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    Entries in workforce (67)


    Thinking about the Future of Work

    In a few weeks I'll be heading to New York City to attend and co-present along with Trish McFarlane at the Conference Board's Senior Human Resources Executive Conference. The Senior Human Resources Conference this year has as its theme The Future of Work: Growth, Innovation, and People.

    Sort of an ambitious set of topics to take on over two short days, but as always The Conference Board has organized a phenomenal set of sessions presented by a cross-section of  the most accomplished Human Resources leaders from some of the world's largest organizations. Just a few of the companies that will be presenting their perspectives, philosophies, and strategies for adapting to this new world of work are Nike, Pitney Bowes, Abbott Laboratories, Boeing, American Express, and more. 

    So despite the challenge of taking on a subject as lofty and potentially theoretical as 'The Future of Work', the quality and diversity of the sessions and the expertise of the collection of senior Human Resources leaders in attendance all but ensures that the discussions and knowledge sharing will be equal parts insightful and practical. The Senior Human Resources Conference has a justified reputation for assembling a group of the profession's top leaders and presenting engaging and relevant content to the attendees. And this time, with all of the sessions designed to give attendees insights into how work is changing, and how leading companies are innovating, improving and developing their organizations to compete in the next decade; the conference is shaping up to be a can't miss event.

    This reputation for excellence makes me feel honored that The Conference Board has invited Trish and I to present a conference session titled 'How Social Tools Can Empower a Global Organization'. Trish and I plan to talk about how social networks, social technologies, and changing attitudes towards engagement, interaction, and connection are impacting and transforming how organizations communicate and engage with employees, candidates, and customers. We hope to get past the surface layer, and dig a little deeper into what these senior HR leaders should be thinking about as they consider how social tools can and will change the way traditional HR gets done inside organizations.

    It's a big topic and it's an important one too, and while Trish and I won't profess to have all the answers, I am pretty confident the discussions with the assembled leaders in attendance will help all of us learn a little bit more from each other.

    Trish and I hope you’ll consder joining us in New York, NY on November 15- 16, 2011 for two full days of sessions.  There will be tracks on HR Strategies and Issues, HR Management and Process and one on Talent and Leadership.  You can join the Conference on LinkedIn, using the following link: Senior HR Executive Conference on LinkedIn or on Facebook, using the following link: Senior HR Executive Conference on facebook

    We’ll also be tweeting from the event using hashtag #tcbsrhr.

    Now the best part, if you do decide to register, you can use discount code SB1 for $500 off registration!

    We hope to see some of you next month in New York!


    The Six-Month Sprint

    I am sure many of you, like me, have spent at least some time in your professional careers preparing long-range business forecasts of some kind. Whether they were for financial metrics like revenue, margins or cash flow; operational metrics like market share, customer count, or inventory; or even human capital measures like future headcount needs, impacts on profitablilty of future salary adjustments, or long-term benefits cost trends - it is safe to say that at lease some kind of future-focused planning is a long-accepted fact of business.

    And while the necessity and value of planning, to be able to effectively assess current baseline data and results, fold in business objectives, sprinkle in competitive challenges, add a dash of environmental and cultural factors, and we typically realize that even our well-reasoned, clearly articulated, and thoroughly documented plans and forecasts often fail to accurately predict and ultimately reflect what actually happens.

    It is the old line about military battle plans - 'No battle plan survives its first contact with the enemy'.

    And so it is with most business plans and long-range forecasts as well. Your plans don't exist in a vacuum - the competition has its own plans, that big customer that counts for 32% of this year's revenue forecast may go belly up, or at least squeeze you on price, 'star' employees that you think are slated to move into really important roles may leave. As with most planning processes, the second you hit 'print', it is likely something or some assumption that underlies the plans themselves has changed.

    The recommendation certainly is to not stop planning, to simply toss up your hands and give up, since the business and economy are moving so fast for anyone to really successfully plan for, but rather to be a little more reasonable about not only your ability to accurately (and reasonably) assess and predict the future. Spending too much time on 5-year plans of dubious merit is not normally a solid use of time.

    I recently read an interesting piece on the Co.Design blog called, 'How Can You Strategize For the Future, When You Can't See Beyond 18-Months?',  that suggests for design firms, (and I am sort of extrapolating this to those of us that do Human Capital and workforce planning of any type), that it is really impossible to plan out a design strategy any farther out than 18 months. In fact, the author suggests - 'Beyond 18 Months, the future is anybody's guess'. The world, the markets, technology - these factors and others simply move too quickly today.

    Not sure you agree with the '18 Months' figure? Let me ask you then, have you in your organization, or even in your personal and professional life spent time working out your iPad strategy? About how long has the iPad been out? And even just as it was coming out, did anyone, (besides Apple), have a clue about how transformative the device would be?

    The last point I wanted to mention from the CoDesign piece was the idea of something called 'The Six-Month Sprint' - a process where development and design processes, (mindful of the long term planning horizon limitation of 18 months), are collapsed into six-month cycles. Sure, for typical firms and products this is a tight window, and mistakes and tradeoffs have to be made, but in the opinion of the author, these shorter planning and development cycles are simply the only sensible and practical reaction to a business climate that increasingly defies prediction.

    So my question to you is - How far out into the future do you attempt to plan for things like headcount numbers, labor costs, workforce mix, organizational capability needs, hiring plans, etc.?

    And, if your planning horizon is longer than say 18 months, how confident are you in the accuracy of those plans?

    Is long-term planning really a thing of the past, a relic of a simpler, and lost forever age?


    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.