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    Entries in Organization (49)


    Signals of the Corporate Death Spiral #1 - Talking about dress codes

    We have probably all been, at one time in our careers, in an organization where things were not going so well. Maybe sales were down due to increased competition, maybe our products and services were not in alignment with what the market was demanding, or maybe we flat-out had exhausted the supply of every customer who might want one or two of whatever it is we were offering. There are probably thousands of reasons why once successful organizations can fall on hard times. 

    But often, especially when working in a classic support function like IT or HR, we are not immediately aware of just how bad things are becoming for the organization overall. Sure, the CHRO probably has some idea of what is going on, when he/she is asked to provide some numbers on potential staffing reduction scenarios, but often awareness of these plans does not reach very far down into the organization until, of course, it is too late for impacted folks to react or 'pro' act, if you get my meaning.

    So for rank and file folks, who are always the last to know everything, it pays to get attuned to the signs or signals that things in the organization might not be going as well as they once were. These are smaller, more subtle kinds of things that are not as dramatic as a layoff or a C-level shakeup, but might be as important nonetheless, as they point to a present and future that might not be as fun and gamesy as the past. 

    What are some of these signals? First up, courtesy of our pals at venerable technology giant HP is the 'Dress Code Crackdown'. Check this excerpt from The Register:

    Troubled HP has hit upon what it thinks is a terrific idea to revive its fortunes: tell techies to leave their T-shirts and shorts at home and obey the corporate "smart casual" dress code instead.

    Some R&D teams within HP Enterprise Services were sent a confidential memo this week reminding them to follow the IT giant's rules against workplace fashion faux pas, The Register has learned.

    "If you aren't dressed like the models in the posters that HP displays around its locations, then your appearance is sapping the productivity of the workers around you," one source, who asked to remain anonymous, quipped.

    The dress code memo was sent out because higher-ups believe customers visiting HP's offices will be put off by scruffy-looking R&D engineers, we're told.

    The order to tuck in shirts and smarten up for guests has not gone down well, apparently: some HP developers, who do not deal with customers directly, were quite enjoying wearing T-shirts and shorts at work during these warm summer months.

    According to HP, men should avoid turning up to the office in T-shirts with no collars, faded or torn jeans, shorts, baseball caps and other headwear, sportswear, and sandals and other open shoes. Women are advised not to wear short skirts, faded or torn jeans, low-cut dresses, sandals, crazy high heels, and too much jewelry.

    The Enterprise Services division employs more than 100,000 people across the world, from the UK and Australia to India and Germany, as well as cities in the US.

    "There are customers around, and HP doesn’t want them to think riffraff work here," one source told El Reg.

    Nice. At least HP is sticking to the script and the classic reasoning of the dress code police - that 'customers' somehow might be offended if they spot a coder in a T-shirt and a hoodie. 

    What matters here has nothing at all to do with customers, or even if there are really some technical folks at HP that are going a little too far with 'coder casual' attire at work. No company has a 'dress code' problem. They might have a few people here and there that need a little bit of guidance, sure. But when organizations, especially massive ones like HP start going off with internal memos about dress codes and posting up examples of 'acceptable' dress, then you can be sure there are problems far, far worse than the Queensryche T-shirt that Jeremy wore last Tuesday.

    It is a signal, and an ominous one at that. 

    When you are talking about dress codes you are not talking about things that really matter. And often it is because you've run out of ideas for how to attack the things that do matter.

    If you are in a company and get one of those memos, take it as a sign that worse news is coming. and maybe sooner than you think.

    Have a great week!


    Five signs the organization will do just fine without you

    There are plenty of mistakes we make managing and navigating our careers. Some are kind of obvious, and easily avoided with just a smidge of common sense (like don't park in the bosses' reserved parking space). Others are a little more complex, more subtle, and usually involve sorting out more nebulous concepts like who the office's hidden influencers are or what projects offer just the right balance of exposure, likelihood of success, and work you actually know how to do.

    But possibly the most significant mistake we make in personal career management is that we overestimate our relative value and importance to the organization, or said differently, we take on a "there is no way they can get rid of me" kind of mentality. 

    Of course they can get rid of you. In fact, it is usually shocking just how easy it is for the organization to move on after you are gone. But in case you are still deluding yourself as to your essentialness, here are a few tips that you can use to check yourself. How can you be sure the organization will do just fine without you? 

    1. You've been there fewer than 2 years - It took you 3 months to figure out where to park your car, to find the cafeteria, and to sort out the office dress code. Then it took 6 months to learn all of the corporate acronyms. Then you (sort of) got down to learning just exactly what it is you were supposed to be doing. So maybe that took another 3 months. Face it, you have been only marginally productive since this March. If you were gone tomorrow, it would not grind the wheels of progress down to a halt. No one hardly knows you are even there.

    2. Your job has a Roman Numeral in the title - Maybe you are a Financial Analyst II or a Senior Marketing Planner III. Either way, the mere presence of a Roman Numeral in your title suggests that there are plenty of folks ready to step up a Roman Numeral into your job. In fact, even the most famous Roman Numeral job, Pope, is not immune to this reality. A week after Pope Innocent IV calls it a career, there is a Pope Dominic III ready to step in.

    3. You never get called or texted by work after 5:30PM during the week and NEVER on the weekend - In this age of constant connectivity and decreased demarcation between work and not work, if you are never being called upon or contacted after hours or on the weekend or even when you are on vacation that is probably a sign that you are not as important as you might reckon. 

    4. Your 'war stories' no longer have any practical value, (but they might still be funny) - If your 'back in the day' tales start to lose any connection to both the reality of current market conditions or the sensibilities of your (probably younger) colleagues, then it could be time for some self-examination. After a while, these stories start to move from 'the wisdom of experience' to 'the insane ramblings of a crazy person.' When does that line get crossed? Hard to say, but once on the other side, it is pretty much a done deal that you are not coming back. 

    5. You can explain what you do to a stranger in less than 60 seconds - The depth, breadth, and complexity of what you do should not be able to be summarized in the time it takes to microwave some Top Ramen. If what you do can be distilled into such a compact package then it stands to reason it would not be hard or expensive to train up the next guy to step in for you once you are gone. 

    The truth is we all are replaceable. All of us. Bill Gates doesn't run Microsoft any longer. Steve Jobs passed away, and Apple still prints money. Steve Perry of Journey was replaced by some guy that the band found on YouTube.

    The organization will be just fine without you. That doesn't mean you didn't do a great job and were respected and valued.

    It just means that the time comes for everyone.


    The culture of performance and firing by form letter

    Super look at just one of the ways that a 'performance is the only thing that matters' culture that is professional American football manifests itself over at Deadspin last week in the piece This is the the letter you get when you are cut from an NFL team.

    Take a look at a typical player termination letter from one of the league's clubs, the Houston Texans:

    A couple of things about the letter, and then i am out for the rest of a summer Monday.

    1. First up, in a really hands-on job like 'NFL Player', physical ability to perform issues are number 1 and 2 on the 5 possible termination reasons. For the rest of us who are not NFL players, this could equate to keeping up our skills, learning new ones as business and technology shifts, and importantly, not 'faking' it in terms of what we say we can do.

    2. Reason 3, and the one that this example from 2006 shows, says basically, 'You are just not good enough, i.e., the other guys on the team are better'. No details, no wordy explanations or nuances. Just a cut and dried 'You're not good enough.' That's cold, but again, completely aligned with the organizational values and culture. Performance trumps everything. Want a high-performance culture? Then you have to be ruthless in trimming the organization of people who don't meet the standard. And you as a leader can't let it bother you too much either.

    3. The organization also has a broad right to terminate you for 'personal conduct that adversely affects or reflects on the club'. Heck, that could be just about anything, since it is the club who gets to evaluate the 'impact' of your behavior. In other words, we (mostly) care about your physical condition and your performance, but we can fire your butt for just about anything we want at any time. Heck, that sounds a lot like many of the places us 'normals' work too. Employment at will is a great deal for sure. Until you get fired, well, just 'because.'

    Hiring, promoting, rewards, and even terminations all play a big role in defining, supporting, and communicating an organization's values and culture. If you are going to go all-in on high performance, well, you need to remember the dark side of that decision too.

    And firing by form letter is one example of that.

    Have a great week!


    Team PowerPoint vs. Team Excel

    What would you say is the preferred tool or mechanism for creating, sharing, and socializing information in your organization that is used to generate discussion and ultimately, decisions?

    While many of us (sadly) would probably default to 'Email' as the technology of choice, even heavy email cultures rely on 'real' office productivity applications for work products and communicating information. Excel and PowerPoint, assuredly, are two of the most common applications in use across organizations of all types. But which one of these two applications tends to dominate how business information and data are documented and shared can reveal plenty about how decisions are made and what kind of organizational culture prevails.

    Check the below excerpt from a recent piece on Digitopoly, a review of research into how competing teams at NASA (Team PowerPoint and Team Excel), created and shared data and information on robot technology used for experiments on space projects:

    On Team Excel, the robot has a number of instruments but separate teams manage and have property rights over those instruments. The structure is hierarchical and the various assignments the instruments are given are mapped out in Excel. By contrast on Team PowerPoint, no one team owns an instrument. Instead, all decisions regarding, say, where to position the robot are made collectively in a meeting. The meetings are centered around PowerPoint presentations that focus on qualitative trade-offs from making one decision rather than another. Then decisions are taken using a consensus approach — literally checking if everyone is “happy.”

    What is fascinating about this is that the type of data collected by each team is very different. On Team Excel where each instrument is controlled and specialised to its task, the data from them is very complete and comprehensive on that specific thing — say, light readings, infrared etc. On Team PowerPoint, there are big data gaps for each instrument but there appear to be more comprehensive deep analyses of particular phenomenon where all of the instruments can oriented towards the measurement of a common thing. This is a classic trade-off between specialised knowledge and deep knowledge. What is extraordinary is that they bake the trade-off into their organisational structure and also decision-making tools — literally emphasizing different apps in Microsoft Office.

    We probably don't consciously think too much about how the technology and tools choices we make can effect how the organization actually functions, what particular approaches and skills tend to dominate, and even what gets recognized and rewarded. In the example from the Digitopoly piece, an argument is made that both of these approaches, Team Excel with its focus on individual accountability and control, and Team PowerPoint that relied much more on shared accountability and the 'big picture', are needed and have value.

    Where we get into trouble, I think, is when one type of technology, say PowerPoint, becomes dominant or the de facto method in an organization for communicating information and as a decision support tool. It is by its nature, shallow, and it assumes that viewers and readers understand the details and deeper contexts about the subject matter that is typically just about impossible to convey in a slide deck.

    Similar arguments can be made on cultures where 95% of communication is over email, or tied up in impossibly complex Excel workbooks. 

    We often choose the easy or expected technology solution out of habit, or out of a kind of cultural allegiance. It is fascinating how these technology choices can impact much more than we think.

    Team Excel. Team PowerPoint. That really shouldn't be the choice. Team 'Right tool for the job' is. Choose wisely.

    Have a great week!


    What kind of a company are we? Take a look at the expense budget

    Take a look at the graphic below which shows how some of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies allocate funds to marketing and to Research and Development (spotted on the Big Picture blog):

    As you can see from the chart, 9 out of 10 of these massive pharma giants spent more in 2013 on marketing efforts than on R&D. Disclaimer - I am by no means an expert in big pharma, so I can't and won't declare this seemingly reversed set of spending priorities as somehow 'wrong' or even unusual. But it is, to an outside observer at least a little surprising. We think, or at least I think, of these kinds of companies dedicating immense budgets to finding, developing, testing, and gaining regulatory approval of their products, not as massive marketing operations. 

    Step back from the pharma industry for a second to think about what this kind of data suggests more broadly. How these companies, and any company, decides to allocate their expense budgets says heaps about what kind of a company they are, or are intending to become, (or are being forced to become).

    Moving funds over to marketing and sales and away from activities like R&D or customer support isn't necessarily a bad or less noble thing, but it is something. 

    The natural evolution of growing and maturing companies often dictates this kind of transition in spend and priorities. But when this shift happens and then takes hold over time, it eventually defines the company to some extent. One could argue that some of these big pharma companies are really marketing and sales organizations that do some product development to just keep the pipeline running.

    Company culture is one of those HR blogging evergreen topics. It will be written about and discussed forever. But I can't recall the last time I saw a 'culture' piece talk about one of the most important 'tells' about what a culture really is and what is values. And that is how the 'culture' decides to spend its money.

    As an HR/Talent pro it is probably worth a periodic check - how is your company allocating its funds, how are these allocations trending, how does that stack up with your peer companies?

    The kind of company you are is as much defined by the expense budget as it is by anything else we do in HR.

    Have a great week!