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.