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    Tuesday
    Sep142010

    Inspected by 2

    How many times have you put on a new article of clothing and found one of those little 'Inspected by' tags in one of the pockets?

    It isn't much, just a little slip of paper that reminds and assures you that someone had a final look-see at your new shirt before it was shipped out of the factory.  Often these tags just have  a number on them to make a kind of vague identification of the actual inspector.  Once in a while you will find one signed with an actual name. Whether you believe that an 'Inspected by Marylou' tag was really placed in your shirt pocket by a real-life Marylou doesn't really matter that much.  It still provides a kind of personal touch to what is, let's face it, a normally impersonal and detached kind of transaction. At least if you shop where I shop.

    But for the clothing inspectors themselves, the inclusion of such a tag, especially if it is signed with their real name, provides a signature, a statement of the quality of the product, and a kind of mark or stamp of personal ownership of the overall manufacturing process (or at least their part of the process).

    I was thinking about this when I came across an excellent and interesting set of resources called 'Design By Intent' , created by Dan Lockton with David Harrison and Neville Stanton.  The Design with Intent cards present a series of concepts or design philosophies that 'can be used to help inspire brainstorming or idea generation, to explore design methods potentially relevant to a brief, to analyse existing systems, or as a reference.'

    One of the cards (thumbnail to the right) mentions the idea of 'Watermarking', or in other words a mechanism for displaying or promoting a system user's ownership of something, be it a product, a service, or even a piece of data.  Watermarking, or tagging with an indicator of creation, or ownership can have powerful effects - increased care and pride of workmanship, better exposure across and beyond the system of an individual user's contribution, and easier discovery of those possessing skill and ability throughout the system.

    Built into most enterprise technologies is this concept of 'watermarking', or information ownership if you prefer.  It comes in the form of a database field usually known as 'Created by', and its close cousin, 'Last Updated By'.  These fields are usually attached to every piece of discrete data in the system, an employee record, a purchase order, or a ledger journal entry.  Inspecting these fields can tell a user or an administrator which user performed the actions of record creation and, if applicable, revision.  

    But the thing is, in the enterprise system context these fields are not typically visible on the surface or to the casual consumer of the data, may require some super top-secret level security and access to even see, and are most typically only referenced when something goes wrong.  Purchase Order #397 had a bad account code?  Who the heck keyed that in to the system?  Rarely, (pretty much never), are the creators of 'good' data recognized or acknowledged.  I know what you are thinking, people responsible for entering data into enterprise systems are supposed to get it right, we don't need to tag or overtly identify the names (or numbers) of people simply for doing what they are supposed to do.

    Well, 'Marylou' is supposed to inspect shirts, we don't need to slip a note in the pocket of each one she quality checks either.  

    It's funny, on the social web every tweet, every Facebook 'like', every blog comment is visible, searchable, trackable, but yet so much of the interactions that end users have with typical enterprise systems is effectively, (or at least on the surface) almost anonymous. 

    I wonder if that has something to do with how much more enjoyable social technologies are to enterprise ones.

    Well there's Farmville too.

    Monday
    Sep132010

    RIP Bloglines

    The once innovative and popular online RSS and news aggregator Bloglines will discontinue service on Friday, October 1. The Ask.com team that operates the site has essentially said that social media sites like Twitter and Facebook killed it.  Bloglines was the first feed reader I ever used, and I still have a 'subscribe with Bloglines' badge on the right sidebar, (don't worry if you can't find it, I don't think anyone else has either).

    From a blog post on the Ask.com site, the underlying reasoning behind the shutdown of Bloglines is as follows:

    ...when we originally acquired Bloglines in 2005, RSS was in its infancy. The concept of “push” versus “search” around information consumption had become very real, and we were bullish about the opportunity Bloglines presented for our users. 
 
Flash forward to 2010. The Internet has undergone a major evolution. The real-time information RSS was so astute at delivering (primarily, blog feeds) is now gained through conversations, and consuming this information has become a social experience. As Steve Gillmor pointed out in TechCrunch last year , being locked in an RSS reader makes less and less sense to people as Twitter and Facebook dominate real-time information flow. Today RSS is the enabling technology – the infrastructure, the delivery system. RSS is a means to an end, not a consumer experience in and of itself.

    To me the money quote in the post from Ask.com is the line about 'being locked in an RSS reader makes less and less sense to people. RSS readers (and for the remainder of this post, let's just use Google Reader as our example, since I am 99% certain no one is reading this post in any other RSS client or application), offer the powerful capability of delivering to you the news items, blog posts, and other website updates automatically, in a persistent manner, and make them easily consumable on your schedule (or just as easily ignored).  

    They were, and still mostly are, a private and personal kind of experience. Sure Google Reader has built in additional capabilities for sharing items with people that are following you on Reader, and for connecting these shared items with Google Buzz and Twitter.  But some of these integrations require several manual interventions, and you have to admit if you are someone that has linked their shared items on Google Reader to your Twitter account to automatically Tweet, you are solidly outside the mainstream of the average blog reader.  And in terms of the uptake of 'following' on Reader, as of this writing I have 4,613 followers on Twitter, and 68 on Google Reader. Your mileage may vary.  But a 'shared item' on Reader connects with me in a way that a Facebook post or a Tweet doesn't, in Reader I am pretty sure my contact actually read the piece before propagating it to their connections.

    Ask.com is making the determination (that very well may be true, it is hard to know), that simply consuming content in an RSS Reader is no longer 'good enough'.  We have, as users, to be able to easily spread that content out across our social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and in turn, we need to be able to mine our networks to find and consume content pushed or shared by our connections.  That news item, blog post, or funny video of kitty antics accrues more value to us, and to the network, the more that is is shared and circulated.  I get it, in fact that is pretty obvious. I would love this post to get widely shared around the social web, passed from Tweet, to Facebook wall, to Google Buzz, and back around again in a self-sustaining frenzy of consumption.

    But before any of that can happen, I need someone to actually read the post first.

    Which is exactly the capability that Bloglines was and Google Reader still is, so good at.  It is sad to me to see Bloglines disappear, but what would be worse I think is if we stop focusing on engaging with good content individually, personally, and for our own development and understanding while anxiously seeking out the Retweet button. Great content absolutely should be shared, but it needs to resonate with you first, and if RSS devolves into just the plumbing for sharing content, then I think some of that connection will get lost.

    By the way, the Retweet and Like buttons are at the end of the post.  

    I know, I am a hypocrite.  RIP Bloglines.

     

    Thursday
    Sep092010

    No one asked me but...

    Tonight on the HR Happy Hour Show, we will welcome Alison Green, the creator of the fantastic 'Ask a Manager' blog.  

    The show is live at 8PM EDT tonight, September 9, and can be listened to from the show page here, using the widget below, or by calling in on 646-378-1086.

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    On the show Alison will take calls and field questions live much in the spirit of the 'Ask a Manager' blog, and listeners are encouraged to call in or Tweet their questions (use the #HRHappyHour tag).

    To try and make my 'show preview' post a bit less boring, I asked Alison to forward to me a random reader question from the 'Ask a Manager' files so I could take a shot at giving the answer. 

    So here goes - and in the way of disclaimer, I am totally unqualified to give serious advice, please follow my guidelines at your own risk:

    A reader writes:

    I've been invited to an interview for a senior-level job by a potential employer who is only willing to cover part of my travel costs to the interview. Because the invitation was silent on this topic, I had to raise the reimbursement issue. I was surprised about this based on my prior experiences as a job seeker and on my own HR experience. Based on my application materials, it should have been clear that I would have to fly to the the interview.

    I initially responded asking about whether they wanted me to make travel arrangements and submit receipts or have them make the airfare purchase directly. They responded that I should make arrangements directly, and that I should send them the cost so they could decide what portion they could cover. I submitted my projected costs and asked if I could interview two days later in order to obtain a lower price. They replied that they could cover 60%.

    I've already accepted the appointment, since delaying to negotiate wouldn't work in my favor as an applicant, and could make my share of the expenses go up if fares increase. But I'm concerned that if the
    interview goes well, it may spell trouble down the road. (E.g. have I put myself at a disadvantage during salary negotiations by signalling desperation? Once on the job, will I be working in an institution
    where reasonable expenses aren't built into budgets?) Obviously, I haven't gotten to that bridge yet, but these concerns are real.

    Is this a red flag, or just par for the course in an employers' market?

    Let's see what we have here - an interview in a different city, no real indication of the likelihood of landing the gig, and having to reach in to your own pocket (at least 40% of the way down), to even get the interview.  

    Here is my simple answer - it sounds like a major red flag, and unless this is a dream-type job that you have been after for ages, or will set you up in your career progression or personal life, I would trust your instincts and take a pass. The fact that the employer knew that your participation in the interview would require airfare and other transportation expenses and waited for you to mention reimbursement comes off as unprepared, inconsiderate, and/or cheap. And then arriving at a seemingly arbitrary 60% reimbursement factor seems bizarre - either cover all the costs for your travel, or simply state there is not available budget to cover the costs and leave it up to you to decide.  How about a video interview for gosh sakes?

    At any rate, it reads fishy, smells fishy, and quite likely is fishy.

    Well - that's my answer - what do you think?

    I wonder what the 'real' Ask a Manager would think?  Tune in tonight to find out.

    Wednesday
    Sep082010

    Coming and Going

    Most HR or Recruiting functions calculate and report on standard metrics such as turnover rate, voluntary separations, turnover rate broken out by company function or location, source of applicants, source of hires, and other common measures of organizational effectiveness in the recruiting and retention process.

    Many organizations also try to do a reasonably thorough job of tracking the reasons why employees leave the organization, often through the use of exit interviews.  Better opportunity elsewhere, lack of promotion chances, hating the boss, etc.

    Aggregating, combining, distilling, and analyzing this kind of 'coming and going' data, when supplemented with analysis of individual and company performance can be a powerful differentiator, providing the organization's leaders with important competitive insight to inform hiring, development, and operational strategies.

    That is, if the HR organization has the tools (possibly), analytical capability (maybe), and an understanding of the best way to present this kind of information in a method that is relevant, consumable, and engaging (oh boy).

    Take a look at the image below, the infographic maps more than 4,000 moves both in and out of New York from over 1,700 people in the past decade based on an informal survey by New York public radio’s the Brian Lehrer Show.

    The interactive chart captures the destination zip code for the move, whether the move was 'in' or 'out', the date of the move, and even the reason for the move to or from the particular zip code.

    The chart also provides the ability to deep-dive into specific zip codes to analyze the overall patterns of migration as well as drilling into individual movements. We can see, for example, that in 2001 someone relocated from NYC 10014 to Tampa, Florida 33602 because the 'Rent was getting too high to stay'.

    It is not a stretch for HR to re-invent this kind of graphic as the 'comings and goings' of new employees, and recently separated colleagues.  The zip codes in the chart could be replaced by company regions, locations, even senior leaders.  Examining the inflows and reason codes (curious how many people join and leave for the very same reason) in a graphical manner somehow energizes the information normally presented on simple report, or a bar chart.

    While most HR organizations don't have the luxury of graphic or web designers on staff (too bad) to create these kinds of interactive tools to review, interact with, and even re-imagine data, it would benefit most of us in the business of providing and acting upon workforce and organizational information to do a better job of presenting the data in ways that help the data tell its story.

    The full infographic can be found here - and be warned, it is a fun and engaging chart that you are likely to spend some time playing with to, and ultimately a kind of curiosity begins to set in as you try and get a closer look at the decisions and motivations of the real people whose experiences make up the data for the graphic.

    Compelling, engaging, fun, and informative.  How many of those adjectives can you ascribe to the last report on turnover you sent up the chain, or that you received?

    Tuesday
    Sep072010

    Negative Space

    A recent guest on the HR Happy Hour show sent me a note after the show expressing concern that they had perhaps dominated the conversation and was worried that I may have been somehow offended or disappointed.  

    I was neither offended nor disappointed.Tourist photo , NYC, 1950's

    The show is all about providing a forum or platform for interesting and smart people to share their opinions, insights, and expertise.  I don't need to say much of anything to have a good show. In fact, I think at times, the less I have to say the better.

    That advice I think holds true for many other relationships as well, be they 'real' or virtual or with software programs and their users.  Hurry up and finish talking so I can say what I really think. Let me tell you what I have been up to. Sure, we have that feature.  We have every feature.

    It holds true for the design of the systems that we use in our workplaces and in our spare time. Software companies often feel compelled to include every feature that customers request, or that they have seen a competitor tout as 'new and improved'. 

    We don't always have to fill up all the space with words, content, opinions, comments, buttons, and features.

    Sometimes it is perfectly acceptable to not have all that much to say, and let some negative, or empty space in.

    Is it obvious that I spent the holiday weekend goofing off, and did not come up with anything interesting to write today?