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    Entries in work (71)

    Thursday
    Mar272014

    CHART OF THE DAY: The Falling US Birth Rate

    For today's chart - take a look at the how the USA birth rate has been declining over the last several years, and after the chart, and for no additional costs, I will drop some comments about what, if anything, this might mean for you, the HR/Talent pro:

    What might this mean, or at least suggest?

    1. Your first reaction is that it means nothing. Who cares if there are relatively fewer kids being born right now? This won't impact labor markets for at least another 15 years or so and by then, who cares? A robot will be doing your job by then anyway, right?

    2. But it is not just the sources of candidates/employees that matter or should matter to you. If your business has anything to do with selling products or services to the baby/youth/teen markets, then this trend is going to impact you. And if you think, 'We make industrial products that go into new home construction so this does not affect us', you might want to think again. The declining birth rate shouldn't be considered in a vacuum - their are related trends in marriage rates and ages of first marriage, household formation, and related spending at play here as well. Long story short, Americans are getting married less, are older when and if they do get married, are having fewer children, and are having them at more advanced ages than in the past.

    3. This combination of a decline in birth rate and rise in the average age for both first marriages and having children will, if it has not already, influence your workforce planning processes in a few ways. You might be able to project a decrease or at least a reduction in the rate of increase in your benefits costs for covered dependents in the next few years, as your employees are covering fewer kids than in the past. Your succession planning processes may need to be re-emphasized if later career employees begin leaving (or simply taking leave) for child care reasons. These later career employees, say in their late 30s and up, are likely to have more senior and important roles in your company. Finally, if you are really and truly thinking long-term, say out 10-15 years, larger and wider demographic trends could effect things like expansion plans and ability of organization to move into new markets.

    Perhaps I am stretching credibility by suggesting that you should really be worried about a probably caused by the 2007-2008 recession down trend in the birth rate when you have much more immediate and pressing concerns.

    But I still find this kind of data fascinating, and even if you can't find an immediate or even medium-term impact of these bigger trends, I think they are worth recognizing. If nothing else you will at least know why the local school board wants to consolidate your elementary schools in the next few years.

    Happy Thursday.

    Monday
    Mar242014

    Even 'great' places to work never forget who is in charge, (Hint: It's not you)

    By now you've probably heard something about the several year Department of Justice investigation, corresponding civil class action lawsuit, and various reporting surrounding an almost decade-long series of unfair and anti-competitive labor practices alleged to have occurred among Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe, Intuit, and Pixar.

    To make a (very) long story short, the DOJ, and the claimants, (a group of people that worked for these companies from around 2005 - 2010), hold that these tech industry titans, with their C-level executives full backing, support, and as many, many emails reveal, the knowledge that what they were doing was likely illegal, colluded via a series of 'non-call' agreements to artificially reduce many currently employed staff the ability to seek opportunities at the other firms in the cartel.

    The bare bones of the cartel's structure was pretty simple - Company 'A', say Google, agreed not to cold-call employees from Company 'B', say Apple. Apple, supported from the late Steve Jobs on down, agreed to similar recruiting restrictions in kind. So for many employees at either of the two firms, their ability to fully and freely 'test the market' was constrained by one. If these 'non-call' agreements remained as limited in scope as in the example above, it might not have blown up in the fashion, (DoJ involvement), that is has. But these tech leaders didn't stop at these one-off kinds of reciprocal agreements that we all know are more common than we like to admit.

    No, as the original reporting (and legal documents back up) revealed, what seems to have started with Google getting on Steve Jobs' bad side, then extended to involve a series of other, mostly Silicon Valley tech companies, and as a weekend piece on Pando Daily reports, extended even wider than that - allegedly including companies and employees from dozens of companies all over the world.

    From the Pando Daily piece:

    Confidential internal Google and Apple memos, buried within piles of court dockets and reviewed by PandoDaily, clearly show that what began as a secret cartel agreement between Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Eric Schmidt to illegally fix the labor market for hi-tech workers, expanded within a few years to include companies ranging from Dell, IBM, eBay and Microsoft, to Comcast, Clear Channel, Dreamworks, and London-based public relations behemoth WPP. All told, the combined workforces of the companies involved totals well over a million employees.

    Although the Department ultimately decided to focus its attention on just Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Lucasfilm and Pixar, the emails and memos clearly name dozens more companies which, at least as far as Google and Apple executives were concerned, formed part of their wage-fixing cartel.

    A closer examination of the paper trail that set up and helped to define and enforce these agreements paints an incredibly unflattering picture of the actions and motivations of the executives involved, particularly revered business leaders and tech rock stars such as Jobs, Google's Eric Schmidt, and the then CEO of Ebay, Meg Whitman. A look at the documents reveals company recruiters being fired on the spot for violating these (likely illegal) deals.

    Back when these probably illegal 'non-call' agreements started, Google was on a expansion tear - snapping up talent from wherever it could, driving salary requirements up across the valley in the process. The other companies, naturally, did not like this, and rather than try to compete with Google on a level playing field, at least in the case of Apple, took to issuing threats of 'war', if the talent poaching continued. Google, probably sensing that the compensation acceleration that they themselves were driving must have figured it made more sense to try and play nice in the Valley, appease some of the other powerful industry companies, and maybe use that artificial constraint to keep some more of their own employees from jumping ship to a competitor for more money.

    You really should take the time to read the Pando Daily reporting on this case here and here, it helps to paint a different picture of what we normally get from those typical darlings of modern, progressive talent management.

    Even these companies, many of them regular winners of various 'Great Places to Work' lists never forget that at some point if employee compensation, (and relative power), shifts too far towards the side of the talent and away from management that they have a problem. Remember that when you read another fawning piece about how miraculous their talent management seem to be.

    They might have been, and still might be, 'Great Places to Work' but they didn't get that way by playing nice all the time. And at least some of the time, it seems, they got that way by illegally colluding to reduce the market for the very talent that makes them such a great place to work.

    Final thought, it might be easy to laugh this off as a first-world problem. Highly paid workers at these kinds of firms are doing just fine, so what that there were a few 'non-call' agreements going on. They are all making six-figure salaries so what is the harm?

    I will give you two reasons:

    1. For many tech workers, their careers are turning out to be not that much different that pro athletes - the length of time when their skills are in demand (and their compensation can be the highest), can be extremely short. Just do a search for 'technology ageism' some time. Tech workers have to maximize earnings over a shorter time horizon than the rest of us. Keeping wages artificially lower for them hurts just as much as the rookie scale hurts talented pro football players.

    2. If relatively well off, educated, talented, smart, and powerful employees like the ones at the firms that were in this cartel can be taken advantage of and have their wages depressed in this manner, then what does that say for the millions of workers that are not so powerful and advantaged? With union membership and influence at an all-time low, one of the few things that can at least try to protect workers is the free market for their services. If high-tech companies like Apple and Google can change that dynamic at the high-end, what would stop a few firms where you live getting together to do the same on the middle and low end for jobs in retail, service, or in back offices? That does not sound any crazier an idea to me than Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt emailing each other angry messages about cold-calling.

    I'm going to stop here, (bless you if you have made it this far), and just say that no matter what accolades that any company receives, we'd all be wise to remember that their are always two kinds of people - people that work in the factory, and people that own the factory.

    Have a great week!

    Monday
    Mar172014

    The new rites of passage

    Dads and sons have always had some kind of rite of passage, when the son proved that he was ready to be more of an equal, more of a grown-up. The old rites of passage for little boys used to be mostly physical, i.e. the son would finally defeat the Dad in one-on-one basketball or in an arm wrestling contest. Now it seems more and more that these rites of passage, or at least these more casual acknowledgements of a son or daughter moving up closer towards adulthood involve technology. Now these rites are likely to have as much to do with a parent, (like me, for example), breaking down and having to ask my son to explain how to adjust and align the apps on my new iPhone.

    And it doesn't stop with the iPhone - I have asked my middle schooler to help me with sound editing the podcast and music files on the HR Happy Hour Show, to use photoshop to fix some images I needed for a presentation, and even as my 'one-kid-focus-group' in my totally unscientific attempts to think about where technology might be heading and what kinds of tools and interfaces the next generation of workers might prefer. These, at least to me, are pretty serious, and kind of important things.

    But when I look back, just one generation, I can't imagine a time when my dad would have asked a 13-year-old me to explain anything important or help him with anything that really mattered in his professional life. 

    I helped by cutting the grass, shoveling snow, and performing various and sundry menial labor kinds of tasks that certainly helped my Dad out, but were not really meaningful or important in the larger sense. Sure, you can go on about teaching kids the value of hard work, of the value of dignity in that kind of work, and I get that. But it's just that I for one never have looked longingly back at my childhood and thought, 'Man it was great training for life, all that grass cutting and weed pulling I did back then.'

    I thought about this last week when the area where I live was hit with about one foot of wind-driven snow.

    Snow drifts the next morning were up to 3 or 4 feet in places, (including much of my driveway), and I had to spend a few hours digging out. My son was out of town on a school trip (Convenient!), so was not available to enlist in forced labor be taught the lessons and values of hard work.

    The entire time I was working on clearing the driveway I noticed exactly zero other kids out and about in what is normally a busy neighborhood. No kids shoveling their own driveways or walks, no kids or teenagers working the neighborhood with their shovels trying to earn a few dollars by helping residents dig out, no kids even outside playing in the fresh foot of snow.

    Back in the day an enterprising kid or teenager could have and would have tried to earn $50 or even $100 if he/she busted it all day with a shovel. But those days are long gone, I think.

    Today I bet all the enterprising kids and teens decided to stay inside on that snowy day - making their videos, learning to code, building apps, working on the next generation of amazing stuff that we will have to ask their help with in learning how to use one day.

    Have a great week!

    Friday
    Mar142014

    Ask this question first

    Winding down to the end of a long, and extremely snowy week here (Thanks Vulcan!), with a quick shot and sort of a companion to the first post of the week, 'The trouble with deadlines.'

    In the 'Deadlines' post, I submitted that when attempting to negotiate the completion of some task, the key information wasn't (just) how long the given task would take to complete, but rather how motivated your co-worker, colleague, supplier - whichever was about even starting, much less completing said task.

    So today I'm giving you the opposite side of the equation - most of us, no matter what kind of role we are in, are facing a barrage of 'asks'.

    Can you do this?

    Would you review this?

    I emailed you last week about this, have not heard back, so I am passive-aggressively forwarding the same email I already sent so you can see how serious I am in my desire to get an answer.

    What's the status of that?

    Did you speak to Molly about that?

    And on and on.

    Once your job starts to get a little complex, requires just a touch of individual judgment or discretion in not just how but in what order you attack the large list of 'asks' that keep coming, it can get really, really tough for some people, (Note: I am sometimes one of these people), to make those very critical to your success decisions about prioritizing and time management.

    So while it is so easy (and sometimes compelling) to turn towards the endless 'To-do list' each day, I think it makes more sense, or at least helps to offer some clarity and context, to ask yourself this one question each day, (or at least at the beginning of each week), before you take on anything, apply any 'productivity' system, or otherwise start the process of meeting other people's demands.

    Here's the question:

    What is the most important way to spend my time and effort?

    Asking this question, and taking just a half-step back from the 'list', where you'd be asking yourself a question like 'What task should I attack first?' is a way to remind yourself just what is it you are meant to be doing, what overarching goals are you working towards, and how your active decisions about time and task management will or will not contribute to those goals.

    And if a big part of what you are working towards are personal goals, then re-setting with that one question will naturally or at least usually force a re-alignment of the To-do list away from prioritizing the tasks that are mostly about other people's goals and guide you to keep your eye (and time and energy), on the things that matter to what you are trying to get done.

    I am not saying that you or me or anyone else should not be a team player, far from it, working on the team and contributing in a team setting might be extremely important to you and thus the 'asks' that come from this team context should fit the model of focusing your time in the most important manner.

    But it is also really easy to have these kinds 'Other people's most important things' asks to show up in your Inbox masquerading as 'Team' asks.

    And I think it is important to recognize that, and understand what the difference means to you, your career, and your success, and your happiness.

    Have a great weekend!

    Thursday
    Mar132014

    How much does industry specific experience matter?

    Lifted from a comment left on Tuesday's 'Chocolate Foresight Activator' post was this question from commenter Stew, who wondered about my conclusion/observation that since Hershey didn't mention the word 'chocolate' at all in the job posting for this 'Chocolate Futurist' role, that maybe what they really wanted was the best marketer/planner/designer/strategist they could find, even if he/she didn't know much or even care about chocolate:

    This job scares me a little as it sounds more like the "Phillip Morris's" style job..

    i.e. you don't have to care about smoking - just love marketing.

    If you look at "Whittakers Chocolate" they would argue you should have a passion for the chocolate......and the marketing will follow.

    Another way of raising the classic question about industry specific experience, and its relative importance as a predictor of success in most types of support functions or back office roles.

    Or said differently, do you really need to have had 5 years experience as a chocolate company marketer, in order to qualify for a job as a marketing manager for say a jelly bean manufacturer?

    Or does someone's marketing functional experience generally translate across industries, making the fundamental or core marketing skills like demand generation, content creation, sales enablement, etc. the real prerequisites for success in most any marketing job?

    After all, a bright enough and motivated enough person can learn just about anything, (leaving aside for obvious reasons those highly skilled and really critical you don't mess up kinds of jobs like airline pilot, brain surgeon, point guard), so in the above example if an organization had a choice between a great marketer than did not know the candy business or a candy expert that did not know much about marketing, then which way should they go?

    But since no one has time, budget, resources to do much on the job training, we usually try to land candidates that meet both criteria - functional expertise and industry experience.

    We want candidates to show not only can they do the job, but that they can do the job here.

    I wonder how much of the 'skills gap' isn't masquerading as a 'industry experience gap?'

    What say you, how much, for roles that are generally pretty transferable from one domain to another, does specifc industry experience matter for a candidate?