Thursday, November 29, 2007

What to do when a Union comes knocking at your door - Part 1

What to do when a Union Comes knocking - Part 1: Employee beware

In the spirit of my good pal, the Evil HR Lady, I am writing this post in response to questions I've been getting about Unions approaching employees in union-free companies.

Let's start out with a few very basic facts here; Unions can and often do serve a valuable role. Historically, Unions have helped shape the current state of the employment landscape. They have played a key role in the development of many important labor-friendly laws that have eliminated workplace hazards, provided excellent benefits and generally made the world a nicer place to work in.

Even though all of the above is true Unions are not perfect either. Unions survive on the dues that they extract from their members and some have a pretty bad reputation for not being good stewards of those funds. Further, some Unions have a great track record of forcing their way into companies where employees dont really want them through scare tactics and outright threats.

The first thing YOU need to do as an employee or manager is GET THE FACTS before you sign anything. Unions will almost invariably try to get you to sign a card, form or petition saying you want them to represent you. What most people miss out on here is the fact that electing a Union means that you are effectively making them your agent; you are turning over your power to negotiate your terms of employment to them. This is like signing a power of attorney. Imagine if some lawyer confronted you in the parking lot of your company and said "Hey, sign this form and I will get you a better deal" - would you sign it, just like that? Well, that's what the union is asking for when they come to organize.

The first time somebody swindled you out of your peanut butter and jelly sandwich for tuna fish on rye in third grade, you learned two valuable lessons - First, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And second, the grass is NOT greener on the other side (although that tuna fish probably was - yeech!) - That lesson will serve you well when a union comes to town.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Is your "secret sauce" in jeopardy?

Have you ever thought about the risk to your company from the practice known as poaching. This is the practice where firms effectively raid their competitors to hire away their top talent, you know, the folks on your team who know how to make the "secret sauce". The competitive advantage gained by doing so comes from the double-whammy of your company gaining a top notch player, while simultaneously removing a key player from the competition.

There are very distinct concerns and considerations to this as highlighted in John Sullivan's Inc article on poaching.

I want to focus on poaching as a competitive threat to your company for a moment. You have to understand how poaching works and develop a strategy to recognize it and defend against it if you want to be successful in a competitive industry.

First off, all you really need to know about poaching is this: Unless you work in an industry where NO ONE competes with you, it IS a threat to your very livelihood. Every enterprise, from your local motorcycle repair shop to your local school district poaches at some point. Maybe it's the tight labor market; maybe it's the sadistic vein in the CEO.... whatever the reason, it is real and headed your way eventually.

Now, as to how to head it off; You need to understand that no solution is perfect for all situations and you are not likely to avoid losing staff this way. Knowing how the law on this point works (remember folks, I am NOT a Lawyer - this is solely based on my opinion and experience).

Employees in the U.S. are bound by a common-law duty not to compete with their company. This means that while they are under your employ, they are not permitted to solicit your customers, influence your staff to leave, or take any action to steal your intellectual property. You can use this common-law as an educational point to your staff - having them understand their obligations may help them avoid the temptation in the first place.

Many employers try to protect their secret sauce by having key staff (Executives / Officers, top sales people, strategists, programmers, etc....) sign a non-compete / non - disclosure / non - solicit agreement in which the employee promises not to directly compete, disclosed confidential information to, or lure other staff to work in a competing company. This is not a bad approach and it can be VERY effective in the short run. These agreements have a couple of major drawbacks though; First, you have to get the employee to sign them in recognition of something of value you provide to them - usually a bonus payment . Second, they have to be specific and reasonable. I wont bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that the limits have to be short in duration (generally less than 12 months), specific to known and named competitors in specific geographies and reasonably not preclude the employee from working in your industry in some non-competing way. Not a perfect fit, eh??

In my opinion, these methods are mere adjunct tools in a larger strategy which is much more basic and incorporates all the "little things" that make you a great employer, make your employees loyal to the cause and forms the basis of the real "secret sauce".

Take a look at your exposure to poaching. Resolve all the obvious details like pay equity (internal and market based), truly open lines of communication, fair and consistent performance evaluations, constant and constructive feedback and most important of all - show the troops that you really care. If you get all of this right, you are doing more to protect your business than ANY non-compete agreement can do.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Carnival of HR

It’s carnival time in HR-land and those fools – er, kindred souls in the Village have entrusted me with hosting it this time. Cue up the Calliope and summon the clowns.

And speaking of Clowns…. I’ve been following the continuing saga of Mr. Alex Rodriguez, and his now infamous demand of a $350 Million Dollar offer just to begin negotiations with the Yankees…. Who does he think he is, Robert Nardelli? How’s that for chutzpah??

Our friend over at Ask A Manager has some good advice that could have saved Home Depot and the Yankees a lot of trouble by managing the performance of people like these two “stars” upfront and properly.

And why is it that sports (and other) stars always put management in difficult positions by being the spoiled people that they are? Kris at the Human Capitalist has some pretty good insights on managing such stars without killing your business.

Maybe we could be better at influencing the behaviors and performance of our stars by having a results-tied compensation plan. Ann from Compensation Force may have the answers in her brilliant post on Incentive Principles.

It’s a pretty good bet that if the Yankees had a decent performance assessment process and a candid Talent Assessment plan they might have headed off the blow-up with A-Rod. Gautam Ghosh came up with a thought provoker about Assessing Potential – how it can be done well, and how we all tend to stumble through it usually.

Peggy at Career Encouragement raised a seemingly unrelated topic, till you look below the surface. She refers to a post on how employees feel about being referred to EAP. Now I’m not making any accusations here, but A-Rod demands $350 Million at the same time Peggy brings up an EAP article…. Coincidence! You decide!

Lisa at HR Thoughts raises a real value perception question that relates nicely as well. So you’ve got a Hero on the team and you reward him for his clinch hit in the bottom of the 9th to win the game – but do you ever hold him accountable for striking out in the first 8 innings and getting the team into a clinch in the first place??

Maybe the problem isn’t all with A-Rod alone. Maybe a better leader could have inspired and engaged him to play well for less cash – at least that’s a theory that fits Anna’s post from the Engaging Brand. Besides – I cannot deal with the Image of Steinbrenner reading anybody’s palm – yech!

Wally over at Three Star Leadership has a great viewpoint on selecting and developing leaders that touches our theme here as well. Maybe George Steinbrenner should have read this last year??

This topic really had me steamed and I was starting to rail against these smug little sports brats. Wayne Turmel (the host of the Cranky Middle Manager show and President of pointed out that maybe this generation of spoiled brats isn’t really so bad after all – maybe the kids are alright after all.

And finally (ironic, since she was the first to my door with her post – well done!) Carmen over at Race in the Workplace reminds us that as we move on post this drama and trauma and begin our search for a new bat-wielding hero to propel the Yankees back to the playoffs, we have to acknowledge that talent comes in all form, sizes and colors. We do ourselves and our team a grave injustice when we claim not to notice the color of our teammates.

Phew! – an entire carnival all tied (however loosely) to a topic that I don’t even really care about! Perhaps I have uncovered a hidden talent in myself – maybe I’m a free-style Rapper trapped in an HR geek’s body? NAH!!!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

So how much do you think YOU are worth?

I've been struggling to find a topic that gets my blood hot enough to blog about while still being related to all the management voodoo we cover here. Thank you Mr. Rodriguez!

I read this little bit of insanity in today's New York Post while waiting in the oil change place yesterday. Everyone there from the baseball junkie to the suburban soccer-mom had something to say about the unmitigated gall of A-Rod to seek such a kings ransom despite having been in a virtual coma for the playoffs. While it's an extreme example, it gave me the jolt I needed to bring up a topic we've not covered before - compensation.

As an HR geek, I have seen more than my share of self professed super-star employees come in with some pretty outrageous salary demands and it always gets to me to the point where those otherwise silent voices in my head scream out, "what the heck is she thinking?". Honestly folks, we have all done or at least seen it before. For some reason, you get it in your head that you are not being adequately paid for what you do. Maybe you have had an increase in responsibility or maybe you still do the same job, but have heard about someone else making more, or seen a salary survey indicating that people who do what you think you do make more money for doing it.

I'm not going to suggest that you are (or are not) properly compensated for you job, but I will challenge you to think about your pay this way;

- Are you really underpaid? If you think so, how do you define it?
  • Being paid less than you feel you need to live on is not the same as being underpaid. I know lots of outstanding burger flippers at McDonalds and some of them seem to be struggling to make ends meet. They are great at what they do, but despite their personal financial challenges, Burger Flippers make $7.25 per hour, period.
  • Being paid less than others who do the same job you do, with the same quality results and without any difference in seniority (if that applies in your world), IS something you should speak with the boss about.
  • Comparing your pay to "survey" data is a complex game and you should be careful how you go about it:
    • Does the survey job you are comparing yourself to really match your job?
    • Are you doing all the components of the survey job?
    • Is the survey data from your area, or is it from a national or regional average?
    • How current is the survey data ?
    • And most important of all, does your company even care about survey data???
The fact is that we are living in a great job market. Companies are finding it harder to find the talent they need to get the results they need and there is already stiff competition for the best players. If you really feel you are underpaid, why not look around the job market to see how much other companies are willing to pay for your expertise? I know that sounds a bit militant, but hey, you are in the Guerrilla HR page!

If you feel that you are underpaid, talk to the boss about it. If the company isn't willing to be open and up front with you about your compensation, it may be time to brush up that old resume and float it out to a few companies to see what the rest of the world will pay you for your expertise.