Come Down: A Wish List for @SHRMTara

by Matthew Stollak on Monday, April 30, 2012

The calendar is turning toward May, which means as a professor, the academic year is drawing to an end.  As a SHRM Student Chapter Advisor of 15+ years, it means state and regional student HR conference have passed, the merit award application is frantically being completed for submission (due today!), and I am bidding a sad farewell to the latest graduates who are off to greener pastures.

It also means an opportunity to look review what worked, and what didn't work as a SHRM Advisor - what is the state of SHRM College Relations?  We are in the unique position of having a new leader hired at SHRM - Tara Fournier, PHR.  After an exhaustive 7 month search, Tara was hired to be the Manager of Member Engagement, who will focus not only on College Relations, but the Young Professionals network.  She had a trial by fire, so to speak, as within the first few weeks she was already traveling the country to attend the various regional student HR conferences

To assist in her transition in the role, here is one chapter advisor's unsolicited wish list I'd like to see Tara pursue during her first full year in the position:

1.  Rehaul the Merit Award - While the merit award for student chapters moved from a point system to a check system several years ago to mirror what professional chapters do, it has become outdated and activities are not evenly rated.  For example, to earn a single checkmark, section 4.1 suggests chapters:
Conduct a research survey or special project for SHRM professional chapters, government or educational institutions, or local community organizations.  Include an explanation of the project's purpose, scope, procedure and results, as well as the number of chapter members involved.  A minimum of three student members must participate for credit.  Research required for academic courses cannot be counter, and it must be a chapter project, not an individual or class project.
To carry such an endeavor out could take weeks or months, yet it counts the same as displaying a SHRM banner at all official chapter functions (section 2.16) or listing chapter leaders and their contact information on a chapter website (section 2.12).  Similarly, publishing a student chapter resume book, and distributing it to the professional chapter (section 3.7) seems antiquated in the age of LinkedIn.

2.  Revamp the HR Case Competition - Two years ago, after some pilot testing in the Pacific West, SHRM decided to eliminate the popular HR Games competition to a Case Competition, to better reflect real world HR students would be experiencing after graduation.  Unfortunately, for the first since 2000, I did not bring a team to compete, as I found the implementation extremely problematic and flawed.  This year's competition only affirmed my beliefs.  Here is what I suggest should be changed:

Eliminate Graduate School students competing against Undergraduate students.  In the competition, both graduate students and undergraduates receive the same case, but graduate students are given "tougher" questions and then scores are compared to determined the two finalists.  SHRM can spin that these tougher questions thus level the playing field, but I remain unconvinced.  On what version of real world HR is one candidate interviewed with one set of questions and another candidate interviewed with a different set of questions, and then the two candidates are compared?  On what version of real world HR would we offer an easier work sample test to a candidate with less education, and a tougher work sample test to a candidate with more education, and then compare scores?  Its comparing apples and oranges, and would be considered invalid.

Further, just because graduate school teams have not won every region (Graduate school students have won the North Central region each year, and have had comprised three of the four finalists) does not provide causation that the differential works; rather a stronger case could be made that it reflects poorly on those graduate schools who competed and didn't win. In 2011, you had an team of undergraduates competing against a team of graduates.  Watching them compete, you could definitely see a skill differential, but how much of it was simply due to that graduate differential and not the answers provided? Its easy for contrast error to occur marring the results.

Even if you feel the process is fair, it creates a perception of unfairness among the participants.  I have never been more disheartened at a HR competition than this year when I overheard two students (from another school) watching two graduate student teams compete saying "how are we supposed to compete with that?"  This is not the way to build the future HR professionals of tomorrow, and continuing in this vein is sheer folly.   I know I will never bring another team to compete as long as this practice continues.

UPDATE (5/2/2012): SHRM just published the standings from the HR Case Competitions held in each region.  You can find them posted here and clicking on each region for the results.  Four regions had teams comprised of graduate teams (the Pacific West region did not have a graduate school team compete).  Of the four, three regions were won by graduate school teams.  Fairness remains a problem.

Improve the transparency.  While I was pleased to see that rubrics were provided to competing schools, there is still too much secrecy involved in the process.  First, competition scores should be listed prior to the championship round.  While I have complete faith and confidence in the individuals running the system, scoring errors could be made.  It happened several times during the HRGames and were corrected.  Having the scores available ensures that the top two teams are competing.  Second, make the case available to all after the last team begins preparations.  Without knowing the details of the case, it is hard to judge the quality of the responses a team provides.  I know that several observers in the audience thought that the runner-up team in the North Central region provided a better presentation than the winning team.  Having access to the case would give greater credence to the final results.  Third, I understand that you are using one case across five regions and, thus, case security is critical, but since the North Central Region is not competing against the Pacific West, having a unique case would eliminate this problem.

Improve the team interaction.  One of the key factors that made the HRGames enjoyable was the interaction of teams from other schools.  They talk prior to the match, share the common experience together, and engaged in spirited sportsmanship after.  With 4-5 rounds, teams get to meet a multitude of people from other institutions.  Unfortunately, that opportunity is diminished in the new format.  While there are common meals, the four hour prep time means interaction is minimized.  Students check in, sit in a room working on their case, and have limited interaction with other schools.  The solution?  Send out the case a week in advance.  Students can spend the time away from the conference working on their presentation and prepping their answer.  Teams would have to sign a statement indicating that they worked on the case without outside interference.  Then, when they arrive, they can make their 15 minute presentation, and then fully immerse themselves in other aspects of the conference.

3.  Regroup the College Relations Committee - Prior to 2003, a College Relations Committee (CRC) comprised of several academicians and interested HR professionals provided input and guidance to SHRM  on a whole host of student HR-related issues (the student session at the HR conference, the PHR exam, the student chapter toolkit, internships, etc.).  However, in 2003, SHRM made a shift from committees to special expertise panels, the CRC was dissolved, and SHRM has relied on the State College Relations Directors (many of whom are not on the front lines working with students on a day-to-day basis) and other ad hoc committees to provide that guidance.  At the time of its dissolution, there were less than 10,000 student SHRM members.  Today, the number of students members now exceeds 15,000, while the role of Director of Member Engagement now is not only handling Student Programs, but the Young Professionals Initiative as well.  Given the increasing demand on the role, there is no better opportunity than now to reform the committee to help support you in your new role.

Congrats on the new position, Tara, and I look forward to working with you in the years to come

Prodigal Son: The Return of John L. Smith

by Matthew Stollak on Monday, April 23, 2012

It was odd today (as a long-time Michigan State football fan) to read of Arkansas' hire of John L. Smith, as their interim head football coach.  Oy, this is painful....

Do they not recall his coaching gaffe (and subsequent rant) after MSU attempted a FG to go up 20-7 in Columbus in 2005 with seconds left in the 2nd quarter, only to have it blocked and returned for a defensive TD to make it 17-14 at the half.  "The kids are playing their tails off and the coaches are screwing it up!!!"

Do they not recall the slap he gave himself after his team gave up a 16 point lead in the fourth quarter to Notre Dame in 2006?

Do they not recall that he chose to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, instead of being present at his own coaching camp, thereby alienating several potential MSU recruits? What kind of leader does that?

Do they not recall that he was hired at his alma mater, Weber State, 3.5 months ago, and just finished his first spring practice, leaving them high and dry?  Of course, you have the typical coach speak at the time of that hire at Weber State, "I have made it to big time. I truly believe that. I'm back and happy to be here. And thankful" as well as:

Our goal is to make Weber State a national champion in football. OK? We're going to spout it ... We're going to tell recruits about it (including those who signed in February?). Come here if you want to be national champ. Because that's what we're going to get done. That dream is there. That goal is there.

I guess that's true...until Arkansas calls.

Do they not recall how he was hired to MSU in the first place, where his players learned of his pending departure to Michigan State at halftime of Louisville's 38-15 loss to Marshall in the GMAC Bowl on Dec. 18, 2002?  What kind of leader does that?

And all of this is even more ridiculous in light of the recent strife between Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan and former recruit Jarrod Uthoff. In short, Uthoff, unhappy with his time spent at Wisconsin, decided he wanted to transfer, only to find himself blocked from going to a number of schools because Ryan thought he might play that team in the near future.  Coaches get a free pass to come and go, while players are at the mercy of the system.  Oy.

It makes you want to stop following sports at times.

Would you take a chance on a guy like Smith?

Warning Sign

by Matthew Stollak

A couple of weeks ago, I explored the importance of sleep to creative problem solving.

As important, if not more, is exercise.  According to Gretchen Reynolds, in the April 18 New York Times, exercise helps to enhance creative thinking:

Last year a team of researchers led by Justin S. Rhodes, a psychology professor at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, gathered four groups of mice and set them into four distinct living arrangements. One group lived in a world of sensual and gustatory plenty, dining on nuts, fruits and cheeses, their food occasionally dusted with cinnamon, all of it washed down with variously flavored waters. Their “beds” were colorful plastic igloos occupying one corner of the cage. Neon-hued balls, plastic tunnels, nibble-able blocks, mirrors and seesaws filled other parts of the cage. Group 2 had access to all of these pleasures, plus they had small disc-shaped running wheels in their cages. A third group’s cages held no embellishments, and they received standard, dull kibble. And the fourth group’s homes contained the running wheels but no other toys or treats.
All the animals completed a series of cognitive tests at the start of the study and were injected with a substance that allows scientists to track changes in their brain structures. Then they ran, played or, if their environment was unenriched, lolled about in their cages for several months.
Afterward, Rhodes’s team put the mice through the same cognitive tests and examined brain tissues. It turned out that the toys and tastes, no matter how stimulating, had not improved the animals’ brains.
“Only one thing had mattered,” Rhodes says, “and that’s whether they had a running wheel.” Animals that exercised, whether or not they had any other enrichments in their cages, had healthier brains and performed significantly better on cognitive tests than the other mice. Animals that didn’t run, no matter how enriched their world was otherwise, did not improve their brainpower in the complex, lasting ways that Rhodes’s team was studying. “They loved the toys,” Rhodes says, and the mice rarely ventured into the empty, quieter portions of their cages. But unless they also exercised, they did not become smarter.
 Reynolds also notes that exercise does not have to be exhausting.  Simply engaging in something like walking enriched one's hippocampus.

Perhaps my elementary school teachers were on to something when we started calisthenics at the start of the school day.

However, with the need for exercise and naps (and even a drink now and then), when will work fit in?

Selection 101 Question

by Matthew Stollak on Saturday, April 14, 2012

Here is a simple selection scenario that sparked discussion at this weekend's North Central Region Student Conference: You have two candidates competing for a job.

One candidate is finishing up her undergraduate degree in a particular field, while the other is working on a Master's degree in the same field. You administer a work sample test for the job to both candidates. Holding all other things constant, on the test should

A) the two candidates be expected to answer the exact same questions, or
B) the candidate working on her Master's be asked significantly tougher questions?

What is your answer, and why?

I think the answer is obvious, but I want to hear what you have to say.

I Feel Alright

by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, April 12, 2012

In the most recent ESPN- The Magazine,  Peter Keating highlights a study on sleep by Stanford researcher Cheri Mah, who explored the question, does extra sleep boost athletic achievement?
Over three seasons, from 2005 to 2008, the scientists looked at 11 Stanford basketball players.  For two to four weeks, the Cardinal kept to their normal schedules.  Then for five to seven weeks, they watched what they drank, took daytime naps and tried to sleep for 10 hours every night.  After increasing their daily rest, the players sprinted faster and said they felt better in practices and games.  Their aim got better too: Their three-point shooting humped 9.2 percentage points, and their free throw percentage increased by nine points.
What is responsible for this improved performance?  According to Keating:
Some of our genes act as internal clocks and release hormones according to cycles called circadian rhythms, which are triggered by darkness and light and alternate over 24-hour periods.  When we mess with these rhythms by not getting enough sleep, our metabolism of glucose (which gives us energy) declines, and our level of cortisol (which causes stress) increases.  Further, sleeping for longer stretches is naturally anabolic: During deep sleep, our bodies release growth hormone, which stimulates the healing and growth of muscle and bone.  So while it's possible to push through a lack of sleep during any one day, proper sleep helps athletes in two ways.  First, it boosts areas of performance that require top-notch cognitive function, like reaction time and hand-eye coordination.  Second, it aids recovery from tough games and workouts.
 HR professionals could glean a couple of insights from this study.  First, despite our best laid plans, our training, incentives, and motivation will likely have muted impact if employees are coming in tired.   Further, instead of stocking our refrigerators with Mountain Dew and 5 Hour Energy Drink, and keeping the coffee pot brewing, we would be better off setting up a number of nap rooms.

Ruminations on the Final Four and the Myth of Chicago Jerry

by Matthew Stollak on Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Thanks to the graciousness of my good friend Kelly and the kind people at the CBS television network, I just returned from New Orleans where I attended my 11th Final Four in the last 15 years.

In many ways, the Final Four is much like the SHRM Annual Conference:
  • Lots of talk about talent - Like SHRM, there is a lot of discussion of talent.  In this case, the teams playing.  Will Kentucky easily dispatch its opponents (YES!).  Who will be loaded next year? Is one and done good for the business?
  • There's recruiting - in this case, the Final Four represents a huge market for coaches, as many assistants look to make the jump to a head coaching position
  •  The parties - instead of Monster. com throwing a bask with Natasha Beningfield, Turner/CBS threw two private shows with Kid Rock and Sammy hagar
  • Celebrity sightings - At SHRM, it might be OMG...there's The Cyncial Girl, Laurie Ruettimann.  At the Final Four, it was Leo DiCaprio in our suite (where he soon was whisked by Kid Rock to the suite next door) or Lil Wayne a few suites down.
  • Networking - Like SHRM, the Final Four is an opportunity to catch up and talk with people you may have not seen the event the previous year.
Which brings to Chicago Jerry. 

Who is he?  I don't know.  Why is he called "Chicago Jerry?" Your guess is as good as mine

Does he deal in imports and exports?  Is he a superagent to the stars?  Is he a small businessman from Poughkeepsie who simply loves basketball?  I don't know.  However, much like Bill Brasky, we have come to believe Chicago Jerry "can eat anything, can tolerate any amount of drugs and alcohol, is superhumanly tough, possesses a variety of other superhuman powers, has cheated death on numerous occasions, has no regard for the well-being of others, and has caused the death and maiming of many people."  No one dares talk to him for fear of ruining his near mythic status.

 Since attending my first Final Four in 1999, one of the constants has always been the presence of Chicago Jerry.  In some years, he would be among the first people I'd see as I walked into the hotel lobby.  In other years, it might be a couple of days, but Jerry would inevitably turn up.  This year?  Jerry was absent.  Days had passed and no one had sighted Jerry.  Then, with mere hours to go before heading to the airport, we were merrily cruising down Canal Street and there was Jerry.

Another Final Four is in the books, and it simply wouldn't be the same without Chicago Jerry.  I raise my glass and say, "To Chicago Jerry."