Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Counting chickens

Last post of the year. Time to count chickens...

They say, "Don't count your chickens before they are hatched". Same people claim that once begun - half done. I began regular postings here nine months ago, and now I can proudly say that it has been a most rewarding experience. Nine months is a lot of time on the one hand, and it is nothing at all, on the other. It coincided with my studies at IE Business School, and surely this endeavor was inspired by one of our professors - Enrique Dans. Inspiration wades off, however, and I have seen many examples when my classmates started off quite enthusiastically and got off the track later. This is quite understandable: MBA is a demanding program; at times I don't have time to eat or sleep, so why should I write something that I am not sure anyone is reading?

Now that it is time to count my chickens, I would like to share my own insights of blog writing:
  • quality over quantity. People come to my blog because they hope to read something interesting, not just ramblings on a wannabe writer. It took me some time to realize that if I don't have something valubale to share, probably I should not write. October and November were difficult months for me personally, and I just was not able to produce anything worthy of public attention. Thus, I tried to refrain from even logging on here. At the same time, those two months were most prolific in my poetic activity, and here are some examples of my other muse:
  • be grateful for feedback. Irrespective of the form, in which the feedback reaches you, it is the most valuable thing you can get from your readers. I am thanking all of you, who sent me e-mail, Facebook messages, left comments or merely talked to me about what I am writing, and in many instances I have changed: the style (a little bit), the topics (a lot), and I started getting more and more hits - so listening to the audience is critical.
  • think! Merely reposting funny or insightful articles, images or videos is not enough. The pace of today's life is so fast that people want to get the knowledge in its condenced form. Hence, when you post something, provide your understanding of the issue, supply it with examples and maybe recommendations - that will grab attention. Pick contentious topics and interest is guaranteed. Support your post with an attention-grabbing title, and remember: great novels have great beginnings.
Writing has taught me to be disciplined. Not only in posting something, but also in the way I arrange my thoughts. Normally, when I travel, I write down things that I find interesting into my Moleskin notebook to convert into a post later. And a curious thing: the busier I am, the more rewarding is the blog-writing experience: it clears up the mind and helps me concentrate better, a similar feeling I get when I take a break and play my guitar.

Thank you for being with me this year. I will be on my way to Barcelona and Sevilla soon with no access to Internet, and I am incredible happy about it :)

Season's greetings to all!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Adverse Selection

The notion of adverse selection traditionally belongs to the realm of Economics or Banking. The Wiki definition of adverse selection (so that we are on the same page) is:

Adverse selection, anti-selection, or negative selection is a term used in economics, insurance, statistics, and risk management. It refers to a market process in which "bad" results occur when buyers and sellers have asymmetric information (i.e. access to different information): the "bad" products or customers are more likely to be selected.
Interestingly enough, this term has recently been borrowed by People Management sciences in studies of labor markets. The basic assumptions are the same: information is asymmetric, it is imperfect and the labor market is heterogeneous. Aggravated by the amount of applications, companies often make wrong recruitment choices, since the screening and background check efforts are well beyond their capacity. At the same time, applicants are likely to apply for jobs, for which they are overqualified or underqualified, which skews the entire talent picture and throws the employer into the trap of guessing.

Boyle (1999) identified four types of candidates from adversely selected pools:
  • The unhappy (and thus probably not a desirable employee); 
  • the curious (and therefore likely to be a job-hopper); 
  • the unpromotable (probably for a reason); and 
  • the unemployed (probably for a worse reason).
Nowadays that we are striving for leaner functions, it is highly improbable that the companies are able to avoid the negative consequences of adverse selection should they not resort to the services of various labor market intermediaries (LMIs). Examples of such may be background check agencies, executive search firms, career services at academic institutions, temporary placement firms etc., i.e. an agency reducing the amount of uncertainty in the process of candidate selection.

LMIs in one form of another have existed for thousands of years, but those were largely informal. These days such processes and services are highly formalized and higher proportions of those are moving into online domains. Online recruitment is now a reality, and such giants as or boast millions of resumes on file, and those portals are able to provide both parties, employers and seekers, with personally-tailored information at low cost, which is normally shifted onto the employer. The problem comes when the employment decision is to be made, because it is somewhat similar to getting married after a few weeks of online dating: you do not want to end up with an undesirable person next to you even if it is going to be a short engagement, but at the same time there is a lack of time and resources to do proper screening and matching. Then you would more to more expensive employment agencies or even contingency firms, but is that really the answer to the problem?

There is little research done on LMIs up to date. I am certain that we are going to see more literature on the topic soon, but, as we know, academic knowledge is always lagging behind - what is there that we have to do now?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Santa's Privacy Policy

I have a hunch this has been snuck off some corporate website... This provacy policy is toooooo well-written, I smell a lawyer behind it :)
- - - -



- - - -
At Santa's Workshop, your privacy is important to us. What follows is an explanation of how we collect and safeguard your personal information; the kind of information we collect; and your choices regarding our use and disclosure of this information.

Why Do We Need This Information?
Santa Claus requires your information in order to compile his annual list of Who is Naughty and Who is Nice, and to ensure accuracy when he checks it twice. Your information is also used in connection with delivering the kinds of goods and services you've come to expect from Santa, including but not limited to toys, games, good cheer, merriment, Christmas spirit, seasonal joy, and holly jollyness.

What Information Do We Collect?
We obtain information from a variety of sources. Much of it comes from unsolicited letters sent to Santa by children all over the world listing specific items they would like to receive for Christmas. Often these letters convey additional information as well, such as the child's hopes and dreams, how much they love Santa, and which of their siblings are doodyheads.

The letters also provide another important piece of information—fingerprints. We run these through databases maintained by the FBI, CIA, NSA, Interpol, MI6, and the Mossad. If we find a match, it goes straight on the Naughty List. We also harvest a saliva sample from the flap of the envelope in which the letter arrives in order to establish a baseline genetic identity for each correspondent. This is used to determine if there might be an inherent predisposition for naughtiness. A detailed handwriting analysis is performed as part of a comprehensive personality workup, and tells us which children are advancing nicely with their cursive and which are still stubbornly forming block letters with crayons long past the age when this is appropriate.

Our network of fully trained, duly deputized mall "Santas" file reports from the field, telling us which children are well-behaved, which are elf-phobic, which are prone to sphincter control issues, and which are squirmy beard-pulling monstrous little brats. Digital copies of photos taken with these "Santas" are automatically sent to our database for further evaluation, with particular attention given to the ones where the children are crying.

Santa also employs a paranormal method of observation known as "remote viewing." This enables him to see you when you're sleeping, know when you're awake, and know if you've been bad or good. He even knows if the cookies you're leaving out are homemade or store-bought.

What Do We Do With the Information We Collect?
Sharing is one of the joys of Christmas. For this reason, we share your personal information with our affiliates, non-affiliated third parties, and anyone else who has a legitimate financial stake in a successful holiday season. Mrs. Claus also likes to have a look-see.

Our affiliates include partners of Santa's Workshop who are actively involved in making Christmas happen. They include toy-making elves, flying reindeer, and Jesus. Non-affiliated third parties might include the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Hanukkah Harry.

We may also share your information with mental health practitioners—especially if, as a child, you asked for a particular present every Christmas but never got it. This information gives your analyst a better understanding of why you sometimes feel sad at this time of year and why you resent your parents.
Occasionally we share your Christmas wish lists with professional lyricists seeking inspiration for a catchy holiday song. In the past this information has inspired such holiday favorites as "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth," "All I Want for Christmas is You," "My Grown-Up Christmas List," and "Santa Baby." Should your wish list inspire a hit single, you may be entitled to royalties, payable in the form of sleighfuls of Christmas cheer.

Finally, we make note of the condition of your roof and chimney in the course of our Christmas Eve deliveries. We share this information with appropriate third-party contractors, who may contact you to warn that your aging roof will soon be leaking worse than Julian Assange, or that you will die in your sleep of carbon monoxide poisoning if you don't replace your chimney liner right away.

How Do We Secure This Information?
We secure your information by keeping it at the North Pole, one of the most remote, inhospitable and uninhabitable places on earth. It is stored in a secure gingerbread facility deep in the Candy Cane Forest, behind an impassable barrier conjured by Elven magic. The facility is guarded by a full brigade of life-size wooden toy soldiers armed with Nerf Blasters and Super Soakers. The area is also patrolled by ravenous polar bears.

You Have Choices
You have "opt out" choices regarding certain disclosures we make about you. Please indicate your preferences below:

____ I'll be nice. Please collect, collate, analyze, disseminate and disclose my personal information in any way you see fit. I understand that my cooperative attitude will be taken into consideration when it comes time to compile the Naughty/Nice list next year.

____ I'll be naughty. Please don't share my personal information with anyone. You may use it only to ensure that I get as many of the specific items on my list as possible. I understand that my uncooperative attitude carries the risk that a lump of bituminous coal will be deposited in my stocking annually, either for the duration of my life or until I change my preferences.

You may forward your completed form to: Santa Claus, c/o Santa's Workshop, The North Pole. Or you may retain it for your own records—it doesn't matter. Whether your form is on file with Santa or not, he's gonna find out who's naughty or nice.

Please allow twelve days of Christmas for your choices to take effect.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Work is Changing

The nature of work and the ways we think about it are undergoing fundamental changes. Give it a thought - even 10 years ago, would we think of work as:
  • alternative
  • nontraditional
  • market mediated
  • vulnerable
  • contract
  • freelance
  • e-lance
  • contingent
  • disposable
  • temporary
  • nonstandard
  • telecommuting
Since business is changing and the world is becoming more competitive, people become increasingly demanding towards the format they wish to render their services in exchange for some sort of value. Hence, there is more and more research on such topics as market mediation, non-traditional work and even new branches of science, e.g. “nonorganizational work psychology”.

At the same time, only a few countires are ready for such shift. The US and the Western European countries are leading the way, but elsewhere it is a far cry from where the labor markets are now. I am looking at the Russian labor market and I realize that while there are some early signs of drifting away from the "standard" models, outside the capital CEOs are vaguely familiar with such functions as HR or Marketing, so I cherish no hopes that all of a sudden we will shift to "non-standard" progressive modes of work.

Apart from purely traditional, conventional and customary issues hampering this transition, there are obviously practical questions concerning, for instance, legal issues, career management problems, and other aspects, encompassing motivational, organizational, controlling and other spheres of work environment.

Are we as HR ready to embrace these changes? Looks like we won't have a choice if we want to maintain a competitive Employee Value Proposition, but I doubt that it is a one-size-fits-all option. Obviously, this paradygm shift is geared towards knowledge workers, those whose skills are more portable, those who are more valuable and those who can work remotely. There is a great role for us to play in planning and shaping the 21st century work, but still something prompts me that the change will happen quickly, will hit us with the force of an avalanche and will spread faster than a viral infection.

Friday, December 24, 2010


I take my hat off to those who created Voss, sell it and, what is more, to those who buy it.

Really --- my heart filled with awe, I totally, truly and genuinely amazed at professionals who deal with branded commodities or with the art (magic?) of making a purse out of a saw's ear. Well, the metaphor is not 100% correct: there is some degree of transformation involved in the act, but what happens to the water in a Voss bottle we don't know and hope that nothing happens at all and it arrives on our tables in its pristine condition.

The beauty behind branded commodities is that with minimum of effort and cost you are all of a sudden able to charge next-to-premium prices, basically for a bit of wrapping paper and a beautiful story behind it. One of the ways to escape from commodity hell.

When you step out into the labor market, you are nothing else but a product as well. As any product, there is some/much marketing effort needed and most marketing concepts apply. Hence, as any product, you have a price tag and value, which is, to a large extent,a perception of you by your own self and other labor market players. Tweaking the basic concepts just a little bit, we can place ourselves onto the following diagram:

Nobody wants to be priced low. Every ambitious person or at least those who do not have issues with personal self-esteem, want to be positioned in Quadrants 1 and 2, i.e. being a luxury product or a branded commodity. We know that big companies get thousands of solicited applications for a single position, so getting a distinguished personal brand is nowadays synonimous with self-preservation and survival in the long run.

Sometimes I get a feeling that all these talks about personal brandings is merely a fad, created by image experts in a despearte outcry for money, but the reality is that nobody wants to be a commodity, fad or no fad. We comb our hair even if we do not plan to leave home and we do other things just to feel good regardless whether others are going to notice or not. Thus, I guess we are running out of excuses to invest in ourselves and add a couple of zeroes to that price tag we are all wearing.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Leadership Story

Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?: What It Takes To Be An Authentic LeaderGoing for an interview, the most difficult question might turn out to be, "How did you get here?" - and it will not be about the mode of tranport you favored that day to get to the venue. It will be about you life map, or what have you done to be at this particular stage of your career. Another difficult question (as well as a famous namesake book) is "Why should anyone be led by you?" Think for yourself, how would you answer those?

We were asked to do someting similar in the Strategic Communication class a few weeks ago. I should say that we were lucky to have a highly entertaining and deeply knowledgeable professors Des Dearlove and Stuart Crainer, authors of Thinkers 50, which is a research on business thought gurus, most likely to influence the development of the business reality as we know it.

The task was to write a personal leadership story in less 250 words, which should be a distilled message to the world of your own persona. I should say it is so much easier talking at length about yourself, but when you are confined to mere 250 words, it is a mission impossible. Next, it brings you back to the same old questions: Why should anyone be led by you?

I am posting here what I wrote and submitted as my final project to the professors. Really keen on feedback!


Sergey Gorbatov

Personal Story
Strategic Communication
December 7, 2010

My most respected high school teacher told me shortly before I graduated, “Sergey, if you want to achieve something in this life, you need to be the first, the best, or different”. I did not grasp the full value of that advice at the time, but I heeded it nonetheless. Looking back (and most importantly – looking forward), I see with clarity why I am where I am and how I got here: by being the first, the best or different.

There are few things I have been the best at. Well, in relative terms, I did gain a considerable number of awards and on a number of occasions I had to blush in front of an audience receiving an accolade or praise. Being the first gained me the reputation of an innovative first-moving go-getter. However, what truly advanced me in life is being different.

A distinct way of clothing, an atypical career path, a very special circle of friends, and many other uncommon aspects, granted me that edge I could use to stand out. Yet, it has always been a unique way to look at the world, a peculiar manner of thinking and seeing the connections that elude others that have prevented me from blending with the background or getting lost in the crowd.

I bow with utmost respect to that teacher for her invaluable lesson. It is ambitiously pleasing to be the first. It is painstakingly rewarding to be the best. It is ostentatiously crucial to be different.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

10 Minutes: Call Center Reality

I am urging you to watch this short movie, it's just 15 minutes and it gets one message across: the way we communicate is changing.

The crude reality of call centers is that an operator is often taken away all latitude of decision-making or a personal impact whatsoever. Strict manuals and procedures truly convert people working there into answering machines (if you are lucky to get one after minutes of listening to options and some cheesy pseudoclassical music).

Have you noticed in the movie that actual communication starts when Nuria keeps silent? Is that the new frontier? At the same time what would be better: lose her job because she violates the prescribed procedures? Talk to the boss and get reprimanded for not dealing with it herself?

One of the aspects I have noticed about call centers is that the atmosphere there is permeated with the feeling of fear. Fear hampers productivity and creativity of the employees. Disempowerement corrupts.

Still, where do we find the balance between the efficiency and personal connection?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Limits of Online Recruitment

Internet is a reality. Blogs are now a part of business. People spend their productive work time in 2.0 applications and are getting money for it. I get it: the world has changed, but how far can we go?

I had a very interesting chat this week with Miguel Mangas, Online Marketing Director for Spain and Portugal at Meetic. Meetic is a dating site. One of those... "join thousands of singles looking for love today". Noble cause and I am sure many people did find someone to spend an evening together, a couple of months or an entire life. However, what Miguel is trying to assess now is opportunities of this web service for recruitment.

The idea is that this tool can work for fresh graduates from universities in the initial steps of their careers. Before you start using the site, you have to complete a 90-question questionnaire, which translates into your psychological profile, which is shared with you free of charge. Unlike the assessments that you go through when entering a company, it is likely that you will be more sincere and honest with yourself answering the questions in hope that this will help you meet your other half. Hence, the validity rates are high. Drawing on other personal information, such as education, areas of interest and maybe current company or at least industry, it is possible to concoct an aggregated job candidate profile, which then can be shared with recruiters.

This has not been launched yet, and my question to Miguel was whether any data privacy laws could be violated. The conversation turned onto a slippery road, and I posed another challenge: how would a person feel if s/he is selected for the job, but then every day the recruiter (whoever that might be) or even the line manager are aware of that person's "romantic profile". The third question I asked was about the company image if it resorts to such search techniques and who actually would be most interested to use this service.

That was a conversation over a glass of gin&tonic and obviously we were just swapping ideas and chatting, but the problems remains on a larger scale: how sure can we be that our personal information is not shared across the web with anyone but those we want it to be shared with? In Germany there is already a law that Facebook information cannot be used in the recruitment process. In the UK a teacher was fired for posting a private comment on Facebook. The borders between private and public are getting blurry. Obviously, it is your personal responsibility to filter what is appearing in the www, but protection from unsanctioned access to your data is an acute problem yet to be resolved.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

HR in the Luxury Industry

Yesterday I attended a conference at IE Business School boasting a loud name of "Career Development and Management in Fashion, Cosmetics and Luxury Industries". The timing of the event could not have been worse: right in the middle of my exam week and one day before the most feared Advanced Financial Management exam. Still, as curious as I am, I decided to attend, and my expectations did not tumble short. Apart from an insight into an industry which I had not had much dealings with apart from being a loyal customer, it was a great networking opportunity. Thanks to coffee breaks, workshops, round tables and the cocktail party at the end, we got a chance to rub shoulders with CEOs and HR VPs of such companies as LV, Carrera y Carrera, Loewe, Diageo, Pernod Ricard and the like. Quite a fascinating crowd, really, and refreshing as well. I caught myself musing over the peculiar combination of business savvy with an appreciation for what is beautiful to the extent of being useless from the layman's perspective.

I will just share with you the main points that I took away from the conference, in no order of importance whatsoever:

  • You must be passionate about the world of luxury. People there work for the idea and the feeling of belonging to the domain of gods, not the money. Luxury pays poorly, worse than FMCG. Luxury brands compensate with a "psychological salary" of being proud for working for that particular brand.
  • Cognitive dissonance: selling goods worth thousands of euros while getting very modest wages: potential entrants need to be well-aware and prepared for this step.
  • What they are looking for: creativity, innovation management, strategic capacity, brand management, building shared vision.
  • Where will an MBA candidate most likely start? Retail. Fresh business school graduates should not expect doing big growth projects - otherwise current CEOs will be left without jobs.
  • What value will you create working in the Luxury industry? A dream. You will give your customers a dream they will be living.
Carlos Delso, General Director of Louis Vuitton for Spain, Portugal and Marocco shared his four rules for success in the industry:
  1. Set yourself stretched goals
  2. Innovate to achieve them
  3. Know yourself a bit better each day
  4. Love your neighbor
Those might sound trite and common sense, but they are particularly important in an environment where dreams are "made and used and wasted". Otherwise, how will you be better than the others in dream creation?

Thus, if you are considering to enter the world of glamor, think well about the the first question you are likely to be asked at the interview (any interview, in fact):
Why are you here?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cost Cutting Your Talent?

There is an article in Cinco Días published today, where John M. Scott, president of KPMG Spain talks about cost cutting and possible implications it might have on the competitive advantage of an organization. "Reducing costs cannot be cutting talent," says Scott and there is little disagreement with him. There are multiple publications about cost reduction in times when bottom lines don´t look particularly rosy, and undoubtedly getting rid of headcount is the easiest way to push the fixed costs down. However, there are many examples when companies were able to stay close to their proclamations of "people are our greatest asset" without actually divesting of that very asset at the first sight of an approaching storm. Southwestern Airlines is one of the best example, I think, and there are many others that would explore a multitude of other opportunities before they say  good-bye to their staff.

Following Scott in his speech, he claims that this "passivity" of not being able to overcome tough economic problems by other means than letting go of people is "losing the opportunity to face the future". In fact, what will the companies do when the markets pick up? Recruit again? Well, as an old Latin proverb goes, Even a healed wound leaves a scar (free translation of vulnus sanatum est, cicatrix manet :)

What will happen if you "divest of your most valuable asset" and your competitors will not? In any business school you will hear that the only true competitive advantage is your people. Cannot agree more - look at the heading of my blog. Still, I guess we have seen too many people lose their jobs this last crisis. Oops, sorry, I am not supposed to say the word "crisis"... financial downturn! or yet better - economic slowdown.

But - there is a worrying thing that Mr Scott is saying, "I have not seen in Europe the willingness, the ambition that is there among the youngsters of India for the past at least ten years". So, the developing world is eagerly looking towards the West, wishing for nothing else but for jobs to be cut, because we all know where those jobs will be migrating. I do not wish to go into the issues of outsourcing here, but the point is clear: by letting your people go, you are letting go of your business, and most likely... it is not coming back.

Full article:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Know Your Place!

OK, this is seriously funny. It would have been even funnier if it were not sad...

Figuratively speaking, how frequent are such situations when the distance between the boss and the subordinates are so great? Here are are talking about two types of distances: psychological and physical. I won't try discuss the relational aspects in the workplace when things go sour or don't start well from the very beginning. But how people physically sit in the office plays a tremendous role.

It is always a battle. Those who potentially can get an office will always say that they need to work with confidential information and it would be madness for them to sit in the "monkey area". Those who don't know better will advocate that getting their superviser closer would be a good idea, because at least they won't have to go far to get a signature or a piece of advice.

When I first traveled to Shell Exploration & Production HQ in Rijswijk, the Netherlands, I was amazed to see Vice Presidents sitting in open space. It really works. The trick is, of course, not to start spending your days in a meeting room, transforming it into a permanent office. Another fallacy many managers forced to sit with their subordinates commit is picking a corner desk or building up a wall made of a credenza with beautiful flowers and a book rack. The idea of openness gets a bit diluted in that case...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Value of an MBA Program

Continuing the train of thought I started a few months ago, I keep thinking about the value of an MBA program. This is a largely introspective exercise, since I am right in the middle of one, which I am doing at IE Business School. As ill (good?) luck would have it, I joined the rows of knowledge-eager business students right after the credit crunch (I am now way too wary of using the word "crisis"), so there was no shortage of criticism targeted at business schools, those who teach there, those who study there, and those who hire the executive brains paying a pretty penny for that.

The article that has grabbed my attention recently was published in HBR in July-August this year, "No, Management Is Not A Profession". I was amazed how much I was in agreement with the author and how much his thoughts were resonating in my head. The main topic of the article can be sort of guesses from its title - if management is not a profession, why do we sent people to business schools and what exactly do they learn there?

Of course, business ethics issues could not have been avoided and I have already written on that. True professions have Codes of Conduct and you can lose your affiliation to, let's say, CFA if you break its Code. In my younger years, I used to be a proctor at CFA exams, overseeing hundreds of accountants writing their Level 1, 2 and (just a handful) Level 3 CFA exams. Each one of them knew that should they be caught cheating, they would never see those tests again, no matter how hard they had tried. Compared to the MBA graduate, what would happen if s/he decides to ship an order earlier to record the sales in the current quarter to "massage" the financials? Not much, huh? Thus, business schools are not professional schools.

The grading systems at business schools are intended to promote collaboration and the spirit of cooperation. What happens in reality is that I have never seen fiercer competition outside of my school. Well, maybe a cock fight would snatch the prize, but the "mighty curve" imposing normal distribution means that only two people out of the entire class will get an A, so what cooperation are we talking about here exactly? The article also states that "an academic grading system cannot reliably predict managerial ability... If a business school is a competitive environment, in which a myth is maintained that the best future business leaders will score the highest grades, dysfunctional behavior inevitably results". At the same time, the big consultancy firms are not considering candidates with GPAs lower than a certain level. Are businesses also to blame for the skews in the management eduction systems? For me, the answer is clearly "yes".

Faculty members also came under attack of the author. He claims that education happens in silos, just like in the real business. A Marketing professor does not know what happens in the HR class, and neither of them has any idea what is being taught in Supply Chain Management. So integration is not taught, but learnt. It has to happen in the minds of students (somehow), because it definitely is not happening in practice. The Yale School of Management has pioneered integrated classes, but not many schools have followed suit.

So the old maxim holds true, "The manager is a jack-of-all-trades and master of none" simply because there is no one task to master. The "essence of an MBA resides in not in professional training but in the broader experience of the business school as a learning environment". I guess that is the reason I have such a hard time explaining to my parents what I learn here in Madrid: business schools are not professional schools but rather incubators for business leadership.

Friday, November 12, 2010

IE International MBA Ranked 3rd by Bloomberg Businessweek!

Great news! Well-done, IE! Feels good to study here :)


IE Business School Is Third in Bloomberg Businessweek Ranking of Non-US schools

Madrid, 12 November 2010 - IE Business School is No. 3 in the Bloomberg Businessweek 2010 ranking of international business schools, published every two years. 
The International MBA at IE Business School is one of the most diverse programs in the world. With more than 80 nationalities on campus, and at least 50 in any given class, IE provides a truly multicultural environment for International MBA students - who learn not just from faculty but also their classmates of varied educational, professional, and social backgrounds.
The authors of the ranking noted that, thanks to the financial crisis, MBA employment has been of top concern for students and business schools alike. To that point, IE International MBAs have experienced an improvement in the job market over the past year, with 89 percent of the class of 2009 accepting a job offer within three months of graduation in a wide range of industries, functional areas, and countries. 
"After two years of a sluggish job market, 2010 has thus far brought indications of recovery for MBA graduates seeking jobs," said Fernanda Diaz Cascallar, Director of Recruiters Relations at IE.  "Opportunities for IE Business School students and alumni are up compared to last year, especially in the markets and industries that were more affected during the recession - for example, the United States and Europe in terms of regions, and consulting and financial services in regards to industries."
Bloomberg Businessweek's ranking of full-time MBA programs is based on three elements: a survey of newly minted MBAs, a poll of corporate recruiters, and an evaluation of faculty research output.  The MBA survey, which measures satisfaction with all aspects of the business school experience, is combined with two previous MBA surveys.  The corporate poll, which asks recruiters to identify the schools that produce the best graduates, is also combined with two previous recruiter surveys.  Finally,Bloomberg Businessweek tallies the number of articles published by each school's faculty in top 20 journals and reviews of their books in three national publications.  The total for faculty size is then adjusted and an intellectual-capital rating is assigned for each school.  The MBA surveys and the recruiter polls each contribute 45 percent to the final ranking, with the intellectual-capital ranking contributing the final ten percent.
In addition to this recent recognition, IE Business School's Executive MBA program is ranked 1st in Europe as well as 6th worldwide by Bloomberg Businessweek ranked 2nd in Europe and 7th worldwide by the Financial Times The School is also ranked 1st worldwide in The Economists' Distance Learning International Executive MBA Ranking.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What sort of degree is an MBA?

I get a strong impression that an MBA is an "oh, crap!!!" type of an academic qualification, meaning that the demand for MBA programs rises drastically in the periods of economic downturns, credit crises and similar societal calamities that leave lots of young (?), promising (?) and bright (?) professionals (?) out of job, who flock towards the admission offices of the MBA schools:
The QS MBA employer survey in 2010/11 reveals a surge in employer demand for MBAs in emerging markets (a 32% increase in MBA demand is reported in Asia-Pacific in 2010), combined with a gradual recovery in demand in both Europe (MBA demand up 3%) and North America (MBA demand up 9%). This follows a period of hiring cutbacks during the credit crunch. (Source: TopMBA)
Now: if that talent (nearly "corporate property", often referred to as "blue blood", "walking on water" or "Mighty But Arrogant") is so valuable, why do they find themselves on the other side of the door? Since when do those high-flyers belong to the "at-risk" category?

Tongue-in-cheek, but I can say that spending one or two years at the student desk and learning the one big lesson of "it depends" and demanding a twofold salary increase is slightly overdoing it, no? What is the magic trick of the degree? Am I a bad MBA student?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Managing Generation Y

As Generation Y begin to represent a greater percentage of the workforce, there is a need for management to evolve to suit them
An interesting and acute article at TopMBA this week

A report published in September 2010 has highlighted the need for management practises to develop in order to suit a growing percentage of Generation Y in the workforce.
The Future of Work, produced by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) found that Generation Y (15 to 30 year olds, born between 1980 and 1995) expect greater freedom in their working environment. If they are afforded that freedom, the report suggests they become more committed, and are more likely to work harder, for longer.

Generation Y’s expectations

“The latest working generation, Generation Y is different to previous generations (Generation X and the Baby Boomers) in their expectations and assumptions,” concludes the IPA’s report. “They don’t want the long-hours culture of presenteeism and working at the same desk.
“They are confident with technology and are comfortable overlapping work and life. They can be flexible if they are offered flexibility in return otherwise they are likely to leave.”
Dr Linda Ronnie, senior lecturer in organizational behaviour and people management at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Graduate School of Business agrees with the report’s findings, explaining to that Generation Y workers tend to seek a “a clear career trajectory and development plan,” while completing work that they see as challenging and meaningful.
“In return, Generation Y employees expect the work environment to provide an opportunity for them to apply their skills and for their managers to provide ongoing feedback and support. While these expectations are potentially true for every employee, they are particularly sought by Generation Yers,” Ronnie says.

Advances in technology

Huge advances in technology have defined Generation Y’s youth, encouraging them to reject boredom at home and in the workplace. As a result, employees have become more demanding in the tasks they are given, as they are motivated by personal interest in the work they do explains Dr Katie Best, a Generation Y specialist and director of MBA programs at the private BBP Business School in London.
“Generation Yers are exceptional multi-taskers... they’ve been brought up in the Microsoft Windows world, where you have multiple things on the go at once, but their bosses still think in a very linear fashion. By setting them multiple complex tasks all at once, you’ll get more out of them and get tangible results,” Best claims.
The need for companies to change the way they manage their staff is becoming more and more urgent, as Generation Y grow older and represent a higher proportion of the workers.
“If companies don’t work out how to use them correctly, they will be heading for the wall, because with the oldest of the generation now at 29, they are forming an increasingly large part of the workforce,” says Best. “Balancing the aspirations of the Generation Y employee will re-order the perception of them from ‘problem child’ into ‘valuable employee’.”

MBA programs are evolving

Ronnie notes that the changing ideals of differing generations has also contributed to the evolution of UCT’s MBA program, resulting in greater emphasis on global and ethical management practices.
“The program has shifted as a result of the kind of student we are now teaching,” says Ronnie. “From a program perspective, we are more aware now of the need for ethical leadership for example and our courses reflect that. With our culturally diverse workforce, creating an inclusive environment for employees to grow and flourish is essential and so, for example, this aspect of management is key in my own and other courses.”

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Organizational Constellations

The topic of organizational constellations sounds stellar and somewhat removed from the mundane problems we are surrounded by every day of our lives. Yet, you will be surprised how practical and applicable this change management tool can be in your professional or personal setting. IE HR Club organized a workshop last week to introduce the students and alumni to the relatively new organizational development technique - Organizational Constellations. More than 25 people attended, which, as I understood, was already a bit too much for this type of an intervention, but it was an excellent setup for academic purposes.

First of all, fundamentals:

  • a constellation is a system (small wonder, the father of the methodology being German...)
  • the roots go back to the tribal ways of solving problems, it is intuitive and relationship-based.
  • organizations are governed by the laws of a family system, the laws of give-and-take.
  • the concept of belonging (pertenencia) is pivotal - who belongs to a particular constellation? The major difference between an organization and a family is that unlike kinship, belonging to other social structures is voluntary.
  • "what happens in Togo, stays in Togo". Confidentiality is essential to make sure there is enough trust between the participants to start the energy flowing.
After a short theoretical introduction, we moved to the most interesting: mapping out our own constellations, using specific symbols for males, females and events. The key characteristic of the picture is in which direction the constellation members are looking. The term in Spanish is radiografía,  not sure what the appropriate equivalent in English would be, but I think I will not be far away from the truth if we call it a radiogram. One of the participants was asked to draw the picture on the board and then... he was asked to substitute the drawn figures on the board with live people in the class, making sure that they are arranged in exactly the same formation as the sketch.

The next step was to ask the "models" how they felt in those positions and after that allow them to change places, so that they feel more comfortable. That provided the grounds for constructive dialogue around the actual problems within the team, even though none of the "models" was familiar with the situation. That proved that the concept really worked and the participants were truly amazed by the energy created by this seemingly simple exercise.

This can serve as the initial phase in group coaching. There are many modifications of the approach - new elements can be added into the system (e.g. a client or a task). What is critical to understand is that everyone has his or her perspective on what is happening in the organization and no one person has the whole picture. Organizational Constellations therefore is another tool to build a shared vision in a company - a task so many fail to achieve.

For those who are interested, here are the short bios of the speakers (sorry, in Spanish):
MONICA LARRABEITI es actualmente Coach Personal, Ejecutivo, de Relaciones y Equipos. Tiene consulta propia además de colaborar con varias empresas, entre ellas “Empresas con AlmaÒ”, en proyectos de coaching tanto individual como de equipos, trabajando en sectores tan diversos como telecomunicaciones, consultoras, sector inmobiliario, farmacéutico y petroquímico. Ha hecho coaching tanto a miembros de comités de dirección como mandos intermedios para temas de gestión de equipos, conciliación laboral, evaluación de desempeño, cambios de trabajo como ascensos o despidos etc. En 2004 conoció las Constelaciones Familiares de la mano de Svagito Liebermaster y desde entonces ha continuado ampliado su conocimiento de esta herramienta y empleándola con éxito en su trabajo. Monica es Licenciada en Ciencias Económicas y Empresariales por la Universidad de Deusto y anteriormente trabajo durante 16 años en Procter & Gamble

PILAR PARDO CEMBRANO, coach y consultora, se define como el Alma Mater de “Empresas Con AlmaÒ”. Su continua inquietud sobre el desarrollo de las organizaciones con el objetivo de mejorar su eficiencia, mejorando también la integración de la vida personal y laboral le lleva a fundar “Empresas Con AlmaÒ” con el propósito de proporcionar un servicio integral a aquellas empresas que entiendan que las personas son parte fundamental de su éxito y quieran hacer de ello su ventaja competitiva. Para ello utiliza además de su experiencia profesional, estudió Ingeniería Industrial y trabajo en Procter & Gamble durante mas de 13 años en áreas tan diversas como Marketing, Logística, Ingeniería y Producción en varios países, sus estudios sobre Liderazgo, Constelaciones tanto Familiares como Organizacionales, PNL y Consultoría Sistémica entre otros. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Why I decided against DHL Inhouse Consulting

In August I wrote a blogpost about my experience of getting through the calamities of MBA internship program at DHL Inhouse Consulting ( After than I had two months of serious considerations whether to accept or reject the offer. I am extremely grateful to DHL for allowing me to take so much time for the decision.

Being a properly groomed IE Business School MBA student, I started with a SWOT analysis. That did not get me far. The advantages and disadvantages are too close together. So I decided to try the six thinking hats. That helped me a bit more, particularly because it incorporated my attitudes towards the colder climates. Basically, here are the trade-offs I would have been facing if I decided for the DHL internship:

  • missing my electives in the 4th term
  • missing my friends and Madrid fun
  • chances of missing the one-week exchange program (most likely in Singapore)
I was not very much concerned about the costs, because the salary and housing allowance would have leveled off the expenses of keeping two apartments in two different countries. I was more preoccupied with the issue of what I was going to be doing as a Consulting intern. Making coffee? Drafting spreadsheets? Crunching numbers? I was not flattering myself with ideas of being allowed anywhere close to the clients if I were were only for an 8-week internship, and that really tipped the scales more towards declining the offer.

The final argument that won my internal battle was that I got accepted for the IE Consulting Project under the guidance of my Operations Management professor, Dr. Amrou Awaysheh. This looks much more promising, working with Unilever and Accenture on actual projects in three different areas: Operations, Strategy or CSR.

Thus, I declined the DHL offer, even though it was not easy to do and now I am really looking forward to the IE Consulting Project and our work together on some real business!!!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Auditorio Nacional needs better HR

Last weekend my friend and I went to Auditorio Nacional in Madrid to see the Best of Broadway with the National Choir and Orchestra of Spain. That was my first time at the Auditorio and obviously I was very excited. The building smelled of the 80s and the decor was following suit, but that´s a side thought.

The program included some of my favorite pieces, such as Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Night and Day, I Could Have Danced All Night, Stars, etc. Naturally, my spirits and expectations were high and, unfortunately, not supported by harder spirits, pardon the pun. The soloists were great, no doubt about that. Jennifer Larmore, for instance, is a world'renowned mezzo-soprano, singing the closing song at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. However, when she was doing I Feel Pretty, I was not feeling pretty at all. I mean, I enjoyed her voice and the performance, but something was missing. I realized later what exactly. Maria is a young girl, innocent of life and plentiful of hopes. When you give that part to an opera diva, the result is not pretty.

It happens a lot: the square peg and the round hole problem. More often than you think. Great people get hired for jobs, which are not suitable for them. The philosophy is like with arranged marriages: it's gonna work. Well, it does not. It's better to have an average candidate for a suitable job that a top performer for the same job, but in which he does not fit. Normally, those employees leave maximum after a year.

Here's the rub: when you see talent, you should grab it, but what should you do if there is no suitable role for that person? We are running into the mandate to hire problem, when a recruiter is given the authority to hire a high-potential candidate on the spot or within a very short period of time like three days, but how do we approach the headache of the business HR, who now needs to stick that brilliant candidate somewhere? The jury is still out on this one...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Avoid stress!

A highly moralistic story, serving us as a reminder that excessive stress is detrimental to our health ;)

One day a man was sitting in his office on the 19th floor of a building.

A man came running into his office and shouted, "John, your daughter, Anna just died in an accident right opposite this building"

The gentleman was in panic. Not knowing what to do, he jumped out through his office window.

While coming down, when he was near the 14th floor he remembered he didn't have a daughter named Anna.

When he was near the 7th floor, he remembered he was not married yet.

When he was about to hit the ground he remembered he was not John.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010


A few days ago someone asked me what coaching was about. I gave an explanation through the hackneyed metaphor of the mirror that we as coaches are holding in front of the coachee, which is true and highly accurate. One aspect that it is lacking is the courage it takes to look into the mirror and face your fears.

This video is an EXCELLENT demonstration of the powerful effect coaching can have on your self-growth and motivation:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Little Prince in the Business Context

I am not going senile or in any other way melodramatic. There is a reason why I want to talk about one of the greatest children's books of all times (the greatest is Alice in Wonderland, of course) and not merely point out the merits of this literary work, but also link its ideas to the context or present-day organizations and every-day lives.

The Little Prince used to be a book I truly loved as a kid, but I guess I did not understand it fully then. A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine brought me a collector's edition as a present and I duly read it once again. As I was reading, I saw the new possible interpretations, the deeper meaning of the metaphors, characters and words. Well, this is not Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky: the imagery and symbolism of The Little Prince are easier to grasp, and maybe this is what makes the book attractive to so many people.

I am going to give you five quotes from The Little Prince and some thoughts of mine how those phrases can be interpreted in an organizational context:
    The Little Prince
  1. "Beware of baobabs": as you remember, el Principito (how they call him in Spanish) took great care of pulling out the weeds on his planet. If you don't tackle them when they are young, innocent-looking and fragile, they will soon grow into mighty baobabs and will destroy your little planet with their roots. Deviant behaviors in a company may as well crystallize into mentality sets and get entrenched in the company culture. Make sure you recognize them from the good "plants" and pull those out as early as possible.
  2. "Grown-ups like numbers": yes, the bottom-line is important, but it is not the only thing that matters. Look beyond numbers and you will see the intangible elements of the business: sometimes it is better to give up some part of the profits to gain something else instead.
  3. "The most important things are invisible to the eyes": have you even seen "culture"? Or maybe "motivation"? How do you convince the Board of Directors that investments into the employee satisfaction, morale and embeddedness are actually critical to the company's success? Going further, how do you measure them? The invisibility and intangibility of the matters that the HR professionals have to deal with make this job both difficult and exciting at the same time.
  4. "You are responsible forever for those you have tamed": well, "forever" would be a strong word when we talk about an organizational life, but once you employ someone, start managing a person or a team, engage in a coaching/mentorship relation, you are accountable for their well-being. Abandoning or treating your employees with disrespect is like throwing your pet puppy into the street because you don't like the way it smells.
  5. "People are never happy where they are": this was the signal man's phrase, who was managing the express trains carrying many people there and back, who were always on the go, not sure where they wanted to be. I am no clairvoyant, but even before you so an employee satisfaction survey at any given organization, I can tell you that the three lowest scores will be salary, training and communication. People have a natural tendency to complain about their lives even if there is nothing wrong with them. Human nature is complicated.
Finally, I would like to leave you with another quote from The Little Prince. I hope you have warm recollections of the book and will read it once again:

"Eyes are blind. You have to seek with the heart"

Monday, October 18, 2010

Business for the Greater Good

According to the video above, productivity goes up by 40% when employees have the feeling they work for something greater than financial results. This study, done by the Notre Dame University, corroborates the idea that financial motivation is sometimes not the most essential part of the package. I would argue that in the majority of cases it is not. No doubt, money is important and there are many, who are primarily driven by the financial gain: a vivid illustration to that would be the recent financial crisis, a Shell reserves overstatement scandal, Parmalat or Enron fairy tales. It is not surprising that the human greed dripping from the top surprisingly quickly permeates the very essence of the companies.

Still, according to research, financial motivation increases employee performance for the period up to 6 months. What then? Then comes the non-tangible part of the rewards package, such as the corporate culture, or access to development opportunities, or the employer image, or an ability to do something that will make this world a better place.

No matter how much money British-American Tobacco are going to put in their employer brand campaign, it will forever bear the stamp of "smoking kills" over its shiny corporate logo. I am not sure how people working for them feel, but I know for sure that I would not enjoy contributing to the success of a company that is (indirectly) responsible for lungs cancer of thousands of people. Conversely, working for a "green" company, for instance, would make me want to achieve more, make an effort, go an extra mile... Call me an incorrigible romantic or a fool, but pay goes beyond the dollar.


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