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    Situational Awareness

    Your environment, the activities in which you are engaging, and the people that you are with, impacts and influences your ability and desire to respond to and interact with the constant demands for your time and attention. This is becoming increasingly important as the number and diversity of communication avenues increase,No, not that kind of Situation and how in the smartphone generation, the tendency to be always connected to these tethers has become common and expected.

    That was a really long winded way of saying essentially this:

    1. There are loads of ways (email, phone, SMS, social networks), in which we interact with our colleagues, friends, and family (and the public)
    2. These various mechanisms differ widely in how we respond to them, (an urgent text message from a family member gets an immediate response)
    3. Different and sometimes overlapping social circles utilize these mechanisms in varying ways, (work colleagues email us on one account, while almost anyone on Twitter can send an '@' message directed to us)
    4. We constantly assess and adjust our ability and preferences for receiving and responding to these messages based on our situation, (we turn off our phones when in a parent-teacher conference, or we may only respond to LinkedIn invites once a week)

    Some directives and adjustments are simple -  silencing our phones in a movie theater. While others are more complex and subtle -attending a conference presentation but wanting to remain available for urgent messages from the office or from family members, while ignoring personal email or messaging from various social networks. In all cases, managing the multitude of communication channels and our ability to respond gets more complex all the time.

    Recently mobile communications supplier Nokia released a prototype application named 'Situations', designed to help Nokia smartphone users attempt to manage these channels and contexts more effectively, and after some initial configuration, automatically. 'Situations' allows the user the configure various contexts like 'In a meeting', or 'Concert', and set up corresponding phone behaviors like setting the phone to vibrate only, allowing only selected contact group calls to ring through, or auto-responding to text messages with a 'situationally appropriate' response. 

    Nokia 'Situations' screen images below:


    While the current capability of Nokia 'Situations' is basically limited to 'core' phone functions like ringer behavior, text messaging, and basic calendaring, it probably is not too far-fetched to see an application that takes this functionality one better and integrates with personal and corporate email, enterprise and public social networks, and whatever new mechanisms for connection and communication emerge over time. Today, we configure messaging and notification rules for these channels one by one, and no technology I am aware of lets us consolidate these rules and overlay context and situational awareness to refine the rules.

    There is much talk about information overload, and while in the aggregate that might be true what seems to be more important to address the overload is the ability to segment, sort, and intelligently respond to the incoming stream of messages based on the situational context of type of message, relationship to the message sender, and augmented by our physical surroundings. 

    For smartphones to be truly smart, they should be able to do more than continuously beep, ring, vibrate, and poke us with incoming message after message, they ought to be able (with a little coaching), to do some initial screening for us.

    Don Draper has a secretary sitting outside his office doing the screening for him.  The rest of us need some help, and the idea behind the Nokia 'Situations' app I think represents the next evolution in this process.


    Delivering Talent

    Note: Tonight at 8PM ET on the HR Happy Hour show, we will be joined by Jamie Naughton from Zappos, to talk about some of the HR and Talent Management practices employed at Zappos.

    Everyone knows at least something about the Zappos story.  Small, specialty online retailer survives some rough early years to become a $1B plus juggernaut just a few short years later. This growth is fueled by a relentless focus on providing legendary customer service; understanding, documenting, communicating, and living by their famous company culture and values; and by building sustainable processes for finding, developing, and rewarding the best people to live the culture and that can deliver on the customer promise for tremendous service.

    In 'Delivering Happiness', Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh's, book about the origins, rise, and philosophies behind Zappos, Hsieh expounds upon many of the talent management strategies that are employed to ensure that the company can continue to live up to its high standards for customer service, ensure that the most important organizational values are supported and strengthened, and that there will be a steady and ready supply of future leaders to drive the constant and rapid growth.

    From Zappos practice of interviewing specifically for cultural fit, to offering brand new employees cash bonuses to leave, to the focus on building active and deep pipelines of talent for positions across and through the organization, the examples of effective and even innovative talent management strategies and execution abound in Delivering Happiness, and other writings, speeches etc.

    When the entire business strategy and opportunities for success hinge almost completely on the talent, commitment, and execution of people, (face it, you can buy shoes from about a thousand different places), then the challenge, pressure, and opportunity on those folks mainly responsible for the hiring, development, and compensation of these people becomes marked.  I'd submit you can't have a world-class roster of fantastically engaged, aligned, and successful employees without a corresponding world-class HR and Talent Management group helping to deliver on the customer and employee promises.

    Sure you know the Zappos story from the book, or from the blogs, or from the thousands of blog posts about the company.  But tonight on the HR Happy Hour show you will get a chance to hear from one of the leaders of the Zappos talent management team, Cruise Ship Captain Jamie Naughton.

    The fun starts tonight at 8PM ET.  Join us by listening on the show page here, by calling in to the listener line on 646-378-1086, or using the player below:

    It should be a fun and interesting show, and I hope you can join us.


    Visualizing Performance

    The excellent blog Hoopism manages to successfully combine two of my favorite subjects, basketball and data into an interesting and unique blend of hoops nerd detailed analysis and engaging visualizations.Image - hoopism.com

    Recently on the site the folks at Hoopism created a set of NBA player statistical data visualizations, that were developed by mapping player statistics to physical attributes of simple, cartoon, caricatures (more blocks equals longer arms, more rebounds results in longer legs etc.) 

    An example of one of the NBA player data visualizations is at right.

    The simple representative player caricatures can be evaluated visually, (long arms on the figure indicate a high number of blocked shots), and in comparatively, (the larger the mouth on the figure, indicates relatively more technical fouls assessed against the player). 

    While the actual statistics taken into account on the player data visualizations do not offer what could be considered a total view of statistical performance, or complete insight into what makes for successful and more importantly winning players, the approach the visualizations themselves take offer a couple of important lessons for anyone in the game of understanding and evaluating individual and comparative performance.

    1. Context and Dimension

    These visualizations provide some insight to a player's individual contributions (how big is the player's head), and the relative position of the player compared to his teammates, peers, or competitors. A quick glance at the image above informs the viewer that David Lee scores at a high rate, but compared to Marcus Camby, blocks a relatively low number of opponents' shots.  Understanding and assessing performance for individuals, and in the context of the departmental and organizational units in which they reside is often an important and challenging task in traditional employee performance management. The simple characterizations of the NBA players in the visualizations make a better attempt at this than most workforce systems I have seen.

    2. Eliminates Irrelevance

    While certainly not perfect, or complete, the crude data visualizations do an excellent job at eliminating irrelevant or largely less important information.  Facts like where the player went to college, the number of neck tattoos, or the really subjective 'look' of the player are not included.  If in this case what 'matters' is the actual statistical performance on the court, then anything that is not directly related, and possibly subject to bias (Big 10 players are slow), is left out of the analysis. Again, there are many, many factors to consider in evaluating NBA performance, but I submit that often we allow unimportant factors to cloud our assessments.  In the workplace it is probably no different.  Do we sometimes, almost unconsciously factor in the number of crazy cat pictures that a colleague has in her cube to influence how we evaluate her work and contribution?

    3. Fun

    I simply like how the data visualizations introduce a novel and fun way to look at very traditional and typically flat data. By creating the caricatures and linking the familiar stick figure forms with the player statistical information, the creators make this performance data much more accessible.  You don't have to know too much about basketball to be able to quickly grasp the performance information, and begin to gain an understanding of individual and relative player strengths and weaknesses.  And finally, it is simply cool to look at this data in a new way.

    We have loads of data in the organization.  Truly, there is no shortage of financial, operational, and employee data.  The challenge is finding ways to make the data meaningful, relevant, accessible, and perhaps even fun.  The ideas from some simple NBA player data caricatures I think offer some clues as to how we may approach these challenges.


    Culture, Wellness, and the Soda Machine

    I like to believe that in the workplace almost every form of communication, design, and subtle messaging has the potential to offer some kind of insight or clues to the organization's true culture and values.  

    I mainly like to believe this because it provides the justification for an almost endless string of 'What your company (insert any object, policy, statement, product, etc.) says about your culture/values/mission' kind of blog posts. This is especially important on the Monday following a long holiday weekend, and my only other idea for today's post was going to be titled 'What your company can learn from the Knicks gutty, double overtime win over the Pistons this past Sunday', which for some reason is my strongest memory forcing its way through a 72-hour turkey haze.

    It was the lingering effects of the tryptophan coma that led to a mid-morning trip to the office soda machine, to fuel up for the next round of meetings. Meetings that while important, had the potential to take the mind back to Danilo Gallinari's back-to-back 3-point bombs in the second overtime that sealed the Knick win.  (You really should check the replay on NBA.com).

    At right, is a picture of the aforementioned soda machine.  A very solid and concise headline 'Cold Drinks', followed by two rows of assorted beverages.  The top row, the diet versions of Coke, Mountain Dew, and Pepsi.  Bottom (and less desirable from a product placement point of view), full sugared and caffeinated Coke, Ginger Ale (does anyone at work crave a Ginger Ale?), orange juice, and finally bottled water.

    Nine choices in all, with DC and the Diet Dew getting the coveted prime slots on the top row, (and hogging up two spots each).  Out of the nine total choices (seven really), only two would be considered healthy options, with the majority of the selections falling in to the 'wake up, crank out some work, but keep the weight off, fatty' category.

    Is there really a message in the drink or snacks that fill up the vending machines? Does the organization subtly or even overtly signal what is really and truly important by the food and drinks it makes readily available to the employees? Am I reading way too much into this, and the real truth is that an outside company services and re-stocks the machines and simply supplies them with what people want, and what sells? Is there really a market for vending machine ginger ale?

    Lots of questions for the sluggish Monday following a long holiday weekend.  However, I have just one more - 

    Should I have just punted and posted about the Knick game?


    Family Recipes

    It is Thanksgiving, the day when when most of us in the USA gather with friends and family to share a great meal, watch football, and doze off on the sofa, while making sure we connect with and share stories and feelings with those closest to us.  I find I emote much more fully when watching football and dozing off.

    But truly the best part of the holiday is the food, and the way that shopping, preparing, serving, and decompressing from the over-indulging cements our relationships with our family and friends, and how these activities form traditions.  To me, and I think to many others as well, it is the food itself that serves as the glue, and maintains an important and prominent place in our family shared memory.

    We don't look back (or ahead in anticipation), for stuffing, mashed potatoes, or pie.  We remember and anticipate Grandma's stuffing, Aunt Snooky's potatoes, (yes, I had an Aunt Snooky), and the proverbial Mom's apple pie. It doesn't really matter if in our travels around the world we have sampled apple pie in likely dozens of other places, with the high probability that at least a few of these not-Mom's apple pies were actually better than the same old version Mom would trot out year after year, served in the same dish, using the same china, and accompanied by a fresh cup of Maxwell House. 

    Of course Mom's pie (and stuffing, and sweet potatoes and green bean casserole) will always hold the place as the best you ever had. So what if it isn't completely about the taste.  Everyone knows this is the case, and quite frankly it isn't all that novel or even interesting.

    But I did hear something else about this I do think is interesting. Turns out in certain families the older women, (Mom, Grandma, Aunt Betty, etc.), never like to fully and completely share the details of these legendary family recipes. Ask Grandma about her stuffing and she would share some of the secrets, but would be careful to leave a crucial ingredient out, or fail to mention a little trick or nuance in the preparation that would be impossible to guess, and that serves to distinguish the dish somehow in a unique and personal way.  The person telling me this story said the reason why the matriarchs don't like to give up all the secrets of their signature dishes was so that they could continue to be known for not just their ability to cook, but for their singular and non-repeatable ability to create 'Aunt Snooky's Stuffing'.  Anyone can make stuffing. But only Aunt Snooky could make her stuffing, and as long as she could continue to produce the magic each year, her place in the family hierarchy and lore was secure.  

    I had never thought about this 'family exclusivity of recipe secrets' before I heard the theory, but looking back I think I agree with the premise, and have seen the theory in action in my family. Like most of us, my Mom had a few of her recipe secrets as well.  At Thanksgiving she always hosted, did all the cooking, and made sure that everyone left satiated, groggy, and happy.  Her 'secret' dish was her stuffing.  It was fantastic.  And she (as far as I know) never had a formally written recipe for its preparation.  But every year it came out the same, fantastic way. Over the years people would say, 'Please Joan, you have to give me the recipe for your stuffing, it is the best I have ever had.' These enquiries were always brushed off by my mother, she was happy, but also proud and protective of her secrets. She promised to give away the recipe once she retired from hosting the holiday, a date she always reminded us, was many years away.

    The first Thanksgiving after she passed away was, as you would expect, sad and kind of uneventful. The family was still coming to terms with the permanence of her absence, and not really in the frame of mind for a celebration.  I don't really remember much about the day or meal, save for being glad when it was over.  As the years have progressed (my Mom died in 2003), and as new combinations of people, places, and traditions have developed, Thanksgiving has once again been restored to a happy, food-filled day.

    But no one knows how, exactly, to duplicate Mom's stuffing.  She never shared the recipe, never revealed her secrets. She, I suppose, was successful in keeping 'Joan's Stuffing' as a legendary fixture in the family history. We will never have it again, because no one really knows precisely how to mix, measure, prepare, and serve the dish the way she did for all those years.

    What she did not fully understand, even if she had carefully recorded the recipe, and made sure that the next generation could precisely and honorably replicate the dish, it still would always be her dish. The stuffing, the pie, the potatoes - whatever, they are just food. The legacy of Mom and Grandma isn't about food, it's about how they took care of you, and your brothers and sisters, and everyone else that they touched. What makes me sad it that I don't think we let the Moms and Grandmas know this often enough, and they feel by clinging to their secret recipes we won't be able to forget them.

    My Mom made her stuffing one day each year, she took care of all of us every day, all year.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone - and Mom's, share your recipes!