Quantcast
Subscribe!

 

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

 

E-mail Steve
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on Blog Talk Radio

    free counters

    Twitter Feed
    Tuesday
    Jun072011

    The Big Picture Thinker, or Making Candidates Tap Dance

    When trying to find the best candidate for the job, how many interviews are too much?

    When do your standard questions become a little insulting or the screening surveys you have carefully crafted go too far, and in the process turn away candidates with the background and qualifications you are seeking, but feel taken aback by having to prove themselves during your application process?

    I started to think about this while reading a recent post on The Daily WTF blog, a site normally centered around tales of dodgy computer programming, clueless end users, and mostly amusing but not really cruel hijinks and frivolity for the geeky set. Every so often The Daily WTF shares a job interview story, and while normally kind of fun, the 'Big Picture Thinker' yarn is one of the best I have seen.

    So the story goes something like this:

    After an in-person technical interview for an unnamed development, (or possibly managerial position), the company sends a standard, (but simple), technical aptitude test to the candidate. The test is meant to help gauge written communication skills. But in this case, not only did the hiring manager forget to attach the test to his email, he surprisingly found himself dealing with a candidate that clearly did not feel it necessary to 'prove' himself by taking the test. Take a look at the candidate's response:

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

    From: Thomas B-------
    Sent: Friday, April 08, 2011 10:37 AM
    To: James S------
    Subject: RE: Written Test
    
    
    When a big picture thinker with nearly 20 years of experience in 
    IT sends you a resume and cover letter like mine and says that he 
    can help you win a client that is pulling in 1.3 Billion per year, 
    here's what you don't do:  
    
      1. Set up an interview with a couple of in-the-box thinking 
         Microsoft drones with questions on minutia.  
    
      2. Hand him a test to see what his "style", attention to 
         detail, and problem solving approach is.  
         
    Here's my style: I am certain that I can run circles around your 
    best developers with my own, original, incredibly efficient model; 
    but more importantly, I am a director that can help them run 
    circles around their own current misguided misconceptions.  But I 
    am thankful for this lesson, as I have learned that I need to add 
    a cover to my cover letter that reads:  If you are an in-the-box 
    thinking Microsoft house, and you find yourself regurgitating 
    terms like OOP, MVC, TDD, BDD, Cucumber, etc..., without really 
    understanding what it all means and how much it is actually 
    costing your company to have bought into that industry pushed 
    bullshit, then DO NOT contact me.  I'd save you too much money, 
    and you obviously do not want that.
    
    So the question now is:  Did I pass the test?
    
    The answer is: Fuck yes I did.
    
    Thomas B-------
    
    PS. You forgot to attach the quiz.  
    
    Do this: Print out a copy of it, ball it up, and throw it at 
    your own forehead, because that's what I would do if I were 
    there.

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

    Classic, and kind of instructive. Sure, Thomas B. the candidate in question is quite likely a pompous jerk, and doesn't seem like the type of employee that would be a great addition to the team. But it is also likely that he probably did possess the basic technical qualifications for the job, and that his experience and resume details would have borne that out. 

    I get the need for organizations to be careful, thorough, and sure, (or as sure as you can be), before pulling the trigger on a new hire. The stakes are high, the pressure to find top talent is palpable, and the costs of making a bad hire are high. But at the same time making candidates unnecessarily jump through hoops, answer incredibly basic questions, and otherwise put them into a kind of disrespected and subservient position is not really warranted either.

    So the next time you are about to administer that 'test', think about whether or not you too should 'print out a copy, ball it up, and throw it at your own forehead.'

    Monday
    Jun062011

    Can Games Make You Healthy?

    Last week marked the official launch of Keas, the latest entrant in the growing market for technology-enabled platforms to support employee wellness/fitness. Keas attempts to drive and encourage better habits, increased levels of exercise, and more adherence to the healthy behaviors we all know we should be exhibiting, but for some reason are not. Keas - Goal Setting Page

    Actually, I think we know the reasons - exercising and eating right kind of stink, and given the choice, too many of us are quite happy to have another donut or sleep in on Saturday instead of biking 12 miles to the Whole Foods to have some kind of a green energy drink concoction.

    So Keas, like similar solution offerings like Redbrick and Virgin HealthMiles, has turned the 'Eat Less and Exercise' spiel, (that as we said we ALL know, and mostly ignore), into a social game. Once an employer has signed on with Keas, employees can form fitness and wellness challenge teams, set their individual and team goals for things like walking, yoga, eating vegetables, and taking health quizzes, (and lots more), track their progress and results using the Keas portal or their smartphone, and finally and at the discretion of the employer, receive cash and other rewards for participating and/or winning team challenges.

    Keas in particular, emphasizes the social and gaming aspects of what are all essentially behavior tracking services, in order to advance in the game, or 'level up' to use the gamer term, the entire employee team (usually 5 or 6 people), must achieve their goals together. This 'we are all in this together' factor produces some interesting dynamics - employees are more motivated to meet their goals for fear of letting the rest of the team down, and everyone is more encouraged and supportive in a social sense to try and 'win' the game.

    And while cash and other rewards can be a part of an organization's social wellness program, these rewards might not really be the ultimate driver of participation. According to a recent article about Keas and some of the other similar services in the Wall Street Journal, one executive observed that participants were more motivated by the social aspect than the cash, stating "In the beginning, I thought it was going to be about the prizes,” but, “People like being on teams, people like to be social. We had people going for walks together, we had people sharing recipes.”

    The basic premise seems to be that turning activities that the nation's growing obesity rates, levels of chronic but often preventable disease, and spiraling corporate health care costs tell us we simply are not doing enough of on our own, into a social, interactive, and competitive game, will somehow engage a mostly disinterested, (and really busy), workforce into changing our behaviors not only for our own good, but for our wellness teams and our organizations.  Maybe it will.  The execs from Keas are claiming high and sustained levels of engagement from beta users of the platform, and Keas and other companies in the space have attracted some significant venture capital to build out and market their gaming/social/get off your butt and take a walk solutions.

    I think it is an interesting and an area of workplace technology to keep and eye on, although I do worry a little about potential 'real' work ramifications or implications for someone perceived as letting down their wellness teammates in some kind of vegetable eating contest. 

    What do you think - can these kind of games drive real and meaningful behavior change?

    Friday
    Jun032011

    In the Jungle or on Twitter - Dunbar Still Has You Beat

    You might be familiar with Dunbar's number - the theoretical limit on the number of meaningful and stable social relationships that one can successfully maintain. First proposed by the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it asserts that the actual number of social relationships one can maintain ranges from 100 to about 230, with 150 as the commonly accepted value.Should I 'unfriend' Steve?

    Dunbar's original studies that led to the development of the concept of the 'number', were conducted on studies of the social activity of non-human primates, that as far as we can tell, did not have many Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Why do I toss in the social networking bit? Well, in this modern age of social networking, hyper-connectivity, and the ability to make some kind of connection, (meaningful or otherwise), with thousands upon thousands of people is now quite possible and fairly simple.

    Naturally the technological and social revolutions have led many to question or even claim that modern social networking technology can indeed finally enable individuals to effectively expand the actual number of social relationships they can successfully maintain, that in the age of Facebook and Twitter and the ease with which these tools allow essentially limitless connections to be made, that Dunbar's number might no longer apply.

    Recently Bruno Goncalves and a team of researchers from Indiana University set out to determine if indeed this was the case. They studies the actions and interactions and the networks of connections of over 3 million Twitter users over a period of 4 years, examining a grand total of over 380 million tweets. The researchers wanted to see if indeed among these 3 million users, they could discern patterns and evidence, (replies, conversations, sustained connections, etc.), that could prove that the long-accepted Dunbar limitation of 150 would indeed be more easily overcame, aided by the ease and speed and facilitated connection engine that is Twitter.

    Their findings? (below quote lifted directly from their paper's conclusion)

    Social networks have changed they way we use to communicate. It is now easy to be connected with a huge number of other individuals. In this paper we show that social networks did not change human social capabilities. We analyze a large dataset of Twitter conversations collected across six months involving millions of individuals to test the theoretical cognitive limit on the number of stable social relationships known as Dunbar's number. We found that even in the online world cognitive and biological constraints holds as predicted by Dunbar's theory limiting users social activities.

    I follow about 6,000 people on Twitter. I probably interact regularly with maybe 100 or 150 of them. Which is altogether normal and expected and not at all unexpected according to our friend Dunbar, the primates he studied, and the results seen from the recent research from Indiana University.

    The larger point in all this?

    I suppose keeping in mind that no matter how large and diverse and important seeming these giant networks of contacts, connections, followers, and friends we build online are to us, to our businesses and our personal lives, the technology itself has yet to do much to overcome some of the apparent laws of nature and biology.

    What do you think? Can you really have more than 150 'friends'?

    Have a Great Weekend!

     

    Thursday
    Jun022011

    The Six-Month Sprint

    I am sure many of you, like me, have spent at least some time in your professional careers preparing long-range business forecasts of some kind. Whether they were for financial metrics like revenue, margins or cash flow; operational metrics like market share, customer count, or inventory; or even human capital measures like future headcount needs, impacts on profitablilty of future salary adjustments, or long-term benefits cost trends - it is safe to say that at lease some kind of future-focused planning is a long-accepted fact of business.

    And while the necessity and value of planning, to be able to effectively assess current baseline data and results, fold in business objectives, sprinkle in competitive challenges, add a dash of environmental and cultural factors, and we typically realize that even our well-reasoned, clearly articulated, and thoroughly documented plans and forecasts often fail to accurately predict and ultimately reflect what actually happens.

    It is the old line about military battle plans - 'No battle plan survives its first contact with the enemy'.

    And so it is with most business plans and long-range forecasts as well. Your plans don't exist in a vacuum - the competition has its own plans, that big customer that counts for 32% of this year's revenue forecast may go belly up, or at least squeeze you on price, 'star' employees that you think are slated to move into really important roles may leave. As with most planning processes, the second you hit 'print', it is likely something or some assumption that underlies the plans themselves has changed.

    The recommendation certainly is to not stop planning, to simply toss up your hands and give up, since the business and economy are moving so fast for anyone to really successfully plan for, but rather to be a little more reasonable about not only your ability to accurately (and reasonably) assess and predict the future. Spending too much time on 5-year plans of dubious merit is not normally a solid use of time.

    I recently read an interesting piece on the Co.Design blog called, 'How Can You Strategize For the Future, When You Can't See Beyond 18-Months?',  that suggests for design firms, (and I am sort of extrapolating this to those of us that do Human Capital and workforce planning of any type), that it is really impossible to plan out a design strategy any farther out than 18 months. In fact, the author suggests - 'Beyond 18 Months, the future is anybody's guess'. The world, the markets, technology - these factors and others simply move too quickly today.

    Not sure you agree with the '18 Months' figure? Let me ask you then, have you in your organization, or even in your personal and professional life spent time working out your iPad strategy? About how long has the iPad been out? And even just as it was coming out, did anyone, (besides Apple), have a clue about how transformative the device would be?

    The last point I wanted to mention from the CoDesign piece was the idea of something called 'The Six-Month Sprint' - a process where development and design processes, (mindful of the long term planning horizon limitation of 18 months), are collapsed into six-month cycles. Sure, for typical firms and products this is a tight window, and mistakes and tradeoffs have to be made, but in the opinion of the author, these shorter planning and development cycles are simply the only sensible and practical reaction to a business climate that increasingly defies prediction.

    So my question to you is - How far out into the future do you attempt to plan for things like headcount numbers, labor costs, workforce mix, organizational capability needs, hiring plans, etc.?

    And, if your planning horizon is longer than say 18 months, how confident are you in the accuracy of those plans?

    Is long-term planning really a thing of the past, a relic of a simpler, and lost forever age?

    Wednesday
    Jun012011

    Making Data Come Alive

    Yes, this is yet another 'sports' post. Kind of. Actually it is another in the occasional series of posts centered around innovative presentations of information -examples that highlight ways where a variety of organizations have managed to move beyond the expected and routine - 'Look, sales trends for the last 5 years in a bar chart!', to create interesting, engaging, and increasingly interactive tools that really transform both the data and the user experience. One of the best signs that a data presentation tool is effective is not just the initial reaction from users, but rather that the tool or technology makes users want to learn more, see more, and continue to engage with the solution.Patrick working the analytics

    I came across such a solution this past weekend at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY. On Saturday the museum unveiled a brand new exhibit - One for the Books: Baseball Records and the Stories Behind Them. The new exhibit tells the story baseball's most cherished statistics and records through more than 200 artifacts in the most technologically advanced presentation in the Museum's history. 

    Any fan, or casual observer of baseball knows that numbers, stats, records, etc. are as much a part of the game's history as the players themselves. Iconic records like Joe Dimaggio's 56 game hitting streak, Cy Young's 511 career pitching victories, and Ted Williams .406 batting average can be cited easily by baseball aficionados. Baseball is truly a numbers game - no other sport, (and few other businesses I bet), measure, track, analyze, and report statistical information about the games at the level of detail that major league baseball does.

    But raw statistics, be they describing normal business or workforce data, or even the data produced by such a compelling an activity as baseball, can still fall flat, feel one-dimensional, and fail to completely tell the story buried in the figures if the presentation and interface for interaction with said data is mundane, fully expected, and one-way. Tools that not only present the raw numbers, but allow the user to not only choose the data they want to see, but to also experience the data and really engage with it are the future of information presentation.

    Case in point the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's new 'Top 10 Tower' interactive information display at the new 'One For the Books' exhibit. The Top 10 Tower, in true iPad-like fashion, is a touch activated series of screens and displays that allow the baseball fan to learn about some of the classic and lesser-known statistical history of the game.  By selecting variables such as Pitching or Batting, choosing specific focus areas to drill into, and using a cool 'timeline' slider to see how the results and records have moved over time, the Top10 Tower created a fully immersive and engaging interactive presentation of what are really 'just' numbers.

    Make selections on the lower display of the tower, and the large video screens on the upper section automatically update, showing not only figures and images, but also allowing touch access to additional multi-media content about the record holder, of the timeframe the recored was established. The Top 10 tower also presents data in different dimensions, even ones not expressly requested by user, as the designers of the tool know that context matters in the review and analysis of baseball statistics, as it is likely equally important in the business and workforce metrics we produce and review all the time.

    I know what you are saying, the Top 10 tower is really just a fancy way to present some simple lists, and it really is not a big deal, and certainly has no meaning to the business world that has to be concerned with 'real' data, not just batting averages.

    Sure, keep telling yourself that. Your data is important, and baseball is just a game. 

    Have any idea with the batting average of your hiring managers is? For this season? For all-time?