Archive for Business

Warning: Don’t take that HR job!

bar codeI just finished reading an interview in Fortune magazine with Mary Barra, GM’s CEO who is, of course, the first woman to run a global automaker.

Upon her recent appointment we all found out that during her career path at GM (only place she’s ever worked) she spent some time in Human Resources.  Bells rang out across HR land and the crowds rejoiced.

You can read the entire article here, but I wanted to share a few interesting excerpts from this Q&A interview that specifically address her time in HR.


Mary, as head of HR, you reduced rules and policies. As head of global product development, you reduced executive layers and production platforms. As CEO, what do you plan to reduce?

There’s an opportunity to continually reduce complexity. I want to really empower the teams to be innovative. We have great innovation in pockets – the Volt being one example. But I want to make sure that we’re being innovative across the board. My definition of “innovative” is providing value to the customer.

Have you had a turning point in your career?

When I was asked to lead human resources as the company was coming out of the bankruptcy, we were going to work to change the view of the company both inside and outside. Prior to that, my whole career had been primarily in operations and engineering. I learned a lot in that role. I was involved with the senior staff on a lot of strategic issues, and I think that enabled me to transition into global product development.

Did anyone warn you against taking the HR job because it’s the stereotypical female job that a lot of women are advised not to take if they want to get to the top?

Absolutely. I had people from within and outside the company saying, “Hmm.” But when I looked at it, I said, “Hey, there’s a real opportunity here to make sure we start with the right plan in place to really engage our workforce.” So I was committed. Human Resources deserves a lot of respect.

You had no HR background before becoming chief of HR. You had no specific product oversight before heading product development. How do you get up to speed quickly?

I go in, ask a lot of questions, demonstrate the desire to learn, and really understand the key areas of the business. Then I think of it like an onion. You learn the first layer, and then you peel back and you peel back. And over not that long a period of time, you can have a very good grasp of the organization. The other advice I give is: Have the right team. If you need to make changes, make those changes.


Interesting things for me:

  • I like (a lot!) that while CHRO she focused on reducing complexity and eliminating rules and policies that were, no doubt, redundant and unnecessary
  • She considered her role leading the human resources function as a turning point in her career
  • People both inside GM and outside GM warned her against taking the CHRO job

But perhaps more interesting than Mary Barra’s answers/insight was the characterization of HR by reporter Patricia Sellers as “…the stereotypical female job that a lot of women are advised not to take if they want to get to the top.”

It’s highly likely that a lot of Fortune’s readers share this sentiment; I imagine the reporter was phrasing the question as her audience would.  What was affirming however is Mary Barra’s answer – read it again:

“… when I looked at it {HR}, I said, “Hey, there’s a real opportunity here to make sure we start with the right plan in place to really engage our workforce.” So I was committed. Human Resources deserves a lot of respect.

Talk about re-branding the profession and instilling pride in everyone who works in HR.  I sure wish SHRM could still get her in as a keynote speaker at the 2014 Annual Conference in Orlando. That could be some tasty HR kool-aid.




Run, Score and Win: Collaboration in the Workplace

Jean-De-Villiers-scores-a-try-against-Wallabies1There’s a concept of organizational ecology put forth by Franklin Becker and Fritz Steele back in 1995 (Workplace by Design) in which they discussed two different approaches that organizations may take as they work to create synergy and encourage interaction: the “relay race” model vs. the “rugby” model.

Relay Race: Traditional and Sequential

If you imagine a team working on a project the group that employs the relay race model operates by having each function complete its work and then pass it on to the next function.  As an illustration a team may be chartered and roles assigned but the process lumbers along as, for example, marketing conducts research, sends the results to the product design group, which then, only when finished, passes the results along to the engineering group which, when done, passes the information back to marketing. And on and on and on.

Rugby: Speed and Flexibility

In the rugby model however all players take the field at the same time and for the duration of the game.  There is constant interaction as the team moves toward its goal and, as is the case in a rugby match, different players take the lead or employ a stronger approach at various stages throughout the game.  The difference from the relay race approach is striking; in the rugby model the entire team is in the game for the whole time.  All players participate in decisions and understand the status of the match at all times. Constant communication is crucial and not in a “let’s plan an update meeting” type of way but rather in a manner that is ongoing, spontaneous and ever evolving as the dynamics of play change.

The application of rugby to business and HR is one I’ve discussed before; there are components of the game and skill sets needed by the players that have interesting parallels to the workplace.  Skilled rugby players must be constantly aware of shifting conditions; they must have the ability to recognize, interpret and respond to the game all while anticipating the moves that will come further on in the match. Sounds like what we expect from our employees and leaders.

That’s but one of the many reasons I find the rugby vs. relay race approach to collaboration and collocation so fascinating. With the complexity of today’s business environment we recognize that we need to regularly assess, and possibly re-align, how we collaborate within our organizations.  Our “teams” today are often cross functional and made up of highly specialized knowledge workers and experts as well as being diverse and geographically dispersed.  Many organizations are well on their way to optimizing the productivity of such teams whether through the use of technology or understanding the importance of providing opportunities for socialization and connection to enhance cohesion and results.

But there are also departmental or functional teams, sometimes in one geographical location, that need to accomplish goals or innovate effectively through collaboration.  When we dive down into a human resources department, as an example, there are advantages to be found if they adopt the rugby model.  I’ve certainly seen HR Departments running a relay race rather than playing rugby even while working on a shared and critical initiative: Employee Relations conducts research, passes on the results to the Recruiting Group which then adds some components and passes on the information to the Training & Development function which then loops back with Employee Relations to provide more information. And on and on and on.

As Becker & Steele explained, the goal is ʺto bring all the players in the process together as a team at the projectʹs inception.ʺ

I, for one, think there’s a better chance of victory in our organizations when we take that approach.

Or at least we can score a try.


image via

Employee Referrals, Inclusion and … Discrimination?

This post originally appeared at SHRM’s We Know Next

question diceThere’s a heightened focus in the HR and Recruiting sphere on the effective use of employee referrals in order to make effective hires and we see numerous reports informing us that referrals tend to get hired faster, are often a better fit with the organization culture and are less likely to quit their jobs.

It’s hard to argue with the findings and few of us do; as a result a whole batch of nifty HR Technology solutions exist to assist employers as they tap into social referrals for hiring. Employers, however, should not go jumping headlong into any sort of employee referral program without considering some of the “what might happen” scenarios.

From a regulatory standpoint it’s always important to pay attention to the UGESP’s definition of discrimination (41 C.F.R. §60-3.3 A) and if you’re a government contractor you want to consider how referral programs appear to the OFCCP.  Even though in the case ofOFCCP v. VF Jeanswear Limited Partnership (DOL Office of Administrative Law Judges, No. 2011-OFC-00006, August 5, 2013) the ALJ found against the OFCCP it’s interesting to read about this case while paying particular attention to the employer’s use of an employee referral program.

(to read the rest of this post, click here…) 

Chutzpah and Job Seekers (redux)

This post originally ran almost 3 years ago and at the time comments sided with the mentioned job seeker; she was viewed as a good networker and owed nothing (i.e. loyalty) to her current employer. I still think, however, that some business owners and a fair amount of traditional HR practitioners would not be as excited by her actions.  Thoughts?


dog-chutzpah-300x300It’s always fascinating to read about the origins, history and evolution of words.  Deriving from Hebrew, the original definition of chutzpah was pretty straightforward and meant “insolence, audacity and impertinence” and tended to refer to someone who had overstepped the acceptable boundaries of behavior.  But over time, and in Yiddish, chutzpah acquired more positive connotations. The word moved into the common vernacular and is used, oftentimes with admiration, when describing someone who has guts and spunk.  There may still be disapproval at the effrontery of a person’s actions, but deep down, when we say someone has chutzpah, we’re also expressing admiration for the sheer brazenness they display.

Job seekers are often told to demonstrate a bit of boldness in order to differentiate themselves and/or to make those all important networking connections.  “Make yourself stand out,” they’re told.  “Don’t just send your resumes into the black hole of a company’s ATS, find someone who works there and talk to them.” Career coaches tell job seekers to “MAKE your opportunities!”

But, I wonder, are there situations when this fearlessness and nerve, this chutzpah, crosses the line?


A friend of mine was doing a bit of shopping one day on her lunch hour.  As she was checking out at the counter of a small boutique-type store, the clerk was carrying on a pleasant conversation, working efficiently and just generally providing a great service experience.  Suddenly, she said to my friend “you look like you work in HR.” (Which, by the way, she doesn’t.  But naturally I had a chuckle at the concept).

So my friend said “Well, no, I don’t actually.  Why do you ask?”

Clerk: “I hoped you did because I need to find another job.”

Friend: “What kind of job are you looking for?  What’s your background?’

Clerk: “I’ve got an office/administrative background (HR admin no less) and want to find an office job and get out of retail.”

Friend:  “Here’s my card; send me your resume.  I might know of something.”


I’m torn.  And I’m having a hard time figuring out if I should be.

On the one hand, I admire this clerk for seizing an opportunity.  By all accounts she was pleasant, friendly, knowledgeable and provided an exceptional shopping experience.  And I’ve got respect for her boldness and initiative; I would certainly say she displayed some chutzpah.

But I’m torn because I don’t like that she did it while working, on the clock, and while taking care of her current employer’s customer.  What if my friend was the sister of her current store’s owner?  Or a secret shopper?  Then the clerk’s actions probably would have led her straight to the unemployment line.

But is this any different than the college student working as a bartender for 3 years while putting himself through college who strikes up a conversation while serving Mr. Big Shot who has stopped in for a post-work cocktail?   So Mr. Big Shot says to Johnny “you’re a great bartender.  When do you graduate?  What’s your field of study?”  And Johnny says “Marketing and I graduate in 2 months and I’m looking for a job.” Which prompts Mr. Big Shot to say “send me your resume!”  Now Johnny didn’t initiate this conversation… but he had the conversation while on-the-job with his current employer…and the outcome is the same. And Mr. Big Shot did what anyone in need of talent should do; social recruiting in the purest sense of the word (before we decided to use social recruiting to refer to something else entirely).

So I’m a bit conflicted.   Do I applaud the store clerk for her ‘networking’ abilities or do I get annoyed that she crossed the line?  What if she would come to work for me and then ask MY customers if they knew of any jobs?

Oy vey.


“I want you to have chutzpah. Nothing important was ever accomplished without chutzpah. Columbus had chutzpah. The signers of the Declaration of Independence had chutzpah. Don’t ever aim your doubt at yourself. Laugh at yourself, but don’t doubt yourself.” Alan Alda, actor, director, screenwriter

“There’s a fine line between being brave and being stupid.” Tom Seaver, Major League Baseball Pitcher

Picture courtesy of café press