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    Entries in data (104)

    Tuesday
    Sep272016

    What if everything I told you was wrong?

    If you are a fan of the video series TED Talks or have been to an HR conference or two in the past couple of years then you are probably familiar, or at least have heard of Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy. Her work on something called 'power poses' has been the source of one of the most popular TED talks of all time, with something like 35 million views, a bestselling book titled 'Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges', and has been out on the speaking circuit for most of 2016 promoting the book.I'm the person not in the power pose

    The book's central theses: that leveraging body language in these 'power poses', (think standing tall, arms raised, chin up, chest out, etc.), can help us overcome things like anxiety, fear, lack of confidence and allow us to perform our best, (or at least better), in stressful situations like speeches, job interviews, or presentations. The book, the TED talk, and the speaking gigs all stem from the same source: a 2010 study titled Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance authored by Amy Cuddy along with Dana Carney and Andy Yap.

    From the 2010 paper's conclusion:

    Our results show that posing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders—elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.

    It goes on a bit longer, but you get the idea. 'Power poses' can increase testosterone, improve our feelings of power, and help us perform under stress. Awesome to know this, as taking a minute or two to put yourself in a 'power pose' is about one of the easiest things I can think of to do.

    But....

    What if this actually isn't true? I mean what if the benefits and positive outcomes from adopting 'power poses' are really non-existent, or at least incredibly negliible? What would you think if you have watched Ms. Cuddy's TED talk 26 times, bought and read her book, or paid to attend a conference where she was a keynote speaker?

    Remember that 2010 research study at the core of the 'power pose' idea?

    Here is what one of the paper's co-authors, Dana Carney has to say today, as reported in Inc.com:

    There's only one problem: It (the effects of power poses), isn't real. Several subsequent studies following rigorous protocols were unable to reproduce the effect Cuddy and her co-authors found. Striking a power pose did not increase testosterone, associated with confidence, or decrease cortisol, associated with stress in these subsequent tests. And late last night, Dana Carney, one of Cuddy's co-authors on the original paper, published a document disavowing that research.

    She, Cuddy, and the other researchers weren't being dishonest, she explains, but they made some significant mistakes in their research. Their sample size of 47 was much too small. The people conducting the experiment mostly knew what outcome was being sought, which has a tendency to skew research results. The testosterone increase might have been caused by a different aspect of the experiment--people were given the opportunity to gamble and some of them won, which also increases testosterone.

    Considering all that was wrong with the original experiments and the fact that later experiments did not produce the same effect, she writes, "I do not have any faith in the embodied effects of 'power poses.' I do not think the effect is real." She goes on to say that she does not conduct research in this area herself and hasn't in years, nor does she teach the material to her students anymore. And she wants to discourage other researchers from pursuing power poses, which she believes are a dead end.

    If you read what Carney published essentially disavowing the research's validity and the follow-on from the marketing of the value of 'power poses' you will come away wondering just how silly it all sounds now. 

    Standing in the Wonder Woman pose for 45 seconds will actually make you act and think and seem like ,you know the actual Wonder Woman? That seems kind of dopey. 

    And it did to me back when I met Ms. Cuddy, (and where I got the pic you see above).

    She was one of the featured speakers at a conference I attended earlier this year, and I was invited to go back stage prior to her talk for a meet and great, get a copy of her book, and take a picture. Prior to that day I had not seen her TED talk, and frankly didn't know much, (anything) about her research and the book. I had never heard of a 'power pose'.

    But as I waited in the meet and greet line, I observed 10 or 12 people before me all take a picture with Ms. Cuddy, with the author and the conference attendee each proceeding to adopt the Wonder Woman pose you see Ms. Cuddy in the pic above. As I said, I never heard of the pose, kind of felt idiotic taking up the pose for the pic, and instead stood in what was for me a more comfortable, natural position.

    After taking the pic, and talking to some of the folks backstage, I was clued in to just what the Wonder Woman/Power Poses thing was all about. And I felt really stupid that I stood next to the world's foremost expert on Power Posing and took up a pose that (I later learned), was the exact opposite of what I should have done.

    I am standing with my arms folded in, am slightly hunched, (Ms. Cuddy is kind of short), and more or less look exactly like someone who had never heard of a Power Pose, and the benefits that such a pose provides.

    Long, long story short - I really have no idea if Power Posing creates any real benefit or value or not. I suppose even if it can't be scientifically proven, but it still makes one feel better and seemingly more confident, then it can't hurt.

    Just, in the future, if you have Ms. Cuddy speak at your Conference you may want to skip the awkward meet and great posing routine. It did feel dumb to me when I was there. And I'd feel even dumber if I had taken up the Wonder Woman pose only to find out a few months later that it doesn't actually, you know, do anything.

    Wednesday
    Aug242016

    Have to advise your kid on their college major? Here's some data you may want to review

    Time to dig into some labor market data!

    (Note: all the data referred to in this post can be found courtesy of our pals at the BLS. While their site isn't the easiest to navigate, you can start at the 'Employment, Hours, and Earnings' page to get started with this kind of analyses).

    I had a chat with a friend recently who was sending their child off to his or her, (I can't remember which, does not matter), first year of college this month. In the conversation I faked genuine interest by asking what the child was planning to choose as their major. I think the answer was 'Business' or 'Physics', like I said, I was faking interest at this point, but the entire conversation made me think about just what 'should' the child have chosen, forgetting for now what they are interested in/good at. If the child wanted to make a purely rational, economic decision, what might be the direction to head in terms of college major?

    I confess to not knowing the answer, but a recent piece from the Nieman Lab about trends in employment in selected information industries, (copied below), at least provides one set of data points to (hopefully), better inform these kinds of economic decisions. Take a look at the Nieman Lab chart, (knowing by accessing the BLS data in the link above, you could create similar charts across other or all industry classifications), and then some comments from me after the data.

    The point of the Nieman Lab piece was more or less 'Gee, what a crappy last decade it had been for the newspaper business, and the people working in it', but examining this kind of data a little more broadly can be instructive on a number of levels.  Sometimes this kind of data validates what we think we know or have observed in our own lives - do you know anyone who actually reads a newspaper anymore?

    Other times the data can be a bit surprising too. I personally had no idea that employment in Motion Picture and Video Production had just about doubled since 1990. Are there really that many more films being made? Besides the Sharknado series I mean?

    Back to the original question raised in the post - what should someone making what they hope to be is a rational, economically sound decision choose for their college major? 

    Some topic or subject that maps easily to an industry group we think holds bright employment prospects for the future? 

    I still have no idea I suppose. But at least I would tell them to not plan to work for a newspaper after they graduate. 

    And then I would take a minute to explain what a 'newspaper' is.

    Happy Wednesday. Have fun with the data.

    Monday
    Aug152016

    Learn a new word: Asymmetric Information

    Let's go with the definition first, a decent example of challenge that asymmetric information causes in a non-HR and workplace context, and then tie this up, (and this is the real reason I wanted to talk about this), with a great example of how this is playing out in HR/Talent and is being exacerbated by a recent legislative change in Massachusetts.

    Asymmetric information - In contract theory and economics, information asymmetry deals with the study of decisions in transactions where one party has more or better information than the other. This creates an imbalance of power in transactions, which can sometimes cause the transactions to go awry, a kind of market failure in the worst case. Examples of this problem are adverse selection, moral hazard, and information monopoly. Information asymmetry is in contrast to perfect information, which is a key assumption in neo-classical economics.

    Asymmetric information plays out all of the time, in just about every negotiation or contract that most of us participate in. When sellers know more about the value of products and services than buyers do - say in the case of a used car, or even a hotel room, then often we as buyers can be left uncertain and anxious about the prices we pay. Conversely, when buyers know more about the value of an item than the seller, think of a rare baseball card discovered at a garage sale in a bin offered for $1.00, then sellers can get underpaid for their offerings. 

    The internet, social networks, online sites designed to 'uncover' or reveal the true value, (or at least what other people have or would pay for a given good or service), have gone far to reduce the potential negative impact of asymmetric information in many markets. TrueCar provides insight into new and used car prices, SeetGeek aims to let you know if the tickets you are about to buy for the ball game represent a good deal or not, and auction-type sites like Ebay and Priceline put much more power, (if not always perfect information), in the hands of buyers of goods and travel services. 

    But even in the age of TripAdvisor and Glassdoor, many of the markets in which we transact are still pretty far from exhibiting so-called 'perfect' information, where buyers and sellers are equally informed, (or can reasonably obtain such information), thus resulting in efficient functioning. Are you really getting a good deal on that refirgerator or car or flight to Phoenix? Who knows.

    That's what takes me to the HR/Talent example I mentioned that the top, specifically, the recent move by Massachusetts to prohibit asking candidates about their current or prior salary history during the interview process. This legislation, according to Massachusetts officials, is designed to combat wage inequality - the theory being that if women or other groups have been unfairly underpaid in the past, then making their current salary an anchor point in negotiations for their next salary will simply perpetuate this wage inequality.

    And the other, unspoken, impact of this legislation will be to reduce, (but not eliminate), the asymmetric information condition that exists in any salary negotiation. In any potential job offer/negotiation the employer knows certain pieces of information that the candidate has almost no way of determining on their own. The salary budget (or range) for the job, the salary of the last person who had the job, the overall financial/budget situation of the organization, and the 'wiggle room' that the hiring manager has to negotiate the offer.

    In this negotiation the candidate has exactly one piece of information that the potential employer can probably guess at anyway - their current, or most recent salary at their prior job, and ostensibly, the baseline to figure out what kind of a bump (fifteen, maybe twenty percent?), it would take to get the candidate to make a move. And lots of recruiters, and even many online job applications, press the candidate to divulge this bit of information, their only potential edge in any negotiation, very, very early in the process.

    Recruiters and hiring managers will line up to bemoan the Massachusetts law, (and the others like it in states like New York and California that will almost certainly follow), clinging to the 'Let's not waste everyone's time if the salary for the job is not sufficient for the candidate'. Better to find that out up front, they argue. But figuring out the ballpark range a candidate might be willing to consider is part of your job, Ms. Recruiter. And there are other, less lazy ways that simply demanding that candidates turn this information over to you before you've even spoken to them.

    Asymmetric information plays havoc in all kind of markets. It's bad economics, bad policy, and bad for the person who is sitting on the wrong, or less-informed side of the table. And it doesn’t matter how rational, or well-intentioned people are, or how well the process/markets are set up - asymmetric information throws a wrench in the works, one that many candidates can spend a career trying to recover from.

    Have a great week!

    Monday
    Aug082016

    You might not like 'Time to Fill' as a recruiting metric, but it matters to candidates

    A few weeks ago I wrote about how the latest data shows that in the US it has never taken longer, (in terms of business days), to fill the average open position. Here's the chart backing up that statement, in case you want a little bit of a refresher.

    After I ran the post I got a couple of emails and a few comments on Twitter that more or less said the same thing - 'Time to fill' doesn't matter. It is not important to the C-suite, and is getting less important to hiring managers'. Most of the comments ended up saying something along the lines of 'It is better to take longer to find the 'right' hire' than simply trying to find the 'fast' hire - the kind of strategy that would negatively impact time to fill.

    And while I do grant that there is probably some truth in those sentiments, I also think that like most of the reasonably difficult challenges in the talent game, the real truth is somewhere between the extremes. Does 'time to fill' matter in all cases? Certainly not. But are there some circumstances where it matters a lot? Absolutely. 

    Let me share some details from a recent piece from the BBC about how giant consultancy KPMG is adapting their recruiting practices, at least in one important area, all around the idea and realization that their recruiting process has to move more quickly, thus reducing time to fill measures.

    From the piece:

    Accountancy firm KPMG has changed its graduate recruitment process to suit people born between 1980 and 2000 - the so-called millennial generation.

    Instead of conducting three separate assessments over several weeks, it will now combine the process into one day.

    The firm says the change will mean applicants will find out if they have got a job within two working days.

    It made the change following research suggesting millennials were frustrated by lengthy recruitment processes.

    KPMG said its survey- conducted among 400 of this summer's new graduates applying for a graduate job at a UK firm - found that more than one-third were annoyed about how long they had to wait to hear the outcome of an interview, and how long the recruitment process took.

    At first read the changes that KPMG are implementing seem totally aimed at improving the candidate experience and adapting to meet the expectations of the newer generation. And that is definitely part of the story. What was not stated in the BBC piece but what certainly must be true was that KPMG was losing out on desirable new hires because their process was simpy taking too long. 

    In-demand new university graduates likely have lots of options for employment once they leave school, and rather than wait weeks for KPMG to make a decision, some, if not many of them were just moving on to other, more agile companies. By implementing these process changes, KPMG hopes to both improve the overall candidate experience and reduce the number of candidates that 'get away' to competing firms.

    And guess what else happens when the time it takes for KPMG to make offers and execute hires for new university graduates is reduced from weeks to days? 

    Time to fill all of a sudden goes down - way down. And while that metric might not matter to you or to your CEO it means something to the these university graduates who make up the talent pipeline for KPMG. 

    And it means plenty to any candidate who has options. Time to fill is just code for 'Make sure you can move fast enough to not lose out on the most sought-after candidates.'

    Have a great week!

    Friday
    Jul292016

    CHART OF THE DAY: Big Trends in Working Age Population

    Super quick hit for a summer let's-get-out-of-here-and-head-to-the-beach Friday where, at least here in the USA, many of us are going to tire of the phrase 'Corn Sweat' (go ahead and Google it).

    Today's chart comes from our pals at the Economist, from a piece titled 'Vanishing Workers'. First the data, then some quick observations from me before you can power down and crack out the sunscreen.

    In a nutshell, this data suggest the working age populations, (15 - 64),  in China, Japan, and Europe are all set to fall (relative to a 2015 baseline), somewhat dramatically in the next few decades, while by the same measure, this group will continue to rise in the US, (albeit at a slower rate than the recent past).

    What happens (in general), when there are relatively fewer available workers, and what might be the implications in the USA where we will be bucking against this trend?

    1. Fewer workers generally lead to rising wages, at least in the near term. And there is plenty of evidence of this already happening in China, where increased competition for workers (especially in manufacturing), has driven up wages for these workers, and made many firms think again and re-evaluate the cost advantages of locating these kind of operations in China.

    2. Falling working age populations impact industries in different ways. With fewer workers, (and an increase in the dependency ratio, the total number of children and elderly divided by the working age population), housing and construction tends to suffer, as there is less demand for new, and larger housing from workers overall. But health care, child care, and related service industries might fare better, with an increased burden of care demanded by larger proportions of kids and older people.

    3. For the US, one of the few industrialized economies that will not see such a fall in working age population over the coming years, the news is pretty positive. Larger proportions of working age folks tend to have a pretty direct and beneficial impact on GDP, output, and overall quality of life. And of course more folks in their prime earning years reduces the overall drag on the economy that can result from a higher dependency ration, all things being equal. There should be less need to raise payroll and corporate tax rates for example, in order to continue to fund things like Medicare and Social Security. The downside risk of course, is that jobs and opportunities for workers have to rise commensurately with this demographic trends, or else you end up with higher than desirable levels of unemployment or under-employment. But balanced against the alternative, potentially not having enough prime age workers to meet demand, (which will send investment elsewhere), it seems the US position to be the more desirable one in the long term. And for my line of work, the HR Tech space, it seems clear that growth and opportunity for HR Tech companies will continue to primarily reside in the USA, as Europe and other countries working age cohorts, (the 'users' of HR Tech), continue to fall.

    Love the data. Love labor market demographics. If that makes me some kind of a geek, so be it.

    Me fretting over me Level in Pokemon GO also makes me a geek, but for a different reason.