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    More from the 'Robots are making people obsolete' front lines

    I was fully prepared to write up a 'There's no way a robot could have done what I did this weekend' piece after having spent most of it painting some rooms in the house, building some furniture, and hanging about a million pictures and posters on the wall. The work was too imprecise, too unstructured, and required too much moving about in tight, crowded spaces for any robot (based on my current understanding of mainstream robotics capability), too manage.

    So after doing all that work over the weekend I felt pretty good about my ability to remain (reasonably) useful and relevant moving forward. I mean, between coming up with sort of interesting blogs, and general domestic tasks, (I am also very handy with a chainsaw), I had a hearty chuckle to myself, thinking about the doomsayers, (sometimes me too), fretting about the impending obsolescence of the human worker in the face of technological innovation.

    But these good feelings kind of dissapated a bit when I caught this piece on Fashionista (What, are you surprised I follow Fashionista?), on how some enterprising drones took the place of some fashion models at the recent Dolce & Gabbana show in Milan.

    Turns out drones can 'model' as well as (or better), than the human fashion models (at least in some instances). From the piece on Fashionista:

    It’s 2018, and as further proof that we’re already living in the future, what’s more fashionable than drones? Drones with handbags, according to Italian luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabanna, which sent a bunch of flying drones down its runway during the house’s fashion show in Milan on Sunday.

    Here's a look at the drone runway models as seen on Twitter: (if you can't see the video, click through)

    Make progress against the robots in one area, (painting a room in bad lighting and full of odd angles and corners), and lose it in another, (looking glamorous while showing off the latest in designer handbags).

    All this reminds us that the path to workplace automation, and the more widespread loss of jobs for people, is going to progress in spurts, in fits and stops, will surprise us in some ways and shock us in others, and is, probably, still inevitable.

    Have a great day. Let me know if you buy one of the D & G handbags.


    PODCAST: #HRHappyHour 312: HR Tech Startup Spotlight: Disco

    HR Happy Hour 312 - HR Tech Startup Spotlight: Disco

    Host: Steve Boese

    Guests: Justin Vandehey, Veronica Belmont from Disco

    Listen HERE

    This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, Steve kicks off a new series, the HR Tech Startup Spotlight with Justin Vandehey and Veronica Belmont from Disco, an AI-based engagement and recognition platform based team collaboration tools like Slack and MS Teams,

    On the show, Justin and Veronica shared the story of Disco, how the idea to create a new kind of employee engagement and recognition based on collaboration tools that employees were already using to get work done came to be, and how making recognition easy, real-time, in context of normal workflows, and tied back to company values is proving to be so powerful.

    Disco has been developed in a way where it can be enabled and adopted inside organizations so easily and in a grassroots kind of manner that it served to democratize HR tech, in a way that legacy platforms for recognition and feedback can't really match, which is really novel and cool.

    Additionally, Justin and Veronica shared the benefits adopting organizations are seeing from Disco, how HR leaders can leverage the solution in their organizations, the benefits of an integrated recognition solution, and how some customers are driving improvements in engagement and business outcomes like NPS and customer satisfaction from leveraging increased and measurable recognition programs,

    We also learned a new term 'Fart App', Steve previewed next week's HR Happy Hour Oscars Show, and that Veronica has a highly coveted 'first name only' Twitter handle.

    You can listen to the show on the show page HERE, or by using the widget player below:

    This was a fun show, thanks to Justin and Veronica for joining us.

    Learn more about Disco at http://justdisco.com.

    Thanks as always to HR Happy Hour Show sponsor Virgin Pulse, learn more at - www.virginpulse.com

    And subscribe to the HR Happy Hour Show wherever you get your podcasts.


    US companies are flush with cash, where does 'raise wages' fall on the priority list?

    Last week on the blog we noted the shift in the mix of annual employee compensation increases - companies have and are continuing to increase their use of one-time and variable comp increases like annual bonuses and lessen their use of base (and in theory, recurring), salary and wage increases. The argument, many companies make, is that variable comp awards tie comp more closely to individual and organizational performance measures and provide the organization more flexibility and adaptability to respond to changing market conditions and business performance.

    We have even seen this trend play out in the wake of two recent legislative decisions that have combined to create a pretty significant windfall of excess cash/after tax profit for many of the US's largest companies. One, the reduction in the 'stated' corporate income tax rate from 35% to 21%. And two, the reduction of the tax rate on the repatriation of US company cash that has been parked in overseas accounts, and now can be brought back to the US at a lower tax rate (about 15%).

    With all this additional cash available to many large companies (most of whom are large employers), it makes sense from an HR / Talent point of view to ask a pretty simple question: Will and to what extent will all this cash flow to employees in the form of salary/wage increases or bonuses?'

    Well, sadly for most employees, and for HR and Talent leaders who might be advocating for increased investment in people, the short answer to the question is 'Hardly'. Take a look at the chart below, from a Fortune piece citing some recent BofA Merrill Lynch research on just what these companies plan to do with their soon to be repatriated earnings:

    Looking though that list of top six likely uses of this repatriated cash, maybe you could argue that the one that came in sixth, 'fund pension' has some direct benefit to current employees. Share repurchases, which we will see again in a second when looking at the knock-on effect of lower income tax rates, could also benefit employees who participate in ESOP plans or have a decent bit of their 401(k) tied up in company stock. But that is an indirect, and incomplete benefit at best.

    Another review, this time by the financial firm Goldman Sachs, paints a similar picture of who the likely beneficiaries will be from lower corporate tax rates. From a piece reported by Marketwatch:

    Buyback announcements are up 22% this year to $67 billion in just six weeks, Goldman Sachs said in a note to clients. This follows a report by benefits consulting firm Aon Hewitt finding that 83% of large companies don’t expect the tax cut to boost salaries at all — just help pay for small bonuses companies like WalMart  and AT&T, gave workers, which reporters soon discovered were, themselves, skewed toward higher-paid, longer-tenured employees in many cases.

    And it comes as Goldman finds companies have raised guidance on re-investment in their businesses — the putative reason for cutting corporate taxes at all — only 3%.

    A couple of things to note here. CEOs and Boards do have a responsibility to their shareholders - some would certainly argue that the shareholders' concerns matter more to corporations than any other stakeholders. So moves to increase the share price (repurchases), and return profits to the holders, (increased dividends), are definitely proper and prudent uses of excess cash/profits.

    But the really small levels of internal re-investment, and commitment to improving the long-term compensation levels for employees is a little bit disconcerting. But it also reminds us of something really important. Namely, that for most large organizations labor cost, (and by extension, their investment in people), is just that - a cost that has to be managed.

    What the organization is willing to invest, and whether they are willing to increase this investment is subject to a complex set of variables - competition for talent, product/service strategy, overall labor market conditions, the impact of automation and outsourcing, and even the legal/regulatory climate.

    But what does not, yet, seem to be moving the needle on investment in people and employee compensation,(aside from the slew of copycat one-time $1,000 bonuses we heard all about), is this sudden windfall of excess corporate cash/profits as a result of recent corporate tax changes.

    More simply put, organizations increase what they are willing to pay for any resource only when they have to, not because they are able to.

    Apple won't volunteer to pay more per piece to their supplier of iPhone screens just because they can.

    And they won't volunteer to pay their engineers, accountants, and facilities staff more just because they can as well. Interesting times for sure.

    Have a great day!


    POWER MOVE: Who can get away with wearing sunglasses inside

    There are only two reasons to wear sunglasses inside (excluding for any medical/eye issues).

    Reason one (and this is by FAR the most common) - said inside sunglass wearer is a Grade A loser/jerk/poseur/idiot, and the sunglasses are screaming 'Look at me'

    Exhibit 1 - Lane Kiffin (back when he was still coaching at Alabama).

    As I mentioned - really jerky.

    Two (much less common but far more interesting) - the inside sunglass wearer is competing, with you, me, pretty much everybody around him or her, and doesn't want to give away any hint to what they may be thinking or feeling. The sunglasses in this case are saying something totally different - 'Don't look at me.'

    Exhibit 2 - Greg 'Fossil Man' Raymer - professional poker player most famous for winning the 2004 World Series of Poker Main Event (and a $5M prize)

    Pro poker players doing the sunglass inside thing at the table is pretty common now, but back in 2004, Raymer was kind of an innovator - and a savvy competitor. Hard to get a read on a person when they are hiding behind the shades.

    Exhibit 2A - And my new hero, one Anna Wintour, fashion industry icon, and in this picture seemingly disrespectful to Queen Elizabeth by not removing her trademark sunnies.

    But why does Wintour rock the shades? Hint - it isn't because she is trying to be too cool for the room. It is because she doesn't want you (or me or anyone else), to know what she is thinking, particularly as she sits in the front row of a fashion show, eyeing the latest designs.

    From a recent piece on Business Insider explaining Ms. Wintour's affinity for the shades: (edited a little)

    If anyone's actually watched Anna Wintour in front row fashion shows before, they'd know she always wears her blacked out sunglasses so that people and prying media cameras cannot read and reveal her true thoughts on the fashion items as they pass her on the catwalk. 

    And that's the reason the real ballers go with the sunglasses inside look. When everyone wants a piece of what you are thinking, and it is not in your best interests necessarily to let them know what you are thinking, then players like Raymer and Wintour put their guard up, and kind of dare you to call them out on it.

    But when you win as much as Raymer and Wintour have in their careers, most folks don't bother to call them out after all, and if they do, it really doesn't matter, because after all, who is doing most of the winning? And one thing we see in most winners - they are often willing to do things that the rest of us wouldn't consider 'proper'.

    So here's the move I want you to consider. That next 'big' project or staff or client meeting when things could get a little tense, when you do want or need to play your cards, (sorry Raymer), close to the vest, and to not reveal what you are really thinking or feeling - do you have the guts to walk in like Wintour, with a set of blacked out shades? How would Jerry from accounting react when he looked at you an all he got back was a stone face and a set of Ray-Bans?

    Could you pull it off?

    Wouldn't it be awesome if you did? 

    Have a great day!


    Learn a new word: Conway's Law

    Have you ever noticed the tendency for large, complex, and difficult to navigate organizations to create to create large, complex, and difficult to navigate products, services, and policies?

    Alternatively, have you noticed, (I am sure you have), how many startup companies (especially tech companies), who lack size, complexity and bureaucracy in their organizations tend to create much simpler, easy to use and intuitive kinds of products and services? 

    It kind of makes sense, even if we never really consciously thought about the connection between the organization, its size, methods of working, and structure and the outputs of that organization. But it is a phenomenon, in technology certainly, that has been observed for at least 50 years, and it has a name - Conway's Law - today's Word of the Day.

    Mel Conway, a programmer, came up with concept in 1967, and by 1968 it was dubbed his 'law'. What does the law actually say? From Mr. Conway's website:

    Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization's communication structure.

    Later, the Law was expanded to encompass not just the idea that an organization's communication structure would influence (and mirror) the systems that the organization produces, but the broad 'culture' of the organization has a significant impact on its products and services.

    Think of a corporate website, which often has separate sections of information that copies the internal organizational makeup, not necessarily aligned and architected with how site visitors want to consume information. Or an enterprise technology product that offers complex and lengthy workflows for transaction entry, routing, and approval that tends to reflect the creating organization's own internal processes and hierarchies that do not always reflect what their customers want.

    These kinds of examples show Conway's Law in effect - the way the fundamental elements of how an organization operates internally show up in the products they build, the services they offer, and more broadly, how they 'see' the relationship between themselves and their customers, shareholders, and community.

    I have written in a few places that when making decisions around HR and other enterprise technologies that HR and business leaders should evaluate the culture and vision of any potential technology provider just as closely, (if not more closely), than they evaluate the capability and functionality of a particular piece of software.

    Capability and functionality can change over time, and in mature markets tends to run together amongst established providers. But organization culture changes much more slowly, if ever, and no matter what new elements of functionality are introduced to the solution, the essential nature of the provider (and the priduct too), is likely to be pretty well entrenched.

    Have a great day!