We’ve cringed about fairness before on this blog, mostly as it seems to have become a word our political leaders eagerly want to use but not to engage in debate about. While it’s possible to admire someone who knowingly embraces a challenging strategy, part of the problem of fairness is that it’s not only measured, it’s felt. (It’s also not the most easily measured abstract concept in the world either, prone as it is to conflicting readings of equally conflicting statistics.) These inherent difficulties do, however, need to be acknowledged: feeling that we are being treated fairly is a widespread human desire, and integrally linked with such important aspects of a harmonious, productive and successful organisation as trust and respect. It may be difficult to measure quite how the presence of these fluffy components turns into cold, hard cash, but their absence can cost an organisation dear in many ways.
We commented a couple of days ago on the Guardian’s HR: Friend or Foe article, and the rumpus that followed in the online comments posted. While the perception of HR still lags behind the fate of the daleks in the popular imagination, other bloggers in the HR arena have also taken note and we’d like to point you at two particular examples. (For other links to interesting blog posts across the web, see our Crackers page.)
- Guardian article paints HR as ‘double-agents, The smiling assassins’: Michael Carty has been posting a series of updates to his own original article, tracking other responses and reaction across the blogosphere, and there are signs that CIPD may be encouraging The Guardian to write a follow-up article
- So, HR Manager, just who are you working for? A response from Flip Chart Fairy Tales, in which blogger Rick firmly adopts the position that HR are employees like anyone else and the role is to achieve the best outcome for the organisation and make calls when commerce and ethics collide. Fair points, but as his own commenters point out, without influence and trust, HR departments will struggle to achieve outcomes: HR needs PR to achieve HR?
Mon Dieu, Paris! Yep, it’s the episode where they spend about 36 hours abroad to show how multinational activity is just another imperative in the life of the thrusting young businessperson. Poor things are so rushed off their feet, they don’t even have time to pick up the Time Out Paris Shopping Guide as they charge through St Pancras International. (Couldn’t one of them faint a coughing fit to distract the minders’ attention while another one sneaks into Smiths? Maybe pick up a phrase book too? Where is their ingenuity? Perpetually unprepared, they might make fledgling entrepreneurs but they’d be drummed out of the Cub-scouts or Brownies faster than you can auto-translate’ woggle’.)
It was a fine week for epic howlers, even by the programme’s standards. Susan wondering if the French love their children or drive cars raised Karren Brady’s eyebrows so far they were in danger of leaving her body all together. Luckily for her, Helen chose the child’s combined rucksack and car seat as a winning product, delivered a smooth pitch and sold £200,000 of them to La Redoute. And Susan’s diminutive frame allowed her to personally demonstrate the seat, although whether this dismisses the traditional argument that winners need to demonstrate ‘bottom’ remains debatable.
If you need something slightly less brain-numbing to watch about the future of British Business, you can take a break from The Apprentice (I’d like to, but I’m expected to review it) and watch Evan Davis’ Made in Britain. In Mr Davis’ typical manner, it’s a sometimes awkward hybrid of several hundred years of economic theory condensed into a few minutes on one hand, and his idiosyncratic puppy-with-a-shaven-head presentation style, but it has its moments.
Some of them came as Davis strolled and lolloped through the corridors of GSK and ARM, respectively pharmaceutical and processor design behemoths of an economy he was keen for us to see as not constructed entirely of call centres and misery. (The series has a strong ‘all hope is not lost’ motif, although the motif did take a kick or two in China.) The companies’ respective spokespeople echoed the words of people such as Charles Handy and Steve Johnson, particulary in the multi-disciplinary nature of the teams striving at the bleeding edge of innovation (and at the innovative edge of medications to deal with all that bleeding).
This week’s task was all about breathing life into a tired media format where the Boston Matrix would reveal an over-abundance of Problem Children and Dogs: ‘freemiums’ – freebie mags that exist on advertising revenue as they’ve already calculated that no-one would pay to read them. There are many criticisms of The Apprentice – and I confess I’ve written quite a few of them – but you can’t argue that it isn’t generous in giving its critics copious ammunition to throw back at it.
Being reasonable (words they almost always indicate someone is about to be anything but, of course), this episode did see a drop-off in the verbal handbagging and Most Cliches Per Minute In A Taxi elements. It was, for once, rather less like seeing a plain dress version of It’s A Knockout: I actually made it through a full hour without my brain once thinking “Here come the Belgians!”. That said, the clangers still outnumbered the soupdragons fairly heavily: picking the over-60s as a demographic without reflecting on Lord Sugar’s date of birth, for starters.
Many films have trailers that do them slightly less than full justice. I was aware of Made in Dagenham, but even Mark Kermode’s listing of it as one of his Top 5 Films of 2010 didn’t get me past the trailer and into a cinema at the time. The involvement of the Calendar Girls director left me thinking that film might well be one of those films you label as ‘very British’ and ‘nice’, but might not pack the punch that it might have done.
Its appearance on DVD, the cajoling of some friends (of both sexes), and a quick Amazon order later, I finally spent 108 minutes in its company. And was very glad I did. Yes, it is ‘very British’ – there’s a down-home smallness to it, but appropriately so. Though fictionalised in parts (the central character, played brilliantly by Sally Hawkins, is an amalgam of several real women), its narrative arc is a true story: in 1968, 187 ordinary working women really did set in train a real step in history.
There’s been quite a lively debate at Business Week, where two contributors – and a long list of commenters – indulged in some weighty mutual executive briefcasing (handbagging just didn’t sound right) in response to the question: “Multi-dimensional organisational design (Matrix) is the best way to restructure a business. Pro or con?”
In the Pro corner, Jay Galbraith argues for the value, inherent merit and – in today’s trading environment – the inevitability of the victory of a collaborative approach over a command and control variety. In the Con corner, Guido Quelle sees matrix organisations as painfully slow, lacking clarity and clear lines of responsibility. Verbal bruisings have been administered and received on both sides but there’s been no knock-out punch: anyone hoping to see the late, grand old man, Peter Drucker holding the limp wrist of one argument aloft and counting to ten would be disappointed.
A while ago, on a bulletin board that can remain nameless (to protect posters’ identities, and as its actual digital whereabouts is irrelevant to my point), someone started a thread that commented on their rootless, international upbringing and asked the simple question “Where do you call home?”
The answers were intriguing. Although some were geographic or family based (ie home is where yougrew up or where your parents live, if they still do), many were not and explored what we mean by ‘home’ – not the same word, or the same associations, as ‘heritage’. Some responses mixed the two, for example:
Aberystwyth, on the Welsh coast, where I lived for five years as a student and lecturer and whose faded Victorian beauty, rugged surroundings and adorable people make me feel instantly secure and integrated the second I go back, which I do at least four or five times a year.”
Others were far more concerned with what ‘feeling at home’ actually feels like and the different ways we can experience it:
- Wherever i feel safe and comfortable.
- Anywhere that contains George, some plants I have grown and a pile of books could be home.
- There used to be an old Goth/Alternative club […] where I worshipped weekly back from the early till the mid-nineties. Until now I’d forgotten just how safe and happy I felt there with all the sights, sounds and of course the lovely people within. It’s a place that helped shape my formative character just as I was part of what shaped its. It was home and I miss it.
- […] Which, presumably, is why we refer to favourite bars, clubs, cafes and the like as ‘homely’ – we don’t really mean ‘domestic’, we mean ‘comfortable’ in the truest sense: places we feel like we belong. It can even be somewhere you’d never been before – I’m thinking of a tapas bar in Perpignan and a now long gone art gallery in Leicester. Home is a connection we feel through more than just our feet.
Oh, the opportunities for cheap jokes – an episode of The Apprentice about disposing of waste. Lord Sugar even cracked a (well-scripted) funny about normally having his rubbish taken away in the back of taxis, but given that the tab is probably on the BBC licence payer, the punchline wasn’t quite so hilarious. (He also has a fair amount of waste ferried from luxury pads to prestige locations in some fairly expensive motors, when an Oystercard might have been more cost-effective. Surely even an East End lad should know the tube goes as far as Richmond?) And considering the episode was about the waste disposal business, there was a significant pile of crap still on display at the end of the programme.
I could update you on who won, although it doesn’t seem to be why anyone watches the programme anyway. I could harp on about the schadenfreude of watching metaphorical stiletto heels being inserted between rivals’ shoulder blades – one reason most of us are watching but that wears thin, even if we are less than halfway through. Watching the whole series is like running a marathon, only it’s your brain that starts to feel like it’s turned to lead. As usual, what stayed with me most at the end of the programme – apart from the moments that counselling and a vodka and tonic have now successfully erased – are the bits where the programme has failed itself and its audience.
Pet food. On The Apprentice? Uh-oh, here we go. Proudly going for the obvious, the jokes about dogs’ dinners and making a meal of it all got wheeled out early on, when saving them for later might have given the episode a sense of anticipation (and helped those playing buzzword bingo drinking games stay … er, focused.) No one said anything I recall about never working with children or animals, or even with star-struck men with autobiographies to sell or Vice Chairs of recently relegated footie teams, but ‘sharp’ in this arena tends to be an attribute of ties or creases rather than minds. Another open goal was missing as no-one uttered the word ‘tripe’. But this wasn’t business about numbers so much as business by numbers. Any self-awareness having been left on the editing suite floor (if it were ever present), many of our thrusting young things ladled on the jargon oblivious of the way speaking in Three Letter Acronyms makes you sound like an Assistant Regional Sales Executive. (This week’s task is to work that one out for yourselves, btw.)
Everything continued to be ‘bold’, ‘strategic’ and ‘passionate’, but I was left remembering an old Pretenders song:
I remember the way he groaned
Moved with an animal skill
I rubbed my face in the sweat that ran down his chest
It was all very run of the mill.”