Global leadership at Heilbronn

Many years ago, I had the excellent experience of being the corporate supervisor of Sabrina Dick’s Master thesis on HR shared service. Sabrina has since developed into a very successful HR manager at SAP, now leading HR in Eastern Europe.  I caught up with her a couple of months ago, and she mentioned that she had been doing some guest lecturing at her alma mater, in Heilbronn, and for the past few years she has run a series of lectures on global leadership.

Universities of Applied Science have a strong tradition of tight collaboration with industry.  I’ve always thought that the relationships between the Universities of Applied Science and Industry are a key element in German competitiveness.  The new campus in Heilbronn is really impressive, with generous support from the Dieter Schwarz Foundation, the founder of Lidl.

With Sabrina spending more time in Prague and other cities, she was looking for someone to take over the undergrad lecture on global leadership. I met Prof Erner, who leads the department, we agreed that I would run the course for the spring semester.  The course runs over two weekends, with a long evening lecture on Friday, continuing through most of Saturday. Then in June, the students will present their assignments back to me and the class.   You can see more about the broader programme here.

The role of the external lecturer is to augment the core teaching program, and it is expected that you combine your own practical experience with the appropriate theory.  The cool thing for me was that Sabrina had already established a successful program structure, so I didn’t need to build the curriculum from scratch.

Over the course of the first two days, we mixed discussion, theory overview, case studies, I shared rambling examples of my own leadership successes and especially blunders.  I’d spent some time reviewing the text books, especially Northouse, Schein, Gundling, etc.  Given my South African background, I made sure we touched on the work of Adrian Furnham on management and leadership and I also introduced the students to Ubuntu, as I found most of the leadership textbooks to be rather US centric.  Sabrina had put together some excellent materials on how SAP develops leaders and managers, so that brought an additional practical element to the party.

Reviewing academic and practitioner materials on leadership was interesting, if sometimes a little frustrating.  There are no simple answers, and models are riddled with caveats.  There is still a lot that we don’t understand about how the human mind actually works, especially at work.

I have always admired Google’s approach to HR, at least from afar, in that they attempt to apply analytical rigour to what they do, by measuring and testing a lot.  I’m also pleased that Google like to share what they discover.  I was wondering why they share their findings so readily, given the competitive need to attract and retain, in what is a hyper-competitive employment market.  I suppose it is a form of virtue signalling, in that it enables them to communicate about their organization practices and values to prospective applicants, and more broadly to their stakeholders  (more on that another day).

A recent google study noted the importance of  psychological safety as a factor for team performance and it is one that I will more consciously aim to encourage in my own work environment.  See here for more of psychological safety.  I really need to figure out what Laslo’s new venture is all about too.

Back to the course. I enjoyed first weekend, and I hope the students did too. Now the students will work in teams, and are going to prepare  presentations on the following topics.

  1. Are people born as leaders or shaped?
  2. Traditional leadership theories in the context of global leadership.
  3. the role of trust in the context of global leadership
  4. Growing global talent pools
  5. Case studies of global leadership
  6. The challenge of intercultural teams. how best to manage them
  7. Diversity in the context of global leadership
  8. Learning from the google research into psychological safety.

I’m really looking forward to see what they will come up with.I’ll blog more after the presentations.





Branding innovation at a conference

I have been to many, many software conferences, but I’m especially fond of the HR tech conference in Chicago. It has a good mix of vendors and practitioners, and is well worth a visit.

Over the years at conferences around the world, I’ve strolled the vendor booths, and seen all sorts. Some, just a desk and a couple of chairs, others vast multi-story gaudy edifices. They are all a bit of a blur. 

This week, at the HR tech conference I saw the best booth ever.

It was designed to

  • draw attention
  • bring delegates into an area where they couldn’t escape easily.
  • be eco-friendly
  • be participative (you could write on it)
  • relate to the company culture and marketing message
  • be 100x times cheaper than a typical stand

I give you the sonar6 minimalist box.



There is a software metaphor here too.  There is goodness in a common practice done uncommonly well.  At the event I saw evidence of some vendors starting to build simple applications that bring a consumer simplicity to existing, rather bloated, HR processes. 

Banging on about HR analytics.

Regular readers will know this is one of my regular themes. HR,  analytics and a bit of cricket.

Tom Davenport, over on his Harvard blog, picks up on how HR could learn from Basketball.

How do analytics spread in sports? It usually starts with a few individuals who have seen their application in other domains (Daryl Morey of the Rockets, for example, was a fan of Bill James, the baseball stats Geek of Geeks), and figures they will work in a new context. Some like-minded rich people bankroll the experimentation (in the Rockets’ case, owner Leslie Alexander), and the team starts to perform pretty well (Houston had a 22-game winning streak last year despite injuries to key players). New metrics get developed–both by teams and amateurs outside them. Then other teams catch on. The last time I checked about a year ago, roughly half of NBA teams had statisticians on staff.

I wonder how many HR department have statisticians on their staff?

As a boy I wasn’t good enough to be in the cricket team, so I ended up being the scorer. I enjoyed it, and since then I have had an interest in how to measure performance. My German friends think it very odd that I can derive enjoyment from following a text based cricket commentary for 5 days, but anyway. There is beauty in these numbers (unless you are an Australian cricket fan).


  I’m continuing to focus on HR analytics in my research, I recently did a note on absence management. Absence  costs UK organizations 3% of payroll, yet less than 50% of organizations measure or analyse it.  Time to train up a few scorers I think.


photo from vapours cc flickr. thanks.

SOA, laptops, and coffee

SOA is one of those things that is really tough to explain.  I’m often on the look out for new metaphors to help me explain it ways that don’t inflict too much pain and suffering on my typical HR audience. HR people normally have a high tolerance for pain, but talk to them about SOA and you can get them confessing to all sorts of things, just to make you stop.

Anyway, this morning on Twitter I noticed that several of my online connections had recently spilled beverages, adult or otherwise,  on their laptops.  Closer to home, my wife’s macbook still works after a coffee incident, but only when plugged in to the wall socket, also the range of the wireless has decreased to a few metres, and one of the shift keys doesn’t shift.   To fix the laptop would cost more than replacing it, and would mean being without it for a couple of weeks. It limps on. It is the Bruce Willis Die Hard  of laptops.

Tom provides advice that only experience brings.

Don’t leave a 2 year old alone with a laptop.

What does this have to do with SOA?

Well, one of the alternatives to a laptop is a desktop.  Here the main parts of the computer are separate but connected.  If I spill coffee while working with a desktop, I just end up replacing the keyboard.  The rest of the system goes on working fine. If you are accident prone, buy a desktop.

SOA is software’s attempt to limit the damage that a cup of coffee does. Much clearer now isn’t it. hmmm.  If you are looking for something more sensible on SOA and HR technology, my colleague Jim Holincheck has written a series of notes on this.

Moving swiftly on from SOA.

ASUS and Intel are asking users to help them design a better computer. Have a look at the site I think a coffee proof laptop would be a winner. Not sure that anything can be made to be  2 year old proof though.

This reminds that I have been planning to do some more research in to user led design in an HR context. TIme to get out the Von Hippel.

(cross posted on my Gartner blog)

Youtube and graduate recruitment

Cross posted from my Gartner blog.

Readers of my blogs and research will know that I’m largely in favour of HR exploiting the “rich tapestry” of the Internet, and especially web 2.0 solutions such as YouTube, Facebook, Ning and LinkedIn. Candidates are using these tools, so HR is missing something if they aren’t aware of what’s out there. I do wish more HR folks would at least read The Cluetrain.

Microsoft’s recruitment blogs are an excellent example of the effective use of blogging in a recruitment context. They  provide good guidance on how best to apply to Microsoft and put a human face on what is, for most job seekers, a daunting exercise.  They make good use of video too.

I’m  working on a note at the moment on the employer brand and social software, so I decided to spend sometime in YouTube surfing around looking at recruitment related activities. Nothing like a bit of primary research.

I found this example from Google. An engineer is doing the talking rather than corporate communications or HR.  It isn’t a professional video, but it is neatly produced. It works quite well, and it does an excellent job of showcasing female engineers. There are some moments of “scripted acting”  but most of it is genuinely open and transparent discussion. It gives a good insight into Google. It is probably a tad long.

This one from Cisco. More polished. It positions the organisation well, without being too syrupy.  There are several other Cisco employee cameos out on youTube, most of them well done.


Xobni, a start up, (Xobni is inbox spelt backwards) uses “developer” humour. It picks up on the company culture and gives an excellent insight into the business. It works. I really liked this one. If you watched that before the interview you would have a really good idea about the company and the people that work there. It takes a good bit of creativity to pull this off.

I’m nearly 20 years older than the target market for this clip, but I do wonder about the effectiveness of this particular effort from Cap Gemini

At the very least, HR should have an idea about what is out there on YouTube about their company. Consider putting recruitment videos on YouTube, but I’d suggest you need to tread a fine line between over produced corporate advertising and “hip and funky” amateur attempts. Remember also to consider copyright issues on backing tracks. What techniques have you seen out there that work? Please send me links to the ones you like and the ones that make you cringe.

George Clooney,David Beckham and the software demo

I’m in the middle of doing a Magic Quadrant at the moment.  It is a lot more work than I imagined, even if Jim is doing the lion’s share of it.  By the end of the process we will have had in depth presentations from nearly 30 vendors, and interviewed many of their customers. But this post isn’t about the details of employee performance management software.

Copyright is a big deal in the software industry. It is the basis on which  most software is sold or  licensed.  licence v sale is another can of worms, and not for a friday evening post.

Software IP is  considered to be a fascinating subject by a very small segment of the population, but it is the foundation upon which our industry is built.  Folks such as Geeklawyer make fortunes out figuring software IP law out.  Software companies around the world pounce aggressively on abuse of  copyright and other IP forms. This is their right, and they are pretty good at exercising it.

Celebrities also make use of copyright and other laws  to protect their image, and to earn their crust(s). When David Beckham advertises a razor, or a pair of sunglasses, the company using that image has coughed up big money for the pleasure thereof. Mr Beckham’s advisors think long and hard whether a particular product fits with his image. 

Nestle paid handsomely for Mr Clooney to sip Nespresso.  And there is a mass of law, and troops of lawyers to defend Mr Beckham’s and Mr Clooney’s  rights to their images. Joe citizen has certain rights, but celebrity image rights is big business. California, home to many celebrities and software companies has strong laws to provide additional rights to celebrities.

Celebrities, athletes, and artists have certain rights in regard to the commercial use of their image, voice, or persona. Under sections 3344 and 3344.1 of the California Civil Code, reproducing or using the image, voice, or persona of someone without their permission constitutes a violation of their privacy rights.

Privacy rights extend to the celebrity status of deceased persons as well. Permission for the reproduction of photographs, movie stills, or other depictions of a deceased celebrity requires permission from the person or corporation who owns the rights to them. thanks to Fergus law office for the info .

Under UK law, the law of passing off can sometimes be used to prevent a celebrity’s image being used overtly to promote a commercial product. Have a look here at this case. more details here.  For those interested in comparative rights to one’s own image, see this paper on SSRN.

Why is it then, that so many software demos include images and data of Mr Beckham, Brad Pitt,  Cameron Diaz, James Bond and Matt Damon?

I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that using their names and images without their permission infringes the self same copyright laws that enable software companies to charge money for software. Never mind the more complex and messy issue of privacy and reputation.  

When you demo enterprise software, don’t promote George Clooney to Deputy Vice President,  make jokes about David Beckham being on the bench because he is a bit slow or change Ms Zeta-Jones’ family dental benefit plans. Unless of course, you have permission from the said celeb.  I’ve not even started on the data protection law implications of processing their personal data…

I’m not a lawyer, so if you don’t believe me, have a chat with your in-house legal counsel. You might think it is cool to have a bunch of celebrities in your demo system, but I’m not sure that it is such a good idea. 

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Markets, Coffee and Software


From Tonx.

Quote below is from Sarah Britten’s South African Weekly Mail blog, Gondwanaland.  She is discussing Australia and Starbucks.

The news last week that Starbucks was to close 61 of its Australian stores with immediate effect — leaving just 23 stores in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane — was greeted with considerable interest beyond the business pages. The American interloper taught a lesson about what it takes to succeed in the land down under: this was more than just a business story, it was about Australian resistance to global hegemony.

Or was it?

What is striking about the Starbucks story is how it reveals the ways in which Australia’s post-World War II wave of immigration has affected its sense of national self. Australians didn’t take to Starbucks, the reasoning goes, because they already know more about coffee real coffee — than any American could ever teach them.

One Melbourne journalist wrote:

“With its trademarked frappuccinos and smorgasbord of syrup flavours, the day Starbucks came to Lygon Street was like Scientologists setting up in Vatican City. Sacrilegious.”

Similar things happen in HR software too. Biggish “global” players sometimes come into markets like Australia thinking they are the Bees’ Knees, to quote Kath and Kim.  Australians speak English, how hard could it be?

The global player soon finds out that there are local vendors offering neat technology but with the more valuable feature of  local market understanding. 

In the long run, global vendors only succeed if can help meet local needs. Offering a system in English simply isn’t enough.  

For Gartner Clients I explore this in more detail in this report Global Talent Management Isn’t Just Global (G00159366), 22-JUL-2008 

On the look out for HR technology innovation.

(photo of the view-master reel from excellent flickr stream of cgines, thanks)

I’m starting to get settled into my new job here at Gartner,  researching the HR-HCM technology space.  The support and peer network has been brilliant, the job is everything I’d hoped for.  I’m having fun. I’m learning every day.  Jim is keeping  me busy.

I’m conscious that most of my working career has been SAP and SAP ecosystem focused, and so I need to broaden my perspectives.  Step out from my SAP comfort zone.   

I hoping that my readers can help.  Point me to HR and HCM stuff you think I should be researching.  I’ll be heading to some HR-HCM related conferences, and some enterprise 2.0 events here in Europe.  Let me know the ones you think I should attend. (They can be in English or German) 

thomasdototteratgartnerdotcom  or please  leave me a comment here.

I plan to be over in the  Bay Area on the US west coast for the last week of April,  so if you are based there, let’s try to meet up.  Over the course of the year I’ll be in a number of European cities, and I even have a trip down to South Africa planned. 

A lot of my time in this job needs to be spent listening.

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A seat at the table redux

From Claudine’s excellent stream.Thanks

Over on Phil Fersht’s blog the HR navel gazing seat at the table angst session about HR’s role continues, triggered by the inflexion advisors 2008 predictions. Lots of interesting comments. Very similar to the discussion over here last year.

The brilliant Evil HR Lady Nailed it then.

What are models? Crud people, hire yourself some statisticians.

This HR angst about its role and importance, and whether it has, deserves or will ever get a seat at the table or not is rather tiresome. It has been going on ever since I started in the field in the early 1990’s, and it is about time it stopped. If HR is to get a seat at the table, then it needs to get off the therapy couch.

The other predictions from inflexion advisors are a lot more interesting. Subscribed.

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HCM and Blogging. Check out Knowledge Infusion.

There are many niche HCM-HR consulting companies with between 20-200 employees out there, but there is one that I’ve come across recently that is punching way above its weight, and that is Knowledge Infusion.  Yes, they have a smart management team, but that isn’t the magic juice that keeps them in the front of my mind when I think about HCM strategy.

I’ve only met Jason Corsello twice, but I’d have no hesitation in recommending US based customers who are trying to figure out a talent management strategy to call him up. No amount of glossy brochures or invites to partner days  would have induced me to do that.  The two Jasons  (and the rest of the team) have built up a recognisable and powerful brand, at least for me, through a combination of solid research and very readable blogging and a growing  community. Once or twice a week they pop up in my feedreader, with something interesting, topical and insightful. 

Take a look at this recent post. from Jason Averbook, the CEO.(apologies for the cut and paste)

Knowledge Infusion during 2007 has worked with over 100 organizations helping them set their overall HR and HR technology strategy. During this period, it has become more apparent then ever that the role of HR has changed and will continue to change into the future. What are the changes?

  1. HR is being looked to more than ever from the business to understand the impact that people have on business results. Most HR organizations are not equipped at all to provide this information and in 2007, began to realize that the manual, data heroics probably won’t work going forward.
  2. HR leaders today are split into two camps; those that have been in HR forever and new entrants into HR. Lets call them HR Natives vs. HR Immigrants. The HR Natives are struggling to get out of old school, transactional HR while the HR Immigrants don’t want anything to do with that. This caused quite a chasm in HR organizations in 2007 and we expect this to continue in 2008.
  3. Continued entrance of “The Quants”. HR leaders are either equipped or hiring individuals with quantitative backgrounds to focus on measurement. This is changing the demands on the rest of HR as far as the type and style of information that they need to have at their fingertips.
  4. HR is focusing on marketing internally more than ever. Creation of employment brand is important, but more HR organizations are marketing themselves to the press to prove they are creating value in their workplace. The Knowledge Infusion Deployment Excellence practice actually does this for clients and in 2007, the demand was greater then ever.
  5. HR is no longer an administrative, back office function. HR is at the executive table in most organizations today – a big change from 5 years ago – and now the question they are asking is “How can we prove value?”. This is a ticking time bomb because if they can’t prove value, they will be replaced with someone that has more of a view into the business.
  6. Alignment between HR and the business is at an alltime high. HR leaders are getting more than ever that they need to be the business, not support the business. Another big change from five years ago and will continue to be a major factor for HR going forward.
  7. HR leadership should be considered the most exciting job in an organization. They have their finger not only on the largest expense bucket, the people; but they have the opportunity to have the biggest business impact by driving workforce results from those people. HR HAS to look at it this way, or once again, look for a replacement for your role.
  8. HR will continue in 2008 to feel the pinch of the talent crunch. This MUST be a major focus of HR and not handled in silos such as Recruiting, Performance Management and Compensation, but a holistic strategy with a single leader as to how the organization will attract and retain talent now and into the future.
  9. HR has continued to learn from supply chain theory and will be forced into this even more as the economy changes. The right people in the right place at the right time will continue to be a major theme as it was in 2007. What does this require: KNOWING WHAT YOU HAVE – i.e… Talent Management.
  10. HR has stopped thinking of itself as a department and is thinking of itself as an extension of business. This has occurred extensively in 2007 and will continue to grow in popularity in 2008. If HR is not directly part of the business, YOU MUST do this first in 2008. This will change the role of HR forever in your organization and make it much easier to drive value.

This is good solid stuff, it helps start a conversation. It shows a great grasp of the industry and the issues, and it makes me want to know more. I used number 2 the other day in a meeting with a customer, with the proper attribution, of course.

If you are trying to build a brand in the HCM space, and you want to reach folks like me, then really you ought to have a blog, or at least content that I’ll actually want to read via an RSS feed. I won’t read a brochure or remember much about a static website with pretty fonts, but if you are consistently posting good stuff on HCM technology it is quite likely that one of the HCM long tail will notice and before long you’ll slip past the marketing din and into my regular reads.  Donald in the UK knows his mustard on Competencies, but would I have known this without his blog? No way.

It takes me a second or two to forward an interesting post to a colleague or customer, and I can come back six months later and find the post again if I need it. The shotgun splatter of the newsletter is feeble from the range that most firms fire it from. I want to read your stuff when I feel like it, not when you decide to send it.

To the SAP partners out there, take a leaf out of Knowledge Infusion’s book and get your voice heard. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Give away a bit, and you get a whole lot back.