Monday, November 18, 2013

Racing Along the Electric Highway

I recently had an opportunity to hear Elon Musk, Founder and CEO of Tesla, speak to a select German audience of journalists and Tesla owners.  In fact, I’m pretty sure the person who took this picture was the 6’4’’ guy standing in front of me, forcing me to peek around him at the great man. 

Tesla offers a modern example of how human ingenuity can turn a well-established market on its ear.  Contrary to popular belief, people don’t actually want cars.  What they want is convenient mobility and - if they can afford it - a status symbol. 

Tesla’s CEO also recognizes an important truth about people: Most will not lift a finger to save the environment - let alone give up their beloved SUV - just because it may be better for the world.  It’s not that people are inherently bad or hate polar bears but convenience and comfort will always trump high ideals. 

And let’s face it, owning an electric car is not at present as convenient as owning a gas guzzler.  You have to wait ages to get your Tesla.  You can’t charge it at a regular gas station.  There’s only one Tesla service station in all of Germany.

So what do you do if you want to reinvent the mobility market but you can’t - yet - compete on convenience or price? 
  • You make it a status symbol to get the early adopters, knowing that once you get enough swing mass you can focus on other market segments. 
  • You have really cool shops with hip and polite young sales reps who have clearly drunk the Tesla Kool-aid. 
  • You team up with family friendly franchises like McDonald’s to establish convenient charging stations. 
  • You invest in R&D to come up with faster ways to charge than filling a gas tank, such as battery changing stations. 

Most importantly, you show people how the world can be a better place with little or no inconvenience to themselves, whereby any minor inconvenience incurred initially is offset by cool early adopter status.  That, my friends, is how you change the world.

And sure enough, that's pretty much what Tesla is doing, building their own electric highway to bring a new generation of mobility to the masses.  Right now the plan is 10,000 cars on the German roads by 2015, which is a small drop in the bucket compared to the overall German automotive market.  However, if this business model is successful we’ll see electric car adoption spike dramatically over the next decade. 

For you doubters, remember how quickly the iPad took off: quickly passing status symbol status to become a mainstream business tool, inspiring a promising niche business in computing accessories and forever changing how laptop manufacturers and software vendors design their products.

The world is at a critical juncture right now, where established business models persist in trying to hold out against the rising tide of distributed human ingenuity.  This isn't touchie feelie 'power to the people' claptrap, it's a modern business reality.  And it's happening all around us:

  • Business leaders cling to the status quo as social networks democratize the leadership function. 
  • Utilities conglomerates lobby for enormous energy projects that will take decades to get off the ground while private citizens get on with putting solar panels on their homes. 
  • Movie studio executives, venture capitalists and other folks who that have traditionally controlled which ideas make it to market are being sidestepped by the likes of Kickstarter and the Maker Movement.  

And while established car manufacturers make teeny, tiny incremental improvements to reduce gas consumption, visionaries like Elon Musk are reinventing the market.  Whether he succeeds or fails, the mobility industry - among others - will never be the same.

OK, it's just a car but as I listened to Elon Musk's vision for the future it really hit me that the fires of creation are burning brightly, fueled by social platforms, ubiquitous information and enormous technical possibility.   Everything, simply everything, about business as we know it is going to change over the next ten years.

Tomorrow's leaders will be people who partner with others to change the world in a climate where worth is measured not by what you know, but what you share. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Truth About Talent

I just finished reviewing a new i4cp research report The People-Profit Chain: A Model for Increasing Market Performance by up to 3x.   It's chock full of metrics, best practices and practical tips on how to connect the dots between people practices and market performance.

You can learn more over at Compensation Cafe: The People-Profit Chain.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

What Animates Me

My kids love the movie Despicable Me, even my two year old, who recently demanded his own minion.

To be honest, I wasn't all that crazy about the movie when I finally got around to watching it.  But Despicable Me 2 is a whole 'nother story because.... apparently, I'm in it!!

That's right, I've been animated as a feisty character named Lucy Wilde.  Finally my dramatic talent has been recognized! 

You don't believe me?  I didn't either at first but check out the evidence:

We are clearly the same person:

I mean, we even have the same scarf!!!
But it's the video that clinches it:

Anyway, I give Despicable Me 2 two thumbs up and a ju jitsu slash krav maga karate chop for action, humor and great character work.  If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it. 

And if you know me, prepare to be slightly freaked out!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Like a Dog Chewing on a Toffee

One of my most admired colleagues, whose advice carries the weight of an edict with me, asked me to write a post about working with ambiguity.  She believed it would be cathartic for me personally but she also felt that sharing my experience working through ambiguity could be beneficial to others.

“Everywhere I look,” she said, “I see people struggling to move forward and add value without understanding what they should be doing or what’s going to happen next.  I think you can be a beacon in the dark.” 

(OK, so I added that last bit.  Her words were more along the lines of, ‘I think you may be able to contribute to this topic.’)

Ambiguity is a state of un-clarity or two opposing emotions.  Anyone who enjoys the fabulous BBC comedy Red Dwarf is familiar with Kryton the robot’s description of ambiguity: “I’ve been practicing ‘ambiguity’ but I look like a dog chewing on a toffee.” 

Ambiguity at work can take many forms: an unclear role, lack of feedback about your performance, a situation where people act friendly but aren't really, a workplace bully who picks on you and disparages your work, etc. 

Unfortunately, these are all common scenarios in the workplace that detract from cross-functional alignment, cooperation and team spirit but knowing this doesn’t help because it may or may not change. 

Let me be very clear here: Complaining or feeling sorry for yourself won’t help, although confiding in someone you trust may bring new perspective to the situation.  Putting your head in the sand also won’t help because it won’t move you forward.  And unfortunately, doing great work won’t help because ambiguity is typically a leadership rather than a performance problem. 

The only things you control are how you respond to the situation and how you behave toward others.  And as it happens, that’s a lot.

I don’t claim to personify grace under fire but like you I’ve had my share of difficult work situations.  Along the way I’ve picked up a few tips that keep me focused and moving forward and here they are:

  • Be patient - Change is always in the air and this too shall pass. Jobs change. Toxic colleagues come and go.  Mind you, things may also get worse rather than better but you don’t control that so why dwell on it.
  • Be open - Your world is full of people, ideas and opportunities.  Don’t get so caught up in your situation that you miss them.  If you close your eyes and sit very still you can feel the potential in the air.  Have lunch with someone and talk about teaming up on a project.  Strike up a conversation on the train.  Be aware of what’s going on around you.
  • Be kind - Don’t make a difficult situation more difficult by responding with resentment or unkindness.  Both good and bad behavior are contagious so act like someone you’d enjoy working with.
  • Be helpful - Helping others gives you meaning in the workplace and can also expose you to new friends, ideas, skills and opportunities.
  • Be grateful - Try to forget the people or circumstances who are making your life difficult right now and raise a glass to those who have helped you along the way.  Maybe you can return the favor.
  • Be creative - Don’t be afraid to try new things.  Don’t do what people expect.  Don’t be afraid to fail.  Mind you, unless you’re Steve Jobs this probably won’t help your career but the world is rarely changed by successful people.  (Note: I work in marketing where creativity and experimentation are somewhat tolerated.  This advice obviously does not apply to brain surgeons, nuclear energy plant safety inspectors, etc.)
  • Be prepared - It is infinitely easier to deal with ambiguity if you have options.  And if you are open, creative, and patient you will always have options.
  • Be moving - Because ambiguity pulls you in two directions it can be difficult to move and yet, that is what you must do.  If you stop moving you’ll get stuck and be a sitting target for other people’s plans for you, or lack thereof.
  • Be still - There comes a time when the best action to take is no action.  By all means try new things and play your best hand but you can’t control everything that impacts you.  Knowing when to let go and float with the current is perhaps the most important lesson there is.

That’s it.  That’s all my hard-earned wisdom.  Try it and let me know how it works out for you. 

And remember, you’re not alone.  Everyone around you struggles with uncertainty every day.  Cut them - and yourself - some slack.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The New 'R' in HR

So here's an idea.  Write down your company's top 3 business goals and see if you can find any common themes.

I’m guessing what they all have in common is a need to respond to change with new business strategies.  (Uncanny, I know.)

Let’s take a quick look at some of the changes that are probably impacting your business strategy:

Consumer technology has changed the face of business.
  • The mobile device is today’s desktop.
  • People shop with their phones.
  • Everyone’s talking ‘SMAC’ (social, mobile, analytics, cloud)
Social technology has inspired new ways of working.
  • People expect an intuitive, personalized experience.
  • They’re mobile and connected.
  • They want to share ideas and information.
Modern business is global and ultracompetitive.
  • Companies must adapt their strategies faster than ever before.
  • The most important product is service.
  • Human resources is about building relationships.
The companies that are ahead of the curve on all this change are the companies that are able to innovate quickly.  For example:
  • Pharmaceutical companies must innovate to compete with cheaper generic brands.  
  • Retailers must innovate to reach online consumers. 
  • Manufacturers must innovate to streamline processes and reinvent the supply chain. 
  • Financial services companies must innovate to rebuild consumer trust. 
  • Management consultants must find ways to differentiate their services in a networked world where information is freely available.
Companies that fail to innovate will quickly find themselves falling behind.  And innovation is no longer limited to product R&D but impacts every aspect of service delivery.

If innovation matters to the business, it’s mission critical to create a culture of innovation.  There is plenty of literature about how to do this but it really comes down to encouraging experimentation and collaboration. 

A personal story that illustrates the importance of collaboration: My 9-year-old daughter just ran into my office for help with a geometry problem.  I could see the answer but not how to show the work so I made random suggestions until she experienced a cognitive leap and found the answer herself.  She was amazed that she got the answer with me - even though I didn’t have the answer - but hadn’t been able to figure it out on her own. 'That’s the power of collaboration,’ I explained.  She frowned so I tried again.   ‘Sometimes working with someone else helps.’ 

In today’s social economy, relationships matter to the business more than individuals because business innovation springs from collaboration and a feeling of connection to the organisation.  HR’s remit in the social economy is to remove barriers to collaboration with new technologies, organisational models and ways of working.

In other words, instead of human resources think 'human relationships'.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Talent Profiling 2.0

My oldest daughter (9) has successfully lobbied for riding lessons.  A former equestrian myself, I was all for the idea but my husband was harder to convince.

His initial response: ‘No way. What a completely useless skill!’

I bristled a bit at this. I rode horses competitively for seven years growing up, two of them on the school rodeo team, and while I don’t exactly use those skills today they are part of who I am.

‘Oh, yeah?’ I retorted. ‘If I’d married a Texan rancher instead of you I bet he wouldn’t say that to me!’

My husband stared at me blankly. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘You know I used to ride on a rodeo team in school,’ I responded icily.

I knew he knew because he’d laughed heartily at my tales of lining up to tie the understandably depressed school goat. I can still hear its plaintive ‘baaaaah’ each time it got flipped to the ground.

‘Oh, right.’ He still looked confused.

I sighed. This is the man who didn’t realize I could swim until we’d been married for about six years because he thinks an icy cold lake is perfect for a ‘refreshing dip.’

(He's German.)

‘Rodeo’s no cake walk, you know,’ I said sternly. ‘You have to keep your seat, pay attention to your posture, keep your ride in check, and often as not you have to rope a running cow or something from the back of a galloping horse. It’s a real skill.’

He stared at me thoughtfully, presumably trying to picture the woman he married on the back of a racing horse whirling a lasso in the air and yelling, ‘Yeee-haaaaw!

He seemed to be looking for the right words. Finally he settled for, ‘I find that hard to imagine.’

By now you're probably wondering what my point is, beyond letting the world know I know more about cows and horses than one might assume meeting me for the first time.

My point is that people have histories, skills and experience beyond what you hired them to do. Many of these skills may be completely useless but others could be exactly what you need for a particular project or job.

For example, if you're looking for a project manager you might try asking if anyone on your team knows how to herd cows. Trust me, I've done both and it's a transferrable skill.

One of the best ways to motivate people is to look beyond the tasks they perform for you today and consider how they can develop and integrate other skills going forward. Everybody wins.

All you need is a way to track skills, experience and interests globally and the ability to search against this information  when trying to fill a new job or staff a project.  The global visibility is really important because you may have the skills you need elsewhere in the organisation.

It's called talent profiling and some HR systems do it better than others.  Profiling your internal talent can help you find the right skills in your organisation when you need them as easily as buying a book or booking travel online. 

For hard to match skills, it's also a great way to find, leverage and develop the 'hard to imagine' talent in your organization.
Bottom line: In organizations that struggle to attract the right skills, developing and retaining talent matters.  And if you only look for obvious skills you may be neighing up the wrong tree.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Hey, HR, have you hugged your CIO today?

Josh Bersin recently wrote an article about why HR technology is so hot today.  These are all great reasons but all too often either IT tells HR which solutions they can use or else a charismatic CHRO drags a reluctant IT into this century. 

The result is typically incremental improvement in some areas, which is good but falls short of what is possible when HR and IT join forces. 

If you're curious about why, watch this HBR video called 'Change the Conversation, Change the Game'.  (Or, y'know, just keep reading...)

Here are a few highlights :

There are three forces changing the world of business: 1) The accelerating pace of change, where the future is no longer an extrapolation of the past; 2) Technology as a disruptive force changing how companies connect with people; 3) A new ‘authority phobic ‘ generation that expects openness, transparency and opportunity.

To be fit for future, companies must be adaptable, innovative and engaging, which is why traditional organisational models no longer work in today’s world. Too much authority is held by too few. There's too much emotional attachment to the past. It's difficult and personally risky to experiment and try new things. Business are slow to change and tend to weigh experience over new ideas and squelch initiative.

That's why here's what's top of mind for CEOs who want to do more than a bit of financial restructuring and an acquision or two:
  • If I want to run an agile, innovative, engaging company I can’t run it in the same way;
  • The new value proposition is in service, and to deliver world class service people need instant, accurate information about the people they serve.

 To succeed today, companies need to find new solutions for both organisations AND technology. These two things need to happen together, i.e., you can’t just throw some open source ‘innovation wiki’ at a traditional Management 1.0 organisation and expect innovation to ensue. Nor can you implement wide-sweeping organisational innovation without supporting it with the right technology.

Wallgreens CIO Tim Theriault spoke about being part of the ‘healthcare revolution’ and driving innovation that ‘increases revenue, lowers costs and enhances the customer experience’.  As an example of innovation that meets all three criteria, Walgreens allows customers to scan prescriptions on a mobile app and sends a text when the prescription is ready for pick up. 

Theriault also talks about changing the conversation from ‘opening more stores’ to ‘what happens in stores,’ i.e., the traditional inside out products focus evolving into an outside in services focus.  To make that shift you must empower people with the necessary information about customers in order to provide the best care and retain business. 

Whole Foods empowers people at all levels of the organization to take ownership of their part of the business with real time information on profitability for their departments and rewarding for targets met in each paycheck. Technology is used to hold everyone accountable as well as empower them to be successful with accurate, real-time information.

Bottom line: Both HR and IT often find themselves in the role of ‘order takers’ focused on keeping the lights on rather than driving true innovation. Together they can change the conversation because both new techonologies and new organisational models are needed to transform the business. 

So, have you hugged your CIO today? 

(Hey, it's a great conversation opener and you have LOTS to talk about.)

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