HRExaminer v3.22 June 1, 2012
Table of Contents
The NLRB came out with its third report on Social Media Policies. Once again it said that perfectly reasonable language in social media policies violates Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.
My response is: So what? I don’t give a number 2.
Here’s what all the fuss is about.
Sections 7 and 8 of the National Labor Relations Act applies to both union and nonunion employers. It’s the provision that protects employees’ rights to talk to each other about wages, hours and working conditions, and decide if they want to organize into a union.
Since employees talk to each other on Facebook and Twitter about work, the NLRB has decided it should be the social media policy police. So it’s combing the nuances of social media policies everywhere to save the world from . . . something. I have no idea what.
If you want to know more about what is and isn’t allowed in a social media policy, some of my favorite legal bloggers have great analysis. See Jon Hyman’s NLB’s Position on Social Media Policies Remains a Bungled Mess, Eric B Meyer’s Want a Labor-law-legal Social Media Policy? Bookmark This, I Guess, Daniel Schwartz’s After NLRB’s Memo, Drafting Employment Policies Got Trickier, and Molly DiBianca’s The NLRB Is Laughing All the Way to the Bank.
Companies and employment lawyers don’t like the NLRB’s position. This is because it interferes with their ability to draft policies that actually tell people exactly what is and isn’t appropriate. And when they fire someone, they want to show a rule was violated to justify the decision.
Social Media Policies Don’t Work
My take is that social media policies don’t work anyway. I’m generally against solving management and employment problems with employment policies.
Policies have never stopped people from acting like idiots. And it’s perfectly legal to fire someone for acting like an idiot. It’s also just a good idea.
I also have a particular aversion to social media policies. I think they create way more problems than they prevent. Here are 8 Reasons Social Media Policies Backfire. And one of them is that the NLRB will tell you it violates employees’ Section 7 rights to talk about wages, hours and working conditions.
In its reports on social media policies, the NLRB is just repeatedly pointing out that “working conditions” cover almost everything. I also think they are grasping for relevancy as unions decline. And maybe they are even trying to protect employees’ rights to talk to each other without getting in trouble for violating the social media policy.
Do you have a telephone policy? Do you control what employees say in email?
Employees talk to each other. It’s how people work.
What employers are really afraid of is looking bad to other people, especially customers and potential customers. So when employees starting posting things online, employers freak out.
Get over it.
The best way to prevent employees from saying bad things about you is to hire the right people, give them the resources they need to do their work, and let them do it. When problems arise, deal with it based on what happened.
When you fire someone, it should be for their actions, not because they violated a policy. If employees are constantly violating policies, you have a serious management problem. And more policies won’t fix it.
Get Rid of Your Social Media Policy.
My recommendation on social media policies is: don’t have one. Or have one like Jay Shepherd’s “Be Professional,” or Zappos policy “Be real and use your best judgment.”
Will people sometimes screw up, not be professional, or lack judgment? Of course. But the truth is, policies never prevent people from acting like idiots.
So if you want to avoid NLRB scrutiny, throw out your social media policy.
Then, train people about what is and isn’t confidential information and how to protect it. Remind them that social media is a public forum, even if it doesn’t seem like it. And then trust them to do the right thing.
Stop managing to the lowest common denominator and the fear of looking bad. If you can’t handle that, then block social media, monitor everything employees do, and figure out how to draft a social media policy that complies with the NLRA. And while you’re at it, put another sign in the kitchen reminding people you are not their mother. They might be a little confused.
It is possible to know everyone you intend to recruit five years in advance. Not only is it possible, it’s the most strategic form of recruiting. By clearly articulating your requirements, you can transform Human Capital Acquisition from a reactive game into a proactive offensive strategy.
The problem with the term “Human Capital” is that it perpetuates the notion that human beings are interchangeable anonymous widgets. People who are treated as if they were capital, start to behave like capital. They move to the source of the highest return as quickly as possible without regard to loyalty.
Most recruiting happens in response to a variety of ”surprises”: Attrition higher than the forecast; the unanticipated departure of a key contributor; unanticipated success in a new market; failure to adjust to changing conditions; the final release of “new” requisitions. Although the precise details of any given hiring requirement can never be perfectly predicted, they can be anticipated with a high degree of accuracy. What is often called “Strategic Recruiting” is really just a common sense approach to things that can be known about an organization.
Reactive processes are compounded by tools that work against effective recruiting. Applicant Tracking Systems, by and large, create overwhelming pools of data that inhibit clear decision making. They provide solid legal defenses and organizational buffers to cope with large volumes of data. They very specifically do not improve recruiting results.
The goal of workforce planning is to adequately predict the hiring, training and retention requirements of an organization.
Workforce planning can seem so complicated that it never gets done. Visionary systems suggest that a combination of scenario planning and deep skills assessment can lead to a decision-making framework. I favor the back of the envelope school of thinking. That is, some level of planning is far superior to none at all.
When you have a department (or company) focused on the accomplishment of a single, repetitive task (even if it varies in the way that customer support tends to) there are sound, repeatable tools for workforce sizing that can and should be broadly applied. The techniques are so easy and powerful that precision can be measured in fractional percentage points of accuracy. A spreadsheet, attrition rates, forecast growth curves and a few variables will turn out excellent products in these cases.
In more sophisticated settings, organizational dynamics and political issues complicate the problem. Ultimately, good workforce planning is an iterative (and ongoing) process. Bottoms-up estimating will always be modified by top-down concerns. Workforce Planning is, after all, a planning conversation. Learning to engage the organization in the give and take of planning is at the heart of successful implementation.
Knowing your needs and the issues that affect them is one half of the planning equation. The other, equally important facet, involves understanding your labor market. It is both possible and desirable to know, by name and other contact information, all of the people you could employ within your market. Narrowing it down to those you want to employ comes later.
Although it may seem overwhelming at first (particularly if your organization is in an extremely large city), you should be able to identify the people who are likely to become a part of your workforce, the various sources (schools, competitors, adjacent industries) from which they will emerge. It’s a matter of reviewing the data you already have to determine those sources and the degree to which you rely on them.
This is one of the best uses for an applicant tracking system (ATS). What you are looking for is quantitative data describing the schools, competitors and adjacent industries that supplied you with your current workforce. The very best source of that information is company records. The most likely central repository is the ATS. Data from your existing workforce can show the labor supply patterns.
(Remember the searches you have done in the ATS. They will be useful as you begin to mine for potential employees later on in the process.)
Once you have a solid list of supply points (again, that’s schools, competitors, adjacent industries and other organizations), you can start to ask some pretty interesting questions like:
- What percentage of last decade’s graduates from Community College X did you hire. What percentage of which majors? Are they going to continue that level of supply over the next five years?
- What percentage of your engineers come from competitors? What percentage come from colleges? Will both sources continue to be viable over the next five years?
- Where do your program managers come from? What’s happening in those institutions?
- Where do your technicians come from? What’s happening in those worlds?
Ultimately, you need a supply point by supply point assessment of value and likelihood of continuation? This is the very same exercise that purchasing departments engage in when they plan for the availability of critical materials or subcontractors.
In fact, you might consider collaborating with them. One person’s labor supply is another person’s subcontractor. Being well versed in the labor supply includes understanding the sources for the entire organization’s supply chain.
State funded Economic Development Councils and Boards are great places to find the right data. Each of the members of the Employment Supply Chain, from Universities to Customers and Vendors, from Regional Government to Competitors in transition, members of your chain know the answers to your questions. Building a comprehensive picture of your labor supply, its causes and conditions is a critical step in learning to manage it.
The first 100 respondents to complete all questions will receive a $5 Starbucks card. The 15th, 150th, and 1,015th respondents will receive a $100 Visa gift card in celebration of our 15th year. All respondents will receive an advance copy of the results in early October 2012. The Survey is now available at www.CedarCrestone.com/hrssv46 and responses will be collected until July 2nd, 2012.
The temptation to hide incompetence with buzz words extends from business models to HR Strategies. We watch in wonder as lemmings who want a career in marketing try to talk about “modifying the value proposition”. We think this is something they do to avoid the harder work of identifying potential customers. “Modifying the value proposition” is the current code for “nobody wants what we’re selling”.
Sometimes, it seems like we’re surrounded by zombies who can only repeat what they’ve read and are incapable of independent thought. The “search” for a “business model” (which means “we haven’t figured out how to make more money than we spend”) has become the fuzzy cover-up for what, in other times, might be referred to as “failure”. The problem is roughly analogous to the old joke “we’re losing money on each unit we ship but we’re going to make it up on volume”. This latter notion can be generalized as “we’re discovering the path to profitability”.
There is an inverse correlation between college Grade Point average and tenure. That’s right, the higher the GPA, the shorter the tenure. When people talk about “retention” as an HR Strategy, this is the dynamic they are trying to fix. The “attrition” problem (which “retention” is supposed to fix) means that the really bright ones who work hard and exceed their objectives don’t stay very long. Nobody is really trying to retain the “D” students. We all secretly hope that their attrition rates will skyrocket. They never do.
Getting the high performers to stay a little longer is a resource decision. As they get better at working the culture, the value they deliver grows disproportionately to the rest of the culture. It’s tough to want to pay them directly for the value; that creates the managerial problem of explaining why two workers who seem to have the same job make discrepant salaries. Ultimately, the difference between compensation and performance sends the high performers elsewhere.
People leave their companies when the cost of staying exceeds the reward of leaving. Without burrowing too far into the details, cost includes a broad range of compensation variables from challenge and responsibility to actual financial gain. If a retention program focuses on the delivery of additional responsibility and challenge, it simply shortens the tenure of the high performer. Responsibility and challenge equate to additional compensation on the open market.
This raises counterintuitive questions:
- “Isn’t it better to have lots of high performers leaving faster than a few who stay for a long time?”
- “Can’t you make the case that high attrition rates are a symptom of a powerfully successful culture?”
- “Isn’t ‘retention’ an indicator of failure?”
The reason that the logic is so murky is that “retention”, like “business model”, is a code word. It means “we can not allocate Human Capital with precision” and “we don’t know exactly how long we need to keep a person with X qualities”. When you encounter a company busily working on retention programs, you are witnessing a failure of planning at a detailed level.
Like lemmings, the vendors in our industry have latched on to the concept of retention as an alternative to solid Labor Supply Management. Like most ill considered fads, it’s just plain stupid as a generality. Sure, workplaces should be places that employees find challenging and like to visit. Certainly, equity (both financial and political) is a critical workplace issue. But, keeping everybody forever is not a good idea.
Consider the federal government, the acknowledged master of retention. (That should scare you adequately…get a retention program so you can mold your management to follow the government example.) The particularly outrageous retirement benefits lock employees into jobs and career tracks. Challenge is a secondary concern, getting the job done every day is the basic mode.
The retention programs are so good that it has been hard, for a generation, to get a job in government. Essentially, someone must die for an opening to be created. The same holds true for advancement.
Now, the government is facing the consequences of really good retention. In many offices, from the IRS to the CIA, 50% of the employees in the agency will retire during the comingyears. And, guess what? There is nobody in line for the jobs.
Successful retention programs caused the government to lose its touch with the real changing market dynamics of acquiring and maintaining employees. As a result, the restaffing of the government will require increased pay, modified benefits and a host of alternative approaches. Their extremely successful retention packages will force them to become a very aggressive player in the competition for Human Capital over the next five years.
Meanwhile, the real information worker labor shortage is escalating out of the sight of the economists..
The point is that very clear thinking is required on the subject of human capital and inventory management. There are no generalities that work at the top level. An organization is no more likely to want to retain all of its employees than it is to want to fire them all. Retention programs must be tailored to achieve very precise objectives.
Why do we have layoffs? One counter-intuitive answer is “because retention programs work.” Layoffs happen because the efforts to keep the workforce trimmed didn’t work. Attrition wasn’t high enough. The right people did not leave of their own accord.
Hiring and Keeping the Best People is a standard goal in most organizations. Identifying key talent and promoting them is such a core part of conventional wisdom that we take it for granted. Most leaders aspire to be surrounded by trusted colleagues who are well seasoned and deeply experienced.
When this idea spreads through an organization, it is called “Retention”. In a harsher light, it is the essence of cronyism and featherbedding.
Is it really a sound business practice?
Good, strategic workforce planning is virtually nonexistent. Instead of accurately knowing and describing the specifics of our workforces, we rely on tired generalizations. We want to manage attrition down and become the “employer of choice”. In other words, our HR Departments lead us down the primrose path and make our organizations home to people who retire in place.
It should be no surprise that we have downturns. Preparing for them, hiring wisely and continually pruning the organization is the right way to approach the problem. Too few hands always leads to greater productivity.
Time and again, our organizations act surprised when the downturn . RIFs mean that we “hired too many people”. Said another way, “We didn’t let enough people go when times were good.” Retention and retention programs, therefore, are the primary cause of RIFs.
“Why do we have layoffs?” Because the retention programs work too well. The idea that great people should be retained in their jobs for a long time is the exact opposite of growth and innovation. Retention breeds seniority and bureaucracy. Innovation requires youth and inexperience.