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    Entries in strategy (21)


    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.


    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!



    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!


    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.


    The three questions to ask when you're thinking of creating something

    These notes, taken by Blake Masters from Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel's Computer Science class on startups, are completely worth reading - whether you work in a startup, are thinking of joining a startup, are thinking of creating your own startup, or just thinking.

    Of the many interesting nuggets and insights in the notes, (the difference and difficulty of taking a brand new idea from 0 to 1, versus taking an idea from 1 to n - with n being infinity and the different stages of technological progress and advancement), I wanted to call out from Masters' notes Peter Thiel's three questions you need to ask when evaluating your idea.Hélio Oiticica, Metaesquema No. 348, 1958

    Here is Thiel's take:

    The path from 0 to 1 might start with asking and answering three questions.

    First, what is valuable? Second, what can I do? And third, what is nobody else doing?

    The questions themselves are straightforward. Question one illustrates the difference between business and academia; in academia, the number one sin is plagiarism, not triviality. So much of the innovation is esoteric and not at all useful. No one cares about a firm’s eccentric, non-valuable output. The second question ensures that you can actually execute on a problem; if not, talk is just that. Finally, and often overlooked, is the importance of being novel. Forget that and we’re just copying.

     The intellectual rephrasing of these questions is: What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

    The business version is: What valuable company is nobody building?

    Earlier in the week I posted about the proliferation of tablet devices that are primarily designed for and used to consume content, rather than create content and the implications of this growth for career management. In a world where people want to consume and consume and consume, I argued, that to have real lasting and sustainable value and advantage that you want to be a creator, not just a consumer. I still believe that, and I also believe it can be really hard for lots of folks to actually create things - blog posts, presentations, podcasts, videos - whatever.

    And after reading the notes from Thiel's talk, I think these same three questions about startup formation and practicality of an idea can even be applied to more mundane, or day-to-day scenarios like content creation.

    What is valuable?

    What can I do?

    What is nobody else doing?

    Try thinking really hard about those question and you have a start at least or a guide to moving from consumer to creator. And the good thing is for most of us the 'right' answers to those questions can be drawn from a much narrower context than Thiel was probably thinking about (the entire world). 

    You can probably get by with just finding what is valuable, achievable, and novel in your own company, or city, or industry, or even your group of friends for that matter. 

    You can be a content creator, and I think, you and definitely your kids, need to become creators too.


    Differential advantage via technology? It's hard to find that on a shelf

    One of the most widespread and influential technologies of the last 40 years that has not only improved business but actually helped create entirely new businesses is the seemingly mundane shipment tracking number.

    That crazy-long string of 15 or 20 letters and numbers that somehow, as if by magic, allows you to determine the location and stage in the shipment process of all the crap essential items you order from Zappos, Amazon, or Warby Parker. If you are old enough to remember what ordering goods from catalogs or mail-order was really like before the days of tracking numbers then I think you'll agree how dramatic an improvement it is, and how it enables businesses to make commitments and consumers to make plans.

    FedEx who recently celebrated their 40th anniversary, created the tracking number and invented scores of related technologies and processes that surround the tracking number which remains the core of their shipment process today. It is a fascinating story of innovation that you can read about in this recent piece on Wired.com, Tracking 40 Years of FedEx Technology.

    The tracking number, and the associated network, communications, applications, and database technologies that make the number accessible and intelligent to the shipper, retailer, and consumer alike truly represents an amazing story of technological innovation. But it is a kind of innovation that sometimes we lose sight of, particularly those of us who talk about things like 'enterprise' software - systems like ERP or Supply-chain, or even HCM solutions. 

    The vast majority of these enterprise systems, and the ones that people (mostly) spent time talking about, are commercial off the shelf solutions. A software company has built these solutions, usually with the insights of customers, partners, and their own internal teams of experts, and then attempts to sell what normally is the same exact system to as many customers as they can.  That's the software business, essentially, and it makes tons of sense for both the customer and the vendor. 

    For the vendor, developing, marketing, maintaining, and updating one main version of the solution is simpler, more efficient, and over time, allows them to spend more time and R&D on building new features and capabilities, which potentially benefit all customers. And for the customer, having to not be in the business of creating their own custom solutions for things like Payroll, Accounts Payable, collecting job applications, and asset tracking is a huge boon as well. For only a very few specialized companies, none of these things are fundamental to their core business models.

    But having these types of enterprise off the shelf systems in place, configured, and deployed can only do so much for an organization when you factor in the these two elements - that the same solutions are available to everyone in the market, including their competitors, and mostly the processes they support are not core to their differentiating value proposition. Or said differently, a dozen of your competitors probably run the same ATS as you, that looks and feels kind of the same, and candidates hate theirs as much as they hate yours. No advantage gained, (or ceded, admittedly). Yes you can do a 'better' implementation of generally available solutions, and that might make you a little faster to process an applications or more efficient at taking payment discounts than the other guys, but these kinds of advantages are mostly tangential to whatever your 'real' business is about.

    So if true technological competitive advantage is hard to come by simply from commercial off the shelf software, then where can it come from?

    Let's go back to the FedEx example. Here's some idea of where from the Wired.com piece:

    FedEx’s 40-year history is about far more than an unimaginable number of overnight deliveries. It’s a case study in creating a service, then pushing technology forward to ensure that service actually works on a large scale. When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight, you need powerful technology. And sometimes you have to create it.

    In its relentless pursuit of efficiency, FedEx has pioneered and developed technologies later embraced by everything from cellular industry to online retailing and distributed computing.

    “On a day to day basis, shipping 10 million packages, you have to have technology,” (FedEx CIO) Carter said. Even if that means creating it yourself.

    The advantage comes from technology that surrounds the essence of the business model - the fast, reliable delivery of customer shipments. The technology that enables that mission, that others can't easily duplicate, is where and how technology helps lead to real success. And all of it had to be created from nothing.

    The FedEx technology story really is quite amazing and a great reminder that many of the real innovations in technology, and the differential competitive advantage that can be derived from them, usually starts from a blank sheet of paper, and almost never can be found on any vendor's shelf.