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    The Stars in New York

    Quick one for a Friday (and because the only thing between me and some Dunkin' coffee is posting this recap).

    Yesterday I had the chance to attend an event called the 'Position Accomplished Summit' hosted by The Ladders in New York City. It was fun, informative, and really an interesting and challenging day.  And don't get me started about the 'challenging' day of travel - Amtrak for seven hours - fun!

    After the conclusion of the event, the folks at the Ladders were nice enough to let me conduct the HR Happy Hour show from one of their conference rooms, where a truly super-star panel of HR and Recruiting leaders joined myself and Shauna Moerke to talk about recruiting, marketing, job boards, LinkedIn, erectile dysfunction pharmaceuticals, prison culture, and all kinds of crazy stuff.

    People you will hear on the playback:

    Kris Dunn, Jessica Lee, John Sumser, Gerry Crispin, Kevin Wheeler, Jim Stroud, Mark Stelzner, David Manaster, Josh LeTourneau, Jason Boltax, Kelly Dingee, and hopefully no one else that I forgot to mention.

    Listen to the archive on the show page here, or using the widget player below:

    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on Blog Talk Radio


    We talked quite a bit about the state of the industry, and very frankly and openly about The Ladders, their business model and their controversial TV ads. The folks from the Ladders helped immeasurably in allowing the show to go on, and were invited to participate and decided to decline to allow us to have our conversations. I am optimistic that they will appear on a future show.

    Many thanks to the great panel of stars that took an hour at the end of a long day to join the show.

    Now I can hit the NYC streets to find some coffee!


    Balance or Separation?

    According to this Reuters story, a new  BlackBerry Application called 'Balance' that is designed to support a virtual segregation of 'official' corporate data and email from a user's personal data and applications, is expected to be released in the North American market in the next few months.

    The idea behind 'Balance' seems to be BlackBerry's realization that many of their corporate users also purchase and utilize a second, personal smartphone, often an iPhone or Droid, partially for the more robust application ecosystem, but also due to a sense that their trusty BlackBerry is a 'work' device, and it seems best to keep their Facebooking, Tweeting, and texting activities completely separate from 'real work' done on the BlackBerry.

    From the Reuters piece on Balance:

    RIM's solution is software called BlackBerry Balance, which will allow corporate IT departments to retain control over data such as business-related email sent via a BlackBerry Enterprise Server, or BES, while keeping the Web browser and an employee's social networking and photographs separate

    Employees are normally and traditionally inclined to keep their personal activities personal, and enterprise IT and Information Security professionals are probably happy with that kind of separation as well. Confidentiality, control, encryption - these are the core objectives of the IT staff.  Privacy, freedom, and demarcation - these are the motivations of the employees that elect to carry both a work smartphone and a separate device for personal use.

    So when viewed in that light, 'Balance' seems like a win-win. Corporate IT gets the assurance that the company issued BlackBerry applications and data are kept separate, secure, and distinct from whatever personal shenanigans are going on over on the other side of the smartphone. Facebook status updates, the odd Tweet, pictures from the weekend - they all stay safely on their side of the wall, not to impact or harm the important business of work happening on the company side.

    The BlackBerry, equipped with Balance becomes a handheld version of 'Good Cop/Bad Cop', or a high tech manifestation of the old angel on one shoulder, devil on the other shoulder gag.

    It is a cool idea, and likely one that will make corporate IT happy, as well as any employee that suddenly feels emboldened to drop that second, personal device and maybe save a few bucks (as well as some pocket or purse space).

    But looking at 'Balance' from a different perspective, I wonder if it really is an application that supports the attitudes and expectations of a rapidly retreating age. In the Work/Life arena the professionals I know that are most engaged and invested in these kinds of issues almost universally loathe the term 'balance' when it is introduced to these discussions. They prefer terms like 'fit' or 'flow'.  The idea being that 'balance' implies and suggests a constant give and take, one side always fighting against the other, always at odds as work and life, corporate and personal fight for attention.

    More progressive and modern approaches to the debate, and seemingly the preferred approach of more and more younger workers, is that corporate and personal activities and networks naturally flow more freely, and blend more readily.  Many would not think twice about asking their Facebook friends or Twitter followers for advice or guidance about a work-related matter.  Why should their access to and ability to leverage their communities be partitioned and segregated either physically or virtually?

    In fact, why would any smart and evolved organization place barriers or walls around their people, whether these walls are real or programmed into the cold memory board of their corporate BlackBerries?

    On balance, 'Balance' seems to be a product that will deliver functionality that many organizations will say they want, but I wonder if it is capability that they really need.




    Basketball and Bad Hires

    For the several years of his professional basketball career, Richard Jefferson was an extremely successful, popular, and accomplished player.  

    A quick review of the first part of Jefferson’s career, (courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com), reveals two appearances in the NBA Finals, one year as a Top 10 scorer in the league, and two years averaging over 22 points scored per game.

    Prior to the 2009-2010 season Jefferson was traded to the San Antonio Spurs, one of the best teams in the league over the past decade, and winners of four NBA championships in the last twelve years.

    The Spurs roster is laden with all-time greats (Tim Duncan), current stars (Manu Ginobili), and international point guards/pretty boys (Tony Parker).  Their head coach, Gregg Popovich is regarded as one of the top two or three coaches in the entire league. While still a top-team, the Spurs core were starting to show some age, and an infusion of a fast, athletic, wing player who could score (Jefferson, pretty much exactly), was seen as an important step to help keep the Spurs in title contention.

    So on paper the addition of Jefferson, an established solid-almost-star type player, to a team with a consistent winning tradition, full of smart, talented players, and a great coach should have been (forgive yet another basketball reference), a slam-dunk.  After a short adjustment period by the player and the team, Jefferson should have thrived, and the team should have greatly benefited and improved their overall play.  

    So what actually happened in Jefferson’s first year with the Spurs?

    He struggled. Mightily. His per game averages for scoring, rebounds, and assists plummeted from the performance standards he had established the past several seasons with his former team. Watching Jefferson play, he never seemed in synch or comfortable with the Spurs’ systems, and meshing with the other star players on the team.  Jefferson looked unsure, a step slow, and eventually it appeared like his confidence was shot, and ultimately he had the worst year of his career, by both statistical and observational objectives.

    A classic bad signing, or in the workplace context, a bad hire.


    Conventional wisdom says the organization needs to cut their losses, to find a way out of the contract, trade Jefferson for whatever they could get, or in the ‘normal’ world of work, simply give him the old, ‘It’s not working out’ speech and wish him well on the way out the door. A bad hire is a bad hire, right?

    So what did the Spurs do after the 2009-2010 season ended?  

    Instead of figuring out how to get whatever they could for Jefferson on the market, team coaches and officials challenged Jefferson to change his approach to the game to better fit his new team, their proven and successful playing style, and Coach Popovich’s expectations. For a veteran player, one that had quite a bit of personal success in this career, it would have been easy for Jefferson to balk or gripe or to pretend that the problem with his performance was some one else's.

    Instead, Jefferson bought in to the program, and in the off-season worked hard on the specific parts of his game that needed improvement and refinement to better align with the team goals and style of play. So far, in 2010-2011 his performance is improved, and the team has had the best record in the league for most of the season. Sure, over time, age (Jefferson is 30, an age at which peak basketball performance is usually passed), and other factors might conspire to detract from his individual performance, but certainly through just over half of the season the decision by the team and player to work though their adjustment issues, and commit to doing the necessary work to adapt and improve appears to have been a good one.

    Ultimately while Jefferson is no longer a star player, he is an important contributor making a significant impact on what is currently the best team in the league.  Will the Spurs win the championship this year? Who knows. But by most accounts the team’s decision to stick by their ‘bad hire’ a little bit longer than many would have wished seems to be paying off.

    In the workplace it is often said that many leaders are too slow to pull the plug on under performers, and while that is certainly true in many cases it is likely also true that some leaders and organizations are too hasty.  Even traditionally strong performers, when placed into an entirely new environment, with new colleagues, systems, norms, and expectations, might take longer that originally hoped to make the necessary adjustments.

    How long is too long?  When do you label someone a ‘bad hire?’

    And when do you as a leader and organization make a commitment and challenge to turn the ‘bad hire’ into a high performer?

    Postscript - I really can’t stand the Spurs, but that is because as a Knicks fan I am jealous of their success.



    Conversation and Being Liked at Work

    Last week the popular enterprise microblogging service Yammer, released a new set of features under the name 'Leaderboards'.  With the new 'Leaderboards' capability, organizations that have deployed Yammer to support internal sharing and collaboration will now be able to gain additional insights into what conversations and topics are generating the most activity and interest, which employees are the most engaged on the Yammer platform, and how other employees value and respond to topics and each other.

    Some of the metrics that the new feature will provide include:

    • Most Liked Members: Top 10 users whose messages have received the most ‘Likes’
    • Most Replied to Members: Top 10 users whose messages have received the most replies
    • Members with the Most Posts: Top 10 users with the most public messages posted
    • Most Replied to Threads: Top 10 threads with the most replies
    • Threads with the Most Participants: Top ten threads with the most participants

    A screenshot of the 'Leaderboards' feature is below:

    The Leaderboard offers a small, but important step for organizations that have deployed Yammer as an internal messaging and conversation platform. Having a better view into which employees are most active and 'liked', which employees consistently and effectively engage the community with topics and updates that generate interest and dialogue, and what general subjects and conversations drive the most overall response rates across the entire organization, can provide organizational knowledge and insights into the pulse of the enterprise; and the kind of understanding the is often difficult to discern, particularly in large or dispersed organizations.

    Looking at active and popular network participants and assessing what topics and conversation threads generate the most activity are valuable inputs that can lead to potential improvements in organizational design, workforce planning and deployment, and even with creation and execution of business strategies.

    What users generate the most engagement? Perhaps their roles in the organization may need to be reviewed and enhanced?  Or more likely, the enterprise many need to make sure adequate succession plans exist for these drivers of network engagement?

    What topics launch the most conversation?  It could be that senior management needs to do a better job articulating their messaging around these topics, or perhaps more attention needs to be paid to a particular popular or recurring theme.

    It used to be that managers and leaders could try and sort out what was really going on at work by hanging out in the lunch room, or the watercooler, or the local bar at Happy Hour. Today though, many of the other informal and serendipitous meetings are taking place virtually, in places like Instant Messaging chats and increasingly, enterprise collaboration networks like Yammer.

    Still for many managers and leaders, the value of a platform like Yammer may be hard to quantify, but with the development of tools like the Leaderboard, the 'sell' to these decision makers will continue to get easier. Knowing which employees are most engaged, who is capturing the interest of the most of their colleagues, and what conversations and topics are most resonant with the workforce is the kind of insight that can be incredibly difficult for management to gain.

    Even if they spend a lot of time hanging around the lunch room and watercooler.

    Of course cynics might say that once employees catch on the the metrics that drive the Leaderboard that they will try to find ways to artificially 'game' the system, to raise their profile and position, but in an online platform, with 100% visibility and attribution of comments and activity, it seems like any reasonably healthy community would sniff that out and put a stop to it rather quickly.

    Do you use Yammer, or another similar internal microblogging too?  

    Would this kind of insight into network activity help your organization?


    Fun With Spreadsheets

    Last night on the HR Happy Hour show I said something along the lines of 'Reading books is hard'.

    And sometimes that is true.  Some books are ponderous, way too long, or need to be spiced up with much more liberal doses of car chases, zombies, or game-winning baskets.

    You know what else is hard? Math. 

    And calculations. And statistics (right akaBruno?)

    For many 'non-math' or non-financial types, the bane of their existence is Microsoft Excel. That devious tool that forces one to put figures in little boxes, one after the other, row upon row, column upon column.

    Ages and ages spent staring at tiny little numbers, hoping to decipher the mysteries behind such bizarre sounding constructs as VLOOKUP and 'Pivot Table Data Items'.

    I'll bet, if you are like many HR or Talent pros, the urge to blow up the spreadsheet that you have been working on all week, that is full of source of hire, performance ranking distributions, or next year's salary planning data may have reached a full on boil by the end of the week.

    While blowing up your worksheet, while fun, is ultimately ill-advised, as you'd just have to rebuild it all over again, and with an almost certainty that it would be impossible to replicate in the slapdash, barely decipherable manner in which it was originally created. 

    No, keep plugging away on the spreadsheet, it's Friday and you are almost done, ready to ship the file off to accounting, or to operations, or to whomever actually looks forward to receiving that kind of data.

    Meanwhile - take a 30 second break and dream about a world where you really could destroy that spreadsheet, and what that world might look like:

    Spreadsheet Invasion from Amy Thornley on Vimeo.

    Have a great, number-light, idea-heavy weekend!