Archive for July, 2010

RCMP leadership crisis a sign of the times

Workers, emboldened by anti-bullying legislation, aren’t afraid to stand up to bullying bosses

By Todd Humber (todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com)

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

That immortal line was uttered by fed up news anchor Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) in the classic 1976 movie Network.

Today, though, that line — or at least that sentiment — is being echoed in workplaces across the country when it comes to bullying leaders and command-and-control leadership tactics.

Buoyed by legislation in some jurisdictions that bans bullying and psychological harassment, workers seem to be less afraid to stand up for themselves in situations where, in the past, they would have either put up with offending behaviour or voted with their feet by walking out the door.

Case in point is the furor erupting in the nation’s police force. Earlier this week, CBC news broke a story that as many as 10 senior members of the RCMP, including two deputy commissioners, have complained to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and directly to the Prime Minister about the conduct of RCMP Commissioner William Elliot.

In an organization like the RCMP, where questioning superiors is almost unheard of, it’s a stunning development. (Though, the fact Elliot is a civilian who never wore the Red Serge could be one of the reasons officers felt comfortable going above his head.)

The claims against Elliot are that he is close-minded, verbally abusive, arrogant and insulting. One story alleges Elliot went into a rage and threw papers at an officer.

Telling is the fact Elliot reportedly attended a $44,000 course in Arizona that dealt with behavioural barriers to success, according to the CBC. And, in a memo to employees, Elliot said he learned his actions “can and did have unintended, sometimes negative impacts.”

While the allegations against Elliot are just that — allegations — Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is taking the situation seriously. He said he was “troubled by the issues concerning management conflict.”

He went on to say that a workplace assessment of the RCMP would be conducted, led by an independent advisor.

But he also seemed less than pleased that the story had become public, saying: “Frankly, it is unacceptable for individuals in leadership positions in an organization as important as the RCMP to air internal disputes through the news media.”

But the new reality is that, frankly, it’s unacceptable for people in leadership positions to use intimidating and bullying leadership tactics. Not only is it an extremely ineffective leadership style (workers who fear their bosses are rarely engaged), but it can also run afoul of the law.

And, clearly, workers aren’t going to take it anymore.

Todd Humber is managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resources management. For more information, visit www.hrreporter.com.

Sherrod tale underscores importance of thorough workplace investigations

By Todd Humber

Anyone can look bad for a minute. That’s because small snippets of time can easily be taken out of context.

That’s why the work of human resources professionals is so critical. In organizations, HR has to be the voice of reason, the calm heads that prevail when a manager (or the entire executive team) feels prone to a knee-jerk reaction. It doesn’t always make HR the most popular person in the room, but it does make their presence arguably the most important.

No doubt the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sure wishes calmer  heads would have prevailed when it comes to Shirley Sherrod. Sherrod was the Georgia state director of rural development for the USDA who was fired after a damning videotape of her surfaced in which she made apparently inappropriate comments about not doing all she could to help a white farmer. (Sherrod is black).

In the tape, she said:

“You know, the first time I was faced with helping a white farmer save his farm, he took a long time talking but he was trying to show me he was superior to me. I know what he was doing. But he had come to me for help. What he didn’t know, while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me, was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him. I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland. And here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So, I didn’t give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough so that when he… I assumed the Department of Agriculture had sent him to me, either that, or the Georgia Department of Agriculture, and he needed to go back and report that I did try to help him. So I took him to a white lawyer that had attended some of the training that we had provided because Chapter 12 bankruptcy had just been enacted for the family farm. So I figured if I take him to one of them, that his own kind would take care of him.
That’s when it was revealed to me that it’s about poor versus those who have, and not so much about white — it is about white and black, but it’s not, you know, it opened my eyes because I took him to one of his own.”

Pretty damning stuff. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) immediately condemned the remarks and U.S. government officials called on Sherrod to resign — which she did, all the while claiming the video was nonsense and that it was completely out of context.

She was right. The clip wasn’t the full story. The small snippet that caused all the knee-jerk reactions was posted by a conservative blogger, Andrew Breitbart. (Which raises another point, and that’s about what credible journalism is and why it’s important to get your information from an independent, non-partisan and trusted news outlet — but that’s a column for another day.) Once the entire tape surfaced, and Sherrod’s comments were put into proper context, the NAACP apologized to Sherrod, the Secretary of Agriculture apologized and President Barack Obama himself phoned her up to chat. She’s been offered a new position, but it’s not clear if she’s going to accept it.

The Sherrod case brings to mind an incident closer to home from a couple years ago. A Beer Store outlet in Niagara Falls, Ont., fired one of its workers after a video surveillance showed him stealing about $200 from the till.

But that wasn’t the whole story. The rest of the tape, which the employer for some reason chose to ignore, showed the same worker putting the same amount of money back — consistent with his explanation and apparently exonerating him.

In the July 2, 2008, issue of Canadian Employment Law Today Peter Straszynski, a lawyer with Torkin Maines, wrote:

“The Beer Store went to the police with the incriminating portions of the tape, but failed to point out the exonerating portions, even after being specifically asked by the police whether any such evidence existed. Criminal charges were laid, resulting in McNeil’s conviction for theft. The Beer Store dismissed McNeil, for cause, consistent with the criminal conviction.”

And what did that decision cost the company? A cool $2.1 million, consisting of $1.3 million in lost wages and $800,000 in aggravated and punitive damages.

Cases like Sherrod and the Beer Store underscore how critical it is to conduct a thorough investigation when allegations of wrongdoing arise — even when there is apparent indisputable video proof. The camera may not lie, but it sure doesn’t tell the entire story.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resources management. For more information, visit www.hrreporter.com.

Doctor has prescription for recruitment

By Todd Humber (todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com)

Ask any HR professional what the most reliable recruitment source is and the answer will be — inevitably and almost without fail — “employee referrals.”

That’s because employees are the best recruiters the human resources department has: they know the company inside out, what it takes to succeed and they’re (hopefully) able to identify and recommend solid candidates to join the ranks.

Employers are well aware of this — it’s why so many pay referral bonuses to workers who recommend a successful candidate.

But one hospital is taking that notion a step further. Jean Fairfield, the physician in charge of the recruitment program at Hawkesbury District and General Hospital in Hawkesbury, Ont., has offered up $5,000 to absolutely anyone who can convince a doctor to come and stay in the bilingual town of about 11,000 that’s located on the Ontario-Quebec border.

Fairfield figures $5,000 is pretty cheap to get a doctor on board, especially compared to the cost of using a headhunter. And the publicity (the announcement last week garnered a fair bit of media attention) seems to be paying off.

One woman, who read about the offer in a Montreal newspaper, called and said she knew an ER doctor in the city who might want to make the move, Fairfield told the Ottawa Sun.

The cash is coming from the hospital’s recruitment budget, with $2,000 paid out after the first year and $3,000 after the second.

Rural communities across Canada are struggling to find doctors, according to the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada. On its website, it points out that towns with populations less than 10,000 account for 22.2 per cent of the population, yet they are served by only 10.1 per cent of the physicians. Larger rural and regional centres (10,000 to 100,000 population) don’t fare much better — 15.9 per cent of the population and 11.9 per cent of the physician pool.

The hospital’s decision to hand out a $5,000 finder’s fee will likely pay huge dividends in this case. But employers can’t exactly rely on catching the attention of the media with quirky stories to help fill positions as a long-term strategy.

We got a reminder last week (after months and months of dreary recession news) of how tough the recruitment game is going to get, with the surprising job creation numbers from Statistics Canada. The unemployment rate fell to 7.9 per cent in June with 93,000 net new jobs created in the month.

The clock is ticking on the demographic time bomb that we’ve been writing about for years in the pages of Canadian HR Reporter. In just six months (January 2011) the first wave of the baby boomers will start turning 65.

Employers are going to have to pull out all the stops to find and keep the talent they need. The odd gimmick won’t hurt, but a perfect combination of money, work environment, work-life balance, appealing career paths and corporate social responsibility will be just what the doctor ordered for good recruitment health.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. For more information, visit http://www.hrreporter.com.

Unemployed need not apply? Really?

By Todd Humber (todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com)

Call it something that looks good on paper. Or perhaps not a bad idea in theory. But whoever came up with the idea of stating, in job postings, that unemployed candidates need not apply deserves a first ballot induction into the HR Worst Practices Hall of Fame.

At least two firms in the United States did exactly that, using language such as “unemployed candidates will not be considered” or “must be currently employed,” according to CNNMoney.

The first was South Carolina recruiter Latro Consulting, which posted jobs for grocery store managers. The second was Sony Ericsson, a phone manufacturer that was hiring for a new facility in Georgia. In both cases, the offending language was pulled from the postings when reporters started phoning.

First, let’s get the upside out of the way because there is some logic behind the thinking. In the recession, many firms targeted the deadwood among employee populations. Have to cut 10 per cent of the workforce? Might as well cut the bottom performers.

Therefore, it stands to reason, a good chunk of the current crop of unemployed workers are among the worst performers. If your competitors didn’t think they were worth hanging on to, then why bother going through the motions of evaluating them?

But that bit of logic gets buried — quickly and deeply — by an onslaught of common sense. First, stereotyping all unemployed workers as deadwood is plain wrong. It’s a complete myth. While some firms targeted underperformers, others did it based solely on seniority. Some cut underperforming divisions and others targeted high-wage earners.

Because there wasn’t a blanket reaction by employers in cutting staff, it’s folly to take a similar stance in recruiting. Putting language like that in a job posting will undoubtedly discourage people from applying, and you might miss a star recruit.

Why, as an employer, would you handcuff yourself while searching for your most important asset? It’s worth taking the time to sort through some unqualified candidates to find that diamond in the rough.

There are also potential legal ramifications. For example, we know Aboriginals have a higher unemployment rate than Caucasians. A Canadian employer using such language could open itself up to a human rights complaint from an applicant who claims the job posting is discriminatory based on race.

Thankfully, it doesn’t appear any Canadian employers have adopted this tactic — at least not on paper. A search of job board Workopolis reveals no similar language in current postings.

That’s not to say Canadian recruiters don’t use the tactic. Someone who is employed will often be more appealing. But don’t put it in a job posting and don’t rule out a candidate simply because she’s unemployed. It’s the wrong thing to do, it will hurt your bottom line and your reputation as an employer may take a hit. It’s just not a practice worth emulating.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. For more information, visit www.hrreporter.com.

The cloak-and-dagger world of human resources

By Todd Humber (todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com)

Who says human resources isn’t full of intrigue and clandestine behaviour?

When news broke recently about a spy ring — involving Russians in the United States, many claiming to be Canadian and possessing fake Canuck passports — the cast of characters read like a spy novel. (And we thought the Cold War was over.)

There was Anna Chapman, described as a “sultry, 28-yearold ‘femme fatale’ with a swish Manhattan apartment.” An acquaintance dubbed her a James Bond-type girlfriend.

There was Michael Semenko, a party guy in his 20s who made a splash in Arlington, Va., last summer tooling around in a high-end Mercedes. He apparently held rowdy parties and was fluent in Russian, English, Chinese and Spanish.

But mixed in with this cast of characters was HR staffer Anne Foley. Foley lived what was described in the Toronto Star as a “perfect Boston” life with Donald Heathfield, starring as fortysomething parents of two teenage sons.

What, precisely, was Foley’s cover? She said she was from Montreal, and claimed to have worked as a human resource officer in Toronto. (Though she took a real estate gig in Boston.)

HR doesn’t need any more signs it has arrived as a profession — that train rolled into the station years ago. But now we know the profession is good enough to work as a cover for a Russian spy.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. For more information, visit www.hrreporter.com.


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