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.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Get connected

The buzz around Web 2.0 starts getting unbearable. Everyone is doing it. Last week there was a presentation by Capgemini Consulting on campus, and they were proudly telling about their featured project on culture change at a manufacturing company in Finland through proliferation of Web 2.0 tools (Facebook, Wikis, messengers, etc.). Social Network, the movie, is what everyone is talking about these days. Our lives are changing, but what is more interesting - the perceptions and underlying beliefs are altering as well.

Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our LivesFor instance, I grew up believing that bad news travel much faster than good news. Really, the grapevine has always been thriving on chaos, suffering and misery. Nowadays, primarily because of social networks, happiness spreads more robustly than unhappiness, according to Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, authors of the book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives:
Our connections affect every aspect of our daily lives. . . . How we feel, what we know, whom we marry, whether we fall ill, how much money we make, and whether we vote all depend on the ties that bind us. Social networks spread happiness, generosity, and love. They are always there, exerting both subtle and dramatic influence over our choices, actions, thoughts, feelings, even our desires. And our connections do not end with the people we know. Beyond our own social horizons, friends of friends of friends can start chain reactions that eventually reach us, like waves from distant lands that wash up on our shores.

The problem with Web 2.0 at work though is that the news is not always happy for all people. Let's say someone gets promoted - some people will be lining up to attack, and guess what: if there is something negative they have to say about the person, who is getting promoted, a social network is a perfect platform.

What the social networks really bring into the organization is creativity, which can become unleashed. In a recent Gallup article we find that:
Much of creativity is just new combinations put together from different pieces of information and material. That's how networks can really amplify creativity.
Thus, it looks like social networks are winning the battle over the corporate mind, but I guess there is a limit to anything. No matter how conducive they may be for virtual collaboration, knowledge sharing, newcomer integration, etc., too much of anything is bad for you. At least this maxim, which we learnt as kids, still holds water.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Córdoba: Diversity in Action

This is a picture I took this weekend at the Cathedral of Córdoba, one of the most unusual places I have visited so far. Firstly, its very name is Mosque-Cathedral gives an indication that it is odd. It is odd, indeed. The combination of the Arab and Christian influence is so striking and simultaneously organic that I perceived it in its unity and uniqueness. In its long history (begun in the 7th century as a Christian cathedral, converted into a mosque during the Muslim invasion and re-built again into a Christian place of worship in the 13th century) is imprinted in the design and the atmosphere of the building.

Many diversity program do not succeed because their implementers in the heart of hearts do not believe that true inclusiveness is achievable, and doubt begets failure. Cathedral of Córdoba defies such concerns by the mere fact of its existence. Thus, it's about acceptance, belief and passion. Unfortunately, many companies approach the diversity issues from a totally different end. Embracing it as a fad, who gets assigned to oversee the diversity and inclusiveness initiatives? Exactly - someone who is not needed elsewhere.

I think that a field-trip to Córdoba should be included in the mandatory curriculum for all the diversity management practitioners. Aya Sofia should also be on the list. Anything else?

Information overTWEET

The blog of a friend kept showing up in my inbox. I felt guilty not reading it each week, and couldn't get it to go into my junk mail. Then I saw the unsubscribe button. 

Click. No more weekly navel-gazing posts.

How was I to know that my friend would be notified?

This scary personal story was shared by a victim of e-nnoyance: the new peril of information overdose attacking us from the abyss of the internet vastness. Continuous Partial Attention is already a recognized psychological phenomenon, which probably will be beyond grasp of the representatives of my generation, but those in their teens right now have no issues whatsoever texting on their cellphones, browsing the web and watching TV at the same time.

Are we really becoming unable to live without the modern devices of staying in touch. I can't help recalling the character of Drew Barrymore in He's Just Not That Into You complaining how she checks her blackberries, e-mails, cell phones and gets rejected by all those multiple technologies and misses the times when there was just one phone with one answering machine and the answering machine either had a message on it or it did not.

Have you heard of a term "a blackberry prayer"? I was frantic when I heard it for the first time from one of our professors. Respectable-looking ladies and gentlemen looking into their zippers in deep concentration one-on-one with their smart friends, pretending to pay attention to what is going around. Friends on Facebook are not real and the Twitter updates carry less and less informational value. In another Drew Barrymore movie (Ever After), the step-mother said that one should not speak unless it improves the silence. True as ever.

Communicating all the time, snow-balling the information with "sharing" and "retwitting", creating tons of "noise" with own webpage, blogs and livejournals - information has become a commodity. Retaining knowledge in one's head is a faux pas: regarded as something antique - why do you need to learn something when you can just google it? How do we sort through the weeds and divide the ideas from stuff? Unless there is some sort of an algorithm or a magic trick, the rate of hitting the "unsubscribe" button will be soaring soon.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Centered Leadership

In the past years there has been a noticeable surge towards finding what is called "centered leadership" - focusing on yourself and your own strengths to discover the internal resources and capabilities to lead, motivate and manage people. In the light of the recent economically pitiful events this proves to be as important as never, and one of the freshest McKinsey studies concluded:

The best leadership model: Yourself

They have identified five core capabilities that lie at the core of centered leadership:

  •  finding meaning in work, 
  • converting emotions such as fear or stress into opportunity, 
  • leveraging connections and community, 
  • acting in the face of risk, and 
  • sustaining the energy that is the life force of change.

As always, this is a beautiful model, but commitment and determination must come first. Leadership is never the destination, it is always a journey. As an old Indian saying goes, in order to know another person, you need to walk a thousand miles in his moccasins. Practice proves that most of us are not ready to undertake that trip yet.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Losing IT

If I am becoming addicted to Facebook, is it clinical? Chronic? Curable?

Is losing a cell phone is like losing your life - you cease to exist?

Do you type faster than you write?

What's the difference in time of answering one e-mail and switching a TV channel?

Do you check your e-mail "just in case" more than 10 times a day?

Do you spend more time together with your Blackberry or your significant other(s)? Do you take it to bed with you?

Do you develop a headache if you do not spend enough time at your computer?

Do you remember all your logins and passwords but keep missing birthdays of your close friends?

Do you feel guilty now and make a note in your smart phone to spend less time online?...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tightening the Bolts

Wow! this is something that has been cooking for a while... I would add that not only a graduation exam is needed, but an entrance exam (something different from GMAT or GRE) as well, testing the abilities to think conceptually and multi-disciplinary, not only being verbal and somewhat number-savvy. I'm up for the change!


Do MBAs Need a Standardized Exam After Graduation?

Posted on Monday, October 4, 2010 7:52:40 PM GMT

An MBA has long been considered a requirement for C-level positions. By earning the degree, a prospective executive has proven that he/she has the chops to succeed in a senior exec role. However, with the exponential increase in the number of degree programs over the past 10 years, some employers are wondering whether "MBA" holds the same authority it used to.
MBA graduates are excited about their new jobsIndia, in particular, has experienced a quick uptick in the number of MBA programs available in-country, flooding the job market with MBA graduates. But are these MBAs really qualified? To find out, the All-India Management Association (AIMA) has created an exam, reports BusinessWeek, that will "determine whether business school graduates in India are qualified for jobs." Remind you of something? (Cough, bar exam.) Although we don't know exactly how many employers are going to require the exam, AIMA says there's been significant interest.
Is this something employers really need? Or should GMAT scores and work history be enough? And isn't evaluating business schools the job of the AASCB? I tend to believe that, in the end, employers know which schools are strong and which ones are not. They talk to each other, learn from recruiters and talk with graduates of the schools, making a test unnecessary. What do you think? Should we have a standardized MBA exam?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Service matters

Nobody would object that service is important. The Age of  Industrialization is over: human interactions play the most important role in business. Someone said that business is a conversation and I have no reasons to doubt that thought. So why is the level of service we are getting in general is so low? Really, you might get good service now and then, but if you go back to your grumbles to your friends and family over the past couple of weeks, I am sure many of those were about poor service.

I can quote a personal example. Last week I went to the gym to find it closed because of the country-wide strike (yes, there are drawbacks of living in Spain). Someone gracefully graffiti'ed "VIVA LA GRASA" ("LONG LIVE THE FAT") at the main entrance to the gym in thick black paint and, by the way, it is still there - but the gym was closed. I started wondering why was it so difficult for the management, the front desk reception, or my trainers just to drop a word of it the day before? After all, I pay money to go there, and it's a private gym, so what's their story?

There are even worse stories about internal service. When people work for the same company and they start feeling that something actually depends on their decisions, they begin to forget that they are there to provide service. Finance, HR, IT, Communications, Contracts - I started thinking how often I heard "Come tomorrow", "I'm too busy now", "Do you need more than others?" from the representatives of those functions and got horrified. We have learnt to take care of the external service encounter and even somehow track those "moments of truth", but when it comes to cleaning our own house, the dirt gets swept under the carpet.

What most managers forget is the mirror concept: the way you handle issues inside the organization get projected or "mirrored" outside, and the customers can palpably feel the attitudes of the staff. In the past 10 year all of a sudden all HR Managers have become "Strategic HR Managers" because without the word "strategic" it's less fun, but the essence has not changed much: internal service is still suffering. Seems like the issue is in the lack of accountability and recognition once again. Perception plays a great role too: as long as the organization perceives the functions as "service" and "less important", people working there will behave accordingly. Recognizing the value those functions are bringing and making that appreciation visible will change the game. Easier said than done, but the industry has some examples to boast of. Nokia has been great with structuring their business/function relations, as well as some other big players, mostly those that depend greatly on their external customer interaction, because... what goes around, comes around...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Career Fair - still more about the fair than the career

Today was the last day of my exams (Term 2) and the first day of the Career Fair at IE Business School. The preparation for this exceptional event started a while ago and our Career Services were working extra hard to schedule the events, invite the companies, sort of prepare the students to face the enemy and create the buzz with all other resources possible. Well, the tent is up, the recruiters are there, there are some students roaming around, asking questions and lavishly distributing their CVs, but will it be any use?

How successful are career fairs for candidates anyway? For the companies? Who benefits at the end of the day? The trust is that, when it comes to business schools, the companies presented there are all known to the students through the numerous cases we have brushed through. Today, talked to a Dell representative I had a feeling that I had more background knowledge on the Dell operations management practices that she did. So, the candidates know what companies there are, which industries they represent and what opportunities there are to be offered... generally.

Second point: the recruiters are there only to paint the broad picture and present no more information than is available on the company website. Have you ever witnessed a situation during a career fair, when a recruiter told you, "We have the job just for you!"? True, there are opportunities, which are not obvious and the company representatives can point you in the right direction, but snatching a job offer just like that is improbable.

Next, if you are a star candidate, you are already known to most companies through the headhunting network. Best business school students are known and are on the market. Thus, unless you want to get loaded on company leaflets, pens, calendars and other usual paraphernalia, think why do you need to be there?

Finally, if you have decided to attend --- SHINE! Wear your best smile, make sure your make-up isn't flaking, print your CV in color and on quality resume paper and employ all the charm you have. It's 80% presentation, 10% talent and 10% luck. You must get noticed.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The psychology of change management

The psychology of change management

Companies can transform the attitudes and behavior of their employees by applying psychological breakthroughs that explain why people think and act as they do.

Over the past 15 or so years, programs to improve corporate organizational performance have become increasingly common. Yet they are notoriously difficult to carry out. Success depends on persuading hundreds or thousands of groups and individuals to change the way they work, a transformation people will accept only if they can be persuaded to think differently about their jobs. In effect, CEOs must alter the mind-sets of their employees—no easy task.
CEOs could make things easier for themselves if, before embarking on complex performance-improvement programs, they determined the extent of the change required to achieve the business outcomes they seek. Broadly speaking, they can choose among three levels of change. On the most straightforward level, companies act directly to achieve outcomes, without having to change the way people work; one example would be divesting noncore assets to focus on the core business. On the next level of complexity, employees may need to adjust their practices or to adopt new ones in line with their existing mind-sets in order to reach, say, a new bottom-line target. An already "lean" company might, for instance, encourage its staff to look for new ways to reduce waste, or a company committed to innovation might form relationships with academics to increase the flow of ideas into the organization and hence the flow of new products into the market.
But what if the only way a business can reach its higher performance goals is to change the way its people behave across the board? Suppose that it can become more competitive only by changing its culture fundamentally—from being reactive to proactive, hierarchical to collegial, or introspective to externally focused, for instance. Since the collective culture of an organization, strictly speaking, is an aggregate of what is common to all of its group and individual mind-sets, such a transformation entails changing the minds of hundreds or thousands of people. This is the third and deepest level: cultural change.
Linking all of the major discoveries in programs to raise performance has effected startling changes in the way that employees behave
In such cases, CEOs will likely turn for help to psychology. Although breakthroughs have been made in explaining why people think and behave as they do, these insights have in general been applied to business only piecemeal and haven’t had a widespread effect. Recently, however, several companies have found that linking all of the major discoveries together in programs to improve performance has brought about startling changes in the behavior of employees—changes rooted in new mind-sets. Performance-improvement programs that apply all of these ideas in combination can be just as chaotic and hard to lead as those that don’t. But they have a stronger chance of effecting long-term changes in business practice and thus of sustaining better outcomes.


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