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    Tech Things to Watch in 2013

    At the start of the New Year the marketing/branding/digital (I confess, I am not completely sure what exactly they do), firm JWT releases a really cool and interesting collection of '100 Things to Watch' for the upcoming year - a collection of new ideas, trends, technologies, societal shifts, etc. that are meant to stimulate thinking and generate discussion. Many of the 'things to watch' are kind of uber-trendy and destined to be largely unimportant and fleeting, (chia seeds, bee venom, and faux meat), but others, particularly the tech trends that JWT identifies have the potential to be more significant, enduring, and even influential in the design of workplaces and the nature in which work is performed. And we even had some fun talking about some of these items, 'Adult Playgrounds' in particular, on the HR Happy Hour Show last week.

    The entire JWT slide presentation is embedded below, (email and RSS subscribers may need to click through), and after the deck I'll pull a few of the 'things to watch' that are likely to be more relevant and meaningful to work and workplaces.


    So which of the 100 things should you as an HR and Talent pro be on the watch for?

     Here are just a few I think you should keep an eye on.

    11. Biometric Authentication - As a means to combat fraud and improve information security, systems of all kinds (building access, financial, smartphones), are moving toward biometric means (iris scans, fingerprints) of authentication. For organizations with particular security concerns, we may see a shift towards making employees access data and facilities with their bodies, rather than some complex passwords they have to leave posted on sticky notes on their desks.

    22. Data Scientists - The New Hotshots - So maybe you've heard of this little mega-trend known as 'Big Data' - well everyone else has too, and just about every organization is soon going to be wrestling with not just the technologies required to collect data, but with finding people with the right skill sets that can help them assess, analyze, interpret, and make 'Big Data' actionable. Have fun finding, (and affording) these geeky geniuses in 2013.

    39. Geofencing - This idea, the ability to target and message consumers who are in or near a particular location using smartphone GPS information has been around for some time. But in 2013, JWT sees it growing in use and importance, particularly in retail locations. But how about for recruiting? Could a technology that dynamically messages potential candidates at a conference or career fair be all that far off? 

    43. Human Centered Tech - This one is a bit related to the Biometric Authentication trend, if just a little more vague and esoteric. The basic idea is that technologies will increasingly adapt to their users, more fully, more flexibly, and by 'learning' about their users. Think about this trend in terms of HR systems you may have deployed today that have versions or interfaces for wide swaths of users, (managers, staff, executives). Going forward this trend

    80. Self-service -  Wow, self-service? Really? Haven't we had self-service all over the place for ages? Well, yes - but in 2013 JWT suggesting that we will see self-service in even more applications - tagging your own bags at the airport, monitoring your own vital signs, and handling even more support and service requests on our own. And even though we've had 'self-service' applications in HR forever, in 2013 and beyond whether it is due to advances in the technology, the prevalence of mobile devices, or the increased acceptance by all employees to 'do their own HR', we should expect to plan for even more self-service applications.

    What do you think? On the mark? Crazy?

    Time will tell.

    If you take a few minutes to have a look through the entire list, let me know what other 'Things to Watch in 2013' you think will impact the world of work.


    What's 'Study abroad' got to do with it?

    Quick piece for a busy Wednesday - take about 2 minutes and check out this summary on the Fashionista site, (and no, don't be surprised that I read Fashionista, I cast a pretty wide net to find good content), of a recent interview with J. Crew CEO and fashion retailing legend Mickey Wexler.

    Wexler offered some great nuggets of insight from his 40+ year career from really simple observations that we all know to be true but sometimes try to forget - "Marketing only works if the product does"; to takes on more fundamental elements of business and organizational strategy - "Mission statements are a waste of time. Just live by them."

    But the one bit of advice from Wexler that caught my attention and is probably most relevant for the talent professional is Wexler's take on evaluating talent - advice that he was careful to emphasize was applicable for his business, certainly has more fundamental and universal applicability. Here's his take first, and then I'll leave you with a question or two to consider:

    The person is a resume, not what’s on a piece of paper. Whoever gives advice about resumes in college should be dismissed. Titles don’t matter. GPAs don’t matter, nor does what school you go to. What matters is hard work, and emotional intelligence. People put ‘study abroad’ on their resume. I actually like when they don’t study abroad because that means they aren’t entitled. What about study abroad will make you a better J.Crew associate? I hire a lot of waiters, waitresses. Someone who’s successful has a background that’s not predictable.

    Great quote right? And one that I think, moving beyond the specifics of resume formatting and the relevance of particular academic credentials, gets to a really essential point about talent assessment and evaluation. Namely, a really deep and intrinsic understanding of what backgrounds and types of people are likely to accomplish two things at J. Crew. One, to identify who actually be successful at the company; and two, to determine who is likely to be the type of employee that others want to work with and will 'fit'.

    Again, for Wexler and his fashion retail business, 'study abroad' doesn't fit his model, for you and your business it might. The specifics of Study abroad and its value to a person's growth or their job candidacy are not the point, the point is whether or not you know if 'study abroad', (or any other precise indicator) is predictive of success at your company or not.

    So here is the question I promised - if the next resume that you review for one of your openings lists 'study abroad' as an accomplishment, does that matter at all in your assessment?

    Should it?

    Have a great Wednesday all!


    But he was great in the interview...

    This post probably will take 500 words to get to the point which is this: As a talent pro, or more specifically, as someone that has responsibility and obligation to make a career-defining hire, be very wary of a 'great interview' that can cause you to take short cuts in your process, unnecessarily cloud your thinking, and frankly, to make a hire today that if you had given it at least a couple of more days of consideration, you might not have made.

    So here is the backstory and yes, I am starting my official 'I am going to continue to write about sports and talent in 2013 campaign' with this post.Stretch

    The Monday immediately after the end of the NFL season is known as 'Black Monday', named as such for the normal purge and firing of anywhere from 5 -10 head coaches, (and their staffs) by losing or otherwise disappointing teams from across the league. This purge also sets off a bit of a frenzy of speculation, posturing, interviewing, and hiring by these same teams as they all seem to be pursuing many of the same individuals from what is (generally) a small and highly sought after candidate pool.

    One such NFL team caught up in the coaching game of musical chairs (again), was the Buffalo Bills, a team caught up in a decade-plus funk, and owners of the league's longest streak of missing the post-season playoffs. The Bills released their prior coach Chan Gailey on Black Monday, and led by newly empowered team executive Russ Brandon, (this coaching search and hire would be his first BIG decision and will likely define his tenure), set about what Brandon described would be 'exhaustive' and 'leave no stone unturned'.  

    This exhaustive search lasted about three days, and resulted in the hire of Syracuse University Head Coach (and former NFL assistant), Doug Marrone, who in four years at Syracuse had won exactly as many games he had lost, (25-25). Depending on your point of view, the decision to hire Marrone, certainly not considered to be among the most desirable of the head coaching talent available, was described as 'curious', a 'stretch', and with 'Who?'

    The great sports site Deadspin ran a piece that compiled reactions to the Bills' hiring of Marrone, and I wanted to call out the pull quote from the Sporting News take on the decision:

    When Marrone interviewed, he must have been extremely impressive. Marrone wasn't even the hottest college coach on the market

    Ouch. And there were other similar kinds of reactions from various media outlets and Bills fans - a mix of surprise, disappointment, and rationalization that a .500 college coach was the right person to tap to rebuild and transform a moribund NFL team.

    Obviously, only team executive Russ Brandon and perhaps a select few other team officials know what was really asked and said in Marrone's interview that was 'extremely impressive' enough for the team to conclude its 'exhaustive' search after three days and offer Marrone the position, which for him, represents a huge step up in pressure, expectations, and compensation. But Brandon has to know his own performance, (and likely his employment), is largely riding on whether or not Marrone ends up succeeding as Bills coach - and as a talent professional well, that is quite a bit of stock to put into what must have been an 'extremely impressive' interview.

    Maybe it's just me, but I worry a little bit, or am just a bit leery when I hear of coaches, heck any other candidates that are described as being 'great interviews'. It strikes me as just a half-step above being a 'snappy dresser', and we all know how much that helps win games.

    Happy Tuesday!


    Is it a skills gap or a bias against the long-term unemployed?

    I'd like to call your attention to what is essentially more wood for the fire of the seemingly endless 'Skills gap' debate - a summary of some recent research by two Northeastern University academics, William Dickens and Rand Ghayad, titled 'It's not a skills mismatch: Disaggregate evidence on the US-unemployment-vacancy relationship' posted this past weekend on the Vox site.  

    You should take a few minutes to read the piece from Dickens and Ghayad - it provides an interesting and somewhat alternative method of examining the alleged skills gap problem - the scenario that so many corporations, government agencies, and educational institutions seem to take as truth. Namely that one significant reason (perhaps the most important reason) for persistently high unemployment, even after the official recession was over, is that a fundamental 'skills gap' is preventing organizations from filling many of the millions of current vacancies that exist in the USA.US Beveridge Curve 2004 - 2010

    Dickens and Ghayad analyze the behavior of the so-called 'Beveridge Curve', the relationship between unemployment and job vacancies that is an indicator of the efficiency of the labor market. As you'd expect, the Beveridge Curve suggests that as the vacancy rate increases, the corresponding unemployment rate decreases (in an efficient labor market), as more people find work in an environment of increased opportunity.

    But in the months following the end of the recession, the data points that connect the level of job vacancies and the reported unemployment rate continue to lie outside of the range of expectations suggested by the Beveridge Curve, implying some kind of inefficiency in the labor market. The most common explanation for this discrepancy is the 'skills gap', simply that the nature of work is changing so rapidly, that the skills and experience that employers demand simply can't be met efficiently by what skills and experience that the unemployed job seekers present.

    Dickens and Ghayad take the Beveridge Curve data a bit further however, by examining how the relationship between increased job vacancies correlates to the unemployment rate for multiple stages of unemployment, from the short term, (less than 5 weeks), to the long-term, (more than 26 weeks). The results of this analysis are startling. Essentially the researchers found that only at the longest unemployment durations, does the Beverdige Curve 'jump' or shift.  At the shorter and medium term unemployment periods the data shows consistency with the historical trends, i.e. as job vacancies increase, unemployment rates decrease.

    Said more simply - as the economy continues to recover, and more job vacancies get created, the expected reduction in the unemployment rate implied by the Beveridge Curve has held except for the long-term unemployed cohort, defined as being unemployed for greater than 26 weeks. For this group of unemployed workers, and this group only, job vacancy increases have not resulted in the expected and historical level of unemployment reduction. The authors contend then, that a fundamental 'skills gap' problem can't be the cause of aggregate high unemployment, otherwise we would see this effect across the entire range of unemployment durations, not just the longer term. From the Vox piece:

     It is possible that the long-term unemployed are increasingly made up of workers whose skills are not suited to available jobs. However, if this were the case why wouldn’t we see some outward shift in the short-term relationship as well? Furthermore, the fact that the vacancy-unemployment relationship has shifted in all industries when only the workers who were previously employed in those industries are considered calls the mismatch hypothesis into question as well.

     Another possibility is that the long-term unemployed in this recession may be searching less intensively, either because jobs are much harder to find or because of the availability of unprecedented amounts and durations of unemployment benefits.

    This seems like a more likely explanation, though if a drop in search intensity is due only to difficulty finding jobs it again raises the question of why we wouldn’t see that at shorter durations as well.
    It is interesting and challenging data for sure, but it has some pretty important implications if the author's conclusions are correct. Mainly, that the recovery is passing right by the long-term unemployed. Whether it is job search fatigue and discouragement, or a more troubling employer bias against these people, either way, if this recovery is effectively creating a large and growing class of unemployable (for myriad and hard-to-determine reasons), then even as the total unemployment rate seems to stabilize, the problems we face as a country and an economy will persist.
    What do you think - does this 'skills gap' really only exist, (if at all), once someone has been out of work for quite a long time? 

    Lessons from an Ad Man #1

    Over the holidays I finished off an old book that had been on my 'I really should read that' list for ages - Confessions of an Advertising Man by ad industry legend David Ogilvy. The 'Confessions', first issued in 1963, provide a little bit of a glimpse into the Mad Men world of advertising in the 50s and 60s.

    Ogilvy's book is a little short on the dramatics and indulgence portrayed on Mad Men, but it is long on practical, insightful, and simple advice for running a business, managing people, serving customers, and more.  Since I love to share such nuggets of solid business advice, and I need to create a few more blog 'series' to help keep this little blog updated, this post will be the first in a semi-regular series called 'Lessons from an Ad Man.'

    So with the too long setup out of the way, on to Lesson #1 - this one on what fourteen years of running his ad agency taught Ogilvy what his, as the 'top man' in the organization should consider his primary responsibility:

    After fourteen years of it, I have come to the conclusion that the top man has one principle responsibility: to provide an atmosphere where creative mavericks can do useful work.

    Like much of the insights in 'Confessions', Ogilvy doesn't really knock you out with how incredibly profound or ground-breaking his thinking on management was. But if you pause to consider that he was postulating about this idea of management as an enabler of creative accomplishment back in the early 60s then the observation seems a bit more meaningful.

    Face it, 50 years later it is pretty easy to find any number of management and leadership gurus and though leaders advising the very same thing. Find the best, most creative and talented minds. Carefully construct an atmosphere where they can and will be motivated to work on what drives them. And finally, be brave and smart enough to stay (enough) out of their way.

    A simple recipe for success, no? 

    Ogilvy had it figured out in 1960.  How long do you think it will take the rest of us to catch on?

    Have a great weekend!