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    Entries in HR (427)

    Tuesday
    Aug112015

    Enterprise Robots

    Most 'Robots are coming to take away all of our jobs' stories usually read something like this one - 'Chinese factory replaces 90% of humans with robots, production soars' - a recent recounting of the now getting familiar tale of automation becoming more and more of a threat to workers and employment.

    You can check out the entire piece on Tech Republic, but here is the essential takeaway:

    The Changying Precision Technology Company factory in Dongguan has automated production lines that use robotic arms to produce parts for cell phones. The factory also has automated machining equipment, autonomous transport trucks, and other automated equipment in the warehouse.

    There are still people working at the factory, though. Three workers check and monitor each production line and there are other employees who monitor a computer control system. Previously, there were 650 employees at the factory. With the new robots, there's now only 60. Luo Weiqiang, general manager of the company, told the People's Daily that the number of employees could drop to 20 in the future.

    The robots have produced almost three times as many pieces as were produced before. According to the People's Daily, production per person has increased from 8,000 pieces to 21,000 pieces. That's a 162.5% increase.

    The increased production rate hasn't come at the cost of quality either. In fact, quality has improved. Before the robots, the product defect rate was 25%, now it is below 5%

    Ooh - that's is the technology double, (really triple), whammy at the expense of workers - cost savings, increased productivity, and better quality. At least in this specific manufacturing example, there just seems to be no way for workers to compete with the robots in this scenario.

    So that is the scary, and kind of obvious aspect of the robot takeover, and perhaps for most of the folks reading this blog not one that feels particularly relevant, at least personally. Most of the audience here (and me too), are not manufacturing workers, or even on the 'front-lines' of our businesses for that matter. We work in the more complex, subtle, nuanced, and emotionally tuned-in parts of the business. We have to understand and deal with people, not rigid manufacturing processes. We need to be able to read people, their language, their facial expressions, their tone, and their mood. We need to be able to connect with people. Robots can't do that.

    Well, not yet anyway.

    Recently Japanese mobile phone operator SoftBank announced the enterprise availability of Pepper - a humanoid robot designed to be a companion able to communicate with people through the most intuitive interface we know: voice, touch and emotions. Launched first as a personal, and in-home companion, the makers of Pepper envision deployment of the robot in many business scenarios - dealing with customer in a retail setting, educating customers on products and services, and perhaps even entertaining them while they wait for service. 

    But the interesting part of this is not just what this particular robot can or can't do today, it is what Pepper (and surely others to follow), is designed to be able to do in general. This is from SoftBank's 'Who is Pepper?' website:

    To be a true social companion Pepper needs to be able to understand your emotions. If you burst out laughing, he will know you are in a good mood. If you frown, Pepper will understand that something is bothering you.

    Pepper can translate what state you are in using his knowledge of universal emotions (joy, surprise, anger, doubt and sadness) and his ability to analyze your facial expression, body language and the words you use. He will guess your mood, and will even adapt to it. For example, he will try to cheer you up by playing your favorite song!

    Pepper also can express emotions, and this is what makes him so cute! We can say he has a real personality conveyed by his body language, his funny gestures and his voice.

    Reading expressions, gauging your mood from analyzing a complex set of human cues, adapting to you as necessary, and finally, learning from these interactions. Let's suspend (natural) disbelief for a minute and assume Pepper can actually do these things, and is likely to get better and better at all of them over time. If that is the case, what might these developments mean for the rest of us, those of us who don't worry about robots taking over Chinese factories, since we, you know, don't work in Chinese factories?

    Robots taking over low-skill manufacturing jobs is only part of the larger automation story, and probably not the most interesting or important part. It is really just replacing one human in a human-process/machine interaction.

    Robots like Pepper substituting for human-human interactions? Now that is a story. One that hits much closer to the mark.

    Thursday
    Aug062015

    This is why we can't have nice things (HR and Talent Edition)

    If you follow the news, particularly the news relevant to the workplace, HR, and Talent Management, you probably caught a couple of recent stories that have been pretty widely reported, circulated, and dissected.

    One having to do with compensation - Gravity Payments Raising Minimum Salary to $70,000

    And the second, a straight up benefits story - Netflix To Offer Unlimited Parental Leave

    Both of these stories, one about how one company is raising its minimum salary to a pretty high level compared to local and national statutory minimum wage requirements, and the next, about how another large US company is extending and enhancing a much-needed employee benefit (parental leave), were initially met with positive or at least neutral reactions.

    But then, predictably, the backlash and criticism of both of these policy changes, and from a wide assortment of commentators began.

    The decision by the Gravity Payments CEO to raise his company's minimum annual salary to $70,000 was the easier mark. Outlets from the New York Times all the way to the site I contribute to Fistful of Talent, took apart the Gravity plans. Unworkable, unaffordable, unfair to top performers - the list of holes that were poked in the Gravity plan are too long to recount. 

    Netflix' decision to extend parental leave to an unlimited amount for an entire year has been met with relatively less criticism, but at least one major publication, the Washington Post wasted little time in alerting the rest of us that in fact Netfilx' innovative policy was likely "a bad idea for your company."

    Whether it is these recent stories from Gravity and Netflix, or older and more familiar stories about novel, innovative, and worker-friendly policies from companies like Zappos or Google, there is always one element they have in common. No matter what the specific issue is, (increases in pay, enhanced benefits, more worker autonomy, etc.), once the news makes the rounds almost immediately thereafter commences the chorus of commentary that strikes a familiar, and tired, refrain. 

    And these critiques are always the same. They are always some combination of 'This is a terrible idea/bad Talent Management' along with its corollary 'Sure, this might work in Silicon Valley, but it will never work for you'.

    And I have to say I find that pretty depressing. 

    Why do we have to immediately and forcefully look to take down or at least diminish the significance and importance of new ideas that are clearly intended to improve work, workplaces, and the lives of workers?

    Why do we instinctively look to marginalize the significance of any employee welfare improvement initiative that comes out of some Silicon Valley tech firm as something that could only work in that progressive environment, and not at any 'grown up' company?

    Why do so many HR and Talent folks immediately look to identify why they can't look to follow some of these leading organizations like Netflix and Google and the like, instead of admitting that they might be able to learn/steal from their ideas?

    Look, I understand the arguments knocking the compensation plan that Gravity is trying to implement, and the realities of costs and budgets that make offering up to a year of paid parental leave hard if not impossible for many companies to copy. The criticisms are often valid and well-reasoned.

    But the problem is that they usually just try to shut down the conversation, and don't offer any insights into how these modern, innovative, (and certainly outlier) ideas can be adapted to work in a more mainstream and widespread way. Instead of saying something like 'You can never copy what Netflix is doing', how about we try 'You may not be able to do exactly what Netflix is doing, but here are some ideas on how you can leverage these ideas in your shop'.

    But instead we almost overwhelmingly react negatively. As if raising the minimum salary in an organization to $70,000 is an abomination, and giving new parents unlimited leave for a year are concepts that if adopted in the mainstream would somehow crack the foundations of modern business, and of HR/Talent Management. As if somehow these ideas threaten us.

    What are we afraid of, really?

    Tuesday
    Aug042015

    CHART OF THE DAY: Surging Investments in HR Tech

    Really a simple and self-explanatory Chart of the Day for a busy Tuesday, this one courtesy of the Wall St. Journal. Take a look at the chart of venture capital investment in the HR and Recruiting technology market from 1998 to the present, and as you expect and demand, some FREE commentary from me after the data.

    Some quick takes:

    1. First, to level set, the first half of 2015 with investment of about $811M is almost greater than the highest-ever yearly total of $859M back in 2000. Ah, 2000. The 'dot-com' era.  Good times.  But looking at the data you could argue that the HR tech market for VC investment really did not recover from the dot-com crash until very recently, like last year. So it could be that a prolonged period of under-investment is partially to account for the dramatic increases in 2014 and so far in 2015.

    2. Let's go ahead and assume that most VCs have plenty of options and opportunities for investment. If that is the case, then this windfall of money flowing into the HR tech space is good news for a large array of industry players - folks who can sell HR tech solutions, marketers, analyst firms, HR conferences, and even little 'ol bloggers like me, who have lots of products to see, think about, and potentially write about.  It is a sure sign of an industry that is primed for growth when the investment levels are surging upwards as we see in the WSJ. It's like the dot-com years all over again. At least let's hope we don't crash like we did from '02 - '04.

    3. What does this mean for the really important players in the HR tech market - the actual customers? Well in the broadest strokes it is mostly positive. More investment creates more competition which leads to better products and more customer choices. And while sometimes it seems like in HR tech that the bigger, more established players have gobbled up via acquisition many of the new entrants, I can assure you that judging from the number of HR tech startup demos I have been doing that there is no shortage of new ideas and innovation in the space.  This is a great time to be a customer of HR Tech, even if the market can be a little tricky to navigate.

    But like I said, good times all around - for the VCs, for the startups, and most importantly, for the customers and HR leaders who have access to an ever-expanding set of tools and technologies to help them improve results in their organizations.

    Friday
    Jul312015

    PODCAST - #HRHappyHour 218 - HR in an On-demand World

    HR Happy Hour 218 - HR in an On-demand World

    Recorded Wednesday July 29, 2015

    Hosts: Steve BoeseTrish McFarlane

    Listen HERE

    This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, Steve and Trish talked about Steve's trip to China, the myriad of HR issues surrounding Uber and other companies in the 'on-demand' economy, and how the workplace and HR will be changed by these trends. It seems like every day another story drops about the HR implications of these classification issues for companies like Uber. What does HR look like in a world where more and more of the talent the organization relies upon are not actually regular employees of the company?  

    Additionally, Steve wondered if he could identify the state of Arkansas on a map, we talked about how cool St. Louis is, and Trish shared her favorite summer vacation spot, (hint it is in Florida).

    You can listen to the show on the show page HERE, or using the widget player below:

    Check Out Business Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Steve Boese Trish McFarlane on BlogTalkRadio

     

    This was a really fun and lively conversation and we hope you enjoy the show!

    Many thanks to our friends at Equifax Workforce Solutions for both their hospitality in hosting Steve out at the ball game in St. Louis and for their support of the HR Happy Hour show.

    Remember to download and subscribe the the HR Happy Hour on iTunes, or using your favorite podcast app for iOS or Android - just search for 'HR Happy Hour' to never miss an episode.

    Thursday
    Jul302015

    Communication in a post-email world

    It is no secret to long time readers of the blog, and also to some folks who have tried or are trying to get in touch with me, that I have a long-standing hatred of email. The specific reasons are not really important and the moment, a quick search of this blog archive, or even Google will provide ample ammunition for why email is terrible. But I bring it up again because of a post I came across on the blog of Forrester analyst Julie Ask, titled How Will You Communicate With Your Customers if they Don't Read Email?

    Check out Ms. Ask's rundown of the various messaging apps and platforms she is currently engaging with, and the current state of unread messages in them:

    A summary of my communication (or lack thereof) shows:

    • 24,998 unread personal emails (okay, mostly from marketers)
    • 4,937 unopened work emails
    • 272 unopened SMS messages
    • 45 unopened/read messages on WeChat (these are from marketers)
    • 0 unread notifications from Facebook (and I average 23 per day)
    • 0 unread notifications from Slack (and I average 87 per day)

    The reasons and reasoning that Ms. Ask offers for this current state of (mostly) ignored emails is instructive and probably similar to what many of you, your employees, and your job candidates/prospects are finding. Namely, our email boxes (both personal and professional) are overrun, we have recently adopted more and newer messaging tools (like WhatsApp or Slack), and we elect to migrate only a small subset of our universe of contacts into these new, preferred platforms.

    Check one more excerpt from the Forrester piece, and note, I am going to swap out the work 'marketer' with 'recruiter' and 'customer/consumer' with 'candidate'.

    Marketers Recruiters and really anyone looking to engage with consumers candidates thought they had checked the box with gaining consumers’ candidates' trust when they gained permission to send emails. Think about how many times you’ve made a purchase online and the box to “receive additional promotional materials” is already checked for you. You have to opt out rather than opt in.

    Mobile came along and changed the game. Now digital business professionals and marketers recruiters worked hard to drive app downloads. They wanted to own their mobile moments with their customers candidates on mobile phones. Each download was considered a win.

    But then consumers candidates stopped opening or using the applications. Only a few marketers recruiters have realized that they have to do more. Now if Marketers recruiters want to reach consumers candidates, they have to gain consumer candidate permission to receive push notifications.

    The bar keeps moving for marketers recruiters who want to reach consumers candidates on their mobile devices. Permission lies with each application. At a time of hyper-adoption when consumers candidates can switch apps in less than a minute and migrate their base of friends or colleagues in a matter of days or weeks, marketers recruiters can’t rest.

    This is really good stuff from Ms. Ask, and totally relevant for any of us who are trying to capture attention in a highly-fragmented and rapidly evolving communications technology landscape.

    I guess the bright side could be that no, people are not ignoring your email. They are ignoring all of their email.