LinkedIn and the power of networks

it's not the students that keep us young, it's all the stairs
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it's not the students that keep us young, it's all the stairs

I used to think of LinkedIn as a boring but worthy social network for business contacts. But I was wrong.

Over the years it has become a critical B2B social network, with multi-million dollar deals often being done via the platform.

LinkedIn has also disrupted the recruitment business and reshaped the way people find jobs. It changed the power dynamic in recruitment by enabling the jobs to find people. Clever recruiters embraced LinkedIn early. The rest clung to their clunky old proprietary resume databases.

With the recent acquisition of Lynda.com, the reach of LinkedIn looks like growing into training and education. This is a more interesting play than MOOCs from an education perspective.

Remembering my LinkedIn story

Last night I caught up with a longstanding buddy, Des Walsh, as he visited Sydney. Des is a doyen of social media in Australia, as well as being a passionate networker and executive coach.

As we chatted I finally remembered to tell him the story of how one of his ideas helped me to get a great job.

LinkedIn ’30 day blitz’

Back in late 2012 Des contacted a diverse bunch of folks who were active on social media, noting that LinkedIn was our ‘orphan’ social network. He was right, most of us were enamoured with other sexier social media platforms. We were all members of LinkedIn, but at that time none of us were particularly active there, nor were our profiles up to date.

Des setup a social network challenge for November 2012, rounding up a diverse group to take part in a month of LinkedIn activity.

The concept was simple – “A collaborative project, in which each participant commits to take action on his/her LinkedIn presence and activity, over a 30 day period.” – 30 Day Linking Blitz.

I signed up for the blitz, and started with updating my LinkedIn profile with previous work and a decent profile picture.

The results were immediate

Almost immediately after that I was contacted by a recruiter. The recruiter had been trying for almost a year to find a candidate for a role that called for a diverse mix of skills. She explained that my name had popped up in her LinkedIn search that morning.

The rest is history. I interviewed for the role at UNSW Australia, where I’ve been working happily since then. All thanks to Des and his 30 Day LinkedIn Blitz.

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Business plan – ultimate waste of time or absolute necessity? #startups

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There is an enormous amount of information and advice about creating a business plan for one’s startup.

The advice ranges from the necessity to prepare a traditional narrative form business plan document, to preparing a business model canvas, or using a business planning tool or app.

There are even notions like the idea-less startup, where the team is formed before the startup idea comes together.

No business plan at all is not a good idea

While the consensus nowadays seems to be that shorter business plans are better, some folks even argue that preparing a business plan is a complete waste of time. Others who argue that business plans are a waste of time suggest:

“Throw your business plan in the recycling bin. Instead, focus on your team and on getting to market as quickly as you can.”

What a business needs to think about

That notion of no business plan is all very well. But a new business does need to consider things that are traditionally covered in a business plan, such as:

  • Business purpose – the purpose for which the business exists (some like to include mission and/or vision); what makes the business and its products special or different
  • Markets in which the business will operate – including competitors, geography, since these inform operational matters such as logistics and distribution
  • Sales – how the business will make money, as Guy Kawasaki said recently during his visit to Canva in Sydney: “Sales fix everything“, also need to consider pricing and distribution
  • Business finances – funding sources, financial projections including operating costs and revenue; how the business will make money
  • Business structure – incorporation, board and directors
  • Management and ownership – who will manage the business operations, who owns what and what obligations are to be fulfilled
  • Key personnel – people required to run the business, either contract or staff positions
  • Products or services, innovation, and intellectual property – including how the product will be developed and brought to market
  • Insurance and risk management
  • Legal considerations
  • Business operations – how the business will manage production, logistics, distribution, customer service, sales, accounting, bookkeeping, statutory requirements, etc

If these types of information are not written down it is hard to ensure that all participants share a common understanding.

Quick approaches to business planning

My approach to business planning is to do it in stages, with each stage focused on checking the team’s current understanding of key issues, risks, and obtaining agreement as to sensible next steps.

Lean business model canvas

A good way to start the planning process is to use a lean business model canvas to get the team thinking about the key issues for the business. If the team cannot answer the questions posed in this document then it is a clear risk signifier for the project.

Once agreement is reached on the high level information in the lean business canvas it is a good checkpoint for the team. The canvas also provides a helpful artefact for sharing with potential collaborators and investors. It is a useful way to assess the viability of the business idea.

More detailed planning

For the preparation of the next level of detailed business plan I had traditionally used the narrative form document with charts and tables. However, recently Avis Mulhall put me onto a business planning tool called Live Plan. I’m now a total convert to this approach (please note that I have no affiliation with Live Plan, just find it a very handy tool).

This kind of tool asks the right questions and enables the team to prepare a good looking presentation document that includes sensible categories of information.

This more detailed plan provides another useful artefact for sharing with potential collaborators and investors.

Quick business planning

For a few startups I’m working with, the teams went through the entire planning process outlined above – including lean canvas and detailed business plan – in a single day.

The business planning process does not have to be onerous.

Business planning at its best

At its best, business planning is about the team asking sensible questions about:

  • how the business will work,
  • how it will find and keep happy customers,
  • how it will make money,
  • how the risks will be mitigated,
  • and how the rewards for success will be shared among the founders and investors.
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What is the future of work? Zero hours, surveillance, robots and the jobs free future

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The future of work has been on my mind a lot over the past few years. It seems  that the future of jobs is bleak in a number of ways. For example, zero hours, surveillance, and robots are on the horizon for many workers. This is all part of what I’ve come to call the ‘jobs free future’.

This post about the future of work was originally inspired by Marissa Mayer’s pronouncement in early 2013 banning work from home at Yahoo!. The ever-present drives for efficiency and lower costs mean that businesses are changing the way we work, and they are also changing the way that we are contracted to work.

Digital Panopticon

Increasingly we live in a digital panopticon and technologies like CCTV, drones and the internet of things are emerging and merging to provide mechanisms for better and more omnipresent surveillance of  people in all aspects of their daily life. When we add this growth in surveillance to other factors, such as a shift  to lower economic growth rates and changes in the traditional twentieth century employment contract, for example the introduction of zero hours contracts, then things are really becoming quite different for workers.

Higher Skilled Jobs Disappearing

Headlines like “Cisco to cut 4,000 jobs” have become a regular sight and it is clear that it is no longer only low skilled or manufacturing jobs that are disappearing. The jobs that are going are increasingly higher skilled and middle class roles. Thus while “Robot Serves up 360 Hamburgers per Hour” is an example of the disappearance of low skilled jobs, we can also see automation impacting other industries. The young woman who used to hand back my dry cleaning is gone now, replaced by a large red machine that dispenses my laundry with nary a snide remark, and it gives a 20% discount too.

the future of workLaw is one good example of an industry that is beginning to be disrupted. The first phase is shipping expensive western jobs to lower cost geographic regions, thus legal process work is being outsourced to places like India or the Philippines. This is removing the entry level jobs that law school graduates once used to get a step up on the rungs of their new career. The next phase is automation of other legal processes within law offices, for instance adoption of legal decision support systems. Thus firms will require fewer more senior personnel and hardly any of the para-legal personnel they once required. All of this will be framed as ‘efficiency’ gains for the business. But what it really translates into is a substantial reduction workers required in the legal industry. A consistent pattern across all industries is the implementation of solutions that take human workers out of the business process and replace them with machines.

This automation trend started with the early days of computers and has gathered pace as artificial intelligence technology became a commodity and internet connectivity became ubiquitous. Typically, if a business cannot remove the human workers by means of technology, then they will shift the jobs to the lowest cost region. Thus, at best, we are seeing a downward pressure on wages and salaries, and at worst complete removal of jobs from the global economy.

Casualization of the Workforce

Many new businesses or startups rely upon outsourcing to reduce costs. This means that where once a new business would create a number of jobs at various levels they now use platforms like Air Tasker or Task Rabbit. With the adoption of these tactics by businesses there is increased casualization of the workforce. This casualization of the workforce removes the notion of job security that enables workers to plan effectively for their future by getting a mortgage or affording health insurance. Casualization of the workforce shifts the buying power of workers from the current pattern, where they are good risks for lending by banks due to their regular pay cheques, to poor risks. These shifts in spending power of the workforce will have impact on industries like retail and telecommunications.

In the US the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that “A Jobless Recovery Is a Phony [sic] Recovery. More people have left the workforce than got a new job during the recovery—by a factor of nearly three”. Further WSJ noted that “Long-Term Jobless Left Out of the Recovery. Despite Improving Economy, Prospects Are Bleak for Millions of Unemployed”.

Real Jobs for Real People?

In Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), there are approximately 140,000 job vacancies as at November 2013. And in December 2013 the ABS reported that unemployment increased to 716,000 while the unemployment rate remained steady at 5.8%. Given these numbers it is unlikely that getting the unemployed into education or training is going to help very much unless the job supply is increased substantially. Perhaps they can all become entrepreneurs and start micro-businesses?

If this is where Australia sits regarding unemployment when coming out of a mining boom, with a Triple A credit rating and having successfully negotiated the global financial crisis,  then is does not presage well for the future. The mining boom is winding down and jobs will disappear in that industry anyway due to automation (as reported by the University of Queensland).

Australia is on the cusp of a dilemma. We face an ageing population that is about to put substantial pressure on the welfare budget, reduced traditional employment opportunities for both low and higher skilled workers, and the end of a jobs-rich mining boom. Heavy industrial manufacturing is all but dead in Australia, and the car industry  is dying too. This is clearly demonstrated by the recent exit of Holden leaving Toyota as the last remaining Australian car manufacturer (and even Toyota is likely to exit the market over the next few years). Then there will likely follow the demise of car component manufacturing in Australia too, unless the component manufacturers can find other markets.

Traditionally construction and retail picked up the slack in the Australian economy during lulls in mining booms. However,  the continuing weak performance of Australian retail makes it an unlikely contender for jobs saviour.  And while we are seeing construction increase as the mining boom eases, neither industry is likely to have the capacity to fill the increasingly large gap between the number of available workers and suitable jobs. This issue is reflected by the markets in lower currency rates based on weak jobs data. And a lowering of the currency, while helpful for export driven sectors, reduces consumer purchasing power to support the retail and housing markets.

The Future of Work?

There are no obvious replacement industries to fill the gap left in the traditional jobs market in any of the western countries. We are facing enormous structural change,  and there is an emerging crisis. What is to be done about a post-jobs future? I wonder who in the Government and Opposition is thinking about these issues? It seems kind of important.

Disclosure: For a considerable part of my career I worked on large scale operational efficiency and innovation projects that removed workers from business processes and implemented process automation; where that was not possible work was typically outsourced to lower cost regions.

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A new year and a new theme: balance

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Yoga Porn in Swamp - Tree Pose via catwommn
Photo courtesy of catwommn

I don’t do new year’s resolutions since they’re usually a flop by early in the new year. Instead, I pick a theme that will inform my thinking and behaviour (hopefully in positive ways) for the year.

I’ve been thinking a lot about balance over the past few months. And as we start a new year it seems appropriate to adopt balance as my theme for 2014.

Perhaps this is inspired by focusing on balance during the recovery from a nasty ankle sprain in late 2012? Or perhaps it is all the discussion, that still continues, of work-life balance?

The notion of work-life balance has always been problematic for me.  This is mainly because it puts work before life, and also because I don’t seem to be able to find a way to do it. Many interpretations of work-life balance seem to assume equal time for each. And this seems like an impossible task.

While rehabilitating my ankle it became clear that balance is not necessarily standing still,  perfectly balanced like in the yoga tree pose (or vriksasana). But rather balance consists of making constant adjustments, some very tiny and others large, to maintain that balance.

Of course, the initial step is working out what balance looks and feels like.

This is year is going to be the time for identifying what adjustments need to be made for balance in my life. To make space for living a meaningful and productive life with good relationships and space to enjoy the world.

It seems that to achieve those goals the first thing that needs to go is anxiety, and the second thing that needs to go is the phrase “I have to”.

I suspect that other words and unconscious thought-patterns that currently shape my thinking and behaviour will also have to go. It will be interesting to work out what they are.

 

 

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Social Media – the US Army gets it

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Most organisations are grappling with the digital revolution and its democratization of communication. The US Army is no different.

However, they have met the organisational challenges of social media head on and have become an acknowledged leader in practice. They along with other parts of the US military – such as the US Air Force – have invested resources in adopting, using and benefiting from this digital revolution.

It is interesting that so many civilian organisations are still ignoring the potential benefits of the digital revolution while government and military adopt it so readily.

The US Army has updated their Social Media Handbook for 2011 and it’s available on slideshare as well as embedded below.

It’s worth a read no matter what stage of adoption your organisation is at – it gives some good ideas about how to communicate with people about how an organisation can use social media.

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What do you work for?

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Had an interesting conversation with some friends recently and it got me thinking about what we work for.

In Western societies many of us work, in addition to money and sustenance, for self-actualisation (in a Maslowian sense).

Many of us pick work that is meaningful to us and which meets our aspirations. But many also toil away in work that has no significance beyond a steady paycheck.

In the past, for most of us, our toil was over by the time we had reached 40 years of age. As Hobbes said of life in his day: “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

But for many of us life is no longer like that. Instead we face long lives of comfort and ease. And this very longevity calls us to a different approach to life. As C. S. Lewis noted: “How incessant and great are the ills with which a prolonged old age is replete.”

Since mere survival is not the only thing we face in modern society, it is worth questioning what we work for over the course of our life.

What regrets will we ponder as, in old age, we face the end of this life? What things should we do now to minimise those regrets?

Will it be too much work that we regret? Will it be that we made too much money? Or will it be the human experiences of joy and sorrow that we missed, the relationships that slipped through our fingers while we toiled?

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Reasonable Hours of Work in the ICT Industry

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A friend who works in IT support (for a very large and well known IT industry multi national doing security patching and stuff) just phoned me because his boss wants him to work overnight to do a release and then to front up to work again early tomorrow morning. This is not the first time his supervisor has asked this, and not the first time that I’ve heard this type of story. It even happened to me when I was younger and working in tech support roles.

These demands to work unreasonable hours make the ICT industry unattractive to work in. What is very sad is that this company has won awards for its diversity policies and its website raves about the programs that support work-life balance. Again, where is the congruence between the values articulated by the organization and the values it demonstrates towards the human beings that provide labour?

Of course, none of the fabulous diversity programs for work-life balance apply if you are contractor or a casual employee. My friend, who is a good tech support geek, is now thinking about retraining and leaving the IT industry for something with a more human friendly approach. While I generally do not support union campaigns this one does seem reasonable (no pun intended):

The Australian Council of Trades Unions is running a campaign for Reasonable Hours:

“The ACTU Reasonable Hours campaign aims to raise awareness about the effects of long working hours. ACTU research into workplace issues has found that long hours and the increasing intensification of work is the overwhelming primary concern of workers. For much of the last century Australia lead the world in fair working time. But in 1980 Australia started to buck the international trend and hours began to grow. Currently, Australia has the second longest working hours in the OECD. On current trends we will soon have the longest. It is a sad irony that Australia now has one of the worst records in the world. It is time to once again civilize working time.”

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More on Bullies @ work

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Recently I posted on bullies @ work & made some fairly harsh comments about a colleague who had been doing this sort of thing often and openly. The other day I actually had some time to talk with this person and discovered that they had been going through a very difficult time at work. It seems that the behaviour I was seeing was a reflection of the behaviour that was being displayed by this person’s own superior. Also the other day I was under a lot of pressure from senior management and was very snappy with a few of my own team members. This really got me thinking that bullying is not just an incident – it is really a culture.

The nature of bullying is that it is tied to the power relations of a workplace. These are still essentially hierarchical (in spite of what organisational management theorists would have use believe). Further, the threat of job loss or downsizing means many people operate in a fearful way. All of this goes towards making bullying almost inevitable.

What can people do about this? How can people low down on the food chain make it stop? I do not have the answer, but many folk I know are going out on their own to escape. It is definitely one response. But those of us in management positions have to ask ourselves do we want to leave the world of work just as dysfunctional when we leave it as when we arrived?

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Bullies @ work

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I am getting really tired of bullying in the workplace. I’ve worked in many places – being in info tech I change jobs every two years – and the bullies are mainly babyboomer men (there do not seem to be many women bullies where I’ve worked).

At the moment there is someone who is in a hierarchically superior position in the workplace and who screams at people for real or imagined infractions, and calls them stupid in front of the entire office. The strange thing is everyone is letting this person continue acting like this! I seem to be the only person who thinks this is wrong behaviour that must be stopped.

One thing I know is that a lot of people are thinking about leaving their jobs because of this one person. Strangely enough all it takes is this bully’s own manager to speak up that this behaviour is not acceptable.

Why is it that management can be simultaneously running programs to make this a better place to work but still let this guy abuse and emotionally destroy people, tearing them apart verbally. They do not seem to perceive that their rhetoric is not balanced with action.

In short, people in this company are not modeling the behaviours they are articulating in their values. We can see what is happening and it is undermining all the good work. What good are corporate values if staff are crying in the toilets due to a workplace bully who is part of the management?

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Olympics – two sides of the same coin …

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Picture two different women competing in the Australian team at the recent Athens Olympics.

The first had the misfortune to injure herself a few weeks prior to competition. She had surgery & vowed to compete in the games. Jan Pitman ran in the 400m hurdles at the Games, but she came 5th largely due to her recent knee surgery. Her response to the disappointment? ”

“I don’t need to make any excuses,” she said. “Those girls were great out there today and they were better than me on the day, so I can only say I’ll have to come back hungry for next year.” (See smiggens)

Contrast this with another woman, young and talented and part of a team of eight. She had been allowed to join the team in spite of curious incidents in her past. She was apparently in good form and excellent fitness going into the race. Her main job was to keep rowing until the race finished. Instead, Sally Robins lay back with a quarter of the race to go and dropped her oar about 100m from the finish line.

As noted in the living room “Robbins was exhausted, not ill or injured, and an Australian official quoted Jarhling as saying he had not seen anything like it in his 35-year coaching career.”

The most interesting difference between these two women is in their minds. The first almost won a medal against massive odds. The second lost a medal against almost no odds at all. The main difference seems to have been internal to each of them, and the determination to finish the differentiator.

Sally Robbins might not have heard that famous quote from Winston Churchill:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

To have gone that far and to lay down is an interesting choice to make.

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