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    Entries in career (173)

    Wednesday
    Dec122018

    Job titles of the future: Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer

    If 2018 was the 'Year of AI' in enterprise technology, 2019 is shaping up to be Year 2 I would suspect. The development, growth, spread, and seeming ubiquity of technology providers touting their AI and Machine Learning powered solutions is showing no signs of slowing as we end 2018. As with any newer or emerging technology, the application of AI technologies offer great promise and potential benefits, but also can lead to some unexpected and even undesirable outcomes, if not managed closely and effectively.

    One leading enterprise technology company, Salesforce, is acting more proactively than most AI players in recognizing the potential for negative applications of AI tools, and is taking steps to address them, most notably by creating and hiring for a new position, today's 'Job Title of the Future' the 'Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer.' 

    Details from reporting on Business Insider on the new appointment:

    In the midst of the ongoing controversies over how tech companies can use artificial intelligence for no good, Salesforce is about to hire its first Chief Ethical and Humane Use officer.

    On Monday, Salesforce announced it would hire Paula Goldman to lead its new Office of Ethical and Humane Use, and she will officially start on Jan. 7. This office will focus on developing strategies to use technology in an ethical and humane way at Salesforce. 

    "For years, I've admired Salesforce as a leader in ethical business,” Goldman said in a statement. “We're at an important inflection point as an industry, and I'm excited to work with this team to chart a path forward."

    With the development of the new Office of Ethical and Humane Use, Salesforce plans to merge law, policy and ethics to develop products in an ethical manner. That's especially notable, as Salesforce itself has come under fire from its own employees for a contract it holds with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

    A C-Level hire with the remit to develop strategies to use tech in an ethical and humane way is a pretty interesting approach to the challenges of increasingly powerful AI powered technologies being let loose in the world. Most of the time, enterprise tech companies sell or license their technologies to end customers who are then more or less free to apply these technologies to help them solve their own business challenges. The technology providers typically have not waded into making value judgements on their customers or the ways that the technologies are being applied to the customers' ends.

    What Salesforce seems to be indicating is that they intend to be more intentional or even careful about how their technologies are used in the market, and want to signal their desire to ensure they are used in an ethical and humane way.

    This to me is a really interesting development in how technology (or potentially any kind of product producer), may need to look at how their products are used by customers. This role at Salesforce is focused on AI technologies, probably because AI seems to be an area ripe with the potential for misuse. But AI tools and technologies are by no means the only product that once unleashed on the market can drive negative outcomes. Here's a short and incomplete list: firearms, soda, fast food, tobacco products, cars that drive 150MPH, skinny jeans, and on and on.

    Will this appointment of a Chief Ethical and Human Use Officer at Salesforce mark the start of a new trend where product creators take a more active role in how their products and solutions are applied?

    We will see, I guess, it will be interesting to watch.

    Have a great day!

    Monday
    Nov192018

    Learn a New Word: The Glass Cliff

    Over the weekend reports dropped that the NFL's Cleveland Browns, long a league doormat and in need of yet another new head coach for next season, were interested in interviewing former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice for the open role. While later reporting seemed to indicate that in fact Rice was not likely to be a candidate for the Head Coach spot, it has not stopped a pretty tremendous level of reaction in the sports world. While those various reactions (the Browns are nuts, the role of Head Coach is evolving, Why not look in a novel direction for this hire, it can't get much worse for the Browns?) are all interesting in their own right, it was a term in the Fortune piece linked above that caught my attention - The 'Glass Cliff'.

    I had never seen this term before, and since as the author of this blog I have to assume what I think is what you think too, I thought it a valid entry as the latest 'Learn a New Word', even if I am really the only one who is learning this for the first time. 

    Ok, here's the definition/description of The Glass Cliff: (from a piece on Vox)

    The glass cliff is a relative of the “glass ceiling” — a metaphor for the invisible, societal barrier that keeps women from achieving the highest positions in business, politics, and organizations. The glass cliff is a twist on that: Women are elevated to positions of power when things are going poorly. When they reach the upper ranks of power, they’re put into precarious positions and therefore have a higher likelihood of failure, meaning there’s a greater risk for them to fall.

    It is a really interesting concept that is backed up both by some empirical research, as well as by what many of us have seen or been impacted by in our own careers. One prevailing theory is that when things are going poorly for a company or any kind of institution, and there is the need for new executive leadership at one of these organizations, the very fact that things are going poorly deters many if not most of the typical (read white male) candidates for the open executive position. Since these kinds of leadership positions become harder, relatively, to fill than others, more women and people from underrepresented groups become candidates and relatively more of them get hired. But, since the organization is already in trouble, the chances for these newly appointed executives to succeed are not that high, and more of them end up failing than they would if they were joining more healthy organizations.

    The above linked Vox piece has a number of great recent examples of the Glass Cliff phenomenon, (Mary Barra at GM, Carol Bartz then later Marisa Mayer at Yahoo, Jill Abramson at the New York Times) and ends with what may be a definitionally classic 'Glass Cliff' appointment - Jill Soltau the new CEO at beleagured retailer JC Penney - a company that has been deterioting for years. Whether or not Soltau will be able to revive the company is anyone's guess, but there is no doubt she's walked into an incredibly challenging set of circumstances - standing on the edge of the figurative Glass Cliff.

    Ok, that's it for me, back to try and find something new to learn, especially something I should have learned a long time ago.

    Friday
    Nov022018

    FOLLOW UP: When your 'dream job' ends up being a nightmare

    A few months back, just as the soccer World Cup was getting underway, I shared the tale of how the Spanish National Team manager Julen Lopetegui was fired from his National Team post just days before the side's first World Cup game, for the 'unforgivable' offense of agreeing to take the Manager's job at club Real Madrid, a position he would start at the conclusion of the World Cup.

    Essentially, Lopetegui had lined up his next gig, his post-National Team Manager job while still serving as the National Team Manager, thereby incensing the Spanish Soccer Federation powers that be so much so, that they showed him the exit door just days before the most imporant soccer tournament in the World. Lopetegui was out and the Spanish side ended up not impressing in the tournament without him, not factoring in the contention for the title.

    But for Lopetegui, the disappointment of not seeing his job out at the National Team should have worn off quickly, as his new job, manager at one of the most successful and famous clubs in world soccer could rightly be seen as a 'dream' job for any soccer manager. A rich and famous club, an annual contender for the Spanish League title, the Champions League title, and a club where many of the very best players in the world aspire to play for. All in all, a 'dream' scenario.

    Well, not so fast my friend.

    About four months into the role at Real Madrid, and our pal Mr. Lopetegui finds himself in the unenviable position of losing his second 'dream job'. After a slow start to the season for Madrid, Julen is out. From a piece on Deadspin reporting the news:

    Pour one out for Julen Lopetegui, who has had just about the worst possible year a soccer manager can have. Real Madrid fired Lopetegui this afternoon, one day after an embarrassing 5-1 ass-kicking by Messi-less Barcelona, thus ending a nightmare of a year.

    As of just four months ago, the poor dude had the Spanish national team rolling into the World Cup on tremendous form. Spain had never lost under Lopetegui’s guidance, going 14-6-0 with a +48 goal difference during his two years in charge. But then, just one day before the World Cup started in Russia, Lopetegui was unceremoniously and inexplicably shit-canned by the Spanish federation in a bizarre display of frat-boy “alpha” posturing because the federation president was mad Lopetegui committed the mortal sin of, uh, not telling the federation soon enough that he was going to take another job after the World Cup. Predictably, Spain completely collapsed once the tournament started.

    A pretty amazing fall from grace from not one, but two of the best, highest-profile and most sought-after jobs in soccer management. Whether or not Lopetegui can recover from these setbacks and ever again score a role at a big club or as a national team manager of a top side will be interesting to follow. Because you could argue that both of these dismissals were not completely his fault.

    He was really successful as the National Team manager before they let him go for reasons having nothing to do with performance. And at Real Madrid he never really had much of a chance, only managing 14 games, and dealing with the loss of the team's best player, Christiano Ronaldo, who was allowed to leave the club.

    Is there a lesson to all of this? I don't know. I guess that even for 'star' performers at the highest level of their profession, sometimes things happen, and it doesn't end up well at all. Lopetegui did a lot of things right by most generally accepted career advice, and it still turned out all wrong for him.

    Let's hope he can get it turned around. And let's remember to watch our own backs as well.

    Have a great weekend!

    Tuesday
    Oct092018

    You had me at "Almost no email"

    I had come across a few pieces about the tech company Glitch, (formerly Fog Creek Software, one of the most innovative tech companies of the last two decades), but until recently had never actually explored around their site to try and see what was so unusual and refreshing about their approach to openness and transparency.

    While their Employee Handbook has been the usual focus of articles that talk about just how different Glitch is, I found myself absolutely stunned into silence (and admiration) for this the paragraph below, buried as bullet point number three in a section called 'Working at Glitch'. And here is it: 

    • Almost no email. Most people at Glitch get fewer than a dozen email messages in a week from their coworkers. We use email for especially urgent company-wide alerts, and to work with people at other companies. For ordinary chat, we prefer to use Slack, and for lengthier conversations, we write out our ideas in full and share them for feedback and comment. It's common for people to come to work in the morning at Glitch and have no new emails in their inbox, and Inbox Zero is common enough that nobody even talks about it

    I know, I know what you are saying - our company isn't a small, tech company and we can't operate on just a handful of emails per day. We have too many things going on, too many moving parts, too many people we have to deal with on a regular basis to ever function in the way Glitch seems to function. Besides, if 273 emails not sent just turn into the same number, if not more, pings on Slack, then what is the difference. Fair point.

    But the other fair point I think, and one that is doubled-down on in the next 'Working at Glitch' bullet point titled 'We Respect Working Hours', is that Glitch has seemed to recognize that a barrage or onslaught of electronic messaging that you are expected to remain on top of all day long (and all night and weekend long too), is probably not the best way to create an inspired, engaged, and productive workforce.

    It's so easy to default back to the way we have always done things, the way we are conditioned to do things. I would guess that at least some portion of the team over at Glitch arrived there from some other workplace where 24/7 connection and hundreds of emails per day were the norms. But I would also guess that many of these same people now can't imagine going back to that kind of an environment. Good luck, by the way, cold-calling someone like that and luring them back to the dark side.

    Over time, and especially when things get really busy, I more and more send an email or a text almost begging that we stop emailing each other and just get on the phone. I am not sure all this email is doing us and our workforces the service it once did, back when we really thought for moment or too about sending the email in the first place.

    There are lots of other interesting ideas over at the Glitch careers site. I recommend checking it out. If only to dream 'What if?' for a few moments.

    Have a great day!

    Wednesday
    Sep052018

    One way legacy companies can change the recruiting and retention equation

    One challenge most older, 'legacy' companies can face when recruiting and attempting to retain their most desired people and keep them from flocking to the newer, more exciting, and often more lucrative startups in their industries is their very own legacies and brands.

    One could argue that 25 year old hotshot developers are not that interested in joining say an IBM, when they could jump on a new AI or blockchain startup. Or in finance, the allure of say a JP Morgan Chase might not hold all that much resonance when that same 25 year old has been immersed in crypto currency exchange technology for the last few years. Or in retailing, what would draw someone who has many options to a company like Walmart or Target, when modern, fast-moving, and tech-driven startups like Stitchfix seem to be much more exciting?

    Well, one 'legacy' company is trying a really clever strategy for to address this challenge - the legendary auto manufacturer GM is looking to improve its success in recruiting and retaining talent for its new self-driving unit named Cruise, by offering new employees equity directly in the Cruise unit, and not in legacy GM. From a recent piece in TechCrunch describing the plan:

    In what will be seen as a big recruiting and retention win for Cruise, employees will be offered equity in GM’s self-driving technology subsidiary rather than shares of GM. The securities offering was disclosed in a recent SEC filing for GM Cruise Holdings LLC.

    The equity structure gives all Cruise employees the chance to own actual shares of Cruise, not in GM. It’s a critical development for a company, even one flush with new capital like Cruise, that is working to deploy autonomous vehicles on a commercial scale.

    “The goal was primarily to create a new equity structure so that we could recruit and retain the best talent by giving them direct participation in potential upside in Cruise through owning actual shares in Cruise, which we didn’t have before,” Cruise CEO and co-founder Vogt told TechCrunch.

    So how does a company like GM better compete for in-demand talent, that may be drawn to their smaller, upstart competitors? By making it seem for the most part that this talent doesn't really work for GM, they work for a self-driving car startup called Cruise that just so happens to be subsidiary of GM. And this allows GM not only to get a lift from not being wed to 100+ years of GM history from a branding perspective, it allows loosens up the compensation purse strings for these Cruise employees, as large, legacy companies like GM have much more rigid and formal methods of allocating compensation - ones that their startup competition usually are not encumbered by.

    And if things work out for Cruise, the prospect for employees of really cashing in with a spinoff and an IPO add the carrot of potential future millions that 'legacy' GM would never be able to match. It's a clever way to combine the strengths of GM's legacy and history with some new ideas that shore up some of the weaknesses in that legacy.

    And yes, I am a GM owner. But I am still driving my own car. For now anyway.

    Have a great day!