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    Wednesday
    May302012

    Onboarding for the rest of us

    Editor’s Note: Today’s post is brought to you by Allied Van Lines, proud sponsor of the “2012 Workforce Mobility Survey”, designed to capture the voice of HR on topics related to workforce mobility. Allied has more than 75 years of experience in corporate, household and international relocation.)

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    It's kind of fun at times, particularly if you are like most of us and are grinding it out in one of the thousands of mainstream, solid, and mostly anonymous organizations that quite honestly are most organizations, to read about the wild people practices and processes from Silicon Valley, or startup land, or any company that is young enough or successful enough to just do things differently. You know what I mean, famous places like Google or Zappos, or even less famous but still interesting places like the video game development company Valve, whose recent, irreverent employee handbook was leaked to the internet. If you missed the story about Valve it is worth a quick look, it is a written testament of sorts to that wild, loose, carefree, and unstructured work environment that most of us only dream of inhabiting.Onboarding at Valve

    But we know that most of us can't act like Zappos or Valve, even if we wanted to. We have more history, more culture, more of a need or requirement, (for better or worse), to have more structure, rules, and process around our people management practices. We, and most of our employees and new hires, would fail if we simply set them loose in the organization and told them to figure it out for themselves.

    But instead of looking at that reality as a negative, I think there are opportunities to leverage more formal and expected processes as a strength. Take new employee onboarding for example, an area typically well-defined and with a structured process, but also one that may not be producing the desired results in driving faster time to productivity, cementing the relationship between employer and employee, and ensuring a continuing supply of fresh talent in the organization. If you are like most employers, you say you already 'do' onboarding, i.e., collect the requisite forms, conduct an intake or orientation, offer some opportunity for the new hires to acclimate to culture, process, and work styles. 

    But like any long-term, long-time, been-doing-it-so-long that you think you know how to handle it, there are probably some opportunities for you to improve your game. Thanks to the Workforce Mobility Survey (details here) sponsored by Allied, we've got some actual data about the state of onboarding, and some insights into what the companies that are best in class are doing, (and notably not doing), in the more important than we like to think area of onboarding.

    The chart on the right gives the rundown of what survey respondents are employing in onboarding, andSouce - Allied Workforce Mobility Survey since you are probably like most, and already handling the essentials, it is probably a better idea to take a look deeper into the chart, (and certainly at the complete survey results here), to look for areas where you can raise your game. Maybe it is more social events where new hires get to mix with veterans and company leaders or perhaps setting more concrete goals for the program, or it might be getting more senior level management stake in the game.

    Either way I think the lesson to take away is that you can still add value and make an important impact in the success of the organization while still being your boring, traditional self. Sort of. The key is doing what makes sense for your organization, resonates with the people you are bringing in to the team, and connects them with their peers, managers, and the mission of the organization overall.

    And sure, making it a little bit fun probably won't hurt.

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    If you would like to learn more about Allied Van Lines, please check out their website or blog. And if you would like to get more information from the Workforce Mobility Survey, you can click here. It’s definitely worth checking out.

    Tuesday
    May292012

    Spreading risk, shirking responsibility?

    One of the most commonly repeated business maxims of the last two decades or so is one that goes something along the lines of 'Focus on our core competencies', i.e., that tying to do too much, to expand into lines of business that don't really leverage the key strengths and value-add capability of the firm are simply not worth doing, or at least if they are necessary to provide the finished product or service, should be outsourced or offshored. Whether it is the high-tech, mass-production supply chain of Apple, or other popular manufacturers, the outsourcing of common and non-differentiating administrative functions like employee benefits, or even simply the offshoring of customer support and service call centers by financial, insurance, or other consumer companies, there definitely continues to be an almost relentless drive towards this kind of 'core competency' structure.

    As Apple has recently and famously seen, sometimes the tension that arises from these kind of arrangements, and reconciling and rationalizing how much responsibility the firm has for the business practices, processes, and even ethics of its sub-contractors and value chain partners can be incredibly complex to navigate. How much, if at all, should Apple, or any other firm that engages in these kinds of widespread and high volume outsourcing of its operations, be held to task for the kinds of problems, some dramatic, others more routine, that inevitably arise in the course of the manufacture of products or the delivery of services?

    While the Apple story and its relationship with one of its prime manufacturing partners Foxconn is widely known, last week the PBS Frontline series ran a segment about a similar set of problems in the Unites States wireless communications industry, while less well known, are no less troubling and illustrative of the moral and ethical dilemmas that sometimes arise in these arms length outsourcing and contracting arrangements.

    The segment, titled 'Cell Tower Deaths', investigates the dramatic rise in the number of deaths associated with the wireless industry in the United States since 2003. Since that time, nearly 100 workers have been killed on the job, and on the towers that allow wireless service to function.

    (The first segment of the Frontline report is embedded below, email and RSS subscribers may need to click through)

    Watch Cell Tower Deaths on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

     

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the death ratio for cellphone tower workers is 184 out of 100,000, putting the job at the top of the “Fatal Job” list. For example in 2006 alone, 18 people were killed on the job.

    Some of the reasons are kind of obvious - the rapid expansion of wireless devices and smart phone use, the creation of an entire new class of devices (tablets), that connect wirelessly to the internet, cutthroat competition between carriers to build out the most complete coverage networks the fastest, and lastly, the ability and common business practice of providers to hire sub-contractors, (who often hire their own sub-contractors), to do the dangerous work for which they never have to take full responsibility.

     

    We see in the Frontline piece, that often the workers at these small, local, very loosely supervised and managed sub-contractors receive less than adequate screening, training, and even safety equipment before they are thrust into an incredibly dangerous, tense, and demanding environment. We also learn that the major service providers are able, due to the fact that their contracts are three or even four steps removed from the firms that actually build and maintain the towers, to generally hide from responsibility for these business practices that, all too often, have led to injury and even death of usually low-paid, inexperienced workers.

     

    Should the carriers, (AT&T specifically gets talked about quite a bit in the Frontline piece), have to own more of the process, if not directly in the form of actually employing the tower workers, at least in having more oversight for training and safety practices of those firms it hires to do work on its behalf? 

     

    For that matter should Apple, Microsoft, Dell, et al, shoulder more of the load for the working conditions in their manufacturing partners facilities around the world?

    While the Apple story is familiar, it has that other characteristic of being distant - the workers in China, are well, workers in China. We don't know any of them and we're likely never to meet any of them. We can still keep a comfortable separation, at least in our minds.

    As the Frontline piece so poignantly describes, the workers that have perished working on cell towers are quite a bit closer - Indiana, Iowa, Tennessee. Whether that does or should make a difference to how we feel about this, I will leave up to you to decide.

     

    What do you think - how much responsibility does any large firm have in the behavior, practices, ethics, and working conditions of the sub-contractors it hires?
    Friday
    May252012

    VIP Parking: 200 Yards from the Door

    Spotted recently at the far side of a giant supermarket's massive parking lot:

    Maybe this is a common practice and I just never seem to park far enough away to notice?

    But common or not, it was the first time I have ever seen one of these kind of 'Gentle nudge that you'd probably be better served walking a little bit rather than circling the first few rows of spaces waiting to swoop in like a vulture once someone clicks their remote door unlock'.

    There were two interesting things I noticed when I saw this sign - one, that in a pretty crowded lot, that the space was indeed empty; and two, someone had left an empty shopping cart on the grass right next to the space, (you can see one of its wheels peeking out in the corner of the picture), rather than return it to the cart corral that was about 50 feet away.

    Doing the right thing - walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, parking an extra 100 yards out when lots of closer spaces are free, having a side salad instead of the onion rings, is still stubbornly, maddeningly, and definitely harder than it should be. I think most of us know the 'right' choices to make, and we even want to make these right choice, at least most of the time. But as we see from the constant stream of research and news about America's continuing problems with obesity, (a recent example is here), the problems persist.

    I really feel for the folks whose job and really life's work is to make or at least try to influence the rest of us fatties to make the right, or at least the better choice a little more often. As I saw from the abandoned cart left next to the 'park way out here because you know you could use the walk' sign, getting people to change or at least try to change is very, very tough.

    I hope you have a great long holiday weekend!

    Thursday
    May242012

    Are we starting to get sick of each other?

    Some random and possibly unrelated items from this week that are submitted for your consideration:

    'Time Spent on Facebook Has Gone Flat' - Business Insider

    Money line:

    Time spent on Facebook on desktop computers in the U.S. has been totally flat for the year, according to data from comScore. For a while now Facebook's engagement had been on the rise, but it appears to have hit a wall.

    'Three Myths About What Customers Want' - HBR Blog Network

    Money line:

     Myth #1: Most consumers want to have relationships with your brand.


    Actually, they don't. Only 23% of the consumers in our study said they have a relationship with a brand. In the typical consumer's view of the world, relationships are reserved for friends, family and colleagues. That's why, when you ask the 77% of consumers who don't have relationships with brands to explain why, you get comments like "It's just a brand, not a member of my family." (What consumers really want when they interact with brands online is to get discounts).

     The Golden Age of Silicon Valley is Over, and We're Dancing on its Grave' - The Atlantic

    Money line:

    The headline for me here is that Facebook's success has the unintended consequence of leading to the demise of Silicon Valley as a place where investors take big risks on advanced science and tech that helps the world. The golden age of Silicon valley is over and we're dancing on its grave. On the other hand, Facebook is a great company. I feel bittersweet.

    The slight, (or maybe not so slight), common thread running through these three pieces? 

    That we're not just suffering from an information overload, but perhaps we are starting to feel or sense of a bit of connection overload. That maybe being 'on' and connected to larger and larger networks of people, certainly many of them family and friends, but also, certainly, many of them total strangers, is beginning to raise some unintended and unwanted side effects. That the amount of sheer time, energy needed to sustain these networks and maintain an expected level of interaction is starting to become, well, unsustainable.

    I know I am personally guilty of this. I 'auto-post' more content to Twitter and LinkedIn than I ever did in the past. I have become more of a 'drive-by' Facebook user, dropping in once a day or so to click the 'Like' button a few times, as it is the lightest and least obligating form of interaction possible. I'm reading more blogs and online content than ever before, but mainly it seems to find source material for this blog, or for Fistful of Talent, or to share via a scheduled tweet at 10PM when I am probably already asleep.

    And I sort of think I am not the only one. It seems that maybe many of us are feeling the effects and strain of the size of our networks, the ever-increasing platforms on which to engage, and the perhaps the engagement traps we've set for ourselves.

    I'll ask the question more plainly, are we starting to get just a little sick of each other?

    Are you sensing or feeling the need to disengage more often?

    I'd love your take on this.

    Happy Thursday!

    Wednesday
    May232012

    Without you I'm nothing. I was talking about my phone.

    Clearing out the RSS reader over the weekend, (you still remember Google Reader, right?), and while scrolling through the out of control list of 'starred' items, I ran into two pieces having to do with mobile technology and smart phones, while seemingly unrelated, also serve as unintended companion takes as to the relentless takeover of our normal lives by our devices.

    First, the links to the two pieces, and then after the jump, (Yes, I know there is no such thing as a jump. It's Wednesday. Take it easy on me.), some thoughts on how or if this might have relevance to you as a talent or technology pro.

    1. From the BBC Online - Bouncers checking Facebook on phones as identification

    2. From the MIT Technology Review - New App Watches Your Every Move

    In the BBC piece, we hear about bouncers and doormen at a few nightclubs and bars requesting a look at some potentially underage patrons smart phones in order, (allegedly), to have a look at the would-be club-goer's Facebook page to ty and verify their age and match their name and other personal information to the ID card they presented at the door. Sort of creepy, but in a way sensible from the point of view of the bouncer.

    In the MIT piece, a new location-based App called Placeme is reviewed. Placeme essentially logs and stores your comings and goings, and takes advantage of the smart phone's sensors, GPS and Wi-Fi capabilities to figure out where you go and for how long, and stores this data in a private log on the phone. No manual 'check-ins' needed, it just happens. Later, you can look back at the logs and track your activity in case you lost your debit card after a big night out, or I suppose, need some kind of an alibi.

    So much of our identity is tied up in and captured by our devices, that it only seems sensible and fitting that a quick scan of someone's Facebook feed or their last few text messages would be more telling than a (perhaps dodgy) West Virginia drver's license card that looks like it might have been manufactured with an old Polaroid camera, some clear tape, and a little ingenuity. And since no one I know, (willingly), goes anywhere without their trusty iPhone or Android, then having an automatic running log of where you've been, what you've been doing, and with whom you've been doing it with, (that is probably coming), might have some utility for productivity analyses or even some kinds of self-improvement regimes. 'Why can't I lose weight? Maybe it's because all I do is go to bakeries and bars.'

    For the workplace professional, some implications are pretty easy to see. Many of us already do social-media scans and checks of prospective candidates, so one day having some kind of app that candidates could install that would 'submit' or  quickly supply relevant and permissible information on the spot is not too far a stretch. And as for the Placeme app, well certainly for drivers, delivery persons, outside sales people, and more, access to a real-time and running log of movements and location-status updates would be beneficial for lots of reasons, some good, some not so good.

    I guess the real takeaway, aside from some simple and kind of obvious use cases, is that while we talk all the time about how mobile is taking over the world, and have seen or even delivered presentations citing statistics about how mobile will soon become the dominant means for accessing the internet in the near future, I am not sure at all that as workplace professionals we are thinking about how mobile and smart phones are changing more common things, simple things, and even possibly changing us as people.

    We take our phones everywhere. We start to break out in a cold sweat if we can't locate our phones, if even for a few minutes. The first thing we do in the morning is reach over to the night stand and check in on our phones, (don't lie like you like to, you know you do this).

    With all this considered, I think the organizations and solutions that start to think more fully and carefully about these changes and their impact on people, work, and communities will be the ones that stay ahead of the game. I think there has to be more to this than simply re-purposing what we do today to 'fit' a smaller screen, or to figure out how to make phone users see and click more ads.

    What do you think - is mobile truly and significantly change the way your business works? Or the way your employees want to work?