history

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…)

My Boston, One Year Later

This past week marked the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. And it’s also nearly a year since I was in Boston, just after the bombings, in a bright sunny springtime.

One of the many posters and signs expressing support for Boston after the bombings - this one at the Boston Architectural College on Newbury Street.

One of the many posters and signs expressing support for Boston after the bombings – this one at the Boston Architectural College on Newbury Street, May 2013.

I don’t think I will ever forget (more…)

Some Thoughts on Orly Lobel’s “Talent Wants to Be Free”

I had the pleasure of meeting Orly Lobel this past September at the Employment and Labor Law Colloquium at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. As it happened, the colloquium was held just a few days before Orly’s book, Talent Wants to Be Free: Why We Should Learn to Love Leaks, Raids, and Free Riding, was officially published. At the colloquium, Orly gave a brief talk about the themes of the book , and I was so intrigued by what she discussed that I bought the book as soon as it was available here.

I was hoping to have posted something sooner about Talent Wants to be Free. But the book was so thought-provoking for me that I ended up reading a part of it, putting it aside to think about what I had read, and then reading some more. So it took me a while to get through the entire book – but that’s an indication of how much valuable information there is in it, and how smartly it’s written.

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Anita Hill, Two Decades Later

Last week, Anita Hill appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  She was there to promote a new documentary about her experiences in 1991, when she testified to a US Senate committee that she had been sexually harassed at work by Clarence Thomas, at the time a nominee for the position of US Supreme Court Justice. (Stewart’s interview with Hill is here for American viewers; Canadian viewers can see it here.)

In her interview with Stewart, Hill explained that she got involved in the documentary to help educate younger workers about why sexual harassment is still (more…)

The Rise of the Post-New Left Political Vocabulary

This is a fascinating analysis of how language and jargon have evolved across time in activist organizations. And it also demonstrates the influence that language has on organization members’ attitudes and perceptions (and vice versa).

The Public Autonomy Project

[Click for Printable PDF]

If a handful of time-travelling activists from our own era were somehow transported into a leftist political meeting in 1970, would they even be able to make themselves understood? They might begin to talk, as present-day activists do, about challenging privilege, the importance of allyship, or the need for intersectional analysis. Or they might insist that the meeting itself should be treated as a safe space. But how would the other people at the meeting react? I’m quite sure that our displaced contemporaries would be met with uncomprehending stares.

It’s not so much that the words they use would be unfamiliar. Certainly ‘privilege’ is not a new word, for instance. But these newcomers to the 1970 Left would have a way of talking about politics and political action that would seem strange and off-kilter to the others at the meeting. If one of…

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Goodbye Madiba.

Growing up in Canada, I know how Nelson Mandela symbolized the struggle against apartheid in South Africa to the rest of the world. This is a truly beautiful and moving piece by a South African about how much Mandela meant to his own country and his own people.

Campari and Sofa

2_t750x550Our beloved Tata (father) has died. He had been ill for months and we didn’t really know how he was. Of course, it was none of our business. He had retired from public life – he was no longer a political force, he was a private man living with his beloved wife and grandchildren, in a pretty home amongst the trees.

If only it was that simple.

Nelson Mandela was South Africa’s conscience. He brought us out of the struggle pretty much blood-free. He walked with us while we found our footing. He managed our expectations and our day-to-day as our President. And he said wise words. Things we knew we should be saying ourselves. But were too afraid to utter. He addressed the need to forgive, not to forget – but to see the other as a human. Not as an enemy.

We needed to believe he would always…

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Changing the Story: A Visit with the Las Vegas Culinary Workers Union

I recently returned from presenting a paper at the 8th Annual Colloquium of Current Scholarship on Employment and Labor Law, a conference that was started by a group of American law professors, and hosted this year by the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Although I am not a lawyer or a law professor, and although there are some pretty significant differences between American and Canadian labor and employment law, this particular conference is always extremely rewarding. The program is very inclusive – people present research at all stages of development, from potential ideas to already published books and articles – so I always learn a lot and meet really interesting people.

There was some excellent research presented at the conference itself, but what I want to talk about in this post is an event that for me, as a Canadian, was (more…)

Activism: It’s Not Just for Labour Day

It’s Labour Day weekend, and as many of my colleagues ruefully note, this is the one time every year when labour and union issues are guaranteed to get some attention in the news. And it’s usually mentioned in this news coverage that unions’ activism doesn’t just benefit their own members, but also improves society at large. When I teach industrial relations, I always talk about how workplaces don’t have things like minimum wages and regulated working hours because employers woke up one morning and voluntarily decided to give these things to their employees. Those things are required by law – and while unions were among the activists fighting to get those laws passed, the unions wanted better working conditions not just for their own members, but for everyone.

I’ve been thinking about this kind of activism in a very roundabout way recently, because of (more…)

100 years of the Actors’ Equity Association

Union membership numbers have declined for a lot of occupations over the past century. But, despite major technological change in their industries, performing arts unions have maintained their presence as strong advocates for the workplace interests of performers, writers, and technicians. The Museum of the City of New York has written a wonderful post, with fascinating pictures, to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Actors’ Equity Association.

MCNY Blog: New York Stories

Look at the cast list in any theater program across the country and you will see a small * beside a performer’s name leading to a footnote indicating the performer belongs to the Actors’ Equity Association.  Peruse the program bios for these same starred performers and you will often encounter the phrase “proud member of Actors’ Equity.”  The union representing live theatrical performance turns 100 years old on Sunday. Rather than attempting 100 years of coverage in a single blog entry, this week’s posting will focus on just a few points of pride.

Actors’ Equity was founded on May 26, 1913 when 112 theatrical actors met at the Pabst Grand Circle Hotel in New York City.

Six months before this meeting the Actors’ Society of America, a previous attempt at organizing a labor union for theatrical actors, dissolved, due in large part to the fact that the Actors’…

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Adios, Amigo: More Problems at Library and Archives Canada

The Canadian media have been very busy in the last few days trying to keep up with the story about members of Canada’s Senate making suspicious expense claims. However, at the same time, another dispute involving governmental expenses has been largely overlooked – the one involving Daniel Caron, the head of Library and Archives Canada (LAC). This past week, he stepped down when it was discovered (more…)