Executive Briefing

Apr 1, 2007
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HR Magazine, April 2007Companies help employees abroad in emergencies; work/life balance is important to men too; many CFOs leave because of poor ‘fit’; more.

Protecting Expats Around the World

As more companies enter the global business arena and terrorism concerns increase both domestically and abroad, many U.S. organizations are taking a closer look at their responsibilities to employees who travel or are based in foreign countries.

Kathy Hall-Zientek, manager of travel services for Moog Inc., signed up her company with an emergency medical and security service soon after Sept. 11, 2001. The East Aurora, N.Y.-based manufacturer of aerospace products has more than 7,000 employees worldwide, she says, and 800 to 900 of those employees are traveling in any given month.

“Recently, we’ve seen the percentage of international travelers increase,” says Hall-Zientek. “It’s probably 60 percent international now and 40 percent domestic, which is the reverse of what we had a few years ago.”

Hall-Zientek says she has noticed a growing number of vendors that coordinate hospitalization, transportation, repatriation and evacuation services for employees based in countries around the world.

When Hall-Zientek, together with the company’s medical and risk management groups (including HR), began investigating security services, they agreed that “We wanted a company that insourced all its services, because that seemed to work more smoothly. I also wanted a company with a good account manager.” In addition, it was important to choose one that was a good cultural fit for Moog. They reviewed proposals from “about half a dozen companies,” she says, before making their selection.

Many of Moog’s expats are based at manufacturing plants in India or the Philippines, so Hall-Zientek particularly liked the fact that the company they chose, International SOS, provided pre-trip information for travelers. That way, she says, employees can make an informed decision about what they are getting into before they commit to an assignment.

Tim Daniel, International SOS’s chief operations officer, says the company is like 9-1-1 or the fire department, handling everything from international mass evacuations to individual medical emergencies in 65 countries.


Work/Life Balance Not A Gender Issue

In a survey of 477 senior executives conducted by the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC), nearly half of the 402 male respondents said they now ask for less travel when negotiating a job offer than they did in the past. Fifty-five percent said they are less willing now to take a new job that requires frequent business travel than they were five years ago.

Although a higher percentage of the 75 female respondents (77 percent) said they negotiate for less travel, 85 percent of the men said that work/life balance is more important to them than ever before.

In spite of the increasing evidence that male as well as female executives are looking for better balance in their lives, many companies lag behind when it comes to offering programs to help them achieve that balance. More than half (53 percent) of the men said their companies don’t offer such programs. Half of the male respondents were between the ages of 45 and 54.

“Many company hiring managers still express surprise when a male candidate asks for less travel during job negotiations,” says AESC president Peter Felix. “Many, unfortunately, expect only women to ask for this.”

Felix points out that, as organizations face increasing competition for talent, “Companies that understand that work/life balance is a human issue—not a gender issue—will be more successful in attracting and retaining top talent.”


Prepare Employees To Move Up

Most U.S. companies don’t have enough internal candidates who are prepared to step up to the next management level, says Sally Stetson, co-founder and principal with retained executive search firm Salveson Stetson Group. “The majority of companies have failed to establish a succession program that addresses the shortfall they have of candidates for key positions in the company. They do not have enough successors for their top management levels, nor for the next levels down,” she says.

The Salveson Stetson Group advises organizations to conduct a “succession audit” to identify their talent gaps and then concentrate on aggressively preparing their current employees for higher-level positions.

Libby Sartain, senior vice president and “chief people Yahoo” for Yahoo! Inc., is doing just that. “I recently had an ‘Aha!’ moment,” she says. After 30 years in HR, Sartain says she realized that there was nobody on her team who was prepared to succeed her when she is ready to retire in a few years. Nobody on her staff has her breadth of experience.

As companies grow in size, they begin to need HR specialists, says Sartain. As a result, “the focus gets narrower, and nobody knows the whole package.” To remedy that, Sartain has reorganized her department t As companies grow in size, they begin to need HR specialists, says Sartain. As a result, “the focus gets narrower, and nobody knows the whole package.” To remedy that, Sartain has reorganized her department to give everyone the opportunity to gain broader experience. “We’ll be moving a good many people around during the next two or three years,” she says.

Sartain warns HR executives to “watch out that you don’t become too narrow. The head of HR needs to be at the executive team’s level as a peer. At the same time, you need to be their HR person.”


Many CFOs Don’t ‘Fit’ Company Culture

A recent survey found that half of the chief financial officers who quit their jobs didn’t leave for another job. Instead, those CFOs quit because they couldn’t fit into the organization’s culture (23 percent), their job was too stressful (22 percent) or they didn’t know enough about current Sarbanes-Oxley regulations (5 percent).

President and COO Doug Matthews of HR consulting firm Right Management, which surveyed HR managers and executives at 191 mid-size and large organizations, says poor cultural fit is a leading cause of failure among executives in general, including CFOs. For many, their management styles and ways of doing their jobs simply don’t fit in with the prevailing organizational culture.

Matthews says the job market for CFOs has been good in recent years, particularly at public companies that must comply with Sarbanes-Oxley rules. CFOs who aren’t knowledgeable about the issues brought about by the new rules can also find positions at privately held companies that aren’t affected by the law.

Recruiters at both public and private companies, however, are looking for CFOs who have both the requisite skills and the ability to fit into the company culture.


Company Is a Team, Not a Family

Many companies like to refer to their employees as family. But Bob Lane, chairman and CEO of Deere & Co., has a different point of view.

“A company that’s been around for 170 years [blacksmith John Deere founded the company that makes tractors, combines and other farm machinery] did, at one time, have … a family feel to it,” says Lane. Today, however, he tells employees that John Deere is not a family, but a team. The firm is “actually a complement to a family,” he says, pointing out that, while family members who don’t pull their weight may not be welcome at the Thanksgiving dinner table, they remain members of the family. But “if you’re not pulling your weight here, I’m sorry, you’re not part of the team.”

Employees say Lane wants them to give him bad news early, and he wants it straight. By the same token, Lane believes in leveling with employees when the news is bad. “Even if we have to let people go … each and every individual has inherent worth” and should be treated with dignity, says Lane. “Helping human beings understand why something is happening seems to make a huge difference.”

For example, when it was necessary to close a number of factories and reduce some product lines, Lane made a point of explaining “what we needed to do. We had a great company—great market shares, great products, a great dealer network—but we didn’t have a great business. It was an OK business.”

Lane told employees that “we needed to pull this great workforce together to make the business itself as great as the products.” To help motivate them, he completely revamped the pay system and offered financial incentives to work teams that improved their productivity.

Of course, financial rewards are not the only reason to work at Deere, says Lane. “Pride in what you’re doing, the value of working with other quality people, commitment to a global mission [are all important], but we like to fatten up the wallets of everyone who is working there too,” he says.

Lane made his comments during a Feb. 19 taping of an episode of the PBS television series “CEO Exchange,” sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management. For local airtimes and more information about the series, go to www.pbs.org/wttw/ceoexchange/index.html.

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