Human Resource Management – Business Research Paper (300 Level Course)

Human Resource Management – Business Research Paper (300 Level Course)
In 1999, John B. Smith had become Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of SMC. It was under his leadership that the company engaged in its negotiations to restructure and strive for a stronger balance sheet with a new focus on growth. In 2000, SMC had two primary operating companies Broyhill and Lane in furniture manufacturing. In late 2001 SMC acquired Thomasville Furniture Industries, Inc.

Foreseeing the future as SMC is manufacturing globally, they believed for future opportunities and growth they would need to change their name. In March 2004, in recognition of its new focus, and its new status as a leader in the furniture industry, the company changed its name to SMC International, Inc.

The company’s next major acquisition over the next two years will be the purchase of Andari Furniture Industries as of October of 2005, JD Heritage Furniture Industries, and Ashby’s Furniture Industries by the last business day of 2006. These companies provided the company with a dominant presence in the high end of the furniture marketplace, and broadened the company’s offerings to include furniture at all price points. SMC International, Inc. is now established as the one of the largest residential furniture manufacturer in the country with six of the industry’s most recognizable brand names, positive recommendations from leading industry analysts, and bright prospects for continued future growth. As the company pursues opportunities in offshore sourcing and strengthens its dedicated distribution — particularly single-branded stores — SMC International, Inc. is transforming itself from a mere furniture manufacturer to a branded consumer products company, with a heightened focus on its brand names and on its direct relationships with the furniture consumer.

The company’s stated mission is to become the industry’s undisputed leader by offering exceptional product and at the same time to deliver outstanding shareholder value. With an unwavering focus on driving brand awareness and growing the business through an aggressive expansion of our dedicated distribution network of stores and galleries the company is demonstrating it has the vision and management talent to set itself apart as the undisputed industry leader. With an equally unwavering focus on financial performance the company has positioned itself well for sustainable earnings growth in the years to come. SMC International Inc. is dedicated to “World Class” positioning in our domestic and international markets by continually providing end users with products that enhance their comfort, safety and productivity in an evolving workplace.

Along with the growth of SMC International, Inc. came reorganizing of SMC International Inc. John B. Smith announced that he would be leaving the company by the end of 2005 due to illness. Smith would consult until new leadership would be in place. With this announcement SMC International Inc.’s board felt that they needed strong leadership especially if one were to leave of any reason. Effective as of June, 2006, SMV International, Inc. under the leadership of its new Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, William K. Kuipper, and President and Chief Operating Officer, Margaret M. Jones. Other key leadership positions would start to be in place by August 2005 through transitions. Effective immediately, Renee A. Mack, PHD will move to the role of Senior Vice President of Human Resource Management. Mack will be a key player in the acquisitions along with recruiting and/or retaining executive and senior leadership positions.

With SMC International Inc. now a global company, Mack brings the experience and knowledge of international business, and the understanding of other countries culture. She has lived in various countries that we now manufacturing furniture in, and has build strong relationships with other executives and government personnel for possible recruiting purposes. Dr. Mack will also build a strong foundation in Human Resource Management, and integrate “Best Practices” for both domestically and internationally. She will lead a team that will be responsible for all company training in business ethics, understanding diversity and cultures, and leadership/employee development.

Dr. Mack was part of a “Demographic Research Study” in 2004, which gave her some insight on minority group’s growth over the next five years. The study showed that ethic and racial minorities will grow as much more rapid pace than Caucasians. Asian Americans, though much smaller in absolute numbers, are the fastest growing segment of the population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one out of ten people living in the United States is foreign-born representing the highest rate in more than 50 years. World population is growing at a higher rate, although growth is slowing. Then there is the Baby-Boom Generation that will define retirement. Better health and longer lives are redefining attitudes towards work and retirement. Employees say they plan to work longer, and/or work part time during their retirement years. With this in mind, a workforce comprising of a larger percentage of older workers will require unique employment benefits needs including age-specific health care coverage such as prescription drug benefits, and long term care coverage.

Ethics and Human Resources Ethics commonly refer to the rules or principles that define right and wrong conduct. In the United States, many believe we are currently suffering from an ethics crisis (Ricklets, Robbins & Coulter, 1996). Behaviors that were once thought unacceptable — lying, cheating, misrepresenting, and covering up mistakes — have become in many people’s eyes acceptable or necessary practices. Manager’s profit from illegal use of insider stock information and members of Congress write hundreds of bad checks. Even college students seem to have become caught up in the wave where studies show significant increases in cheating on tests (Robbins et al.). Concern over this perceived decline in ethical standards is being addressed by organizations, and companies are relying on Human Resource (HR) to build an ethical culture. Human Resource departments are creating codes of ethics, introducing ethics training programs and hiring ethics officers.

Why is ethics important to Human Resources? When employees in organizations make decisions to act unethically, they affect not only the company itself, but also its shareholders, employees and customers. Employees make a myriad of choices every day in businesses, if unethical, they can damage a company’s productivity, profits and reputation. Unethical decisions can come in many forms: the employee who conducts personal business on company time to the line worker who fails to report a product flaw just to meet a deadline, and even more serious, the manager who profits from illegal use of insider stock information. All these incidents lack ethics. In most companies today, the competitive advantage rests on the shoulders of its employees. These employees must be trusted to do the right thing, especially when no one is looking. It is up to HR to train, educate and communicate with employees on rights and wrongs in the workplace. After all, ethics is one topic that begins and ends with people and you cannot separate standards of behavior from HR. Human Resources and ethics are linked and must be integrated. In today’s high-pressured environment, HR must spell out for employees that ethics come before deadlines or bottom lines.

It’s a message that can easily be overlooked in the work rush especially if employees feel pressured to violate company policies in order to achieve business objectives. In an April 1997 study by the American Society of Chartered Life Underwriters and Chartered Financial Consultants and the Ethics Officers Association, it was found that 56% of all workers feel some pressure to act unethically or illegally. The study also revealed that 48% of workers admitted they had engaged in one or more unethical and/or illegal actions during the last year. Among the most common violations: cutting corners on quality, covering up incidents, lying to supervisors, deceiving customers, and taking credit for a colleague’s ideas. (Greengard, 1997). It’s good to dispel even the slightest impression among employees that management encourages unethical behavior in obtaining business objectives. In the empowered workplace where decisions are being forced down to the very lowest level, the employee must understand the importance of making that decision right the first time.

Ethics are becoming more and more important, and HR departments are vital in establishing ethics guidelines. As we celebrate this growing empowerment of employees, companies must ensure these employees always act ethically. Ethics should be instinctive when making decisions, and a good ethics program can successfully guide employees through the decision making process. Where once managers called the shots and employees followed suit, employees now need that support system to clear up any questions they have, questions that managers are no longer around to answer. Well-communicated guidelines help set the standards for employees. An important part of an ethics program is just increasing awareness levels. Companies with ethics programs find that many “unethical” decisions are not of deliberate commission, but of ignorance. An effective ethics program can be an important tool in an organization because as employees learn to use this tool, they become more confident in the self-regulating atmosphere of the new workplace.

A clearly explained code of ethics plays a pivotal role in employee empowerment by clearing up any questions on their own. Codes of ethics are suggested means for institutionalizing ethical behavior. A code of ethics is a formal document that states an organization’s primary values and ethical rules it expects employees to follow. It has been suggested that codes should be specific enough to show employees the spirit in which they should do things, yet loose enough to allow freedom of judgment. Human Resources must be careful when establishing a code of ethics. In order for the code to be effective, HR should be careful not to omit important issues such as personal character matters, product safety, product quality, environmental affairs, or civic and community affairs.

Ethics are becoming more and more important, and HR must continually revise the code of ethics to address issues that come up in the changing workplace. Corporations must ensure the code of ethics is used effectively and not just as window dressing. Their effectiveness depends heavily on whether management supports them and how employees who break the codes are treated. When management considers them important, regularly affirms their content, and publicly reprimands rule breakers, codes can supply a strong foundation for an effective ethics program. However, winning the ethics battle isn’t only about how an organization punishes those who engage in unethical behavior, but how the company rewards both good and bad behavior.

For example, a company can provide ethics guidelines and detailed conduct codes; HR can offer superb training and establish an ethics hot line for questions and problems, but it’s the reward system and the organizational behavior that let people know the real story. If a manager turns his/her head and looks the other way when it comes to a top salesman who cheats on an expense account or accepts inappropriate gifts, that sends a powerful message. The desired behavior must start from the top and work its way through the entire organization. This means managers must be honest and expect honesty from their employees by establishing clear-cut policies, guidelines, and rewards.

It is up to HR to make sure employees fully understand the repercussions of ethical misconduct and that such behavior will not be tolerated. Ethics guidelines must be easy to use and even inviting to employees. A good ethics program provides both verbal and written reinforcements and offers a variety of packages for employees to learn about or discuss ethics. Although a usable ethics code and an accessible ethics officer will help get the message out, a successful effort requires active communication, education and training; a key role of the HR department. More and more HR departments are setting up hot lines, seminars, workshops and similar ethics training programs to try to increase ethical behavior. Recent estimates indicate 33% of companies provide some ethics training (Robbins et al.).

The primary debate is whether or not you can actually teach ethics. Critics stress that the effort is pointless since people establish their individual value system when they are very young. However, supporters note that several studies have found that values can be learned even after early childhood. Evidence shows that teaching ethical problem solving can make an actual difference in ethical behaviors (Weber, 1990); that training has increased individuals’ level of moral development (Penn, Boyd, & Collier, 1985); and if it does nothing else, ethics training increases awareness of ethical issues in business (Boroughs, 1985). How can HR teach ethics? Human Resource departments across the U.S. are coming up with innovative ways to teach ethics to employees. Texas Instruments gives their employees a “quick test”. This test teaches employees steps to determine if a decision is ethical. They believe the test allows employees to see a decision more objectively and ethically (Flynn, 1995).

Texas Instruments has worked hard to create an environment in which the ethics office and HR personnel work closely with one another to resolve problems. If a question arises about sexual harassment or discrimination, it’s up to HR to resolve it — and the ethics office will pass along any phone call or inquiry that pertains to those issues. On the other hand, if an employee asks a HR manager whether a gift from a client is appropriate, the manager will refer the matter over to the ethics department. Human Resources also play a role in briefing new hires about the ethics program and works with the ethics department and other company officials to refine policies and procedures. Some may believe HR plays a tangential role in the ethics debate, but that simply isn’t true. Human Resources can help design programs, advise on strategy and consult on investigations, as well as play an ongoing role in educating and training workers about ethics. The basic values of the company must be visible. Human Resources insure they are visible and communicated during the selection process, employee interview, orientation sessions and performance reviews to create a culture that emphasizes ethics.

Therefore, whether an organization relies solely on HR for an ethics program or has a separate ethics office, the HR department is depended heavily upon to provide support for the underlying structure. Approximately 37% of all ethics inquiries involve HR issues, and that means ethics officers must consult with HR and use their expertise to interpret regulations, resolve disputes and consult on ways to reduce future problems. In some cases, HR is able to resolve specific ethics problems on the spot avoiding the time and expense of a full-scale inquiry. (Greengard, 1997) Hoffman, of the Center for Business Ethics, says that the most important aspect of an education program is to teach employees to think independently about ethically sensitive issues (Flynn, 1995).

In this day and age, employees need desperately to have opportunities to think through ethical situations. The training programs provided by HR must provide them with tools to think through those issues successfully. Ethical training sessions can provide a number of benefits. They reinforce the organization’s standards of conduct; they are a reminder that top management wants employees to consider ethical issues in decision-making; and they clarify what practices are and are not allowed. Across the board, when managers and employees discuss common concerns among themselves, they are reassured they aren’t alone in facing ethical decisions. This can strengthen their confidence when they have to take ethically correct stances, which may not be popular. As discussed throughout this paper, an exhaustive communicative effort is the key to getting the word out. The message must permeate the entire company from the top to the bottom. We know that communication must also be supported by education and training. A strong ethical reputation can give a competitive edge to an organization, improve recruitment, and help retain current employees. It encourages morale because a good ethics program supports such morale builders as openness and honesty.
It can improve employee interaction and build a workplace atmosphere based on candor, fairness, integrity and trust which in turn will lower the barriers in communications. Bottom line, an effective ethics program builds morale of employees because most employees like to work for corporations they think are ethically intended. Ethics are free — the HR department has to put forth the effort to communicate, educate, and train its employees on the importance of their decisions. An effective program costs very little, but the absence of ethics can be extremely costly. Companies that find ways to change the system are far more likely to succeed than those that do not. As one Texas Instruments executive so accurately stated, “Trust I the foundation for any solid business relationship. You can’t form a close and candid relationship with suppliers, customers, and the public if you don’t have a track record of integrity or ethics.” (Greengard, 1997)