Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Social Media Blurs Life/Work

There are several dimensions to the question of privacy and how it plays into our work-life (and I may talk about more of them in future blog posts) but here I want to address the issue of what I call the “always there” trend. The trend itself is not all that new. Since the invention of email and laptops employees and managers have felt an increasing obligation to always be available for work: Nothing new there. The new part comes when you start to look at the opposite side of the equation. How much does our “social life” blur with our work life? The huge rise in social media has lead to the situation where an increasing number of us are “always there” for our friends and family who want to Tweet Us, Friend Us, Tube Us or whatever else may be the latest social media trend. We are connected to social media the entire waking day (and some don’t seem to sleep much either). While a lot has been written about how the lines have blurred between work and home, very little has been said about the fact that the reverse is now truer than ever: the lines between home (our social media connections) and work have blurred. Keeping track of the kids, catching up with old school mates, seeing what past colleagues are doing – it’s all in a day’s work.

With this blurring of lines – where lies the distinction between what employers should know about your “social media life” and what belongs only to you? Do companies have a right to assess some aspects of an employee’s social network “footprint” when they are conducting a pre employment screening or an employee background check? Can employees make the case that they should be allowed to have access to Facebook, Linked In, YouTube etc. but companies don’t have the right to know what they are doing on these sites? Let me be clear – I am a strong believer that companies don’t need to meddle in the personal life of their employees – they should focus on things like performance, productivity, and effectiveness, and leave the personal stuff alone.  But I also believe that what we do in this new world enabled by social media (by the way, I hate that term, since social media is so much more than social) has a great deal of relevance to who we are as employees. The digital “footprint” we leave says a lot about who we are. If you believe a person’s previous employment, hobbies, outside activities, volunteerism are all areas that impact how well a person will fit into your organization, then why not also assess what they do on social media. I, for one, hope companies do look at my social media profile. I think it only helps define who I am. Human Resources needs to get on board with the social media trend and find ways that protect privacy, while also finding ways to add value social media data. I am no longer defined by my job – I am defined by my Linked In profile – so get on board and tweet me!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Could HR Have Been The Moral Compass for Penn State?

I am pretty sure I know what most of us think about Jerry Sandusky, I am less sure about what many may think of Joe Paterno, but the area where we should all be thinking more about is the Penn State management and the Penn State culture. What is it that makes a man like Joe Paterno who is most likely a man of high integrity who has helped many a young man grow into positive, valuable role models turn a blind eye to something as egregious as child exploitation?  I am sure there are all sorts of psychological reasons that I am not qualified to comment on, but one area I can discuss is the failure of leadership.

Penn State had a strong goal that everyone bought into – but that goal had a limited moral compass to keep it on track. That moral compass has to come from senior management – and especially from HR. Given the circumstances of the Penn State affair – I doubt HR was much in the loop of what was happening there (I sure hope not anyway) but similar – if maybe not as horrible – types of breach of moral or ethical standards happen all too often in many corporations today.

We all espouse the value of a company or organization that has a strong culture and a strong focus on their goals. But that focus can lead people to lose track of other important goals that should drive our everyday life. Clearly everybody in-the-know at Penn State had lost their senses.

In most companies HR is in the heart of building the culture, supporting the corporate goals and advising senior management on how to blend culture with business goals and company priorities. But another role that HR can play is making sure the organization does not lose its moral compass. HR is in the perfect position to warn when a company is going too far and to be there when actions go beyond what is acceptable.

I tend to believe that if HR had been in the loop at Penn State – things would not have gotten out of hand. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Whatchamacallit Human Resource Data Solutions

We’re having an identity crises. My partner and I started a business in deep web data mining. We have lots of ideas about data products, but we’ve not settled on the best idea yet. Part of the problem is we aren’t really sure what our focus will be. We’ve generated so many great ideas. We could focus on human resource data. I have been in various roles in the human resource field since 1983 (that ages me). My background is mostly business process and technology and my focus has been on building better HR solutions: payroll, recruiting, employment screening and testing, on-boarding and training. So something in the HR field makes sense. But there are a lot of other areas where data can be used. Insurance companies for one; Government, business intelligence, market intelligence are some other areas. My partner’s background is in artificial intelligence with a specialty in finding information in complex data relationships, so the potential is fairly broad.

As we were looking at the product ideas and starting to apply a number of classic product feasibility models to the list, I stopped us about two-thirds of the way through and asked: What is our name? This earned me strange looks from my partner but I pressed on. I felt that one of the critical missing elements of our product assessment was “did it fit with our company mission” and in order to know that, we needed an identity. Are we going to build something that reflects our passion, our personalities? Yes. That is very important to us. Do we have a social commitment, a commitment to our profession, a goal for the impact we want the company to make? Yes, all these things are important to us. I felt pushing ourselves to find a name and define the company would help us narrow the list of potential products.

So, we stepped back. We went through an exercise to identify what was most important to us. We asked where our business would be 3 to 5 years out. In fact, we went through a series of exercises designed to define why we were in business and what we wanted to achieve. Using that, we applied it against the product list – along with some of the more traditional product assessments and narrowed it down to the top 5 ideas that we can now more fully vet.We know what we want to be, and how our products will be a part of that definition. 

But we still don’t have a name. Guess I’ll still have to keep answering to Whatchamacallit. Wonder how that will look on a business card?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I Tweet Therefore I Am Hired

In a world where seemingly everyone has gotten involved in Social Media (still hate that term), is it odd when you run across someone who is not? I am not talking about someone in their 80s, but someone in today’s work-a-day world. Certainly there are many people who do not feel they have time, or who may feel that their personal involvement in social or professional networks adds little value to either their professional standing or their company’s performance. But isn't this a dying breed? Don’t many execs’ still make sure their profiles are up to date? In fact, aren't most of these exec’s using staff to make sure their word is heard? Of course they are.

So how does Social Media participation effect career growth? Can this participation help you move up in your current job or help you find a new one?

In a recent Blog post by Matt Petronzio on Mashable he writes about a web site called Jackalope that uses your social media connections to help you find a job. What if you don’t have any connections?

Is this a first step toward social media being part of your professional vita? I can see that day when social media participation is considered a positive aspect of your professional profile – just like the school you went to or the extracurricular activities you participate in. This information gives the recruiter or hiring manager a better feel for who you are. Why not your social media footprint as well? Participation in social media shows you as an active, connected and (hopefully) thoughtful person. Can considering this information as part of the hiring decision not be too far away? 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What Starling Murmuration Teaches us About HR

Starlings are small birds that occasionally fly in huge flocks that shift and undulate through the sky. If you’ve never seen a video of Starling Murmuration take a quick look at this link: Starling Murmuration. These birds move about in perfect unison acting as several independent minds moving in concert to create a collective mind that serves the larger purpose.

Corporations have a similar goal – at least on paper. They want everyone to work together to achieve a common direction. They create strategic plans, mission statements, departmental goals and objectives, all aimed at trying to make people move in concert toward a greater goal. What they don’t understand is this is only half the equation. Think back to the Starlings again. Now imagine what would happen if every time they needed to move in one direction or another they had to check with senior management first. You get the picture. Starlings don’t have a single boss – they have a collective, shared interest and everyone provides input.

The employee world is shifting underneath these traditional command and control structures. A combination of technology (which enables the change) and shifting attitudes are creating a world where people want to (and can) add value without always being told what to do. This shift creates huge challenges for the way companies execute Human Resources. HR needs to change the way it hires, change the way it manages and motivates and change the way they “off-board” as well as on-board employees.

If companies expect to achieve the kind of true synergy you see in the Starling Murmuration – they have to give more of their birds free wing to fly. 

Image Credit: Irish Biker Forum

Monday, July 9, 2012

Paracosm: Fantasy and Invention In HR

According to Wikipedia, “A paracosm is a detailed imaginary world, or fantasy world, involving humans and/or animals, or perhaps even fantasy or alien creations. Often having its own geography, history, and language, it is an experience that is developed during childhood and continues over a long period of time: months or even years.”

A lot has been written recently about how fantasy games or online fantasy worlds are being used by companies to bring out our creative juices. As human beings we are so bounded by our day to day, that it can be difficult for us to break out of that mold to see new patterns. By adopting a new world in these fantasy environments we can break the mold altogether, we can be someone and live somewhere that is totally alien to where we are today. I ran across the word Paracosm when I was reading an article in Wired Magazine about Fan Fiction and creativity. The article suggests that all you who look down your noses at people who “waste their time” playing in these fantasy worlds are somehow geeks with no life might have missed a major point! Apparently, in 2002 a couple of researchers named Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein discovered that recipients of the MacArthur Genius Grants are twice as likely to be active paracosmics.

I don’t know of any HR people who have won genius grants, but I do know a lot of very smart HR people with a great sense of play and fantasy left in them. The only problem is they don’t bring it to work anymore. HR is being left out of the innovation game. Rarely do you see a company meeting where people are brainstorming on new product innovations that involves the head of HR. And more rare still do you ever see the HR department truly brainstorming on new ideas. HR tends to follow the pack. For them, brainstorming is picking a new benefits provider. It does not have to be that way. Some of the HR people I know and work with are among the more creative people I’ve met. But they aren’t encouraged or rewarded to be that way. HR has become all about risk management.

Therein lays the problem – and the seeds of the demise of HR if things don’t change. The rapidly changing work environment is going to force new ways to think about how employees and employers interact. The fantasy world of what the workplace could look like 10 and 20 years from now is limited only by our ability to fantasize. HR would be well served to engage in a little paracosmic play. Think about it, what kind of HR manager did they have on the Starship Enterprise?

Live long and prosper.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Welcome to HRInnovator

HRInnovator is going to be a site that talks about my journey with my partner Steve Minton, building and creating a new, innovative set of products that will help HR find and use data better. I will also talk about other HR innovations and try to create a dialog about HR innovations in general. Many might consider HR to be too conservative to be a hotbed of innovations. But if the profession of HR does not lead it - they will be left behind, because the people (employees, entrepreneurs, job seekers, contractors, etc.) who use HR will drive the change. It is a new employment economy driven by Gen X and Gen Y to be more virtual, more flexible and more conducive to an open market of resource exchange. On the HRInnovator blog site we will talk about these ideas and explore the challenges and opportunities these developments will bring. Hop on: Enjoy the ride.