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    Entries in auto (6)


    A (slight) pause in the robot job takeover

    Quick report for the last day of July from the robots are taking all the jobs frontier. It looks like, at least for now, one of the important, (and widely held) jobs that has seemed most vulnerable to eventual robot takeover may remain the province of humans a little bit longer.

    The job is over the road truck driver, a job that has been in the news plenty lately, mostly in the context of pretty significant labor shortages. Shipping companies and manufacturers are having a hard time recruiting new truck drivers into what is a demanding profession, the existing supply of truckers are starting to age out of the workforce, and efforts to improve pay and conditions for truckers, (which in theory helps with recruiting and retention), have so far had mixed results.

    These factors, combined with the seeming dozens of high tech companies actively working on self-driving transportation technologies have led many industry observers to predict that self-driving trucks and associated technologies would sooner than later begin to be introduced into the industry. It makes sense for sure, the combination of a human labor replacing opportunity, with a technology that has been in development for quite some time, and a clear economic need that continues to grow have created what most industry experts considered a kind of perfect storm for truck drivers. In fact, all the coverage and noise about how the profession of truck driving is doomed, (for people), probably is contributing to the current truck driver shortfall. Who wants to enter an industry where 5 or 10 years from now you'll be replaced with a self-driving truck?

    But some news broke a couple of days ago that may give this entire narrative pause. Our pals at Uber, long-considered one of the leaders in developing self-driving trucks and technology is stepping back from their development efforts. From a piece covering the news in Venture Beat:

    Uber is shifting resources away from the self-driving truck unit within its Advanced Technologies Group, the company announced today in an email to reporters. For the time being, it’s ceasing development on the autonomous freight platform it acquired from autonomous tech company Otto.

    “We’ve decided to stop development on our self-driving truck program and move forward exclusively with cars,” Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, said in a statement. “We recently took the important step of returning to public roads in Pittsburgh, and as we look to continue that momentum, we believe having our entire team’s energy and expertise focused on this effort is the best path forward.”

    It's a pretty interesting move by Uber, who has had a bunch of other problems to deal with over the last couple of years, but to shift their self-driving tech development and focus from trucking to cars probably indicates the trucking problem is much tougher to solve than they realized.

    Truck drivers, as it has been reported, do plenty of other things besides keep the vehicle between the white lines on the freeway. Load inspection and balancing, monitoring vehicle performance, consideration of local weather and traffic conditions, and finally, negotiating the often tricky and challenging last miles of a delivery and plenty more. Uber likely has found that solving all of these problems and delivering true 'self-driving' trucking solutions has turned out to be harder than it seems.

    And that is probably a lesson we can take in other domains as well. As robots and technolgy advance in capability, it can be easy to underestimate all the added value and unique value that humans bring to their work. It's not easy building a self-driving truck that can replace a human truck driver.

    It's probably not going to be easy to build technology to replace you or me either. (Let's hope).

    Have a great day!


    CHART OF THE DAY: On Tesla and Disrupting Markets

    Quick question for a busy Monday - which auto maker have you seen the most reporting and commentary about in the last few years?

    Maybe General Motors - the largest US auto maker and who has been in the news plenty in recent years, mostly for a slew of recalls.

    Or possibly one of the major Japanese or Korean manufacturers like Toyoata or Hyundai that seem to be continually closing the gap in US market share from the traditional leaders, GM and Ford.

    No, I bet the auto maker you have read and heard the most about lately is the electric car maker Tesla, who for lots of reasons, (innovative products, charismatic leadership of Elon Musk, and interest in modern and ever cloud-based technology for cars), has garnered insane amounts of press and media coverage. 

    So here is another question for you, and the subject of today's Chart of the Day - How much market share does Tesla actually have in the USA? Take a look at the chart below, courtesy of The Truth About Cars, then some quick comment from me. And as always, comments remain FREE.



    Some thoughts:

    1. So according to the chart for the first half of 2015 Tesla's USA market share is, well, we don't know what it is because on this chart Tesla does not actually register. They must be included in the 1.9% of 'Other'. 

    2. According to a similar data set over at Autonews.com, we see that for the first 6 months of 2015, Tesla sold about 10,200 cars in the US out of a total market of approximately 8.5 million vehicles.  So if my math is right, that puts Tesla's US market share for the first half of 2015 at 0.12%. That's a little bit more than a tenth of a percent. Other makers in the same general space in the market as Tesla include Maserati, Bentley, and SmartUSA.

    3. Here is why this is interesting to me, and where I think that there are some parallels to what we see in any technology market. There is a completely outsized focus on Tesla relative to their actual position in the market and one could argue, the market value of their business, when placing it in context. The pundits and the media, even what passes for the HR/Talent media, love, love, love to focus on the 'new' story, often at the expense of the most relatable story for their audiences. Chances are you have seen 1,493 stories about Tesla in the first 6 months of the year. Chances are also pretty good you don't know anyone that actually owns a Tesla.

    4. It is awesome in HR and Talent to think about what is next, what is likely to dominate how organizations are organized, how people are engaged, how workplaces will function in the future, but the truth is the vast majority of us, (and our leaders), have to think about the next 6 months of 2015, not what the world of work will look like a decade from now. It is important to think about this when reading about HR's version of Tesla, which of course is Zappos, and whatever new experiments they are running over there.

    5. Tesla probably is the most disruptive and innovative auto maker in the world, but the truth is the real impact of their disruptions won't be seen until they truly can deliver sufficient volumes of more mass-market cars, (Tesla's are $100K or so, high-end luxury cars today), and/or the big boys like GM or Toyota decide to try and compete more directly in this segment. It is the same in HR whether it is Holacracy or 'no resume recruiting' or 'no more performance reviews'. It takes a long time in mature industries for these disruptions to move past 'niche' and into the mainstream. Your challenge as an HR/Talent pro is to know when to move with the Teslas and Zappos of the world and when to lay back and lease the newest Camry. 

    Interesting stuff...

    Have a great week!


    Stealing jobs back from the machines

    We've been hearing the alarm bells, (heck many of us, well mostly me) have been ringing those bells, the ones that are tolling for the eventual and perhaps even imminent demise of the American worker, destined to be replaced by a robot or an algorithm.

    Automation is continuing apace and advances in computing power, combined with development of more sophisticated robotics and smart machines that create and communicate massive amounts of data are causing a perfect storm of sorts. Routine work is likely to be automated out of human hands, lower-complexity service jobs are under threat, and even many types of 'knowledge work' are becoming targets of the relentless pace and unwavering progress of automation and technology.

    It is a story that keeps getting repeated so often lately that it is simultaneously getting tired and self-fulfilling.

    That's why this piece, 'Gods' Make Comeback at Toyota as Humans Steal Jobs from Robots , from Bloomberg about what a possible brighter future of work and human worker's co-existence with the robots might look like was both surprising and instructive.  The piece is about how at Toyota, long a leader in applying advanced theories, processes, and technologies to the manufacturing environment, was actually introducing (or re-introducing, I suppose), more human-powered and manual labor-based processes into many of its plants. 

    Why put slower, more expensive, more likely to mess up, and definitely more likely to need a rest after 8 hours or so humans back into the manufactring flow? 

    From the Bloomberg piece:

    Inside Toyota Motor Corp.’s oldest plant, there’s a corner where humans have taken over from robots in thwacking glowing lumps of metal into crankshafts. This is Mitsuru Kawai’s vision of the future.

    “We need to become more solid and get back to basics, to sharpen our manual skills and further develop them,” said Kawai, a half century-long company veteran tapped by President Akio Toyoda to promote craftsmanship at Toyota’s plants. “When I was a novice, experienced masters used to be called gods, and they could make anything.”

    These gods, or Kami-sama in Japanese, are making a comeback at Toyota, the company that long set the pace for manufacturing prowess in the auto industry and beyond. Toyota’s next step forward is counter-intuitive in an age of automation: Humans are taking the place of machines in plants across Japan so workers can develop new skills and figure out ways to improve production lines and the car-building process.

    Learning how to make car parts from scratch gives younger workers insights they otherwise wouldn’t get from picking parts from bins and conveyor belts, or pressing buttons on machines. At about 100 manual-intensive workspaces introduced over the last three years across Toyota’s factories in Japan, these lessons can then be applied to reprogram machines to cut down on waste and improve processes, Kawai said.

    In an area Kawai directly supervises at the forging division of Toyota’s Honsha plant, workers twist, turn and hammer metal into crankshafts instead of using the typically automated process. Experiences there have led to innovations in reducing levels of scrap and shortening the production line 96 percent from its length three years ago. Toyota has eliminated about 10 percent of material-related waste from building crankshafts at Honsha. Kawai said the aim is to apply those savings to the next-generation Prius hybrid.

    Really interesting and perhaps this story foretells one likely scenario for the future of work - a kind of hybrid and peaceful co-existence and co-operation between human and machine. One where each actor can supply and focus on what they do best. The machines are precise, indefatigable, obedient, unerring. The people focusing on creativity, adaptability, recalling institutional memory and lessons. Then the combination of the two leading to the best outcomes for both (and the organization). The humans 'learn' then teach the machines to carry out these learnings. 

    Which is kind of the way it has always been until recently, when it seems like we have allowed the advances in automation to allow us to forget that we humans still have much to offer and much to teach the machines.


    Notes from the road #9 - The 'Which car is in your airport?' test

    Really quick shot from me on a travel Friday - a revival of the long-dormant 'Notes from the road' travel series as I have, fittingnly, been on the road this week. For this installment I have two observations/data points and a then some questions for you.

    Observation #1 - On display in the terminal of the charming Greater Rochester (NY) International Airport (I think we have one flight a day to Toronto), was this fine vehicle:

    This is a Fiat 500


    Observation #2 - On display in the terminal of the West Palm Beach International Airport was this little beauty:

    This is a Ferrari 458 

    What does this difference in Italian sportscar display say about the two airports/cities?

    What does it make us think about what life might be like living there, (because on any trip one of the cities will not be home for you).

    If you were flying in a candidate, or if you were the candidate maybe, and she/you take off from a Ferrari city only to land in a Fiat city, would that influence the opinion, attitude about the city, and impact the likelihood that the interview would go well, and they would perhaps even take the job?

    Last one - which car(s) are sitting in your home airport right now, or which one should be there that would be a good reflection of your city?

    Have a great weekend!


    The bumpy road from HR to the CEO chair

    If you are an HR leader that aspires to move up and potentially out of HR one day to sit in the CEO, COO, or some other 'C' chair that doesn't end with 'HRO', then you really should take a few minutes to read this piece on Bloomberg BusinessWeek titled - "Mary Barra, the Contender: GM's Next CEO May Not Be a 'Car Guy'", about current General Motors Chief Product Officer, (and potential future CEO), Mary Barra.

    Ms. Barra has come up through the ranks in a long (33 year) career at the auto manufacturer to hold an incredibly powerful and high-profile position - as the GM leader of the $15B vehicle development operations group, she sits in a position where the success or failure of the entire company rests pretty squarely on her and her team's ability to deliver. This is the kind of role that is the logical 'last step' before assuming the CEO chair, where if she were to make it there would be distinctive for a few reasons. One, Ms. Barra would be the first female CEO at any of the US-based auto makers, and two; she would be one of the highest profile CEOs that had a prior stop as the Head of HR along the way.

    That is fantastic, right? The former CHRO becoming the head of Product, then CEO? What could be a better path. Well, it may not be that simple.

    More on Ms. Barra's time in HR and what it may mean to her prospects as future GM CEO from the BW piece:

    Barra’s most high-profile moment came in 2009 after then-CEO Fritz Henderson put her in the HR role to help groom a new generation of leaders as the company worked to come out of bankruptcy. She allowed employees to wear jeans. “Our dress code policy is ‘dress appropriately,’ ” she announced in a memo. Barra had been attacking GM’s bureaucracy, slashing the number of required HR reports by 90 percent and shrinking the company’s employee policy manual by 80 percent. But loosening the dress code drew a flood of calls and e-mails from employees asking if they could, in fact, wear jeans. One manager was upset about the image this might send to company visitors. “So you’re telling me I can trust you to give you a company car and to have you responsible for tens of millions of dollars,” Barra responded, “but I can’t trust you to dress appropriately?”

    The anecdote reveals quite a lot I think about Ms. Barra and the lingering perceptions of HR as a corporate function. It seems like she was doing 'good' HR - slashing rules, working to empower employees and managers, and encouraging people to think and act independently. But even that kind of 'good' HR (along with all her other accomplishments as an engineer and product leader), might not be enough to elevate her over and past the typical 'car guy' model that GM and the like have always had for their highest execs.

    One more shot from BW:

    When (current CEO Daniel) Akerson appointed Barra senior vice president of global product development in 2011, though, she had just spent a year and a half as GM’s head of HR, which did not sit well with the car guys in the company and around Detroit.

    “She had a difficult time getting credibility because she was in HR before, even though she is an engineer,” says Rebecca Lindland, an industry consultant. “It’s sexism, and I think it’s the HR title.” Her vanilla style probably didn’t help, either. Bob Lutz, the swashbuckling former Marine pilot and legendary car executive, used to fly his own helicopter to work.

    The path to the CEO chair at a massive company like GM is a tricky one, but there are a few rules of thumb that are typically followed. The person would have deep industry experience. Would have a demonstrated career progression and documented success. They would have lots of contacts and allies. And they would have served in leadership roles in more that one discipline - some operations, some sales, some finance, maybe marketing - you get the idea.

    On the surface, it seems Ms. Barra possesses all these qualities, and indeed, one day she may well become the CEO of GM. But if she does not, I wonder if she and others will look back on the (fairly brief) stint as the Head of HR as a mistake. 

    I wonder if she will think that having to spend more than five minutes talking about the gosh darn DRESS CODE as something that tainted her just a little, and reinforced the traditional thinking of HR as the 'rules police' and any head of HR, no matter how enlightened and progressive, as not really a true business leader.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out and whether a former 'HR lady' can become one of world's most powerful 'Car guys'.

    Have a great week!