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    Culture, Wellness, and the Soda Machine

    I like to believe that in the workplace almost every form of communication, design, and subtle messaging has the potential to offer some kind of insight or clues to the organization's true culture and values.  

    I mainly like to believe this because it provides the justification for an almost endless string of 'What your company (insert any object, policy, statement, product, etc.) says about your culture/values/mission' kind of blog posts. This is especially important on the Monday following a long holiday weekend, and my only other idea for today's post was going to be titled 'What your company can learn from the Knicks gutty, double overtime win over the Pistons this past Sunday', which for some reason is my strongest memory forcing its way through a 72-hour turkey haze.

    It was the lingering effects of the tryptophan coma that led to a mid-morning trip to the office soda machine, to fuel up for the next round of meetings. Meetings that while important, had the potential to take the mind back to Danilo Gallinari's back-to-back 3-point bombs in the second overtime that sealed the Knick win.  (You really should check the replay on NBA.com).

    At right, is a picture of the aforementioned soda machine.  A very solid and concise headline 'Cold Drinks', followed by two rows of assorted beverages.  The top row, the diet versions of Coke, Mountain Dew, and Pepsi.  Bottom (and less desirable from a product placement point of view), full sugared and caffeinated Coke, Ginger Ale (does anyone at work crave a Ginger Ale?), orange juice, and finally bottled water.

    Nine choices in all, with DC and the Diet Dew getting the coveted prime slots on the top row, (and hogging up two spots each).  Out of the nine total choices (seven really), only two would be considered healthy options, with the majority of the selections falling in to the 'wake up, crank out some work, but keep the weight off, fatty' category.

    Is there really a message in the drink or snacks that fill up the vending machines? Does the organization subtly or even overtly signal what is really and truly important by the food and drinks it makes readily available to the employees? Am I reading way too much into this, and the real truth is that an outside company services and re-stocks the machines and simply supplies them with what people want, and what sells? Is there really a market for vending machine ginger ale?

    Lots of questions for the sluggish Monday following a long holiday weekend.  However, I have just one more - 

    Should I have just punted and posted about the Knick game?


    Family Recipes

    It is Thanksgiving, the day when when most of us in the USA gather with friends and family to share a great meal, watch football, and doze off on the sofa, while making sure we connect with and share stories and feelings with those closest to us.  I find I emote much more fully when watching football and dozing off.

    But truly the best part of the holiday is the food, and the way that shopping, preparing, serving, and decompressing from the over-indulging cements our relationships with our family and friends, and how these activities form traditions.  To me, and I think to many others as well, it is the food itself that serves as the glue, and maintains an important and prominent place in our family shared memory.

    We don't look back (or ahead in anticipation), for stuffing, mashed potatoes, or pie.  We remember and anticipate Grandma's stuffing, Aunt Snooky's potatoes, (yes, I had an Aunt Snooky), and the proverbial Mom's apple pie. It doesn't really matter if in our travels around the world we have sampled apple pie in likely dozens of other places, with the high probability that at least a few of these not-Mom's apple pies were actually better than the same old version Mom would trot out year after year, served in the same dish, using the same china, and accompanied by a fresh cup of Maxwell House. 

    Of course Mom's pie (and stuffing, and sweet potatoes and green bean casserole) will always hold the place as the best you ever had. So what if it isn't completely about the taste.  Everyone knows this is the case, and quite frankly it isn't all that novel or even interesting.

    But I did hear something else about this I do think is interesting. Turns out in certain families the older women, (Mom, Grandma, Aunt Betty, etc.), never like to fully and completely share the details of these legendary family recipes. Ask Grandma about her stuffing and she would share some of the secrets, but would be careful to leave a crucial ingredient out, or fail to mention a little trick or nuance in the preparation that would be impossible to guess, and that serves to distinguish the dish somehow in a unique and personal way.  The person telling me this story said the reason why the matriarchs don't like to give up all the secrets of their signature dishes was so that they could continue to be known for not just their ability to cook, but for their singular and non-repeatable ability to create 'Aunt Snooky's Stuffing'.  Anyone can make stuffing. But only Aunt Snooky could make her stuffing, and as long as she could continue to produce the magic each year, her place in the family hierarchy and lore was secure.  

    I had never thought about this 'family exclusivity of recipe secrets' before I heard the theory, but looking back I think I agree with the premise, and have seen the theory in action in my family. Like most of us, my Mom had a few of her recipe secrets as well.  At Thanksgiving she always hosted, did all the cooking, and made sure that everyone left satiated, groggy, and happy.  Her 'secret' dish was her stuffing.  It was fantastic.  And she (as far as I know) never had a formally written recipe for its preparation.  But every year it came out the same, fantastic way. Over the years people would say, 'Please Joan, you have to give me the recipe for your stuffing, it is the best I have ever had.' These enquiries were always brushed off by my mother, she was happy, but also proud and protective of her secrets. She promised to give away the recipe once she retired from hosting the holiday, a date she always reminded us, was many years away.

    The first Thanksgiving after she passed away was, as you would expect, sad and kind of uneventful. The family was still coming to terms with the permanence of her absence, and not really in the frame of mind for a celebration.  I don't really remember much about the day or meal, save for being glad when it was over.  As the years have progressed (my Mom died in 2003), and as new combinations of people, places, and traditions have developed, Thanksgiving has once again been restored to a happy, food-filled day.

    But no one knows how, exactly, to duplicate Mom's stuffing.  She never shared the recipe, never revealed her secrets. She, I suppose, was successful in keeping 'Joan's Stuffing' as a legendary fixture in the family history. We will never have it again, because no one really knows precisely how to mix, measure, prepare, and serve the dish the way she did for all those years.

    What she did not fully understand, even if she had carefully recorded the recipe, and made sure that the next generation could precisely and honorably replicate the dish, it still would always be her dish. The stuffing, the pie, the potatoes - whatever, they are just food. The legacy of Mom and Grandma isn't about food, it's about how they took care of you, and your brothers and sisters, and everyone else that they touched. What makes me sad it that I don't think we let the Moms and Grandmas know this often enough, and they feel by clinging to their secret recipes we won't be able to forget them.

    My Mom made her stuffing one day each year, she took care of all of us every day, all year.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone - and Mom's, share your recipes!


    Can I get the Cliff's Notes version?

    Before the days of Google and YouTube and online ‘note-sharing’ sites,  the enterprising high school or college student, tasked with reading a long book or mastering (at least well enough to pass the test), a complex subject had only two choices.  One, actually read the entire 23,000 pages of ‘Anna Karenina’ or two, head down to the local bookstore and pick up the Cliff’s Notes version.  The Cliff’s Notes hit all the high points - characters, plot, themes - all in an easy to digest neat little package.  

    The Cliff’s Notes ‘study guides’ were launched in the US in 1958, and were meant to serve as a supplement (yeah, right), to the original texts that many students struggled to plow through and comprehend.  Naturally students began substituting flipping through the Cliff’s Notes as a substitute for reading the ‘real’ books, and was born a what has become a rich and long history of sloppily structured term papers and reports, bound together by shallow plot and character analysis, large fonts, and wide margins.  

    Aside - in later years the ‘Let’s rent the movie version and watch that’ strategy began to take some of the shine off the Cliff’s Notes gambit. While even less of a commitment of time and energy, the movie version approach led to a new set of issues.  Namely, the creative licence sometimes employed by film directors that makes significant and material changes to the plot, characters, and even ending of the source material.  Witness the professor’s comments on my 5-page opus on Malamud’s The Natural - ‘I know you only watched the movie’.

    But even though generations of students have used the Cliff’s Notes (and other shortcuts) for other than their noble and intended purposes, that doesn’t mean that the drivers that lead to taking those shortcuts (lack of time, inability to connect the material and effort required to a tangible benefit, sheer humdrum nature of most of the works), are not valid or real.  In fact, many of those same reasons apply in the real, grown-up world or work as well.  Whether it is company sponsored training and development course materials, the content of your voluminous new employee onboarding manual, or even the latest vanity book published by your CEO - most of us feel already overwhelmed with information coming from all angles and multiple sources to realistically digest more data, especially in large chunks.

    We’re all too busy in our email inboxes all day long anyway. Email we notice.  The CEO’s book,  the 79 slide ‘2011 Planning’ PowerPoint deck that someone nicely printed for us, or the 37 archived HR Happy Hour podcasts on our iPhones don’t seem to get the attention they deserve. But maybe in smaller, more easily digestible pieces, this content would have a better chance of being seen, heard, and marked.

    Which is all a long (we really need an editor around here), lead up to the main reason for this post. An online service called ‘Daily Lit’.  Daily Lit is a service that delivers books in easily digestible daily email or RSS subscription formats.  You sign up, choose a book from the selection of about 1,000 titles (lots of Seth Godin for whatever reason), and start receiving a daily message or update in your RSS reader with the first installment of the selected book.

    Why read a book via email or RSS? From the Daily Lit FAQ’s:

    Because if you are like us, you spend hours each day reading email but don't find the time to read books. DailyLit brings books right into your inbox in convenient small messages that take less than 5 minutes to read. This works incredibly well not just on your computer but also on a Treo, Blackberry, Sidekick or whatever the PDA of your choice.

    All in all, a pretty cool idea and interesting service.  And I think one that could be a lesson to those of us that are charged with workplace communications in their various forms.  You spend ages planning, developing, and promoting your content.  You want, and in many cases need, employees to consume and understand.  But if your delivery mechanisms do not match the employee’s preferred and potential inclinations for consumption, you may as well lock all your creations in the file room, never to be seen or heard again.  I am not necessarily advocating turning all your communications into a series of bite-sized daily emails; the last thing many of you want to do is hit your employee population with more email.  But what does seem clear that that good and important content alone may not be enough, the methods of delivering that content might be just as important, and for employees buried all day long in their email inboxes, they might not have time to look up and notice anyway.



    Workday 12 - Working for you

    If you have any interest at all in Human Capital Management software then by now you are familiar with Workday, a provider of Enterprise Resource Planning solutions to mid-size and large organizations.  Founded in 2005, by industry legend and pioneer Dave Duffield, and former PeopleSoft Vice Chairman Aneel Bhusri, Workday has experienced early success and remarkable growth, leveraging the Software as a Service (SaaS) delivery model to push innovation and new capability to market and in the hands of its customer base faster than it’s traditional on-premise deployed competitors (SAP and Oracle/PeopleSoft) can match.

    I don’t need to repeat the Workday story again here, but the general narrative is this: by building a modern, next generation ERP/HCM solution from scratch, taking advantage of SaaS deployment to rapidly iterate and deploy new features and capabilities, and lastly (but perhaps most importantly), by giving mid-size and large global customers a real choice outside of the ERP trinity of SAP, Oracle E-Business Suite, or Oracle PeopleSoft), Workday has become the most interesting company in enterprise technology in the last 5 years.

    Recently Workday released the latest version of the suite, Workday 12.  The team at Workday was nice enough to give me a briefing and demonstration of a few of the new features in this latest release.  And there are lots of new features in the HCM and Talent Management areas.  But during the demonstration one new feature in particular, called ‘Faceted Search’, stood out for me, and I think provides some insight on what has been one of the traditional failures of big, enterprisey technology solutions, and perhaps gives us a glimpse at what a better and more flexible enterprise solution landscape might look like.

    With Faceted Search, Workday provides the ability for line managers, project managers, HR leaders, talent planners - pretty much anyone with the responsibility for finding, assessing, and deploying the ‘right’ people to the ‘right’ roles, projects, and assignments; to flexibly and with a high degree of personalization locate, tag, and take relevant actions on a group of resources. These groups can be created on the fly, in real-time, and shared as needed and desired across the organization.

    One use case might be for an HR Talent Planner to run an advanced search for all Director level employees that are high performers, but have compensation below the average for their peer group.  

    Screen 1 - Search results with corresponding user-defined tag

    The talent planner can immediately create a custom ‘tag’ or grouping of the selected employees, e.g., ‘Retention Risk - Directors’, and from there with one-click a number of actions can be launched for the new talent pool’  - start a development plan, initiate a one-time bonus, or add to a project resource list, etc.  

    Screen 2 - Launching a targeted action on behalf of newly defined Talent Pool

    This is cool and noteworthy not just because of the slick user interface and the powerful functionality, but because it allows the talent planner to make the system adapt to the way he/she needs it to work, and not the other way around. Identifying the target population, creating the search, modifying the search results, augmenting the results with descriptive meta-data (the tag), and finally taking specific and targeted actions based on this brand new construct (the Retention Risk - Directors group), supports the talent professional in their needs and the needs of most organizations to better understand their talent, to deploy that talent faster and more efficiently, and to adapt to changing conditions and requirements.

    Look, I am not so naive to know that for many organizations the exceedingly hard work of performance management, compensation planning, and talent assessment would all (or mostly) need to be in place before they could fully leverage this kind of powerful capability to turn the information into action.  But, I do think that by allowing more user control of the experience, the definitional data, and with the ability to rapidly and broadly share and socialize these user-created constructs, that organizations will have more opportunity to take advantage of these kinds of advanced and powerful capabilities.

    There are numerous reasons why (for most users) traditional enterprise systems suck.  Having to change the way you want to work to adapt to an inflexible, rigid process and structure is certainly chief among said reasons. Rigiditiy and repeatability is great when the process is paying bills or calculating quarterly taxes; it isn’t so great when the question to be answered is how to find, deploy, and reward the ‘right’ people to the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time.  The answer to that question changes every day, and tools like Workday’s Faceted Search are a step towards providing solutions that can help talent professionals come up with the right answers.

    Thanks very much to Leighanne Levensaler and the team at Workday for the briefing last week.



    The Wellness Show Recap (like an actuarial shell game)

    Last night on the HR Happy Hour show we talked about the topic of organizational 'Wellness' programs and initiatives with a fantastic and smart panel of guests - Tanya Barham, CEO of Recess Wellness; Fran Melmed, Owner of Context Communications; and Greg Matthews, Director at WCG Consulting.

    You can listen to the archive of the show page here, or using the widget player below:

    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on Blog Talk Radio


    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on Blog Talk Radio


    Here is a quick rundown of the show topics and main ideas:


    Since organizations tend to communicate and promote their wellness programs most actively around the annual Benefits Open Enrollment period, it can be easy for employees and even HR professionals to logically group the two activities together, and to forget (or at least to de-emphasize), wellness initiatives once Open Enrollment is complete. Fran made a great point about Open Enrollment being about 'Choosing' benefits, while Wellness is about 'Using' benefits.

    In the minds of the panel, coupling the two efforts is a mistake, for while Open Enrollment is 'transactional', wellness has to become 'habitual'. Wellness is really more about 'life', not a delineated and time-bound program.  If the only time of the year that program designers, HR pros, and employees think about and communicate the wellness message is at Open Enrollment time, then the efforts are likely to have minimal impact and lasting effect.  The other important point about sustainability of wellness initiatives is that they have to connect with the WIIFM requirement, i.e., the 'What's in it For ME?'.  And the WIIFM has to resonate with the organization; in the form of supporting financial and strategic goals, and the employees; who have to connect with and recognize the personal benefits of the wellness initiatives.


    The group sort of had mixed feelings on the use of incentives to try and influence and direct the behavior of employees toward more desired and 'healthy' options.  Tanya noted that the vast majority of corporate wellness committees want to incent the wrong things.  Programs like 'Free Gym Membeships' and 'Company Biggest Loser' contests, well, they suck.  Greg made an excellent point about the idea of using games and gaming in the design and deployment of wellness activities, and the emphasis needs to be on 'fit'; i.e. incorporating more healthy activities into the flow of the day. Drop one or two of these treadmill workstations in the office to give folks the opportunity to read and walk, or take a con call while taking a moderately paced stroll.

    Incentives are often seen as coercion, and once the incentive goes away, the behavior does too.  And 'dis-incentives', like charging smokers a higher premium for their medical benefits was not seen as a positive or potentially effective strategy.

    The McRib Conspiracy

    Early in the show promotion, I floated the idea of a vast, Fast-Food conspiracy that synchronized the availability of the McRib with most US-based organizations annual benefits open enrollment. But while no one really has bought into my conspiracy theory, the overall macro trends of increasing obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses seem to be such a large, national type problem that I wondered about an organization's ability to effect and fight against these constraints.  But since 'work' is such a major piece of 'life', and that many if not most of us spend most of our waking hours at work or working from someplace, that the panel did indeed feel that there is a role and even a responsibility for the organization to care, to be concerned, and to promote the health and well-being of the workforce, and even their families.  Employers have influence in this area, and can and perhaps should, do more to promote wellness in the broader community. Greg reminded us that there is a moral and social element here that often goes forgotten.

    Wellness programs are more and more common, as organizations struggle to control costs, increase productivity, and retain the best employees. But as Tanya noted on the show, the programs often 'suck'. If you are involved in designing or administering wellness programs in your organization, I recommend having a listen to the show to take the first step in avoiding the 'suckiness'.

    Thanks again to Fran, Tanya, and Greg for a fun and informative show.