Universal body language

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I invite you to add your own caption to these photographs from the Times newspaper. They show Sir (as of today he still has his knighthood) Philip Green and Mike Ashley, both in defensive mode before parliamentary business select committees.



UK productivity is lamentable

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nickel_and_dimed_1600_wht_6554British workers are a third less productive than their German and French counterparts. Last year they also fell behind the USA, Italy, and Canada.

They produced 20% less per hour than other members of the G7 countries (advanced economies) and had the worst results since records began in 1991 according to the National Statistics Office (NSO).

The Governor of the Bank of England describes productivity as the ultimate determinant of people’s incomes and with it the capacity of our economy to support health, wealth, and happiness”

Britain has fallen behind since the financial crisis with Germany, France and the USA all producing a third more last year. Italy produced 10% more and Canada 4% more. Only Japan produced less.

The TUC is worried thatWithout a step change in productive growth, the UK economy will struggle to deliver secure jobs and higher living standards”

There are signs that productivity is slowly increasing and unemployment here is lower than some EU countries. What the report doesn’t mention is the grey economy which our neighbours across the channel say is what attracts immigrants to our shores. If that work was factored in would it make a difference?

Hard to tell but with stress on the increase again and employee engagement figures well below 50% it’s hard to see how companies can encourage employees to work harder. After all that’s what productivity is; getting more out of workers for the same or fewer hours worked.

After performance appraisal what’s the next idea to ditch?

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business_professionals_standout_1600_wht_5372Following reports of the demise of performance appraisal Philip Delves Broughton, writing in the Times,  asked what else could be dropped?

It was quite a lengthy list, enough to give HR people sleepless nights I would think.

If you want to read the full story check out the newspaper but here is a list of its targets.  (The comments are mine by the way not the article’s author’s)

  • Big Data – assumes numbers can’t lie. Never heard of GIGO?
  • Empowerment – don’t believe it the bosses still want to be in charge.
  • Disruption – Harvard academics love these terms. What happened to innovation and creativity?
  • Being more like Apple – Apple may make wonderful products (I’m writing this on one) but there are questions about how Steve Jobs made it work.
  • Downsizing/rationalising/optimising/change management – Scientific Management, BPR, you name it the experts keep recycling this stuff.  I know I was one!
  • Chief Culture Officer – one person can’t be responsible for organisational culture although CEOs have a lot to answer for in setting the tone as role models.
  • Passion – beloved of life coaches and similar who love to put it in their CVs and on their websites..
  • The off-site – used to be called outdoor development or any training activity away from the office where you could all drink too much and maybe speak some home truths – to be regretted once you get back to the office.
  • Core competence – you mean one-trick ponies?
  • Mindfulness –  the latest fad (possibly replacing NLP). If you want to be a buddhist monk that’s fine but dabbling in these psychotherapeutic areas can create more problems than they solve. Same goes for neuroscience-based training. But that’s another story .

I’m sure you’ve all got your own bête noirs so feel free to share them.

But remember, consultants make their money from selling you ideas and systems so there will always be something else coming along (probably recycled but nobody stays in top jobs long enough to notice).

Off the top of my head what about workforce planning, or job evaluation, Management by objectives, job enrichment? And what happened to the balanced scorecard? You get the gist.

Is it really the end of staff appraisals?

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one_on_on_interview_clip_1600_wht_6951News that two out of three companies are planning to change their staff appraisal processes “radically” might be good news – depending on what they come up with of course. And one in 20 companies are scrapping it entirely.

PwC conducted a survey which came up with these figures and said that that once-a-year assessment of performance and exchange of views between managers and staff didn’t motivate staff or provide the honest feedback bosses needed.

Most of the companies abandoning the traditional approach are encouraging managers to give continuous feedback so that problems are dealt with in a timely fashion and praise is linked to current work performance or behaviour.

PwC is cautioning managers not to abandon appraisal completely as they claim most employees like them as they helped them to understand what they were doing. Does it need an appraisal system for that to happen? I think not. Perhaps improved communication between managers and employees would do the trick.

But PwC also acknowledges that most managers don’t like doing them because of all the paperwork it entails.

Deloitte recently calculated it spent 2 million hours on 65,000 staff. They have replaced that system with one comprising just 4 questions.

Accenture has also dropped annual appraisals. In future staff will no longer receive a ranking or evaluation, just “timely feedback“.

They also say “Companies need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water. Without the year-end rating the danger is that the distribution of pay and bonuses can become even more of a dark art as shadow systems evolve without proper governance and infrastructure behind them”.  And what would HR find to do?

One of the reasons for discontinuing ranking methods is that globalisation has thrown up many different roles and comparisons become more difficult.

There are also cultural differences. I remember being asked in Sweden by a Swedish employee in a multi-national company why his boss always asked him where he planned to be in 5 years time. He said he was quite happy doing the job he had.  I also coached a senior Swedish manager who decided to leave the company he worked for rather than having to turn down promotion to a more global role. He opted to move down the road across the Øresund bridge instead.

The Swedes tend to take a different view on careers, valuing work-life balance more than say Americans or Brits.

I’ve posted before on this topic 

Brits are miserable at work but enjoy their love lives

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figure_holding_happy_sad_signs_1600_wht_10227That’s according to data compiled by Eurostat.

UK workers were the 4th unhappiest in Europe just behind Germans, Bulgarians and Greeks.

This might explain our low productivity rates with long hours and high sickness absence rates.

Managers are seen as poor having been promoted because they were good at their previous job rather than for their potential.

On the other hand almost 60% of us said we were happy with our love lives and personal relationships with fewer than 10% very dissatisfied. That put us into 3rd place behind the Irish and the Austrians.

Overall our life satisfaction scores were about average with the Nordic countries, as usual, occupying the top spots.


Work, rest and play

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stick_figure_running_with_luggage_500_wht_7358No-one talks about Work-Life balance any more; Work-Life Merge seems to be accepted as the way it is, particularly in the USA. With the growth of smartphones and tablets workers are increasingly expected to keep in touch with work.

A recent survey by found that the majority (70%) of British business professionals check their work e-mails at least once a day when on holiday. 1 in 5 of them said they answered the e-mails and 60% of these carried on with the interchange if they thought it was important.

On the positive side a quarter of those surveyed said they didn’t check their e-mails when on holiday and 9% conveniently “forgot” to take their digital device with them.

For most people it takes some time to switch off from work and adjust to a different holiday tempo, and you may miss the structure work gives you.

Holiday can be stressful as well as enjoyable. There may be a large financial investment and high expectations. For freelance or contract workers there is a double cost as they are not earning during the holiday. People worry about travel problems, losing baggage, having accidents/illness.

Much as you may love your partner/family spending 24/7 with them can also be a strain. If your relationship is having problems you may find going to work is an escape for you and/or provides you with social support.

Organisations today generally have flatter structures with fewer managers supervising more staff. Managers or team leader may not have deputies to look after things whilst they are away and may worry about what they will be going back to.

Managers may not have sufficient skills to delegate or manage their time effectively. They may not have the skills to develop/train staff to deal with minor problems. They may lack confidence themselves or feel they have to micro-manage staff. For some managers stress is caused by not knowing what’s going on back at work.

Workaholics are often rewarded by organisations and this leads to “presenteeism” where staff feel they have to work long hours for appearances’ sake.

Working more than 50 hours a week is not productive (more mistakes, accidents, poorer quality work) and also has health risks. Those managers who say they get bored on holiday should bear this in mind. Laptops or smartphones on the beach don’t usually go down well with the family.

E-mail overload is an increasing source of stress. Companies can help by having policies about e-mail distribution but sometimes managers feel they have to check their e-mails if only to delete the spam or reduce the volume when they get back.

pen_display_accomplished_1600_wht_7579So what can you do?

  • Pre-planning is crucial which includes briefing your team on what to expect when you’re away and delegating responsibility to them.
  • Leave an out-of-office message asking people to contact you on your return if possible or contact a colleague if it’s urgent
  • Have day off before you travel on holiday to help you prepare for the break.
  • If you really have to use your digital device restrict your usage to an hour each day and let your staff know when that time will be.
  • Having a buffer zone at each end of a holiday can help. Having a day of to get things sorted out at home before you go back to work or just going in for an afternoon to start with to clear any backlog enables you to get the best out of your holiday.

And if you still think you are indispensable remember De Gaulle’s dictum of how the graveyards are full of indispensable men.

Leadership and Influencing

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businessmen_puzzle_shake_hands_1600_wht_3191Older managers may remember the days of Blake’s Grid and the 9:9 management style; striking a balance between people and productivity. That idea has been persistent, about getting the right balance in the way you manage people to get the best out of them.

John Adair, for example developed his Action-Centred Leadership model which was all about keeping the balance between the Individual, the Team and the Task.

And Machiavelli had something to say about this too. Was it better to be loved or feared? He thought it was better to be both but because that was difficult for one person to do he decided “it was safer to be feared than loved.

But times change and there is currently much interest in the science of influencing. Influencing ethically not in a manipulative or machiavellian way.

Many leaders believe that, particularly during those important first 100 days, they have to demonstrate competence and their strengths. But years of research by social scientists show that it’s better to first show your people side by displaying warmth, and then demonstrating your competence.

A spotlight article on Influence in July-August’s issue of the HBR “Connect, Then Lead” by Cuddy, Kohut and Neffinger, explains the current thinking on this.

Basically we judge our leaders on two criteria: how much we like them (warmth and trustworthiness) and how much we fear them (strength and competence). These appear to be the two primary dimensions of social judgement which account for 90% of the variance in the positive and negative impression we form of people.

We have all met people who are competent but display no sense of caring or warmth. They may elicit envy, respect or resentment in others. We may have met people who are warm but incompetent who elicit feelings of warmth but also pity and lack of respect (and it’s hard to imagine how they would become leaders).

So the best approach appears to be to start your leadership by exhibiting warmth, either verbally or using NVC, and making connections, the network building so important early in your leadership career. At the same time you are demonstrating that you are trustworthy.

Then, when appropriate, demonstrate your competence. In a study by Zenger and Folkman of almost 52,000 leaders only 27 of them were rated in the bottom quartile for likability and in the top quartile in terms of overall effectiveness. In other words only 1 in 2,000 leaders were disliked and effective.

But this approach – warmth first – is not easy and most leaders feel the need to demonstrate their strengths first.

Organisational psychologists, Abele and Wojciszke from the University of Gdansk, carried out experiments about training, offering either competence-based or soft skills programmes. They found that people chose competence-based programmes for themselves but soft skills programmes for other people. And when asked to describe a life-defining event they would tell a story about their own competence but when telling a story about other people refer to their warmth and generosity.

If you want to know more, including tips on how to project more warmth or more strength, you’ll have to read the full HBR article, in fact the whole of the July-August issue is devoted to Influence.

Saying “Thank You” makes good business sense

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stick_figure_drawing_thank_you_1600_wht_6923Robert A Eckert was Chairman and CEO of Mattel, the world’s largest toy company, from 2000 to 2011 and stayed on as Chairman through 2012.

When he retired he was asked to write a piece for the HBR reflecting on his career and chose to use it as an opportunity to publicly thank everyone who made his work fun.

He’d spent 23 years at Kraft Foods before he joined Mattel, which at the time was losing almost a million dollars a day.

He’d started at the bottom in Kraft and worked his way round and up the organisation supported by 15 different bosses who taught and mentored him. Like most people he did work for a bad boss as well but he just learned from everything.

He believes that people went to work aiming to do a good job and that what they wanted most (after sex and money) was recognition and praise.

At Mattel they had a Rave Reviews programme which allows employees to thank each other with a gift certificate for coffee or a soft drink and for senior managers who excelled they gave out a Chairman’s award at public meetings.

Mattel was named one of the best companies to work for in Fortune magazine 6 years running.

Eckert is a great believer in recognising people’s efforts and saying thank you.

He also says his colleagues can vouch for his toughness and doesn’t want to be thought of as soft touch. Given what he achieved at Mattel you can believe that.

In the HBR article he gives these tips:

  • Set aside time every week to acknowledge people’s good work
  • Handwrite thank-you notes whenever you can. The personal touch matters in the digital age.
  • Punish in private; praise in public. Make the public praise timely and specific.
  • Remember to cc people’s supervisors. “Don’t tell me; tell my boss”
  • Foster a culture of gratitude. It’s a game changer for sustainably better performance

Source: “The two most important words” HBR April 2013

A bad day at the office?

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office_worker_getting_frustrated_1600_wht_5817Most of us have had one but what is it that annoys us most at the office?

A survey of 2,000 British office workers found the usual suspects and more:

  • colleagues talking loudly on the phone
  • being copied into pointless e-mails
  • arguing about air-conditioning ( battle of the sexes in my experience)
  • smelly colleagues
  • the phone call 1 minute before the end of the day (as if anyone actually answers those)
  • staff being blocked from certain websites by the company (tough, it’s the company’s time you’re wasting doing your on-line shopping or using comparison sites)
  • colleagues who booked school holidays too far in advance (blame management or the system that allows it)
  • diet bores
  • people parking badly in the car park
  • colleagues arriving late and leaving early (again management’s fault for not confronting such staff)
  • people singing at work
  • people who made a drama out of everything
  • colleagues who never admit they are wrong (20% of people in survey identified this)

Personally I would include:

  • people bringing smelly food into the office,
  • people using other people’s (clean) cups and crockery because they can’t be bothered to wash their own,
  • people who leave the photocopiers out of paper, and
  • people stealing other people’s food and provisions from the communal fridge.
  • In this survey only 20% of people said they had actually confronted their colleagues and then only in a jokey way (a clear case for assertiveness training I think).

More seriously the people in the survey were fed up with heavy workloads, not being appreciated, and poor wages.

The recession meant that many people who would have moved jobs if treated badly had to stay put. Now the recession is officially over that may change, certainly surveys asking about intent to move in the last few years suggest that night be the case.

Some of these complaints are down to poor management or managers without the skills to deal with these issues before they become a problem.

Not being appreciated is one of the negative aspects of work. Saying thank you doesn’t cost a lot after all.

Coaching has high impact on performance

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P1000161Of course as coaches we knew that but research by Rebecca Jones at Aston Business School suggests that when compared to other workplace interventions coaching has a greater impact than training or 360 degree feedback.

She looked at 24 different studies of workplace coaching and found that it produced several positive outcomes such as positive attitudes, improved work behaviour, time management and overall performance.

Coaching achieved these in three ways:

  • by using goal-setting,
  • encouraging reflection, and
  • providing tools to encourage the transfer of new skills.

She found that having multi-source feedback could detract from the coaching process (which is a surprise as I’ve found it to be a powerful tool at an appropriate stage in the coaching process).

However the facility of the coach to tailor an approach enhanced the process and the use of telephone coaching facilitated confidentiality (my colleague is a great believer in Skype for career coaching).

She also found that internal coaches may be more effective due to their insider knowledge of the organisation culture. Past research has found that the more senior the client the more likely they are to prefer an external coach.

This was reported in Coaching at Work magazine Vol 9 issue 2.

In the same issue it was reported that executive coaching had once again become the province of senior leaders as organisations reserved it for their top executives.

Women and Leadership. Too nice? Too bossy?

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women_calculator_desk_1600_wht_7996Leaving aside the whole issue of women on FTSE100 boards and the Norwegian “Golden Skirts” have women finally cracked the glass ceiling?

Well according to Herminia Ibarra and her colleagues, writing in the September 2013 HBR, persistent gender bias disrupts the learning process of becoming a leader.

They are talking about what they call “second generation gender bias“. Not direct discrimination but things like the paucity of role models for women, career paths and jobs that have become entrenched with a gender bias, and women’s lack of access to sponsors and networks.

They also talk about the double binds facing women. In most cultures leadership is associated with masculinity. The ideal leader, like the ideal man, is decisive, assertive, and independent. Women, on the other hand, are expected to be nice, caretaking, and unselfish.

Research shows that female leaders who excel in traditional male domains are viewed as competent but less likeable than their male counterparts. Yet research shows that female CEOs are trusted more than male ones and can add real value to teams.

Behaviours that suggest self-confidence or assertiveness in men often appear arrogant or abrasive in women. Female leaders who adopt a feminine approach to their work may be liked but not respected. They are seen as too emotional to make tough decisions and too soft to be strong leaders.

Yet research carried out by Zenger and Folkman in 2011 on over 7,000 executives using 360 degree feedback, showed that women were rated higher than men at every managerial level. However the higher in the hierarchy you went the more men there were. So were companies promoting the right people?

They used 16 competencies in their research, which they had identified as being the most important in terms of overall leadership effectiveness.

These were:

  1. Takes initiative
  2. Practices self-development
  3. Drives for results
  4. Develops others
  5. Inspires and motivates others
  6. Builds relationships
  7. Collaboration
  8. Teamwork
  9. Establishes stretch goals
  10. Champions change
  11. Solves problems and analyses issues
  12. Communicates powerfully and prolifically
  13. Connects the group to the outside world
  14. Innovates
  15. Technical or professional expertise
  16. Develops strategic perspective

Comparing mean scores for men and women the women scored significantly (statistically) higher than the men on 12 of the 16 traits – and not just the ones that women are known to be better at. They scored the same as men on connecting to the outside world, innovating, and technical or professional expertise.

The only trait where men scored higher was on developing a strategic perspective.

So what’s to be done? Ibarra and her colleagues don’t suggest anything dramatically new or innovative.

Progressing to leadership positions means leaving behind your old professional identity and learning new skills (have a look at Charan’s pipeline model).

That can be scary so having supportive mechanisms in place such as providing leadership programmes, mentoring and coaching (and I find in my coaching that women are less defensive and often respond better than men), and providing a support group or a safe space – perhaps an action learning group – can make a real difference.

The origins of Scientific Management

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9780486147758_p0_v2_s260x420Most people who recognise the term Scientific Management will associate it with Frederick “Speedy” Taylor and its application in the manufacturing industries in the 1880s and 1890s.

However research by historian Caitlin Rosenthal into slavery plantation records from the USA and the West Indies between 1750 and 1860 showed that plantation owners were already applying management techniques before the industrial North.

They used accounting techniques such as depreciation, and standardised efficiency measures relating to both the land and the slaves.

As scientific management requires high levels of management control over employee work practices it’s not surprising that plantation conditions were conducive to such an approach.

There was no labour turnover as slaves couldn’t quit; and plantation owners re-allocated their labour supply as they saw fit.

Thomas Affleck, a Scot, had studied agriculture at the University of Edinburgh before moving to America, getting married and operating several plantations in the South.

His Cotton Plantation Record and Account Book and Sugar Plantation Record and Account Book, became models for other plantation owners. (Click here for further information on these books).

In them he described how to calculate depreciation (which experts previously thought came with the building of the railroads in the late 19c).

Slave-owners also developed a measure called the “prime field hand” . Prime field hands were assigned certain capabilities such as expected daily output.

Workers were measured against this standard and given values such as “half or quarter hand”. These were used as benchmarks to compare productivity.

There may be indirect links between slavery and the Industrial Revolution, and between the plantations and the early cotton mills to which they were tied.

Rosenthal says that one of Taylor’s associates, Henry Gantt, who had worked at Midvale steel and who developed the charts that bore his name, was born on a plantation although there is no evidence he was involved in its management.

The brutal exploitation of people who were slaves was an extreme example of employers treating people as human capital with often absentee owners relying on the metrics to manage their investments.

It seems historians have known about the ledgers and account books from which Rosenthal drew her conclusions for a long time but this has never emerged in the management literature. Perhaps people were too ashamed to draw attention to it.

This seems so long ago now but there is still a school of thought which treats people as human capital which produces economic value.

And when it comes to downsizing or mergers or aggressive takeovers do the accountants with their spreadsheets and the HR people with their performance review data think of employees as human beings?

Some companies are still using scientific management techniques, albeit with modifications