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    Entries in work (93)

    Thursday
    Nov202014

    Facebook at Work and Google Wave

    Remember Google Wave?

    Sure you do. You probably even recall nagging your friends and contacts for a (at the time) coveted invitation to join the Google Wave beta.

    Google Wave was going to be the next big, big, transformative thing in workplace collaboration technology. It was the re-imagination of email, chat, file sharing, and 17 other things - packaged in a completely new way. It was, for a little while, exciting and cool. Most of the folks who get paid lots of money to prognosticate on such matters expected Google Wave to become, if not truly transformative, at least an important and eventual essential component in the enterprise software tool set.

    Fast forward about a year (give or take) from the launch of Wave and somehow, for some reason, those optimistic forecasts about the importance of Wave turned out to be wrong. Wave did not catch on, at least not enough, and not as a workplace essential tool, and Google pulled the plug on the adventurous project. (Still, mad about that, personally.)

    I have not thought about Google Wave all that much in the ensuing years, (man, it seems like just yesterday, but it has literally been YEARS since Wave was shuttered), until the recent announcement and reactions to the reports that Facebook is planning on releasing its own workplace collaboration technology, which most are simply calling 'Facebook at Work'.

    But unlike Google Wave, which was greeted with (generally) optimistic predictions about its importance and relevance to work and workplaces, the early reaction to the notion of 'Facebook at Work' has been almost universally pessimistic and negative.

    The arguments against the success of 'Facebook at Work' are numerous and expected:

    People don't want to mix personal online socializing and networking with work.

    Facebook can't be trusted to secure sensitive and proprietary corporate data.

    Enterprise social networking tools, ironically often referred to as 'Facebook for the Enterprise', have been around for years, and have never really, truly caught on in a substantial way.

    That kind of thing.

    I have no idea if Facebook at Work will even be released as a product (Facebook has not made any public comment on these reports), much less become a successful, popular, and essential workplace collaboration technology.

    Maybe it will. And maybe it will fail spectacularly like Google Wave. And maybe it will never even be a 'real' product.

    Who knows?

    But I would also suggest the litany of commenters and pundits who have already written off Facebook at Work as a potential important enterprise tech solution also have no real idea either.

    Google Wave was going to be the next big thing. Until is wasn't. Facebook at Work has no chance of infiltrating the workplace. Until it does. Or maybe it won't.

    I think you get what I am driving at by now. No one, not me, or any of the smart people at TechCrunch or Business Insider or CNet or anywhere else really knows.

    So stop worrying or thinking about Facebook at Work for the time being. If and when it ever is released, then make your own evaluation.

    And while you are waiting, maybe send an Email to Google to see if they will reconsider resurrecting Wave. I liked that thing.

    Monday
    Nov032014

    No one can find anything in a massive Home Center. Except this robot.

    Getting back to the 'Robots are going to take all of our jobs' beat that I feel like I have been neglecting for a while and I wanted to share with you a short video, (Email and RSS subscribers click through), and some quick thoughts about a recent, and pretty interesting 'Robots in the workplace' development.

    This one, perhaps surprisingly, comes to us from the folks at Lowes - the mega-chain of supersized home improvement centers. You know the ones I am talking about. Each one about the size of the town you grew up in, carrying tens of thousands of different items, and once within, it's usually impossible to find the specific item you are actually looking for (or a store employee to help you).

    Enter OSHbot. A fully independent, multi-lingual, and infinitely patient Home Center assistant. Need to find an item in the store? OSHbot knows exactly where everytihng is located. Do you have the actual item in your hands? Hold it in front of OSHbot's camera and the robot can recognize and identify the item. Don't speak English? No problem, OSHbot will engage with you in the language you prefer.

    Check the video below, (about 2.5 minutes), and then a couple of comments from me after that.

    Seems like such an obviously good idea, right? This (pretty simple, really), technology goes a long way towards addressing the most common customer complaints with massive, big box stores.

    Where is the item I want? Can you take me there? What is this part I know that I need to replace but I have never seen before? Can someone here speak to me in my language?

    But I bet even more interesting, (and challenging for HR/Talent pros and organizations), will not be whether or not customers will embrace/adopt these robot store associates (I think they will), but what this might mean for staffing, deployment, and management of the robot's human co-workers.

    Once technology like the OSHbot becomes more widely deployed, human employees will have to become accustomed to working with technology that at some level is 'better' than they can likely be. By 'better', I mean that the robot, with access to real-time store inventory, sales, and perfect recall, will have the 'better' answer (or at least just as good an answer as a human) to probably 90% of customer inquiries.

    Certainly in a home center environment there will be some level of customer support, for more complex or nuanced questions, that actual human experts in paint or lumber or plumbing will be best prepared to answer. But I wonder for how long? I mean, couldn't Lowes just deploy a few more OSHbots to 'shadow' the best human experts to record, classify, evaluate, and share with all the other OSHbots across the world the 'best' or 'right' answers to these complex questions? And once that process starts, won't the line or level where actual humans remain 'better' at serving retail home center customers recede even more?

    And finally, one last thought. Robots taking customer service jobs in a Lowes or similar might not be alarming to you yourself right now. But these applications are not going to stop at the Lowes or the Walmart. They are being developed everywhere.

    How long until we see the first HR robot?

    Have a great week!

    Tuesday
    Oct142014

    A warning about hiring too narrowly

    As an HR/Talent pro if you have been involved in the hiring process for software engineers or developers then it is likely you have run into this scenario when presented a hiring requirement from one of your managers:

    Find me someone really proficient in (one from a long list, doesn't really matter which one), Node, Django, jQuery, AngularJS, Redis, Ruby, etc. and I need him/her right away. So you set out to examine your ATS, check LinkedIn, StackOverflow, GitHub, the Starbucks over by your local University - whatever, and you secure the person that is proficient in skill 'X' , just like your hiring manager asked for. Sean Scully, Maesta 1983

    Everyone is happy, right? The candidate found an opportunity that matches their skills, the hiring manager got someone that knows the specific programming language that they need, and you can move this Req into the 'Closed' folder and see if anyone brought in any extra Halloween candy to the break room.

    But there could be a longer term problem with this kind of approach to hiring, it can result in something called 'Resume Driven Development', a condition where the products that get ultimately developed and provided to customers become a reflection not of the requirements of the customers, but of the capabilities/resumes of the developers that work on the project. 

    What this looks like is pretty thoroughly explained in this piece from the O'Reilly Radar blog:

    Resume Driven Development happens when your group needs to hire a developer. It’s very hard to tell a non-technical HR person that you need someone who can make good decisions about software architecture, someone who knows the difference between clean code and messy code, and someone who’s able to look at a code base and see what’s unnecessary and what can be simplified. We frequently can’t do that ourselves. So management says, “oh, we just added Redis to the application, so we’ll need a Redis developer.” That’s great — it’s easy to throw out resumes that don’t say Redis; it’s easy to look for certifications; and sooner or later, you have a Redis developer at a desk. Maybe even a good one.

    And what does your Redis developer do? He does Redis, of course. So, you’re bound to have an application with a lot of Redis in it. Whenever he sees a problem that can be solved with Redis, that’s what he’ll do. It’s what you hired him for. You’re happy; he’s happy. Except your application is now being optimized to fit the resumes of the people you hired, not the requirements of your users.

    The problem is that your team is optimized around the inability to communicate at a critical stage: the inability of a technical team to specify what they really want (a developer with good programming taste and instincts), and instead hiring someone who has a particular skill or credential. I suspect that Resume Driven Development is quite pervasive: an overly complex application stack that’s defined by the people you hired, and by the current toys that the “cool kids” on the programming block get to play with, not by the requirements of the application.

    A pretty good example and reminder that in hiring, as in the rest of life, you get what you pay for, or in this case, what you ask for.

    And I think this problem, or this tendency, might only get more likely over time as organizations try and move to more 'just-in-time' talent acquisition strategies that incorporate more and more contingent workers.

    It is not an easy problem to solve for sure. The natural or easy tendency is to try and define or simplify the hiring process into simple or discrete definitions. Hire Person 'A' with Skill 'B', to code in Product 'C', that kind of thing.

    But there is a definitely some advantages that can be accrued by expanding, at least somewhat, the requirements for both technical and even non-technical roles.  The warning though, that Resume Driven Development suggests, is that unless you know exactly what you will need, for at least the foreseeable future, then you are going to get forced into being locked in to a set of people and technologies that you may not want to be locked in with.

    Thursday
    Sep182014

    HBS Grads on Competitiveness, Jobs, and American Workers

    Is there a better cohort might to survey about the state of American business, workforces, and competitiveness than Harvard Business School grads? 

    Chances are a whole bit fat bunch of us are taking direction today from a grad of the famous business school. It does stand to reason that if you survey enough HBS grads you will get a pretty decent understanding of what business leaders are thinking, saying, and doing, (or importantly, not doing).

    This is a long read, so you might want to save it for the weekend, but I definitely encourage you to check out An Economy Doing Half Its Job: Findings of Harvard Business School's 2013-2014 Survey on US Competitiveness. The Harvard researchers, led by Michael Porter and Jan Rivkin, surveyed about 1250 HBS Alumni on questions of US firm's competitiveness, the quality of the workforce from a skills perspective, and their assessment of how the US K-12 Education system is performing in terms of producing capable and qualified workers.

    Long, long story short, while US firms remain highly competitive across a wide range of sectors, the HBS grads' responses about many important workforce-related questions do not bode well for workers today, and in the longer term as well. 

    There are lots of great money quotes from the study, (and again you really should take the time to read it all), but here is one that stuck out for me:

    Workers will not invest in developing their skills if it does not lead to employment and higher living standards. Employers will continue to turn to technology, vendors, or other alternatives to address their needs. The associated loss of productivity growth will further undermine both America’s economic growth and its long-term competitiveness

    Makes sense, people will not be incented to try and get better or improve their skills if they can't see a connection, even a potential connection, between this kind of investment and improved career prospects.

    But even if individuals don't see the link between skills development and a better living standard, then certainly organizations will still continue to invest in skills development anyway, right? After all, the organizations need and lament the lack of skills in large swaths of the workforce. Well, maybe not. Here is a another quote from the HBS study:

    Our survey reveals that business leaders in America are reluctant to hire full-time workers. When possible, they prefer to invest in technology to perform work, outsource activities to third-parties, or hire part-time workers. For instance, 46% of survey respondents strongly or somewhat agreed that their firms' US operations prefer to invest in technology to perform work rather than hire or train employees, while only 25% disagreed.

    So it seems like what we have been mostly thinking is likely mostly true - organizations would rather automate, outsource, find alternative (and cheaper) ways to get work done rather than take on more full-time staff (or train and 'upskill' the staff they have).

    It is a tough problem, with no easy solutions. The HBS authors do make several recommendations to try to better align workforce capability with opportunity and to encourage organizations to make investments in talent much like they have been making investments in technology. And while the answers to these problems are not simple, it does seem that unless we (all of us), begin to take them more seriously that large numbers of American workers are going to be left behind.

    Friday
    Sep052014

    You need a rival, not just more competition

    Wanted to point out to a really interesting study/paper on the effects of rivalry and competition on individual performance. In the study titled 'Driven to Win: Rivalry, Motivation, and Performance', author and researcher Gavin Kilduff took a look at what the phenomenon of interindividual rivalry (think Bird - Magic, Bill Gates - Larry Ellison, or Beatles - Rolling Stones) and its consequences for motivation and task performance.

    Long story short, (and the paper is kind of long so I will save you from reading the entire thing if that is not your bag for a Friday), is that in a study of competitive distance runners it was found that the presence in the competition of a rival, increased individual performance by as much as 25 seconds over a distance of 5K.

    And the paper makes an important distinction between what constitutes a rival versus the more general and generic idea of competition. A rival, in this context, is another runner with which you have competed against numerous times in the past and whose finishing times were consistently near to yours, such that in the course of many races contested over time you would have come to 'know' and recognize that competitor as a rival.

    So at the starting line, during the race, and in the important drive to the finish line you would in theory see and recognize this rival, and at least according to the study, your performance would improve relative to a race where you were just trying to do your best and not trying to best your rival.

    It is kind of an interesting concept I think, that there is a difference in performance that is driven by a rivalry compared to the more general and abstract notion of competition. Competition is vague. A rivalry has a name and a face and talks trash about you sometimes.

    If indeed we perform better when we have a rival what might that suggest for more mundane situations in the workplace? Should managers more actively pit one employee against another in performance-related competitive situations in order to foster the notion of rivalry?

    Should organizations more explicitly identify and benchmark against key competitors and strive to 'defeat' them in sales, recruiting, or other corporate contests?

    Should each if us personally select or identify a 'rival' to measure ourselves against and to compete with on a day-to-day basis?

    It's a jungle out there my friends...

    Happy Friday.