Category Archives: Management

The Problem With HR

Source: Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic, July 2019

For 30 years, we’ve trusted human-resources departments to prevent and address workplace sexual harassment. How’s that working out?

…The experience left me with a question: If HR is such a vital component of American business, its tentacles reaching deeply into many spheres of employees’ work lives, how did it miss the kind of sexual harassment at the center of the #MeToo movement? And given that it did, why are companies still putting so much faith in HR? I returned to these questions many times over the course of the following year, interviewing workplace experts, lawyers, management consultants, and workers in the field.

Finally, I realized I had it all wrong. The simple and unpalatable truth is that HR isn’t bad at dealing with sexual harassment. HR is actually very good at it…..

…..But the real reason many workers don’t love human resources is that while the department often presents itself as functioning like a union—the open door for worker complaints, the updates on valuable new benefits—it is not a union. In a strong job market, HR is the soul of generosity, making employees feel valued and significant. But should the economy change, or should management decide to go in another direction, HR can just as quickly become assassin as friend…..

….If employers judged HR departments by their ability to prevent sexual harassment, most would have gotten a failing grade long ago. What HR is actually responsible for—one of the central ways the department “adds value” to a company—is serving as the first line of defense against a sexual-harassment lawsuit. These two goals are clearly aligned, but if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that you can achieve the latter without doing much of anything at all about the former…..

Speak Nice or Else: The Evolving Law of Nondisparagement Provisions in the Workplace

Source: Anthony W. Kraus, Labor Law Journal, Vol. 70, Issue No. 2, Summer 2019
(subscription required)

Nondisparagement provisions, which commit one contracting party to refrain from derogatory comment about another, are familiar features in employee severance agreements and settlement agreements. They also have been commonly included in some employment contracts, typically for top executives earning substantial salaries, to prohibit post-termination recriminations from such highly compensated personnel.

More recently, such provisions also have begun to appear in employment contracts with ordinary new hires, exacting a threshold pledge of no adverse comment both during and after the relationship. The cause appears to be the emergence of social media as outlets for criticism of businesses, which both consumers and employees have exploited to publicize grievances. In response, some manufacturers and service providers have sought to gag purchasers through nondisparagement provisions in certain kinds of consumer contracts, prompting widespread protest and remedial action at both the federal and state level. Despite that reaction, some employers also have tried to adapt the same broad preemptive approach, expanding resort to such provisions in the workplace.

Scaling Down Inequality: Rating Scales, Gender Bias, and the Architecture of Evaluation

Source: Lauren A. Rivera, András Tilcsik, American Sociological Review, Early View, March 12, 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Quantitative performance ratings are ubiquitous in modern organizations—from businesses to universities—yet there is substantial evidence of bias against women in such ratings. This study examines how gender inequalities in evaluations depend on the design of the tools used to judge merit. Exploiting a quasi-natural experiment at a large North American university, we found that the number of scale points used in faculty teaching evaluations—whether instructors were rated on a scale of 6 versus a scale of 10—significantly affected the size of the gender gap in evaluations in the most male-dominated fields. A survey experiment, which presented all participants with an identical lecture transcript but randomly varied instructor gender and the number of scale points, replicated this finding and suggested that the number of scale points affects the extent to which gender stereotypes of brilliance are expressed in quantitative ratings. These results highlight how seemingly minor technical aspects of performance ratings can have a major effect on the evaluation of men and women. Our findings thus contribute to a growing body of work on organizational practices that reduce workplace inequalities and the sociological literature on how rating systems—rather than being neutral instruments—shape the distribution of rewards in organizations.

#MeToo whistleblowing is upending century-old legal precedent demanding loyalty to the boss

Source: Elizabeth C. Tippett, The Conversation, March 5, 2019

…. While researching a book on the duty of loyalty, I realized that the #MeToo movement isn’t merely a rift in the ordinary order of workplace relationships in the United States. It is part a larger legal and cultural shift that has been in the works for decades.

The duty of loyalty is the idea that you “cannot bite the hand that feeds you and insist on staying for future banquets,” as an American labor arbitrator wrote in 1972.

It’s a bedrock principle that courts apply to employment disputes, even if you didn’t sign a contract promising to keep an employer’s secrets.

The duty of loyalty is why employers can demand that you sign a confidentiality agreement at the start of employment. It’s why workers can’t download their employer’s trade secrets on a thumb drive and use it in their new job. And why companies are able to persuade judges to enforce noncompete agreements. ….

The Feedback Fallacy

Source: Marcus Buckingham, Ashley Goodall, Harvard Business Review, March/April 2019

For years, managers have been encouraged to praise and constructively criticize just about everything their employees do. But there are better ways to help employees thrive and excel. ….

…. To be clear, instruction—telling people what steps to follow or what factual knowledge they’re lacking—can be truly useful: That’s why we have checklists in airplane cockpits and, more recently, in operating rooms. …

….Underpinning the current conviction that feedback is an unalloyed good are three theories that we in the business world commonly accept as truths. The first is that other people are more aware than you are of your weaknesses, and that the best way to help you, therefore, is for them to show you what you cannot see for yourself. ….

…. The second belief is that the process of learning is like filling up an empty vessel: You lack certain abilities you need to acquire, so your colleagues should teach them to you. ….

….. And the third belief is that great performance is universal, analyzable, and describable, and that once defined, it can be transferred from one person to another, regardless of who each individual is. …..

…. But the occasions when the actions or knowledge necessary to minimally perform a job can be objectively defined in advance are rare and becoming rarer. What we mean by “feedback” is very different. Feedback is about telling people what we think of their performance and how they should do it better—whether they’re giving an effective presentation, leading a team, or creating a strategy. And on that, the research is clear: Telling people what we think of their performance doesn’t help them thrive and excel, and telling people how we think they should improve actually hinders learning. ….

…. What these three theories have in common is self-centeredness: They take our own expertise and what we are sure is our colleagues’ inexpertise as givens; they assume that my way is necessarily your way. But as it turns out, in extrapolating from what creates our own performance to what might create performance in others, we overreach. Research reveals that none of these theories is true. The more we depend on them, and the more technology we base on them, the less learning and productivity we will get from others. To understand why and to see the path to a more effective way of improving performance, let’s look more closely at each theory in turn. …..

The ‘Hidden Mechanisms’ That Help Those Born Rich to Excel in Elite Jobs

Source: Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic, February 26, 2019

When two sociologists interviewed highly paid architects, TV producers, actors, and accountants, they encountered work cultures that favor the already affluent. ….

Over the past five years, the sociologists Daniel Laurison and Sam Friedman have uncovered a striking, consistent pattern in data about England’s workforce: Not only are people born into working-class families far less likely than those born wealthy to get an elite job—but they also, on average, earn 16 percent less in the same fields of work.

Laurison and Friedman dug further into the data, but statistical analyses could only get them so far. So they immersed themselves in the cultures of modern workplaces, speaking with workers—around 175 in all—in four prestigious professional settings: a TV-broadcasting company, a multinational accounting firm, an architecture firm, and the world of self-employed actors.

The result of this research is Laurison and Friedman’s new book, The Class Ceiling: Why It Pays to Be Privileged, which shows how the customs of elite workplaces can favor those who grew up wealthier. The authors describe a series of “hidden mechanisms”—such as unwritten codes of office behavior and informal systems of professional advancement—that benefit the already affluent while disadvantaging those with working-class backgrounds. ….

…. Laurison: I think that a lot of people, on some level what they think they’re doing when they sponsor young co-workers is spotting talent—they called it “talent-mapping” in the accounting firm we studied. But a lot of people we talked to were also able to reflect and say, “Part of why I was excited about that person, probably, is because they reminded me of a younger version of myself.” The word we use in sociology is homophily—people like people who are like themselves.

One of the big ideas of the book, for me, is it’s really hard for any given individual in any given situation to fully parse what’s actual talent or intelligence or merit, and what’s, Gosh, that person reminds me of me, or I feel an affinity for them because we can talk about skiing or our trips to the Bahamas. Part of it is also that what your criteria are for a good worker often comes from what you think makes you a good worker.

Pinsker: In the workplaces you studied, who tended to lose out in these systems of sponsorship?

Laurison: In three of the four fields we studied, it was poor and working-class people, and also women and people of color. There are lots of axes along which homophily can cloud senior people’s judgment about who’s meritorious. ….

Getting Close With Employees Can Backfire on Bosses

Source: Chuck Finder, Futurity, February 1, 2019

New research reveals potential problems with bosses and employees becoming too close and how to avoid them.

Related:
Give and take: An episodic perspective on leader-member exchange
Source: Zhenyu Liao, Wu Liu, Xian Li, Zhaoli Song, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 104 no. 1, January 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Research on leader-member exchange (LMX) has predominantly taken a dyadic relationship perspective to understand the differences in overall exchanges across leader-member dyads, while neglecting the within-dyad exchange dynamics across a series of episodic resource transactions. Drawing from the literature on equity and reciprocity principles of social exchange, we develop and test a model of leader-member episodic resource transactions that delineates the momentary psychological mechanism and the boundary condition under which episodic resource contribution surplus generates member subsequent reciprocations. Multilevel polynomial regression analyses of 600 episodic exchange responses from 73 employees show that resource contribution surplus in an exchange episode increased state work engagement immediately following the episode and member resource contribution in the next episode by evoking member momentary sense of obligation to reciprocate. Additionally, the between-dyad LMX relationship quality attenuated these effects by reducing the likelihood to feel obligated to reciprocate due to episodic resource contribution surplus. Our research highlights the microdynamic transaction nature of the exchanges between leaders and members and provides insight into how leader-member dyads exchange resources in episodic interactions

Underrepresented, Underemployed: In the library-job search, some face special barriers

Source: Anne Ford, American Libraries, Vol. 49 nos. 11/12, November/December 2018

….White’s concerns represent only some of the potential obstacles that people from underrepresented demographic groups face when applying for positions in the library field—a field that remains about 86% white and 97% able-bodied (per the 2017 ALA Demographic Survey, which did not ask about sexual orientation.)

Because the library profession has been trying to diversify itself for a long time—particularly racially, and particularly through initiatives such as diversity task forces and diversity fellowships—some may be surprised that people from underrepresented communities still encounter barriers to library employment….

Does Hiring For ‘Culture Fit’ Perpetuate Bias? Two HR experts debate the issue.

Source: Mel Hennigan and Lindsay Evans, SHRM, HR Today, October 31, 2018

YES: Hiring bias is hiding beneath the cloak of company culture.
When successful tech companies popularized corporate culture as an asset to be fostered and shaped about 15 years ago, it didn’t take long for “culture fit” to become the new jargon used for hiring decisions that are based on personality traits. Considering culture fit as part of the overall package is a good thing for companies that have taken the time to carefully define and weigh the cultural components of the hiring decision. ….

NO: Assessing candidates for culture fit helps ensure their success.
Human capital has a direct impact on an organization’s financial performance, research shows. The people within an organization can provide a competitive advantage—or a disadvantage. Therefore, making the right hiring decisions is critical…..

Checklist can tell if employee training really works

Source: Amy McCaig- Rice University, Futurity, November 21, 2018

Businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations spend big money on employee training each year, but how can they tell the preparation is actually working? The checklist, which researchers describe in a paper in the International Journal of Training and Development, provides practical guidance for all stages of implementing training programs.

The authors developed the checklist by surveying scientific research on learning and organizational training, then figuring out the best ways to achieve “training transfer”—the translation of knowledge to skills for better performance…..

Related:
A checklist for facilitating training transfer in organizations
Source: Ashley M Hughes, Stephanie Zajac, Jacqueline M Spencer, Eduardo Salas, International Journal of Training and Development, Early View, First published: 12 November 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Organizations leverage training as a means of improving the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of trainees; but, effective training requires that this learning is transferred from the training environment to the actual performance of the work (that is, training transfer). Unfortunately, despite billions of dollars invested in learning each year, the ‘transfer problem’ represents a persistent challenge for organizations who wish to reap the benefits of training in that trained skills are often not used on‐the‐job post‐training. In order to address this issue, we have surveyed the existing research, identified practical considerations for maximizing training transfer, and organized them in the form of a checklist for those who design and deliver training. The checklist provides evidence‐based, actionable guidance for practitioners before, during, and after training program implementation to increase utilization of trained knowledge and skills on the job.