“Must hire” interns

March 24, 2008

Summer intern recruiting season is winding down!  Once again, many of us in the HR world are faced with the dilemma of “patronage hires” — your boss owes someone a favor, so could we please find a space for an extra intern?  Sometimes these patronage interns are smart kids and good workers, sometimes they are less qualified than applicants who apply without the inside edge. We hire many of our interns into the firm (if they’re good).

As an HR professional, sometimes it’s uncomfortable balancing the needs of the company (honoring due process, EEO hiring guidelines, etc.) with pressure from the boss. If I push back on an unqualified intern recommended by a friend of the president or by a rain maker — will I compromise my position? I do push back when I can by reminding management of our need to have a more diverse workforce (the internship program is one good way to achieve diversity), but there is no getting around it that there are many uncomfortable moments. Diversity can’t be 100% HR’s responsibility.

How can this be done fairly?

I wonder what alternatives we can offer executives who feel pressure to take on their business contacts or clients’ kids as interns?

I am the proud owner of a Roslindale resident parking sticker, which allows me to park close to the Roslindale Village commuter rail station and buys me precious minutes in the morning for last minute chores or reading. Not the most eco-friendly practice, I know (I’m a 10 minute walk from the station). I try and make up for my driving by riding my bike to work more often in the spring and summer months.

Anyhow, I was driving to make the 7:58 AM train to Boston this morning, and was lucky enough to find a space right on the corner of Arborough Road and South Street. I parked back a little ways from the actual corner to allow good visibility and access for drivers and pedestrians turning on to South St or Arborough. I also recall something from driver’s ed about never parking too close to the corner. Another driver approached to park behind me (plenty of room for 3-4 cars in the section of curb we were on).  She stuck her head out of her window and asked if I could move up. I told her I was uncomfortable doing so, because I would be too close to the corner. She continued to try and guilt me out about it by claiming that “many people need to park here today”, and “I don’t want to get boxed in”. I pointed out that there was no one behind her, and that she could leave ample space in front to enable her to get out. I was polite…but man, she ticked me off! I wanted to say — LADY, mind your own business! It’s a public curb, and I don’t need parking lessons!

So, instead of sucuumbing to parking rage in the real world, here I am blogging about it. Does anyone know what the law in Massachusetts or Boston is about parking at corners? Is it 20 feet from the intersection?

On “process fairness”

March 17, 2008

I came across an article by Joel Brockner, “Why It’s So Hard to Be Fair” in the March 2006 Harvard Business Review:

“There is a moral imperative for companies to practice process fairness. It is, simply put, the right thing to do. As such, process fairness is the responsibility of all executives, at all levels, and in all functions; it cannot be delegated to HR.”

What is process fairness? It’s when a doctor who is guilty of malpractice apologizes admits his mistake and apologizes to the patient. It’s when managers tell employees they’re laying off why the decision was made and what alternatives were considered. It’s communicating things that general counsel would probably rather you didn’t. However, studies show the practice of process fairness can save companies money in the long run. Nice to see some data out there that shores up my own intuition.  Article goes on to say that process fairness has to be balanced with outcome fairness — outcomes are what lawyers are usually focused on. Outcome fairness would be using the same severance formula to calculate severance payments to a group of employees.

Flu hits Roslindale

February 29, 2008

My company offered a flu clinic in late 2007 and paid for the flu vaccine for all 100 or so employees who signed up the day the nurse came to administer. Believe it or not, this was the first time I’ve worked somewhere where the flu shot was offered at work. Being the HR person, I took responsibility for organizing the flu clinic last October (with the help of our receptionist who knew the drill from the prior year).

I had personally never had a flu shot before, and I don’t tend to get sick a lot. I remember reading a lot in the media about prior year vaccine shortages, and recommendations on who should or should not get a shot.  I never paid it much attention. But, having organized the clinic, I signed myself up for the needle (I hate shots…I’m a total baby about them).

About a month ago, I saw my old friend and neighbor on the commuter rail getting off at the Roslindale village stop. I asked how he was, and he said that he had been sick for two weeks — one week he had to stay home from work, the following he was the walking wounded. I asked about symptoms (his wife is an MD), and he said there was some respiratory discomfort, fever, and some stomach trouble.  The next weekend, my son got a raging fever, then some minor vomiting — but he was over it in 3 days. My son didn’t have a flu shot last year…

Then, my husband fell ill. He’s been ill for about a week, so we took him to the doctor’s. They did a nasal swab and called us later to inform us that he has “type B” Influenza. Should be over it in another week, we hope. Husband also did not have a shot…

So far (knock on wood), I’m fine. I also feel ok about coming in to work, as I don’t think I’m a carrier (although I have been extra careful about hand washing).

I know there was talk in the media about last year’s batch of vaccine being off-target, but it seems to be doing the trick here in Roslindale. It’s made a believer of me! I highly recommend that employers with the resources to organize a workplace flu clinic should do so. It’s a minor expense ($25 a shot) that can save weeks of productivity!  Especially in an era when so many employers are switching to “PTO” systems (no allocated sick days). Nothing more demoralizing for an employee who has to blow half their PTO allowance on a nasty bout of the flu.

A great article by Jared Sandberg in today’s Wall Street Journal  notes,

The bad manager tends to conjure images of the blood-vessel-bursting screamer looking for a handle to fly off. But these types are increasingly rare. Far more common, and more insidious, are the managers who won’t say a critical word to the staffers who need to hear it. In avoiding an unpleasant conversation, they allow something worse to ferment in the delay. They achieve kindness in the short term but heartlessness in the long run, dooming the problem employee to nonimprovement. You can’t fix what you can’t say is broken.

“In a knowledge economy, where work is more complex and interdependent, people need feedback more — what they particularly need feedback on are on things that are difficult to give: one’s interpersonal style,” says David Bradford, a lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

This is one of the biggest challenges I face in counseling the supervisors and managers I support. How do I get them to adopt the good habit of regularly communicating with their staff about the good and the bad?  In the business I support, I often see the pattern that managers pull work or assignments away from employees with perceived (or real) performance problems instead of addressing the problem directly with the employee.  What should HR’s role be when situations like this go too far?  Thoughts:

 1) If I see the pattern emerging, I say something about it to the managers and coach them on how to speak to the employee about it. Then, I follow up to make sure that the conversation has actually taken place.

2) I read annual reviews carefully before approving raises to make sure there isn’t anything in the document that contradicts what the manager may have mentioned to me one-on-one. If I see any red flags, I question the manager.

3) Training on performance management — continual reminders to managers that the performance management process is not just a once-a-year event. It’s a daily event.

 Anyone out there have any luck tackling this very common problem in their organization?

Egads! The inbound Needham Heights line train (arriving 8 AM in Roslindale Village) was a full 2 minutes EARLY this morning.  This morning, a cold and snowy morning. Hell must have frozen over. Bless you, MBCR.

A few years’ ago I was interviewing a candidate for an executive position at a newspaper (publisher). I was unnerved when the candidate opened up the conversation with, “So, I understand you’re a triathlete”. While I had, in fact, participated in a triathlon as part of a team in 2003 (as a swimmer), I certainly didn’t consider myself a triathlete and was mystified at how this person could know that about me. Turns out he Googled me and found the posted times from the triathlon’s organizers. Freaky. It got me thinking about the pros and cons of looking up job candidates on the internet. While it might be a useful thing to do before interviewing or contacting candidates, it’s also potentially hazardous. What if I find something out about the candidate that should definitely not be considered when considering them for a job (i.e. their religious or political beliefs, sexual orientation, etc.)? I’d like to think I (or the managers I support) wouldn’t be influenced by something discovered online — but it seems a slippery slope. On the other hand, don’t I have an obligation to the business to make sure I’m not bringing in someone who may be totally inappropriate for the job? I have decided to go for middle ground and only look at “professional” sites on candidates — their bio on their current employer’s web site, their LinkedIn profile, published articles, etc.

Day One

February 20, 2008

I love my job. I am an HR director (generalist with recruiting responsibilities) at a professional services company located in the greater Boston area. As a way of achieving the coveted “seat at the table”, I got my MBA in 2005 so I could learn to better speak the language used by my colleagues in finance and executive management.  I often feel as if I have a foot in two worlds: HR and Business.  Each world seems to have its own jargon and priorities, and they don’t coalesce as often as I’d like.

I’m starting this blog to force myself to read more about trends in business and HR and hopefully have some good discussions with other folks interested in similar topics.

Where do I stand? I firmly believe that HR plays an essential role in helping businesses achieve their objectives, primarily through ensuring that the organization has the right talent in the right places doing the right things to achieve said objectives.  I’m often flabbergasted, however, by the array of roles and responsibilities attributed to HR by HR media outlets such as NEHRA’s Insights magazine. Did anyone catch this month’s article entitled “Too many roles for HR?”(I’d put in the link, but my membership has expired)? The list goes from party planner, corporate social responsibility advocate, recruiter to business partner. Many hats!   The HR press seems to tout the trend of the month (February it was ‘love contracts in the workplace’), but do little to tie back to the fact that HR folks need to prioritize their focus on the things that will have the greatest impact on the business.

I sometimes think these articles and publications do our profession a great disservice. I long to see more of the research and intellectual rigor that one finds in a Harvard Business Review article. SHRM seems to attempt this level, but I often find their publication lacking as well.

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