Wednesday, January 31, 2007

What Causes Stress In The Workplace

Stress is a fact of life. It goes with us to the office, follows us home, waits with us in traffic jams. A visit to the dentist, an upcoming exam, a boss's bad day, an approaching deadline, or company for dinner are all part of what we call stressful.
Stress in the workplace is widespread. It occurs in every workplace and for a variety of reasons. Overworked employees have "emotions that are right on the edge, fatigue, and absenteeism. But what is this thing called 'stress'? It is a combination of physical and emotional responses we feel as a result of unexpected major and minor events in our lives (Don Hawkins), but Hans Selye in his landmark book The Stress Of Life describes stress as our body's response to any demand made on it - whether a good, positive kind of stress, an expected part of life that leads to happiness or fulfillment ( what Seyle calls eustress), or distress, excessive levels of ongoing or damaging stress. In other words, we might explain stress as the result of Any event, major or minor, that happens to us.
In fact the concept of stress actually comes from the field of physics, when outside force adds pressure to bend or distort another item. Think for a minute about all the forces that act on your life: a flat tire, being stuck in the rush-hour traffic, an argument with a spouse, one more project added to an already heavy workload. Any of these tings will add significant stress.
In 1993 the Work Institute in the US released a national study of the changing workforce, a study that examined the work, lives, and attitudes of employees in companies ranging in size from Fortune 500 firms to the corner drugstore. Here were some of their findings:
80% said their jobs required them to work very hard.
65% said they must work very fast.
42% felt "used up" by the end of the workday.
At least one-third felt they did not have a "supportive" work culture. Not only did those surveyed indicate their work to be stressful and difficult, they experienced a time gridlock, as the average workweek for full-time employees reached 44.3 hours. More than a quarter of those surveyed worked fifty hours, and 10 percent worked more than sixty hours per week.
More than 3,400 workers participated in this landmark study, and 42 percent of respondents worked for companies that had reduced their staff the previous year. So much for those previous predictions that advancing technology would allow companies to switch to a four-day workweek or shorter on-the-job hours. The workplace is becoming harsher, and there are higher expectations in terms of hours we put in and how hard you work.
It seems that the quality of work life is not becoming anymore a priority to the corporations of the 21st Century. Many employees nowadays have been forced to play what we can call 'The Survivor Game' which is a no fun game, as those who stay on the job play the guessing game of "Who's next?".
In order to put work-related stress into perceptive, we need to understand how it affects us. Keep in mind that both major life events and minor life hassles contribute to our stress. The constant criticizing of a fellow employee or back-stabbing in the lunchroom can, over time, become as stressful as the threat of losing one's job. Cumulative effect of minor stresses can sometimes seem greater than the stress of major life events. After all, we tend to prepare ourselves when there is serious illness, death, or other great difficulties, and often we have the support of others.
How does stress-in the workplace and in the home-influence our physical responses? Primarily, adrenaline rushes into our bodies, charging our muscles and speeding our heartbeat, yet often giving us a heightened state of physical readiness with nowhere to go. Stress is a modern phenomenon brought in by the mismatch of today's environment and the body's "fight or flight" response, which centuries earlier was needed to cope with wild animals.
Instead of the wild animals, many of us today face irate customers, grouchy bosses, interrupting phone calls, broken equipment, or rush projects, but our bodies still respond as though they were facing a physical crisis; our blood pressure rises, muscle tension increases, and loads of adrenaline, fats, and sugars rush into the bloodstream for quick energy.
However, there is a God gift called "adaptation" that we usually experience to cope with stress. Modern life has fortunately adapted many of us to a higher state arousal. We have come to live with higher blood pressure and more adrenaline coursing through our veins. Our normal or "resting" level has increased significantly, but part is the problem is a frequent feeling of being out of control.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Managing Your Boss: Help Your Boss Make You a Success

Each one of us has one important person who can help him achieve greater job satisfaction and career success - his boss. This may be a somewhat radical way of looking at business strategy, but it is perfectly true that serving your boss well and intelligently is the most productive way to serve your best self interests.
It is a fact that people lose jobs most often because they have not been successful in satisfying the demands of their boss. They lose out because of faulty boss relations; because they lack an understanding of " boss psychology." Of course I do not mean here to suggest that the reader needs to turn into a psychologist in order to be able to deal with his/her boss, but to understand both the motives and personal traits that drive bosses behaviors and attitudes.
By working "with" your boss you can become free to move ahead and not become lost in the the great unknown depths of the business world. Work becomes more pleasant and you become more productive. You gain more satisfaction because you are able to record more achievements. It all becomes possible by using one of your greatest assets - your boss.
Here are few tips to help you plan ahead how to make yourself indispensable to your boss as part of his team; how to eliminate unnecessary daily conflicts that consumes your energy in unproductive activities:
First - you need to change your concept of being a "boss" as well as being "bossed." These are different roles that can be enjoyed "if" well played. It requires understanding on the part of both the boss and the subordinate that one role cannot be effectively played without the other role being deli gently played to comp element the other. That are demands for each role, and these demands can only be completed if integration of the other role is accomplished. It is then, a give and take relationship that need to be sustained if we want to create an attractive, motivating work environment.
Second - Avoid hostility, harshness, and friction with your boss. Difference in personalities will sure cause some frictions, but these should not be taken personally. They need to be interpreted against the situation that created them. If we believe that there are more than one way to create a mutual understanding and "empathy". Uncontrolled "perception" would always result into misinterpretation of behavior, resulting in turn into more friction and conflict, which makes the workplace "a fighting arena" of winners and losers.
Third - Help your boss become a better manager. This mean "accepting" the other with a belief that regardless of our being different, we still can work together. Personal defects are more felt among Friends, but in the workplace these can be accepted as long as they do not influence our performance. Do not try make your boss look bad before others, especially his superiors. He/she has got more "power" to settle accounts making your life miserable. Learn how to "invest" in your boss by educating him/her without even hinting you do.
Fourth - Develop a daily "game plan" to make it possible to stress positive thoughts, good emotional balance, and be in charge of yourself. You need to "sell" you ideas without being "pushy" or aggressive. Your tool would be "persuasion" not "power". Remember, you cannot impose on your boss. He can.
Fifth - Put your entire group - in addition to your boss - to work for you. Make them feel that your are a valuable asset to the team. This relies mainly on your ability to exert effort to be helpful and cooperating whenever you can. Enhancing your interpersonal skills of communication and negotiation would help become most effective in this area.
Sixth - Have an eye on becoming a boss yourself. Invest in yourself. Do not leave a chance to learn from your mistakes as from your successes. Always ask yourself:"What are the things that I do not like in my boss, and that I am going to avoid when I become one?"
Your biggest challenge though would be dealing with an insensitive boss. A boss who is too much results oriented. Bosses of that kind are usually inconsiderate to their people's needs. You need here to work winning ways to gain their attention and recognition. Allow enough time and work systematically to develop an interactive relationship with a boss of that kind until you win his/her respect.

Tracking The Value Of Diversity Programs: Organizational Perspectives

The shortage of documented financial or performance results for diversity programs makes it difficult to determine what works and what doesn’t. Are there any models for companies to follow? Not yet, says Guillermo Hysaw, vice president of diversity for Toyota Motor Sales, USA. Hysaw, who is managing his company’s newly announced 10-year, $7.8 billion diversity initiative, freely admits that he’s not sure whom to benchmark against. "Nobody is doing an outstanding job in diversity," he says. Here’s a brief look at how five companies--all among the largest and most successful in their industries--structure and evaluate their diversity programs.
Ryder System, Inc. Ryder, a logistics, supply-chain, and transportation giant, runs an extensive diversity program for its 30,000 employees. Ryder measures the return on its program by tracking litigation costs and the number of women and members of minority groups hired and promoted in key jobs throughout the company. "Since the initiation of these programs, litigation costs have dropped dramatically," says Gerri Rocker, director of corporate diversity for the Miami-based company. The company uses a scorecard for each business unit that includes a diversity component, with specific targets for hiring and promoting women and people of color. Senior leadership bonuses are tied to meeting these targets.Ryder requires diversity training for all employees that "focuses on respecting and valuing all aspects of employees’ beliefs and backgrounds, not only differences of race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, but also individual talents, ideas, and experiences," says Rocker. "Differences are seen as working assets, which enhance Ryder’s credibility, business operations, and customer service." An additional round of training for all managers and supervisors promotes skills for managing differences within heterogeneous groups and pushing employees toward quality performance. The program also teaches litigation avoidance by describing scenarios and behaviors that put the company at risk of lawsuits and advising how to prevent them.
Goldman Sachs Group. "Our senior executives have said that diversity is a strategic imperative," says Laura Liswood, senior adviser for diversity at the New York-based investment banking firm. "At Goldman, it’s assumed that diversity is a good business practice, and we put a lot of resources into it." Goldman Sachs’ diversity program includes a centralized staff of half a dozen people, plus senior leaders within each division. The company relies on its in-house staff and rarely calls in consultants. "It takes a lot of looking within an organization’s diversity program to find the challenges, and most consultants can’t get under the skin of an organization to that level," Liswood says. "It has to be a largely internal process." Goldman includes a diversity component in performance evaluations and assessments of corporate leaders, with results reflected in their compensation.
Price, Waterhouse, Coopers. The world’s largest accounting firm, with headquarters in New York City and 125,000 employees, sees diversity as a marketing imperative. "We find that more and more of our clients are demanding that our partners and staff--involved in securing new business as well as delivering the work--reflect the diversity within their organizations," says Toni Riccardi, chief diversity officer. "It is as much a part of the price of admission for winning and sustaining new business as other core differentiating factors. We measure our return on investment against very specific metrics focused on recruiting, retention of our top performers, and employee satisfaction."
New York Life Insurance. New York Life, the largest mutual life insurance company in the United States, runs an extensive diversity program focused on recruitment and retention of minority candidates. "The human resources department establishes annual diversity goals in each department and, with the help of diversity officers in each unit, monitors a department’s hiring and promotional activity," says Angela Coleman, vice president of human resources. An executive management committee tracks diversity objectives by reviewing monthly and quarterly reports for each unit. Diversity is one of 15 components in performance evaluations for managers. "It’s hard to quantify financial results," Coleman says. "We don’t approach diversity in terms of a dollar return on investment."
Cendant Corporation. Cendant, a vast real estate services company, launched its diversity program as part of a broader "employer of choice" initiative. The company appointed a diversity committee commissioned by the CEO, and then named a vice president for diversity in 2002. "Each of our business units has at least one representative who is responsible for diversity initiatives," says Kathy Andreasen, vice president of human resources for the New York City-based company. "The return on the resources dedicated to this effort is measured in number of hires, the volume of our services that are provided by minority suppliers, the volume of business generated by our multicultural marketing initiatives, the number of minority franchisees, and other measures."

Monday, January 15, 2007

Managing A 'People' Company: Beyond A Workplace of Robots

At good workplaces, it's common to hear employees talk about working in "a people-oriented company," or to hear them say, "They treat you like a human being around here." Or, "You feel like you can be yourself." Employees of good workplaces assume that it's a normal part of their working environment to feel like a human being.
At the bad workplaces, many people feel their humanity is stolen from them at work. The 'robotic' application of organizational policies, systems, and procedures is becoming more and more a "daily humiliation" in some workplaces. Although talking about the concept of a 'people company' sounds subjective and abstract, scientific research proved that it is an essential approach for building a strong organizational entity and culture. It is a genuine necessity for maintaining the 'human side' of the enterprise. In fact good organizations cannot do otherwise because of the following reasons:
  • Human beings are unique, not applicable. No two human beings are alike. Each person has his or her own personality. Likewise, the organization gets distinctive contributions from its people. So, when an employee talks about being treated like a machine or a robot, he or she means, in part, that the employer doesn't recognize what makes each individual special. The organization cannot apply one relationship with all its employees. It should act in a way that indicate care, respect, and valuing people as people.
  • A human being is self-determining, not programmable. Human being can initiate and control their own actions within the constraints of social or organizational constraints. Both the objectives and priorities of the the organization must be accommodated. A kind of an 'organizational behavior' or rather a 'desired' one is developed. People who feel like a robot are suggesting they feel no latitude for their own initiative. They are merely following orders, with no ability to do tasks as they wish to do them. They are controlled, programmed by others, but a controlled workplace takes its toll, after a while, on the people working for the organization. When people are stifled, even their health suffers.
  • A human being, unlike a robot, is also capable of intelligence and has an emotional life. If people are treated as if they are mindless, their sense of dignity often refuses to let them play the roles they are given. Even though the workplace often dehumanizes people in this way, they find countless means to hold on to their sense of self-worth. Sometimes they do it by inventing games with themselves to make the work itself more interesting. Or they daydream on the job. Or they socialize with others. Or they find ways of subverting the boss.
  • Unlike robots which are limited by their programs, human beings grow and learn. Humans never stop acquiring knowledge and skills. In good workplaces, human growth is part of the system. Jobs are expanded as people gain more skill. People are given more responsibilities as they grow. The best workplace not only treat people as their most important assets, but they also learn how to call forth the best attributes from what a human being is-a creature that flourishes with trust. Conversely, to withhold trust is to dehumanize and to bring out the worst in people.

Having the above in mind, I tend to believe that if an organization wants to breed future leaders, the starting point for it is to build its culture on valuing people as a strategic asset and a competitive advantage. An organization of only managers who are competent in moving day to day business, and are well briefed in policies and procedures, could be 'one of the others,' but establishing market leadership is a completely different ball game.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Great Place To Work

If we ask a random sample of employees in any organization what causes them to like to stay with their the organization, we will get tens of different reasons that are all valid, but vary to reflect the personal views of the respondents. While some employees will focus on tangible explicit motivators, others will focus more on intangible implicit ones. That's, too, is natural as people's motives are driven by their different needs which again vary from one person to the other.
However, going through Fortune's analysis of the best 100 companies to work for in the US will reveal that there are some core organizational values that are embedded into successful organizations which attract and sustain employees and ensure their job satisfaction. The most important of these values are:
  • It may sound strange, but friendliness appears to be one of the distinguishing characteristics of good workplaces. People seem to enjoy each other's company. this is not an insignificant issue. Work for an organization is, after all, work in a group setting. You have to interact with others, and naturally what you think about your workplace has to do largely with the quality of those interactions.
  • There is one expression that we repeatedly hear at good workplaces: "There isn't much politics around here." By that, people mean employees aren't constantly jockeying for position, trying to curry favor with the high-ups, worrying about the impact of their actions on their chances for moving up in the company, or looking over their shoulder to make sure someone else isn't setting them up to destroy their career.
  • Good workplaces also offer a dramatic contrast to business as usual in most of the organizations that create an atmosphere of unfairness. It's extremely difficult to fool people into believing they are being treated fairly when they're not. Employees can easily note examples of favoritism, bias, inequity, and abuse, even if they do not express their outrage.
  • Because we often define our personal identity by our work, work becomes one of the principal means through which life becomes meaningful. Employees of good workplaces describe describe their job satisfaction in sentences like: "you can have an impact on things here." The organizations they work for makes them feel that they matter, they are valued, and so are their ideas and opinion about how things are around them in the workplace. Some employees, expressing what they feel about their work more philosophically: "'It is more than a job."
  • Employees can always cherish a caring, nurturing environment in the workplace. They talk about how supervisors take an interest in their personal lives. They talk a lot about how they feel valued as individuals, not just as part of an undifferentiated mass that performs tasks for the organization. A feeling of a 'long-term commitment' where they feel belonging to a family for life would always remain gratifying to most employees.
  • Naturally, a feeling of mutual trust between employees and their employers permeates good workplaces. It nurtures a atmosphere of job security around the workplace. It also cultivates a culture of 'togetherness' and 'ownership' in the workplace.

Looking at the above rationale on good workplaces we will notice that they are all personal, people focused. They satisfy needs of recognition, belonging, and self-esteem. They do not, of course, belittle the value of other tangible organizational motivating aspects like compensation, benefits, bonuses, and incentives, but to most employees, they have both priority and precedence when a decision to accept a job offer is made.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Vicious Circle Of Bad Selection

Is it true that no one would hire any job candidate whom he/she feels would be a potential threat to him? And if this is true, how can organizations revitalize, rejuvenate, and enhance its HR capital? Is 'You're over-qualified for the job' tag truthful, or is it a devious technique to fend-off qualified job seekers from getting the jobs they knew they could do? What can organizations do to guarantee that only best candidates will be hired? What kind of authority should be given to HR Department to challenge biased selections of personnel? What role organizational politics play in recruiting and selection decisions?
All these are valid questions that comes to the mind whenever we encounter any of the unqualified corporate personnel who do not fill the bill for the positions they are holding; individuals who were lucky or unlucky to be at the right place and time to be selected by another corporate officer unqualified to conduct a professional selection interview and who might be under a deadline pressure to hire someone to fill a vacancy. There are several reasons for hiring the wrong person such as:
  • A key officer in a project left during a critical phase of the project, and a replacement had to be found as soon as possible. As situation which might dictate what I call 'convenience hiring' rather than 'appropriate hiring.'
  • Relying on recruitment agencies without a partnership input on the part of the client nor proper insurance guarantees of replacement of any misfits after field trying them.
  • Wrong job matching, where a new hire is given the job he wanted not the job he could master. Some candidates can give an impression of mastery and false energy levels that deceive corporate decision makers.
  • Man/day arrangements with clients may sometimes push for filling a position with unqualified personnel to give the appearance that all organizational contractual commitments are met.
  • Lack of training to key position holders to cope with organizational growth and changes as well as customers' needs. That happens when their bosses are too busy to apply and implement a development plan to enhance both the skill and competencies of the holders of those critical positions. They had relied on them long enough on moving day-to-day matters to become indispensable even for a few days workshop to whet their efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Relocating corporate personnel for personal or humane reasons are sometimes reasons for jobs mismatch where unqualified personnel hold jobs 'similar' to what they are doing at their home country simply because the corporation cannot find another job back home for them.
  • Reaching a 'career plateau' when 'some old timers' could not advance any more in their current jobs and had few years to retire, and the corporation is helping them qualify for full pension.
  • The wrong concept that HR personnel are the only people who should have training on interviewing techniques, and thus neglecting the importance of giving the same training to all the other line managers in the organization, despite the fact that they take the final decision for hiring.
  • Lucky people who know the right corporate contacts who help them land job opportunities and sell themselves as long waited for saviors who are able to clean up corporate messes.

The impact of wrong choice is sometimes devastating to the extent that those 'wrong-fits' cause good calibre people in the organization to quit; meanwhile, they do not allow 'good-fits' being hired which results - the the long run - in 'drying up' corporate intellectual capital and a quick down slide of the organizational performance.

Amateurs trying to play professional games are very dangerous. I know of many cases where unqualified corporate officers were interviewing professional qualified potential job candidates for vital projects, but instead of attracting them to accept the jobs, had created very negative impressions and caused them to reconsider changing jobs, and turned down the job opportunities they had prior the interview. Those 'corporate Birds' could scare highly professional people that they might end up reporting to one of those who might turn their lives into a frustrating miserable experience. It is a vicious circle that, if turned into a whirlwind, may drag any organization to a fathomless depths of failure.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Why Change Is So Hard?

A single human brain is estimated to have the switching capacity of the entire U.S. telephone network. It can hold up to 100 trillion bits of information, dwarfing the capacity of any computer ever developed yet. But the brain can act as a prison unless we learn how to control it. The brain can, and often does, lick us into automatic perceptions and behaviors that are inaccurate, ineffective, or downright destructive. How the human brain works is worth noting if we want to change.
Throughout childhood, our brains is a frenzied construction site, where neural structures are assembled in response to events and thoughts, and countless circuits in the brain are rushed to completion. In the course of this construction, some connections are bolstered into massive conduits of habit. Others are systematically diminished and sometimes even dismantled. But if your brain's software has some glitches, if your universe does't reflect the harmony, beauty, love, and fulfillment that you deserve, then you might want to learn the 'art of consciousness,' the ability to become master of the self instead of its slave.
To truly know oneself is to explore the huge range of responses and creative acts that we can bring to life instead of the narrow repertoire of past habits we call the personality. At the heart of this lesson is a priceless insight: though you have a mind, you are not your mind. You are the one who administers the mind, becoming the CEO of yourself. Who you are is the one who can change your mind, change your programming.
Obviously, we aren't taught the art of consciousness in school. It is an oversight in a society that celebrates liberty, for without the ability to control the mind no one can ever be free, no matter the military might of one's country. The art of consciousness is a skill that has been singularly lacking throughout history, and this may help explain why history repeats itself. I certainly explains why most of us spend our lives making many of the same mistakes over and over. There is no question that a critical mass of people practicing the art of consciousness would change the course of history. There is no question that those who become conscious, who come into their right minds, do change their own lives in proportion to their self-awareness.
the ability of people to become truly self-aware, to learn continuously from experience, and to constantly choose from an infinite range of view-points and actions those that promise the best results, instead of those that are most familiar and require the least change, is the breakthrough upon which the future of humanity might well depend. Closer to home, it might mean the future of a job, a career, and important relationship, prosperity, health or an inner sense of gratification and serenity.
Learning is inherently rewarding. Research shows that the brain responds to learning much as muscle responds to exercise-that is, strong, new, life-supporting tissue is created. In the brain, the new tissue is actually the synaptic connecting matter between between brain cells. Evidence suggests that a healthy network of these neural branches-they're called dendrites and they resemble a meandering river system-may, among other things, delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease and aid in recovery from strokes.
All this makes us ask: how will the human imagination be used in the learning process, how will the 'will' be focused, what values and new skills will sculpt our lives? None of us can control the world, of course, but each of us-alone-controls his or her response to it. Choice is a basic force in human affairs, a powerful force, and our choices form headwaters of their own. Of course the world shapes us; but we shape our world, too.
Change, then, is possible and could be smooth if and when we are willing to change, and we use God's gifts to enhance or abilities to affect the change we want to our personal or business life through raising your consciousness to the need to change. Change is and will remain 'the only constant' around us. We can integrate new perspectives through experience. What we see depends on where we stand. And where we stand-that is, the view of the world our senses present to us-is profoundly influenced by the biases of our family of origin and the hand fate dealt us. It is a bliss that we are not stuck with one world view. We can get a new one any time, merely by learning to integrate the perspectives of others. In this sense, the points of view of other people rank among life's most priceless gifts.

Learning From Experience: Opportunities & Constraints

Having spent more than 40 in executive positions and then as a management consultant, side by side with my academic career, my belief that experience is the best teacher was always confirmed and was never been shaken.
This belief is based on two assumptions. First, we live in an age when dramatic personal change is required of all of us. Second, systematically, learning from experience is the best means at our disposal for changing in the ways we need to. the problem is that learning from experience is not automatic, either for individuals or for society. It is all too natural for people and organizations, or even civilizations, to make the same mistakes over and over again. What happens consistently is that people don't notice when chance is required. To actually learn something new from experience requires an intentional and disciplined effort.
In today's corporate life, and because the world around us is changing so profoundly, the least adaptive among us are being ruthlessly weeded out-professionally, emotionally, and even physically. In order to be able to learn, to consciously change and improve your patterns of behavior, will dramatically increase your personal effectiveness.
Many of us today, are faced with the need to learn some of the most important lessons of our lives.Professionally, the learning mandate, ranges from such matters as how to lead a team how to influence people you are not the boss of, how to take on one more project when you are booked solid. Personally, most of us are dealing with such issues as the need to find more constructive resolutions to conflict in intimate relationships, raising children in an age when the stakes of peer pressure are higher than ever, finding calm in the midst of stress.
If you choose to accept the mission of profiting from your experience , the profit you realize will come from the creative tension that steady discipline brings about. To understand the kind of tension I am talking about, hold a rubber band between your two hands, and stretch it tight by moving your right hand away. Move as far with your right hand as you can without breaking the rubber band. Feel the tension. the rubber band is a metaphor for life. Think of your left hand as the status quo, your circumstances as they presently exist. Think of your right hand as the direction in which you would like to move. Now, relax the tension on the rubber band by moving only one hand. Once again, you made a decision. Your hands didn't decide. The rubber band didn't decide. Did you go to the left or the right?
The natural choice, by the way, is to let the right hand move back to the left, the status quo. Nobody likes to change. Why fix what ain's broke? You now have to think about something else: was the decision not to change a good one, or should you reconsider? This choice, too, is yours alone. You can't avoid making choices. Having this kind of internal conversation can change your life. It reflects heightened consciousness and persistent self-reflection. We control our destinies in direct proportion to our self-awareness. Two thousand years ago a Chinese sage, Lao Tsu, put it this way: "Those who know much about others may be smart, but those who understand themselves are even wiser. Those who control many may be powerful, but those who have mastered themselves are more powerful still."
Most of us don't learn useful things from our experience, at least not consistently. Our learning is often by accident, and it doesn't come easily. We often learn dysfunctional behaviors-hating or blaming other people, being depressed. What we want, of course, is to learn how to think and behave in ways that accomplish our purposes with grace and flexibility.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Kyaizen: The Japanese Version of Quality

The Japanese word 'Kaizen' means grdual, unending improvement; doing little things better; setting - and achieving - ever-higher standards. Masaaki Imai, the author of a book with the same title in the late eighties, says that it is Kaizen that is the simple truth behind Japan's economic miracle and the real reason the Japanese have become the masters of "flexible manufacturing" technology - the ability to adapt manufacturing processes to changing customer and market requirments, and do it fast.
The US interpretation of Kaizen message is "do it better, make it better, imorve it even if it ain't broke, because if you don't, you can't compete with those who do." In other words, the key to success in sustaining quality leadership in the market is to continuously imporve your products and/or any services you are offering your customers. It is amazing that all that Imai preached in his book are still valid todate. Kaizen, as discussed by the author still plays a vital role in formulating all aspects of organizational systems and processes including HR planning, customer satisfaction, team cocepts, corporate culture, problem solving and conflict resolution, just-in-time production ... etc.
Kaizen strategy, as stated by Imai is the single most important concept in Japanese management-the key to Japanese competitive success. It means ongoing improvement involving everyone from top management to workers. The concept is deeply ingrained in the minds of all employees at all levels of employment that they often do not even realize that they are thinking Kaizen. Perhaps the most important difference between between Japanese and Western management concepts is that Kaizen is a process oriented way of thinking, while the West's is innovation and results oriented.
In today's competitive business environment, any delay in adopting the latest technology is costly. Delays in adopting imporved managment techniques are no less costly. After the Second World War, numerous warnings have been issued about the increased cost of resources, stiffer competition to win customer acceptance through quality, and the need to develop more customer-orineted products and services faster than ever before.
Successful companies have shown that it is possible to anticipate change and to meet the challenges while hey are still manageable. Japanese companies, for example, have successfully designed, manufatured, and marketed competitive products using Kaizen strategy. Many Japanese management practices uscceed simply because they are good managment practives. This success has little to do with cultural factors. It is simply a management practice. That means the ways leading to it can be replicated anywhere else in the world. It it an overriding concept behind good management. A Japanese management competitive edge could be due to their systematic collaborative approach to problem solving while the West is still applying a conflict resolution approach.
Underlying the Kaizen strategy is the recognition that management must seek to satisfy the customer and serve customer needs if it is to stay in business and make a profit. another important aspect of Kaizen has been its emphasis on process. Kaizen has generated a process-oriented way of thinking, and a management system that supports and acknowledges people's process-oriented efforts for improvement.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Creating An Environment Of Hatred In The Workplace

It is a very disheartening experience to listen to a demotivated employee complaining how his/her boss's management style is having a negative frustrating impact on his performance. my job as a consultant and university teaching staff has given me an opportunity to experience some of my clients and/or students organizational woos. Their complaints fit the bill for management book with the title of this article on its cover page. In some cases, I could believe the extreme negative attitudes of some managers towards their team members. It cannot be lack of skills alone that results in these negative attitudes, it has got to do with personality factors that requires professional help to rectify. Here are few examples:
  • One of my students once told me with a distorted face (he was still feeling the anguish of the moment after several months) that he had prepared a report on how to enhance the marketing of a new brand. He then went to see his manager and presented the report to him and waited for him to read it. He expected to be commended on a several days hard work to do his research and put his ideas together into what he thought to be a balanced report. After reading the first two paragraphs of the report, the manager, without saying a single word, turned to a shredder he had near him and fed it with the report.
  • While I was instructing a workshop on 'strategic HR' to a group of managers, few of them were very bitter commenting on the positive examples I gave on people oriented managers who respect and try to satisfy their people's needs. They said they have never heard a word of recognition from their managers for the last year. All they heard was criticism and expressions of disappointment without enough explanation or giving them a chance to discuss.
  • In some companies I visited to conduct a 'gap analysis' I was surprised to find out that employees performance evaluation was not discussed with them. In some cases the employees' were invited to only sign their performance evaluation reports which became a routine meaningless action.
  • In other cases the performance evaluation form does not include a developmental part where employees' areas of improvement are noted, discussed, and a plan is drawn and agreed upon between the employee and his/her manager.
  • Some managers, instead of expressing their concern about their employees' performance, cut themselves off them as an expression of their disappointment.
  • Managers, in some cases that came to my attention, 'throw their employees to the wolves' when a deficiency occurs, even if they were a direct outcome of carrying out the manager's instruction.
  • Organizational politics are sometimes so high to the extent that employees find themselves obliged to join a band wagon in order to survive. Some managers feel more strong having more people acting as their mouthpiece.
  • One of the extreme examples is when the manager compete with his team members, and try to belittle their value when they express their wish to pursue their studies getting higher degrees. They overload them with work to the extend that they do not find time to study or prepare for their examinations. Even when they try to apply some of their learned skills on the job, they were not allowed to do so.
  • Playing members of their teams against each other is a game some managers play as a way of knowing what is going on. They foster a culture of individuality and selfishness and become a referee who exercises more control over his employees.

the above example emphasize the importance of selection and hiring of employees as well as the danger of promoting unqualified personnel to managerial levels where they acquire more power and influence over people's behaviors and attitudes. It also emphasizes the strategic role of HR as a business partner in the organization, and not just a service function that provides the other functions with the services they need.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Value Of Knowledge Workers

Generation X has joined the workforce of the new economy. Unlike the baby boomers who preceded them, generation Xers cannot and do not seek like-long learning. The seek employability over employment: they value career self-reliance (Elsdon and Iyer, 1999). They have joined a workforce dominated by 77 million baby boomers, many of whom, because of poor financial planning or personal satisfaction derived from work, do not willingly make room for Xers on corporate hierarchical ladder (Laabs, 1996). Thus the younger cohort of workers perceive that, even if they excel, they cannot move up, so they move on. Corporate restructuring and the demise of guaranteed lifetime employment have resulted in a new breed of free agents described as " a crop of sceptical graduates who, upon entering the workplace are not about to sacrifice all to the corporate good" (Ettorre, 1997). Long-term employees react negatively to the self-sufficiency of Xers and see their unwillingness o defer gratification and commit to long-term, even career-long, objectives as a reflection of a poor work ethic. However, one study indicates that while the belief in hard work as a value has remained constant, the meaning of hard work, especially for Xers, has changed (Jurkeiwics, 2000)
Xers with high human capital, technical skills, education, learning and experience are valuable to organizations, and they are in demand: " Never have so few been wanted by so many" (Zemke et al., 2000). Those most in demand, the new "gold-collar workers", are educated, smart, creative, computer literate and equipped with portable skills (Munk, 1998). Indeed, they are free agents, and thus are perceived by life-long employees of an earlier generation as being disloyal, arrogant, unfocused, unwilling to pay dues and not amenable to deferred gratification (Tulgan, 1996). Om fact, Xers are preparing for careers, not for tenure in a specific organization and, since they cannot hope for career-long support from the organization, they are increasingly career-self-reliant. The "technologically savvy, fickle, ultra mobile generation X workforce" (Harari, 1998) values self-advancement over corporate advancement. They view their human capital as personal, not corporate, assets.
Since, on average, GenXers change jobs frequently, on average every 18 months (Kronenebers, 1997), an new reality has emerged with regard to firm-and industry- specific knowledge. While long-term boomer employees may be proficient in firm-specific private knowledge, the mobile Xers bring with them knowledge from a member of firms and both wide and deep human capital, but they are likely to take information from the organization with them when they leave. In fact, the challenge to knowledge management is to increase the company's intellectual capital despite the "industry-jumping, extremely mobile employee" (Vollmer and Phillips, 2000). How does KM minimize leakage out and absorb leakage in? Retaining staff amy be an answer. Certainly the challenges to retain the contributions all staff - permanent, temporary, contingent, long-term, short-term- to the intellectual capital of the organization.
Reciprocity between value and values is emerging as a solution to align corporate and personal capital. Xers seek variety, relevancy, stimulation and constant change. They value involvement and challenge, and making money for stockholders is not a challenge they embrace. I the employee is to add value in the form of human intellectual capital to the company, the company must reciprocate. Otions are a solution, collective rewards based on the value of the company as a whole, they implicitly encouraged sharing as well as amassing individual knowledge (Browning, 1999). KM of what " everyone knows" is supported if the new knowledge workers add their personal knowledge to the corporate knowledge bank.
If an organization values knowledge, it must value knowledge workers. Adding value to the organization and sharing the value with the knowledge worker more closely aligns the value, valuation and ownership of knowledge.

The Value Of Knowledge

Since knowledge is an intangible asset, it is difficult to assign a value to it. Its amorphous nature exacerbates this difficulty. Lew Platt, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, has acknowledged the dilemma: "If HP know what HP knows, we would be three times as profitable." Intellectual capital is collective knowledge, but who collects it and who disseminates it? Successful and competitive organizations are rich in knowledge, but whose knowledge is it and and who assigns value to it? Values assigned to knowledge may differ. For example, knowledge May have one value for the organization, another for shareholders, yet another for current and potential partners, and still one more for individuals within the organization.
From an organizational perspective, Platt's dilemma at HP highlights the difficulty of placing a value on corporate knowledge. For an organization, value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. An organization's knowledge is valued as it is perceived, often from outside the organization. Recent dramatic stock market value is perceived, especially when the beholders are stockholders or potential stockholders.
In financial circles, analysis attempt to measure the stock market's valuation of intellectual capital - the present value of the future benefits to be obtained from intellectual capital (Lynn, 2000). In technology stocks, the vast gaps between book and market values highlight the value placed on intellectual capital, on knowledge possessed by the firm and, more tangentially, by employees of the firm. To date, generally accepted accounting principles generally accept no specific calculation to determine the value of knowledge. Knowledge is, however, valued in stock prices, a firm's market value if not its book value.
Globally, potential partners value knowledge in considering whether to engage in relationships. Hitt et al. (2000) studied partnerships between companies in developed and developing nations. Companies in developing countries seek partners willing to share expertise, while companies in developed countries seek partners with unique competencies and local market knowledge. The transfer of local market knowledge is directly dependent on organizational learning processes and the value attributed to such local market knowledge (Lord and Ranft, 2000) Partnerships are made with an eye to growing, developing and expanding organizational knowledge. The value of knowledge is critical to partners.
Individuals value knowledge, but general for personal, not corporate reasons. Corporate acquisitions, mergers, reorganizations, downsizing, rightsizing and restructuring have affected attitudes of staff. In the current economy, a permanent employee is an oxymoron (Greco, 1998). Consequently, individuals may view knowledge as a source of power, as leverage or as a guarantee of continued employment. In these respects, knowledge has value for the.
There are, then at least four perspectives from which the value of knowledge can be perceived: the organization; its shareholders; its current and potential partners; and individuals within the organization. Since knowledge is an intangible asset, it cannot be valued objectively nor precisely by any of these four, and this confounds the issue further.

Knowledge And The Intellectural Capital Of The Organization

In the new economy of the millennium, knowledge has emerged as an asset to be valued, developed and managed. The quest for knowledge is not new: in the fourth century BC, Aristotle noted "All men by nature desire knowledge." Now, 25 centuries later, knowledge drives the global economy. No longer is knowledge considered only an individual's personal wisdom; knowledge is a component of the intellectual capital of organizations (Stewart 1997). In the global economy of the millennium, data and information proliferate, and the applications and uses to which they are put transform them into knowledge. To make use of data and information, transform them into knowledge, then maximize the value of knowledge is the new challenge in achieving a sustainable competitive advantage. The 'information age' of the 1990s has evolved into the 'knowledge age' of the millennium.
Knowledge is increasingly acknowledged as a corporate asset; indeed, some are it has supplanted the traditional factors of production - land, labor and capital - to become the pre-eminent corporate and competitive resource (Havens and Knapp, 1999). Knowledge, however, is an intangible asset; its very elusiveness and intangibility create myriad challenges.: how to manage it; how to valuate it; how to measure it; how to process it. If it is a corporate resource, how does the corporation manage it? Who, within the corporation, assumes responsibility for acquiring, developing and marketing it? Knowledge management (KM) has emerged as a principal component of the new economy. Likewise, the learning organization has become the site of effective KM (Argryis and Schon, 1978; Senge, 1990).
Individual Knowledge and Learning
Learning is an innately human activity. Growth in knowledge is a function of maturing and developing. For adults, experience plays a significant role in knowledge acquisition: Kolb (1984, p.38) asserts, "Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created by the transformation of experience". Kolb's theory of experiential learning informs much of the literature on adult learning in general and human development and training in particular.
Humans bring to an organization their prior education, experience, knowledge and skills, and as they interact within the organization they draw on this experience to develop their skills and knowledge further, thus adding to their human capital and to the value of the organization.
Economists have identified a steady growth in human capital per worker in the industrialized world in two areas:
  1. Capital deepening - individual workers have improved their performance of particular skills.
  2. Capital widening - individual workers have exhibited an increased ability to acquire a variety of skills (Lindbeck and Snower, 2000).

Human capital, however, while contributing to the value of the organization, remains the possession of the individual. Individuals can and do learn, develop and acquire knowledge both independently and with the organization. In order to learn, they require neither organizational assets nor organizational capital, yet they can, and do, learn from their experience in the organization. The organization, conversely, cannot develop, learn, or grow independently of its human capital.

Organizational Knowledge and Learning

Knowledge is recognized as a corporate asset and, like all corporate assets, it must be managed: thus, the emergence of KM. Ideally, KM captures, transfers, and leverages what everyone in the organization know. This, of course, is a daunting challenge. Who is "everyone in the organization", and how does the organization manage their knowledge , their human capital, thus transforming it into organizational intellectual capital?

Intellectual capital extends beyond mere knowledge: Stewart (1997) identifies three categories of intellectual capital:

  1. Human (evidenced in staff's knowledge, skills and talents).
  2. Structured (comprised of systems for codifying, storing, transmitting and sharing knowledge).
  3. Relational (resulting from connections between organizations and clients, vendors and partners).
The three must interact. Indeed, managing intellectual capital has been described as capturing individuals' tacit knowledge and making it explicit in the organizational structure (Lynn, 2000). Managing and developing intellectual capital is a dynamic process that creates a tension between assimilating new and exploiting old learning (Crossen el al., 1998) . Effective KM systems do three things:
  1. Filter out information that does not support an individual's immediate or long-term need or goal.
  2. Present information in the form appropriate for the context and the individual needing the information.
  3. Focus information into the hands of those who can act upon it and give it value (Covley-Durst, 1999).

The last item is the crux: until it is acted upon, knowledge has no real value. Until a human puts knowledge to use, it is an un-valued asset. Until a human shares tacit and explicit knowledge within the firm., it is the individual's human capital, not the organizaions's. The knowledge possessed by the employees represents a key source of sustainable competitive advantage for organizations (Elsdon and Iyer, 1999). Knowledge is an asset, but it is a slippery asset to value, manage and measure.

The Knowledge Workers Concept

Knowledge, as a corporate asset, is the focus of much discussion. What constitutes knowledge and where does it reside? By some estimations, knowledge is a personal possession, something an individual has as a result of education and/or experience; by other estimations, it is a "consensually supported result of information processing and thus part of organizational memory, a publicly documented body of knowledge (Nevis et al., 1995). However, most would agree that, in a corporate sense, knowledge is the productive application of information(Bendaly, 1996).
Perceptions of knowledge differ according to what one considers the repository of knowledge: the individual or the organization. Knowledge as an asset in an organization results from efforts by knowledge workers, individuals in whose heads knowledge resides. Individuals bring knowledge with them to the workplace, knowledge they have acquired through education, training and experience, and, if they leave the workplace, they take with them additional knowledge acquired there. their leaving behind any personal knowledge depends on whether the organization has transformed it into organizational knowledge.
Organizational knowledge has been codified, stored and managed - it is explicit, systematic and easily communicated in the form of hard data and codified procedures (Inkpen, 2ii6). This contrasts with personal internalized, tacit knowledge (Polani, 1967).
Tacit knowledge involves intangible factors embedded in personal beliefs, experiences and values. Internalized, tacit knowledge is not easily communicated or even readily acknowledged by those who possess it. Organizations draw on individuals' tacit knowledge when they develop and implement explicit knowledge. Nonaka (1994) writes of the spiral of knowledge creation, whereby individuals, then groups, then organizations as a whole, convert tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge.
As an organization builds and expands its knowledge base, both tacit and explicit, it builds its intellectual capital and, consequently, enhances its competitive advantage. Knowledge becomes a competitive asset, especially knowledge which is firm-specific, private knowledge - in particular patents, copyrights and 'secret' procedures. However, as best practices are disseminated within an industry, they become public knowledge (Matusik & Hill, 1998) As individuals master firm-specific best practices, such knowledge becomes portable -a part of an individual's as well as the firm's human capital. Part of the knowledge and experience a new hire may bring to a firm is private knowledge from a prior workplace, just as he or she may transport such knowledge from a firm when he or she moves on to a new employer.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Developmental Alliance: A Case Study

Big organizations that are keen to sustain their growth rate and secure bigger market shares, are nowadays facing serious problems in developing their people at the same rate they grow. managers became so involved in strategic planning, Production, marketing, and sales activities to the extent they do not find time to coach their teams. The impact of this becomes more evident in all the front line jobs that have direct contact with the customers. It becomes worse still in service organizations that build their glory on how they can 'pamper' their customers.
Due to the lack of continuous training and coaching, the sales people find themselves driven by escalating bottom lines and very tight deadlines to cope with organizational expectations of them.
Consequently, sales teams become too result oriented to the extent that they may neglect some of their organizations' business codes and ethics in dealing with their customers. They may rush customer to take a buying decision of the products and/or services without spending enough time identifying their needs, and helping them get what they really need not what the salesperson want them to have. Naturally, a skills and competencies gap between current and expected performance levels exists.
Training departments became unable to close this gap fast enough, nor to cope with the in-house training demands restricted by inflexible deadlines. New methods of training had to be developed in order to satisfy the increasing on-going demand on coaching the field teams. Complementary training activities to the training departments had to be initiated, and new training modules as well. Modules that address marketing and sales people behavior, being both efficient and effective, and consume less time than the traditional classroom training.
Companies like Cisco came up with technological solutions for the problem. Being the biggest networking company in the world with 77 acquisitions since 1999, more than 51,000 employees icluding 16,000 engineers operating in 117 countries with one third of the world population, coordinated coaching for this enormous number of employees becomes almost impossible.
Strategic allaince with an advanced E-training provider becomes a feasible solution, and training provider who can tailor sales interactive coaching models that are built around integrated complementary classroom and distance activities. Experts all over the world can deliver these modules in classes nearer to Cisco operations in 15 different languages, followed by telephone coaching sessions that reinforce the skills and competencies taught in class. Cisco ally in this is Richardson, an American training organization with a customer driven culture that demonstrates the same values and business ethics of Cisco.
A new trend is being developed by these two companies which I believe is going soon to be copied by other organizations, especially that the outcome is measurable.

Entrepreneurial Thinking

Entrepreneurs have always been described as risk takers who start their own small projects. In that sense, anyone can be an entrepreneur. Without finetuning that definition, the door is left wide open for adventurers to try their luck starting high risk projects without really spending too much time on the study of their feasibility.
There is no doubt that risk taking is essential to take a final decision to invest in a project, but without 'calculation' that risk turns into a dangerous adventure in no-mans-land which may abort a potential success stroy.Entrepreneurs should be business oriented in the sense that they 'see'opportunities and develop an ability to 'grap' these opportunities fast before they are lost. Here lies the real challenge of entrepreneurship: the paradox of being fast enough to grab an opportunity while doing a calculted risk analysis? I personally think that tuition or gut feeling play a part here. Entrepreneurs do have that sense of potential success that sometimes gives them direction and an advance alert to which way they should go.Because of the fierce competition entrepreneurs are always going to get in the market, I believe they have to develop their own 'competitive advantage' not only in filling a market demand in a non-traditional way, but in becoming too much 'customer driven', a business competitive edge that would single them out from competition and bigger business entities in the market.In the 21st century, only customer driven organizations will stay afloat and win the 'who get the customer first' race.Flexibility is another critical competence that entrepreneurs should develop in order for them to be able to cope with the constant change in their markets' dynamics, customers' tastes and demands, competition practices, and strategic allainces' approaches. Their business plans should be built around flexibility and fast response to environmental changes.Finally, entrepreneurs need to develop an 'acquired taste' for success. This would help them distaste failure and crave for sustainable success that is built around their customers loyalty.
Small projects should start as lean and mean as possible at the beginning, even if resources for bigger entities are available. Bigger is not always better, and fast growth that could jeopardize the start up investment instead of building on the slow sure successes. Natural evolution and growth would help entrepreneurs avoid too much risk and uncertainty. We have heard on many projects that started as 'one man show' but ended up becoming conglomerate organizations like Microsoft, Google, Geramine Bank.
I personally believe that developing business alliances is the best way to get bigger on one hand and avoid rash revolutionary moves to grow fast sole handedly when quick success somethimes oblitertes entrepreneurs vision. Integrated services are becoming a trend in service organizations nowadays where the stakeholders become real owners of the business and work together as a team to ensure its flourish and success. Vendors, banks, outsourced services, distributors, and contractors are all good examples of strategic allies that can enhance the performance of any business. Again the Japanese model is a bench mark as they were able to turn business allaince into a 'state of art' model for the rest of the world. The Chinese are also emerging very fast into a super business power which benefitted from their market leaders neihbors. Both their markets coverage and outreach is outshining any other far eastern powers that used to be called 'The Asian Tigers.