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    Wednesday
    Jun292016

    Which questions are too personal?

    I am sure at least 50% of the folks who read this will think I am nuts, (and probably do think that anyway), but I have to break from the regularly scheduled fare to go a little bit off topic here.

    This post is called 'Which questions are too personal?' and was inspired by two separate but related interactions I had yesterday, both of which, (possibly because I am crazy), bugged me in a similar way. First the run down of what happened, then why it did get to me a little, and then tossing it open to you for comments/feedback.

    Scenario 1 - An introductory business call set up by a mutual contact with a person whom I do not know, but is in the same industry. The purpose of the 30-minute call was to learn about a new product/service offering from this person's organization and to get some context around some additional correspondence related to said product/service.

    Scenario 2 - A lunch time trip to a fairly busy local establishment to get some take out. A location I have been to many times before, but this time was being helped by a person I have never seen in the past. 

    Both of these scenarios are completely normal, run of the mill, and typical kinds of interactions that most all of us have all of the time, if not many times a day.

    Why did they both stand out from normal life and end up bugging me at the end?

    In scenario 1, the person on the call asked me where I lived, how long I have been living where I live, if I had a family there, and if so how many kids did I have? Again, this was a business call with someone whom I do not know and have never met before.

    In scenario 2, the person behind the counter asked me where I grew up, was I watching the Euro soccer tournament, and which team was I supporting.  Again, this was in a small, local take out place and a person I have never seen before.

    Now I know that many of you, perhaps most of you would think, 'What's the big deal? Those are just casual, small talk kinds of questions that people ask when they meet someone new. It's just being polite.'

    And at some level, I guess I would agree with those of you who feel that way. I am sure that both of the folks were just being polite, and were not trying to pry into the life of a total stranger (me).

    But some people, (me), are really private and almost guarded (for myriad reasons, none of which matter), about their personal lives and take questions like 'So, how many kids do you have?' as a question and topic they would rather not discuss with someone they just met, particularly in a business context like the two described above.  For some people, (again me), getting asked those kinds of personal questions by complete strangers is really uncomfortable.

    I know you may think that question, and others that are similar, are totally benign and mundane even, given the norms of civilized society.  

    But perhaps making the mistake of falling into the trap of 'If I feel this way, there must be plenty of others who do as well', I think that it's smart when in a business context to avoid wading in to personal questions when making small talk.

    If you have to make small talk, ask about something relevant or at least tangential to the purpose of the interaction - maybe the industry overall, or a particular piece of professional work the person did that you are familiar with. Again, this might just be my hang up, but 'I read what you wrote about XYZ, tell me why you think that' is a much more comfortable and proper conversation to have than 'So, what grade in school is your kid in?' when we have never met or spoken before.

    Ok, that's it. Rant over.

    Am I off base?

    Should I feel compelled to tell people about my personal life the first time we ever speak?

    Monday
    Jun272016

    Be careful when evaluating for user experience

    Over the weekend I read an interesting discussion online about one organization's software selection process, i.e., should we select solution 'A' or 'B'. In the end the company went with solution 'B', and the decision was largely based on the idea of 'user experience' or usability. The specific details don't matter here, (which is why I am not linking to the source), but it made me think that I should write about UX this week. And that made me think that I have written about UX a dew times before, and it might make sense to re-run a couple of those posts this week. So here goes - more from the archive on UX and usability....

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------

    From November 2014 - There's more to User Experience than usability

    Here is a quick take and a diagram on UX that I wanted to share on a cold, kind of snowy Wednesday in my part of Western NY, (and thankfully not too snowy, lake effect snow is a funny thing, one side of town can get buried in snow, while a mile away sees hardly anything at all).

    I was plowing through my Feedly last night, (while watching my Knicks fail, admirably however in Milwaukee), and I came across this really interesing piece on API design from the Nordic APIs site. 

    I know what you might be thinking: Really, you must have a terribly exciting life, reading about API design and watching basketball. And you would be right! It is terribly exciting. 

    You don't have to read the entire piece about API design, (I admit, it gets a little ponderous near the end if you are not really, really into APIs), but I wanted to share what I thought was the most interesting and perhaps relevant part of the piece, a diagram called the UX Honeycomb, originally developed by Semantic Studios. The diagram is meant to portray the facets or elements of User Experience, and as you will see, there is much more than 'usability' at play here.

     

    The point of the UX Honeycomb is to make sure that designers understand the various components that encompass UX, and to also emphasize the center element - 'Valuable'. So while for UX professionals, 'usability' remains important to overall UX, it is not by itself sufficient. And it is also a great reminder that the elements like 'useful', 'accessible', and perhaps most importantly for HR readers, 'credible' remain critical.

    And the way that the elements of the UX Honeycomb seem to have really close applicability to lots of what HR in general and HR technology projects in particular is the primary reason I wanted to share the diagram. Whether it is a traditional HR-led initiative like training, or performance coaching, or rolling out a employee wellness program, or a straight up HR systems implementation, evaluating your approach against these UX elements I think makes a ton of sense.

    Is what you are doing, or trying to get others to do, useful, usable, desirable, credible, valuable, etc.?

    I think you have to be able to check 'Yes' on just about every one of the elements on the UX Honeycomb no matter what the project is, in order to have a chance to capture the attention and the time of your users, employees, and leaders. I am going to keep the Honeycomb in mind moving forward, and I think you might want to as well.

    Anyway, that's it.

    Stay warm out there today.

    ---------------------------------------------------

    I probably should have updated that last line to say 'Stay cool out there today' - have a great week!

    Friday
    Jun242016

    There's no way...

    that the UK voters will choose to leave the EU

    that the Cavaliers will come back from trailing three games to one and beat the Warriors in the NBA finals

    that Donald Trump is a serious candidate for President

    that Donald Trump will win a single Presidential primary

    that Donald Trump will become the Republican Party Presidential nominee

    that Leicester City will win the Premier League

    that the United States Congress will continue to react to increasing and worsening mass murders and shootings by doing more or less nothing

    that the 'restricted' caller who calls me four or five times each day will continue his or her relentless approaches (ok, that one is really just a personal gripe)

    that Microsoft will do anything to LinkedIn that won't be fantastic for LinkedIn users - especially the non-paying ones

    that your CEO doesn't have the very best interests of you and the rest of the employees there at ACME Widget company top of mind when making his or her business decisions

    that the best producing employee on your team will leave to join the competition for a few more dollars - after all - 'You have a great culture!'

    that we won't be shocked by the next shocking turn of events - we know better!

    Have a great weekend!

    Thursday
    Jun232016

    Discovering the Next Great HR Technology Company

    Quick break from the normal fare to give a quick update and share some information about the upcoming HR Technology Conference that will be held October 4 - 7, 2016 in Chicago.

    For several years at the Conference we have presented an "Awesome New Startups for HR" session that has featured many of the most innovative and exciting new HR technology startups that have emerged in the last few years - many of whom have gone on to even bigger and better things since they "launched" at the show.

    This has always been a fantastic session and one of the highlights of the Conference, but in the planning process for this year's event, we thought about how to make the "Awesome" session even more awesome. I will skip all the bad ideas and just get to the great one we landed upon - let's make the "Awesome New" session a little bit more like reality TV - in our case the show "The Voice".

    If you are not familiar with "The Voice" the primary feature that distinguishes it from other reality talent shows is that a panel of expert coaches guide and champion the talent that is vying for the crown. These coaches on the TV show are experts and stars in their own right, and their insight and advice helps the contestants to not only compete on the show, but will help them in the future as well. It is not every day that an unknown singer gets some personal coaching from an established star.

    So what we are going to do this year at HR Tech is borrow from the main concept of "The Voice" and morph the "Awesome Startups" idea into something we are calling "Discovering the Next Great Technology Company", that will take some of these concepts and bring them to the event in Chicago.

    To do that, I am partnering with my own team of HR and HR Technology experts - Jason Averbook, Trish McFarlane, Madeline Laurano, George LaRocque, and Kyle Lagunas who will help find, coach, and determine the 'Next Great Technology Company' that will win that illustrious title at the Conference in October. More details on this amazing session are coming soon, but there is one bit of information that I want to communicate right away - the process and information for HR technology startups to apply to be considered for this honor.

    Here are the important details:

    HR Tech startups can submit to be considered and get more information at:

    http://www.hrtechnologyconference.com/ant.html

    One that page you will find instructions, information, and the link to the application forms. There is no charge to apply, but the deadline is coming up fast, so interested HR technology providers should not hesitate in applying.

    And one last note, because I know I am going to be asked - the "Awesome New Technology" session at the Conference for larger, established HR tech companies will once again be held at the event, and it uses the same application form at the same link as above. We have not, (this year anyway), given that session the reality TV make over just yet.

    Thanks for your indulgence on this, and please do share the post and the link to apply to these sessions with any innovative HR tech company you know.

    Tuesday
    Jun212016

    'The truth isn't always criticism. Sometimes it's just the truth'

    In the wake of the Cleveland Cavaliers victory in the NBA Finals on Sunday night, former Cleveland Browns (NFL football for those who may have forgotten about the woeful Browns), and NFL legend Jim Brown was being interviewed and was asked to share his thoughts on the city of Cleveland on one of the sports talk radio shows that were recapping the Cavs win. Brown, as the de facto representative and patriarch of Cleveland sports, had all the right and expected things to say about Cleveland, the Cavs, and their star LeBron James.

    The interview was not all that interesting, until for some reason the host changed the topic from the Cavs and towards Brown's comments on another former Browns player, running back Trent Richardson. Richardson, as I am sure you do not know, was a highly touted player coming out of college, but for some reason did not translate into a successful, (or even average), NFL player and is not out of the league.

    While many NFL talent scouts and media had picked Richardson for a star in the NFL, Jim Brown himself did not - seeing Richardson as 'nothing special', and never considering him likely to become a star or even a productive NFL player.

    On the talk show, the host asked Brown about Trent Richardson, reminding him that he was one of the only people to correctly predict Richardson would never be able to live up the the high expectations. and would never be a star in the NFL and in response Brown made the following observation, (I am paraphrasing a bit, but the gist of what he said is accurate):

    You know I am not really proud or happy about that prediction, and I was not trying to criticize him at all. I was just telling the truth. And the truth isn't always criticism, sometimes it's just the truth. And that's what it was for him.

    Preach it Jim Brown. 

    I think this little anecdote is worth thinking about and keeping in mind as more and more organizations transition away from the traditional annual performance management/review process and cadence and more towards a more frequent, regular, and lighter weight feedback scheme. 

    More feedback, even if it is the 'truth', (and that is definitely not always the case), increases the opportunities and likelihood for this feedback to be interpreted as criticism, and we all know how much fun being criticized is.

    As we see in the case of Brown's 'truthful' observation about Richardson, the difference between 'criticism' and 'truth' often is only determined by who is talking and who is listening.