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?”

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.

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.


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.)

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/

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.


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.

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.

Linking Communication Collaboration and Talent

There was a time when if you wanted to collaborate, the only way to do it was either walking over to someone and having a conversation, or perhaps you could call someone’s “secretary” and leave a message.  Then we got voice mail.  Then we got email.  We’ve been trapped in an email world for over a decade now, but it seems that the next shift is finally happening, and it is happening quickly.

In the early years of email, Lotus Notes occupied a leading space in collaboration.  Not only did Notes provide the ability to send messages and collaborate, but Lotus Domino, the engine behind Notes, allowed for the creation of some pretty sophisticated database, forms and workflows.  With all of this, it comes as no surprise that many organizations are still on Notes since they have so much legacy database sitting there that the conversion would be enormous.

However, even with that, most organizations have been using Microsoft Outlook for at least a few years now.  Collaboration has been the domain of email for so long now, and primarily that of MS Outlook and SharePoint that we have significant amounts of knowledge sitting in these systems.  Within emails that have huge amounts of passive and untapped knowledge and SharePoint databases that are usually  not indexed for future state technologies.

Organizations are quite underway for implementing Web 2.0 communication tools and for much of it, HR has been at the forefront (or at least involved) in these implantations.  Through these communications, we can mine data to get new insights into competencies and talent.

I mentioned Lotus Notes before because we’re going to have the same problems moving off of MS Outlook and SharePoint as we did moving away from Notes.  The next stage is already upon us with Web 2.0 collaboration tools such as text, IM, wiki, and blogs.  Not only are these categorized for indexing, but users can self tag knowledge, creating whole new taxonomies that more easier for mass consumption and not limited by corporate understandings.  But we have a decade of historical knowledge and collaboration data that is possibly lost, without any hope to be tied into our talent data.  Because these communications were never intended to be converted into useful metrics on our talent, we’re looking at a complete loss of any usability for it.

I’ll admit that I’m not sure anyone else is on the same page as I am, that all these Web 2.0 communications are ripe for use in talent measurements, let alone converting all of our past emails and legacy collaboration databases.  However, it’s important to recognize at the very least that all of these methods, both legacy and future state, hold significant amounts of high quality information about our talent.

HR Web 2.0 Supply Chain

In most businesses, if the supply chain stops, everything stops.  Ford can’t make cars if they don’t have wheels, hospitals get pretty jammed up if all the CT machines are down, and most organizations wither away if the sales pipeline goes away.  You can view almost any portion of any business from a supply chain point of view.  In HR, we usually think of workforce planning and recruiting as the supply chain, and since we manage the “human resource” that makes perfect sense.  However, we also manage HR from the perspective of talent and competencies, and aside from headcount, the development of competencies through a systematic and technological approach is also a supply chain we should be thinking of.

Shifting gears, we use Web 2.0 to connect our employees, write and read blogs and wikis, and hopefully encourage internal knowledge sharing at the end of the day.  To do this, we assume that people are actually producing content that can be consumed by the masses.  This is the only way that Web 2.0 actually works as a talent building tool – people have to connect first, and then they have to share.  Unfortunately, outside of technology companies, many Web 2.0 initiatives fail not because people don’t connect, but people don’t share.

So back to the point.  If the resultant product is an increase in total talent within the organization as measured by competency and knowledge growth, which is created through an increase in volume of interactions in the Web 2.0 platform, it is reasonable to think of blog posts, wikis, or just questions people generate into the environment, as the supply chain.  The problem is that you don’t just “order up” blog posts and keep doing that into the indefinite future.  This supply chain has to be self sustaining.

If you are a technology company filled with computer engineers, this is easy.  You probably already have a culture of people who have some form of expectation that business is transacted in this way.  If you have a very young population, you are also lucky since Gen Y and most of Gen X thinks about their lives in a Web 2.0 way.  But if you’re a more traditional company, you probably have significant change management hurdles to go through.

Web 2.0 is not a set of training and communications material you send out, it’s really a whole new way of thinking about how work gets done and how you collaborate.  What might start as a simple goal for employees to make blog posts or a competition for the post that generates the most hits or comments is not actually a productive enterprise unless it actually creates a collaboration loop that addresses a problem.  Otherwise people are just writing for the sake of writing.  When it comes to change management, I take a phrase from the Herman Miller (sp?) Strategic Selling course called the “personal win.”  Employees will only participate if they are either receiving great value or if they are perceived as a person to go to when great value is needed.

The question is not how you get people to post, but how do you get people to be aware of the available value, or how you make people perceive themselves as leaders.  If you can’t do this, then you wind up with a pretty dismal looking supply chain.  No Web 2.0 activity means no sharing which means no talent growth through the Web 2.0 tool. 

(Follow-on question is if you guys even think that this type of collaboration is part of talent management the way that I do?)

Going Too Far: Social Media Notifications

I don’t know about the rest of you, but pretty much every time I receive a notification about farmville or gangster wars on Facebook, I pretty want to shoot the senders.  If they are nieces or nephews, they get some allowances for being kids.  But when I get literally 5 or 6 notifications in a row from the same person (who I have worked with at some time or another and is very highly paid) it absolutely drives me crazy.  In all honesty, I love most of Facebook.  Keeping tabs on people who I have been close to but have either moved away from geographically or just through the cost of time is a wonderful thing.  But there are some people out there who I would love to stay connected with, but the only thing I know about them is that they forgot to water plants on their farms (or something like that).  I think I would be totally ok with it if I never saw another gaming notification again in my life.

I then think about RSS feeds like many of you already have.  I’ll bet you are reading this blog either through a feed-reader or in your inbox.  Some way or another, you have requested this text to be sent to you.  I’ve never abused my e-mail lists and I couldn’t abuse my RSS subscribers because I have no idea who you are.  And that’s a lovely thing.  At the end of the day (or beginning in the case of systematicHR) you get a delivery of the goods you requested.

I’ve been talking about enterprise social media quite a bit lately with clients and friends.  It’s a complex topic that involves not only the Facebook-like connections with people around your enterprise, but also the collaboration that may occur in blogs and wikis.  The power of the enterprise social media cannot be limited to any one of the features, but is an integrated experience that involves all of the above.  Lets say you have a talent management program in place at your organization that has internal mobility processes.  It would be marvelous if the talent management program could capture data on not only internal candidates who have declared interests through their career paths, but identified candidates based on their activities within enterprise blogs and wikis.  Talent managers could find that some of their best knowledge workers in an area didn’t actually get paid for a job in that area.  Similarly, if you were interested in a role but were not getting the type of response from your talent managers, you could connect to groups or people who could help steer you into the right career path.  Networking is half the battle after all.

The downfall of enterprise social media is in the governance.  It could make it really good or really bad.  In general, “bad behavior” is fairly limited.  Although we see more iffy transactions happening with younger people, most have some amount of self censure and restraint in a work environment.  The problem is when the organization does not censure actions when they happen, and questionable behavior becomes customary.  The posted pictures of inebriated sales people at the company convention is humorous to many, but not appropriate for the masses.  You never really know who your links are linked to, and who is looking at profiles (which are usually totally open behind the firewall).  To many, there is no line between posting pictures of the local after work happy hour and the company softball team (and perhaps there shouldn’t be).  But not all of our interactions with work people outside of work should be published.  Some of it is team building that is great for everyone to know about, and other stuff might be things you really only want to share with the limited group that was involved.

I think we’ve started in the enterprise social media space being a bit too careful.  But I also think that we will manage to start to lose attention to it as the technologies start taking a life of their own and we forget that an entirely new generation is starting to enter the workforce.  Perhaps I’m old fashioned? (wow – that indeed would be strange).  Thoughts?

Lessons Learned From Gaming

Ok, I’ll admit that I’ve been playing this on-line game.  It’s a MMORPG (I can’t believe I remembered that whole thing) and I play a priest in a guild of mages, fighters, archers, etc.  What I find entertaining about it is not the game-play, but the collaboration that is necessary to make the game work.  Ok, so I haven’t actually played in 6 months, but here’s the basic story: Within the game, there are what are called “bosses” or really crazily hard to kill monsters.  One of these we have killed a total of 4 times, the only times that this particular boss has been killed.  It took about 50 people close to 5 hours just to take down this boss.  To do this, there is a single guy who stands in front of the boss and hacks away at it for the entire time.  My wife finds this totally implausible since he should die in about 4 seconds, but he’s backed up by about 25 priests who heal nonstop for literally the whole 5 hours.Then you have a set of archers who are shooting arrows at this thing for the whole 5 hours, and then the fighters who are running in every few minutes to hack away and then running back out so they don’t die.  Then there are even the “junior” members of the guild who are allowed (even forced) to sit around and watch how the whole thing is orchestrated so they can learn for future generations.  (for the record, I refuse to participate in anything that takes more than 15 minutes)

The total amount of cooperation and coordination that it takes in this game and games I have seen on TV is absolutely amazing.  If only the same level of coordination occurred in project teams.  We don’t always assemble the right people, the right skills, and we don’t collaborate and communicate in a way that is sustainable for the entire project.

First of all, not only do we need the right people on the team, but we also need diversity from the organization.  Skills are important because at the end of the day we need to execute projects and the skills, experience and knowledge is absolutely critical.  But at the same time, pulling resources from different parts of the organization is the beginning of change management.  If you pull together the right team, not only are you going to execute well, but you’ll begin the adoption process.  There is a significant difference between choosing the right representatives from around the business and getting people for political reasons.  I’ve seen too many project teams who have individuals that don’t really add any value and can’t participate in a change capacity, but they are there only because someone thinks they “should be.”

Second, Put people in for whom the project is a stretch goal.  If you get people who are excited, willing to learn, and have a solid background, you’ll be training your next generation of project team members and expanding your pool of useful people for the future.  All employees ask for (generally) is the opportunity to grow, but we often give cool projects exclusively to the time tested veterans.  it’s ok to plug a few more junior associates into a project so long as they get the necessary guidance.

Third, maintain open communication.  In this game I play, we can chat in the game, and we often also log into voice chats so people can shout out commands (like “wake up!”) or requests (like “heal me”).  Most of it is fairly entertaining because it is after all a game.  But sometimes you need to execute commands and the team can’t be afraid to ask or receive instructions.  “Collegial” is nice, but many projects are too political and members from different factions can’t express themselves.  The result is that unspoken works become nuances that are missed by the audience.  This is sometimes hard to avoid, but you tend to miss actions or even milestones when you just can’t communicate.

It amazes me how a group of 20-somethings can plan and collaborate not only over a 5 hour period, but continuously over months and months performing activities that requires skill, role alignment and considerable governance.  It is equally surprising that they have no idea they are doing it.  But this is the next generation of employees, and they do have skills if they can be translated from a fictional activity to a real workplace one.

Blending Food Flavors and Cross Functional Collaboration

I usually write about cycling here, but I generally make it no secret that I’m a wannabe foodie.  ((My other blog is a food blog))  Great food is sometimes about simplicity, and other times it’s about depth and flavor combinations.  I was recently at Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles (( Osteria Mozza is a partnership with celebrity chef Mario Batali)) where I had a squid ink pasta with Dungeness crab, sea urchin, jalapenos, all bathed in great olive oil and sea salt.  This is not something I would have put together at home, but it was absolutely splendid.

Sometimes you get something so wholly unexpected that there is really no way it should be good, but it turns out wonderful.  At Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco, you have Sam’s Sunday, a chocolate ice cream with bergamot olive oil, maldon sea salt and whipped cream.  Not sure who thought of the idea of putting olive oil on chocolate ice cream, but it’s about the best thing I’ve had in San Francisco (the sea salt over chocolate might be obvious though).

Here’s the point.  Sometimes one dimensional, single flavor, simple items are delightful.  But sometimes you just have to put things together that nobody really wants and expects to create delightful experiences.  HR is a silo, and within HR, we have silos.  Payroll hates HR (rightfully so), the comp guys think they are so much more analytical than the rest of us (they are), the talent guys are naturally cross functional but somehow still don’t collaborate well.

At the end of the day, we don’t get good product if we don’t collaborate cross functionally.  We are no longer in a world of functional HR.  We are in a world of end user, employee and manager delivery.  They don’t see us as functional, they see us as HR.  They don’t care if we talk to each other or not, because they don’t even know we have silo’d separations.  All they care about is that things work seamlessly.  Process flows from one to the next.  Portals represent all the information they need to know.  And call centers and HR business partners are a one stop shop.

It does not matter that we have our own little internal conflicts, but that’s not usually the barrier.  The barrier is just that we’re not used to working with each other.  We don’t get in the same room often enough, and when we do it’s the directors, not the practitioners (Directors seem to feel the need to be gatekeepers – this is counter-productive).   Enough with the projects that I can’t reach broadly because of political expectations, or can’t talk to someone because they don’t like someone else.  You’re leading yourselves to failure, even as you tell me you want to be collaborative and cross functional.

(This post was written in 2009 with nobody in particular in mind.)