Teaming up for the Veterans

I am really proud to be associated with the University of Massachusetts at Lowell – where the university is ranked as a top school for veterans. The university actively engages with veterans to ensure that they receive all the benefits they have earned and all the guidance they need for a smooth transition.

“We walk our veterans through the whole process,” said Janine Wert, a former case manager for the VA who heads veterans’ services at UMass Lowell, where veteran enrollment has soared from 550 in 2011 to 1,450 today. (Boston Globe 7/2014)

One of the critical elements in assisting veterans in adjusting to both study and work challenges is the university’s teaming up with companies that provide internships, specifically targeted to veterans.   For example, the Peabody Essex Museum has  teamed with Lowell to offer interesting and diversified internships, such as photography, education, and marketing experiences.  You can find the list here:

Peabody Essex Museum

Peabody Essex Museum

Now, seriously if you were a veteran and re-entering the civilian workforce, would workingat a museum pop up as your future employer?  Probably not!

College education opens windows that help veterans: discover ways to use their special skills; uncover talents they didn’t know they possessed; and, peak their interest in areas yet unexplored.   Companies and associations can open doors for veterans by teaming up with colleges and universities to provide internships and mentoring experiences.

What about your company?  Can you team up with a college or university and provide work place experiences – like internships or mentoring — for our veterans?



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Gender Bias – The Flinch Factor

mqdefaultWhen flicking through channels, I find that I am always willing to pause on Alan Alda’s skinny grin, especially when he’s gaming with university scientists.  The Brains on Trial episode I happened on wanted to answer the question:  “Can we map bias in the brain using the human eye’s normal flinching reaction?”
This was part of a larger effort to determine if  science could predict the racial bias of potential judges, prosecutors or jurors.

The experiment’s subjects, including Alda, were wired, then shown a series of photographs  — faces of various races, genders, ethnicity.  Scientists wanted to correlate the flinch with the brain’s bias location.    The study was inconclusive. Yes, subjects flinched when faced with the ‘other.’   Other being race, ethnicity and gender different than their own.

Was the flinch a normal reaction to an unknown or  was the flinch a trigger for bias?

This experiment reminded me of the headline:  Without fanfare, Obama advances transgender rights.   What the President has quietly enacted through executive orders includes: granting civil rights protection to this group, making it easier for transgender to obtain health insurance, cover specific surgery costs, obtain public access to restrooms and sports programs.  And, finally,  banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Barbara Siperstein, the first transgender person elected to Democratic committee,Barbra S notes these changes have been quiet by design to avoid unnecessary drama (or flinch triggers) posed by religious and/or conservative groups.  Transgender people are often misunderstood and/or shunned minority. (Estimates indicate that transgender people make up only 3% of total population.)   Gender identify, unlike sexual orientation, refers to a person’s sense of being male, female, or neither.  As a group, however, they are vulnerable to violence, abuse, and murder; they suffer from a higher rate of suicide than the general population (41% compared to 1.6%.)

Transgender rights may seem to some as a stealth movement from the Oval Office.  However, individual states had passed non-discriminatory legislation to protect sexual orientation and gender rights.  Courts in these states have upheld their rights.  Some cities have passed specific ordinances protecting public access rights for the transgender community.  The city of Boston required all its health plans to cover ‘gender dysphoria’.

Transgender people, feeling more courageous with acceptance and support, have vocalized and raised awareness about their identity issues — and what it means to be transgender.  Wives have supported their husbands’ changes; parents have spoken openly about their children’s gender.

And the workplace?  Will transgender employees feel more open in the workplace?  Will they be accepted by their coworkers?  Will they fully develop their talents and skills?  It was not so long ago that lunchrooms, training programs and promotions were out of bounds for persons of color.  It was not so long ago that customers complained that they wanted to speak to the manager – not some woman!  It was not so long ago that the handicapped were too limited in scope, and even intelligence, to deserve an interview.

What the Obama administration wants, as previous presidents have also worked toward, is a truly open work environment for all individuals to bloom and grow.   This ideal requires open minds and hearts.

If you find that you flinch at the photo of a transgender person, remember flinching is the normal reaction of your eyes.  It does not have to trigger bias.   The flinch may simply remind you to stop, look and listen – to the other.






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Hiring Veterans Requires More Than Patriotism





Employment Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Release 2014

  • In 2013, 21.4 million men and women or 9% of the civilian noninstitutional population were veterans.  Nearly one quarter of these veterans served during Gulf Era I and II periods.
  • Of the 2.8millon Gulf Era II (Sept 2001 forward) 20% were women (up from 4% during previous wars) and over half all Gulf Era II veterans were between the ages of 25-34.
  • The unemployment rate for Gulf Era II veterans edged down from 9% to 6.6% in 2013.
  • Veterans of Gulf Era II and nonveterans had similar occupational profiles in 2013.  About one third worked in management and professional occupations.  Among employed women, over 40% of Gulf Era II veterans and nonveterans worked in management and professional jobs.

AND…..The Washington Post estimates that US base closings will affect 70,000 men and women in uniform.  (Pincus March 2014) Whatever the number, closing military bases across the country will increase the numbers of veterans seeking employment.


In the civilian workforce, managers, technicians, employees transition from one company to the next without overt concern.  They often move within the same industry, same expertise level, same job content.  For those who change industries, like a controller or human resource professional, or front line manager, moving from banking to bio-engineering, the challenge is to learn the industry and the lingo; they bring expertise in their profession with them.

For Veterans leaving the military for the civilian workforce, the skills and expertise Veterans can offer may not be obvious to them or to their potential employers.  Skilled veterans may not know that your industry and the types of positions that match their skills.  Skilled veterans may not have built a network that includes your industry.

An online ad won’t do.  You must be proactive in helping Veterans transition from military to civilian employment.


Online sources from the Department of Labor  that support Veterans include:

Here are some recommendations from America’s Heroes at Work (AHW)Toolkit:

  1. Determine the kind of positions that can provide employment opportunities for Veterans. AHW recommends review of your job descriptions and listing 6-8 characteristics that the candidate should possess.
  2. Notice that military job/criteria qualifications use different language.  AHW recommends that you can improve recruiting by targeting specific military classifications and use the codes that match civilian positions.
  3. Participate or offer Veterans work experiences, internships or apprenticeships.  Like graduating college seniors, veterans benefit exponentially through real life work place experiences and internships, that allow learning and practice in the work place. AHW notes that individuals with service-related disabilities can see first hand what their minds and bodies can do post-injury. For Veterans returning to civilian work, pre-employment experience develops self confidence.  The same is true for the employer who are without experience in hiring Veterans.
  4. When interviewing Veteran candidates, treat the Veteran as you would any other candidate.  Standard behavioral interview questions should be no different than you ask non-veteran candidates (ie, teamwork, management, training…) AHW recommends that you phrase your questions so that the candidate understands that you are referring to both military and civilian experience.  For example:   “Tell me about type of training and education you received while in the military?  “Were you involved in day to day management of personnel and/or supplies? How many people did you supervise? If you managed supplies, inventory, or equipment, what was the net worth of these resources?


Keep in mind that military professional presentation differs from civilian, particularly for the recently discharged, like.  Military are trained to keep eyes forward, back straight – with a Yes, sir or a No, Ma’am  – without an accompanying smile.  They may also need permission “to speak freely.”



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Hiring Veterans and Individuals with Disabilities 2014


The OFCCP issued a final rule for VEVRAA – effecting affirmative action for veterans that impacts all federal contractors.  Labor data for the 2.6 million veterans in 2012 indicated that the unemployment rates for the veterans was 2% higher than the nonveteran workforce.  Worse veterans  who were hired were paid at lower wages than their nonveteran counterparts.  As a result, the OFCCP has increased the affirmative action requirements for federal contractors.

Federal Contractors will:
Use  availability benchmark data for recruiting veteran – either the national average, currently 8% of the workforce, or a recruiting area benchmark based on best available data;

Track numbers of veterans who apply for jobs and the number of veterans hired to measure the effectiveness of recruitment programs;

Provide job listings for state/veteran agencies in an easily accessible format;

Establish formal relationships with organizations that provide recruiting and training services to veterans

Effective March 24, 2014 federal contractors are expected to increase their affirmative actions for the disabled.  The Final Rule establishes a nationwide utilization goal of 7% for qualified individuals with disabilities.  Additionally, contractors must document the number of disabled applicants and hires, conduct a utilization analysis, assessment of problem areas, and establish action oriented programs.  These will be reflected in Plan Year 2014.

Complicating the Final Rule is the invitation to self-identify at pre-offer and post-offer phases, using language proscribed by OFCCP.   I use the word complicating – because employer commentary prior to final passage, indicated the difficulties and/or stigmas that are attached to having a disability and the reluctance of the current workforce to self-identify.

What is really required for federal contractors is an effective strategy to address stereotypes, stigmas, and attitudes toward disabilities.  The DOL has a list of helpful sites on training and approaches to help create an effective strategy.  Here is a slide show on Benefits, Barriers and Strategies developed by EARN – Employment Assistance and Resource Network.


These two final rules may be directed at federal contractors with affirmative action plans, but recruiting and hiring veterans and individuals with disabilities belongs to all employers.  Stay tuned for additional ideas and strategies to increase the diversity or your workforce.

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21st Century Managers: Guiding Stars

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True Story of an Unguided Star  
There was once a bright graduate from Syracuse University who found a full time job with a Name Company in the midwest. Imagine her disappointment to discover that her job required none of her education, none of her intern experience.  She was slotted to routine tasks.  At her annual review her supervisor was pleased with her performance because she “required no supervision and performed so well independently.”   Six months later, the SU grad took her degree and experience to New York where she landed a job in a Small Company that was impressed with the Name Company.  At the annual review, her supervisor explained that he was disappointed with her.  He had assumed that she had acquired more skills working for the Name Company.  Panicked, she asked what she should do, for she had no idea that she was not operating at the expected level.  He told not to worry that “she could learn as she went along.”  The following month, she was laid off.   (Guiding Stars – adapted and amended from my March 2013 Blog)

After all the spilled ink & training, why are managers and supervisors making the same mistakes?
It appears that the Name Company supervisor was glad to hand off routine work to ease her own responsibilities and get a job done.  Why not just hire a Hand? Hand =the nineteenth century name for employee.  Hands ran all those weaving machines and were easily replaced.  Motivation was never an issue.

The 21st century supervisor cannot waste employee skills and talents by ignoring the employees’ need for direction and motivation.  Today’s jobs are filled with more discretionary tasks, that challenge both thinking and interacting.  Sure there are routine parts to any job – but supervisors who fail to use and develop talent and skills rob both the company and the employee.

The 21st century manager cannot expect employees to meet performance needs by withholding feedback and training.  The Small Company manager waited until the annual review to give a negative evaluation.  He hid behind a layoff that cloaked his failure to direct his new employee.  While managers expect certain levels of performance, employees expect honesty and direction. The workplace is more fluid in terms of organization structure and collaborative relationships. New employees need direction in navigating these complexities and guidance in meeting changing performance demands.

In his Forbes blog, Glenn Llopis gives great advice for managers working with aspiring  professionals:    “Never marginalize your young professionals just because you have not taken the time to work with them to truly understand how they operate. Challenge them to perform unconventional tasks and you will quickly begin to recognize their performance capabilities, skills-sets and know-how.”    
(Found at:

21st century managers and supervisors must fully develop their leadership skills so that they can successfully guide and motivate employees.  Leadership goes beyond ‘getting the job done’ and a ‘round of pats on the backs.’ Leaders create environments where employees are curious to learn new skills, to suggest innovative ideas, to collaborate with peers and supervisors. Managers and supervisors, who guide stars, understand the impact their leadership makes and strive to create an open, responsive environment that nurtures employee growth.

21st century managers and supervisors must dedicate time to develop employees.  Leaders understand the importance of developing employees. Employees, willing to share their Shooting Startalents, want to grow those talents and expect professional guidance.  Managers and supervisors need a battery of leadership skills to provide direction and support to transform employees into Stars – Stars who master the difficult, and challenging skills like: decision-making and problem-solving.  Guided Stars will learn to share insights and become leaders in their own right.

21st century business is powered by innovation and flexibility that requires continual learning and mutual collaboration.    The 20th century’s annual performance appraisal has been replaced by continual feedback and ongoing skill mastery.

Are your supervisors and managers guiding stars in the 21st century?

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The HR Interview – Reversed Roles

Recently, my brother, Dennis,  marathon-interviewed at a company in Maine — you know those 8-in-the-morning-till-3-in-the-afternoon talkathons.  When he met with the HR Director, he was in for a surprise.  The Director reversed the roles.  First, he briefed Dennis on his background and experience.  Then he asked my brother to interview him on any aspects of the company and Human Resources that interested him.

Normally, the interviewee is allotted a brief space at the end of the interview to ask questions.  I often find that the person is gum-sore from talking and has very few questions, other than the most basic.   Reversing the roles allows you, the interviewee, to:

Learn more than the company’s mission statement.    You can ask HOW the company achieves its mission.   Probe for company policy and practice in working with its customers/clients/vendors.  Company actions will tell you what the company values.

Learn more about the HR director and values.  You can discover how and why the HR director has the job — Grew through ranks?  Came from outside with new ideas?  Ask about the innovative programs that HR Director has introduced recently to the company and the results so far.  HR values should mirror company values and help company create strong culture.  Innovative programs will tell you whether HR stays attuned to the changing needs in the workplace.

Learn more about how HR functions in the company.  You can ask WHAT the HR department provides, not only in pay/benefits (the usual), but what HR provides for orientation, on-boarding, on-going training and learning.  Find out how HR interacts with your department, with employees and with company customers/clients.  HR programs and policies should support the companies goals and outcomes.  The nature of the programs will alert you to the company’s environment and culture.

For HR practitioners who find themselves in the interviewing rut, trying different formats can sharpen your skills in assessment.  Reversing roles allows you to:

Assess the candidate’s values.  Candidate questions often underscore what is most important or what is valued.  Asks about promotions?  May be tied to personal goals.  Asks about vacations?  May be tied to personal time.   Asks about community involvement? May be tied to commitment.

Assess the candidate’s skills.   Even if  candidates are surprised at being asked to interview you, they still need to demonstrate their communication skills.  Has questions prepared?  Shows forethought.  Listens and paraphrases?  Shows advanced techniques.  Uses positive verbal and nonverbal communications?  Shows poise.

Assess the candidate’s expectations.  Candidate questions also reflect their past work place experiences.  Candidates who use comparisons about employee treatment may be indicating what happened in their last workplace.   Candidates who use oblique examples may be signaling a past bad experience.  Candidates who describe specific processes or policies may expect the same from your company.

As we all know, a good interview is really a good conversation.   Reversing roles is not a trick — it gives the interviewer and interviewee opportunities to learn about each other, about the company, and about the values that drive all.

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Employee development – Day One – Discretionary skills

DAY ONE  I tell my college students that whatever their level of skills may be is okay by me.   My role is to help them:  identify and build on their strengths, improve their thinking skills,  and gain confidence in their intelligence.  Developing students’ discretionary skills is a critical part of my job.   Others often see my job as teaching students how to write for business.  This is narrow thinking.

Business managers can fall into the narrow-thinking trap too.  Often pressed for time and swamped with work, managers simply want to ensure that new employees can do the job.  The training focus:  learning job activities, skimping on discretionary skills.

Why don’t managers include developing their new employees’ discretionary skills as a critical part of their jobs?   The payoffs are enormous – particularly in a service economy where customer expectations are at all time highs, given the technology impact on service delivery.  Managers need to take an active role in the ongoing development of discretionary skills from DAY ONE.

Here are some IFs and WHENs  for managers to consider:

If your company provides a mandated script for new employees to use in greeting, closing and referring problems, when do you expect the employees to master the script so that they sound and act naturally?

If your company expects employees to effectively solve customer problems, when do you expect new employees to start solving problems on their own without prescribed answers?  When do you expect them to offer effective or creative solutions to common problems?

If your company rewards problem-solvers, when do you expect new employees to analyze and identify complex problems?  When do you expect them to contribute to solutions?

If your company promotes team leaders, when do you expect new employees to participate in leadership activities?

For every When response – 3 days, 4 months, next week – mark your calendar!  Here’s your chance to enact that critical part of your job – ongoing development of your employee’s discretionary skills — with 5 minute coaching that will  a) congratulate progress;  b) provide additional ideas/actions; c) redirect responses…..and/or etc…  [For tips see my blog “Giving 5 Minute Coaching” 2012/06/22.]

Finally, If your new employees complain that their skills and talents are not being used or developed…..  This is a complaint I continually hear from students leaving college for the workplace as interns or as new employees.  This is a generation that expects to be developed.  And a good thing too!  For every business is challenged by customers, technology, global growth and complex problems.

…………………………………………………, when do you respond with a plan?

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