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Data Mining Moves To Human Resources 262

Posted by Soulskill
from the incrementing-your-workplace-post-count dept.
theodp writes "Just when you thought annual reviews couldn't get worse, BusinessWeek reports that HR departments at companies like Microsoft and IBM are starting to use mathematical analysis to determine the value of each employee. At an undisclosed Internet company, analysis of (non-verbal) communications was used to produce a circle to represent each employee — those determined to generate or pass along valuable info were portrayed as large and dark-colored circles ('thought leaders' and 'networked curators'), while those with small and pale circles were written off as not adding a hell of a lot. 'You have to bring the same rigor you bring to operations and finance to the analysis of people,' explains Microsoft's Rupert Bader. Hey, who could argue with what Quants did for finance?"
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Data Mining Moves To Human Resources

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  • IBM (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Samschnooks (1415697) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @09:30AM (#27199409)
    Doesn't surprise me. IBM is the company that measures programmer productivity with KLOCs - thousands of lines of code.

    That's why their stuff is so bloated and slow.

    • Number crunching, a staple for decades in the quantifiable domains of engineering and finance, has spread in recent years into marketing and sales.

      Engineering only works because you still have people vetting the numbers. However, even there, there are problems that you just need a human opinion, because the engineers can't figure it out. One example - engineers called in to calculate how much you can cut a pile of earth back without shoring it up. None of them got within 50% of the actual number derived by subsequent tests. The solution is simple - call someone in whose work is excavating, and they'll give you a more accurate answer just by eyeballing.

      Bottom line: If your boss doesn't know how much your're contributing to the company, then your boss is deadwood and should be fired. No need for statistical analysis to replace common sense (which is what created the toxic CDOs and SIVs, etc)... but the deadwood boss will like this, because now it's not their job to know what you do any more - they can point to a chart.

      Short any company using this method.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        WTF?

        You obviously don't know many Mining or Civil engineers!

        That sort of stuff is their bread and butter.

        As for the deadwood boss crap, I have never met a useless idiot who thought they were a useless idiot. For some strange reason they get upset if you call them stupid, even if you have proof.
        Now it comes down to the definition of useless idiot and there is a good chance your boss has a different view than you.

        There is however a real problem in quantifying employee value that is summed up nicely in the old

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by tomhudson (43916)

          What I quoted is from an actual test of civil engineers. NONE of them got it anywhere near right - the best were off by 50%.

          Note that most will use a fudge factor to make sure that there's enough safety in their predictions/estimates - but that's not the same thing as saying "you can undecut so much and no more - it will collapse at that point +/- x %.

          Case in point - the engineers scoffed when I told them to build a trench box, despite excavating with no more than a 45% slope, when we were doing near-v

      • It would be interesting to see this Metric applied to the rank and file of India, and China. I think the resulting outcome would definitely be worthy of some CNN coverage.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by symbolic (11752)

        Agreed. This is just KLOC as a social metric. There are people who may say very little, but produce great results. And the reason they say very little is because they are more focused on the results than on the BS that many people rely on to convey a (false) sense of usefulness. One wonders how much of this "value" will be determined by politics, and have little to do with reality. This is especially true in situations where the "valued" information might be very accurate, but very unpopular.

      • by DeadDecoy (877617) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @01:12PM (#27200861)
        I think if this is used purely to select 'valuable' people by-the-numbers it could be disastrous. If, however, it turns into a data mining exercise, it could enhance the ability of the HR department to ferret out resources and organize teams or research projects. The first thing they should probably do is test out the theory: HR alone, HR + data mining, data mining alone, to see if there is any empirical evidence for making such a move. Maybe they'd then find out that combined, the human + machine performs better because the machine can manage gobs of data more efficiently and the human is more capable of adding qualities that normally aren't encoded into bits. Overall though, it should be tested before implementing. : P
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tomhudson (43916)

          Why not just remove HR from the equation, and teach managers how to do their jobs properly? Managers should be able to ... you know ... manage people ...

          I know, this means that they need to develop the soft skills, need to learn how to be effective mentors, how to avoid getting into turf wars and pissing contests, how to better communicate, how to protect their people ... all the things that those "team-building" exercises are supposed to teach, but don't, because it's not just something you can do by f

  • by ultrabot (200914) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @09:37AM (#27199429)

    Often, the problem with companies is that information doesn't get spread around. People work on their own projects in secret, never bothering to spread their knowledge. Perhaps this will urge some of the those to pay some attention to being useful for other employees as well, as opposed to just getting their own little project done.

    • by Clover_Kicker (20761) <clover_kicker@yahoo.com> on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:12AM (#27199639)

      It's as likely to encourage people to cc everyone and their cousin, or other silly tactics to game the metrics.

      • by MrNaz (730548) * on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:44AM (#27199845) Homepage

        From: bob@company.com
        To: all-user-list@company.com
        Subject: Good luck

        Close your eyes and imagine a well. Then imagine yourself tossing a coin into the well. Now forward this message to at least 5 of your friends within the company and HR will reward you with elevated quanta metrics and a payrise.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by couchslug (175151)

        "It's as likely to encourage people to cc everyone and their cousin, or other silly tactics to game the metrics."

        It will demand, not encourage, such behavior. I have no problem with that since I have no moral obligation to care about stupid or malicious employers. This system needs to be compromised so people can best craft traffic to exploit it.

    • Yes it is... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tjstork (137384) <todd DOT bandrowsky AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:21AM (#27199705) Homepage Journal

      There's a huge and erroneous misconception that centralization makes a corporation more efficient. I think centralization is a cancer. How often do mergers actually work? How often do governments actually execute well. The biggest failing of the free enterprise system as of late, is that, after hearing all of this about how government is inherently wasteful and inefficient and choked with slackers, that corporations set themselves to be operated just like governments. Just look at the result!

      The fact of the matter is, that the thing that matters most in any corporation is time to market. It doesn't matter if you are centralized and more "efficient" if it takes you two years longer to ship a late product out the door, because while your smaller competitors were signing stuff and building things, your own design was going through committees and signoffs to make sure that you weren't doing what someone else already did.

      Like, the stupidest thing GM ever did was to try and share so much data across so many divisions. What they should have done is just run each different division as a separate company, responsible for one thing - the bottom line. If they don't produce, then close them down. But instead, they have a huge corporate system that makes it very difficult for them to bring a new car design to market. And, by the time they get there, what started out as an award winning design is so late that they get slammed for making a mediocre product by the trade magazines first and the consumers second. All that's left of that company is Bob Lutz heroically pushing through car designs, but once he's gone (he's retiring), that company is screwed.

      I think the larger story is, really, that management education in the United States is a colossal failure. There is no reason that a large and previously successful company needs to decline and fail when other civilizations created empires and institutions that lasted for hundreds and thousands of years. But as it is, in America, as soon as a founder leaves a company, the MBAs get in and these "professional managers" slowly sink the ship. It doesn't have to be this way, but it will be this way until we get some serious curriculum changes at our management schools.

      That's right: HARVARD, WHARTON, YALE AND OTHER MBAS : YOU F---- SUCK!

      • Re:Yes it is... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Kjella (173770) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @11:51AM (#27200229) Homepage

        There's a huge and erroneous misconception that centralization makes a corporation more efficient. I think centralization is a cancer. (...) The fact of the matter is, that the thing that matters most in any corporation is time to market. It doesn't matter if you are centralized and more "efficient" if it takes you two years longer to ship a late product out the door, because while your smaller competitors were signing stuff and building things, your own design was going through committees and signoffs to make sure that you weren't doing what someone else already did.

        Let's try with a little IT analogy (shocking, I know). The "everyone do their own little thing" are the dreaded small VBA applications hacked up in Excel that have no architecture, no signoffs and just pop up all over the place. Or the IT networks where companies are on five different versions of Office and Exchange in a million configurations all running on wildly different hardware and environments depending on what the local IT guru at the time found at Best Buy. I've been in projects where we gathered up the investments being done in all the different business units and realized several of them were working on projects for the same thing because noone had any idea what the others were doing.

        On the other hand, I've also been where using an unapproved application or making a configuration required sign-offs to make the Vogons proud. I haven't been that much into beurocratic application development but I'm sure there's places you go crazy over trying to get a change through the archtiectural review subcomittee to get the interface in the common corporate component toolkit changed. Funamentally it's the same challenge the MBAs have, how much should we have a central control and how much should we let everyone do their own thing. It's easy to be an armchair MBA and think you got all the answers because you don't see the actual implications. I'm sure there's many MBAs that think they'd make great IT policy too.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by tjstork (137384)

          Let's try with a little IT analogy (shocking, I know). The "everyone do their own little thing" are the dreaded small VBA applications hacked up in Excel that have no architecture, no signoffs and just pop up all over the place

          Has the thought ever occurred to you that all of those little applications actually solved problems for the business?

          t's easy to be an armchair MBA and think you got all the answers because you don't see the actual implications.

          There's only two kinds of people a company needs: people

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by enronman (664750)
            As an MBA, let me tell you I'm very involved in making things and selling them. How/where we make things falls into my lap, what price we sell them at also falls into my lap. Identifing new markets to sell our products into to new products, something I do.
          • by Kjella (173770)

            Has the thought ever occurred to you that all of those little applications actually solved problems for the business?

            Of course. I also know what they pay me for moving things that have outgrown Excel into a real system, even during the current economic conditions. You have no idea how much time people waste on clusterfuck applications because they were designed by people who couldn't have passed CS101 if their life depended on it.

            There's only two kinds of people a company needs: people that make things and people that sell them. MBAs do neither. They don't sell, and they don't make. There's no value-add, so there is no point.

            That's about as stupid as saying "Our software consist of code. If you don't write code, you're not a value-add" and fire every non-developer in IT. Try having 100 salesmen talking to 100 develop

          • by lorenlal (164133)

            Let's try with a little IT analogy (shocking, I know). The "everyone do their own little thing" are the dreaded small VBA applications hacked up in Excel that have no architecture, no signoffs and just pop up all over the place

            Has the thought ever occurred to you that all of those little applications actually solved problems for the business?

            Of course, but that's missing the point. If it's really useful for the business, then someone should be there to take care of it and make sure the interface makes s

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by turbidostato (878842)

        "run each different division as a separate company, responsible for one thing - the bottom line. If they don't produce, then close them down. "

        You are no better than the environment you disqualify. Both of you are members of the "see this complex problem? it's not complex but simple and here you have the solution for 100% of the cases" brotherhood. Your solution fails on the locale optimum side and it is visible at all levels. With your proposal you are guaranteed to never look for projects with returns o

        • by tjstork (137384)

          If you put your focus on local optimus you'll lose a lot on sinergies;

          Dude, we've spent the last twenty years in the US economy merging, analyzing and looking for these synergies, and it's failed.

        • Arguing that you can just mash people together and get "synergies" is like arguing that you can put Van Gogh and Rembrant on a team to make a better painting, can put the Rolling Stones and Beatles into a single band and get a better album. They are just -different- things and the whole idea of synergies is really about simplification and eliminating those important local differences that serve to identify products. I'm not the one that looks for simplicity - it is the merger and mba types that just slam

      • by hemp (36945)

        At GM, each division is run separately with a president. It has been done this was since the 1920s.

        Very little information is shared. Things like advertising are run completely separately with no coordination. This is not efficient.

        • by tjstork (137384)

          At GM, each division is run separately with a president. It has been done this was since the 1920s

          Ah, but, you see, all car design is centralized and GM's problem has always been trying to manage its brands and often to their own self detriment. That has been the story since around the 1960s and we notice that GM begins its decline around that time as well. Most famous, of course, is the idea that the Corvette -HAS- to be the fastest car, and so on, or Pontiac has to be about performance, and so on. The

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by linhares (1241614)

        I think the larger story is, really, that management education in the United States is a colossal failure. There is no reason that a large and previously successful company needs to decline and fail when other civilizations created empires and institutions that lasted for hundreds and thousands of years. But as it is, in America, as soon as a founder leaves a company, the MBAs get in and these "professional managers" slowly sink the ship. It doesn't have to be this way, but it will be this way until we get some serious curriculum changes at our management schools. That's right: HARVARD, WHARTON, YALE AND OTHER MBAS : YOU F---- SUCK!

        I did my PhD in Computer Science, and I teach MBA's (who have to make a thesis and ideally publish it). The first thing I say in class is that "science is too important to be left in the hands of scientists, so in this course there will be no quick formulas or little case studies". We will study science, including the mathematical and computational aspects. Is anyone able to program a computer in, say, java? Is anyone a mathematician or engineer?

        Here's what is sad: (i) almost all other professors will

  • by meist3r (1061628) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @09:40AM (#27199437)
    In which you measure the derived value of employees and sell those as part of your stock portfolio. Then a ratings agency gives you a denominated value for your most productive employees and you re-sell those.

    I believe quantifying employee "importance" by the number of email conversations they had and who read what they wrote is pretty silly. Soon they'll fire all their network admins because they all are represented by small-ish pale circles that usually reside in some dark basement bureau.

    Can business get any more dehumanizing? I don't think so. I at least wouldn't want to work at a company like that. From TFA:

    "You have to bring the same rigor you bring to operations and finance to the analysis of people," says Rupert Bader, director of workforce planning at Microsoft

    Can you say fucking stupid, kids? Humans are not machines (at least not yet), they have bad days and bad weeks and some have bad decades (imagine your child dies). Evaluating them through "rigorous" methodological measures is pure idiocy.

    • by Jurily (900488) <[jurily] [at] [gmail.com]> on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:08AM (#27199609)

      Can business get any more dehumanizing? I don't think so. I at least wouldn't want to work at a company like that.

      Amen brother. Coincidentally, aren't these the same companies who never seem to come up with something original?

      • by meist3r (1061628) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:25AM (#27199729)

        Amen brother. Coincidentally, aren't these the same companies who never seem to come up with something original?

        Maybe because they always fire the wrong people. That guy that hangs out at the water cooler all day and spends half his work hours developing some strange project of his will probably revolutionize the entire industry one day simply because he had all that creative time going. On top of that even though his skills for his job aren't stellar he keeps the morale up and the others going harder because he's such a nice guy and keeps the overall mood in the office on a positive level. Meanwhile, you're complaining that your worker drones, that do exactly as they are told and don't even have ambition to strive for anything else, aren't the innovators that you want them to be. Weird.

        • by sjames (1099) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @11:34AM (#27200127) Homepage

          That's a big part of why metrics like TFA talks about will fail. The guy at the water cooler is the guy who meets with an informal representative of each group each day, receives a condensed report of how they're REALLY doing and what they're REALLY working on and then shares the significant parts of that with informal representatives of all of the other groups.

          He has a much clearer "Big Picture" of how the division's doing and where it's going than the bosses boss. He also has a tiny pale circle because he doesn't email every irrelevancy in his head to everyone else just because it's easier to remember all@ rather than a particular person's email address.

          Meanwhile, his KLOC is half that of the others because he spends half his day working over the problem in the back of his mind so that when he sits down and starts coding after lunch he has already whittled the big complex hairball down to a simple and elegant solution.

          Since the metrics say he's deadwood, out he goes. Then management spends the next 6 months wondering why, in spite of their bold and brilliant management, the whole division seems to be getting dumber and slower by the day. Time to cut some more deadwood, they figure.

          • by timeOday (582209)
            OK, sometimes. But it's fair to ask, if you owned a sizeable business, what process would you use to identify these "facilitators" vs. deadwood? None of us wants to be miscategorized as a slacker, but the fact is, some people just are. And most of them probably think they are facilitators.
            • by sjames (1099) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @12:32PM (#27200491) Homepage

              Divide and conquer. Others in the department know very well who is deadwood and who quietly holds the whole thing together. If their managers are any good, they know it as well. The manager's peers and reports know very well who's a good manager and who's just suit stuffing.

              The above is hardly perfect, but will be orders of magnitude more accurate than people half a continent away who never have and never will meet any of the employees they're making decisions over using a broken mathematical model that they don't even understand.

            • by Zerth (26112)

              Hardcore observation. Fill the place full of cameras, then pay an anthropologist to watch everybody and develop the kind of relationship map they do for previously uncontacted jungle tribes.

              They get some PHD material, you get a map of your dept much better than what this crap is.

    • I guess everyone is going to hammer this, so here's a counterpoint. I'm all for better tools to help people development. For far too long, HR and management of people in general has either been too 'robotic' (think Taylorism) or subjective, as in 'your boss likes you, so you get a better raise'.

      There's no reason why stuctured approaches, that have worked well elsewhere, should not be used. The real problem lies with lazy, incompetent managers who are everlastingly seeking the holy grail of the 'quick fix

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      ('thought leaders' and 'networked curators') ... 'You have to bring the same rigor you bring to operations and finance to the analysis of people,' explains Microsoft's Rupert Bader.

      You go for it Mr Bader. It'll mean that those useless, unimportant, non-value-adding engineering employees that you currently employ will leave in disgust, but you'll have a company staffed to the limit with all those valuable 'thought leaders' and 'networked curators'. Best add a few 'change coordinators' and 'innovation facilit

    • You mean like this [nfl.com]?
    • by linhares (1241614)

      Can business get any more dehumanizing? I don't think so.

      "Welcome, welcome to City 17, you have chosen or been chosen to relocate to one of our finest remaining urban centers. I thought so much of City 17 that I elected to establish my administration here, in the Citadel so thoughtfully provided by our benefactors. I have been proud to call City 17 my home. So whether you are here to stay, or passing through on your way to parts unknown, welcome to City 17. It's safer here."

  • I thought this was common practice. Sorry, I never worked H.R.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tomhudson (43916)

      I thought this was common practice. Sorry, I never worked H.R.

      That's why most people who go into HR - to avoid work.

      They're "networking", they're "in meetings", they're "interviewing candidates" - and anyone who's read Dilbert knows that's just job-speak for schmoozing, dozing off, and more schmoozing.

  • Joy (Score:5, Funny)

    by Heather D (1279828) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @09:46AM (#27199469)

    Ah. Yes this would be the 'Brazil' solution.

    "I'm sorry Mr Jones, our database says that you are a statistical outlier and that you should be dead by now."

    *pulls out gun*

    "You must become compliant."

  • Approximation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest (867930) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @09:47AM (#27199475)
    It may be interesting as an approximation, but people really should know who their good workers are without these tools.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      A managers good workers are the one that get them promoted, not the ones that do good work... and that's ultimately a problem for the organisation.

      • At lower levels, that is a common effect, but it's not turtles all the way down: senior management have nowhere left to get promoted to, and their goal should be (and, if their bonuses are stock-based, might actually be) to make the overall business more successful. This is more likely if you get rid of managers who are interested in self-promotion above all else, and promote those who do a good job of managing people as measured by the success/contribution of whatever part of the organisation they manage.

        I

        • by Zerth (26112)

          Senior mgmt, since their bonuses are stock based, has the goal of inflating stock value in the short term(ie, until they jump ship) over stock value in the long term(ie actually making the business successful).

          Unless the company is still young, most mgmt got their by being a self-promoter and will resist such change vigorously, unless they are exempt from it.

          But yes, on the upside, this method does ease the avoidance of such companies, if they are kind enough to mention it in the interview process and not u

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by houghi (78078)

      One does not exclude the other. I have seen a lot of people say "this is a good employee" and when you ask "Why?" the answers are generally very vague. Having objective points to measure is not a bad thing, AS LONG AS IT IS NOT THE ONLY ONE.

      I once had a very good idea who where the best people working for me, until I did a real measurement. Then I noticed that I favored some above others. The reason was that those people where more open, so they spoke more to me and I apparently liked that. The job did not

  • by pkbarbiedoll (851110) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @09:52AM (#27199505)
    and live in perpetual fear of being outsourced. Seems like a lose-lose proposition to me.
  • At an undisclosed Internet company, analysis of (non-verbal) communications was used to produce a circle to represent each employee â" those determined to generate or pass along valuable info were portrayed as large and dark-colored circles ('thought leaders' and 'networked curators'), while those with small and pale circles were written off as not adding a hell of a lot. 'You have to bring the same rigor you bring to operations and finance to the analysis of people,' explains Microsoft's Rupert Bader

    This is rigorous analysis!?

    So in other words they want schmoozers and suits, not people who are busy.. working?

    Great. So just stand on the throttle until you hit something. Because that worked so well for the economy.

    • This is rigorous analysis!?

      It's more rigorous than promoting the guy with the right hairstyle or firing the guy who graduated from the school that rejected you.

      Of course it's still crap, because (on the surface -IDNRTFA) it looks trivially easy to game the system.

  • I would joke that this could be a good thing, in that, we'll just game the review system to get raises.

    The reality is, though, that the more corporations seek to control and monitor their employees, the more they will crush the entrepreneur in them. Corporations work best when they motivate people and you do that by creating a positive, team culture that gives its participants a sense of mission. Take that away, reduce people to cogs, and you are going to get cogs as a result, and you'll get an inevitable decline. What enterprising person would want to work as an anonymous cog, coming out of college with a degree and history that says they are anything but, when they could make a real difference at a startup.

    Actions like this doom large corporations, and frankly, this sort of thinking was what alienated the big 3 for a lot of people, and now they want to do this to the computer industry?

    Stupid, stupid, stupid.

  • I knew my boss was an idiot. Now I can tell all his emails, run them through the HR analysis program, and prove it. Yay! :-)

  • What's the news? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:02AM (#27199575)

    those determined to generate or pass along valuable info were portrayed as large and dark-colored circles ('thought leaders' and 'networked curators'), while those with small and pale circles were written off as not adding a hell of a lot.

    So loudmouths that brag (non-verbally... ok) every time they managed to piss without getting too much on their pants get promoted while people who quietly do their work get the shaft. Anything else new?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:03AM (#27199581)

    I love how they say that only a certain percentage of employees can be meeting, exceeding, or failing to meet expectations.

    I have a relative working for a large appliance manufacturer that pulls this crap. Even if every employee did a perfect job (hypothetically speaking), there has to be a least a certain amount of them that are labelled as underperformers.

    "Oh. Well, yes, Jimmy, we agree you did a perfect job but since you didn't wear matching socks on August 14th, we'll have to put you in the underperformers category."

    Let me tell you about why QA exists in the first place. You see...at one point in time in every large company, there was no QA department. Then, a bunch of sales managers, temps, underperforming execs, obsolete trainers, and lazy HR personnel were all about to get canned for their uselessness. Then, they go to the company president and say, "Hey. You know...we really need to do some 'improving' here at XYZ Corporation. My associates and I have come up with a plan to monitor and track employee productivity and customer satisfaction based on this rigid set of next-to-meaningless criteria. There's always room for improvement, you know. And guess what? The best part is that since we have a plan to apply quantitative figures to qualitative matters, you'll be able to screw most people out of raises and bonuses as often as you'd like! All you have to do is let us keep our jobs."

    And, of course, the higer-ups fall for it hook, line, and sinker. Idiots.

  • by GF678 (1453005) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:08AM (#27199611)

    How can you form any kind of social bonding in a company when your worth is distilled down to the results of some fucking mathematical formula? I'm not naive to think there's any concept of loyalty or trust in the modern business, but man, things just keep getting worse.

    Forget even referring to us by name anymore, just give us numbers if you're gonna stop treating us as human fucking beings.

    • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:40AM (#27199813)

      ...just give us numbers if you're gonna stop treating us as human fucking beings.

      So posted /. user 1453005.
      Your participation has been credited to your Interaction Value Score./p>

  • Gaming the system (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:10AM (#27199627) Homepage

    Does it bother anyone this is the same type of gadget analysis that got us into the current economic situation? Your most valuable employees aren't always the most communicative.

    We have one developer who shuns any type of contact, doesn't have a phone on his desk, rarely sends an email longer than two sentences. Yet he's the most heads-down, dogged and prolific programmer I've ever worked with. I suppose the gadget developers would argue that would be accounted by how often his code fragments turn up in other projects but how do you really account for the source of a code fragment? Especially one that is later modified for other uses?

    I can see a lot of bad conclusions coming from this kind of analysis. Where the most outgoing employees are valued over those actually meeting deadlines. So you end up with a company full of a lot of talkers and lay off all the actual doers. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much how we got in the economic mess we're in.

    • by lee1026 (876806)

      As they are doing Data Mining, I expect their software to actually pickup on the fact that the number of emails sent is a poor predictor.

  • you have no need for this kind of "rigorous" (bah) methods.
    • Not to defend this kind of bullshit, but you can't know all your employees in a behemoth the size of IBM or MS.

      The bigger the organization, the harder it is to manage. Once you get above a certain point it's impossible to manage well, and MS and IBM are waaaaaaaay past the manageable point.

  • OK. So by this metric, people who forward chain letters and jokes will get a better rating?

  • Sheer idiocy. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:18AM (#27199681) Journal
    It presumes that people don't change. It presumes that the set of "desirable" traits are always going to be desirable. It puts quantity over quality, but it is quality that often matters more.

    Let's say you have a company that makes widgets. One of the people in the widget design office is a bit of a dork. He's a musician, a quiet and not very sociable bass player. And this is his day job. He works hard enough to keep his job but not much more. One day, he comes up with an idea that is dead brilliant, and then goes on tour. The idea saves the company millions of dollars. And let's see - he always comes in late, frequently hungover, kind of smells, and tries to leave early. He doesn't do that much when he's a round, and he's often not around because of his band.

    But, in one afternoon, he has been of more use to the company than all other employees in Widget Design combined, ever.

    By the metrics described, he would have been laid off upon return from tour.

    Typical fuckwittery by HR bozos.

    The best companies don't have HR, except in terms of processing new hires, dealing with benefits, and assisting people on the way out. The rest is left to the departments and managers. It makes for a flatter and faster organisation - ideas M$ has no clue about.

    RS

    • I agree completely! Microsoft still don't get it.
    • by timeOday (582209)
      You know what? There are a lot of people who think they've done some great thing and the company is eternally indebted to them regardless of all their failings. "Oh, I don't need to put in the hours because I'm the idea guy." We all want to be that guy whose brilliance allows him to do whatever he wants. But if you think you're that guy, I can almost guarantee most of your co-workers disagree, and they're probably right.
  • All this means is that the people emailing links to porn sites will get the first promotions.

     

  • Use of the tool promptly gets stopped when it reveals that upper management adds no value.
  • Counter example (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Vornzog (409419) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:25AM (#27199727)

    My wife just took a new position, because her last boss was an idiot. He was a passive aggressive micro-manager, puffed up with his own self-importance, *at least* 15 years out of date technically, and long since regulated to the most irrelevant corner of the company.

    By the metrics discussed here, though, he'd have looked like the hero! *All* had to run though him - customers, suppliers, management, co-workers - if you talked to someone without including him in the conversation, he'd flip. He threatened to fire my wife (and a few more people since) for doing their job without his constant oversight. Unfortunately, while everyone knows about the situation, my wife was the first to report it to HR, so they can only now start to think about taking action against they guy.

    Counting the number of communications makes the people who send one word, no value added emails and attend a lot of meetings they don't need to be at look good.

    Also, it completely misses your crack team - the 3-4 people who you can hand a problem to, and know that they'll have it solved by next Tuesday, no questions asked. When those people shut their office door, you leave them alone, because you know they are working miracles, and you'll only get int their way.

    Web analogy - Google and page rank. Rule number one is that you never trust the page to tell you how important it really is. Pages with all the right keywords and a bunch of links are one of two things - the best of the best about a topic, or an SEO linkfarm. So you take those things into account, but you do so with a *huge* grain of salt. To augment it, you go looking for other supporting metrics - what do other people think?

    The HR department has just automated a human approach to the problem - they took one piece of evidence that the human brain can wrap its head around, and made the computer count that. You want to do informatics and data mining right, you need to learn what the computer is good at, and start looking for deeper patterns that are hidden by masses of data too large for the human mind to encompass.

    • Re:Counter example (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:45AM (#27199849) Homepage Journal

      I strongly suspect that this system is designed to identify people like your wife's ex-boss as valuable employees, while denigrating people like your wife, who (I assume) does real, useful work. The middle-management drones want to justify their existence to the upper-management drones, and software that assigns a number to "networking" and "synergies" and "six-sigma leveraging of core stakeholder values" is exactly the right tool for this. The upper-management drones are inclined to believe this sort of thing already, of course, and the sorts of reports the software generates add to their self-satisfaction.

    • She'll be fired before the end of the second quarter.

  • From TFA:

    Certain employees produce chunks of data - whether words or software code - that later pop up in other messages. The people copied most often, Cataphora concludes, are thought leaders.

    In my experience the code that is discussed in emails is just as likely to be because it is bad as it is because it is good and I'm sure the examples at http://thedailywtf.com/ [thedailywtf.com] often "pop up in other messages".

    Good managers already know the value of their staff by talking to them, talking to their colleagues and assessing their work. If a manager has to resort to analytics like this at least a corporation knows where their management problems lie.

  • by mi (197448) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:30AM (#27199753) Homepage

    Hey, who could argue with what Quants did for finance [slashdot.org]?

    The above rhetorical question implies, the submitter/editor disagree with mathematical methods. For Slashdot, that's quite a shocker... From the linked posting:

    Nocera explores the age-old debate between those who assert that the best decisions are based on quantification and numbers, and those who base their decisions on more subjective degrees of belief about the uncertain future.

    A particular math theory may or may not be flawed, but do we really prefer "subjective beliefs" (a.k.a. "hunches") around here?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hognoxious (631665)

      Theodp always submits this kind of "story". Read the linked story - it's largely speculative nonesense.

      It wasn't the quants who did for financ so much as greedy managers who believed the numbers, especially when they told them what they wanted to hear. That and failure to apply small quantities of sodium chloride.

    • False dichotomy. Why are all beliefs not derived from this model or others like it subjective?

    • by sjames (1099)

      Or, it simply reveals their skepticism of the mathematical model being employed or of the non-mathematically inclined HR department's ability to understand the math and the limitations of the model.

      Quants and HR wonks are to mathematicians as zero point free energy crackpots are to physicists.

      All of that crackpottery is nowhere near as useful as the armchair physicist saying from his gut impression TANSTAAFL.

      Put another way, a simple analog experiment can easily beat the most advanced digital simulations wh

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mysticgoat (582871)

      Parent post should be modded up. There is something to be said for using a rigorous methodology when comparing the value of different employees, and that will necessarily reduce to numbers at some point.

      That being said, TFA is either seriously oversimplifying what its author learned, or the companies it describes are doing it wrong.

      TFA is basically describing ways of developing and presenting sociograms. The shape of any sociogram is as dependent on the choice of qualitative tools used to develop it as

    • The above rhetorical question implies, the submitter/editor disagree with mathematical methods.

      Actually, I think the basic objection may not be so much modeling itself as putting models in the hands of "professionals" who routinely do things like ask for 5+ years of Java Development experience... in 1998.

      There's an argument floating around that what caused the financial system mess wasn't so much the mathematical models and the quants who invented them, but the higher ups who built on them as tools without

  • by ewg (158266) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:35AM (#27199777)

    On the face of it, these methods' reliance on machine-readable communications introduces an incentive to spam colleagues with messages in order to inflate one's score. It also penalizes any form of off-line communication.

    Calling a meeting to discuss an issue that could have been resolved in the hallway is rewarded, while taking a minute to share information with a coworker in their office is not.

  • Theodp's ignorant comment about "quants" and mathmatical ignores one of the primary thing I have heard repeated about the blame being put on mathmatical modeling for the financial crisis. Namely, that it is not that mathmatical modeling was used but rather that only one mathmatical model was used by everyone.

    Mathmatical modeling is a tool, like a computer. It can be used properly or improperly. And, in the case of the financial systems, it was used improperly, just like theodp's use of his computer and his

    • by sjames (1099)

      Theodp's ignorant comment about "quants" and mathmatical ignores one of the primary thing I have heard repeated about the blame being put on mathmatical modeling for the financial crisis. Namely, that it is not that mathmatical modeling was used but rather that only one mathmatical model was used by everyone.

      That's just the tip of the iceberg and in part is meant to deflect blame. They want to make the problem seem diffuse and systemic (spread the blame thin enough and it lands on nobody) rather than sharply defined and individual.

      The problem was that the mathematical model had only limited historical data to draw from and so, only limited predictive power but it was ignorantly applied as if it's predictive power was limitless by people who didn't actually understand how it worked in the first place, much less

    • Please Read The Black Swan, for reasons why you are wrong.

  • by krou (1027572) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:59AM (#27199929)

    When I read things like this, I'm always reminded of Frederick Taylor [wikipedia.org]. If you've never heard of him, he's probably the guy you should thank [unimelb.edu.au] for such quackery.

    In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first.

    This idea of mathematically determining the value of each employee fits very well with his ideas. Face it: in the modern corporate world, humans are part of a system that is, overall, far more important than the individual. It is increasingly a scientifically-managed system, so it should come as no surprise that such dehumanising practices should take place. Business does not want humans; it wants workers.

    It is quite a logical outcome of our increasing reliance on scientific principles to explain and analyse our world. I find it ironic that many /. members would hate this approach of analysing workers, yet its roots lie in our reliance on science to breakdown, label, categorise, and figure out how we and our world works. In the same way psychology, neuroscience, and other mind-related fields were bastardised to figure out how to manipulate the human mind to makes us consume, the computer sciences will be used in a similar fashion to make us behave a certain way: if you don't want to get fired, you need to make sure what you do conforms to their model.

    Sadly, figuring out the "optimal" and "perfect" workers will, like my .sig says, make us realise just what it was that made us human, instead of just robots.

    • It is increasingly a positivistically-managed system

      I fixed it for you.

      • by krou (1027572)

        Positivist in the sense it is managed based on observable and measurable phenomena?

        Sounds like just another way of saying the same thing as what I said.

  • "God bless the meek." "Oh, that's nice. They have a devil of a time of it." This shouldn't help.

    Actually, what's really scary is it's five minutes in the future from Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom where a person thrives by his cumulative online "Whuffie".

  • by Fjan11 (649654) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @11:16AM (#27200019) Homepage
    I've worked in management positions and I don't really need advice on who my most valuable employees are. But I wouldn't mind having this data to show to underperformers. It's sometimes hard to convince individuals that they are not as good as they think they are.
    • by dougwhitehead (573106) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @11:34AM (#27200135)
      So basically, you are saying you want a club to beat people with. That way you can choose who gets the beating.

      Most of the discussion here is about determining whether the metric is actually valuable.
      • by Fjan11 (649654)
        That's putting it bluntly, but yes. Used incorrectly and/or in the wrong hands this would be bad, but that goes for any management tool. The reason most people in the discussion are focussing on how it applies to them is probably because most of them are not in a management position.
    • "I've worked in management positions and I don't really need advice on who my most valuable employees are."

      That's what you think. Now, probe it (even to yourself).

  • by multimediavt (965608) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @11:30AM (#27200099)

    Am I the only one very, very disturbed by this type of analysis? To reduce a human being down to a statistical average and use that in hiring and termination practices is just utterly ridiculous. A person is worth more than the sum of their quantifiable parts! I agree that there are far too many people that are either deadwood within an organization or have no business being managers of areas that they have little to no background within, but there are people out there that excel at areas they have no background in (mostly because their thought processes function differently than others, i.e. thinking outside the box) and have the ability to cut across quantifiable boundaries and contribute to an organization's goals in immeasurably positive ways.

    This is a horrible idea and will backfire on those that implement it. Mark my words, the first person to be wrongly terminated because of this practice is going to ream the hell out the company that does it. You cannot quantify the human element in an equation. They will ALWAYS surprise you!

  • to those who lack understanding.

    The point of a company is that it is a system. Productivity is an emergent property, and individual productivity is dependent on putting that individual's talents to best use. True, if you can't figure out how to do this, you should let that person go. But that doesn't mean you should use statistics to run your business like a fantasy football franchise.

  • Yeah... Sure... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hartree (191324) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @11:35AM (#27200147)

    I currently do chemistry work that I report on paper to get entered by others or tell verbally to someone by phone. I think I've sent three emails at work so far this year.

    By this measure I am of no value and a temp who does data entry is a national treasure. (That may be true, but it doesn't follow from this analysis.)

    Guess I'll have to start responding to those weekly email tag fests of "who is going to bring what to the Friday pot-luck lunch". It may up my stats, but it'll probably add to my waistline.

  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Sunday March 15, 2009 @12:25PM (#27200433)

    Does anybody doubt for a minute that the first thing managers will do is exempt themselves from being evaluated this way? The only thing this "tool" will be used for is to intimidate employees at evaluation time, or when they're looking for a raise.

  • My answer to any employer who tries these shenanigans on me: "Treat me like a number again and I'll treat you like an animal." I only work with friends.

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