T@W Weekly: Our Own Worst Enemy

AI and D&I, spying on employees, collaboration, and some summer vibes

The Word: Feedback Loop

What if a technology platform was designed to give you exactly what you want? That’s exactly what sites like Google, Facebook, and YouTube try to do, often in the name of user experience (in reality, it’s all about hours spent consuming ads that keep these machines running).

How you experience and consume information online are driven by factors that you don’t explicitly opt-in to. Some of this tailoring is more benign: For example, when I bring up Google in Copenhagen, it assumes I probably don’t mind Danish results. Other times, it’s not harmless at all.

An article in Wired recently went under the hood of algorithms and how they can amplify the very worst of us:

In February, a YouTube user named Matt Watson found that the site’s recommendation algorithm was making it easier for pedophiles to connect and share child porn in the comments sections of certain videos. The discovery was horrifying for numerous reasons. Not only was YouTube monetizing these videos, its recommendation algorithm was actively pushing thousands of users toward suggestive videos of children.

A design decision meant to maximize the time people spent on YouTube also led to a parade of unintended consequences that give predators and conspiracy peddlers captive audiences hand delivered to consume willingly. When that data gets in the hands of organizations looking to push an agenda, you get something that looks a lot like what Cambridge Analytica did with Facebook.

What does this have to do with work? AI is making decisions about what your employees read and can influence how they view the world. Many of those people also underestimate how much a thumbs up rating on a friend’s conspiracy theory article on Facebook can influence the search results, news and ads they are served—even outside of those social networks.

Big tech companies have a moral and ethical obligation to fix this issue, but I also believe we all have the obligation to inform ourselves and one another about how this all works.

What the Click?

  • Big brother is watching you at work. The Wall Street Journal recently took a look at the ways employers monitor their employees at work. As Humu’s Laszlo Bock says, “You don’t have to hook every employee up to an MRI to find out how to make them work better.”

  • Does Cornerstone OnDemand still matter in a market dominated by ERP-driven suites? Bill Kutik says they do. They seem to have done so by doubling down on their learning roots and not having to worry about directly servicing their clients.

  • There are still firms servicing clients of cloud software providers. Mark Stelzner of IA is one of them and he puts on some rose-tinted glasses to wonder what a better, more productive client/provider relationship can look like.

  • Are recruiting suites the wave of the future? Tim Sackett writes on FOT that talent acquisition is too important to be stuck with substandard tools, and points to Jobvite, Talemetry, Canvas, and RolePoint as an example of what the future holds.

  • Here in the present, reality for large recruiting departments is a little different then that suite future. Ongig recently took a look at the top ATSs used by the Fortune 500 and Workday and Taleo make up nearly half of the market.

  • Microsoft announced that after two years in market, their Teams workplace chat product has more daily active users than Slack. It’s always heartwarming to see Goliath take down David.

  • Kronos continues to shed its time tracking past, this time with a feature from analyst Brian Sommer on some of the updates to their platform and progress on moving customers to the all-cloud Workforce Dimensions product.

  • Facebook is in the process of changing the ability to target job ads based on age or gender according to an article from SHRM. To be fair, age and gender discrimination laws have only been on the books for more than 50 years.

AI has to Speak D&I

AI is still emergent in enterprise technology but workforce leaders are already asking important, tough questions.

If you think this is simply about diversity for diversity’s sake, you couldn’t be more wrong. Think about this: Companies are spending billions of dollars on initiatives like diversity and cultural sensitivity training for employees or diversity recruitment initiatives to undo the screwups of decades of poor people practices.

As a vendor, your first pitch might be about reducing the cognitive load on important things like hiring or identifying high potential employees. You might even be talking about reducing bias. But that cognitive load was actually doing something, albeit slow and often flawed. Simply replacing it with (faster, but still flawed) AI is not good enough. Making better, more diverse and inclusive decisions is an albatross around an AI company’s neck until they prove that they can deliver on it.

If you are selling technology into the workplace, there is an element of diversity in every piece of software that touches the employee experience. Learn it now, or learn it later at your peril.

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T@W Playlist of the Week

Welcome to the dog days of summer, where we all look out at dreadfully hot weather and say, “Hey, maybe working in an air conditioned office isn’t the worst deal in the world?” Just kidding. Give me a pair of flip flops, a Session Lager, and this summer vibes playlist to mindlessly sweat off an afternoon of doing nothing—or at least dreaming about it.

And Finally… Culture and Tech

Next week is Culture Amp’s Culture First conference. I went last year and wrote about the experience of reaffirming myself as a carnivore. I am not going this year but only because of personal commitments but I’d highly recommend going.

If you want a little preview of the worldview Culture Amp shares, work culture evangelist Damon Klotz was recently on HR Happy Hour and talked a little about it. It’s a quick listen.

What role does technology play in the evolution and nurturing of culture? For me, it’s less about whether your organization chooses to invest in technology and more about investing the time in thinking how you want it to influence what you’re trying to build at your organization.

Thoughtful design about how these choices influence people’s experiences at work is much more difficult work than blasting out an RFP to some hungry software biz dev reps.

Culture First is full of folks that are thinking in that way, and doing so at various stages of maturity. Even if you wouldn’t consider yourself an active buyer of engagement technology, the people you meet and hear from can help you think about your challenges in new and inspiring ways.

Cheers, Lance