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Contractors, contract staff, temps, permanent staff, consultants.  They all have similar jobs.  They work in the same team, under the same boss, who is almost always on permanent headcount.  These are all inventive ways to commoditize human capital, and they are designed to wiggle through the tightening policies in the workplace.  Regardless of what the rationale is, leaders should know that there are distinctively different ways to incentivize human capital according to how they are hired or engaged.

From the way I set this up, you would sense that I am not really seeing this being mastered.  Some leaders know these terms by heart, but they are simply dumbfounded by the workforce who are knowledgeable about all the risks and rights of these engagements.  When a work friend of mine complained about disloyalty of a contract staff some time ago, my reaction was simply: “What do you expect?”

I know it may sound totally unrealistic from the job market we are in today, but as I have said over and over again in the past, we all got to “de-commoditize” ourselves.  Only when we do it can we set ourselves apart and regain some power back, as an employee.  In my friend’s case, his contract staff has one of the highest sought after attribute in the workplace – the ability to close projects.  There are many who are fantastic in the whole song and dance but lack the ability to pull people together to make things happen.  This person exhibits strong cohesion that allows him to lead projects successfully toward completion.  With that track record, he will be grabbed by other aspiring employers in no time, while my friend is still trying to bad-mouth his contractor’s seemingly disloyalty, in sheer disbelief.

A leader who fails to see through an employee’s strengths and weaknesses will always find himself or herself stuck with the worst people.  On the other hand, workers who fail to develop themselves out of a commodity will continue be taken advantage of in the corporate world.

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Vault.com has a recent blog article titled “How Not To Sound Like A Liar At Work“, describing how people generally are put off with hollow business jargons.  Not only that, most of us actually think whoever using those phrases are lying to our faces.  The article includes a few commonly used business jargons and their respective underlying meanings.  Here are a few examples:

Business-speak: “Deep dive

What people who aren’t liars say: “Instead of doing our usual half-assed job, we took the time to investigate properly.”

Business-speak: “Circle back

What people who aren’t liars say: “We’ll discuss this again – ideally when we actually know something about it.”

Business-speak: “Deliverables

What people who aren’t liars say: “Mundane tasks I am responsible for completing.”

Business-speak: “Let’s take this offline

What people who aren’t liars say: “Let’s talk about this after the meeting, so we don’t embarrass ourselves in front of the boss/waste everyone else’s time.”

I bet none of the above business talks are new to you, regardless of what you do.  You see it at work, and you hear about it all the time in politics and virtually any news outbreak on TV.

What I find hilarious and fascinating is the website “Unsuck It“, dedicated to “unsuck” the terrible business jargons you come across with.  Basically, you type in the jargon and you are presented with the unsucked version.  Brilliant.  Here are a few of my best finds.

Innovative

Unsucked: New, Slightly improved, Shiny

All-hands

Unsucked: Staff meeting

As soon as possible

Unsucked: In an unreasonable amount of time.  Quickly

Challenge

Unsucked: Problem

Elevator pitch

Unsucked: Brief, persuasive summary. Particularly one tailored to an influential audience trapped with the speaker in a small, windowless box suspended from a cable with no obvious escape route  (p.s. check out my post on Elevator Speech)

Empower

Unsucked:   Assign a menial or unpleasant responsibility to someone, particularly to a low-status individual or group  (Ouch…)

Paradigm shift

Unsucked:  A new, crappy reality to which employees or customers must accommodate themselves. Change in basic assumptions or a profound shift in perception. Possibly the most overused, diluted, otherwise useful and descriptive phrase

I hear what you’re saying

Unsucked:  LA LA LA LA LA I can’t hear you

Interject

Unsucked: Interrupt whatever you’re saying to show you I was raised by wolves

Knowledge transfer

Unsucked:  Sharing relevant experience throughout an organization. Bitching about office politics over drinks. Getting old-timers to divulge useful information before you lay them off for being too expensive

Outside the box

Unsucked:  Unconventional.  But in a way that won’t challenge anyone or get me fired.  Also, I’m too lazy to think of useful descriptors

Pencil in

Unsucked:  Schedule, with the understanding that you are going to flake at the last minute in favor of someone more important

Rightsizing

Unsucked:  Chicken shit for firing

Wow factor

Uncuked:  I don’t know what I want, but it’s not what I’m looking at.  Tart it up!

If you can think of more, send them to me as I can use a laugh every now and then, especially at work! 

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I was captivated by the title of this book by Anita Bruzzese a few years ago.  I think it was my wicked sense of humor to attempt to do some of these 45 things to get even with my boss at the time.  Yes I said it was wicked, and I plead myself guilty.  However, at the end of the day, I did nothing of the sort since I cared so much more about my own professional reputation rather than some silly grudges over the most childish cases of office politics.

Are you curious about what these 45 things are?  Well, they are not as obnoxious as you think.  Or are they?

  1. Treating the office like it’s your love shack
  2. Punching the soda machine when you’re stressed out and ticked off
  3. Goofing off on a business trip
  4. Earning a reputation as a whiner, drama queen or general pain in the neck
  5. Discussing your personal beliefs at work
  6. Telling dirty jokes and cussing on the job
  7. Having questionable personal integrity
  8. Blogging about your job (Oh no….)
  9. Having poor writing and spelling skills
  10. Failing to write thank-you notes
  11. Committing e-mail blunders
  12. Failing to speak intelligently
  13. Wearing the wrong thing to work
  14. Behaving immaturely at company parties
  15. Being disorganized
  16. Being a poor listener
  17. Losing sleep
  18. Using your personal cell phone too much
  19. Acting like a boot at business meals
  20. Not appreciating coworkers
  21. Failing to delegate
  22. Being intolerant
  23. Disrespecting a mentor
  24. Not getting to know others in the company
  25. Giving feedback that is deliberately hurtful
  26. Fostering an offensive workplace
  27. Gossiping
  28. Not giving or accepting an apology
  29. Crying at work
  30. Caving in to a bully
  31. Failing to learn from mistakes
  32. Being unable to overcome obstacles
  33. Having too much – or too little – confidence
  34. Neglecting to write things down
  35. Asking for a raise you don’t deserve
  36. Lacking knowledge of current events
  37. Holding grudges (bingo…)
  38. Giving lackluster speeches or presentations
  39. Squandering time at seminars
  40. Skipping company-sponsored events
  41. Ignoring the company’s goals
  42. Dodging meetings
  43. Not going beyond your job description
  44. Neglecting new coworkers
  45. Fighting change

I recommend this book if you are eager to find out how you can avoid the mistakes and mend things with your boss, or, if you have the same devious reason as I did.

Well, of course I’m kidding.

 

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Centralize, decentralize, reorganize, re-engineer, grow, downsize, externalize, outsource, insource…

These are just a few of the most heard-of verbs in today’s corporate workplace.  Some are well warranted, but I bet some of you must have chuckled over the various reorganization episodes in your work lives.  Can you honestly tell me the following thought have not come into your mind?

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Developing procurement talent is an art by itself, particularly when I still see many leaders having a less than adequate understanding of how this profession has evolved.  It is a highly fluid practice and it requires professionals with great adaptiveness and agility.  Paul Teague, US contributing editor of Procurement Leaders, published a blog post recently on the topic that is worth sharing.

“How to Develop Procurement Talent

By Paul Teague

Stephen Hester, vice president and CPO of Smith International, was the first to raise the issue at a recent Procurement Leaders roundtable on risk management,sponsored by Emptoris. Procurement, especially in the oil and gas industry from which he hails, has a people problem. Specifically, he said, the need is to develop the next generation of procurement professionals, to groom executives who will have the broad knowledge and international savvy required for success in a global economy.

One by one, the other roundtable members echoed his sentiments when talking about the risks they face. You can read what they said in a report on the Roundtable in the next issue of Procurement Leaders.

I heard similar views expressed at a previous roundtable sponsored by AT Kearney on data analytics. Ahmet Hepdogan, vice president of procurement at Fresh Start Bakeries North America, called for a new generation of procurement executives with “holistic” knowledge.

There have been whole conferences on  talent development, including Procurement Leaders’ Forums. Procurement Leaders formed a knowledge group on talent management. Recently, the Procurement Intelligence Unit called talent management a key priority for CPOs. Google even has a special project on people skills, specifically management skills.

I thought of all that when I read the US News and World Report magazine’s most recent ranking of the best US colleges for studying supply chain management. Here are some of the courses those “top schools” will teach future procurement and supply chain leaders: finance and accounting (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Pennsylvania State University), law and marketing (Pennsylvania State) and negotiations (Michigan State University), all areas of knowledge procurement professionals need. But, I saw only one course each in global supply chain management (Michigan State) and international business and finance (The University of Michigan).

Gadzooks! Given the globalization of business, the apparent lack of recognition among some of the curriculum planners of the importance of international studies is stunning. Even the Harvard Business Review touted the importance of international experience and knowledge for procurement and supply chain management. I guess the rest of the proverbial ivory tower has no windows through which to look at the world.

So what should the ideal curriculum include? Introductory courses in engineering concepts (to give them an appreciation for product design and manufacturing); corporate finance (so they will see how CFOs look at a business); business law, marketing and advertising, personnel management, and logistics (so they can truly understand the issues those functions face); risk management (think of commodity-price fluctuations, Middle East turmoil and Japanese earthquakes and tsunamis); computer science and statistics (to get them used to using software for analytics); and, especially, courses in international relations/culture/communications (because the world really is flat).

And, rather than study versions of those courses tailored for procurement and supply chain management, they should attend the same classes that engineers, finance students, political science majors and others who will make their careers in those disciplines attend. May as well get them used to collaborating with those folks early.

Oh, and once they get their first job in procurement, I suggest assigning them to those other functions for three to six months each to further appreciate the roles of the people they will serve.

Maybe the best academic program is not one entitled “supply chain management,” but a broad, interdisciplinary program called “business-cycle management.” That may better reflect the role future practitioners will play.”

One thing for sure, those who are trained following Paul’s prescription will no longer be labelled as just a “buyer”.  Let’s announce to the rest of the world how much value we can add.

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“Did you know that Guiness employees…

  • Enjoy free happy hours on Thursday nights at a onsite pub;
  • Receive a liquor allowance each quarter;
  • Can take advantage of partially paid gym memberships;
  • Enjoy on-site services such as health clubs, laundry and dry cleaning services, film development, tailoring and banking services;
  • Are paid well and receive great benefits?”

This is an e-mail I received from Vault.com to market its company profile and insider information services aimed at job seekers. 

Interesting.  Free alcohol on work site.

Though this is hardly unorthodox at all.  At least they are an alcoholic beverages producer, and who can testify their products better than the employees?  I once conducted a e-sourcing training program for Nestle in Beijing.  During break I found fridges packed with ice cream bars that are free for employees to indulge themselves, let alone all the other coffees and soft drinks.  How they managed not to weigh 200 pounds was a mystery to me.  What’s truly amazing, is when companies like accounting firms, investment banks and law firms, offer Friday parties and fully paid gym memberships to the employees as an attempt to promote workplace harmony and work-life balance.

Undoubtedly we all love our perks and benefits.  Other than the critical medical and insurance benefits that I think everyone should be entitled to, I am not too crazy on the perks above.  It’s a nice gesture, but I do get a paycheck from my employer.  If I think that paycheck is fair, I will be as loyal to the company as the reciprocal treatment is evidential.  If my colleagues want to complain about not getting free wine, free office furniture, free fancy stationery or even free meals on company dime, I am happy to see them leaving for the folks that do.  We all have a choice, and it’s not like our employers have tricked us staying for good.  They might have in other aspects, but that is a whole different story, and one that shouldn’t be mixed in the same pot.

At the end of the day, all I am saying is that as long as I am compensated appropriately, I’d rather make use of my paycheck and spend it on dinner parties, gym memberships, home furnishings, investment and vacation plans with my family and friends, my way my time.  If you find that you are not receiving your paychecks lately, call the Labor Department now instead of stealing office supplies.

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What a term: Evil, Sadistic Obstructionists.

Thanks you Dilbert, you have brightened my day, even if it is only in form of dark humor.

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If you are working in a sizable multinational company, or have the experience working in one before, chances are that you have already undergone countless number of company prep talks on corporate culture, employee welfare, and training sessions on change management, handling virtual teamwork, and last but not least, team building activities and outings in all shapes and forms.

Pep Rallies

Such trainings and workshops are undoubtedly beneficial and inspirational for fresh graduates when they are new to the corporate world. However, are you still pumped and excited over these sharing and physical activities when you have sat through eight of them across various employers in your career? Furthermore, as your experience grows, you start to realize that nothing ever change after every motivational prep talk or initiative. People fall back to their original bad habits, and because of normal attrition everyone need to take the refresher talks to keep the new joiners up to speed. The worst of course, is if you find yourself forced to listen to pointless motivational speeches by what you label as hypocrites in the workplace. Alright, that’s politically incorrect, but face it, they are everywhere.

How to sit through these workshops gracefully and attentively while trying my hardest not to roll my eyes is probably my biggest accomplishment over the years.

Please Make Us Better

How about those anonymous employee surveys? I completely respect my human resources colleagues and their profession in designing and collating the results and meanings of these surveys. There is indeed a scientific backbone to all this. Though after all these surveys done every quarter or so, I find that I can’t feel anything anymore. I don’t want to be perceived as a whinny weasel who complains about anything. When I sign in to a job, I know what I am getting into and I seldom ask for more other than proportional recognition of my work performance. If I find my job or my company starting to fade away from my aspirations, in whatever means, I will make it clear to my superiors and consider my options if the gap can’t be bridged. I really don’t believe any anonymous venting can bring about substantial changes. No matter how comprehensive the privacy measures are carried out and announced, most survey participants are still apprehensive of the consequences. To flip the coin to the other side, you may also find it frustrating to see your work being criticized by anonymous comments of other colleagues that are borderline hateful. Why do we now have to resort to using surveys to replace face-to-face discussions in a civilized, dignified manner? We all better “man-up” for our opinions as well as mistakes. It’s gutless to hide behind a survey.

Want Fun?

The team building activities have changed color progressively. It started with gut-wrenching physical stunts like those you would see in “Fear Factor”. We are supposed to learn how to face our fear, unleash hidden talents, build inner-strength, and develop trust amongst team members during the exercises. Then slowly because of cost constraints and the increasing trend of virtual teams across countries and continents, such activities become less viable. In some cases a few teammates of the same office are given a certain budget to conduct their own team building activities. Nothing stereotypical here, but in Asia it often means eating it away. Okay, perhaps we will put on same colored shirts while we are at the dining table, take a few snapshots, and e-mail them across the global team, as proof that food brings everyone together.

Freebies Anyone?

Since the dawn of very high-profile survey of “best companies to work for” in America, all major companies have put employee welfare as one of their high prioritized goals. Staffs are sometimes “encouraged” by their management to “vote” for their company in the annual survey. The better companies also make it an effort to establish company-wide social clubs, or nicely labeled employee engagement committees. I have the privilege to be invited to join or even chair a few of these committees across several of my employers in my career. It is no easy work. It takes us literally weeks to plan every activity, from the most popular annual balls, spring dinners to bowling or mahjong tournaments, open days for kids, charity visits and auctions, to distributing free t-shirts, windbreakers, umbrellas, breakfasts, lunches, so that there is always some kind of giveaway or activity for the staffs every month. To be honest, this sounds more like bribery to me. I enjoy my time working with my fellow committee members, but at the end of the day, all of us care most about getting satisfaction from the jobs we do and paid for. Getting a pat on the back for a job well done by my boss beats getting a free mug from the office safety club, hands down.

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I read from the vault guide that there are now actual internship applications with candidates listing “excellent Facebooker” and “highly skilled Tweeter” on their resumes.  Apparently the ability to connect with thousands of Facebook friends is an accomplishment, and I take my hat off to them. 

But seriously?  What are they thinking?

Hold that thought.   Continuing on from my thoughts yesterday, when today’s post-80s, or Generation Y, are ready for more senior roles in the corporate world, the scene may be totally different.  While social networking skills may not be something worth bragging about now, a few years later the absence of such will be considered fatal disqualifiers for Generation Y hiring managers.

Social media usage will only grow further with younger generations as they mature, contrary to some beliefs that they will grow out of such sites.  With the increasing leverage of social media sites for corporate advertising, loyalty programs, public awareness and even hiring, the next time we try to shrug our shoulders reading those social networking attributes, let’s get real for a second and think again.

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“Post-80s” (generation born after 1980) or “post-90s” continues to be a popular topic in the media lately.  According to a local paper, many corporations are seeing post-80s employees as one of their top human resource challenges these days.  Apparently there are now training courses organized for managerial staff to understand and interact properly with our next generation of workforce. 

The human resource consulting firm being interviewed reports the top 9 characteristics of post-80s workforce:

  • Poor concentration
  • Poor reading skills
  • Impatient
  • Difficult to communicate
  • Overly confident
  • Poor punctuality
  • Poor personal conduct
  • Irresponsible and poor accountability
  • Overly temperamental

Though I am sure there is a bunch of people who are guilty with such characteristics, it’s also time for employers to start adapting their managerial style according to the times.  Many younger recruits are not used to listening to orders because of their unique ways of being brought up.  Family sizes are smaller, there are fewer siblings, and many of them are used to being pampered by all material and financial means.  The new generation is often confident in their own ways, and they are raised to question authority at all times.  Managers who still stick with announcing orders without rationalization are only asking for trouble.  A new managerial style has to be adapted, and the first step to do is to learn how to embrace the new generation of workforce.

What are the new rules?  I am no expert, but off the top of my head I can come up with a few.

  • Don’t be condescending.  Attitude is important, and it should be a two-way street.  Assuming rightaway the post-80s is a group of whining needy kids will only add to the tension.  Don’t talk down to them, and don’t use phrases like “You know how lucky you guys are?  Back in the days, I wished that someone would have spent the time to teach me like I am doing for you right now!”
  • Get rid of the “Because I told you!”  The new generation needs to be convinced through lots of questions and answers.  Their new thinking may spark new solutions which is well worth the added time invested. 
  • Be patient.   Like raising kids, sometimes you have to let them make their own mistakes.  I know it is definitely costly for corporations to allow their staff to make mistakes, but think about it, his other departmental colleagues or external clients are of his generation as well.  What we view as mistakes now may be a norm in the new era.
  • Focus on results rather than the process.  Since the process is going to be challenged anyway, why not allow them to make up some rules themselves?  However, the new rules still have to be socially accepted by others, meaning no one can skip work claiming they are “working from home”.
  • Nurturing.  I know, the workplace is meant for business, but if we understand the social reality of the new generation, managers nowadays also need to be the psychological coach of new recruits.  There is no guarantee that the new joiners will prove to be a valuable asset to the company, but not spending the time to teach them responsibility and accountability, for example, will only lead to disastrous results.  Set the expectation low, and there is no harm to overly communicate. 
  • Positive reinforcement.  When staff feels that they are being rewarded or acknowledged of an accomplishment, the motivation is often so strong that a momentum will be created.  Don’t be stingy with the compliments, be humble and take advantage of their creative juices and unorthodox thinking.

All in all, bitching alone will never bring any solution.  We should all face the reality and ask ourselves what is something we can do to bridge the gap.  After all, who says the negative qualities are possessed only by the post-80s?  Aren’t you equally mad at that other colleague of yours who have been around forever and unwilling to accept any new ideas?

Let’s make sure we do not turn into those we used to despise, period.

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