Tag Archives: Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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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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/.

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

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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/.

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

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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/.

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

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