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    Limitations, Assumptions, and Brain-Control

    Yesterday the MIT Technology Review had a piece about a new breakthrough technology that supports a type of 'brain-control' interface allowing users to dial the numbers on a cell phone simply by thinking of them.Credit - University of California, San Diego

    From the MIT Technology Review piece:

    'Researchers in California have created a way to place a call on a cell phone using just your thoughts. Their new brain-computer interface is almost 100 percent accurate for most people after only a brief training period.

    Like many other such interfaces, Jung's system relies on electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes on the scalp to analyze electrical activity in the brain. An EEG headband is hooked up to a Bluetooth module that wirelessly sends the signals to a Nokia N73 cell phone, which uses algorithms to process the signals.'

    The system has obvious benefits to people with disabilities, that for whom even dialing the numbers on a common cell phone can be an extremely difficult challenge.  Once this type of technology is enhanced and improved, one can envision the 'mind-control' interface evolving beyond the relatively simple act of dialing a phone number, to more complex computer interactions (sending short text messages, clicking buttons, searching for content, etc.).

    But beyond the obvious cool factor of computers and smartphones reacting to our thoughts, I think this story is a reminder for any of us that design and deploy systems in our organizations, or are tasked with creating effective and important communications and messaging. The audiences that we are trying to reach all have their own set of challenges, that often causes friction in their acceptance of our new systems, or that curtails their willingness and capacity to absorb our messages.

    Mostly we realize these challenges and limitations exist. But we also assume that our position in the organization will make whatever we are doing seem important enought that employees will simply have to get over their problems and deal with it.

    We create the standard and necessary communication messages to distribute to all employees and in the next breath say 'But we know no one pays attention to these emails'. We litter the screens of our online Employee Self-Service systems with help text and links to dense 27-page User Guides, with the full realization that busy managers and employees don't want to be bothered to read them. Our IT departments support corporate BlackBerry and lately iPhone and iPad, but almost none of the HR-related interaction (messaging, training material, access to HR systems and information), are available on these mobile platforms.

    So employees continue to ignore messages, work around the set of systems and processes we have installed, or require what we interpret as irrationally high demands for support to use systems that we think should be simple, intuitive, and frictionless.

    But often we fail to see our end of the problem in these situations. It would be, as in the example of the mind-control cell phone, if the cell phone manufacturer blamed disabled people for their inability to make a simple phone call.

    So today I am thinking about the tools I have deployed, and the communications that surround them, and considering whether or not I have done the equivalent of handing a cell phone over to someone without the ability to dial.

    But until I can deploy systems in the enterprise that operate on 'mind-control', I think, as you may agree, we have a longer and tougher road to go.


    Plantville: Gaming as a Recruiting Tool

    Of course you know about the rapid growth of the series of Facebook-based games Farmville, CityVille, and the like. Some estimates indicate as many as 250 million people play one of the 'Ville'-style social games. Ah - Industry!

    With so many people, across all demographic groups, engaging in these massively popular games online, it only makes sense for organizations that are facing recruiting challenges to look for opportunities to leverage these gaming concepts in their recruiting and candidate engagement efforts.

    The Germany-based industrial company Siemens, is one such company that is experimenting with games, at least in part as a recruiting vehicle. Specifically, Siemens has developed an online interactive game called 'Plantville', that gives players the opportunity and challenge of running a virtual factory, complete with evaluation of key performance indicators, allocation of scarce capital funds, and the ability to improve process efficiency with the purchase and installation of (naturally) more Siemens equipment. Factory managers in Plantville have to hire and deploy workers, balance worker safety and satisfaction against production delivery schedules, and continuously adapt strategies to changing external conditions.

    It actually sounds like a fun game, in a geeky kind of way. 

    The 'Getting Started' in Plantville video is embedded below: (email and RSS subscribers may need to click through)

    While the game serves as a kind of marketing tool to help educate the public, current employees, and potential customers about Siemens products, the executives at Siemens also see the Plantville game as a part of their employee recruiting strategy.

    In a recent Business Week article about the increasing use of games in various business scenarios, Siemens Tom Varney, Head of Marketing Communications, observes, "With Plantville, we think there's a big educational play with colleges and high schools." Varney also indicates he hopes the game can help make manufacturing more attractive to young people. "We have about 3,000 jobs posted in the U.S. at Siemens, many in technology or manufacturing," he says. "We're hoping to inspire a new generation of plant managers."

    It is an interesting approach, and one that makes sense in what by many accounts seems to be a tightening labor market for high-skilled and high-tech candidates. It has to be difficult for more traditional manufacturing companies that are facing mounting pressures to groom the next generation of technical and managerial talent to compete for the most desirable candidates with the likes of Google, Facebook, and ironically, Zynga, the makers of many of the popular 'Ville' games.

    Could online interactive games like 'Plantville' capture the energy, attention, and fascination of enough young people to help make manufacturing exciting again?

    Are you seeing more companies looking to leverage the insane popularity of these kinds of games for recruiting purposes?

    Meanwhile, I need to run - I am thinking of installing some high-tech security cameras in my 'Plantville' factory.


    PLEASE SHUT UP - and other bits of useful advice

    This Thursday, April 14,  I will be joining the original HR gangsta, the HR Capitalist himself Kris Dunn, and the crew from your favorite New Zealand-based HR Technology company Sonar6, for the latest edition in the Fistful of Talent webcast series, this time in a little presentation entitled, "PLEASE SHUT UP: The Idiot-Proof Coaching Tool for Managers".  

    Our friends at Sonar6 are hosting this event, and so far they seem curiously trusting in the eventual nature and quality of the content that KD and I will present. For that, we simultaneously salute and pity them.

    Here are the details you need to know if you want to join over 4,000 of your friends, colleagues, and competitors that have already registered as we dop the knowledge this Thursday.

    From the 'official' Sonar6 call to action:

    "This month we’re teaming up with Kris Dunn and Steve Boese from Fistful of Talent to bring you The Idiot-Proof Coaching Tool for Managers.Coachingwebinar1

    On April 14, 4:00 PM EDT/1:00pm PDT (April 15 8am NZ / 6am Sydney) we’ll be introducing the tool at a one-hour webinar that will cover:  

    • When managers should SHUT UP
    • The best time to make team members brainstorm solutions
    • How to wrap up the coaching conversation
    • The top 5 ways managers screw this all up

    This isn’t about technology (not even Sonar6!); it’s about having better performance conversations regardless of how you collect performance information.

    And if you can’t make the webinar you can still grab the e-book, which will cover the same awesome stuff.

    Register for the webinar & e-book today!"

    Wow. Cool stuff. Very professional looking marketing copy.

    But here is the reason I think this is good content. When you are talking, you aren't learning. Whether you are talking to your staff, your boss, or your kids - when your lips are flapping it is pretty much a one-way street heading out of town. Sure, you have to talk to get your super important points across. And the staff, your spouse, your kids, they are just hanging on every bit of wisdom coming out of your trap, right?


    On the webcast this Thursday we'll shed some light on why zipping it can be the best strategy in your management bag of tricks. We will share a simple 6-step tool, (I know 6 steps sounds like a lot, but 4 of them are really easy, trust me), that will allow you and any managers on your team to more effectively coach the people that do the real work in the time it takes to nuke a Hot Pocket.

    You should sign up for the webcast. Truly. If nothing else, to make sure you will have something to openly mock on the Twitter stream, (hashtag #idiot).

    Actually I am not sure that Sonar6 wants to be associated with a hashtag of #idiot, but so be it.


    The Human Resources Manager - The Movie

    Did you know there was a recent film titled 'The Human Resources Manager?'

    Me either.

    It is an Israeli film set back in 2002, during a time rife with suicide bombings in the city of Jerusalem. A foreign employee of a small bakery is killed in one of the bombing incidents, and the bakery's Human Resources Manager is tasked with the job of delivering the former employee's body to her home country of Romania. 

    The (subtitled) trailer for the film is below (email and RSS subscribers may need to click through)


    Folks in HR get some really unpleasant duties no doubt. From handling layoffs and firings, to advising employees that it is probably is a good idea to save the belly shirts for the county fair, to organizing the company picnic or team building outings. But 'escorting' the body of an employee to a faraway country for a proper burial? I'll bet even the most seasoned and jaded HR pro reading this has never had to go that far in the line of HR duty.

    'The Human Resources Manager' might be can found on Netflix, (I am too tired too check), in case you are looking for a little weekend entertainment and a validation of sorts that no matter how trying your gig in HR seems, it probably could be worse!

    What is the strangest assignment you have ever had to carry out in your HR role? 

    Have a great weekend!


    Personalizing the Pitch (it helps to be first)

    More tales of high-stakes, big time recruiting from the world of sports, this time from the National Basketball Association, where last summer an unprecedented crop of high-quality players were free-agents, available to sign with the team of their choice. One of the prizes of the free-agent class was Carlos Boozer, a veteran scoring power forward, coveted by several teams. Boozer eventually signed with the Chicago Bulls, and part of the story of Boozer's recruitment is recounted in this  ESPN.com piece - Bulls went high-tech to land Boozer, that describes some of the high-tech, high-touch, and personalized tactics the Bulls employed in order to convince Boozer to to sign with the team.

    A key component of the Bulls efforts was the creation and presentation of a personalized 'Carlos Boozer' iPad, loaded with Bulls information and team history, current player profiles, and a custom app that allowed Boozer to 'see' himself as a Bull.  From the ESPN.com piece:

    That dude at Boozer's doorstep was Bulls senior director of game operations Jeff Wohlschlaeger. He presented to Boozer the newest and most cutting-edge recruitment tool that the Bulls, and several other NBA teams, had used: a decked-out iPad with a personalized app for the newly minted free agent, detailing how he would fit in with the Bulls if he would sign.

    "He gave me a briefcase," Boozer said. "I pop open the briefcase, and it's an iPad with an intro to the team and the players that they had. The history, showing the championships that they had won in the past. Showing how good we can be if I came."

    Boozer was impressed.

    The Bulls certainly showed some initiative and creativity in creating and delivering the custom iPad, and even more importantly, they delivered the iPad to Boozer that day before the interview, and early enough in the free-agency period that the Bulls iPad was the first of many 'custom' iPads that the player eventually received from many other teams vying for his services.  While the custom iPad and custom apps were certainly cool and innovative, they were also easily copied, so having moved first, and aggressively at that, (hand delivery by a team official to Boozer's hotel room), the Bulls scored some serious points in the process, a process they eventually won, when Boozer signed with the team shortly after getting the iPad.

    Lesson here - no matter how cool and ground-breaking your recruiting strategy is, chances are it can and will be copied by your competitors. When everyone is cranking out custom iPads to star candidates, if yours wasn't first, then it may as well have been last. Or you had better figure out where the game is going next and beat the pack there.

    But the more important point is that once again we can take essential lessons from the world of sports and apply them to the realm of business.  A point that the crew known (really only to each other), as 'The 8 Man Rotation' will make on tonight's HR Happy Hour Show at 8PM ET on BlogTalkRadio. 

    In the mix will be Kris Dunn, Tim Sackett, Lance Haun, and Matt Stollak, and you can join the fun on the show page here, or by calling in on 646-378-1086.

    It's all sports these days, isn't it?