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Blog Post by: Ian Gee and Carole Grimwood

Our next two blogs are polarised, the first will look at the ‘Dystopia in the Future Workplace’ and the impact technology will have on HR and OD.  In it we have taken our research and imagined a worst case future, one that we assume none of us would ever want to be a part of.  We have taken a look at how such things as AI, VR, Gamification and Big Data will affect the way we work in a negative way, leading us all as employees being both cut adrift from the workplace community and enslaved in a new machine age driven gig economy.  The second one, ‘Utopia in the Future Workplace’ will look at how much of an enabler and liberator technology will be and how it will provide us all with an incredible opportunity to revolutionise the way we work for the better of all and reinvent ourselves and the HR profession.

Now neither the Utopia or Dystopia we imagine are real.  Hopefully it goes without saying but just in case…. the Utopia and Dystopia blogs are fictional extremes to highlight potential scenarios and do not represent the views of the authors! You may therefore wonder why we have bothered to write them. In both scenario planning and the development of organisation simulations, it is very useful and some would say critical to push our thinking hard to explore as fully as we can both ends of the Utopia to Dystopia construct. In doing so we can really think through what we would like to happen and how to make it so.  If you want to read more about this we can highly recommend Mary Midgley Essay ‘Practical Utopianism’ in her book ‘Utopias, Dolphins and Computers. Problems of Philosophical Plumbing’. (Midgley, M., Routledge, 1996)

It would be great if when you have read both blogs you could help to enrich them by including your ideas in the comment section. We will then do a review and identify the common and distinct themes in both blogs and publish them along with both your and our reflections at the end of this series.

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Blog Post by: Ian Gee and Carole Grimwood

It’s my birthday! If you’d asked me 20 years ago I’d have said that I’d be celebrating my retirement today – drawing a reasonable pension, looking forward to catching up with reading, travelling, learning a new language, joining a yoga class, generally indulging myself before I cast off this mortal coil. As the years pass however, the retirement horizon continues to stretch further into the distance. I do have a private pension plan, (several in fact), and I will receive a small amount in about 10 years but it won’t be enough to cover the basics. I’m not on my own, this is now the norm.

When I was younger I worked in HR, but most traditional HR work is now automated. I remember people saying that there were some things, like recruitment and selection, which would always need to be done in person. Managers used to pride themselves on their intuitive ability to select the best candidate, whilst we HR experts were always striving for a more objective approach. Now a Selectorbot conducts a video interview and applicant responses are analysed using a sophisticated algorithm. Apparently, this makes a much better job of identifying talent and predicting performance. We should be careful what we wish for.

I’m lucky that I still have one of the skills that hasn’t yet been fully automated. I have to make use of digital tools, techniques, and data of course (no one could get by without staying on top of the technology) but there is still a face-to-face element thank goodness. I don’t sit in the same room as the people I provide support for though – I do all my work from home. Apparently, with virtual reality we can’t tell the difference. I’m not convinced but I go with the flow.

So, I’ll be doing some work today and spending yet more time trying to find some new clients. Like the vast majority, I’m self-employed. There is no job security and there are no regular hours. It’s a very crowded market place and you need to be constantly in the ‘on’ position and ready to go to be in with a chance of picking up work. This is the reality of the gig-economy.

You never really feel that you are truly part of something either. I’m just a temporary cog in a machine now. Can you remember all the effort that we used to put into employee engagement – the holy grail of productivity and business success? All those initiatives to develop engaging leaders, to give employees a voice and ensure that they felt valued by the organisation. There used to be awards for it in the HR world! The trend these days is to gamify work to raise productivity. It’s all about prizes and badges and tokens. It makes me feel like I’m back in primary school.

The combination of home working and self-employment can be very isolating and there has been a massive increase in stress and depression. Alongside that though, there are many, much more effective, drugs to manage psychological illnesses. We must be grateful for small mercies I suppose!

At least I still have a modicum of autonomy and control. The people who have to work in roles where even as recently as 2010 they would have been employed are also engaged as contractors (they used to call it uberisation). They are increasingly manged by chip. Implants monitor attendance, productivity, health, and even mood. Sometimes I think it’s getting difficult to spot the difference between real people and the robots. In fact, it’s easy – the robots don’t have moods, or sickness absence, and they don’t need a loo break. They also learn a good deal faster. So much pressure!

Not too long ago we also used to put a lot of emphasis on creativity. That wasn’t just about major innovation to invent new businesses, new products, and new ways of working. We used to say it was important for all employees to come up with ideas for improving the way things were done. Human creativity seems to be pretty much redundant now. The power of artificial intelligence applied to the ever-increasing mass of available data has seen to that.

We also used to put a great emphasis on the idea of a career back in the day. When I was young, everyone wanted a career and success in life was largely determined by this. The notion of a job for life vanished pretty quickly but we hung onto the need for career development for a long time. Initially development was actually provided by organisations. Later it became much more of a personal responsibility. Now it’s not even an important concept. You get a gig because of what you can do and not for any potential that you might have. The only thing you need now in this gig world is flexibility, adaptability, resilience and to be prepared to keep up and work with the technological advances.

The worst thing for me though is the loneliness. I enjoyed the sense of belonging that comes from working for an organisation. I loved being part of a real, physical team. I enjoyed having the time to develop relationships with my colleagues. I remember when I started applying for my first jobs in HR I was told that I should never say ‘I want to work with people’. But you know what? That’s exactly what I want.

Hey – What a Wonderful World!

Posted: November 7, 2016 by Matthew Hanwell in Dystopia, FutureofWork, Human Resources, OD, Technology, Utopia

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Blog Post By:  Ian Gee and Carole Grimwood

It’s my birthday and I can honestly say I have never been happier!  After over 20 years working in HR I feel I am truly doing the best work of my life.  When I look back to my early days I can only think how constrained I felt and how hard it was to really add value to the organisation.  It’s been a long hard climb to get to the top table.  I am there now and I like it!

In the not so ‘Good Old Days’ it took ages to do anything. I could never be certain that the data I was basing recommendations on was up to date or even real.  Today I can get workforce data at the click of a button and track how it changes every hour.  In fact, I don’t even need to do that!  I coded an app that does it for me.  The app sends alerts to my phone when it thinks there is something I ought to be aware of.  It does this 24/7.  My coding has urgent conditions that ensure I am woken in the night if it is something vital and impactful to the bottom line.  The kind of thing that needs to be brought to the attention of the leadership team.  Of course these are pretty rare events. None the less, my fellow SVP’s are very impressed with how on the ball HR is.  These kinds of things have shown how important the HR function is to the survival and growth of the business.

Do you remember how in the bad old days over 70% of M&A’s and OD initiatives failed to add value to the enterprise?  More often than not they destroyed value.  I often wondered why we bothered launching new corporate initiatives that drained everyone’s energy. Well not any more.  The organisation simulation I developed using Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality mean that the CEO, board, and staff have the opportunity to experience the future before it happens.  In doing so they can understand the likely consequences of their actions long before any real decisions are made. Working with our marketing colleagues we have adapted this to incorporate customers and suppliers in the process. This has given all of us the opportunity of refining change and M&A plans, truly understanding how culture drives and if you ignore it, kills change.

Our People-Data Chat Bots, which we in HR co developed with an external supplier, help us track the implementation of changes and steer the course to success.  They have solved the long standing problem of ROI by generating, gathering and interpreting current metrics and predicting future metrics in a real time way.  We no longer have any excuse for not knowing what is going on or having a dreadful 2 quarter time lag in knowing if what we are doing is making a difference and likely to succeed.  Change and OD have become a real time activity rather than a suck it and see, or let’s keep our fingers crossed one.

In the past I spent ages trying to get my fellow SVP’s to understand the importance of engagement and generosity in the workplace. How it impacts on productivity and why as a board we should be concerned about it.  Like most other businesses we had annual employee surveys and the like. But to be honest, very little happened as a result.   In HR we worked with a set of coders and app developers to build a companywide sentiment measurement tool (CWSMT).  The CWSMT scans all company communication, voice, email, social media etc., reading voice tone and identifying levels of happiness and generosity amongst employees.  The CWSMT helps us to quickly identify company ‘hot spots’ that require further investigation and exploration.  If we are not happy with the levels of engagement, we then give employees a ‘watch bot’ to wear.  We call these “Fit-For-Future -Work-Bits’ (FFFWB). They record detailed biometric and social data, analyse it and identify probable causes for the ‘Hot Spot’.  This has helped us to spot issues to do with the capability of local leaders, lack of skills, both cognitive and empathic, on the part of employees and even practical things like ways of working getting in the way of effectiveness, engagement and happy employees.   The FFFWB will even develop appropriate and tailored training programmes for the individuals concerned. They are amazing and accurate to a 98% tolerance level.  Employees often elect to wear them so they can build their skills and capabilities and get real time feedback on what they do well and not so well.

We use the FFFWB as part of our talent management programme.  The old days of identifying talent by sitting in shuttered rooms and talking about employees using highly subjective data are gone.  The FFFWB does it for us.  Not only do they provide data on skills they also provide us with data on relational and empathic ability.  They help us weed out people who do not share and live our values or our ethical stance.  In doing so they have helped us leave the bad old days of cortisone driven business decision making behind!

The majority of our employees, including HR professionals, are part of the gig economy, working with ‘at will’ employment contracts.  Our use of enhanced technology, including virtual reality gives them the freedom to work when and where they want and not to be bound by the old 9 to 5.  Yes, we have systems that look at and track the data for individual outputs, but now through the use of AI we can turn this into outcome data.  We and employees can see not just what they have done, but understand how they are being paid for the outcomes of their work.  This has helped us in HR to develop new compensation, benefits and reward packages that truly link the work people do to the beneficial effect it is having on shareholder value as well as things like environmental impact, customer satisfaction and enterprise sustainability.

Should employees decide to leave we offer them a data dump of all the biometrics and machine data we have gathered on them over their time with us.  We provide them with a ‘Data Dump CV’ (DDCV) that they can take to other employers.  This helps them sell themselves for future ‘gigs’ by really showing what they have done and the outcomes and the positive impact of their work.  Gone are the days of having to worry about people stretching the truth on their CV’s.  Our employees love the DDCV as not only does it help them understand what they are good at, it shows when they are good at it.  This helps them structure their time.  So some employees know they are most productive in early mornings, other late evenings.  They have real data to show prospective employers what they can do and the added value they bring.  This has helped many of them to raise how much they charge and get paid what they are worth.  We encourage all our gig employees to ask future employers to share the sentiment data for the team or part of the organisation they are looking for a gig in.  In this way they can easily avoid toxic organisations and seek gigs in places that will help them build their careers.

By embracing tech, in all its glorious forms, I think HR has finally liberated itself from being damned as a profession that is only interested in the ‘soft stuff’.  We have found a way of making the soft stuff hard and credible and easy for the rest of the organisation to see the importance of.  What more could I want on my birthday?!

HR Tech and the OD practitioner

Posted: October 31, 2016 by Matthew Hanwell in Change, OD, Organization, Technology, Uncategorized

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Blog Post by: Ian Gee

In this blog I want to continue to explore why Carole and I believe it is critical for OD practitioners to engage with Tech, be involved with its development and find ways of incorporating it into our practice. In her last blog Carole mentioned the lack of visibility of OD practitioners at the recent HR Tech World Congress and expressed concern, that we might be coming late to the party and ultimately miss out. I believe not only will we miss out if we fail to fully engage with Tech, we will see a continuation of the abysmal figure of 70% of all OD initiatives failing.

 

The combination of newly available technology, shifting workplace demographics and changes to the political landscape are the biggest drivers of change we face. You could argue this has always been the case. What has shifted is the pace at which these are moving forward. This presents immense challenges to us as OD practitioners.

 

We have chosen to focus on Tech both because of the speed of change and its potential to impact the very nature of work and our relationship with it. Yet, this seems to be the least explored area from an OD point of view. In terms of how it impacts on our practice, how we can leverage it to enable faster and more impactful change and how potentially it will change the practice of OD in ways that we can hardly yet understand. However, we believe that critically there is an interaction between demographics and change that we need to understand first before we look at how Tech will both change and enhance what we do.

 

We can track the development of OD approaches in terms of the dominant generation in the workplace and the dilemmas they bring with them as they enter the world of organisations. I think Baby Boomers have struggled with the dilemma of organisations being either about social control, conformity etc., or a place for self-liberation and freedom of expression. This led to OD ideas like NTL, T Groups, change agents, action research, Appreciative Inquiry, Future Search, etc.

 

To my mind, Gen X struggle with the dilemma of organisations being about efficiency and effectiveness, versus their need for security and a sense of place. This has led to them dismissing a lot of the ‘boomer type’ interventions as fluffy, soft stuff and consequently moved OD to OE with interventions such Six Sigma, Agile, Lean, re/engineering, Quality Circles etc.

 

Gen Y, who are relatively new to the workplace, I think carry the dilemma of desperately wanting to be part of the herd and yet at the same time wanting organisations to recognise ‘the specialness of me!’ As OD practitioners I don’t think we have not fully understood the implications of this, or the kinds of interventions that will resonate with them.   However, examples such as tech led reorganisations to drive down cost and increase efficiency, workplace communities and structuring for the gig economy all come to mind.

 

I don’t think we yet know what dilemmas Gen Z will be trying to work out in organisations or the kinds of OD that will work for them. As a best guess, I think it will be something about the move from backpack to briefcase being ‘always on and connected’ 4D thinking and a need for depth and focus. What kinds of OD work will resonate with this group goodness knows? However, I am willing to place a large bet that Tech, HR or otherwise will be at the heart of it! To be considered as relevant to Gen Z not only will we need all the skills we currently have but also to be able to demonstrate a true depth understanding of Tech in and outside of the workplace.

 

As Gen Y and Gen Z start to be the dominate generations in the workplace and given their facility with all things Tech, I believe it is critical that as OD practitioners we fully understand such things as Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Serious Gaming. Without this we will most certainly be considered old fashioned and of limited relevance by them. Our understanding needs to encompass not only what they are, but how we can make use of them to enable sustainable and impactful change. We need to understand the ‘what it is’ and to be able to help shape ‘what it might become’. My friend Alberto Torres has written an interesting blog about the differences between AI and VR that you can find here

As we continue these blogs we will explore in more detail what these technologies are and what we think they offer to the world of OD. We will look at Tech in the widest possible sense. Imagining a world where OD practitioners having coding skills, or a good understanding of them and be the kind of professionals who can work as equals with Tech specialists to develop ‘OD algorithms’ and co-develop apps and other forms of Tech we can use in our practice.

If you are already working in this way and incorporating any of these possibilities in your OD practice it would be great to hear what you have been doing and the impact, positive or negative it has had on the outcomes of your work.

Technology – Friend or Foe?

Posted: October 25, 2016 by Matthew Hanwell in Change, Human Resources, OD, Technology, Uncategorized

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Blog Post by:  Carole Grimwood

A few months ago, I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend the HR Tech World Spring Conference in London with my colleague Ian Gee. It was a great event and if any readers are not familiar, take look and maybe go along next time. It turned out to be a couple of the most thought provoking days I’ve had in a while and I wanted to share some of my observations.

First, there was great energy. There were over 2000, much younger than your average, HR conference delegates from across the world with a passion for technology and a future focus. And the big question for them – how can technology shape not just HR but the world of work in general?

Second, there were innovations from wearable technologies of the FitBit/Smart Watch type for 2-way communication with staff, Mobile Apps for learning and employee engagement, video recruitment where the interviewer and assessor is the computer, systems for handling and exploiting big data, and robots with learning capability to automate jobs.

Third, there was much talk about the potential of data as a tool to help us shape our thinking and shape not just our workforce strategies but also the world of work itself.

(It wasn’t all exciting by the way. Maybe it’s just me but the pedestrian world of Learning Management Systems hardly seems to have moved on in the last 10 years!)

Two statistics that were quoted are of particular significance:

  • 35% of today’s jobs in the UK will disappear in the next 20 years
  • There will be a 37% reduction in the number of people employed in HR in the next 5 years

It could be that these projections are optimistic. According to research by Deloitte and Oxford University, as 47% of current jobs could be automated by 2020.

The hypothesis is that this won’t happen because of a failing economy and endless austerity measures – it will happen in spite of it. This is about growth and investment in technology and the exponential rise in the power and sophistication of robotics, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. Since the conference, I’ve read and posted a good deal about driverless vehicles, self-service bars, room service robots, automated journalism, and the 3D printing of houses. The list goes on.

It was disappointing to find that at the conference very little attention was being given to the OD implications of all of this. There is the potential for an unprecedented shift in the world of work and the need for experts to support the change. OD colleagues didn’t seem to be at the party.

So the question is what does all this mean for the future of work and by implication for the future of HR and OD? Over the next couple of months, we will publish a series of blogs about the impact of technology on the world of OD, HR and the future world of work. Let us know if you have particular views or if there are questions you’d like us to think about?

The Curse of Listicles and Clickbait!

Posted: May 5, 2016 by Matthew Hanwell in OD, SEO, Social Media, Twitter

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By Ian Gee:

In the past couple of months, I have been using twitter a lot more. In the main this has been to promote the Ilfracombe Film Festival a project I am volunteering on.  I have had the Twitter account @IanRGee for many years though have never really used it. So as well as starting an @FilmIlfracombe account I decided to breath some life back into @IanRGee and @AlbanyOD as well. It has been a fascinating, if occasionally frustrating experience!

Twitter has been a great way of connecting with people, sharing ideas, asking questions and having fun. It has not been without its irritations mind you! My biggest irritation and turnoff has been the amount of clickbait and listicles OD practitioners and consultancies are tweeting.

What do I mean by clickbait and listicles? If you have any kind of social media account, you will have seen posts which start; ‘This kitten tried to rob a bank…you won’t believe what happened next!” or “The top 4 tips for getting a flat stomach’ The first is classic clickbait and the second is a clickbait listicle! If like me you are occasionally curious, or in fact at times truly foolish (for that read bored!), then when you click on the link you invariably get inundated with advertisements, exhortations for things you don’t want or need and have to click through goodness knows how many pages to find out what on earth did happen when the kitten robbed the bank and what are the 4 things that will turn my belly into a six pack?! For me as I click through I find I am just getting more and more irritated! What interests me is how many OD practitioners and consultancies are using this approach to promote their businesses.

Clickbait and listicles are an obvious and on the surface, easy way of driving traffic to websites, gamming analytics platforms, raising SEO status and advertising products and services. If we have something to sell whether it be a product, service or our time then advertising is vital. However, the inherent problem with listicles and clickbait is that they very quickly move people from being intrigued through to disappointed and even angry!   Many of the OD listicles and clickbait have done this to me!

Here are a few examples of what I mean. One OD Consultancy posted this ‘The top 2 things to do to increase employee engagement” When I clicked through and eventually got to the page this is one of the bit s of amazing, stunning, and frankly incredible advice ‘Remember to say Hello to your employees when you get to the office!’ I actually decided to make a tweet comment on this and said ‘Gosh who knew” and got a reply that said ‘We really feel it is very important to remind people of things like this….’

Here are some more examples of Clickbait and Listicles:

“Click here to diagnose all your team’s ills…and cure them!”

“Click here for the 4 building blocks of change”

“Check out this cool visualisation tool designed to answer your toughest business questions’

“Click here for a free Free 110-page book download that makes managing change incredibly easy”

What do you think? Am I being unnecessarily critical of something that we now just have to accept as part and parcel of the market place? If you have a favourite listicle or piece of clickbait, then please share it with us all!

Artisan

By Ian Gee

I am sure we have all noticed the rise of mosher led microbreweries, hipster bakeries, nipster furniture makers, craft kids and DIYer upcycling shops! To me these all represent a resurgence and delight in artisan products, services and ways of working.  In most towns and cities these new types of businesses, led by urban tribes, are springing up and doing rather well.  Consumers seem willing to pay a premium to know where their products come from, how staff are treated and to feel that they are receiving something hand crafted and special. I would also argue that by supporting artisans, they are consciously or unconsciously feeling part of a movement.  There is a sense, that by buying from small local craft producers, they are having a bit of a ‘stick it to the man’ moment!

As someone who grew up in the 60’s I find this really interesting.   Throughout the last century having things from large companies was all the rage and a sign that you and your family were successful, letting go of the past and embracing modernity.  Things from large corporations had a shiny, bright and new glamour to them.  As opposed to hand-crafted items, which were dull, old fashioned and boring.  A sign of being stuck in the past and not getting with the programme!   We trusted the ‘big brands’ to deliver quality, efficiency and effectiveness at a good price.

From my experience the only interest in hand crafted goods tended to be the things that people brought back from their overseas holidays.  So the fancy sangria jug, or the Neolithic looking mortar and pestle brought home as a reminder of a lovely summer holiday.  I have a friend of Greek heritage and he told me how in the 70’s and 80’s when his Greek family visited the UK they would bring a lot of their ‘peasant, artisan goods’ to give to friends and family and then rush to Woolworths to fill their suitcases with Tupperware to take back home as gifts for friends!  The gifts they brought were kept on display as symbols of exoticism and ‘conversation starters’.  They were certainly never used!

To me the subtext is that in today’s market place artisan products and services are perceived to be more ‘truthful’, real and authentic than those offered by the big brands.  They are sold as less likely to be built on the sands of possible corruption or stir up feelings of ethical dilemmas.  They are local, shaped and crafted by the ‘horny handed sons and daughters of the soil’!  I think this evidences a strong desire to experience things on a much more human scale and to be able to look into the eye of the person who has produced what we are consuming.  When we buy from an artisan, we feel, rightly or wrongly, that we know what we are getting and through the economic exchange are forming a relationship, no matter how transitory, with our locality and in many cases with a particular community.

What on earth has the last 500+ words got to do with OD, I hear you muttering?!  Well, given consumers desire for a more artisan, transparent, local relationship with producers what would a more artisan like approach to OD look like?  Here are a few thoughts of the top of my head.

Artisan OD might include:

  • Small teams of people doing things in a very transparent way that people understand. Most likely working within their direct or immediate locality so they feel they know them
  • Practitioners who have an obvious passion for their trade and craft; making money being secondary to their vocation
  • A practice with a very evident set of skills and abilities, with no mystery or ‘behind the curtain’ type activities
  • A sense that anyone can do Artisan OD, if they are willing to put in the 10K hours to practice, practice, practice and more practice
  • The fact that the excitement and glamour is not in the power of association (how many OD practitioners have you heard bragging that they only work with C Suite executives, having lots of BIG clients, etc., ) but rather in the fact that you are using your craft to make an obvious difference at a local level and by association to the world
  • No checklists (the top 5 tips for employee engagement, the 8 things you need to do for successful culture change, the 7 things to change in order to be the change you want to be….) and not aphoristically driven (‘Change before you have to’ “Out there in some garage is an entrepreneur who’s forging a bullet with your company’s name on it.”…) but personalised, bespoke, connected, locality based, authentic and real.

I have lots more ideas, but before I share them, over to all of you my fellow OD, Artisan or otherwise, let me know what you think?  What do we need to do to become the new tribe in the HR world?!