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Friday, December 14, 2012

Why I Chose Life Care Services (and turned my life upside down)

After the Harper Collins purchase of Thomas Nelson took place I needed a job. There is no doubt about that. But what job and where?  I was happy that, as I've said before, the market reacted positively to my resume.  The question, though, was where?  Which opportunity would lead me to where I wanted to go with the back half of my career? 

Another issue was about the environment in which I wanted to work.  I spent 12 years working with some really bright and visionary people reshaping the work culture at TNM.  What we created was something special; values-driven but financially successful.  God-honoring on a good day; do-no-harm on the worst of days.  After shaping that, and then getting to work in it, what do you do for an encore? Also, how do you go back to pure capitalism after doing something that engages your heart.

My first overtures to other Christian organizations did not lead to any meaningful response.  Not sure why that was, but it was.  Simultaneously I was reaching out to secular organizations and had resigned myself to going back into "business". 

Of these opportunities the most disruptive to me personally and to our family started to emerge as a front runner.  Like a long-shot, dark-horse gaining ground in the back stretch, the more LCS people I met the more they reminded me of Nelson people.  The more I learned about their business the more opportunity I saw for myself.  The last straw was when I really learned of the company's solid commitment to its values.

Just as a reminder, the Nelson values we authored during my tenure were these:

Honoring God
Serving Others
Focused and Disciplined
World Class Talent
Collaboration
 
 LCS corporate values, by comparison, are:
  
We set exceptionally high standards for ourselves.
We make a difference in the lives of our seniors.
We serve the customer, first and foremost.
We deal honestly and fairly, with integrity and openness.
We maintain a long-term perspective.
We are diligent and persevering.
We are interconnected and interdependent.
 
 
I took the two lists and laid them side by side and starting drawing lines between them.  Although not overtly Christian in its statement, we Honor God when We make a difference in the lives of our senior residents and when We deal honestly and fairly, with integrity and openness.  We Serve Others when We serve the customer, first and foremost.  We are Focused and Disciplined when We maintain a long-term perspective and when We are diligent and persevering.  We pursue and develop World Class Talent when We set exceptionally high standards for ourselves.  Finally, we Collaborate when We are interconnected and interdependent
 
I know some of my friends in Nashville have been disappointed in me for stopping my job search locally.  I know my family situation is undergoing major changes with my living in Indianapolis.  After the first of the year I will be travelling more than I'll be stationary, which is how I used to make my living but is a major change from the last dozen years. 
 
But I also believe that everything happens for a reason.  I don't think coming to a job in another company, city, climate, and industry while finding these same values is an accident.  Where it goes from here I don't know, but it feels as right as anything I've ever done.  It also points out, for my friends forced to leave TNM and for those considering it, that your values can still guide you to a good employer even outside the missionary context. 
 
I hope this job works out and lasts, and I am taking nothing for granted as I work to play my way onto the team.  But I am approaching this on faith rather than trying to cause something to happen, which is 180 degrees out of character for me.  We'll see how this ends up, one day at a time, with a lamp at my feet.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lost My Fear of Retirement

This week Vonnie and I have been segregating and packing things for the apartment in Indianapolis.  I now know where a lot of what I've made has gone over the years: I believe that we must have about three of everything.  It has felt a lot like what a divorce must be like in trying to decide which pizza cutter stays here and which one goes to Indiana.  Who get the toaster and the blender?  Those mugs aren't going anywhere because they were mine before we married, etc...

At this point I can't help but reflect on what I've learned from three months between jobs.  Among the most enlightening is that I have lost my fear of retirement.

For years I haven't placed much stock in retirement. I can't ever, and I mean ever, see myself rocking on the back porch and doing nothing.  Neither of us have ever seen ourselves sitting in our respective recliners staring at each other for the last several years of our lives.  Because of that I've never put much stock into retirement planning: after all, why plan for something you never intend to do.

What I found during this past three months has been that I am busier than I ever have been.  Family have marveled at how I ever had time to work because my schedule is full.  Here's what I did:

  • I took my work with Soles4Souls as a Board member seriously and helped them find a CEO, a pair of interim CFOs, and reformulate the Board.
  • I worked out.
  • I went to mass.
  • I actually kept lunch appointments with friends.
  • We took a cruise (long overdue)
  • I spent whole days with each of my parents.
  • I went stripped bass fishing with my dad and his wife.
  • I listened and enjoyed conversations instead of getting past them so I could get on with the next thing.
  • I worked on potential small business ventures.
  • I talked business with my dad.
  • I played guitar.
  • I actually read a whole book.
  • I went to the farm in KY and just sat there under the trees and listened to the sound of nature.
What I discovered is that once career is over a mixture of part-time self-employment, volunteer work, church, recreation, social time, family time and outdoor time fills up your days to overflowing.  Retirement is no longer something to fear; I am actually now looking forward to it.

Armed with this new information I head into my job starting Monday in Senior Living.  I am sure I'll get more perspective on this topic once I interact with currently retired people on a daily basis.  I also now feel the need to fund my retirement which is a whole other topic.  I am also starting to talk to Vonnie about where we might want to retire someday, although not any time soon.

As Christians understanding the end of our own lives helps us live better now.  Similarly coming to terms with the eventual end of our careers, and what we'll do after that, helps us work better now. I encourage you, if you are over 40, to start thinking about what you want to do and where you want to do it once your career is over. It can certainly seem like looking through a glass darkly, but it will also help you be intentional and create your future rather than coming to the end of your career with nothing planned and limited options.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Coming out of Transition: The Details

I received confirmation today that I can announce details of my next job.  Beginning Monday November 26th I will start working for Life Care Services, a division of LCS out of Des Moines, IA.  I will assume the position of Regional Director of Human Resources working out of their regional office in Indianapolis.

Life Care Services is in the Senior Living industry and owns and/or operates Continuous Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) in the Midwest and west coast.  I will be responsible for 30 - 35 of these communities, each with its own HR Manager, and also helping to bring new communities on board as we grow.  I will relocate to Indianapolis during the Thanksgiving weekend.

This position involves a lot of travel which is similar to jobs I've done in the past.  My cell number and personal email will remain the same so those of you who have that information can continue to contact me like you always have.  Once I have a company email address I will put that out on Twitter and my Linked in profile.

The very few of my friends and neighbors who knew these details have been quick to comment about this being a "for now" job or a "survival job" or just "until you can get back to Nashville."  While I really appreciate the sentiment, and believe me I love this community, I really need to emphasize how excited I am about this opportunity.

I am leveraging the fact that very few people with my experience are willing to relocate and travel so extensively against the opportunity to learn both health care and senior living.  After twelve years of headwinds in a contracting industry, working in a space that should be strong until I need assisted living is very appealing.

I still intend to maintain my ties to Nashville and to my friends from the Thomas Nelson days.  I hope to see several of you around town from time to time as my schedule and yours permits.  You all continue to be in my thoughts and prayers.  See you down the road.



Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Coming Out of Transition

While I can't release details yet, I will be coming out of transition November 26th working as a Regional Director of Human Resources for a company in Indianapolis.  I signed a contingent offer letter last week and am awaiting the criminal background check and reference checks to be completed and the contingency to be removed from the offer.

I want to thank each and every one of you for your calls and notes of encouragement, your prayers, and your friendship.  I assume that everyone who offered to be a reference for me will follow through with a positive reference, and I know my own clean background, so this should be over for me soon.  Vonnie and I will take a much-delayed 30th anniversary cruise in early November and then come back preparing for what comes next.

This job lead came from a friend whose career I had helped a few years ago.  Almost every good lead I had came from someone I had helped at some point.  This was instructive for me and I pass it along to you; if you want to prepare yourself for transition in the long term, and make friends along the way, help everyone you can.  I don't think its unchristian to believe in good karma and intend to start this next phase of my career the way I ended it; showing everyone I know everything I know and helping everyone I can.

Again, thank you one and all for everything you did to support me during this transition.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Life Insurance While In Transition

One of the most responsible things the family's breadwinner can do is to protect his or her family through life insurance.  Its easy while you work for a company who offers life insurance; it usually is 100% company-paid and automatic when you come on the payroll.  It is also easy when you leave one job and start another as the successor insurance usually becomes effective before the old insurance expires.  But what about when you are in transition, and especially if you are trying to preserve cash?  Here's what I've learned.

When you leave your job for whatever reason you have the opportunity to "port" your life insurance, that is to pay age-rated premiums and convert your group coverage to a personal policy.  You usually have 30 days to do that and your HR or Benefits department can provide you with the paperwork, or you can call the life insurance carrier yourself.  If you die during the 30 day "conversion period" after your termination date then your life claim would be paid as if you were still employed.

What I found problematic at my age and salary level was cost and frequency of payments.  Two times my salary at age 52, and being required to pay the first quarter's premiums up front, was going to be almost $700.  Because of that I began to look for options.

I approached my local insurance agent, and the best I could get was $167/month for ten years of term coverage.  The policy would go into effect when I paid my premiums but there was a catch.  Anytime during the first month the underwriters could decide not to take the coverage, refund my premium, and decide not to pay a claim.

In the interest of time and expense I began to look on-line.  I found an interesting option with Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D) coverage with Mutual of Omaha that would be only $12.50/month for $500,000 in coverage.  This was a really good cost-effective option should I die in some accident.  Then I remembered that we had an executive die on the basketball court of an unknown heart ailment, and realized that my family would be left with no coverage in such a health-related death scenario.  Thus I kept looking.

I finally came across a number of Internet-based insurance brokers offering the same coverage in the $60 - $70/month range.  One of them offered to give me his Tennessee insurance brokers license number and a couple of days to check him out with the Tennessee Insurance Commission.  I purchased a ten-year term policy with the benefit level I needed and immediate coverage for $61.50/month payable monthly by direct draft.

So now I have affordable coverage and the family is protected until I get my next job.  The premiums I would have paid to port my former employer's coverage for three months will pay for this coverage for 10 months, and I don't have all that cash out the door immediately.

The moral of the story is this; it pays to look around, reputable web-based brokers will give you the information necessary to check them out, and you can protect your family and your severance cash at the same time.


Thursday, October 04, 2012

How People Find Jobs Today


Note: This series is written for others who are in career transition, either from the same company I left or elsewhere. Having been fortunate to have transitional benefits, and a great network of HR pros,  these posts are written for the benefit of those who don't have as much time or the good advice available to me.  
__________


Although this information is well-known in HR circles and intuitive to some, for others it may be news. This is especially true if, like me, you haven't been on the job market in years if ever.  I have worked since I was 14 (farm kid) and have been recruited to every job I've ever gotten.  Being on the offensive, actively looking for a job, is a totally new experience at age 52.

If you are similarly uninitiated here are some statistics about how people are finding jobs in this economy.

Job Boards - Only 10 - 15% of job seekers land a job off an Internet job board.  This is disproportionate to the percentage of time people spend looking for jobs, as most spend the majority of their time completing on-line applications.  With the average Monster or Career Builder add getting 1,400 responses it is the longest of long shots that any human will ever look at your application or on-line-submitted resume.  You still should submit one, but to a potential employer where you know someone and have a networking contact.

Recruiters - About 10 - 12% of seekers find jobs through recruiters.  This statistic is a little misleading, however, in that recruiters are far more effective in their work that the numbers show.  The issue is that very few people know a for-profit, independent recruiter who works across many clients.  If you know these folks and can get to them they can be helpful.  Also many of them are Executive Recruiters which means they won't look at you if you aren't making $80 - 100k in base salary.  For those making less you should try to make contact with temporary agencies who also have a recruiting arm.

Other -  About 5% land jobs through word-of-mouth, somebody you worked with knows-about-you-and-gives-you-a-call type of situation.

Networking - 75 - 85% of job seekers find their next job through their network of friends and professional acquaintances.

What's important about these statistics is how it should inform the job seeker in allocating their time.  So many times jobs seekers retreat from public life out of fear, confusion, shame, or a belief that getting 50 on-line apps out a day will create motion.  More accurate is that the job seeker should be out in the community making sure everyone they know knows that they are in transition.  When you find out about an opportunity then you network your way into that organization through a referral (ask the person who told you about it to make a phone call or send an email) and then complete the on-line application. The HR person or manager looking to fill the job then has your resume or application in their system and can readily assess your candidacy.

Remember, get out from behind that PC or laptop and engage the community, especially those you've helped along the way or who have been your advocates in past jobs.  Avoid the black hole of the Internet except when you have a personal connection to a specific company.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Notes from Transition: Permission to Take Time Off

Note: This series is written for others who are in career transition, either from the same company I left or elsewhere. Having been fortunate to have transitional benefits, and a great network of HR pros,  these posts are written for the benefit of those who don't have as much time or the good advice available to me.  
__________

Usually people in transition fall into two categories; those who aren't active enough in their search and those who do nothing else.  I fall into the latter category.  People who don't search enough are usually overwhelmed with the enormity of the task, easily distracted, or feel hopeless.  Rather than look they find other things to do.  For those of us who are focused on the search, the state of being that is transition is unacceptable and must be worked diligently until resolved.  At times that resolve and focus can become so intense that we don't do anything else and that is not a healthy state.

Just as you can't work at any job day and night, weekdays and weekends and stay healthy, you can't work that hard on your transition and stay healthy either. As one advisor of mine put it,

"You are the Sales Manager, the Sales Rep, and the Product all rolled into one.  You have to strategically decide how to sell, go out and do the selling and be the thing sold all at once.  If you ruin the product, there is nothing to sell and all the other effort is wasted."

Knowing intuitively that I would be leaving my last job, I have been working this search intensively since late August. This week I will have my 9th or 10th phone or in-person interview including a fourth interview I just completed last week with a company in Indianapolis.  I have had three near misses: two low-ball verbal offers where we couldn't come to terms and one position that was pulled at the last minute.  My friends and colleagues are awed by how much activity I have generated in such a short period of time through networking.  By three weeks ago, however, I was exhausted and knew changes had to be made.

Since then I have been intentional about planning my time.  I've been interspersing my search time with volunteer work with Soles4Souls during the week.  This breaks up my mental focus and helps me approach each career opportunity with fresh eyes.  I have planned golf or music gigs or some type of family activity for the weekends.  On Saturday and Sunday all you can do is apply on-line anyway, and with the average on-line ad getting 1,400 responses that strategy has dubious payback at best.  You are better off going to the Y, playing golf, or some other activity that brings you into personal contact with people.

The Big Idea here is this: in transition your have one job and that is find your next job, so you need to work it like a job Monday through Friday and take the weekends off.  Keep a routine to the greatest extent  possible; exercise, church, meal times, lunch with friends, etc... and keep yourself physically, spiritually and emotionally balanced.  Think of it as any other big project you have managed in the past and work it carefully and religiously until its completed.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Video Interview

One of the advantages of modern technology is the ability for remote, face-to-face conversations.  In HR I haven't done a telephone screen in over a year, opting instead for Skype interviews.  Now as a candidate I am being interviewed through this technology and the shoe is on the other foot.  There is a technique to looking your best during a video interview, and here are a few tips for those of you may be in or considering a career transition.

The first things I notice as an interviewer are lighting and background.  So often there is something distracting in the background such as a window with open drapes or blinds blinding the camera to where I can't see the interviewee.  Another common mistake is something distracting and unprofessional in the background like dirty laundry in the floor or general clutter.  It makes no sense to put on a jacket and tie and then have an unprofessional presentation behind you.  You can also focus the camera in to where you are just showing your face and upper body, not allowing the viewer to see anything behind you.  If your camera doesn't focus just move it closer or further away until the picture looks right.

Also the lighting on your face is important; if your face is dark you come across as unfriendly, similar to if you are frowning vs. smiling.  Having your face properly lit, and a smile on your face as you speak, gives an entirely different presentation.

Another issue I run into is camera angle.  If like me you have a little more chin than you wish you had then you don't want the camera looking up at you from your desk.  If you use a laptop place it on a stack of books.  If you use a camera mounted on or continued within a monitor, angle the monitor for your best presentation of our face.  For video interviews I use this setup.


Other than the physical setup just remember some of the basics.  Have something to drink nearby in case you get choked; you can't cover the camera like you can cover the phone with your hand in a telephone interview.  Have your questions prepared ahead of time, and relevant documents handy so you can refer to them if need be for specific questions.  

Finally, speak slowly, confidently and with a smile.  After just a minute or two you'll adjust to the face on the screen and start talking to it just like you were there in person.  





Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Encouragement

I told Vonnie about a week into transition that the kind words said and sent to us were almost worth the anxiety of these changes.  I wasn't entirely kidding.

Of course nobody, or at least very few people, want to go into career transition. You would always prefer to make your own exit on your own terms, but that doesn't always happen for you.  When you do find out that your time has come there are waves of emotions that come with that news, from euphoria to terror and almost everything in between.  When the mood turns dark or the night gets scary the kindnesses and encouragements carry you through.

I say this for two reasons. First I want to give a sincere and heartfelt "thank you" to all of you who dropped by the office, sent a card or note, and for so many of you who sent emails.  The "you won't be out there longs" and "you'll do fines" and "you are great at what you dos" are the things that help when you need it most.

Second I want to encourage you to encourage anyone who you know is in transition.  Being on the receiving end of all this love and kindness makes my heart ache for anyone going through this who isn't getting it.

Finally, if you are in transition (and I have heard from some of you) please know that those emotions you are feeling are normal.  There isn't anything wrong with you if you panic in the middle of the night, or in the middle of the day.  I have a better network than most and had a head start.  Still, friends and family still do occasionally have to remind me that its still early and there's nothing wrong just because I don't already have my next job.

Find someone you know who can use it and encourage them.  Help them network.  Invite them to lunch out of the blue and make some calls on their behalf.  It is a kindness you may need yourself some day and you won't know until then how much it means to someone who needs it.

Comments are welcome as always.

Jim


Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Transition: First Installment

A little over two weeks ago I received the news that I wouldn't go forward with the new Harper Collins Christian Publishing Division. As of Wednesday the 19th I'm off the payroll and will receive my lump sum severance on the 9/28 pay date. Although I now have a full-time job, finding another job, that process inevitably leaves me with time on my hands.  The question that immediately comes to mind is how best to spend it.

I spent most of yesterday helping Soles4Souls which is in the midst of a significant leadership transition.  I also spent time reading and preparing for a video interview next Tuesday.  This weekend I'm helping my dad with a recording project.  I very much believe that all things work for good, and that significant change points in your life happen for a reason.  The difference between a negative experience and a blessing is often what you do with the hand you're played.

Part of what I want to do is chronicle my transition.  Being a Human Resources professional of some 30 years I know this territory better than most. During the recession I passed the 1,000 mark in the number of people I've separated from employment during my career.  While that wasn't a happy milestone, and remember that my role is to execute the decisions of others, it does give me considerable experience to bear in my own transition in that I've watched so many others go through theirs.

The nature of mergers is that headcount is reduced.  Others will undoubtedly follow me although I have  zero details or inside information and couldn't disclose what little I know. Being one of the first as the new senior leadership team was named early in the process gives me the opportunity to be out there a little while before others.  Hopefully by showing my process, including successes and failures, I can help those who come after.

Comments are always welcome; otherwise I hope this will help someone and turn my own difficult moments into a blessing for someone else.

Peace and blessing,

Jim

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Down the Road I Go: A Personal Reflection on Leaving

Friends and Colleagues,

Today is my last day in the office; I will depart Thomas Nelson a little later in the month but will office from home for the rest of my tenure.  My departments need to focus on their respective new leadership and figure out how they will work together: that won't happen with me still in the office and available.  If you are in the office today feel free to come by if you like; I'll be finishing up a few odds and ends and should have time for farewells.

As for leaving Thomas Nelson after almost 12 years I am excited, and a little sad, but mostly excited.  To paraphrase Reagan, I didn't leave Thomas Nelson, Thomas Nelson left me as it becomes a Harper Collins brand name.  My role was to develop and uphold the Nelson culture although I was not alone in that duty. My departure at this moment in the integration with Zondervan beckons in the new Harper Collins Christian division and culture.  I came in a change agent and am leaving the same way I came in.

I came to Thomas Nelson in the spring of 2001.  I was recruited because the Company had many problems, among them being extremely high turnover (25% each year), low morale, a palpable sense of unfairness, and concerns over career paths, fair pay and poor benefits.  We fixed all that and for the last eight years less than 5% of our people left each year for other jobs.  Under Mike Hyatt's leadership we ushered in a modern era embracing social media and a general modernization of our attitudes. Gone was the bunker mentality of "The world is no friend of Grace" and we actively engaged the market and the culture with authenticity.  We then entered the dark years of the recession and had sound leadership in Mark and Stuart who saw us through financial peril.  Last year was our best year ever.

All that is amazing as I look back on it, but it is not the most important evolution to me.  That one is my own.  I came here so long ago on a one year contract to fix the HR department, take a check, and ride off into the sunset. I came, a Catholic boy from the auto industry, with a stiff back and a corporate attitude completely focused on the business.  What I found were the most amazing people with whom I've ever had the pleasure of working.  My staying here these many years does not just reflect the passing of time, but my own personal and professional evolution from a change agent to a steward.  Upon leaving I am excited, and I am a little sad, but most of all I am grateful.

I came here to change Thomas Nelson and, along with the hard work of many others, we did. But it also changed me and for that you will all have a fond place in my heart always.

I'm not sure where the road takes me yet but there are many exciting possibilities.   Just seven days since getting the news that I wouldn't be part of the new company the market has warmly welcomed my resume.  I hope to stay in Nashville but some interesting possibilities have presented themselves elsewhere.  Bookmark this blog and I'll keep you posted on where I wind up and why. If you want to keep in touch send your contact information to me at:

jimthomason@bellsouth.net

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't reserve my highest gratitude to Sam Moore, who built The House we've lived in all these years and who took a chance on me in 2001.  Many will be in charge but there will only be one "Chief".

Peace and Blessing to you and your families.

Jim


Friday, June 15, 2012

More Reason NOT to Have a Social Media Policy

I've written about this before in various posts, and as time goes by I am more convinced than ever.  Your company or organization should not have a Social Media policy. 

Now this isn't a popular idea.  Two or three seminar companies a week send me an invitation to a seminar on how to write such a policy.  Law firms have now gotten into the act with seminars and labor law letters giving you guidance on how to make your policy better.  If you are in HR your exec team and/or your General Counsel may be asking you what you are doing about your Social Media policy, begging the question as to if one should exist in the first place.

So now that a few months have passed and more and more organizations have gotten on the policy bandwagon, the NLRB just made almost all of almost everybody's policy illegal. A recent report covered in the SHRM newsletter undercut even the most seemingly reasonable provisions because they had to the potential to violate employees' right of free association and protected union organizing. 

So how did this happen?  How could so many smart people be so wrong on this issue.  Simple: our nations labor laws are industrial-era and outdated, and social media policies are written in the context of modern technology.  They are also written by a new generation of lawyers and HR staffers who don't understand how the government views employee rights and employment issues.

If you read the report you'll see that the overall theme in the NLRB's objections is that the written restrictions on social media speech are typically overreaching and encroach on free speech. This affirms what I've been saying for the last few years: social media is simply another communications channel.  It may be a game-changer channel, but it is still simply a new type of channel. 

That is important because as an HR practitioner you already have a tool in effect at your company which administers your company policies on how employees communicate.  It is your Employee Handbook.  Handbook templates and manuals are written, by and large, by companies and consultants who understand how the government thinks.  They are last-gen and old tech so their rules and restrictions are legal in the government's eyes. This is also why they are typically so totally boring to read.  But they don't overreach the way social media policies do, and as such they are your best tool in dealing with employee behavior through social media.

Your Handbook should have policies about employee handling of confidential information.It should also have policies about gossip, wasting time at work (like surfing Facebook on the job), employee relationships with each other and management, who is authorized to speak for the Company, etc... 

Opinions on social media tend to fall into two camps; those who use it outside the corporate environment tend to feel that there should be no restrictions at all, while those in high-control management environments think no employee use should be allowed except to promote the company.  The common-sense middle ground, for HR practitioners and managers, is to save the money you would spend on buying, writing and/or enforcing a social media policy and just use your Handbook.

If you disagree I invite you to Reply to this blog with an issue in your workplace.  I'll bet there's a Handbook policy that covers it and I'll prove it to you. 






Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Core Value #5: Collaboration

The Thomas Nelson I joined over a decade ago was famous for silos.  One of the buzz phrases around the office was that "steel sharpens steel" and the implication was a cultural value of intense internal competition.  We've worked very hard to reshape the organization into one of the most collaborative organizations I've ever experienced.  This is not just a Core Value; this is one of our success stories.
Again, from The Nelson Way orientation manual:

We seek to maximize mutually beneficial partnerships, both internal and external.  This means:

  • We share ideas and information with those inside the company.
  • We share ideas and information with our external partners.
  • We seek to understand the needs and objectives of other divisions.
  • We foster an environment that encourages open but candid dialog and vigorous but respectful debate.
  • We resolve conflicts in a healthy and timely way.
  • We encourage collaboration, publicly acknowledge it, and reward it in practical ways.
  • We use a team based approach to problem solving.
Biblical support for this value can be found in the following: "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.  For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.  But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.  Again, if two lie down together they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.  And a threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

Like a lot of Christian businesses and organizations we continue to push for greater candor and less fear of healthy confrontation and discussion. 

If you are laboring in a workplace where the culture is cutthroat and/or hyper competitive please know that the culture there can be changed.  It takes will from the leadership and examples from the staff and time.  It can be done.  We've done it.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Core Value #4: Focus and Discipline

The world is full of distractions.  Information comes to us faster and from more sources than ever before.  Social Media allows us to establish community with countless niches to satisfy almost any personal or professional interest.  The pull of gravity in a business day seems to be more toward the distractions and sometimes conflicts rather than on what really drives organizational performance. 

As a guide in dealing with the realities of the business life we have articulated the following (again from The Thomas Nelson Way orientation manual).

We are focused and disciplined in our business activities. This means:

  • We organize and focus our people and resources for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.
  • We routinely evaluate our fiscal performance.
  • We seek the counsel of others, both inside and outside of our company, on important issues and decisions.
  • We respect each others' time.
  • We adhere to company policy.
  • We practice good stewardship of our resources.
  • We deliver what we promise.
  • We seek continuous improvement in all that we do.
Biblical support for this value can be found in the following verses: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going" (Ecclesiastes 9:10); as well as, "Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and attend to your herds; for riches are not forever, nor does a crown endure to all generations" (Proverbs 27:23). 

Next post we'll finish up with our fifth core value, Collaboration.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Core Value #3: World Class Talent

In our continued look at the Core Values of Thomas Nelson, Inc. today we examine one that fundamentally impacts our life in the HR department.  Again, from The Nelson Way orientation manual:

We do what is necessary to attract, develop, and retain world-class talent.  This means:
  • We recruit the very best people we can find.
  • We develop our people's strengths and provide continuing opportunities for personal and professional growth.
  • We clearly communicate and reinforce roles, responsibilities, and job expectations.
  • We communicate to our employees how we as a Company are doing.
  • We communicate to our employees how they as employees are doing.
  • We monitor employee satisfaction, acknowledge issues we discover, and respond as appropriate.
  • We recognize, reward, and publicly honor outstanding performance.
  • We pay our people fairly and competitively.
Biblical support for this value can found in Mark 3:13-15 and Acts 17:6.

These stated behaviors and this value drive our HR and recognitions programs.  Since the implementation of these values we started the quarterly All Employee Meetings where we openly disclose our financial performance to all employees.  We started the annual Star Awards program, quarterly Impact Award for excellence in service departments and quarterly Momentum Awards for the Sales and Publishing groups showing the greatest performance improvement from the prior year. 

They also drive our compensation programs.  We study our compensation vs. the marketplace every 16 - 18 months and we make adjustments as performance and market conditions warrant.  Every new hire and newly promoted employee is paid within the market range for their position.

This drives our coaching.  A few years ago we eliminated performance appraisals, opting instead for a system of day-to-day coaching rather than an annual sit-down meeting.  There is no doubt that our performance as a company at the very least has not suffered, and there is a case to be made that it has improved. We believe nobody should have to wait for an annual review to know how they are doing.

It also drives our recruiting.  We seek intelligent professionals committed to our mission.  We purposefully search for good collaborators (Value 5 in an upcoming post) and avoid people, even gifted people, who are self promoters and/or don't work well with others.  It is the combination of intelligence, passion, commitment and willingness to work within a team that for our company defines World Class Talent.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Core Value #2: Serving Others

Again, from The Nelson Way orientation manual:

"We Serve Others with Humility.  This means:

  • We are alert to the needs of others and look for opportunities to help with with their assignments and responsibilities.
  • We take the initiative to serve without waiting to be asked.
  • We give to others of our time and other resources without expecting anything in return.
  • We respond quickly to email and phone messages, replying within 24 hours to every message.
  • We serve others, even when it is not convenient.
  • We consistently do more than is required of us.
Biblical support for this value can be found in John 13: 14-17 and Matthew 20: 27, 28."

Does this happen every time, with every person, every day.  Of course not.  That is the essence of humanity that we seek to be more and do better than we usually achieve.  What sets a values-driven workplace apart, however, is our goal and desire to live these values in our daily lives, including our working lives. 

If we don't do this as a company, call us on it! If your co-worker doesn't do it, call them on it as well in a spirit of love and grace.  If you don't do it yourself, strive tomorrow to do and be better.  It is in the struggle that we experience the grace we all seek.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Core Value # 1: Honoring God

So how does someone "honor God" at work?  How in a for-profit corporation do you successfully conduct business?  What does that look like to the workforce?

When the Executive Leadership Team developed and defined our core values several years ago we took special pains to also define how this manifests itself in the workplace both for the company and those who work there.  Here's where we landed (taken from "The Thomas Nelson Way" orientation manual):

"We honor God in Everything We Do."  This means:

  • We seek God's direction in all that we do.
  • We give God the glory for our successes.
  • We take responsibility for our weakness and failures.
  • We honor our commitments, even when ti is difficult, expensive, or inconvenient.
  • We tell the truth even when it is uncomfortable.
  • We treat our employees, authors, vendors, customers and competitors with respect.
  • We offer God our best, most creative work and leave the results to Him.
  • We thank God in all things, regardless of our circumstances.
Biblican support for this value can be found Revelation 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 6:20. 

Next topic:  What is means to "Serve Others" at Thomas Nelson.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Overview of Our Core Values

Thomas Nelson, Inc. operates under five core values. These values are the ideals that we esteem as a company and are considered the foundation of our corporate ideology. We believe our core values are what make us unique as a company—they define our working principles and guide our actions. Over the next few days I'll re-post this information in more detail to inform potential candidates and to remind our team of who we are and for what we stand as an organization.

Our Mission is to "Inspire the World".

Our Core Values are:

  1. Honoring God
  2. Serving Others
  3. World Class Talent
  4. Focus and Discipline
  5. Collaboration

If you want to see all this information now and in greater detail you can find it under the Mission and Values section of our corporate home page or at http://www.thomasnelsoncorporate.com/mission/

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Do the Benefits Math (Please!)

I've wanted to write this brief post for years but it has not been the right time until now.  Every year when benefits go up you hear, "My paycheck isn't keeping up with my benefits" because pay goes up at, say, 3% and insurance goes up maybe 5%. 

This year our insurance isn't going up at all so I can stick a pin in this fallacy without seeming like I am being defensive.

Okay so let's do the math.  The lowest allowable pay for any position is $7.25/hr. With 2,080 working hours in a year, assuming no overtime, anyone reading this post and working full time is making at least $15,080/yr. Assuming a 3% increase (which appears to be close to the market for this year) that person will receive an increase of $452. 

Now let's move on to Benefits.  Medical insurance is going to cost the average family about $4,500/yr in premiums. Let's assume a 5% increase, which again is pretty typical, and you come up with an increase of $225.  So while the annual wage increase was largely eaten-up by increases in insurance, in no way did it fail to keep up.

So since 95% of employees make more, often substantially more, than minimum wage the gap between wage increase and benefits increases is equally substantial.

So please, please, in the name of all things holy, the next time you hear that you got 2.5% increase and insurance went up by 5%, don't say, "I'm going backwards!" because you aren't.  Those percentages are applied to numbers of vastly different size.
 

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Future of Rx Benefits May Not Include Walgreens

This is not a current problem for our plan; but a preview of what may be coming in the months ahead.

A few years ago Walgreens set out on what seemed to be their mission; that you could stand in the parking lot of any one of their stores and see the sign for the next closest one.  There is now a Walgreens in just about every neighborhood and sometimes it seems there's one on every corner. 

That this was their mission; to take market share from other competitors, was in the normal course of business.  In the past few months, however, they have begun flexing their buying power and fighting pharmacy benefit networks.  Their goals are anything but laudable. Their position is that without them any pharmacy network would be incomplete and so they should receive a higher reimbursement for the prescriptions they dispense.

Their latest row has been with Express Scripts.  Their proposal to Express Scripts, according to my sources, would have made them the single highest-cost provider in that network.  They also wanted the right to terminate individual company plan sponsors (for reasons of which I've not received information) and dictate plan designs to plan sponsors.  They also wanted to limit Express Scripts audit rights to ensure compliance with their network contract.

Because Express Scripts refused Walgreens left their network effective January 1 of this year.  What impact that has on their network and their ability to write pharmacy benefit contracts is yet to be determined. What is relatively certain is that if Walgreens is successful flexing their muscles in the marketplace they will next turn their sights on larger networks that impact, among others, our Blue Cross Blue Shield pharmacy network. Those networks will have a tough choice to make; allow their expenses, and therefore our premiums, to rise as an accommodation to Walgreens or to allow them to leave their networks.

This will get interesting.  Stay tuned...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Benefits of the Blue Cross S Network in Nashville

As I mentioned on my last post, we are renewing all lines of coverage for the same premiums as we're paying this year; no changes in coverage or cost for the company or our people.  In breaking down the numbers it is obvious that there were three factors contributed to this successful outcome; broad movement to high deductible plans, the discounts of the S network, and good fortune in that we had few high-dollar claims.

Breaking these numbers down further, however, the S network discounts stand out as the real game-changer in our plan.

Just to review, we offer three health plans: a High Deductible Plan with the broader P network (HDP-P), and High Deductible Plan with the S network (HDP-S), and a PPO with the S network (PPO-S). 

For the underwriting period April - November, 2011 here's how these plans performed.  The HDP-P claims were 116% of premium, meaning that we paid 16% more in claims than we paid in premiums. Were this our only plan our premium increase for next year would be in the 33 - 35% range.

By comparison the HDP-S plan performed at 41.4% claims to premium.  Note that this is the same benefits and deductibles as HDP-P; the only difference is HCA hospitals are not providers in this network and those hospital which are providers give deeper discounts.

Finally, the PPO-S performed at 80% claims to premiums.  Were this a standalone plan we would be looking at a 2-3% decrease in premiums at renewal.  Note that the PPO plan gives the richest benefits, and yet outperforms the HDP-P plan due to the difference in discounts.

As we look at ways to continue holding the line on our insurance costs one of our primary concerns should be moving people away from P network coverage.  Our strategy will be encouraging people to move through education. A future strategy could be to unlink these three plans let the premiums "float" to their own levels.
For now we hope to show everyone how a High Deductible Plan and a deep discount network save them more money than staying with their current suburban hospitals and PPO co-pays.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Good News On Insurance Renewal

Last week we met with our broker and learned that we are able to renew all lines of benefits coverage with no increase in cost.  As such we will also opt not to make any changes in insurance coverage. 

This doesn't come as a complete surprise.  We've been tracking our insurance plans' performance all year and we're running about 83% claims-to-premium.  That suggests a good renewal, but our last year with United Healthcare we had 84% and still received a 33% increase proposal. 

This year's good news comes mostly due to two things: very few high-dollar claims and a significant migration from the PPO plan to the High Deductible Plan.  The beauty of these results is that the overall cost of co-pays and coinsurance paid by our people is not significantly higher than last year.  This indicates smarter medical buying on the part of people in high deductible plans. It appears that, in aggregate, both workforce and employer saved money or at least held their costs static.

We will have our usual Open Enrollment period during the month of March.  There won't be much in the way of "new" information other than we'll continue to show people how the High Deductible Plan (and we're going to find another name for it) is the best plan for almost everyone.

More to come...

Jim

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

You Say "Stress" Like It's a Bad Thing...

Nobody likes stress.  All the typical language around that word is negative:

"Don't stress me"
"You're stressing me out"
"I'm stressed to the max"

Even the liturgy of my Church has changed to include the phrase, "...and protect us from all stress...". 

Stress is an inevitable part of life so taking the negative energy and turning it into something positive becomes an essential life skill, as well as a career skill.  Several of the Fortune 500 were founded during depressions or recessions.  People do things during stressful times out of necessity that they normally would not have done.  They get degrees and professional certifications, seek promotions, open businesses, change jobs, kick bad habits, get out of bad relationships, etc... because they got "stressed out" of their complacency.

Think of stress like you would a big snowfall.  You can either look out your window in dread, or grab your sled and go play outside. When stress comes your way, embrace it and turn it into a positive force for change.  Turn your anxiety into motivation and do something spectacular.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

HR Toolkit: Fair vs. Equal

If there is a touchier subject in the workplace than "fairness" I've never seen it.  I'm not talking about "our" workplace necessarily: I'm talking about "any" workplace.  For positive morale the workplace needs to have an overall sense of fairness; that the rules are known and people are held consistently accountable to them in terms of outcomes and consequences. 

The problem with managing an overall sense of fairness is that often people equate fair with equal, and they are not the same thing.  Every person is different and every situation is different if only in nuance.  Sometimes the most common offenders in mistaking equal for fair are HR people.  After all, the laws governing employment practices require that we treat every similarly situated individual in a similar way.  While the law doesn't say that, it does in practice. If you treat two similarly situated individuals differently, and those individuals happen to differ by race, gender, age, etc... (as they naturally do in a diverse workforce), you leave the company open to charges of discriminatory employment practices.

Also, a workplace without considerable consistency leaves management opent to accusations of favoritism.  Two people do the same thing and get different outcomes and people want to know why.  Also your least loyal or charitable employees often jump instantly to the conclusion of favoritism because they don't have all the facts or just because they do that as a matter of habit.

The delicate balance for HR departments is to see each situation in all its complexity and to make good decisions and recommendations on when to depart from policy.  A good example would be when somone reports to work after consuming alcohol.  When confronted, one employee denies drinking while the other asks for help with their alcoholism. An unsophisticed HR department will recommend termination for both because they committed the same offense. After all, "fair is fair", right?

Well, no. That's an equal approach, but not fair.  The more nuanced recommendation is that one person was deceptive while the other was forthright and asked for help.  The "fair" result is to termiate one and put the other into required rehabilitation and on a final written warning. The message to the workforce, as the facts leak out over time (and they always do, usually from the employees themselves), is that management cares about their people. 

And that, HR practitioners, is the right approach.  Do what's right for your people, see past equal treatment to what is truly fair, and see the workforce's trust in you grow over time.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

A Mile Marker on Gender

I'm old enough and from enough of a rural area to have grown up around some (thankfully) old ideas about how people should live. Having been born in 1960 my earliest memories of television were news coverage about the Vietnam war and the equal rights struggles of the mid to late 60's.  I heard my family and friends detestation of race and gender equality protests and legislation.  One of the difficult realities I confronted as a young man was that these people that I love so much were (and in some cases still are) wrong about so many things.

This last week I saw first-hand how far we've come regarding gender.  I had to have a series of tests and procedures at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, mostly related to a bad fall I took back in September and some lingering injury.  Every one of my doctors, nurse practitioners, and ultrasound techs were women, and the oldest was probably in her late 30's.  I received excellent, state-of-the-art care from bright young women who would not have been admitted in medical school had they graduated high school in my youth.

So maybe none of this is ground-breaking news; after all, equal opportunity has been a settled issue for how many decades now?  Still, every so often something shows me how far we've come and I take a moment to feel good about our future as a society.