Archive for February, 2011

What is More Valuable, HR Certification or a Master’s Degree?

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

A record number of candidates sat for the Professional in Human Resources (PHR), Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR) certification exams from the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI) in 2010.

Despite that fact, only 13 percent of eligible HR professionals are certified. However, recent estimates show that between 40 and 60 percent of open mid-level or higher HR positions either “require” or “prefer” certification. In plain language, 13 percent of the workforce commands roughly half of the open HR labor market.

In this tough employment landscape, candidates need every advantage. Professional certification is a no-brainer. There is a raging chat room argument as to what is more valuable, a master’s degree in HR or HRCI certification. There are pros and cons to both sides. The fact that this argument won’t go away tells most experts they are equally valuable to one’s career. However, a master’s degree costs about $35,000 and takes two years of effort, while HR certification costs about $1,500 with a prep class, and takes 10 weeks.

Many people mistakenly assume the new eligibility requirements from HRCI will make it tougher for candidates to qualify for admission to the certification exams. For some, this is true. For others, it is easier to qualify.

While the PHR and GPHR exams require four years of professional HR experience and the SPHR requires seven, all three give credit for education. Subtract two years from the eligibility requirement if the candidate has a bachelor’s degree and subtract another one if he or she holds a master’s. This means that some PHR candidates only need one year of professional experience before they qualify to sit for the exam.

It is not a question as to “whether” you need certification; the question is “when.”  CAI offers a Web-based, evening PHR/SPHR Certification Study Course.  For additional information visit

Photo Source: Corey Ann

Human Resources Strategy for the Rest of Us

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

A practical approach to becoming a key strategic player in your organization.

In part one of this post, I encouraged HR professionals to avoid the red herrings that distract you from maximizing your organizational impact.  So what should HR professionals be focusing on?

I believe it’s improving the most important asset the company invests in – its people.  The adminstrivia around HR can be like kudzu taking over and killing any strategic inclination many HR professionals have.  Believe me, I’ve been there.  But by focusing too much on administrative tasks, whether by choice or force, we lose sight of what my dad knew 30 years ago as an HR professional and what Gallup and others now proclaim (and charge big bucks for).  And that is the simple fact that companies that practice positive HR and people management have more engaged employees.  More engaged employees result in more engaged customers.  More engaged customers mean higher sales.  Higher sales mean higher profits (usually).

“Positive HR and people management” put simply is a strict focus on recruiting and retaining top talent leading to an engaged workplace.  Gallup has found that almost 20 percent of employees are actively disengaged, costing companies $3,400 for every $10,000 in salary in lost productivity.  A recent Cornell University study found that companies practicing positive HR and people management had 22 percent higher sales growth, 23 percent higher profits, and a 67 percent drop in employee turnover.  Bottom line, it’s in your best interests and your company’s best interest to focus more on engaging employees and less on the administrivia.

I doubt few HR professionals would disagree with the benefits of employee engagement.  Understanding is the easy part; however implementation is tricky, particularly if you work in a company that doesn’t yet subscribe to the benefits of positive HR and people management.  I will concede that some companies will never buy into positive HR, so how can the average HR professional in the average company really impact employee engagement?  Well, two primary ways – first, only hire people that match the critical success factors for your positions.  Quit focusing so much on how applicants meet the “job description” and focus more on their past success and how that matches the success you need in the job.  I’ll discuss this topic in an upcoming blog.  Stay tuned.

If you can find top talent but can’t keep them, you’ve got a bigger problem.  That’s why I feel the most important thing you can do right now to impact engagement is to become what I call the “Chief Supervisor in Charge.”  Focus on improving every aspect of the performance of your supervisors and managers.  There have been countless research studies showing how important people’s supervisors are  on their decision to stay, their productivity, their morale, how they view the company, how they treat customers, etc. —in short their engagement (and the company’s profits).

So how do you measure up?  Ask yourself a few simple questions.

1.      Are you focusing on improving the effectiveness of your supervisors and managers or rather on constantly telling them what they can and especially what they cannot do?  Put differently, are you primarily a coach or a cop?

2.      Do you conduct more supervisory and management training on harassment, workplace laws, permissible interview questions, etc. or more on helping your supervisors and managers become more effective communicators, motivators, counselors, performance coaches, etc.?  It’s all important, but you choose where to focus more attention, the culture you create and the results you’ll see.

3.      Are you modeling the effective behaviors you want from them as employee situations arise or are you beating them over the head for the mistakes they make?

4.      Do they see you as a partner, a valued confidant or as an irritant?  Don’t know?  Ask them.

5.      Are you weeding out those supervisors and managers who don’t share the company’s values, or do you just continue tolerating them while they poison everyone else?

6.      Are you measuring the impact of your supervisor and manager behaviors with regular employee surveys, exit interviews, focus groups, etc.?

I could go on, but I think you see the point.  If you don’t know where or how to start, consider conducting an employee survey.  When done correctly, employee surveys can give you a quick read on supervisory and management effectiveness and also how you measure up on employee engagement.  You can also look at your turnover – many times that results from poor supervision.  Find out why people are really leaving and the costs to your organization.  These tools are good ways to help you make the case to management that you should be spending more time improving supervision.

To wrap up, when I talk to HR professionals that are in fact “at the table,” they spend the bulk of their time either finding top talent or, as I’ve discussed, keeping and motivating top talent.  They try to outsource the administrivia.  Surprisingly, you don’t need a lot of extra money or perks to retain key talent, but you do need a great work environment, and that starts and ends with very good supervisors and managers.  They are the key.  In fact, Gallup maintains they are the company for most of your employees.  Spend more of your time coaching them and you’ll quickly find yourself in the middle of the game, at the table, and helping your company grow and succeed.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Benefits of Building Mentor/Mentee Relationships

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

All professionals, no matter the industry, utilize outside resources to fulfill specific needs. Whether employees are engaging with personal contacts, industry networking groups, the Internet or management leaders, there is always an underlying professional motivation – to achieve career growth and advancement by properly accessing available tools. These resources provide specific benefits and assist in addressing career challenges, uncovering new industry information, and enhancing personal skill sets, but often employees overlook and neglect the advantages that professional mentoring relationships have to offer.

A mentor can be defined as a source of career guidance and counseling.  An untapped resource, mentor relationships have long existed, but in many organizations have yet to be fully incorporated as a critical component of successful career strategies. Establishing a solid mentor relationship has proven advantageous for both the organization and the individual, so consider the following benefits that mentors have to offer and encourage your staff to build their own relationships.

Open and honest communication – To avoid a tense working environment, straightforward dialogue among coworkers is often avoided. But if the majority of mentors reside outside the company walls, employees can feel comfortable being honest and frank about their experiences, struggles and concerns, and mentors can provide sincere feedback without becoming involved in office politics.

Network Expansion – Mentoring relationships aren’t solely focused on conversation. Often mentors open windows of opportunity by connecting mentees to their own professional networks. With new exposure, employees broaden their industry connections, bring recognition and awareness to the company brand, and provide the organization with additional connections and business contacts.

Outside perspectives – Relationships that are not directly involved within the heart of an organization help provide a clear point of view. As a sounding board for direction, mentors can support, counsel and provide clarification for employees from a third-party perspective.

Healthy workplace culture – With a fresh perspective, employees return to the job with a better insight and understanding of work-related issues and how they individually function within the overall goals of the company. This outlook inevitably benefits the organization at large by promoting a stronger commitment and increase in productivity levels.

Bridging the gap – Miscommunication is bound to occur in the workforce, and often happens between the generational gaps. With the communication, trust and insight that come from mentoring relationships, the gap of communication can be closed and replaced with an improved understanding among employees.

Have you experienced the benefits of serving as a mentor? Are you a young professional seeking career guidance and support?  Tell us about your experiences.

For additional information, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Good Strategic HR Discussions? Or Just Dead Ends?

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Back in 2005, Fast Company magazine published the now famous (or infamous depending on your perspective) article entitled “Why We Hate HR.”  The basic premise was that HR professionals are good at transactional “administrivia” like pay, benefits and retirement (all functions that are being outsourced) but lack the skills (or interest) necessary to play a more strategic role in managing talent.   Since then, thousands of articles, presentations, webinars, conferences and the like have advised HR professionals on what they need to do to “get a seat at the [executive] table.”  Most advice, while good, follows a few key themes and in my opinion either distracts our attention or confuses us.

Theme 1: To get a seat at the table, you must talk the language of business. If you want to be taken seriously you must understand financial statements, gross margin, EBITDA, return on investment, depreciation, cash flow, retained earnings, etc.  These terms are important, and I agree that HR professionals need to improve their business acumen, but just because you can explain how to play the game doesn’t mean you will be able to play the game or even be put in the game for that matter.

Theme 2: To get a seat at the table, you must align HR Strategy with business strategy and overall think and talk more strategically. Ever sit through a presentation on HR strategy?  I’m an educated man, but frankly, I don’t understand half of what they’re talking about.  I hear a bunch of words like synergy, value added, key performance indicators, knowledge base, alignment, etc. and of course a bunch of fancy charts and diagrams.  In the Fast Company article Keith Hammonds describes an HR strategy presentation he sat through: “There is mention of ‘internal action learning’ and ‘being more planful [sic]in my approach.’ PowerPoint slides outline [the company’s] initiatives in performance management, organization design, and horizontal-solutions teams.  [The presenter] describes leveraging internal resources and involving external resources — and she leaves her audience dazed. That evening, even the human-resources pros confide they didn’t understand much of it, either.”  Strategy is very important, but we’ve overcomplicated it and we spend way too much time trying to describe what “IT” is and how we need more of “IT.”  People in the real world don’t have time for that.

Theme 3: To get a seat at the table, you must become certified and the more initials the better. PHR, SPHR, GPHR, CEBS, CCP, MBA, etc.  Isn’t it funny how some of the most successful people in the United States never graduated from college?   People like Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison and Richard Branson to name a few (I know a few of them later earned honorary degrees – but you get the point).  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of higher education and have a few initials myself (MBA, SPHR), heck, we even have a highly successful HR certification prep course here at CAI, but that alone will not help you get, or keep, a seat at the table or to become more strategic.

Theme 4: To get a seat at the table, you must implement HR Metrics. To get a seat at the table, you must develop a robust HR scorecard and track those key performance indicators that result in HR success.  Turnover, absenteeism, time to hire, cost to hire, HR as a percentage of payroll, etc.  While I’m a big fan of numbers (thanks to my mom the accountant) and I firmly believe what gets measured gets done, developing really good and relevant HR metrics is hard and tracking them even harder.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t develop them, just don’t start here.

Theme 5: Forget it, you’re not getting a seat at the table so complain about it – blame the company. I hear a lot of HR professionals complain about their companies, their management teams, the CEO, etc.  “I would love to be more strategic but my company just doesn’t understand the value of HR” or, “We don’t have the money to spend on training, day cares, health care centers and the like.”  So basically, it’s the company’s fault you’re not more strategic. Fortunately, there are plenty of HR support groups out there to help you refine and develop your own sad story if you are so inclined.

Ok, so with all the books, articles, presentations, consultants, etc. out there telling HR professionals how to be more strategic, how to get a seat at the table, and how to be a key business partner, why is it that many still aren’t?  I’ll address that in my next post.

Photo Source: U.S. Department of Defense

Laws Enforced by the EEOC

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

With recent changes in federal law and regulations, and increased government investigation efforts, employers should be sure that they understand which federal agencies enforce which laws and regulations.

The federal agency that enforces the most employment-related laws and regulations is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  The EEOC was created by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The federal laws affecting the employment relationship enforced by the EEOC are:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), which protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older.
  • Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibit employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector, and in state and local governments.
  • Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibit discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who work in the federal government.
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1991, which, among other things, provides monetary damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination.
  • Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), which protects applicants and employees from discrimination based on genetic information in hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral and other aspects of employment.

For additional information about the EEOC, go to

Photo Source: Mr. T in D.C.

Seven Things N.C. Employers Need to Know About Social Media

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

In his recent presentations at the CAI members only Ask the Experts programs on Social Media, Jonathan Yarbrough with Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP ( emphasized that now is the time for companies to determine how they want to use social media, as well as what they expect from their employees in regards to the use of social media.

Here are seven key points from the presentation.

  1. Laws are not keeping pace with the use of electronic communications. Electronic communications law is evolving as cases go before the courts. A current case involves an employee who vented online about his boss, other employees commented online, and the employees were fired. A suit is pending based on protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act.

  1. Flexibility is the best approach for employer policies on electronic communications. While business communications systems should be used primarily for business communications, it is unrealistic to ban any personal use. The best approach is to advise employees that any electronic communications on company equipment may be monitored.
  2. There is no Fourth Amendment right to privacy for employees of private employers.  The privacy protections afforded by this amendment apply to public sector employees. North Carolina also does not have right to privacy laws.  Some states do have such laws.
  3. Create safeguards for employee blogging. Employees’ postings about workplace criticisms or complaints may be protected under whistleblower laws.  In addition, postings may leak sensitive information or disparage the company or management. Employers should create safeguards by advising employees through company policy that employee blogging should not interfere with the employer’s business, disparage the company, or violate other company policies (sexual and other harassment, non-job related solicitation, etc.).
  4. There is a generation gap in the thinking on employers accessing social sites. Younger employees think it is an invasion of privacy. Older employees think if it is on social media and accessible, it is public. There is no federal or N.C. law prohibiting employers from looking at public websites.
  5. It’s reasonable for employers to check out applicants online. When you narrow the list of applicants down to three or four, check some of the online public websites to see what they post that may give you insight about their character. Whatever you see, make sure the reason for not hiring does not violate federal or state law.
  6. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) does not apply to employers who check sites for themselves. FCRA requirements do apply if you are using a third party to do background checks including researching the applicants’ blogs and use of public websites.

In summary, employers should consider adopting policies that are not too heavy-handed on employee use of social media but that have built-in safeguards to protect the company within the law. It is likely that you will need to review these policies annually in light of case law and the fast-paced changes of technology.

If you have questions regarding the use of social media in the workplace, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Cambodia4KidsOrg

How to Incorporate a Wellness Program Within Your Company

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

When high levels of unhealthy food intake meet the low levels of activity that result from a sedentary work life, it inevitably causes overweight individuals. The reality of overweight Americans is not an uncommon topic in the media, but it hasn’t been until recently that the conversation has reached the company boardroom.

As organizations evaluate annual spending and out-of-pocket expenses, there has been less conversation concerning employees who smoke and more dialogue directed at those who are overweight. Because of poor eating habits and lack of exercise among employees, employers have lost billions of dollars toward health care premiums and sick leave benefits, which could be significantly decreased by employing a healthier staff.

The monetary impact is obvious and the individual health risks are frightening, but both have been motivating factors in assisting employers to make a change. Through incorporating a companywide wellness program, organizations are recognizing physical and mental changes among staff, and anticipating long-term financial savings.

What are the greatest challenges your staff faces and how can you make strides for improvement? If by reflection, your company recognizes the output of annual finances could be lessened by employing healthier employees, it’s time to make a change. Determine the needs of those involved and construct a tailored and detailed wellness program with the following considerations in mind.

Promote exercise internally – If inactivity is your company’s main concern, find ways to provide exercise options throughout the workday. Offering group fitness workouts at the close of business or during the lunch hour makes exercising convenient and harder to ignore.

How often have you indulged in a heavy lunch and returned to the office feeling lethargic and unmotivated? By adjusting the afternoon workload to include exercise, you provide employees with extra energy and increased concentration because of the natural endorphins being released, making for a more productive staff.

Utilize outside sources – Developing a relationship with a personal trainer or local gym can work to the benefit of all involved. Because of the individualized environment, personal training sessions tend to motivate and hold individuals to their set commitments. If your company doesn’t have accessibility to personal trainers, connect with a nearby gym to allocate a monthly reimbursement, which not only coincides with your wellness program, but acts a job perk for new employees.

Supply healthy alternatives – Take a step back and evaluate the food exposure within the office. If the break room is stocked with soda and high calorie snacks, make an adjustment. When your employees reach for an afternoon snack, provide healthy choices. By exchanging soda for flavored water, and the candy jar with fruits or vegetables, you are removing temptation and making steps to a healthier lifestyle just a bit easier.

It would be hard to find anyone who doesn’t desire to be their healthiest self, but without the proper education, support group and motivation, many will never fully experience the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Those benefits aren’t a result of diets or short-term goals, but rather daily life alterations. With the proper program in place, your company can play an active role in improving lives and setting an example of healthy living for others to follow.

For additional information, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Human Resources Certification is an Advantage

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

HR Certification Institute (HRCI) Executive Director Mary Power was recently interviewed regarding the importance that employers place upon HR-certified applicants. A study conducted by HRCI showed 96 percent of hiring employers indicated that certification was an advantage for HR applicants and 91 percent felt it was an advantage for employees seeking promotion in HR.

According to the study, certification provides benefits for both companies and individuals. From the company standpoint, improvements were reported in customer satisfaction, employee engagement, turnover and profits.

In addition, employers and certified HR professionals indicated that certification:

  • Increases employee knowledge
  • Ensures HR knowledge is up to date
  • Demonstrates employee commitment to HR
  • Is good for the reputation of the organization
  • Increases employees’ confidence in their ability to do the job
  • Shows the organization takes HR seriously
  • Gives employees greater trust and confidence in the HR department
  • Makes HR professionals think more strategically

Every few years, the HR Certification exams are evaluated and updated to be certain they remain relevant to the real world of HR and that eligibility requirements are in line with professional certification standards. The new eligibility requirements for 2011 are as follows:

PHR (Professional in Human Resources) Eligibility
1 year of demonstrated professional HR experience with a Master’s degree or higher;
2 years of demonstrated professional HR experience with a Bachelor’s degree; or
4 years of demonstrated professional HR experience with less than a Bachelor’s degree.

SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources) Eligibility
4 years of demonstrated professional HR experience with a Master’s degree or higher;
5 years of demonstrated professional HR experience with a Bachelor’s degree; or
7 years of demonstrated professional HR experience with less than a Bachelor’s degree.

GPHR (Global Professional in Human Resources) Eligibility
2 years of demonstrated global professional HR experience with a Master’s degree or higher;
3 years of demonstrated professional HR experience (with 2 of the 3 being global HR experience) with a Bachelor’s degree; or
4 years of demonstrated professional HR experience (with 2 of the 4 being global HR experience) with less than a Bachelor’s degree.

CAI provides PHR, SPHR and GPHR certification study courses, both in person and web-based.  Please see for additional information.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons