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    Entries in work (107)


    UPDATE: The uniform is here for me, I'm not here for the uniform

    A few months back I wrote here on this blog, and over on Fistful of Talent about the idea of professional folks donning a corporate 'uniform', i.e., wearing the same clothes more or less every day like Steve Jobs with his black turtleneck or Mark Zuckerberg and his hoodie. The reasons that Jobs and Zuck and even President Obama (who wears pretty much the same dark suit every day), usually offer for their lack of sartorial variety are pretty consistent - having important, stressful jobs requires them to make lots of decisions every day, not having to 'decide' what to wear in the morning removes one more decision from their lives, thus freeing up mental cycles for more important matters.

    But one of the curious aspects of the 'corporate uniform' idea is that it is almost exclusively an option seemingly only open to men. Jobs, Zuck, Obama, even some Australian TV host - the professionals that seem to be able to get away with turning a blind eye to fashion are almost always men. Women, we think anyway, are more prone to be judged as professionals at least in part by appearance including choice of clothing.

    And that leads me to the reason for revisiting the 'corporate uniform' topic, this recent piece from Business Insider titled 'This woman has worn the same outfit to work every single day the past 3 years'. Matlilda Kahl, who works in advertising, has adopted the 'uniform' approach like Jobs and Zuck, and surprisingly, has not had any real issues at work with this decision. From the Business Insider piece:

    For the past three years, art director Matilda Kahl has been wearing the same outfit to work every single day.

    “I just wanted to save some time and energy,” she told Business Insider.

    Kahl was tired of running late in the morning, reevaluating her outfits, and stressing about whether her clothes were appropriate for different events or meetings at her creative advertising agency.

    For someone in the creative field who has to make a lot of decisions throughout the day, she longed for one less choice to make.

    During the weekdays, I have so many creative challenges at work to keep my mind stimulated that I don’t feel an urge to express myself creatively through what I wear,” she said. “I finally had enough.”

    “The uniform is here for me, I’m not here for the uniform.”

    A very similar decision and conclusion reached by the much more famous adopters of this strategy like President Obama. One less thing to think about. One fewer decision to make at the start of the day. One less hassle.

    But hat makes this version of the story notable, and interesting to me, is that, obviously Ms. Kahl is a woman, and professional women are not supposed to be able to basically ignore appearance and fashion and style. In fact, in my earlier FOT piece I wrote the following:

    If Ginny Rometty or Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer wore the same clothes every day (like Jobs and Zuck and Obama), would we EVER stop talking about what they are wearing and focus on their performance?

    Probably not. Men get judged (primarily) by what they do. Women, especially in visible, important positions, never seem to be able to shake the criticism and commentary about things like clothes and hairstyles.

    But to her enormous credit, Ms. Kahl proves this assertion wrong. She is proving that if you can perform on the job at a high level, then no one will care, or they will eventually stop caring what it is you are wearing.

    Which is a fantastically cool idea. Even fashionable.


    TEAM BUILDING ACTIVITY: Create your own motivational posters

    We've all seen the incredibly ubiquitous line of 'Successories' posters that have graced workplaces all over the world in the last ten years or so. You know the classic high resolution shots of mountains or a crew team rowing on a picturesque river or a graceful eagle soaring above a beautiful valley.

    These images are accompanied by inspiring maxims or slogans with words like 'Perserverance', 'Focus', or 'Trust'. These posters, (a classic example of one is on the right), are terrible.

    They are terrible not in that we shouldn't try to find sources of motivation and inspiration, especially at work, but that they don't offer any meaningful or applicable insight into how we can actually become more motivated or engaged. 'A team is only as strong as it's weakest member' probably isn't going to motivate everyone on the team to get better. It will, likely, make everyone perform a quick mental exercise attempting to identify the actual weakest link and a scheme to get that weakest link kicked off the team (or fired).

    I thought about these Successories posters not from catching one in the service center customer waiting room at the Chevy dealer, (although I am pretty sure there is one there), but from catching this piece on Laughing Squid - An Amusing Line of Self-Defeating Motivational Posters That Quote Morrissey Lyrics as a Source of Inspiration. These posters, sharing the same kinds of imagery as the Successories posters, are of course awesome. Drop a Morrissey lyric like "There are brighter sides to life and I should know, because I've seen them - but not very often" over a backdrop of a gorgeous blue ocean and you have an unmitigated win.

    The Morrissey inspirational posters are fun, but I doubt, just like the inane Successories posters that you would actually get any value from tacking them up on the break room wall. But what I think would be fun, and perhaps even a little instructive in a way, is to have your staffs create their own versions of the Successories gimmick using the same kinds of stock images, but having the employees write their own taglines and calls to action that would be more relevant to your specific organization.

    I will even get you started, (feel free to add your caption, slugline in the comments), with the classic 'Rowers' image sans the good folks at Successories (or Morrissey), telling you what to think about it.

    What do you have?

    I might go with 'CONFORMITY: If we all wear the same outfits we will be sure to head in the same direction (let's hope it's the right one)'



    Those work/life balance heroes who leave at 5:30? Ask them what they're doing at 9:30

    A recent piece in Business Insider provides a glimpse into the philosophy and priorities of General Motors CEO Mary Barra with respect to protecting and maintaining a semblance of work/life balance while juggling an incredibly high profile and busy job with the normal demands any of us with families also face.

    First, let's check the key 'I want to have a healthy and normal family life and I want everyone at GM to have that too' quote from the piece:

    In the role I have now — even for the last few jobs — I'll say, 'You know what, guys? This meeting needs to end on time because I'm going to my daughter's soccer game. So we're going to be done at 5:30 because I've got to go then,'" Barra explained. "It gives everybody permission" to acknowledge their other obligations.

    Sounds good, right? When the CEO can shut down a meeting at 5:30 to head to the park to watch soccer (and hand out orange slices at halftime), then the other folks at GM feel empowered to do similar. And you don't have to be the CEO or some other big shot executive to appreciate these kinds of challenges and tradeoffs. In fact, I'd argue when you're not the CEO the challenges are even tougher, as 'skipping' work time to take care of personal matters often requires you to ask permission or demand forgiveness. That aside, it is still kind of refreshing to hear the CEO of one of the world's largest corporations at least acknowledge there is life outside of work, and that life is important too.

    But let's unpack the rest of the story, about what happens after the soccer game and the family dinner and the making sure Jr's homework is done. Once again from the Business Insider piece:

    (At a conference in 2013) when she was senior vice president of global product development, Barra said that while she may make time to see her daughter's game, "that doesn't mean that after we go home, and after we've eaten dinner and the kids go to bed, I'm not going to take out the computer and catch up on what I missed."

    It's about finding a balance that actually improves the quality of work output rather than detracting from it.

    Simple, then really. Work/life balance for Barra (and by implication anyone else like her with a super-important job, or just everyone that wants to eventually get one of those super-important job), is to make sure you take just enough time for the 'life' part, (soccer game, dinner), before making sure you jump back into work, (emails from 9:00 - 11:00) every night.

    And it's not a 'balance' plan that is all that unusual or unique to Barra - read any of the pieces about execs who make sure they have adequate family time. Every one of them ends up in the same place, with the exec continuing to work into the night to 'make up for' the time they missed while watching Mary Jane kick the ball around. There's two things from these stories I think are important for us to remember, particularly those of us who aspire to C-suite type roles.

    1. 'Work' is the default setting for these execs. Watch the way they use phrases like 'catch up on what I missed' when they refer to getting back online after the kids go to bed. When they are not working, like at the soccer game, (assuming they are not stealthily reading emails on their iPhones), they see that time as 'missed' work. Work is the constant. Things that are not work have to be 'made up for' with more work.

    2. People like Barra work much, much longer than just about all of us. If you are punching out (figuratively or actually), at 5 or 6 each night and not worrying about the job until 9 the next morning, you are losing the game compared to the Exec or anyone else who decides to grind away from 9 'til midnight on a Tuesday. I think most of us simply fail to accept the fact that in most circumstances the level of effort and commitment needed to hit the C-suite is ridiculously high. 

    Work/life balance is a touchy subject since it is so personal. But there are a couple of universal truths that the Mary Barra story reveals. It is all about choices after all. But to think that you will be substantially rewarded for choosing 'life' over 'work' is probably the most important one.

    Have a great week!


    CHART OF THE DAY: The decline of employer provided training

    Today's installment of the wildly popular CHART OF THE DAY series offers a selection from some light reading that you can perhaps spend some time with this coming weekend, the 300+ page long 2015 Economic Report of the President

    Nestled on page 147 of this tome, is the below chart - a look at trends in Employer-provided training and on-the-job training opportunities for the US labor force from the period 1996 - 2008 (the latest year this data was available). As always, take a look at the chart, then some witty, wry, and as always FREE commentary from me.

    The Chart:

    As you can see from the data, both employer paid for and on-the-job training activity, as reported by workers, were both on the decline from 1996 to 2008. And even with 'old' data from 2008, it seems pretty defensible to argue the ensuing few years, the tail end of the recession and the ensuing years of halting economic recovery, that trends and declines in employer paid for training would not have reversed themselves.

    So, what do we make if this data? Here goes....

    1. No one has time or much tolerance for onboarding new people who have to be 'taught' very much, at least taught more general, and transferable from one employer to another type skills. Every job ad you see for say an Accounting Manager just about demands that the person actually already be an Accounting Manager to be considered to get hired as an Accounting Manager.

    2. When employers perceive workers to have fewer attractive options outside the organization, the pressure or impetus to invest in upskilling and employee career development tails off. While this is a pretty obvious conclusion, it does not diminish its significance. By 2008 firms, often by financial necessity, had backed way off training and development. That is a short term strategy and decision that can have much greater than expected consequences once times start to improve.

    3. Employee training continues to be 'someone else's problem' for many employers. It still is really easy for organizations to demand fully trained and capable candidates for any role prior to hiring, as the fears of costs of training become sunk if and when the employee leaves present a high burden for proponents of more employer provided training to overcome.

    4. As an employee, you remain, invariably, on your own. Keep yourself ready, keep current, be willing to pay for it yourself, since fewer and fewer employers are willing to invest in you.

    Ack, that was kind of cynical. Sorry.

    Happy Thursday.


    A feature that Email should steal from the DMV

    In New York State, and I suspect in other places as well, when you visit a Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) office to get a new license, register your sailing vessel, or try to convince the nice bureaucrats that you did in fact pay those old parking ticket fines, there is generally a two-step process for obtaining services.

    You first enter the office and wait in line to be triaged by a DMV rep, and once he/she determines the nature of your inquiry, you receive a little paper ticket by which you are assigned a customer number, and an estimated waiting time until you will be called by the next DMV agent. You then commence waiting until your number is announced and you can complete your business. 

    That little bit of information, the estimated wait time, is the aspect of the DMV experience that I think has tons of potential for in other areas, most notably in Email communications. The DMV estimates your wait time, (I imagine), in a really simplistic manner. It is a function of the number of customers waiting ahead of you, the number of DMV agents available, and the average transaction time for each customer to be served. Simple math, and probably is pretty accurate most of the time.

    The Email version of the 'Estimated Wait Time' function would be used to auto-reply to every (or selected) incoming email messages with a 'Estimated Response Time' that would provide the emailer with information about how long they should expect to wait before receiving a reply. 

    How would this work, i.e., what would the 'Estimated Response Time' algorithm need to take into account? Probably, and at least the following data points.

    1. The relationship between the sender and the recipient - how frequently emails are exchanged, how recent was the last exchange, and what has been the typical response time to this sender in the past

    2. The volume of email needing action/reply in the recipient's inbox at the time the email is received, and how that volume level has impacted response times in the past

    3. The recipient's calendar appointments (most email and calendar services are shared/linked), for the next 1, 3, 12, 24, etc. hours. Is the recipient in meetings all day? Going on vacation tomorrow? About to get on a cross-country flight in two hours?

    4. The subject matter of the email, (parsed for keywords, topics mentioned in the message, attachments, etc.)

    5. Whether the recipient is in the 'To' field or in the 'CC' field, whether there are other people in the 'To' and 'CC' fields, and the relationship of the recipient to anyone else receiving the email

    And probably a few more data points I am not smart enough to think of in the 20 minutes or so I have been writing this.

    The point?

    That a smart algorithm, even a 'dumb' one like at the DMV, could go a long way to help manage communications, workflow, and to properly set expectations. When you send someone an email you (usually) have no idea how many other emails they just received that hour, what their schedule looks like, the looming deadlines they might be facing, and the 12,458 other things that might influence when/if they can respond to your message. But with enough data, and the ability to learn over time, the 'Expected Response Time' algorithm would let you know as a sender what you really need to know: whether and when you might hear back.

    Let's just hope once the algorithm is in place, we all don't get too many "Expected Response Time = NEVER" replies.

    Now please Google, or Microsoft, or IBM get to work on this.