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    Entries in workforce (65)

    Wednesday
    Oct042017

    The sometimes fine line between retention and regrettable turnover

    Your pal Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine passed away last week at the age of 91.

    While you probably now plenty (maybe more than you care to know) about the Playboy brand and Hef's pretty remarkable life, you might not know the impetus for him setting off to create Playboy magazine and launch 294,295 'I only subscribe for the articles' gimmicks.

    According to the Chicago Tribune's accounting of Hef's long life, at 26 years old Hef left his copy writing job at Esquire Magazine to launch Playboy after the prescient folks at Esquire denied his request for a $5 per week wage raise.

    After being rebuffed by the thrifty team at Esquire, Hef cobbled together about $8,000 of investment and borrowed funds to debut Playboy in 1953 and the rest, as they say, is bunny-eared history.

    No one is likely around who was in the meeting at Esquire when the 'We can't give him $5 more a week' decision came down, so the rest of this is pure speculation. But that kind of decision really reeks of process, politics, salary review periods formalities, and a bunch of other formal HR and talent management 'rules' that can often get in the way of managers and leaders doing right by the business.

    Hef does not get the extra fiver per week, and out the door he goes and eventually, (actually it happened pretty quickly), becomes a legend in the magazine industry. 

    Oh yeah, the same industry he was working in that thought he was not worth a sawbuck every pay periiod.

    It can be a fine line, a really fine line, sometimes between what good, valuable, productive, and 'want to be loyal' people want and what might send them out the door.

    In this case it was $5.

    In your case, it could be your best support person wanting to flex her hours once a week, or your third-best salesperson not wanting to show up at the office if he doesn't have outside calls one morning, or the 3rd year pro who is killing it in the marketing team and that you know you seriously low balled when you brought her in in 2014.

    RIP Hef. I am kind of glad Esquire wouldn't pay up back in 1953.

    I mean, if they had paid up, I would have missed LOTS of great articles...

    Wednesday
    Aug302017

    What should an employer do when the state reduces the minimum wage?

    While confessing to not knowing any of the back story or local details behind this, I read with interest this piece in the Atlantic about the state of Missouri rollback of the city of St. Louis minimum wage from $10/hour back down to $7.70/hour. The Atlantic piece is solid, if a little long, so if you don't have time to dig in to it the essentials are as follows:

    1. The city passed an ordinance which was designed to gradually increase the minimum wage in St. Louis from $7.70 to $11. The wage had hit $10 just three months ago, in May.

    2. The state of Missouri, whose governor and state legislature were not in favor of this increase, passed a so-called 'preemption' law, effectively barring cities and other local jurisdictions from setting local minimum wages at a level greater than the state level minimum wage.

    3. The preemption law went into effect on this past Monday, reducing or re-aligning the minimum wage in St. Louis back down to the state level of $7.70.

    Got all that?

    Why this was interesting to me was not because of the politics of it, the local control vs. state level authority issues, or even the economic benefits and/or constraints that minimum wages place on labor markets.

    What is interesting is the dynamics at individual employers who just three months ago were forced/compelled to raise wages to $10/hour for anyone earning less than that, and who know are allowed, by virtue of the preemption law going into effect, to cut wages back, as far back as $7.70.

    These numbers might seem small, but a cut from $10 to $7.70 is almost a 25% reduction in pay. I don't care what you are earning, if the boss cuts you by a quarter, you are going to feel some pain.

    So back to the interesting, (to me) stuff. Employers in St. Louis have three (maybe more, but they would be variations of these), options with respect to the wages of any folks they had to give increases to back in May,

    1. Cut everyone who was bumped up to $10 back to their wage level as of May. 

    2. Keep everyone at $10 who was given the bump in May.

    3. Pick and choose who gets to stay at $10, (the better performers, more essential folks), and bump others back to their May hourly rate, or some other rate less than $10 that better reflects their performance, value, and position relative to their peers.

    Options 1 and 2 are the easiest to implement, and for different reasons, the easiest to justify back to the employees. Which is why I would expect that the vast majority of employers will opt for one of these approaches,

    Option 3 is harder to effect, requires better understanding of employee performance and value, needs managers that know what is going on and can communicate clearly why decisions are being made the way they are, and could possibly drive better overall performance, as better workers feel more rewarded, and the others see a way to work towards the wages they desire.

    Yep, Option 3 is definitely much harder to pull off. Which for some cynical reason seems to me the one that the fewest employers will pursue.

    Have a great day!

    Monday
    Aug282017

    In the automation era, maybe people are still a competitive advantage

    In the last year of so I kind of moved off of the 'robots are taking all the jobs' topic as I had gotten a little tired of it and after reading 17.993 pieces on the subject it is pretty clear that nothing at all is clear about it.

    Maybe the robots will take all of the jobs. Maybe they will only take the 'bad' jobs that we don't want to do. Or maybe we will have to someday co-exist with our robot masters.

    Or maybe people and our unique ability to connect with other people will continue to be an important competitive differentiator in a world where we seem more and more inclined to develop and implement technology to remove people from business processes. Tale a look at an excerpt from a piece in Fortune last week about how the home improvement and supply giant Lowes is rethinking the importance of real, live employees in delivering better customer service, (emphasis mine)

    The company (Lowes) said its adjusted profit was $1.57 per share, below analysts' average estimate of $1.61, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, while net sales climbed 6.8 percent to $19.50 billion, short of forecasts for $19.53 billion. Comparable sales rose 4.5%, well below the result posted last week by Home Depot, suggesting Lowe's continues to struggle to capitalize on the housing boom compared to its nemesis.

    But the home improvement retailer thinks it has found a solution: increasing hours for store workers to improve customer service.

    "While our results were below our expectations in the first half of this year, the team remains focused on making the necessary investments to improve the customer experience," CEO Robert Niblock said in a statement. He added: "This includes amplifying our consumer messaging and incremental customer-facing hours in our stores." 

    'Incremental customer-facing hours' might be the worst possible CEO-speak for 'putting more employees on the floor' but the real point can't be lost in the gobbledy-gook. If you have ever shopped in a Lowes or similar big-box format store you know that actually finding a customer service employee to help you with a question or to get help locating an item can be a daunting task. It seems so obvious that increasing staffing, hours, and enhancing the knowledge of store associates would likely drive significant increases in customer satisfaction, sales, and longer term loyalty.

    But in the last several years most businesses like Lowes have seemed to focus energy and investment in all things digital - better websites and apps, self-checkouts, and even in Lowes case - actual robots that work in the stores.

    But maybe, still, consumers see the value, understanding, and empathy that only people can provide. Maybe in a world where it seems like most of your competitors are moving towards ecosystems and processes that remove people and increase automation that actually providing old-school, in-person, and expert customer service, (from human employees), can still be a source of competitive advantage.

    Really interesting times we live in where increasing customer service employees to improve a customer service problem seems like a bold, innovative, out of the box strategy.

    Have a great week!

    Wednesday
    Aug232017

    Tenure and Unhappiness at Work

    Caught some interesting data looking at the happiness and satisfaction with work of employees in the UK broken down by different age cohorts. As reported in Bloomberg, UK workers aged 35 years and up were twice as likely to be unhappy with work as their younger, millennial colleagues.

    Here's a quick look at one data set from the research conducted by Happiness Works and Robert Half UK about employee unhappiness distributed across age groups:

    According to this data, unhappiness at work takes a pretty decent sized step up in the 35 to 54 age group and increase a bit more with the 55+ group. Couple of small/medium/big things to think about before we take this data totally at face value.

    One is just what do we mean by 'unhappiness?' Is it 'kind of had a bad day that day' unhappiness or is it 'I am about three minutes away from quitting and smashing the printer on the way out the door' unhappiness? And second, what is the 'normal' or expected amount of unhappiness we'd expect to find in an average workplace? I can't think of any scenario when you get a large group of people in any kind of shared endeavor where some of them wouldn't be happy. Even a few folks I heard from yesterday thought the Great American Solar Eclipse was a little underwhelming.

    But getting past those concerns for a second, let's think about the implications of increasing unhappiness as the workforce ages a bit more. If true, or even kind of true, this could be an issue for more and more workplaces and more and more leaders of HR and people.

    Here's some more data, courtesy of my pals at the BLS. From 2015, a quick look at the median age of the US workforce, and some projections out to 2024

    How about that? The US labor force is trending older, and the trend is expected to hold for the next decade if not a little longer. So if workforces are getting older and unhappiness with work seems to be associated with the employee's age, then you could expect even more acute challenges to come with respect to happiness and its cousin employee engagement.

    The problem of course with aging in the workforce is that it is pretty similar to our own personal battles with aging and its effects. It happens, or seems to happen, so gradually that we hardly even notice it. And then Wham! all of a sudden we have gotten older. And we usually are not prepared for that day.

    If you are someone who has some concern or responsibility for the health, wellbeing, happiness, and productivity of a workplace you probably ought to be thinking about these issues a bit more than you have in the past.

    And it probably wouldn't hurt to take time to think about your own happiness and wellbeing too.

     

    Tuesday
    May092017

    Never gets tired, never stops learning

    Sharing another dispatch from the 'robots are coming to take all our jobs away' world with this recent piece from Digiday, "Who needs media planners when a tireless robot named Albert can do the job?".

    The back story of this particular implementation of AI to replace, (or as we will learn, perhaps just augment or supplement human labor), comes from advertising, where the relatively new concept of programmatic digital advertising has emerged in the last few years. Part of the process of getting things like banner ads, Facebook ads, display ads, and even branded video ads in front of consumers involves marketers choosing the type of ads to show, the content of those ads, the days/times to show the ads, and finally the platforms upon which to push the ads to.

    If it all sounds pretty complex to you, then you're right.

    Enter "Albert." As per the Digiday piece once the advertiser, (in this case Dole Foods), set some blanket objectives and goals, then Albert determined what media to invest in at what times and in what formats. And it also decided where to spend the brand’s budget. On a real-time basis, it was able to figure out the right combinations for creative and headlines.  For example, once Albert determined that Dole’s user engagement rate on Facebook was 40 percent higher for mobile than desktop, Albert shifted more budget to mobile.

    The results have been impressive; According to Dole, the brand had an 87 percent in increase in sales versus the prior year.

    Why bring this up here, on a quasi-HR blog?

    Because it highlights really clearly, a real-life example of the conditions of work that are most ripe for automation, (or at least augmentation). Namely, a data-intensive, detailed, and heavy data volume environment that has to be analyzed, a fast-moving and rapidly paced set of changing conditions that need to be reacted to in real-time, (and 24/7), and finally, the need to be constantly assessing outcomes and making comparisons of choices in order to adjust strategies and execution plans to optimize for the desired outcomes.

    People are good at those things. But AI like Albert might be (probably are) better at those things.

    But in the piece we also see the needed and hard-to-automate contributions of the marketing people at Dole as well.

    They have to give Albert the direction and set the desired business goals - sales, clicks, 'likes', etc.

    They have to develop the various creative content and options from which Albert will eventually choose to run. 

    And finally, they have to know if Albert's recommendations actually do make sense and 'fit' with the overall brand message and strategy.

    Let's recap: People - set goals, strategic objectives, develop creative content, and "understand" the company, brand, context, and environment. AI: executes at scale, assesses results in real-time, optimizes actions in order to meet stated goals, and provides openness into the actions it is taking.

    It sounds like a really reasonable, and pretty effective implementation of AI in a real business context.

    And an optimistic one too, as the 'jobs' that Albert leaves for the people to do seem like the ones that people will want to do.