by Matthew Stollak on Monday, July 5, 2010

Last week, I participated as an inaugural member of the SHRM blog squad as part of the 2010 SHRM Annual Conference. Here are a few blogposts that haven't been published (to date) that highlighted some of the sessions I attended:

The Why of Work

For the past two weeks, “The Why of Work,” by David and Wendy Ulrich has been prominent on my mind. First, the excellent Blog Talk Radio Show, “HR Happy Hour” ( hosted by the incomparable Steve Boese and Shauna Moerke had Dr. Ulrich on as the guest on June 10 ( Then, I perused the book on the flight from Green Bay to Minneapolis to San Diego. Finally, to cap it off, I went to see their Monday Mega-Session

In their session, the Ulrich’s attempt to answer the question, “why does meaning matter.” They presented a number of bleak statistics, such as the rise in mental health disorders and the majority of workers (59%) who are thinking of resigning. People find meaning in a variety of sources – home, social groups, hobbies, friends, and, their focus, the workplace. To generate meaning, they find that leadership is crucial. They use a TV example, comparing “The Apprentice” and “Undercover Boss.” Whereas “The Apprentice” winnows a pool of candidates to a single winner, the “Undercover Boss” uses a single example of good employee engagement to enrich thousands.

They also try to answer the question of what does it mean to have an “abundant” organization. What truly is a meaningful organization? It comes down to three things: 1) meaning for ourselves, 2) value for stakeholders, and 3) hope for humanity at large. They referenced Victor Frankl’s classic book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” where Frankl was able to find an ounce of humanity even in a concentration camp. Can workers do the same in a much less horrific environment – the workplace?

In the end, how many times have you said, “I enjoyed the movie, but the book was much better?” Here, a familiar sentiment arose. While the Ulrich’s touched upon the highlights of their book, you’d be better off heading to the source and reading their tome. And, if you weren’t able to catch the Mega-Session, catch the HR Happy Hour session with David Ulrich cited above.

The Ultimate HR Booster Shot:2010/Cases, Trends, Impact

In “The Ultimate HR Booster Shot,” presenter Mindy Chapman provided an energetic and funny look at the panoply of traps organizations may encounter that may run them afoul of the EEOC.

Chapman used the metaphor of popcorn – a single piece is small and insignificant, but a lot of those small pieces may add up – and your company is increasingly becoming a target. Since 2009, when new leadership entered the EEOC, the number of charges has been on the rise.

This is particularly problematic for a number of reasons – the high cost of defense and the negative impact on culture, brand, and stock will be the same regardless of outcome. Further, your name can appear on a Google search long after the case has been arrived.

To “salt” the popcorn, Chapman noted 17 non-monetary requirements the EEOC may impose, such as annual nationwide EEOC training of the entire workforce, rewriting EEO procedures, providing new employee training within 30 days, and hiring an outside party to conduct the investigations. Even worse, the penalties can last up to 5 years and the EEOC can make you call customers. Looking at the “kernels” more closely, Chapman looked at the primary and secondary characteristics that can make a company more vulnerable.

Finally, Chapman presented an EEOC check-up of nearly 50 cases where companies have failed to live up to their EEO obligations. Using clever terms such as “No More Horseplay” (where a male supervisor was pulling on an employee pants, eventually leading to a female’s pants falling to the ground) and the “ZipLipper” (where a supervisor was making derogatory comments about an applicant’s physical deformities), Chapman did an excellent job of engaging the audience on a topic which some might find boring.

The one thing that was missing was the mention of the significant absence of human resources in preventing many of these cases. Was this a failure of training or selection? Why was the organization finding itself getting sued despite the fact that the primary EEOC laws were written in the previous century? One can only hope that the practitioners in the session will take the warning signs presented by Chapman to be more vigilant in their own workplaces.

Digital Quicksand: Avoid Time-Sucking Habits in a Web 2.0 World

As someone who spends a lot of time on social media (the selection to the SHRM blog squad might be one manifestation), Laura Stack’s session on managing social media OCD was particularly appropriate.

Stack highlighted 10 ways to make social media a value-added activity, rather than a suck on one’s time. These included such items as:

1. Understanding why you’re doing it – one should be purposeful and focused by establishing meaningful goals

2. Establish a routine – dedicate blocks of time to check your social media.

3. Avoid distractions – turn off those notifications, such as the “chirps” you hear while using Tweetdeck, or the phone buzzing when you have a new Facebook message.

4. Don’t use real time – use technology such as Hootsuiee or Social Oomph to schedule tweets

5. Don’t do anything manually – use autoresponder programs such as Aweber

While these were helpful suggestions, the presentation was a mixed bag.

· I would have liked to have seen more research on time management. For example, in Dan Ariely’s new book, “The Upside of Irrationality,” he cites studies that show that completing undesirable tasks in a single block is preferable than breaking it up into chunks. Meanwhile, breaking up tasks we enjoy (such as showing commercials during TV shows) actually increase one’s enjoyment of the task.

· The setting would have been more appropriate in a classroom where people had their laptops/desktops in front of them. She showed some excellent step-by-step instructions on certain social media tools, but the transfer of learning was diminished as few in the audience were able to apply the knowledge directly.

· During the Twitter backchannel, Eric Winegardner ( of made an astute point; that while scheduling tweets or using autoresponders might save time, they miss a crucial aspect of the social media experience – engagement! Its tough to build rapport and relationships without that real time interaction.

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