Tag Archives: change

Update on Playing the Game . . . and Its Forthcoming Sequel

In the year and a half since I last posted, I have changed the focus of my professional life. I ended my mediation career and have turned to writing. It’s been an enjoyable transition.

I have spent much of this time drafting a sequel to my first novel, Playing the Game. My new novel will be titled Playing It Straight, and it is likely to be available this fall—I hope by Halloween.

In the meantime, I have also come out with a second printing of Playing the Game, complete with a new cover. The text of this novel is almost entirely the same, with just a few corrections and updates. So no need to read it again, if you’ve already read it.

But if you haven’t read it, I encourage you to read Playing the Game now. Then you’ll be ready for Playing It Straight when it is published.

With respect to this blog, I don’t plan on posting regularly, though I hope to post from time to time. I’ve missed the opportunity to weigh in on issues of our times.

This year in particular has been full of topics that impact our personal and workplace lives—the political situation, the pandemic, the economic unheaval, the protests over racial injustice. Like most of us, I have opinions on these issues, and I may write about them on this blog. Although our nation has faced political turmoil and polarization, pandemics, economic crises, and racial protests before, this year feels unprecedented in that we face them all at the same time.

Good to be back with you! And stay safe in this time of uncertainty.

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Is HR Still Relevant? Only If We Can Keep Up With the Speed of Change

HR wordleThis past summer, I read an article on TLNT.com asking “Is there still a need for HR?” Of course, as an Human Resources publication, TLNT.com answered yes.  And as a former HR executive, I think the answer is yes also.

Then I read another article on McKinsey.com on getting ready for the future of work. This article focused on the increase of artificial intelligence and what that will mean for organizations in the years ahead.  According to McKinsey, at least 30 percent of the activities associated with most occupations could be automated—including knowledge tasks.

It dawned on me that in my working career of thirty-some years, there have been two major shifts in what constitutes work for many people. The first shift arose with the computerization of what used to be manual tasks, vastly increasing the productivity of repetitive work. The second shift came with the speed of communications and data transfer, so that now many roles can be performed anywhere.

It could be that artificial intelligence will be a third momentous shift in work, if machines in the future will not only perform the processing tasks that humans now do, but also the thinking and conceptualizing roles that we have assumed differentiated human beings from non-human.

These huge changes in what constitutes work are significant because they have happened so rapidly. Shifts of this magnitude used to come only once in a century or every few centuries. Think of the Industrial Revolution, when machines started doing what human and animal labor had done before. Think of how locomotion shifted from wind or animal power to motorized power. We now move as fast as we can find power to move us—on land, water, air . . . and even space.

Why do I raise these subjects in a discussion about Human Resources?

HR signBecause to remain relevant in the future, HR must have ready the right talent the organization will need at the right time in the right place. We have barely dealt with the skill sets needed to handle digitization. We still don’t really have our arms around the globalization of the workforce permitting employees and those in the gig economy in disparate locations to form project teams that ebb and flow as the work requires. Yet we may soon be asked to manage the intersection between human and artificial intelligence, when most HR people have no understanding of the possibilities of AI.

And we need to help employees prepare themselves to adapt to changing and ever more complex roles. Job changes in the future will be less about moving from company to company in the same field and more about complete shifts in what work we do and how we do it.

Are HR’s abilities to predict the skill sets of the future sufficient to the task of helping employees keep up? I doubt it.

HR strategists today say that fostering organizational culture is one of the core strengths HR can bring to an organization. But are we prepared to develop a global culture that incorporates not only human capabilities but also includes AI in the work world of tomorrow? I doubt that also.

The McKinsey article argues that lifelong learning is the only way that humans will maintain their employability in the future. That goes for HR professionals as much as for any other worker.

As Jeff Dieffenbach, associate director, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Integrated Learning Initiative, is quoted as saying in the McKinsey article:

“While change is accelerating, one thing that is definitely not is the neuroplasticity of the brain. In other words, the rate of change in the world may have surpassed the speed at which the human mind can process those changes.”

That goes for HR brains as well as those of other workers. Frankly, I’m not sure HR will survive in a recognizable form. The machines may take over from us.

What do you see ahead for HR?

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Making Dramatic Career Changes

toughdecisionsI read an article recently entitled “Thinking about making a dramatic (and scary) career change? Here’s what to consider,” by Sylvia Lafair, (July 6, 2015), on The Business Journals website.

The article got me thinking about the three dramatic career changes I’ve made in my life:

  • taking my first job as an attorney in a corporate legal department in a strange city rather than starting at a law firm (as everyone expected)
  • leaving the legal practice to move into a series of Human Resources assignments
  • leaving the corporate world completely to turn to mediating, consulting and writing

Each of these moves set off the emotions similar to those that Ms. Lafair described. Specifically, for me, the emotions were

     1.  Fear of the unknown and leaving what seemed safe

I knew I could do well if I followed the expected path. That even seemed true of the expected path right out of law school. I didn’t really doubt that I could do what others in my law school class were intending to do—work at major law firms near our school. But setting out halfway across country, and working in a corporate law department? Would I get adequate experience to move into other legal assignments in the future? Would I have the same respect from other attorneys and judges? These were my unknowns.

When I decided to leave the legal department for a Human Resources assignment, I knew the learning curve would be steep. I was jumping into a senior HR position with no HR experience. I thought I knew about half of what I would need to know, and that turned out to be correct.

Then, when I left corporate work altogether, I left a good salary and benefits, not knowing for sure if I could earn what I needed to as a consultant and mediator. It turns out my family has done fine financially, but the worry was there for the first couple of years.

     2.  Excitement at the possibilities a move could bring

The strong camaraderie I felt with the people in the corporate legal department ultimately outweighed the doubts about the work. I made my decision based on who I wanted to work with, and that was the right decision for me. One of the law firms I could have joined right out of law school folded within five years, so it would not have been more secure than the job I took.

And I moved into HR largely because I was bored at the repetitiveness of the law practice I had. I needed something new to interest me, and I knew I needed to move to another job to find it. The choice was to leave the law or leave the company, and I chose to leave the law, because a new field of expertise would give me more opportunities to learn.

And finally, I knew I wanted to spend my time doing many things that a demanding full-time job would not permit. That’s why I switched to consulting, mediating, and writing, which has let me set my own schedule.

   3.  Indecisiveness, while I wrestled with the decision

It took weeks for me to make the first decision, months to make the second, and years to make the third.

   4.  Guilt in leaving expectations of family and friends behind and choosing my own path

Choosing the path less seldom taken is always stressful. Why should I move halfway across the country to take a risky job? Why should I leave a field where I was successful? Why should I leave a financially rewarding career?

I got many questions from family members and friends, who essentially wanted to know why I was “dropping out” as they saw it. However, over the years, I’ve seen many friends and colleagues make similar decisions. I guess I was just an early adopter.

* * * * *

In the end, at each of these periods of indecisiveness, the pain I felt at following the expected path became greater than the fear of the unknown. For others (perhaps those with a healthier mindset), excitement about the future may come to outweigh the fear.

If you are faced with a difficult career decision, take a look at Ms. Lafair’s article and see if her suggestions help.

When have you made a change in your career, and what emotions did you experience?

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Finding Your True North—A Year-End Reflection

northAs I head into the end of each calendar year, I tend to spend some extra time in reflection. I recently found a list of ten things we should do to find our own true north. The list was in an old file, and I labeled it as coming from a presentation I attended by Dr. Terry Crane. However, I could not find Dr. Crane on the Internet, so I cannot provide further credentials. If anyone has links to Dr. Crane’s information, please send them to me in the comments below.

Here’s the list (it’s a good one):

1. Get an education.

2. Be an expert . . . in something.

3. Don’t take no for an answer.

4. Cultivate mentors—male and female—and never burn a bridge.

5. Build & keep your network; don’t lose a headhunter.

6. Be able to apply technology and understand how it impacts your business.

7. Become a mentor yourself—do not leave others behind.

8. Identify your support system—family and friends—know what’s important to you, and what your tolerance and flexibility are.

9. Take risks—do what’s uncomfortable, you can always go back.

10. Develop a passion for the work you do—it’s too much a part of your life not to.

Based on this list, how are you doing in finding your true north?

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The Future of Unions: Back to Guilds and/or Forward to Work Councils?

Union membership at private employers has declined over the last few decades, standing at less than 7% of the U.S. workforce today. Part of the reason for the decline in membership has been the success of unions over the years. Unions have worked to improve working conditions in individual plants and factories. They have also lobbied for passage of labor laws that affect all employees, unionized or not.

Image from Forbes

Image from Forbes

Consultants helping companies to develop positive employee relations tell their clients’ managers that “employers deserve the unions they get.” They imply that most workplaces are unionized only when management does a poor job of managing—when managers do not follow labor laws and regulations, and when managers do not treat workers with respect.

Not all managers take this advice to heart, but most managers do try to do the right thing, thus reducing the value of union representation to rank-and-file employees.

So, in the absence of evil-hearted managers, what is the future of unions? How can unions develop new programs and goals to address the needs of workers today?

Here are two proposals:

  1. Work on skills and job placement, like the guilds of old

Trade unions grew out of the guilds of skilled workers who practiced particular crafts. The guilds controlled the flow of work to their members, and provided the members with education, tools, and a sense of community. Tradesmen worked together to advance their common interests, but each craftsman was essentially self-employed.

The guilds failed when they hindered innovation and fought among themselves for members and territory. While they provided some efficiencies in the development of the crafts they supported, ultimately their protectionist tendencies increased costs for society as a whole. Does this sound like our unions of today?

Nevertheless, as our economy moves away from life-long careers at a particular employer and more toward self-employed knowledge workers, there may be an emerging need for organizations like the old guilds. Small employers and workers wanting more control and flexibility in their work could benefit from such guilds. The guilds could provide trained workers for short- or long-term projects and positions.

Moreover, as employer-sponsored health and retirement benefit plans change, unions/guilds could substitute their own plans to suit their members’ needs.

Many professions essentially have guilds today. Bar associations for lawyers are one example—they control who is licensed, they provide educational opportunities and discipline their members, they advocate for the interests of lawyers and the judicial system in which lawyers ply their trade.

Unions could take on these responsibilities in a number of occupations, from skilled crafts to freelancers and consultants in many industries.

The downside for unions? They would have to collect their dues directly from members, rather than through payroll deductions from large employers. In other words, they would have to become more accountable to their members. Not a bad result, in my opinion.

  1. Foster the development of work councils

VW logo_newRecently, the United Auto Workers attempted to organize Volkswagen’s plant in Tennessee. Volkswagen took a position of neutrality on the union campaign, but the UAW still lost the vote. One reason Volkswagen did not protest the unionization attempt was that Volkswagen supports works councils in its plants, and wanted to develop a work council in its Tennessee plant, like its German plants.

Works councils are organizations within a particular workplace that govern the work within that location. They help to reduce workplace conflict by providing strong channels of communication between workers and managers. Many times, the councils include union members, nonunion workers, and management.

Works councils are strong in many European nations. They are rare in the U.S., because works councils of nonunionized employees are considered to be prohibited “company unions,” because of the support they receive from management.  See Electromation, Inc. v. NLRB (7th Cir. 1994). In the absence of a union, works councils in the U.S. have very limited topics they can discuss, and they cannot negotiate on working conditions.

conflictNevertheless, if U.S. employers and employees see the benefits of works councils in improving the flow of work through their facilities, there might be a renewed interest in unions. To make this happen, unions will have to recognize that “unions get the management they deserve.” If unions are confrontational, management will continue to resist. If unions facilitate the profitability of the plant, management will be more receptive.

In summary, unions need to change to respond to the disinterest of employees today in joining a union. Perhaps a return to the advantages of guilds or a greater use of cooperative tools like work councils will give more workers a desire to join unions.

What do you think—should unions be receptive to developing either guilds or work councils? If they move in this direction, are employers likely to respond positively?

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We Need Disruptive Invention in Our Legal System to Reduce Transactions Costs

We live in the world of disruptive invention, according to an op-ed piece by L. Gordon Crovitz published in the Wall Street Journal on January 5, titled Disruption is the New NormalHe used the example of road atlases being replaced by GPS devices being replaced by cell phones, all within recent memory. Each technological advance has reduced costs and made information retrieval easier for the end user.

What drives disruptive invention? According to Mr. Crovitz, one factor is the desire to minimize transactions costs, which the Coase theorem says drives many economic decisions. Mr. Crovitz argues that in the digital age with better pricing and product information, transactions costs are vastly diminished.

Unfortunately, transactions costs do not always improve with technology.

In fact, in that same January 5 issue of the Wall Street Journal issue was an article by Jennifer Smith, titled Companies on Guard for New Legal Pitfalls, describing challenges for general counsels in the year ahead. The high cost of regulations and litigation raise corporate risks. She states that

“Top legal officers at many large companies are preparing for stepped-up scrutiny of their operations by both regulators and private litigants as they head into 2014.”

Image from Forbes

Image from Forbes

Unfortunately, our legal system today is designed to increase transactions costs, not decrease them. In fact, digital technologies have increased legal costs more than they have decreased costs. In class actions, huge numbers of plaintiffs are recruited using customer and employee databases.  Discovery costs have mushroomed with the advent of required electronic discovery into email, hard drives, and other repositories of corporate information.

Trial courts are overwhelmed by the number of cases and the sheer volume of electronic records and paper generated in the average lawsuit these days. Overburdened judges leave it to adversarial attorneys to work out the pretrial procedures as much as possible. Unfortunately, the hourly billing mechanisms of most law firms reward doing more work on a case, rather than less. Neither plaintiff nor defense counsel have any incentive to reduce costs.

All this results in greater risk for companies of all sizes. Any firm that wants to create new products or develop new supply chains and or sell to new customers must account for these risks when making decisions. Do they know and understand all the regulations that might apply to their business? Can they foresee and protect against the threats they might face? In essence, transaction costs are increasing as a result of our legal system, not decreasing.

In my experience, both plaintiff and defense firms are guilty of these abuses. Only in-house legal departments have had any incentive to reduce the transactions costs of litigation. Until our legal system faces the same disruptive innovation that we have seen in the technology arena, the threat of lawsuits and government intervention through burdensome regulations will continue to tamp down our ability to innovate.

gavelThere have been some advances in alternative dispute regulation, through voluntary mediation and mandatory arbitration programs. These have helped to reduce costs and provide more timely resolutions of employment and consumer disputes.

But with every attempt to implement such programs, the plaintiffs’ bar raises an outcry that our rights to jury trials have been denied. But what good is a jury trial when it takes at least two years to get to trial, with attorneys on both sides of the dispute attempting to inflict pain and expense through discovery in the mean time?

More disruption is needed in our legal system. Who will lead it?

How have legal burdens impacted your business? Have you seen any improvement in recent years?

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Three Views of Marriage in Playing the Game

married couple arguingOne facet of my novel, Playing the Game, relates to the marriages of three corporate executives. Each of these three couples interacts differently, though each is typical of how many married professional couples handle their relationships. Each of the three models can be a successful method of balancing work and marriage, and each has its risks.

     1.      Working Spouse/Stay-at-Home Spouse

The CEO of Playing, Rick Players, and his wife Paige have the most “traditional” marriage. He works and spends most of his time at the office, sometimes happily, sometimes not. Meanwhile, Paige manages the home and children and volunteers in community organizations.

This clear delineation of responsibilities between the spouses offers clarity. However, if either partner changes their desires or expectations, the clarity vanishes. When that happens, the partners may not have much basis for finding or accepting a new equilibrium.

     2.      Spouses With Similar Careers

Grant Mason and his wife Linda both work at PlayLand. Grant is the VP of Operations and Linda Mason is the Staffing Director in Human Resources. Although Grant has the higher level position, Linda pushes him to be more ambitious, based on what she knows from her HR role and her perceptions of corporate politics.

When both partners work in the same organization (or when they work in the same field in different organizations, such as when both spouses are lawyers), they can develop a strong understanding of the other’s career successes and frustrations. But when one career takes off and the other does not, the balance shifts. Whether the partners can shift along with changing fortunes determines whether the marriage will survive.

     3.       Partners at Home, Separate at Work

Maura Ramirez and her husband Carlos seem to have the most peer-like relationship at home. She is VP of Human Resources at PlayLand and Carlos runs his own construction company. They juggle their children as many working couples do—negotiating on a daily basis which partner will do what.

While equality between the partners may seem like today’s ideal relationship, anyone who has tried it knows that the ideal is never reached. Given the vicissitudes of life, the balance that works one day does not work the next, and there is a constant struggle to find a lasting stability. Petty arguments can erupt daily.

MP900385538Through the course of the novel, the equilibrium in each of these three marriages shifts in subtle ways. Rick is injured. Career paths change. Work obligations interfere with family, and vice versa. How the three couples accommodate these shifts is integral to the plot.

Obviously, no marriage fits any of these models exactly. Most marriages and domestic partnerships these days combine aspects of all three. And there are other models of partnering not depicted in the novel, and different life stages requiring different accommodations. (All of these couples are heterosexual and past prime child-bearing age.)

I hope that readers of Playing the Game will think about what in these marriages is working and not working for each couple, and how similar or different each couple is to readers’ own experience.

What advice do you think each of these six characters would have for married couples struggling to balance home and work obligations?

To buy Playing the Game, click here for Amazon or here for Nook.

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Assess Your Work/Life Balance During the Holidays

In this holiday season, many of us are away from work and with family. We may be assessing our lives, both at work and at home.  As you reflect on the blessings and gaps in your life, click here for a list of all the work/life posts on this blog.

In particular, you might want to review

What Do You Want Out of Life (and Work)?

Make Your Work/Life Balance a Conscious Choice

No One Has It All—We All Make Choices

Systematic Neglect: Choose Your Priorities and Accept the Consequences

How to Repurpose Your Life Beyond Your Working Years

Happy holidays to each of you, and best wishes for the year ahead.

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A Labor Day Reflection on Leading in a World of Change

MP900382973Two articles published last week in the Wall Street Journal reminded me of the value of work and of leadership. Both articles alluded to the changes facing today’s workforce and the need for leadership to wend our way through these changes.

On August 31, 2013, Peggy Noonan wrote in a column titled, Work and the American Character:

“When you work you serve and take part. . . . There is pride and satisfaction in doing work well, in working with others and learning a discipline or a craft or an art. To work is to grow and to find out who you are.

. . . .

Work gives us purpose, stability, integration, shared mission.”

MP900321207How true. But how often do we think of the value of work to our spirits and our sense of self?

Noonan then acknowledges the changing workforce in her suggestion that

“What is needed now is a political leader on fire about all the possibilities, . . . someone with real passion about the idea of new businesses, new inventions, growth, productivity, breakthroughs and jobs, jobs, jobs.”

The need for creativity and innovation is both a cause of and a result of our changing workplace. And it isn’t just political leaders we need, but business and union leaders as well.

In an op-ed piece last week, Richard Pieper reminded us why modern labor unions were developed in the first place. See Richard S. Pieper, A Wish for Labor Day: Visionary Union Leaders, Wall Street Journal, August 30, 2013.

“While employers’ unwillingness in the 1800s to recognize the necessity of providing basic benefits for workers remains a shameful stain, unions deserve all the credit for guaranteeing fair compensation, health care and pensions for workers.”

MP900321214Pieper then contends that union membership is declining in the 21st century because most union leaders are still focused on improving wages, benefits, and job security, rather than on designing the workplace for the challenges ahead.

Preparing workers for the ever-increasing changeability of the workplace is a crucial leadership issue for both union and corporate executives. Technological developments flay whole industries with the click of a button. Government regulations at home and abroad can change expectations in what sometimes seem like capricious flukes.

Businesses – and by extension their employees – must adapt to these developments. Those that cannot adapt will not survive. Only strong leadership can make change happen.

MP900321219Here are a few articles with suggestions on how to manage change:

Most of these articles focus on the need for communication, which is, after all, the first job of leadership. And the last.

When have you seen leaders rising to help the workforce adapt to change?

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How To Conduct a Layoff – Go Beyond the Basics

MP900341467One of the regular features of this blog is a series of posts about “favorite firings” – situations when an employee has been fired that are unique, because either the employee or the company (or its manager) has done something questionable. But what about situations when an employer needs to fire multiple employees? Whether because of a business downturn or a reorganization, there are occasions when even good employees cannot be retained.

Many Human Resources managers have to work with line management to design the new organization, slot existing employees into the new roles in the organization, and determine how to transfer or lay off employees who do not fit the new roles. This is not an easy part of the HR function, and it is fraught with legal and employee relations risks.

I worked on several reorganizations during my corporate career, both as an employment law attorney and as a HR director. Layoffs, or reductions in force (RIFs), are also a large topic in my novel in progress, Playing the Game (which I hope to publish this fall).

As a result of my past and present involvement in RIFs, I was interested in the recent Inc. article, Lay-Offs: This Is Exactly What You Don’t Want to Do, by Francesca Fenzi.  Ms. Fenzi gives the following broad tips for how to terminate employees during a layoff:

(1) Do it face-to-face.

(2) Rally the (remaining) troops.

(3) Go the extra mile.

These pointers are correct, as far as they go, and Ms. Fenzi’s article is worth reading. But whole books – “how-to” books, not novels – could be written on each of these three tips, and much is left unsaid in each simple statement.

Face-to-face = RESPECT.  It is critical that the fired employees believe the organization values their past work and is treating them as humanely as possible. Before the employer can authentically show respect for terminated employees, managers and HR need to have done a thorough job in determining that there is in fact no role for each individual who must be let go. And they need to be sure that the reorganization has not been implemented in a manner that adversely impacts a particular racial, gender, age, or other protected group. Only when the leg-work is done ahead of the RIF can the fired employees feel they were given a fair shake.

Rally the remaining troops = CHANGE MANAGEMENT.  This is about the morale of the workforce going forward and change management. Not only must the departing employees feel they have been treated as fairly as possible, but the remaining employees must feel that way also. Those who are left behind – the “survivors” –also must understand their new roles in the organization, believe they have the training and ability to do the job, and not feel overwhelmed by the change. Managers and HR need to re-engage the remaining employees in their work.

Go the extra mile = LEADERSHIP.  This is about communication and leadership. The old adage “communicate, communicate, communicate” applies at every step after a layoff is announced. There is a time for confidentiality before the decisions are final, but once the RIF is public, leaders must step up and own it – this includes leaders at all levels of the organization – from the C-suite to middle managers to front-line supervisors. Each level of management must be equipped to communicate to their reports, until they feel they are over-communicating, and then communicate patiently again. All leaders need to visibly support the organization, so that their employees will buy into the future. HR should drive that process.

For good overviews of the details in conducting a reduction in force, read articles such as:

Layoffs, Downsizing & Reductions in Force: How to Do Them Right, by Greg S. Labate, on the Labor & Employment Law Blog

QuickCounsel: Planning and Conducting a Reduction in Force, by Scott T. Baken and Penny Ann Lieberman, Jackson Lewis LLP, on the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) website

Tips for Planning Reductions in Force – Michael L. Rosen, Foley Hoag LLP (ebook)

And talk to your own employment law advisor early in in the process.

What experience have you had as a manager in conducting layoffs? What do you wish you had known before you started?

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