Monday, April 30, 2007

B.S. Jobs

The sometimes brutal Stanley Bing lists 50 B.S. jobs.

And yes, your job is probably one of them. [I'm listed twice!]

[HT: BusinessPundit ]

That's Why They Call It Work

Our firm once wrote an employee handbook for a large company that wanted to describe its workplace as "fun."

We stopped them right there and noted that their workplace wasn't always a bunch of laughs. There were many occasions when people had to meet tight deadlines, deal with very difficult customers, and fulfill responsibilities that were far from enjoyable. If they insisted on describing their workplace as "fun," all they would do is create a credibility gap.

Fortunately, they dropped the funny business.

Workplaces can be marvelous but, in the end, they are where this thing called "work" takes place. [At least we hope so. when asked how many people work at his company, one executive replied, "About half."] If people love the work, then all the better, but even those who enjoy their jobs usually dislike some aspects of their responsibilities.

I regard this "Work is Fun" concept as an echo of the "Learning is Fun" moonshine that has been peddled at schools for years. Learning is not always fun. Mastering certain subjects is darned tough and chanting that it is fun only demoralizes the students who look around and see a swamp with alligators instead of a table with balloons and cake. It also destroys the credibility of the teachers who promote it.

Should learning and work be approached with enthusiasm? No problem. But both of those important subjects need to be viewed clearly and that means fun is not always on the day's agenda. Dorothy Parker quipped that she hated writing but loved having written. The fun and joy are more often found in the work that is done than in the work to be done.

Because Stupidity is Timeless

Let's review the checklist for our "unusual" company party.

You know, the one that should draw plenty of positive publicity for a product.

- One decapitated goat
- Some tasty offal
- Lots of grapes
- Topless women

- PlayStation

[HT: Gizmodo ]

Quote of the Day

A tablecloth restaurant is still one of the great rewards of civilization.

- Harry Golden

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Shameless Plug/Mug, one of my favorite sites, is now offering coffee mugs with its insights on the workplace. Click here for details.

The Survivors

In large organizations, it is not unusual to find individuals who have perfected the art of survival.

Re-organizations and purges come and go and they remain. Their levels of responsibility and intellgence may vary, but they have post-graduate degrees in hanging on.

Some of their strategies include:

- Low profile. This is the classic approach. Don't take the top job. Burrow into the second or third tier and actively avoid publicity.

- Just enough credit. This one is trickier. If you are regarded as thoroughly inept, you risk termination. If you gain a reputation as an achiever, you risk enemies. The secret is to give credit to others while keeping just enough to make you a viable contributor.

- Exile. Out of sight, out of mind is not always bad. Why have an office in the headquarters where some troublesome executive might spot you in the elevator and wonder why they keep you around? Head for the hills. A job that permits you to bungee jump into the power center when necessary is ideal. You're there, then you're not.

- Rumored specialty. I've known people who have dined out for years on rumors of an arcane achievement. They have cultivated the view that they - and only they - have the knowledge to save the careers of upper management if some unlikely crisis occurs. The remote fear that one day they might be desperately needed keeps them on the payroll.

- Not worth the candle. Some types, due to reptilian personalities or friends in high places, are perceived as potentially messy terminations. Management would dearly love to fire them but the executives and managers don't want the hassle of a lawsuit.

- Community ties. Having significant allies in the community has saved - and justified the jobs of - many an otherwise marginal performer.

- Being humorless. Witty remarks have a habit of being repeated and one carelessly dropped line about a powerful person (or that person's spouse, pets, or friends) can finish a career. Survivors know the value of a straight face and bland humor.

- Weasel words. Survivors have the capacity to speak or write at length without saying anything definitive. One test: Ask yourself just what is the person's declared position on any controversial issue. You'll find that a case can be made for either side.

- Great radar. Survivors almost instinctively know who's up, who's down, and which meetings to avoid. I've attended meetings where a chill goes around the room once it is learned that a "survival savvy" person won't be attending.

Most of us don't want to wholeheartedly adopt the strategies of survivors and yet a dab of their discretion is probably healthy. Knowing their rules also helps us to identify just when we have left firm ground and are nearing thin ice.

Quote of the Day

Nothing you can't spell will ever work.

- Will Rogers

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Gapingvoid Break

Eccentrics and the Slush Pile

I like eccentrics.

Put me in a conference room filled with corporate types and I'll usually gravitate toward the people in the corners who are not on the fast track.

This is not always wise nor is it fair. The fast track usually has some pretty decent and thoughtful people and there are many self-styled eccentrics who embrace that term rather than a more accurate one: "jerk."

The gravitation, however, is driven by two forces: an aversion to smugness and a belief that organizations often consign some of their most interesting thinkers to the fringes. The talent market within organizations usually operates fairly efficiently but, like the market outside, it can sometimes miss by a wide margin. Most of us have heard of how Moby Dick was poorly received in the early years or how many times Animal Farm was rejected by publishers. One publisher advised mystery writer Tony Hillerman that his book proposal would make a good story if he'd just remove the stuff about Indians.

Most major book publishers no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts because it takes too much time for a junior editor to find decent material in what has been called the "slush pile." That task has been outsourced to literary agents and a writer without an agent is at a real disadvantage.

It is easy to understand that business decision. All in all, it's a wise one. But rather than placing such faith in that process, it might be even better to permit a slush pile that could be given a random and partial examination just to see how good a job the agents are doing.

The same approach can be applied to ideas in organizations. There are people who are consigned to a slush pile that is seldom or never considered. Many are simply eccentric but others are both eccentric and talented. Going beyond the normal channels can lead to some surprising discoveries.

Man versus Nature Top Five

Quote of the Day

The lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master.

- Kahlil Gibran

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hitchcock on America

The weekend approaches. Time for some lightness.

American Heritage looks at what Alfred Hitchcock's films say about his view of America.

EEO Complaints Up

For the first time in four years, there has been an increase in the number of discrimination charges filed against private sector employers.

The Vermont Employment Law Letter provides analysis and some recommendations for employers.

Midways Up

On the Moneyed Midways, with its collection of posts from various business, management, and finance blogs, is up at Political Calculations.

Miscellaneous and Fast

The Dean of Admissions at M.I.T. has stepped down because she falsified her academic credentials. [HT: Instapundit ]

Portfolio reviews what the AOL-Time Warner merger taught
Gerald Levin about fear.

post from Teri Robnett of Teri's Brain confirmed my estrangement - despite the entire blogging thing - from the tech world. I'm shopping this afternoon for some papyrus.

Victor Davis Hanson on
an unspoken truth about Iraq.

Overheard in Chicago reports a customer service conversation.

Great Moments in Advertising

An ad for San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park.

[HT: Adfreak ]

Going Through the Motions: A Defense

Have you ever worked with people or organizations that simply "go through the motions?"

(And let's be honest, how many of us do so?)

Fake, or superficial, action has long been one of my favorite targets. The idea that a matter is resolved by holding a meeting or sending out a memo is ridiculous on its face but it has a legion of practitioners in the workplace.

Let us now consider why they are so numerous.

It works.

Not in any substantive way, of course. The problem still remains, possibly festering and growing much worse.

But many executives and managers are not interested in problem-solving, achieving excellence or, as the US Army used to say, being all they can be. Their goal is to be left alone. "Minimal interference" is their battle cry and that's where superficial action comes in.

It's an alibi to be used when the second guessers come calling. The manager can, with a straight face and tones of sincerity, insist that action was indeed taken. See this document and that one over there? True, the matter got worse. That's why I need your help!

In other words, they play the very old subordinate game of escape and evade. The earnest outsider - possibly HR or some other department - kicks into a problem-solving mode, justifies its job, and initiates more serious action. The manager stands by and looks clueless.

In some cases, that's not a demanding performance, but I've long thought that many of those managers knew exactly what was going on right from the start.

Take it from their angle. If your goal is minimal interference, taking substantive action has its risks. It creates a higher profile (not good), may require consultation with other departments (definitely not good), and may attract the attention of the boss (very undesirable). Taking superficial action avoids those dangers and provides a cover story. And who knows? The problem may go away.

Remember the old joke from the Soviet Union? "They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work." The superficial performers have this line: "They pretend to want us to resolve problems and we pretend to resolve them."

We - They

We seek a reasonable return on our investment.
They want excessive profits.

We have allies in government.
They buy politicians.

We are retain attorneys.
They unleash junk yard dogs.

We employ investigators.
They hire private snoops.

We hold hearings.
They launch inquisitions.

We are pragmatic.
They are opportunistic.

We are eloquent.
They are smooth-talkers.

We are team-players.
They are a mindless mob.

We may on occasion tell a fib.
They lie.

We are open-minded
They will fall for anything.

We are refreshingly informal.
They are vulgar.

We have a healthy skepticism.
They are cynical.

We love.
They lust.

We are focused.
They are monomaniacal.

We are polite.
They are stand-offish.

We are objective.
They are detached.

We are friendly.
They are insincere.

Quote of the Day

Give up the feeling of responsibility, let go your hold, resign the care of your destiny to higher powers, be genuinely indifferent as to what becomes of it all, and you will find that you gain a perfect inward relief, but often also, in addition, the particular goods you sincerely thought you were renouncing.

- William James

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Book Review: I Didn't See It Coming

I Didn't See It Coming: The Only Book You'll Ever Need to Avoid Being Blindsided in Business
Authors: Nancy C. Widmann, Elaine J. Eisenman, and Amy Dorn Kopelan

I Didn't See It Coming is less about business than it is about office politics but its authors can draw on their own impressive experience for the lessons. To cite just some of their achievements, Widman was the first woman to serve as president of CBS, Inc., Eisenman is the Dean of Executive Education at Babson College, and Kopelan managed programming at "Good Morning America" for nine years.

Unfortunately, I found this book to be a very uneven read. For example, the section on developing an exit strategy has some creative and practical advice on getting a corporate pre-nup [But try that for a mid-management job!], creating your own personal board of directors, and leveraging your network. This is followed, however, by a chapter on taking the reins which is far weaker and repeats some old bromides such as knowing your strengths and looking the part. Once again though, another strong chapter surfaces with advice on how to maintain your perspective in a high corporate office, noting the danger of using a staff member as a confidante.

The strong parts emerge again at various points, especially with guidance on how to survive a new boss and managing upward, and yet the authors, who work as executive coaches, sometimes toss out observations that I'd expect to hear more from the coached than from the coach.

For example, they argue that "It's all about the money" and "In our experience, whenever anyone says, 'It's not about the money,' they really mean that it's all about the money.'" That may sound sophisticated, but I can counter with plenty of examples in which organizations make decisions that make no financial sense. They do so because of misplaced loyalty, fear of political repercussions, bigotry, and peer pressure. Many careers have been severely damaged because executives and managers thought that their ability to bring in the bucks would protect them against other concerns. Those unfortunates kept citing the bottom line all the way down the drain.

The authors also recommend that, as part of a strategy for dealing with consultants, weaknesses or worries about the strength of the team should never be admitted. Aside from the questionable ethics of that recommendation, it's dumb. Experienced consultants can quickly spot such evasions and the evader's credibility will immediately plummet.

They conclude that "management is building a case" whenever it brings in a consultant to help an executive or manager with conflict resolution. Certainly that is true in many cases, but you can probably find just as many others - and I've seen examples of both types - where management already had a strong basis for termination but brought in a consultant as a sincere effort to salvage a valued team member.

Does I Didn't See It Coming have valuable information for people who need advice on handling office politics? Certainly. But in my opinion it raises as many questions as it answers.

Communication Lesson: The Doctor's Office

I went in for an annual physical exam the other day and had a reminder of how environment can affect communication.

For several years, I went to a doctor at a world-renowned medical clinic. Great doctor. Great place. But since he retired and my insurance would not cover the clinic, I shifted to another office and another doctor.

Once again, the doctor is impressive and the entire place seems to be well-run. I didn't feel rushed by the staff in any way and the doctor took a lot of time to go over my medical history and get updated.

There was, however, a difference.

The examination rooms in the first clinic had a warmer, more congenial, feel. There was some wooden paneling. The doctor had his desk and computer in the examination room and next to it was a comfortable sofa where you can talk before and after the examination. There was a small room in which patients could disrobe, hang their clothing, and change into a robe.

Result: Stress was reduced. Conversation was more informal and, I'd suspect, more informative.

The examination room in the second office had a cold and sterile feel. There was not an adequate area to hang up clothing. The conversation between the doctor and the patients takes place while the patient is either standing or seated on the examination table.

Result: Enhanced stress. The patient can't wait to get out of there.

Both doctors had pleasant manners and were thoughtful and professional. I like my new doctor and will be going back to him.

But if putting the patient at ease in order to gain additional information is important, why are many medical examination rooms so "user-unfriendly?" Some veterinary clinics have examination rooms that are exactly the same as those for people.

Some readers may say, "But wait. Think of the cost! That first clinic had wooden paneling."

That is a point. I'm sure the first clinic's examination rooms cost more, but they didn't cost that much more. They were hardly opulent. And if open and thorough communication between doctor and patient is important, shouldn't greater attention be given to the surroundings?

The medical community is hardly alone when it comes to routine acceptance of poor environments for communication. You can find oral boards at workplaces and universities that are conducted in settings that look like prisoner of war interrogations. I've seen employee orientation sessions held in conference rooms that appeared to have been designed to induce depression.

If we plan a dinner party, we pay attention to the lighting, the arrangement of the room, and the overall setting. We strive to create a certain mood because we know it will contribute to the success of the event.

It might help to ask ourselves: What mood is created by our workplaces?

Fear Menu

Here's the daily menu of workplace fears (pick one or more).

Fear of:


Getting fired.

Being ostracized.

The in-basket.

Speaking before a group.


Meeting a new boss.

Seeing the old boss.




The secretary.

Missing a deadline.

Being teased or harassed.

Getting injured.

The IT team.

Not knowing crucial information.

Wasting time.

Handling new equipment.

Not getting promoted.

Getting promoted.

Being reassigned.

Being reprimanded or suspended.





Losing documents.

Finding documents.

Dealing with an obnoxious boss or co-worker.

Being ensnared in illegal or unethical activities.

Using poor grammar or improper pronunciation.

Not projecting an appropriate image.

Making a decision.

Neglecting personal responsibilities.

Devoting a lifetime to a soulness entity that has no loyalty but possesses the capacity to drain the energy and creativity from once vibrant human beings so they eventually resemble brain-dead zombies.

The Word Not Spoken

There will be some things left unsaid today.

A supervisor will forget to give credit to the team that just saved his career.

An executive will not correct a peer when blame is unfairly placed on one of the executive's subordinates.

No one on the promotion board will dare mention to one of the candidates that her advancement is being blocked by a vindictive manager.

Not a single member of the executive inner circle will tell the CEO that his "walk-throughs" at the plant are meaningless because he intimidates the employees into silence.

On the other hand:

A manager will refrain from telling an eager, new supervisor that the creative idea he so enthusiastically proposed probably won't work.

An employee won't tell the team that a co-worker made an embarrassing blooper at a professional conference.

A co-worker will refuse to pass along gossip.

An executive will decide to listen more than talk.

Quote of the Day

Americans are cowboys. All of them are cowboys. They might wear business suits, but they still act like cowboys. They aren't as smart or disciplined as we are, but they have an impressive ability to do what they set out to do.

- A fifty-year-old German man in a marketing focus group

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Refrigerator Tech: Instant Web Site

I thought I was low-tech until I saw this site.


[HT: Adfreak ]

The Critics

Bill Cosby once said that he didn't know the secret of success but he knew the secret of failure: Trying to please everybody.

Hang around the workplace long enough and you'll find that even the most innocuous comment or behavior can spark criticism. There are people who, as Zig Ziglar noted, search for insult as if there's a reward for it. Others just search for something to criticize.

Over the years, I've seen people zinged because they:
  • Hired the best qualified applicant.

  • Acted to prevent illegal discrimination.

  • Elicited strong loyalty from their team.

  • Had not lost any court cases.

  • Trained staff members who were then promoted.

  • Wore conservative suits.

  • Wore flashy suits.

  • Were too efficient.

  • Used PowerPoint.

  • Didn't use PowerPoint.

  • Sent staff members to professional conferences.

  • Had an accent.

  • Were "too punctual."

  • Were humorous.

  • Said "y'all."

  • Had "too much" job experience.

  • Fended off political interference.

  • Were kind.

  • Were eloquent.

  • Were courteous.

  • Liked rodeo.

  • Liked country and western music.

  • Liked classical music.

  • Were veterans.

  • Had long hair.

If these appear to be irrational biases - and let me assure you that given the context they were irrational - that is beside the point. Critics don't require rationality; they just require a target.

One of my favorite training memories is of an evaluation from a workshop I conducted. A participant wrote that the class was substantive and well-presented and "people seemed to like it" but she didn't care for my tie. [The tie in question was a very conservative red one.] There was not a trace of humor in the rest of the evaluation so I assume she was serious.

I think of Bill Cosby every time I recall that tie.

Quote of the Day

Trust everybody, but cut the cards.

- Finley Peter Dunne

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Seth Godin Interview

For many of us, Seth Godin has been one of the most provocative - and readable - thinkers on marketing and ways to break through the mass of ads. [Think Purple Cow!]

Now comes a new book that is different from his earlier work in that it considers how to deal with set-backs.

He explains his approach in this interview with Rowan Manahan.

Office Space Starter

Attention, all fans of Office Space, the cult movie about the workplace.

ThinkGeek has a special Office Space Starter Kit.

You know you want one.

[HT: Mark Polino]

Putting the Future on the Table

I am aware that large organizations are not strangers to strategic planning or crisis management. They have the requisite speakers and programs and exercises. Much of it is quite impressive.

There's one thing, however, they often do not have: People with the sole responsibility of identifying problems that aren't on the current radar screen but which will be appearing in five to ten years or more.

Now you may quickly note, "Isn't that task carried by the other functions?" And you'd be correct but those functions hold other responsibilities as well and those other jobs can either defuse and distract or can produce the leaden hand of practicality that crushes the ability to sense faint signals.

The environmental movement was bubbling in the Fifties but few people noticed it. The civil rights movement was boiling over at the same time and even then many underestimated its impact. The auto execs in Detroit scoffed at competition from Japan until it was at their throats. Currently in Europe ,you can see a nervous realization of the potential impact of radical - as opposed to moderate - Islamic immigrants and yet that problem has been growing for years.

Just one task: Spot the future issues. Identify the eventual developments. Tell us what might happen if China turns into a fascist megapower, oil is no longer needed to power vehicles, marriage is replaced by polygamy as an institution, the Latin American nations aren't able to produce sufficient jobs, movies go directly from producers to consumers via the Internet, there's permanent drought in the Southwest, or any number of changes occur that might have enormous impact.

I recall conducting some workforce projection workshops for an energy company back in the Eighties. In the course of my research, I ran across the far-sighted view of a diplomat from Singapore. He said that the invasions of the future would be conducted by immigrants, not armies. When I talked about immigration to the classes in those days, the issue was sort of a parlor topic reserved for professors, consultants, and demographers. People were interested, but they didn't personally witness the connection to their jobs and communities.

Now immigration is a topic that people discuss around their kitchen tables.

Large organizations would be wise to bring together a small and diverse group of thinkers and give them one job: Find the kitchen table issues of the future.

Geek Humor: If Houses Were Like Software

Check out this marvelous item from James Taylor's blog on if houses were like software.

Quote of the Day

Puritanism - the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.

- H.L. Mencken

Monday, April 23, 2007

Constructive Opposition

I didn't oppose your project.

You favored cutting my staff in half and removing funding for it.

You are trying to muddy the water with separate issues. You have never once heard me oppose the actual project.

But you also failed to distribute the supporting back-up material to the decision makers.

That was a regrettable oversight. Once again you are dodging the question. Have I ever made any statement opposing the project? You know the answer. Never. In fact, I'm a little insulted by your insinuation.

And you gave me the wrong time and meeting room when I was supposed to make my pitch to upper management. Why did you do that?

I was really busy that day. Haven't you ever made a mistake?

Your mistakes always seem to go against me.

Gee, that sounds a little paranoid. Look, I am as much in favor of the goals of your project as you are. I've often said that I favor them. You see, we want the same goals.

The same goals?

Yes, we are simply divided on the methods.

Risk Loving Business Starters? Not So.

If you are thinking of going into business, or have been in business and feel like you're spinning your wheels, check out this Brazen Careerist post on how you don't need to love risk to start your own business.

Great Firm: Why we are a

  1. We have really neat business cards with job titles like Production Wizard and CEO of Fun.
  2. Our stationery is recycled paper.
  3. Our firm's name is catchy.
  4. So is our slogan.
  5. The owners have like really interesting backgrounds.
  6. We do killer PowerPoint.
  7. Our office is done in a very impressive, cafe mocha motif with prints by street artists.
  8. We are always thinking outside the box.
  9. We also walk the talk.
  10. We are very nonjudgmental.
  11. We celebrate diversity so long as everyone feels the same way about things.
  12. We can like basically talk the same language as most of our customers. Basically.
  13. Every day is casual Friday.
  14. We don't have employees. We have colleagues.
  15. Each of us has a Blackberry.
  16. We are so into instant messaging.
  17. No firewalls!
  18. Our Colleague of the Year gets a trip to Belize unless, of course, they're from Belize, in which case they can go to some other place that's really exotic, like Detroit.
  19. As soon as we've been in business seven years we're going to have sabbaticals.
  20. Our annual retreats involve drums, a talking stick, and sharing personal stories.
  21. We have no inner circle. Some of our circles are just a little further out than others.
  22. We are pet-friendly.
  23. Since we are family, we don't fire people. We do, however, put some out for adoption.
  24. We have special "office party" days. Examples include Muffin Day, Colleagues Who Type Things Day, and Clean the Break Room Day.
  25. Our web site totally rocks!

Quote of the Day

Be intent on the perfection of the present day.

- William Law

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Weekend Precision Drill Break

The US Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon at a Denver Nuggets game.

[HT: Hilary ]

Women in Fortune 500 CEO Jobs

Fortune magazine has brief profiles on the women who are currently the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

In Praise of Frank People

Some people are brutally frank (not good) while others are frank (usually good).

A much larger third group, however, is composed of those cautious or manipulative folks who use weasel words to indicate their feelings and who would not give a frank opinion if you begged for it.

Know ye them by these words:

"I'm not against the idea but it needs further study."

Translation: I'm against it.

"The time is not quite right."

Translation: Nor will it ever be.

"I'm concerned about its effect on our resources."

Translation: And we'll have enough resources in 2050.

"I want to send it out to the entire team!"

Translation: That should delay it for several months.

"It's very thought-provoking."

Translation: And if only I'd had those thoughts it would be fine.

"It has my full support but I can't say anything now."

Translation: I'll make supportive hand gestures.

"I love it!"

Translation: I hate it.

Quote of the Day

How do you make a million? You start with $900,000.

- Stephen Lewis

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Offender Becomes "Victim?"

Earlier, with regard to the Don Imus story, I mentioned the usual stages of offense, indignation, and exploitation.

I forgot "litigation."

Imus has hired a lawyer.

Fixing Business

A classic post from Trizoko on how to fix your business.

Consider how their list can be converted to your career.

Perry on History-Laden Tales

Novelist Anne Perry give her list of the top five tales "rooted in history."

I'd quickly add some others to the list:

Julian by Gore Vidal
Lincoln by Gore Vidal
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George
Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
Pompeii by Robert Harris

Recovery Time

You get knocked down, you jump right back up, right?


Who said you can't take some time out to recover and to sort out the pain?

We have national tragedies or outrages and within minutes the victims have a microphone thrust in their faces. If the press should muster the decency to leave people alone, should not we as individuals give ourselves the time and space to recover, to leave ourselves alone, without feeling a compulsion to rebound like a rubber ball?

Setbacks in the workplace that are short of termination are usually not traumatic, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve some recovery time. There are injuries to feelings and status in many work weeks and the inability to recover from them can eventually erode optimism and confidence.

But they require some time to recover.

There's much to be said for the wisdom from this John Dryden ballad:

"I am hurt, but I am not slain;
I'll lay me down and bleed a while,
And then I'll rise and fight again."

Quote of the Day

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.

- Joseph Clinton Pearce

Friday, April 20, 2007

Character Sightings

Fiction is often very close to reality and that can be easily demonstrated by considering how many fictional characters, from novels or films, that you're seen in the workplace. My own character-spotting list is below. I've included a legend to denote the number of sightings.

*One sighting
**More than one but not many
****More than I can recall
Uriah Heep from David Copperfield ****
Sammy Glick from What Makes Sammy Run? ***
Ignatius Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces *
Captain Queeg from The Caine Mutiny**
Luke from Cool Hand Luke***
Madame DeFarge from A Tale of Two Cities***
Johnny Rocco from Key Largo***
Sully from Nobody's Fool**
Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's**
Flounder from Animal House****
David Brent from The Office (British version)***
Forrest Gump from Forrest Gump***
Rick from Casablanca**
George Costanza from Seinfeld****
Kramer from Seinfeld***
Milton Waddams from Office Space**
Bill Lumbergh from Office Space****

Classic Business Books has put together an evaluation of nine classic business books.

Any list attracts quibbling. Without getting into ones that I'd drop, I'll just add:

The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
Leaders by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus
Wooden On Leadership by John Wooden
Thinking about Management by Theodore Levitt

Logic and Experience: Excerpts from Conversations

Logic: It's a minor item. It should breeze past the board.

Experience: Major items breeze. Minor items crawl. They'll devote prolonged debate to the minor issues because they think they know something about the topic.

Logic: It's a sensitive assignment. They'll want the best person for the job.

Experience: No, they'll want someone they can trust. Competence is optional.

Logic: Every possible point has been made. The committee will want to vote.

Experience: Dream on. A decision will not be made until everyone who cares to do so has commented on those points.

Logic: They'll want their employees to have information so a good decision can be made.

Experience: They'll want their employees to have their officially approved information so an officially approved decision will be assured.

Logic: They'll want justice.

Experience: They'll want victory.

Quote of the Day

A sharp eye is the mother of good luck.

- Cowboy saying

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Rude Mice?

American Heritage has the strange, cultural saga of EuroDisneyland/Disneyland Paris.

Business as Poetry

Take a break at some point today and read these poems by James A. Autry:


The Mentor

Tom had a mentor before the term was popular.

The mentor was a high-ranking executive in a large organization and Tom, being a well-educated and ambitious young manager in the same firm, had much in common with his advisor. They both were athletic and liked the outdoors and their personality similarities were in no way feigned. The word soon shot through the workplace grapevine: "Don't cross Tom. He has a protector."

I never saw any indication that the warning had merit - Tom's opponents in the arena of organizational politics encountered no retaliation - but the flip side of the warning seemed to have greater credibility. Tom's career began to take off.

Special assignments came up and Tom got them. These were jobs in which a person could demonstrate various management skills and Tom, to his credit, did well. He was conscientious and thoughtful and upper management was pleased with his work.

Outside of the inner circle, however, Tom had been labeled a golden boy and that perception devalued each of his achievements. It was so much easier to assume any evaluation of his work had been preordained and that no one would dare to give an honest assessment because of the long reach of the mentor. Some felt the mentor's weaknesses were reflected in Tom.

Tom didn't realize it, but he was acquiring a sizable group of passive enemies. These weren't enemies in the actively vicious sense; they wouldn't go out of their way to harm Tom. But neither would they attempt to help him. Many felt that Tom had cheated them out of some choice assignments and they looked forward to the moment when he would stumble.

And then one day the mentor unexpectedly died.

For a while, conditions didn't change. Tom continued in his job and his level of performance seemed steady. Within the year though, it was clear that the golden boy was no longer golden. The career-boosting assignments no longer arrived. People "forgot" to invite him to meetings. The word began to go around: "Tom was overrated all along. He really isn't as bright as we all thought."

And some of us wondered, "Is that true or is the sudden change because the mentor died?"

He left the organization two years later.

Quote of the Day

Every day, every week, every month, every year, get rid of 'the crap.' Simplify your clutter, simplify your finances, simplify the way you travel, simplify the number of remote controls that you have around. Get rid of the fresh pasta-making machine which you never use. Chaos brings us down. We are simple creatures. We crave simplicity in these busy lives we live.

- Nicholas Bate in JfDI!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Crackdown on Employers of Illegal Immigrants

The California Employment Law Letter has an update on the federal government's raids on employers who have been hiring illegal immigrants and what that can mean for other businesses.

Short version: Don't hire illegal workers.

Click here for the story.

The Shield of Indifference

We are bombarded with admonitions to care and care some more and indeed those words have their merit. Caring is an essential component of civilization.

If we are to be effective, however, we have to be willing to use indifference as a shield. If indifference is not employed, we'll be overwhelmed by our feelings and manipulated by scoundrels.

It has been noted many times that the side that cares the least controls. A military that cannot take casualties and keep moving toward its goal is at a disadvantage to barbaric groups that can. The executive or manager who invests too much caring in a project is at the emotional mercy of those who would damage or destroy that project without even a blink. The person who feels compelled to stay at a negotiation table is weaker than the person who is willing to walk away.

Criminals, bullies, and jerks often rely on other people playing by the rules of caring. We don't want to be rude. We want to assume that the other side is reasonable. We hope that everyone will desire the virtue of decent treatment. And when those thoughts come up against a predator, they can make us far more vulnerable than need be.

Gavin de Becker, the security consultant who has written on the benefits of fear, has a marvelous line: "'No' is a complete sentence." No further explanation is required. No justification needs to be offered. Just "No."

He's noting that there are times when you simply state your position and walk on because the other side is all too willing to use politeness and manners - your caring nature - as weapons against you.

Anti-American Americans

It is sad but true: Some people regard their nation as little more than a home address or an economic opportunity and patriotism as an embarrassment.

John McWhorter has written a thought-provoking essay on the rise of the anti-American American.

Quote of the Day

Every new adjustment is a crisis in self-esteem.

- Eric Hoffer

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Book Review: Success Built to Last

Success Built to Last: Creating a Life that Matters by Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery, and Mark Thompson mentions plenty of famous names but its main emphasis is on how ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

Although some of the book's findings are predictable (Successful people maintain a high level of passion for their calling), one of the book's strengths is its willingness to challenge conventional wisdom - they're not big on balance and love obsession - or give it some new twists, such as noting that if you don't love what you do you'll be at a competitive disadvantage to someone who does.

A listing of traps that can keep you from responding to your true career desire includes:

  1. Getting too practical.
  2. Letting things ("Bright Shiny Objects") own you.
  3. Being seduced by competence; i.e., beng simply good instead of great.
  4. Pleasing others instead of yourself and creating false choices ("ors") when you can have "ands."

Those are only sidelines. The main theme is the necessity to find a cause that will engage your passion and your efforts and, regardless of your personal charisma, provide you with the charisma of its mission and the self-esteem that comes from achievement. The cause is all. It gives you drive, sustains you when setbacks occur, and is far more realistic than mere positive thinking.

Persistence and a rock-solid determination not to act like a victim bolster the commitment to the cause. But so too is the pragmatic willingness to drop projects that are failures if they prove to be inadequate avenues to furthering the cause.

There were many times when I found myself arguing with Success Built to Last. "But what about this event?" and "There are exceptions to that!" came to mind more than once. I have to admit though, that the book's most powerful appeal is not the Big Hairy Audacious Goals (from Jim Collins's and Porras's Built to Last) or its interesting personal success stories.

It's the power of The Cause and how finding one can unleash creativity, strength, and energy that a quest for mere personal advancement will never unchain.

A Real Team

Oren Harari has found a real team.

He examines its elements. Good stuff.


HR's Real Products: Talent and Trust

Toss aide all of the fluff and you'll find that human resources departments have only two responsibilities:

  • Finding, keeping, and developing talent and;

  • Maintaining trust in selection procedures and redress mechanisms.

If they fail to fulfill either category, then they have committed a large enough sin to justify a termination or two, starting with the HR director.

Unfortunately, many HR departments fumble by:

  1. Not aggressively seeking talent;

  2. Finding talent and then not developing it;

  3. Finding talent and then not creating career paths so talented people can remain with the organization;

  4. Neither objectively seeking talent nor striving to retain it;

  5. Violating personnel procedures to please upper management;

  6. Not monitoring their own selection procedures;

  7. Adopting an adversarial tone with employees in order to please company lawyers;

  8. Failing to provide timely and substantive assistance to departments;

  9. Ignoring injustices; and

  10. Managing to the dysfunctional.

In order to avoid the mistakes cited above, HR professionals must be willing to take on their own upper management team whenever those executives threaten to harm the two main responsibilities of Human Resources. This is not easy and doing so can be risky.

But if HR is not going to speak up, who is?

And who guaranteed that you can live an ethical life without risking your job?

Unusual Employee Update

Writing in The New Yorker, Ben McGrath presents a portrait of Red Sox hitter Manny Ramirez. An excerpt:

Manny Ramirez is a deeply frustrating employee, the kind whose talents are so prodigious that he gets away with skipping meetings, falling asleep on the job, and fraternizing with the competition. He makes more money than everyone else at the company yet somehow escapes the usual class resentment, and even commands more respect from the wage slaves, who suspect he is secretly one of them, than from his colleagues in business class. It’s not that he is anti-establishment, exactly, but in his carefree way he’s just subversive enough—“affably apathetic” is how one of his bosses put it recently—to create headaches for any manager who worries about precedent. Despite his generous compensation, he is sufficiently ungrateful to let it be known that he would be happier working elsewhere. He is also, for a man of stature, strangely sensitive, and although his brilliance is accompanied by sloppiness, one criticizes him, as with a wayward teen-ager, at the risk of losing him to bouts of brooding and inaccessibility.

Quote of the Day

People who are brutally honest get more satisfaction out of the brutality than out of the honesty.

- Richard J. Needham

Monday, April 16, 2007

Behavior Bosses Hate Most

I'm way behind in posting a link to this but David Chase's article on The 10 Employee Behaviors that Bosses Hate Most is very, very, good.
Any one of these can drive you right up the wall. [Yes, bosses are far from perfect but rest assured that their craziness will be covered in another post.]

Take Your Own Advice

Have you ever considered how much better our lives would be if we took the advice we give to others?

After all, we routinely advise other people to:

Seek balance and not become obsessed with work.

Forgive themselves when they make mistakes.

Avoid procrastination.

Take time out for exercise and reflection.

Avoid envy.

Recognize that most of the things that are dreaded will not take place.

Be patient.

Be courageous.

Take time to appreciate people and achievements.

We know all of that and yet ignore the most hard won lessons.

Celebrity Apologies: Between the Lines

As most
(okay, all )
of you know,
(the media reports of)
my remarks last week have
resulted in no small amount of
(press generated)

I have been reflecting with family and friends
(as well as a dozen lawyers, publicists, and image makers)
on my words
(and all possible loopholes)
and their impact on
(my career)

To all those who were
(stupid enough to be)
offended by my
(mindless, tequila-soaked)
comments, I offer
(grudgingly, but here it is)
my sincerest
(I sincerely want to get this over with)

I trust and pray
(please, please, please, dear Lord)
that I can now
(once the press finds another sucker to beat up on)
move on to a new and better
(i.e., journalist and lawyer-free)
chapter in my life.

Quote of the Day

My favorite word is grace - whether it's amazing grace, saving grace, grace under fire, Grace Kelly,. How we live contributes to beauty - whether it's how we treat other people or the environment.

- Celeste Cooper

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Miscellaneous and Fast

Ask Uncle Bill blog has a revealing post on the stories about the negative savings rate.

Trizoko suggests one step for building trust.

Michael S. Malone looks at what has happened at Hewlett-Packard.

Part-fork, part-chop stick. Brilliant. Geekologie has the picture.

George F. Will remembers Jackie Robinson.

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Contentions, the blog of Commentary magazine, has posted links to several articles on the Holocaust.

Not My Table: Dangers of Compartmentalization

Although "Mind your own business" and "Stick to the knitting" may be sound advice when it comes to operations, those mottos are poor guidelines when ethical concerns are encountered.

Compartmentalization of ethical concerns can be found where employees are reluctant to report or confront ethical problems or lapses in other departments or in work units headed by other supervisors. In extreme cases, it can encourage a level of deniability that can abet crimes.

The operation of the Holocaust is one of the most frightening examples of extreme compartmentalization. Each stage of the execution process was designed to give the operators an absolving excuse, false but soothing, for their involvement in murder. As a result, the people who rounded up Jews and put them on trains could say that they had never killed anyone; that part was not their responsibility. Similar alibis were provided at each stage along the line. Even the people who dropped in the poison gas could say they were just following orders. The clever design of this process and its occasional twisted jokes, such as having "Work will make you free" over the entrances to death camps and playing music as people marched to their final moments, make the Holocaust more evil than straightforward killing.

Workplaces, of course, provide far milder examples of compartmentalization sins. Many organizations would dissolve into chaos if reporting mild cases of incompetence became the norm. Reporting ethical problems, however, is a healthy form of disruption because the alternative is too risky.

It is leadership's job to spread the word that everyone has the responsibility to report ethical concerns, regardless of whether or not the problem is inside or outside of their work unit. While doing so, leaders might consider discussing the limits of compartmentalization.

Quote of the Day

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

- Helen Keller

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Top Scientific Books

Training Conversation

Them: We want you to conduct some harassment prevention training for our workforce.

Trainer: Well, my basic class is 3 1/2 hours long and uses case examples to....

Them: Hold on. That's way too long for our group. Our people have very tight schedules. We need a shorter version.

Trainer: How much time do you have in mind?

Them: Oh, say 30 to 40 minutes.

Trainer: I really can't do justice to the subject in that time period. Aside from the legal danger zones, there are communication issues to cover and it's important to have case discussions so people can see different perspectives.

Them: We can appreciate that but our CEO wants our employees to get harassment prevention training and he specified that it be no longer than 30 to 40 minutes.

Trainer: Has your CEO ever taught this class?

Them: No.

Trainer: Is your CEO going to attend the class?

Them: He plans on saying a few words at the beginning about how important it is, then he'll leave. He figures he's already picked up the lessons over the years.

Trainer: Will the rest of the executive team be in any of the sessions?

Them: They're all really busy. A few might stop by but don't count on it.

Trainer: Do you have any concerns that shortening the class may harm its effectiveness?

Them: We do, but it is important to be able to say that we had it.

Trainer: Is it more important to be able to say that people have been trained than to have a class that they will remember?

Them: We hate to say so, but it probably is.

Trainer: I think you may have a bigger problem than the length of harassment prevention training.

Patriotic Posters

James Lileks has put together a great collection of posters from World War II and he raises a provocative question: What if the government distributed posters like the one above today?

Quote of the Day

Nothing is more difficult than to introduce a new order. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.

- Niccolo Machiavelli

Friday, April 13, 2007

Wikis, Blogs, and Spys!

Eclecticity has a great post on a nifty approach to encourage information sharing and collaboration (the good type, not the Pierre Laval type) in an unlikely place: the field of intelligence and national security.

On the Shelf

I'm reading - and so far enjoying - I Didn't See It Coming:The Only Book You'll Ever Need to Avoid Being Blindsided in Business by Nancy C. Widmann, Elaine J. Eisenman, and Amy Dorn Kopelan and Success Built to Last by Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery, and Mark Thompson.

I'll soon be posting reviews on both of those.

I've also been reading
In the Company of Soldiers by Rick Atkinson. It gives an very interesting portrayal of General David Petraeus prior to his appointment to head the "surge" in Iraq. To call him an extremely impressive person is to make an understatement. Some tidbits: He has a PhD in International Relations from Princeton University and completed Ranger School. The Ranger School only gives three awards to its honor graduates in each class. Petraeus won all three.

Fantasy Break: Escape from Office Job

Aside from minor things such as money and comfort, why have an ordinary job?

Resistance to Change

Bravo to Rowan Manahan for this story about resistance to change!

I'm only sorry that I didn't use the executive's technique a few hundred times.

Drawing The Line

In the rough world of British politics, Margaret Thatcher was routinely exposed to open sexism. The Labor prime minister once taunted her in Parliament by saying, "Now, now little lady. You don't want to believe all those things you read in the newspapers...Dearie me, not at all." The nicknames that were given her included Attila the Hen, Rambona, Rhoda the Rhino, The Great She-Elephant, and Virago Intacta.
Thatcher developed a habit of handling her opponents by doing more research and devastating them in debate. Unfortunately, she did the same with her own team. As political writer John Ranelagh noted, she "did not have the male attitude to conflict; there is a sticking point beyond which men will not normally go, largely because they realize that to go further means fighting to the death." Thatcher went further and some of her male colleagues, rather than openly challenging her on the spot, conspired and eventually challenged her.

Men and women in leadership positions need to know where to draw the line. There has to be a sense of which battles should be fought and which ones overlooked. The person who responds to every challenge, wrestles with every possible affront, and seeks to correct every potential mistake is not only using time poorly, but is probably creating enemies who could have been allies or neutrals.

I knew a man who fell into the mode of "crossing the street to get into a fight." In the name of "not pussyfooting around" and "telling it like it is." He created a large collection of unnecessary enemies. He was so eager to prove that he was tough he forgot to show he was wise. The pattern continued in job after job at employer after employer and it seriously limited what could have been a great career.

Perhaps, as with Margaret Thatcher, at one point and time that strategy was appropriate and the opponents needed to be flattened. But strategies and styles should be adjusted to fit the circumstances and the leader - or the follower - who fails to do so is making a huge mistake.

Quote of the Day

Madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups.

- Friedrich Nietzsche

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Networking Not!

Have you ever noticed that our best "networking" - to use that bizarre term - occurs when we aren't... networking?

I stay away from so-called networking events because they're packed with people who are trying to sell to one another and with no one who's interested in buying.

[The best sessions, of course, are where I enter to great applause and the audience rushes as one to get my business card. I'll let you know as soon as I encounter one.]

The reason why so many of the events fail is they often resemble those dating services in which a small army of rats in heat/people descend on a restaurant and play the equivalent of musical chairs, only in this game the players switch tables and make a quick pitch. If it sounds hellish, it probably is. The emphasis is on the sale instead of the relationship.

Relationships take time. The sense of desperation that surrounds eager networkers dooms their efforts. By moving slowly, relationships build trust and respect. Accomplished relationship-builders follow a version of Spencer Tracy's old line about acting; i.e., that it is the easiest thing to do in the world, only don't ever let anyone catch you doing it.