HRExaminer v3.37 September 14, 2012
Table of Contents
American culture is significantly more regional than people assume. Diametrically opposed mind sets and world views bubble just beneath the surface of the national conversation. Rooted in 400 years of history, the threads that drive politics, economics and manners are surprisingly similar to our predecessors’.
This is the ‘more things change the more they stay the same’ theme of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. Colin Woodard‘s short (and interesting) book, offers a view of today’s America that is rooted in the histories of the various groups who settled the country. The groups who began the country didn’t really get along with each other very well.
Only when London began treating its colonies as a single unit— and enacted policies threatening to nearly all— did some of these distinct societies briefly come together to win a revolution and create a joint government. Nearly all of them would seriously consider leaving the Union in the eighty- year period after Yorktown; several went to war to do so in the 1860s. All of these centuries- old cultures are still with us today, and have spread their people, ideas, and influence across mutually exclusive bands of the continent. There isn’t and never has been one America, but rather several Americas.
Any effort to “restore” fundamental American values runs into an even greater obstacle: Each of our founding cultures had its own set of cherished principles, and they oft en contradicted one another. By the middle of the eighteenth century, eight discrete Euro- American cultures had been established on the southern and eastern rims of North America. For generations these distinct cultural hearths developed in remarkable isolation from one another, consolidating characteristic values, practices, dialects, and ideals.
Some championed individualism, others utopian social reform. Some believed themselves guided by divine purpose, others championed freedom of conscience and inquiry. Some embraced an Anglo- Saxon Protestant identity, others ethnic and religious pluralism. Some valued equality and democratic participation, others deference to a traditional aristocratic order. All of them continue to champion some version of their founding ideals in the present day. The United States had Founding Fathers, to be sure, but they were the grandfathers, great- grandfathers, or great-great-grandfathers of the men who met to sign the Declaration of Independence and to draft our first two constitutions. Our true Founders didn’t have an “original intent” we can refer back to in challenging times; they had original intents. (Colin Woodard in American Nations)
Woodard takes the reader on a tour of the wild twists and turns that resulted from the conflicting assumptions of the cultures that compose the United States. It’s no accident that New England, with its emphasis on community as the center of spirituality, was the first place to embrace the industrial era. The deep South, rooted in the Charleston plantation business, had individual redemption at its core. The question of the relative importance of community versus individual responsibility has been with us ever since.
The real, historically based regional map of our continent respects neither state nor international boundaries, but it has profoundly influenced our history since the days of Jamestown and Plymouth, and continues to dictate the terms of political debate today. I spent years exploring the founding, expansion, and influence of these regional entities— stateless nations, really—while writing my new book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. It demonstrates that our country has never been united, either in purpose, principles, or political behavior.
We’ve never been a nation-state in the European sense; we’re a federation of nations, more akin to the European Union than the Republic of France, and this confounds both collective efforts to find common ground and radical campaigns to force one component nation’s values on the others. Once you recognize the real map (see above), you’ll see its shadow everywhere: in linguists’ dialect maps, cultural anthropologist’s maps of the spread of material culture, cultural geographer’s maps of religious regions, and the famous blue county/red county maps of nearly every hotly contested presidential election of the past two centuries. Understanding America’s true component “nations” is essential to comprehending the Tea Party movement, just as it clarifies the events of the American Revolution or the U.S. Civil War.
Our regional divides stem from the fact that the original clusters of North American colonies were settled by people from distinct regions of the British Islands—and from France, the Netherlands, and Spain—each with their own religious, political, and ethnographic characteristics. For generations, these discrete Euro-American cultures developed in remarkable isolation from one another, consolidating their own cherished principles and fundamental values, and expanding across the eastern half of the continent in nearly exclusive settlement bans.
Some championed individualism, others utopian social reform. Some believed themselves guided by divine purpose, others championed freedom of conscience and inquiry. Some embraced an Anglo-Protestant identity, others ethnic and religious pluralism. Some valued equality and democratic participation, others deference to a traditional aristocratic order modeled on the slave states of classical antiquity. Throughout the colonial period and the Early Republic, they saw themselves as competitors— for land, settlers, and capital—and even as enemies, taking opposing sides in the English Civil War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812.
Nearly all of these regional cultures would consider leaving the Union in the eighty-year period after Yorktown, and two went to war to do so in the 1860s. Immigration enriched these nations—or, more accurately, the nations that were attractive to immigrants—but it did not fundamentally alter the characteristics of these “dominant” cultures; the children and grandchildren of immigrants didn’t assimilate into an American culture, instead tending to assimilate to the norms of the regional culture in which they found themselves. There’s never been an America, but rather several Americas, and there are eleven today. (Colin Woodard in Washington Monthly)
While there are some obvious political implications of the analysis, this set of ideas is critically important to people management processes everywhere.
America’s most essential and abiding divisions stem from the fact that the U.S. is a federation composed of the whole or parts of 11 disparate regional cultures — each exhibiting conflicting agendas and the characteristics of nationhood — and which respect neither state nor international boundaries, bleeding over the borders of Canada and Mexico as readily as they divide California, Texas, Illinois or Pennsylvania. The differences between them shaped the scope and nature of the American Revolution, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution and, most tragically, the Civil War. Since 1960, the fault lines between these nations have been growing wider, fueling culture wars, constitutional struggles and those ever- present pleas for unity.
What this all amounts to is this: As Americans sort themselves into like-minded communities, they’re also sorting themselves, more than ever, into like-minded nations, cultural fiefdoms where the forces of contention between nations are more easily rallied, rendering the compromise and consensus necessary to move the wheels of the federal government increasingly difficult to achieve. (Colin Woodard in Bloomberg)
Almost accidentally, Woodard delivers a clear and compelling view of what a culture actually is. By noticing that America’s fabled mobility is really an ongoing attempt to group like minded people with each other, he points to the fact that cultural fit (both nationally and on the job) is a question that transcends any individual company. Regional culture is the setting in which and organization’s own culture is formed.
While this will surely seem like hyper-intellectual crud to many readers, Woodard has provided us with a tool for predicting the likelihood that mergers and acquisitions will work. The Taleo/Oracle match is likely to have some disconnects at the roots. The SAP/SuccessFactors will integrate every bit as well as the SAP Labs have done with the home office.
It’s also a guide to thinking about whether or not a new employee will mesh with the existing team and a great way to think about the foundations of the culture in your company.
Around the planet, people are starting to notice imbalances between the workforce and the available jobs. There seems to be an abundance of candidates and a simultaneous shortage of candidates who fit. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a problem like this. However, this time it looks predictably bedeviling.
This being an election year, there is no shortage of opinion about the size and importance of the problem. Unsurprisingly, the political dialog about causes and solutions mirror the parties views of everything else. Apparently knowing who to blame and engaging in heated debates about how the already insolvent government is going to either muster an investment or stay out of Dodge is the key to being elected.
If there was an ongoing heating oil shortage, you could bottle the hot air and sell it this winter in the North.
There are five competing views of the problem:
- The offshoring demons sent the work elsewhere
- Immigrants showed up and took all the good jobs (with its corollary: lazy people would rather stay on welfare)
- Bad managers are too picky when there is an abundance of choice
- The education system failed
- Technology acceleration is disrupting everything it touches
The story is complicated by the fact that national mobility is driven by the way that like-minded people group themselves together (see yesterday’s review of American Nations by Colin Woodard) Migration patterns are the unfolding of underlying patterns of culture rather than a rational organization of a ready built workforce. The unseen hand that guides the demographic market (the workforce) is not primarily moved by economics. Family, network and roots drive the sorts of decision making that lowers mobility rates.
Every company, in some way, deals with the reality of the labor market in their region. It’s always an imperfect fit. Regional cultures are simply not perfect supply chains for agile maneuvers by the organizations who share the region. The combination of skills availability and ;local market prices for labor are at the root of a fair amount of outsourcing decision making.
This issue is complex and doesn’t give way to easy analysis or answers. Journalists and policy makers both look for easy explanations to dynamic systems problems. It doesn’t help much.
The June 2012 Atlantic includes an article that tries to answer the problem by looking at labor demand. The analysis shows no difference in demand for labor based on skill. The problem with these sorts of quick hit views is that they don’t shred the data for its regional implication.
Anyone who doesn’t think there’s a shortage hasn’t tried to hire a nurse or a software developer recently. Various un sexy industries (largely in the energy, mining and utilities sectors) witnesses the problem daily.
The Australian Government has the most proactive set of measures to solve skills shortages. The problem is easier to see and quantify in small markets with precise needs. One can easily see the role a government might play.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll look at the question from a number of different angles. Are you seeing skills shortages in your neighborhood?
It’s booming. It’s fading. It’s the problem. It’s the answer. If you get into a conversation about Recruitment Process Outsourcing, you may hear conflicting opinions. The truth is, everything you hear about RPO is influenced by someone’s agenda. RPO is also constantly changing and evolving It’s confusing.
Here are three observations about RPO to put things in perspective.
#1: RPO is not outsourcing
Recently, both analysts and practitioners have suggested that RPO is not really outsourcing at all. For managing the expectations about what it takes to achieve real value, this is a great point to consider.
- Agree? While RPO does entail the transfer of all or part of a company’s recruitment activity to an outside provider, the high-touch interaction and variety of forms RPO solutions take are substantially different than typical outsourced services such as background checking and payroll. The reason is simple: regardless of who owns the process, recruiting remains a strategic function that is deeply interconnected with each company’s unique business model, brand, location(s), culture and industry focus.
Because of the scope and variety of activity associated with talent acquisition, providers must be strategic partners with customers, often acting more as professional services providers than as outsourced functions. This is because RPO buyers are not just judging RPO success on traditional measures such as cost and time-to-fill. They are also judging success on how well they are competing for hard-to-find talent; the quality and performance of that talent; and how well the company’s recruiting process is evolving to stay ahead in the marketplace.
- Disagree? Today, RPO still has that “O” in the acronym for a very good reason. There are many “traditional” RPO relationships in place, where provider resources and processes work outside of the client company and are held accountable to very specific outsourced performance measures. This is often a function of geography, industry, or type of talent being targeted.
- Bottom line: RPO is becoming a more strategic function, and in many relationships the provider acts more in a professional services role. Companies that tailor their expectations to the idea that they will work with the provider to continuously evolve their recruitment function generally achieve higher levels of satisfaction than those who do not.
#2 Technology is making RPO better
The talent management technology industry continues to evolve rapidly. Niche providers emerge, grow their business, and are frequently acquired by larger enterprise providers who are striving to build their offerings into a complete integrated talent management platform, from recruiting to compensation and performance management. At the same time, these providers of larger talent management platforms are being acquired by even larger enterprise solutions providers (i.e. SAPs recent acquisition of SuccessFactors and Oracle’s recent acquisition of Taleo).
The talent acquisition side of the technology landscape continues to be extremely active, with a stream of new and compelling solutions, particularly in the area of candidate sourcing, mobile applications, e-reference checking and video. It would be easy to believe that good technology makes for good recruiting, and that the best providers must have the latest and greatest solutions in order to deliver real value.
- Agree? It is certainly true that technology is transforming the way companies approach talent acquisition. From the days when “the rolodex” really was a rolodex and newspaper wanted ads were the norm, to the rise of the one-to-many post-and-pray online job board approach, technology has changed the game. Today, the company that best applies solutions to pinpoint talent, get to know the right candidates from a sea of available information, and make the right decisions will succeed. The RPO provider that knows and uses the latest in technology solutions will be most likely to be able to provide the right strategy and support for its clients. In that respect, technology is a key ingredient to RPO success.
- Not quite true? I lean more toward caution than evangelism when it comes to talent acquisition technology. The solutions are great, and the innovation is impressive, so there’s no disagreement about the work that’s being done in the field. The skepticism—and any RPO buyer would do well to have some—comes from the fact that technology alone doesn’t make recruitment better. Any RPO provider that implies otherwise is not being 100% honest. The real value comes from having the knowledge of and access to the best tools available, and in having the people to put technology to good use. In many cases, the expertise to know that a particular technology solution, while effective, is not right for your organization is as important as all the great tools in the world.
- Bottom line: If you are exploring RPO options, make sure the provider is on top of the technology curve. It is a cost of entry, and any provider worth its salt should be able to provide an approach that’s right for you (as opposed to forcing a technology strategy on the buyer). Ultimately, however, talent acquisition remains a people business. Even when it comes to applying “big data” principles to sourcing (a top of mind focus in my organization), it’s not the data itself or the technology tools that are used that determines success. Instead, it is determined by how the people in the RPO organization put that data and those tools to work.
The RPO landscape is fundamentally changing
The landscape of most business process-related industries is always evolving, and talent acquisition is no exception. Today, there are both niche RPO providers, and several larger scale providers. In addition, there’s always the influence of M&A activity as larger organizations acquire some of the proven pure-play RPO providers (such as ADP’s acquisition of The RightThing). Much of that change goes back to point #1: many companies look to RPO to deliver beyond the traditional role of “outsourcing.”
- What’s really changed? Today, RPO buyers demand broader and more strategic capabilities from their RPO partners. This can be attributed to a general desire for strategic influence by HR and talent management leaders. It also stems from experience with “first generation” RPOs, where companies found that simply filling requisitions was just not enough. As they strive to stay ahead of the evolving demand, providers are now more likely to offer and highlight capabilities extending to workforce planning , technology consulting or employer branding. These are not new, nor should they be viewed as the formula for success. What the broad capabilities of an RPO provider do is deliver a more flexible offering that fits to an organization’s particular situation.
- What hasn’t changed? If you are considering RPO, performance and bottom-line success remain critical. If a provider offers the most advanced capabilities in the world, but it doesn’t help the company address the “right talent, right time, right cost” equation, that relationship will not last. Knowing this, RPO companies of all types, strategic enterprise players as well as smaller pure-play companies, will continue to offer solutions that track value along fundamental lines of measure: cost, speed and quality (not necessarily in that order).
- Bottom line: Industry change is a constant. Providers continue to broaden their capabilities and drive their messaging and focus beyond the RPO acronym. Nevertheless, if you are an “RPO” buyer, you are looking for services that keep you ahead of the talent acquisition curve, but also deliver on your immediate needs for fundamental measures of success.
What lies ahead?
Regardless of the varying and often conflicting perspectives on RPO, the practice and it’s solutions will continue to evolve with changing market conditions. Companies will continue to seek solutions that enable both growth and flexibility. Desirable talent will continue to be in short supply; and the marketplace, including services, solutions and technologies, will continue to innovate.
As for RPO as a practice, there will be economies of scale. There will be more flexible solutions, and there will be proven formulas for addressing certain aspects of talent acquisition. Yet, there will never be a single set of canned processes that are applicable to all companies. That’s why the value of RPO will continue to be driven by the ability to identify and meet the unique needs of the buyer. That’s good news for the providers that drive innovation, and it’s good news for the buyers that leverage RPO solutions to achieve specific business results.
Human resources executives work a lot with laws and lawyers. The relationship between a company and its employees is one of the most regulated and litigated.
Yet the goals and tools of human resources are often very different than those of the legal department. So you end up with the “HR answer” and the “legal answer” to the same problem. Knowing how to understand and evaluate what your legal department does is important in making the right decisions for the company.
Just like a cardiologist views everything as a heart problem, a lawyer sees everything as a legal problem. So you may want their opinion, but you may not always want to follow their advice.
Essentially the role of a company attorney is to minimize risk, ensure legal compliance and to draft and/or bless contracts. This role does not always lend itself well to helping and managing people in their jobs and lives.
What Lawyers Do Well
Employment lawyers tend to think about problems in one of two ways: 1) whether it violates the contract/rule or not; and 2) whether it could result in litigation or not.
If you ask a lawyer a question, you are usually going to get a legal answer—which may or may not be want you want.
Lawyers like to apply rules. They like things in writing. They want the contracts to cover all eventualities. When in doubt, a lawyer will always advise against doing something new, different, or unknown. Lawyers are trained to play it safe and avoid risk.
Know the Outcome You Want Before Consulting the Lawyers
Lawyers will tell you what you can and can’t do under the contract or the law. They are also very good at giving you the pros, cons, risks and benefits of various possibilities. If you want advice, expect the safest course of action that has the most support in the documents. So if you aren’t sure what you want, the conservative approach is usually what you will get from a lawyer.
However, if you go in asking how to achieve a particular outcome, lawyers are very good at figuring out how to make that happen. If you have an employee who needs to go to rehab or be terminated, let the attorney know which you would prefer and why. That will make both your jobs easier in evaluating the legal and policy protections involved, the risks and expense, and in formulating the plan of action.
If you don’t know what outcome you want, then ask for the options and an analysis of those options. Don’t ask for advice. Once “legal” takes a position on the best course of action, it will be harder to overcome if you believe an alternative is better.
It’s Always Easier to Prevent Something Than to Fix It.
Often people consult lawyers after the problem has become a crisis that either requires or has resulted in court action. Litigation is bad. It is time-consuming, expensive, exhausting and never solves anything. Litigation is a tool of economic leverage, not a path to truth or justice.
The best way to handle any problem is to prevent it or resolve it early. It is worth a month or two of severance to get a full release from a troublesome employee on his way out the door. If a mom repeatedly shows up late because of problems with dropping her toddler at preschool, figure out whether a temporary change of hours or other accommodation will prevent some sort of disciplinary procedures.
If you can come up with a solution that works for everyone, the lawyer will usually be happy to get on board and prepare the documents or determine if the resolution complies with law or company policy.
So before you consult with the attorneys, figure out if there is a creative solution to the issue, then ask for the lawyer’s help in implementing it.
If you wait until the issue becomes something that requires an attorney’s intervention, the outcome will almost always be more stressful, time consuming and less satisfactory for everyone. This is not because attorneys make it that way. It is because the situation has reached a place where positions are entrenched, each side has convinced themselves of the story, and everyone wants her way instead of a compromise or solution.
The best way to work with your employment lawyers or legal department is to develop a good relationship. Talk to them when issues come up, so that you can prevent problems together. And remember, not everything is a legal problem or requires a legal solution.