Quantcast
Subscribe!

 

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

 

E-mail Steve
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on Blog Talk Radio

    free counters

    Twitter Feed

    Entries in strategy (23)

    Monday
    Jul142014

    Germany, Spurs: Welcome to the Machine

    The German men's national team won the World Cup with a 1-0 victory over Argentina yesterday, completing a march to the title that at times seemed almost incredible and surreal, (their 7-1 demolition of host nation Brazil in the semifinal), and absolutely workmanlike (the title match, their group stage tussles with Ghana and the USA).

    But no matter how any individual game for the Germans developed, in the end they were always able to find the right combination of talent, strategy and tactics, and individual moments of inspiration and excellence needed to raise the most prized trophy in all of world sports. For US fans, continuing to warm up to the highest levels of a sport that almost (it seems) every American child has played at least some in the last 20 years, watching the German team in this World Cup had to be at least somewhat reminiscent of the recent San Antonio Spurs NBA Championship.

    While there were certainly some differences between the two team's achievements, the similarities, at least to me were pretty clear, and might (apologies in advance to anyone already sickened by 'What can we learn about career management/leadership/workplaces from LeBron James returning to Cleveland' posts), I as a member of the 8 Man Rotation feel obliged to call out a few keys to both of these victories, and to take a stab at what broader application might be found therein.

    Talent and system are not the same as culture, (and are more important) - Tim Sackett had a great take at Fistful of Talent last week about 'system' hiring and it is well worth a read. Both the Spurs and Germany 'play the right way', i.e., organize their players and approach the game in a particular way in that each player understands their role, and how it contributes to the overall goals of the team. While each team has recognizable and extremely successful individual players, (Duncan and Parker on the Spurs, Muller and Klose for Germany), none of the games and the strategy ever seemed to be about these individuals. From beginning to end each team approached and played the games as a team. Not once in the NBA Finals or in the World Cup late stages did I recall hearing any commentator say something like 'The Spurs (or Germany), will only go as far as player XYZ takes them.' It was always a team effort, not one that relied on one or two talents. In fact, many of the players on the Spurs for sure, probably only succeed because they are in the Spurs system, and they have found the right fit for their talent.

    In the long run, discipline and belief trumps emotion - In the pre-game of the World Cup semifinal the home team Brazil had cranked up the emotional meter to 11 - they had 70,000 fans behind them, they 'felt' like it was their destiny to win on their home soil, and even held up the jersey of their injured and unable to play star Neymar in the pre-game line-up. It would have been easy for Germany to succumb to that emotional and psychological pressure, and give up and early goal or two. Instead, the German side stuck to their plan, withstood the first 10 minutes or so of Brazil's efforts, and then set on a goal scoring flurry not seem ever before in a World Cup semifinal. Similarly, in the final game of the NBA Finals, the two-time defending champion Miami Heat jumped out to an early lead against the Spurs, only to find the Spurs back to just about even by halftime, as the Spurs system and discipline proved more that Miami could match. When you have a system, and the right talent that has bough in to the system, then the lesson is to stick with it, don't panic when your opponent seems to have the upper hand, and double down on what you know will be successful in the long game.

    Most of us are really bad at evaluating talent - The Spurs had the NBA's best regular season record. The German side are full of top-level players from the world's most famous clubs. Yet neither was favored to win their respective championships prior to the final series or game. The Heat, with best player in the world LeBron James, and Brazil with their history of success (and home nation status), were expected to lift the trophies that ended up being held by the Spurs and Germany. We kept looking for excuses why the Spurs or Germany could not win (the Spurs were too old, Germany had not won the World Cup in 20+ years, and never outside of Europe), that we let ourselves be fooled. Even the leaders of these great teams might not understand talent completely. The World Cup winning goal was set up and scored by two players that were not even in the starting team of 11. I think this is is often the same thing that occurs in day-to-day talent assessment and evalution. We are trained to look for the reasons why someone won't or can't succeed, instead of focusing on the things that they are talented and strong at, and thinking about ways to leverage the skills they have. 

    Bottom line - Spurs = Germany = a great way to think about how systems and strategy lead you to find the right talent you need to succeed.

    Look for more sports takes later in the week, (I know you can't wait), from the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

    Have a great week!

    Wednesday
    May212014

    The machine gets its 'Seat at the table'

    At the risk of having a $100 fine/mandatory donation slapped down on me from Professor Matt Stollak, I felt compelled to crack out the (tired) 'Seat at the table' line, the often-repeated metaphoric goal or target for HR leaders, and that is still referenced by many a conference speaker, when I caught this interesting piece from Betabeat - V.C. Firm Names Robot to Board of Directors.

    You can probably tell where I am going with this take just from the title of the Betabeat piece, but in case you'd like some details, here is the gist of the story:

    In case you needed more proof that all our jobs will one day be occupied by robots, a Hong Kong V.C. firm has just named an artificial intelligence tool to its board of directors. The company’s also insisting the tool will be treated as an “equal” to the other board members.

    A press release from Aging Analytics UK, a company that conducts research on biotechnology and regenerative medicine, made two announcements this morning: first, that they’ve launched an new A.I. tool called VITAL (Validating Investment Tool for Advancing Life Sciences); and second, that they’ve licensed VITAL to Hong Kong V.C. firm Deep Knowledge Ventures, where the tool will become an “equal member of its Board of Directors.”

    VITAL uses machine learning to predict which life science companies will make for successful investments, the press release explains. That’s why it’ll be of use to Deep Knowledge Ventures, which “routinely invest[s] in both private and public companies specializing in biotechnology, regenerative medicine, oncology, drug discovery, bioinformatics and personalized medicine,” according to their website.

    On the (board) meetings investors will firstly discuss the analytical reviews made by VITAL. All the decisions on investing will be made strictly after VITAL provides it’s data. We say that VITAL has been acknowledged as an equal member of the board of directors, because it’s opinion (actually, the analysis) will be considered as probably the most important one. So basically yes, it will be incorporated into meetings.

    Awesome, right? The robot, or really not so much a robot, but a smart machine with a bunch of algorithms is going to be an 'equal member' of the board of directors, and have its 'voice' heard at the ACTUAL TABLE, (no word if it will really have a seat as well, but so what?).

    You could just let this story go as kind of a goof or a publicity stunt, but if you take maybe five minutes to think about it, it once again validates everything we think we know about why so frequently HR leaders are not equal members and participants in the organization's strategic planning processes.

    VITAL, the robot director, only applies data and logic in making its recommendations. It has no inherent bias. It is not even aware of how the other directors perceive its abilities, even the crusty old directors that 'Don't get all this newfangled technology'. It is not scared to issue its advice, since robots probably can't get scared, and it 'knows' it is operating from facts and a kind of defensible set of processes. VITAL isn't out to 'prove' anything to skeptics, or people with 'business' sense.

    VITAL actually sounds like the perfect Director, when you think about it. 

    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!

     

    Monday
    Aug122013

    The Progressive Service and re-imagining the organization

    There are lots of fantastic aspects of being a college student - the parties, the football games, the almost complete lack of real responsibility when compared to what often comes next - the corporate world, the 9-to-5 grind, and trying reasonably hard not to screw up, (after all, all that fun in college came with a price tag, probably in the form of tens of thousands of student loans to pay off).

    But besides all the obvious fun and cool elements of student life, there is at least one other - the chance to work on projects, develop ideas, and present provocative concepts all safe in the knowledge that these ideas will usually be evaluated mostly on their creativity and inspiration, and not out in the real world where at most organizations they are likely to be met with 'That's not how we do things here' or 'That will never work' or 'Who are you again?'

    And out in the real world massive, transformational organizational re-designs almost never actually happen (and work). There is so much legacy baggage, locked-in contracts and structures, and often a substantial level of resistance to change that the change that anyone tries to make to an entrenched institution is usually incremental and small in nature.  All change is hard. Big change is just about impossible to pull off.

    With all that in mind, I recommend taking a look at a student project that focuses on the kind of massive change that is normally only talked about in the detached, theoretical setting of academia. The below presentation is titled United States Postal Service Thesis, and was created by Tom Calabrese for a Masters program. The deck, which presents some ideas and kind of radical concepts for the US Postal Service of the future, is below, and I'll have a quick comment/challenge after the break.

     

    Did you click through the deck? What did you think?

    A couple of things stood out to me. One, that providing, for a price, the ability to refine and tailor your own mail delivery preferences is an idea worth pursuing. And two, the more radical idea about somehow connecting the Postal Service social graph to other, more higher value add services and products.

    But the real reason why I decided to post about this was not any of the specific proposals for the USPS, but rather as it was a great reminder that we almost never spend any time thinking about re-imagining our own organizations in a similar manner. Now certainly most of our organizations don't face the same number and type of daunting problems the USPS faces, but it's also certain that we underestimate the problems, (maybe ones that have not yet even manifested), that face our organizations.

    So the challenge is this - what if you could (or had to), completely re-imagine your workplace?

    What if you were to start from a blank sheet, or close to it, and start over?

    What would you keep? What would you let go? What are you doing simply because of inertia and tradition and internal resistance to change?

    What would the 'new' organization look like?

    Have a great week all!

    Thursday
    Jun272013

    Is it a business strategy or a talent strategy?

    Last year when the annual 'Culture Eats Strategy' discussion flared up, (Reminder: You are supposed to repeat the phrase 'Culture eats Strategy' for variously breakfast/lunch/dinner/the 3:00AM run to Taco Bell over and over again, even if you don't actually know what it means and have no real way of proving it), I offered a slightly alternative take - that 'Talent', or better and less jargony, 'People' might trump both Cullture and Strategy.

    After all, 'people', (remember them?), formulate the business strategy, and shape the culture with their behaviors, actions, interactions, etc. Last year I sort of felt that the silly debate about whether culture was more important that strategy mostly missed the point - without a really dialed-in people or talent pipeline (or factory), it really would not matter how great the culture was/is or how on-point the business strategy seemed on paper.Rue de Banlieue, Maurice Utrillo

    But it's more fun, especially in blogs and in social media to keep on talking about culture, I get that. So rather than try and make the 'talent' argument again, I wanted to point out (another) recent example of how all things talent - recruiting, development, succession, even something as HR wonkish as the company dress code, are all coming into play as an entire industy, in this case Financial Services, attempts to reinvent itself in the modern age.

    Check this excerpt from a recent piece from Business Insider (via Reuters), Banks are Hiring a Bunch of IT Experts, And It's Going to Reshape Wall Street on how the business strategy (moving to a lot more custom-developed IT products and services) is and has to be shaped by a series of HR/Talent programs:

    The investment banking industry is heading into a digital revolution that could redraw not only its business model but also the traditional image of its staff.

    Stuck with dwindling profits in an era of poor returns and heavy regulation, the likes of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and HSBC are battling to hire the best software programmers, systems engineers and data analysts, to help them get ahead via new technology and cost-cutting.

    With IT expertise now a must for the boardroom, banks' conservative workplaces are likely to undergo cultural change as they welcome ambitious, differently-minded people. "Traditionally, banks have been a lot more narrow in their (hiring) focus. Now collectively they have realized the need to be more creative," said Jeffrey Wallis, managing partner at SunGard Consulting Services, specializing in financial firms.

    But the latest wave of technology hires has come about because banks are aiming more specifically to grow revenues by developing tailor-made products and mobile applications based on clients' trading patterns. To do that, they need to attract the top quantitative analysts and software developers - which may mean allowing some of them to work in shorts and tee-shirts from Palo Alto, California, rather than in suit and tie from a skyscraper in London's Canary Wharf.

    There's more of the same in the piece, particularly on how some recent and high-profile external executive hires into the financial services industry have what are best described as 'traditional' IT backgrounds, rather than a twenty year career in banking or finance. Addtionally, the financial services firms need to 'seek out' this new kind of talent is highlighted - and how it is even driving decisions around company office locations - with Palo Alto, Tel Aviv, and Singapore just some of the tech centers where they are opening up shop to chase tech talent.

    The point of all this, and dredging up the tiresome Culture v. Strategy meme?

    It's that the culture argument continually neglects the role that talent plays in organizational success - in executing the business strategy and then in turn creating the type of culture that will attact and allow the right talent to achieve that success.  The story about how the financial services industry is attempting to move laterally to embrace new technology and the types of people that can create these technologies is only partially one about culture. 

    It is mostly about identifying the talent needed to execute on the strategy, and developing HR/Talent strategies to deliver that talent.