Why the GM congressional hearings are premature

why the GM congressional hearings are premature


When you’re having a bad day, be glad your name isn’t Mary Barra.  Can you imagine inheriting the problem that GM is facing? It’s beyond any work stress we can imagine.  Here you are, three months into a new job and smack-dab in the middle of a Congressional Hearing answering questions on why the actions, or lack thereof, by employees in your organization caused 13 deaths and an unknown amount of injuries.

The media is being critical of Barra and how she’s answering some of the questions with “that’s unacceptable,” to “that’s inconceivable,” to “we’re still investigating.”  I even read a news title that said she’s “dodging responsibility for recall flaws.”

One can argue that Barra has been with GM for years so she should have known — especially since one of her roles since 2011 was a Sr. Vice President responsible for the design, engineering, program management and quality of GM vehicles around the world. Perhaps. For now, Barra will not be able to answer these questions with any fact or substance and here’s why:

1. Delegation and autonomy

Work and projects are delegated through layers of org charts to corporate soldiers who are expected to get the work done.  So unless a leader is a micro-manager in a tiny company, it’s literally impossible for CEOs and high level execs, especially in a company the size of GM, to be aware of every decision being made by employees.  

Since leaders are human and different, some give more autonomy than others to their teams.  And yes, someone, somewhere dropped the ball in a big way.  What if there was a decision made by a front-line engineering manager that caused this mess and now that manager is no longer with the company?  That takes me to point #2. 

2. Investigations take time 

As I was listening to the hearing and reading about it, I was comparing it to the process of workplace investigations I’ve been involved in.  My experiences are microscopic compared to the gravity of this tragedy, but I’m all too familiar with the time, patience and diligence involved in drilling down for the truth, or the semblance thereof, in an investigation.    

Barra isn’t dodging responsibility or being vague — she’s telling the truth when she’s says, “I don’t know.”  Frankly, they need to bring Dan Akersthe former GM leader, into this investigation.  

It’s an unreasonable waste of time to put Barra in the hot seat now. Without the time to do an investigation, no one will be satisfied with her answers.

3. Identify the flaws to focus on prevention  

GM needs to figure out how this happened with hard facts.  Whether it was a process failure, communication failure or blatantly downplaying the significance of faulty equipment, they need to identify how this happened and why — all the way down to the manufacturing floor.  After knowing these details and the potential chain of events, only then will they be able to implement an improved quality control tool or process that will (hopefully) prevent a repeat of this event.

Just to reiterate, I am in no way saying that Barra and the GM employees are not accountable for putting faulty vehicles on the road — they certainly are.  And my heart goes out to the families who have lost loved ones in what now seems like an all too preventable fix. 

Banning ‘bossy’ is misguided

Banning ‘bossy’ is misguided


Have you heard about Sheryl Sandberg’s latest initiative?   Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and has launched a campaign to ban the word “bossy”.  She has gotten celebs, CEOs and politicians on board with her campaign.   Sandberg claims that this word hinders girls from growing up and pursuing leadership roles.

Sandberg tells her personal story about how a teacher called her bossy in ninth grade and that it hurt.  Let’s be real – any negative label would hurt a ninth grader – but clearly Sandberg got over it.

I think this campaign does absolutely nothing to help young girls and here are a few reasons why:

  • If someone is called “bossy” are they assertive?  Yes.  Are they opinionated?  Yes.  Are they determined?  Yes.  Are those traits good to have in a leader?  Yes!
    We want our young people to know the strength of these qualities so that they’re mentally equipped to manage life’s adversities when they launch into adulthood.
  • There’s an automatic assumption that all girls are fragile little beings who need to be coddled.  So if a girl is called bossy, it’ll be downhill from there.  Be sure to break the news to your 6-year old, who was called bossy for demanding her pencil back from the boy who swiped it, that she can kiss that CEO position goodbye.  Forgive the sarcasm but what a crock of a generalization to make of girls because of Sandberg’s own experience.
  • Sandberg says that the word “bossy” has harsh implications on impressionable minds.  Maybe or maybe not (see above point) but so does being called “arrogant”, “careless”, “irresponsible” and “aggressive”.  Let’s face it — any descriptive word with a negative connotation and message is unhealthy.
  • Not every girl (or boy) will grow up to be a leader.  Not everyone has the qualities to be a leader and not everyone wants to be a leader.  And that’s okay — the world needs non-leaders too.
  • Ban the word “bossy” and it will be a matter of time before a new and equally unattractive synonym takes its place.  Like “controlling”, “peremptory”, “oppressive” just to name a few.

Being an effective leader has unwritten rules that apply to women and men.  If you try to be liked by everyone or try to please everyone, you will fail.  An effective leader needs to be able to make unpopular decisions to be successful – which requires her to have courage, determination and fortitude.

Instead of word-banning campaigns, let’s have parents, teachers and mentors inspire our children to be strong – to keep moving forward when they fall, to safeguard themselves and their beliefs and to be confident in their abilities.

Strength, confidence and assertiveness – nice qualities for a boss!


Photo credit: Wikipedia


How NOT to respond to a LinkedIn invite

How NOT to respond to a LinkedIn invite  

karma quote

We all have bad days.  What’s important is recognizing when we’re having one so we can step back and take a deep breath before we do something we regret.  Especially when it involves reacting or responding to others via email or social media.  There’s no shortage of stupidity when it comes to folks who just don’t think before posting to social media.

I recently came across this article written about a 26-year old jobseeker who used LinkedIn to reach out to a marketing executive who runs a job board and calls herself “a passionate advocate for jobseekers.”   According to the article, the jobseeker included her credentials in her LI invite and asked for access to the job board.

Here was the marketing executive’s response to the jobseeker’s LI invitation:

We have never met. We have never worked together. You are quite young and green on how business connections work with senior professionals. Apparently you have heard that I produce a Job Bank, and decided it would be stunningly helpful for your career prospects if I shared my 960+ LinkedIn connections with you – a total stranger who has nothing to offer me.


Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky,” the email continued. “Wow, I cannot wait to let every 25-year-old jobseeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job. Love the sense of entitlement in your generation. And therefore I enjoy denying your invite, and giving you the dreaded ‘I Don’t Know’ [scribbled-out name] because it’s the truth.


Oh, and about your request to actually receive my Job Bank along with the 7,300 other subscribers to my service? That’s denied, too. I suggest you join the other Job Bank in town. Oh wait – there isn’t one.” The email ends with “Don’t ever write me again.”

Shocked by this response, the jobseeker shared it on her social media channels and I’m sure you can guess the outcome from here.  This resulted in the executive issuing an apology to the jobseeker.  But it’s a bit too late now isn’t it?  The executive has since scrubbed all of her social media accounts.

This marketing executive was named 2013′s ‘Communicator of the Year’ by Cleveland’s branch of the International Association of Business Communicators.  Folks are now calling out the Association demanding that they rescind the award labeling her arrogant and a bully.

Speaking of LinkedIn, this poor gal who shares the same name as the marketing executive has had to change her LinkedIn headline.  I’d hate to think of the emails she was receiving.

Screen Shot #239 - Kelly M_ Blazek, MBA I LinkedIn - 03 - 03 - 2014

We all have hot buttons and apparently this jobseeker pressed the marketing executive’s buttons on this particular day.  But it still doesn’t warrant such an ugly response.  For whatever reason if she didn’t want to give the jobseeker access to the job bank, she should have just ignored and deleted the invite.  The energy she put into that response is going to haunt her for a long time.

What are your thoughts?



Are you a fly in the ointment?

Are you a fly in the ointment?

fly in ointment3

Being a “fly in the ointment” is not a good thing.  This simple idiom translates into times when things are going along according to plan until an unforeseen event (our little friend, the fly) occurs and stops progress in its tracks.  It complicates situations and can become a larger hassle to work through.  

Unfortunately, too many HR professionals continue to be those flies and get in the way of progress at work and I’d like to share one with you.   

I was recently reading a post from an HR pro who was reaching out for advice. It went like this:

“Advice is needed for an employee who has recently been making errors at work.  When the manager addressed the employee about the errors, the employee stated they needed new reading glasses but couldn’t afford them.  The manager came to HR and asked what the company could do, if anything, to help the employee get an eye exam and glasses.”  

The HR pro went on to describe how they met with the employee about the errors and vision issues.  The HR pro surmised that the employee was nearsighted and that reading glasses wouldn’t really help the employee with the work errors.  The HR pro went on to ask about resources on where to find low cost or free eye exams that could be shared with the employee.  


What’s wrong with this picture?

  • I guess the HR pro forgot to share information about their moonlighting gig as ophthalmologist.
  • Both the manager and HR pro are assuming the work errors are being caused by a vision issue.
  • The HR pro is not allowing the manager to be a manager.

The HR pro is now the fly in the ointment, ready to muck up this employee issue.  And now the 3-way-”he said-she said”-dialogue mess is front and center.  Thanks for that.  Just what Corporate America needs — more messed up workplace relationships.

Make an accurate plan.

  • Be an HR professional, not a physician.
  • Be a resource and advisor to the manager — only.  It’s the manager’s responsibility to own and handle employee issues — let them do the jobs they were hired to do.
  • Keep the communication between you and the manager and let the manager work directly with the employee.
  • Advise the manager to take the time to sit with the employee and review their work together. Make an accurate determination of the cause of the errors vs. an amateur medical speculation.
  • Work with the manager on developing an action plan for the employee from there.

What does this accomplish?

  • Improved communication between the employee and manager, which allows for a better working relationship.  The employee-manager relationship is the most important one at work.  I’ll say it again: “employees don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers.”
  • Rule out why the errors are occurring.  Is the employee clear on what they’re doing?  Is there a step in their work that’s being overlooked?
  • Empowers managers to do the jobs they were hired to do instead of allowing them to bail and run to HR for the employee issues they don’t like to handle.

Managers always try to avoid rolling up their sleeves and handling employee issues if you let them.  It’s easier to run to HR, right?  They’ll say they don’t have the time.  They’ll say they don’t like these types of issues.  Who does?  Employee issues rarely have a clear solution, almost always have gray areas and take time to resolve.  But that’s part of their jobs so let them do it.

Bring it.



ACA or bust?


As the Affordable Care Act continues to unfold, we may also see it flop if enrollment numbers don’t change. Based on research performed by HHS (Health and Human Services), many uninsured Americans were young people. With that knowledge, Kathleen Sebelius, the HHS Secretary, assured insurance carriers that they would have at least a 40% enrollment of young (between the ages of 18 and 24) subscribers into the ACA. As a result, the insurance carriers formulated their rates within the ACA exchanges to insure this low risk demographic group. All of the research shows that in order to keep the premiums stable and to prevent carriers from leaving the scene altogether, roughly two in five Americans enrolled need to be young adults.

As of writing this post, there is a 24% enrollment of young folks in the ACA. Not what carriers were expecting. One-third of the enrollments are in the 55 to 64 age group. Open Enrollment ends on March 31 so we’ll know more when the final enrollment numbers are published.

So while folks enrolled in the exchanges might be getting an affordable health plan this year, I certainly hope they’re following this because there is nothing stopping insurance carriers from raising their rates for next year or even bailing from the exchange. What then? Affordable healthcare under the government will no longer be affordable and we’re back to the drawing board.

Enroll or be fined

It may hit your wallet if you can’t prove that you have medical insurance. You may have heard about this under the guise, “Individual Mandate”. This fine isn’t anything to sneeze at — the breakdown of the fines for each year is on this awesomely informative site. And don’t try to lie about having health insurance or you’re looking at a $25,000 fine.

The death of non-group plans

There was a time when you could buy a non-group (not dependent on an employer) health insurance policy that was affordable. Perhaps it was a high-deductible plan with hospitalization coverage — you could self-insure your doctor visits by paying out of pocket. This was a good way for self-employed folks to have affordable health insurance. Those plans are gone. The ACA has put restrictions on the types of plans that are offered in the non-group market, hence the health plan cancellations we’ve been hearing about.

I haven’t even touched on the impact it’s going to have on small businesses and, unfortunately, I could fill an entire page on that topic alone.

I’m not sold on how the ACA will help our healthcare situation and I think it’s going to further hurt the economy with the fines to individuals and businesses. I hope I’m wrong.

What really stumps me is how we’re supposed to believe that a government program backed by for-profit insurance companies would ultimately provide anything affordable for Americans?

Bring it.

ACA or bust?