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    The Mindset List

    I am such a mark for Beloit College's annual Mindset List, a look at some of the important and sometimes really surprising changes that have occurred in the last 18 years or so, or expressed differently, just how much differently this year's crop of college freshmen have experienced and view the world compared to us older folks.

    Right off of the bat, Beloit reminds us that this new group of students, (mostly born in 1987), have never known a world where hybrid cars were not mass produced, South Park has not always been on TV, and among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.

    The Mindset List is always an interesting read every year, but the odd thing about the list is that while it describes and highlights the world view and perspectives of 18 year olds, they are the ones who are likely the least interested in the actual contents of the list. Their world and world view is just what it is. They don't stop to try and think of or conjure up a time where free Wifi did not exist in every Starbucks in the world. It is the modern version of the classic 'I had it much worse than you' line that every parent in every generation for the entire history of time has at one point leveraged to try to make their children feel guilty about how good they have things.

    I am serious, the first evidence of this phenomenon in recorded history was from some primitive cave drawings and inscriptions found in France. Loosely translated, they read, 'Sure kid, it's so easy to kill that antelope with that accurate, sharpened spear. When I was your age, all we had to fight for our lives with was a big rock.'

    These kinds of admonitions have only weakened over time. I can recall on more that one occasion lamenting to my son that he did not understand how good he actually had things, since when I was his age my TV remote WAS ACTUALLY ATTACHED TO THE TV WITH A LONG CORD.

    Hard times for sure.

    There are some real gems on the Mindset List for this year of course, here are a couple of my personal favorites. Incoming college freshmen:

    They have never licked a postage stamp.

    When they were born, cell phone usage was so expensive that families only used their large phones, usually in cars, for emergencies.

    Their proud parents recorded their first steps on camcorders, mounted on their shoulders like bazookas.

    There are plenty more gems like that on the list, and I recommend taking a few minutes to take a look at the entire piece.

    I know it is a little obvious, and maybe seems kind of unimportant to most of us but it is really, really easy to lose sight of just how much the world and technology and society and work and everything else changes in a relatively short time. 

    It is good, no matter how old or young we are, to think about how folks not quite like us see and understand the world.


    The obligatory Amazon take

    By now you have read (or at least heard about), the New York Times' blistering takedown of life working at Amazon, your favorite online shopping destination for just about anything you'll ever need, (and lots and lots of things you don't). If you are interested in work, workplaces, culture, and performance, the piece is definitely worth a long read, and it just might make you pause for a moment before you order your next shipment of stuff from the giant retail machine.

    Most interestingly, the Times' piece largely focuses on working culture for Amazon's white collar or professional workers, and not on the many, many thousands of Amazon employees and contractors that toil away in their massive distribution centers, often in extremely harsh conditions. Most Amazon customers already know how tough the warehouse workers have it at Amazon, and judging by Amazon's continued revenue growth, we have shown that we really don't care about people in the warehouses all that much. We just want our stuff faster.

    The responses to the Times piece have more or less fallen into two camps - one; Amazon is a horrible, terrible, dystopian place and shame on them for not (for some inexplicable reason), treating their white collar professional staff 'better' than their front-line warehouse staff; or two, creating a high-performing organization demands focus, dedication, long hours, and most importantly, no tolerance (for long anyway), for average performance. No exceptions. And as the Times reports this lack of tolerance for anything less than high performance and an almost singular dedication to the Amazon cause can look really cold, ugly, messy, and heartless.  

    So where does the 'truth' lie in all of this? Kind of hard to say unless you have direct experience working at Amazon. Chairman and Founder Jeff Bezos issued a kind of non-denial denial of the Times piece. Something along the lines of 'This is not the Amazon I know. This can't really be true or no one would want to work here.' That sort of thing. Note he didn't really say 'This is NOT true, just that it probably can't be true.'

    And ultimately, like in most other complex situations the real truth is somewhat blurry, inconsistent, and as always very, very subject to interpretation and bias. What do I think? Well since it is my blog I get to share.

    I think that any organization that, at least for a time, was willing to subject any of its workforce to the kind of brutal conditions like at the 115 degree Pennsylvania warehouse where workers had to be carried off by paramedics, has pretty much determined that performance, or rather the ability and willingness to sacrifice in order to achieve high performance, is what matters most. 

    Amazon is/has been willing to push warehouse workers to the point of heat exhaustion and collapse, why should we be surprised (and angered), that it is willing to push its professional staff into 80-hour weeks, emails and texts at all hours of the night, and has, if the Times piece is true, to have persistently pushed employees to think of their work first, last, and at every time in between?

    I think, more or less, this 'outrage' against Amazon is at least a little misplaced. Most of us, by virtue of how we spend our money, (and let's not even talk about under what conditions our iPhones are assembled), don't really care how badly most companies treat their workers. 

    We only start to care when these workers begin to, uncomfortably, look a little too much like us, and do the same kinds of jobs that we do.


    FOLLOW UP: How changing communication preferences are changing HR technologies

    Last week on the blog I shared a chart on US teens' communication preferences which showed, (among a few other interesting things), that when it comes to interactions with their friends, email is this group's least preferred method/tool of choice. If you are a parent of a teen, or have ever just observed a teen for more than 10 minutes or so, you would notice them pretty furiously tapping away on their phones almost non-stop - with the vast majority of this activity being SMS messaging, (and to a lesser extent using SnapChat, WhatsApp, and social tools like Instagram). 

    What they are almost certainly not doing is sending or replying to email. 

    It might be hard for us crusty adults to want to deal with or accept, but anyone under about 25 or so did not grow up relying on email for anything, (save for possibly communications with 'grown ups').

    Whenever I run a piece like the 'teens hate email' one, I usually get a few comments or replies on Twitter that more or less say the same thing - 'So what? Email isn't ever going away. When these teens enter the workforce they will simply have to adapt. Blah, blah, blah and get off of my lawn.'

    Mostly, it seems, professional adults don't generally see any significant change to email's ubiquity and primacy as the 'professional' communication technology of choice, and fully expect teens and Gen Z types to have to just deal with it if and when they want to get (and keep), a real job.

    But is it really that simple? Or asked differently, can us 'adults' really get away with thinking that way? Forever?

    So after the 'teens hate email' piece ran last week I received an email from Kay Lucas, VP of Product Strategy at PeopleMatter. In case you are not familiar, PeopleMatter is a leading provider of workforce and talent management technology solutions, focusing primarily on retail, hospitality, and other service provider organizations. Think restaurant chains, convenience stores, hotels - that sort of thing.

    The kinds of organizations that do high volume, rapid hiring. And, more importantly, the kinds of organizations that tend to employ lots of folks in their teens and twenties - the kinds of folks that tend to see email as their least preferred method or technology for communication.

    So to get back to Kay, here is the full text of the email she sent over last week after my post ran:


    This past weekend we rolled out a new release and ditched email as being required for applicants for this reason. Just thought you’d be interested in knowing.




    Candidates can actually apply for a job without an email address? 

    I had to know more, so I asked Kay for some additional background on this decision and she shared with me some more details (note, I checked with Kay and have her permission to share these emails here).

    (Kay Lucas, PeopleMatter)

    We decided to do this (allowing customers to make Email an optional field for candidates), because our customers felt like they were losing applicants because email was required. One very large casual dining customer in particular really thought that they were losing two whole groups of people: 1) the younger generation as you point out, 2) the non-tech generation – think of back of the house employees in restaurants and retail. It could be folks where English is not their first language and/or they just don’t care about email because they have no reason for it.

    We also know that in our space (service industry), the majority of employees don’t have computers – their phone is their connection. So, texting and mobile friendly are key.

    The release literally just happened this past Saturday morning. Here’s what we have already seen: 

    On Sunday, the quantity of job applications increased by 5% from the prior SundayOn Monday, the quantity of job applications increased by 22% from the prior Monday. Wow! We are already blown away and totally pumped we did this. Hats off to our clients and I love listening to them. Makes us so much smarter. They get it and we are so happy that we’ve made this change. The labor market is tight so this is a really big deal for them.

    Ok, so I love this for a few different reasons. One, it gives us a direct, real-world example of how teens and others communication preferences, (essentially mobile phone driven, and SMS heavy), are being acknowledged and reflected in how organizations and HR technology providers are deploying HR tools. If your target applicant pool would prefer not to use email, (or simply can't use email), then provide a way for them to interact and apply with you using their desired method.Image courtesy PeopleMatter - click for a large version

    Second, it shows really well how good my friends at PeopleMatter understand and react to their customers. Retail and food service are precisely the kinds of industries that would likely have plenty of candidates in the email hating teen to young adult cohort, and this 'email optional' update shows how well the technology can adapt to these needs.

    And finally, it serves as a great reminder to all of us, HR leaders and HR technology providers alike, that just because us old farts that make all of the rules and all of the decisions are not that we are not always right, and that we need to be open minded enough to adapt to what today's 19 year olds think too. 

    That is if we want to remain relevant once that 19 year old becomes out 26 year old boss in a few years.

    Thanks again to Kay Lucas at PeopleMatter for sharing the information on their approach to this issue and if you are an HR leader from retail or food service or hospitality be sure to check out what PeopleMatter is up to.

    Have a great week!


    PODCAST: #HRHappyHour 219 - Keeping Your Career Safe from the Robots

    HR Happy Hour 219 - Keeping Your Career Safe from the Robots

    Recorded LIVE from SuccessConnect 2015 in Las Vegas, August 11, 2015

    Hosts: Steve BoeseTrish McFarlane

    Guest: Karie Willyerd, SuccessFactors


    This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, Steve sat down at SuccessFactors customer conference SuccessConnect and spoke with Karie Willyerd, Workplace Futurist (i.e. the best job title ever), and author of the upcoming book Stretch: How to Future-Proof Yourself for Tomorrow's Workplace

    On the show, Steve and Karie talked about just what a Workplace Futurist does, what are some of the big-picture work and workplace challenges that lay ahead for organizations, and then dove into the the issues and workplace opportunities that increased use of robotics and automation present. Karie laid out 5 key principles that anyone can use to help ensure their continued development, assert their value, and keep themselves and their careers safe from our future robot overlords.

    This was a really fun show! 

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

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


    Thanks to SAP/SuccessFactors for having the HR Happy Hour Show at the event.

    Finally, thanks to our show sponsors Equifax - learn more about how Equifax Workforce Solutions can help you and your organization here.

    And really finally, on iTunes or your favorite podcast app just search for 'HR Happy Hour' to subscribe to the show and never miss an episode.


    Enterprise Robots

    Most 'Robots are coming to take away all of our jobs' stories usually read something like this one - 'Chinese factory replaces 90% of humans with robots, production soars' - a recent recounting of the now getting familiar tale of automation becoming more and more of a threat to workers and employment.

    You can check out the entire piece on Tech Republic, but here is the essential takeaway:

    The Changying Precision Technology Company factory in Dongguan has automated production lines that use robotic arms to produce parts for cell phones. The factory also has automated machining equipment, autonomous transport trucks, and other automated equipment in the warehouse.

    There are still people working at the factory, though. Three workers check and monitor each production line and there are other employees who monitor a computer control system. Previously, there were 650 employees at the factory. With the new robots, there's now only 60. Luo Weiqiang, general manager of the company, told the People's Daily that the number of employees could drop to 20 in the future.

    The robots have produced almost three times as many pieces as were produced before. According to the People's Daily, production per person has increased from 8,000 pieces to 21,000 pieces. That's a 162.5% increase.

    The increased production rate hasn't come at the cost of quality either. In fact, quality has improved. Before the robots, the product defect rate was 25%, now it is below 5%

    Ooh - that's is the technology double, (really triple), whammy at the expense of workers - cost savings, increased productivity, and better quality. At least in this specific manufacturing example, there just seems to be no way for workers to compete with the robots in this scenario.

    So that is the scary, and kind of obvious aspect of the robot takeover, and perhaps for most of the folks reading this blog not one that feels particularly relevant, at least personally. Most of the audience here (and me too), are not manufacturing workers, or even on the 'front-lines' of our businesses for that matter. We work in the more complex, subtle, nuanced, and emotionally tuned-in parts of the business. We have to understand and deal with people, not rigid manufacturing processes. We need to be able to read people, their language, their facial expressions, their tone, and their mood. We need to be able to connect with people. Robots can't do that.

    Well, not yet anyway.

    Recently Japanese mobile phone operator SoftBank announced the enterprise availability of Pepper - a humanoid robot designed to be a companion able to communicate with people through the most intuitive interface we know: voice, touch and emotions. Launched first as a personal, and in-home companion, the makers of Pepper envision deployment of the robot in many business scenarios - dealing with customer in a retail setting, educating customers on products and services, and perhaps even entertaining them while they wait for service. 

    But the interesting part of this is not just what this particular robot can or can't do today, it is what Pepper (and surely others to follow), is designed to be able to do in general. This is from SoftBank's 'Who is Pepper?' website:

    To be a true social companion Pepper needs to be able to understand your emotions. If you burst out laughing, he will know you are in a good mood. If you frown, Pepper will understand that something is bothering you.

    Pepper can translate what state you are in using his knowledge of universal emotions (joy, surprise, anger, doubt and sadness) and his ability to analyze your facial expression, body language and the words you use. He will guess your mood, and will even adapt to it. For example, he will try to cheer you up by playing your favorite song!

    Pepper also can express emotions, and this is what makes him so cute! We can say he has a real personality conveyed by his body language, his funny gestures and his voice.

    Reading expressions, gauging your mood from analyzing a complex set of human cues, adapting to you as necessary, and finally, learning from these interactions. Let's suspend (natural) disbelief for a minute and assume Pepper can actually do these things, and is likely to get better and better at all of them over time. If that is the case, what might these developments mean for the rest of us, those of us who don't worry about robots taking over Chinese factories, since we, you know, don't work in Chinese factories?

    Robots taking over low-skill manufacturing jobs is only part of the larger automation story, and probably not the most interesting or important part. It is really just replacing one human in a human-process/machine interaction.

    Robots like Pepper substituting for human-human interactions? Now that is a story. One that hits much closer to the mark.