1006 HR Magazine: Books in Brief

Oct 1, 2006

HR Magazine, October 2006

The Employment Termination Source Book

Drawing examples from small and large firms in many different industries, The Employment Termination Source Book provides real-world documents readers can adapt for their own uses in many kinds of terminations, whether employees quit, are fired or are involved in group layoffs.

Authors Wendy Bliss, J.D., SPHR, and Gene R. Thornton Esq., PHR, canvassed Society for Human Resource Management members for their termination documents and came up with 97 samples covering everything from termination letters (citing a variety of reasons) to separation agreements to health care documents to exit interview documentation. Readers receive a CD-ROM of the book's customizable documents and forms.

Bliss and Thornton target the book at four groups—HR professionals; managers and supervisors outside HR; senior executives; and lawyers, both those working in-house and those acting as outside counsel.

The book also discusses termination issues employers may face. The chapter on fundamentals includes types of terminations and checklists of steps, including lists of key documents to prepare, for employers to take when faced with either voluntary or involuntary terminations. Bliss and Thornton also review the potential negatives of separations, such as lawsuits, loss of customers or trade secrets, destruction of property, and more.

A "strategy for successful termination" helps readers make terminations "legal, effective and humane" by developing a company philosophy for terminations, establishing a consistent process, creating documentation and treating terminated employees fairly.

Topics include:

  • Handling legal issues, including not only federal laws but also state laws that may go even further than federal ones.
  • Planning for terminations in advance by developing policies, separation agreements and procedures that protect the employer. Readers also learn about disciplinary alternatives to terminations, strategies for avoiding a reduction in force (RIF) and considerations if an RIF does happen, and more.
  • Facing post-termination challenges, such as protecting trade secrets, ensuring workplace safety if violence is possible and handling requests for references.
Bliss, of the firm Bliss & Associates in Colorado Springs, Colo., is an HR consultant, trainer and coach. Thornton is a business litigation attorney in Colorado Springs who focuses on preventing, investigating and litigating employment claims.

Resilience at Work

Consider Herman, the HR manager whose whole department got the ax. Initially, Herman took it personally, raging against the people he had worked with for years. Herman looked set to turn into a powerless victim, fearful of losing the stability he craved.

So how did he end up moving from bitterness over downsizing to optimism about his new plans to try HR consulting? How did Herman decide to pursue a new challenge instead of fight a losing battle against tremendous stress?

His story is one of many in Resilience at Work that illustrate how real employees at many levels have learned to "cultivate a group of attitudes and skills that help you build on stressful circumstances, not be undermined by them," write the authors, psychologists Salvatore R. Maddi and Deborah M. Khoshaba.

Resilience at Work tries to help readers examine the nature of change—particularly change in the workplace—and learn the resilient attitudes and coping skills that will enable them to survive and thrive.

Adults can learn resilience even if their upbringings didn't foster it in them earlier, the book notes. The authors look at how attitudes such as victimhood and powerlessness paralyze people, and offer readers questions to help them assess their current ability to cope with change.

Three attitudes—commitment, control and challenge—breed hardiness. Commitment means staying involved and not detaching yourself when things get tough, control means continuing to try to have a positive influence on outcomes that affect you, and challenge means finding out how you can grow through stress. Following on the three key attitudes are specific skills of "transformational coping" that help you turn difficulty to your advantage.

Maddi and Khoshaba offer readers steps for practicing commitment, control and challenge attitudes. First, study people who have high resilience and cope well whatever the circumstances. Readers get guidance on how to assess these individuals' positive reactions to stress.

Second, study people who show low resilience; this demonstrates how withdrawing, caving in to powerlessness or failing to grow during change are harmful. The authors lead readers through a self-assessment exercise to identify their own reactions to stressful circumstances.

Third, recognize the benefits of turning stressful situations to your advantage and learn how feedback can show that your reactions are improving.

Maddi and Khoshaba outline "transformational coping," a way of dealing with stressful change that requires you to step back and put organizational changes in a broader perspective, rather than taking them personally. With that big picture in mind, transformational change also means "treating changes as problems to solve" and taking decisive actions.

The authors provide plenty of examples of real-life transformational coping, including some people the book follows from initial powerlessness to newfound resilience. The book includes transformational coping steps such as listing the stresses you face, assessing their impact, "reconstructing" situations to find the best-case scenarios and creating action plans.

Social support also is vital. Maddi and Khoshaba show how to develop supportive social interactions at work and how to analyze whether your interactions involve conflicts like competitiveness or overprotectiveness. They offer ways to resolve conflicts and build encouragement and cooperation between parties.

The book also takes these ideas to the organizational level. Building better employee-employer relationships requires increasing employee engagement at work by increasing connections to the workplace and employees' awareness of how their jobs fit into the overall business as well as how those jobs offer personal satisfaction.

A profile of resilient companies shows how a hardy corporate culture, positive interactions among employees and effective teamwork (not a rigid, top-down organizational structure) foster long-term survival.

There Is No Place Like Work

Taking their cue from The Wizard of Oz, authors Sheila L. Margolis and Ava S. Wilensky send fictional company founder Dot, head of a successful but now stumbling firm, on an odyssey in search of help.

Through this "business parable," Margolis and Wilensky, founding partners of the Atlanta management consulting firm CORE InSites Inc., introduce their idea of "CORE Culture"—elements that make the workplace fulfilling for employees, which in turn leads to business success. In There Is No Place Like Work, the authors describe these elements as:

  • Purpose. An organization's purpose is "the fundamental reason it exists," what the firm is there to do. The purpose should be more than just making money. A purpose that connects to employees' personal passions is the right workplace for them, and they will find their work rewarding.
  • Philosophy. This means the organization's unique character, its distinctiveness that sets it apart from others. A toy company that makes toys to boost children's brainpower might have the purpose of promoting fun. But the company that focuses on learning toys holds the philosophy that intelligence is important, which sets it apart from other types of toymakers.
  • Priorities. These are key values that set standards for how employees and managers behave. Customer service, product innovation and competitiveness can be types of business priorities. Employee values need to fit the organization's priorities if the employees are to feel at home, and productive, within the organization.
  • Practices. Daily actions have to reflect the company's stated culture: "Don't state that your priority is work/life balance and then make people come in every weekend," the authors warn. Internal practices—work design, employment practices, performance management and more—are how the organization relates to employees. External practices are how it relates to customers, suppliers and vendors and how its products and services reflect the organization's purpose and philosophy.
  • Projections. The ways you show your organization's image to the public are projections. Examples show how firms like Dell and UPS connect public projections such as retail store experiences, logos and advertising to their corporate cultures.
Keeping practices and projections aligned with the organization's carefully developed purpose and philosophy is an ongoing challenge, the authors add. If crises or competition require a shift in the "CORE Culture," leaders can make that shift effectively, but may find that some employees no longer feel at home.

Blog Rules

Every second, someone creates a new one. By the end of last year, an estimated 34 million of them existed. They're blogs—short for "weblogs"—and business cannot ignore them, says author Nancy Flynn, founder and executive director of the ePolicy Institute.

In Blog Rules, Flynn guides employers through the world of "business blogs," employer-hosted weblogs that let employees comment publicly about the company's products or services. Flynn looks at whether a business blog is right for your company and, if it is, how to manage it so it becomes a positive tool and not a public relations disaster.

Risks of hosting a blog include lawsuits, loss of trade secrets and the chance that some employees will be blogging when they should be working, Flynn notes.

But she adds that business blogs also can elicit customer feedback, keep the company in the public eye, reveal what employees think and more. She offers a questionnaire to help readers decide if their organization is ready for business blogging.

Flynn urges employers to "treat blogs as business records," archiving posts so they can be available to regulators or courts. Employers learn about protecting trade secrets and confidential information as well as protecting themselves from inadvertently infringing on copyrights.

Flynn covers special considerations that publicly traded and regulated firms face if they allow company-hosted blogs.

The book emphasizes creating written rules and provides examples (from using a legal disclaimer on every post to forbidding anonymous blogging). Employee training—at all levels—is vital and so are lessons in blog etiquette and a plan to battle spam.

Flynn warns employees that blogging can get them fired or sued and advises on avoiding both outcomes. She addresses corporate PR specialists on using "superfans" and "brand bloggers" who are already blogging independently about your company and shows how to position the CEO as a business blogger to give your firm a face.

Having a business blog also means preparing for potential attacks. Using one firm's real experience with outside bloggers waging a campaign to attack its product, Flynn shows how applying traditional PR responses to online attacks doesn't work.

Blog Rules includes a summary of 36 key tips, a glossary for readers who don't know a blogstorm from a firewall, and detailed advice from two large firms—IBM and PR firm Edelman—about how they manage their business blogs.

Meeting Excellence

Meeting Excellence takes readers through the stages of preparing for, facilitating, and getting action from meetings.

Written by author and consultant Glenn Parker and Robert Hoffman, executive director of organizational development for Novartis Oncology, the book promises 33 tools for leading meetings effectively.

Preparing. First ask whether the meeting is necessary. If it is, decide on the key outcomes you need to determine and who should be there. Preparing and distributing agendas in advance helps, as does considering what you'll do if the unexpected happens, like an equipment failure or a surprise visit from a senior manager.

Prepare a meeting agenda that specifies actions, ranks them and identifies who is responsible for them. Assess people's roles in meetings, including team leader, meeting facilitator, scribe and participant. The book highlights various ground rules for meetings, from rules for brevity and focus to rules about showing up on time.

Readers also get:

  • Tips for integrating a new team member into a meeting and for handling meetings when a team member is leaving.
  • Ideas for team kick-off meetings that establish the manager's expectations and answer any questions employees may have.
  • Advice on making off-site meetings effective.
Facilitating. Look at when and how long to meet, how to schedule breaks and ways to keep topics going. Use questions to draw out or redirect participants.

Parker and Hoffman include information on videoconferencing and teleconferencing basics, such as having participants introduce themselves each time they speak and not talking over others.

A section on multicultural communication focuses on language issues, with suggestions from summarizing key points periodically to watching for nonverbal cues that indicate listeners don't understand what's being said.

Facilitators and leaders have to pick decision-making methods, and the book examines autocratic, democratic and other methods. Readers also learn how to:

  • Identify and handle "meeting monster" participants whose problem behaviors affect meetings.
  • Incorporate fun into meetings to create a relaxed atmosphere.
  • Plan snacks and meals to maintain energy.
Closing meetings and following up. The authors include a template for good meeting notes and a to-do list for getting support and resources for actions after the meeting. They also offer a meeting evaluation form in several versions.

Resources. Use the book to get links to web-based meeting tools, learn the "seven sins of deadly meetings" and take a self-assessment to help you figure out how well you participate in meetings. For facilitators and team leaders, there are examples of tough meeting situations that can be used to test your meeting savvy.

The Trainer's Handbook

The Trainer's Handbook's primary audience is "the novice classroom-based trainer" who has been tossed into the training role with little or no training experience. But more-seasoned trainers also can use the book for tips and ideas, adds author Karen Lawson, president of Lawson Consulting Group.

The book (which includes a CD-ROM featuring lists, forms and activities) breaks the training process into the following steps:

  • Analysis. Assessing training needs—"gaps between actual and desired performance"—is critical. Determine both business and individual needs and decide on whom to assess, the assessment tool to use and the ways to collect data, from questionnaires to interviews to observation. Learn to analyze the data and provide feedback.

    Lawson also gives an overview of how adults learn. Readers diagnose their own instructional styles. Lawson examines learner-centered training vs. information-centered training and how each works.

  • Design. Learning objectives indicate what the learner should be able to do when training is completed. The book discusses types of learning objectives (attitude development, skill development, etc.) and shows how to write objectives clearly. Worksheets let readers try writing sample objectives.

    A step-by-step guide to writing instructional plans delves into methods such as role-playing, games, simulations, small-group discussions and lectures.

    Active training methods, in which participants do the work themselves, are the most effective, Lawson notes, which she illustrates with cases of active training.

  • Delivery. Once the trainer has analyzed needs, decided on objectives and chosen the instructional methods, Lawson explains how to deliver an actual training session. Trainers get ideas on sending out information in advance and using icebreakers. Lawson offers steps for introducing the training activity, keeping it on track and concluding it, and helping learners process what they've just done. Additional tips show how to use visual aids for maximum effectiveness and how to adapt classroom training methods to distance learning.

    Lawson assists trainers in spotting resistance, from "I don't know why I'm here" to "My boss should be here, too." She helps trainers deal with problem behaviors such as personal attacks, silence and indifference.

  • Evaluation. A four-level evaluation model examines learners' reactions to training, the knowledge or skills they retained, the impact on performance, and the results for the company's bottom line.

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

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

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