The Five Horsemen and you

A rambling post of thoughts for you.

For a few years there has been talk of the “five horsemen” of tech – Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. The opinion of having Microsoft included has varied over time the final number doesn’t matter, these five organisations are massive – in terms of impact, revenue, employees and valuation.

In fact they are the largest in the US stock market! What a change. In 1996 (20 years ago) the five largest companies were – General Motors, Ford Motor, Exxon Mobile, Wal-Mart Stores and AT&T. Even ten years ago the list had not changed a lot – Exxon Mobile, Wal-Mart Stores, General Motors, Chevron Corporation and Ford Motor. Today the top spots are filled with technology based companies.

(It is not just US companies – Alibaab is a valuation of $210b with approximately $16b in cash.)

Today I was listening to TWIT’s episode “Headless Body in Topless Bar” where the discussion continued and what struck me was the impact these five companies are (and will in the next decade) have on our lives and the workplace.

The impact is and will be profound  – they are all shaping today’s workforce and tomorrow’s. Be it through smartphones, collaboration, social media, retail, search, machine learning, logistics and artificial intelligence. Yes Microsoft might be replaced by a Telsa/SolarCity (or another) but the fact still remains technology and the companies that create it are defining the modern era.

Some initial thoughts – What is the impact of these technologies on your workplace? Are you embracing them?

It must of been the recent earnings announcements from many of the five, as Jason Calacanis today published an interesting piece on what the five could be also doing on the M&A front. As he states it is pure speculation based on a tweet, but the results are interesting.

Jason talks about how poker players act differently depending on the size of their stack. When you have a lot of money the game you play is very different to when you don’t. Just look at the “stack size” of the “five horseman” and then their M&A activity compared to some “traditional” companies:

Tech companies that are wildly deep-stacked right now:

1. Apple $200b+ in cash/equivalents, $593B valuation
2. Google $75b+ in cash/equivalents, $551B valuation
3. Amazon $16b+ in cash/equivalents, $366B valuation
4. Facebook $23b+ in cash/equivalents, $362B valuation
5. Microsoft $105b+ in cash/equivalents, $457B valuation
6. Cisco $60b+ in cash/equivalents, $157B valuation

Those six companies have $470b+ in cash/equivalents and $2.5t in market cap.

Zuckerberg has been the master of acquisitions in the past couple of years, having the audacity to pay $22b for WhatsApp and $2b for a *pre-customer* Oculus. Think about that for a moment. Zuck paid $2b for a company without a market, and that may take a decade to have 100m users — if that ever happens!

And look what just happened. Unilever, GM and Walmart just sat down at the big game and shot the locks off their wallets:

1. Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club for $1b
2. GM bought Cruise for a rumored $1b+
3. Walmart is buying Jet.com for $3b
4. Verizon is buying Yahoo for $4.83b

Jason goes on to review a few companies who are the most desirable to deep staked players aka “five horseman” and some companies “wanting” to sell.

Interesting in both lists are two enterprise software vendors – Slack (desirable), and Zenefits (“wanting” to be sold).

Finally have a think about your workforce. Is your talent pool deep-stacked? Can you use that talent to out maneuver your competition? Can you make bets like Facebook’s $22b for WhatsApp or are your stuck with buying Jet.com for $3b?

The glass is full with Google Glass

One of the coolest inventions of 2012 is Google Glass, a wearable computer, running Android, that looks like a set of regular glasses that includes a video camera and augmented reality head-up display unit.

Sergey_Brin_Glass

Wearers of the glasses interact with them using natural language input while connected to the Internet. The best way to describe how they work is through a short video Google released called Project Glass: One day…

Yes the obvious functions of this type of device are to mimic today’s smartphones and go towards creating a world as shown in Apple’s Knowledge Navigator video from 1987!

Now back to how Augmented Reality fits with HR and management. What could be done in the workplace with such devices?

Steve Boese covered a few of the options late last year to gain access to real-time information during the work day:

Candidate Interviews – Feedback from references, instant assessment of candidate body language and verbal cues, real-time fact-checking for candidate job history – what wouldn’t these AR glasses be useful for in interviews?

Performance Management Discussions – Context is everything in these discussions. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a ‘live feed’ of the last 3 months of peer comments scrolling by as you chat with an employee about their need to be more of a ‘team player.’

Talent Planning Sessions – it would be cool to see the updated and real-time financial performance of each unit for the execs under discussion just as the CEO is advocating for one of their golfing buddies for a plum assignment or promotion

I see the ability to have access to real-time information at points in time when it is needed is as the “killer app” for the devices to go from hype into being a productive part of the workplace. I also see great potential for these devices, away from the office worker.

  • Safety: The glasses could alert workers to unsafe practices like moving too close to a edge or in mining that a colleague is on the other side of a tunnel before drilling or laying explosives.
  • Real-time information: In a hospital setting have nurses and doctors be able to get live updates on how their patients are doing. As they approach the bed side of the patient the relevant information is displayed on the screen no longer requiring them to flip through a chart. The wearable device removes some of the big issues with technology by the bedside; portability, obstruction, safety and infection control. Wear a device like Glass is no different than wearing regular glasses.
  • Quality control: Glass could use the video feed to take photos to complete with specifications to ensure products are being manufactured at the right quality levels.
  • Stock taking: Instead of manually counting stock Glass could count for the wearer.

The list goes on.

With this type of device also comes great questions and obstacles for employers. How do we protect the privacy of our employees? While we are seeing BYOD starting to make their way into the enterprise how will CIO’s react to bringing your own Glasses to the workplace? How do we stop the devices being used for time and motion studies?

How long till we see these devices in the “real” world, not long. Mashable reports that Google is starting to provide developers access to Glass through a “Glass Foundry” in San Francisco and New York to begin working with the APIs and have allowed developers to pre-order the Explorer Editions for $1,500 to be shipped sometime during 2013.

Big Data and Management

Over the last couple of weeks I have been very interested in the growth of Big Data. A few years ago Big Data was primarily found in academic and marketing writing, ie not in the main stream. This has changed with many commentators now discussing the merits that this new frontier has to offer.

For those not up to date what is Big Data?:

big data is a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications. The challenges include capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, analysis, and visualization.

In other words think the Human Genome program or where I have seen more mainstream commentary, analyzing the status updates from services such as Twitter or Facebook. There are lots of reasons why Big Data is important and understanding how to use it and leverage it will become critical for business success. The biggest issue we face that Big Data will help solve is the vast amount of data points we are generating through social networks, trends such as cloud computing and The Internet of Things.

While much of the discussion around Big Data is consumer based there have been a number of notable discussions about the use of Big Data inside the enterprise and unsurprisingly these discussions include the impact of Big Data on HR and how we can now tie employee data to other large datasets for predictive modelling and recruitment.

In her paper from April 2010, Privacy and Publicity in the Context of Big Data, danah boyd raises a number of pertinent points that I think deserve more thought an discussion in terms of their impact on business.

danah’s key points:

  1. Bigger Data are Not Always Better Data
  2. Not All Data are Created Equal
  3. What and Why are Different Questions
  4. Be Careful of Your Interpretations
  5. Just Because It is Accessible Doesn’t Mean Using It is Ethical

Each on of the above points have tremendous influence on how successful Big Data will be when used inside an organisation but I want to touch on two of her points that struck a chord with me. (However I would strongly suggest you go read her whole paper.)

danah’s first point of Bigger Data are Not Always Better Data, “Big Data is exciting, but quality matters more than quantity.  And to know the quality, you must know the limits of your data.” At a basic level just because you can review all of the tweets and connections of your employees or candidates does not mean you have all of the information about these people as they might have different accounts under different pseudonyms some might be protected others not. Just because you have access to millions of datapoints does not mean you have the right data points.

danah’s final point is the one that deserves the most thought. Just because data is accessible doesn’t mean that using it is ethical. Just because a candidate or an employee tweets or puts a status update on Facebook should we really use that data in our analysis? To quote danah:

To get here, we’ve perverted “public” to mean “accessible by anyone under any conditions at any time and for any purpose.”  We’ve stripped content out of context, labeled it data, and justified our actions by the fact that we had access to it in the first place.  Alarm bells should be ringing because the cavalier attitudes around accessibility and Big Data raise serious ethical issues.  What’s at stake is not whether or not something is possible, but what the unintended consequences of doing something are.

From here danah goes on to look at the concept of privacy and its many facets when it comes to information that has been placed in a public space. Recent case in point, Mark Zuckerberg’s sister and her Christmas photo. danah concludes that our obsession with Big Data has the ability to destabilise and change our social norms, I would say it already is, but this does not mean we need to remove the concept of privacy altogether.

Big Data is made of people. People producing data in a context.  People producing data for a purpose.  Just because it’s technically possible to do all sorts of things with that data doesn’t mean that it won’t have consequences for the people it’s made of.

There are great opportunities ahead for HR with adoption of “new” technologies such as Big Data and Cloud Computing however as we move towards this new world we need to be careful not to destabilise our workforce to a point where they disengage or worse still create a world that makes Orwell’s 1984 look like a kindergarten picnic.

4 years on some thoughts

I was have a chat with an old colleague this afternoon and we were discussing where social media has gone in the last few years, specifically around recruitment.

Which got me thinking. You know where has social media gone? This then took me back in time to some of the crazy ideas I had about what one could achieve with social media, specifically inside the enterprise.

About 4 years ago I published a list of 52 Social Media ideas for HR, at the time I had not seen a single consolidated list of ideas documenting the various ways these tools could help transform an organisation and its business practices. Now some of the ideas (and sites mentioned) are not relevant or the benefit just not lived up to the hype. However other ideas, actually more the philosophy of the idea, I firmly believe are still important to engagement of your current and future employees.

For example allowing your employees to engage in frank, open, constructive discussions internally, leveraging your workforce for referrals, focusing on “headcontent” not headcount, are all still as relevant as they were 4 years ago and I suspect will be relevant in 5-10 more years.

I am interested and if I find the time I might start a research project to find examples of all 52 ideas to see if anyone actually implemented any of these “crazy” ideas! I  know some organisations have implemented similar concepts as I discussed which is not surprising as most people floating around the social media circles at the time would have come to the same conclusions.

But these are just my thoughts, you might disagree, let me know especially if your organisation has implemented a similar idea.

What is next…

I have been pondering the future.

What is next? Do you know? If so please do tell.

A number of years ago I pondered what was next from blogging and podcasting, neither of these forms have really survived in the way the were circa 2005/2006. Let alone what happened to MySpace, Friendster, Orkut…

Let’s look at the user base of popular social networking sites in 2005 .(Of note the term social media was not really in our vocabulary then. In fact social media was called “new media” we knew it was new but just what was it?)

MySpace 26.7 Million
Facebook 11.1 Million
Xanga.com 7.9 Million
Bebo.com 1.5 Million
Friendster 1.5 Million
Tribe Networks 515K
LinkedIn 354K
Orkut.com 83K

So not many of the sites in the above list really play a part in Social Media 2011, so where does this leave us?

I have no idea. Yet.

Well personally I want to find the 2005/2006 version of Twitter/Facebook in 2011/2012 and see what it will do to society in five years time.

10 things to do in 2010

While we are still in the first few weeks of the new year I through it would be good to look at come of the things you should focus on during 2010 to.

In no particular order here is my list of 10 things to do in 2010:

  1. Have an HR/Talent Management/Recruiting application blueprint
  2. The IT environment in many organisations is complex and needs constant management, even in the smallest of organisations. To help with managing the complexity ensure you have a strategy/roadmap/blueprint to follow.

  3. Learn about Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  4. It seems finally organisations are starting to take note of the value that can be achieved from a decent career’s web site. While content and design are critical understanding a bit about SEO can help your jobs appear in the elusive number 1 spot of search results. Even if you do not have a career’s web site having your personal brand appear in search results can be a great thing.

  5. Implement a workforce planning program, with a foundation around competencies
  6. The recent CedarCrestone HR Technology survey found that organisations who were using workforce planning and competency management tools had significantly higher sales growth than those that did not. While they say they are not suggesting causality but over the last few years there has been stronger linkage between sales growth and these areas.

  7. Think beyond Facebook and Twitter when looking at social media
  8. With so much talk about Facebook and Twitter I feel people have forgotten that social media is more than just these two sites. Remember social media is about user generated content, including blogs, images, video, audio, ratings, reviews etc.

  9. Focus on high quality hires, never settle for less
  10. This should always be the best line of your hiring decisions. Period.

  11. Ensure your HR/Recruiting function is metrics driven
  12. Related to workforce planning is being metrics driven and I am not talking just about lists of headcount either. Gaining a deep understanding of your business and it’s drivers is critical to success. Do you know the best performing source of talent? What about the performance of your succession plans? But do not create an environment where you have an over reliance on benchmark based data as this basically turns the measures in to commodities by assuming what works for one organisation will work for yours.

  13. Don’t be afraid to experiment
  14. This one is for the Australian’s out there, experiment and fail!! As a population we tend to be afraid of failure. Do not be afraid. Organisations that experiment and fail regularly then to succeed.

  15. Learn about Web Squared
  16. You might be asking web what? Web Squared is the next evolution of the whole Web 2.0 idea. Web Squared builds on the idea that everything and everyone in the world cast “information shadows” or data. This data when leveraged provides extraordinary opportunities to organisations.

  17. Begin to think how you can bring real time into your operations
  18. The first part of web squared that you can bring into your organisation today is leveraging real time data. Look at real time data as key signals that form part of your business processes.

  19. Never ever forget about change management
  20. One of the biggest reasons for projects, of any sort, to fail is a lack of acceptance in the final outcomes being sort by the project. This can be alleviated through an effective change management program.

Is your HR Strategy ready for the intention economy?

I sit here typing this post during the first week of the second decade in the 21st century however some many organisation’s HR strategies are still stuck in the 20th century.

Let me explain.

Today most organisational HR strategy is based on a asynchronous model where the organisation does something and at a later time employees react. For example a new performance management policy is released, at a later point in time employees execute the performance review process. From an alternate direction an employee’s productivity begins to drop over time this becomes an issue so the organisation executes the performance improvement process.

Many organisations are aiming to move to a more synchronous environment, or real time. Here we have live chats on the career pages, real time updates on recruitment processes and continuous learning and performance management. In practical terms this can be thought of as HR dashboards and score cards that are updated live during the business day.

Real time is only part of the story the real value comes from understanding intentions. For example knowing that employees with 3 years service in the marketing department who have not changed roles in 6 months are your greatest risk of leaving and therefore Mary needs a role change. Or where a senior top performer plans to travel to a different office location your talent management system automatically suggests potential employees who could benefit from a mentoring session. Another example is where an employee is attending a conference the systems identify other employees, based on internal content, who would benefit from either also attending or receiving a briefing their return.

Intention based HR builds on the idea of predictive analytics but takes things further. Yes this is a long way off but leading organisations will start to experiment with these ideas over the next year or two. For example what could you do with these ideas; people who are looking for work in real time, or who hate their job?

On a side note based on the latest Cedar Crestone HR Technology survey only 10% of organisations have implemented predictive analytics.

(Note: I built on the ideas proposed by Jeremiah Owyang.)

HR 2020 a look into the future

With us rapidly coming to the end of the first decade of the 21st century I thought it might be fun to look forward another 10 years to see what a day in the life of an HR manager might be like.

(First I am not a fiction writer so bear with me. Second while 2020 might seem a long way away, in 2000 so did 2010 so I have not radically changed the overall work undertaken by HR. While this decision might upset some in the HR profession that things have not changed a lot I felt a conservative approach was warranted.)

Our hero today is Paul, Senior HR Manager for a mid sized organisation of about 2,500 employees. Paul has a small team of 3 covering all HR functions. He uses limited external providers for services such as training and recruitment, his team can complete most tasks with the help of their software agents.

On with the story!

Continue reading “HR 2020 a look into the future”

What’s next with social recruiting

If you have been following this blog for a while you would know that I am always looking for the next thing. I have been doing the same thing with using social media in business.
I Want You
Social Recruiting has a lot of  buzz at the moment. How do I know there is a buzz, well 200+ people attended the Social Recruiting Summit in New York City last week, we have almost a full house at the ATC Social Media event, RecruitTech 2009 had social media as a primary theme.

But let us take a step back, for most social recruiting is just about using social media as another marketing channel. A terrible waste in my eyes.

My definition of social recruiting is:

  • Using social media tools as part of the recruiting process
  • Building a community of potential candidates
  • Engaging with candidates as people not numbers

From an employer’s perspective recruitment is about fueling organisational growth, renewal, building the most efficient and sustainable business. This can only be done through personal relationships and cultural fit. (Yes there is a bit of sales and marketing in the mix but that is just attraction, the rest of the process is all personal.)

This brings me to Doc Searls’s recent blog post “Beyond Social Media“. If you do not know Doc Searls you should, also you should read the book he co-authors 10 years ago, Cluetrain. In the post Doc raises several very good points.

  • Twitter is now as necessary to tweeting as Google is to search. It’s a public activity under private control.
  • Most other popular activities online are not owned by anyone, they are public.
  • Personal and social go hand-in-hand, but the latter builds on the former.
  • Today in the digital world we still have very few personal tools that work only for us, are under personal control
  • Individually-empowered customers are the ultimate greenfield for business and culture.
  • What we’re not doing because “social” everything is such a bubble of buzz right now

Are we really finally about to enter the age of Brand You or is it another 10 years away? If the individual is now the key to business and culture what does that mean for:

  • The recruitment process?
  • The HR Management practices in your average corporation?

I hear recruiters complaining they do not have time to develop relationships with candidates or use Twitter etc.  But what happens when the candidates are developing that relationship with a potential hiring manager or potential peer? Where do recruiters add value in this transaction?

For HR the issue is just as difficult. When employees view themselves as individuals who own the ideas, conversation and intentions to create the “business”. How do structured learning and development programs remain valid in an era of so much open information? How do you keep employees engaged? How does that traditional compensation plan survive?

I could go on, but I hope you get the picture. So if what Doc Searls is saying, “individually-empowered customers are the ultimate greenfield for business and culture”, is true then the companies who first leverage these concepts will be the ones we are talking about in 5 years time. Just as recruiters now marvel at Microsoft and the like who all started on their paths in around 2005.

Some unrelated thoughts

The famous Web 2.0 Summit wrapped up late last week with lots and lots of product announcements and more news stories than I could ever hope to digest. (Not helped by the fact that I have been sick for about 4 days now.)

Anyway here are a few summary items:

“Many people use it for professional purposes — keeping connected with industry contacts and following news,” said Evan Williams, Twitter’s co-founder and chief executive. “Because it’s a one-to-many network and most of the content is public, it works for this better than a social network that’s optimized for friend communication.”


Yes all of these announcements and trends are great except the most interesting thing for me happened before the conference even started.

Web Squared.

With both Read Write Web and ZD Net providing some good coverage. Basically Web Squared is about the intersection of social web technologies with the emerging trend of real world objects connected to the Internet in some fashion, aka Internet of Things and with “Shadow Information“.

To quote Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle:

Collective intelligence applications are no longer being driven solely by humans typing on keyboards but, increasingly, by sensors. Our phones and cameras are being turned into eyes and ears for applications; motion and location sensors tell where we are, what we’re looking at, and how fast we’re moving. Data is being collected, presented, and acted upon in real time. The scale of participation has increased by orders of magnitude.

So to pull this rambling post to an end I ask this simple question.

Given corporations missed Web 2.0, will they miss Web Squared (or what ever it is called)?

I suspect there will be more on this topic.