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    Tuesday
    Dec062016

    Terms that mean 'employee', ranked

    Lots of us are employees. But some of us work at places that don't refer to us as 'employees.' Somewhere along the line, (I am guessing in the late 1970s, but I really don't know for sure), it became trendy, if not fashionable for organizations to move away from the more formal sounding term of 'employee' and start referring to their, well, employees using other terms.

    Inspired by a weekend spent in heavy retail environments and overhearing an 'All available associates, please report to the front of the store' announcement, I started thinking about all the various terms that are now used by organizations to substitute for 'employee.'

    And then I thought it made sense to rank said terms.

    As always, this list is unscientific, unresearched, incomplete, subjective, and 100% accurate.

    Here goes -  Terms that mean 'employee', ranked:

    10. Worker - About as cold as it gets. Unless you go with 'peon' or 'serf'. Which don't seem to be used (much), any more.

    9. Co-worker - Slightly softer version of 'worker'. Still pretty cold though/

    8. Staff member - As generic as it gets. Best used when the organization hates taking any kind of a stand about anything.

    7. Teammate - Unless the 'team' is designed to kick a ball or run really fast, probably should not be used in the workplace.

    6. Team Member - A little less cloying than teammate. But still not great. But yay - we are on a team!

    5. Crew or crew member - Are you on a boat? Do you build boats? No? Then you are not on a crew.

    4. Partner - This is actually sort of dumb. Unless the company is just made up of actual partners. Then it's ok.

    3. Colleague - This actually would be the one I would choose if I had to choose. Rides nicely that fine line between 'touchy-feely' and 'we all just work here' that I like

    2. Associate - a solid move if you for some reason need to move off of 'employee', but want to stay appropriately distant, yet convey a (fake) sense of importance to everyone in the organization. 

    1. Employee - Call me old school, but I still think the simplest solution is the best. I don't think anyone is really offended by being called an employee. At least I don't think so.

    Did I forget anything? Hit me up in the comments.

    And as always, you could disagree with these rankings, but of course you would be wrong.

    Monday
    Dec052016

    Signs of the Corporate Death Spiral #4 - Competing like it's 2005

    While I was busy over the weekend watching my beloved Knicks researching some blog posts, I caught a TV spot from the wireless company Sprint, which features an actor who became pretty well known several years ago as the 'Can you hear me know?' guy from a series of spots for Sprint's arch-enemy Verizon Wireless.

    If you don't recall the once ubiquitous Verizon ads take a look at an example below, (email and RSS subscribers click through)

    These Verizon ads ran constantly back in the early aughts, as Verizon (and its competitors in the wireless market), were all feverishly building out their networks, trying to expand coverage to more places, and importantly, working hard to improve sound/voice quality for calls and reduce dropped calls. I would guess most readers are old enough to recall when every second or third cell phone conversation would be barely audible, if it wasn't cut off completely (and randomly). And back in 2004 or 2005, a cell phone (and network), that could not be counted on to reliably carry good quality voice calls was, well, pretty much worthless. Yes it's true, in 2004 you used your cell phone mostly to talk to other people. 

    So let's jump back to 2016 and think about what Sprint is trying to do with their messaging and spots starring the actor formerly known as the Verizon 'Can you hear me know?' guy? On the surface Sprint is trying to poke the bear (Verizon), with these spots, showcasing (in case we are all dumb enough not to realize this guy is an actor, and not a real customer), how Verizon's most famous advocate has now defected over to Sprint. In the Sprint spots the reason given for 'Can you hear me know's?' defection has something to do with overall network comparability and equivalency between Sprint and Verizon, coupled with Sprint's claim that its plans are less expensive than comparable Verizon plans.

    Or something like that. Who knows for sure because once the 'Can you hear me know guy?' starts talking, (and immediately reminds us that he is in fact the 'Can you hear me know?' guy), that is pretty much all I can focus on. Can you hear me know? Can you hear me know?  Blah, blah, blah and suddenly we are back in 2005. Back when dropped calls, heck when making calls was a big deal.

    Now? Not so much. A couple of years ago when my son wanted to get his first phone I was surprised by the request and asked him why he needed a cell phone because I wondered who was he planning to call?

    He replied, and he was maybe 12 at the time, that I was being silly because 'Cell phones aren't for talking to people, they are for watching videos, playing games, and getting on the internet.'

    And he was/is right. That is (mostly) what cell phones are for today. And that is why Sprint, who in 2016, running ads that like it or not, make us think about what used to be important, (dropped calls, bad call connections), is missing the entire point. What matters now is the device itself, its capabilities, the apps, the camera, etc. And oh yeah, once a day or so when we make a call we want it to go through, but who worries about that any more?

    Sprint in 2016, is still in a way, probably non-intentionally I grant, trying to compete with Verizon by harkening back to what used to matter about a decade in the past. And by that, they are missing the point completely. 

    Or they are making another point entirely. Which is, we are pretty much out of ideas. But at least we are now ready to compete with Verizon in 2005. We even got the Verizon guy from 2005 on our team. As if that matters.

    Have a great week!

    Friday
    Dec022016

    Learn a new word: The Feature Factory

    Quick shout-out to John Cutler writing at the Hackernoon site for this outstanding piece (and the source for today's 'Learn a new word' submission - The Feature Factory.

    What is a 'Feature Factory' in the context of a software development function?'

    From the piece on Hackernoon, '12 Signs You're Working in a Feature Factory' to get an idea -

    I’ve used the term Feature Factory at a couple conference talks over the past two years. I started using the term when a software developer friend complained that he was “just sitting in the factory, cranking out features, and sending them down the line.”

    How do you know if you’re working in a feature factory? (SMB Note: there are 12 signs in the post, I am just going to grab two of them here, but you really should read the entire piece)

    3. 'Success theater' around "shipping", with little discussion about impact. You can tell a great deal about an organizations by what it celebrates.

    7. Obsessing about prioritization. Mismatch between prioritization rigor (deciding what gets worked on) and validation rigor (deciding if it was, in fact, the right thing to work on). Prioritization rigor is designed exclusively to temper internal agendas so that people “feel confident”. Lots of work goes into determining which ideas to work on, leaving little leeway for adjustments and improvisation based on data. Roadmaps show a list of features, not areas of focus and/or outcomes 

    Really, really good stuff for project managers and development teams to think about.

    Why should this matter for readers of Steve's HR Tech?

    I can think of two reasons straight up.

    One, it is worthwhile to think about your current and potentially future providers of HR technology solutions in this context. Does your provider talk about their product roadmap for the next year or two in the same way you run down your holiday shopping or grocery list? Do they talk about the future as simply the container in which they will 'ship' more features and gadgets? Or do they discuss their plans and directions using your challenges and your desired outcomes as the context in which they are organizing and planning to deliver new solutions? I know I have written about this before, but it is worth repeating - almost any provider can build the capability you need if they think they have to. What is much more important for your long term success with a tech provider is if yours and their visions of the future are in alignment, and the methods, pace, and you feel confident in the manner in which you will both grow and evolve to be better prepared to succeed in that future. That is what is really important. Not just "shipping."

    And the other reason that this idea of the 'Feature factory' is important? Because in late 2016 it is pretty likely that all but the very smallest organizations have in-house IT and development teams themselves, and these teams are comprised of folks that both do not want to work in an environment that could be described as a feature factory, and at the same time have lots of career options that don't include your organization. As HR leaders, it is probably worthwhile from time to time to check in with some of your really important, hard to find, and harder to replace tech talent types and see how they really think and feel about the organization's development climate. If you are treating these talented and in-demand folks too much like cogs in the machine, chances are they won't want to stay in that machine for too long. They will see your shop as a skills and resume builder stepping stone to somewhere more interesting, more fun, and more challenging.

    Ok, that's it from me. Tip your servers.

    Have a great weekend!

    Wednesday
    Nov302016

    When the feedback loops get shorter, the performance process can get ruthless

    Quick foray into the world of sports, (Shock!), for a look at what can happen in an organization, and their view of what is unacceptable employee performance, when feedback loops, (or review periods if you like), get shorter and shorter. Kind of like what seems to be happening in many large organizations who are moving away from annual performance reviews/ratings and toward more frequent, regular, lightweight, feedback loops.

    The back story is from the University of Oregon, who yesterday terminated their head football coach Mark Helfrich after four years in charge, (and four years as essentially the #2 person in charge), and a impressive 37- 16 win-loss record as the head coach. From the USA Today article titled Mark Helfrich's firing sends chilling message to coaching trade:

    (After a loss to arch rival Oregon State), Helfrich met Oregon athletics director Rob Mullens to discuss his future Tuesday night and left the meeting without a job. Internal discussions about the football program began before Saturday’s loss, according to USA TODAY Sports. Since Saturday, Helfrich had been in coaching purgatory, with two feet straddling the line between retention and dismissal.

    There is something far bigger than just Helfrich at play at Oregon, which in the past two decades has grown into one of college football’s elite programs. First as the offensive coordinator and then as head coach, Helfrich deserves recognition as a key figure behind the Ducks’ surge.

    But this is about more than just Helfrich, and the reach of Tuesday’s decision extends far beyond Oregon.

    If you’re a college coach, take note: If Helfrich can be fired after one losing season, two seasons after the finest year in program history, after coaching the program’s only Heisman winner, with an eight-figure buyout — so can anyone else.

    A few things to unpack here, especially if you are not a fan of or at least familiar with some big trends in college athletics in general, and football specifically. The sport at its highest levels - think Alabama, Ohio State, Texas, and yes, even Oregon - has become a high-pressure, big-money endeavor for that set of 40 or 50 schools that choose to compete at that level. They invest enormous resources in facilities, recruiting, support staff, and they pay their coaches, especially head coaches, astronomical salaries.

    And in exchange for making these massive commitments of the school's resources, the administration expects to recoup that investment in revenue from broadcast and cable TV contracts, ticket sales, donations, and whatever else they can get their hands on. But to maximize those revenue streams, the football team needs to win lots of games, consistently, and every year. And that is where the feedback loop idea comes in.

    Let's take this back to the Oregon situation and the recently fired Helfrich. From 2009 - 2012 Helfrich was the Offensive Coordinator (the most important coach aside from the head coach) on teams that went a combined 46 - 7, including reaching the national title game in 2010. In 2013, Helfrich was promoted to Head Coach following the departure of former Head Coach Chip Kelly to the NFL and the Oregon team proceeded to go 11 - 2, 13 - 2, (with another national title game appearance), 9 - 4, before stumbling this year to a disappointing 4 - 8 record.

    So in eight years in 'executive' level positions with the Oregon football program Helfrich had what amounts to one bad year, this past year when the team struggled, and had its worst season in some time. In the past, and really the not so recent past, university administrators would look at that kind of record and see what has been, largely, fantastic performance. There may be only 3 or 4 other programs in the country who have won more games in that 8-year span than Oregon. But, and this is a big but, Helfrich's (and Oregon's) worst performance in some time was this past year, and since Oregon's, (and probably lots of other schools as well), window for performance evaluation is compressing, Helfrich was let go.

    Seven years, (with three as head coach), of impressive results. One 'not acceptable' year. And you're gone.

    No probation, no warning, no 'performance improvement plan'. Just, 'Thanks for your service. Take care.'

    Look, I don't feel that bad for Helfrich. He (and every other big time college coach), makes a ton of dough, and sort of gets that all of these jobs are pretty tenuous and often kind of cruel.

    But why I think it is important to consider is that a few years ago Helfrich's performance and contribution to the success of the organization would have been assessed with a wider angle lens. He certainly would have in the past been given at least one more season to try and 'right the ship', and return Oregon back to its expected winning standards, (standards he himself had a large part in creating with his coaching).

    But as the performance and feedback time horizon for college football coaches has contracted, 'What have you done for me lately?', then Helfrich's 'review' didn't really take into account, nor give him much credit for his efforts over his 8-year tenure at Oregon.

    I think this same kind of compression is one of the potential dangers for organizations who are moving towards more frequent, and real-time performance management and coaching kinds of schemes as well. As these windows shrink from what typically was once per year, the opportunity for HR and business leaders to get subjected to recency bias is much more present. If we are all being evaluated much more often, the chances of any given evaluation to be negative are much higher - even for those folks who would average out to be 'good' or 'really good' performers when considered over a longer time horizon.

    We all have bad days. Bad weeks even. Maybe a project we didn't really do the best with. But that may be one project out of 27 we wlll work on this year. In the past, one or two bad projects would more or less get lost in the wash of 25 other good ones. But when we move to a process that demands we assess performance pretty much all the time, then those one or two bad projects are going to stick out, be remembered, and probably carry more weight in the aggregate than they should.

    Helfrich had one bad year out of eight. In today's world of college football that is enough to get you fired.

    I guess the real question is how many bad days are you allowed to have in your job until you get fired too?

    Tuesday
    Nov292016

    CHART OF THE DAY: Managing the algorithms

    It must be 'Algorithm Week' on the blog, given that yesterday I posted a piece about how HR folks need to consider carefully how algorithms and other intelligent technologies are introduced into HR and talent management practices. 

    Keeping with that theme, today's Chart of the Day is also about algorithms, more specifically about how the overall role and responsibility of HR and HR leaders might shift as more intelligent technologies are introduced into workplaces. The chart comes to us from an MIT Technology Review briefing paper titled 'Asia's AI Agenda: How Asia is speeding up global artificial intelligence adoption', a look at how the increased adoption of automation and other 'smart' technologies are going to impact work, workplaces, and too, the practice of HR.

    The entire paper is interesting, but for today's chart I wanted to share what MIT's survey of Asia HR leaders revealed about how these HR leaders see their roles changing along with the changing workplace (and workforce).

    Here's the chart, then some FREE comments from me after the data:

    Three quick takes...

    1. First off, it is really interesting, (and I think really encouraging), that more than 87% of HR leaders in the survey realize that these new technologies are going to have a 'major impact' on the role of the HR leader moving forward. The first step in the grieving process is acceptance, (actually, I am not sure if that is true, but don't have the time to look it up, so just pretend it is true anyway), so it is a good sign that the vast majority of these HR leaders are at least cognizant if not accepting that advances in automation and smart tech are going to change the HR role. 

    2. Next, it is also interesting, (if possibly a little naive), in that fully two-thirds of these surveyed HR leaders see that their roles will expand to encompass the 'overall productivity' of both people and the machines and other intelligent technologies that are increasingly being introduced into their workplaces and processes. I have to admit to being a little surprised that so many HR respondents seem ready or at least willing to get into the 'machine management' business.

    3. What that does imply however, is that these HR leaders wanting to expand the traditional talent management role to include machine management as well are going to have to develop an entire new set of expertise and skills, (not to mention some baseline understanding of this technologies), that have as far as I can tell never been a part of HR or talent management in the past.  I am not sure if 'managing' the machines and algorithms is going to be easier or harder than managing people, (if I had to bet, I am going with 'easier'), but either way it will require an expansion of the traditional HR role beyond what most if not all HR leaders are prepared for.

    Check out the paper from MIT if you want to learn more. Really interesting stuff on how business and HR are thinking about the increasing incorporation of automation and algorithms in the workplace.