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    Tuesday
    Aug162016

    PODCAST - #HRHappyHour 254 - Introducing We're Only Human

    Two weeks back I shared the HR Happy Hour Podcast Network launch announcement, and last week we had the debut of the first new show on the network - the debut episode of Research on the Rocks, with hosts Madeline Laurano and Mollie Lombardi of Aptitude Research Partners.

    And this week I have a great thrill to share the details of the next new title on the network - the first episode of We're Only Human, featuring host Ben Eubanks of Lighthouse Research & Advisory

    Here are the details for the first episode of We're Only Human:

    HR Happy Hour 254 - Introducing We're Only Human

    Hosts: Ben Eubanks

    Listen HERE

    Host: Ben Eubanks

    The HR Happy Hour Podcast Network is happy to welcome our newest show, We're Only Human, with Ben Eubanks.  As Ben will share, new technologies and ways of working are driving change in the workplace.  Is your company ready? Employees are demanding a more mobile, social, and engaging technology experience, whether it's around scheduling a shift or tracking performance. 

    A key part of this new reality is analytics and data-driven decision making. Ben Eubanks, the show host, offers up a funny, yet helpful, story to illustrate the intersection between data and humanity in the workplace.

    In addition, the first episode of We're Only Human provides an introduction to the host as well as a roadmap for the topics that will be covered by the podcast, including the changing nature of work and how it gets done, the technologies that enable this shift, and ever-increasing innovation in the HR industry.

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

    We hope you'll listen in and look for Ben's future episodes!

    Remember to download and subscribe the the HR Happy Hour on iTunes, or using your favorite podcast app for iOS or Android - just search for 'HR Happy Hour' to never miss an episode.

    Monday
    Aug152016

    Learn a new word: Asymmetric Information

    Let's go with the definition first, a decent example of challenge that asymmetric information causes in a non-HR and workplace context, and then tie this up, (and this is the real reason I wanted to talk about this), with a great example of how this is playing out in HR/Talent and is being exacerbated by a recent legislative change in Massachusetts.

    Asymmetric information - In contract theory and economics, information asymmetry deals with the study of decisions in transactions where one party has more or better information than the other. This creates an imbalance of power in transactions, which can sometimes cause the transactions to go awry, a kind of market failure in the worst case. Examples of this problem are adverse selection, moral hazard, and information monopoly. Information asymmetry is in contrast to perfect information, which is a key assumption in neo-classical economics.

    Asymmetric information plays out all of the time, in just about every negotiation or contract that most of us participate in. When sellers know more about the value of products and services than buyers do - say in the case of a used car, or even a hotel room, then often we as buyers can be left uncertain and anxious about the prices we pay. Conversely, when buyers know more about the value of an item than the seller, think of a rare baseball card discovered at a garage sale in a bin offered for $1.00, then sellers can get underpaid for their offerings. 

    The internet, social networks, online sites designed to 'uncover' or reveal the true value, (or at least what other people have or would pay for a given good or service), have gone far to reduce the potential negative impact of asymmetric information in many markets. TrueCar provides insight into new and used car prices, SeetGeek aims to let you know if the tickets you are about to buy for the ball game represent a good deal or not, and auction-type sites like Ebay and Priceline put much more power, (if not always perfect information), in the hands of buyers of goods and travel services. 

    But even in the age of TripAdvisor and Glassdoor, many of the markets in which we transact are still pretty far from exhibiting so-called 'perfect' information, where buyers and sellers are equally informed, (or can reasonably obtain such information), thus resulting in efficient functioning. Are you really getting a good deal on that refirgerator or car or flight to Phoenix? Who knows.

    That's what takes me to the HR/Talent example I mentioned that the top, specifically, the recent move by Massachusetts to prohibit asking candidates about their current or prior salary history during the interview process. This legislation, according to Massachusetts officials, is designed to combat wage inequality - the theory being that if women or other groups have been unfairly underpaid in the past, then making their current salary an anchor point in negotiations for their next salary will simply perpetuate this wage inequality.

    And the other, unspoken, impact of this legislation will be to reduce, (but not eliminate), the asymmetric information condition that exists in any salary negotiation. In any potential job offer/negotiation the employer knows certain pieces of information that the candidate has almost no way of determining on their own. The salary budget (or range) for the job, the salary of the last person who had the job, the overall financial/budget situation of the organization, and the 'wiggle room' that the hiring manager has to negotiate the offer.

    In this negotiation the candidate has exactly one piece of information that the potential employer can probably guess at anyway - their current, or most recent salary at their prior job, and ostensibly, the baseline to figure out what kind of a bump (fifteen, maybe twenty percent?), it would take to get the candidate to make a move. And lots of recruiters, and even many online job applications, press the candidate to divulge this bit of information, their only potential edge in any negotiation, very, very early in the process.

    Recruiters and hiring managers will line up to bemoan the Massachusetts law, (and the others like it in states like New York and California that will almost certainly follow), clinging to the 'Let's not waste everyone's time if the salary for the job is not sufficient for the candidate'. Better to find that out up front, they argue. But figuring out the ballpark range a candidate might be willing to consider is part of your job, Ms. Recruiter. And there are other, less lazy ways that simply demanding that candidates turn this information over to you before you've even spoken to them.

    Asymmetric information plays havoc in all kind of markets. It's bad economics, bad policy, and bad for the person who is sitting on the wrong, or less-informed side of the table. And it doesn’t matter how rational, or well-intentioned people are, or how well the process/markets are set up - asymmetric information throws a wrench in the works, one that many candidates can spend a career trying to recover from.

    Have a great week!

    Saturday
    Aug132016

    REPRISE: 10 reasons why you should quit the NFL for the Premier League

    Note: Today is the launch of the 2016 - 2017 season in the English Premier League. This is the sport you should adopt as your favorite this Fall. In that light, I am re-running a piece from last October where I laid out the case for you. Go Liverpool!

    10 Reasons Why You Should Quit the NFL for the Premier League

    October 31, 2015

    I am up early on a Saturday taking in Barclays Premier League match between my beloved Liverpool Reds and Chelsea, the defending Premier League champions currently mired in a slow start to the new season. I watch a fair bit of sports on TV, (I have pretty much no life), but after many years of increasing interest and appreciation of top-level soccer, I have mostly given over my Fall and Winter weekends to the Premier League, and have pretty much lost interest in the much more popular, (here in the US anyway), American football games (both college and in the NFL).

    Why is that? Why have I basically given up on American football, with only a passing interest in the country's most popular sport? Here are 10 reasons, just off of the top of my head. And if you are saying to yourself, 'Who cares what sports Steve likes?', I would answer, 'Probably no one. But it is my blog. And I am up early on a Saturday and this is what I feel like writing about.' So there.

    Ok, here are 10 reasons why I, (and maybe you too), should quit the NFL for the Premier League:

    1. Soccer has about 3 rules you need to understand in order to appreciate the action. Sure, there are more rules than that, but the essential ones are very few, they are pretty simple, (we teach 4 year olds how to play using these rules), and you can grasp them in about the first 15 minutes of watching a game. American football, and the NFL in particular, has about 3,593 rules, many if not most of them are incredibly complex, vary in their application, and even 'experts' of the game often fail to understand them. NFL football is akin to the worst of governmental or corporate bureaucracies - hopelessly dense, complex, and often unexplainable.

    2. Because of this complexity in the rules, NFL games are interrupted dozens of times (and on EVERY punt or kickoff it seems), by penalty flags, interminable on-field conferences amongst the numerous game officials, and delays in the game for video reviews, often frame-by-frame, of controversial plays. Again, the NFL resembles the worst in big corporations in that the games are really just a few seconds of actual things happening that are interrupted by meetings of paunchy, middle-aged men discussing and attempting to explain what just happened. 

    3. Let's talk about the actual game action then. A Premier League game consists of two 45 minute halves with the clock running constantly, with a few minutes of 'extra' time usually added for injuries and other delays. Add in a 15 minute halftime break, and the normal (meaning EVERY one), Premier League game takes a bit under 2 hours to complete, start to finish. It is a perfect amount of time to dedicate to a sporting event, a movie, a dinner with your in-laws  - pretty much anything. NFL and especially college football games regularly require 3 to 3.5 hours to complete. And for the amount of actual action that occurs in a game, (see Point 4), 3.5 hours for a sporting event is just insane.

    4. It has been estimated that the average NFL game, the game that takes about 3.5 hours to complete, and has 60 minutes of official game time, actually has only between 7 - 8 minutes of action, i.e., where the players are actually PLAYING football. The rest of the time consists of players walking back to the huddle, standing in the huddle, walking back to the ball from the huddle, and waiting for the quarterback to scream a series of incomprehensible commands and making wild gesticulations. The ball is then put into play for a few seconds, (the average NFL play lasts about 7 seconds), and the entire process is repeated. Unless it is interrupted by a penalty flag and a corporate board meeting by the aforementioned old men. Football is 3.5 hours of almost nothing happening.

    5. Premier League soccer (and all soccer really), consists of 90 minutes of almost constant action. There are no 'time outs', there are fewer delays for penalties and fouls. When there is a foul the one on-field referee in charge makes the decision, and the ball is put back into play quickly. There are no meetings to talk about the fouls, there are no lengthy delays to 'check the video replay', and there are no 'coaches challenges' like in American football. Soccer realizes, correctly, that it is a GAME, and not every tiny decision needs to be examined under a electron microscope.

    6. While the rest of this post is a little cheeky, this point is pretty serious. While injuries happen in all sports, and sometimes they are serious injuries, for the most part soccer at all levels is much, much safer than football. Despite all the advances in protective equipment, the nature of football leaves almost EVERY player injured at some point. While NFL players are grown men, and are compensated well to accept these risks, the culture of American football extends much further into society, where the participants are neither grown men or compensated at all for these risks. This season alone 7 high school football players have died from direct football related injuries. Read that again. SEVEN high school kids have DIED from playing football. I find it incredible that 99.9% of American society is ok with that. 

    7. In the US, Premier League games (that last a total of 2 hours like I mentioned), are played in the morning across all US time zones. That means you can wake up early, take in a couple of matches, and still be free by Noon or so to do whatever it is you SHOULD be doing on the weekend instead of sitting on the sofa watching sports. You can get your fill of game action and still not be a jerk to your family or friends who don't care about your fantasy team and want you to be an actual contributing member of society on Saturdays and Sundays, and not some loser who is constantly checking his phone to see how many receiving yards Odell Beckham Jr. has racked up. 

    8. The match commentators for the Premier League games are exceedingly better and more entertaining than their NFL counterparts. Premier League commentators use words like 'comprehensive' and 'beguiling' and describe players with phrases like 'He is a wily campaigner'. NFL game analysts mostly like to talk about what team coaches said to them in meetings the day before the game. When NFL commentators try to move past the obvious 'The team that makes the least mistakes will win today', and get into the intricacies of the game action, 'Tampa rolled their high safety over to the weakside to guard against the naked bootleg action from Seattle', almost no one watching the game has any idea what they are talking about.

    9. And speaking of TV coverage, in the US anyone with a decent cable sports package has access to EVERY SINGLE Premier League game on LIVE. Every game is on TV. In the NFL, America's most popular sport, the only way you can get access to every game live on TV is to subscribe to the satellite TV provider DirectTV and order a premium NFL package to get access to all the games live. There are a couple of ways to get access to streams of NFL games as well. But in 2015 the fact that I as a subscriber of Time Warner Cable, one of the largest cable companies in the US, can't order up or subscribe to any NFL game that I would like to see on my TV is absolutely insane.

    10. (I promise this is the last one. If you have made it this far well, bless your heart). The pinnacle of the NFL season, the Super Bowl, is primarily enjoyed by millions not for the actual game, 'Who is playing again?', but for the TV commercials. The actual game is just a side note for the commercials, the halftime show, the endless tweets and columns about which big corporation 'won' the game by having the best TV spot, and the discussions of what kind of plausible excuse can you come up with to call in sick to work the next morning. Aside for the fans of the two teams playing, and the people who have bet on the game, no one really cares which team wins the game. Let's talk more about that Doritos spot instead.

    That is it. I am out. Thanks for indulging me. 

    And by the way, Liverpool 3 - Chelsea 1 - Full Time. Go Reds.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Friday
    Aug122016

    Over, Under, and Properly Rated #2 - Summer Olympics Edition

    My current favorite sports talk show is the Russillo and Kanell Show that airs nationally on ESPN radio. On the show, the hosts occasionally do a 'rated' segment where they categorize sports teams, players, and other aspects of sports and pop culture into one of three buckets. 'Overrated' for things they think are generally praised or valued more than they should be. 'Underrated' for the opposite - things that do not get enough attention or accolades. And finally 'Properly' rated, for the things that receive about the correct level of praise or derision.

    It is a fun segment, complete with sound effects, and in the spirit of running out of good ideas this week, I am going to steal borrow for this site. So here goes, the second installment, of 'Over, Under, and Properly Rated' (SFB edition). I am going with a Summer Olympics theme this time around, as I have caught just enough of the proceedings, (about 15 minutes a day), to render an authoritative evaluation of the spectacle and competition.

    So here goes...

    Overrated

    1. Opening Ceremony - Too long, too much nonsensical blathering by the commentators, and what essentially amounts to the the most boring parade of people wearing funny hats you've ever seen. Is it fun to see a few recognizable superstars milling about with the rest of the interchangeable rowers and team handball players? Sure. But on the whole, the opening ceremony is terrible. And overrated.  

    2. Rowing - If the entire sport consists of the activity you do to train for doing the sport, that adds up to a really uninteresting event. It really is not that far removed from watching a line of people on the treadmill at Planet Fitness. Side note: Ask the rower in your life about the classic movie, Oxford Blues sometime.

    3. Zika, deadly, bacteria-laden water, crime - In the run-up to the Rio games, much of the reporting was frightening in nature. Zika virus carrying mosquitoes were rampant, the waters for some of the competitions were horribly polluted and unsafe for the competitors, and if you strayed too far off course, you were likely to be mugged, or worse. Aside for a few, seemingly isolated issues, the games (so far) have been executed well, more or less.

    4. Judo - I watched one judo match. It lasted for four minutes, almost nothing happened, neither combatant scored a point, and the match was decided on the equivalent of 'yellow card warnings'. I've been at funerals that had more action and excitement.

    5. Golf and Tennis - Probably should not be in the Olympics, or perhaps should take a page from soccer and become Under-23 events, or something like that. The top tennis players and golfers in the word are colossally wealthy, and the source of their wealth has never been nor will ever be winning a medal at the Olympics. When the very best athletes at a sport don't really want to show up at the Olympics to compete in that sport, it is probably time to have a re-evaluation of the entire event.

    Underrated

    1. Rugby - I caught a fair bit of both the Men's and Women's Rugby (in the Olympics it is the 'Sevens' format), and just about every game was exciting, fast-paced, and blissfully over in about 30 minutes. Rugby Sevens might become the next big thing. After Tikka Masala flavored potato chips that is.

    2. Table tennis - Makes the underrated list as the top , 'I bet I could do that if I only had a couple of years to practice' Olympic sport. No, no, you can't. But it is still a really fun watch. Add a few red solo cups of cheap beer to the table and you have America's next great spectator sport. 

    3. Archery - Makes the underrated list solely for one reason - the cool as hell bucket hats that most of the archers wear.

    4. Javelin - Of all the 'throw this thing as far as you can' sports, the best has to be javelin. The USA would be better at this if the government hadn't banned lawn darts about 20 years ago. Lawn darts was how many an aspiring javelin thrower got their start as a 7 year-old. 

    5. Fencing - A lot of yelling, a lot of slashing at people with a sword, and a lot of normal-sized people competing that gives you at least a hint of (false) hope that someday you might be an Olympian too. I am all about the Fencing.

    Properly Rated

    1. Men's basketball - Pros: Most of the teams have several, or at least a few NBA players, and the overall talent level and competitiveness of the games has improved. Cons: It still is a little dull to watch the USA beat some over matched team by 45 points. 

    2. Swimming - Is it great as a USA citizen that we seem to win just about everything? Yes. Is it a little bit falling into Men's Basketball territory in that regard? Yes. And I hate the chlorine-heavy air that always seems to surround any indoor pool. And don't even get me started about what might be in that water.

    3. Team Handball - Sort of relatable because it seems like a combination of sorts between soccer and basketball. Sort of not relatable because after about 3 minutes you have no idea what is really going on. The one game I saw pitted Denmark v. Croatia who were wearing similarly colored uniforms and it was impossible to figure out who was who.

    4. Weightlifting - Would be on the 'underrated' list if not for the occasional gruesome injury. And it would definitely be on the underrated list if they somehow incorporated some of the classic 'World's Strongest Man' type challenges. It would be awesome if the Beer Keg Throw or the 'See how far you can pull a bus using a rope that you have to hold with your teeth' were Olympic sports.

    5. Race Walking - Ridiculous to look at on one hand, but on the other hand weirdly compelling.

    What do you think? Do I have it right? 

    Is this post itself over, under, or properly rated?

    Have a great weekend!

    Thursday
    Aug112016

    Every business is a talent business, retail edition

    Over coffee this morning I caught an interview with Macys CEO Terry Lundgren who was a guest on CNBC discussing the retailer's latest quarterly results, (which were surprisingly positive for a company that like many in the retail industry has been struggling of late).

    During the interview about the positive results and momentum that seem to have buoyed the company in the 2nd quarter of 2016, one of the CNBC reporters questioned Lundgren about the key drivers of this shift and hopeful turnaround in Macys business. Here's the question, (paraphrased a little), and then Lundgren's response, which I found really interesting.

    Reporter: :What is the most important thing you are doing to change the business, is it inventory management, is it physical changes to the stores, or is it the increased investment in digital and e-commerce?"

    Lundgren: "I think the biggest single thing that we did was that we decided to invest in people and putting more people back on the sales floor in advance of the performance of the business. So it was a bet so to speak. In a retail business like ours with so many stores, the biggest expense you have is your salesforce on your floors. So investing millions and millions of dollars back into that part of the business before the business turned around was the biggest bet that we placed in the beginning of the 2nd quarter. That to me, because I am watching what we call our 'Magic Scores', which are our customer service scores every single month now improving and going in the right direction. And I think that investment in people has had the biggest positive impact."

    There is a popular saying, I think that even has been repeated on this blog from time to time, that 'Every company is a tech company', alluding to the fact that transformative and disruptive technology-driven change has redefined business, markets, competition, service delivery, communication, and pretty much everything else. And while I do believe that sentiment is largely true, and the most successful companies will be the ones that can adapt to and exploit new technologies the fastest, we can't ever let the 'talent' part of the popular Culture--Strategy--Talent triangle go wanting.

    Is was surprising and refreshing to hear the CEO of huge organization attribute smart investments in talent as the primary driver of what he and Macys hopes to be a sustained turnaround in business fortunes.

    It's never all about new technology. It's never all about the best business strategy. And it's never all about assembling the best talent. It is all about finding the balance between all three, and knowing, as seems to be the case with Macys, when to shift investments and attention to shore up the side of the triangle that may be lacking, and the one that has the greatest opportunity to impact customers and results. 

    Every business a tech business today. Sure.

    But even if you don't buy that, you have to agree that every business ,truly, at the end of the day, is a talent business.