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    Sunday
    Apr112010

    Anyone have a power strip? A spare iPhone Charger?

    Have you ever asked or heard those questions asked at an event or conference lately? 

    I know I have scrambled around trying to inject some life into a dying BlackBerry on more than one occasion.  It is not that big a deal for most of us, a minor annoyance at worst,  after thirty minutes or so plugged back into the grid we are back in business.

    Electricity is everywhere, it is such a critical part of our day to day personal and professional lives, we take it for granted, get spoiled by it, and mostly are incapable if dealing like adults in the occasional power outage.

    I was thinking about this when I heard about the latest tragedy in an American coal mine, this one in West Virginia.

    The demand for energy in the United States is astounding.  From the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) we learn that total U.S. energy use in 2008 was nearly 100 quadrillion (=1015, or one thousand trillion) British Thermal Units (Btu). One quadrillion Btu, often referred to as a “quad,” therefore represents about 1% of total U.S. energy use.

    The chart form the EIA shows the primary energy sources in the US for 2008:

    Coal, supplies about the quarter of all the country's primary energy supply. That may come as

    a surprise to many of us, (it was to me), as our most common interaction with 'primary' energy sources is when we fill up our car's gas tanks, and run over to the local Jiffy Lube every few months.

    We are constantly aware of and informed about the ebbs and flows in the crude oil market, since the fluctuating prices of a barrel of oil seems to be reflected in the price at the pump almost instantly.

    We hear and think much less about coal mining, (mainly only when there is an accident and tragedy).  Since the predominant use of coal in the United States is used to supply electricity generation, we as consumers don't interact with the primary source of the energy at all.

    When we are out searching for an outlet for our iPhones no one I know of makes a kind of mental connection back to the coal mines in West Virginia or Wyoming.

    But the coal mines, or rather the coal miners of these states and others are the primary source of that electricity that we tap into every day.  Again from the EIA, when we look at the primary sources of energy in the US and how that energy is consumed, we see that 91% of the coal sourced in 2008 was used in the generation of electric power, making coal the largest primary source of electricity in the United States.

    Coal is not exciting, coal is not all that sexy.  Getting all jazzed up because you just got a new Prius and don't have to gas up as much is about as close as any of us will get to really impacting the use of primary energy sources.

    Although I have to believe it takes a heck of an amount of energy to manufacture all those Prius batteries, but that is another story.

    Today I am thinking about electricity, thinking about our never ending pursuit of more.  More gadgets, devices, ways to stay in touch, informed, connected 24x7.

    We so casually talk about getting unplugged once in a while, or going 'off the grid'. But we think about that only in terms of how it affects us, we brag in a way about having such remarkable mental ability to go off line for a weekend or on a vacation like it is some kind of achievement. Look, I think it is important to put down the phones, laptops, iPads more often,  I need to do more of it myself, but when we do, stop being so proud about it.

    How about this, the next time you do 'unplug', think for a minute about all the costs associated with providing us this incredible abiltiy to interact, connect, create, and build things.  Everytime we send an email, write a blog post, send a tweet, download or upload a video (and on and on) we are tapping in to the efforts of many brave men and women who are willing to put themselves in danger to extract resources from deep underground. We all fall over ourselves in praise of designers from Apple, or creators of the next 'killer' app for Twitter, we should try to at least have the same respect and admiration for the miners as well.

    Saturday
    Apr102010

    The Story of Garrett Jones

    The Minnesota Twins have a well-deserved reputation as an organization that knows how to judge talent, to select, train, and consistently produce a steady stream of high quality players.  This organizational capability to find and develop so-called 'home-grown' talent is critical for a team like the Twins, who historically have had significantly lower salary budgets than many of their rivals like the Yankees and Red Sox.

    Some of the top players that have been brought through the Twins system past American league Most Valuable Players Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, as well as pitching great Johan Santana (now currently playing for the Mets).  By consistently making smart draft choices, having a consistent philosophical approach that is embedded throughout all levels of the organization, and by actually providing real opportunity for these home-grown players at the major league level, the Twins are contenders for the division and league title most years.  They are in a way a kind of baseball version of the NBA's Utah Jazz, my friend the HR Capitalist's favorite team.

    With that background, I want to share a bit of the story of Garrett Jones, an outfielder now playing in the major league for the Pittsburgh Pirates, ( a team I took a shot at recently). Fans of the Pirates certainly, know some of Jones' story.  A player with 10-plus seasons toiling at various levels of baseball's minor league system, never really getting much of a chance to see if he had what it took to succeed in the big leagues.  In fact, Jones was in the minor leagues for so long, a little known baseball rule called the 6-year free agent rule, granted him his release from the club that owned his contract late in 2008 and allowed him to sign with the Pirates organization.

    The club that 'owned' Jones for the 6-plus years?

    The Twins.

    One of the primary reasons Jones never got much of a chance with the Twins (about 30 games in 2007), was the presence of the star Morneau, who played the same position as Jones, as was one of the games best players. To be fair, Jones' minor league career did have some down points as well, so the Twins could also be forgiven for having some doubts about his upside.

    Jones began the 2009 season once again in the minor leagues, but about halfway through the season, he was called up to the Pirates and proceeded to have an outstanding second half.  Jones hit 21 home runs and batted nearly .300.  For a perennial losing team like the Pirates, this performance was likely the highlight of the (sorry) season.  This year in the new season's first three games, Jones has already hit three home runs. 

    The point of all this to me is that even organizations that pride themselves as great evaluators and developers of talent sometimes get one wrong.  Jones was plying his trade for the organization for many years, in fact for so long league rules allowed him to break away, and the Twins for whatever reason did not or could not give Jones the chance to prove himself at the highest level, helping both the team's fortunes, as well as improving Jones' career prospects. Professional sports, and the individual performance of the players themselves, are so closely monitored, scrutinized, and evaluated, that these kind of talent 'misses' are relatively rare.  Performance in sports is so measurable and public, that players possessing major league talent usually do end up in the major leagues.  Maybe Jones simply needed a change of scenery to really display his true ability, but in the end, at almost 30 years old, he is much the same player the Twins did not give much of a chance to.

    Think of it, someone spends more than six years working for the organization, their performance, development, and potential on display in the most visible manner possible, and yet the organization (universally regarded as great talent evaluators) allows the player to leave, only to see him star for another team.

    Maybe the Twins did not think Jones had the 'look' of a major leaguer or the talent ahead of him in the organization was clearly superior, whatever the reason his talents were not recognized.  But finally getting his chance with another team, he is turning in to a star.

    I wonder if you look at the people in your organization right now, could you find similar untapped potential?

    Are there people toiling away, solid performers, but not stars, maybe because they have not been given a big challenge, a lead role, or a big stage?

    Will they eventually leave and hit the big time with one of your competitors?

    Nah, you are a great talent evaluator, I am sure you have everyone pegged just right.

    Thursday
    Apr082010

    Going Small

    Tonight at 8PM EDT on the HR Happy Hour show, we are talking 'HR On Your Own', a show about the HR function, and the HR professional in a small business environment.

    Lots of great HR people are out there, on there own as the sole HR professional in an organization, or as a part of a very small team.  We will talk to some of those people tonight, people like Franny Oxford, Paul Smith, and Kimberly Roden, and hopefully a more people will call in to share their stories as HR lone warriors.

    Listen in tonight on the caller/listener line 646-367-1086 or using the player below, or on the HR Happy Hour show page.

    When we announced the show topic and guests, I did see quite a few messages from folks, mostly along the lines of 'Yep, I have been there', and 'That is what I live every day', and 'I'll never go back to a giant company again.'

    Small is the new big, in business and in life.  Yesterday in the NBA, longtime coach Don Nelson broke the record for most career coaching wins, primarily by implementing a 'small ball' strategy.  The theory is in a fast-paced and unpredictable game like basketball, smaller, quicker, more agile players would have an advantage of seeming bigger and stronger teams.

    Sounds quite a bit like the modern business world as well.  Speed, agility, ability to adapt (the capabilities of many small firms), may well win the day over many of their large, plodding, established competitors.

    And these nimble small companies often have a sole 'HR hero' in the trenches, and those are the people we will be talking about tonight.

    I hope you can join us.

     

    Saturday
    Apr032010

    What am I working on?

    Who cares what I am working on?  Flickr - P.Mike

    Who cares what I have to say?

    These questions were the gist of a comment left on my Microsoft and Microblogging post by Stuart Shaw.

    I think Stuart hits on an important point, and it sheds some insight on why organizations attempting to embrace so-called 'Enterprise 2.0' or social collaboration that lead with simple status updates or microblogging certainly could face this issue.

    If you think about corporate e-mail, the primary enterprise technology that microblogging and many other collaboration platforms are meant to supplant (or at least compement), this confusion and hesitation by some organizations and employees is understandable.

    Consider the main categories of corporate e-mail message that a typical information worker receives and how they get dispatched. Fitting many of them in to the 'status update' paradigm is kind of silly.  Now I know that there is much more to Enterprise 2.0 than the status update, but the culture of the status update is so prevalent in the 'social' world online, that it can often dominate the thinking in the enterprise, particularly among the rank and file workers that you are trying to reach.

    E-mailed generic company announcements get deleted, lots of other emails are dismissed as unimportant, usually when you were copied on a long thread that you either are not interested in, or don't have any specific additional input towards. Most of the other emails, the ones that actually are important either consist of specific questions directed at very targeted people, or advance some kind of ongoing dialogue again with a discrete set of people.

    And on and on.  None of the typical corporate e-mail use cases really touch the 'What I am working on?' or 'What's Happening?' launching points that frame typical microblogging status updates.

    Once an organization grows large enough such that people don't actually know everyone else personally,  the idea of sending out a company wide e-mail essentially consisting of a 'status update' is pretty unusual.

    And for many, if the message doesn't 'fit' into any of the familiar e-mail buckets, it can be easy to conclude that the message has no value, no one really cares about what I have to say, and to simply shrug and remain comfortable in the familiar tools and processes that have dominated workplace collaboration for that last 20 years.

    So do the tools influence the messages themselves? Do they determine the kinds of messaging and information exchange that is 'acceptable'?

    It does seem that we look at and assess new tools through that kind of a prism.  If as a knowledge worker I only send/receive/evaluate a given set of messages, ones that support a defined process and reflect organizational norms, then it can be a significant switch to simultaneously adopt both brand new technologies and a new mindset and approach to communication and process.

    The question I think many people (rightly) ask is, you have given me a new toy to play with, but I don't necessarily have anything new to say.

    Wednesday
    Mar312010

    The Pittsburgh Pirates and Expectations

    The Major League Baseball season is set to begin in a few days, and in what has been an almost annual exercise, the large market, high-payroll teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are predicted to be among the league leaders once again.

    Teams from smaller cities having lower budgets for player salaries like the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates are once again expected to remain near the bottom portion of the standings, the organizations and supporters alike seemingly resigned to second-tier status.

    And in a way it is kind of unfair, at least on the surface, since the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers can simply afford to pay substantially more to attract the most talented players, putting the less well financed and smaller clubs at a competitive disadvantage.  Many other sports leagues have installed team salary caps, to attempt to level the competitive balance by ensuring all teams have mostly the same budgets available to pay players. 

    But even in a league that has a salary cap, like the NBA, certain teams do achieve a level of consistent success via better leadership, strategy, and execution. The lessons that can be learned from these clubs is that with efficient management of their restricted assets, sustained excellence is still possible.

    In baseball, where the economic system is much closer to the 'real world' that organizations compete in every day, it does seem like some clubs have come to accept their status, looking at the Yankees, (or for a UK soccer equivalent, Manchester United) as already having won the championship before the season has even begun.

    If you are on the Pirates, (who have endured 17 consecutive losing seasons), working in management, operations, or even as a player, it has to be easy to 'choose' to compete for fourth place.  To ratiionalize that achieving mediocrity (in the form of a .500 record) is success. Basically to have given up on the thought of winning the title before the games even start. Because for those kind of teams, once young players demonstrate some potential, they typically leave (or are traded) for one of the larger teams that can afford to pay them more.

    So the question I think is this - how realistic should their expectations be?

    If your organization is the equivalent of the Pirates, plugging away, no real threat to the established leaders in your industry, the kind of place employees come to either get some experience at the beginning of their careers, or to ride out the last few years before they retire, should the organization simply accept that, try to stay afloat, and keep the lights on? When is fourth place ok?

    And on an individual level, if you are working in a 'Pirate' organization, when do you decide, 'I'd rather be a Yankee' and jump ship?