Musical Gifts and Kindred Spirits

In the movie Almost Famous, one of the characters gives this advice about life on the road: “If you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” To me, that quote encapsulates two of the great things about being a music fan – that music itself is your friend, and that music can connect you to fascinating people all over the world. Serious music fans can be quirky and prickly, but if they recognize a kindred spirit, they can share some incredible discoveries.

I’m currently reading Respect, David Ritz’s new biography of Aretha Franklin. The book is remarkable not only for its blunt portrayal of Franklin’s life, but also for its thorough depiction of the many musical styles that influenced Franklin’s work. And what made me think about the wonderful community among music fans is the book’s description of Franklin’s early career. There are two references in there that would mean nothing to me without (more…)

All About Work’s Third Birthday

Today marks the third anniversary of the launch of All About Work. Writing and managing the blog has been a tremendous learning experience for me, as well as being a lot of fun.

In the blog’s three years of operation, its posts have received a total of nearly 95,000 hits. The most popular posts to date have been: (more…)

Amanda Lang, the CBC, and Journalistic Standards

Amanda Lang, CBC News’ “senior business correspondent” and the host of the CBC-TV show The Exchange with Amanda Lang, has recently been the subject of some controversy. In the last few weeks of 2014, it was alleged that she violated CBC’s conflict of interest policies by accepting paid speaking engagements from companies that she then “favourably” covered on her TV show. Then in early January it was alleged that she had lobbied within CBC News to downplay a story about the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) outsourcing jobs held by Canadian workers, when in the past she had given paid speeches at RBC-sponsored events. It also emerged that Lang was involved in a personal relationship with an RBC executive.

In a newspaper op-ed column, Lang denied the allegations of improper influence and defended her integrity – a response that was not well received. CBC subsequently banned its on-air staff from making paid appearances at non-CBC events, and, last week, announced that an “internal review” had found that Lang’s coverage did not violate CBC’s “journalistic standards”.

This series of events was deeply distressing to anyone who cares about the integrity of Canada’s publicly-funded national broadcaster – especially when the allegations involving Lang came directly after the allegations of workplace harassment by CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi, followed by multiple criminal charges being laid against him. What was also distressing in Lang’s case was that both she and the CBC didn’t seem to understand that a perceived conflict of interest can be as damaging as an actual conflict of interest. Lang’s dismissing the allegations as “malevolent” and “utterly unwarranted” was ill-advised, and in my opinion only made the situation that much worse.

I’ll admit that I’m not familiar with much of Lang’s television work. But recently, while looking for something else entirely in the CBC’s online video archives, I came across a recent interview on her show that was so appalling (more…)

When “Best Practices” Aren’t Best

Anyone who went to business school around the same time I did remembers “excellence”. Specifically, that was Tom Peters’ book In Search of Excellence, which described how companies could improve by copying what great companies did well. That book sparked a management fad of benchmarking – which then morphed into the idea of “best practices”. But now, unfortunately, it looks like the very sound ideas behind “best practices” are being lost and corrupted by corporate doublespeak.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve come across more than a few examples of organizations using “best practices” as a reason to reduce or cancel services. The explanation usually goes something like this: the organization has “benchmarked” itself against similar organizations, or looked at other organizations’ “best practices”, and allegedly found that other organizations are doing less of a certain thing, or doing that thing less expensively. This then becomes a justification for the organization to downgrade its own offerings.

This use of “best practices” is not what was originally envisioned. Although Peters has admitted that his investigation of “excellence” was not as rigorous as it could have been, nevertheless his book had a powerful practical message.  (more…)

Management and Leadership Lessons from Skating Parents

As an adult skater, and as someone who only started skating seriously as an adult, having a parent involved in my skating career is something I missed out on entirely. But for many parents, having a child in skating is like managing an organization. The parent has to recruit and hire staff to work with their child (coaches, choreographers, off-ice trainers, dance teachers, costume designers); they have to schedule their child’s training and other activities related to the sport; they have to make sure the child gets to everything on time and is prepared for the activity they’re going to; and they are the “investor” in the business, i.e. the one that pays for everything (which can be very expensive).

And the questions that skating parents often struggle with are very similar to the questions faced by many business leaders and managers. How intensely should they be involved with someone’s progress or skill development, particularly if that person is going through a difficult time? How can they facilitate a positive experience for everyone involved in the organization? How can they help people become independent and responsible, and to develop the ability to make the best decisions for themselves? (more…)

Public Sector Pay, Private Sector Pay, and the Fraser Institute

Last year, some of the research produced by the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute received some serious criticism. The Institute claims its work is based on “careful, accurate, rigorous measurement”. But the International Labour Organization – an affiliate of the United Nations – released a report which outlined extensive calculation errors and questionable methodologies in the Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World database. And it was also discovered that data for the Institute’s “survey of mining companies” were being collected through a website that was open to anyone, regardless of whether they knew anything about mining.

You would think that criticism like this would make the Institute look a little more thoughtfully at how it conducts its studies. But judging by its new report, Comparing Government and Private Sector Compensation in British Columbia, the Institute isn’t being any more careful with its work. The research presented in this report has numerous problems that contradict the Institute’s claims of “rigorous” and “transparent” methodologies – and which make the results of the research unreliable, to say the least. (more…)

On Politeness, and the End of Target Canada

A few weeks ago, I read this article by Paul Ford about the “unexpected gains” of etiquette and politeness. I was surprised at the snarky tone of some of the reader responses, because I thought it was  a very-well written piece with an important message. Etiquette is not about arcane rules of which fork to use, but about being considerate of others. And the article also gently made the point that politeness can pay off for the polite person, as well as for those he or she interacts with.

A few days after I read Ford’s article, I was wandering through my local Target store. As it happened, this was also a few days after Target announced that it was closing all of its 133 Canadian stores. And at the time I was wandering through, there was some sort of staff briefing going on near the fitting rooms, with a manager and about 15 staff members. I was curious to hear what the staff were being told about the closing, because I’m certainly no fan of how Target has treated some of its workers in Canada, so I pretended to browse the racks while listening to what was being said.

The manager leading the meeting was very impressive. She told the staff members, (more…)

Predatory Journals: An Experiment

In my occupation, tenure and promotion are big deals. University professors who want to get tenure or be promoted are usually expected not only to conduct research, but also to publish that research in academic journals. And in the last decade or so, the traditional model of academic journal publishing has been disrupted by the emergence of online-only journals and by open access journals.

This disruption has resulted in some good changes. It has led to alternatives to the process of anonymous peer review of journal submissions – a process which is supposed to be objective, but often isn’t. It can shorten the often lengthy time between the submission of a manuscript and the publication of the finished article. And it has also provided wider access to information that might formerly have been subscription-only or password-protected.

But the disruption has also led to the rise of so-called “predatory journals”. These are primarily online journals which have little or no academic legitimacy. They exist solely to make money for their owners, and they make that money by charging excessive “article processing fees”. Unfortunately, these journals prey on vulnerable researchers. That includes researchers who are desperate for publications to put on their resumes; researchers who are not confident in their writing ability; and researchers who can’t identify journals where a publication will hurt, not help, their careers. (Jeffrey Beall, who blogs about predatory journals, has an excellent list of criteria that he uses to define a predatory journal; you can find the list here.)

Predatory journals regularly send out spam emails soliciting manuscripts. I receive at least three of these emails every week. Other than being annoyed by the spam, I had never really thought too much about how these journals work. But at the end of last year, two astounding stories made the rounds. One was about a predatory journal accepting a manuscript that consisted of nothing but the words “Get me off your f***ing mailing list”. The other was about a predatory journal accepting a manuscript of computer-generated nonsense that was allegedly co-authored by two characters from The Simpsons.

These stories blew me away. How could this happen? Wouldn’t disrespectable journals at least try to appear legitimate by rejecting blatantly fake papers? How could even a disrespectable journal miss such obvious signs of fakery? So I decided to conduct an experiment of my own.

The outcome: Two journals accepted a manuscript for publication that was not only nonsense, but also plagiarized nonsense.

Here’s how it happened.

(more…)

Human Resource Management and the CBC

One of the biggest stories in work & organizations in Canada right now is the ongoing workplace scandals at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. At first, attention was focused on the firing of former radio host Jian Ghomeshi.  In the first week of 2015, Ghomeshi was charged with three more counts of assault, and  two CBC executives were placed on indefinite “leaves of absence”. But now another controversy has arisen that involves a different CBC employee – senior business correspondent Amanda Lang. According to a report quoting another CBC reporter, Lang intervened in the CBC’s coverage of a news story involving a company that Lang was paid to give speeches to; she also had a personal relationship with an executive at that company.

Before last week, it might have been possible to attribute CBC management’s ineffective strategy of dealing with Ghomeshi – which seemed to be to ignore or downplay signs of trouble for as long as possible – to the challenges of an exceptional situation that even the most experienced executive would have trouble handling. But the news about Lang’s alleged behaviour – which the CBC again seemed to manage by denial and by downplaying dissent – raises the very serious possibility that CBC has a systemic and widespread problem with its workplace culture and its human resource management practices.

A reader of this blog contacted me to point out one part of the CBC story that has largely gone unnoticed. This part involves Todd Spencer, who is CBC’s “executive director, people and culture” and is one of the two executives currently on leave. (more…)

Executives and Harassment in Organizations: An Interview with David Yamada

The New Year has started off with new developments in the story of disgraced CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi. On January 5, the CBC announced that two of its executives – Chris Boyce, the executive director of CBC radio, and Todd Spencer, the “executive director of people and culture” for CBC’s English-language operations – had been placed “on leave until further notice”. Then on January 7, what was supposed to be a routine court appearance for Ghomeshi turned into something more, as three new criminal charges were laid against him – including one involving a former CBC employee.

Ghomeshi now faces seven charges of sexual assault and one charge of overcoming resistance by choking. He has pleaded not guilty to all eight counts, and his next court appearance is scheduled for early February.

When events like this involve a workplace, there’s always the issue of whether the organization responded appropriately to the behaviour in question. In most organizations, executive positions at Boyce and Spencer’s level have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring safety and respect in the workplace. But there might be many layers of responsibility and authority between that executive level and the level at which the unacceptable behaviour is taking place. So how accountable should executives be for workplace events which they might not have had direct control over?

To get some perspective on that question, (more…)