In an industry that is depressingly attached to protocol and procedure, it’s nice when you hear about someone who opts for a more human, more instinctive approach to HR. But it’s even nicer when you hear that it actually worked.
The individual in question isn’t an HR professional. In fact, he happens to be the current CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt. In an interview with the Harvard Business Review in 2001, Schmidt described how, having just taken the reins of the floundering software company, Novell, he wanted to seek out the company’s brightest minds. You can just imagine the HR department gleefully rubbing their hands as they delve into the archives for last year’s annual reviews and employee feedback reports:
“Oh yes, of course. What you need is a new internal talent resourcing strategy. We’ll get right on it…”
Schmidt opted for a more direct approach:
A symptom of world wide connectivity is that we are now subject to rapid economic, political or social change like never before. Word moves faster than ever, as does public response and, as a result, the response from the market. For all the focus on the logic of market mechanisms and forces, we should remember a lesser used cliché: market sentiment. For this reason, a company’s success can’t be measured purely in terms of its market dominance. If an organisation’s seniority is to remain sustainable, it needs to be counter balanced with the ability to adapt as needed. Inflexibility, stubbornness and a reticence to move with the times can be fatal. For this reason, we increasingly require our business leaders to be individuals that are highly adept at identifying changing trends and acting accordingly.
In an old but entirely relevant article, Marketing Myopia, Theodore Levitt (Harvard Business Review, 1960) illustrates how blinkered executives can often doom their companies to failure by tying themselves too loyally to a single product or service:
It is hard for people who today confidently hail the twin messiahs of electronics and chemicals to see how things could possible go wrong with these galloping industries. They probably also cannot see how a reasonably sensible businessman could have been as myopic as the famous Boston billionaire who 50 years ago sentenced his heirs to poverty by stipulating that his entire estate be forever invested in electric streetcar securities. His posthumous declaration, “There will always be a demand for efficient urban transportation,” is no consolation to his heirs who sustain life by pumping gasoline at automobile filling stations.”
When I graduated in 2010, I assumed – in retrospect, naively – that my grades, extra curricular activities and the fact that I had worked through university would qualify me for full time graduate employment. How wrong I was…
You see, if you want to secure a graduate position, having a degree is only half of the battle. In fact, according to a recent study, maybe even less so. The findings state:
Many recruiters commented that irrespective of the academic results that a graduate had achieved, it would be very hard for an applicant to demonstrate the skills and competencies that they were looking for if they’d not had any prior work experience.”
Martin Birchall, MD of High Fliers, the recruitment firm that conducted the research, said that:
Today’s report includes the stark warning that in this highly competitive graduate job market, new graduates who’ve not had any work experience during their time at university have little or no chance of landing a well-paid job with a leading employer, irrespective of the university they’ve attended or the academic results they achieve.”
My friend, 22, recently landed himself a relatively high paid sales job in London. At least, he thought it was high paid. He’d certainly been led to believe that was the case in the interview.
In fact, the majority of the pay was commission based. Undeterred, he started work, held it down for around two months and then a week or so ago, handed in his notice. He rang me to let me know. I couldn’t understand. He’d talked about moving to London all the way through our third year of university and now he finally found his way there, landed a job, got a flatshare, and he goes and chucks it all in.
Stress, he says. The financial insecurity of his heavily incentivised work-life eroded away at the experience of moving to a new city and actually enjoying the experience. Instead, he was plagued with visions of his not hitting targets – even though he consistently did so – and being evicted from his shared accommodation and left destitute in the big city.
Following on from our review of the first episode of Radio 4’s Follow the Leader last week, I had the pleasure earlier today of tuning back in to enjoy the second. Whereas the last episode covered the rise ‘to the top’, this week’s focussed instead on the qualities needed to retain seniority, the pressures in doing so and the latent discrimination that influences our choices when appointing leaders.
Chuka Umunna, Labour Party Politician and employment lawyer, illustrates the pressures faced by high profile leaders by describing a newly appointed PMs first act on entering Number 10:
“The first thing you have to do [when you become Prime Minister] is you sit down at the cabinet table and you write a letter in your own handwriting to the captains of Trident, telling them what to do if the UK has been blown up… That’s an extraordinary thing in many respects, and frightening in some respects… Are you actually dying to be in that position? To be making those kind of calls?”
Pressure indeed! As someone who has wiled away entire days mapping out the strategy that I would follow in the event of a nuclear holocaust or a zombie apocalypse – come on, we’ve all been there, if you don’t believe me check out the Google search – I can say with some confidence that I have every faith in my stratagem. If there are any senior security officials reading this that would like to request my services as an ‘in-the-event-of-an-apocalypse’ consultant, my details are… (OK, OK, they probably already have my details)
The majority of us, particularly the younger generations, have felt the ‘pull’ of social media. In our personal and professional lives, the positive implications of developing a ‘personal brand’ are evident – as are, many would argue, the negative.
Whatever your standpoint, it’s pretty hard to dispute the fact that social media has revolutionised the way in which we interact with one another, both personally and collectively. As the dust settles on the social media landscape, hierarchies are emerging and, as we know, at the top of every hierarchy there are individuals that have greater influence, command more respect and – in certain circumstances – wield greater authority than others.
A great deal has been written about the various means by which we can attain, retain and capitalise upon seniority in any given context – though I can’t attest to the quality of most of it. So it seems surprising that so many people – in particular business figures that wield seniority in the real world – are yet to capitalise upon the positive implications that would follow reconciling seniority in the real world with an active social media profile.
As I assume you’re all aware – and if you’re not, feel free to ring your mum for confirmation – Nigel Pargetter was killed off on Sunday’s episode of the Archers. Now for all of the Archers fans that are struggling to cope with the loss, my heart goes out to you. No really, it does. It can’t be easy having to tune into the Archers on a regular basis. Let’s hope one day you can rid yourself of the affliction and find a more worthwhile past time, like trying to communicate telepathically with your cat or balancing pencils on that little rubber tip that some of them come with.
To be fair, from the sounds of it, even the fans were nonplussed by Pargetter’s demise. I’m pretty underwhelmed by the news. I imagine that’s partly to do with the fact that I don’t listen to the Archers, so I don’t really care. But even so, when my mum said that the writers had told fans that Sunday’s episode would “shake Ambridge to its core”, I had expected a little more. Why couldn’t the Grundys have turned out to be an ingeniously disguised radical Islamist cell. Or a comet reduce Borsetshire to an apocalyptic wasteland populated entirely by radioactive zombified turnips?
Anyway, before I get too caught up in my designs on the future of Ambridge, one Radio 4 programme that was of interest was the first in a two part series called Follow the Leader, a show that enlists the opinions of various credible sources in an attempt to form a view on what makes a great leader. You’re not alone in wondering how they intend to do this in just two half hour slots, but even so, I thought it would be worth tuning in.
Well, having been a student myself for the last three years, I can tell you that the students have always been revolting – anyone who risked entering my kitchen in the first year can attest to this.
As if being a graduate in 2010 couldn’t get any worse, we now have the dubious pleasure of being implicated by association with the student fees protesters. Whether or not we agree with the cuts or disagree is immaterial. The fact is: we are young, we were at university, and so in all likelihood we are now devising new and inventive ways to scale the Cenotaph or thinking of what we’re going to write on the sandwich board that we will inevitably turn up for work wearing. Brilliant…
But for the sake of impartiality, I’m going to avoid getting bogged down in an inevitably dull discussion of the cuts or the protesters or their incredibly disrespectful (woops!) actions last week. I’m not interested in the ‘whats’ and the ‘whys’ of the protests, but rather, the ‘hows’. In particular, the way that the students have used social media to generate, galvanise and mobilise support, and what organisations can learn from this.
Can you remember what Christmas was like as a kid? I was discussing this with a colleague of mine recently. She has young children and was describing how one of them, in the run up to Christmas, uttered the immortal words:
“Mummy, why can’t every day be Christmas?”
I vaguely remember a feeling similar frustration at that age. It seemed nonsensical that we had to endure the interminably dull year from start to finish in order to enjoy Christmas, when we could have it every day if we wanted. After all, what was stopping us?
There is a certain utilitarian logic to this line of thinking: one that only kids can fully master and that, at one point or another, we all seem to lose.
December is a month of retrospection. We think about the year that has passed – or rather, we wonder where it went; we think about our financial situation – or rather, we wonder where all the money went; and we think about the years that have passed before – well, you get the picture. Unfortunately, for many people this Christmas, the festive season and the obligatory wistful reflection will be marred by the difficult year that has passed. Redundancies, pay freezes, increased personal workload due to downsizing: although the yearend is supposed to be a celebratory holiday period, it is hard to leave work related concerns at the door.
420,000 people a year in Britain have to deal with work related stress and when asked if they have taken time off work because of it, 57.9% said they had. Emine Baker, comments:
A survey of 2,000 people found that half reported that morale at work was low, one in 10 had visited their GP for treatment for mental health problems as a result of recession-related stress, and one in five had developed depression as a result of pressures at work….
‘You’re ill, but go to work anyway because you’re frightened of not going to work,’ says Cary Cooper, co-founder of the company and professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University. ‘Britain has the longest working hours in Europe by far,’ he adds… But long hours aren’t the only problem, says Cooper. ‘People have had to cut their labour costs so there are fewer people doing the work, which means workloads have increased. And bad managers are dangerous for your health. If you don’t feel valued, that affects your self-esteem, which can affect your health.’”
It should come as extremely unnerving, then, that almost three out of five employers don’t think stress qualifies as a legitimate reason for sick leave. In fact, 39% of the managers asked said they “struggled to take mental health seriously.”