Convergent Technologies – July 30, 2007

Convergent Technology

An important event is happening this month, and no it is not Peter Geyer returning from the ‘world tour’. Of course it is highly likely that you may not even be aware of this important event and that is not because you are out of touch, it is because you are designers and not nerds. It is quite possible that you are not sitting on the edge of your chair like every geek across the Silicon Valley counting down the days, hours and minutes to the June 29th release of Apple’s long awaited iPhone.

You might not care, but in the view of those at Apple, the iPhone will change life as we know it. Why? Because the iPhone will be the ultimate in convergence of technologies. To ice the cake, it will take Apple’s concept of user friendliness, exhibited in the iPod, and apply it to a mobile phone. This is good news for those of us who cannot figure out how to work their mobile phones. Sadly, I must admit that I am also personally challenged with operating an iPod. Let me be more specific, otherwise I risk fanning the flames for those of you who believe I am a complete technical moron; it is not the iPod that is confusing, it is iTunes and downloading that causes me to seek advice from my tech savvy son.

The Economist magazine describes Apple as “masters of innovation” they say we can learn four key lessons from the company about inventiveness. The first is to innovate from without as opposed to within, this is referred to as ‘network innovation’ Stitch together your own ideas with others, and perfect them. The iPod was not a new device, but it did have elegant software and stylish design and of course the iPod has the multi touch keyboard that makes it so much more popular than other MP3 players. Apple brought user friendliness, good looks and a dynamite marketing campaign to the game, they didn’t invent the portable music player.

Lesson 2 is to design for users not the demands of the technology; otherwise we run the risk of having devices designed by engineers for engineers. According to Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs “We are all born with the ultimate pointing device – our fingers – and the iPhone uses them to create the most revolutionary user interface since the mouse” Jobs predicts the iPhone will “revolutionise the industry”.

The third lesson to learn from Apple is that smart companies should ignore what the market says it wants today. It seems a bit counter intuitive, but it makes good sense, you will never innovate if your frame of reference is how we do things right now – today. To drive this point home consider the absurdity of this prediction about telephones made by the Boston Post. “Well-informed people know it is possible to transmit the voice over wires and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value”. Okay I am cheating; this prediction was made in 1865. The point is, we don’t know what we don’t know, and to stay ahead in the game we need to continually challenge ourselves to “think different”.

The final lesson to be learned from Apple is to fail wisely. Again not being geeks, the fact that the Mac was not Apple’s first foray into personal computers is probably not common knowledge to us.
Depending on the source, some say the Mackintosh computer was a descendent of Apple’s Lisa computer developed in the 1980’s. The Lisa was a personal computer with a graphic user interface. Lisa was a flop and Steve Jobs was forced to leave the project. Apple has a history of flops, but they keep going. They learn from their mistakes, and clearly Steve Jobs is tenacious. Some believe it is the leadership of Steve Jobs that saved Apple from bankruptcy.

So within days the iPhone will be released. When you hear so much about the arrival of such things you begin to anticipate, have expectations and in my cynical view wonder if you’re being duped. Is it ever going to happen, is it for real, will it deliver on the promise? e.g. the paperless office, Elvis being alive, the Geyer Blog or the completion of the Melbourne fitout.

The iPhone is a multimedia and internet enabled mobile phone. Its functions will include: a camera, a multimedia player, mobile phone, e-mail, text messaging, web browsing and visual voice mail. The touch screen will have virtual keyboard and buttons; it is a quad-band GSM phone. The phone has so much technology in it that Apple has applied for over 200 patients! Soon you will be able to purchase the iPhone if you are prepared to part with US $499 for a 4 GB model, or really go hog wild with the 8 GB model which will set you back US $599.

The lure of having one device that will do everything is attractive to some. For me I have my doubts, mostly because as a family we have gone through multiple mobile phones for a variety of reasons. You might say, of course, she has teenage boys they lose everything. Unfortunately, it was not my sons who popped my mobile in the washing machine on the normal cycle. Even after a rinse cycle retrieval and emergency mobile phone CPR (soaking the phone in mentholated spirits) it still wouldn’t work. By the way that technique was recommended to me by Peter McCamley who had a water accident with his mobile, it worked for him!

Whether we like it or not the trend toward converging technologies is in full swing. At the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference – geeze sorry I missed that, I wouldn’t have been invited anyway because it is Microsoft’s annual meeting where they chart their aspirations for the future, At WinHEC Bill Gates, Microsoft’s co-founder, predicted “We don’t see the desk phone existing as a separate device in the future”. In Microsoft’s future vision, the PC would incorporate all of our desk phone’s functionality with our PC’s. We would be able to set up a conference call with the click of a mouse and you could play solitaire on the conference call if/when it got boring.

Sounds good to me, it took at least seven people to help me set up a three way conference call on my phone last week and that was just the people in our office working on it. The guys from the two other companies I was attempting to connect with couldn’t do any better. It wasn’t till Sean dug out the operating instructions for our 1975 handsets that we were able to successfully complete the call. Having this occur when the Sydney office was down an office coordinator and IT guy didn’t help.

In his article Skype Overcomes Hype with Fun Factor, Peter Moon talks about how much fun it is to make phone calls over your PC. It must be, why else would 8 million people be connected via skype at any moment. Just as we are seeing a convergence of technologies with mobile phones and PCs we are seeing it with skype too. If you think all you can do with skype is make phone calls you’re wrong. The latest release of the software provides the ability to transfer money using Pay Pal. Moon points out how useful this will be when your kids are calling you for money, one seamless transaction.

Wait – were not done yet, there are more converged technologies to report. There is the Qmedia speaker system that turns any MP3 player into a clock radio. With a secure digital card, a USB cable or a 3.5 mm jack you can go to sleep listening to your favorite podcast enabling you to learn as you snooze!

Wait that’s not all!! Convert your hand-held PC into a portable satellite navigation system, and with that you will have everything required to become a cab driver in Brisbane. My experience has shown one needs only a vehicle and a Pocket PC with a Bluetooth GPS satellite receiver and mapping software loaded – no need to have any knowledge of the city or speak English and by all means if you intend to be a cab driver in Brisbane don’t for one minute think you will need a street directory for back up. The receiver will cost you about $81 dollars, and the mapping software for a pocket PC will cost about $199.
A few warnings about the immanent convergence of technology; Don’t try to do it by yourself or bad things could happen such as attempts to converge your mobile phone with your I key in your purse. If you drive a Nissan or Lexus the mobile phone will render the key useless, the car wont start and the best thing is it can’t be reprogrammed. OOPS
Another warning, if you do intend to become a cab driver in Brisbane don’t be fooled by mobile phones with a built in GPS, every time you lose contact with the phone network you will lose satellite navigation capacity. This would make you no different than your passenger, if your passenger is like me they will have no idea where to go because they are from Sydney. To complicate matters further, they may even still believe that they are going ‘down to Brisbane’ from Sydney. This clearly demonstrates they don’t even have the most rudimentary knowledge of Australian geography. As a result you will be hopelessly lost and will need to charge your passenger a double fare.

Sources

It’s Not PC to Predict the Future
By John Davidson
The Australian Financial Review
May 22, 2007

Just the Gift Every Mum’s Waiting for
By Peter Moon
The Australian Financial Review
May 1, 2007

Skype Overcomes Hype with Fun Factor
By Peter Moon
The Australian Financial Review
May 22, 2007

Why Apple’s iPhone is Not the Next iPod
By Saabira Chaudhuri
Fast Company
May 2007

Podcast
TWIT # 98
The Big Bang

Podcast
The Economist
Apple and Innovation – cover editorial
June 8, 2007

Middlescence – June 27, 2006

Middlescence

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 21 – June 27, 2006

A lot of you know that I do Bikram yoga, it is the type done in a room heated to 39C. This past weekend I went to a special class with one of Bikram’s most experienced instructors who came over from the US to teach a handful of masters’ classes in Australia. I found this teacher very inspiring, not only did she have a great command of the postures and their medical benefits but she looked great too. As you might imagine, when one exercises in that kind of heat they wear as little as is legally possible, and the teacher from the US was no exception in a black one piece bathing suit. Watching her move through the room I couldn’t help but want to be like her, be as smart, as peaceful and look that good. Fortunately for me, I still have some time to catch up, she is in her 80s. When I wasn’t thinking about being nauseous and on the verge of fainting from the heat, I was thinking I would like to have the confidence to walk around in a bathing suit,  do an effortless sit up and be a yoga teacher when I am 80. Doing the math, I could go to the 8 week Bikram training in Los Angeles now and still get in a solid thirty plus years teaching before I hit 80.

I thought the fixation about what I should do next in my career was just a passing phase; I seem to have an insatiable quest to find things that give me a greater sense of purpose in life. Naively, I thought that I was the only one who did this and assumed the rest of you were content with your chosen professions. I imagined you were all like my old boss Art Gensler, once when I said good morning to him he replied “if I was any better there would be two of me”.  It was surprising and disappointing to suddenly read that I am not the only one who spends time thinking about what’s next.  In fact it is quite common. Go figure, my crisis is not even my own, and it is not even unique, it is so common with people my age that it even has a name.  Middlescence!

Like adolescence, middlescence can be a time of great frustration and confusion which explains the poor state of my household with a pair of each. People like me, mid career employees, between the ages of 35 and 54 make up more than half the workforce and we work longer hours than our older and younger counterparts. Unfortunately, only 43% of us are passionate about our jobs, 33% of us feel energised by our work, 36% say they feel they are in dead- end jobs and 40% feel burnt out. As a group we have the lowest satisfaction rates with our immediate managers and the least confidence in top executives.  We are working more, enjoying it less and looking for something else to do that may put a little joy back in our lives.

When it comes to mid career employees, the companies they work for mistakenly believe they are settled and content, the solid backbones of the organisation; and unfortunately often ignore them. This can lead to middlescents becoming so dissatisfied that they will leave their jobs, or worse stay and fester with a bad attitude. Every day companies all over the world are paying the price of lost energy, enthusiasm and a lack of innovation and focus from their middlescent employees, which is often more threatening to productivity than employee turnover. The Harvard business review states “companies are ill- prepared to manage middlescence because it is so pervasive, largely invisible, and culturally uncharted”.

The outcomes for business are not good, with fewer emergent workers entering the workforce and those that are, planning their exit, many companies could be caught out by their valuable experienced people quitting sooner than necessary. As workforce demographics shift over the next ten years, it would be wise for any company that wishes to control its fate to learn to recognise the early warning signs of middlescence frustration, and to actively develop strategies to combat it.

For obvious reasons I will not disclose which of these symptoms that I still have or had. However I will confess to having already gone through one middlescent crisis. Because it was more than shrimps on the Barby and distaste of the Republican administration that got me to: move around the world, switch jobs, and do something completely different. In the event you in the 35 to 54 age group and fear you may have this condition, here are some signs of middlescence:

  • Being stuck in a bottleneck – you are competing for too few leadership positions in an organisation
  • Stuck in work life tension, once referred to as the sandwich generation you’re caught between caring for the kids and the parents
  • Burnt out, being in a career for 20 or more years, you are stretched and stressed and find your work unexciting or repetitive.
  • Disappointment, realising that you haven’t achieved what you thought you would and probably never will.
  • Unimpressive boss, distrust of the company, great gaps in compensation between you and those above
  • Lengthening horizon, realising that you can’t retire and will have to work for quite a while longer.

As most of you know, Bill Gates has retired from Microsoft. While he plans to maintain a large holding in the company, he and Melinda are going to put all of their energy into the philanthropic organisation they founded several years ago. His primary motivation in retiring is a desire to spend more time on the issues that he really cared about. Whadaya reckon, Middlescence? Yes it is perhaps easier to search for greater purpose in life when you are worth 50 billion US, and you are the boss. Never the less, it is somewhat comforting to see that this condition can happen to just about anyone regardless of your position in a company or the number of noughts on your pay cheque.

For those of us without a spare billion let alone million to finance our pursuit of greater meaning, there are other strategies for revitalizing careers that are more attainable for us commoners. First is what the employer can do, followed by a few tips on how to take matters into your own hands.

For employers, it is advised that two preliminary steps are taken before embarking on the six following ideas. The first preliminary step is to remove barriers to occupational mobility, such as the policies within your company that may block employees. Second, it is advised that you ‘find the keepers’ and this means going beyond the stars in your organisation, who are probably already recognised, to identify the people whose skills and experience you need and want to retain. Once you have done that you can zip up a mid career employee by doing the following:

  • Offer fresh assignments in different geographical locations or other parts of the company.
  • Offer an internal career change, allow the employee to assume a different job.
  • Put experienced employees into mentoring, teaching and other knowledge sharing roles
  • Offer fresh training, refresher courses, in depth education to develop new skills in new areas
  • Let your people take Sabbaticals, (only 5% of the 500 organisations surveyed by Hewitt Associates offered sabbaticals)
  • Expand leadership development; there are shortages in leadership succession. Corporate restructuring and flattening of organisations has eroded career paths. The result is people can’t accumulate needed leadership skills on the job anymore.

In the event the company you work for does not recognise the signs or worse chooses to ignore them.  How can you take charge of your own work/life and find meaningful absorbing work?

Richard Leider founding partner of the Inventure Group has over three decades of experience as a career coach and counsellor. He believes that each individual is born with a reason for being and that life is a quest to discover that purpose. To help people decide where they are going he asks his clients to answer two questions honestly: What do you want? And how will you know when you get it? Leider believes that people have their own solutions; they just don’t know how to discover them or avoid that discovery. He goes on to say that if you want to make good decisions for your work in life, it all comes down feeding your three hungers.

The first hunger is to connect deeply with the creative spirit of life; not in the classic sense but to “touch creative energy and be touched by it” this could come from bringing a child into the world or introducing playfulness and creativity to the workplace.  (or for you clients might I suggest you could just hire Geyer) The second is to know how to express your gifts and talents, each of us has something to contribute we just need to figure out what that is. Aristotle said “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation” Determine what needs doing in your organisation? What needs doing in the world?  Finally you must know that our lives matter, we are here to leave behind something of ourselves. Work can and should give you a sense of joy, you spend 60% of your life doing it, make the most of it.

Many of us know all too well that there is nothing like a few kids, aging parents to care for, a mortgage and school tuition to make you feel like you have lost the opportunity to search for meaning and purpose.  We all want and need money but we also want to use our talents and want the ability to control our own time. We want to work on something we feel is worthwhile. Sadly, many of us measure our worth by our work. The good news is we don’t always measure this in dollars anymore. “The search for meaningful work is the heart of middlessence, just as the search for an identity – a calling – marks adolescence.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes said “Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us” From the time we are small children we are asked what we want to be when we grow up. Looking at my children, both teenagers, it is hard for me to imagine them making a career choice now that will satisfy them for another 50 or 60 years. They’re not bad kids; it is just the chance of getting it right the first time is slim.  If research on career choice has any validity, they will not be the only ones.  The reality is that most people don’t choose their career their career chose them; they start down a path and never stop to ask what their calling might be.

According to Leider you need to understand your choices as well as understand the different points in life. He likens it to a spiral, there are times when you’re on a plateau and all is balanced and then something comes along and knocks you off balance. It is when these events occur that you need to take stock. You need to look at everything you’ve been carrying with you, unpack your bag and then repack it considering these four elements: discover how to live from the inside out, discover your gifts, discover what moves you and finally discover solitude because it is there that you will be able to deal with the first three.

I will leave you with a letter written to Fast Company magazine in response to the article “Are You Deciding On Purpose” Now, at 78, retired from major industry, I was stuck with the profound truth and beauty of your philosophy. In retrospect, you could have been writing about me… Now that I am retired and doing what I truly enjoy, looking back I wish that I had taken a few more risks and dealt with the opportunities that I chose to ignore. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

One last question, following the popularity of Big Brother can you e mail me back you thoughts on what you feel would be the best opportunity for me:

Vote A or B

A – Laurie should be a yoga teacher in her next career

B – Laurie should become a romance novelist, focusing on sleazy workplace trysts (keeping with my passion for the workplace and its issues)

Sources

Managing Middlescence

By Robert Morison, Tamara Erickson and Ken Dychtwald

The Harvard Business Review   March, 2006

My Battle with the Misery and Malaise of Middlescence

By Lucy Kellaway

The Financial Times May 15, 2006

Are you deciding on Purpose (extended interview with Richard Leider)

By Alan M Webber

Fast Company  February, 1998

Are you leading two lives?

By Richard Leider

The Inventure Group On Purpose Journal Vol. 6 No. 1

Gates to Reduce Microsoft Role as Era Changes

By John Markoff and Steve Lohr

The New York Times June 16, 2006

Personal Business; A Burnout Cure That Few Companies Prescribe

By Lynnley Browning

The New York times June 6, 2003

Downsizing Worm turns

By Deirdre Macken

The Australian Financial Review October 7, 2005

 

Talking Up – May 29, 2006

Talking Up

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 20 – May 29, 2006

At the recent opening party of our Brisbane office someone overheard me greeting Peter Geyer. Later they confessed surprise at my greeting, I am not sure whether they had an expectation that I curtsied or lay prostrate on the floor, but telling Peter that I had prepared myself for seeing him by taking a double dose of anti depressants that morning was not what they expected. The person said “you talk like that to your boss”? My reply, actually I report to Peter Mac but hell yeah why not just because the guy’s name is on the door doesn’t mean he’s not up for a laugh. Maybe it is the camaraderie built from catching 6am flights from NZ together that has given me this sense of comfort; on the other hand Eliza has been ill so perhaps there has been a delay in issuing my pink slip.

It is great to have fun at work and I confess to be the kind of person who likes to laugh which is why I have not chosen a profession where joking is prohibited. You will never see me working at the X-ray machines at the airport. I am lucky I can keep my mouth closed long enough about the Bush administration to walk through the machine; if the queue is long the pressure on me to not make a smart mouth remark is almost unbearable. For many of us, it is unimaginable to think of a day going by without sharing jokes or our thoughts with co workers, regardless of their rank with in the organisation. Unfortunately, in many businesses ‘talking up’ is discouraged; and those companies that do not encourage free and open interaction between all workers can suffer greatly for the loss of knowledge and experience.

Last year I wrote about my brother the rocket scientist and the little mishap they had at NASA with the space shuttle. You may recall that the disintegration of the shuttle was blamed on damage caused to the heat shields of the ship that occurred when a piece of insulating foam hit the hull on take off? Junior engineers at NASA expressed concern about the damage, but their superiors told them to mind their own business and shut up. This is an extreme example of the negative impact of not being able to speak up at work; fortunately for most companies the stakes are not so high.

According to Julie Cogan from the Australian Graduate School of Management, office culture can encourage or discourage employees from speaking up. Organisations need a culture and process for employees to voice dissent or bad news. “If you don’t – you keep vital information under wraps” Cogan says. There are a number of ways companies can encourage employees to share their views. One is to appoint a rotating devils advocate, another is to  employ some of Edward De Bono’s techniques of provocation –  the six hats theory or introducing a process of presenting alternative views such as the ‘fishbone diagram’. What ever a business uses, it is important to encourage employees to speak up and communicate positive and negative ideas at work.

Research done by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson and Professor James Detert from Penn State explores the reasons we are hesitant to speak up to internal authorities in the workplace. They believe that it is possible to create environments that encourage employees to engage both their “latent voice” and “upward voice”. The latent voice is when an employee considers speaking up about an issue, problem or an improvement opportunity and chooses not to. It is all of the potential communications that may not in fact occur. Having exposed you to this term, we can now have a secret language within Geyer. Similar to the way that mothers gently correct a loud child with “honey lets use our inside voices” we can softly urge one another “Can you please make that statement with your latent voice” in other words time for you to shut up already.

Where latent voice refers to the things we thought of saying but didn’t,” upward voice” refers to the fear or hesitancy in communicating with people higher up in the company, those with the perceived power to actually act on your suggestion. The hesitation comes from not wanting to subject yourself to embarrassment or the fear of losing your job. The research suggests that it is in this area that the signals leaders send are important. To encourage communication a leader must be open, interested and most important, willing to act on a subordinate’s voice. Anything an organization can do to prevent the widespread belief that voice is unsafe or not worth your time is likely to increase the upward communication flow. This in turn will create greater value by getting more ideas on the table by utilizing the knowledge and experience that exists within.

There are two factors that lead people to feel more or less safe in speaking up in the workplace: individual differences and contextual factors. Not everyone has the personality or disposition to communicate to the boss and having the ability to challenge in a way that does not cause others to become defensive is a developed skill. Context refers to the type of organisation we work for, is it hierarchical or egalitarian, does the company make the time or have a venue for such conversations, a suggestion box or gripe session? Interestingly, one of the reasons we are hesitant to speak up is instinctive human behaviour. Since living in caves we knew it was better for survival to avoid risks or threats, therefore according to Edmosdson and Deterts research we have “inherited emotional cognitive mechanisms that motivate us to avoid perceived risks to our psychological and material well-being”

It is critical to note that in encouraging people to express their ‘upward voice’ may not produce what some people think is a “nice” workplace. Receiving direct criticism or comments from your co-workers whether they are senior or junior can make you feel pretty bad. It is important to remember that the bad comes with the good and to grow and learn and progress in our careers we need open and honest feedback. At my last job I was responsible for leading several groups of designers, once they all banded together to let me know how “mean” I was because I had told them that the vinyl wall coverings they were considering were inappropriate. After I explained that it had nothing to do with them personally, it was and issue of choosing a high maintenance product for low maintenance client they still did not get it. I had to knock them over the head with a club; workplace violence is a terrific motivator!

To grow and learn as an organisation, or as individuals, it is important to get honest feedback about the work we do. Responding to issues we are unaware of is good for the psychics amongst us, but for the rest of us poor sods we need the facts. For many the prospect of directly challenging or delivering bad news, is so uncomfortable they figure why bother? I suppose you bother because you really want to go out there and make a difference. We should all consider ourselves lucky in that in our line of work we will never have to deliver really bad news to anyone, not yet at least. “Sorry Mr. client we need to inform you that the groovy paint we specified has been emitting higher than normal  VOC levels and it is likely to cause brain damage to most if not all of your staff ”  Laurie’s latent voice

Some of the changes that we can make in environments to encourage upward voice are obvious. Creating workspaces with fewer barriers, allowing people to interact with greater frequency. It has also been proven that people speak up more in smaller groups and in settings that are more intimate. For companies where there is physical distance between sites, along with the added burden of cultural and generational differences there is a real challenge. As we begin to design more spaces on larger floor plates, and those with side cores we may want to think hard about creating intimacy.

Last year we designed a space for a company that had merged with another, we created wonderful lounges that provide the organisation physical space to connect with one another, unfortunately we heard that the two groups remain distinct to the point they will not even share a beer together on Friday nights. One group has their drinks an hour before the other!  In addition, there is further division created by people speaking different languages in the office. Before the merger, the reigning CEO felt it was the companies point of differentiation to hire people who spoke different languages, the new CEO did not. What had been a good thing quickly turned to a bad thing. The point is that a lot of this has nothing to do with the physical space; a company may change leaders as they did in the example above, leaders can change philosophies, they can be arrogant or too busy or lack the interpersonal skills. All of these factors contribute to an organisations ability to speak up.

From the research that I have done for this piece the most disturbing thing I learned is the degree of fear that appears to be the present in many people’s work life. Being older and have a bit more experience under my expanding belt, it is unimaginable to think that many workers are too scared to challenge their boss and as a result are put in harms way. The Sydney Morning Herald did a feature article on the risks younger workers are at because they are hesitant to question or challenge their bosses: one kid had his arm caught in a dough mixer in a bakery, another fell from an unfenced platform, another died when the forklift he drove tipped over on a ramp. The risk is not only for youthful employees but also for those that are part time. Unfortunately the new industrial relations legislation will exacerbate the vulnerability of the young and temporary workers; this could lead to Australian businesses being slow to innovate.

We must consider ourselves very lucky that in our line of work the dangers are minimal; yes I know that Ella Lee almost broke her foot when she dropped a stack – perhaps she should avoid the materials library after the two martini supplier lunch. Oh I’m just joking and I was joking when I told PG I needed a double dose of antidepressants to face him. The real message is that we should not fear sharing and talking and being honest with one another and in the likely event we go out and hurt someone’s feeling we just need to go back and say I’m sorry. Even if it hurts, it is what makes us great.

Sources

Do I Dare Say Something

By Sarah Jane Gilbert

Working Knowledge – HarvardBusinessSchool Publication   March 20, 2006

Latent Voice Episodes: The Situation – Specific Nature of Speaking up at Work (Research Abstract)

By Amy Edmondson and James Detert

Double Whammy under New Industrial Laws for the Young Worker

By Michael Quinlan

The Sydney Morning Herald April 24, 2006

Dissent Vital Part of Organisations

By Fiona Smith

The Australian Financial Review May 16, 2006

 

 

 

 

Being Fair – March 24, 2006

Being Fair

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 18 – March 24, 2006

My younger son is a baseball player; he spends several nights a week going to practice and then has a game on one or both days of the weekend. Clearly this is not a passing fad for him, but something he loves and cares deeply about. The bad thing about caring so much is that when something doesn’t go quite right it is ten times more painful than it is for those things that you might have a lukewarm connection to.  In a recent game Charlie was called out by an umpire who was in a poor position to make a call, his line of site to the play was blocked. The fair thing to do would have been to consult the plate umpire, who had an unobstructed view of the play. The spectators were outraged at the call; this was exacerbated by knowing the umpire was the father of one of the children on the opposing team.

I found it a challenge to console my son, because it just wasn’t right and sadly my words of wisdom ‘honey life is not fair – get over it already’ didn’t ease the pain he felt. Despite being taught as young children that we should ‘be fair’ it is one of those things that doesn’t happen as often as it should and while saying ‘life is not fair’ might work when something bad happens that you have no control over, it doesn’t carry much weight when genuine unfairness occurs. I believe there is a difference between bad luck and unfair behaviour. For instance it was not an absence of fairness that friends of ours were driving from Seattle to Spokane three weeks ago on a two way road at the exact moment when a driver coming the other way had a heart attack and crossed the road. It was bad luck that they were there, it was bad luck that their cars collided, and it bad luck that they were killed, it is bad luck that one of their kids is still in a coma and if and when he wakes up his life will be far different than he imagined it before those two cars collided. This wasn’t unfair, it would not have been fairer if you or I were in that car, it was just stupid bad luck.

When people are treated fairly and with respect, they are more likely to accept decisions, or the outcomes of those decisions. In the context of a work environment this is called practicing ‘process fairness’. Just as there is a difference between fairness and luck, there is also a difference between process fairness and outcome fairness. We don’t always agree with what happens at work, which doesn’t mean that it was not fair. Unfortunately, the reality is that oftentimes what happens really isn’t fair, and the consequences of obvious unfair actions can have a negative impact on an organisation.

When people feel hurt by their companies they tend to retaliate. Reactions can vary from withdrawing at work, to leaving, to extreme cases of sabotage or violence. I recognise that this is not something dealt with in Australia. I made a comment once about ‘going postal’ and got one of those stunned mullet looks from the person I was talking to. The phrase ‘going postal’ was quite popular in the US after a bad string of violent incidents in workplaces occurred, for some unknown reason it seemed to happen more in post offices than other work environments. Perhaps there was too much stress with the imminent demise of their livelihood with the onset of e mail? The term going postal refers to being so unhappy, so fed up that you march into your place of employment with a handgun and shoot everyone, and everything that was getting on your nerves. Living in a kinder gentler society in Australia, you might not understand being pushed to such extremes; I noted there is nothing in gPool on boss or co-worker homicide.

A study in the late 90’s by Duke University’s Alan Lind and Jerald Greenberg from Ohio State found that only 1% of employees who felt they were treated with a high degree of process fairness filed lawsuits for wrongful termination, versus 17% for those who felt they were treated with a low degree of process fairness. HBR has put this in monetary terms. The expected cost savings to a business for practicing process fairness is $1.28 million for every 100 employees. With the new workplace relation laws coming into effect in Australia we might see a similar impact to business.

The benefits of being fair can be seen in many industries, medical practitioners who practice process fairness are less likely to be sued for malpractice. Patients who feel they have been treated disrespectfully and who have not had their problem explained to them, or been allowed to question and discuss treatment with their doctor are more likely to file a malpractice lawsuit than those that feel they got poor treatment. There is legislation being drafted in the US now that will allow a doctor to apologise for medical errors without increasing the risk of lawsuits. By making an apology inadmissible during a lawsuit doctors could express regret without worrying about legal action and this would give us all a bit more of what we all want – common courtesy and respect = fairness.

In researching this article I found examples of the benefits of process fairness in Hollywood of all places. It seems that the in thing in many TV dramas is to kill off one of the main stars of the show. Apparently, this is the only way to keep us hooked on the dramas and off reality TV. The script writers have found that if they tell the actors that they are going to die before they discover it practicing their lines it keeps the actors from getting angry.

Process fairness pays off in other areas beyond avoiding lawsuits. Process fairness can be used to inspire employees to carry out a company’s vision or embrace a new strategic plan, rather than sabotage it. The fact is that most strategic and organisational change initiatives fail in their implementation and not their conception. The same could be said for embracing a new work environment, which is why we always suggest a change management program run in parallel with our design work.

Process fairness plays a role in creative environments too. Studies show employees working in creative fields that have a high degree of autonomy have a higher degree of creativity and innovation. The connection here is that operational autonomy is a version of process fairness. When employees feel that they are being micro managed creativity will suffer.

So if being fair is so good for people and business why don’t more of us do it? Part of the reason is due to a perception gap that exists between managers who think they are being fair and respectful and the perception of their direct reports. I attended a conference last year where this gap in perception was highlighted. When coaching managers Human Synergistic has both manager and his direct reports take a survey. The difference in results was sobering, which goes to show you that what you see in the mirror when you wake up in the morning could be something quite different to what others see.

One reason given for more businesses not practicing process fairness is the lack of obvious benefits to executives. Another reason is that in some cases corporate policy hinders process fairness. I have had to lay off employees in the past and was advised by the human resources department to say nothing. At another place of employment that also started with a G we were all told that if anyone ever called for a reference on another employee we were  to say that they worked here from date X to date Y. Couldn’t say anything about whether they designed well, showed up for work on time or embezzled from the company.

The most common reason for managers not being fair in the workplace is the desire to avoid uncomfortable situations. Leaders have to manage their own internal dramas as well as their anxiety about interpersonal sensitivity, for many it is simply easier to avoid the situation. “Emotional contagion” comes into play; this is when we mimic the emotions of others. When someone laughs you laugh, when they cry if you are a manager, you might prefer to head for the hills.

Studies
have shown that fair process training can make a big difference so it is surprising that more companies do not make this a top priority. If what we saw in our Net Gens workshop is any indication the next generations will have a much greater expectation of fairness in the workplace than we have today. We are already beginning to see a subtle shift of focus away from what is achieved or produced by a business and the fairness of the process used to create it. I sold all of my shares in Enron.

Ultimately each of us decides for ourselves what we believe to be fair. I will leave you three drivers of process fairness that you can use for a guide. The first is how much input we have in a decision, are our opinions requested and if so are they given seriously consideration. Second we look for consistency and knowledge that the decision was based on accurate information. Did the person making the decision do their homework? Finally the way that people behave when a decision is made has the ability to alter its impact. Do they treat an employee with respect, actively listening to any concerns that they may have. If we were all to follow these tips the lawyers would be driving Holdens.

Sources

Fairness In The Workplace

Australian Council of Trade Unions Website

Working Toward a Better Future

By Leo Hickman

The Guardian September 1, 2005

Best Practice – Why It’s So Hard to Be Fair

By Joel Brockner

Harvard Business Review March 2006

Management: Seasoning Compensation Stew; Varying the Recipe Helps TV Operations Solve Morale Problems by Jonathan D Glater

The New York Times March 7, 2001

As the Plot Thickens, No One is Safe

The New York Times March 14, 2006

The Bottom Line; Weight At Work; Obesity Has Become a National Problem. That Means it Has Become a National Business Problem  By Gwendolyn Freed

Star Tribune October 19, 2003

Just How Fair is the Workplace?

News Release – SauderSchool of Business August 30, 2001

 

 

Reinvention – September 5, 2005

Reinvention

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 13 – September 5, 2005

Have you ever wondered what makes some things run their course, hit a peak and be done with never to be seen again; and others to do the same, but then years later emerge like a phoenix out of the flames? I am talking about things like flared pants, ponchos and pheasant tops or ‘The Fonz’ returning from a relatively dead acting career to star in Pulp Fiction. Consider Apple computer who is ‘thinking differently’ all the way to the bank with the popularity of the IPod.

Thinking differently is quite challenging for most of us, particularly if we have personally advanced to a position of authority at work or home where we may have the expectation of resting on our laurels. To continue to push yourself and remain open minded and nimble to new ideas and the changes that are taking place in the world is not something that happens naturally. The Aznavoorian children remind me of this daily. I’ll admit I’m fascinated with people and companies who are able to rise to the challenges that a new world presents and do so successfully.

It takes training to remain open minded, and having the ability to identify and capitalize on opportunities as they present themselves, is something that Fred Kofman, a US business consultant speaking in Sydney a few weeks ago, encouraged business leaders to consider. He believes leaders that wish to improve the way they do business must concentrate on three things: 1. Accept responsibility and accountability for all of your decisions. 2. Find a purpose – beyond the next big deal 3. Learn how to have difficult conversations in the spirit of truth. Achieving any kind of success with this is about training, not about an idea. “It’s like golf. If you don’t go out to play, and have some supervision, and a coach, and someone to give you feed back when it didn’t’ work, you are not really serious”.

Recently I attended the 7th annual conference on culture and leadership put on by Human Synergistics. If any of you know anything about this group you will understand what I mean when I say that it was bordering on feeling like a religious convention. Not that I attend many  religious gatherings; however, I do read and admit I’m fascinated every time I hear of groups that  decide to drink Cool Aid or don purple T shirts and Addias runners and snuff themselves. You have to wonder how some individuals can have so much influence on others, is it the sign of the leader’s strength and charisma or the weakness of the masses?

Human Synergistics believes that to understand and focus on improving culture in an organisation, you must understand the personal style of its leader. If you have the wrong leadership style they will train you to gravitate towards more constructive styles of leading. They do this by performing two ‘lifestyles inventories’ which measure styles and behaviours, one inventory is done with the leader and the second with their co workers. You would be shocked to know that there is often a disconnect between what the leader thinks his personal style is, and what his co workers think it is! From these inventories a leaders behaviour is identified into the three categories which I have listed below, with a few of the associated behaviours attached:

>        Passive – Looking to please others, non committal, process driven, avoidance

>        Aggressive – Oppositional, critical, competitive, perfectionist

>        Constructive – Achievement and goals oriented, personal integrity, self actualizing, tries new things

It is no big surprise that leaders who are constructive fair better. Leadership and organisational effectiveness are connected; personal styles can be shaped by organisational factors or culture, unfortunately organisational factors often reinforce the wrong styles of leadership. Therefore individual change depends on organisational change and vice versa, and both impact company effectiveness.

Human Synergistics is not alone in believing that we must understand the link between leadership and culture when it comes to changing or reinventing a business. They maintain that to really understand how to change, we need to question the assumptions we hold and not just tap around the edges. Like Fred Kofman, Human Synergistics believes we must practice or train to become more aware of the impact our actions have on our co workers. The sad thing is that most leaders know this; they just don’t do it because they don’t think it is that big of a deal.

As identified above driving cultural transformation takes training, it also takes courage which involves taking risks and encouraging people to do things differently. I have heard two CEOs speak in the past few weeks on the topic of company transformation. Mitsubishi Australia’s CEO Tom Phillips did not just lift sales; he pulled Mitsubishi up from near disaster after the closing of the Lonsdale plant and the aftermath of several of the company’s Japanese executives going to prison for hiding dangerous flaws in their vehicles. Ron Walker the CEO of Freedom Furniture spoke of the transformation of his business, how he created a company culture in remote locations where turnover was high. Their tips for constructive reinvention:

>        Surround yourself with great people and allow them to make mistakes

>        Life is short – Just do it

>        Seek out and learn from others and their mistakes

>        Start over – Tom Phillips fired Y&R and launched a new ad campaign with CHE featuring Tom (who is no movie star)

>        Hold your people accountable – leadership without accountability is management.

>        Lead by example –show leadership humility

>        Hire and develop the right people – be willing to get rid of others

>        Focus – over communicate and stick to it.

Sometimes reinvention of a business requires a more radical approach. In the book Blue Ocean Strategy the authors describe how Cirque de Soleil achieved rapid growth in an industry that had limited potential for growth. Cirque du Soleil did this not by taking customers from other circuses but instead created a new market that rendered the competition irrelevant. To understand this the book asks that you imagine a market universe composed of two sorts of oceans – red and blue. Red oceans represent all industries in existence today, blue oceans denote those not in existence. In blue oceans demand is created, often by expanding existing boundaries.

According to Fast Company you don’t need to compete in a red ocean of bloody competition. Because even exhausted industries like the circus can be reinvented. Here are their tips

Don’t swim with the school

Quit benchmarking the competition or setting your strategic agenda in the context of theirs.

Find new ponds to fish

Don’t assume your current customers have the insights you need to rethink your strategy. Look to noncustomers instead.

Cut bait on costs

Put as much emphasis on what you can eliminate as on what you can create.

I will leave you with one last story that I heard on the radio. Madonna, who has sold millions of CD’s, has engaged in market research to determine which songs to put on her new album. I believe this is along the lines of DJ’s noting when clubbers stay on the floor and dance as opposed to going to get a beer. Not being a big fan of Madonna, it is hard for me to say anything about relying on past talents, because as far as singing goes I never thought she had any. As far as reinvention goes, she is a master and I just bet her next album sells just as much as any performer half her age.

Sources:

Human Synergistics – 7th annual conference on culture and leadership, Sydney

AFR Boss club – Tom Phillips The man from Mitsubishi

BlueOcean Strategy  Renee Mauborgne

Fast Company

No Risk, No Reward by Keith H. Hammonds

Issue 57 April 2002

The Australian Financial Review Tuesday 9 August 2005

Seeing into the heart of the matter  by Bill Pheasant

Fast Company

Creating a blue Ocean of Innovation  by Renee Mauborgne

Issue 96 July 2005

 

 

 

Corporate Myth Busting – July 29, 2005

Corporate Myth Busting

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 12 – July 29, 2005

Have you seen that TV show Myth Busting, where two nerdy guys conduct experiments in the California desert to test the accuracy of long standing myths such as whether a ceiling fan can really decapitate you if you jumped up into it? The show has endless resources to experiment on such pressing issues, money well spent I’d say. What is more important curing cancer or knowing the true danger of letting your kids jump on the bed?

This show has inspired me to do some myth busting of my own, the myth to investigate today is the one about work life balance. Does this really exist; do companies really care about you or your life? The first area of investigation will be standard work hours. As you may know the French have recently voted not to join the European Union, according to the New York Times this is a short-sighted attempt to hang on to a 37 hour workweek. The Times explains that if they were to become a part of the union, the Bulgarians and Romanians who are willing to work longer hours, would rush in and that would be the end of their café sitting, wine drinking culture.

It is true that that economic globalization has had a great impact on the hours we work. In Japan 63% of the workforce now works an average of 50 hours, they are slackers compared to Hong Kong where 70 % of the workforce works 50 hours a week. According to Washington Post Op Ed columnist Thomas Freidman, in India they would work a 37 hour day if they could. Work hours in America have risen steadily over the last three decades, but that just gives them something else to brag about.

This evidence goes against the predicted trends that we would be working less due to industrialization. Futurist Alvin Toffler predicted that by 2000 we would have so much free time we would not know what to do with it, and you may remember that in the television show The Jetsons a standard workweek of 3 hours was mandatory.

The Nobel Prize winning economic historian Robert William Fogel has done studies on what is called the efficiency of the human engine. The studies find that the size, strength and stamina of the human body have evolved equal to mechanical advances in the industrial revolution. As you read this your body is adapting to the increased hours we work, apparently this evolution will mean that the more work you do, the more you are able to do. If we find we are unable to deal with the greater work load we can turn to drugs to help enhance our performance, antidepressants, anti anxiety drugs. New drugs such as Provigal, will allow a person to stay up and alert for two days without sleep, this is currently being tested with helicopter pilots in the army. The Defense Advanced Research Project is also testing drugs with solders that will allow them to will themselves not to bleed and to function efficiently for up to a week without food or water. You would recognize how helpful this could be in a war, but may also explain why there are so many ‘black hawk’ crashes in Iraq. In addition, it will not earn smiley faces in the work life balance category

Many companies go to great lengths to promote work life balance by providing gyms, day-care, pool tables, masseuse, health food in cafes and rooms of all sorts from prayer rooms to sick rooms. However, in the Silicon Valley, there is an increasing feeling that such spaces are a “cosy face on white collar sweat shops” A debate is currently being waged over whether these fringe benefits are a means for technology companies to exploit workers, who they should really be paying overtime to. The pressure has become so great that employees of games company Electronic Arts sued the company in July; they now offer overtime pay to some employees.

The issue continues to escalate, this month several hundred video game makers met in San Francisco to discuss work life issues, giving them something else to talk about besides the fact that they can’t get a date.  The prospect of creating a gaming union is being considered, but companies are well aware of the impact unionizing will have on efficiency, which in the gaming industry is measured in revenue per employee. The opportunity for such companies to drive more jobs overseas is a real fear, and like most large publicly owned companies, they are driven by shareholder return.

The reality is that when you or I fill out our Superannuation forms, we don’t much care whether the company our fund invests in is good to their employees or not. We care how much money we are going to make. This drive for profit, and the complacency of shareholders, has had negative impacts. In the article “Is Your Boss a Psychopath” Alan Deutschman outlines the similarities in behaviours between psychopaths and many CEO’s . “The standard psychopath is a callous, cold – blooded individual who does not care if you have thoughts or feelings they have no sense of guilt or remorse. Top executives are charismatic, visionary and tough but they can also be callous, cunning, manipulative & deceitful verbally and psychologically abusive, remorseless, exploitative, self delusional, irresponsible and egomaniacal”.

Due to the large number of mergers, acquisitions and restructures in business, the climate is particularly suited to the corporate psychopath who thrives on power and control and who ruthlessly seek their own self interest in the form of shareholder value. Personalities like Andrew Fastow of Enron, ImClones Sam Waksal and our own Steve Visard from Telstra are examples. While they lack the chronic instability and anti social defiant lifestyle of the unsuccessful psychopath, they are cut from the same cloth.

Corporate misbehaviour is alive and rampant in Australia and America. An example of the lenient attitudes toward these activities is displayed in the AICD Boardroom Report from the Australian Institute of Company Directors. In the report former CEO of Tyco, Dennis Kozlowski was described as “not a criminal but a victim of the excesses of the time”. On the other hand, in Europe new antibullying movements are beginning to address psychological abuse and manipulation in the workplace. These behaviours are less common in Asia as their businesses are based on community bonds rather than glorified self interest. At least in Australia and the US the CEO’s are finally being held accountable for their crimes, Kozlowski, Fastow, and Waksal are all going to jail even though the AICD do not consider them criminals.

So is this myth busted? Do companies really care about what happens to their people; is there a sense of work life balance? You make the call.

FYI – To find out if your boss is a psychopath go to fastcompany.com/k/w/mailman/fasttake/20050713/open boss-quiz

to take their quiz.

 

Sources –

“Is Your Boss a Psychopath” by Alan Deutschman  Fast Company July 2005

“The Way We Live Now; No Rest for The Weary” by Charles McGrath NYT published July 3, 2005

“Fringes vs. Basics in Silicon Valley: by Matt Richtel NYT published March 9, 2005

AICD Boardroom report July

 

StarTrek Leadership – June 28, 2005

Star Trek  leadership

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 11 – June 28, 2005

This month has been quite a whirlwind, as luck would have it my husband went to the U.S. for a month which happened  to coincide with futures landing several new jobs all with identical deadlines. The result being little time to read, with the exception of Who Weekly.  It is critical to keep abreast of the important issues happening in the world such as what is going on with Brad and Angelina, Russell throwing phones, and Tom popping the question for the third time. When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area many of my technology clients used to read Wired, Red Herring, Fast Company, and Martha Stewarts Living – at that time I assumed Martha was in the mix to keep touch with humanity. There is more to life than business and technology, to balance your life you want to know what the newest web browser is and how to make a moist turkey. In retrospect maybe it had nothing to do at all with connecting to our humanity, perhaps reading Martha Stewart was about stock tips.

Fortunately all is not lost, I have been watching TV and despite what you may think there are lessons to be learned if you look deep enough – or drink enough wine while viewing. This months Futures Rambling will be dedicated to what I have learned watching TV this past month.

An insightful lesson about leadership was given in one of the episodes of Star Trek that I watched. I do love this show but swear I don’t belong to any fan clubs nor do I dress up like any characters. That being said, I’ll admit that if I had a figure like Seven of Nine, and didn’t think that the dimples in my butt would show through the fabric of my one piece spandex suit, I would wear one to work too.

In the episode I saw, the Starship Enterprise comes upon another ship that has been destroyed, on board is a teenage boy who is the only survivor of a mysterious attack on the ship. Shortly after this discovery Enterprise is hit with a wave of energy that rattles Enterprise quite severely. Of course Captain Picard orders the shields to be put up, for you non fans that is what you do when your ship is under attack.  They survive the energy wave attack, unfortunately another comes, and then another. With each subsequent attack the energy wave gains strength and the Starship Enterprise is forced to divert critical energy from other systems in the ship to strengthen the shields. Around this time the kid that survived the attack on the other starship explains that the identical scenario took place on his ship; ultimately the waves intensified to a point where they had exhausted all of their reserve power and were unable to combat the attack.

Suspense mounts; the starship enterprise is headed for imminent destruction. At this point Lieutenant Commander Data, who is a robot, begins to do some calculations in his head. Data is quite brilliant and has a mind like a calculator, a bit like Amanda Wood but she is human and her skin is not green. The next energy wave is set to hit the ship in minutes when Data tells the captain to shut down all of the shields. He explains that the wave is using the energy of the ship’s shields to gain strength; effectively the ship’s energy is being used against it. Data suggest that they lower all shields and “go with the flow” similar to surfers riding the rip tide out rather than exhausting themselves paddling out against the surf.

The idea of joining forces to create one that is more powerful is not dissimilar to Edward DeBono’s concepts of lateral thinking. Using the talents that we have to focus toward a common goal rather than exhausting energy and effort picking a side or proving a point. DeBono suggest an effective way to make decisions it to insist everyone involved view the issue from a variety of different view points, effectively focusing the room’s energy to get the best information and thinking around a topic exposed. Then when everyone has viewed the situation from a variety of angles you make an informed decision.

It is a bit obtuse but this is the message I get from that Star Trek episode, another is the complete faith and trust that Captain Pickard had in Data. With the possibility of imminent destruction of the ship the captain took the word of his crew. Had he hesitated, had he said wait a minute Data can you explain those calculations to me, or if he was the sort of leader who could not stand to not be the one that produced the answer, the ship would have been destroyed. Maybe this is why none of the crew on the Starship Enterprise resigns, or goes to join the Borg. They are a team who benefits from one another, and they have the up most respect for each others ability. Of course maybe they all stay because it is TV show? But I choose to think they have faith in the leader.

Leaders have different types of “action logic” which is the way that they interpret their surroundings and react when their power or safety is challenged. There are seven identified ways of leading, and knowing your action logic can be the first step in developing a more effective style. According to HBR (okay I did read something besides Who Weekly) the seven action logics are:

Opportunist – They win any way possible. Self – oriented; manipulative; might makes right

Diplomat – Avoids overt conflict. Wants to belong; obeys group norms; rarely rocks the boat

Expert – Rules by logic and expertise. Seeks rational efficiency

Achiever – Meets strategic goals. Effectively achieves goals through teams; juggles managerial duties and market demands

Individualist – Interweaves competing personal and company action logics. Creates unique structures to resolve gaps between strategy and performance.

Strategist – Generates organizational and personal transformations. Exercises the power of mutual inquiry, vigilance, and vulnerability for both the short and long term.

Alchemist – Generates social transformations. Integrates material, spiritual, and societal transformation

As you might imagine each type of action logic lends it self to different situations. The least effective for organizational leadership are the Opportunists and Diplomat; the most effective, the Strategist and Alchemist.

Generally I do prefer to read more and hope to get back to that in time for next months Futures Rambling. Somehow reading about business is not as depressing as reading about Tom jumping on Oprah’s couch because some 20 year old agreed to marry him,  or realizing that no matter what you do no one is going to let you drop the shields.