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    Happy Friday, Sad Robot

    I'm on vacation today, (don't hate), so submitted for your brief amusement and reflection is the coolest thing I saw all week - an animated short call Bibo, about a lonely robot that sells ice cream.

    Take seven minutes this weekend and give it a watch. (Email and RSS subscribers will have to click through).

    Have a great and long weekend all.

    I hope you find all the eggs, or whatever it is you are looking for.


    When things don't work out: Lessons from the New York Knicks

    My beloved New York Knicks wrapped up a disappointing 2013-2014 season last night with a win, but despite the win and some solid play in the season's late stages the season ended with a playoff-missing 37-45 won-loss record.

    Since I spent a ridiculous amount of time this season watching the Knicks I better have gotten something out of it (or I will be really even more depressed), so I figured I would share five quick lessons from disappointment from the 2013-2014 Knicks debacle of a season.Knicks coach Mike Woodson, in his standard 2014 repose

    1. Be careful with celebrations and self-congratulation

    Last year the Knicks had a surprisingly strong season, winning 54 games and also winning their first playoff series in about 20 years. They were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, but still went out with a feeling of "We've had a great season!" But the good feelings and accomplishments from a prior success don't really mean anything when it comes to tackling the next challenge. This year's Knicks team had a lingering hangover from the celebrations of prior accomplishments that themselves were not all that great. Lesson? Don't celebrate too long and especially for 'wins' that are not all that remarkable.

    2. Sometimes you are the worst evaluator of your own capability and potential

    Prior to the season, a computer analysis of their prospects predicted the Knicks would finish with a 37-45 record, and miss the playoffs. And that prediction was predictably mocked and derided by the team's players and coaches. But as we see, this is exactly the terrible record the Knicks ended up with. The lesson here? When a neutral, no-skin-in-the-game third party (like this computer), gives you an assessment of your performance and capability, you should at least consider its point of view and findings. Like the Knicks, most of us are pretty bad at self reflection and examination.

    3. You can't fix other people's problems

    One of the major off-season moves the Knicks made was to acquire via trade former Toronto Raptors forward (and former 1st overall draft choice from 2006), Andrea Bargnani. In Toronto, Bargnani was essentially hated, and the Raptor fans even made celebratory videos when his trade to the Knicks was announced. While Bargnani might be a nice guy, he is not a very good NBA basketball player, despite 'seeming' like he should be (he's tall). Bargnani's performance with the Knicks, (before getting injured and missing the last half of the season), was almost exactly in line with his career average performance level from seven years in Toronto. Bargnani was a mediocre-at-best player that the Knicks somehow felt in their system could perform at a higher level. The lesson is that they were wrong.

    4. Past performance is not indicative, except when it is

    Last season's 54 win Knicks team was powered, in part, due to career-best performances by two players, Point Guard Raymond Felton, and shooting guard and NBA 6th Man of the Year, J.R. Smith. For various reasons, both of these player's performances were substantially better than their career averages, and consequently helped lead the Knicks to what was really an over performing 2013 finish. In 2014 instead of repeating that level of relative over achievement, both players regressed back to their typical or expected performance levels, (and at times, even below that). They both returned to who they are. Your takeaway? Veteran employees don't usually and suddenly start performing much better or much worse than their career history suggests. And when or if they do, you can expect a return to the mean level of performance (good or average) eventually.

    5. When things are really bad, you have to send a message

    Towards the end of what would be a lost season, the Knicks signed NBA coaching legend (and former Knicks player) Phil 'Zen Master' Jackson to be the team's new President. While this was too late in the campaign to make much of a difference in 2014, at least it sends a message to the team, the fans, and the other execs that the Knicks are at least finally realizing they are a dysfunctional mess. Will Jackson be able to actually turn the Knicks around next year? Hard to say but the lesson from ownership to the team and for you as well is clear: When there is a performance problem, you can't expect it to just work out on its own, you have to take some steps to shake up the organization, the culture, the staff, etc. in order to get at and improve the problems.

    Ugh, I am just as drained from this (silly) post as I have been watching this disaster of a Knicks team this season. But talking/writing about it is a little cathartic, I think. I guess that is the last lesson from this terrible team - no matter how bad things get it helps to vent a little bit about it.

    Have a great day!


    Stealing jobs back from the machines

    We've been hearing the alarm bells, (heck many of us, well mostly me) have been ringing those bells, the ones that are tolling for the eventual and perhaps even imminent demise of the American worker, destined to be replaced by a robot or an algorithm.

    Automation is continuing apace and advances in computing power, combined with development of more sophisticated robotics and smart machines that create and communicate massive amounts of data are causing a perfect storm of sorts. Routine work is likely to be automated out of human hands, lower-complexity service jobs are under threat, and even many types of 'knowledge work' are becoming targets of the relentless pace and unwavering progress of automation and technology.

    It is a story that keeps getting repeated so often lately that it is simultaneously getting tired and self-fulfilling.

    That's why this piece, 'Gods' Make Comeback at Toyota as Humans Steal Jobs from Robots , from Bloomberg about what a possible brighter future of work and human worker's co-existence with the robots might look like was both surprising and instructive.  The piece is about how at Toyota, long a leader in applying advanced theories, processes, and technologies to the manufacturing environment, was actually introducing (or re-introducing, I suppose), more human-powered and manual labor-based processes into many of its plants. 

    Why put slower, more expensive, more likely to mess up, and definitely more likely to need a rest after 8 hours or so humans back into the manufactring flow? 

    From the Bloomberg piece:

    Inside Toyota Motor Corp.’s oldest plant, there’s a corner where humans have taken over from robots in thwacking glowing lumps of metal into crankshafts. This is Mitsuru Kawai’s vision of the future.

    “We need to become more solid and get back to basics, to sharpen our manual skills and further develop them,” said Kawai, a half century-long company veteran tapped by President Akio Toyoda to promote craftsmanship at Toyota’s plants. “When I was a novice, experienced masters used to be called gods, and they could make anything.”

    These gods, or Kami-sama in Japanese, are making a comeback at Toyota, the company that long set the pace for manufacturing prowess in the auto industry and beyond. Toyota’s next step forward is counter-intuitive in an age of automation: Humans are taking the place of machines in plants across Japan so workers can develop new skills and figure out ways to improve production lines and the car-building process.

    Learning how to make car parts from scratch gives younger workers insights they otherwise wouldn’t get from picking parts from bins and conveyor belts, or pressing buttons on machines. At about 100 manual-intensive workspaces introduced over the last three years across Toyota’s factories in Japan, these lessons can then be applied to reprogram machines to cut down on waste and improve processes, Kawai said.

    In an area Kawai directly supervises at the forging division of Toyota’s Honsha plant, workers twist, turn and hammer metal into crankshafts instead of using the typically automated process. Experiences there have led to innovations in reducing levels of scrap and shortening the production line 96 percent from its length three years ago. Toyota has eliminated about 10 percent of material-related waste from building crankshafts at Honsha. Kawai said the aim is to apply those savings to the next-generation Prius hybrid.

    Really interesting and perhaps this story foretells one likely scenario for the future of work - a kind of hybrid and peaceful co-existence and co-operation between human and machine. One where each actor can supply and focus on what they do best. The machines are precise, indefatigable, obedient, unerring. The people focusing on creativity, adaptability, recalling institutional memory and lessons. Then the combination of the two leading to the best outcomes for both (and the organization). The humans 'learn' then teach the machines to carry out these learnings. 

    Which is kind of the way it has always been until recently, when it seems like we have allowed the advances in automation to allow us to forget that we humans still have much to offer and much to teach the machines.


    Is "In which month were you born?" a valid interview question?

    Quick 8 Man Rotation take for a busy Tuesday. Check out the chart below, a birth month distribution of about 240,000 professional soccer players taken from a database that tracks player signing and transfers and was compiled by David Bauer:

    Notice anything strange in the pattern distribution?

    How about the unusually high (relative) percentages of professional soccer players born in the first quarter of the year, particularly in January (11.3%), and the relatively lower percentages of players that were born at the end of the year (down to a low of 6.5% in December).

    It might not seem like that much of a disparity, but consider a similar chart that shows the birth month distribution of the entire population of the European Union, (below), and you can see some striking differences.

    As you can see from the total EU chart, people are born more or less consistently across the months of the year, with only small differences in percentages born in the highest percentage months.

    But professional soccer players? They show a striking and increased likelihood to be born in the first three months of the year.

    This phenomenon is attributed to the traditional soccer (and other sports as well) youth development process that groups players of the same age (Under 10, Under 16, etc.), for training and competitions.

    The theory then is that at those younger ages the physical size and skill differentials between an Under 10 year old player born in January and one born in December are really large, and noticeable. The player born in January then receives more attention, better coaching, more opportunities, etc., as he/she is simply deemed a better prospect than the player born in December. This then plays out again and again over time resulting in more of the 'early year' born players making it to the professional levels.

    No one knows if this is really true and explains the birth month disparity of professional soccer players compared to the overall population, but it does seem at least plausible.

    So circle this back to your HR/Talent shop. Does this kind of analysis make sense for you to consider? Is there a similar performance effect that can be seen in other types of occupations besides professional soccer based on birth month distribution? Are comparatively "older for their grade level" people likely to turn out to be better at more than just playing sports? Do you care about the birth month of a candidate or an employee?

    I don't know. I guess it seems unlikely. But even so there is still a takeaway from this data which is this: If you want little Junior to grow up to be a pro soccer player, you may want to plan around a January birth date, (if it isn't too late).

    Have a great Tuesday.


    PODCAST - #HRHappyHour 180 - Putting People First

    HR Happy Hour 180 - 'Putting People First' (Live from Ultimate Connections 2014)

    Recorded Thursday, April 10, 2014

    Hosts: Steve Boese, Trish McFarlane

    Guest: Cecile Alper-Leroux, Vice President of Product Strategy, Ultimate Software

    Last week Steve and Trish were able to attend Ultimate Software's Annual Connections User Conference in Las Vegas and sit down with Cecile Alper-Leroux to get an update on some of the exciting developments and happenings at Ultimate Software as well as talk about some of the ways that putting People First - in software design, in the approach to talent management, and how that leads to the best outcomes for both individuals and organizations is the key to sustained success.

    Ultimate Software, across their thousands of customers, supports over 15 million people records in the cloud. Cecile shared with us one of the primary considerations that Ultimate takes into account when building software for so many people - the almost radically different expectations people have in their relationship with any technology. People's personal lives are filled with technologies that are adaptive, responsive, fun, engaging, and are also simple to use. Those expectations and demands are now being placed on the technologies that we use in workplace as well. Cecile shared the key things to consider: provide user value, hook users in early with a great experience, and be useful and help them get their jobs done.

    We also talked about the ridiculous labor laws in France and how we all want to live there.

    Ultimate Software through their innovative technology solutions, focus on designing software experiences that place the individual's needs at the forefront, and from the deep experience that comes from over two decades of supporting their thousands of customers, have evolved to become one of the most important and influential HR technology solution providers in the industry today. 

    This was a really fun and interesting show and I encourage you to give it a listen.

    You can listen to the show on the show page here or using the widget player below:

    Listen To Business Internet Radio Stations with Steve Boese and Trish McFarlane on BlogTalkRadio


    Additionally, you can subscribe to the HR Happy Hour Show on iTunes, or for Android device users, from a free app called Stitcher Radio. In both cases just search for 'HR Happy Hour' and add the show to your podcast subscription list. 

    This was a fun and informative show and I would like to thank Cecile and everyone at Ultimate Software for allowing the HR Happy Hour Show to be a part of Connections 2014.