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    HBS Grads on Competitiveness, Jobs, and American Workers

    Is there a better cohort might to survey about the state of American business, workforces, and competitiveness than Harvard Business School grads? 

    Chances are a whole bit fat bunch of us are taking direction today from a grad of the famous business school. It does stand to reason that if you survey enough HBS grads you will get a pretty decent understanding of what business leaders are thinking, saying, and doing, (or importantly, not doing).

    This is a long read, so you might want to save it for the weekend, but I definitely encourage you to check out An Economy Doing Half Its Job: Findings of Harvard Business School's 2013-2014 Survey on US Competitiveness. The Harvard researchers, led by Michael Porter and Jan Rivkin, surveyed about 1250 HBS Alumni on questions of US firm's competitiveness, the quality of the workforce from a skills perspective, and their assessment of how the US K-12 Education system is performing in terms of producing capable and qualified workers.

    Long, long story short, while US firms remain highly competitive across a wide range of sectors, the HBS grads' responses about many important workforce-related questions do not bode well for workers today, and in the longer term as well. 

    There are lots of great money quotes from the study, (and again you really should take the time to read it all), but here is one that stuck out for me:

    Workers will not invest in developing their skills if it does not lead to employment and higher living standards. Employers will continue to turn to technology, vendors, or other alternatives to address their needs. The associated loss of productivity growth will further undermine both America’s economic growth and its long-term competitiveness

    Makes sense, people will not be incented to try and get better or improve their skills if they can't see a connection, even a potential connection, between this kind of investment and improved career prospects.

    But even if individuals don't see the link between skills development and a better living standard, then certainly organizations will still continue to invest in skills development anyway, right? After all, the organizations need and lament the lack of skills in large swaths of the workforce. Well, maybe not. Here is a another quote from the HBS study:

    Our survey reveals that business leaders in America are reluctant to hire full-time workers. When possible, they prefer to invest in technology to perform work, outsource activities to third-parties, or hire part-time workers. For instance, 46% of survey respondents strongly or somewhat agreed that their firms' US operations prefer to invest in technology to perform work rather than hire or train employees, while only 25% disagreed.

    So it seems like what we have been mostly thinking is likely mostly true - organizations would rather automate, outsource, find alternative (and cheaper) ways to get work done rather than take on more full-time staff (or train and 'upskill' the staff they have).

    It is a tough problem, with no easy solutions. The HBS authors do make several recommendations to try to better align workforce capability with opportunity and to encourage organizations to make investments in talent much like they have been making investments in technology. And while the answers to these problems are not simple, it does seem that unless we (all of us), begin to take them more seriously that large numbers of American workers are going to be left behind.


    Job Titles of the Future #11 - Minecraft Coach

    Directing you to this super piece on the Library of Economics and Liberty site, (Boy, that is a NAME for a site. I have no idea what this site is really about, someone just forwarded me the link), titled 'Will Minecraft Coaching be a 21st Century Job?'

    In the piece, author Art Carden runs down some of his and his kids' recent experiences playing and building in the interactive game Minecraft, which has been in the news this week more for the impeding acquisition of Mojang, the company that created and owns Minecraft by enterprise behemoth Microsoft.

    For the uninitiated, (or, people that are not regularly around kids from ages 6 to about 11 or 12), "Minecraft allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D procedurally generated world. Other activities in the game include exploration, gathering resources, crafting, and combat. Multiple gameplay modes are available, including survival modes where the player must acquire resources to build and maintain his or her health and hunger, a creative mode where players have unlimited resources to build and the ability to fly, and an adventure mode where players can create custom maps for other players to play", (source Wikipedia).

    In Mr. Carden's piece, he speculates that soon 'Minecraft Coaches' will be a thing, or said differently, a service that parents will seek out for their kids, much like parents today spend (sometimes) significant amounts of money on sports, performing arts, or academic coaches and tutors for their kids. Those kinds of advanced levels of instruction and expertise that parents obtain for their kids are only partly about helping the kids to achieve their potential in these endeavours, they are also often investments in what parents hope might be a future career for their kids, or at least a shot at academic or athletic college scholarships.

    I think Mr. Carden is probably more right than wrong about this. The debate about whether or not video games, particularly ones that require advanced problem solving, team building, strategy development, patience, and leadership skills, can be beneficial for kids (and adults), and serve as a kind of both a development tool and predictor of career success, is largely being won by the gamers and their supporters.

    Harvard Business Review recently asked "Should You Put World of Warcraft on Your Resume?", (they answered 'Yes' by the way). Certainly, you could have substituted 'Minecraft' for 'World of Warcraft' in the HBR piece and come to the same conclusion.

    And if Minecraft or World of Warcraft or any other advanced video game does indeed become an item of value on a candidate's profile, then certainly, an industry of 'coaches' is likely to emerge.

    If Minecraft can help get little Joey into Yale, then there will be parents willing to pay to help make that happen.

    And that is why 'Minecraft Coach' qualifies for the latest installment of SFB's 'Job Titles of the Future'.


    CHART OF THE DAY: Read this while you're eating lunch by yourself

    Chances are if you are catching up on blogs on your lunch break today, you are probably at your desk, alone, while you read and munch on that tuna sandwich.

    Today's Chart of the Day comes courtesy of the retail and consumer goods research and advisory firm NPD Group that took a look at American's eating habits - specifically examining just how often people are eating alone. Turns out, you are not alone in eating alone. Take a look at the data and then some FREE commentary from me after the chart:

    A quick read of the data shows that we are eating alone about 60% of the time for breakfast and that about 55% of lunches are solitary occasions. We recover, and get more social for dinner however, with only about a third of evening meals take solo.

    What might this mean for you the HR/Talent pro? As usual, who really knows, but let's take a shot anyway.

    1. People will be more productive, (and probably happier), on the whole if they can take a complete break, even for 15-20 minutes from their work and the cognitive processing that accompanies said work. If someone never takes a break during the day time, then by about 2 or 3 in the afternoon they are likely to hit the wall, looking to some kind of artificial short-term remedy (like an energy shot which are disgusting or a candy bar, which are not disgusting but you probably don't need one), to try and make it until quitting time. If you in HR/Talent are really interested in helping people achieve the most they can at work, you are going to care if/when your entire organization seems to slow to a crawl at 3:30 every day. 

    2. Most people eat breakfast on the run and lunch by themselves at their desks because they have this sense of 'I can't take a real break, I just have too much to do', even if that is not really true. But we have gotten conditioned to see fully disconnecting from work as some kind of admission of slacking off, or of lack of dedication. We also think 'busy' equates to 'important' and while sometimes that is true, I bet the really important people at work probably are taking more social and casual lunches than most. HR pros should be mindful or at least aware of any ill-effects of burnout one symptom of which is an army of cube-dwellers eating/working through lunch day after day.

    3. If you need to 'catch' people that usually prove difficult to pin down, (Note: I am one of these kind of people), then you might want to attempt to hit them up at lunch time. Sure, there is some risk in interrupting someone's 'downtime' at lunch, but chances are they are not really taking a break anyway, they are by themselves still glued to their computer, and you won't be competing with anyone else for their time. 

    What's your take? How often are you eating lunch alone at your desk? See any problem with that?

    Have a great week!


    SLIDES: Culture-Strategy-Talent and Rock-Paper-Scissors #HSCC14

    I had a great time yesterday presenting at the Halogen Software Annual Customer Conference in Washington, DC. The team at Halogen always puts on a fantastic event for their customers and this year's event was no exception.

    My presentation, the slides from which I am sharing below, (if the embed doesn't work for you please click the direct link here), was titled Culture-Strategy-Talent: Organizational Rock-Paper-Scissors, and was created from an idea I had a year or so ago about how it has gotten really trendy and popular to focus almost irrationally and singularly on organizational culture at the expense of other really important factors in business success - like strategy and talent. Sure, company culture is important, but it is certainly not the only thing that should be important to HR leaders, and it might not even be the most important thing HR should be concerned about.

    Here is the deck, and I will have a couple of closing thoughts below the slides.


    I think culture matters. I do. But I also think lots of other things matter too. Like actually having a compelling product/service, an actual market opportunity, the ability to read and react to the competitive environment. And oh yeah, the 'simple' business of finding, attracting, developing, aligning, and retaining the kinds of talented people that are needed to execute that strategy and that create and evolve what we call culture. I think the best organizations and the most successful HR leaders understand this and don't let chasing 'culture' all the time detract from the (I think more important) work of building teams of great, talented people and helping shape organizational strategy (and executing that strategy).

    What do you think? Are we too focused on culture these days?

    I had a great time with the Halogen customers and staff and many thanks to them for including me in the event.


    HR Happy Hour 190 - LIVE From Achievers ACE

    HR Happy Hour 190 - LIVE From Achievers ACE: Reskilling Your HR Team

    Broadcasting LIVE from the Achievers ACE event in Toronto, Canada

    Wednesday September 10, 2014 - 1:00PM ET

    Hosts: Steve BoeseTrish McFarlane

    Guests: Achievers ACE Attendees

    Join Steve and Trish tomorrow, Wednesday September 10 at 1:00PM EDT, for a special LIVE edition of the HR Happy Hour Show being broadcast live from the stage at the Achievers ACE 2014 event in Toronto.

    Titled: Reskilling Your HR Team for the Modern Workplace, Steve and Trish will take on some of the most pressing and important changes and challenges impacting the modern workplace, and what that means for the skills development, expertise, and mindset for the modern HR professional.

    The changing nature of work, the emergence of amazing new technology, and a workforce shifting in makeup as one generation cedes power and influence to the next are just some of the ways work and workplaces are shifting, and the HR pro of tomorrow is tasked with staying on top of these and the many more ways work and workplaces are morphing.

    In this fun and interactive session, Trish and Steve will take on these important topics for HR, and take comments and questions from the ACE attendees as well as look for your questions on the twitter backchannel - use hashtag #HRHappyHour.

    Folks not at the Achivers ACE event can listen live on Wednesday September 10 at 1:00PM ET on the show page here, or using the widget player embedded below:

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


    And of course, replays of the show can be downloaded from the show page or accessed on iTunes or for Android users, on Stitcher Radio. Just search for 'HR Happy Hour' to listen to all the prior HR Happy Hour Shows and subscribe to be sure to never miss the latest episodes.

    It should be a fun and exciting show and we hope you will join us tomorrow LIVE from Achievers ACE!