When it comes to making judgments based on large data sets, machines are often superior to humans, but many business leaders remain skeptical of the guidance produced by their organizations’ data analytics programs, particularly when it comes to talent analytics. That skepticism derives largely from doubts about the quality of the data the organization is collecting, but there is also a natural tendency among people who make strategic decisions for a living to reject the notion that an algorithm could do parts of their job as well as or better than they can.
While this may be true of executives and high-level professionals, some recent research suggests that most people are actually comfortable with the decisions algorithms make and even more trusting of them than of judgments made by humans. A new study from the Harvard Business School, led by post-doctoral fellow Jennifer M. Logg, finds that “lay people adhere more to advice when they think it comes from an algorithm than from a person”:
People showed this sort of algorithm appreciation when making numeric estimates about a visual stimulus (Experiment 1A) and forecasts about the popularity of songs and romantic matches (Experiments 1B and 1C). Yet, researchers predicted the opposite result (Experiment 1D). Algorithm appreciation persisted when advice appeared jointly or separately (Experiment 2). However, algorithm appreciation waned when people chose between an algorithm’s estimate and their own (versus an external advisor’s—Experiment 3) and they had expertise in forecasting (Experiment 4). Paradoxically, experienced professionals, who make forecasts on a regular basis, relied less on algorithmic advice than lay people did, which hurt their accuracy.
Our colleagues here at Gartner have also investigated consumers’ attitudes toward AI and found that these attitudes are more welcoming than conventional wisdom might lead you to believe. The 2018 Gartner Consumer AI Perceptions Study found that overall, consumers are not skeptical of the potential usefulness of AI, though they do have some concerns about its impact on their skills, social relationships, and privacy. The study was conducted online during January and February 2018 among 4,019 respondents in the US and UK. Respondents ranged in age from 18 through 74 years old, with quotas and weighting applied for age, gender, region, and income.
Ford Argo AI
In a sign of how serious the US automobile industry is about beating Silicon Valley to marketable self-driving cars, several AI startups working on this technology have multiplied in size since being bought by legacy automakers over the past two years, Christina Rogers reports at the Wall Street Journal. Argo AI, an artificial intelligence startup founded in Pittsburgh by former top engineers from the self-driving vehicle divisions of Alphabet and Uber, had fewer than a dozen employees when Ford Motor Company bought a $1 billion majority stake in it early last year. Today, it has 330 employees, including a number of software engineers and robotics researchers formerly employed by major tech companies like Apple and Uber.
Argo attracted these employees with an equity offer for new hires, which big tech companies can’t offer, Chief Executive Bryan Salesky tells Rogers. This ensures that each employee is “able to benefit from the upside being created in a direct way”—a potentially massive payoff given that Argo is helping Ford prepare to bring a fully autonomous car to market in 2021 while also developing a system it can sell to other companies. Being backed by a major company, but not owned outright or micromanaged by that company, gives Argo the agility to continue operating like a tech startup, while also benefitting from Ford’s economies of scale to manufacture and market the products it designs.
General Motors also bought a self-driving car startup, Cruise Automation, as part of a series of high-tech investments in 2016 that signaled the company’s intent to develop autonomous vehicles and made it a more attractive employer for tech talent. San Francisco-based Cruise, which GM also spent $1 billion to acquire, has staffed up to 740 employees and got $2.25 billion investment from Japan’s SoftBank Group last month, Rogers adds. Japanese automakers like Toyota and Nissan are also investing in the development of robotics and autonomous driving technology.
Sticky Note Post It Board Office
One major consequence of our increasingly digital society and economy is that the next great business idea really can come from anywhere. Companies are increasingly taking this lesson to heart and looking for ways to solicit ideas from their entire community of employees, not just those formally dedicated to the development of new business. Last week, Digiday’s Max Willens took note of this trend in the media, observing the innovative techniques publishers are using to generate product ideas, such as a “Shark Tank”-style competition Politico tried out last summer:
Politico joins other publishers that are turning to their own employees to develop new revenue ideas. Before it was acquired by Meredith last fall, Time Inc. ran a similar internal competition that attracted nearly 60 submissions from employees. The Globe and Mail in Toronto and New York Daily News have run their own accelerator programs for years. Those programs have resulted in The Globe and Mail’s Workplace Awards, a profitable award and events program, and an ad-viewability tool at the Daily News.
Finding new sources of revenue has become a top priority for publishers everywhere. But in these cases, the goal is also to instill entrepreneurial thinking in a mature industry.
This concept is being tried in many industries, not just publishing. In our recent and ongoing research at CEB, now Gartner, we’ve seen many organizations turning to their employees through these types of ideation programs—some of which are much more effective than others. As you might imagine, inviting entire workforces to generate ideas can result in a certain amount of idea or information overload. The more interesting solutions we’ve seen guide employees to focus on and share the most helpful kinds of ideas, creating a sort of self-filtering mechanism.
LinkedIn users browsing job listings can now get a sense of what their commute would be like if they took the job. The new feature, which senior product manager Dan Li announced in a blog post last week, adds to the growing pile of information LinkedIn helps job seekers find about the roles they are considering:
When you visit job listings on LinkedIn from your mobile phone, you’ll start to see a “See Your Commute” module. From here you can enter your address to calculate how long it would take you to get to your new office walking, driving or on public transportation. Soon, you’ll also have the option to save your location information locally on your phone so you don’t have to type it in every time you’re looking at a role.
You can also set your commute preferences within your Career Interests dashboard so we can provide you with more relevant job recommendations that fit your lifestyle.
The feature was introduced after LinkedIn surveyed 1,000 of its users last October and found that 85 percent of them would take a pay cut in exchange for a shorter commute, Fortune’s Rachel King added. Times and maps for the See Your Commute feature are processed by Bing, the search engine owned by LinkedIn’s parent company Microsoft; in that regard, it’s evidence that Microsoft is making good on its plan to augment LinkedIn, which it bought for over $26 billion in 2016, by integrating it with other elements of the tech giant’s vast suite of software products.
Ever since Recruit Holdings, the Japanese HR conglomerate that owns Indeed, announced last month that it was acquiring Glassdoor, speculation has run rampant that the parent company would inevitably combine the two properties into an even larger online recruiting behemoth, perhaps as a defensive move against Google’s new job search feature. Matt Charney at Recruiting Daily, in his massive, four part “Requiem for Glassdoor,” concludes that even with their powers combined, Indeed and Glassdoor have no hope of competing with the search engine where 80 percent of job searches begin. With so much control over the front end of the funnel, Google has the power to render its competitors in the job search aggregation market virtually invisible to most users. No matter how much traffic Indeed buys, Charney reasons, “that traffic will ultimately be controlled (and priced) by … Google.”
Still, other observers see the Glassdoor acquisition through a different lens, viewing the site’s impact not so much in terms of volume but rather in how it has mainstreamed transparency and accountability on the part of employers in their interactions with candidates. That’s how the Washington Post’s Jena McGregor described it in her column after the news of the acquisition broke:
Analysts say the $1.2 billion pricetag for Glassdoor reflects a company that sits at the nexus of a number of trends: A tight labor market where many workers have their pick of jobs and employers have to work harder to attract them. A growing demand by recruiters and H.R. departments in an era of big data to back up their decisions with metrics. And a technological and cultural zeitgeist where an appetite for transparency and accountability have only grown
These trends were illustrated in a report Indeed issued just a week after the announcement: How Radical Transparency Is Transforming Job Search and Talent Attraction, based on a survey of 500 US jobseekers, highlighted findings like these: 95 percent of candidates said insight into a prospective employer’s reputation would be somewhat or extremely important in their decision making. Among Millennials, 71 percent said transparency was extremely important, while 84 percent of Millennials aged 25 to 34 said they would automatically distrust a company on which they could find no information (even among Baby Boomers, 55 percent agreed that transparency was crucial). No reviews, Indeed found, are even more harmful to an employer’s reputation than bad reviews, since candidates are at least willing to consider an employer’s response to a bad review.
The growth of online pay information sources like Glassdoor is also a central theme in our upcoming work on pay transparency at CEB, now Gartner.
Microsoft announced on Monday that it was buying the software development platform GitHub for $7.5 billion worth of Microsoft stock in a deal expected to close later this year:
GitHub will retain its developer-first ethos and will operate independently to provide an open platform for all developers in all industries. Developers will continue to be able to use the programming languages, tools and operating systems of their choice for their projects — and will still be able to deploy their code to any operating system, any cloud and any device. Microsoft Corporate Vice President Nat Friedman, founder of Xamarin and an open source veteran, will assume the role of GitHub CEO. GitHub’s current CEO, Chris Wanstrath, will become a Microsoft technical fellow, reporting to Executive Vice President Scott Guthrie, to work on strategic software initiatives.
Ten-year-old GitHub, based in San Francisco, is widely used among software developers to share and collaborate on code. In earlier years, Bloomberg’s Dina Bass and Eric Newcomer note, Microsoft leaders were hostile toward open-source projects like those being shared on GitHub, with co-founder Bill Gates and former CEO Steve Ballmer encouraging developers to build proprietary software for their company. Current CEO Satya Nadella has taken a notably more positive line on open source, making GitHub a more natural addition to the way the software giant currently operates. In that context, Tom Warren writes at the Verge, “it’s easy to imagine why Microsoft would want to acquire GitHub”:
Microsoft killed its own GitHub competitor, Codeplex, in December and is now the top contributor to GitHub, Microsoft now has more than 1,000 employees actively pushing code to GitHub repositories. Its popularity among developers could see Microsoft earn some much-needed trust and respect from developers. In bigger enterprises and slower moving businesses, the fact Microsoft has acquired GitHub will make it more trusted to use for projects and source control, simply because Microsoft is already trusted across many software and services by these companies.
In a blog post discussing the acquisition, Nadella insists the move is all about empowering developers:
The digital age has its pros and cons for the workforce. Technology provides employees with faster, easier access to information and data. It also allows for greater personalization and more interaction between employee and employer. Yet the digitalization of the workplace does have its downsides. Consider smartphones, for example: They can be alternately distracting and distressing; they can create barriers to action like information overload and decision fatigue, as well as work-life balance issues stemming from an “always-on” mentality.
Some managers, frustrated with the ubiquity of these devices and their ability to distract employees, are banning phones from meetings or otherwise limiting their use in the workplace, the Wall Street Journal’s John Simons wrote in a feature last week. Simons points to studies indicating that executives and managers consider smartphones “the leading productivity killers in the workplace” and that the presence of a phone can harm people’s cognitive performance, even when they are not using or holding it. He also notes Google’s recent announcement that the next version of its Android operating system will introduce a feature enabling users to see how much time they spend on their phones, which apps they use the most, and how often the phone gets unlocked.
Our recent research at CEB, now Gartner, also underscores these downsides of technology at work. While solutions to help employees minimize time wasted on tech, like Google’s forthcoming Android time tracker, might be helpful, our research suggests that no technological intervention can have a meaningful impact on employee performance or the employee experience by itself. The limitations are striking, given the large investments organizations (and HR functions in particular) are making in technology to support employees. But the challenges employers face are human and organizational, not just technological—and the same must be true of any solution.