Archive for ‘In the News’

April 16, 2012

Crowdsourcing, outsourcing, offshoring, oh my!

I read a blog post about freelance talent overseas being used as a replacement for full-time in-house employment and something didn’t sit right. (

The author used the term “crowdsourcing” to refer to this type of employment agreement and I think that the term does not always apply. The human resources functions of most organizations are not sophisticated enough to use crowdsourcing to work on project teams effectively outside of software development. Many of the newest outsourced virtual freelance employment is in the accounting, legal, and marketing occupations and those are less frequently a distributed group of people working on the same task and more frequently one person sitting in a dark room with a computer emailing documents back and forth.

This made me think, however, of the potential of a more mobile workforce with virtual teams that may or may not be freelance talent. A draft paper on another colleague’s blog ( highlights a lot of information on this topic and I’m not even close to being equipped to get into that kind of detail here. The basic link, though, is that we need not be necessarily moving towards chaos here if we are good at planning ahead as HR/OD people.

The virtual team is a rich environment where possibilities for collaboration may even be greater than project teams in-house. Greater diversity of thought can be accomplished, if you put the team together with that in mind. You can even assess the learning styles and collaboration styles of all the potential members and compose a team that has a better chance at productivity than when you’re stuck with the usual gang. Just as in “real life” the virtual positions should not just be filled with those who have technical expertise but who also are able to work well with others, give appropriate feedback, ask the right questions and innovate because they love what they do.

Some of these jobs may be overseas. I hear a lot of panic about the future of work in the US and I don’t think it’s all justified. Accounting has seen a lot of offshore outsourcing in the industry, and it is picking up with the legal profession. These professions have been hit very hard in the recession and a lot of change is happening that does equal fewer opportunities in the US for the long-term. Manufacturing, textiles, technology, and more are already spread all over the developing planet. None of this is new to us but when it starts happening to the white collar jobs it becomes a crisis? I hate to be cliche but we’re Americans. Working hard and beating the odds should still be in in our blood.

The challenge is to realize that the world is a global marketplace for talent, and that does not need to be scary. Your skills and experience are your commodity.  I had a job once that was offshored and I was crushed because I thought I had job security. This was ten years ago. I found a way to translate my skills into a new profession that was related to my old job. This is no time for complacency – you need to be active in your development on your job, off your job, between jobs, and despite jobs. Do what you love and you will be able to find the spark to keep going until the next change happens and you’ll be able to figure it out again. Everything is moving faster and requires agility, tenaciousness, and resilience. It can be as empowering as it is defeating. It’s not easy. We need education to partner with HR/OD to help plan the workforce of the future together instead of giving everyone the 50 year-old questionnaire in high school.

March 20, 2012

The “New Normal” for jobs – a start

I disagree with the author of this Daily Beast article, “Job Market’s Tough ‘New Normal’: Some Careers Aren’t Coming Back,”( in characterizing what the future of jobs is going to look like, although I agree with the premise.

First of all, he characterized jobs being split between men and women in a stone age kind of way: men lift heavy things and women work in offices. And I think it’s an oversimplification to say we’re moving towards a service industry by and large. I think the service industry is bloated right now as a transitional phase as we need to go back into innovation and technology as our populace transitions in education and training to meet those needs.

But it is true that many of the careers that have worked for the past fifty years are not going to be particularly good for long-term growth. And there does need to be a new normal.

One of the more interesting articles I’ve read in the past couple of days talks about the 40-hour work week, another pet interest of mine. In “Why We Have to Go Back to a 40-hour Work Week to Keep Our Sanity,” ( the author describes the different number of hours of safe and productive work that apply to different professions. The knowledge worker, turns out, is better on 6 hours of work rather than 8 hours. There’s a lot of historical background in this article and a good summary of some of our current challenges.

I would posit that a real new normal for most jobs would look something like this: 12 hour workdays, two 6-hour shifts with two different people (job sharing approach), real full-time salaries for both, European standard 4 weeks of vacation to start, and one month paternity/maternity leave standard.

In my company, as in most, we are global and have meetings that run into all hours to accommodate our team members’ schedules. A 12-hour work day would make it possible to pretty much make global partnerships run more smoothly. With two people working as a team to share a job, they could be more productive as they ferment ideas between one another and play off of each other’s strengths and development needs. More productivity would mean that companies could afford to pay each individual a real salary. There are studies that I’ve read that discuss the value of teamwork versus individual contributors – I am going to look those up and post about them in the next blog entry. Four weeks of vacation is pretty self-explanatory. There is a very good reason that it is the law in Europe. Finally, the paternity/maternity leave is just a pet peeve of mine that I want to throw in. I was only given three days paternity leave and had to take another five of my vacation for my son’s birth and I could have really used a month. As it was, he was not a sleeper and I felt like a zombie for six months anyway, but having the first month with him would have helped a great deal since my wife had a long and painful recovery from the birth.

I’d love to get some feedback on this plan – it’s obviously very rough but it just seems so right to me…

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March 14, 2012

It’s really all about the prime directive…

Today’s New York Times has an op-ed ( written by a fellow who is resigning from Goldman Sachs due to ethical concerns that is causing quite a buzz at work. I was facilitating a session with some rather senior bankers from another firm this morning and many thought the move quite outrageous. Maybe for different reasons, but certainly outrageous nonetheless.

For them, it’s a no-brainer that you need to serve the clients and give them the best options for their growth, and that not everybody, nor every firm, does that. The taboo of writing an op-ed and what the possible repercussions may be was another topic.

For me, it’s a continuing though process about ethics in our society and whether or not having a good moral compass is mutually exclusive with having profit-based goals. I’ve spent years reading philosophy and literature on the subject and am constantly evolving in my own opinion on the matter. When I was in my young 20’s I felt the world was a zero-sum game. By now I’m feeling like I see a more complex relationship between the have’s and have-not’s but as far as what is possible I am still searching for answers.

There are many organizations who have sprung up since the most recent recession began that have business models based on the greater good and that are able to make a profit. Heralded as the new entrepreneurs for a modern age, these companies are mixed bag as far as I’m concerned. Well-intentioned white people, self-empowered to make the world a better place, make me a little uncomfortable sometimes (see discussions on White Savior Industrial Complex,, via The Atlantic). To the extent that self interest is a necessary component of acting on the behalf of the hungry huddled masses, as we all feel better when we are being appreciated for being so selfless and giving. It’s like a Miss America pageant, world peace and all of that. I’m sure you do want that, dear.

And isn’t everything commerce of one type or another? Where is a pure egalitarian society, no greed, no hierarchy, and no popular cliques? Even the most radical organizations I have known have social hierarchy and favored cliques. Instead of money the currency of these social groups is still hoarded, spread out unevenly, and scarce.

I’d like to think we could rise to the occasion and be both ethical and engage in the current global marketplace. It would behoove us to figure out what baby steps we need to take, even if the full picture of how we get there is a bit murky.

It’s like the prime directive in Star Trek. They had a moral rule, don’t interfere with anyone’s development, that they really tried very hard to follow on the Enterprise. And more times than not, they failed. But in trying, they were able to come to the most ethical solution that they could, given the information that they had. And most of the time, most of the people were better off for the experience. Well, as long as you weren’t the anonymous ensign nobody had seen before. It never turned out well for him.

March 12, 2012

Growing Up Fast

Childhood seems to be getting shorter. I was speaking with a neighbor of mine – who both works and lives in the same buildings as I do, no small coincidence for NYC – and we were wondering if it’s an evolutionary turn or if we are missing the point.

Children being turned into adults on television and dealing with adult themes is nothing new. I remember Arnold and Willis dealing with some seriously difficult themes on Diff’rent Strokes, not to mention Jo and Blair’s hardships on The Facts of Life. With Toddlers and Tiaras we’ve crossed the line into positively Roman, though, and what’s next, the real life Hunger Games?

Speaking of, I just finished the series and was debating the age group it was written for with my wife. I assumed that Young Adult was 15+ but she asserted that it encompassed a younger age group. I looked it up and I’m sort of confused. That series was way too violent for a ten year-old. I wouldn’t recommend it to even a particularly precocious 13 year-old either, but that seems to be the age most websites agree kids can start reading the books.

Maybe I’ve gotten a little too far from the teen years but I remember how truly awful they were, socially. As a former middle school teacher (more recently) I know that this period of time is really hard when there are even more gadgets to want and fashion to acquire. At least when I was in junior high the only thing to want was a pair of Jordache jeans. Maybe fitting in is really that much harder now – I can’t assume things don’t change even if I think there’s some sensationalism going on that makes it unclear how much.

Real, dark, scary do need to be on the surface if we are to be able to acknowledge the depth of fantasy, beautiful, secure. It seems a rather tenuous balance. So maybe it’s a true progression for us to have the transparency and be able to acknowledge that real life is multi-faceted at earlier ages. Perhaps the ideal vs. real construct that my parents handed down (battered and drawn as they were from their fight against it but still in their veins) during the 1970s from their childhoods in the 1950s is finally sunsetting in our culture. The new struggle is perhaps finding identity and a place to fit in when the world is sometimes uncomprehensibly boundaried. An argument for this concept would be the increased instances of bullying and outcast violence. If it is also a real increase and not a symptom of the 24-hour news cycle.

If this is indeed what the new teens are struggling against, then maybe the books aren’t nearly complex or dark enough.

Working in groups with unknown parameters seems to be the challenges of most workplaces today, and these adults are only averaging a D+ when it comes to being able to cope and be agile in the face of changes. We’re still acting as if we’re on the playground at work. If we’re lucky, we get the opportunity to grow and become more self-aware and transcend these behaviors by either being in the right place at the right time or having a strong mentor or leader.

If fitting into the the world is a transcendant challenge that goes beyond age, does it also go beyond race, religion, gender, sexuality, socio-economic origin? If integrating our complex inner pubescent selves is our Sisyphean task, what are the tools we are using to make everything work out? There are so many small answers but I’m not sure if I see an integrated whole solution being offered.

February 23, 2010

Chasing that dream…

I was fortunate enough to be interviewed for a blog called “Beyond the Gray” recently. Today, it was published.

Check it out: