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Can you believe that SHRM, the professional association that represents the people in charge of labor relations, was publicly scolded by the non-profit that controls Internet naming? Of course you can. What’s new? The long trod path to mediocrity is a slippery slope. You knew they were headed there. SHRM just slipped all the way into the mud.
You walk by the street fight and wonder how you can ever take responsibility in a world where both sides are so totally and bizarrely wrong. The problem has infected our culture from stem to stern. At the highest levels, politics is a weaponized food fight. At the lowest levels, separating the greedy from the stupid is like picking fly shit out of the pepper.
That’s the only way you can explain a financial crisis where the Bank CEOs became billionaires and the borrowers got blamed. Try wrapping your mind around the fact that people who negotiated a contract (teachers) are now to be blamed for the fact that they have to take the inevitable cram down. How do you find pride in a system that runs on polarization and the desperate grasping of the lowest common denominator. Every single “we’re right and they’re wrong argument”t resembles a sequel to Dumb and Dumber.
In the 1930s, C.V.R. Thompson once said, “Washington is the only place where sound travels faster than light.” Somehow, the culture began to emulate all that is Washington. Today, much of academia, many professional associations and all of online commerce depend on keeping things dark. When Forrest Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does”, who knew he was forecasting the future.
Over the past couple of years, lots of us have worked hard to make allowances for the folks at SHRM HQ. You could understand why social media was so scary and threatening. Representing the most conservative organizational function is a challenging project. Figuring out how to do the whole trade association thing is complex, particularly when you’ve decided against industry leadership as a strategy.
In a difficult time of transition, you can try to ignore the supreme idiocy of turning the journalistic use of their logo into a legal issue. After all, the 21st century is barely a decade old. With all of the technological pressures that increasingly make trade associations irrelevant, it’s not much of a surprise to see them flounder and make mistakes in judgment. After all, a drowning man grasps for anything that might float.
The people behind the current dot jobs mess are running out of room, however. It takes more than a little work to earn the scorn of ICANN. SHRM’s passive aggressive exploits serve to undermine its credibility as an industry representative while steadfastly trying to show the looters the way to the vault. SHRM’s partners in the debacle and their opponents are prime examples of the self-righteousness that polarizes while covering up greed with altruistic rhetoric.
You want to forgive the job board proprietors. The maturation of the industry took them by surprise. As they tried to navigate a minefield, they were routinely blind sided by a professional association that had fallen into bad company. In the end, they don’t look like much more than a group complaining about the way their wallet was pinched.
None of these things foster the sort of confidence that an industry needs to be successful.
Where SHRM should be setting the model for integrity, they have chosen to continue to take sides in the street brawl. Their best course of action would be to disassociate themselves from both sides and try to find higher ground. Continuing to be a participant in a gang rumble does the industry no good. Switching sides is even less palatable.
The perpetrators of the dot jobs fiasco persuaded a crowd of mid level HR Execs from big name companies to join the foolishness.This part of the saga is like the real Jack and the Beanstalk story. Jack sold the cow for three magic beans, they didn’t grow and the con man made off with the cow. Puffed up with unrealizable nonsense about the job boards, these HR heroes were led astray by their pied piper.
So, there you have it. There are no good sides in a polarized conflict where the professional association bails out on its responsibility to act in the best interests of the industry. The hucksters behind dot jobs were able to have them join and sustain the foolishness in spite of strong market feedback. The supposed victims of the process, small business people whose feel entitled to their franchise, are little better.
Jay Cross is a champion of informal learning, web 2.0, and systems thinking. He has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix. Full Bio
Internet Values Drive Org Design
by Jay Cross
The Internet is so pervasive that Internet values are blowing back into real life.
For example, I have no qualms about walking out of a boring presentation, even if I’ve been sitting in the front row. The Web trained me to click past unrewarding pages and spend my time where it will do me the most good.
I expect attitudes like Internet values to underpin exemplary corporate learning in the future. Here are nine more to ponder.
Peer power: Networks subvert hierarchy. When information abounds, peers take over. In a knowledge era, workers are the means of production. To prosper in this world, forget command and control. Encourage bottom-up peer production. Knowledge workers do their best when challenged to figure things out for themselves. Management needs to set the direction and then get out of the way. Think of learning as a partnership with learners, not “delivery.”
Authenticity: Simpler is better. The spirit of the Net is to tell is like it is, to peel away the facade. “Be who you are!” wrote Nietzsche. It’s easier than faking it. In learning, being authentic means admitting we don’t have all the answers. It’s recognition that we’re all in this together. It’s hooking people up so they may learn from and with one another.
Transparency: Seeing the inside of an organization enables us to collaborate with it to make things better. People who hoard information shoot themselves in the foot: Nobody will know who they are. You’ve got to know an organization or person to form a relationship. You cannot make friends with someone hidden behind a garden wall.
Perpetual beta: Nothing is ever finished. Hence, it’s better to put an unfinished offering out there before the concrete sets. He who hesitates for typos is lost. Do it, try it, fix it. Drive changes with feedback from learners themselves. More frequent reviews translate into less time invested in going down the wrong path. If someone says a project is finished, it is.
The long tail: When it comes to learning opportunities, small businesses, esoteric specialists and fast-moving teams traditionally have been short-changed. It wasn’t worth the effort. You couldn’t reach critical mass. Now you can. Web technology scales. Five-person companies use Salesforce.com for customer relationship management. Expect to see a learning equivalent soon. As for the esoterica, distance no longer keeps specialists from talking with one another. Rich niches imply a need to assess upside opportunities more closely than out-of-pocket costs.
Connections: Connections are everything. If your learning plans don’t embrace the power of networks, go back the drawing board. Learning occurs through conversations, collaboration, knowledge transfer and other network phenomena. Learning leaders will seek out ways to increase the throughput of personal network connections with instant messages, higher bandwidth, searchable directories, optimized organizational channels and easily accessible watercoolers, both virtual and real.
Asymmetrical productivity: Twenty years ago, training departments prided themselves on consistency: providing precisely the same training experience to everyone in the organization. That’s no longer a good strategy for making money. In the old days, a highly proficient worker might outperform the average by 20 or 30 percent. Now that products are intangible, productivity knows no limits. Google figures a superlative engineer creates 200 times as much value as his middle-tier peer. Back the superlative worker, the wild ideas and the weirdness of the new. Experiment continuously. As IBM’s Tom Watson said, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.”
Loose coupling: Think “small pieces, loosely joined.” I am astounded how the ability to work with small chunks improves my productivity. What once took a rewrite now requires simply changing a link. No learning environment need resist improvements until it bites the dust. What we once thought of as maintenance is becoming more important than the initial deliverable. Changing a small item does not require unpacking the whole apparatus.
Ambient find-ability: Before the Net put the world’s knowledge at everyone’s fingertips, a lot of what passed for learning was rote memorization. Now you need to learn the big picture, not the little details.
Don’t bet against the Internet.
Heather Bussing is a returning contributor to our HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. Heather has practiced employment and business law for over 20 years. She has represented employers, unions and employees in every aspect of employment and labor law including contract negotiations, discrimination and wage hour issues. While the courtroom is a place she’s very familiar with, her preferred approach to employment law is to prevent problems through early intervention and good policies and agreements. Full bio…
When the recruiters and human resource professionals at Tru London found out I was an employment lawyer, the question they asked most was whether an employer could claim an employee’s social media contacts when the employee left. The biggest concern was LinkedIn contacts for recruiters because, presumably, they include potential candidate relationships that the recruiter developed as part of their work for the company.
When asked this same question, Boston employment lawyer, Jay Shepherd responded “Shut up.” Shepherd explained that if an employer was really wondering about this, it probably did not understand that building a brand with social media involves employees actually using their own voice and personal networks. So they own the contacts.
I agree completely. Employees own their social media accounts and contacts. Although I still think “Shut Up” is the best answer, here’s the legal explanation.
There’s Nothing to Fight About
While contacts have value to the person who made them, their value to the company is speculative, tenuous, and often temporary. You can’t win a lawsuit unless there’s something to fight about and you can show you’ve lost something or been harmed.
Twitter followers change hourly and are determined entirely by the follower—not the employee. They could as easily be someone the employee has never heard of as not.
Facebook friends can de-friend on a whim and may or may not be a cousin, guy from the dog park, best friend or mother. Making the case that these people are valuable leads, candidates or clients is a great argument—but how are you going to prove it? You would have to show that there is something of value there that the company can’t have without the employee’s involvement. Good luck with that.
LinkedIn contacts are the most interesting because the connection is made by mutual consent, presumably based on some professional basis. But think about this for a minute. How would an employer make use of an employee’s LinkedIn connection? “Hi Riley, this is Heather from the Law Firm. You were a second-level LinkedIn connection of one of our former attorneys who recently quit. I was wondering if you also enjoy deposing actuaries to determine whether life insurance premiums have a disparate impact on women who have never been pregnant?”
While there is always some value in connections and social media contacts, it tends to be personal to the people involved. The connection often is obscure and has little to do with something the employer can claim is important and valuable. The employer would have to be able to show that it would be harmed if the employee left with it. This is not the $3M contract moving to the competitor. It’s more like employees leaving with pencils, sticky pads and a stapler. The employer can get mad and claim that it was stolen, but it will cost more to try to get the stuff back than to let it go—even before the call to the lawyers.
It’s Not Secret
The legal basis for an employer claiming an employee’s social media contacts would be that they are “work for hire” or “trade secrets.” I talked about work for hire in an earlier article Social Media at Work: Who Owns the Content?
Courts have found client lists, potential client lists and contact information to be trade secrets. Back when you had to look up phone numbers for someone in another city or state in the phonebook collection at the library, contact information had significant value. This led to the Rolodex rule– an employee could not take her Rolodex of clients with her when she left. But she was free to recreate her list of contact information from independent sources and her own memory. Contact information is not secret. (Whether and how a former employee can solicit clients that the employer has a developed business relationships with is a different issue and not what I’m talking about here.)
Today (and for the past 20 years or so), you can find contact information everywhere. And you can contact people many different ways—including through social media. The value of contact information is greatly diluted because it’s so easy to get.
Last year, this was demonstrated to a trial court in New York in Sasqua Group, Inc. v. Courtney, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93442. A recruiter left her firm, taking her client list that included a list of potential candidates looking to change jobs. When she went to work for a competitor in the same industry, the former employer claimed the contact list was a trade secret, relying on older cases that held that this type of information could be considered a trade secret. During the court hearing, the recruiter’s attorney showed the judge some basic sourcing on the Internet through Google searches, LinkedIn, Bloomberg and Facebook. They were able to recreate most of the list from the courtroom in a short period of time.
The magistrate judge said that information about clients and potential clients may have been protected trade secrets when it took “greater time, energy and resources” to develop that information. “However, for good or bad, the exponential proliferation of information made available through full-blown use of the Internet and the powerful tools it provides to access such information in 2010 is a very different story.” The employer had additional problems because it didn’t have a non-compete or non-solicitation agreement– which are sometimes enforceable in some places. But the biggest problem was that the contact information could not be a trade secret, because it just wasn’t secret.
In order to have trade secret protection, the information has to have “independent economic value from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable through proper means by, the public.” 18 United States Code, section 1839(3) defining “trade secret.”
An employee’s social media contacts are not secret, the information about those contacts is not secret and the value of that information to a former employee’s company is speculative, at best.
My best advice to employers: quit trying to own your employees’ contacts and get your own “friends.”
This week, we’re running two pieces from the vaults published exactly 10 years ago. What’s most astonishing is that the issues don’t appear to have changed.
In this first article, the incredible explosion of HR/Recruiting trade shows is the topic. It sounds really familiar. Money quote: “Speakers only volunteer when they have something to sell.”
Counting the IQPC conferences, there were over 300 Recruiting tradeshows of various sizes and shapes during 2000. That’s nearly one a day. With highflying entrants from Fast Company magazine, a variety of investment banks and the normal industry sleep-a-thons, the rate at which Marketing budgets evaporated was historic.
Generally, the vendors subsidize the shows but get extremely short shrift. One of the many reasons that so many alliances were developed in 2000 was that there was no one else to talk to at the trade shows. Often, the vendor booths were in the next building or some equally out of the way place.
From the customer’s perspective, the market is awash in products that are not carefully discriminated from each other. The trade shows, which all have educational components, are seen as a training opportunity, not a purchasing research event. For the most part, customers actively avoid the sea of desperate salespeople who inhabit the trade show floor.
This imbalance between vendor and customer expectations places many of the new Trade Shows at serious risk. Without a clear return on marketing investment, vendors will become increasingly reluctant to subsidize industry education. Trade show owners and operators, who rarely disclose their complete reliance on vendors, will be faced with raising their fees or closing the operations.
Even with more clearly defined expectations, however, the trade shows continue to run a larger risk. The degree to which Electronic Recruiting and Human Capital Management products are indistinct from each other is a serious problem. Without some selectivity, the customer will still be faced with desperate salespeople who are impossible to tell apart.
In other words, Trade Show owners and operators will have to get more deeply involved in defining clear criteria for vendors who are selected for their events.
At the same time, the notoriously cheap HR customer is in for a rude awakening. Vendors do not subsidize industry education for philanthropic reasons. Rapidly rising event ticket prices and a dwindling array of shows will move the cost of education back on to the shoulders of industry.
In general, trade shows make their money by selling tickets, selling booths and sponsorships and by not paying the speakers at the events. In other words, every increment of the trade show experience is driven by a Marketing agenda. The very best way to tell whether a show is worth attending is by asking about the budget for speakers. If speakers are ‘volunteering’, the show is probably less than it appears to be. Speakers only volunteer when they have something to sell.
In the near term, this disturbing trend portends strong growth for consultancies like the Tiburon Group or R.D. Raab. These firms are willing to help a client all the way through the process of vendor selection and integration while providing training and related services.
How long has the debate about the definition of talent community been raging? Here’s a piece from a decade ago that seems to continue to make sense today.
After all of the hype associated with the emergence of the World Wide Web, the winner of the most often overused term is clearly “Community”. Everything from Adult oriented chat on AOL to commodities exchanges has been referred to as a “community”. While overuse has obscured the value of the word, no suitable substitute has emerged to describe the kinds of communications and relationships that, impossible before the web, have come to dominate certain corridors of eCommerce.
In Electronic Recruiting, the high water mark is held by a cranky little operation called Craig’s List. The firm combines housing, roommate referral, general discussion, items for sale, a modest political orientation and general San Francisco demeanor into a hub for a certain, thin slice demographic. Often showcased as “the” example of how to run a community based job-advertising business, the little company has begun to believe its own press and is attempting to “go national”.
Other examples include an unmentionably- named source of intrigue in the dot com world (Fu***dcompany.com), the Vault and Wet Feet. These companies make their livings by providing a variety of types of insider’s looks into a company. (It’s useful to understand that negative PR is a fact of life in today’s world of broadly distributed desktop publishing.)
The real benchmark for community based Recruiting is still the Well. The Well, now owned by Salon Magazine remains the archetype of online community. In order to recruit effectively among the glitterati that inhabit this discussion board, one must be a functioning member of the community with contributions to make beyond pragmatic business needs.
Developers.net, a quiet but influential technical job board, hosts the job offerings at Slashdot, the single most influential industry “community”. By delivering jobs directly into this highly credible but eclectic mix, Developers.net allows an advertiser to get even closer to the end target demographic.
The reason that community based recruiting (Internet Doublespeak for micro niche demographic targeting) is catching fire is that the discipline, in the final analysis, is all about precision targeting. Communities provide a great way to learn the basics.