Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Web 2.0 Hype


   I explained in my recent Knowledge Infusion webinar that I think web 2.0 and social networking tools can lead to transformational changes in organisations, and made the same point in show 001 of TalkingHR.

But do these opportunities really exist, or am I just falling for the hype / bubble around web 2.0?

I've had this question at the back of my mind for a while (since someone challenged me with a comment on this blog back in April), so I was pleased to receive a copy of Gardner's book, 'Mastering the Hype Cycle'.

I first came across the hype cycle when Jim Holincheck very kindly sent me a copy of Gartner's report, 'Hype Cycle for Human Capital Management Software' last year.

However, the book explains that the cycle was actually developed in 1995 while looking at the common patterns involved in the introduction of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, video on demand and the 'newly emerging world wide web'.  I missed it as I was just moving out of IT into HR at that time.

A bit like the S curve, the hype cycle shows that innovation adoption does not happen as a straight line but follows a predictable curve, travelling through the following five phases:

1. "Technology Trigger"
The first phase of a Hype Cycle is the "technology trigger" or breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest.

2. "Peak of Inflated Expectations"
In the next phase, a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.

3. "Trough of Disillusionment"
Technologies enter the "trough of disillusionment" because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.

4. "Slope of Enlightenment"
Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the "slope of enlightenment" and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.


5. "Plateau of Productivity"
A technology reaches the "plateau of productivity" as the benefits of it become widely demonstrated and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market


The book provides some good examples of hype cycles and also explain its causes, which include:

Social Contagion
"Although we might not like to admit it, we humans are at our core extraordinarily sensitive to what others around us are doing and saying.  We want to be seen as individuals, yet not be perceived as too different. 

Our tendency to be influenced by others probably originates from raw survival needs.  Early humans who joined the crowd fleeing from an unseen enemy probably lived to tell the tale.  If they insisted on validating the appropriateness of their cave colleague's behaviour through personal research, they probably found themselves wiped out of the gene pool by a herd of stampeding mammoths."


"[This is] a common social framework of attitudes, outlook, values, and expectations...  Innovations that fit within the framework are more likely to attract attention and generate excitement than those that take us in a fundamentally different direction."


The book lists the dangers inherent in adopting new technology (adopting too early, giving up too soon, adopting too late. and hanging on too long).  However, the movements in the cycle also provide opportunities, for example in the recruitment of:

  • Scarce talent looking to sell their knowledge and skills at a premium near the peak of the cycle
  • Demotivated but highly experienced talent during the trough
  • Talent with considerable relevant experience who want to stay aligned with a specific innovation as it moves from slope to plateau.


There's also a process to navigate the cycle: scope, track, rank, evaluate, evangelise and transfer (STREET).

One point I was pleased to see Gartner make, and that I completely agree with is that "the hype cycle really isn’t about technology, but about the human reaction to anything new – in particular the mismatch between expectations and reality".


So what about web 2.0?  Well, the book doesn't really deal with this, and I guess Gartner doesn't want to impact sales of its recent emerging technologies report.

But according to other bloggers, this report shows corporate blogging, wikis and social network analysis entering into the slope of enlightenment.

Microblogging is still in the technology trigger stage (and prediction markets seem to have dropped off the cycle since Gartner's 2006 report).

But web 2.0 is now entering the trough of disillusionment, so we may be going to see a bust in this bubble quite soon.  But Gartner still sound quite upbeat:

"Although Web 2.0 is now entering the Trough of Disillusionment, it will emerge within two years to have transformational impact, as companies steadily gain more experience and success with both the technologies and the cultural implications,"


What do you think?  It'd be great to have your comments on this.


Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Kennedy Information webinar: Building your social capital for maximum productivity and retention

Kennedy Information   I'm beginning to get my ideas on social capital a bit clearer and on 2 October will be sharing them on this Kennedy Information webinar.

In particular, I'll be covering:

  • The value of social capital through the employee lifecycle, from building it through initial recruitment efforts, to maintaining it during layoffs and downsizing
  • Some examples of different strategic contexts for social capital, and food for thought about the type of social capital which might make sense for your own organization
  • Examples of virtual and “real” activities which can be used to enhance organizational social capital
  • A review of HR and recruitment processes can be tailored towards maintaining and building social capital
  • A framework for identifying the activities that can be used to develop social capital in a particular context.

You do need to register (and pay $149) if you want to attend this webinar.  But you only pay for the line, so why not set up for it in a conference room and pay just one fee for as many attendees as you wish.

And if you can't make the 2 October, you can still register and receive access to the full recorded event immediately following its conclusion. Listen at your leisure from anywhere with web access.

It's going to be fun - and I've got a lot of work to get my ideas sorted out before then!


Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Social connections and social intelligence


   This month's Harvard Business Review includes an article by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis (co-authors of Primal Leadership)on 'Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership'.

The article combines Goleman's thinking about about social intelligence (the bottom two squares in Goleman's model of emotional intelligence) with Boyatzis's ideas on how leaders can create resonance with others by becoming attuned to the needs and dreams of people they lead.

Calling on evidence from social neuroscience, Goleman had previously noted how our brain’s very design makes it permeable and sociable, producing automatic neural responses in response to social interactions.  As he described this, "our brains engage in an emotional tango, a dance of feelings".

This is especially the case those with whom we have an emotional connection and with whom we spend the greatest amount of time.

When we engage with these people we enter an intimate brain-to-brain linkup - a neural bridge that lets us impact the brain of everyone we interact with, just as they do us: "we are wired to connect".

But we also know that our brains and bodies are connected, so our relationships don't only mould our experience or even our brains but our biology too.

This leads to the idea of ubuntu: that we are the product of our relationships.

Two of the most important facts I've heard about social neuroscience were provided by David Rock at the CIPD conference one year ago today.  These were that when idling, four out of five of the brain's activities are to do with relationships and how people are connected up.  And that someone's level of social connecting determines their overall level of happiness more than any other factors.  So this is important stuff.

In this article, Goleman notes that:

"Certain things leaders do—specifically, exhibit empathy and become attuned to others’ moods—literally affect both their own brain chemistry and that of their followers. Indeed, researchers have found that the leader-follower dynamic is not a case of two (or more) independent brains reacting consciously or unconsciously to each other. Rather, the individual minds become, in a sense, fused into a single system. We believe that great leaders are those whose behavior powerfully leverages the system of brain interconnectedness.

It follows that a potent way of becoming a better leader is to find authentic contexts in which to learn the kinds of social behavior that reinforce the brain’s social circuitry. Leading effectively is, in other words, less about mastering situations—or even mastering social skill sets—than about developing a genuine interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need."


He also provides some updated evidence from neuroscience, looking at the role of three different types of neurons in the brain:

Mirror neurons

"The brain is peppered with neurons that mimic, or mirror, what another being does. This previously unknown class of brain cells operates as neural Wi-Fi, allowing us to navigate our social world. When we consciously or unconsciously detect someone else’s emotions through their actions, our mirror neurons reproduce those emotions. Collectively, these neurons create an instant sense of shared experience.

Mirror neurons have particular importance in organizations, because leaders’ emotions and actions prompt followers to mirror those feelings and deeds. The effects of activating neural circuitry in followers’ brains can be very powerful. So, if leaders hope to get the best out of their people, they should continue to be demanding but in ways that foster a positive mood in their teams. The old carrot-and-stick approach alone doesn’t make neural sense; traditional incentive systems are simply not enough to get the best performance from followers.

There’s a subset of mirror neurons whose only job is to detect other people’s smiles and laughter, prompting smiles and laughter in return. Top-performing leaders elicited laughter from their subordinates three times as often, on average, as did midperforming leaders. Being in a good mood helps people take in information effectively and respond nimbly and creatively. In other words, laughter is serious business."


Spindle cells

"Intuition is produced in part by a class of neurons called spindle cells because of their shape. They have a body size about four times that of other brain cells, with an extra-long branch to make attaching to other cells easier and transmitting thoughts and feelings to them quicker. This ultrarapid connection of emotions, beliefs, and judgments creates what behavioral scientists call our social guidance system. Spindle cells trigger neural networks that come into play whenever we have to choose the best response among many—even for a task as routine as prioritizing a to-do list. These cells also help us gauge whether someone is trustworthy and right (or wrong) for a job. Within one-twentieth of a second, our spindle cells fire with information about how we feel about that person; such “thin-slice” judgments can be very accurate, as follow-up metrics reveal. Therefore, leaders should not fear to act on those judgments, provided that they are also attuned to others’ moods."



"Followers of an effective leader experience rapport with her—or what we and our colleague Annie McKee call “resonance”. Oscillators coordinate people physically by regulating how and when their bodies move together. You can see oscillators in action when you watch people about to kiss; their movements look like a dance, one body responding to the other seamlessly. The same dynamic occurs when two cellists play together. Not only do they hit their notes in unison, but thanks to oscillators, the two musicians’ right brain hemispheres are more closely coordinated than are the left and right sides of their individual brains."


The questions this triggers for me are

1) - is this group contagion where 'culture' comes from?  Is organisational culture simply the result of this wide area network operating across our organisations, linking up everyone in these organisations via the right side of their brains?

This would also explain why culture often reflects the personality of its founder.  As the HBR article explains, "spending time with a living, breathing model of effective behavior provides the perfect stimulation for our mirror neurons, which allow us to directly experience, internalize, and ultimately emulate what we observe".


2) - do we need to increase the understanding of social connectedness within our organisations in order to develop pro-social cultures?


What do you think - is there something in these ideas?



Friday, 12 September 2008

Linking social connections & social media


the_evolution_continues_slide   If you were on yesterday's webinar, over at Knowledge Infusion, I hope you enjoyed it.

If you weren't, the slides and recording (available until 26th September) are here (if you're not already registered at KI's centre of excellence, you may have to do this first, but then if you're at all interested in HCM, you need to be on there anyway).  And I know there'll be some more discussion on the COE, that I'll be joining in with, over the next few days.

But I also want to follow up with a post on the graph from that last slide (shown here) I didn't quite manage to get to.  Because this is what my piece was all building up to, and I don't think people will have got quite the impact I was after without it.

The graph is from my social connecting survey.  This has been running for a while, and I've not yet had time to analyse all the findings, so it's still running, and therefore these aren't the final results.

But what this graph shows is that current business priorities (the blue bar) are mainly about aligning and engaging people; developing human capital (attracting, developing and retaining staff) and organisation development / change.

But that social capital is going to get a lot more attention (an increase in priority - shown in the green bars) over the next five years.  It may still be a lower business priority than human capital, which is increasing in importance too, but the increase in the importance of social capital compared to its current level is proportionately much higher than any of the other areas.

And I'd suggest, based upon the slide before this one, that that increase is still being underestimated too.  My take on this is that those transformational opportunities I referred to in the webinar definitely exist.  But I'd repeat the point I made at the end - I think these opportunities are about transforming through people (aided by technology), rather than transforming through technology.  It's an important distinction.

Try to transform by technology and you get to the mess we got into when we all tried to focus on pure e-learning, before we all learned that a blended approach is best.  And some organisations are making this mistake.  The examples I gave during the session were all about recruitment, and there's a great expose of the mess recruiters can get themselves into by focusing too much on the technology in FOT (it's something Krishna mentioned in our podcast on Monday too).

The opportunity is about connections, or as Jason put it, interactions rather than transactions (see, I was listening really!).  And I think that leads to taking one of two choices when implementing digital HR.

Either, you accept your business isn't going to value connections (and if it currently bans Facebook, it's a good sign that it's not) and do want you can with the technology.  But because there's no clear business benefit, you're going to have to do it carefully, sneaking it in under the radar and hoping people don't notice it's 2.0.

Or you make a big play on connections / interactions / social capital, and you get the business to understand how important this is. This can then lead into a significant change programme, and a big launch for the new technology.  But the activities themselves are going to involve a mix of physical as well as technological approaches (ie be blended again).

In my survey, physical activities, particularly team meetings are currently rated the most popular, and team meetings plus social events the most effective.  But people expect the greatest increase in activity over the next five years to be in more traditional (non 2.0) IT systems such as knowledge management systems and corporate directories, and in web 2.0 technologies as well.  And they expect a decrease in the number of team meetings.  Why is this if team meetings are currently rated most effective?  I presume it's because they expect to get better at using and leveraging social technologies over time.  But if you think there's something else to it, do let me know.

As further evidence of this, I'd point to the Internal Communication conference I attended this June.  The best case studies, to me, were the ones where the organisations clearly had some appreciation of the value of connecting, and had made a big thing of the launch (Microsoft being a particularly powerful example).  Others clearly didn't have this perception and implemented web 2.0 using a stealth approach.  Of course, there were also examples to prove the rule - BT clearly understands the value of connecting, but still started their programme off 'under the radar'.

I also think this relates to the debate on whether you link web 2.0 to a key strategic programme, and introduce all the technology that's going to be useful in supporting this at once (yes - if the programme is about connecting , or an outcome of connecting eg collaboration or innovation), or just introduce one particular technology eg expert Q&A, and find as many uses for this technology as you can (yes - if there's no real or perceived value attached to connecting).

Oh, one more thing.  I am going to close the survey at the end of September, but if you're reading this before then, do go into survey monkey and complete it.  The survey is available here: www.snipurl.com/socialconnecting.

I will be posting summary results on this blog, but if you want the full analysis in all it's glory, you'll need to participate in the survey (or just be very nice to me, and I'll probably still send it to you direct).


...and Prediction Markets


Intrade - the world's largest prediction market I talked briefly about prediction markets in yesterday's Digital HR webinar, delivered with Knowledge Infusion (and I would have discussed crowdsourcing as well, if I'd had time!).

Like crowdsourcing, the basic idea here is to increase access and use of human capital, and in particular, for prediction markets, the perspectives of staff or others who are not normally involved in decision making.

A recent McKinsey article explains that:

"Initially a field of research, true prediction markets in essence are small-scale electronic markets, frequently open to any employee, that tie payoffs to measurable future events, such as sales data for a computer workstation, the number of bugs in an application, or a product’s usage patterns. Some companies, particularly in the high-tech sector, have adopted them in earnest, and a few major companies elsewhere are experimenting with them."


The markets work by aggregating the collective wisdom of the crowd and result in outputs which are at least as accurate as expert opinion:

"They work much like a futures market, in which the price of a contract reflects the collective day-to-day judgment either on a straight number—for instance, what level sales will reach over a certain period—or a probability—for example, the likelihood, measured as a percentage, that a product will hit a certain milestone by a certain date."


In a sense, therefore, this is a bit like nominal group technique (NGT), aided by technology, like an e-focus group, and then applied to specific, Y/N, or number based questions, and on a much larger scale.

The approach was developed at Best Buy, initially by just doing better forecasting with a simple survey. While not as sophisticated as a proper prediction market this approach still generated much better forecasts than the business had ever done before:

"Our first experiments at Best Buy were inspired by James [Surowiecki]’s book, and the results suggest that even a rudimentary survey strips away the filters that typically distort information as it moves higher in an organization.

At the time, I was managing the gift card business, which is a relatively small part of our portfolio, but I had a particular interest in it. We sent e-mails to hundreds of people throughout the company and asked them what they thought our gift card sales would be in February 2005. The only information we gave them as the context for their predictions was simple, readily available data. We got some 190 responses and ran a simple average. It turned out to be 99.5 percent accurate, whereas the people who got paid to forecast this were five percentage points off.

We ran a similar experiment later that year, when 350 random people predicted our holiday sales. Once again, the nonexperts, off by just one-tenth of 1 percent, were more accurate than the experts, who were off by 7 percent. The participants were surprised by the outcome when we shared it with them well after the actual results were in and reported. These early experiments encouraged us to get into prediction contracts, and we have to date seen over 2,000 traders make a total of 70,000 trades on 147 contracts."


And probably the leader in using prediction markets today is Google:

"We launched our prediction markets in April 2005, and since then we’ve asked about 275 different questions, and there’ve been some 80,000 trades. Around one-quarter of our markets have to do with demand forecasting—for instance, “How many people will use Gmail in the next three months?” Almost all Google products have had, or still have, a prediction market about their usage. Another 30 percent concern the company’s performance—for example, will project deadlines be met? A smaller category concerns things that could happen in our industry, such as mergers and acquisitions that might impact Google significantly."


Another perspective is provided by The New York Times:

"At Google, they are used, of course, for business. In the last two and a half years, 1,463 employees have made wagers with play money (Goobles, as in rubles) on questions like: will Google open a Russia office? will Apple release an Intel-based Mac? how many users will Gmail have at the end of the quarter? The lure, nominally, is accumulating those Goobles, which can be converted to modest prizes — $10,000 worth each quarter."


(You may also like to see an earlier post of mine on Google which covers its use of both crowdsourcing and prediction markets, and if you're really interested in this: a report, 'Using Prediction Markets to Track Information Flows: Evidence From Google').


A later New York Times article ('The Next Big Ideas: Placing Bets on the Wisdom of Employees - 20 April 2008 - sorry I can't find a link) discusses another interesting example of the use of prediction markets at InterContinental Hotels:

"Players were asked to submit ideas anonymously, with a description and the benefit for customers and company.  The bettors were given virtual tokens, each receiving 10 green ones to be placed on the best ideas and three red for the bad ideas.

The five top ideas (most green tokens), five bottom ideas (most red) and the top five bettors (most accurate, according to market consensus) were listed regularly.

More than 200 people participated, submitting 85 ideas.  Two projects have ben started as a result of the market."


So, same question I asked about crowdsourcing - what's this got to do with HR?

Well, firstly, this is just something HR practitioners need to be aware of, and where appropriate, introduce to their businesses as a tool to leverage their existing human capital.  And I do think it should fall under HR's responsibility.  Yes, the market itself is an IT tool, but the focus is on human capital, and that's HR's responsibility (a lot of HR departments already take responsibility for operating staff suggestion schemes - well this is simply an extension on that).

Also, prediction markets don't provide the same 'threat' to HR as crowdsourcing - we're talking about using the existing employee base rather than outsourcing it externally - but there's still an opportunity to think creatively about extending the range of human capital that's tapped through a predicted market, for example through the group of employee / partners who I discussed in my last post in order to increase the diversity of the market, achieving the 'law of large numbers'.

In the McKinsey article, James Surowiecki (The Wisdom of Crowds) comments that:

"For a crowd to be smart, it needs to satisfy certain criteria. It needs to be diverse, so that people are bringing different pieces of information to the table. It needs to be decentralized, so that no one at the top is dictating the crowd’s answer. It needs to summarize people’s opinions into one collective verdict. And the people in the crowd need to be independent, so that they pay attention mostly to their own information and don’t worry about what everyone around them thinks."


And Best Buy have noticed that forecasts about their main competitor have not been not very accurate which could also be down to lack of diversity amongst employees who are all involved in the same competitors.  Involving employee / partners could be a good way to make prediction markets work more effectively.

But probably the biggest opportunity for HR is to use prediction markets as a tool to further raise understanding of the importance of human capital, and the increasing range of opportunities which exist to access and manage it.

James Surowiecki comments:

"The prediction markets trend is really part of a broader Web 2.0 bottom-up movement. There’s increasing recognition that large groups of people can solve problems together and come up with interesting answers, and that you don’t necessarily need formal hierarchies to accomplish this."


So, prediction markets (and other web 2.0 tools) provide useful support to help change an organisation's culture.  But this is a chicken and the egg situation too.  You need a reasonably well developed culture in order to get the best out of prediction markets / web 2.0 tools.

So, for example, in the McKinsey article, Jeff Severts from Best Buy notes:

"Corporations have a taboo against even considering the possibility that an important initiative may fail. To issue a contract that implies that this could happen is to betray the company in some way. So we found that support from very senior executives is essential if you want to issue contracts on anything that might be controversial. “Air cover” is a must or you’ll find yourself trading on what kind of casserole we’re having in the cafeteria on Thursday."



I'd like to say thank you to Veronique Briant for her New York Times article - sorry it's taken me so long to post!

Thursday, 11 September 2008



I've just been reading an excerpt of Jeff Howe's new book, 'Crowdsourcing' on wired.com

Howe defines crowdsourcing as the act of taking a job traditionally performed by an employee and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people using the transformative power of today's technology which allows communities to be formed by shared interest rather than vicinity.  This enables the power of the many to be leveraged to accomplish feats that were once the province of the specialised few.

The idea obviously builds on 'The Wisdom of Crowds' in which James Surowiecki argues that although we generally trust experts and distrust the wisdom of the masses (In 'The Cult of the Amateur', Andrew Keen even outlines grave consequences from the dangerous blurring of professionalism and amateur content), "under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them."

In order for a crowd to be smart, he says, it needs to satisfy four conditions:

  1. Diversity of opinion to bring in different information
  2. Independence of members from one another to keep people from being swayed by a single opinion leader
  3. Decentralisation in which power is not collected in one location by an omniscient or farseeing planner, but are made by many individuals
  4. A good method for aggregating opinions (not design by committee).


In this situation, people's errors balance each other out; and including all opinions guarantees that the results are "smarter" than if a single expert had been in charge (The Economist also recently reported that multiple guesses made by the same person at different times are also better than one).

But for Howe, the crowd is more than wise - "it's talented, creative and stunningly productive".

He provides a number of examples of crowdsourcing which although already very well quoted, are all relevant and persuasive:

"Once famous for its insular culture, Procter & Gamble now crowdsources much of its R&D process, using global networks of scientists such as InnoCentive and NineSigma, which boast a combined membership of 2 million professional and amateur researchers. Even companies operating in a conventional field such as mining have found crowdsourcing applications. The Canadian gold-mining group Goldcorp put geological survey data online and offered a $575,000 prize to anyone who could identify likely areas for exploration. Goldcorp says the contest produced 110 targets that yielded $3 billion in gold."


Probably the best well known of these 'Ideagoras' is InnoCentive which allows companies to post their unsolved problems on a website where 'brain gangs': scientists and thinkers from all over the world can supply solutions. The best suggestions win rewards.  They pitch the idea as follows:

"By joining the open innovation revolution and tapping into the power of crowdsourcing, your institution not only increases its research and development capacity significantly, but also reduces cost, risk and research failure."


Business Week has discussed how Colgate Palmolive has used InnoCentive successfully:

"Take Colgate-Palmolive. The company needed a more efficient method for getting its toothpaste into the tube—a seemingly straightforward problem. When its internal R&D team came up empty-handed, the company posted the specs on InnoCentive, one of many new marketplaces that link problems with problem-solvers. A Canadian engineer named Ed Melcarek proposed putting a positive charge on fluoride powder, then grounding the tube. It was an effective application of elementary physics, but not one that Colgate-Palmolive's team of chemists had ever contemplated. Melcarek was duly rewarded with $25,000 for a few hours work."


This week's Sunday Times provides further examples:

"Dell, the computer company, has also embraced the philosophy, setting up a website called IdeaStorm for customers to suggest the 'new products and services you’d like to see Dell develop'. Last month it unveiled nine new laptops incorporating the best ideas from the crowd-sourcers who had bombarded IdeaStorm with suggestions.

In America the Library of Congress asked members of Flickr, the photo-sharing website, to identify unknown people in its picture collections. Within weeks hundreds had been correctly captioned by friends and relatives.

Among the apostles of change in the UK is Tom Steinberg, one of the founders of mySociety.org, a not-for-profit organisation that builds websites to make government more open and transparent. It created FixMyStreet.com and TheyWorkForYou.com, a site that gives details of members of parliament, how they vote and what they say. It can, for example, alert you by e-mail when a specified person or subject crops up in parliament."


In this environment, the quality of work is all that counts and can be performed by people of every imaginable background: "if you can perform the service, design the product or solve the problem, you've got the job".

I think crowdsourcing provides an important opportunity for organisations to ensure they are accessing the best and widest possible sources of human capital.  After all, as Howe points out in BNET's Useful Commute podcast, "no matter who you are, and who you work for, most of the smartest people work for someone else".

And Rule 4 from Thomas Friedman's 'The World is Flat' suggests that:

"The best companies are the best collaborators.  In the flat world, more and more business will be done through collaborations within and between companies, for a very simple reason: the next layers of value creation are becoming so complex that no single firm or department is going to be able to master them alone."


Howe notes that crowdsourcing is triggering a dramatic shift in the way that work is organized and talent is employed.  And he warns, "as the crowd comes to supplant traditional forms of labour, pain and disruption are inevitable".

So what's HR's answer to this new trend?  Does it even have a role?

I think it can have, depending on the type of crowd the organisation wants to create.   Howe talks about outsourcing to an undefined group because you may never know who will have the best solution.

"Sometimes the solutions come from unexpected quarters. An Alaskan company wanted to find a way to stop oil freezing in storage tanks; the answer came not from an oil industry expert, but from a chemist thousands of miles away who pointed out that concrete does not set if it is kept in motion and the same principle might apply to oil."


But sometimes you may want to keep your cards closer to your chest, and Howe also talks about examples where customers become partners, involved in co-developing products and services as well as consuming them.

So how about developing the same sort of relationships with key potential recruits: the people the organisation would like to join the firm (for example, in my book, I describe a group I call career partners).  Or alumni who have previously worked with the firm?

Couldn't these 'employee partners' be formed into a sort of crowd?  They're a group of people who in some ways at least are aligned with the organisation, are going to be interested in learning about what it's doing, and quite possibly keen to promote themselves and their knowledge.

I think they could form a crowd, and more broadly, I suspect crowdsourcing provides at least as many opportunities for HR to increase, as it does to decrease, its role and its impact on a business.


Thursday, 4 September 2008

Unjust Rewards


Good session at the RSA last night looking at greed and inequality in Britain today.

The session was opened by Polly Toynbee, author of a long-term favourite text of mine, Hard Work: Life in Low-Pay Britain, and who has just co-authored Unjust Rewards with David Walker.

Among the various facts that Toynbee presented were that although half of earners earn under £23k, only 10% earn over £45k.  But these people still don't feel rich.

The reason seems to be the gap between most of these people and those at the very top, those who Avner Offer, author of The Challenge of Affluence, called the Masters of the Universe, and Will Hutton, author of The State We're In called the Have Yachts, or even the Have Lots of Yachts (in contrast to the Have's and the Have Not's).

And whilst the incomes of the people at the bottom are falling, the incomes of those at the very top are the ones that are growing most.

Remuneration committees have let FTSE CEO salaries spin out of control, and in fact, according to Patterson Associates, with the exception of LTIPs, CEO rewards don't even relate to the performance of their businesses.

Private equity boss, Jon Moulton argued that the high pay of CEOs doesn't matter as much as whether these packages are appropriate and useful: "We put ourselves at some peril if we attack the ludicrous amounts of money they are making.  It's not about justice, it's about about self-interest."

But Toynbee's argument is that this level of inequality is not just unfair and immoral but also dysfunctional.

Whether are not we are living in a broken society, there's an increasing dissonance between what people being told about the country's wealth and how they're feeling about their lives.  For example, fear of crime is increasing although actual crime levels are falling fast.

This has a serious impact.  Inequality has a serious impact on health and well-being as well as social cohesion and mobility.

And Hutton thought the fact that most Have Yachts aren't engaged in philanthropy, and don't understand how most people live, means that they have declared independence from the rest of us.  This breaks a fundamental principle of human association which is proportionality.

Have Yachts are being paid for beta, not alpha performance.  For being in the right place at the right time.

As David Willetts, MP, concluded, meritocracy is like tennis: "Just something the middle classes play with each other", but which isn't really available to the wider population.

But, in Toynbee's words: "It doesn't have to be this way.  We can shrug off our economic fatalism.  The way we choose to live is in our hands and we could do better."

One part of the solution is a more distributive tax system, but as Hutton commented, "it's a system wide issue" and I can't see how Toynbee's "mutual obligation to well being" will be created without some deeper changes in the way we think and act.

This then takes us back to the theme of earlier RSA event which concerned the need to change the way we think about ourselves.

In fact there have been quite a few good events at the RSA recently and the organisation seems to be really buzzing, although I'm a bit worried that another private equity boss and HR critic Luke Johnson will the society's next chair.

I wonder what he's been doing to reduce the CE / staff pay differential at Channel 4?


Please note, that with the exception of that last cheap shot, these notes attempt to summarise what was discussed in the event, rather than providing my own opinions on the justness of rewards.  Maybe it's just because I recently worked for a large, global reward consultancy where we deliberately avoided any discussion on fat cats et al, but I feel slightly uncomfortable discussing my personal views on these issues, so for example I deliberately refrained from posting on the arguments over non-doms earlier this year.

But given my allegiance to the RSA and the fact that I decided to post on this event, you can probably guess where I'm coming from!


Wednesday, 3 September 2008

H2O / social media in the UAE


While in Dubai recently, I had an opportunity to catch up with Steve Vaile at H2O New Media, a UAE based and focused web development company (the contact was suggested through a comment on my blog).

Steve gave me a good summary of social media and its use in the UAE:

"Web 2 technologies such as social communities allow people to create community groups based around the interest or passion.  These affinity groups can really be about anything, either art and music like www.DubaiLime.com also sports communities such as www.adrenalinesportslive.com, but with the adoption of social media by business groups, publications and other affinity led groups people are provided with the opportunity to collaborate, exchange ideas and most importantly communicate using web 2.0 which helps people realise that they actually have more in common than they think – independent of race, religion or cultural background.  Social Media communities in the Middle East are developing rapidly, we personally have some 40 customers deploying them for various affinity, working groups, and of course business focus groups."

Steve also says that his systems help to deal with cultural barriers and different cultural sensitivities and perspectives in the UAE so I asked about how the opportunity and use of social media is different in UAE (eg from the UK), particularly because of the culture / range of cultures there:

"It’s a good question and I am not sure if I can answer it satisfactorily – the use of social media in the UAE is very different from that in the UK on the basis that it is still not really a free and liberated media.  A website can still be blocked for offensive or non conformist views.  Also there are softer cultural issues that you can only really appreciate with some time in the Middle East, these relate to the tiptoe factor – the tip toe factor really means in my personal experience not straying into areas like Islamic religion, or criticism of religion or values that may be alien to the westerner. Being based in the region and being as liberal on your blog as you wish may result in some pretty serious consequences – from your HR perspective someone with the ability to sit back and understand and enjoy the finer intricacies of peoples views without direct comment may be someone that will get on here. People do tend to be a little more conservative here when it comes to meaningful Dialogue – however less conservative when it comes to running around in super expensive cars!

I think what I am trying to say by this is that many social media / web 2.0 users in the west are using the technology to talk – whilst many in the Middle East Arabic users are primarily using it to listen.  Affinity groups tend to be much more popular here, and friend groups, where as cool social media applications haven’t seen the same rate of take up."

I had thought that lack of access to some of the more popular public social networks and technologies in the UAE eg Twitter (although I understand that these are likely to become accessible shortly) might also be a barrier to the uptake of social technologies within organisations, but Steve didn't seem to think this is a problem:

"The accessibility is mainly controlled by a software spider deployed on the internet gateways of the two main operators Du and Etisalat here in Dubai, when the software spider recognises a rude word or listed word then it automatically blocks the website.  This is so that the UAE don’t have free access to items that may not comply with the social values of the country – however its really very easy to make a case to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority in the UAE and one swiftly placed call will normally result in the site being checked out and normally released."

We also discussed some of H2O's social media packages (Swordfish e-learning, Marlin HR suite and Barracuda business community manager):

"Marlin is a new product that we have – in essence it allows Human Resources companies, recruitment companies and internal recruitment departments to create a social community of people that are interested in working with or for the company – in creating Marlin what we have in effect done is to web enable the communication, testing tools, feedback and CV catchment for recruiters. The benefit to the user is that they can open threads of active dialogue with the recruiters, if they are not suitable for the job they have the opportunity to refer a friend that they may know it return for a reward that’s defined by the company, the Marlin community module is actually a bolt into our existing Barracuda business community manager which is our core application unifying all of our modules."

In previous posts, I've described why I think social media has a bright future, and in my HCM blog, I've described the huge opportunities available in Dubai so it's no surprise that Steve thinks social media in Dubai provides him / businesses there with a significant opportunity:

"The future for social media applications in this space and others is incredibly positive – with the adoption of corporate social community applications – 'Enterprise Social Media'  really is breaking down barriers, reducing costs and improving processes – we have customers that have achieved over 8000% business growth using our applications  to create marketing affinity groups for their customers – it just works."


Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Tomoye / communities of practice


Bersin also notes that many social software providers have formed partnerships with Microsoft around its SharePoint product, allowing the two applications to compliment each other.

In some ways, Sharepoint is a competitor to these systems but the vendors have realised that Sharepoint is so ubiquitous that it makes sense to coopt it rather than compete against it.  In addition, Sharepoint is being positioned as a business productivity rather than a social application.

One of these providers that are seeking to add value to Sharepoint is is Tomoye.  I had a conversation with their Chief Executive, Eric Sauve, a few months ago.  Sauve explained that Tomoye has traditionally been focused on communities of practice which act as knowledge or intellectual capital clearing houses within a particular domain area and integrate the capabilities of wikis, discussion boards etc.  They are particularly useful for learning and development, and in connecting people across enterprises, particularly in an extended supply chain.

Sauve gave healthcare as an example - the things a doctor needs to know how to do are always changing and developing and communities of practice are being used to develop relationships between peers which doctors find are the best way of gaining advice rather than reading lots of different studies.

However, Tomoye have been developing their applications into broader social networking and believe that the addition of social aggregation tools, tags, networking, blogs and the ability to rate items etc make these more appealing to people than traditional communities of practice as they are built around peoples' personal profiles rather than thematic areas of knowledge.  So people can find things that are relevant to them and can interact with this content.

Tomoye's approach is further described in the Bersin report.  This explains that one approach to introducing social software applications into learning or talent management is to focus on a single, high priority learning programme that provides a resulting community with a broad taste of social media systems.

Bersin then explain that Tomoye offers another path:

"Instead of blending several social functions with a single program, focus on a single social function and use.  Then, create very low overhead ways for users across the enterprise to engage with that function.  This approach allows you to expose many more parts of the organization to the possibilities of networks, allowing the enterprise to answer the question of "where can such tools provide the most business impact?

Tomoye also provides one very common example use case, on which to base network-building efforts: knowledge-sharing, or question-and-answers.  Use the social platform to provide a method for employees to 'Ask the Experts' within their organization.  Leverage the discussion forums or blogging functions within a social software application, like Tomoye, to jump start communities without their even knowing it."

Bersin also provide the following graphic depicting Tomoye's 'wedge strategy':



I think this relates to the debate on whether social media should be introduced with a major launch or under the radar.


Bersin / social networks


I referred earlier to Bersin's new report on social networking and a little while ago, I attended their new principal analyst, David Mallon's webinar on the report.

Bersin's research contains a good overview of social networking tools / providers and of their variety.  As Josh Bersin explains on his blog:

"Social networking software companies are sprouting up like weeds.  We identified 90 such companies in our research, and more than 35 of them are somewhat focused on the corporate internal employee market.

Our initial research clearly shows that these companies fall into four categories:  (A) software providers focused on corporate learning, HR, and collaboration systems and solutions (e.g. IBM, Microsoft-Sharepoint, Jive, Mzinga, Awareness, Q2 Learning, and others), (B) providers focused on external customer and public-facing collaborative networks like a company external blog (e.g. Lithium, Ning, Communispace, Telligent) (C) providers focused on content management systems, who have added on systems for collaboration (EMC, OpenText,  Ektron, Alfresco) and (D) true application software companies who are adding collaboration and social networking to their systems (SuccessFactors, Saba, CornerstoneOndemand)."

I've previously discussed one example of (D) - SuccessFactor's ULTRA on my HCM blog.

Selection of the appropriate technologies can be made easier through the sort of categorisation that Bersin describe, for example:

  • Size and scope
  • Stand alone or ERP
  • SaaS / hosted / installed
  • By audience expertise:

Bersin categorisation by audience expertise


In particular, Bersin usefully categorise tools into 4 Cs depending upon how they support conversations, connections, content and collaboration.

I think this is a useful classification and fits with a model I've been using that is itself based on Ross Dawson's web 2.0 landscape applied to an HR environment.

I've show how the two fit together below:

HR 20 landscape