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    Dunbar strikes again

    This recent piece on CNET, You can only really count on 4 of your 150 Facebook friends, study says, a recap of some recently published research by none other than Robin Dunbar, (of Dunbar's number), reminded me of a piece I posted here almost 5 years ago. Long story short, once again Dunbar's essential observation and conclusion about the number and strength of personal relationships that a person can have and maintain, (around 150 in total), continues to be validated even in the age of constant connectivity and ubiquitous use of social networking platforms. 

    You can check out the CNET piece, and the link to the related research paper from Dunbar, and just for fun, I am going to re-run my almost 5 year old piece below as well. That Dunbar, he never stops being right it seems...

    In the Jungle, or on Twitter, Dunbar Still Has You Beat

    June 2011

    You might be familiar with Dunbar's number - the theoretical limit on the number of meaningful and stable social relationships that one can successfully maintain. First proposed by the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it asserts that the actual number of social relationships one can maintain ranges from 100 to about 230, with 150 as the commonly accepted value.Should I 'unfriend' Steve?

    Dunbar's original studies that led to the development of the concept of the 'number', were conducted on studies of the social activity of non-human primates, that as far as we can tell, did not have many Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Why do I toss in the social networking bit? Well, in this modern age of social networking, hyper-connectivity, and the ability to make some kind of connection, (meaningful or otherwise), with thousands upon thousands of people is now quite possible and fairly simple.

    Naturally the technological and social revolutions have led many to question or even claim that modern social networking technology can indeed finally enable individuals to effectively expand the actual number of social relationships they can successfully maintain, that in the age of Facebook and Twitter and the ease with which these tools allow essentially limitless connections to be made, that Dunbar's number might no longer apply.

    Recently Bruno Goncalves and a team of researchers from Indiana University set out to determine if indeed this was the case. They studies the actions and interactions and the networks of connections of over 3 million Twitter users over a period of 4 years, examining a grand total of over 380 million tweets. The researchers wanted to see if indeed among these 3 million users, they could discern patterns and evidence, (replies, conversations, sustained connections, etc.), that could prove that the long-accepted Dunbar limitation of 150 would indeed be more easily overcame, aided by the ease and speed and facilitated connection engine that is Twitter.

    Their findings? (below quote lifted directly from their paper's conclusion)

    Social networks have changed they way we use to communicate. It is now easy to be connected with a huge number of other individuals. In this paper we show that social networks did not change human social capabilities. We analyze a large dataset of Twitter conversations collected across six months involving millions of individuals to test the theoretical cognitive limit on the number of stable social relationships known as Dunbar's number. We found that even in the online world cognitive and biological constraints holds as predicted by Dunbar's theory limiting users social activities.

    I follow about 6,000 people on Twitter. I probably interact regularly with maybe 100 or 150 of them. Which is altogether normal and expected and not at all unexpected according to our friend Dunbar, the primates he studied, and the results seen from the recent research from Indiana University.

    The larger point in all this?

    I suppose keeping in mind that no matter how large and diverse and important seeming these giant networks of contacts, connections, followers, and friends we build online are to us, to our businesses and our personal lives, the technology itself has yet to do much to overcome some of the apparent laws of nature and biology.

    What do you think? Can you really have more than 150 'friends'?


    PODCAST: #HRHappyHour 231 - Employee Financial Wellness

    HR Happy Hour 231 - Employee Financial Wellness

    Recorded Friday January 22, 2016

    Hosts: Steve BoeseTrish McFarlane

    Guest: Steve Wilbourne, CEO, Questis 

    Listen HERE

    This week on the show join Steve Boese and Trish McFarlane as they discuss the increasingly important topic of employee financial wellness and well-being with guest Steve Wilbourne, CEO of Questis, a software and services provider of employee financial wellness technology and resources.

    On the show, we discuss the issues that many employees are facing with financial planning, financial readiness in case of unforeseen expenses or challenges, and the benefits to organizations and to employees in providing more modern, personalized, and affordable tools for employees to help manage their finances.

    In addition, Steve (the host Steve), made a semi-serious pitch for the return of employee pensions, Trish shared a bit of a preview for the widely anticipated HR Happy Hour Oscars show coming soon, and Steve shamelessly appealed for some big-time corporate sponsors to come on board, (are you listening Delta and Dr. Pepper?).

    You can listen to the show on the show page HERE, or by using the widget player below (Emaill and RSS subscribers will need to click through)

    This was an interesting and informative show about employee financial wellness, many thanks to Steve Wilbourne from Questis for joining us. To learn more about Questis, please go towww.myquestis.com.

    Thanks for listening and remember to add the HR Happy Hour Show to your podcast subscriptions in iTunes, Stitcher Radio, or any of the major podcast apps. Just search for 'HR Happy Hour' to subscribe.


    Announcement: The Health & Benefits Leadership Conference

    Quick break from the regularly scheduled nonsense compelling content on the blog to share some information and a special discount offer for the upcoming 4th Annual Health & Benefits Leadership Conference that will take place March 30 - April 1, 2016 at the fabulous Aria resort in Las Vegas.

    This event has grown into what I think is the premier conference for corporate leaders that oversee benefits, wellness, and the overall well being (health, financial, physical, emotional), of their employees. 

    Don't believe me? 

    Take a guick look at the agenda for the conference here. You will see dozens of sessions covering the most important, relevant, and cutting-edge topics in health, benefits, and wellness today. From current issues with health care and employer-sponsored benefits to financial wellness to important issues around work/life balance, and more - the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference offers HR and benefits leaders a tremendous opportunity to learn, network, and raise their understanding of the most important issues and potential solutions for their benefits challenges.

    Just some of the health and benefits thought leaders that will be speaking at the conference include Alexandra Drane, Ron Leopold, Jennifer Benz, Carol Harnett, Fran Melmed and many more.

    And your humble correspondent, (me), will once again serve as host of the wildly popular 'Ideas and Innovators' session where health and benefits innovators and provocateurs will share their most challenging and cutting-edge ideas in a fast-paced and fun format.

    And more that 70 providers of services and technology, including some of the most innovative companies in the world, will be on hand in the Expo hall, where benefits pros can see, touch, and learn more about the latest technology solutions that can enhance and support their organizational benefits and wellness programs.

    If you are a benefits or wellness pro, this is one event that you don't want to miss, and to make it a little easier for you to attend, blog readers can use the registration discount code BOESE16  to get an additional $75 off the current rate. Just go to www.benefitsconf.com and click on 'Register'.

    Hope to see lots of readers out at the event, if you see me, make sure to day hi! 


    Young single people, guys in their 50s, and not much in between

    Back 159 years ago when I worked on my first major IT project team doing an an old-school ERP implementation one thing about the composition of the 25 or so person project team was pretty striking.  The team itself was sourced from a few places - regular full-time staff of the client that was funding the project, several implementation experts from the software solution provider, a few technical consultants from one of the Big 4 (I think it was still Big 6 back then) consultancies, and finally three or four independent contractors taking full advantage of the 'gig economy' before that was a thing. So about 25 or so folks, it was a pretty large project with a mix of subject matter experts, software developers, QA and testing people, and project manager types.

    But what was interesting, (and what would turn out to be not at all uncommon I would learn), was that there were almost no members of the team between the ages of say 30 and about 50, otherwise known as 'prime' working years for most folks.

    That diverse, (we had folks from at least 10 countries on the project), and large project team was almost completely devoid of people in what would be the classic working and parenting years, say about 30 to about 50. There were definitely no women in that age range on the project, and there may have been one or two men (at most), that were parents of kids they still had some level of responsibility to care for.

    One of the 'veteran' guys from the Big 6 firm that was more or less running the project summed it up for me about midway through the project.  He said something to the effect that (at least at that time), IT consulting and big enterprise technology project work was either a game for young people who have not settled down and have no spouses/kids to worry about, or older guys, (and it was almost always guys), whose kids were grown up and either moved out or at least were old enough that their Dad could get away with being on the road 200 nights a year.

    Apart from the technical skills needed to succeed on a project like that, there were also the personal stresses and demands that having the kind of job was likely to put on you and any family/friends/pets that you may have had. You were more or less on the road, traveling to the project site Monday - Friday, week after week, month after month until the project was over. At which point you'd maybe get a little bit of downtime and then start the cycle and lifestyle again with a new client/project. I did this kind of work for a long time, what made me discontinue this and move to something more stable, (and with far less travel), was becoming a parent some 15 years or so ago.

    What's the point of this trip down memory lane?

    I caught this piece, a profile of Facebook's Maxine Williams, the relatively new person in charge of diversity initiatives at the company, where the interviewer was pressing her and Facebook to try and explain their efforts in promoting a more diverse workforce, and their relative successes and failures in this regard. it is a pretty interesting piece, and I recommend giving it a read.

    But after reading it, and thinking about these issues a bit, I was reminded of that 20 year-old project team, and how the nature of the work, and the nature of how (at least back then), most people tried to live their lives, that would have made 'generational' diversity, (is that even a thing?), extremely difficult, if not impossible to achieve. It would have been really tough to find very many mid-career parents willing to sign up for the demands of those jobs, so what we ended up with was a group of folks that had little to no problems with being away from home all the time. That is just how it worked out and what made sense for the workers, the client, and the project itself.

    The closing point of all this? Tip O'Neill said that 'All politics is local.' John Sumser has said that all recruiting is local. I kind of think that sometimes we need to think about that when also thinking about diversity and workforce composition in that manner as well. Not every type of job or project is going to easily lend itself to a natural, blended, and widely diverse collection of people willing , able, and capable of performing said jobs.

    If one of the goals of a consulting company that did projects like the one I described above had it as a goal to become more diverse and balanced across generations, it would have taken some pretty significant shifts in how work was organized, how client demands and expectations were managed, and how individual consultants were evaluated and rewarded. And that would have been a much a bigger set of issues than just trying to recruit or retain a few more people that were in their early 40s.  

    Maybe diversity, however you define it, is only partially, and maybe even a small part overall, of a recruiting problem, and is more influenced by how, where, and when the work gets done than by where you run your job ads or the campuses where you recruit.


    Netflix ratings and what they might mean for your real-time feedback program 

    Everyone's favorite entertainment streaming platform/service Netfilix has been in the news plenty lately.

    Their most recent earnings announcement was pretty fantastic, their revenues and reach are climbing steadily, and they continue to set the pace, tone, and standard for the modern entertainment experience. Just about everyone who is a Netflix subscriber loves it, and some think that Netflix (and some other services like Hulu and Amazon Prime), might one day ring the death bell for traditional broadcast networks and cable service providers.

    Netflix is a case study example of a company that has managed growth, transition, technological change, and even making some strategic blunders to become one of the digital age's most interesting and influential companies. You might recall that Netflix made quite a stir in the HR/Talent Management space with their famous 'Culture Deck' a few years back. That document, which some have called the most important one in all of Silicon Valley, was seen and shared by thousands.

    But why I was interested in posting about Netflix this week has nothing to do with their 'culture deck' or consumer cord cutting or the new season of Orange is the New Black. It is for another element of the Netflix approach I find really interesting and relevant to HR and talent management pros today - their approach and attitude about program ratings, the traditional way most TV programs have been judged, and their creators rewarded.

    As consumers of TV we are all at least somewhat aware of ratings. They are reported on regularly. We all hear stories about TV's highest rated shows. And we know that when shows are cancelled, the usual reason is low ratings. In the traditional TV model, ratings are closely monitored, are made public and are widely reported on, and are the ultimate form of either validation and success, or rejection and failure. 

    Want to know the ratings of any broadcast or cable TV show? That information is not that hard to find.

    Want to know the ratings or even the total number of viewers for Netflix shows like Orange or House of Cards? Well, good luck finding out that information. Here is what Netflix thinks about ratings, from a recent piece on Business Insider:

    Netflix thinks ratings are bad for television shows, and are a negative force on the talent that produces them.

    Last week, executives from the likes of NBC and FX traded barbs with Netflix over ratings transparency.

    FX CEO John Landgraf said it’s “ridiculous that we don’t have usage numbers on Netflix," while NBC’s Alan Wurtzel cited data from an outside research company that Netflix’s ratings weren’t all that impressive.

    Netflix fired back, not just at NBC’s data, which content chief Ted Sarandos called "remarkably inaccurate," but at the very idea of ratings.

    Netflix has always closely guarded its viewership data, so much so that many of its creators don’t even know how well their shows are doing. Tina Fey, who was the co-creator of the Netflix show “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” said she had no idea how many people were watching the show,according to the Wall Street Journal.

    Now Netflix is saying this type of secrecy is actually good for shows. Sarandos said that instant ratings data turns TV into a weekly arms race between networks, and puts “a lot of creative pressure on talent,” Variety reports.

    He asserted that the focus on ratings “has been remarkably negative in terms of its effect on shows.”

    Quite a bit to take apart from that story but the key for me is not the 'old guard' sniping at Netflix from the NBC exec, but rather the Netflix point of view that a focus on ratings, particularly instant or 'real-time' ratings information is in fact harmful to the creative talent that it is increasingly engaging to produce its content.

    It is kind of a remarkable point of view, and in the modern world of digital content delivery and availability of big data and powerful analytical tools, very counter-intuitive. Everything - marketing, politics, sports, and yes even HR and talent management is in an almost lock-step march towards compiling more data, gauging success or failure more discretely, and importantly - providing results and feedback to people much more often.

    You can't swing a cat in a room of HR people today and not find at least someone, maybe a few someones, that are scrapping annual performance reviews and shifting towards some kind of alternative program for assessing and hopefully improving employee performance. While these new approaches differ at least some, they almost always have one thing in common - the encouragement of more frequent 'feedback' (if you like 'ratings'), given to employees in the course of a year.

    Sure, this 'feedback' is meant to be less formal, more forward-looking, and less frightening than the annual performance review, but strip away the new terms we are using and underneath it all to many employees it is going to feel like you've replaced the dreaded annual performance review with anywhere from 12 to 52 'mini' performance reviews. And that is going to stink worse than any uncomfortable one-hour annual performance review meeting ever did.

    The real thing to think about in all this is the effect that feedback/criticism/ratings will have on talented people, especially creative people that are increasingly the difference between organizational success and failure.

    Netflix, the paragon of the modern company, culture, and talent engine has decided that less feedback (in form of program ratings), is actually a positive, and beneficial to the creative talent with which it engages, and which it needs to compete and succeed. It thinks for people to do their best, most creative work, they can't be constantly worried, on a week-to-week basis, with ratings and viewer numbers. Netflix is playing the long game.

    So what does this mean for you, the HR and talent pro wrestling with these trends and changes in the way 'traditional' performance management has always been done?

    It might mean this: Replacing traditional, annual performance reviews with a system that amounts to more frequent, if less formal, performance reviews might be exactly the wrong thing to do if you are trying to get the best, most creative results from your teams.

    Or said differently, how many really, really talented people do you know that like to be told how they are doing all of the time?