b-school, HRM, Project Management

Workers crave for attention (The Hawthorne effect)

It happened long ago, in 1924. Taylorism was in its apogee so it was only reasonable that there were studies going on at the Hawthorne Works. Testing different ways of doing things. Groups of workers, reduced time of work, output rate peaked, more reduced time of work, output rate soared again, total output decreased. Then back to normal, output rate had risen… wait a moment… risen?

What the Hawthorne experiments showed was that giving attention to a group of workers always paid off. According to Mayo, that was because they now considered themselves part of a team instead of isolated workers. According to other sources, even isolated workers raised productivity. They had been singled out, they were special, they were being monitored, they were being listened to.

The Hawthorne effect didn’t get its name till 1955, yet it’s interesting to see how they concluded that upward communication in an organisation raised morale. And with the morale rise came a productivity rise. The service-profit chain at its best, starting with employees, finishing at the bottom line.

They were not that different from us. We still crave for attention. Good managers are the one that, in the midst of the crazy hectic pace of work, can still provide it. It’s so tough to do so. Personally, when I don’t even have time to write this blog, how can I remember to talk to everyone?

Yet that’s vital. Especially in tough times, where employee morale is subject to the ups and downs of collective morale, so troubled. We need to find the time.

In crises, where layoffs are there, what message should we send to the ones that are staying? Unless we listen to them, unless we communicate with them, there will be one clear distinct message for them: that they are next in line. Unless we listen. Now more than ever, maybe we should use the Hawthorne effect to our advantage.

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b-school, Management, Thoughts

Take care of the senses and the sounds will take care of themselves (A Lewis Carroll reflection)

A couple of days ago I spoke to someone that was having an executive education experience. He had sort of been immersed in a boot camp, hectic experience, out of his comfort zone, not a minute to rest. He had a lot of fun and he proclaimed he had came back sort of a changed person. Maybe he was.

Or maybe he wasn’t. Haven’t you ever had these kind of hectic touristic days in an European city, visiting everything, not stopping even to catch your breath, coming back in love with the city, sort of ‘I could live there’ thing and then… well, er… an exhausted but energetic Monday at work and, on Wednesday, everything is the same again.

Because experiences alone don’t have the capacity to change you. Experiences hold some potential to change you, yes, but most of the time, they simply don’t.

I choose the Lewis Carroll sentence to head this blog entry because it’s all about making sense of what happens to us. Yet I could have chosen a very different one:

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don’t know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.

How do you know you’re there if you don’t have it clear where you’re going to? Don’t fool yourself, you don’t.

Some fortune cookie sapience, this one was a cookie that Mintzberg was given with his dinner: “Get your mind set. Confidence will lead you on”. And another one by Mintzberg in a not so old “Harvard Business Review” article: “what managers desperately need is to stop and think, to step back and reflect thoughtfully on their experiences”. Well, so fortunate I did read this article. What my admired Mr. Mintzberg says here (or said some time ago) is what I’ve been saying all along!

And that’s my advice to my fellow executive education experiencer. If the experience is too hectic, it’s incomplete! If in your MBA you’re having excitement, rush and more excitement… something is wrong!

Don’t get me wrong, there are many things to be gained from such an experience, but insight isn’t one of them. Reflections come from flectere, to bend in Latin. One must bend inwards as opposite to just perceiving what’s around. What matters is the impact of the reflection on our own inner wall. Like Plato’s myth, we are the wall over which the shades are reflecting. And what we can really do is to learn about that wall. And in observing that wall, in a Heisemberg uncertainty fashion, there’s the reshaping of the wall.

Otherwise, indigested experiences will make nice anecdotes, we will have a lot of fun. We will recommend the experience to our friends for sure. But there’s no learning in that. The superficiality hides essential meanings interwoven with the fabric of organisations and people. Shortcuts deprive us of deep thinking, and so many things in executive education is about shortcuts discovered by the incomplete and un-rigourous experience of others.

Another quote from Lewis Carroll: “While the laughter of joy is in full harmony with our deeper life, the laughter of amusement should be kept apart from it. The danger is too great of thus learning to look at solemn things in a spirit of mockery, and to seek in them opportunities for exercising wit.”

So many self-labelled educational and learning experiences are witty combination of words and anecdotal evidence. So many advice we give is totally biased and based on erroneous assumptions and insufficient reasoning. What about if we decided to think more and speak (write, blog, whatever) much less?

Lewis Carroll at the rescue: “Courtesy while you’re thinking what to say. It saves time.”

And also knowing when to stop: “‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said, very gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'”. Yes, time to stop.

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b-school, Henley, MBA, Personal

A kill is a kill (my MBA Integrated Management Project is finally done!)

Hectic days. I was in Oman for a presentation with a British company (I had so much fun, they are great and the experience was great, maybe one day…), and then a dozen days in India (trying to move forward the management centres for Delhi’s airport). I did also manage (although I don’t know exactly how) to finish two more assignments for my MBA, closing my second stage.

The biggest one was the Integrated Management Project: an assignment that spans three subjects: Global Business Environment, Strategic Direction and Corporate Finance and Governance. They must be all taken into account and integrated into one big assignment, having an holistic view and approaching the analysis through different angles. It’s about tackling some challenge for your company… analysing the context, creating strategy by means of thinking strategically and assessing the value that each strategic option is going to add.

In my case I analysed a proposal that Ryanair made to Barcelona’s Airport: establishing one of their operational bases there in exchange for a drastic reduction in fees. Studying the case took me lots of hours but it was really interesting as I began with a very specific point of view on what to do, influenced by my preconceptions and, through the systematic application of models and sound reasoning, reached very different conclusions. The intellectual journey was more than interesting. The conclusions as well. I could finally prepare a clear strategy for the airport while identifying the issues that must be changed internally. (Sorry I can’t publish my conclusions here publicly). The exercise was really useful as it provided me with the chance to reflect over my previous project, something we tend to obviate as we go straight ahead into new challenges.

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This means I’ve completed the “Managing the organisation” and “Making business choices” stages, and I’m now facing the third stage “Making a difference” which includes Leadership, Reputation and the huge, scary “Management Challenge”. My proposal for the management challenge has been already accepted so I’m getting back on track. (more info about my management challenge quite soon)

Perfection would be great but, when you’re finishing assignments in airport lounges and while flying ten kilometres high, while living an hectic life, well… perfection means asking too much. My engineer side tells me to find a balance between time, cost and quality, a compromise to move forward. My economist side tells me to focus on substantiality, to choose the right granularity so that the figures are meaningful. That’s what I’m striving to do right now.

In those circumstances, a kill is a kill. Let’s move forward 😉

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b-school, Henley, MBA, Personal, Thoughts

To boldly go where no man has ever gone before

The last workshop at Henley is over, and I’ve already started feeling that something is missing. Still in the Greenlands, it’s hard to interiorise that two and a half years of MBA have gone so fast. And with them the successful completion of a huge airport terminal, my first steps in India, and other huge, very relevant projects that have meant a qualitative leap in my career.

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I still have a lot to go. Not only my Management Challenge that I’m starting now (If any expatriates in India want to participate, please contact me!), but also the assignments I still have to finish. And the decisions I may have to make to move my career forward can possibly entail a considerable amount of thinking.

This last workshop has been especially eye-opening. We’ve reached a degree of companionship with my colleagues that I never though possible. We’ve taken care, supported each other. I have to find a way to make it last, for this feeling to survive, for these links not to dim into oblivion. To my colleagues for their support through the process (that I still need for the next half year): thank-you.

And also to tap into the great reservoir of people that enrol in the Henley MBA. We had our last party along with a group of Henley Nordic that had their starter workshop. I was chatting with some of very interesting Swedish guys. By one side, they made me realise the march of time, on the other they also made me verbalise why it was worth it. Thank-you.

And to the staff, from support to feeding us, to motivating and pushing us out of our comfort zone to challenging our proposals and trying to dismount them. I can write no names as any list would be unjust but, thank-you.

Thanks to you all, and many more that have supported me from my personal sphere, I’m on my way, my own way, to boldly go where no man has ever gone before. My own personal challenge, my own special journey.

And to those reading this 🙂 sometimes I wonder how is it possible anyone could be interested in what I write, lest thousands. Thank-you 😉

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b-school, Business, Management, MBA, Project Management, Projects, Thoughts

On reorganisation and micromanagement temptations in times of crises (holding the steering wheel tight)

Note to the occasional reader: I had this post saved from long ago as a draft and I decided to let it go like it is, I’m in a different mindset now… see next post which is really today’s 🙂

In times of crises, and by this I mean, for instance, when you’re in the latests stages of a project and you spend a lot of time fire-fighting (where have I seen that?), it’s more important than ever to keep in mind the structure of your organisation and use it for good.

What do I mean with that? Well, there are two well know roads that tend to be followed in this kind of situations:

  • Forget about structure and just go straight-ahead-no-matter-what. We are all fighters and we can go down as much as it’s needs to be done. Many senior executives really love to envision themselves as being able to reach the ground level when necessary, even brick layering when they see fit.
  • Focusing on structure: reorganising again. And with this new focus, we forget the problems at hand and we think of organisational architecture. Some senior managers love to envision themselves (again) as not rushed by circumstances but able to keep a cold mind. And with that suspending the activity of the organisation for the sake of more effectiveness and efficiency.

Neither is effective at all.

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The first kind thinks that setting an example is useful, which is not exactly true. You expect a captain able to know every detail about his boat, true, but his main purpose is to steer the wheel. When the conductor of an orchestra starts playing the piano, the rest of the orchestra, mesmerised, feel as if they were directors themselves, and look at the empty place in front of them with scepticism, and the senior manager playing along in disgust. Instead of leading the way, this senior manager is seen as exercising and hipocritical and unsustainable exercise.

Please, don’t micromanage us if you still want our initiative! Otherwise brick layering will turn into brick breaking.

The second group think that it’s trading off time for effectiveness. But in fact is wasting both. Crises are not the best occasions for organisations unless you want to make a crisis-prone organisation.

To change, there has to be the will to change, which will hopefully melt the existing structure and (a small) part of the culture, and a road to follow, a new vision, a new strategy to be implemented that will derive a new structure, that will have to be built and solidified. Does anyone really think that can be done in the rush-hour? I don’t.

What we risk is increasing the chaos, destroying the slowly established learning-by-doing that make the organisations increasingly efficient, is simply a waste of time and energy.

Then, what should we be doing? Structure is still important, yet it should be interpreted flexibly. That doesn’t mean it should be forgotten. Leaders must lead more than ever, inspire more than ever and, if they want managers to be entrepreneurial and problem solvers, they need to keep away from blame orientation at all times and be the first to adopt a problem-solving mindset.

In the moments of stress and crazyness, that’s when you need leader the mosts, to guide, to nurture, to worry about people, or at least to prevent them ending up throwing bricks at each other.

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b-school, History, MBA, Personal, Politics, Spain, Thoughts

A weekend in Cologne (Köln) and some bits of European construction

I’ve been this weekend in Cologne, an amazingly thriving city on the Rhine born about 50BC as a Roman outpost. A city that grew in the industrial revolution thanks to the enterprisingness of its inhabitants that strategically used their proximity to the coal of the Ruhr region.

Catholics, in 1248 they began the construction of their cathedral. It would stop in 1560 for as long as four centuries, with a crane that would be Cologne’s symbol and witnessed lots of generations live and die. Until 1848 you could have seen something like this…

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This was the tallest building of the wold as well, until the Washington Monument‘s capstone was set in 1884.

Let’s make another step in time to 1945 after the second World War. Cologne was obliterated with bombings. Less than 10% of its buildings survived. One of them was the Cathedral. Although hit by several bombs, maybe miraculously, the Dom still stood in the middle of a lake of rubble.

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Little remains of those years. Where Adolf Hitler rallied his troops, now there’s a lake where students gather instead to have fun and drink beer. Now Cologne is a cosmopolite city, a mix of cultures and lifestyles, somewhat disordered for a German city, but very much alive and breathing. It is the broadcast centre in Germany, the fourth biggest city and see to many international art festivals. Their inhabitants celebrate the good weather sitting in the terraces at night and have one of the largest Karnevals, or Mardi Gras, in Germany. Last Saturday’s view was quite different:

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Yes, I went there to study, to prepare the forthcoming exam on Strategic Direction and Corporate Finance and Governance with my German peers on the MBA. We had a great time and also worked a lot.

Now for European construction. We saw the next election’s publicity in many streets. I saw it again in Barcelona, when I came back yesterday. I read the newspapers and saw, to my amazement, how Spanish politicians are using the European elections to talk about local issues, even to try to condone some misbehavings some of their numbers have committed.

Our politicians, and I do thing that’s an European wide issue, are inadvertently but irresponsibly turning us away from democracy with their constant cynicism, hypocrisy and abuse. And our democracies, our peace, our union and our prosperity are the most valued shared good that we have. They are the only guarantee that neither Cologne nor Barcelona’s inhabitants, both cities whose civilian population have been bombed by air, each from a different political side, as if it mattered now or then to any crying child whose life had been severed, are not going to endure that cruelty anymore.

We are the ones benefiting and inadvertently collaborating to the European Union by travelling, by getting to know each other, by learning to respect our difference, by meeting to study an MBA from a British business school in a German roaring town.

I’m going to miss Cologne… it is a city I could live in!

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b-school, Business, Economics, Macroeconomy, Politics, Thoughts

Green shoots, maybe, but don’t expect flowers

I’m increasingly growing wary, or even tiresome, of anyone that talks about green shoots. Yes, put a lot of fertiliser over a bed of rocks and something will grow on that. Mostly weeds. After all, weeds are green, but they don’t make nice flowers.

After pouring so many fertiliser taken from the forced lenders throughout the world (yes, we and our descendants are the forced lenders, and the fertilisers are the billions of dollars irresponsibly poured everywhere) what else is there to expect than a few green shoots?

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But one thing is to have green shoots, and another one is to have a sound recovery. That needs to be sustained on healthy fundamentals, which we don’t have now.

Okay, maybe we are not falling that fast… so what? Even the most bullish markets have relevant corrections, why shouldn’t the bearish? That is some hope in midst of despair, true, but the despair still has a sound reason to be.

Hiding things in the balance sheet, having assets that don’t reflect real prices, is not the way to recovery either. First we need that atonement, that reconciliation with reality, that would be a real stress test, after a previous sanity check: let’s value things for what they’re really worth.

And in the meantime the GDP of the Euro countries has contracted more than 10%. Germany is contracting more than Spain, with an unemployment growth rate 1000% bigger. We, who were the main sinners, are weathering the storm better? Something tells me that the methodology that we are using to calculate our GDP, given the fact that we have to remove seasonal effects being a touristic country, is delaying the changes to the real data. But something also tells me that the most inflexible labour markets are exhibiting those same troubles that don’t let them flexibly grow, only applied to contraction. There’s plenty for all of us.

Hmm, I’m so sorry to be negative but… let’s prepare and get ready, because those shoots are bound to whither and the worst is yet to come.

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