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Showing posts from 2008

Learning from Retail's Wage & Hour Day of Reckoning

In every burst of an economic bubble you find where legitimate profits were made, where smoke and mirrors substituted for profits as in the Bernard Madoff scandal, and where profits were made by short-cutting laws and cheating honest people. To quote Warren Buffett , "Its only when the tide goes out that you see who's swimming naked." The naked truth behind double-digit retail profit growth was unmasked this week for two major retailers. A huge wage and hour settlement at Wal -Mart (estimated at $350 - $620m) and the upholding of a $35m judgement against Family Dollar indicates that both companies engaged in wage and hour fraud and cheated low-wage employees out of earned wages. I'm a pro-business guy and these companies are customers of ours, but this is justice long overdue. In the Wal -Mart case lawsuits had erupted in multiple states claiming the same offense; hourly workers forced to work without breaks and lunches and compelled to clock out at the end of th

Nashville For All Of Us

I have been putting off commenting on the regrettable "English Only" initiative currently on the ballot for Nashville voters. This is an important if not critical decision for this community and I wanted to wait until I had time to get the facts right and make a compelling case. Well, a coalition of religious and business groups has formed under the name Nashville For All Of Us and they have put together a great white paper on all the reasons this initiative is wrong for the community. You can get the facts at this link: http://host1.bondware.com/~tennes/photos/File58.pdf I try to shy away from politics in this blog because my mission is a harmonious and successful workplace and political conversations work against harmony. Unfortunately, this referendum is so bad for the culture and business climate in our community that we can't sit back in our business cocoon and let bigotry kill what is one of the strongest local and regional economies in the nation. Passage of

Rumor Patrol: Thursday Outplacement Meetings

The week of the staff reductions, which were implemented on that Tuesday, we conducted outplacement meetings on Thursday. We held two sessions, both conducted by members of the HR staff including me. There were no current employees present other than the HR staff. I stepped out for literally 20 seconds to check a voice mail message, during which time a presenter was speaking, so I can accurately say that I didn't miss any discussions during either meeting. Those two meetings are now being cited with some authority by a person or persons in our current workforce as the basis for two pretty ridiculous rumors. The first is that there were comments made that indicate a third round of staff cuts coming in February. The second is that one of our departing sales reps got up and made an angry rant against the company. Here are the facts. 1. There was no discussion of additional staffing cuts. None. Zero. There was no question asked to that regard, none answered, no speculation m

Rumor Patrol: PTO and Staff Reductions

Its been a week since our last round of staff reductions; long enough hopefully for a little dust to settle. I want to address two rumors that went around last week in the emotions of the moment and make sure that the air is cleared and facts are known as to the role that our Paid Time Off (PTO) program played in these terminations. For those of you reading from outside the company, about three weeks prior to these terminations we made an intentional move away from paying for unused PTO; converting instead to a "use-it-or-lose-it" policy. This move will save us hundreds of thousands of dollars next year, or the equivalent of about 40 jobs. We announced this change both in writing and at informational meetings, most of which I conducted, a few days prior to our staff reductions. The two rumors or comments that I've heard about this policy change are (1) that we said we'd do this instead of cutting jobs but then cut jobs anyway, and (2) we did this to avoid having to

Good People One and All

As most of you know we lost over 50 really good people this week due to a reduction in force. This event was strictly driven by the economy and the nosedive in book sales we've seen in September and October (I haven't seen November numbers yet). I am gratified that six companies have contacted us looking for great talent, and we have established an email distribution list in order that we may send all job opportunities to those separated this week. The job titles and length of service for all of them are listed below. I have not listed names as I have not had an opportunity to ask each individual for their permission to do so. However, if you are interested in some of the best talent in our industry and in the Nashville market please contact me at jthomason@thomasnelson.com . I will put you in touch with the candidate of your choice. Position Yrs Service Receptionist 18.4 Sr. Acquisitions Editor 25.3 Director, Marketing 1.4 Senior Publicist 2.5 Admin Assistant 0.6 Editor 3.0

A "World Class" Misread of "WOW"

Where should a company spend its money? Logically, you would answer that it should invest where it gains its greatest return. After all why would a for-profit enterprise make discretionary investments with little or no hope for incrimental return? If it were your business, if you were the CEO, would that make sense? Let me suggest, gently, that this is exactly the same flawed logic behind misinterpretations of Wow and World Class Talent in our company. I'm grouping these two different leadership initiatives into the same category, even though they are different initiatives, because they generated the same unintended reaction from the same areas of our company. If it happens here, I'll bet it happens in other companies as well. The theory goes that to get great people or great products you must by definition spend a lot of extra dollars. That theory is just plain wrong. A few years ago the Executive Leadership Team, even before we started calling ourselves by that name, se

Slow Poke

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I'm going to rant here just for a few words. Its been coming for a long time and I'm overdue so forgive me just this once. I am fed up with unresponsive people. I bet you know what I'm talking about. Those people who are supposed to return your calls but don't. Those people who receive your emails and may send you a reply a week from next Tuesday. Now, if they want something from you its urgent, maybe even a matter upon which rests the fate of the free world. Its a culture issue in some places; nobody gets back to anybody else. In other places, its an individual attitude: their time is more valuable than yours. They are more important than you. If you call out this behavior you'll hear some interesting excuses: too overworked, don't have a laptop, don't have a blackberry, wasn't properly trained, technical problems so they didn't get your call (or email, or the post-it note you left on their desk, or the pink message slip from their colleague who

Why Politics Has No Place in Christian Workplaces

When I joined the Church some eight or nine years ago I was fortunate enough to go through several months of classes in moral theology. While I was an occasional guest in Sunday School as a child, this was the first time someone intelligently laid out for me the relationships of God to man, and man to his fellow man. For the sake of brevity I'll summarize it like this: we have a responsibility for our own personal moral conduct as an example to our children, families, and community; we have an equal moral responsibility to the greater world around us in helping the least among our fellow man and to be good stewards of the world given to us. When I learned this I immediately recognized a fact of organized politics; that both major parties have developed their own civil religion that is about half of moral theology. Each uses its civil religion as its own moral high ground against the other party while ignoring the moral whole. On one side we have a Republican civil religion that s

What I Did On My Work From Home Day (and what it means)

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As part of the Work From Home (WFH) project test I have tried to work from home every Thursday morning unless I was out of town. This was a great time for me to get "head space", but also to test how you lead a staff while not there. Today was different; I started out planning to just work the morning and, by lunchtime, was in such a groove that I stayed home all day. There are those in our company, and outside it, who don't believe you can be productive from home. There are others who think that its fine for staff members, but not someone in leadership. To all of you I offer my day today. Some details are generalized for confidentiality. Because I didn't have to commute in I was in the kitchen when my wife and daughter left for their respective jobs. I never get to see them in the morning and this was nice. After they left, I went upstairs at 8:30, fired up the VPN connection, and the day began. Roughly in this order my next eight hours were: Took care of my overnig

Another Work From Home (WFH) Update

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In this picture Kristie Cantrell is sitting next to her empty cubicle in the space she now shares with Jack Leichty . The two started today working on alternating days in the office and working from home the rest of the work week. The big move was Friday but has been in the works for weeks. Note that both their name plates are now affixed on the same cubicle wall. To make sure that two people could work from the same space, we required that Kristie's former space be completely emptied, wiped down, and that it not be used for storage. Both of them now have 100% of the materials they need for their immediate work area in one cubicle, or at their home offices. This was no small feat. Since neither uses a laptop IT moved both of them from their desktop PCs to a virtual desktop on the company server. That requires software that's in its evaluation stage and will expire in two weeks. After that, a second 60-day software evaluation will run the virtual desktops and buy us time to ma

Don't Mess Up Your 401(k) in a Down Market

Okay, this is not investment advice. If it were, why would you take it from an HR guy when you have so many registered financial advisers at your disposal? This is just a set of observations about mistakes I've seen people make in knee-jerking to a falling market. Take this for what its worth, research your own 401(k) investments, get competent advice, etc...before making investment decisions. Meanwhile, consider this premise; that the market has been here before and come back, that Phil Graham is right in his assessment that as a nation we could be a little more resilient, and that television news coverage is sensationalism detached from the reality of the market. In other words, this isn't a market for the faint of heart but neither is it a meltdown, a historic depression, or any of the other hyperbole you've heard on television. 1. We've Been Here Before - Check out the historical chart of the Dow Jones averages starting in 1900 and continuing up to the p

Slow Economy is an Opportunity to Build Loyalty

Financially I'm a contrarian; when times are good I try to save, and when times are bad I purchase. Every down economy is an opportunity to gain value. The same is true about customer and employee loyalty; this economy is providing us a period of great opportunity. Like practically every other company operating in this country, the economic environment of the past few months has been challenging. In my HR position I'm involved, as you might expect, with efforts to control our employment costs which included a staff reduction in April. As a department head, I've also been involved in controlling costs including attempts to cancel or negotiate my way out of contracts charged to my department. We also manage fully-insured employee benefits plans that cannot be changed until the end of March, so we're making sure that both employees and the company get the most for the money that we are obligated to spend. Watching vendors and others outside our company operate in this tou

You'll be Proud of the Lynne Spears Book

I'm an HR guy so this isn't a book review; that's not what I do. This is about our culture as a Christian company and why you shouldn't be concerned about this book at all . I'll be the first to admit it, I was one of those in our workforce who originally raised concerns about the book when word first leaked out internally that we were publishing it. Before there was an internal announcement of the book and its intended subject matter, many of us in the workforce jumped to the same conclusions as the general public that this was either a tabloid tell-all or apologetics for Britney's antics. Some of the internal subtitles were: "It's not my fault", or "See, I have two other normal kids", or "Scratch that, I have at least one normal kid". As with any instance where gossip occurs, it wasn't (behaviorally) our finest hour. I wanted to be able to assure our workforce that this book was consistent with our values and cultu

Why Obama's Candidacy Matters No Matter Who Gets Your Vote

I am 48, and my earliest memories are in front of the television (I think a fudge-pop may have been involved) during the turbulent middle and late 1960s. I have thus grown up during the era of civil rights; that period that transformed this country from a Protestant, white-male dominated culture to a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and religiously diverse nation. My time in business, first in line management then in HR, has been entirely during the era of group rights and redress of societal grievances, some legitimate and some not. Now more than halfway through a career focused on business management and HR, I'm well versed in all the things you can't say, can't do, and sometimes don't dare think in regards to race, gender, national origin, etc... Along with the political correctness of our culture, which can't help but be reflected in our business culture, come a few assumptions; women are more sensitive to women's issues, non-whites are more sensitive to race

Work From Home Update

As of last week we have 136 people signed up to work partial weeks from home. These individuals work in three of our five divisions. In HR, we are building an email distribution list so we can send email blasts with tips and best practices, communicate directly to those in the test to see how its going, and start to build community around those involved in this innovation. One group we're watching closely is the Design group working in Production under Debbie Eicholtz , since they are Mac power-users and a key test of how the remoting software works with Macs. In trying to stay ahead of the corporate test, HR is pushing ahead with two more phases of the project. About three weeks ago, with the wise counsel and support of our IT group, we installed video conferencing software and web cams for most of our staff. Since then, we've expanded our work-from-home schedule. At first we had three salaried staff members working three half-days each from home, making sure to have e

Love Your Integrity? Love Your Auditor!

If you're in the business world more than five minutes you've probably been audited or even investigated. This experience ranges from when you started running a cash register in an entry-level position and having someone spot-balance your till, all the way up to having an auditor or investigator dispatched to investigate some perceived or suspected irregularity. My first response to this as a junior staff member was to be offended; after all, I know my integrity and intentions so what makes someone think otherwise? As you grow your career and have staff, especially if you have a hand-picked and trusted staff like I have, its easy to take up their cause and be offended on their behalf. The plain truth is that this is one area where you have to grow thick skin and love your auditors as yourself. Not only should you not mind audits or investigations (this is assuming you're conducting your business as you should be) but you should welcome them. Here's why: Audits Pr

Slow Economy Facts and How to Help Your Staff

If someone were to ask me what I really believe in and know to be true, along with the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Communion of the Saints, and the power of prayer I would list The Business Cycle . Anybody whose been in business for long has seen it for themselves and heard the age-old phrase, "What comes up must go down". The fact that "everybody knows that" however, is an assumption we can't make because a lot of your young staffers have never seen a down cycle. They hear the hystrionics of the mass media and believe we're all going to die broke, and very soon. Here are some facts to help you and your staff through the trough and back up to the inevitable peak. Unemployment? Take a good macroeconomics course and you'll hear that full employment in this country is an unemployment rate of 4 - 4.5%. That's because, historically, about that percentage of the U.S. population is in transition at any given time. By transition I mean just coming o

The Thomas Nelson Work From Home Test

I generally am loathe to talk about something new before its tested and fully functional. However, at last week's Publishing Compensation meetings I heard several comments about why we're not talking about our telecommuting pilot program. I haven't been because its a test , meaning we don't know what we don't know and are trying to learn. Still, the enthusiasm for the test is such that a lot of people apparently want to know about it. We began a pilot program in HR about 9 or 10 months ago, without telling anybody (including the ELT and my boss the CEO) what we were doing. The idea was this: if a face-to-face service department like HR could leverage the technology available to us with zero additional investment and no drop-off in service, then almost any business unit in the company could do the same. None of us own laptops, none of us carry a blackberry, and we committed no funds to the program. Instead, we worked with our IT department (and what great par

The Gun Debate at Work

On my way home last night I listened to a long-form news report on NPR about the Supreme Court's ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, where the court ruled that law-abiding citizens have the right to own guns for their own protection. The case has been years in the making and involved overreaching gun control laws in the District of Columbia which prohibited lawful handgun ownership. NPR, of course, was predicting the end of civilization as we know it. Curiously enough, it blamed D.C.'s unacceptable violent crime and murder rate not on defenseless citizens, but on gun shows in Maryland. In other words, their answer to the dismal failure of gun control in D.C. was to export it to Maryland. The high court's ruling came on the heels of yet another workplace shooting, this time at Atlantis Plastics in Henderson, KY fairly near my home town. There Wesley Higdon shot his boss and five coworkers before killing himself. He used a handgun that he kept legally in his vehic

Realtor's Fees Driving Relocation Costs

The slowing real estate market is bringing to the forefront a long-simmering problem for small-to-medium-sized companies. The majority of corporate relocation expense is now reimbursement for realtor's fees. That just feels wrong in so many ways. For decades the best practice in relocation management, if your company is too small to buy the houses of the relocating candidates or employees, has been to reimburse realtor's' fees for the selling of their current house and closing costs on the purchase of a replacement in the new city. This is 6% on the selling side and 2% on the buying side, and assuming that the transferee purchases about the same priced home as the one they sold, that's a flat 8%. When this practice became industry-standard, a modest 1500 sq. ft. in a major city was priced around $95 - $125,000 and the expense to the company was usually no more than $10,000. Today, that same house is $325,000 - $400,000 unless you're in a premium neighborhood,

Father's Day

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There's a line in a song I heard several years ago that says, " All Things Work for Good has become my favorite verse ". I thought about this during Father's Day week. After years of being distant my Dad and I have become close again. It started about three years ago as our daughters started attending the same college and our nests emptied simultaneously. It continued on with his urging me to take up guitar again. It solidified this past winter with the passing of his dad. Suddenly each of us has graduated to a new role. I no longer have kids at home, and he's now the patriarch of the family. He has things he'd like to do but no longer feels up to it alone, and I find myself coming up to Kentucky more often to pick, fish, drop things off or help around his cabin. This past Father's Day week I arranged a guide on Percy Priest so he could fish for rock fish and stripes like he did during the two times he's lived in the Nashville during the 60's and 8

A Truly Decent, World-Class Leader

Friday I had lunch with Stephen Harrison , founding partner and current Chairman of Lee Hecht Harrison . LHH was one of the handful of companies who helped invent the professional outplacement industry and Steve, along with Bob Lee and Bob Hecht, were its founders. Steve is the author of " The Manager's Book of Decencies: How Small Gestures Build Great Companies " (McGraw Hill, 2007) which I began reading last night (even though I typically detest business books). Our company used the Nashville office of LHH for the majority of our professional outplacement during our April staff reductions; their service was spectacular. After meeting their Chairman, I have a better understanding of why their company performs at this level. Steve was in town to visit the local office, and Mark Marshall, who heads that office, told me in a private moment how Steve spent Thursday and Friday. Thursday was spent in the LHH Nashville office with Steve speaking to people who were in outplace

The Hidden Cost of Traditional Offices

The tried and true method of performing communal office work is for people to commute into an office, work for a set number of hours, and commute home. While there's nothing new that I can write about telecommuting that hasn't already been written, I've not seen much written about the cost to the local economy of continuing what is increasingly an arcane work style. Here's food for thought... I was surprised to learn from our Facilities department that the gold standard calculation for space needed per employee is about 200 ft. Now you may look at your 8 x 8 cube or 10 x 15 office and think, "where's my 200 ft.?" The difference is that Facilities professionals like ours know to allocate hallway, restroom, break room, and lobby space into their needs. So for the sake of calculation, let's go with 200 sq. ft. per person. With that established, we now have to rent that amount of space. For a typical office outside of the downtown Nashville area, y

Universal Healthcare Key to Virtual Workforce

In every era capitalist economies form systems to maximize efficiency. In past decades work had to be performed at a work site where processes took place that added value to physical materials. Retaining a healthy workforce over several years was necessary both to keep labor peace and also to maintain efficiency and quality through retention of company-trained employees in a generally uneducated workforce . Employees themselves sought the security of a job that lasted a lifetime. Insurers could underwrite policies accurately and profitably, because it had the worker throughout his or her lifetime, collecting excess premiums in their youth and investing that money sufficiently enough to cover the expenses of current employees and fund the period of deficit premiums when that same worker became older. The typical retirement age was 65 and typical mortality was at age 69, so companies and insurers could profitably provide retiree medical benefits for a period of only 4 or 5 years in mos

What Managers Can Learn from the Clintons

Let me first say that I am no fan of either Bill or Hillary Clinton. My idea of Hillary as Commander in Chief is this; imagine your wife in a terrible "I told you so" or "I know best" mood... for eight years... with Army Rangers to back her up. But again I could be wrong... But this post isn't about politics other than using two amazing politicians as an example. The seldom-told secret of how either of these two made it to power really rests in a rare dynamic within their campaigns. It is something managers could do well to learn and replicate. They empower someone in their inner circle to tell them the brutal truth, no matter what the topic. They act immediately to counter or capitalize on that truth. Here are some examples. During the first Bill Clinton campaign his staff planned contingencies around what his inner circle labeled "bimbo eruptions"; revelations from young women who might claim to have known him well. Each time a Jennifer Flowers or

I Kept My Promise; What's Next?

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I can point to the spot in the street, 17 years ago, where I was walking with our then six-year-old daughter Rachel one night when she asked a question that literally changed my life. The family was young, money was tight, and she had just started 1st grade. The teachers were encouraging these new young students to do well in school so they could one day go to college. After dinner we were out for a walk when she looked up and asked me, "Will I get to go to college"? Without the slightest hesitation or idea how , I promised her she would. This past Saturday she changed her tassel from left to right, walked across the stage, shook President Gary Ransdell's hand, and my promise was kept. After I made that promise, my work life became serious. Very serious. Serious to the point of often being unbalanced, unhealthy, and focused to the point of obsession. We lived in a small Kentucky town where jobs were scarce, and as my career progressed a good job like mine was rare. Beca

The Importance of Getting Past It

Forget for the sake of this post that I have any managerial or leadership position with any company. I'm not serving as an apologist for anyone when I say to those of you seeking long-term corporate careers that getting past difficult decisions and people is an absolutely essential skill. Now two-weeks past our staff reductions, I see and hear of a person here or there who is struggling to keep their chin up. Their best friend was let go, the person who hired them is retiring, someone they loved was laid off while someone they despise was kept. It is not at all unusual, and is actually fairly common, for personal loss to cause someone to change jobs. The idea that, "its just not the same around here anymore" can cause you to look for another job, or at least suffer a loss of commitment to the job you have. Its a form of grief not unlike the death of someone close to you. I know this first hand. A few years back I knew I needed to leave Sumitomo Electric because I