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    Thursday
    Jul122012

    Speed Kills: Or, what can you accomplish in 90 days?

    As if you needed any more reminders about the importance of speed - to take decisions, to build the right team, to execute a plan, and to deliver something tangible to your customers, (whomever they are), then take a look a this story - 'A Chinese Company Plans To Build The World's Tallest Building In Just 90 Days'.

    Yep, over 800 meters tall, (that is like, 235,450 feet or so I think), and planned to rise 10 meters taller than the current world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. But compared to the Burj, which was constructed at an estimated cost of US $1.5B, and was completed over a period of about 6 years, the Sky City, (the name for the Chinese tower), is planned to be built at an approximate cost of US $625M and be completed in a mind-boggling 90 days.Bolt

    The company behind the Sky City project made news earlier this year with their construction of a 30-story hotel in only 15 days, so even if Sky City proves to take a little longer than three months to complete, (it has to one would think), it does seem likely that on a cost/time basis that Sky City will be erected in far, far less time than the Burj, and really any other similarly massive structure.

    The big point in all this? That speed, ability to scale quickly, and out-execute the competition is fast becoming, (maybe it has always been this way, I suppose), more critical than chasing down absolute cost advantages by adjusting supply chains, relocating facilities, and beating the crap out of suppliers on price. The reason Sky City will cost less than half of the Burj isn't due to relatively cheap Chinese labor, it's that through process improvements, innovations in design and pre-fabrication, and precise and relentless execution the tower can be constructed in a fraction of the time it took for the Burj.

    One more tidbit of data that seems to back up this argument, from a recejt Hackett Group report titled 'Reshoring Global Manufacturing: Myths and Realities', (PDF), that examines some of the key drivers behind firms like Apple's manufacturing and supply chain strategies: 

    The U.S. lacks the sheer labor capacity that would be required in order to ramp up production of iPads at the speed needed to maintain the company’s edge in the hyper-competitive tablet and mobile device market.
     

    Thus one may assume that Apple’s manufacturing sourcing strategy is primarily motivated by scalability and supply chain risk, and only secondarily by total landed cost.

    Bottom line - easily copied competitive differentiators, like chasing labor cost advantages, eventually, and often faster than you think whittle down to almost nothing.

    What persists is the sustained ability to out execute, and to consistently deliver more, with solid quality, and demonstrable results and impact in shorter and shorter timeframes.

    What's on your 90-day plan? 

    However ambitious it seems right now, remember somewhere out there one of your competitors is dreaming much, much bigger. Maybe even tallest building in the world big.

    Wednesday
    Jul112012

    More Data for HR Geeks: Wow, it's getting old around here

    Last week Kris over at the HR Capitalist ran a cool piece titled Economics for HR Geeks: The Quitter's Index, where he called out the BLS data indicating that more Americans are now quitting their jobs than being fired/laid off/downsized.  There are lots of possible reasons for this shift, but the takeaway for the talent pro is that more people are open to a voluntary move than in the last few, recessionary years. The climate for recruiting and retention is starting to shift.

    In the spirit of KD's piece, I thought I'd offer a similar, geeky chart for your perusal, first spotted over at Business Insider last week. Have a look at the below graph, that shows the total US employment level for two age cohorts, those from 25-34, and those 55+, and I'll make some (obvious) observations after the data sinks in. 

     

    Yep, really soon, and for the first time since anyone started keeping track, the number of workers 55 and older will exceed those aged 25-34, typically the next generation of talent that so many firms are trying to recruit, develop, and retain.

    Many workers north of 55 have seen their retirement plans put on hold, some for a few years, many for longer, as the combination of recession, slowly recovering equity markets, and lots of 20-something kids still living at home as they remain persistently unemployed or underemployed themselves.

    Have you walked around the office lately and thought to yourself, 'Wow, when did everyone start to look so old?'. If you haven't noticed, don't worry, you probably will soon. And after you take note, maybe its time to think about the makeup of your specific workforce, in total and in important segments, to see whether or not you are seeing this trend play out for your company, industry, and region.

    And then maybe take a few minutes more to think about what that all means for your 3, 5, and 10 year plans for recruiting, retention, benefits, work assignments, facilities, management succession, and more.

    Gettind old can be a drag. It can be a real drag when it happens to everyone at once.

    FYI - the chart was originally created on the FRED site, which is an absolute gold mine of information. Check it out sometime.

    Tuesday
    Jul102012

    Unscathed, and still thinking you did the right thing

    Of the many seemingly endless debates that rage in the workplace/human resources/careers blogosphere, ('How can HR become 'strategic'?, 'Do I need a cover letter?', 'My boss/colleague/HR lady is a jerk, what should I do?), one of my favorites is the one centered around the 'Following your passion at work', discussion.

    The 'passion' dialog seems to be split fairly evenly, perhaps the 'You should stop what you are doing and follow your passion' crowd might have the upper hand, (slightly), but that could be because they seem to shout about it the loudest, and it just seems like something we should pursue, or at least aspire to. But often, even the most well-reasoned and reasonable arguments for chasing your passion usually fall a bit flat for me. If I tried to apply the most common passion arguments, even taken loosely, I'd either be trying to catch on with an (unaffiliated) minor league baseball team as a soft-tossing lefty reliever, or hauling a BBQ smoker behind the pickup while working the county fair circuit selling sandwiches. Neither option really seems like a wise choice at this stage.

    Probably the most even-keeled recent take on the subject was from blogger and owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks Mark Cuban, with the piece titled, 'Don't Follow Your Passion, Follow Your Effort', that recommends pursuing that which you most often find yourself pursuing, if that makes sense. It actually is a really good piece, tempered only with the knowledge that through hard work, good fortune, and impeccable timing, Cuban himself has countless options that he is free to chase, including things others might term 'passions.'

    But past the passion/effort/I just need to keep the mortgage paid and kids fed discussion, which like the other endless workplace debates eventually, maybe already, get extremely tedious, I wanted to offer up one slightly different, and I think completely realistic, honest, and refreshing take on the matter, pulled from a profile of comic Marc Maron on the Vulture blog. Maron, who you'd classify as a working comic, not a household name, but beginning to become more well-known and recognized or a popular series of podcasts that have featured many comedy superstars, offered this telling observation about how he sees his work, success, and in a way seems to reconcile the 'passion' argument really neatly.

    “Look,” Maron says before going onstage, “I just want to get out of here unscathed. I just want to leave here still thinking that I did the right thing with my life. That’s my only goal, to have a check that doesn’t bounce and still believe I’m on the right path.”

    Nice. Unscathed, with a check that doesn't bounce, and at least a small feeling that you have made (mostly) the right choices and are generally heading in the right direction.

    Maybe not passion, but definitely sensible. Definitely reachable. And a question that can be easily asked and answered by most of us each day.

    Did I get out of here unscathed? Did the check clear? Am I heading in the right direction?

    What say you? 

    Monday
    Jul092012

    What if no one wants to drive to your office?

    Back in January I posted a piece titled, 'Will Facebook Kill the Car?', a look and some commentary on research that indicated American teens and twenty-somethings are driving much, much less than previous generations. Shame on you if you don't remember my take from January, but in case you've allowed your own life, work, families, and worldly concerns to interrupt your thinking about what I think, here is a snippet from that piece, (trust me, I have something new to say about this after re-set) -I should have stayed home

    It turns out American teenagers are driving less than their predecessors, and the article offers some interesting speculation on why that may be the case.  From the BBC piece 'Why are US teenagers driving less?' 

    Recent research suggests many young Americans prefer to spend their money and time chatting to their friends online, as opposed to the more traditional pastime of cruising around in cars.

    Here's more from the BBC:

    In a survey to be published later this year by Gartner, 46% of 18 to 24-year-olds said they would choose internet access over owning their own car. The figure is 15% among the baby boom generation, the people that grew up in the 1950s and 60s - seen as the golden age of American motoring.

    The internet, and by implication the social connections and activities the internet empowers, (mostly via Facebook), is the gateway to freedom, mobility, coolness - all the things that the car used to represent to the teenager or young adult.

    Great stuff, no?

    But seriously what jogged my memory about that old post was a commentary I caught over the weekend on Forbes.com, penned by legendary Detroit auto executive Bob Lutz. Titled, 'Generation Y Going Nowhere, And They're Fine With That', the piece isn't about Gen Y's career prospects, or lack thereof. Rather, especially seen through the lens of a grizzled and self-proclaimed 'car guy', it's an examination of the fading importance, excitement, and even utility of the car, and more essentially, the diminishing need of Gen Y, (and truly, not just Gen Y), to actually go somewhere, as opposed to experiencing it all virtually and via social networks.

    Lutz talks about the social networking serving as a viable and even improved replacement for things like basic social interaction, commerce, entertainment, dating, and just hanging out with a group of friends on a Friday night. From the Forbes piece:

    Armed with the capabilities of their ever-more sophisticated iThings, replete with social networking enabling close, immediate exchange of thoughts and experiences with countless “friends,” who needs to actually get in a car and go to a drive-in?

    Financial transactions, purchases, games, movies…all rendering travel to banks, stores, sports events or theaters redundant. Generation Y stands at the forefront of the next chapter in mankind’s evolution: experiencing everything while going nowhere.

    We mostly think about new technology and the rise of the social web as contributing towards making our experience of the real world better, more complete, and somehow richer. It's fun to live Tweet at an event, and to share on Instagram and Facebook that killer Key Lime Pie you just made. And when we can't actually be somewhere, we can at least partially experience the real world through the what is being shared online by those who are.

    But Lutz takes the argument to its next stage of progession and certainly while coming off a bit old-fashioned and 'get off my lawn-y', he at least raises an interesting question for anyone tasked with mobilizing the next generation to actually go somewhere and be physically present somewhere.

    What if they simply would rather stay on the couch, connected to everything and everyone they need, with their iPhones, iPads, Google Glasses, and the dozens of better gadgets that are sure to come?

    What if you opened an office or workplace and nobody came?

    Sound crazy to you? Maybe it is.

    Well even the NFL, the most popular sport in America, is having trouble getting people to actually come to the games. And I bet your office isn't nearly as fun as the Dawg Pound.

    Happy Monday! 

    Friday
    Jul062012

    Off Topic - For the Corporate Jungle - The Ballistic Briefcase

    Wrapping up a weird, short, but felt like is was long week here in the USA with a mid-week holiday with this item, that folks in Human Resources, who always have tales of employees gone wild in their files, might appreciate.More than meets the eye

    Ladies and Gentlemen I give you - The Ballistic Briefcase.

    Made by the fine folks over at Leison Tactical Supply, the Ballistic Briefcase can meet or exceed all your needs for laptop transport, document management, and high projectile protection. Check the feature list and tell me if you don't agree:

    • Superior Cowhide leather with functions of waterproofness, high abrasion resistance, and high tensile strength.
    • Suitable for government officers and businessmen.
    • Used to carry documents.
    • Flip opening system with quick release.
    • Used as ballistic shield.
    • Case includes NIJ level IIIA panels that protect against all handguns up to 0.44 magnums.
    • Provides full body protection.
    • Opens to 180 degrees, protection area is increased by double

    Sounds awesome, right? Flip open the briefcase to its full length and make a quick getaway from all manner of mayhem coming your way.

    You might be asking, 'Who needs a bulletproof briefcase anyway? From a BusinessWeek interview about the product we learn it might have more applicability than you think. According to a ballistic briefcase expert:

    This bag would be used by businessmen and women working in austere environments—think parts of Mexico, Afghanistan, etc., where there is a chance they could come under attack or get caught in the crossfire. I would think people working for the government, doing clandestine operations, could have a use for this briefcase.

    Austere environments? Getting caught up in the crossfire?

    Heck, you don't need to go to Mexico or Afghanistan to run into that kind of chaos.

    Have a great weekend!