Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Death of Human Resources

The HR Department still exists in Corporate America, but as an advocate of employees and defender against senior management abuses, the HR profession seems to have gotten away from the role it once served.

I am not quite sure when this happened. I have worked in the private sector for twenty years in many industries and company cultures. I have witnessed first-hand how Human Resource professionals act less as an agent of protecting employee rights. I have been downsized a number of times, when companies merged or when the economy turned sharply down as we are witnessing now. Through all of the periods of significant downsizing, right-sizing, re-engineering, off-shoring, outsourcing, and Union-busting, the HR profession has reminded relatively silent, despite the significant negative long-term impact to the American economy.

Another area in which the HR profession seems to want to remain silent, in my opinion, is in the area of employees being mistreated by Senior Management. This trend is even more alarming given the active role that HR served in the past in its defense of employee rights. In the past, HR seems to have been much more proactive in support of employee rights by ensuring that employers were in compliance with EEOC regulations, while defending employees against harassment, wrongful terminations, etc.

In the past few years, it seems much has been written about HR seeking a seat at the management table. But the critical question that begs asking is, how can HR earn that seat at the table?

The opportunity for advancement for American workers is another area in which Human Resources seems much less active than in the past. Employee human capital development programs like training and development, coaching and mentoring, and other employee development programs seem much more likely to be outsourced, or managed by corporate training departments, if they are still being offered at all.

One area in which HR seems to have become much more active is in the role of administrative gatekeeper, by processing paperwork, routing resumes, etc. Worst yet, HR is now tasked with enforcing draconian senior management directives by monitoring employer behavior by tracking employee personal email, the websites employees visit at work, the time employees spend out of office, on leave, vacation, etc. The term “draconian” applies to such management behavior as: not reimbursing employees for work-related expenses like travel, monitoring employee email, phone calls, and Internet activity even beyond what is expected, restricting employees from leaving early certain days to pick up children from school/camp/aftercare, etc. allowing employees to work in a “timeshare” basis, forcing employees to come in to the office 5 days a week.

When has HR actually driven cutting edge policies on flexible work plans, job-sharing, issue resolution/conflict avoidance, job rotations, retired employee hire-back policies, etc?

Is there still a belief that HR should be the functional area within the American business enterprise to humanize the employee experience in work environments? Are there still rights to be had by employees in the employee/employer “contract?” Are we truly at the end of one employer for a career IBM culture of the 1950s.

Who will speak for the employee, if not HR? The answer is no one. Is it safe to assume that the American workplace of the 21st century could do away with HR altogether (through outsourcing or elimination) and the impact to the American enterprise would be minimal?

Where was the outcry from the HR profession when banking and financial services firms were initiating scandalous abuses by charging clients excessive fees, falsifying financial documents, and running their businesses into the ground. Where were the senior HR managers when companies imploded in a whirlwind of ethical impropriety exhibited by the likes of Tyco, Enron, Adelphia, and Global Crossing?

HR needs to establish processes to monitor unethical behavior of a company at all levels, including senior management. They should push senior mgmt that it is in their best interest to be involved in monitoring work done by outside consultants, accounting and auditing firms that are engaged by senior management on a project basis. Why wasn’t HR the consistent whistle-blower against corporate excess of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000? The answer is that HR no longer possesses the sort of relevance that would enable it to have an impact.

HR staff should have to work on a rotational basis in cross-functional departments, and should conduct focus groups with front-line staff to understand the challenges these people face in serving the business. They should create Idea Generation programs to gather input from employees at all levels on how to improve the company’s processes, behaviors, benefits, employee programs, etc. Quarterly Town Hall meetings are an excellent tool for HR to leverage in order to enable senior mgt to report on the state of the company to all employees on a regular

I suggest that HR professionals do some soul-searching by asking themselves why they ever decided to enter the profession in the first place.

The challenge for senior-level HR professionals that wish to reverse these alarming trends is how can HR resume its role as social conscience and activist within their organizations? Stated differently, how can HR revisit the “HUMAN” tendencies that are required in world-class organizations? From a strategic standpoint, becoming a world class employer known for hiring, retaining and training/developing the best talent will give companies a true competitive advantage to help the firm survive through the most extreme economic downtowns as we are experiencing now.

Doing so will enable senior HR professionals to obtain their much coveted seat at the management table.

College Students Need Personal Mission Statement

During your college career, your journey will take you through a world of self-exploration as you pursue your educational goals. At the end of your college career, you obviously hope to be well-prepared and well-rounded enough to find gainful employment and achieve success as you pursue your passions and interests.

To that end, a critical first step in your journey of career exploration is to be able to define what values and beliefs you hold most dear. The development of a personal mission statement is an absolute necessity for you to adequately prepare for a career in the highly volatile twenty-first century global workplace.

The personal mission statement is an elegantly powerful resource. It is simply a two to three sentence declarative statement about the ideals, values and beliefs you hold true. It defines your goals in your personal and professional career. Best of all, you can leverage it in order to match your ideals and what you are seeking in a career with the appropriate culture of an organization that matches your beliefs and values. It is succinctly, your elevator pitch, a summarized sales pitch of the product called YOU.

Thomas Moore said: “It isn’t enough that we have meaningful work. What is also required is work that satisfies the soul.” You can begin the process of writing a personal mission statement with a technique called “visualization”, a technique that world-class athletes use. Ask yourself what your ideal dream job would like. Where is the office located, what type of people would you be working with? What are you doing every day, what does your workplace look like. Will you be working alone or with a diverse group of people? Are you travelling? Working abroad?

After you have given this considerable time write it ALL down. A plan not written down is a dream. Once you write it down it takes on a life, a permanence that you can match your progress against. Next, identify all your likes and dislikes, things you are most passionate about. Have you been involved with any social causes? Think back on volunteer work you’ve done. Again, write this all down.

Your goal is to develop a mission statement that enables you to define your DREAM job. A dream job constitutes good work that will enable you to combine the following attributes: the ability to achieve excellent performance, the ability for you to express your ethics, and a pleasing sense of engagement (as defined by Howard Gardner, noted psychologist at Harvard University).

Next, you will need to evaluate your goals. Start with your classes, and academic focus. Then slowly expand that by thinking about all the jobs you’ve had, and times when you were working and you felt the most energized, fulfilled, and rewarded for the work you did. You will need to identify your strengths and areas for improvement, New Career Opportunities, identify Ideal Industries and Companies, and identify Your Working “Style”
Ask yourself what values and beliefs do you hold most dear. What principles do you choose as the foundation for the rest of your life, and your career by extension? What would I like to accomplish and contribute? What would I like to be? How do I fit into my family and community? What are my strengths?

Steven Covey defined the process of crafting one’s mission statement as: “connecting with your own unique purpose and the profound satisfaction that comes in fulfilling it.” After you have done all of the above, you are ready to apply this to the following four-step process:

1. Identify Past Successes
2. Identify Core Values
3. Identify Contributions
4. Identify Goals

Complete this process and you will have your very own personal mission statement.

An example:

“My personal mission is to live completely, honestly, and compassionately, with a healthy dose of realism mixed with the imagination and dreams that all things are possible if one sets their mind to finding an answer.”

Your personal mission statement gives you a concise, effective elevator pitch summarizing what you define as your key life’s goals, values, and beliefs. This is a powerful summary of what you hold dear, that forms the foundation (along with your core competencies and success stories) of how you will sell yourself during interviews, in a confident and assertive manner.
Some excellent resources to help you on your way:

• Franklin Covey Mission Builder;
• Laurie Beth Jones, The Path: Creating Your Mission Statement For Work & For Life
• Richard J. Leider, The Power of Purpose: Creating Meaning in Your Life and Work

Navigate Your Career In Turbulent Times

It’s been quite a year for the American worker.

2.6 million jobs were lost in 2008, a higher annual rate than any year since 1945, and the official unemployment rate has passed 7.2% nationally. Even more troubling, this percent only counts people that have registered for unemployment. When you include those individuals that have given up looking for work, the total number of unemployed Americans jumps to nearly 14%. The official unemployment rate seems destined to surpass 8%, which would make it its highest since 1981 and confirm that we are in the midst of the worst recession in 27 years.

Compounding the long-term adverse effects, our twenty first century global workplace, mean a protracted dire economic picture for the U.S. when other key economic regions such as India, China, Eastern Europe and Latin America experience economic downturns of their own. There have been massive layoffs across many industries but esp. so in the NY Metro area within banking and financial services, insurance, and now retail.

The key question in 2009 with respect to employment has become: how one can keep their current job, find new employment, change careers, or re-enter the workforce.
Fortunately, these turbulent times provide the opportunity for people to re-assess their career path and find new opportunities, if they are willing to invest the significant, time, effort and introspection that are required. For starters, the most critical aspect of work that makes us happy and fulfills us is doing things that we love to do, are passionate about, and fit our core values. In short, we can all find our dream jobs, but it requires that we understand who we are and what are our core values and beliefs.

Conducting a personal assessment like the Birkman Method, Meyer-Briggs Type Indicator-Strong Interest Inventory, or Keirsey Indicator self –assessment tool is a critical way to obtain a greater understanding of what we are all about. Identify the things you have done in the past that you REALLY liked, and those parts of previous jobs that you have hated. The goal is quite simply to maximize the things you derive the greatest pleasure at. Before we can hope to match ourselves with the desired culture of a potential employer, we have to know as much about ourselves as possible.

Howard Gardner, a noted psychologist at Harvard University has identified “good work” as achieving excellent performance, with the ability to express your ethics through your work, with a pleasing sense of being fully engaged.

Another effective tool to utilize for the purpose of personal exploration is to conduct a “visualization” exercise. This entails thinking about all of the defining characteristics of what your ideal “DREAM” job would be. Write down answers to the following questions: what does it look like, what does the office look like, how are you commuting (or are you working from home), what do your co-workers, boss, and direct reports look like – their age, ethnicity, background, etc. Be sure you write it ALL down. A plan that is NOT written down is nothing but a dream. Once you have written down all the key components of your DREAM job, you can formulate a plan with strategies to achieve that.

Now is the ideal time to consider going into business for yourself, or finding friends or co-workers that are willing to go into business with you, assuming they share your interests, background, passions. We are in the midst of the contract-based economy, in which employer loyalty no longer exists. You have to be loyal to yourself, and there is no greater leap of self-fulfillment that you can make, then going into business for yourself and pursuing the 21st century entrepreneurial workplace.

Once you understand the ideal type of job setting that you would be most happy in, the next step is to identify three or four industries that match your interests, passions, hobbies, and core competencies. Within each industry, you need to identify a handful of firms (say 5-7), for a total of 15-28 organizations that you will learn everything you can about. Such a narrowly focused approach will enable you to learn as much as you can about these organizations including their key competitors, products and services, management team, past financial performance, etc. that you can best leverage by using in you7r customized cover letters, resumes, professional bios, your interviews, and other correspondence.

The single most effective tool for job searching is networking. Networking is telling all of your friends, family, family of friends, friends of family…everyone in your social network exactly what types of employment you are looking for, the industries you are keen on pursuing, and the companies within each industry that you have identified for follow up. At that point, you will need to be able to summarize the core essence of your “Unique Selling Proposition” – what makes you UNIQUELY qualified as the ideal candidate. Market yourself as a PRODUCT whose features and benefits are your background, past work experiences, your qualifications, core competencies. Further, you7 MUST be able to express that sales pitch of the product called YOU in a 30-second elevator pitch. Be sure to write your elevator pitch down and provide it to all of the folks in your network.

Then you need to begin conducting informational interviews. First, know that an informational interview is NOT an interview. You are identifying people that work or have worked in one of the companies in the industries you have targeted, and call them up to introduce yourself and ask them to meet with you for a cup of coffee for 15 minutes to talk about their experiences. It is fair game to ask them how they got their start in the industry, what their background is, what they love most/least about their jobs, what a typical day is like for them. It’s gathering background information into the informal culture of the organizations you want to work for. At the end of that informational interview, you thank them, ask if they know one or two other folks that it would benefit you to talk to, ask if they can facilitate an introduction, and then be sure to send them a personally handwritten thank you note right away.

Get personal business cards made up with all of your contact details on one side and your core competencies listed on the other. They can be purchased online (a box of 500 for as little as $9) at websites like Make sure you have updated your references, being sure to inform people that you have listed every time you have an interview so they can expect to get a call checking on you. Consider attending relevant job fairs in the industry you currently work in plus the few you have targeted. Leverage all of your relationships with professional Associations and networking groups, and seek out any and every opportunity to attend conferences, trade shows, professional development courses, and ongoing skills development through lectures, training, Webinars, etc.

Subscribe to any and all free e-newsletters and sign up to receive free email alerts from key players in the industries and functional areas (sales, marketing, IT, HR, etc.) that are your background.

Given the state of the job market it very well might take a protracted length of time to find full-time employment. Consider other options such as contract and temporary work, volunteer work to avoid having lengthy gaps of no employment off your resume. Further you need to know that going through a prolonged job search can be a very emotionally trying experience. You need to make sure you are surrounded by only positive influences. Take extra special care of yourself, avoid addictive substances such as coffee and nicotine, and be sure to get plenty of exercise.