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    HR Technology - Do You Care?

    As a sports fan I spend more than my fair share of time watching the ESPN family of networks.  Over the years as the number of different ESPN channels has grown, the variety of programming has expanded.  The networks have experimented beyond traditional live event coverage and news/commentary shows to reality, investigative journalism, and even comedy.

    One of my all time favorite 'non-traditional' ESPN shows is called 'Cheap Seats'.  The basic premise of the show is for two commentators to screen video of old, second-rate sporting events that in the early days of ESPN helped to fill airtime (dog shows, putt-putt, arm wrestling, etc.), and provide witty and at times insulting commentary over the event. It is a really amusing show. For the non-sports geeks out there, it is a kind of poor man's Mystery Science Theater 3000 about sports.

    A recurring feature on 'Cheap Seats' is a segment called 'Do You Care?', where the hosts take turns rattling off a series of little known facts or trivia items about the showcase sporting event, prefaced with the phrase 'Do You Care?'. 'Do You Care that 4-time national Putt-Putt champion Dave Carson once served as a bat boy for the Kansas City Royals?', is a decent example of a 'Do You Care' question.

    The joke is that no, you really don't care, and that the factoid, like the event or person it references, is so obscure and unimportant, that no one else really cares either. The very idea that an entire show was built around mocking these kind of events is the joke itself.

    What do 'Cheap Seats' or the associated Lumberjack/Strongman/Cheerleading and other obscure or niche competitions featured/mocked on the show have to do with HR Technology?

    It seems in many Human Resources organizations the technology function (if it has not been ceded to the IT organization) gets relegated to the late night, off hours, or counter-programmed against the Super Bowl status like many of the events that Cheap Seats so cleverly derides. High profile andHank Stram traditional functions like recruiting, training and development, and employee relations are the equivalent of ESPN's glamour properties like the NFL, Major League Baseball, and College Football.  The technology function, can often be the organizational equivalent of PBA Bowling (way more popular that you'd think, by the way), table tennis, or an NFL films documentary about the legend of Hank Stram.

    Even in the nascent HR/social media/blogosphere the interest in technology topics certainly lags behind 'traditional' subject matter like recruiting, career management, and general leadership.  There are very few regular and steady HR blogs focusing primarily on technology topics. Heck, even this blog, 'Steve's HR Technology', is only occasionally about hard core technology subjects.  Perhaps a re-branding is in order. Of the half dozen or so posts I have written for the popular Fistful of Talent blog, the one piece that was the most 'tech' focused received the least amount of feedback and interest than any of the other posts on FOT that I've done.

    I write this post as I make my way to the 13th Annual HR Technology Conference in Chicago, an event that is clearly all about the technologies that are available to support HR and workforce processes, from the mundane and adminisitrative, to the evolved and highly complex and analytical.  Dozens of experts.  Hundreds of vendors.  Thousands of attendees. Tens of thousands in bar tabs.  Huge event.  Great event.  Important event.

    But, after the show is all over, after the groggy conference goers make their way home, the question for 'regular' HR remains - HR Technology- Do You Care?

    Check out one of the best moments from the 'Cheap Seats' series below - email subscribers click through:


    Optimistic Memory

    This morning on a radio talk show I heard a phrase for the first time - 'Optimistic Memory'.  The person was (I think) referring to having a more favorable recollection of past events than perhaps was warranted, and failing to accurately recall said events with the proper scrutiny and measurement.

    This is not unique, or particularly interesting I suppose, who hasn't fallen victim to having a kind of selective remembrance of prior events or circumstances, be they jobs, athletic 'achievements', or past romantic interests.  Heck, I even know a guy in the HR blogosphere that describes some of his past girlfriends as 'South Beach models'.  But I digress.

    But the actual phrase, 'Optimistic Memory', sounded really distinctive, as I had never heard the dull old concept described in such a manner.  Consequently, minutes of diligent research ensued (one Google search), that led me to a National Institute for Computational Sciences (I never heard of them either), page containing the following definition for 'Optimistic Memory (allocation)':

    Optimistic Memory Allocation means that Linux is willing to allocate more virtual memory than there is physical memory, based on the assumption that a program may not need to use all the memory it asks for.

    So in layman's terms, the concept of Optimistic Memory in a Linux computer system has less to do with looking backward than with looking forward. It is a kind of design that attempts to release computing resources using an 'optimistic' assessment of the need for said resources.  It says - 'Ok process ABC, you are asking for X amount of resources, and I only have 50% of what you are asking for readily available, but I will go ahead and let the process start, because I am pretty sure you really don't need all the memory you are requesting. 

    It is in a way the exact opposite of what systems folks are trained to do, and what often experience suggests when planning projects, estimating costs, and assessing risk. I am sure we have all heard the old standards of 'Take the initial estimate and double the time/resources/costs' mantra when in project scoping or solution design phases.  

    But why is that the case?  Are we (the collective we, surely I don't mean you personally), really so bad at truly understanding new technology, estimating our own skills and capability to utilize new tools, or assessing the organization's capacity to adapt and change?  Are we simply tying to cover our own flanks by making the dire error of actually underestimating the level of effort to do anything? 

    I don't know, but sometimes I think that our inability to see things positively, to actually employ some 'Optimistic Memory' in the face of change or innovation or new technologies is a handy anchor to keep us safely in port instead of actually venturing out to the open water. Better to keep the staus quo than try and fail perhaps.

    Horrible post, I know.  But it did start out optimistically, and that has to count for something.



    flickr - sean drellingerIn HR Technology projects we often discuss increasing managers and employees direct access to workforce data, enabling more self-directed activity in what were previously HR executed administrative transactions, and empowering the workforce with tools and skills to connect, communicate, collaborate, etc.

    But even after a decade (or more) of process automation, deployment of online processes for demographics, benefits, payroll, and otherwise pushing control and responsibility out to the distributed workforce, it doesn't seem like the number of requests for basic assistance have diminished all that much. Perhaps it is just a function of my personal experience lately, who knows, but even after the de-centralization of so much of the mundane processes, the calls, emails, basic inquiries continue to roll in, day after day. 

    Beyond technology enabled process automation, I think if you really want to empower employees and managers, and drive more self-sufficiency in the organization, a few other basic philosophical approaches have to be in place.

    1. Make less rules.

    Every rule, policy, guideline adds to the canon and creates additional opportunity for questions and interpretations that require HR to have to get involved.  When making a decision, managers and employees should really only have to consider 'Is this the right thing to do (for the business/community/customer). Once the 'policy' is in place, then you have effectively doubled the scope of the problem by making people consider, or setting yourself up to address, the question of - 'What does the policy say?'.  And good luck to you when the answers to the now two questions are clearly at odds.

    2. Make it easy for employees to connect

    In my HR Technology class we use a class wiki and discussion forums to communicate and collaborate. When students have questions about class content, assignments, logistics, etc. they are strongly encouraged to post them on the wiki, or in a specific discussion forum.  Ninety percent of the time another member of the class can and does provide the answer, or a discussion ensues that will ultimately lead to a satisfactory conclusion.  As the instructor, I get involved maybe 25% of the time.  The students are invested in helping each other to a degree that even surprises me at times.  

    How easy do you make it for your employees to help each other in discovering, developing, or creating appropriate or innovative solutions to the questions that are frequently asked of HR?  If the only 'official' conduit to information is via HR, then you are forcing every question (at least the non-obvious ones), through a narrow funnel that empties out all over your policy manual.  Employees will help each other if you give them the chance.

    3. Make the answers visible

    In the example above, unless the matter in question is of a personal issue involving grades, or some other 'private' information, when I have to get involved in a student discussion or issue on the wiki or in a forum, I make sure my 'answer' is posted publicly as well.  That way all students, whether they were involved in the original debate or not, have the opportunity to learn from the resolution, or gain exposure to a new idea or approach.  Answering individual questions, one at a time, privately, ensures a steady supply of similar questions.  Sure, you could send out some kind of 'official' HR communication to address a recurring issue, (and we all know how well those are received), or you could support and actively participate in a more interactive, lively, and manager and employee focused forum to make sure your answers get as widely socialized as possible.

    Think about it this way - how often in HR do you find yourself saying 'Man, I am so sick of answering that question.'


    Career Summiteering

    My friends Mark Stelzner and Laurie Ruettimann, are taking a page from some of those classic 'Our Gang' episodes, the ones where Spanky and Alfalfa and Darla decide to put on show for their pals, by launching a new, and unique event called The Career Summit.

    But instead of a half-baked, amateur show starring a dog, Mark and Laurie's show will be a valuable, relevant, and information packed experience and resource for job seekers and folks currently working, but quietly, secretly, thinking about doing more. Heck, that is pretty much everyone.


    From October 26 - November 17, Career Summit attendees will get access to over a dozen live webcasts on important career management topics, and continued access to the recorded archives of each session. Session leaders include Jason Seiden, Paula Caliguiri, Alexandra Levit, Jonathan Fields, and many more.

    What is great about the format of the career summit is that it brings in such a fantastic collection of experts on career issues, packages the content in a way that is accessible, and provides incredible value, dozens of hours of content at a really reasonable cost.

    Sure, I agreed to post about the event because I want Mark and Laurie to succeed, but they, and the 20-odd experts that are participating in the Career Summit want you to succeed.

    So if you are looking for something new, or think you could use some help and guidance in trying to find that dream job (who doesn't?), I encourage you to check out the Career Summit.

    Or, you could waste more time on 'Our Gang' DVDs.

    Your call. 

    Postscript - If anyone can verify that is a young Mark, Laurie, and Seiden in the picture on he right, I would appreciate it.


    The ancillary benefit of being true

    As the US nears what is shaping up to be a contentious political campaign season, and the rhetoric, vitriol, and semantic arguments multiply, (it depends on what you mean by 'is'), it can get pretty next to impossible to know who is telling the truth, and who is just pushing their agenda.

    And even the agenda pushers are not always easy to read.  They could be promoting themselves, some faceless political party, some corporate interests, or even a labor union.  In the current American political arena, the 'truth' is an elusive concept.  Last night I heard a pundit observe that his particular viewpoint on a hotly debated topic had 'the ancillary benefit of being true'. Cool, some ancillary truth to go along with the normal pile of drivel he will be shoving in your direction.

    The larger point is every communication in politics, at work, and even at home has some kind of an agenda behind it.  We try to inform, persuade, educate, direct, etc. all the time.  Sure, most of us (I hope) are not trying to constantly outmaneuver our rivals at work, or are trying to promote some kind of worldview that may or may not be based in truth or what's 'right'. 

    Aside - not everyone who disagrees with you is 'dangerous', 'radical', or some kind of threat to order and security.  Smart people can disagree.  Get over it.

    But still, I think it a good reminder, and kind of refreshing of this pundit to so blatantly call out the fact that sorting out how much of what he spouts is actually 'true' is certainly a challenging proposition.  In the political arena, where side-taking dominates and colors perceptions of the truth more than anything else, it perhaps is not so difficult to come to a conclusion. At work, and when managing and trying to lead teams and individuals, it is maybe not so simple.

    As an employee it may not be easy to know if what's being fed to you is a lie, the truth, or just something something in between that has 'the ancillary benefit of being true'.

    As a manager or leader how much 'ancillary truth' are you sharing today?