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    Maybe automation will hit managers as hard as staff

    Super (long) read from over the weekend on the FT.com site titled 'When Your Boss is an Algorithm' that takes a really deep and thoughtful look at the challenges, pain, and potential of automation and algorithms in work and workplaces.

    While the piece hits many familiar themes that have been covered before in the ongoing discussion and debate about the cost/benefits of increased automation for front line workers, (Uber and the like largely controlling their workers while still insisting they are independent contractors, the likelihood of reduced wage pressure that arises from increased scheduling efficiency, and how the 'gig economy', just like every other economy before it, seems to create winners and losers both), there was one really interesting passage in the piece about how a particular form of algorithm might just impact managers as much if not more than workers.

    Here's the excerpt of interest from the FT.com piece, then some comments from me after the quote:

    The next frontier for algorithmic management is the traditional service sector, tackling retailers and restaurants.

    Percolata is one of the Silicon Valley companies trying to make this happen. The technology business has about 40 retail chains as clients, including Uniqlo and 7-Eleven. It installs sensors in shops that measure the volume and type of customers flowing in and out, combines that with data on the amount of sales per employee, and calculates what it describes as the “true productivity” of a shop worker: a measure it calls “shopper yield”, or sales divided by traffic.

    Percolata provides management with a list of employees ranked from lowest to highest by shopper yield. Its algorithm builds profiles on each employee — when do they perform well? When do they perform badly? It learns whether some people do better when paired with certain colleagues, and worse when paired with others. It uses weather, online traffic and other signals to forecast customer footfall in advance. Then it creates a schedule with the optimal mix of workers to maximise sales for every 15-minute slot of the day. Managers press a button and the schedule publishes to employees’ personal smartphones. People with the highest shopper yields are usually given more hours. Some store managers print out the leaderboard and post it in the break room. “It creates this competitive spirit — if I want more hours, I need to step it up a bit,” explains Greg Tanaka, Percolata’s 42-year-old founder.

    The company runs “twin study” tests where it takes two very similar stores and only implements the system in one of them. The data so far suggest the algorithm can boost sales by 10-30 per cent, Tanaka says. “What’s ironic is we’re not automating the sales associates’ jobs per se, but we’re automating the manager’s job, and [our algorithm] can actually do it better than them.”

    The last sentence in bold is the key bit I think. 

    If the combination of sensor data, sales data, and scheduling and employee information when passed through the software's algorithm can produce a staffing/scheduling plan that is from 10% - 30% better (in terms of sales), than what even an experienced manager can conjure himself or herself, then the argument to replace at least some 'management' with said algorithm is quite compelling. And it is a notable outlier in these kinds of 'automation is taking our jobs' stories that usually focus on the people holding the jobs that 'seem' more easily automated, the ones that are repetitive, involve low levels of decision making, and require skills that even simple technology can master.

    Crafting the 'optimal' schedule for a retail location seems to require plenty managerial skills and understanding of the business and its goals. And at least a decent understanding of the personalities, needs, wants, and foibles of the actual people whose names are being written on the schedule.

    It seems like algorithms from companies like Percolata are making significant advances, at least on the first set of criteria, that include predicting traffic, estimating yield, and devising the 'best' staffing plan, (at least on paper). My suspicion is the algorithm is not quite ready to really deeply understand the latter set of issues, the ones that are, you know, more 'human' in nature.

    Or said differently, it is unlikely the algorithm will be able to predict a drop in productivity due to issues an employee may be having outside of work or adequately assess the importance to a good employee of the need to schedule around a second job or some other responsibilities.

    There is probably a long way to go for algorithms to completely take over these kinds of management tasks, you know, the ones where actually talking to people is needed to reach solutions.

    But when/if all the workers are automated away themselves? Well, then that is a different story entirely. 


    PODCAST - #HRHappyHour 258 - HR Gives Back

    HR Happy Hour 258 - HR Gives Back

    Hosts: Steve BoeseTrish McFarlane

    Guest: Mollie Lombardi


    This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, Steve sat down with Molllie Lombardi, Co-founder of Aptitude Research Partners, co-host of the Research on the Rocks Podcast,  and a driving force behind the HR Gives Back effort.  We had the good fortune of recording live from IBM HR Summit in Boston event held last week. 

    On the show, Mollie shared the background and history of the HR Gives Back effort, how people can get involved in this year's initiatives both at and outside of the upcoming HR Technology Conference, and talked about the important work that the HR Gives Back organization is helping to support.

    In addition, Mollie talked about living and working with Parkinson's, and shared some advice and encouragement for both individuals, families and friends, and even organizations that can help them in their ongoing support and care of people diagnosed with Parkinson's.

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


    This was an important and interesting show, and we hope you check it out. Many thanks to Mollie for all her hard work with HR Gives Back and please do visit the HR Gives Back website to get involved with this fantastic cause.

    I hope you give this episode a listen, and be sure to subscribe to the HR Happy Hour Show on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, or your favorite podcast app - just search for 'HR Happy Hour' to never miss a show.


    PODCAST - Steve on the Infor Reinventing Retail Show

    Wanted to share the information for a guest appearance I did recently with the really fun and interesting crew at the Infor Reinventing Retail podcast.

    On the show, we talked about some of the trends, challenges, and opportunities that modern HCM technologies offer to retail organizations. From tools to better improve recruiting, scheduling, and making sure every HR and workplace technology is optimized for mobile today’s leading retailers know that investments in workforce management solutions that take advantage of these technologies are key when it comes to modernizing their businesses.

    In this episode of the Reinventing Retail podcast, I talked about what role modern technologies are playing in today’s retail landscape, and how they’re set to change the global retail landscape moving forward.

    You can listen to the show on the Infor Reinventing Retail Podcast show page here, or using the widget player below, (email and RSS subscribers will need to click through)

    And you can learn more about Infor's modern workforce management solutions for modern retailers here.

    Thanks to the Infor Reinventing Retail Podcast for having me on the show!

    Have a great week!


    CHART OF THE DAY: There's almost no one left to fill your open jobs

    I am an absolute mark for big picture labor market data. And the best, most interesting regular look at labor market data os the Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey report, better known as the JOLTS report.

    Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has stated that the JOLTS report is one of the most important data sets she relies on when pondering the Fed's decisions on monetary policy, and if the JOLTS is good enough for J-Yell then you had better believe the rest of us should be paying attention to it as well.

    For today's Chart of the Day, take a look at what's happening with the ratio of unemployed persons to current job openings - a fixture of the JOLTS data. First the chart, then some comments from me after the data.

    Some quick thoughts on the data:

    1. When the most recent recession began (December 2007), the number of unemployed persons per job opening was 1.9. The ratio peaked at 6.6 unemployed persons per job opening in July 2009 and has trended downward since. The ratio at the end of July was 1.3 unemployed persons per job opening. This represents the all-time low in the ratio since it has been calculated by the BLS.

    2. In addition, the very same JOLTS report shows that the denominator of the ratio, the number of current job openings in the US is also at a record level, hitting 5.9 million at the end of July. 

    3. This data reminds us that it is both a great and terrible time to be in recruiting/talent acquisition. Let's start with the terrible part. For lots of jobs and locations there simply are not enough (qualified for sure), candidates to form an adequate pipeline for the roles you need to fill. There are fewer unemployed persons overall, workforce participation rates remain really low by historical standards, (a subject to its own), and lots of people with desirable skills are coming to terms with their power and negotiating leverage in the market. When you have to pry someone away from the job they already have, that gives a little bit of power to the person that in worse economic times they would not enjoy.

    The good news is that the same JOLTS report that shows the ratio of unemployed persons per job opening is at an all-time low, also shows that the 'Quits' rate, i.e., the percentage of workers who are voluntarily leaving their jobs continues to trend upward - hitting 2.0% in July, which equates to about 2 million quits. In other words, workers continue to express confidence in the labor market and willingness, (almost at a pre-recession rate), to quit the job they have now, to (in theory), take the job you are trying to fill. If you can make a compelling offer, chances are at least decent you can pry someone out of where they are now to take it. And you may have to as the unemployed/jobs ratio continues to fall, and nothing seems to be significantly moving the needle to entice more people back into the workforce who are currently on the sidelines.

    There is plenty more in the report, but I think you get the idea and I will leave it to you to dig in more. The JOLTS report should be your monthly must-read if you are interested at all in what is happening at a macro-level in the US labor market. Bookmark this page and thank me later.

    Have a great weekend!


    PODCAST - #HRHappyHour 257- Innovative Approaches to Diversity and Inclusion

    HR Happy Hour 257 - Shocking and Innovative Approaches to Diversity and Inclusion

    Hosts: Steve BoeseTrish McFarlane

    Guest: Anka Wittenberg, SAP


    This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, Steve and Trish talked with Anka Wittenberg, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer (CDIO) at SAP.  We had the good fortune of recording live from SAP/ Successfactors “SuccessConnect 2016” event.  Anka is leading the global People Sustainability Department encompassing Diversity & Inclusion, People Principles and Health. She is the pivotal change agent on how to design and implement work relationship at SAP – all together in an inclusive environment based on mutual respect, care and trust.

    Anka talked with us about developing and implementing SAP’s Diversity and Inclusion strategy globally, and the steps they take to ensure sustainable business success. She shared her thoughts on why diversity and inclusion still really matter.  She also talked about some of the programs and policies that have been implemented at SAP to promote and support diversity and inclusion in the organization.

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

    This was a fun and interesting show, and we hope you check it out. Many thanks to Anka for joining the conversation and to SAP/ Successfactors for inviting us to record live at Success Connect!  For more information, be sure to check out their site and download their paper on Diversity and Inclusion.

    Give this lively episode a listen, and be sure to subscribe to the HR Happy Hour Show on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, or your favorite podcast app.