Further info and resources from my website

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

"Lawrence of Arabia": Sheer cinematic perfection

The 7 Academy Award winner
has never looked so good

Steven Spielberg was in his mid teens when Lawrence of Arabia opened and he saw it for the first time. Until then he had planned to go to medical school. After watching the movie and becoming "pulverized" by it as he said in this video, Spielberg decided to embrace a movie career. 

Watching David Lean's masterpiece for probably the 10th time last weekend on a giant screen at the Grand Rex in Paris, an Art deco marvel of a movie palace, just a 20-minute walk from my apartment, once again I fell spellbound by the magic of this  movie, whose showing is part of a series of festivities to celebrate the reopening of movie theatres after the three-month Covid-19 lockdown. 

The movie buff I am stopped going to movies a decade ago, preferring the intimacy, comfort and efficiency of watching them at home. But when I saw that "Lawrence" was going to be shown on that gigantic screen, the best way to admire the full sweep of this epic, I knew I had to go.

The lights dimmed, the curtain closed on the smaller screen, the giant screen was lowered while the music from the soundtrack played for several minutes before the famous Columbia logo appeared to wild applause from the audience. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of the crowd were people in their twenties and thirties. I would have expected an older crowd as befits  a movie made almost six decades ago. 

From that matchstick-in-Cairo-to-sunrise in Arabia transition (maybe the greatest cut in movie history, with the bone-to-spaceship cut in 2001: A Space Odyssey a close second) to the battle scenes, the constant left-to-right movement to  reflect a journey, everything in this film is superlative. (Here's a video clip of the cut which includes a piece of the score )

The intelligent script and brilliant dialogues is brought to life by the tour-de-force performance by Peter O'Toole (considered by many as one of the top 3 performances in movie history - the other two being Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront and Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice) ably supported by flawless Omar Sharif As Sharif Ali and Anthony Quinn as tribal chief  Auda Abu Tayi and an astonishing Alec Guinness whose resemblance with the real Prince Feisal had locals on the set in Jordan believe they were meeting the real one. 

Often copied by later directors (George Lucas, Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone) but never surpassed is the legendary photography. The majestic shots of the desert (which I can relate to having spent several summers in my childhood in the Mauritanian desert) are by now seared into viewers' retina and further enhanced by Maurice Jarre's soaring music. If you're watching it at home, watch the scene with Lawrence on the captured Turkish train without the music and then with it - you'll see the difference. David Lean's movies fuse sights and music like no other director until then or after. With Maurice Jarre he found a soulmate - and although Jarre would go on to compose scores for many movies by other directors, he only won Oscars for the ones he made with Lean. 

The conquest of Aqaba is hard to surpass and remains unforgettable: from the moment the   Arab troops leave their camps and are seen through a beautifully shot mountain pass to the moment they enter the town, gallop through its streets, pass the giant cannon which Lawrence had rightly predicted couldn't be turned and end in the Red Sea. From one immense area (desert) to another endless one (sea).

The long-shot floating mirage of Omar Sharif is unequalled and repeated viewings of the movie can't dim its power.

What makes it an even more amazing experience is that anything you see on the screen is "real", inasmuch as anything in cinema is real. No computer gimmickry, no fake twisters or background shot added to live animation. What you see and hear is real: towns, cities, camps, oases,a cast of thousand real humans, even the soldiers are real, as they were lent by King Hussein of Jordan from his own army since most of the movie was shot on location where the action took place several decades ago. 

The giant screen at the Grand Rex. 
Do NOT think for a second to watch this
movie on any smaller screen 

 Interesting piece of trivia: King Hussein (a grand-  nephew of Prince Feisal) was a constant visitor on the set where he met a young Englishwoman who became his wife. Their son is now Jordan's King Abdullah II.

When the movie ended after 3hrs45 (including intermission) it was to rapturous applause. I looked around and felt that there is hope if the younger generation can see what true cinema is about and enjoy it. 

The Wadi Rum desert in all its splendor

I could continue to wax lyrical on this movie but I think you got the gist of it: Simply put, this is the best movie ever made, a "miracle" as Spielberg called it, a film which you can watch again and again and always appreciate and discover new things. Through the decades as you become more mature you'll appreciate different aspects of it.  But at least once in your life, do yourself a favor and watch it on a giant screen to fully appreciate the Super Panavision 70 scope: I guarantee that you'll be blown away by the experience.

This is the latest in a series of  the blogger's posts dedicated to movies. Previous blog posts include:

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Silver Lining, or How I Got to Love the Virus

With half of mankind under house arrest and the global economy in a tailspin, not mentioning tens of thousand of deaths, it is hard to feel anything good about the invisible enemy which we are told should go by the politically correct Covid-19 or Coronavirus name, rather than by what everybody would instinctively call it: the Chinese virus, just like a century ago we referred to the Spanish flu - although back then the flu had nothing to do  with Spain whereas this one clearly originates from China.

And yet, there are quite a few unexpected positive developments from the global pandemic.

Finally, pollution is down 
With millions of cars off the roads and plants shut down in many countries, it is hardly surprising that air pollution has come down, as the two below shots reveal. Some might even think that the current pandemic is nature's way to get revenge against man's constant abuse for decades. Can't blame it, to tell you the truth.

From bad to better

Drug traffic and crime down
As some police have been forced to recognize, it is humiliating that an invisible virus, by keeping dealers and customers off the streets, has drastically  reduced the illegal drug trade, thus succeeding where governments all over the world have failed consistently for decades. Home burglaries have basically disappeared for obvious reasons. In my beloved Rio de Janeiro, street mugging, a common occurrence, has been reduced by more than 60% this month versus March 2019. 

The Wonder City is getting even more
if a bit empty

Digital Transformation is here to stay
Your IT team? Not yet. Your Agile coach? Not really. Your HR department? Yeah, right. Your Change Management team? Who are these people, anyway? Never seen them. 

And suddenly Covid-19 lands on us and we are all working from homing, using technology at full throttle to communicate/engage/get things done. As someone whose professional life entails helping corporate clients' digital transformation, this pan(da)demic is a godsend.

Migration and tourism are halted
Now, some of you might think that the endless waves of migrants landing on Europe's shore is a blessing but many might beg to differ, and now that the EU has closed its borders to all non-Europeans and residents, the flow of millions of illegal immigrants has come to an abrupt end. Hss it? 
Another category of migrants, short-term and illegal, a.k.a. tourists, are also being rebuffed and considering the damage these hordes inflict on sites and places like long-suffering Venice, Covid-19 is definitely a blessing in that respect. Maybe we'll go back to the 1950s where mass tourism was unknown and traveling the globe was truly a unique, sometimes once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Market volatility offers great opportunities
Stock gyrations can offer great overnight gains. Some stocks go up and down several times in the same trading day. If you have some money saved which you don't need in the short term, pick a couple of stocks at the lower end of what they have been trading and a quick buck is almost a sure thing. One piece of advice: pick dividend-paying stocks so that in the unlikely case all the stocks you bought suddenly go south and stay there at least you get a steady income stream.

All that goes down ends up going back up...and vice versa!

Some jobs are coming under strong demand
 Last December's general strike in France which lasted a good month and a half (no metro, no bus, no trains) , saw some unemployed people suddenly sign up for Uber and with ride fares tripling many of them became a rags-to-riches story. Even people with a  day job took to using their car for additional income, proving the old adage that one should never let a good crisis go to waste. Now, that restaurants are closed, and many people are scared to go to crowded supermarkets UberEats, and Deliveroo delivery men are enjoying brisk business. Macy's may be shedding gallons of tears along with rivers of red ink, but Amazon is on a roll.

Quality time with your family
Those of you whose rat-race lifestyle meant spending too little time with your spouse and/or children, here's your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make things right. That is, if spending so much time at work wasn't a way to get away from your  family in the first place...

Extra reading and movie-watching time
Great time to (re)read all  those books and watch (again) those movies you always wanted to and never had time for


History: If you think the current pandemic is bad, read Barbara Tuchman's Distant Mirror on the Black Death, or how the plague pandemic in the Middle Ages was called: Some countries like England lost half of their population. Feels almost like a relief, doesn't it?

Literature: You may have heard of, but never read, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. This is the perfect time to read this picaresque novel whose counter-hero Ignatius Reilly's adventures are simply hilarious. If you read French, Céline's Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night), L'élegance du hérisson (The Elegance of the Hedgehog), the full 6-volume set of  Les rois maudits (The Accursed King)  are a must. In Spanish, I highly recommend Mario Vargas Llosa's La tia Julia y el escribidor (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter) and  political page-turner La fiesta del chivo (The Feast of the Goat).

For sheer comic relief, anything by P.G. Wodehouse, especially the Bertie series, is a must read. In the same vein, Frasier sitcom writer Joe Keenan's Blue Heaven and Putting on the Ritz will have you laugh uproariously.

P.G. Wodehouse at his best
If you have a soft spot for thriller/crime/spy stories: John Le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is the mother of all spy novels (I'm not crazy about most other Le Carré novels that I find a bit on the dull side). France's Pierre Lemaitre's Robe de marié and Alex are excellent, as is the unique dual-story line La caverna de las ideas, a virtuoso Spanish-language historical mystery novel published in English as The Athenian Murders. Another even more unique whodunit is perfectly titled The Daughter of Time aiming at discovering whether Richard III was the real murderer of his nephews five centuries ago. Of course, you can't say "whodunit" without mentioning the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie herself: Curtain, published posthumously, will shock you. Of course she spawned many spoofs, my favorite being The Act of Roger Murgatroyd, written in the vein of the grand dame's novels including idioms and contemporary references.

I'll avoid some obvious classics and focus on lesser-known films that will enchant, shock, surprise and amuse you. Starting  with the film noir genre, Laura  is as brilliant now as it was 75 years ago. Hitchcock's 1964 The Birds will still amaze you with special effects that will put current computer wizardy to shame. No Way Out's ending will shock you. French-language L'assassin habite au 21 (1942) is sheer brilliance (interestingly, I discovered in a Rio de Janeiro second-hand bookstore, or sebo, Hotel Brasil which seems to be inspired by the Clouzot film.)

Don't get distracted or you might miss
a dialogue gem
For wit, brilliant dialogue, great story line and flawless performances by the full cast, Woody Allen's Bullets over Broadway is a joy to watch again and again (I must have done so close to 20 times.) Little Miss Sunshine and A Fish Called Wanda are two other brilliant comedies. Mockumentary Thank You for Smoking may not make you kick the habit, but it will have you convulsed with laughter, as will the Coen Brothers' Intolerable Cruelty.

If you're into musicals, Victor Victoria is a gem with its fine performances, brilliant script and great score. Almost 90 years old, The Most Dangerous Game hasn't aged a bit (and no, it's not a musical, just had to wedge it somewhere.)

Feeling like a Roman epic of yore? I have little doubt you'll enjoy Quo Vadis with an amazing Peter Ustinov as the Emperor Nero, as well as Samson and Delilah starring Hedy Lamarr, the most beautiful woman ever to have graced the silver screen.

The citizen of the world I am cannot but mention great movies from Brazil (Central Station, City of God), India (Salaam Bombay), the Arab World (The Yacoubian Building which also doubles as a great novel by Egypt's best writer, Alaa Al Aswany), Germany (Goodbye Lenin, The Downfall with its companion reading piece, Hugh Trevor-Roper's The Last Days of Hitler, one of the best historical works ever written), Italy (Rocco and his brothers, I soli ignoti, Lo scopone scientifico), Japan (Spirited Away) and in Spanish little-known thriller The Hidden Face and Almodóvar's farce Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
The Yacoubian Building: Succeeding
in the jump from great literature to
great moviemaking

With this last title, I cheated on my promise to go with little-known movies, so in for a penny, in for a pound, let me add two more in the same vein: Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (picture me taking a bow, as I do every time I mention the master's name) and Mankiewicz's All About Eve: If the former is the best movie made by Hollywood on Hollywood, the latter is a sui generis tribute to Broadway

So, now that you can breathe a cleaner air, see bluer skies, made a quick buck playing Wall Street, feel safer that crime is down, enjoyed (re)discovering great reads and movies, be honest: Aren't you going to miss the big bad virus?

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Time for the Academy to honor non-English-speaking films with Korea's "Parasite"


I had planned to end the weekend by going to the theatre but had forgotten that in Spain's second-largest city theatres have only one show on Sunday and it tends to be in the afternoon. Having missed it, I decided, instead, to watch one of the most talked about movies of the year, "Parasite" by Korean director Bong Joon-ho.

To say I was mesmerized wouldn't do justice to this exceptional movie: part comedy, part thriller, part drama, it brings a very subtle take on the class struggle.  When I was done, I was lost in my thoughts for several minutes, usually a sign I have just been watching a masterpiece.

As luck would have it, in several hour's 'time the pompously-named Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will hand out its annual awards and "Parasite" is nominated in several categories, including Best Director and, quite unusually,  both as Best Picture and Best Foreign-Language Film (they call the latter a silly name now, so I'll just ignore it and continue with BFLF.)

It's a rare event that a foreign movie is nominated in both categories, and when it has happened (last year's "Roma", or two decades ago Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon",) Academy voters couldn't bring themselves to give a foreign movie top honors so they inevitably gave  it BFLF. Last year there was hope that with "Roma" history would be made - and it almost did as it won Best Director, a first for a foreign-language movie, but the top prize still remained elusive.

Time has come to finally shatter the glass ceiling and acknowledge "Parasite" for what it is: the year's best movie. I have seen all the other contenders, enjoyed most of them, especially "1917" and "Once upon a Time...in Hollywood" but "Parasite" is so far ahead, in a category of its own, that it would be absurd, even by Hollywood's standards, to ignore it.

It is noteworthy, that, if in its 92-year-long history, the Academy has never awarded the  top prize to a foreign-language movie, it did pick a foreign movie when Best Picture (along with Director and Actor) went to 2011's The Artist", a French film. The only reason it did and felt good about it is the story is set in...Hollywood and the movie is...silent! In other words, for Hollywood the best foreign language is the one we don't hear. 

Keeping my fingers crossed that in a few hours' time an injustice as old as cinema itself would finally be redressed. And, repeating myself, what better way to do it than picking this amazing filmmaking achievement?

The blogger, a film buff since he was tall enough to reach for the box-office and hand over his admission money, has written several blog posts on movies.

-Dec. 2014, Happy 75th Anniversary, "Gone with the Wind"

-Nov. 2012, Woody Allen or the Vanishing of a Once-Great Filmmaker

-Feb. 2012, Meryl Streep, or how to be the world's greatest actress for three decades - and counting

-March 2011, The Unbearable Dullness of the Academy Awards (yes, already writing about this topic)

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Learning Management: 3 years on and Cornerstone still beats Workday

It was exactly three years ago, almost to the day, that Workday launched its long-awaited Learning module in an attempt to plug the last hole in its integrated HRIS offering.

At that time I was advising a Swiss-based company in their selection of a new global HRIS tool and as part of that exercize I was regaled with a first peek at Workday Learning. At the end of the demo, my client, the global VP of HR, whispered into my ear, "That's all they offer? Why pay so much for so little?" I whispered back, "Agree. You can get much more from YouTube...for free!"

A great admirer of Workday's since its inception, I was underwhelmed by what I saw. Basically, it wasn't much more than  the ability to post videos, index them based on a limited set of criteria such as recommendations or availability. The enrollment  process was very basic. Nothing on a full training  or budget management process without which no decent multinational would even consider changing its LMS (Learning Management System.) Considering how strong the other Workday modules are, especially Core HR and Compensation and even the recent addition then of Recruiting, there was nothing Cornerstone, the undisputed Learning leader, had to worry about, I told myself.

Three years later, have things improved markedly? Has Workday narrowed the gap with Cornerstone? Not even by a nano-inch. Workday Learning far from reaching maturity is nowhere to be seen: Apart from the odd customer, you never come across anybody willing to use it. You never hear of consultants trained on Workday Learning or on companies looking for Workday Learning resources. Why would they since there is no interest on implementing what for all intents and purposes is an empty shell? Better spend time, resources and effort interfacing Workday Core HR with Cornerstone whose offering can reach into every single nook and cranny of an LMS project.

Even Workday itself uses for its own learning...Cornerstone! If they can't even drink their own champagne (or eat their own dog food - have your pick of what metaphor is more appropriate) this  clearly signals a resounding failure on the part of a vendor that has gone from strength to strength since it was founded almost 15 years ago.

Hasn't time come to reach the logical consequence: Pull the plug on a dud and...make a bid to merge with or acquire Cornerstone. The two companies share a similar culture, are both based in California (although Santa Monica and Pleasanton are not exactly next-door neighbors), are similarly acknowledged as the leader in their core offering and enjoy enthusiastic loyalty from their customers. Definitely the best of both worlds. Should it happen, you heard about it here first!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Hell on Earth: How mankind will be wiped out

Flying from Barcelona, I landed in Paris  at 4 pm last Thursday, on time to be apprised that the city I've known since my birth had broken a record: 42°C. Half an hour later this record was itself broken when we reached 42.6°CFrance’s crumbling infrastructure was in full display on the RER line linking the two city airports as service was interrupted for several hours, and when it resumed the absence of air conditioning and Saharan temperatures meant several people fainted. 

A taste of things to come.

Like most, I always wondered how civilization would come to its end.

You read it here first.This is how mankind will be wiped out: steadily rising temperatures until life becomes untenable on Earth. Our only hope is to find another planet we can move to and screw up in turn. 

Hopefully, by then I would have "shuffled off this mortal coil", to quote the immortal Bard's words. 

Carpe planetam, one feels like adding. While it lasts. 

The blogger is a great admirer of Hieronymus Bosch, whose works in Madrid's Prado Museum have delighted him for the past three decades 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

#StopBullying: Naming and shaming companies that use bullying as a management technique

How ironic that it it was on May Day, International Labor Day (except in some exotic countries such as the U.S. of A.) that an article was published in French satirical weekly, Le canard enchaîné, denounging bullying by employers. This is a great piece of investigation as it provides concrete examples of how a French multinational, banking giant BNP Paribas (BNPP), sets about mentally torturing the employees it wants to get rid of on the cheap (a screnshot of the French-language article is provided below.)

For non-French readers, here's a recap of the most egregious acts of such a lovely management practice:

  • Stopping inviting the employee to key meetings 
  • Demoting employees and erasing them from the organizational chart
  • Whereas other same-rank employees have their own office, sending the bullied employee on "open-space exile" 
  • If the employee happens to belong to a minority, let them know in no uncertain terms diversity (at least of their kind) is not welcome
  • For those who still don't "get it",  cutting the variable compensation they were entitled to: when you realize that, without your annual bonus, your compensation has been reduced by half, you usually start packing.

Nothing new under the sun, you might say. Nine years ago, almost to the day, I published High-Tech Planets: Secrets of an IT Road Warrior, where I denounced  such corporate shenanigans by the French subsidiary of an IT multinational. Actually I even dedicated my book to the vicitms of such corporeate behavior. How sad to see that such a practice continues unabated.

Does it?

In the case of BNPP, it is unclear that the bank reached its objectives of saving on layoffs. Unlike a decade ago, employees can now initiate legal action with greater chance of winning and some BNPP employes did just that quite successfully. After taking his case to court, the employee whose bonus was refused ended up getting €150,000. The one who was demoted was compensated to the tume of €351,000. As for the employee who was let go because of his sexual orientation the court awarded him a  whopping €600,000.

Which beggars the following thought: Wouldn't it have been better for BNPP to do the decent thing? There is nothing intrinsically wrong about reductions in force if current business circumstances so dictate: have an honest communication with affected employees and, if they have to be let go, pay them what they are owed. Same thing for low performers. Don't wait until the end of the year and the start of the appraisal process to "discover"somebody has been performing poorly throughou the year. If you do, it's the manager than who should take  the rap, not the employee. Find out why the employee is unable to reach their objectives (maybe those are unrealistic) and, if push comes to shove, and it becomes impossible to  retrain them/get them another position in consonance with their abilities, then sure let them go...compensating them as the law dictates.

Before this virtuous behavior becomes ingrained in corporate life, I'm afraid many more employees will go through hell, some even committing suicide (I had such a case in my book - a star in the company who was left no choice but to take their own life), many more court cases and newspaper articles will emerge, more naming and shaming will be necessary. 

Yes, name 'em and shame 'em. 

Last year it was #MeToo denouncing sexual harassment. This year it's #StopBullying.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Fighting political corruption - Brazil vs France


I recently came back from one of my regular stays in my home away from home in Brazil. On the very day that I arrived in Rio de Janeiro there was only one headline news topic: Former president Michel Temer had been arrested on corruption charges. (During my last stay in December my Copacabana neighborhood only gossiped about another fallen leader, former Renault-Nissan head Carlos Ghosn, whose swanky Nissan-owned penthouses, just a couple of blocks away from mine, was being searched and confiscated.)

I couldn't help compare the situation in Brazil with the one I left behind me in France.
As the below diagram shows, Brazil isn't shy about firing its leaders or putting them behind bars when caught rend-handed. There is little doubt that there is more corruption in Brazil than in France but then why is there more tolerance in France? Back in 2011 I wrote a blog post denouncing France's Real crimes, Fake justice when former President Chirac was condemned to 2 years in jail but...never set foot in one!

Like Lagarde, Juppé was rewarded for committing crimes: President Macron just nominated him
to the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court. Yes, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you:
he who is going to ensure people uphold the country's top law is himself a convicted felon. 

Could it be that this old, wealthy "democracy"'s political system is so rotten at the core and despises its citizens to such an extent that it doesn't even pretend to have a clean justice system? I am more and more inclined to think along those lines based on facts such as those summarized below. Actually, if you wonder why I put "democracy" between quotation marks it is because i stopped  a long time ago to believe in representative democracy and, 7 years before the Yellow Vests movement took France by storm calling, among other things, for direct democracy I advocated the exact same thing in my blog post on DirDem vs RepDem as I called the old and new political system.

The lesson one can draw from this situation is that, contrary to appearances, a young, chaotic, developing country such as Brazil can teach those most established so-called democracies a lot. It always makes me laugh to hear "First" World leaders pontificate and give advice to their "Third" World counterparts, oblivious to the Biblical injunction that before seeing the mote in others' eyes, they should remove the beam in their own eyes.

(Other blog posts exposing the shortcomings of the French political system include, in addition to the ones mentioned above, the following:
- October, 2018: The Increasingly Undemocratic French Constitution
- May 2017: Thoughts on the French presidential election
-May 2012: Good riddance, Sarkozy!)

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Of cars and HR software: Metaphor-based HRIS tips

Remember that great song "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?" from that wittiest of musicals, My Fair Lady? Well, for the past couple of decades that I have been in the HR technology industry, I have been asking myself a similar question: Why can't my HR software be like a car? Throughout my career I have peppered my articles, presentations and meetings with car metaphors to drive the various points I was trying to make. (Here's the scene from the 1964 movie with Rex Harrison singing, well more like uttering, the song.)

You'll find hereafter some of the most frequent ones. Note that most would apply to enterprise software, not HR only; however, since I am an HR technology person through and through, you'll hardly be surprised that's my focus.

System Evaluation
This is the oldest car-metaphor case I can recall, having used it for at least 20 years. In the latest 1990s when I started out as an HR system analyst-cum-consultant spending most of my time advising French companies on which HR system to select, I would use this metaphor quite often. Actually so much that I put it early on in my book, High-Tech Planet. Here's the relevant excerpt of the metaphor which I still use to warn my clients off including ever single product specification whim that might cross their mind just because "it can be useful."

Having four wheels on a car rooftop is certainly useful in case the car were to turn over; but since no car maker offers that, it would be a waste of time to include that feature in a list of requirements, especially when every business process is now available in a computer system developed, sold and serviced by countless companies. Delphi Tech was one of such companies. Actually, it was more than just one of them. It was the biggest, the largest, the best-known one: indeed, as Dick claimed, Delphi had to a large extent created the business of corporate software, or at least contributed to its development. It was, as Dick would say, the Rolls-Royce of computer systems.  (High-Tech Planet: Secrets of  an IT Road Warrior, 2010 edition, p. 3.)

I also warn against using SIs (system implementers) as selection advisors for obvious reasons: SIs tend to focus on one or two systems; many, especially the boutique ones, are actually one-trick ponies. If you only have experience driving one or two cars, you will only recommend those ones. Or using research firms like Gartner who have limited, if any, HRIS implementation experience. This is like recommending a car based on several great features, but forgetting to ask the prospective buyer whether they can drive.

And beware overkill: When famed French soccer club Paris-Saint-Germain bought Workday, considering their small headcount and limited resources, it was clearly like buying a huge bus just for you, your wife and your two kids. Or like buying a Lamborghini to avoid walking on your driveway to your mailbox and back.

Finally, I strongly advise against falling for what I call the "critical capabilities" trap. If you only focus on these, you are likely to overlook other useful aspects and not be able to really pick the system that is best for you. Such an approach is as smart as when buying  a car to look only at the number of wheels and car paint. Three cars can all have the same features (tires, automatic transmission, air conditioning), but when you use them you will know which one is better. 

Product Design
As someone who spent a big chunk of his career in product strategy and management roles (at PeopleSoft and Fidelity Investments' HR Access) I am still amazed at how HR system  vendors make a point to diverge on fundamental design choices. If SAP decides that one process will require different screens, you can be sure that Oracle would prefer to have just one screen (albeit a long one obliging the user to scroll down endlessly) while Workday would probably prefer to have several tabs on the same screen. This can be very confusing for users who, as part of their daily HR tasks, have to toggle back and forth between several HR applications. Wouldn't it be nice if they were all designed along similar lines? 

Just imagine that if Ford puts the brake pedal to the left of the accelerator, so Renault puts it to the right. If BMW  uses a steering wheel to enable the driver to move the front wheels, so everyone else must use levers and sticks and chains. T
here would be almost no learning-curve effects either from a manufacturing or a usability perspective. And yet, HR software vendors do exactly that, which is quite insane, especially when you know that the musical-chairs game so prevalent among software executives means it's basically the same folks who oversee products across companies. 

Change Management
What many end-user companies are still grappling with as part of their new HR system implementations, especially in the cloud, is the right mix between configuration and training which now goes by the fancy name of change management. As I often tell my client, redoing you car's body and changing the engine would be of little use if the driver is incompetent. If you never learned to drive, buy a BMW and then crash it into a wall , how is that the car maker's fault? 

And when a client insists on implementing the same inadequate process again and again, I warn them against reinventing the flat tire.

HR System Implementation
There are many companies that in their move to cloud HR adopted the approach whereby they start with the low-hanging fruit of talent modules before, like an afterthought, implementing Core HR. More often than not, the added complexity doesn't make up for the lower risk. Core HR is your HRIS engine, without it your global HRIS simply won’t work. It is like trying to drive without a steering wheel: you’re not going to go far.

Discussing the Implementation phase one is often reminded that the Design phase seems never to have been closed since users will always try until the very last moment (and even after!) to change the design. This is very dangerous and akin to changing the tyre while driving the car: recipe for disaster.

Cloud/SaaS HR for the dummies
Surprising as it may seem, there are still many corporate executives involved in on-premise-to-cloud transition projects who are still struggling with the cloud concept. This is where I probably make the most of the car metaphor. Starting at the evaluation stage, I warn my clients about  dinosaur vendors like Oracle who try to make us believe that they can tweak on-premise PeopleSoft into a cloud offering. It's like saying that if you affix wings to a car and add  a pointed nose along with powerful reactors, and find a way to hide the wheels, you can turn a car into a plane. It just won't fly - in more sense than one.  

Or putting a new body on a  30-year car. Would you fall for that?

If you still decide to take the risk to adopt half-baked products, then be prepared to fork out the funds needed to have onboard several consultants for a long period of time and whose function will be to fix the inevitable bugs and issues that are bound to arise. Remember that when the first automobiles came, owners needed to hire a mechanic full-time because those first cars had a bad habit of always breaking down.

For those who can't wrap their head around capex and opex (that's capital and operation expenditure to you) I explain that Saas is like leasing a car versus buying it. When they compare that with the millions they used to pay upfront just for the honor of being an SAP or Oracle customer, these executives' eyes brighten up immediately.

One car metaphor I used a lot when the cloud model arrived, and less so now as the cloud has gone mainstream, aimed at helping users to understand the key difference between traditional ERP (on-premise) and the cloud (SaaS based.) In order to convince the pro-ERP camp I explained to them they can't stop progress.  When automobiles arrived, they coexisted for a while with horse-drawn carriages before these got ditched because everybody saw that cars were faster and more practical. As an early advocate of the cloud model, against Oracle's (in)famous scorning of the cloud, I am glad to see that I eventually was vindicated by the market. (See my Jan. 2011 article, "Can software dinosaurs reinvent themselves as cloud-based vendors?")

One concept that, surprise, surprise, dinosaur vendors  try to push is the hybrid system of on-premise + SaaS system supposed to work in perfect harmony like hybrid cars. I debunk it by pointing that it's like saying, "Oh you don’t like the engine in your car, no problem, we can remove it for you and attach the car to two horses instead." Really!

Another fallacy about hybrid HR systems is that customers are led to believe that it's the best of two worlds. Come on! Will you really buy half of a Porsche and couple it with half of a Ferrari? 

SaaS, a relatively new concept,  is often confused with BPO (outsourcing the full process, be it payroll or recruiting.) When a client tells me they are not sure whether they should move to a SaaS  vendor or a BPO one, I tell them they are mixing things: First of all, you have to analyze and make a decision whether you want to run your full process inhouse or out. And only then can you decide, if inhouse, whether Saas or on-premise; and, if outsourced, then what vendor. In car terms, it is like saying, " I’m tired, I can’t walk to work, so I’ll invest in either a bike or a car." Well, they are two different tings, you should be either comparing bike/motorbike or motor bike/car but a bike vs. a car doesn't make sense. Like the proverbial apples and oranges.

Of second-hand cars
Of  course, no car metaphor would be complete without the time-honored used-car example. When Oracle provides its prospects with heavy discounts to adopt Fusion, I remind them that you get what you pay for: If the price of a second-hand car ("used car" to most Americans) is too good to be true, it's probably because it is neither good nor trueAlso, you buy a second-hand car if  you’re a good mechanic (in HR technology words, you have enough in-house skilled resources), because then you can fix it. Otherwise, you’re on your own: Compare this with the first-automobile and mechanic metaphor a couple of paragraphs before.

I could spend gazillions of pixels and tire your eyes out of their sockets decrying software sales tactics (the object of my aforementioned book.) One particular tactic which I recently saw  on a global HRIS project with payroll outsourcer ADP was when the vendor stated they were willing to bid with SAP SuccessFactors Core HR (Employee Central) but on the condition that my client bought two payrolls from ADP. 
I shot back at them, "How would feel if your car dealer offered to sell you a car only if you accepted to also buy two bikes?"

Vendor Management
Despite the Buyer Beware motto, customers  are entitled to escalate issues, especially when a promised feature is not working as touted in sales demos - or, worse, is not available. However, I find it misguided from some customers to focus on minor issues while not seeing the bigger picture. It is akin to buying a car that is  bigger, nicer and faster and yet spend an inordinate amount of time on small imperfections. As in life in general, you should choose your battles wisely: know which ones are worth fighting, and which ones should not be launched.


This is the latest in an HRIS Selection & Implementation Tips series. Previous posts included:
- April 2018: Cloud HR Implementation Tips: Focus on Migration
- Jan. 2016:  Pricing and Contracting with Your Cloud Vendor: Tips and Tricks
- Jan.2013:  An HR leader's Top 10 New Year's Resolutions

(The fact that the blogger-analyst-consultant has been spending the better part of the last year and a half on implementing a new global HRIS for one of the world's largest car makers is obviously a cute coincidence, since I have been using these metaphors for two decades now.)

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The French Constitution at age 60: Sadly, increasingly undemocratic

The scary situation where 30% of the people's
will has been cancelled by politicians
French presidents have only three objectives they relentless pursue from the moment they are sworn in, to the moment they leave office :

- Leave at least an imposing monument for generations to come to remind them by;
- Have a celebrity be (re)buried in the Pantheon (even if against their wishes);
- Change the Constitution.

Current President Macron wasted no time to have a Pantheon burial (Simone Veil) and is busy leaving his mark on the Constitution (I cringe at the thought of what architectural eyesore he will bequeath us when he lives office in 2022 - I hereby  predict that like his two direct predecessors he will fail to be reelected.)*

Of course, the preferred way for politicians to change the Constitution is to do it themselves - and among themselves -  feeling that the nation's basic law is too important to be left to citizens to make a decision. And yet it was those same citizens (or at least their parents and grandparents) who approved it when the 5th Republic was introduced exactly 60 years ago. A basic democratic principle is that what the people have decided can only be changed by the people. Not in undemocratic France (and other mock democracies, by the way) where politicians confiscate the people's right to decide on the law of laws.

One thing I learned when I went to law school is referred to as the hierarchy of norms whereby a decision at a lower level must comply with a decision from a higher rung in the legal hierarchy. The rationale being that the farther away a decision-maker is from the sovereign people the lower in the legal hierarchy the decision is. Thus, from the lowest rungs to the highest we'll have the following:

- a cabinet minister's decision (usually known as a decree) has to comply with the law, because a minister is appointed whereas a law is made by Parliament which is elected (in other words, lawmakers are just one degree removed from the people whereas government ministers are two degrees away from the people.)

- Members of Parliament can only pass laws that comply with the Constitution, because lawmakers (known as deputies in France) are only the representatives of the people (of course most politicians believe and behave as if they were the people's masters, not their servants.) 

- The Constitution is therefore the highest law in the land since it has been voted on directly by the people themselves. Sadly, the basic democratic tenet that what the people have decided can only be changed by them directly in a referendum has been slowly but steadily eroded in the last 60 years with politicians deciding on BOTH laws and the Constitution.

It is therefore a travesty of democracy that those who pass laws are supposed to comply with the Constitution when they can change the latter at will. What's the point in having a Constitution then? Just say that politicians are all powerful and can decide on what they want when they want. Not markedly different from the Ancien Régime.

The shrinking democratic credentials of the French Constitution

In the 1960s there were only two changes to the Constitution: one was made in a referendum (it dealt with the way the president should be elected), but for the other one, Parliament decided they would handle it. The 1970s and 1990s saw more than 10% of the Constitution articles amended: not a single one with the people's vote. The 2000s saw this democratic deficit reach new heights: 9 changes, only 1 referendum. Particularly scandalous was the EU-inspired Lisbon Treaty which was rejected by French citizens in a  referendum. What was the President's reaction? Sarkozy ignored the people's will and had the shamefully supine French Parliament rubber-stamp his decision in a 2008 Constitutional amendment. **

If Macron has his way, another 10% of the Constitution will be changed and considering his low approval ratings he is not going to risk a referendum. We will then reach the worrying situation where  30% of the people's vote has been cancelled by politicians.

Let us hope that either opposition politicians (in the case of a Parliamentary vote) or the people (in the case of a referendum) defeat Macron and stop this undemocratic spiral. A Constitution is the paramount social contract, it is the basic pact that binds society together. As such it cannot be amended on a regular basis (the way laws are) and can only be done by the people themselves.

French presidents should heed other countries with similar political systems, such as Spain and the US. The former celebrates this year the 40th anniversary of its Constitution which has been left largely unchanged since 1978. As for the US, it has amended its 250-year-old Constitution fewer times than France has in only 60 years. That tells you that there is something deeply wrong with the French political system.

LEAVE LADY CONSTITUTION ALONE! She is a respectable lady who doesn't need to have more scars inflicted on her by shameless, self-serving politicians

*It is noteworthy that the last two presidents left in disgrace failing to get a second term. The last but one, Nicolas Sarkozy, failed to get reelected, and the last one, François Hollande, having to live the  unprecedented ignominy of not even being able to run due to his abysmal approval ratings, themselves due to his disastrous record.

**I have more respect for British politicians who, although they were against Brexit, once British voters made their decision in a non-binding referendum, they decided to abide by what the people have decided. In France, politicians despise voters and don't even hide it.

The blogger has written several posts on the French political system: 

-April 2017: "The French presidential election: Going  blank"
-May 2012: "Good riddance, Sarkozy!"
-Dec. 2011: "Real crime, fake justice: Chirac gets 2-year suspended jail sentence"
-June 2010: "Sarkozy, la France c'est moi!"
-March 2010: " Obama and Sarkozy: A Tale of Two Presidencies"