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 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 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.


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.

Best places to work as voted by you the employees

For the second year in a row Glassdoor has published their Best Places to Work listing based on votes by the employees of these organisations. Basically wisdom of crowds to determine the 50 best employers in the US. The terms of reference were:

The Top 50 were selected from more than 37,000 companies reviewed by the nearly 100,000 employees who completed a 20-question survey on in 2009. To be eligible for the list, a company must have had at least all of the following:

  • 25 reviews from United States-based employees between January 1, 2009 and December 1, 2009,
  • “satisfied” ratings overall and across all categories, and
  • a CEO with at least a 50% approval rating.

The top 10 employers based on the Glassdoor survey are:

  1. Southwest Airlines
  2. General Mills
  3. Slalom Consulting
  4. Bain & Company
  5. McKinsey & Company
  6. MITRE
  7. Boston Consulting
  8. Continential Airlines
  9. Procter & Gamble
  10. Juniper Networks

Which is an interesting list as it looks very little like the Fortune Best Companies to Work For top 10:

  1. NetApp
  2. Edward Jones
  3. Boston Consulting Group
  4. Google
  5. Wemans Food Markets
  6. Cisco Systems
  7. Genetech
  8. Methodist Hospital System
  9. Goldman Sachs
  10. Nugget Market

If we compare the lists side by side you can see how different they are, the numbers in brackets indicate where the company appears on the other list, if at all.

Glassdoor Fortune
  1. Southwest Airlines (-)
  2. General Mills (99)
  3. Slalom Consulting (-)
  4. Bain & Company (-)
  5. McKinsey & Company (-)
  6. MITRE (66)
  7. Boston Consulting (3)
  8. Continential Airlines (-)
  9. Procter & Gamble (-)
  10. Juniper Networks (84)
  1. NetApp (15)
  2. Edward Jones (24)
  3. Boston Consulting Group (7)
  4. Google (14)
  5. Wemans Food Markets (-)
  6. Cisco Systems (-)
  7. Genetech (-)
  8. Methodist Hospital System (-)
  9. Goldman Sachs (16)
  10. Nugget Market

While yes the lists were compiled at different end of the year the Fortune list at the beginning Glassdoor as of December 1, they do should how different two lists can be. Even if you compare the Glassdoor results from 2008 the Fortune list is still rather different. This tells me that just relying on external lists to determine the top employers is dangerous practice.

The key is to know if your employees are engaged and telling others that your company is a great place to work. This is a critical first step in the creation of successful talent management strategies, such as referral programs.

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.

Social media in the workplace

The use of social software tools inside the firewall is called Enterprise 2.0, a term coined by Professor Andrew McAfee in his 2006 article “Enterprise 2.0 The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration“. Within this article he talks about the building blocks of Enterprise 2.0, SLATES.

  1. Search
  2. Links
  3. Authoring
  4. Tags
  5. Extensions
  6. Signals

This makes sense as they mirror the growth components that have made Web 2.0 what it is today. Unfortunately while consumer tools and services are delivering on these promises when employees come to work the tools provided by your average IT department are, well, less than average when it comes to enabling emergent collaboration.

The places where most enterprises fail first is with search. How many corporate Intranet search tools provide the ease of use, speed, relevancy and accuracy of Google?

In a survey completed last year AIIM found that almost 70% of respondents believed that only 50% or less of their organisation’s information was searchable online! With only 10% saying that findability of information inside their organisation was an “Imperative”.

This issue is only going to get larger the more and more people who experience Web 2.0 on the “consumer web” as they will begin to expect the same features and usability internally.

Google Wave and the Enterprise

Google Wave

With a fair bit of fanfare on May 28th Google pre-released a brand new tool/suite/ concept/framework for collaboration called Google Wave. I am not going to cover all the technical details, you can see them over at But you do need to understand that Google Wave is actually three things all in one package.

  • The Google Wave product (available as a developer preview) is the web application people will use to access and edit waves. It’s an HTML 5 app, built on Google Web Toolkit. It includes a rich text editor and other functions like desktop drag-and-drop (which, for example, lets you drag a set of photos right into a wave).
  • Google Wave can also be considered a platform with a rich set of open APIs that allow developers to embed waves in other web services, and to build new extensions that work inside waves.
  • The Google Wave protocol is the underlying format for storing and the means of sharing waves, and includes the “live” concurrency control, which allows edits to be reflected instantly across users and services. The protocol is designed for open federation, such that anyone’s Wave services can interoperate with each other and with the Google Wave service. To encourage adoption of the protocol, we intend to open source the code behind Google Wave.

Think of a wave as the combination of an email and instant messaging but on steroids! Google describes wave as being equal parts document and conversation, which sounds very strange, essentially it is a fully integrated collaborative communications framework. Technically the tool is amazing; for example real time edits of a wave appear on all participants’ screens immediately and the ability to “replay” edits of a wave to see how the wave developed. The only part missing from the wave product is a VOIP client, but given that Google has open sourced the core of wave and the extremely flexible API framework a smart engineer should be able to hook one up very quickly.

Within an enterprise Google Wave, or at least the concepts behind it, have the ability to revolutionise the way people work! The flexible streamlined approach to communication and collaboration is both amazing complex and simple at the same time.  For example:

  • Real-time foreign language translation allows everyone to easily collaborate naturally in their own language.
  • Real-time updates on waves allow teams to create documents wiki style at a rapid pace.
  • Changes that happen while you sleep can be replayed using the play back feature so you can see the context that trigger comments, suggests and ideas to be added to the Wave.
  • Drag and drop images, and in the future other media types, allows fast real time collaboration of prototypes and ideas.
  • The open API allows full integration of other products such as production schedules, or CRM tools.
  • The protocol allows you to federate with other organisations for collaborative purposes.

Now this revolution will not happen overnight given the massive investment organisations have made on Microsoft Exchange and Sharepoint over the last few years. So initially I would predict Google Wave being picked up by smaller organisations and freelancers who need to collaborate with different people on projects across multiple locations.

A word of caution given Google’s track record of letting services die off time will tell if Google Wave becomes the next Gmail or Google Base.

ATC: Sue Polo Engineering and Operations Staffing Director, Google

Sue Polo from Google, Australian readers yes Google HQ, followed Dr Williamson with a fantastic look at not only Google as a corporation but also their staffing challenges. She provided us with so much information I did not get a chance to write many notes as she talked, but here are some of my top takeaways:

  • Google has 21,000 employees and $5.8 Billion revenue in 2008
  • Recruiting is now not the major focus at Google, the first time ever
  • Objectives generally being find them, grow them, keep them – The Google Way
  • A key challenge over the last few years through the dramatic growth has been how to keep their culture
  • You Tube is the 4th largest destination on the web and every minutes 15 hours worth of content is uploaded every day!
  • Food at Google is paramount; no engineer can be more than a 100ft from food!
  • They are now looking to grow their own staff and focusing on internal mobility
  • Nothing is done at Google without hard facts provided by data
  • Almost every decision at Google goes through some form of committee, I found this strange and unexpected. Effectively they strive to meet consensus not a democracy, and decisions are not based on HIPPOs – Highly paid persons opinions
  • Like many organisation they run an Annual Employee Survey:
    • Adoption – 85% of employees participate with tonnes of text feedback
    • Freshness – 70% of survey stays the same with 30% changing every year
    • Transparency – The results are delivered in tag clouds, tech talks, emails, and newsletters. Reports by Geography & Business are given to any manager with an n-count of 7.
  • Last year’s survey results:
    • Underperformance stick out like a sore thumb
    • Underwater options lots of concerns
    • Career development concerns
  • Employees said they would not leave due to the underwater options because the work is engaging!
  • To address the underwater stock they introduced two programs:
    1. TSO, transferrable stock options
    2. A repricing has been done but interesting as a 1:1, which is unique and everyone at Google got to trade, 93% of Googlers took advantage, and the process was done through a custom tool that took 3 clicks
  • Hiring process: initial resume screen, phone screen, then onsite interviews (up to 8 or 9 in a day), reviewed by hiring committees, then finally the executive management team. The committee reviewing and assessing the candidate and will probably not have the hiring manager involved.
  • With employee development the focus is on Google employees training Google employees, as most of the time they have all the experts on staff!
  • Performance Management is done quarterly with a system built in house again highly data driven. For example you can be rated on a scale of 1 to 5 like most organisations BUT at every tenth ie 3.4.
  • Semi Annual promotion process that is peer driven not manager driven
  • 15% is the smallest target bonus in google
  • On the Intranet you can put any title you want on your profile, there are no titles on doors etc, instead you get a special shirt that shows you have been promoted
  • At Google 40% hires are employee referrals
  • Sourcers teach the engineers how to use their networks to find candidates

I had the privilege of speaking with Sue one on one several times over the course of the two days. At one point we went a little deeper into the hiring process. Candidates self assess their technical skills using a scale of 1 to 10. Sue said that if someone puts a 10 down they had better have a) invented the technology, b) been on the industry bodies who invented the technology or c) written the book about it. If not then the person who did will be in the room interviewing you! 

Great places to work in Australia

The Great Place to Work Institute has launched their 2009 program partnering with BRW. They have over 20 years experience in measuring employee engagement from all over the globe, they define a great place to work as one where trust exists.

At the heart of our definition of a great place to work – a place where employees trust the people they work for, have pride in what they do, and enjoy the people they work with – is the idea that a great workplace is measured by the quality of the three, interconnected relationships that exist there:

  • The relationship between employees and management.
  • The relationship between employees and their jobs/company.
  • The relationship between employees and other employees.

The 2008 Great Places to Work in Australia were:

  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  2. Dow Corning
  3. Google
  4. McDonald’s
  5. Morgan Stanley
  6. NetApp
  7. Russell Investments
  8. SEEK Limited

Nominations are open now, so if you feel your workplace is a great place to work head over and nominate it!

New content and products

Over the last week I have released a few new items on the Inspecht site.

  1. Short introduction on how to use Google to find candidates
  2. Quick overview of some key social media and Web 2.0 terms
  3. Email marketing campaign tool

The first two probably make sense to most readers but the third might surprise a few of you.

Email marketing

While blogs and RSS are where the digital natives hang out, many people have not moved away from email as a major communication method. There are two variations of the service, first is designed for internal recruiters and the other for agency recruiters. For internal recruiters the tool can be used to create newsletters to stay engaged with their talent pool, advertise specific career fairs to a specific audience and promote specific jobs to the talent pool. For agency recruiters the focus is on specific jobs to their mail list.

Why is this tool different from regular email?

  • Preview the email as you build it
  • Custom templates to match your corporate guidelines for jobs, newsletters, graduate events, what ever; you are in control
  • Control over sender information
  • Scheduled delivery options
  • Track who forwards your email and how many times
  • Detailed reporting covering who opened your emails, who clicked on which links, and who unsubscribed
If you are interested in this brand new product drop me an email and we can talk further.