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 …”
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.
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.
I’ve often appreciated Dan Rockwell and his Leadership Freak blog – and not just for that double-take blog title. His most agreeable characteristic (to my mind at least) is that he remains prepared to ask questions of what he encounters in life, and not to think of assumptions as the mental equivalent of a comfortable old sofa. Assumptions – like faith – are best when they are tested and proven.
In a recent post, Three Qualities Traditional Leaders Reject, the first of his listed examples is as follows:
Traditional leaders are unwelcoming. Traditional leaders expect you to receive their ideas; they don’t receive yours. Power, prestige, and position thrive in unreceptive, threatening environments.
Tell-me-more leaders, go further than,
Stop looking down your nose at outsiders, front line employees, and new hires. Adapt to them; don’t force them to adapt to you.”
We’ve said it before, but leadership isn’t ‘being in charge’. That’s managing – and with the stick rather than the carrot. There’s a lurking danger of ‘all efficiency and no effectiveness’, and the managed need vitamins more than they need bruises.
In recent weeks, two leaders have captured headlines by doing something usually thought of as unthinkable for someone in their position: Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands abdicated the throne and – also acting on historic precedence, but a much older on – Pope Benedict XVI resigned.
Although the Catholic church is facing considerable turbulence and the lingering whiff in the aisles is as much potential scandal as incense, there is no current indication that the resignation was either forced or ‘timely’. Nor has Queen Beatrix been a stranger to public criticism and scrutiny, and responded publicly to an extent that the British might find unusual compared to our own monarch. (Surprisingly un-English, the Dutch, as we’ve commented before.)
Although these are departures from office rather than ‘this mortal coil’, another Shakespeare quote – from the Scottish play – sprang to mind:
Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it.
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.
In a recent Forbes blog, 10 Traits of Courageous Leaders, Susan Tardanico suggests ten actions leaders can take that will – she argues – have positive benefits for them and for those they lead.
- Confront reality head-on.
- Seek feedback and listen.
- Say what needs to be said.
- Encourage push-back.
- Take action on performance issues.
- Communicate openly and frequently.
- Lead change.
- Make decisions and move forward.
- Give credit to others.
- Hold people (and yourself) accountable.
While Tardanico’s original blog offers explanations and contextualisation for each of these items, her preceding paragraphs offered a broader context of period of a tenuous economy and an environment of workplace stress and anxiety during which many – including leaders – may be strongly tempted to keep their heads down and avoid risk. The remarks and comments it’s invoked, however, cover rather greater ground – and in some cases beg larger questions.
A week ago, there was an auspicious alignment of two of the most influential black Americans: Barack Obama was inaugurated for a second time (if electing a black President was historic, how should we describe his re-election?) on Martin Luther King Day, a public holiday in the USA.
These two men have done more, at least in the public eye, to drive forward the equality agenda in the US then any others. Of course, they have had allies and collaborators, antecedents and ancestors, but in terms of leaving a footprint on the society in which they lived and served they have no equals.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
While I could spend time analysing and commenting on the political nature of their struggles I am struck by something more universal that connects both men – an underlying belief in the potential of all: a shared belief that we should all be judged not by who we are but by what we do. And the belief that equality is, fundamentally, a statement of the potential of all of us to succeed in whatever field of endeavour we chose and that we should be free to pursue this success without hindrance from others based on bias or stereotype.
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?