Saturday, 3 December 2016

Postgraduate Research Winter Symposium at University of Winchester

Today I attended my first post graduate research symposium for University of Winchester students.   It was a terrific opportunity to listen to a series of 20 minute presentations on a wide diversity of research topics and to spend time chatting with fellow students on what they are doing.

Here are a few short notes on the 10 talks we had during the day that give an indication of what was covered.

Investigating endings - looking at endings in novels that have been short listed for the Booker and Costa prize since 2000.  Different sorts of endings, different approaches of writers - including one who starts writing a novel by writing the last sentence.   Given that some people will start a book by reading the ending it made me wonder if authors might respond to this by creating last lines that could make sense as an end to the novel and yet if which read first would purposefully send the reader on the wrong track.

“I Love you, guys” - looking at inclusive masculinities in a Californian High School Cross country running team.  Exploring issues of attitudes to homosexuality and how that impacts on displays of masculinity - if homosexuality is not socially acceptable then this could lead to hyper macho displays of masculinity as boys/men seek to avoid any suggestion that they might be gay.  Introduced me to a new term “homoerasure” when society denies the very existence of homosexuality.   Interestingly in this context there may actually be greater acceptance of less macho behaviour.

The effects of anxiety and depression on eyewitness memory - this one struck me as hugely ambitious research activity given the breadth and detail of what was being studied as it will cover perceptions of legal professionals as well as questions of how people perform in interviews, video identification lineups and under cross examination.

The next topic was a case study of the Whitney Plantation and how it represents slavery from the perspective of the slave and not, as is more usually the case, from the perspective of the plantation owner.  Powerful talk based on the speaker’s experience of having visited the plantation and clearly having been deeply affected by it.   Reminded me of my visit to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg a couple of years ago - you can read about periods in history but there is something deeply impactful about visiting the place.

Thomas Jefferson and slavery -  exploring paradox of man who penned US Declaration of Independence and promoted abolition of slavery yet held views that blacks were inferior to whites and owned slaves through his life, was opposed to interracial relationships and yet had 6 children by one of his slaves.  

John Rawls and his theory of justice - talk from someone who has recently started their doctoral journey so this one was more of a scene set on Rawls and "contractarianism" then their own research findings.

Presentation on career paths post PhD - given by first person who graduated with a PhD from University of Winchester when it became able to grant its own research degrees.   Interesting examples of how engagement in the right networks led to opportunities.  Also reference to article that compares structure of academic roles in the UK with how drugs gangs are organised - lots of poorly paid insecure roles at the start taken by people hoping to be the ones who succeed and breakthrough to the better stable roles further up the hierarchy.

“Embodying another’s memory” was an interesting investigation by the speaker into her father’s past in war time Poland.   Again the impact of visiting the place came through and how she had discovered a very different narrative to his life when she investigated what had happened compared to what he had told them.  Fascinating how he seems to have woven stories from his family into his own life story when presenting it.

The Last Judgement mosaic on West Wall of Torcello Cathedral, Venice was a detailed exposition of the iconography and meaning of the various complex elements of this 11th Century mosaic.  Astonishing level of detail on the individual elements and how they might have been intended to be “read” by the people viewing it.

Last talk of the day explored how different types of dual-task performance would have different effects on novel skill acquisition.   As an example consider people learning for the first time how to play an Xbox game.  Experiment then looks at how ability to learn how to play the game ( bowling in this case) if that is the only thing you have to do vs learning to play game while also counting backwards from 300 in 3’s vs learning the game whilst listening out for and responding to an audio beep that is played periodically.   The underlying research question is whether an exploration of this sort of dual-task approach could improve how stroke patients are helped to relearn tasks that can lead to greater independence and improved recovery.

All in all a very interesting day and I shall certainly be looking out for the next symposium.  As well as learning a lot about such a range of topics and feeling a sense of inclusion into the research community at Winchester, it was also good to reflect on how my own identify as a researcher and DBA student has evolved over the last year.   More than once I was able to think of things I had read in my own research which had relevance or informed me about something being presented.   Was also a whole lot better placed to cope with some of the more social sciences style of language used by some of the presenters.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

What I've been reading - May 2016

Got through a few more books this month - combination of complete books read at home and others where I have read portions of them in the library.

Starting with the ones I read completely...

Hard Facts, Dangerous Half Truths, and Total Nonsense - Pfeffer and Sutton

Terrific book which makes the argument for Evidence Based management.  Often times we operate based on false assumptions and beliefs about what works - this could be from perceived wisdom or anecdote.   Authors argue for basing decisions in fact, inspired by evidence-based medicine.  They include a range of areas of management and consider how conventional thinking may not be helping.

Well worth a read but be ready to have your assumptions challenged.

Creating a Strategic Human Resources Organization: An Assessment of Trends and New Directions by Edward Lawler and Susan Mohrman

This book is a report on the Center for Effective Organisation's thirs study of the HR function in large corporations.   It dates from 2001 so not current but interesting to see what trends they were starting to see then.

They focus in particular on whether the HR function was changing to become more of a strategic business partner in the organization and the extent to which is was becoming a "value-added contributor to organiizational performance".

The book introduces the study and provides some high level observations before diving into the detail of analysis of the responses they got to the study.  Having performed similar surveys previously they can do some interesting comparisons and trend identification.

Transformative HR by Boudreaux and Jesuthasan

The book looks at how an evidence based approach to change can be taken in HR.  They look at examples where the seemingly obvious answer is not the best one as it is based on partial information and a lack of understanding of context.

They propose that there are 5 principles of Evidence based change.
  1. Logic-driven analytics - understanding that one set of measures does not apply universally.  
  2. Segmentation - Arising from the logic driven analytics we may find that one group of employees is very different from another.  This then leads to the principle of segmentations.  “HR must understand where segmentation is vital to the organisation and where it is less necessary.”  However need also to avoid over segmentation.
  3. Risk Leverage - interesting dimension this one as it focusses on not simply reducing the risk but rather knowing when to take the risk and when not.  If we focus just on the risk of someone leaving the organisation then we may decide not to train them or grow their skills as this could lead to them leaving.   That may be the right approach but we need to think also about the risk that if they are not trained we loose out on the possibility to move them to other roles in our own organisation.
  4. Integration and synergy - rather than treating parts of the organisation as closed systems we will want to look at broader cross organisational concerns as well.  
  5. Optimisation - this is around making the right investments in the right places to maximise our return.  Hiring the best qualified person for the job may make sense in some roles where we require instant high performance but in others areas there may be more scope for a different approach that brings people in and then grows them in the role.
They also introduce the concept of ROIP - return on improved performance.   This starts by thinking about what the impact would be if the performance of employees in a particular group was improved.  This is a different approach to thinking about who the most important people are in the organisation or indeed those who deliver the greatest value - what we are looking for here is the incremental return potential of improved performance that we could invest in generating.

... and now the ones in the library ( 2 online in the Bodleian and 3 in the Sainsbury Library at the Oxford Business School ) ....

Online first

Fitz-Enz, Jac THE ROI of human capital : measuring the economic value of employee performance - 2000

This author has been writing on measurement in HR for a long time - indeed he is credited as being the first to argue that HR should be measuring the impact it has on the overall business.

Very practical book with lots of details on different metrics that can be used.  Including range of models of human capital eg Human Economic Value Added,  human capital revenue factor,  human capital cost factor etc -  all formulaic metrics based on finance data and HR measures such as absenteeism rates, salary, benefits etc.

He notes that "Measurement of the effectiveness of human capital has been conspicuous by its absence in corporate financial reports.  Only with the advent of the balanced scorecard has there been any attention paid to this most important of resources.  the single typical measure, revenue per employee, is simplistic and out of date. " (p58)

Predictive analytics for human resources 2014 Fitz-Enz & Mattox

As noted above Fitz-Enz has written a lot in this topic area and this book builds on that previous writing but moves beyond descriptive analytics, that tell us about what has happened in the past, to predictive analytics which show us clues of likely future outcomes.  Suggests the Lorenz waterwheel as a metaphor for employees joining a company, moving around inside and then exiting at some point.  Recommendation of James Gleick's book Chaos... watch out for that in a future blog post.

... and finally 3 other books I reviewed in their physical form...

Human Capital Analytics - Pease, Byerly & Fitz-enz

The book focusses on predictive analytics which will not only measure impact but also help to optimize and prescribe future investments.  They suggest that " The human resources industry is just beginning to grasp the value of understanding its human capital and evolving from a shepherd's role to one that can bring change and add significant strategic value."  (p xi)

Mentions how HR has moved from monitoring transactions ( what did it cost to hire someone, train them, pay them etc) to performance monitoring ( how might a change in hiring process affect employee performance) and then to how do we compare with others.

Chapters focus on 
  • alignment - positioning human resources organisation as a strategic partner in support of the business.  Need to get broad range of stakeholders on board and also how you need to agree on the measures of success.
  • the measurement plan - map out the investments ( what are we going to do, training event, recognition program etc), what are the leading indicators that will suggest we are on track ( these are non financial measure - could be employee engagement for example), what are the business results ( KPIs .. these are tied to financial value.) , strategic goals ( desired end results of our initiative/set of initiatives... likely to be expressed in terms of improvements in revenue or costs )
  • data - types of data, linking datasets together to get broader view,  understanding which data you can use will be important part of discussion early on in the project.  Beware issues of people wanting to prove an assertion that they believe to be true - an analysis project that sets out to prove value of some initiative rather than seeking to understand what value it is bringing.  
  • descriptive statistics - these are the start point and ensure we are all talking the same language.  Watch out for commonly help views that are actually no longer correct.
  • causation - just because things are correlated doesn't mean causal link - has great example of number of firefighters called to attend a fire and the amount of damage done.
  • sharing the story - how to communicate what you have found.  
They conclude "We are at a moment in time where theories about human capital, the amount of data available, and the computing power necessary to deal with the data are radically changing how business is done." (p155)

The New HR Analytics  Jac Fitz-Enz

Another book from this author - I told you he wrote a lot on this topic !

Interesting structure to the book with discussion of each topic area by the author followed by a series of essays from other contributors.

The book is about predictive management  or what they term HCM:21 which is the outcome of an 18 month study called the Predictive Initiative.  4 phase process from scanning the marketplace through to an integrated measurement system.  in middle we have addressing workforce and succession planning and optimizing / synchronising the delivery of HR services.

Introduces a five steps approach to analytics

1- recording our work ( ie hiring paying, training, supporting, and retraining) - learnign through measurement about how efficient our processes are 

2 - relating to our orgaization's goals (ie quality, innovation, productivity , service) basically the fundamental goals fothe organization

3 - Comparing our results selves to others ( ie benchmarking) needs knoweldge of the details of who we are comparing to and what we are looking at but can help us to develop

4- understanding past behaviour and outcomes ( ie descriptive analytics )   looking for and describingg relationships that we find in the data but without ascribing meaning to any patterns.

5 - predicting future likelihoods ( ie prescriptive analytics) 

Casccio & Boudreau Investing in People 2nd edition 2015

This book has detailed chapters looking at financial impacts of key areas of HR.  Lots of worked examples and data from companies in a range of industries.   Would probably make a good practical guide if you were starting out to do analysis of your own organisation in one of these areas.

They note that "the current state of the art in HR management is heavily dominated by efficiency measures" and suggest that their book will help instead to look at effectiveness and impact.(p7)

Sunday, 25 September 2016

What I've been reading - March / April 2016

A slower couple of months on the reading front so combined into one ...

Predictably irrational by Dan Ariely

Really enjoyed this book.  As the cover puts it …. “In a series of illuminating and groundbreaking experiments, behavioural economist Dan Airely demonstrates how expectations, emotions, social norms and other invisible, seemingly illogical forces skew our reasoning abilities.   Not only do we make astonishingly simple mistakes every day,,but we make the same types of mistakes.  We consistently overpay, underestimate and procrastinate.  We fail to understand the profound effects of our emotions on what we want, and we overvalue what we already own.  Yet these misguided behaviours are neither random nor senseless.  They’re systematic and predictable."

Not going to argue with that - fascinating read,

The book is full of examples of intriguing experiments that have been run.  In one case undergraduate students were recruited to take part in an experiment.  In the first part they were to solve some anagrams.  When the'd done this they were told that the experiment had a second part and that they needed to go down the corridor to another room to complete it.  What was actually being studied though was simply how long it took them to walk down the corridor to the second room.  Some of the participants were given words to unscramble that could be associated with “elderly” - US experiment so examples included Florida, bingo, ancient etc.  The people primed with the elderly words had a considerably slower walking speed to the next room than the control group that was not primed in this way!

In another example they explore how satisfaction with your food in a restaurant can be best assured by being the first person to order!  ( That way your order is not influenced in any way by what people before you have said).

Big Data by Bernard Marr
The world is getting smarter and big data is at the core, we increasingly leave a digital trail and this can be analysed by increasingly smart analytic software.  “Big Data” is often talked about and the huge volumes of information that is being gathered.  Arguably though the value is not in the volume but rather in the things that can now be done with that data.

The book provides a SMART framework for Big Data
  • Start with strategy - get clear on what you want to achieve, and what questions you want to answer
  • Measure metrics and data - understand different sorts of data ( structured vs unstructured, internal vs external etc), think though what sources of data you need to answer your questions
  • Apply Analytics - use the appropriate analytic tools to process the data
  • Report your results - think through how the data will be visualised, lots of new ways being developed that can be used to enable people to see the data.
  • Transform your business and decision making - gain fresh insights into your customers, internal processes, people.

The author has also written “Big Data in practice” - a collection of 45 case studies showing how companies are applying Big Data and analytics to their businesses.   Given my focus on the application to HR it was interesting to note that none of his 45 case studies are from that area.  

The HR Scorecard Linking People, Strategy, and Performance by Becker, Hustlid and Ulrich

The book focuses on how HR professionals can take a more strategic view of HR and its contribution to the success of the organisation.  Issues of alignment and mapping how HR contributes to the business strategy are covered.  Important to note that as HR Scorecard is developed this is not a one off activity but rather something that will need to constantly evolve as the needs of ht business change.  

They draw a distinction between Lagging and leading indicators.  Lagging indicators reflect what has happened in the past, e.g. financial indicators.  Leading indicators, unsurprisingly, are things that you can measure now which are predictors of future outcomes, examples might include current customer satisfaction as indicator of future sales.   Using lagging indicators is easier but they compare it to trying to drive a car by looking in the rear view mirror.

Another important point they make is the issue of using available data rather than relevant data to drive decisions.  Will be tempting to use the data that we are already collecting to base decisions on but this may not be the data that you need.  Using convenient data rather than relevant data to drive your decisions may not be a formula for success.

Monday, 5 September 2016

What I've been reading - February 2016

OK so this is a bit after the fact but here are some thoughts on books I read in February

Corporate Responsibility by Michael Blowfield and Alan Murray second edition 

This is a text book that sets out to provide an introduction to the "key ideas and practices in the field" of corporate responsibility.  Split into 3 sections it starts by covering what corporate responsibility is and its origins.  Next, it turns to the question of managing and implementing corporate responsibility before concluding with a section on the impact it has, some critiques and some thoughts on the future.  Throughout it is an easy read with lots of examples and case studies to illustrate the points being made.

Doing a Literature Search by Chris Hart 

Comprehensive but very dated feel to the book.   Covers all sorts of data sources and where to look for a literature search but originally written in 2001 and a lot has changed since then.  For someone familiar with libraries and working with information sources there in unlikely to be much to gain from reading this book.

Learn to Write Badly, How to Succeed in the Social Sciences by Michael Billig

Some very interesting ideas in this book that looks at the style of academic writing in the social sciences.  He asks, why is the style used by social scientists routinely poor and why does it continue to get worse.   Makes some points about why academic language has evolved as it is and draws various comparisons between natural sciences and social sciences.  For me the second half of the book was less engaging as it became much more specific and less general.

In contrast to today's highly specialised language, he talks (on p15) how writers in the past, such as Adam Smith, wrote in a way that their work could be read by people from different disciplines.  Their writing was rooted in the use of non-technical words which enabled easier understanding.  As he puts it they were "writing in small words for big circles" versus today where "The words have become longer and the circles, in which they circulate, have become smaller."

In talking about league tables and how universities emphasise their research capability he picks the University of Winchester as an example and discusses at some length what their website says about the university.  Guess he had to pick somewhere but still a surprise to see Winchester featuring as the only university whose website he comments on.

When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken and Stanley Schachter

The first of 2 books this month where the author(s) reflects on experience of having been part of a group - in both cases, especially the first one, some real challenges around how the presence of the observer may affect the group being observed.

The experimental psychologist Leon Festinger had been working on a new theory of cognitive dissonance and how this would affect human behaviour.   In essence this says that when we have 2 mutually incompatible things in our head then we need to work out some way to reconcile them.     For example if I know that exercise is good for me and I also know that I don't exercise how do I reconcile these things?  I could start doing more exercise or I can construct a rationale to explain it away... I would do more exercise but at the moment I'm very busy at work so I can't but as soon as that is under control then of course I will do some more exercise.... that sort of thing.

This book tells how they were able to join a cult which believes that the world is set to end in the coming months.  How would the members of the cult feel when the predicted end of the world didn't occur and they were not picked up by a spacecraft as had been foretold?  

The answer is surprising at first but consistent with the theory.   When they are not picked up and the world does not end, what is beautifully labeled as the "disconfirmation event", the cult grows significantly in its efforts to recruit new members and starts proselytising in a way that they did not previously.

An easy read ( certainly compared with the books above !) and a well told and engaging story alongside the theory.  Given the small size of the cult the researchers did form quite a significant part of the group which certainly did make me wonder about their influence on the group.   This however is something that is addressed by the authors and creatively dealt with - including the time when one of them was asked to lead a session.   No way to back out of it and not wanting to preach to the group ( and hence potentially influence their thinking ) the researcher, in a stroke of genius, leads the group in silent meditation.

Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh

Sociology student goes out into “the projects” and gets involved with the local gang - the Black Kings.  Befriends the gang leader JT and gains insight into the workings of the gang including different perspectives from people inside and outside the gang.   

Fascinating insight into how things work and the similarity of the challenges that leaders face, motivation, discipline etc - all be it in a different context and with very different mechanisms for implementation.

Also interesting to see challenges of observing from within the system that you are studying.   Presence there influences the situation around you so you can never observe detached from the system.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Some thoughts on the day after the night before

As I start typing I'm not sure quite where this will go but yesterday's referendum marks such an important and pivotal moment in time that I want to capture some thoughts.

For context let me start by saying I believed strongly that the right thing was for us to remain.  I get that there are issues with the EU but that's true with pretty much every group of people I've ever worked with who come together around some common cause.  There will always be fallings out and disagreements but my belief is that we get the best outcome by working through the issues.  Much better to be together and at least talking than apart I think.  Remaining and engaging and leading in Europe was my preferred course rather than leaving.

I value the opinion of experts as one input to my thinking and like to try and anchor my views in evidence based reasoning.  I also feel that voting is important and think it is true to say that I have voted in every formal election ( be that at the local, county, national or European level) since I got the vote.

Of all the things I have voted on in those many years this was the one where I felt most strongly that there was a clear right answer - normally I am much more of a relativist.

I've plenty of experience of voting and having the result not be in line with my vote but today I have  felt a real sadness and worry about the way the vote has gone that I have not experienced before.

I'f I'm honest I'm also angry with both sides for the posturing, wild assertions, and distinctly questionable use of some statistics.  This was a big and important issue and I think deserving of a better quality of debate than we got.  Some of the blame for that must also rest on us as a society generally as what we are fed is what is known to have worked before.   If it's necessary to make us angry or scared before we will turn out and vote then it's perhaps no surprise that this is the diet we are then fed.

There was also a real absence of discussion about what the impact on others might be of us choosing to remain or leave.   Any country leaving would have an impact on the others and I think we carry responsibility for how our actions affect those around us.  For me, being one of the bigger countries in the EU brought with it additional responsibility.

It worries me hugely that people will have voted ( on either side ) based on hyperbole and misleading information.  We don't know what the future holds but one scenario certainly is that we get a growing understanding of the consequences of leaving to the point where we end up exiting at a point where the balance of public opinion has shifted in favour of staying.   The reverse of course is also possible that we discover that things actually work out a lot better than anticipated.  I find myself fearing the former but hoping for the latter.

The result was close in terms of percentages for and against but we can't deny that the electorate has spoken and, thankfully, with a good turnout.  There are clips appearing online purporting to be of people saying they regret their choice of vote but I think these are most likely outliers and the overwhelming majority of the people voting to leave did so because they believed that this was the right thing to do - just as determinedly and passionately as those voting to remain.

Having reached this point it will be interesting to see what happens next as clearly a referendum is just a chance for the electorate to answer the question before them.   Today we have the same laws in force as yesterday and the same agreements and are still members of the EU - all be it that we may well have burnt some bridges in spectacular fashion.   My understanding is that to change any of this and to actually remove us from the EU will need parliament to act.

Even if it is not legally binding it would be surprising, having asked the question, for parliament not to act on the answer.  But I'm not clear what the proposed timescale is for any action.   We have various people saying different things and it seems as though any action will wait on the election of a new leader for the Conservatives.

Given there will be a gap, how long would it be before MPs might feel they weren't beholden to what was said yesterday?  How long before they might say ... ah well that is what you said but look at how xyz has changed since then...?  What if the gap is such that we end up having a general election before action is taken - what happens then if MPs are elected on Pro EU manifestos ?

We also have the dynamic that we are told the majority of MPs in today's parliament favoured remaining in the EU - that's got to be a real dilemma when then asked to vote in a way contrary to what you believe is the best course of action.  Under our brand of democracy my understanding has always been that we elect people to represent us and charge them to vote on matters on our behalf, not necessarily by reflecting what we think.

Much as I passionately would like to see us remain, delaying and then ignoring the expressed will of the people would seem a route to trouble, but on the other hand sticking with a course of action in the light of new information would also seem potentially troublesome.  Maybe the coming days will bring clarity but right now I can't help feeling that we have voted to do something but aren't too clear when or how we will do it.

David Cameron announcing he will stand down introduces additional uncertainty into the process but I can't see how his position was tenable.    There is the lack of authority brought on by being on the loosing side of the debate but also had he gone ahead and led the move towards the EU exit any issues which arose in the economy or our relationships as a consequence would I'm sure have been laid at his feet.  You can hear the accusatory cries ..."you never wanted to leave so you've messed up the negotiations ..." and so forth.  Can't help wondering if that was in part behind the desire of the Leave campaign to see him stay in post and lead the exit.

We are definitely in uncharted, and most likely turbulent, waters but collectively for better or for worse that is where we have chosen to sail this particular ship ( to borrow the PM's captain metaphor).

We will never know what might have been had we taken a different course, life is always full of challenges and problems and it would be easy to put on the rose tinted glasses and forget that bad things would have happened had we chosen to remain because from time to time things outside your control just happen.  We'll also need to resist the urge to blame every bad thing that happens from now on the vote - yes there will be some obvious things attributable to the decision and the negotiations that follow but blaming everything on it, or indeed the people who voted to leave, won't help.

The 23rd June will definitely be a date that historians of the future look back to.  There is no doubt that I woke up in a country this morning that had changed from when I went to sleep in a few hours earlier.  Quite how it has changed will only become clear over time.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Making a start on the 3rd module of the DBA course

Loyal readers will remember that last September I embarked on the Doctoral Business Administration part time degree course offered through the University of Winchester.   Incidentally,  if you harbour an interest in a challenging but rewarding program of study like this, then I believe there will be a new cohort starting this September.  Check out their website for more details or get in touch with me and I'll be happy to talk about my experience thus far.

The DBA program starts with a set of 6 taught modules - one a term for the first 2 years.  Each of the modules follows the same pattern with 2 taught "weekends" and then time to produce an assignment. Yesterday and today saw the 2015 cohort at the Business School for the first weekend of the 3rd module - "Maximising Engagement and Impact".

Under the expert and enthusiastic leadership of Dr Martina Hutton we have spent two full days exploring questions of scholarship,  identifying the "conversations" that we want to be a part of, our identity as researchers, ideas around what our contribution will be through our DBA thesis.   As usual the days have been a mix of content to get us thinking, practical exercises, and discussion amongst the group.   As the modules progress the cohort gets to know each other ever better and the richness of questioning, challenging and support of each other increases.  Considering the comparatively short time it is since we started this journey it really is amazing to see just how far we have all progressed in our thinking about what our area of research will be.   It is a privilege to be a part of the research journey that my fellow cohort members are taking and I am very excited to see what they come up with in the coming months and years - indeed I think one of my challenges will be keeping the focus on my own research and not getting distracted and intrigued by some of the things the others are looking at.

The assignment for this module is to write a short paper ( up to 3000 words) on a topic of our choice ( the most obvious being to choose something aligned with our research interest) and then to create a presentation that allows us to share the findings with any audience that we choose.  The final element is then a short reflection on that process and our success at disseminating our findings through both the paper and presentation.

As part of today's module we had some writing exercises including spending a short amount of time to come up with a possible title and abstract for our paper.   An interesting exercise in that it forces you to conceive what it is that you may end up writing.  Pretty much a given that, as we engage with the process of research and thinking about the topic, what we come up with will differ from what we imagined today but it was a powerful technique for helping to at least crystallise some initial lines of enquiry.

Here's what I came up with...

Computer says "yes" but what happens next? Understanding the impact on employee engagement when HR Analytics are used to determine employee compensation.


Have you ever felt if only the decision had been based on data rather than taken by failible human beings you'd have got the pay rise you deserved? What if we had the ability to take those decisions at an organisational level removing scope for bias and prejudice? The increasing ability to harvest employee data and application of HR Analytics offers the promise of just such a nirvana but does it work in practice?   Every action has a reaction, and this paper will explore both the art of the possible and some of the potential consequences of taking a data driven approach to compensation decisions.  Models of Employee Engagement are used to provide a framework for the discussion, looking at both the short and longer term impacts on staff and managers. The paper concludes with an initial exploration of how the mere act of taking an Analytic based approach can lead to changed behaviour as employees seek to maximise their chances of a favourable personal outcome.

I'm really looking forward to working on the paper over the coming months ( due date is in September).   Any comments you have on the topic or indeed suggestions of areas I could look into as part of the assignment will be gratefully received.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

What I've been reading - January

As part of studying for the DBA I'm reading more books at the moment and thought I'd have a go at writing up a short summary each month on what I've consumed.

Let's start with January's haul...and hopefully in the months to come I will catch up a bit...

Two books this month on stories.

In "The Hero with a Thousand Faces"  Joseph Campbell explores the world of mythology and introduces us to the "Monomyth".  In essence all the varied stories from different cultures and traditions reduce down to a similar core.  Our hero of the tale ventures forth from their normal life into a supernatural world where they encounter challenges that they must overcome before the triumphant return bearing "the ultimate boon".  Different supporting cast appear or not and variances such as whether the return is assisted or is an escape are there but at the core we have the same basic structure to the story.   I found it very interesting to encounter so many mythologies that I had not come across before along with some familiar tales.  I was familiar with Jonah's exploits with the whale but previously unaware that the Eskimo's have a tale of the Raven that enters the belly of a whale. Not always an easy read (phrases like "and other concupiscent incubi of the rout of Pan" seeing me reaching for my Chambers app) but an enjoyable one.

"Morphology of the Folktale" by V Propp provides an astonishingly detailed framework for categorising pretty much ever significant aspect of a story and encoding it in a specific notation.  To take but one example the notation and analysis distinguish between the various ways that the hero of the tale "acquires the use of a magical agent" - was it directly transferred to them, or maybe it was pointed out to them, or fell into their hands by chance, or appeared of its own accord, or was consumed by them, or made for them, or sold to them, or seized by them, or (if it is an animal) places itself at their disposal.   These different possibilities all have their own encoding building up to a notation for the whole tale.   Here is one example showing how each step of the myth is encoded and builds up to a single "phrase" for the whole tale so you get the idea...

An impressive piece of work but of the two books I'd recommend Campbell's book as the more engaging.

"Obliquity: why our goals are best achieved indirectly" by John Kay offered a complete contrast. The essence of the book is that the best way of achieving what we want may not be to directly aim for it.   Think for example of a business that wants to increase revenue and profits.  It could focus on measuring and reporting those figures or it could identify something else that would drive the desired outcome.   I recently read about a company that had decided to focus its energies on being a great employer and creating an environment and culture that put employees first.   The argument being that great, happy employees provide good service to your customers.   Great customer service retains existing business and attracts new clients as well.  Result... increased revenue and profits.

The final one for this month is "The Shift: The Future of Work is already here" by Lynda Gratton.   I'd heard Lynda talk on this topic a couple of years ago at a London Business School event so it was good to take some time to read the book to build on what I had heard already. In the book she lays out a range of possible scenarios for the future world of work and how we may be operating.  Done through a series of scenarios detailing the lives of fictitious workers of the future various possibilities are brought to life.   She argues that we will see shifts in work increasingly play out.  One of the most significant I thought was her suggestion that we will need to achieve serial mastery.  General skills, knowing a little about lots of things won't count for as much as detailed mastery.  Given the rate of change and also the length of time people will be working however they will also need to be able to shift into other areas over time developing mastery in one area and then another.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Becoming a student again

Back in September I signed up to be part of the first cohort to study for the newly launched Doctoral Business Administration degree at the University of Winchester. It's a part time degree program that should take me somewhere between 4 and 7 years to complete.  The first 2 years consist of 6 taught modules ( 1 per term) that are designed to build skills and insights that will then equip us to complete our thesis.  We are a small but diverse group of people drawn from of a wide range of job roles and experiences which makes for some great discussions when we are together.

With the assignment for the first module - a critical ( that's critical as in looking at decisions made and reasons for them and not to be confused with criticising ) review of my professional development and a future development plan - submitted it seemed like a good time to look back at what has happened so far.

Since completing my MBA back in the mid 90s I've always harboured the thought that it would be good to do some further study and have looked at various programs from other universities. A couple of things that drew me to this one were the structure of the program, convenience of the location, and my existing contact with some of the faculty. It was still a major decision to make as the time and money required are significant but one that felt right.

A term in and I have no regrets, yes finding the time to fit it in alongside everything else I do is, and will remain, very tough but it's great to be a student again. All learning changes you and I've certainly noticed already that the extensive reading I'm now doing is filtering into my discussions with people both at work and beyond. I've also had the joy of renewing my Bodleian card and returning to some of Oxford's libraries and indeed venturing in to some that I had not visited before - Mathematicians not having much call to visit the Social Sciences Library.

Having online access to journals is terrific but there is still something very satisfying about summoning old copies from the stacks and joining the hushed studious environment of one of the reading rooms to work your way through them.

The first module was always going to be the one where I started to get a feel for what was required so in numbers here is how it panned out...

I read 16 books on a range of topics including Critical Reflection and many aspects of learning and development

in addition I've skimmed or read parts of a further 6 books and consumed around 50 academic journal articles.  When it came to writing the 5,000 (+/- 10%) word assignment one of my biggest challenges was letting go of some interesting ideas I'd read about, taken notes on and wanted to include but didn't fit inside the word count ( Reber's work on Implicit learning and Tacit Knowledge being just one example).

For the next module I need to pin down what my area of research will be for the next few years as I pursue the DBA.  More details to come as I work that out...