Thursday, December 20, 2012

6 Things In For 2012, Out For 2013.

I predict that 2012/2013 will be seen as the death of an old paradigm in human resources and the beginning of the new paradigm: The New Employee Economy. As with most major shifts, this won’t happen overnight (and many will think it didn't happen at all) but it will. While there are many changes that will happen, here is my list of 6 Things that were (still) in during 2012, but will be on their way out in 2013:

Things that are out
Things that will be in and all the other monstrous big job boards and sourcing behemoths who can’t see the change coming
Hire Rabbit and all the other furry creatures who are leading the way to a more clever way to map resources to jobs

Labor Acceptance of things being the way they are.
Labor Activism to lead the change for a more open market for resource exchange. We don’t need jobs; we need places to ply our trades. If we can’t find them, we’ll start our own company!

ATS Systems and all the complexity they have built in to manage a job force that doesn't want to work that way.

Virtual Resourcing where employees can decide each morning where they want to work.
Background Screening and all the fear based, overly conservative, “who done it” mentality
Culture Fit and the idea that screening people into the right job is more critical to success than screening people out.

Social Media which is a lot of fun but has nothing to do with your job performance. Leave Facebook posts alone. What the heck, we all like to get a little crazy after work sometime.
Professional Media and the multiple environments that let you speak for yourself. There will be even more growth of places where professionals interact, share ideas and grow their value by growing their network.

Management Driven Product Design: Closed door meetings where managers discuss customer needs, commission lengthy studies and decide what is best for the customer.
Crowd Source Driven Product Design where people decide what they want and let you know by the way they are using it.

This New Employee Economy is going to be characterized by a less hierarchical mindset and a more open flow of resources. Sounds like fun.

See you in 2013.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I'm Dreaming of a Lean Start Up Christmas

OK, I have been buried up to (and over) my head for the last couple of months getting our new product ready for development. I finally looked up from my desk and realized it was almost Christmas and I am way behind. Since we have been following the basic principles of the Lean Start Up I have visions of MVP’s dancing through my head, so what choice do I have but to try and see if I can accelerate my “Presents To Market” strategy this Christmas. So here is how I am applying the Lean Start Up to Christmas this year:

Test My Fundamental Hypothesis: Giving is better than receiving.

To test this hypothesis I quickly headed down to the local stores and bought 4 presents: 2 for me and 2 for my friend. So far I really like my two presents.Hum, make a note, hypothesis may be faulty.

Develop My MVP (in this case, it means Minimum Viable Present):

I have designed a strategy that allows me to buy some lumber, some bolts, nails, paint and a few decorative glue-on pieces. I am going to give one each to my two sons and observe what they do with them. Once I see what it is they really want, I’ll give them a gift card.

Assess My Leap Of Faith Assumption: That my wife will let me play with the iPad I am giving her (otherwise – why give it to her!)

I am worried about this key assumption. If I give it to her and she doesn't let me play with it, my whole plan for the week is ruined. I wonder if I should just keep it for myself.

Pivot or Persevere: If my Xmas plans seem to be failing, can I quickly adjust?

I have looked at the possibilities of a mid-course correction. They are limited. I suppose if the presents fail, I could offer to cook (and clean) all the holiday meals.

Now with a solid plan in place, I can confidently go forward with my holidays!

Best wishes to all for a great holiday season!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Can HR Thrive in “Generation Flux”

In Robert Safian’s words, “Generation Flux" is a term he coined several months ago, in a Fast Company cover story that explained "how the velocity of change in our economy has made chaos the defining feature of modern business.” He mentions examples of Apple, Facebook, and Amazon as fast risers and Research in Motion, Blockbuster, and MySpace and rapid fallers. He goes on to say that “accepted models for success are proving vulnerable, and pressure is building on giants like GE and Nokia, as their historic advantages of scale and efficiency run up against the benefits of agility and quick course corrections. Meanwhile, the bonds between employer and employee, and between brands and their customers, are more tenuous than ever.”

In a more recent article from Fast Company entitled  How To Lead In a Time of Chaos, Safian describes “Fluxers” as people who thrive best in these rapidly changing environments. He says it is “a psychographic, not a demographic--you can be any age and be GenFlux. Their characteristics are clear: an embrace of adaptability and flexibility; an openness to learning from anywhere; decisiveness tempered by the knowledge that business life today can shift radically every three months or so.”

Yet most of HR’s structures and processes support predictability, consistency; everything and everyone the same. In traditional human resources we are concerned about the legal and regulatory implications of everything from calling the Christmas Party the Holiday Party to worrying that job descriptions are written for every single position. How do you have a job description for a true GenFlux position? Do we understand that employees won't stand for traditional models in the future? And that traditional models won't support the company mission any more?

Will HR be able to change as rapidly as the world is changing around them, or will HR be this generation's elevator operator (that guy in the 1900’s that became irrelevant when changes in technology made it so anybody could operate an elevator)?

What are your thoughts? How will HR change to support this new employee economy?

One final quote from that same Fast Company article to leave you with:

  • “We’re in a new era, and that better get you excited. Being scared by change doesn't help” says Troy Carter, CEO of Atom Factory 

May the Change Be With You.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Will you Find Your Next Hire Using Social Evidence

Do really talented people spend time on the internet? There is evidence that they do. So if these really smart people are out there leaving an electronic footprint – can you use it to find them when you need them? Can this information be used to find contractors, consultants and your next great new-hire?

Linked In is betting you can

So is Facebook and……

That is the idea behind Social Evidence based recruiting.

Jamey Jeff the co-founder of Remarkable Hire wrote in a blog post entitled What is Social Evidence? How it will change the way you recruit online that there are 3 simple steps to sourcing talent using Social Evidence:
  1. Find out where the talent you are seeking “hangs out” online.
  2. Learn how those destinations give you insight into candidates’ level of expertise (the “currency” of Social Evidence)
  3. Engage appropriately

If it were only that easy.

This concept intersects with the concept of BigData and how big data may help in recruiting. There is more and more information being accumulated from our daily internet traffic. How can we reasonably, legally, economically (and with respect for privacy) go after that data to help aid the process of matching great resources to great jobs?

To solve this puzzle, we as technologists in human resources, have to develop the methods and tools that will allow recruiters and candidates to participate in this process. For it to be really successful, it will have to be a seamless process that allows existing social and professional network activities to be mined. But it will also have to allow for people to actively engage in social media activities that are kept private. Solving this dilemma, and the dilemma of “who owns the data” (a topic for a future blog) is key to really opening up social evidence to everyday recruiting.

There are a number of hurdles to overcome before this is an everyday process; but it is coming.
So will you find your next hire using social evidence? Probably not just yet. But the answer may well be very different 12 months from now and will certainly be radically different 5 years from now.

Hang on – sourcing in the future ain't going to look like Grandma's headhunter. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Too Old to Be An Entrepreneur?

A well known venture capitalist and admitted “old guy” named Vinod Khosla, (he’s 57 years old) was reported to have said at a conference last year that "people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas." (Please don’t tell my wife, I pretty much bet our house on my ability to start a really clever new business). This Vinod guy is really smart and he explained that he did not mean that old folks can’t do clever stuff; they just need to be more fearless. I guess he’s never seen me in my Super Suit.
I read that quote in an article by Sarah McBride , of Reuters entitled: Silicon Valley's dirty little secret: age bias
I got a kick out of some examples Ms McBride used to show how apparently we have to learn to dress more like 20-somethings:
In one case she mentioned a 60 year old guy (I am getting dangerously close to that milestone) who shaved off his gray hair and traded in his loafers for a pair of Converse sneakers before heading into an interview. He got hired. Later in the article, this same guy goes on to say: In person, older job applicants should carry a backpack, not a briefcase and they should avoid Blackberries and Dell laptops in favor of Android phones and Apple products. And above all, steer clear of wristwatches. "The worst would be a gold Rolex," he says. "Tacky, and old."  (If only I could afford a Rolex – I might be happy to be tacky)
In another example from the article, a 40-something market researcher (is 40 old?) headed to a boutique popular with young women for advice on "something to look hip" and "blend in" before she went to her interview. She ditched her tailored pants and blouses for a dress, tights, and biker boots. She eventually got the position. 
So I am wondering, if I shave my nearly bald but graying head, buy a dress and some tights and put on some Converse sneakers, will I be more attractive to venture capitalists? Or do you think that would be taking it too far? I really could use the money!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Santa – Where do Ideas Come From?

Are there answers outside my window – I sure hope so because I spend a lot of time staring out it.

Where do great ideas come from? I see an article or blog post expounding the secrets to finding great ideas about twice per week. Some of these are written as exercise routines: “How to Train Your Brain”. Some are written as cook books: “The Recipe to Generating Great Ideas”. And some are like self help guides: “The 5 Steps to Great Ideas”.

I've tried them all.  This year I am just going to ask Santa.

I've been fortunate to have a few good ideas in my career and, in my experience, they all come from different places and are generated under wildly different circumstances. I am now in search of another (hopefully) great idea.

But where will the idea come from?

My partner, Steve Minton, and I started a new company 6 months ago. We are both working on it (somewhat) part time. Our first task is to generate ideas about what kind of company we want to be and what kind of product(s) we want to build. This process is a whole lot of fun. But it is also a lot harder than I thought it would be.

So I got to thinking. Maybe there is an easier way. So far, here’s my list:
  1. Hope Santa will leave me an idea in my stocking
  2. Stare out my window some more and hope an idea flies by
  3. Write a book about finding great ideas and pretend I know what I’m talking about
  4. Be an idea consultant and tell everyone else how to find ideas
  5. Buy a Powerball Lottery ticket and just forget about it
Or – I can just keep putting in a lot of hard work, be willing to fail a few times, and stick with it until I get it right.

I’m heading out for the Powerball Ticket (just to hedge my bets).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thoughts for Thanksgiving

“Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day.” –Robert Caspar Lintner

“Stand up, on this Thanksgiving Day, stand upon your feet. Believe in man. Soberly and with clear eyes, believe in your own time and place. There is not, and there never has been a better time, or a better place to live in.” –Phillips Brooks

Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.~ W. T. Purkiser

“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.” –Cicero

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
—Melody Beattie

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” –John F. Kennedy

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.― Ralph Waldo Emerson

What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal. ~Albert Pine

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. ~ Leo F. Buscaglia

And - A little Thanksgiving Humor...

“Thanksgiving, when the Indians said, “Well, this has been fun, but we know you have a long voyage back to England”. –Jay Leno
 “I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.” –Jon Stewart

Thursday, November 15, 2012

5 Things That Will Change HR Forever

When people talk about HR trends they tend to look at what we do today and discuss ways it can be done better in the future. Applications and tools for recruiting, training, on-boarding, etc. are being developed at dizzying rates. Problem is – these new HR innovations are going to have a short half life.

Another way to look at HR trends is to look at the way business is changing.

The changes in technology, employee motivation, globalism, and resource mobility, just to name a few dynamics, will dramatically affect the way companies work in the future, which will mean that a lot of the things human resource professionals spend time on today won’t even be a part of the equation in the future.

The 5 trends that will radically change HR Innovation in the future are:
  1. No one will want to work for you: When you look out over that vast forest of cubicles they will be either empty or they will be populated with people you've never seen before because the majority of your resources will be “just in time” contractors and consultants brought in to get a project done.
  2. Resources will be for sale in a giant resource bazaar: When you need to find someone you don’t post a job you surf a network.
  3. You won’t just hire a person, you’ll hire their network: People will be much more comfortable working together to solve problems. The best resources don’t just show up with good individual skills, they show up with a network of resources that can help get the job done. (Think that is far fetched – talk to a Director, Producer or Editor in the entertainment industry!)
  4. Middle management will (finally) go away: Middle management was created because people couldn't manage 100 direct reports. In the future, 100 direct reports won’t be a problem anymore. Work will be done in work units naturally structured around projects and work clusters. Everyone will follow the rules because they will be built into the project workflow application.
  5. No one will get benefits from their employer: Because people will stop working full time for only one company, people will get their insurance through co-ops and exchanges. Companies are lousy at benefits anyway!

In this new world HR will serve as a resource coordinator. HR will be like a grand orchestra leader, making sure that all the moving parts are there when you need them, can play to the same sheet of music and can come in on the right beat. Think in terms of the Player Personnel function on sports teams.

And such beautiful music it will be. Play on maestros! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Persist Through the C.R.A.P. Getting New Ideas Done

If you are out to start a new business or try a new product idea within a large company, it often feels like everything and everyone is out to stop you. You aren't paranoid: they are.

Persistence is probably the most important element of success (as long as you can afford it).

Richard St John gave a TED Talk which he entitled: Secretes of Success in 8 Words.  In this presentation he discusses what he thinks are 8 concepts that drive success. You can watch it, it’s good, and it is only 3 minutes long so it won’t take up much company time. Of all the 8 words, the one word that resonated the most was Persistence. He states that you'll need persistence because you will face a lot of C.R.A.P.

C – Criticism
R – Rejection
A – Assholes
P – Pressure

In the last company I worked with we had a lot of people who specialized in what I called Drive By Shootings: you know these events. It is when some manager or "fiefdom owner" decides to offer their opinion without taking time to really understand your idea. They simply drive by, offer up negative bile, and move on. You are left to deal with it. I also call them the fast and the furious.

But, if you really believe in your idea, you persist.

Most ideas are doomed to begin with because they challenge old assumptions. That always brings out the critics; especially those who are vested in the old assumptions. If you are going out on the limb of innovation, you have to understand that the limb (can be) strong, but it also has to be flexible enough to sway a bit under pressure. I worked with one product development manager at a very large firm a few years back who told me his secret to success was constant gentle pressure relentlessly applied. That frustrated me because things took too long.

I thought starting my own business would mean I could move at “light speed:” No one to stop me or hold me back. That turns out to be only partially true. What I have found is that persistence is even more critical in a new start up. There are many obstacles to success. You fight problems of capital access, client development, staffing-on-faith (people who will work for next to nothing in hopes of a big someday something) and multiple people who offer their opinions about why your idea stinks.

So I guess what I gained most from watching Richard St John's short video was that if you really want to succeed, and you really believe in your idea, then persevere through all the C.R.A.P.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Recovering from Company Disasters

As people up and down the east coast struggle with the effects of yet another storm, I started thinking about how companies respond when faced with severe problems. A key question that comes to mind:

Is disaster response a lot easier than disaster recovery?

The recent headlines about the areas hit by Hurricane Sandy are no longer about the devastation. They now talk about how long it is taking to relieve the suffering left in the hurricane’s wake. Sometimes the process of getting people back on track is a lot harder than managing the original disaster.

In my career I have been called on several times to do organizational “disaster recovery.” I worked with a firm for several years helping them turnaround difficult acquisitions. I recall one company in particular where the employees, the managers and the customers were so dysfunctional that it was a wonder that any work got done at all. I vividly remember the HR Director meeting with me and several other senior executives from the acquiring company. With a serious look on his face (and I think a sense of empathy for my plight) he turned to me and said: “Think of it this way Jerry, at least you have a lot of room for improvement.”

He was right. We saw the disaster as a chance to make things, not just better, but truly great.

The employees, managers and customers (and suppliers) were starving for relief.

As with all disasters, the first step is to stem the bleeding. Disaster recovery really is a lot like emergency room triage. You have to relieve those things that cause the most suffering first. In the case of the victims of Sandy, it is things such as housing, electricity, clean water, heat, safety. When a company is in disaster recovery it is usually about trust, poor communications, and dysfunctional processes. If you can plug a few of the worst holes, you can give yourself time to work on the foundation that will completely turn the situation around.

That is the key to recovering from any kind of disaster: First make sure the people’s biggest needs are met and then move on to creating bigger changes. Thankfully I have never had to deal with the level of suffering that a hurricane can create. But my experience with the very real suffering a poorly run organization creates suggests that people who have experienced it are ready and eager for something better. They just need someone to take charge (and remember there are people involved).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Vote HR: It Is All About Responsibility

We are all sick and tired of the political advertisements, the robo-calls (that’s one technology I wish they’d zap with a ray-gun), the mud-slinging and the unseemly pandering. But at the end of the day none of that matters – what matters is that we make democracy work by exercising our personal responsibility to:


I saw a great political cartoon in the local paper today (I live in Fort Collins, Colorado – so LOCAL really means local. I think the vote for Homecoming King got equal billing this morning) but anyway the cartoon basically went like this: In the first panel it showed the White House and said “The site of the second most powerful person in the nation” and the second panel showed a polling booth with a person in it and said “The site of the first most powerful person in the nation.”

I also woke up to the inspiring stories on the news about people standing in lines in New York, New Jersey and other areas affected by Hurricane Sandy to go vote. Many of these people lost their homes, have no heat, have ruined basements, or cars without gas. But they took the time to vote!

As people who work, innovate and explore the issues of Human Resources, we have a special duty to show how important it is to meet our responsibilities. And today that responsibility is to get out and vote! Voting is all about responsibility and voting is the responsibility we all accepted when we decided to be part of a democracy. There really is no difference between the responsibility as a citizen to vote and the responsibility as an employee to do our job.

Today – our job is to vote.

I’m Jerry Thurber and I approve this message

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween for Human Resources

Some Human Resource professionals I know are pretty scary characters. I wonder if we took a poll would most people compare their HR Director to:

-  Wicked Witch
-  Frankenstein
-  Scary Ghost
-  A beautiful princess (which can be scary in its own right)
-  A super hero

So what do HR people put in your bag at Halloween?

-  A new benefits package
-  A real job description
-  A career path
-  A flexible work schedule
-  Dark Chocolate Kisses!

Happy Halloween to all my scary friends.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Yoga for Stressed Out Recruiters

Recruiting can be stressful. You try so hard to find the perfect candidate and sometimes it seems like all the stars are aligned against you. To help with this problem, I have come up with some yoga poses to be used for some of those more stressful moments.

Down Dog: This pose is used when that candidate you had high hopes for totally pisses-off the President of the company by saying something really stupid. The pose is to be executed at the end of the day when you are debriefing the candidate and he says “So how did I do?”

To perform this pose, you should lay down on the floor with your feet facing toward the candidate. Slowly walk your hands toward your feet until your butt is facing high in the air and say: “Take a guess.”

Angry Cat: In this situation, you have found the perfect candidate for a position and all the interviewers loved the person. At the last minute when you are about to make the offer, the department head says they want to interview them too and asks that you arrange for the candidate to come back next week.

With this pose, you climb up on the manager’s table and with your face about 3 inches from his nose, you arch your back and hiss really loudly while you spit out the words “Why didn't you say you wanted to be involved in the interview when I asked you last week!”

Warrior Pose: This pose is best used when you are trying to round up a group of people to interview a candidate and no one will get back to you. The candidate has called and let you know that she has another offer but would really like to work for your company and has to get back to the other company by the end of the week.

This pose is most effective when you execute it in the lunch room where most of the people you are trying to contact have gathered. You stand up on one of the tables and spread your legs far apart while lifting your arms to be even with your shoulders. You look fiercely over your right arm and shout: “Everyone out the door this minute and do not come back until you have signed up for tomorrow’s interview.” If they don’t move fast enough, start throwing food at them.

Corpse Pose: Ideal for end of the year goal reviews, the time for this pose comes when you have spent your year fighting all the obstacles put in your way that prevent you from finding and hiring the best people. The Director of HR calls you into his office and hands you a piece of paper with a bunch of graphs. He explains politely (he is in HR after all) that the graphs and charts clearly show that you missed your goals for time to hire.

To execute this pose, you calmly lay on the ground with your arms to your side and your feet slightly splayed. You don’t really need to say anything – he will get the point.

Hero Pose: This pose is reserved just for you. After you have busted your “back side” trying to find the best people possible you step back and look at all the good people you were responsible for and allow yourself a minute of self congratulations.

To execute this pose, you turn on some highly inspirational music (like the theme from Chariots of Fire). You lower yourself to the ground with your legs bent to the sides so that you create a firm base. You raise your hands in the air and scream out "I Rock.” Note – this is best done while wearing a superman T-shirt.

Happy recruiting and may you find your inner peace.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Three C’s of Career Arc.

Over the course of several years – be it 10 or 40 – you leave a wake behind you that represents the impact you've made. Recruiters traditionally relied on your resume to tell them about your career arc, but today a lot is being written about how your electronic footprint may be a better, more complete representation of your professional mark.

I have fully embraced social media as a grand, open marketplace of resource communication, coordination and exchange. I saw early on that this was a quick and easy way for me to display my accomplishments. And while we may have (somewhat) valid concerns about privacy, it really is the best medium to showplace your skills and accomplishments. Both common social media platforms like Linked In, Google+, Twitter (and – to some extent Facebook) and specialized professional sites like or provide ideal environments for displaying your talents much more broadly than traditional resumes might do.

There are many defenders of the traditional however.

We can say all we want about how traditional methods of work, of recruitment, of talent management form a solid rock-bed of the human resource process, but these foundations are being shaken to their core in the New Employee Economy. One place where this challenge is heatedly discussed is within the “resume is dead” discussion. For some of these pundits, the new Career Arc, represented in your social media foot print is the way to go.

Why is social media career arc potentially the best way to get a feel for a person? Here are three reasons I believe it is:
  1. Context: A good social media footprint can show you the impact of your career activities. It can show whether the things you did mattered to anyone. It can show what kind of influence you have.
  2. Comprehensiveness: You can’t say much in a two page resume. Even a greatly written resume has to leave off important things that have happened in your life. Your social media footprint can provide a much more rich detail about who you are and what you've done.
  3. Community: We all perform in a broader professional community. How we interact with that community, how we are perceived by that community and how we contribute to that community are important elements of the kind of employee we are.
Obviously not everyone actively participates in social media, but for those who do, using social media to understand your candidate is a great way to help find a better fit.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The New Employment Economy

In several blog posts over the last year or so I have referred to “The New Employment Economy.” So what is it? In a nutshell – it is the future.

Anybody over the age of 35 has grown up in a world where they mostly understand work as a commitment to some organization or company that lasts for 8 to 10 years (maybe more) and you move on one or two more times before you retire. The company takes care of your insurance (increasingly less so) provides you with a career path, some on-the-job training and regular raises that maybe gets you a bit ahead of where you started.

In the next decade those days will be gone – replaced by the new employment economy

What are the main elements of this new economy?
  • Technology has enabled people to work wherever, whenever they want. Everything from tools that support remote access, to the rise of self-service HR, has made it easy for employees to work from anywhere in the world. This has also made it easy for people to choose to be contractors – or short term employees.
  • Twenty-somethings don’t see themselves as employees. The generation coming into the workplace today doesn’t feel the need to attach themselves to one corporate entity and stay there for several years. They are more interested in the work. Where the work is interesting, they will go.
  • The rise of entrepreneurship. It is no longer that hard to strike out on your own. More and more people are choosing to start up a business than ever before. These businesses are predicated on a new model where people work together for a common goal, then move on.
  • The lessening role of the corporate support infrastructure. Companies just don’t offer much in the way of incentives to work for them anymore. Benefits are not that good, layoffs are always a possibility, training and investment in your future is more limited, retirement plans are dismal, and raises are usually just cost of living adjustments. What a deal!

The new employment economy is going to be characterized by the free movement of resources from job to job. The prediction that one day the company of the future will involve only 5% “traditional employees” is coming to pass. It has just taken a bit longer than first predicted.

If this seems farfetched to you, just look around and you will see it happening in many industries today. The entertainment industry is perhaps the best example. The actors, the production people, the editors, the support staff all come together to get a job done. They don’t get their benefits from the company – they get it from unions, co-ops and guilds. The resources required to create a play or movie or TV show come together for that project because they can ply the work they love. When the project is over, they move on.

I see this as an exciting challenge for the future of HR. The entire infrastructure that supports HR will have to be adapted to this new employee economy. I am looking forward to being a part of that change.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Who Are You Connected To? It Might Get You Hired

In the not too distant future, will people hire you based on the strength of your connections in Linked In and other social and professional networks? Is it happening today? Should it ever happen? Hire me – I know HR Margo! (With all apologies to Margo for admitting that we are connected on Twitter)

There is a constant struggle to find high-performers in any organization. Companies have tried all sorts of things to figure out how to beat “dumb luck” as the best way to find that special person who is able to contribute more than any of his/her peers. Employee referrals, new fangled interview techniques, improved reference checking have all had their go at the problem with varying degrees of success. In the 90’s and early 2000’s job fit assessment tests were all the rage. One company I worked with in the late 90’s spent several hundred thousand dollars building a complex assessment tool to figure out what made top performing store managers so special. Could they use assessment science to improve their odds? It worked, a little bit.

Now I hear talk of a new trend: Who do you know.

It is not as crazy as it seems. The basic premise of the “Who do you know” school is that really good people tend to cluster around each other like an exclusive flock of birds soaring around in a Starling-like murmuration. Good people know other good people, and they often stay in touch.

If you don’t believe me, look at Twitter. People connect randomly to people all over the place, but in any profession or special interest (Like HR) you will notice that there is a core of folks that rule the pack, and hang together closely. These people are real influencers (not to be confused with those weird ego-games that Klout seems to measure). But are they also great contributors in their own companies? They might be. Here are a few things to consider about leveraging good people’s networks:
  • Good people are usually great at recommending other good people (just ask a recruiter)
  • Good people often fit the axiom: “If you want a job well done, give it to the busiest person”
  • Good people like to get things done and like to hang out with other people who think that way too
  • Good people thrive on success and want to be a part of any team that likes new challenges
  • And lots of good people are making a noise on social media

The challenge for the “Who do you know” movement is to show value and consistency. Do social media contacts help you understand a candidate’s potential value? If you are a recruiter – do those contacts really help you discover hidden gems?

While I might feel like the famous remark by Groucho Marx that “Any organization that would accept me as a member, I would not want to be a part of,” the opposite might be true for many of you! (OK - for at least some of you).

If you are out there – we’ll find you. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An HR Entrepreneur’s Cook Book: Who’s Eating?

Being an entrepreneur is like having a book full of recipes - but not being sure what anyone wants to eat.

After years of helping multiple small companies grow and become prosperous, I decided to jump out on my own and start building a company from scratch. The first thing I did was find a really smart partner. (Someone had to be the brains). Then the partner and I started making the list.

We have a passion about data: Big data, small data, data in a box; any data of any type that can help improve the employer/employee marketplace.

It was not hard to come up with a long list of things we could do. But now the question is – and maybe this is the most important question – what is it that we can do that the marketplace really wants to buy?

This challenge is more interesting than it used to be. Traditional new product development answered that question with lots of market research, but we all know market research didn't get us the PC, the iPhone; Google or Twitter. Really interesting products often come from passion alone.

Therein lies the problem: We've got a lot of passion which means there are so many things that we can build.

It feels a lot like a chef at a banquet. The recipe book is full, the pantry is empty (because of course as entrepreneurs, you don’t have much stuff yet) and you have to go shopping now!

The entrepreneur’s bible we were all required to read, The Lean Start Up, might suggest that we make a small meal and send it out there to see if anyone wants to eat it. If they do, make more. The problem with that idea though is that it may take awhile to find the right food – and in the meantime someone else comes in with the perfect Big Mac and we are stuck with day-old ground round.

Entrepreneurs have to act on faith. I think you have to pick a recipe you really believe in and make enough to make sure the market can get a taste. Building a new product has to be fueled by passion and a strong belief that you can introduce the world to something they are really going to like. That doesn't mean you have to commit to a gluttonous feast with the first offering, but you can’t hold back either. If you believe, you go for it.

So now that we know we want to serve up some data, we are ready to go shopping! Man I hope people want what we are planning to cook.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Skills Path is the New Career Path

Stop worrying about a candidate’s career path. For certain types of positions (and that number is growing) there really is no need to be overly concerned about where a candidate worked and how long he/she worked there. In the new employee economy it is all about Skill Path, not Career Path.

What is Skill Path? Skill Path is the development of an increasing set of capabilities and/or a deepening level of expertise: regardless of where you worked. How have you advanced as a software developer, a health care provider, a manager or leader? Are those skills relevant to the challenge my company faces? Skill Path, especially for specialized skill areas, is far more relevant to getting the job done than career path. In fact working in a lot of different places probably makes you more prepared to succeed than working your whole career at a single company.  

Why is Skill Path Better than Career Path? Many companies today are struggling to be more inventive, more entrepreneurial, more nimble, but they still use decades-old strategies for evaluating the right people to hire. Is it really important that everyone you hire have a track record of 8 to 10 years with previous employers? Is it really important that they work for one of the other “big names” in the industry? I would argue that if you really want a team that can get the job done, you have to mix it up a bit. By “mix it up” I mean that while you do need to have some key jobs filled with an employee who has a long term commitment to the company, or who adds consistency to the process, you also need some people who bring world-class skills to the game. What’s wrong with hiring someone who is really jazzed to work at your company because you are doing something cutting edge, but doesn't really care about your company? Evaluating (and hiring) based on Skill Path allows you to find the best talent when you need it and helps you focus more narrowly on what to hire for rather than worry about long term fit.

Here are the top three reasons Skill Path is the new career path:
  • Flexibility: Both employees and companies talk about wanting to be more flexible. Focusing on skills development rather than career development avoids the ruts.
  • Interchangeability: Getting something done usually means a standard “position set” but not a standard skill set. In other words you may need software developers, project managers, process analysts, etc. But it is rare these days that any project that the skills you needed for last year’s project are exactly the ones you need for this year’s project. Skill path allows you to focus on structure, while allowing positions to be interchangeable with skill set.
  • Incredibility: Too many companies try and force new, innovative projects onto people who lack the skills to make the project incredible. Focusing on Skill Set helps you achieve incredible results by breaking the boundary of hiring everyone to be a traditional employee, and instead, focusing on finding talent that can really push the envelope.

I don’t know about you – but a decade of working at most any of the traditional Big Names doesn't mean what it used to. Most of those people have deep ruts in their brain that make breaking patterns very hard to do. My dad used to tell me that he hated hiring MBA's because you always had to re-teach them. To me, the same can be said for people who hang out in the same old big company for too long!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Presidential Debate: Does Either President Understand the New Employee?

The first Presidential Debate is in Denver. They will talk back and forth about a myriad of ideas. One idea they are sure to discuss is jobs. They will talk about tax incentives, jobs training, labor unions, and off-shoring. They will argue about trickle-down and trickle-up, (they won’t use those terms but that is what it boils down to: Does a really healthy “rich sector” make for better jobs, or does a really healthy “labor sector” do the trick). But they will be wrong either way.

Neither candidate understands the new employment economy.

The major trends driving the new employment economy today are:

·         Rapid growth of self employed
·         Explosion of social media as a “skills for sale market”
·         Emergence of job titles that didn't exist even 12 months ago
·         Rejection of the idea of traditional “employee”
·         Rapid growth of social entrepreneurs
·         Workers who follow a “skills path” rather than a career path
·         Virtual companies that don’t care where the employee works from (or which country)

These trends aren't supported by diatribes about sending work overseas, or shoring up America’s manufacturing, or supporting America’s unions, or even forcing trade wars with other countries.

If you want to help the people hit hardest by unemployment, don’t try and prop up the infrastructure that supported employment in the last 4 decades, support the creation of a new infrastructure that will enable employment for the next 4 decades.

I’d love to hear the debate talk about breaking the traditional bounds of employment and creating a new FDR like “Public Works” project that will build the infrastructure for the new employment economy. (BTW – a short commercial here: one of the biggest impediments to people taking risk, or working in non-traditional employment is the lack of access to health care – I would think both the GOP and the Dems would understand that point!).

How many of us think our sons and daughters will have a career path just like we did? Not many I would guess. So why do we want to create an artificial support system that is mired in past economies?

I have an idea, let’s Crowd Source the Presidency (and the congress). May the best ideas win!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Crowd HR - Democracy in the Corporation!

Last week I talked about the Crowdfunding and Crowdsourcing phenomena and made the point that these trends are part of a larger trend reshaping business. I went so far as to call this the early signs of the democratization of the corporation. Where business goes – so must HR.

An HR democracy – surely an oxymoron.

Business (and working for a business) is basically akin to a dictatorship: sometimes a benevolent dictator (we call these employee centric companies; they win awards such as the Best Place to Work) and sometimes they are full blown autocratic dictatorships (we call these companies shareholder driven and they win accolades for returning good shareholder value). Though they may not admit it, HR works well within this structure. Face it: HR has always been about control. HR likes things neat and tidy. HR likes rules, consistency, playbooks. They like traditional employee models. Everyone knows their place. They don’t like it when outsiders come in. Most HR execs run the minute the conversation turns to contingent workforce. HR wants to worry about the employees. While their bosses deploy an autocratic, centralized dictatorship from above, HR deploys a socialist one size (policy) fits all structure from below.

But not everyone wants to sign on to the traditional corporate model anymore. Gen Y (and X and Z I think – but I have lost track of what all that means) don’t want to work for one company and sign up for someone else’s vision of career development. They want to drive. And if corporate organizations are going to find the best talent – they are going to have to get more and more comfortable with accommodating multiple, flexible models for engaging resources. A lot of this goes on today. Companies are better at flex time, remote (home office) work schedules, and contracting for help as needed than they used to be. But this is just a drop in the bucket. There is a lot more to come. 

HR is going to have to be less about control and more about enabling.

The organization of the future will consist of people who make temporary choices to associate themselves with an enterprise only long enough to get a job done and move on (or stay – but it will be their choice). HR will have to become better at managing, assisting, supporting (and chipping in) to build these ad hoc teams. HR will becoming more and more about “just in time” resourcing. Think in terms of pro sports. Each year you make all kinds of personnel moves to try and position yourself for the unique challenge you face next year. Can Crowd HR be far behind?

Maybe HR will one day be like a sports agent. But in this case they will represent both the buyer and the seller.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Will “The Crowd” Drive Tomorrow’s Business?

Pebble Watch had a great idea. Build a watch that would directly interface with Android technology thus allowing you to search the internet directly from your watch. Pretty cool, but no one wanted to fund it. They turned to a Crowd Funding site called Kickstarter. They had a modest goal to raise $100,000. Instead they raised over $10,000,000. Take a look at the Kickstarter page for Pebble Watch. Just looking at that $10,000,000 number and the 69,000 people who sent them money boggles the mind. And the other amazing thing: Not a single one of these 69,000 investors got any part of the company. What did they get: a watch.

Goldcorp had a problem. They owned a gold mine but none of the geologists could find the gold. As a last ditch effort they turned to the concept of Crowd Sourcing. Crowd sourcing (as opposed to Crowd Funding) is where you put a challenge out into the broad public and see if anyone out there has a great idea. They created The Goldcorp Challenge to tap into the crowd-source to identify likely veins of gold on one of its properties. The challenge was won by a graphics company! Who would have thunk?

Crowd Funding and Crowd Sourcing are radical new approaches to traditional ways of doing business. It is a “democratization” of the process (so to speak) and speaks volumes about the way business is changing.

To me, these two processes are a perfect example of how business is enabled by the giant leaps in technology that make the world so much more accessible. A small company with 5 guys (or gals) and a dog can access capital and ideas in ways they never could before. And all 5 of the guys can live anywhere they want to. (Presumably the dog still has to live with one of the guys – but that may be changing too).

What will the company of the future look like? Ideas such as crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are freeing companies from the traditional boundries for doing business. Companies – and the people that run them – are going to be more and more like loose partnerships where groups of people come together for (whatever) self-motivation they have. And because we can so easily participate in a wide range of activities from the convenience of our home computers, many of us will work on several things at once.

Whoohoo. Soon pajamas will be the new attire for Casual Friday (all week long)!

What will this mean for HR? I'll talk about that in my next blog post. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Is There a Recipe for Entrepreneurship?

I attended an advisors meeting this morning for a group that helps new start ups with their business models. The group is made up of people who share a common experience in entrepreneurship but have varying backgrounds in management, marketing, engineering, manufacturing, finance, legal, etc. There are usually about 30 of us in the room. You’d think that much brain power could really add a lot of value:  I’m not so sure.

I have attended 5 or 6 of these advisor meetings now. I was asked to be part of this group because I have helped start and sell three companies. Two successes with one flop sandwiched in between. But I wonder if I can actually tell someone else how to do it.

As I listen to the presentations and then listen to my colleagues ask questions and offer up recommendations, I am struck by the sameness of it all: as though there was a recipe for entrepreneurship. I’ve never been to a cooking class, but I can picture the master chef walking everyone through the steps that it takes to get just the right combination of ingredients, mixed in just the right way, and baked at just the perfect temperature. Voila – a perfect dish.

But I wonder.

Entrepreneurial success seems so individualized. Someone with a lot of passion and no brains can raise a lot of money; someone with a lot of money and a lot of brains can go “paws up”, and someone with the perfect business plan can still screw it up. I’ve observed that a lot of successful companies have had any combination of these events lurking in their past, but still overcame (or capitalized) on them.

I don’t think there is a recipe. It seems to me that entrepreneurs need to be a bit like Captain Jack Sparrow and treat all this advice they get as “guidelines”. Captain Jack would have been a great entrepreneur. He reacted to his environment, improvised to take advantage of whatever situation arose, and selectively decided just who to listen to (and when).

So I am still thinking about what the best advice I could offer to the companies in these meetings. Maybe it’s to act like a pirate. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Why Can't HR Be More Fun?

Why can’t HR be more fun. Human Resources is supposed to be the place where the human asset (with apologies for the dehumanizing term) is best leveraged. Find great people, give them the right compensation so that they are free to work and happy to work in your company, on-board them so they are productive, and nurture them so they grow. OK – hands up – how many employees of the average company really see HR that way? Not many.

It used to be. When I first started in my professional career in the early 80’s I worked for a large consulting company. We did IT stuff. We did not have a large HR team – but the team we had spent all their time trying to make sure we had an environment where we could get things done. A wine and cheese party on the premise was permitted; time to learn your job was expected; investments in learning (and leisure) were encouraged.

What happened?

HR got legal…… and HR got “professional.”

In the last three decades HR has become rigid and overly procedural. Companies started worrying more about getting sued than enabling resources. HR responded by getting better at helping companies avoid legal problems, and less capable of helping employees prosper and grow. The “profession” of HR became more and more about legal and regulatory concerns. Professional licensing became an exercise in memorizing all that legal and regulatory stuff. Where are the questions about relating to people?

Then – to make matters worse, the last decade has decided HR process improvement meant cutting staff even more (especially the touchy-feely ones) and outsourcing as much of it as you could. Have you ever been part of one of those atrocious “shared services” companies? If you have, you know what I mean. They wouldn't know an actually employee if they met one. All the people in the company are asset liabilities that have to be managed to reduce risk.

HR used to be fun. The HR representative was someone you could sit and talk to. The HR person helped organize events and worried that people might not be happy. HR was one of those departments that employees liked.

Not anymore. HR is a self-service website or the person who sits next to the boss when you are about to get laid off.

Too bad. I am still in touch with my first HR Director from back in the 80’s. She’s still in HR, but she doesn’t like her job much.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Auto-Analytics an Human (HR) Condition

There is a growing field called auto-analytics. Essentially it is a way to measure activities and events in real time by automatically recording the result. Lots of athletes use the technique. If you have ever watched the Tour de France you probably know that the riders are covered with wires that constantly measure everything about them and their bike. This kind of feedback helps them find maximum performance thresholds and helps them adjust when things are off.

The growth of cell phones and other simple personal electronic devices has made auto-analytics more accessible to everyday people. But the growth of the technique goes beyond the measurement of physical endurance. It can be used to track work performance as well. H. James Wilson in his recent HBR blog stated:

There's also potential for business leaders to champion expert-run communities in-house, though ensuring the privacy and security of participants' data needs to be the first design principle. For instance, hundreds of employees at a successful global technology company I studied participate in auto-analytic experiments to find correlations between knowledge work productivity (the thinking self) and improved health (our physical selves). For instance, some participants are seeing if treadmill desks measurably boost output as they write computer code or marketing copy. With strict research protocols in place, every employee who chooses to participate has her data anonymized and aggregated. As a result, staff researchers have a radically new source of data to inform the way the company should support and innovate knowledge-work. The Social Side Of Analytics
He goes on further to state:
This heralds an important shift in how we think about tracking work performance and even career planning. Employees have long been measured, but managers have traditionally chosen the tools and the metrics—and, more important, decided how to interpret the findings. With auto-analytics, individuals take control. They can run autonomous experiments to pinpoint which tasks and techniques make them most productive and satisfied—and then implement changes accordingly. You By The Numbers

One of the really interesting things about auto-analytics is that what we generally think is the case often is not. We might think we are working as hard on the bike as we can, but the data shows otherwise. This holds true for the workplace as well. We often have beliefs about what conditions at work make us work better – but the ability to actually see and measure it may show something all together different.

I think you will see a lot more happening in this field over the next few years.

I, for one, am looking forwarding to proving that my intake of dark chocolates is directly related to the quality of my output.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Don’t Build a Better Mouse Trap – Build a Better Mouse.

We are in week 11 of our new start up business. About 6 weeks ago I mentioned we did not yet have a name for the company. We still don’t. Our focus has been on product. But not building a product, not even designing one: we still need to discover one.

The process of discovery has lots of pundits explaining the best way to innovate. Some say it is a structured process of trial and error, some say it comes from brainstorming, others believe it comes from finding your passion and convincing the world to appreciate it as you do, and most believe it is a matter of finding a problem that needs solved better than anyone else solves it. I read once (I can no longer recall who said it) that the best way to come up with a great idea is to get a group of people you really like to work with, figure out what you really like to do, then build it. This thinking suggests that a business built around doing what you enjoy with the people you work well with is bound to be successful, regardless of the idea. Maybe.

In my experience of creating a handful of fairly successful products over the years, I find that the process is never the same. When I worked in large companies, new products tended arise from the crucible of need. Large companies have money, resources, and market power; what they don’t have is focus. Big companies rarely do anything unless the need is so great they are forced to do it. At smaller companies we tended to have product strategies that focused nicely around processes to continuously enhance (I almost said continuously improve – but evidence tends to suggest improvement is not always part of the game – even if it is always part of the aim). When I have been involved in startups we tended to act like idea-mills where everyone throws stuff at the wall to see what will stick. Passion often determines the winner.

For me one constant in the process of innovation – whether large, small or startup – is structured chaos. You have to break the mold of old thinking and allow ideas to be generated. But if you don’t wrap some structure around it you lose a lot of the momentum. Ideas flow like water: if there are no boundaries they tend to dissipate quickly. I approach product innovation almost like a hashing algorithm. The two extremes are (1) unfettered idea generation on one end and (2) focused problem analysis on the other. You keep working the process from both ends until you begin to gel on something in the middle. The best ideas solve a problem worth solving but see the problem in a whole new light. It is no longer about building a better mouse trap – but instead building a better mouse.

Going back to my earlier idea about great products coming from working with people you like and working on what it is you really like to do. I am thinking that if I got my best buddies together I am afraid we’d spend all our time hiking in the mountains. I’ll have to think about what product that might be. Maybe I could invent

Friday, August 17, 2012

What Trashy Data Means for HR

You want to know how the economy is doing, track trashy facts. Driving home from a meeting at the Institute for Entrepreneurship at Colorado State University I flipped on the radio to Marketplace from American Public Media and heard this story about tracking trash. This guy was explaining that when he was a graduate student he was studying anthropology. One thing he learned was that you can find out a lot about societies by studying their trash.  What he didn’t know at the time was that he would later in life discover a correlation between the volume of trash and the strength of the economy. When the economy is going strong we get rid of more stuff (there’s an obvious social commentary in there, but I will leave that to some other pundit). Turns out, right now, we are not dumping so much trash.

OK, so what is an HR Innovation blogger doing writing about trashy economic indicators. Well, here’s the thing. This is a big data story. All this information about trash: how much is shipped, what kind of trash it is, how many tons are discarded and who’s discarding it is all compiled and kept in multiple, unrelated, obscure data bases. Someone had to find, compile analyze and interpret all this data to find the patterns that represented useful information. The same sort of anthropological expedition is there for HR professionals as well.

Earlier this month I wrote a blog post titled “Big Data Should Be a Big Deal for HR.” All this trash talk got me thinking about big data some more. So much information is collected in so many different places. Companies collect terabytes of data about their employees; social and professional media adds even more, so do our schools, our volunteer organizations, our churches, our governments, our local PTA. They all have records about people. Some of this data means very little and is perfectly content to be obscure. Other information is a gold mine that provides useful information about who we are, what we do, what we like to do. In other words: Human Resource Information.

The problem (or challenge) that confronts us is how do you dig through all the trash (OK – I know I am overdoing the analogy) to find what is really meaningful. But it is going to happen. Technical tools are being developed and researchers are being busy to help discover ways to find these deposits of data and figure out how to mash them together to find new patterns and new uses of the information. HR professionals sit largely on the sidelines of this frontier. It’s a shame; it will be one of the biggest trends that change HR in the next decade.