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Thursday, December 27, 2007

For Context: Diabetic Basics

In order for the remaining post or two on corporate diabetes issues to make sense, we need to cover some fundamentals to provide context for non-diabetics or those newly diagnosed .

Diabetes is a condition whereby the body fails to process blood sugar properly, resulting either in abnormally high (hyperglycemia) or low (hypoglycemia) blood sugar levels in the body. The World Health Organization categorizes all diabetes into three types: Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational. You might best remember Type 1 as genetically caused and most commonly associated with people who have required insulin since childhood. Gestational diabetes is typically temporary, associated with pregnancies in some women, and generally resolves itself after delivery. For purposes of our discussion we'll be concentrating on Type 2, also commonly known as Adult Onset Diabetes.

Depending upon which health organization's data you believe, there are between 18 -21 million Type 2 Diabetics in the U.S. I am one of those. For years this disease was also referred to as Obesity Diabetes as those with it are typically overweight. More recent studies indicate that the disease itself my cause obesity, so this label is now more rare. Type 2 diabetes is usually diagnosed in adults from early middle age or older, and is defined by a fasting blood sugar >126 mg/dl and two-hour post-meal blood sugar of >200 mg/dl.

In Type 2 diabetics, the receptors in the pancreas that accept and process sugar from the blood stream fail to open or otherwise reject the sugars. Since sugar enters the blood stream during digestion, and most foods contain some amount of sugar, the level of sugar in the blood increases to an unhealthy level. Imagine leaves in a swimming pool when the skimmer stops working; after a time, you don't want to swim there. Its the same principle.

An overabundance of sugar in the blood stream has both immediate and long-term negative impacts on the body. In the short term, high blood sugar causes various symptoms such as headache, blurred vision, loss of cohesion, etc... The real damage, however, is in the longer term. The cardiovascular system, especially the smallest blood vessels, are damaged over time from high levels of blood glucose. The ultimate fate of untreated or uncontrolled diabetes include permanent vision loss from blood vessel damage in the back of the eye, loss of extremities such as feet and legs from poor circulation, heart disease, stroke, and from some combination of these, death. While that all sounds like really morbid, the good news is that this disease is imminently controllable and can even be reversed up to a certain stage.

So how do you control it? Aside from medication, exercise causes the receptors in the pancreas to open and thus process blood glucose. It is also critical to control how much sugar you take in, through limiting sweet foods, breads, pastas, rice, potatoes, or any other type of starchy food. This is a vital point for anyone planning corporate meals or breaks; starches metabolize into sugar when they are digested. Any lunch or break that includes all breads, fruits, cereals, pasta salads, etc... leaves nothing we can eat that doesn't raise blood sugar.

So the good news is that the three-pronged approach of medication, diet, and exercise slows or stops the progression of the disease. Starting next time we'll examine how work requirements such as schedules (and people who won't respect yours), meeting planning, corporate meal planning, and work-life balance can help or totally inhibit controlling your glucose.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I Got Silly Stringed in Texas!

I'm in Plano at our Live Events offices for a couple of days and was preparing for my first interview when one of our sales executives stuck her head in the door. "If you hear thunder, we're about to reach 100,000 over in Revolve." Interested, I followed her to the Revolve sales area and learned that:

  1. as of that minute they had reserved 99,998 slots for girls and young women at our Revolve arena events so far this year, and
  2. one of our GRCs was on the phone finalizing the booking for two more people.

All around me were giddy young sales women shaking cans of something I couldn't make out, and jumping up and down giggling. The one remaining seated salesperson looked up and yelled that she had the booking, and silly string flew everywhere and on everyone. Someone pulled the string on a pinata hung from the ceiling, and "100 Grand" chocolate bars rained down through the group. Then, the team leader assembled everyone for a prayer of thanksgiving for the 100,000 young and impressionable lives that have been or will be touched this year. Through the last conference 5,565 first time professions of faith have been made at Revolve with four more conferences to go. When you think about the fact that most of these young women will go on to have families and raise up children in their new found faith, the multiplier of that impact on our world is impressive.

Thirty minutes later I had an interview with a mid-career professional whose once-Christian company has new private equity owners who are intentionally scrubbing all aspects of the old Christian culture from their new holding. Morale is down, the workforce is disengaging, and (no surprise) sales are down resulting in waves of staff reductions. For the new owners, open Christianity is an expensive distraction and doesn't align with their own personal values.

So while we complain about the daily imperative at Thomas Nelson and other Christian businesses to balance faith and commerce, the fact that we take the time to struggle at all makes our workplace special. Today in Plano I saw the two extremes of Christianity in the workplace within 30 minutes time, and an affirmation that finding and keeping that balance is worth the struggle.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

New Series - Diabetes and the Corporate Life

In August 2001, just four months after joining Thomas Nelson, I was diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic. Outside of a few people in the company I tried for the longest time to keep that fact quiet. After all, personal health information isn't anyone else's business, there's a great lack of understanding about this condition and nobody wants to be the guy who can't chin the bar. I was fortunate to have an endocrinologist and dietitian at Vanderbilt, and a great Assistant with diabetes in her family who could help me manage through the day. Why not keep it quiet outside my staff and just those people who need to know?

I know of others in the company who have my same condition. From time to time people struggling with diabetes who heard about my situation have come to see me after being diagnosed. Unfortunately, there is scientific disagreement between health care organizations and professionals as to what is acceptable blood sugar and how tightly to control it. I've heard stories of people whose diabetes is being managed by GP's and Nurse Practitioners who haven't kept up with the latest science, and even one EMT who was a friend of the family. One of the big problems with diabetes care in the workplace is that some diabetics get really bad, outdated advice that makes managing their condition harder than it should be.

Recently two events happened that lead me to believe that information on managing this condition in the workplace was needed. First, we distributed ice cream to everyone in our Nashville facilities one afternoon "just because" and my staff noted the number of people who turned it down stating they were diabetic. Also, I attended three recent required management events of 3-5 days where the available food choices and time demands of the agenda resulted in high blood sugar and complications in managing my condition. During the most recent event, we worked with the event planners in advance and they made a well-intended and admirable effort that still feel short because of mistakes made by the venue's food service team.
One afternoon in the office, as Dawn was telling me about the ice cream distribution, I felt instant and profound conviction about my lack of leadership on this issue. If my problems occurred in spite of the quality of my care and my administrative support, what do other diabetics experience at work?

So for the next two or three postings let's discuss what complications happen when diabetes and the work life collide, and how people with this condition and their supervisors and co-workers can help in making the corporate life a little more livable for those struggling with an uncooperative pancrease.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Managing Through the Micromanaging Myth

It is the ultimate derogatory comment among the 20-somethings in your workforce. It has replaced race and gender slurs as the lowest form of workplace insult. To be labeled a micro-manager carries with it a level of disdain somewhere just above sexual harasser. It is also largely a myth and an excuse wielded by some on your staff who lack the experience to know mentoring from meddling. That so many middle managers (and higher) buy into this corporate urban myth is disappointing; but it will one day go the way of all other ill-conceived management fads. Let me go out on a limb here and call out that labelling your supervisor as a micro-manager is a handy tool to escape supervision and accountability and that buying into it as a supervisor cheats your new hires out of needed coaching.

The theory of the micro-manager is simple; close supervision is equal to a lack of confidence in the person you supervise and is therefore poor leadership. Moreover, if you've selected someone for your team in whom you can't place complete trust from the minute they walk in the door you must not know how to recruit and must be hiring substandard talent. And, the smear goes further to tarnish members of your team, for only second-rate talent would work for a micro-manager. If the micro-management crosses demographic lines, it has been used as an indication of demographic bias ("you don't trust me because I'm a...").

And what exactly is micro-management?

While not clearly defined (more in eyes of the beholder), it is generally understood as direction from a supervisor that is more detailed than the general goals and expectations of the work assigned. Giving work instructions that are detailed in nature, holding regular follow-up sessions, asking pointed questions as to the "how" rather than the more general "how's it going?" are all hallmarks of the micro-manager.

There is another, older term for this type of reprehensible behavior: being a good teacher.

By buying into the myth of micro-management we focus completely on the perspective of the young staffer for whom close supervision may pinch. The myth conveniently ignores the perspective from the head of the business unit or department. What "not" being a micro-manager requires of these poor souls is to give an inexperienced person with limited maturity a moderately complex task and then trust them to accomplish it without asking how. Remember also that these poor middle management souls are ultimately responsible for the results of their business unit, so they don't have the luxury of telling their boss that it was the fault of someone below them on their staff. They should simply trust their least experienced and last hired to deliver results that insure the middle manager's future mortgage payments. What a deal!
To be sure, over-supervision of the wrong people kills morale. You can't supervise everyone equally, and certainly after your people are trained and know your expectations you should do yourself a favor and get out of their way. However, your experienced staff are not the ones throwing around the "m" word; its your 20-somethings. What they lack is the experience to see that keeping you out of the "how" of their work reduces your personal investment of time in their training and cheats them out of the benefit of your experience.

So my admonition, gentle supervisor, is simply this; plan, delegate, follow-up on, and teach your last hired. When the m-word rolls off their tongue let it roll off your back. Millennials need a softer, warmer touch, so do it with a smile but do it nonetheless. Think back on the supervisors you had who taught you the most and put that kind of investment in your newbies, even if they don't appreciate it now.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What We're Doing About Training Needs

In our two job satisfaction surveys over the past three years the number one need identified by our workforce was training. A few weeks ago the HR department conducted a survey of exactly what training needs our people felt were most urgent. Here were the responses, in order, and what we're doing about it.

1. Excel
2. Power Point
3. IRMA (our home-grown ERP)
4. Red Prairie (our WMS)
5. Great Plains (our accounting system)
6. Management techniques (most mentioned by people who said their supervisor needed it)
7. Leadership Skills (basically a restatement of 6 above)
8. Word
9. Outlook
10. Hyperion
11. Team Building
12. Presentations (another way to state 9 above)
13. (tied) Conflict resolution, time management/personal organization, communication, cross-department training, and email etiquette.

These responses really break down easily in four broad categories: systems training, leadership training, workplace communications, and fundamental work skills (email, time management, etc...). So what's being done about this? Plenty.

In March Whitney Connell was promoted to Director of Corporate Events and Sales Training, and an Event Planner was hired to work under her to help with the events side of the job. That frees Whitney to devote much of her time to those training issues that most impact the sales force in which she works, and that is primarily systems training. As those programs are developed and delivered, they will then be made available to others outside the sales division.

In concert with Sales' training initiatives, the CEO's office has contracted for a leadership development program that all the ELT has taken (eight days worth!) and will soon be made available to business unit heads and above, probably in December. HR is working with Gary Minor, our NLU instructor, and developing a derivative program that combines the Leadership program and NLU curriculum to deliver to all who supervise 2 or more employees regardless of rank. This will probably happen over the winter.

These efforts are neither easy nor cheap, and by the end of the fiscal year we'll still have some holes. The new budget year will also give us an opportunity to reflect on our needs and be intentional in how we allocate dollars for FY '09. This is a major opportunity for our company, and those of you who have advocated this for so long should know that efforts are being made.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Lessons from a Phenomenal Turnaround

You may not know it, but one of the great turnarounds in American academic history is going on right up the road in Bowling Green, KY at Western Kentucky University. About seven years ago Dr. Gary Ransdell, a WKU alum and academic administrator extraordinaire took over the reigns at a campus whose facilities and maintenance had sunk to a level only surpassed in depth by its staff and faculty morale. This Fall Semester, WKU surpassed the University of Kentucky in undergraduate enrollment and launched a new multi-year plan to become "A Great American University with International Reach". Don't bet against this guy and his team. (By the way, Business and Culture SPU, we've published worse business and leadership books than this guy could write for us!)

How did he do it, and what can we in leadership positions learn from it?

1. Come to stay, and commit. Ransdell stated from his first day on the job that he intended to retire as President of WKU. Others before him used the university as a resume-builder. The critical learning for any leader is that your people match your commitment. If you want theirs, go all in yourself or go somewhere else.

2. Physical facilities matter. The university had crumbled around itself, and the first thing you sell to prospective students, or employees, is their work or learning environment. Physical setting is also a measure of how committed an organization is to the people who labor there, so if what you have around you is disrepair and disorganization, you've just told your people how little you care about the place they live half their lives, and them.

3. Take responsibility for your own destiny. The last administration took paper towels and toilet paper out of the public buildings on the weekends to save money, and stopped doing a whole host of things because of "inadequate state funding". They were victims, not leaders. Ransdell raised $85 million in alumni donations and not only fixed the existing buildings, but built new ones. He didn't whine because he was underfunded; he took responsibility. As leaders, how many times do we not do something because our budget proposal was shot down, rather than getting creative and determined in finding a way to make it happen for the money we do have to spend? Budget-as-victimization is so rampant in business and government, not just academics, that you wonder how we get anything done.

4. Increase compensation, but not for everyone. Ransdell identified "programs of distinction" where the existing faculty had the potential to be world class. These programs got increased faculty compensation, increased scholarships to attract the best students, and sometimes new buildings. How many times has the Good to Great book's "World Class Talent" admonition been used as an entitlement rallying cry by average performers wanting more money (i.e. "if we want world class talent around here we need to start paying world class salaries")? In any business, but especially in a turnaround situation, limited resources have to be allocated to those who return the greatest value. It is a martial-arts type focusing of strength to produce the greatest results. Its also the greatest example of the Good to Great principles: put your resources where you can be best in the world, not where you can go from average to above average.

5. Articulate a bold vision and enroll others in it. The fund raising campaigns of Ransdell's predecessors and the College Heights Foundation (the university's fund raising or "development" arm) had previously been, "We don't get enough money from the state and we need help from you alumni who profited from your education here". Exciting and engaging? Hardly! The fund raising emphasis under Ransdell has been, "This can be a great American institution, not just a regional university, and we want you to be a part of the unthinkable: Western Kentucky University, your alma mater, as a world-class institution known all over the world as a place of academic and research excellence". Where his predecessors couldn't keep paper towels in the restrooms and the carpets cleaned, the alumi pledged over $85 million in the first five years and more for the new multi-year plan revealed earlier this month.

What's our critical learning from the WKU example? Simple: when you come to stay, take a stand for an audacious and unthinkable goal, enroll a few evangelists in the unthinkable (the twelve disciples, for example), focus your early limited resources simultaneously on maintenance and on those who can get you part of the way there quickly (those tangible improvements and quick wins bring you more enrollees in your vision) then you can transform anything into anything else. In my lifetime a Nobel nominee in science will come from what was a crumbling local college in Kentucky because someone with vision spoke a new reality into the world. The situation where you are is almost certainly no worse, and is probably better; so what can you do?

Why Public Transportation Matters

We've done a lot of work these past two weeks culminating in the press release yesterday of a new shuttle service serving the Thomas Nelson campus in Nashville. The Donelson Shuttle is a free service provided under a six month grant from the Rail Transportation Authority (RTA) in Nashville and has been in discussions between Nelson HR and the RTA for about three years. The service will connect the fledgling Music City Star rail service and two Metro Transit Authority (MTA) bus lines to the front doors of our three Nashville buildings. So why does an HR department care about such things? How is this related to our departmental mission? Don't we have better things to do? All good questions, and deserving of an answer.

The HR department's interest in public transportation is a strategic move in enhancing employee satisfaction, improving diversity, being a good corporate citizen, and positioning the company in alignment with the values of those young professionals who share our other corporate values.

Satisfaction - Commute time, stress level, compensation, and work-life balance are major themes in determining employment satisfaction. Reducing commute time, turning that time from wasted drive-time into either productive time (laptop time) or personal time (reading, studying for self-improvement, etc...) and having someone else get you there reduces stress. For working parents, especially mothers, non-driving commute time may be the only time they are "off-duty". In combination with a future intiative to expand flex time and alternative work schedules, enhanced public transportation can reduce the commuting expense and increase disposable income of our workforce with little cost to the company. That's a win for everyone.

Diversity - In Nashville, our airport location and this city's underdeveloped public transportation system make it difficult to employ people who don't drive. A 40+ minute bus ride from downtown makes almost any location around the city's core a better alternative. Reducing commute times (such as a 20 minute train ride) and connecting bus lines mid-route as opposed to all the way into the land port and all the way back out, increase the number of people from no-car or one-car households who have access to our facilities. Public transportation connects our company to all neighborhoods, not just those that are local or where people can afford multiple automobiles.

Corporate Citizenship - The unfortunate government-think that guides public transportation in Nashville is that you build a piece of a system, see if its utilized, and use that as justification to build another piece. The reality is that you have to build an entire system to achieve high utilization, but that takes a belief in mass transit that doesn't exist in this very Southern city. Since mass transit is good for the economy and the environment, companies need to support the fledgling routes we have right now to facilitate further funding for a comprehensive system.

Alignment with Professional 20-Something Values - Community and environment are important to this demographic. Public transportation is green, and connecting communities together and with the company helps align us with an emerging workforce that will be needed to feed talent into the company's system.

So there you have it. Taking an interest in how people get to work is a new HR frontier for us, and maybe for Nashville. Companies in larger cities have been giving rail pass and bus pass benefits for quite some time, but usually to offset the high cost of downtown locations, parking ,etc... Our interest is more comprehensive and we hope it will pay off in making us an attractive employer for a diverse and talented group of professionals.

Friday, August 24, 2007

How We Know All Employees Are Legal

I have for some time wondered how long it would take the political demagoguery of the immigration issue to manifest itself as racist behavior in everyday people. The immigration debate in this year's local elections can best be described as putting the modifier "illegal" in front of a host of nouns (immigrant, foreigner, etc...) in order to mask mistrust and disapproval of foreign nationals in public forums. Leadership is communication, and with this type of local leadership we've been bound to get what happened this past week.

We had a caller from outside the company reach one of my young staff members to question her as to how we screened for "illegals". When pressed for specifics, he mentioned one of our Hispanic employees by name and said that he "knew" she was illegal because she was on his list. He claimed to have a list of illegal immigrants working for our company, that he was with "the neighborhood watch" and that he would be "checking back in on us from time to time" to see if we were hiring illegals. By the way, the employee he mentioned was hired under a valid U.S. work permit and is very much legal.

We also had an anonymous suggestion that a different employee was "illegal". That too turned out to be false.

That we received a phone call or a suggestion wouldn't be reason enough for me to write about. What continues to concern me is that our political discourse, particularly the absence of national leadership and the wrong type of local leadership, breeds a climate where we have a new accusation to throw at foreign-born citizens. With the current momentum, the "I" word ("Illegals") will replace the "N" word in the racist lexicon, but with no social sanction to the person who uses it. This will particularly hurt Hispanics in our community and make us all look like we need another lunch counter demonstration to awaken righteous Nashvillians.

Equally concerning is the fact that new regulations from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and new state and local laws place the burden for screening illegal aliens on the shoulder of employers, since the government won't do its job of protecting the borders and investing in economic development in the countries whose people migrate here. This makes accusations against employers potentially damaging from the distraction and cost of immigration audits and investigations.

So, since leadership is communication, allow me to lead on a couple of subjects:

1. Thomas Nelson does not hire illegal immigrants. We do this because its the law and for no other reason. Having worked in Mexico and seen Third World working conditions, I have no problem hiring anyone with enough grit and determination to make it all the way to Nashville. However, that's against the law and we always comply with the law. Everyone who is hired goes through a criminal background check which includes a nation-wide social security number trace. We have eliminated candidates due to this screening and we will continue to do so. We comply with the law in completing Form I-9, which requires one of my staff to physically review and handle the identification papers of every new hire. In cases where we have temporary work permits, we periodically go back through our files (as we're doing this week) and make sure all are current. When they aren't, we go to the employee and request updated permits as a condition of continued employment.

How do we know this works? Remember, we submit FICA payments for each employee every two weeks. If any company submits FICA to the government under a phony SS#, it gets a "no-match letter" at year's end from the Social Security Administration (SSA). That company then, under new regulations from the Department of Homeland Security, has 90 days to resolve the issue or remove the employee. We have not received a no-match letter since implementing the nation-wide social security trace five years ago. If you're looking for an employer with loose practices to criticize for hiring illegals, go look somewhere else.

2. Thomas Nelson values people of all nationalities who want to work here. This HR department is the point at which all candidates start. We are a diverse group of professionals and we don't care about your age, race, religion, national origin, private life, disability status, shoe size, hair color, weight, politics, or favorite type of music. If you have the skill and the passion for what we do, all else is secondary. The only exceptions are (a) that you be eligible to work in the United States (because that's the law), and (b) that you not be an Alabama football fan, although we have a re-education program that will have you employable to wearing orange on Football Fridays in no time.

In my church we believe that there are four sins that cry to heaven; that are so egregious that they offend and diminish the dignity of the human person made in the image of God. Two of them are injustice to wage earners and injustice to foreigners. Since most first-generation foreign workers are in lower-wage jobs, what I saw this week does both, and as Christians we can do better than that.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

We Interrupt The Business Life for Real Life

At 2:15 a.m. on Saturday the phone rang, and it was my Dad telling me that my Grandfather was gravely ill in the Critical Care unit of the Regional Medical Center in Madisonville, KY. Having just celebrated his 90th birthday with us two weeks before, Ed Thomason had suffered a series of mini-strokes from which he recovered within 30 minutes to 3 hours each time; but had this time suffered a significant stroke from which the doctors did not expect him to recover. His nurse called my dad since he lived two hours away, and he gave me a heads-up that the situation was grave. At 4:45 a.m. the phone rang again; Dad was in Madisonville by that time and was calling in the family. Luther Edward Thomason departed this world at 8:15 a.m. with all of his descendants who could be reached holding hands around his bedside. This included his wife Louise, 88, to whom he had been married for 73 years and their only son, my dad, who turned 70 earlier this year.

Such ended the earthly life not of one of our generations great thinkers or passionate missionaries, but one of the truly down-to-earth great guys who ever drew breath. Cars loved him, fish feared him, and I never met anyone who found him hard to talk to. He was the second-oldest and longest-enrolled member of the First Baptist Church of Dawson Springs. His death is made harder by the fact that it is the first in our family in 24 years, since the passing of his mother Jessie while I was in graduate school.

Born at home in Caldwell County, KY in July of 1917, Ed Thomason had a 10th grade education and, except for working in an aircraft factory during WWII, never roamed far from his home town. He saved the money he made at the aircraft factory in St. Louis and bought the Standard Oil station in Dawson Springs where he'd pumped gas as a kid. He later added an auto parts store, then the Texaco Station, and in retirement had a small car wash until his health would no longer allow it.

Although a Thomason by name, that branch of our family was heavily inter-married with the Ausenbaughs and picked up a healthy dose of German hard-nosed determination. Not only did he work his way up to owning his own businesses, but I remember being 10 or 11 and watching Ed study for and get his GED in his late 50's. He balanced that inherited grit with an easy smile and a disposition that put you instantly at ease. He was one of the nicest and most genuine guys I ever knew.

He retired modestly but comfortably in 1973 living in the same house in which he and his wife, the former Louise Clark, had always lived and in which they raised their son. His entrepreneurship inspired my Dad to go into business for himself, and the opening of a new drug store in 1985 (pictured in black & white below) and our gathering for Father's Day this year (pictured in color below) show four surviving generations of our family 22 years apart. That's Ed in the sweater vest and jacket in '85 and seated at center right in '07; our "baby" Rachel is in my arms in '85 and at my side in '07. That's my Dad trading a Pharmacist's uniform for a barbecue apron.

We will lay Ed to rest on Monday morning in Rosedale Cemetery in Dawson Springs. I'll be out of the office at least Monday, and possibly Tuesday depending upon how quickly I recover from being up all night a couple of nights in a row, and depending upon how my grandmother and dad are dealing with this loss given their respective ages. Late Monday after the funeral Dad and I, like two Chingachgooks from The Last of the Mohicans, plan a private visit to the nearby McNeilly family cemetery where our Ausenbaugh and Creekmur ancestors are buried.

We all have families and every family has a story. Yours does too and I'm not saying mine is any better or more special. But this is part of our story; part of who we are as people. Births and deaths remind us that our work life should be subordinate to our family life and not the other way around. The Business Life has fewer boundaries every year and the temptation or the habit to substitute business for family is a national epidemic. Dad and I are just as or more susceptible to this than most, so for the next couple of days we're going to repent of that, bury Ed, and help Louise cope with what must be inconsolable grief. I'll see you mid-week and we can go back to talking about EBITDA, Requisitions to Hire, and all the other stuff that pays the bills.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Change Your (Work) Mind, Change Your (Work) World

Work was once much simpler than it is now. Your home life happened at home, your work life happened at work, and your social life happened everywhere else. The boundaries were easier to define: work happened at set hours and at a work site, and when you left the workplace you left your work. All of us working in knowledge work occupations know that this has changed dramatically.

I'd be 10 years behind the times if I claimed that this was a new observation. But as we change our company culture and move towards more flexible work arrangements, what is a new observation for me is that the workforce that wants these arrangements is often its own impediment to change. I had to deal with a department this week that turned on one of its own, who was coming back from maternity leave on a flexible schedule to accommodate child care. The sniping about "full-time pay for part-time work" when the person was delivering their work assignments well and on time was troubling. It really pointed out while alternative work arrangements are desirable, achievable, and (I think) inevitable they open up a whole new realm of conflicts between those whose jobs permit it, those whose jobs won't, and those who would complain about anything given the chance.

So, while I don't have a solution, I do have a challenge for each of you. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Can my job be done outside the company facilities without extra expense? If so, where would I do that work if I had my choice?

2. If I can work at home, can I get quiet time to do quality work, or will I have crying babies and talkative neighbors and demanding spouses to deal with? In other words, is my "alternative" work place any better than my current work space?

3. If a co-worker can work from home, but I can't, will I mind? Will I be reasonable and charitable when I need something from someone that I have to IM or email or call rather than roll my chair back and ask?

4. If my co-worker works from home half days and accomplishes their work from 8 p.m. to midnight, rather than 12 - 4 p.m., is this going to bother me?

5. If someone works for me and they're not working right outside my office, is my first instinct going to be that they're not working?

For alternative work schedules to become a reality we're all going to have step back and ask ourselves how we work with one another as cohesive teams and respected colleagues when we're not all in the same space at the same time. Think about these issues, and I welcome your comments. Remember, change your mind and change our world.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How Maternity Leave Works

Although several young women each year take a leave of absence for the birth of a child, the actual mechanics of "maternity leave" are probably not well understood. A couple of times each year someone, usually in leadership, complains that we're not sufficiently "family friendly" in our policies. It may be a good time to review the issues and policies surrounding these types of leaves of absence and point out what benefits are and aren't available to women seeking maternity leaves.

Although maternity leave is a common phrase, there actually is no such thing as a separate or distinct leave of absence for the birth of a child. These disappeared after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which in all good intention was enacted to provide better job protection to expectant and new mothers. The law made it illegal to treat pregnant workers differently than any other worker medically unable to work. The unintended consequence, however, was that companies' only safe harbor from charges of discrimination was to eliminate all specific pregnancy-related leaves and roll them all into a comprehensive Short Term Disability policy. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (commonly referred to as FMLA) further defined and expanded federal protection for all type of personal medical leaves. Within the context of these two laws, here's how maternity leave now works.

FMLA requires that an employee submit a medical certification, in a format proscribed by the law on a form provided by the government (which we use), indicating that the employee cannot perform their duties due to medical circumstances. Thus certified, the employee has a right to take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave and must be returned to their original or comparable position. If the medical certification is for less than 12 weeks, then the employee must return to work or re-certify at the end of the original certification. While on FMLA, the employer may take some or all of the employee's paid time off to cover those absences. This avoids the potential for an employee having 12 weeks protected leave, and then taking all their vacation time off as well. Those employees on FMLA, who have exhausted their paid time off, are eligible for the company's Short Term Disability benefit, which is two weeks of 100% salary continuation for every year of completed service (a generous benefit compared to most other companies of one week per year and 60% salary continuation).

Okay, all that's complicated, but here's where it all comes together.

If you are pregnant and need to take a leave of absence, you get the standard FMLA certification form from HR and take it to your doctor. Your doctor will know what do to, and will complete that form and return it to us either directly or through you. When your delivery date nears and its time to go on leave, there is a five day elimination period before disability benefits begin. For those five days you are charged PTO. After that, any available PTO time in excess of 40 hours is taken at the start of the leave. We require all new mothers to keep a balance of 40 hours, even if that means taking some maternity leave unpaid, in order to protect your attendance for absences due to sick infants.

After your PTO is drawn down to a balance of 40 hours, your short term disability benefits begin. Those will last as long as your service determines. The typical medical certification from most OB/GYNs for typical childbirth is 4-6 weeks for a vaginal delivery and 6-8 for cesarean section. Since everyone starts with three weeks PTO, and you can use two of those weeks for maternity, anyone with three years of service or more will have enough PTO and disability benefit to take a full eight week c-section maternity leave without losing a penny of salary. Our recent change in PTO policy allows you to carry over up to 40 hours each year and further makes it possible to take your entire maternity leave without losing salary.

FMLA will allow, with your doctor's certification, up to 12 weeks, and Tennessee law allows another 4 for a total of 16 weeks, but these additional weeks would be unpaid unless you have enough years of service to cover them.

So, with this type of 100% paid benefit, why the annual calls or more benefits? Well, they usually come from these situations. Low-service employees with less than three years service and/or with complications have to take more of their leave unpaid due to lack of disability benefits. Also, some people use up their available PTO time before their maternity leave, lessening their available paid weeks. Finally, some new mothers want bonding time with their new baby, and disability benefits don't cover that. When you no longer meet the definition of a disability (i.e. unable to work as opposed to not wanting to leave your new child for work), those benefits stop and the leave once again becomes unpaid. The choice is then to discontinue the leave or forego the salary continuation and most come back to work.

So hopefully now you have the information you need to plan your leave to your family's greatest benefit. If you're planning on starting or expanding your family this year, save your vacation time, watch your service date (you get two weeks pay for every completed year of service) and stay at work prior to delivery as long as is medically safe (as determined by your doctor) so that the majority of your paid time is available to you post-delivery.

As always, please let us know in HR if you have any questions or if we can help you in any way.


Friday, June 29, 2007

Speak Well of Former Employees

While its true that not all turnover is a bad thing, and some people really shouldn't continue with the company, it lowers our corporate discourse to speak ill of the (vocationally) departed. Its an easy out; blame someone who had more than their fair share of human or career flaws and who is no longer here to take up for themselves. It's also unfair and can come to no good end. If the criticism is too harsh you may cross the legal threshold into disparagement. This is actionable on the part of the former employee. If the criticism is personal and distributed in writing (remember, email lives forever!) it can cross the threshold into slander.

If it isn't that bad, its just cheap and should be beneath us.

Remember, this industry and our company have a long history of recycling people, and today's whipping post may be next year's author, or customer, or boss. It has happened before...

As with most business situations, the morally correct course is also the smart business move; don't say anything about someone after they're gone that you wouldn't want said about you if you were the one to leave. Don't put anything in writing that you can't defend with facts. The Japanese for whom I once worked used to say, "Fix the problem, not the blame". Similarly, if something is wrong lets fix it and resist the temptation to blame it on anybody, much less those who aren't here to respond.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

New Initiatives

Its a busy summer in HR, as we're working on several corporate initiatives that I personally find exciting. While its adding to our workload, these are programs that have been approved but have "gone dark" during a period of a couple of months during which we'll be writing and debating policy language. Since some of these have been announced, but not all, I thought it might be helpful to give you a preview of what's coming down the road.

1. Equity Plan - We've completed the distribution of ESOP assets following the end of that plan. For those of you who aren't familiar with the terminology, programs that share some amount of ownership in the company are commonly called equity plans. We have Board approval for a plan that will provide most employees with an opportunity to build and share equity, although its not an ESOP plan (remember, we're privately held now). Anticipate an announcement in August and informational meetings in the August/September time frame.

2. Wellness Program - We have approval for a corporate wellness program that reimburses Weight Watchers and other wellness programs and provides deeper discounts for YMCA membership. There are program requirements such as regular attendance in Weight Watchers meetings and/or regular workouts at the Y, and incentives to seeking annual physical exams and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Similarly, look for an August rollout for this program.

3. Focus Groups - Jack Leichty is nearing completion of a comprehensive set of focus groups to get your opinions and additional information behind the scores on our winter all-employee survey. We plan to report to the Executive Leadership Team in July and put together an action plan to continue our work to improve the work experience at Thomas Nelson. Remember, this is an on-going, incremental improvement process that never ends. The goal is annual continuous improvement.

4. Marketing Task Force - In the world post-One Company SPU consolidation, this task force is made up of Publishers, Marketing VPs, Sales VPs, HR, and Marketing staff. The goals of this group are to articulate and reach agreement between Publishing and Sales on the goals & purposes of Marketing, what internal customers need from Marketing, what the Marketing process should be, what jobs/titles/pay ranges should be deployed to execute the Marketing process, and how publicity jobs and titles should be organized in the context of the new Marketing and Publishing consolidation. I'm coordinating this effort, which is being led by Pamela Clements, one of our Publishers who has worked in Marketing and has been a VP of Publicity. Under her leadership this group is making good progress and should make recommendations to senior leadership in late summer or early fall.

There are several other initiatives and priorities going on in HR, but these are the major ones. None of them is a panacea for an ideal workplace, but all are in process to continue to make this a better workplace. Any ideas or suggestions on any of these initiatives are welcome. Feel free to reply to this blog or drop me an email.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

New Faces for Summer

Its been an interesting Spring in HR and promises to be an even more interesting Summer. We started off with an unexpectedly early maternity leave, followed by an expected and amicable resignation, followed by hiring a new staff member, and soon to be followed by a leave of absence before everyone comes back to work full-time in late July or early August. Since there are new faces, and some old faces in new places, here's an update on who's doing what in HR for the summer.

First the easy stuff: Jack Leichty is still covering general HR issues as my #2 as well as leaves of absence, HR support for Service and Operations, the News Flash, and of course those all-important and ever-popular Lost and Found emails.


Kristie Cantrell still carries the majority of our recruiting load, handling all postings and recruiting for all parts of the company except Service and Operations and Live Events:


From here down the fun starts. Amy Lindsey, who is in charge of payroll, compensation, and benefits is on maternity leave and is anticipated to return Monday, July 23rd. She and new son Eliot, "Little E", are doing fine.


In her absence payroll and most administrative duties related to benefits are being covered very ably by Elaine Williams, who joined us last July to back-fill Amy's promotion. Olivia is backing up Elaine in Amy's place and our payroll accuracy hasn't slipped an inch under Elaine's stewardship.


Benefits questions from employees, and maintenance of our benefits eligibility records is temporarily falling to Olivia Golchi, who will leave us Friday, July 20th to attend graduate school. While most "short-timers" mentally check out early, Olivia has stepped up to more responsibility and will be sorely missed.


With Olivia's planned departure we needed to find a quality individual to fill her usual position. After a long search Lexi Winslow started work for us this past Monday having just finished her business degree at UT Knoxville. Even though she's fresh out of school, her Mom is a career HR professional so Lexi, like my own daughter, was born into this business and comes in with a solid understanding of our profession.


To round out our Summer of Musical Chairs, Dawn Stanton (my Assistant and department Den Mother) will take a leave of absence starting around June 7th and lasting until approximately July 23rd. We know from her maternity leave three years ago that the department runs better when I'm gone rather than when Dawn's out, so this will be quite a hole to fill for 4-6 weeks.


While she's out on leave her chair will be covered by Angela Thurmond, who temped with us recently working on the Live Events compensation project. We were impressed and asked her to fill in for Dawn while she's out of commission.


So it's going to be a summer where three of our six staff positions will be filled by one temporary, one new hire, and one staff member playing out of position. However, these are all quality individuals who have my confidence. We should be back to full strength by July 23rd, so I'm delaying most of my vacation time until after the first of August. If you need anything from our department and don't get it, please contact me directly and we'll take care of you as we always do. Meanwhile, if you get a chance, drop by and introduce yourself and welcome Lexi to Thomas Nelson.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Bad Logic and Equal Pay

I am absolutely in favor of equal pay for equal work. I am also aghast at what passes for scientific study and logic when groups and publications report on this topic. I've been considering a blog post on the subject for some time, but today received a link to a post that covers the subject thoroughly. I can't say this any better and so offer up to you the following:


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sam Walton's 10 Rules

I am an unashamed fan of the late Sam Walton. Having worked in his organization and having met him on several occasions, I am as enthusiastic about his leadership and business brilliance as I am disappointed in what's happened to his company since his passing. Today someone passed along something I hadn't read in years; Sam's Ten Rules for Business Success. They are old, and timeless. The first person references below are Sam Walton's, not mine, and he uses "associates" and "partners" as interchangeable terms for his employees and vendors. That was his genius; that he felt everyone who worked for him or supplied to him was his equal and an expert from whom he could learn, and his customers were treasured above all.


Rule 1: Commit to your business. Believe in it more than anyone else. I think I overcame every single one of my personal shortcomings by the sheer passion I brought to my work. I don't know if you're born with this kind of passion, or if you can learn it. But I do know you need it. If you love your work, you'll be out there every day trying to do it the best you possibly can, and pretty soon everybody around will catch the passion from you - like a fever.

Rule 2: Share your profits with your associates, and treat them as partners. In turn, they will treat you as a partner, and together you will all perform beyond your wildest expectations. Remain a corporation and retain control if you like, but behave as a servant leader in a partnership. Encourage your associates to hold a stake in the company. Offer discounted stock, and grant them stock for their retirement. It's the single best thing we ever did.

Rule 3: Motivate your partners. Money and ownership alone aren't enough. Constantly, day by day, think of new and more interesting way to motivate and challenge your partners. Set high goals, encourage competition, and then keep score. Make bets with outrageous payoffs. If things get stale, cross-pollinate; have managers switch jobs with one another to stay challenged. Keep everybody guessing as to what your next trick is going to be. Don't become too predictable.

Rule 4: Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners. The more they know, the more they'll understand. The more they understand, the more they'll care. Once they care, there's no stopping them. If you don't trust your associates to know what's going on, they'll know you don't really consider them partners. Information is power, and the gain you get from empowering your associates more than offsets the risk of informing your competitors.

Rule 5: Appreciate everything your associates do for the business. A paycheck and a stock option will buy one kind of loyalty. But all of us like to be told how much somebody appreciates what we do for them. We like to hear it often, and especially when we have done something we're really proud of. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They are absolutely free - and worth a fortune.

Rule 6: Celebrate your success. Find some humor in your failures. Don't take yourself so seriously. Loosen up, and everybody around you will loosen up. Have fun. Show enthusiasm - always. When all else fails, put on a costume and sing a silly song. Then make everybody else sing with you. Don't do a hula on Wall Street. It's been done. (JT - for those of you who don't know, he bet his associates they couldn't reach some sales goal or he'd put on a grass skirt and do the hula on Wall Street. They hit the goal, and he paid off). Think up your own stunt. All of this is more important, and more fun, than you think, and it really fools the competition. "Why should we take those cornballs at Wal-Mart seriously?"

Rule 7: Listen to everyone in your company. And figure out ways to get them talking. The folks on the front lines - the ones who actually talk to the customer - are the only ones who really know what's going on out there. You'd better find out what they know. This really is what total quality is all about. To push responsibility down in your organization and to force good ideas to bubble up within it, you must listen to what your associates are trying to tell you.

Rule 8: Exceed your customers' expectations. If you do, they'll come back over and over. Give them what they want - and a little more. Let them know you appreciate them. Make good on all your mistakes, and don't make excuses - apologize. Stand behind everything you do. The two most important words I ever wrote were on that first Wal-Mart sign: "Satisfaction Guaranteed." They're still up there, and they have made all the difference.

Rule 9: Control your expenses better than your competition. This is where you can always find the competitive advantage. For twenty-five years running - long before Wal-Mart was known as the nation's largest retailer, we ranked number one in our industry for ratio of expenses to sales. You can make a lot of different mistakes and still recover if you run an efficient operation. Or you can be brilliant and still go out of business if you're too inefficient.

Rule 10: Swim upstream. Go the other way. Ignore the conventional wisdom. If everybody is doing it one way, there's a good chance you can find your niche by going in exactly the opposite direction. But be prepared for a lot of folks to wave you down and tell you you're headed the wrong way. I guess in all my years, what I heard more often that anything was: a town of less than 50,000 population cannot support a discount store for very long.


It would be easy to read this and analyze where Thomas Nelson might fall short, but then you'd miss the most valuable point of this post. What kind of career could each of us have if we as individuals mastered all ten of these rules in our own piece of the business?


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Help, Healing, and (Corporate) Forgiveness

Much of the people business is repetitive. Basic human nature doesn't change, and a couple of years into an HR career you start to see the same issues and behaviors over and over again. Every so often, though, you have the opportunity to see a trend or a new variation in the behavior game, and this year has seen the emergence of what I believe to be Internet-based moral failure and addiction. Just to clarify, as workforces go ours is without a doubt the cleanest living of any I've served so don't think we're running a sin den here by any means. However, I've seen a very few go very far afield very quickly and I believe web technology is the accelerant.

I'm old enough to remember a time when a person wanting to view pornography had to drive to a city at least the size of Nashville, and if you lived in a city that size you had to go to the "bad side of town". Now anything you want to see, and a ton of stuff you really don't want to see, is on your desktop. Want to gamble? You don't have to drive to a casino or know who runs the basement poker game in town; just log on and have an infinite variety of sites that will take your credit card. Prescription drugs are not just available from your physician, but are now advertised on television as drug makers successfully send patients to their doctors to ask for certain medications. Many can be bought over the web legally or otherwise. Searching for casual physical intimacy? No need to hang out in bars and clubs; its now on your desktop in the form of dating services, dating lines, chat rooms, and sites that cater to "casual encounters". No, I don't believe the world's going to hell on a sled, but I do believe with some certainty that its never been easier to act on human frailty.

As a result, we see more inappropriate Internet usage, more moral failures that cross from personal lives into the workplace, and more substance abuse to go along with the usual knucklehead behavior that's part of the HR beat. If you've found yourself drifting from your beliefs and indulging your temptations, and you can't seem to find your way back, here's help.

1. Our Employee Assistance Program is staffed with third-party counselors who will match you with resources to help with your problem, whatever it may be. We never get a list of who called and for what, so its completely confidential. That number is 800-538-3543.

2. Middle Tennessee Alcoholics Anonymous - 615-831-1050. Those of you outside Tennessee can find a local chapter easily by typing Alcoholics Anonymous and your city into your web browser.

3. Middle Tennessee Narcotics Anonymous - 888-476-2482. Help outside of Tennessee can be found as mentioned in 2 above.

4. Gamblers Anonymous - 615-254-6454 is the Nashville number, but chapters are nationwide and can be found with a simple web search.

5. Sexaholics Anonymous - 615-331-6230 for a Nashville chapter, and similarly chapters are nationwide.

6. For any addictive behavior you can contact the Vanderbilt Addiction Center at 615-883-3152.

As for the company's position on these issues, its simple. Step forward and self-identify if you feel like you need help. We have professional resources, we have pastors scattered throughout the workforce, or we can help you find a pastoral resource outside the company. Job protection under federal law is available in most addiction situations if you step forward. I've not seen anyone self-identify who has not been embraced by this company, its leadership, and our people. I've never, in 25 years of HR work, seen anyone terminated who stepped forward and asked for help.

The other side of the stepping forward program, however, is equally simple. If you bring bad behavior into the workplace and you're found out before you self-identify, you're more than likely going to lose your job. The choice seems obvious. If you need help, please ask; if not us, then someone.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

How We Operate in HR

One of the biggest drawbacks to corporate work is that, if you're not careful, you develop narrow corporate vision. You get so busy with projects and deadlines that the things that get short changed are usually visiting with you in all the buildings and workplaces. After all, that doesn't give us an immediate return, and we have all these looming deadlines. First thing you know, you've lost touch on certain issues. One of those, and it came home to me this past week, is that we assume that everyone knows some fundamental rules about how we operate in HR regarding issues that come to our office. After all, we all know these rules, and the people who work in our same building and that we see every day know them, and our friends know them, so doesn't everyone? Well, no, and so I want to say this plainly and explicitly for those of you who may not know.

1. Who Can Come to HR? Anyone! You don't have to go through your supervisor, you don't have to get permission, you don't have to be of a certain rank in the company. HR is for everyone. People come to vent about their supervisor, supervisors come to vent about their people, and we have very sensitive personal issues that come up from time to time from people of all ranks. Our doors are open...

2. What Can be Discussed in HR? Anything! If its on your mind and it bothers you, that's one of the main reasons why we're here. We may not always agree with you, or maybe we will. Regardless, come get it off your chest. Maybe we can help. We also act as a clearinghouse for resources such as retirement planning with Merrill Lynch, the Employee Assistance Program for personal issues, medical resources for benefits problems, etc... People trust us every week with a variety of issues.

3. Will What I Say to HR Stay Confidential? That depends on the subject matter. If we hear a serious violation of company policy, or any violation of any laws, we're obliged to be agents of the company and act on that information. If, however, what you tell us falls short of policy or legal violations, what you say in HR stays there unless or until you give us permission to act on that information. We're kinda like Vegas that way... If you say you're boss touched you inappropriately, for example, you don't get to say, "but don't tell anyone". If you say, on the other hand, "I think my boss is a jerk" that stays with us.

4. Can I Complain About Friends of the HR Department? No workplace friendship outweighs our obligations to the company and to the workforce. Having been here almost six years now, certainly I've made some good friends. I'm also harder on them than I am those whom I just consider to be co-workers. If you're having a problem with someone who is close to any of the HR staff, me included, rest assured on two things: they won't hear your complaints if you want it kept confidential (see 3 above), and if you do want something addressed we'll be more frank and forceful with our friends than with anybody else.

5. Can I Complain About a Company Leader? Aren't They all Protected? Don't They all Stick Together? I work for Mike Hyatt. I can tell you emphatically that making money and being financially successful is too low a performance threshold for Mike. He wants us to succeed, but insists that we do it the right way. "Winning ugly" at the expense of people and/or in a way that contradicts our corporate values is not acceptable. As such, nobody is above the law.

So there you have it. These are things that we live by and have for years. None of this is new information to the HR staff and those with whom we interact daily. Will you hear differently at the water cooler? Probably, but not often. Not everyone with whom we come in contact likes their outcomes, and so we get our fair share of criticism to be sure. But also be sure that we strive always to be a group of dedicated professionals whose mission it is to recruit, retain, and provide a positive work experience for the greatest possible percentage of our workforce. When we fall short, I want to hear about it. But when we fall short it will never, and I mean never, be because we can't keep a secret, because we have buddies, because we cover for the powerful, or because we don't have everyone's (both yours and the company's) best interest at heart.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Ouch! I've Been Tagged

If you read Mike Hyatt's blog you'll know that I've been tagged. It now falls to me to reveal 5 Things You Don't Know About Me and invite five others to do the same. Here goes....

1. I was raised on a working cattle farm - It gave me an appreciation of nature, animals and hard work. My dad is a pharmacist who worked in town, so I grew up around farm hands and the "pin hookers" who bought and sold at weekly cattle auctions. I emerged from that experience as a workaholic (there's always something to do on a farm) with a really nasty mouth. Both of those have mellowed with age. Multiple hip surgeries forced me off both the farm and the football field.

2. My Hobbies are flower gardening and guitars - In a job where I deal with people almost constantly, my down time is generally solitary or with just immediate family. You can't tell that I like flowers by looking at our home right now; we moved last Christmas to Nashville and spent this past summer just trying to grow grass on hard clay. The fall seeding seems to have taken, however, and I have high hopes for the spring. I play a McKnight custom-built OM acoustic that I purchased at Artisan Guitars in Franklin about a year ago. I take lessons from a great young guitarist and instructor Danny Combs; during the winter its the highlight of my week.

3. I have a Master's Degree in Geography (of all the strange things!)- Actually, I specialized in regional economics for locational studies. My interests as a student were where to put the factory, or convenience store, etc.... based upon the cost of land, labor, utilities, construction, etc... in any given location. That interest in locational differences in labor costs eventually spun into a specialization in compensation studies that eventually led me into HR. I am still, however, and will always be a Texas Aggie.

4. I am the husband of a breast cancer survivor - Although you might think that's more about my wife Vonnie than about me, living with a loved one facing a serious illness shaped my life as a husband and father (of a daughter). She's 14 years cancer-free and blessed with good health. Still, once you've faced the possibility of losing the one you love, whatever the two of you were fighting about at the time becomes supremely trivial. That perspective helps keep me from getting overly excited about workplace problems as well.

5. My best buddy in the whole world is: Benson (our 9 year old Cocker Spaniel who follows me everywhere)

I am now tagging Joel Miller, Bob Cooper, Brian Hampton, Luke Gideon, and Dax Edwards.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Compensation III and IV: Building and Moving Within a Salary Structure

In our first two posts on Compensation we discussed what resources we have and use to price jobs. We also discussed how we calculate base pay. Here we combine the third and fourth of our projected 10 posts on how priced jobs are built into a compensation structure, why a structure is needed, what it does, and how it's administered.

What and Why?
In any mid-sized or larger company you'll have several different job families. These are groupings of jobs more or less defined by similar competencies or purposes to their work. Within Nelson, we have Publishing, Marketing, Sales, HR, Facilities, Production, Distribution, Customer Service, Accounting/Credit/Collections, Tax, Information Systems, and Conferences. Every job that serves in one of these functional areas is part of that job family. Support positions such as Administrative Assistant are more generic core competencies and exist in all of these families. However, they share the same purpose as do the jobs they support, so they are grouped in accordingly. The jobs within a Family are then ranked by pay grade, using the base pay calculations we discussed in an earlier post. The combination of grouping and ranking gives us our first look at the career ladder for each department or division.

Spacing and Movement Up the Structure
Within the job ladder or Family we then establish a reasonable progression between levels. Promotional steps should be available at intervals that allow for moderate and periodic promotions as the individual climbs the learning curve for each job. Sometimes we add steps into the program to insure that an opportunity exists for 8 - 15% promotional increases every 2-4 years. This is vastly preferable to 20 - 40% increases every 5-8 years that occurs in some companies. I say preferable, because a person who waits a long time for a "big win" promotion is a greater risk to leave the company. Also, the job value in the market of one step in the promotional ladder over the other (think Marketing Coordinator up to Marketing Specialist as an example) is generally 8 - 15% and has been for years. Now here's where I get in trouble, as doubtless someone will chime in with an anecdote about someone who left our company for a huge promotional increase. Yes, that happens but remember that we've set our base pay at the 50th percentile of the market. Exactly half of the companies where you apply for your same job duties will pay you more, and approximately half will pay less. Imagine a bell curve, and note that about 20% of those companies will pay substantially more and roughly the same proportion will pay substantially less. Its just that hardly anybody ever leaves a company for less money, and when they do you don't hear from them.

Demotions and Lateral Moves
Another purpose of the structure is to determine what adjustments need to be made when people move in ways other than up through promotion. Sometimes people either don't like their role, fail in their role, or their position is eliminated and they have to find another role. When that happens, we try to keep the employee at their current salary provided that it is within the acceptable market range for their job. We then consider, in calculating future raises, how high the person is paid compared to their peers. Often, slower or suspended increases bring the demoted person back into line within 2-3 years. In some cases the change is too dramatic and we offer the individual an internally fair rate based upon their peers in the new job. Lateral moves are the easiest; no change in pay just to get a change in scenery.

The Salary Structure is moved for cost of living about every 18 - 30 months. We get information from salary survey publishing houses or similar resources each year on how much and how often salary structures are being moved in the market. Those moves tend to be 3 - 3.5%, but can be much more for "hot" jobs. Sometimes the decision to move the entire structure is more art than science; when we reprice our jobs, if the majority of our market targets are above our 50th percentile line then we know intuitively that the 50th percentile has moved.

As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged; even those of you who disagree. I encourage you to post your comments and include your name; but you are also free to post anonymously or to email me directly for private discussion at or send an IM at jthom140 on AIM.