Dutch Executives Seeing Green – How Millennials Are Reshaping the World

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Davos, Switzerland — If you can’t beat them, bribe them. Are the days of environmentalists versus capitalists coming to an end?  DSM, a global firm based in The Netherlands, is tying forty-percent of its executives’ short-term incentive pay to whether or not the company meets its environmental and sustainability goals. 

What is driving capitalism’s sudden interest in saving the environment? My guess is that it’s the Millennials, the twenty-somethings who make up the most rapidly growing demographic in our current workforce.  When  Millennials go looking for jobs, they seek out employers who are a cultural fit. That is, they want to work for companies which care about the same things they care about and which demonstrate that care both by the way they do business and by the non-business causes they support.  Outside of Silicon  Valley and the High-Tech world, Millennials have not yet made it to the C-Suite. However they are the force which is motivating a growing number of companies to select and act on a cause. Actions companies take may include realigning their business practices to support the cause they’ve adopted, allowing employees to perform volunteer work on company time,  educating their employees and their clients about the cause, or making outright donations to non-profit organizations.

Because they are tuned into and care deeply about such things as culture and branding, Millennials are making an impression on corporations not only as prospective employees but as prospective consumers of their products and services.  The radio station I listen to each morning (The Rod Ryan Show  on Houston’s 94.5 The Buzz) appeals  to a Millennial audience. In their sometimes R-rated, may-not-be-suitable-for-more-sensitive-listeners morning banter, the Buzz’s DJs make more references to “giving back” and talk more about what celebrity or what local business is doing what good deeds than any station I have ever listened to before. Not only that, the show itself supports its favorite causes. Its Drumsticks for Drumsticks campaign auctions off drumsticks signed by famous drummers to raise money for the Houston Food Bank.  In the fall, it raises funds to provide backpacks to underprivileged Houston school children. This spirit of giving back is being repeated by other companies throughout the United States whose clientele is primarily Millennials.

Because the Millennials’ manner of speaking (concise, direct, straight-from-the-hip) often comes across as curt, Baby Boomers tend to write them off as rude. But these young people have heart. They not only care about the world, they pay attention to how individual companies treat the environment,  animals, third world countries, and other underdogs, and they demonstrate their concern by choosing which companies they will or will not work for and whose products or services they will or will not buy.

The BBC reports that  “At the Davos 2014 World Economic Forum, a gathering of more than 1600 global business leaders in Switzerland this week, one of the hot topics is ‘doing business the right way’.”  In fact, the summit’s theme is Reshaping the World.

When I was growing up, Bob Dylan sang, in his awful twang, about “The Times, They Are A-Changing.”  Well, guess what. Nothing is static. The times are changing again, maybe, (sorry, all you doomsayers) for the better. Under pressure from our young people, corporations are recognizing that the bottom line and making the world a better place are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, they may be more closely linked than we ever imagined before.

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The Buck Stops Where? What Bridgegate and Benghazi Have in Common

George Washington Bridge Once a popular Broadway musical, Jersey Boys has reinvented itself as mini-series of scandals heading the front pages of our newspapers. Has its star, Governor Chris Christie,  gone from being  “Big Man in Town” to  “Fallen Angel?”

As I write, the Democrats are expanding their “Bridgegate  investigation to look at claims that politics played a role in the distribution of Sandy relief funds.”  (“Democrats Plan to Expand Christie Probe” USA Today, January 20, 2014). Governor Christie’s administration allegedly withheld Sandy recovery aid from the City of Hoboken, when the city rejected a major redevelopment plan.

Regardless of whether Governor Christie knew about, much less authorized, these not-so-natural disasters, the fact is they occurred on his watch.  Executives of corporations, non-profit organizations, and government offices alike have a responsibility to establish a cultural tone, a brand, an ethos, if you will, for the organizations they lead.

One of the tools they have at their disposable for accomplishing this are their Human Resources Directors. They should enable and empower  Human Resources to communicate, promote, and, when necessary, enforce their organizations’ code of ethics. This cultural branding should begin at the recruiting and selection stage and should be reinforced during onboarding.

When a local corporation recently asked me to help screen applications for a Safety Officer opening, I read through stacks and stacks of resumes.  The one resume which jumped out at me belonged to an applicant who, under work experience, had written, “created a culture of safety.”  Yes! That’s what the corporation was looking for.

When you have a position to fill, read resumes not just for the facts they contain but for their tone. You may also take advantage of social media  to assess each applicant’s “personal brand” (how he presents himself online).   Is he a good fit for your organization’s culture?

Next, use new employee orientations to emphasize your organization’s culture and its code of ethics.  Last, but far from least, encourage management to live up to and model that code.  Refer to it in your organization’s newsletters or on your intranet. When someone, anyone, in the organization falls short of  The Code, they should be reminded of what the organization stands for and the behavioral expectations which go with it.

The Buck Stops HereIt seems The Buck Stops Here has gone from a clever sign that President Harry Truman once kept on his desk to  a sometimes overused cliché to, regrettably,  a thing of the past. We saw this when the Democrats attempted to place the blame for the Benghazi attack on the shoulders of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Of course, Benghazi was not so much a breach of ethics, as it was a breach of competence. Either way, it should never have happened. Maybe Governor Christie, like President Obama, didn’t know exactly what was going on with the George Washington Bridge traffic jam until it was too late.  Neither Governor Christie nor President Obama can undo what has been done, but they can take full responsibility for it. President Truman would have done no less. Or so his sign said.

Going forward, all executives (corporate, non-profit, and government alike) would do well to draw on the ethical expertise of their Human Resources Directors, not only to guide them through the often choppy, gray waters of business and politics, but to establish and nurture a culture of ethics among their staffs.

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the show. Jersey Boys is in for a long run.

 

Indian Diplomat Expelled for Employment Fraud and Bullying

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Americans have developed a knack  for discerning which of our laws are strictly enforced and which can be broken with little fear of punishment. For diplomats the seemingly fine line between some of these laws may be difficult to discern. For example, it’s common in many areas of the United States to pay cash, no questions asked, for someone to mow your yard or clean your house. If you are determined to go the legal route, be prepared to pay wages in line with a chemical engineer’s for an e-verified, social-security recognized individual, if you can find one willing to do the work.  Oh, and don’t forget to withhold social security and Medicare taxes from that person’s paycheck, to match those withholdings out of your own pocket, and to issue a W-2 in January.

The film A Day without a Mexican captures the predicament of Americans needing assistance with their yards and their housework. The movie begins with border patrol officers in southern California arresting would-be immigrants coming across the Mexican border. Fast forward to the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of all Mexicans from California. Yards and houses and children go unattended. Construction comes to a halt. Restaurant meals go uncooked. Crops go unpicked. The state slowly but surely descends into chaos.

In the film’s final scene, (Spoiler Alert) Mexicans illegally cross the border late at night, then freeze when La Migra (now  ICE)  trains spotlights on them. Only this time the border patrol doesn’t handcuff them and load them into vans. Instead, the officers pat them on the back and welcome them to the U.S.A.

It’s little wonder  Devyani Khobragade, the Indian diplomat living in New York, was confused. What she apparently did not understand when she hired a fellow Indian, Ms. Richards, to cook and clean for her, is that paying cash for household help would have been one thing, but committing outright employment fraud by falsifying documents to secure an employee’s visa is another. However, the greatest error in judgment Ms. Khobragade made may not have been fraud, but her unethical, cruel treatment of Ms. Richards.  Ms. Khobragade reportedly forced the maid to sometimes “work 100-hour weeks, even when sick and often without a day off, for pay as little as $1.22 an hour.”

Living in a country which has made anti-bullying a national campaign, Ms. Khobragade had the audacity to bully her employee, an employee so isolated from her homeland, Ms. Khobragade assumed she wouldn’t fight back.

Is this why Ms. Khobragade felt pressured to falsify documents, so that she could hire a maid from her own country? Was she afraid that a documented American, or even an undocumented Mexican or Central American working in the United States, would not have tolerated such treatment?

Apparently she underestimated her fellow expatriate’s tolerance for abuse. Last June, Ms. Richard told Ms. Khobragade that  she was unhappy with the work conditions and wanted to return home. Ms. Khobragade refused the request and would not return her passport. Ms. Richard then turned to Safe Horizon, which helps trafficking victims, for help.

After being indicted by a federal grand jury in New York on charges of visa fraud and employment fraud, Ms. Khobragrade was granted immunity just long enough to be allowed to leave the United States and return to India. Since then, her name has been  placed on U.S. Immigration watch lists and she cannot return unless she surrenders to the court upon arrival.

In retaliation, India has   asked the U.S.  to withdraw one of its senior diplomats from New Delhi.

Diplomats living in the United States would do well to learn and follow not only American laws, but American ethics and not assume immunity when they violate them.

Total Compensation: Hot Lunches, Beer, and Cigarettes

Government sponsored alcoholism is now keeping the streets of Amsterdam clean and tidy.  Each morning at 9 a.m., alcoholics arrive at a Rainbow Group Center to begin work, removing litter from the streets and sidewalks, as well as from nearby Oosterpark. These workers ” take extended breaks for beer, cigarettes and a hot lunch, all provided free of charge,” before ending their workday at 3 p.m. So far local residents support the program. Since it began, “local police have received fewer reports of stabbings and muggings in the park.

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Oosterpark, Amsterdam

While the Dutch government does not fund the entire program, it is the primary sponsor. Critiques may complain that the government is not only enabling but fueling alcoholism. Proponents counter that the program offers  meaning and purpose to its participants’ lives. They also point out the savings generated by fewer arrests exceeds the cost of  providing people with beer, cigarettes, and  food in exchange for their services.

What’s your take?  Will this strategy attract unemployed alcoholics to Amsterdam just as the country’s decriminalization of marijuana  has attracted pot users as a Dutch tourist industry? Or is it a creative, humane way to reduce both litter and panhandling in one fell swoop?

What’s Bugging You? Is Parental Spying Increasing Millennials’ Tolerance for Surveillance?

It’s the sort of thing we would have expected the Soviets to do if they had survived into the new millennia: intercept laptop deliveries   and install malware   so they can spy on users. For those of us Baby Boomers who grew up during the cold war when we condemned the enemy for spying on its citizens,  intrusions of this nature are  untenable. However, I wonder if the millennials have been partially inoculated against feeling that same level of rage when they’re being monitored. A growing number of parents are keeping a close eye on their teens by installing camcorders in their rooms, tracking their every movement by way of their phones’ GPS devices, and demanding their children’s Facebook and E-Mail passwords so that they can read what they’re posting and what they’re receiving.

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A teenage boy and longtime family friend recently posted a plea on his Facebook page for his friends to be careful with their comments.  “My parents read everything I post and if they don’t like it they make me take it down. If they don’t like what my friends write, they tell me to unfriend them.”

Some parents have even installed  the same type of spyware on their children’s computers that the NSA is installing on  computers-in-transit: a program which allows the voyeur to monitor what is being typed on the user’s screen in real time.  These young people will either become anaesthetized to those in power looking over their shoulder  or they will find ever newer and more creative ways to elude surveillance.

When I recently had lunch with a university student who is majoring in a foreign language, she told me she would   eventually like to work for U. S. intelligence. “Maybe I’ll become a translator and I’ll get to be one of those people who listens in on everyone’s phone calls. I know it’s wrong but it would be an interesting job.”

Indeed.

What’s bugging  you and your office these days?  It might just be the NSA. Good luck finding a pest control company to take care of that.

(Photo courtesy of pdphoto.org)

Foot-in-Mouth-Disease – The Benefits and Pitfalls of Maintaining a Presence on the Web

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Shortly before boarding her flight out of London’s Heathrow Airport,  IAC Director of Corporate Communications  Justine Sacco tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

By the time Ms. Sacco landed  in Cape Town,  her words had gone viral, sparking thousands of  tweets worldwide.  Or should I say thousands of angry buzzes? It seems  Ms. Sacco had become the Girl Who’d Kicked a Global Hornets’ Nest, as well as the poster face for over-privileged-white insensitivity.   The next day, IAC announced that Justine Sacco was no longer employed by them.

While I have no sympathy for Ms. Sacco, her story reminds me of the delicate balancing act we must all perform in today’s social media engulfed world.   An ever increasing number of employers now Google job applicants as part of their initial screening process. If you don’t have a ‘presence’ on the web, many prospective employers will not consider you, based on the assumption that you are not technologically savvy and that you lack twenty-first century social networking skills.

However, it’s not simply enough for just your name, photo, and a few dull facts to show up on LinkedIn or Facebook. A lot of employers are specifically seeking out employees who are a cultural fit, meaning they are looking at your hobbies, the type of volunteer work you do, the groups you belong, and the social and political comments you make to determine whether you are a good match for their organization. Career-minded job applicants are learning they have to brand themselves through their online image in order to sell themselves to employers.

At the same time, the more we reveal about ourselves  online, the greater the risk that we will commit some faux pas. It may not go viral as Ms. Sacco’s did, but it may linger on the web for years, readily accessible to anyone who Googles our name.  In fact, some employers are actually contracting firms to run Social Media Background Checks.

This, in turn, has spawned yet another type of business. Repplers,for example, now offers  a ” a tool for scrubbing your social networking accounts of job-damaging material.”

By the way, Ms. Sacco’s viral tweet does not mark the first time she’s shown a lack of judgement in the world of social media. Last January she tweeted, “I can’t be fired for things I say while intoxicated right?” Sober or otherwise, she has much to learn about public relations.

In the meantime, what do you bet that IAC will be scrupulously vetting the social networking history of its next Director of Corporate Communications?

Quotable Quotes – Attorney Steve Pearlman on Record Breaking Whistle Blower Settlement

Regarding a $14 million dollar award to an unnamed whistle-blower who went straight to the SEC without first bringing his complaint to the attention of his employer, Steve Pearlman commented that the Dodd-Frank Act has created “A new regime that encourages employees to keep eyes and ears open… Employees are deputized to act as agents of the government.”  (Source: HR Magazine, December 2013 “SEC Pays Worker Its Largest Award for Whistle-Blowing”).

I wonder if this will encourage enterprising individuals to seek employment with companies where they feel they are most likely to encounter reportable violations?