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    Tuesday
    Feb022016

    We value hard work, but we reward natural talent

    Of all the phrases used to describe a candidate or an employee, 'He/she is a hard worker' is probably one of the most valued by employers, colleagues, and the people in general. We like people that work hard. We value the effort, the grind, the grit of folks who show up, dig in, plow through - day in and day out. Some even think that 'working hard' is actually a skill akin to other technical or practical kinds of aptitudes that are often harder to find.

    After all, 'hard work', even if it is a skill, is probably one that can be 'learned' by just about everyone. In many ways you just have to decide to work hard and there it is, you are a hard worker. Doesn't exactly work that way for other skills like coding, painting, or hitting 3-point baskets.

    But as much as we value hard work,  a skill that is readily observable, some recent research suggests that we value (and reward) something more intangible much, much more - the ore opaque notion of 'natural talent.'

    Researchers Chia-Jung Tsay and Mahzarin Banaji examined what has been called the 'naturalness bias', the tendency to choose and reward so-called 'naturally talented' people over the classic 'hard-worker' in a series of experiments that were recently described in FastCo Design. Here is an excerpt from the piece: 

    "We are likely influenced by concepts such as the Protestant work ethic, and the American dream, and ideals such as a truer meritocracy, opportunity, and social mobility that can be achieved with enough hard work and motivation," says management scholar Chia-Jung Tsay of University College London, via email. "We may subscribe to these ideas, but our preference for and fascination with naturalness still seem to emerge through our actual choices."

    Tsay’s research has documented this tendency—which Malcolm Gladwell coined as the "naturalness bias"—across creative fields. A few years back, Tsay and Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji asked 103 professional musicians to rate two performers based on a written profile and clips of them playing Stravinsky's Trois Mouvements de Petrouchka. The two performers were actually the same person, with one profile tweaked to emphasize work ethic and the other made to highlight natural talent.

    In questionnaires, study participants claimed to value effort and practice over innate ability. But when it came time to rate the "two" performers, they gave the natural higher marks on talent, likelihood of future success, and value as a musical company hire, Tsay and Banaji reported in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In a follow-up, the researchers found that seasoned experts favored naturals even more than novice musicians did—a finding with troubling workplace implications, given that veterans tend to make hiring decisions.

    Did you catch that? Two performers, who were actually the same performer, and the one that was pitched as having some higher level of natural talent was rated more positively and favorably than the performer who was portrayed as someone whose achievements were a product of hard work. Additionally, the more experienced and 'senior' the evaluator, the more likely they were to reward the 'natural talent' over the hard worker.

    Really interesting implications for this data, particularly in the world of talent evaluation and hiring. If the 'naturalness' bias does exist in organizations, then they could be overlooking or discounting individuals that are totally qualified and capable of performing at a high level, if their history of 'hard work' is somehow diminished in value in the eyes of the talent evaluators.

    More interesting still is that while this research appears to suggest the existence of a bias towards 'natural talent', it seems like 'hard work' is much more reliable in the long run. 

    Let's toss it back to my favorite metaphor for talent and workplace comparisons - basketball.

    'Natural talent' may account for a high degree of accuracy shooting 3-point baskets. But this 'skill' also can come and go in the course of a game, season, and career - sometimes inexplicably. 

    Playing tough, solid, and aggressive defense however, is usually chalked up at least primarily to 'hard work', which tends to be much more reliable, repeatable, and predictable. 

    It can be kind of hard to 'see' natural talent in all kinds of fields. Hard work is a little easier to spot.

    Monday
    Feb012016

    Intelligent Technology

    Because my life is much, much less interesting than yours, I am spending my Sunday night doing two things: Watching NBA basketball and reading this - The Accenture Technology Vision 2016 report. 

    There is some really interesting information, research, and conclusions about the most important tech trends for the coming 3 - 5 years in the Accenture report, as well as a (probably unintentional) nod to my friends over at Ultimate Software as their slogan 'People First', is literally all over the Accenture report.

    Accenture identifies 5 big themes in their technology vision for organizations, and there is one in particular, actually Trend #1, 'Intelligent Automation', that I was most interested in, and wanted to explore a little bit. A few weeks ago I posted my 'What HR should be talking about in 2016' piece, and in that piece, (written over the holidays and before I became aware of the Accenture report), I had this to say about 'Intelligent Technology' - pretty much the same thing as 'Intelligent Automation':

    But this year, I hope that HR and HR tech expands not just the capability but the conversation in this area just a bit further, into something more akin to a kind of 'intelligent' set of tools and workflows that will help HR, managers, and employees complete processes, tasks, and hopefully allow them to make better decisions. This technology would not just predict the likelihood of a potential outcome, but would 'learn' from usage patterns, history, preferences, and more about what you (the employee) should do next, given a set of data and process conditions. That could mean surfacing the 'right' learning content when you get assigned to a new project, suggesting you make an internal connection with a specific colleague when you run a search in the corporate knowledge base for a specific topic, or if you are a manger, provide you intelligent recommendations about how to handle coaching conversations with your team members, adapted to their individual profiles and preferences. 

    Pretty heady stuff, right? I spent at least 20 minutes on that post. For real.

    Now let's take a look at the above-mentioned Accenture Technology Vision 2016 report and take a look at a bit of what they have to say about 'Intelligent Automation':

    On the surface it may appear to be a simple transfer of tasks from man to machine. But look a little closer. The real power of intelligent automation lies in its ability to fundamentally change traditional ways of operating, for businesses and individuals. These machines offer strengths and capabilities (scale, speed, and the ability to cut through complexity) that are different from—but crucially complementary to—human skills. And their increasing sophistication is invigorating the workplace, changing the rules of what’s possible so that people and their new digital co-workers can together do things differently. And do different things. 

    Machines and artificial intelligence will be the newest recruits to the workforce, bringing new skills to help people do new jobs, and reinventing what’s possible. 

    Although the two pull quotes are not exactly the same, mine is kind of narrow, and talks about some HR tech-specific use cases while Accenture is talking really big picture kinds of things, at their core they are really talking about the same things. Technology, automation, and intelligent solutions that will do what machines can do best, (collect, analyze, and synthesize large data sets), and which will in the most effective organizations combine with human intelligence, experience, and social understanding to lead to the most effective outcomes.

    I have to admit is was pretty cool to see the Accenture report this weekend and read that Intelligent Automation/Technology was featured so prominently in their take on 2016 as it was on my, HR-centric take from the beginning of the year. It feels kind of validating in a way. Now both Accenture and I could be wrong about this I suppose, but at least I don't feel crazy for positing the idea.

    Ok, enough, the Knicks are about to start. Check out the Accenture Technology Vision 2016 report for more information on this, and after you have checked it out, send a note to your HR Tech provider to see what, if anything they are working on towards a future of 'Intelligent Technology'.

    Have a great week! 

    Friday
    Jan292016

    GUEST POST: Girl Scout Cookies, Ranked

    Editor's Note: Today, in a very special event on the Steve Boese blog, we present a very, very rare guest post. 

    Today's post is from none other than the mighty Matt 'akaBruno' Stollak, Professor of Many Things at St. Norbert College, father or twins, founding member of The 8 Man Rotation, and all around swell guy. Matt's past is a little less clear, some say in 1935 he ran guns to Ethiopia, and in 1936 he fought in Spain on the loyalist side. I like to think he may have killed a man, but that's the romantic in me. 

    Nonetheless, and without delay, I present Matt's take on a very, very important topic: Girl Scout Cookies. Enjoy!

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

    Girl Scout Cookies, Ranked 

    By Matthew Stollak

    If you aren’t already aware, it’s Girl Scout Cookie season. If the Girl Scouts haven’t already been to your front door selling their wares, they are waiting outside your local supermarket, or a dutiful parent is pitching them at your office.

    I’m on record as stating that Girl Scout cookies are mediocre, but you’ll buy them anyway. So, if you have to purchase them, here’s the definitive 2016 ranking.

    12. Caramel deLites/Samoas – Controversial, I know. It has chocolate, it has caramel. But, it also contains the devil’s floss – toasted coconut. Worst!

    11. Cranberry Citrus CrispsWhat focus group demanded these? Is it still Thanksgiving?

    10. Lemonades – There are many great icings in the world…chocolate, vanilla….yet, you choose lemon?!?!?

    9. Savannah Smiles – You can try to cover the sour taste of lemon with powdered sugar, but it is still a fail. More like Savannah Frowns, I’m afraid.

    8. Rah-Rah Raisins - It’s horrible to reach for a chocolate chip cookie, only to find it is oatmeal raisin. Now add yogurt and make it mass-produced, and you have something not worth cheering about.

    7. Trios – Too much of everything….chocolate chips, peanut butter, oatmeal. Should work in theory, but the whole is less than its parts. (Steve here - agree, and oatmeal does not belong in cookies)

    6. Toffee-tastic – Rich, buttery cookies with golden toffee bits. Add chocolate and it would move up the charts.

    5. Trefoils – This is your basic shortbread cookie. Not bad, but it doesn’t wow you either.

    4. Thanks-A-Lot - They take the Trefoil and add fudge to the bottom. Plus, the embossed “Thank You” is in several languages. So, not only is it tasty, it’s educational as well.

    3. Do-Si-Dos/Peanut Butter Sandwich – Top 3, but could rise higher if they switched out the oatmeal cookie with the shortbread.

    2. Peanut Butter Patties/Tagalongs It’s a generic PB Twix. 

    1. Thin Mints – What else could be at the top? Especially out of the freezer, you know you’ll eat a whole sleeve.

    Steve here - Thanks Matt for weighing in on this important topic.

    And as always with these 'Ranked' posts, you could disagree, but you would be wrong.

    Have a great weekend!

    Thursday
    Jan282016

    PODCAST - #HRHappyHour 232 - Culture and Technology at Ultimate Software

    HR Happy Hour 232 - Culture and Technology at Ultimate Software

    Recorded Monday January 25, 2016 at Ultimate Software HQ, Weston, Fl

    Hosts: Steve Boese, Trish McFarlane

    Guest: Adam Rogers, CTO, Ultimate Software

    This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, while Trish McFarlane was on assignment, Steve Boese welcomed Adam Rogers, CTO from Ultimate Software to the show. Ultimate is a leading provider of HCM technology that has grown over the years from a few people sharing office space in a law office, to an almost 3,000 person-strong organization supporting thousands of customers in the US and around the world.

    But perhaps more important than Ultimate's technology innovation is their unique culture, which reinforces their commitment to their employees, their families, the Ultimate customers, and finally, their shareholders. Ultimate has a slogan, 'People First', and once you spend some time with Ultimate people, and hear them talk about what Ultimate represents, reinforces, and values, you will walk away understanding why and how they have won so many 'Best Places to Work' awards - with the signifying banners adorning the rafters of the basketball court that is in the lobby of the Ultimate HQ.

    On the show, Ultimate's CTO Adam Rogers shares his perspective and insights on the unique and refreshing Ultimate culture, how that culture informs hiring decisions, customer service and support, and even the way they approach building new and innovative HR technology solutions. Additionally, Adam shared some thoughts about the next evolution of predictive analytics technology for HR as well as some opportunities to innovate in 'commodity' solutions like payroll and employee self-service.

    You can listen to the show on the show page HERE, or using the widget player below (email and RSS subscribers will need to click through).

     

    This was an enormously fun show to do, and many thanks to Adam and the team at Ultimate for hosting the HR Happy Hour show this week.

    Reminder: you can subscribe to the HR Happy Hour Show on iTunes or using your favorite podcast app for Android or iOS. Just search for 'HR Happy Hour' to add the show to your subscriptions and you'll never miss a show.

    Tuesday
    Jan262016

    Dunbar strikes again

    This recent piece on CNET, You can only really count on 4 of your 150 Facebook friends, study says, a recap of some recently published research by none other than Robin Dunbar, (of Dunbar's number), reminded me of a piece I posted here almost 5 years ago. Long story short, once again Dunbar's essential observation and conclusion about the number and strength of personal relationships that a person can have and maintain, (around 150 in total), continues to be validated even in the age of constant connectivity and ubiquitous use of social networking platforms. 

    You can check out the CNET piece, and the link to the related research paper from Dunbar, and just for fun, I am going to re-run my almost 5 year old piece below as well. That Dunbar, he never stops being right it seems...

    In the Jungle, or on Twitter, Dunbar Still Has You Beat

    June 2011

    You might be familiar with Dunbar's number - the theoretical limit on the number of meaningful and stable social relationships that one can successfully maintain. First proposed by the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it asserts that the actual number of social relationships one can maintain ranges from 100 to about 230, with 150 as the commonly accepted value.Should I 'unfriend' Steve?

    Dunbar's original studies that led to the development of the concept of the 'number', were conducted on studies of the social activity of non-human primates, that as far as we can tell, did not have many Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Why do I toss in the social networking bit? Well, in this modern age of social networking, hyper-connectivity, and the ability to make some kind of connection, (meaningful or otherwise), with thousands upon thousands of people is now quite possible and fairly simple.

    Naturally the technological and social revolutions have led many to question or even claim that modern social networking technology can indeed finally enable individuals to effectively expand the actual number of social relationships they can successfully maintain, that in the age of Facebook and Twitter and the ease with which these tools allow essentially limitless connections to be made, that Dunbar's number might no longer apply.

    Recently Bruno Goncalves and a team of researchers from Indiana University set out to determine if indeed this was the case. They studies the actions and interactions and the networks of connections of over 3 million Twitter users over a period of 4 years, examining a grand total of over 380 million tweets. The researchers wanted to see if indeed among these 3 million users, they could discern patterns and evidence, (replies, conversations, sustained connections, etc.), that could prove that the long-accepted Dunbar limitation of 150 would indeed be more easily overcame, aided by the ease and speed and facilitated connection engine that is Twitter.

    Their findings? (below quote lifted directly from their paper's conclusion)

    Social networks have changed they way we use to communicate. It is now easy to be connected with a huge number of other individuals. In this paper we show that social networks did not change human social capabilities. We analyze a large dataset of Twitter conversations collected across six months involving millions of individuals to test the theoretical cognitive limit on the number of stable social relationships known as Dunbar's number. We found that even in the online world cognitive and biological constraints holds as predicted by Dunbar's theory limiting users social activities.

    I follow about 6,000 people on Twitter. I probably interact regularly with maybe 100 or 150 of them. Which is altogether normal and expected and not at all unexpected according to our friend Dunbar, the primates he studied, and the results seen from the recent research from Indiana University.

    The larger point in all this?

    I suppose keeping in mind that no matter how large and diverse and important seeming these giant networks of contacts, connections, followers, and friends we build online are to us, to our businesses and our personal lives, the technology itself has yet to do much to overcome some of the apparent laws of nature and biology.

    What do you think? Can you really have more than 150 'friends'?