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    Friday
    Dec292017

    Five things I think I think, year-end 2017 edition

    Winding down 2017 with five quick observations, (not predictions), about HR, work, tech, basketball, or whatever comes to mind in the 21 minutes I have allotted to complete this final post of 2017.

    1. Workplace- Matt Lauer. Robert Wilmers. Harvey Weinstein. John Skipper. All really powerful execs/talents (and I can name dozens more), that seemingly out of nowhere were here one day and gone the next. If 2017 will go down as the year of #MeToo it will also be remembered by many as the year when organization's lack of planning for the future was severely exposed. There is no doubt that in 2018 we will see more of these abrupt terminations and separations - many from high-profile well known leaders, and many others involving people lesser or unknown, but important to the organization's operations. If I were the Chief HR or Talent Officer of any reasonably sized company, I think I would start 2018 working on my organizational talent depth chart. When your COO or CFO suddenly resigns (or is terminated), on Jan 7, will you be ready?

    2. HR and HR Tech- I am going to have to try really hard not to get too overboard with my recent 'Voice interfaces are the next disruption' take, although I really believe it to be the case. I caught a recent video of an 85 year-old grandma learning to use her new Echo/Alexa device her grandkids gave her for Christmas and I couldn't help but think of the power, accessibility, and reach that voice UI make possible. I still think this will be the story in HR tech in 2018 and 2019. As for 'normal' HR, the tightening labor market shows no signs of reversing as we close the year. 2018 will (hopefully), finally be the year when wages (more broadly), begin to increase meaningfully as organizations chase scarce and powerful talent. Your compensation analysts, (ironically), have become much more valuable to your organization.

    3. Media and content- I have to admit, I have missed, (and probably still will miss in 2018), the idea of the 'pivot to video' that many media companies have made in the last couple of years. Maybe it is because I do have the proverbial face for radio or maybe it's that I still prefer to consume 'real' content in writing. And I still think that most HR, tech, and business professionals are not spending their days at work or on a plane or during their commute watching a stream of short videos instead of reading longer form pieces, (and listening to podcasts, but more on that next). I could be wrong about this. Maybe. But the most compelling piece I read about this pivot to video theorized that it is happening not because it is what consumers/audiences want, but rather because it is what Facebook decided it could sell more expensive ad products against, and thus has prioritized video content in user's news feeds. Sounds plausible.

    4. HR Happy Hour- The HR Happy Hour Podcast is now heading into it's 9th year. It remains my favorite creative exercise and (hopefully), the most valuable contribution that I make to the HR, HR Tech, and workplace communities. And it was cool to think that we (myself, Shauna Moerke at the beginning, and Trish McFarlane now), were on to 'the next big thing' before it was even a thing. Sure, I am shilling, but I am really proud of what we are doing. Shamleess plug - HR Happy Hour Show.

    5. Blog- The blog here is now about 10 years in. At the beginning, I started blogging for the students in an HR Tech class I used to teach. Then, when blogging became much more mainstream in the HR space, I wrote for the increasing numbers of readers, (and for the attention, I have to admit). Now, with attention completely divided up into bite size pieces, spread out across thousands of sites, social networks, apps, and new media, (like podcasts), I think now I mostly blog for me. It still is a mentally valuable exercise, gives me a sense of 'At least I got something done today', and keeps me from getting lazy. In a lot of ways the blog has turned back into what the first (web) blogs were created to do - provide a forum for sharing the blogger's personal thoughts. That still is valuable to me and why I still keep up this blog after all this time. The blog is about what I think is interesting, which is the only way I can stay interested in the blog.

    As always, thanks for indulging me and many thanks for reading in 2017.

    I hope you have a fantastic end to the year, and that 2018 brings you everything you hope it well.

    Happy New Year!

    Wednesday
    Dec272017

    An example of how 'good' user experience changes over time

    Quick shot for a 'I'm not really working but not quite on vacation either' Wednesday.

    Like many folks, I am dabbling with some new technology over the holidays and after messing around with a newly acquired device, the Amazon Fire Stick, (for those not familiar, the Fire Stick is a small device that plugs in to a TV's HDMI port to enable streaming content like Netflix, SlingTV, and my favorite, the NBA League Pass App).

    It's a cool, inexpensive, and highly capable little piece of tech. I do believe I am just days away from cutting the cable cord for good. It is really just the phone call I have to make that I am dreading at this point.

    But as I was setting up the Fire Stick, I couldn't help but notice the size, setup, and UX elements of the Amazon remote. Take a look at the pic below. The remote on the left is my current Spectrum Cable TV remote, and on the right, the Fire Stick remote.

    In case you're scoring at home, the Spectrum reomote has 59 buttons and is easily over twice the size and weight as the Fire Stick remote, which has a total of 7 buttons and a kind of tactile navigation wheel.

    Three quick observations on these two remotes, and what we might be able to apply to our own work and workplace tech decisions from thinking about how UX and tech expectations change over time.

    1. What we consider 'good' in terms of design and UX is a fluid, changing thing. The first time I got a hold of the Spectrum remote I am sure I was excited, happy, if a bit overwhelmed with all the functions. This remote could do 'everything' and I am sure I thought that the tradeoff in size, complexity, usability in order to do everything was worth it. Sure, most of the buttons are really tiny, are jammed too close together, but that's the price of a super-powered piece of tech. Eventually, you figure it out.

    2. The most important of the seven buttons on the Fire Stick remote is the little one at the top of the device with the microphone image. It's used for the remote voice command capabilities akin to how one issues commands to Amazon Alexa enabled devices. Think, 'Alexa, open Netflix'. Or 'Alexa, fast-forward three minutes'. Or, 'Alexa, play The Real Housewives of New Jersey' (that last may or may not have been the one I tested for this piece).

    I recently wrote about Alexa here on the blog, so I won't repeat all those takes again, but with Amazon reporting that the single most popular item on Amazon.com this holiday shopping season was its Echo Dotdevice, it seems certain that tens of millions of US households will be experimenting, learning, and becoming familiar with the power of voice-activated tech in 2018. These tens of millions of folks are also your employees, using your workplace tools and tech, and will begin to press for more and better voice capable tech at work. No doubt.

    3. Probably the obvious take on these two devices, their design, and how they make the user feel, but here it is. More is not better with UX and with tech in general. Better is better. I know the tendency, especially with workplace technology is to continue to add features, functions, processes, and in our example, buttons to the solution in order to cast the widest possible net. Tech providers are guilty of this, but so are organizations that issue 846 page RFPs for a Performance Management solution evaluation. And so many of the tech providers respond, especially for a large, Fortune 100 size customer, to add whatever features and functions that the customer claims they 'need'. This cycle spins and repeats over time, and that is how you end up with the 59 button Spectrum remote. Let's hope in 2018 both providers and customers alike will think a little harder about what they really need to get done, how their tools should support them and not overwhelm them, and provide employees with the simplest solutions possible that enable their success at work.

    Happy holiday week. Hope you are staying warm!

    Friday
    Dec222017

    Steve's Holiday Gift Recommendation #6 - Take care of yourself too

    Wrapping up the Gift Recommendations series today not with a specific item or product, but rather a more basic, fundamental recommendation.

    Which is this - over this holiday season make sure to take care of yourself too.

    My guess is that you are like a lot of people I know - on the grind at work and maybe taking on more responsibilities this year while still having to balance your real life - family, kids, friends, and maybe even a little fun from time to time (if you have time).

    It seems almost everyone is busier than ever. 

    And while that can be, and often is, a blessing, it can also be a tremendous challenge.

    You put your job before you. You put your family before you. Maybe you even put the causes and groups you care about before you. Because that is what you do. And that is ok. But it can be, over time, really, really hard. And maybe even a little unhealthy. 

    You skip meals to work on that presentation for the CEO. You skip going to the gym to make sure you get the groceries for tomorrow's dinner. You get up at 5:30AM because your meetings and calls start at 7AM and that's the only time you have to fold the laundry. And you lay in bed at 11:45PM and like and comment and say nice things on social media on your family and friends posts and pictures. You're exhausted but you do it anyway.

    And you are amazing. Truly.

    And since you spend so much time putting everything and everyone else before you, my recommendation for this holiday season is to take some time, however much time you can find, (or need), for you and you only.

    Sleep in. Let someone else handle the car pool or the vacuuming. Order some takeout instead of cooking. And have it delivered, (GrubHub is awesome).

    Turn off your phone for a day or three. Or at least put it aside for a few hours. 

    Go to the movies, the gym, the salon or wherever it is you want to go and not be in someone else's service for a little while. Call a friend that you never seem to be able to find time for these days.

    Think about what you really want from 2018, personally and professionally. Or just think about nothing at all.

    But mostly, take some time to make sure you are taking care of you - physically, emotionally, spiritually, professionally. 

    Because unless you take care of you, you won't be able to take care of all the people in your life who rely on you.

    You are amazing. Truly. You deserve it.

    I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season, thanks so much for reading. It means a lot to me.

    Thursday
    Dec212017

    Do sports build character or reveal it?

    Regular readers will know how much of a sports guy I am, as I have probably spent about a third of my time writing about sports related topics on the blog over the years. And I spend way too much time in the Winter/Spring on NBA League Pass and poring over the box scores. But it's good to have a hobby I guess.

    Yes, I love sports but I also don't take them too seriously. I didn't back when I was playing organized sports, and I don't now as a fan and as a parent of a son who participates in a few high school sports. Sports are awesome, but they are just games in the end. And generally not all that important.This may or may not be my HS team

    That perspective is why I never really liked the often repeated maxims (usually spouted by coaches, and most frequently football coaches) about how sports build character, create leaders, or somehow make people 'better' by virtue of their participation. Like somehow 'commanding' a huddle miraculously transforms someone into General Patton or Margaret Thatcher or Abe Lincoln. I just never bought in. Some of the biggest jamokes I know played sports in high school. And also some of the most successful, accomplished people I know as well. I don't think sports participation really meant all the much in determining any of that.

    Turns out at least one recent research study has come to the same conclusion. In an Institute of Labor Economics paper titled 'Do High School Sports Build or Reveal Character?', authors Michael Ransom and Tyler Ransom examine three large, national, and longitudinal data sets of high school students to come to the conclusion that high school athletes are no more likely to attend college, earn higher wages, or participate in the labor force than non-athletes.

    Here's an excerpt from their findings:

    We revisit the literature on the long-run effects of high school sports participation on educational attainment, labor market outcomes, and adult health behaviors. Many previous studies have found positive effects in each of these dimensions by either assuming that sports participation is exogenous (conditional on other observable characteristics), or by making use of instrumental variables that are unlikely to be valid.

    We analyze three separate nationally representative longitudinal surveys that link participation in high school sports with later-life outcomes: the NLSY79, the NELS:88, and the Add Health. We employ an econometric technique that empirically tests the sensitivity of the selection on observables assumption and find that estimates of the returns to sports participation are highly sensitive to this assumption. Specifically, we find that, for most educational and labor market outcomes, if the correlation between sports participation and unobservables is only a fraction of the correlation between sports and observables, the effect of sports participation cannot be statistically differentiated from zero. Thus, we conclude that a causal effect of sports participation is unlikely, and that most of the findings of the literature that report beneficial impacts represent the effects of selection into sports.

    Or, in simpler language the authors conclude that the kinds of people who are likely to be successful later in life for whatever set of reasons/attributes that make people successful sometimes participate in high school sports, and sometimes they do not. They may be part of the drama club or the chess club or maybe the 'leave me alone, I am just doing time until I can get out of here' club. But sports themselves do not function as some kind of magical leadership development or success training program that make athletes more likely than non-athletes successful later in life.

    And this conclusion goes against most of the mainstream thinking (at least it seems to me) about the true benefits and value of sports, particularly youth sports.

    Sports are awesome. They are fun. You can make some great friends and learn some things too.

    But lots of other things are awesome, fun, social, and provide great learning opportunities too. It is good to keep that in mind, especially if you are involved at all and at any level in youth sports.

    Happy Thursday. Have all your holiday preparations nailed down yet?

    Wednesday
    Dec202017

    More on the employee caregiver challenge

    Quick shot for a counting down the days before a long holiday break Wednesday. Today's New York Times ran a piece on the growing elder care challenges in the US and the disproportionate impact that elder care demands are placing on female workers. You can read the piece titled 'How Care For Elders, Not Children, Denies Women a Paycheck', here.

    Two things of note from the piece, and then one plug for a recent HR Happy Hour Show we did on this topic in case you missed it.

    One, the numbers and population demographics in the US are making the elder care situation a much greater issue in the last 15 years or so. One researcher estimates that currently there are about 21 million family members in the US who are caring for an adult relative (and not being paid for this care). He estimates that by 2040 this number will increase to around 34 million. So again, the elder care challenge/crisis is only going to increase.

    Two, the responsibility for providing elder care tends to fall predominantly on women. The American Time Use Survey indicates that about a quarter of women aged 45 - 64 are providing some level of elder care. Other research points to decreases in labor force participation for women in this age cohort, a reduction in earnings and hours, and an overall decline in economic health and prosperity for these care givers. Finally, factor in elder relatives living longer, (and needing more long term care), smaller families (lessening the ability to rely on siblings to assist with care), and increased divorce rates, (often making the care giving burden much harder), and you can see that the elder care challenge is complex and real.

    It is important that HR/workplace leaders are aware of these issues as they will continue to impact an increasing percent of American workers. I must admit to having not given the elder care issue much thought until a couple of months ago, when we welcomed Adam Goldberg, CEO and Founder of Torchlight to the HR Happy Hour Show

    Torchlight is an outcomes focused, employee caregiver platform that helps reduce the costs and complexities of modern care giving for families and employers in the U.S. 

    On the show, Adam talked about the growing challenge of care giving in the US, the situation where employees have significant responsibilities outside of work with childcare, elder care, and other care giving situations that require, time, attention, resources, and are a major source of life and work stress for employees.

    I usually don't like to re-post older podcast episodes on the blog here, but after reading the NYT piece this morning, and thinking more about the importance of the issue, I thought it right to try and raise some additional awareness of the challenge and how one innovative company is helping employers and employees.

    You can listen to the podcast with Adam here, on the widget player below, or on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

    Have a great day!