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    HRE Column: The Three Things I Think About the Most When Thinking About HR Tech

    I have been a little slack in posting links back to my monthly column over at HR Executive Online but fear not gentle readers, I have not abandoned this essential public service.

    So without further delay, here is the link to my latest Inside HR Tech piece at HR Executive - 3 HR Tech Topics I Think About the Most.

    From the piece:

    I have recently had many conversations with speakers, exhibitors and HR tech-industry experts to finalize sessions, schedules and plans for the HR Technology Conference in September. In one of these conversations, a representative from a major HR-technology provider asked me an interesting question that I don’t recall ever being asked before: “When you are thinking about HR technology, what do you think about the most?”

    At the time, I tried to stammer out a reasonably coherent answer, as I was not expecting the question. I’ve been thinking about it ever since and decided it would be a good topic to explore here, because elements of HR tech I consider may also influence how you think your current and future tech.

    With that said, here are the categories I most often come back to when I think about HR tech.

    The War for Talent

    Regular readers might recall that I think about, talk about and write about macro labor-market data and trends almost compulsively. The monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics “JOLTS” report is the highlight of most months for me, and I track data points like the labor-force-participation rate and the quits rate like I used to track the batting averages of the mid-1980s New York Mets.

    You probably don’t have to be a labor-market wonk to know the U.S. market continues to tighten and become more challenging for employers. Unemployment is nearing low, “full-employment” levels and the number of posted, open jobs—as well as the rate of voluntary separations (or “quits”)—is at all-time high since the BLS began its measurements. Essentially, most, if not all, employers are facing difficulty for finding, attracting and retaining workers.

    So back to the HR-technology angle. When I think about HR technology I tend to first think about how a specific technology can help an organization better compete in this extremely difficult environment...

    Read the rest at Human Resource Executive Online...

    And remember to subscribe to get my monthly Inside HR Tech column via email on the subscription sign-up page here. The first 25 new subscribers get a new set of steak knives. Well, maybe. 

    Thanks and have a great day!


    A (slight) pause in the robot job takeover

    Quick report for the last day of July from the robots are taking all the jobs frontier. It looks like, at least for now, one of the important, (and widely held) jobs that has seemed most vulnerable to eventual robot takeover may remain the province of humans a little bit longer.

    The job is over the road truck driver, a job that has been in the news plenty lately, mostly in the context of pretty significant labor shortages. Shipping companies and manufacturers are having a hard time recruiting new truck drivers into what is a demanding profession, the existing supply of truckers are starting to age out of the workforce, and efforts to improve pay and conditions for truckers, (which in theory helps with recruiting and retention), have so far had mixed results.

    These factors, combined with the seeming dozens of high tech companies actively working on self-driving transportation technologies have led many industry observers to predict that self-driving trucks and associated technologies would sooner than later begin to be introduced into the industry. It makes sense for sure, the combination of a human labor replacing opportunity, with a technology that has been in development for quite some time, and a clear economic need that continues to grow have created what most industry experts considered a kind of perfect storm for truck drivers. In fact, all the coverage and noise about how the profession of truck driving is doomed, (for people), probably is contributing to the current truck driver shortfall. Who wants to enter an industry where 5 or 10 years from now you'll be replaced with a self-driving truck?

    But some news broke a couple of days ago that may give this entire narrative pause. Our pals at Uber, long-considered one of the leaders in developing self-driving trucks and technology is stepping back from their development efforts. From a piece covering the news in Venture Beat:

    Uber is shifting resources away from the self-driving truck unit within its Advanced Technologies Group, the company announced today in an email to reporters. For the time being, it’s ceasing development on the autonomous freight platform it acquired from autonomous tech company Otto.

    “We’ve decided to stop development on our self-driving truck program and move forward exclusively with cars,” Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, said in a statement. “We recently took the important step of returning to public roads in Pittsburgh, and as we look to continue that momentum, we believe having our entire team’s energy and expertise focused on this effort is the best path forward.”

    It's a pretty interesting move by Uber, who has had a bunch of other problems to deal with over the last couple of years, but to shift their self-driving tech development and focus from trucking to cars probably indicates the trucking problem is much tougher to solve than they realized.

    Truck drivers, as it has been reported, do plenty of other things besides keep the vehicle between the white lines on the freeway. Load inspection and balancing, monitoring vehicle performance, consideration of local weather and traffic conditions, and finally, negotiating the often tricky and challenging last miles of a delivery and plenty more. Uber likely has found that solving all of these problems and delivering true 'self-driving' trucking solutions has turned out to be harder than it seems.

    And that is probably a lesson we can take in other domains as well. As robots and technolgy advance in capability, it can be easy to underestimate all the added value and unique value that humans bring to their work. It's not easy building a self-driving truck that can replace a human truck driver.

    It's probably not going to be easy to build technology to replace you or me either. (Let's hope).

    Have a great day!


    Job Titles of the Future: Chief Non-alcohol Beverages Officer

    A quick dispatch for a middle of Summer Friday from the often-imitated, easily duplicated Job Titles of the Future series. For the latest offering I submit a job title I've never seen before - 'Chief Non-alcohol Beverages Officer'. For details, see this piece from Fortune:

    American beer drinkers keep shunning Bud, and Anheuser-Busch InBev is going to extreme measures to meet their changing tastes.

    The brewer announced Thursday that revenues in the U.S. had slumped by 3.1% in the second quarter as sales of its major brands—Budweiser and Bud Light—continued to drop. U.S. beer sales dropped 5% by volume.

    At the same time, it announced that it will create a new executive position—chief non-alcohol beverage officer—as a response to Millennials and “Generation Z” drinking less than their elders. Lucas Herscovici, currently global marketing VP of strategic functions, will fill the role. Nonalcoholic drinks constitute some 10% of AB InBev’s volumes, and it’s aiming to boost the proportion of low and no-alcohol sales to 20% of the total by 2025, reports theFinancial Times. But in the second quarter, the category fell a damaging 43%, according to The Wall Street Journal.

    This announcement about the new C-Level job role from Anheuser-Busch InBev was interesting to me for three reasons:

    1. It shows, at least at the surface, that the organization needs to react to changes in customer attitudes, tastes, and preferences with a significant and high-level talent/people strategy response. In the past, I guess forever, Anheuser-Busch InBev didn't need to consider this market and this role. Their business was selling beer. Now their business is changing to one that is more about meeting the customer's needs/desires for refreshment - a wider, deeper, (and maybe for them in the long run), a more lucrative market.

    2. This shift in Anheuser-Busch InBev's business is another great example and reminder of the challenges that all kinds of legacy, established businesses have when trying to adapt to shifts in customer attitudes. The company knows that it needs to focus more on non-alcohol beverages moving forward, but at the same time has to try and protect and strengthen its core, legacy regular beer business. Becoming more nimble and agile to chase new markets while at the same time having to rely on declining core businesses for profits and cash flow is the classic big company challenge. I am a fan of many Anheuser-Busch InBev products, so I am hoping they navigate these challenges successfully.

    3. It's the summer, it's just about the weekend, and an article about a beer company essentially just drew me in. Hope you have a great weekend, have a cold one if that's your thing, and Cheers! 


    No more free lunch, at least for some tech workers

    The on-site, catered, or in-house chef-prepared free lunch (and potentially even breakfast, dinner, and endless snacks and drinks) has long been a stable of high-tech companies all over the country, but is most typically centered on the Silicon Valley and San Francisco startup scenes.

    Free meals and snacks have become so commonplace (and celebrated), that many companies see the benefit/perk as simply a cost of doing business in order to attract and retain the best talent, (and probably to keep them on-site and working longer hours, and less distracted throughout the day). Heck, most of us are too busy to do much more than have a sandwich and an Diet Dr. Pepper at out desks for lunch anyway - who has time to head out to a restaurant? So making that grab and go and devour lunch in 12 minutes routine much more satisfying by making the food both free and delicious at least gives many tech workers a benefit that the rest of us can only admire from afar.

    Well if some Mountain View and San Francisco public officials get their way, the free lunch benefit may finally succumb to the old maxim 'There's no such thing as a free lunch.' Details of what these city leaders have in mind come from a recent piece on Business Insider - San Francisco Bay Area Cities are Cracking Down on Free Food at Facebook and Other Tech Companies:

    It's no secret that Facebook employees love their office meals. On Instagram, there are countless photos of free meals — from sushi to tacos to coffee waffles — served at Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, California.

    But come this fall, when the tech giant moves to a new Mountain View office complex called the Village, that perk will no longer exist.

    That's because the city is prohibiting companies from fully subsidizing meals inside the Village, a rule that could spread to other Bay Area cities in the future. Free food is a popular perk at tech companies throughout San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

    On Tuesday, San Francisco legislators proposed a similar ban, the San Francisco Examiner reports. If passed, it would adjust zoning laws to bar new construction of on-site workplace cafeterias. (The ban wouldn't be retroactive, however, so on-site food at companies like Google and Twitter would still be available.)

    A quick look at the details of the rules in Mountain View and the proposal in San Francisco do show that there are or could be at least some decent-sized loopholes that companies can walk through in order to keep providing employees free lunch. Companies already providing the perk are exempt from the new rules, and the "fully subsidized" language in the rule seems to open up the opportunity for companies to at least heavily subsidize or discount food they bring into the office for employees.

    But having said that, let's contemplate for a moment what might happen if these rules/bans actually do stick and new companies or new developments from existing companies discover that the on-site free lunch truly gets eliminated for their workers. 

    Would there be some kind of a worker revolt? An "We Demand Our Avocado Toast and Cold Brew" march on City Hall? Would some workers actually leave or refuse to join a tech company that actually made employees leave the office and buy their own food? Might a tech company or two simply relocate or decide to build their new facility in a more "free food friendly" location?

    Why am I asking so many questions about free lunch? Probably because I have not worked anywhere that offered such an awesome perk.

    Because if I did, I'd probably still be working there. 

    What do you think, should governments be regulating the perks that companies can offer their workers?

    Sounds like a bit of an overreach to me. Now you will have to excuse me, I have to go make my own lunch.

    Have a great day!


    PODCAST: #HRHappyHour 331 - Accountability, Culture, and Workplace Investigations

    HR Happy Hour 331 - Accountability, Culture, and Workplace Investigations

    Hosts: Steve BoeseTrish McFarlane

    Guest: Dana Barbato, InvestiPro

    Sponsorsed by Virgin Pulse - www.virginpulse.com

    Listen to the show HERE

    This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, hosts Steve Boese and Trish McFarlane talk about workplace investigations with guest Dana Barbato, Founder and CEO of InvestiPro, a cloud-based employee relations platform that supports HR through employee incident reporting, automated workplace investigations, and timely prevention analytics. On the show we talked about the current climate of HR and workplace investigations, how it probably has never been a more important topic in HR, (think about Uber, Intel, Papa John, and so many more current examples), and how when done right - workplace investigations can strengthen an organization's culture, create accountability, and show employees how much the organization is committed to their values and mission.

    Dana shared some of the most important things to remember when carrying out effective investigations, and how modern technologies can assist HR leaders in creating the consistency needed to undertake the investigative process, and reach the best and most fair outcomes.

    Additionally, we had a heated debate on the merits or demerits of flavored or 'stunt' Oreo cookies and the importance of air conditioning in the summer.

    You can listen to the show on the show page here, on your favorite podcast app, or by using the widget player below:

    This was a really interesting show, thanks Dana for joining us.

    Remember to subscribe to the HR Happy Hour Show wherever you get your podcasts - just search for 'HR Happy Hour'.