Asking the awkward question about employee engagement surveys.

For all of my working career, I’ve argued that HR needs to get more analytical, so I’ve welcomed HR’s growing interest in data based analysis and benchmarking. I have been something of a flag-waver for data driven HR for many years.  I’m thrilled to see the increasing sophistication in workforce analytics. The posse of machine learning, predictive, big data, and artificial intelligence is going to transform HR in ways we can’t imagine today.

But for analytics to work, to add business value, and to be fair and just, it needs to be based on robust methodologies. The analytics are only as good as the frameworks and models they are built with.  No matter how compelling the charts and graphics, if the models are weak, we risk doing the business and its employees a massive disservice.

Employee engagement is a hot topic in HR circles. Start ups, HR tech vendors and consultancies of all sizes and shapes are building solutions and practices focusing on improving and measuring employee engagement.  Gallup’s survey though, is the granddaddy of them all.  It is used for as the justification for all sorts of HR interventions.

Armin Trost, a German HR professor, asks some awkward questions of the Gallup employee engagement. Have a read here.  Here is a quote:

So, why is this bothering me? I am a social scientist and expect clarity as all good social scientists do. Published scientific results must be replicable so that others could repeat studies in the same manner. Empirical methods and outcomes not being communicated in a clear way are useless in the eyes of the scientific community.

When algorithms are hidden behind the firewall of intellectual property, it makes it hard to really know how robust they are. If we are to base major decisions on poll data, it is beholden on us to make sure that we know how the results are derived.

After the failure of polls to effectively predict politics, it is time for a lot more scrutiny and indeed scepticism. Not just for this survey, but for the whole industry.

I am always nervous when mentioning physics and psychology in the same blog post, but the words of Richard Feynman popped up in my twitter feed as I was writing this, so I couldn’t help myself.

 

 

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Cycling, Crisp Research, Dimension Data, and a touch of Neuromorphic computing.

Stefan Reid of Crisp Research invited me up to Frankfurt today, to attend their conference.  I’ve known Stefan for a while,  while he was at Forrester and I was at Gartner, we frequented the same taxi queues and analyst dinners at vendor conferences.

I learnt a good deal about the practical state of ML, IoT, cloud etc in Germany.  Strong presentations from the analysts,  customer panels, and case studies. Osram’s massive transformation into an IoT platform player. Continental’s data lake and mobility services strategy, including live demo. neat.  Continental is a lot more than tyres.

I also learnt a new word during Carlo Velten’s keynote, Neuromorphic computing. Apparently  lots going on at Heidelberg University on this, funding in part by the Klaus Tshira Stiftung.

Beate Spiegel, Managing Director of the Klaus Tschira Foundation
“Klaus Tschira was very interested in the investigation and development of new computer architectures that are modelled on the human brain. Beyond his personal interest, he was keen to support the ongoing development of information science for the benefit of humankind. That is why he agreed as early as three years ago to become a sponsor of the European Institute for Neuromorphic Computing through his foundation. We are very happy that with construction of the new facility now under way, the University is taking the first visible step toward new and exciting research findings.”

I glanced at the agenda yesterday, and I was thrilled to see Rob Webster, who runs the sports practice at Dimension Data, on the agenda.

I’ve been very impressed how the South African/global tech company, Dimension Data, has developed its brand recognition through its sponsorship with  Tour de France / ASO, and its pro-cycling team.

The philanthropic dimension of their engagement is particularly compelling, enabling kids in Africa to receive bicycles of their own. Check out Qhubeka. While for some of us cycling is the new golf,  and we argue about SRAM v Shimano, at a more existential  level, owning a bicycle might be the difference between getting to school or not.

Often the link between sport sponsorship and the core business is a tenuous one, but in the case of Dimension Data, there is a technology play with both the TdF and the DD team.  Anyone who rides a bit will know that the last decade has seen an explosion in measurement and data in cycling, even for back of the field weekend riders like myself.  With powermeters, GPS, Heart rate monitors, go pros,  Strava, Zwift, cycling is a rather interesting coalescence of IoT, Social, Big Data, and even Virtual Reality.  Fertile ground then.

IoT, Social media, predictive analytics, machine learning all got a mention,  each with a cycling proof point.  He discussed the impact (pun intended) that the real time data about a major crash had on the TDF’s social engagement levels, and being able to actually prove how fast the pros actually descend. Apparently Cavendish isn’t especially speedy up the hills, but he is pretty nifty on the way down.

“The purpose of IoT  in cycling is not for technology’s sake, but it is to deepen our and the fans’ understanding of the sport.”  Rob, you nailed it.

Thanks to the folks at Crisp Research for having me along.

Disclosure:  We are Dimension Data fans IMG_4062

 

 

 

Of Cobblestones, Solomon, Paula, Gunter, Joseph and the GDPR.

I’ve been reading a fair bit of software vendor marketing and press from around the world about the GDPR. It seems to me that a lot of it misses the point. GDPR is seen as a compliance burden, an unwelcome dose of EU bureaucracy or at best a useful opportunity sell security software.  It is perhaps useful to reflect on why the GDPR and its predecessors in data protection legislation came into being.

I was walking to the train station in the rain this morning, and I paused for a moment by the pair of  Stolpersteine (tripping stones) on the corner of the street where we live. I’m not sure why I took the picture today,  perhaps they glistened from the drizzle.  I  wondered what Salomon and Paula were like, what were their hobbies and their foibles, did they watch football or play tennis together, what jobs did they do, was she left handed, who were their friends, what colour was his favourite tie,  did he make puns that made her smile, did she play Chopin on piano so that the notes drifted down the street on the breeze, did they hold hands as they walked beside the Neckar on that summer’s evening for the last time?

stolperstein image. two next to each other. Deutsch family.

Gunter Demnig began this art project in 1992. The first stone was laid in Salzburg, Austria, and now there are over 27,000  plaques across  22 countries, and growing.  Think of it as a distributed  museum.   They all follow the same format, size and font.  In situ, on the doorsteps of houses, for me they are more powerful and poignant than any centralised memorial or museum. They bring an uncomfortable intimacy and they force me to think about  how easily such an evil could come into being.  (check out more about the stones  here).

The GDPR exists to protect our data (and our person)  from abuse.

This Regulation protects fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons and in particular their right to the protection of personal data. (Article 1 (2) GPDR) 

Software has the potential for enabling goodness, yet it can also empower evil. Software can encourage democracy, but it can undermine it too. Software can level the playing field, or it can entrench privilege.   The power of software to find, sort and group people is both awesome and awful.  It is a mighty thing that we wield.

As an industry we need to see people’s data as something to treat with care and respect. The GPDR is a long overdue firm nudge for us to remember that.

One of the pioneers of artificial intelligence,  Joseph Weizenbaum, fled Berlin for the US as a child in the 1930’s.  I suspect there is a stoplerstein for his family on a street in Berlin. His book, Computer Power and Human Reason, should be required reading for all those building software.

““The computer programmer is a creator of universes for which he alone is the lawgiver. No playwright, no stage director, no emperor, however powerful, has ever exercised such absolute authority to arrange a stage or field of battle and to command such unswervingly dutiful actors or troops.”

We proclaim gleefully that software is eating the world, and data is more valuable than oil, so it is high time the software industry took its human rights responsibilities more seriously.

I, for one, welcome the GDPR.

Customers, colleagues, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and my writing day.

I have been spending the last few months deep in accessibility law, testing, standards, universal design, GDPR, the early history of business computing and of course my old friend, Sarbanes Oxley. I am an expert on Heidelberg and Sandton coffee shops, and I have spent far too long debating the value of one font over the other, and merits of footnote or in-text citations.  This week I have finally felt the adrenaline kick that comes from writing several competent pages and seeing a couple of pieces start to fit together. Long way to go though.

By the way, if you do any kind of research work, get hold of the tool called Mendeley. It is genius.

While I’m no longer in hurly burly of product management at SuccessFactors – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn keep me abreast of what’s up back at the farm.

It was cool to read that Employee Central had hit the 2000 customer mark. Whenever I see those milestones I think back to the early customers without whom EC would not have 100 customers, never mind 2000.  Earlier this week, Liezl’s Facebook gave me a detailed account of  her visit with a South African customer to Timken, one of those early adopters.

But what prompted me to write this was a new connection today on LinkedIn.  Tim Gregory, the Director of HR Ops at Corning sent me a connection invite. While I had been involved in the early stages of the Corning project, I’d not actually met Tim.  We had a nice online chat, and he was cool with me quoting him about their go live.

I’m the Director of HR Operations here at Corning Inc – we went live with SF in July (23 countries, 12 languages, 70 integrations, all modules – except learning).

Not to over state it… but yet we’re pretty euphoric over here.

While 2000 is a cool number. Corning as happy campers is even better. Thanks Tim, you made my day.  I’m going to be following up with you on the blockchain thing.

Now, time to get back to this pile.

image1

EMEA. A little rant.

Dear  US software vendor,

Thanks for your market survey publication about trends in HR, helpfully categorised into an EMEA / US comparison of time/cost to hire and so on.

However, there is no such thing as a country called EMEA. It has no President, Queen, King or parliament. There is no language called EMEA. There is no EMEA currency. There is no EMEA culture. There is no EMEA compliance, or EMEA payroll. There are no EMEA business practices. No one who lives east of Cape Cod but West of India would describe themselves as from EMEA. There are no EMEAns or EMEAese. There is no EMEA flag. There is no EMEA anthem to stand or kneel to.

EMEA stands for Europe, Middle East and Africa. It is a vaguely useful construct for accounting and sales region organisational purposes, let’s leave it that way.

 

Finishing what you start

For more than 10 years I have been vaguely doing a PhD. I think about it a lot, but then don’t actually do real work on it. It gnaws, mocks and taunts me. Something else always gets in the way. For the last 4 years I have been resolutely ignoring the PhD while I focused on leading Employee Central Product and then co-leading SuccessFactors product with Dave Ragones.

I’m proud of the last 4  years. They have been a blast. I’ve given the job my all. Having played a role in growing Employee Central from a handful of customers into a market leader, I feel an enormous sense of satisfaction.  I have repaid the trust and the bet that Lars and Dmitri took on me. My deep affection for our customers and my colleagues is undimmed.

About a month or so ago, SAP hired Amy Wilson to head all of Product at SAP Successfactors. I have known Amy since, gosh, my early Gartner days. She has a remarkable track record in our industry, she is wicked smart and generally a top notch human being.  She is already rocking the gig. Hiring her was a strong move by the SAP leadership.

Amy joining creates space for me to step out of the hurly burly of product management, and focus resolutely on the single KPI of how many words did you write today? I will be enmeshed in footnotes, citations, statistics and bibliography.

SAP’s enlightened HR policies help too.

If all things go to plan, I’ll be back in January. I’ll have finished what I started.

As that mega wise dude Seneca said.

Putting things off is the biggest waste of life.

Product Management, Hopping and Localization.

(Taking some liberty with the facts).

Imagine for a moment you are the product manager for augmented /autonomous driving at Volvo.  You have got every different type of snow and ice covered.  You have figured out how to find parking at IKEA, at the back of the store where you collect the  Billy Bookcases on the mind of its own trolley. (You even have a stage two feature lined up with a robot that  manoeuvres the IKEA trolley and loads the car for you, but I digress).

You have figured out how to dodge elks, moose and even reindeer, with or without sleds.  Cyclists, well, your Danish colleague has had that figured for a while.

Then someone in head-office has the idea to do a pilot in Australia. So, you get the heat thing figured out, right hand drive,  how to overtake trucks bigger than trains, and you dial back the 14 types of snow requirement for the first release.  But one thing catches you by surprise.

Kangaroos.

Kangaroo

image via http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-40416606

Actually for the last few years Volvo have been filming and analysing Kangaroo movement and behaviour.  It causes havoc with the sensors as the hopping makes measuring distance really difficult.

Turns out that Kanagaroos account for roughly 80% of vehicle/animal collisions in Australia. See  https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2017/06/volvos-driverless-cars-cant-figure-out-kangaroos/ for more.

So what does this have to do with HR software product management? Well a bit.

  1. It is unlikely that you can gather all the requirements and design the perfect solution in isolation of customer reality. Some big requirement will come along and catch you on the hop. Agile or not, hopping is part of the gig.
  2. Localization requires people on the ground in the country to work out the real details.  I’m reminded of the sculpture of an elephant on the Basel Cathedral (google it).
  3. Australia is complicated. The leave rules and accruals there are the HR equivalent of kangaroos. If anyone ever says, “How hard can calculating leave rules be?”, send them to Australia or New Zealand.  Then wait.