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.
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.)
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.
Leadership is much more an art, a belief, a condition of the heart, than a set of things to do. The visible signs of artful leadership are expressed, ultimately, in its practice.
In the heart of London’s West End, right on Charing Cross Road, The Gallery Soho was the ideal venue for ASK’s second Ideas Exchange event (see details of last year’s event here): where better to invite people to discuss the fine arts of leadership and organisational change.
As before, we set out some broad themes for exploration – organisational development, executive coaching, leadership development and talent management – but we also made sure that the event was as much about the participants as it was about the hosts.
“The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.”
- Gunter Grass
As a non-academic, there are times when I encounter the outpourings of the higher education community and catch myself thinking “Yes, I knew that, actually. I wouldn’t have explained at such great length, or with so many historic references or such recourse to technical language. But I still feel like I knew that already.” I had that feeling recently, when I researched the idea of Organisational Citizenship.
It turned out that the phrase that I’d be tempted to use in Plain English already has a particular meaning in the literature of Business Schools. I would use the words in the sense that, in the way that organisations nowadays are large, complex bodies with potentially significant populations and uncountably diverse functions and relationships, a person can be a ‘citizen’ of an organisation in the same way that they can be a citizen of a country. Unlike the academics of Business Schools – who use the phrase to (and I paraphrase) describe behaviours linked to discretionary effort – I intended something that we might think of as ‘seen through the other end of the telescope’. Something that perhaps equates to what we might call, in everyday language, a sense of belonging.
In the horsemeat scandal that seems to have over-run the British media – and the country’s supermarket shelves – over the last few weeks, the puns have almost written themselves. If you’re the brand name now associated with horse lasagne, however, it’s probably neigh laughing matter.
Even Harvard Business Blogs has been moved to comment:
We live in a world of complicated, global value chains, with a myriad of participants in increasingly interdependent ecosystems. Simple, vertically integrated structures, responsible for all parts of the value chain are becoming a thing of the past. For more and more products — from simple ones like a cup of coffee to complex devices like smartphones and tablets — you find a bewildering plethora of firms (let’s call them ecosystem participants) coming together to give something to the final customer.
In these complicated ecosystems the question of who guarantees quality is absolutely pivotal.”