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    Entries in work (216)

    Friday
    May102013

    Human Resources when there are less humans around

    The below chart (or a version of it) has been making the rounds plenty in the last year or so as the American economy rebounds and seemingly continues to strengthen coming out of the financial crisis and ensuing recession of the late aughts.

    It shows how despite corporate profits, expressed as a percentage of GDP, continuing to set records, that those record profits have not (taken in aggregate), translated into lots of new jobs, as the labor participation rate shows.

    Source - FRED 

    As the chart pretty clearly shows, aggregate corporate profits (the red line), after plunging to a low at about the middle of the recession, late 2008, have rebounded considerably, and now are at all-time record levels as a percentage of GDP.

    The employment rate however, after taking an equally dramatic fall throughout the entire recession, finally stabilized at a far lower level than pre-recession, and despite, (or some might argue what has been the primary driver of), rising corporate profits is showing no signs of regaining its former levels of around 62%.

    Profits are up, way up even, yet corporations are achieving these profits with far fewer workers than before, (and paying them less, generally. We could also factor in wage growth or lack thereof to make that point at well).

    There are lots of reasons for this - technological progress, increased automation, continuing reliance on relatively cheaper foreign labor, diminishing influence of labor unions, the aging of the workforce, etc. but the bottom line seems to be an ever-growing bottom line with less and less actual people needed to make that happen.

    No doubt if you are one of the workers in the 'right' kind of job, you are probably doing pretty well or are on the way to doing pretty well. But if you are one of the people that might be in a field that has simply figured out to continue to drive profits without as many people, then things could be looking kind of grim.

    Where does all this leave you as an HR/Talent pro?

    A lot depend on the company/industry you are in. But in aggregate, certainly, when there are less and less 'humans' in the workforce, then corporations will figure out they need less and less Human Resources people to help look after them all. I have talked with a few HR leaders lately that are seeing both the size of their labor forces hold steady and their HR/EE ratios holding an extremely high levels.

    Advice?

    Make sure you are spending a decent chunk of your time and energy on things that are truly additive - technology that will help employees generate new ideas and innovations, marketing and recruiting strategies that will let you land more than your share of the best talent at the expense of your competitors, and even in an 'addition-by-subtraction' way, elimination of silly rules, policies, or processes that in any way get in the way of employee performance.

    And you could spend some time figuring out what kinds of planning, services, training, development, and team building activities that 'resources' like our pal Baxter needs and you might ride this out a little longer.

    Have a great weekend!

    Monday
    Apr222013

    If you're reading this, it's because you caught up on email last night

    Note: This post was written on Sunday and was set to publish on Monday morning at about 9:00AM ET.

    From the 'no one cares but me' department, I will mention that probably 75% of the posts that run on this blog are written on the weekends. For me, the weekends are when I prefer (generally) to do the 'non-work' work - the blog, trying to figure out what to do with HR Happy Hour, (a post on that coming, maybe this week), working on HRevolution, (more on that very soon too), and of course watching my beloved Knicks in the playoffs.

    This past weekend however, had a little more 'real work' than most, we spent a fair bit of time working on the agenda for the upcoming HR Technology Conference in October, (and in the spirit of shameless promotion, you really should lock in your plans to attend now, it is shaping up to be another fantastic event). As you'd expect, or maybe not, over the weekend there was a fair number of emailing going on with various presenters, sponsors, internal staff, etc. finalizing copy, double-checking titles and responsibilities, confirming things, etc.  And through all the back and forth over the last two days I was struck by the remarkable levels of responsiveness from people external to the process. In other words, it seemed like everyone we needed some information from was on their work email, pretty much at all times.  The 'sent from my iPhone' may have been in the signature for most of these exchanges, but that's no matter, the connectedness was astounding, although thinking about it more, maybe I should no longer be surprised.

    Because we don't ever fully disconnect, at least not nearly like we used to, (and perhaps should). I know that is not really anything you don't know, perhaps you yourself are one of those folks that taps out emails on Saturday morning from the sidelines of the U9 soccer game, or while you are waiting in the line at Starbucks. But while the ubiquity of connection and ability to respond at any time is clearly apparent to everyone, what isn't clear at all, if it ever really gets spoken of, are the expectations around connectivity and response.

    What I mean is this - the first time that you as a new employee in an organization get an email from the boss or even a more senior colleague on a Saturday morning is the expectation there that you will respond? If so, then how quickly? And with what level of ongoing commitment, i.e., how long should you be expected to stop what you're doing and more or less, 'work?', assuming the work we are talking about is normal, day-to-day stuff and not some kind of emergency, real or invented. Chances are you, or your new team members don't really know either, at least not right away. When work is always-on, always within reach, and it becomes really, really, easy for it to become a seven-day-a-week proposition, do you know anymore where the boundary or dividing line it between 'working' and 'not working?'

    I still can kind of remember the time when if you needed something from someone, you had to get on them very early on Monday morning with a call or an email - before they became inundated with other things and meetings. Then that window of opportunity kind of moved to Sunday night, because it seems lots and lots of folks spend some sofa-time on Sunday nights trying to triage their Inboxes.  Now, who knows, maybe Saturday morning is the new Sunday night which used to be the old Monday morning.

    Either way, I think eventually this has to catch up to us, in the way we talk to employees about expectations, about how we ensure people are getting at least some time to disconnect, and how we think about work and all the other things that are not work.

    You are a smart HR person right? Have you asked your IT staff to show you an organization email usage report lately? 

    How much work went on over the weekend? Besides the work you did.

    Happy Monday!

    Monday
    Apr152013

    What do cat videos and unauthorized outsourcing have in common?

    Let's review two recent stories of shall we say, extremely 'creative' approaches that individual workers have taken in order to get their jobs done more efficiently:

    One - Collections agent develops software program to automate 95% of his job, uses his free time to play cube wars with his colleagues and watch Office Space

    Two - Software developer outsources his work to a Chinese firm for a fraction of his salary, spends most of his 'workday' surfing Reddit and watching cat videos.

    Pretty amusing stories, and they justifiably made the rounds across the tech news sites when they hit. Everyone, particularly occasionally too smart for their own good techies, love a good Dilbert-esque story of managerial incompetence, developer/employee creativity, and the absurdity of corporate life.

    But dig just a tiny bit deeper than that and what do we see in these examples? What's the common denominator across these tales?

    Well to me, they are almost completely classic examples of management (or leadership if you think that reads better), lack of attention to, respect for, and appreciation of the talents, ideas, and abilities inherent in their teams.

    In the case of the collections agent, it was obvious that even a cursory attempt to streamline and automate the existing work process would result in both cost savings and increased collection rates. And in the case of the software development outsourcing, again, clearly it was a business strategy that resulted in equal or better product quality and significantly reduced costs.

    Both these novel and creative approaches were so apparent and easy to uncover for these two workers on the front lines that they were able to implement them on their own, without the need of a big project team, some kind of formal process or model, without a fancy consultant coming up with the idea, and perhaps most importantly - unencumbered by corporate hierarchy, politics, and 'We have always done it this way' syndrome.

    The ideas your organization needs are not locked up in some guru's head or just floating somewhere in space. They are probably right in front of you - in the workarounds, shortcuts, and 'unauthorized' arrangements that your most creative workers have already taken. 

    You'd be better off trying to get these ideas more out in the open, rather than continuing to perpetuate an environment where great ideas have to hide.

    Tuesday
    Apr022013

    Spring Break Rewind #2 - Tuesday, rain, and playing the long game

    Note: It is Spring Break week here in Western New York, (for the school-age kids anyway), and while I will still be working and traveling to New York City to present at a conference, this week will be busier than most. So this week on the blog I'll be re-running some pieces from the last 12 months or so. Yes, I am being lazy. Cut me some slack. Anyway, if you are on Spring Break this week, I hope you have a great little vacation!

    This piece - 'Tuesday, rain, and playing the long game', originally ran in September 2012.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Ever since Malcolm Gladwell pitched his now famous 10,000 hours theory, it cemented into our awareness what most everyone has known for a really long time - overnight success is usually not overnight at all, and the long, slow grind of experiments, failures, refinements, learning, and disappointments is what (mostly) leads to what only seems like overnight success.Johns - Figure 4

    Even the 'Gangnam Style' guy has been plying his craft in one form or another for over 10 years.

    We all know this to be true, it isn't novel, we were usually taught this in school starting in about 3rd grade, or whenever it was we ran face first into that first subject or concept that we didn't just 'get' right away. Maybe it was fractions, maybe sentence structure, adverbs, or long division - once that first bit of frustration with not understanding hits, we generally realize pretty quick the only (ethical) way forward is long, boring, hard, and largely unsatisfying effort. Unsatisfying until we do finally 'get it' and say things like 'It's all been worth it', or in the case of calculus, 'I'm glad I'll never have to go through that again.'

    So while the 'you have to work really hard for a long time to become great at anything' isn't news, it still is a sentiment or guide that still bears repeating from time to time, (at least for me). And rarely have I seen it expressed as well as in a recent piece on the ESPN True Hoop blog called 'The long game is the only game', by Henry Abbott, (I know you are shocked, a basketball site).  

    Here's the money quote from Henry:

    It may appear that NBA games are won with big moments when everybody is looking -- dunking over people, blocking shots, hitting a momentous jumper. And once in a while that does happen. But the reality is that many more careers and games turn on getting things right in the millions of small moments when nobody is looking. The big moments will always dominate the Hollywood version of events. But in real life, if you want to do the most you can to get the best possible results, it's a long game of putting together one solid day of training after another.

    You want to know who's going to have the best NBA career? You could do worse than to simply figure out who puts in the most work to prepare.

    Maybe in the NBA there are some exceptions to this, there are some supremely talented and physically gifted guys where the need for the day-in, day-out slog is not necessary to have successful and even legendary careers. But those guys are extremely rare, often work and practice much, much more than they let on, and often are looked back upon as not making the most of their physical gifts.

    For the rest of us, who can't dunk a ball, or for whom irrational number theory never came naturally, we have to continue to grind away. 

    I got up early today, it's Tuesday, it's cold and raining. The kind of day that is pretty easy to fold to, to simply go through the motions,  and come back tomorrow.

    But that never gets it done.

    Friday
    Feb082013

    It's Friday - you can't possibly STILL be working, can you?

    Here is a really quick take for a blustery Friday as I stare out the window awaiting the arrival of Winter Storm Nemo, (Yes, we are naming winter storms now. Silly. Next thing you know people will be naming their hangovers. 'Sorry I can't make it to the office today. I got hit by Hangover Bacardi this morning.')

    I thought about the storm's impending arrival across the Northeast, and the havoc that these types of weather events play on work, school, travel, etc., and then it hit me - it's Friday, most of us shouldn't even be working at all.  In the future, and if one Danish academic has anything to say about it, once you've put in about 25 solid hours for the week, you should be able to pack it in, put your feet up, and drink cocoa and watch the snow.

    How so?

    Take a look at the reasoning behind Professor James Vaupel's assertion from a piece on the Science Nordic blog, (you have that one in your Google Reader, right?), titled - 'We should only work 25 hours a week, argues Professor'

    When you’re 20, you would rather spend more time with your friends. When you’re 35, you want time with your kids. But then when you reach 70, you have far too much time on your hands.

    This scenario probably sounds familiar to many people today. But there are good arguments for changing this. We should aim for more leisure time in our youth and instead work a bit more when we get older.

    “We’re getting older and older here in Denmark. Kids who are ten years old today should be able to work until the age of 80. In return, they won’t need to work more than 25 hours per week when they become adults,” says Professor James W. Vaupel.

    In socio-economic terms it makes a lot of sense. The important thing is that we all put in a certain amount of work – not at what point in our lives we do it. In the 20th century we had a redistribution of wealth. I believe that in this century, the great redistribution will be in terms of working hours." 

    Interesting take for sure. Kind of makes sense in a way, I think. If indeed via a combination of longer life expectancies, advances in medical care and technology that will make us capable of being productive workers into our 70s and 80s, and even economic necessity - it seems almost certain most of us, and definitely our kids, will have longer working lives than our parents and grandparents did.

    Professor Vaupel thinks there should be a kind of societal trade-off - in exchange for signing up for working until you are 82 (or you keel over), you get to put in 25 hours or so a week when you are in your 20s and 30s, in theory so you can enjoy your life more, spend time with friends, go surfing, raise your kids, etc.

    Sort of a crazy, only a European would think that way kind of an idea, but one that does at least force us to think about what the impact of an aging workforce might be in the future.

    What's your take - do we all, especially us Americans, work too much? 

    Are we going to continue to work too much way into our Golden Years?

    Are you going to send your Gen Y staff home for the day after you read this, making them PROMISE to take care of you in about 30 years?

    Have a Great Weekend!