Tag Archives: Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor

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.

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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.

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When Should I Quit?

when-to-quit

I was raised to believe in perseverance and not giving up. Quitters were often labeled as losers who gave up too soon and therefore never achieved success. Think of childhood sports, like T-ball or soccer, where the coach and parents scream at the children to keep trying even when it is obvious their team can’t win.  No one wants to be a quitter.

The dilemma of whether to quit becomes riskier when one reaches adulthood. Adults who quit are often risking the loss of a job, ending a marriage, or losing money on a failed business venture. The emotional burden is much more severe than losing a kid’s game.

I’ve spent years of misery in jobs I hated before finally accepting the obvious fact that my values were incompatible with my employers. I’ve continued supporting ventures that sank faster than the Titanic because I didn’t want to be branded a quitter. But at some point, our “gut reaction” can’t be ignored. We need to accept that failure is probably the only realistic option.

Recently I’ve been struggling with the decision to quit a commitment I made less than a year ago. True to my usual form, I spent months stewing about it before I finally asked my trusted friends to help me decide what to do. They asked three questions.

  1. What goal am I trying to achieve? I joined an organization because I believed in their mission. Unfortunately, they were already in crisis and I realize now that I was recruited because I have skills that could help them resolve their problems.
  1. What support do I have to achieve the goal? I knew the answer to this question, but had been delaying accepting it. I lack support from the organization because key insiders are comfortable with the status quo and afraid of what change means for them personally. I can continue to suggest needed changes but my perseverance won’t change their resistance.
  1. What will I gain by quitting? Quitting would end the emotional toll of trying to change an organization that doesn’t actually want to change.

There is no bright line test to know when it is best to persevere and when it is best to cut one’s losses and quit.  Asking trusted friends or family for advice is a great starting point for making the final decision because their vision is not clouded by the emotional attachment that makes it difficult for us decide.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help 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. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com.

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Was Duchamp Really An Artist?

 

duchamp2Marcel Duchamp is considered one of the brightest artists of the 20th century.  Not to me.  I pretty much hate everything he did and wouldn’t pay a plugged nickel for any of it.  But that’s okay because it’s my opinion.  Art is subjective. If a piece of art doesn’t “speak” to you emotionally, it’s not worth a plugged nickel.

I learned that lesson from an English professor who taught a class in Renaissance English poetry. (It was the only English class that fit my schedule that semester.)  At first, none of us wanted to voice our opinion on the poetry we were reading because we didn’t want to sound gauche or uninformed.  Then the professor told us that any work of art, regardless of the medium used, only has value if it speaks to us emotionally.  Without that emotional connection, art has no value.

Years later I was invited to a special exhibit in Dallas, Texas of the private collection of one of the city’s leading citizens.  The collection was a mishmash of Benin sculptures, Anasazi pots, Mayan knickknacks, some random Asian artefacts and so on.  It was a 30 or 40 year history lesson in art collecting based on what the avant-garde defined as “art.”  The owner of the collection had buckets of money but apparently collected only what everyone else collected.

That brings me back to Duchamp.  This guy is famous for displaying three panes of glass.  When one pane of glass was broken during transit, Duchamp claimed he liked the piece even more. It’s still on display somewhere with one cracked pane.

Most famously Duchamp put a urinal on display.  Viewers proclaimed that it had classic lines rather than pointing out that it was a bathroom fixture that should be returned to the men’s room down the hall.  No one wanted to be mocked by the avant-garde crowd for lacking artistic sensibilities.

It’s amazing how much guff and abuse we are willing to take to remain part of the “in” crowd.  Duchamp always reminds me of that human trait.  He not only convinced people that panes of glass and a urinal were “art,” he induced them to pay huge sums of money to own one of his pieces.  So I admire his chutzpah and think he was one of the greatest marketers of the 20th century.  But, in my opinion, Duchamp was not an artist.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help 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. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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Finding Inspiration in Losses

soccer-panoramic

I am constantly searching for examples of how other businesses stay successful despite losses. Examples are everywhere, but one of my favorite examples is Southampton Football Club (Southampton FC).

Southampton FC is based (obviously) in Southampton, England and it plays in England’s top football (soccer) league, the English Premier League.  Each year the club loses their best players to rival clubs with more money to spend on acquisitions. Each year they lose their head coach (manager, in England) to rival clubs.

Any business that consistently loses its best performers would be expected to slide into oblivion.  Southampton FC temporarily appeared doomed to such a fate. In 2008, Southampton FC was bankrupt and demoted. They began the 2009/2010 season in the third tier of English football. (By comparison, the U.S. has two tiers of professional soccer.)

Then a group of new owners bought the club and initiated two key strategies. First, they brought financial stability with a cash infusion and a new team of experienced financial advisers to run the back office. Southampton’s problems were apparently rooted in poor financial practices.

Second, the new owners reinforced the existing corporate culture of the club. The club has a reputation for developing young talent. Their corporate culture requires everyone from the youth academy to the senior players to use the same system of training and learn the same game tactics or style of play.  That may sound like a no-brainer, but an amazing number of businesses try to change their corporate culture each time they choose a new manager.

Southampton FC hires managers (coaches) that fit their system. The corporate culture is so resilient that each year the manager changes and the top players are sold but the club remains competitive.  It’s called “the Southampton way”.

By the 2012/2013 season, the club had played its way back into the English Premier League and has finished in the top ten every year since.  Other businesses now regularly travel to Southampton to study the club’s business model.  Southampton FC’s four-year journey from loss to success is truly inspirational.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help 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. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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A Christmas Truce

a-christmas-truce

December is a difficult time of year for many people.  December can be especially lonely for soldiers who are far from home.  In 1914, lonely soldiers caused one of the most extraordinary Christmas events.  They (briefly) stopped the First World War.

The impromptu ceasefire began on December 7, 1914, when Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary ceasefire so that the soldiers in the trenches could celebrate Christmas.  The governments of Britain, France and Germany refused to observe an official ceasefire.

It’s not clear why they said no, but there were probably two main reasons for refusing a ceasefire.  First, no one was tired of the war.  In December 1914, the war was only about five months old.  The major slaughters, like the Battle of the Somme when a million men were casualties, didn’t happen until 1916.

Second, and I think more importantly, the governments opposed a ceasefire out of fear.  Specifically, fear of fraternization.  Soldiers are better able to do their job of killing the enemy if they don’t know their enemy.  It’s why we demonize our opponents as a faceless “other” and use derogatory nicknames to dehumanize them.  If a soldier sees the enemy as human with a family and personal aspirations, it becomes difficult to shoot to kill.

Consider the line “from a distance, you look like my friend, even though we are at war.”  It’s taken from an anti-war song called “From a Distance.”  The song became popular during the First Persian Gulf War in the early 1990’s and it evokes a universal sentiment.

In 1914, the soldiers in the trenches ignored their governments and saw the enemy as a friend.  On Christmas Eve, they sang Christmas carols to each other across no-man’s land.  On Christmas Day, they crossed no-man’s land to exchange food and talk of their families back home.  In one instance, they played a game of football (i.e., soccer).

After Christmas, some of the soldiers decided they couldn’t return to war.  One anecdote says that some French and German soldiers refused to fight each other.  Their commanders threatened them with all sorts of disciplinary action to no avail.  Eventually, the affected French and German units were pulled out of their trenches and sent to fight in other sectors.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 has never been repeated.  As wars continue around the world, that is one of the saddest commentaries on this holiday season.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help 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. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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How Technology Changed My Job

DOS

I remember being afraid of the first computer I used because I had to learn DOS with the little green cursor and the backslashes and forward slashes.  The system didn’t automatically save your document or prompt you to save it so I stuck a stickie note reminder to the side of the monitor.

Everything was printed on a flimsy dot-matrix printer and then mailed, couriered or faxed.  Faxes printed on slick paper that left black ink smudges on your clothes before curling up, turning yellow and becoming illegible.

I wasn’t sure I would like the new tech world, but soon the dreadful DOS was replaced with a desktop computer with Word Perfect.  I’ve always preferred Word Perfect over Microsoft Word because it was friendlier to writers.  Alas, Microsoft Word became ubiquitous and Word Perfect went the way of the dinosaurs.

Word Perfect was just an early example of all the changes technology has made to my job.  Many of the jobs I held early in my career, like hand delivering pleadings to the court clerk’s office for filing, have become irrelevant due to technology.  Most courts now require pleadings to be filed electronically.

But for every loss, technology had offered so much more. For example, email and text messaging eliminates the old phone tag game of trying to connect with colleagues or clients.  It also lowered the cost of starting a business.  Early in my career, a business owner needed to rent (or own) office space, furnish it, and hire staff.  The business owner also needed a telephone line obtained at great cost from the local baby Bell monopoly, a clunky desk top computer, a printer, a copier, and a fax machine.  A coffee maker was also a critical piece of office equipment.

Almost none of that is necessary today.  When I started my consulting business about five years ago, technology allowed me to work from a home office and use my cell phone as my business number.  My cell phone also allows me to text and email clients.  I get coffee at coffee shops when meeting prospects or clients.

I run my business with a laptop and a combined printer/copier/scanner.  My clients attach documents to email or we use cloud-based services like Google Docs or Dropbox to share documents on-line.  I save documents electronically and only occasionally print them.  A drawback to electronic databases is trying to remember my clever title for the file folder and document that I so diligently saved.

Of course, it’s not all a paradise.  Technology allows hackers and fraudsters to try to crack our on-line treasure troves of information, so any small business must invest in cyber security to protect its information and reputation.  Still, I wouldn’t want to go back to the days before all our modern technology.  Without all these modern conveniences, I would still find it necessary to be an employee in a big corporation because the investment costs of starting a business would simply be too high.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help 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. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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More Things I Didn’t Know (When I Started My Business)

 

Ignorance 2

Recently I wrote about some of the things that I didn’t know when I started my consulting business. My first list focused on money issues. That’s no surprise. I’ve had a few financial near death experiences since starting my business almost five years ago.

Now I’m back with a second list of things I didn’t know when I started my business. I’m betting I’m not the only one who didn’t know:

  1. Which services my prospective clients would actually consider critical enough to buy. My first efforts involved selling a service which I thought was important but no one wanted to buy. Clearly I had misjudged the market. So I started over, assessing what prospects and clients said they needed. Then I had to continuously tweak my services to keep up with changing demand.
  1. How to identify my ideal client and niche market. This is a corollary to the above point. I’ve marketed my services to plenty of businesses who couldn’t afford me at any price or didn’t care about human resources. So I created a spreadsheet of key data about each client to identify my ideal client. Now I regularly update my spreadsheet to continue defining my niche market. I recently listened to a presentation by Marcus Whitney, co-founder of Jumpstart Factory, in which he advocated reviewing client metrics every two weeks in order to continuously refine the profile of your ideal client. It’s nice to have validation that I’m finally on the right track.
  1. I’ll always have to talk myself off the ledge. Every time I got a new client I was ready to break out the champagne. Every time my services were rejected I wanted to throw myself into a volcano. Then a very good friend who also runs a small consulting business told me, “You’ll always be talking yourself off the ledge.” That’s a typical day in the life of a small business owner.
  1. That my stubbornness would be one of my best skills. Okay, call it persistence. I sell a service, not a product. That means I must meet dozens of people each week, educate them about my services and what my ideal client looks like, and then hope for a referral. I prefer coffee meetings since it’s less expensive than a lunch or dinner and eliminates the awkwardness over who pays for the meal.  But a meeting does not a referral guarantee. I’ve had many days with caffeine highs when I wondered if I made the right career choice. Then my stubborn streak would kick in and I refused to accept failure.  Ironically, my stubborn streak was a detriment when I was an employee.

The list could go on because owning a business is a process of experimentation in which you never really get it “right.” You just keep learning and that’s fine with me.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help 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. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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Erratic Bosses

General Custer

Erratic bosses are a disaster in the workplace. Occasionally they are deadly as some cavalry troopers learned in the summer of 1876.

In the summer of 1876, three cavalry columns chased Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians across the northern Plains into modern-day Montana. The goal was to confront the Indians, beat them in battle, and force the survivors back to their reservations.

One of the columns was led by “General” George A. Custer whose actual rank was lieutenant colonel. Custer had been temporarily promoted to general during the American Civil War and was a bona fide hero of that war. But by 1876 his antics had severely dented his career prospects.

He was a shameless self-promoter which irritated his military bosses. His troops were disenchanted with his habit of ignoring the rules personally while enforcing them against his subordinates. Then he annoyed President Grant by testifying to Congress about corruption in the Grant administration. (Publicizing dirty linen never wins favor with the boss, especially when it’s true.) Grant fired Custer as commander of the 7th Cavalry and Custer had to beg friends to help him get reinstated.

So when Custer went on patrol a few months later he was trying to restore his career prospects. Custer arrived at the Little Bighorn River (a/k/a the Greasy Grass) near the Indian encampment and immediately disobeyed his orders to wait for the other two cavalry columns. He also ignored the reports from his Indian scouts about the size of the Indian camp. Indian warriors numbered between 1000 and 5000, depending on which source you read.

On June 25, 1876, Custer ordered an attack on the Indian encampment and rode into history. Cavalry forces totaled 500 men and 208 died with Custer. News of the defeat ruined the July 4th centennial celebrations back east.

Custer is a hero today because his widow lived until the 1930’s. She spent every waking moment blaming others for the defeat and insisting that Custer was the greatest hero of all times. She ensured that Hollywood’s version of the tale would show Custer as the hero.

What’s the moral of the story? Erratic bosses are bad for employee health, although, fortunately, it doesn’t usually get them killed these days. Erratic bosses damage a company’s bottom line by destroying employee morale and lowering productivity. They also thin the ranks as top performers vote with their feet, leaving only demoralized or unmarketable employees.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help 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. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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

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DIY vs. Outsourcing

DIY vs. Outsourcing

Abigail and Bob started their business five years ago after being downsized from corporate jobs.  Until recently they were the only employees, working long hours and outsourcing specific tasks to free-lancers (a/k/a independent contractors).  Now they want to add employees to prepare for several new customers.  They believe replacing the free-lancers with employees will allow them to streamline processes, speed up response times and become more profitable.

Refugees from corporate America, Abigail and Bob want to avoid bogging down in bureaucracy, but they also know they need some administrative structure. They are smart, educated individuals, so they begin researching HR issues and employment laws. They quickly feel overwhelmed and confused.

As small business owners, they know how to change tack quickly when something isn’t working, so instead of becoming HR compliance experts, they take a phased approach.  First, they decide on their philosophical approach to employee and HR issues. They want their policies to have a positive spin, rewarding employees for initiative and good performances as opposed to punishing them for mistakes. Next, they identify all the tasks to be performed by each newly hired employee so that accurate job descriptions can be created.  It’s impossible to hire the “right” employee if no one knows what skill set that person should have.

With this initial phase completed, they are ready to move to the next phase which is to select an HR consultant to assist with implementation.  By hiring an HR consultant who is a subject matter expert, Abigail and Bob will get solid HR assistance while freeing their time to run their business.

These types of issues arise every day for small business owners who must weigh the pros and cons of DIY versus outsourcing.  Is your company growing? Are you making changes and facing this kind of decision?  For those who decide to outsource, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor helps small business owners like Abigail and Bob to create HR policies that are appropriate for their company’s size and then serves as a resource to their staff as the policies are implemented.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help 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. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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

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