disparate impact cases. As an example, any skills test requiring computer skills might have a disparate impact on older workers.

So in the AARP case we started with a few things may be going on. First, Ms. Brady may have been passed over several times, but if she was denied because AARP hired someone who was also over the age of 40 she may not have a case. She may not have had the skills they need to fill the position, despite the good performance reviews. Secondly, perhaps the decision-making here was based upon "nice" performance reviews rather than "accurate" performance reviews. It may be in reality that her boss(es) may have been wishy-washy in their evaluation of her performance and she was not really as good as they put down on paper. And then when it came down to having to make a decision on her to fill a spot they really did not think she was capable of doing it. So they passed her over. She got upset and filed a lawsuit claiming discrimination. Whether this is the case or not, it is a good reminder to be accurate in performance evaluation, because if you tell people they are good, when indeed they are not, when you let them go they are going to attribute it to discrimination in some form. After all, you have been telling them for years they are good employees.

Whatever the reason, pay attention to this one to develop. They may settle with her. She is only asking for $25,000 and the bad publicity may cost AARP more than that.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It Is Nice To Get Recognized

HR Observations is pleased to announce that it has made the top 25 best blog list hosted by Fistful of Talent. We made the list at #14.
Read the list by linking to the FOT site. You will find a wealth of great blogs that will educate, elucidate and titillate your HR senses.
BTW, there is an HR lesson in this. The title of this post is "It is nice to get recognized." And it is. We all feel that way. So remember that with your employees.

Monday, August 18, 2008

OOPS in the Outback: Why Managerial Training is Important

Here in the U.S. we often talk about the importance of training for managers and supervisors. Most of us in HR realize that most companies get in "trouble" due to the things said and done by managers and supervisors. Well here is a great example of that. From Australia we have the Mayor of Mount Isa, John Molony, making the public statement to the newspaper that read "May I suggest if there are five blokes to every girl, we should find out where there are beauty-disadvantaged women and ask them to proceed to Mount Isa." He proceeded to compound his error by further stating "Quite often you will see walking down the street a lass who is not so attractive with a wide smile on her face,.....Whether it is recollection of something previous or anticipation for the next evening, there is a degree of happiness."

Needless to say his comment, thus interpreted as RECRUIT UGLY WOMEN has not been received well by the women in the area. One even countered "We've got a saying up here that the odds are good, but the goods are odd."

I am not too sure if there is an HR person in Mount Isa, probably not, but if there was I am sure they had the same reaction any US based HR person would have. Basically "OMG what has he done." By the way, the mayor has not taken kindly to the fire-storm of controversy that has erupted and has essentially said he was misquoted.

How would you like to be the recruiter handling that assignment and running the ad stating "Only Ugly Women Need Apply."

This is just a lesson to all HR people... DO YOUR TRAINING AHEAD OF TIME! Not after a manager or supervisor has stuck his/her foot in the organization's mouth.

If you wish to read the article link here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bilingualism: HR Skill Of The Future

According to the Census Bureau by 2050 Hispanics will comprise 30% of the U.S. population and Asians will comprise 9%. Combine this with the rapidly expanding "global" economy this will put bilinguil skills at the top of the list of necessary skills for HR professionals of the future.

The Census Bureau further reports that non-Hispanic whites will make up 46% of the population and blacks will be 15% of the population. This is a reduction from current levels for whites of 55% and just a marginal increase for blacks of less than 1%.

Oh by the way, one of the other languages you will have to speak is "old person". People over the age of 85 will triple to over 19 million by that time.

And it is going to be crowded extra 134 milllion people by 2050. Currently we have 305 million residents.

Diversity will definately be on the table, but that time it may no longer be an issue because it will be the norm.

Of course the way things are going now, we may all be speaking Chinese or Russian by that time.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Worried Workers: What Bothers Your Employees?

An article in, on new Social Contracts, indicates that workers born in the 1980's are very, very unsettled. According to's reading of a Time/Rockefeller poll:

  • 49% of them say America was a better place to live in the 1990s

  • 46% say America is a lot less financially secure now than a decade ago.

Additionally, "...35% of them think they will have to change jobs 2-3 times in the next 10 years." And as you are well aware, what people think is the reality you have to live with. So you may want to pay attention to your Gen Y workers and anticipate some turnover.

In a broader sampling of workers the poll also found:

  • 35% of Hispanics are very worried about losing their job in the next year

  • 54% of Americans say they have inadequate savings to handle a personal crisis like losing a job

  • 71% would rather have a job that guarantees health care and provides a pension than one that pays more

So, to quote a famous musical "There is trouble in River City." (Anyone know which one?) In these troubling times people are concerned about jobs and security, but many anticipate having to change jobs.

So how does this alter the "social contract" with employees that your company enters into with employment? Do you have the opportunity to trade salary for security? Or is the insecurity caused by the economy, such as increased commuting costs, still make a monetary "contract" primary to people. What does a company have to offer to get the best and then retain them without emptying the corporate pocketbook?

A challenge for HR for sure!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympian Workers: What Does It Take?

As we see images of the athletes competing at Bejing in the Summer Olympics we marvel at their physical prowess, mental toughness and dedication to their sport. Wouldn't it be nice to have this kind of dedication and ability in the workplace? What does it take and how can we translate this into human resources terms?

  1. Talent. Most of these athletes show a natural talent for the sport they participate in. So if you are looking for someone with natural talent you have to have the proper screening tools. If you want someone to do something for you it is important that they have done it before. How do you find this? Behavioral interviewing is a good start. The best predictor of future behavior/success is past behavior/success.

  2. Allow the failures. Athletes are not instantly great at what they do. They have to practice. So train your employees. Athletes are allowed to fail and to show improvement. Do you have a culture that allows failure as long as people improve from it?

  3. Recognition. Standing on the podium to hear the anthem. The public recognition of your success. What public acknowledgement do you have of a job well done?

  4. The Gold Medal. The reward, the acknowledgement of success. What reward do you have for people who achieve? Compensation of some sort? A bonus, a pay increase, a promotion? Depends on the achievement and the culture. But the reward needs to be there.

Think about how you can make your employees Olympians and reap the rewards of having great employees dedicated to achieving their best. It would be interesting to know how all the Home Depot athletes measure up as employees.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

40th Carnival of HR: Great Reading Ahead!

The new Carnival of HR, the 40th one, is up. It provides you with a large resource of great information all in one place. Click here 40th Carnival of HR to get educated in one quick resource. Warning, you will be tempted to read for at least the next hour. And there are much worse ways to spend an hour.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Naps At Work: A Lighthearted Look

The subject of naps at work come up occasionally in conversations with HR people. Generally in a group of people talking about how sleep deprived they are. Ina group of HR Twitterers naps and sleep deprivation gets frequently mentioned. In an article Five Things You Must Know About Sleep author Robin Lloyd points out that there are some misconceptions. One is that we sleep more and better than we think we do. I am sure many will debate this, but Robin has the numbers to back it up.

Another point made in the article is that if you feel like it you can sleep like a baby, that is taking naps. "Multiple, shorter sleep sessions nightly, rather than one long one, are an option. So-called polyphasic sleep is seen in babies, the elderly and other animals (and Thomas Edison reportedly slept this way). For the rest of us, it is more realistic and healthy to sleep at night as best we can and then take naps as needed. EEGs show that we are biphasic sleepers with two alertness dips - one at night time and one mid-day. So talk to HR about setting up a nap room, like they have for NASA's Phoenix mission team members."

I personally have always been a fan of naps. Short power naps. It is a habit I picked up while traveling for business. That 20 minutes you get as the plane is taking off and before the flight attendants ask you "Would you like something to drink?" (Hint: the further you are back in the plane the longer you get to sleep. Of course it takes longer to get off the plane too, so you have to make a trade-off, longer nap vs. getting to freedom.) One of the good things about this habit is that it is done sitting upright. This skill can transfer nicely to your desk and still give the appearance that your are working. (I do not recommend this for while you are driving however. Quality may become impaired when you hit the car in front of you.)

While researching this topic (and I use "research" here in a very loose sense, as in one Google) I came across this take on naps. It is written by Galen Black of the Van Gogh-Goghs on Wasting Time at Work. He says "Lots of people want to take naps at work. This is very dangerous and should only be attempted by the most seasoned napper. No matter how many news magazines do stories on how taking naps improve employee performance in other countries, you will never be paid to sleep here in the U.S of A. The USA work ethic hates sleep, even the good “8 hours a night” kind. " Now, today, some enlightened employers do offer nap opportunities. However, I think Galen is right. It will rub most employers the wrong way and we HR people will be working on offering these employees plenty of sleep time, at home. Galen does offer the following tip, taken from the Nap Play Book (which I was unfortunately unable to find):

"Nap #643 -- Fill a coffee mug. Find a low traffic area in the office and spill the contents of the mug on the floor. Lay down on the floor face first with your coffee mug laying on the spill. The purpose is to make it look like you fell, passed out or tripped on something. After you place yourself in position, go to sleep. If someone finds you, they’ll rush to your aide. Have an excuse ready. They’ll think you are hurt or sick, but don’t let them send you home. You don’t want to eat up sick leave, that’s your personal time. Never repeat this exercise in the same location and don’t do it too often. This nap will be less effective if you snore. If you snore while you sleep it’s tougher to pass off sleep as unconsciousness. (Naps can buy you any where from 10 minutes to several hours depending on where you take the nap)."

So how many of you are enlightened nappers? Or enlightened employers? Or are you just tired from reading about napping and want to lay down right now? Sleep well and don't let the bed bugs bite.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Employee Free Choice Act AGAIN: If You Are Not Scared Now You Should Be!

There has been some increased exposure to the Employee Free Choice Act (note: bill proposers are good at calling something it isn't. Paycheck Fairness is the same way) because WalMart made the news talking to employees about it. The Wall Street Journal wrote about it (see here) and I have exerpted this paragraph that puts it in a nutshell for HR managers and businesses.

"The bill was crafted by labor as a response to more aggressive opposition by companies to union-organizing activity. The AFL-CIO and individual unions such as the United Food and Commercial Workers have promised to make passage of the new labor law their No. 1 mission after the November election.........Both supporters and opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act believe it would simplify and speed labor's ability to unionize companies. Currently, companies can demand a secret-ballot election to determine union representation. Those elections often are preceded by months of strident employer and union campaigns.

Under the proposed legislation, companies could no longer have the right to insist on one secret ballot. Instead, the Free Choice, or "card check," legislation would let unions form if more than 50% of workers simply sign a card saying they want to join. It is far easier for unions to get workers to sign cards because the organizers can approach workers repeatedly, over a period of weeks or months, until the union garners enough support."

If you are in HR or run a business and that doesn't scare you, then you need a wake-up call.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Highlighting a Great Recruitment Resource:

Like many of you I receive a lot of newsletters. Some I read every time, some I scan, some I read occasionally and some I dismiss entirely or even delete them (despite that I signed up for it.) One of the ones I read occasionally comes from This time I read it thoroughly. It is full of very interesting facts and Ted Daywalt, the CEO, writes pretty well.

Daywalt, a retired Navy Officer, has created a site to help veterans find positions. It is a way for employers to get exposed to a resource of capable, well trained candidates. Despite old perceptions the military spends a great deal of money training people. The get heavy responsibilty at early ages. The successful ones learn fast, take responsibility readily and most have excellent people skills. Junior officers have handled positions and made decisions many people never get to make.

VetJobs facilitates employers and candidates getting together. So if you are recruiting and looking for high caliber talent I encourage you check out I think you will find the site interesting. Look for Ted's newsletter for an interesting read.

(In the vein of full disclosure, I do know Ted Daywalt through a Chamber of Commerce. However, I have no financial interest in VetJobs, and he does not know of this endorsement.)