Feedback and one’s career path

We all have heard it before…sitting down and making goals provides one with a “road map” of how to get where we think we need to be going.  In my profession (Human Resources), one of our duties is to assist our internal customers (employees) with identifying and providing opportunities for them to venture down a career path within the company.  However I wonder how many HR professionals actually do this exercise with themselves?

Last night, I participated in a “Career Development: Taking the Initiative” session with other HR professionals.  First time in a while I thought logically and systematically about my own career.  The icebreaker exercise was to think of our ideal situation in 5 years…sounds harmless enough (an interview question I use sometimes when interviewing others, but haven’t truly pondered it myself).  Then proceeded to a “Career Development Framework” has 5 components:

  • Person – know your own strengths
  • Performance – know your own reputation
  • Place – know your own environment
  • Possibilities – setting SMART goals
  • Plan – developing an action plan (with learning opportunities)

To understand which of these 5 areas we may want to concentrate on, at least initially, we took an assessment.  “Not an assessment” I thought…one of those exercises that tries to put one in a pre-defined “box”.  Although I’m not a fan of taking assessments, they can be revealing.  This assessment was very revealing to me! Of these 5 areas, I “scored” lowest in the performance area, notably in the “reputation” area.

On a scale of 1 (lowest extent) to 5 (highest extent), I answered (truthfully) a “1″ on such questions as “I have discussed my reputation with my supervisor” and “I solicit specific suggestions on how to improve my performance & reputation” and “Within last 6 months, I have asked my supervisor what they most value in my work”.  Wow…getting feedback from others…what a novel concept?!  We often are quick to give feedback, but do we ask others (e.g. colleagues, managers, friends, family, etc.) these and similar hard questions?  The old saying of “we don’t know what we don’t know” is very true.  I may think I’m good at a certain skill, but have I really found out?

My goal now is to solicit feedback from others to learn more about me.  Then I can use that valuable info to help me to shape my career goals.  Perhaps you can as well?

What is this thing we call “advice”

You’ve probably either said “let me give you some advice”  or heard it someone else say they want to give you some advice.  But what really is advice anyways?  That was a question I was thinking of when I listening to the speaker at the quarterly training seminar sponsored by the local toastmaster’s international district 7 (which is the district that covers from Northern California to about Longview Washington, about 4K or 5K toastmasters in that area).  The speaker’s topic was about mentoring and there was some good info given about mentoring too.  But one of the first items the speaker talked about was giving advice.

She mentioned in general, people usually don’t “like” to receive advice.  Especially unsolicited advice…if they receive advice, it is assumed by the giver of the advice that there is something wrong.  Even if you give advice, not many people will act upon the advice you given them or not fully.  So that got me thinking, how do you define “advice”?

Well good ole Wikipedia defines advice as “an opinion or recommendation offered as a guide to action”, which got me thinking of the times I gave advice.  Was I some expert in that area?  If so, why don’t others come to me.  How did I know if my advice is correct for the person I’m giving it to, in that situation.  Fact is, I don’t.  After some contemplation at the toastmasters meeting and rereading my notes, come to understanding that “advice” really is just another name for “opinion”.

Based on one’s own experience, one can inform another how he or she should proceed with a challenge or issue and with that explanation, presumably, the same or similar result will occur.  It gives a sense of relief to the receiver that this is the answer to their problem or challenge….but does it really work?  All it is is advice!

What do you think?

Employment Investigations: To Google or Not?

The title of this blog post was the topic of an interesting seminar I recently attended.  The presenter was a Director level investigator at the Pinkerton, one of the world’s security companies.  He talked from the point-of-view of how his team uses the internet to do it’s research on cases their clients give them.  There was some discussion of Google, but it was much more broader focus.  Typical cases he works on are workers’ comp fraud or investigating some off duty employee activity that affects the company.

Some interesting info mentioned:

  • According to some study, 75% of all internet usage is for Social Networking Sites (SNS)
  • Facebook (FB) is the #1 used SNS, Youtube #2 and Wikipedia is a distant #3
  • When they research people and they begin to research that person’s friends on FB, they determine who to look at by the number of friends and number of times that person’s FB account has been accessed (it was mentioned that FB only allows 1,000 friends, and FB will suspend accounts when getting close…didn’t know that!)
  • Heavy use of Google’s Advanced Operators when researching

There was a portion of the presentation showing how these advanced operators can be used to perform searches. There was also about a dozen or so websites mentioned they use to perform some searches of people such as yauba.com, zigs.com and spokeo.com.

There was also mention of info NOT to put on one’s own Social Media Site such as:

  • Birthdate and Place of Birth or Mother’s maiden name (typical info used by banks, etc. to verify account).
  • Vacation Plans before you leave (don’t advertise to burglars that no one will be home at your house for a while)
  • Home Address (not even city and state, easy to verify a person by this info)
  • Confessionals (the presenter mentioned people like to “brag” about their dirty deeds and or want to confess their sins and cited several examples of people mentioning robbing someone or a bank)
  • Variants of their own passwords as “hints”
  • Risky behaviors (if you participate in such activities as sky diving, hang gliding, parachuting, race car driving, etc.)  Insurance companies are now hiring people to research their policy holders.  If you put on your insurance application you don’t do these activities and they find out you do by your posting on FB or other SNS, they have been known to cancel insurances

As a HR professional, I asked about the privacy issue and since he was an investigator and not a lawyer, he didn’t answer professionally.  But personally, he felt companies need to protect their brand and if the information is out in public, it is searchable.  Of course, the “gray(er) area” is when companies actually USE that info for employment decisions.

Thoughts on Change Management

Stepped out of my “comfort zone” a little last night and attended a networking & seminar event sponsored by PDXTech4Good group with a topic of Change Management.  Typical meetings are centered around social media and I’m no expert in that area, but do want to broaden my horizons.  Additionally, when there are “Change Management” initiatives at companies, typically HR (my profession) is involved…therefore a good enough reason to attend.  Many in the group were from the non-profit world and also various degrees of knowledge in change management.  The speaker (Todd Pitt, founder of Zero Strategist) was very informative on the subject and there are several “take aways” I had from this presentation:

1. Todd mentioned research had shown ONLY 1 in 4 change management initiatives succeed…on average 75% change management initiatives fail!!!  Various reason were given from lack of continued leadership, limited resources, etc.

2. Training is VERY IMPORTANT part of change management process, vital for the success!  When there are financial hardships in a organization, typically there are new initiatives to “drum up business”, but unless there is specific training to reinforce this new initiative, the initiative is doomed to fail.

3.  Change Agent is important, but this change agent must partner with a Trust Agent.  First time I heard this term, but a Trust Agent is a person that knows the organization inside/out, knows what people think, clear understanding of the business, products, budgets, etc.  Learning from the trust agent before the change agent proceeds with change initiatives is important.

4. Social media is assisting in creating change from bottom, middle, top of organizations.  Never before has there been so much communication by so many people to many others…all facilitated by social media….and faster than phone calls.

As the old saying goes, the only thing constant is change and whenever there are change initiatives, there needs to be a plan and project manager  that coordinates the change.  Training is vital to ensure not only communication about the change, but to ensure everyone is on board and will embrace the change.  The meeting ended with the thought that much needs to be done in order to accomplish change, but we must change in order to survive.

Workplace Diversity – Transgenders

The word “Diversity” has been frequently used in the 21st century and is popularly defined as the inclusion of variety of people from different cultures and races.  In business, this is especially used as a tactic in which the company can better serve a heterogeneous customer base.  In HR, the intent of many diversity programs is to build a culture of understanding within the employees there are in a company, no matter what their background is.  Within this culture of understanding, we learn of the wonderful things about each other from traditions to celebrations, food, etc.

Although when we think of “diversity” we normally think of the different cultures and races.  Perhaps not thought of much is the GLBT (or sometimes referred to as LGBT) community.  GLBT is the acronym which stands for Gay, Lesbians, Bisexual and Transgender.  I attended a luncheon sponsored by the SW Washington HR Management Association in which the Reid Vanderburgh was the speaker.   He speech gave me a much broader understanding of the challenges a person has when they are struggling with their own identity, the transgenders.  The gay & lesbian and bisexual are very much different than transgenders because it deals with relationships with others.   Transgenders deal with one’s own relationship with oneself.  But transgenders are lump in together with gay, lesbians and bisexuals for convenience in understanding…

A term I was not familiar with was introduces, this term was cisgender.  Wikipedia describes cisgender as “”someone who is comfortable in the gender they were assigned at birth”, and is the antonym of transgender.   Therefore, people can be either cisgender or transgender.   I have previous thought that transgender meant just having a sex change operation.  But I have learned that changing one’s sex is the culmination or the result of one coming to grips with their inner self.  There is a whole process one must go through before this sex change operation and while in that process, people can be considered being transgender (sometimes people are confused with cross dressers, but I understand cross dressers are more comfortable about their gender, rather they have a fetish of looking or dressing like the other gender).

With this understanding, the point I took from the speaker was that transgender need an ally to help them.  Once the transgender person makes the self-realization that they were mind and thoughts are of the opposite gender that their body is, it is a painful decision they make.  Basically, to continue living without the pain there are faced with 2 choices of either completing a gender change or unfortunately, to end their life.  As HR professionals, being an ally means to divorce one’s own opinion about transgenders, and applying the same methods we would use for any other culture or race.  It always starts with communication with the transgender so that there is a basic understanding of performance standards are still need to be met, but also need to understand what if anything the company can do to assist.  There needs to be a timeline discussed, efforts to remove barriers (i.e. changing gender on forms and systems), educating the workforce.   Transgender people go through a very private experience, similar to anyone with cancer or loss of a loved one,  but this private experience has a very public face and understanding is crucial.

I enjoy these luncheons where I learn so much.   Looking forward to any comments you may have!

Internships – Good ideal for some?

I majored in finance while was in college (at University of Hawaii) and contemplated an internship between my junior and senior year of college.  Instead, I took advantage of an offer from a friend of mine who lives in Japan to study Japanese for the summer and thus, I haven’t personally participated in a internship from the intern side, but have created a internship program for prior employers.  The article in the Sunday, April 4th print edition of The Oregonian mentions many employers are creating more intern opportunities and a couple of colleagues are curious about using an intern program to gain experience and have asked me if there are any rules or laws about internships.  This sparked some curiosity and I did a little research.

First, to review an internship is a program within an organization in which college students (typically) and career changers lend their talents to companies in return for an opportunity to develop business skills, learn about a new industry, and gain exposure to the work environment.   Internship programs are set up as either non-compensated or compensated internships.   Whether paid or unpaid, an internship position is often quite beneficial to the student who participates, for he or she receives “real world” business experience and an early opportunity to impress potential employers.   Employers also benefit from internship programs by obtaining the services of skilled personnel for modest cost and by being exposed to new ideas and perspectives.

However, it becomes a little trickier for employers who recruit people for non-paying internships.  In this situation, the internship program MUST be more beneficial to the intern than the employee. Even such duties as opening mail or replying to requests which arrived via the internet can trip the “suffer or permit to work” the person to work threshold that is written into Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA)….especially if there are no or minimal other duties.  This “suffer and permit” is actually written into many laws and comes from the Common Law tenants of the early 16th century.  Basically, it means if the duties & tasks assigned to an intern are substantially the same as a paid worker and employer does not stop the individual from doing it (i.e. permits them to do it).  “suffer  the intern to perform work for you.   The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) has a great article, with a 6-point test which should clarify for employees whether they internship program can be configured as non-paying internship program.

Becoming an intern is a great way for both students and experienced people to learn or refresh new skills in a industry they might want to pursue.   I found a pretty good website in which one can learn of internship opportunities in Oregon at: www.oregonintern.com

Pre-employment background checks

One of the many “joys” of recruiting is after the resume screening and interviewing and you’ve “selected” the top 2 or 3 candidates….before an actual offer is made the company has some homework or due diligence to perform:  good ole reference & background checks.   There is no “law” that forces employers to perform reference checks, but there are many reasons why it is performed, such as:

  • Negligent hiring lawsuits are on the rise. If an employee’s actions hurt someone, the employer may be liable if it can be proven the the employer “could have known” about the causes which made the actions of the employer hurt another employee.
  • Child abuse and child abductions in the news in recent years have resulted in new laws in almost every state that require criminal background checks for anyone who works with children (even if the work only remotely involves children).
  • Terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, have resulted in heightened security and identity-verification strategies by employers. Potential job candidates and long-time employees alike are being examined with a new eye following September 11, 2001.
  • False or inflated information supplied by job applicants is frequent and the need to verify information supplied by the candidate is crucial before hire.

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is the actual law that sets national standards for employment screening (NOTE: the law only applies to background checks performed by an outside company, called a “consumer reporting agency” under the FCRA. The law does not apply in situations where the employer conducts background checks in-house).    However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that a person cannot be denied employment based on a criminal record alone. Instead, the decision to hire or not must be based on a “business necessity”.

Now the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will issue new guidelines (within the next year) that require empirical evidence for the “business necessity” defense in racial discrimination cases that arise from screening and hiring practices (see recent Workforce Online story for more details).

Currently, there is no empirical evidence that “proves” that hiring a person with a criminal record cannot perform a job similarly as a person who does not have a criminal record.  In fact, many times if an employee is caught stealing or committing any other criminal act, the employer will dismiss (i.e. fire) the employee before pressing charges, so many times a criminal background check doesn’t even “catch” the type of applicants one is trying to catch.

Some employers (I tend to agree) that although background checks may be a necessary evil, doing proper reference checking with many people (i.e. work colleagues, supervisors and subordinates) is a better way to paint a picture of the applicant.  It takes time, but in the end, you get a better result.