by Matthew Stollak on Friday, March 30, 2012

The state of Wisconsin has seen some tumultuous times with the election of Scott Walker as Governor, and the subsequent effective end of collective bargaining for most state employees.

However, one of the more intriguing outcomes from the 2011-2013 budget bill is the University of Wisconsin is charged with redesigning its human resource system.  Titled the "Human Resource Design Project," a group, known as the Badger Working Group, comprises representatives of employee and governance groups, and is guided by the following principles:

  • Be transparent and collaborative.
  • Include regular consultation with the elected governance bodies of the faculty, staff and students; alternative, nonelected groups may not substitute for the formal governance processes.
  • Include stakeholder consultation and participation.
  • Maintain open communications with UW System, which also will be developing a new personnel system for all system employees except those at UW-Madison.
  • Include an examination of other organizations, particularly higher education institutions, with the goal of identifying best practices for UW-Madison.
Robert Lavigna, UW-Madison's Director of Human Resources, talks about the new Human Resources Design Project in the video below:

This project has significant involvement from a wide variety of constituencies across the UW-campus.  According to Darrell Bazzell, University of Wisconsin-Madison vice chancellor for administration:
This project is organized into an advisory committee and 11 work teams that represent stakeholders from across the campus, including faculty and staff, labor organizations and students. This diversity is allowing a wide range of perspectives to be represented. More than 150 members of the campus community are on these work teams, drafting initial recommendations to reform our personnel system. Part of their responsibility is to share information about the teams' progress with their constituent groups.

The project has not been without its hiccups in its early stages as there was concern whether meetings were transparent enough to allow the many voices to be heard.

It will be interesting to see how this project unfolds.  The old proverb of a "A camel is a horse designed by a committee" comes to mind.

Do people really want to see how the HR sausage is made?

#HREvolution 5 tickets now on sale

by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A suggested gift for a fifth anniversary is wood.  It represents strength and a solidified relationship; its strong and long-lasting.  One recommended way to celebrate a fifth anniversary is to purchase tickets to a show, movie, sports event, concert, theatre, etc.

Well, HRevolution will be celebrating its fifth iteration October 7th with a return engagement to Chicago (home of the 2nd HRevolution unconference).  Like wood, the HRevolution event has grown from a small kernel of an idea to become one of the must attend HR conferences of the year; one whose branches extend far beyond the one day happening.   Its the little acorn that became the oak.   It is not only a great way to be on the cutting edge of HR knowledge, but it also provides an excellent opportunity to grow your professional network.  

In addition, as with the previous incarnation, the HRevolution crew are once again partnering with the HR Technology Conference.   By purchasing a ticket to HREvolution, you can get a $600 discount to attend HR Tech, which begins October 8.

So, come celebrate our 5th anniversary by joining us on October 7.  Details can be found here.  And, for the first 25 attendees who sign up, you can get a $50 discount off the already small registration fee.

Hope to see you in Chicago!

King for a Day

by Matthew Stollak on Monday, March 26, 2012

The University of Illinois Men's Basketball program has a long, storied, and successful history with 17 Big Ten championships and 5 trips to the NCAA Final Four, and one national championship (in 1915, though).  Unfortunately, U of I basketball has fallen on some hard times.  Having not advanced to the Sweet 16 since 2005, and not qualifying for the NCAA tournament after a sterling 15-3 start, head coach Bruce Weber was unceremoniously fired at the end of the season.

Among college basketball jobs, finding a replacement should have been a "slam dunk."  Why?
  • Low competition statewide - Illinois is perceived as the best program in the state
  • Access to talent/recruiting base - the Chicago area is considered fertile recruiting ground, producing such stars as Antoine Walker, Michael Finley, Mark Aguirre, Tim Hardaway, Dwayne Wade, and Derrick Rose.  Current high school players such as Jabari Parker and Cliff Alexander are considered top 10  in the nation
  • Tradition and history of success - as noted above, the Illini have had great success to sell applicants
  • Fan Support - even being 2 hours away from Chicago, Assembly Hall is almost always sold out with fans decked out in orange.
  • Conference Affiliation - Given the Illini are part of the Big 10, any coach will be well-compensated and get plenty of face time on the Big Ten Network, which can promote future recruiting.
No less than Seth Davis, Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports college basketball expert, has declared the Illinois job "one of the top 10 college basketball jobs in America."

If the job is so wonderful, shouldn't applicants from "lesser" programs be knocking down the door?   Further, there is only one other "top notch" job out there competing for candidates - Mississippi State. Yet, at least 5 candidates have already turned down the offer or resisted possible overtures:
  • Shaka Smart, who led VCU to the Final Four in 2011, was reportedly guaranteed facility improvements, a long-term contract for as high as 8 years, and a salary comparable to Michigan State's Tom Izzo, who makes more than $3 million a year (Smart makes $1.285 million at VCU)
  • Brad Stevens, who led Butler University to consecutive National Championship games in 2010 and 201, turned down a reported 8 year, $21 million salary to remain at his current place of employment
  • Anthony Grant of Alabama has expressed no interest
  • Leonard Hamilton at Florida State is comfortable in his current position
  • Washington's Lorenzo Romar is also staying in his job.
 So, why the resistance?  Among the more public reasons:
  • Outdated facilities - Assemby Hall is 49 years old.  Even with major renovations, Illinois remains behind in the "arms race," with competitors such as Michigan State and Ohio State.
  • Champaign is not Chicago - enough said
  • A major administration shake-up - The Athletic Director, President, and head coach all lost their jobs within 116 days of one another.  That kind of turmoil can make it difficult to attract top notch candidates
Here's the problem for Illinois...when these things hang around and the perception is that you're turned down by guy after guy (or that they "have no interest" in your job), you do damage to the way your program is viewed.  They're theoretically the prettiest girl at the prom and nobody seems to want to get out on the dance floor with them.

Sometimes the position is not as good as you think it is.

Late at Night

by Matthew Stollak on Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Over the past several days, you have seen 152,467 blog posts on Greg Smith's op-ed in the New York Times bemoaning the culture that had befallen Goldman-Sachs.  I'd much rather look at another, more positive culture - no, not Zappo's or Southwest - it's Michigan State basketball under Tom Izzo, yet again.

Over the past 15 years, MSU has reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament 10 times, with a possible 7th trip to the Final Four this year in that same time period.   One of the primary reasons for the success is predicated on a particular system that is adopted throughout the institution:
 “We just have a system down, and we use the same system but we tweak it here and there,” said Izzo, who breaks down film more like a football coach than a typical basketball coach. “I have a real confident belief that if we win the first game, that’s what I tell them: ‘You win the first game, I’ll get you through the second.’”
This devotion can be seen by some of the least appreciated members of the team - the student members.  Within minutes of the completion of the Big Ten Tournament, the student managers were in a van driving back to East Lansing to start putting together film of the opponents in the first weekend of the tournament for the coaches and players to watch:
Towels, water, errands and all the traditional manager duties are involved. But MSU also counts on its managers to record and dissect games of potential opponents — breaking them up into categories such as zone defense, man defense, made 2-pointers, missed 3-pointers, etc., and handing them off to (MSU Video Coordinator Jordan) Ott and the coaches for analysis.
After the victory on Thursday night over LIU-Brooklyn,  a similar process began:

While MSU’s coaches and primary players showered and prepared for media obligations, the team’s student managers created a basketball half-court in one of the Renaissance Downtown’s meeting rooms with duct tape. Assistant video manager and former Sexton head coach Doug Herner paced out the measurements, and a 3-point line, foul line, baseline and sidelines appeared on the carpeted floor. 

By the time Tom Izzo and his team arrived around 12:45, the walk-ons were ready to rehearse several plays of the Saint Louis offense at walking speed, with the regulars going through their defensive assignments. Then it was 1:15, bed time for the players and time for the coaches to really dig into some strategic nuances that might push No. 1 seed MSU (28-7) past No. 9 seed Saint Louis (26-7) in today’s NCAA Tournament third-round game at Nationwide Arena.

Finding individuals who are willing to take on this 40 hour a week task (plus extra during the postseason) at no pay is critical
Ott takes a month each fall to decide on his hires, for jobs that are not advertised. He wants people who are trustworthy, enthusiastic and hard-working. Love for basketball is a must.
However, there are long-term payoffs -  full time positions elsewhere:
When Auburn had a video opening a few years ago, its people called (MSU's Director of Basketball Operations Kevin) Pauga and asked which MSU managers didn't have jobs.

"That became their entire candidate pool," he said.

"The biggest compliment to those guys," MSU assistant coach Mike Garland said, is that when an NBA or college team has an opening, they always call MSU first. 'Who you got?'"
The real kicker in this story  is this...not only did current managers work on prepping the some 17 games of video they had on LIU-Brooklyn prior to last Thursday's match-up:
Some former managers even stopped by to help them start finding and logging game film into MSU’s computer system as soon as LIU-Brooklyn was announced as the Spartans’ first opponent.
Former employees...coming back...and helping...at no pay.

How many of your organizations can say they have alumni return to your place of employment to help out?

That's a true mark of a successful culture!



Like No Other

by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I just returned from Las Vegas where I spent 4 days watching the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at one of their fine sports books.  Its always fun to join together with others and hear people go crazy when the outcome of the game is certain but whether North Carolina and Creighton will scored over or under 160.5 points is not (the final total was 160.0).

Similarly, its fun to hear and complain about the performance of the 3 referees assigned to each tournament game. Its a thankless job.   Many make the refs the scapegoat when the outcome of the game does not turn out in their favor.  Ask many Alabama Crimson Tide fans about the end of their tournament game when Trevor Releford's last second shot clearly showed he was fouled, and no call was made.

At the same time, put yourselves in the shoes of the ref for a moment.  How many of you:
  • walk into your workplace already knowing many people are against you before a second of actual job performance has occurred?
  • could perform your job in front of tens of thousands of people at relatively meager pay?
  • could stand up to having made a decision and have it suddenly reviewed with instant replay, knowing that decision could possibly be overturned?
It brings to mind the classic Seinfeld episode where he gets heckled at the job:


His revenge?  Going to her job and heckling her.

Could you handle the refs coming to your place and watch you perform for eight hours a day?

Meanwhile, I'll try to remain calm when the refs do their job, even when they call 3 quick fouls on Michigan State in a span of 12 seconds in the 2nd half of a close game (really?  really?!?!?)


by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, March 15, 2012

I'm not afraid to admit that, under pressure, I may not have performed to the best of my ability.  I may have whiffed during a crucial interview or two.  However, I never had a day as bad as Billy Cundiff in this year's AFC championship game.

With mere seconds left, Cundiff had an opportunity to kick a short 32-yard FG to send his Baltimore Ravens into overtime against the New England Patriots.  However, despite not missing a fourth quarter FG all season, the kick sailed left, and the Ravens ended their season just short of the ultimate goal - a trip to the Super Bowl.

So, why do we find ourselves being unable to perform up to par when the pressure comes, despite years of experience to the contrary?  A recent ESPN - The Magazine article examined new approaches to this very question.  One such approach involves what is called heart rate variability (HRV):
Designed by the research company HeartMath, the emWave examines in real time how athletes are responding to old sports psychology tricks like visualization and meditative breathing.  It's the same gimo used by military elite tactical teams to regulate stress levels before deployment.
The goal of HeartMath is to help athletes reach a state of "coherence;" gentle, repeating HRV waves that reflect feelings of gratitude and love.  

So, why can't even the best of us reach that coherent state?
A semiconsensus is developing among the most advanced scientists.  In the typical fight-or-flight scenario, scary high-pressure moment X assaults the senses and is routed to the amygdala, aka the unconscious fear center.  For well-trained athletes, that's not a problem: a field goal kick, golf swing or free throw is an ingrained action stored in the striatum, the brain's autopilot.  The prefrontal cortex, our analytical thinker, doesn't even need to show up. But under the gun, that super-smart part of the brain thinks it's so great and tries to butt in.
It's not stress that causes problems, it is thinking about it too much that is too blame.

The jury still is out as to the true effectiveness of HeartMath's approach, but it might provide an additional tool in a manager's belt as he or she addresses poor performance by an employee.

Twisted Tenderness

by Matthew Stollak on Wednesday, March 14, 2012

So, um...., I've been avoiding discussing much of the contraceptive coverage debate until much of the dust settles.

However, this recent Arizona item left me speechless:

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-2 Monday to endorse a controversial bill that would allow Arizona employers the right to deny health insurance coverage for contraceptives based on religious objections.
Arizona House Bill 2625, authored by Majority Whip Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, would permit employers to ask their employees for proof of medical prescription if they seek contraceptives for non-reproductive purposes, such as hormone control or acne treatment.
Ignoring HIPAA concerns....

Alright HR peeps, do you really want to spend your time asking employees about their sex lives?  Will this kind of activity get you closer to being the strategic HR partner you've aspired to be?



by Matthew Stollak on Monday, March 12, 2012

Its mid-March...one of my favorite times of the year.  Why?  It means the Men's Division I NCAA basketball tournament, aka "March Madness" is about to begin.  As a graduate of Michigan State University, how could I not love it?  Over the past 14 years, Coach Tom Izzo has led the Spartans to 6 Final Fours and a National Championship.  This year looks promising for the Spartans as well, earning a number one seed in the tournament...which usually means success, as Izzo has made it to the Final Four three previous times as a number one seed.

One of my favorite metrics for the tournament (as well as filling out those darned brackets for the office pool) was coined by Pete Tiernan at CBS Sports -  "Performance Against Seed Expectations" or PASE - which compares a coach's actual winning record to his expected performance based on seeding.  According to Tiernan:
PASE is a simple concept.  Every seed has recorded an average number of wins per tourney in the modern era.  The average top seed wins 3.37 games per dance, two seeds win 2.43 (almost one game less), three seeds win 1.86 and so on.  When the coach of a top-seeded team wins four games to reach the Final Four, he overperforms by .63 games.  If he wins the championship, he exceeds seed expectations by 2.63 games.
By adding up a coach's year-by-year performance, one can come up with the average games per tourney he deviated from the expected victory total.  Associated with PASE, is what Tiernan calls "Seed Overachievement Rate," or "SOAR, which simply takes the number of times a coach has exceeded seed expectations out of the number of appearances.

So, who are the coaches that consistently outperform what they were expected to do?

Not surprisingly, Izzo leads the way.  Based on seeding, his Spartan teams should've won 22.3 games in 14 tournament appearances.  However, with Izzo's teams averaging about a 5 seed in the tournament (5.21), yet he has won 12.726 more games than what his seed should dictate, for a PASE of .909 (12.726/14); in essence, one should count on an Izzo team to win nearly one more game than the seed he is given.  Similarly, Izzo's teams have outperformed their seed 10 times in those 14 appearances for a SOAR of 71.4%  With a minimum of 5 tourney appearances, other coaches in this year's tournament who might carry one farther than expected:
*John Beilein of Michigan with a PASE of .705 and SOAR of 83.3%
*Steve Fisher of San Diego State with a PASE of .610 and SOAR of 36.4%
*Billy Donovan of Florida with a PASE of .563 and SOAR of 45.5%
*Jim Calhoun of UConn with a PASE of .493 and SOAR of 52.6%
*Rick Pitino of Louisville with a PASE of .466 and a SOAR of 46.7%
*Coach K of Duke with a PASE of .426 and a SOAR of 50.0%

Of course, there are those coaches who will let you down every year.  Who consistently underperforms?

DePaul coach Oliver Purnell has consistently been shown to be a bad bet in your brackets with a PASE of -.813.  In six trips, Purnell should have won five games based on seed expectations; he won none.  Kevin Stallings has been a victim of three straight one-and-dones for Vanderbilt - all of them when seeded fourth or fifth, earning him a PASE of -.373.  Some other coaches and teams you might be wary of heading into the Tourney (and in your office pool):
*Mike Montgomery of California with a PASE of -.419
*Mike Brey of Notre Dame with a PASE of -.370
*Dave Rose of BYU with a PASE of -.354
*Steve Alford of New Mexico with a PASE of .343
*Fran Dunphy of Temple has a PASE of -.341

Certainly, one could argue that perhaps it is a function of a poor job of the NCAA Tourney Committee who under- or over-seeded these teams in the first place.  However, over 5-plus appearances, actual performance seems to take precedence.

So, HR folks - who are your employees who exceed your expectations?  Do they match up with Coach Izzo's performance, or are you working with a number of Oliver Purnells?

....and good luck filling out your brackets.


by Matthew Stollak on Monday, March 5, 2012

One of the major themes of last week's Transform HR Conference was wellness.  With health care costs continuing to rise, employers are looking for new and innovative ways to serve their employees while looking out for their bottom line.  Fran Melmed looked at ways that organizations could do better in her session, "The Second-Generation Workplace Wellness Program."  Similarly, Jennifer Benz looked at  HR communication efforts to make wellness more viable in her session, "3 Steps to Success: How Benefits Can Drive Your Strategic HR Efforts."  Even keynote speaker Billy Beane, GM for the Oakland A's, noted that injury analytics were the next market inefficiency baseball executives should look to expoit.

Coincidentally, in the March 5 edition of ESPN-The Magazine, Molly Knight highlights the Los Angeles Dodgers Senior Director of Medical Services, Stan Conte.  According to Conte, "In a post-Moneyball World, injury risk assessment is the final frontier." For over a decade, Conte has been trying to collect enough data to develop a compelling methodology.  Knight writes:
Conte is attempting to discover in advance who will get hurt and who won't - or at least give accurate odds.  With enough well-analyzed data from the past to inform roster decisions in the present, (Conte) believes, it's not outside the realm of possibility to assemble a team that goes an entire season without losing a day to the disabled list.
Certainly, the impact of injury on the roster is prohibitive.  Since 2007, Major League Baseball salary totals are $13.5 billion, of which $2.1 billion (15.2%) was paid to players on the disabled list.  Conte has made some initial progress:
More than a weatherman than a psychic, he can tell you that $22 million was lost in 2011 to oblique injuries that took an average healing time of35 days for pitchers and 26 days for position players.  He also knows that players almost always injure the oblique on the side they lead with (left for righthanders and vice versa) and that hitters account for 56% of those injuries.  Finally, he can say that a player put on the DL with that malady has a 12.2% chance of being DL'd with it again.
Certainly, these advanced analytics can impact decisions regarding talent:
In the Dodgers' new methodology for acquiring players, in which DL projections sit next to OPS stats on the GM's yellow pad, the question can become not only "What is the chance Guy X will get hurt?" but also "How badly will my team be affected if he does?"  It might be worth the gamble, Conte says, to add one high-risk, high-reward pitcher to a starting rotation of four reliably healthy hurlers, but it's suicidal to add two.
Most organizations would love to be on the same track with Conte, determining which applicants or employees are more likely to be absent or get injured....if only we could avoid those pesky genetic testing discrimination concerns