Sunday, December 11, 2011

New Age Manager

I wonder, if we run a survey to find out which one of the following elements (which are - mind you! - are essential for the New Age Manager) would be the weakest link in the chain, what results will we get? Without making it a wager, I am pretty sure it's gonna be Authenticity and Trust, and it being the foundation of the managerial competence, developing all others in isolation will be little gain.

My question to the thinking world will be: can you develop this competence without professional coaching?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Spain Becomes Country of Contrasts, but Where is Crisis?

Look at the pictures below and tell me what differences you see. Taken approximately at the same time, some 600 meters from each other: 6 PM... Madrid... center of the city...

A nice evening route at Westin Palace...

...and a huge line to buy a lottery ticket for the upcoming bonanza called El Gordo de Navidad:

600 meters and an abyss of difference. One thing is sure - if people go to the lottery stalls, they have given up on their government. They are entrusting their future to blind fate, which is rarely benevolent to those who are desperate. Those who spend hours in lines are desperate because instead of buying the same tickets online, they wait in cold and rain as they think that this particular lottery shop is lucky.

Yet, something is very unclear to me. I tried to make a reservation at Teatriz, a restaurant that I really like; where I have spent many memorable moments of my life with very special people. It's a remodeled building of a theater, which now wines and dines anyone who appreciates good cuisine in a quaint setting. If you ever go there, make sure you visit the restrooms downstairs - that's quite a mirror labyrinth. So, I was trying to make a booking and all to no avail, because it was fully booked throughout the weekend, and, indeed, finding a place to eat on a Friday night turned out to be a task worthy of Sisyphus himself. We are talking about a country that is allegedly in a crisis.

OCDE predicts exacerbation of unemployment in Spain in 2012, but the boutiques on the Serrano Street in the posh area of Salamanca are full of people buying things. Loewe decorated their shopwindows with cute looking  wooden soldiers and nostalgia evoking toys and that does attract Spaniards too, suffering from over 20% of population out of jobs. All media are crying out loud about a crisis in the country, but the crisis is nowhere to be seen, at least not in Madrid: the bars are full, the nightlife is rampant as ever, the airports are full with travelers. In 1998 in Moscow people were careful which ATM they were drawing money from to save on the withdrawal fee: that was the feeling of a crisis.

The politicians love the crisis horror story; it's hot political currency nowadays. A very popular game too: at first you create a crisis and then you are trying to manage it - will guarantee you two terms in most cases. On November 20th Spain went to the polls and, no major surprise, the leader of the Popular Party won, even though he was not able to formulate his position (or clearly avoided doing so) on any issues of vital importance. What we know for sure is that cuts to public spending are coming and it's not going to be pretty. Many young Spaniards only wait for their graduation to leave the country. The government does not seem to notice. Maybe it's time now it stopped playing lottery with its people and started helping them instead?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Recruitment "Wise" Thoughts of the Day

Avoid employing unlucky people - throw half of the pile of CVs in the bin without reading them.

Know your limitations and be content with them. Too much ambition results in getting a job you can't do.

If your recruiter is playing smart aleck with you, look at him through the prongs of a fork and imagine him in jail.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Luxury Calling

What is luxury: flying business class or flying a private jet?

This question did not appear in my head all of a sudden. I've just returned from a master class in Fashion, Luxury and Creative Venture Design by María Eugenia Girón, a profession from IE Business School, who came to Moscow to meet with prospective students and alumni among other important things. I took her entire course earlier this year, and still I was not disappointed: new examples, fresh looks of the materials - the fashion industry is moving rapidly and it is moving rapidly in the cyber-direction; that's one important takeaway from me. María Eugenia said today that life is too long to live it without passion, and it is so true about the fashion & luxury industry: if it's not in your heart, you won't be able to be a success there. You might want to check out these posts on jobs in luxury:

And here the key notes that I took from today's session (I'm sorry, I'm too tired to arrange them in logical order and make look pretty :)
  • Sixpocket children generation is emerging: they get money from their parents and both pairs of their grandparents;
  • Creativity at the right time is the innovation in the fashion industry;
  • Most rapidly growing luxury areas in Russia are food & wine;
  • Facebook is now the second biggest country in the world;
  • 70% of all internet sales of luxury products are done at full price;
  • Polarization: flying Ryanair to stay ay Four Seasons;
  • Move from conspicuous consumption to authenticity;
  • The luxury consumer is always looking for the best. And the best is related to the values.
  • Loro Piana and Ermenegildo Zegna put together sustainability programs to preserve vicuñas in Peru (;
  • Tiffany stopped using coral in their jewellery. Drop in the ocean in terms of coral reef preservation but huge visibility for the company.
  • Ethical mining of diamonds is sexy: moving from B2C to B2B now.
  • Elvis & Kresse: rubbish to fashion.
At the end of the master class, María Eugenia left us with a wise thought that I also liked immensely:

The best moment to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best is now.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Has Spanish Youth Lost Faith in Its Country?

If we believe to this BBC article (, Spanish youngsters who are getting higher education, do not plan on using it in Spain. Either for the lack of opportunities or for the given-up hope in the society and the government, the young people, who are the future labor force of the country, are looking elsewhere but not on the Iberian peninsula.

Hence, we should not really be surprised by the appearance of web pages like this one: Juventud SIN Futuro (sp.: Youth WITHOUT Future).

There no other future but the one that we create together. I think it's a quote from the Terminator, but I might be mistaken. Flight and Denial are the easiest and most destructive ways to deal with change. Change is inevitable and it was coming. What Spain really needs now is a charismatic leader who would be able to reach the hearts and minds of the young Spanish people, but, to tell you the truth, there is none currently on the public political arena. Pity.

If you look at the bigger picture, though, Spain is not alone, and maybe it is not worth off. Here is a selection of Wall Street Journal articles on Generation Jobless, as they have been baptized in the US:

The Future Is Here

I am a masochist. How else would you explain my unabated devotion to art house movies that get into your brain, explode it to pieces and they just let the flotsam and jetsam float there chaotically, without even aligning the scatters into some sort of a pattern? Why do I like movies that few seem to appreciate or at least understand? Why won't I watch blockbusters and enjoy an apocalypse rather than inflicting another one on my poor grey matter? I am talking about the Future now.

It is not another Bothrsome Man, it is not a utopia. It is not Clockwork Orange either, we are not in the future, actually. It is not Fahrenheit 451, there is no ideology and limited societal impact. It is a movie about ourselves, about what we make of our life, about how much or how little we care for things that matter a lot or nothing, like relationships, talent, time... It is a sketch of what we are and what we can be. It is a story about the promises that we make and never keep, forgetting about those whose lives sometimes depend on our promises. "I forgot" sometimes does not cut.

The Future is laden with symbols. Some obvious, some you need to make up yourself. The cat is brilliant. It's everything nice that we concoct in our minds that we desire, that we blame for our failures, that we forget about, that we substitute, that is essential, that is useless, that can rot in hell, that we worship, and that at the end of the day is only as valuable as we dare. The little blond girl in a pink dress digging herself a grave: can you think of anything more provocatively melodramatic? The dance, as a way to set oneself free, and only realizing itself when the main character is constrained. The Moon - eternal and cold - asking for help and being annoyingly wise. The hairdryer, the picture, the trees, the Internet... - the whole piece is an intermittent stretch of symbolic objects, placed there by Miranda July for each and every person to decipher for himself or herself what all those objects really are.

Or is there a need to decipher anything? If you let your exploded brains lie there quietly for some time, they'll get together somehow in a new brilliant paradigm. Because there is nothing to explain or understand: the future is here... it's just distributed unevenly.

Friday, November 11, 2011

No matter what your job...

Who said that HR have no sense of humor? We're full of it!

No matter what your job, you can always try make the most of it ....

 Enjoy the weekend!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Study in Spain, Work Elsewhere

Spain is a great country. It gave this world Velazquez, corrida and Serrano ham. It is the birthplace of flamenco and really loud people, and anyone who comes to Spain cannot fail to get infatuated with the contagious easiness of being and enjoying this life to the brink of our capacity.

Apart from the mundane pleasures, Spain carries the heritage of a strong scholastic tradition: its universities are well-ranked and many streets bear such grand names as
José Ortega y Gasset or Diego de Zúñiga. In fact, according to many international agencies of good repute and my personal experience, Spain is a great place to study: the cost of living is lower than in many rivaling countries, the climate is amazing and party life is rampant. You study hard too. (see Spain - the Country to Do an MBA!)

The hard truth hits afterwards. What are you going to do with this splendorous education that you have obtained so arduously? Considering the fact that Spain continues to fight its own economic development, getting a job there for a young MBA graduate may be tricky. Where I say "tricky", read "problematic", and when I say "problematic", read "hardly possible". I am looking at my MBA class trying to remember who wanted to stay in Spain after they had graduated from IE Business School. Virtually everyone. Well, most of them, unless they had hard-set family business plans back home already in gear. How many are there now? A meager bunch, and some still looking for a job. One day they too will despair and go looking in other countries.

Why is it that MBAs are not wanted in Spain. I see there are a number of reasons. First, the economic crisis has had its toll: the unemployment rates are low and the companies are not that eager to hire. This is easy to understand with a little caveat that hiring high-potential employees delivers high value to the company and the results that they are able to produce result in growth and creation of more workplaces.

But, these sentiments aside, there is another reason: the sovereign debt issues and the austerity measures to follow call for a specific type of managers - those who revel in cost cutting and who are at their best managing rather than leading. MBA schools are trying hard to create leaders, visionaries, reformers… Nobody teaches at business schools how to be penny-pickers and cost-cutters. Well, they do, but these matters end up being swept under the rug, and the MBA students rush on making presentations of spectacular projects costing millions of euros, all about expansion and sustainable growth. I guess what I am trying to say is that MBAs are best suited in booming economies or consulting companies (that will survive no matter what - someone has to do SOx audits, after all).

So it's not about Spain per se. Although MBA hiring soars, the world is still trying hard to recover from the recent economic blow and the new wave of rapid growth is not here yet. So it's time to get philosophical and take it as it comes. If you want to have a challenging  and interesting project in Spain, maybe it's better to wait a year or two and in the meantime have a spell in a BRIC country. Or (yet better) go down to Madrid Centro and have a sangria or two, you are in Spain, after all!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Welcome to Year 2030: How Megatrends Shape Workplace

I've snatched this video from the November issue of the Hay Group Leader:


Neatly done and brings home in a clear and convincing way that you'll be a success if you jump on the wave of six megatrends transforming leadership and the ways how we work:

You will also find all these ideas if you read the Future of Work blog by Lynda Gratton. Great minds think alike, genial ideas converge, or there is no other option - I am not sure which would be the logical explanation, but exciting reading, hey! Provokes thinking: time to start my own solar panel company :)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Prudential Momentum Program vs. American Idol

Have you heard of a successful graduate recruitment program?

I am deliberately not using words like "successfully-run" or "successfully-implemented" - a graduate program that would produce results positively impacting the bottom line of a company. I stopped by the Moscow Shell office a few weeks ago to have a cup of coffee with an old friend of mine. We tried to remember if any of the graduates who joined the company together with me under the auspices of the Shell Graduate Program were still working there. Fingers on one hand were sufficient.

I have successfully passed the Prudential Momentum Assessment on March 28th, 2011 (i.e. exactly seven months ago), and you can check my notes on that experience in my earlier posts:

To give them some credit, Prudential were quite quick to call and congratulate me and assure that a job was guaranteed. I nearly relaxed and started planning my summer vacation, putting my job search on hold. Fatal mistake. Once a month we would swap e-mails and one a month I would be reminded of how wonderful I am and that the job was going to be signed off for me sharp-sharp. The only timeline I was given was October 16th, the date for the global Prudential Momentum kick off. This date did come and pass and only today I received an e-mail:

Dear Sergey 

I hope this email finds you well? Today is the day when we formally close the role alignment process for Momentum 2011; it is a great shame that we have been unable to find you a placement within the business but unfortunately we are limited by the live vacancies in the business and this year the role alignment process as been the most competitive yet. I would very much like to stay in touch, you have been an excellent candidate and I would most definitely encourage you to apply again next year if Momentum is still a viable option for you. 

The very best of luck for the future, 

I understand that the decision has been taken not to take me in, but maybe a phone call after such a lengthy process and so many promises would have been more appropriate.

Moral: recruitment and dating are very much alike - don't believe anything they say until you see a ring on your finger.

Why did I start talking about American Idol? The principle hardly works: looking for talent just for the sake of talent, with no imminent business need for it does not yield worthy results. A high-potential program is only good when the business is ready and there is a need and (most importantly) available resources (positions, coaches, mentors) to take care of that incoming talent. When HR goes out on a crusade to find bright and beautiful, they do find it but then they are in a fix because the business has not asked for them or they have asked for something else… it's all about communication.

I am not bitter. After all, I am happily employed. Having Plans B, C and D does help a lot when you are back in the marketplace fresh out of school. What left a negative residue is the approach and the attitude… it's all about communication.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Restless vs Time to Leave: When the Inevitable is Here

Today I went to the movies to see Restless (2011). I don't know why I chose it: maybe because I am a big sucker for drama or because I have some morbid fascination for facing the imminent and frightening. The review caught my attention, and I did have a Sunday afternoon to spare all on myself. All I knew before the movie started is that it was a story of two young people meeting each other by chance at a memorial service, one who had lost his parents in a car accident and the other who is in the terminal stage of cancer. I sort of knew what it was going to be about and what it would end with (well, how many happy endings can you think of when someone has terminal cancer?), and yet I went and I did not regret it in the least.

Enoch and Annabel (those are the names of the two protagonists) tread the dangerous grounds of facing death in its many facets, each having a personal account with it. They may capture the fascination of the audience with their bravery at looking death in the face, but as we watch on we get deep enough under their skins and into their hearts to see that no matter how well-prepared you are, leaving this world is never an easy task. It is even more difficult when you see someone else go. Someone you love.

When Annabel gets her sentence of three more months, Enoch says that in three months one can do whatever: learn French, master the xylophone, - three months is a lot of time. Funny how time becomes important only when we put limits on it. This leaves an ambivalent feeling: proximity of death may be depressing but realizing that you have all the time in the world to do what you really want to until you die is a call for action: Focus! Choose your priorities! Live your life while you can!

At some point, Enoch wonders what his wingspan is. I know this will sound cheesy now, but your wingspan is just how far you can see. Unfortunately, we only begin to realize that when it is too late. That is why we spend our lives doing things we do not truly love, finding ourselves in the wrong jobs and with the wrong people. Only when we get the grey in our hair, do we start saying phrases starting with "I wish I were...".

Restless reminded me of another movie: Le Temps Qui Reste by Francois Ozon (Time to Leave, 2005).

A similar situation of slow and sure dying soon because of a terminal disease is approached from a different stance: I will alienate the whole world so that nobody sees my suffering and will not miss me when I am gone. Some will call it egoistic, selfish and cruel, others will marvel at the effort of self-sacrifice and making peace with oneself, resorting to dying in solitude. The main character is taking the period of time granted to him by his disease not as an opportunity to do something more, try something new, something that he has not tried before, but to recluse himself inside his own soul and meet death alone as an outcast.

Two movies: same endings, same diagnoses, different approaches. Both leave us with some questions to think about and find our own answers. I am not asking for resolutions, those never work. Actually, I am not asking for anything: just look around and see whether you will be looking at what you doing now as worthwhile from the perspective of 20-30 years from now. Maybe that will be the answer.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Indebting Your Future: Are Student Loans Good?

A student loan is the first pleasurable experience of young people introducing them the perilous idea that debt is good. Debt allows you to buy things. Debt makes it possible to live beyond your means. But debts must be paid back sooner or later. I see students loans more as an investment rather than an expense. If I learn anything from the Finance classes during my MBA, should the future discounted cash inflows be greater than the costs, it is a good investment. With student loans it used to be the case, and that´s why we have seen the rampant growth of all kinds of academic institutions giving away degrees left and right, but the picture is changing. As The Economist reports,
All over the world student indebtedness is causing problems—witness this month’s violent protests in Chile (see article). In Britain, according to a recent parliamentary report, rising university fees mean that student debt is likely to treble to £70 billion by 2015. But, partly because higher education there is so expensive, the scale of the problem is far greater in America. When the next official estimates of outstanding student debt there are published, it is expected to be close to $1 trillion, higher than credit-card borrowing (see article). Credit quality in other classes of consumer debt has been improving; delinquency rates on student loans are rising.
Should delinquency rates continue growing, very soon the financial institutions will (1) pump up the interest rates and (2) severely curb the eligible pool of loan applicants. The history will make a loop, education will become once again the privilege of the few and its prestige will go up. The debate whether education should be for all or just for a smaller fraction of the society has been going on for ever. There are those who believe that for the well-being of the society education should be given to all those who ask for it. The Soviet Union was a good example of this: the country was boasting some 98% literacy rates but it was a challenge to find a good plumber while the economists and teachers abounded. There is a second group who opine that education should be elitist and be granted to people solely on the basis of their merit. This point of view is based on the premise that a good technician is better than a mediocre philosopher and I tend to agree with this approach more. Admitting mediocre students academic institutions impede the learning process for the bright and gifted: it is a vicious circle, and at the end of the process all will emerge with the same piece of paper certifying their academic status.

I started speaking of this to prove a point that once we limit the ability of just anyone to enter higher academic institutions, the student loans will once again play the role they are supposed to: assisting those who will use their diplomas to multiply wealth, and not merely drift through the college years and emerge in the labor market with a skill set fit for a telephone operator.

We can also talk about the role of the business in all this. Spotting talent and helping it develop should be today's companies priority. Clawback clauses or not, but big organizations should help the gifted and deserving to augment their knowledge as they will be entering the labor market in four to five years. When companies talk about CSR, they often talk about hugging the pandas and planting trees. Helping promising youngsters get to where they want to be in terms of their academic and career aspirations is a CSR missions as important: it is doing the right thing and the smart thing at the same time. Very soon they will lead your companies.

So yes, debt is good. You can do more with other people's money. I don't blame those who have indebted themselves to the point of no return; I blame the banks and other financial institutions who made it possible. You cannot reproach people grown up in a society encouraging borrowing, it's part of your culture - what can you do about it? But giving credits and loans left and right for those who know something more about economics and finance than 17-18 year olds is at least irresponsible and morally questionable.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Perfect Job Feeling

I guess this is what having the perfect job and doing what you love to do feels like:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Making Recruitment Fun

Just like most children want to know if something is an animal, vegetable or mineral, most employers want to know what type of people come into their organizations. For those purposes they invent a wide variety of instruments ranging from online assessment tools to elaborate assessment center techniques. The recruiters and assessors will carefully observe everything you have said and done, classify it accordingly in immaculately looking recording forms and will pass their judgment according to the company's assessment methodology whether you are a suitable candidate for them or not. Nowadays that nearly everyone is following the same route of such evaluations and assessments, it has become somewhat trite and hackneyed.

So it was a gush of fresh air when a few weeks ago a friend of mine shared an informal (but none the less comprehensive) candidate assessment scale used by one of her senior managers. I cannot look at it without tears and at the same time admiration for the boundless creativity that is inane in the Russian culture.

According to that fine high-ranked specimen of a huge monopoly, all candidates fall into the following categories (I am trying to convey the manager's attitude as close as possible here):
  • GHOUL. These have no place in the company and should be escorted (ideally with security) out of the interview venue. Serious self-esteem issues. Can be entertaining but only in retrospect and solely because of masochistically morbid curiosity.
  • VEGETABLE. These fall into two subcategories: sad vegetables and happy vegetables. Sad vegetables make you yawn and ponder over Karen Walker's categories of why people choose to be poor or tax evasion being a victimless crime. Happy vegetables do become amusing with their eagerness or rosy idealistic categories of democracy and human rights. Both types are OK for hiring and will form the "solid citizen" pool of the company. Dispensable at will.
  • STAR. Enough said. Should hire if the salary ambitions are adequate. Top score for females.
  • ALPHA-MALE. Does not apply to women. The highest grade one can get. Issues like moral turpitude or harassment are foreign concepts for them, Machiavelli is a kin, and Joseph Stalin School of Management is the preferred academic institution. Hire by all means and costs: an invaluable asset but will eat you alive at the first opportunity. 
It makes me sad to think that this manager is up there at the senior level, that his approach and comments are tolerated and even made into urban myths, perpetuating the stereotypes of Russian management. Suppose I were to disclose the name of the company or even the name of the manager - nothing would change, as that is what others expect. It might only make that company more desirable for new entrants: to see how charismatic its leaders are, just like Boris Yeltsin's ratings went up after he got drunk and fell from the bridge.

At moments like this I can only quote a famous Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev:
You can't perceive the Russian land,
 You'll fail to measure it with measures,
From common way apart it stands,
You can but trust in Russian treasures. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Job Description Poem

Today is my second day of Job Evaluation training. It's nice to be dealing with the Hay charts again, at least I  don't need to learn anything new, like Paterson - apparently, it's quite a nuisance. In the training pack I've discovered a poem about Job Description, and I just cannot help myself sharing it with you!

Bertie Ramsbottom

The Job Description

I trod, where fools alone may tread,
To speak what’s better left unsaid,
The day I asked my boss his view
On what I was supposed to do;
For, after two years in the task,
I thought it only right to ask,
In case I’d got it badly wrong,
Ad-hoc’ing as I went along.

He raised his desultory eyes,
And made no effort to disguise
That, what had caused my sudden whim,
Had equally occurred to him;
And thus did we embark upon
Our classic corporate contretemps,
To separate the fact from fiction,
Bedevilling my job description.

For first he asked me to construe
A list of things I really do;
While he – he promised – would prepare
A note of what he thought they were;
And, with the two, we’d take as well
The expert view from personnel,
And thus eliminate the doubt
On what my job was all about.

But when the boss and I conflated
The tasks we’d separately stated,
The evidence became abundant
That one of us must be redundant;
For what I stated I was doing
He claimed, himself, to be pursuing,
While my role, on his definition,
Was way outside my recognition.

He called in personnel to give
A somewhat more definitive
Reply, – but they, by way of answer,
Produced some vague extravaganza,
Depicting, in a web of charts,
Descriptive and prescriptive parts
Of tasks, the boss and I agree,
Can’t possibly refer to me.

So, hanging limply as I am,
In limbo on the diagram,
Suspended by a dotted line
From functions that I thought were mine,
I feel its maybe for the best
I made my innocent request;
And hopefully await their view
On which job of the three I do!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

HR by Chance

I know that I entered the HR career by chance. After I had successfully passed the Shell Assessment Center, I was asked what I wanted to do (since I really could not do anything, for the Company it was a matter of indifference in which area to develop my potential) and my affection for Psychology and Education pointed me in the HR direction. I thought that I was more of an exception. This bit of information threw me into realization that I was the rule:
Almost half (45%) of HR practitioners entered the profession "by chance", according to early findings from XpertHR's 2011 research into HR careers.

  • more than four HR practitioners in five (81.6%) did not start out working in HR.
On a positive note,
  • more than two-thirds (68%) are "quite confident" that there will be good job prospects for HR professionals in the future.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What (not) To Do With Your HR Department

NB: Before you read! All examples are fictional, any coincidences are by chance. Satire attempted, sarcasm intended.

There are many myths about HR. Most of them are true. But many are not. For example, there is a firm belief that HR people do not have feelings. I wish to disagree: I personally saw an HR director cry. Once. He was getting out of a taxi and the driver slammed the door before my poor boss removed the palm of his hand from the vehicle. You see - they are human too!

These days there are guides for everything. The How-To specialists are most sought-for employees at glossy magazines (ask Kate Hudson if you don't believe me). I have decided to write… no, surely not a guide, but a short list of do's and don’t's for dealing with HR. Mind you: it is a delicate subject, so please take my advice seriously and please pay absolutely no attention to it whatsoever.

When to distract HR from actually doing something by all available means:

  • Never ask HR to organize an event. At first they'll try to do some psychological tumba-yumba with you and later in the night will take pictures, which they'll attach to the report to your boss the following morning.
  • Keep HR away from any important numbers. Once an accounting assistant fell ill and an HR Director was asked to do the headcount budget for the following  year. Public embarrassment was avoided by sheer luck and involvement of the sick accounting assistant.
  • Try to do all interviews by yourself. HR questions like "What psychosomatic reactions do you experience when you see your own shadow?" do not add value to the interview process and confuse everyone, including the HR themselves.
  • Avoid asking HR for advice. You well know how it's gonna end: the lazy bastards will start by asking "and how would you…" type of stuff and end up with updating your personal record with "doesn't know how to do his job".
  • Do you best at keeping HR away from the employees. Preferably in a separate building. A separate country is yet better. Distance will ensure that HR will remain blissfully ignorant about the business issues and it will help them continue thinking that they are doing their job well. 

When HR folks are absolutely essential:

  • Firing someone: they revel in causing pain and suffering. Make sure that the candidates for layoffs have lots of underage kids and no opportunities for alternative employment.
  • Writing something: whether it is about a gum-chewing policy or back-scratching memorandum, you can rely on HR to document it correctly and file accordingly.
  •  If you are a columnist for Humor Illustrated, ask an HR person a business question. I guarantee: your readers will be delighted.
  • Chaos creation and people confusion. Just like an octopus squirts out ink to escape the predators, let your HR out to create havoc and communication paralysis inside the organization as well as among your competitors, suppliers and the stray dogs in the vicinity.
  • Paper-shifting, nose-wiping, belly-gazing. Unsurpassed champions!

Love your HR. Otherwise, they are gonna love you…

Monday, October 17, 2011

MEN are finished

Salary discrimination
The controversy whether it's a man's world still or not deserves to be on the agenda but the facts point in the opposite direction:

  • women earn 10-30% less than men
  • men utterly dominate such beefy industries as transport and mining. A hefty 11% of men work in construction; only 1% of women do. Women cluster in communications, retail and public administration, including education and health. See here a larger list of female dominated industries.
Pat Heim assures that until very recently the only truly female professions were (1) queen and (2) witch. The things have changed...
- Women 3.0
-  Women, Know Your Limits
 ...but females are still not scoring even with men in the workplace. Why?
  1. Discrimination
    1. Some men think women are less capable, and some laws treat the sexes differently
    2. Women also have fewer assets that can be turned into capital. Land is a prime example. In 16 poor countries, 55% of female-headed households own land, but 64% of male-headed ones do.
  2. Women are sometimes less qualified than men
  3. Women do not control their own time. In rich Austria and Italy, women do at least three times as much housework and child care as men. In poorer Cambodia, they do 50% more.
With a large degree of generalization, I think there are three constituencies that have highest stakes in this issue:

  • The society bears part of the blame: gender stereotyping begins from the moment parents and relatives start buying pink or blue clothes on finding our the sex of the baby. Not many know the difference between the concepts of "sex" and "gender" and many do not think that the baby itself does not really care what color pamper it is going to wear.

  • The business should also assume partial responsibility. Managers do not want to deal with pregnancies and child care leaves, so females in the workforce have been traditionally shunned (emphasis on "traditionally"), particularly in the senior echelons ("boys' clubs), and the board of directors have this affinity for the alpha-male style of leaders, and that's exactly whom they appoint CEO, and alpha-males like those alike, and the vicious circle makes another loop.

  • Finally, it is the individual (man or woman - does not, actually, matter): the stance you take, the force of your conviction and the passion, with which you are going to defend your beliefs --- they do make a difference.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Swiss Tidbits

Today was a splendid day in Lausanne, Switzerland: the sun was shining, the sky was blue and all the kids were out at the citywide sports fest. I was roaming around, popping in small cafes for a bit of this and that and spending pleasurable moments on the shore of Lake Geneva. As ill luck would have it, being in roaming, my 3G was gone, so I could not share my Swiss observations in real time, hence I was jotting them down and posting now. 

Here we go:

  • There is something about a good bouillabaisse that makes my heart go boom-boom.
  • An old Romanian lady at the next table is trying to prove to a Swiss waiter that he cannot speak French. I find it adorable.
  • Observing two 90-year-old ladies at a restaurant fighting over who should pick up the bill. I wonder if there'll be casualties.
  • Swiss money is funny.
  • What was the rationale for the decision to keep the shops closed in Switzerland on Sundays: to decrease sales or to annoy the foreigners?
  • Switzerland is all about style and location.

  • Having a funeral agency right on the central city square (Place de l'Europe) is symbolic, isn't it?

  • Russians were here!

Up In The Air

There is a movie with the same title. It jumped to my mind as I opened my laptop sitting in a business lounge at the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow waiting to take off for Geneva. Now that I am back in the workplace, my jet-setting business trip layover hotel airplane food begins again. It is an ambivalent feeling: on the one hand, I am glad to be up in the air again, enjoying the dynamic life of airports and meeting rooms inseparable from the present day international business, but on the other hand, I feel uneasy about breaking my routine (gym, friends, cultural life) and submitting my body to dehydration, sleep deprivation and jet lag.

I see to have arrived at the same point in my weltanschaung as the character of George Clooney, but some 30 years earlier. Mobility gets you to the top much faster and your readiness to be away from your your family will cast a positive reflection on your paycheck, but how do you put a price on relationships and well-being? One of senior VPs, who once interviewed me, confessed that he had got to where he was primarily due to his willingness to be mobile internationally. Bitterly, he added that it had cost him his marriage.

It boils down to making choices. Many would give a fence-sitting answer that it is all about balance, that sitting at home all of the time is also no good, and that separation makes hearts grow fonder, but how many have actually managed to achieve that equilibrium successfully and maintain it?

I am pro-balance. Big time: my Zodiac sign is Libra, after all. I enjoy traveling and I enjoy the comfort of my routine. I love novelty and I revel in the company of old friends and that significant other. There are compromises, of course: you can travel to places where you have friends and catch-up with them while you are on a business trip, or you can take your partner with you, who will enjoy sight-seeing and shopping while you are toiling away at the office, or you may come up with another alternative arrangement... I guess what I am trying to say is that finding the balance is not impossible. It also depends very much on your personal values and your ambitions in life. George Clooney was very clear on that. Until something (well, someone) changed his point of view.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Shift: Take the Reins of Your Career

The companies are fighting an uphill battle at getting employees in when they are most needed (Just-In-Time Hiring) and keeping them motivated and engaged:

A global Gallup survey found that at the average big firm only 33% of employees describe themselves as fully engaged in their work, 49% say they are not engaged and 18% say they are “actively disengaged”.

Yet, I am not totally convinced that it is solely the organization that should bear the burden of fostering engagement. The employees are just as responsible for making their jobs exciting and meaningful.

Last month The Economist published a special report My Big Fat Career where the key ideas are
  • The workplace is changing; information on employers and employees is balancing off; and you need to learn how to play the information battles
  • Invest in your own development
  • Stick with the right people

No question about this: workers have to take responsibility for their own future. For many the mantra will be "continuous learning, continuous learning, continuous learning". However, educational institutions from nursery schools up to universities are doing a poor job at instilling the idea of life-long learning. Most educational systems are built on two theories:
  • The Pickle Theory: a cucumber put in marinade has no other choice but to pickle, and
  • The Squirrel Theory: you should get your mushrooms and nuts now (get the knowledge!), maybe you will need in later in winter (when the crisis comes).

 So how do we prepare ourselves? If nobody really cares about our long-term career success either because of ignorance, powerlessness or lack of interest, it is you personally against the dragons. Fortunately, there are many who would help - help is often given to those who seek and those who deserve.

There is one thinker, author, professor and inspirational speaker that I would like to mention in this regard. In her book “The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here”  Lynda Gratton of the London Business School talks about the changes that we need to make in ourselves to create value-add jobs that we will enjoy.

According to Ms Gratton, people will also have to invest more in their personal “social capital”, which will involve three elements:
  1. First, build yourself a “posse”, a small group of up to 15 people they can turn to when the going gets rough. They should have some expertise in common, have built up trust in each other and be able to work effectively together.
  1. Second, you need a “big-ideas crowd” who can keep you mentally fresh. This echoes the discussion of “managed serendipity” in last year’s business bestseller, “The Power of Pull”, in which John Hagel and John Seely Brown argued that the successful worker of the future will live in clusters of talented, open-minded people and spend a lot of time going to thought-provoking conferences.
  1. Third, you need a “regenerative community” to maintain your emotional capital, meaning family and friends in the real world “with whom you laugh, share a meal, tell stories and relax”.

Listen to Lynda talking about her new book and get inspired. Stop whining a-la "they don't appreciate me" and start paving your own road to happiness.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

EU Scenarios Bleak

This October promises to be hot: Not so much in Celcius (or Fahrenheit for that matter) as in social (in)justice emotions and revolutionary urges.

It is enough to see what's tweeting under #GlobalRevolution to realize that October 15 is going to be messy:

While Germany is holding off the rescue package to Greece, unemployment numbers in Spain refuse to shrink, Italian debt ratings go down nearly as fast as Belorussian roubles, and students protest against educational cuts, big businesses ought to get pensive as to what their scenarios are should good old Europe follow the fate of that large boat on having encountered the iceberg. When push comes to shove, the companies will have to act quickly: secure credits and cash flows, manage inflation and find ways to pay the suppliers and workers.

RBS came up with 5 probable scenarios (four of them involve Greece default by December), the Dutch government did some scenario planning too, and according to the former CEO of Volvo, “It would surprise me if any well-run company were not preparing itself for the worst scenarios, however remote those may be”.

The Economist baptized the situation "Under the Volcano". Surely, they need to see their magazine, and drama sells well, but maybe what we are about to witness in the area of EU economics in the next couple of months is going to be more spectacular and far more troublesome than the eruption of that tongue-twisting Eyjafjallajokull in small and distant Iceland, which this time might turn out to be least affected.

Dare to Be Happy!

I am not a great believer in signs and omens, but today has been about happiness for me. Maybe it is selective attention to blame, but within a range of three hours I received three messages about happiness from three different sources (I also read an article about the number 3 as well today):
  1. An article in The Economist I Dream of Gini, where connections between wealth, inequality and happiness are under close scrutiny. People can be absolutely happy in countries where equality leaves much to be desired (e.g. Brazil) and that seems to baffle the learned minds:

Monday, October 10, 2011

What is Your Year-End Function?

Last week I've got an e-mail: 
Dear colleagues, This is to announce  a casting to participate in a fascinating corporate New Year show "Musicals'  for our Winter party. If you like to sing, to dance or you have a genius for acting do not miss a unique opportunity to become a hero of a wonderful New Year party. The professional stage director, choreographer and vocal teacher will select the participants of the show. Once the participants selected we will start rehearsals and studio recordings. 

How could I pass this opportunity? Surely, I went to the casting and now I am looking forward to start rehearsals. Whether it will be Les Mis, Cats, or Notre Dame, I'm in for whatever.

Just like Web 2.0 is taking over the workplace, the office events also seem to become more participatory. Instead of inviting guest stars who do not really care why they are there as long as they get their fees, isn't it a great idea to make stars out of your own employees? It's cheaper, more engaging and more fun - do you know what your fellow workers are talented in? 

This goes further. I am genuinely pleased that many companies have realized (and we might have to thank the recent crisis for it) that they do not need external consultants in most cases and that they have enough capability and brains inside the organizations, which are merely underutilized. Companies are switching from the "kindergarten mode" (stuff should be done for employees) to the "scout camp" mode (employees are capable to do stuff by themselves, enjoy the fruits of their labor and have fun along the way).

As an illustration, you can see appearance of internal consulting units, brainstorming and employee idea gauging in any project, and increased staff participation. Way to go! Even if it starts small... like a year-end function. 


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