Sunday, September 29, 2013

IRRESPONSIBLE REPUBLICANS PLAYING ULTIMATE GAME OF CHICKEN

In one of the more reckless, incredibly stupid and ill-advised strategies, House Republicans have passed legislation that funds the government but in doing so places unrealistic restrictions and delays on implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) - all scare tactics and accompanied by the continuing disinformation that it’s too expensive, is socialized medicine and that old death panel argument, among others.  These points were debunked long, long ago (witness the last presidential election) and they (maybe with the exception of a clueless Ted Cruz), know it.  Their reality is the perpetuation of their seemingly racist status quo and the pursuit of their mantra of less federal control or involvement in any program whether it be health care, education or the ultimate financial well-being of our country – and maybe the world.  We can’t see anything good coming out of this latest Republican ploy to overturn already approved and vetted legislation, now the law.
 
Given that we the taxpayers of the US are already paying for these contested medical services (at a much higher rate), the only question (which has already been deliberated) is out of which pocket do we pay the bill?  It would appear that most Republicans and Tea Party folks (they are not the same) either believe all the lies and disinformation about ACA, just don’t care or are happy with the manipulation of the truth. We think it’s all three.
 
Reality for the Republicans is that the Senate will reject this move and even with its unlikely passage, it would be vetoed by President Obama.  This is clearly a game of chicken orchestrated by the Republicans and one that will surely force a government shutdown.
 
This act brings more disgrace on the GOP and we predict will result in a further diminishment of their waning influence. Watch for the implosion – it’s going to happen.
 
So, why is John Boehner smiling? For Republicans in the 21st century this is business as usual.  Tragically, without Boehner things would probably even be worse.  Shame on the Republicans and their Tea Party handlers…
 
As a youngster I was taught to always strive for the good of the many and not the few and that service to humanity was the best work of life.  Yes, with all hope gone for a rational and collaborative approach to problem solving, I’m officially gone from the GOP.
 
Aye,
 
Ned Buxton

Monday, September 2, 2013

FAST FOOD WORKERS ON STRIKE - IN FREE FALL


Seems ironic and maybe even appropriate that we offer this post on Labor Day.  Whether our timing bad or good, on occasion our Human Resources (HR) genes get stimulated to the point we are motivated to comment about current issues we feel should be engaged by folks that care about Fairness, Equal Opportunity and the ultimate truth - Reality.  One such issue was the strike outside McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast food restaurants in many US cities last week by some fast-food workers protesting what they feel are unfair wages.  Whole Foods, an enlightened company with a reputation for paying generous wages and with an upward mobility demeanor, confusingly, was even a target of this group?
 
In a nutshell the strikers want to see minimum wages raised from the mostly $7.25 (some US cities and states are higher) to $15.00 - more than doubling their wages essentially putting them at the same level with their supervisors.  So, what’s the issue?  Is it the compelling, moral – the humanitarian question of “fairness” and a “living wage” or another borne of a market driven economy, business necessity and a long term business model?  The answer is that it’s both.  We caution, don’t trust anyone that leads with skewed metrics, their emotions and class warfare “them vs. us” mentality.  Anybody who feels that they (or anybody else) are “entitled” to a job that pays a living wage is delusional – completely out of touch with principles of individual responsibility and our business reality.
 
We think (if they’re really serious) that any move to increase the minimum wage to such an extent could have disastrous consequences, especially for the workers lobbying for those increases.  We note that while there are persuasive arguments both for and against such an increase, we counsel caution and remind anyone interested that business just doesn’t operate that way.  Yea, we know that there are college graduates flipping burgers and bussing tables, but that’s not the fault of fast-food.  Seems that some wacko, ultra-left-leaning liberal think tankers feel that if a job incumbent has greater skills than the job requires, then they should be paid more.  We have also seen tweaked studies with dubious metrics that insinuate that previous increases in the minimum wage have had a positive effect on the economy and haven’t resulted in the elimination of jobs.  That’s only partially true noting that those previous increases have been of a much smaller magnitude over short periods of time.
 
Simply put, jobs are rated in the marketplace – not the people who occupy and perform in those positions. Wages are not arbitrarily or capriciously set.  HR compensation analysts review and evaluate, among other factors, the knowledge, skills, education, work experience, and capabilities required for a position then rate those essential requirements of the job with a dollar amount – the wage generally interpreted as a range from min to max with a control or median point.  So, because a worker has to stand during their shift among their other duties, isn’t as some state, a compelling reason to pay them $15.00. You don’t equate skilled and unskilled positions.

We empathize with those “overqualified” college graduates occupying fast food slots because of the current economic environment.  If some made poor choices preparing for non-existent jobs in industries on the wane, you can’t blame fast food or any other industry.  We also feel for those individuals who because of individual circumstance or, frankly, a lack of education or motivation didn’t or couldn’t properly prepare themselves for the very potential of living.  However sympathetic I feel and however tragic their situation, that’s no reason to increase the wage.   Rather, we should all celebrate that these jobs even exist and are available. Having said that, degrees in hospitality/restaurant management won’t guarantee ultimate well-paying jobs.  Those mostly reside in upper management and ownership though there are also substantial risk factors present there…
 
Moving on…We don’t think current food service wages “unconscionable” as opined by New York City Comptroller John Liu.  We think his and many other comments supporting the worker’s strike are politically motivated and totally unrealistic. This whole movement would appear to be the result of attempts by organized labor and specifically the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) to bolster their ranks.  With protests occurring in over 60 US cities, this effort has been well planned and orchestrated with the SEIU providing financial support and training.
 
Now, do we agree that you can’t support a Family on minimum wage?  We absolutely do and readily acknowledge that the employment landscape has substantially changed in the last twenty-five years.  We also note that while many fast food workers are primary wage earners and thus engaged in the impossible task of supporting a Family, the greater majority are not.  Many more in fast food are secondary wage earners or folks starting their career and gaining valuable work experience they can carry forward. Yes, I washed pots in a restaurant one summer but worked my way up to the line.
 
Let it be said that many companies pay well above the minimum wage.  When I was an HR Director in Hospitality/food service and Manufacturing, we always rated our jobs well above that minimum so that we would attract and retain a higher quality worker. We coupled those wages with generous benefit programs. Those strategies worked and we became a preferred employer of choice who always pursued best practices and provided an unequalled quality product/service.  The point is that companies, then and now, have choices based on their business models and available resources.  The fast food industry has very narrow margins and not a lot of dollars to play with when it comes to wages and benefits.  We also need note that the median wage for fast-food workers is just under $9.00 per hour.
 
Fast food is a whole other animal and perhaps the message for those in that industry is - engage it as your situation and needs dictate. Most in that industry as in hospitality are generally in transition with the intent to pursue other careers, even on the professional level.  If you want to pursue a career in food service, perform at a high level, take advantage of mentoring and educational programs and understand the skills necessary to create further opportunities and then build those skills.  I know many in food service who have done just that.
 
We all have choices.  If those engaged in fast-food don’t like what their employers pay – that they have greater worth - they are free to leave in a mostly at-will work environment and find another job that meets their expectations.  If a motivated worker doesn’t have the skill levels to proceed further – what greater stimulus exists to pursue those skills, add them to their portfolio and market themselves accordingly. Failing that, those that don’t have the motivation or means to improve their lot – well, it going to be a long and rough ride. As one blogger recently opined, “Demanding a living wage, is like demanding respect. Both have to be earned.” And, unfortunately, fairness doesn’t have anything to do with this issue…
 
We repeat - If one fails to perform at any level above “performs to expectation”, doesn’t pursue educational degree or certificate conferring courses, doesn’t engage communication / leadership or other job-related skill building activities, fails to embrace the communication/language requirements in their area – they are destined to tread water and, at best, stay in place.  Jobs/positions in today’s marketplace rated with low or no requisite skill level requirements are compensated at the lowest levels, period.  The higher the skill and educational requirements, the higher a position is rated.  We are addressing positions that are classified as low (or no) skill, entry level positions.
 
We have a very competitive market driven, global economy where the mostly value-driven customer decides what they are willing to pay for a product/service.  If a product is perceived to have too high a cost the consumer will go somewhere else or lose interest altogether in that product.  We have already seen that happen.
 
Some opine that if we increase the minimum wage to $15.00 that the economy will be further stimulated with job creation and a more robust economy - the result.   If you believe that I have some swamp land to sell you…  The result will be a product that can’t be produced at a marketable level.  Companies will cut back (some shut down) and jobs will be reduced or eliminated. To think otherwise is absolutely irresponsible…
 
Whether or not the minimum wage is increased, available weekly work hours are apparently going to be reduced to something less than 30 hours by some companies – an unintended consequence of the Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA) effective in January, 2015.  Indeed, the AHCA requires employers with 50 or more workers to provide health care benefits to Associates who work at least 30 hours a week or more.  Now, we hear that some fast-food companies are saying they can’t afford that cost, so are limiting their Associates to a maximum of 30 hours. We do know that some companies including Whole Foods and Starbucks provide benefits for their part-time Associates. We’ll keep you posted but we have already seen some major companies limiting weekly hours and this has to factor into this whole debate…
 
We suspect that there will always be fast food if for no other reason than the convenience (grab and run) factor.  However, when high cost trumps all else and the potential of buying a sit down meal in a more hospitable and congenial dining environment is equal and mostly better, fast food will suffer.  There are already moves toward a more assembly line approach, regional kitchens and reduced in-store services.  When was the last time fast food staff poured your beverage?  Believe me; they’re working on more cost saving measures as I write.
 
No one believes that there will be an overnight acceptance of a $15.00 minimum wage but in an assured pay me now or pay me later scenario, we will all pay for the misfortune of those who can’t make a living wage via government support. So, out of which pocket do we pay?  That’s the real question…  Maybe those fast food workers should strike for $1,000 an hour.  Now wouldn’t that have quite an impact on our economy? We think a much more modest increase in the minimum wage should be passed.
 
Having communicated the aforementioned, we also offer that we want the folks that prepare and serve our food, work on our cars and our doctors to be highly competent, well paid and of the highest character…
 
What a conundrum…   So, which pocket is it?
 
Aye,
 
Ned Buxton

Sunday, August 18, 2013

SNOWDEN - TRAITOR OR WHISTLEBLOWER?

It never fails… just when you think you have things finally figured out – you realize that you don’t.

The Edward Snowden–NSA affair was for me all but a fait accompli with me absolutely convinced initially that Snowden was just an idealistic, naïve, disaffected and probably delusional soul.  With more forthcoming, credible information (more than just domestic privacy, illegal search/seizure and our presumption of innocence issues) coming in I believe that the charges of espionage and treason levied again him to be justified. Why? - because our intelligence gathering strategy was legally authorized and we are technically at war with Terrorism and its many components.  Snowden by violating his oath and ultimately airing sensitive (though not unexpected) data about our seemingly routine security practices throughout the world has compromised historical, key military and business alliances.  Since everybody else is doing pretty much the same thing (though on different levels) this will eventually blow over as diplomats rebuild a tolerable mutual trust and their beneficial convivial relationships as they joke and banter over their vodka and single malts.

For this writer the revelations about privacy issues with the NSA routinely listening in to telephone conversations or monitoring e-mail and all electronic media were no deal breaker.  That approach appears to this writer to be a common sense and proven, results-documented, strategy to pursue given the overt/covert threats and the persistence of our enemies.  That for this writer constituted and realized the essential, though tenuous, balance between privacy and security. 

There is no doubt that Congress has been regularly briefed on the program, but politics is politics and with a wink and nod many of our now conveniently indignant elected representatives have a severe case of amnesia.  Polls show that most Americans understand the threat to our country and support (but may not like) the heroic measures required to effectively combat terrorism. The country, however, is pretty equally split on their characterization and treatment of Mr. Snowden though most now favor criminal charges against him. 

Interestingly, we now see revelations even by the NSA that they apparently broke their own privacy rules and/or exceeded their authority many times since granted those authorities.  Immediate moves by the President, Congress and the NSA to tighten up oversight of these programs without compromising our national security is absolutely imperative.

As for Snowden, he is no “civil disobedient” in the image of Ghandi or MLK Jr.  He did much more than blow the whistle on domestic surveillance tipping him into espionage and treason.  He could have engaged his representatives and plead his case in front of a Senate or House Committee and been guaranteed protection.  He didn’t - choosing a hostile international forum that compromised many important relationships and perhaps even lives. 

Many hope that Snowden never returns to the United States and is stripped of his citizenship. While that might remove jurisdiction over him perhaps Snowden could then, unencumbered, liaise with an inviting Russian spy Anna Chapman? Let him live out the rest of his life in some remote corner of Russia on a limited stipend.  His cell will be Russia itself where Putin has offered nothing but disdain and contempt for defectors.  That’s generally what happens after Russia extracts all the information they can and there is no more PR or intelligence value in propping up those of Snowden’s ilk.  Snowden is no longer an outraged citizen or whistleblower.  He is a defector who stands accused of espionage and theft of government property and given the circumstances, those charges do not appear refutable.  The only question is Snowden’s motivation and intent though now that really doesn’t matter.  It’s patently obvious that the NSA and other US intelligence agencies need to rethink their selection process and choice of contractors and consultants. 

Snowden’s actions were Russia’s most recent pot of gold though any protestations by them would be ultimate hypocrisy.  Russia’s spying apparatus is, no doubt, more insidious and far reaching than even the Americans and their Allies - combined.  The Russians continue to send spies to the US and Europe.  We see and hear credible reports that the FBI has apprehended over 10 Russian spies (some say 20 spies and sleeper agents) in the US just over the past four years. We think that the tip of the iceberg.

While the Soviet Union is gone - reinvented as modern Russia, the Cold War continues.  It never stopped.  Now as for Snowden’s persistent use of “we” when describing the US Citizenry… for me that’s debatable.

With that said Snowden’s actions (whatever his motives) have opened up what we feel is an essential and critical national debate on balancing security and privacy issues. Maybe this will finally get Congress off their butts… Our great fear is that an overreaction on the “privacy side” will empower and inform our enemies and restrict our intelligence gathering efforts leaving us more vulnerable than ever to another security disaster on the scale of 911. Everybody – please don’t let that happen.

Aye,

Ned Buxton

Saturday, August 10, 2013

FOR NOW - NOT TOTALLY ALIVE

Just a heads-up to all my Friends and regular Followers that I will be up and posting once again - hopefully in the near future.  The motherboard on my HP all-in-one decided to literally meet its maker.  My computer crashed and the unit was sent back to HP for dissection and evaluation.  Hopefully, they will find the problem. I don't want it back...
 
In the meantime, Microcenter refunded my purchase price and I have acquired probably my last desktop - a new Samsung Series 7 all-in-one computer that's absolutely loaded to the gills with features.  My son should be proud...  Again, We hope to be operational soon.
 
Hope all of you are having a great summer.  Those of you outside of Texas, please take comfort that you are not here.  We are expecting our 11th consecutive day of triple digit temps with our high being a nasty 107 earlier this week.  Heat indexes have been 110-plus. Having said that, our thoughts and prayers go out to those folks in the Midwest who are being hammered with all those storms going over the top of us. Keep the faith...
 
Last week we were in Montana roughly 100 miles north and east of Yellowstone.  Temps at night were in the forties in the magnificent Beartooths.  Nice, though we had to always keep our kids and pets close because of the challenges posed by Mother Nature.
 
Just love those huckleberry milkshakes...
 
Aye,
 
Ned Buxton

PS - Photo above is The Bear's Tooth

Sunday, May 19, 2013

SMU COX SCHOOL OF BUSINESS MBA GRADUATION - SPRING 2013

We and thousands of other brave, stalwart souls endured Dallas’ 95 degree heat and sweltering humidity yesterday to attend the Spring 2013 outdoor graduation ceremonies of Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Cox School of Business (Graduate). Given the ongoing $40 million face-lift to Moody Coliseum (the traditional indoor venue), the ceremonies were held on the Main Quadrangle in front of impressive and historic Dallas Hall. Thankfully, SMU anticipated the heat with hospitality stations handing out bottled water and paper fans. As well planned and executed this commencement was, we do hope they stay inside from this point on.

Friend Austin paired his Master’s in English Literature with an equally prestigious Degree of Master of Business Administration (Executive program) mirroring his professorial parents impressive academic achievements. SMU’s Cox Executive MBA program is ranked seventh in the world.  So, Austin’s career is just beginning and he will, no doubt, ascend to a position of ultimate leadership wherever he decides to drop his hat.  For us he represents all that is good and right with the younger generation. We heartily congratulate Austin and his Family for his very impressive achievement.

Now, I hadn’t attended graduation exercises at the college level in many years and immediately noted some major differences.  Raised in the shadow of the Ivy League I was used to an academic community that saw representation from cultures all over the world.  Though far from the Ivy League and Son Geb’s alma mater, American University, which also always sees impressive numbers of foreign students (the sons and daughters of foreign diplomats and embassy staffers), SMU demonstrates an impressive academic reach.  The number of foreign students especially from China, India and from countries all over Africa while remarkable now appears predictable.  It punctuates the substantial increase, for example,  in Chinese students (207% increase from a decade ago) studying in the United States – now over 25% of all foreign students in the US. The number of other foreign students is also increasing.

While the lesson of stepping up to the plate and preparing our students for a far more competitive, global society seems to be lost at the high school level in the United States (especially here in Texas), that is not the case on the college level.  Universities like SMU have seen an increase in endowments targeted at attracting foreign students.  Lest we think that most of our Chinese students are from Taiwan, they are not.  And, if you’re wondering if we are reciprocating – yes, we are.  Through Chinese Scholar programs like the Schwarzman Scholars Program, more and more students are/will be studying in China.  Despite some obvious differences, it’s fast becoming evident that they are us and we are them. Austin as a part of his graduate MBA curriculum visited both China and Vietnam.  Please do not be fooled by political rhetoric or cultural differences and remember we all came from the same beginnings.

Dr. Al Niemi, the distinguished Dean of the Edwin L. Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University offered his welcome and charge to the graduating class of 2013.  I vaguely remembered (always favorably) Dr. Niemi from his days as Dean of the heralded Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia – the oldest business school in the South.   In his address Dr. Niemi reminded all in attendance that China is now the dominant industrialized nation in the world and despite some ups and downs, continues to increase its lead.

Niemi also offered a perspective from someone we suspect he may know one Ted Turner founder of TBS, CNN and winner of the Americas Cup in Newport (Captain Outrageous) among other impressive accomplishments.  I follow Ted for several reasons – 1) He graduated from Brown University where my Father attended, 2) Ted has always been the candid voice for every Man – speaking up when everybody else was afraid and 3) I was sent an invitation to and attended the 1980 opening of CNN at the old Progressive Club in Atlanta, Georgia, then Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) headquarters. It was quite a party and I was honored and certainly appreciated being a part of history. 

So, Turner is my kind of guy and we think the label “media mogul” really doesn’t do Turner justice.  As controversial as he has been over the years he is now very careful about what and how he expresses himself and represents the ultimate in philanthropy.  During the graduation ceremonies Dr. Niemi obtusely quoted what he reflected was, “reportedly, the world’s shortest graduation speech” where Duke commencement speaker “Ted Turner walked up to the podium and stated, ‘Your President asked me if I'd offer a few words of advice to you as you graduate. Here they are: 'Get out there and work your butts off.’  Then he sat down.” I had heard this story before though was also aware of a 1999 commencement address given by Turner to Duke University’s Fuqua School of Management graduates where we certainly waxed eloquent (and much longer) even touching on politics. I find no other record of a commencement address at Duke University.  So, while Turner could’ve/would’ve said, “Work your butts off”, however refreshing and welcome, that short, Turner-attributed address probably never happened.

Niemi was refreshingly brief (no clichés or hearts and flowers, etc.).  He used Turner’s alleged remarks as metaphor to launch his more appropriate charge to “Work hard and earn your success, practice the Golden Rule, follow a moral compass, maintain your ethical standards, keep learning and maintain a safety net of relationships.”

This was a sound and well-delivered message, representing an excellent school and an outstanding class.  The future looks bright.  Well done, Austin.

Aye,

Ned Buxton

Saturday, May 11, 2013

IS TEXAS PUTTING YOUR SONS AND DAUGHTERS IN HARMS WAY?

For me gun control is putting common sense limits on who can legally buy a gun, period. The issue is all about gun safety not gun rights… Nobody is going to involuntarily register or take away our guns (mine included) and Barak Obama is not a new Hitler. Let’s stop all the political rhetoric and start making sense – for the good of the many. What we need to do is enforce existing laws and set up further barriers to those who would purchase guns with the intent to do harm to others. Will the criminal or mentally unstable element in our society find other ways to purchase arms?  They’ll probably try, but let’s make this as difficult as possible recognizing that existing laws denied firearm transfers or permits for almost 1.8 million applications from 1994 to 2008. In 2010 alone (the most recent year for which data is available) FBI and state law enforcement denied firearm purchases to 153,000 people. It would certainly appear that background checks are keeping guns out of the hands of at least some folks that don’t qualify for ownership or even possession. We obviously can do better and that doesn’t mean throwing out the baby with the bath water.  We all have a stake in this game.   

Just when states like Connecticut have adopted saner gun control laws that include background checks the Republican dominated House of Representatives in Texas is going full bore in the opposite direction.  Last week the Texas State House in a mostly in your face gesture passed a dozen measures that will turn our state (which is already gun friendly and very well equipped) into an even greater armed camp.  We think that this also puts more folks in potential harm’s way (more later). The current mentality running amok in the Texas State Legislature would probably not oppose gleefully renaming the state – Fort Texas or as Guv’nr Perry has inferred, engaging an option he doesn’t have and seceding altogether from the United States. Having said that, thank God many of these bills are probably going nowhere when they finally hit the floor of the Texas Senate. Alarmingly, though, some will pass into law.

Some of the Texas House proposals would allow college students over the age of 21 with concealed weapons permits to carry guns into classrooms and are you ready for this one – in a blissfully ignorant and embarrassing move, another that exempts the state from any future federal bans on assault rifles, high-capacity magazines or universal background checks.  Apparently our rough and ready legislators are not aware that state law does not trump federal law.  Among the legislation passed was a bill designed to punish by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine police officers and/or government officials who try to enforce federal firearms limits in Texas (Yikes!). This is nothing more than giddy, confrontational high stakes drama and juvenile posturing politics – just what you can expect from many Texas lawmakers – which for some will be their last hurrah – witness the next election season.  

And then isn’t it nice to know, as well demonstrated in a featured video at the NRA convention in Houston, that Texas Governor Rick Perry can kill a chicken egg at a hundred yards with a round fired from a scoped .308 LaRue Tactical assault rifle.  Perry’s victorious half smile/smirk and faux heroic gaze following the successful shot reminded us of his lighter than air demeanor many times during the last presidential debates – no Kirk Douglas/Spartacus he.  Perry admitted that he first shot a gun at age four and likened his shooting as a hobby – like golf… For me my time on the firing range was an interesting recreational pursuit and opportunity to learn how to handle, use, maintain and respect guns, nothing more.  Having said that, we certainly don’t begrudge any responsible citizenry the opportunity to buy guns for defense, hunt and even pursue legitimately sanctioned shooting events including NRA meets.  By the way, lest we think Perry’s hit a once in a lifetime lucky shot, please know that he really has a good eye and has been choreographing and practicing that shot for well over a year (we’ve seen his tweets). Yes, I have voted for him.

Now with all their bluster the mostly Republican proposed legislation that would allow students over age 21 and with concealed handgun permits to carry on their college campuses also allows the colleges and universities to opt out and enforce bans on concealed handguns.  If the initial outcry from Texas academics is any indication, most colleges and universities will choose to opt out and ban firearms on their campuses. There is, however, support for the proposal and as one Virginia Tech grad opined, “Guns on campus, that’s crazy!” We agree

Let’s take a look at a scenario where on a college campus a deranged gunman in the model of the recent Sandy Hook shooter starts gunning down people.  Law enforcement has been alerted and they along with campus marshals and police are on their way.  You have a concealed handgun permit and you are carrying that day.  The shots are getting closer and while you have a permit you have not had any training in law enforcement and the only thing you’ve shot at are some paper targets on a shooting range, some tin cans and that tree stump you vaporized with an AR-15.  You are now, however, confronted with a life or death situation. You are in the company of your girlfriend and several fellow students and were on your way to sociology class.  What to do?

You responsibly direct your companions to seek cover and draw your weapon anticipating the momentary appearance of the shooter and around the corner, here he comes – in full body armor and carrying a Bushmaster with a high capacity clip and what appears to be several holstered handguns, an ammo sack and a snake gun slung over his shoulder. You confront him and loose several rounds that hit him in his protected zones.  He returns fire at you and your already fleeing companions.  In a fortuitous, cinematic nick of time the police arrive and dispatch the shooter – and you - as you stood at the ready - gun smoking.  You see, the police were unable to determine if you were a perpetrator or a friendly. Thus the tragedy expands and the job of law enforcement is complicated by exponential degrees by a well-intended but poorly trained (and mostly young) citizenry.

Aside from a necessary and last ditch defense of Family, hearth and home when someone confronts you and you have to defend yourself, we think we should leave the heavy lifting to law enforcement and those trained for that job. We are reminded of the recent unsuccessful home invasion by two Oklahoma teens on a rural Maypearl, Texas home.  Confronted with gunfire they fled and then ultimately committed suicide rather than face Texas authorities. That scenario resulted in a rare and welcome win for the good guys. 

Many times, though, the police may not be able to differentiate between you and the criminal.  A SWAT Team coming into a hot zone is going to shoot first and ask questions later. And we ask what about your Friends who will most assuredly come under attack by a shooter and what if you hit an innocent bystander or like the police what if another gun toting citizen student mistakes you for the shooter… Thoughts to ponder.  We certainly understand the underlying emotion, but this is a complicated issue.  As with life, we are dealing with varying shades of gray.

We also ponder that disagreements once managed and reconciled by debate or at the extreme, a brawl on the back forty, now becomes the impetus to take the easy way out and just shoot your opponent in that crazy hyperventilated millisecond where emotion trumps reason and civil behavior. You can’t take that moment in time away. We are making it easy to take the low road…  

We looked at five major polls which reflect that up to 90% of the national electorate support expanded background checks, yet Congress failed to enact and pass that legislation.  This sure looks to be a wax and wane scenario as folks forget about Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Boston, et al though it would appear they will unfortunately be reminded of the issue many times in the future.

So who benefits if universal background checks and other gun control measures are defeated?  First of all, the gun manufacturers and the gun lobby in Washington who are paid to forward the agenda of expanding firearms sales to whomever benefit the most. The NRA who once supported greater gun controls now perceive that their influence would be greatly diminished if that ever happened thus they morph common sense gun safety into a gun rights issue – the dreaded gun registry. However they paint it, it’s all about the almighty dollar - money.

The NRA’s almost five million members are passionate and well organized – well enough to intimidate our representatives and defeat expanded gun control and background checks at the federal level. Now how does that stack up with the 66 million that voted Democratic in the last presidential election and those of the roughly 61 million Republicans that share gun control reform sentiments?  The overwhelming numbers of reform minded citizen voters don’t mean a thing until that silent and substantial majority demands their lawmakers engage reformed gun control legislation.  Until that happens we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The Republicans didn’t learn any lessons from their most recent defeats with it appearing they think they won.   They didn’t and we need to remind them once again of their defeat at the polls along with those from other parties - Democratic, Tea Party, Libertarian or Green, etc. who failed to support and vote the will of their constituents.

So, let’s single one of those out – Senator Kelley Ayotte of New Hampshire who literally defied the highly publicized substantial majority will of her constituents and voted against gun reform - the only New England senator to oppose the legislation. Now, Ayotte’s term runs to 2016 and that interim will be a constant reminder of an elected representative who committed political suicide in front of God and Country. She is most likely going to suffer a decreased effectiveness in the Senate, the enmity of her now estranged constituency and as the Huffington Post opined, suffer a political future that’s, “in the toilet.”  We agree and encourage all to seek out the Kelley Ayottes on The Hill and vote them out of office. Please continue to remember and stay motivated…

The NRA’s reaction?  Though we’re talking about expanded background checks that would keep firearms out of the hands of criminals, the mentally incompetent and others adjudged a risk to society, the NRA lauded Ayotte for, “protecting the rights of gun owners.” Huh?

Then on the heels of all this rubbish the Texas Senate today approved and sent to Gov. Rick Perry a bill that drastically reduces the hours of training needed to get a state concealed handgun license. The bill that passed the senate without debate cut the training from a minimum of ten hours to from four to six. We’ve determined that most states concealed weapon permit training is all accomplished within a day.  We thought that expanding the training might be more appropriate but what of those that slip in between the cracks and adopt an empowered vigilante posture - an invitation to take the law into their own hands. One highly regarded range master who trains for the Texas Concealed Carry permit stated that the now further reduced course is woefully inadequate.

If you think your sons and daughters might potentially migrate to a state with a cowboy shoot em up mentality and on a college campus that doesn’t opt out where there is no limitation on who can carry a concealed handgun save a minimalist handgun permit that doesn’t include any formal law enforcement training, you better do some real checking.  Those states are many and well beyond the borders of Texas. In fairness we heard of one study by an chemical engineer from Texas which reflects that those with Texas concealed handgun permits were, “less likely to commit any particular type of crime than the general population, and overall were 13 times less likely to commit any crime.” We say being a good (untrained) guy doesn’t make them qualified to carry on any campus where the mere presence of firearms could provoke and incite conflict.  Maybe we will ultimately come to the conclusion that there are no real safe places left – that like crossing the street there are risks inherent in all activities – where life becomes cheaper and even just another commodity.

We say let’s make it more difficult to purchase any weapon and obtain a permit and encourage all of the fifty states, the District of Columbia and our possessions to participate and share local critical data on criminals and the mentally ill, etc. to our national databank for that purpose. And, yes, let’s hold all our politicians accountable for our wishes. And let’s wonder about those students who now armed get sideways with their professors and decide to shoot it out. This is sure a different world and seemingly not a better one…

When did we ever arrive at the conclusion that the lives of our babies and innocents wasn’t as important as gun safety. As one Texas educator questioned, “How can any reasonable, sentient human being support this policy?” Ah… And with the current Texas legislature all this is paramount over the more substantial public education, highway/transportation and in a state with a great thirst – water issues.  Go figure     

Aye,

Ned Buxton

Saturday, May 4, 2013

WHAT TO DO WITH THE SMU SIG EPS?

I’m a proud lifetime member of Sigma Phi Epsilon and one who has benefitted greatly from my fraternity association.  The Sig Eps provided mentorship, brotherhood and a goal- oriented, leadership building path for me to follow - all thanks to Big Brother Bud Moore. All but one of my Buxton Brothers were Greek including one who is a fellow Sig Ep. My Dad was a Phi Delta Theta as were three generations of Buxtons before him.  Dad was wearing his Phi Delt ring when he passed to his great reward. Grandfather Littlefield was a DTD at Dartmouth.  No, we don’t think the Greek system broken as some – mostly from outside the system – might suggest.  It does take a far more mature approach and commitment to honestly benefit and forward the very positive agenda of the Greek Fraternity and Sorority system. Having said that, not all initiates ultimately prove their worthiness. It is a lifelong quest
 
Fraternities by their very nature are highly selective and discriminate in order to attract and retain those with the highest character and personality that will not only benefit from but also contribute to the goals and mission of their organizations.  They mostly get it right but occasionally poor decisions are made though some hope that their positive influence will allow for ultimate success.  The Sig Ep Balanced Man Program follows that path.  The news is full of those who pervert or skew what fraternity is all about though the greater majority of the time those organizations bring honor and glory to their name.  The goals of developing character, leadership skills, philanthropy and camaraderie based on “the love of God and the principle of peace through Brotherhood” are impressive and achievable.  What happened at SMU recently demonstrates that we have some work to do though we caution that despite some already drawn conclusions, all is not necessarily what it appears to be.

From what we have been able to determine, it is alleged that several members of Lambda Chi Alpha (LXA) were caught engaging what they call – pranking – in this case, the ritual spray painting of the now iconic red front door of the Sig Ep House.  One of the LXA members ended up in the Sig Ep house and whether voluntarily or forced (that is yet to be determined), claims that he was beaten and held against his will. This alleged response, if proved, however perceived as well deserved, was as bad as or worse than the prank.   Our Red Door – long a symbol of welcome - has been the target of vandals and misguided pranksters - many times alcohol motivated - who think it funny to desecrate one of the more sacred symbols of our organization.   

Indeed, mischievous members of other fraternities or pretenders haven’t just singled out the Sig Eps historically.  In that same spirit other immature ne’er-do-wells have painted, tarred and feathered and even urinated on the SAE lions - even removed Greek letters from fraternity houses. We could go on and on with examples of immature behavior from so-called future leaders (no boys will be boys here…).

SMU and their University Police have come to the conclusion that four Sig Eps were, “guilty of violations of the SMU Student Code of Conduct and University policies, as well as the standards and values of the fraternity itself."  We note that they are also facing criminal charges “stemming from the attack.” SMU then suspended Sigma Phi Epsilon for two years though it now appears they could be back on campus as early as the fall of 2014.

While we abhor and do not condone the alleged immature, over-the-top response by some SMU Sig Eps, we think this looks an awful lot like “who threw the first punch?”  We ask, What about Lambda Chi whose members were surely complicit in the “prank” against the Sig Eps that prompted the response?  The defense mounted by the Sig Eps legal counsel seems plausible coupled with an attempt by the Lambda Chis to deflect from their participation in this whole affair.  The Sig Eps didn’t “prank” anybody as reported in the media… They probably just threw that second punch…

Notice to those that engaged the vandalism against the Sig Eps and think it funny.  This was a violation of the SMU Code of Student Conduct and probably about a dozen laws of University Park, Texas.  If I were a member of the Texas Upsilon Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon and the identities of the perpetrators were ultimately determined, I would have recommended filing formal charges against all of them.  It was funny, you say…  See how funny it potentially is from the inside of a jail cell. It’s time to grow up.  

We certainly understand why some members of Sigma Phi Epsilon may have responded violently to the vandalism though there was no excuse for those behaviors.  If true, this was a grievous lapse in the basic philosophy of Sigma Phi Epsilon and our Balanced Man Program. These Brothers and probably some other members of that now suspended chapter now have to defend themselves and their reputation.  All need to heed the message that however justified they feel, taking the law into your own hands is unwise, illegal and not an option. We have been charged as Sig Eps to be different - to be above the Madding Crowd.  

We can’t allow violence to begat a violent response - a strategy that would most certainly be denounced by our Founders.  Surely the more mature and certainly the most responsible way to respond to this situation is not to, turn the other cheek,” rather call law enforcement and let them pursue the matter along with the University and the IFC. And how about an immediate ban on any tweets or other social media comments about the incident?   

So what of the role of Lambda Chi Alpha in this whole mess? It certainly appears that some of their members were responsible for the act that precipitated whatever the Sig Ep response was.  We wonder after having vandalized the Sig Ep house and losing one of their members, no attempt was made to retrieve him.  How about a knock on the door, an apology and offer to repair the damage? It will be interesting how the lawyers spin this one…

If it is legally determined that the Lambda Chi’s were complicit in the vandalism against the Sig Ep house (if it goes that far) then they should be as severely sanctioned as the Sig Eps and all other organizations who should be held responsible for violations of the law and the Code of Student Conduct by their members.  They need be held accountable to the university, their national organizations, law enforcement and ultimately their own conscience.

We noted that the SMU Lambda Chi’s had previously come under the scrutiny of their national headquarters for so called “risk management violations” in 2009 which resulted in the expulsion of 35 members of LXA in 2010.

Membership in a Greek Fraternity/Sorority is a privilege and a life-long commitment.  Like any organization, there are obligations which accompany membership - to abide by the principles of their Fraternity and charter.  They are only as good as their last at bat – in this case their last interaction with anybody whether it be Brother, Pledge, the University, fellow student or anybody else on or off the street.  If you can’t embrace and abide by the rules, regulations and by-laws of your sponsoring organization, University and local and national laws, then you don’t deserve to be a part of that group.  You have to continually prove that you deserve the honor and privilege of being embraced as a part of that group.  It’s an earned benefit not a right or entitlement – you earn those Sanguine et Purpure colors every day of the year for the rest of your life.

If you are looking for a good party or just another chance to push the boundaries of acceptable behaviors in an illegal cartel disguised as a fraternity, please don’t even approach the Sig Eps.  They’re working to get it right.  A little weed and feed across the board apparently wouldn’t hurt…

So, continue to counsel and remind Sig Eps and the members of all Greek Fraternities and Sororities of their pledge to embrace and live by their organization’s core values and continue to responsibly prepare themselves to be good citizens and stewards of our planet. They could be the last bastion and defenders of our way of life…
 
Aye,

Ned Buxton

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

CULTURAL FIT – NONSENSE OR BFOQ?

After addressing this issue for the better part of two decades and reading numerous recent posts and threads (ad nauseam) on the topic it appears obvious that few people really know what Cultural Fit is within its business context.  It sounds to many like so much esoteric nonsense and sometimes that’s the way the government sees it.  That’s probably the way you should look at it as well… at least within the window of discrimination (race, religion, sex, age, etc.) and the ultimate well-being of your company and your clients.

Now does this mean that you’re going to go out and deliberately hire a square peg for that round hole?  We hope not.  What this does mean is that you are going to write air tight position descriptions that identify legitimate requirements (Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications - BFOQ) for the position (including your prevailing management style) and hold your candidates to that standard. That effort should include training your recruiters, hiring managers and first line supervisors to a high level of competency on what they can and cannot do and that means not injecting their personal bias into that process.  Therein lies your key.  We are assured that Human Resources already embraces a working knowledge of Best Practices when it comes to Recruiting and the potential for discrimination in a skewed employment function.

First line supervisors and hiring managers are where the rubber meets the road for any company and those less seasoned and trained are where many employment problems emanate.  Many of that ilk are disposed to entertain and hire those who seemingly share their interests and values or at the outside eliminate those they feel may ultimately pose a threat to their domain – that old territorial imperative thing. Needless to say, these have little to do with, “cultural fit.” 

The question then begs - are hiring managers looking for a Friend or as Lauren Rivera, Assistant Professor of Management at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management offered, “a romantic partner” or optimally - the best qualified candidate for your position? A recent employment study validated our observations by reflecting that a majority of the hiring managers surveyed ranked cultural fit (CF) and specifically their definition of CF as, “the similarity to existing employees' backgrounds, hobbies, and presentation” as the most important measure of a candidate’s worthiness during the job interview (Yikes!*).

Well, that’s not the real definition of cultural fit which as aptly defined by HR Consultant Susan Heathfield of About.com is the, “Culture, the environment you have created for employees in your workplace, is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people.” We agree but most importantly it’s also how companies deliver their product and accomplish tasks – how they collaborate/work together and demonstrate the core values of their company in order to achieve their mission. So, within the context of the candidate, cultural fit is the perception of their ability to comfortably and effectively work in an environment that is compatible with their own beliefs, values and work ethic.

As an indicator of the prevailing mindset, a recent survey published in Forbes indicates that in an effort to increase their employee retention numbers, 88% of surveyed employers are looking for cultural fit over skills in their next hire (Yikes!*).  So, if a lot of their Associates like football then better not hire someone who shuns athletics in favor of the local ballet.  Yes, that’s really happened. It now just seems a secondary consideration whether the candidate can perform in the applied position.

There are so called management consultants and business folks on the World Wide Web advising that while employers should always look for employees with a high degree of competence, they should always choose cultural fit over competence when they have to make a choice?  We ask, why put yourself in a position where you are required to make that choice and potentially compromise your company?  We also advise that cultural fit should never trump competence as a factor in any employment decision. Why fill up your ranks with same sign, same dress, same everything and cut yourself off from those could/would evolve your company and carry you forward as business needs require? Now, while you may identify several equally qualified candidates in terms of competencies, an estimation of cultural fit may be the tipping point for your ultimate selection. We would also offer that companies always be sensitive to any potential discrimination issues.

In a same song, different verse perspective we are reminded of companies and particularly one that used a personality test – ones like Myers-Briggs, Bigby-Havis, Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI), Keirsey Temperament Sorter (KTS), Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2 post offer only), etc. as valid predictors of job performance and therefore a major part of the employment process. Understanding the potential fallacy of those tests the company initially relegated them to a seat (one vote) at the decision making table. Those tests, however, ended up dominating the entire process and mostly were the ultimate factor in employment decisions. In all fairness we add that the consulting company was disappointed and questioned that approach.

These tests are not only extraordinarily expensive, they are time consuming and with scheduling, travel, housing and other issues adding substantial time to the all-important time to fill (TTF) metric. A seemingly routine requisition that should have taken 30-45 days on average to fill now took twice as long.  Most HR Managers we know question whether these personality tests actually communicate anything useful about how future employees might perform on the job. We feel that a comprehensive background investigation and drug screen coupled with a sophisticated interactive, behavioral interview process by well-trained hiring managers who understand the job and their company’s culture and mission, have proved a much more effective mechanism.

While we somewhat digress we wanted to make the point that hiring managers, especially those who don’t know or understand what cultural fit really is, who hang onto this criterion to the exclusion of other more relevant standards, aren’t doing themselves or their companies any favors.  As alluded to previously, we also wonder if these hiring managers have any clue about the potential for discrimination and any disparate impact issues.

The bottom line is that cultural fit can be both – Nonsense or a BFOQ.  A candidate who embraces and demonstrates a management style and work practices not compatible with your company could be a legitimate factor when considering that individual’s suitability for a position.  For example, a candidate who has demonstrated preference for an independent, freewheeling entrepreneurial style vs. a business culture that values and embraces a more directed team approach – one more highly regimented and controlled - may not be the best fit for that company. If you are dealing with an enlightened candidate they would consider this information highly relevant as well.

However, the hiring manager that eliminates individuals who may not conform to all their cultural norms (or personal tastes) though demonstrate all the key competencies they are seeking, are probably missing the boat. Yes, it can be a delicate balancing act.  Don’t overlook those capable and qualified candidates who can consistently “think outside the box” and forward your agenda/mission. That rationale as one respondent opined, “Doesn’t leave the team/organization open to diversity and diversity can generate significantly greater results.” We agree. Companies that select employees via a cookie cutter model will be putting all their eggs in one basket (like the canary in the mirror) and predictably may end up with folks that all think and act alike.  That usually spells disaster or at least stagnation for companies operating in a 21st century business climate which will probably require the capacity to quickly change direction – and not end up like so many lemmings hurling themselves over the precipice.

So, just because a candidate is “different” doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be a good fit for your company. We advise that cultural fit should never trump competence as a factor in any employment decision but can be, “one seat at the table.” Companies need to insure that their recruiters and hiring managers understand all the relevant operational details of their company’s policies and employment process including the significance of cultural fit in any decision.  Likewise those managers need to be monitored just to make sure that they aren’t hiring someone just because they drink the same beer…

Aye,

Ned Buxton

* Yikes! equals astonishment, surprise, alarm and then fear - in that order.  

PS - Please note that this piece like all previously offered posts is not intended to be construed as legal advice, rather for informational purposes only and reflects the opinions of this writer based on his business experience. Please contact your Human Resources Department or employment attorney with respect to any particular issue or problem. NB

Saturday, April 20, 2013

SICK DAY - SOME DAY OFF FROM WORK...

I was off work last Monday, ill for two days with some stomach bug that’s victimized many in our Recruiting Department.  We’re like one big day care, a petri dish where many of the more routine annual illnesses are shared involuntarily including the latest version of the flu and other notable, opportunistic viruses. Thanks to modern medicine this will only be an inconvenient few days and I am anxious to return to work.  The state of my health, however, is not the point of this post rather, that I was home and when not sleeping and gathering my strength, the news of the day dominated.

The morning was rough and while I was counting fingers and toes, the world slid not so blithely by.  Here in Dallas some deranged young man shot and killed his pregnant girlfriend of many years in a Hamilton Park neighborhood home and then fled the scene.   A witness to the shooting told Dallas Police Officers (DPD) that they saw the alleged shooter drive off and that the victim in a dying declaration identified the suspect as the one who shot her. All that was certain and not conjecture.

An all-points bulletin was put out for the car which was identified by DPD about 90 minutes later and a high speed chase ensued which was televised throughout the DFW area.  Eventually the shooter made his way back to the same Hamilton Park neighborhood from whence he came but only after loosing several volleys at pursuing police, wounding one officer who was treated and released from a local hospital.  After the suspect’s car ran a curb he bailed out and ran into a house that only moments before was occupied by its resident who was witnessing the chase on TV.  The story not only dominated local TV, for  several hours it was the only thing on unless you went to a premium channel or one of the news networks and some were even showing Dallas in all our unsplendor… like another OJ chase.  And this is one of the points of this post – the resident of the house watching that same TV program and realizing that the suspect had wrecked just in front of his home and was headed his way, barely escaped his home just as the shooter entered from the rear.  The shooter appeared well familiar with the house.

After four hours and a few rounds of tear gas Dallas Swat officers captured the suspect who was hiding in a crawl space under the house.  Yours truly and much of DFW saw this all play out in living color – a replay of numerous such events that we have seen across our country.  You really can’t hide anymore…  Much of the video was provided by the local NBC affiliate’s Chopper 5 which we are assured was being streamed to DPD.  At some point in the future those helicopters will probably be obsolete, replaced by much smaller airborne drones all backed up by a system of remote surveillance cameras that will literally cover the country.  We are already well on our way to that end and are probably the better for it… This incident proved that.

By the way, the suspect whose guilt of the murder and shooting at DPD officers seems certain (we saw it on TV in live living color) is listed in the Texas sex offender list for two convictions of indecency with a child by exposure, one in 2000 and one in 2001. He was sentenced to a year in prison on both occasions. He was also arrested in January on a misdemeanor family violence assault charge. The court date for that case was scheduled for next week.  Looks like that charge has now been trumped with the capital murder charge…

Then comes the Boston Marathon terrorist attack masterminded and carried out by what we know now to be two real sickos.  The suspected terrorists are brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who like our “suspected” murderer above no doubt perpetrated the Marathon Massacre even as local law enforcement reflect that they have photos of their explosive drop. Their reaction thereafter and the murder/assassination of a MIT police officer demonstrate their arrogance and desperation. Tamerlan is now dead from his attempt to shoot it out with Police while brother Dzhokhar is now in custody.  Whatever their perceived grievance we have to wonder why they would murder and maim innocents and how they so grossly underestimated the resolve and strength of our law enforcement, our military and the American People. Both petitioned for asylum and accepted refuge and the hospitality of America only to turn to the dark side.  

Prior to their capture President Obama speaking directly to the perpetrators and all Americans proclaimed that the bombings were, “a heinous and cowardly act and make no mistake — we will get to the bottom of this.  And we will find out who did this; we’ll find out why they did this…  Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.” The Tsarnaevs were persons of interest almost immediately thanks to our surveillance network and the timely photographs and video of a concerned citizenry. And, hey how about some kudos for digital photography, social media, front facing infra-red cameras and the extraordinary interaction of law enforcement with all those key elements.  

Closer to home, on Monday the FBI and law enforcement officials of the State of Texas and Kaufman County appeared closer to identifying the perpetrators of the murder of Kaufman County District Attorney Michael McLelland, his wife Cynthia and Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse.  Former Kaufman Justice of the Peace Eric Williams had already been jailed for making a "terroristic threat" and appeared to the entire world that he was involved in the shootings as well.  Most in DFW feel that he was in the sights of law enforcement and the prime suspect in the aforementioned murders.  While this writer was finishing this post word came down that William’s wife Kim was officially charged with the murders ($10M bond) and immediately implicated her husband as the shooter who was apparently taking revenge for pursuing theft charges against Williams for stealing County property.  He has since been charged with the murders and with a $23M bond we are assured that he won’t be riding his Segway any more…

So, it was quite a Monday and I couldn’t wait to get back to work.  No, reality and the press of what seems now - more than ever - a world gone mad, wasn’t left behind.  It’s just good to be with Friends and people who care. The victims of these senseless tragedies are in our thoughts and prayers as well as the heroic Citizens of Boston and Watertown. Kudos to all law enforcement whether Federal, Commonwealth or local.  Well done.

Aye,

Ned Buxton