Android versus iPhones

The web is alive with comparisons of Google Android phones and Apple iPhones.  While it seemed for a long time that the iPhone was going to own the market, Android has slowly picked up steam.  In fact, Apple may have made a serious miscalculation in tying themselves with the AT&T network and a limited population of cell phone users.  Meanwhile, Google Android has snuck into all the other providers as the operating system of choice since those other providers can’t get their hands on the iPhone.

However, what has emerged is not only a discussion about who will ultimately dominate the market, but the varying philosophies of the two competitors.  The iPhone touts ease of use and intuitive user experience.  Alternatively, the Android is about personalization and the ability to modify applications to suit your own specific requirements.  Truth be told, I don’t really think there is that much of a usability or personalization gap between the two systems, but this is how the market is portraying it.  The fact of the matter is that both systems are enormously easy to use and give you enough personalization opportunities.

Personally, I’m an Android user, but that’s neither here nor there.  The point is that what I want is to tap an application and quickly enter in what I had for lunch (translated to caloric intake), look at the weather delays for airports across the country, or quickly locate somewhere to have dinner.  At the end of the day, users just want to get to the applications and data they want.  They want a quick reference and that’s about it.

The future of HR applications may be 5 years away or more, but I like to think about managers who just want to quickly log into their phone and add a note about their employee’s performance and then check a quick metric around productivity.  I think about the employee who logs in later that day and logs in their learning experiences in less than a minute and then uses the same phone to check their paystubs.

Theoretically, the presentation of data is all possible today, and quite easily.  All applications should be able to ship out widgitized content that can be adaptable to phone technologies, so long as an application is written for it.  Transactional processes are a bit tougher since legacy applications have to be reworked to accept transactions through these phones, but I’m convinced that these capabilities are not that far away either.

The core problem is that we have barely gotten to complex transactions on our intranet portals let alone getting to them on the phones.  However, I think we’re largely making a transition from legacy email and portal applications as the places we do our work, to smart devices and Web 2.0 technologies.  Back to the phone comparisons, it’s not about picking a winner – it’s about realizing what the customers want, and that is quick, fast, easy and on their device.

Web 2.0 for HR Call Centers

Call centers traditionally have a couple of major technologies sitting in them for HR.  We will usually have some sort of knowledgebase that contains access to policies, procedures, and prompts to all sorts of questions and answers.  At the same time, we should always have case management going on at the same time – the system that tracks employee inquiries and how we resolved them.

I’m not talking knowledge base here.  Knowledgebase seems already to be moving towards Web 2.0 technologies.  With things like tagging on the metadata layer, easy access to information is well within Web 2.0 capabilities.  However, I’m not sure we’ve really thought about Web 2.0 nearly as much when it comes to things like case management.  There seem to be a lot of hurdles to overcome, as people consider the problems Facebook has had with security, and people grapple with the concept of “social media” interacting with issues they consider private, we need to ensure that Web 2.0 does not  create more issues than it may solve.  Additionally, as cases in the system are escalated, workflows may not be as native to Web 2.0 systems as they are in traditional case management.

But let’s say we could use web 2.0 as case management.  After all, each case is just a thread with security permissions and some workflow attached to it.  It would be pretty easy to see a case getting logged and then the users (the rep who receives the case, the employee and then any escalation COE’s) would simply become subscribers to the case.  Any time anything happened to the case/thread, each subscriber would automatically be notified of the event.  All the notifications are built into web 2.0 even though “workflow” might not be.  Since you have the ability to “close” threads in almost all Web 2.0 communications technologies, you’d simply use similar functionality for closing cases.  if you wanted to escalate a case to a COE, you’d simply add that COE to the “subscribers” for that thread.

Now, obviously we would not call them “subscribers” “threads” and “notifications” but you get the point that the current Web 2.0 technologies are generally usable.  What we may not get are the robust workflow tools that we would have today.  Along with this go the task lists of things that are still on the “tickler file” of things to do.  However, I’m pretty sure that with the pre-existing base of Web 2.0 technologies, it would not be that much effort for a vendor to plug in some decent workflow and front end task lists.

All in all, we seem to talk a lot about how great Web 2.0 is going to be, how it will help us gather knowledge, innovate, connect and collaborate.  But there are other uses we have not thought of yet that will also simplify our lives.  Rather than having multiple applications for all of this “stuff” imagine a world where your collaboration tool was the same as your knowledg base and case management.  I’m not so sure it’s that far fetched.

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?)

Enterprise Digital Interactions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Defining Web 2.0

It’s probably long past time to write some definitions.  In fact, I’ve done this before, probably every time I write a post about Web 2.0. A few years ago, I said that Web 2.0 would not be on the radar screens of HR for a couple of years, and sure enough, the last couple of years has seen a huge rise in interest about Web 2.0 and I think that the implementations are starting to grow at a fairly rapid pace.  We should see the first true wave (not a pre-wave) of Web 2.0 implementations starting to go live just about now.

But that still begs the question that I think lots of HR people grapple with:  What is Web 2.0?  Basically, the answer is simple and falls into 4 simple categories:

  1. Web 2.0 helps us connect with each other:  This is the easiest to define since most of us who are interested in Web 2.0 are already on facebook, linked in or twitter.  We already have social networks we participate in on-line, and enterprise Web 2.0 has the same technologies behind the firewall.
  2. Web 2.0 helps us deliver content:  Anyone who is reading this blog is familiar with this.  Web 2.0 helps us publish our content on blogs, wikis and other social media tools.
  3. Web 2.0 helps us receive content:  I have debated whether RSS feeds are dead (this blog has not had any growth in the RSS feed for a couple years I think), but wither it’s RSS, your twitter feed, or your daily updates when you log into facebook telling you what all your friends are up to, Web 2.0 collects information from many people or many sources and aggregates it all for you in one place.
  4. Web 2.0 helps us organize content:  The last is possibly the hardest to see, but included in Web 2.0 technologies are things like tagging.  Tagging is a technology that helps us create dynamic “catalogs” of user based content and user based structures that constantly change based on the dynamic flow of content and ideas through the web.  Unlike “hard-coded catalogs like “Windows Explorer” on your PC, Web 2.0 tags will continually evolve.

Those are my 4 easy steps to understanding Web 2.0.  Anyone think I missed anything?

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?

The Future of Learning

Those of you who read this blog often know that I’m a cyclist and generally a fitness kind of guy.  I’m actually fairly obsessive, and on a recent day entering my daily food and caloric intake into my smart phone, I thought how wonderful it would be if I could record my daily learning experiences in the same way.  Currently my phone is a Motorola Droid, a Google Android based phone because I’m on Verizon and won’t give up their network (which I consider to be better in the cities I commonly travel to).  I use an application called myfatsecret.com, and the calorie counter application allows me to easily search restaurant menus, foods, and even scan packaging barcodes using the camera interface, all of which will automatically enter in calorie counts along with all sorts of other data.

The problem with current state learning technologies is that you have specific learning objectives, participate in learning experiences whatever they may be, and record them.  This is indeed a good way to track formal learning experiences, but in reality, learning happens outside of these set experiences.  I definitely think that one must record the coursework, mentorship experiences, seminars and conferences that people participate in.  But it all seemed somewhat limited and limiting.

As I entered my daily food into my phone, I thought how the same could be done for learning, although the applications in talent probably go far beyond learning.  Learning happens at random times, in random conversations.  It could be during a “watercooler” conversation, or reading a blog, or having an idea while entering food into your phone.  But all too often, these events remain unrecorded and ultimately forgotten.  In order to capture these, learning really has to be captured at the point of entry, at the time that learning occurs.

Personally, I can’t enter into my food diary at the end of a day, let along days later.  Perhaps it’s rude, but I tend to enter into my food diary at the end of each meal.  The same really has to happen for learning.  If my manager wants to know what I’m doing, there is probably just as much data as a food diary.  Everything I read, and even the things that I think about and develop on my own are subject to being recorded.  Similar to a food diary, categorization, metrics, and progress tracking all can happen real time.

I don’t know if everyone is as consumed by their smart phones as I am, but given what I see at airports and restaurants, there are enough of us that do use our phones for everything that using point of entry learning applications is plausible.  As time goes on, and organizations roll out smart phones to their populations, I’d hope that learning and talent vendors continue to look into the next generation of learning apps.