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    Tuesday
    May312011

    When work is always within reach

    Last week the iPass organization issued their Global Mobile Workforce Report, a review of trends and preferences in technology selection, usage, and attitudes amongst those workers that classify themselves as 'mobile' workers.  These workers, mostly telecommuters, report an increasingly 'connected to work' lifestyle, enabled by the ubiquity of smartphones, and buoyed by the growing influence of tablets, (mainly the iPad).

    Some interesting statistics from the report:

    • 41 percent of mobile workers have a tablet and an additional 34 percent of mobile workers intend to purchase a tablet in the next six months
    • 87 percent of mobile workers that own tablets use their tablets for at least some work
    • 43 percent of mobile workers store their smartphone within arm’s reach when they sleep at night. Those that do this are 60 percent more likely than average to wake during the night to check their smartphone
    • 29 percent of mobile workers find that their mobile technology usage causes friction in their personal relationships, specifically with their significant other or spouse

    And finally a statistic that is not at all surprising given the hyper-connected, check-my-smartphone-for-email-at-3:00AM and the bring-along-the-iPad-while-I-watch-little-Joey's-baseball-game kind of culture we seem to be evolving towards:

    • The average mobile worker works 240 hours a year longer than the workforce in general.

    Again, interesting findings, if not exactly earth-shattering. Seeing friends, family, or colleagues tethered to their smartphones and tablets in airports, in auto repair shop waiting rooms, at professional events, and even at social gatherings is becoming so commonplace that we often fail to even notice or to regard it as unusual. And as more organizations, enterprise technology providers, media outlets, and other traditional institutions move towards creating new and better mobile (in all it's many forms), solutions and productivity applications, the urge and compulsion to have the smartphone or tablet within reach at all times will only keep growing.

    Certainly the incredible advances in mobile solutions from both a device and application standpoint have greatly benefited that component of the workforce that demands increased mobility, for reasons of job design, personal circumstances, or those that simple find they are more effective not being forced or compelled to report to an office or 'official' workplace every day. Smartphones, tablets, and even the simple and old-fashioned laptop, and the development of applications and mobile solutions to enable connected, virtual, and flexible arrangements are almost universally seen as an important and necessary evolution in workplace technology, and that open up opportunities for many workers that for various reasons the 'normal' workplace and the typical schedule just simply do not work.

    But with the growth and capability of mobile workplace solutions, the further blurring of the lines between work and well, not working, and with more and more of us sleeping with our smartphones, waking up in the middle of the night to respond to the gentle but persistent 'ping' of our devices, and more solution providers making sure that our iPads will become just as effective as the common laptop or office computer, there is the risk that we will become increasingly unable to truly separate from work as we used to. 

    In some ways I guess it is the natural evolution of the work/life balance discussions - we know that even when we go to work, personal issues, concerns, commitments, responsibilities, etc. - never really go away, they accompany us at least in the back of our minds throughout the day. But it used to be we could leave work, and more or less not worry about it much until the next morning. Now, with the smartphone placed on the nightstand, work reminds us that it never really went anywhere once we left for the day.

    Long term - will this be a bad thing?  I tend to think the net benefits of increased flexibility and capability that the mobile revolution has enabled do compensate for and actually exceed the negaitive or dark side of the 24/7 connection to work. But time will tell if sneaking off a few emails during the 3rd grade dance recital will ultimately be harmful to workers, relationships, and even society as a whole.

    Sorry need to run now...

    Ping. Ping. Ping....

    Friday
    May272011

    Halls of Fame

    Today marks the start of the Memorial Day Holiday weekend here in the USA, a holiday observed in remembrance of all the nation's fallen heroes in the various branches of the armed forces. While observed as a solemn holiday, Memorial Day has certainly changed over time to be known as a unofficial start of the Summer season, and parties, parades, barbecues will be in full force over the next few days.

    While Memorial Day is about fallen heroes, we know that the idea of just what makes a 'hero' is kind or personal and even fluid. Heroes can and are found in all kinds of places - in homes, schools, community centers, and yes even in profession sports stadiums.

    I'll be spending the first part of Memorial Day weekend on a short road trip to visit one of the most iconic and historical, (and uniquely American) places in the country - The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. The Hall is a kind of gathering place for those of us who (at least at some point), looked at baseball and baseball players as some kind of heroes. Now I know full well that sports figures can't be compared to 'real' heroes in the military, in public service, or those that bravely and anonymously do much more important work. But as a kid, those kinds of heroes, while I certainly was aware of them, were quite a bit more remote and inaccessible compared to the baseball stars I looked up to as heroes. And in some ways, when I go back to the Baseball Hall of Fame and look at the pictures and memorabilia of some of those players, for a moment I can see and feel really clearly back to my 10 year old self, when the results of meaningless mid-July Mets game meant the world to me.

    Do sports hold too exalted a position in American society? Probably. Do we compensate too highly people that can hit a ball or throw a pass better than anyone else? Definitely. Do we go a little overboard by erecting museums and mounting plaques and statues in honor of ball players? For sure.

    But I think the best part of these Halls of Fame are how they help us remember, even for a short time, the reasons why we played or watched the games in the first place, before we became consumed with 'important' things, and when anything, really anything was still possible. They are a look back, not only into the history of the game, but into our own lives in a way.

    The Hall of Fame is a very cool place, and I highly recommend it to any baseball fan, or even any student of American History. The story of baseball is intertwined and essential to the complete understanding of the American experience in the last 150 or so years. And the little village of Cooperstown, NY is one of America's most beautiful places.

    I hope you have a great Memorial Day Weekend!

    Thursday
    May262011

    Bench Pressing and Basketball

    With the National Basketball Association player draft fast approaching, fans, observers, and pundits alike love to speculate and predict the player draft order, and imagine the glorious future for their favorite team once this years' version of young Timmy 'The Flint Assasin' Sackett, or some other such prospect joins the squad.

    Readers of this site, along with my pieces on Fistful of Talent, know that sports, and in particular how the talent evaluation and assessment processes that professional sports teams undertake as they consider which players to draft, recruit as free agents, trade, and compensate; make for some compelling stories and often illuminate applicable lessons for those of us with concerned with more mundane but similar workplace conundrums. None of the 'Sports and HR' parallels are more clearly illustrated than annual player drafts that all the major USA professional sports leagues conduct.

    The purpose of these drafts is to help 're-stock' the talent pools in the league with new players, ones that have the capability and potential to raise the overall talent profile of the league and the individual teams. Essentially each season, younger, more talented players (or at least ones judged to have potential to be good players), enter the league while older and/or less skilled/more expensive players exit. It is a kind of a cool, virtuous 'Lion King' style circle of life, but will louder music and more tattoos.

    The trick for talent evaluators and people in charge of player personnel decisions in the draft is how to assess the complex combination of a prospect's performance on the court to date (usually in college basketball, but sometimes just high school, or international play), the player's physical attributes, their personality and character, and finally whether or not that elusive 'fit' between style, physical traits, and mental make-up exists between the prospect and the team.

    You will often see quotes from NBA or other sports execs talking about players they select as being 'Our kind of player', or 'His style fits how we like to play'. These quotes are as much about cultural and organizational fit as they are about hitting jump shots or ability to rebound the basketball. The rules of the game are the same for every team, but how they go about assembling the team and their philosophies about how to best accomplish the universal goal of winning the championship are all unique.

    So in sports, like in most every other line of business, talent assessment and selection is really hard. So NBA teams have come to increase or expand the variables they assess and measure when it comes to the talent evaluation process for potential draftees. One of these variables is the number of times the prospect can successfully bench press 185 lbs, a moderate amount of weight for a well-conditioned athlete, certainly not a power lifter or bodybuilder burden, but also a weight that could present a challenge. The 185 pound bench press is meant to give a generalized assessment of the player's upper body strength, that at least in theory could translate to effectiveness on the court. But bench pressing isn't really basketball, they don't roll out a bench and some barbells in the 4th quarter of a close game. The other advantage to teams in using the bench press test, (and a myriad of other fitness and strength tests they use), is that every prospect takes the same assessments, thereby giving the teams a common data set across the entire talent pool from which to make comparative judgments.

    But the data itself offers a team no competitive advantage - every team in the league has access to the same information. The trick is knowing how to interpret the 'measurables' (bench press, vertical jump, etc.), with the 'intangibles', (character, coachability, likeability), and finally a frank assessment of 'Can this guy actually play?'; in order to make the best talent selections. 

    But back to the bench press, which is the reason I wrote this piece. Yesterday I noticed a tweet from Chad Ford, one of ESPN's basketball writers and analysts commenting on the bench press test results from a few of this year's current NBA draft prospects.  The tweet is below:

    The implication of the tweet is a kind of red flag or warning about those few players unable to successfully bench press 185 pounds. That teams considering drafting these players may pause, and fans of teams that eventually do take these players might need to be concerned that their lack of demonstrable upper body strength (doing something that isn't actually playing basketball), portends poorly for their future performance as NBA players.

    It is hard to say for sure if this poor performance on the test will actually hurt these players draft position, it certainly won't help it, but I think the larger point is about data collection in general. Whether it is an NBA team evaluating a power forward, or a software company assessing the background and skills of a candidate for a development job, our abiliity to collect reams of data about background, capability, demonstrable skills, and even mental make up has never been greater. We have access to powerful analytics tools to crunch the data and perhaps eventually to construct detailed and predictive 'success' models.

    It could very well be the success on the bench press test does suggest future success on an NBA team. Or failure on the test predicts failure on the court.

    But even if we can create those kinds of models, for basketball players or software developers, they will never be fool proof, as people and performance are ultimately likely too unpredictable to ever understand absolutely. We have to be open-minded enough to ignore our own models from time to time.

    You may, even if you are not a basketball fan, have heard of a player called Kevin Durant. He is a star player for the Oklahoma City Thunder, has led the league in scoring, led the USA team to the Gold Medal in the World Basketball Championship last summer.

    In 2007, when Durant declared himself eligible for the NBA draft, he was unable to bench press 185 a single time

    And we know how Durant has worked out. 

    Sure collect, assess, analyze, correlate, model - it's important. But don't forget, bench pressing is not basketball.

    Wednesday
    May252011

    HR Happy Hour Europe - Launches Today

    In what future historians of the grand age of social enlightenment in Human Resources will look back upon and mark as a truly watershed moment, today the HR Happy Hour Show sets a course for worldwide domination with the debut Episode of HR Happy Hour - Europe!

    Specifics: the show is live at 3PM ET (8PM in the UK), and you can listen online here. Follow the conversation on Twitter using the #HRHappyHour tag.

    The show is a joint project between HR Happy Hour, (essentially me), and the great folks from Jobsite, the leading careers and online recruitment site in the UK. Jobsite is dedicated to helping people connect with that perfect next opportunity, and over the years has really stretched the typical ways of thinking about what a 'traditional' job board is all about.,

    It is in that spirit that Jobsite is staging what they term 'Fresh Thinking' events, where Jobsite is bringing together innovative and cutting-edge ideas and people to engage, share, and progress the dialogue around important topics of the day.  The first event, with special guests Amanda Hite and Scott Stratten, focuses on the concepts of social media in recruitment, marketing the organization, and the critical need for engagement of the organization's leaders and staff to make it all work.

    In conjuction with the Fresh Thinkers event, Amanda and Scott, (joined by Jobsite's Felix Wetzel), will join me on the inaugural HR Happy Hour - Europe show today at 3PM ET which is 8PM in the UK.

    You can listen to the show live on the show page here, on the listener call in line 646-378-1086, or via the widget player below:

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    Note - UK and other outside the US listeners can use the Skype feature to call in to the show as well. 

    It should be a fun and lively show as the HR Happy Hour makes it's first step towards what will truly be looked upon as a global media empire!

    Tuesday
    May242011

    The Employee Loyalty Card - Notes from Aquire Structure 2011

    Good morning from Fort Worth, Texas!

    I have been attending the Aquire User Conference called 'Structure 2011' the last two days, and first off I wanted to express my thanks and gratitude to Aquire CEO Lois Melbourne for inviting me not only to attend, but to also present to Aquire's customers, partners, and staff.  A copy of my presentation, about some of the challenges and opportunities that the dynamic, hybrid, and ever-changing workforce presents to organizations, is loaded on Slideshare here, and embedded below, (email and RSS readers will need to click through).

    But more interesting than my presentation, was an idea that sprang from a presentation on analytics from Aquire's Andrew Courtois, and was later kicked around a bit on a special 'Live from Aquire' broadcast of the HR Happy Hour Show, (the part of the show where Andrew joins is about 30 minutes in).

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    Andrew talked about how casino companies leverage analytics to drive revenue and (hopefully) improve customer experience and loyalty via the use of what are called 'Player Loyalty Cards'. The basic premise is a player signs up for a casino loyalty or reward card, agreed to have their playing history tracked by the casino, and in exchange the casino offers different rewards and incentives for regular or additional play.

    Seems like a pretty good deal, right? The player gets the occasional reward or bonus and feels a little more attached to the casino and process. The casino gets access to detailed data on playing trends and history.  But what Andrew shared about one of the ways HOW the casino uses this data was the interesting part.

    By analyzing playing data both in aggregate, and at the player level, the casino comes to 'know' a given player's 'pain point', i.e., the general amount of playing losses that causes to given gambler to quit playing and walk away. By looking at the 'Player Loyalty Card' data, and comparing real-time casino floor information with the data from previous experiences, the casino can, again in real-time, send a host or hostess over to see a player that the data says is about to get up and leave and offer the player a free dinner, a discounted room, or some other reward or incentive to stay a bit longer and (hopefully) continue playing. Sort of devious and also a really smart way to use analytics to drive business outcomes.

    So after Andrew's talk, and on the radio show, we floated around the idea of a similar construct in the workplace, something called 'The Employee Loyalty Card'. What if as an organization, we could create a way to capture all the activities, actions, interactions, projects, contacts, etc. that an employee undertakes inside the company and then somehow find a way to analyze that data against actual historical outcomes in order to take both preventative and corrective actions?

    We all have those anecdotal organizational stories about the 'client from hell' or that manager that is really hard to work with, but sometimes we don't really know the deleterious effect they have on the organization's people. Do high-performing people suddenly start performing worse after getting assigned to a particular project or manager? Do they leave six months later in higher numbers?

    Conversely, we often have a great leader or two that we all feel does a good job of developing and coaching staff, but can we more accurately predict their ongoing impact on the people in the organization, and better still - can we use data to understand how to create more of these great managers? Do we know that 40% of our best performing sales people might have taken training from the same sales manager?

    Could you imagine an 'Employee Loyalty Card?'. A way to trigger HR and organizaitonal leadership when employees hit that tipping or pain point?. A process or technology to collect, analyze, and act on all these diverse employee interactions and actions and then make more informed decisions?

    It was an interesting conversation and I would love to know what you think.

    Thanks again to everyone at Aquire!