Gamification or desperation?

Word Cloud I hate the phrase gamification. To me, its a term that serves little purpose than to give journalists and “pop up” guru’s a hook around which to generate hype and promote their personal agendas. Nope, not a fan. I am, however, a fan of game mechanics, a much better and more meaningful way to refer to this interesting and often misunderstood subject. We should be wary of using such terms and nowhere is this more relevant than in the increasingly popular area of assessment. And here’s why.

The assessment industry isn’t new. It’s been with us longer than I have been alive and its popularity in business through the use of assessment tools provided by the likes of SHL and OPP has spanned my entire career. Arguably, these companies were in their prime when their assessments were paper based. Used largely at the latter stages of selection – shortlist stage to you and I – or to aid development/promotion decisions, they were wielded like intellectual weapons by an army of HR ‘armchair psychologists”. Yes, I confess, I’ve been there too.

When the internet came along, the traditional providers were a little slow in making the conversion online. And whilst there might have been some improvement in data management and accessibility as a result of this move, the existing technology offerings in this space are largely underwhelming and clunky.

For a long time this didn’t actually matter. HR/Resourcing technology has struggled to keep pace with advancements in technology enjoyed in other business functions due to chronic lack of investment. Ironically this lag in the market has been a blessing in disguise for the existing assessment providers as were it not for the sorry state of technology in our field over the last 20 years, they would probably have found themselves struggling to compete a long time ago.

But things are changing. In the last 5 years the technology landscape has changed dramatically. Combine a massive shift to the cloud, a focus on UX at the centre of design and an investment market that now considers the HR/Talent sector in particular as “hot” and you have a recipe for something very interesting indeed.

In my annual pilgrimage to the HR Technology Conference in the US, assessments have gone from nowhere to being the hottest subject in the start up category, (surpassed only recently by data/analytics) and they continue to attract attention. “Culture fit” is the phrase on everyones lips right now and the importance of assessments in the recruitment mix has significantly increased. They are also working their way further upstream in the resourcing food chain into applicant screening. Which brings us nicely back to the subject of “gamification.”

Everyone suddenly wants to “gamify” their application and selection process – pre screening assessments being a prime target. And everyone is in on the game. (See what I did there?!) From the existing publishers to small independent design agencies – designing ‘cool and engaging games’ seems to be at the top of the shopping list. But in my view, this strategy is flawed.

Building bespoke front ends onto existing technology is just not scaleable. Not to mention the fact that ‘games’ no matter how engaging, date very quickly. And creating a ‘suite’ of games to chose from is simply too expensive. Some have tried to answer this challenge by offering configurable “3d avatar” style Situational Judgement Tests (SJT’s). All very well but there’s a slight flaw – they don’t work on mobile devices, the fastest growing medium for job seeker applications.

Incredibly, some vendors have even suggested that:

“you wouldn’t want to hire someone who would do an assessment on a mobile device.”

I know. Words fail me…

Aside from the technical challenges faced by the vendors, putting so much emphasis on the front end of the application when the rest of the process – managed largely by the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) – is so appalling, makes no sense at all.

Jazzing up one area of your candidate experience in this way will only make the rest of your process look worse. Ultimately the answer is to remove traditional question based assessments altogether, and instead make them “frictionless” by using alternatives such as language analysis of an individuals social footprint or other more complete and robust measures of “who you really are”.

My advice to organisations would be to take a step back, take a long hard look at your end to end process and look for opportunities to simplify and improve the overall experience. Oh, and how about applying for a job at your own company and being totally honest with yourself about how the experience feels.

My advice to vendors would be to stop trying to shoe horn the latest fads into your existing platform, it won’t work. If your tech is over 5 years old, especially 10, you should consider re building from the ground up.

Is there a place for better UX and a more engaging assessment experience? Yes absolutely. But investing a six figure budget in cool and funky front end games is not the answer.

The War for Talent: It’s an Urban Myth

ExperienceOne of the biggest challenges we face in the whole human performance arena is our inability to quantify what potential really is. And, therefore, what talent really looks like. I firmly believe that there is no shortage of raw talent out there and that the “War for Talent” is largely an uninformed waste of time and resources. And most definitely a waste of talent. Contrary to popular opinion, there is actually an abundance of talent, everywhere you look. The problem is, we just cant see it.

Historically we have guided people’s careers in response to the function and industry structure that has evolved to form the bedrock of our industrialised society. As individual market favour waxes and wanes over time, so does the supply chain of that talent in response. Sometimes, these market forces outpace the response time of the labour supply, causing shortages in the supply of people with certain functional or industrial expertise. Cue much talk of the War for Talent.

These shortages only appear so acute because we are constantly looking at the supply of talent through the wrong lens – one of experience and education, two of the most common – but least reliable – criteria used in candidate selection. If we were to take experience out of the equation for a moment (We are not saying it is not important, just that it is the least reliable predictor of in job potential and performance) and dialled down expectations around education – ignoring what University they graduated from for example – we might find that looking through a different lens – one that highlights their values and motivations, their behaviours, how and how well they solve problems. etc. – opens up a whole new talent pool that would not have been considered before.

The trick of course is to know what great actually looks like for any given role, which on the face of it sounds like something that we should be able to determine quite easily. Unfortunately, many many large organisations still insist on hiring thousands of key roles on a global scale without using any solid, consistent framework against which to seek, attract, select and hire the people they need. This is so common, it is scary. It is somewhat ironic that conferences and magazines are chock full of business leaders talking about the financial impact on the business of the war for talent, yet they invest precious little in the process of attracting and hiring that talent properly. What they do spend, can often go completely to waste.

This war might seem very real for many but that’s only because of the way they are viewing the problem, not because there is an actual shortage of talented people able to do the work required. So time to break the habit. Starting today, whenever you find yourself sitting across the table from a potential hire, ask yourself the following question:

“Are you more interested in what they have achieved in the last 10 years with someone else, or what they could achieve in the next 10 years with you?”

No brainer right?! ;)

The future of HR Tech: #BYOP – Bring Your Own Portal.

Perhaps one of the few advantages of hitting 50 is being able to reflect on how much “working life” has changed over the past 25 years. It has been a period of unprecedented change and on a level exponentially more complex or rapid than that of my parents generation or those before them.

Probably the biggest shift during that time has been in who’s responsible or accountable for Mr/s Employee – that’s you and me. The image below illustrates how accountability for our working “status” has shifted from the company to the individual.

Accountability shiftI can no longer rely on a career for life. I am now expected to manage my own development. The company no longer provides core benefits, simply a cash lump sum, which I use to buy the benefits that suit me. And in more recent attempts to reduce the organisations’ asset burden, I’m now encouraged to provide my own hardware – Bring Your Own Device they call it.

The strange thing is, that even though the main catalyst for change has been the advancement in technology, the solutions that support the employee/employer relationship seem woefully inadequate to facilitate the transition illustrated in the image above. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the way we treat and manage employee data.

Any reasonable sized organisation with an employee payroll numbering 10,000 or more, will probably have an HR technology stack from the likes of SAP™, Oracle™ or Workday™, or a combination of some or all of these.

Whilst these companies all have ‘SaaS’ offerings, and purport to manage your “end to end human capital processes” (Yuk!), they are not new businesses, or solutions. Even workday is 10 this year, its architecture being built very much in the shadow of its competitors. And in general, the model hasn’t changed; the organisation owns the software, the software is designed around the organisation, not the user (The employee, candidate or alumni), and probably most importantly, it keeps and manages the data.

But this doesn’t help me, the individual, lead the increasingly personally accountable career I’m now having to live. How can I manage a ‘flexible’ career when all of my work accomplishments and achievements decay and die in an instance of Workday™ when I leave my current employer?

The answer is I can’t. So I’m faced with pulling it together with bits of software from third parties within which I can punch in my payslip history, manage my insurance details or record my achievements. But why should I have to do this? And who’s data is it anyway?

Consider these two key issues:

Data ownership – If I’m responsible for managing my own career and development, I need the data that goes with it. As an employee, why can’t I own, or at the very least co-own, my employment data?  Why can’t I use a single solution, or collection of core apps that simply ‘plug’ into the organisations slimmed down enterprise hub? And why can’t I take it all with me when I leave?

Data structure – More and more information that defines me as a person, and my potential, is “unstructured”: My social updates (internal and external), my blog, my online community posts, the papers I’ve written, my check ins, my likes, my recommendations and endorsements. The list goes on. This unstructured content is rapidly emerging as a core element in big data and predictive analytics, so why isn’t it a core element of my employment profile?

The concept of #BYOS isn’t new, but the conversation up to now has been around using apps to work alongside or around enterprise HR/Talent solutions, and to perform tasks, such as file transfer or note sharing etc. If the above issues are central to the future of the employee data management landscape – which I think they are – what is the implication for enterprise HR/Talent software when even the very best in class solutions would struggle to deal with these two fundamentals?

I see a future where I own and manage my own data through my own mini ‘portable’ enterprise employee portal in my pocket. The problem is, I don’t think the major vendors see it the same way.

Putting personality into personalisation…

One Size

This is how it should (Could) be:

The curious active applicant finds their way to your career site. They ‘register’ with your organisation in one click by connecting their social profiles. Three things then happen instantaneously:

  1. Their values, motivations, behaviours and subsequent “culture fit” to the organisation are profiled ‘frictionlessly’ using their social “footprint”.
  2. They are instantly matched (or not) to current and upcoming opportunities in the organisation. Note, there is no ATS ‘registration.”
  3. Their “experience” on your career site, including content, is tailored to reflect their personality profile

One theme that continues to feature heavily in the resourcing discussion is the “Candidate Experience”. It was a key theme at the recent HR Technology conference in Las Vegas and HR Tech conference in Amsterdam The Candidate Experience awards have even made it to Europe.

The subject creates an interesting debate but unfortunately, despite the rhetoric, the gulf between ambition and action is still huge. It’s why I lose the will to live when I hear statements like:

“We should treat our candidates like customers.”

Oh really?! One look at the online experience alone shows just how far we are away from that right now. Lets face it, if the online customer experience was anything remotely like the online candidate experience most organisations would be out of business in a fortnight.

In an attempt to distance the candidate from the hideous interface presented by the average enterprise applicant tracking system, some companies are investing heavily in their career site, building in new, interactive multimedia features in order to create an overall more engaging and superior user experience.

On the face of it this sounds promising – replace turgid job ads with realistic job previews, replace boring statements from the corporate brochure with cool video’s from “real” employees. Add in new features like “Other people who viewed this job, also viewed these other jobs.” And the ability to ‘personalise’ their career experience by picking and choosing career information by ‘channel’.

I met with several vendors at both conferences who offered solutions in this category and they all pitched their wares around this story of “personalisation” of content. However, I don’t think their definition of personalisation goes far enough. Personalisation, in my view, needs to go to the next level and in order to do that, we need to start taking into account an essential missing element – Personality.

It may be a great idea to upgrade the career site experience and include lots of images, video and personalised channels, but what if I don’t actually want to see that? What if that’s not how I process data and information? What if I’m largely high on Introversion, do I really want to be bombarded with rich media from all angles? Or what if I’m high on Detail? Do funky, smiley video’s and job summary’s give me what I need to decide if this is the organisation for me? Sometimes less is most definitely more.

What I do know is that when we talk about personalisation, even in the consumer space, we largely mean around content type, activity or habit. Few, if any, are personalising the “experience” to cater for the values, motivations and behaviour profile of the visitor.

The scenario I paint at the beginning of this post is there for a reason – it’s possible now, you just don’t know it yet. We are entering an era where technology and our understanding of the brain is delivering tremendous insight which in turn we can use to create a much richer overall experience for the potential hire. This may seem like fantasy, but its real.

Whilst it’s good to see that we are moving on, and we are at least thinking creatively, we are not going far enough. The opportunity exists to create a truly personalised experience yet we are still stuck in a “one size fits all” approach.

Management Innovation: It’s the new HR Technology…

WarningSo I’m starting my first blog from the #HRTechEurope conference by shooting straight to the end – or should I say the last session – Management 2.0: Business Strategy for the 21st Organisation by Gary Hamel.

I must admit, I’m a bit of a fanboy and I think he is right on the money when it comes to the state of Management and Leadership today. He’s an entertaining speaker too, although at times, with a good PA system, you need to hang on to your seat as he can literally kind of blow you way with his enthusiasm.

Having Gary, a management science guru, as the closing keynote may seem odd at an HR Tech conference but his message is very relevant:

“The kind of innovation that makes the biggest difference to business isn’t in technology or process. It’s in management.”

Hallelujah! This is the key message that all the vendors, especially, should have taken home from this conference. Watching the major players – Oracle, SAP and Workday – ‘eerm’ and ‘aah’ their way through justifying why you should buy their software on the Thursday afternoon panel – Talking Heads – chaired by Jason Averbook – was entertaining if not a little frustrating.

Much talk of “changing lives” and whilst I know they all have some great customer stories you’d be forgiven for thinking that software can cure cancer. It can’t. Well, ERP solutions, cloud or otherwise can’t! Thank God for Josh Bersin who kept bringing the group back on point:

“If you don’t have a business challenge to solve, don’t change the software.”

Or as Dave Buglass – Head of Organisational Capability and Development at Tesco Bank observed in a well timed tweet:

Dave Buglass Tweet

So the answer to sustained business improvement is Management Innovation, not technology, according to Gary. The problem is, management as we know it, says Gary, is broken. And I think he is right.

But there’s a problem, especially for people like me. You see, 10 years ago, Gary did an event for me at which he kicked off with the following memorable statement:

“Things are moving so fast, you will leave this room more stupid than when you came in.”

That was 10 years ago. Back then, if someone mentioned Social Media you thought they meant a communist newspaper. Watching Gary 10 years on I found myself feeling excited and energised on the one hand, yet frustrated on the other. Excited because his message is relevant and clear. He expertly points out the huge holes in the way we run organisations today and the damage we are doing by letting traditional management and leadership methods prevail.

One of the many examples he gave referred to the four biggest technology players in the market – Intel, Dell, Microsoft and HP – who ALL missed mobile. Arguably they had the best consultants advising them, the biggest R&D budgets and pole position in the ridiculous War For Talent. Yet it made no difference whatsoever – they never saw it coming.

And here’s why, for me, it’s also very frustrating to listen to Gary – because nothing changes. We are not learning. The evidence for change is compelling yet we do nothing, when there is actually a real alternative. After 20 years of thinking this way, hearing people like Gary champion the cause but seeing nothing change, I really really want to punch someone.

But I’m not a violent man ;) Instead I will continue to champion the alternative, to push for ways of running organisations that would scare the crap out of the existing C-Suite, but which are necessary to break the current calcification of organisational change. Here is Gary’s starter for ten:

  • Abolishing all job titles
  • Crowdsourcing corporate strategy amongst employees
  • Have employees elect/hire their leaders
  • Total, open and transparent remuneration data – all levels in the organisation
  • Eliminating budgets and letting anyone raise a purchase order
  • Setting salaries through peer review, (or better IMO, letting employees fix their own remuneration)
  • Managing with a minimum of 1:400 span of control

Any sceptics out there that think this list is some form of impossible, Koolaid inspired dream, I urge you to do some homework. There are a good number of organisations out there already befitting commercially from adopting these, and similar, practices.

If the message to vendors was to put the business problem before the sale, the message to the practitioners in the audience needs to be to stand up, grow some balls and challenge the existing status quo. If, according to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results, then ladies and gentlemen I give you Corporate Dementia.

I will leave you with a call to arms that Gary adapted from a quote by Pope Francis:

“Past CEOs have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their staffers. Bureaucracy is the leprosy of our organisation. The top down model ignores the world around it and I will do everything to change it.”

I intend to. Do you?

“Let’s unfuck the work” – Workplace Trends Conference Round Up

JOIN-A-HILARIOUS-ADVENTURE-OF-A-LIFE-TIME-WORK-BUY-CONCUME-DIEHistory was made on Wednesday the 15th of October 2014 at the @workplacetrends conference #wtrends14. Well, maybe thats stretching it a bit! But it’s certainly the first time I’ve ever seen or had the privilege to be involved in the initiative that was @workstock. Cue a “guerrilla presentation” if you can call it that, consisting of a motley crew of 11 random people with something to say on the matter of the workplace, all presenting Pecha Kucha stylee, back to back, time limited to 6 minutes and 40 seconds each, no breaks except an introductory story for each speaker written and narrated beautifully by the incredibly creative Cara Long.

And so it came to pass that this whirlwind of opinion, perspective, expletives and rants blasted into the face of what was largely a suited and booted audience of workplace professionals representing property developers, designers, facilities managers and even the odd HR pro. I am still not sure quite what they made of it, except it was a massive contrast to the format for the rest of the day. As one of the presenters of that crazy 90 minutes, I’m not going to cover our session here, i’ll leave that to others.

Instead I’m going to share my thoughts on the conference itself, and my reflections on where we are with the workplace issues having seen the good and the great present in a more normal fashion before and after the @workstock ‘gig’. So, in no particular order:

1) The workplace “audience” still seems very conservative. I pitched up for the conference in regulation black T Shirt, black jeans and converse boots. I am, after all, a #MAMIB (Middle age man in black). The venue was superb – 155 Broadgate – very corporate and polished. And so were the audience. I felt somewhat adrift in a sea of suits and ties. Having spent a day in their company and listened to the variety of speakers, “conservative” is the word that sums it up for me. Don’t get me wrong, there was lots of ‘coolness’. You can’t discuss modern workplace design without lots of images showing state of the art facilities and this conference was no exception, with glimpses inside Jay-Z and Kylie Minoges ‘working’ environments, if you can call them that. But the visuals mask a predominantly conservative and, dare I say, male perspective.

2) We are still designing for the collective, not the individual. I have worked in depressing, cubical type work environments – open prisons in any other name – and yearned for something funkier, more collaborative and overall just a lot nicer to be in. But it seems our obsession with personalisation in every other area of business has yet to make it into the world of workplace design. We are still designing for a “one size fits all” approach. I didn’t see much psychology going on in the design either. Sure, there are quiet spaces and collaborative spaces in abundance, but this is less than a hat tip to personality which is a core driver of how we show up at work. Nowhere do I see any real work done or any reflection of personality differences being built or designed into workplaces. If it’s new, then its white, bright and funky. If it ain’t cool, it ain’t cool. Unfortunately, this makes them all seem depressingly similar.

3) We are squandering technology and social advances by not embracing more flexible working. We now have access to technology that I would have not thought possible only 15 – 20 years ago – super computers in our pockets, global connectivity in real time, internet connectivity pretty much everywhere you go, video and voice conferencing at the drop of a hat and for pennies. I can, literally, work comfortably from anywhere in the world. Everything I need is only a click away. Yet to an alien observer watching our workplace habits, they could be forgiven for thinking that very little has changed in the last 30 years. And it hasn’t really has it? Our obsession with “physical presence” means we are totally squandering the technology opportunity and personally, that makes me angry.

4) Re point 3, we keep coming up with new names for flex working eg. Agile, but doing nothing. Flexible working, Agile working, work life balance, work life integration. Every year we come up with a new and sexy name for it. Every year another 1000 metric tonnes of research is published on the subject. And every year the speaker circuit is jam packed with people telling us it’s the way forward. So what do we do? Fuck all it seems. Lets stop talking  and start doing. Lets stop dressing it up in yet another buzzword. Its not rocket science people. The tools are there. The workers by and large would welcome it. So why have we not done it?!

5) We are designing 21st c ideas/practices into 19th c infrastructure I.e. The central ‘office’. I applaud the introduction of these new, more collaborative office features I really do. Unfortunately the flaw in the plan is that we are building them into the same old office space. This usually means an office stick in the middle of a city somewhere, which, for many, lies at the end of a crappy, expensive and long commute. For cities like London and Manchester, thats over an hour every day – on average. For many it’s a lot longer. For five years I did a minimum of 3 hours a day, if it all went well.

This is a criminal waste of life. And yet we think modern workplace design is simply to rework the existing work infrastructure? Its not. To do so is to fail. It’s lipstick on a pig. Modern working can be done anywhere – how about building flexible and collaborative spaces in the suburbs where we live? How about we replace some of those charity shops, hairdressers or boarded up retail outlets with co working spaces for those who can’t travel?

6) Which all goes to tell me we are still fixated with inputs, not outputs. This is the crux of it. And it comes down to one word – trust. It was the unsaid word of the conference for me. We don’t want people to create their own workspace because we don’t trust them to do it right. We don’t want people to work remotely because we think they will slack off. We don’t want people to make their own decisions because they will go completely insane and buy a new car on the company stationary account. And of course the worst one of all, if I can’t see you, I can’t control you. It really is time we grew up. It’s time the workplace, and the work, grew up. From what I saw on Wednesday the workplace industry needs a kick in the face. It needs a pecha Kucka swat team to cleanse the world of corporate bollocks with extreme prejudice.

Perry Timms summed it up beautifully in what for me is the quote of the conference:

“Work is fucked. We need to unfuck the work.”

Amen to that.


The future of Leadership through the eyes of a visionary….

If you’ve been to this blog before you might have noticed that I’m not averse to quoting individuals or articles/papers in my posts. But I don’t do it every time and I like to keep the quotes short in relation to the post. I’ve never been one for blog posts made up largely of other people’s words. My choice. I’m not being critical.

But on this occasion I’m going to make an exception. Having just read the Editors note – Remembering Warren Bennis – from the October issue of the Harvard Business Review I feel compelled to share the entire piece with you. I was going to tweet snippets of it out to the twitterverse but found myself thinking this piece is too good to broadcast in soundbite fashion!

What follows, is, in my opinion, a well written eulogy for what appears to be a great man. I have read some of Warren’s Harvard pieces and his words resonate strongly. But I confess, I don’t recall ever reading any of his books, and that leaves me feeling like I’ve missed out.

Even though you only really get a glimpse of the man and what he stands for in the piece that follows, it is enough to see that this guy was a visionary. Julia Kirby, Editor at Large for HBR sums up his presence beautifully at the end.

We should mark Warren’s words wisely for the future when considering not only what type of person we want to lead business, and life, but also the kind of ‘business” or life we really want.

I’m off to take a look back over the archives!


Remembering Waren Bennis

How do you measure the impact of a man?

Warren Bennis, who died this summer at the age of 89, certainly ranks amongst the worlds most influential thinkers on the topic of leadership. He explored it in more than two dozen books and in countless articles – many of them for the Havard Business Review (HBR) It’s not s stretch to say that he bought the study of leadership from the fringes of academia to the mainstream, always arguing that leaders needed to be more democratic than autocratic. But his greatest and most enduring gift may have been his generosity of spirit. As David Wan, the CEO of Harvard Business Publishing (and a friend of Warrens) puts it: “Everyone viewed Warren as a mentor.”

The list of those who would agree is indeed long and impressive, ranging from Starbucks’s CEO, Howard Schultz, to the political commentator David Gergen, to the prominent psychologist Mark Goulston. Schultz, in his book “Pour Your Heart Into It”, describes how he came to depend on warrens advice, writing that he would call him up “late at night or early in the morning, whenever I reached a turning point and was lost for what to do.”

Bennis spent his final 35 years teaching at the University of Southern California, and he founded the school’s leadership Institute. He kept active nearly until the end, giddily learning the art of blogging for titles like HBR, Bloomberg Business Week, and others. In 2010 he published a final book, a memoir titled Still Surprised, that nicely sums up his life and ideas.

I interviewed Warren when the book came out. He talked about one unfinished project: “It may come that my next book will be called… Grace. I think that may be just the name for a book which is going to deal with issues of generosity, respect, redemption, and sacrifice – all of which sound vaguely spiritual, but all of which I think are going to be required for leadership.” As my my colleague Julia Kirby wrote in a touching remembrance on our website, “grace never made it to bookstore shelves. But the people who had the privilege of knowing and working with Warren got the content of that book in his presence.”

Copyright Harvard Business Publishing


Note to those nice folks at HBR :) I hope you don’t mind me reproducing this piece. I have an online account but I cannot locate this piece in order to share a link. I have tweeted you to see if it’s ok to share a pic of the article but I have not heard back from you as yet. I think this way is cleaner anyway.

I am more the happy to: replace this text with a direct link, or, if the piece is contained within a for purchase pdf file I will happily link to that instead or any other link required or delete the entry from my blog. Just let me know! Apologies for any inconvenience caused.