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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.

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Generation Lance


If you’ve been around marketing long enough, you hear something about generational differences once every few seconds. Ditto for HR.

There’s all kinds of studies that generally seem to separate our current population into six big groups of generations:

  • Greatest generation
  • Silent generation
  • Baby boomers
  • Gen X
  • Gen Y (or Millennials)
  • Gen Z

Lots of people have heard about these.

Now, there’s even more precise micro-generations. There’s Generation Jones, a sort of in between group of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.

There’s also now The Oregon Trail Generation, which is special because it covers when I was born, the cusp between Gen X and Y.

But you know, it’s not a perfect description of me. Yeah, it’s closer than Gen X or Gen Y but let’s really nail this.

I’m creating a micro-micro-generation that more accurately describes my qualities. I’m calling it Generation Lance. It’s a micro-generation of The Oregon Trail Generation which is a micro-generation on the cusps of Gen X and Gen Y.

How do you know if you’re in Generation Lance? It’s easy:

  • Born in late October in 1981 between 11:04 and 11:06 AM
  • Grew up in a small suburb and then moved to a bigger suburb of Portland, Oregon
  • Went to a state school that was about as far away from home as possible without leaving the state
  • Got married between 23 and 25, had a kid at 33
  • One cat
  • Homeowner with two TVs
  • Gym member but goes inconsistently
  • Works for a marketing agency after working in HR and writing
  • Most frequently reads Deadspin, Reddit, and Slate
  • Name is Lance Haun

I feel really confident in this profile I’ve built for my micro-micro-generation, but if you have more questions about it, I’m happy to do some consulting work for your organization for a few hundred dollars an hour. After identifying member(s) of this generation, I can help you build a more complete persona through surveys and personal interviews.

This is really the next big thing in marketing and HR. Get on this train now so you don’t miss it.

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O.C. Tanner and The Long Shift

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O.C. Tanner, one of the oldest HR providers, invited me to their first ever analyst day and told me I would have fun and maybe learn something. They were mostly right.

First, let’s back up a bit. Imagine being Microsoft over the last five years.

Incremental revenue from new computer sales continues to drop. Your popular Office productivity suite isn’t getting bought at the rate it used to and is facing stiffer competition.

Microsoft’s cash cow was slowly going away. What they ultimately need is a recurring revenue model that expands beyond the realm of consumer and business personal computers. And for the last few years, they’ve been the subject of ridicule for not being able to figure out “what’s next.”

It’s not like they’re the only ones. IBM continues to try to figure out a way forward, while casting out tens of thousands of people. Innovating is tough, especially when you’ve made so much money, for so long, doing what you do and become so good at it.

The point here for those companies still firmly entrenched in rewards and recognition is that there is a shift happening. Based on what I saw at the analyst day at O.C. Tanner’s headquarters, there seems to be a strong recognition of this reality but some trepidation about how to move forward.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • When it comes to revenue, O.C. Tanner believes they are the top dog in the rewards and recognition space. Other companies may have more revenue — like BI Worldwide or Maritz, but they only derive a small portion of their overall revenue from employee recognition.
  • They are putting that revenue back into innovating. We saw some interesting previews, especially on the wellness side of the equation. There’s uncertainty about how much they are funding the Tanner Labs portion of their business, though.
  • They’ve clearly invested in supply chain management and lean manufacturing, though. Their operation, located just south of downtown Salt Lake City, is something that was a big surprise to me. It shouldn’t have been, given Tanner’s legacy business.
  • They talked a lot about disrupting themselves, and I have no doubt they can, but there is a level of speed and agility that needs to be achieved in order to innovate in a way that isn’t disruptive to the long-term vision of their organization. I don’t think they are there quite yet.

Other analysts seemed baffled by the revenue numbers given by the folks at O.C. Tanner — as well as where exactly they fit in the scheme of HR technology. To be fair though, most tech analysts haven’t been following this space as closely as we have. There is still growth to be had, but the nature of that growth is changing.

The focus is really on engagement and turning employee engagement into serviceable business outcomes — performance, profitability, retention, etc… While trying to hit that target, they are also trying to hit a moving target of employee preferences.

The real question that needs to be answered is this: Can the same skills that drive the obviously great attention to supply chain and manufacturing management also drive a company where that advantage could slowly erode in favor of alternative rewards and a technology-driven recognition and engagement platform? If the backbone of the industry becomes that recognition and engagement component rather than reward fulfillment — which is where a vast majority of these companies pick up their revenue — what happens to O.C. Tanner?

The advantages for Tanner are also what might hold it back: Their legacy. A parade of decade-plus employees presented to us. Their strength and desire to keep fighting and be top dog in this space is clear, but they may need an infusion of new blood as well to challenge long-held assumptions and market behaviors.

Other quick notes:

  • They are going through a gigantic refresh of their facilities.
  • Their internal creative agency does some amazing work.
  • Their supply chain management beats most retailers.
  • The lean manufacturing capabilities really can’t be overstated. It is a pretty incredible site to see it integrated in with a white collar workforce.
  • Salt Lake City was actually pretty nice, and I ended the evening with some nice bourbon.
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Embracing Incremental Progress at #HRTechConf

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There’s a good chance that the next phone you’re going to buy is going to be a lot like the phone you currently have, regardless of how long you plan to keep it. The same is true for the solutions you see if you go to the conference for all things HCM and tech next month.

I’ve been to the HR Technology Conference my fair share of times over the course of the last few years. It is a top notch show. But if you’re coming to get your mind blown by something new, you should slow your roll.

I’m not getting too cynical here. At least, not yet. There is a lot of really neat, useful technology on show. Great ideas, too — about robots, AI, big data, and more. I can’t wait to see it.

We’ll hear practitioners talk about not just catching up but leaping ahead — arm in arm with the provider that ostensibly helped them get there. These are interesting stories. Sometimes.

I’ve spent the better part of the year talking to solution providers and digging into their customer base, across a spectrum of HCM solutions. You know what I learned?

HR is messy.

Just kidding, I knew that already. It was just reinforced in a big way.

There’s good news. We’re making progress in some areas. Budgets are generally either rising or staying even. There’s an appetite for change.

But there’s so much to change.

Research we did at The Starr Conspiracy in 2014 showed that most large organizations had at least three learning management systems. Talent acquisition organizations have even more solutions. One company I talked to had more than 30 across their large, global organization.

People talk about rip and replace but that simply doesn’t happen. Not if the initial system had any value.

Earlier this summer, we published our research on the employee engagement landscape. A major change is coming to HR technology, but I’m under no delusions that it’s going to be a swift change. A few organizations are taking the first steps, though.

The excitement in the major shifts in technology spreads longitudinally. Not across a few days, but across months and years. With blips of excitement — like when a conference like HR Tech comes around or a significant funding, acquisition, or customer implementation gets announced.

Embrace it. Love it. And if you’ll be there, drop me a line so we can connect.

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Encourage Jury Service


You want a simple way that HR can change the world? Encourage your employees to participate in jury duty.

I’m thinking about it this week because my wife got called into jury duty. Now, it’s inconvenient. Her work is ramping up for the busy season. I need to go out of town tomorrow.

The good thing is her work is understanding. She had previously postponed because she would’ve needed to reschedule two important trips.

There are a litany of articles out there about getting out of jury service, most of which are bullshit. As I was looking for a way to bail her out, I got to thinking about the times when coworkers or friends told me about getting out of jury duty because of work obligations or because their boss put pressure on them.

That’s too bad. If I ever got in trouble with the law, I’d want people like my wife on the jury. Busy, employed people are the types of people we need to serve on juries. The people that make smart decisions at work and are invaluable are also likely to be very capable jurors.

I don’t know if there is any way to measure the possible injustice that having a less capable jury in place results in. Maybe my assumptions are off and we’re doing just fine. But I don’t think it would hurt to have more people willing and able to serve on a jury.

Regardless of the possible legal ramifications of employers dissuading jury service or the ethical questions about duty, if HR wants to make a small mark on the world, don’t be an employer that tries to steer employees clear of jury service. A great employee can be a great contributor to our justice system.

I coincidentally also got called to serve on a jury earlier this year and had it postponed until December. If called, I do plan on serving for those same reasons.

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Repeat to Yourself: My Glassdoor Rating isn’t my Employer Brand

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No matter what anyone says, your Glassdoor rating isn’t your employer brand.

First of all, Glassdoor has some really smart marketers. They created a summit, which focuses on employer branding, and invested in the right speakers to make it one of the best events for people interested in the concept.

That doesn’t mean Glassdoor is actually a solution to employer brand woes, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

The company, which is winding down the level of financing they can obtain (they are on their Series H, which puts them at 200M raised and an estimated value of just under a billion dollars), needs to find a buyer or go public. In the next 18 months, it seems like a pretty safe bet that they are part of a company or they are going to drop an IPO.

For most organizations, the niche that Glassdoor serves doesn’t have a line item on a budget sheet outside of job postings. And the site thus far has done just that, subsisting on job advertisements and on-site reputation management through premium employer accounts. That’s nice, and the latter is unique, but it doesn’t really make them part of any solution that doesn’t involve solving problems that Glassdoor created (or, at least, illuminated).

But for large organizations, employer branding is a line item on a budget sheet. Granted, we’re probably talking good portion of the top 5,000ish companies but there’s a real need there.

But is Glassdoor an essential (or even a significant part) of most company’s employer brand efforts? With few exceptions, I’d say no. At least, not today. If you have a dedicated employer brand function, you only get an upgraded account if the price is really right.

I think there are two primary problems, both of which will be tough to fix.

1. Glassdoor Isn’t Yelp for employers

I really like Yelp (and TripAdvisor, and Amazon reviews, and any number of rating sites that Glassdoor has alternatively fashioned themselves after). When I travel, I use it to find great restaurants and it rarely steers me wrong.

Why Yelp (and consumer rating sites in general) works is that people eat out a lot. Before we had a kid, we would go out several times a week. Even now, we’ll go out a few times a month. Over a few years, you will start to find norms about the dining experience taking shape. Capture those normalized experiences in aggregate and you’ll know why Yelp works so well, at least as a restaurant rating site.

Compare getting dozens of sample points from different restaurants every year to your career. Now me, I feel like I’ve changed jobs more frequently than most people I know. I’ve had four proper jobs in the last ten years. Four experiences, over a decade? How can I insert any level of context or normalization into that equation? Most of us don’t have enough variety of employment experiences to give an accurate, comparative rating.

The risk factor is huge as well. Changing jobs is a disruptive event. If Yelp steers me wrong, I get a bad meal. Glassdoor? The consequences are on a completely different level.

Those aren’t the only problem.

For companies under a couple hundred people, which make up a vast majority of the employers in the U.S., the sample size is going to be too small to be of any value. Of course, Glassdoor won’t tell you that there’s a serious problem in drawing any conclusion about the employee experience from three reviews of a 100-person company. They hope you’ll look at it the same as you would a Yelp restaurant that only has a handful of reviews.

Well, what about large organizations?

It seems like it would be more reliable and maybe it is. They only have three aggregate measures that a prospective employee can look at: Recommend to a friend, CEO rating, and overall score. So when you read through a company profile like Amazon’s, nobody is going to hit 6,000+ reviews and the filtering capability seems pretty crude at this point. I’m more likely to look at the coverage from Amazon’s feature in The New York Times than anything I’ll get from Glassdoor.

In fact, it would be tough to imagine any case where I would consider a company’s Glassdoor reviews without a massive grain of salt. As a prospective employee, if I sit down and think about all of the shortcomings of anonymous employer reviews, it would be difficult to make the case that it should be any serious part of my consideration.

2. Reputation Management isn’t Enough

So, that just addresses what prospective employees care about. What about employers?

Large organizations that Glassdoor should be targeting are investing money in employer branding. Many of them run them through marketing while others do it as a standalone department in talent acquisition or human resources. Many of these companies invest their resources into branding activities that should be familiar to anyone in marketing — from traditional advertising, events, and in more innovative ways to reach prospects in the digital space.

If we’re using the Yelp example, large, formal dining chains do have internal initiatives to respond and improve their experience based on the reviews. There are people that are paid to respond to one-star reviews, offer comps and discounts, and, in general, be responsive to these types of sites. For most organizations, that falls under the auspices of a customer service department and their budget, at best, is a fraction of their overall marketing spend.

Right now, most — if not all — of the analytics and tools Glassdoor provides is for managing your presence and reputation on their site. That might be enough to bring in clients, but I don’t think that’s an attractive business to acquire or invest in for a long-term play outside of someone like LinkedIn — at least before they were acquired by Microsoft.

There’s an opportunity for Glassdoor to do more. Combining managing reputation with analytics that measure employer sentiment from data sources outside of Glassdoor would be a smart first step. Acquiring or building technology that allows for more granular brand management, especially as it relates to social is another avenue. Bringing in referral tools would be another opportunity, as would taking the approach of the Smashfly’s of the tech world and embracing the marketing role of talent acquisition with tools that are helpful across candidate marketing landscape.

That stuff may be in the cards. I haven’t taken a briefing with Glassdoor since I was with ERE and they hold their cards close when they do talk, especially about future plans.

* * * * *

Beyond the marketing hype and their PR brilliance is the truth: Glassdoor doesn’t have the right platform to address the key challenges facing employer brands. At least, not today. The score that some obsess about is largely irrelevant to a large majority of companies and job seekers.

That’s without mentioning things that always seem to come up in discussions with talent acquisition pros about Glassdoor, like gaming the review system, fake reviews from former employees and competitors, or Glassdoor’s incentive to properly moderate either one of these when review volume is so important to their business. These are all charges that Glassdoor always denies and there seems to be no hard evidence to the contrary. Not yet, at least.

Today, Glassdoor is a dissatisfied, largely former employee resolution solution and an okay job board, looking for a bigger problem to solve. And for once, I’ll say it: It’s not about marketing this time, it’s about product.

Maybe we’ll see the potential of Glassdoor at some point. Maybe they’ll turn into just another recruiting product pivot down the road when they need to actually start making money. I don’t know. But tooling along with what they are today isn’t going to cut it.

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Every 2016 Prediction for HR Will Be Wrong

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Every year, around this time, people look back at what happened in the past year and ahead to the next. In human resources, it’s no different. Anybody who’s written for public consumption for a couple of years has done it.

This past year, I spent a lot of time listening. Way more time listening than I did writing, for this blog or anywhere else. And as I read through listicles about what 2016 looks like for HR, you should know one thing:

Not a single one of them will come true.

HR isn’t a monolithic entity. This isn’t like picking the winner of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign (though, you might agree that we’ll probably all be losers, no matter the outcome). Let’s take a look at some quick numbers that support this point.

First of all, there are over 18,000 companies with 500 or more employees in the U.S. That’s at least 18,000 versions of HR, and for most organizations, there’s probably many disparities across locations and departments. Those 18k firms represent about half of the employment in the U.S.

The other half are the more than five million firms with less than 500 employees (but more than one). While 99% of companies with 500 or more employees have an HR department, many smaller firms don’t have a formal HR function. Frankly, most of them don’t need it. You can get what you need from some combination of outsourcing, technology, and decent management. The HR experience for those people are varied, from the literal worst to the literal best.

HR that is that big and that varied moves forward in the span of decades, not single years. In the largest organizations, which house the largest group of and most active HR professionals, a single change management initiative will take months at minimum and years, especially if it’s a large change. Its full impact might not be felt for five or more years.

That makes some predictions, like what HR will look like in 2020, seem nearly optimistic at this point. If you’re a large, 500+ person organization that’s behind the curve on major talent management or technology initiatives, 2020 isn’t going to happen. That’s four years away.

Even the biggest legislative change in the last decade, the Affordable Care Act, didn’t change much for the largest organizations and allowed smaller organizations years to get their ducks in a row to comply. Only now, going into 2016, will the smallest organizations come under more difficult and onerous rules for tracking and maintaining employer-provided insurance.

Outside of government induced change though, most changes in HR are slow. Even talent acquisition, which prides itself of being faster and more ahead of the curve than their HR brethren don’t change as fast as they’d like. Take a look at a decades worth of change in CareerXroads Source of Hire Report:

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Source: CareerXroads 2004 Source of Hire Report

Sure, there’s been some changes. Referrals have gone down, direct sourcing and agency usage has gone up. Newspapers have all but disappeared and some of the sites have changed. But this, the leading edge of the people management function, has been slow to change too. Again, this is a decade’s worth of movement too.

The biggest paradigm shifting change to both recruiting and HR on the technology front — the internet — took more than a decade to take hold. It still waits on the wings in some organizations that are holding on to the last throes of their non-cloud, non-SaaS based software. Mobile and social are natural extensions of this paradigm shift that will take years to take hold within HR.

In 2016, some companies will take big leaps forward but most will not. Many more companies will take baby steps forward or backward. For observers of HR as a massive, living entity, it will feel like things are standing still if you look at it through the lens of 366 days — we do get that extra day in 2016, lucky us. But exciting things are happening if you focus in on slivers of our little HR world.

When we focus on what [won’t] happen in 2016, we miss the bigger story: If you want to be part of an HR team that is doing interesting and progressive work, you can. Even if you’re not setting the world on fire or sparking a revolution that will consume HR, you can make an impact on thousands of people.

In 2016, my hope is that we’ll spend less time talking about the inevitable march to the cloud or cool tools and more about the people making the changes necessary that will show up in the bottom line three years from now. Don’t talk about technology without talking about the people who have to see it through and make it work. Those people have a vision that goes beyond 2016 — and that’s a good thing for everyone.

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#HootHROS and Why Best Practices are Broken in HR


When I started in corporate HR, I was pretty lost. I leaned heavily on my manager, a network of local practitioners I established quickly, a scattered, online group of talent professionals, and every resource I could find to read. It was haphazard and the phrase, “fake it till you make it,” rang through my ears loud and clear on my walk or ride home from work.

It was a different time. One that we shouldn’t have to repeat again.

Yet, time and time again, HR practitioners are starting the same things over again. They search forums and blog posts for things like:

  • How can we recruit better people?
  • Alternatives to traditional training
  • Choosing a talent management system

What they get bombarded with are best practices, case studies, and other pieces of content — some more helpful than others.

How do you engage top talent? How do you increase learning in your organization? Follow these tips and you’ll be successful, they promise.

These resources might be okay. If you downloaded one I wrote, it probably kicked ass. I can’t vouch for anybody else, though.

But the limitation of best practices is that it doesn’t give you a true view of the problem, process, and solution (or especially, failure). It drops a problem and solution in your lap and let’s you figure out how to make it work.

That’s why I’m excited for HootSuite’s Open Source HR project. The Vancouver-based social media management technology provider is just up the road from me. The initiative is being driven by Hootsuite’s VP of talent, Ambrosia Humphrey and Amplify Talent’s founder, Lars Schmidt. Here’s an excerpt from what they say in their post announcing the initiative:

Over the coming months, we’re going to be experimenting with new approaches and platforms, like Periscope, and sharing ‘behind the scenes’ look at things — including how projects came together, how we executed the ideas, the intended outcomes and actual outcomes with metrics, what we got wrong, and what we learned.

If you know me, you probably know the part that I’m excited for: what they got wrong.

That’s not because I think it’s going to fail, either. Instead, I think sharing failures is something that best practices and case studies nearly always omit — and hopefully, how Hootsuite Open Source HR will be different.

You see, everyone reads a sanitized and simplified case study — or listens in on a conference session or webinar — from an organization that apparently went through some sort of change management initiative without any issues whatsoever and doubt creeps into their minds.

It’s bullshit, of course.

Normal people in HR who don’t have magical abilities to implement new ideas with little issue wonder what they’re doing wrong, why change is so tough, and if they should just give up. Unless you’ve been through it yourself, you never know about all of the warts that pop up when you’re bringing new technologies, processes, or ideas to the table.

Talk with someone like Mark Stelzner at IA for 15 minutes and you’ll understand the challenges that a lot of organizations face during change become strikingly similar when they are boiled down into core issues.

My hope for Hootsuite’s project is that there will be some moments that seem very familiar for anyone looking to innovate in HR: the good, the bad, and the “could be better but it worked.” Mostly though, I hope that at least one HR person doesn’t have to start from scratch and can iterate and improve on what Hootsuite is doing.

That’s what open source is all about and what HR should be all about. You can follow all of the action using the #HootHROS hashtag.

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Apple Watch and the Enterprise: Oh, God. This is Kinda Dumb.


I’ve been reading a lot about the new Apple Watch. As a consumer, it is an interesting device. Not one I’m going to get anytime soon but interesting, okay? I’ve done the smartwatch thing with the crowdfunded Pebble. It was cool. I liked having RunKeeper on my wrist, for instance. But the novelty of getting notifications and even responding to texts on a watch got old.

That’s also to say that I’m not really a watch person. I know some people are, though. Apple will probably sell a lot of them, but I’m not sure what the long term uptake on this new technology will be. I’m doubtful, overall.

What I’m less doubtful about is how all of these articles about how Apple Watch will change the enterprise are going to sound kind of silly a year from now.

Look, there are some interesting use cases for Apple Watch for the enterprise outside of communication and notifications that simply move from your phone to your wrist. In HR, upstart BetterWorks is releasing an app (though I’m a little more interested in their hire from Apple than their product for the wrist) and Salesforce has something going live, as well.

But wearable technology has been around for awhile and the broader market will continue to grow and define itself. I’m just not sure it will be through expansive apps on a 4 cm watch face.

The hysteria around Apple Watch in particular is more about protecting what’s left of enterprise tech press. They missed the boat on what smartphones and tablets would do in the workplace, and approached BYOD from a CIO’s perspective instead of a CEO’s perspective.

That being said, an organization’s Apple Watch strategy should probably be behind figuring out why all of your other enterprise technology is so screwed up. Once you figure that out, as well as figuring out mobile and tablet access, then you can think about watches. From my seat though, few companies have that luxury. The Apple Watch is a nice, shiny object you can foist attention onto instead of any of the real problems you should probably try to fix first. Which is to say, your employees likely want you to fix a broken learning and development system or fix employee self-service than focus on a niche product that won’t even work on a majority of smartphones out there today.

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Finding “A” Talent is Overrated

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I just got back from NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. For those not in the know, it’s a time when rookies and those looking to make a team’s 15-man roster come to play for almost two weeks in scrimmages. The event is small and fairly inside. It was my second year going with the guys from The 8 Man Rotation.

The biggest names in the NBA aren’t there. There was no LeBron James. Nor was there Kevin Durant. Instead, you had rookies getting their first taste of team action and free agents and walk on’s looking for a shot at riding the end of the bench (or just making the roster) because there is usually better money in trying to make it work in the NBA than going overseas.

The basketball can be ugly at times and while these are — by any objective measure — some of the best basketball players in the world, most of them are not the top players in the league and a vast majority won’t see significant time as even a starter.

It got me thinking a lot about this pursuit for top talent. Everybody wants “A” players. Any team in the league would’ve welcomed James onto their team this offseason (yes, even the Spurs). With the collective bargaining agreement with the NBA Players Association in place, any team that signs him gets a great deal. There are only a handful of players like him ever, much less playing at any given time.

For the 26–28 teams a year that can’t snag a once a decade player like James or Durant, they figure out ways to remain competitive. Most teams have a great player or two, a few good ones, and then a long tail of flawed players in one way or another.

You take a look at the San Antonio Spurs and you see that method. Tim Duncan may be the best power forward to play the game but he wasn’t the best power forward this year. You see a lot of players who are great to good to flawed, in one way or another. You look at Miami’s successful title runs and see the same line of players. Some great. Some not-so-great.

Identifying the top players in the NBA is easy. If you have the salary and they have the desire to join your team, you make it happen. Convincing them to come to your team over the 29 other options? I’ll give you that.

But no team wins on top talent alone. The Spurs had nine guys who averaged at least 19 minutes game over the full season last year. There are probably a few names a casual fan wouldn’t recognize in that list too: Belinelli, Splitter, Diaw, and Mills.

These aren’t the top players in the league. They are good role players, with some great strengths and some significant weaknesses. And they were available within the budget they had to work with.

While everyone will talk about the stars in the NBA, especially when it comes to winning a championship, what it really comes down to is who can step up from your supporting cast. Even the best and most fit players need to spend time off the court. Who can give you those 10–15 minutes off the bench every night and keep you in a tight game in Memphis on a Tuesday night in January?

The difference between good teams and great teams is that talent identification didn’t end with just figuring out who can be your “A” talent. They went down the line and looked at who best fit in “B” or even “C” roles on the team. Every team has a budget they need to stay in and you can’t fit more than two or three top paid players on your team. With five guys as starters and at least three regular rotation players, that means every team out there is playing a lot of non-top talent night after night.

You won’t see their highlights on SportsCenter. Their contribution is critical, though. And smart teams have spent time and significant money finding better ways to identify who will be the role players and backup talent needed to win.

When you’re talking about the “War for Talent” and hunting purple squirrels, just remember one thing: successful hiring is more than just finding the best talent, it’s about finding the right talent, for the right price, that fits with the current skill set of the organization. Anybody should be able to identify the best and if you have the budget to afford hiring the best in every position, you are welcome to try.

Smart teams make strategic moves to find the right A, B, and C talent to fill a roster without going over their cap. The best ones can spot B and C talent and knows where they fit in. Let your competitors figure out where they can find a LeBron James of your industry, while you figure out how to fill your team with solid contributors who can make a difference at the right price.