The most startling moment of this episode – officially called, with blinding insight, Flat-Pack – happened a few minutes in, and I’ve been trying to have my retinas repaired ever since. Earlier in the series than usual, The Apprentice played the ‘everyone was relaxing at home on a day off, with a camera crew – as you do’ trope, and the remaining 14 contenders (I use the word loosely) suddenly found themselves with thirty minutes to reapply the bling. Girls scampered along luxury corridors, hectically searching for trowels so they could re-do their eye make-up. Meanwhile, not content with flashing his abs at us in a towel last week, Myles decided that the most appropriate way to behave on camera in a men’s dorm is to wiggle across our eye line in a thong. In a programme with no audience voting, I was left wondering which bottom line he was most eager to demonstrate familiarity with. His own, possibly? Fundamental mistake there, Myles. Oh well, maybe he was just showing us his best side …
Thereafter, the jokes continued to phone themselves through. These week’s challenge – delivered, please note, without any fanfare about its central importance to the economy or any other brouhaha – is to design, prototype and pitch an item of flatpack furniture, with a maximum RRP of £75. Before the phrase has left voice-over man’s lips, I am already thinking ‘yep, strictly two dimensional’ and ‘a child of five could do it’ (and the related jokes). But can 14 children aged between 22 and 39 do it? By the time you are reading this, all bets are off. Do not call now: you may still be charged and your opinion will be disregarded. (For those struggling with maths, the RRP limit is slightly more than half of the TV licence fee you have already paid to be seeing this.)
The title, given that this post is written in response to an external blog post (Ian Gee’s very thought-provoking “Sentiment isn’t just for Sympathy Cards!”), is somewhat cheeky, but I hope that I can go on to demonstrate that an IT-based response to the ‘softness’ of HR issues can – and perhaps inevitably will – trigger an HR-related reaction that can’t help but wonder about the ‘hardness’ of IT solutions.
Ian, on the basis of his profile, has a long and successful track record in the corporate sphere, focusing largely on OD: he knows, we can safely assume, whereof he speaks. As he acknowledges, there are really two issues at play in the area he is currently addressing. The superficial problem – to use the wrong adjective, I admit, but to call it ‘the presenting problem’ would be to potentially confuse management speak with psychologists’ jargon – is how to gauge opinion, feeling and atmosphere amongst the human resources (or ‘people’, as we refer to them outside the office). But there is an underlying problem: the opinions and thoughts that most need to be swayed are those of the occupants of the C Suite, for whom measurement is a matter of firmness, definitiveness and bottom lines. They are not a group of individuals much moved by ‘data’ such as “We have had some informal feedback to the effect that …”
The one with the brewery. There’s no need for a spoiler, is there? Lord Sugar even utters the immortal line, although you’re made to wait about 47 minutes for it. It doesn’t constitute either suspense or surprise. And given that most of us recognise the human ability to make a fool of ourselves over alcohol (this is a blog, not a confessional, let’s keep things general …), mixing fifteen idiots and a brewery was always going to be a little predictable. Oh well, down the hatch …
It’s 6am in the Apprentimansion. Jason is wearing the kind of stripey jimjams that would make most viewers over a certain age (or of a certain disposition) think of Rock Hudson. Luisa’s Doris Day impersonation, meanwhile, is way off the mark. It’s the series’ habitual soft-porn/candidates-in-their-undergarments section, and the lads have got their tats out for the lasses. Myles impersonates an old Badedas bath foam advert for the cameraman’s benefit, but I’d have thought the chances of a seasoned film crew succumbing to his over-advertised charm at 6.02am were a little thin. Neil, episode 1’s gruellingly relentless back-seat driver, meanwhile reveals a physical quirk. Despite having one of those beards that disappears down his neck, his chest is as bald as his ambition. For at least one good reason, someone needs to deal with that man with a cut-throat razor.
In the “You’ve Been Fired” follow-on programme for Episode 2, Dara O’Briain demonstrated how a change of background music can alter our perception of a piece of footage. The winning team strolling around a Belgian square could be either edgy or comic, depending on the accompanying score. (Left as just a dialogue track, of course, it remained tragic, but music’s awesome power can’t change everything.)
Throughout Episodes 1 & 2 of Series 9 – and two episodes on consecutive nights really was in danger of being too much of a good thing – I often had an imaginary alternative soundtrack. “Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington.” And if Mrs Ampaw-Farr was watching, you might want to pay more attention to Noel Coward than Lord Sugar next time opportunity knocks. Yes, here we are again with The Apprentice. 16 fresh hopefuls, spouting like a school of whales and as estranged from modesty as they are from understatement.
I know, I know … a shameless attention-grabbing post title. But corporations, feelings and attention-grabbing are essentially the key points of what follows. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a posting on one social media site (not linked, as membership is required) where one contributor had spotted a tweet on a corporate account, expressing how ‘stunned’ it/they was/were and how ‘thoughts are with’ those affected by the bombing of the Boston marathon.
What had fired them to repost it was a combination of a) a sense of ambiguity over appropriateness and b) the social conundrum of an organisation – when all is said and done, an abstract entity – tweeting an emotional response. I’m not going to play ‘name and shame’ – it’s not entirely clear to me that shame is a word to be used – but it was an interesting point: how can something that might be a legal entity but isn’t an organic, living and breathing one feel the sense of sympathy that someone within it has chosen to use a social medium to express?
In Olden Days A Glimpse of Stocking …
Let me start with an illustration. No need to be alarmed – it will be purely verbal – though it would be fascinating to know how many find the idea shocking. But the illustrative point: all the members of the Royal Family use toilets. Not earth-shattering news, is it? Just a recognition of adult normality. (I could have said other things that would be entirely normal too.)
My point? How well we are handling the impact of social media. It’s a point that Mervyn Dinnen touches on in a blog post, Social Media, Judging Others and The 5 Year Rule. Social media, as people have pointed out, redraw the line between public and private. Not all of the impacts of this are instant headlines grabbers. In one way, this social change is forcing us to abandon a pretence or two: online, we can see all too clearly that accountants have social lives, mathematicians occasionally dance on tables, that a large number of people – many of them with names or even faces – really do fancy George Clooney. In short, the people around us – in offices, on commuter trains, buttoned into their office-wear in the neighbouring car in the stationary traffic cue – are adults, just like we are, and that they are complex and fallible and messy just like we know that we are (but try to not show too much in our own Facebook timelines).
But will the types of netiquette faux pas that Mervyn writes about cease to be a talking point in five years time because it’s just not ‘news’ any more, or because those kind of stories have stopped happening? Will we adjust to our lives being potentially open to far more people than has previously been the norm, and if so by behaving ‘better’ or by averting our eyes to different things? Will aspects of human behaviour we’ve tended to indulge in but keep quiet stop carrying their current social taboos? Or will we negotiate some medium path, where we arrive at new norms: some behaviours become public, some become almost more private than before. (Pause for thought: watching, monitoring and judging the escapades of others are also human behaviours. And often as habitual as the behaviours they are observing.)
As part of the ASK Newsletter, Q2, we are starting a series of interviews with key voices from the worlds of organisational effectiveness, HR and L&D. (If you’re not a subscriber, visit the Newsletter page at our website to access all the articles from Issue 1, or to be added to our mailing list.)
As part of the first issue, we’re delighted to host a Q&A session with Sharlyn Lauby, author and editor of the HR Bartender blog.
In her own words, “an HR pro turned consultant”, Sharlyn created the blog so that “people would have a friendly place to discuss workplace issues”. We’re privileged to have the opportunity to pull up a bar-stool and seek the HR Bartender’s counsel.
Q1 In your recent blog posting, Knowing When To Retire a Theory, you talk about the need to remain open to updating or replacing conventional wisdom. How open do you think most organisations are to this issue, and how might more of them be helped to become so?
I believe organizations are very open to it. Over the past few years, companies have been forced to re-evaluate their status quo whether it was driven by the global economy or business competition. But this can’t be a forced activity. Questioning conventional wisdom needs to be a business standard. And people who can raise the question in a thoughtful way will be very valuable. Challenging the status quo cannot mean turning the building upside down every time.
It really comes down to permitting a culture where the conversation will be embraced. And giving individuals the tools to have the conversation in a productive way. I think companies are open to it. I don’t necessarily think that companies are open to the destruction that can occur at the same time.
At our recent Ideas Exchange event at The Gallery Soho, we invited those attending to write their questions on a giant blackboard as triggers for discussion. We’ve taken a few moments since then to offer suggested brief answers to three of these questions, and you’ll find our ‘starters for ten’ below – but we’d very much welcome the contributions, thoughts and suggestions of others: simply use the Leave a Reply box at the bottom of this posting to share your thoughts with us.
We’ll be posting ‘answers’ to other questions raised on the day shortly – follow us on Twitter for announcements, or subscribe to our blog to be notified of new posts by email. (And if you’d like to be notified of future events, please contact us.)
It’s not often that a music review raises a laugh, let alone a complicated one. The first example I remember was of Culture Club’s Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, which she reviewed with a single word. The word was ‘Yes’. (If memory is functioning, the critic was Julie Birchill.) More recently, a Kate Mossman review of a Bon Jovi album in New Statesman also raised a smile, mostly for its opening paragraph:
Here’s a bit of fun: which of the following are US presidential campaign slogans and which are songs by Bon Jovi? Something to Believe in. Believe in America. Made in America. Another Reason to Believe. A Stronger America. Forward. Undivided. The Distance. Change. Taking it Back. Bring it On. We Can Do Better. Yes We Can. Because We Can. What About Now.”
(In case you’re wondering, songs/slogans 1,3, 4, 7, 8, 12 and 13 were Bon Jovi; 2 was Mitt Romney; 5 and 11 were John Kerry; 6, 9 and 13 were Barack Obama; and 12 was JF Kennedy. Perhaps Kerry and Obama have missed vocations as stadium rockers?)
Ms Mossman’s point was that ‘stadium rock employs the same nebulous, inspirational vocab as politics’, although she might well have substituted other nouns for ‘politics’. But my reaction was not, like her, to give recognition to Bon Jovi for ‘infusing John Doe with inspirational sentiment’ but to reflect more on that nagging similarity of vocabulary. And on the way that so many popular songs that, lyrically, expressed one sentiment have been appropriated by causes with different agendas. Although she mentions Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA (a war veteran’s angry rant) being hijacked by Reagan for its air-punching chorus, the phenomenon is not uniquely American. As a BBC news item shows, popular songs have been hijacked – almost invariably without consent – in many countries.
…oh, and research reports. And HR. Would you Adam and Eve it? Gor blimey, guv, strike a light … People Management have commissioned a survey into lying at work. Shockingly, this really actually happens. (No, me neither. Never. Wouldn’t dream of it. Cross my heart and all that.) Worse than that, it seems people are lying to HR professionals on an increasingly frequent basis. And they have (wait for it, wait for it …) statistics to back up their argument. Pot? Kettle?
It is, as you can see, easy to be cynical. The biggest surprise in the article’s quoted figures for me was that the peak age for lying is 25-39. As Samuel Butler once quipped, “I do not mind lying, but I hate inaccuracy.” I would have thought that the ability of familiarity to breed contempt might have made some of our more experienced workers more tempted to just … you know, bend the truth a little.