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    Monday
    Oct152018

    CHART OF THE DAY: How much are you using your smart speaker?

    Have you finally jumped in to the 'smart speaker' game? Whether it's an Amazon Echo device, something from Google, or one of the emerging third party manufacturers who are shipping devices that run voice operating systems from Amazon or Google, there seems to be no doubt that this technology is still growing, and maybe faster than you think.

    Some data from the recent Adobe 'State of Voice Assistants' research suggests that after the holiday shopping season concludes, almost 50% of US households will own a smart speaker of some kind. According to the Adobe data, about a third of US households already own a smart speaker, with another 16% reporting the intention to acquire one this holiday season. And here's another chart from the Adobe research, one that shows that the vast majority of smart speaker owners are increasing their use of the technology. Have a look, then some pithy, insightful, and still FREE comments from me.

     

     

    Three takes on the data:

    1. Really significant numbers of both current smart speaker owners, (76%) and non-owners (38%), report increased usage of the technology in the past year. The number to me that is really shocking is that 38% of non-owners are using these technologies more. I confess to not really knowing where or how these folks are using these tools more, but the fact that almost 40% of them are, leads me to believe that a decent number of them will become owners very soon. Said differently, over three quarters or current owners are using their devices more, as are a really healthy percentage of non-owners. You'd love to report at the end of the year that 76% of your employees engaged with any of your workplace technologies more this year.  

     

    2. One reason for the growth in usage? The sheer number of use cases keeps increasing. While the Adobe data also reports the most common uses of smart speakers are for streaming music, getting news and weather updates, and setting alarms and timers, a growing ecosystem of applications and skills are making these devices more useful, fun, and engaging. A full 32% of respondents reported using calendar and scheduling capabilities on their smart speakers for example. And 13% have used them to help with managing finances. Bottom line, the sky seems to be the limit for more and more innovative applications and users seem eager to expand their use of these tools.

    3. If you are in an HR or HR tech role, and have not started to think about how to incorporate these technologies into your delivery of HR information and services, in 2019 you really should plan some time to do so. Your employees are more and more likely to be using these tools and are becoming more comfortable with engaging with them. And pretty soon (if it has not happened yet), these speakers will be in offices, meeting rooms, common areas, cars, and possibly everywhere else. They offer a way for you to engage your employees with access to information, help, support, and more advanced activities in an interface format that everyone already understands - 'Alexa, set up a meeting in Friday with the Marketing Team'. What could be simpler?

    Finally, since I think you know by now I am all in on smart speaker, I wanted to remind readers that we have a special version of the HR Happy Hour Podcast on Alexa for Amazon Echo devices. If you are an Echo user, just add the 'HR Happy Hour'Skill to your device's Daily Flash Briefing to get a short HR Happy Hour Podcast a few times a week.

    Have a great day!

    Tuesday
    Aug142018

    CHART OF THE DAY: ETFs, Active Managers, and Human Specialization

    Today's Chart of the Day comes to us from the world of Finance and our pals at Bloomberg and shows just how once type of job, the "active", (and human) mutual fund manager is being disrupted by another kind of manager - a 'passive' one, modeled against the market more broadly, and dominated by algorithms and sophisticated computers.

    Long story short - investors have been migrating their money away from the active, people-driven funds and strategies and towards the passive, ETF-type funds. Here's the chart from Bloomberg, then some comments below from your favorite active blog manager (me).

    Some really interesting things to note from this chart. And recall, just like when we blog about basketball here, this blog about finance and investing isn't really just about finance and investing.

    1. Highlighted on the chart is the worst of the financial crisis, September 2008. This appears to be the inflection point where investors bailed on active investment management in favor of passive investing. In other words, when times were tough, investors didn't seek 'expert' human management for their diminishing funds. In fact, they sought out the opposite.

    2. As the chart above demonstrates, the current active management model for investments simply can't compete any longer with the cheaper passive/ETF model in either total asset gathering (trying to simply grow the way to prosperity), or in terms of returns. Whatever the current strategy is for the active managers, it is definitely not working and has not been for a decade.

    3. So what can these highly-paid, expensive, and under threat active fund managers do to at least try and maintain some relevance and hold on to their country club memberships and beach houses? Bloomberg suggests one approach - hyper specialization.

    From the piece:

    What does the future of active management look like? We believe it should only seek a portion of an investor's assets. To do this, they will have to create highly idiosyncratic and concentrated portfolios. They will have to find the one thing they do well and do it in a concentrated, risk-seeking way, whether it be health-care, emerging markets, macro themes, algorithms, technology or trading. The manager will need to be known as the "go to" person in that space to emerge as the next star, allocating capital as efficiently as possible.

    Again, the specific example/industry/job role doesn't matter here. What matters is the method and approach for people to remain valuable and competitive in a situation where machines and algorithms have plenty of advantages. The advice is not to try and out-compete the robots where you simply can't defeat them, but rather to seek out those areas, pockets, and opportunities where you can leverage uniquely human skills and experience to stay one step ahead of the machines.

    Super interesing article and one that I think no matter what industry or job you are in, has something we can learn from as well.

    Have a great day!

    Tuesday
    Jun192018

    Learn a new word: 'Foldering'

    From the world of 'the lengths people will go to in order to keep their employers, law enforcement, and/or the government from snooping on their digital communications' comes today's Learn a New Word - 'Foldering'.

    Not familiar?

    Neither was I until I saw the term pop up in one of the (many) legal scandals and issues swirling around in the Federal Government lately.

    Here's the definition of 'Foldering' from our pals at Wikipedia:

    Foldering is the practice of communicating via messages saved to the "drafts" folder of an email or other electronic messaging account that is accessible to multiple people.

    Foldering is sometimes described as a digital equivalent to the dead drop.Like the dead drop, it has no usage outside of clandestine communications.

    So you want/need to send someone an email, but want to (try) to make sure that no one but the intended recipient gets their eyes on its contents?

    Well, since we know employers can see your sent emails and so can big tech like Google or Yahoo (once they get an order to turn over data from the Feds), you try this 'Foldering' tactic.

    You set up an email address, create your intended email, but instead of sending the email to your recipient, you save the message as an unsent Draft. You then share the email account's login credentials with your recipient, (hopefully not in an email), and then they simply log in to the account, read the draft message, and then update the draft message (again without sending).

    The two of you then go back and forth updating the message(s) in the Drafts folder instread of actually sending any email - thus the term 'Foldering'. Once the needed information is shared, someone deletes the draft - the idea being that by not ever sending the message it is less likely to be ever discovered by outsiders.

    But the practice of Foldering while not that common, appears to be pretty well-known by Federal authorities who tend to interpret the act itself of indicating some kind of questionable or sketchy behavior. It isn't illegal per se, but it sends a red flag to information security and law enforcement types for sure.

    I don't know if this really has too much of a workplace connection, unless your workplace is, well 'unusual', but it might be something you want to check on with your IT folks once in a while anyway. Maybe your kids too. Except your kids probably don't use email.

    Learn something new every day. Like a new word. Like 'Foldering'.

    Have a great day!

    Monday
    Jun182018

    A chart, like a picture, says more than words do

    Welcome back to the work week (and try not to skip out on too much of what you need to do this week to watch the World Cup). Actually, can we pass a law that makes the World Cup more convenient to my personal time zone? But enough about that.

    Here's what I wanted to share today, an interesting, quick read from the Washington Post on how much more effective charts are when compared to straight text for making sure your audience clearly understands the underlying data surrounding a particular issue.

    Researchers from Dartmouth College and the University of Exeter recently published some interesting findings, ones that you probably already would have guessed at, around the effectiveness of charts in combating false conclusions or ones that are not supported by the facts.

    To prove this thesis, the researchers took a given issue, say whether or not participants believed that the Earth's temperatures were increasing, and then showed one group a chart containing the relevant climate data, a second group was given a text-only version of the climate data, and a third group was given no additional information at all.

    Here's the chart (naturally), of what the researcher's found happened to the levels of incorrect or non-factual beliefs that were held by each group after seeing the chart, text, or just going with their gut.

     

    I am sure you noted on the chart that the actual groups of people being tested in this experiment were folks who identified as Republican, but for what I took away from the Post piece and the research itself, that is only a footnote. What really matters here is that among folks holding a particular belief, one that seems to be counter-factual, (or even flat out false), you have a much better chance of getting them to embrace the facts (and change their opinions of those facts), by showing them a chart of the relevant data, not a text-only passage. Doing nothing at all, or just shouting at them, is definitely the most ineffective strategy.

    In the experiment above, using the chart of global temperatures drove the percentage of people holding incorrect beliefs down to 10%, a huge improvement from the text-only or 'nothing' strategies. That's the takeaway from this, don't get caught up in the political topics themselves. T

    his strategy can be used for just about anything in the workplace where there are incorrect beliefs, perceptions, or just a person or a group that has dug their heels into the ground over a particular issue and you can't find a way to make them budge.

    That's your assignment for the week - find one opportunity to send your message and make your point in chart form - don't rely on a simple email or a chat message to convince anyone of anything.

    Ok, I'm out - have a great week!

    Tuesday
    Jun122018

    Balancing data and judgment in HR decision making

    A few weeks ago I did an HR Happy Hour Show with Joshua Gans, co-author of the excellent book Prediction Machines. On the show, we talked about one of the central ideas in the book - the continuing importance of human judgment in decision making, even in an environment where advances in AI technology make predictions (essentially options) more available, numerous, and inexpensive.

    I won't go back through all the reasoning behind this conclusion, I encourage you to listen to the podcast and/or read the book for that, but I did want to point out another excellent example of how this AI and prediction combined with human judgment idea plays out in human capital management planning and decisions. A recent piece in HBR titled Research: When Retail Workers Have Stable Schedules, Sales and Productivity Go Up shares some really interesting findings about a study that aimed to find out if giving retail workers more schedule certainty and clarity would impact business results, and if so, how?

    Some back story on the idea behind the study first. As demand planning and workforce scheduling software has developed over the years, and become much more sophisticated, many retailers now have the information and ability to set and adjust worker schedules much more dynamically, and almost in real time, than they had in the past. Combining sales and store traffic estimates with workforce planning and scheduling tools that are able to match staffing levels to this demand - store managers are, for the most part, able to optimize staffing, (and therefore control labor costs), much more precisely.

    But while optimizing the staffing levels in a retail store sounds like a sound business practice, and makes the owners of the store happy (typically via reduced labor costs), it also often make the staff unhappy. In a software and AI driven staffing model, workers can find their schedules uncertain, changing from week to week, and even find themselves losing expected shifts on very short notice, sometimes less than two hours.

    The data and the AI might be 'right' when they recommend a set of staff schedules based on all the available information, but, as we will see in the research referenced in the HBR piece, the data and the AI usually fail to see and understand the impact this kind of scheduling has on the actual people that have to do the actual work.

    You really should read the whole piece on HBR, but I want to share the money quote here - what the researchers found or recommended would be the best way for a retailer to incorporate these kinds of advanced AI tools to help set retail store worker schedules:

    At the start of the study, we often heard HQ fault store managers for “emotional scheduling” — a script pushed by the purveyors of scheduling software. “In measuring customer experience and making decisions related to a labor model, retailers should rely solely on facts. Too often, changes are made because of an anecdotal or emotional response from the field,” notes a best practices guide from Kronos.

    However, our experiment shows that a hybrid approach of combining algorithms with manager intuition can lead to better staffing decisions. While our experiment provided guidelines for managers, it still allowed the managers to make the final decision on how much of the interventions to implement. The increase in sales and productivity witnessed at the Gap shows that retailers stand to benefit when they allow discretion to store managers.

    What were some of the benefits of giving managers at least some discretion over scheduling, even when the AI made different recommendations?

    When managers could give more workers more 'certain' or predictable schedules, most of them benefited from ability to predict commute times, ability to schedule things like education, child care, other jobs, and enabled them to connect more deeply with customers and co-workers. In short, they were all happier, and this tended to lead to better work performance, better customer service, and in the case of the stores studied by HBR - increased revenues and profits.

    In time, maybe the AI will learn to understand this, this nuanced, subtle, but important impact that work schedules have on workers, and how that impacts business results. But until then, it seems like it's best to let the AI make recommendations on the optimal staffing decisions, and let the managers make the final call, based on what they know about their staff, their customers, and well, human nature in general.

    Have a great day!