Thursday, 30 September 2010

Harvard Business Review gets it completely wrong on computers!

Considering it's such an esteemed journal, Harvard Business Review doesn't half come out with some rubbish at times.

Just listen to these comments in the the article Never Overestimate the Power of a Computer by Ralph F. Lewis:
  • It can do the calculating, but it can't do the planning.
  • The benefits of computers will not be as dramatic as the press would have us believe.
  • The main contribution of the computer is in handling long, complicated calculations.
  • Most business computers are ordered merely to keep up with the Joneses.
  • Businesses often install computer systems without knowing for sure in advance how they will be most helpful.
  • There has been little evidence of major gains in the process of management decision making through computers.
  • The major contribution of computer systems will be in the area of providing better or faster information to management.
  • There are very few computer systems in use today which could be judged as economic from any standpoint.
  • The potential number of large-scale computer installations dealing with data-processing problems is probably something under 1,000 in the USA.
  • Computer systems have not lived up to the expectations raised by publicity.
A surprisingly reactionary stance from Harvard Business Review?

OK, the editorial team of HR Case Studies will come clean. The article in question appeared in HBR in the month in which the Editor-in-Chief made his entry to the world: October 1957.

Happy Birthday to me!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Employee Communication: What's The Big Idea?

What communication strategy should you use? What elements should you include but also leave out of your chosen communication?

Surprisingly an article in the not-so-snappily-named Academy of Management Executive Journal, written in the dim and distant past of 2000 offers some fascinating insights into this issue.

So, as you probably won't have time to read the article (A strategy for communicating about uncertainty by Clampitt, DeKoch and Cashman) for yourself, here's their rather memorable and amusing summary of the five typical communication strategies favoured by most organisations:

Spray and Pray
What's the Big Idea? It's based on the idea that management should shower employees with all kinds of information.
What do I do? Throw as much information at employees as possible and hope they will be able to sort out the significant from the insignificant.
Advantages: It's simple.
Disadvantages: Information is not the same as communication, so you'll confuse the pants off some employees who may be overwhelmed by the amount of detail they receive.

Tell and Sell
What's the Big Idea? It's based on the belief that it's important to communicate a set of messages that address core organisational issues.
What do I do? First: tell employees about key issues; Second: sell to the employees the wisdom of your chosen path.
Advantages: At least you're communicating.
Disadvantages: It assumes that you know all the key organisational issues, so employees become sceptical and cynical of yet another program of the month decided by management.

Underscore and Explore
What's the Big Idea? This approach focuses on several fundamental issues most clearly linked to organisational success, while allowing employees the creative freedom to explore the implications of those ideas in a disciplined way.
What do I do? First: Talk. Second: Listen.
Advantages: You'll gain the engagement of those employees with whom you're communicating, by allowing them the opportunity to give feedback.
Disadvantages: You give control to your employees. Whoo! Scary!

Identify and Reply
What's the Big Idea? This one is seriously different to the first three in that it focuses on employee concerns.
What do I do? Allow the employees to identify those issues that concern them and then reply to those issues.
Advantages: It stresses the importance of listening to employees.
Disadvantages: It's essentially defensive, and assumes that employees are in the best position to know the critical issues when, in fact, they may not know enough to even ask the right questions.

Withhold and Uphold
What's the Big Idea? This devious approach is favoured by those for whom secrecy and control are the preferred strategy.
What do I do? Say nothing until absolutely necessary. Then uphold the party line.
Advantages: It allows you to concentrate on the day job rather than talk to the peasants.
Disadvantages: The rumour mill goes into overdrive; informal speculation workshops take place at the coffee machine; productivity nosedives.

Whichever approach you adopt, make sure that the description of a US Manufacturing organisation quoted by Clampitt, DeKoch and Cashman doesn't apply to you:
The prevailing opinion was that management was either evil for withholding information, stupid because it didn't know what was happening, or helpless since it never reacted until the last minute. We dubbed this phenomenon the terrible triad.
Now, over to you. Any comments?

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Where have all the (British) heroes gone?

Right. A quick test. Give me the names of 10 British individuals who would feature in a book on strong, inspirational and talented leaders who also serve as role models worthy of emulation.

Get beyond about seven? Me neither.

But is that because Britain is (contrary to Simon Cowell's assertion) devoid of talent, or is it because as Brits we're such a critical and cynical bunch?

The editorial team of HR Case Studies have recently been reading a book (co-authored by a Brit and an American incidentally) which focuses on developing innate personal strengths and talents rather than concentrating on eliminating weaknesses and acquiring new skills. The book is liberally laced with anecdotes from the lives of leaders and entrepreneurs from across the Atlantic - Tiger Woods, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Colin Powell, Charles Colson, Cole Porter. Although there's a tacit acceptance that all these individuals have weaknesses and failings (perhaps Tiger Woods would be unlikely to grace the pages of an update edition!) there's nevertheless a belief that despite such failings, their strengths and achievements are worthy of acclaim, and that we can learn from their example.

Who would feature if the book was restricted to British leaders and entrepreneurs who are also considered to be good role models?

Forget any football players (they're all overpaid philanderers), cricket players (they drunkenly pilot plundered pedalos), politicians (expense-grabbing warmongers), rock musicians (all on drugs, living in the Bahamas), scientists (elite swots), business leaders (earn too much), military leaders (political stooges), HR professionals (spend too much time pondering the reason for their existence…) And on and on we go.

But are we really so lacking in role models that we couldn't scrape together enough to fill the pages of a "Brits Only" book similar to the one above? Or is it more the case that we're such a cynical bunch that the slightest sign of weakness, failure or an error of judgement in a character and they are immediately and eternally cast onto the heap marked "Villains".

Think we need to reconsider some of the guys in the Villains heap and see if we can't move them into the rather small heap for Heroes.

Any suggestions who should be there?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Earning £50,000 per annum is essential for happiness. Really?

As anyone familiar with Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen will know, "Money doesn't buy you happiness"

But it seems that communal living in a shoebox in the middle of the road while drinking cold tea from a rolled up newspaper is no longer the accepted path to contentment.

According to research undertaken by Princeton University, personal happiness rises steadily until you're earning a mere £48,960.98. (OK, the study says $75,000, but I prefer the pseudo-precision of the English Pound!)

Guardian: The price of happiness? £50,000 per annum

The survey asked people to rate how happy they felt each day, based on their experiences of emotions such as joy, worry, sadness and fascination. They were then asked to rate their overall satisfaction with life, on a scale where zero was the worst they could imagine life to be and 10 being the best.

The researchers found that life satisfaction rose steadily the more people were paid. Happiness rose with income too, but plateaued when people reached an annual salary of $75,000. For those on more, happiness appeared to depend on other factors. Unfortunately the "other factors" aren't particularly well defined, but are broadly characterised as "spending time with people you like, avoiding pain and disease, and enjoying leisure."

There's actually an argument that, far from merely plateauing (a good word if you've a handful of vowels at Scrabble!) at a certain level, too much filthy lucre has a negative effect. How about these quotations from the ├╝ber-rich and famous:
  • The care of $200 million is enough to kill anyone. There is no pleasure in it. (W. H. Vanderbilt)
  • I am the most miserable man on earth. (John Jacob Astor)
  • I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness. (John D. Rockefeller)
  • Millionaires seldom smile. (Andrew Carnegie)
  • I was happier when doing a mechanic's job. (Henry Ford)
Perhaps that explains why us Brits are such a miserable bunch. According to the Office of National Statistics, half of people in full time jobs in 2009 earned less than £25,816. Some 90% earned less than £46,278 a year. Just think: increase the average British salary by a mere £2682.98 per year (that a tiddly little £51.56 per week!) and 90% of us will be delirious.

I wonder what the 200,000 people in Niger made homeless by the extreme flooding which has only worsened the country’s crippling food crisis would make of all this though? The average total annual family income in Niger is just over £100.

Puts things into perspective, doesn't it?