The Evolution of Standardization

So my wife has been on a homemade donut kick lately.  That’s right, every weekend I get to sample another dozen donuts.  Those of you who read often know that my constant struggle to stay fit must work really well when there is a new batch of donuts sitting around the house every Saturday morning.  We’ve got the chocolate dipped, the glazed, the orange glazed.  She says she is going to try a custard filled next.  I’ve sampled a quite a few dough recipes so far.  It started pretty poorly.  She tried to source a recipe off of some random website that sounded reasonable.  The dough turned out to be a bit too firm and chewy.  Therefore, the next go was from an authoritative cookbook by a guy who is a famous executive pastry chef and happens to have a cookbook exclusively about donuts.  This went a bit too far, and the dough was possibly too airy.  Not to be too Goldilocks, but my wife then blended the recipes until she found just the right combination of (turns out it was milk content).  She went from kinda random, to expert driven, and finally figured out somewhere in the middle was going to actually work out.

We’ve been experimenting with the idea of standardization for decades, but more so in the last 15 years as our organizations have gotten more global and those global populations have kept increasing.  The evolution started with zero standardization.  it was really step one as global organizations just did whatever they wanted to.  There were shadow HR systems everywhere, country specific processes, and inconsistent delivery to the business.  Local HR organizations provided generally adequate service to the business, but corporate HR organizations couldn’t get simple head counts let alone anything that was actually useful.

Many organizations have moved to the next stage of evolution, the corporate mandate.  Corporate HR organizations tried to make some sense of this mayhem by implementing core HR systems and mandating that all countries around the globe had to have their employees entered into the common HR system.  This did nothing except ensure that country HR double entered employee data but kept their own individual way of processing transactions.  In almost all cases, the shadow systems (usually spreadsheets) still existed.  The problem is that most organizations think that there is a way to make the corporate mandate work, when really this is as much a failure as the mayhem that existed before.

We’ve also gone down the road of “the only modifications to standard processes will be for local compliance needs.”  Basically, we’ve told the local HR organizations that the local practice is not acceptable and we’re not going to cater to them unless there is a law involved.  Personally, I can’t think of much that less engaging.  Some things make sense, like if we’re transferring an employee, it should not be that different across the world.  Especially if transfers are across country borders, we really do want some consistency.  But when we get to things like how managers work with employee performance or the allocation of spot bonuses, there will often be some local flair that could be important.

What I’ve found is that the corporate HR mandate is just as dysfunctional as the mayhem of no standardization.  This is because the corporate mandate does not solution for local needs in any way, or even admit that local needs might be different.  It’s a totally selfish view by corporate HR organizations that the need of central authority, consistency, governance and data override everything else.  If we treated our personal relationships this way, we’d have no friends.  Luckily, we seem to have some sons socially in our personal lives.  Not so much in business though.

Here’s my solution.  At the end of the day, it’s about the business.  We need to let the in-country businesses decide that they can standardize and want to standardize.  This actually means de-standardizing for them.  In some cases, it’s as simple as providing them with the localizations they need (and that we promised them for compliance reasons, but for some reason we never came through on that promise).  In other cases, it’s giving in on the one extra level of approvals they want for the salary increase process.  In simple terms though, you almost never get what you want by mandate, you get it by partnership.

These days, the new HR systems all pretty much come with packaged localizations, so it’s not like the old days when you had to purchase the country pack and install the thing.  I’ll admit I’m not a fan of massive process customizations for every country – this becomes impossible to manage.  I’m really not a fan of anything other than the minor token tweak.  What we’ve found over time however, is giving in on one or two battles that are genuinely important to the local business will leave you from ten other battles that could have happened.  At the end of the day, it’s about finding that middle ground that gets you the desired results for both corporate HR and the local business at the same time.

The new HR Portal is not an HR Portal

What exactly was Web 1.0?  I honestly can’t even remember.  I barely even remember Web 2.0 other than it was the advent of user interactivity so minimally executed that today’s teenagers would not even recognize it as internet. Oh, wait – I totally forgot that today’s teenagers no longer care about the internet.  Here’s the history and future of the HR Portal from the past 10 years, into the next 10 years:

  • 1990’s:  Most of us don’t have a high quality HRMS solution yet.  Don’t talk to me about a portal.  I don’t even know what Yahoo! is yet.
  • 2000:  We just implemented a recruiting system and might be implementing PeopleSoft soon.  Starting to realize that somewhere for managers and employees to go as a launch page might be important, but it’s an after thought.  I don’t have budget for it anyway.
  • 2005:  We just implemented Plumtree as our corporate portal.  Here we come PeopleSoft Portal!  Woot!!!  We have a link farm!!!
  • 2010:  We decided to get rid of our link farm portal and have something a bit more design oriented.  Usability just went up 10 times, but I still don’t know why our managers don’t use it and surveys say our portal sucks.
  • 2015:  Our portal finally goes mobile.  HR transactions are executed on phones and tablets, and the portal has a responsive design so it knows if I’m mobile or at a regular browser.
  • 2020:  We’ve integrated social transactions in all of our portal experience.  Employees can #HR and create cases in the case management system.  The employe population is also a form of crowd intelligence – half of the time my #HR posts are answered by peer before HR gets to it.
  • 2025:  The HR portal is gone.  In fact, what’s HR?  What used to be known as HR transactions are now just embedded in the business portal space.  My approval lists all appear on my phone (this used to be on a browser?!?!?!) in the same list my expense and procurement approvals are in.  Time to hire metrics are somehow integrated within a view of my financial budget for my department.

My point is that the HR portal is a bit of an stupid idea.  Apologies to all of the HR portal professionals out there, but nobody goes to the HR portal by choice.  We don’t find extraordinary satisfaction by checking our process diagrams and compliance mandates.  The fact of the matter is that nobody cares until they have to.  HR has had a habit of over communication.  We do have compliance stuff, and since nobody cares about the HR stuff, we think we have to pressure them into caring.

HR has it all wrong.  Managers and employees do care about stuff – just not the annual programs we drive them hard on, and not about the compliance stuff we won’t stop pestering them about.  Employees and managers do care about giving and receiving public recognition.  They do care about the things they are supposed to do that benefit others, like real time feedback and doing transactions if they are easy to do.  All we really have to do is make it simple, mobile, social, and relevant.

Simplicity:  This should be the mantra of HR.  K.I.S.S.  In many of our organizations, HR is the most at fault for writing 10 paragraph emails when 3 sentences and a link to more explanation would suffice.  We’ve made it so hard for any manager or employee to comply with HR policies and procedures that it’s no wonder they don’t like us.
Mobility:  This could be part of simplicity, but it’s more important than that.  The next couple of generations aren’t going to want to do anything if it’s not on their phone or tablet.  Oh, who and I kidding.  Better make they their wearable device.
Social:  We need to figure out how to embed social in everything.  There’s a #HR case management example above.  How about social real time feedback?  How about getting rid of competency models and using social expert profiles or having peers evaluate profiles like they do on LinkedIn?  Huge HR constructs that take 20 FTE’s to manage annually are dying.  In with the social crowd wisdom!  The sooner the better!
Relevance:  Can we stop with the HR stuff already and figure out what our employees and managers really want?  These are simply avenues to engage them in our processes.  Let’s take employee recognition as a launching point to rewards.  Let’s use social feedback to get people interested in performance.  Let’s use LinkedIn-like profiles as an entry point to talent mobility conversations.

Attention spans are decreasing every year.  If we choses to bore people to death, we’ll just be the same HR in 2020.

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.

Thinking Like A Leader

On my recent Taiwan trip with my family, one of my uncles tagged along for much of the tour.  I really like this uncle as he is often quite interesting to talk to, and is an extremely smart guy.  He’s been retired for a while from his last job as the COE of a major electronics manufacturer, and now sits on the boards of several companies.  To say he’s smart is a but lame actually.  Chances are that the touchscreen you use on your phone or tablet were created by him – literally he is the patent holder.  So as usual when I see him, I’d try to engage him in any number of conversations from Taiwanese politics, the economy, history, the future of personal devices, etc.  Ultimately it occurred to me that these conversations seemed to be extremely short lived.  The extension of the conversations were quite long however, but always seemed to end up being about LCD touch panel displays.  At some point, I finally realized that it was all he either wanted to talk about, or could talk about.

Imagine this: you ask me a question about benefit plan strategy, and all I can talk about is benefit enrollment technology. (I do have my CEBS by the way, even though I never talk benefits).  Or if what you really want to know is best practices around transforming HR business partners into internal management consultants and I give you the pitch about how manager self service will free up time for you to work on that project.  It’s all good and sort of related, but really it’s not.  The problem is larger than random bloggers who have a one track mind though.  It’s not even a problem with HR technologists who do tend to be a bit “focused.”

I’ve spent years doing strategy projects from comp, HRIT, and service delivery organizations and they pretty much all have one guiding principle in common: the need to bring better value to the business.  We’re excellent at thinking about it, but we’re not so good at implementing it.  When we go to the business leaders we’ve promised ourselves to serve and communicate with better, inevitably, we fall back to the same conversations, “Here’s how we are restructuring HR to provide better service to you, our customer.”  It’s as if we think they care about our Talent Management project, or that we will be implementing new job codes.  These are just headache projects to them that mean more work they will need to bear in the short term.  At the end of the day, we’re trying to have the right conversations, but we’re are approaching them in the wrong way.  The end result is we just talk about the stuff we know, instead of the stuff they care about.

Here are some tips:

  • Approach every leader conversation not as an update, but as a change management conversation.  If you do this, you are less likely to talk about the details and dynamics of the project, and much more likely to talk about why the project is important for the business and how the decisions you will be making right now will positively impact the leader.  You’ll also be better positioned to ask the leader to make decisions if they understand the context of how it fits into her business.
  • Bring your guiding principles and strategy documents to every meeting.  Unless you meet with the leader every week, it won’t get redundant to spend 3 minutes at the start of each meeting revalidating the strategy and guiding principles.  It might be the best time you spend, drilling your leader with your core outcomes.  Without it, you risk a disconnect at the end of the project.  With it, you have a leader who will actively sponsor you if she continues to stay on board, and you’ll know this if you stay in front of it.
  • End every meeting by making your leader agree that they get it and you are on track.  If they don’t get it or think you are off track, make them verbalize this and why they think so.  Most leaders who verbally tell you good news consistently and repeatedly either believe it to be true, or will convince themselves out of sheer repetition over time. (that’s not cynical, it’s psychology)
  • Leave the project plan in at your desk.  Leaders only care about budget and timeframes if you’re totally off track and there is business impact.  Otherwise, just bring up the decisions that will be made in the context of pros and cons.

It’s totally human nature to talk about what we know best, and that is what we do every day.  But we risk sounding like a broken record that nobody was interested in in the first place.  What business leaders want to hear about is not our stuff in HR, it’s their stuff.  So long as we can figure out how to talk about their stuff, we’ll be in good shape.  I’m not so sure most of us are in good shape right now.

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.

I Don’t Want No Stinkin’ Analytics!

I’m a nerd.  I get on my bike or I go for a run, and I’ve got my Garmin GPS running the whole time telling me how far I went, how fast I went, what my heart rate was, (ok I’ll stop the list well before it gets to 20 items).  I also happen to weigh myself 4 times a day.  I like to know how much I weigh, what my % of water weight is, how fat I am, etc.  I’m a total nerd and I like my data – lots of it.

When I get home from a routine Saturday ride, the first thing I do is download all the data.  The data by itself is interesting, but only for about 3 minutes.  The second thing I do is I trend the thing.  I’ll look at my ride side by side with the prior week’s and maybe several others.  Basically I’ll compare the stats and get an idea if I was slower, faster, more powerful, etc.  In other words, within a few seconds, I’ll know if I’m better or worse off.

The thing is, I really don’t care about that either.  What I really care about is that I was really slow up Mt. Tam, or that I got dropped on the way into Pt. Reyes.  It’s not that I care that I suck (that’s a given), it’s that where I suck tells me what to work on.  Sometimes, it even tells me that I didn’t eat enough (a common problem if you guys know me – yes, I’m neurotic).

In the last 15 years, most of us have gone from minimal data in our reports, to some pretty decent analytics and/or dashboards.  We’ve started moving away from the static and columnar operational reports and into trending and drillable analytics.  With these new reports, we’ve prided ourselves with the ability to tell our executives that “turnover is down compared to a year ago”, or “the cost of hiring in #BU has skyrocketed.”  It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood!

But I don’t want operational reports.  Neither do I want analytics.  What I want has almost nothing to do with the data.  I want insightfulness into the business.

Let’s pretend I go to the head of my business unit and tell her that turnover is up over the last 3 quarters.  “Crap,” she says.  “What is the problem and what do we do about it?”  Joe HR stammers and says, “looks like we have an engagement problem???”  Trends and drills are really nice things.  I know I’m lying, our managers really do want this stuff.  But they only want it because we’ve starved them for data for decades.  They really are only mildly interested in the data.  Just as I only look at my bike ride speed out of curiosity, I know that the number alone tells me zilch.  Just as knowing my average speed compared to last week tells me only if I was a little better or worse, ignores conditions on the road, and the environmental context.  What I really want to know is how everything fits together to provide an analysis that give me the insight to act and make a decision.  I want to know what to act on, when, and how to do it.

HR’s job in data is starting to transition yet again.  We’re moving out of the business (I hope) of creating trends and drills, and moving into the business of context.  So the turnover trend looked bad.  Now the questions is how we create a regression model around our data to figure out what the primary actors are for that turnover trend.  Maybe for once engagement only has a small contributing score to turnover.  Maybe what we didn’t know was that the leader told their entire BU that nobody was getting a bonus this year.  Perhaps the cause of that was actually some severe cost containment driven at the corporate level.  How about some good analytics here to compare the cost of total turnover to the cost of those bonuses?

At the end of the day, we have much cooler data.  I’ll give us that one (and the vendors especially).  It’s time though to stop being producers of just the data alone.  It’s not enough anymore.  Perhaps when half of HR were “generalists” a decade ago this was ok.  But we’re supposed to be partnered with the business now and we still can’t really diagnose what’s going on, let alone how to fix things.  Once again, let’s stop being producers of data and become analysts of data.  We need to start producing some insightfulness.

I Can Finally Buy My Dad a Smart Phone

Just a couple years ago, my parents came back to the US after years of being overseas missionaries.  They have been in Siberia, on a random island in the Pacific, etc… and they came back to a world where cell phones were ubiquitous and information was accessible everywhere.  My father is now over 70 years old, and he loves gadgets and toys of the electronic variety.  However, simple things like programming a new DVD player can elude him – not because he could not do it 15 years ago (I guess that would have been a VCR), but because it really is a bit different.

A couple years ago I bought my parents cell phones and put them on my plan.  This way they would have something in the case of an emergency, and of course a way to call me for free without paying long distance.  I’ve held off of buying my dad a smart phone though since I wasn’t sure if the whole thing would be a bit daunting.  Sure enough he’d love it, but I didn’t think he’d use it to 20% of its capabilities.  However, the time has come that I think I can do it.  No – it’s not going to be the iPhone, and certainly not an Android (my OS of coice).  I think I’m going to get him a WP8 phone.  Yep – Microsoft has finally created something that I can give my dad and not even worry about having to teach him how to use it.  The thing is marvelous – it works the way it should, it’s totally intuitive, notifications happen in the live tile rather than in some random notification area, etc…  This is a phone that my dad will understand, and I don’t even have to give him mor than 30 minutes of training.

I’m reminded about heading to India a few weeks ago where I was coordinating some UAT for a new core HRMS I was helping to implement.  I’d stand in front of a group of managers, give them the 5 minute pitch about why we were changing and who the vendor was.  Then I’d give them the 3 minute orientation to the product.  “Here’s where your ESS is, MSS, reports, and search” basically, and then let them loose with their scenarios and see what happened.  Unbelievably (to me) the managers unanimously walked out having figured out the product on their own, and all had great experiences.  Of course there was a feedback comment here and there, but all in all, these untrained managers just did their thing and got it right.

All UX should be this easy.  Throughout the ERP era, we were so used to overloading the managers with complexity and data that we assumed they wanted.  At the end of the day, they really needed something they could understand immediately upon login (the 3 times a year that they actually logged in).  And really, they didn’t want data – they wanted insightful information about their workers.  The data just turned out to be overload.

I’m pretty pleased about this decision to get my father a smart phone.  Not only am I going to get him more connected, but I know he will be really engaged with the tool – the man is going to have fun with it.  He’ll have a phone, but now I can text him and know he’ll get it, he will also have easy email, an easy way to send photos to me from his phone, etc.  In other words, I’ll have given him a tool that will make him more productive because he can use it.  Less really is more.

 

HRaaS

Every now and then I think I have a thought that is pure genius. This is not one of them. Instead, every now and then I have a thought that simply entertains me for longer than it should. This is definitely one of those.

I have not yet figured out the appropriate pronunciation for this. It might either be HR-ass, or harass. Either way, the thought popped up in my head while pondering the wonders of HR outsourcing. I mean, if we think about HRO, all we are really talking about is HR as a service, right? You subscribe to a service whether it is payroll or benefits outsourcing, or technology and call centers. You expect that the vendor will keep up with best practices, update their technologies as needed, have the right staffing ratios as your organization grows (or not), and maintain all the service levels you have negotiated. It really does sound like HR as a Service to me. It is unfortunate that HRO organizations have not adopted the acronym however.

We talk about it as HR service delivery after all, so why do we call the relationship HR outsourcing? Sure we have outsourced the delivery of parts of the service chain to someone else, but at the end of the day, it really does not matter if the service is internally or externally delivered. It’s simply a component of HR services that our employees and managers expect to get from us. What matters most to us is that the employees get the best experience possible in a scalable and cost effective solutions. (ok, so they really don’t care about the last 2). I mean, let’s think about the value proposition that HRO gives us. They can scale better, they can add technology with more agility, and and they are supposed to be rurally good at executing their core.

So next time you have a HR transformation project that includes HRO, I dare you. No, I double dare you. Brand your project HRaaS. (come on, I at least got a chuckle out of you, right? I really prefer not to laugh alone.)

Feedback and Calling BS in Social

An interesting thing happened at the recent HR Technology Conference.  During Naomi Bloom’s “Master Panel,” when Mike Capone noted that ADP had the first SaaS application, before anyone else and before anyone called it SaaS, many of my compatriots on twitter decided to tweet this statement.  I have no issues with announcing to the world what a panel member said.  However, I know for what must be a fact that half of my compatriots on twitter thought to themselves, “Hmmm, really?”  In fact, I myself wrote a tweet, “ADP had SaaS first?  I think not!” and posted it just to immediately delete it.  Why after all, would I want to be the only dissenter?  Why would I want to be the only one to rock the boat?

I’ve continued to think about this statement about ADP, and have decided that I can’t really abide by it.  I have defined SaaS by two simple parameters: hosted and single code base.  All that means is that the customer does not maintain anything outside of their network infrastructure, and that all clients have the same application at the same time.

ADP has had Enterprise (before that HRizon) hosted since probably the mid 1990’s.  But they were always on multiple versions.  Similarly, you could say that AutoPay (the mainframe payroll engine) was SaaS since it does indeed cover both parameters of vendor hosted and always on the same version for all clients.  The problem here is that there are different versions of the input devices, and even different applications (Enterprise, Payforce, and now Vantage).  It really was not until ADP Payforce that I think ADP had a true SaaS platform that even they finally called “versionless.”  By the time this came out in about 2005, Salesforce.com had been out for 5 years.  It’s completely possible that somewhere in ADP’s portfolio there was a SaaS platform, but I just can’t think of what it was.  If mainframe service bureau was SaaS, then I think IBM had it first.  Did ADP have SaaS first?  Perhaps, but that’s not my version of history.

<begin ADP response>

The fundamental concept of delivering a hosted, multi-tenant solution is something ADP has been doing for decades.  The delivery of those applications via the Internet / Cloud is something we’ve done since ’97 when we launched a product called ADP Remote Control.  This technology eventually became our iProducts series which now has well north of 100k clients.

Another early huge success in the Cloud was the Fall 2000 launch of Pay eXpert, a cloud-based payroll solution.  Today, more than 60,000 clients are using Pay eXpert.

Overall, we have more than 300,000 clients and 18 million users leveraging our cloud solutions.  Included in that count are 30,000 clients leveraging our cloud-based, integrated HCM and Talent offerings such as ADP Workforce Now, ADP Vantage HCM and ADP GlobalView.

</end ADP response>

Back to the point, now that I’ve had the time to think through this.  There was a comment by Ben Brooks in the Social Media Unpanel at HR Technology about “bad behavior.”  Something like “if you have a jerk, let them rise to the top so you can fire them.”  This really could have been me.  With nobody else saying anything about ADP, maybe I was the jerk – the one guy who had to say something and call someone else out in front of (how many thousand people?).  Being the jerk and providing negative public feedback (as I’m doing now in fact) is a dangerous thing.  You can be wrong, be seen as the A-hole, antagonize someone you work with (either internal or god forbid a client).  These are indeed serious risks and impact the way you’ll be seen in the organization.  If your organization is really transparent, perhaps some small callouts or questions are very acceptable.  But in highly politicized organizations, you’d best be thoughtful before being too vocal.

In another session (I wish I could remember), someone noted that with social in their organization they were receiving significantly more positive feedback for their employees than previously possible.  Employees found that giving people “stars” or other types of recognition was not only good for themselves, but also rewarded those they gave the positive feedback to.  Overall, employee engagement probably increased, and the sharing of positive feedback is quite circular (you’re likely to try to return the favor when it’s warranted).  The negative or constructive feedback rarely makes it to social media that is implemented in the enterprise.  These comments are usually reserved for private discussion (which can be dome through some social tools), or for manager discussions.

Either way, the socialization of constructive or negative feedback seems to have been restricted from our social interactions based on the concept of a “polite society.”  It’s not that we don’t want to call each other out, it’s that there is sometimes risk associated with it, and that the benefits of handling certain interactions privately benefits all parties.

I have just looked up Wikipedia’s page on SaaS (the social source of all truth in the universe…) and they do indeed list IBM as one of the first.  But given that mainframe service bureaus are on the SaaS history page, I suppose that ADP might have had it first in HR.  Mea Culpa, I retract my earlier criticism of ADP.  I will now giddily await Ceridian’s rebuttal.

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.

 

HR Technology Conference Reactions: Talent Management Panel

The talent management panel at The HR Technology Conference was all about diversity.  Not diversity in terms of workforce, but the diversity in terms of approaches in deploying talent processes and technologies that different companies take in pursuit of their goals. With Jason Averbook hosting, we had Walmart (2+ million employees), Motorola Solutions (called themselves an 84 year old startup), Merck (single global system in 84 countries) and ETS Lindgren (900 employees). At one end of the table, we had 2.2 million employees and the other end we had 900. We had SAP globally, and we had Rypple/Work.com.

Here are some highlights (not direct quotes in most cases):

Theme #1:  Ongoing feedback. When even Walmart says they need to deploy ongoing feedback for a workforce that is 2.2 million strong, this is something to watch.  Generally when we think of retail, we’re thinking about a population with a full set of competencies from some very senior talent to some fairly low paid employees.  Saying that real time feedback is important for the entire population is a big deal, where many of us would traditionally just focus on the top tier of talent.  ETS Lindgren said much the same and have experienced a huge jump in positive feedback.  They have shown that social can really assist in the engagement equation, but realize that the constructive feedback still happens either in private messaging or in the manager conversations.

Theme #2:  Focus on what matters. Having just said that you spread the wealth in Theme #1, there did seem to be a consistent theme around making sure that the roles that really drive revenues in your organization are the ones you focus on disproportionately.  There was a discussion about “peanut butter spread” and it seemed there was mass agreement where you provide some global focus, but your time is really spent managing the interactions with the employees that will impact your bottom line most directly.  I also want to do a theme 2.5 here.  Merck had an important call-out I think.  They are starting with a revamp of their job structure.  For any deployment be it TM, HCM or Social, if your foundation sucks, you are not going anywhere.  You can roll things out, and you might get adoption, but you won’t have great measurement.  Merck had this to say, “If someone allowed the choice of getting the basics right or deploying collaboration tools, I’d say to look at the foundation.” More on measurement later.

Theme #3:  Things still need to get easier. Walmart had a nice example with talent reviews.  They used to walk into a room of executives with volumes of huge binders.  Instead of that, they give everyone an iPad with the employee data preloaded.  This makes the discussion more dynamic and flexible.  At the same time, you can have significantly more data at your disposal compared to the volumes of binders.  This is an example where it’s working, but there are still areas where data minim does not work.  Motorola asked the question, “If I want a restaurant recommendation, I ask my friends on Facebook and get immediate answers.  If I need a best practice, there should be an app for that too.”

Theme #4:  Flexibility. This one goes hand in hand with ongoing feedback.  One of the companies stated that they will go without formal reviews and formal ratings.  WHAT?!?!?!  Not having reviews and ratings is an experiment that some have tried in smaller organizations, but I’ll be excited to see how it works in a socially based larger organization.  This theme is also about the social thread that would not stop coming up in this panel.  Most everyone seemed to have a social strategy that included not only conversations, but also some ideas of recognition.

Theme #5:  Data and analytics. We talked a bit about Merck in Theme #2.  I also liked the blended TM/Social/Analytics theme that ETS Lindgren brought up:  We want to know who is having conversations and about what at any given time.  If we can figure out what our talent is talking about, how to connect others, and measure the impact of quality interactions on our bottom lines, then we can also figure out how to invest in growing those specific conversations.  (tie in to Theme #1).

Theme #6:  Sponsorship. Motorola had this to say, “Our CEO has 2 jobs.  Managing the bottom line, and managing talent.”  ETS Lindgren had this to say, “Our Rypple tool came from the CEO.  We wanted to do something different.”  Either way you cut it, they had great sponsorship to ignite and create change.  It doesn’t always have to be the CEO, but if you don’t have top level sponsorship at all, you’re sunk.

 

Switching Gears

A long time ago, I used to work for ADP doing pre-sales.  We had great relationships internally with services and implementation, but nonetheless it always seemed to come up that we didn’t always sell with the full lens of reality.  On the other hand, I’d say that we came up with some pretty cool solutions to some pretty tough problems.  In today’s world, I’m generally thought of as a strategist.  I do lots of planning type of work whether it’s strategic 3 year plans, some implementation planning, or just some business case writing.  My current project (depending on when this posts), is a global implementation of a new core HR system for which I had a major hand in writing the business case.  I’ll start by saying that I’m really not suited for implementations, but the experience is quite eye opening.

There is no blame for anything that happens in pre-sales here.  For this current project, we had probably one of the best consultants available both from functional and technical resources.  The problem that happens in pre-sales is that you don’t actually have finalized design yet, so all discussions are really quite hypothetical.  “So how would the application perform ABC?”  “Well, there is option 1, or 2, or 3.”  And of course if we wanted to solve for problem XYZ, there are solutions 7, 8, and 9.  Where the hard part comes in is that while all of the presented solutions are not only possible, but implementationally viable, mixing and matching does not always work.  Solution 2 might be dependent on implementing position management, and solution 3 might not work with solution 7.

When I was with ADP, there was sometimes the thinking that we threw things over the fence.  First of all, I think this happens with all vendors.  Second, I don’t think we ever really threw things over that proverbial fence.  Instead, we just didn’t know what a client was ultimately going to do, so we presented all the possible options.  In a sales cycle, you really don’t have the time to go into every nuance of every solution, and most of the time you have consultants like me driving tight timelines and moving discussions forward before “analysis paralysis” occurs.

I remember back in the day when ERP implementations would last for years – things would come up, we’d switch directions, something else would come up, we’d backtrack because the application didn’t work the way we expected it to.  Reflecting on my own experience, I realize how much we could not have known in the sales cycle, and what that meant for the implementation.  Implementation consultants have a really challenging job.  “But you guys told us we could do option 3!”  “Ok client, but you didn’t tell us that you wanted 1 job code for the entire company.”  (I’m kidding about that one)

Once we have requirements and design, I have a whole new respect for how implementers get around to explaining how the whole application actually works with all the nuances of each functional component.  I’ve always loved how sales consultants can dance around solutions for a system that if completely fictitious at that point, but am equally amazed at watching implementers dance around requirements once they start to solidify.  Hats off.

 

Rules of the Other Road

The other road?  What other road?  The skinny 2-wheeled road of course.  Here is the idea:  for a cyclist to be safe when you are cruising down the road at 30 miles per hour, a guy 2 inches to your left, right, back and front, there are a couple basic things to keep in mind.

  1. Don’t hit the brakes.  At 30 miles per hour and a guy 2 inches behind you (true tailgating), hitting the brakes means that you’re going to have a very sore butt and back from impact.  When you do hit the brakes, usually it’s accompanied by some rather foul language that reverberates all the way back through the pack.
  2. Ride in a straight line (a.k.a. follow your line).  Don’t swerve, don’t move right or left unexpectedly.  I usually even check under my arm to make sure nobody is within striking distance before I “change my line.”
  3. Ride efficiently.  You can always see the guys to avoid riding close to.  They are the ones that are pedaling with their legs, arms, torso, and everything else.  Perfect efficiency is a relaxed and still upper body while your lower body does all the work.

I tell you all of this for one reason only.  HR is a finely orchestrated bicycle dance.  We can work together and radically increase our speed by drafting.  Or we can bring all of us down together as well (this latter option is often quite painful).  We often don’t realize the integration we have with each other – that we are only a small cog in the HR process.  If we look at things end to end, it’s quite a bit more complex.

A quick snapshot reveals that how compensation constructs jobs can make life really easy or hard for recruiting.  The quality of the recruiters’ work makes life easy/hard for HRSS (shared services) when the person is hired.  HRSS makes life easy/hard for payroll and benefits based on the accuracy of the data entry.

The thing is that we understand who is downstream from our piece of the puzzle, but I’m not sure we always care enough.  When the recruiter is told to slam someone into the hire process, HRSS is often left to pick up the pieces.  We sometimes don’t even know what all the ramifications are for months.  The problem is that we (in this example recruiting) did something unexpected, and forced an action on someone else.  At the end of the day, we probably caused more problems by deviating from our expected course than we solved by rushing someone into the organization.

I’m not saying it’s always bad to deviate.  Sometimes it’s necessary.  When I hit the brakes at speed, it usually comes with a simultaneous shout, “SLOWING!”  When I change the line I’m riding, I usually check under my arm (think of this as checking your bicycle blind spot) and quickly flick a wrist so everyone knows I’m moving over.  The point is, unexpected deviations are bad.  Planned and coordinated deviations when really necessary can prevent a log of angst.

 

Creating Information from Knowledge from Collaboration

It’s nice being a consultant.  People like consultants because we have a specific approach to a problem.  We talk to lots of people, look at lots of documents, conduct workshops.  Then we synthesize what we have learned and create judgments and opinions, and then we document everything to the nth degree.  Some people would argue we talk to too many people – but the value we bring is in developing a comprehensive and external point of view that is broad.  Some people would argue that too much (hopefully) documentation comes out of projects.  While most of my projects are boiled down to a 12 page powerpoint, there is usually a couple hundred pages of backup material and some really complex spreadsheets that prove my point.  At the end of the day, I can talk to as many people as I want, form whatever judgment I feel is right, and it’s all for naught if I don’t document it all.  2 years down the road, it’s just a piece of paper nobody looks at because nobody understands how the conclusions were made.  So I tend to document.

I say all of this because the process is important.  There is a flow between collaboration and exploration, to knowledge creation, to information creation.  We’ve been talking about knowledge management for ages.  Let’s face it – knowledge management has not necessarily worked out.  It’s an old topic that many people are sick of hearing about, but the truth of it is that we still don’t manage the knowledge in our organizations well.  Many of our organizations still have thousands upon thousands of documents stored in Sharepoint databases, but they are poorly versioned, not well cataloged, and hard to find.  If knowledge management practices of 10 years ago had panned out, we would have it all figured out by now.  Part of the problem is that we’ve changed technologies and user requirements rather rapidly, but at the core of the problem, we really didn’t understand what it was that we were actually cataloging.  Turns out, it was not all about knowledge management at all.

Let’s take a sample process.  If we are creating a business case, we create a task force or project team to investigate the problem, any risks, possible interactions, costs, etc.  Through this process, a significant amount of collaboration happens in the course of the investigation and discovery, after which some sort of decisions are made.  It is through the collaboration that knowledge is often created.  However, we can’t manage that knowledge that is created until the information is created in the form of the business case.  A good business case will document not only why we want to do something, but how, what were the risks and costs, and all the other components.  The business case, or the information we can catalog, is the output of the knowledge gained, that which we cannot catalog.

So we talk about knowledge management, all the while realizing that we can’t catalog what is in people’s heads.  We can only capture what they record – and this has gotten more interesting as we have gone from documents to blogs and wikis.  But the quality of that content is still in flux.  Do people actually record everything that went into their decisions?  Do they only blog about what is interesting to them?  If a high performer leaves the organization and they were a good documenter and quality blogger, how do you know that you still have all the knowledge they produced with they worked for you?

In today’s world, we talk a lot about how to create productivity gains from collaboration networks – and this is clearly important – it’s the starting point of knowledge creation.  We’ve spent years talking about knowledge management and how to catalog – and this is also important.  We’ve created knowledge bases that are not always optimized, but it’s a starting point.  What we have not done is effectively have a conversation about information and the quality of that information in the organization.  How do we actually make sure that all of our data is good data and that it’s complete?  Collaboration and knowledge is the starting point, but I think we need to start having a discussion about what is next.

Commonizing Meaning

I have some favorite phrases that I’ve been picking up for years.

  • “Eh, voila!” universal for “eh, voila!”
  • “Ah, asodeska” Japanese for “I understand”  (sp?)
  • “Bo ko dien” is Taiwanese for highly unlikely or that’s ridiculous. (sp?)
  • “Oh shiitake” (shitzu is also appropriate), is an imperfectly polite way of saying “oh &#!+”

Basically, these are phrases that i love, but at least the latter two are meaningless to most people i say them to. I could of course go to Japan and most people will know what I’m talking about when i tell them I understand them, but they will then look at me funny when i exclaim in the name of a mushroom in anger.

We face the same problems when we talk about data calculations in HR. The most common of which is the simple headcount calculation. “Simple?” you ask. I mean, how hard can it be to count a bunch of head that are working in the organization on any particular day, right? The smart data guys out there are scoffing at me at this very moment.

First, we put on the finance hat. Exactly how many heads is a part time person? HR exclaims that is why we have headcount versus FTE. But finance does not really care, and they are going to run a headcount using a fraction either way.

Second, we put on our function and division hat. Every division seems to want to run the calc in a different way. And then there are realistic considerations to be made, such as the one country out there that outsources payroll, and does not have a field to differentiate a PT versus FT person. or the country that has a mess of contractors on payroll, and can’t sort them out.

Then you put on the analytics hat, and realize that when you integrated everything into your hypothetical data warehouse, the definitions for other fields have not been standardized around the organization, and you can’t get good head counts of specific populations like managers, executives, and diversity. I mean, is a someone in management a director and above? Or is she jut a people manager? How many people does she have to manage to be in management? Are we diverse as an organization simply because we have a headcount that says we are more than 50% people of color even though 2000 of those people are in Japan where the population is so homogenous that any talk of non Japanese minorities is simply silly?

Then you put on your math hat and some statistician in the organization tells you that you can’t average an average, or some nonsense like that.

So the Board of Directors comes to HR and asks what the headcount of the organization is. You tell them that you have 100,000 employees, plus or minus 10%. Yep, that’s going to go over really well.

I’m not saying its an easy discussion, but all it really takes is getting everyone into the same room one (OK, maybe over the course of a couple of weeks) to get this figured out. I’ve rarely seen an organization that is so vested in their own headcount method that they can’t see the benefits of a standardized calculation. I fact, most of the segments within are usually clamoring for this and we just have not gotten around to it yet, or we think they are resistant. In the end, it’s really not so hard, and we should just get to it.

Asodeska?

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)

Decision effectiveness

A few years ago, i had a custom set of wheels made for my bike. I had the rims specifically weighed and picked out of a set of about 10 rims. I had the spokes weighed and balanced to make sure they were the lightest ones. The spoke nipples (the threaded parts that are basically nut that the spokes attach to the rims through) were color matched to the paint on my bike. all said, the wheels weighed about 1435 grams. Not crazy light, but pretty darn light. And they were fairly aerodynamic having decently deep rims and bladed spokes to cut through wind. Being aerodynamic, they cut through wind pretty well, and being light, they accelerated and climbed well. But custom rims cannot be laced as tight as some of the manufactured wheels out there. The one thing I lacked was the stability that comes from an incredibly tightly laced wheel.

I decided to give up my beloved wheel set and get a mass produced one (ok, so I have not yet seen another set of my wheels on the road, but still, they are not custom wheels). They happen to be just as light, almost as aerodynamic, and insanely sturdy. There is so little flex in my wheels that on hard corners going downhill at 45 mph, I have absolute confidence in them and I know exactly what they are going to do. Nonetheless, it was a hard decision to make, to replace my perfectly good older wheels.

I’ll admit. Even I talk too much about governance and the structure and network it takes to have a good governance model. But regardless of the model, it is not about your governance model, its about the effectiveness of your decisions. Do you make the right decisions? How fast do you make a decision? How often do you execute your decisions as planned?

You can have a great governance model. You can be totally well informed about what goes on in the organization based on working groups that inform you about the state of HR. You can be well networked and statused. And with all of that, you can still make the wrong decisions or avoid making decisions.

I have seen organizations where the governance model was to include so many people in the decision that at the end of the day, nobody wanted to be accountable for the final decision. The group would reach a point of consensus so that if anything went wrong, nobody had to take accountability, and they were all both blameless and at fault. It was also an environment where when the group was close to consensus, if someone saw something was clearly wrong, nobody would stand up for fear of being the one having to be accountable for a different decision.  It was a governance model. It was inclusive, well networked, but it turned out it was a bad model. Either nothing got done, or often, the wrong things got done. When it comes right down to it, you need to be inclusive and networked in the governance model, but you also need to be able to react quickly and authoritatively when the circumstances call for it. You need to have accountability for the decision that is separate from accountability for the execution and implementation of that decision. And you need to have the ability and the willingness to switch gears in the middle when you realize that something is either wrong, or jut that something could be better.

I had. Perfectly good bike, with perfectly good wheels. I’m continuously amazed at the quality of my new ride. It feels smoother when i ride over bumps, more solid when I ride down a hill, but jut as light and aerodynamic. I was the right decision to make, even though it pained me to make it.

Nerves and Decision Governance

What makes us intelligent, able to make decisions based on our surrounding and pdictions of the future is not that we have an emmense amount of knowledge packed into our brains. Rather, what makes us different as human beings is that we have a great deal of nerves and nerve connections. It is these connections that is what makes us able to operate in. Different mode than the other animals around us.

Without these fundamental building blocks of connections, we would simply not be able to make the decisions we make. The same can be said for governance. Armed with only knowledge, we can make decisions based on some preferences, but armed with knowledge and connections through a network, we can make decisions based on probable outcomes.

I constantly see governance bodies that are made up of senior HR VPs who operate based on what they know as a senior body. Acting without the help of lower level working groups or sub governance teams, they don’t have the benefit of connections and networks that would help them be more successful.

Its not that we can’t make decisions ourselves, but that in complex organizations, just as in complex organisms, a single body simply can’t discover all of the nuances and have all of the information it needs on its own. In today’s businesses with multiple systems, multiple HR functions, business functions, divisions, political factions, etc involved, having appropriate inputs to help decipher what is really going on and deciding what decisions are actionable and important becomes critical.

And the fact of the matter remains: that managers and executives don’t really ever hear the bad stuff. People are actually afraid of poorly stat using their projects and functions, and often it’s too late for executives to act by the time they catch wind that something has gone sideways. While discussing projects with peers within governance sub teams, clear discussions can be had, and realizations that often the issues are more cross functional in nature rather than the fault of a particular person can be recognized.

Indeed, even our projects are so interdependent upon each other that governance sub groups and working groups are absolutely essential to the proper functioning of our programs. Take talent management for example. Thinking that performance can live in a vacuum can only lead to trouble. Functional processes must be coordinated with learning, compensation, succession, staffing, and others. At the executive decision level, they must integrate with the executives from the same functions to ensure that strategic level adherence is maintained.

Regardless of the topic, governance and decision making is all about coordination and networking. Its an impossibility to think in todays HR technology world that any of us can live on an island without others, but also that we can be independent of others and still have a complete understanding of our environment.

Most of us are Ants

Saratoga says that large organizations have an average of 7 to 9 hierarchical levels.  This means from the top to the bottom, there are 8 layers of management.  I’m going to make some assumptions and say that a lot of these organizations (based on the fact that they are mostly older, more mature organizations), are brick and mortars.  The fact of the matter is that while strict hierarchies and chains of command present easier access to good governance processes, I’m not sure they facilitate great connections.  Especially at the top levels of the organization, access to conversations can sometimes be quite restricted.  ((Reference to ants happened in an actual conversation))

I am reminded about hierarchies and access from sitting in the airport today.  Lately I have been getting a lot of LinkedIn activity, and as I sat there updating my profile, connecting to people at many organizational levels, and having conversations through the web, I thought about the juxtaposition of rigid hierarchy versus easy accessibility through Web 2.0.  Today’s world and today’s younger workers expect not only to be able to form networks at all levels, but they expect accessibility.

As we develop within organizations, there is probably a realization at some point that very few of us are going to get to that SVP and EVP level.  Most of us are going to stay “ants” for our careers, and that’s both ok and necessary.  But the way we work and shape the future of HR is going to be more about collaboration than rigid hierarchies.  The new model simply isn’t going to work with the old model.  We no longer believe we’re just worker ants doing the bidding of the hive.  We believe we all have ideas and we can contribute.

The problem with all of this is that we need to find a way to combine good collaboration expectations with good governance and decision making.  However, millenials don’t really care about the lines drawn between hierarchical levels, and the experience that senior executives have accrued.  Collaboration and access don’t correlate to good, sound decision making that is influenced by corporate strategy.  We need to find a balance between rigid hierarchies that restrict access and the ability for individuals to work in the new model.

Any thoughts?

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.