Hello dear readers, over the life of this blog, I’ve sometimes taken aim at certain popular management practices. Here’s a roundup of some of my favorites: Using the empty rhetoric of change to justify or impose change (2015) (link here) — “With apologies to Bob Dylan, the times are always a-changin’. But if you buy into […]
A lot of recent discussion about the labour force in Canada and elsewhere has focused on the “skills gap” – the alleged mismatch between workers’ skills and the abilities that employers need. One reason for the alleged gap is “digital disruption” – the automation or digitization of job tasks – which is changing how some jobs are done and thus changing the skills needed to successfully perform those jobs. These changes are so rapid that workers’ skills may quickly become outdated. Along similar lines, the Royal Bank of Canada recently released a report calling for post-secondary institutions to improve their graduates’ “human skills”, so as to better equip them for the parts of their future jobs that will involve working with people rather than with computers.
The narrative around the “skills gap” has mostly been controlled by employers and by the business community, and the business media have, generally, uncritically bought into the narrative. But the narrative is misleading in how it portrays the problem. It ignores (more…)
And, um, I’d like to suggest that we should pay more attention to it?
A recent discussion on Twitter raised some provocative points about communication norms in workplaces, especially those norms associated with gender. The research of linguists and sociologists such as Deborah Tannen has shown that men and women communicate differently, especially in the context of work. Men tend to present their views and opinions directly, while women tend to frame their statements with qualifiers such as “I think” or “in my opinion”.
In any workplace, the dominant group’s norms – both linguistic and behavioural – usually become (more…)
It costs $144,000 US to get a Master of Business Administration degree at the Harvard Business School (HBS). Anyone paying that amount of money isn’t just buying an education – they’re also buying into a reputation, and gaining entry into a self-perpetuating elite circle of control. That’s why business journalist Duff McDonald’s new book, The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, The Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite, is a much-needed critique. It takes an uncompromising look at how HBS operates, and how (more…)
There’s more than enough information on the Internet right now about the havoc being inflicted on the United States by President Donald Trump and his associates. However, there are two perspectives on this craziness that I want to bring to your attention.
Some commenters have said they are not surprised at Trump’s behaviour in his new job because he’s “acting like a businessman”. In other words, he’s doing what the new CEO of any new business would do: setting up new procedures, changing things that need changing, and bringing in staff that he feels comfortable working with. Leaving aside the fact that Trump is a much less successful businessman than he pretends to be, this situation is a (more…)
Giving feedback – to employees, peers, or even bosses – is a tricky but essential process in almost every organization. It’s important to let people know how they’re doing in their work, but it’s often difficult to figure out the best way to tell them, especially if there are problems with their performance. And we all know organizations that loudly proclaim how much feedback and improvement are valued in their workplaces, but that don’t actually do much to make those processes happen.
My friend Allison Manley has recently starting hosting a podcast for Palantir.net, the web design, development and strategy firm where she works. The most recent episode of the podcast has a fascinating discussion on the topic of feedback. Allison talks with Colleen Carroll, Palantir’s director of operations, about Palantir’s commitment to having a “culture of feedback” and how the company actually makes that happen. What I found particularly interesting about this discussion is that it doesn’t repeat any of the usual clichés about feedback, like “focus on the problem, not the person”, and that it emphasizes the role of the sender of the feedback – a part of the process that often gets overlooked. Here are some of Colleen’s thoughtful insights into what makes feedback work. (more…)
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…)
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…)
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…)