Monday, May 31, 2010

Learning to Fly

Jonathan Livingston Seagull’I suspect all of us who visit the worlds of Jonathan Seagull will never want to return.’

ERNEST K. GANN, author of The High and The Mighty

How many JL Seagulls are there? Tens? Hundreds? Thousands? Eager for the thrill of breaking through. Flying higher. Trying harder. "The gull sees farthest who flies highest." Where is that goal you are striving for? Who is standing next to you to ensure you get there? Jonathan had Sullivan to keep him on the course, to motivate and support, to give tips and show the greater order of things. Alexander the Great had Aristotle. Duke had Coach K, much more than a basketball teacher. Can you come up with an example when someone has achieved greatness without really having a mentor nearby? 

Some are afraid to venture there, being afraid of failure. Fear of failure is ultimately the greatest damage a person can do to himself. “Each of us is in truth an idea of the Great Gull, an unlimited idea of freedom,” says Richard Bach. The resources are within: we only need to tap at the right door somewhere deep inside. Who will help you do that? 

Yes, I am advocating coaching. It might sound like selling, but I don't have to do it, because everyone realizes the need, and there is much more demand than supply when it comes to good coaches. And while you are ruminating the options, here is some beautiful Neil Diamond music, inspired by Jonathan Livingstone Seagull:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Why Coaching?

Only once or twice in my life I met people who claimed that they do not need to be coached (the sad part of it is that, in fact, it means they NEED to be coached big time!). Everyone can and will benefit from coaching. No matter what you do, what your needs are or where you might be moving towards in your life and career. You want to make better 5-point shots? A coach will help you. Will you be able to be the next Michael Jordan? That depends on your current abilities, potential, determination and the effort you will put in, but no possibilities should be ruled out, as most often we are unaware of our own abilities.

Think about the Johari window. Exploring what you already know about yourself is the first step in the coaching process. Later, a talented coach will ensure that you explore all four quadrants and expand the arena to the extend possible.

Isn't knowing yourself a strong impetus in itself to engage in a coaching relationship. Thousands of years back people were already concerned about exploring their inner selves and launching on the journey of personal development. Ancient Greeks knew better than divination (today's Greeks should learn from their ancestors, by the way, not to find themselves in bad-smelling situations of national debt the size of Texas) - remember what was written on the portico of the Delphi temple?

If that is not enough, contemplate the ideas presented in this short clip about life coaching. I am sure everyone will be able to pick at least one reason why he or she should challenge themselves.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Social Networks

What is it today with all these Web 2.0 novelties? The world is going crazy. Think a couple of years back, when there was no Facebook, or Twitter, or Tuenti, or LinkedIn. What did we do? Right - we went out and met our friends, or called them up on the phone. And those were real friends. I am looking at my friends count on Facebook, which is already over 400 and I am thinking - are they real friends or some type of cyber-perversion of reality and they don't exist in real life?

You are somehow forced into that vertigo of social networks and the institutions you belong to force you, either implicitly (you are missing out of events or you might find everyone talking about something you have no idea about because you are not privy to that particular Facebook group) or explicitly, like this announcement for all IE students/professors/affiliates to join whatever social networks available:

LinkedIn has integrated the TypePad application, which reposts your blogs onto the home LinkedIn page, so that you can see your connections' new blogs posts when you sign in. Information is being spread so rapidly that it feels like it a virus. I start thinking whether the value of the information itself then gets eroded. What's the point of possessing a piece of information if it is shared with the whole world and therefore no longer can be used as your competitive advantage. I am going off on a tangent here and maybe it is worthwhile to talk about differences between information as "stuff" and information as "ideas" and their respective weight. Still, coming back to the topic of this post, why does information gets spread so rapidly across the network?

Let's make an experiment - watch the following video and tell me (honestly!): would you want to forward it onto your friends?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Coaching: 5 Steps

In this short animated (very easy to follow) video you can observe all the basic steps of good coaching:

- engagement
- vision
- plan
- implementation
- success & disengagement

Simplistic as it may be, that it how the coaching process works. The metaphors actually work: it is a coach like in a sport (hence the baseball cap), there is a toolbox with all sorts of helpful techniques (for instance, coaches may use visualizations, affirmations, readings, experiments, surveys, etc), the allegorical safety net (so the coach should never allow the coachee to fail; it might erode the coaching relationship and undermine the self-esteem), and yes - often it is one step at a time.

One of the ideas that I have for the HR Club at IE is creating a coaching network. It is still at the conception stage, but I feel that something truly great and wonderful can come out of it. I will keep you posted. Whoever you are :)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Good and Evil

I recall that when I was considering applying to Moscow State University, part of the the entrance exam in Philosophy was: the examiner placed a black cube in front of the audience and asked the applicants to write down as many arguments that the cube was black as they could. In the middle of the exam he reversed the task. Now they had to prove that the cube was white.

I think that it is one of the greatest misconceptions of our civilization that things have to be presented in a binary code: one or zero, yes or no. What if it is both? One of the aspects I love about my job is that in most cases there is no right or wrong answer. Humans are more complex that digits or logical constraints. You cannot program someone or describe a personality in terms of objective functions and decision variables.

This song from one of my favorite musicals (Jeckyll and Hyde) speaks directly to the issue of what is good and bad, right and wrong, black and white:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sticks and carrots

An amazing animated presentation on motivation that defies economic postulates of more money -> better performance. Can't agree more!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Unconventional Job Search

Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your CareerHere are nine unconventional strategies for reinventing your career taken from the famous book by Herminia Ibarra “Working Identity - Nine Unconventional Strategies For Reinventing Your Career”.

The approach is truly unconventional and often goes against common perceptions of how this world operates. In certain aspects there are linkages with Margaret Wheatley. Proposed learning style is highly practical:  act, then reflect; flirt with your selves; live the contradictions; make big change in small steps; experiment with new roles; find people who are what you want to be; don't wait for a catalyst; step back periodically but not for too long; and seize windows of opportunity.

Unconventional strategy 1:  Act your way into a new way of thinking and being. You cannot discover yourself by introspection.

Start by changing what you do. Try different paths. Take action, and then use the feedback from your actions to figure out what you think, feel, and want. Don't try to analyze or plan your way into a new career. Conventional strategies advocated by self-assessment manuals and traditional career counselors would have you start by looking inside. Start instead by stepping out. Be attentive to what each step teaches you, and make sure that each step helps you take the next.

Unconventional strategy 2: Stop trying to find your one true self. Focus your attention on which of your many possible selves you want to test and learn more about.

Reflection is important. But we can use it as a defense against testing reality; reflecting on who we are is less important than probing whether we really want what we think we want. Acting in the world gives us the opportunity to see our selves through our behaviors and allows us to adjust our expectations as we learn. In failing to act, we hide from ourselves.

Unconventional strategy 3: Allow yourself a transition period in which it is okay to oscillate between holding on and letting go. Better to live the contradictions than to come to a premature resolution.

Forget about moving in a straight line.
—Herminia Ibarra
The years preceding a career change necessarily involve difficulty, turmoil, confusion, and uncertainty. One of the hardest tasks of reinvention is staying the course when it feels like you are coming undone. Unfortunately, there is no alternative but foreclosure—retreating from change either by staying put or taking the wrong next job. Watch out for decisions made in haste, especially when it comes to unsolicited offers. It takes a while to move from old to new. Those who try to short-circuit the process often just end up taking longer.

Unconventional strategy 4: Resist the temptation to start by making a big decision that will change everything in one fell swoop. Use a strategy of small wins, in which incremental gains lead you to more profound changes in the basic assumptions that define your work and life. Accept the crooked path.

Small steps lead to big changes, so don't waste time, energy, and money on finding the "answer" or the "lever" that, when pushed, will have dramatic effects. Almost no one gets change right on the first try. Forget about moving in a straight line. You will probably have to cycle through a few times, letting what you learn inform the next cycle. You will know that you are learning at a deeper level when you start to question what aspects of your life apart from your job also need changing.

Unconventional strategy 5: Identify projects that can help you get a feel for a new line of work or style of working. Try to do these as extracurricular activities or parallel paths so that you can experiment seriously without making a commitment.

Think in terms of side projects and temporary assignments, not binding decisions. Pursue these activities seriously, but delay commitment. Slowly ascertain your enduring values and preferences, what makes you unique in the world. Just make sure that you vary your experiments, so that you can compare and contrast experiences before you narrow your options.

Unconventional strategy 6: Don't just focus on the work. Find people who are what you want to be and who can provide support for the transition. But don't expect to find them in your same old social circles.

Don't try to analyze or plan your way into a new career.
—Herminia Ibarra
Break out of your established network. Branch out. Look for role models—people who give you glimpses of what you might become and who are living examples of different ways of working and living. Most of us seek to change not only what we do; we also aspire to work with people we like and respect and with whom we enjoy spending our precious time.

Unconventional strategy 7: Don't wait for a cataclysmic moment when the truth is revealed. Use everyday occurrences to find meaning in the changes you are going through. Practice telling and retelling your story. Over time, it will clarify.

Major career transitions take three to five years. The big "turning point," if there is one, tends to come late in the story. In the interim, make use of anything as a trigger. Don't wait for a catalyst. What you make of events is more important than the events themselves. Take advantage of whatever life sends your way to revise, or at least reconsider, your story. Practice telling it in different ways to different people, in much the same way you would revise a résumé and cover letter for different jobs. But don't just tell the story to a friendly audience; try it out on skeptics. And don't be disturbed when the story changes along the way.

Unconventional strategy 8: Step back. But not for too long.

When you get stuck and are short on insight, take time to step back from the fray to reflect on how and why you are changing. Even as short a break as a day's hike in the country can remove the blinders of habit. But don't stay gone too long, or it will be hard to reel yourself back in. Only through interaction and active engagement in the real world do we discover ourselves.

Unconventional strategy 9: Change happens in bursts and starts. There are times when you are open to big change and times when you are not. Seize opportunities.

Windows of opportunity open and close back up again. We go through periods when we are highly receptive to major change and periods when even incremental deviations from "the plan" are hard to tolerate. Take advantage of any natural windows (e.g., the period just after an educational program or assuming a new position; a milestone birthday) to start off on the right foot. Communicate to others that you have changed (and will be making more changes). Watch out for the insidious effect of old routines. Progress can be served by hanging in limbo, asking questions, allowing time and space to linger between identities. But don't let unanswered questions bog you down; move on, even if to an interim commitment.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Isn't it BEEutiful?

For those of you who do not know, BEE stands for Black Economic Empowerment, which is a South African program to ensure inclusion of previously disadvantaged categories of population of South Africa into the economy. One of the pillars of BEE (or BBBEE - Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment, since the narrow approach was criticized for focusing only on equity ownership) is Employment Equity (EE). EE requires all companies to report annually on their progress in terms of hiring black employees (by "black" we mean Asian, Black, Colored and Indians), females and people with disabilities. The BBBEE rating affects your ability to do business with other companies and the government. It makes sense. If I have a low rating (e.g. Level 5), by dealing with me your rating will go down as well, while if you choose a Level 3 contributor (for example), you will gain points. Thus, companies are more interested in ABCs (Asians, Blacks, Coloreds + Indians) than in Whites or (God forbid) - foreigners. Foreigners are categorized under the category "Others" and are generally sneered at by the SA Department of Labor.

Having given this preamble, how do you think I felt today when His Excellency SA Ambassador for Spain invited all the International MBA students to come and work in South Africa? At first I wanted to ask him again whether that was what he actually meant. However, as he progressed through his presentation, he mentioned that crime in South Africa is no longer a major issue, and 95% of crimes are domestic, so there is nothing to worry about for foreign visitors. At that point I realized that any further discourse would be at least unproductive.

Never liked politicians.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I am the Captain of My Soul: Invictus

Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a NationTomorrow I am meeting the South African ambassador at an event organized by IE and John Carlin also will be attending. I am trying to answer the question truthfully: whom am I more excited to meet. So far, the score for Mr Ambassador is not favorable.

I knew the poem Invictus before the book came out. It talks straight to you, makes you feel empowered, shows you a higher purpose, reveals the connections that complete the picture of the world. I liked the example from Latter Days, when Aaron talks about looking at newspaper pictures from a very close distance, with your nose touching the paper. Then it is nothing more but a constellation of dots not making any sense. However, should you look at it from a distance, it all fits into a beautiful design. That is exactly how I feel about this poem. Inspiring. Motivational. Strong.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

InvictusI have to confess. Last year (I even remember the date - December 26th 2009) when I was watching the movie Invictus, I could not help shedding a tear or two. And it is not because Matt Damon trying to fake an Afrikaans accept is extremely pathetic and funny, but because the message in the film is so powerful. Forgiveness starts here. Forgiveness starts with you. Morgan Freedman says, "Wat is verby, is verby" (what's in the past, is in the past). How achievable is that in reality? You can succeed in uniting the nation in one frenzy stricken event back in 1995. What Nelson Mandela did for the country can never be duly appreciated. His personal example was the shining beacon for millions of those who were doubting, who were angry, who were afraid - all to be later united into the Rainbow Nation.

Still, the April 2010 events and the murder of Eugene Terre'Blanche proved that there is a long way to go still. Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom was in fact only the first step. The step of truly inspirational leadership. The step of courage. The step of self-sacrifice. 

Do they teach self-sacrifice in business schools these days?

Sorry, Your Company Does Not Suit My Personality

What are your main concerns when buying a pair of jeans apart from shooing away the obtrusive sales assistant trying to get into the cabin with you to make sure the sale happens? Obviously, the fit. Not too baggy, not too flashy, not too dull, not too middle-class, not too torn, not too tight - in short, there are always considerations of suitability, and normally (well, I don't know how the shopping process works for others) I can tell straight away if it is a buy or not for me. In other words, a piece of clothing must feel like it belongs to me from the moment I lay my eyes on it and tried it on.

What are your main concerns when looking for a job? Same wide range of criteria? How do you explain to a recruiter what sort of company you would like to work for? Remember: most recruiters have the enthusiasm of a dead fish and the attention span of a tea spoon, so long-winded life stories would be spoiled on them. It is not because they are not nice people, but think of running over 10 interviews a day on 10 cups of strong coffee. Correct - very soon you become immune to any caffeine containing products.

Marketing professor Jennifer Aaker did some research on brand personalities. I can see clear connections how her findings can be applied to job hunting. Try to figure out, which of the following five categories you belong to:

  • sincerity (down to earth, honest, wholesome and cheerful)
  • excitement (daring, spirited, imaginative and up to date)
  • competence (reliable, intelligent and successful)
  • sophistication (upper class and charming)
  • ruggedness (outdoorsy and tough)
If we were trying to match personality traits with the company cultures, "sincerity" types would, probably, be most NGOs (Red Cross, Doctors without Borders), small production industries, farming, social entrepreneurship options. If you are "sophisticated and charming", then think in line with luxury, hospitality or entertainment and media industries. Why not work for big maisons dealing with such brands as Moet or Cartier? (just checking their websites - ag, the design and style - makes me want to update my resume!) It is not always the case that the brand and the job itself actually coincide in their brand personality. For instance, working for MTV as an Accounts Payable assistant won't get you much closer to the stars on the red carpet.

Something that Jennifer Aaker did not mention is the rise of LOHAS (in Russian this abbreviation has a funny connotation, not always far away from what it actually means though). LOHAS stands for lifestyles of health and sustainability. Having captured over EUR 375 bln of the annual market segment, it is a force to be reckoned with. Specially, when you are a talent manager and you see that your company has little to offer those who are "green", "fit" and "world peace"? Are you one of those by any chance? I am definitely pro-fitness and flexible life-style, so shift-work is a gross personality mismatch for me.

Next time you are buying a pair of pants or deciding on a haircut, spend some time thinking - are you choosing a place to work in the same fashion?

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Today I learnt a new word - "to schmooze". Urban dictionary, blog or graffiti - I would not be surprised, but I came across the tactic in one of the Vault Guides, which makes me believe I should spend some time researching the concept. In the meantime, this is a brief intro to schmoozing from Yahoo:


You're probably familiar with the necessity of networking in advancing your career. But how well you network often depends on how well you schmooze.
Successful schmoozing isn't glad-handing or insincere sucking up -- although expressing sincere admiration can be an important schmooze tactic. Instead, it's the grease that starts the wheels of networking, according to Susan RoAne, author of "How to Work a Room."

"Schmoozing is nothing more than making casual, easygoing conversation with strangers," RoAne tells Yahoo! HotJobs. "Networking is the art of the follow-up. When you have the schmoozing down, your networking can be effective."

But starting a casual conversation with a stranger -- especially when that stranger has the power to boost your career -- can be nerve-wracking for even the most outgoing people.

Experts have some recommendations for making business schmoozing natural, enjoyable, and effortless (or at least appear that way):

1. Investigate.

Find out who in your profession or related profession could be good to know, and learn more about them. A good start is to find out if they have an online presence, such as social and professional networking sites, according to Barbara Safani, career advisor and author of "Happy About My Resume."

"If you know they're going to be attending a professional event, find a way to attend. And if you learn that person shares an interest with you, say, a love of a sports team or hobby, that's great knowledge you can use to start a conversation."

2. Go beyond the usual suspects.

Plenty of professionals want to meet the CEO, CIO, or C-whoever-can-help. But often those people are deluged with requests, are harder to approach, and may be too high up to advance your career.

John O'Connor, president of Career Pro, Inc., recommends schmoozing administrative assistants. "They're the gatekeepers in most businesses and may have valuable information on the inner workings of the organization. But you always want to project professionalism and good etiquette when schmoozing administrative assistants."

3. Schmooze well before you need something.

If you want the other person to set you up with a job or a new business after a two-minute conversation, set your sights lower. "You don't want to look desperate," says Laura DeCarlo, career coach and author of "Job Search Bloopers."

"Schmoozing should be a warm-up, establishing contact and making the person feel comfortable with you long before you ask for something." DeCarlo adds that the time between initial schmooze and asking for what you really want could be up to six months.

4. Prepare a short self-introduction.

Forget the 15-second "elevator speech" you've heard about, RoAne says. "In less than nine seconds you should give the benefit of what you do, but not the title. If you say something like 'I make sure people have a roof over their heads,' it will arouse curiosity and encourage them to ask a question." It's also a good idea to link your self-introduction to the event, RoAne adds.

5. Focus on the other person.

Studies show that when you ask people questions about themselves, they come away from the conversation with a more favorable impression of you. Then again, don't play 20 questions. If they aren't interested in engaging at all, have a polite exit strategy and move on. And remember, if you are uncomfortable talking with strangers, your new contact may be just as uncomfortable.

6. Stoke the ego, but don't suck up.

It's a fine line between expressing admiration and being obsequious. If you want to give a compliment, whether it's on someone's shoes or their recently published article, try to be genuine and don't gush. If you're not sure how to use flattery well, practice with a friend who can give you feedback.

Good schmoozing opens the possibility of future contact. If a conversation goes well, ask for a business card. If the other person doesn't want to be contacted, don't take it personally. If they provide their information, send a quick, conversational email two days later to remind them about your conversation, RoAne says.

"Then you can ask politely for a small favor," she adds. "You can say, 'I've been interested in learning more about X, and I would love to hear from you if you have some ideas.' A request like that is not big enough to put them on the defensive."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

get MASHed

this is a quick note on creativity. it is everywhere, but dispersed. concentrations are disproportionate. how do we identify creative people, attract them and retain? can we treat them as regular (not-creative?) staff?

what these guys from down-under are doing is mind-blowing and classy:

Corporate image and internal communications

This is an Amnesty International ad targeted at my former employer, Shell:
As an HR professional, obviously, you need to engage your employees to minimize the damages. External Communications or Corporate Affairs will take care of mitigating the potential risks with external stakeholders, but you need to be aware of the damage caused to your brand as an employer and brief your recruitment team (profusely!) on how to handle potential question from the candidates.

Sometimes, companies focus too much on fighting on the external front and ignore the impact such campaigns may have on the current employees. Irrespective of the fact if the company is right or wrong or whatever the situation might be, communication and engagement are of utmost importance. Remember that your task is not to convince your employees, but to present all sides of the story truthfully and show what is being done (or what will be done). Only then you will be able to win your workforce over and gain a stronger front of supporters in mitigating the damages. If that is not being done, you might end up fighting on all possible fronts - including your own employees.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

You are the weakest link, good-bye!

Today I was the weakest link. That was not funny. Nor was it pretty. A valuable learning point though. In survival cultures (in tribal Africa, for instance, or in the heart of Hillbrow, Johannesburg) you need to outrun the weakest in your group, and then you are fine. The weakest is not. The predators are happy. In secular-rational cultures (using the Inglehart terminology) the group loses together with the weak one.

The old maxim still holds water: the whole is only as reliable as the weakest member or link. If I am not the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to Financial Accounting and I need to represent the team on the subject, guess what happens. Yeah, I screwed it up. I felt bad. Not because I could not legibly explain the ratios, but because my team was looking at me disapprovingly. I studied the ratios the night before but I am no mathematician and thinking numbers on my feet is not my forte, and I am cool with that - I know my areas of improvement. Still, if this happens in a graded activity, I will not be the most popular chap with my mates.

The learnings are obvious and I don't want to be moralistic here. Now I understand much better why leaders flying solo fall down so often, fast and hard: if they don't have their followers at the same level, they won't get very far. So looking in the rear view window is after all not such a bad idea.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Russian Sprouts

After watching
(particularly #4)

Sometimes I get amazed at Westerners who, having worked a while in Russia (at least long enough to be able to pronounce Советский Союз correctly), berate and thank Soviet Union at the same time answering the same question:

  • young managers in Russia are wiling to go an extra mile
  • you need to tell them exactly what to do
Well, yes, that is the legacy left by the old system, whether you like it or not. Long years of pioneerism, komsomol and the party have instilled a great pride into millions of Soviet people in their achievement. We were taught to reach the goal no matter what. As a famous saying goes, "Russians don't give up". At the same time, it is in the culture to respect authority and rather wait for instructions. In our country, it is not the squeaking wheel that gets the grease... it is the sticking nail that gets banged on the head...

Poultry, Tchaikovsky and Teamwork

This is one of my favorite ballet pieces. Since I was a child, this melody has mesmerized me. The little swans are so graceful, so weightless, like four snowflakes pirouetting in perfect unison over the surface of the lake.

When teams are united, when there is a shared understanding of the objectives and everybody is absolutely sure of what needs to happen, you can observe similar seamless execution of tasks. What is, let's imagine, one of the swans decides that she (or he, if it is a male swan) is smarter than the other swans and performs altogether different kicks and moves than the rest of the flock. Not only will she/he introduce dissonance into the overall piece, but also will endanger her/his flockmates (who can get knocked over/drowned/shot... choose your favorite corporate analogy).

Another bird that can teach us a think or two about teamwork is not as gracious as a swan, but equally adorable. Emperor Penguins protect each other from cold during long (and definitely sub zero) Antarctic winters by organizing themselves into what is called a "turtle formation" when the birds on the outside of the formation move slowly along the edges and slowly edge towards the center of the group. This ensures optimal warmth conservation and equal distribution of energy in the group. What if one smart penguin chooses to stay in the center all the time? After all, there are dozens of others, who would notice? While such behavior is often observed among human species, out there in the nature it can endanger the whole colony. Ag, animals are so much smarter than people (more on the topic of human interactions and biology see my earlier post:

Finally, coming back to swans, one learning I personally took away from watching those magnificent creatures: 
you can kick and paddle like held beneath the surface, fighting whatever battles might come your way, but to your team you must always come across as if your are in full control of the situation. 
Panic begets chaos and destruction while confidence helps those around you get mobilized and focused on the task. So next time you feel like you are losing it, go watch Swan Lake.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Role of HR in Performance Management

What would happen if HR were responsible for doing apprasials for the employees? Wouldn´t it be great? The role of the HR function increases in its importance tenfold, the managers can twindle their thumbs doing as little as possible when it comes to managing their own people, and when the proverbial mass hits the fan - blame HR for all the wrong-doing starting with the Tower of Babel and finishing with the Greek mishaps of days not so far ago.

A couple of months ago I did my World at Work certification in Performance Management. Guess what? Suggested HR involvement is minimal. Undoubtedly, its role is crucial in:
  • designing the process
  • setting the framework (communicating the policies, deadlines, key principles, educating employees, line managers and the senior executives)
  • ensuring compliance and managing complaints
  • industry benchmarking
  • tying performance management to remuneration and other people related fields (Talent Management, i.e. how your rankings impact your promotions or development opportunities, such as rotations, leadership development, international options, etc.; Learning and Development, i.e. the learning interventions required to close the identified developmental gaps as an outcome of your performance discussions)
  • communicating the outcomes of each perofrmance management cycle to the relevant stakeholder groups including the employees (maintaining confidentiality, but still being able to provide the big picture, so that the employees can feel the tangible impact of the process on their everyday worklife)
  • adjusting and adapting the process in case faults are identified
  • making sure the new employees are appropriately onboarded with regards to the performance management process
However, it is the line that must do the work. Then they feel empowered. Then there is more trust between them and the employees. Then there is a learning curve. You cannot teach people to manage others by giving them lectures. Until you have had a tough performance conversation, until you have fired someone for underperformance, until you have coached someone who is on a performance management plan, you will struggle to grasp the true meaning of managing people. Trust your managers. Empower them!

Those who suggest firing "non-key" people (instead of managing their performance )underestimate three aspects:
  • morale within the company (how do you think the "key" people feel about their colleagues losing their jobs? also, i would not like to have my assistants changing every six months)
  • legislation - in many countries you will be taken to court if you are laying off and hiring people at the same time
  • unions (imagine your 3-people logistics department joins the Transport Barganing Council, and then in case you make a decision to lay them off, you will have to defend that decision on a country level, faced with the industry, threatening stalling your logistics operations whatsoever)
There is a fine line between owing the process and executing it. There is a large gray area in between. There are people who will take the personal advantage of that gray area unless you get the process right.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

not to choose is NOT an option

Here is a simple exercise.
Write down three things you had to do this week. Examples could be "I had to clean up my apartment", "I had to take my mother-in-law to the hospital" or "I had to poison that old witch". Done? Now draw a line across the words "had to" and write down those three statements substituting "had to" for "chose to". How does it feel now?

How does it feel to be in control?

             How does it feel to be accountable for your own life?

                                What are the situations when you do not have a choice?

Yes, often people say that if you are in prison or on your deathbed, there are not many options and you did not really opt for those things to happen to you. Still, you can always choose your attitude, you can choose how you react to what happens to you, even though you may not have direct control over the situation.

This realization is key in shaping you as a leader. Choice is the key concept when it comes to accountability. Whether you are gaining it or it is sought from you, it is a choice in 100% of situations. "Yeah, but if I don't do what my boss it telling me, I am gonna get fired," you might retort. True --- and it is your choice. Only a fool would argue that it is of no importance, which choice you make. Every single one comes with its consequences! It is up to you to weigh those and make the decision...

Man's Search for Meaning is a must-read. Written by Viktor Frankl, this relatively short book provides an invaluable insight into the choices we are faced throughout our lives. A holocaust victim, Auschwitz prisoner, psychiatrist by profession and a survivor by need, Viktor Frankl proves to us by his personal example that
everything can be taken from a man but one thing:  the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way
Thus, between stimulus and response there is always a freedom to choose. Think about the workplace again (or for less fortunate - your school or university): certain task and expectations are imposed onto you by the supervisor, professor or peers. Alternatively, you might be trying to make others do something. Trust me - one can huff and puff as much as you want, but unless the other party chooses to do what is sought from them, there is little one can do to make them. Accountability cannot be imposed, and this is one of the lessons many managers fail to learn. So next time you are trying to understand why others did not dance to your tune, reflect on the fact that each one of them had a PERSONAL CHOICE.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tolerance Theatre and my CV

The Laramie ProjectThe first time I saw a theater production of the Laramie Project, it was at Otterbein College in Ohio, USA, where I was studying International Relations during my undergraduate year. The intensity of the play did not let me go for a while, and when a couple of years later a group of alumni of that undergraduate exchange program were discussing an idea for a community project, I suggested that we translate and stage it in Russia. The project evolved into a much bigger thing. We adapted the script to fit the Russian reality, so that we could appeal to our audiences on a deeper level and the actors turned into trainers after the performance and conducted facilitated discussions with the audiences on the topics unearthed in the play. I won't go into details - if you are interested, I have uploaded a newspaper article about the Tolerance Theater project, take a look (GoogleDocs does not always open it from the first time, just click "Refresh" if it happens).

What I really wish to discuss here is what impact that project had (still has and potentially might have) on my career. To tell you the truth, I have quite forgotten about that year of presentations, trying to gain support, searching for a director, keeping the team motivated, rehearsals, performances, exhilaration of the first successes... It was back in 2004-2005, between now and then there are a couple of years filled with other achievements: hiring people, firing people, implementing policies, designing learning interventions, etc. Many of them were noticed and recognized by big people in my company (and outside, I guess... otherwise, how would you explain multiple job offers? :) I never mentioned the Tolerance Theater project on my resume, considering it distant and not really relevant to work environment. Up until now...

I was working on a case study in Organizational Behavior with my classmate Jessica and I asked her to review my resume and provide any suggestions for improvement. In our discussion that ensued it transpired that, probably, Tolerance Theater is the most distinguished result I have delivered so far and it should be featured prominently on that piece of paper most people will request from you when you are looking for a job.

This proves the value a team can bring into your life. You will never be able to deliver on something of that magnitude on your own, and at the end of the day it has the potential to set you aside from the rest of potential applicants, because it has a kick, it makes you special, it gives you that notorious USP all recruiters are after (USP - not to be confused with UPS - Unique Selling Point). I am so grateful to Jessica for making me realize what I should genuinely be proud of. If you want to be a success, you need to be the best, the first or different (the credit for this maxim goes to my English teacher at school, Mila Paulsen). So I am not the best and I am not the first, but one thing you cannot deny me - I am different.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Avatar vs Schwarzenegger

How the Leopard Changed Its Spots : The Evolution of ComplexityLife is changing. It is neither circular nor linear. It is evolving. Nothing is ever the same. Even though you would say, we have seen it all, this time is it different, just like any time. From Darwin's Galapagos finches observations till the present day, it has been a dance rather than a football game: there has been no end goal; we have been merely exploring a space of possibilities.

How does all that link up with the blog title? And to our society. This is all biology, you would say, it has little to do with the modern world of technology, scientific progress and defying the powers of nature. The truth is that we as ever depend on the nature and should cling onto it with all might for our survival. The truth is that sheer violence towards nature does not pay off. The truth is that steroids and muscle (chemistry and physics) || Schwarzenegger || is not a sustainable strategy, while biology and the forces of nature || Avatar || is.

Think about it in terms of the shift from the technocratic paradigm of the 1920s (production is king, people are replaceable) to the post-modernistic frame of reference (all major technological inventions have been made, now we are simply enhancing what is already there, hence human capital is the only competitive advantage a company might have). So, in a way, all of us are Galapagos finches - we adapt and change all the time. Those, who refuse, are forced to the brink of extinction. So update your mental maps - world may not be the same as you used to know it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Self-Directed Teams and OD Challenges

Today in the Organizational Behavior class we were discussing the case of MediSys, which was dealing with a project team working on a product development and launch. Conflict emerged on the grounds of lack of legitimacy and operating in silos. Reflecting back, it occurred to me that I have seen something similar too many times in many different organizations.

What basically happens - people are put together in a project "team" to achieve a "common" objective. Who have I put the quotes? We can go into lengthy discussions on what we call a team and whether any group of people working together can be referred to a s a team. Secondly, achieving a shared understanding of goals is not an easy task as it might appear on the surface. There are instances when group members would claim that they have a common objective, while in reality each one of them would be pursuing individual goals or the goals of that particular department the person has been deployed from to form part of the project group. Silo mentality is deeply  ingrained in human psychology on the simple account of subconscious self-identification and the selective function of our brain (i.e. it´s mine/ours, therefore best/correct/right/better/etc; we refuse to see the position of others).

I wish to give an example of how this problem was tackled in one of the leading banks in South Africa (I am not disclosing the name because of the obvious reasons). There used to be three functions working on the same task (providing loans to customers): risk analysts, sales/customer managers and admin services. They were reporting into different departments with little horizontal integration. Sales were the driving force to get the product sold to the customer. Risk people liked to take their time in doing background checks and running all sorts of models, which the Sales did not like and sometimes concluded deals before Risk´s go-ahead. Admin was least motivated among the three and it would take them all the available time to get done with all the papers. The structure did not work and the bank was losing customers, hence money.

The Organizational Development department recognized the issue and came up with the idea of self-managing groups (sometimes called self-directed teams). From then on, teams consisting of three people were created with their compensation linked to the overall success of the team. Results were incredible. Once people were motivated to deliver faster, cooperate and go an extra mile, they suddenly saw the value-add in everything they were doing. Reporting lines were adjusted accordingly with very little managerial effort, since the teams were managing themselves in most situations.

Thus, instead of the programmatic approach many people like so much (program management strategy, strict controls, corporate policemen, etc) it is better to assume the emergent change philosophy and rely on the organization as a living being to find its own ways to manage itself. It is riskier but in the long run can be much more rewarding. Most difficult thing, as usual, --- to let go.

The Bothersome Man

A follow up on the previous post. For some reason I cannot embed objects in comments, so I have to create a new post for it (sometimes I hate IT even more than HR!!!) - that was a joke, obviously... you can't hate anything MORE than IT... well, yet - another joke.

Anyway, please check out the movie - very thought provoking and deep. Well worth your time investment.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Recipe for Happiness: Why Denmark?

Shakespeare did not get something about Denmark. This is a scientific proof that lack of intercultural competence may lead to falsification of data and confusion of millions of readers. Really, it is common knowledge that Hamlet was the biggest moaner and groaner in the history of humankind, and but for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern we would have not got a tinsiest glimpse of happy people in that Nordic country, unless you derive specific kind of morbid pleasure of killing your friends and marrying their wives (ibid.).

A couple of yours ago OECD published its report on the happiest country in the world, which left the world and the Danes themselves flabbergasted. Either it is eating herring (and then Holland coming third corroborates this hypothesis) or its geographical location, in a way distancing itself away from the European nucleus, but the fact is that Denmark is the happiest nation on Earth. The Danes are trying to explain it in their modest and unobtrusive way that "it sort of so happened, we are not to blame for the outcomes", the economists (who always know exact reasons of whatever problem) attribute the high happiness ratings to high taxes, and the politicians are trying to steal their piece of the cake by bringing in their achievement on providing free education and social care. While CBSnews is not something I would easily trust, Spiegel is a much more reliable authority, however... Who in their sane mind will be happy if they give away half of their earnings to the government? If you are happy, would you be unsure about it? There are many countries where education and medical care are free of charge for the population and still the prospects of even making it to the top 100 on the happiness list are bleak. It seems to me that the truth is somewhere in an altogether different place.

Geert Hofstede provides the following profile for Denmark:
Something is very interesting about this one. Apart from Individualism scale, all other three are very low (Hofstede has not produced the Long-Term Orientation dimension for Denmark... guess living in that cold is tough, so as soon as he was done with the first four, he figured out that enough was enough and was gone in a jiffy). For those who are not familiar with Hofstede cultural dimensions, I would recommend his book on cultures and organizations (yes, it was him who came up with the software metaphor!), and in the meantime, here is the shortcut:

    Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind
  • Power Distance Index (PDI) - low score indicates egalitarianism, approachability of leaders, strong democratic principles
  • Individualism (IDV) - as opposed to Collectivism - the degree to which people prefer to be integrated into groups
  • Masculinity (MAS) - as opposed to Femininity - which values a culture prefers (in Denmark's case, low MAS score means that it is a very Feminine culture)
  • Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) - how important is it to call a spade a shovel. Denmark has a low score, which means that the Truth is relevant, it is OK not to dot the i's (or cross the t's for that matter)

In comparison, let's take a look at Germany, which did not enjoy particularly high ranking in the happiness survey:
Can we conclude that the shorter the power connections are, the more people are caring about each other and treat life as relative and accommodating for all, the happier they will be? Surely, we need to take into consideration certain political and economic aspects - stability, security, certain freedoms and guarantees are important and should not be ignored, irrespective of my cynicism earlier. What is definite is that it is not the amount of vitamin D that brings you happiness. Neither is it the climate or weather as the Danes are not the most sun-tanned country on the planet. The highest suicide rate in neighboring Finland genuinely complicates the situation.

There is something from the Spiegel research that I liked and it brings closer home the reasons why -
Some people attribute the prevailing attitude among Danes to something less tangible, called hygge (pronounced "hooga"). Danes say the word is difficult to translate -- and to comprehend -- but that it describes a cozy, convivial sentiment that involves strong family bonds. "The gist of it is that you don't have to do anything except let go," says Vial. "It's a combination of relaxing, eating, drinking, partying, spending time with family."
So it is the intangible, the "soft" that really matters? Whatever it is, it is not the American dream. The choice is yours.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Job Hunting or Job Begging?

Still being under the impression of the session delivered by Mr Porot this afternoon, I would like to share some general considerations on the topic of job searching, hunting, and sniffing. Basically, the dry remainder of an eight-hour session is that:

  • you need to define (for yourself in the first place, because it might turn out to be terribly hard) what you really love. It means what makes you genuinely happy, why you wake up singing you favorite tunes and why you don't really need to smell coffee in the morning, because you are already jumping and kicking, impatient to get back to the colleagues, projects and admin issues. Hmmm... on the issue of coffee I stay to be corrected...
  • think, what you are bloody good at. Now, this is now a tricky question - it is quite serious and dangerous, because many people confuse the two and are trying to make believe that what they would like to do is what they do best. The Tarzan interviewing technique (called so because you need to swing from "rope" to "rope" trying to find out what is the specific skill that differentiates you from the rest of the crowd of bloodthirsty job seekers) proved to be very efficient, however, only if you know how to use it right.
  • marry the two concepts (like + can) together and the most difficult part of the job search process is done.
Let me quote something from my favorite book (one of the most philosophical and difficult for understanding and interpretation pieces - if you think I'm mad saying that, read it again!), Alice in Wonderland:
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?", Alice asks.
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where –" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
“– so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
Target (or focus) is another component of successful job search. If you are unsure of where you want this path of life to take you, most likely you will not get there, but will wander in the darkness, prone to labor market whips and euro fluctuations. Be specific, and your chances to land a dream job will shoot through the roof. Rules of flirting apply: an easy target is not that enticing.

I would question the statement that you should not send your CV (or resume) at all, but I am talking from my position of an HR professional here. I can understand the frustration of many, who send hundreds of e-mails to various HR people and never hear back. Challenge: is your approach right? After all, that is the right door to knock on (maybe not the most efficient in certain situations), but it is my accountability as a manager of human capital in a company to make sure that we get the best resources in. I even felt a little angry how HR was portrayed as a function and I wish to state that not all HR departments are useless paper shifters! More thoughts on the topic in my earlier posting:

Leveraging networks is another key in securing a job and I would agree that those should be used for information mainly. Asking for too much favors will erode the value of a connection (unless you give sufficiently back) and also you might be putting the other person in a difficult situation, especially if you are using a personal relationship. Many of your friends have a limited view on you as a professional and often the view is skewed. If you are not doing well in the job they helped you to get, it will backfire at them as well.

Finally, what will make you a success in life:

  • 50% - savoir etre: self-management skills - adjectives
  • 35% - savoir faire: transferable skills/competencies - verbs
  • 15% - savoir: knowledge - nouns 
This provides a fresh perspective on what one should be focusing on. Knowledge is not valued as much as it used to be even 10-20 years ago, and the emphasis is shifting towards emotional intelligence and the softer side of management, which immensely raises the profile of HR as a function responsible for building the organizational leadership capability and creating the learning culture.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tale of Two Assets

Think how much information there is in the company about it's building, transactions, pumps, patches of land or whatever else a company might own. Also, they claim that they "own" their employees as stated in the intellectual property clause of the contract. Fine, if you "own" someone, you should have an operating instruction, technical note or some other piece of paper you might consider sufficient to describe the human capital you have at your disposal. Hypocrisy of the situation is captured in the phrase I chose to put in the description of my blog, "If people are our greatest assets, why don't we put them on the balance sheet"?

This video gives a quite adequate representation of the situation most firms face nowadays. The industrialism is deeply ingrained in many managerial minds, still stuck in 1920s when anyone was replaceable and had a tag attached. Well, newsflash - if you want to consider someone "corporate property", there must be respective cashflows and trackable records of all aspects of the organizational life: inception and birth (i.e. attraction and recruitment), schooling (includes all training, most valuable - on the job, mentoring and coaching), maturation (delivery), recreation (what drives the employee apart from the insatiable desire to show up at the fluorescent office every day, what are the interests outside of the corporate routine?), personal finance (salary, bonuses, other elements of remuneration), intellectual growth (how much information does the employee get, how does s/he gets acknowledged, what are the change aspects in the job, challenges), and finally - self-actualization (what are the aspirations, how can the company get the employee to the maximum potential level in as little time as possible, what does the firm need to do to keep him or her happy as a clam?) Check out the short video about Sammy and Barry and try to answer a couple of questions below - this can be an exciting discussion!

  • why is it difficult to keep track of "human capital"? we seem not to have any issues with other organizational assets.
  • what is so special about the shift from industrial imperative to information age framework? how does that reflect on HR processes overall? how far are we on the journey? what are the greatest enablers and barriers?
  • what is the role of the employees in facilitating the shift to the new model?
Phew - I feel like a ferocious university professor, making poor students toil over a die hard case study. Relax! As one of our professors says, "Accounting is sexy, Accounting is fun." 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

MBA: Manager by Accident?

Could not stop laughing the first time I saw this commercial. As they say in Russia, every joke has a bit of a joke in it. Enjoy!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Business School - is it more a business or a school?

When I was facing the decision whether to do or not to do my MBA, I obviously did a lot of research focusing on ROI, opportunity costs, softer factors like self-gratification and prestige, etc. Now that I am a student of one of those schools (and it does warm my heart to know that Wall Street Journal names it #1 in accelerated MBA programs :), it is time to look critically at what management education is all about.

First, the cost. I understand that it is expensive to run a business in the center of a fashionable la-di-da richy-bitchy posh neighborhood. It is expensive to keep a host of PhDs and guest professors flying in and out (though some professors do confide that their services are not that greatly valued in monetary terms). It must cost a fortune to do the sort of advertising and recruitment campaigns that we observe. But... that is so minute (did not want to use the hackneys peanuts here) compared to what the students need to fork out. And the more business schools get attacked for bringing on all the possible plagues of the humanity starting with Enron and finishing with the financial crisis of 2008, the higher the fees. In the past couple of months we have seen many schools changing deans (or CEOs, in line with the latest trends), including Yale, Harvard and Booth. Does it mean more changes and more investments? Something prompts me, that is going to land heavily on the student's pocket.

Second, the concept. These days we hear wails of penitence coming from all directions. Professors are trying to convince the public that they are genuinely sorry for teaching the students how to identify failures in the economic system --- and exploit them. In one voice they solemnly proclaim to provide a more ethical, sustainable-development oriented and socially responsible educational insights. Sounds great on the surfaced, but... changing the curriculum will not that easily change the culture and the essence of business schools. It is like with the major law of retribution - if I suffered a loss, I want a threefold gain. So most MBA students feel entitled to exploit the system, just like they paraded through the Rubicons of admissions, excruciating workgroups and presentations, sneers of prudes and snobs, and finally - the fun of searching a job and trying to prove to everyone that you are not a camel and actually learnt a lot in class and now a much better person so now you are worth much (emphasis on MUCH) more. Just out of curiosity, check out the FT 2010 ranking and weighted post-MBA salaries.

Moving on... delivery. How effective are educational methods? In principle, it should work, but I feel in my (very short - only two weeks so far) experience that something is missing. Is it a different style of teaching? Maybe the student body composition? Overall academic environment? I know that it is tough to leave a well-paid job, a nice house and a beautiful country (my case) and move into a small apartment, back to the student's desk facing (imho unreasonable) demands on my time and efforts as if there were at least twice as many hours in one single day. I am not ready to pass a verdict on this one, will give it a term or two, so the judges are still out...

Some thoughts on job search. Here really I will need some help and advice. In my career I worked a lot with headhunters and recruitment agencies, so I know the rules or the game. However, I never targeted MBAs. I hired a couple of them and - I should say - have not been disappointed, but I have a very limited understanding of how the MBA market works. Luckily, and here I am grateful to IE, on Monday I will have my first career day with Daniel Porot, who is an acclaimed expert in the field of career change and executive recruitment, so look out for more to come.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Values and Organizational Behavior

Today in class we were discussing the subject of organizational behavior and its role in the financial crisis of 2008. Some of the suggestions on how to prevent people treading into the "grey areas" or, in other words, conforming to the organizational culture or mores were along the lines of putting in place rules, regulations and policies. Agree - can be effective, but we all know that behaviors are not driven by external factors, to which those rules or regulations belong. No, our behavior is predicated by our values, that is the true engine behind everything we do.

Now... a couple of words on values as the guiding principles, or tenets, ways of differentiating wrong from right and good from evil. They are unique, so no matter how much you are going to press down the issue of corporate values, there will always be discrepancies.

Values manifest themselves in actions. When managers see that some of their employees actions contradict (or in milder ways do not correspond to the company values), corrective measures must be taken, otherwise eventually the organization will find itself in the crisis situation, similar to the one we had to witness a couple of years ago.

Moving deeper - to the personal level. There are two types of values: values in use (enacted) and espoused values. Basically, it is what we say and what we do. Ideally, there should be congruence, but we know that it is impossible in real life. A simple example: most people will say that honesty is their value. Question: are we honest at all times? With others? With ourselves? There is some valuable (and fascinating) research done on the topic by Chris Argyris.

Getting even more personal: Susan Scott has done research in the field of psycho-neuro-immunology and the findings are: if you do not act congruently with your values, your body will know. It means that if you do (forced to do/tricked into/willingly complying, does not really matter) something that contradicts your personal values, your body will react. It can manifest itself in anything ranging from a headache to a chronic illness, so it is something to think of. I would recommend her book, Fierce Conversations, which among this issue also focuses on problems of human interactions, constructive dialogue and conflict.


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