Tag Archives: Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor

Have We Ever Been So Divided?

 

These days, our country seems hopelessly split in half politically. The only issue that most people agree on is that our country has never been so divided before.   Actually, it has.

The colonial population was split on whether to rebel against England. Northern states were in competition with English businesses and so they favored rebellion. But the Southern plantation owners depended on English businesses that loaned them money to grow cotton which was later sold to English textile mills.  Rebellion meant insolvency for Southerners so they opposed it.

One of the ugly facts erased from American history books is that as much as one quarter of the population were “loyalists”, people who remained loyal to and often fought with the British. These individuals were chased from the colonies by mobs of their neighbors in an 18th century version of ethnic cleansing.

The divisions remained after the U.S. became a country.  The founders argued about whether to abolish slavery, allow new immigrants, and whether to have an economy based on agriculture or manufacturing.  Southern states wanted an agricultural economy which supported their economic system of slavery.  Northern states were insolvent due to devastation caused by the American Revolution and wanted to rebuild quickly through an industrial economy.

The U.S. could easily have become a failed state. But it didn’t because of a blend of pragmatism and idealism epitomized by the Constitution. The idealism is reflected in the complicated structure of three co-equal branches of government which created strong institutions that could withstand corruption and tyranny.  The pragmatism is reflected in the tacit bargain that allowed the South to keep slavery in exchange for accepting a strong federal government that mutualized northern debts allowing for an economic recovery.  It was far from an ideal bargain but it saved the country.

Our political history is full of such compromises, most notably the Great Compromise of 1850 which delayed the Civil War for ten years.  But in the 1850’s, everyone lost their idealism and their pragmatism.  The North/South divisions ran so deep that voters elected only those politicians who pledged to never compromise on the key issues of the day: immigration and slavery.

Today our country is as divided as it was in the Federalist period and in the 1850’s. My hope is that we will follow the Federalist example. It’s the only way our country can remain strong.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of HR, see my weekly blog HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which publishes every Wednesday morning. To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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Lessons Learned from Blogging

As a small business owner who blogs weekly, I field plenty of questions about my experience. Most of the questions are from other small business owners who are thinking about blogging to market their business. The most difficult conversations are with entrepreneurial sorts who are just starting their business and are looking for a quick way to generate revenue.

I know how they feel. When I started my human resources consulting business, I was transitioning from a career giving legal advice. I had no clients and a small network of contacts.  I began blogging when other methods of increasing my client base seemed to have failed. But after almost five years of blogging, I can’t tie a single dollar of revenue directly to my blog.

So my biggest lesson in blogging is that it won’t jumpstart the revenue stream of a business. What it has done is establish my company’s digital presence so potential clients know we exist and it keeps me in front of potential referral sources who are also loyal readers. That’s a return on investment that money can’t buy.

I continue writing my blog because I enjoy it.  It’s a wonderful way for me to demonstrate the scope of my knowledge on human resources and employee issues. It’s also a fabulous way to examine how humans work together in groups. Our relationships with our co-workers are the longest term relationships we ever develop outside our families. That means drama.

Drama can take many paths from bitchiness to physical violence. That brings me to my next lesson in blogging. Some drama is simply too controversial to cover in my blog.  Drama related to race, religion or politics is so polarizing that any conversation is immediately short circuited by the reader’s existing beliefs.

My readers reflect the diversity of our country.  If they want polarizing arguments, there are plenty of other bloggers who would love to have them as readers. But who wants an HR expert who causes workplace drama?

So I touch on these subjects very carefully while leaving the controversy to others. I prefer to look at topics that illustrate the absurdity of human behavior in common workplace settings.  I would never mock anyone’s behavior because that’s cruel and petty. But we’ve all seen (and will sometimes even admit to) creating workplace drama.  In hindsight, it’s often funny.

That’s the other big lesson of my blog. I want it to be enjoyable. HR is so boring if we only look at the rules and what is prohibited. If my blog is full of pontificating pettifoggery, no serious small business owner will want to hire my company to help with their problems.  But if the business owner has a chuckle about a situation she or he faces every day, they can face the day with a smile.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of HR, see my weekly blog HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which publishes every Wednesday morning.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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You Are Being Watched

 

A now cancelled TV series began with a voice saying, “You are being watched”. The series was about a small shadowy group that used technology to achieve social justice. The final two seasons of the series were scary and depressing as another shadowy group built a supercomputer program that undermined our democracy.  The bad guys’ supercomputer system eventually destroyed the good guys’ supercomputer system.

The scary part was that we are under constant surveillance. We’re told that it’s for our own good.  Security cameras in buildings help catch trespassers. Cameras at intersections catch dangerous drivers.  Blinking blue lights in high crime areas tell the bad guys that their future criminal trials will feature photos or video showing them in the act.

We accept these invasions of our privacy because we trust the self-proclaimed good intentions of the private companies and government entities who invade our space.  Are we wise to be so trusting?

Consider Fitbit and similar devices which allow us to track our personal health. What if a health insurer uses that information to decide who is an acceptable risk worthy of their insurance coverage?  Who trusts Facebook after they proved that their profits are more important than the privacy of one billion daily users? Technology companies share our personal information with the government with or without a warrant signed by a federal judge.

The militarization of our society and its vocabulary means that everyone, including employers, wants to “surveille” and to gather “intel”.  Employers introduce wellness programs that help employees to live healthier lives; but really it’s about reducing employer losses due to low productivity caused by sick employees.

Employers also say they want to help employees work more efficiently in order to increase productivity and profits. That’s understandable; a lack of success means a lack of jobs. But how is technology being used to increase productivity? The newest tech toy for employers is described in the March 3, 2018 edition of The Economist.

Amazon has just obtained a patent for a wristband that would allow the company to track detailed information about each employee’s location and movement.  Amazon says this gizmo is intended to nudge employees into performing their jobs more efficiently.  Amazon is not using their new gizmo yet.

But what if employers treated their employees as the real assets that make the company a success?  What if employers rewarded employees for their productivity gains with better pay and benefits rather than blowing the gains on stock buybacks and pay raises for overpaid senior managers with golden parachutes?

Employers who trust and value the contribution of every employee don’t need to spy on them to nudge performance improvements.  Or to put it another way, just because technology exists doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use it.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of HR, see my weekly blog HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which publishes every Wednesday morning.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

 

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Building the Boat While Sailing It

When I began my human resources consulting business in 2011, I had limited experience running a business.  I am a lawyer so naturally I believed that I could become competent if I just did sufficient research. Research meant reading a lot of business books, a category I normally ignore on my to the history (specifically military history) section.

I knew I needed help after doing countless coffee meetings but closing few deals. So I began reading books about sales and marketing.  Two of my favorites in this category are Integrity Selling in the 21st Century, by Ron Willingham and Getting Naked, by Patrick Lencioni.  The gist of these books is that fairness matters and it’s important to focus on what the client needs.

That sounds obvious, doesn’t it?   A few months ago, I went to a meeting expecting to talk about how we could do referrals to our respective businesses. Instead, the other guy and his boss ran through a PowerPoint of their company’s brilliant services. They never asked about my priorities. They insisted on doing the presentation as they’d rehearsed it.  I’m still annoyed at them for wasting my time.

My biggest business challenge has revolved around money.  I witnessed incredibly poor money management skills while growing up. I was also raised in a conservative Christian community where money was denigrated as the root of all evil.  In a nutshell, I have lots of misconceptions and phobias about money.

To overcome this handicap, I read Drive, by Daniel Pink which explains that higher skilled workers value autonomy more than actual pay. I also read You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, by Jen Sincero. Her book is hilarious, scatological and blunt. I’ve re-read her chapter on money phobias several times.   I found it more helpful than Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill.

At the moment, I’m reading Good to Great, by Jim Collins with my savvy women friends. The book explains the importance of getting the right people in the right seats on the bus so that a company can evolve into being great.  I enjoy our weekly discussions of each chapter because we are a diverse group with varying perspectives. It inspires me to become more creative solving challenges with my company.

I’m also reading Traction, by Gino Wickham, which I consider a companion piece to Collins’ book. Traction provides step-by-step instructions in honing a company’s vision, marketing strategies, and administrative processes so that it can become successful. I had a lot of the pieces discussed in Wickham’s book. Now I’m organizing them into a coherent format that can be understood by the rest of my team.

The learning curve in business ownership was steeper than I realized but I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything.  I’ll admit, though, that sometimes it feels like I’m building the boat while trying to sail it.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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Kitchen Kitsch

I love to cook so I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. My cooking is pretty basic; I don’t use exotic ingredients and I have a battered set of pots and pans.  I grew up poor and learned to use what was available and in my price range.

These days I have more income but I stick by my old habits.  I buy in bulk and I look for what is on sale and then build recipes around those items.  Recently I realized that I was spending a lot of time in the kitchen slicing, dicing and chopping vegetables. I actually enjoy the process because it allows me to think about the various combinations of food, spices, oils, or whatever I need for the finished dish.

Kitchen time fills more than just the need to prepare my next meal. Kitchen time also allows me to reflect on ideas or issues that are important to me. I could get the same benefit from a long walk but at this time of year I’m doing my exercising indoors on a treadmill facing the TV.

Because I spend so much time in my kitchen, I began posting important messages for myself.  I always find it ironic when gifted, educated and powerful women say they struggle or have struggled with their sense of self. I’ve spent a lifetime struggling to think of myself in those terms, despite every accomplishment and achievement in my life.  So my refrigerator and kitchen walls are covered with inspirational notes to remind me of what I am; not what I used to think I was.

When I was a child, I was taught to cook because it was considered a “womanly” skill. Despite that handicap, I still enjoy cooking. Only now my kitchen time is usually spent thinking about reinforcing my self-image and building a stronger, successful business.

As a small business owner, I’m constantly thinking about where that next client will come from or the best (meaning most effective) method for prospecting for new clients or what tasks I should delegate to others.  Sure, I could sit down at a desk and cogitate on all these points. But it seems to flow more naturally when I’m doing other things, like chopping vegetables to make a stew.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. My company works primarily with employers that have up to 50 employees.

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Thanksgiving in America

In two days, Americans will gather for the annual Thanksgiving feast.  Thanksgiving is a very American holiday because it is associated with the best and worst of our society.

The first Thanksgiving was held before the U.S. actually existed as a country.  In 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated with the Wampanoag Indians. The Pilgrims were English settlers who fled Europe in search of religious freedom.  They were saved from starving by the local Wampanoag tribe who helped them adapt to their new neighborhood.

What happened next? The Pilgrims discriminated against anyone who was not a Protestant in the Puritan image. That meant English Quakers had a rough time in New England. The Pilgrims also rid their new neighborhood of the “heathen” Indians using methods that today would be designated as ethnic cleansing.

Thanksgiving was designated a national holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. Why did he decide to create a national holiday? By 1863, the American Civil War had dragged on for three years. The south was losing the war but the north wasn’t clearly winning.

Lincoln needed a win and Thanksgiving was a symbolic victory. It also allowed him to reiterate his message of binding the country together by using the day to “heal the wounds of a nation.”  His aspiration was never fully realized as we see with today’s political divisions on issues of race, gender equality, religion and immigration.

In 1939, Thanksgiving was moved to the fourth Thursday in November by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Why the fourth Thursday of the month?  The Great Depression was grinding on and FDR hoped to increase retail sales by creating more shopping days before Christmas. Today, early sales begin on Thursday and end with the Internet-crashing sales on cyber-Monday. American capitalism is obscuring the purpose of the holiday.

But in spite of the rampant commercialism and the ugly elements engaged in race-baiting, gender bashing, and anti-immigrant claptrap, Thanksgiving shines through.  In two days, people will gather to eat turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, fish tacos, burritos, turnip greens, cornbread, fry bread, sushi, ramen noodles, curries, or hotdogs and hamburgers. Whether kosher or halal or nothing in particular, we’ll all enjoy the feast.

Our annual feast has evolved as our society has evolved. That’s the best tradition for an American holiday.   Happy Thanksgiving!

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

 

Like what you’ve read?  Feel free to share, but please…Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

 

 

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Ever Felt Like a Misfit?

It’s Halloween, the only celebration when misfits are the “in” crowd.  After all, Halloween is about misfits like witches and warlocks.  But you don’t have to be a witch or warlock to feel like a misfit.

I’ve often felt like a misfit.  My family moved often which meant my siblings and I were the new kids on the block at a lot of schools.  New kids at school are automatically misfits because they don’t have common experiences with the other kids in the class. In college being a misfit didn’t matter quite as much because I wasn’t the only misfit wandering around campus.

In my last year of law school, I went to see the career placement ladies about helping me to find a job after I graduated. The ladies in the career placement office told me that my GPA was so lousy that I would probably never be able to get a job as a lawyer.  What did I say in response?

I reminded the ladies that George B. McClellan graduated at the top of his West Point class and he couldn’t win a battle. On the other hand, Ulysses S. Grant almost flunked out of West Point and he won the war. Who would you rather have working for you, I asked? Clearly the ladies were not history majors or Civil War buffs because they weren’t persuaded by my argument. I found a lawyer job without their help.

In my career, I’ve also gone to work for a few companies that left me feeling like a misfit.  I remember one company where I spent the first year hoping I’d fit in with my colleagues. I spent my second year wondering why I wasn’t fitting in. By my third year, I just wanted to get the heck out of there.  I found another job after a short search.

What have I learned from my experiences as a misfit?

  1. Never keep a job just for the paycheck. If you’re miserable because you don’t fit into the corporate culture or your co-workers are obnoxious to you, go find another place to be successful.
  2. I learned new skills at each job that helped me get the next job. So learn what you can and then move on if the environment makes you feel like a misfit.
  3. No one is really a misfit. We simply haven’t found the place where we fit in.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers with up to 50 employees to create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the company’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without the annoying bureaucracy.

Like what you see? Feel free to share, but please……give Her Savvy credit. Thanks!

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Who are the “Losers”?

These days our country is floundering as our political leaders show they are moral pygmies pandering to ethnic, racial, and religious fears rather than working together to fix the social and political ills facing the country.  Thanks to gerrymandered districts, this rot isn’t confined to either mainstream political party.

It’s so depressing.  Worse, it’s repetitive.  In 1925, about 25,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.  It was the largest open demonstration of “white power” in that city.  What caused this open display of bigotry and hate?

By 1925, the U.S. had transitioned from a rural population to an urbanized population. The east coast cities were full of European immigrants who were overwhelmingly Catholic while western cities had seen an influx of Chinese workers. The Jewish population grew as they fled pogroms in Russia.  African-Americans were struggling to end Jim Crow inequality.  By 1925, Native Americans had become U.S. citizens and women could vote.

In 1925, the Klan represented the fears of the people who felt they were losers in all this change. The “losers” included Protestants who were afraid that Catholics would change the “Christian” values of America. Poorly educated, unskilled white men feared a loss of income as factory jobs were filled with new immigrants or black Americans. Politicians and business leaders weren’t interested in funding programs that could have helped these workers adjust to the changing economy.

Now take a look at today’s poisonous brew of “losers”. Protestants and Catholics are afraid that Muslim immigrants will change the “Christian” values of the U.S.  The Black Lives Matter movement shows that racial equality is still unresolved.   Men of all races and ethnicities fear a loss of power and prestige as women continue striving for equality at home and at work.

The biggest “losers” are again white men who lack an education. They are afraid of losing their few remaining job opportunities to recent immigrants from Central America and beyond. Their job skills don’t match what is needed for the global economy and they seem unwilling to learn new skills. Besides, no politician or business leader wants to plunk down the money needed for apprenticeships or retraining programs that could alleviate this problem.

Hello 1925 redux.

My fear is not of the bigots and haters.  My fear is that decent people will be so filled with disgust and despair of the current mess that they will stop voting and give up on supporting the civil society institutions we need to fight the bigots and haters.  If that happens, our democracy will die and we will all be losers.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

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Chicken. Pigeon. Cat. Dog.

                                                                         

Chicken.

Pigeon.

Cat.

Dog.

How would you categorize these animals?

Years ago, an anthropology professor of mine posed this question. It was based on the experiences of one of her students who came from Africa. He was smart with excellent grades but he repeatedly failed biology.

One day, he suddenly leaped up from his desk and yelled, “I’ve got it!” He wrote “chicken, pigeon, cat, dog” on the board and asked his classmates to sort them into categories.  American students instantly grouped together the chicken and pigeon because they are birds and the cat and dog because they are household pets.

“Wrong,” he said, “here’s how they should be grouped. Chicken and dog belong together because if you feed them, they will stay at home. Pigeon and cat go together because if you feed them, they may still leave home to go wandering”.

We group animals, people, and things in specific ways based on our cultural expectations. Our cultural expectations are based on assumptions that are so old, so ingrained they are invisible just like the air we breathe. These assumptions then shape our world view.

When our assumptions are harmless, like how to categorize four common animals, it’s mildly amusing. But some assumptions lead to the “us v. “them” world view.  We are convinced that our world view is the “right” view because we never want to question our assumptions.

That’s why it’s naïve to believe that different groups of people can overcome their differences simply by talking to each other.  That’s also why it is so difficult to overcome prejudices.  The earthquake that reshapes our assumptions is internal.

I’ve been fascinated by the question of cultural expectations ever since my anthropology professor posed her question to a classroom of college kids who thought they were really smart but who couldn’t see the assumptions that shaped their cultural expectations.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

Like what you see? Feel free to share, but please……give Her Savvy credit. Thanks!

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What Makes a Hero?

What makes a hero? I cogitate on this question every year as July 20th approaches.  On July 20, 1944, a group of German Army officers came darned close to killing Adolf Hitler with a bomb.  Today those officers are considered heroes of the anti-Nazi resistance. It wasn’t always that way, though.

 

In 1944, the officers were considered traitors by their fellow Germans and by the people on the Allied side of the war.  In 1944, only anarchists, traitors and Communists were so morally challenged as to commit political murder.  No one wanted to believe that respectable, educated, upper-class men would commit pre-meditated murder.

 

So who were the German officers who tried to kill Hitler? They were primarily Junkers or German aristocrats and most of them were related to each other. They tended to be devout Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant. They thought, incorrectly, that if they killed Hitler, the western Allies (U.S., Britain, and France) would sign a ceasefire and agree to join them in fighting the Russian Communists.

 

Alas, their bomb failed to kill Hitler and the Nazis took revenge.  Henning von Tresckow, the mastermind, died on the eastern front hours before Gestapo agents stepped off a plane to arrest him. Graf von Stauffenberg, who planted the bomb, was shot by firing squad on the evening of July 20th. They were the lucky ones.  Most of the other plotters, and quite a few innocents, were taken to Gestapo headquarters in Berlin where they were tortured before being tried in kangaroo courts and hanged.

 

Their wives and children ended the war in prison or in concentration camps. The youngest children were sent to orphanages. Stauffenberg’s widow gave birth to her daughter in prison and spent about 10 years searching orphanages trying to find her sons.  The widows were ostracized after the war until the 1960’s when their dead husbands were proclaimed as heroes.

 

The plotters became heroes because West Germany needed heroes. In 1945, Germany was split in two. East Germany was occupied by the Russians. West Germany was created from the American, French and British occupation zones. By the 1960’s, West Germany needed heroes to give the country a sense of continuity with the past but without the taint of the Nazis.  The German officers who plotted to kill Hitler fit the requirements and became heroes.

 

So what makes a person a hero?  In the case of the July 20th conspirators, it was political necessity. But I like to think that the July 20th conspirators would have been recognized as heroes even without political necessity. They were truly brave men who knew they were risking the lives of their families in their quest to build a better future for all.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Contact me at norma.shirk@complianceriskadvisor.com.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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