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    But we don't want to be the Milwaukee Brewers

    Editors' Note - This post originally ran back in July 2008, an update to the story is below

    Here is Reason 31 of Steve's reasons why the ERP vendors will eventually crumble. My shop is now about 9 months in to another 'major' upgrade of the ERP system. Before it is all over, we are looking at a full year of essentially no progress on any meaningful, strategic, or high employee or candidate satisfaction project.

    No online total comp statements, no automated competency management, performance reviews, or succession planning. No new processes rolled out to employee or manager self-service. No, pretty much a full year of test upgrades, patches, bugs, regression testing, more bugs, five day outage to production, more bugs, support, did I already say more bugs? And we went through pretty much the same scenario in 2003.

    So 1 out of every 5 years, all progress stops, the organization retrenches, and all important and interesting work is 'frozen'. In theory we get lots from these upgrades, compliance fixes, latest in technology, new features, etc. And most of that, I admit, is true. But at what cost? One out of every five years essentially wasted.

    What does this have to do with the Milwaukee Brewers? Well, for a team like the Brewers, showing slow and steady progress for four years, maybe even making a playoff appearance is a notable achievement. In year 5, if they have to regroup, trade off a few players they can't afford, and load back  up on young prospects, that is really ok with them, and most likely their fans (customers/employees). After year 5, the team (hopefully) starts the slow climb backup to contender status. Maybe they make another run at the top, before the cycle inevitably repeats.

    But what about that plan for the Yankees or lately, the Red Sox? They would not be content or satisfied with an every fifth year halt to progress, or worse a regression back to square one. The fans get restless, the media relentless, and team ownership would not stand for it. Managers, executives, or players responsible for the problems would be sacked or traded. Those teams simply will not accept a 'cycle' like lesser teams like the Brewers would.

    How does your organization see itself? Do you really want to be the Milwaukee Brewers? Or do you want to be the Yankees? Can you afford to take every fifth year as a 'no-progress, just keep running the Payroll' year? Will your staff accept that? How about your owners, executives and customers?

    Is it time to get off the ERP upgrade treadmill?

    Update - Feb. 2009 - A full 16 months since the major upgrade started, and my organization is still not fully recovered.  We are still logging new bugs every week, sometimes several a week.  Basic functionality that worked fine for years on the prior release, still fails to work consistently or reliably.  No significant new development or introduction of new features or functions have occurred, save only for those that 'Had' to be done, as the new release of the ERP system changed quite a few processes that frankly, did not need changing. So sure, my organization is positioned for the next several years, but was the cost of a year and a half of time, money and lost opportunities worth it? 

    Think about this before you jump in the pool with ERP, I urge you.



    Cast of Characters

    Cast of characters
    Originally uploaded by steveboese

    Are you only bringing one thing to the table?

    This picture is the cast of characters from my 8 year old son's latest creation, a comic book based on the Lego 'Power Miners'. What I found amusing about the page was the specific roles he has assigned to all the characters, and the descriptions he chose for each one.

    For example on the good guy side we have 'Ace the Engineer', 'Brains the Scientist', and 'Tom the Reporter'. The villains have the expected sinister sounding names like 'Boulderax', 'Sulfurix', and 'Glaciator'.

    Each character fits neatly into their assigned role, you know what to expect from them as the story progresses. Granted, 8 year olds (and most TV sitcom writers) usually haven't mastered the concept of complex character development. In this story, Glaciator will be evil throughout, and there is no way he will ever change.

    What does this have to do with HR Technology? Well, nothing really.

    But it does raise a question that almost all of us who are lucky enough to still be employed need to ask ourselves. That is, are we as one-dimensional and predictable as the characters in my son's comic? Are we only bringing one thing to the table? Even if that one thing that we do, we do fantastically well, it is still only one thing. When it comes time for the organization to decide who will be in the next group to be shown the door, if you can be so easily defined by your 'one thing', you are bound to be at more risk than a more fully developed character.

    To use another analogy, when Kirk, Spock, Bones, and a random crewman beamed down to the hostile planet, it was pretty much a given that 'Crewman XYZ' was the one not coming back.

    Do whatever you have to do to not be branded as a one-dimensional character like 'Glaciator' or 'Crewman XYZ'. Learn a new skill, badger some colleagues to let you in on a new project, connect with peers in your industry and start sharing knowledge and insight.

    Don't be so easily defined.


    HR Technology for the Small Business - Communication

    Every class I have two or three students who are HR Directors or HR Managers at what are typically considered 'small' businesses, that is organizations that employ less than 500 people. As the course progresses, and we cover topics ranging from 'core' HRIS systems, to Talent Management solutions, to collaboration and networking platforms, these HR pros from small business frequently indicate that their organizations are sorely lacking in the area of HR Technology solutions. This is a particularly acute problem for organizations with around 100-200 employees.

    This position in the market is a really difficult one, the organization has outgrown many of their original, paper-based processes for employee tracking, performance management, and benefits administration, but they are typically either below the radar of the most popular HR Technology solution vendors, or these solutions are simply priced too high for the small business to manage.

    In the area of communication tools, while all the small businesses have email, some don't even have simple intranets to manage employee communications and information.  Fortunately for the small organization, there are numerous, accessible, inexpensive tools that can facilitate employee communication and collaboration.  Here are just a few ideas for the small organization.


    The most popular public platform for microblogging is of course Twitter, but for the small organization, the 'enterprise' version of Twitter called Yammer can be a great solution.  Note: If you are not familiar with the concept of microblogging, watch this explanatory video from Common Craft. Simply register your company's domain (your '.com', if you will), send out some e-mail invitations to your employees to join your Yammer network, and immediately folks can begin communicating with each other via short status updates. Yammer also extends the capabilities of Twitter by supporting group creation (the sales folks can have a separate Yammer group from the accounting types), and the inclusion of message attachments. The company's Yammer network is restricted to only those people having a valid email account in the company domain.  The basic Yammer service is free, there are some premium features that can be purchased, but for the small company at least initially these premium features are not necessary.


    Another free and easy way to facilitate communication is by starting a simple company blog.  Post announcements, events, and company information on the blog, and invite employees to read and comment.  There are numerous free blogging platforms that the small business can utilize to create the blog, and most like Google's Blogger platform and Wordpress, allow you to make the blog 'private', meaning only invited users can view and comment on the blog.  Starting an internal blog, particularly one where company executives contribute is a great way for the small business to open up a new communication channel.

    Surveys and Polls

    Another great way to have a dialogue of sorts within the organization is through the use of survey and polls.  Once again there are a multitude of options (most of them free), for creating employee surveys and polls.  For simple, yet powerful survey capability check out SurveyMonkey.  With a SurveyMonkey free account, you can create up to 10 question surveys with up to 100 responses per survey.  Once the survey is created, simply e-mail the generated link to all your intended responders, and watch the result come in. You can review the survey results online, but do need to upgrade to a paid subscription at $19.95 per month to be able to download the survey results, create longer surveys, and have unlimited respondents.  Still for most small organizations, the constraints of the free account are not that limiting.

    For polling, I really like Zoho Polls. This free service (one of scores from online applications provider Zoho), is a simple tool that allows you to create simple polls, invite unlimited responses, and easily embed the poll on your intranet or blog. Your poll can be 'Rating' poll (like rating a movie with stars), or a 'Voting' poll, where participants can choose one option from a list.  The small business could use these polls to solicit feedback on a new benefits program, choosing the best option for a new ad campaign, or even where to hold the next company party.  A sample Zoho poll is here, where I invite anyone who reads this post to offer an opinion.

    In a future post, I will expand on some of these concepts to get into real collaboration tools, like wikis, internal social networks, and community platforms.  While some of these may be beyond the scope of the average small business today, an enterprising small business needs to be positioned for the future.



    Are all the candidates on Facebook?

    If you are a corporate recruiter or hiring manager are you using Facebook at all in your recruiting strategy?

    Because based on my very unscientific and limited data set, it appears like pretty much everyone you might be targeting is either already on Facebook, or will be soon.

    This is a chart showing the number of registered Facebook users from my high school, the incredibly typical, average, run-of-the-mill public school, John F. Kennedy Memorial High School in Iselin, NJ USA.  The Jul-08 line shows the data as of the first time I prepared the chart, and the Feb-09 line shows the data as of today.

    In just about 7 months, Facebook use by my high school cohort for the graduation years I selected (a total of 12 graduating classes), has increased from 229 to 1,068.  That is a 366% growth rate from just my high school in the last 7 months!  Is there anyone not on Facebook these days?

    In the last couple of years more and more organizations have embraced Facebook as a platform for recruiting, usually from the 'branding' and communication perspective.  If the adoption trends displayed by the good folks from my high school are at all indicative of larger trends in the US, expect to see more and more organizations dive in to the Facebook pool.

    So to ask the question again:

    Are all the candidates on Facebook?



    Enterprise Knowledge vs. Individual Job Security

    There is lots of energy and interest in implementing 'social' collaboration systems inside the Enterprise.  Flickr - steve took itThese systems have many goals, chiefly the facilitation of employee collaboration, development of a corporate knowledge base, and to provide a platform to speed new hire productivity.

    For any of these 'social' systems to be effective, they must engender enthusiastic support and adoption by the organization's ranks.  Employees must see the benefit in contributing and participating in these systems. They must be comfortable sharing information and sometimes explicitly documenting the 'how' of their work processes.

    But in a climate where it seems like corporate America sheds thousands or workers every day, does it make sense that many employees will be reluctant to openly share and document this tacit knowledge?

    If an employee feels like the safeguarding (in their heads), of this critical information is their best defense against a possible layoff, are they likely to enthusiastically participate in social systems, that rely on making such 'internal' knowledge transparent.

    Is it possible that the implementation of corporate social systems can benefit the enterprise, but harm the individual employee?

    What do you think?