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Simon Sinek: ‘Be the Leader You Wish You Had’

August 20, 2014

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A title does not a leader make.

True leaders are those who put the needs of others before themselves and willingly make sacrifices and take risks for the good of all, according to leadership expert/author Simon Sinek.

“I know some people at the highest echelon who aren’t leaders,” he says, “and people at the lowest who are. It’s all about looking out for others.

“The reward of leadership is to see others achieve more than you do,” says Sinek, a keynote speaker at CUNA’s America’s Credit Union Conference. “It’s like being a parent.”

As a parent would protect a child from danger, so must leaders shield employees from harm with what Sinek calls a “circle of safety.”

When people feel safe, their natural disposition is toward cooperation and trust. When employees don’t feel safe, they partake in nonproductive—even destructive—behavior.

“Leaders set the tone—they decide what environment you’ll have,” Sinek says. “If there’s no circle of safety, people feel they have to protect themselves from each other. Anytime someone feels compelled to write a CYA email, this is a sign they don’t feel safe from their own people—they’re literally spending time to write an email to protect themselves as opposed to committing that time and energy to serve the organization.

“Our behavior is governed by our environment,” he continues. “If there’s a bad environment, people are capable of doing bad things. If it’s good, they’re capable of doing good things.”

In a good work environment, the leader puts people before financial results in all but the most dire of circumstances. “A great leader would never sacrifice people to save the numbers,” Sinek says. “A great leader would sacrifice the numbers to save the people. That’s really important.”


The Innovator's Dilemma: Reward Plan Edition

Ann Bares
August 18, 2014

Think that premium employment brand and strong reward package are going to help you succeed in the age of disruption?

Think again.

In his revolutionary bestseller The Innovator's Dilemma, Harvard Business School professor and innovation expert Clayton Christensen explored the dilemma behind innovative, well-managed companies who seem to do everything right and yet encounter a dive in their market share or even disappear entirely. In fact and most disturbing of all, Christensen's research showed that the things that bring and secure an organization's initial success can often become the most powerful reason behind its failure.

In their chapter within the new Oxford University Handbook on Organizational Climate and Culture, Mercer consultants Richard Guzzo, Haig Nalbantian, and Luis Parra tell the story of a company that experienced the reward plan version of the innovator's dilemma. Organizations, the authors note (and many of us know from our experience), often become what they reward, and pay is considered a critical expression of an organization's culture. When a company's culture, which has been a key reason for its business success, becomes an impediment to necessary change, the reward system may be a primary culprit.

The authors share the example of Digitt, a global technology and information services company. Digitt was renowned for a strong culture that emphasized innovation, teamwork, employee participation in decisions, and performance-based pay. In studying Digitt, the authors took a "big data" dive, conducting an internal labor market (ILM) analysis that drew on up to 10 years of employee data in order to statistically measure, model, and ultimately understand the most important drivers of workforce outcomes. In addition to other findings, the analysis revealed the following two characteristics of the company's reward program:

Digitt, in the face of rising competition and technological change, found itself in a place where it had to transform both its business model and its product/service offerings—a transition that had enormous implications for the skills and capabilities of its workforce. It needed, in essence, to renovate its talent base. Unfortunately, the company's cultural reality, driven substantially by its reward practices, threw some substantial roadblocks into its path:

The problems above were exacerbated by the insulation of Digitt's internal labor market and the lack of market-sensitivity in its reward programs. As the authors noted, “Internal labor market signals about relative value were telling lower-performing analog engineers to stay at Digitt, even as external labor market signals would have communicated depreciation of their value.”

The lesson of Digitt (which from my reckoning, doesn't appear to have survived this challenge) is this: When business conditions change, as they are doing at an ever quickening pace, the very culture and reward programs that created success could now be an obstacle to sustaining that success—or even surviving. That speaks to a level of vigilance that I suspect few of us are keeping.

Ann Bares is the founder and editor of the Compensation Café ( and managing partner of Altura Consulting Group LLC, where she provides compensation consulting to a range of client organizations. Reprinted with permission.  

Employment Law Update

Michael Patrick O’Brien
August 11, 2014

 A series of new executive orders from President Obama present some new HR law compliance challenges for federal contractors. The president recently signed an order requiring that federal contractors not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. About half the states already prohibit such discrimination in one form or another. Another order mandates such contractors pay a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour. Both rules will take effect after implementing regulations are adopted and finalized later in 2014. Yet another order requires that certain contractors (those with contracts over $500,000) disclose state and federal labor law violations from the past three years and also gather similar information from their subcontractors. Such violations include problems under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the anti-discrimination laws. Repeat offenders may not receive federal contracts. The latest executive order also will prohibit companies holding new contracts of more than $1 million from requiring that their employees arbitrate alleged discrimination and harassment claims. The most recent executive order will be implemented on new contracts beginning in 2016.

House to Sue the President

Take heart employers, you are not the only ones who get sued. The House of Representatives recently voted to file suit against President Obama, alleging he has overstepped his powers. Interestingly, in many ways, the lawsuit focuses on workplace issues. One of the House’s central arguments is that the President unlawfully delayed implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Ironically, the House has voted some 50 times to repeal the law it now claims the President has not timely implemented. One news report indicates that the House has particularly objected that Obama has twice delayed the law’s so-called employer mandate. The provision requires companies with 50 or more employees working at least 30 hours weekly to offer health care coverage or pay fines. Companies with 50 to 99 employees now have until 2016; larger companies must comply next year. The lawsuit will take a couple of years to fully play out and Obama likely will be out of office when it is completed.

Court Says Review of Possibly False Bias Claim not Retaliatory

A Federal appeals court has ruled that an employer did not commit unlawful retaliation when it investigated employees who had allegedly submitted false claims of discrimination. The case involved white police officers who claimed race discrimination after a black co-worker allegedly started rumors they were ”skinheads” when they shaved their heads. The officers said they had shaved their heads to show solidarity with a co-worker who was undergoing cancer treatment. After the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) dismissed the officers’ initial complaints, the employer investigated whether their claims has been baseless. The employer told the officers it was considering discipline but did not ever discipline them. However, the officers then alleged the investigation was retaliation for their original claims. The EEOC found a basis for the retaliation claims but a court did not. Instead, the court found that because the officers had made conflicting statements about what their black co-worker had actually said, it was within the employer’s rights to try to determine if there was some sort of impropriety related to the original charges. Note that even though this case was resolved in the employer’s favor, it is very risky for an employer to seek to discipline an employee solely because of that employee’s discrimination or harassment claim.

Recent Interesting Settlements and Court Rulings

A national airline company has agreed to pay cargo workers $1.4 million to resolve claims that the workers did not receive overtime pay and meal breaks under California law. A hotel company will pay almost $1 million to settle claims that it improperly retained tips that should have been paid to employees. The federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed a claim that a Utah county interfered with an employee’s rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The case involved an employee allegedly fired for failing to complete FMLA forms and timely schedule an independent medical examination and who, according to the court decision, was alleged by the employer to have been untruthful about her injuries and ability to work. Finally, another federal appeals court has ruled that a court, and not an arbitrator, should decide whether or not an arbitration agreement allows a class action to be arbitrated.

Employment Law Challenges for General Counsel

A recent interesting article from Today’ identified what it called the five key employment law challenges for inside company lawyers. They include: (1) retaliation claims; (2) dealing with pregnancy and disability rights; (3) increased scrutiny of noncompeting agreements; (4) deadline with new regulations on recruitment, such as the EEOC’s focus on credit checks and state laws banning employers from asking recruits about criminal records; (5) changing benefits obligations, including those stemming from the growing recognition of same sex marriage. To deal with the challenges, the article recommends action steps such as employment law compliance audits, supervisor training and policy modifications and updates. Whether you are general counsel or an HR manager, how are you going to deal with these challenges?

Michael Patrick O'Brien is an employment attorney with Utah law firm of Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough. He also serves as the Legal and Legislative Director for Utah’s Society for Human Resource Management chapter. Contact him at 801-534-7315 or

How to Successfully Navigate Change

Via Credit Union Front Line Newsletter
August 6, 2014

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Everyone experiences change in the workplace. But how you cope and recover can mean the difference between having a fulfilling work life or feeling bitter and resentful.

Consider these tips when faced with the inevitable in your job, advises Carla Schrinner, implementation manager and senior master trainer for CUNA’s Creating Member Loyalty program:

 (Via Credit Union Front Line Newsletter, the monthly sales and service newsletter for branch staff and their managers)

Pull that Trigger . . .

Anthony Demangone
August 4, 2014

The problem with decisions is knowing when to pull the trigger. 

We live in a world where there's always another article to read. Another chart to decipher. Another piece of data to analyze. What if we make a bad decision because we didn't wait for that missing piece of data? 

A recent article ( I read argues that we over-analyze things far too often. Fact finding and due diligence suffers from the laws of diminishing returns. The article points to the 80/20 rule. 

The 80/20 rule is pervasive in our world:

Applying the 80/20 rule to your thinking can help you make smarter, faster, more intuitive decisions.

In most situations, you can gather 80 percent of the relevant information in the first 20 percent of the time available. Generally, the remaining 20 percent of the data (which would take the remaining 80 percent of your time to obtain) would not substantially improve the quality of your decision.

If this sounds familiar, I've written about this before. I've referenced Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink, which sings the praises of trusting your gut instincts. And it is "Rule Number 7" in my 10 irrefutable laws of management: “A well-delivered, imperfect decision often beats an additional week of deliberation.”

Management involves making decisions. We all want a piece of data that says, "You shall do this and nothing bad shall happen." But that data rarely exists. And if it did, why do you think an additional week of research would uncover it?  Perhaps. But my experience says that the decision often isn't the key to success. It is the effective execution of that decision. So make up your mind, but spend some extra time to make sure your decision comes to life. And if you don't like decisions as a manager, you're dining at the wrong restaurant. For ye shall dine on decisions as long as ye sit where ye sit. 

So go ahead. Pull the trigger. Make the decision. 

Anthony Demangone is director of regulatory compliance for the National Association of Federal Credit Unions. Reprinted with permission from


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