!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: December 2006

Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve: "Ring out, wild bells"

The poem below is part 106 of the 131-part elegy, In Memorian A.H.H., that Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in honor of his close friend, Arthur Hallam, who was only 22 years old when he died suddenly in 1833.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
    The flying cloud, the frosty light:
    The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
    Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
    The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
    For those that here we see no more;
    Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
    And ancient forms of party strife;
    Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
    The faithless coldness of the times;
    Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
    The civic slander and the spite;
    Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
    Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
    Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
    The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
    Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.


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Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Sixth Day of Christmas: "Nobody knows this little Rose ..."

The poem below by Emily Dickinson is one of only seven (out of a total of about 1,800) that were published during the poet's lifetime.

Nobody knows this little Rose —
It might a pilgrim be
Did I not take it from the ways
And lift it up to thee.
Only a Bee will miss it —
Only a Butterfly,
Hastening from far journey —
On its breast to lie —
Only a Bird will wonder —
Only a Breeze will sigh —
Ah Little Rose — how easy
For such as thee to die!


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Friday, December 29, 2006

The Fifth Day of Christmas: "Eternity"


He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sun rise.

               – William Blake

   The Christmas Tree Cluster


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Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Fourth Day of Christmas: "Ozymandias"

Ozymandias is the Greek name of Ramses II, an Egyptian Pharaoh of the 13th century BC. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote his sonnet a day or two after Christmas in 1817.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."


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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Third Day of Christmas: "The New Colossus"

Many people know only the final five lines of the sonnet by Emma Lazarus that is engraved on a tablet on the inner wall of the pedestal on which stands the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World. Below is the full text of the poem.1

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

1 The image, "Welcome to the Land of Freedom — Ocean Steamer Passing the Statue of Liberty — Seen from the Steerage Deck" is taken from the July 2, 1887 issue of Leslie's Weekly. Source: http://www.endex.com/gf/buildings/liberty/nytc/solnytc1943.htm.


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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Second Day of Christmas: "Christmas Bells"

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882) wrote this poem in the midst of the US Civil War.

Christmas Bells

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
       And wild and sweet
       The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
       Had rolled along
       The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
       A voice, a chime,
       A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
       And with the sound
       The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
       And made forlorn
       The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
       "For hate is strong,
       And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
       The Wrong shall fail,
       The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."


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Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas 2006

The First Christmas Card



Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve 2006

A Christmas card
by Päivi Mansikka-aho
from Virtual Finland



Saturday, December 23, 2006

Getting to Fair

As with many desirable organizational policies, treating employees fairly is often easier said than done.

In an article in the March 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Joel Brockner, a professor at Columbia Business School, discusses why managers often fail to use fair processes despite the proven benefits of doing so. Those benefits include lower legal costs, reduced employee turnover, increased candidness in discussions of problems, strengthened support for strategic initiatives, and a culture that promotes innovation.

Brockner's working definition of what constitutes fairness in the business context is:
... when [employees] feel heard, when they understand how and why important decisions are made, and when they believe they are respected ...1 [from the executive summary]
Brockner points to the following as the most common barriers to managers' consistently practicing fairness when they are implementing processes such as downsizing and pay cuts:
  • Undervaluing process fairness. Because it's generally inexpensive to implement, it can be perceived as unimportant.

  • Overlooking some of the benefits of process fairness, such as building goodwill among employees. Goodwill pays off when an adverse situation — personal or organizational — arises, and employees who feel fairly treated extend themselves to cope with the situation.

  • Mistakenly thinking that one is practicing process fairness when 360-degree feedback makes clear that others disagree.

  • Counterproductive policies, such as forbidding managers to provide employees with an explanation of the rationale for downsizing. Such policies are often pushed by the legal department, which believes they minimize the risk of litigation. Meanwhile, the substantial benefit of letting employees know that all reasonable alternatives have been considered is ignored.

  • Fear of losing power if employees are consulted concerning business decisions. Often, the converse is true, i.e., managers enhance their ability to get decisions implemented well if employees have had a chance to provide input.

  • Avoidance of fraught interpersonal situations and difficult conversations.
So, what to do to correct the situation? The steps Brockner recommends are:
  • Training managers on the financial and other benefits of process fairness and the specifics of how to act fairly. The training should include practice in handling upcoming conversations with employees.

  • Conducting after action reviews once managers have had a chance to practice skills back on-the-job. Having managers discuss what worked and what needs improvement helps them continue honing their skills.

  • Preparing managers for the negative emotions that attend some of the things they have to do, e.g., telling people that their jobs have been eliminated.

  • Executives serving as role models, so others can see what process fairness looks like in practice.

  • Rewarding managers for practicing process fairness.
1 Distinct from process fairness is outcome fairness, "which refers to employees' judgments of the bottom-line results of their exchanges with their employers."


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Friday, December 22, 2006

Winter Solstice 2006

I was introduced to this exquisite winter poem by Joseph Brodsky.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

                        – Thomas Hardy


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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ahmet Ertegun, 1923-2006

As soon as news of Ahmet Ertegun's death on December 13 became known, tributes to his standout qualities as a music executive began to pour in.

Particularly striking was how often his respect for others was part of a person's memories. As just one example, Robert Hilburn, long-time pop music critic at the Los Angeles Times, says:
Generations of music entrepreneurs and executives — David Geffen, Chris Blackwell, Doug Morris, Jimmy Iovine and countless others — have cited him as a hero and role model.

Through it all, Ertegun, a shy, sophisticated man with a great appreciation for art, carried himself with dignity and humility.

He did few interviews because he felt the spotlight should always be on the musicians, but I managed to get him to sit down a few times to talk about building Atlantic. His eyes twinkled as he talked about first hearing Eric Clapton in London in the mid-'60s, or about watching Bobby Darin grow from the novelty of "Splish Splash" to the mainstream boldness of "Mack the Knife."

The quality that struck me most was his genuine respect for the music and the musicians.
National Public Radio provides an appreciative overview of Ertegun's career.


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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

21st-Century Journalism XVI: Bashing the Blogosphere

It does not inspire confidence in a journalist's judgment when he uses the blog equivalents of scandal rags to call into question the utility of the blogosphere as a whole.

It is true, as Joseph Rago, an assistant editorial features editor at the Wall Street Journal puts it in a column this morning, that "[m]any blogs, even some with large followings, are downright appalling." Rago complains about a pervasive "tone of careless informality" and then, applying a broad brush, elaborates by saying that
posts oscillate between the uselessly brief and the uselessly logorrheic; complexity and complication are eschewed; the humor is cringe-making, with irony present only in its conspicuous absence; arguments are solipsistic; writers traffic more in pronouncement than persuasion ..."
As I argued in an earlier post, the key to using — and appreciating — the blogosphere is selectivity. It is actually quite easy to find well-written blogs produced by discerning individuals who, never claiming to do original reportage, provide valuable analysis that is all too often missing in today's traditional media. There are also responsible blogs that bring to fact-checking the wisdom of the crowd.

I'm not sure whether Rago has noticed, but one of the frustrations that exercises capable bloggers is the frequency of unsupported generalization the mainstream media make room for on their editorial pages. Rago claims that
the inferiority of the [blog] medium is rooted in its new, distinctive literary form. Its closest analogue might be the (poorly kept) diary or commonplace book, or the note scrawled to oneself on the back of an envelope — though these things are not meant for public consumption. The reason for a blog's being is: Here's my opinion, right now. (emphasis in original)
Only someone who is not familiar with the variety of styles and intents to be found in the blogosphere could make such an assertion.

You have to get halfway through Rago's column before you learn that he is actually talking strictly about political blogs, an important segment of the blogosphere, but still only a segment. Even restricting ourselves to political bloggers, the principle of selectivity applies.

Rago says, "We rarely encounter sustained or systematic blog thought — instead, panics and manias..." Rago is being too random in his reading. If you choose intelligently, you can consistently "encounter sustained and systematic thought" in the blogs you devote time to. As just a couple of examples, I would cite Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory and the Becker-Posner Blog.

Rago suggests that it's a surprise that we don't have "the market sorting out the vagaries of individual analysis" in the blogosphere. The "market" Rago is talking about deals in influence, which is not a singular product, subject to steady improvement as a result of contending "consumer" forces. Anyone who has even glanced at political discussions knows that they can continue for an extended period of time, even indefinitely, as the parties involved maneuver to win whatever votes and regulatory decisions are relevant.

Rago finally reaches safe ground when he notes the tendency of like-minded people to flock together at congenial blogs where their pet ssumptions about the world are reinforced rather than being critically examined. This self-sorting lets people avoid pressure to open their minds so that they can recognize common ground and consider new ideas. It's no particular comfort to learn that a similar tendency of newspapers to cater to the biases of their local audiences has recently been documented. (Rago sticks with the alternate hypothesis, namely that the traditional media "pursue adversarial agendas," as opposed to more simply trying to appeal to their readers' general position along the political spectrum.)

Aside from Rago's own problems with writing style — his stuffiness is reminiscent of a college journalist trying too hard for profundity — his low-res depiction of the blogosphere and the dynamics of its influence on people's thinking does not advance our understanding of its role in the today's media universe. Arriving at such an understanding is important because the impact of (selected) blogs is steadily increasing, as witnessed by the rise in citations in live public discussions and in traditional media. (Not to mention that traditional media are adding blogs to their websites.)

If you are interested in a counterpoint to Rago's view, here is a speech by E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post on "How the New Media and the Old Media Could Live Together Happily and Enhance Public Life."



Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Modern Maturity

One of the 74 items that the New York Times Magazine included in its December 10 "Year in Ideas" feature was "psychological neoteny" — i.e., the phenomenon of a person retaining well into adulthood the characteristic behaviors and attitudes of youth.1

In his short piece, Clay Risen explains this concept, crediting it to Bruce Charlton, an MD and lecturer at Newcastle University in England:
... Charlton argues that unlike previous, more settled societies that could afford to honor a narrow and well-defined worldview (that is, a "mature" one), modern life is tumultuous and ever-changing. Accordingly, it rewards those who retain a certain plasticity of mind and personality. "In a psychological sense, some contemporary individuals never actually become adults," he writes.
I found both in the Risen write-up and in Charlton's short article in Medical Hypotheses,2 considerable ambiguity concerning just what we are to consider "mature" in contemporary society. On the one hand, Charlton offers a list of traits that represent immaturity:
... short attention span, frentic sensation- and novelty-seeking, ever-shorter cycles of arbitrary fashion and (so cultural intellectuals would argue) a pervasive emotional and spiritual shallowness.
On the other hand, there is no similar list of traits that are markers for maturity, and it doesn't seem adequate to just assume that such a list would consist of the opposite of the traits listed above. At one point, Charlton says that psychological neoteny delays "adopting a stable, integrated adult personality," but this too is problematic. For instance, Mary Catherine Bateson, emerita professor at George Mason University, offered this perspective in her well-received book, Composing a Life, published back in 1989:
It is time now to explore the creative potential of interrupted and conflicted lives, where energies are not narrowly focused or permanently pointed toward a single ambition. These are not lives without commitment, but rather lives in which commitments are continually refocused and redefined. We must invest time and passion in specific goals and yet at the same time acknowledge that these are mutable.3
In Bateson's view, what Charlton calls a "stable, integrated adult personality" is a work in progress over many decades. During the process of "composing a life," one is not prevented from doing a good job of handling adult responsibilities.

The fact is we're dealing with a complicated subject. Maturity has many dimensions, meaning that people have wide latitude for presenting a complex picture of seeming mature in some ways and then immature in others. Furthermore, some of the value judgments that lead to calling a person "immature" are nothing more than overbearing meddling. In such cases, "maturity" isn't even a relevant category.

My own view is that Charlton (in part, inspired by the work of Berkeley sociologist Martin Trow) places too much emphasis on completion of formal education as a milestone in a person's development. Charlton argues:
Probably, the main proximate cause of psychological neoteny in modernizing societies is the prolonged duration of formal education — which may be why the boy-genius arose in an American context where mass higher education and extended schooling was first established. [Here Charlton cites Trow.] So long as a person is in formal education, or is open to the possibility of returning for more formal education, their minds are in a significant sense "unfinished."
As best one can judge from Charlton's article, he has not investigated how people are increasingly expected to be open to continuous learning once they have entered the work force. To anyone in the training world, the idea of maturity includes being willing to respond to training by making appropriate adjustments over time in attitudes, behavior, skills, and knowledge.

I would also note that in flattened organizations, where increasingly people of different generations work together as peers, and it is not uncommon for a manager to be younger than some of people who report to him or her, working relationships are enhanced when everyone goes easy on age-based expectations concerning behavior and attitudes.

In addition to recognizing generational differences in people's formative experiences, one is well-advised to think in terms of different behavioral styles, cultural attitudes, and motivational profiles. Then you can concentrate on developing skills that enable you to work effectively with a diverse group of colleagues who fall idiosyncratically along the various dimensions of maturity.

1 "'Neoteny' refers to the biological phenomenon whereby development is delayed such that juvenile characteristics are retained into maturity." "The Rise of the Boy-Genius: Psychological-Neoteny, Science and Modern Life," Bruce G. Charlton, Medical Hypotheses (Vol. 67, 2006, p. 679).

2 Ibid., pp. 679-681.

3 Composing a Life," Mary Catherine Bateson (Plume paperback, 1990), p. 9.



Monday, December 18, 2006

Creative Commons

The frustrations associated with referencing and using other people's work can be alleviated by tapping into work made available under Creative Commons licenses.

These licenses enable creators to specify allowed uses of their work that range from placing it in the public domain to authorizing various types of free use under specified conditions. In other words, people who want to share their creative work, perhaps with limited restrictions, are able to do so.

As explained at the Creative Commons website, Creative Commons licenses were developed in order
... to offer creators a best-of-both-worlds way to protect their works while encouraging certain uses of them — to declare "some rights reserved."

... Our aim is not only to increase the sum of raw source material online, but also to make access to that material cheaper and easier. To this end, we have also developed metadata that can be used to associate creative works with their public domain or license status in a machine-readable way. We hope this will enable people to use our search application and other online applications to find, for example, photographs that are free to use provided that the original photographer is credited, or songs that may be copied, distributed, or sampled with no restrictions whatsoever. We hope that the ease of use fostered by machine- readable licenses will further reduce barriers to creativity.
Benefits accrue both to creators and to users. Creators can manage distribution of their work more flexibly than under traditional "all rights reserved" copyright. This can mean achieving valuable visibility as fans and users spread the word about work they like. Some creators, as suggested at the Creative Commons website, simply like "contributing to and participating in an intellectual commons."

Users are able to reuse, modify (e.g., by remixing) and spread work with assurance that its creators have authorized the uses in question. With the availability of Creative Commons licenses, collective work is facilitated, and there are fewer scofflaws. In sum, creative activity increases instead of being constrained by one-size-fits-all copyright restrictions.

The Wikipedia page on Creative Commons provides links to examples of how Creative Commons licenses are being used. You can also find a helpful list of tools for locating CC-licensed content.

The Creative Commons licensing project celebrated its fourth birthday on December 16. On his blog, Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, reports that the number of licenses is up to almost 150 million.



Sunday, December 17, 2006

Business Acumen XI: Robert N. Anthony on Management Accounting

Robert N. Anthony, who died on December 1, had a long and distinguished career as an pioneer in management accounting, a field to which he contributed a substantial body of path-breaking work.

A major claim to fame was Anthony's innovative framework for accounting that was geared to the decision-making needs of managers. For instance, as recalled in the obituary published by the Harvard business school where he was on the faculty for over 40 years, his 1952 book, Management Control in Industry Research Organizations, "examined the problem of measuring intellectual output — a much more difficult task than measuring more tangible output." Since being able to measure what researchers are producing is fundamental for making decisions on how to invest capital, Anthony's insights are of great practical value to managers.

A strong theme in Anthony's work is the importance of keeping the role of humans front and center. His thinking is captured in this passage from Management Accounting: Text and Cases, first published in 1956:
An obvious and fundamental fact about organizations is that they are made up of human beings. The management control process in part consists of inducing the people in an organization to do certain things and to refrain from doing others. Although for some purposes an accumulation of the costs of manufacturing a product is useful, management literally cannot “control” a product or the costs of making a product. What management does — or at least attempts to do — is control the actions of the people who are responsible for incurring these costs. (3rd ed., 1964, pp. 361-62.)
According to the Harvard obituary, Anthony's self-guided text, Essentials of Accounting, first published in 1964, "is the most widely used programmed text on accounting." It is an excellent choice for inclusion in a curriculum aimed at building employees' business acumen.


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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Teamwork Do's and Don'ts

First the do's:

To reinforce teamwork and defuse conflict, do:
  • Reserve judgment until you're sure you understand the situation under discussion.

  • Acknowledge one another's contributions.

  • Deal fairly with problems.

  • Display openness to others' ideas and suggestions.
  • Do make sure everyone has basic collaboration skills, including how to ask open-ended questions, how to practice active listening, and how to get along with others in conflict situations.

  • Do create a norm for civility and respect by discussing good behavior, and seeking and rewarding good examples of it.

Now for teamwork don'ts.

To avoid unnecessary conflict, don't:
  • Be aggressive.

  • Attack others' ideas and opinions.

  • Fail to let others express opinions (with rationales).

  • Avoid group interactions (e.g., in hopes of avoiding conflict).

  • Dominate the group.
Don't proceed without:
  • A long-term vision.

  • Sufficient commitment of time and money to accomplish the mission.

  • Adequate planning.

  • Adequate coaching and training.
One last do: Constantly evaluate both your output and your process. In short, ask regularly, "How are we doing?"



Friday, December 15, 2006

The "Work First" Program in Michigan

Today's Wall Street Journal reports on research that reinforces findings I discussed in an earlier post dealing with the Cincinnati Works program, which aims to help people with spotty work histories and skills to obtain full-time permanent employment.

In her article, Deborah Solomon describes the results of an evaluation of a program called "Work First," which
routes Michigan welfare recipients to outside organizations that help with job searches and training. Its goal, like similar efforts around the nation, is to eventually wean individuals off public assistance.
In other words, as with Cincinnati Works, the Work First program aims to move clients into self-sufficiency. The theory behind Work First is that even temporary jobs — 20% of Work First placements — help people develop good work habits and introduce them to potential permanent employers, thereby moving them toward stable employment and enhanced earnings over the long term.

David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Susan Houseman of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research investigated the proposition that taking a temporary job is better than passing it up in order to continue searching for a direct-hire, permanent job. To do this, they studied the experience of 23,000 Detroit welfare recipients who participated in the Work First program between the fourth quarter of 1999 and the first quarter of 2003.1 Autor and Houseman found that
Temp-agency work ... can create an unyielding cycle of finding and losing jobs. Detroit's Work First clients often had low morale, slim chances for job stability and plenty of setbacks. "While you're working at the temp job you're not connecting with direct-hire employers ... you're not making any advances towards finding a permanent job," says Ms. Houseman.
In an e-mail interview published online as a complement to Solomon's article, Autor and Houseman provide an expanded statement of their conclusions:
Local government and private welfare organizations should be cautious in promoting temporary-help work among participants. Although temporary agencies sometimes help disadvantaged workers gain work experience and transition to stable employment, more often particpants gain quick employment and meet the short-term program requirements with temp jobs, but they reap no long-term benefits [i.e., no boost to earnings and no increased job stability].

In addition, job placement programs like Work First are no panacea for poverty. Even though job placements made directly with employers increase participants' employment and earnings, the gains [are] not enough to push most welfare families out of poverty. More intensive interventions probably will be needed.
Sounds a lot like the philosophy of Cincinnati Works, where intensive intervention is the name of the game. Solomon reports that Work First is in the process of being replaced with a new initiative, called Jobs Education & Training, which is intended "to help people find permanent jobs and stay employed."

1 "Do Temporary Help Jobs Improve Labor Market Outcomes for Low-Skilled Workers? Evidence from Random Assignments," by David H. Autor and Susan N. Houseman. The paper is available at the MIT Economics department website here in pdf format.


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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Helping Successful People Change

We all have our weak points, but for people who are highly successful, arriving at the self-awareness prerequisite to making an effort to improve can be particularly difficult. In the process of researching the question of how to overcome resistance to changing problem behaviors, I came upon a good article by executive coach Marshall Goldsmith that addresses the situation of the highly successful.1

The first half of the article reviews why beliefs that are characeristic of successful people — namely, "I choose to succeed," "I can succeed," "I will succeed," and "I have succeeded" — tend to undercut awareness of subpar behaviors. As Goldsmith puts it, "Successful people often confuse correlation with causality. They often do not realize that they are successful 'because of' some behaviors and 'in spite of' others."

The second half of the article presents Goldsmith's recommendations for helping a successful person embrace and address needed behavioral changes. Providing apt examples, Goldsmith outlines a five-step process:
  1. Have the person receive input on important, self-selected behaviors, as perceived by self-selected raters. Goldsmith reports that, in his experience, having the person select both the behaviors to assess and the people doing the assessing results in markedly greater buy-in when the time comes to buckle down and begin acting differently. "In most cases, understanding what behaviors are desired will not be their major challenge. Their major challenge will be demonstrating these behaviors." As for raters, if the person "respect[s] the source of information, they will be much more likely to learn and change."

  2. Have the person select one or two important areas for behavioral improvement. The key is to home in on behaviors that make a real difference.

  3. Have the person involve respected colleagues in the behavioral change process. "Ask each colleague to help ... by providing constructive, future-oriented suggestions that may help the leader achieve positive, measurable change."

  4. Teach the person's colleagues to be helpful coaches, not cynics, critics or judges. The main points to get across are that (1) the focus needs to be on the future (not rehashing past mistakes), and (2) dialogue should be supportive, including at times when the person experiences a setback in the effort to change.

  5. Develop a follow-up process that provides an opportunity for ongoing dialogue. Colleagues should continue to provide constructive suggestions and recognition of improvement. At the same time, the follow-up will be reinforcing the person's public commitment to change.
Goldsmith concludes with the thought that "[b]y understanding the unique issues involved in helping successful people change, organizations can get a huge return on investment from their development efforts." Since Goldsmith ties his compensation to achievement of measured improvement, this claim carries weight.

1 Goldsmith's article is a modified version of a chapter in Leading for Innovation and Organizing for Results, ed. by Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and Iain Somerville (Jossey-Bass, 2001).


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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Meaning of "Entrepreneur"

The romance of entrepreneurship ensures overuse of the term "entrepreneur." A Knowledge@Wharton article published today reports on discussion of the characteristics of true entrepreneurship that took place last month at the 2006 Wharton Entrepreneurship Conference.

It was interesting to me, as I read the article, to find that it's easier to identify myths to dispel, than to pin down truths concerning entrepreneurship.

First, to replace popular myths, research supplies these findings:
  • Entrepreneurs do not have unique characteristics that distinguish them from other people.

  • Entrepreneurs are not risk-lovers, they are risk managers.

  • Entrepreneurs do not have a "secret formula" that produces their success.
In contrast to the research-based insights concerning myths, the conference discussion of truths produced anecdotal evidence that the Knowledge@Wharton article positions as do's and don'ts of entrepreneurship. These include:
  • Beware of venture capitalists. Because, in exchange for VC money, you have to cede so much equity and control, you are well-advised to first tap alternate sources of finance, such as savings, Small Business Administration loans, second mortgages, family and friends.

  • Look for opportunities involving disruptive technology and/or frustrated prospective customers.

    The key feature of disruptive technologies is that they "enable startups to jump into large, lucrative markets where established leaders have become complacent." Internet telephony is an example.

    The website Shopzilla is an example of introducing a solution to customer frustration. Shopzilla "helps consumers find bargains and also rates online retailers."

  • Aim to deliver higher quality at a lower price. For example, online retailers can both sell for less and make buying more convenient for customers.

  • The Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) principle is a touchstone. Better to prepare a prototype sans extraneous bells and whistles and get it quickly to prospective customers, than to produce a baffling product that takes time to bring to market and then gathers dust because people find it too complicated to enjoy.

    An important by-product of getting a usable version of your product to market quickly is that you then have a stronger case for outsiders to provide financing.
In light of the conference discussion, this definition of "entrepreneur", from PowerHomeBiz.com, seems accurate:
An innovator of business enterprise who recognizes opportunities to introduce a new product, a new process or an improved organization, and who raises the necessary money, assembles the factors for production and organizes an operation to exploit the opportunity.


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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Management Innovation

Good business management is not magic. Actual people with actual expertise make decisions that bring good outcomes. In an article in the Summer 2006 issue of the MIT Sloan Managment Review, Julian Birkinshaw and Michael Moi of the London Business School provide insight into how well-managed companies arrive at management innovations that pay off in terms of improved business performance.

Birkinshaw and Moi define management innovation as
implementation of new management practices, processes and structures that represent a significant departure from current norms.
In their research, which drew both on the history of important past innovations and on 11 recent cases of innovation, Birkinshaw and Moi found that management innovation is more diffuse and tends to take longer than technological innovation. It also tends to involve external change agents — "academics, consultants, management gurus and ex-employees" — especially in the inspiration and validation stages.

Typically, there are four stages:
  1. Dissatisfaction with the status quo, e.g., a nagging operational problem, an outright crisis, or a strategic threat (a change in the business environment or the emergence of new competitors).

  2. Inspiration from other sources, generally outside the innovator's industry. Management innovators are receptive to a broad range of ideas about how to achieve goals more surely and quickly, and how to address root causes of problems.

  3. Invention of suitable new management practices, processes and/or structures. This phase is generally iterative and gradual.

  4. Validation. Internally, it is important for the innovation's champion to build "a supportive coalition to carry the invention into the organization." External validation (e.g., from a respected academic or management guru) increases the likelihood that the innovation will spread to other companies, but it also makes it more likely that "the pioneer company will stick with the innovation."
Based on themes that emerged from their research, Birkinshaw and Moi offer six suggestions for how a company can be more systematic in pursuing productive management innovations:
  • Become a conscious management innovator, starting by "selling the importance of management innovation to the organization."

  • Create a questioning, problem-solving culture, which means avoiding the fire-fighting approach, and instead exploring root causes and new approaches to solution.

  • Seek analogies and exemplars from different environments, e.g., from the non-profit sector or from other countries.

  • Build a capacity for low-risk experimentation, which generally means trying an innovation first in just a section of the organization to see how it works. The process Best Buy went through with its ROWE initiative is a good example.

  • Make use of external change agents to explore your new ideas, i.e., use outsiders as "a source of new ideas and analogies from different settings, ... as a sounding board for making sense of a company's emerging innovations and ... to validate what is accomplished."

  • Become a serial management innovator, à la GE and Toyota.
Birkinshaw and Moi suggest as additional reading Gary Hamel's article, "The Why, What and How of Management Innovation," in the February 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review.


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Monday, December 11, 2006

Rewards and Recognition

Among the dangerous people at large in the business world, are the hard-boiled types who see no reason to recognize a person who does something well if, after all, the person "was just doing his job."

It was back in elementary school that a teacher made a lasting impression on me by saying something along these lines: "Of course, it's kind and good to empathize with people when they're experiencing trouble. But it's just as important to sincerely join in their happiness when something has gone well for them." This idea had the ring of truth, so I've kept it in mind ever since.

Prompted by a short piece in the December 5 New York Times that made a similar point, I decided to look into research conducted by Shelly Gable, a social psychology professor at UCLA; Gian Gonzaga, formerly on UCLA's psychology faculty, now a research scientist at the relationship service eHarmony; and Amy Strachman, a graduate student.1

Gable, Gonzaga, and Strachman investigated which has the bigger effect on the strength of the bond between partners in a heterosexual couple — a partner reacting supportively when the other person receives bad news, or a partner reacting enthusiastically to the arrival of good news. The answer:
... in their analysis of response styles, the researchers found that it was the partners' reactions to their loved ones' victories, small and large, that most strongly predicted the strength of the relationships. Four of the couples had broken up after two months, and the women in these pairs rated their partners' usual response to good news as particularly uninspiring.

Celebrating a partner's promotion as if it were one's own provides the partner with a tremendous emotional lift, said Dr. Gable, while playing down or belittling the news can leave a deep and lasting chill.
I think it's reasonable to extrapolate this finding to the work setting. If you want to maintain high employee engagement, loyalty and productivity, it makes good sense to recognize employees for doing their jobs well. That includes not only assignments that are out of the ordinary, but also the day-to-day tasks that need to be carried out with consistent skill and dedication.

1 "Will You Be There for Me When Things Go Right? Supportive Responses to Positive Event Disclosures," by Shelly L. Gable, Gian C. Gonzaga, and Amy Strachman (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 91, No.5 (Nov 2006), pp. 904-917).


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Sunday, December 10, 2006

"You WILL get along"

One of the more memorable experiences I've had when interviewing a subject matter expert came when I was talking to the editor of a newspaper (about 85,000 circulation). He was describing a problem he's had with two of his reporters who were hostile to each other. One was in Sports, which was housed in a walled-off portion of the newsroom, and the other was in the main newsroom.

The editor recounted that he was unwilling to tolerate the disrespect and poor working relations between the two men, so he decided to fix the problem by doing two things. First, he got rid of the walls separating Sports from the rest of the news department. Second, he put the two reporters on a joint project and told them they were obliged to make the project a success. How they managed to accomplish this was up to them.

In other words, the editor insisted on good behavior. He didn't tell the two men that they had to purge their souls of ill will toward each other. He did tell them that they had to behave in a professional fashion and get their joint assignment done well. The results, according to the editor, were positive. The reporters realized from the experience of working together that they really could get along and put their past sniping behind them.

What brought this story to mind was an article in today's New York Times about the well-known phenomenon that "birds of a feather flock together," i.e., people have a strong tendency to interact with others who have similar beliefs and tastes.

Anyone who has been paying attention to the world of business is aware that diversity has become more than a pious buzzword in forward-thinking companies. The value of having different types of people working together is increasingly recognized, as businesses compete to achieve high customer satisfaction, attract talented employees, and speed innovation. Instead of passively accepting that employees will tend to form cliques of like-minded associates, these companies are taking active measures to foster collaboration and teamwork that tap a range of perspectives and individual strengths.

One can hope that at least some people build on the often quite rewarding on-the-job experience of opening themselves to others different from themselves, by seeking similar experiences with "strange birds" in their nonwork lives.


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Saturday, December 09, 2006

"The basics of critical thinking"

I've seen enough non-specific references to "the basics of critical thinking," most recently in an article talking about the skills home health aides need, that I decided to hunt around for a compact statement of just what basic critical thinking skills are.

The discussion that I found most useful among those I reviewed is in a manual (pdf) the University of New South Wales provides to students in its Masters of Business and Technology program. These are the activities identified as part of bringing critical thinking to bear on one's reading and writing:
  • asking questions

  • analyzing

  • categorizing

  • synthesizing

  • evaluating

  • using appropriate evidence

  • establishing cause and effect

  • making links between ideas

  • relating theory to practice

  • making predictions

  • making and supporting a claim

  • interpreting facts according to a relevant framework
The manual also provides a straightforward critical thinking strategy ("IPSO"):

Issue — What is the problem or question being addressed?

Position — What is (are) the major position(s) put forward in this argument?

Support — What evidence, reasoning or other persuasive means back up the position(s)?

Outcome — What is likely to happen if the argument is accepted?

An extended treatment of critical thinking is available at Wikipedia.



Friday, December 08, 2006

Results-Oriented Management at Best Buy

There is a striking story by Michelle Conlin in the December 11 issue of Business Week that details Best Buy's experience with giving real meaning to the concept of "results-oriented management."

Best Buy's term for what they're creating is actually a "results-only work environment" — ROWE for short. Departments that have adopted the ROWE approach do not require employees to report to company offices on an unchanging daily schedule. Instead, employees have specified responsibilities and are tracked on whether they're achieving agreed results, such as getting orders entered in timely fashion.

The benefits of the ROWE include:
  • Greater employee engagement, which feeds directly into productivity.

  • Jettisoning of time-wasting activities.

  • Greater scope for achieving one's individual preferred work/life balance.

  • More intensive use of electronic technology, with resulting efficiency gains.

  • Savings on real estate costs because of reduced need for office space. (This is one of the sources of funding Best Buy is tapping for its campaign of "tailoring stores to local markets and training employees to turn customer feedback into new business ideas.")
Conlin summarizes the best practices suggested by Best Buy's experience:
  • Measurement of impacts — Key indicators are productivity, quality, employee engagement, and turnover.

  • Tailoring — In lieu of work rules that managers attempt to apply broadly, managers and employees reach individual agreements on schedules and deliverables.

  • Measurement of results — Having agreed goals and success criteria enables managers and employees to start from a premise of trust combined with accountability.

  • Education — Training is essential to make sure both managers and employees understand the details of the company's results-oriented business processes.

  • Get-togethers — Both in-person and videoconference gatherings help maintain team identification and commitment. (Note that time-eating meetings and office-based distractions are reduced under ROWE arrangements.)
Best Buy's results from ROWE have been positive. For example, Best Buy finds that "productivity is up an average 35% in departments that have switched to ROWE." Employee engagement has also risen substantially.


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Thursday, December 07, 2006

MIT Treasure Trove

In a commendable effort to share and spread knowledge, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been putting materials for hundreds of its courses online. This courseware is available free of charge to anyone anywhere.1

The stated goals of the MIT OpenCourseware initiative are to:
  • Provide free, searchable access to MIT's course materials for educators, students, and self-learners around the world.

  • Extend the reach and impact of MIT OCW and the "opencourseware" concept.
As of May, materials for about 1400 courses had been published, with just about every department represented:2

     Aeronautics and Astronautics
     Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation
     Biological Engineering
     Brain and Cognitive Sciences
     Chemical Engineering
     Civil and Environmental Engineering
     Comparative Media Studies
     Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
     Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
     Engineering Systems Division
     Experimental Study Group
     Foreign Languages and Literatures
     Health Sciences and Technology
     Linguistics and Philosophy
     Materials Science and Engineering
     Mechanical Engineering
     Media Arts and Sciences
     Music and Theater Arts
     Nuclear Science and Engineering
     Political Science
     Science, Technology, and Society
     Special Programs
     Urban Studies and Planning
     Women's Studies
     Writing and Humanistic Studies

I would call particular attention to the availability of courses given at the Sloan School of Management. One example — particularly useful for people wanting to strengthen their grasp of the basics of economics — is Applied Economics for Managers. You can access the course syllabus, the list of lecture topics and associated readings, lecture notes (pdf format), a pair of problem sets, and a practice final exam with solutions.

Though each faculty member is allowed to decide what and how much of his or her course materials to publish, each course is presented in the same user-friendly template, so you quickly get used to the general way the materials are organized. You can download individual items, or download the entire package(except for video files, which are accessed separately) as a zip file.

1 Note MIT's terms of use: "Course materials offered on the MIT OCW Web site may be used, copied, distributed, translated, and modified, but only for non-commercial, not-for-profit educational purposes that are made freely available to other users under the same terms defined by the MIT OCW legal notice."

2 Note that "MIT OCW is not a distance-education or degree-granting initiative. Distance education involves the active exchange of information between faculty and students, with the goal of obtaining some form of a credential. MIT OCW is not meant to replace degree-granting higher education or for-credit courses. Rather, the goal is to provide the content that supports an education."


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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cincinnati Works

The last of the items from the December issue of the Harvard Business Review that I want to note is a short piece called "Tapping a Risky Labor Pool" by Miami University accounting professors Brian Ballou and Dan L. Heitger. This article describes a non-profit agency founded in 1996 called Cincinnati Works whose mission is to
partner with willing and capable people living in poverty to assist them in advancing to economic self-sufficiency through employment.
Cincinnati Works defines self-sufficiency as
when someone can provide for the needs of themselves, their family, pay bills, and save with only their paycheck. No additional assistance is needed such as food stamps, cash assistance, Medicaid, day care vouchers, money from family and friends, or any other type of support.
The people Cincinnati Works helps are called "members." Anyone living at or below 200% of the federal poverty guideline is eligible and, once they join, members remain eligible for services indefinitely. The approach Cincinnati Works takes is encapsulated in this statement of what I'd call their operational philosophy:
Our members endure many obstacles which have kept them from getting and keeping employment. Therefore wrap-around services are provided to address the barriers they face such as unstable work history, criminal convictions and legal issues, lack of marketable skills, lack of child care, transportation to and from work, lack of sustainable motivation to press onward and succeed, and low self-esteem. Though our members face many challenges, we believe that they can succeed in meeting their goals. We continually propel and push them toward success. (emphasis added)
Once a person has been accepted as a member, he or she attends a one-week job readiness workshop. The workshop focuses on employer expectations, workplace cultures, conflict resolution, and — absolutely key in Cincinnati Works' view — how to keep a job for a minimum of one year in order to have a track record of stability that qualifies the member to seek advancement.

After the workshop, it's time for the job search step, in which an employment support specialist (ESS) identifies possible matches of member to job, taking into account the member's work availability, education, transportation options, and criminal convictions. The most frequent employers are in banking, health care, manufacturing and production, security, administrative/clerical activities, transportation, janitorial, and food service. The average beginning wage for the 612 members placed in 2005 was $9.12 an hour.

Once a member is on-the-job, the ESS goes into job retention mode, with the main aim being providing whatever support will assist the member in staying in his or her position for a full year. The member receives regular phone calls and occasional job-site visits from Cincinnati Works to see how things are going and to help with any issues that may have come up. The overarching goal is always to be moving toward full-time permanent employment.

The final phase in the Cincinnati Works process begins when a member is close to the first anniversary at his or her job. The member and the ESS map out a career track and plan. They also talk about where the member's wage is relative to what's needed for self-sufficiency, taking the member’s household size into account. As appropriate, the ESS helps the member develop a case for a reasonable wage increase.

In their report on Cincinnati Works, Ballou and Heitger focus on how the agency helps manage the risk a company assumes in hiring someone with a problematic background and/or poor work history. A company realizes considerable savings when it recruits from a pool of candidates with a significantly higher probability of one-year retention than the probability of one-year retention of candidates drawn from an "off the street" pool. For instance, Fifth Third Bank estimates that it has saved $480,000 over the three years it has been using Cincinnati Works to refer candidates.

To raise the probability that a member will reach the one-year goal, Cincinnati Works provides an array of support services, which include:
  • counseling by an experienced licensed social worker (most frequent issues: self-esteem, anger and depression management, basic problem solving)

  • legal advocacy

  • bus fare to get to the job readiness workshop and to job interviews

  • practice interviews

  • guidance on selecting appropriate child care (from a partner organization)

  • a chaplain to visit if desired (e.g., for help during a period of depression, a not infrequent issue)

  • advice on preparing for and obtaining job advancement

  • tuition assistance (after one year as an active member)

  • emergency food relief
Ballou and Heitger note that the Cincinnati Works model is most effective in the case of jobs carried out in a highly structured environment (e.g., at a bank); it is less effective in an environment in which job tasks are loosely defined. Since there are many jobs in the former category, and many chronically unemployed and working poor, the good results Cincinnati Works has achieved (at an average placement cost of $1,200) merit emulation, which Ballou and Heitger report is already happening in Houston.


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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Knowledge Management and Common Sense

Today's nugget from the December issue of the Harvard Business Review is consultant Don Cohen's one-page take on how to measure ROI for knowledge management investments. In a nutshell, Cohen argues that
... we have gotten savvier about [measuring net benefits of knowledge management]. We are beginning to understand when to look for a traditional return on investment in knowledge management, when trying to specify a dollar amount is inappropriate, and how to know whether KM investments are worthwhile when you can't come up with a convincing ROI.
Cohen's commonsensical observation is based on interviews with knowledge management practitioners at over a dozen organizations in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. An example he cites in the first category — projects that lend themselves to calculation of a traditional ROI — is the experience of oil companies. They've found that they can tie investment that enables sharing of technical knowledge among drilling teams, with savings on the cost of establishing new wells. The savings come from reducing the number of problems that crop up and from being able to work faster.

In the case of knowledge management efforts that do not lend themselves to traditional ROI calculations, Cohen cites the examples of strategy consulting and basic research. Because such knowledge-intensive activities lead to results that are also affected by a variety of other influences, it is really not possible to tease out an independent role of knowledge management. Furthermore, the benefits of the knowledge management investment may be impossible to quantify in a reasonable way. How, for example, do you quantify the boost to your training company's reputation that comes from publishing solid research on the links between employee engagement and the degree to which training succeeds in upgrading job skills?

Much as I appreciated Cohen's probity in talking about the distinctions between situations in which ROI calculations make sense and situations in which they don't, it was his general recommendation for how to approach the issue of measuring return on knowledge management that made me want to call attention to his work on the subject.

The key to good decision-making regarding knowledge management investments is to specify clearly up front what outcomes you expect. You can then use soft indicators to evaluate whether or not you're getting what you were aiming for. Cohen reports that
Leaders of the knowledge-based organizations that have the most vibrant KM programs ... accept anecdotes about successful (or failed) knowledge reuse, stories of productive (or unproductive) collaborative projects, and surveys of employee and customer satisfaction as the best indicators of value.
I would mention that similar use of soft indicators is often the best approach to evaluating training programs.



Monday, December 04, 2006

For Your Consideration: Tough Love

Another item from the December issue of the Harvard Business Review caught my eye because it prompts further thoughts on the subject of a previous post, namely, the wide range in the quality of management that exists in just about any industry you care to consider.

HBR senior editor Gardiner Morse interviews Larry Winget, a widely traveled speaker and self-styled "Pitbull of Personal Development." Winget's central point:
Your poor business results are your own fault. You created them. You can blame the customer, Wal-Mart, the economy, the Republicans, the Democrats, whoever you want. But the bottom line is, somebody's successful in your industry, and if they can do it, you can do it.
I find it easy to agree that the managers of a company performing below the standard set by industry leaders should be encouraged to look in the mirror when considering what might explain the gap. Winget, however, seems to leave the analysis at a crude level. In what he refers to as "irritational speaking," he takes as his mission making his audience
so uncomfortable with where they are that they'll do anything to be someplace else. And that's what I think managers should do: create irritation through high expectations. As a leader, you should say to employees, "This is how I expect things to be. And if you're not comfortable with that, go somewhere else where less is expected of you."
No mention of how to arrive at appropriate expectations, or of how to engage employees in a common sense of mission.

Admittedly, I have only the page of interview excerpts in the HBR and Winget's own website to go by, so I can't form a definitive view of what he has to offer business audiences. Still, I can't help thinking that, with a style that seems closer to a drill sergeant than to, say, a company president bent on winning support for needed organizational change, Winget's approach has limited power to help companies get up to snuff.

My own bottom line: The process of advancing to better performance has to begin with managers themselves deciding, preferably with customer and employee input, on the direction in which everyone needs to move in order to improve company fortunes.


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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Low Wages and Benefits vs. Low Turnover

Wayne F.Cascio, a professor of management at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, has published a useful article examining the trade-off companies typically face between paying low wages and benefits, and keeping employee turnover low. Cascio looks specifically at Sam's Club and Costco, warehouse retailers that compete directly as deep discounters.1

A summary of Cascio's findings appears in the December 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review. In brief, the findings are:
  • Despite paying higher wages and benefits, Costco has lower annual turnover costs per employee than Sam's Club.

  • Costco has the lowest shrinkage (employee theft) in retailing, an accomplishment Cascio argues is likely linked to employee loyalty.

  • Costco's operating profit per hourly employee is 88% higher than Sam's Club's.
The bottom line, in Cascio's view: "Costco's stable, productive workforce more than offsets its higher costs."

1 "Decency Means More than 'Always Low Prices': A Comparison of Costco to Wal-Mart's Sam's Club," by Wayne F. Cascio (Academy of Management Perspectives, August 2006).



Saturday, December 02, 2006

Art Museums Experiment with Tagging

Suppose you're at a museum where you saw a picture you liked, but you can't remember where it was, what it was called, or who painted it. You can try asking at the information desk if anyone knows where, exactly, the "big painting with the little dog in the corner" is hung, but, unless it's a famous painting, odds you won't get a very helpful answer.

With the advent of tagging, this situation is beginning to change, if not at physical museums, at least with their online collections. A project called steve.museum1 is experimenting with social tagging to produce folksonomies2 that reflect how visitors categorize (and interpret) the works they see. These visitors' categories are a complement to the categories used by curators — creator, date, size, materials, use, etc.

If you go to the Indianapolis Museum of Art site, you can see an example of the results of social tagging. On the main page, a list of the most frequently assigned tags indicates by font size, how many images each of the listed tags has been attached to.

You can see the entire current list of tags — presented as a tag cloud — by clicking on the "view entire tag cloud" link. You will immediately notice one of the problems with social tagging — the presence of synonyms (e.g., "beard" and "bearded"); you may have to check several tags to see all items in a category of interest to you (e.g., "bearded men"). There is also the issue of alternate spellings of the same tag (e.g., "theater" and "theatre").

If you'd like to experiment with tagging images yourself, you can visit the Smithsonian photography site. There you will find how the Smithsonian (not part of steve.museum) has approached the project of creating a "visual search interface for browsing, tagging, and sequencing" photographs. The Smithsonian describes its tagging initiative as
an invitation to contribute to an ongoing dialogue about pictures and words and how they come to signify different things to different people at different times.
To get started, click the "Enter the Frame" link. I did this and was quickly confronted with another of the issues social tagging presents — bad tags. For instance, I accessed photos tagged "animal" and then checked the tags assigned to a photo of a kangaroo. Some easily amused visitor had contributed "crocodile."

A final example of where you can try out tagging is the swatch collection of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia. Just click on a swatch and then click on "Describe" in the window that comes up.

1 "Steve" is also the name of the open-source tagging tool that the project is developing. The participating museums are the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Rubin Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. For an illuminating discussion of the thinking behind steve.museum, you can take a look at "Investigating Social Tagging and Folksonomy in Art Museums with steve.museum," a paper by Jennifer Trant (Archives and Museum Informatics) and Bruce Wyman (Denver Art Museum), available in pdf format here. You can keep track of press and blog comments on the project by checking the list for the tag "steve.museum" that Jennifer Trant supplies at del.icio.us.

2 Thomas Vander Wal coined the term folksonomy.


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Friday, December 01, 2006

Don't Hire a Psychopath

Unfortunately, hiring a manipulative egotist with no conscience is all too easy. That's because one of the prime characteristics of the psychopathic personality is an ability to fool others, even experts, into thinking that one is an exceptionally fine person.

Back in 2004, when Enron and similar corporate malefactors were still on the front page, the BBC spoke with industrial psychologist Paul Babiak about the problem of psychopaths in business. Babiak cautions that psychopaths are hard to spot because:
Like many people in business they have strong egos, high energy and are somewhat narcissistic ... all these things are valued in business. (link added)
However difficult the task, doing your best to weed psychopaths out of your job candidate pool is worth concerted effort because, once hired, they can be hard to dismiss. As the BBC report explains:
Once they have their talons dug into a company they may be too well connected politically to shift, hiding their dangerous natures behind a network of influence and manipulation.
Traits to look for include "insincerity, arrogance, manipulative behaviour, lack of guilt or remorse."

In practical terms, minimizing the odds of bringing a psychopath onboard means
... training interviewers so they're less likely to be manipulated and conned. It means checking resumés for lies and distortions, and it means following up references.
The preceding piece of advice comes from a 2001 article on the work of Babiak and his colleague, Robert D. Hare, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. This article also provides guidance on how to protect yourself from a psychopath at large in your organization. Aim for:
... self-protection through self-education. Know your own weaknesses ... because the psychopath will find and use them. Learn to recognize the psychopath ... [no mean feat, as indicated above]
In a 2004 article in the Vancouver Sun, David Hogben provides further details of Babiak's thinking:
The old, staid, bureaucratic organization filled with rules, policies and procedures was too frustrating and unattractive to the psychopath, Babiak said.

"Now, because the pace of business has accelerated so much, only organizations that can move fast can survive. It also makes it more fun to work there, not just for you and I, but for the psychopath as well," he said.
You might wonder about using training to correct a psychopath's behavior. The experts say don't kid yourself. The psychopath is aware of other ways of behaving, but is not motivated to change. This is a problem that training cannot solve.

Hare is the creator of the PCL-R instrument, a checklist of indicators of psychopathy. Building on the work that produced the PCL-R, Hare has now developed the B-Scan and B-Scan 360, instruments for use in the corporate setting to "identify specific dysfunctional work behavior patterns that, if left unchecked, could potentially have a negative impact on the organization and its members."

Here are some representative items, taken from a radio interview with Hare and Babiak:
  • Does your boss or workmate come across as smooth, polished and charming?

  • Do they turn most conversations around to a discussion about them?

  • Do they discredit or put others down in order to build up their own image and reputation?

  • Can they lie with a straight face to their co-workers, customers, or business associates?

  • Do they consider people they've outsmarted or manipulated as dumb or stupid?

  • Are they opportunistic, ruthless, hating to lose and playing to win?

  • Do they come across as cold and calculating?

  • Do they sometimes act in an unethical or dishonest manner?

  • Have they created a power network in the organisation, then used it for personal gain?

  • Do they show no regret for making decisions that negatively affect the company, shareholders, or employees?
Babiak and Hare present their ideas more fully in their book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, published earlier this year.


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