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April 2019

Should We Really Trust IBM as an Expert in the World of HR?

It's a fair question. Does IBM deserve to be an expert in the world of HR?

When you think of IBM today, you probably think of Watson, the supercomputer that resides at the intersection of processing power and artificial intelligence.

One of the latest science/research pushes IBM is promoting is that they're the experts in predicting turnoverWatson

IBM HR has a patent for its “predictive attrition program” which was developed with Watson to predict employee flight risk and prescribe actions for managers to engage employees. IBM's CEO Ginni Rometty has been on the PR push for this program this month and stopped short of explaining “the secret sauce” that allowed the AI to work so effectively in identifying workers about to jump (officially, IBM said the predictions are now in the 95 percent accuracy “range”). Rometty would only say that its success comes through analyzing many data points. Rometty claims the AI has so far saved IBM nearly $300 million in retention costs.

The AI retention tool is part of a suite of IBM products that are designed to upend the traditional approach to human resources management. 

I think AI should always be considered as a way to make our profession better.  I'm just not sure that IBM deserves to be the expert in HR.  

You know the first reason I'm skeptical.  Most of my readers could predict turnover with 100% accuracy if they have access to the right information. The right information in turnover prediction is full of privacy issues - involving deep email, social, web and phone indexing and analysis.  Simply put, if you had access to the right information, you could make a pretty good call on who's at risk.  That's nothing new and the fact IBM doesn't disclose what information is needed to get to 95% accuracy is 100% problematic.  

So you're great at turnover prediction, but you fail to say you need to big brother information access to fine tune the model.  Most of us would say no to the cultural ramifications of getting all the data necessary.

But my biggest issue with IBM coming in hard to HR for business development is much simpler.  They've been awful to their own workforce.

Big companies are going to have some people issues, I get it.  But do a couple of web searches and you'll see how IBM has treated it's workforce, discarding strong, older professionals for cheaper labor.  It's a systematic play they've been a part of, and it includes normal playbook items like layoffs and more creative items like requiring long-term IBM team members to report to a centralized office location or lose their job.  

Translation: We've got a lot of high earners and it's killing us. Time to retrench and get a cheaper cost basis on labor.  Let's say no to remote work!

Watson is cool, and IBM is OK. But I'm not sure they deserve to be labeled as an expert in the world of HR.

IBM is a data company.  You're the HR expert.  

Watson told me so.

People Don't Choose Netflix For Content - Or Your Company for Ping-Pong...

One of the things I'm fascinated by in the business world is how the media/content business consistently changes. Newspapers - gone.  Magazines - hard to find in print these days unless you're in an airport. Broadcast networks - Still around but not in a dominant spots. 

One of the biggest lies the devil every told us (or made us feel) is that the way things are today is how they're going to be in the future. You think Facebook will be around forever, but history tells us that they're toast in 15-20 years.  Maybe 10.  Just look back at MySpace, AOL and Prodigy for primers on this reality.

One interesting case study going on today in media/content is Netflix.  Netflix dominates a lot of screen time in households across the world, but the recent announcement that Disney had launched a $6.99 per month streaming video service called Disney+ has a lot of people signaling this is the beginning of the end for Netflix - since Disney content will no longer appear on the Netflix platform.

That makes sense, right?  Not so fast, my friends.  Fred Wilson at AVC shared this chart on why people use Netflix in a post titled Functionality vs Content.  Take a look and we'll discuss below the chart:


The point? People don't necessarily watch Netflix with quality of content as their first priority.  They watch it because they like - and have grown to rely on - the look and feel and the technology. The fact that the top reasons people use Netflix aren't necessarily tied to quality of content means Netflix has time to figure the content side out as Disney pulls it's content.  Of course, this the the very reason Netflix has been running a hard pivot to original content on it's platform.

Will Netflix die the death of all the other platforms before it? Probably, but it won't be because of Disney pulling content and creating Disney+. The functionality of the platform is too strong.

Which got me thinking about the following question - what functionality does your company offer that transcends the work being done in a single job/role or the industry your business is in?  Put another way, what is it about how your company does things that will make someone stick when a new competitor comes along with a great job offer?

If you look at how average companies build culture, you'll see the following answers to that question:

1--Cool work space

2--Ping Pong

3--Kegerator party after hours 2X per week.

Those things are good, but probably not enough to hold someone after they've experienced them for 2 years. Plus, they're easy to copy.

Which begs the question - what is it about your company that would be hard to copy and become the equivalent of the Netflix interface? When you think about how your company is defined and what make it unique, that's really the question.

If you've made it this far, a lot of you can't answer the question, and that's 100% ok.  Simply move from what you have to what you could create that would be irreplaceable, much like the Netflix interface. Examples might include:

1--We don't have meetings. Or we don't have meetings that are more than 15 minutes long.

2--Our email shuts down at 7pm every night. You can send them, but they won't be delivered until 8am.

3--You can send emails to the CEO and you'll get an answer within 4 hours. Or you get a vacation day.

Obviously, these are just examples. But when you free yourself a bit to say, "what should be included in our people business platform", it becomes freeing.

Disney+ isn't going to end Netflix.  What makes your people platform as sticky to employees as Netflix is?

Dream it and do it, and you'll likely protect yourself from regrettable turnover and save your top performers.

(KD's current streaming recommendation - Hanna on Amazon Prime)

The Non-Working, Non-Credible Executive at Your Company...

Let's talk about something that impacts every organization - The perception of whether your executives do anything, and in a related topic, whether they are viewed as credible.

There's 4 buckets every executive at your company falls into: Magic

1--Works hard/does stuff and viewed as credible.

2--Doesn't work hard/do stuff but is viewed as credible.

3--Does stuff/works hard and isn't viewed as credible.

4--Doesn't work hard/do stuff and isn't viewed as credible.

The gold standard is to have execs in #1 - Does stuff/is credible.  Engagement is always easier when this is the case.  For the most cynical of executives, they'd love to be viewed as credible without really trying to dig in and work or understand what's going on 4-5 levels below them.

Entire TV series have been based on the disconnect - Undercover Boss, anyone?  The CEO puts on a stupid wig, goes to the front lines and finds that special person they want to help moving forward - everyone cries and the CEO is now aware of how hard the work is.  Check. Then it's back to the corporate jet and the Ritz.

Why am I posting about this today? I was reminded of the four buckets of Executive perception when Magic Johnson resigned as the President of the Los Angeles Lakers (pro basketball).  For the uninitiated, Magic is a top 5 player all time in pro basketball, and he's royalty when it comes to the Los Angeles Lakers. So the Lakers hired him 2 years ago to return their organization to glory.

There was just one problem. Magic wanted the job, but he didn't want to have to work hard. In addition, the fact he didn't work hard in a job he didn't know how to do destroyed his credibility in his workplace, which for him was the community of other GMs doing work within the NBA.  You can get a good rundown of the Magic Johnson scenario here.

But back to your company.  Evaluating whether an executive works hard and is viewed as credible is tough for the following reasons:

a--It's not necessarily the executive's job to understand what everyone does and how the sausage gets made. They have a job that's different that the first layers of your company, and at times, just as important.

b--Employees love to hate. Just because they don't know what the executive does doesn't mean the exec in question doesn't work hard.  But it might tell you they need to connect more to be credible.

So how do you determine whether an executive works hard and is credible?  My first suggestion is to ask their executive peers who rely on them for services.  If the peers don't feel they work hard or are credible, it's likely you have a problem.  After all, peers at the executive level are aware of the demands of the job.  They're slow to say, "I don't know what he does", because they've heard that before about themselves.

Finally, look for command related to talent management 2 to 3 levels below them. Someone trying to understand the work and add value to the way your company's product or service gets delivered is likely to know who's good and who's not, and base it on tangible items clearly linked to success in the job, not politics or rumors.

There's a lot of people at your company who think your executives don't do anything.  They might be right.

You should try to understand if you're dealing with Jeff Bezos or Magic Johnson and take action accordingly.