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Showing posts from 2010

Doomsday Retirement Scenarios

If you're older than 30 or ever attended a 401(k) educational seminar you've heard it. How we're not ready for retirement. How we haven't saved enough and how you need some astronomical amount of money you can't possibly save in order to afford retirement. While few people are saving enough, period, there are problems with the doomsday scenario. It is based upon an unrealistic retirement age established in 1935, manual labor, and the idea of employer pensions, now mostly a thing of the past. With no pension and a traditional retirement age, how do you possibly retire? Traditional retirement savings ideas are based upon the "three-legged stool" notion; your retirement is financed by your own personal savings, your private retirement benefits (pension or 401(k)), and Social Security. The doomsday Sayers project that without a pension your 401(k) and Social Security are all you'll have, and you'll be short. Well, if you perform manual labor and

The Art of the Fresh Start

Most employee handbooks define what the organization considers its intolerable violations; those things that, if you do, you're fired. Most offenses fall far short of that, thankfully, and are corrected by coaching or discipline; the offending party goes back to work while everything is kept confidential. Somewhere between those scenarios is that most difficult situation where everyone knows or thinks they know everything and the offense poisons team cohesion. The choices left at that point are to terminate the offender for a non-terminable offense, which isn't fair, or transfer them somewhere else in the organization. This can prove to be far trickier than it looks, but it can be done and is often worth the trouble. A great example of how this is being done well is Jeff Fisher's acquisition and management of Randy Moss. You don't have to be sports fan to get this example. To take the football talk out of the example you just need to know this: Moss is a fa

To Tell the Truth

In a corporate environment the truth is often a victim of power and the fear of it. That's as unnecessary as it is unfortunate. When people feel that they can't tell the truth to their boss, staff or peers it usually comes out of unfounded fear such as: 1. Afraid to make the boss mad 2. Afraid to look bad in front of others 3. Afraid to offend someone and deal with the tension or conflict. Now here's the problem; organizations in the information economy live or die based upon good decisions. Good decisions depend upon having good information, which can't exist when people aren't candid with one another. Coming from secular business almost ten years ago I was surprised that one of the biggest issues in Christian organizations is hearing the truth. Between the fear factor and the desire to be nice, the truth often suffers. In my role I have to sometimes say unpopular things to people in power. For me there's no escaping that obligation and it just comes

The Myth of the Consensual Workplace Romance

I'm approaching 30 years working in private sector workplaces and I have learned a few things: loyalty is rewarded if you work for good people, getting behind can be cured by staying later, and a workplace romance is never a good idea. The reason is that the presence of position power and romantic attachment are toxic . This combination is toxic to relationships and to the workplace in several ways. 1. You can't hide a romance...don't even try . Once an individual with position power is perceived to show favor to someone on staff then favoritism is introduced, real or perceived, into the workplace. 2. Judgement gets clouded . The person with postion power may rationalize that they're being fair to everyone, but that's not always the case. Its worse when they lie to themselves that nobody knows. 3. The staff starts seeing ghosts . Even when no favoritism or romantic activity is going on, the perception that it is becomes the easy-out, blame-all for e

Small Town Professionals

I grew up in a small town. Actually, that's not true; I grew up about 10 miles outside a really small town in a community of about 500 people called Little Muddy, Kentucky. Next closest place was Morgantown, population 1,200, where my parents had their business. My wife and I raised our family is the next biggest place, Russellville, about 20 miles away with a population of 8,000. I am small town by birth and professional by choice. That's an important choice. We're a medium-sized company of 500 people. There's another way to look at that; we're a really small town of 500 people. When you spend more time at work than at home you build community with the people at work. Departments are like streets; some neighborhoods are furnished better than others. Everybody is into everybody else's business. Now I don't mean that in a bad way. You can't build community, connectedness and teamwork on the one hand and anonymity on the other. People can'

Appropriate Dress at Work

This shouldn't be a long epistle of a blog post. The princples are simple and straightforward and go something like this: 1. We should be dressed professionally every day at work. 2. You can wear casual clothing items and still look professional. 3. You can wear professional clothing items poorly and still look sloppy. 4. Overly revealing clothes never look professional unless you're a dancer. 5. You never know which minister, author, or customer you're going to run into. Nobody tied you up, threw you in the trunk, and made you work here. You came to the Bible Company and asked for a job. When you get dressed in the morning make sure to remember where you work. Central Parking's customers probably don't care how CP's people dress: ours do. HCA's content providers, their doctors, probably don't care if their receptionists are half dressed. Our content providers, our authors, more than likely do. Remember where you work. It really is that

The Vocational Root Cause of This Recession

You can't turn on the television and avoid hearing opinions about how our economy came to its current state. And while it is true that speculation in real estate was rampant, fueled by poor lending practices and irresponsible buyers, there's a deeper root cause; we don't make much in the way of physical products anymore, and we don't really want to. Two days ago in the New York Times David Brooks called this out wonderfully. In his Op Ed piece, "The Genteel Nation" Brooks points out that our change in thinking has given us "Great Britain disease" leading to the decline of our empire like that of our mother country centuries ago. His thesis is dead-on; like Great Britain before us, we built our economy making things. We applied scientific knowledge of primary industries, and society's best and brightest engaged in those endeavors. Now 65% of graduates from the nation's top schools go into law, finance or consulting. This isn't the

Quick Office Furniture Factoid

We are 34 days away from move-in day at our new Live Events headquarters in Plano, TX. Just saying that, much less writing it, makes me catch my breath because there is a lot yet to be done. It is in Scott Holloway's capable hands, however, so I have every confidence that it will be (like all his projects) on-time and on-budget. We meet on this project weekly and I came across some information today that might help answer an age-old question within the company: "Why does office furniture cost so much more than I can buy it at retail?" This is a question that comes up every project: why, for instance, does a good cubicle-grade desk chair cost $500 when you can buy them at Office Depot for $300 or less. Okay, here's why... You don't sit in your home office chair 8 hours a day for years at a time. We have some $300 chairs in our company, and our experience with them is that they must be replaced about every three years. That's $100/year for usage. The

Giving Away my AA

Three weeks ago we hired an outstanding young woman to be my part-time Admin. Her name is Nubia and she has done a wonderful job very quickly. She will also leave my area in two weeks to take a full-time job at Grupo Nelson. Early on we identified this young lady as a unique talent; bi-lingual with a degree in International Business and an intense curiosity about our business. An outstanding positive attitude didn't hurt either. I gave her an early version of our strategic planning materials to shred and she did, after reading them and coming back to ask really good questions. When the Grupo job was posted a couple of weeks ago it became clear: she was a great hire for us, but fit the Grupo job perfectly. It was a tough decision, but we waived the six month waiting period for new-hires to post and offered her the position last Friday. In the end, the company is best served by having the right people in the right places and my job is easier to fill. We're parting on g

Sometimes We Just Stand There and Take It

One of the bedrock values that we live by in our HR department is the sanctity of confidential information. Whatever we know, we don't talk about. Anytime someone asks me if something is in confidence I always say the same thing, "If I hear in our conversation a violation of the law or significant violation of company policy I have to put on my "Agent of the Company" hat; otherwise what you say here, stays here." That applies not only to information we know about employees, but also candidates and former employees. We adhere to this value because trust and confidence are the currency with which we do our business in the company. We never forget that and this is mostly a good thing. I say mostly because there are times when it really bites us. Not everyone who leaves us tells the truth about why they left. Not everyone who fails to get hired tells the truth about why they didn't. Sometimes an employee with an unfavorable outcome needs a face for their

The Thin Line Between Experience and Age

Occasionally older team members leave your workforce involuntarily. That's a sensitive issue when it happens. Other older members of the team become unsettled because they probably worked with that person for years, and some wonder if they're next. There are legal issues involved as well. Age discrimination laws give disgruntled ex-staffers a tool with which to strike at your company even if no discrimination is involved. We've had some older people leave our workforce in the past few years. At the same time we also recently celebrated a milestone birthday with one of our most revered and respected colleagues. At 80, Jack Countryman is producing some of the finest work of his long and legendary career. In his late 60's, Larry Downs Sr. is doing great work in selling Spanish products. So if we're welcoming of some and not afraid to dismiss others, where's the line between when someone has excellent experience and when they become a candidate for termin

Job Skills You Need Now

In the spirit of the Seth Godin, Tom Peters piece on YouTube, I'm going to keep this post to the point. When you think of job skills you usually think of things you can do, like design a book cover or balance a spreadsheet. Those are important and will get you in the door. The keys to longevity, however, are the behavioral skills of coping with an ever-changing post-recessionary business landscape. 1. Adaptability to change - Change once came like an occasional tidal wave every few years and reset the landscape. Now it's like standing on the beach watching wave after wave after wave wash over your feet with no end to the waves on the horizon. You don't stand on the beach and bitch about the waves; don't stand in the office and complain about change. Its the business life you chose. 2. Resiliency in the face of change - Many bright, young talents start strong and burn out or become cynical when they see repeated changes. They blame management for poor planni

DWI: Driving While Immigrant

About six months after moving to Nashville we traded my trusty commuter Honda for a barely-used Avalon for my wife. We got a great deal; an African American female soldier who had been in Iraq over a year decided to sell the car rather than make payments for it to sit in the parking lot at Ft. Campbell. One of the things we liked about it was that she had trimmed it out nicely with rims and a smoked license plate cover. Nothing we would ever spend money to do, but sharp looking, especially the rims. We noticed the first few weeks we had it that young guys, especially African American kids, would actually back-up when stopped in traffic to look at the car. They were shocked to find a middle aged, gray-haired white woman behind the wheel. And one day, so was Metro... Heading home from meeting me for lunch, my wife was pulled over in Hermitage. She was in a stretch of Lebanon Road known as the "Bonnas" where at the time there was some daytime drug activity. Note the

Being Real

I'm posing a question here. I'm not being critical or making a point, other than to say that I have a question. I've noticed in our 25 year old daughter and in co-workers of a similar vintage a generational value of authenticity. "Being real" is short-hand for baring your soul or expressing unvarnished, uncensored feelings to others regardless of how they receive that information. Combined with the growing ubiquitous presence of social media, you can now gain and lose friends with lightening speed by saying what you really feel. At the risk of self-identifying as being old school, I find this noteworthy from both a generational and geographic perspective. I was not only raised in the south, but raised southern. My dad is from Kentucky and my mom is from Mississippi. Dad is from a tiny town in the western part of the state, and mom was raised by a school teacher and a minister. The southern value of that day was propriety and discretion above all else. I

FSA Letters

If you're receiving strange letters from Blue Cross Blue Shield to justify FSA purchases you're not alone. The rules on FSA purchases have tightened, and we informed everyone at Open Enrollment that you might be required to submit receipts or other backup to justify purchases on your FSA card. That's normal. What's not normal is that some of you are being asked to submit backup for every single swipe of an FSA card, including co-pays for prescription drugs and in-network doctor visits. That's not right and we've addressed it. But it has been good for a laugh... Some of you have been asked by BCBS to submit an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) to justify your in-network FSA swipes. Those EOBs come from...BCBS! Their FSA unit has been asking some of you to send back to them forms that they themselves generate. Even better, one lady was told not to send it back in...just read it over the phone! And my favorite is the 1¢ solution. There was a penny difference be

Business Lessons from McKnight Guitars

We have, I believe, much to learn about business from a tiny luthier in the middle of nowhere. What he and his wife are doing right affirms some of what we're already doing and could teach us a thing or two that we're not. First a little background... I picked the guitar back up at age 44 after not having played since high school. It started at Henry Horton State Park during a management retreat. In the unofficial hospitality room I found my soon-to-be good friend Gabe Wicks playing and passing around his Martin guitar. People were taking turns, so I took one. It just felt right, not necessarily the instrument, but the sense of community and camaraderie. Instruments can be pleasant fill-ins for the solitude of introverts and many of them become superb players. For me the instrument is the focal point around which we've built a tight community of friends. Vonnie and I took this one step further this past weekend and traveled to Morral, OH, allegedly population 325 althou

Breaking the Taboo: Tools for Talking Price with Your Doctor

Each time I go to my neighborhood Publix I experience two pricing models. The difference between these goes to the heart of what's wrong with our health care costs as a nation. I drop my prescription off at the pharmacy, and then head off with my wife (without whom I couldn't find the front checkout much less any food item, but I digress) to grab our food for the week. When it comes time to check out I swing by the pharmacy and pay three $10 co-pays for three generic maintenance drugs. Then we go to the checkouts and pay for everything else. By the time we're at the checkouts I can tell you almost to the dollar how much we're going to spend because I've watched that with each item that's gone into the cart. I have absolutely no idea how much my prescriptions actually cost me because "they're $10 each." That's a lot of what's wrong with health care costs, and why HSA accounts are reshaping our thinking. With FSA accounts and PPO plans we

Demographics Will Save This Job Market

As usual the headlines on the job market are dire. News agency after news agency reported that "March job losses were 61% higher than February." Surely all signs point to a slow recovery for jobs in the near term, but long-term the outlook is outstanding. Here's the rest of the story. March job losses were sharply higher than February's because February's 40,090 jobs lost was the lowest in four years . March's 67,611 was not great news, but let's dissect that further. First of all it was 55% lower than March 2009's 181,183 jobs lost. Now of that 67,611, 50,604 were government job cuts announced in prior months and finally implemented. The media got to count these twice as bad news: once months ago when the various federal, state and local entities announced the cut and again in March when they happened. Furthermore of these 50,604, just over 30,000of those are at the U.S. Postal service. So take out the USPS and the governmental sector cu

I'm Looking for a Temp Assistant

I've never tried this before but, hey, why not. I am currently looking for a part-time Admin for a temporary spot that could work into a full-time job. Right now I need someone about 20 hours a week who would work as my AA about half that time and spend the rest of their time working for Travel and HR doing clerical support work. Before you ask, no, my current AA Dawn isn't going anywhere. Our work load has expanded as has Travel, and we need to slide Dawn over to help Jack in the more traditional HR work. This position would pick up some of her slack while she's working for Jack. As to who I'm looking for, we'd like someone who has previous Assistant experience (HR is a plus but not necessary), is professional in appearance and demeanor, has good instincts (we deal with people, after all), and is service-oriented so that our internal customers are treated well. As an added incentive to find the right person, we're okay with someone on the "Mommy

Eligibility for Your Medical Benefits Plan

As we near the end of Open Enrollment I want to highlight some changes to the eligibility rules for our medical and dental plans. These mostly impact new employees coming in after the first of next month. Supervisors and all of us who recruit should know this information so we can use our benefits to recruit prospective talent. I believe we have a good story to tell. Immediate Eligibility Although this isn't completely new, I find that some people don't realize it. You are eligible for coverage under our medical and dental plan beginning on your hire date. You must allow a few days for sign-up, card printing and mailing, etc... but there is no waiting period after you're hired. Part-time Employee Eligibility This year for the first time we are extending eligibility to part-time employees. This doesn't cover temps, interns, contractors or any other casual labor. This eligibility extends only to those individuals who work regularly 20 hours per week or more and who

What Healthcare Reform Means for Our Benefits

Unless you've been camping in a distant cave you know that this week the House of Representatives approved comprehensive healthcare reform legislation. Over the next nine years this new law has the potential to substantially change the healthcare system and industry in this country. While most everyone knows something happened, what it means seems open to interpretation. Walking through the corporate office this week as part of our Open Enrollment process I heard many opinions and had several requests to blog on this topic. I've also sought out news items off the web, TV and radio. In addition, about a half dozen unsolicited email articles have come to my inbox by companies wanting to sell us consulting services for our health plans. The following is a summary of what I've learned to date. One more thing before we start. I am neither Republican nor Democrat, conservative nor liberal. Please don't try to paint me with a particular political brush if you don't

FY '11 Medical Plan Decisions Simplified

It's open enrollment month in our company and many people are trying to make a decisions regarding their medical plans for the fiscal year beginning April 1st. This year our Tennessee employees have a four-option choice; PPO vs. High Deductible Plan (HDP), and Blue Cross "P" network vs. "S" network. With the various differences in premiums, co-pays, deductibles, HSA vs. FSA, etc... there is a lot to consider. The HDP has gained momentum due to favorable payroll deductions and some good feedback from people currently in the plan. The S network rates are cheaper, but that network does not include any HCA hospitals including some where several of our people live. With a lot at stake, and a lot to sift through, here are some simple decision points you should consider if you work at Nelson. This is just my opinion and does not change any of the Open Enrollment information we've sent to our people. We have informational meetings going on and you should attend o

Molested in a Runaway Prius: The Top Ten List

I've been home-bound for a few days due to knee surgery. As a Catholic who owns two Toyotas , and proud on both accounts, it's been tough to avoid the news. The hysteria over 30 year old allegations of priestly impropriety has moved from the U.S. to Ireland and now to Germany. The smart money inside the Church is that Spain is next. Meanwhile, "Me too!" runaway Toyota incidents with lawyers and reporters on standby plague the world's largest automaker. Being a student of institutional behavior, and a great admirer of these two great institutions, it's pained me to watch them get behind the story in their respective news cycles. Meanwhile, Late Night host David Letterman sets the standard for getting past his own reprehensible behavior of having sex with young female staffers over whom he had authority as host of the show and owner of the show's production and distribution company, Worldwide Pants. The differences in how these three companies handled t

Watch Your Medical Coding and Billing

The American health care system is either the finest in the world or a hopeless morass of waste depending on who you talk to and their party affiliation. One thing that is absolute truth about our system is that it's complicated, and one of the root causes of that complexity is the interface between medical coders, medical provider billing, and your insurance plan. I'm near the end of a medical coding/billing/insurance problem that I've been working since July. The facts of this case (which I have permission to share) should help you understand why it's important to know your benefits, watch your bills, question everything, and use your HR department if necessary. In July we had a dependent on the plan who was referred by her primary care physician for a colonoscopy . The patient here had no symptoms or problems but had reached the age when that procedure is recommended. The colonoscopy was performed later that month and the results were clear except for a mild case

Building Your Brand in Inclement Weather

One of the truths of growing your career is that as you progress through the organization you become broad and shallow as opposed to the staff emphasis of being narrow and deep . By that I mean that when you are on staff you work on a small variety of tasks which you must know completely down to the last detail. As you progress in your career and take on broader responsibilities there simply isn't enough time to go into all the details of every task; that's why you have staff working for you and that's their job. The further you rise in an organization, the more you just touch the tops of your different responsibilities. Your job then becomes fundamentally different; the organization starts paying you for judgement, trustworthiness, dependability and execution. Can they assign you to an area and almost completely walk away from it? If so, you've become a reliable manager. It is in that area of dependability and execution that there's opportunity in times of bad

Building Quality Products One Relationship at a Time

I consider it a life-changing experience having spent 10 years in the Japanese automotive business. Even in an HR role I got to see first hand how a "culture of quality" permeates a corporate culture. I'm not sure that we'll ever be able to install anything like it at Thomas Nelson. Our business model is split between experiential content (live events, social media, etc...), electronic content, and physical content. While we want everything we do to be of high quality and value to the customer, we aren't solely focused on how to make an excellent physical product from the top down. This divided focus is contrary to the type of fanatical devotion to "the thing" you make that is required of a "total quality" culture. Still, we can make high quality physical products, and our product quality is in some cases an opportunity. Some regard the type of focus needed to make an excellent product too "blue collar" and so don't focus enough

No Hiring Thaw

I've received some questions lately about our hiring freeze "thawing out". The inevitable question that follows is when the wage freeze will similarly thaw, and why we aren't giving raises yet if we're hiring. Here are the facts. We currently have four positions posted. Three are back-fills for people who left the company or were promoted internally to other positions. One is a new position in an area that management has determined was cut back too drastically in 2008 and where lack of a position is holding us back from needed revenue. Earlier this year we replaced one person who left with two lower-paid people for the same money. Other than that, any new faces you see around the operation are temporaries, interns, etc... We all hope for better days, and soon; meanwhile its important to note that everyone is doing more with less, not just you and your group. All the positions filled recently and all those currently posted add to the company's overhea

Count to Ten...

Okay, so you are tired and overworked and people are just plain getting on your nerves. The temptation is to blast some idiot who really deserves it and has for some time. You decide its time to fire that "special" someone on your team simply because the law says you can't kill them. You, gentle reader, need to count to 10 before you say anything, and sleep on it overnight before you do anything. I've seen it already this week. One of our managers started busting the chops of an outside trainer in the middle of class. Another one jumped all over me and didn't care to get the facts. I myself spent most of the weekend in the hospital with my Mom, and came back to work worn out and grumpy. The first three things that happened yesterday tempted me to invite the offending parties into a caged death match. Acting on such frustrations is neither a Christian reaction nor a good career strategy. So what do you do when you wonder how high a co-worker or your bo

Sometimes "None of the Above" is the Best Candidate

As the recession begins to thaw and companies begin to rehire, supervisors and HR departments nation wide are dusting off their recruiting tools and trying to remember how to hire people. In the midst of this two university sports teams in this region have had similar coaching debacles that I believe reinforce a simple but elegant recruiting lesson. Sometimes the best solution is not to select a candidate and keep looking. A couple of years ago the University of Kentucky lost its embattled basketball coach Tubby Smith, a quality human being and great coach who won about 17 - 18 games a season. This of course was not sufficient for Big Blue Nation which thinks under 30 wins and not making it to the Final Four is a disastrous season. Smith decided to go to Minnesota where he can win 17 games and have a field house named after him. So when Smith finally had enough, UK needed a coach. Here is where college Athletic Directors are at a disadvantage. Season tickets have been purchased, gam