The Silent Impact of Sandy

The disaster that is hitting the East coast in the form of Hurricane Sandy and its subsequent superstorm is unmistakeable.  Thousands are without power, there have been 11 reported deaths in the US alone, and business’s both big and small stand to lose unbelievable revenue.  Add to this, the headaches of the countless numbers of insurance claims that will be pouring in over the next few days and weeks and we may never have a true estimate of what this storm will cost.

Hidden from the intense media coverage of a darkened Times Square there is another cost of this storm, and all other storms for that matter that take employees out of work – that cost is lost wages.  Seems simple to comprehend – if a business isn’t open then employees aren’t working.  I have found, though, that many leaders don’t equate how profound this cost can be.

Many workers live pay check to pay check and have very tight budgets in order to just survive – the reasons for this are many and I’m sure will come up in future blogs – right now, though, I want to focus on the impact of this storm.  There is an anticipation that many shop owners and corporate heads will be closing their doors until the end of the week at the earliest.  That means that the average non-exempt employee will not see pay for almost a week.  For the exempt (or salaried) employee this storm may just equate to a nuisance or, and I believe this will be true, most of them will work from their home computers once power is restored.  For the hourly worker, though, this is often not an option and so they will wait out the storm with increased stress over what their paychecks will look like.  This may mean, that even when power is restored they will not be able to pay for it.

We had a blizzard in Colorado once that closed most companies.  My CEO at the time called me from home upset that he was being advised to close the doors.  He kept thinking about what it would cost in revenue and how that would hurt the bottom line.  True enough.  When I brought up how we would handle hourly folks who would lose a days pay through no fault of their own and suggested that we pay them for a full day, he was completely resistant saying that they should “learn to budget better”.  How hypocritical!  He cared about the loss of money to his business but would not let his employees worry about the loss to their paychecks, a loss that many of them would deeply feel.  When the doors opened two days later, employees desperately asked how the company would handle their lost wages and the CEO said there was nothing that could be done.  We saw a spike of turnover in the next few weeks and when I asked the reason, inevitably the lack of care shown by the CEO was the reason.

Simply put:  When a business closes due to no fault of the employee, that employee should not be punished by a lack of pay.  Yes it will cost the company but that contingency could be budgeted for every year and may not even be used.  For those times when it needs to be used, see how much loyalty taking care of your employees in the face of natural disaster will get you.

Are you listening East Coast?

The Power of WE

Ok, so another football analogy (look, I live in Bronco country so it is to be expected).  I was watching the Bronco comeback win last night and the interview right after the game with Payton Manning.  The interviewer, still amazed about the 2nd quarter comeback, kept asking him what “he” did to win the came and how “he” felt.  Payton, without missing a beat, kept responding by using the word “WE”.   This player, who many feel is one of the best to ever play the game, directed the reporter to look at the whole of the team, not just him.  It was refreshing.

If you think about it, the football field is not much different than business.  There is a leader on the field (QB) and lots of support around him.   There is a board of directors (all the coaches) and a financier (GM).  There are team captains who are in charge of motivating each specialty of play.  There is a vision, a mission, and a goal.  And each team has its own culture.  What is different (aside from the paychecks) is that there also is a sense of WE.  Each player, even those who break out for amazing plays, know that they could not do their jobs without every other player on the field.  There is a deep respect from the “Leader” to the “Workers” because he knows he could not do what he does without them and they in turn respect him because he actually leads.

I find it ironic that in a profession that is often very ego driven, they get the concept of WE but in corporate settings, also often very ego driven, you find silos.  How do we get the team concept into business?  I know many have tried and there are tons of slick productions out there that companies can spend millions on to teach them how to work as a team.  Yet it rarely is sustained, if achieved at all.

As I think about it, perhaps it is because football players have been taught from the time there were little tykes that this is how a team works.  They come to respect the importance of each position.  They listen to their coach and are okay that their quarterback is telling them what plays to run.  They know that when they are playing their positions the best that they can, they will win games.

Makes me wonder what we are taught about business.

NFL Replacements: Not Much Different Than Corporate America

What tremendous outcry this country had regarding the replacement NFL referees, what pure animalistic anger!  Google for articles about the replacement refs and there are over 3 million.  I am sure my fellow psychologists are having a field day analyzing the implications this has had on our nation.  But are my fellow Human Resource colleagues, or better yet, CEO’s, realizing that we play this same game all the time?

If we were to break it down, everyone was a bit oblivious to what was happening between the refs and the NFL, that is until game day and it was soon discovered that the “replacement refs” were not skilled enough to take on the task. They had some experience, and knew football, but could not handle the pressures and the pace of the game at the pro-level.  Once bad calls started coming in, football viewers everywhere took to tweeting, posting on facebook, picketing, and holding up signs at games indicating their dissatisfaction.  Last night, when the “real refs” came back on the field, they received a standing ovation.

This same scenario plays itself out in Corporate America every day.  Skilled, talented, knowledgeable employees able to handle the pressures of the game are replaced with less skilled, less talented, less knowledgeable employees.  The reasons typically fall around cost (it costs to have someone who knows what they are doing) or inept management who are often threatened by more skilled employees then themselves.  Balls are dropped, confused calls are made, customers are not happy.  Yet do we see the outcry that we did with the refs?  Nope, but we hear the same complaints.

How many times have you heard – “Company X has horrible customer service, they really have gone downhill”  or “I don’t know what happened to Y Company, they used to be great”.  If you look closely, I bet you see some “replacements” in the employee ranks.  With our economy as our excuse, many companies decided to “cut back” on its employees to save costs.  They often released the higher paid talent and replaced them with cheaper talent.  That is not to say they didn’t look to make sure the cheaper talent had some skills, just like the NFL made sure their replacement refs knew football.

Instead of getting mad at the “replacements” we should question the thought process of the decision makers.  There was a lot of talk before the refs went on strike but the NFL thought they could get away with just “hiring others” to take their place.  Companies also have a lot of talk before they take their steps to replace workers.  It is my hope that in the course of those conversations someone says “Hey CEO, do you remember the game between Green Bay and Seattle?”

The Stage of Corporate America

All the world is a stage…and I have found all the drama right in my own company.  It is amazing to me how much time is wasted in business dealing with the emotions, interpretations, perceptions, agendas, and moods of those we work with.  Your end goal in business might be a very simple one but it often will become complex because those involved are all coming from different angles and with different purpose.

The company that can harness these different perspectives and somehow keep the emotions out of it have really landed on a special formula.  As an HR Professional, my job is to deal with the human element of business which includes the dynamics of people working together.  Think of a kindergarten playground – you have your leaders and your followers, your bullies, your wimps, yours nerds, jocks, and cheerleaders.  Now picture a corporate boardroom – not much different.  Where the difference comes is how we handle it – where in kindergarten, students are sat down and educated on how to play nice the boardroom or any part of a company often ignores the dynamic and so these relationships are allowed to grow and fester leading to a tremendous loss of productivity.

And note I said take the “emotion” out of it – not the passion.  We need to get jazzed up about what we need to do.  There is nothing as exciting as thinking you have finally arrived at a solution, or come up with the next best thing.  Passion drives us but emotions get in our way.  I can not tell you how many times I have been passionate about some work I am doing…seriously, I can not tell you.  Instead, I am often dealing with the emotions of those around me that truly zap me of all my energy.

When I was younger, I went to an acting school for the summer in the East.  I am a Colorado girl and had a laid back way about me but found out quickly that I was up against a very hungry acting crowd.  When the first script was distributed, people pushed, bit, and snarled their way to the audition for the desired roles.  I found myself holding open the curtain or designing the set – I just did not have it in me to backstab just so I could land the lead role in Guys and Dolls.  And so I dropped out of trying to be an actress only to find myself years later with a similar group of people backstabbing, biting, and pushing over something they found critical in business. That “thing” never got done, and actually was forgotten in all the chaos.

So why don’t we all take a deep breath and relax.  Brainstorm. Work together toward a common goal. Actually do our jobs.

And cut…..

Oh, and don’t forget…

I can picture it now…a heavy duty meeting with a new client, the company oversells and promises that we can staff by 140 new folks in a week, backslaps when the client leaves after signing the new contract, small talk about the upcoming football game starts and someone shares their nacho recipe…and then, as they are turning off the light one of the leaders says…”oh, and don’t forget to tell HR”.

It is amazing to me how little we are brought in to decisions that, quite frankly, can not happen without us and yet that was the case this week with my company.  Assumptions are made about HR all the time without regard to what it takes for us to do what we do.  I get that there are a lot of misnomers about our department and many just don’t know what it is that occupies our time but when you are thinking that you need 140 new people to do the job you just promised a client, why would you not think about HUMAN resources?

Did my team pull it off?  yes they did!  Why?  Because for the last year they have been nuturing relationships with our vendors, because they sat down and came up with a tremendous strategy, and because, quite directly, they are very smart and very talented.  Will the company recognize those efforts?  Probably not…because I assure you that there will be another backslapping meeting of promises where we are again an afterthought.

Being Passionate: Does helping employees mean you are hurting business?

I was told the other day by the leadership of my company that I am too passionate about helping the employees. Let me set up the scenario:  as often is the case, our company wanted to close early on the Friday before a holiday weekend to let our folks start their festivities or get on the road before all the traffic.  This is a pretty standard gesture made by many companies.  Unlike other companies I have worked for, however, my company did not want to make non-exempt employees “whole” for the day and pay them for the hours that they would miss given the early closure.  Penalizing your hourly employees, often the lowest paid in the company, didn’t seem right to me.  It was the decision of the business to close early, not the decision of the employee, and so I argued that we should pay them for the full day.  And with that, I was told that I was too passionate.

A little about me – I have always fought for the underdog.  When in school I would come to the defense of the student being picked on, or help the teacher no one liked.  When I worked with the mentally ill, there were always battles to fight – from the perception of many in society that these were “throw away” people, to the view of the shop keeper that they were dangerous.  So it isn’t a surprise to me or anyone who knows me that I stand up for employees when I think a company is doing them an injustice.

I also am a business woman and I have a very strong sense of business operations and logic.  My company argued that they were in a cost saving time and to pay employees for time when they were not producing was costing the organization.  This is a concept I could put my arms around if the company weren’t hemoraging in more significant ways – to not pay for those two hours is like focusing on a hangnail when a major artery is cut.  Secondly, and one of the hardest parts for any Human Resource professional to convey to a business, the cost will ultimately get you loyalty amongst your employee base – and loyalty will save you money with lower turnover and higher production.

Caring about employees does have some upfront cost.  Making sure salaries are in line with the market, ensuring that your benefits are healthy and reasonable, having a work environment that is comfortable, and helping morale by not punishing hourly employees with gestures like early departures, does have an upfront cost.  But the end result is profoud – a work force that not only wants to do their jobs but wants to do it well above expectations, and a work force that brags about your company when with friends or in social settings which provides the organization with the best marketing in the world.

There are times when my “passion” is geared more to the management side of the table and when it is so placed there are no complaints.  Regardless, I will continue to speak when I feel there is an inequity, and fight the fight when I feel it needs to be fought.  That is who I am.