HR, Twitter and Osama bin Laden

Yeah – I’m going to write about this.  I just finished watching Zero Dark Thirty on the plane, and I’m thinking back to that day.  I remember landing in the Chicago airport, booting up my phone and checking Twitter.  Scrolling through the feed, one caught my eye: “bin Laden is down.”  The tweet was more than a couple hours old at that point, but I noticed it came from a friend of mine in India.  I then proceeded straight to the United lounge where I was in absolute disbelief – they had some random Court TV channel on or something.  I asked everyone to change channels to CNN saying something like, “Guys, bin Laden is down, we need some news.”  I got blank stares and a, “Who are you and what are you smoking?”  By the time I left the club, everyone was hanging out next to the TV’s, it had finally made US media more than 4 hours after the event.

There are all sorts of Twitter analogies I love.  I love that Twitter can figure out the mood of the country every single day (probably every single minute) based on keywords.  I know that we don’t all use Twitter (hey, I’m totally a late adopter and I still barely use it to this day), but this post is really about social media and the pulse of your organization.  Hopefully you have something running whether it’s Sharepoint, SFDC Chatter, Jive or anything else.  The question is, “are you listening?”

Speed:
There are all sorts of stories these days about customers who don’t go to the vendor customer service call center, but tweet problems on-line.  Service organizations are starting to get pretty good at monitoring Twitter and responding to people to fix problems.  I’m not saying that your HR service center needs to allow tickets to come in fiat social media, but when there is a thread about how bad the health insurance is, or that managers are not listening to employees, do you find out about that first, or does someone else bring it to your attention 3 days later?  You have the ability to get a view into the problem before it explodes into something bigger that execs are now worried about, but you have to be listening in the first place.  Seriously, do you want to bring it to your exec that there is a problem, or do you want your exec to bring it to you?

Mass Collaboration:
You can’t get this on email.  Even if you are using large distribution lists, most of the people on those lists ignore those emails.  Take it from me – I’m one of them.  You can get really interesting ideas out there, but if it’s in an email thread where the content is not managed, it’s not owned by the enterprise.  Social collaboration forums not only allow mass storage of insights, but they do it in perpetuity (until someone cleans up or archives).  If we’re all sitting in front of the news waiting 4 hours to get it, that’s pretty slow and we’re dependent on the distribution channel to tell us what’s important.  If we take to the user owned collaboration forums, we get to filter insights in real time.

Engagement:
Back to this idea of pissed off employees – there doesn’t always have to be a thread about something that is upsetting any group of people.  How cool would it be if you could create an algorithm that gives you a measure of employee engagement on a daily basis (ok, maybe weekly).  Apologies to the vendors who sell engagement surveys, but if you could put together an algorithm that gave you engagement, split it up on dimensions of level, job families, pay grades, organization, you’d have a pretty powerful tool.  You might complain that you don’t have specific actions, but I’d disagree.  What is the use of an engagement survey that gives you a report every year?  Just like the crap about performance management not being meaningful, if it’s a year later, it’s too late.  On a weekly basis, you could dig into what comments are causing lower engagement scores, deal with them in the specific populations, create engagement and solutions before things escalate.

Talent Management:
I wrote about this years ago, but I think it might actually be time.  I’m totally intrigued by the idea that you can get rid of your entire competency model and just use social media.  LinkedIn is getting closer, but it’s nowhere near perfect.  I don’t want anyone tagging me with skills.  What I do want is for HR to figure out what I’m good at by looking at my social media posts inside the corporate firewall.  If I post about HR Analytics and 20 people respond, that gives HR an idea that I might be interested in the subject.  If someone posts a question about HR Analytics and I respond, and I also get 20 “likes” for my answer, I might have some expertise.  As you aggregate all the social data over time, create a taxonomy to apply against business conversations, and apply all that data against employees, you have a pretty good idea of what people are thinking about and what they are good at.

I’ll acknowledge that listening is only part of the solution – much of the other part is figuring out how to listen, what to listen to, and how to decipher what you are hearing.  There is a lot of static out there and you need good tools to get good insights back.  I also don’t know how far off social listening is for HR, but hopefully this gets us thinking.  It’s something we need to do as our organizations get more diverse globally, disconnected geographically, and technologically savvy.  Conversations are moving to social, and we have an opportunity.  Let’s grab it.

I Could Have Been A Ditch Digger

Note of warning:  Stereotypes follow in plenty. Last year I wrote a post titled “I could have been a rice farmer.”  It’s completely true that had my parents not moved from Taiwan to the United States before I was born, the possible alternatives to my life are infinite.  However, I probably would not actually have been a rice farmer even though the family residences are surrounded by them.  I come from a family where most of the members are teachers/professors, or (to my great surprise) artists of some fashion or another.  Even if I go back 4 generations, the number of teachers is astounding.  (My maternal grandmother and grandfather were “arranged” by their uncle – a good match because they were all teachers).  The point though is that with the competitive educational system in Taiwan, I probably would never have made it through.  You see, in Taiwan, you have to test well to get into better schools, and the best of the best students get into the top schools based on test scores.  It’s basically a stack ranking system that begins in the very earliest of school experiences.  I don’t think I’m a total slouch in the grey matter department, but I’m by far one of the worst Asian students that ever was.  Given my lack of capacity for learning in a structured schooling environment, I probably would have exited the educational system for a profession that did not require my brain.

Fortunately for me, we in the US live in a society where opportunities abound to give second and third and fourth chances.  While a horrible classroom learner and incredible un-studious slacker, I managed to get good enough SAT’s and GPA ((Asian Slacker SAT=1275-ish and GPA=4.2-ish)) to get into a number of small, liberal arts colleges including Pitzer, my alma mater.  Here, I had yet more choices, all of which I failed at from a learning perspective.  However, I excelled at the experience that was provided to me.  I was active in many ways including politics (one of my core college memories is single handedly inciting a protest march of almost 1000 students), team sports (this is when I learned how to ride and race a bike), and college programs (as a student, I was on the committee of 8 people who made professor tenure decisions).  Most importantly for my future, I was also skilled at the discussions that happen in liberal arts settings.  Ultimately, even coursework became less about how well I could cram for an exam, and more about sitting around a table with 5 other students and a professor and having a conversation about the book we read that week.  Structured learning out of a textbook was replaced by learning through thoughtful discussion, and this is really what a liberal arts education meant to me.  The replacement of having to be “book smart” for thoughtful and intelligent converted my capability to be in the workforce.

At the end if it all, what defined my ability to craft a future for myself, was the ability to have that discussion and analytically derive a point of view and opinion.  It was the ability to influence, convince, and sometimes concede that point of view.  Every Asian student I knew was supposed to be a doctor, engineer or accountant, but had I entered US college with that aim, I would at best be a middling in my trade.  If I was still in Taiwan, I would never have made it into college.  Any success I’ve had in my career initiates from that initial deviation from “textbook learning” to flexible social thinking.

Here’s what I’ve been pondering – there are many ways to get a person to a goal, but there are also a few fundamental problems.  First, we don’t always know what that goal is.  Second, the best path for each individual is also unknown.  Finally, we in Human Resources have continued to fail at providing performance and goal events that are meaningful at individual levels.

It’s no surprise to anyone that Talent Management has failed.  From HR to executive ranks, we complain about performance reviews with such a unified voice it’s sometimes the only thing we all agree on.  The problem is not that we fail to track goals and objectives, or that we can’t identify issues with how employees excel at their tasks.  The problem is that most managers do this once a year, and certainly not in real time.  Employee performance does not occur at a once a year interval.  it occurs every day as they are working on tasks that move our organizations towards strategic goals.  Their ability to move us slower or faster depends on the quality of direction we are able to provide them, and if we only do this once a year, we have completely failed.  Since we actually do only do this once a year, we indeed have failed – specifically, performance management programs have failed.

The solution is quite simple, real time feedback on work, goals and objectives.  Organizational strategy is not static, so why should the individual goals and objectives that employees have be static?  Indeed, if any level of objective should be as flexible as possible, it is at the employee level.  Our daily lives are not dictated by a year long striving for single-minded achievement.  Instead, we flex our activities to constantly changing micro-tasks that emerge along the way.  While the organizational strategy probably remains at least 90% constant through the course of the year, changing business conditions, sales, service needs, operational realities, and technology all drive adjustments on a daily basis.  Employees react and should be measured in their agility to manage these changes while still staying on the strategic path.  Setting goals in real time that reflect the realities of the day or week not only change how employees receive feedback, but it also changes the way we reward employees, and their ability to connect rewards with their own actions.

We’ve also failed at ensuring appropriate development occurs in meaningful ways through the talent process.  Basically, the path to the goals we just talked about are not clear.  Even if we are working on real time goals and objectives, the tasks and activities needed to get to effective achievement   Today’s conversation is all about “gamification,” but I’m not totally a fan of how HR has been applying gamification to learning.  We seem to have taken gamification too literally and have been trying to create games from learning activities.  This is not the holy grail.  What we should be doing instead is understanding the mechanics of game as they apply to the human psychology, and providing frameworks for employees to excel, achieve, and advance.  Basically, learning should merge with goal outcomes that provide paths to effective employee achievements.

Once again, the problem is that we treat learning as a macro activity.  You go to a class, and after a week of training, you exit that class with a supposedly learned skill.  But the basic framework is an assumption that you needed that skill to begin with, based on some large project plan, HR created career ladder, or some job description.  As with performance management, these courses often have nothing to do with a person’s daily activities.  What gamification should be (and is in the minds of guys like Bunchball) is a structured approach to funneling people through flexible tasks to reach an end goal.  If I want to teach someone how to create a report, a class is ok, but enforcing the necessary tasks and activities within the actual job is better.  Through gamification, an employee can advance through various levels from data queries to advanced analytics, all of which can and should be tied to those performance goals we just talked about as well as a real time rewards system.  Many organizations have separate social gamification and learning teams, but indeed these practices need to be fused together.  Gamification of tasks if not configured in the broader context of learning activities is asinine, as is continuing a single minded focus on 1 time, macro learning events.  As individuals, we learn not because we’re told we should acquire a skill, but when that skill is truly needed and used in our daily routines.  Once again, the theme of “real time” dominates effectiveness of results.

What is exciting is that in 2013, we might finally have the technology to fix our failures.  Real time performance management has arrived for the masses, and gamification is penetrating all the major social tools.  In 2012 we were still theorizing about this stuff from an HR context, but in 2013, the technology has arrived.  While I don’t know what the adoption rates will be this year, I do think that 2013 will mark a transitional point in our approach.  In the following years, I’m confident we’ll see a downward trend in traditional talent tools, and a markedly upward trend in social talent management (probably the 2 approaches combined together).

Back when I was 2 years old, the options I had for a successful career in my parent’s eyes was quite limited.  They would have wanted me to be an electrical engineer (seriously).  But clearly the path for me to get there was not quite as straightforward, and indeed, almost 40 years later we’ve all realized that not only did the overall outcome shift, but the path to get there for me personally was not what any of us would have predicted.  I could still have a good career, but I was not cut out to be an engineer, nor was I cut out to learn from textbooks in a traditional way, nor was captivated by the pursuit of straight A’s.  What did work for me was the ability to have an education that provided me with constant conversations and an approach to thoughtfully analyzing the world that took 4 years to teach.  If my parents could have set a path for me at birth, I would have gotten straight A’s, gone to MIT, gotten a PhD in engineering, and be some world renown dude with a hundred patents.  NOPE!  We have to flex, manage, and learn every step of the way.

Social Trust, Authority and Contributorship

There are three people who are pretty commonly in my car.  They will go unnamed.  One of them is pretty similar to me.  She always knows where she is, which way is north, and can get around pretty well.  The second has an idea, but has a tendency to say “left” when she really means “right.”  The last, has no idea where she is at any point in time, and when her opinion is offered, everyone else chuckles and goes in the exact opposite direction.  Basically, with passenger 1, you follow directions, passenger 2 you’d still be in the same state of doubt before and after the direction, and passenger 3 you know exactly where to go because that person is wrong 100% of the time.  (She really is that bad by the way.)

When we’re interacting with social enterprise tools at work, it’s quite impossible to decide who to trust.  In general, we’re dealing with hundreds or thousands of people that may be posting content to a particular group, and many of those are people we’ve never met.  There are a couple of things we have to count on.  The first is simply people we do know and have a degree of confidence in.  The second is what I’ll call “authority.”

In most social enterprise tools, we can follow, buddy or otherwise mark certain people.  The hope is that when these people interact with the social tool, we’ll automatically see the content they are creating.  However, if we counted on this alone, we’d miss an awful lot of content that might be genuinely helpful to us.  After all, if there are 300 people in a social group about Talent Management Process and you only know 25 people personally, then you’d be missing out on 90% of the content unless you go read everything daily.

So we get into authority.  Let’s say that everyone in that group of 300 people post on an equal basis (same number of posts and post frequency over time).  We’d have to have some way of measuring which contributors have the most useful things to say.  The way we measure this is by “likes” and comments back.  Basically if all 300 people each have 100 posts or comments, but only 10 people have 1000 “likes” or more, those 10 people should have a higher authority than the other 990.  Let’s also say that a different 10 people had over 1000 comments on their content.  Those 10 authors should also have more authority than the others.

If people’s content is “liked” then we assume some amount of value to that post.  Similarly, if someone’s content is highly commented, then we assume there was a value to the discussion it generated.  While the following rule is always true, we could think that likes infer that the person creates insight while comments infer a person who might be a data hub (or other similar hypothesis).  Either way, the combination of these and other factors gives us an overall authority rating.

At the end of the day, trust, authority and who is contributing to the knowledge of the business is all about employee talent management.  What we are actually identifying is who are the network hubs that allow people to find other people with information, and evaluating the information that is provided.  What we are also doing is incentivising the sharing of information so that nobody is a knowledge “hoarder.”  The reason social intelligence is so important to HR is it is one of the best ways of identifying the actual amounts of knowledge each person has.  Thus, the equation adds a quantification of knowledge to their skills capabilities.

Unlike in my car where I know everyone, this gives me an idea in social tools who I should trust and who not to.  At the end of the day, what it means is that the pure volume of content generated is not enough.  You really have to prove the value of your content through the interaction with your peers in the community.  Hopefully you don’t have people who chuckle at you and do the opposite.

The Cloud

Seven years ago, we started talking about social media in HR.  I remember this at a conference and nobody got it.  In fact, pretty much all the HR people said that it was a bad idea, it was not for the workplace, and it would just get us into trouble.  The concerns may have been justified at the time, and it was worth taking a less risky stance.

Five years ago, at another conference, social media was the big thing.  People talked about what we could do, how we would implement, and how we could network the organization and bring everyone closer.  But we never did it.

Today, we might finally have networks in most of our organizations.  There is the easy ability to look someone up on the directory and chat or just connect with someone in another part of the organization, but we are not really using any of the functionality for HR.  After all this time, we’re less excited only because nobody ever came to the plate and presented us with a technology option that just worked.

Here’s the thing – I’m really excited about all this interconnectedness because I start thinking about all the ways we could and should be applying the technology.  I’m sick of only talking about Yammer and Rypple (now Work.com) for performance feedback.  Let’s do it real time, and let’s actually do it.  We thumbs up and down people (or their posts) all the time, but we as employees live in complete fear that negative feedback is going to screw one of our friendly relationships.  Let me tell you something, when someone is great, everyone knows it.  And when someone underperforms, that is also known.  But instead of the same conclusion the manager will reach during the traditional performace review, let’s pretend the employee had the opportunity to get positive and negative feedback throughout the year.  Let’s say that the employee had a chance to take corrective actions.

For the history of HR technology, we have not had the core capabilities to use social in HR.  Trying to plant social on top of SAP or Oracle was probably not going to lead us to success.  But everyone has new core foundations that can really enable this stuff, and I’m seeing that finally, HR technology has caught up with HR expectations.  Five years ago we were ready, but our foundational technologies just needed some time.  We were in contracts, or we just needed a few years to implement.  Now we’re there and the next generation of HR applications that are based on cloud and social can actually happen.

 

Social Taxonomies: Tagging versus Crowd Metrics

Every now and then, I’m parked at a mall, convention center, airport, and I ask myself, “now where did I park my car?  OK, so I don’t lose my car that often, but on occasion it happens.  OK, I’m not at the mall or convention center that often either.  At any rate, the appropriate action is to walk around the parking lot for a while constantly hitting the alarm button and waiting to hear that familiar chirp.  (Actually, I do that even when I know where the car is and I’m just walking over to it – no idea why…)  At some point, I’ll eventually locate the car.  The alternative, since I’d never really go to a mall or convention center or whatever alone, is the hope that someone I’m with actually remembers where the car is, or the general vicinity.  Depending on the person I’m with, there is either a high level of confidence or not, and sometimes none at all.

Here’s the problem with social enterprise.  Stuff can be really hard to find.  Let’s say that we remember that something was said on a particular subject, but we don’t remember who said it, if it was in a group message board or a blog, or even when it was.  How the heck do we find this stuff?  Even if we did remember it from a blog, the content might be 2 years old and still take a while to find.  Social tools all seem to use a variety of different search tools, but the tools that have emerged seem to deal with either tags or crowd metrics (or a combination of each).

Tagging is the job of either the content author, or content manager.  Sometimes tags can be community driven as well.  The point being that people can tag content with topics that they feel are associated with the content they are presenting.  You’ll notice that this post will return a tag of “social” and “social enterprise” among other things so that those get indexed by the blog and search engines.  It’s not an exact science like the good old dewey decimal system we all learned in elementary school, but if authors are tagging, then it’s likely to have a decent relationship.  If you give readers and the community the ability to tag, now you have even precision as the readers are also the searchers of the content and will have a pretty good idea if the original tags are off.  Every now and then on systematicHR posts I’ll actually adjust tags based on what searches are driving hits to the content.  Lastly, if you have a content manager involved that can further tag, now you have an element of standardization, so you know that similar posts will always be tagged in a similar way – in other words there are no concerns over someone tagging only “social” and a different author using “network.”  The content manager can leave the original tags intact, but would also communize the tags being used across the community.

Crowd metrics are also a wonderful thing.  For those of us who are Facebook users, we’re probably pretty familiar with the news feed that tends to launch more popular items to the top of the list.  The assumption is that if lots of people are looking and commenting on a particular piece of content, there is a higher probability that you’ll also be interested in the content.  The same goes for social enterprise in the workplace.  If many people are looking at content that you follow in some way (through a person, group, topic…) then chances are you want to see it also.  The assumption is that hits, reads, comments, thumb ups indicates some degree of quality of the content.

Things get better when you combine tagging and crowd metrics.  If you do a search for “talent management” in your social enterprise tool, hopefully it brings up the things that are not only tagged with the topic, but also finds the ones that were most popular first.  This blends not only the topical result, but also the assumption of quality as well.  The issue with this is that you can still miss content.  Some things can be mis-tagged, or some items just go unread by the crowds, and continue to appear lower in search results because of it.  Good search should also index words inside the content automatically, but that alone does not mean a high search result.

Obviously for me, the best result is if I just remember where my stupid car is.  But if I can’t hopefully some crowd intelligence in combination with my alarm clicker will work pretty quickly.  I don’t wander aimlessly in parking lots that often thankfully.