Posts

Jack Ma – The Magician that Conjured Alibaba

It seemed appropriate that after profiling Jeff Bezos I should take a look at Jack Ma, the Chairman and founder of China’s answer to Amazon, Alibaba.

Jack Ma (real name Ma Yun) started Alibaba in 1999 as a means to harness the power of the internet to link Chinese exporters to local and international business customers – including in the West.

Jack Ma

A charismatic leader

It is harder to say which is bigger, Jack Ma’s bank balance (his personal worth is estimated at $29.5 billion1) or his personality. He is a natural entertainer and you can’t help but be enthralled by his rags to riches tale of growing up in communist China as the son of poor musical storytellers. In his many speaking engagements, Ma inspires his audiences with his never give up attitude and boasts of being refused entrance by Harvard 10 times and rejected for dozens of jobs. Watch “How to become a Billionaire”.

Globalisation and embracing the West

Ma’s intimate understanding of how to do business in his homeland has been a competitive advantage. But perhaps greater than his knowledge of China has been Jack’s curiosity about the West; starting when he was a teenager giving foreign visitors tours of his hometown Hangzhou in exchange for English lessons.

In my blog “How to build a future-ready workforce”  I discussed the importance of cross-cultural competency. Jack Ma’s fascination with western culture has seen him build and leverage relationships with powerful people across the world and turned Alibaba into a global player.

Innovation through improvement not invention

Ma attributes his success to identifying and seizing opportunities that arise out of problems. On his very first encounter with the Internet, Ma searched on ‘beer’. When he saw that no Chinese beers turned up in his search, his instincts kicked into gear and he decided that China needed an Internet company.2

Ma has also shown that innovation is possible without personal expertise and without creating something entirely new. With no coding or computing skills to speak of, Ma adapted existing online retail concepts specifically for China by engaging staff with the technical skills and know how to carry out his vision.3

The employees who became millionaires overnight

Like other billionaire success stories, Jack has his own set of wisdoms and mantras which are chronicled in books and videos like “Jack Ma’s 10- Rules for Success”. One of his rules for success is to focus on the culture of the company.

Alibaba’s values are enshrined in something employees call the Six Vein Spirit Sword – a shout out to Jack’s favourite martial arts fiction writer. Half of an employee’s annual performance appraisal depends on how well they embody Jack’s ‘kung fu’ values.4

Camaraderie is at the heart of teamwork at Alibaba. Every employee adopts a nickname, and it is not unusual for staff to take a break during an intensive work day to swim, do handstands or play video games. During Jack Ma’s years as CEO, tens of thousands of employees and their families would also attend Alifest, a stadium sized annual employee talent show where workers would sing, dance and perform skits. Even Ma could be seen at these events in crazy wigs and costumes singing Chinese pop songs.5

But it would seem Alibaba took the saying ‘work hard, play hard’ to extremes in the early startup days. It is suggested that the first employees earned barely $50 per month and worked seven days a week, often sixteen hours a day. Reportedly Ma required employees to be on call at all times and implemented a policy that new hires were to live no more than 10 or 15 minutes from the office.6

That said, the hard work paid off for many employees when the company shares they had been given as bonuses turned them into instant millionaires after Alibaba’s IPO in 2014.7 Today, Alibaba continues to tie new employee remuneration to stock in the company as a means of linking individual pay to company performance. (Read more about the relationship between talent management and company share price in my article).

Diversity and the empowerment of underrepresented groups

While Silicon Valley remains male dominated, Jack Ma is a vocal advocate for women calling them his company’s “secret sauce.” 8 Women make up 48% of Alibaba’s workforce, around 34% of Alibaba’s high-level managers, and a third of its founding partners.

Jack Ma also promotes the importance of empowering young people – particularly with technology. He recently established a $26 million scholarship programme with the University of Newcastle; a merit based scheme favouring indigenous and disadvantaged students and emphasising global and social awareness.9

Connecting people

At Cognology our purpose is to bring people together and help them achieve great things. We understand that by harnessing technology, we can help people collaborate at work more seamlessly, productively and successfully.

In many ways, Ma’s goals are similar. Jack Ma believes that technology and the internet has no limits and has devoted his adult life to connecting people and businesses across the world to make it easier to do business anywhere.

Works Cited

  1. “Jack Ma.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.
  2. Stone, Charles Clark and Madeline. “The Incredible and Inspiring Life Story of Alibaba Founder Jack Ma, One of the Richest People in China.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 02 Mar. 2017. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.
  3. Zakkour, Michael. “How Jack Ma’s ‘Crazy’ Management Style Built a Technology Empire.” Entrepreneur. 29 Sept. 2014. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.
  4. “Magic Jack Ma and the Six Secrets behind the Success of Alibaba.” Financial Review. 21 June 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.
  5. RPT-The Alibaba Culture: Kung Fu Commerce with a Dash of Theatre.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 08 June 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.
  6. McFarland, Matt. “This CEO Banned His First Employees from Living More than 15 Minutes from Work.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 22 Apr. 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
  7. Daily, China. “Alibaba IPO Creates Thousands of New Millionaires in China – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com. 19 Sept. 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.
  8. Kokalitcheva, K. (2015) “Female Executives are Alibaba’s ‘Secret Sauce’” Fortune. 20 May 2015 . Web 10 April 2017
  9. Low, Catie. “Alibaba’s Billionaire Founder Opens Australian Headquarters.” The Sydney Morning Herald. The Sydney Morning Herald, 03 Feb. 2017. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.
  10. “TIME Person of the Year 2014 Runner-Up: Jack Ma.” Time. Time. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.
  11. Barboza, David. “At Alibaba, the Founder Is Squarely in Charge.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 Sept. 2014. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.
  12. Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/38/Jack_Ma_2008.jpg

Elon Musk – Leading a quest to save the future

Elon Musk – Leading a quest to save the future

47 year old South African born entrepreneur Elon Musk founded X.Com in 1999. X.Com later became Paypal and was sold to Ebay in 2002. After making a cool $165 million out of the deal, Musk turned his focus to new and more ambitious ventures. First he founded Space X, a company designing and manufacturing spacecraft with goals to commercialise space travel and colonise Mars. Then in 2003, he commenced Tesla Motors and started producing zero emission electric sports cars. More recently, Musk convinced Tesla shareholders to acquire his third passion project, Solar City; a business owned by Musk’s cousin, specialising in powering homes, businesses and eventually cities with solar power.1

Elon Musk - Leading a quest to save the future

The lure of a strong vision

Musk wraps all of his companies up in a larger than life vision that attracts and inspires his employees.2 At Tesla Group, people genuinely believe they are saving the planet. At SpaceX, they are on a crusade to give humans a second chance on another planet if earth gets into trouble.3

Musk intimately understands the heady attraction of such ambitious work for highly skilled people. When releasing his electric car patents to the world, Musk openly taunted his competitors: “My vision allows me to hire and retain better people than you will ever be able to hire for any amount of money. They will be smarter, they will work harder and they will stay longer.3

I wrote about the positive effect of workers feeling a higher sense of purpose in my blog ‘Work and Happiness’.

Selecting the best talent

Musk has a reputation for hiring only the best people on the planet to work for him – whether to build a rocket or cook in the cafeteria.4 He believes that bringing on a few leading minds in the field and giving them the freedom to accomplish their responsibilities is better than hiring a lot of people to get a complicated job done. According to Musk, numbers just slow down progress and make a task more expensive to complete.

Apart from wanting the best, Musk also values a positive attitude and an easy to get along with personality. (Watch ‘Elon Musk talks Talent vs. Personality in Employees’).

Musk personally interviewed the first 1000 staff for Space X and even today still interviews every engineer. However, he encountered unique challenges sourcing talent along the way. In particular, it was difficult to entice experienced people away from established aerospace players like Boeing and Airbus. So he went after younger talent; personally scouring PhD programs from a range of universities for individuals who had built something, or had been on a team that had made something from nothing.2

At Tesla, the experience was a little different. Cars hadn’t been done in Silicon Valley before so there were a number of software engineers excited about the prospect of applying their skills to an entirely new product. Tesla also had the backing of a Silicon Valley legend – Google Founder Sergey Brin – to boost the project’s appeal and the credibility of the Tesla brand amongst target applicants. Once again, Musk stayed close to the recruitment of talent,2 even taking to Twitter himself to advertise for engineers for the autonomous vehicle division.5

Recruitment techniques

Musk makes applicants write essays about why they want the role. He also gives them a riddle to solve to test critical thinking. In the interview, Musk is known to play mind games; he barely pays attention to candidates and sits with his back to them2 before spinning around to drill them with questions.6

Musk is a proponent of behavioural interviewing techniques. Unless a prospective employee can break down the solution to a problem in granular detail, he will conclude that they do not really know the answer or have embellished the level of their involvement.6

Intense culture

Job ads on the Tesla careers website come with a warning: “These jobs are not for everyone, you must have a genuine passion for producing the best vehicles in the world. Without passion, you will find what we’re trying to do too difficult.”6

According to Dolly Singh, former Head of Talent Acquisition at Space X, working with Musk is not a comfortable experience as he is never satisfied. He pushes his team so hard they sometimes feel like they are “staring into the abyss”. However, this pressure on performance is deliberate. Musk knows that his staff will exceed even their own expectations if he keeps the heat on.7

And, as Singh points out, “you don’t get to Mars with a bunch of softies.”

Musk describes himself as a nano-manager. Even more intense than a micro-manager, he maintains a hands-on obsession with the tiniest operational and design details.1 And when there is a pressing problem preventing progress, Elon will devote the majority of his time and energy to it.2

Structure and communication

The Musk businesses run on flat structures. Staff are free to contact anyone directly, including Elon.2

At Space X, the engineers (including Musk) physically sit on the manufacturing floor in giant glass cubicles. They have to walk through the floor to get to their office so are forced to look at everything going on and interact with staff.2

Is Musk a modern day superhero?

Musk has been described as a modern day Howard Hughes and even compared to comic book hero Iron Man (aka Tony Stark). There is no doubt he is a physics genius. And, if popular media reports are to be believed, has a penchant for fast cars and beautiful women. However, Musk knows that to achieve his ultimate goal of saving the planet and establishing interplanetary colonisation, it will take a team of superheros. To this end, his approach is quite simple: seek out people who are as talented and driven as he is; ensure that the work environment is as motivating and meaningful as possible; and, establish clear and measurable objectives. Sounds easy, right?

Works Cited

  1. Wartzman, Rick. “Admire Elon Musk All You Want, but Please Don’t Manage like Him.” Fortune.com. Fortune, 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 21 May 2017.
  2. “How Elon Musk Builds Organizations That Can Achieve Anything – Recruiting & Training, Remaking R&D, Setting Strategy.” Innovation Leader. 13 Feb. 2017. Web. 21 May 2017.
  3. Lavoie, Andre. “Want to Hire the Best Talent? Be Like Elon Musk and Set a Strong Vision.” Entrepreneur. 22 July 2014. Web. 21 May 2017.
  4. Carson, Biz. “Elon Musk Is so Obsessed with Hiring, He Even Poached the Best Yogurt Shop Employee from Pinkberry.” Business Insider Australia. 02 June 2015. Web. 21 May 2017.
  5. Burns, Matt. “Want To Work For Tesla? Elon Musk Turns To Twitter To Recruit Engineers.” TechCrunch. TechCrunch, 19 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 May 2017.
  6. Tovey, Alan. “Elon Musk: Have You Got the Drive to Work for Tesla?” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 20 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 May 2017.
  7. Feloni, Richard. “A Former SpaceX Employee Explained What It’s Like To Work For Elon Musk.” Business Insider Australia. 24 June 2014. Web. 21 May 2017.

Elon Musk image By Steve Jurvetson [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Zhang Ruimin – the would-be unknown leader

Zhang Ruimin took the helm of a struggling refrigerator manufacturer in 1984 when he was just 25. As a leader he won the confidence and goodwill of his workers and reversed the company’s dismal quality record. Since then, Zhang has turned the Haier Group into the world’s fastest growing appliance maker with the largest market share in white goods world wide. 1

Management without bosses

“A leader whose existence is unknown to his subordinates is really the most brilliant one.”
(Ruimin, Zhang)2

Zhang Ruimin

Prior to 2005, Haier’s 80,000 or so employees worked in traditional functions like manufacturing, sales and marketing. However with the advent of the internet, Zhang knew that the existing departmental/functional/silo organisation would be too slow to respond to customer needs into the future. So he began reorganising the way employees worked. 3

Zhang believed that if the company wanted to intimately understand and meet consumer needs, staff needed to be directly connected with the customer. Instead of complying with rules and following a manager, he decided that workers should have the freedom to make decisions led by the users of the things they make – the consumer. 2

ZZJYT’s

No, I’m not cursing in code.

Zhang split staff up into self-managed work units call ZZJYT’s (zi zhu jing ying ti – which roughly translates to independent operating unit) and by 2012 had almost done away with middle management completely. Today each ZZJYT comprises 7-10 people from various functional roles.

These microenterprises operate as independent ventures. Each is responsible for its own hiring, procurement, strategy, production and ultimately profit and loss.

The ZZJYT’s are not permanently assigned to a particular product or role. Instead they are formed through internal competition. If an employee identifies an opportunity for a new product or service, they are free to propose their idea. A vote involving employees, customers and suppliers determines whether the project goes ahead. The winner becomes the project leader.

Once a leader is appointed they can independently handpick a team and find their own manufacturers and distributors (either internally or externally) to produce and sell their product. 3

Beware the catfish

The project leader must work hard to stay ahead of the catfish. That is what the firm calls the person with a rival idea with the second highest number of votes. 3 Once a leader is in place, his or her team appraises the leader’s performance every quarter and votes whether they want to keep them in the position or replace them. 4

Zhang believes this structure creates competition in the organisation while also fuelling entrepreneurship. 3

Remuneration

Zhang believes that employees in traditional organisations tend to focus too much on what their bosses say or think because their pay is determined by them. This is why there is no position-related remuneration at Haier. 5 Instead employees are paid solely based on performance and the results their team achieves.

Ecosystem of talent

In the new generation Haier, talent is provided through an open labour market. Each ZZJYT is given the freedom to innovate by reaching out to customers, prospective employees, collaborators and even competitors.

Employees are free to leave or join ZZJYT’s, however a unit will dissolve after the project is over and talent goes back to the marketplace.

Whilst many businesses will find this concept foreign and unmanageable, for industries like Hollywood, bringing skilled workers together for the length of a project is nothing new. (See http://www.cognology.com.au/are-terms-like-hollywood-and-gig-spelling-the-end-for-the-traditional-employment-model)

The platform

Instead of offering jobs, Zhang says Haier offers everyone a continuing series of opportunities to find jobs via an entrepreneurial platform.4

By definition, platform companies form ecosystems by partnering with, and incorporating technology from multiple corporations to drive innovation and performance. Haier’s powerful internet platform enables limitless collaboration with suppliers, customers, universities, competitors, and other stakeholders.

According to Zhang, eventually there won’t be employees at all. There will only be a platform. 1 (I feel like Keanu Reeves might pop up any second now….)

A natural evolution in the internet age

Zhang Ruimin has been lauded for his accomplishments in management innovation, and yet by some he is still seen as a radical. Haier’s goal of becoming a facilitative platform without traditional employees seems consistent with broader global trends towards open collaboration, greater connectivity and on-demand workforces. I wrote about this last year in my blog http://www.cognology.com.au/what-skills-will-be-most-in-demand-in-2025

We are seeing the dawning of a new age of organisational agility and innovation. Employers and skilled workers alike have much to gain from embracing new ways of working. But it will take a willingness to change and adapt.

References

  1. Kleiner, Art. “China’s Philosopher-CEO Zhang Ruimin.” Strategy Business. 10 Nov. 2014. Web. 08 May 2017
  2. Ruimin, Zhang. “Raising Haier.” Harvard Business Review. 31 July 2014. Web. 08 May 2017.
  3. “Haier and Higher.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 11 Oct. 2013. Web. 08 May 2017.
  4. Mahajan, Neelima. “How CEO Zhang Ruimin Reinvented Haier – Three Times Over.” CKGSB Knowledge. 28 Sept. 2015. Web. 08 May 2017.
  5. “Haier CEO Zhang Ruimin: Challenge Yourself, Overcome Yourself.” Founding Fuel. 18 Oct. 2015. Web. 08 May 2017.
  6. Fischer, Bill, Umberto Lago, and Fang Liu. “The Haier Road to Growth.” Strategy Business. 27 Apr. 2015. Web. 08 May 2017.
  7. “Zhang Ruimin: Driving Haier’s Innovation.” Zhang Ruimin: Driving Haier’s Innovation | CEIBS. Web. 08 May 2017.

13 validated findings on the power of technology in performance management

The power of technology in performance management

It won’t come as a surprise to you that I’m a big advocate for the power of technology in performance management. At Cognology, we see the business impact of great performance management technology almost every day.

But in this article, I wanted to go a step further and understand if there’s broader scientific support for the power of performance management technology. As you’ll see, there’s a range of strong research demonstrating how technology continues to fundamentally change performance management.

In preparation for this article our team spent many hours trawling academic journals on performance management. The aim was to find well-cited academic papers that specifically looked at technology in the performance management space.

I’ve arranged the research findings under four headings:

  • How technology impacts the performance management approach
  • How technology impacts the overall effectiveness of performance management
  • How technology impacts performance management for remote workforces
  • How performance management technology impacts business-critical strategy

Without further introduction, let’s jump into the research:

How technology impacts the performance management approach: Validated findings

1. Technology drives more positive attitudes about performance reviews.
Gueutal, H., & Stone, D. L. (2003). The brave new world of e-HR.
Advances in human Performance and Cognitive Engineering Research, 3, 13-36.

2. Technology-enabled performance management tools encourage managers to develop better ongoing performance management behaviours.
Hunt, S. T. (2011). Technology is transforming the nature of performance management.
Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 4(02), 188-189.

How technology impacts the overall effectiveness of performance management: Validated findings

3. Technology increases the effectiveness of performance feedback.
Gueutal, H., & Stone, D. L. (2003). The brave new world of e-HR.
Advances in human Performance and Cognitive Engineering Research, 3, 13-36.

4. Basing performance management around projects rather than time of year highlights the optimal time for reviewing performance.
Gueutal, H., & Stone, D. L. (2003). The brave new world of e-HR.
Advances in human Performance and Cognitive Engineering Research, 3, 13-36.

5. Data from performance management technology is critical in identifying and tracking high-potential employees.
Stone, D. L., & Stone-Romero, E. F. (2003). and Kimberly Lukaszewski.
Advances in human performance and cognitive engineering research, 3, 37-68.

6. Developmental opportunities and potential mentoring relationships are more easily discovered through performance management data.
Stone, D. L., & Stone-Romero, E. F. (2003). and Kimberly Lukaszewski.
Advances in human performance and cognitive engineering research, 3, 37-68.

7. To effectively manage performance employees must be involved in goal setting, using technology.
Kagaari, J. R., Munene, J. C., & Mpeera Ntayi, J. (2010). Performance management practices, information and communication technology (ICT) adoption and managed performance.
Quality Assurance in Education, 18(2), 106-125.

How technology impacts performance management for remote workforces: Validated findings

8. Technological tools can be particularly helpful to complete the performance planning process when manager and employee do not work out of the same location.
MCI World Com, 2001, as cited in Joshi, S. K. (2014). Role of Technology in Performance Management System: A Literature Review.
Available at SSRN 2515225.

9. The essential components of defining, facilitating, and encouraging performance are even more critical in a virtual work environment than in a traditional one.
Cascio, W. F. (2003). How technology facilitates virtual work arrangements. In E. Salas & D. Stone (Eds.),
Advances in human performance and cognitiveengineering research (Vol. 3, pp. 1–12). Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science.

10. The importance of developing clear, objective goals is promoted in the absence of frequent face-to-face communication between the subordinate and supervisor.

  • Manoochehri, G., & Pinkerton, T. (2003). Managing telecommuters: Opportunities and challenges. American Business Review, 21, 9–16.
  • Ellison, N. B. (1999). Social impacts: New perspectives on telework. Social Science Computer Review, 17, 338–356.
  • Illegems, V., & Verbeke, A. (2004). Telework: what does it mean for management?. Long Range Planning, 37(4), 319-334.

How technology impacts business-critical strategy: Validated findings

11. Instead of spending time asking people to “please fill out their talent forms”, HR uses data generated from cloud technology to gain insights that drive strategic discussions.
Hunt, S. T. (2011). Technology is transforming the nature of performance management. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 4(02), 188-189.

12. Digitalisation of performance management not only provides better data, but also “positively influences management processes and strategic development”.
Tambo, T., & Gabel, O. D. Discussing performance management architecture in public service broadcasting. In PMA (Performance Management Association) conference 2014.

13. Performance management technology is critical not just as a business intelligence system, but also as an analytical online process, a data warehouse and a simulation tool.

  • Ballard, C., White, C., McDonald, S., Mylymaki, J., McDowell, S., Goerlich, O., & Neroda, A. (2005). Business Performance Management: Meets Business Intelligence. IBM.
  • Tambo, T., Gabel, O. D., Olsen, M., & Bækgård, L. (2012). Organisational Dynamics and Ambiguity of Business Intelligence in Context of Enterprise Information Systems–a case study. CONFENIS, 1-16.
  • Smith, M. A., & Kavanagh, S. C. (2008). The Potholes of Performance Management Technology: A New Road and Its Obstacles. Government Finance Review, 24(3), 63-66.

In conclusion

This research clearly shows that better technology is making performance management a part of everyday work life. As I’ve spoken about previously, this is a huge step in the right direction towards more natural, agile performance management.

It’s evident that the widely known benefits of performance management technology (such as the efficiency, accessibility and relevancy of performance management) are only the tip of the iceberg.

It’s also great that the impact of performance management data on high-level strategy is becoming more defined (and attracting a lot of attention). This is good news in making sure all businesses recognise the significant benefits of best practice performance management technology at the highest levels of leadership.

I’m planning to keep this ultimate guide up-to-date over time. So if you see any more well-cited research on the power of technology in performance management, please let me know via twitter @Cognology.

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Is technology reshaping the way we work?

Part 3 of our data driven investigation into 2014’s real talent trends

Recap: We’re continuing our data driven look into the real talent trends of 2014

Today we’re continuing our data driven look into the talent trends of 2014.

To recap on how we’re doing this, each week Indeed collects millions of job ads from sites across the web. And the team is kind enough to make all of this data publicly available and searchable. This means we can look at how frequently certain terms are occurring in millions of job ads, all the way back to 2005. It’s fascinating, and you should have a play with the tool at http://www.indeed.com/jobtrends.

Sitting in a workplace today, it’s easy to feel how technology is reshaping the way work gets done. So today we wanted to have a look at some of the big tech trends, to see if the impact on the workplace is as significant as the press and blogosphere makes out.

How is technology reshaping the way we work?

Again, there’s been a lot written on this topic recently. Here’s just a couple of pieces that you might have read over 2014:

Out of these, we’ve picked the four trends we were seeing again and again. In no particular order, we’re diving into:

  • Social media
  • Social (collaborative tech)
  • Cloud
  • Mobile

Social media

Clearly social media is no passing fad. It’s seen huge growth in hiring over the past ten years. But this is still less than 1% of all jobs, and at present these numbers are unlikely to represent much other than people hired into marketing roles. It will be interesting to see how “Social Media” in hiring evolves over the coming 5-10 years – will we see a stage where social media capability is a broader job requirement?

Social media

Social

Social (capturing collaborative tech) is potentially the bigger trend here, which continues to grow. It’s interesting how Social has seen a sustained pick up across 2014, whilst Social Media has plateaued.

Social

Cloud

Again, “Cloud” is a trend that’s seen major growth over the past five years. “Cloud” has come from nowhere to feature in nearly 1% of all job adverts across 2012 – 2014. The scale of growth shows the level of investment that businesses have made in getting the workforce cloud enabled.

HR Cloud

Mobile

Mobile is another big trend that’s really reshaping the way that we work. But similar to the “Cloud” it hasn’t been a growth area for 2014 (doing major growth at an earlier stage). If anything mobile is now starting to drop off as a hiring trend, as companies are reaching full capability.

Mobile

So, how is technology reshaping the workforce?

Cloud, mobile and social media have all been huge growth trends in reshaping the workplace. But as this hiring data makes clear, they haven’t been the tech trends of 2014. All three terms have plateaued or fallen away slightly over the course of the year.

What does this mean? As these charts make clear, these technologies have seen explosive growth over the past five years. And there’s still significant hiring happening – especially when you compare the current numbers to 10 years ago. But explosive and ongoing growth in the field may have slowed. So it’s possible that businesses are bedding down current efforts and making sure they have the right strategies in place to go forward (now that they’re through initial deployment).

The only place we’ve really seen ongoing growth over 2014 is social technology. As I wrote about here, there’s really good reasons to invest and integrate social and collaborative tech. It’s great to see that businesses are starting to recognise this return and invest appropriately.

Interested in the real talent management trends of 2014? Don’t miss the other parts of this series…

If you loved these talent insights, there’s plenty more in this series:

  1. Millennials are changing the way we work (part 1)
  2. HR is about to be taken over by data/finance (part 2)
  3. Technology is reshaping the way we work (part 3)
  4. Holacracy is set to make managers obsolete (part 4, coming tomorrow!)

If you’ve got interesting thoughts about what this article means for the future of work, I’d love to continue the conversation on Twitter. Tweet and follow @cognology.

My experience using enterprise social technology

We have been using our own enterprise social technology internally now for some time.  I’d like to share just one of the many experiences.  In part I’m doing this to help illustrate the benefit of enterprise social technology.  It helps answer the question of why someone would want to use it.  I’m also sharing the experience to shed some light on the technology for those who are wondering what it’s all about.

Cognology Wall screenshot

There are a myriad of uses for social tech in the organisation … this is just one.

A wall or news feed makes so much sense.  We are social beings, we operate under social constructs.  It helps to be able to see things that are happening across a group or wider group.  Having used our wall quite a bit I couldn’t go back to pre-wall.  For example, one of the uses of the Wall is to recognise others.  As a manager I find this one of the most powerful and positive tools in my kit bag.  When someone does something that deserves recognition, it’s wonderful to be able to put a thank you note on a wall so others can see.  And it’s such a buzz when you see team members giving each other recognition.

There’s some legitimate concerns that people may have about this though.  They are reasonable concerns and need to be addressed.  The three key ones are:

  1. The potential to waste time.
  2. Inappropriate comments.
  3. Replacing face to face interactions.
The potential to waste time

You may wonder whether a wall creates a social love fest.  A frenzy of recognition and other posts.  It doesn’t.  It’s rare to see the same person giving recognition more than once a fortnight.  My experience is that recognition has been given sparingly, where it deserved to be.  If it were given for even the slightest thing, for the sake of it, I believe it would quickly lose its benefit.

The wall hasn’t magically created a perfect working world.  Not every situation and person that truly deserved some recognition, received it.  I think the truth is that people are just busy working and don’t always think to do it.  But there is more recognition, a lot more.  And it’s much more visible.

Inappropriate comments

When many HR people think of social tech, they are probably thinking of sites like Facebook and Twitter.  Let’s face it, we’ve all read news stories about their inappropriate use.

The question is whether we should sacrifice the benefits of enterprise social technology to protect our organisations against potential misuse.  My experience is that I haven’t seen any misuse at all.  But I’ve read the news stories like everyone else and I know it can and will happen.  So do we avoid social tech?  I believe that would be crazy.  That would be like saying no to the introduction of computers into the organisation in the 80s and 90s because of their potential for misuse.

The real question should be how can we minimise the possibility of misuse and protect people from it.  The answer is that people, managers and HR should be given control over information sharing and visibility.  And of course, appropriate policies are needed.  But those policies are needed now regardless of whether you have enterprise social technology.

It’s counterintuitive, but I believe enterprise social technology helps protect organisations and their people.  This is better explained by pointing out what happens if an organisation doesn’t implement social tech.  People will eventually find their own social solutions which organisations won’t have any control over.

Replacing face to face interactions

From a leadership perspective face to face conversations are the shiznit.  Great progress has been made in recent years getting leaders to have one-on-one conversations.  Anything that threatens to undo all this progress is going to be received with some caution.

2 people in a discussion

So does a wall replace face to face interactions?  No it doesn’t.  It enhances them and makes new things possible.  Here’s three ways it does this.

If you’re a manager, ask yourself how often you see team members recognising other team members in front of others.  It happens, but infrequently.  To make things worse, you most likely won’t be there in the moment it happens.  You probably won’t hear about it.  The wall improves both of these problems.  For reasons explained below, recognition is more frequent.  Everyone doesn’t have to be there in the moment either.  If you aren’t there, you’ll still see it, you won’t miss out.

How does a wall increase the frequency of recognition?  The answer is something called the gift economy.  In short it means this.  Joe gives recognition to Sally.  This makes Sally more likely to recognise Joe some time down the track when he deserves it.  In my experience it also makes it more likely that Sally will think to recognise someone else.

The wall also gives people a greater reach.  Visibility is not just restricted to one or two people.  Recognition is not just heard by those in the verbal vicinity.  People across a wider group get to see things they previously couldn’t.

A couple of posts ago I wrote about the new world of work and the need for HR to be part of the change.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on enterprise social technology.

Is HR resisting social technology?

I believe social and HR technology is helping to bring about a new world of work.  But is HR itself getting in the way of this happening?

Sometimes it doesn’t take that long for big change to occur.  When personal computers started to arrive in corporate life during the late 80s and early 90s secretaries and typists were commonplace.  It wasn’t uncommon for a manager to draft a communication, send it to a secretary, who would then type it up and send it back for review before sending.  Amongst other benefits, inexpensive and usable personal computers provided a great opportunity for organisations to save time and money by getting managers to type their own communications.  PCs were implemented at a rapid pace along with organisational edicts for managers to do their own typing.

Vintage typist

Despite the obvious advantage of using computers to draft, edit and produce communications, many managers were highly resistant to the change.  Computers were things they didn’t understand.  What you don’t understand, you fear.  But by the end of the 90s you would be hard pressed to find secretaries typing communications anywhere.  Today it only survives in limited areas like law firms who seem to love dictation as a form of creating a communication.

I believe the vast majority of managers who were resistant to the change that occurred in the late 80s and early 90s would not want to go back to the way things were.  They wouldn’t want to wait for a secretary to type something.  Nor would they want to be without the easy way to get their ideas into a document, then edit and perfect them before communicating.

Social technology is changing the world today.  And talent management technology is becoming increasingly more important in organisations.  Now we are starting to see the two combined.  It makes great sense, we are social beings.  We operate in a social way, even at work.  We aren’t automatons.

So is HR resistant to social technology in the workplace?  Undoubtedly many are.  This is understandable though.  Social technology is relatively young.  Many people still believe that Twitter is used by people who want to tell everyone inane things about their cat and what it does all day.  Add to that the potential legal issues of using social technology.  For example, bullying via social technology.  It’s understandable that HR would be resistant.

The change is happening though and won’t be stopped.  Not for any other reason that the new world of work is just too compelling.

Combining social and talent management technology makes a lot of sense.  HR can elevate its importance in the organisation by embracing it and driving its adoption in the workplace. If HR doesn’t do this, someone else in the organisation will.

Just like the managers of the late 80s and early 90s, I don’t believe HR will want to go back to the old world in ten years time.  People talk about removing organisational silos meaning departments and teams that don’t communicate.  I think we have something more problematic.  We have individual personal silos.  The new world doesn’t have those silos.  People, their work, needs and achievements are more visible to others.  Once you’ve reached this new world, would you want to go back?  I don’t think HR will want to go back.

To be human is to be social.