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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Education vs. Training

There are two thankless sub disciplines in HR and I've done both of them: Training and Executive Compensation. You can never satisfy the majority of your stakeholders and some days you don't feel that you satisfied any of them. I don't manage executive comp at Thomas Nelson (the Board does that) so I'm spared that cross to bear. With training I have indecision. On the one hand we need it and I am duty-bound to advocate for it, knowing that if I get a budget I'll have the thankless job of delivering a product that at best will get mixed reviews. It is my most severe instance of, "Lord, how do I pray?" at budget time.

Part of our training regimen is that every three years we train or retrain all supervisors of two or more people. We use various forms of feedback to determine the content. We get requests of those who do the job and feel they need more training, requests of employees who say their supervisor needs certain training, and we observe problems from our seats in HR and see what skill problems cause people problems.

So this month we started delivering supervisory training (not leadership training; that's different) to all supervisors, rank of VP and below, who supervise two or more people. The training is right down the hall from my office and I roam the hallways on breaks to get feedback. Some feedback comes to me via email and drop-ins to the office. The wide variety of opinions from "fabulous" to "total waste of time" make you wonder if these folks were in the same room with the same instructor. It reminds me of some truths about training that everyone should keep in mind.

1. You get out of it what you expect - I've had people who had this same information in NLU hear it again as members of the leadership team and still think its "good stuff." These tend to be people whose supervisors were "thrifty" and disinclined to invest in their training. They approach these sessions like water in the desert and we could probably present to them the recipe for dog food and they'd love it. Conversely, Mr. Starbucks who comes in an hour late and instantly begins checking email roundly pronounces it inferior.

2. Training is Vocation, Not Education - Training topics range from making pivot tables in Excel to the supervisor's roll in tracking hours worked. My friends and colleagues with advanced degrees from prestigious institutions sometimes take training as an insult. After all, what can a training class tell them that Presumptuous U hasn't already imparted? Plainly stated, I've had colleagues and supervisors who were both educated and uneducated. My experience has been that education is no leading indicator of a person's ability to organize, instruct, think creatively or implement strategy. To specifically reference our current supervisory training, if education made for good supervisors we'd all go straight to management right out of college.

3. Come Humble- To be trained requires that you not come into the room knowing it all. There is a vulnerability that is required to accept information from someone else in front of your colleagues. If you're too proud, or too afraid, to ask questions you won't get much out of your time in the seminar.

I know of what I speak. I am currently going through continuing education over the course of several weekends. Except for a couple of hot-shot attorneys I am further in my career and outrank everyone in the room. I'm learning a ton because I (1) expected to learn, (2) took this as an opportunity to pick up new skills and (3) came in with questions rather than answers.

On my way home from the first weekend I made a mental evaluation of the material and found that I knew half or more of the information presented. It was my willingness to suspend where I was in my career and come thirsty to the training that allowed me to absorb the half I didn't know. Approach training in that spirit and you'll seldom be disappointed.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Williamson Medical Center and United Healthcare

Several of you have asked about the latest in Williamson Medical Center's dispute with United Healthcare. For those of you who don't know, UHC dropped WMC from its network effective October 2nd. We have monitored this situation and communicated clearly with UHC regarding our concerns. We also continue to recommend that patients of physicians practicing out of WMC call their doctors and/or WMC administrators and encourage them to come to terms with UHC.

Network contract negotiations are not unusual, even though this type of hardball isn't common. This situation is the collision of two profit-minded monopolies. WMC is the only hospital or surgi center of any size in the Franklin/Cool Springs corridor. UHC is one of only five remaining multi-state health insurance conglomerates in the country. Both think the other needs them more and is waiting for the other guy to blink.

My sources tell me that both sides are still talking. That's good as it would be a loss for both companies and our people if negotiations broke down completely. The root of the conflict is money. WMC is asking for the highest network reimbursement rate of any hospital in the state of Tennessee. It believes UHC will blink because of the significant percentage of its patients that are health care decision makers (CEOs, CFOs, Presidents, etc...) for their companies. UHC believes that it has such a large share of the market that WMC can't operate profitably without their covered insureds (that's you).

We continue to monitor this situation and will let you know more as we know it. Meanwhile, for emergency care WMC is still considered in-network. Regardless, you should never pass up a hospital looking for an in-network hospital in case of emergency. For elective care you need to go elsewhere for now.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Changing Nature of "Off-Hours Conduct" Policies

Most companies of any size (and any sense) have a policy against egregious off-hours and off-property employee conduct. Thomas Nelson is no exception. Unlike policies on specific workplace behaviors, these policies are intentionally vague and are intended to address a wide variety of non-work behaviors that reflect negatively on the employer's reputation. Such policies are rarely used today, but when used their very nature has changed significantly.

Like so many traditional corporate workplace rules, the history of off-hours conduct policies goes back to the U.S. military. Aside from violations of military rules of conduct, for its officers the military used a catch-all rule against "Conduct Unbecoming and Officer" to address off-base conduct that besmirched the integrity of the military in general and its leadership (officers) in particular. Chief among these violations were public moral failings (drunkenness, carousing, etc...) especially while in uniform.

In the corporate setting these rules often translated into the company's judgement on an employee's personal life. In small "company town" communities they were most often applied to employee personal moral conduct, disciplining or terminating employees with the rationale of, "We don't want someone like that in our company." In my own experience it was mostly applied by my bosses toward unmarried women with multiple partners, gay men and lesbians.

While the same vague policy language still exists today its being applied in an entirely different context. Definitions of what is immoral have changed to the point that personal morality is almost never addressed under these policies. At the same time employees' on-line presence brought about by social media (especially Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter) connects the employee and their personal expression with their employer's brand and reputation in a very public way.

In completing profiles on social media sites one common step is to tell where you work. That's a step that occurs in the early stage of joining the site, and is soon forgotten. After that its easy to miss the fact that what you say in public can in some instances reflect badly on your employer. Another complication is the use of personal accounts on social media sites to promote your employer or its products during work hours, and then the use of the same site for personal expression after hours. Now you've joined your personal brand to the employer's brand and here's where the line between personal and professional expression becomes blurred.

As if this wasn't already a recipe for a fun day in an HR conference room with your boss, as the TV commercials say, "Wait, there's more!"

Whose reading what you write? More people than you think. On top of the people whom you know "follow" you are a group of lurkers who sign on to the sight and look up company employees, especially managers, but who never register or officially follow you. This happened to me recently when what I considered to be a personal tweet (I'm not on any company aggregator for Twitter like I am for this blog) came back to my office in the form of an offended employee. One controversial opinion of mine about public option healthcare received comments from Nelson staff and management, both on Twitter and in person, none of whom follow me.

You can make your Facebook private but then you can't effectively use it to promote the company, its brand or its products. You can block people whom you don't want following you on Twitter, but that doesn't address the lurkers who can easily outnumber your followers. If you have a public Facebook account and use Twitter you can accurately assume that nothing you write is private.

I'm not sure of the solution. It seems to me that you either must edit yourself for all on-line content incongruent with the company's brand and reputation, or you should establish separate personal and professional accounts. Otherwise anyone with a social media presence identified with their employer runs the risk of violating off-hours conduct rules. The more wholesome your employer's brand (Hello? Bible company!) the greater the risk.

Its a sticky situation and the new rules of the road are being written almost daily. Today I received a flier for a conference in Chicago on "Social Media and HR" so at least I know we're not the only people facing these new challenges.