Weak ties and breakfast

I was in Hamburg this week, with my family.  My Dad and I were able to go to the the New year’s eve daytime concert at the Elbphilharmonie. That experience will be the subject of another blog post, I’m still processing the majestic marvel that is the Elbphilharmonie. And I’m really impressed by Hamburg.

Just before heading up to Hamburg, I pinged Paul Jozefak to see if he could meet up for a coffee.  We met up for breakfast, and I’m very glad I did.  He is wise beyond his years, and generous with his advice and ideas.  We both enjoy cycling and as relatively eingedeutsched  ex-pat/immigrants we had similar views on living and working in Germany. Both of us have been here for the best part of 20 years, without really planning to be. 

Paul’s insight into the state of digitalization and the opportunities that it opens up in German economy is profound, and I have not met many people who understand the big company world, venture capital, and start ups as well as he does.  He has an excellent, long running, blog.  

It was Jeff Nolan who introduced us many years ago, and we stayed in touch via social media. I think this was the first time we had managed to do face to face since then.

It reminded me of the Dunbar number and Granovetter’s research on weak ties that I first learnt about from reading JP Rangaswami and Andrew McAfee, if my memory still works correctly.  

While social media can be time sink, at times it offers up a connection and relationship that makes me realise that it has real utility.

That reminds me, it is high time that I meet JP in person too. But rather than breakfast, I hope it is at tea, at the Oval, or Lords, perhaps.

 

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Sandalwood and SaaS.

It was a lovely day in Geneva.  The lake and sky were competing for which had the nicest shade of blue.  The alps looked close enough to touch.  It even smelt like spring.  I’d like to say it was the blossoms on the trees, but it wasn’t.  Colleagues from SAP SuccessFactors and I were visiting L’Occitiane’s office. I’m not sure what precisely they were distilling that morning, but I do remember the lovely scents of sandalwood, lavender, and jasmine.  I’m sure there was a lot more in the air, but that is where my olfactory sophistication ends.

That day, we met Xavier, who was pushing hard for a major HR transformation at L’Occitiane.  We talked a lot about the business, and how it was this mix of retail, marketing, design, fashion and R&D. We heard from him about the history of the business and how it has grown rapidly, but that it still has its roots in Provence. He was passionate about building better processes for the employees across the organization.

L’Occitiane were kind enough to give me a bunch of product samples that afternoon. These were quickly annexed by my girls when I returned home.

It made me smile today when I saw their SuccessFactors go live press release.  Congratulations to Xavier and the team. The scent of sandalwood somehow made its way back through my memory. It also reminds me that I still have Christmas shopping to do. Their after shave balm is rather nice too.

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.

 

 

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.

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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.