Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Back home again

In a previous post, I complained about the laptop I've been using for the last 3 years. a Lenovo R400, Core 2 Duo, 3GB RAM that ran extremely slow on Windows 7 . Excel and Visio 2010 was enough to make this thing hang.

I am finally due for an upgrade, and we were offered to buy our current for R1200. All of a sudden, this slow laptop turned into a goo deal. One day later, I am happy to say this machine is flying.

I downloaded Ubuntu 13.04, but did not have a USB or CD to burn the ISO onto. Using DriveDroid on my Galaxy Tab 10.1, I could boot into the ISO and install Ubuntu.

I have not been on Ubuntu for 3 years....I dont recognise this window manager!

Monday, May 13, 2013

People Engagement - smoke and mirrors

We had an interesting People Engagement Focus group the other day. HR runs an annual Human Capital Assessment Survey that is web-based. Its quite boring, and and less than 50% of employees take the time to fill it out. This time, they did something different. About 10 of us were invited to a meeting with a Senior Executive (now called Managing Directors) and HR. They wanted to find out if we had any burning issues that needs addressing.

It was a 3 step process:

  1. We were given four sticky notes. On each, we had to write any issue that we wanted to bring to HR's attention. One issue per sticky note, all anonymous. These were then stuck onto the glass wall. Issues that commonly came up were: no work/life balance, lack of training, etc. HR then went through all of them, and arranged them in lines, grouping similar related issues. E.g. all of the training related issues were in one line, while all the work/life balance in another line.
  2. We were then given 4 color dots. These were to be used as voting coins. Each person got up and went up to the glass wall, and put a sticky dot on any issue that they wanted to vote up. You could use all 4 one one issue, or distribute in any way you wanted to. HR then went and counted the votes (sticky dots) per item group. E.g. training issues might have had 2 dots, while work/life balance had 20 dots. These were tallied up in Excel, and sorted by descending amount of votes. So the top voted issues were listed at the top.
  3. Now we were given one more sticky page, and this time we had to write down a solution to a single issue. To quote "if you want to me fix one thing by the end of the financial year, tell me what I need to do to fix it"
The Exec then replied to each of the 10 sticky notes, and we spoke about it in the group session.

As I drove him, I appreciated the technique that was used. They could have asked us to write down all the things that is wrong with the company, and then trying to address each of it in the group session - obviously you cant reach any substance this way - it will just turn into a shouting match. Rather, their technique focussed on narrowing down the issues to just four. Then by use voting on each, we would then highlight the most important. By doing this in a group session, the group would then be able to speak as one, as it were.
Then by sorting it by vote, we then just had a few issues listed on the screen, with the most important ones at the top. This even focusses it and funnels it more narrowly, ensuring that at the end, there are only a handfull of unique issues. This then becomes easier to action - HR go home feeling like champions, and we go home thinking they really care.

But I went home feeling....cheated. Like the math trick game, the outcome felt clearly pre-determined. Its like they knew what the issues were, and by letting us say it, we felt like it they understood us. It felt like it was all cleverly scripted, and we were all just acting it out.

I'm gonna use this on my kids!

Hiring 2.1 - The Agile Way

I've been through my fair share of job hunting. Perhaps too often. But I know enough of the job finding and hiring process to know that it is broken, and desperately needs fixing. This post is a pet peeve, that's been brewing for a number of years. My biggest gripe is that it takes far too long, for both sides:
For the potential employee, it takes a minimum of two months.
For the employer, its at least double that.

The basics of the hiring process is as follows:

  1. A department in Company A realises it is taking strain - the workload is too much for the current amount of staff. Most of the time it is purely reactive like when there has been some turnover of current staff, or possibly sometimes there is demand planning done at the start of the financial year, or when a new strategy or operating model is released.
  2. Department looks at its budget, and realises it can hire x amount of people, at y (junior, middle management, senior) different levels. They agree this with HR.
  3. The hiring manager writes up the specs of the positions. Most of the time he copies it from the spec that currently exist (maybe from the spec that was published when they hired him 10 years), and modifies it a bit. It contains heavy company lingo, with some industry nomenclature. If he has the time, he might Google a bit to see what everybody is using to hire.
  4. The job spec gets sent to HR. Some review takes place, approvals, and sign-offs.
  5. HR release the spec on their internal job board, and maybe concurrently on their external job portal, and to any recruitment agencies that they normally use (about five). A closing date is set about three weeks in the future
  6. After the closing date, there are about two hundred applications. HR easily dispose of most of them, either by guessing, key work scanning, and just plain luck.
  7. About ten CV's/applications are sent to the hiring manager. He selects about five to interview. HR contacts them to set up interviews, or asks the recruitment agencies to contact the applications. Since the recruitment agency is a just a delayed man-in-the-middle, this will take atleast a week.
  8. Depending on Companies A recruitment policies, there will be about two to four rounds of interviews, with these stakeholders: HR, hiring manager, co-workers, senior manager and finally with an executive/partner. It will consist of standard HR questions (tell me about your greatest weakness), technical questions (tell me what happens when you click search on google), psychometric tests, brain teasers (why is a manhole cover round) or just plain ludicrous (hands candidate a rubik's cube, holds a timer, and says "GO!")
  • Each round of interview needs to be scheduled (1 week)
  • Conduct all interviews with the five candidates (2 weeks)
  • Review each candidate with go/no-go (2 weeks)
  • Rinse and repeat for each round

  1. After the final round, you have a one or two candidates left. You make an offer to the best one.
  2. Only now does the candidate get to see the financials. If he accepts, he starts to serve his notice period. If he rejects, you hopefully have the other candidate waiting.
  3. Notice/resignation period can be anything from 30 days to a calender month (which could last almost two months)

In South Africa, a large consulting firm (which globally hires 60K people annually) realised that it needs to double its workforce by 2015. Thats even taking into account doing work offshore  near shore and bringing in cheaper labour (thats the Indians!). An expert recruiter told them that the SA workforce simply cannot support and deliver that amount of candidates. Considering that other companies are also increasing the workforce (except for Cell C still handing out letters), the demand is not sustainable. Add BEE, ridiculous recruitment times, un-managed resignations - and you can see that the situation is even worse. 

Personally, I've found jobs via both recruitment agencies and direct applications. In 2005 I responded to a job post in The Star newspaper via fax (old school), twice via recruitment agencies, and recently via LinkedIn.  My recent experience lasted 7 months: I went for my first interview in November, and I start the new job in June.  Most of the times I had received multiple offers, so I had the luxury of choosing the best. The longer the recruiting process, the bigger the potential to lose good talent to the competition. Thats why its even more important for companies to implement a more agile way of recruitment, to ensure that they can effectively compete in the job market. In some cases, if I was lucky to get my timing correctly, at the end of the process I had two or more offers to choose from. And in some cases, I had to accept an offer from one company, while the other companies offer came a week later, and I had to politely let them down.

We need more that just LinkedIn Recruit or Stackoverflow Careers. We need more that just better tools - what we really need is a culture and mindset change. Companies cannot simply rely on their popularity and size in order to attract talent - they need to actively seek it out. They need to understand that talent is a scarce resource, and they are operating in a competitive environment. For every person that is invited for an interview at Company A, he is probably also going through the recruitment process at two or three other companies. Considering that SA is an emerging market, the demand in IT, (specifically in the Communications and Technology industries) is more than the supply pool can handle. Companies need to actively source talent in a fast and efficient way. But perhaps the biggest thing that holds them back, is the risk. The risk of making the wrong decision and hiring the wrong guy.  But even now, with the three to seven rounds of interviews that candidates have to go through, the wrong guys still get hired. And its not about hiring a guy with the wrong skill set t. Its easy enough to weed out the posers. What is harder is to find people with the same cultural fit, to make sure you don't hire a manage-by-excel guy. And with South African labour law, its almost impossible to fire someone. So I get it: its difficult to find the right people. But surely the risk of being understaffed is greater, and every extra day that you take looking for good talent, you are losing them to other companies.

The long recruitment timeline needs to be drastically cut. I am suggesting a faster way of running the interviews: at the moment, candidates go back and forth for each round of interview. They attend interviews during their lunch breaks, or they might even take a half-day leave. Assuming that each company has three rounds of interviews, and that the candidate is being interviewed by at least three companies, thats atleast nine rounds of interviews that he will attend. From each companies perspective - if they start off with five candidates for round 1, three for round two, and 1 for the last round, thats 9 interviews that HR needs to schedule. Considering that you need open slots in the each stakeholders diary, and in each candidates diary, you can easily see why this takes at least a few months.

What I am suggesting is a bit radical: we schedule ALL rounds with ALL candidates in a single day, or maybe even over a few days, but definitely within a week. At the end, you have a final list that you can make an offer to. Lets go through it:

Consider Department B in Company A is hiring for a single position. After HR sifts through the initial applications, the hiring manager invites five people for interviews. (Important point: at this stage, the people that are invited to attend interviews are already potential candidates. That means you've already weeded out the obvious no-gos, and that the selected ones possess the required skills, experience, etc on their CVs. The interviews now are really to confirm what is on their CVs, and to ascertain the culture fit). The candidates are advised that they take leave for a whole day. This should be individual one-on-one interviews with each candidate, but it could also include grouping candidates together to make things go faster. HR then books the following on the scheduled day:

  • Half hour each interviews for all five candidates -  this will go from 8:00AM to 11:00AM. HR and the hiring manager sit in each interview, with 5 minutes in-between to review. There are only 3 choices to limit decision fatigue: Go, No-Go, Discuss.
  • 11:00AM to 11:30AM - go through the list to see who needs to be invited to the next round
  • 12:00PM to 3:00PM - the shortlisted get called back for the 2nd round individually, this time with the hiring manager, and possible team-members and/or a senior manager. This can be an hour long if required. Same 3 choices: Go, No-Go, Discuss
  • 3:00PM to 3:30PM - go through the list to whittle it down to the last two.
  • 3:30PM to 4:30PM - Hiring Manager, HR and an Executive/partner interview the last two, for half hour each.
  • 4:30PM to 5:00PM - decide to make an offer to one candidate. The other is kept as backup, incase the first one rejects.
The above can perhaps be done over two days, if the list of initial candidates is large, perhaps with different groups on different days. The benefits of this technique is:
  • Its easier to book diaries. Only the hiring manager and HR are dedicated for the day, the rest come in when required.
  • The candidates don't need to drive back and forth for the different rounds. And even if they attended two other companies interviews, they would only need three days of leave.
  • Most importantly, it cuts down on interview stress for the candidate. They can leave after the day with certainty, knowing that they made it through or not. Believe me, the biggest stress comes from playing the waiting game. A few times a company has got back to invite me for the next round after a month (including Google). The waiting severely limits your choices - you might accept an offer, not knowing if  another company might get back to you or not.
  • This way, the hiring manager can go home, knowing he has his man, in just ONE DAY. The confirming of the financials and acceptance will still take some time, but at least the final candidate knows what his options are.

Now this potentially poses a challenge to current recruitment agencies. But they can use this to their advantage  They can handle all of the scheduling of interviews with the candidates. They might even use their premises, which could be ideally set up to cater for enough seating and activities to keep candidates busy for the day. They could even make it into a recruitment fair: by inviting a few companies to interview at the same time. The HR and hiring managers of each company could attend, choose which candidates they want to interview, and then make their decisions. Its fair game!

I agree that this alone is not enough to change current conditions. We need better tools as well. Most companies use Taleo as their internal job board, which is ugly and difficult to use. Candidates have to register their profiles on each companies site, and setup automatic notices or remember to check back often to see if there is an opening. LinkedIn has only partially solved this. Recruitment agencies seem to rely purely on online tools such as Careerweb and CareerJunction, which leaves much to be desired.

We need the Agile for Hiring!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

I'm thinking of going Mac

I'm about to change laptops. Of the ones that I have seen around, nothing grabs me, or excites me. Most of the laptops I have seen lately in meeting rooms include the usual suspects: Dell, Acer, Lenovo. They all look boring - the same thing I've been using for the last few years. Thats nothing that inspires you, something akin to a new cell phone.

I've briefly considered getting a laptop/tablet combo, something like the Samsung Ativ. But I am not sure if I will quickly get over the novelty of the touch screen. Then the only thing I will be stuck with is Windows 8.

So I am really thinking about getting either a Macbook Pro, or Macbook Air. The new Macbook Pro's come with Retina display, but the Airs had the SSD. The other possible factors are the lack of DVD drive on the Air (have not used a CD/DVD this year), and a few other things. What really has driven me towards Mac is that I will have a shell easily accessible. Parellels or some other virtulasation software will allow me to run Windows apps (Visio and Project) and Ubunutu in a VM, without having to dual boot.

I have never used an Apple product before, so thats what makes me uncertain. For that last 3 years, I have been using a Lenovo R400 - a 14.1 inch Dual Core sorry excuse for laptop. Performance is dreadfull - Visio and Excel open together is enough to make the machine hang.

Prior to that, I used a HP 17 inch laptop for about 3 years. I was generally impressed with it. But that was 2009 - I doubt a heavy laptop, with lots of USB ports and a DVD writer is what I am looking for now.

I *think* what I want is something light, with a decent screen (15") and lots of power, and a shell closeby. Ubuntu is not ready for enterprise use full time, so thats why perhaps Mac sounds like a good choice.

Whatddya think?