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    Artisanal HR

    For the beer fans out there I have a question for you: When is the last time you had a cold, refreshing Budweiser? You know, the classic, iconic, King of Beers?

    I think I can hear the beer snobs out there answering 'Not for ages, who drinks Bud anymore?' You likely prefer some kind of triple filtered, quadruple hopped, double bocked India Top Secret super pale ale, (aged for 18 months in oak casks imported from Bordeaux).

    (For the record, I like Bud and Bud Light, so there.)

    But the reason I bring up Budweiser on the blog today was this interesting piece from Ad Week - Budweiser Woos Hipsters With Artisanal Wooden Crates and Throwback Logos. Here is an excerpt from the Ad Week piece:

    (Budweiser) today revealed it's planting 10,000 vintage wooden crates in stores across the country this week. The packages will contain 18 bottles of Bud adorned with a classic label from either 1918 (beginning of Prohibition), 1933 (end of Prohibition) or 1976 (the brand's 100th anniversary) as well as two pilsner glasses. The crates were handmade by a North Carolina shop called Vintage Editions.

    Additionally, the throwback labels will appear on 1.6 million Bud bottles to be shipped in the next several weeks.

    Why am I bringing this up?

    Because I think it is interesting, (the number one reason I blog about anything), and also because it is about beer, (the third reason I would choose a topic for the blog, the second reason being some kind of a take about basketball).

    What is interesting about the move by Bud, is that beyond a simple re-packaging tactic it is also a play to evoke and leverage Bud's rich history and mythos as America's traditional and largest brewer. Bud has been a part of America longer than any of us have, and likely even if many of us have moved on to more (allegedly) 'better' beers, that most of us have memories of family and friends and Bud.

    But somehow along the way Bud (and other mass-market brands), become not 'cool' any more. Bud is too generic, too large, too mass-produced for many folks. For them, whether it is beer or tomatoes or cheese or even physical products like furniture or clothes what is valued is new, unique, and something called 'artisanal.' I don't want the thing that lots of other people have, (or have access to). So while Bud can't change and somehow become hip or artisanal, what it can do I think, via smart messaging, packaging, and leveraging a strength of theirs, (their history), is remind a new generation of potential customers that they are still around, still relevant, still cool, (in an ironic way, see Blue Ribbon, Pabst).

    What's the connection to HR/Talent/Workplaces?

    Well, lots of what we do (and have done) in HR probably seems more like Bud and not much like Pliny the Elder (Google it).

    But just like Bud is still a pretty refreshing drink, especially on a hot day, lots of what we do in HR and Talent is still relevant and valuable - even if it doesn't seem cool anymore. Maybe there are a lot of old-sounding processes for training or leadership development or even mentoring that still have value (and you can prove it), but just need a refresh, some re-packaging, and a way to remind the new wave of customers of their value.

    Maybe instead of re-inventing everyrhing, you should start by considering re-packaging the best of what you already have first. 

    And don't be a beer snob.


    No one can find anything in a massive Home Center. Except this robot.

    Getting back to the 'Robots are going to take all of our jobs' beat that I feel like I have been neglecting for a while and I wanted to share with you a short video, (Email and RSS subscribers click through), and some quick thoughts about a recent, and pretty interesting 'Robots in the workplace' development.

    This one, perhaps surprisingly, comes to us from the folks at Lowes - the mega-chain of supersized home improvement centers. You know the ones I am talking about. Each one about the size of the town you grew up in, carrying tens of thousands of different items, and once within, it's usually impossible to find the specific item you are actually looking for (or a store employee to help you).

    Enter OSHbot. A fully independent, multi-lingual, and infinitely patient Home Center assistant. Need to find an item in the store? OSHbot knows exactly where everytihng is located. Do you have the actual item in your hands? Hold it in front of OSHbot's camera and the robot can recognize and identify the item. Don't speak English? No problem, OSHbot will engage with you in the language you prefer.

    Check the video below, (about 2.5 minutes), and then a couple of comments from me after that.

    Seems like such an obviously good idea, right? This (pretty simple, really), technology goes a long way towards addressing the most common customer complaints with massive, big box stores.

    Where is the item I want? Can you take me there? What is this part I know that I need to replace but I have never seen before? Can someone here speak to me in my language?

    But I bet even more interesting, (and challenging for HR/Talent pros and organizations), will not be whether or not customers will embrace/adopt these robot store associates (I think they will), but what this might mean for staffing, deployment, and management of the robot's human co-workers.

    Once technology like the OSHbot becomes more widely deployed, human employees will have to become accustomed to working with technology that at some level is 'better' than they can likely be. By 'better', I mean that the robot, with access to real-time store inventory, sales, and perfect recall, will have the 'better' answer (or at least just as good an answer as a human) to probably 90% of customer inquiries.

    Certainly in a home center environment there will be some level of customer support, for more complex or nuanced questions, that actual human experts in paint or lumber or plumbing will be best prepared to answer. But I wonder for how long? I mean, couldn't Lowes just deploy a few more OSHbots to 'shadow' the best human experts to record, classify, evaluate, and share with all the other OSHbots across the world the 'best' or 'right' answers to these complex questions? And once that process starts, won't the line or level where actual humans remain 'better' at serving retail home center customers recede even more?

    And finally, one last thought. Robots taking customer service jobs in a Lowes or similar might not be alarming to you yourself right now. But these applications are not going to stop at the Lowes or the Walmart. They are being developed everywhere.

    How long until we see the first HR robot?

    Have a great week!


    PODCAST - #HRHappyHour 194 - Small Improvements

    HR Happy Hour 194 - Small Improvements

    Recorded Wednesday October 29, 2014

    Hosts: Trish McFarlaneSteve Boese

    Guest: Linda Jonas

    This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, Steve and Trish were joined by Linda Jonas, International traveler, and Director of Marketing for Small Improvements, an HR technology provider of tools that provide a simpler, easy to use, and more engaging approach to performance management, workplace feedback, 360-degree reviews, and more.

    We talked about Linda's annual 6-week world tour where she meets with customers and partners, her Small Improvements colleagues, and attends events like the HR Technology Conference and the upcoming HRevolution (of which Small Improvements is a sponsor). 

    Additionally, Linda shared some insights into emerging and ongoing trends in employee performance management, and the need for both software providers and organizations to keep these processes clear, easy to adopt, and valuable for employees, managers and organizations overall. Everyone seems to hate on Performance Management and one of the reasons is that the process has often been overengineered and over-complicated. Check out Small Improvements to get some insights into how you can change that in your organization, while improving (pardon the pun) both the process and the desired outcomes.

    You can listen to the show on the show page here, or using the widget player below. And you can find and subscribe to the HR Happy Hour Show on iTunes or on your favorite podcast playing app. Just search for 'HR Happy Hour'. 

    Check Out Business Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Steve Boese Trish McFarlane on BlogTalkRadio



    This was a really fun show - thanks to Linda and to everyone at Small Improvements!


    Microsoft Band and the Future of Wearables at Work

    As a certified data and tech geek, and a wannabee runner, (slow runner at least), I am totally fascinated and interested in the launch of Microsoft Band, the software giant's new wearable fitness tracking device. 

    What interests me with the Microsoft take on wearable fitness tracking, which admittedly is not really in and of itself all the groundbreaking, we have had Fitbits and Jawbones and all kinds of other fitness and activity tracking devices for some time now, is how the folks at Redmond are talking about and developing the Band as much more than a personal activity tool, but rather as a productivity tool.

    Read the (long, but interesting) post on Microsoft's News Center describing the new Band. The word 'productivity' pops up at least a half dozen times in the piece, (including in the title). Microsoft is still and probably will always be known as the company that makes the software most of us use to do work. Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoints - heck I bet 80% of the people reading this blog use Exchange/Outlook for your business email.

    Microsoft is about WORK. Getting work done even in 2014 still often equates to dragging your mouse and keyboard around some kind of Microsoft product. 

    So the fact that Redmond is diving into wearable/fitness tech, and openly talking about Productivity in that conversation is eye-opening. Here is just one representative reference to work and productivity in the Microsoft piece:

    Microsoft Band’s cutting-edge continuous heart rate monitoring provides a detailed calorie count and sleep quality measurements. With the inclusion of intelligent personal assistant Cortana on Windows Phone 8.1, the band also offers hands-free access to the web and your most important correspondence whether you’re at the office or at the gym.

    And here is one more snippet:

    With the inclusion of productivity and communication features, they aimed to make not only a wearable personal trainer but also a wearable personal assistant. Productivity features would deepen the device’s connection with the consumer and free them from having to keep their eyes glued to a smartphone.

    While the initial interest and appeal for a wearable like Microsoft Band might be at the individual consumer level, it is pretty easy to see a (near) future when the deep integration of a fitness/activity tracker with the workplace productivity tools that Microsoft has long dominated, would present a compelling value proposition to organizations. I can easily see a day where organizations pass out a Microsoft Band along with a company-issued laptop and corporate Email account. The potential for not only Level 1 benefits (more exercise by employees, better dietary/sleep habits, weight loss, etc), but deeper insight into how work patterns, activities, schedules, and even personal interactions impact employee health and well-being will just be too tempting to pass up.

    Think for a second about the potential benefits for organizations of deeper integration between wearable fitness/activity trackers and the tools we are used to using at work - Email, Office docs, even IM and collaboration tools.

    I can think of at least three really compelling use cases for this kind of integration right off the top. 

    One - how work itself effects employee health. Does someone's heart start racing in every staff meeting? Do they begin to get twitchy when called upon to present to a group? Does a certain interaction with a colleague result in three nights of poor sleep? And then what can organizations then do to better understand and potentially align individuals with projects and team members that can aid their ability to perform, while not making them crazy? How do schedules, (and in particular over scheduling), impact employee health and activity? Do we need to be more mindful of how overworked and over scheduled many of our people are?

    Two - Insights into who in the organization inspires, challenges, and lifts people up, and who serves as essentially the corporate buzzkill? Imaging a meeting with 10 people inside, all wearing the MS Band. One person dominates the meeting, maybe it is the boss, and immediately after the other 9 people begin to show signals of nervousness, irritability, or even lethargy. Maybe email and collaboration patterns in the team begin to show signs of changing as well. Perhaps some members of the team skip their normal workouts for a day or two in the aftermath. Maybe some folks don't even turn up the next day. 

    Three - How much (or little) are employees actually disengaging from work to do things like exercise and even to just relax without worrying about and reading/responding to emails and texts? Activity tracking data should show a fairly regular and consistent pattern of employee activity and (hopefully) reveal that people are getting enough activity and also are not trapped to their work 24/7. What is the relationship between extended periods of downtime and subsequent well-being and productivity? Do we need to be more adamant that people actually take their earned PTO in order to ensure better long-run health and on the job success?

    Ok, I could be jumping the gun on this. But I can't help but see a potential future where activity/fitness/health tracking information becomes a vital input into overall workforce management and planning. Sure, some folks will scream about privacy and employer intrusion into personal areas where they should not be. And while that is a valid concern, if the macro trends hold up, and people continue to be more open and public about their lives, then a future where employees physiological responses and activities to work and the workplace are just another set of data points to overall HR/Talent/Business planning seems almost inevitable. Besides, employers 'spying' on employees did not just get invented with fitness trackers and it will be with us long after we all toss out our Fitbits. 

    So what do you think?

    Does Microsoft Band signal something potentially really important for HR and workplaces?

    Or am I naive to the extent to which people will not want to share this personal data with their employers?


    How the NBA can teach you (almost) everything you need to know about talent management

    Tonight is the opening of the 2014-2015 NBA season, (also known as the greatest day of the year in my house). I am a firm believer that sports, and particularly NBA basketball, offer some of the best real-world and public manifestations and examples of what HR and Talent pros would refer to as modern organizational Talent Management.

    I am also a firm believer that you too can learn just about everything you need to know about modern Talent Management from close observation of the NBA - the teams, the stars, the coaching, the executive decisions, even the marketing. Sure, I know what you are saying, sports isn't like real life and real business, and you can't constantly keep comparing the two very different worlds. To that I say, you're wrong. Or at least that is the argument I am going to make.

    Here are five (easy, and just the most obvious ones I could think of in the 26 minutes I allotted myself to write tihis post), of how following the NBA can raise your HR game in the major Talent Management process areas.

    Recruiting/Selection - The most obvious parallel between the NBA and 'real' business is probably in recruiting and selection. In both examples you have to make the critical determination of just who is likely to succeed and perhaps more importantly, succeed in your specific business/team/set of circumstances. Even really talented NBA players sometimes find themselves on the 'wrong' team or in a system that does not suit their talents, (see Paul, Chris). You know you have been there too, dealing with a smart, talented employee who for some reason or another doesn't 'fit' or simply needs a change of scenery, (maybe a transfer, a new boss, maybe leaving altogether), in order for them to realize their potential. 

    Learning/Development - Most players get to the NBA (mostly) fully formed, i.e., their skills and abilities are reasonably developed, and only need some refinement and experience in order to succeed. But there are some players, especially players later in their career, that end up adding new elements or skills to their games in order to extend their usefulness and their time in the league, (see Carter, Vince). I would argue that for successful people, just like for NBA players, learning and development needs have two peaks, right at the start of one's career, and again towards the end. What is the HR/Talent lesson? Probably not to neglect the learning and development needs of longer-tenured employees, who still have plenty to offer, but might just need a little more time in the gym learning a new skill or two.

    Performance Management - Coaching doesn't make a ton of difference in the NBA, as success or failure is primarily a function of the talent level of the players. But there are a couple of exceptions to this. Namely, the coaches at the very top, the ones that consistently have the most success, find a way to coax superior performance out of their players, (see Popovich, Gregg). Much like with players, the difference between the very best coaches and average coaches is incredibly significant, (and apparent). The HR pro takeaway from this? The best talent does not always win. The best talent, guided by the best managers usually does win. Don't skimp on trying to build the best team of managers that you can.

    Succession Planning - Lots to learn about succession planning from sports, but the best recent example might be what has been happening to the proud Los Angeles Lakers franchise since the passing of owner Dr. Jerry Buss in 2013. Under Buss' stewardship, the Lakers enjoyed a lengthy run of high performance and numerous championships. After his death, his ownership interests passed to his six children, with each one having an equal vote in team matters. Two of the children, Jeannie and Jim have the most direct involvement with the team, and their performance has been to put it kindly, less than stellar. The franchise seems kind of adrift, they have made several questionable decisions, (see Bryant Kobe), and are facing down what is likely to be their worst season in years. The takeaway here? Even the best performing, best-run companies have to have a plan for when their owner/leader moves on. Nothing lasts forever, but organizations with a deep bench of solid leaders will last longer than most. 

    Compensation - All NBA teams operate under a salary budget (cap), just like your organization does too. Allocating that budget intelligently across the roster is paramount to a team's success in the league. Spend too much on one or two superstar players, (see Bryant, Kobe), and then you're left with filling out the team with a collection of less talented players. But, fail to spend (or offer) top-level talent the top-level money they demand, and watch them walk to a competitor, (see Parsons, Chandler). Hey, that is exactly what happens to some of your best people too!

    Simple, right? Lessons abound everywhere in the NBA where you can see the actual outcomes of Talent Management strategies and decisions play out in real-time, every night, in arenas around the country.

    I am down with the NBA, and not just because basketball is by far the greatest of all team sports, but also for how studying the game can help us be better at what we are charged with doing - helping our organizations manage and utilize talent for successful results.

    Welcome back NBA and Go Knicks!