Raise the Pressure

by Matthew Stollak on Monday, January 30, 2012

 Updated post from January 2010

A continuing challenge in teaching human resources is keeping up with the latest trends and laws. The most recent textbook is unlikely to be up-to-date and even some of the most recent research is likely to have some lag time. As a result, I have my students read blog posts (both past and present) by some of the most influential HR practitioners. On Thursday, January 26, for example, they read:

Dr. Drewett.  “ An Open Letter to the HR World” (http://www.drdewett.com/monthlyblog/an-open-letter-to-the-hr-world-the-future-of-hr-according-to-a-non-hr-guy/)
Keith Hammonds.  “Why We Hate HR.” http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/97/open_hr.html
Mike Van Devort.  “HR – Not Dead Yet” (http://www.thehumanracehorses.com/2009/09/18/hr-not-dead-yet/)
Laurie Ruettimann “HR is Dying – Yes? No? (http://punkrockhr.com/hr-is-dying-yes-no/)
Trish McFarlane.  “Making the Rubber Hit the Road – “Rebranding” HR” http://hrringleader.com/2009/09/22/making-the-rubber-hit-the-road-re-branding-hr/)
Mark Stelzner. “The Future of HR – Why “Do Nothing” is an Option” (http://www.inflexionadvisors.com/blog/2009/10/22/the-future-of-hr-why-do-nothing-is-an-option/)
Lance Haun “ Is Human Resources Fatally Flawed?” http://lancehaun.com/is-human-resources-fatally-flawed/
Sharlyn Lauby, “The HR Profession” http://www.hrbartender.com/2009/strategic/the-hr-profession/
Trish McFarlane.  “HR – A Call to Action” http://hrringleader.com/2009/09/25/hr-your-call-to-action/
Lance Haun.  “What if HR Got A Mulligan?” http://lancehaun.com/what-if-hr-got-a-mulligan-would-we-do-something-different/
Larry Wilson.  “CSI Determines HR is Dead.” http://hrcommons.wordpress.com/2009/11/13/csi-determines-hr-is-dead/
Maren Hogan.  “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.” http://marenhogan.wordpress.com/2009/10/19/slow-dancing-in-a-burning-room/
Karen Berman & Joe Knight. “Do HR Managers Have the Skills They Need?”  http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/financial-intelligence/2009/10/do-hr-managers-have-the-skills.html
Dr. John Sullivan.  “The Current State of Ill Preparedness in HR”  http://www.drjohnsullivan.com/newsletter-archives/242-the-current-state-of-ill-preparedness-in-hr
Read “Should you ban the use of social media in the workplace?”
Read “Future Insights”
Kults, David.  “Why HR Really Does Add Value.” http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/12/why_hr_really_does_add_value.html
Ashkenas, Ron, “Stop Bashing HR”


In the future, not only will they be reading more from the above writers, but they will also be reading posts from authors and websites such as:
  • Ben Eubanks (http://upstarthr.com/)
  • Paul Hebert (http://www.i2i-align.com/)
  • Tim Sackett (http://www.timsackett.com)
  • Steve Boese (http://steveboese.squarespace.com/)
  • Kris Dunn (http://www.hrcapitalist.com/)
  • Kelly Long (http://thryving.com/)
  • The HR101 series at http://www.victoriomilian.com/p/free-stuff.html
  • Tim Sackett (http://www.fistfuloftalent.com)
  • Joan Ginsburg (http://http://www.joanginsberg.com/)
  • Joe Gerstandt (http://www.joegerstandt.com/)
  • Paul Smith (http://www.welcometotheoccupation.com/)
Finally, I am ensuring they are keeping up with the anyone and anything I might have missed with the twice a month cavalcade better know as the Carnival of HR.

It is my hope that not only will my students stay current, but that they will see the passion about the field the writers express and be encouraged to read even more of the various authors' perspectives.

#popHR Why I'm Attending #TransformHR

by Matthew Stollak on Friday, January 27, 2012

For the longest period of time, SHRM dominated the HR conference scene.  From the bevy of state conferences to the behemoth that is SHRM Annual, SHRM was the 800 lb. gorilla setting the tone for what a HR conference should be.

Of late, however, a number of new learning opportunities are popping up.   From the TRU Unconferences to the ever popular HRevolution series, the competition for your educational dollars has never been stronger.

The latest (and greatest?) to enter the scene is the Transform HR conference being held in Austin, TX, February 26-28 and brought to you by the good people at TLNT.com.  So, with the many available HR conference options out there of late, why should attend Transform?:

1.  Billy Beane is the keynote speaker.  As any pop culture HR aficionado knows, Billy Beane was the inspiration for Michael Lewis' book, "Moneyball." Not only did it inspire a thousand HR blog posts (see here and here, for example) about how to value talent, but the book was turned into a mutli-Oscar-nominated movie.  You will be able to hear about talent directly from the source.  Billy Beane will be must-see viewing.

2.  The agenda is fantastic.  Not a hole in the schedule that will draw you away to visit the sites in Austin.  The speaker list is strong and varied, including such talent luminaries as Tim Sackett (who has his own internationally recognized day), Libby Sartain, Dawn Hrdlica-Burke, Kimberly Roden, Laurie Ruettimann, and the men behind Talent Anarchy (Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen).

3.  Did I mention it was in Austin?  Living in the Midwest, Austin will provide a welcome respite from the cold February weather and bring some good BBQ and HR conversation.

4.  You can earn recertification credits with the HRCI.

I will be on the scene in Austin covering the event for the blog and I hope to connect with you there if you are in attendance.  Otherwise, you can follow all the festivities on Twitter by checking the hashtag #TransformHR.

And, if you act now you can enter the code TF12TCHT for $250 off the registration price.

Hope to see you in Austin!

Until the End of the Time

by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, January 26, 2012

In college, a friend and I, used to strive to include 4 words in every paper we wrote.  Those words?
  • Boon
  • Moist
  • Torrential 
  • Cavalcade
The reason why these words in particular were chosen has faded away into the mists of time, but we had the belief (perhaps mistaken) that if we could incorporate each of these words appropriately, the natural result had to be a grade of "A."  Given we were both social science majors, working "moist" into a paper on the Federalist Papers or an analysis of "Winesburg, OH" was easier said then done.

Companies inundated with resumes have increasingly turned to applicant tracking systems (ATS) to deal with the sheer volume.  However, as an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal indicates, not all is wine and roses with ATS:
It may miss the most-qualified applicant if that person doesn't game the system by larding his or her résumé with keywords from the job description, according to Mark Mehler, co-founder of consulting firm Career Xroads, which advises companies on staffing. 
 Even with strong software, problems still arise:
One small error, such as listing the name of a former employer after the years worked there, instead of before, can ruin a great candidate's chances.
So, how does one improve the likelihood  of getting noticed by an applicant tracking system?  One of the tips offered is:

Forget about being creative. Instead, mimic the keywords in the job description as closely as possible. If you're applying to be a sales manager, make sure your résumé includes the words "sales" and "manage" (assuming you've done both!). 
In a sense, my friend and I were hoping our professors were like applicant tracking systems.  We hit the right keywords, and, boom, the interview (or the "A") was ours.  However, is creativity lost in the process?  The hope that an HR manager might take notice when I throw out "boon" or "bifurcate" and take a second look is diminished if I ikss the right note.

All That I Need

by Matthew Stollak on Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chi, N.-W., Chung, Y.-Y., & Tsai, W.-C. 2011.  How do happy leaders enhance team success?  The mediating roles of transformational leadership, group affective tone, and team processes.  Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41(6), 1421-1451

A large body of research exists on "employee happiness" and the impact leaders have in influencing it.  Who hasn't been affected by a leader in a bad mood?  However, less is known about the relationship between positive leader moods and subsequent team performance.

In "How do happy leaders enhance team success," Chi, Chung, and Tsai explore two mediating mechanisms in this relationship: transformational leadership and positive group affective tones.  Their first hypothesis is that "leader positive moods will be positively related to transformational leadership behaviors."  It is thought that transformational leaders should enhance team performance through the facilitation of team processes, such as team goal commitment (I.e., members' determination to achieve a goal), team satisfaction, and team helping behavior (i.e., voluntarily helping others in work-related areas).

The 2nd hypothesis (part a) sets out that "team goal commitment will mediate the relationship between transformational leadership and team performance."  Several studies have found that when team members who are committed to a goal typically dedicate more effort in trying to achieve that goal, which results in higher performance.  Transformational leaders should, then, help to increase team goal commitment.

Similarly, part b of the 2nd hypothesis posits "team satisfaction will mediate the relationship between transformational leadership and team performance."  Past studies have found that highly satisfied team members are more likely to engage in team activities and try to help the team perform.  Positive leaders should, then, help team satisfaction

According to the authors, hypothesis 3 states that "leader positive mood will be positive group affective tone."  Central to this idea is the concept of "emotional contagion" - "the processes involved in transferring the moods and emotions of one individual to other individuals."   Hence, positive leaders should positively affect the transient moods of the group

To assess these hypotheses, the authors sampled 86 leaders and 365 team members from 85 retail sales teams in five different Taiwanese insurance firms.  Team members were primarily female, with ages ranging from 21-30, and tenure in the firm of nearly three years (with tenure on the team around two and a half years).  Nearly three-quarters of the sample possessed a university degree.  Members were given some questionnaires contained a variety of scales that were used to measure the items above.

Using structural equation modeling to assess the data, the results confirmed the hypotheses stated above.

Implications for HR
1.  Given the impact positive leader moods have on improving team performance, selecting the right leader is critical. 
2.  Greater investment in emotional training might be appropriate so that leaders can better understand the role their moods might have on their subordinates.
3.  While personality tests are perceived by some as suspect, team leaders who score high on conscientiousness and extraversion might be given greater weight when choosing a leader for certain tasks.

How I met #HR Hero @timsackett

by Matthew Stollak on Monday, January 23, 2012

A young Tim Sackett in action
This is the story of how I met Tim Sackett.

January 1977.  East Lansing, Michigan.   It was another cold January morning of rec basketball.  The usual punks from Dewitt were bringing their tough brand of defense to the parquet floor of Pinecrest Elementary School.  Amidst the tower of 6th grade boys, I caught a flash of red hair, saw a small wiry kid a good foot and a half shorter than the rest of his teammates, and started laughing.  There was no way this little wisp of a boy was going to make an impact.  Boy, was I wrong….

The ball tipped, and immediately that kid took over as point guard, and was as strong a leader as I had ever seen to that point if my short life.  He manipulated his teammates like John Cusack controlled his marionettes in “Being John Malkovich.”  Total control

The particularly striking thing was he started yelling out these acronyms to call plays. “OSHA” rang out and the Dewitt team went into the Dribble Drive. A cry of “FLSA” meant the team went into the High-Low. “ERISA” led into the Triangle.  Even when the defense was able to respond, he would drive to the basket, attempt a shot and get the foul.   Like Rick Barry, he would shoot his free throws underhanded and the ball seemingly went through the basket every time. 

My teammates and I learned a tough lesson that day….never underestimate the slightest of opponents.  But, the power of Tim Sackett, point guard extraordinaire, led to the league passage of the now legendary “Sackett Rules” to create a more level playing field.

The drive, the leadership, and the prescience of Tim Sackett continues on today with his work at HRU-Tech and his writing stylings at the Fistful of Talent blog and The Tim Sackett Project.  Check him out below:

    • The Tim Sackett Project - http://timsackett.com
    • Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100000473689988
    • Twitter - http://twitter.com/#!/@TimSackett

One Day

by Matthew Stollak on Wednesday, January 18, 2012

 Ray, J.L., Baker, L.T., & Plowman, D.A.  2011.  Organizational Mindfulness in Business Schools.  Academy of Management Learning & Education, 10(2).  pp. 188-203.

Last week, we examined the concept of surprise and organizational bricolage.  In many instances, organizations can fall victim to surprise because they are unprepared.  One way to prepare for surprise is to be "mindful," by paying close attention to their surroundings and maintaining the ability to act on unexpected signals.   In "Organizational Mindfulness in Business Schools," Ray, Baker & Plowman examine the concept of organizational mindfulness in U.S. business schools and provide evidence of its five dimensions.

The concept of organizational mindfulness was coined by Weick and Sutcliffe in their 2001 book "Managing the Unexpected."  They identify five interrelated processes that make up this concept.  The first, preoccupation with failure, "involves the organization's sensitivity to the possibility of failures, attention to small failures, willingness to encourage the reporting of mistakes, and the open discussion of problems."  For business schools, this might mean searching for multiple explanations why a cohort was particularly critical - is it a symptom of something else?  Focused on a particular discipline?  Are there similar feelings university-wide?

A second dimension of mindfulness identified by Weick and Sutcliffe is reluctance to simplify.  Basically, one wants to seek out divergent views to process information that will lead to novel solutions and new knowledge generation.  Blaming decreased alumni donations solely on a bad economy would be avoided.

The third dimension is sensitivity to operations.  Like just-in-time systems and RFID tags, organizations use real time information that will allow them to make adjustments on the fly.  Colleges may continually assess the curriculum it is offering to ensure it meets current marketplace needs.

The fourth dimension is commitment to resilience.  It involves "the ability to correct errors quickly, accurately, and before they have a chance to worsen and cause more serious harm."If a school failed to earn accreditation, for example, it would look to address particular shortcomings.

The final dimension is deference to expertise.  It involve, "the tendency to utilize individuals with particular knowledge regardless of status, tenure, rank, and so forth, recognizing that authority does not equate to expertise."  In hiring new faculty, it might be wise to consult with a recent hire to judge the current compensation package being offered.

Despite its presence in organizational literature for 10 years, empirical validation of organizational mindfulness has been lacking, with several studies falling short either because the concept itself is flawed, or the tools to assess it have not been significantly robust.

To assess the concept, the authors sought responses from individuals in four roles: Deans, Associate Deans, Assistant Deans and Department Chairs.  Through an e-mail survey sent several times, they received 225 completed surveys representing 154 colleges.  Using Weick and Sutcliffe's initial 47-item questionnaire, the authors adjusted it to 43 questions to ensure it was appropriate for a college setting.  Respondents were asked to use a 5-point Likert scale (1=extremely accurate to 5=extremely accurate) to assess how each item in the questionnaire described their school.  To assess preoccupation with failure, for example, statements such as "We often update our college procedures after experiencing a problem" and "People in this college feel free to talk to superiors about problems."

Analysis and Results
Through confirmatory factor analysis, the authors found a strong fit for the five factor model.  In addition, the authors used analysis of variance (ANOVA) to see if there was a significant difference in perceived mindfulness based on role.  The analysis found that Deans were more likely to perceive their school as mindful than those in other administrative roles.

Implications for HR
1.  Given support for the model, it suggests that HR leaders should look for ways to impact the culture of the organization by looking for ways to encourage novel thinking and not simply mimic how other organizations do business.  There often is pressure to adopt the best practices of an industry; this suggest that what might be the best practices might, instead, be the right practices for now, and not the future.
2.  Given that the study found that Deans tended to view the organization as rosier than those in lesser position, HR can play a critical role to ensure that the C-suite not become to detached from those dealing with the day-to-day operations of the organization.

If You've Got (G)Love

by Matthew Stollak on Friday, January 13, 2012

A new feature on True Faith HR for 2011: Your Pop Culture HR Friday moment.  Each Friday, I will find something of interest from recent books, TV, music, or movies and discuss the HR implications.

The well-reviewed and worth your time reading 2011 book, The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach tells the story of one Henry Skrimshander, a high school shortstop in a small Illinois town.  While mediocre as a hitter, Henry is a prodigy on defense, striking the interest of Mike Schwartz, the catcher at a small Northeastern Wisconsin liberal arts college (hmmm....sounds vaguely familiar) called Westish, who recruits him to play Division III baseball.

Henry ascribes much of his success to his beat up copy of Hall of Fame shortshop Aparicio Rodriguez's The Art of Fielding, a collection of aphorisms that are just as much a guide to life, as it is to being a good baseball player.  Such aphorisms include:

26.  The shortstop is a source of stillness at the center of the defense.  He projects this stillness and his teammates respond.
59.  To field a ground ball must be considered a generous act and an act of comprehension.  One moves not against the ball but with it.  Bad fielders stab at the ball like an enemy.  This is antagonism.  The true fielder lets the path of the ball becomes his own path, thereby comprehending the ball and dissipating the self, which is the source of all suffering and poor defense.
3.  There are three stages: Thoughtless being.  Thought.  Return to thoughtless being.
33.  Do not confuse the first and third stages.  Thoughtless being is attained by everyone, the return to thoughtless being by a very few.
213.  Death is the sanction of all that the athlete does.
99.  To reach a ball he has never reached before, to extend himself to the very limits of his range, and then a step farther: this is the shortstop's dream.
121.  The shortstop has worked to hard for so long that he no longer thinks.  Nor does he act.  By this I mean that he does not generate action.  He only reacts, the way a mirror reacts when you wave your hand before it.

Once at Westish, Henry rises from benchwarmer to star shortshop, attracting major league scouts to the ballpark to watch him play.  Soon, he is threatening to break the record of 52 straight errorless games owned by Rodriguez himself.   On the 53rd game, Henry makes an errant throw that strikes his roommate in the face.  Like his predecessors -  Steve Blass, a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher in the 1970s who, inexplicably, finds himself unable to throw the ball over the plate, and Mackey Sasser, the Mets catcher who developed a paralyzing fear of throwing the ball back to the pitcher, Steve Sax, Chuck Knoblauch - Henry soon fines he is no longer able to throw the ball to first.

Implications for HR
1.  Like #26, is the HR manager a source of stillness at the center of the business?  Does he or she project this stillness and the employees respond?
2.  How often do you encounter performance anxiety at work, and how do you handle those employee problems?  Do you have a book of aphorisms to fall back on like Henry does?
3.  Like #99, can you get your employees to go beyond their limits.  Do employees see this better performance as their dream?
4.  One of the most telling quotes of the book is when Harbach writes about how to make a ball player; how does one get brute efficiency out of natural genius:

Baseball was an art, but to excel at it you had to become a machine.  It didn't matter how beautifully you performed sometimes, what you did on your best day, how many spectacular plays you made.   You weren't a painter or writer - you didn't work in private and discard your mistakes, and it wasn't  just your masterpieces that counted.  What mattered, as for any machine, was repeatability.  Moments of inspiration were nothing compared to elimination of error.   The scouts cared little for Henry's superhuman grace; insofar as they cared they suckered-in aesthetes and shitty scouts.  Can you perform on demand, like a car, a furnace, a gun?  Can you make that throw one hundred times out of a hundred?  If it can't be a hundred, it had better be ninety-nine.
How often do we expect our employees to be robots?  Do we look for the art in what they do?  Are there mistakes made public for all to see?  "What other sport not only kept a stat as cruel as the error but posted it on the scoreboard for everyone to see?"

Forbidden City

by Matthew Stollak on Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A new feature on True Faith HR for 2011: Research Wednesday.  Each Wednesday, I will take a recent HR article from an academic journal and attempt to provide the real world HR implications

As with change, surprise is part of our daily organizational lives.  Your day planner may be filled, but an unexpected crisis arises that cause those plans to be thrown out the window.  In their April 2011 Academy of Management Journal article, " Expecting the Unexpected?  How SWAT Officers and Film Crews Handle Surprises," Beth A. Bechky and Gerardo A. Okhuysen explore how individuals respond to unexpected events that allow work to continue.

To assess surprise, Becky and Okhuysen looked at 18 members of a SWAT team, ranging in tenure from one month to 17 years, with 12 members having more than five years of experience.  In addition to observation over a number of briefing and training sessions, members of the SWAT team engaged in semi-structured interviewers ranging from 45 minutes to three hours.  Similarly, four different film sets, ranging from small, short-term productions such as shooting a commercial or a music video to sets for full-length movies.

Both groups had commonalities, such as time pressure as well as pervasive uncertainty (i.e., weather or bystanders).  There were, however, differences.  The negative consequences of surprise for a film project might be reshooting a scene or lack of group continuity from set to set, while surprise for a SWAT team may very well mean significant physical harm.  However, both groups worked in environments where surprises were pervasive.

1.  The increasing use of organizational bricolage.

In there 2005 Administrative Science Quarterly article, Blake and Nelson define bricolage as"making do by applying combinations of the resources at hand to new problems and opportunities" (p. 331).  Both film crews and SWAT teams became bricoleurs in three ways.  One such way is through role shifting.  For example, a SWAT team found more suspects than anticipated when breaking into a location.  As a result, the role changed from "trying to reach the furthest corner of the location to covering areas and suspects as they advanced."  This had a ripple effect as officers in the back had to change their mission as well.   A second way was to reorganize routines.  Workers had to change their approach to work.  For example, a marksman fires at a suspect and misses signaling to the suspect that he is under attack. "Recognizing the changed situation, the waiting break-in team executed a 'dynamic entry,' a well-rehearsed routine, without taking time for conversation."  A third way is through "reordering the work."  For film crews, this might mean shooting scenes in different order.

2.  Resources for bricolage

Two sociological resources were relied upon by both groups in response to surprises: a) Shared task knowledge - multiple members held process knowledge regarding how to complete a certain task, such as camera operators could respond quickly to the absence of one of the team members; b) common work flow expectations - a shared understanding of how events follow one another, such as prioritizing  arresting a suspect and engaging in a dynamic entry if a noisy floorboard signals the SWAT team's presence.

3.  Developing resources for bricolage

To develop resources, organizations rely on three approaches.  One approach is to draft agreement on the work.  Early on in shooting, a production designer or art director may have already scouted locations and would anticipate what would be needed for a set.  A second approach is to reinforce and elaborate task activities.  For a SWAT team, this might mean a trainee might have to take off and put on a bulletproof vest several times to identify the appropriate way to dress,  A third approach is to build cross-member expertise.  A paramedic might never need to use a gun, but it might be helpful to know how a gun works.

Implications for HR
1.  Prepare for the unexpected.  Build contingency plans and communicate their importance to all relevant parties.  Harken back to the days of fire alarm drills.
2.  Build in opportunities at work for routinization of some tasks; turn unprogrammed decision-making into programmed decision-making
3.  Engage in shared knowledge building, which may involve simple day-to-day interactions between team members.