For something that the majority of us would, I very much hope, see as a Good Thing, it’s surprising how often education is a butt of jokes or derisory remarks. One of the most familiar is probably ‘The Ivory Tower’ – originally a Biblical phrase suggesting noble purity, but for the last few centuries used as a criticism of academics to indicate a wilful lack of worldliness or of ‘real world’ applications. (If you work in a discipline or function that a University would position as a Humanities or Social Science area, they mean you.)
Those of us involving in workplace learning and professional development should be more than aware that ‘our’ kind of education has left the Ivory Tower. The classroom is no longer some kind of ‘holy’ place where employees congregate – no pun intended – to have learning bestowed upon them. The future of organisational learning will be WISE – Workplace, Informal, Social and Experiential – even if it might take a while for the actual individuals to merit the adjective.
The following is an opinion on British Management. “Short Sighted, Short-Termists, or Long-Term, Growth Visionaries”. If the first couple of words hadn’t given an indication that further language with a hint of ‘step into the executive car park and say that again, would you?’ might be about to follow, here are more words from the same source:
THE FATAL BIAS
The prevailing managerial bias towards cost efficiency is seriously harmful to corporate performance.”
It’s the actual source that’s possibly surprising: step forward the Chartered Management Institute, who are currently working with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Management (APPG) to report on the state of British Management. If provocative thinking is to your taste, I’d suggest you download the three currently available PDF documents from the CMI website:
Confucius famously cursed us to live in interesting times: reading recent blogs and newsletters, I’m picking up a rather different adjective – fearful. Even the usually cheerful Euan Semple started his most recent newsletter with the subheading ‘Paranoia’, although his specific reference was to online privacy and how you might take a few steps to maximise it.
Yet fear has the potential to stalk our working lives in other ways. The blog, The Illusion of Work, recently published a post by Ian Gee called The Tyranny of Transitions, looking at the Kübler-Ross Curve, widely used with reference to organisational change, but originally grounded in work around individual’s responses to grieving. Gee’s article ponders how far organisations may potentially overload individuals with dealing with the emotional transitions of overlapping cycles of change, especially where previous experience may have taught them to be wary or to anticipate difficulty.
As a species, it seems we often like to simplify challenges – not just as this is the era of the soundbite when complex issues must be reduced to ‘elevator pitches’ to get others to engage, but perhaps because a simple challenge feels easier to dismiss. But it depends what we mean by ‘dismiss’, doesn’t it: do we mean despatch (deal with, send away, render obsolete), or do we mean ‘park in the long grass’ (ie out of sight = out of mind).
When it comes to the issue of women in leadership, and women’s progression in the workplace generally, are we doing the same thing by referring to ‘the glass ceiling’? It makes it sounds as if there’s just a single obstacle, and if we can only find the right hammer and land a powerful blow in the right area of the glass …
Those of you who are already familiar with ASK’s approach and methodology may already be aware that amongst our passions is a commitment to ‘asking the right questions’. In times of change and of debate, doing so is doubly important: if debate is required, asking the right questions enables it to be informed. While we may individually have preferences for ‘analysis’ or ‘feeling’, an absence of answers must to some extent mean that we are not really seeing the things that we are responding to.
One such arena is organisational learning and development, where training activity is no longer so focused on the classroom. This change has many drivers – the advent of online technologies and the role of innovations such as the internet, wi-fi and handheld devices in delivery, a growing pressure for ‘on-demand’ learning (possibly influenced by lean production approaches), and budgetary pressures, which recent years have only amplified.
ASK has long held that line managers are critical to enhancing organisational effectiveness, workplace productivity and the transfer and application of learning: their active involvement in, engagement and support for these activities are vital to their success.
In relation to leadership development, we have long been adamant that three things – a focus on behaviour as well as knowledge, the development of self-awareness, and the follow-through and support activities that take place after interventions – must each be aligned with line manager behaviour, reward and recognition strategies and performance management practices. As the results of our Learning Transfer Survey 2012 argued:
The line manager has been identified in the academic literature as more influential in learning transfer than either the learner or the trainer.”
Yet as the survey showed, learning transfer practises that involve line managers remain among the least frequently used. While the earlier 2010 survey had identified:
[…] the ‘gap’ between the trainer, who is accountable for the learning experience, and the learner’s manager, who is necessarily responsible for what happens in the workplace”
and the use of manager-related transfer practises has increased in the intervening two years, the gap is still very much in evidence.
Let it never be said that business is slow to respond: the inevitable ‘business lessons from the US Government shutdown’ articles have already started (and I am also about to stand guilty as charged). As individuals, we each have our own take on the world and draw our conclusions and our parallels. The unnamed writer behind a Mintek blog post saw circumstances in Congress as equivalent to a clash between sales and operations in the hotel industry (which, I suspect, they either work in or advise – we all tend to see the relevance of what we do, regardless of where we look). Jack Welch – who shouldn’t need introduction – sees a different lesson entirely: titling his argument Schmooze or Lose: How the Lost Art of Negotiation Led to a Shutdown, It might normally take a brave man or woman to disagree with Mr Welch, but a number of respondents have, including one who plain-speakingly said:
Negotiation? Over what? That train left the station in 2009 when the Affordable Care Act was voted on, passed, signed into law and upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court. The time for negotiating has passed.”
ASK is not, of course, in the business of politics, although we are perhaps in the politics of business. Among the conclusions that might be drawn from looking across the Atlantic are not only that effective working relationships are important in any organisation (as another respondent on Welch’s article put it, “When one side takes the “my way or the highway” stand, then everyone loses”), but that sometimes the pursuit of a single, personal goal or agenda can become so determined that the broader picture gets lost. Indeed, a stance can be taken that so obstructs sympathy, that even the issue in question may be lost. As Public Policy Polling has shown, Congress’s approval rating is currently just 9%, and it is also less popular than head lice, colonoscopies, used-car salesmen and Brussel sprouts. This was – like the recent reaction to the Daily Mail/Ed Miliband scenario – not the response that was intended, but perhaps passion has obscured the wider view.
If you’re reading on a tablet or a phone, the opening lines of two recent Strategy + Business articles might raise an ironic smile. The first begins:
The “always on” nature of our society has generated a variety of warnings about the dangers of staying connected all the time.”
It proceeds to link backwards in time to the second, which begins:
Do you ever disconnect, even for just a few minutes? Think about the last time you used your “off button.”
If you haven’t already succumbed to temptation, you might however wish to read a third article: an interview with Loran Nordgren, in which “the cofounder of unconscious thought theory explains how taking a break and distracting the mind can lead to higher-quality decision making.” Perhaps you are already nodding in agreement – or perhaps your unconscious mind is silently thinking that you should.
The world, or at least the publishers of business related material, appears to have an untiring appetite for material that seeks to illuminate business and workplace behaviour by shining a light on a sporting arena. We’ve recently commented on the research of Brandon Irwin into what we might label ‘silent competition’, but already another example has come our way. Gavin Kilduff, an assistant professor of management and organizations at New York University’s Stern School of Business, was interviewed recently at the Strategy + Business blog about The Upsides and Dark Sides of Rivalry.
In the following post, we’ve included extracts from the online Q&A session, and offered our own commentary. Whether you see this as a competitive analysis or as ‘shouting from the sidelines’ – and your choice may merit a moment of self-reflection – we hope that it provides food for thought.
FK [Frieda Klotz]: Are the effects of rivalry positive or negative?
GK [Gavin Kilduff]: I describe rivalry as a double-edged sword. One benefit that I’m investigating may be that when organizations have fierce rivals, the individuals in those organizations may be more committed and more loyal to each other. The presence of a constant rival in their minds may foster greater in-group cohesion. Other benefits include increased motivation and performance. For example, when runners competed against a rival (as opposed to against their other competitors), they ran an average of 5 seconds per kilometer faster in a race. And when we asked individuals to think about personal rivals for just a few minutes, they exhibited increased motivation and persistence on a subsequent task.
The downsides are potentially many, however. Unethical behavior—in the form of cheating or unsportsmanlike conduct, for instance—increases when people are competing against their rivals. People seem to be willing to do whatever it takes to get an advantage in those situations.
… it is, as journalists never tire of telling us, time to go. Farewell then, Lucy Adams, who will leave the BBC as (according to her LinkedIn profile) Director of People and Director of Business Operations in March 2014. After bruising (for her) appearances before the Commons Public Accounts Committee, she was – when I logged in to check my email this morning – the subject of the flagged news item at the Yahoo! UK portal. What was really striking, however – and this is only a week after I sat at this same desk writing a post about whether we do or should really still hate HR – was the headline of the chosen article, which appeared in today’s Telegraph:
It’s official: Lucy Adams has killed off the HR profession once and for all”
The Telegraph journalist, Louisa Peacock cannot be accused of holding back:
Finally, Adams has managed to confirm our suspicions about HR all along: it is a pointless department that does little for the bottom line of a business. In the case of unnecessarily huge pay offs at the BBC, HR has actually helped to take away from the bottom line. As well as, let’s not forget, failing miserably to uphold the kind of integrity, respect and transparency we could be forgiven to expect from the self-declared “people people”. Nice one.”