[ We've been revising our business strategy, mix of clients, project types, and so much more on a regular basis since 1987, but this is the first time we've made such changes in the era of social tech. My own view is that we should be as transparent online as we are IRL, and that's the impetus for this post about the current round of such changes.]
Context: A Stroll Down Memory Lane
One minute it’s 1972, you’re twenty-six, getting your MBA, getting married, spending your honeymoon camping cross-country, job-hunting in Silicon Valley with your new husband, and feeling physically invincible. Mainframes ruled, the possibility of packaged HRM software was finally being considered (here’s a 1976 InSci ad, EEO legislation was just being implemented, self-service referred to those New York AutoMat restaurants (which, according to my friend Bill Kutik, were called by their most prominent brand, Horn & Hardarts, by those in the know locally) to doing your own key-punching, and Ron and I were finding out what it really meant to sign up with each other for the long term.
40+ years later everything, and I do mean everything, has changed, not once but over and over again. Personally and professionally, it’s been a wild ride and a mostly terrific one. I feel tremendous satisfaction in the progress we’ve made, that our industry has made, that technology has made. But I also feel tremendous frustration that we’re not where we’d like to be. In spite of the tremendous progress in technology, and in spite of a ton of hard work all around, in far too many organizations we’re not driving business results to where they need to be and should be via technology-enabled and very effective HRM practices. Lots of important work to do before we declare victory, so we’d best get on with it.
Somewhere along the line, when I wasn’t looking, 40+ years of a road warrior’s work life, of cramming two years of living into every calendar year, of pushing hard to keep up, innovate, stay relevant and excel, all the while investing in my personal life, have taken their toll. 40+ years of working into the night before every vacation (but I’ve always treated vacations as sacred even when they were wedged into the cracks of my professional life), then flying off with Ron or my girlfriends to go sailing in the Caribbean before going right back to work without so much as a moment for re-entry, that’s a pace that isn’t sustainable much past your mid-60’s even though one’s brain and passions have aged very gracefully. There are just so many red-eyes (I lost count at 100+) that you can take before you swear off of them forever!
Now my days of climbing the Tomb of the Inscription at Palenque, pulling consecutive all-nighters during HRMS go-lives, and dancing the Llambada all night long at an IHRIM after party — yes, I too had my prime — are well behind me. But I’m damned glad I did all that and much more while my joints could handle the strain. And the lessons I’ve learned, the great people I’ve known, and the sense of accomplishment along the way have been well worth all that effort. That’s why my advice to all my younger colleagues, family and friends is to live large, push yourselves to accomplish as much as possible before life inevitably intervenes to slow you down, if only a little.
It’s a brave woman who accepts the passage of time without doing a little nip here and a little tuck there. And it’s a wise one who adjusts her goals, professional commitments and lifestyle accordingly. I’d like to think that I’m both brave and wise (I’m neither, but I’d like to think that I am), so I’ve been open about aging, I’ve moderated gradually my business travel over the last few years, and many of you have seen me riding a scooter (with Ron power walking beside me) at larger conferences. But in all those 40+ years I’ve never given myself permission to deliver client work that’s not up to my own high standards. And I’m not about to start now!
B&W Strategic Review
When I launched Bloom & Wallace, my solo practice, in 1987, I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to accomplish and why it was important to do so — and that vision hasn’t changed. I’d always believed, long before it was fashionable, that the only source of competitive advantage, of business results, was the collective accomplishments of the workforce. And for me, human resource management had always been about doing all that’s necessary to ensure that the organization’s workforce is in fact that source of competitive advantage and that driver of business results.
Whether this gets done with or without an HR department, with or without employees versus contingent workers of various flavors, with or without specific technology enablement, and many more such questions, once answered, dictate the appropriate tactics, but the intent doesn’t change. Therefore, given my background in technology (specifically enterprise software) and belief in the power of effective human resource management, my 1987 through 2013 and beyond vision of Bloom & Wallace’s business has been and will continue to be “advancing the practice of human resource management through the effective use of information technology.” Full stop!
Since B&W’s launch in 1987, in pursuit of this vision, we’ve gone through at least four significant changes in our mix of work and clients. We’ve evolved from (1) focusing solely on the HR technology needs of large/global end-user organizations, to (2) focusing on the much broader HRM strategy and delivery system needs of those same types of end-user organizations, to (3) focusing on a mix of end-user and vendor/BPO provider projects to (4) focusing primarily on the deep design of next gen HRM enterprise software business and product strategies. And along the way we built up a very substantial business licensing our IP (HRM object models/architectural “starter kits”) across the HRM software and outsourcing industry. For 2013 and beyond, we’re making our fifth such change in the mix of our work and clients, but our vision, our purpose remains the same.
We’ve already begun reducing substantially the aggregate number of clients with which we’ll be working at any given time as well as entering into more ongoing and strategic relationships with those clients. This inevitably changes our relationships with those clients from entirely ecumenical ones (where we often worked with competing vendors at the same time, although that was always a difficult balancing act) to deeper and more ongoing (less project-oriented) involvement. More so than in the past, current engagements may include mentoring, fundamental business strategy consulting, advisory board work as well as very strategic product-related work. With fewer clients at any one time and more strategic involvement with them, more patriotic relationships are inevitable. Therefore, I’m doing my best to ensure that the clients I take on are ones whose leadership I know well and respect highly, whose products/services are creating/have the potential to create real breakthroughs in our industry, and who are comfortable working with me to bound and schedule my involvement while moderating the related travel.
Just as I found safety in numbers before my marriage, dating multiple gentlemen (non-gentlemen quickly learned they need not “apply”) concurrently so as to avoid getting too entangled with any one of them, so have I run Bloom & Wallace since its founding. But with a substantially more focused and smaller set of client relationships at any one time, it’s just not possible to maintain that same level of ecumenicalism. By selecting just a few clients to work with at any given time, and moving from project-based consulting to a more ongoing, strategic relationship, I’m investing my limited consulting bandwidth — and we all know that investors are inclined to favor the organizations in which they invest or they wouldn’t have picked them in the first place.
What Won’t Change?
Hopefully my tweets, blog posts and public speaking engagements will continue to be as useful (or not) to you as they have been, perhaps more so for my posts which I hope will appear more often, and I intend to keep them as balanced and objective as possible but with all of my biases showing. I will continue to emphasize full disclosure when I’m writing about clients or non-clients so that you can judge for yourself to what extent my biases toward specific ideas, designs, HRM practices, architectures/object models and more have blinded me to other points of view, other product approaches, and/or other business strategies. You should assume that I’m working only with those clients whose strategies and products/services are simpatico with my independent view of what’s what.
I’ll continue to spend a good bit of my time meeting in person and remotely with major as well as innovative vendors/providers across the HRM domain — and poking into some of the more interesting edges. And I’ll keep working hard to repay the courtesy of vendors/providers for their briefing time and analyst days by being prepared to give as good as I get. My apologies in advance for not being able to meet with/speak to/write about everyone or everything of interest as I try hard to make more time in my life for a growing list of other interests. One of those interests, painting in watercolors, may yet show up as blog post illustrations.
The bottom line:
After a ton of soul-searching, I’ve decided that I love what I do and want to keep on doing it as long as I’m capable of doing my work to my own high standards. By reducing the business travel and client workload to what’s more than full-time by any reasonable standards but is a lot less than the double time schedule I’ve kept for so many years, it’s business as usual at Bloom & Wallace with one exception. With far fewer clients and more ongoing and strategic relationships with those few, it’s entirely fair to presume that my choice of clients no longer ecumenical.