Posted tagged ‘diversity’

The sum of us

10 July 2017

What is the definition of the term “data scientist”…?

In my previous post, Painting by numbers, I offered a shorthand definition of data science based on what I could synthesise from the interwebs. Namely, it is the combination of statistics, computer programming, and domain expertise to generate insight. It follows, then, that the definition of data scientist is someone who has those skill sets.

Fat chance!

In this post I intended to articulate my observation that in the real world, incredibly few people could be considered masters of all three disciplines. I was then going to suggest that rather than seeking out these unicorns, employers should build data science teams comprising experts with complementary talents. I say “was” because I subsequently read this CIO article by Thor Olavsrud in which he quotes Bob Rogers saying, well… that.

Given Thor and Bob have stolen my thunder (18 months ago!) I think the only value I can add now is to draw a parallel with pop culture. So I will do so with the geeky HBO sitcom Silicon Valley.

The cast of Silicon Valley: Dinesh, Gilfoyle, Richard, Jared and Erlich.

If you aren’t familiar with this series, the plot revolves around the trials and tribulations of a start-up called Pied Piper. Richard is the awkward brainiac behind a revolutionary data compression algorithm, and he employs a sardonic network engineer, Gilfoyle, and another nerdy coder, Dinesh, to help bring it to market. The other team members are the ostentatious Erlich – in whose incubator (house) the group can work rent-free in exchange for a 10% stake – and Jared, a mild-mannered economics graduate who could have been plucked from the set of Leave It to Beaver.

The three code monkeys are gifted computer scientists, but they have zero business acumen. They are entirely dependent on Jared to write up their budgets and forecasts and all the other tickets required to play in the big end of town. Gilfoyle and Dinesh’s one attempt at a SWOT analysis is self-serving and, to be generous, NSFW.

Conversely, Jared would struggle to spell HTML.

Arguably the court jester, Erlich, is the smartest guy in the room. Despite his OTT bravado and general buffoonery, he proves his programming ability when he rolls up his sleeves and smashes out code to rescue the start-up from imploding, and he repeatedly uses his savvy to shepherd the fledgling business through the corporate jungle.

Despite the problems and challenges the start-up encounters throughout the series, it succeeds not because it is a team of unicorns, but because it comprises specialists and a generalist who work together as a team.

Unicorn silhouette

And so the art of Silicon Valley shows us how unlikely we would be in real-life to recruit an expert statistician / computer programmer / business strategist. Each is a career in its own right that demands years of education and practice to develop. A jack-of-all-trades will inevitably be a master of none.

That is not to say a statistician can’t code, or a programmer will be clueless about the business. My point is, a statistician will excel at statistics, a computer programmer will excel at coding, while a business strategist will excel at business strategy. And I’m not suggesting the jack-of-all-trades is useless; on the contrary, he or she will be the glue that holds the specialists together.

So that begs the question… which one is the data scientist?

Since each is using data to inform business decisions, I say they all are.

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Shades of green

22 June 2010

Environmental sustainability.

It’s a term that seems to be bandied around a lot lately.

Many companies have it stated as one of their “core values” – but do they really mean it?

Businessman holding crystal globe

It’s easy to display the words on your website, print them on a pretty brochure, and even rattle them off during an induction.

But it’s a whole different kettle of fish to integrate their meaning and intent into your strategic plan.

In other words, to walk the talk.

Academic insight

In the second part of my 2-part interview with Dr David Bubna-Litic, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management at the University of Technology, Sydney, I posed the following questions.

Again I have recorded his answers for you to review:

PlayDoes the L&D department have an obligation to facilitate the learning of the corporation’s values among its employees?

PlaySo if an insurance company defines environmental sustainability as a core value, should its L&D department organise workshops on green issues?

PlayHow about controversial issues such as climate change and nuclear energy – should the company adopt one political agenda over another?

If you have trouble playing the files, right-click each link and “Save Target As…”.

My take

It’s clear to me that a company that claims a corporate value such as environmental sustainability has an ethical obligation to translate it into action. Values are more than words; they represent behaviour.

Green piggy bankThe irony of pretenders like Enron is that, if the corporation is true to its values, it can reap significant financial rewards.

For example, a manufacturing company that reduces its electricity consumption will no doubt enjoy a corresponding cost saving; a finance company that offers socially responsible investments may attract a new demographic of customer; a multinational that installs a web conferencing system instead of criss-crossing the globe by airliner will no longer need to fund relentless air fares, hotel bills and meal allowances.

The role of the L&D Department

It is also clear to me that the L&D Department has a professional obligation to facilitate the learning of the corporation’s values among its employees.

Since those values provide the context for how the company operates in the marketplace, any ignorance of them is – at best – unprofessional, but probably more accurately, incompetent.

The thin green line

In dealing with politically contentious issues such as climate change, the organisation must be wary of straying into partisanship.

No matter how much we wish it wasn’t so, some of our colleagues just don’t agree with our point of view. So if the corporation were to adopt one political agenda over another, I for one would consider it ethically unacceptable.

I suggest that instead of taking sides, the company errs on the side of caution. For example, it doesn’t need to say things like:

Acme Corporation knows that climate change is real.

That is almost intentionally divisive.

Chess pieces opposing each other

Instead, why not go for:

Acme Corporation is committed to an environmentally sustainable future. While we are unsure as to whether human activity contributes to climate change, we are taking the precaution of reducing our carbon emissions and expanding our portfolio in the renewable energy sector.

That is much more inclusive!

Chess pieces mingling

As the elephant in the room will tell you, there’s no point in disengaging some of your employees.

That would be to the detriment of everyone.

The elephant in the room

15 June 2010

Does spirituality belong in the workplace?

This may sound like a fluffy question, but unless your employees are cyborgs, it’s also a relevant one.

Cyborg

Of course we are human, and that means every single one of us brings our personal beliefs, goals, needs and values into the workplace.

This poses a challenge for corporations.

The secularisation of government and industry (at least in the West) has promoted the suppression and exclusion of anything remotely related to religion, including spirituality.

Yet we are human. For many of us, our sense of spirituality provides the context for everything that we do. We can’t put it in a box during business hours and wear it like a hat on our way home.

We wouldn’t even want to. That’s the point.

The challenge for secular organisations is how to deal with it.

Academic insight

Spirituality and Corporate Social Responsibility: Interpenetrating WorldsI recently had the opportunity to discuss this topic with one of Australia’s leading thinkers: Dr David Bubna-Litic, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management at the University of Technology, Sydney, and Editor of Spirituality and Corporate Social Responsibility: Interpenetrating Worlds.

I posed four rather pointed questions to David, and I have recorded his answers for your review:

PlayDoes spirituality belong in the workplace?

PlayDoes an employer have an obligation to support the spirituality of its employees?

PlayShould the L&D department facilitate spiritual learning?

PlayIs spirituality grounded in a belief in God?

If you have trouble playing the files, right-click each link and “Save Target As…”.
 
My take

Bank teller upsellingIt’s clear to me that a corporation that supports the spirituality of its employees can get buckets in return in the form of engagement, motivation and performance.

However, the goals and values of the individual may not always align with the goals and values of the company.

This might happen, for example, when the company decides to upsell products rather than service the real needs of its customers.

David adds:

It is also important to recognise that spirituality has a broad horizon and when a company is open to encouraging its employees to deeply engage with their lives at work, they may bring new concerns to the job. In such cases, the company must be open to dialogue about its strategic direction in different ways, for example, building on a more relational approach to its stakeholders.

A company may find the benefits of spiritual engagement arise in intangible ways, such as stakeholder loyalty; however, creating expectations and enlivening employees needs to be genuine, otherwise the same employees may be equally motivated to seek a more fulfilling role elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the conflict between personal and corporate values can damage both parties. A disengaged worker is unlikely to be a high performer!

The “R” word

It is also clear to me that spirituality and religion are not necessarily the same thing. You can be a highly spiritual person without aligning yourself to any church or god.

However, I am acutely aware of the fact that, for many people, spirituality and religion are the same thing. Religion provides the moral and existential framework within which they live their lives.

Elephant

So if a corporation commits itself to supporting the spirituality of its employees, it must inevitably deal with the “R” word.

David adds:

Times have changed and recently, interfaith dialogue has emerged as an important vehicle by which traditionally adversarial religious groups are learning to build understanding and harmony.

The multicultural dimension

In an increasingly multicultural society like the one I live in, not everyone is Christian. Nor is everyone atheist. There are Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Agnostics… the number of spiritual labels in the workplace is as long as a piece of string.

Colleagues

This presents a series of dilemmas to the secular organisation:

Does it promote religious activity or ignore it?

If it funds a Christmas party, must it also fund a Ramadan festival?
How about a Passover feast?

Is it a double standard to relabel the Christmas party and Easter holidays, yet celebrate Pooram or Loy Krathong as a “diversity” initiative?

The corporation can’t be all things to all people; but by the same token, it can’t be some things to some people. It has to be egalitarian.

My personal opinion is that a secular organisation should support, accommodate and tolerate all religious affiliations, but not own them.

It can’t afford to.