#Masterplan2014 Conference Wrap-up in Tweets

It has been a phenomenally engaging and enjoyable couple of weeks as ATC Events and Kienco ran the #Masterplan2014 Strategic Workforce Planning conference in Melbourne (26/27 March) and then Wellington (1/2 April).  Some photos and videos are coming, but for now I'll just reiterate my heartfelt thanks to the following people:

  • Stuart Elliott of Suncorp Group, our incredible MC who kept us on track, on time, on topic, and on edge;
  • Our phenomenal speakers;
  • Our business partners ATC Events, who are an absolute pleasure to work with and who we're very proud to be associated with;
  • The sponsors Aruspex and Workforce Planning Australia; and
  • All of the delegates who came and participated in the event.

It's a sign of the times that a conference that had around 150 delegates across two locations "down under" had a global reach - as well as the many media stories leading up to and during the conference, the Twitter stream reached 192,600 people through twitter and appeared in timelines 1,371,273 times.  Here are some of my favourites:

For all of you who made these events a success, thank you for your participation and support.  And if you missed out, ATC Events' "Main Event" is the Australasian Talent Conference, now in its' 8th year and featuring a new innovation lab showcasing cool new HR technologies.  You can find out more about that Australasian Talent Conference here.

Ninjas for Minimum Wage

Back in feudal Japan, ninjas were revered warriors whose functions included espionage, sabotage, infiltration, and assassination. Unfortunately, career prospects dried up for Ninjas in the 1600's due to the unification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate. Today, job prospects for Ninjas are slim.

Airport Ninjas By Asacyan (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Airport Ninjas By Asacyan (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

For a ninja who has really modernised their skillset, however, there's still hope.  For example, there's a job ad on seek for a consumer goods company looking for a Sydney-based MYOB and Excel Ninja.  That same person needs to be "an efficiency Junkie who embraces technology to the max", an "outlook champion", "sharp as a knife...like a razor blade crafted from a shark's tooth", an "Excel guru", and happy to work for a salary of between $30,000 - $44,999 AUD.  Yes that's right, the starting salary for Ninjas is now below minimum wage in the 5th most expensive city in the world.  And that's only if they are also gurus, junkies, and champions as well.  

I've written before about Rockstar employees, and whether it's really a good strategy to give them spear guns and bacon-wrapped cash.  But generally speaking, the worst thing a rock-star employee will do is trash their hotel room and a guitar or two.  Do you really want ninja employees, who are trained in sabotage and assassination?

This trend towards advertising for rockstar, ninja, and guru employees doesn't do anyone any favours. Time and time again, we at Kienco see that a employer whose talent brand doesn't match the reality of being an employee are burdened by high early voluntary turnover and high disengagement.  A brand is a promise, and broken talent brand promises lead to ex-employees - or actively disengaged employees.  I don't know what it's like to work for an employer that pays less than minimum wage but wants ninjas.  Perhaps you really do light fires to distract the security guards when you enter the building, dress in disguise, scale walls, and practice martial arts on the job.  But I doubt it.

In Australia under the Trade Practices Act, consumers have protections against false advertising.  These protections apply regardless of intent to mislead - "where the overall impression left by a business’s advertisement... creates a misleading impression in your mind... then the behaviour is likely to breach the law." (source).  Basically, there's a difference between marketing and lying.  Legally, in this case, the consumer market has more protections than the talent market.  That doesn't make it right, or smart, to over-sell an open position.  What's your take on hiring Ninjas and Rockstars?

Related Articles:

What Google can teach you about Talent Brand

Rockstar Employees get Riders too

A Tattoo is Forever, Just Like an Employer

Innovation Techniques: A Cheeseburger in a Tree

The Cheeseburger Tree - Why Not?

The Cheeseburger Tree - Why Not?

You may know about Howard Hughes, one of the richest men of the 20th century and the subject of the film The Aviator.  Hughes was at various times in his life a test pilot (setting world records in both speed and distance), an entrepreneur, movie producer, TV station owner, real estate mogul, and a significant shareholder in an airline that became TWA. In his personal life, Hughes was romantically linked with Katharine HepburnBette DavisOlivia de HavillandGinger RogersAva Gardner, and Faith Domergue.

By any account, Hughes had a fascinating and remarkable life - and all of his business success enabled him to have a different perspective than most.  Hughes managed to solve problems that others might not even recognise as a problem.  An innovation technique that has been proposed by Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayers in their excellent book "Why Not?" is that when faced with an intractable problem or wanting to spot an opportunity, think about how Howard Hughes (or indeed, anyone with a practically unlimited supply of money) would approach it.  This broadens the frame of what's possible as an idea generation tool - and can then be refined back to what's practical.

For inspiration:

  • In 1966, Hughes had been staying in the Penthouse Suite at the Desert Inn hotel and casino in Las Vegas for a few weeks.  Another customer was coming into town and had booked the room, so Hughes bought the property for $13.2 Million so he didn't have to check out.
  • Hughes was an insomniac and a movie buff.  Because it was the 60's and the Home VCR wasn't invented until 1975, Hughes had no means of watching the movies he wanted, when he wanted to.  So instead, he bought a TV Station, K-LAS TV, in 1968.  Hughes would reportedly call up the station in the middle of the night to order particular movies to be played - and re-wound if he missed part of them.
  • Hughes became obsessed by Baskin-Robbins' Banana Ripple icecream, and ordered the hotel to stock it.  When Baskin-Robbins stopped making it, his assistants had to special-order the flavour from the factory in minimum orders of 200 gallons (around 750 litres).  
  • According to Tim Ferriss's 4 Hour Workweek, In his hotel-bound years, Hughes was rumoured to have instructed assistants to place a single cheeseburger in a specific tree outside his penthouse room at 4:00pm each day, whether he was there or not.
  • Hell's Angels was Hughes's first film, and the most expensive movie ever made at the time of its' release.  The film cost $3.8 million in 1930 ($54 million in today's money).  More than 70 pilots were used in the film, and 3 of them died during shooting.

Naturally the insights that you can get from putting yourself in Hughes's shoes have limited practical use to begin with - after all, there are few who have the equivalent of Hughes's monetary resources.  But in fact, this is the point.  The "Hughes Method" is effective in generating ideas by suspending practicality, and having a vision of what's possible.  The trick is then to refine from those insights to more practical solutions.  The VCR, home delivery, and movie special effects have since solved three of the problems that Hughes identified.  Often by visualising ideal solutions in the way Hughes did, we can then bring those solutions back to more practical responses that may have many of the benefits with only a fraction of the cost.  Without visualising them in the first place, we'll never get those insights.

The Hughes Method is one of many techniques that can be used with HR Strategy - or, indeed, any type of corporate strategy.  If Hughes was in charge of your organisation today, how would he structure the workforce?  Who would he hire?  Where would operations be?  Why?


The Magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Laura Wolff Scanlan, Vegas's Revolutionary Recluse

National Geographic, The Secret History: Howard Hughes (Video)

IMDB, Hell’s Angels Trivia

Wolfram Alpha Currency Conversion 1930 to today

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Technology vs Humanity

Recently at a conference, a presenter said something that really resonated with me... "When recruiters think candidate experience, they think technology. But candidates, they think humanity." I love that.  I'm a big believer that differentiation is at the heart of strategy.  Think about a brand, service, product, or company that you're loyal to.  It might be your favourite restaurant, your favourite magazine, or your favourite app.  What is it that drives that loyalty?  The chances are that it's something that appeals to your values, your geography, or your tastes.  The chances are that nobody else is delivering in quite the same way, otherwise you wouldn't be loyal.  The reason you are loyal is because that company, product, service, or brand is unique.  They're not afraid to be different, in fact they embrace and leverage their uniqueness.  The opposite of a differentiated market is a commodity market.  Who the hell wants to be selling goods / services / jobs in a commodity market?  

If you accept the premise that differentiation is at the heart of strategy and take that to its' logical conclusion, a surprisingly helpful insight comes to you... if all of your HR practices are common practices, you don't have a strategy. 

Do you know what's popular in recruitment right now?  Automation, "spray & pray" advertising, and giving a long list of requirements without a realistic job preview.  What's not popular with recruitment is following up with every candidate.  Giving feedback.  Giving the candidates enough information to self-select out of a job that won't be a good fit for them.  Telling the unvarnished truth.  Those that do these things are the ones who will differentiate and win in the talent market as recruitment becomes increasingly disintermediated.  Is it worth a try?

That other important day for relationships this week... Hippo Day

It's mid February, and it's only a few days until that very important day of the year that partners don't want to forget if they want to stay in their relationships.  Yes, I'm talking about HR Business Partners and Hippo Day on Feb 15th.

Pygmy Hippopotamus: Source

Pygmy Hippopotamus: Source

Often when running workshops for scenario planning, we come across what I've come to know as the HiPPO Phenomenon - the HiPPO is the Highest Paid Person's Opinion.  This generally happens in organizations that are highly structured, and where there is a low tolerance for dissent or creativity.  The opinion of the Highest Paid Person (typically a senior manager) is dominant, and the opinions of others are dismissed - and, after a while, not offered at all.

One of the most critical components of Strategic Workforce Planning is to determine which factors may have an impact on the future workforce (Environment Scanning), and which of these have an uncertain outcome.  The outcome of these discussions is a process of scenario planning, which is about qualitatively exploring an uncertain future.  Like any brainstorming activity, ideas should come from a wide range of perspectives, and and having both a variety and volume of opinions leads to a more comprehensive and valuable outcome.

In other cases, you see "groupthink".  Social Psychologist Irving Janus coined the term Groupthink in 1972 to describe what happens when a group makes faulty decisions because of group pressures. There's a good resource about groupthink here.  You might see an example of groupthink where there is an opinion - stated as a fact - that won't necessarily hold up to scrutiny, but nobody is prepared to question it.  Here are some classic examples:

  • "We're an employer of choice" (because it says so on our website); 
  • "We really need to get our turnover down" (our turnover is 3% and our workforce is aging)
  • "Generation Y workers are disloyal" (66% of all employed Gen Yers say they will switch careers sometime in their working life, compared with 55% of Gen Xers and 31% of Baby Boomers, according to Pew Social Trends.  But in fairness, Baby Boomers are currently aged between 48 and 66; whereas Gen Y are aged between 12 and 32.  If this says anything about Gen Y, it's not that they are disloyal - it's that 1/3rd of them are very optimistic.)

One of the best techniques I know of for dealing with both groupthink and HiPPO phenomena is a modified version of the Delphi Method.  This is a structured way of getting feedback from a group where the effect of deference to HiPPOs and an unwillingness to dissent are both minimised.  It works like this:

  1. Participants offer their insights / thoughts / ideas in an anonymous survey. In the case of environment scanning, this might be as simple as asking them which 5 things they think might affect the workforce in the next 10 years in each of the categories of Policital, Environmental, Social, and Economic trends.
  2. The coordinator collates this information and comes up with a list of all factors, and distributes them to the same group of people.
  3. The participants provide comments and ratings on all of the factors - even their own.  Once again, this feedback is anonymous; and return these to the facilitator.
  4. The coordinator yet again compiles and sends out another round with the comments (anonymously) incorporated.  
  5. The participants give each factor a rating and send back to the facilitator
  6. The results are tallied and the final list of factors determined. 

This method allows free expression of opinions, encourages open critique, also allows admission of errors when revising earlier judgments.  The results are dramatic - more often than not, it's not the "hippo" who comes up with the most innovative insights and strategies, and all participants are more willing to constructively evolve their own, and others', ideas.

So don't forget HiPPO day this Saturday, and celebrate it by being prepared to speak up where you have a well thought out and justifiable opinion that goes against the accepted norm - regardless of your pay rate.  And if you suspect you might be a HiPPO (or is that a HiPP?), try to encourage others to offer their opinions before you offer yours.  Happy HiPPO day everybody!

10 years of Facebook - how connectedness is changing the workplace

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Thefacebook.png

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Thefacebook.png

Today, Facebook celebrates its' 10th Birthday, and Mark Zuckerberg's post talks about connectedness and how the world has changed in the past decade.  He also refers to how social media will change over the next 10 years to become as much about solving problems as about sharing moments, particularly in light of new technologies which will have us generating and sharing more data.

In 2004, but for some context, the state of the art mobile phone that year was the Motorola Razr 3, which boasted a VGA Camera, a 2.2 inch colour screen, and 5.5mb of memory (around 1/3000th of the memory of a current-day 16GB phone).

Social media has changed in that time, but it's changed the world too.  LinkedIn is a little older (its' 11th Birthday is in May), and Twitter's not quite 8 years old yet.  Google is a relatively ancient 15 years old.  

I remember my first overseas trip in 2000, trying to make a phonecall back home from an internet cafe in Tel Aviv.  3 years before Skype was started, internet telephony was good enough that my family in Melbourne knew that it was me calling, but not good enough that they had any idea what I was saying.  

Can you imagine life without LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Skype?  The world certainly would be a less connected place.  More than one billion people are on Facebook, and more connected to one another's lives than they would be without it.  Sometimes that's a good thing, and sometimes it's not - but whatever your position, it's undoubtedly a powerful thing.  

It's hard to predict what technologies will affect our daily lives 10 years from now.  Perhaps Facebook won't be around anymore, and it certainly won't be around in its' current form.  But we can be certain that the world will be more connected, and more online, than it is today.

This provides us with enormous opportunity from a work perspective.  Chris Anderson in Makers talks about the power of this connectedness to change the way we source and develop a workforce, and indeed form companies.  This passage was a huge eye-opener for me:

"Jordi is CEO of 3D Robotics Inc., a multimillion-dollar company with a state-of-the-art factory in San Diego.  As I write this, he is twenty-four years old.  How did this transformation happen? Three steps:

1. A smart kid who didn't happen to be born in the United States, didn't speak great English, and didn't do terribly well in school did have access to the Internet.  Because he was curious and driven, he used the greatest information resource in history to make himself one of the world's leading aerial robotics experts.  He was just following his passions, but in the process he got what amounts to a 'Google Ph.D.'.

2. When I decided, against all odds, to start a company to do aerial robotics, I did it with the smartest guy on the subject I knew.  I didn't ask for a resume.  It wasn't necessary.  That guy had already proven himself by making extraordinary things.

3. With a lot of support from the community, some fearlessness, and once again the power of Google research, Jordi learned the fundamentals of electronics manufacturing and manufacturing operations.  He hired a smart team of mostly other twentysomethings, a mix of Americans and bicultural Mexican engineers from Tijuana.  They did the same thing, quickly learning everything they needed to know online, both in research and by asking people.  Eighteen months later, they were running a world-class robotics factory.

Twenty years ago, what would have been the chances that when the editor of Wired magazine decided to start an aerial robotics company, he would end up partnering with a nineteen-year-old high school graduate from Tijuana?  Yet today it seemed like the most natural thing.  Why wouldn't you start a company with people with whom you were already working well, who had already proven their mettle?  It seems so much riskier to take a flier on someone you don't know, just because that person has a degree from a good school". 

In Zuckerberg's post today, there's an interesting parallel:

"When I reflect on the last 10 years, one question I ask myself is: why were we the ones to build this? We were just students. We had way fewer resources than big companies. If they had focused on this problem, they could have done it. The only answer I can think of is: we just cared more."

In both cases, it's passion - not the right degree or the right contacts that has led to success. The lesson for HR?  If you're still screening your workforce on the basis of the "right" degrees and the "right" background, without considering agility, aptitude, passion and achievements, you're in the old guard.  And some 19-year-old, somewhere in the world, is going to disrupt your business model.

Happy Birthday Facebook, and thanks.

HR Moves into the Boardroom

Here's one way for HR to get into the boardroom... 

If you'd like to learn about other ways, why not come to Kienco and ATC's inaugural Strategic Workforce Planning Conference in Melbourne (March 26/27) and Wellington (April 1/2).  Full details on both events are at atcevent.com, or contact us.

The House that HR Built

In the early 1880's, Sarah Winchester, the heiress to the Winchester Rifle Company fortune, visited a medium in Boston after her husband died prematurely of Tuberculosis.  15 years earlier, her baby daugher Annie had died of the mysterious childhood disease marasmus.

The medium explained to Mrs Winchesterthat her family and her fortune were haunted by the spirits of those killed by Winchester Rifles, and that the deaths of her husband and daughter had been caused by these spirits.  The medium explained that to appease the spirits, Mrs Winchester must move out west and build a great house for the spirits.  As long as the house was never finished, Mrs Winchester's life wasn't in danger.

In 1884, Winchester purchased an unfinished 8-room farmhouse in San Jose, California, and hired builders to work around the clock on the house - which they did, 24 hours a day, until the day Sarah Winchester died peacefully in her sleep 38 years later.

Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, California

Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, California

At the time of Sarah Winchester's death, the house had 160 rooms, 2000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 stairways, 47 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, 6 kitchens, and only one shower... and many, many mysteries and bizarre architectural features.  Doors and Staircases to nowhere, Windows from the 2nd story floor, a cupboard that is only 1/2 an inch deep, and another that has 30 rooms hidden behind it.  Only three people have passed through the front doorway - Sarah Winchester, and the two carpenters who installed the doors.  President Theodore Roosevelt knocked on the doors once to pay his respects to Mrs Winchester, and was told by a gardener (who didn't recognise him) to go around the back like everyone else.

The Winchester Mystery House is a fascinating place, and some of its bizarre features come from the fact that Sarah Winchester, with no architectural experience, designed it - guided by the spirits.  Each night, Mrs Winchester would hold a seance in the seance room.  This room has only one entrance, but two additional exits - one through a one-way latch at the back of a wardrobe, and the other a drop down into a kitchen sink on the floor below.  Each night Mrs Winchester would hold a seance there and emerge with the building plans for the next day.  Each morning she would meet with the foreman John Hansen to discuss any new changes and additions.

So this is what you get when you build a house without an architect, without strategy or blueprints, and without an end-goal in mind.  A fascinating but confusing and disorientating home that appeases those who don't have to live in it.

What happens when you approach organisational design and HR initiatives the same way?  The same result.  Your workforce strategies and practices may be elaborate, expensive, and hauntingly beautiful.  For many organisations, they are guided by the "spirits" of best practice, case studies, and history.  But it pays to remember, it's the employees, not the spirits, who have to live in the house that HR builds.



The Plural of Statistic is not Strategy

The field is often referred to as “workforce planning and analytics”, but in fact, workforce planning and workforce analytics are two distinct, but related, fields. Often ‘workforce planning and analytics’ is the term applied to an approach that is analytics alone. While it’s true that analytics are critical to generating the insights for a strategic workforce plan, it is only one of several integrated steps that also includes ‘futuring’, environment scanning, and, most importantly, integration to business strategy.

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Workforce Analytics - Alex Hagan and Steve Pell in Conversation.

Last week I had the honor of being invited to speak at the Melbourne HR Talent Community with Steve Pell of Intrascope Analytics. Steve and I discussed analytics for HR, why "Big Data" is all the rage, and why most of the valuable data about your workforce is already sitting inside your internal systems (Big Data or Small Data, it's all about the insights). The enclosed video is 8 minutes extracted from the 45+ minute conversation. 

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