Ruined in a Day

by Matthew Stollak on Friday, July 23, 2010

You remember this guy, don't you? Bueller? Bueller? Yes, it is Ben, former speechwriter for Nixon and Gerald Ford, true renaissance man. Well, when he is not pitching Clear Eyes or, he is writing detailed economic screeds. This week, at the American Spectator, he gave his thoughts on the current economic maladies and the lessons we should learn from them (link here).

The money portion was his thoughts on the unemployed:

"2. The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities. I say “generally” because there are exceptions. But in general, as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed, I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day’s work. They are people who create either little utility or negative utility on the job. Again, there are powerful exceptions and I know some, but when employers are looking to lay off, they lay off the least productive or the most negative. To assure that a worker is not one of them, he should learn how to work and how to get along -- not always easy.

(This brings to mind an idea I have long had: that high schools and colleges should have a course on "how to get along" and "how to do a day’s work." This would include showing up in clean clothes, smelling well, having had a good breakfast, dressed in a businesslike way, calling the other employees "sir" or "ma'am" and not talking back. This would include a teaching of the fact that the employee is not there for amusement, but to help the employer make money and to get a job done. It would include the idea that once you are at work, you are not at play. It is an idea whose time has come.)"

Taken to its logical conclusion, shouldn't Ben really be praising HR Departments around the country? Through their awesome skills of talent evaluation, the HR managers have culled those with "poor working habits" and "poor personalities" from the ranks of the employed in their organization. I'm sure those at work reading this from their computer are pleased that they no longer have to put up with those "overbearing and unpleasant personalities" who add "negative utility" to the job. Isn't the workplace now a better place? Isn't everyone happy, satisfied, and more productive now that those bad apples are no longer crowding our cubicles? Isn't GDP skyrocketing?

C'mon, Ben, show HR some love!


by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, July 15, 2010

As I was perusing, I came across this story regarding Chili's Restaurant and the use of FourSquare. For those too lazy to click on the link, Chili's will offer customers who check into FourSquare at one of their restaurants a special coupon for free chips and salsa. It is apparent that both Foursquare and Chili's find this beneficial: Foursquare will get more customers to use their service and Chili's will attract more customers to their store in the hopes of receiving an additional goodie.

Next month, I will be presenting at the 2010 WI SHRM State Leadership Conference on the topic of "Integrating Social Media to Attract & Retain Members." The Chili's example made me curious as to whether SHRM professional chapters could potentially use FourSquare as one such tool for membership management (as an aside, I have yetto sign up for FourSquare). For example, like Chili's, could you offer those individuals who check into a chapter meeting on FourSquare a special prize (i.e., one person could have their registration fee waived for that particular meeting).

Further, a chapter could use Foursquare as a mechanism to raise money for the SHRM Foundation. As Kyle Lacy suggests,

Users will gain points when they accomplish certain activities like checking in, making multiple stops in a day, adding a new venue, making a repeat visit, or consecutively checking into a certain location. Encourage users to rack up the points and put a value to the points they are accruing (Ex: $0.04 per point). At the end of the promotion donate the amount of money to a charity. This encourages visits to your business and gives back to those who need our help!
Does anyone know if their SHRM professional chapter uses FourSquare? If so, how? Can it be used to make your chapter meeting THE place to be for the month?


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.

Dream Attack

by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, July 1, 2010

One of my favorite television shows over the last few years has been "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The "protagonist," Larry David, always finds himself in socially awkward positions, where he usually exacerbates the situation to comic effect. There is even a Facebook page titled "What Would Larry David Do?"

I found myself in a Larry David-esque situation my self traveling back from the SHRM Annual Conference (shameless self promotion - read the blog here) in San Diego. Like many of the travelers returning home, I was flying solo. As a bit of background, I tend to have mild claustrophobia when I fly. Window seats make me feel trapped, and middle seats are the worst. Similarly, I prefer to sit closer to the front, so I can exit off the plane as quickly as possible. I tend to buy my airline tickets early to ensure that I will have an aisle seat close to the front. In this instance, I purchased my tickets for the June trip in February.

So, I boarded my short, 45 minute flight from Minneapolis to Green Bay and sat in my reserved seat, 7C. Five minutes later, the person, a fifty-ish year old woman, occupying the seat next me in the window seat asked if I would switch seats with her husband. I replied by asking if he had an aisle seat, and learned, unfortunately, it was several rows back, and a window seat. I declined, explained that window seats made me claustrophobic and they split apart. Five minutes later, the woman started weeping, and proceeded to do so for the next 20 minutes. Awkward.

In the midst of the flight, after the drinks and snacks had been passed out, she turned to me, as if I were Satan incarnate, and shrieked "Don't you have a wife or mother? Where's your compassion!?!?!? How dare you not let my husband and I sit together??!?!? I hope the next time you travel with your wife, a person doesn't show you the lack of compassion you showed us!" Good times.

So, experienced travelers, here is my question: When should a person traveling solo on a seat he or she reserved give it up for a couple traveling together?

  • Does the extent of the couple's relationship make a difference? If it was a parent traveling with a young child, I would say I would give it up 100% of the time. But, what if it is co-workers? Friends? A couple that is dating? A married couple? Where's the dividing line?
  • Does the length of the flight matter? On a short flight such as this one, should I have simply sucked it up and suffered so that the husband and wife could sit together? What if the flight is 2 hours? 3? 8? What's the cutoff?
  • Does the seat location matter? If it is a trade for a similar seat (an aisle for an aisle), I would have made the trade, even though it was further back. However, a window for an aisle, further back?
What are your thoughts?