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    Monday
    Dec082014

    Permanent Availability

    Good Monday morning!

    Let me ask you something, and be honest - Did you check your work email over the weekend? Tap out any quick messages or replies from your smartphone while you were out shopping or at the football game or 'spending time with family?'

    I bet you did.

    Everyone does it seems these days.

    This is not a brand new story, but it popped up again over the weekend - Germany Examines Ban on Employees Checking Work Email at Home, a review of some potential legislation to effectively eliminate most 'off-hours' Emails in that country. The country's Labor Minister Andrea Nahles says that it is "indisputable that there is a connection between permanent availability and psychological diseases." 

    Love that line. 

    It sounds a little far-fetched, but even the idea that some combination of workaholism, unhealthy workplace culture and expectations, and enabled by technology that leads to this notion of 'permanent availability' could lead to psychological diseases is at least fascinating.

    And some German companies like Volkswagen, at least partially driven by work contracts and labor rules are adopting the 'no Email after hours' policies. So whether it becomes a government forced mandate or an employer-driven initiative (and possibly something that is collectively bargained), it seems there is at least some traction developing in Germany for a ban or at least a significant restriction on after-hours work communications.

    Let's jump back across the pond to the USA, where those two conditions, some kind of a ban on after-hours email via legislation, or individual company/labor contract agreements to effect the same, are very unlikely. 

    So then, why should we Americans care or even think about this?

    Well for two reasons I think.

    One, regardless of where you are from, if there is some validity to Labor Minister Nahles' claim that email addiction can lead to psychological diseases, then we 'always on' American worker types are even more in jeopardy of falling victim to burnout, stress, depression, and such.

    And two, as HR and business leaders, it probably is time to think about the workplace effects of this new 'permanent availability' with respect to productivity, engagement, retention, and overall performance. Are we really getting the best or most optimal performance, (and working towards being a great/super/amazing/classy place to work), if we have as an organization effectively expanded everyone's working hours to, essentially, all of the time?

    Some time back I postulated that you could discover everything about a company's culture by examining one weekend's worth of corporate email traffic.

    How much email volume is there on the weekend? Who is driving that? How are the response rates and times, particularly when upper management is sending emails out to subordinates? 

    That kind of thing.

    I think if you believe that doing great HR is really about helping organizations perform at their best, that you should be paying attention to what is going on with these 'banning after-hours email' issues. Because even if you know that these bans will never take effect in the US, the reasons that they are even being considered are pretty important, and universal.

    Have a great week! 

    Friday
    Dec052014

    VIDEO: 56 seconds to drive home the importance of manager engagement

    If you have not yet seen the 'Target manager fires up the employees on Black Friday' clip (it made the rounds pretty widely this week), then take literally one minute and check out the short video (embedded below, Email and RSS subscribers will have to click through).

     

    The manager (Note: I could not verify 100% that he actually is the store manager, but from the content itself and the fact that no one else tried to stop him, I am going to assume he is in store leadership in some capacity), from a Target in Maryland, prepared his fellow employees for the start of the Black Friday 'battle' with a speech that echoed the stirring "This is Sparta" speech from the movie 300.

    "Whatever comes through those gates, you will stand your ground with a smile on your face. They come here with bargains in their heads and fire in their eyes and we shall give those bargains to them."

    Pretty cool stuff, if a little bit goofy. But the short speech illustrates, I think, a fantastic point about one of the topics that can be overly dwelled upon - employee engagement.

    You, me, everyone else has written, seen presentations, and talked about employee engagement for years. And thanks to our friends at Gallup, (no comment on whether or not we should care about Gallup, just making a point), we are reminded, annually, that NOTHING WE EVER DO impacts overall engagement levels all that much.

    And yet we continue to debate, discuss, even obsess about engagement.

    But in all this copious amounts of words and attention paid to engagement we don't seem to think or talk or consider manager engagement all that much. And not managers as just another employee too whose engagement or lack thereof gets tallied up by Gallup or whomever runs your survey.

    But manager engagement as it directly impacts, influences, and even helps change engagement levels of their teams - often, as is the case in this Target store, the front line staff that is the last mile in customer experience and satisfaction, well it seems to me we don't think about that much (or enough anyway).

    This little one minute pep talk from the Target manager is a great example of the how one person's high engagement has the potential to have a multiplier effect on the team. He may have swung one or two or maybe even ten of the employees to get charged up to perform at a high level, to take care of the customers, and to even get engaged themselves.

    Managers have the ability to influence a disproportionate number of staff every day. We should talk about manager engagement as much as we talk about employee engagement I think.

    Have a great weekend! 

    Thursday
    Dec042014

    CHART OF THE DAY: How we spend our time

    Today's Chart of the Day comes from our friends at the Bureau of Labor Statistics from their recent American Time Use Survey, which collects information about the activities people do during the day and how much time they spend doing them.

    So what do most of us (employed people ages 25 - 54 who have kids under 18 at home) do all day, or at least all 'work' day? Here is the chart and some FREE comments (lamentations) from me after the data:

    A few things stand out really quickly from this data of the average 24-hour work day:

    1. While the average person sleeps just a shade under 8 hours a day, I don't know anyone that is likely to report that much sleep. It seems like most folks I know are maybe getting 6.5 or 7 hours a night. So the 7.7 seems really high, what do you think?

    2. The single largest slice of the average day, unsurprisingly, is work (and related activities including commuting from/to work), with 8.7 hours per day spent. That kind of seems in line to me although I bet if you ask around your circle of friends and colleagues most people will say they work more than that. I kind of think there could be some fudging in both the survey numbers and what folks talk about privately as well. We like to think we work more than we do, but come on, are you really grinding away 10 or 12 hours a day like you would like (certain) people to believe?

    3. The most interesting thing about the chart, and for many of us, also the most interesting thing about how we spend our time, is what we say we are doing when we are not at work or asleep. Taking out the 'responsible' stuff from the chart (taking care of others, household activities), and that still leaves something like 5 - 6 hours a day (remember, these are working days), of more or less 'free' time. No one I know will admit that they feel like they have that much free or leisure time each day. 

    I don't have any really prescient or even pithy conclusions to draw from this data except for just thinking about (and similar to what I blogged about earlier in the week), how I am spending my time and whether or not I am getting closer to the various goals I have.

    What do you think? How does your day stack up against this data?

    Have a great day.

    Wednesday
    Dec032014

    The Performance Curve

    If you are a fan of baseball you might be familiar with the maxim or rule of thumb that states for Major League players that an individual player's performance (hits, home runs, wins as a pitcher, etc.), tends to 'peak' at around age 29 or so (give to take a year or two), then most often declines until the end of their careers.

    This phenomenon, most often raised when a team elects to offer hundreds of millions of dollars and 5+ year contracts to players on the wrong side of 30, has been pretty well observed, studied, and documented over the 100+ years of data about Major League player performance.

    Since charts make everything better, take a look at the generalized performance by age chart from a 2010 study published on Baseball Prospectus:

    The specifics of the Y-axis values don't really matter for the point I am after, (they represent standard deviations from 'peak' performance', but simply looking at the data we see for both the original study sample (veteran players with 10+ years of data), and 'less restricted' players, (more or less everyone else), that performance peaks in the late 20s and declines, predicatbly, from there. Keep this data in mind the next time your favorite team drops a 7-year, $125M contract on your best 31 year old slugger. Those kinds of contracts, for hitters or pitchers, almost never work out well for the team. And again, the reasons are completely obvious and predictable. Almost all players skills begin to decline by age 30. All players are in decline by 32.

    What does this predictable and observable performance curve for baseball players mean for you as an HR/Talent pro?

    I think at least three things can be taken from the baseball performance curve that apply more generally.

    1. While baseball, and sports in general, allow more precise and discrete measures of performance that allow us to pinpoint when performance 'peaks', this phenomenon applies in many other scenarios as well. You, or your managers, know after how long in a given role that an employee's performance has likely hit its apex, and continued tenure in that role is likely to results in lessened performance. Put more simply, you can't keep people, especially good ones, in the same roles for too long. They get bored, they figure it all out. And after too long, they start to tune out. The time to move people to the next role isn't when they are on the decline, it is when they are just peaking.

    2. In baseball gigantic contracts are often bestowed on players in their late 20s or early 30s, mostly on the basis of several years of prior high performance. While this on first glance seems to make sense, it almost always results in a bad deal for the team And again, the reason is not usually the fault of the player. It is just that 100 years of data show that almost all players are simply not as productive from ages 30-35 as they are from ages 25-30. The lesson here: We need to remember that most compensation should be about ongoing and future performance, and not predominantly as a reward for what has already happened. Past performance is not always, maybe not even all that often, a great predictor of future performance.

    3. Baseball player performance is very predictable, as we see in the above data, and there really is no excuse for baseball team management to pretend that is not the case. Decades of data make it plain. I think soon, maybe even fairly soon, the kinds of data and predictive data that organizations will have about employee performance will be similarly robust and powerful. Just as baseball team execs find it very difficult to heed this data, it will be tough for HR and business leaders to 'listen' to their data as well. But the best-run organizations, the ones that make the best use of their resources will be the ones that do not fail to heed what the hard data about performance and people are telling them.

    Ok that is it, I am out 

    Trust your data.

    And don't give 32 year old first basemen $100M contracts.

    Monday
    Dec012014

    The best productivity app...

    ...is not some new system or process or technology or yet the umpteenth re-imagining of the 'To-do list' - ('This time it is better! We have gamified, mobile-enabled, and socially powered the 'To-do' beyond a simple list and into a cloud-based 'List-as-a-service' platform!)

    I think the best hack or approach to understanding why you are not getting enough (or anything) done (this can be at work, with personal stuff like fitness, or even hobbies), is to first understand just how you are spending your time and attention in the first place. And more importantly, whether that 'thing' you are doing RIGHT NOW is getting you closer to your goals for the day/week/lifetime or farther away.

    So despite all of the more sophisticated ways to try and monitor and track productivity, like apps that can sit in your browser and monitor which sites you visit and how long you spend on them and for keeping track of offline activities you can keep some kind of activity log or journal (Note: you will give up on this in about 2.3 days), and finally for fitness/exercise there are a slew of apps and gadgets that can help you keep track of the time spent exercising, we still (most of us anyway), hit the end of the day/week/month not having made enough progress on the really important items we need to get accomplished.

    We have the ability to monitor/track/analyze everything, yet we still feel like we are coming up short. And that is kind of a crap feeling at the end of the day or week or year. (Admittedly, I started thinking about this when I saw the date today was December 1, and time is growing really short to get completed some '2014' goals I had).

    So let's circle back to the title of this post, 'The best productivity app'. I imagine it will get at least a few clicks from people that see that headline and think 'Yes, I need that! What is the name of that App?'

    The terrible news is that I have no idea what the best productivity App might be, there is an entire cottage industry of productivity 'experts' to offer their thoughts on that question. Google them, I guess.

    But since I baited and switched you with that title, I will offer my take on what the best Productivity app would do.

    It will have one input box that asks you 'What is the most important thing you need to get done?' 

    It will also have a checkbox indicator type setting, (minutes, hours, days, etc.), where you would set up periodic 'push' notifications that will ask you the following question:

    Is what you are doing RIGHT NOW getting you closer to completing XYZ, (the 'important thing' you need to get done), and you would close the notification by saying 'Yes' or 'No'.

    And that is it. That is the entire app.

    No integration with Evernote or Slack or Trello.

    No fancy dashboards or social sharing capability.

    No API so you can share the data from the 'Stop doing stupid things' app, (that may or may not be the name, but it doesn't matter), with your favorite fitness watch.

    And you would not be able to shut off the notifications (short of deleting the app), until you mark that 'Important thing' done, (and you could set up a new one from there).

    Maybe there is an App out there already that does this, but failing that, anyone (me too), can set it up pretty easily with recurring calendar events/notifications. The technology doesn't really matter. What matters is the question and the answer.

    Is what you are doing RIGHT NOW getting you closer to completing XYZ, (the 'important thing' you need to get done?)

    Have a great week!