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    Wearable tech at work: Three lessons from the NBA

    The NBA season starts tomorrow!  

    It could not have come soon enough for this NBA junkie. While my beloved Mets have made things interesting with a surprising run to baseball's World Series, I live and breathe for NBA basketball. This is for two reasons primarily. One, the NBA is simply the best, most exciting, most watchable sport there is. And two, basketball provides a tremendous source of insights for all things HR and the workplace - leadership, recruiting, talent management, assessment, compensation, and increasingly - the use of advanced performance analytics for evaluation, talent management, and strategy development.

    Case in point, the increased use of player movement and performance tracking technology to better understand patterns, tendencies, and importantly, fatigue and diminished output/effort in a player. Check this excerpt from a recent piece on the topic from Grantland, From BMI to TMI: The NBA Is Leaning Toward Wearable Tech, then some comments from me after the quote:

    The NBA is putting its own money into the study of wearable GPS devices, with the likely end goal of outfitting players during games, according to several league sources. The league is funding a study, at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, of products from two leading device-makers: Catapult and STATSports.

    The league declined comment on the study. Most teams already use the gadgets during practices, and Catapult alone expects to have about 20 NBA team clients by the start of the 2015-16 season. The Fort Wayne Mad Ants wore Catapult monitors during D-League games last season in an obvious trial run for potential use at the parent league.

    Weighing less than an ounce, these devices are worn underneath a player’s jersey. They track basic movement data, including distance traveled and running speed, but the real value comes from the health- and fatigue-related information they spit out. The monitors track the power behind a player’s accelerations and decelerations (i.e., cuts), the force-based impact of jumping and landing, and other data points. Team sports science experts scour the data for any indication a player might be on the verge of injury — or already suffering from one that hasn’t manifested itself in any obvious way.

    The piece goes on to make some interesting points about how teams can use the devices in a practice setting in order to make decisions about player rest and practice strategy. But since the NBA player's are represented by a union, in-game use of these devices will have to be collectively bargained according to the piece. What can we extrapolate to 'normal' workplaces from the NBA's experiments and experiences with these kinds of wearables?

    I can think of three main things:

    1. Union shop or not, organizations are going to have to take data privacy, usage, and access issues very seriously and head-on. Players that are angling to secure their next contract might not want widespread access to their performance data if it begins to show some performance degradation that might not be apparent to the naked eye. If you want any employee to wear a tracking tool like this, you have got to ensure the 'right' level of privacy and control for your situation.

    2. Your primary use case for wearable tech should be a positive one. And probably your secondary use case as well. If wearables are going to be used to prevent injuries, help workers find efficiencies, or better align tasks to workers, (and even to a specific day or time), then it is likely you will have a better chance at employee adoption of this kind of tech. If employees think your primary goal of these devices is to identify the 'weak links' in the organization in order to apply discipline, (or to weed them out), then the reaction is going to be less-than-enthusiastic. There is already a pretty large 'Big Brother is watching' inherent bias you need to overcome, don't make it worse by treating wearable tech at work like some kind of house arrest ankle bracelet.

    3. Wearable data has to be interpreted in context. Every basketball game is unique. The opponent, the combinations of players on the court, the external conditions, (travel, amount of sleep, diet, etc,), all vary from day-to-day and game-to-game no matter how hard coaches try to have things consistent. Careful analysis of player tracking data and performance has to include and attempt to understand how external factors impact performance. Player tracking data is going to create tremendous amounts of data for team management to analyze - on top of the pretty large data sets they already have been crunching. And when this kind of data is available to every team, the competitive advantage ceases to be simply having the data - the advantage shifts to the organization that is the best and extracting insight from the data.

    I am sure there will be more to unpack as player movement and tracking data becomes more of a mainstream form of analysis, but for now, these are the big takeaways for me.

    I love the NBA. You should too. Everything you need to know about HR an Talent can be learned in 48 minutes a night.

    Trust me... it will be a great season!


    What is your one wish for your ideal HR technology solution that you’d love to see created by 2020? #nextchat #HRTechConf

    I had a great time guesting and participating on yesterday's #Nextchat Twitter chat that is put together each seek by the fantastic Mary Kaylor over at SHRM. Mary and the SHRM team have done an amazing job building a active, engaged, and large community of people with #Nextchat, and it is always fun to get to dive in with them.

    If you missed the chat, there is an excellent summary of the conversation here. One point I thought it was worth teasing out, and particularly since the HR Technology Conference is starting in about 2 days, was the chat's final question, presented below:

    What is your one wish for your ideal HR technology solution that you’d love to see created by 2020? #nextchat

    The idea of this question was to try and get participants thinking about what tools or technologies would really help them get their jobs done more efficiently, enable them to unlock the potential of their workforces, better engage and retain their best people, or somehow just make HR and the organization 'better.'

    It was a fun and speculative way to end what was a really interesting overall discussion about HR technology today.

    Since I liked the question so much, (I did come up with it), and since HR Tech starts on Sunday and more than 300 HR technology solution providers will be exhibiting and they are the 'right' people to see the community response to a question like this, I am putting out the question one more time.

    What is your one wish for your ideal HR technology solution that you’d love to see created by 2020? #nextchat #HRTechConf

    I added the #HRTechConf Twitter hashtag to the question, (and to the blog post title above), since I know just about everyone involved in the Conference seems to be on the Twitter tag already.

    I would love to see more folks chime in on the question in the run up to the Conference and even have some of our HR Tech Conference exhibiting companies jump in to the conversation as well. You can post your responses on Twitter or in the comments of this post.

    It could be that the 'dream' HR technology you want to see by 2020 already exists, and there is a solution provider at HR Tech ready to show you.

    Thanks again to Mary and the folks at #Nextchat. 

    Hope to see lots of readers out at HR Tech!


    Note for readers: I am heading out the Conference tomorrow, so posting will be extremely light, if non-existent for the next week. You will be fine.


    #Nextchat with me today: The next 5 years in HR Tech - #HRTechConf

    Remember just a few years ago when we started to see a flurry of articles, presentations, and even books about the topic of “Workforce 2020” that offered predictions about what work and workplaces would be like at the then far-off-into-the-future year of 2020?

    I am not sure why authors and consultancies fixated so much on the year 2020. Maybe it just sounds fun to say out loud and it also had the benefit of seeming so distant that you could plausibly predict just about anything short of we’d all be commuting to work in flying cars and you’d probably get away with it.

    Let me see if that still holds today -- here is a 2020 prediction for you:

    “In 2020, organizations will have access to powerful technologies that automate every HR and talent management process, can apply sophisticated machine learning capability to predict workforce events like attrition and job-fit, and since these technologies are all delivered via THE CLOUD, they will be accessible and affordable for every organization, regardless of their size.”

    Wow, amazing!  And what is more amazing is that all of those things exist TODAY, and we don’t have to wait until 2020 for them. Which is a really good thing because I am not sure if you have noticed, but 2020 is really not that far off anyway. We have spent so much time thinking and talking about 2020 as some vague signpost in the far distance that it has just about snuck up on us.

    But the good thing is that since 2020 really isn’t all that far off, we can offer better, more reasoned, and more valuable predictions about what it truly will be like, and we can start making more concrete and specific plans for how in the next five or so years, leading up to 2020, our HR teams and our organizations can best utilize technology to improve work, workplaces, and drive organizational success.

    Please join  @shrmnextchat at 3 p.m. ET on October 14 (TODAY) for #Nextchat with special guest, ME, the HR Technology Conference Co-Chariman and Co-Host of the HR Happy Hour Show, Steve Boese (@steveboese).  We’ll take a look at the next five years of HR technology  and chat about what HR leaders should be thinking about -- and preparing for -- with respect to workplace technology in 2020.

    Here are the questions we will hit on the chat today:

    Q1. What are the key considerations for HR leaders as they begin to plan their HR tech strategies for the next 5 years?

    Q2. What are some ways to tie the HR technology strategy to the organization’s long term business and talent strategies?

    Q3. How will changing employee demographics and their expectations for technology change how HR leaders deploy technology in the next 5 years?

    Q4. What area of Human Resources (Recruiting, Performance, HR Admin, etc.) will technology have the largest impact upon in the next 5 years?

    Q5. How does the increased reliance on technology to enable HR service delivery change the role and competencies required of the modern HR leader?

    Q6. What should HR leaders look for when evaluating HR technology solution providers over the next 5 years?

    Q7.    What is your one wish for your ideal HR technology solution that you’d love to see created by 2020? #nextchat

    #Nextchat is the only Twitter chat I regularly participate in, and I encourage all of you to jump in to the conversation today from 3PM - 4PM EDT.

    Thanks to my friends at SHRM for having me back to chat about HR Tech!


    Fondly remembering the days of 3% raises

    Quick shot for a busy Tuesday - check out this piece that ran on USA Today online over the weekend - Is the annual pay raise dead?, a look at some recent studies and trends in the world of employee compensation.

    For what seems like ages, once per year the big total rewards consultancies like Towers Watson or Aon Hewitt would diligently report back that for the average employee annual salary increases would be about 3% (again). The news that annual salary increases would be about 3% became somewhat of a running joke, since it was so consistent and predictable. The phrase of employees being '3-percented until retirement' was fairly common.

    Well, if the latest news on annual salary increases is accurate, we may all look back on the 3% raises of the past and wonder what happened to them. Check out some of the comments in the above-mentioned USA Today piece:

    "Base salary increases are flat. We don't see the prospect of that changing much at all in the next several years," said Ken Abosch, who studies compensation issues for Aon Hewitt.

    In other words, the annual raise is dead. It was already on life support last decade, but the Great Recession has finished off the raise. It's been replaced by "variable compensation" — the bonus.

    "The quiet revolution has been the change in compensation mix," Abosch said. "Through a series of recessions, organizations have pulled back dramatically on fixed costs. And base salaries are often a company's most significant fixed cost ... [They] have a compounding effect, and create a drag on an organization's ability to change."

    Awesome isn't it when your salary, (and by extension, you), are described and probably considered as 'a drag on an organization's ability to change', instead of, I don't know, a strategic investment of organizational resources in order to hire and retain great people.

    One of the effects of a relatively higher percentage of one's overall compensation being shifted towards bonuses or other kinds of variable pay is that it makes 'regular' employment look and feel more like contingent labor. One of the reasons people like 'regular' jobs is the 'regular' nature of their weekly, monthly, and annual earnings. Drive more of these earnings into more company-friendly (and easier to reduce and/or eliminate), irregular compensation, then, well, earnings stability becomes much more tenuous.

    Companies need to be more agile and flexible these days, no doubt. But at least in the US they have had the benefit of pretty much universal employment-at-will arrangements to ensure labor and labor cost flexibility. Now it seems like that might not be flexible enough for many organizations.

    They want your 3% as well.


    It's going to keep getting harder for traditional workplaces and policies

    Last week I wrote about the six-hour workday, and experiment that some companies and public sector organizations have been running in Sweden (and some other places), that is designed to reduce employee stress, improve work/life balance, and improve employee engagement and retention. And the six-hour workday comes with the side benefit of helping employees stay more focused on their work while reducing unnecessary distractions.

    So far, in limited experiments, the six-hour workday is proving to be pretty effective at moving the needle in a positive direction on some of HR and talent pros most intractable challenges - engagement, retention, and employer brand. Despite all this, will the six-hour workday catch in here in the USA in any noticeable way?

    Maybe not. 

    Or perhaps the answer is maybe not yet.

    'Radical' new ideas are only radical until they hit a tipping point when they have reached just enough adoption, and from a few influential organizations, and suddenly candidates are asking your recruiters about whether or not you have six-hour days or have eliminated annual performance reviews or have implemented an unlimited vacation policy.

    I just caught this piece about LinkedIn, and their recent decision to adopt an unlimited vacation policy for their employees. While LinkedIn is certainly not the first organization to trash the traditional PTO process in favor of one where employees and managers figure it out for themselves, they might be one of the largest, with about 9,000 employees worldwide. LinkedIn has likely many motivations that drove the decision to scrap the 'three weeks vacation after 5 years of service' nonsense that probably 97% of organizations use to award and track time off for their employees, but my guess would be the primary ones would be for recruiting and retention.

    Likely there are dozens of Silicon Valley startups that have not bothered to worry about setting up traditional PTO plans at all that are competing with LinkedIn for talent. Just think about the difference in these two sentences in the point of view of a talented tech candidate:

    1 You will accrue 4.25 hours of paid vacation every bi-weekly pay period, maxing at 80 hours until you reach 5 years of service, when the accrual maximum increases to 120 hours'

    2. 'You take as much vacation as you want. Work it out with your manager and team.'

    Don't bother telling me in the comments that people don't actually take as much vacation when it is 'unlimited' as they do when their is a set PTO policy and schedule. That doesn't matter one bit to the candidate, or anyone else really.

    What matters is that when you can't match (and sometimes you do have great reasons why you can't), more innovative, modern, and employee-friendly policies and perks you are going to be always at a competitive disadvantage.

    Once these innovations and perks make that important shift to become 'expectations' you had better have a decent rebuttal to candidates and employees who won't understand why they suddenly have to start worrying about having enough accrued hours of PTO in order to take that long weekend they deserve after pulling 70 hour weeks for two months to meet the last big ship date. 

    It is only a matter of time, if it has not happened yet, when one of your hiring managers comes back to you in HR and asks 'Why can't we have unlimited PTO?, the talent we need expects it.'

    Have a great week!

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