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    Made by cows

    This image that I spotted on the excellent Delicious Industries site the other day definitely made me chuckle. It is amusing, well-designed, memorable, and frankly just really cool. Certainly all qualities that can often be lacking in advertising today. I gather the copy writer and artist were trying to emphasize the wholesomeness and adherence to the dairy company’s commitment to quality and freshness. Other images in the series of spots illustrate the cow driving a farm tractor and churning the butter (although I imagine the lack of opposable thumbs would make that feat kind of tricky).

    But after thinking about the images a bit more, I think there is a larger, more general message as well. That is without the cows who provide the essential raw materials for the dairy’s products, then well, there are no products. Sure, farmers look after the cows health and well-being, engineers design systems and machinery to efficiently collect the raw milk and then process it accordingly, and a small army of marketers, salespeople, logistics pros, accountants, HR folks, and all kinds of others move in and around the process making sure the raw milk turns in to end products, the products are packaged, sold, shipped, counted up, paid for, and that the people involved in the process are also paid, trained, and otherwise looked after.

    More and more companies, and consequently increasingly numbers of jobs don’t actually involve making anything tangible like butter or cheese. So the intangible end products and services then must have intangible raw materials as well. The ideas, insights, and eureka moments that can improve, alter, redefine, or reinvent the product or process or simply the way that the all the support people in the organization go about their work, these are the new raw materials, the raw milk if you will of the new enterprise. In the butter making business, acquiring the raw milk really isn’t the hard part, sure capital and some expertise is required, but for the most part the getting the right cows pretty much guarantees a steady supply of raw materials. After a while the business success and survival depends almost totally on what happens after the raw materials arrive. The super stars of the organization often were the ones farthest remove from where the raw milk was produced and came in the door.

    Now success, and the people that might be the most valuable contributors to that success are the ones that provide the raw materials. The ideas. The breakthroughs. It used to be a pretty lousy position to be in, to be strapped to a milking machine a few times a day. Now, if you are someone that can consistently produce the raw materials of the enterprise, you are in a really prime position.

    So which one are you? A cow, or someone who looks after the cows?


    Making the right choices

    With Annual Benefits Open Enrollment season rapidly approaching in the US, human resources and benefits professionals have started to plan, prepare, and develop their set of materials, communications, and tools to help their employees navigate through what can be a complex and confusing collection of plans, features, costs, and even tax implications.

    Absent life changing events like marriage or birth or adoption of a child, open enrollment is the only scheduled opportunity for employees to re-evaluate and potentially change their choice of medical, insurance, and other company sponsored benefit plans. Most organizations prepare some kind of annual open enrollment package, or update the company intranet with information and perhaps even some tools like downloadable worksheets or online calculators to assist employees in the process of evaluating their known and anticipated needs against the available choices to help guide them to make what is hopefully the ‘best’ choice for their circumstances.

    But still these resources often are overlooked, can be ignored, or themselves are almost as complex as the plans and options they are trying to explain. Sometimes trying to make sense out of complicated and detailed plan offerings is beyond the capability of traditional methods of communication.

    The folks at Jellyvision Lab, the company most well know for the fun and popular series of video-based trivia games called ‘You Don’t Know Jack’, have developed an interesting and really fun, interactive tool to try and make benefits plans more easily understood, and to help employee make more appropriate decisions about their benefits.

    Their product, called the Jellyvision Benefits Counselor, is an interactive video tour and guide of your company’s benefit offerings, a configurable resource for information and employee decision support, and a fun and innovative way to help employees learn and make the ‘best decision for their needs.

    Check out the video below to learn more about how the Benefits Counselor works:


    Behind the interactive video is an administrative process where the company’s benefits staff configures the Counselor with the relevant information about plan design, specific benefits, company policies, etc. (see a portion in the image at right)  and a sophisticated process flow for the counselor is developed based on this design, and employee choices provided as they interact with the Counselor. Standard explanations of the generic tax benefits of Flexible and Health Savings accounts also provide a simple and clear set of guidelines for employees.

    For larger organizations that may have a complex set of plans to administer, and lots of employees needing advice, deploying the Jellyvision Benefits Counselor as part of the overall benefits open enrollment communications can lend an element of interactivity, fun, and interest to a process that many employees find difficult and confusing.

    What do you think - would an interactive, video game style tool help your staff understand more and make better decisions about their benefits?

    Thanks to Harry Gottlieb from Jellyvision for taking some time last week to talk with me about the Jellyvision Benefits Counselor. 


    Rolling the Dice

    Let's say you were,  after a lengthy tenure as a professional with one organization, suddenly and without time to prepare found yourself downsized, right-sized, or otherwise-sized and found yourself in the unenviable position of being out of work.

    What are the first five things you would do?

    And for now, let's eliminate from consideration any Johnny Paycheck - Steven Slater dramatic exits involving cursing out the customer or boss or flaming out on Facebook or YouTube.  Face it, you are probably not that creative or interesting.

    1. Call your spouse/significant other/drinking buddies.

    2. Process the key question of 'When was the last time I did a resume?'

    3. Do an amazingly fast mental calculation estimating the length of time certain prized luxury items (boat/Harley/comic book collection) may be at risk, and what you could get for them on Craigslist.

    4. Call drinking buddies again.

    5. Look online for potential openings. 

    I'd be willing to bet in those first five things you'd do immediately after being thrust into the role of job-seeker that you would likely hit up one of the major job boards and run a search for postings in your locality/industry/area of expertise.  In the USA that means Monster.com, Careerbuilder, Indeed, etc.  

    But if you are in the broad category of IT professional, you'd certainly be all over Dice.com.  Dice has been the leading job site for IT professionals in the US for what seems like forever.  I personally found the most lucrative and long lasting IT contract I ever had on Dice.

    A quick search of companies listing positions on Dice reads like page one of the list of the Fortune 500.

    As a major job board in the IT industry, Dice enjoys top of mind status.  But we all know the world of recruiting and job advertising has changed dramatically.  The dawn of social and online professional networking, (essentially LinkedIn), has certainly affected how organizations and recruiters seek talent, and how individuals can find opportunities, connect with employers, and advance their careers.

    Major boards like Dice are not immune to these changes, while seeking an opening on Dice or Monster might possibly be in the 'first five' things a job seeker would do, it seems more and more likely that actually making the needed connection to stand out in this incredibly tough job market can't really happen via the old-school job board.  Following, friending, liking, connecting - whatever you call it, to many these are the new paradigms in the job search.  

    And the folks that run the big job boards understand this.  They're not stupid. They know the world is changing, and that their services have to change as well.  

    Tonight at 8PM EDT on the HR Happy Hour Show we will talk with one of these leaders, Tom Silver, SVP of Dice.com to get a better perspective on how leaders of big boards assess the recruiting landscape, how they are meeting the new challenges, and how the overall market for IT work and workers is faring.

    You can listen to the show on the show home page - here, or via the widget below:

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    You can call in to listen and participate - 646-378-1086.

    I hope you can join us for what should be an interesting and informative look behind the scenes at Dice.com. 



    This diagram from the xkcd.com blog about the disconnect between what features and information are prominently displayed on many University websites and what visitors to the site are actually looking for is quite amusing, and likely pretty accurate:

    I think the general premise of the chart could also fit many of the workforce systems organizations deploy, and even many of the interactions managers and leaders have with their teams.

    Just a few that come to mind - 

    Company intranet or employee portal - How prominently is the Payroll schedule displayed?  You know everyone cares about that. What about the holiday calendar?  The menu in the company cafeteria?  I bet these are some of the most popular and searched for items on the portal, make them easy to find.

    Corporate job site - Is the 'apply now' or 'send your resume' button or link clearly featured?  Or is it effectively buried by that super awesome video of your CEO in a shirt and tie (no jacket because he is sending off a 'hip' vibe) about how fantastic it is to work at your company.  

    Quarterly senior management 'all hands' meeting - Are we all still on track to get our bonuses?  Can we work half days on Fridays during the summer?  Sure, go over the financials, but once the company gets to a certain size, recitation of financials often devolves into an arcane review of accounting acronyms like EBIDTA.  Talk bonuses, raises, is the company holiday party still on?

    What else?  Where else is there a disconnect between the information that you want to provide, and what the intended recipients really want to receive?

    Probably 85% of the conversations with my 9 year old, but that is another story entirely.


    Resigning in protest

    The story of the Jet Blue Flight Attendant that resigned from his position as the great Marv Albert would describe - In dramatic fashion, has been all over the news the last two days.  Cursing out a plane full of passengers, activating the emergency slides, grabbing a couple of beers, and making a run for it makes for a fantastic story.

    Lots of folks have fantasized about marching in to the boss' office and firing off a pointed screed or diatribe and proudly walking out into a glorious future of happiness and success (or in the case of our friend from Jet Blue, possible jail time).

    Sure, the flight attendant was fed up, had to deal with what sounds like an incredibly annoying and entitled passenger, took a shot to the head from said passenger's luggage, and seemingly just snapped. It happens.  Usually not as cool and newsworthy as this episode, but it happens.  People get fed up and quit their jobs every day.

    But I wonder about  other scenarios that might make employees resign in protest.  These could be sub-standard working conditions, a hostile work environment, or even inept management.  

    I mean really inept.  

    The kind of management that would welcome back to the organization a notorious ex-employee.  A person in whose tenure as a high ranking and highly paid member of upper management left a history of failure, poor leadership, shattered public relations, and just for good measure was sued by another former employee for sexual harassment, dragging the organization through a public and embarrassing court case.

    This just in - The New York Knicks to bring Isiah Thomas back to the organization as a consultant.

    Yes, the Isiah Thomas that in four plus years as Knicks GM and Coach led the team to exactly one playoff appearance and made a series of colossally bad personnel decisions resulting in the team being burdened with a slew of bad contracts for under performing and below average talent.

    And did I mention the sexual harassment lawsuit?  Ok, just checking.

    If you were an employee of the Knicks, and your leadership openly welcomed Thomas back into the fold after his legacy of failure and embarrassing behavior what would you think?  Could you take it any longer? Would you feel compelled to head for the emergency exit, grab a beer, pull the slide, and make a run for it?

    Could your management make such a colossally bad hire that it would make you resign in protest?




    Footnote - apparently there is no truth to the rumor that Knicks owner Jim Dolan is looking to bring in Mark Hurd to get the back office operations in shape.