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    Entries in work (91)

    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.

    Friday
    Aug292014

    LABOR DAY: What were the best and worst jobs you've ever had?

    Happy Labor Day Weekend!

    Labor Day is awesome. In fact, I think it might be awesome not just for the BBQ, (a good enough reason to love it, I plan on smoking my first ever pork belly this weekend), but also for the fact that it is one of the few holidays where we don't have to be constantly admonished to 'Remember the true meaning of the day'.

    No one seems to really care anymore about the 'true meaning' of Labor Day. The battle is mostly over. 'Labor' has more or less lost. 

    But so what? Let's have some burgers!

    So maybe we can try and have some fun today and share both our best and worst jobs that we have ever had.

    Just one tip though, if your current job is the worst one you have ever had, you might not necessarily share that one in the comments, just in case you still need that terrible job.

    So here goes, my best and worst jobs:

    Best Job - A tough call, but I am going to go with the gig I had helping to implement accounting and finance software for AT&T Saudi Arabia back in the 90s. The cool parts of the job were getting a chance to learn how business really got done, (we had to rename 'bribes' into 'facilitative payments' for example), living and working in the Middle East (much, much more fun than you would imagine), and having my career trajectory completely changed from that point forward. Lots of great memories from that gig.

    Worst Job - Again a tough call, as I have had a number of terrible jobs. But the worst was probably the summer job I had between Freshman and Sophomore year of college where I picked orders for grocery and convenience stores in a massive, refrigerated warehouse. And on the graveyard shift as well. Heavy lifting, freezing all the time, sitting outside on a stoop at 4AM to eat 'lunch' and to try and warm up does not equal good times. Sure, there was an occasional bit of fun, (once an entire pallet of orange juice cartons crashed from about 50 feet up), but the other 98.5% of the time there was pretty miserable.

    How about you? Feel free to share in the comments your best and worst jobs as well.

    Have a fantastic Labor Day Weekend!

    Wednesday
    Aug272014

    The Gamers are Taking Over the World

    The Video Gamers that is...

    Five quick links that hopefully will get you thinking just a little bit differently or more broadly about the role and value that video games, particularly multi-player online games are having in society, and ultimately workplaces.

    First the big news from earlier in the week:

    Amazon to buy video game broadcasting site Twitch for $970M (CNNMoney)

    Amazon agreed on Monday to pay $970 million to acquire Twitch, a service that lets users watch and broadcast video game play. Each month millions of people tune into Twitch to watch friends and strangers play video games, including competitive tournaments.

    An acquisition by Amazon and the lofty price tag would seem to validate the rise of gaming as a spectator sport. Advertisers are often willing to spend top dollar to reach audiences lured by live sporting events.

    "Broadcasting and watching gameplay is a global phenomenon and Twitch has built a platform that brings together tens of millions of people who watch billions of minutes of games each month," Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement.

    Just how popular are video game tournaments, not just online but as big-time events?

    League of Legends eSports Finals Watched by 32 Million People (The Verge)

    Riot Games has claimed that its largest eSports event yet, the League of LegendsSeason 3 World Championship broadcast over Twitch livestream on October 4th, was watched by 32 million people, 8.5 million of whom were watching at the same time. The numbers shatter previous records for eSports viewership, and show that video game streams can rival TV in terms of scale and reach.

    But is anyone, besides the big medial companies, actually making eSports an actual, you know, career?

    The Highest-paid Professional Gamers in the World (Business Insider) 

    Playing video games for a living is the dream of pretty much every adolescent male at one point or another. Believe it or not, there are gamers who are doing exactly that. And they're making some serious money. e-Sports Earnings has ranked the 100 players with the highest overall earnings from competitive gaming. Over 60 gamers have earned over $100,000 in prize money. To top it off, that's not even counting the sponsorship deals and income that many of these players receive from streaming their practice games on services like Twitch.

    Well, so what really? And this is a (mostly) HR/Talent/HR Tech blog, so why are we visiting video games again?

    Should You Put World of Warcraft on Your Resume? (HBR)

    The cognitive and social skills demanded in complex multiplayer games can be every bit as subtle, sophisticated and challenging as stud poker or bridge. Indeed, I know Silicon Valley and (admittedly younger) hedge fund quant teams who bond and boost morale through their Minecraft bouts. I may not fully understand the details of what they’re doing but there’s no doubt that these interactions are building relationships as well as protective structures. These teams —and the organizations that employ them—would likely welcome colleagues and candidates with authentic video-game passion and talent. Trust me, these folks will not be golfing at Torrey Pines.

    And one more, just to offer a hint or two at where things might be heading. And note, while typing this post up I had on some sports talk radio on in the background where the hosts just spent 10 minutes talking about the latest NFL suspension levied upon a player for launching his body/helmet missile-like at a defenseless opponent.

    Gladwell: Why College Football is Like Dog Fighting (CNN)

    In what way is dog fighting any different from football on a certain level, right? I mean you take a young, vulnerable dog who was made vulnerable because of his allegiance to the owner and you ask him to engage in serious sustained physical combat with another dog under the control of another owner, right?

    Well, what's football? We take young boys, essentially, and we have them repeatedly, over the course of the season, smash each other in the head, with known neurological consequences. And why do they do that? Out of an allegiance to their owners and their coaches and a feeling they're participating in some grand American spectacle. They're the same thing. And the idea that as a culture we would be absolutely quick and sure about coming to the moral boiling point over the notion that you would do this to dogs and yet completely blind to the notion you would do this to young men is, to my mind, astonishing. I mean there's a certain point where I just said, you know, we have to say enough is enough.

    Steve here - You were probably surprised a little bit on Monday when you heard about Amazon dropping just shy of $1B on a video game streaming site called Twitch. And if you were surprised that is ok, for now anyway. 

    But I think as a progressive HR and Talent professional you probably need to become more familiar and comfortable with thinking about games and gamers a little bit differently.

    Video games are everywhere. They are mainstream. And more and more people are going to walk into your office and want to talk about the success they have had leading teams in GTAIV or World of Warcraft and hopefully you will get what they are talking about, just like you inherently understand and value 'real' sports backgrounds and success.

    Happy Wednesday.