Losing Track Of How Your System Works

The ability to automate, dig deep, pre-sort, evaluate, chew, swallow, and spit out decisions without really understanding the implications or assumptions hard-wired in the set-up can be a rather large problem. A recent Wall Street Journal article by David Wessel about the use (overuse?) of software to screen job candidates got me to thinking about the costs of overly picky employment systems.

What’s the problem with that?  So concerned with weeding out false positives, false negatives are likely going through the roof.  False postives cost a firm money in lost productivity and the cost of replacing a failed hire.

I worry more about false negatives. What’s the cost of a false negative?

  • The opportunity cost of not hiring someone who would have been stellar.
  • Non-conformists, radical thinkers, creative types often don’t fit the jobs they excel in, but often are exactly the kind of thinking that invigorates corporate process.
  • Applicants who can rapidly grow into a position are cheeper than those who are over qualified.
  • Employers have created an arms race forcing applicants to worry about the SEO of their resume rather than an accurate description of their greatness.  Fine, some would say that word smithing for the computer’s eye enhances a resume’s usefulness, but I’m not sure.

The use of this software is designed as a time saver for HR, which at some companies is critical. Sorting through thousands of resumes is not a practical human activity. However, a worthwhile human activity would be to sort through a random assortment of ‘almosts,’ ‘interestings,’ and ‘odds’ to see if there is a gem the company is throwing away in their rush towards efficiency.

Or maybe it is better this way. Leave the the employees who don’t quite fit in today’s job opening to become entrepreneurs or the golden hire for a small business ready to break out and grow.

Creative destruction has to come from somewhere, doesn’t it?

I Bought Something At JC Penney

Less cluttered aisles. “I’m getting the best price,” feeling. Seemed to be a change in mix, but I really wouldn’t know.

‘Cause it was the first time I had bought something at JC Penney in several years, best as I can recall.

I like not having to deal with feeling I’m getting gypped just because I don’t have a coupon. Lord knows I won’t go into Bed Bath & Beyond without my mailer for $5 off. They give me the feeling that if I don’t have a coupon I’m paying too much.

The way things were priced at JC Penney made me feel warm and fuzzy.

The categories – everyday, monthlong values & best prices – felt like a promise that tomorrow I wouldn’t regret the deal I got.

The store I was at felt perkier. Livelier. It made the product seem better.

The shoe sales folk were available and nice in both the women’s and men’s department. Miracle.

I found something I really wanted to buy. So did my wife. She hadn’t bought anything at JC Penney for much longer than me. Maybe a decade.

I was reading in Ad Age today about how JC Penny sales are not reacting positively to the change in tactics brought by new CEO Ron Johnson. Comparable store sales down by 18% this last quarter. Feels a bit disastrous, although, I’m not sure that should be a surprise. JC Penny is in the beginning of a major shift in retailing strategy.  They are moving away from tactics that their customers have been trained to antiticipate and react to — coupons and sales and $.99 pricing. All things I tend to hate.

I’m glad to see the retailer taking steps to move into the next generation of retail.  Their current positioning seemed untenable. Stuck between Target and Macy’s, my guess is the path ahead looked rocky at best.

So they’ve taken an interesting gamble on a strategic shift that will be difficult for others to replicate if they are successful.

The question is, can they teach customers to be delighted by the simpler shopping experience?  Or are there enough people like my lovely wife and I to make up for the customers who disappear?

The Importance of What You Measure

I’ve often found that questioning basic assumptions and measurements can be a powerful way for organizations to re-energize. The adage ‘you get what you measure’ holds power.

Which is why the Wall Street Journal’s report “The Simple Idea That Is Transforming Health Care” caught my eye this morning. Asking health questions through the lens of ‘Quality of Life’ provides different answers and different perspectives than ‘How Can I Fix You.’  Curative issues still rise to the top, but how they are addressed may fundamentally change in ways that may save money or may simply change lives.

Thought it was worth more than a tweet…


Disagreeable Discourse Solves Problems

American Censorship Day was organized by a number of organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation to raise awareness of legislation that is being developed in the United States that would significantly change free discourse available via internet technologies.

And thus the image that covers the FrogBlog.biz header and that you are seeing in various places:

I certainly don’t like everything I see on the internet. I am at various times annoyed, disgusted, and angered. But it is important to remember when things that are distasteful leak through, this is also the technology that helped bring some of the most totalitarian regimes left on earth to their knees.

When free nations choose to censor what disgusts them, they are also providing cover to the regimes who chose to censor simple political discourse. For that reason alone any legislation that proposes to ‘fix’ the free wheeling style of the internet must be designed and passed with utmost care.

Freedom of speech is a delicate thing. John Adams and the Federalists passed the Sedition Act back in 1798 and the push and pull of speech and power has never stopped. Even Thomas Jefferson – supporter of the First Amendment’s right to free speech — used the act to prosecute opinions he did not like.

Freedom of Speech is taken as an absolute right by most in the United States, but the truth of the matter is more complicated than that.  There are limits with fuzzy boundaries. WikiLeaks being a good current example. Whether you agree with the site or not, it should run a bit of a chill down your spine that government accusations were enough to have financial lifelines cut worldwide without judicial due process. Oh, what the Nixon administration would have given to have such power over the New York Times back in the days of the Pentagon Papers.

How does this relate to business?

Much of the current legislation appears to be driven by commercial interests who are dealing with the very large problem of piracy.  In the quest for mechanisms that easily block sites that reportedly break copyright rules or deny internet access to individuals who are accused of sharing what they shouldn’t, we run the risk of creating an entire structure of heavy handed punishments that operate outside of judicial review.

The internet has made it easy to start and grow a business, locally and internationally. Easier than it has ever been in the history of the planet. This has meant wealth creation both here and abroad, raising standards of living and producing services that I for one love. To be honest, it has also involved the destruction of older ways of doing business. While the internet makes this feel like a new problem, it’s not. Just ask a textile worker from Alabama, an auto worker from Michigan, or a typesetter from Chicago.

The trick is figuring out ownership rights and commercial models that do not disrupt the free-flow of ideas and speech that the internet has enabled. (Imagine losing your internet access for something you linked to via Facebook if you want a real worst case scenario.) This is a teeter-totter moment for the internet – anyone who thinks it will be simple is kidding themselves.

What would I do if I couldn’t Google?

Censorship on the internet has the potential not only to stop words, but also ideas, business models and more. It is not perfect, but it is delicate. So efforts to ‘fix’ it need to be initiated with utmost care.

>>>>Update: Removed the temporary ‘censorship’ code from the post so the FrogBlog header is no longer covered.