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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Employer Property Rights vs Human Rights

Two conflicts of employer property rights vs the rights of employees have come up in different places, but with similar questions of priority and principle.  In both cases employers have taken what is a legally and morally untenable position that their right to control their property is a superior consideration to the rights of their employees while on that property.

In Tennessee the "Guns in Trunks" bill makes it illegal for an employer to terminate or discipline a state-licensed Conceal and Carry permit holder for keeping a gun in their vehicle on company property.  The essence of the law is that the permit holder's right of self defense should not be compromised throughout the entire day, nor their job endangered,  because they spend part of that day on the property of an employer with a no-guns policy. The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and gun-control advocates have opposed the law on the basis of safety.

Those policies, just so you know, have exceptionally little to do with safety: they are about liability protection for the employer. I've written several handbooks and you can trust me on this.

The other property rights issue comes out of my Church, as the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) opposes the Health Care Reform law's contraceptive mandate.  They have chosen to fight the law in court, not just based upon religious conscience, but on the basis of private property rights.  Their theory is that Catholic workplaces such as hospitals, schools, and clinics, are private property.  It is, in their view, an offense against religious liberty that their funds on their property have to fund something they find to be morally wrong.

The problem is that these institutions (1) are open to the public and (2) hire non-Catholic employees and (3) take federal Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements drawn largely from non-Catholic taxpayers. How you apply controls assigned to "private property" to those facilities and circumstances is anyone's guess.

To believe the claims in either of these examples is to accept the position that a landowner's right to control his or her own property extends to an ability to control the non-work personal conduct of all who set foot on that property.  As an employer that is clearly and overreach. In the case of the USCCB, accepting their position extends their right of control past their property lines and into the private reproductive choices of their employees.

Just for clarity, stepping away from the employer/employee context momentarily, I would totally support the USCCB if those facilities accepted no public funds and hired only Catholics.  Once you step into the public arena and accept public funds the rules change.

People are more important than property. As such individual rights should always trump property rights, lest the individual become on the level with and synonymous with property.   As these conflicts wind their way through courts and legislatures, look for the law to eventually uphold that concept. The alternative is a plantation mentality that is contrary to our American ideals.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

New Post: Four Reasons Why You Don't Have to Hire Medical Marijuana Users

Medical marijuana is now legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia.  As these states proliferate the number of doctors willing to write such prescriptions and the sources for medical marijuana grow. Inevitably users with valid prescriptions are starting to show up in the applicant pool of your workplace.  

It is not unusual in one of these states to get an applicant who fails a pre-employment drug test.  As is standard procedure, the Medical Review Officer of the drug testing company or the HR professional asks the applicant to explain, and hears that they have a valid prescription. Then my phone rings...

"Do I have to hire this person?" is the usual question I get.  The answer is simple:  "NO!" Here is why:

1. Marijuana is still an illegal drug - There is misalignment between the federal and state governments on this matter, but regardless of the state statutes marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Your policy against "illegal drugs" still holds even if your state disagrees and the applicant has a valid prescription.

2.  Your safety policies apply - The effects of marijuana include slower reaction time and impaired judgement.  Whether the jobs you have are medical care-giving or operating heavy machinery, being under the influence of this drug makes the work unsafe for the employee and/or others.

3.  Your policy against being impaired by a legally prescribed drug applies - If 1 and 2 above don't work for you, let us assume that your applicant is right and that their prescription is valid and legal and makes them eligible for hire.  Most companies have policies that forbid employees taking legal prescription drugs from working if that drug impairs them.  Think about a strong cough syrup containing codeine or strong pain medication following a traffic accident.  Even if the marijuana prescription is legal and valid its effects put the user under your legal drug impairment policy and unable to work.

4.  These aren't the people you want to hire - Lets face it: medical marijuana is massive work-around where the laws on the books haven't caught up with societal attitudes.  Medical marijuana started out as "compassionate use" exceptions for cancer patients needing relief from chemotherapy side-effects.  More and more I see applicants whose prescriptions are for "anxiety" or some other diagnosis by exclusion.  The vast majority of medical marijuana prescriptions go to recreational drug users.

With all the good unemployed or underemployed people out there you can do better with your hiring.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

An Call to Noble and Ethical Competition in Christian Publishing

I wrote this post in 2008 and continue to stand behind every word.  For a group of people who profess to follow Christ, the use of gossip as a form of industry competition is disappointing.  I have interacted with all the publishers in Nashville and can paraphrase the industry's best seller when I say that there is none without sin in this manner. 

Christian publishing is my third industry. I started my career in retail, moved to durable goods manufacturing (auto industry), and then came to Thomas Nelson. In all three industries, as I'm sure is the case in every industry, there is off-campus interaction among competitors. Not only is Christian publishing not an exception, it is the most incestuous and interconnected industry I've experienced. Its practitioners, whether acting on behalf of their companies or not, often engage in some of the lowest forms of competition I've experienced.

Mind you, people have been hitting Nelson below the belt long before I got here and, if you are a competitor reading this, how's that working for you? I'm not complaining because of an injury or as a sore loser because we're not losing. What I am asking is how people can profess Christianity on the one hand and engage in the type of dirty competition I sometimes see in this industry, especially among competitors in the Nashville market.

Here's what I'm talking about.

In my other two industries you inevitably run into your competitors off-campus. You may be in the same city and the same hotel bar after pitching to the same potential customer. You may be out to dinner with your wife and run into your competitor and their spouse in the same restaurant. It could be at the local Chamber meeting or whereever. It happens and I usually like to have good relationships and engage in friendly competition.

In these improptu meetings you'll always get the loaded question. One time when the auto industry was considering moving production from Mexico to Thailand, I had a competitor ask, "What kind of pricing are you seeing in Thailand", which was meant to see if we were looking at Thailand or not. In another case a competing store manager asked, "How much are you selling of "x" product", which was to see if we were carrying that product. Such questions designed to gain intel on products, prices, strategy, etc... are just part of being in business.

In Christian publishing, especially in Nashville, I get an entirely different type of question. I recently ran into a former Nelson employee, who works for a competitor, on a plane ride back from Dallas. The first thing out of his mouth even before "Hello" was, "Boy I bet Mike's under a lot of pressure with that new Board, isn't he?" I ran into another former Nelsonite one night this week whose first question after "Hello" was, "How bad are things over there? I'm sure you must be under so much pressure." During my almost eight years at Nelson I have been pumped for information from countless competitors here in Nashville, most of them former Nelson colleagues, on a wide variety of topics including:

  • "Is Sam Moore really crazy?"

  • "I hear you guys are being sold"

  • "I guess you're glad to be owned by a Catholic"

  • "I hear you guys are having a layoff" (4 - 6 times a month for eight years)

  • "I hear things are bad there" (I got this even during our three years of record profits) get the picture by now.

So what's the purpose of these types of questions? Gossip for business purposes. The extraction of just enough of a reaction that it can be interpreted to suit the competitor, and then repeated in competition for authors, employees, and just for the sheer joy of the gossip.

The positive that I've seen in all this is the good that it says about our company. I've never had anyone ask what was wrong with our distribution operations. I've never had anyone ask what was wrong with our sales force. I've never met anyone over a drink that as asked, "I hear your call centers can't answer the phones on time." I've never heard how poorly our books are written or marketed.

Overall, if gossip is the worst competition we experience then I'll take it. But if you work for a competitor, or carry tales back to one, and you see me in Nashville then I'm glad to see you, talk to you about our families, health, politics, faith, products, or just about anything else you want to talk about. What doesn't interest me, and what shouldn't interest you, is the below-the-belt stuff that seems to fascinate this industry.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Why You Don't Get Hired (Even if You Are Christian)

(This post, recently updated, was first written in 2008 after a series of applicants who tried "Christian guilt", unsuccessfully, as a strategy for getting an interview.)

There is, unfortunately, a sub-culture within Christianity that believes an undesirable outcome means that those responsible are unchristian.  I've been in HR for over 30 years in four industries and I can say that this is unique to staffing Christian businesses.

In the mind of the applicant the narrative goes something like this:

1.  God spoke to me and told me that I was supposed to work at your company.

2.  You aren't interviewing me or hiring me.

3.  You must not be Christian because you're not doing God's will

So just to be clear, here are the reasons (either singularly or in combination) why we don't hire someone:

1.  There isn't an opening  (I can't make a spot that doesn't exist)
2.  There is an opening, but you are not qualified
3.  You cannot tell me what position interests you ("please read my resume and tell me what you have")
4.  Your resume shows lots of jobs, an uneven salary history, and is missing former supervisors
5.  Your salary demands are two or three times more than the position pays and you want to negotiate
6.  You are "high maintenance" as an applicant (so what will you be like as an employee?)
7.  You can't pass a drug test
8.  You can't pass a criminal background check
9.  You don't live near any of our locations but want to work from home right from the start
10. You are applying for an entry-level job but want us to pay for your relocation

Note that none of these has anything to do with us not being Christians. Actually we are.  Really, we are!

Please know that I mean no disrespect to the millions of people trying their best to find work in a still recovering economy.  We in HR are in the people business and we never take people's needs for employment lightly. We treat every applicant with courtesy and respect.  My focus in this post is that subset of applicants who want to tell me that God or my exec team will punish me for not hiring them.

Maybe the reason you are not getting hired is much closer to home than me or God (see 1 - 10 above). Instead of the guilt trip, or the God's gonna get 'cha strategy, focus on targeting a job for which you are qualified, writing a cover letter (remember those?), writing a really clear resume, maybe take a class or two to update your skills, and be courteous to the HR people you contact.

I believe prayer works, but prayer and really solid preparation on your part is a great combination.

Friday, April 12, 2013

I Know This Much is True

Note: This post was written in September of 2011 and was never published until now.

This year I passed my 30th anniversary doing corporate work. There is nothing like an anniversary to make you reflective.  Here are ten things that I've learned, much of it the hard way.

1. Work for Good People.  Stay at your current job, in school or even on unemployment rather than working for people you can't trust.  All other truths that follow below go out the window otherwise.

2.  Trust the People Who Employ You.  See #1 above if you can't.  Trust is seen by your employer as loyalty and good people will trust and reward you in return if they feel that you trust them (and work hard).

3.  Hire Good People.  It is a false choice that you have to look over bad behavior to keep good performance. Set as your standard that you require solid citizens who have the skills and the work ethic to do the job.  Overlooking schmuck-like characteristics because you need to fill a job now, or because the schmuck does good work and makes you money will always, always, always come back to bite you. 

4.  If You Want Good Employees to Love You, Go First.  If you want positive relationships you have to show people that you value them as individuals and that they aren't just a disposable pair of hands. Doing little things that people need when they need it says way more than Company picnics and service awards.

5.  Everybody Talks About the Boss.  Mother Teresa was one of our most laudable modern-day saints and yet at times suffered dissension amongst her staff.  If a Saint in Heaven can't please their staff every day what hope do you have?  Don't take it personally and stay focused on your work.

6.  Don't Just Make a Living, Build a Life.   You may retire from  your job in 30 years or quit it tomorrow. Your career should support the life you want to build, not the other way around.

7.  No Corporation Holds Your Head While You Throw Up.  Sacrificing your relationships for your job is a recipe for ending up alone. 

8.  You are Never as Good as Your Successes or as Bad as Your Failures.  If you screw up the worst thing you can do is get down on yourself and lose the self-confidence you need to succeed. When you succeed just remember that you had a team around you that was indispensable. Also remember that you and were also playing with the house's money instead of investing your own.  Both your successes and failures belong not only to you but to a lot of other people.

9.  Your First Instincts are Usually Right.  You got where you are by having good judgement.  When you get an "icky" feeling about a decision or a person step back and pay attention. Go get a second opinion from someone you trust.

10. Leadership is Service.  Anyone who wants to advance their career so that they can "be the boss" should never be allowed to supervise another human being.  The boss' job is to be a leader, and the leader's role is to serve their team and to make everyone under them successful. If your desire is to "be" served go into some other line of work.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Listen to The Conversation

What is being talked about inside your company?  Growing companies have a language all their own, and so do contracting ones.  Listening to what is being said is harder than it seems because, like the proverbial boiled frog, changes are subtle and sometimes elude notice.  Hearing what is being said, and knowing what it means, can be two different things but hugely important to your career.

I was in the Japanese auto industry in the 90's during its period of frenetic growth.  The opportunities it afforded me propelled my career years ahead of what it would have been in a slower environment. We could not build factories or hire people fast enough, and the emphasis was on how to find, retain, train and develop people.  The competition was for who got responsibility for new business, plants, customers, and product lines.  The tension in the company was typically about how much could get done and who could get to a hot spot (usually Mexico, Canada, Japan, El Paso, or Detroit at that time)in the quickest time frame and stay there the longest to get something done.

During the end of the 90's new competition arose. The American Big Three licked its wounds and got better, and new product lines from Korea entered the U.S. market as German car makers expanded their offerings.  Automobiles, and the parts we made for them, became commoditized. Margins shrunk, the budget cutters began to control the conversation and the result was stagnant wages, benefits and opportunities. This happened just as an opportunity in another industry came about and my decision was easy.

My first years in publishing were exciting. The company had hit bottom, trading at $6.89/share over concerns ranging from lack of succession to loss of focus. My job was to help with a fix, sell or close process, to refocus the company, and to help the CEO/founder choose a successor.  The resulting improvement in our finances felt a lot like growth, but it wasn't.

When the Founder sold, instead of rejoicing in our opportunity to modernize his company I should have been asking a more fundamental question.  "If he does not see opportunity here any longer is there any opportunity left?"

Over the next six years the internal conversations shifted from,  "Who could we buy?" to "Who might buy us?" We closed down our internal management development program and the conversation shifted from, "What is my next career move?" to "Who is safe?"

Know where your company is heading by what is and isn't being said.  Is there an active management development program?  Are benefits attractive and not just "competitive"?  Are raises assumed or in doubt?  Was a bonus paid last year or contemplated for this current year?  When competing voices argue internally, do the pro-growth and development voices of operations, sales and marketing prevail, or do the cost-conscious voices of accounting and finance trump all else?  Is the tension between managers over who gets the promotion, the best people and and the new business, or over who survives?

Listen, know where your company stands, and act accordingly.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

What I Couldn't Say at Thomas Nelson

Looking through past posts in the editing section of this blog I came across no less than 35 that I wrote and never published. A couple were withheld because they did not turn out well.  The majority, however, were self-censored because of my position at the time in religious publishing.  They aren't "sex, drugs and rock & roll" posts by any means.  They are those that I felt might offend the most intolerant of that company's stakeholders. That is no longer my concern.

I worked in Christian Publishing for over a dozen years.  During that time I met a wide variety of authors, ministers, book store owners, and end users of our product.  What I discovered was that the vast, vast majority of Christians are far more tolerant and liberal in private than they dare be in public.  There is a shrill minority of loud, intolerant bullies within the Church that punish moderation.  Within the Church there is often insufficient courage to stand up to them and so they go unchallenged. Now that these individuals hold no sway over my employment I am going to let some good posts see the light of day.

I have no intention of poking anyone in the eye or be critical or any person or company, and certainly not any former employers.  I do intend to be honest and genuine without fear. I invite you to keep reading and join in the conversation with comments back to any post that so moves you.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Should You Relocate and Soundproof Your HR Office?

Several of my clients are smaller employers in the 75 -200 employee range.  As such the HR department is more often than not housed in the suite of offices around the Executive Director.  In some cases it is because in the early days of the organization the HR Director and Accounting Director were the same person.  After the workforce and operation grew the roles were split but the office stayed the same.  In some cases the roles are still combined.

The problem with this arrangement is that it is a gauntlet of management that an employee must run to get to HR.  It is highly unlikely that the visit will be confidential, even if the door is closed. Part of the inhibition employees feel in coming to discuss concerns is that their boss will know that they came to HR about "something", and any visit could cause reprisals if the supervisor is of such disposition.

Another issue in HR offices is privacy due to the construction of the office itself.  Often air ducts allow adjacent offices to hear the conversation.  It is not uncommon in our line of work for nosey employees or supervisors to go to an adjacent office or stand outside the office door to hear what is being said.

To ensure confidentiality and privacy I recommend, from my own personal experience, the following:

1. Relocate the HR office to a place where there is no other management.  Employees will feel more comfortable coming to discuss their concerns.

2. Run the duct work from the office into the open space above an open area such as a cubicle or production area.  The noise from the office is disseminated into the crawl space and competes with other office noises.

3. Install weather stripping around the inside of the office door, and install a threshold.  If the door has vents or glass, replace it with a solid door.

4. If walls are thin, install carpeted double-thick cork board as bulletin boards, starting three feet from the baseboard and extending to six feet above the baseboard.  You can never have too much bulletin board space, you can hang pictures from it just like sheet rock if you like, and the conversations that occur both seated and standing will be muffled by the cork board and kept private from the adjacent office(s).

I have some some or all of this at different offices of my own HR departments.  The total investment at the last one, Thomas Nelson, was about $300.  It made several people feel better, and impressed with our commitment to their privacy, when they would look around the office before saying something sensitive and hear me say, "Don't worry, I've had the office sound proofed."  Try it!