by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, March 24, 2011

Yesterday, the 6th largest amount of snow in history fell into our area.   Given the sheer volume involved poses unique strains on the organization.  Do we have the personnel to clear the sidewalks and parking lots?  Are the streets safe enough for faculty, staff, and students to trek from their homes and start their regular routine, or should work be closed or delayed?  How do we communicate to everyone if the decision is made to close the school?

Yesterday, at 5:45, we received an e-mail from the President indicated work was delayed until 11:00 a.m.  Given that classes don't start until 8:00, it seemed like a reasonable timetable.  In addition, I did notice a few employees had posted a similar notice on Twitter shortly thereafter.  I still decided to make the trip onto campus, and found that 3 of my colleagues  did the same.  However, they were unaware of the change.  They did not check their e-mail in the morning (the horror!!!).

Later that afternoon, given worsening conditions, the decision was made to cancel the rest of the work day so that people could return home safely.  However, the communication method had changed.  The emergency notification system was activated and I received the message in a number of media - text, phone call, e-mail, message on the organization's web page, and on my Twitter feed.  Perhaps, a lesson was learned in the intervening hours about getting the message across.

How are you assuring your employees are getting the news of an impending change in the routine?

Morning Night and Day

by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Yesterday, the great Tim Sackett had a wonderful post on HR's role is primarily a sales position.  So, put on your sales hat and tell me how you would recruit in the following scenario:

You're the HR director for a school district in Wisconsin.  $834 million in cuts to education have been enacted by the state government.  Despite massive cuts to valued programs such as Advanced Placement, music, and art, as well as a significant number of teacher jobs eliminated, you somehow have to fill a teaching position under the following constraints:

  • Wages are frozen, or tied to an increase in the Consumer Price Index
  • Health benefits  (including dental) that were negotiated by taking a lower salary now require the hire to pay 12.6% of wages
  • Pension benefits that were negotiated by taking a lower salary now require the hire to contribute an additional 5.8%
  • Wellness incentive premiums are suspended
  • Collective bargaining rights have been stripped away
  • Rights regarding teaching hours are suspended
  • Rights regarding non-teaching duties are suspended
  • Grievance procedure rights are suspended
  • Class sizes will be increased
  • Older, more experienced educators that you might have counted on to serve as mentors and models for younger teachers to emulate, have either been laid off or have taken early retirement.  Emeritus programs have been reduced or eliminated
  • Rights regarding assignment, transfer, and reassignment have been suspended. 
  • The people you are trying to hire have been demonized by the state government and the press, as lazy and parasitic. 
  • Seniority rules that might have encouraged hires to put in their time have been eliminated, meaning it is likely that you are likely going to have go through the search process again in the not too distant future
  • Its frickin' cold in Wisconsin from mid-September until May.
So, how do you convince the best and brightest educators to not only come to your district, but stay?   How do you lure a competent teacher with two kids, ages 7 and 8, to come to a state where the schools in which they will enroll have undergone significant turmoil?  What's your value proposition?

Dracula's Castle

by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, March 10, 2011

Last night, in a bold move, Republicans voted 18-1 to strip collective bargaining rights from many of Wisconsin's public employees (remember that Police and Firefighters were not part of this bill).  Gov. Walker, in addressing this end run, stated:

In order to move the state forward, I applaud the Legislature's action today to stand up to the status quo and take a step in the right direction to balance the budget and reform government. The action today will help ensure Wisconsin has a business climate that allows the private sector to create 250,000 new jobs.

While I am a simple HR professor, I am curious what kind of business climate he has fomented that will not only create 250,000 new jobs, let alone find the bodies to fill them?

1.  He has already rejected $810 million from the Federal Government to support a high speed rail from Milwaukee to Madison, a project that could've created 13,000 jobs
2.  His new budget cuts $834 million from education, a move that will, no doubt, impel many long-time quality educators to take early retirement as well as force schools to layoff or fire many other employees to meet budgets.

So far, I'm seeing jobs being destroyed, not being created.  Leaving the previous points aside, if I am a business looking to relocate, or an investor looking to put my money somewhere:
1.  Is Wisconsin stock now rising?
2. Do I want to put my time, energy, and resources into an economy with an angry electorate?  
3. Will I expect my labor force to be better prepared for the working world when class sizes will continue to grow and quality teachers will inevitably look elsewhere for employment?
4.  Where are the quality employees going to come from, particularly since more and more employers are not even looking at individuals who are unemployed?
5.  Wisconsin has already been experiencing a perceived "brain drain" problem.  Will the current events improve or exacerbate this issue?

From the employee side, what do people look for from a job?  A 2007 survey by the Center for Excellence in State and Local Government Excellence (while somewhat dated, I would expect the results to be similar today) indicated the top 4 items desired:
1.   Health insurance - For public sector employees in Wisconsin, this has certainly gotten weaker.
2.   Having job security - again, the actions of last night have made this weaker
3.  Being in an environment with clear policies and procedures - certainly with collective bargaining rights being stripped, many public employees now have less voice in how those policies will be made.
4.  The retirement plan - again, it has become a less attractive commodity in Wisconsin

If I am an education major, will I want to go work for a Wisconsin school district where budgets are tighter than ever before and I have less rights, less benefits, and have been demonized by my state government?  Who is going to find working for Wisconsin schools suddenly more attractive? If I am looking to relocate my family, will I be looking to move to Wisconsin, in light of recent events?

I Told You So

by Matthew Stollak on Monday, March 7, 2011

Next month, Laurie Ruettimann and I will be presenting "Pop Culture, Politics, and HR" and the 3rd rendition of HREvolution in Atlanta, April 29.  With the multitude of options and topics, you may be wondering why we are having this discussion in a session, instead of over drinks in the hotel bar?

The relevance is big picture HR.  People should be stepping back in our session and asking why they are in this field.  What was one of the biggest HR books in 2010?  David Ulrich's "The Why of Work."   Our presentation essentially gets to "The Why of HR."

Why do we go to work?  Is it simply a paycheck?  Is there a social aspect?  Why do we worry about survivors during a layoff?  Why does morale go down?  I'm still collecting a paycheck, but my friend(s) are no longer there.  As Ulrich indicates, through work, we seek a sense of purpose, meaning, value, and contribution.  What contributes to that purpose?  Does pop culture help contribute to that sense of purpose?

Recall a few years ago when Gallup looked at the elements of great managing.   One of the central questions in their survey was "Do I Have a Best Friend at Work?"  Work is social.  Pop Culture is social.  I go to work to talk to my best friend about basketball, my troubles, union busting in Wisconsin, my love life, Charlie Sheen.

One of the central terms at my workplace is vocation.  What is the vocation of HR?  What is our calling?  Are we corporate lackeys merely enforcing its restrictive and punitive rules? Are we creating a workplace where workers can share ideas and feel welcoming?  Does the latter even matter?

So, we tie all that together with a discussion of MTV's Skins and being a rockstar from Mars.

Only a few tickets remain for the event, so sign-up now.


by Matthew Stollak on Friday, March 4, 2011

Last weekend, I was attending the ASBBS Conference in Las Vegas.  Having some spare time, and being somewhat a hamburger aficianado, I decided to grab lunch at the Burger Bar in the Mandalay Bay.  Perusing the many options on the menu, I came across the Rossini burger which they were selling for $60.

That's right, you can get a $60 burger at the Burger Bar.  Vegas certainly lives up to its excess

What do you get?  "Kobe beef, sauteed foie gras, shaved truffles on an onion bun.  Named after a XIXth century Italian composer whose love for fine food was legendary.  The preparation always includes foie gras, truffles and a rich brown sauce, in this case, Black Perigord Truffle."

Now, I wasn't brave (or wealthy) enough to drop $60 on a burger.  But, it made me wonder if a $60 burger can truly live up to its price tag.  Would the very selling price influence my perception of its taste?  Would my expectations be heightened?  Am I more apt to like it because I do not want to admit I made a mistake in spending that much money on a burger (especially since In-n-Out Burger was less than a mile away and I could have gotten a fantastic meal for less than $5.00)?

With that in mind, are we guilty of the same kind of thoughts in the design of our HR programs?  Do managers become enamored with the service they provide, thinking it is the equivalent of a $60 burger?  Do employees believe HR is delivering a Rossini or just a Whopper?


by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tensions remain high here in Wisconsin as the standoff between Gov. Walker and the public employee unions continues unabated.  Some have directed their anger at the so-called "Wisconsin 14;"the 14 Democratic State Senators who engaged in a "foot filibuster" by leaving the state to prevent a quorum on the budget repair bill stripping Wisconsin public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights.  Some have argued that these Senators should be back in Wisconsin doing their jobs and letting the budget bill come up for a vote accordingly.

I would be much more sympathetic to this view, if I didn't just live through repeated use (or abuse) of cloture votes, filibusters, and appointee holds by the minority party in 2008-2010.  In a decade where winning 51 percent of the vote was considered an electoral "mandate," the 2009-2010 US Senate was limited in their ability to pass any legislation, despite Democrats having a 57 to 41 majority.  Cloture votes preventing even a debate on a bill, let alone an up or down vote, occurred in record numbers.  Similarly, Obama appointees are repeatedly denied an up to down vote due to Senate holds (see one example here), with far more appointees being held up than the previous administration.

While I would appreciate more transparency by both parties, here's one solution to the cloture problem: treat cloture votes like the NFL Instant Replay rules.  In the NFL, Coaches get two challenges during the course of game to challenge a referee's call.  Strategy certainly comes into play as they have to decide when to make such a call; use them up too early, and you don't have any remaining to challenge a bad call made late in the game.

So, give each Senator two opportunities to invoke cloture in the course of the year.  Prior to 2007, the highest number of cloture votes in the past 88 years was 82.  Limiting opportunities to invoke cloture to two per year would bring such political tactics more in line with historical norms.