What does Linkedin really mean to Microsoft?

Microsoft has stirred up a swirling buzz of discussion around the Linkedin acquisition for $26.2 billion. There are a number of angles that have been considered in the gazillion news stories floating around. Here’s a few of those threads:

  • Linkedin is a Salesforce counter by Satya Nadella — It has been argued by Steve Nellis and others that Linkedin’s efforts at developing and selling the tools in the company’s Sales Solutions unit have not gone very far, but the data in Linkedin’s network — when coupled with Microsoft’s own Salesforce competitor — Dynamics — could become a real player. Note that Nadella’s rumored efforts to acquire Salesforce stalled because of a too-high price tag (10X revenues), while Linkedin was much more affordable (7X revenues). Plus, with Linkedin in there are other angles to play.
  • Linkedin is a professional social network, and could counter Facebook for Business — Facebook has not yet released its business variant, Facebook for Business, but it’s supposed to roll out this year. Nadella might be trying to get there first by offering a fusion of Linkedin’s current mix of blogging, social networking, and recruitment use cases with Office 365 productivity options. Linking together the professional graph (Linkedin) with the work graph (Office 365)– as Nadella talked about in a call with the NY Times — and getting a premium on the integration of the two is probably a smart move so long as the seams can be made low friction. There is a devil in these details, but this is one of the most powerful visions for the merger.
  • Linkedin alone was a company with real problems — Linkedin stock got hammered earlier this year after lowered sales estimates. This would be bad in itself but doubly bad for Linkedin, since many of its best and brightest are compensated in part by stock grants, so when the stock falls, so does compensation. As a result, Linkedin was facing a mass exodus unless they could right the boat. This is one of the reasons Microsoft got the terms that it did. And now, people will be compensated in the more standard Microsoft way (as will the accounting for these expenses, which were clouded by non-GAAP practices).
  • Microsoft sees Linkedin as a way to deflect Slack — Personally, I don’t buy this conflation of threats to Microsoft. Yes, Slack is making huge inroads in work technology — specifically as the defining product in the exploding work chat space — but just because is has some of the features of a ‘social network’ (in that people are logged in for long periods of time each day, message each other, can coordinate outside of company boundaries) that doesn’t mean Slack and Linkedin are in some way head-to-head competitors. Yes, Slack is a competitor to Microsoft’s productivity/work technology products — most specifically Yammer, but also the core functionality slowly growing in Office 365 — but that doesn’t mean that Linkedin is intended as a Slack killer. Although Microsoft should be working on that, as well. I just don’t expect it will come from the Linkedin side of things.

After all the dust settles I expect that we’ll see a reoriented Linkedin, with a greater focus on CRM technologies and networking, and also a much enlarged focus on people operations (HR) technologies and networking, an area that Microsoft has functionally no offerings. This will take the form of enlarged platforms, and an ecology of partners building on Microsoft/Linkedin capabilities, as well as other, subsequent acquisitions. And Linkedin will immediately find its operational core — and culture — pulled toward CRM and HR by the Microsoft sales operation.
I also don’t believe that Jeff Weiner will be at Microsoft for longer than his required tenure, two years or whatever it is, and Kara Swisher agrees. More likely he will find new worlds to conquer, and Satya will find someone in Microsoft or Linkedin who will better execute what will rapidly become an integration strategy, rather than a trailblazing one.

Three Ways to Help Millennials Better Manage Themselves

This article is the fourth in a series of six. It is excerpted from Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials by Bruce Tulgan

Millennials are often amazingly advanced in their knowledge and skills at a very young age, yet they often lack maturity when it comes to the old-fashioned basics of productivity, quality, and behavior. What’s worse, managers often report that Millennials tend to be unaware of gaps in these basic skills and are completely unconcerned about it. In response to this gap in skills, some managers just get frustrated. After all, when Millennials come to the workplace, shouldn’t they already be mature enough to arrive on time, dress appropriately, practice good manners, stay focused on their key tasks, and do lots of work very well at a good, steady pace? Should managers be expected to teach them these sorts of things? As a restaurant manager put it, “Nobody taught me how to wipe my nose in my jobs. I had to learn how to manage myself.”
That may be. But if you are the boss, then this gap in skills is your problem. If you manage Millennials who lack some of the basics of self-management, I’m sure you are frustrated too. Here’s what you need to do: Help them. Lift them up. Make them better. Teach them to care about the basics. Teach them to be more aware of those gaps in their repertoires. Teach them to fill those gaps, one at a time. Teach them how to manage themselves.

1) Help Them Set Priorities

Setting priorities is usually step one in most time management programs and seminars. If you have limited time and too much to do, then you need to set priorities—an order of precedence or preference—so that you control what gets done first, second, third, and so on. That setting priorities is the key to time management is obvious to most professionals. The hard part is teaching Millennials how to set priorities.
When it comes to big-picture priorities, set clear priorities with Millennials, and communicate those priorities relentlessly. Make sure your Millennials are devoting the lion’s share of their time to first and second priorities. When it comes to setting day-to-day priorities, teach Millennials how by setting priorities together with them. Let them know your thinking process. Walk through it with them: “This is first priority because X. This is second priority because Y. This is low priority because Z.” Over time, you hope they learn. Until they learn, you have to keep making decisions for them. Teach Millennials to postpone low-priority activities until high-priority activities are well ahead of schedule. Those are the time windows during which lower-priority activities can be accomplished, starting with the top lower priorities, of course.

2) Help Them Eliminate Time Wasters

Remember that Millennials treasure time above all other nonfinancial rewards. When you help them eliminate time wasters and limit the time they spend on low priorities, you are helping them focus their time on top priorities and giving them free time they otherwise would have wasted. That is a reward that keeps on giving. They’ll really appreciate it.
When helping Millennials identify time wasters to eliminate, don’t mistake distractions for time wasters. They may or not be. Remember that Millennials are used to multitasking—they’ve been doing their homework for years with an MP3 player in one ear and a cell phone buzzing text messages on the table. Just because it might be distracting to you doesn’t mean it is distracting to them. If the task in question is being performed well within expected time frames, then the employee is probably not distracted. Pay attention to which of the so-called distractions help them remain absorbed in their tasks at work as opposed to those that draw their attention away.

3) Teach the Habits of Critical Thinking

Managers often tell us that the biggest constraint on maximizing young workers is their lack of seasoned judgment.
What is good judgment anyway? It’s not the same thing as sheer brain power, mental capacity, or natural intelligence. It’s not a matter of accumulated knowledge or memorized information. It is more than the mastery of techniques and tools. In very simple terms, good judgment is the ability to see the connection between causes and their effects.
Teach Millennials to be strategic by using decision/action trees every step of the way. Teach them to think ahead and play out the likely sequence of moves and countermoves before making a move: “If you take this decision or action, who is likely to respond, how, when, where, and why? What set of options will this create? What set of options will this cut off? How will it play out if you take this other decision/action instead?
The senior executive of a media company asked, “How does a person learn real-life lessons faster than he can experience real life? Is there any way to jump-start this process?” One way is to learn from the life experiences of others or from history. This is why the case study method is used by most business schools. Real company cases are presented to students in detail. Who were the key players? What were their interests and objectives? What happened? How did it happen? Where? When? What were the outcomes? Students are then taught to apply the methods of critical thinking to the facts of the case. They are taught to suspend judgment, question assumptions, uncover the facts, and then rigorously analyze the decisions and actions taken by different key players in the case study. The pedagogy is simple: look at the outcomes, and trace them back to see the chains of cause and effect.

About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]; you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website.

Former White House spokesman Jay Carney joins Amazon

Amazon has a new head of corporate affairs. Politico is reporting that President Barack Obama’s former White House press secretary Jay Carney will be a senior vice president at Amazon, reporting directly to CEO Jeff Bezos. Amazon’s current PR chief, Craig Berman, will report to Carney, who will also be overseeing Amazon’s lobbying efforts. Previously, Carney had been rumored to be looking for a position in the technology industry, and reports last fall said he was considered for positions at both Apple and Uber. (Uber eventually hired Obama’s former campaign manager, David Plouffe.)

Cure back-office blues with tech management techniques

If you’re in senior management at a startup or a midsize tech company, you’re likely bored with and flummoxed by necessary but tedious back-office functions like HR, accounting, and legal. And there’s an even chance that those departments aren’t as effective as they could be. Take heart. Skills you have and processes you know can play roles outside R&D and product development.

When Gigaom Research surveyed senior execs at startups and smaller companies, they told us they’d much rather spend their time on activities where they could contribute the most value to their company. That meant core strategy and growth. In fact, only 14 percent were happy with how they spent their time. They felt back-office operations and maintaining the business distracted from growth.


Applying tech disciplines

Many senior execs at tech companies started in engineering or product development, where they soaked up the best practices illustrated in Eric Reis’ The Lean Startup like the minimum viable product and rapid iteration. In software development, agile techniques proved their effectiveness over the old waterfall, and DevOps drove home the discipline of integrating operations, development, and QA. In his latest report, Gigaom Research analyst Philip Sheldrake sketches out how to apply these tech management techniques to back-office functions, with the objective of making them more responsive to customer needs.

Sheldrake recommends the following:

  •  Human Resources should adopt concurrent testing techniques from agile development. Resume processing doesn’t have to be a linear process pass-along; rather it should exploit modern communication and collaboration techniques. Another Gigaom Research report suggests that most HR departments underuse social media communications, and might be more effective if they were managed by the CMO.
  • Finance can be crippled by outmoded project cost analysis and ROI forecasting practices. Agile’s focus on time-to-market and flexible reaction to changing customer needs promotes radically different cost justification. ROI gets built in by design. Stock market techniques like real-options valuation play a role.
  • Legal and Procurement should take lean manufacturing principles to heart. Think of those departments’ processes in the context of reducing waste in transport, inventory, waiting, and over-processing.

We did an analyst roundtable webinar on these topics as well.

Put the cloud to work

Similarly, it’s time to put the cloud to work on the back office. While many organizations are moving non-differentiating IT functions to the cloud, to date they’ve mostly focused on front-office functions like sales, customer service, and web presence. Leading-edge cloud adopters say they’re equally interested in moving significant back-office workloads onto cloud-based applications and services.



Nimble HR is like Trello for hiring

I’ve written about Trello, the popular teak task management app designed around Kanban-style “boards” (see “Trello and Atlassian are quietly making inroads and announce new funding” and “The 2013 task management tools market”) Nimble HR is a “people operations” app that starts with a Trello-like user experience then turns into a social tool for hiring employees.

Nimble’s founder, Darren Bounds, tells me that the idea came from his experience using Trello when involved in hiring at another company. Trello worked well, but it remains a general purpose task-management tool. So Darren has built in the remaining 80 percent of the particulars of hiring.

Here’s a screenshot of the tool opened to a particular job. The various panels are the states for applicants. Note that the state changes are made by users either dragging and dropping candidates’ cards onto a panel or by automated mechanisms.


Below you can see a candidate’s card. Stacy may have initiated the process from one of the many job boards Nimble HR has partnered with, and the data from that site is mapped to the candidate card. Note that the social media handles are prepopulated by Nimble HR based on the email address. You can see that the team are sharing thoughts in the activity stream, which can be used to communicate with the applicant as well.


The usual conventions for social communication — @mentions, up votes, down votes — are supported. And the application has useful analytics for tracking progress, and other features.


Darren showed me a beta feature, which is in context video conferencing, which includes recording video sessions. These are managed in the activity stream with other artifacts, like files, chat, and state changes.

The tool integrates with others like Slack, Dropbox, Hipchat, and Google Apps.

Nimble HR is an amazingly intuitive social hiring tool, with what I think must be as close to a zero learning curve as is feasible. I expect that once Darren has rolled out a few more features — and raises some venture capital — he will start thinking about how to tackle the other parts of HR that are crying out for a new user experience.


Checkr gets $9M in the hot background checks market

Checkr is a competitor in the new hire background checks space, which is seeing a lot of growth due to the growth of freelance work platforms, like Homejoy, Instacart, and so on. The company has raised a round of $9 million, led by Accel Partners, with participation of Khosla Ventures, SV Angel, Data Collective and Google Ventures, and a long list of angels.

Checkr is unusual in that the company is providing an API to its customers — around 50 at the present time — who post information about new hires to Checkr’s background-checks-as-a-service offering, and a few days later Checkr posts results, which are based on both public and private data sources. These include criminal records, traffic violations, sex offender databases, and so on.

The reports cost $25-$35, based on degree of information desired.

Here’s an example record from the company website, in this case a positive search for someone on the US terrorist watch list:

Screenshot 2014-10-15 11.52.57

Checkr joins a small but extremely important group of companies that are providing businesses a critical service through APIs, like Stripe. The company has only four employees and is processing over 500 reports a day. Obviously the funding will allow them to expand considerably, and to compete more effectively with others, like Goodhire and BeenVerified. BeenVerified does have an API, but these older start-ups are organized around more traditional interactions with customers — through email and web pages.

The company was founded in April, and the founders met Accel partners at a Y Combinator Demo Day in August.

All watched over by machines of loving grace

I recently wrote about concerns about the role of big data that arose from Facebook’s research effort where the researchers sought to determine if emotional state could be manipulated by what appeared in their Facebook activity streams (see The fear of big data is growing). But directed efforts to shape our emotional state or to control our behavior are not the only ways that application of big data analysis might prove to be questionable.

Peter Capelli has posted a piece at the Harvard Business Review that poses some important questions about the application of big data and predictive analysis about future behavior and performance of individuals based on what big data may reveal. At core is the question of what businesses might do when confronted with the possibility of peering into the statistical future, and choosing who to hire — for example — based on big data-based predictions.

Peter Cappelli, We Can’t Always Control What Makes Us Successful

Many of the attributes that predict good outcomes are not within our control.  Some are things we were born with, at least in part, like IQ and personality or where and how we were raised.  It is possible that those attributes prevent you from getting a job, of course, but may also prevent you from advancing in a company, put you in the front of the queue for layoffs, and shape a host of other outcomes.

So what, if those predictions are right?

First is the question of fairness. There is an interesting parallel with the court system where predictions of a defendant’s risk of committing a crime in the future are in many states used to shape the sentence they will be given. Many of the factors that determine that risk assessment, some of which include things like family background that are beyond the ability of the defendant to control. And there has been pushback: is it fair to use factors that individuals could not control in determining their punishment?

Likening the assessment of an employee’s fate in a corporate downsizing to the judicial review of criminals may seem farfetched, but the parallels are obvious. The power lies in the hands of the courts and management in the two cases, and the employees and the criminals are powerless. One attribute of that powerlessness is that judges and management have access to statistical information — and its analysis — while the criminals and employees do not, in general.

Capelli makes an argument that the psychologists — who have been grappling with the ethics of human assessment in the enterprise for decades — are now being pushed aside by data scientists and software companies that are providing new ways to read the crystal ball. Instead of personality or IQ tests, machines are crunching big data, mined from hundreds or thousands of companies, that reveal who is most likely to be a good call center worker.

Xerox is using software from Evolv that is based on the analysis of the testing and performance tracking of tens of thousands of call center workers

Joseph Walker, Meet the New Boss: Big Data

By putting applicants through a battery of tests and then tracking their job performance, Evolv has developed a model for the ideal call-center worker. The data say that person lives near the job, has reliable transportation and uses one or more social networks, but not more than four. He or she tends not to be overly inquisitive or empathetic, but is creative.

Applicants for the job take a 30-minute test that screens them for personality traits and puts them through scenarios they might encounter on the job. Then the program spits out a score: red for low potential, yellow for medium potential or green for high potential. Xerox accepts some yellows if it thinks it can train them, but mostly hires greens.

The terminology — reds, yellows, greens — sounds more like the caste system of a dystopic science fiction novel than a contemporary business analytic tool, but it’s not. This is what is going on in business, today. And the reasons are simple, despite the ethical questions that accompany them. One driver for the rise of algorithmic HR is that people are bad at making hiring decisions: we have too many cognitive biases, and our capacity for balancing many independent factors for a candidate’s suitability for a job is limited. So the logical decision — as we have seen at Xerox — is to hand over the decision of who to hire and train to the machines.

The result is that there will be less turnover at Xerox, saving the company money, and the customers benefit from better customer support. The only ones iced out are the ‘reds’: those individuals who might have desired a job at the call center, but who will now have to find a job where their curiosity is a plus not a black mark.

The counter to Capelli’s concern should be the government or the education sector, who — armed with big data and analytic tools of their own — could be guiding those ‘reds’, and everyone else — toward the jobs and careers that line up with their gifts and backgrounds.

And the broadest ethical questions — like what to do about those raised in single parent homes in a world that might rate them a higher risk for all jobs — are beyond the scope of this analysis, today, but as Capelli points out, those questions need to be raised and answered by someone.

In a time when our institutions are in retreat, and the social contract between the worker and the business has been attenuated, you have to wonder who that someone is.

Laszlo Bock talks about hiring at Google, and why the GPA is irrelevant

Thomas Friedman interviewed Laszlo Bock, based on the Adam Bryant interview of last June which I wrote about at the time (see Google admits HR brainteasers were “a complete waste of time”). The big takeaway was that Google — and everybody else — have been using techniques to choose job candidates which are not great predictors of future success in those jobs. GPA, best schools, and the famous Google brainteasers are not enough.
Bock proposed ‘behavioral interviewing’, where candidates have to explain in detail how they would react in specific circumstance, but his description was too brief, and I don’t understand how interviewers are trained in the technique. So I have been on the prowl for more info on this topic.
Friedman doesn’t add much to what Bock says, so I have just clipped him out and retained Bock’s words, framed by my own commentary.
Asked about what Google looks for in a candidate, since GPAs are not a great indicator:

There are five hiring attributes we have across the company. If it’s a technical role, we assess your coding ability, and half the roles in the company are technical roles. For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.

Number 1, the ability to learn quickly.
Number 2?

[Second] is leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.

The second most critical skill is leanership: emergent leadership. Not the title, not a degree in management. But the ability to steer things in the right direction without the authority to do so, through social competence.
And then? Responsibility and humility:

It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in [and try to solve any problem]. Your end goal is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.

This is a great description of the inner workings of cooperation. You add your competence because you are called to assist in the common cause with others: you feel responsible for that contribution. But you don’t need to make everyone get in line and follow your detailed plan for every step in every part of the project. You operate under the assumption that others will contribute their expertise in a manner similar to you, because of shared work culture: a culture greater than organizational culture; a worldview; a philosophical stance.
Part of that stance is ‘strong opinions, loosely held’. An intellectual humility:

Without humility, you are unable to learn. Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure. They, instead, commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved.
What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’ ” You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time.

This is another key aspect of the cooperation culture and of leanership.
What turns out to be least important? Expertise:

If you take somebody who has high cognitive ability, is innately curious, willing to learn and has emergent leadership skills, and you hire them as an H.R. person or finance person, and they have no content knowledge, and you compare them with someone who’s been doing just one thing and is a world expert, the expert will go: ‘I’ve seen this 100 times before; here’s what you do.’

Friedman paraphrases Bock as saying, more or less, that the inexpert may goof one in 100 times, but they are also capable of innovations that the expert would not consider. And that occasional breakthrough pays for a dozen small toe stubs.
The bottom line? The skills to look for in candidates are these, in order: the ability to learn quickly, leanership, responsibility, humility, and for developers, coding ability.
Let’s hope that the corporate HR folks out there are taking notes.
And it makes you think, obviously, that schools are focusing on the wrong things when the metric that they consider the distillation of the value they create — the GPA — turns out to be irrelevant.