A Star Trek User Experience

One of my favorite all time scenes in movies is in Star Trek 4 (They Voyage Home).  Scotty and McCoy are hunting a local professor to get some plexy glass, and strike a deal to get it for free.  The deal?  Give the professor the chemical formula for “transparent aluminum.”  In order to do this, McCoy suggests that Scotty use the computer to show what they have to offer.  Scotty walks up to the Macintosh and expectantly says, “Computer?” to no response.  McCoy helpfully hands him the mouse and suggests, “perhaps you should use this.”  Scotty picks up the mouse and speaks into it smiling, “Computer?”  The professor finally says, “why don’t you just use the keyboard?”  Scotty grimaces and says, “how quaint!”  ((Dialog not accurate, I’m basing the whole thing from memory.))

We are entering the era where we’ll have people in the workforce that have a completely different experience with technology.  My oldest nephews all spend their evenings gaming with friends half a world away in real time, through voice, game and social apps.  In 20 years, there will be people who may not have had the need to type because dictation is so advanced.  (I’m continuously impressed with how well Google can translate audio into text)  Forget the fact that I didn’t have a PC until college and I used a typewriter in high school.  My newest niece (now 6 months old) will grow up waving her hands at devices or even having them anticipate her next need before she has to act.

I’m and old Gen X curmudgeon, but even I have consumer technology I would not have dreamed of 10 years ago.  My scale sends my weight and body statistics to the cloud via wifi every time i step on it.  This data syncs to my calorie tracker that I enter my daily food intake into.  Both of these sync to my daily workout data.  If I work out, my food app dynamically increases the allowable food intake.  At the same time, my phone is constantly updating what all my friends are doing and if anyone wants to talk to me.

Star Trek was not supposed to happen until the 23rd century.  From the personal technology perspective, we’re already surpassing the Star Trek expectations.  Sure, we’re not atomizing ourselves and beaming our bodies across the globe, but the communicator devices in Star Trek we mo better than the cell phone bricks we had in 1997.  Phones today do so much more than just being a “communicator” but the idea that all this stuff is sitting in the cloud doing things on our behalf would have been ridiculous a few years ago.

Here’s the point.  New entrants into the workforce just don’t get that we are sitting around running reports that have bad data in them.  They don’t understand when their manager fills out a form online that appraises their performance over the last year instead of right now.  They don’t get why we’ve banned Facebook from the network.  They don’t have any idea what you’re talking about when their team isn’t connected in real time all the time and they have to use email for everything.

We’re used to operating in a certain way in business because that’s the way we’ve been doing it.  We’ve let technology creep into our personal consumer lives and not expected work to be any different.  This new generation grew up with personal consumer technology and getting into the workforce is like going back to the 80’s for them – and they weren’t yet born in the 1980.

Our HR portals as full of link farms.  Our call centers are, well, call centers.  Policies and legalese written things that don’t communicate anything but what not to do.  Information retrieval is like finding a needle in a haystack.  We’ve all known that we hate this stuff for decades, but didn’t do anything about it.  But alt least we know how to use it.  To a Millennial, a link far is like weird old mysticism gone bad.  We need to recraft our technologies to make them social, real time, mobile, interactive, and just plain usable.  And we can’t wait for them to get used to us, because honestly their way is better.

Time to take a look at good old HR Service Delivery and realize it’s not good, just old.  Let’s redo the entire thing in an entirely new way.


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.


Strategy without Technology is Stupid

As of about 2003, I don’t think I could live my life without my devices.  Back then it was the blackberry and laptop.  Now it’s my Android phone, iPad and laptop.  If I lose my phone, I’m basically dead in the water – no contact with the outside world… I’m totally cut off.  When I’m waiting for the train, I’m reading my daily dose of news.  When I’m walking between the train and the office, I’m reading the last 5 emails that came in while I was on the train and keeping up to the minute.  When it’s after hours and I don’t know where I’m meeting my friends for dinner, I simply navigate to one of them using Google Latitude.  If you took all my devices away, I’m not sure I can return to 1999.

Here’s my pitch when I do an introduction to a new client, “I’m an expert in all things HR Service Delivery, but focus on HR technology.”  There was a time when this made sense.  I’m not sure it works anymore.  The point is that when we talk about HR Service Delivery, most of our services are now delivered through a technology.  We worry less and less over HR coordinator/generalist types who shepherd processes through for managers, and shared services people who make sure that calls get answered or paper gets entered.

Let’s face the facts about HR Service Delivery strategy.  Our employees and managers don’t actually want to talk to us anymore.  They are used to booking their own travel, entering their own time and expenses, looking up budgets in the financial systems.  Their personal lives are all about going to Amazon.com and their iPhones.  If their lives revolved around getting stuff for themselves instead of asking us to help them with a promotion, they would be much happier.

So why do we end up helping these managers so much?  Mostly it’s because more than half of the companies we work for have technologies that suck.  Yep, I said it… your HRT sucks.  If you really looked into your strategy (which probably has a lot to do with engaging employees/managers, making HR more effective/efficient, delivering better information… you’d quickly figure out that your HRT is actually the roadblock.  Put in something that is so easy to use that managers don’t have to ask you how to do something, and you’ll have happier employees who use the tools and get things done.

I’ve spent a lot of time guiding clients to their strategies, and also looking at the strategies that other consultants put together.  We all do the same things, we figure out where the business is and how we align HR to it, and then we figure out how to place technology to meet those HR and talent requirements.  It’s all a bit top down though.  What we need is a bottoms up approach that goes hand in hand with what we’ve been doing all along.  Figure out what the business needs from technology, but also what our employees want.  If we meld this together, we’ll find out that the technologies we deploy are more aligned with everything we need.

For 2013, it might be time to update my tagline.  “I’m an HR Technology specialist who is great at applying it to HR Service Delivery.”


Leveling the Playing Field

I’ve always wondered about the benefits of doping in professional sports.  Once, I read about a journalist who decided to dope just to find out if it really was that dramatic at providing performance increases, and not only was he stronger, have significantly more endurance, but he also seemed to start reverse aging (age spots on his skin started to disappear).  Indeed, the reported benefits of doping are staggering.  Even an average guy like me could probably ride my bike over 100 miles a day for days in a row without real problems.

Lance Armstrong is once again in the news for doping.  Many of us have been pretty sure that he’s been a doper all along, but the man “has never failed a drug test” so we just let it go.  For the particular drugs we’re talking about, there is no real way to test if the drug is in someone’s system.  Instead, they test for other indicators.  In the case of EPO, they test for a blood hemocrit level above 5.0 (whatever that means).  Basically, if you tested every professional racer, there is a good chance that 90% of them have hemocrit levels at 4.8 or 4.9.  Their argument is that they are not cheating, even though they are cheating, just doing it below the level that they would get called out for it.  Instead, they argue that they are just keeping themselves level with the rest of the playing field.

A few years ago I’m sure I argued that core HR was dead, and talent management was dying with nothing to take their places.  Let’s face it – core HR functionality has not changed in a decade and Talent has been a bit of a bust because all we’ve done is automated the old crappy stuff.  Today, I’m not going to argue that HR technology is dead.  I’m going to argue that the playing field is now level.  Now I want to see who is going to perform, and who is going to get left behind.

If we look around the HR marketplace, there is really good reason to be excited.  I’m not talking about new functionality in core or talent, but I’m talking about how everyone is creating new user experience, and doing it in different ways.  If we look at Fusion versus Workday versus SAP/SF Employee Central versus ADP Vantage versus (all the vendors who are pissed they got left off al already too long list), the theory and design of the experience is totally different.  What we assume about our company’s employees and managers will drive a selection, not what functionality works for us.

We are no longer in the era of “do I want PeopleSoft position management, or SAP’s?”  I actually get to make a decision that is based on my culture and how I think they will best use the application.  Do I have a bunch of engineers, or do I have a bunch of management consultants?  Do I have machinists or perhaps finance guys?  I’m finally at the point where customers and culture are the things that are important.  I finally get to make decisions based on company strategy, workforce and culture.

Functionality is dead because it is a level playing field – but HR technology is one of the most exciting places to be in a really long time.


HR Technology Conference Reactions: Social Media Panel

I’ll admit.  I’m devastated.  Lexy Martin and Thomas Otter were both presenting at the same time as this session.  Had I the option, I would have pulled a Hermione Granger Time Turner thing.  You know where she goes back in time to take more classes?  I’d do that for these 3 sessions, but instead, I’m just a muggle.  (OK, enough of that nonsense.)

The panel consisted of Moderator: Kris Dunn (VP, HR, Kinetix ), Todd Chandler (VP, Learning and Performance, Helzberg Diamonds) , Ben Brooks (SVP & Global Director, Enterprise Communications & Colleague Engagement, Marsh Inc.),  Phoebe Venkat (Director, Digital and Social Media Communications, ADT).  As with my prior post, I’ll go with the same format:

Theme #1: File Centric versus People Centric. Perhaps this first theme is a bit obvious.  It really comes down to a definitional aspect of social versus where we have come from/are today.  There is nothing wrong with being file based, it’s here for a long time to come.  We operate in files today because that is how we store information and value.  Add to that we can easily search and tuck things away in a folder system, and we have a mediocre way to maintain information.  Thus, the next phase of evolution, if we are going to go social, we have to understand that the storage of prior information is not where it all is.  Instead, the generation of new information is paramount, and that comes from the exchange of ideas that social enterprise presents.  Thus, I call this a theme, but it’s really the starting point of the conversation – a definition of change.

Theme #2:  Email versus Social. If Theme #1 was a definition, perhaps Theme #2 is the problem statement.  Indeed, email is much more of a communication tool than a file storage tool as we all know when our corporate IT tells us we have gone over our 2 gig storage capacity.  The problem is that emails are so far from a real time production of value that it’s actually a barrier to the speedy creation of new insights.  Add that most of us also use emails for CYA and self preservation, and we quickly realize the major inhibitor that emails can be.  If we’re looking to protect ourselves and cover our tracks rather than provide new meaning to our jobs, this is a major directional problem for email.  So while social gives us productivity at the speed of conversation, emails are just too much of a security blanket for most workers to overcome in the very short term.

Theme #3:  Search and data mining. There are probably a couple aspects here.  The first one is about how we go about naturally doing our business today.  We’re organized in offices and cubes, or we go to meetings and sit at tables.  The interactions we have are largely based on who we see every day.  What is great about social is not that it allows us to reach past our normal daily interactions, but that it can help search for new contacts and encourage those interactions.  Sure we have emails, phone calls, instant messenger today, but with social we get to group ourselves logically based on something else other than location/job/department.  But we have to go beyond simple conversations.  The reason Facebook is not useful as an enterprise social tool is because you really can’t search the conversations.  Mining conversations for who is connected to who, what people are talking about, and how that impacts actual work and innovation is the key to creating value.

Theme #4:  Bad behavior. I remember 5 years ago when HR was just starting to enter the conversations about having social networks in the workplace.  Fully half of the conversations revolved around “bad behavior” or people just going crazy and doing/saying things they should not.  While you do have to set aside some rules of the road, you really can’t stop people from posting things.  Trying to moderate every comment would be absurd, and the consensus is that very little bad behavior actually happens.  The thing is, we should not have to create new social policies.  We already have them in place.  People also know how to behave already, and if they don’t, your managers should already be having these conversations.  This discussion presented one of the crowning moments of the conference for me (and I wish I could remember who said it).  “If you have a jerk, let them rise to the top so you can fire them.”  Another lovely quote, “HR… get over it.”

Theme #5: Creating change. Social for social sake is a bad idea.  You will get low adoption, and unless you are targeting your deployment to solving a real business problem, your audience will never really understand “why?”  Some of the suggestions revolved around polling the internal community for how your workers want to interact with each other, and then deploying solutions with the ability to say, “this is the tool you guys requested.”  A great example:  being one of the first at a dinner and not knowing anyone sucks.  But if you have a great host who is actively introducing people to each other, and contextually matching people’s interests, then you have really quick engagement.  The other interesting note that caught me off guard because it’s so basic, is not discounting the impact of faces and names.  If you think about Facebook, actually seeing faces is a pretty big part of how you interact with the tool.  There is a possibility that you see the face before you read the name, and that’s often how you engage with conversations.


Apple Versus Samsung


One of my favorite Star Trek scenes is from Star Trek 4, where Scottie tries talking to the computer.   In this classic scene, one of the basic Star Trek futurisms is on display as he tries to get the computer to respond to him verbally.  Who actually knew that IBM was going to come up with Watson super-computer that could answer questions and win Jeopardy a couple years ago?

All I’m saying is that patents on feature functionality were all thought of by either Star Wars or Star Trek in the 60’s and 70’s.  I’m quite dissatisfied with the current number of lawsuits happening in the mobile phone space.  Let’s face it, I don’t think Apple, Samsung, Motorola, Google, etc. should be able to patent some of the things they have.  If Apple didn’t buy Siri, someone else was going to have a device that verbally responded to verbal questions within the next 2 years anyway.  I mean, it was in Star Trek, right.  This is not a new thought – it’s 50 years old.  In general, I also don’t think you should be able to patent some sorts of design.  Innovation is one thing, design is another, so unless it’s outright “plagiarism,” it’s a no-go for me.  The idea that part of what Samsung is paying Apple for is a set of application icons with rounded corners is a small bit stupid to me.

At the end of the day, what I’m really fearful of is that patent wars could escalate from mobile devices over to HR software.  Think about it if someone decided to patent the next great performance review.  This is something that we’ve all been complaining about for years, but nobody in the industry can figure out how to make performance evaluations more effective.  Here’s how I see a Performance Review patent playing out:

  • Software company A patents Performance Review innovation
  • Other software companies B & C try to copy the innovation
  • Software company A shuts down B & C
  • Market adoption for the great innovation is minimized since it’s centered on one vendor
  • 5 years later, we’re all doing performance the same old way again, no innovation picked up

I’m all for giving some company a head start, I generally think they will get that head start anyway since it takes a year+ for other companies to figure out what is going on, make any coding change in the application, and roll it out.  What I ultimately want though, is widespread and mass adoption if there are any great innovations.    If major innovations are locked on one vendor for 7 years, the market is basically screwed in my opinion.  I’m not talking about one vendor having a competitive, that happens for the first few years anyway.  I’m saying that if the next great thing happens, the only way the market picks it up is if that innovation can diaspora out to all vendors.


The Technology Does Not Sell

Years ago, there is a motorola executive was speaking to a group of students. He asks the students to answer a couple of simple questions, “who among you owns a motorola cell phone?”. A small group of students raise their hands. He continues to as them, “who among you own a Nokia cell phone?”. The large population of remaining students raise their hands. They go on to discuss why the students own Nokia cell phones, and the executive explains how much better Motorola’s technology is than Nokia.

I should mention here once more that this was all years ago.  I now own a Motorola Droid 2 Global on the Android platform, after having owned the Motorlola Droid 1 and the Droid 2.  Absolutely love these phones.  I don’t know about you, but I have basically owned the popular cell phones of whatever era we were in (iPhone excepted since until very recently it was not available on my wireless provider of choice). I had that huge motorola flip phone in the late 90s, had the nokias like everyone else around the turn of the century, been given the blackberries by my employers, and I’ve been on the motorola droid for the last couple of years.

Phones are popular not because of their technology. They are popular because of what they do for us. Sometimes its the image. We all remember theMotorola Razer (or something like that – i didn’t own one of those) that everyone loved because they were small. We remember the nokias because at the time they were the simplest to use. We realize that many of us bought iPhones even though they were useless as phones in the US. The point being that the choices had almost nothing to do with technology. We sacrificed the ability to make phone calls on a phone so we could buy an apple product that had apps.

The point is this, if you have to explain why your product is better, your product has failed, and you will fail in marketing it. All too often, we deploy new HR systems and tell our clients (employees and managers) how great it will be that they have new tools and self service, only to find out that they hate the new system since they can no longer delegate manual tasks to their assistants – that we have actually just given them more work. We continuously fail in our change management programs for a large number of factors, but one of those facts is definitely hat we are trying to sell the wrong thing. It’s not about what they can do with the technology, it’s what the technology can do for them. (I am feeling like a Kennedy at the moment i suppose.)

In a perhaps more appropriate appropriate approach, applications like alert management must be acknowledged to put more activity on the individual manager’s proverbial table. Indeed, many a survey have shown that manager activity either stays the same or increases any time we give them more technology, but we keep advertising how much easier their lives will be. Instead, we should be owning up to the fact that their lives get busier and more complex, and that’s not a bad thing. The whole point of modern human resources is t hat we continuously get better at managing our people. What are our direct managers if not people managers? Sure, they have to manage activity and process, but it’s the people who have to execute those activities and processes. The technology enables managers to actually do their jobs better, and sometimes just to do their jobs. The fact that more work comes with doing jobs that they are supposed to have been doing all along is merely a byproduct of the technology. sure, you get more work, but now you can do it effectively. In the end, you’ll have happier people, they will stick around longer, have stronger capabilities, and you’ll look really really good.

Or, you can be like Motorola a decade ago when Nokia was cleaning their clock. Instead, give them something they can use, and understand easily. “It’s your job, dammit, and we’re going to make you better at it.” If we have to explain the technology, we’ve already failed.  Today, Motorola has transformed the market and you see Motorlola and iPhones everywhere, but not so much Nokia anymore (in the US).  Turns out that the technology is important, but it’s really about the experience.

Managing Thinking, Managing Knowledge

On March 2, 2011, Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated.  Like others before him (including Benazir Bhutto), he was killed for standing up for the right of Pakistanian citizens to believe in whatever they wanted to believe.  In this case, Bhatti was a Christian, and (to his detriment) was outspoken about it.  There are leading Muslim clerics who will say that the Koran is precise about the consequences of “blasphemy” which I suppose being Christian is.  Whether or not this is true is not for me to decide as I have no basis in Islam, the Koran, or as a religious scholar of any sort.  However, I do this to simply point out that people the world over feel a compelling need to manage what other people think and believe.  We can take another example of China and the shutting down of Google months ago.  (Google actually pulled out I think – but at any rate, the internet is government regulated)

There are some organizations that are quite liberal with knowledge management.  Many technology companies deploy blogs and wikis and actively encourage employees to write and participate.  Many brick and mortar companies won’t deploy enterprise social platforms because they are afraid of what might come out.  Rather than encouraging the discourse (ALL of which will happen anyway), many of us have suppressed it based on a fear of “bad behavior.”

The problem about this is not about trust.  It’s about generations.  Unfortunately, many of us (I’ll just draw a line at 35 years old and up), realize that large corporations have not been democratic societies.  We work in states that are oligarchical at best.  Even in companies where the corporate center does not have much power over divisions, the individual divisions can command the employees at will.  Those in the workforce in their 20’s have no acceptance of such a model.  We’ve always talked about them as being insistent on having access to decision-making, being vocal and contributory, and demanding the be part of the conversation in general.  They have grown up in a world where technology has democratized the world, and it’s their expectation that data and information is part of their realm.

Evidence supports that actual instances of “bad behavior” are so low that it’s really not worth being afraid of – and the community will generally self police itself.  People realize for the most part that the conversations that happen in the workplace are different than the conversations that happen without – and the 5 horror stories you hear each year are insignificant compared to the potential for collaboration you have.  We can’t control the thinking.  Nor can we control the content.


Between everything that has been going on in the Middle East and of course the earthquake in Japan, I think April will be a current events month.  My thoughts and best wishes go out to all those throughout the world as they struggle in their various ordeals.  (written a while back obviously – sorry)

Talent Evolution versus Revolution

If you just bought one of the new 3D TVs that have been on he market for a year or so, i have bad news for you. Its already old technology. Sure, 3D is brand new, and its going to be around for a long time. But wearing glasses will be gone in a year or two. The current set of 3D TVs out on the market utilize the simplest and most obvious form of creating a 3D image – it presents different images to each eye, simulating the different angles that the eyes wold usually visualize depth with. Whether this is done with glasses that shutter the image at high speeds, or glasses that filter images bed on horizontal and vertical filtering, it does not matter, you are basically presented with a different image to each eye. As I said, is obvious.

Now, say you could trick the brain instead of the eyes. Your eyes perceive depth based on different viewing angles that the brain then interprets into three dimensions. But the brain can also read depth based on the amount of time that it takes for multiple slices of depth to be received into the eyes. For example, when you look at someone’s face, the light rays from their nose are received before the light from their ears. While this amount of time is completely imperceptible, if you can create a an image of someone’s face that is received over multiple, almost instantaneous moments, you can trick the brain without having to trick the eyes. ((this is indeed one of the methods being used in new, glassesless 3D technologies such as television. Unfortunately the cost of production is incredibly high, uses up to eight cameras, as opposed to the two cameras necessary for traditional glasses 3D viewing.))

The point is that while 3D is the new wave of television viewing, and while the 3D concept does not change between current and future technologies, the actual technology is a huge leap of revolution, not evolution. We are using a completely different concept to simulate a three dimensional image, even though the end result is the same. But now we can do it in the foreseeable future without tools like glasses between ourselves and the image.

The same goes for talent management. The first round of talent management was pointed in the right direction. We knew that the end result we were going after was to acquire higher quality talent, develop them with more rigor, and retain the high quality talent for a longer period of time. Whether this was actually effective or just an automation of the process is debatable, but the end vision was clear.

Today’s vision of talent management end state has not really changed from what I described above, but the means are no longer process based. Instead, we realize that each of the individual processes must integrate with each other to create meaningful programs that we had not thought about years ago. Our cohesive talent programs are not based in technology or simple process flows, but the integration of multiple programs and the data they each individually provide tho the broader talent strategy.

We can view people all we want for performance purposes, but a performance view does not provide abundant talent insight to a pharmaceutical that needs to focus on senior scientists, or a services organization that needs to move high quality talent around the organization to grow the next generation of leaders. Simple talent management techniques and processes are good in what they do, but they don’t vision the specific end state of each organization without the input of many other areas.

Today’s talent management is not a simple evolution from where it was several years ago when the vendors led our thinking around what talent management should be. Todays talent management has finally focused on what we as organizations need to individually accomplish out of it, we have surpassed what the vendors could have provided as a generic basis, and leapt to new applications that are inwardly and uniquely focused on ourselves. We will continue to depend on our technologies to aide us in data, process and integration, but application of end state will come from within ourselves and our organizations, not from vendors. For years, the HR industry had depended on HR technologies like applicant tracking, then core HRMS, then talent management for diction. I think we have finally turned the tide, we have finally turned the corner and started creating for our own. That i the revolution.

Meaningful Experiences in Web 2.0

I’ve complained about information overload before.  As we get into lists and networks and blogs, and microblogs, we subject ourselves to information from increasingly diverse sources.  Some of these are annoying sources that we wish we didn’t have anything to do with (your nephew’s farmville updates on Facebook), while others are truly valuable if you could just keep up with them (that HR analyst that has 50 posts per day on Twitter).

I’ve also written before that I think that the value I provide will never be on Twitter – I honestly just can’t stay on top of it that often considering the work that I do for clients.  However, I do feel that I can provide value to my readership with longer, more thoughtful pieces like this on a more mainstream and “traditional” blog.  Personally, I basically have 4 sources of information and the same 4 sources that I use to connect with the Web 2.0 world.  These are this blog, systematicHR, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  The first two I use every day, the last two I use very little.

The point of this is that I have decided that it’s impossible to have any sort of a meaningful experience if I’m spread too thin across 10 different networks.  Yes, I’m registered on all sorts of social media accounts that I never check.

As an employee, you need to determine what the method is going to be right for you (facebook once a day? twittter 50 times a day?)  You also need to figure out what your goals are for participation.  Is it about career?  Is it about networking? Getting on the cutting edge?  Is it about increasing your own personal effectiveness or a team’s effectiveness?

The great thing about information overload is there is a solution,  While information overload is problematic for just about everyone, the problem is also the solution.  If you have many choices about where to go for information, then you have a more manageable environment.  People need to apply their time spent in networks with more thoughtfulness.

This is actually where it gets tricky.  We as an HR organization can help employees decipher what type of participation they should be having based on their habits and goals.  However, determining the overall set of Web 2.0 technologies to deploy within our organizations that will support the many types of interactions that are possible while not limiting the possibilities is a tight rope to walk.  The organization has to determine what the best methods are without restricting too many modes where people will find meaningful experiences.

You might automatically say that microblogging will never happen, but what about microblogging the town hall for people who could not attend the event live?  How about the opportunities to constantly update the project team in the week right before a major implementation go-live?  Based on the goals of employees, the goals of the organization and the culture that you operate in, there probably is a good answer for a set of Web 2.0 technologies you should deploy.  The answer however, is less around how you want employees to collaborate, and more about how you create meaningful experiences for those employees.  Without meaningful experiences, a collaboration environment never takes off.

Talent Particles in Action

Until tonight, I’ve never seen a lightning storm from above the clouds.  I’m not sure what percentage of lightning strikes actually are visible below the clouds, but this storm over Texas that I’m watching has a few lightning bolts per second all localized in a small area over the course of the last 5 minutes that we’ve been flying by it.  It’s pretty amazing to see this many lightning bolts for such a continuous period of time, and thinking about the total amount of electricity being generated is mind boggling.

Nobody really knows how lightning is formed, but the current theory is that as water molecules evaporate and float upwards into the sky, these miniscule water particles sometimes “rub up” against each other and trade electrons, thus forming electrical charges.  As this happens millions upon millions of times, and these water particles all make their way up into the clouds, eventually some event happens where the energy is released and a lightning bold is formed.

It’s pretty crazy to think that a couple of water molecules rubbing up against each other on their way up to forming a cloud is what triggers the release of a several million volt lightning strike, but it’s possible that is the root cause.  It does not take much, but the same thing is true with talent management.  HR spends a lot of time these days managing talent, producing knowledge, skills and competencies, and ensuring growth in our employees. 

Every employee gets a set of goals every year, so there are thousands of these.  We measure all sorts of leadership, behavioral and technical competencies on our employees.  There may be separate performance guidelines like MBO’s.  Incentive compensation may have their own set of requirements that employees are measured against.  I’m hoping your environment is not this complex, but suffice to say that we track a lot of seemingly insignificant attributes against a lot of employees.

At the same time, employees are interacting with each other, hopefully connecting in our enterprise social networks, and collaborating and learning through content they are generating.  All of this just creates thousands more small particulate interactions that we don’t even see or measure.  We have no idea which one of those advances is going to be the one that triggers the next major innovation or the next big sale.  What we do know is that we work on individual transactions that on a singular level, we can’t quite trace to these huge events.

At an aggregate level, we know that these particles create clouds and rain, so we can measure the cause and effect.  However, every once in a while, a lightning bolt hits, and when it does, we should not only celebrate the organization and it’s achievements, but we should also know that somehow, the root cause was the effort we put into managing our talent.

Enterprise Digital Interactions

I know we don’t need any more buzzwords, but at the same time, HR and corporate organizations really seem to hate calling their internal blog, wiki, networking and collaboration tools “Social” media.  There is good reason for this as most organizations are not trying to encourage social behaviors at work, but professional networking, increasing connections, and sharing knowledge.  The tag “social” just does not work.  What it feels like to me is that these are just digital interactions within the organization, and that’s quite high level, but in addition to the word “social” I personally don’t like the word “media.”  To me, media is old school – it’s what I do consume when I pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV.  I know that in a strict definitional sense, media is exactly what blogs and wikis are, but media does not allow for the interactive nature of the technology.

A couple of months ago, I took a shot at defining Web 2.0.  It basically boiled down to this:

  • Web 2.0 helps us connect with each other
  • Web 2.0 helps us deliver content
  • Web 2.0 helps us receive content
  • Web 2.0 helps us organize content

To me, the key is in defining the “us” in each of the above four statements.  It strikes me that as I wrote these definitions, that “us” is ambiguous, and it is generally not HR as an organization.  Instead, each of “us” as an individual in the organization, whether we are representing HR or not, interacts with all of these technologies that help us connect.  This is important because we need to realize in a Web 2.0 environment, HR no longer pushes content out to the employee population.  If we have an environment that fosters blogs and wikis and networks and employee status messages, and anything else, then the environment is one where each individual chooses what to pull in to their own span of attention.

HR’s role in a Web 2.0 world is to foster our talent by increasing the connections people make and helping them find growth opportunities on their own through those connections.  But once we have enabled that, the employees are largely on their own to make it happen.  Our role in talent is to make sure that our total employee base has the right skills and competencies to accelerate the growth of our companies, and once we have fostered a culture that writes blogs and wikis and shares knowledge, that knowledge generates itself through the workforce, not through HR.  Our role in HR is to foster a culture where people are excited about continuous learning and have goals associated with learning and development, but it’s up to those individuals in a Web 2.0 world to actually subscribe to blogs and wikis in the environment.

Enterprise digital interactions is not a phrase I’m trying to use to replace Web 2.0 in any way – that would just be silly.  However, I think it better describes HR’s role in a Web 2.0 world.  It is a tool we can use as another enabler, but it is not our tool – it is the workforce’s tool, and we can only foster the right environment for them to want to use it.

What’s Next?

Just a few short years ago, it really seemed like the vendor space was leading the market with all sorts of great new functionality and new ways to think about the world.  After all, what would we have done if SoftScape had not coined the term “Talent Management”?  (I’m pretty sure it was them, but I’m not 100% sure, so if I’m wrong, don’t crucify me please)  Talent Management gave HR a completely new lease on life, helped us get the attention of executives, and got many of us the proverbial “seat at the table”.”  TM provided us a way manage our Human Resources, whereas before we were just another resource.

The SaaS vendor space provided us with dashboards while the rest of the organization was implementing them, but HR didn’t have the budgets or the technical capability.  We got analytics for cheap from vendors when our organizations didn’t seem to see the value of a $MM implementation for HR.

But lately, it feels like we’ve taken hold of all the new technologies and the opportunities it brought us and we are not trying to push our vendors faster and further rather than being tugged along.  While vendors consolidate and focus on platform integration, we’ve all moved on to thinking about long term talent management that goes beyond the processes of today and looks at the planning for 2 and 3 years from now.  We’re wanting to understand workforce planning and implement technologies to help us with it.  We want to understand internal mobility and get a handle on how increasing mobility engages, develops and retains our employee base.

But it’s not really all the vendor’s fault.  Sure, the vendors (some of them anyway) tell us they have some functionality, or that it’s on the way, but we in HR are certainly now pushing rather than pulling.  The problem for the vendors is that most of the new work is pure analytics and decision support.  To do workforce planning, we need to be able to project out where our businesses are growing and what skill-sets we will need a few years down the road.  Often, HR does not yet have this level of visibility in the organization.  Sometimes, the business as a while does not have the ability to know what the future brings in highly project and contract based businesses.  Others of us have more stable sales and business cycles that can be predictable.

I think we’ve gone forward with our thinking, but both the HR and Vendor capabilities are lagging, and we have come to count on the vendor space to provide us a solution for our problems.  Unlike with Talent Management where many of us didn’t even know we needed it, now we know we have an itch to scratch – and we are eagerly awaiting a stick to scratch it with.  I’m sure it will be great…  (just hurry up already)

What does Irony Taste Like?

My wife and I were recently at dinner with her sister’s family. One of the boys is about 14 years old, and as we were waiting for our table, he was looking through the bottles of wines displayed nearby. (No, he’s not drinking yet, we don’t live in France) He observed one bottle keenly, and turned to my wife asking, “I wonder what Irony tastes like.” My wife replies, “probably somewhat bitter-sweet,” at which point our nephew breaks out in laughter.

As I look through all of my nieces and nephews, most of them are far too young to have conversations like this. They are all bright young people, but I wonder if they will all have the same ability to connect random thoughts and ideas, and create different types of meaning that were not there before or not intentional by the originator. It’s not that I have some strange familial desire to see my family smarter than everyone else out there, but in my experience, the ability to connect the dots between seemingly disparate pieces of a puzzle is somewhat rare.

It also occurs to me that the ability for the mind to think this way is not necessarily trainable. Taking myself as an example, I am known in my family to be the world’s worst student. ((Ok, ok, being Chinese, the standard of expectation is fairly high.)) I absolutely hated studying, and basically managed to slip by the first 12 years of schooling without looking at a text book. Somehow I managed to end up with a 4.0 and took so many AP classes that my high school ran out of classes for me, but I seriously never studied. Instead, I remember various science and math classes where I would get pulled aside by the instructor. The conversation was always the same: “This is not how we taught you to solve this, but somehow it’s correct and the work checks out.” In my mind, I would never know how I was supposed to do something because I didn’t study, but I could find ways to connect the dots and figure things out.

For me, college was most interesting learning experience. I went to a small, liberal arts college (that probably would not admit me now) where the provision of trade skills is not at all important, but the provision of thinking skills and analytical problem solving is. I do believe that creating an approach for thinking through a problem is indeed trainable, but still, the ability to connect seemingly random pieces of information is not. The people out there who have both of these abilities running in tandem are probably your strongest innovators and thought leaders. These are the people who rise to the top of the individual contributor ranks in your organization, and given other skills might become top management candidates. These are the people that when you’re looking to fill critical roles should be at the top of your list. Regardless of the experience they have, these candidates have an uncanny ability to work through problems and come up with incredible new ideas.

The irony in this to me, is that that primary ability to discover unseen connections and pull together ideas that might have been heard in a completely unrelated topics months ago is both a key attribute you want for your talent, but is also almost completely impossible to detect and record without significant observation and experience. I believe it’s a key talent attribute, and I can tell you when someone has it, but can’t tell you how to measure or record it.


Training Innovation

I’ve been thinking a lot about whether you can teach people how to be innovators.  As North America and EMEA slowly loses production and manufacturing work to countries like India and China, what is left behind is the design and innovation work that is the starting point before production can shift to those other countries.  Problem is that countries like India and China are turning out highly qualified engineers at a faster rate than the U.S. turns out graduates in any area.  However, what countries like the U.S. have as an advantage is that we’ve been at the forefront of innovation for much longer.  Somehow, I believe that innovation can to some degree be taught.

I start with a comparison between competencies required for consulting and innovation.  As a consultant, I consider the amount of actual intelligence and knowledge a good consultant has to have to be about 20% of the equation – not much.  The other 80% is all about the consultant’s approach to looking at and working through a problem.  You’ll notice that all consultants have the same basic approach – current state analysis, future state analysis, business case.  But how the details of those basic steps is applied can be very creative.  The next degree of success for a consultant is how they are able to apply the 20% of knowledge and intelligence and 80% of approach to a flexible offering that works for their client.  In essence, the successful mix is mostly about approach, but the higher volume you have for each part of that mix, the better off you’ll be.

In contrast, I believe the exact opposite for innovation.  The mix is approximately 20% approach and 80% intelligence and knowledge.  You see, for someone who is innovating, it’s about how their brains are wired.  When they see something that is wrong, the fact that it is wrong has to “bother” them.  They have to have a deep desire to fix what is wrong.  On top of that, they have to be able to see multiple (often many) objects at a time and understand the connection points between them.  Innovators can see many things, put them together in different ways to solve complex problems.  Unfortunately, I don’t think you can teach 80% of this equation – the smarts and how the brain is wired side.  The last 20% is approach, and I think you can teach this part.  You can put people in a place where they have a higher chance of success by teaching them a structured way to look at problems and analyze possibilities.  However, if the innate ability is lower, then you can only make someone a proficient innovator, not a great one.

I think that there are lots of learning organizations out there who are training people for knowledge, and of course we have talent mobility programs out there that are moving people around to give them the right experiences.  But I don’t think we’re thinking enough about making people into innovators, yet this is where the future of countries in N.A. and EMEA lie.  I’m not against some competition, but I am against getting utterly squashed by India and China.  Let’s start teaching innovation principles within our learning programs.

Normative Data for Employee Surveys – Worth the Spend?

Guest Author:  Stephen B. Jeong, Ph.D.

As a child, whenever I would screw up, my mother always said, “Why can’t you be more like Billy?”  Billy was a straight-A student who excelled in every sport with which he was involved – an all-around “wunderkind” who could do no wrong.  Needless to say, I didn’t like being compared to Billy all that much.

Those of you who have had experience with employee surveys – satisfaction or engagement – may be familiar with the concept of “benchmarking.”  Benchmarking involves comparing a company’s survey scores – on a range of topics such as communication, supervision, engagement, and efficiency – with scores from a group of companies on comparable survey questions.  Most commonly utilized benchmarks are scores from companies that fall into the same or similar industry sector, or scores from companies deemed “high performers.”  This idea of gauging our company’s performance in reference to other companies can be tremendously appealing – it’s simple, intuitive, and sexy.

Notwithstanding the above, I find it hard to justify – from a scientific point of view – the current level of enthusiasm for the use of these benchmarks.  There is no doubt, when carefully selected, normative benchmarks can provide useful insights into an organization’s standing.  Before pulling out your pen and checkbook, however, I’d like to point out a few things for your consideration.

  1. Differences in company strategy – While most companies have in common the goal of increasing revenue, there are key strategic differences among companies that work to diminish the actual (as opposed to perceived) value that benchmarks bring to interpretation of survey data.  Depending on their strategic goal, one company might emphasize “innovation,” while another, “efficiency.”  One might focus on “training,” while another, on “R&D.”  In other words, companies vary on the extent to which they place more or less value on one or more aspects of their operations or culture.  This is true even those within the same industry. Take the “microchip” industry; some are now focused on producing cheaper solar panels while others are continuing to pour money into improving wafer machines.  These varying strategies can and do have an impact on survey scores.   So, what am I saying?  The point here is that an overall survey score of 89% (satisfied employees) on “innovation” may be fabulous for one company, but unacceptable for another.  So, drawing conclusions from the difference observed between one company’s score on “innovation” or “customer service” against a group of other companies (even those in the same industry) downplays the meaningful differences that exist among these companies.
  2. Timing of data collection (historical effects) – Employee survey is a collection of attitudes.  Attitudes, in turn, are susceptible to constant fluctuations in one’s emotional state.  Imagine that your company just announced the second round of layoffs and reported that revenues were less than expected for the past quarter.  We all know that the conditions – both internal and external – can impact our responses to survey questions.  This is what statisticians call “error.”  This means that, any temporary condition – like layoffs – that can either inflate or deflate survey scores can contribute to increasing the size of this error.  Imagine now, the timing of the surveys from different companies that make up a given benchmark.  It is highly unlikely that the data were collected within the same month or even the same year.  We’ve gone through a fairly significant roller-coaster ride in the past 12 months.  Can you really draw firm conclusions from your Q2 of 2009 surveys scores when compared to data collected between Q2 of 2007 through Q2 of 2009?
  3. Importance of past performance (historical trending) – Benjamin Franklin emphasized the importance of gauging current performance using past data.  For example, in order to stop cursing, he carried around a notepad to keep track of the number of times he cursed each day.  After several weeks, he would draw a simple chart to check his progress.  Similarly, one of the most important diagnostic tool available to organizations is historical survey data. Historical trend data provide information that, I would argue, is substantially more important than comparison to external benchmarks.  This is primarily because one company’s culture – like one’s personality – tends to remain fairly stable over time.  This means that, any significant shift in upward or downward direction (as measured by standard or average deviation) tells a lot about what is happening to different aspects of that company’s culture.  Moreover, because you are likely to be aware of the changes that your company has undergone in the past 12 months, you are able to more reliably factor this into your interpretation of the results.  From this perspective, historical shifts deserve much more attention than any discrepancy found between your survey results and some external benchmark data.

To summarize, there’s quite a bit of “hype” tied to the use of benchmarking data; more so than can be justified.  While they can provide useful information when selected and used appropriately, differences in company strategy, cultures, and historical effects all work to make external benchmark data, in general, less useful than they appear on the surface.  In worst cases, benchmarks can lead to grossly misleading conclusions and what I would call here the “Why can’t you be more like Billy” syndrome.  Well-functioning companies are like Olympic athletes, you don’t need to be good at everything to win the gold, just your event.  By the way, Billy is now a history teacher and although I watch the History Channel from now and then, I would never think for a moment about trading professions.

Stephen B. Jeong, is currently the Managing Director of Waypoint People Solutions – www.waypointps.com, a human capital consulting firm that focuses on high precision employee diagnostic surveys using cutting-edge measurement technology and methodologies. He holds Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational psychology from the Ohio State University and has been advising private, public, and government organizations since 2000.  He can be reached at stephen.jeong@waypointps.com.

Innovating for Sales

A while back I observed some talent software from a leading talent management vendor.  They were excited to show me their innovations around presenting a “seating chart” that would allow the user to visually see where employees were located within the organization.  Obviously, the software also allowed drill through on each employee to provide some core data at a glance.  (I don’t remember whose software this was).  It occurred to me that only the tiniest number of customers would ever implement this technology.  Spending resources and money on this is just not really that useful.  However, for a software demonstration, this functionality is priceless.  It’s still my thought that many of the current leading talent management vendors are simply creating new functionality not for the sake of advancing talent management to it’s fullest potential but to create “cool” and “flashy” functionality to increase sales.

Now, it’s possible that there is some great vision around this type of functionality, but the reality of it is quite far away.  Let me explain one scenario:  Consider a seating chart that is connected to both the regular organization chart.  Seeing how the various layers of the org chart are actually set up to interact with each other could be quite interesting.  Now add in a collaboration and social networking tool that analyzes how employees interact with each other regarding business topics.  Now you have a third layer of analysis where your hierarchical structure can be compared to your physical structure compared to actual interactions.  This analysis and insight would be very cool indeed.  But once again, its at least a few years away.

Flashy demo’s are cool.  But buying based on a great demo versus requirements is dangerous.  Talent vendors innovating for sales versus the reality of future talent needs is also disconcerting.

Intellectual Property and Competencies

I was chatting with a good friend of mine whose company does work with organizations to analyze the value of ongoing IP and R&D.  Ardent Research looks at current R&D and patent activity, surveys progress along that research, competitiveness against similar projects at other companies, and unique thought leadership that might give Ardent’s clients and advantage.  In evaluating current IP, gauging the progress and value of current research and patents for organizations, I occurred to me that the value of current IP could be correlated with the aggregate value of competencies within the organization.

This is one of those arguments where I’d like to suggest that in most companies, the HR function simply does not know nearly enough about the business to really serve appropriately.  Let’s face it, if an organization’s patent and IP work is strong in specific areas, requires faster growth, more concentration, or diversification, and the organization has the appropriate roadmap and survey work to back up that plan, then theoretically HR should have two things:

  1. HR knows the strengths and weaknesses of it’s senior talent.  By understanding the state of current patent and IP work, HR should also be able to correlate the aggregate talent and competency within the organization to complete a specific type of work.
  2. If HR knows what weaknesses exist by examining the progress if IP, then HR also knows what to be recruiting for in a short, mid and possibly long term recruiting strategy.

We simply can’t depend on managers in the business to identify recruiting and competency requirements for us.  We know that they are always under cost constraints, and if there is a required competency or position to fill, it’s always requested late.  Recruiters don’t know about needs until after those needs are required, and as much position management and planning that can be done does not usually help when the business P&L runs against the logic of optimal staffing.

In general, I think that aligning with an organization like Ardent who works with the business closely, and attempting to correlate their findings with what we already know about competencies can create incredible possibilities for talent planning.  I honestly don’t know if anyone out there is doing correlations between patent portfolios and senior talent requirements, but it’s probably something we should start thinking about.  We may not be ready for this type of analysis today, but I’d like to think that in 3-5 years when our core talent systems and programs are in place, this type of analysis becomes more possible

Changing Talent Strategies for HR Strategies

So how many people do you have?  What are their competencies?  What is the total aggregated of any particular competency in your entire employee base?  What is the engagement level for each of those employee populations for those competencies?  Do those engagement levels change by generation, location, or line of business?  Do you even care?

Well of course you care, but chances are (like most organizations) the talent strategy means that you try to answer all of these questions for all of your many customers.  Every business thinks they are the most important and wants the top level talent acquisition support.  Each business wants their employees to be the most engaged and to be the best trained.  But the reality is that there are specific places that the business has defined to be the growth engines, or are the profit centers.  It is these parts of the organization that your talent equation should be executing at the highest levels and at the highest priority.  Listen, if the CEO wants to grow the (retail) business in (Texas), as the major part of the profit equation, guess what your main job is?

So we look at growth and profit, but we also have to look at the overall strategy.  It’s not always about getting the best people to fill profit centers.  Sometimes the growth is about a specific avenue for growth.  If the strategy is to grow by M&A, HR has a much different role in evaluating acquisition targets and their talent profile they will bring to the combined organization.  If instead, your organization strategy is innovation or scientific discovery, how you source and create a talent infrastructure for your innovators to collaborate, share knowledge, and just not be distracted from that will be quite different from the M&A strategy.  And of course there is the customer service strategy, or retail growth and sales, etc.  Each of these requires a different focus when it comes to talent management, but often I simply see the same thing from company to company: Talent means catering to all people.  It does not.  As in the rest of HR, you need to pick your spots and realize what the broader organization is doing to be most aligned.

The Singularity

What is “the singularity?” It’s basically the Terminator movie in practice.  The singularity predicts that there is a point where computers become so intelligent that they are able to self replicate, they are able to generate knowledge at a supremely faster rate than humans can, and that eventually humans become unnecessary.  There are a couple other components to this theory though (certainly there are many opinions).  One of the very interesting ideas is that consciousness can be replicated.  If you think that the human consciousness is really a series of physical and chemical reactions, then these reactions can at some point be replicated.  If it is just chemistry, then consciousness could apparently be ported over to any machine.  The second idea is one of these about human immortality.  While computers may be much smarter, again, human thought and memory is a series of chemical reactions.  Again, these chemical reactions can be ported (downloaded) into a machine, and combined with consciousness, creates human immortality (perhaps not the body, but the mind).  Combine that with the processing power of a machine and you now have super humans.

So while I don’t really subscribe to science fiction, there really are serious scientists studying this type of stuff.  Chemists and biologists that are trying to understand the brain also are operating in the theory that the brain operates as a huge computer and are attempting to understand how this computer works.

So I go into this not to talk about science fiction and humanity, but about knowledge and innovation.  The limiting factor for innovation is time.  Over time, we have infinite processing power, we simply take longer.  However, when you can download ideas into networks of people, innovation and knowledge growth occurs faster.  Then you add computing power from machines and you then get exponential growth.  So the idea that starts with the singularity really gets applied today in social medias in connecting people and attempting to download as much knowledge as possible into these medias in the form of blogs and wikis and anything else.  It’s a far stretch to compare social medias to the singularity, but the step to me seems apparent.

The point is that we hope to automate the management and use of knowledge and learning to accelerate innovation and collaboration.  I think that social medias can’t be ignored as a great accelerator and multiplier for these goals.

(Don’t ask where I come up with this stuff.  I don’t know either.)