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Into the Unknown

Dear Elida,

Today is the first day of a new decade. A decade where you will go from bicycling age to driving age. You will grow and learn so much, and I can’t wait to be a part of it. By 2030, you won’t be done growing, either. You’ll just be beginning, if my experience is anything like yours. Like Elsa in Frozen 2, we are taking our own journey into the unknown.

One of my favorite things to do with you is to go on adventures. We have done all kinds of fun trips, from climbing Beacon Rock to hiking at Latourell Falls. Remember seeing all the dogs on the trail? I think you took a picture of every single one.

We went to the Ape Caves in October of last year. Maybe you’ll remember but it was dark and kind of spooky. We had lights but we couldn’t see everything. After getting used to the dark and the limits of our lanterns and flashlights, we were able to get along just fine. We spent an hour and a half underground and explored 1.5 miles of cave. 

You told me you were a little scared but that you wanted to keep going. That’s definitely your approach to life at five and three-quarters years of age. 

There are a lot of similarities between our experience spelunking and looking ahead a full decade. It’s easy to be overwhelmed or to be unsure. Like I told you that day, it’s okay to be scared. 

What we can see ahead of us is very limited. I know we’ll have some laughs and some tears. I know we’ll have some hard times. I know some days will feel easy. But, I can’t predict what will come around the next bend. Sometimes, that would be a pretty nice skill to have. 

What I can tell you is that if you give the next ten years what you gave the last five, you’ll be better than good. You’ve grown into an amazing little girl. You give me courage to step into the unknown like you do: Forging ahead, full of energy, even if I don’t always audibly share my self-doubts and fears like you so transparently do. 

2020 is going to be a great year and you’re a big reason why. Let’s take on this year like we did the last. 



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When It’s Time to Come Home

As we twisted our way around Mt. Tamalpais on the way to the beach in our Subaru, something felt different. A sense of melancholy washed over me as I looked in the back seat. My daughter, now five, looked out her window at the redwoods getting denser and then thinning as we wound our way to the coast.

After a year of firsts — of exploring as many places as we could within a few hours of the Bay — we were reexploring some possible lasts. Maybe not last lasts, but almost certainly lasts as residents of the Bay Area. When a lazy Sunday morning lingered into an afternoon, as it often did, we found ourselves surrounded by the beauty of the Northern California coast. Those days don’t happen on vacation, they happen at home.

But California never truly felt the part of home.

I’ve read a lot of stories about people who have left the Bay Area. They talk about legitimate gripes about the area that I could identify. High cost of living? Homelessness? Transit? Toxic tech culture? Inequality? I get it.

In the end, all of the challenges that California faces are ones that other areas of the country face (or will eventually face, to some degree).

I had (and still have) a great job, one that supported us. It didn’t allow for a lot of saving or doing but we also weren’t ever wanting.

I also never felt ostracized. Which, as a straight, white, married male in his mid-late 30s who worked in a tech-adjacent industry, I stayed mostly in people’s comfort zone here. If you’re new to an area, it can be helpful to blend in but it can also feel a bit invisible.

I also really loved the area we lived in. The area of Marin we were in was a perfect combination of walkable community, suburban comfort, and city accessibility.

The sun dances across my daughter’s face as we continue to drive toward the Sonoma coast. I wondered what Elida would remember about California. I hope she remembers the small co-op preschool that her mom was able to be a part of. I hope she remembers a few of our adventures. I hope she remembers just the amazing beauty that was all incredibly accessible.

For me, moving far away from family and friends put my priorities in sharp relief. I love being able to wander and explore — it’s what ultimately drove me to move, and if we’re being honest, what made me happy to go along with other moves. What I missed was coming back to a place I could truly call home.

California, while glorious and nearly perfect if you have the means to make it work, didn’t have the key things that my wife and I both identified as important parts of our own childhood.

It’s not just the backdrop to the scene that mattered but the people who were in it.

We’re lucky to have people in California we call friends now, but our core is in the Pacific Northwest. That’s home. Not for now, but maybe as forever as we can anticipate.

“When can we come back?”

When you have a five year old, that’s always the question for any place that’s fun. This time, I didn’t know when we’d visit our favorite beach again. So, I told her we’d have to see.

She sat quietly as we listened to music. Our feet were caked with sand and the car smelled like sunscreen and sea air. After a few minutes, she broke her silence.

“I like that beach,” she said.

“So do I, baby,” I replied back.

“Do they have beaches where we are going to live?” she asked.

“They’re not as close but they definitely do,” I told her.

“I bet I’ll like it, too,” she replied.

I looked in the rear view mirror and smiled at her. She smiled back.

I think she’ll remember the right parts about California. I think I will, too.

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Allowing Space for Vulnerability at Work

I was reading an interesting article that popped up while researching another piece of content. It was about how our ideas about masculinity can harm the workplace. Here’s a quick excerpt:

“It’s not about succeeding at whatever the work mission is, it’s about me winning and me proving I’m the winner by showing these dominant traits,” says Peter Glick, professor of psychology at Lawrence University. “It becomes so much a part of proving you’re the ‘man.’ That becomes the central thing.”

Workplaces that promote “show no weakness” attitudes are usually the ones most susceptible to a culture of competition among its employees, Glick says.

It’s an interesting read but to me, it goes beyond just unhealthy competition and ways of proving that you are worthy of being called a man.

Help: How We Get to the Best Work

In many environments, asking for help can feel foreign. We might associate that with white collar, knowledge-based work where someone may know all the answers or feels like he needs to take on the weight of the work. That’s problematic, too.

In blue collar work though, asking for help or pausing work when something isn’t right has to be repeatedly trained and rewarded in order for the habit to stick. For instance, a man may feel like he needs to push through fatigue but in a manufacturing environment, it can lead to mistakes or even serious injury.

Now, I’m at very little risk of being harmed if I nod off at work but outside of safety concerns, throwing up a hand that you need help is the best thing you can do to product the best work possible. For many, including me, it isn’t always an easy thing to tell people that you can’t do something or that you need help.

That’s less about competition and more about vulnerability. Organizations need to make serious, intentional space for vulnerability.

When “I Don’t Know” Unlocks the Truth

Knowledge work is driven by more than just knowledge. It’s also driven by ego, assertiveness, confidence, and a little—or a lot—of hot air. In the right situation, like in a meeting that requires you to think on your toes, it’s the difference between building and eroding trust.

That can be helpful in a presentation or a sales meeting, but in a collaboration with peers? Or an open consult with a client?

It can be toxic. It can encourage a lack of genuine vulnerability.

It’s really simple in practice. If I’m willing to admit that I don’t know everything (true, unfortunately), it builds credibility. People are more likely to believe me and listen when I do know something to, instead of just assuming that it’s me blowing smoke… yet again.

At times, even if I am unable to utter the words I don’t know, a simple pause of silence and waiting—sometimes very uncomfortably—can help someone else speak up.

Strengthening Our Weaknesses

Finally, vulnerability is good for admitting when we’re not good at something and getting better at it with the help of your team. If you’re the type that gets nervous for a presentation, it is easy to internalize the nerves and stress and just try to power through it.

For example, I had a client presentation that I was nervous about because I wanted to push them outside of their comfort zone. I talked to one of my colleagues about it and essentially said, “I’m nervous about this part of the presentation. We talked about this and you had some good points, so can you chime in there to just support what we’re recommending in your own words?”

Not only was this helpful for me, but it helped the person I was presenting with prepare for that section and know why I’m asking for support. I could’ve pushed through and maybe I would’ve been successful, but I played for a more assured outcome.

If you work in an environment where you can’t do this, you are assured that there will be some major screw ups at some point. Even allowing space is no guarantee that you won’t mess up on occasion.

I’m sure there are some organizations that could also swing the pendulum so far toward vulnerability that there is no room for any sort of gritting it out or overcoming obstacles. In my experience though, the vast majority of organizations are already oriented toward sucking it up and getting shit done. Easing off that stance is probably not going to kill your organization — and you might find that better work and a better workplace is the result.

Photo by Alex Hockett on Unsplash

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The iPad Pro: A Welcome Relief From Multitasking

The New iPad Pros Can Help You Get More Done if You (And Whatever Software You Have) Let it

I’ve read a few reviews about the new iPad Pros that came out a couple of weeks ago. They seem to unanimously come to one conclusion: Great hardware, limiting software.

One of the lines I saw quoted on Twitter many times was one from Nilay Patel’s comprehensive review on The Verge:

I don’t think people should adapt to their computers. Computers should adapt to people.

The inflexibility of the iPad’s software to do what a person wants, most often in the way a person wants, seems to be a consistent refrain.

The problem is, we have spent decades adapting to our computers — either unwittingly or by choice. If you’re like me, a kid born in the late 70s or early 80s and later, you’ve spent the better part of your educational and professional career trying to get your computer to adapt to you. An objective look at this says we haven’t had a great track record. It takes practice or a willingness to try and fail to do the most basic things.

Take a simple copy and paste operation on a computer. It’s only natural to people because we’ve done it literally thousands of times. If you’ve spent time with someone learning how to work a computer for the first time, you know it’s anything but second nature. They’ll often use menus, hunting for the right command, rather than simple shortcuts and right-clicks of the mouse that we all eventually learn. Even things like mouse usage aren’t natural in the human sense, but simply natural in decades of computing.

My point isn’t to simply dive all in on Patel’s argument here. But I think the iPad’s limitations are actually a benefit to not just our relationship with technology, but with the way we do our work productively with the help of technology.

A multitasking myth

Humans don’t multitask. We’re very adept at switching between multiple tasks but there is a switching cost involved in all of those different changes. The cost of this multitasking is actually reduced capacity and productivity. People who claim to be good at multitasking are often as bad, or worse, than their more-aware counterparts.

I don’t pretend to be above this myth myself. I’ll answer emails at the playground with my daughter. I’ll be on Slack or chat during long conference calls where I’m primarily a listener taking notes. I have to fight against this learned instinct at every turn.

But, if I’m being honest with myself, I’m not doing any of these things well when I try to do multiple things at once. My primary attention is focused on one task but is being split in many different directions.

When I use MacOS, Windows, or ChromeOS, the only limit on multitasking is my monitor size, the capabilities of my machine to run multiple programs, and my ability to see everything. There is no gate on my ability to switch between email, chat, Slack, GoToMeeting, text messages, personal emails, sports sites, reddit, and more — all in the same screen.

These computers that boast productivity and power have the unique ability to hamper your ability to get stuff done, at least in an efficient manner.

The iPad: A singletasker’s dream

The alternative to multitasking is singletasking: Focusing on one thing, rather than impossibly dividing that attention between multiple things. Devora Zack’s Singletasking: Get More Done-One Thing at a Time gives you a framework for doing this by arranging your schedule and environment to make you more productive and sane.

There are all kinds of guides beyond Zack’s book that can help you create a system that works for you so I don’t want to create a primer on singletasking.

Three apps… kinda sucks. This is a good thing.

What I will tell you is that an iPad is uniquely capable of helping you focus this way, by design. Even on the largest iPad, you can only have three apps open and on your screen at once, two in split screen and one in pull over mode. In order to multitask on your iPad, you have to do so intentionally. You don’t accidentally get into multitasking mode.

Now, there’s one tweak that makes singletasking really shine on the iPad but I don’t think many will like it: Turn off your notifications. All of them if you can, but you can also use the do not disturb setting built into iOS to help you focus even more at the task at hand. My phone and watch do a better job of notifying me of truly important messages so I generally manage it through there. Outside of calendar notifications that keep me from missing meetings, I try to keep my notifications off or to a bare minimum.

There are apps that let you do similar things on Mac and PC to create a space for singletasking. But on a traditional laptop computer, you have to be intentional about going into singletask mode and the allure of multitasking is the default.

I’ve tried hard to be the boss of my schedule and technology. The iPad Pro is part of my strategy for reducing how many devices I have to switch between. Outside of productivity reasons, there’s another reason why traveling with my work-provided MacBook Pro has become even less and less important.

Better than a laptop in many ways

I’ve been on the iPad train for a long time, but until I got a cellular version of the iPad and a keyboard, I’d say my tablet use had been relegated to a couch or vacation device.

There are more than a few use cases where the iPad almost always gets pulled out, even if I already have my laptop.

  • Traveling: From tiny tray tables, to inconsistent hotspots, and the sheer versatility of being able to use with touch or keyboard, the iPad is fantastic. From quickly checking emails and travel schedules to downloading and watching movies from Netflix and Amazon Prime. Oh, forgot to download a magazine or a book on the Kindle app? No problem, even if you’re outside of the range of crappy airport WiFi.
  • Commuting: I just started commuting again after almost a decade of working from home. I already loved taking my iPad Pro to the coffee shop, but being able to work from a bus seat or the middle of San Francisco Bay on a ferry is great. I spend my commutes in looking at my calendar, my work tasks, and creating a plan for getting it all done. On the way home, I close up my day, archive emails, and maybe watch a TV show.
  • Meetings: I end up going to many meetings and an iPad not only keeps me connected but I am able to be more focused on the meeting and note taking. When we’ve dialed in other people, it makes a great speakerphone with its many microphones.
  • Around the house: My wife and I own a 15” MacBook Pro and an ancient Mac Mini that we share. The Mac Mini is basically a host for all of our backups, movies, and music and we share the MacBook Pro for when we need a computer. My wife also has an iPad Mini and my daughter a regular iPad. We both ended up selling our regular MacBook and MacBook Air because we would go weeks between using them. The iPad has basically stepped in for all of my personal computing outside of a few niche tasks (like our owned digital music and movie collection).
  • A second traveling screen: In the cases where I do need to bring my work MacBook Pro, the iPad gives me more screen real estate with the help of Duet (iOS, MacOS/Windows, $9.99). The problem with this I have less and less reason to bring a MacBook Pro with me. I generally leave it docked in the office except for the once a week I bring it home to back it up to Time Machine.

Not for every use case

Now, I will admit, I have an ideal case to use an iPad. My work uses Google’s G-Suite for productivity. Their apps are all more than fine for my use and we’ve built letterhead and slides templates to let me quickly and easily create new docs. The only other app I use a ton is Bear (iOS, MacOS, $15/year) for note taking and research compilation. I’ve used on occasion the Microsoft Office Suite (free with subscription), which seems to be pretty outside of certain functionality, particularly in Excel — an app I hope I never have to be a heavy user of.

In my work as a practice director for a marketing agency, document and slide creation are my typical deliverables for work and I’ve typed hundreds of thousands of words on my iPad. I’d love to have support for the mouse so I can plug the iPad into a giant screen and manipulate it, but not at the expense of the intuitive touch experience. If it’s a choice between one or the other, I’ll take the iPad as it is today.

My glowing review aside, there are some issues primarily driven by apps. For example, until recently, our project management system Workfront wasn’t available on iPad. Even now, tracking time against client work isn’t always so straightforward and seeing my Flash-based capacity allocation report simply isn’t possible (this will soon be fixed, I’m told).

Most of the problems I’ve encountered look like this one: A particular piece of web-based software is difficult to run or incapable of running on iPad. Or, an app that only runs on Windows or Mac and has no web-based alternative.

The reasons why people are still using these pieces of software or sites are usually for both good and bad reasons: They run some critical piece of their business and it may get updated, some day. In enterprise software, mobile capability is often dumbed down rather than gracefully made easier to use.

Even consumer apps, like Google’s Gmail app (iOS, free), don’t always play nicely with features on the iPad, such as split view

As a consumer, we can make decisions to use software that works nicely with our devices but most of us aren’t lucky enough to do so with work applications.

If you’re in that unfortunate case, and that software is the center of your world, you’ll certainly get less value out of an iPad. But, I think for many casual home computer users with minimal niche software needs, an iPad (or even Chromebook) is a better choice than a full featured operating system.

Changing yourself is tough

A full operating system might feel more familiar but let’s not pretend that we have been trained by our computers to do things in a certain way.

For those who never felt at home on a computer or might never have to be at home on a computer, an iPad can feel like a more natural experience. I can jump right into my iPad and read a book where I left off or watch a show. Similarly, I can pick up this post where I left off in three taps.

Retraining my brain to prefer the get in, get out approach to iPad to the world of multiple apps on the laptop that I could open all at once, always at the ready for me was the toughest part about the transition. There are some things that are slower, like copying and pasting from other apps, or moving documents from one place to another. I’ve learned some shortcuts that make it easier, but ultimately, you have to decide if the savings a few seconds when you’re going back and forth copying and pasting between docs is worth the time lost in a multitasking black hole.

That said, it feels good working on my laptop — even if it might not get my work done faster or better on it. But singletasking feels good for how much I can complete and how good it feels to focus, especially on ideas. The versatility to turn from that into a device that is as easy to enjoy live sports, movies, games, and music on as well makes the iPad my favorite computing device since my first smartphone.

Can you get real work done?

This question has popped up again and again in thinking about the iPad’s place in a person’s tech stack. While it’s an individual determination, I can say with full confidence that yes, real work can get done on an iPad. I’ve researched, outlined, created, and delivered reports and presentations with my iPad as my primary device. I got paid real money to do this work, too.

Here’s the thing: I couldn’t imagine getting this work done as well without it. The fact is at the bare minimum, it stands in for significant portions of my work — especially researching and outlining — makes it a key piece of how I can get work done at a reasonable quantity and quality.

It’s enough that I’m happy to bypass other upgrades to my technology to keep my iPad up to date, and spend $20 a month to keep it connected to my unlimited cell plan.

Can the iPad Pro do the same for you?

It does depend, but in looking at the way many of my friends and colleagues do work, I would bet that many of them certainly could replace their use of laptops and may even find themselves getting more done by eliminating another source of multitasking. What’s seen as a shortcoming of functionality can actually boost productivity. Intentional or otherwise, the iPad’s limitations have made me better at focused work.

Disclosures: Other than this section, I used my 11 inch iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard Folio to write the entirety of this article. All of the things I’ve written over the past 18 months personally have been written on the iPad Pro 10.5 inch I had before. I wrote this post in the Medium iOS app but had to come to the Medium website (in desktop mode) to add tags and schedule the post. So, why did I have to come here on my Mac? Because Medium’s app and desktop site on Safari do not support the ability to resize the header and body image in this story. That’s it.

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Saba’s Emerging Vision of Talent Management in an Unsettled World

Note from Lance: I wrote over a thousand words on my thoughts on Saba Insight, Saba’s user conference, the weekend after the event. The Monday following the conference, they announced their purchase of Lumesse and I held this post back. I’ve had some time to reflect on both that acquisition and the conference itself, which is what you‘ll read here.

Regardless of what people say with all of the confidence of the world — including me — nobody knows what’s going to happen to talent management in the future. If I knew, I would be selling it to the highest bidder, not writing free shit on the internet about it.

Talent management is changing, though. The din of disruption was an unstated guest at Saba Insight this year. I say unstated instead of uninvited because if Saba has done one thing well, they’ve been transparent about how they think about the future and where the opportunities and challenges lie. That includes the very real challenge of acquiring Halogen Software approximately 18 months ago and integrating the Canadian technology company into the Saba family. Oh, and there’s something that wasn’t announced at the conference with a little company called Lumesse. More on that in a bit.

Like all user conferences, Insight was a great reality check into the nuts and bolts of how HR technology actually gets off the ground. The audience and presenters skewed pragmatic. These were organizations trying to solve real problems, whether that’s working on performance management retooling or rolling out new learning programs. Talent management was alive and well in Scottsdale.

Something I heard many attendees talk about were implementation and adoption hurdles—not necessarily related to Saba, though. How do we get people using the performance management software? How do we convince them that these learning resources will help them in their careers? How do we tie this all to engagement? What do executives care about—and what should they care about?

I was pleased to hear many organizations thinking smarter about building programs that worked from the bottom up, not the top down. There was a lot of focus on employee communications and marketing. Ultimately, the success of talent management is dependent on your people’s buy in.

Unfortunately, there’s still too much talk about issues that I believe hold talent management back from taking a real step into the future.

  1. Thinking programs instead of holistic. Performance management doesn’t work in a vacuum. Learning management doesn’t exist without context about what people need to learn. We need more stories about companies that get the connection between performance, learning, recruiting, recognition, communication, etc… How are we breaking down long-standing silos and actually taking an integrated approach to talent management? Or is the now decades-long promise of an integrated approach so impossible to reach that the focus on creating or reimaginging narrow programs is our best bet to make something work?
  2. Too much focus on executive buy in. It was a question at every session I hit, I think. Which, I get it on one level. We need to get our C-level folks on board and part of that is building relationships and knowing what they care about. On the other hand, most executives didn’t get their jobs by being idiots and ignoring obvious needs. Good solutions don’t sell themselves but it certainly doesn’t hurt. It makes me wonder if people are still pitching programs (let’s fix performance management process) rather than outcomes (let’s improve performance and retention). That might help organizations focus on looking at all potential impacts.
  3. Not enough focus on employee attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs. I still don’t know why generations come up time and time again but it seems to be a poor stand in for actual psychographic data, skills, and competencies. What we lose in this conversation is that our enterprise systems—whether it’s communications, financials, or HCM—need to be more people focused for all employees. I would suggest that instead of focusing on executive buy in, work to trial software that your people actually love to use and have them work with you to get it implemented across the organization.

These challenges, and how organizations using Saba are approaching it, aren’t unique. Years and years of talking to leaders of HR in organizations makes me simultaneously hopeful that there is movement and concerned that we aren’t moving fast enough.

There are some things that are unique to Saba that I do want to highlight.

They are calling themselves a talent development company, which is an interesting move. I’m not 100 percent sure if this represents a change in strategy or approach, but based off my conversations, it seems like it is a reflection of where they’ve landed since the acquisition of Halogen—and maybe where they are going with the addition of Lumesse.

My initial impression is that I thought it pulled them back into their learning comfort zone. I still feel this way, but I think development is one of the most human things that actually happens and can be attributable to work. There’s a counter message that talent, the kind most organizations want at least, doesn’t want to be managed—at least with the suite of solutions most ascribed to this category.

Descriptions aside, in contrast to a generally pragmatic user conference agenda driven by customer stories and product managers, Saba’s vision is big.

This is not a change. The folks at Saba have always been happy to be out front. With all of the talk of AI and personalization at scale, Saba was ahead of this trend by a good three years with TIM (The Intelligent Mentor). Being able to leverage learning from TIM and iterate before competitors were even thinking about it has served Saba well. Their move to add Saba Labs formalizes a culture that already values innovating.

We also got a view into the roadmap that Saba is working on with their Cloud and TalentSpace (formerly Halogen) products. I’ll be honest, I had some concerns with actively selling and building two flagship technologies that have a ton of functional overlap. The addition of Lumesse won’t make things easier—and you can bet competitors are going to latch onto any stories coming from these camps.

I understand the reasons why Saba is staying the course on this today. Saba TalentSpace customers in particular are passionate about this platform. Saba Cloud customers are often there because Saba was the only solution that could meet their complex learning requirements. The same could be said about Lumesse in talent acquisition and learning on an international basis. TalentSpace traditionally focused on the mid-market down to the SMB. Cloud is largely an enterprise initiative, though I believe that is less true today than it was in the past.

Saba executives, on and off the record, will tell you there’s no plan to change this approach. They believe there is a growing market for both and that they have the resources to tackle that challenge—and still gain many of the efficiencies from the acquisition. In public, they were careful to show balance to both, with no favoritism to either platform. They also sold hard on the advantages of these solutions being built together.

Conventional wisdom says it’s really hard to do this. That same wisdom also says it’s something that private equity-backed firms rarely do. I’m willing to suspend disbelief because Saba is making progress and clearly has the trust of Vector Capital to swing big. They are making money and converting legacy customers into cloud customers, something other software companies who have been around as long as Saba aren’t always doing so great on.

This leads us to the epilogue of the user conference, Saba is acquiring Lumesse. I would’ve loved to gauge the reactions of attendees to that news—better luck next year.

Funny side story: At the analyst lunch, Saba President and CEO Phil Saunders was asked a direct question about whether more acquisitions were on the horizon—five days before the announcement. Let’s just say I’m not playing at his poker table next time we’re in Vegas.

Tangent aside, Lumesse has some pretty great technology that not many people in the North American market know about.

  1. Lumesse’s talent acquisition platform is very good. It gives Saba an easy in to international markets and a talent acquisition solution that is in line functionally with the rest of the platform. Talent acquisition is one of the hardest areas to internationalize (besides learning content) and Lumesse has given them a head start on this front.
  2. Lumesse’s learning experience is underrated. Aragon’s Jim Lundy covers this better than I could but in short, Saba bolsters their learning chops with this move—not to mention, again, that Lumesse is built for international markets. Learning content and technology are some of the hardest HCM solutions to get right from market to market.

Read some other great takes from Sarah Brennan, Ben Eubanks, Steve Brooks, and Michael Rochelle if you want to really take a deeper dive into this acquisition. Most of them see many of the same opportunities and challenges ahead.

Saba has had an amazing turn around in the last four years. Considering all of the disruption inside and out of Saba, that’s an accomplishment in its own right.

But history doesn’t dictate the future. Saba has to sell the market on a future vision and roadmap that goes beyond functional rollups, consolidation, customer acquisition, and increasing their international presence. Until that vision is clear, the market uses the vacuum to create its own assumptions.

On the other side of the Lumesse acquisition, we could be looking at a new talent management leader—or whatever you want to call the category. A company that can sneak into the largest enterprise talent management deals in the world—and win.

Other cloud HCM and talent management providers will have their own piece to say about that possibility. Certainly SAP SuccessFactors and Cornerstone OnDemand still lead the enterprise market in talent management, at least for the time being.

But this market isn’t set. Not by a long shot. While cloud giants battle each other and others worry about market pressure, private equity backing has one major advantage: The ability to focus.

I can’t wait to see what it eventually looks like.

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The Present of Work at #HRTechConf

Being a human resources leader can be a slog. I know this on an intimate level, but to be fair, I haven’t experienced it personally for nearly a decade. Instead, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with some of the best (and yes, worst) HR leaders in the world.

For all the scorn that HR gets from everyone, I end up speaking to a lot of leaders who give a shit about their people and their organizations. They relish their role, something I could never square up with my own ambitions. On the flip side, when you’ve seen a leader run an organization in the ground on the people front, you appreciate the good ones even more.

So, I had a little patience when a vendor confidentially told me that the people he talked to at the HR Technology Conference didn’t get what he was doing to change the future of work for good.

They Just Don’t Understand

This vendor rolled out trope I’ve heard thousands of times: That talent acquisition is too advanced for an HR conference, that even recruiting leaders outside of the most progressive have issues understanding their vision for the future, and that in a perfect world, recruiting would never have to exhibit at an HR conference ever again.

I paused. There were a few things to untangle there. And there’s a whole post on whether talent acquisition belongs in close alignment with the rest of the talent management function (they do, by the way).

Here’s was the crux of my concern about this whole line of thinking:

  1. They had to have HR on board with their solution: Even they told me this. They were imagining a future that didn’t exist, and probably won’t exist for at least a decade or more.
  2. They didn’t understand HR buyers: They assumed they were idiots, yet I knew of a number of CHRO’s that had accomplished much more complex projects in recruiting, workforce planning, alignment, and development than what they proposed. We’re talking multimillion dollar initiatives. Their teams were there in spades.
  3. If people don’t understand your solution, that’s your problem: Look, most of the people you’re talking to are college educated. They can understand words if you string them together the right way and we’re not talking about quantum string theory or the multiverse here.

But maybe the biggest aha moment I had was that he — along with many other folks I spoke to on the trade room floor—were actually too future-focused.

The Future of Work Doesn’t Address the Present

Forever — is composed of Nows —

—Emily Dickinson

While I haven’t always beaten the drum of the future of work, I’ve been as guilty as the next guy of talking it up when I have, usually for the sake of eyeballs.

And look, it’s a lot of fun to talk about the future of work — the same way it’s fun to talk about destinations that you want to visit at some point in your life. It’s a lot less fun to research plane tickets, hotels, excursions, and the like to make one of those dreams happen. Travel shows are escapism for people who long for exotic vacations the same way listening to the future of work is for talent leaders longing for an easier way to get their job done.

No matter where you are in the workplace technology ecosystem, anybody with real budget has to get shit done today. There’s a lot to get done, too. It can be compliance or productivity. It can be development or planning. It can be inclusion and culture. It can be managerial. It can be strategic. It can be tactical.

If you’ve plotted yourself too far ahead, it’s easy for organizations to say not yet. In fact, it’s probably the responsible thing to do. There are a lot of problems for organizations to fix. Where does your solution fit and why should they care? Even if your message is about the future, how do you stop the escapism and get them thinking about how this actually happens in the workplace of today.

It’s More Than Buzzword Hate

Buzzwords are so easy to diss on. But it goes beyond that. These buzzwords are often thrown out there with no context for how they work, why it’s better, and why it matters.

In some cases, it’s not simply a language problem—it’s a function problem. When you dig into some of these “all too advanced” innovations, you find something more akin to vaporware. An AI solution only takes you as far as its creator’s ambition and talent.

Most buyers have done enough to see through that charade and it becomes problematic for anyone who latches on to the hot buzzword of the year. That’s not just bad marketing but it’s damaging to your organization if you do have a solution that actually has promise to impact organizations today.

Own the Present of Work

When I see an industry zig, I want a brave soul to zag. There are a lot of companies out there chasing the dragon that is the future of work. I saw companies talking about 2025 or 2030, just like they talked about 2010 and 2000 in years past. I don’t think I saw anyone talking about 2020, which is good since that’s a little over a year away.

I’d love to see a company that’s rooted in today with solutions for today. Some of those may not be sexy, but they may actually fix issues that exist right now. Ignore all the future proofing bullshit, after all, there is still a large contingent of buyers with software hosted on-premise.

And they are happy with it.

(That’s pretty weird)

Anyway, I’d love to get some organizations up to 2018. If I’m being realistic, I’ll take even 2015. There’s a market there that would be way more appealing than being just another buzzword has-been. Fixing problems of the present? That never goes out of style.

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An Underestimated Transition

Many people overestimate the impact of change on their lives. Me? I do the opposite. This time, I paid for it.

Photo by kyler trautner on Unsplash

Not-so-secretly, there’s a part of me that always wants to be moving. I like travel. I like the discomfort. I like living in new places. The other part of me wants to be sitting on the couch watching Star Trek: The Next Generation re-runs on Netflix. It’s a hard balance to maintain.

So five months ago, I embraced the former side. I packed all my shit and moved from rural Eastern Washington to the San Francisco Bay area.

Exciting, right? But wait, things are a little more complicated.

The Pieces Fall Into Place

Fourteen years ago, my then girlfriend (now wife) followed me from Pullman to Portland and Walla Walla. After we married, I followed her back to Portland, then to Seattle and Kennewick. It was my turn to have her follow me, I guess. If it was just us, it would just be another adventure.

Something happened in our stop in Kennewick, though. We sprouted a little one. We bought a house. We had a small community we relied on. We even gained a new cat. Maybe we were there for good? Okay, probably not but it wasn’t a bad spot to be.

Something did change, the most critical was that a job at my company’s San Francisco office was available and seemed like a good fit. Another critical change? My wife was ready for something… different. After a decade of 70+ hour fall weeks of wine harvest, who could blame her?

If only just a year-long hiatus from the craze, the timing couldn’t be better. Our daughter, now four and a combination of outlandish, shy, and adorable, wasn’t getting younger. The pieces were in place for a successful move, a rare one where the person coming behind doesn’t have to worry — at least in the short term.

In Theory

Logistically, everything came together fine. The timing couldn’t have been better for almost everyone. The relocation went smooth. Even when a tree fell on my car an hour before our movers were showing up with a trailer full of my stuff? My only thought was, “This is as bad as it will get.”

Screw this particular car

I was right. At least, in theory.

In reality, change was only just beginning. My daughter, used to 8 hours in a full preschool environment, turned into a very small wrecking machine when she stayed at home full time. She frayed my wife’s nerves to exhaustion.

For four years, I was the primary parent for my daughter. I worked from home, 10–20 minutes away from preschool. I shuttled her to appointments. I went to almost all school functions. My wife worked an hour away in a time intensive industry, so there was no real conflict about this arrangement. For however difficult my job can sometimes be, it was the more flexible of the two. If work spilled over to after bedtime, a glass of wine would usually guide me to the end of an extended work day.

My wife stepping into not just being the primary parent, but going from working full-time to watching your daughter full-time at age four? With no ramp up?

Four-year-olds are their own version of insane. My wife is a wonderful parent, but she was shifted into an entirely different role that is nearly impossible to prepare for. I won’t write on her behalf but even taking a temporary break from your career, even without the stress of a move and caring full-time for a kid, is no easy task. She’s handled it remarkably well.

What About Me?

In theory, everything is fine. The job is going great. San Francisco is as advertised. But reality is more complicated.

I miss the people I love, of course. Although we’ve moved a lot, we’ve never been as far away. That’s tough.

The part that surprised me is that I miss a lot of my old, boring daily life.

I didn’t realize how much I personally got out of ferrying my kid back and forth from preschool or just being there for silly little after school moments while cooking dinner. And I was damn good at it. We had such a solid routine and this kid really appreciates that. There were months where I would arrive back at home within about a ten minute window. I would schedule 8am meetings without hesitation. I loved being able to be at almost every dance class and negotiate every side trip to the playground, driving detour over the white cable bridge, or a walking spot on our way home.

All while belting out my favorite Frozen or Moana songs.

I did get lonely and I did miss the in-person camaraderie of an office. I hated traveling so frequently, especially from my crappy airport, which required at least a layover each way. I hated that my wife spent two hours on the road, in addition to the crazy hours. I didn’t like the amount of time our daughter spent in preschool.

It wasn’t perfect but I perfected it. Why did I need to change it?

Disrupted Perfection

Photo by Lance Haun

I don’t know if there is a moral to this story. I’ve always been happy to take risks and not wonder “what if.” I know what life would’ve been like if we had stayed. This has been a more difficult five months than those ones would’ve been.

Working with industries where disruption is often seen as a net positive, I can’t make a call on that with my own life disruption. At least, not yet. But even through some of the lower moments of the last few months, I’ve felt optimistic. I’ve looked up more than down. I’ve felt pain, but some of that pain is growth. It feels good in that way that change always feels good to me.

As I get accustomed to commuting and we prepare for a new preschool and the routines that brings, a new normal approaches.

That will feel good, at least for a little while. Then?

Well, I guess we’ll see.

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#CultureFirst: The Labels That We Share and Wear

“Pick three.”

I scanned a table full of one-inch buttons with different labels. It was supposed to be a lesson in being vulnerable and honest — getting beyond job titles to talk about ourselves. Most of the descriptions didn’t fit me: Religious, middle child, conservative, queer… So I picked a description that may be obvious at first glance (straight white male), one that is not so obvious (introvert — though I tend to be more of an ambivert), and one that might provoke a reaction (carnivore).

The second person I met in the morning was wearing a vegan button. Of course.

We introduced ourselves and both of us somewhat uncomfortably laughed about the carnivore button. It was a weird description: I mean, no human is actually carnivore. I certainly wasn’t, I was eating a scone and some fruit for breakfast.

I told her why I picked it: My family has been in the meat business for three generations. I told her about Walla Walla and what its idyllic pastures and landscapes looked like, cows grazing next to vineyards. Okay, I embellished a little. She told me about her own struggle with becoming a vegan and the challenge of living that way in the south. She loves it there, though.

I’ve had conversations like this at conferences before but they usually involved alcohol as a truth serum. This one was happening before a 9:00 a.m. keynote. All thanks to a label that I chose for myself and pinned to my lanyard.

That was my introduction to Culture First, the first major conference put on by Culture Amp. Culture Amp has been putting on many smaller meetups for years and cultivating a community of over 40,000 members through their People Geeks initiative.

I’ll be honest, at times it felt like I was transported back to WorkHuman, an event that Globoforce, another technology company in HR, runs. It’s heavy on thought leadership and community, less on product — at least on the main stage. It doesn’t look like a user conference that a tech company would run.

That’s not a bad thing.

The refreshing honesty of the Culture Amp team—a willingness to tell people where they’ve failed and where they’re unsure of the evolution in this strange category that they play in—is to me a sign of enlightenment instead of weakness. Other companies substitute a lack of crystal ball clarity about the future with empty bravado and false promises. Culture Amp told their story, laid out a vision that was humble and open to change if and when conditions shifted. It felt true and it wasn’t limited to just their product.

And employee engagement, culture, feedback: It’s all changing.

That brings me back to the buttons and labels.

Categories in any market sector are necessary. Sometimes, they are a necessary evil, especially as a segment changes or evolves.

Culture Amp today describes their product as an employee feedback software. That’s the label that they share and it’s really a category that fits the market today. If you know Culture Amp, you probably know about things like surveys and reporting and all of that other fun employee insights. They’ve told you this. The same way I would tell you about what I do or my job, or maybe even the city I live in. But in a few years, that label may change or shift— or buyers can expect something else entirely.

But in times of uncertainty and change, business leaders need to look past RFP checklists and product roadmaps. Here’s what I want to know as a buyer of any software in this category: Do these people get me and what I am trying to accomplish and do I get them and their approach to solving these issues? Those are the labels that every company wears. It’s rarely stated but always there. Culture Amp focused heavy on wearing their labels on their sleeve.

Is it an emotional connection? For sure. Can it feel irrational? Of course! However, it also manifests itself in the way tech companies design and prioritize product development and releases, or how they offer services surrounding their product. That part is tangible and very rational.

A day with Culture Amp helped me understand the labels they embrace that don’t always translate to marketing messages or product sheets. It gave me a peek into a nuanced worldview and vision of the future of work and engagement that’s rare. Engagement and culture doesn’t begin or end with their product. They’ve embraced their role as a key piece that every organization must solve: How do you understand and embrace the employee voices at your company?

The broader market category they play in, employee engagement, is changing rapidly. Culture Amp clearly has the technical pieces in place to compete and evolve into whatever this category will become. But they also have the, in the words of Patti McCord, spirit to compete. I have a point of view about those shifts as well that I’ll be sharing at InfluenceHR.

It also gave me insight into myself and even forced me out of my comfort zone, at least for a little bit. Even if it made me a little hungry and hyperaware of my need for space.

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Glassdoor’s Acquisition by Recruit Holdings is the Best Possible Outcome for Everyone

I haven’t always been positive on Glassdoor. I feel like their review system is problematic and that they aren’t really part of the employer branding ecosystem they desire to be. They may be a great job board with an interesting value proposition but that was it.

After their last round of funding in 2016, I predicted that they would be acquired or go for an IPO within 18 months. Glassdoor talked openly about preparing for the seemingly inevitable IPO.

I was off by a few months but that IPO will very likely never happen. Barring regulatory approval, Glassdoor will become part of Japan-based Recruit Holdings. The same company that owns Austin-based Indeed will add Glassdoor to its expanding portfolio of companies.

No Doom, No Gloom

I’m bullish on this deal for Glassdoor. I never felt like an IPO was inevitable because, as any observer knows, IPOs are particularly painful and risky. The level of regulatory and financial scrutiny is probably a little uncomfortable to a company that is as notoriously private as Glassdoor has been. A failed or withdrawn IPO is monumentally bad and there’s no way to control the story.

On the other hand, an acquisition is a deal that’s limited to a few players and a small army of lawyers. If an acquisition falls through, most will go unnoticed if they get out at all.

Rather than answering to shareholders who demand quarterly YOY growth, Glassdoor will be answering to Recruit Holdings. While growth is expected, they will be looking for long-term growth rather than the myopic, Wall Street version of short-term results.

Look to Indeed

One need to look no further than Indeed to see what Recruit Holding’s hands off approach can do. Indeed’s annual revenue is now eclipsing their acquisition price in 2012 (somewhere around a billion dollars). They’ve become one of the dominant brands in talent acquisition under their wing and they’ve vanquished the once powerhouses.

Indeed was even a bigger success story because they were largely bootstrapped before the acquisition. Glassdoor on the other hand took on about $200 million in venture funding.

None of that matters after the acquisition closes.

I expect Glassdoor to be around for a long time but I could see their business model shift. Maybe they lead more with the job board component. Maybe they make some technology acquisitions that gets them beyond reputation management.

These decisions will come deliberately, even if they involve some short-term growth challenges. That’s the beauty of answering to a conglomerate and not (direct) shareholders.

The Price is Right

The price of $1.2 billion (all cash) is probably right on the money, which is why this deal got done so quietly. It’s a good value for Recruit Holdings (Glassdoor was valued at around $860M-$1B after their last round of funding in 2016). Glassdoor investors likely get their piece and get a unicorn exit in their portfolios.

Was there a better time to do this for Glassdoor? Maybe. I don’t think they could’ve got this deal done in 2016 and their round of funding was clearly to buy time. Only Glassdoor knows if they could’ve done better but my guess is they couldn’t do it better by much.

What’s more exciting is getting more insight into the business and its workings. Recruit Holdings is a public company and the wealth of information on Indeed and its growth has been helpful in assessing the market. Seeing where Glassdoor fits in will be another useful piece of information for market observers and will ultimately tell us if Recruit Holdings made the right bet here.

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Hire by Google is the Actual Game Changer Recruiting Needs

Today, Google announced the launch of Hire, a new recruiting product that is built into G Suite, their enterprise productivity offering.

Unlike most recruiting product announcements, this one truly means something. Why?

First of all, Google is one of the largest software companies in the world (well, and one of the largest companies, period). They have a huge customer base and a large, recognizable brand. And they’ve made significant progress in the SMB market—they have over three million paying customers on G Suite in the U.S.

Nothing is a sure thing, but here are a few reasons I think this will be pretty great and one way it could fail:

1. The product looks pretty good out of the gates

I’m still waiting on a demo but this looks like an actual product. It’s way better than the typical small business ATS (an e-mail inbox) but it keeps the simplicity and familiarity of Google products.

Update (July 24, 2017): I got a demo of Hire today and it’s pretty complete. Not only that, it’s fully integrated with Gmail and Calendar, so it’s capturing a lot of that communication and scheduling natively. Hard to believe this product wasn’t public a couple weeks ago given its maturity.

I’ll be curious to see how it integrates with the Google for Jobs product launched just a couple of months ago.

2. Google already has access to their best possible customers

The SMB is criminally underserved by enterprise technology companies. They either try to screw them over with expensive, overly-complicated software suites or dumb it down too much with basic, hardly-worth-the-trouble systems.

A simplified, but powerfully integrated system that doesn’t require you to pay two different software bills is an advantage few companies have — having three million current paying customers is something almost nobody has outside of ADP.

3. Google wants to own the SMB enterprise

Google (and its parent company, Alphabet) get most of their revenues from ads. They must diversify and they see G Suite as one way to add steady, recurring revenue. They’ve found a niche serving small and medium-sized businesses with G Suite. Hire and applications like that (they are already working on collaboration with Jamboard, Meet and Hangouts and they even have instructions on how to set up time cards with Google Forms) can be a key factor in taking over a segment that has huge market potential. In fact, you add something like an HRIS and accounting software (perhaps like ZipBooks) and there wouldn’t be a lot you couldn’t run on Google’s cloud.

How it could fail: Low investment or interest from Google

Even with the tremendous potential of Hire and other enterprise products from Google, it still makes up an incredibly small proportion of their overall revenue. If they don’t get enough traction, they could eventually sunset it or reduce the offering significantly. When Google has done this in the past, they’ve given plenty of notice and have typically offered the data for easy-ish migration. No guarantee that happens here but that’s the same for almost anyone.

What’s next?

We’ll get to see how the market reacts to Hire in the coming months but if I owned a recruiting software firm that was aimed at a non-niche SMB buyer, I would be looking at how to differentiate our offering and retain our base of customers. There’s no reason to be scared, at least not yet, but I would be prepared for Google to push this. One thing to consider is if AdWords is still a major lead generation strategy, you might want to look at other options, given how easily Google could dominate both paid and organic search.