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)

The Butterfly Effect

In 1972, Edward Lorenz wrote a paper called “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?”  In this paper, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, a minute, very low mass, and quite insignificant action, represents a small initial and remote condition that can lead to major downstream impacts.  Chaos theory is actually the study of initial conditions that lead to large divergences in outcomes.  ((I know you guys don’t like when I talk science, it shows in the hit rates for this site.  But here goes anyway.))

I’m always complaining about meteorologists (I actually long since stopped watching TV news, so now I complain about weather.com).  But considering the numerous possibilities and dynamics of how weather can change, it’s no wonder they can’t quite get the formula right.  I mean, how many butterflies are there in the Amazon in Brazil anyway?  The possibilities are so staggering that any predictability is pretty good – so while they can’t take into account every possible variance, it is possible to look at large inputs that are happening fairly close to the near future and impending events.

HR is quite similar – we have so many individual contributors (pun intended) that watching every employee in the organization, every conversation, IM and email is rather impossible.  But we do know that our ability to engage our workforce happens through communications, whether it’s manager to employee, from project managers giving cool work to people, vendors making good or bad promises, executives steering the company direction with the board of directors or communicating to employees.  It might be the random water cooler conversation that spins out of control and becomes an avalanche of employee sentiment (good or bad).

So while we can’t monitor every single interaction in our workforce, we can indeed monitor major trends that are going on.  We know that wind direction is blowing east at 10 miles an hour in a particular region, and that atmospheric pressure is dropping somewhere else.  We understand that as these two conditions might hit each other, certain predictable events happen.

I’m talking as much about tragedy, a change in benefits providers that leads to major losses in employee engagement, as I am talking about those huge gains, increases in a specific competency that drive the next major innovation.  Our jobs in HR are so incredibly complex as we as we create service delivery, technology and processes that foster growth while at the same time combing through predictive analytics that avert disaster at every turn.  It’s our job to understand those trends in current and fan them so they become stronger or weaker.

The breadth of currents that we look out for is also amazing – from all things rewards which is already extraordinarily broad, to talent which is also extraordinarily broad, to core HR, ER, PR, and whatever else R.  We constantly adapt, to new legislation to new processes, technology and theories.  There is so much “why we hate HR” out there, but we accomplish so much it’s often staggering.

So here, on my 1,000th post, I wanted to offer my congratulations to all of you out there – my readers – for all you do, all you are, all we create, and all we contribute.  We control the chaos.  And while you do it, thank you for reading.

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.

Enterprise Web 2.0 and Personal Brands

I started systematicHR something like 5 years ago as a true weblog – a place where I could record my thoughts as I went through my daily reading and research.  More than 5 years after my first blog post that I never thought anyone would read but myself, systematicHR has really become my own personal brand.  It reflects a lot of who I am, what I’m interested in, but more importantly, it reflects what is in my head and how I think.  I have continued to contribute to the HR blogosphere since I think I have a unique point of view that is not widely represented in a space filled with analysts, vendors, recruiters, but not too many strategists connecting dots between all of that thinking.  Hopefully, you all have not decided that I’m delusional.

The thing about Web 2.0 and what I’ve decided to call Enterprise Digital Interactions (rather than “enterprise social media”) is that we’re assuming our employee populations are willingly going to participate and lend time to contributing content.  Certainly, we’ll have a hard enough time getting a large and diverse cross section of our workforce just to subscribe the the appropriate blogs let alone writing them.  Employees are used to the networks and connecting with other people by now, and some people are getting used to pulling data from the web and consuming what they want rather than what they are given.

The key to all of this is the personal brand.  Just like for myself, some (or hopefully many) people will take some pride at being able to share knowledge.  People like the fact that they came up with an original thought or a best organizational practice.  They like the community recognition that they are in some way, a leader.  And it just so turns out that people who contribute also tend to subscribe to more in the environment as well.  All of that leads to more comments, conversations and more interactions.

I know there are at least dozens of ways to help spur participation in the corporate communities, but personal brands seems to be a good, long term way to view employee motivation.  You can always get people to post a blog because it was on their list of goals, but you won’t get them to continue to do so unless they see the personal value to it.

Immediacy without Details

I’ll have to be honest – I’m having a really hard time with some of the new technology.  I’m supposed to be a technologist and be up on all the latest stuff.  But I find myself at odds with some of the theory and philosophy.  There seems to be an emerging sense of immediacy and generality emerging in communications that I don’t like, and this blog is one that seems to be in the middle of it.  You see, over the last few years (for multiple reasons including my own commitment to writing), systematicHR has suffered from a gradually declining readership, from a rather amazing peak of 20k unique hits per day to around 5k now, the audience has gone off to things like twitter for news.

I don’t blame twitter one bit.  I use twitter because it’s the fastest and most efficient way to cull through a hundred ideas to pick up what I might be interested in.  You decide you like and trust certain people and you read their tweets and go on to read the links they have decided to put out there.  I’m not one of the people who will go out and tweet though since the most successful people are literally putting out hundreds of tweets a day.  I don’t have the time or interest in transitioning systematicHR from the blogoshphere to twitter.

However, there is a deeply engrained philosophical problem here too.  While my readership drops, twitter really can’t function without blogs like mine.  Without me and many other bloggers, the guys on twitter just don’t have much to write about.  A one sentence blurb might be an interesting thought, but does not convey any depth that the reader is eventually looking for.  This idea of immediacy without details is good and bad.

We love managers who will actually look at their dashboards occasionally.  We want them to be able to pick up the overall direction of process and HR statistics.  We want them to be able to quickly diagnose and understand what they should be thinking about.  To be honest, the dashboard is spectacular, but we can’t forget that our managers are not HR experts.  In the deployed HR service delviery model, we also have HR business partners that are out in the field with our managers, theoretically coaching them and presenting the context that the data sits in.  Without this context, managers understand generalities of direction, but not the full meaning that the dashboard is presenting to them, and certainly the should not be expected to know how to act.

We always seem to deploy HR technologies with simplicity in mind, and this is absolutely the right approach.  Just like twitter, we want high engagement and high activity.  But we must also remember that as with twitter, there is also another side with context, detail and more depth.  HR technologies are not the source of all information, but more of a reference point.  We provide data, and sometimes we provide process, but we don’t provide explanations that come from our service delivery partners.  No matter what we do, we are not the full solution, and any technologies we deploy must be augmented if we expect our customers to have a complete understanding of HR.

5 Year Post

Can you believe it’s been five years?  I recently read my first post and actually thought it was an ok analysis of HRO vendors at the time.  Pretty funny to me how much things have changed, but also how much I’ve learned both through work and the blog.  I spent 2009 writing much less than I should have, but seem to have entered 2010 quite rejuvenated.  I’m pleased to say that I’m once again written out a few months as I used to do, and that my readership is growing once again after being a slacker for a year.  At any rate, I’m not sure how many others in the HR arena have made it this far, or who have written as much content, so it’s a milestone that I’m reasonably pleased with.

I don’t do a blogroll, there are far too many.  I do have a links list that references those whose posts I write about most frequently.  However, if I were ever to do an abridged blogroll, the below is it.  I know I forgot people, and I apologize.

I still pay attention to many of the people who inspired me when I started five years ago:

But also a whole new set of people who I follow on the blogs or twitter who have entered my scope (in the years after I started systematicHR) as content owners (although some of these have been content owners in a more traditional – non-blog sense for a long time):

I had originally said that I would stop writing at 4 years, but then 4 years came and went, and even though I was producing less, I just could not stop.  So I decided I’d get to 1000 posts and decide what to do, but I’m now confident I’ll keep writing after that milestone as well.  So long as there is content to write about, and as long as I feel that I’m doing it well, I’ll keep going.

So here’s to five years, and to my readers, and to all the people who inspire me.  Thank you.

-Dubs

Employee Blogging for Recruiting

I’m not sure how many of you noticed the NYT article a few months ago on MIT student bloggers.

M.I.T.’s bloggers, who are paid $10 an hour for up to four hours a week, offer thoughts on anything that might interest a prospective student. Some offer advice on the application process and the institute’s intense workload; others write about quirkier topics, like warm apple pie topped with bacon and hot caramel sauce, falling down the stairs or trying to set a world record in the game of Mattress Dominos.

Posting untouched student writing — and comments reacting to that writing — does carry some risks. Boring, sloppily written posts do nothing to burnish an institutional image, college admissions officials say, and there is always the possibility of an inflammatory or wildly negative posting.  ((Lewin, Tamar, October 1, 2009.  “M.I.T. Taking Student Blogs to Nth Degree.”  Retrived from http://nytimes.com.))

Certainly we have our recruiters on the blogs (look how many recruiting and HR blogs there are nowdays).  And we’re all over linked in and facebook, especially facebook where we can characterize ourselves and our organization with some personality.  But I’m not really sure how many of us have looked into employee blogging.  Employee blogging are not those snippets of quotes that you see on recruiting pages.  They are not the rehearsed lines of “I love my company so much” branding with precision.  Instead, they are the raw, uncensored words of employees and their lives at your organization.

I think that employee blogging holds less risk than student blogging.  Students are expected to say whatever they want, but employees are still bound by the employment contract, and while we may tell people to write whatever they want, at the end of the day, employees still want to keep their jobs.  If you use employee blogs, you’re probably also selecting some of your smartest, most productive performers (and hopefully well compensated engaged employees too).  If this is the case, you have little to worry about.  What you will have is a blogging forum that tells potential employees what a day in the life at your organization really might be like.  Candidates get to hear from the mouths of real practitioners what to expect and what the culture holds, and even what some of the pitfalls are.  If you’re lucky, you not only attract the right people, but you might even weed out those who are not a good fit for the organizational culture.

In a few months, I’ll be hitting year number 5 of blogging at systematicHR.  Come on everyone, it’s time to get in the blogging game already.  🙂