Vanishing Point

by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Let me channel my inner Andy Rooney (or Harlan Ellison if you will) for a moment. I will be attending the SHRM Annual Conference for the tenth time in a few days. I always leave with a positive feeling both about the experience and the profession. There is, however, an item that makes vuvuzelas sound like Mozart (or Hall and Oates if that is your musical predilection) - roller bags in the exhibit hall.

Why roller bags? On Sunday afternoon, after seeing if Steve Forbes blinks or not, thousands of HR professionals will descend into the exhibit hall for some food, to speak to a vendor, to try to win a prize, or to pick up some free swag that an exhibitor will giveaway. Presumably given out by vendors to not only promote their product, but to help the attendee carry away the pens, t-shirts, squeezeballs and other geegaws he or she has picked up along the way, the roller bag seems like a great prize. So, where is the fail?

  • The roller bag is always underfoot - I can't tell you how many times I have, or have seen others, nearly tripped over these menaces while navigating the conference.
  • People are oblivious to their own space - Many cities and states are passing laws banning texting and driving. At the SHRM conference, they should ban texting while pulling a roller bag. Don't be surprised to see a person trying to talk or text, while carrying a cup of coffee, and trying to pull a roller bag. Its a bad combo.
  • Space is limited - Filling a conference with thousands of people leads to congestion. This congestion is only exacerbated with a roller bag. As people walk through the passages of the convention center and exhibit hall with a roller bag, they operate as if the bag was not there. They don't realize that the bag acts as a 2nd person behind them, taking up valuable space.
So, if you are an exhibitor at SHRM this year, I implore you to not give a roller bag away as a prize. Similarly, if you are attending the SHRM Annual Conference, have a great time. But, don't be that person with the roller bag.

Mr. Disco

by Matthew Stollak on Sunday, June 20, 2010

An interesting conversation took place on Twitter between Jessica Miller-Merrell, Mike VanDervort, John Jorgensen, and myself on Saturday morning regarding the cost of hotels at the 2010 SHRM Annual Conference. Have hotels become more expensive?

I looked at selected SHRM conference brochures (i.e., the ones that I still possessed) over the past 10 years to see what it was cost a person to book a single room on a per night average. Clearly, prices in 2001 will be different than in 2010, so I used an inflation calculator to adjust costs to 2010 dollars. So, how does San Diego compare to years past?

Cost of an Average SHRM-Affiliated Hotel (per night)
Chicago (2008): $247.75 (standard deviation=$28.52)
San Francisco (2001): $246.79 (sd=$54.41)
San Diego (2010): $236.06 (sd=$40.63)
Washington DC (2006): $224.08 (sd=$38.50)
Philadelphia (2002): $209.30 (sd=$56.00)
San Diego (2005): $196.46 (sd=$47.90)
Las Vegas (2007): $161.15 (sd=$31.06)

Chicago was the most expensive option in this sample of the past 10 years, marked especially by the lowest standard deviation, indicating that there was very little variability in the price of hotels. You could find a high-quality hotel in Chicago for not much more than a 3-star hotel. Meanwhile, Las Vegas was the biggest bargain. But, how much of a bargain is it statistically speaking?

I ran a simple one-way ANOVA (i.e., a fancy way of comparing the means simultaneously) to see if there was a significant difference across the means of these 7 sampled years. The results showed a statistically significant difference overall with F=13.83 (p=.000). The results showed no statistically significant differences between Chicago, San Francisco, and San Diego (2010). In other words, while Chicago was the most expensive, it wasn't significantly more than San Francisco, or San Diego(2010).

Further, comparing San Diego in 2005 with San Diego in 2010 also showed a statistically significant difference (t =-3.68, p=.000). The results show that San Diego hotels today cost $40 more a night, on average, than they did 5 years ago (adjusting for inflation). San Diego is no longer the bargain it once was.

Finally, Las Vegas was statistically significantly cheaper than every other city in the sample. This is promising as the SHRM Annual Conference will be there in 2011. You'll be able to nab a 5-star hotel, such as the Bellagio or Venetian, for the price of a hotel in the bottom quartile in Chicago, or the median price of a hotel in San Diego in 2010.


by Matthew Stollak on Friday, June 11, 2010

Two weeks from today, I will head to San Diego, for the SHRM 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition. Beyond the usual conference fanfare, I have attended the conference for a variety of reasons (serving on SHRM volunteer committees, serving as a judge for as well as having teams compete and win the SHRM HRGames national championship in 2003, winning a national award). This year, I have the honor of serving as one of the inaugural members of the SHRM Blog Squad, or as I like to call it, the "Blog Force Five." To paraphrase Tarantino..." in we're a bunch of bloggers. Force, as we're a force to be reckoned with. Five, as in there's one...two..three...four...five of us."

The 2010 Blog Squad is:

1) David Bowles, Ph.D., co-author of Employee Morale: Driving Performance in Challenging Times and blogger at Morale at Work.

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, HR professional, television host of “Job Search Secrets,” author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, and blogger at Blogging4Jobs.

3) Rachel Salley, SPHR, an HR consultant and blogger with Musings From the Career Anarchist.

4) Matthew Stollak, Ph.D., SPHR, assistant professor of business administration at St. Norbert College and blogger at True Faith HR.

5) April Dowling, SPHR, HR Generalist, active member of the Birmingham SHRM Chapter and blogger at PseudoHR.

In the spirit of Spinal Tap's noted auteur, Marty DiBergi, we hope to capture...the sights, the sounds...the smells....of the 2010 Annual SHRM Conference. We hope to get that...and a lot more. But, hey, enough of my yakkin'....

So, what do you all want to read about from the conference? What stories do you want to hear about? Here are some of the initial blog ideas I hope to bring you (and secure before my fellow blog squad members take them):

  1. Behind the scenes of the student conference - Every Saturday, SHRM Student Programs puts on a mini-conference for students and student chapter advisors. Guest speakers include Alan Collins and Laurie Ruettimann. What went on behind the scenes? What does the Future of HR look like?
  2. Attending the SHRM Annual Conference as a student. What does a student expect to capture from his or her attendance? What did he or she think about the experience? What did he or she think about the exhibit hall? Was he or she treated well by fellow HR professionals? Exhibitors?
  3. The Exhibit Hall - what were the best and worst displays? What were the best and worst freebies? Will once again bring the biggest menace to the exhibit hall experience...the rollerbag!?!?
  4. Does any one really win at the exhibit hall? By now, many are receiving conference pamphlets from vendors requesting that they stop by a vendor's booth for a chance to win an iPod, Garmin, TomTom, iPad, gift card, etc. This will be my 10th SHRM Annual Conference, and int he previous 9 years I've won bupkus. Do people really win the prizes advertised?
  5. The Monday night party scene - Monday night at SHRM Annual is usually the big vendor party night. Monster, CareerBuilder, HotJobs, Jobing, and others throw a big bash for attendees. I will try to give you the behind the scenes scoop and gossip from at least two of the events - The SHRM10 TweetUp and the Badger Bash (sponsored by the WISHRM state council).
6. The San Diego scene. I hope to go to the San Diego Zoo for the Panda Watch as well as Tino's to drink three fingers of Glenlivet with a little bit of pepper and some cheese, and catch Ron Burgundy on the yazz flute.

7. Hall & Oates...Really? As the three readers of my blog know, I was not a fan of this option and blogged about it here. I hope to interview those perpetrators responsible and find out how SHRM actually chooses the Tuesday night entertainment, and what can be done to bring an artist that is actually relevant in the 21st century.

What do you want to read about?

Guilty Partner

by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, June 10, 2010

Growing up, my favorite baseball player was Paul Molitor. As a youngster, I remember heading to Kobs Field on the Michigan State campus to see the Gophers play the Spartans, and was awestruck at how Molitor destroyed MSU pitching. I remember looking at the free agent draft results in 1977 at my grandma’s house in Milwaukee and getting excited that the Brewers drafted “The Ignitor” with the 3rd pick. I made many a trip to County Stadium to watch Molitor and Robin Yount, Gorman Thomas, Ben Ogilvie, Sixto Lezcano, and Cecil Cooper lead the Brewers to many a successful season including a trip to the World Series in 1982, as well as cheering “Molly” on as he chased DiMaggio’s hitting streak culminating in 39 in 1987.

So, my mouth was agape when he decided to take the free agent route and sign with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992. I was Shocked! Outraged! Aghast! He was a Milwaukee Brewer! He had always been a Milwaukee Brewer! He was my Milwaukee Brewer. How could he abandon all his fans and switch to another team? How could he betray my allegiance? It was nearly enough to make me give up watching baseball.

Fast forward 17 years, and the saga of Brett Favre, my favorite player on my favorite football team, the Green Bay Packers. Those familiar feelings rose up once again. While the circumstances may be slightly different, it was hard to see Favre put on another uniform, particularly that of the Purple and Gold (ugh!).

This week, I am yet again seeing another icon in my life think of changing jobs. This time, its Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. He is truly the face of Michigan State University. He turned a slightly better than average basketball program into the best in the country according to ESPN writer Andy Katz. Since 1999, Michigan State has won 6 Big Ten Titles, been to 7 Elite 8s, 6 Final Fours, and a National Championship. Now, he is possibly going to leave the MSU campus and take the head coaching job with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Strangely, I am not so upset. People change jobs all the time, particularly in sports. Loyalty and long career tenures with one organization are not so commonplace anymore. I see the relationships I build with students diminish as students graduate and move on to the next chapter of their lives. Perhaps, it is because it hasn’t actually happened yet. He could still remain in East Lansing. Perhaps, I am thankful for the past 12 years under his watch.

Perhaps, it is simply just maturation.

Love Less

by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, June 3, 2010

So what do Barbara Ehrenrich, Seth Godin, "The Music Man" and Jarvis Cocker have in common?

As noted in the previous blog post, I spent the last 2 weeks in May on the Norbertine Heritage Tour. When you are traveling from Prague to Amsterdam by bus, you find yourself with a lot of idle time to read. One of the books I chose to read was Seth Godin's "Linchpin." In "Linchpin," Godin writes about how to become indispensable in the workplace; what scarce and "artistic" qualities do you possess that will make you standout amongst your peers?

As I was riding through the German countryside and reading the book, I was struck by the song "Common People" by Pulp. From the seminal 1995 album "Different Class," lead man Jarvis Cocker (or if you prefer the William Shatner/Ben Folds/Joe Jackson version ) tells the story of a wealthy, female art student who wants to slum with the lower classes:

"I want to live like common people
I want to do whatever common people do
I want to sleep with common people
I want to sleep with common people like you"

Cocker initially feigns interest, singing humorously:
"I said pretend you've got no money,
she just laughed and said,
"Oh you're so funny."
I said "yeah?
Well I can't see anyone else smiling in here."
Cocker eventually sings:
You'll never live like common people,
you'll never do what common people do,
you'll never fail like common people,
you'll never watch your life slide out of view,
and dance and drink and screw,
because there's nothing else to do.

Sing along with the common people,
sing along and it might just get you through,
laugh along with the common people,
laugh along even though they're laughing at you,
and the stupid things that you do.
Because you think that poor is cool.
Cocker tells her why:
'Cos Everybody hates a tourist,
especially one who thinks
it's all such a laugh.
Yeah, and the chip stains' grease
will come out in the bath.
You will never understand
how it feels to live your life
with no meaning or control
and with nowhere left to go.
You're amazed that they exist
and they burn so bright,
while you can only wonder why.
So, what does this have to do with Linchpin? Godin writes that a person may possess significant technical skill, but if he or she doesn't "know the territory" like the traveling salesmen in "The Music Man," he or she will not be a linchpin. "Depth of knowledge is rarely sufficient, all by itself, to turn someone into a linchpin.

Barbara Ehrenrich's "Nickel and Dimed" is an excellent read detailing her attempt to find out people survive on minimum wage jobs. She took the cheapest housing, accepted whatever jobs she was offered, and found that those efforts to be the common person required a great deal of effort; what Godin referenced and Arlie Russell Hochschild in "The Managed Heart" referred to as "emotional labor." However, there was a false note in Ehrenrich's book. She could return to her more comfortable life. The art student in Cocker's song may attempt to be common, but she does not possess the authenticity needed to be that common person. She still has an out. In the end, the linchpin can't simply pose if the safety net is still there.

Round and Round

by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, June 1, 2010

For the past two weeks, in conjunction with work, I participated in the 2010 Norbertine Heritage Tour. The purpose of the tour is to help faculty and staff understand the Catholic intellectual tradition of the college. So, from May 17-May 31, 23 colleagues and I toured the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands, and visited Abbeys in Prague, Doksany, Geras, Schlagl, Roggenburg, and Den Bosch. A video blog of the tour put together by one of the trip members can be found here

Of the many things I was struck by, one was the work of the confreres. In visiting the various abbeys, one could see bold, ostentatious displays while others were very simple. Yet, a similar level of engagement and passion was demonstrated by all our hosts. I can only attribute it to the strong mission and culture that exists.

I also thought about the notion of altruism. In the psychological literature, altruism is typically defined as an action carried out with the intent to benefit others without the desire to receive benefit from others in return. The altruistic helper only wants to receive the benefits of knowing that he or she has aided others who deserve (and maybe those who do not deserve) to be helped. In contrast the nonaltruistic helper may be someone who wants to help others and, in addition, wants to receive material or social compensation in return. Most research on helping focuses on personality or situation influences on such behavior.

A similar vein of research in the management field, called organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), has been directed toward understanding the motives of employees who exhibit helpful and cooperative behaviors that are not part of their formal job requirements. Most studies of the antecedents of OCB have employed Organ's social exchange-based explanation. Organ argues that employees perform OCB when they believe that relationship with their employer is one of social exchange (i.e., relationships and activities that exist outside formal contracts such that participants' contributions are unspecified) rather than economic exchange (i.e., relationships and activities in which each party's contribution is contractually stipulated).
From this perspective, OCB reflects the employees' input to an ongoing, psychological contract with their employer.

What role, then, does spirituaity play in moderating the relationship between motivation investigated in previous research, such as social exchange, and OCB. Are employees who are more spiritually-oriented likely to perform OCB with greater frequency than those who are not spiritually-oriented?

Acting altruistically in the workplace, and during work hours, represents an "opportunity cost" by using that time to help others rather than on work activities that represent individual outcomes, such as salary, or organizational success, such as increased profitability or productivity. Similarly, there may be expectations by an organization to act altruistically outside the work force, such as participating in Habitat for Humanity or the United Way, without accompanying compensation. Will the failure to meet such expectations reflect negatively upon the employee, resulting in lower salary and other outcomes?

In addition, what role does impression management play in influencing authentic altruism. Some employees may perform OCB in order to influence the image others have of them. When is OCB an example of "authentic" altruism, or an example of nonaltruistic helping, such as impression management?

NEXT TIME: What does Jarvis Cocker have to do with Seth Godin's "Linchpin?"