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    Entries in Organization (46)

    Monday
    Mar092015

    Team PowerPoint vs. Team Excel

    What would you say is the preferred tool or mechanism for creating, sharing, and socializing information in your organization that is used to generate discussion and ultimately, decisions?

    While many of us (sadly) would probably default to 'Email' as the technology of choice, even heavy email cultures rely on 'real' office productivity applications for work products and communicating information. Excel and PowerPoint, assuredly, are two of the most common applications in use across organizations of all types. But which one of these two applications tends to dominate how business information and data are documented and shared can reveal plenty about how decisions are made and what kind of organizational culture prevails.

    Check the below excerpt from a recent piece on Digitopoly, a review of research into how competing teams at NASA (Team PowerPoint and Team Excel), created and shared data and information on robot technology used for experiments on space projects:

    On Team Excel, the robot has a number of instruments but separate teams manage and have property rights over those instruments. The structure is hierarchical and the various assignments the instruments are given are mapped out in Excel. By contrast on Team PowerPoint, no one team owns an instrument. Instead, all decisions regarding, say, where to position the robot are made collectively in a meeting. The meetings are centered around PowerPoint presentations that focus on qualitative trade-offs from making one decision rather than another. Then decisions are taken using a consensus approach — literally checking if everyone is “happy.”

    What is fascinating about this is that the type of data collected by each team is very different. On Team Excel where each instrument is controlled and specialised to its task, the data from them is very complete and comprehensive on that specific thing — say, light readings, infrared etc. On Team PowerPoint, there are big data gaps for each instrument but there appear to be more comprehensive deep analyses of particular phenomenon where all of the instruments can oriented towards the measurement of a common thing. This is a classic trade-off between specialised knowledge and deep knowledge. What is extraordinary is that they bake the trade-off into their organisational structure and also decision-making tools — literally emphasizing different apps in Microsoft Office.

    We probably don't consciously think too much about how the technology and tools choices we make can effect how the organization actually functions, what particular approaches and skills tend to dominate, and even what gets recognized and rewarded. In the example from the Digitopoly piece, an argument is made that both of these approaches, Team Excel with its focus on individual accountability and control, and Team PowerPoint that relied much more on shared accountability and the 'big picture', are needed and have value.

    Where we get into trouble, I think, is when one type of technology, say PowerPoint, becomes dominant or the de facto method in an organization for communicating information and as a decision support tool. It is by its nature, shallow, and it assumes that viewers and readers understand the details and deeper contexts about the subject matter that is typically just about impossible to convey in a slide deck.

    Similar arguments can be made on cultures where 95% of communication is over email, or tied up in impossibly complex Excel workbooks. 

    We often choose the easy or expected technology solution out of habit, or out of a kind of cultural allegiance. It is fascinating how these technology choices can impact much more than we think.

    Team Excel. Team PowerPoint. That really shouldn't be the choice. Team 'Right tool for the job' is. Choose wisely.

    Have a great week!

    Monday
    Mar022015

    What kind of a company are we? Take a look at the expense budget

    Take a look at the graphic below which shows how some of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies allocate funds to marketing and to Research and Development (spotted on the Big Picture blog):

    As you can see from the chart, 9 out of 10 of these massive pharma giants spent more in 2013 on marketing efforts than on R&D. Disclaimer - I am by no means an expert in big pharma, so I can't and won't declare this seemingly reversed set of spending priorities as somehow 'wrong' or even unusual. But it is, to an outside observer at least a little surprising. We think, or at least I think, of these kinds of companies dedicating immense budgets to finding, developing, testing, and gaining regulatory approval of their products, not as massive marketing operations. 

    Step back from the pharma industry for a second to think about what this kind of data suggests more broadly. How these companies, and any company, decides to allocate their expense budgets says heaps about what kind of a company they are, or are intending to become, (or are being forced to become).

    Moving funds over to marketing and sales and away from activities like R&D or customer support isn't necessarily a bad or less noble thing, but it is something. 

    The natural evolution of growing and maturing companies often dictates this kind of transition in spend and priorities. But when this shift happens and then takes hold over time, it eventually defines the company to some extent. One could argue that some of these big pharma companies are really marketing and sales organizations that do some product development to just keep the pipeline running.

    Company culture is one of those HR blogging evergreen topics. It will be written about and discussed forever. But I can't recall the last time I saw a 'culture' piece talk about one of the most important 'tells' about what a culture really is and what is values. And that is how the 'culture' decides to spend its money.

    As an HR/Talent pro it is probably worth a periodic check - how is your company allocating its funds, how are these allocations trending, how does that stack up with your peer companies?

    The kind of company you are is as much defined by the expense budget as it is by anything else we do in HR.

    Have a great week! 

    Monday
    Feb022015

    I don't want to work with companies, I want to work with people

    The hard thing about blogging sometimes is that for various and practical reasons you often can't write about stuff that actually happens in your actual life, personal or professional. Sometimes you have to change names, change details of a story, obscure some elements that might not be terribly important to the overall point, but at least give you some plausible deniability, (and protection as well, for the most part, most bloggers are not independently wealthy, i.e. we still need to make a living).

    That disclaimer serves two purposes really; one, as an acknowledgement and reminder that there have been plenty of really interesting and potentially really very good posts that I and lots of other HR/workplace type bloggers have to quash in the interests of personal protection/employability. And two, as a preface to what I wanted to really write about, (getting to that next, I promise), which is based on some actual events with real people, but with the specific names left out and some details slightly changed. Ok, here we go...

    One of the interesting aspects of the transforming nature of work and workers from corporate lifers into more entrepreneurial, flexible, contingent, and more or less free agents (who may affiliate with a company for a time for mutual benefit), is that customer/partner loyalty is now much more often tied to people and not organizations. Said a little differently, buyers and potential business partners are more and more drawn to the actual people involved in the project or transaction, and not so much, (if at all), their current, (and likely temporary) corporate affiliation.

    The specific circumstances that caused me to think about happened last week, in two separate discussions I had with some HR industry folks. Both of these were concerning projects and initiatives where I had been working with, or at least working on collaborating with specific individuals that was interested in working with again. And in both cases, as these potential initiatives became socialized inside the corporate meeting rooms of the organizations where these folks are aligned, the geometry of the deals began to alter.

    Suddenly, more (or different) folks needed to be involved. Now more higher-ups from these organizations had to have their opinion heard, (even when I had not talked with any of them previously). There was at least some reluctance in one of the cases by management to 'allow' their person to work with me on the project, as they wanted to have their other, preferred person, (who I did not ask for), leading the effort.

    As more professionals see themselves as free agents, who affiliate with companies in more fluid, shorter, and transitory arrangements while simultaneously building their personal networks, professional portfolios, and reputations independent of any corporate overseer, these kinds of tensions will only increase. In the examples I cited above, I was led to and wanted to collaborate with specific individuals based on past experiences (prior to them arriving at their current roles), and personal conviction in these individual's ability and competence. Quite frankly, their current corporate affiliation does not really matter. At least to me.

    But it does matter, naturally, to the folks that are the executives at these places, whose job it is to build, protect, strengthen, and make more valuable their company brands. But this will be increasingly more challenging, in many relationship-driven kinds of businesses anyway, when the company brand is really only comprised of a loose affiliation of individual brands, who are going to move in and out of the company umbrella more or less on-demand, and who have many more outside connections and relationships than in the past.

    This 'free agent nation', this new world that is sometimes referred to as the 'Uber-ification' of work where most workers are essentially carving out their own personal careers, less dependent on organizational support (and protection) than before is one that puts not only these workers under more pressure than before, as they shoulder more personal risk than ever, but it also will stress their company brand owners as well. I don't think my perspective as a potential partner/customer is all that unique; I am interested in collaborating with the best people I can, and often, (and maybe soon always), I am not that interested in their 'official' titles or what their current company leadership believes how I should interact and engage with them. As sometimes I like to say, that is a 'you' problem, not a 'me' problem.

    I guess I will leave with this - the free agent nation has delivered exceeding benefits to company brands - less fixed costs, less regulations, more flexibility, and even more profits. But there are some risks too. Some of your free agents don't really need the company brand as much as the brand needs them. And some of your best customers and partners want to work with people, not with companies. And as the ties between people and companies continue to loosen, (almost always at the behest of companies by the way), the company's hold on talent and opportunity and profit will loosen as well.

    Have a great week!

    Tuesday
    Feb182014

    Dog food, champagne, and Email

    I am grinding through about 12,000 speaking proposals for the upcoming HR Technology Conference in October 2014, and in a recent review call, a rep from one of the vendors made almost a side comment about their own internal use as a company of the HR solution that they are offering in the market. The context was a discussion about a newer recruiting application the vendor was advocating and the vendor rep sort of off-handedly mentioned something like 'And we used the tool to source and help assess candidates for the 15 developer positions we needed to fill last quarter'. 

    Not a big deal right, that a HR technology company would use its own HR technology to help it solve its own HR problems and challenges. You would, as an observer or a potential customer of an HR technology solution sort of expect that the actual developer of a solution would have to naturally want to and be strongly motivated to use their own solutions in house. click to see what I am talking about

    This concept of a supplier company and its employees using the technology, products, or services that they produce is refrred to as 'Eating your own dog food' or for more sophisticated suppliers, 'Drinking your own champagne.' And typically, and especially in the minds of potential customers and prospects, when a company 'Drinks its own champagne' it is a sign that one, they are committed and passionate about the product, and two, the product actually works.

    This 'dog food/champagne' issue was in the news again recently when the President of PayPal, David Marcus, came down hard on PayPal employees who had refused to install the PayPal payments app on their phones, had forgotten their PayPal passwords, and essentially were not advocating for the product and brand by using the product (and using it publicly). 

    Here is a short excerpt from Marcus' email to the PayPal team to give you a feel for just how serious 'eating your own dog food' is from this Exec's point of view:

    As a matter of fact, it's been brought to my attention that when testing paying with mobile at Cafe 17 last week, some of you refused to install the PayPal app (!!?!?!!), and others didn't even remember their PayPal password. That's unacceptable to me, and the rest of my team, everyone at PayPal should use our products whenever available.

    Marcus goes on though, and this next part is even more interesting:

    In closing, if you are one of the folks who refused to install the PayPal app or if you can't remember your PayPal password, do yourself a favor, go find something that will connect with your heard and mind elsewhere.

    Boom.

    Marcus moves from, 'You really need to be an advocate for our products while you work here' to 'You probably should not be working here if you are not going to advocate for our products.'

    Lots of commentators came down pretty hard on Marcus for the tone and message (maybe it was a bizarre set of !!! and ??? mixed in), but I think I am with him on this one. Wouldn't you expect someone who worked at PayPal to actually use PayPal?

    I would. Just like I would expect a big payroll provider trying to sell payroll technology to my company to actually use that same technology to pay their own employees.

    If a company doesn't internally use their own stuff (where applicable) or can't convince its own employees to adopt their products, to me that is a big red flag about the viability of the product, the commitment of the employees and the long-term chances of a successful partnership with their customers.

    Postscript - If you click on the thumbnail image on the right side of this post, it will expand a 1977 advertisement for corporate email technology from Honeywell. If you read the fine print, (and it might be hard), after the copy that describes how wonderful this new email service will be, your 'Contact us to learn more' information contains a phone number and a postal or physical address. No way to contact Honeywell via email, even though that is precisely the service they are selling. Sure, in 1977 maybe none of the prospects would of even had email themselves, but to me that is not really the point. Honeywell would have looked really sharp and progressive if indeed, they offered email as a way to contact them about using email.

    Postscript 2 - I am a Diet Coke fan. Last year at a vendor conference I was about to moderate a panel that included a participant from one of Coke's competitors. This panelist noticed my Diet Coke and asked me kindly but seriously, if I wouldn't mind leaving the Coke behind as we took the stage. And I did.

    Have a great day!

     

    Thursday
    Nov212013

    What if we had fewer managers?

    For a few minutes yesterday I dropped in on the always interesting #Nextchat on Twitter which was on the always popular HR and Talent topic of employee engagement. In the discussion most of the comments and observations around the topic of engagement were what we have come to expect, (and know to be true). Nevertheless, there were some excellent insights shared by many of the participants.

    But you know the story around engagement, right?

    Employee engagement is a reflection of the 'extra effort' people choose to make or not make, bad company culture drives much of the measured low levels of positive engagement, and most interesting to me, that managers are the prime drivers or enablers of engagement in the organization.

    If the organization has bad managers, or not enough good managers and then you will have an engagement problem, (and a retention problem and a recruiting problem, and on and on). Managers need to be engaged themselves in order to have a better chance at rank-and-file employee engagement. Managers are often the barrier to engagement, as they simply don't know or realize the importance of engagement in a broader organizational context. Managers are the devil's spawn and their mere presence haunts the hallways of the company headquarters.

    Ok, that last comment was not really stated, but you get the idea. The manager as the key to engagement, (and lots of other really important talent management practices), was beat to death.

    After watching the discussion carry on in that manner for a bit, I finally (at least to me), offered the only suggestion that might actually have an immediate impact, (not necessarily a positive impact, I admit).

    Here it is:

     

     

     

    I was kind of being a wise guy but not totally.

    If (bad) managers are truly such an important driver of engagement and talent management, and we have known this for ages, and at least according to the consistently poor engagement levels we see in many if not most businesses we are doing a terrible job of selecting and coaching these managers, then wouldn't it make sense to simply have far fewer of them?

    Find the 20 or 30 percent of the managers that actually are really good at engaging teams, guiding career development, challenging employees to reach their potential, etc. and just let them manage everyone.  Take the rest of the managers that aren't good at those things and either let them focus on the actual work they are good at or let them move on.  Or make them sort of 'technical' managers that don't have the messy 'people' manager side of things and can focus on the work, sort of like how football teams have offensive and defensive coordinators that set strategy and tactics but don't really have to deal with the players on an individual and personal level.

    I don't know, it just seems like after years of lamenting about the shortcomings, disinterest, and general imperfections of 'managers'  that at least some of the problems could be solved by having fewer of them.

    What do you think?