Migrant Workers and the State Department

I have a confession. I never really understood the difference between what a migrant worker was and an immigrant. I went to both Wiktionary.org and Dictionary.com and looked up the definitions. Here is what I found:

Migrant – A migratory bird or other animal
Immigrant – A person who comes to a country to permanently settle from another country.

Migrant –  1. migrating, esp. of people; migratory. 2. Also called migrant worker. a person who moves from place to place to get work, esp. a farm laborer who harvests crops seasonally.
Immigrant – a person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence.

So now it is clear to me that a migrant is not seeking to stay. This person only wants to work for a defined time period and then return better off than before they left. This is strictly related to work.
Immigrants are people with plans to make a new home. Returning to where they came from is not an option. This isn’t necessarily related to work.

The NY Times ran an article titled Rising Breed of Migrant: Skilled and Welcome by Jason DeParle. The theme of the article is on higher educated professionals moving to places like Dubai and finding many benefits. The underpinning examination is how the migrant worker isn’t necessarily low skilled or servant like anymore.

DeParle uses several examples, but the one that I will emphasize is Peter Mitias, the migrant professor. Mr. Mitias is a graduate of Louisiana State and previously taught at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia before moving to  Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates to teach at the American University of Sharjah. This is a well educated person with in demand skills.

NY Times stats:

The analysis, by Caglar Ozden, an economist at the bank, measured
movement to 20 nations, including the United States, Canada, Australia
and most of Western Europe, and included people who went to college
after migrating as children. Of 52 million migrant workers in those
countries, 36 percent had some college education, up from 31 percent a
decade before. 
Of those migrants leaving one rich country for jobs in another, the
number with some college education rose 30 percent. The parallel
movement of less-skilled workers fell 8 percent.
"My sense is these trends have gotten much stronger since 2000," Mr. Ozden said. "Educated people are becoming more mobile."

The world economy is doing very well currently and there is opportunity for Americans to travel out of this country and find migrant work. If this economic situation continues as it is for the rest of the world, the US will benefit in terms of business and national security. A healthy world economy makes the US dominance less intimidating and more like a partner to people trying to do business. But also very important is the influence these highly skilled migrant Americans have on the citizens of the country they are residing in. It isn’t charity, its business.

So we now have American business people, similar to entrepreneurs, who are serving the people of their new locale by creating timely value for a newly economically strong country. It isn’t ridiculous to see the benefits accelerate. For most of these countries, there isn’t a current backbone in place. That means there isn’t a need to negotiate with entrenched interests. It also means that commodity products and services are more efficiently used.

So if the world economy is doing well and many of the new up and coming countries are receptive to learning about how to improve their standing in the business world, then it makes sense to continue that with greater emphasis. The US State Department used to do have a very vital role in that work and with the creation of the Homeland Security Cabinet and Department of Defense being more relevant, the State Department isn’t acting in a significant fashion. But the stats about migrant workers prove out that there is an opening to really enhance the United States position as a business idea leader. The State Department should organize these events and provide some sort of Peace Corp for the business world – Profit Corp.

At What Point Does It Stop Being Education?

John Cloud wrote a great article in Time this Month called Are We Failing Our Geniuses?The idea behind it is that we focus so much educational energy on the students on the low end of education that we don’t adequately address those at the high end. The stats Mr. Cloud provides are suspicious to me, but not completely outlandish. One that I completely agree with is that the US spends 8 billion on students that are challenged and about 800 million on the gifted. So for every dollar spent on a student with superior skills to their peers, 10 is spent on those that have skills below their peers. Mr. Cloud doesn’t mention it much but I would bet that most of the students receiving the funding for special education have society failings. What I mean is that I don’t necessarily think there is something biologically wrong with them, but rather, their support system isn’t present and that results in a sabotaged education experience. The people at the other end (the smart kids) usually have supportive parents and probably financial means. That might just be a fact of life.

The US educational system is set up to be a volume producer; churn out as many adequate students into society as possible and the sum of the parts will be more than individual pieces. But say you are Ford, you want to sell as many Taurus sedans as possible. You set up your line to be most efficient for that automobile and that car meets the needs of say 90% of the population. But you know that people don’t necessarily buy for need. A car is too expensive to be simply a commodity for the majority of people. So you brand Ford with other automobiles that you have no intention of making efficiently. They are premium cars that require premium prices – The GT. You must showcase that car. You must put it in optimal situations. But most of all, you have to let people drive it.

So what I am getting at? I propose a highly inefficient path for all students. This path isn’t all academics though. If the kids are truly brilliant, then they must apply it. I want every kid to have the chance to build something completely new and novel. I don’t really know how to judge new and novel, but I guess its like obscenity, I’ll know it when I see it. It doesn’t have to involve the general population, but working completely independently probably won’t allow the student to continually progress, just like in the real world. The children that can’t hack it go back to normal education, and every step along the path gets increasingly more difficult. I want it to be highly inefficient because the few that make it through will produce that premium that will pay for it. Kind of like the GT. The ones that get close will also add back to the bottom line for society. This is primarily where I differ from the article. It states that children with an IQ of 160 are gifted, but then goes on to say that they are socially isolated and egotistical. That doesn’t sound like a gift to me. Sometimes academics becomes academics for the sake of academics. Its like the guy who always says that someday he’s going to write his novel, but never does. But always talking like that allows this person to create an intellectual cocoon that no one can dispute because he scored well on tests. So you are smart, big deal, now go do something.

Salary Increase?

I woke up the other morning and I turned on the TV. In the morning I watch a local news program to get an idea of the area happenings and weather. During the economy portion of the program (this show follows the formula of short segments followed by more short segments, so the economy portion was only 3 sentences long) the hostess mentioned that a survey conducted by World at Work showed that pay increases were not changing for 2008 – 3.9%. The percentage had gone up every year since 2004.

Because this is a very large survey, the lack of a change, in my opinion, is due to the earnings results that just came in about a month ago. The credit crunch is resulting in people having less of an opportunity to spend, particularly on new homes that need new appliances and accessories. This leads to many companies having less revenue, so to make their numbers they need to hold costs.

What I noticed in the survey is that it didn’t include promotional adjustments, only merit increases, cost of living increases, and general increases. This makes sense as a baseline. I would like to see a survey that shows the average promotional increase. From there you can pair it with the performance based compensation (bonuses) and come up with a true value of earning that promotion. If that number isn’t high enough, and I believe that everyone inherently knows the range of what that number is, then there isn’t motivation to get promoted. If that is the case then an increase of 3.8% or 4.2% doesn’t really matter. The person is content in the job and year over year increases just need to be enough to not motivate the employee to leave the position. If the person is a A+ performer then it is beneficial to reward that through a scheduled, and the seldom used, unscheduled bonus. As long as this person isn’t slotted to be a leader and they don’t want to be one, then this will work fine.

Also noted:

  • As in 2005 and 2006, the largest salary budget increases
    this year are targeted for officers/executives, out pacing workers in
    the three other employee categories, i.e. nonexempt hourly nonunion,
    nonexempt salaried, exempt salaried. In 2007, officers and executives
    experienced salary budget growth above 4% for the first time in six years.
  • Companies
    with fewer than 500 employees reported the highest actual salary budget
    increase in 2007 at 4.1%. The biggest companies (more than 20,000
    employees) reported an increase of 3.7%.
  • Among major
    industries surveyed, public administration had the largest actual
    salary budget increase (4.3%) this year. The smallest increases (3.7%)
    were found in the transportation/utility and retail sectors.
  • The
    percentage of organizations using variable pay increased slightly from
    79% in 2006 to 80% in 2007, continuing a steady upward trend in the use
    of compensation that is contingent on performance or results achieved.

Quick notes on this:

Bullet one – Maybe I am cynical, but Executives and Officers probably don’t have salary growth above 4% because it doesn’t make sense to use that compensation vehicle when the image repercussions are only negative. Variable pay easily achieves the compensation goal and is seen as less of an issue for reporting purposes.
Bullet two – It makes sense for a small company to pay more. Many of the employees are performing several roles anyway. If they giving these type of raises then the productivity is probably higher, which results in greater revenue.
Bullet three – This one is my favorite. I wrote an entry about the government hiring and his falls directly in line with that.
Bullet four – Variable pay is going to continue and I think it will increase in its adoption, and we are already at 80%. Today’s worker is becoming more independent and entrepreneurish, realizing that greater return is given those that create unique worth.

Tipping Point Leadership

I recently moved my work materials out of the cubicle that I’ve had for about four years. I’ve accumulated a lot of junk, but also, a lot of great learning materials. One that I found and reread this past weekend is “Tipping Point Leadership” by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne from 2003. Much of the Harvard Business Review article can be found in the book Blue Ocean Strategy. The main focus of the article is on Bill Bratton,  the man who changed NYC in the ’90s from a city with fearful citizens to one considered very safe. The article outlines the steps Bratton takes to achieve his goals. The writers also employ what they call a Strategy Canvas to compare the relative level of investment against the different areas of concentration in Law Enforcement. They compare what was happening before Bratton arrived to after he came in. The improvements are amazing.

What most impresses me about Bratton is the survey results of his indirect subordinates. These are people that he theoretically is making their job more difficult. The results show that his people were very fond of him. I think it is because everyone knew what was expected of them and was accountable (they took ownership) for their areas. Once people feel empowered to make things better and feel like no one else is going to, then they will do all they can to make it so. When there is no safety net, people tend to make their jumps worth it, because they don’t know if they will get another chance.

The two authors also highlight John Kotter’s publications. I wrote about his most recent book in an earlier blog entry called “ Using Fables.”

Other Work Related Blogs

Since I’m very new at writing this blog, I like to look for other people that are writing this space. I’m primarily looking for bloggers. I found two that I will link to on an ongoing basis.

A = The Bing Blog

Stanley Bing is a Fortune
columnist and best-selling author of business books noted for their
wisdom as well as their sharp, slightly acrid sense of humor. He is
also the only writer on business and the workplace who still puts on a
suit and tie and goes to do battle with the dragons that breathe fire
at corporate America every day. This blog captures what remains of his
brain after it has exploded in all other directions.
Opinion – The writing style is straight to the point, pull no punches good. It seems geared toward a male reader, but maybe that is just me. The website is set up with a lot of information available but not in a boring way. The tags are great too. There aren’t many adverts either. I highly recommend this site.
Recent Posts –

What your boss wants from you: Part 1
Read this while you wait in the frickin’ airport
Fail big–Win valuable prizes!
How the sales weasel got what he deserved: A fable
Insourcing — The new trend?
10 things deal jockeys can do now that the debt market has dried up
Do you file? Or do you pile?
Hey, Teed-Off Flyers! Keep ‘em comin’!
Message From The Flight Deck
Bad Grammar, Part Two

B =  Work in Progress

Summary Lisa Takeuchi Cullen is a New York-based staff writer at Time. She
writes about workplace, business and society trends for the magazine
and Time.com. Of late these trends included snooping bosses, teen interns and cubicles of the future.
– Her writing style is similar to mine. We both want to comment on books, recent news, and our analysis of both. She uses stats to reinforce one way or another. She provides some advice, but doesn’t come off as the know it all. I recommend her site (after reading mine) for general macro level HR issues. The website does have probably one or two too many adverts and probably should subscribe to the less is more theory. I do like all the other blogs though.
Recent Posts –

Top 10 annoying workplace habits
Don’t take the last donut
I saw nekkid people on my commute
Stress makes you stupid
Young women earn more; angry women earn less

C = Train Wreck

Summary Steve Tobak is a marketing consultant and former chip industry
executive. Over more than two decades of management and
behind-the-scenes interaction with high-tech’s elite and their
legendary egos, he has seen a pattern of dysfunctional behavior emerge.
Train Wreck provides irreverent insight into the real inner-workings of
technology companies and their management. When he’s not airing the
industry’s dirty laundry, Steve likes to hang around the house, make
believe he’s working, and drive his wife crazy.
– His writing is more like Stanley Bings, but not as in your face. It appears to be a little generic in topics (qualities of potential executives and ethics), but it does a good job of going over the topic. Its a little on the technology side, but not much.
Recent Posts –

A New Effort to Crack Down on Illegal Immigrants

Julia Preston in an NY Times article titled “ US Set for a Crackdown on Illegal Hiring” talks about the federal government’s, particularly the Department of Homeland Security with the Social Security Administration, intention to toughen rules requiring a business to fire a worker who falsified their social security number. This is a means to go about the immigration reform that Congress couldn’t agree on.

There is an ideal and a reality here. The ideal is to say that everyone that works in this country needs to pay taxes and be accountable to the system that they are benefiting from. The reality is there are so many illegal workers for various reasons woven into the fabric of US output that getting everyone to have proper papers is not financially feasible. A system of overly punishing the companies that hire them will only create a wink wink nod nod atmosphere. My guess is that we will see an increase in sophistication in fake documentation, an increase in identity theft crime, and an increase in paying under the table. Maybe a strategy is to shuffle around the immigrants as they wait on the Social Security No Match to come back. Either way, it will create many new illegal immigrants without money, but living in the US. A short term upsurge in crime could result.

The companies that had hired them will now need to fill their roles. Unfortunately, there might not be anyone to fill them. Unemployment is low across the board and the jobs that many illegal immigrants do are considered undesireable to those with choices.

The question is how big a piece of the economic pie is this? Will employers have to increase pay to motivate immigrants that previously had no paperwork to get it? What about the minimum wage? Is a $10,000 fine too strong?


The San Antonio Spurs won the 2007 NBA Championship. It is their fourth title since the NBA had a lock out prior to the 1999 season. The team isn’t guided by someone that dominates statistically. The team dominates by having no single strength or weakness. They do everything very well, not great, but that is the point. Add all those very goods up and you get great. That is also why they are enduring team. There isn’t a counter scheme for the scheme they run. You simply have to outplay them. What is meant by that is exemplified by Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers. The team won three championships from 2000-2002. But in 2004, the team was exploited by a Pistons team that knew how to counter the moves the Lakers made. The Pistons had answers for O’Neal by defending him with Ben Wallace. Kobe Bryant did very well to pick up the slack, but that turned the team into a one dimensional one that never got going (this problem persists for them).

Another sports illustration. Willis McGahee was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the NFL draft. The Bills already had a top quality running back in Travis Henry. The team concept was immediately destabilized. The writing was on the wall for the current guy (Henry) and the next guy, although not asking for this situation, must now prove he was worth jettisoning the incumbent, plus the lost opportunity cost of drafting a player of need. McGahee, in his first action, did prove very good. But that wasn’t enough. To compensate for being the replacement, he had to verbalize his confidence. That outspokenness isn’t a current trademark of the Buffalo Bills. It is a blue collar town who expect people to perform and to then by modest about it. And if you weren’t modest, then the team better be winning. McGahee wasn’t modest, once boasting that he was the best running back in the NFL. The team wasn’t winning either. The situation wasn’t good for the team or McGahee. He needed to be traded and the Baltimore Ravens agreed to a deal. Now McGahee can just perform without having to compensate for a player that shouldn’t have been replaced or a team winning or losing based primarily on his feet. He can just be part of the team.

So  that is a long winded way of saying that there are many more business examples of Willis McGahee than there are of The San Antonio Spurs. Since the world is getting more and more competitive, being a good team is far more important than having five standout performers. Eventually a team like the Spurs is going to come along and maybe they don’t win every year, they will win often.

So how do we ensure that the team is gelling?

A) Share a common goal – Profits in a quarter or sales in a year or something like that.
Enable the members of the team to do their parts – What I mean by this is not everyone has to be a lead salesman. Sometimes, you will need someone with experience to sit a younger contributor down and mentor/coach them. These sessions might even be just sharing a joke or asking how the weekend went. It must be non threating.
C) Make sure everyone on the team performs, at least once, the job of their teammates – This might be the person that is usually leading to take a back
seat so that someone trying to prove them self can take a stab at it and then whole heartily striving for their success.
D) Acknowledge the effort based accomplishments – Make these synonymous to a secret code. Make it seem like every time someone achieves one of these, the group celebrates it as if they just found a new and faster way to work.
E) Don’t create unnecessary drama – The team must trust each other and when that is present, there isn’t any reason to disrupt it. Additions or subtractions at this point should be minimal and apparent to the team as a need.

You do these five activities and the team will come together more often than not. You should see steady wins and no clear means for countering by your competition.

PowerPoint Manipulation

For those of you that don’t work for a big company, I apologize, this is pretty specific to the PowerPoint culture.

Microsoft built two iconic product sets, the OS for the mainstream public and a great office suite. Thanks to Wikipedia, I discovered that PowerPoint was originally developed in 1987 for Apple. It was purchased later that year by Microsoft and added to the Office suite in 1990. You can learn more by going to the Wikipedia entry for PowerPoint.

So what does this have anything to do with anything?

I often find myself proving myself or my idea through the use of PowerPoint. I usually get less than 10 slides and sometimes just 1. To adjust, everyone gets very good at drawing pictures, because, hey, a picture’s worth a thousands words, right? But what I’m realizing is that those thousand words might be mostly wasted. What if one word or phrase does achieve as much as a picture?

I’m currently really into what is at the end of John Kotter’s Our Iceberg is Melting book. It is a quick hit titled “The Role of Thinking and Feeling” and it says that if you can get people feeling then you can change behavior more than just the analytical side of thinking. So don’t just show the people numbers, make them experience what needs to change. I think this really gets into perception and the conscious mind and the unconscious. On July 31st, Benedict Carey wrote an article in the New York Times called “ Who’s Minding the Mind” and in the fourth paragraph is this line:

New studies have found that people tidy up more thoroughly when there’s
a faint tang of cleaning liquid in the air; they become more
competitive if there’s a briefcase in sight, or more cooperative if
they glimpse words like “dependable” and “support” — all without being
aware of the change, or what prompted it.

So is it possible to impact the way someone is feeling by altering their environment with certain triggers? And if “feeling” is more powerful than “thinking” for affecting a person’s behavior then isn’t this something that needs more exploration? Is this already purposely happening in the use of PowerPoint? Maybe the people that get the promotions and the funding they seek are unwittingly putting triggers in their presentations. I am not presumptuous enough to think that is all it takes either. I know that most business executives have been around the block a few times and can see through suggestive material. But for this, I’m an optimist – there must be a sweet spot.  Since Microsoft is sooo innovative, I’m sure that in Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2010, it’ll have a short cut for it. Otherwise, my presentations are nothing more than three meaningless bullets and a picture of some boxes with arrows pointing at each other.

Using Fables

For kicks I ordered and read Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber. Kotter is the guy that wrote Leading Changeand The Heart of Change. I’ve read neither of them but I’ve heard of each. I figured this would be a new way to get exposure to his ideas. But what Kotter does is take an idea from Spencer Johnson ( Who Moved My Cheese?) and creates a 147 page fable about Penguins. This book is easy to read and I wouldn’t expect anyone to take more than 3 hours to read the first time. Simplicity is key. The story is genius in how well it touches on business ideas without getting wordy or long winded. The story goes through a penguin example of each of the eight steps for successful change. I guess these eight originally came about in Leading Change. The book also has overtones of global warming, but it doesn’t outright say anything about that topic (smart). I would recommend Audible.comthis book to anyone wanting a subtle introduction to business book reading. There are plenty of people that aren’t excited about diving into The Art of War by Sun Tzu or maybe some game theory books, but this would be a good starter.

Maybe the people from Teaching and Training by Design can get their Performance Educators to act out the fable

You can also pick up a Harvard Business Review “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail” by John Kotter. I bought the audio version from Audible.com. Here is a link to it – Audible.com Leading Change HBR

Innovative Training

Full disclosure, the company I’m talking about employs my uncle.

During times of positive economics, companies tend to spend a little more on training. It is considered an extra edge to help the company continue with its fortunes. During down times it is considered nonvital. Down times do force companies to innovate to survive though and that is good for the next wave of trainees. One unique approach is a company called Teaching and Training by Design. They specialize in Leadership Development, Organizational Systems Development, Team Building, Diversity/Cultural Competency, Communication, and Personal Development. But what is great is that they build interactive solutions to reinforce the proper responses to difficult situations. Well, that doesn’t sound ground breaking. But they go the extra step and actually have what they call Performance Educators. These people are like actors except they are trained in the specialized business training needs. Anyone that has worked in a business environment knows there are certain professional norms and there are people that don’t adhere to them. I wonder to myself “what is this person thinking?” This type of training lets you ask. Also, there are sensitive times in the work environment where people just aren’t sure what is appropriate. It makes everyone feel uncomfortable and work suffers. These Performance Educators provide you the chance to get that out of the way in a simulated manner. I just finished reading Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter and in the back it says something that I absolutely agree with, “Thinking differently can help change behavior and lead to better results… Feeling differently can change behavior MORE and lead to even better results.” The Performance Educators create surprising, compelling, and visual experiances that lead to changing feelings in the hopes of changing behaviors. I’ve taken computer based training (CBTs) and they don’t do the problem justice. If anything, this type of training is mocked because it doesn’t understand the seriousness of the emotions and the awkwardness. Unfortunately for companies like this one is that training is still not appreciated during tough times. I hope they keep innovating.