The Blog

Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave April 13, 2007

The process of properly firing an employee has been given increased focus in the media over the last few weeks. The Department of Justice recently fired eight of its U.S. attorneys, in what has become one of the biggest and most far-reaching scandals of the current administration. It is rare for there to be such scrutiny of the inner workings of the Department of Justice, so when it happens, you can bet heads will eventually roll. And in true Washington fashion, the cover up may turn out to be worse than the action itself, and we will find out of this is the case here when U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17th.

There are various theories floating around as to why these eight attorneys were fired from the Department of Justice. Initially, there was a weak statement given, saying that they had been fired for performance related issues. Once this investigation ends, we will all see what those performance related issues were, but the key is in determining whether those issues warranted those terminations. One lesson I have learned through following this scandal is that the reasons for termination should be spelled out clearly to the person being terminated. These eight attorneys were not explicitly given the reasons for their terminations, and if those reasons were in fact valid (again, still to be determined), then this scandal never would have reached lift-off in the media. In short, make sure the terminated employee is made explicitly aware of this reasons for his or her terminations.

In addition to the lack of proper notification to those eight attorneys on the reasons for their terminations, those reasons themselves have been called into question. It seems that at least one of those attorneys was fired to make room for one of Karl Rove's protégés. TO the best of my knowledge, Karl Rove never even finished College, let alone Law School, so how does he have a qualified protégé for this position? As for the others, there are accusations that they were fired for not enforcing some of the administration's policies. The catch here is those policies themselves. What are these policies that they weren't enforcing? Which policies were they unwilling to go along with? Some have suggested that these eight attorneys were unwilling to vigorously prosecute Democratic officials, in far greater numbers than Republican officials. It has even been suggested that this policy was aimed at "throttling" the Democratic Party on the LOCAL level (prosecuting Democrats vs. Republicans by a 7 to 1 ratio), so as to keep it out of the national media. I have learned from following this scandal, that one must always have appropriate and just reasons for terminating employees. If the reasons were just and if the attorneys had been notified of those reasons, there simply would be no scandal. Something went wrong here.

Now let us assume, for the moment, that the Department of Justice had valid reasons for firing the attorneys. These eight attorneys took their terminations public, and in doing so, have brought immense scrutiny to the process. Alberto Gonzales, his chief of staff, and the White House liaison to the DOJ have all been brought before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions relating to the firings. Gonzales and his chief of Staff have now contradicted each other on how involved the Attorney General was in the firing, and the liaison invoked her Fifth Amendment rights and then promptly resigned. From this part of the scandal, I have learned that there should be no attempt at a cover up. If the reasons for the terminations were valid, then these officials should have simply stated those reasons. Since they did not, we can only assume that either there was no documentation for those reasons or those reasons really were not valid. Both of these situations should be avoided. All reasons for firing an employee should be just and should be documented when possible.

Now, let us assume that the accusations made against the DOJ in these firings are indeed accurate. If so, then the DOJ is guilty of using its power and influence to carry out the partisan policies of the administration and using what should be a non-political department of the executive branch to carry out a political agenda. If this is all true, then the Department of Justice has reached new levels of corruption, the low point of which is these eight terminations. These eight firings then had nothing to do with performance issues or personal issues. Rather they were the result of an abuse of power by those at the top. From this, I have learned that political agendas (in any setting) should never be allowed to grow and fester to the point at which employees are fired for such reasons. Any and all persons responsible for this should be terminated…hence Alberto Gonzales should resign if he is indeed implicated in this corruption scandal. When possible, carrying out firings should be discussed with multiple people (other supervisors, HR department). This will help to reduce such corruption.

I chose to turn this scandal into a case study, rather than stick strictly to the guidelines for this entry from the PowerPoint presentation. I felt that this scandal had particular relevance to this week's topic, because it showed how NOT to fire employees.


Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall… April 7, 2007

Looking back upon the last few weeks of lectures and discussions, I have learned the most from the units on performances appraisals and disciplinary plans. These are the two areas that I have never experienced personally in any professional or academic job, so I came into these units with a general lack of knowledge. I did have some minor performance appraisals in my high school job, working at a credit agency, but these were somewhat informal and had no bearing whatsoever on my continued employment. The turnover rate was so high; the only real conditions for firing an employee were if they committed an illegal action or just failed to show up to work.

Developing the performance appraisal for the Reference Librarian was far more difficult that I had expected. The Reference Librarian has so many tasks and responsibilities, and it took a good deal of effort to come up with a plan that would assess the librarian's performance of those tasks in an efficient and effective manner. Some of these tasks are even more difficult to observe because they occur when no superiors are around, such as running the library when the director and his/her assistant are both gone. I also had to take into consideration that supervisors can develop biases towards and also against their subordinates. To combat this obvious flaw, I had to come up with a way to incorporate more than one person into the appraisal office. Fortunately this was made easier because the Reference Librarian also helps out in the Collection Development department.

The other problem I faced when crafting my performance appraisal was the task of creating a fair and understandable grading/ranking system. As I mentioned in my report, I rejected the idea of using a ten-point scale because such a scale provides too much ambiguity both for the employee and for the manger(s) filling out the appraisal. There is just too much room for individual interpretation in this system, so I had to come up with a new set of terms to define a smaller scale. Granted, the terms I chose were not terribly unique, but my decision to apply them in this case was based on a need to provide fair and accurate feedback to employees.

As mentioned earlier, the other topic in unit 2 that gave me pause was the discipline report. Fortunately for me, I have never been disciplined for any reason in any job that I have ever held. Thus, I had no personal experience to draw upon for this assignment and was forced to rely upon my own creativity and ingenuity. The scenario presented for me to address in last week's posting proved particularly difficult because the shoddy work behavior and sloppy ethics of Bob had been allowed to fester and grow unchecked for twelve long years. Setting up a plan for discipline that is to be applied when employees make mistakes is one problem, but crafting a discipline plan for a unique individual whose infractions have gone unchecked for such a long period of time, is a whole other ballgame.

Generally, there is a long process involved when firing employees. From the time of the first infraction to the time of termination, months and even years can elapse. Employees in large corporations are usually given several options for improving their performance, and goals and milestones are usually set over a period of time. This not only allows the employee to continue working, but it allows companies to attempt to avoid the costs of termination and the costs associated with hiring a replacement. If the rehabilitation goes well, it is a win-win situation for both the company and the employer. I realized in this process that such a drawn out procedure could not work in this situation because the risks of keeping Bob on without seeing any improvement were too great. I've realized that company policies should not be allowed to become so old and inflexible that they outlive their usefulness.


Whips and Chains March 31, 2007

I have been asked to devise a strategy for dealing with a troublesome employee named Bob. Bob has been with my company for twelve years, and for the past four years, I have had the pleasure (a relative term to be sure) of working with him and managing his contributions to various projects within my department. Over the past twelve years, Bob has been shunted from one department to another because none of the departmental managers can stand to work with him. This man has developed a legendary reputation for being abrasive, critical, and negative and is chronically late to work. Perhaps these flaws could be overlooked if he was completing his duties and tasks on time and in an exemplary manner, but his work has been abysmal.

In order to come up with an effective intervention program for our Bob, I need to make an attempt to discover the reasons for his tardiness and his rough personality in the workplace. Such an intervention will only work if it addresses the very roots of the problems that are occurring. The circumstances surrounding his apparent lack of consideration and motivation could be the result of several significant personal and social issues, so we must make sure we address the issue(s) affecting Bob. Perhaps Bob is an alcoholic, and his work demeanor is the result of daily withdrawal symptoms (grumpiness, abrasiveness) and hangovers (inability to get to work on time and inability to meet deadlines). Perhaps Bob is taking care of an elderly parent at home with a chronic disease (Parkinson's, Alzheimer's etc.) and caring for said parent leaves him beyond exhausted when he comes to work each day. Perhaps he can only afford to hire help for the parent during the day which leaves him caring for said parent each night. On the other hand, Bob may simply be a lazy, cranky, pathetic excuse for an employee. In any case, I need to get to the bottom of his inappropriate behavior.

If I had really been on top of my game as a manager in this situation, I would have addressed these issues four years ago. As it stands, I need to take action quickly. My plan will be executed in stages, and for the first month I will begin to document instances of tardiness, missed deadlines, and confrontational behavior exhibited by Bob. Since there was no previous documentation of his infractions, there is little evidence to point to if I were to meet with him immediately. One month should be enough time to gather sufficient information considering how poor Bob's work performance is. While I am collecting documentation over this first month, I will also make an attempt to get to know him. I will make a greater effort to sit with him in the Cafeteria during our lunch hour. I will try to gain information about his life outside of work (not to be documented or recorded) by sharing information about my own personal life (spouses, children, hobbies, etc.). These information conversations may shed light on his personal situation which would then give me an informal avenue by which I could encourage him to find ways to improve his performance at work.

After this first month of documentation, and assuming that the issues have not been resolved through informal avenues, I will gather the documentation and assemble it according to categories of infractions. These will include tardiness, behaviors of abrasiveness/negativity, and missed deadlines/poor work. After I have completed this analysis, I will set up a meeting with Bob (preferably for sometime in the middle of the day when I know he will be around). Rather than give him a big block of time to panic, I will simply ask him on that day to come into my office during the afternoon to discuss some issues relating to his position and his contributions to the current project. I do not want to give him too much time to come up with a crafty defense, but I do not wish to completely mislead him either.

I will start the meeting by telling Bob that the company appreciates the loyalty he has shown to the company over the past twelve years and that the company values his dedication to his job. Rather than heading into a negative tirade of his deficiencies, I will then explain that the company would like for him to make some improvements in the aforementioned categories (tardiness, behavior, deadlines) in order for him to become a more effective team member. If Bob becomes defensive, I will have no choice but to show him the documentation I have collected. This will give him a chance to explain the circumstances, but it will also give me a chance to prove to him that there is legitimate cause for concern.

After a short discussion of the documentation occurs (if necessary), then we will work together to come up with some strategies for improving his work ethic. This will include a recommendation for a visit to the company's therapist/counselor, the possibility of switching to a more flexible schedule, and an analysis of the tasks he performs and ways to improve the timeless of those completed tasks. This last step may include breaking complex tasks down into more manageable components, delegation of certain responsibilities to other team members (if appropriate) and an evaluation of Bob's strengths and weaknesses regarding his tasks. Bob and I will work on benchmarks for him to achieve over the next three months. These include a 50% reduction in tardiness, an immediate cessation from confrontational behavior, and a 50% increase in tasks completed on time. Assuming these goals are all met, Bob will then be expected to eliminate tardiness and past-deadline completion of tasks within another three months. Undoing 12 years of poor performance will not be accomplished overnight. Finally, I will explain that no official warning will go into his personnel file at this time.

After the three month evaluation period, we will meet again to discuss is progress. If Bob has achieved is goals, then I will reiterate the goals for the following three-month period. If not, then I will place a warning in his personnel file and hand him a copy for his personal files. I will let him know that he has one additional month to meet the goals of the original three-month period. These terms will be spelled out in the warning letter. If Bob meets those goals, we will then resume the next phase of his rehabilitation. If he does not meet those goals at the end of one additional month, he will be terminated. This will be spelled out for him so there are no surprises. I cannot afford to let this drag on for more than 4 months without any noticeable improvement. If this happens, I will have five total months' worth of documentation as evidence of his unsatisfactory performance.


Critics and Criticism March 21, 2007

I was asked to come up with a performance appraisal plan for a Reference Librarian position for the Pennsylvania State Library. The first step in creating this appraisal plan is to determine the specific duties that the reference librarian undertakes. This should be done in three steps. The first step is to comb through the original job description in order to come up with a list of tasks initially assigned to the reference librarian. The next step is to take that list and consult the reference librarian to see if said list is still accurate. The reference librarian should, with justification, eliminate the tasks no longer associated with the position and add any other new tasks assigned since the original job description was written. Finally, the third step is to observe the reference librarian as he or she works to see if there are any other tasks that were not specifically outlined in the job description or mentioned by the librarian (such as friendly service, etc.)

Of the three major areas of responsibility, the first involves interaction with the public. These duties include in-person reference, electronic reference, and circulation duties. Each of these three tasks should be given one of the following three ratings: needs improvement, satisfactory, or exceeds expectations. By limiting this scale to three levels, the ambiguity that is often the result of larger scales will be minimized. It is not always clear what the difference between a 6 and a 7 is on a scale of 1-10. It should be clear to the reference librarian where he or she ranks in each of these three public services. This same scale will be used for the other components of the job.

In order to evaluate these public services, a combination of observation and records analysis will be used. To make sure that the reference librarian is providing friendly and helpful service, the supervisor will need to conduct periodic observations of reference interviews, and the supervisor will record any problems encountered, in terms of friendliness (or lack thereof) but also in terms of general knowledge of the library's sources in relation to the questions being asked. The supervisor will also note exemplary performances. An analysis of electronic reference logs (IM and Email) will be conducted to make sure there aren't any problems. Finally, mistakes in circulation duties will also be recorded (these can include librarian-sourced errors in processing but can also include inappropriate comments made to the patron regarding the items he or she is checking out).

The reference librarian also has collection development duties. Since the reference librarian assists the collection development librarian in these tasks, said librarian will actually assign scores for the various duties. By allowing an additional person to participate in the review process, any bias that the librarian's supervisor may have against the librarian will be mitigated to some degree. If the supervisor allows the scores to be influence by his or her distain for the librarian, then the collection development librarian's scores will hopefully shed light on this by giving scores that contrast with the supervisor's scores. This can work in reverse as well. The collection development librarian will assess the reference librarian on how accurately he or she helps maintain the Adult Reference Collection in terms of maintenance and de-selection.

The reference librarian also has certain supervisory responsibilities. These will be assessed only if problems arise. For example, the reference librarian is in charge of the library in the absence of the library director and the assistant library director. Problems that arise during these times would be considered when conducting the review. Likewise, if a problem arises and the reference librarian handles the crisis in an exemplary manner, this would go towards receiving an "exceeds expectations" score on the review.

These reviews will be conducted at least on an annual basis, but preferably on a semi-annual basis. Problems should not be allowed to fester for 12 months. The supervisor will ask the reference librarian to come into his or her office. The supervisor will then go through each category and explain the reasoning behind each score. The reference librarian will be given the opportunity to contest any points, comments, or scores he or she feels are inaccurate. A plan will then be devised with the librarian to improve any areas in which he or she received a "needs improvement" score. The librarian will be informed that he or she will need to improve upon a certain number of these areas by the time of the next review.

I have chosen not to include self evaluations. Though I am aware of the massive amount of literature in existence in praise of such evaluations, I personally find them to be uncomfortable. Such reviews can be used to trap employees into admitting mistakes (even minor ones) that can be used against them in future job searches. I have never done a self review in an employment situation, but I have done similar reviews in an academic environment. I am not a fan.


What Harold Ford Should Have Done March 8, 2007

The fictitious Metropolitan Motor Company recently opened up a new automobile assembly plant in Tennessee. In order to open the new plant, the company had to hire approximately 1700 production workers to do much of the assembly work. In order to hire these 1700 workers, the Metropolitan Motor Company decided to undertake an extensive analysis of the qualifications required to successfully fulfill this job role along with the responsibilities and tasks associated with the position. It was deemed essential to find and hire employees who would put forth their very best efforts to make this factory a success. While not explicitly stated, brand new auto plants tend to start off by building brand new models for the company, and I assume this was the case here. Therefore, there was even more pressure to open this plant with a top-notch work-force in order to help make the new model a success.

One of the first steps taken by the Metropolitan Motor Company in its attempt to open this new plant was to gain a better understanding of the environment from which the potential new employees would come. The company gathered data on the general labor force and on the education system in the area, which helped it to gain a better understanding of the general experiences and qualifications that the potential employees would bring. This step is critically important when taking a company into a new and unfamiliar environment. For example, setting the minimum education level requirement to a high school diploma may work in Massachusetts (a state with the highest education level attained in the country, on average per person) but setting the same requirement in Tennessee may not work quite so well. One might end up excluding too many otherwise-qualified people who have a lot of good life experience that they can offer.

In addition to the minimum education requirements and other such requirements that were created by MMC and implemented by the State of Tennessee, a " Job analysis of the positions at other MMC assembly plants had determined that specific physical abilities, specific personality characteristics, and general mental ability were required in all production positions." The study does not go into much detail about the specific mental issues and personality issues the company wishes to seek or wishes to avoid; I think it's safe to say the company is trying to weed out employees who are mentally unfit to work in a strenuous environment that requires showing up on a regular basis and doing so while sober. The personality test is a bit more nebulous, because the results in terms of good and bad scores really depend on the characteristics that the company is ultimately looking for in its new employees. Giving personality tests in a new environment could be problematic due to social and cultural differences from one region to another. However, since the state was involved in this process, perhaps there was some small amount of local influence on this part of the process.

After potential employees were screened for mental and personality issues, they were subjected to a physical test to see if they were healthy enough to actually handle the job. This step was crucial in the company's efforts to hire appropriate new employees, people who could handle the strenuous nature of working on a production line for an auto manufacturer. I wish I could have seen the initial job description in order to verify that the physical requirements were listed, since this would reduce the number of unqualified applicants from showing up. That said performing these physical tests is a brilliant way to make sure that the company hires people who are physically capable of handling the work. Some might cry "DISCRIMINATION!", but the reality is that certain jobs require a certain level of strength and agility. As long as the company isn't using these tests to eliminate people from non-physical jobs, it should manage to avoid any serious lawsuits.

I suppose it's difficult to write out a lengthy job description when most of the responsibilities are of a physical nature, so MMC did the next best thing by ensuring that their screening practices would yield competent and desirable employees. I especially approve of the use of the video from other plants, showing potential employees exactly what they would be doing if hired. While some may be so desperate for a job that they'll do anything, others who don't enjoy this particular type of work will save the company time and money by withdrawing themselves from the running.

In conclusion, MMC should yield a decent work-force by following through with this hiring plan. The work MMC did ahead of time in terms of job analysis and location analysis will pay off.


One Fish…Two Fish…Red Fish…Blue Fish March 3, 2007

IBM has a decent diversity statement. The company lists various minority groups that are protected under the statement, and even lists several networking groups of which employees can take advantage. I also like the formal diversity networking events that give employees who have differences a chance to meet. This gives them a chance to see that some of those differences may not be as big or overblown as they had previously thought, and perhaps they will realize that their similarities are greater. The only problem I have with this diversity policy is IBM's reference to sexual" preference" instead of using sexual "orientation". Sexual preference implies that there is some sort of choice being made by LGBT employees, and I must disagree here.

The Royal Bank of Scotland's "Managing Diversity Policy" does a very good job of laying out the responsibilities right at the top. The employer and the employees all have a share in the responsibilities for upholding the company's diversity policy. This gives employees a since of ownership over their environment by placing a stake of that diverse environment on their shoulders. I particularly like the "Avoiding Assumptions" section which lists pitfalls regarding diversity of which employees should steer clear. These include: "Ethnic minorities lack qualifications; Women with young children are less committed to their work; Disabled employees are more likely to be sick than the average member of employees; Older workers lack ambition and enthusiasm; and Part-timers are less committed to their work than full-timers." The policy also has a list of unacceptable questions to ask during an interview…very very important.

Saint Mary's Health Care takes a less assertive stance on diversity. Instead of outlining specific policies, there's just a lot of talk about what companies should do in order to promote diversity. The policy sounds as if it was still in development at the time it was made available on the company's website. The company has clearly done its research with respect to the value of promoting a diverse workplace, but there does not yet seem to be enough of an actual policy in place to promote diversity within this specific company. The company has entered into a partnership with a local college to provide 15-minute video diversity sessions during orientation, but I'm not finding much else on how the company plans to continue the message after that first day,

The University of Chicago diversity policy falls into a similar hole as Saint Mary's Health Care diversity policy does. This is less of a policy statement and more of a factual statement touting the university's improvement in matters of diversity over the past few years or so. The policy does a great job of promoting the value of diversity among the university's faculty, staff, and students; it highlights the improvements made in terms of percentages of the whole university population of certain minority groups. In addition, the university recently sought advice from a panel comprised of faculty members, administrators, and students which resulted in a list of recommendations for further improvements…though the recommendations aren't listed in the diversity policy itself. Again, lots of positive talk here, but not a lot of concrete suggestions for actions to be taken to improve the situation further.

A good diversity plan has three key components. The first component recognizes the need for diversity in the work place and specifically in the company or organization. This component should detail the history of the movement towards creating such a policy, and it should mention the steps take in order to do so. The second component should list steps actually taken to promote, increase, and protect diversity within the company or organization. This could be a series of lectures, discussion sessions, hiring practices, policies, and procedures. This may even list certain restrictions in terms of office décor or display (hurtful symbols etc.). Finally, the policy should end by reaffirming the commitment to diversity and it should include a strong statement saying that prejudicial treatment based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or disability will not be tolerated.


Cheap Training Wheels February 22, 2007

For this week's blog post, I shall attempt to retrace my steps through the training program I endured at my last job before entering graduate school. I was the Education Director for one of the offices for a private tutoring company in the Metro DC area. I will attempt to highlight both the positive components and the negative components in order to illuminate good and bad practices on a more general level. I will also try to conceal the identities of the parties involved so as not to alter their public standings. A warning before I begin: I knew after the first week of employment that this was neither the right job nor the right company for me.

I arrived at the HQ office on my first day, very excited, upbeat, and looking forward to my new position. This was my first job after graduating from college, and I was so excited to finally be a full-fledged, working adult. I walked into that office with my head held high and a smile on my face (a very good strategy for new employees). As with previous jobs, I had assumed that I would start by getting myself on the payroll (filling out tax forms etc.). This did not happen, and when I asked by the end of the first day, they said it would be taken care of soon. Perhaps in my naiveté, I believed them and dropped this issue for the time being. I will revisit this issue later.

My first day started with a warm welcome by some of the higher-ups of the company. I was then introduced to the tutoring staff at the HQ office and preceded to observe some of their classes. On the surface, this seemed like a really great idea because it gave me a chance to familiarize myself with some of the tasks that I would eventually be performing. The other tutors were very nice and the students they were teaching were generally very welcoming. However, my trainer asked me to criticize the tutors that I was observing. He asked me to come up with a list of improvements that the tutors could make and a list of recommendations that could be implemented. What idiot in his right mind would ask someone so new to the job to make recommendations and criticisms? I could understand asking people who are fairly new, since they haven't yet developed loyalty to the company or to their own tasks, but to ask someone on his first day to do so was a mistake. It put me in a very awkward position, almost as if I were an auditor of some sort.

The rest of that first was spent going through a lot of the company's teaching materials, which I found most useful. My trainer and I spent some one-on-one time coming up with various lesson plans for different types of students, and I appreciated that individual attention and effort. This was one of the more positive aspects of my training experience at that company. We really bonded over our past teaching experiences and he told me about a few pitfalls to avoid and taught me a few lessons I had not learned. I also had a chance to refresh myself on some of the SAT Math concepts that I had forgotten over the last few years.

The next day was spent doing some role-playing activities with the other new hires. This was another plus, because it helped me to see my own weaknesses in my teaching abilities. I also had a chance to honestly critique the abilities of others who were new to this type of setting. I think we built camaraderie that day, though I can't say I ever saw most of those people again after my training session. They either worked in other offices or just quit (there was a high turn-over rate). Again I asked about the tax forms, but to no avail.

I spent the rest of the week tutoring real students (one or two at a time, as opposed to the normal three), and this went less successfully. It wasn't until the very last tutoring session that my trainer seemed to be satisfied with my performance. I have to admit that I became a little defensive from time to time during this period, and really had to swallow my pride. I also just fundamentally disagreed with him on several counts. I still had not filled out my tax forms…

Finally, after two weeks of employment, I took the tax forms of a coworker, copied them, white-ed out her answers, and then filled my information in. This was the only way I was able to get on the payroll…..ridiculous. Our textbook has a great orientation outline program on pages 180 and 181. I will now list the components NOT covered in my orientation session.

In summary, there was some attempt to train my in some of the tasks that I would eventually carry out. There was some effort to integrate me into the culture of the company, and there was some effort to help me bond with my coworkers. Ultimately, however, the training plan fell short on too many counts. I was trained to teach middle and high school kids, and when I started working at my branch office, I ended up with little kids. I was totally unprepared.


Bring to a Boil. Add Ingredients February 16, 2007

For this week's posting, I will attempt to concoct my own recipe for success as a manager when dealing with issues of motivation and work-life balance. However, before I spill all of my secret ingredients to the world at large, there's a little bit of house-cleaning to take care of. I need to do a comparison between two ingredients. Both claim to provide similar flavors, but each has a different method of doing so.

Larosa's Pizza Company prides itself on spending "as much time and energy focusing on their internal customers as their external customers." This company has implemented a type of stop-loss program in an attempt to give their "internal customers" a sense of pride or ownership in the company. Managers meet with new employees weekly to assess job satisfaction and to solicit any negative feelings. There are also annual and semi-annual opportunities to assess managers in various levels of the company. But as the No Child Left Behind has so obviously proven, too much emphasis on assessment does not alone lead to success. Cudos to Larosa's Pizza company for trying to emulate some of the success of the legendary Henry Ford Assembly Line, but one of the keys to Ford's success was the $5 work day. His internal customers were able to afford to purchase a product (the model T) that they would otherwise be unable to while working a comparable job in other companies. Is this the case with Pizza?

I think the Egg method for improving the work environment is the better of the two. They seem to be far more focused on the subordinate/manager relationship, and they actively recognize stellar performance and encourage employee contributions to their own success and well-being. They have actually created a cycle by which employee targets are agreed upon, implemented, and evaluated! Sign me Up!

Now, back to my recipe….yum! The first ingredient in my delicious recipe for a balanced life is a sane work schedule. My step-father recently switched from a company that required him to work insanely long hours with meetings scheduled anytime from 7am to 8pm…to a company that has a mandatory 8am-5pm schedule (business trips excluded). He is happier than I have ever seen him, and so is my mother now that he's home more than he was before. I recognize that devotion to one's company or organization does not require an employee to practically live in the office.

My next ingredient is the often-cited Telecommuter program. Certain employees (depending on job position and responsibilities) can opt out of the traditional 8-5 workday in order to have a more flexible schedule. Those employees who desire such a schedule but are not in positions that would work with said schedule will be transferred into new positions at the earliest possible opportunity. Doing so will show that the company values all of its employees and will do what it can to accommodate various scheduling needs. Best Buy implemented such an option for a large percentage of its employees, with no mandatory office time and no mandatory meetings. This may not work in every company, so I would propose a more moderate version with some flexibility rather than total flexibility. According to Hewlitt Packard, allowing a certain employee to telecommute "was easy for HP, and the additional cost outlay of $3,500 justifiable based on productivity and retention reasons alone."

The third and final ingredient is a good plan for recognizing achievements. I read a profile of a CEO who rewards top performers with a weeklong test drive of his BMW M3 Sport Sedan. The Boss's Survival Guide suggest that small things like chocolate bars and gift certificates also work. I would add a little bit of extra vacation time to that list, and perhaps some casual dress days. Perhaps free airline tickets for really stellar performers would also work.


Beware!!! Demons are Everywhere! February 11, 2007

The other night, I was watching a video I found on YouTube of Patti LuPone and Neil Patrick Harris singing "Not While I'm Around" from Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. "Nothing's gonna harm you…not while I'm a around. Nothing's gonna harm you..no sir...not while I'm around." I was listening to the lyrics and couldn't help but envision this great protector somewhere out there (perhaps in a place where dreams come true?) guiding my every move as a manager. Following the footsteps of this great protector will help me on my path towards success.

But who is this protector? In the song, the protector is a man named Tobias who extols his devotion to a woman named Mrs. Lovett. However, in my version, this protector is not made of any sort of solid construction. Rather, this protector is constructed of the very concepts, theorems, and applications that make up the ideal manager. She is ambitious, but cautious. She is stern but supportive, and she is most-importantly a consensus builder. She may rule with an iron fist, but that fist is covered by a very soft Gucci-leather glove.

"Demons are prowling everywhere. Nowadays. I'll send 'em howling I don't care. I got ways." She certainly does have her ways of fending off demons, and in the field of management, these demons really are prowling everywhere. We saw from the Ms. Morphine debacle that one such demon is the rate of turnover. It is inherent within our nature to look for something better, to not be satisfied with the status quo. This is one of the most dangerous demons that any manager will ever face. How do we keep current employees from jumping ship? Certainly the lines of communication must always remain open between an employee and his or her supervisor. If not, then minor problems or issues will fester and build until they become major, job-retention busting catastrophes.

There is another demon that lurks beneath the surface, a demon that can wreak havoc on the interview process. "Demons will tempt you with a smile…for awhile." Managers are always looking for the perfect person to fill a given position, and in doing so, they may be tempted to ask certain "screening" questions during the interview. As The Boss's Survival Guide tries to convey, there are certain questions that just cannot be asked due to legal ramifications and consequences. One such question is "Do you have any physical disabilities or handicaps?" This question can tempt managers like a nice piece of bait on a hook. Handicaps can present barriers for certain types of jobs, but even if a given job isn't physical in nature, it stands to reason that a manager might want an able-bodied person. Managers cannot give in to this kind of demon, the temptation to ask illegal questions.

"Others can desert you, Not to worry, whistle, I'll be there." Being a manager can put you in a lonely place. The buck stops with you; if you make a bad decision and hire a less-than competent person, the responsibility falls on your shoulders. It is perhaps this responsibility that has spawned the ever-increasing length of the hiring process. Our textbook talks about creating a Values Test (pages 89 and 90) as a means of trying to hone in on the applicants that will best fit into the culture of the company or organization. As discussed before, these tests have both positive and negative consequences, but ultimately, they also provide evidence managers can use when defending their hiring decisions.

"Being close and being clever Ain't like being true. I don't need to, I would never hide a thing from you, Like some..." This is perhaps the most salient point made in this beautiful song. Don't lie! Don't lie! Be honest when writing a job description. If you're an applicant, be honest about your abilities and experiences. When you're not honest, you open up a Pandora's Box of legal ramifications. Be honest about the salary and benefits packages upfront; this way there is no disappointment when it comes time to extend a job offer. As our text book says on page 159, "Remember, once again, not to promise anything you can't deliver."


The Body Builder's Guide to Interviewing January 31, 2007

I have been asked to come up with an interviewing plan for the position of Unix Systems Administrator for my (not really) company called Software Engineering Institute. We are looking for someone to fill this very technologically heavy position, thus the successful candidate will need to have the tech skills in order to succeed here. In order to recruit a successful new hire, I must implement a three-stage plan that will guarantee a qualified person gets the job.

The first of these three stages requires rigorous preparation, and by the time I finish this regimen, those people who can bench-press their own weight will have nothing on me. I will be crowned the new Mr. Universe! The first task I must undertake is to work through the logistical issues necessary to make sure each interviewee makes it to the interview. We have a secured parking lot, so I need to make sure I inform the security guards on the days of the interviews that non-SEI employees will need entrance into our fortress. I also need to tell the security guards to tell the interviewees where to park and which building they need to enter. The interviewees must be told to tell the security guards why they are here (e.g. Interview for Unix Systems Operator) and tell them to check in at the lobby desk.

There are a few more logistical issues that I will need to address. I need to tell the lobby attendants to call me when each interviewee arrives. I will meet each person in the lobby and escort them to the interview room. Speaking of interview rooms, I will reserve one of our smaller conference rooms for each interview. According to The Boss's Survival Guide (page 126), using my own office (though a very calming room with marble floors, Greek columns, and beautifully-lacquered cherry-wood furniture) is not the best option, and a more neutral location is preferable. Before each interview, I will bring bottled water (glasses and pitchers are too much of a hassle) and I will make sure I have a copy of the applicant's resume with me. I will arrange to have a coworker of similar seniority take notes during the interview.

The second stage in my regimen is the actual interview. By this point, I have already come up with a blistering list of questions I wish to ask. Most questions are general questions asked of each applicant, and these will be asked first. However, I may need to ask for clarification regarding unclear statements in each candidate's resume. I know that asking specific questions of a particular candidate is generally frowned upon, but this may be unavoidable. Hopefully, all finalists will have stellar, clear, and concise resumes. All questions will be run by our Human Resources department, just to verify that they are legal questions. Here is a sample of 10 questions that will be asked of all applicants:

  1. Please describe your current position and your current work environment.
  2. Could you please describe how your previous work experience will help you if you were to get this position?
  3. Are you able and willing to work some evening and weekend hours?
  4. Could you please describe a work-related situation you experienced in which you had specific deadlines that needed to be met, and how you met those deadlines?
  5. In addition to the responsibilities here at the HQ building, this position requires some business travel. Are you able and willing to travel for work if offered this position?
  6. Please list the PHP, PERL, and Bourne Shell functions and operators with which you are familiar.
  7. Are you comfortable scripting in all three languages?
  8. Could you please describe your experience and familiarity working in a Unix/Linux environment?
  9. Are you able to carry objects up to 100lbs for short distances?
  10. Please describe your programming experiences with C, C++, and PERL.

After each interview is complete, I will answer any questions the candidate has. I will then walk each candidate back down to the lobby and give him/her the time-table I will be using for filling the position.

The third and final stage of my regimen is the actual decision process. Whom shall I grace with a job offer? Who will be the lucky soul who gets to work for SEI? After all interviews are complete, I will spend the next week deciding whom to choose. Factors will include interview answers, manners with all staff each candidate came in contact with, and the overall qualifications. Once my decision is made, I will have HR sign off on it, and then make the call immediately.

If the first candidate declines the offer, I will review the finalists again to see if there is a viable second choice candidate. If there is, I will have HR sign off and make the call. This process should take no more than two days. If this candidate declines, then I will have to start over from square one.


Personally Sabotaged January 23, 2007

Personality testing seems to have both advantages and disadvantages. According to the three case studies, implementing personality tests had many positive results. These positive results included lower turn-over rates, lower employee theft, lower absenteeism, and lower tardiness rates. Ensuring that a company hires employees that fit into the company's specific corporate culture is also important, as a harmonious work environment is certainly better than an environment that is not.

However many advantages there are to using a personality test, one must also consider the broader implications of doing so. As the percentage of companies and organizations that use personality tests increases, a new class of workers will emerge. These workers will be called the perpetually unemployable workers, for they will continue to flunk these personality tests. We are creating a whole class of people that will continually have a very difficult time finding jobs.

If we are indeed creating this class of unemployable workers, what problems does this pose for the future? These people will have a very difficult time finding employment, and if they have trouble finding employment, what will they turn to in order to survive? Will some try to go on welfare? Will some turn to crime in order to survive? What happens to the people who keep getting turned down for jobs based on poor personality test results? I understand that companies have to look out for their bottom lines, but I also wonder if we are not creating a bigger problem by solving a smaller problem.

In all three case studies, the companies were able to cut out a certain percentage of applicants out of the interviewing process, thereby saving the time and money. The personality tests are also credited with reducing the turn-over rate for these companies, dramatically so for some. I have to wonder, however, if there were other factors that contributed to the decline in turnover rates. The case studies assume that the personality test was responsible, but there is no mention of other possible programs or initiatives that may have been responsible for the improved results. This reminds me of how President Bush has taken credit for the rebounding economy because of his tax cuts, when in reality there are many other factors that should be taken into consideration.

One of the case studies mentioned implementing a personality test policy while also more-than-doubling the number of employees at a certain level. During this time period, the turn over rate didn't spike (as was expected). Again, I have to wonder if there were other factors involved. Did the company give incentives for current employees to stay? Perhaps the company made a concerted effort to improve the workplace environment. Perhaps the company increased the number of vacation days, thereby saving some employees who take too much time off from being fired. I know I know; I'm being cynical. It's possible that the personality test really did cause the decrease in turn-over rates.

In all fairness, I have never had to take a personality exam myself. Most of the jobs I've had (though not all) have been given to me through connections. I had personal contacts that vouched for my personality and my abilities. Perhaps I would feel differently if I had to take a personality test for a job or if I was actually using a personality test to screen applicants. I understand that these tests do have some advantages in terms of finding the right person for a particular person. I just have reservations about the larger consequences and implications of this trend on those who are at a disadvantage. Then again, I chose to enter Library School because I realized I didn't want to deal with these issues.


Morphine Drips New Life into Hospital Pharmacy January 17, 2007

Ms. Morphine certainly has her task cut out for her if she's going to lower the vacancy and turn-over rates in the pharmacy department at Metropolis NHS. Presumably, the high vacancy rates are the combined result of high turn-over rates and less-than-stellar recruitment efforts, so both causes need to be addressed.

Ms One of the complaints mentioned in the case study was that risks were being taken because the temp agency people who are currently working in the department haven't been around long enough to learn the procedures correctly. The members of the permanent staff that are still there don't want to come to work because the pharmacy is beginning to get a bad reputation due to the risks taken and the mistakes maid by the temp workers. This is clearly the first problem that needs to be fixed. Temp workers should be trained as if they were going to be working at the pharmacy for an extended period of time. More intensive training will help eliminate some of the risks and mistakes currently taking place in the pharmacy and this will in turn help increase the morale of the permanent staff members.

Ms Ms. Morphine needs to figure out what needs to be done in order to retain the current staff members. Training the temps is a good start, but more needs to be done. Google has implemented a very strong Perks Plan. This plan is ultimately designed to keep employees at their desks and doing their work, but the perks give an added sense of loyalty to the company. A typical employee at Google may think "If Google is willing to give me free lunches, free laundry machine use, and free ski retreats; I should be willing to give something back. I should be loyal to this company, especially since I'm not going to find a better package anywhere else. Ms. Morphine may not have the ability or authority to implement some of the perks that Google offers, but there are other, simpler perks that might work. For example, I did an internship at a law firm that gave its staff members an extra half hour of lunch every other Friday. This was known as Banker's Friday, and was a throwback to a generation of workers that would deposit their bi-weekly paychecks during their Friday lunch breaks (thus needing a little bit of extra time). This was appreciated by the staff members. Casual Fridays were also popular.

Ms Once Ms. Morphine has stabilized the turn-over rate of the permanent staff, she can then focus on recharging her recruitment practices. It sounds like she's bill filling positions with temps for awhile, so perhaps it's time to revisit the various job descriptions on file. She should begin by interviewing some of the current permanent staff members to see if the job descriptions need to be updated. Once the basic information is there (in complete detail and vetted through the HR department), she then needs to inject some pizzazz into the descriptions. The descriptions should be truthful, but there is no problem in emphasizing some of the sexier parts of the jobs.

Ms Ms. Morphine could start the job ad by saying something along the lines of "Do you enjoy working in a fast-paced environment? Do you enjoy meeting new people every day?" These first two questions should help weed out the undesirable candidate and should begin to hook the candidates with real potential. The rest of the job ad should flow from these two sentences. Keep the enthusiasm up. Talk about how the successful candidate will be helping the people they meet every single day. Ms. Morphine wants happy people, but not artificially happy people so she should play down the unrestricted access to prescription drugs.