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    Wednesday
    Feb092011

    You've got mail, you know Email

    The marketing research firm comScore recently released its 2010 US Digital Year in Review report that measures and analyzes trends in digital communications, social networking, device usage, and so on.  The report is a fascinating examination of the forces that are shaping and changing the way we consume, share, and even produce content and information.  

    There are a ton of interesting charts and data points in the 2010 report, and several that are/should be interesting and important for leaders of organizations and HR professionals that have an eye towards how people demonstrate their preferences and inclinations in the consumption and interactions with digital content.  One of the most notable findings in the comScore report has to do with the changes in the usage of Web-based email (Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, and so on) in 2010.  Despite an overall increases in broadband access and total time spent online, web-based email usage actually declined 8% in 2010.

    See the chart below from the comScore report:

    Most notable in the results are the really dramatic declines in web-based email usage in the 12-17, and 25-34 age brackets, while the 18- 24 cohort was essentially flat in 2010. The only age groups that showed an increase in web-based email usage in 2010 were the 55 years and up groups, largely rationalized with explanations like 'C'mon Grandpa, get an email account so we can keep in touch'. For what it's worth, these same age groups also saw double digit percentage increases in their use of Facebook and Twitter.  Essentially, these older folks are getting online in greater numbers, and more or less doing the same things their kids have grown accustomed to.

    What might this trend in decreased preference for web-based email as a method of communication by younger generations mean for the present and future workforce?

    Well, it could mean nothing I suppose.  Or next to nothing. I mean once those 15 year olds grow up a bit and start entering the working world they will simply be forced to use email. I mean, email makes the working world go around, right?  Besides, you are the boss, not them, and if you declare that 99% of your electronic communications will be emails, then by golly that is the end of the discussion. Get with the program, Junior, just go easy on the 'Reply to all' button.

    Or these macro trends in technology consumption, particularly by the upcoming generations of workers could be really important to the organization tomorrow, (maybe even sooner than you think).  Some would argue that the growing popularity and adoption of SMS text messages and social network status updates and connections as the de facto means of digital communication for a generation may and will inevitably change modern business.

    The data continue to reflect shifts from the more formal and traditional means of electronic communication (email, voice mail), to more social, casual, and dynamic ones (SMS, social networks). The next set of new workers to join your organization will most likely see nothing at all unusual about sending hundreds of SMS messages a day, and looking over their Facebook news feed while brushing their teeth. 

    What they are not as likely to understand, accept, and flourish in, is an environment where they might get 200 emails per day.  Emails are kind of long, mostly kind of boring, and usually have things like 'greetings' and 'salutations'.

    Come to think of it, you may need to update the old acceptable use policy, to explain what a 'salutation' is, the next generation probably never heard of the term, and even Grandma is getting sick of crafting them as well.

    It's a brave, strange new world out there. 

     

    Postscipt - after finishing this post, I saw this piece on ReadWriteWeb - Smartphones outsell PCs for the first time ever. Stay thirsty my friends.

    Tuesday
    Feb082011

    Where's the Employee Handbook again?

    Although I recently took a bit of a swipe at the Apple iPad, even I would be foolish to deny the current and certainly near-future impact that the iPad and increasingly other tablet devices like the BlackBerry PlayBook and even the Motorola Xoom will have on the enterprise IT landscape.BlackBerry PlayBook

    Whether it is the potential for Apple to support the creation of restricted and IT-managed enterprise App stores, the emergence of third-party tools to facilitate the development and distribution of company created and approved apps, or the likely shift from one size fits all enterprise portals to more individually created and defined tablet or smartphone environments, there is clearly a growing trend towards more specialization, personalization, and well, I hate to say it again, consumerization of enterprise systems.

    With the continuing proliferation of smartphone ownership in the US and elsewhere, and the preferred and accepted means for accessing, consuming, and creating content on these devices (and their tablet cousins), it seems apparent that any forward-thinking organization would start to strategize and develop its own response to this 'appification' of information consumption. 

    When an employee sends an email or makes a call to the HR support desk because they can't seem to locate a copy of the company bereavement leave policy, (leaving aside the certainly questionable decision to even have such a policy, 'two days for an Uncle' - absurd), the typical response from the HR administrator will almost certainly be one of the following:

    1. All the HR policies can be found on the shared Network drive, just navigate to:

    J:/Corporate/Resources/Employee Resources/Information/Policy/Staff/PTO/Bereavement.doc

    2. The bereavement policy is sub-bullet 4 of the overall Time-Off Policy, just find the PTO policy. If you don't want to page down through all 39 pages, just do a search for 'death'

    3. The bereavement policy is in the Employee Handbook you were given on your first day.  What's that? You started in 1997?  You didn't save your copy? 

    4. What is your email? I can email you the latest copy of the policy.  Make sure to archive it though, since the file is 8MB, it will take a big chunk out of your email storage allotment.

    You get the idea.  While many forward thinking organizations have rightfully moved beyond this state of affairs and deployed searchable, personalized portals for employees, even more haven't.  For those organizations still struggling with file shares, dead Sharepoint installs, and mainly sending file attachments around in email; the next few years will present both a choice and a challenge.

    Figure out a way to adopt yesterday's technologies to solve today's problems, or try to see past the current state, anticipate both where the market for tablets and smartphones is heading, coupled with the needs of your anticipated workforce mix (will they be more geographically diverse, more mobile, younger), and develop and deploy technologies and more accurately, build methods to support your organizations with the needed information how and where they are most apt to consume it effectively and efficiently.

    In three years when that same employee rings up asking 'Where can I find the bereavement policy?', chances are the savviest HR organizations will answer:

    Employee Policies?  There's an app for that.  It should be on the home screen of your PlayBook. Open up the app, and search for 'ludicrous', it should take you straight there.

    Monday
    Feb072011

    Scalies

    Scalies.

    Likely you have seen them. In real-estate development drawings, architectural renderings, or even on a school projects, or aging enthusiasts model train layouts. Aside - not to pick on model train hobbyists, but if there ever was a hobby that really seemed to be in need of a freshening up, it is this one. If model railroading disappears, we will have lost not just a rich history and part of our expansionary culture, but the markets for tiny fake trees, wrangler jeans, and suspenders will also take a huge, perhaps devastating blow.

    Scalies is one of the terms that architects have used to describe images and models of people and objects to inhabit, provide scale and context, and to ‘humanize’ and make more accessible drawing and models. The scalies help to allow us to see ourselves inhabiting the abstraction.What have we here?

    Pitching your renderings and ideas for a new shopping mall?  Better depict the mall parking lot full of cars, the shops busy with interested patrons, while making sure to incorporate the right mix of people, ages, races, and so on. Why is it important, beyond the practical value of setting context and making the abstract more familiar?

    I suppose one could argue that we no longer construct buildings, we provide the physical framework for experiences.  A new store is not just a vessel to facilitate the exchange of value, but rather a conduit for storytelling, and even, in the best examples, an edifice that becomes immersed in the culture and identity of a place.

    But as described in this recent New York Times piece on the use of these human images and forms in the design and sales process, the scalies need always to remember their proper place in the importance heirarchy. According to the article ‘the most important factor is making sure any individual (scalie) isn’t so remarkable as to distract from the scene as a whole.

    The scalies inhabit but don’t manipulate, they support but do not challenge, they are familiar enough, but never threaten or confront - whether the scene is an office park, condominium tower, or a new publicly subsidized professional sports palace. Designers and architects imbue ‘humanity’ onto a scene by the addition of a collection of formless, unfeeling, indistinguishable images of people that conform to our pre-conceived ‘non-offensive while being suitably diverse’ checklist.  Make sure we have a guy in a hoodie with an iPod, a business dude talking on a cell phone, and a few women and kids to balance the entire scene out. After all, the individuals don’t matter, what matters is the entirety of the presentation, and the vague notion of fit, balance, and perhaps event conformity that a carefully curated collection of scalies imparts upon the scene.

    We have reached the part of this post where I (attempt to) make a telling and apt comparison to the architect’s use of these inhuman scalies to the world of work - maybe to our surface attempts at diversity hiring and development programs; or our marketing and communications departments strident efforts to ensure that all of out corporate communications use suitably diverse but non-offensive stock photography.  Truth is I can’t really make a convincing argument or even conjure a profound or even pithy metaphor here. Truth is I just wanted to see if I could write 600 words about ‘scalies’.

    But I will just leave it at this - the next time I see one of those ‘What is it like to work here’ videos on a corporate career site that features an employee working in a low-wage, low-skilled job, that may or may not have had a couple of run-ins with the law in the past, has a ‘look’ that might cause you to wait for the next train on the subway, but has worked hard to overcome some shaky decisions and get back on a better path, helped in no small part by working at XYZ Corporation, it will probably be the first.  That kind of thing might be a little too real I suppose.
    Picture credit - Marcus Hoffko.  For more information about his work please click here.
    Friday
    Feb042011

    S'mores

    The best ingredients, when carefully combined, arranged into appealing combinations, and allowed to come together into a cohesive and improved manner can often result in fantastic accomplishment.S'MORES - Pamela Michelle Johnson

    Whether it is the inputs to a multi-part process, the components of a product, or the individual steps that lead to a desired outcome - almost all the work we do (unless you are a solitary artist of some kind), involves us contributing our efforts and work towards some larger or greater goal. 

    And truly, if the individual contributions are not of high quality, delivered on time, and often consistently repeatable, then certainly the overall product or service or project will suffer, and possibly fail.  So, thusly we focus, heads-down on our pieces, making sure that ultimately we feel proud of our effort, knowing if the end goals are not actually met, well, it was not our fault.  Which is sort of comforting to a point. You can only control what you can control right?

    But the real consumers of the product, be they end users, employees, customers, or fans - they are less concerned with the relative quality of the various components (if they can even acknowledge at all the process), they only care about the end results.  

    The S'more is either good or it isn't.  No kid has ever been handed a S'more and commented, 'The marshmallow is good, melted nicely, but I think the chocolate is a little off, and I give the graham cracker only a 'meets expectations'.

    You can get pretty far in the world making the 'best' graham crackers, but what kids remember are the best S'mores.

    Happy Weekend everyone!

    Picture Credit - 'S'mores' by Pamela Michelle Johnson, oil on canvas - to learn more about Ms. Johnson's work visit here

    Thursday
    Feb032011

    Sharing Performance Data

    Recently on software company 37signals Signals vs. Noise blog, the team at 37signals shared an image a recent data set of customer support ratings, or evaluations of their customer's satisfaction with the support experience they had received.  A copy of the chart is below, apologies for the low resolution, the original image is also located here.

    What is interesting to me about the chart is not so much that 37signals had received over 90% positive responses from their customers, but rather that the company shared specific satisfaction scores attributable to individual employees in the organization.

    Of course any organization that achieves (or at least wants to portray) superior customer satisfaction and service marks is more that happy to share that information with the market, with prospects, the press, and the public; but it is unusual if not unprecedented to share these kinds of results with the kind of specific attribution that we see in the above chart, i.e. 'Ann received a 96/100 positive ratings'.

    Sure, individual ratings for customer support, call center, inside sales, and other types of organizational functions are often shared internally, to be used to spur competition, to provide some motivation to raise the bar of company performance, or even as a basis for a bonus or other prize.  But public, especially on popular blogs, displays of internal, personal performance related data are rare indeed.

    The closest comparison I can think of comes from the local supermarket, where I often see individual 'Items scanned per minute' charts posted on the front wall of the store, usually in between the Redbox and the Coinstar machines.

    If you were recruiting for customer service reps for a competing software company, or for cashiers for a new retail establishment, I imagine having access to this kind of raw, verified, and informative data might be quite valuable. Why would you need to vet a customer service reps references, when you could just access their real performance data on the corporate website?

    It could be that I am making too much out of this little chart the 37signals shared, and I know no one except the grocery store staff cares about the 'items per minute' charts, but I do wonder if these kinds of public displays of performance will one day become more common.

    We have LinkedIn recommendations, BranchOut endorsements, and even old-school style reference calls; but all of these have at least some amount of gray area, partial truth, and elements of uncertainty about them.

    But raw 'Items per minute' and customer service evaluations, well, those are as real as it gets. If I were a star customer service rep or cashier (sadly I am neither), I would want my proof of high performance plastered on the real or virtual wall for all to see. Those scores might land me my next gig, or help me get better terms on my current deal.

    What do you think? Do you anticipate these kinds of raw, normally internal employee performance metrics to get more public airing in the future?

    Care to share the results of your last performance review with the world?