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    Consumerization, Technology, and HR

    Tonight on the HR Happy Hour Show, (a weekly live internet radio show and podcast that I have been hosting since 2009), the conversation is going to be about Consumerization - specifically how the demands on Human Resources and HR Technology professionals are changing, largely influenced by developments in the consumer and personal technology markets.

    Thinking about consumer technology and trends naturally forces one to consider the larger world in which our organizations reside, and how things like globalization, changing demographics, and even political and social unrest all contribute to and impact the workplace. The employees that work for us also live in the real world as well, and as the lines between work and personal time continue to move, shift, and cross; thinking a little more deeply about these environmental forces and how they shape workplaces is not only fascinating, but critical.

    And when thinking about 'Consumerization' in the workplace, some other questions come to mind:

    Who hasn't felt at times that the tools and technologies that are available at work are in many ways less appealing and effective than what we use in our personal lives?

    How many folks carry around multiple mobile devices, one for 'work' that tends to be more basic and utilitarian, (and controlled by IT); and an iPhone or Droid to for 'fun' only to conclude the 'fun' device and its collection of carefully and personally selected applications create an incredibly powerful mobile computing powerhouse.

    Finally, what consumer trends can be safely ignored, (for now), by HR professionals, and which ones should you make sure you don't miss?

    Our guest on the Happy Hour tonight to talk about these ideas will be Yvette Cameron from Constellation Research. Yvette brings a wealth of experience and perspective as a business, technology, and Human Resources leader and will be sure to inform, challenge, and hopefully inspire.

    The show will be live tonight, December 8, 2011 from 8PM - 9PM ET. You can listen live on the show page here - or using the widget player below:

    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on Blog Talk Radio


    Also, if you'd like to participate more actively with the show, you are invited to call in live on 646-378-1086, and follow the backchannel conversation on Twitter - just track the hastag #HRHappyHour.

    It will be a fun and interesting conversation and I hope you will join us!


    One Problem with Online Communities

    If you have not subscribed to Graph Jam yet I suggest you stop reading this post immediately, and head over there straight away. Graph Jam, a collection of normally amusing and occasionally devastatingly funny graphical interpretations of some of life's little struggles, usually provided a few moments of amusement to help you get through the day.

    A few days ago, Graph Jam had a killer graph about online support forums, one that could be more broadly applied to any online community that organizations could create to further their objectives for candidate engagement, brand building, constituent outreach, or whatever. So first off, take a look at the graph and see if it resonates:

    funny graphs - God Forbid You Post Something Helpful
    see more Funny Graphs

    A biting and kind of true to life observation about many of the purported 'communities' that exist online today, be they for customer support or designed for other purposes. Communities, forums, fan pages, LinkedIn groups - it doesn't really matter what the platform is or the type of technology that underpins the community, if the exchanges of information and value become completely one sided, then you really don't have a real community by any definition. You have something, it just probably isn't something you envisioned when you set out down the path of crowdsourcing, community engagement, or whatever cool and trendy descriptors you attached to the effort.

    I think the lesson here is more about commitment. If you create an environment, invite stakeholders of any sort to the party, and expect it to develop into a wondrous kumbayah Kool-Aid drinking festival of fun and value creation; you'd better be prepared to do the hard and time-consuming work of ensuring that the value creation and consumption is a little more equal than in the amusing pie chart depicted on Graph Jam.

    Community as a term is flying around fast and furious these days. It probably is a good idea to check on yours to make sure it actually is a community, and not a 'I have the same issue too', bulletin board. Or even worse, a mailing list or contact database that you've just re-branded as a 'community.'


    Notes From the Road #4 - Ice Buckets and Usability

    I've stayed in plenty of hotels these last few years, and have found that fewer and fewer standard hotel rooms come equipped with in-room refrigeration of any kind. First the stocked mini-bar started to fall out of fashion in most rooms a couple of years ago, often to have the empty space replaced with one of those mini, college dorm-sized refrigerators. Which was to me, a far better deal anyway. The days of casually dropping $7.25 on a can of mini-bar Miller Lite or $3.75 for a Snickers bar have came and went with the pressure faced by organizations and people to carefully watch travel expenses. At least with an in-room refrigerator, one could store some extra beverages or snacks without having constantly hit the vending machine or wonder in the morning if it is ok to drink orange juice that has been sitting on the table all night, (it probably is not ok.)It needs a cold beverage.

    But lately most hotels I've been in seem to have dropped the mini-refrigerators as well. I imagine it was simply a cost/usage decision. Many hotel guests were apparently not using the refrigerators all that much, and the energy costs to keep potentially hundreds of these appliances running when compared with their limited use made for what was probably a simple decision - get rid of the refrigerators. Not a big deal really, a convenience sure, but not generally a trip ruining development. Besides, there's always that ever present hotel room ice bucket and industrial ice machine down the hall.

    Yep the ice bucket - that normally utilitarian device that is generally only used in hotel rooms, and typically is designed with about as much thought and care as is to be expected from a tool that for the most part simply needs to keep a pound or so of ice and the one, (maybe two) beverages that can be squeezed into the full bucket. Most hotel room ice buckets are the same - round, flimsy, and cheap. In fact, most of the time the combination of overfilling, (who wants to march down the hotel hallway more than once), the round shape of the bucket making one-hand operation tricky, and the vagaries of hotel room door locks tend to combine to make the entire ice-bucket experiences a bit of a hassle.

    What could solve this little, (and I agree, problems with hotel room ice buckets are squarely a first world problem), conundrum and make the usability about 100x better? Simple: a handle on the bucket.

    The picture on the right shows the ice bucket in my room this week at a Marriott in New York. Sturdier than the garden variety model and possessing what I have found to be the rarest and most needed of features - a HANDLE. The handle, a small and probably inexpensive add-on improves and enhances the experience immeasurably. The handle allows you to carry the bucket easily in one hand, (important for those many, many hotel rooms that are about 7 miles from the ice machine), and re-open your room door without having to balance the cold, overfilled bucket against your body or set it on the floor as you fumble with the elecronic lock that may or may not feel like co-operating with you.

    Whomever designed this particular ice bucket realized something very important - that while the bucket's 'job' is to hold a small amount of ice and keep a drink cold for a few hours, that is a passive use case. When the actual users interact with the bucket, they are CARRYING it, half of that time filled with ice and needing to open a door. The designers thought not just the functions, but about the process and the experience of actually using the bucket. Something they could have easily missed if they focused too much on 'ice melt rate' and 'temperature after 3 hours' and not on the environments and challenges inherent on where and how the ice buckets would actually be used. Something they might not have appreciated if they never left the confines of their design lab and ventured out into the environments where their product would be used.

    Have a made too much about this? About 800 words about an ice bucket? Probably so. But to me the handle on the ice bucket reinforces a great lesson no matter what you are in charge of building - tools, technologies, or processes. 

    You'll never know if they will work until you try them in the field. Better to do that when designing and not after you've contracted with a Chinese supplier to build a few hundred thousand units.


    When the Roomba Grows Up

    You've heard of the Roomba, right? That cute little robot vacuum that you can set up in your family room or bedroom, hit the button, and watch it smoothly and quietly scurry about the room vacuuming up your potato chip crumbs and the excess from Fido's winter coat while you can rest on the sofa, perhaps snuggled up with a good book and wearing your Forever Lazy.The Droid can help you with your hibiscus

    The Roomba, at least the idea of the Roomba is awesome, right? I mean who would not want to trade the tedious chore of vacuuming for just about any of the alternative activities you could choose from if you were freed from the weekly waltz with the trusty Hoover or Dyson? Set up the Roomba, then kick back. Or work. Or talk to one of your kids. Or more likely, post a status update on Facebook that says something like, 'Man, the Roomba is awesome.' Which all your friends will interpret as, 'I can't believe that moron is Facebooking about his Roomba again.' Or, 'What a dork. I bet he's sitting on the sofa in a Forever Lazy.'

    Jokes aside, we'd all probably agree that technologies like the Roomba have clear and obvious benefit - they save us time, effort, and automate an incredibly dull and low-skill type of effort, that allow us to engage in more interesting and productive things. And as a plus, there is a whole ecosystem that has to design, build, ship, sell, support, and maintain these devices. This creates jobs, (although in fairness at some cost of the loss of similar in the 'traditional' vacuum industry), but overall it would hard to feel worried or threatened if suddenly there was a Roomba in every home.

    The parallels to the domesticated Roomba were obvious when I read this Wired.com piece: 'These May Be the Droids Farmers Are Looking For'. The story, about the testing of a more advanced, more capable Roomba-like robot that can help nursery owners organize, sort, and transport large numbers of plants and trees was interesting to me not so much for the pure technological angle, but rather for the economic impetus driving the grower's needs for this kind of technology. From the piece on Wired:

    Massachusetts startup Harvest Automation is beta testing a small mobile robot that it’s pitching to nurseries as the solution to their most pressing problem: a volatile labor market.

    In today’s human-tended nurseries, immature potted trees and shrubs arrive at nurseries by truck and are offloaded onto the ground. Teams of migrant workers — undocumented for the most part — spread the plants out one by one following markers outlining a grid. When the plants are ready to be shipped out later in the season, workers reverse the process to group the plants for loading onto trucks. “We’ve recognized the need for robotics in the nursery industry for moving pots because it’s one of our highest concentrations of labor use,” said Tom Demaline, president of Willoway Nurseries, Inc. in Avon, Ohio

    So what you might be thinking. The history of the industrial revolution, heck the past 200 years of capitalism is essentially a story of technological invention and advancement, often resulting in the displacement of workers that are found to be either too expensive, less productive, and more of a pain in the neck to manage, (or some combination thereof), than their robot replacements.

    But the farm robot story is I think because of the larger economical and political factors at play that are serving to catalyze and drive further development. The farming jobs that this new family of robots usurps were typically ones held by immigrants, often undocumented ones. With increasing enforcement of existing immigration laws, and the enacting of new, even stricter ones like in Alabama, many farmers and farm related businesses find themselves in a crunch. Their previous supply of labor has left or has been frightened away, local and legal replacements seem not to be available or willing, leaving this new robotic future as one potential way out of their bind.

    Which is not necessarily a bad thing. There's a job that has to be done. The labor market (for whatever reason), can't fulfill the need, so a new technology develops to close the gap. But the problem is, for all the 'Farmer Roomba' design, development, and manufacturing jobs, (which probably will be outsourced), they will never amount to the many hundreds and thousands of farm laborer jobs that are going to disappear. The technology will eventually allow the same amount of work to be done, faster, cheaper, with less errors, and with far, far less human effort, labor, and of course wages.

    This equation works fantastically well for the vacuum example, like I said before, the trade-off usually involves you lounging on the sofa while the Roomba works. I have my doubts that any of the farm workers replaced by the 'Droids' are chilling in their Forever Lazy's right now.



    Measuring Happiness at Work - A Drop in the Bucket?

    This week while in conversation with a colleague about how organizations attempt to quantify and track measures like employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and even employee happiness I was reminded and shared with the group this little story from the Chief Happiness Officer blog about how one organization was taking a check or a read on employee happiness in the simplest way I have ever heard.

    For benefit of those of you who did not follow the link to read the account, it describes a process that a UK Social Media Agency had 'deployed' that was insanely simple. At the end of each day as staff left the office they encountered a display of three large buckets. One bucket was full of tennis balls. The other two buckets were marked 'H' for 'Happy', and 'U' for 'Unhappy', respectively.

    As staff exited for the evening, they grabbed a tennis ball from the full bucket and placed it into either the 'Happy' bucket or the 'Unhappy' bucket. The next morning a member of staff tallied the previous days' results, posted them on the company intranet, and re-set the bucket voting system for the new day.

    The organization tracked the results and trends over time, and were able to take the temperature of the organization to some extent each day. While the tennis ball happiness voting system is a crude and kind of imprecise measurement of what has come to be known as a more complex and nuanced concept, it did provide a near real-time feedback loop for company leaders to get a feel for the mood of the team.

    In a small, self-contained company, this kind of low-tech system can be successful. In larger and more geographically spread organizations it would be a bit more of a challenge. But with the advent of powerful mobile technologies, this kind of happiness voting system could easily be created as a Web App or iPhone App that all staff in the organization could access no matter where they lived and worked.

    What do you think? Does the simple, tennis ball 'Happy or Unhappy' poll provide meaningful information for an organization? Could you see yourself setting up three buckets like this in your office? What do you think the results would be?

    How would you vote today? 

    Have a great weekend!