Category Archives: blue sky

End the annual performance review: APIs to your social influence

Ok, I know, I’ve been writing about ending annual performance review for ages, and people are still doing them.

I actually had a very interesting sit down with Steve Hunt, SVP customer value at SAP where we talked about our differing – but somewhat similar views. I want to do that chat justice with a “proper” blog, today is just a quick response to something else.

My fellow SAP Mentor  posted an interesting piece about some extracts that he’s been using to explain the impact of his social networking and how it is an effective performance indicator for use in his annual review.

One of his comments got me thinking – wouldn’t it be great if not in an annual review, but just in a dashboard we could see something like performance via api

We could visualise the areas of influence in our team, and how much they were spreading that influence. Would this be a help for me as a manager to help understand if the strategies I’m putting in place make my team more effective as doing their job? We could take these feeds from any tool, from email, from Jam, from public social media, obviously with employee consent!

Now you could argue that my team doesn’t need to influence, that isn’t part of their role, but I’d have to disagree. Even if my team worked at the checkout counters of a local supermarket, I want them sharing what and how they do things best. Any team which is not spreading news about what they are capable of doing, and doesn’t share with others is a team which is not reaching its potential.

Perhaps in many situations it will be hard to find APIs that can express how knowledge sharing is happening, how influence is being generated, noting who is chatting about what over the lunch table and turning that into a graph seems a bit of overkill. But where it is possible, this is definitely something I think we should be grasping firmly. Let’s start building this into our talent management solutions, who knows, we might actually start finding out who is “talent” in our organisations and nurture them, rather than waiting annually to see if anyone has been innovative enough to try to capture this info. No more annual review, a constant monitoring and performance enhancement process. I dream, I know, I’ll write about it more in full later.

Right, back to writing Christmas cards and eating mince pies 🙂

Organisational Charts, is there a better way forward?

What does your company’s organisational chart look like?

a) the Eiffel Tower,

b) a bowl of spaghetti?

SuccessFactors Professional Edition – a thought provoking trial

I’ve been trying out the SuccessFactors Professional Edition (SMB market) software recently (and no, this is not a review of it, that’s coming later (maybe).) It gave me a moment’s pause to think. Does the organisational structure at my company actually resemble a tree (an upside down one I guess) at all? The SuccessFactors software has a great organisational structure visualisation tool (far nicer than the Nakisa one IMNSHO), but it’s all about visualising a traditional hierarchical organisational structure.

Different types of structures

At the same time I was thinking about this, I happened to read the supposed “Valve Handbook for New Employees“. On page 4 (I’ve included the link, if you haven’t read it, I can recommend it, fascinating stuff and far more than just the bit I’m talking about here) it describes the structure of the organisation.


It makes a point:

 “Hierarchy is great for maintaining predictability and repeatability. It simplifies planning and makes it easier to control a large group of people from the top down, which is why military organizations rely on it so heavily.”

Like Valve, I don’t see the organisation that I work for being particularly militaristic. I grew up as an “army brat” and therefore have a very healthy (in my eyes) disregard for any kind of imposed authority. Someone telling me that I must do something in a certain way, is almost a guarantee that I’ll try to find a different way of doing it. I try to treat the people I work with like I would like to be treated. Telling someone to do something is pointless, explaining to them why they should do something – that’s more like it.

I’ll digress from my main point here for a little bit, because a random memory has just sparked, and it’s sort of relevant. When I was a new grad starting out in the big wide world of SAP HR consulting all those years ago, my boss at the time hauled me out of the clients where I was shadowing and learning, and into the office. For one week I helped the office admin team file expense reports, collate time sheets and put together invoices After that, although I may never have been the best at getting my expenses in on time, when they did get in, they were very clearly and neatly arranged. Why? because I had learnt that doing so was a simple task for me, but made the life of the admin person so much easier. Because someone had taken the time to show me why I should do something in a certain manner, I was very happy to do it.

Hierarchy and innovation, not great mates

In their employee handbook Valve go on to say:

“But when you’re an entertainment company that’s spent the last decade going out of its way to recruit the most intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth, telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99 percent of their value. We want innovators, and that means maintaining an environment where they’ll flourish.”

I’ll put my hand up right now and admit that Discovery is not an entertainment company, despite it sometimes being very entertaining to work here, yet I’ll completely agree with the sentiment of it being an absolute innovation killer to tell people exactly what they must and must not do. To me to provide the sort of environment that people are going to thrive in means everyone having a say and everyone moving forward.

Such a dynamic (yes my description and substitute whatever smanky term you want to use instead) way of doing things cannot, I believe, have a non-dynamic organisational backbone.

So let me try to put that on paper for you

I tried to draw a simple map of the relationships between a few of the employees in our company (disclaimer, I didn’t stop to think too long about who is linked to who very hard here, so if you’re on this chart and I didn’t link you correctly, sorry, it isn’t a real org chart because there wasn’t a whiteboard involved.)


when I tried to add just one more employee (Karsten) it just got far too messy:


My point is, that as a small company, we just don’t fit into the traditional hierarchical organisational structure. And to follow on from the point made by Valve, I don’t think it is in the best interests of our organisation or staff that we do.

Scientific interlude to counter excess HR fluffiness

Another digression (sorry) even evolution (Darwin’s tree of life) isn’t consider a tree these days, it has been recognised that due to the transfer of genetic information from and through viruses and bacteria there is an awful lot of our genome that doesn’t come from our direct ancestors, but from other species. It’s called horizontal gene transfer (HGT) and has been found to play a major role in forming species. To use this analogously, I should suggest that who you are working with, who influences you and who you influence are more important to who you are than the person that you supposedly report to.

Back to HR (or HCM, or whatever…)

Now I don’t think that either Discovery or Valve (or Dawin’s web(?) of life)  are unique in this. I think the days of the hierarchy are numbered, and what is more, we are inventing and deploying the tools right now that will be its undoing.

Tooling up for the revolution

Enterprise social networking, whether using tools like Jam, Streamwork, Yammer, Google+ (we use this a LOT internally, it’s free, simple and powerful!) or even going more external with tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, and, so help you, Facebook is clearly in vogue. It should be a simple matter to leverage these tools (along with email ) to find out who is talking to who. From this we would have a clearer picture of who is talking to who, how often and in what formats. We could use this data to help us consult the right people. We already do this in many ways, but imagine having a system that could help us. In the same sort of way that GMail prompts you to include certain people in an email based on your past emails but that would also check the content of your message (I know this sound horrendous to some of you, but I’m just imagining stuff here, not planning for an actual solution, bear with me). The possibilities of how we could capture and utilise the connections between our employees to add value to the business are only just starting to be explored.

I’d push the analogy that I’m trying to make so far as to say that communities of interest are the new org units of enterprise. Although you might not send a leave request to be approved by your local ketchup appreciation group (I used to read the USENET alt.ketchup group at uni for a laugh, how the world has changed! I can’t even find a link to it now.) You are more likely to check that your vacation isn’t going to leave the project teams you are working with in the lurch, rather than checking with the team with whom you are theoretically assigned but haven’t worked with for the last 6 months.

When it comes to handling career goal planning, I think that we need to be encouraging everyone to be part of the process.  (I happen to agree with Prof. Culbert about the usefulness of performance reviews, but strongly believe that goal setting is a great way to understand how to get to the next level, in a positive way.) 360 type reviews (where we reference and review with the people we are working with, rather than an arbitary “manager”) of the goals that we are setting allow ourselves allows us to help ourselves and our teams understand where are heading,  without the soul-sucking negativity associated with most performance reviews. For such a distributed process, there is no benefit to a rigid structure where person A conducts the review for person B, C and D. Again I see great potential in the use of social communication tools to share and organise and optimise these processes.

Full circle

So back to my original musing, what does my organisation look like? I don’t think I know yet, but I think it’s going to be fluid. If I want to be part of a successful innovative company (and who doesn’t) I think it need to be able to change shape depending on how and why I’m looking. And my view of the organisation should be able to change that shape without me needing spend days of constant restructuring.

And to finally relate that to something SAP

Returning to my thoughts about the SuccessFactors Professional Edition product and its use of strict hierarchical structures. I don’t think that these do fit with how many SMB companies are choosing to operate today. Yet, I can see how a SaaS solution that is planning to integrate “social” into everything they do (one of the strong messages from SuccessConnect) will possibly get me there a lot quicker than an onPremise solution will. I hope that by posting this up people will read this and start to think about how we can start to leverage the tooling that SAP is providing to be more creative, dynamic and successful. SuccessFactors people, you have a real opportunity to create something in this space, please let’s build something awesome.

As per always, these are my own personal views, and do not necessarily represent those of the company I work for. I purposely take a line which is at times controversial and contrary to many people’s beliefs. I don’t think I’m correct, it’s just that no-one has convinced me otherwise yet. This blog was originally published at but I thought it really ought to be here too. Partly inspired by Vijay’s blog about talent being unmanageable, and my thoughts on what does that mean about talent being managers. What I’d want to point out is that I see a future coming where out HRIS system may mean the end of people managers as we know then – thus solving the conundrum of how do we manage talent and/or should talent be managers.



References: in a list to make life easier for you

Valve Handbook for New Employees (my own adaption),


Who is this real ME?

This post is a response to the thought provoking post that Raj Sundarason posted on SCN – Identifying the Real Value of ME

In that post Raj talks about how:

“We need to embrace the concept of the “IDENTITY of ME.

Step 1: We need to recognize the different elements of My Identity (ME)

Step 2:  To scale and be successful we must find a way to tap into the value of ME

Step 3:  The Complete ME requires an integrated enabling infrastructure”

That grab of the bullet points of his post does not do it justice – go and read it yourself! But it will work as a nice framework for my response.

Recognising the social or not ME

I would suggest that the layers that make up an individual are very varied. In the same way that we see ridiculous personality profiling:

personality graph1

We can generate similar breakdowns on the factors of their identity:

personality graph2


You should note that these graphs were generated using random numbers in a spreadsheet, and mean absolutely nothing! But I bet you could recognise some people you knew looking at the data there if you looked. And here is where we have to be very, very careful. We take into any discussion about what makes up identity some very strong views of what defines identity is that are heavily influenced by the people that we surround ourselves with. A person who spends much of their time online (like myself) will naturally be more inclined to think about the online social interactions that take place. A person who is never online (yes, there are a few of those left) is more likely to think about person to person interaction. Even what makes up an identity is very much up for debate, is your community credibility part of your identity? (probably) or is it a result of the social and professional contributions? (probably). Whilst the 5 big personality traits are pretty well agreed (although putting them in a radar graph is a complete abuse) the points that make up an employee’s identity aren’t quite so well understood (as far as I know. There are probably hundreds of PhDs in sociology which discuss that and they probably even have some sort or acronym that is universally accepted to represent the different factors… But I don’t know about it so we’ll just assume that it doesn’t exist for the sake of a good story 😉 )

So to my point here. When we consider leveraging the power of an employee’s identity we need to consider that for different people this will need to be achieved in different ways. Whilst I think and agree that in many situations the general result is the same, if a strategy only addresses one aspect of an employee’s identity then the end result will vary wildly in the same way that identities are made up in wildly different ways.

Getting to the value of identity

So how do we actually use identity to give our business value? Well firstly I think we need to consider what we would loose if we do not recognise the value that an employee brings that is above and beyond their mandated position description. Perhaps this is what people talk about when they blather on about “cloud DNA” and how worried they are that Lars is leaving SAP. Personally I think that’s tummy-rot and one person will rarely have such an impact, no matter how strong their identity. But it does give a nice example of how we need to value and assign value to our employees by thinking about their identity in the wider sense.

So the next question must be, if we can see value in identity, how can we grow that value? To answer that question with another, does all identity growth equal value? Certainly in some areas, but not in others. If your employee is a passionate political advocate, they may well be growing their identity but also at some point you may find that the passion/identity conflicts with your business growth. I’ll use myself as an example. I’m quite passionate about environmental issues, I fear for the legacy we are leaving our children in the way that our planet is being abused. It’s quite possible that this will conflict with potential work that my company might partake in.

Identity has value, but it also has risks, leveraging one and recognising the other will take skill. Which brings me nicely to the final point.

Integrated analysis environment

I agree with Raj that by figuring out which parts of an employee’s identity can be leveraged towards business growth a company has the opportunity to create great wins. An employee who feels that their whole identity is supported by the company is going to be far more loyal and likely to produce results/recommendations/inspire others than one who feels that their company just doesn’t understand them.

To this point companies will need to be very careful in attempting to leverage the identities of their employees. Again I will use myself as an example: If my company asked me to start tweeting references to a new solution that we were marketing I would be very resentful. Why? Just read my thoughts on anti-social social media. I would move camp very quickly from feeling that my company was supporting me and was aware of what I was doing that was helpful to a view of “you just don’t understand!”

It’s like the return to work legislation here in Australia, you don’t encourage your employees to return to work, you support them. In the RTW situation it’s due to legal nuances that can stop you getting fined millions of dollars, but in general terms if you can support your employees to leverage their identity for your business cause, rather than putting any pressure (intended or not) then you’re on a winner. Supported employees are less likely to feel that you misunderstand them and more likely to join in (even if it’s not something they would have done without the support.)

But before you can offer support, you’d better understand where your people are and what they do and what makes up that diverse mix of identity in your population of employees. Thus the need for, rather than infrastructure to enable, infrastructure to analyse. Helping your people to be great online bloggers for your company makes no sense if your people aren’t interested in being near a computer once they leave the office. Likewise, targeting your employees to help recruitment at the next trade conference they attend is pointless if they will be avoiding any social contact whilst they are there.

In the race to use the connectedness and influence of our employees towards the good of the company, the first companies that are able to effectively analyse where their employees are at will have a huge advantage. I agree with Raj that we must also measure the effectiveness and dollar returns of the methods and processes that are put in place to leverage the identities, but this is pointless without understanding the base that we are manipulating  supporting.

To the end of analysing the identity make up of your employees, we are entering a phase where social network analysis is a real possibility within a company. Whether this analysis is through scanning email conversations for semantic meaning and the senders, recipients and cc’s used as nodes in an influence map. Or it’s through direct analysis of outside-of-enterprise relations with employees encouraged supported to upload their contact lists into gamified social referal solutions. The challenges with privacy will be the first obvious hurdle, but if Facebook has over a billion users then there are at least a few people who don’t care that much… Look out for the social media disclosure statement in your next employment contract, and I’ll bet your employer will be doing a lot more with your details than just monitoring your Klout score!

Summary to a long winded ramble that could have been composed in a pub on a Friday evening (but wasn’t)

Raj, I hope I added some value/response to your post! In summary, yes I agree, leverage the identities of your employees to a) build a better workplace for them and b) return better result for your company. And yes, I think that companies that will be able to do this will have a huge advantage. But I think the first and more important step is to start understanding who your people are outside of their current work personas. Understand the identities that you actually have, and once you have that information you will be in a better place to start thinking about how or even if you can use that information.