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    Entries in talent (56)

    Thursday
    Feb252016

    Yelp and a missing piece of HR Tech

    By now I am pretty sure you've heard the story of the call center rep at Yelp who was summarily fired after posting an 'open letter' to the CEO claiming (among other things), that the company's failure to pay a living wage was placing her and her colleagues under tremendous financial pressure. Here's a quick two paragraphs from coverage of the letter and the firing from the Washington Post:

    The Yelp employee who said she was fired after she blogged about the financial pressures she felt while working for the multibillion-dollar business said Monday that her breaking point came one night when she went to sleep — and woke up "starving" two hours later.

    Talia Ben-Ora posted an open letter Friday afternoon to Yelp chief executive Jeremy Stoppelman, saying she wasn't earning a living wage while working in customer support at Eat24, Yelp's San Francisco-based food delivery arm.

    She was out of work hours later, she said.

    Yesterday at the HR Capitalist, KD had some great takes on the entire Yelp employee hullaballo, but it was this one, KD's point #3 that I found the most interesting and wanted to expand upon a little bit here:

    "The company has some responsibility here as well.  It's San Francisco, people. Maybe 20K annualized jobs don't belong in the Bay Area.  It's called workforce planning - put a call center in Detroit and do some civic good. "

    KD is quite correct of course, it doesn't make a tremendous amount of sense to attempt to locate, staff, retain, and motivate the team for a call-center or similar kind of low-wage filled business operation in one the most expensive cost of living places in the world.

    Heck, there have been reports that teachers, police officers, nurses and many other professionals can't afford to live in San Francisco or the nearby cities and towns that the tech boom in Silicon Valley have made incredibly expensive compared to most of the rest of the country. Super expensive places to live and work are always going to be extremely challenging for workers on the lower end of the wage scale, as made clear by the ex-Yelp employee's post.

    So let's get back to KD's point - Yelp shouldn't realistically try to locate a call/service center, staffed by what the market would force to be low-paid workers, in a place like San Francisco. The reason this point resonated with me is that for a long time I have thought that one of the big gaps in the HR technology landscape was a solution or platform for helping organizations make these kinds of decisions - the 'Where should we locate the call center?' ones that the Yelp story reminds us are so important.

    In fact last year when I was setting up the first-ever HR tech hackathon at the HR Technology Conference, I toyed for a time with making the 'challenge' for the hackers would have to tackle be that very thing - to build a tool that would help HR and organizational leaders answer the 'Where should we locate the call center?' question.

    So what kinds of considerations and inputs would such an HR technology that could help answer that question have to encompass?

    Here's a quick, incomplete list...

    1. Inventory of the needed talent/skills to staff the call center, (I am going to keep using the call center example, but the technology would naturally have to be flexible enough for all kinds of workforce planning decisions).

    2. Assessment and comparison of the available talent/skills to the needed set of talent/skills from Step 1. This would have to factor in the existing employee base, the candidate/prospect database and funnel, the alumni database, public networks like LinkedIn, 'on-demand' portals like Elance, and perhaps other external candidate repositories or resources like local staffing companies. Somehow you would need a decent idea of the addressable talent/skills that could be applied to the needs developed above.

    3. Capability to cost and analyze a range of options with different talent mixes from the potential sources above. In other words what difference does it make if we staff using 80% temps/contractors and 20% FTEs? How much longer and more costly would it be to push the FTE level to 40%? What are the chances we could even find enough readily available talent in the local market to choose that mix?

    4. Ability to incorporate site specific factors like land/building acquisition costs, infrastructure costs, tax implications, cost of compliance with any local regulations, and the 101 other things that go into building or leasing, (and then maintaining), company facilities. 

    5. And finally, incorporate, or at least make folks aware of other factors that could influence the decision like an evaluation of how average commuting time/cost might be impacted by the choice of location of the new call center, the likelihood of delays in facility construction or with acquiring needed permits, or any location specific elements like local climate or even political landscape.

    There are probably lots of other factors that any major business decision like 'Where should we locate the call center?' would need to be taken into account, but I think at least I touched on the obvious ones. And the fact that these kinds of decisions are so complex, involve data from so many disparate sources, and have to be incredibly flexible in order to adapt to meet the requirements of highly complex scenarios is probably the reason why a technology for this use case does not seem to exist.

    So to circle this back to the Yelp story it is for sure an accurate observation that trying to run a call center operation in a high-cost place like San Francisco is likely a terrible, no good idea.

    But where should the call center be located? 

    That's a simple question that is hard to answer. I hope that we will see some movement in the HR tech space in the coming years that will help to make answering that question a little easier, and will help lessen the kinds of situations like the one about the starving Yelp employee.

    Thursday
    Feb182016

    WEBINAR: WALKING DEAD - Reviving your talent networks

    It's possible that 'Peak Zombie' was reached a couple of years ago, say around 2009 or so. For awhile you couldn't swing a machete on premium cable without hitting one of the myriad zombie shows/movies/music videos that featured the hordes of the undead wandering more or less aimlessly through the countryside.

    For what it's worth, my favorite of the genre was 'Shaun of the Dead' with Simon Pegg. Check that on Netflix if you haven't caught it yet. 

    The 'Zombie' trend has died down a bit in the last few years, but there is still one place where a kind of zombie can be pretty reliably found - lurking around your company career site.

    Candidates around your careers site are like Zombies too - they stumble around and look at your content, lurk at your jobs and then just stagger off into the distance when they don’t find anything to take a bite out of. Well, the fine folks at Fistful of Talent and Smashfly are here to help you turn those zombies into real-life candidates by reviving the talent networks you probably don’t even know you have.https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3528340882429541122

    Who said zombies can’t turn back to real live viable candidates?! Not us, because the FOT crew knows how, and we’re going to show you, too.

    On February 24th at 2:00PM ET, the FOT crew and Smashfly will present the latest installment of the FOT free webinar series, titled WALKING DEAD: Reviving Your Talent Networks, where the gang will:

    --Show you the difference between a Talent Network and a Talent Community. We’ll give you ways to build your talent network into active pools of great candidates. By using and developing talent networks, you’re letting those zombies hanging out around your career site tell you “I’m next…” “Pick me…”, making it super easy to identify your next victim!

    --Help you develop a Talent Network Strategy that lasts, with little effort from your team to keep it going. The biggest problem we all face is we just don’t have enough capacity to do more. Talent networks give you the more— without the work. We’ll show you how.

    --Show you 5 ways the best companies are engaging their Talent Networks to make real placements.We won’t just tell you the ways, we’re going to hear about straight from a Talent Pro who is using these now to successfully hire and fill position within her company.  The good, the bad, the dead. You’re going to hear it all!

    --Give you 3 things you can do with candidate contact information before they even apply to your company. Talent pools aren’t about the apply, they’re about getting you to apply. Some zombies are ready to eat, some are just milling around being zombies. What do you do when potential candidates aren’t ready to eat? We’ve got the answer.

    --Provide insight to how you can measure the success of your talent networks. By now we know none of this matters if we can’t back it up with measurable data that proves it works. Talent networks, and the data you get from them, will give you a ton of insight to what is working in your Talent shop and what might need some tweaking.

    Don’t let your time get “eaten” up by a bunch of zombie candidates who will never fill the needs your company has. Learn how to build great talent networks that will give you real live placements, with less effort than you ever thought imaginable. It’s time to fight back and win against your walking dead applicant pool!

    You can register for the free webinar on February 24 at 2:00PM ET here, or using the form below:

    And as always, the FOT webinar comes with a guarantee: 60% of the time it works 100% of the time.

    Tuesday
    Feb022016

    We value hard work, but we reward natural talent

    Of all the phrases used to describe a candidate or an employee, 'He/she is a hard worker' is probably one of the most valued by employers, colleagues, and the people in general. We like people that work hard. We value the effort, the grind, the grit of folks who show up, dig in, plow through - day in and day out. Some even think that 'working hard' is actually a skill akin to other technical or practical kinds of aptitudes that are often harder to find.

    After all, 'hard work', even if it is a skill, is probably one that can be 'learned' by just about everyone. In many ways you just have to decide to work hard and there it is, you are a hard worker. Doesn't exactly work that way for other skills like coding, painting, or hitting 3-point baskets.

    But as much as we value hard work,  a skill that is readily observable, some recent research suggests that we value (and reward) something more intangible much, much more - the ore opaque notion of 'natural talent.'

    Researchers Chia-Jung Tsay and Mahzarin Banaji examined what has been called the 'naturalness bias', the tendency to choose and reward so-called 'naturally talented' people over the classic 'hard-worker' in a series of experiments that were recently described in FastCo Design. Here is an excerpt from the piece: 

    "We are likely influenced by concepts such as the Protestant work ethic, and the American dream, and ideals such as a truer meritocracy, opportunity, and social mobility that can be achieved with enough hard work and motivation," says management scholar Chia-Jung Tsay of University College London, via email. "We may subscribe to these ideas, but our preference for and fascination with naturalness still seem to emerge through our actual choices."

    Tsay’s research has documented this tendency—which Malcolm Gladwell coined as the "naturalness bias"—across creative fields. A few years back, Tsay and Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji asked 103 professional musicians to rate two performers based on a written profile and clips of them playing Stravinsky's Trois Mouvements de Petrouchka. The two performers were actually the same person, with one profile tweaked to emphasize work ethic and the other made to highlight natural talent.

    In questionnaires, study participants claimed to value effort and practice over innate ability. But when it came time to rate the "two" performers, they gave the natural higher marks on talent, likelihood of future success, and value as a musical company hire, Tsay and Banaji reported in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In a follow-up, the researchers found that seasoned experts favored naturals even more than novice musicians did—a finding with troubling workplace implications, given that veterans tend to make hiring decisions.

    Did you catch that? Two performers, who were actually the same performer, and the one that was pitched as having some higher level of natural talent was rated more positively and favorably than the performer who was portrayed as someone whose achievements were a product of hard work. Additionally, the more experienced and 'senior' the evaluator, the more likely they were to reward the 'natural talent' over the hard worker.

    Really interesting implications for this data, particularly in the world of talent evaluation and hiring. If the 'naturalness' bias does exist in organizations, then they could be overlooking or discounting individuals that are totally qualified and capable of performing at a high level, if their history of 'hard work' is somehow diminished in value in the eyes of the talent evaluators.

    More interesting still is that while this research appears to suggest the existence of a bias towards 'natural talent', it seems like 'hard work' is much more reliable in the long run. 

    Let's toss it back to my favorite metaphor for talent and workplace comparisons - basketball.

    'Natural talent' may account for a high degree of accuracy shooting 3-point baskets. But this 'skill' also can come and go in the course of a game, season, and career - sometimes inexplicably. 

    Playing tough, solid, and aggressive defense however, is usually chalked up at least primarily to 'hard work', which tends to be much more reliable, repeatable, and predictable. 

    It can be kind of hard to 'see' natural talent in all kinds of fields. Hard work is a little easier to spot.

    Tuesday
    Dec292015

    Best of 2015: The culture of performance, and firing by form letter

    NOTE: As 2015 winds down, so will 'regular' posts on the blog. For the next two weeks, I will be posting what I thought were the most interesting pieces I published in 2015. These were not necessarily the most popular or most shared, just the ones I think were most representative of the year in HR, HR Tech, workplaces, and basketball. Hope you enjoy looking back on the year and as always, thanks for reading in 2015.

    Next up a piece from June, titled The Culture of Performance, and Firing by Form Letter, a simple example of how organizational culture (needs to) manifest itself in approaches to talent management.

    The culture of performance and firing by form letter

    Super look at just one of the ways that a 'performance is the only thing that matters' culture that is professional American football manifests itself over at Deadspin last week in the piece This is the the letter you get when you are cut from an NFL team.

    Take a look at a typical player termination letter from one of the league's clubs, the Houston Texans:

    A couple of things about the letter, and then i am out for the rest of a summer Monday.

    1. First up, in a really hands-on job like 'NFL Player', physical ability to perform issues are number 1 and 2 on the 5 possible termination reasons. For the rest of us who are not NFL players, this could equate to keeping up our skills, learning new ones as business and technology shifts, and importantly, not 'faking' it in terms of what we say we can do.

    2. Reason 3, and the one that this example from 2006 shows, says basically, 'You are just not good enough, i.e., the other guys on the team are better'. No details, no wordy explanations or nuances. Just a cut and dried 'You're not good enough.' That's cold, but again, completely aligned with the organizational values and culture. Performance trumps everything. Want a high-performance culture? Then you have to be ruthless in trimming the organization of people who don't meet the standard. And you as a leader can't let it bother you too much either.

    3. The organization also has a broad right to terminate you for 'personal conduct that adversely affects or reflects on the club'. Heck, that could be just about anything, since it is the club who gets to evaluate the 'impact' of your behavior. In other words, we (mostly) care about your physical condition and your performance, but we can fire your butt for just about anything we want at any time. Heck, that sounds a lot like many of the places us 'normals' work too. Employment at will is a great deal for sure. Until you get fired, well, just 'because.'

    Hiring, promoting, rewards, and even terminations all play a big role in defining, supporting, and communicating an organization's values and culture. If you are going to go all-in on high performance, well, you need to remember the dark side of that decision too.

    And firing by form letter is one example of that.

    Have a great week!

    Monday
    Dec282015

    Best of 2015: A different view of 'Top' talent, namely that it is mostly a myth

    NOTE: As 2015 winds down, so will 'regular' posts on the blog. For the next two weeks, I will be posting what I thought were the most interesting pieces I published in 2015. These were not necessarily the most popular or most shared, just the ones I think were most representative of the year in HR, HR Tech, workplaces, and basketball. Hope you enjoy looking back on the year and as always, thanks for reading in 2015.

    Next up a piece from May, titled A different view of 'Top' talent, namely that it is mostly a myth, that challenges our ideas on talent management and chasing 'rock star' employees.

    A different view of 'Top' talent, namely that is mostly a myth 

    Caught this piece, The programming talent myth', over the weekend and if you are in the technology space at all (as a techie yourself, someone who has to attract and recruit tech talent, or simply just someone who is concerned/interested with the 'state' of technology today (particularly when it comes to issues of diversity and inclusion)), then you should carve out 15 or so minutes today or soon and give the piece a read.

    It is essentially a summary of a recent keynote speech at a developer's event called PyCon given by Jacob Kaplan-Moss, a well-known contributor to the programming language Django and the director of security at Heroku.

    In the speech Kaplan-Ross took square aim at the concept of 'Top' technical talent, (although I would argue his logic would apply to other disciplines as well), and how the dangerous myth of the 'Rock Star' programmer and the terrible programmer (with nothing really in between these extremes), is detrimental on all kinds of levels. It drives people out of technical careers and studies - if you are not a 'Rock Star' you might as well not even bother. It continues to foster and support less-than-healthy norms and lifestyles - 'Rock Star' programmers work 80+ hours a week and don't think of anything other than programming. And finally, it feeds in to what can easily develop into that 'Bro culture' that is common in many smaller startups and tech companies.

    Here is a little piece from the talk:

    Programmers like to think they work in a field that is logical and analytical, but the truth is that there is no way to even talk about programming ability in a systematic way. When humans don't have any data, they make up stories, but those stories are simplistic and stereotyped. So, we say that people "suck at programming" or that they "rock at programming", without leaving any room for those in between. Everyone is either an amazing programmer or "a worthless use of a seat".

    But that would mean that programming skill is somehow distributed on a U-shaped curve. Most people are at one end or the other, which doesn't make much sense. Presumably, people learn throughout their careers, so how would they go from absolutely terrible to wonderful without traversing the middle ground? Since there are only two narratives possible, that is why most people would place him in the "amazing programmer" bucket. He is associated with Django, which makes the crappy programmer label unlikely, so people naturally choose the other.

    But, if you could measure programming ability somehow, its curve would look like the normal distribution. Most people are average at most things.

    It makes sense if you think of programming as not some mystical endeavor that somehow one is innately born with the talent for or is not. If you see programming and other technical occupations as just ones consisting of a set of skills and capabilities that can be learned over time, (like just about every other skill), then the idea of programming talent and programmers existing on a more normal distribution curve seems the most likely outcome.

    One last quote from the piece:

    The tech industry is rife with sexism, racism, homophobia, and discrimination. It is a multi-faceted problem, and there isn't a single cause, but the talent myth is part of the problem. In our industry, we recast the talent myth as "the myth of the brilliant asshole", he said. This is the "10x programmer" who is so good at his job that people have to work with him even though his behavior is toxic. In reality, given the normal distribution, it's likely that these people aren't actually exceptional, but even if you grant that they are, how many developers does a 10x programmer have to drive away before it is a wash?

    How much does the 'Rock Star' mentality and assumption play in to toxic workplaces, less inclusive workforces, and unfulfilled 'Good, but not a Rock Star' people?

    It is a really interesting piece, and Kaplan-Ross' speech is also on YouTube here, and I recommend checking it out.