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    Work and the next wave of industry transformation

    I like reading stuff from McKinsey and the other Tier 1 management consultancies out there like BCG, Bain, Booz Allen and the like. Sure, sometimes they are a little behind trend, try to place names (and the ensuing trademarked models and frameworks) on general business conditions or trends, and can be accused of being kind of a relic of the 80s and 90s, and out of touch with the modern age of technology and business.

    But they still do, reliably, churn out some snappy graphics that make for interesting blog fodder, so that is probably why I still love them. 

    Case in point, from our pals at McKinsey the below graphic that they call the 'Industry 4.0 Digital Compass', which "consists of eight basic value drivers and 26 practical Industry 4.0 levers. Cross-functional discussions that will help companies find the levers that are best suited to solve their particular problems." These are the big trends that are impacting manufacturing, (and really all kinds of industries), like digital technologies, the internet of things, the increased use of business intelligence tools, and advances in robotics and other forms of automation, and some ideas of how these trends will be applied in business.

    Take a look at the chart, paying particular attention to the slice called 'Labor', as that is the section I want to dig into next:

    Remember, in this diagram, the items in the inner circle, ('Labor', 'Time to Market', 'Quality', etc.), represent 'value drivers' for the firm, i.e., things that can be exploited to make more profit.  The items on the outer ring represent 'levers' that the savvy CEO or CHRO can pull to unlock that value. Let's take a look at McKinsey's four 'Labor' levers for a second and see what, if anything, they might mean for work, workplaces, labor, and HR.

    1. Human - Robot Collaboration - For hundreds of years many management and leadership ideas centered around trying to find ways to get people to work better with each other and to more effectively collaborate. These efforts, largely, have had mixed results. After all, the other guy is either a buffoon, or is not motivated, or doesn't have the right skill, or is an egomaniac - #amirite? So instead of trying to 'fix' annoying people so that they will be able to collaborate better, the next phase of technological transformation will focus on making us work better with the robots. This is a noble idea, and likely spells trouble for many of us. While we will remain buffoons, unmotivated, unskilled, and egomaniacal, our robot co-workers will suffer none of these conditions. 

    2. Remote monitoring and control - Let's take this one very literally and assume this means increased digital monitoring of workers and workplaces, probably through advances and increased adoption of wearable technologies. These will gain traction in many industrial settings as even today wearable technologies from companies like Wearable Intelligence have created incredibly powerful and productivity, (and safety) enhancing applications for manufacturing and field workers. In fact, the McKinsey piece references a trial of a Virtual Reality technology by the company Knapp AG that allows workers to find, identify, and take stock levels of items all via the wearable VR headset. These are extremely interesting and exciting applications of wearable technology in the workplace and likely will ultimately become the lasting means of impact and significance for a wide range of Google Glass type devices.

    3. Digital performance management - McKinsey (probably) isn't referring to the simple practice of taking very traditional HR-led performance management processes and documents and automated same. Rather, this is probably a trend, in combination with number two above, to leverage sophisticated tools and technologies to actually measure and improve performance. A great example of this is from the world of sports, specifically how the teams in the NBA have adopted a technology called SportVU Player Tracking, which users a battery of digital video cameras to create a massive data set of player movements, ball movements, and individual and team outcomes of every play in a basketball game. This massive data set, and the ability and technology to make sense of it all, has allowed coaches to better prepare team strategy, team leaders to evaluate player performance fairly and objectively, and players to learn how to become more effective on court. These approaches have relevance beyond sports into areas like agriculture, construction, and more.  It is about using data to make people better and organizations more successful and it is coming.

    4. Automation of knowledge work - Now we are getting to something probably a little more near and dear to the minds and hearts of folks who are in HR. The first few trends, since this entire construct has a manufacturing/industrial context, are mostly focused on how technology can improve the work performance of front-line, field, assembly, and distribution workers. While many of these kinds of jobs can be augmented with tech, it is also true that the current limitations of robotic technology in particular make many of them still immune from complete automation. Robots for the most part still are not able to take on tasks that require highly variable movements, fine motor skills, and navigating safely in close, uneven, or unpredictable environments. But knowledge work has none of those physical barriers to automation. If the job primarily involves moving bits of information from one digital format to another, then the algorithms are probably not much farther behind than we think. 

    Taken together, and as a part of the macro-level look at the future of industrial transformation, these labor and workforce trends seem to fit and make sense. Technology will change work in many different and subtle ways, but the undercurrent of all of them speaks towards a future with much closer integration between people and technology - often at a physical level. We will wear technology at work, be tracked in more ways than before, and have to interact with more forms of technology, like robots, than we might be comfortable with.

    And the best, most forward-thinking HR professionals are thinking about and leading their organizations in these directions today. 


    We don't ask you for free iPhones

    In case you missed it, pop star Taylor Swift laid the smack down on one of the world's most powerful corporations, Apple, when her pressure made Tim Cook and company back down on their plans to not pay artist royalties during the three-month free trial period for the new Apple Music service.

    For more details, here is the gist of the issue, from a recent piece in The Atlantic:

    Swift had intervened in a struggle brewing for weeks between Apple and the independent music labels, publishers, and artists it was negotiating with to license songs for the company’s forthcoming on-demand streaming service, Apple Music. The sticking point: To lure customers to sign up upon launch, Apple would offer a free three-month trial period, during which, it proposed, it would not pay artists when their songs were streamed. Swift took to Tumblr on Saturday to explain she would withhold her most recent album, 1989,because Apple’s terms were “shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.”

    After digesting Taylor's take, Apple relented, and stated that they would, in fact, pay streaming royalties to participating artists during consumers three month free trial period. 

    So Taylor was able to win, to make the corporate behemoth blink, and get them to change their stance on paying artists for their work, even as they were themselves giving away that work during the three month free trial period for Apple Music.

    What can we learn or at least consider more generally from the Taylor v. Apple drama?

    Three things that I can think of...

    1. People just can't be expected to work for free. It doesn't matter if you are Taylor Swift and would not really be impacted by missing three months worth of streaming royalties or if you are an emerging artist that is looking to make there mark, giving away creative content to giant corporations is not sustainable for most artists. In a world where corporations of all kinds are desperate for ideas and content, the idea that creators should just give away that content is insane.

    2. Individuals can amass tremendous influence - if they work for it. Sure, Apple is the largest company in the world. But Swift, even as an individual, has earned influence and leverage from her smart development and cultivation of her fans. She interacts with them, gives them significant attention, values them, and thus has created a fiercely loyal following. Even one person can match the power of a massive, global brand like Apple.

    3. The only way for anyone to have power and security is to be a creator. Apple and Spotify and Tidal all rely on the creative output of thousands and thousands of creative artists for their product. Most of these artists individually don't have the popularity and power of Swift and thus can't wield the power of Swift. But, together they collectively comprise all of the product that Apple and Spotify are trying to monetize. And beyond that, being a creator, a creative, is one of the only ways that anyone has of ensuring their own long tern sustainability and viability. Your creative work is the only thing that distinguishes you from everyone else, and even the robots. Guard your work carefully.

    I am pretty sure I would not be able to recognize a single Taylor Swift song. But I do recognize her smarts and her foresight.

    Nicely done, Ms. Swift.


    PODCAST - #HRHappyHour 216 - Keeping HR Data Secure

    HR Happy Hour 216 - Keeping HR Data Secure

    Recorded Friday June 19, 2015

    Hosts: Trish McFarlaneSteve Boese

    Guest : Roland Cloutier, VP, Chief Security Officer, ADP

    Listen to the show HERE

    This week on the show, Steve and Trish were joined by ADP's Chief Security Officer, Roland Cloutier, for a fascinating discussion on organizational and employee data security.Roland discussed the primary issues and concerns that HR and business leaders have with data security, the best ways for HR leaders to engage with their solution providers and their internal teams when navigating issues of data security, and offered insights on how to continue to secure critical employee information in an environment of multiple systems, platforms, and data integrations.

    This was an extremely lively and fun show, (don't let the dry-sounding topic fool you), about an important and timely issue facing all HR and business leaders today - keeping your employee and organizational data secure in an environment where threats to that data's security and integrity are just about everywhere.

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

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


    And of course you can listen to and subscribe to the HR Happy Hour Show on iTunes, or via your favorite podcast app. Just search for 'HR Happy Hour' to download and subscribe to the show and you will never miss a new episode.

    Thanks to Roland and the team at ADP for making this important topic understandable, relatable, and yes, even kind of fun. Every HR leader's job is employee data security, and as such, you don't want to miss this discussion.


    LISTEN: A classy way to make a career move - SVP's 'One Last Thing'

    Take seven minutes sometime this weekend and listen to ESPN Radio Host Scott Van Pelt bid farewell to the radio audience on today's final episode of the popular SVP and Russillo Show. Van Pelt is moving on to a (on paper) bigger role at ESPN, with his co-host Ryen Russillo set to take over solo host duties next week.

    In just a short seven minute monologue SVP hits all the right notes; he thanks and recognizes the team of contributors and behind the scenes folks that helped make the show possible (singling out specific and personal areas to highlight), he admits that bringing on a talented and creative co-host in Russillo forced him to be a better host himself, as he didn't want to be outshined on his own show, and is honest about realizing that in just about any successful career, there is a combination of luck, good timing, a great team, and hard work necessary to achieve whatever dreams and goals that one has.

    The clip is embedded below, (email and RSS subscribers may need to click through). It's worth a listen even if you are not a fan of the SVP and Russillo show or a fan of sports at all. 

    Great message on reflecting, caring about your team, and looking forward to the next thing, all in just seven minutes.

    Have a great weekend!


    Learn a new word Thursday: Knightian Uncertainty

    Welcome back to the latest installment of 'Learn a new word Thursday' where I share with you some small, but hopefully interesting and relevant word or concept that since it is new to me, must be new to (many of) you as well.

    Submitted for your consideration today's word/concept: Knightian uncertainty.

    From your pals at Wikipedia:

    In economics, Knightian uncertainty is risk that is immeasurable, not possible to calculate.

    Knightian uncertainty is named after University of Chicago economist Frank Knight (1885–1972), who distinguished risk and uncertainty in his work Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit:

    "Uncertainty must be taken in a sense radically distinct from the familiar notion of Risk, from which it has never been properly separated.... The essential fact is that 'risk' means in some cases a quantity susceptible of measurement, while at other times it is something distinctly not of this character; and there are far-reaching and crucial differences in the bearings of the phenomena depending on which of the two is really present and operating.... It will appear that a measurable uncertainty, or 'risk' proper, as we shall use the term, is so far different from an unmeasurable one that it is not in effect an uncertainty at all."

    Did you catch the distinction laid out there, between 'risk', which can generally be measured and estimated (and therefore planned for); and 'uncertainty' of the kind that is not measurable at all, the so-called 'Knightian' uncertainty.

    For example, we might be able to assess the 'risk' of any given commercial flight arriving more than an hour late say, but we have no real ability to estimate the likelihood of any given route being profitable in say, 25 years time. 

    Let's read that again just so we are sure it sinks in, a measurable uncertainty...  is so far different from an unmeasurable one that it is not in effect an uncertainty at all.

    So the lesson here is to be a little more careful, and a little more precise when tossing about terms like 'risk' and 'uncertainty.' If you can measure it, can draw some reasonable conclusions about the likelihood of an occurrence (or failure for something to occur), and can get smarter over time from these practices, then whatever it is probably isn't 'uncertain' at all. 

    And the interesting thing from an HR and talent management perspective is that with the rise of more sophisticated technologies for assessment, competency, skill, and massive amounts of actual workforce data upon which to test our theories, more and more 'people' decisions are becoming much less uncertain and simply more risky.

    Which doesn't sound like much of an improvement until you realize that just a few years ago just about every people-related decision was an uncertainty. Perhaps even a Knightian uncertainty.