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    Tuesday
    Aug082017

    The fine line between unpopular and unemployable

    Apologies for the not fully formed thoughts to follow as I am putting this down in the Delta Sky Club in MSP, (a pretty nice airport to make the East Coast - West Coast stopover in I think).

    Like you probably have as well, I spent a little time the last few days following the news about the Google employee's (now former employee's) saga from the leak and subsequent publishing of his paper? article? manifesto? regarding diversity and inclusion at Google, the subsequent internet and internal to Google reactions, the Google leadership reactions, and which has culminated, (for the time being), in said Google employees firing from the company. I am not linking to pieces about these developments, there are now 19025 pieces out there on this, and I am pretty sure you know the story as it sits.

    You might also be familiar with the ongoing saga of another famous unemployed person, aspiring NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who despite seemingly possessing all the requisite experience and physical ability to be a valuable player on several NFL teams, (including my beloved New York Jets who plan on using at quarterback a couple of guys only slightly more qualified than me), remains an unsigned free agent with only about one month to go before the NFL regular season is set to begin. 

    Kaepernick, as I am pretty sure you know, made headlines last season by demonstrating, (apologies if this is not the best word), his advocacy for a number of social issues by 'taking a knee' during the playing of the national anthem prior to his NFL games last season. This form of demonstration later was joined by numerous other players in the league, expanded to some other sports, and generally created tons of news and awareness beyond the sports world. Chances are, unless you are at the stadium, you never cared about the pre-game national anthem, (in fact for 'normal' games the anthem is rarely televised), until Kaepernick began taking a knee.

    What connects these two unemployed but talented people, the former Google engineer and Kaepernick, together today seems to me to be two things. One, they are both currently out of work. And two, the primary, (arguable) reason that they are both out of work has little to do with their ability, skills, experience to do the job that they would like to do, but has more to do with things that they think and beliefs they hold that for wildly different reasons, are seen as pretty unpopular with various constituencies that are important to their professions.

    I am not going to dig in to the merits or validity or appropriateness of either person's statements and actions. As I said there are thousands of places you can get that if you care to. But what I am interested in is what these cases say or suggest about the kinds of things can can get you fired, (or keep you from getting hired). We've known for a decade or so now, since the advent of the social media age, that posting or saying terrible, racist, discriminatory, even pornographic things online can and does get people fired. 

    But both of these cases, again, this is certainly debatable, don't seem to fall into that kind of territory. At least to me, they might both be controversial, might go against the majority of thinking in their respective fields, but don't seem to, on their surface, rise to the level of 'Fire this person immediately' or 'Hire other, less qualified people instead of this person' territory. Debatable for sure, I admit. Clearly the CEO of Google and about 30 NFL owners have a different take.

    Two more quick thoughts then I have to catch a plane.

    One, the kinds of people that tend to agree with/support the Google engineer and the ones who support Kaepernick are probably, (many of them anyway), on complete opposite ideological poles on lots and lots of issues. Said differently, the kinds of views that get you run out of one employer and would be embraced at another are almost entirely situational and pretty subjective.

    And two, the line between unpopular and unemployable is thin, keeps moving all the time, and is set (usually) by folks who never, ever, ever, want to deal with this kind of stuff. Once something, anything, consumes energy and resources that are supposed to used generating revenue/income, that line moves to 'unemployable' really quickly.

    I am still thinking about this, I hope you are too. Maybe we can do a HR Happy Hour Show on this and get some feedback from listeners and readers.

    Monday
    Aug072017

    A quick reminder that your employer probably won't help you stay employable

    The belief that employees have to own their own development, career planning, and future employability, and that no employer can truly invest/care that much about its employees in the modern world to do those things is not a new one. I am pretty sure I heard it from an employer myself back in the 90s.

    But while the idea of employees being (more or less) solely responsible for ongoing development and learning, and as in the case with most jobs now, keeping up with and remaining/becoming proficient in the latest and most relevant new technologies is generally accepted these days, it isn't often that we see senior execs of big companies going on record stating this as a fact or condition of employment. No, usually C-suiters like to talk about 'people being our most important asset' and like to tout investments in employee learning and development and other ways they portend to be a 'people' organization.

    That disconnect between what leaders of large companies like to say, and the generally accepted premise that all employees, even 'permanent' employees, are just temps that get a few more benefits, was really crystallized for us all by the (kind of surprisingly), frank comments on employee development attributed to Dell and VMWare CIO Bask Iyer, in a recent interview and as reported in the Economic Times of India

    Check these comments then a quick comment of my own...

    Bask Iyer, CIO and Executive Vice-President of Dell and VMware, has sounded a warning for information technology (IT) employees: surf the oncoming technology waves all the time and upskill yourself, otherwise be prepared to leave IT. 

    "I am making sure that all my IT folks are best equipped to generate revenues rather than lay them off. People without the skill-sets to go ahead to the next level in a company will go anyway, that’s just the way it is," Iyer said in an interview to

    Iyer said the onus for upskilling lies with the employees themselves and not the organisations. "As for reskilling, no organisation provides for that because even they don’t know what to train employees on," he said. The IT employees themselves must figure out the future and upgrade their skills accordingly, Iyer said.

    Pretty frank, and seemingly honest observations from a tech leader at one of the world's most well-known tech companies. Iyer tries to couch or position his comments less as 'the organization won't make sure your skills are up to date because it is solely your responsibility as an employee to do that' and more of a 'we as an organization just can't predict what skills will be needed, and therefore are unable to train our staff to remain relevant and current.'

    But that is kind of a cop-out as well as probably not being 100% honest if you dig in a little.

    If the CIO of Dell claims that he and the rest of Dell's leadership can't predict what skills will be needed, then truly what is the reasonable expectation that the average software engineer or designer at Dell would be able to make that call him or herself?

    And wouldn't it be reasonable for that software engineer at Dell to think that the technical and business leadership at Dell (or insert any company name here), would in fact be able to have that kind of foresight and strategy, and be able to help develop workforce plans and associated technical skills and competencies needed with at least some advance warning?

    My guess is this - Dell probably has some idea of where they want to go in the next few years, but since no one can really be sure what technologies will dominate and be needed outside of a year or so, they want to hedge and offload at least some of their responsibility to their employees.

    I will wrap with this last comment. If we, all of us, are all truly temporary workers, (we are), then we need to break down lots more assumptions - legal, regulatory, social, ethical, of what it means to be an employee anywhere. I am kind of glad to see the frank comments from Iyer about employee development. He finally said what lots of us have been thinking for a long time.

    Have a great week!

    Friday
    Aug042017

    PODCAST: #HRHappyHour 291 - HR and the Internet Trends Report 2017

    HR Happy Hour 291 - HR and the Internet Trends Report 2017

    Hosts: Steve Boese, Trish McFarlane

    Listen to the show HERE

    This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, Steve and Trish review Mary Meeker from Kleiner Perkins influential Internet Trends Report for 2017 and discuss what some of these big trends in technology mean for HR and HR Technology. Ms. Meeker's report is an annual 'must-read' for any organizational leader and always offers some enlightening insights into the important global technology trends.

    In the show, Steve and Trish break down a few of the big trends, (mobile technology adoption and usage, 'voice' interfaces and devices like Amazon Echo, and the continued rise of all types of gaming), and offer some ideas and recommendations for HR and HR tech leaders on how to translate these trends into actions and strategies.

    Additionally, we talked about the recent Amazon Jobs Day, and what their plans to hire 50,000 new employees in one day say about work, workplaces, and changing employee expectations of work.

    You can listen to the show on the show page HERE, or by using the widget player below:

    This was a really fun and interesting show, we hope you enjoy it.

    Tweet the show with ideas and comments @HRHappyHour

    Thanks as always to show sponsor Virgin Pulse, check them out at www.virginpulse.com.

    Remember to subscribe to the HR Happy Hour Show on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, or wherever you get your podcasts.

    Wednesday
    Aug022017

    Defining the competition

    There are two schools of thought on how an organization should think about its competition - for customers, market share, talent, brand awareness, etc.

    One approach is to study your competitors closely, monitor their strategies, actions and decisions, and devote a lot of resources and energy to roles like competitive intelligence gathering, market analysis, and the development of specific playbooks focused on your main competitors to prepare your salespeople for what they are likely to encounter in the field. I'd say that in enterprise tech, HR tech for sure, this is the approach that most medium-to-large providers take.

    The alternate approach is to largely ignore specific competitors and spend the vast majority of your time working on product, message, and lots of internal and specific capabilities like implementation, service, support and the like. This is often the approach startup tech companies take as they likely have to spend most of their time trying to define their own message, communicate their unique value proposition, and if they are truly innovating in the market their competition may not even actually exist. Or said differently, they often are competing against 'doing nothing' and not against a competing product or service. 

    And truly most companies probably exist somewhere in between these two extremes - thinking about the competition some, and other times taking a more internal focus. And this focus usually skews towards former as the company grows, enters new markets, or begins to attract new competitors (success breeds competition). 

    I thought about this 'competition continuum' when I caught this piece on Venture Beat - Amazon's name pops up on 10% of U.S. earnings conference calls, a nod to the retail/tech/distribution giant's outsize reach in the US economy right now.

    From the VB piece:

    Almost 700 U.S. companies have reported quarterly results so far this earnings season, and the e-commerce titan’s name has popped up on roughly one of every 10 earnings conference calls so far. And the retailers whose lunch has long been eaten by Amazon.com Inc haven’t even reported yet.

    In all, Amazon has been raised either in passing or with some urgency on 75 calls hosted by corporate chieftains in the past several weeks, according to a Reuters analysis of call transcripts from components of the S&P 1500. That’s well more than twice as many mentions as Google or its parent Alphabet Inc and over three times as many as Apple Inc.

    Everyone from traditional retailers to 'big tech' companies like Microsoft and IBM all the way to Dow Jones stalwarts like 3M and Johnson & Johnson all have at least one eye on what Amazon is doing.

    It is kind of incredible to think that Amazon is now a real (or imagined) competitive threat across such a wide range of industries and companies.

    But here's what at least I thought was the really interesting thing about the piece, and the reason for the post in the first place.

    Most organizations spend lots and lots of time, (maybe too much time), thinking about the competition. I get the feeling that truly amazing, game changing companies like Amazon don't spend all that much time doing that. No, they focus on doing the things that make others worry about them instead.

    And that is a much, much better place to be.

    Postscript - I am totally obsessed with the Amazon Echo and really annoyed at every other piece of technology I own that will not yet respond to voice commands. I think this is going to be a really big deal in workplace tech and sooner than we think.

    Monday
    Jul312017

    CHART OF THE DAY: The World's Most Valuable Brands

    Happy last-day-of the-month Monday!

    Quick shot for kicking off a busy summer week. Courtesy of our pals at Visual Capitalist, let's take a look at the list of the corporations owning the world's most valuable brands:

    The 'brand value' methodology is referenced on the infographic above, but the essential element is that it it is the intangible asset that exists in the minds of consumers, which is usually an image forged over time through exposure to branding, ads, publicity, and other types of personal experiences. Attaching a dollar value to this intangible asset is perhaps more art than science, but while the specific dollar values can be debated, it probably can't be debated that there is at least some value to the brand.

    So while the top companies for brand value are likely the ones that you'd expect, after I saw this chart I couldn't help noticing that these companies also seem to be the ones that show up on the various 'Best or Top of Most Awesome Companies to Work For' lists that float around on the internet.

    Take a look at just one example, from our friends at LinkedIn, on the '40 Most Attractive Companies in the World' (according to LinkedIn)

    I cut the Top 40 List off at 7 due to space concerns and also because that is all I needed to make my point

    Hey, what a surprise! The Top 5 Global Brands in terms of value, (Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook), all show up inside the Top 7 of the LinkedIn 'attractiveness' list.

    And you'd find similar kinds of results on most of the other types of 'Best Places' lists - they are dominated by these mega-tech brands that make the coolest products, have the most incredible corporate campuses, and often are led by influential and charismatic leaders.

    All of this to make the point you already know - the thing we like to call 'employer brand' is inextricably tied up in what most people will call the consumer or public brand. The most powerful, valuable, and well-known consumer brands have such an advantage in the employer brand category that it is almost laughable.

    If you are one of the companies on the 'most valuable' list, congrats, things are always going to be easier for you to attract and recruit. If you are not one of those global, mega-brands, you have to know you are starting any competition for talent at a disadvantage. 

    Some brands have all the luck, I guess.

    Have a great week!