Archive for September 30, 2011

If You Can’t Stand the Heat

The hot times to be had at an Amazon warehouse came to light the other week.  Check out this great post that flowed from the story over at my friend Laurie Ruettimann’s home The Cynical Girl.

The whole awful mess got me thinking about the times when I used my HR skillz in a logistics/distribution environment.  As a 3PL company we came in and managed production and distribution functions for clients, often working on-site with the customers.  I joined the organization at the time of a start-up; a new contract meant that we acquired the workforce from the previous provider and these guys (and they were all guys) became “our” employees.  Many of them had worked in the same job for 10, 20, even 30 years.  And here we, new managers/bosses from far far away, walked in and found:

  • lack of enforcement for the employees to wear PPE ; in a chemical manufacturing environment
  • stories of employees being subject to nooses left in work areas; and told they better not report it or they would lose their job
  • sweltering heat inside the production facilities
  • bugs, spiders and other assorted critters including the deadly brown recluse which if it bit someone, necessitated sending them down the road to the hospital

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That Amazon story got me thinking about this again.  The temperature in certain areas where our guys spent their day hit 120 degrees.  We know; because the GM and I installed a thermostat to check.  Walking int here was a slap in the face from a heat-puppet.  So we immediately did a few things (mind you..at the end of the day the CLIENT had to pay for these) and met with the following resistance from the CLIENT:

1.  provide chairs for those working the heat-duty so they could sit down and not pass out from the heat (resisted: ‘that will make them lazy’)

2.  add another employee for each shift of heat-duty so as to allow, through some fancy scheduling, everyone to take a break to cooldown in another area every 20 minutes (resisted: ‘too expensive!  We don’t need to pay someone for that!)

3.  provide Gatorade sports drink in addition to the water already provided to assist in alleviating heat-related cramps reported to the plant nurse. (resisted:  water is good enough for them!)

note – resistance did NOT deter us from doing anything we needed to do

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So yeah.  I wasn’t too surprised to read about the Amazon conditions; I know that stuff happens.  Crappy working conditions, shortcuts and just plain lack of common-sense in pursuit of the glory, money or something.

In a dream-like fugue, perhaps heat-induced, I used to have visions of taking one of the CLIENT big shots and making him work in 120 temps for a 12 hour shift wearing a hard hat and steel toe boots.  Then when he was parched and needed a drink I would tell have told him “no Gatorade for you!” and when he passed out from the heat and hit his head on the steel floor because he couldn’t sit down I would have let him lay there.

If he couldn’t stand the heat…he shouldn’t have been in the kitchen.   Right?

HR Happenings – Acadiana Style

FDL

I’m an unabashed fan of HR  Were that not the case, it’s pretty likely I would have stopped working in this field quite some years ago.  I’m also an enthusiastic (usually) supporter of SHRM and a true cheerleader (always) for the superb network of local SHRM affiliate chapters.  For it’s on that local level that the true HR magic happens.   Chapters are run and managed by volunteers; HR folks who, in addition to their day jobs, spend countless hours planning programs, encouraging knowledge sharing and working tirelessly to enhance the visibility of the Human Resources profession.

So I always get totally geeked when there are superb program offerings and conferences arising from either the state level or the local/chapter level.  One such conference, happening today, is the Acadiana SHRM 25th (!) Annual HR Conference and Expo.  Taking place in the heart of cajun country (Lafayette, LA), this conference will draw 300 attendees which is pretty incredible for a chapter with just over 300 members.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to take the trip down I-10 to attend but I’m throwing my support fully behind the conference.  In fact, watch for some guest posts over the upcoming days as I’m opening the Schoolhouse so that an HR student from the SHRM student chapter at McNeese University can share her insight.

Great local stuff going down in Louisiana.  Great HR, great SHRM volunteers, and great drive-thru daiquiris in Lafayette.

It’s all local.

Desmond Hume – Employee of the Month

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Never let it be said that the HR Schoolhouse is not topical.  Today’s post references my favorite show the greatest show ever on TV.  The series finale aired on May 23, 2010. Yeah.

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An HR friend here in Baton Rouge (and faithful reader of the blog) posted a comment the other day with a LOST reference.  Naturally, I went off on a tangent and realized… I have yet to write anything about my favorite show the greatest show ever on TV.  Well, this makes sense – the HR Schoolhouse didn’t open for business until September 2010 – 5 months after the heart-wrenching spiritual most wonderful season finale ever.

So I got to thinking about Desmond Hume – he of The Hatch.

For three long years, Desmond lived to do his job – and do his job well.  Every 108 minutes (24/7/365) he did as Kelvin Inman told him and sat down at a computer and entered the numbers.  He didn’t ask why.  Was he doing penance for his bad choices?  Was he remorseful over his lost love?  Was he plotting revenge against Charles Widmore?  Perhaps all of the above.

But nevertheless, Desmond donned his Dharma jumpsuit and did his job.  Initially, of course, he had Kelvin to share the load.  But then Kelvin died.  So Des had to handle the duties all by himself.

Which sucked.

But Desmond persevered.  Every-108-minutes-entering-the-numbers-to-THE-freakin’-COMPUTER.  Because, of course, that’s what he had been trained to do.  And he had been told it was necessary.

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But one day John Locke arrived and knocked on the door of The Hatch.  And roused Desmond from both his stupor and his despair.  (And, per the wonderfulness that was LOST, set moments into motion…but that’s another post).

So Desmond, who wore a company-logo’d jumpsuit and did what he was trained to do, was set free.  Set free to do wonderful world-changing, life-altering things.

There’s a lesson in there isn’t there?  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m just floating along in the reverie that overcomes me whenever I think of LOST.  Or maybe not.

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Hmmmmm. Set your employees free?  Let them do wonderful, marvelous things?

Namaste.

First, You Start with a Roux

roux

Two ingredients to make a roux….flour and fat.  How many ingredients go into great leadership?  This post of mine ran yesterday at Women of HR.  Hope you enjoy it; and also make sure you head over to Women of HR and check out the awesome content from a great group of writers.

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We’ve all seen them lined up in impressive displays at Barnes and Noble. We’ve read some of them. We may have even been told we need to take some cues/lessons from them.

Books on Leadership. Just googling the phrase gives me 138 million results.

There are, apparently, a lot of people who want to hone their leadership skills, and to do so they’ll read everything from Tribes to Who Moved My Cheese.

Now I’ve read my share of books, articles and posts from a diverse group of authors on this subject. I’ve immersed myself in academic materials and skimmed through excerpts in business journals. I’ve definitely gleaned bits of wisdom and invariably, when reading these materials, find a nugget or two that I can place in my pocket and use to make me a better leader. I enjoy reading stories of successful leaders who have transformed themselves and transformed organizations. But I think I’ve latched on to the two ingredients necessary to develop one’s leadership capabilities. Just as when making a roux, it seems to me that being an effective and ultimately inspiring leader requires just two ingredients to start:

  • Continuous curiosity
  • Appropriate use of one’s social skills

So let’s break these down.

Curiosity

As children we explore, learn and test out new things by touch, by taste, by just ‘doing.’ Successful adults still retain that thirst and desire for new knowledge for ongoing learning and acquisition of new knowledge is necessary for a successful leader who needs to regularly ask “what’s happening in the world beyond my four walls?” “How does A impact Z?” “What do we need to do to spur innovation or growth or sustainability?” “How can I acquire the knowledge that I need to get myself – and my team – there?”

Social Skills

Social skills are those skills that allow us to communicate and interact with others and socialization (which begins when we are infants) is the process by which we learn the norms and expectations for how we socialize with others.  Refining one’s social skills is necessary for business success of course – any time a new employee enters a work group or organization, they must be socialized to the culture. Naturally, managers and team members need to have the ability to interact with others and resolve conflict while managers must tap into their social skills in order to delegate, manage, counsel and coach others, and model and reinforce expected behaviors. Leaders take this one step further however by harnessing the power of their social skills to drive this process for others; adjusting as needed to fit situations and people. But make no mistake about it … a leader must be able to succeed in social interactions.

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Peter Northouse has a definition – “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.”

So is it a tad too simplistic – putting together a complex dish like LEADERSHIP with just two ingredients? Perhaps. But just as with a recipe, we can start with a few basic ingredients as the foundation of a scrumptious dish. Layer in the rest.

And flavor to your taste.