Thursday, January 31, 2013

Can HR Practitioners Be Entrepreneurs?

My colleague and fellow blogger Ian Welsh, recently wrote a blog post entitled The HR Entrepreneur – Moving the Business Forward where he asks these questions:

“Do you see the HR entrepreneur as in the strongest position to support business moving ahead?”

“Do you think that if we moved a little further in that direction we would gain greater acceptance by our peers, achieve at a higher level and finally sit at that elusive table?”

He has gotten a lot of responses ranging from NO – HR people aren’t entrepreneurs to absolutely YES HR people can be creative and can lead the charge.

I come down somewhat in the middle. By nature, most people in HR are not risk takers. That is not their role. HR people tend to be rule followers (and – though they generally don’t like this part of their jobs – they are often rule enforcers). That doesn’t usually make for a good innovation foundation.

I call myself an HR Innovator – but that might be interpreted by some as co-opting HR. I am not an HR practitioner and never have been. I am an HRIS professional. I have spent 25 years building solutions to support HR. Over those 25 years I’ve been able to work on a range of innovative HR projects, ranging from designing a payroll system for the International Labor Organization in 1987, to developing artificial intelligence routines to extract HR data from the web in 2008. In all these endeavors I have been able to tap the huge reserves of very clever HR people. Without their input – these projects would not have been as innovative and would not have been as relevant.

At the core of Ian’s excellent blog is this very point: HR people keep HR Entrepreneurship relevant.

I have not met many pure HR practitioners who are natural entrepreneurs. It is not their training and not their mindset – but HR entrepreneurialism would be much diminished without their participation. They may not be the engine that drives the change, but they are at least passengers, and may even be the ones doing the steering. 

(Image by Frits Ahlefeldt Public Domain Pictures)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Innovation, My Dog and Persistence

Have you ever had that feeling (this is a rhetorical question – because I know we all do) that when you take on a task it is supposed to be successful the first time you take it on? In fact, isn't it rather hard to find motivation for a task when you are not sure of the outcome?

How in the world do we ever survive as entrepreneurs?

Those who must be certain of the outcome don’t have a chance.

I was observing my dog the other day. Actually I was being quite irritated by my dog the other day. She has this habit of always expecting a positive outcome. For her, a positive outcome is either food or a walk. She is OK with just paying attention to her. But she believes that every motion I make has the possibility of resulting in food or a walk. She never gives up on this belief. She is never daunted by the failure of previous attempts. She always plows on. She is the epitome of persistence.

How many innovators have the same persistence?

How many of us who toil to discover and bring to light the next great idea give up too early?

Sometimes I think that old saying about repeating the same thing over and over again and each time expecting a new result is the definition of insanity might have a double edged meaning for innovators and entrepreneurs: Persistence in the face of overwhelming odds is crazy and YES, we have to be a bit insane to make innovation work.

I think going forward I am going to start acting more like my dog: Whatever new idea pops in my mind, I am going to assume it may one day result in food. And when it doesn't, I’ll just take a walk around the block.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Nine Months In Jail

I have a friend, a fellow that I used to work with. He just got out of jail. It all started with drinking. Most of these stories do. He was an IT director, very successful, had a wife, one young son, nice house. But he and his wife drank a lot. I never knew they did, it did not show up in his work. He hid it well. But things got worse for him over the years.

He lost his job, got a DUI or two, and violated his restraining order one too many times. They put him in jail.

Now he needs a job.

Would you hire him?

This is a guy with a lot of great technical skills in an economy where there is high demand for those skills. But he has an arrest record. That is challenge enough. But I learned something else about his struggle to find a job: he can’t get there. Or at least he can’t get to a lot of places.

I had breakfast with this friend of mine the other day. He was excited to announce that he had finally been offered a job. The interview went well. They questioned why a guy with so much experience and background would want this lower level position, but they also understood that someone with his past history needed to start over. Job offered, job accepted.

Then they told him the job started at 7:00 AM.

The buss that he has to rely on to get from where he lives to where he wants to work can’t get him there in time. When you have a DUI you lose your license. When you are in jail you can’t take the mandatory courses to gain it back.

I said I would drive him for the first two weeks.  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

My HR Innovation Rant: Why I Write My Blog

I wake up trying to think of new ways to tackle much of the old thinking that most of HR is bogged down by. I am fascinated by the potential for real, positive change that technology can bring about. I hate the fear-mongers who worry more about the risk than the reward. I love fighting the fight for a truly open information environment.

Traditional employment is stale and stultifying. 

I want to see people liberated by a new employee economy. I love the reaction I get when I write or speak about this topic. Most people love it, some are skeptical and some are afraid of it. 

Stirring up the dialog is what is exciting.

The New Employee Economy is powered by the flow of data that will enable a workforce that is not based on jobs and careers, but based on the free market of resources, ideas, skills and tools that move about the marketplace in much the same way other goods and services do today. The corporation of the future is predicted to be made up of less than 20% traditional employees. To get there, human resource data has to flow freely.

There are two problems that keep us from an open market for human resources. The first is fear of data privacy. People don't want too much of the data about themselves to be "out there." The second is tradition. We have always done work the same way (or at least for the last 100 years or so). The more knowledge we can share about how the world of work can change - the sooner we will overcome these obstacles.

I want to be an oar in the water pushing along the ideas that will change work forever.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Digital Recruiting is Not Mission Impossible

A few months back I read an HBR Blog called Digital Staffing: The Future of recruitment-by-Algorithm by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic where he started out by mentioning that “Americans are now spending more time on social networking sites than on all other sites combined” and that “As a consequence of spending so much time online, we now leave traces of our personality everywhere (and that) these online behaviors are of increasing interest to recruiters and employers, who are desperately trying to translate them into "digital reputations" and use them to find talent online.”

Dr Chamorro-Premuzic felt there were three primary reasons that employers are likely to find their future leaders in cyberspace.
  • First, the web makes recruiting easier for employers and would-be employees. 
  • Second, the web makes recruiting less biased and less clubby. 
  • Third, web analytics can help recruiters become more efficient. 

I could not agree more. About 8 months ago I partnered with a colleague of mine who is a PhD in artificial intelligence to begin building a data access and retrieval solution to help recruiters. Our first product is going to focus on leveraging internal referral networks. But we have several more ideas planned. The information available in public and private networks – our electronic footprint – is exploding, and while there are still several important issues to resolve around privacy, data miss-use, data ownership, etc. the growth of social data mining for recruiting, employee engagement, employee development, contract staffing, you name it, is going to explode in the next 2 to 3 years.
In his HBR Blog, Dr Chamorro-Premuzic predicts that “We will soon witness the proliferation of machine learning systems that automatically match candidates to specific jobs and organizations. Imagine that instead of receiving movie recommendations from Netflix or holiday recommendations from Expedia, you receive daily job offers from Monster or LinkedIn — and that those jobs are actually right for you.” LinkedIn, of course is already doing this – just not very well yet. But it will get better, and companies like mine will be layering new products on top of these networks to improve these data services even further.
I look forward to the day when I can wake up in the morning, choose the “job” I want to do for that day, and head to sleep knowing I will have new options again the following day.
Good morning, Mr. Hunt. Your mission, should you choose to accept it….

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Recruiting Technology Can Be Les Misérables

With apologies for my miss-use of the French word form, a lot of the recruiting technology that is out there today really is “Les Misérables”. If Fantine was a recruiter and left alone, unemployed and destitute – I could hear her sing:

I dreamed a dream in times gone by
And hope was high
Recruiting software was worth the buy
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now recruiting tech has killed
The dream I dream!

The problem has really been that most of the products on the market out there today take a broken process that was developed 20 years ago and try to make it more automated. The only thing you get from automating junk is faster junk. There have been some attempts to get at the heart of the problem (getting the best candidates to want to apply for your job) but little innovation has really helped much. The standard recruiting organization uses a tool to manage the requisition, create a job post, shove it out to irrelevant job boards, and pray for a good outcome. When that fails they call a headhunter. Ugh.

Maybe there is more help to come. Recruiting is going to change because job seekers (both passive and active) are going to change. The target audience for recruiting is more online today than ever before. They like hearing about opportunities – as long as they don’t get spammed. And they like to move around a bit to find the best job fit.

One area for hope is with referrals. Our employees are connected to huge numbers of people. But we don’t know how to tap the reservoir. Opportunity knocks.
So in spite of Javert  trying to thwart the best efforts of change, perhaps there is hope for the dream over this next decade.

(Photo curtesy of iStockphoto)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

MY HR Avatar

HR may one day just be an Avatar named Jane (or John if you prefer).

The confluence of technology that makes smart interaction between machine and human more effective, coupled with the increasingly “dummied down” model of HR that some companies think is all they need, could lead to a future where there are no humans who do HR, just machines. (Who will also be very good at telling you which form you have to use for this year’s “up to” 2.2% merit raises, but will probably dress nicer than your current HR rep does.)

About five years ago I had an extremely effective interaction with an Avatar that helped me rent some furniture while I was on temporary assignment in Atlanta. I don’t remember her name, but she will long be with me. I asked what furniture she would recommend for my 1 bedroom apartment that would fit within my budget and not look too much like faux early American press-board. She had a hard time with that last part – but quickly gave me a design that suited my needs. We talked some, adjusted the design a bit and three days later it arrived. I was in love.

Huge parts of HR can (and in many cases [almost] already do) work like this. Benefits, HR policy, payroll and a host of other frequent interactions with HR can all be done better by a well designed self help system. This You Tube video by Guile 3D shows a fascinating example of how interactive this stuff can be. The problem is, some companies act like that is all there is to HR and, unfortunately, some HR departments are too complacent in this view.

There are glimmers of sunshine in HR thinking, but too much of HR has been marginalized by the drive to cut spending and increase automation for pure efficiency sake without much thought going into how to improve performance and not just cost ratios. How many companies have the HR department report to the CFO! Way too many.

Really good HR people in really forward looking companies realize HR is like the line coach on a championship football team – they don’t just relay the coach’s messages, they make sure that everyone is ready, motivated and able to play to the best of their potential. (Sorry for the sports analogy – but you get the point).

HR should not be about efficiency – it should be about effectiveness. If we don’t get the dialog back on track, Jane (or John) will be the only love of our HR lives.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dear Facebook I Burned Down A Garage

When I was about 6 years old, my best friend and I almost burned down his garage. Back then the biggest long term repercussion I had to worry about was what would happen when dad got home. (He was a volunteer fireman and boy was he going to be pissed!)

My friend lived across the street and we were playing one summer afternoon in Oregon. My memory is that it was a sunny day – but this was Oregon – so I doubt it. We found some matches and thought it would be fun to start a little fire. Fire was cool. We had a whole empty garage to work with (for that matter we could have done this outside) but for some reason we thought setting up our little fire in the corner of the garage would be best. We piled up some papers and a few other things that would burn and lit it on fire. One of those other things turned out to be a kerosene soaked rag and that fire took off. It was really cool for about 5 seconds, and then we realized something was wrong. Fortunately mothers, and fire trucks, got there pretty quickly and we just ruined one side of a wall. (And the backsides of our butts).

What if my mom would have thought this was a cute story to post on her Facebook account. My little imp, she might say. All my mom’s close friends would get a kick out of it. But then, so would all their close friends. Before you know it, maybe about a 1000 close and not so close friends would know about it. Would everyone think I was a cute little imp? Would everyone think my mom was a good mom? Could this have hurt her career?

My wife works in early childhood development. If this were our son, would this reflect on her?

I love social media and I am even an advocate of using social media in the hiring process, but the one big problem we have to solve before any of us can be comfortable with it is PRIVACY. We have to let people live their lives. It is a lot of fun to keep up with family and friends. Social Media is an easy way to have an extended family even if that family extends around the globe. But not everything that happens in social media is job relevant. If companies are going to start using social media in their hiring process they have to first get that distinction right. My electronic footprint says a lot about me. I like that. But stay away from my personal life – you don’t need to know about that.

To paraphrase an old saying: “What happens in Facebook Stays in Facebook.”

Now, if you will excuse me – I have a neighbor’s garage I need to go to.