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    Entries in workforce (65)


    When work is always within reach

    Last week the iPass organization issued their Global Mobile Workforce Report, a review of trends and preferences in technology selection, usage, and attitudes amongst those workers that classify themselves as 'mobile' workers.  These workers, mostly telecommuters, report an increasingly 'connected to work' lifestyle, enabled by the ubiquity of smartphones, and buoyed by the growing influence of tablets, (mainly the iPad).

    Some interesting statistics from the report:

    • 41 percent of mobile workers have a tablet and an additional 34 percent of mobile workers intend to purchase a tablet in the next six months
    • 87 percent of mobile workers that own tablets use their tablets for at least some work
    • 43 percent of mobile workers store their smartphone within arm’s reach when they sleep at night. Those that do this are 60 percent more likely than average to wake during the night to check their smartphone
    • 29 percent of mobile workers find that their mobile technology usage causes friction in their personal relationships, specifically with their significant other or spouse

    And finally a statistic that is not at all surprising given the hyper-connected, check-my-smartphone-for-email-at-3:00AM and the bring-along-the-iPad-while-I-watch-little-Joey's-baseball-game kind of culture we seem to be evolving towards:

    • The average mobile worker works 240 hours a year longer than the workforce in general.

    Again, interesting findings, if not exactly earth-shattering. Seeing friends, family, or colleagues tethered to their smartphones and tablets in airports, in auto repair shop waiting rooms, at professional events, and even at social gatherings is becoming so commonplace that we often fail to even notice or to regard it as unusual. And as more organizations, enterprise technology providers, media outlets, and other traditional institutions move towards creating new and better mobile (in all it's many forms), solutions and productivity applications, the urge and compulsion to have the smartphone or tablet within reach at all times will only keep growing.

    Certainly the incredible advances in mobile solutions from both a device and application standpoint have greatly benefited that component of the workforce that demands increased mobility, for reasons of job design, personal circumstances, or those that simple find they are more effective not being forced or compelled to report to an office or 'official' workplace every day. Smartphones, tablets, and even the simple and old-fashioned laptop, and the development of applications and mobile solutions to enable connected, virtual, and flexible arrangements are almost universally seen as an important and necessary evolution in workplace technology, and that open up opportunities for many workers that for various reasons the 'normal' workplace and the typical schedule just simply do not work.

    But with the growth and capability of mobile workplace solutions, the further blurring of the lines between work and well, not working, and with more and more of us sleeping with our smartphones, waking up in the middle of the night to respond to the gentle but persistent 'ping' of our devices, and more solution providers making sure that our iPads will become just as effective as the common laptop or office computer, there is the risk that we will become increasingly unable to truly separate from work as we used to. 

    In some ways I guess it is the natural evolution of the work/life balance discussions - we know that even when we go to work, personal issues, concerns, commitments, responsibilities, etc. - never really go away, they accompany us at least in the back of our minds throughout the day. But it used to be we could leave work, and more or less not worry about it much until the next morning. Now, with the smartphone placed on the nightstand, work reminds us that it never really went anywhere once we left for the day.

    Long term - will this be a bad thing?  I tend to think the net benefits of increased flexibility and capability that the mobile revolution has enabled do compensate for and actually exceed the negaitive or dark side of the 24/7 connection to work. But time will tell if sneaking off a few emails during the 3rd grade dance recital will ultimately be harmful to workers, relationships, and even society as a whole.

    Sorry need to run now...

    Ping. Ping. Ping....


    Whistle Blowing vs. Blowing Whistles

    I love a nice juicy workplace drama story.  And when the workplace drama also includes a sports angle then I am in the happy zone.

    Submitted for your consideration - from the State University of New York at Binghamton - (courtesy of Inside Higher Ed), Coach's Exit vs. Whistle Blower's Exit.

    The important details from the Inside Higher Ed piece:

    The State University of New York at Binghamton announced last week that it had agreed to a $1.2 million settlement that will lead to the departure of its suspended men's basketball coach, Kevin Broadus. Under Broadus, the basketball program achieved athletic success but found itself in the middle of a controversy over the admission of academically unprepared athletes and numerous arrests of players.

    One of those who blew the whistle on the basketball program, however, faces a future much less financially secure than Broadus does. Sally Dear, an adjunct since 1998 and a key source for a New York Times article last year on the scandal, received a letter Monday telling her not to expect a renewal of her teaching duties for the next semester. She currently teaches two courses and is paid $5,000 for each one. In the Times article, which angered many supporters of the Binghamton athletic program, Dear was quoted about how basketball players arrived late, left early, and disrupted class in other ways.

    Nice.  The school more or less looks the other way on some questionable and possibly illegal activities associated with the basketball program in order to see some success and get some notoriety for the program.  After some time, the behaviors and violations become too egregious and well-known that eventually it all comes crashing down.  The coach, who has at least some, if not most of the blame for the mess will walk with a cool $1.2M, while one of the whistle blowers gets casually shown the door. Interesting how Binghamton can find seven figures for the coach but can't free up $10,000 for Ms. Dear to continue teaching her two courses. 

    I don't know much more about the tale than the few details in the piece, but the bit that is concerning is how colleges in particular, and corporate organizations in general can come to view and value the service, contributions, and expandability of temporary or contract staff.  

    Colleges use adjuncts for lots of reasons - sometimes to fill slots to teach unique or specialized courses, to backfill permanent faculty doing research or on sabbatical, or often to cut costs and improve incremental profit margins.  Kind of the same reasons that organizations engage temporary or contract staff in the corporate world. Many adjuncts will tell you that while they enjoy their work, and are committed to their discipline and their students, they fully realize their (low) place on the institutional pecking order.  

    But as we heard last night on the HR Happy Hour interview with Dan Roddy of IBM, the trend towards more flexible and fluid workforces, with more representation of contract and temporary staff is not only continuing, but likely is accelerating. 

    My guess is Ms. Dear has not been (effectively) dismissed because she was a whistle blower, but more likely since she was merely 'contract' staff, and therefore much more expendable. Not a big deal you might think, part of the reason that any organization employs temporary or contract staff is the ability to adapt and react to changing conditions and new opportunities much more rapidly than in the past.  In many organizations there has always been a bit of a stigma attached to the 'temps'. But I wonder in a world that seems to be barreling towards an even greater use of temporary and contract staff if we really need to think more consciously about how we have traditionally viewed these contributors.

    I don't think we can continue to view and treat them as mere commodity purchases.  I don't think we can continue to cast them off for acting in a manner that is consistent with what we would expect and demand from the 'real' employees.

    At SUNY Binghamton, the 'real' employee that blew a whistle for a living is walking away with a sweet exit package.  The 'fake' employee, one of the whistle blowers, now has to scramble to find a way to replace the $10,000 she won't earn this semester.

    Hopefully she can land another temp gig somewhere else, and soon.


    Trying to See the Future

    We are always planning -  people, teams, organizations all spending lots of time looking ahead, trying to figure out what the future holds for themselves, their projects, and their enterprises.

    I recently read an excellent list of the four different approaches that people and organizations take when it comes to assessing what the future may hold, the abridged version is something like this:

    1. The future is pretty mysterious and kind of scary.  Let's just see what happens and hope things turn out all right. Besides, we have been pretty successful for a long time doing things the way we do them. We can react if things do really change.
    2. We think about the future, sit down and to make some plans about what the future may hold, but conclude that the future (at least for us) looks mostly like the present, and our current strategies, plans, and processes should be just fine. We really don't seriously consider any alternatives to our 'tomorrow looks like today' conclusion.
    3. We realize that the future will look quite a bit unlike the present, but what that actually means for us we are not sure.  So we create numerous different scenarios, and develop some strategies for managing for each scenario.  It would be great if we could know more precisely which scenarios are most likely to occur, but we really don't know.
    4. We don't want to wait for the future to happen to us, we will design strategies and take actions to actively shape our future.  We will proactively create the environment that will give us the best chance for success.

    The original list was written in the context of organizational innovation centered around actual product and service offerings, and how firms' approach to planning for the future affects their ability to innovate.

    But I think these same 'future views' are also found in organizations approach to developing their workforce strategies as well.  Think about how these play out in a workforce or talent management context:

    1. Future is scary, no real plan to change strategy

    This will only work provided all of the following scenarios pan out:

    There will be no material change in the competitive environment for the organization's talent.  The demand for and the supply of talent will be more or less constant.  No external factors (demographics, regulatory, new entrants to the market) will significantly alter the current state.  People will continue to be happy in their roles in the organization.

    2. We are pretty sure the future looks like the present

    This is mostly similar to option 1, but at least we have given some thought to the (unlikely) possibility that the environment will change in ways that will impact our workforce and our business.  So if for example, all of a sudden consumers tastes do change, or the passage of Universal Health Care frees up 25% of our high performers to seek new opportunities, we might, maybe, kind of have some idea of what to do.

    3. We know we need to plan for variability in the future, so we develop multiple scenarios

    Not a bad approach really, the organization can develop workforce contingency plans to account to rising demand, falling demand, increases in qualified candidates, or decreases in qualified candidates. But there is also the effects of the economy, national and local legislative changes, potential mergers and acquisitions, increases in external competition, etc.  Man, that is a lot of variables to plan for.  Hopefully these scenario and contingency plans can cover all the possible 'futures'.

    4. The heck with it, we will make our own future

    This approach is probably the hardest to pull off, but when you think about it the only one that makes sense.  There is no way that you can react fast enough for the inevitable changes without having some pre-planning done (Toyota), the future will almost certainly not look like the present (right MySpace?), and no matter how much scenario planning you do, you can never account for all the possibilities that will affect your workforce and your talent strategies.

    Building a strategy and developing plans to proactively shape the future may seem risky, but in some ways it is the least variable approach.  If things do go not according to plan, (and they probably won't), the organization would have at least developed some contingencies and will have at least the chance to adapt quickly enough. 

    Simply waiting, hoping, or reacting to what the future holds will only work for so long, and if you are going to flame out, better to do that on your own terms.


    Culture and the Workplace

    This week on the HR Happy Hour show Grant McCracken the author of 'Chief Culture Officer' will be our guest to talk about the importance of understanding cultural trends to the corporation.

    As Chief Culture Office so persuasively presents, culture strongly influences what products resonate with the public, the brands that endure and thrive, and in some ways participate in the formation of culture, and even the design and makeup of our living spaces. 

    While it may seem like the observation and analysis of cultural trends is more of a concern for marketers, product designers, advertising agencies and such, I think there are several important implications for those in the HR and Workforce space as well.

    Just as culture and cultural trends influence consumer behavior for products and services, it is reasonable to think that they influence the market for talent. After all, the talent acquisition and retention functions have many similarities to the consumer market, and employees have been described as 'consumers' of work.  Corporations 'sell' their distinctive bundles of value, (compensation, training, prestige, etc.) that hopefully attract the desired mix of employees that 'pay' with their time, effort, and expertise. 

    So if we buy the idea of people 'consuming' work, and so many signs point to a marked increased in temporary and contract work, more career shifting, shorter tenure with organizations, and more flexible and fluid definitions of the very idea of work, then thinking about talent through this consumer prism is not that much of a stretch.

    Here are a few quick ideas on how consumer oriented cultural trends could influence talent management.

    Customization of Careers

    A day or two ago as I was checking e-mail and scanning Twitter I noticed someone I follow asking for recommendations for some new musical bands to check out.  Within a few minutes about a half dozen suggestions were tweeted her way.  She replied with thanks and indicated she'd set up a custom Pandora station with those bands in the rotation. 

    More and more products and services can be personalized and customized, is it fair to say that current and potential employees will come to expect similar levels of customization in their jobs? If an organization offers the same, cookie-cutter package to everyone will they be able to effectively compete for talent that demand and more and more receive personalization and customization in many other areas of their lives?

    Feeding the network

    Chief Culture Officer makes a compelling argument that products and services that offer the consumer the opportunity to 'feed their networks', that is share experiences, help to co-create, and ultimately add value to their friends and connections will have the best chance for enduring success. Could the same be said for organizations?  Those organizations that openly advocate for  their employees, support their participation in social networks, and otherwise demonstrated added value to the employee beyond the comp and ben equation may have an edge in the never-ending competition to attract and retain their best talent.

    Work spaces

    As discussed in Chief Culture Officer, one of the important approaches to understanding culture and anticipating trends is to study consumers in their homes, to see how they live and interact with and consume products and services.  Even the very design of homes and neighborhoods is essential data for the Chief Culture Officer. Homes are not designed the same way today that they were even 20 years ago.  Tastes, changing activities, and increased preferences for more open spaces tend to alter how homes get designed and used. Shouldn't office or work spaces also try to reflect changes in attitudes toward space? 

    One of the trends in design the McCracken notes is the relatively recent increase of 'great rooms' in American homes.  These are large, central, and open spaces designed for congregating, interacting, and living.  If these more open, collegial type spaces are desired at home, is it possible that workplaces should also adapt to reflect this cultural trend?  Should designers of work spaces consider how people's changing attitudes can be leveraged to create more meaningful and ultimately more productive work spaces?

    These are just a few observations, perhaps you can think of some other examples of how an understanding of culture can help the HR and Talent professional.

    Let me know what you think.


    The Eminent Workforce

    This long holiday weekend I came across the text of a speech given by Jon Iwata, SVP of Communications and Marketing from IBM at the November 4th 2009 Institute for Public Relations Distinguished Lecture Series at the Yale Club in New York City.

    The full text of the speech is available at the 'points of view' Blog - here. Flickr - Tico

    It is really worth the time to read the entire speech, but one theme in particular stood out for me, and that is IBM's idea of something they call the 'Eminent Workforce' and why these new capabilities will be essential for successful organizations in the future.

    Iwata anticipates an environment where organizations will enlist, marshal, and support employees as product/service and brand ambassadors:

    And all companies will then flood the Net with their people, in the same way we flooded the World Wide Web with websites and content a decade ago.

    But simply getting more employees blogging and tweeting about your company does not actually add any real business value if these employees are not seen and recognized as trustworthy, knowledgeable, and authentic.

    What do I mean by “eminence”? No matter what their industry, their profession, their discipline or their job, people with eminence are acknowledged by others as expert. It’s not simply to know a lot about Tuscan villas, digital cameras or banking. You need to be recognized as an expert. And when you show up – in person, or online; in writing, or in conversation – you are both knowledgeable and persuasive.

    The challenges to organizations, and in particular the corporate communications professionals that Iwata was addressing, and I think by extension Human Resources leaders, are several:

    Building the capabilities of the workforce

    As Iwata accurately observes, simply setting a few policies and hoping for the best outcomes is not likely to be a successful strategy. Your organization is likely full of 'experts' in their given fields, but translating that expertise for consumption in what Iwata refers to as the 'Global Commons' will require new strategies in talent acquisition, more training, and ongoing support.  Alignment of the most critical HR foundational elements (leadership competency, performance management, development) with the brand strategies is HR's opportunity and challenge.

    Ceding control of the internal message

    Public forums, product review and evaluation sites, company rating sites like Glassdoor, and social networks have allowed every customer, supplier, critic, and the like to have a say about your organization, its reputation and products and services. By the end of 2009, most all marketing and communications professionals have at least recognized this, and many have devised and implemented strategies for addressing this new reality.

    But most organizations still control (or attempt to control) the 'internal' messaging.  Corporate communications and marketing are the 'official' spokespeople for news and information for the organization. Most of the employees are on social networks, some blog, but very few of them are authorized as speaking for the company on any level.  Iwata advises that communications (and really HR as well) must get over the notion that only they can craft messages, produce content, and actually represent the organization.

    Culture becomes brand

    In this new world, where hundreds and perhaps thousands of employees are interacting online and influencing the perception of the organization, it is essential that every employee is completely grounded in the organization's values and culture. Iwata describes a branding model that moves from outward manifestations of the brand image, 'What does IBM look like', all the way to internal and cultural expressions, 'What does it mean to 'be' IBM'.  Moving across the model it becomes clear that most of the important understanding and work is really about the actions and performance of people, and not as much about clever TV ads and jingles. 

    As the external consumer brand becomes more intertwined with the internal brand, or company culture, the importance of HR leaders, and the opportunity for HR to have a much more influential position in the real business outcomes of the organization dramatically increases.  According to Iwata, In many ways, the management and alignment with the external brand with the organizational culture, as well as the classic and traditional communications roles is a new organizational discipline.

    I really encourage you to read the entire speech, as I read through this post I am not sure I really did it justice.

    What do you think? 

    Are we truly entering a world where organizations will be managing potentially the entire workforce as brand ambassadors?

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