Books in Brief

By Compiled by Leigh Rivenbark Feb 1, 2004

HR Magazine, February 2004Winning Behavior

By Terry R. Bacon and David G. Pugh
Amacom, 2003
List price: $29.95, 352 pages, ISBN: 0-8144-7163-3

How do successful companies set themselves apart from competitors? Having the best products or the lowest prices or top-notch service alone is not a guarantee of success, write Terry R. Bacon and David G. Pugh in Winning Behavior. What matters most is how those companies behave at all levels, from customer service to product development to packaging to bids and proposals.

Behavioral differentiation is Bacon and Pugh’s term for unique, valued behaviors that can make customers choose one firm over another.

Businesses can differentiate themselves in several ways, including having unique products; distributing their products differently from their competitors, as do Dell Computer and Mary Kay cosmetics; serving a niche market such as pet owners (PETsMART) or coffee drinkers (Starbucks); or becoming one-stop shops selling everything the customer needs, such as Home Depot.

Behavioral differentiation, the focus here, is most obvious in customer service, but there are other differentiating behaviors. Companies can create differences in four areas of behavior:

  • Operational behavioral differentiation means making “deliberate choices” about interacting with customers and reflecting those choices in your procedures such as service policies, returns policies and employee training. What you see as a policy or process is seen by your customer as behavior.
  • Interpersonal differentiation means employees’ individual skills and attitudes. Employers can train employees in service, but interpersonal skills must be a genuine part of the employee’s personality.
  • Exceptional differentiation means employees take extra steps to help customers, even if those steps go beyond—or violate—standard procedures.
  • Symbolic differentiation makes messages match behavior. If your ads claim you deliver on time, you must deliver on time.

The book delves into specific companies’ successful behaviors. A sampling: The Ritz-Carlton chain of hotels authorizes employees to spend up to $2,000 per guest to solve problems on the spot and Men’s Wearhouse, a clothing chain, treats (and pays) its employees as consultants rather than salespeople and encourages them to go out of their way for customers.

The Naked Employee

By Frederick S. Lane III
Amacom, 2003
288 pages, List price: $24.95, ISBN: 0-8144-7149-8

Employers increasingly monitor workers by using surveillance and identification technologies, from tried-and-true videotaping and ID cards to newer—and more troubling—means such as medical tests and systems that keep tabs on employees’ locations, Frederick S. Lane III writes in The Naked Employee.

Lane argues that some employers reach too far into applicants’ and employees’ personal lives. He reviews available technologies, gives examples of employer surveillance and ends with a plea for legal limits to what employers can dig up.

Employers have their reasons for workplace surveillance, Lane notes. Some want to reduce theft: Employees stole an estimated $15.2 billion in inventory from U.S. firms in 2001. Others monitor phone and computer use to maintain productivity. To reduce chances of litigation, employers comb e-mail for sexist jokes and watch web-surfing for sex sites. Attempting to prevent workplace violence, they increase background checks and use more psychological testing, Lane says.

Lane outlines ways employers can monitor employees and the potential impacts of monitoring:

  • Pre-employment background checks. Employers are interested not only in checking candidates’ qualifications but also in checking whether their backgrounds might “expose the company to additional costs and liability.” Employers ask HR departments and private investigators “to go after increasingly personal information on prospective employees,” he adds.
  • Identification technologies. Lane describes the future of identification, including smart ID cards containing biometric data, physical tagging that could implant chips into employees to help employers track them, and devices that can identify the dust on clothing to trace where an employee has been.
  • Government data collection. Lane notes that welfare reform rules in the mid-1990s created a National Database of New Hires, drawing data from employers’ hiring rolls, that legally could be used to collect unpaid student loans or track down employees who don’t pay child support. He also claims that the recent Patriot Act gives government a “virtually unfettered right” to request employee records from employers.
  • Workplace surveillance. Employers long have listened to phone calls and monitored e-mails, and employees should never expect privacy for those activities, Lane says. Courts also have allowed the use of cameras in certain workplaces.
  • Medical data. Health care costs fan employers’ interest in employee medical data, while at the same time medical technology makes more information on employees’ current and future health available. Recent laws protect much medical data, but some employers have violated employees’ trust, Lane says.
  • Employers encroaching on the home. To protect their reputations, prevent former employees from e-mailing current ones or protect intellectual property, employers apply trespass laws to computer use, establish anti-fraternization policies and even fire employees for personal recreational activities that might reflect badly on the employer, such as running a sex-related web site from home.

Lane wants Congress to curb employers’ data collection and he advocates requiring employers to disclose surveillance methods.

Getting the Most from Online Learning

George M. Piskurich, Editor
Pfeiffer 2004, List price: $30
170 pages, ISBN: 0-7879-6504-9

Fast, flexible, economical. The promises of online learning are great. But so are the potential pitfalls, warns Huey B. Long, the retired professor who kicks off this collection of essays.

“E-learning,” or any learning conducted over a network such as the Internet or an employer’s local area network, can fail if you wrongly assume that it takes less time than conventional training or doesn’t require advance preparation.

Getting the Most from Online Learning offers brief essays on how to avoid pitfalls, beat distractions and communicate effectively to get the best from online courses, whether they’re independent studies or instructor-led live classes.

Before hitting a single key, students should assess whether they are self-directed learners with the initiative and independence to succeed in online learning, one essay recommends.

Other essays cover how to:

  • Use chat rooms and discussion boards effectively and politely by keeping postings short and relevant, reading posts carefully before reacting and remembering you are never truly anonymous online.
  • Get the most from what you read online by increasing type sizes, effectively using different types of computer files and word processing documents, and developing skills such as note-taking.
  • Handle peer evaluations of your work in online classes.
  • Build successful online relationships by observing online etiquette, preparing before participating in online teams, message boards or chats, and communicating clearly.
  • Manage distractions during an online learning session, such as incoming calls and e-mail messages, background noise or an urge to doodle.

Health and Safety in Organizations

Edited by David A. Hofmann and Lois E. Tetrick
Jossey-Bass, 2003
427 pages, List price: $49, ISBN: 0-7879-5846-8

Health and Safety in Organizations, written for industrial and organizational psychologists, covers programs overseen by or of interest to HR professionals, from work and family programs to workers’ compensation policies.

Various authors examine such programs’ impact on individual employees’ and organizations’ health, asking not only whether programs simply can prevent ill health but also whether they can more actively promote good health.

One essay looks at how work design that gives employees more responsibility can affect “active mental health” by creating greater job satisfaction and better performance.

Other chapters focus on the impact of antisocial work behavior such as harassing or undermining other employees, the effects that leaders have on the organization’s safety climate, and the effectiveness of health and safety training.

A chapter devoted to strategic HR management says that strategic HR research usually focuses on employers’ financial and organizational health. The authors argue that organizational health also can cover “safety, productivity, efficiency and...employee health and well-being.”

The book outlines how working arrangements such as shiftwork and flextime affect employee health. Shiftwork is blamed for the “walking fatigue” that drives 20 percent to 50 percent of new shiftworkers to leave such jobs.

The interface between work and family roles also affects health, with employees who have more control over their schedules feeling lower levels of stress about work-family conflicts. Authors show how employees with work-family conflicts withdraw from work, have trouble performing and suffer declining satisfaction with both work and home.

Workplace health promotion programs, typified by smoking cessation programs, often are seen by HR as a way to reduce health care costs, but a chapter notes that such programs also can decrease absences, reduce turnover and increase production. Authors suggest ideas for evaluating these programs’ effectiveness and add that they may need to be integrated with changes in working conditions.

HR also underuses workers’ compensation as a way to promote health at work, another chapter says. Because workers’ compensation involves external stakeholders, including insurance companies and medical professionals, employers consider it tough to control. The chapter looks at “return-to-work” programs that get employees back to a job quickly and cites studies that say good working relationships before an accident can mean fewer instances of workers’ compensation claims after an accident.

Inclusion of a book does not imply endorsement by SHRM or HR Magazine.

Compiled by Leigh Rivenbark, a freelance writer and editor in Vienna, Va.


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