Category Archives: innovation

Fix STEM Gap by Making Science Fun

Anything that encourages and inspires the mastery of science in this country raises my interest. I come from a long line of scientists who — aside from being brilliant heroes of mine — always found ways, and time, to give back to schools and students to encourage a love of science.

My late dad, an oceanographer, told me more than once that the key to the math and science problem in America (i.e., not enough college graduates entering the workforce with science, technology, engineering, and math mastery and career plans) is that too few schools are making STEM fun. How can you be inspired by something that     isn’t at least a little bit fun?

Which is why this release about the 11th Annual Arizona Regional Science Bowl held Saturday before last caught my eye and had me reading on, not just about Arizona’s competition, but the national one as well, the one that all regional meets feed. There’s even a National Ocean Sciences Bowl. Not sure my dad knew about that one. He would have loved it.

Organized and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy since its inception back in 1991, the National Science Bowl follows a quiz-show format, with a buzzer system in place for contestants to signal their answers. Students compete in teams starting in their regional middle- and high-school competitions with the goal of getting an all-expense-paid trip to the national bowl if they win. This year’s national event takes place in Washington from April 27 through May 1. (Here’s a video from last year’s national competition in case you’re as curious as I was.)

My sense of it after reading up on both the regional and national events is this bowl idea sounds far more exciting, engaging and competitive than most other organized attempts to instill the love of science in tomorrow’s workforce. It also sounds fun.

I guess you could say it feels like the difference between a health-risk and body-mass assessment and a wellness program that gets participants truly engaged and enthused.

At a time when employers, particularly those in tech-reliant industries, are bemoaning the dearth of STEM-educated job candidates (consider what we’ve written here on HRE Daily and on HREOnline.com, for instance), it makes a whole lot of sense for businesses to support these regional bowls, and our national one.

Not only are you helping your high-tech talent-pipeline, you’d also be doing something very nice for your reputation as a community/U.S./future-workforce supporter.

Changing of the Guard at Google

By now, many of you may have read that Laszlo Bock is stepping down as head of Google’s people operations, passing the baton to Eileen Naughton, who currently is vice president of sales and operations in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The news was first reported last week by Fortune.

Some of you may recall Bock was HRE’s 2010 HR Executive of the Year—and for good reason. Though only four years at the helm of Google’s HR organization at the time, it was already quite clear that he brought a fresh new way of thinking to the HR world.

As then Google CEO Eric Schmidt pointed out in our October 2010 cover story, “Building a New Breed,” “Innovation and data are at the core of who we are at Google, and Laszlo applies those same principles to HR. He drives cutting-edge people programs and uses rigorous analytics to guide decision-making—all in the name of finding, growing and keeping great Googlers.”

If you’re looking for a single place to go to get at what some of the “cutting-edge people programs” are, I suggest you pick up Bock’s 2015 book: Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead. It’s all there.

Last year, the National Academy of Human Resouces also acknowledged Bock’s extraordinary contribution to the HR profession by naming him a Fellow in the Academy.

Unlike Bock, who held HR posts at General Electric before joining Google, Naughton is the latest example of an “outsider” taking the HR reins of a high-profile business.

Before joining Google, Naughton served as president of the Time Group and vice president of investor relations for Time Warner. She also served as president of Time Inc.

The Fortune story points out that she is one of the highest-rated managers at Google by employees and is “a founding member of Google’s women’s organization, Women@Google, along with former Google exec and current Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.”

Like Bock (who is staying on as an adviser to CEO Sundar Pichai), she will report to Alphabet (Google parent company) CFO Ruth Porat and will oversee HR in its entirety, including diversity and inclusion (which, like at many Silicon Valley companies, continues to be a weak spot for the firm, though one it’s making great strides to address).

Only time will tell, of course, how Naughton will build on Bock’s legacy at Google. Will she be able to view HR through a very different lens, much like Bock? Who knows—maybe her lack of HR experience will be an asset in that regard(?) But this much is certain: She has a tough act to follow.

Cultivating a More-Innovative Workplace

Further evidence of the connection between workplace design and innovation was released earlier today, this time in the form of ThinkstockPhotos-178089032Gensler’s U.S. Workplace Survey 2016.

In its press release, Gensler, the San Francisco-headquartered architecture and design firm, says it “uncovered a statistical link between the quality and functional make-up of the workplace and the level of innovation employees ascribe to their organization.”

The survey of more than 4,000 workers across 11 industries finds that the most innovative companies provide employees with “a diversity of well-designed spaces in which to collaborate and to focus.”

As Gensler Co-CEO Diane Hoskins put it …

“Employees truly flourish when they have room to not only collaborate but also have space to focus, and are empowered to work when and how they work best—both within their workplace, and in other locations outside it.”

To arrive at its findings, Gensler created an index aimed at identifying the most innovative organizations, comparing the behaviors and spatial attributes of those at different ends of the innovation spectrum.

The research found that employees at the most-innovative organizations spend only 74 percent of the work week at the office, compared to 86 percent for less-innovative workplaces; are at least 2 times more likely to have access to cafeterias, coffee shops and outdoor spaces; have 2 times more access to amenities including specialty coffee, restaurants, gyms and child-care facilities; and have 2 times more choice in when and where to work.

In light of findings like these, I suppose it’s no surprise that we would continue to run across employers that are pushing the envelope when it comes to their workplace designs. Take Amazon, for example, which was featured the other day in a New York Times story titled “Forget Beanbag Chairs. Amazon is Giving Its Workers Treehouses.

The story explains how the online retail giant is growing actual plants (more than 3,000 species of them) about a half-hour’s drive from its new corporate headquarters in downtown Seattle. They will eventually be housed in one of three transparent spheres adjacent to the complex that will serve as greenhouses.

Amazon employees, the story says, would be able to “amble through tree canopies three stories off the ground, meet colleagues in rooms with walls made from vines and eat kale Caesar salads next to an indoor creek.”

As lead architect Dale Alberda points out, the whole idea behind the project is to “get people to think more creatively, maybe come up with a new idea they wouldn’t have if they were just in the office.”

Remember the good-old days, when high-tech companies would rely on a couple of strategically positioned ping-pong tables for those same results?

What Happens When Robots Get All the Jobs?

Fans of the show South Park know the episode where the angry townspeople chant “Dem robots took our jobs! Took err jerbs!” But regardless of whether you call it a job or a jerb, the anxiety over losing one’s livelihood someday to automation of one sort or another is very real. Nearly half of today’s U.S. workers are at risk of losing their jobs to a robot or software within the next 20 years, according to a 2013 study by researchers at the University of Oxford. It’s not just truck drivers and factory workers who are at risk: About one-third of 1,700 managers fear being replaced by “intelligent machines,” finds an Accenture  study titled Managers and Machines, Unite!

Robot typing on keyboard
Journalists could certainly be replaced by robots …

Pundits say, not to fear: The rise of the robots will lead to other jobs opening up in areas we haven’t even thought of today. But what if they’re wrong? Automation could well lead to massive numbers of people with no employment opportunities, with societal upheaval sure to follow. Avoiding scenarios like that may require “universal basic income,” writes New York Times technology columnist Farhad Manjoo.

With UBI, people would receive a check from the government each month to cover their basic living expenses. The theory is that “machine intelligence will produce so much economic surplus that we could collectively afford to liberate much of humanity from both labor and suffering,” writes Manjoo.

It’s not just Bernie Sanders supporters who may find this appealing: The idea has support among some conservative economists as well, he notes.  Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley tech incubator, plans to spend “tens of millions” of dollars on research examining what life might be like under U.B.I. What would people do — would they become more entrepreneurial, would they goof off, pursue meaningful activities? How would it affect people if their ability to sustain themselves was no longer tied to having a job?

Albert Wenger, a venture capitalist and a proponent of U.B.I., told Manjoo that U.B.I. could usher in the possibility of people accomplishing even greater things than we can currently imagine today.:

I think it’s a bad use of a human to spend 20 years of their life driving a truck back and forth across the United States. That’s not what we aspire to do as humans — it’s a bad use of a human brain — and automation and basic income is a development that will free us to do lots of incredible things that are more aligned with what it means to be human.

 

What’s Digital Media Doing For Your Workforce?

I’m going to go far out on a limb and say that digital media has drastically changed the way we work.

The ways in which technology has transformed and benefitted the workforce are too many to mention here, and are fairly self-evident anyway.

Participants in a recent Willis Towers Watson and World Economic Forum study acknowledge as much.

In Shaping the Future Implications of Digital Media for Society, the organizations polled more than 5,000 employers and individuals between the ages of 18 and 69. Overall, 56 percent of these respondents said that digital media has indeed altered the way they work.

At least to me, the only somewhat surprising thing about that figure is that it’s not higher. Really, whose job hasn’t been affected in some way by digital media?

In my mind, the more interesting finding from this study was how individuals’ view of digital media’s impact on their jobs varied greatly based on where they live.

For example, roughly two-thirds of respondents in Brazil and China said they think digital media has improved the quality of their professional lives. Just over half of the participants from South Africa (52 percent) felt the same way, while just 24 percent of those from Germany and 23 percent of respondents from the United States reported feeling that digital media has enriched them in a professional sense.

(About 1,000 digital media users from each of these five markets were polled, according to the report.)

A Willis Towers Watson summary of the findings doesn’t delve into why these U.S. and German respondents may feel this way. But Ravin Jesuthasan, a managing director of the organization’s talent management practice and co-author of the study, offers some insight into how technology may actually be limiting some workers’ opportunities, particularly those in low-skill positions.

“Despite the productivity gains and opportunities of digital media to actually bridge economic gaps and reduce inequality, potential downsides still exist,” says Jesuthasan.

For example, he says, digital media and related technology may drive near-term inequality as innovations such as talent platforms “increase the productivity and rewards of highly skilled workers while simultaneously cutting the cost of low-skilled work.”

In addition, digital media “has the potential to diminish work effectiveness and productivity,” continues Jesuthasan.

The multiple platforms and vast qualities of information and content at employees’ disposal “may distract workers and disrupt work,” he says. “In addition, as more people work remotely, valuable face-to-face time is reduced, which can weaken understanding and collaboration, and potentially hinder innovation.”

Considering that digital media’s role in the workplace is only going to expand—seven out of 10 respondents agree on this point—Jesuthasan urges employers to consider initiatives using technology to “more accurately match an individual’s skills to a specific business need.”

Rather than thinking solely in terms of “traditional jobs,” he says, companies should take a “more nuanced approach to how work should be conducted; using social media tools to build communication and engagement within the organization; sourcing and building digital skills; and developing digital leadership.”

The Slow Death of the Desk Job

A new study, titled Death of the Desk Job based on a survey of 1,700 North American full-time employees in order to understand how the traditional workday is changing based on employee preferences — finds 70 percent would leave their job for one that offers more workday flexibility, including the ability to work remotely more often.

The study also found 55 percent of employees have more flexible work hours than they did two or three years ago. In addition, 75 percent of employees said they’re able to keep more family, social and personal commitments because they can remotely access work anytime they need.

Technology has made it easier than ever for employees to stay connected to the workplace anytime, anywhere and, as a result, employees increasingly enjoy more flexibility over their schedules, says David MacDonald, president and CEO at Softchoice, which commissioned the survey.

“We found most people really value the freedom to customize their workday – to be able to run an errand, schedule an appointment, or pick up their kids from school, and catch up on work when it suits them. Organizations that enable that kind of flexibility have become highly desirable places to work.”

Additional highlights from the study include:

•Employees don’t think their desk, or even their office, is where they do their best work: 62 percent of employees believe they’re more productive working outside the office.

•The 9-to-5 workday is passé: 61 percent of employees prefer working the equivalent of an eight hour workday broken up over a longer day, rather than in a single 9-to-5 block.

•Out of Office Alert! Has technology made us too accessible? 57 percent of employees work remotely on personal or sick days, and 44 percent of employees worked on their last vacation.

•Most organizations are enabling a mobile workforce, but not governing one: 59 percent of employees receive a device from their employer for work in and out the office, however, just 24 percent of organizations have set clear policies and expectations around appropriate work activities after business hours.

“Though many organizations enable remote work by issuing corporate devices, technology alone isn’t enough to fulfill evolving employee needs,” MacDonald says. “Not everyone has the same definition of work/life balance, so it’s up to the employer to set clear expectations around acceptable work activities beyond business hours.”

Given the scope of this survey and prior research on this topic, it’s clear that today’s (and, most likely, tomorrow’s) employees are looking for more novel ways to be productive workers while not actually at work between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Employers should take note and help them find those new ways to work.  It’s a win-win.

Not So Fast in the Race to Innovate?

Is innovation overrated? Well, if we’re to believe researchers from Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business who have studied Formula One racing teams, the answer could very well be “yes.”

ThinkstockPhotos-184766512OK, Formula One racers wouldn’t be the first place I would look either to better understand the workings of innovation. But academic researchers at the school recently pored over data from 49 teams over a period of 30 years of Formula One racing and found that those innovating the most (say, making radical changes to their cars) weren’t usually the most successful on the course.

“We found that it wasn’t always good to be the aggressive innovator,” according to Jaideep Anand, co-author of the study and professor of strategy at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. (The study, titled Driving Performance via Exploration in Changing Environments: Evidence from Formula One Racing, is featured in the current issue of the journal Organization Science.)

In other words, he says, the “conventional wisdom that companies need to embrace change is often wrong,”

But isn’t it a bit of a stretch to equate the kind of innovation occurring on a race track to business?

Not according to Anand.

Forumula One racing, he says, is actually a very good venue to study the value of innovation in business, because it’s an innovation-intensive industry with teams of engineers, drivers and sponsors who all have to work together to succeed.

As an OSU press release issued yesterday puts it …

“The independent governing body for Formula One (FIA) imposes changes to racing teams’ environments by releasing a new set of rules each year, which is similar to the changes in the regulatory and business environment that businesses face on a regular basis.”

OK, I sincerely doubt  many business leaders are going to instruct their innovation teams to slam their foot on the brakes in light of these findings. But that said, I suppose it’s never a bad idea to revisit what you’re doing on the innovation front and see what kind of impact it’s having. Who knows, maybe a tune-up might be in order?

HBR: It’s Time to ‘Blow Up’ HR

powIt’s summer blockbuster season, with actors like Chris Pratt and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson saving us from rampaging dinosaurs and earthquakes with the aid of tons of CGI special effects (and plenty of clunky dialogue), so perhaps it’s appropriate that the Harvard Business Review (subscription required) has emblazoned the cover of  its July/August issue with an icon of a ball of dynamite and the provocative headline “It’s Time to BLOW UP HR And Build Something New.”

The three related articles inside aren’t quite as explosive as the cover suggests, but  thought-provoking nonetheless. The first piece is by none other than our own Talent Management columnist, Wharton professor Peter Cappelli, who writes that business leaders tend to see HR as a valuable asset during talent crunches but as a mere nuisance when times are better. In order to get out of this rut, HR leaders need to “set the agenda,” Cappelli writes. Rather than waiting for the CEO to tell them what to do, HR leaders must strongly advocate for excellence in every process the function touches (or should touch), from layoffs to recruiting to performance management, he writes.

HR leaders also need to either deepen their own knowledge of analytics or partner with those who are experts in order to “help companies make sense of all their employee data and get the most from their human capital,” Cappelli writes. Finally, HR leaders must help their organization’s leadership “take the long view,” he writes:

How can HR bring the long view back into organizations? By reconciling it with the immediate pressures that businesses face, which those one-at-a-time projects are designed to address. … HR should also keep stepping back to study those initiatives in the aggregate: What emerging needs do they point to? How do those needs map to the organization’s talent pipeline and practices? Which capabilities need shoring up?  … That’s the kind of analytic counsel the “new HR” should provide.

The next piece is by none other than Ram Charan, the management consultant who stirred up controversy last year with an HBR piece in which he argued for splitting HR in two. Well, he’s back and this time he’s got company in the form of co-authors Dominic Barton, global managing director of McKinsey & Co., and Dennis Carey, the vice chairman of Korn Ferry. In “People Before Strategy,” they argue for a new triumvirate at the top of organizations comprised of the CEO, the CFO and the CHRO. This three-person team will form a “core decision-making body” for the organization in which the CHRO will be the trusted advisor in all things people-related. “Forming such a team is the single best way to link financial numbers with the people who produce them,” they write.

The final piece is a deep dive into the work done by the HR department at tech firm Juniper Networks to make itself a vital part of that business. Juniper Networks has had to make a number of adjustments to its business over the years, write co-authors Jon Boudreau (of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business) and Steven Rice (former EVP of HR at Juniper Networks and now CHRO at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), and HR has been key in those transformations. Rather than reaching for the latest “bright shiny objects,” as too many HR leaders do, they write, the JN team worked hard to understand the big picture of the company’s business, identify the most valuable ideas, apply them in context and carefully manage their impact.

The work the HR team did included working closely with business leaders to reorganize the organization to make its operating model more simple, do away with cumbersome processes that were adding little value (including a forced-ranking system that was hurting morale) and finding ways to increase collaboration and innovation.

Developing a reputation as an innovative HR organization “requires walking a fine line,” the authors write. Ideas for innovation often arise from popular talks and articles, yet if you “embrace too many of these … or apply them too superficially,” you’ll develop a reputation for fad surfing, they write. Instead, “dig beneath the surface to the fundamental scientific research and insights, and you can set the stage for true impact.”

All in all, a worthwhile series of articles — complete with the bizarre yet compelling artwork the HBR has been featuring in recent years.

Are Job Seekers Saying No to Entrepreneurship?

Despite all you’ve heard about the rise of the entrepreneur and the growing number of young job seekers striking out on their own 451846939 -- younger workersrather than adhere to today’s workplace status quo, Challenger Gray & Christmas says not so fast.

The Chicago-based outplacement and career consultancy posted on its site recently a somewhat surprising report indicating job seekers today are actually risk-averse and are shunning entrepreneurship, even in this much-improved economy.

“Now that the economy is finally hitting its stride, one might expect a surge in start-ups,” says John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of the company. “While the percentage of unemployed managers and executives starting businesses has, in fact, increased, the survey results suggest that the severity of the recession [albeit over] had an adverse impact on would-be entrepreneurs, who appear to be far more sensitive to risk.”

Given the bulk of job seekers and newly-hired workers are younger — and given the results of a recent EY survey that Senior Editor Andrew McIlvaine posted about on May 7, finding millennials are getting fed up with the lack of flexibility in the current workforce — you’d think more of them would be setting out on their own.

Granted, the gradations in the Challenger report are fairly small, and it does indicate the numbers of entrepreneurs have, in fact, gone up since 2011:

“On average, just 5.1 percent of unemployed managers and executives started their own business in 2014, according to [the] quarterly survey of job seekers who found a position, pursued self-employment or retired.

“The 2014 start-up rate was down slightly from 2013, when it averaged 5.5 percent per quarter. However, both 2013 and 2014 rates were significantly better than the two previous years, when start-up activity averaged 4.2 percent in 2012 and 3.2 percent in 2011.”

But numbers are numbers, and 5.1 percent of unemployed Americans starting a business, in this economy, is surprising.

Especially considering all we’ve heard about the new age of self-employed self-starters … like this fairly recent account on the CNBC website. From the writer’s vantage point, there’s a whole lot of movement away from traditional employer-employee relationships. As the piece puts it:

“Watching the enormous success of companies like Facebook and Google — started by founders who were barely out of college — has dramatically altered the under-25’s sense of when it’s ‘right’ or ‘appropriate’ to pursue a good idea.”

It includes examples of some recent start-ups, some outside the United States, but not the numbers Challenger Gray & Christmas gives us.

Perhaps, as this HRE cover story from a year ago, “Leap of Faith,” suggests, maybe we’re not seeing as many entrepreneurs taking their dreams on the road because more employers are recognizing the power of innovation within their workforces and workplaces.

And maybe, for those millennials who want more flexibility but are staying put anyway, “intrapreneurship” is trumping work/life … at least for now.

Forming a Different Kind of Alliance

Trust. Loyalty. Lifetime employment. I think most of you would agree these words don’t really apply to today’s workplace.

ThinkstockPhotos-181678934As Ben Casnocha pointed out during his keynote yesterday at the SHRM Talent Management Conference—conveniently taking place this week just a few city blocks from the ERE Recruiting Conference I also attended—companies such as General Electric used to treat employees like “family” and offer them lifetime employment. But as we all know, factors such as globalization and technology forced employers to abandon such approaches decades ago.

Casnocha, an entrepreneur who co-authored with LinkedIn Founder and Chairman Reid Hoffman and Wasabi Ventures Partner Chris Yeh a book titled The Alliance: Managing Talent in a Networked Age (published last July by the Harvard Business Review Press), noted that a General Electric executive once described job security as one of GE’s prime corporate objectives. The year: 1963.

It’s hard to imagine anyone saying that today, right?

More recently, Casnocha said, many companies have embraced the other extreme: the free-agent model. True, he explained, that model does provide both employers and employees with the upside of greater flexibility; but it doesn’t build the kind of relationships that are needed to innovate.

“Would you do your very best work knowing you might not have a job the next day?” he asked.

For those of you who haven’t read The Alliance, Reid, Casnocha and Yeh make a compelling case for a third model that treats employees as “allies.”

“Think about any great alliance between countries, companies and people,” Casnocha said. “In an alliance, both sides commit to adding value. It’s a relationship that’s characterized by mutual trust, mutual investment and mutual benefit.”

Both the employer and the employee need to be adaptable in order for such a model to work, he added.

Employers, Casnocha said, need to “look the employee in the eye and say, ‘We’ll help transform your career, even if that means your career takes you to a different company someday.’ ” As for the employee, he or she “needs to say, ‘If you can make my LinkedIn profile look more impressive by having worked here, I will do great work [for you] and make a meaningful contribution to the company … .”

In his talk, Casnocha also touched on tours of duty, in which employees embark on a specific “mission.” (Once one tour of duty is completed, a new one is then defined.)

Alliances are especially effective, Casnocha pointed out, when it comes to “super-talented employees” who can really move the needle in your company. “What fires [these] employees up more than anything,” he said, “is the opportunity to transform themselves, the company and the world.”

To be sure, it’s a collaborative effort.

Casnocha told the story of one manager who printed two copies of an employee’s LinkedIn profile (so both the manager and the employee would have copies). Together, the two went through the profile, circling those parts that mattered most to the employee and writing in how that person might like to see it read two or three years from then.

On the subject of millennials, Casnocha asked: Which is better for their careers: Giving them a new title? Or telling them that you’re going to help them have conversations with three of the most important people in the industry?” (Hint, it’s not the first. Because, as Casnocha explained, people can take their networks and relationships with them when they leave.)