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    Sunday
    Jan182015

    Months, ranked

    The often imitated but never surpassed 'Ranked' series resumes - this time with your semi-researched, highly subjective, and obviously definitive ranking of the months of the year.

    You may disagree with these rankings, but of course you would be wrong.

    Here we go:

    12. February - there is a reason the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition always appears in February. This is a terrible month, mercifully cut short, but still miserable.

    11. January - Cold, wet, long - did I mention cold yet?

    10. April - The cruelest month

    9. August - very overrated since it is a summer month. Long, hot, sticky, and if you are stuck working you will get almost nothing done since no one else is around.

    8. March - Winter's over - or so you think. No, it's not over. March dares to give you a tease of the upcoming Spring, but just wait until you head out for that St. Patrick's Day parade in the freezing rain.

    7. June - Such a non-descript month. Only redeeming quality is the NBA finals, but even I admit that appeals only to a fairly limited group. What else worthwhile happens in June?

    6. November - now we are in to the top half of months, so let's spin this positive. Thanksgiving, Black Friday, lots of great pro sports in season, gearing up for Christmas make November the best month since June.

    5. May - A solid, if unspectacular month. Good weather, finally shaken off the last bits of Winter, and Memorial Day weekend kicking off the summer. Hard not to like May.

    4. December - Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's Eve, snow, hot cocoa, mistletoe..... You get the idea. December is pretty cool

    3. September - Some people might argue with the 'end of summer vacation' month ranking so high on the list. These people are not parents of school aged children.

    2. July - Quintessential summer month. Has everything you need - solid national holiday, great weather, and still only is the mid-point of summer. You can waste July by working all the time and still have August to look forward to. But July is better.

    1. October - Fall foliage, Halloween, pumpkin flavored everything, fresh apples, and for the first time in ages that strange excitement that comes with the first really cool, crisp day of the season. It should be October for 11 months a year. Except when it is July.

    Leave your thoughts in the comments, but remember, you are probably wrong.

    Thursday
    Jan152015

    Culture Change or the Gig Economy: You probably can choose only one

    Warning in advance, this post is (sort of) about basketball, but hopefully will resonate beyond the hardwood and make some sense to HR/Talent pros in this increasingly complicated modern age. First a quick take from the NBA, and how perhaps it might hold some insights that apply in the real world.

    Exhibit A : Your 2014 - 2015 New York Knicks, current possessors of the NBA's poorest Won-Loss record at 5 - 35, at the time of this writing riding a franchise-record 15 game losing streak, with their two best players currently injured, and recently having traded another two of their more useful players for essentially nothing in return, (the players they received in the trade were immediately released).

    The Knicks are a joke, a running tour of poor performances, uninspiring effort, and predictable results. Even for me, a life-long fan, they are almost impossible to watch. 

    But let's get to the HR/Talent/Workplace angle of this. Prior to the season the Knicks hired a new head coach, Derek Fisher who had extensive playing experience (and has played on a few championship teams), but no coaching experience. Basically he is a first-time coach. And more importantly, the Knicks threw a ton of money and power to lure legendary coach Phil Jackson, winner of 11 titles with the Bulls and Lakers, to run the entire basketball operation. In corporate terms, the Knicks basically brought in a new CEO and a new COO with the marching orders to turn the franchise into a winner and to make the changes need that will lead to winning - many of these changes centered around instilling a 'winning' culture.

    But in the NBA, and in your company, even C-level mandated change, and in particular with attempts to change something as nebulous and imprecise as workplace culture the task is never going to be easy. And often in both sports teams and 'normal' businesses, culture change is completely about the people that make up the organization, their willingness to make and embrace changes, their commitment to these changes longer term, and finally the ability and flexibility of management to add/move/replace talent as needed to better align the workforce to this new culture-driven change program.

    Now since the NBA has some specific and unique rules and constraints (salary caps, rules about trading players, deadlines for trading players, etc.) that to some extent limits the flexibility of team executives to simply 'rip and replace' the roster with new players if the current ones are adjudged not good enough or (beg forgiveness) not a 'cultural fit'. And I bet even if your organization is not subject to many, (or any), of these kinds of constraints, it still isn't easy or even advised for you to begin a widespread house cleaning of employees to try to quickly raise the talent level and try for better cultural alignment. I mean, after you fire everyone, who exactly is going to do the work while you scour LinkedIn for replacements?

    So NBA teams and normal businesses too that are driving massive change programs, at least in the short term, are going to have to try and effect change by, on, and with many of the existing workforce. And in the 2014 - 2015 Knicks, one specific attribute of their workforce/roster has made driving this kind of major cultural change, (and the actual on-court tactical changes that accompany it), exceedingly difficult. 

    At the start of the 2014 - 2015 season, 11 of the 15 Knicks roster players were on the final year of their playing contracts, the sports world's version of being a lame duck. These 11 were not all at the same stage of their careers, some were young, untested players trying to cement a place in the NBA, some were older veterans trying to hang on to their lucrative playing careers, and some were mid-career players that likely were not going to be a part of the Knicks plans beyond this season. In short, 11 of the 15 workers had no guarantee or assurances their services would be wanted by the Knicks past this season - a season where the team executives were also trying to push major strategic and cultural changes on the team.

    Basically, the Knicks started 2014 - 2015 trying to drive a massive change program with the vast majority of their front-line workers, (the players), not at all bought in to this long-term program, as these 11 were (and are) essentially short-term, contract, 'gig economy' type workers. They, naturally, have to worry about their next contracts, and will be incented to do the things they think they need to do to obtain those contracts. 

    And many of these kinds of behaviors (scoring more, getting court time, developing more personal skills), have not be aligned or compatible with the Knicks executives ideas about how they team should play. Jackson and Fisher want the team to play in a style that will (and has) precluded most of these players from generating the kinds of outcomes they think they need to further their careers.

    And therein lies the problem.

    The Knicks, (and this could be any business), are trying to drive a massive cultural and strategic change program with a majority workforce working as short-term contingent employees that have to think about their personal agendas and futures. 

    The Knicks leaders have expected (and have been surprised by the fact that it has not really worked), that these short-term, 'gig' workers would fully and happily embrace change when the workers had no assurances at all even if they did embrace the changes that one, they would not be shown the door at the end of the season anyway; and two, that embracing these changes would not hinder their opportunities to find new contracts with other teams when/if the Knicks let them go.

    You can't change the culture by relying on a bunch of short-timers to execute that change. It doesn't work in basketball and it probably won't work anywhere. 

    There are lots of benefits to organizations to increase their reliance on short-term contractors, contingent workers, outsourced services, etc. Less cost, more flexibility, easier admin, etc.  But running the organization as a loose confederacy of 'gig' economy workers has some negatives too.

    Chief among them, you can't expect these gig workers to care too much about your culture, and your desire to change that culture. Culture change requires commitment, from both employees and employers.

    Happy Thursday.

    Wednesday
    Jan142015

    SURVEY: Depressingly, Email remains the most important technology at work

    One of my go-to places for news, data, and research on technology adoption, usage, and trends is the Pew Research Internet Project. Towards the end of 2014, the folks at Pew released a short research report titled Technology's Impact on Workers, a look at how and which kinds of technologies are effecting work and workforces. It is a pretty interesting and easily digestible report, but since I know you are really busy and might not have time to read the entire research report, I wanted to call out one data point, and then we can, together, pause, reflect, and lament for a moment.

    First the data point, take a look at the chart below that displays survey responses to the question of which technologies workers (separated into office workers and non-office workers), consider 'very important' to their jobs:

    Two things stand out from this data. First, and the obvious one (and still exceedingly depressing), is that email remains the most important type of technology cited by office workers for helping them perform their jobs. Despite its relative maturity (and that is putting it nicely, as far as technology goes, email at about 30 years old should have been brought out behind the barn and put out of its misery decades ago), email continues to hold its vise-like death grip on modern office work. I hope I live (or at least work) long enough to see email finally disrupted from this position, but so far alternate workplace communication and collaboration options have not been able to accomplish what (ironically), almost everyone desires - the end of being slaves to email all day.

    The other bit of data from the Pew survey comes from the bottom portion of the chart - the kinds of technologies that workers find not 'very important' to them in getting their jobs done. And in a result that will make the social networking aficionados cringe (and many CIOs who would prefer to block these kinds of things from corporate networks happy), social networking sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook were cited as 'very important' by a measly 7 percent of office workers and 2 percent of non-office workers. Now that doesn't mean that these networks are 'not important', based on the way the question was phrased, but certainly the vast disparity in the stated importance of social networks in getting work done compared to email, (general) internet availability, and phones paints a pretty clear picture. For most folks, technology use at work is dominated by email, with web access and phones, (land and mobile), rounding out about 90% of the technology picture.

    I will close with a quote from the Pew report, and then sulk away with my head bowed, dreaming of a better future for our children...

    This high standing for email has not changed since Pew Research began studying technology in the workplace. Email’s vital role has withstood major changes in other communications channels such as social media, texting, and video chatting. Email has also survived potential threats like phishing, hacking and spam and dire warnings by commentators and workplace analysts about lost productivity and email overuse.

    Ugh.

    Happy Wednesday.

    Tuesday
    Jan132015

    What Will Happen if we Move the Company: The Limits of Data

    Some years back in a prior career (and life) I was running HR technology for a mid-size organization that at the time had maybe 5,000 employees scattered across the country with the largest number located on site at the suburban HQ campus (where I was also located). The HQ was typical of thousands of similar corporate office parks - in an upscale area, close to plenty of shops and services, about one mile from the expressway, and nearby to many desirable towns in which most of the employees lived. In short, it was a perfectly fine place to work close to many perfectly fine places to live.

    But since in modern business things can never stay in place for very long, a new wrinkle was introduced to the organization and its people - the looming likelihood of a corporate relocation from the suburban, grassy office park to a new corporate HQ to be constructed downtown, in the center of the city. The proposed new HQ building would be about 15 miles from the existing HQ, consolidate several locations in the area into one, and come with some amount of state/local tax incentives making the investment seem attractive to company leaders. Additionally, the building would be owned vs. leased, allowing the company to purpose-design the facility according to our specific needs, which, (in theory), would increase overall efficiency and improve productivity. So a win-win all around, right?

    Well as could be expected once news of the potential corporate HQ relocation made the rounds across the employee population, complaints, criticism, and even open discussions of 'time to start looking for a different job' conversations began. Many employees were not at all happy about the possible increase in their commuting time, the need to drive into the 'scary' center city location each day, the lack of easy shopping and other service options nearby, and overall, the change that was being foisted upon them.

    So while we in HR knew (or at least we thought we knew), there would be some HR/talent repercussions if indeed the corporate HQ was relocated, we were kind of at a loss to quantify or predict what these repercussions would be. The best we were able to do, (beyond conversations with some managers about what their teams were saying), was to generate some data about the net change in commuting distance for employees, using a simple and open-source Google maps based tool.

    With that data we were able to show that (as expected), some employees would be adversely impacted in terms of commuting distance and some would actually benefit from the HQ move. But that was about as far as we got with our 'data'.

    What we didn't really dive into (and we could have even with our crude set of technology), was break down these impacts by organization, by function, by 'top' performer level, by 'who is going to be impossible to replace if they leave' criteria.

    What we couldn't do with this data was estimate just how much attrition was indeed likely to occur if the move was executed. We really needed to have an idea, (beyond casual conversations and rumor), who and from what areas we might find ourselves under real pressure due to possible resignations. 

    And finally, we had no real idea what remedial actions we might consider to try and stave off the voluntary and regrettable separations (the level of which we didn't really know).

    We basically looked at our extremely limited data set and said, 'That's interesting. What do we do with it?'

    Why re-tell this old story? Because someone recently asked me what was the difference between data, analytics, and 2015's hot topic, predictive analytics. And when I was trying to come up with a clever answer, (and I never really did), I thought of this story of the corporate relocation.

    We had lots of data - the locations of the current campus and the proposed new HQ. We also had the addresses of all the employees. We had all of their 'HR' data - titles, tenure, salary, department, performance rating, etc.

    We kind of took a stab at some analytics - which groups would be impacted the most, what that might mean for certain important areas, etc. But we didn't really produce much insight from the data.

    But we had nothing in terms of predictive analytics - we really had no idea what was actually going to happen with attrition and performance if the HQ was moved, and we definitely had no ideas or insights as to what to do about any of that. And really that was always going to be really hard to get at - how could we truly predict individual's decisions based on a set of data and an external influence that had never happened before in our company, and consequently any 'predictions' we made could not have been vetted at all against experience or history?

    So that's my story about data, analytics, and predictive analytics and is just one simple example from the field on why this stuff is going to be hard to implement, at least for a little while longer.

    Monday
    Jan122015

    Work is Anywhere: Notes from a Saturday Morning at the Auto Dealer

    Submitting this (brief) dispatch to re-state the obvious: Work has almost nothing to do with place and has less and less to do with time as well.

    I am writing this on Saturday morning from the extremely well-appointed customer service waiting area (can't fairly call this a 'room', it is larger than my first three apartments I think), at my local auto dealer as my sweet ride gets some maintenance/gets a safety recall item fixed.

    A quick look around reveals two wide screen TVs, (one on Fox News, one on ESPN), several sofas and chairs, a massive two-sided fireplace, a cafe area with free coffee, water, soft drinks, cookies, and most importantly for the rest of this story - free and pretty fast Wifi.

    Of course the car dealer waiting area has Wifi. Everyplace has Wifi now. We, many of us anyway, will choose a restaurant or coffee shop simply on the basis of Wifi access itself. So the fact that the auto dealer offers customer wifi is not really a big deal.

    But what is interesting as I look around the room on this Saturday morning (it is about 9:25 AM local time), is what many of the folks waiting here are actually doing.

    I am writing this blog post, (but I am kind of a loser without much going on so maybe I don't count).

    The guy at the table next to me is coding, a side project that he is working on outside of his day job (I asked him what he was working on).

    Another guy on one of the sofas is catching up on email (I didn't ask him, but a casual/nosy glance over his shoulder revealed the unmistakably bland user interface that is Outlook).

    A woman has been off and on her phone for the last 20 minutes in deep discussion and negotiation about some kind of insurance contracts with a supplier of her business.

    And a young-ish couple is seated together at another table staring at the same laptop and are engaged in pretty deep conversation. I am not exactly sure what is going on there, but decided to let them be and not get too weird/creepy in the waiting area.

    Almost everyone here seems to be working on something. At the auto dealer waiting room on a Saturday morning. I am not really sure if that is a good or bad thing. I do think it is wonderful and great customer service that the dealer has provided such a welcoming and accommodating environment so people can work. But I also, and maybe this is because I am old enough to recall when waiting at the auto dealer meant 90 minutes of pure hell in a tiny, dirty room with old issues of Car & Driver the only distraction, wonder if this is really healthy.

    I know that I am a little messed up for spending my Saturday mornings blogging.

    But I thought I was the only strange one. There is an entire roomful of folks with me this morning who are, equally, strange.

    Have a great week!