Monday, November 26, 2012

LAST POST: Thank you, goodbye, and hello

I've been blogging on Blogger for a year now, and I've learned a lot about the topics that interest my readers and about how to manage a blog. Many thanks to those readers who have followed me on Blogger and who have voiced their opinions in comments and emails to me.

One of the things I have learned is that I prefer WordPress's interface and ability to link social media sites together. Therefore, I am saying  goodbye to Blogger, and I'm moving the blog to WordPress, effective today. I have moved my earlier posts from this site, and I hope you will move with me. (Though the Blogger site will remain live for awhile.)

Former readers will notice that I have changed the name of my blog. On Blogger, I have been Sara Rickover: M.A.M.A. Curmudgeon. But I found over the course of the last year that I wasn't as curmudgeonly as I had thought I would be when I started. (Though perhaps I was curmudgeonly enough for you.)

So now I have a new name on Wordpress, Sara Rickover, Behind the Corporate Veil. This name means several things to me.
  1. "Piercing the corporate veil" is a legal concept that applies when the intent is to get behind the corporate structure and its limitations on liability, either to go after the assets of the parent company of a subsidiary or the assets of the shareholders rather than just of the corporation. In this blog,  however, my intent is to look at what happens inside a corporation. The good, the bad, and the ugly of leadership is one of the themes of the novel I'm working on.
  2. The name recognizes that my background and focus is on corporate issues, especially leadership and human resources management. When I comment on law and politics, it is from a corporate perspective.
  3. And, of course, veils are a feminine accessory in most cultures. I will write from a woman's perspective, because I cannot do anything else.

If you have been following me on Blogger, please subscribe to my new blog.

And, as always, please send me your comments! I love to hear from you.

Thank you,


Monday, November 19, 2012

Gratitude For Best Friends at Work

The Gallup workforce engagement survey has taken a lot of heat over the years for the question “I have a best friend at work.”  Gallup explains that this question correlates closely with highly productive workplaces.

Many survey respondents balked at the question. Perhaps they had friends at work, but they were uncomfortable with the word “best.”

The problem seemed most acute with senior leaders. Leaders are used to remaining aloof, not to making friends at work.

So Gallup tinkered with the question, trying “close” friend or “good” friend. And the correlation between a positive response on the question and productivity vanished. Apparently, the most productive employees are willing to characterize at least one of the people they work with as a “best” friend – these relationships are part of belonging to a great work group.

Moreover, the “best” friend question also correlated with other aspects of a high-performing workplace:  profitability, safety, inventory control, and – most notably –the emotional connection and loyalty of customers to the organization serving them.

Do you have a “best” friend at work? If so, have you told your colleague how much he or she means to you? Take a moment during this Thanksgiving week to express your gratitude to the people you work with.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Employers, Be Strategic In Implementing Health Care Reform

The Affordable Care  Act (ACA) is here to stay, commentators all agree. There might be some adjustments at the margin – possibly Congress will eliminate the medical device tax; maybe Congress will permit Flexible Spending Accounts and Health Savings Accounts to be used for over the counter drugs.  But the essentials of the ACA will remain, including the individual and employer mandates.

The purpose of this post is not to detail the many compliance issues that employers must satisfy under the ACA. Suffice it to say that employers of all sizes need to be aware of their obligations in 2013, and the even greater obligations facing them in 2014, when the major provisions of the act become effective. Employers should consult their legal counsel, brokers, and other benefit plan experts to determine what they must do to comply with the ACA.

Instead, this post is intended to provoke employers to think strategically about how they want to structure their health insurance plans for employees.  I recently participated in an Aon Hewitt conference call in which their healthcare experts advised that compliance and corporate strategy are two different things, and employers need to focus on both.

Many corporate leaders deplore the need to be experts in health insurance and plan design issues, because it detracts from their focus on their companies’ products and services to customers. Nevertheless, most executives recognize how important the health and engagement of their workforce is. As they implement the ACA, companies will become more involved in healthcare decisions, not less. Wise employers will deal with the problem strategically.

HR, Finance, and other executives at companies of all sizes should discuss:
  • Do we want to build unique health insurance plans designed specifically for our workforce? What are the major healthcare needs of our employees? What employee behaviors are driving our healthcare costs, and how can we incent healthier behavior?
  • Do we want to build or join a private healthcare exchange to provide our employees with more  choices? Would we rather push employees into state or federal healthcare exchanges to reduce our involvement in structuring healthcare plans?
  • Should we structure our jobs to maximize the number of part-time employees for whom we do not need to provide health insurance? What will the implications be for employee satisfaction and for our operational efficiency?
  • How do we segment our health insurance offerings and our communications for various groups within our workforce?

Now that the ACA has survived the Supreme Court and the electoral process, employers must focus on their roles in its implementation. But they shouldn’t ignore their companies’ strategic needs as they do.

Complying with the ACA is one thing. Making the right strategic decisions for your workforce is another. Be sure you do both.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Change the Organization’s Design to Get Different Results; But Be Careful . . . You Will Get What You Design

Many disciplines want to take credit for the adage “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” There are many attributions for this saying, but Susan Carr, writing in the Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare e-newsletter, determined that it originated with Dr. Paul Batalden in the field of medicine.

When Ms. Carr contacted Dr. Batalden about his observation, he told her:
The observation invites personal reflection and awareness, the place where the lasting improvement of quality usually begins. By directing people's attention to design, the words offer a powerful invitation to deeply consider how the present situation was created and invites its re-creation.

Many fields of practice have systems to which this adage applies – the medical field where Dr. Batalden worked, the legal system, and organizational systems.

Because I’ve worked in Human Resources, not medicine, I think of the saying as an organizational design principle: Every organization is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.  How many times have HR directors looked at employees’ behavior and shaken their heads, wondering why people behave the way they do? The answer is often that the organization incents people to behave that way. 

For example, sales employees might be paid for dumping more product in customers’ stores than the customer can profitably sell. Or one manufacturing plant might hoard materials that could better be used in another plant, because they have learned that ordering new materials later takes too long.

Yes, every system is perfectly designed to get the result it gets. The only way to change the result is to change the system.

Some organizational systems are formal – the reporting relationships, the incentive plans, the company policies, etc. – and some are informal – the “attaboy” conversations, or the hallway meetings where the real work gets done.

As one leadership commentator said (in The Executive Perspective):
As discussed . . .  here on our blog, you design your company system through the conversations that you are actively having as well as those that you have codified in employee manuals, procedures, plans. However, your design is also stuck in unspoken conversations that you should be having but you are not having. The classic example is of a company that wants to be innovative but does not reward risk taking. 
Once you recognize that, you can now also see that if you want to change your results, and therefore the design of your team or company, you just have to change your conversations.

If you want to change the results, but don’t change the design of your organizational system, you are engaged in Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The changes you make to your organization may be small. In fact, you are probably better off trying small changes, rather than engaging in a wholesale re-design of your organization.

I’ve been a part of change initiatives that take the entire organization apart, task by task, trying to design the perfect organization to get a desired result. The problem with that approach is that organizations are complex. The larger the organization is, the more complex it is.

Most organizations are so complex that the law of unintended consequences takes over. There is no way you can anticipate every interaction between the organization’s members or parts. In dismantling an entire organization to re-structure it, you are as likely to create new dysfunctions as to fix the old problems.

So change. But change carefully.

When has a change caused unintended consequences in your organization?