Tag Archives: Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor

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.

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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.

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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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Filed under History, Self Savvy

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.

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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/.

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

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