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 …”
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.
…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.
The editors of People Management know a good pull quote when they see one. In a sector of trade publishing more prone than most to ‘attention grabbers’ that leave the reader with a sense that someone nearby will shortly be waving their Buzzword Bingo card aloft and shouting ‘House!’, the following certainly attracted our eyeballs:
Hiding behind your desk in a suit isn’t the answer anymore.”
The speaker is Ricardo Semler, CEO of Brazilian company Semco. People Management describe him as ‘the forgotten business guru’, which seems an odd appellation for a man whose organisation continues to thrive and grow. And the attention that he does receive has tended to focus far more heavily on his divergence from ‘conventional wisdom’ than the success that he has achieved. There’s a ‘why?’ begging to be asked.
At Harvard Business Review’s blog last week, Hal Gregersen offered to teach us a new trick. It was offered in the spirit of New Year, in recognition of the rather low strike rate our resolutions tend to clock up. If resolutions were employees, surely we’d do something about it? Odds are we’d probably tell them to buck their ideas up. Even if we might inwardly wonder if looking for causes might achieve more. (Nicola Lowe recently had a different take on resolutions here.)
Gregerson’s trick is, on the face of things, a fairly simple one. When you’re identifying your biggest challenges, don’t create statements: ask questions. He gives some clear examples:
|New ideas never move forward
||How can we translate new ideas into tangible results more successfully?
|Employees aren’t engaged
||What is causing employees to check out emotionally from their work?
“Memoir is the most subjective genre and has the least duty to reality; but it still has some. If this remaining restriction is still too much for you – if you’d like to add and invent important things – then you should be writing fiction instead.”
These words come from The Arvon Book of Lifewriting: Writing Biography, Autobiography and Memoir. I read them after reading not only the last post here – which pondered the potentially dangerous seductive appeal of stories – but also an article in The Guardian about a newly released book written by the psychoanalyst, Stephen Grosz.
Drawing on a lifetime of experience (and clients’ lifetimes of experiences), Grosz uses stories to explore a host of themes – not least that:
All change involves loss, and yet life itself is change – we are always giving up something for something else. And the point is that we lose ourselves when we try to dent those changes, when we deny that life entails loss.”
Grosz freely accepts that he has drawn inspiration from short story writers, and in the interview describes Dicken’s Scrooge as “a great story of psychological transformation”. As a mere student of – and reader of – short stories, I couldn’t help but think that there are few stories that aren’t, at least to some degree.
[This post was written by ASK Associate, Nicola Lowe. To find out more about Nicola, visit her website, where you can sign up to receive her newsletter.]
This time of year tends to focus our attention on what we would like to change as we start a fresh new year. Most of us start the year thinking about what we would like to change about our lives or ourselves.
The traditional approach to change is based on taking action to be different. It is about making change happen through focus, hard work, discipline and commitment.
Now this approach to change can, and does, work. It is an approach that I used to work with my clients on and have helped them to achieve great results. But it doesn’t work all the time and often is unsustainable.
Before we’ve even kicked off (that being a carefully selected verb), it’s clear that rank is being pulled. Today’s briefing venue will be a football ground, but not Karren’s West Ham United. The final four are off to White Hart Lane, where Lord S is former chairman of the mighty Spurs . En route, the pieces to camera are confirming suspicions as much as they are outlining hopes and aspirations. Lucy sees Ashleigh as her biggest competition, but tells us it’s not about who shouts loudest. Patrick wants to be one of the best fashion designers in the country. Ashleigh assures us she has the best reputation of all the candidates, having only been in the last three once – and that that had been down to the PM rather than to her. Maria goes for the modest approach: “I hate to break it to you but I think I might win”, she demurs, before telling us that she is after the backing and the insights rather than the money. (Maybe when she’s older she’ll realise that money can by you other people’s insights too.)
Summonsed to a luxurious hair salon that was originally London’s barber’s salon, each candidate prepares in their own way: Lucy applies hair spray with the vigour of a woman with a grudge against the ozone layer, while Maria informs us that it’s very important to look good in business. Perhaps she’s in early preparation for her close-up, as this week the teams will develop a tv ad for a styling product (a £200m market, and that’s just Lucy), and then pitch their brand and their campaign to marketing professionals. (But not, it seems, styling product professionals.)
Sometimes you can get a subliminal sense that someone’s heart isn’t really in it. Faced with briefing the candidates on creating a kids club ‘fun but entertaining’ license-able venture, Lord Sugar appears only by iPad. Understandable, however. I’m not sure I could face them at 7am, even with a luxurious get away car on standby.
Barely has the viewer’s brain had time to register the thought “Kids Club? Aren’t we already in one of those?” than His Lordship has intervened to mix up the teams. Platinum is now an alloy of Andrew, Ashleigh, David and Lucy, leaving Maria, Navdeep, Patrick and Steven to be Odyssey. (Did anyone else recall that the name is derived from the Greek for ‘trouble’? Just me then …)
Despite my evil, hand-wringing anticipation last week, the teams get to pick leaders. David and Maria both put themselves forward – David does at least have experience of tutoring small children – and Navdeep and Ashleigh are duly unanimously elected. An early lesson in reputation management there then … Ashleigh tempts fate by voicing to camera that “I’d have done anything to make sure David wasn’t PM again”. Not this early in the evening schedules you wouldn’t, Madam; now behave.