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    Tuesday
    Jul202010

    Rework

    Last week Trish McFarlane at HR Ringleader asked a few of her friends for their summer book recommendations and I was happy to offer two selections.  

    One of the books I suggested was 'Rework' by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hannson, theRework - Mike Rohde founders of software company 37signals. If you are not familiar with 37signals, you may know some of their popular products, Basecamp, a project management tool;  Highrise, a CRM application;  or Campfire, a group chat and communication tool. Or you might know their Signal vs. Noise blog.

    At any rate, 37signals has built a remarkably successful business in a competitive and complex market, and in Rework, the founders share many of their lessons learned along the way. In some ways the book is positioned toward entrepreneurs (although in Rework we learn 'Starter' is the preferred term), but many of the ideas and the advice could certainly be applied inside work groups at larger organizations.

    For the Human Resources reader, Rework is valuable for the several observations and insights related to the hiring process, namely:

    Resumes are ridiculous - The authors recommend spending more time assessing the cover letter, since cover letters have to show more of a candidate's personality and voice, and are therefore a much better indicator than the resume to see if they are a likely fit with your company.

    Forget about formal education - Reliance on formal education requirements as a screening criteria artificially excludes many candidates that might be great performers.  In fact too much time in academia can be a detriment, as many bad habits have to be unlearned.

    Hire great writers - When trying to decide among candidates, always hire the best writer. Clear writing implies clear thinking, and overall better ability to communicate. 

    Additionally, several views on organizational culture would resonate with the HR world:

    You don't create a culture - Company culture can't be created artificially with mission statements and offsite ropes courses.  Culture is the actions of leaders and employees, and it needs time to develop. 

    Skip the rock stars - Forget posting job ads for 'rockstars' or 'ninjas'. Those terms have nothing at all to do with business. Worry more about creating an environment where people can perform at 'rockstar' level.  Chances are there is tons of untapped potential on your team, but excessive policies, poor leadership, and inadequate technology are holding them back.

    They're not thirteen - Treat people like children, and you will get children's work. Requiring approval for everything creates an environment where employees stop thinking for themselves. Excessive monitoring or employee's coming and going and of online activities never works. 

    Rework reads like a rapid string of short blog posts, interrupted by full page black and white illustrations meant to support the main idea of each piece. I plowed through the 277 page book in a couple of hours. But like most good books, I am sure I will go back to Rework again and again, as the advice and lessons, while simple, are easy to forget as so much of the conventional wisdom that we are bombarded with lies in contrast to the ideas in Rework.

    I recommend Rework for anyone running a small business, thinking of starting one, or if you are in a larger organization leading a team and in search of ideas to make your team work (or rework) better.

     

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    Monday
    Jul192010

    Blinded by Science

    There is no shortage of calls for people in Human Resources to get more business savvy, and to strive to become more well versed in math, statistics, and finance.  Many of the leading vendors of Human Resources software have reflected this trend, by rebranding, launching new analytics tools, and emphasizing the importance of data in HR strategy.Polyhedron - Magnus Wenniger

    And it is not just Human Resources professionals that have been told that better command of hard subjects of math, science, and technology are needed for sustained competitive advantage; here in the USA we have seen repeated calls for an increased focus on these subjects in primary and secondary education.  It is kind of conventional wisdom that American students are falling behind their peers around the world in these subjects, and without concerted efforts to raise these skills in the next generation, America's position as a leader in industry, invention, and innovation will surely be diminished.

    Let's put aside for now that in China, considered by many to be America's main competition for invention and innovation, many educators are striving to find ways to enable more opportunities to encourage student's creativity, and to move away from their traditional 'drill and test' approach. In the words of one Chinese educator ‘You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.’ 

    A recent survey by IBM of over fifteen hundred CEO's showed that these CEO's rated 'creativity' as the single most important attribute needed for future organizational success. Perhaps these CEOs felt that the basics of math, statistics, and analytics are a given, a necessary ante to even play the game, and only those organizations and leaders that can apply the insights derived from the analysis of operational and workforce data in creative and innovative ways will be the winners in the future. Or perhaps it was a unspoken nod to the over reliance on financial and statistical analysis that has dominated formal business education for ages.

    I understand that the push and the advice to HR leaders and HR professionals to gain a better understanding of math, finance, statistics, etc. probably stems from a perception and history of being concerned with the 'soft' stuff, employee relations, benefits admin, and the like.  Gaining credibility as professionals and as a discipline certainly seems to hinge, at least in part, on changing that perception by demonstrating 'real' business skills and acumen.  

    I just hope that the emphasis on analytics and data does not swing the pendulum too far, that we begin to lose sight of the other skills and attributes that are essential to effective management, leadership, and contribution to ongoing business success.  

    CEOs, countries, customers, and students are all looking for creativity, let's not try to respond simply armed with spreadsheets.

     

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    Thursday
    Jul152010

    Enterprise 2.0 and HR

    Tonight on the HR Happy Hour show we will discuss Enterprise 2.0 with Professor Andrew McAfee, the person that first used the term 'Enterprise 2.0'  (back in 2006), and the author of the essential book on the subject 'Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools For Your Organization's Toughest Challenges'.

    The show can be heard live starting at 8PM EDT - here, and using the player below, or via the call in number 646-378-1086.

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    What is Enterprise 2.0?  Why is it sometimes simply passed off as 'Facebook for the Corporation', or simply as a diversion or distraction from the 'real' work of making products, delivering services, or simply keeping existing processes running? Why do many in HR shrug E2.0 off as another set of IT technologies that they would rather have nothing to do with?

    Perhaps it is because for many, if not most, organizations the ability to continue to invent and produce products the market desires, or the skills and capabilities to deliver valuable and sought after services has become much more tied to the organization's capability in capturing and sharing knowledge, in connecting its people with each other (and the external community) more effectively, and in creating environments where ideas can be generated, and the best of these ideas lifted to the top.

    These challenges that organizations are facing can be met by an ever growing class of collaborative tools and technologies, platforms that support, guide, and enhance all the things that the best people do naturally - create, share, enhance, and innovate.  Any many organizations have begun to leverage these platforms internally, with more joining the ranks of 'Enterprise 2.0' converts every day.

    But as we will talk about on the show, just deploying a fancy new collaboration platform inside an organization does not guarantee all the promise of E2.0 will immediately be realized.  Considerations of the business issues that need solving, the relationships of the participating employees and groups, and the culture of the organization all need to be taken into account.  

    It is fashionable to talk about these kinds of transformative projects as having little to do with technology, but rather to classify them as change management efforts, with success mostly to do with understanding and influencing people's behavior in the organization.  

    If that is true, then who in the organization is better positioned than Human Resources to define, architect, and help lead these projects to success?

    And what better place than the HR Happy Hour show for Human Resources professionals to learn more about Enterprise 2.0 from the person who coined the term, and authored the only essential book on the concept?

    I hope you can join us tonight for what should be an interesting and informative show.

     

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    Wednesday
    Jul142010

    Admit it, you love the Bedazzler

    Remember the Bedazzler?

    The little stapler-like tool that lets one attach rhinestones, studs, and stars to clothing and other items? In the words of a classic TV infomercial pitch the tool - 'Takes things from dull to dazzling'.Flickr - Linda Libert

    Just in case there is anyone reading that does not remember the Bedazzler, the basic idea was that you take an old or plain looking shirt or pair of jeans and via the careful and artistic attachment of (fake) jewels and other decorative attachments, the article of clothing would be transformed from a boring and typical piece into something unique and special.  The benefit (at least as described by excited TV pitchmen) was the rescue of clothes and other objects, and the ability to imbue some personality to plain articles.

    That old pair of boring jeans, or that plain, solid color t-shirt immediately become one of a kind 'artworks', that can revive and revitalize a tired wardrobe and instantly transform the wearer into a kind of unique and distinctive personality.  Why be boring when you can be Bedazzling?

    And you, or perhaps more accurately, many of your organizations love the idea of the Bedazzler. 

    How so?

    Think about that old legacy ERP system that you are using for HRIS, or the technology behind your intranet or employee portal, or the home-grown Microsoft Access and Word-based system a few smart folks from IT hacked together nine years ago to do some rudimentary talent and succession planning.

    As time goes on, and with budgets constrained, and resources are tight the organization has likely been forced to make-do with what you have had, and most updates/enhancements/improvements to these systems (and perhaps to the underlying processes they support) are not at all that much different than slapping a few rhinestones on your old pair of jean shorts.  Sure, the first few stones and studs look good, they add a bit of flair, and in the case of your systems, a bit of functionality. And just like 'Bedazzling' a pair of jeans, adding incremental pieces of capability to your old systems is cheap, generally easy to do, and often provides some short term excitement and satisfaction.

    But eventually the excitement and the ability to continue to meet the demands of the business with a cheap set of rhinestones runs out.  And then Bedazzling stops being fun. No matter how many fake jewels and colored studs you slap on those jeans, they're still the same old, tired jeans underneath.  

    Eventually you'll fill up the jeans with glam, there will be no more room for additional enhancements, and you'll be left with a one of a kind custom monstrosity.

    And that is not very dazzling.

     

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    Tuesday
    Jul132010

    Relief Pitcher or Management Consultant

    You know what a pretty cool job is? Relief pitcher in the Major Leagues.  Sure you need a good arm, but after that, pretty much anything goes - see the former great Rich Garces.  

    Another really good job is 'Management Consultant'. About the same physical fitness requirements as relief pitching, but definitely a great gig if you have the background and the smarts.  Now I know you can't chuck it 95 MPH  but maybe you could cut it as a consultant - try this little case study out and see if you can come up with the resolution.

    The client is a small, but steadily growing precision manufacturer of specialty components for the computer storage industry. They are privately held, profitable, and have about 175 employees (a number that has grown from about 100 in the last 18 months), and have one central location for all manufacturing, operations, customer support, and administration. 

    The CEO of the client company was having trouble understanding why after several years of success and incremental growth, recently the organization's results in some key metrics were slipping.  Shipments to customers were more frequently late, error rates in the production department were up, and internal complaints and rumblings about lack of communication and misunderstanding were on the increase.  The company had not made any significant changes in leadership, product and service mix, or basic corporate strategy. There had been some increased hiring to try and meet the growing customer demand, but internal discussions with line managers and HR seemed to indicate the vast majority of new hires were adjusting well and fitting in. In fact, the recent spell of success and growth had spurred the company to build an addition to the main facility, increasing production and shipping space by 50%, and improving employee cafe and break room areas.

    The CEO was at a real loss to explain why, after their solid history of success, the assembly of a experienced leadership and management team, and careful and seemingly well executed growth strategy that results were slipping. He called in some help, in the form of an experienced and well-regarded management consultant to lend a fresh set of eyes and ears to the situation and to try and get to the bottom of the issues. Surely there was some kind of flaw in the operational strategy, perhaps the sales and marketing plans needed revision, or the supply chain management team needed to press suppliers for better performance or contract terms. Surely it had to be some complex, sophisticated, and 'need an Ivy-league MBA' brain kind of problem that needed to be discovered.

    Interviews with line managers, production workers, finance, and others uncovered a set of mixed signals.  Sure there have always been odd issues of communication between production and shipping, or engineering and sales, but it did seem to most everyone that the instances of miscommunication and incorrect information were starting to increase.  For a small company, that prided themselves on a 'family' environment, where many of the employees had been with the firm since its inception, this was troubling, but no one could really identify the root causes.  Sure, the company was growing, but the new employees were not considered the problem, and the expanded and upgraded facilities should be making the entire production process more efficient and easier.

    Careful analysis of the transcribed interviews compared to the statistics for shipments, defects, and complaints suggested that the problem started to present about 6 months ago, just about the time the plant expansion was completed.  But the expanded facility was seen as a great step forward, in particular everyone from shipping and engineering raved about the new space, with its modern design, improved lighting, and the new and well-stocked coffee and break room area that was much closer to their offices than the 'main' coffee and break room near the front of the facility. The consultant had much to ponder in preparation for the follow-up meeting with the CEO.

    So did you get the answer?

    Once the facility expanded, and the second coffee and break room was set up, it effectively reduced informal and spontaneous communication in the company by almost 40%. The increase in missed shipments, errors, and customer complaints could all be traced back to the installation of the second coffee room.

    The consultant recommended they remove the second coffee room, observe informal communication return to its normal levels, and watch the metrics improve.  In the real company this case is based on, that is exactly what they did and that is exactly what happened.

    Sure, every employee wants coffee and pop close to their office, but it just might make sense to make them walk for a bit to get their caffeine fix.  It definitely would have helped Rich Garces.

     

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